Monday, August 23, 2010


I've been having a lot of fun shooting water drops in the past couple of days. I've wanted to do this for years and finally got around to it. I haven't been able to capture the classic falling water drop crashing into a drop bouncing upward yet, but nevertheless I'm pleased with what I've taken so far.

The setup is simple. A plastic bag hangs above a tray of water, and a small pin prick stars the water dropping. I love color, so I put a piece of computer paper smeared with various colors of paint behind the tray. A portable flash is aimed at the paint, not the drops. I used a medium telephoto lens with two extension tubes to fill the frame with the splash, and the flash was used on manual exposure mode set to 1/8th power to reduce the flash duration to 1/8000th of a second to freeze the action. You can see the setup below. Notice how close the flash is to the background. That's necessary because the flash power was reduced so much and by placing the Canon 580EX flash unit close to the painted background, I compensated for that reduction in light. I added food coloring to the falling drops for a color variation.

Focus is critical, so I used a plastic straw positioned exactly where the drops were falling to focus the lens. F/32 insured that the entire drop was sharp.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Photographers have used black Plexiglas for a long time to shoot everything from products to flowers to portraits. I just took this portrait of my neighbor's daughter, Grayci, using only one studio light -- a White Lightning strobe and small softbox. The dark reflection from the Plexy adds an elegant and intriguing quality to anything you shoot with it.

This was taken with a Canon 5D Mark II and a 24-105mm lens. The aperture was f/18 and I hand-held the shot.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Anyone can be sloppy in their macro technique and blur most or all of the subject. I see this all the time in the online courses I teach for Why do we get close to small subjects? It seems to me we want to capture the intricacy and the beauty of them, and the only way we can do that is by making them as sharp as possible.

Selective focus, i.e. shallow depth of field, has it's place for sure, but if you want to do fine macro photography, in my opinion you need a tripod, a small lens aperture, and most or all of the subjects you shoot should be sharp.

Friday, August 13, 2010


Photographers use Photoshop in many ways. Some merely enhance images with color and contrast. Others use it to convert color into black and white, and some, like myself, love to create surrealism, fine art, and we like to think beyond the obvious. One of the best ways to do that is to cut and paste one image into another. The image (or I should say images) was taken during the last workshop I gave in Venice, Italy. I shot the background to use as a composite, and I chose one of the costumed models I photographed elsewhere to put in front of the sunrise. This could have been done with fill flash, but it wasn't. I made it to look like it was carefully exposed and composed in one shot, but it's two pictures.

The technique is simple:

1. Select the foreground subject, in this case the costumed model. I used the pen tool to be absolutely precise.

2. Convert the path (made by the pen tool) into a selection by clicking the upper right icon in the paths palette. This opens a submenu and now choose: 'make selection'. In the dialog box that opens, type in 1 pixel. You will now have a selection around the subject.

3. Now use this command: Select > modify > expand. Choose one pixel. This pushes the selection outward so you don't grab any of the original background.

4. Now use Select > modify > feather. Choose 1 pixel in the dialog box.

5. Go to Edit > copy.

6. Activate the background photo and choose Edit > paste.

7. Click on the move tool in the tools palette and move the subject in place.

8. If you need to resize the subject, use Edit > transform > scale.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


I am writing a new issue of Petersen's Photographic Magazine, and it will be about all the cool projects you can do at home. I re-visited a technique I did years ago this afternoon for the magazine project, and I had a lot of fun shooting abstract trails of light. To create the image you see here, I hung a small penlight from a horizontal wooden dowl on a wire and, with the camera pointing up at it in a dark room, I opened the shutter for 25 seconds. I used 200 ISO and f/11 for the exposure, and during the length of time the shutter was open, I placed colored gels over the lens. They weren't of optical quality, but in this case it didn't matter.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Black holes are places in the Universe where gravity is so strong that not even light can escape. Therefore, it obviously can't be photographed. Until now.

Last night I traveled through the space-time continuum (or it might have been to a county fair) to photograph the spinning lights of the illuminated rides, and one of the abstracts I took looked exactly like what I envision a black hole must look like -- if we could see it. This was taken with a one second exposure, hand held, and I zoomed the lens during the exposure and as the ride was spinning. My white balance was daylight and I used 100 ISO. In Photoshop I changed the color a little and added 'stars', which is merely a photo of glitter sprinkled on black velvet. I blended the two images together using the 'lighten' blend mode. I thought this turned out pretty cool.

Friday, July 30, 2010


In the online courses I teach at, I see a lot of butterfly pictures, particularly in the summer. The biggest problem I see in the students' work is that the depth of field that is too shallow. As you move in close to fill the frame with a small subject, depth of field is lost and the only way to get it back is to use a small lens aperture. That reduces the light, of course, forcing the shutter speed to be slow. No one wants a slow shutter speed when shooting fast-moving insects.

To capture an artistic picture of a butterfly in nature is very, very difficult Depth of field is only one issue. A cluttered background is another, and distracting foregrounds are also a problem. The only way to control the foreground, the background, the depth of field, and the lighting is to capture the butterflies and photograph them under controlled circumstances. This is what I did just an hour ago with the buckeye butterfly you see reproduced here. Here is the procedure I used:

1. I captured the insect with a butterfly net as it was searching for flowers in my garden.
2. I put the butterfly in a small Tupperware container in the refrigerator to cool it down (butterflies can't fly if they get too cold).
3. I waited 10 minutes and then took it out and placed it, gently, on a leaf in my kitchen.
4. Butterflies rest with their wings folded, so I placed a lamp, minus the shade, near the butterfly. After 2 or 3 minutes, the butterfly opened its wings to warm the wing muscles, thinking the light bulb was the sun.
5. I used a Canon ring flash set to ETTL. My 50mm macro lens was set to f/32, and the camera's exposure function was set to manual mode. I placed one extension tube between the camera body and the lens to fill the frame with the buckeye butterfly.

In this way, I had total control and made a perfect image. Might I have tried another type of lighting? Sure, but this is what I wanted for this setup. When I had finished, I released the butterfly outside and wished it a nice day.