Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Using a zoom for macro photography

Macro photography requires a lens that will allow close focus and high magnification.Most manufacturers make very high quality  macro lenses but these come at a price. My tip for the day is that you can get very close to such lenses in terms of image sharpness and magnification on the cheap. All you need is an old style manual lens. Look for something with the optics still in good condition since you will be buying second hand.

Tip 2 is that the shorter the focal length of the lens is, the higher the magnification will be that you will obtain when the lens is reverse mounted. Therefore a 50mm lens will give about half the magnification of a 24mm lens.

Tip 3 is that you will find a prime lens may limit you too much since it will only shoot at one magnification. You can change this by using extension tubes, but this process consumes time each time you need to reduce or extend tubes. A cheap alternative is a good quality manual zoom lens. Something like the Vivitar 28-70mm. Most newer Nikkor will also do since they still have a manual aperture ring.

Below are two photos taken seconds apart. They are not the best photos but they clearly show the benefit of having a reverse zoom.

Have fun!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sunrise over Sealion - How To

It has been a while since I've posted to this blog. In the meantime my Photoshop skills have increased a little bit, but I am still not even starting to scratch the surface. So, this post will teach you how to take a standard photo and give it some "bling". Even though I am taking a sunrise shot as an example, do not constrain your thinking. You would be amazed at how many different subjects may benefit from some Photoshopping.

So, here is our starting image that I took at sunrise one early morning:

Nothing too spectacular. Exposed to the best of my, and my camera's ability. But I've skipped over the image in the past simply because it did not shout "post me". Even an attempt to HDR it did not yield any results I would care to share :-)

Step 1, open your image in Photoshop. (I am using CS5).

Step 2, in the layers tab, you will see your background image, now click the little black and white circle at the bottom of that box to add an adjustment layer, and pick Levels from the list.

A new Levels layer will be added and it will be selected.

Step 3, in the Levels adjustment box, drag the center triangle, the light gray one, to the right to darken your image. I used a value of 0.45 for this specific image.

PS. If your darker colors does not start on the left of the graph or the lighter colors does not end at the right of the graph, use the respective selectors (triangles) and drag them to the start of the dark areas and end of the light areas. This will even out your exposure. My image already had both right up at the ends so no changes were required.

Step 4, click the Background layer again so it is selected and right click on it and choose Duplicate Layer. A dialog box will prompt you for a name. Enter Foreground in the As and Click OK. Drag and move this new Foreground layer to the top of the layer stack.

Step 5, you will notice the Foreground layer looks like the original image and your darkening of Step 3 appears gone. This is because the new layer now cover what you've done. With the Foreground layer selected you can click the eye icon or slide Opacity towards 0% and you will see the layers below exposed again. Cool, hey? Set Opacity 100% again and make sure Foreground is visible. Add some sharpness (if required) to your Foreground layer. Select the Filter main menu, then Sharpen, then Unsharpen Mask. I've used the settings below. Play around and check and uncheck Preview to see the impact on the main image. Click OK when ready. (I shoot at high megapixels so more sharpening may not seems as good on your image)

Step 6, in my image the water was too light and I only wanted the sharpening applied to non water items in the image. So lets knock out anything that should not be sharpened and also knock out the water to expose the darkened water in Background layer. To do this select the Foreground layer and add a Layer Mask my clicking the white circle at the bottom of the Layers tab.

This will add a white layer mask box to the Foreground Layer.

Step 7,with the mask box selected as shown click the Brush Tool (B) on the far left tools box.

Just below you main menu of Photoshop, make sure you have a fuzzy Brush Preset selected.

Step 8, set the brush size to something big by holding ] key on your keyboard. I've used 1600px. With the mask still selected on the Foreground layer, paint on your image on the areas to expose. Make sure you do not paint over the parts you would like to remain as is. CTRL+ALR+Z is your undo friend if you make a mistake. On my image, I've painted over the sky and sea. Keep painting, each time the mask will become more transparent. On my image the clouds and water on the left now appears darker.

Step 9, you can now add some Vibrance and Saturation. Select the Foreground layer, and add a Vibrance adjustment layer. Increase Vibrance and Saturation to your liking. (Or decrease if required).

Step 10, almost done. Skip this step if required, but since my sample photo is a sunrise, what about adding some warmth to the image. Add the last adjustment layer, which is a Photo Filter layer. Make sure it is at the top of the layer stack. Drag it there if needed. Your stack should look like mine.