Posted on May 7, 2019
I’ve spent most of my photography career concentrating on tack sharp focus and learning the techniques required to accomplish just that. I’ve even resorted to focus stacking as a way to get infinite sharp focus when it wouldn’t have normally been possible! So why in the world would a person deliberately take a photograph with large areas of soft focus? Yes, it seems counterintuitive and I never saw myself as someone that would embrace the genre, but here I am in the midst of a romance with Lensbaby lenses! And I’m loving every second of it!! How did all this begin?
I got a Lensbaby lens many years ago as a gift from my husband. I was a relatively new photographer, and after trying the lens a few times, I ended up sending it back. The idea of soft focus didn’t appeal to me at that time. I was still trying to figure out sharp focus!
Recently, I found myself in a creative rut where I was turning out similar images over and over–different location, same theme. I needed something new to spark my imagination and make me want to pick up my camera. I saw an ad for a new Lensbaby lens and decided to take the leap! And I’ve never looked back!
My first Lensbaby was the Velvet 56. I loved the sharp focus in the center and the creamy dreamy blur that drifted outwards. I tried different apertures until I found the effect that I liked. I tend to shoot most of my flower images with the Velvet at f4-5.6. But don’t take my word for it–experiment!! That is the fun of the lensbabies! The artistic effects that you can achieve will push you to try new things and play with your camera and renew your love of nature photography.
Once I began exploring soft focus, I found that I was looking for subjects that would benefit from this effect. Of course, flowers are an obvious choice. But don’t stop there! The only limitation is your imagination. Portraits with the Twist 60 are nothing short of glorious! Put your subject in front of a beautiful, distant background and get ready to be amazed!
I’m now the proud owner of a Composer Pro II and sweet 35 as well as the Twist 60. Each lens has a different soft effect, and I find that I enjoy swapping lenses more than ever.
Lensbaby is a wonderful company and they graciously provide Creative Light with lenses for many of our workshops. So if you are joining us on an upcoming workshop and you want to try out a particular lens, just let me know ahead of time and I’ll do my best to get that lens for you to play with during the workshop. We featured several different Lensbabies at our Ozark Springtime workshop a few weeks ago and they were a huge hit! Those spring flowers never looked as good as they did through a Lensbaby!
Check out Lensbaby lenses and discover their outstanding customer service at their website: https://lensbaby.com/
Posted on March 14, 2019
Arriving in Bandon, Oregon a couple of years ago, I was preparing for a workshop that was to begin in a couple of days. As I checked into the hotel, I was contemplating how to spend what remained of a blustery and misty afternoon. Just didn’t seem I would be doing much photography.
Realizing the marina was close by, I thought I would drive by in search of possible photo subjects and grab some great chowder or fish and chips at Tony’s Crab Shack. As I drove along, I noticed it was high tide and then came upon what looked like the remains of an old pier or support pilings for some structure long since seen it’s better days. Then it occurred to me. Wait, I thought. What a perfect spot for some long exposure photography. I retrieved my gear and hurried to the water’s edge and began to work the scene. Okay, I contemplated, what am I going to need? Of course my sturdy tripod. My neutral density filters as well, knowing to achieve the effect I was looking for would need a rather long exposure. And while it was overcast and not a bright afternoon, the ambient light was still too much to allow the exposure I would need for what I had in mind. Lastly, I grabbed my shutter release knowing my exposures would be long and most likely up to several minutes, which would require a rock solid camera absent of shake caused by even the most careful hand touching the camera.
Arriving at water’s edge, I proceeded to work the scene to settle on an optimal composition. Focusing as I would normally, based on a hyperfocal distance method to ensure needed near-far apparent focus, I was now able to calculate my exposure. I would note here that I use a back button focus configuration but if I did not, I would otherwise need to turn my auto focus off to eliminate the possibility of changing focus once I apply my neutral density filter.
Depending on your camera and the density of your ND filter, not only will you not likely be able to focus with the filter attached, neither will you be able to accurately calculate exposure. So what do you do? We’ve already addressed focusing, but for exposure what you may need to do is calculate the correct exposure for the scene without the ND filter attached. Take a couple of test shots. Check your histogram and make adjustments until you have it dialed in. Also at this point make any fine tuning adjustments to your composition. Now, add your ND filter(s). Here comes the tricky part.
You now have to calculate the adjusted exposure based on the factor of the density of the filter applied. If you applied a 10 stop filter for example, you must calculate the adjusted exposure needed for an equivalent exposure given 10 stops of additional time. Trust me, trying to do this quickly in your head can lead to a chance for error. Modern technology comes to the rescue though. There are numerous smart phone apps that can quickly and accurately do this for you. I personally use Exposure Calculator for Android, but there are many out there for both Android and iPhone. After determining your required exposure, quite likely longer than 30 sec, you may need to be sure your camera is set to the bulb mode. Now dial in your exposure time if using an intervalometer or just activate your shutter using your cable release and manually time the exposure. Now push the button and wait.
The image above of the pilings at the Bandon marina was 572 seconds @f/16, ISO 100, 10 stop Lee Big Stopper.
In a similar fashion, I happened upon this scene during my scouting. The weather was really ugly. I was the only person in the area, wind blowing, light rain hitting my face feeling like pellets of sleet, an angry churning sea crashing against the sea stacks. By using the techniques described above I was able to turn this into quite an ethereal scene.
Along the Big Sur coast, I was able to turn the early morning scene at Garrapata State Park into almost a painterly impression using an exposure of 6 seconds. The early morning hours and lower ambient light allowed me to capture this image without a need for neutral density filters.
In the example to the left, of tree skeletons on the northeast coast of Florida, I used a long exposure of the clouds to create diagonal leading lines to help draw you into the image.
All in all, long exposure photography allow you to convey a sense of motion or mood. And in some cases, the images are almost surreal, like the image below of sea stacks at night at Bandon, Oregon.
Important equipment items for successful long exposure photography
Long exposure photography is becoming increasingly popular as a way of expanding our creative vision in ways not possible, or at least more difficult, just a few short years ago. Some applications to consider might also include:
With just a few simple additions to your camera bag, you can create compelling photographs or increase the dynamic impact of your images by incorporating a few of these simple techniques while in the field.
During our workshops, we always look for long exposure opportunities. Any scene that has both moving and static elements offers
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Posted on March 7, 2019
Craig and I just returned from a scouting trip to Hocking Hills in southeastern Ohio. We are planning a workshop here in May of 2020 and needed to visit the area to check out potential shooting locations and nail down an itinerary. This was my first visit to this area of the country, and I’m happy to report that I can’t wait to go back! Incredible shooting locations, more waterfalls than I can count and the very friendly people of Ohio made this a must see place for anyone that enjoys landscape photography.
I haven’t done a lot of winter photography, so I was somewhat hesitant to head out in February to scout out a new area. But I was careful to plan ahead and took the right type of clothing that would allow me to be comfortable while being outside for hours, potentially standing still shooting. I wasn’t cold at all, especially once I saw the beautiful locations that were around every turn!
The majority of our time was spent in the Old Man’s Cave area, a gorge that has multiple waterfalls along the way. The walk along the bottom of the gorge takes about an hour if you are a hiker, but if you have a camera in hand and are even slightly attracted to waterfalls, it might take you all day!
Let’s take a closer look at two of the waterfalls in this area, and go over what shooting strategies I used to end up with some images that really capture the essence of Hocking Hills.
The first feature you come across in this area is Upper Falls, and this just might be the most photographed waterfall in all of Hocking Hills. It has an arched bridge over the falls, lovely flow into a bowl of green water and multi-hued red sandstone walls on either side of the falls! And it is a 5-minute walk from the car!!!!!
When I first approach a scene that I want to photograph, I tend to leave my gear tucked away and just walk around to get a feel for what I see and how I feel. Spending this time just taking in the scene helps me refine what I want to say with my images. In the case of Upper Falls, it is easy to immediately feel overwhelmed! I had just stepped out of the car and walked a short bit and now here I was, standing in front of this incredible scene! How was I ever going to be able to compose a shot that would do this justice?
When I am trying to compose a shot, I tend to look for interesting things that I can put in the foreground so that my image has depth. I was lucky enough to find a beautiful log positioned in just the right place! Perhaps a photographer placed it here long ago?
I loved the leading lines provided by this stump and after some walking around, I decided to get down low and use a wide lens (16-35) to accentuate the foreground and draw the viewer into the scene. I was careful to make sure my camera was level, and I tried out various shutter speeds to get just the right look to the flowing water. (Collect all your assets!) Note that I left a little bit of breathing room at the bottom of the stump, and a bit of room above the bridge so that the image didn’t feel cramped. I also loved the leading lines provided by the amazing colors of the sandstone walls.
As we were leaving the Upper Falls area, we noticed some gnarly tree roots and an icy patch that had foreground potential! I spent quite a bit of time setting up this shot, and while it isn’t a “wall hanger,” it does tell part of the story of this scene and thus is a worthwhile image.
At the other end of Old Man’s Cave Trail, you find Lower Falls. Fitting bookends you might say! After climbing down lots of stairs, you find yourself at a large beach area with a tall and very full waterfall. The water was particularly green under this waterfall, and I again walked around the scene, trying to find a composition that I liked. This was fairly challenging because the large, flat beach area was uninteresting and I struggled to find a way to convey the size and sheer force of the waterfall without it looking flat. The straight shot that revealed itself immediately was not exciting!
I noticed some logs laying to the side of the waterfall, but they were not positioned in a way that added to the composition. (What happened to the photographer that so carefully placed the stump at Upper Falls??! Guess he didn’t make it this far down the trail!) Notice how the logs laying from left to right seem to stop your eye as you try to visually enter the scene?
I began to doubt myself, maybe I couldn’t find a compelling composition at this location? I kept walking around the beach, going to the right (no luck) and finally ending up to the far left side of the waterfall. Voila!! This unexpected perspective of the Lower Falls was a winning combo of leading lines (the rock perfectly shaped to point to the falls), heavy water flow and beautiful green hemlocks to add a lush background. This one just might end up on the wall!!
The workflow that I have just described above is my normal approach to landscape photography. I get a feel for a location before grabbing my gear. Then I search for compelling compositions as well as supporting images that help tell the story of a place. They aren’t all wall hangers-but then, not everyone can be the prom queen! Even the lesser shots have value when you look back on them and remember how your felt when you stood in front of something beautiful! And isn’t that what this is all about?
Consider joining us when we return to Hocking Hills in May of 2020. We will spend time with you in the field, teaching you how to approach a scene and how to use your camera to make a photograph that makes you remember not just what you saw, but how you felt. And maybe by then, someone will have rearranged those darn logs!
Posted on February 14, 2019
by Jane Palmer
In the next few posts, I want to closely examine each of the 3 legs of the exposure triangle. The exposure triangle is something all new photographers have to come to terms with. Learning the relationship between aperture, shutter speed, and ISO is a fundamental skill and a deep understanding of how to use these elements to craft your photograph is crucial to a successful image. By looking at each one individually, I think it will help new photographers gain confidence when they set up
Shutter speed (SS) is the amount of time that the sensor is exposed to light. It is measured in fractions of a second up to 30 seconds (on most cameras.) We commonly refer to a shutter speed of “a 250th” or “125” as a shorthand way of meaning 1/250 of a second or 1/125 of a second.
It is important to understand the effect of SS on the final
A fast SS is often used to “freeze” action such as in sports or wildlife. Because the shutter is open for such a tiny amount of time, the subject seems to be frozen in
In this photograph of a loon and her chick, I used
In contrast, here is a photograph that uses a slow shutter speed to imply motion. Photographing moving water is one of my favorite things to do, and I am always careful to try different SS during a shoot to determine which one works that day. The speed and volume of the moving water have a major effect on the choice of SS, and the only way to find the ideal SS for the effect you want is to experiment.
When photographing moving water, be careful to maintain some texture in the water. It is tempting to use a long SS and really blur the water, but that often results in what I call “marshmallow fluff”–fine if you are making whoopie pies but not desirable for stream images! In the image below, notice that I used a significantly longer SS than in the above image (they were taken moments apart). Doubling the SS made the moving water look cottony and unappealing. I like to be able to see
No discussion of SS would be complete without talking about long exposure photography. This is a special technique that often requires neutral density filters that limit the amount of light entering the camera, thus allowing for very long SS. The special effects of this technique can be quite stunning and seem to be most striking when something in the image is moving (becomes blurry or smooth) and something is still (remains sharp.)
As you gain experience with long exposure, you will recognize scenes that would benefit from this type of effect. The classic shot of the pylons leading out into a body of water is a good example of this technique. The long SS smooths out the water and blurs any surface motion, yet the pylons remain sharp.
Long exposure images of moving clouds will cause the sky to appear streaky and will imply the sense of a windy day. Because there is no way to easily predict the results of these types of images, the best approach is to look for opportunities to use long exposure, and then experiment in the field using different SS to see which image you prefer.
A final thought. Have you noticed how many times I’ve mentioned the concept of “experiment in the field?” This is a major tenet of my workflow when I’m working a scene. I don’t ever want to get back home and discover that I left the photograph back at the location because I failed to try different settings or compositions. You’ve heard me mention this before: make sure to gather everything you need while on location!
The following photograph is a perfect example of this mantra. I was photographing the crashing waves on a very cold morning in Door County one January. I was caught up in the idea of using a slow SS to imply the motion in the waves. I took image after image, clicking away thinking I just needed to get the waves at the right time to get the image I wanted. I tried longer and longer SS and I just wasn’t happy. The shots were “ok” but that is seldom my goalpost when I’m in front of something spectacular!
As a last resort, remembering my advice to students to try different approaches while you are out there, I decided to try a fast shutter speed instead of the slow ones I’d been playing with. I took one shot at 1/500 and when I saw the image on the back of the camera, I was astounded!! The wave was frozen at
When I got home, I ended up processing only the fast SS shots of that morning! So remember my advice, gather all the assets while you are standing in front of your subject-you will have better shots and fewer regrets!
Next time, we will chat about aperture. Don’t forget to comment below and subscribe to be notified of future blog posts from Creative Light!
Posted on February 6, 2019
by Craig McCord
Before one can really take advantage of perspective and effectively use it to one’s advantage in compositions, there must be a clear understanding of what it is. Perspective is quite important as it helps overcome a challenge we photographers and even painters have, and that is creating a three-dimensional feel in a medium that is only two dimensional.
There are several types of perspective that should be considered, and the better understanding we have, the easier it is to incorporate their use in making compelling images.
Often referred to as a vanishing point because parallel lines tend to converge the farther away they go. A common example of this is a road seeming to converge to a point at the horizon. An even better example is the cliché of the railroad tracks seeming to converge in the distance. This convergence is recognized by our brain to interpret as distance
Height perspective is akin to linear perspective except rather than horizontal to the ground and vanishing in the distance, the vanishing point is on a vertical plane. If you were laying down at the base of a tall tree, or a tall building, they would appear to grow smaller, or converge, the higher they were.
When objects appear on the same visual pane, those closer to the camera will overlap and partially hide those that are further in the distance. This is a visual cue that those objects overlapped are more distant. This is rather obvious you might think but it still represents how our brain judges the spatial relationship.
The atmosphere is loaded with all types of particulates including moisture, smoke, haze, dust, etc. The effect is that as objects appear in the distance the become less clear, colors muted. Objects of similar color will be lighter in tone.
This type of perspective is when you have two objects of the same size, the one closest to the camera will appear larger. The closer to the lens the closer object is, the larger it will appear. This perspective I will further address in a moment.
Often used to create a special effect in photography, one technique would use forced perspective to make a larger distant object appear closer. You likely have seen this in images of someone appearing to hold up the leaning Tower of Pisa with their finger, and similar novelty motivated images. However, there are times when you can use forced perspective in conjunction with diminishing size perspective to your advantage in landscape photography. Let me explain.
During the period that I was shooting 4×5 large format, I would certainly take advantage of the tilt and shift features of this system. In particular, I would use the tilt function with a wide-angle lens, very close to a foreground element, exaggerating the size of the closest element, a diminishing size perspective. In my view, forced perspective and diminishing size perspective are two sides of the same coin. Each of the mentioned perspectives work not in isolation but in concert with each other. When we approach our composition using these as tools, we can be quite successful at creating a feeling of depth in an otherwise two-dimensional image, better holding the interest of the viewer.
My experience in 4×5 work helped me understand and really take advantage of the ability to make a foreground become not just a foreground but a key element in the composition, conveying both depth and context to the image. To do this most effectively, I would get very close to the foreground with a wide-angle lens, thus exaggerating its size in relation to other elements in the composition. I will tell my workshop students at times that if you think you are close, get closer.
When taking advantage of the forced or diminishing size perspective, I would do one other thing. I would tilt my lens down at an angle, much like you would using the features of a 4×5 camera or a dSLR with a tilt/shift lens. In doing so I can get closer or achieve the effect of further exaggerating the relative size of the foreground. Now, some would say you should keep your sensor parallel to your subject to avoid unwanted issues with linier perspective, where parallel lines would tilt outward and look unnatural. I have in fact been with photographers who went to great lengths to make sure their focal plane was parallel to the subject’s plane to avoid this perspective distortion. In many cases, their resultant image failed to have the impact it could have.
While parallel perspective distortion can be an issue, particularly when elements of architecture are involved, it is most often unnoticeable in typical landscape compositions, unless of course your subject includes tall straight trees or similar objects. Even then there are tools in Lightroom and Photoshop to help correct any minor perspective distortion.
In addition to exaggerating the foreground element, there is another reason to consider tilting your fixed wide-angle lens when it’s to the advantage of the composition. When you do this, you are shifting the lens plane, and thus somewhat adjusting the plane of focus to run more parallel to the ground. This is what is called the Schelmpflug principle. This principle states that if the lens plane is tilted down, when the extended lines from the lens plane, the object plane, and the film plane intersect at the same point, the entire subject plane is in focus.
The use of this technique can both exaggerate the foreground and provide illusion of great depth of field, and sense or feeling of depth to the image itself. The only limitation is if there are some vertical elements such as nearby tree trunks extend above the tilted focus plane cannot be focused on while keeping the ground plane in focus. Being aware of this helps in your approach in taking advantage of the Schelmpflug principle.
When I see a landscape subject I wish to photograph, I immediately look around for an interesting foreground to include. But it also works the other way. If I find a very interesting element that could be used as a foreground, I explore how I can use it in the larger landscape to tell the desired story. Next time you’re out, play with that wide or ultra-wide-angle lens. Get close, then get closer. Work the subject. You may find yourself pleasantly surprised with the result and may even modify your whole approach to landscape subjects.
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Posted on January 17, 2019
Just a short note to all about our new brand, Creative Light Photography Workshops. Teaming up with award winning photographer Jane Palmer we are adding a feature called the Creative Light Minute. The first was posted a couple of days ago and you can view here. We hope you will subscribe both to this blog and to our YouTube channel to help us grow. Many exciting things to come.
Posted on November 22, 2018
Happy Thanksgiving to all my followers. This year is rapidly coming to a close and I just wanted to express my appreciation to all my followers and fans of my work. It is certainly worth being thankful for what talents I am able to communicate in my photography. While my work is intrinsically rewarding, I do also get great pleasure in your comments and knowing I have been somewhat successful in communication my artistic vision to others through my photography.
If you are in the Kansas City area, I hope you will drop by my Black and White exhibit at the Harris-Kearney House Museum on Saturday 1st, 5:30 – 7:30 for a wine and cheese reception for the exhibit. I will be there to discuss my work and would be honored to meet and spend time with you. The museum is located at 4000 Baltimore, Kansas City, MO 64111
With Christmas now only weeks away, you might consider one of my workshops coming up in 2019 as a gift for one of your photog friends. The link below will provide details. I’m also excited to announce that now partnering with me on many of my workshops is famed photographer and Visual Wilderness Team contributor, Jane Palmer . Beyond being a wonderful photographer, Jane brings to the mix an expansive photography background and skill set. Her talent is manifest in her diverse works as an underwater, macro, nature and landscape photographer. Equally evident is her burning desire to share her knowledge with other photographers. Jane and I are committed to take your workshop experience to the next level. Our workshops are not just a photo tour, but rather a comprehensive program designed to elevate your skills as a photographer, as well as helping you come away from your workshop experience with memorable images, elevated skills, and new friends. This is our vision and purpose as we look forward to working with you.
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Posted on November 6, 2018
During my recent Missouri Ozark workshop I took the group to a lesser known shut-in along the Ozark Trail between Rocky Falls and Klepzig Mill. It was not a long hike, about a half mile off the main road, crossing a couple light marshy areas through some pines and scattered hardwoods. Soon we had to ascend a rather rocky path, not difficult, but still requiring mindful placement of feet due to wet rock surfaces resulting from rain the night before. It was early morning. In fact it was necessary to delay the start of our hike slightly so as to avoid the need for headlamps. There was no wind and the previous nights rain dampened not only the ground but any sounds in the forest, all now still and quite except for the sound of Little Rocky Creek as we came closer to our destination.
At the top of our ascent we came upon a small clearing exposing access the these small shut-ins. The morning fog and subtle light offered some fantastic shooting conditions. Only having an hour at this site we had to quickly engage our creative processes to come away with memorable images. The mode, colors of the ryolite boulders, the morning fog, early light, and subtle budding fall colors helped reward our efforts.
IF INTERESTED IN OUR SCHEDULED SPRING WORKSHOP IN THE OZARKS CHECK OUT THE DETAILS HERE: https://www.craigmccordphotography.com/Workshops-2
Posted on October 7, 2018
During our recent photography workshop in the Grand Tetons we chose String Lake as our last evening shooting location. Due to a slightly extended stay at an earlier spot, we now found ourselves racing the sun as we made our dash toward String Lake along the Jenny Lake Loop road. Finally arriving, we gathered our gear and quickly marched toward the lake trail, passing signs warning us to be bear aware. These warning certainly gained our group’s attention since most of our shooting locations did not lend themselves to likely bear habitat. Not the case here. The collective concern was magnified by the recent news of a hunting guide being mauled to death by a grizzly near the park just a short week or 10 days before. But we had no need to hike any distance as the lake’s edge was close by and determination to catch the quickly diminishing last light at String Lake drove us on.
Moving quickly, I led the group toward a location I had previously visited, stepping over fallen pine logs, rocks and other debris, as we trudged along a finger off the main trail, our movement accented by my friend’s banging small stones against rocks warning any unsuspecting bears of our presence. Arriving at lake’s edge we had little time to find a suitable composition to record our final night in the Tetons. In haste I managed to fire off a few shots knowing I would likely have to do a post processing blend to capture the needed dynamic range. Taking three quick exposures, two stops of exposure apart, I anticipated I would have the needed data to complete the desired image. Only later did I realize I had started my sequence too low and the result would have my sequence well under exposed. Normally, I would just have deleted the whole group. But having just received the new version of Skylum’s HDR 2019, I decided to just see how far I could go with my challenging under exposed sequence.
But having just received the new version of Skylum’s HDR 2019, I decided to just see how far I could go with my challenging under exposed sequence.
For reference I show here the three RAW files I used as a basis for the final image. As one can see, these are not ideal to work with and one can appreciate how I might just toss these images and scratch my head as to how I could have made such an error. I can only surmise in my haste to make the shot and hike back out before Mr. Grizzly got curious about my friend noisily banging rocks, I failed to examine my histogram, something for which I always admonish my students.
The final image, however, surprised me and further demonstrates the ever increasing power of our post processing tools. My initial post processing utilized the Skylum HDR 2019 to create an image from which I continued the process to completion. Clearly I also used my normal Lightroom workflow and finished in Photoshop with other tools such as DxO’s newly acquired NIK software.
While this writing is not meant as a review of either Skylum or NIK software, as such would need a much more in-depth examination, it is a demonstration on how we can use today’s tools to recover some of our mistakes and further really make our best images sing.
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INFORMATION ON 2019 AUTUMN IN THE GRAND TETONS WORKSHOP: CLICK HERE
Posted on October 5, 2018
Just finished up my 2018 Grand Tetons workshop. Another great group of folks. We all had a great time and captured some fine images. Certainly the colors were more timely this year than last. This shot was at our last morning shoot. Temps were worthy of a few hand warmers in the coat pocket or mittens. As usual we had to arrive at least 1 1/2 hrs prior to sunrise to ensure being able to place claim to some ideal locations but to our surprise the early crowd was not as heavy as in previous days. We were hoping for a little more dramatic light but were grateful for what we got. Forest fires around the area did haunt us to some degree with some hazy days but still an overall successful venture.
More to come in the coming days.
Hope you can join us next year.