Monthly Archives: June 2013

The milky way from my front yard

I really wish I had a good excuse to explain why blog posts have been so few and far between lately, but the truth be told, I don’t have one.  Through the end of last week I was very busy with my day job, but this week I am on a little “staycation” from the day job and while I haven’t been blogging, I have been shooting, A LOT.  This image of the milky way, as seen from my front yard, is an example.

I spent a few hours out doing some night shooting a couple nights ago and after all was said and done, one of my favorite shots of the night ended up being captured at home, hours after I actually set out shooting, I should have just stayed home and drank some beers. :-)

In addition to this shot, I have been shooting a lot of sequences for time lapse videos, I will be sharing some of those very soon, and I have also been teaching myself Adobe After Effects in order to render those videos.  I will be blogging about that, and why I am no longer using the export presets that I have in the past, but that will be either tomorrow or possibly Friday.

I hope you enjoy this image, and I promise that I will try to get back onto some sort of regular posting routine.

Posted in Photography

Hummingbird photography


A hummingbird at a feeder

I have always loved hummingbirds.  The physics behind the way that they fly fascinates me and it doesn’t hurt that they can cover the spectrum when it comes to color.  I have always had humming bird feeders but until last week I had never really tried to photograph them before.  Sure, I would make a snapshot or two but I was always disappointed with the results, but they were just snapshots and no real planning went into my efforts.

After we moved from Arizona, which is sort of a hummingbird paradise, and I would be working from a home office that actually has windows, I decided that I wanted to setup a feeder right outside my window.  I really didn’t want to get a cheap, bright red one, but wanted something that might be a little more photogenic.  I ended up selecting the one you see in the above picture.  It did take a little while for the hummingbirds to find our new feeder, but now that they have it almost seems rare to not see one or two there recharging their energy reserves.

The hummingbirds found my feeder, I have a 500mm lens on my Nikon D600, and it should be a simple matter of taking shots as soon as they arrive, right? Wrong.  Hummingbirds move fast, you need a really high shutter speed to capture them, I am still working on that BTW, and because of that very high shutter speed, you need a lot of light, a high ISO or more than likely both.  This image was captured at 1/1000 of a second shutter speed with my Bigma wide open at f/6.3 and an ISO of 800.  I also used a flash set on high speed sync but the real magic comes when you add an amazing little invention called a Better Beamer.  This inexpensive accessory attaches to your flash and really extends the reach of you flash.  It also allows you to cut the power way down while still effectively lighting your subject.  Cutting the needed flash power down helps both with the high speed sync but also allows your flash to recycle much quicker for the next shot.

Needless to say, I am still learning as I go, this sort of photography is brand new to me but I am having a lot of fun doing it.  It is nice to have a camera sitting next to me while I am doing my day job and be able to grab a shot or two from time to time.  I am still playing around to find the optimal settings to really freeze the wings, but that is what is great about photography, you should always be learning and developing.

Posted in Photography

Steptoe Farm – Topaz B&W Effects

It seems that there can be no doubt that the plugin wars are really under way in the photographic world.  You have Nik (now owned by Google), OnOne with their Perfect Photo Suite and Topaz Labs which has a long reputation in the plugin market, all making tools to help make your photographic life easier.  Recently Topaz Labs reached out to me and asked me to evaluate some of their newer offerings and I was more than happy to give them a go.  Sadly I got pretty busy with other projects, both with my day job and photographically, and while I have been using the tools, I haven’t really had much of a chance to sit down and tell you what I thought of them, until now.  Today’s post is simply a quick review of the Topaz B&W Effects.

I’m not going to go into great detail about how to use the plugin or provide screenshots, this post is not meant as a tutorial, there are actually a good number of those out on the internet on both the Topaz Labs website as well as on a number of photography forums.  I am going to talk a little about my thoughts on both the plugin and the results in general.

The first thing I noticed when I launched B&W Effects was that it opened quickly and is very responsive.  We are asking plugins to do more and more these days which means that they are becoming more complex and slower unless you have the latest top of the line computer hardware.  B&W Effects seems to have all the power needed, but renders previews fast and is very responsive when applying any changes to the image.  It also toggles between the edited and the original image quickly.  The other thing that jumped out at me immediately was the size of the previews themselves, they are large, and I really like that.  In a lot of the applications out there the default previews are quite small and make it tough to actually evaluate the changes, but the previews in Topaz B&W Effects are a pleasure to work with.

Topaz offers a fairly large number of presets that will most likely satisfy most photographers, but like other plugins, you can select a pre-set and then tweak the image further.  All the tools that you would expect to be there are there, but the one that really jumped out at me was the very straightforward, and almost simplistic dodge and burn tools.  Being a person that applies a little dodge and burn to almost every black and white image I process, I really appreciated these tools being as simple, and effective, as they are.  Simply put, they do what they should and do it well.

All of this doesn’t mean much if the final image isn’t what you want, and I have to say that I am quite impressed with the final results from Topaz B&W Effects. I have processed a number of images with the plugin since I installed it, but I thought I would share this image from the Steptoe Butte area on the Palouse in eastern Washington.  I shot this image with a super color IR converted Nikon D200.  I decided to use this image because the black and white conversions from the super color IR can actually be somewhat challenging.  You don’t really have a very wide tonal range to work with, and it will show the limitations of an application quickly.  I don’t know if you agree with me or not, but I am very pleased with the results in this image and would not hesitate to share this image anywhere on the web.

Should you by Topaz B&W Effects?  That is a hard one to answer, but I would absolutely download and evaluate the trial version.  I think you will be happy with the results.

Posted in Reviews