October 15, 2015

Halloween Photography

Hello to all my blogger friends, I hope you’re enjoying the change of season and getting out with your camera to capture all that fall has to offer. I’m fortunate that I live in New England and in my area we definitely have four seasons, each with its own special flavors and colors and photo opportunities.  

Around here, the humid hazy days of summer have given way to crisp cool days with clear air and bright blue skies. These are the perfect combinations for taking beautiful photographs. Not only that, but the sun is lower in the sky providing wonderful long shadows in early morning and late afternoon. So conditions are perfect for photographers — amateur or professional — to get out there and take some great pictures.

One of the things I really enjoy about the Fall are the Halloween displays and decorations. To me this means everything from all the cute kids in costumes to spooky haunted houses and the erie glowing jack-o’-lanterns. 

I can remember when I was a kid there were a lot more homes decorated for Halloween than there are these days and personally, I really miss them. Luckily for me, there is a person in a neighboring town that really gets into Halloween and goes all out decorating his yard and I try to make it a must see event every year. 

I found this place totally by accident and have been going back yearly. It all began one afternoon in late September a few years back that I had some free time and was out riding my bike. In my travels I happened to be driving by his home, which is definitely off the beaten path, and I saw the homeowner out in his yard setting it up. I saw how much work the guy put into his display and I stopped to check it out and speak with the man.


You could tell by his enthusiasm that this was his favorite holiday and that he was really into it. He told me that it takes him over a week just to set up his display and that he uses one of his vacation weeks every year just to get it ready. He also told me that he has his display lit up for the entire month of October and welcomes all visitors to come and check it out.

This was my cue and I told him I was a local photographer and gave him one of my business cards. I told him that I really loved Halloween displays. I asked him if he would mind if I took a few shots with my point and shoot and he told me to feel free. All the time I was taking photos, he was giving me the history of his display. We still had a few more hours of daylight so I could only image what it would look like all lit up. 
I told him that I would really love to come back early some evening with another camera and some equipment and take some serious photos. He told me to feel free and come back anytime. Like always, I offered to send him some images and told him that he could go online check them out. 

His yard display had everything from witches flying around the yard to a make-shift movie theater where kids could come on weekends to see classic horror films like the Wolfman and Dracula.

Well, to make a short story even longer, I’ve been back quite a few times over the years and I still enjoy it. Night-time photography is a tough subject for many people and with a little practice and some careful planning, you can get some really great shots of Halloween displays yourself. For myself, shooting Halloween displays like his, I approach this like I would any other low light photography situation. For these photos here, I went with just one lens, a Canon 24-105mm ƒ4.0, set wide open. In situations like this you want to be as steady as possible so I brought along my trusty monopod to steady my camera. I also brought one or two off camera flashes with triggers or sync cords and a light stand to hold the flashes if I needed to. Usually I have to avoid getting spectators in my shots but that just takes a little patience. When lit correctly, you can’t tell that flash is even used and that’s what you want right? 

Over the years I’ve told a lot of friends and fellow photographer friends about this display and personally I hope he puts it up for many years.  

Like always, keep shooting and have some fun!

September 13, 2015

Handy Home Made HDR’s

Here we are in mid-September and Fall is almost upon us. Fall is definitely one of my favorite seasons to take photographs of the beautiful autumn foliage with all the rich colors and of course, the cooler weather can be nice also.

1. Under-exposed 1 ¾ stops
I don’t know about you, but every now and then when I get a little free time,  I like to go through past photo shoots on my PC and I’ll compare my photos to see where I’ve made improvements with my camera skills or my editing skills or maybe to see where I still need to make changes. Software is always improving and that means I’m always trying to keep up with the changes of the programs that I use to edit my images.  I know, some of you are saying to yourself, Free time?  Whats that?

2. Under-exposed 1 ¼ stops
Earlier this year, I started a little side business shooting photos of real estate for realtors and homeowners. Some of you might have tried your hand at this type of photography and found out how tough it can be, but I’ll save that story for another post. One of the main problems with this type of photography is trying to expose for the view out the windows while trying to keep detail in the shadow areas inside. You can do this with a bunch of strobes or speedlights which can be time consuming, or another more common method is to combine multiple bracketed shots with some sort of exposure blending, usually an HDR program.    

3. Under-exposed ½ stops
Now we know that there are many programs out there that can do this, but with real estate photography you are trying to get realistic shots and some methods of HDR blending can get a little funky looking. My main tool for interior shots is a plug-in called Lightroom/Enfuse created by Timothy Armes. For my interior photos I usually bracket between 5-7 shots, exposing for highlights and shadows, and this plug-in works great for this. Enfuse uses a program manager and I've got it set up so that after it does its work, it creates a completely separate TIFF file in the same folder. I save them as TIFFs because Adobes’ Camera RAW program can open TIFF files and this makes my work even easier. 

4. Neutral, / As Shot
Well, to make a short story even longer, while going through some of my older photo shoots recently I came across a little get-away trip to NH that I took back in June of 2007. The main focus of my trip was the annual NH Bike Week festivities in Laconia, but fortunately one of my brothers had a cottage in the Lakes Region and I was able to put my Harley on a trailer and spend 3 or 4 days at his place. One of the things New England is known for is its covered bridges and while I was up there, I planned on taking some time and check out some of the area’s covered bridges. I actually shot about 10 or 12 covered bridges in two days!

5. Over exposed ½ stop
Even with some good pre-planning and some detailed maps, I still had to find these bridges. When I finally found them, I still had other obstacles to deal with, like the weather and the sun. I really didn’t know where the sun would be falling on the bridges or how much work it would be to get to a decent look-out for the shots. As much as I wanted to get some decent shots, my main idea was to take notes of the time of day, month of the year, where the sun was falling and how difficult it was finding the bridges so that I could make better plans for a future trip. 

6. Over exposed 1 ¼ stop
Well, that was in 2007 and I still haven’t made that other trip yet, but while going through some of my photos recently, I got the idea to run a couple of them through Lightroom/Enfuse to see what I could get. A couple months ago, in July 2015, I did another post on creating your own HDR shots from a single image and that’s what I did here using Lightroom/Enfuse

The bridge in these photos is the Blair Bridge, located about 15 miles north of Lake Winnipesaukee near Campton NH.  

Unfortunately, I got to this bridge about 1pm and the light wasn’t the best for getting a decent shot straight out of the camera. Plus, I remembered I had a pretty tough time climbing through the woods and briers getting down to water level to a place I could get a decent view that day.  I wasn’t about to lug my tripod and my main DSLR down to the water level, so my photos of this bridge were all single shots taken with a point and shoot camera and were all shot in JPEG mode for some reason?

7.  Merged Copy
Because I didn’t carry my tripod, I didn’t shoot any bracketed shots that day either. In my original photo I was just trying to get some detail under the bridge without blowing out the sky too much. I knew if I didn’t clip too much info,  I could play around with it afterwards. Here are the steps I took to get my final image seen below and a larger version at the top of this post. 

8.  Final Image (also at top of post)
I started out by making 5 copies of my original photo 
( Image # 4 ) and  give them each copy a different name.  If you don’t rename them it will confuse Lightroom. This gives me a total of 6 shots which I then opened up in Camera RAW to start my tweaking. In the first three shots I was trying to get more detail in the clouds and sky. Starting from the top of this post, my first shot ( Image # 1 ) is underexposed 1 ¾ stop. The next was underexposed 1 ¼ ( Image # 2 ) the third was a ½ stop under ( Image # 3 ) the next was my original shot ( Image # 4 ) and the last two are over-exposed by a ½ stop ( Image # 5 ) and 1 ¼ stops ( Image # 6 ).  I then imported them into Lightroom and ran them through Lightroom/Enfuse which gave me a TIFF ( Image # 7 )  As you’ll notice, the merged copy needs a little TLC.   

For my finishing touches, I then take this image into Camera Raw where I boosted my contrast, added a little fill light to the shadows on the trees, popped a little Clarity on it and then sharpened it a little to get the final image (Image # 8) also shown at the top of this post. What do you think?  With some practice this whole process only took about 10 minutes total, not too bad huh? Hopefully this tip might help you sometime in a pinch.

As always, keep shooting and have some fun!
© D. Gould Photography