Category Archives: Tips and Tricks

Lightpainting in Garden of the Gods

After what has seemed like an eternal winter, the weather here in Colorado is finally warming up.  Moreover, we seem to have shaken the 60 mph winds that made photography difficult last week.  I finally got out to attempt a project that I’d been previsualizing for some time; lightpainting the Siamese Twins formation in Garden of the Gods.

I’ve photographed this formation before during the daytime; it’s a popular spot to catch the juxtaposition of the twin rock towers with the summit of Pikes Peak between them.  But I’d never hiked to it at night.

The Siamese Twins, in the classic daytime capture.

Lightpainting is a technique whereby you artificially illuminate your subject with a flashlight or lantern.  This technique enables you to control the exact placement of light in the scene and you can use it to selectively illuminate subjects of interest.  I headed up to the Siamese twins with my gear in a Think Tank “Streetwalker Pro” bag.  I had my D3s, 16-35/4, 24-70/2.8 and a 70-200/2.8 VR II.  I also had my Gitzo tripod and a couple of strong flashlights.  I reached the formation about 20 minutes after sundown and I set up.

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Future, thy name is SSD

It seems like every six months or so, you see a newer, faster microchip processor hitting the market.  My original Mac SE, which cost me $1800 (with educational discount) in 1989, ran at a whopping 8 megaHertz.  Today, we have dual-core, quad-core, and even octal-core machines running from 2-3 gigaHertz.  That’s fast.  Memory is faster, graphics cards are faster, everything is FASTER!  Except, that is, for your hard drive. Yes, while hard drives have gotten faster over the years, they now represent the weak link in your ability to load and process data.  Let’s face it, most computers are not processor-limited anymore.  Any halfway decent machine is going to run fast, and unless you are into hard-core video rendering, even the lower end of the processor line-up will be very good.

But back to those hard drives.  They rotate.  They have moving parts.  They can fail.  My wife’s hard drive failed after barely a year in a brand-new iMac.  The good news is that I’ve seen the future, and it is amazing.  Solid-state drives (SSDs) are computer equivalents of the flash memory we use in our cameras.  No moving parts, and damn near instant read times.  SSD’s have been out for a few years; I first saw them showing up as an expensive option in the Apple MacBook Air.  I had no idea why anyone would want to pay such a premium for a drive that had less capacity than the standard HDD.  Until I saw the light.

First of all, consider how we use our laptops.  For many of us, the laptop is the “travel” computer.  We have a primary desktop computer at home to do our heavy-lifting.  A clean install of my OS (in my case, Mac OS 10.6) with my critical applications runs about 45GB.  Even with a 120GB drive, that still leaves me a good bit of free space.  On my laptop, I don’t need to store every NEF I’ve shot or my entire music collection (hello, iPhone), so a 128GB drive is actually plenty.  Moreover, I usually travel with a 250GB FW800 drive to store my images on, anyway. Continue reading Future, thy name is SSD

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Just Browsing my NEFs

One of the things I like about shooting in RAW is that I have the ability to override my in-camera settings during post-processing.  The RAW safety net is tremendously useful, even if you get most things “right” on a shoot.  One thing I don’t like, however, is using software that automatically throws away my in-camera settings because it thinks it is smarter than me.  When I preview my images, I want to see what I had shot in-camera, even if I got it “wrong” (I like to learn from my mistakes).

I’m mostly talking about image browsers, here.  All these products that are “RAW saavy.”  That’s really just code for  “built-in RAW converter” that will ignore all your in-camera settings.  The problem with multiple RAW converters is that each one works with its own set of instructions.  If you use Browser “A” to view your files, then process them in Application “B”, when you go back to Browser “A,” you won’t see any changes in your image previews.  This conundrum is why we’re seeing a big push towards “soup to-nuts” products like Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and Apple Aperture.

Take for instance, the scenario where you shoot NEFs using different Nikon Picture Controls.  By default, you can make four different core settings in your camera:

  • Neutral
  • Standard
  • Vivid
  • Monochrome

When you look at the LCD preview on your camera, you can tell the difference between the images. Neutral is low-contrast and low-saturation, while vivid is high-contrast and high-saturation.  And monochrome, well it’s black and white.

Now consider what happens when you download those same four images and preview them in a browser that has its own RAW engine:

Click to see more…
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Using Color Control Points to Emphasize Subjects

Little Blue Heron, Shark Valley, FL. Nikon D300 and 600mm f/4 AFS VR Nikkor lens

Some people assume that the Control Point technology found in Capture NX2 and Nik Viveza is something you use to make radical image adjustments, like changing the color of a sky.  Not so.  In fact, some of the most powerful adjustments I make with Control Points are subtle ones, intended to accentuate a subject against its background.  The image above is an example of where I used Color Control Points (in this case, in Capture NX2) to enhance the subject.

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Going long: Shooting with the Nikkor 600/4 VR and TC-20EIII

Odell_20100212_5225.JPGI finally got a little time (and sunshine) to head out to the local nature center to fiddle around with my 600mm VR lens and try it with the TC-20E III.  When you are using long lenses, tripods are absolutely mandatory; hand-holding is not at all feasible (well, maybe if you pump iron like Ah-nold).

I started off with my normal combo for small birds: 600mm + TC-14E. This gives an effective 840mm focal length on my FX Nikon D3s. The TC-14E only costs one stop of light, so my lens behaves as though it were f/5.6 instead of f/4 when it is wide-open.  I’ve used this combination several times in the past, and it works really well.  I get sharp images and AF performance is still very fast and accurate.

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