Moving Forward

On my last post I talked about our trip to Coeur D’Alene and some of the problems I faced due to not thinking ahead (not bring all my lenses) and getting lazy (with my graduated neutral density filter.) So I learned a lesson that you would expect me not to repeat. Ah-ha, you’re thinking I’m going to make the same mistake again. So let’s see what I learned.

Last week I took a trip to Oxbow Bend in the Grand Teton National Park on a very chilly November day. Not only was it chilly (single digits) but also very windy. As I drove along the outside loop of the park I could see the sun sinking in the southwest among good clouds. I was hoping for a spectacular colorful sunset as I drove north trying to predict where I should stop, setup my tripod, and wait for the perfect time and place to get shots as the sun dropped behind the mountain peaks.

Oxbow Bend was as far north as I could go and still have a chance for some good foreground and a good mountain background. I stopped, got out of the car, and began to setup my tripod with the complete neutral density filter gear. I could see that the sky was quite bright but the foreground was much darker, and getting darker by the minute – and I didn’t want to make the same mistakes that I made at Coeur D’Alene. The weather was quite different; the sky had great clouds but a blustery wind in single digit temperature is brutal … at least for me. Gut it out Randy, this should be worth it.

The water was mostly frozen with an unusual little “pond.” I thought this would make a nice leading line to the mountains including a reflection of the sun coming through the clouds. But what should the exposure be? The sky was mostly bright with some dark clouds and most of the foreground was dark; time for a neutral density filter. But the small pond of water was fairly bright in the middle of fairly dark snow foreground. Oh boy, this is a challenge. So I bracketed a number of shots hoping to find the right exposure when I got home.

It was really cold and my hand were about to freeze. Rearranging the neutral density filters meant I had to take my gloves off (yikes, really nasty) and I’ve learned my lesson about waiting for the perfect shot. I think the hour wait was worth frozen hands – just mild frostbite? There wasn’t a lot of color in the sky but the shadows in the clouds were interesting. But the biggest payoff was that I learned something that will help me move forward and apply my new experience to future photo shoots. I learned that sometimes the range of light is so extreme (high dynamic range) that even a neutral density filter may not solve the problem.

That night I was in Jackson WY taking a class from Aaron Linsdau (a TPG colleague) on Lightroom. He showed us how to turn-on the “blinkies,” not just for areas that are too bright (washed-out) but also for areas of photos that are too dark. When I got home and put my images into Lightroom I found that I could not change the exposure to avoid the blown-out blinkies (over-exposure) and the under-exposed blinkies. It was disappointing but there was clearly another lesson to learn.

I didn’t have frostbite, I didn’t have the great photo I was hoping to get, but I learned to be more aware of the range of exposure from extremely bright to extremely dark. When the range of light is from very bright to very dark the photo has “high dynamic range” (or HDR) and that HDR is very likely to be too extreme for the camera; there will be parts of the image that are overexposed AND other parts that are underexposed.

For many years there was no solution other than to spend long hours in the darkroom burning-and-dodging, or now to spend long hours at the computer with Photoshop. But fairly recently many post-processing programs have added a sub-program that can combine multiple images that are identical except for the exposure. My Lightroom 6 has the ability to merge a multitude of images that are identical except for the exposure. The program allows Lightroom to combine the images into a photo that minimizes the burn-out and then allows you to use Lightroom on the HDR image to use the Basic sliders to adjust the photo.

What I am trying to suggest is that if you have an understanding of exposure and recognize scenes that have extreme dynamic range you can address the problem post-processing IF you take multiple photos of the scene by bracketing. Let me show you what I did at the chilly sunset at Oxbow. I used my neutral density filters to darken the sky but it was still much too bright in places compared to the foreground.

The first image was shot at ISO 100, 1/80 sec at f/11. Notice the lens flare at the left of the sun. The sky is overexposed in places with sun-burnout.  Notice that the right and left edges are black due to neutral density filter.  After Lightroom 6 did the HDR edit I was able to crop these out.

Chilly Oxbow (1 of 4)

The second image was shot at IS0 100, 1/125 sec at f/11. The lens flare is mostly gone and the sky is slightly overexposed in places near the sun and underexposed in other places .

Chilly Oxbow (2 of 4)

The third image was shot at ISO 100, 1/200 sec at f/11. Whoa, the sky in this shot is very underexposed as is the foreground.

Chilly Oxbow (3 of 4)

This was my first experience using the Lightroom software for high dynamic range, so you have to cut me some slack. And I didn’t plan for using the HDR software when I took the images, so I probably didn’t take the right bracketing shots. BUT this experience got me started and taught me the importance of bracketing to get the extreme underexposure and extreme overexposure. Here is the image that the Lightroom HDR created for me and includes some post-processing I did to the HDR image. It certainly isn’t a great exposure (I am still a moderate amateur) but it was worth the experience and learning that it produced.  You might notice that I’ve even learned how to put my name on the photo in Lightroom.

Chilly Oxbow (4 of 4)

What Did I Learn ?

  1. Suck-It-Up Randy, It’s Winter in the Mountains – Now that it is winter in the mountains there are many opportunities to get great shots. But I have to be ready for them. I had warm clothes but layered gloves are critical. Since it is worth it to stick around to get those really great shots, I have to be ready from head to foot and especially to my hands.
  2. I’m Ready to Move Forward – The Teton Photography Group gives me the opportunity to work and take photo shoots with some really great photographers – many are super-amateurs, I view them as professional photographers. On many occasions I have been pretty intimidated by this situation; they haven’t intended to intimidate me, I’ve just been hesitant to say “Slow don’t I don’t understand.” I suspect some of you may, at times, have felt the same way. My strategy has been to avoid high-tech approaches to photography and stick to learning the photo triangle (aperture, shutter speed, and ISO) and composition. I felt I didn’t need to use fancy-dan approaches since I live in an environment with amazing opportunities. I’m not taking great photos but I am taking much better photos than a year ago – even my wife thinks my photos are better. So I think I am ready to take some baby steps into more advanced approaches. Maybe even take a few more classes.
  3. Be More Reflective – As an educational psychology professor I emphasized personal reflection to my students. Most of the students in my class were there to learn to be teachers. My goal was to give them many opportunities to reflect on how they were learning and how they could become better learners; To be a good teacher you have to understand how people learn. I believe reflection is important in everything we learn. I have found that I am better at learning to be a photographer if I take time to reflect on what I have learned. In fact, I have found that writing this blog has been a “good teacher” for me because I have to take time to think about how I am learning and share it with you.
  4. Be Aware of the Dynamic Range of the Exposure – On our shoot with Henry he emphasized the histogram over and over. Whenever the histogram goes beyond the left or right extremes you have a High Dynamic Range problem. The way to solve this problem is to take time to think about what exposure will be needed to catch the very bright areas of the image and what exposure will be needed to catch the very dark areas of the exposure. Then bracket the shot to include all the brightness/darkness.

And What Helps You to Learn ?

When I began writing this blog my goal was to share my photography journey with you to give you an opportunity to learn from my experience. I started by sharing some of the information I received from “the dozen” (a group of twelve amateur photographers who answered twelve questions about photography). Based on some of the feedback I received from the readers I have moved to sharing more of my own experiences and photos of those experiences.

Now after eight posts to the blog I would like some feedback from the readers to help me write the 2016 editions of I have been exploring the possibility of adding a critique page to the blog that would give you the opportunity to share your photos and what you are learning – but I need to know if that is something you would value. So here are three approaches I could take in 2016. Please give me some feedback in the comments section about your preferences:

  1. FirstanAmateur should include more information from the dozen.
  2. FirstanAmateur should include more from Randy’s journey.
  3. FirstanAmateur should give readers more opportunities to share their journey including their own photos for critiques.

Please get back in touch with your suggestions. FirstanAmateur is for all of us to learn together and I need to know how you are learning to make this blog more effective.

7 Replies to “Moving Forward”

  1. Hi Randy,
    First off let me say I actually like the first picture. The middle two were a little too dark. The lighter sky and the golden reflection took away from the dramatic quality of the final picture. Looking at that first picture made me feel like I was standing in a place that no other human had stood before. Seeing something that no one would ever see again. I “stood in awe” as I saw through the lens what you saw.
    I, much to Aaron’s dismay, don’t want perfect. For me a perfect picture is very forgettable. I want to see something a little wonky. Slightly off center, just a little out of focus, not so such that it makes my eyes hurt, but something that makes me stop and look at it, step back, and look at it, walk away, stop, turn and look back. Say to myself, there is something about that piece, I can’t put my finger on it, but something draws me back to it time and again. For me, that is what makes a great photograph. As an artist, I’ve never wanted perfect. I don’t want the hard crisp lines. I prefer something that draws me in, slightly soft, comfortable. Did you ever have a favorite blanket/quilt, stuffed toy, come on professor, admit it. A favorite wore out hat you can’t stand to part with, but that Chris asks when are you going to get rid of that ratty old thing. That is what I want in a photograph. Those are the things I search for in my photographic work. I want people to feel what I felt when I saw a scene, a group of children at play, wildlife or our mountains. I am not sure I will ever grasp the true fundamentals of running my camera properly. A lot of my half way decent pictures have been by accident. I refuse to shoot with the “green” settings otherwise known as auto. But understanding what you talked about his time, I don’t have a clue. I set my camera settings and hope for the best. Sometimes I am lucky some times I am not. I guess in someways that is my frustration. When I first started out in watercolor, I so wanted to give up because I didn’t understand the medium at all. It would not do what I wanted, it with time, and heaven for bid, practice, I managed to make friends with the materials. And I got a compliment x from a teacher, who is a fairly well known watercolor artist here in town, when he said I have never seen some one who has a natural zen one with the medium before, like you. I just need to find my zen one with he f-stop.
    And now to the question, I like to read and see what you do. You have an amazing way of bring out something in me, what I am not sure, maybe hope that one day I will be as good and understand as well as you do.
    One more thing. Encore I go, get yourself a light weight pair of fingerless gloves to keep in your camera bag. I have a pair in my camera bag that are from New Zealand. They are possum and Moreno wool. They help really well. They are a tight fitting glove, it light and easy to handle my camera with. I keep a pair in my desk drawer for inventory every month in the walk ins and freezer.
    Looking forward to what is on the near horizon. Happy shooting.

  2. Randy,

    First let me say, I like the blended image. Nancy likes the first image, and I like the final product. It’s a matter of personal preference. I can see Nancy’s points and don’t disagree with anything she said. As far as feedback, I think your posts are right on point and wouldn’t change a thing.

  3. Randy

    I concur with everything Nancy said, but my personal preference for the image is the final blended product. That being said, I don’t think there’s a better image among all of them. It’s a matter of what the viewer likes. Similarly, I don’t believe the approach going forward should be any different than what you’ve done. I think it’s up to each individual as to what they take away from your posts. Keep it up, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

  4. Nancy, I always appreciate your comments. You see the world a little different than most other people and that is what art is all about … right? But one of my TPG goals will be to help you figure out your camera: I will have succeeded when you are sure of the true fundamentals of running your camera properly. A photo that is a little out of focus is fine, but it is even better if the photographer chose to make the photo a little out of focus. I’m patient, we can take time to learn the basics 🙂 And thanks for the suggestion about the gloves. I have always kept a pair of light weight gloves in my camera bag, but I just ordered a pair that are moreno wool – that should help out this winter.

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