Let's Talk About Bokeh

One of the biggest drawbacks or one of the most common claims from its detractors to the micro four thirds format, like the Olympus OM-D I  recently bought is the lack of Bokeh that can be achieved with such a small sensor.  

Olympus OM-D E-M5 with 14-150mm 4.0-5.6 lens @ 150mm.  Processed with Lightroom and Perfect Effects 4

First, for my friends who are not up to speed on camera technical terms, Bokeh is the background blur effect used often to separate the subject from the background.  This Bokeh is primarily tied to aperture.  The wider the aperture the more Bokeh you can achieve.  But... this effect is also related to sensor size.  Full frame cameras like the more expensive Canon and Nikons achieve greater Bokeh at the same aperture than crop sensor cameras like the Canon 7D, which I've been using for the past 2 years, and even more so than micro four thirds cameras that I'm using now.

As you can see by the photo above and below, you can achieve great Bokeh with these cameras, but it admittedly it is more difficult to get that shallow depth of field look.  The lens I used for these two photos was a 14-150mm lens.  The top one was zoomed all the way to 150mm and set at its widest aperture of 5.6, and I got as close as possible to the flower.  By doing this I was able to achieve a very shallow depth of field.  The one below was at only 34mm and the aperture was at 5.1.  As you can see the background is not as blurry.  By the way, that was my intended look; I wanted the flower to stand out as the subject, but also wanted to be able to subtly see the Japanese house in the background

Olympus OM-D E-M5 with 14-150mm 4.0-5.6 lens @ 34mm.  Processed with Lightroom and Perfects Effects 4

Bottomline, is if shallow depth of field or Bokeh is a strong theme in your shooting style, it is more difficult to achieve with the Micro 4/3rds cameras.  Fortunately, as this format grows in popularity with serious photography enthusiasts ( and some pros) the manufactures are releasing high quality, fast lenses with  low apertures so the Bokeh problem is becoming less of an issue.  

Over the next couple days, I'll post some more images with Bokeh as the theme.  All these images were taken at Gotemba near Mt Fuji.   Tomorrow with by the famous Japanese cherry blossoms.

Am I Cheating?

As I've been playing around with some new software I discovered a technique for easily adding some clouds to a cloudless sky by adding a Cloud Texture Layer to the sky.  Believe it or not, I've never "added" any clouds to my photos before despite the fact that I like to process my photos pretty heavily.  It was really easy and took me about 2 minutes.  I tried it on one of my favorite photos that unfortunately had a boring sky.  What are your thoughts?   You can see the original photo right below.

Valley of Fire State Park, Las Vegas, NV.  Shot with Canon 7D with 24-105mm 4.0L lens on tripod.  

Original photo from my Print Gallery.

Photo Lesson: Compositional Mystery

Where did I take this photo?  Did I trudge through miles of trails and risk life and limb and thousands of $$$ in photo gear to "get the shot"?

I think all of you already know the answer, but this is the point of today's Photo Lesson.   You don't need to spends thousands traveling to exotic locations or plan an all day hiking trip to get great photos.  Find places around you and compose for mystery.  Search for framing that doesn't include the 100 people/tourists milling about, be patient and wait for an opportunity to get a clean shot, and walk around and find different angles so those who view your photo have some mystery on how and where you "got the shot".  Don't get me wrong, there is value in traveling and going to the isolated locations for great photographic opportunities, but its not the ONLY time to be active with your camera.  See my previous lesson on looking for different angles at the post titled, "It's a Matter of Perspective (Composition)".  Now on to the backstory of the above photo.

The Narita-san Shinshoji Temple complex is quite vast and varied.  One could spend all day just wondering around and taking photos of the beautiful grounds.  On the day I was there, I only had a few hours so I walked quickly and tried to capture some interesting areas.  I featured a photo from this location on January 13th on my post titled, "New Year's Prayers on a Pole". This photo of the waterfall was a bit of a challenge.  I didn't bring my tripod and in order to get the silky flow of the water, I needed to have a slow shutter speed, which means I need to be very steady to keep the whole photo from going blurry.  I did this by pushing my camera up against the rocks as a steadying device.  A little secret of this photo is that if I didn't tell you it was at a massive tourist attraction, you couldn't tell if this taken after some long and arduos hike into the back woods somewhere.  I call it Compositional Mystery.  You see a lot of that from me in my landscapes and seascapes.  You see a grand vista, but don't realize 10 meters behind me there is a major highway or resort or some other type of encroachment of civilization.  Below I am including another photo from the same location but a different viewpoint without the Compositional Mystery.  Still a good photo, well composed and interesting, but there is less mystery as to where I took it.

One of the main points I am trying to get across with this and the previous lesson is to take your time around an area.  Yes, it wil irritate your non-photographer spouse, children, friends etc, but it is worth it to spend just a little more time looking for the right composition vs. just showing up to great location, stop where everyone else is stopping, snap off a photo and move on.

It's a Matter of Perspective (Composition)

Today I'm going to dish out some photography advice.  I haven't really done this before because I'm still not comfortable as a photographer.  I don't consider myself an expert and feel inadequate to give advice, but as I was reviewing this set of photos I saw this would be a good example of not settling for the simple "snapshot".  

A good photograph is made up of many elements, exposure, light, subject and what we'll talk about now, composition.  I may be getting into symantics, but what is the difference between a snapshot and a photograph?  I would summize it is TIME.  By looking at this photo, you can't really tell where this is.  Is it in the forest, jungle? It has a nice, out of focus waterfall in the background.

Read on below for more...


Let me give some background on how I got this image, then I'll show you the difference between snapshot and photograph.  This was Sunday afternoon and I was driving home from church, when I saw this staircase with water running down.  I initially passed it, but I was thinking this would be an interesting photograph.  I then turned around and went back to capture this moment (a good reason to have your camera with you at all times).  As I lined up and tried to find a good composition of what I initially saw in my head; I started to get disappointed.  This really wasn't that interesting afterall, but I kept trying spending about 15 minutes just in this one small area.  Now look at the photograph below.  This is one of the many photographs I was trying to capture with the water flowing down these steps.

Read on below for more...


I kept at it and decided to try some completely different angles.  If you look on the right side of the photograph, you'll see this one plant growing out of the step (circled in red).  I then moved over to this area and tried some closeups of this area and found it to be much more interesting.  While I abandoned my original vision, by exploring different angles and techniques and investing the time in the area, you can come away with much better photographs.  


Lost Opportunity

This picture sucks.

You may look at this picture and go, that's a pretty picture. This is a terrible picture. Why is it a terrible picture? Let me tell you a story.

Normally when I post on my blog, I have pictures that I'm very proud of, but today this is a story about a missed opportunity  Let me start by saying winter time here in Okinawa is not the best time to get sunset oceanscape photos. The opportunities for the epic sunsets that are so common during summertime don't come around very often during this time of the year. During summer, I am always on the lookout in the evenings to see what kind of sunset we will get. I bring my camera with me to work so I can stop on my way home if it's going to be a great view.

So this is problem Number 1: I wasn't paying attention like I should. Here is what happened. Today is a holiday and I was at home just tinkering around watching TV and doing a little cleaning. I live on the Pacific side of the island which means I get sunrises not sunsets. Around 5:20 in the evening  I look out my window to the west and am shocked to see a wonderful potential for a sunset today.

Problem Number 2: I live on the wrong side of the island for sunset. So it is now 5:20 and I need to make a decision if it is worth my speeding across to the other side of the island to get this shot. To get to one of my favorite spots for sunset it is going to take me about 30 to 40 minutes. So I quickly grab all my equipment, get in my car and speed off to try to catch a winter sunset.

Problem Number 3: TRAFFIC. I am rushing to my favorite spot which happens to be Toguchi beach, you will see a lot of my shots that are from this location. I get almost there and hit traffic. For those of you who are familiar with Okinawa, it happened as I'm getting close to the famous red bridge. It is now 5:56, I've got five minutes till sunset I'm screaming at people to hurry up but it's just not happening. I finally get to the location look to the dark, uncolored sky and say to myself I'm going to make this is a post about missed opportunity, not a beautiful picture.

Lets sum up the lessons learned today: Always be on the lookout for a wonderful photo and don't wait till it's too late to get there, especially on days off.

Fortunately, living in Okinawa I will have plenty more opportunities to get great sunsets so I present this little lesson to you, especially if you don't have the same number of opportunities for these awesome views. Plan ahead and be prepared to get there early.

Photo Redo

This is an out-of-cycle post today.

The day before yesterday, I showed a photo from Tachikawa, Tokyo, Japan. I've also mentioned that I'm in the midst of becoming more knowledgeable of Photoshop. Yesterday, I decided to tweak this Tachikawa photo to see what I could do with my very basic Photoshop knowledge to improve it. There was nothing too dramatic, just some targeted color adjustments and brightening. Here's the basic insight; the old one had too much yellow in a lot of places and had too much of a dirty feel, I wanted to get them closer to white, yet still maintain the gritty and harsh shadows of the night scene. While this still isn't one of my best photos, it was a good learning exercise about selections, adjustment layers etc. I still have a long way to go to become half-way proficient with this program but I'll just keeping plugging away.

Here's a direct link to the old one. Click Here.

Interested in whether you think this one improved it, made it worse, or no difference.