My dog is one of my favorite models, but that doesn’t mean photographing him is easy. In general, I probably really like one out of every hundred shots I take of him. Sometimes it’s just a bad shot, but more often focus will be off, the image will be blurred, or I’ll crop off a body part unintentionally – keep in mind I’m VERY picky with photos.
Winston doesn’t have the best recall – he’s easily distracted by things more exciting than his mom trying to take pictures – so we are mostly limited to off leash shoots in our small, fenced in backyard which is full of rocks, wood chips, mulch, sticks, and plants, some of which are protected by wire fencing, and usually accented with a grill, garden tools, and the random dog toy. Even when I get everything right, getting a shot with a clean, aesthetic background can be tricky.
This image, taken with a 300mm f/2.8 lens, somehow managed to do my boy justice and avoid all the distracting elements in our backyard, but straight-out-of-camera it needed some work. I warmed up the white balance, brought up the exposure, leveled the horizon, and cloned out all of the pesky mosquitos hovering around Winston’s face (if only you could eliminate mosquitoes so easily in real life). I also tweaked the shadow areas slightly to bring out some detail, and I used a neat free action I found on the Hair of the Dog photo blog to brighten up the eyes. As a final step, I completely eliminated Winston’s dog tag* using the clone tool.
*Note: In the “Before” image above I actually quickly cloned out the text on Winston’s tag before posting online, so it’s not exactly SOOC. When posting photos of dogs with ID tags, I typically always edit out personal information before posting in a public setting. I always do this as a final step so I have that detailed info should I choose to print the image and want to keep it on there for sentimental reasons.
Here is a great example of how a strong edit can salvage an otherwise unremarkable photo. The original had another photographer in the way and was too low contrast to be anything other than a quick snap shot; the artistic merit of this photo wasn’t very strong straight-out-of-camera. Enter Lightroom and a couple minutes of my time, and the final edit is a major improvement.
I started by cropping the image to eliminate the out of focus mint colored shirt on the right side of the photo. I also took a bit away from the top and bottom to keep the original ratio. Then I bumped up the contrast quite a bit to help bring out the textures in the splashing mud. I played with the vibrance and saturation levels and specifically tweaked the red color of the rider’s shirt just a little bit (I find the color red often blows out when you bump the contrast or saturation in a photo, so I had to selectively dial that back a bit), and then finally added a strong post-crop vignette in Lightroom. The entire process took less than a few minutes.
This Before and After is a bit more dramatic than the last one I shared. Unlike the autumn shot near Tippin Rock, I actually changed the scene a bit for my shot of “Friendly Bucks.” It’s not something I do very often, and these days I’m more tempted not to use a shot than to change it significantly, but in this case I justified altering the background due to the unique context of the subject and the fact that the background alteration drastically improved the final image.
The original photo was taken in 2006. I loved the moment captured, but the white corner of sky in the background was very distracting.
To improve the straight out of camera version, I fixed the white balance, leveled the horizon (which resulted in a slight cropping of the edges), and cloned the mountain part of the background to fill in the white sky. All of my images have slight tweaks to exposure, shadows/highlights, blacks/whites, contrast, clarity, and vibrance/saturation, but this one required a little more work than that.
The end result is something that is much more breathtaking.
Now there are certainly folks who would frown on the level of manipulation inherent in changing the background of a photo. I don’t disagree with them, and I would never enter the edited version of this photo in a nature photo contest like the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Contest, which requires that photos are not heavily manipulated or altered, or claim for it to be a photo documentation. By adding or removing an element of the scene, it is altered beyond the point of standard adjustments, and I am honest about that and would never try to pass it off as an original representation of my camera’s view at that time. I don’t regret capturing the scene from this angle, because by doing so I was able to get both bucks in the same focal plane, which might not have been possible if I had shifted slightly to have a cleaner background. This interaction also lasted just seconds, and the fact that I captured it at all is something I am proud of.
The goal of my photography is to show the beauty of the natural world and capture moments in my life that are important to me. This photo does just that. Changing the background results in focus falling right on the two deer and prevents the viewer from being distracted by a bright part of the image that detracts from the subject. It enhances the beauty, and accurately represents what someone standing next to me might have seen. Since the point of the photo is the interaction between the bucks, altering the background helps me accomplish my goal. To me, making this change on this photo was, and still is, the right decision.
This is the first of a new series of Before and After blogs I will be doing, showcasing the straight-out-of-camera (SOOC) images vs the final edited and post-processed versions. I’ve always been mesmerized by Before and After images, especially since I started paying more attention to pet photography and realized that many of the beautiful, dreamy photo illustrations I have seen of pet dogs on Instagram and social media are actually the result of a lot of work behind the computer. The reality is, a lot of the beautiful images you see have been carefully tweaked in post processing, some more so than others of course. Photography is inherently a creative process; the very act of choosing what to include and not include as you compose a scene, the settings you select on your camera, and what film to use or the defaults picked to covert your RAW images in Lightroom are all aspects that alter a photograph’s representation of reality.
I have always advocated for truth in photography, and will forever completely disclose any and all edits and manipulations and tricks used to create any photograph if asked. Not only is honesty important, but I feel that the public and other photographers can learn a lot about what goes into creating an impactful image. Typically, photographers (myself included) won’t reveal every and all details used to create an image in the caption or every time the image is shared or shown, because that simply isn’t realistic, but the goal of my Before and After blog posts is to shed a little more light on the post-capture creative work that goes into creating a final image.
To start, I am going to share this recently snapped photo of a fall foliage scene in New Hampshire. As you can see, there are some pretty trees but my camera didn’t do a good job of capturing the subtleties of the colors of this scene.
In the edited version, I brought out some of the color and texture in the sky, increased the contrast and saturation of the image slightly, and cropped the view further, to emphasize the colorful trees on the distant mountain and de-emphasize the green foliage surrounding the edges of the frame. I’ve also added a slight vignette by darkening the outer edges of the image; I do this frequently with wide landscapes and images with a clear animal or human subject as it helps prevent the eyes from wandering and pulls them into the image.
None of the edits I made were particularly drastic and I didn’t end up adding or removing anything from the original image, but the overall impact of these changes is significant. The straight out of camera version is one that doesn’t encourage a second look, while the edited version encourages eyes to linger.
One of the reasons I chose to share this image is because it is not very dramatic or exciting. Truthfully, if I had gotten out to shoot more this autumn this might not even be an image I would end up sharing. Yet, it shows the big difference even a little editing can make.
Apparently GoPro and I have different definitions of waterproof. About 19 months ago, I received a brand new in package GoPro HERO5 Black as a gift. I was so excited! I had the original GoPro Hero and said I would get an upgrade once GoPro introduced RAW into their cameras. The HERO5 Black is the first that did it, and my super wonderful partner heard me talking excitedly about it and surprised me with one for my birthday. There is a lot I like about the new GoPro (note: there is an even newer model out now, the GoPro HERO6 Black). On the HERO5, the image quality is MUCH improved over the first generation GoPro, menus are easier to navigate, the device is more intuitive, the profile is sleeker and smaller, and the voice control feature (which is something I didn’t even know I wanted) is a game changer and makes hands free operation so much easier. It also works well in colder temperatures and is easy to operate with gloves on, unlike my phone, which is the only other camera I have that fits in my pocket. Where this device fails is its ability to handle water sports.
My GoPro HERO5 Black has been submerged in water exactly twice; once at a freshwater lake last summer and once this weekend while paddleboarding. In both instances the device was submerged to a depth of no more than three feet (waist deep with a person’s head above water) in fresh water for just minutes at a time. When SUPing this weekend I noticed a large blob of water in the front LCD and immediately brought the camera to shore to dry out. Now the camera won’t turn on at all, moisture is visible inside all of the ports (which were securely shut at all times when the device was in or near the water), and the final video I have on the memory card is corrupt.
My GoPro’s dying video. As you can see, the device is clearly above water, and I’m standing in waist deep, shallow water when the device fails.
The manufacturer claims this device is waterproof to 10m (33ft) without a housing as long as the ports are securely shut. This was definitely not the case with my model, and because the one year warranty period has passed I’m pretty much out of luck when it comes to replacing or repairing my device. GoPro doesn’t do repairs, which is a tragedy for the environment especially considering that my experience is not unique and many others are probably chucking their flooded GoPros into the trash and into landfills. Customer service wasn’t very helpful, although they did offer me a standard, 20% off one time discount on any camera (that must be purchased directly through GoPro’s website and cannot be combined with any other offer). While that might seem like a nice gesture, consider that we already paid for one at full price ($400 when the device was first released, which is what we paid, they now retail for $300), I’m not interested in paying another couple hundred for a replacement with the same faulty design ($400 for the original + $240 for a replacement = $640 spent on something that doesn’t even work as advertised). Thanks, but no thanks, GoPro.
Unfortunately, I think this company has gotten too big to care about their customers anymore.
The GoPro HERO5 Black honestly isn’t a bad little camera, but GoPro shouldn’t claim it to be waterproof. I’d actually probably still recommend it if to someone if they had plans to never use it in or near water. Unfortunately, this device is not as advertised and customer service was unhelpful and unwilling to admit that their device failed nor did they make a sincere effort to rectify the situation and retain a customer. At this point, I’m pretty disappointed and have very little confidence in this company or their products.
My wet little GoPro, shown in the images below, is currently sitting in a bag of rice. I am hoping for a miracle, but have little confidence in one. If it gets resurrected from the dead, I’ll let you know.
Please feel free to share this far and wide. I would hate for someone else to buy this device thinking it will be a great camera for snorkeling or other water sports and then ending up as disappointed and upset as I am.
Update 7/24/18: After fussing a bit, I was offered a greater discount – 40% off a new camera, bringing the price down to $180. While certainly a more reasonable discount to replace an item that failed to live up to manufacturer’s claims, I still was not expecting to have to replace my GoPro after less than 2 years and don’t think I will buy another one at that price. Online, many other users have complained of similar issues with HERO5’s flooding, and a $180 is a lot to spend on a camera just because it’s small. I love the idea of having something I can use for swimming, snorkeling, and water sports without getting an expensive, dedicated underwater housing for my DSLR, but it’s clear that the HERO5 doesn’t fill that niche. Frankly GoPro should just market the HERO5 as splash resistant instead of waterproof and/or they should include the optional $50 waterproof dive housing with the camera; their failure to do so makes me distrust them as a company, and I’m not sure I want to buy and be disappointed by yet another one of their products.
I’ve asked GoPro to combine the 40% discount with the $50 off trade-in option, as I have an older generation GoPro that I never use and would happily trade in for a new device, and $130 is about what I feel comfortable paying when we already spent $400 on on Hero5 just a year-and-a-half ago. Unfortunately, GoPro won’t let me combine those discounts, so it looks like I’ll be GoPro-less for at least the near foreseeable future.
Additionally, after leaving my HERO5 in a bag of rice for more than a week, the device still won’t turn on or show any signs of life, and there is still a small(er) water bubble visible in the front LCD. Looks like that one is DEAD dead. RIP birthday GoPro. Thanks for all the memories and a handful fun photos along the way.
Last week, I hopped on a plane for the first time in two years. Bound for Atlanta, Georgia, I packed light, wanting to avoid the hassle and expense of checking bags. My trip was a short one – a late flight to Atlanta, two hour drive to Chattanooga for the weekend, then back to Atlanta for just a couple of days before heading home.
When I vacation with my partner, I generally don’t plan our itinerary around photography. Photography isn’t exactly a spectator sport, and there are plenty of other things we both enjoy that we can do together while on vacation. Two years ago, when we went to Arizona on our very first vacation together I brought a DSLR and didn’t use it to take a single picture, despite all of the incredible scenery. On this trip I anticipated less mind blowing natural landscapes, but packed my DSLR again, just in case.
To pack as light and compact as possible while still having some flexibility to shoot a variety of subjects, I brought my smaller 5D Mark II body, a single 50mm f/1.4 lens, a 32GB memory card, two batteries, and a charger. That’s it. No tripod, no filters, no accessories likely to take up space and slow me down. When I take snapshots using my phone just for the fun of it, I never use the built in zoom and always move around to get the composition I want or crop after the fact, so I was not at all phased by only having a prime lens to shoot with. The nice thing about my 50mm 1.4 is that the lens itself is pretty small both in weight and physical dimensions, the focal length is a pretty normal perspective and fairly versatile to shoot with – it works for most subjects from landscapes to people, and the wide aperture gives me more options for shooting hand held in various lighting conditions.
Over the course of the trip, I shot many photos with my DSLR. The package was small enough to fit in my handbag so I was able to take it everywhere with me. The older camera lens combo and basic functionality made it easy to hand off to others so they could take pictures too (which also meant I could actually be in some of the pictures), and because the combination was portable and uncomplicated taking photos was less of a process than when I am out specifically shooting. Not having a tripod, various lenses, and filters to mess around with simplified the way I shot, and made taking photos less of a distraction from actually enjoying all of things we were doing. Packing light and using a simple set up allowed me to focus on being with my partner and having fun on the trip instead of getting wrapped up in taking photos. Another perk: Since I wasn’t hauling a ton of gear it wasn’t very obvious that I had a fancy camera on me most of the time; while being a target for thieves is something I generally don’t worry much about in the states the ability to be discrete is something I have often appreciated when traveling overseas.
I still used my iPhone for some photos – the wider focal length and built in HDR was easier to use when photographing the city from our hotel balcony, and its rear facing camera and small profile was much easier for shooting couples selfies. Unfortunately, I still have an iPhone 6 and the Lightroom Creative Cloud app only allows DNG shooting on newer models, so generally even my coolest iPhone shots don’t make it on to my website (although they do often end up on my Instagram).
In the end, I got some really cool photos. From being able to capture a cool cloud shot from the plane (which I couldn’t do when my photo gear was stored in the overhead bin) to shooting an underground waterfall in a dark cave (which would just not have been possible with my iPhone), having my basic DSLR setup ended up making the trip just a little bit more exciting. Below, you’ll see just a few of the images I’ve managed to go through since returning home just a few days ago.
The only thing I would probably change next trip would be to invest in a different handbag – one maybe a little bigger and with a more substantial crossbody strap or handle. The bag I brought had a narrow 1″ crossbody strap and carrying a camera around in that all day ended up making my back and neck really sore. My bag, which was my personal item on the plane, could also just barely fit my camera and a slightly bigger bag would have let me carry more on the flight.
Fifteen or so years ago, I got my very first SLR, a Nikon N65. When I went digital, I purchased a Nikon D70, and a couple of years later a Nikon D200, before switching to Canon in 2007. I’ve been shooting Canon for the past decade, and have owned four different Canon digital bodies (1D Mark II N, 5D Mark II, 7D, and 1D Mark IV), as well as a Canon point-and-shoot and Panasonic micro four-thirds system.
I got away from shooting professionally several years ago, so haven’t given much thought to upgrading gear or dropping a few grand on a new body or lens. Its just not as much a priority as it used to be, and right now I’d rather get a new mountain bike than a new camera. However, I have started shooting more frequently again and have been doing more action photography and photographs where fast shutter speeds are required in low light. I know many folks shooting action sports and animals on the run aren’t using eight year old camera bodies, so I’ve started to look at what’s out there, and my how the times have changed.
In 2007, when I decided to sell my D200 and all of my Nikon mount lenses, I did so because I was shooting alongside Canon shooters who were easily able to shoot a solid two stops higher ISO with the same amount of noise, meaning when I was stuck at ISO 400 and getting blurry images, they could bump their ISO to 800 or 1600 and actually freeze the action of a moving subject. I was also getting to the point where investing in some long glass for wildlife was an obvious next step, and at the time Nikon didn’t have VR (vibration reduction) on any of their long telephoto lenses (the longest lens with VR at the time was a 200-400mm f/4) and their super teles (500mm and 600mm lenses) cost easily $2-3k higher than equivalent Canon lenses with IS (image stabilization). So I took a bold step, sold every Nikon specific thing I owned, and bought a Canon 1D Mark II N and 300mm f/2.8 with 1.4x and 2x teleconverters to make the switch.
I’ve been a happy Canon shooter for the past ten years and haven’t ever really doubted switching, or thought about switching back, until recently. Now, I spend more time shooting my mostly black dog in our tree shaded backyard or window lit home, or walking up ski slopes to photograph mountain bikers racing downhill through heavily wooded forests, sometimes at speeds of 30-40mph. In these situations, being able to bump my ISO even higher would allow me shoot at faster shutter speeds and get sharp, detailed shots of moving subjects even in low light situations. With my current cameras, I feel comfortable bumping my ISO up to about 1600, but know that the noise I’ll get in shadow areas will degrade significantly if I shoot at ISOs much higher than that.
In poking around to see how much ISO noise and dynamic range on digital sensors has improved in the past ten years, I stumbled across high ISO samples of the past two iterations of Canon’s two best pro level cameras, the pro-body 1DX and 1DX II and smaller-sized 5D Mark III and 5D Mark IV and, while better, they don’t come close to the shadow detail and clean high ISO shots of Sony’s cameras or Nikon’s D810 (and newly announced D850). So am I going to switch to Nikon? Probably not.
I have two Canon bodies, six Canon mount lenses, and two Canon mount teleconverters and extension tubes, including some pretty nice glass that I am unlikely to be able to replace for the price point I paid for it. Since switching to Canon, I’ve almost always bought used gear and often bodies that are at least one generation old. It would literally cost me thousands of dollars to make the switch. I don’t shoot professionally much anymore, so having the latest, greatest gear isn’t going to drastically impact my image sales or livelihood, and I’m unlikely to see a return on the investment I make in switching gear. Even with Nikon being ahead in dynamic range, ISO noise, and resolution, Canon still produces some amazing action cameras with high FPS and incredible autofocus. Many pro sports shooters are still using long white lenses, and let’s not forget that images made a decade ago on equipment at least as old are still getting published, winning awards, and making people happy. If Canon falls horribly behind Nikon and Sony in the years to come, I might switch back to Nikon at some point, but I’m not there yet.
I think it’s only a matter of time before the favor will switch back into Canon’s direction. Just ten years ago, things were completely different and I am pretty sure that Nikon and Sony aren’t going to just leave Canon bankrupt in the dust anytime soon. I would love for Canon to release an improved 1DX or 5D series model with higher megapixels and better dynamic range and high ISO performance while staying at a competitive price point and adding features like GPS, WiFi, multiple exposures, long exposure settings, and other features that come standard on some models. While I’m not entirely confident Canon’s next new release will rival everything already out there, I think it is coming. Over the years, when the playing field tends to tip in one direction, it swings back the other way in time. For now, I’ll probably keep my eye out on deals from all the other people jumping ship and switching from Canon to Nikon or Sony, and maybe I’ll buy a new camera when the next generation comes out and makes today’s most current Canon flagship cost half as much. After all, I love buying barely used gear for a fraction of the price. 😉
Last week, I was in Acadia National Park on vacation. Acadia is one of my favorite places – it is literally nature’s playground. You can hike, bike, kayak, rock climb, swim (if you don’t mind cold water), explore tide pools, and sight see, and the photo opportunities are plentiful. I was lucky enough to have this be my fifth (maybe sixth) visit to the park, and even luckier to get to share it with someone special.
I ended up shooting with my DSLR only a few times throughout the whole trip and don’t regret it at all. I find it really difficult to be present in the moment while trying to photograph it, and to me a vacation isn’t really a break if I’m planning my travels around the sun and routinely skipping breakfast to wake up at an ungodly hour to catch sunrise. When I’m worried about light and composition, dialing in my exposure just right and snapping the shutter at precisely the right time, I’m not really noticing much else. It’s probably why when I snapped this photograph I didn’t really care that I was getting eaten by mosquitos and prancing across slippery rocks in a dress and flip-flops.
The best way for me to enjoy the things I like to photograph is sometimes not to photograph them. Sometimes it’s best to just stop and feel the sun on your face, snuggle in the warm embrace of someone you love, and fully experience a moment in time without distractions. I enjoy sharing my travels and experiences with others through photography, but not taking photographs is beautiful in a way too. When you think about it, not having photographs can make that moment itself more private and personal as it becomes something only shared between you and those you are with at the time. In a day when people document their lunches on social media, that’s kind of special.
I don’t regret not taking more photos on my recent trip to Acadia. Instead of focusing my time fiddling with tripods and filters, forcing my boyfriend to wait around while I struggled with a composition, planning all of our excursions around good light and the best scenery, and missing meals so I could be out shooting during golden hour, we experienced our entire trip together and tried things I wouldn’t have bothered to enjoy if I had only been focused on creating images. It was a wonderful vacation, and I’ll take happy memories shared with the people I love before good photographs any day.
My favorite local climbing area has abundant wildflowers along the approach trail including these Painted Trillium. I happened to have my camera on me today, so after climbing I went back on the trail and tried to capture some shots of these beautiful flowers at their peak. Due to a slight breeze and no tripod, I chose to shoot handheld with a shallow depth of field and had to half squat, half lie down on the ground to get this shot, all the while being eaten alive by zealous mosquitos. The bugs in this area always seem to be able to sense when you are most vulnerable and least likely to swat at them, biting while you are in the middle of belaying, or in this case, composing a photograph.
I don’t shoot as much as I used to. Between working full time, owning a home and a dog, and striving to be a good partner to my incredible partner, there isn’t a whole lot of time left in the day to go out and take pictures. Even though photography is something I enjoy and want to do more of, once I’ve finally tackled all the things I need to do I’m rarely super motivated to drive around looking for subjects to photograph in the wee hours of the day.
When I started really getting hooked on photography in high school, I shot mostly sports because it was what I had easy access to. I didn’t have my own car, but there were plenty of athletic competitions at school that I could photograph and then catch a ride home after on the late bus or with a friend. I only started shooting nature and wildlife a lot when, halfway through college, I finally got my own wheels and more independence to get around and explore natural places on my own. Before then, I shot whatever was within walking or biking distance from home or school.
Now between working 40+ hours a week, spending at 5 hours a week commuting back and forth from work, doing things to maintain a home, caring for a pet, staying active, and being involved in my relationships and community, I don’t have that much extra time to do photography. I also don’t function as well on limited sleep as I used to and don’t really enjoy driving as much, so 3am wake-ups to drive two hours to the beach for sunrise have about as much appeal to me as picking up dog poop from the backyard. At work, I spend hours every day on a computer or sitting in meetings (even though I don’t have a traditional desk job) so I don’t really enjoy coming home and to edit photographs in my “free” time. Plus, adulting is expensive. Buying groceries and paying my utility bills is more of a priority to me than filling up my gas tank an extra time for a photo trip or buying new camera equipment and software. I used to dedicate days and weekends to shooting, and now I want to be able to take some photos for a few hours and then move on to something else.
So I’ve found myself coming full circle, shooting sports and taking photographs of nature that don’t involve long days and hours of travel. Fortunately there are plenty of opportunities to shoot close to home. I take photographs of student-athletes competing in sports events at work and go with my boyfriend to some of his mountain bike races, where I spend a large part of my time on the mountain photographing him and his teammates while cheering everyone on. I photograph our dog a lot, usually in our own backyard. I’ve started to make a point of going out to photograph the really pretty natural areas in my own town. Lately, the setting of most of my nature themed images has been just a bike ride away from my home.
It has been kind of fun to take this approach to photography. I feel less pressure to actually create stunning images, because I’m just shooting for fun. Since I’m not going too far out of my way or using up a whole lot of time, it doesn’t really matter whether I succeed at creating website worthy content or fail completely. Plus, I like the challenge of finding tucked away places and taking advantage of just a few free hours to do something I enjoy. Shooting nature close to home also helps me embrace and appreciate the beauty that is around me every day and reminds me how happy I am to live in a place where waterfalls, wildflowers, and wild animals are just a bike ride away.