Podcast 224 : Martin’s Top Ten Images from 2009

Podcast 224 : Martin’s Top Ten Images from 2009

Happy New Year!! 2010 has begun, and today to start a new year of podcasts and photography, and I have a feeling it’s going to be a great year! And to kick off, now in its third iteration, today I’m going to take you through my own personal selection of my top ten images from 2009.

I really enjoy going through the exercise of looking back through my last year’s images, and trying to decide which ten really are my favorites. It gives you a view of your progression, and when I compare this to my list from 2008, I certainly feel happier with this year’s work, although I do still very much like my selection from 2008 as well.

The good thing about going back through your images from an entire year is that many weeks and sometimes months has passed, since we made most of the photographs, and so you can be a little bit more subjective. As we’ve mentioned many times, when you have just shot something, you can be a little more influenced by the experience and excitement of the shoot, and therefore favor some images that you might not quite like as much later on.

I like to give my images at least two or three days to simmer before I make my final selection of what images I am going to take further in my work-flow, and upload to my gallery etc. When possible, I like to give them a week or so. After many months have passed though, when you look back at the images, they have to really stand on their own merits for you to still really like them. This gives me confidence that anything that makes this list really is my best work from 2009. Well, actually, to really do this properly, I should probably do this around February or March time, but the start of the year just seems a better time to do this.

Here are some quick stats on my selection process before we look at the top ten. On my first pass through my 380 or so best shots from 2009, I was left with a shortlist of 50 images initially. That’s around 13%, which I’m pleased with. Even though I felt like dropping a few more into the favorites bucket, I left many out because I knew that they’d be trumped by other images. The 50 were ones that I knew I was going to have to compare side by side before making a decision.

A second pass go me down to 26 images, and now it started to get really difficult to remove further images. You kind of switch into a different mode and feel more like an assassin than a photographer at this point. I got down to 15, and had to take a break for a while. In the end, I had to turn to my art director (read wife) for advice. She has a different eye to me, and a different sense of the aesthetic to a degree, but she can also be that little bit more subjective than I can, and is always a great help in these final culling stages. Let’s take a look at what was left after my final ruthless cull down to 10 images. Note that we’re going to look at these in chronological order, and not the in priority of how much I like each image or anything like that.

Kanzakura White Eye

Kanzakura White Eye

First up is image number 2103 (above) from early February, the weekend before last year’s Hokkaido Workshop. This is a White Eye bird, shot in the early blossoming Kan-zakura flower. These little birds are native to Japan and here all year round, but they come to feed on the nectar in the blossom early every spring, and although they move very fast, there are enough of them to be able to get a few shots if you visit a park with the trees in them. This was shot in the Shinjuku Gyoen park, in Tokyo. I particularly like this shot because of that sea of pink in which the bird is situated. This particular tree is often so full of blossom that you can create the entire background with pink, making a beautiful setting for your subject. This is also one of those few occasions when I think that bulls-eyeing the image worked, as we can see the White Eye is smack in the middle of the frame, though the eye is slightly off-center, which does help to reduce the bulls-eye effect a little.

Shadow Dancing

Shadow Dancing

Eleven days later I was in the middle of the Hokkaido Workshop and shot image number 2161 (above). This is probably my favorite Steller’s Sea Eagle shots to date. I just love the way the wings are spread open, but the flight feathers pointing down, and the snow being kicked up by the bird and frozen by the fast shutter speed really work for me. The shadow of the bird top it off though, and this image kind of reminds me of a native American dance of some sort. Also, this image is a tribute to the quality of the 300mm F2.8 lens, even with the 1.4X extender attached, it’s sharp as tacks. The eye on this beautiful eagle is totally sharp, and you can pick out incredible detail in the feathers. Definitely one of my favorite wildlife images from last years trip.

Lone Tree on a Hill

Lone Tree on a Hill

Mother & Child

Mother & Child

Three days later still, and we’d finished the wildlife leg of the workshop, and had moved on to the beautiful town of Biei, for some Winter Landscape photography, and without doubt, my favourite image from this leg of the trip is image number 2183 (above). Here we see a lone tree, standing on a hill, in a snow storm. It’s not easy to see in the web sized image, but the reason for the almost totally whited-out scene here is heavy snow being driven directly towards us. I remember having just a few seconds to shoot each time after wiping the snow off the front element of the 300mm F2.8 lens. Every time I cleaned the lens and pointed it back towards the tree, I was able to get literally just three or four frames off, before having to clean the lens again. Incredible fun though, and this tree, complimented by the curve of the top of the hill were beautiful. Of course, I was shooting with the exposure set to around 1 stop more than the camera’s meter thought I should be shooting at, to compensate for the frame being filled almost totally with white.

Almost straight after the 2009 Hokkaido Workshop, I went on a reconnaissance trip to Jigokudani, to photograph the Snow Monkey’s, and my favorite shot from this trip has to be image number 2230 (right). The love and affection captured in the pose and the closed eyes of this macaque monkey as she cuddled her child to keep warm still captures my heard every time I look at it. I have two others that I really like too, with the mother’s eyes open, but to me this one captures the moment better than any other. This was shot from a kneeling position, very much like my kneeling photographer logo that you’ve probably seen on the Web site, literally just a few meters from the monkeys. I used the 70-200mm F2.8 lens at 200mm, so you can probably tell how close I was. I could have gotten closer, and indeed we do get very close to the monkeys that bathe in the hot spring here, but I didn’t want to scare these two away, and lose my shot. Once I was sure that I’d nailed it though, I let them be, and moved on.

The next image, number 2256 (below) was shot in April, when the full moon coincided with a Saturday, and the azimuth at which the moon would rise was going to be good to capture this Shinto Gate or Torii, on the rocks in the sea at a place called Ooarai, in the Ibaraki Prefecture, a couple of hours drive from Tokyo. This was a four minute exposure, to render the waves on the sea as a smooth silky sheet, almost like in a valley mist rather than sea. It had actually been cloudy as the moon rose above the horizon behind the gate, and having waited an hour or so, I’d given up, and gone into the hotel near here. I’d eaten dinner, had a beer and was in the hot spring bath looking out of the window when the moon broke through the clouds. I took another minute or so in the bath to warm up, and then went back to my room to grab my gear, and went out for another hour or so, during which time I captured this image. I was very pleased that the bath had big windows, and that I was able to go back out, having initially failed to capture anything.

Ooarai Torii (Shinto Gate)

Ooarai Torii (Shinto Gate)

We jump exactly three months next, from April the 11th, to July the 11th, and it’s another long exposure, in image 2319 (below). This was a two and a half minute exposure of a jetty, from behind a café on the lake Towada, in Aomori, the prefecture at the northern most part of mainland Japan, before you cross the sea to Hokkaido. The long exposure here again helped to smooth the relatively choppy lake to make a smooth silky surface, almost as though the lake was frozen over. It was pretty much dark when I shot this, but there was just enough light to give some texture in the mountains and clouds in the distance. There was also enough light that I had to use an ND400 neutral density filter to reach this long exposure.

Night Jetty

Night Jetty

I also recall that as I was photographing this jetty, the lady that owns the café turned the lights on inside, illuminating the jetty with warm light, that really didn’t match the cold feel outside, and that is another reason why I went with black and white for this shot, but from the start, I was thinking it would look much better in black and white, and I’d just bought Silver Effex Pro, so was looking forward to seeing what I could do with this. This I guess is a really good example of making a photograph, as opposed to a taking it, as we discussed a few weeks ago in Episode 222.

Red Cosmos

Red Cosmos

Hmmmm... Bokeh!

Hmmmm… Bokeh!

Another absolute favorite for the year is image number 2352 (above). This is a good example of what I call flowerscapes, as it was shot with a long lens, again, the 300mm F2.8 with a 1.4X extender fitted.  Keeping the foreground bokeh in mind at all times, and selecting a position to shoot from that renders the background almost black helped to give a dramatic yet beautiful feel, really making the red cosmos flower stand out. This image is actually included in my Flowerscapes Folio that you can buy from www.mbpfolios.com. It’s a wonderful collection of images if I do say so myself, so check that out if you are interested.

Next up is image 2372 (right), which is one of the first shots I made with the new 100mm F2.8 Hybrid IS Macro lens that Canon released in October 2009. This was shot stopped down just two clicks from wide open, at F3.5, which is pretty wide for a macro shot, which inherently have very shallow depth-of-field. That’s what I was after though, as you can see the beautiful dreamlike bokeh along the front and back edges of the flower, with really just a few millimeters in sharp focus. The V shape cutting into the flower with the green background to the right is almost mirrored by the pink V formed by the left side of the flower, as well as the fact that really none of the outer edge of the flower petals are sharp here, are also things that attract me to this shot. I also just really like the contrast between the pink and the yellow and the green. This shallow a depth-of-field is not everyone’s cup of tea, I know, but I really like this one from last year.

Just two more to go, and the next image in my top ten from 2009 is number 2413 (below). This is just the top section of the Kirifuri Falls in the Nikko area of Tochigi Prefecture, Japan. I visited three times on the same day, and the first two it was two misty to see anything. Not surprising really though, as the name of the falls, Kirifuri, basically means “mist falling”, or “raining”. On the third visit though, shortly after I got there the mist cleared for about 10 minutes so I had a bit of a photography frenzy. I shot everything from very wide, to the 300mm and this shot, at 150mm, was my favorite. The colors are nice, with the yellows, some greens left, and the red and orange leaves smattered throughout the scene, but the think I like most of all is that the leaves from the tree in front of the falls had all fallen just at the right time. If you imagine this shot with that tree fully leaved, you’ll realize that you literally would not be able to see the majority of the falls, so this really is perfect timing, with a big dose of luck to help out.

Upper Kirifuri Falls

Upper Kirifuri Falls

Colour Collaboration

Colour Collaboration

Finally, let’s look at the tenth image in my list, which is number 2417 (right). This is one that we looked at just a few weeks ago, shot at the end of November, 2009 at the Jindai Botanical Park. Possibly because it’s one of my most recent shots, but I’d say that right now, this is possibly my favorite shot of 2009. I just love this image. The multiple colors, with the splash of green in the foreground and then the red leaves slightly further into the shot, and then the orange then yellow leaves all totally complement each other, and I really like how I positioned the tree trunk along the right side of the image, with the Y shape as the trunk branches out just at the right place in the top right, everything just comes together perfectly for me here.

I should tell you that although there are a couple of portrait photos that I really wanted to include, I decided once again, as with last year, that I was going to concentrate only on my nature photography for my top ten selection. I do value my portrait work, but I’m decided to leave that out, as I do think of it as kind of a side business compared to my nature and wildlife work.

So there you have it — my selection from my last year of photography. A little self-centered again, as with the other recent achievements and goals episode that I did. My aim in bringing you this sort of Podcast is really to get you thinking about doing similar activities, if you don’t already do so. Setting goals and tracking achievements is very important to your success. Also looking back at the fruits of your labor, as I did in preparation for this episode, really helps you to see how well you’ve done over the year. When I compare my 2009 list to my 2008 list, which we discussed in Episode 170, I definitely feel as though my photography as improved over the last year. Likewise, when I compare these images and my 2008 images to my 2007 top ten, that we looked at in episode 119, again, I feel as though on the whole I’ve improved. There are favorites from previous years that I might rank higher than 2009, but on the whole, the quality is going up in my opinion.

Try to select just 10 of your own photos that would best represent your own 2009. If you don’t shoot very much, you could try selecting just 5 or even three images, but doing the exercise forces you to take a critical look at your year, which I feel has value and in itself may help you to improve in your photography as we start again in 2010.


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Podcast 190 : Ten Steps to Great Long Exposure Images

Podcast 190 : Ten Steps to Great Long Exposure Images

Following on from Episode 201 of the Martin Bailey Photography Podcast, I thought I’d post the transcript for Episode 190, in which I gave you ten steps to great long exposure images. So here goes…

Long Exposures can push a photographer and our gear a little out of our comfort zone, but they can also be a lot of fun. In April 2009 I was reminded of this when I did some long exposure photography over at a small harbor town called Ooarai, roughly translated as the Big Wash, in the Ibaraki Prefecture. I’ve been doing a lot of travelogue type podcasts lately though, so today I thought I’d move away from that and do a 10 step guide, but of course, interweave some of my real world example shots to make the points easier to understand.

Firstly, let’s make a distinction between Long Exposure and slow shutter speeds. I personally don’t like to use the term slow shutter speed in this case, because it’s pretty subjective. If you are shooting a flying bird at 1/60th of a second, this would be considered a slow shutter speed, if you were trying to freeze the movement of the bird’s wings, because it will be too slow to do so. It may not though be slow enough if you want to pan with the bird and create that beautiful sine shape made by capturing the wing movement. 1/60th of a second will also not be slow enough to make a large body of water smooth over into a dreamy blur. Anyway, let’s start looking at my 10 steps.

Step #1: Find a subject that will be complemented by a long exposure

As we get into Step #1, let’s bring up image number 1802, which will be on your screen now if you are listening in iTunes or on your iPhone, or you can view on the Podcasts page at martinbaileyphotography.com. So, the first thing you need to do, is decide on a subject that will be improved or have something accentuated by capturing it with a long exposure. It could be shots of fireworks displays, lightning strikes and car light trails. I’ve done all these, and have some example images, but maintaining my main nature photography theme, I thought I’d look at this landscape shot from almost a year ago, in Nagano prefecture here in Japan. I talked about it back in episode 141 as well. There are a few points that we’ll make while looking at this image, but the first, as I say, is finding a subject that will work with a long exposure. Your entire shoot doesn’t necessarily have to revolve around the Long Exposure shot. This image was very much opportunistic. But when I turned the corner on my way to the hotel, I saw the scene, and knew instantly that this would make a nice long exposure image. There were both heavy, textured clouds in the sky and a thick cloud layer in the valley, both of which would blur nicely with a multi-second exposure. It was also getting dark, with literally just a few minutes of light left in the sky, so I had to move quickly. This image was shot at F11 with ISO 100 for 20 seconds. Not incredibly long yet, but it was long enough for the clouds to move towards me, making this wonderful radiating pattern in the sky. This is accentuated of course because I was using a wide angle lens and the clouds closer to me appear to move faster than those in the distance. The 20 second exposure was also long enough to make the clouds in the valley blur making them almost look like a lake down there, behind the silhouetted foreground trees.

Yachiho Evening Sky #1

Yachiho Evening Sky #1

Step #2: Include a static anchor object

I find that long exposure images work well when you have something that will remain stationary in the image. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in the foreground, but if you don’t have something in the shot that doesn’t move, then the whole thing becomes a blur, and although that can work, it’s not going to be as powerful as having a rock solid anchor for the eye. In the image we’re currently looking at, the line of trees is the anchor. It’s a sharp, solid line for us to come back to, to keep everything in perspective, with that big sky adding drama to the scene.

Step #3: Use a sturdy tripod and good ball-head

Of course, if you are going to be doing long exposures, to keep the anchor object sharp, you’re going to need to keep your camera very still during the exposure and this requires a good sturdy tripod. One of the biggest mistakes people make when getting involved in photography is underestimating the value of a good tripod. It’s understandable, because when you first start out, you have the expense of getting a new camera, a few lenses, a camera bag, and these days if you don’t already have one you’re going to need a reasonably powerful computer and then there’s all the software. It seems to be never ending. So the last thing you want to spend a lot of money on is a $500 or even a $1,000 tripod. The problem is, at about the time you figure out why you need a tripod, you probably also find out that the one you picked up for $30 is about as useful as a chocolate frying pan. Don’t get me wrong, I did this myself. I’m right in there with you.

The game is still changing though, believe me. I thought I was doing just the right thing buying a nice Manfrotto tripod for around $450, and I stuck an Acratech Ultimate Ball-head on there, both of which are excellent pieces of kit, but when I moved from 12 megapixels with the 5D to 21 megapixels in the 1Ds Mark II and now also with the 5D Mark II, I found that with my longer lenses, like the 300mm F2.8, even my $450 tripod wasn’t quite cutting it. It had seen some wear though, but it was perhaps a bit small, and not really rated for such heavy gear either. The only way I could get things locked down enough for good sharp results in such high resolution images, was to buy a $1,000 Gitzo Tripod. The Acratech Ultimate Ball-head is still used from time to time on my second Gitzo Tripod, and it is a great ball-head, but my main ball-head right now is the Really Right Stuff BH-55. This is simply a work of engineering art. It not only operates beautifully, and locks the camera in position, stopping it dead with no effort, but it also looks and feels great. We can get into that in more detail in another episode though. The point is, buy the best tripod and ball-head or tripod head that you can afford, especially if you are going to be doing long exposure photography. If your camera gets blown around in the wind during the exposure you’ll end up with soft images.

Step #4: Use ISO and Aperture to go long, but beware of Diffraction

You should also use your lowest standard ISO for long exposures. Even if you are shooting in very dark conditions, set your ISO to the lowest standard setting, because if you start to bump it up, you’ll not only get shorter exposures, you’ll also start to introduce noise, where you really don’t want. Now, by the lowest “standard” ISO setting, I mean the lowest ISO rating that your camera has without going into any kind of expanded ISO. If your camera has expanded ISO settings, it usually means the manufacturer wasn’t comfortable making those ISOs available by default for one reason or another, so if ISO 100 is the lowest your camera goes to without you making any custom settings, then use that.

On my camera I usually use ISO 100 most of the time, but pretty much always unless I’m using the Highlight Tone Priority setting, in which case ISO 200 becomes my lowest ISO. Let’s bring up image number 1668, to help make this point. In this image, I was using Highlight Tone Priority to preserve the highlights in the snow. I don’t use Highlight Tone Priority much now, but at the time, that’s what I was thinking when I shot this image.

Snow and Stream

Snow and Stream

The next thing you’re going to want to think about is using a smaller aperture. Note though, that if you stop your lens down too much, you’ll find that diffraction starts to degrade your image. When we force light through a very small aperture, we start to lose resolution. It varies, but most lenses start to suffer from around F16. I generally tend to use down to F11, and only go as low as F16 when I really need to. F22 is for emergencies only in my book, and I only go there when I can live with lack of sharpness in my resulting image. I shot the first three images that we’ll look at today at F11 by the way.

Step #5: Use a Neutral Density filter when there’s still too much light

So, even when we have selected the lowest available ISO, and the smallest aperture that we are prepared to use, we sometimes still have too much light in the scene for the length of exposure that we want, and that’s when a Neutral Density or ND filter comes in. I’ll get back to what I used in the last image shortly, but for now, let me explain what an ND filter is. They are basically grey filters that cut out light without affecting the color balance of the image. They are rated with conveniently confusing numbers. An ND2 for example cuts out 1 stop of light, an ND4 cuts out 2 stops of light, and an ND8 cuts out 3 stops of light. There are much darker filters such as the ND64 at 6 stops, and the ND10000 at 13 stops etc. You may actually remember two wonderful PDF files that our good friend Landon Michaelson put together that we released with Episode 111. (Long Exposure PDF and Dark Frame Subtraction PDF). Well, I’m mentioning this right now, because the first document contains information on the various density filters and how many stops of light they cut out, so go back and check that for more detail.

Another type of ND filter that I should probably touch on before we move on, is the Vari-ND from Singh-Ray. This filter turns, a little like a Circular Polarizer, although contrary to common believe, it doesn’t simply use two polarizing filters to work. As you turn the filter though, you get a totally variable neutral density between 2 and 8 stops of exposure. Going back to the image we brought up earlier, I used a Singh-Ray Vari-ND filter in this shot to increase my shutter speed to 8 seconds. The Vari-ND is a bit expensive for what it is, and it can create some weird, unwanted effects with wide angle lenses in certain types of light, so it is not a magic bullet. But I find it works well with longer lenses, like the 70-200mm that I used here. I can’t remember exactly but probably dialed in about 6 stops of darkness for an 8 second exposure, which gave me this nice silky feel to the water in the shot.

Step #6: Take the guess work out of exposure

If you are using very dense neutral density filters, and you are working at a time of day when you can’t afford to do a multi-minute exposures only to find that you got it wrong and then the light is gone, you need to do a test first. The best thing to do is to meter and find your required exposure, maybe even shoot a text image, without the ND filter attached. Then when you are happy with the exposure, attach the filter and recalculate your exposure with the filter on. This will save you time, especially if your camera is using dark frame subtraction to reduce noise, and you’ll possibly also save yourself from making a mistake that could cost you your shot. You might recall that I mentioned an iPhone application called NDCalc back in episode 177. If you find the mental arithmetic difficult, NDCalc is perfect for calculating the new exposure in seconds, just by inputting your shutter speed before adding the filter and the density of the filter that you’ll attach.

Step #7: Focusing on what you can’t really see!

Focusing can be tough when it gets very, very dark. If you are working in normal light of course, and the darkness is coming from a very dense ND filter, the best thing to do is to focus before you put the ND filter on. If the front element of your lens rotates when you focus though, mind that you are careful not to rotate it when you attach the filter or you’ll throw your focus off. Even pushing on the front of the lens or grabbing the lens barrel can throw of the focus, so care is needed, but this will help you to focus while you can still see.

If it is already pretty dark, as it was when I shot the next image, number 2256, the chances are you no longer need an ND. Here I had some very faint light reflecting from the sea, but this exposure took four minutes at F8, so you can probably imagine how faint the scene was. I did a couple of things here though to focus, that I wanted to pass on to you. Firstly, through the lens, because there was a little bit of contrast, I could just about see when the outline of the main subject, which is the gate here. While turning the focus ring while looking through the viewfinder, I could just about make out the silhouette of the gate getting smaller as got into sharp focus. Once you go past the point where the focus is sharpest, it starts to get bigger again, so you just backtrack to where it was smallest and you’re there. If you have LiveView when you can faintly see, the image on the LCD can be noisy, but give it a try as well. Zoomed in to 5 times magnification, I could also see the outline of the gate getting gradually bigger and smaller as I moved in and out of focus.

Ooarai Torii (Shinto Gate)

Ooarai Torii (Shinto Gate)

If there simply is not enough light to focus visually, either through the viewfinder or on Live-view, you can try taking a powerful torch or flashlight, and actually throwing some light on your subject while you focus. If the light is powerful enough, it may even give your camera enough to auto-focus, but at the least, this should be enough for you to manually focus accurately. Be sure to actually switch your lens into manual mode though, especially if you use the default settings which have auto-focusing linked to your shutter button. You don’t want to manually focus then have the camera start to search for focus again when you go to trip the shutter. Also, if you are shooting with other people, you might mess up their photographs by shining a flashlight into the scene, so be aware of that. You could of course if you are alone use that same flashlight to do some light painting during your long exposure, which is fun, but that’s really another topic.

Step #8: Minimize camera shake with a cable release and mirror lockup

In addition to a good sturdy tripod, use a cable release or remote timer switch to avoid causing vibration with your hands when you press the shutter button to start the exposure. If you are using 30 seconds or less shutter speeds, you can use your camera’s timer, which will allow you to start the exposure, and then take your finger away from the camera, and allow any vibration to die down before the exposure starts.

If your camera has Live-view, and you use it, then you don’t need to worry about mirror lockup, because the mirror will already be up out of the way when you trip the shutter. If you don’t have Live-view though, or if at some point in the future the way Live-view works is changed, and that’s very possible because it’s still a new technology, you may need to set your camera to Mirror Lockup mode. This is basically where the first press of the shutter button makes your camera’s mirror jump up out of the way, exposing the shutter in front of the film or sensor, and then when you press the shutter button again, the shutter is opened and exposure starts. This helps to reduce vibration, caused by the mirror jumping up if you do that at the same time as you start the exposure. If you have a two second timer, you can often use this in conjunction with mirror lockup. What will happen is, if you set the two second timer and mirror lockup together, when you release the shutter, the mirror will lockup, and the two second timer will start automatically, and when the two seconds is up, the shutter is opened and the actual exposure starts.

Step #9: Use Bulb Mode

Most cameras’ longest shutter speed is 30 seconds. If you are going to go past thirty seconds, you’ll have to use Bulb mode, which is usually the B on the mode dial. This is basically where your camera’s shutter will stay open for the whole time that you are holding the shutter button down. Here, when I say shutter button, we’re talking about the button on the cable release, because remember, you don’t want to be touching your camera directly to start the exposure. You can hold the button down for the entire exposure, but most cable releases have a little slider that can be slid up or down, over the button once pressed, to stop it from lifting up again, effectively holding the button down for you. If you are timing your exposure, make sure that you use a stop watch with a beep when it gets to the time, or some sort of timer that will let you know when the time is up. If you use something like NDCalc that I mentioned earlier for the iPhone, not only does it help with the calculation of long exposures, but once you have the long exposure time displayed, you can start the count-down with the touch of a button on the display. It then plays a sound when the time is up, so you can stop the exposure manually. Of course before too long the iPhone will talk directly to the camera and stop the exposure for you, but we aren’t quite there yet.

The alternative to manually timing the exposure is a Timer Remote Controller like Canon’s TC-80N3, which allows you to dial in how many minutes and seconds, and hours for that matter, that you want it to continue to keep the camera’s shutter open. This is great for use in Bulb mode. You set the time of your required exposure, press shutter release on the Remote Controller, which is basically just a fancy cable release, and when the time’s up, the shutter closes. One other word of advice that kind of goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway, is when using bulb or doing really long exposure work, make sure you have fully charged batteries in your camera. It wouldn’t be much fun to get half way through a long exposure and your batteries die on you.

Step #10: Noise Reduction

Most cameras these days will by default automatically process images made with long exposures to remove noise. I find that the built in noise reduction in the camera and in Lightroom is enough for shots like the ones we looked at today. For this last shot, even with a four minute exposure, there was no real noise in the image after my camera had done its thing and Lightroom had applied its default noise reduction. Having said this, if you are shooting in warm conditions you can get more noise, and with longer exposures you can end up with a bit of noise. When I do have noise in my images, my favourite noise reduction software now is Nik Software’s Define, that can be found in the Noise Reduction package and the other Nik Software Suites. I also find that Noise Ninja from PictureCode does a good job of reducing the noise, and it’s highly configurable. There’s also a product called NeatImage, which is equally as good I believe.


Podcast show-notes:

Noise Ninja from PictureCode can be found here: http://www.picturecode.com/

NeatImage can be found here: http://www.neatimage.com/

Really Right Stuff are here: http://reallyrightstuff.com/

The Acratech Ballheads can be seen here: http://acratech.net/

The music in this episode is from the PodShow Podsafe Music Network at http://music.podshow.com/


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Snow Monkeys (The Japanese Macaque) (Podcast 187)

Snow Monkeys (The Japanese Macaque) (Podcast 187)

I’m adding an excursion to photography Snow Monkeys as an option to my 2010 Winter Wonderland Workshop. It will be a two day trip to Nagano, at the end of the week before we will leave for Hokkaido, with a Saturday night and Sunday to enjoy Tokyo between. I’ve been wanting to add this as an option for the last few years, and many people have requested it, but I had not yet visited myself, and so felt uncomfortable adding this option. Well, to remedy that, this year I went on a reconnaissance trip, and today we’re going to look at a selection of the images that I came back with.

I’ve mentioned before the importance of editing down images from a shoot to a very special few. After a few hours on the afternoon of day one, and a full second day’s shooting, I came back from Jigokudani in the Nagano prefecture, where the monkey’s live, with so many amazing images, that I simply could not edit down to just a handful. As I realized that I was not going to be able to get down to say 10 representative images, I set my sights on 30, and even that was just not possible. I toiled over my final cut for three days, after getting down to under a hundred, and finally whittled my selection down to 45 images that I uploaded to my Web site and my Photostream on Flickr. Luckily people also really seemed to like the images, and commented that they were glad that I didn’t leave any out, which made me feel better about my decision to not cut any further.

I think part of the problem in cutting images out of this set was because the snow monkeys, or Japanese Macaque, are so close to us humans that we feel a much closer connection than we might to other wildlife. There’s a sentience in those eyes, which although can be found in many animals, I just found it so human that I was moved by these monkeys. I didn’t want to make this a multi-episode series, so I tried hard to find just ten, but because there are three slight, but significant variations of the same subject that we’ll look at later, I ended up with 11 images to look at. We’ll try to skirt over some of the usual details on some of these though, so that we don’t spend too long.

Macaque #1

Macaque #1

Let’s jump in and look at the first image that I want to talk about though, which is image number 2245. If you are new to this Podcast, you can view the images in iTunes or on your iPhone, and if you subscribe to the Enhanced Podcast version, the images will automatically change for you as we progress. If you want to follow along on my Web site, go to martinbaileyphotography.com and click on the Podcasts link in the top menu, and locate this week’s episode in the list. You can also just type the episode number into a new field that I added in the Podcasts menu, and when you hit enter or click the button, you will be transported to that Episode, and will be able to see the show-notes and all the thumbnails to images that we are discussing. You can also just enter the number I call out to the field in the Podcasts menu, and jump directly to the image as well.

I took two camera bodies with me, so that I could switch quickly to use a different lens as opportunities arose, and I used four lenses for the shoot. One of the lenses I used a lot, and for this image, is the 135mm F2 lens. This is a wonderful portrait lens, so you can hopefully appreciate that from my initial planning of the shoot, I’d been conscious of the fact that I was going to be shooting portraits. I also knew that we would be able to get very close. I wasn’t sure just how close, but it turned out that much of the time we were so close that if we’d reached out our hands, we’d literally touch the monkeys. Here I used the 135mm F2 lens wide open, at F2, which gave me a beautiful dreamy feel, and the strands of hair from the monkey actually look like they’re radiating out into the white background. The depth-of-field is incredibly shallow here, so only the monkey’s right eye is in really sharp focus. With us having to stand on a wet step elevated a couple of meters up from the lower grounds around the hot spring pool in which the monkeys are bathing, there not really much room to maneuver back and forth. You’re actually also often reaching to your right or left a little more than you’d like to get a nice background, and so it’s easy to introduce a little camera shake if you don’t try to maintain relatively fast shutter speeds. When shooting at F2, I had a shutter speed of 1/500th of a second, at ISO 100 for this shot, but at some points, and when stopping down the aperture a little, the shutter speeds dropped significantly.

Macaque #5

Macaque #5

For the next image, number 2241, I was still using the 135mm F2 wide open, this time for 1/320th of a second. After you’ve been shooting for a while, and start to get used to the fact that you are standing next to a hot spring bath full of macaques, you start to try to capture little actions and expressions that make these wonderful monkeys seem a little more human or at least separate them from less dexterous animals. I caught this guy scratching his chin, and he also looked almost straight at me as I did so, which was nice. Notice how I included his reflection here, in the water of the bath, and gave a little room for the ripples, circling out from around him. As I was a little bit further away, we have slightly more depth-of-field as well, though still very shallow, how I like it.

Menacing Yawn - Macaque #14

Menacing Yawn – Macaque #14

In image number 2232, I was lucky enough to have my camera trained on this guy as he yawned. It looks more like a menacing show of aggression, but it really is just a yawn in the hot tub. The people around me didn’t get this. It’s really mostly luck, that I had my camera up to my face. Everyone that saw the yawn start then tried to capture it wasn’t quick enough. Well, I say luck, but I find it incredibly important to have the camera trained on something for as long as your shoulder and arm muscles will allow. Whenever possible, if I do have the camera up to my eye, just waiting, I also try to open my left eye, for two reasons. I find that when I’m shooting constantly with one eye closed, when I eventually open it, it seems to get a bit lazy, and I can’t focus with it properly. The other reason is to enable me to survey the surroundings, because you may not be trained on the animal that is going to perform for you. You will won’t see everything, but it gives you a better chance of seeing something else, and acting on it.

The last three images were shot in the couple of hours that I had at the hot springs in the monkey park on the first day. I’d concentrated on using the 135mm and I’d also used the 85mm F1.2 lens for closer shots. I got some nice shallow depth-of-field portraits, which was my plan, but using prime lenses, even on two cameras does have its drawbacks. I felt that I’d missed a few shots and so decided that on the second day, I’d keep my 70-200mm on one body, to give me some extra reach when needed, but also be able to zoom out as far as 70mm when necessary. Also, it was more overcast, and snowing lightly for most of the day, and so I was going to be happy of the Image Stabilization, which neither the 135mm F2 or the 85mm F1.2 has. I was switching between the 135mm F2 and the 24-70mmm F2.8 lens most of the day on my second body.

Mother & Child - Macaque #16

Mother & Child – Macaque #16

As I walked down the path towards the bath in the park, I noticed a mother monkey hugging a youngster to keep warm, and shot a series of images from which I selected three to upload, and I want to look at all three here. The first one is image number 2230. I crouched down to almost the same height as the monkeys to shoot these images. In this first one, I have a nice angle on the face of the mother, with her eyes closed, and also we can see quite a lot of the face of the young macaque. I raised the ISO to 400, because there was not a lot of light, and shot this with the 70-200mm at its full extent, 200mms. I closed the aperture down to F4 to give me a little bit of depth-of-field, because I wanted both faces sharp, but I didn’t want any more than this in focus. I wanted this dreamy feel to the edges of the fur too, and I’d have started to lose that had I stopped down to F5.6 or smaller. The aperture of F4 gave me a shutter speed of 1/500th of a second, which was nice to have, because I was a little unsteady and was shooting hand-held. I shoot with a tripod most of the time, but I didn’t want to start messing around just now, or I may have missed this moment. I actually shot the whole two days without a tripod here. It was just necessary to maintain the freedom that hand-holding affords you for this shoot, as fast paced wildlife shooting often does.

Mother & Child - Macaque #17

Mother & Child – Macaque #17

For image number 2229, I knew that I’d got a few shots from my initial position, so I used the wildlife photography trick of moving in a little at a time. If you try to move in to the optimal position in one go, you can often scare your subject, and I was still not sure how close I could get to these guys when they are not in the bath. I moved in closer, but then zoomed out to 160mm for this shot in which I basically now I’m shooting almost perfectly from the side of the mother’s face. I’ve cropped in just a little tighter on the head here too, and we lose the view of the youngster’s face a little, but this too is a touching shot in my opinion. The way the mother seems to be pulling the youngster, with her chin on its head, and the eyes closed, really seems to show the affection that she has for the child. Now, I’m sure that a part of this is just trying to warm herself up with the child, like a hot water bottle, but I know that there is some affection and an aspect of protection in there too. With the second face not so prominent now, I was not so worried about depth-of-field to get them both sharp, so I opened up the aperture by one click to F3.5. Luckily the second face is still pretty much in focus, but I wouldn’t have worried too much if it wasn’t.

 

Mother & Child - Macaque #18

Mother & Child – Macaque #18

In the last of this series of three, image number 2228, I zoomed out just a little to 150mm, and here we see the mother’s eyes open, giving us a slightly different atmosphere to the image. I haven’t cropped in quite so tightly on the head, which puts the now open eyes on the top right third intersection, and the youngster’s face is close to the bottom left third intersection, so a nicely composed image too. In all three images we have a relatively clean background, with a slight dark patch in the top left of this one, but overall the colour matches the monkeys, making for a pleasing colour palette for these images. For all of the images that we see in this set, I had reduced the red saturation to +25 in Lightroom. I generally apply +18 for Green and Blue and +50 for the Red channel when I import, but I a second preset that only applies +25 to the red channel, when there is something that is already quite red in the shots.

In image number 2227, I was again looking for those little actions that help us to connect with our cousins, and here I caught a youngster comparing his thumbnails. He had literally lined them up and was looking at them as if to say, “Wow! I have two of these, and they’re just the same!”. Many times I saw these macaques doing something that showed just how intelligent they are, and was pleased when I captured the moment like this. As I say, the second day was a little darker, and we can see the light snow falling in this image. I’d raised the ISO to 400, and with F4 on the 70-200mm lens I had the shutter speed set to 1/400th of a second here. Again I’ve given room for the reflection of the monkey in the water, and I also tried to include the larger ripple rings here, as well as that gold coloured stone in the background. Although I didn’t do this for that last three images, pretty much all of the others have a slight vignette added in Lightroom, which I think adds to the image and helps to draw us in to the subjects.

Two Thumbs? - Macaque #19

Two Thumbs? – Macaque #19

For image number 2222, I closed the aperture down a click to F4.5 for this much closer shot of a very pensive looking male. This guy was sitting right at the edge of the pool and I was literally at the closest focus distance for the 70-200mm F2.8 lens here. I just love the intelligence in those eyes. I can’t help also thinking though that he’s wishing there weren’t so many damned photographer’s sticking their cameras in his face. At any one time for the most part of the day there must be a good 15 to 20 photographer’s around this pool, and a handful or non-photographer tourists as well. With this in mind, the macaques are incredibly calm, rarely showing any signs of being annoyed with the humans around them, though there is the odd fight between the monkeys themselves.

Macaque #24

Macaque #24

Let’s look at image number 2215, to give you a little more context of the surroundings. More of a documentary photograph, here I used the 24-70mm F2.8 lens at 32mm, with an aperture of F8 for 1/60th of a second to show you the surroundings. As you can see there are a lot of monkeys in the hot springs bath, just hanging out and keeping warm. You can also see that there is a fair amount of steam coming off the hot water, which can and does get in the way of some shots. As cool air blows through, you lose some chances, because the scene totally whites-out. You have to time your captures to when the mist is lighter. Of course, it does add to the atmosphere sometimes, so there’s no need to wait for it to totally clear, but when it’s too heavy, you really have a problem to see what’s happening. If you are in the path of the mist too, to the right of the bath, and the right of this shot, it steams up the front element of your lens too, which is obviously another problem that you have to deal with.

Communal Bath - Macaque #31

Communal Bath – Macaque #31

There was a beautiful old lady monkey that we see to the left of image number 2203. I’d noticed here keeping on licking her chapped lips. They must have been playing up something rotten, because ever 10 seconds she’d lick them like this. I actually shot a number of portraits right up close from the edge of the pool, and stopped, thinking I’d gotten a sharp shot or two, but when I looked on the PC, they were not sharp. I’d gone very wide aperture and didn’t quite make the shot, I think because I was leaning out uncomfortably backwards to get far enough away to get her at my minimum focus distance, and so I was pretty annoyed with myself for this. Still, I did wait for that tongue to flick out and lick her lips here too, and I generally like this scene, with the younger females around the old matriarch, seeming to me at least to be showing respect in the way they are carrying themselves around her.

Dry Lips - Macaque #43

Dry Lips – Macaque #43

I want to finish with image number 2201, in which we can see a family, with I think daddy monkey grooming mummy monkey, and baby monkey sitting there between them. I love the expression on mummies face, as she is being pampered. It makes me think that we humans think we have it all figured out, and for sure, it is a tough life for these monkeys, living so far north in the cold mountains of Nagano, but when you think that these guys have a warm bath to soak in, a caring hubby to groom you, and a little one close by. They are surrounded by other members of their society all living in relative peace. In some ways these guys seem to have it all figured out much better than we do.

Family - Macaque #45

Family – Macaque #45

This is not only the last shot for today’s Podcast, but also the last one that I uploaded from this set. It was shortly before 3PM, and not long after this the monkeys tend to leave the hot spring bath. I guess they have to dry off before nightfall, when the temperature drops considerably out here in the mountains. So, shortly after I shot this I called it a day, and went back to the hotel I’d booked, and took a steady drive back to Tokyo the following day. Happy with my reconnaissance trip, as I say, I’ve decided to add this as an option to next year’s workshop. I think I should be able to make it so that if this was the only part of the trip that you wanted to join, you probably will be able to, but for anyone coming in from outside of Japan, I’m sure it will make more sense to join both this and at least the first leg of the Hokkaido trip. There will be a short break after the monkey shoot before we head up to Hokkaido. The monkeys are about a four hour drive from Tokyo, but not in the same direction as Hokkaido, so we will have to go back to the city then regroup to fly to Hokkaido. Right now I’m planning to get us back to Tokyo in the Saturday afternoon, and give you Saturday night to party or do whatever you want in Tokyo. You’ll then have Sunday to do a little sightseeing, and we’ll head off to Hokkaido bright and earlier on the Monday morning. I’m doing the monkey trip before Hokkaido so that people that want to concentrate on wildlife shooting don’t have to do the Landscape shooting part, at the end of the Hokkaido tour. Of course, I personally think that the entire trip will be amazing again, so would really like to see people sign up for all three legs, but I didn’t want to force wildlife shooters to go on the landscape portion, and I think the way I’m planning it will give people the most possible flexibility in their options.

I’m just working the last few details before I publish the dates and prices etc. on my Workshops web site at mbpworkshops.com, which I plan to do by the end of April. If you are interested and want me to keep you informed about these and any other workshops I do, please drop me a line at workshops at martinbaileyphotography.com, and I’ll add you to my distribution list. Of course, no one else will see your email address, and I will never pass this on to third parties for any reason.

So, I hope you enjoyed sharing my experience at the Jigokudani Monkey Park in February 2009. If you are interested, I’ll put a link in the show notes to a livecam where you can check out the monkeys in the bath. I’m not sure that they are in the bath all year round, so if you listen to this episode from the archives in other seasons, you may not see anything, but check it out in the winter months, and you’ll definitely see the monkeys all relaxing in the bath, and doing their thing. I took a look at the livecam today, towards the end of April, 2009, as I prepared for this episode and there were very few monkeys in the bath. Note that the web cam doesn’t run through the night, and because Japan is GMT + 9 hours, this means that you will need to check in your evening or early morning if you live in the US or Europe, depending on your time zone. The cool thing is though, that you have links to snapshots taken throughout the day on the left side of the screen, so you can check to see if there were any monkeys there at all, on that day, and the previous day.

One other thing to mention today is that if you use Twitter, please do follow me. I can be found at Twitter.com/MartinBailey, with no space between my names. Last week Scott Bourne was kind enough to include me in his list of the top 10 photography related twitterers to follow, that he posted on photofocus.com, which was great. Thanks so much for that Scott, if you’re listening. I’ll put a link to Scott’s list in the show notes as well, in case you want to check out who else you should be following.

If you’ve just found this podcast because of that, then welcome aboard. If you like what you see and hear here, then do tell your friends and spread the word. We have a great community on our Photography forum at martinbaileyphotography.com as well, so please do check that out when you have a minute too. For now, you have a great week, whatever you’re doing. Bye bye.


Show Notes

Here’s a link to the Livecam at the monkey partk in Jigokudani, Nagano prefecture, Japan. Remember that Japan is GMT : 9 hours: http://www.jigokudani-yaenkoen.co.jp/livecam/monkey/index.htm

Here is Scott Bourne’s “Follow Friday – The Top 10 Photography-related People on Twitter” list: http://photofocus.com/2009/04/17/follow-friday-the-top-10-photography-related-people-on-twitter/

The music in this episode is from the PodShow Podsafe Music Network at http://music.podshow.com/


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Posted on behalf of Martin by Michael Rammell, a Wedding Photographer based in Berkshire, England. Michael also has a long-standing passion for Nature & Landscape photography. To catch up with Michael, visit his Web site, and follow him on the following social networking services.

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Inawashiro Lake Blizzard – Part #2 (Podcast 173)

Inawashiro Lake Blizzard – Part #2 (Podcast 173)

Last week we started a two part series in which we are looking at some images that I made on a trip over at the Inawashiro Lake on the last day of 2008, hoping to capture one or two more good images before I said goodbye to the year. I believe I did that, as we saw two of the shots for this day in my best 10 shots of 2008, in episode 170, three weeks ago, and we’ll take a quick look at those again today. Let’s jump right into it though, and we’ll see what I shot in the few hours after breakfast, before lunch, when we started heading back to Tokyo.

So, we were played out of Episode 172 with me all excited after my hour long shoot in the blizzard at dawn. I was heading back in for breakfast, but I wanted to remind you, I’ve said before, that when you go back inside with really cold gear, condensation will form on it, and if your gear is cold to the core, as mine would have undoubtedly been, condensation can form on the inside, giving you all sorts of problems, and even damaging your body or lenses. To avoid this, you need to put the gear into your camera bag and zip it up, and don’t open it in doors until the gear has had a chance to slowly warm up. Depending on how cold it is, it can take a good hour or more, before the risk of condensation subsides. You can also put your gear into plastic bags and tie up the opening to make it relatively airtight, but I prefer to just stick it all back in the bag if I’m going into the warm. Plastic bags do help to get the gear warmed up more quickly, so probably not to be ruled out as an option, especially if you are going to use it soon after going inside.

If you want to make backups of your images while you’re inside, I suggest you take the memory card out before you pack your gear away, as it will be tempting to open up the bag too early if the memory is still in the camera. Another thing to note is that if you are going to be heading back out into the cold within an hour or two, it is really not worth allowing your gear to warm up, because it’s only going to get cold again. Because of this, if you are in a relatively safe area, as in low crime, consider just putting your gear in the trunk of your car, as it’s going to be pretty cold in there too, if you haven’t had the engine running of course. I threw all my gear into the trunk of the car, and left it out in the cold while I had breakfast and checked out of the hotel etc. When I came back out to grab it and start shooting again, there was actually still snow all over my 600mm and 300mm lenses, and the body for that matter, so it was most definitely still below freezing in my car.

Anyway, let’s take a look at some more shots from the morning. The first of which is image number 2048. Although we haven’t looked at any swan shots yet, I was here mostly interested in shooting the swans that spend their winters here, because it’s warmer than Siberia, where they fly down from. At most of the lakes where you find swans in Japan you almost always find a large colony of Pintail ducks too, and these are what we see here walking up the snow covered beach of the Inawashiro Lake. Ducks are pretty comical I think, and this procession of waddling beauties is a good example. What they do is waddle their way up the beach, and wait outside the cafeteria door next to the hotel in which I’d stayed. The lady in the hotel cuts bread into pieces which they sell for $2 a bag. Tourists buy the bread and come outside and give it to the ducks, and then when it’s all gone, they fly down to the water to have a drink to wash down the bread. Then they waddle back up to the door to wait for the next tourist bearing bread to come out. I have mixed feelings about feeding these birds, but it is how they’ve been conditioned, and they look OK for it, so I guess its fine. Us humans need that contact too I believe. My wife doesn’t really like the cold, or more accurately, she doesn’t like the sensation of slipping on the snow, so she rarely comes with me to places like this, but here, she knows she can feed the ducks, and that makes it worth here while to come with me. We had also headed out just for a break, and spent the previous few days doing more of a touristy thing, visiting a quant village about an hour from here on the winter roads.

Pintail's March

Pintail’s March

I shot this image by the way with the 70-200mm F2.8 L lens and had set my camera to ISO 200, giving me a shutter speed of 1/640th of a second at F5. I didn’t select a smaller aperture, because I wanted to maintain a shallow enough depth of field to allow the back of the line of ducks and the waves on the lake to go out of focus some, adding a feeling of depth to the image.

I shot a few images, such of which are uploaded as well, of the ducks up close. It helps to try to slowly move in, shooting as you go, trying to get gradually closer to your subjects, if there’s a chance that you’ll spook them and they’ll fly away, as these ducks do. Sometimes though, you can get in so close, that you can capture some pretty cute expressions, as I think I did in image number 2051. Here I got so close that the duck on the right of the image looked right up at me, a little apprehensively, so I got a nice shot of that awareness of my presence. Pretty much all of the other shots are of the ducks in a totally nature pose, totally oblivious of my presence, so I thought this was a nice addition. This was shot still at ISO 200 but for 1/160th of a second at F6.3. I was add the wide end of my 70-200mm lens shooting at 80mm.

Awareness

Awareness

As you get too close though, the birds will get skitty and fly away, as they did a moment or two after the last shot. I wanted to see if I could capture that though, and so when they’d come back, I set my camera up to capture the action, as we can see in image number 2054. I selected an aperture of F2.8, wide open, with a shutter speed of 1/640th of a second, at ISO 100, and as I got close to the ducks again, they took flight, and I snapped of a few frames with the camera’s focusing system set to AI Servo, hoping to latch on to something interesting, and I did, with this single bird that we can see in the middle of the frame looking pretty sharp. It’s actually slightly soft due to the movement, but sharp enough to set it apart from the rest of the flock, for a pretty dynamic image of these pintails taking flight.

Flying Pintails

Flying Pintails

Tree with Three Swans

Tree with Three Swans

There were a couple of trees on the snowy beach of the lake, and I’d basically sat myself down in the snow, with my tripod legs opened up to the second notch, partly so that I could put my legs between the tripod legs, but mainly to give the tripod a wider base to help fortify it against the wind that was still battering this beach. I shot image number 2057 from this position. This is the image that I mentioned in my 2008 best shots round up episode. It is similar to the one I selected in my best ten, but this one has three swans in the top of the frame, adding an additional element of interest. I wanted to mention this image today for two reasons. Firstly, because I really like it, and wanted to share it with you. Secondly, because I used the new Content Aware Scaling in CS4 to bring the swans a little bit closer to the tree. In the original they are a little bit farther away from the tree than this, higher up in the frame. There was a lot of dead space which gave the impression of the image being too tall, in the native aspect ratio of the images from my 1Ds. So I basically selected the bottom half of the shot including the tree, then selected the top of the shot from the birds and above, saved the selection, and then selected the Context Aware Scaling, then made it aware that I wanted to protect my saved selection. That way, when you resize the image by dragging the frame around it, only the space between the tree and the swans get’s compressed, while maintaining the slight gradation in parts of the sky and the driving snow, that you can’t really see in the Web version. I probably wouldn’t have done this a few years ago, but I’m thinking that this is a good use of the technology now. It was shot at F8 for 1/125th of a second, at ISO 100.

Tree on Wintry Shore

Tree on Wintry Shore

Next let’s take another look at image number 2058, which was one of my 2008 best ten selection. I spoke about this shot recently, so won’t go into any detail on that again. The conditions were the same as the last shot we looked at anyway. I did want to mention why I chose this over the one with the swans for my best ten of 2008 though. You know, many moons ago, I did an episode on adding an additional element of interest, and I still do that when it makes sense. But this is one of those times where simplicity really does win out in my opinion. I’ve been doing a lot of test printing recently, and this has been one of the shots I’ve been printing, and there is enough in the image to hold our interest I think, without the swans. The main subject of course is the tree, and in a print, this is a pretty stunning piece of work. The dappled pattern on the bark adds nice contrast, and there are actually a number of brown withered leaves left on the tree that you end up picking out visually as the scan the print. Then of course though there’s the white snowy beach, which probably isn’t an element of interest in itself, more just stage setting, and then the breaking waves help to show that we’re at a lake or maybe even the sea, and there’s wind. Then as you look closer still, you see the snow, driving across the image from right to left, which actually helps to bring us back to the tree as our eyes wander. So basically we’re keeping the lone tree as the main subject, with nothing to fight for our attention. I do really like the version with the swans too, so I’m not ruling it out at all, but when the swans are there, it does fight for our attention, so it is not quite as aesthetic as this shot on the whole.

After I’d shot a number of frames of the tree, and was happy that I’d got what I wanted, with the waves in the right place and the snow adequately captured, a large group of swans flew in, so I took the camera off the tripod, and hand held for a number of shots with the swans flying into their roost. I shot a few images that I also like that I uploaded as well, but then saw or sensed some warm light behind me, and as I turned, there was a small break in the low cloud, revealing an patch of light and part of the distant bank of the Inawashiro Lake that we can see in image number 2061. This was also one of my favourites of 2008, that we looked at just a few weeks ago, so I’m not going to go into detail on the capture again. I did want to touch on one thing though, following a question from Ken Dickson in the forum at Photography martinbaileyphotography.com. Ken said “I was surprised to see you include images taken only days before in your best of collection. I normally like to allow my images to soak a bit before making that kind of decisions.” This is a great point. I actually mentioned this about another swan shot that I made in the last few days of 2007 that I included in my 2007 collection as well. I am a big believer in having a cooling off period after the excitement of the shoot to allow the emotional connection that we have with images to subside a little, so that we can make more objective decisions about our selection. Before I even upload images to my gallery, when possible, I allow two to three days for them to sink in a little. I’m living with 12 shots from a flowerscape shoot last weekend at the moment, waiting for the memories of the shoot to die down a little, as I had a great time shooting them, and it will make me want to upload them more now than it will in a few days. It’s definitely best to do this, and I find that this helps to make sure that in the most part, only your best work hits the eyes of the rest of the world.

Momentary Break in the Storm

Momentary Break in the Storm

There was a teeny weeny bit of risk in selecting these too shots from the last day of 2008 for my best ten of the year, which I was definitely conscious of. Things to note here though, are that although I shot them on December the 31st, I didn’t actually upload them until the 4th of January. This was really the time needed for to me to through my cooling off process. The other thing to bear in mind is that I didn’t actually put the list together until the 6th of January, so I’d actually had almost a week for these images to become real to me. Even with that in mind, as I said, I was conscious that there was still going to be some of the excitement of the shoot left in me. Almost a month has passed now though, and I’m still happy with the selection, so I think I’m good here. Thanks for the great question though Ken, and for your continued participation in the forum. It’s all very much appreciated.

So, let’s look at one last image before we close for today, and that is image number 2062. The last shot that we looked at was shot at 28 seconds past 11:14AM, just twenty seconds before this on. The brief break in the heavy snow clouds lasted literally just a few seconds, and by the time I shot the same six swans flying towards their roost here, it was gone. This is another one of those images that looks great in a print, as there are a literally hordes of swans in this photo, that you can hardly make out in the Web version. There are three swans on the lake in the foreground, directly below the six flying. Then there are of course the six flying in, but I have counted 115 swans in that roost or breeding ground between that dark line which is like a hard sand bank, and the snow on the land that we see further back in the distance. I just love delving into the details of shots like this, especially in a large print. I shot this by the way at F11 for 1/60th of a second, with ISO 100. Relying a little on the 70-200mm F2.8 lenses image stabilization here, shooting at a 150mm focal length.

124 Swans

124 Swans

So, as I mentioned, I was basically here with my wife. It was one of those relaxing break, with some photography sort of trips, so I didn’t want to push my luck doing too much. I’d had a flurry of images here having spent a few hours on the snow, in total, and was feeling pretty happy with my harvest. I was thinking to go back to the falls that I shot in winter at the beginning of January in 2008, but as the swans had kept me out of the beach for a little longer than I expected, I decided not to push my luck, and asked if my wife was ready to start heading back to Tokyo. The snow was pretty heavy still, so we decided to do just that. The snow stopped just a few miles towards home from here mind. We literally drove into a tunnel feeling like we were at the north pole, and we came out, and the sun was shining, and there was not even any snow on the ground. It felt pretty weird, and just shows how much mountains can affect the weather. We had a nice afternoon drive back to our apartment in Tokyo, and were back just as the sun set. My wife had enjoyed the trip, because I didn’t push my luck with my photography, and I had gotten, what I think at least, were some great shots, so it really was a nice finish to 2008 for the both of us.

So, I hope you enjoyed joining me at the Inawashiro Lake on the last day of 2008. I really enjoyed this shoot, and it was great warming up for the Hokkaido Workshop and Photography Tour which is now less than three weeks away. We’re just putting the final touches on the planning and all the participants have the details of the meeting point etc. It’s really now just a case of sending a few things off ahead, and then getting started. I can’t wait!

If you are doing a composite image for the January assignment, remember that we have a very short time to do this in our first assignment since switching to the monthly schedule. You will have until the 31st of January, which is this coming Saturday to upload your image to the Composite Assignment gallery at mbpgalleries.com. I’ll turn on voting from the 1st of February for two weeks, and then announce the winner in the following Podcast episode. We’ll also be kicking off a new assignment at the beginning of February, which will run that in parallel with the voting for the January assignment, so stay tuned for that too. I haven’t even started my composite image yet by the way, so I’m starting to get a little worried. I hope you’re having better luck making time for this yourself. Whether you intend to participate or not though, you have a great week, whatever you’re doing. Bye bye.


Show Notes

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The Cosmos “Flowerscapes” (Podcast 159)

The Cosmos “Flowerscapes” (Podcast 159)

Following on from last week’s episode, when we looked at some Equinox flower shots from a place called Kinchakuda, I want to look at some Cosmos flower images that I shot at the end of the day in a field near to the Equinox flowers. I was thinking to also look at some white cosmos shots from a few days later, but I didn’t get a chance to finish processing the shots, so I’ll maybe pick up on those in the future at some point. For now though, let’s look at my Cosmos shots, and I’ll talk a little about the composition and make up of each shot, but also using a series of four shots, I’ll talk you through my thought process as I built up the shots.

If you’ve been following my work at all, you may know that I have a passion for dreamy flowerscapes. One of the reasons I splashed out for the 300mm F2.8 lens was to enable me to shoot these images. They can be done with the 70-200mm F2.8 to an extent, but to really pick out a portion of a field of flowers and make it something special, often takes a little more reach, but still with a nice wide aperture, and I’m loving what I’m capturing with the 300mm F2.8.

I was shooting for literally just 25 minutes at the end of the day, as the sun got low in the sky and then went behind the trees on the horizon. The first image that I uploaded from this series of five shots was image number 1933. The quality of light changes dramatically as the sun stops hitting the flowers directly, and in this first shot, I was just getting into my flowerscape mode. What I basically do is walk along the edge of the field, and peer into the flowers, looking for something that stand out to me. Here I’d just found some purple cosmos flowers that were sticking up slightly higher than those around them, which is always a good start. There was also that one tall purple flower in the distance, which was going to help to add interest to the background. I’m also looking for stuff that might clutter the background, as I want nice bokeh without too many distractions. At the Web size, you might not be able to fully appreciate this, but on a large print or a large full screen, the other thing that I’m doing here is basically just giving you lots of points of interest to poor over. When you look into this shot, there is so much on the focal plane that you can search through for quite a long time just enjoying the detail, standing out against the dreamy background bokeh. This is not that great an example though. As I say, I was just getting started here, getting my eye in, and searching for something more.

The Cosmos Cosmos

The Cosmos Cosmos

Bee on Cosmos

Bee on Cosmos

I walked a few meters to the right, and noticed some more flowers that were again, a little higher than the surrounding ones, and so again pointed my lens in their general direction, and set up another shot. In image number 1934, because of the tallness of the two purple flowers to the left, and the nicely position pink flower to the right, I decided to shoot them in portrait mode, as opposed to horizontally in landscape mode. I opened up the aperture from F4 in the last shot, to F3.5 now, and we’re getting slightly dreamier bokeh, and even less distracting background. There are some nice patches of white and pink in the green though, and I now have placed a few flower in the foreground too, helping to add some foreground bokeh, and make the two purple flowers and their stalks stand out much more. Now what we’re getting is much better composition, and if you look, here I was lucky enough to have a bee come in, gathering pollen from the right flower of the two purple cosmos. This is not the one that I was focusing on, and I didn’t have time to refocus, but still, it’s sharp enough to be a nice addition to the shot. Having shot these cosmos images quite often now, I very much welcome a little something extra like this.

This is why I was very pleased as I walked along a little further, and found a dragonfly perched on a Cosmos flower bud that was just about ready to open, and we can see the first shot of this in image number 1935. As I have no control over where the dragonfly is, I now have to start to compose my image around it instead of just basing my composition on where the flowers are. Before this shot, I actually had a bit of flower overlapping the right wings of the dragonfly, and although it looked nice, with the foreground bokeh, I moved to the left just a tad, and gave myself a totally clear view of the dragonfly for this shot. You’ll notice that I have positioned the purple flower in the top left, moved vertically to make it about the same distance from the top of the frame as the side. I also had to step back by about two meters to give myself a bit of space after the flower to the right. I have to admit, I didn’t even see the butterfly that was sitting on that flower when I was setting up the shot. I think it came in for just a few frames, then flew away again, but this adds so much to the final image, especially when printed out, that I felt really lucky that it dropped by to see us. Still at F3.5, there are plenty of things along the plane of focus here to look at, so again this is a great shot to just poor over. I printed this out one night last week at 13×19” and it literally had the hair on the back of my neck standing up, and invoked one of those mad scientist types of laughter as I checked out the detail. The dragonfly is incredibly sharp, and really stands out well. There is a flower between us and the butterfly, making it appear sort of semi-transparent, adding to the whole dreamy effect. The shutter speed for this shot was 1/50th of a second, and the ISO 100. It was a lovely still day, so I didn’t have to contend with the flowers blowing around in the breeze.

Dragonfly with Butterfly

Dragonfly with Butterfly

Although we’re going to go on to look at two more shots, to continue to explore my thought process as I work the shot, this is my favourite. Of course, you don’t always know that you have nailed the shot, and unless you do, I advise you to continue to shoot, as long as time and energy allow. You never know when you are going to improve on your last shot. Sometimes you don’t improve on it, but you can continue to make images of value. Other times, your best shot is so obvious that you know you can pack up and go home, but there are times when it just isn’t obvious, so I keep shooting. After all though, we’re still only talking about a 25 minute session at the end of a day shooting something else here. Still, I think when I do my wrap up of 2008 in December, you will see this as one of my top 5 shots for this year, without a doubt.

Dragonfly and Cosmos

Dragonfly and Cosmos

The dragonfly was staying put, just rotating his head around a little every so often, so trying to increase my portfolio with both vertical and horizontal shots, I flipped the lens around in the tripod mount ring, and started to look for a vertical version. If you get both this shot and the next, image number 1936, up on your computer screen together, or flip back and forth between them now, you’ll see that I have moved back to the left by around a meter or so. In the horizontal or landscape version, there simply isn’t enough in the scene to make the shot interesting. Just a dragonfly alone is wasting an excellent opportunity to make something special. As I rotate around to the left though, it brings in that pale pink flower on the left and the pink flower behind the white one in the last shot, into the left and right sides of the image, in the foreground and background. I’ve mentioned before about taking care of your bokeh, and this is a prime example. Just because something is out of focus, it cannot be ignored, or you’re wasting opportunity. Note too that at this point, I dropped the 1.4X extender or teleconverter between my camera and lens, so I’m shooting at 420mm now, to get in even close and maximize on the elements in the frame. The dragonfly is still over there on the right side, sitting patiently while I finished my shots, and the foreground bokeh has lots of interest with the patches of colour. There are lots of nice semi-focused cosmos flower in the background too, and plenty of detail across the plane of focus.

Finally, in image 1937, now that I have the 1.4X Extender on, I swung a little to the left again to re-include the two purple cosmos flowers from the earlier composition, but this time they are taking up the top left corner, and there’s some nice patches of colour in the bokeh below that along the left side. This is not as good a picture in my mind as the second one we looked at, but still pretty nice with lots of shapes and stuff to look at, and even with the extender, the dragonfly is still incredibly sharp here. As the light dropped, I was shooting at 1/20th of a second now, with F4, the maximum aperture with the extender fitted, so still pleased that there was no wind.

After a Hard Day's Work

After a Hard Day’s Work

I wanted to quickly recap that I am most definitely exposing for the highlights here, which is pretty much a norm for me now. As the light drops, you have to make a choice as to whether or not to show the subject as it is, getting gradually darker, or allow the light to build up a little more, lightening the shot. Sometimes, I use the darkness to add mood, as I recall doing when shooting the Red Crowned Cranes in near dark at the end of 2006. For this sort of shot though, waiting until the sun is below the horizon and allowing the still illuminated sky to light the scene with much less contrast, then using the exposure to bring the colours back out, really works for me. So despite there actually being less light, I still expose the shots so that the histogram just about touches the right edge. This helps to give this dreamy effect, along with the bokeh from using the lens wide open or close to it.

I think that each of these images does stand up by itself, or I wouldn’t have uploaded them to my gallery, but also I thought it would be worth walking you through how the shots evolved through what turned out to be what I think is the best of the batch, and moving through and exploring other possibilities. As I say, sometimes you just know when you have nailed it, and others, you need to explore other possibilities, just to make sure.

On the whole concept of what I’m calling “flowerscapes”, I’m finding that now more than ever, with the resolution of the 1Ds Mark III, and that which many more will be enjoying soon with the 5D Mark II, I’m tending to enjoy the details within the details. I’ve enjoyed shooting these flowerscapes for some time now, but as we get more and more resolution, it is just so much more gratifying to peer, well, actually almost delve into the details of a good quality print. Although I still enjoy Macro work, I’m finding more enjoyment in looking at the detail in the dragonfly as a much smaller portion of a larger scene, than just a close-up of the dragonfly. It’s like the crane dancing in the distance in one of my shots from Hokkaido in January 2008. Having the resolution to be able to look up close and count all of the wing feathers on a bird only 12mm tall on a 13×19” print is just something else. It’s changing my photography, and the only thing that I am not happy about, is that the only way you can appreciate this in my photos without buying a print, would be for me to publish the full sized images on line. This I’m never going to do of course, but the Web version just does not do them justice, which is frustrating, but that’s how it is I guess.

Just a few more things to add before we close. One is that I’ve tagged a whole bunch of flower shots in my online gallery at martinbaileyphotography.com with the flowerscape keyword. I’ll put a link into the show-notes to display all of the tagged images. I’m not suggesting that you look at them all, but if you are interested, take a look at the thumbnails, and open a few that you want to see more of. The reason I’ve done this, and the reason I thought it might be interesting to you is just to see how our photography evolves over time. It was interesting to go through my flowers album and see which could be tagged. Actually having done an initial tagging, I went back through and removed the ones that just didn’t fit in the list, and there was a lot, despite me trying to shoot this sort of image for a few years now. I do another cull as I release this episode, as some that remain still don’t fit for what I’m dubbing flowerscapes. Another thing I noticed was how much better these shots have become since getting the 70-200mm which took them much further than my first attempts with my 100-400mm lens, then in turn, how much better these shots have become now I’m shooting many of them with the 300mm F2.8. People will tell you that it’s not about the equipment, but I can tell you, it’s all about the equipment, when you have a specific purpose in mind. I agree that we should not get hung up on gear, for gear’s sake, but if you have a clear problem to solve to realize your vision, then it may be that you have to pick up something to help you achieve that. These shots are simply not possible with your kit lens standard zoom. Sure, I feel lucky in that I am able to add lenses like this to my kit, but as I do, I realize more and more that it’s so much more about the equipment than many would like to admit.

So that’s it for this week. Let’s wrap it up there, with one quick reminder to look at the mbpworkshops.com Web site if you are interested in joining me in Hokkaido for a nine day photography tour and workshop shooting wildlife and winter landscapes in the best location for this type of photography on the planet. For those that cannot make the full nine days, there’s a drop out option in the middle of the fifth day, after the majority of the wildlife shooting is done. For full details, check out the mbpworkshops.com web site.

And with that, all that remains to be said is you have a great week, whatever you’re doing. Bye-bye.


Show Notes

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