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.  


Florence Duomo Before and After

I'm slowly going back to many of my best photos and seeing how I can improve them with the magic of Photoshop.  One it's a good lesson on learning this incredible program, and two, it usually makes them better.  

Here's another before and after from my current learning how to use Photoshop.  Now this isn't a pure test of Photoshop's impact on a photo because I did redo this from scratch.  But there were a number of areas where Photoshop gave me the ability to improve this photo.  The reality is that it is subtle differences but look at the left side of the church below the top round window in the before photo and you'll see a blue color cast.  I was able to remove that and bring a more consistent look throughout.  There were a number of other issues as well, but I won't keep you any longer.

AFTER (New Version)


BEFORE (Old Version)

We went on a paid tour of Duomo to get exclusive access to some of the areas of the famous landmark.  Well worth the price and exercise (had to go up around 1,000 steps to get to the top).  By the way, this is not even close to the top.

Araha Beach Sunset and My Photoshop Challenge

This is a beautiful and popular location here on Okinawa (I think you can see why below).  While I love this photo, I want to use this post to talk about a new photographic adventure I'm pursuing.  I'll admit it, Photoshop scares me!  It's an intimidating beast, not to mention an expensive one as well.  I have been relying on Lightroom and a number of plug-ins to get my look and style (Photomatix to combine exposures and Nik Software's suite of products to further enhance).  I do use Photoshop Elements are rare occasion for some occasional minor league masking and some healing/clone work, but the idea of tackling the full Photoshop and all it's capabilities was too daunting and time consuming.  BUT, I've decided its time to take my post-processing, and therefore my photography, to the next level.  Will I bring every photo into Photoshop?  I'm not sure, we'll see, but not having the knowledge of this important program will leave me at a loss and I don't want to get stuck into a rut and not push my knowledge further.  The ironic thing is, I work for an education institution and I can get this program at an extreme discount (maybe even free; I have to do some checking with our IT people at work) so the cost really isn't the issue; it's been my desire to keep my workflow simple and probably some laziness thrown in for good measure.

So far I downloaded the trial version and am going through some Lynda.com tutorials to get the basics.  I'll branch out from there.  I am really interested in some of the tutorials offered by Jay Patel, Varina Patel and Chip Phillips to start.

So back to the photograph.  This is the first photo that I used Photoshop CS6 to make a change.  It was a subtle change but made a world of difference on the photo.  The photo below is my final version, but scroll down further to see the photo I made the change too.  See if you can makeout the difference.






Did you see the difference?  

The photo I brought into Photoshop had a yellow color cast in the tree on the far right.  In the final version I was able to bring it back to green to better match the vegetation in the rest of the photo.  This would have been very difficult in just Lightroom, but once I knew how in Photoshop it was a breeze.

I hope this long post about Photoshop and comparing two versions of a photo doesn't take away from enjoying the final result, but this is part of my photography journey.  So please click on the final version and enjoy it large on your screen.

How Did I Go the Entire Month of March Without Taking Any Photos!

I am sitting here with my head slunked down in shame :( .  I was so focused on getting the Italy photos processed and uploaded and launching my new website, I went the entire month of March without taking any photos.  I'm attaching a screenshot of my Lightroom catalog showing Jan and Feb of 2012 but no March.  This must be rectified.  I must get out and take photos.  Fortunately, the family and I are heading to Seoul, Korea for Spring Break so, while this is a family trip I still should be able to get some new material.   This time I will not let it keep me from the viewfinder for so long.