Saturday, September 30, 2017

Winter Light-Getting the Exposure Right by Joe Rakoczy

Forget what the calendar says. For Upper Midwesterners winter arrives early and leaves late. The further north you travel around the Great Lakes, the longer winter sticks around - and the better the opportunities are for photographing ice and snow.

Winter can transform the landscape beautifully.  Snow covering tree branches and blanketing the land can appear magical. The solitude and quiet can be stunning.  You may find yourself all alone in spots overrun with people in warm weather months.  (And vice versa, if there’s a winter festival on a frozen lake or a dogsled race through a forest.)  And, of course, there are no mosquitoes (or ticks, or horseflies, …)

While winter days are shorter, the sun stays lower and the longer daily periods of   “photographer’s light” can lead to outstanding photography. Skies are often a deeper blue. Textures can be more pronounced.  Even on cloudy days, a blanket of snow creates a massive light reflector that better illuminates trees, rock faces, buildings, people and animals.

But among the challenges of winter photography, capturing that winter light and properly exposing for snow and ice while still revealing important detail and texture in the snow and other elements within your image, ranks as one of the toughest. 

Mid-day sunny conditions, glare off snow, and backlit ice, can fool your camera’s light meter into underexposing images, resulting in unappealing dull, dark or gray tones.  Why does this happen? Your camera’s meter is designed to capture an average medium gray exposure at normal camera exposure settings. If your camera’s viewfinder is filled with a completely black subject like a non-reflective black wall, without upping either your aperture (using lower f-stop) or lowering your shutter speed or decreasing your ISO/sensitivity, your image will be a middle gray instead of black.  Same goes if you aim it at a completely white wall. 
So you need to find a way to take control and override or “trick” your camera’s meter into getting the exposure you want.

Shooting in Raw instead of only JPEG, makes much more sensor data available (as indicated by Raw image files being much larger than JPEG files), enabling you to correct many image exposure and color rendition problems in post-processing.   So for serious photography we recommend you shoot in raw (plus JPEG).  Note that virtually all raw images will require imaging editing on the computer using raw conversion software such as available from your camera’s manufacturer, or in Photoshop Elements, Photoshop, and Lightroom.    

But whether or not shooting in raw, getting the best image capture in-camera is the way to go, assuring you the best opportunities for creating excellent images.

Listed below are some things you can do - individually or in combination - toward getting a correct exposure of snow and ice scenes.

By the way, for our more serious winter landscape photography we typically shoot using tripods with our DSLR cameras set on aperture-priority mode (camera “A” mode setting). Typical aperture setting is our lens’ “sweet spot” f-stop setting (aperture yielding the sharpest focus), which is about f11, or for more depth of field, f16 or f18.

Increase exposure   While many/most modern cameras with multi-point metering (e.g. 51 point matrix) often achieve fairly accurate snow scene exposure, if most of your viewfinder is filled with bright snow or there’s a lot of glare anywhere in the frame, you’ll need to – and this seems counterintuitive - increase your exposure from what your camera gives. Set your exposure value compensation (EV +/- button and slider) between ½ to 2 f-stops higher than your camera indicates.  In playback/review mode, immediately look at your LCD screen to check your exposures and re-adjust the EV compensation accordingly if necessary.

Bracket exposures  Take multiple shots over a range of exposure settings in 1/2 or 2/3 f-stop increments.  Many camera models have automatic bracketing allowing you to preset your camera for uniform shooting of three, five, seven or nine total shots at different exposures. Bracketing this way just about guarantees you’ll get at least one good exposure.

Use your histogram  In playback/review mode, check your image’s  tonal/luminance histogram on your LCD screen.  The histogram is a graph showing dark tones on the left and light tones on the right. Adjust exposure value (EV) compensation {the button for it has this symbol: +/-} and reshoot if necessary to keep the curve to the right but without climbing the right side wall, which would indicate hot spots/blown out details.

Use your spot meter  Most DSLRs have a spot meter camera meter function allowing you to take a light reading off a single small area within your frame instead of the entire frame.  Choose a point that’s in the same light as your subject and that’s approximately a medium gray like a lighter part of a blue sky, or a medium toned tree trunk, jacket or backpack/camera bag.  Either hold the exposure button down if your camera has one and take the shot, or check the reading and switch to manual mode to set the same settings.

Use an 18% Gray Card This is pretty much and adjunct to the previous tip. Buy/borrow a gray card from a camera store. Hold it in approximately the same light as your subject and shoot at the same settings as the reading off the card.

Shoot in HDR (high dynamic range) For very high contrast lighting conditions where the camera can’t capture the wide range of tonal values within the scene (as indicated by not capturing the entire histogram curve within its boundary walls), shoot in HDR. Using a tripod or other support, bracket exposures as described but save the exposures and use them in HDR software such as Photomatix Pro, Nik HDR Pro, or Photoshop.  Some modern cameras allow for in-camera HDR shooting and image processing.

Shoot Raw Repeating it again here for emphasis: shooting in raw affords you the widest exposure latitude and best white balance adjustment capability in post-processing.

Using the above camera techniques should lead to getting the exposure you want.  Keep in mind though that they all globally affect your images.  With many of your images you may find yourself having to selectively tone down or brighten certain areas using image editing tools. 
Side Note: Going retro - in the pre-digital days of film cameras, if your camera didn’t have a light meter or you didn’t have a handheld meter, or its battery died, you might resort to using the Sunny Sixteen Rule. (Remember with film there is/was no instant gratification image playback/review mode. You’d generally have to wait days to see if you got a correct exposure.) This rule of thumb was fairly accurate.  For sunny day brightness with harsh shadows, and your camera set at f16, and no light reducing filter on your lens such as a polarizer, you’d shoot at a shutter speed of 1 over your ISO (it was ASA back then).  So if your ISO was 100 you’d try shooting at 1/125 second (1/100 wasn’t a standard setting) at f16.
Copyright ©2017 Joe Rakoczy

Joe and Marie Rakoczy are avid photographers and especially enjoy cold weather photography. They’ve produced a number of travelogues as well as several educational programs. Both are TOPs in CACCA winners and Joe was the recipient of CACCA’s 2016 Wanda Crystal Award for photographic and artistic excellence.  Marie was the first PSA Chicago Chapter recipient of the new PSA Portfolio Award.  Their articles and photos have appeared in several publications, including an article about winter photography entitled "The Magic of Lake Ice" in the December PSA Journal.

Joe and Marie will be presenting "Winter Up North" a how to prepare for and photograph the beauty of winter at CAPS on Saturday, November 18th.

To see the entire schedule of classes go to: or click here:  Home

To register go to:   Chicago Area Photographic School (CAPS) 2017 | Summary | powered by RegOnline

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Social Networking, Social Media and Bird Photography by Al Alvis

     My first attempt at bird photography was a trip to the Mississippi River to photograph the eagles in flight. I was a very experienced photographer, but had never tried to shoot birds in flight before, let alone under the freezing conditions that I was about to encounter. I mentioned my upcoming outing to a friend and he gave me some contact information to a photographer who was very familiar with the subject , the location, and the conditions. After a couple of e-mails and a brief phone conversation, I felt that I had received the guidance that I needed. Some things I was already familiar with like high-speed  continuous shooting and automatic  focus tracking. He suggested some settings in the focus tracking, shutter speeds that would be appropriate, and shooting in manual mode metering off the water. I had not shot in manual mode for a while, but that and all of his other suggestions enabled me to have a very successful shoot. Without his advice, I am sure that I would not have nearly the number of keeper images.  I enjoyed it so much, I made the trip out two more times that winter.
     A few months later, I purchased a new telephoto lens, and I was eager to try it out. I remembered a forest preserve where I had seen ducks before. I grabbed my camera with shiny new lens attached , and headed out. I had a pretty lucky day and got some shots of a loon, a horned grebe, and a couple of very enthusiastic geese. But my luck didn’t stop there. My photography life was about to change. As I was leaving, I rounded a turn on the west side of the lake and noticed a gentleman there with this very large and heavy looking tripod. Mounted on top, was camera with an enormous lens attached with paint peeling off of it and looked like it went through a war. Clearly, this was an experienced bird photographer. I couldn’t resist the urge to stop and strike up a conversation with him. He showed me some areas along the shore where certain ducks were known to gather, showed me some of his photographs, told me of a few nearby birding locations, and mentioned a website called IBET, where birdwatchers posted bird sightings and their locations.

     I went on to that site and found a place called McClaughry Spring Woods which was pretty close and noted as a good place to find migrating warblers. Off I went. When I pulled into the parking lot, guess who I run into? Yes, the same gentleman. So now he knows that I was paying attention and was serious about bird photography. He shows me some of the spots and explains which birds have been seen and where, then, he says, “follow me.” We get in our cars and drive a short distance to a place called Camp Sagawau  Environmental Learning Center. He introduces me to the naturalists and director of the facility and gives me the grand tour. This is a place for bird study. There are numerous feeders around including hummingbird feeders, nectar feeders and oranges for the Orioles, nest boxes for Bluebirds and Tree Swallows, bird houses for the Wrens----it’s a bird paradise!!!  All courtesy of the Chicago Park District.

     As it turned out, he became my mentor. He taught me what time of year and where to look for different species of birds, what time of day to be there and what time to leave, the names of many, many different types of birds, how to tell the difference in sexes, and their habits and mannerisms. He taught me about front lighting and where to be at certain times of the day.  He introduced me to Gimbal heads and teleconverters. Everything!
The point here, is, that even though I was a pretty good and experienced photographer, every different  category of photography has its  own challenges,  and when you are first starting out photographing a new subject, nothing beats one-on-one training out in the field . Learning from someone with real experience can save you lots of time and frustration, possibly even saving you from giving up on the subject, when all you needed was a little guidance.
     After  a while, it was time for me to “leave the nest,” but continue learning. You will find that birders and bird photographers are very eager to tell you about their bird findings and locations, The conversation goes like this “Good morning. How’s it going. See anything interesting?” Then comes the trading of information."  I saw some Yellow-rumped  warblers  over at McClaughry this morning” “Oh, thanks, I’ll check it out. The Indigo Buntings have showed up at Camp Sagawau." And so on. This is how you find out where the birds are. Before long you have a list of which locations to go to and what time of year you go. You also make friends and build a birding social network.
     I have a few people that I keep in contact with via email, text message or phone calls to let them know of photo ops for birds and they do the same for me. Just a little text message “Hey the swans are out at Lake Catherine” or “There have been some Scarlet Tanagers showing up at Sagawau.”  So, this is my social network for bird photographers.
     Where does the social media come in? I already mentioned IBET for the daily posting of bird sightings.  I have found a couple of useful educational websites. “Secrets of Digital Bird Photography” is a little older but very complete and accurate information. Another one that stays a little more up to date is “Mike Atkinson Bird Photography.” Many people use Facebook in their networking posting photos and usually locations. I am a big fan of FLICKR  the photo sharing site. It is another outlet for your work and it is interesting seeing other photographer’s work as well. I belong to several groups. Two of my favorites are smaller groups. OUTSTANDING BIRD PHOTOGRAPHY  is international and you will see stunning images that will give you inspiration. ILLINOIS BIRDER’S FORUM PHOTOS is just for our state and a good place for bird identification and locations.  Really handy for identifications is a phone app called “I-BIRD PRO.”  It is not free, but worth it.
    I am, by no means, an expert on bird photography. I have done much research on the subject and countless glorious hours in the field. My mission at our CAPS school is to just  pass on as much information as I can in my allotted time. Call it payback for all the people that have helped me along the way.

     Al Alvis is a self-described photography addict who has been involved with photography since the wet darkroom days back in high school.   He has been doing presentations revolving around photography for over thirty years with topics including black and white, landscapes, macro, portraits, composition and lighting.   His favorite field is nature and, for the last four years, almost exclusively, bird photography.   

Flickr:  al alvis’s albums | Flickr     

Al will be presenting, "The Mechanics and Art of Bird Photography" on Sunday, November 19th.

To see the entire schedule of classes go to: or click here:  Home

To register go to:   Chicago Area Photographic School (CAPS) 2017 | Summary | powered by RegOnline

Monday, September 11, 2017

Mobile Photography Updates for Photographers by Jerry Hug

Mobile Photography in the hands of a professional or highly skilled amateur photographer is now raking in accolades around the globe.

Dr Russell Brown from Adobe recently used only an iPhone on a trip to the Antarctica. His images were published and exhibited by a major photographic supplier of printers and supplies. Fine Art Photographer Tony Sweet sells his iPhone images at the same price as those taken with his big boy Nikons. The list goes on.

What is Mobile Photography? The use of iPhones and other Smart cell phones, electronic pads like the iPad where you can: 1.Take the photo, 2.edit the images, 3. save the stored the image and 4.immediately share with the world via the internet.

How to get started?
1. Learn how to use both the given automatic and all of the manual controls of the camera on the mobile devices. (Just like any other camera.) There are technical skills and creativity needed as in any photographic venture.
2. Find out what are the best photo applications (apps) to use for shooting and editing the images.
3. Use the cell phone camera by always having it with you and ready to use. More great images were lost except for that image in our mind because we never had a camera ready to shoot. Use our editing skills in Photoshop and other editing software and use the same techniques with apps in the mobile devices.

Taking photos:
1. Hold the Phone/Camera still for good sharp photos.
2. Quick Access Using the Left Swipe.
3. Manual focus by touching the screen on the most important spot to focus in the image.
4. AE/AF Lock.
5. Use the HDR feature in high contrast situations. (iPhone users – I recommend VividHDR app as a better solution then the built in HDR.
6. Shoot Using Burst Mode to catch moving subjects.
7. Use the Volume Buttons and your Apple Headphones for another shutter button. Follow the light for the best images and less editing. (Professional Photographers can now shoot RAW files on the iPhone and edit the RAW images in Lightroom Mobile and then send these images to their computer via Adobe’s service.)

Taking a photo of a small child or pet that keep moving? No problem! Shoot a 10 second video of the moving (child or pet) for iPhones or iPads use the Vhoto app and harvest of the best single image(s) that you want. The example of the pet dog was only edited by cropping.

Editing images in your mobile devices has been made simple, fast and with quality tools like Photoshop and Lightroom by using the free app “Snapseed”. If you have a workflow that works on your computer, do not change your procedure for Snapseed. If you are new to photo editing, try the very basic editing tools already in Photos on your devices.

Snapseed will give you more powerful tools with no cost and large learning curve associated with Photoshop and Lightroom. Getting started with Snapseed – there are built in tutorials in the app. You need WiFi for the tutorials. There also are many free tutorial in YouTube. (I have extensive notes and suggestions on my Speaker Notes 2017. Email me for a free copy at

Masking in Snapseed? Yes, checkout the YouTube Snapseed masking demo by Rad Drew.
Jerry Hug, APSA

Website:  JERRY HUG — Unique Photo Images

Flickr:  Jerry Hug | Flickr

Jerry will be presenting "The Latest and Greatest in Mobile Photography" at CAPS-Chicago Area Photographic School on Sunday, November 19th. Besides giving updates and tips and trick using Snapseed, High Dynamic Range shooting, Jerry will also demo printing from a smart phone wireless and how to make still photos move and other fun tricks in Mobile Photography.

To see the entire schedule of classes go to: or click here:  Home

To register go to:   Chicago Area Photographic School (CAPS) 2017 | Summary | powered by RegOnline