September 1, 2014

The Digital Photography Book, Part 5: Photo Recipes

The Step-by-step secrets to make your photos look like the pros

A little over five years ago I wrote a couple posts on some photography books that I liked and thought were worth mentioning. (May 2009 / August 2009
What started out as a good photography book for people just getting into digital photography,  (The Digital Photography Book) has evolved into a 5 part series, the newest book being called "The Digital Photography Book Part 5 - The step by step secrets to make your photos look like the pros!"  

These books have proved to be very popular and are great for anyone either totally new to digital photography or even for people who might be looking for some fresh ideas or tips on how to improve their photo skills. Whichever book you choose, there is bound to be something here for just about everyone with a digital camera.   

Just for the record, the first book I mentioned ended up being the best selling book on Digital Photography ever published. It was originally released in 2006 and was called simply “The Digital Photography Book”. It was written by Scott Kelby who was already well known for his books on Digital Photography and Photoshop and people loved that book right from day one.

Because of its huge success, it was quickly followed up a year later (2007) by another book aptly called “The Digital Photography Book - Volume 2”.   

At the time of my first post I was waiting on Volume 3 but just like the previous two books, The Digital Photography Book - Volume 3 was also well received (2009) and everyone thought that might be the end to the series. But fortunately that wasn't the end of the series, it was followed up by The Digital Photography Book - Volume 4 (2012) which was also very successful. 

All of these books have become very popular with photographers of all types. Books 1 & 2 were so successful they were actually updated and re-released with updated content and new photos. 

In all of these books (Volumes 1 thru 4) the most popular chapter was the final chapter called: Photo Recipes to Help You Get “The Shot”.  Scott would show an image and then briefly describe how to get that type of shot. I still refer back to these books for new ideas, especially those final chapters.

Well Scott has just released another book in this series called “Digital Photography Book Part 5 - Photo Recipes” (photo at the beginning of this post) This book is totally different; it is an entire book of nothing but those easy to follow photo recipes. But he took it up a notch by adding behind-the-scenes details along with photos for each Photo Recipe. Now you can see exactly how it was done so you can get the same look every time yourself.

I’ve always enjoyed reading Scott’s books and would highly recommend all five in the series. The nicest part is that these books won’t break the bank and will only run you about $15 bucks each or in sets for even greater savings. 

His books have always had an easy to read style and have been translated into over a dozen languages and have made Scott the #1 author of books on photography worldwide since 2010. 

Maybe you’re new to digital photography yourself or looking for some new ideas? If you’d like to purchase a copy of any of these books, click on the Amazon links on this site to direct you there.

Remember, as always, keep shooting and have some fun!

August 1, 2014

Buttonwood Farms Annual Sunflower festival

It seems like the older I get, the more I work for some reason?  A six day work week has become the “norm” for me, at least for the last couple years anyhow. These days I only get one day off every week and for the time being, that’s Sunday. Because of this, I have to try even more to make the most out of my free time and I like to try to get out shooting when I can. Like most photo shoots, this usually takes a little pre-planning. While I was online recently searching for some ideas I found out that this particular weekend coming up was the last two days of the annual Buttonwood Farms Sunflower Harvest. This annual 10 day event was held being this year from July 17 - 27th. 

You might ask, what is the Sunflower harvest?   Well, ever since 2004, Buttonwood Farms (located in Griswold CT ) has been the home to the Sunflowers for Wishes fundraiser for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Connecticut. For those who don’t know, the Make-A-Wish foundation helps make wishes possible for children with life-threatening medical conditions.

As the story goes, at the suggestion of a friend the owners planted one acre of sunflowers in 2003 and almost immediately people started coming from miles away to check them out and photograph them. But at the end of the season, the plants were just chopped down and fed to their cows. After some thought, the owners decided that they could find a better use for the flowers and decided to start the Sunflowers for the Wishes fundraiser. 

For a $5.00 donation you’ll receive a bouquet of sunflowers and 100% of the proceeds go to Make-A-Wish.  The idea caught on immediately. Well it was clear that this was a good thing and the following year they planted 10 acres of sunflowers to see what would happen and the rest is history. Since 2004 they’ve been able to donate over $800,000. 2014 was their best year yet raising $113,232.....Nice huh? 

Well as luck would have it, I was watching the weather reports and it said it’d be overcast with heavy showers off and on all day. Overcast skies can be a good thing for photographers though, so I figured I’d take a chance and take a drive down.

Buttonwood Farms is located located on the Rhode Island / Conn. Border, which is about 55 miles from my home.  It takes me about 1½ hrs to get there, with about 20 miles of the trip driving through rural country back roads. But as it turns out, I was glad I went because I did get a few keepers, even though I eventually get caught it a downpour and got soaked.  

That day I only took one camera and a single lens, a Canon 5D MkII and my trusty Tamron 28-300mm Di VC lens. I did a post on the Tamron last fall and I have come too really like it. In fact, it's on my camera 75% of the time. It’s a ƒ3.5 - 6.3 lens and listed as a Macro / Ultra Zoom and I’m definitely impressed for the price. Its lightweight, quiet and it’s a good all-around lens when you don’t want to lug a bunch of equipment around with you. I wanted to try to get a few shots of all the bees on the plants and actually got a few I was happy with. The final image on this post was taken last year and converted to HDR, but all three shots of the bees were all taken with the Tamron and just cropped and sharpened a little. What do you think?

Buttonwood Farms is also a working dairy farm. They also offer hayrides daily through the cow pastures and through 4 acres of sunflowers with all the proceeds going to the Make-A-Wish foundation.

In addtion to the hayrides they also have a little tractor pull for the kiddies to chug around the farm.  Since 1997, Buttonwood Farms has been known for its fantastic home-made ice cream. People had been coming from all around just for their ice cream. Because of the rain, I didn’t stand in line and wait for an ice cream, but that’ll give me a good reason to go back next year huh?  

I hope you enjoyed this little story and if you ever get a chance to check out the Sunflower Festival I'm sure you will enjoy it. 
Remember, as always, keep shooting and have some fun!

July 15, 2014

New England Camera Club Conference - 2014

Well I just got back from the 69th  New England Camera Club Conference (NECCC) held on the U Mass campus in Amherst, Mass.  Like always, it was a much needed break from my daily grind and time for me to spark up my creative juices again. 

Each year the NECCC holds a three day event filled with classes, seminars and photo opts, designed for anyone who’s interested in photography.

The conference actually started out as a photo and prints competition awards ceremony for New England camera club competitions in 1949 and has morphed into a three day event, which is one of the largest photo conferences of it's kind in the entire country. They NECCC also offers a few pre-conference seminars held the day before the main event. Obviously the weekend can be costly and is sponsored in part by companies like Canon, Nikon, Sigma and Tamron and Hunts Photo & Video, just to name a few. These vendors have setup a special ‘vendors section’ in the main concourse that is open throughout the weekend to help you find just about any equipment you might be looking for. There are even special areas where you can borrow lenses or gear or you can test printers for free! Nice huh? 

For me, the conference is a great time to hook-up with other photographers and my camera club friends. It helps me keep up to date with what’s going on in the photo world and get some fresh ideas from some of the best photographers and biggest names in the industry. Who better to learn from right? The NECCC’s planning board has the weekends activities split into different categories and skill levels and they send out speakers notes and schedules when you register to help you plan out your weekend schedule accordingly beforehand.

On the first day of the conference (Friday) they offer two time slots in the afternoon, a dinner break, and then two or three special one-time only speaker presentations that evening. 

The second day is very full, with four time slots during the day with a break for meals, along with photo opts like model shoots and studio setups in different location on campus throughout the day. Then on Saturday night, they hold the annual NECCC’s awards ceremony along with the special keynote presentation, usually held in the college’s huge Fine Arts auditorium. 

This year the NECCC was lucky enough to get Sam Abel (sponsored by Canon) as their special keynote speaker. Sam has had a fantastic career spanning forty years and holds the honor of being one of only thirty-five people world-wide to be chosen to be one of the Canon Explorers of Light. In addition to being an Explorer of Light, Sam was also a contract and staff photography for National Geographic for thirty years. His presentation was captivating and he definitely got two thumbs up from everyone that attended. Then on Sunday morning, the third and final day, they offer two more time slots in the morning. 

If there are any downsides to the conference it is the fact that they offer way too many choices and you really have to schedule your time accordingly.  For me, I start out weeks beforehand planning out my weekend. During the conference, at meal time or between classes, I’ll hook up with my friends and find out what they’ve seen and quite often I’ll fine-tune my schedule to fit in a particular class that they thought was worth catching or some that I’d be better off skipping. Of course you never get a chance to see everything, but they have tons of choices designed for all skill levels. If you’re into photography, you’ll definitely have a great time.

Over the course of the weekend this year I actually had a chance to attend eight seminars, two presentations (Friday and Saturday night) and fit in several shooting opts. The weekend flies by and is a lot of information crammed in over a short period, but I’m already looking forward to the 70th Annual NECCC next year!

Remember, as always, keep shooting and have some fun!

July 4, 2014

Happy Independence Day

Just a little note to my photography friends out there, wishing that you all had a wonderful Independence Day this year with your family and friends and that you had a chance to check out your local fireworks festivities. Here in New England we got hit with the tail end of a tropical storm on the 4th, but there were still tons of firework displays the following day. 

This week, July 11th - 13th, I'll be attending the New England Camera Club Conference at the U Mass campus in Amherst, MA and I'm planning on doing a short post on that event, plus I'm going to be trying out a "new toy" that weekend also. My new toy is a Canon G15 Powershot, a nice pocket/carry round camera for me. I could have purchased the newer G16, but I saved almost $150 on this one and it had all the features I was looking for. I wanted a camera with RAW shooting capabilities, a hotshoe for my speedlights and great image quality. Of course I'll also bring my workhorse, a Canon Mk II, for some of the studio set ups and other shooting opportunities, but I'm looking forward to putting the G15 through its paces. Check back here for that post and some images from the G15. 

The NECC is something I look forward to all year and it has always been a great time; hanging out with friends and fellow camera club members and attending the seminars and classes.  I'm sure it'll be another great conference again this year   
Remember as always, keep shooting and have some fun !

June 2, 2014

Picture in a picture - Polaroid frame effect

This is a technique I like to use to draw the viewer's eye onto the subject of a photo. I’ve written this post for use with Photoshop, but with a few variations it’ll work with Elements also. We'll take an ordinary photo, convert it to grayscale, and then place a Polaroid style color picture box on top of the same image. (it also looks great with a Sepia Background instead of the grayscale) What really makes this a cool technique is that you can move your frame anywhere you’d like afterwards while keeping the grayscale photo in the background….Nice huh?

We’ll start by opening a photo. Personally, I never work on an original, I’ll open a copy and then duplicate my background layer by Pressing Control J (Ctrl + J)  Now I’ve got some distractions in the photo pictured here like the graffiti on the pole and the blue trash barrels in the background. Both of those are quick and easy fixes using the Clone Stamp tool and a little Dodging and Burning. In my end photo they’ll be in black / white (or Sepia) and won’t draw the viewer’s eye in anyhow so I won’t get too nit-picky. 

Draw a picture box 
Our first step is to create a picture frame box where the color portion of the photo will be. By using a Solid Color adjustment layer, you can always change the size and rotate the picture box later on, just in case we decide to tweak it a little bit.

Step 1:  Tap the M key to select your Rectangular Marquee tool and drag out a frame around your image.
Tip:  If you want it perfectly square, hold the Shift key while dragging or if you want to draw from the center outward press and hold the Alt key. Also, by pressing the Spacebar while dragging, you can move your selection around the photo.

Step 2:  Now we’ll create an Adjustment Layer by clicking the half black/half white circle at the bottom of the Layers Panel and choose Solid Color from the pop-up menu. When the Color Picker appears, I choose a medium gray, then press OK to continue.

Step 3:  Now if you’d like to rotate the frame a little, make sure your mask is selected in the Layers Panel and press Command T (Ctrl + T) for Free Transform. With Free Transform selected, rotate or resize your frame. Press Return to accept when you’re finished.
Step 4:  When I add these photo frames, I like to add a little depth and I do this by adding a Drop Shadow. To do this, click the Layer Style ( fx )  button on the bottom of your Layers Panel. You can edit your shadow to your liking with the Opacity, Angle, Distance, Spread and Size sliders.   

Tip:  While you still have the Layer Style dialog box open, you can also reposition your shadow by un-checking the Use Global Light box and then grabbing the shadow with your mouse and moving it to wherever you’d like.

Step 5:  But I can’t see my photo?  No problem. To see our original image inside the frame, while the Solid Color layer is active, drag the Fill opacity at the top of the Layers Panel to zero. Now you’ll only see the outline of the box and the Drop Shadow. In our Layers Panel you’ll notice there is a Color Fill layer with a mask but the whole photo is still in color. Don’t worry, we’ll fix that now. 

Step 6:  Next, click the half black/half white circle at the bottom of the Layers Palette and choose Hue/Saturation from the pop-up menu. In that dialog box, drag the Hue/Saturation slider all the way to the left to drain all color from the image and then drag the Lightness slider to the right just a bit to lighten the overall image. Sometimes you might prefer a Sepia Background instead so you could follow the steps in another one of my tutorials for that.

Step 7:  One of the good things about Adjustment Layers is that they come with their own Layer Mask. You’ll notice the whole image is still grayscale and we don’t want that. To change this, make sure your mask is active on your new Adjustment Layer. Now hold the Control Key and tap the mask on the Color Fill layer below it. You should see the marching ants around your photo now. Now go up to the Edit menu and click Fill. When that dialog box opens, use the Contents drop-down menu and click Background Color if your colors are set to default or choose Black and click OK.  Don’t deselect the marching ants yet because we’ll need our selection in the next step.

Step 8:  Now our image should be in color with a B/W background, but we still need our frame right? Because I might want to tweak my frame later on, click the Create New Layer button on the bottom of the Layers Panel an add a new layer on top of our Adjustment Layer. 

Step 9:  Next we’ll fill our active selection with a color like we did in step 7,  I chose 50% gray from the drop-down and removed that color by going up to the top of the Layers Panel and then dropping the Fill Opacity to zero percent.  Don’t deselect the marching ants yet.

Step 10:  With our selection still active, click the Layer Style ( fx ) button on the bottom of the Layers Panel and choose Stroke. When that dialog opens, make sure the location in set to Inside or we’ll have rounded corners on our frame on the outside of our photo. Choose a color for your frame by double-clicking the Color box. (for this tutorial I chose white).  Now just drag the Size slider and set your frames width. Pretty easy huh?

To finish it off I’d probably add a vignette around the edges and crop it a little tighter, but you get the idea.  Like I mentioned in the beginning, we can now move our frame around, but like anything in Photoshop there are usually many ways to do the same thing and here’s my method.  

I highlight the top three layers in my Layers Panel (the New Layer, the Hue / Saturation Layer and the Color Fill Layer)  by holding the Control key and tapping and each one. Then I click the little chain icon on the bottom of the Layers Panel to link them together, and then put them in a group by pressing the Control key  (Ctrl + G)  I then double-click the Group 1 name in the Layers Panel and change the name to Frame to simplify things. Now to move our frame, just make our new Group Layer active, tap the V  key to select the Move tool, and drag your frame wherever looks good to you. Nice huh?

I really hope you enjoyed this tutorial and remember, as always, keep shooting and have some fun!
© D. Gould Photography