They say a picture is worth a thousand words. But sometimes it’s nice to learn more about what we’re looking at. Today’s story is by Jake Moomaw...
My dad introduced me to photography. When I was in second grade, he bought a Pentax K100 and taught me how to use it, the relationship between f-stop and shutter speed, and the basics of composition. Most weekends in the summer would find us up in the Rocky Mountains, shooting pictures. Those are some of my most cherished memories of childhood. My father was a Renaissance man in the truest sense: an electrical engineer, kite-maker, scrimshaw artist, mountaineer, and woodworker amongst so many other things.
On November 9th, 2009 a catastrophic stroke changed everything. The damage to his brain left him paralyzed on the right side, unable to speak, write, swallow, or do just about anything. Living a thousand miles away, I felt so helpless having to leave the hospital and fly back to Illinois. He went home with my mom a few days before Christmas with no health support at all until after the holidays. It was one of the most depressing and hopeless times we've ever been through.
Over the last two and a half years, with the help of my mom, extended family, friends and some of the best physical therapists in the state of Colorado, Dad has made some astounding progress and regained so much of his independence. He rolls six miles to the store by himself, has been tying fishing lures (one handed!) and even picked up his old K100 again and is enjoying his craft again. Mom's devotion, drive, and optimism has been just as key as Dad's determination and raw stubbornness.
This spring, my parents had a sidewalk installed in the backyard to allow Dad access to the garden. As the cement was drying, Mom scratched the words "Never Give Up" in the concrete. Three simple words that sum up their struggle so well. When I went out to visit in May, I saw the sidewalk for the first time and knew that sentence was something really special. The photo itself was such an easy thing to make but it symbolizes so much for me.
If you have a shot with an interesting story behind it please email us at email@example.com :)
There is so much to learn about photography and rather than intimidate those new to photography let’s educate them! If you have a tutorial you’d like to share, be it in shooting, or post production, or even top tips for getting your work out there please get in touch. Alternatively, if there's something you're looking to learn let us know and we'll see if we can find a photographer to help you.
Today's tutorial is courtesy of Richard Steinberger who often paints orbs into his images and was generous to share his tips & tricks with us.
I figured it wouldn't do to produce the ball of light in my front yard, so we headed for the high country about two hours southwest of Denver, Colorado. We traveled to the tiny hamlet of Grant and, from there, drove up to Guanella Pass. Leaving our car behind, we climbed from the parking lot at 11,500 feet to the top of a nearby hill at approximately 12,000 feet. From there, we had jaw-dropping views of Mt. Bierstadt, one of Colorado's celebrated Fourteeners, and a variety of other nearby peaks.
One of those peaks was Square Top Mountain, pictured below. I framed the shot in the remaining daylight, planning to place the ball of light between the two boulders that appear toward the right side of the frame.
Unfortunately, the weather didn't clear as we had hoped. In fact, it became worse. After seeing rapidly approaching storm clouds and worrisome lightning strikes on nearby ridges, we decided to abandon the plan and hike back to our car. Quickly. By the time we reached the car, it was completely dark, and we had solid cloud cover. There was no full moon in sight.
What to do? Well, I've always thought that a person makes his or her own luck, so with that in mind we stopped at a waterfall on the way back to Grant for one more try at our ball of light.
So, what is this "ball of light," and how can you create one? The simple answer: light painting. And it can be done in different ways. The most popular way is to take a light source, put it on a string that you swing around in a circle with your hand while rotating your body in its own circle (making sure that the lowest point of the circle is always in the same place). I've seen varying forms of this done; from LEDs connected by wires to a battery pack, to flashlights tied to a rope. I've never cared too much for doing it this way; it doesn't seem very exact, and quite frankly, it's a lot of work.
I figured it would be much more practical to put daylight-balanced LEDs on a 5-foot pole that's fastened with a bolt to a second pole that's resting vertically on the ground. You can then move the 5-foot pole in the needed circle and, to suit your purposes, you can vary your turning speed and the angles of your lights to the camera. It's also a lot easier on the wrists!
When setting out to shoot balls of light, and when light painting in general, you should wear black clothing otherwise you risk showing up as a ghost in your image. As the camera can only record light, your chances of appearing in your photo are reduced greatly by wearing black.
In addition, a full moon offers the best opportunity to shoot a ball of light; it will allow you to see the surrounding area in the final image. Depending on how long your exposure is, your image might even look as if it was taken in the daytime.
During this project, however, cloud cover nixed our hopes for the full moon. Since it was completely dark, I decided to light-paint everything I wanted to show in our photograph. I've prepared a three-minute video, and I'll go into the details after you've seen the movie:
Now, let's begin with the technical details:
As I noted in the video, the exposure was 1024 seconds — nearly 18 minutes at f13. If we'd have had a full moon, my exposure probably would have been closer to 40 minutes at f/13, without the light painting. I found that f/13 gives me good sharpness with my Canon 16-35 lens at 16mm, and it's a good f-stop for the high-powered LEDs that I use. I chose ISO 100 to minimize the digital noise. You'll have to experiment a bit to see what works best with your camera and light sources.
Here is a raw capture with absolutely no retouching or corrections done:
I knew I had to do a bit of post-production work to get the image to look good, so I captured it in RAW. After importing the file into Adobe Lightroom 4, I adjusted the image with the settings seen to the left.
Next, I created two virtual copies in Lightroom, to which I applied the following settings:
My efforts yielded these two files:
Why create three different files? Remember how I "painted" the three different areas in the video? My intention was to combine the three different images in Photoshop into one, as the "raw" file did not have the apparent tonal range needed. As you see, the image above on the right has been pushed 3.65 stops to show detail in the far trees.
Of course, if I had taken more time to "paint" the trees, or if I would've used a stronger light source / higher ISO, I wouldn't have had to push the original file and sandwich the different exposures together. However, with light-painting, it's difficult to know when enough is enough; there are so many variables. At any rate, here's what the three images combined looked like after I "sandwiched" them together and erased from each the components that weren't needed for the shot. Basically, I created an HDR file by selectively erasing the elements of each file that were too bright and/or too dark.
Now there is detail all the way up to the far trees. The advantage of painting the light during the exposure and later in post-production is that you have complete control over the image. If you can visualize the outcome, you can formulate a plan and then selectively illuminate the parts of the image that you want the viewer to see. You'll be able to direct his or her eye throughout the image.
There are still a few issues to deal with, however... most importantly, the ugly sky. Leaving it black wasn't an attractive option, so replacing it was the best thing to do. (Hey, this is art, not the news... anything goes!) For the sky replacement, I decided to use an image I had done a couple of weeks prior and not too far away from this location. Here it is:
This one was photographed at ISO 1600 for 30 seconds at f/2.8. The twinkles of the larger stars were done through a Photoshop action created by Pro Digital Software.
To replace the sky, I made a copy of the original layer, then I slid this image between the top and bottom layer: Then I erased the "ugly" sky on the top layer:
Admittedly, I had a few minor things to fix aside from "dusting" the image. I had a few spots of light pollution to clean — see the red circles below, where my head lamp showed up. There also was some foam buildup at bottom center left that I didn't like.
Finally, I did a bit more color correction of the rocks and water, ran it through Photoshop's noise filter, sharpened the image and adjusted the levels to where I thought they should be.
Here are a couple of different crops at 100% so you can see how the image held up after being pushed to its limits:
Here's a side-by-side comparison with the original "raw"capture:
And here's the final image:
I hope this was helpful and that you liked the image. If you did, please feel free to vote and/or comment on it here. If you have any questions, I will do my best to answer them right here on the post.
Big thanks to Richard (and Heather and Kai!) for trekking into the hills at night to create this awesome orb shot for us! If you'd like to give it a go yourself there's a tutorial on how to make your own orb tool here. And if you do create an orb of your very own make sure you upload it to 500px and post the link below!
The Gallery feature is a great way of challenging yourself and, if you are selected, getting exposure for your work. Every week a theme will be announced and you'll have until 6pm on Sunday (EST) to submit one photo on that theme. You may already have a photo that suits, or you could see it as a weekly creative brief. Either way, make sure the photo is uploaded to your 500px Profile and then just email me the link.
12 will make it onto the blog :)
This week's theme was...
The theme is completely open to interpretation so get creative, get snapping and send a link to the photo my way: firstname.lastname@example.org
There are so many incredible images on 500px but we want to know more about the photographers, and stories, behind them. Our Portrait series interviews a talented photographer each week, allowing us to discover more about living life through a lens.
This week's interview is with photographer Jens about his photo project 'Nadir's Big Chance'.
What is Nadir’s Big Chance Project?
Nadir is a fun project. I started with some shots just for experimenting with some ideas and inspirations and as the amount of photos increased it had to become a 'project' and needed a name. But it's still supposed to be fun... especially for me.
Who or what inspired the project?
Easy: Slinkachu. I went through his Little People in the City in a book store one day (without buying it) and thought that it was a really cool, idea. I forgot about it, some weeks later I bought my first figures, forgot about them and several months later I shot the first pictures. Shortly after that I bought his book.
What camera and lens do you use for the photographs?
I use a Canon EOS 550D. The first pics were shot with the Canon 50 mm f2.5 macro lens, since the end of last year I shoot with the Canon 24-70 mm f2.8 lens.
Do you need any other photography equipment for the project such as a tripod or lighting?
Most of the photos are taken with tripod as I usually do several test shots to figure out a good angle, light and depth of field. Besides that I use very lo-fi equipment self-made of anything that lies around in my apartment and up to three simple led-flashlights, hand, or teeth, held.
Where do you get your miniature model people?
My miniature people are made for model train sets, scale H0 (1:87). I buy them in toy shops, specialized model train shops or online. I think these figures are not as easily available in any country. Model trains maybe seem to be a German kind of thing.
How do you come up with the ideas for the images?
Different ways. Sometimes ideas just come up in my mind, not sure why. Then I try to find suitable figures - if I do not already have them in my little black box - and think about how to create the scenery for the idea. Sometimes this takes a matter of minutes but some ideas I have had on my list for weeks or months. Sometimes I buy the figures first and know exactly where they belong as soon as I see them. I get inspired by other miniature photographers but usually never copy a great idea that I've seen; it develops and transforms in my head to something new.
Out of the entire series, which is your favourite and why?
Hard to say. Usually always the last one that I've shot. One of my all time favourites must be "Won't Get Fooled Again" as it was one of my very first ideas and convinced me that this nonsense is real fun. And I really like "We're Not Supposed to be Lovers". Not only for being my last picture but because I think it really caught the mood it was supposed to and it has a special personal meaning for me.
What’s next for you with photography? Have you another project in mind when you leave the miniature men behind?
I always did a lot of travel and architecture photography and I love good street photography. I do have one or two ideas in mind for other projects, but nothing really thought out and serious yet. Besides the miniatures I just take pictures.
Thanks to Jens for being interviewed and to you for reading. Feel free to leave a comment below, feedback is awesome!