The Stories Behind the Pictures

I’ve always enjoyed hearing what was going on while a picture was being taken. Hearing about how a dog kept coming up to the photographer to play fetch while he was trying to take the picture. Stuff like that. Here are a few stories behind some of my pictures:


Icelandic Horse : Prints Available

Beautiful horse standing still in a field with a castle in the background

The above is a picture of a beautiful Icelandic horse. These are amazing animals that actually seem to pose for you for long periods of time. It must have been wonderful taking this picture, right? What a peaceful scene. Well, the truth is, I was behind a barbed wire fence shooting these horse pictures. I wanted to get as close as possible, but I didn’t want to get stuck by a barb. I carefully placed my hand and camera on the fence, avoiding the barbs, and then moved in close and rested my head against the top wire to take the shot. Which was all fine. Except for the fact that the fence was electric. It sent a pretty major jolt right into my head and practically knocked me over. For those of you who are wondering, YES, I did say a bad word and, YES, I did say it three times and, YES, loud enough to scare the horses away.

The above is a beautiful silhouette shot of my wife. She danced ballet when younger and so I had this idea of silhouetted ballet shots at sunrise. We got up at 4:30 am and went to the lake and proceeded to get some great shots, including this one. Unfortunately, she was a bit out of practice doing the ballet jumps. After this shot, she landed hard on her ankle and I had to practically carry her back to the car. But, it’s a great shot, so well worth the trouble of carrying her back. (hint: that’s a joke)

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Sunset on the Farm : Prints Available

Colorful sunset silhouette of an Illinois farm

This barn was off of a highway in Illinois. I had noticed it before and my wife and I made a special trip out there to shoot it at sunset. My wife stayed in the car to read and I ran around shooting for about an hour. Our battery must have been a little low, because the dome light basically drained the battery completely and the car wouldn’t start. This wouldn’t be a big problem, except that it was dark and I had no idea where in the world I was to even call for help. We were stranded for about two hours. I eventually had to run a mile or so in the dark (with the state trooper on the phone) to find a mile marker and get someone out to help.

Before taking the above picture, I set my camera bag down and didn’t zip it because then I would just have to unzip the bag again to put my camera away and that’s a lot of work, right? I took this shot and had so much fun taking it that I forgot the camera bag was unzipped. I picked it up and my $2000 lens fell out of the bag onto a pile of rocks. Yes, there was glass on the ground. Yes, I said a bad word. Fortunately, the glass was from a $100 filter I had placed over the lens for protection and my lens survived the fall. I vowed to never again set my camera bag down without zipping it and have kept my vow.

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Rustic Window : Prints Available

A cabin window hidden in the middle of a forest of Birch trees

I had heard about a group of birch trees in Vermont and really wanted a birch forest shot during my trip to New England last year. I actually drove 5 hours roundtrip to take the pictures. When I got to the forest, it was completely overgrown and basically useless for picture taking. I had heard about a barn in the forest, but that was also surrounded by overgrown trees. All I got was the shot of this window. Five hours roundtrip for a picture of a window. But, this turned out to be one of my favorite shots from the trip.

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into the glamorous world of photography!

High Contrast Cathedral Images Using HDR

Some time ago, I was in San Francisco and stopped at St. Ignatius church. This is a really beautiful church and was fun to shoot.

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St. Ignatius : Prints Available

HDR rendition of the interior of St. Ignatius Church in San Francisco

Here are my recommendations on how to get this type of indoor church or cathedral shot using high dynamic range (HDR) processing:

– You’ll definitely need a tripod. It’s a good idea to call ahead and get permission to use it indoors.
– Generally, you’ll want to use a very wide angle lens. I used Canon’s 14mm with a full frame sensor for this shot.
– Shoot with a lot of depth of field. I used F22, since I wanted everything in focus, including the pews in the foreground and the columns in the background.
– Use HDR, or High Dynamic Range processing. There are books written about HDR, but the basic idea is to shoot multiple exposures and then use software to blend the exposures so that everything is exposed reasonably well. This is helpful in churches because the lighting contrast is so extreme. HDR photos do have an artificial look to them which you may or may not like.
– Important! Pay very close attention to your position. If you are trying to shoot straight on, such as in this shot, look at the corners and lines to make sure everything lines up. I was close, but not perfect, on this shot. With an ultra-wide lens, even a few inches to one side or a very slight tilt of the camera will distort the perspective. In this case, I wanted the same amount of column on each side of the image and the lines on the ceiling to be as straight as possible. I watched the corners and edges of the frame closely while setting up the composition.
– Use the manual setting on the camera. After setting your aperature, adust the shutter speed until you have a good exposure for the brightest part of the image, most likely the stained glass windows. Make sure they have good color and are exposed well. The rest of the picture will be really dark. Then, take subsequent shots while decreasing the shutter speed to allow more light. I do this in 2/3s of a stop increments. Make sure not to move the tripod between shots. When the darkest part of the image is exposed properly, you are done shooting that composition. The windows will be completely blown out, but the shadows should be exposed properly.
– After you are finished shooting, use HDR software to blend the pictures. Photoshop has HDR, although there are other options. I use Nik Filters’ HDR software and like the results I get better than with Photoshop. Photomatix is a very popular option. Even if you don’t have this software now, take the multiple exposures and you can process them later if/when you get the software.
– If you process in Photoshop or use filters, try increasing the contrast and enhancing the color a bit. I used Nik Filters “Pro Contrast” and “Brilliance/Warmth” filters for this shot.

Oil and Water Pictures

Oil and water pictures can look pretty amazing and are fairly easy to take. To do so, you’ll need a way to trigger off-camera flash, a macro lens (or other way to take close-ups, such as a lens with an extension tube), something with a colorful pattern, a tripod (recommended), a glass dish or container with a flat bottom surface, oil (vegetable or olive oil work) and water. Once you’ve collected all this, here are a few simple steps for how to take these images:

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Oil and Water : Prints Available

Close-up of bubbles made from oil and water

1. Use a glass plate or baking dish with a flat bottom surface. Put just enough water in the dish to cover the bottom of it, perhaps around 1/4 of an inch at most. 

2. Now comes the tricky part. You’ll want to get the dish suspended at least a foot or so off of the ground or some other surface. The dish should be suspended flat and there should be nothing in the center of the dish. In other words, you will need to be able to look through the dish from the top and see the floor or surface below through the dish. I used a square baking dish and balanced two opposite sides of it on chairs so that the entire middle area of the dish was suspended. I only dumped the water over once, which isn’t bad.

3. After you get the dish stable, you will want something colorful underneath it. I took some construction paper of various colors and cut out little circles and set them on the floor about a foot or two below the suspended baking dish. You can also use a colorful shirt, scarf, CD cover, or anything you want with good colors and an interesting pattern.

4. Set your camera with a macro lens up on a tripod (preferred) above the dish pointed straight down through the water.

5. Set up your off-camera flash so that it points towards whatever colorful thing you have below the dish. In my case, I set the flash on the floor on a very small stand pointed down towards the construction paper. The idea is to light up the colorful object. 

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Separation : Prints Available

Pink and green oil and water close-up

6. Set your camera to manual. Because this is a macro shot and the bubbles have shape to them, you will want some depth of field. Something in the range of f11-f16 should work fine. As for the speed, you will want it slower than your camera’s maximum flash sync speed. 

7. It probably makes sense to set your flash to manual. Using your camera and flash triggering device, take some test shots and make adjustments to the flash power until you get the level of brightness you’d like.

8. Now, add just a little of the cooking oil and you should get some bubbles floating around. You can move them around as you like.

9. Take a lot of shots, while checking the results in the monitor. Move the bubbles around and recompose. In my opinion, you are best off shooting a pretty small section so that just a few larger bubbles are in your composition, such as with the above examples.

10. In Photoshop, you may want to clone out a few bubbles in post-processing if it helps simplify and improve the image.

Have fun!

Zooming During the Exposure for Colorful Abstracts

One easy technique to get cool abstract color shots is to zoom in (or out) while the shutter is open. Here’s a few hints on how to take these:

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Color Burst : Prints Available

Zoom shot of foliage at Groton State Park in Vermont

– You’ll need to use a relatively slow shutter speed. For the above shot, I used a 1/2 second shutter speed at f22. You’ll want to experiment a bit, but 1/2 second is a good starting point.
– You still need to focus on the subject. In the shot above, the trees are in focus which gives a nice contrast between sharp and blurry instead of everything being out of focus.
– Make sure you fill the frame with the colorful subject. For example, don’t include the bright sky either at the starting or ending point of the zoom.

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The Americans in Venice : Prints Available

Zoom shot of Venice Carnival models in red, black and white

– Complementary colors work well in these shots.
– I like to use a tripod for these due to the long exposure times and to keep the camera steady. Of course, you can also try handheld which will give you a slightly different effect.
– I like to use the self-timer at 2 seconds so I can anticipate the shutter opening. I start zooming a bit just before the shutter opens.

How to Take Silhouette Pictures

If you found this article through a search on Google, then congratulations because it means you know how to spell “silhouette”.

I like taking silhouette shots. When they work, they can be beautiful. They’re easy to shoot and process. But I’ve seen a lot of bad ones too. Here are a few quick tips on silhouette photography.

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First Light : Prints Available

Dancer exercising at sunrise on Lake Michigan

First, the subject must have an interesting graphic design. This picture of the dancer works well because the model (a.k.a. my wife) knows how to pose. The interesting pose is what makes the shot. I’ve seen a lot of trees used as silhouettes. In most cases, this doesn’t work because trees don’t usually have interesting shapes. What you should look for is a simple, uncluttered subject with a shape that is compelling all on its own.

Secondly, on the metering, I’ve found that the camera meter will usually get pretty close on creating silhouettes. The lit background tends to turn your foreground subject dark. You can always adjust slightly using exposure compensation or in post-processing. The most important thing is to avoid blown highlights in the background, so be careful not to overexpose when shooting.


The Rose : Prints Available

Silhouette of woman wearing a hat and holding a rose against a red background

Third, pay close attention to the details of the design. For example, the profile of the lady with the rose is an interesting image. However, the design could have been slightly improved if I had tucked her hair in back underneath the hat (or cloned it out). This would have simplified the image somewhat.

Lastly, fix problem areas. For example, sometimes clothing tends to look a bit baggy on silhouettes. In cases like this, you may want to use Photoshop’s “liquefy” tool (or another method) to make minor adjustments to the shape of the clothes.