Shooting in the Rain

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People always tell me that interesting photographs are made when there’s interesting weather. I’m not sure that rain falls into the ‘interesting’ category but we’ve certainly had a lot of the stuff in the last couple of weeks regardless of which coast you’re on. Going to a location to photograph and getting rain the whole time you’re there leaves you with some choices but essentially, wait for the rain to stop or get out in the stuff and make the most of it.

I’ve definitely been one to wait for the rain to stop, particularly when it’s cold. Who needs to be wet and cold? For shooting in forests in the spring, overcast weather, perhaps a little drizzly, is ideal. But that also means you have to deal with how to prevent your gear from getting too wet. Part of my reluctance to photographing in the rain is that, since electronics and water do not mix, it just doesn’t make sense. Now I know that many DSLR cameras have some degree of ‘weather-proofing’, and generally the higher up in the range the better the weather proofing but nothing is ideal. Art Wolfe tells an amusing story of how he encouraged a group of his workshop students using Canon 5Dmkii cameras to keep shooting even though it was raining and all their cameras stopped working while his 1D kept going.

So you’re committed to shooting in all weathers what to do? You could of course use an umbrella like the photographer in the image above. The classic approach that many workshop instructors will advise is to use a hand towel placed on top of your gear. It absorbs the rain and you can wipe your stuff down too. It seems to work quite well and hand towels are readily available, especially if you’re staying in a hotel! You could perhaps compliment this with one of the disposable shower caps that you can often find in hotel rooms which would cover up the back of the camera.

An alternate to this approach is the use of rain covers. There are an number of such proprietary covers that fit every budget. I have an aquatech basic cover, shown below. The one odd thing about this rain cover is that it also requires a special eyepiece that’s specific for your camera. The eyepiece is neat, large and spongy, perfect for someone like me who wears glasses and so I keep it on the camera full time. It’s a bit of a wrestle to get the cover on but it works great.

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My friend Jen showed me how to improvise a serviceable rain cover from a couple of items you can find in the produce isle of the local grocery store. Check it out in the image below.

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To make this you need one of the plastic bags that grocery stores provide for loose vegetables and a sturdy rubber band. I’m told that the rubber bands that hold bundles of asparagus together are ideal, although I like the ones that hold Andy Boy brand broccoli together. Then all you need to do is put the bag over the camera with the open end towards the camera body. Use the rubber band to hold the bag in place around the lens and then once the bag is firmly in place tear out the bottom so that the lens has an unobstructed view. I know many people would advise against it but I have skylight filters on all of my lenses and so ‘tearing the bottom out of the bag’ is really a matter of running my finger nail around the groove between the filter and the lens which is generally enough to neatly tear the bag. For those old enough to remember CDs, I used to do something similar to open the CD package – run my finger along the groove that the hinge of the case between the top and bottom parts. I must admit that this improvised cover works just as well as my aquatech cover. Something to consider if your caught out.

A Commitment to Becoming a Better Photographer

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To follow up on my previous post I thought that I’d share some of the things that I’d done to improve my photography and hopefully they may be useful to you. At the time I did all of this stuff I felt that I was a late starter and wanted to accelerate my learning as much as I could. This meant using the expertise and experience of photographers that I liked to quickly get a solid foundation. Please do chime in with your thoughts and comments too.

1. Find your true calling. Work out what appeals to you, what repels you. Start a scrap book real or virtual of images that appeal to you. Make a list of common attributes – color or black and white, landscape, portraiture, wildlife, fashion, wedding, dig a bit deeper what else do these have in common, what differentiates them.

2. Find a mentor. Have you found yourself gravitating to one or two photographers? Study what they’ve done and how they got the shots you particularly admire. Of course if they’re alive today they probably teaching workshops – take a workshop with them and get some advice from your photographic hero. Not only will you get some insight into how they achieve their signature works but you’ll also get some feedback on your own work.

3. Get the right gear. Figuring out what gear your heros are using to get the shots you admire and get the same stuff. Somethings you’ll want to buy now, others you should rent. But without getting the gear to get the shot you won’t get the shot. A good example for landscape photographers is a rock solid tripod – get a good one and it will last you for years.

4. Do what your heros do to get the shot. When I was at Alison Shaw’s Workshop on Martha’s Vineyard in 2009 I was bemoaning my lack of progress to Alison’s assistant Donna Foster. Donna quickly pointed out that there was a progression to my work but that my biggest problem was that I wasn’t shooting in the best light and that if I wanted to improve I should find some time to get out early or late and shoot when the light is good.

5. Get feedback on your work. There are a number of ways to get comments on your work I prefer one on one portfolio reviews with someone who is going to be brutally frank. Feedback from workshop instructors is also very useful, as can be comments from friends whose opinion you trust and value.

I hope that you found this useful. I’d be delighted to hear what you’ve done to improve.

Camera Profiles & Picture Styles

I feel like I must be the last person on the planet to have stumbled upon the utility of picture styles as they seemed to be called by Canon or Camera profiles as you might find them in the Lightroom Develop module. Do you use them as part of your raw file workflow?

Up to this point the first few steps following import of a photo into Lightroom have been to apply the lens profile, add a small amount of sharpening, crop & straighten if needed, set overall brighteness and adjust contrast. Then I’m over in photoshop for more adjustments.

I did play with picture styles a very long time ago and decided that they weren’t doing much for me. Since then I’ve studiously ignored them. When I have some time I will often click around prices of software just to see what things do. That’s what I was doing when I clicked through the various picture styles that are available beyond ‘Adobe’ that I had been using.

Adobe

Faithful

Neutral

Portrait

Standard

Of the 4 additional picture styles I feel like Landscape, used for the image at the top, gives me the best base to build from for this particular image. Still some work to do on this image but less than I would have had to do. Well worth a look.

iPhone Lomography – My Current Workflow

As I’ve mentioned before here, I’m having a blast working with the camera on my iPhone, largely pushing into territory I had previously thought was not for me. One of the presets that gives an effect that I like is ‘Lomo’ in the app Phototoaster. Not being a student of history it took me a while to realise that ‘Lomo’ actually refers to a camera, the Lomo LC-A, that has somewhat of a cult following. Characteristic photos from the Lomo LC-A have effects caused by light leaks, strong vignettes and rich, saturated colors. Often lomographers will shoot with slide film and cross-process to give strong color shifts. Take a dip into the Lomography photostream here.

While I mull over the purchase of an LC-A+ I’m going to continue playing with my iPhone. Read on to see how easy it is with the iPhone.

I am typically using Camera+ rather than the camera app that comes with the iPhone. Here is the image as shot. Lots of problems with this, my biggest criticism is that I should have been closer to crop out the sky and the trailer. You can zoom with Camera+ but be aware that it is a digital zoom – in effect you’re just using less of the sensor. If I have to crop I’d prefer to do it in software after the fact. I’ll admit that I think cropping is not a big deal particularly with my DLSR but is an issue with the small files that come from the iPhone, so try to get it right in ‘iPhone’ as it were.

The first step is to bring the file into PhotoForge and do some preliminary editing. Photoforge is a great app with lots of capabilities, curves, sharpening, cropping, textures, frames and effects and is one that I highly recommend. One of the neat things is that Photoforge has layers so you can work in a layer based manner if that is something that you’re used to. I generally am not using layers but I’m also just doing very simple edits. I will generally look at the levels panel and tweak there if I think the image needs it. In this case it didn’t a levels adjustment and so I moved on to add a bit of contrast using the curves function. I didn’t like any of the other tweaks that I might usually add and so I saved the file back to the photolibrary and jumped into Phototoaster.

I’m almost exclusively using Phototoaster now to add the Lomo effect. There is a Lomo effect in PhotoForge but it feels a bit washed out for my taste. I cropped the image to a square to remove the distractions and applied the Lomo effect which can be found …

I like the square but also wanted to see what else I could do. Here I didn’t lock the crop to a particular ratio and came up with this crop that I particularly liked and as before then added the Lomo effect.

A Visit from the Masters of Light

I was lucky enough to attend the flashbus boston stop recently. An amazing flash extravaganza, starting slowly with David ‘The Strobist’ Hobby and building to a crescendo with a live demo in the afternoon from the Dean of Flash Joe McNally.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect or for that matter why I was even going – I rarely take photos of ‘people’ and when I do I’m not fluent enough with flashes to incorporate them into the mix. I’ve actually given presentations in the Long Wharf Marriott conference rooms but to a crowd smaller than the 250+ that were there to see Hobby and McNally perform. It was fun to have an opportunity to interact with Hobby before the event began – he worked the line of photographers laden down with all the gear they own as they waited to get the Adorama event band and associated goodie bag.

Hobby’s presentation was a walk through of a series of images to show how he builds ‘Layers of Light’ to get the look that he wants for a particular photo. I must admit that it actually made sense and seemed quite a logical approach to getting the photo.

I’d seen McNally up close a while ago now at the Acadia DLWS in 2007 that was just before the moment it clicks came out and his star as an educator began to rise.  Then he did a couple of on location small flash lighting demos that were quite impressive. In the Marriott ballroom he started quite simply with one light building to a finale photographing Bruce (an audience member) with 4 lights including a gridded snoot for Bruce’s impressive beard.

The day really was a firehose of information and someone more practical than I would probably be able to put it to good use. I feel like I need some further study. Fortunately both Hobby and McNally have supporting DVDs.  I have McNally’s and certainly recommend it (check out a clip here) and I suspect that Hobby’s 7 disc set would be well worth the money.

I think Zack Arias‘s one lighting workshops are also worth checking out. There are a couple of places to get these – the live workshop, the One Light DVD, and the CreativeLive workshop. Zack starts more basic than Hobby and his teaching style resonates with me more than Hobby and McNally. For me the progression should be Arias, Hobby, McNally although they all have something to offer for everyone.

Cleaning Your Gear

Oh my goodness, there are few things that irritate me more than realizing that I have huge tracts of sensor dust to deal with when I get back from a shoot.  The less time I have to spend tweaking my images the happier I am. Granted this is very easy now to deal with in lightroom or photoshop but I’d rather not have to deal with the problem at all.  I’ve taken to making shots of clear sky at the end of a shoot in the vain hope that I’ll one day figure out how to automate the removal based on the imperfections on an otherwise clean background.   If I ever figure that trick out I’ll share it here.  Until then I’m going to develop a more rigorous sensor cleaning routing.  I have no excuses really.  I have sensor cleaning products from visible dust, including the sensor loupe, arctic butterfly and sensor swabs to name but a few of the tools of the trade.  I question the utility of the arctic butterfly – I’ve never had this do anything other than make the problem worse.  The sensor swabs however are great and highly recommended.  Cleaning your sensor is not very difficult but it is a bit nerve wracking the first few times.  Visible dust have a number of videos that explain the process nicely.  I would also recommend taking a look at Moose Peterson’s website for his gear cleaning videos.  This is a comprehensive set of demos covering everything from cleaning lenses to sensors.

Neutral Density Filter Systems for Wide Angle Lenses

There are a number of tips and tricks for landscape photography that I am slowly learning.  I understand the application of neutral density gradient filters and have been using them to balance bright skies with foregrounds.  I have been hand-holding the filter since it’s much faster and easier than using a filter holder.  As I begin to explore longer exposures, holding the filter for long periods of time without impacting the quality of the shot is a challenge.  Shooting with a wide angle lens, I experimented with a filter holder earlier in the year but was surprised when I got the filter holder in my shot.  It didn’t make sense to me since I knew that many of the photographers that I admire use one.  After some digging I found that my issue was with the size of the filters that I was using.  I had elected for the Cokin P system, although I was using Singh Ray filters.  The filters are 84 x 120 mm in size which means that this system is fine for lenses 24 mm and above, however it doesn’t work for the wide angle lens that I am favoring at the moment.  For that reason I am now exploring the larger 4 x 6 filter holder system from Lee.  I have the foundation kit on order from the good people at Samy’s Camera and I’ll share my experience with it in future posts.