Monday, July 26, 2010

Rafeek Alewah – Stand-in for Omar Sharif in Lawrence of Arabia


Every once in a while, happy coincidences happen.  I will tell you of one such happy coincidence.  As I write this post, I am on my last night in Jordan before returning to the U.S.  During this trip to Jordan, a friend of mine (Nour Kabariti) sent a random note suggesting I visit a souvenir shop in Aqaba.  Nour is wonderful at sending these little tidbits and each one has turned into a great adventure…so of course I took her advice and visited the shop (and greatly appreciate the random recommendations).

Back Camera

First of all, let me tell you that Aqaba is a wonderful place.  It is a seaside resort town on the Red Sea, is relatively modest in the grand scheme of resort towns, and is therefore not overwhelming and thoroughly enjoyable.  Being a seaside hamlet, seafood is the cuisine of choice.  And the best seafood in Aqaba comes from the Ali Baba restaurant.  Nour directed me to the souvenir shop of Rafeek Alewah immediately adjacent to the Ali Baba (where I dine most evenings).

Back Camera

Upon my visit to the souvenir shop of Rafeek Alewah, I was treated to a great experience.  Rafeek was the stand-in for Omar Sharif in the 1962 filming of Lawrence of Arabia.  In this role, the 27 year old Rafeek was filmed in many of the non-speaking, or distant roles of Omar Sharif.  Although IMDB and many of the other internet movie sites have no mention of Rafeek, the photographs posted in his shop are a testament to his role.

Back Camera Rafeek is an animated an engaging character.  If you have the opportunity to visit Aqaba, Jordan, I recommend visiting his shop – after enjoying a wonderful dinner at the Ali Baba.


To reinforce the idea that the best camera is the one you have with you, all of the photographs in this post were taken with my iPhone.  You will not always have your expensive DSLR with you, but that does not mean your photography should suffer.

Have fun, and go make some great photography!


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Return to Petra

Petra Jordan
I have not finished processing all the photos from my first trip to Petra, Jordan (Sneak Preview of Petra Jordan, and Petra in Motion), and d I made a second trip again just yesterday.  Two very good friends (Sean and Steve) were visiting for the weekend so we spent the day hiking through Petra.  Petra is such an incredible place that I am quite sure I could visit another 50 times and still not see everything.   I would also not run out of great subjects to photograph.
Petra Jordan-2
I am in a bit of a time crunch, so can’t provide much commentary.  However, I at least wanted to make the effort, and get these photos posted for your enjoyment.  I have a number of great shots from yesterday, and promise to post more from Petra.
 Petra Jordan-4
From a photographic standpoint, the one point of interest regarding these shots, is that they were not taken with my Canon 5D DSLR.  Each of these were taken with my Canon G10.  In general, the shots were taken in aperture priority mode, ISO 100, and an f-stop of 8.0.
Petra Jordan-3
Petra Jordan-5
Have fun, and go make some great photography!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Toning Back on Tone Mapping – An HDR Example

Cornich Flowers un processed
When I first started in the very cool and relatively new approach to photography, High Dynamic Range (HDR), like any new toy, I played with the extremes.  The best way to find the range of usefulness for any new technology or technique is to push it to the limits.  Pushing HDR to the limits results in some very surrealistic results.  If you click on the HDR label in the right column, you are sure to find some of my “over cooked” HDR photography.  In the fullness and richness of time, I have come to appreciate HDR photography more when greater restraint is used during post processing.
Corniche Flowers processed
The purpose of this post is to examine HDR photography when applied in a restrained manner along with a several approaches to post processing.  The photography shown here features a flower garden along the Abu Dhabi Corniche and all begins with the first photograph; the completely unprocessed photograph is posted first (with all it’s warts such as dust spots).  This shot is the middle exposure in a three shot bracket.  What you do not see is the exposure made at two stops over exposure and the third at two stops under exposed…use your imagination.
Corniche Flowers Tone Compressed
The second shot is a routine adjustment in Lightroom with exposure, spot correction, saturation, contrast, noise and sharpness adjustments.  Still nothing to write home about.  In the third version, the three photographs were processed in Photomatix Pro using tone compression.  In my opinion, a dramatic improvement.  The colors are deeper, the shadows contain more detail, the sky is more dramatic, and the flowers take a more prominent role in the composition.  Meanwhile, the photograph has not transgressed the border to hyper realistic.  The photograph following was processed similarly, except the tone mapping function of Photomatix Pro was used – a more aggressive yet restrained approach.
Corniche Flowers Tone Mapped
In this shot, we see a nice improvement in the sky, but I am not happy with the treatment of the flower garden.  The leaves have turned more yellow, the balance of the shot is skewed a bit, and we are beginning to head toward the hyper realistic.  This version was processed using the “details enhancement” tools in Photomatix Pro.
The final version of this photograph was processed with more aggressive application of the tools in the details enhancement mode.  This type of processing is where many people run aground having veered dramatically into the hyper real.
Corniche Flowers hyper
By comparison to some work many people (and I) have done in pushing the limits of HDR, this version is not horrible.  However, if you compare this to the third version in this series, I think you will agree that the former is a more believable and possibly appealing representation of the scene.
Understand that I am not summarily criticizing aggressive post processing of HDR photography.  There are good artistic reasons to apply these techniques.  My simple recommendation is to understand the full range of potential outcomes, and choose the method that best suits your intentions.  Experiment, and don’t let the toys available to you derail your art unintentionally.
Have fun, and go make some great photography.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

How do you judge your BEST Photographs?

And They are Off

For some time I have had a work list item that reminds me to look critically at my gallery of photographs and determine the top 50 photographs among the tens of thousands I have made.  This is a daunting task.  None the less, I am finally committing myself to do just that.

Fortunately, I do not have to sort through tens of thousands of photographs to make these decisions.  For each photography event, I sort and post process only the most appealing photographs.  In general, this amounts to somewhere between 10 and 20% of the total shots.  However, over the last seven years of the period I would consider I have taken photography as a serious pursuit (and used a digital SLR) this group of photographs still amounts to roughly 2500 photographs.  My challenge now becomes that of discerning the best 50 photographs of those 2500.  In other words, I must select just 2% of the 2500 photographs I have judged worthy of adding to my permanent gallery and worthy of printing.

Angle Falls - 6

This is a difficult task.  It is complicated because I am unable to establish firm criteria by which to select these photographs.  Ultimately it is a very subjective process.  Certainly, I could apply technical criteria such as composition, subject, clarity and sharpness, the story within the photograph, uniqueness, etc.  That would be a somewhat scientific approach to art – a marriage that can be troublesome.  Also, with each of the photographs, I have a memory of the event or occasion.  This undoubtedly introduces a bias to the process of selection whether good or bad.  In other words, my fond memory may not translate into something of meaning to the viewer.

DCF 1.0

Understanding this is an imprecise endeavor, I decided to review my gallery and select those photographs that made an instant impact.  I am only shortly into the process and as I suspected, I am already well over my target of 50 photographs.  After this initial pass, I will need to refine the selection process until I finally discriminate to a level that leaves me with the final 50.

I would also like to note, particularly for those of you considering a similar exercise, that this process supersedes projects and collections.  In other words, I have a number of completed and ongoing projects that group photography by a specific theme.  These photographs have cumulative meaning in the representation of that theme.  This process of selecting the top 50 breaks those group barriers.

Barn in the Fog-Edit

The photographs featured in this post are some of the preliminary selections.  Some may make the final 50.  It is possible that none will make the cut.  I am finding this a fun and challenging process.  I will let you know how it goes.

Have fun, and go make some great photography.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Getting Noticed (and the Maine Avenue Fish Market, Washington DC)

Washington DC Main Avenue Fish Market-1

I write this blog because I enjoy it.  I write this blog because I like to share.  My desire is to speak to things that are helpful to a variety of audiences; those of you who want to improve your photography, those of you that are interested in both the technical and artistic components of photography, and those of you that simply enjoy see something new and interesting (or even familiar).

I would be happy to produce this blog even if I had no readers.  Fortunately, the collective “you” is a significant number and I am not writing an unread memoir.  When I first started, the site visits amounted to about 50 per month.  Over time this has grown to well over 50 per day.  In the grand scheme of things, this is still very modest.  Given the assumption that I believe there is some value in this blog for a broad range of people interested in photography, the pressing question is “how do we further extend the people who regularly visit?”  This is the subject I wish to address today. 

Washington DC Main Avenue Fish Market-2

Fundamentally, there are three ways that more people are drawn to the blog:

  1. Promotion
  2. Referrals (you, referring your friends to the site)
  3. Increasing visibility through search friendly techniques

The most satisfying among these is your referrals, and I encourage you to do so.  I know many of you have, and I am very grateful.  Under my control, are the aspects of promotion and adding search friendly techniques.  I am somewhat humble, so promotion is a passive activity for me.  However, search friendly techniques are a good technique to help you find your interests and grow the readership simultaneously.

Washington DC Main Avenue Fish Market-3

I am not an internet visibility expert, but with respect to photography I am aware there are several things that can add to the traffic on a site.  Following are a couple of things that can make it easier for web surfers to find what they are looking for:

  1. Add titles to the photographs.  A photo name is a searchable attribute.
  2. Make blog titles descriptive and appealing (unlike the title of this post!)
  3. Tag all photos – this is imbedded in the metadata for the photograph, and is available for search engines (I am particularly bad at this).
  4. Add labels to blog entry – again searchable and a utility to the person visiting the site.

The last of these is my current focus.  If you look to the right column of the blog, you will find a section called “Labels” near the bottom.  This section provides links to the posts I have labeled and organized according to a variety of categories.  In other words, if you want to see posts that feature or address street photography, you can select that “label” and be presented with all prior posts that include street photography.  Go ahead, try it!  Not only is this a searchable attribute, but it is something many people should find helpful for specific subjects of interest.

Washington DC Main Avenue Fish Market-4

I plan to address the other aspects of increasing visibility of this blog in the richness and fullness of time as well as adding labels to the 150+ prior posts.  In the mean time, I hope you send your friends here and enjoyed the photography of the Main Avenue Fish Market in Washington DC.

Have fun, and go make some great photography.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

My New Project – Aerial Photography from an R/C Helicopter


This is the first post of what I believe will be a long series as I pursue a new objective of aerial photography taken from a radio controlled (RC) helicopter.  One of the beautiful things about photography is the endless number of challenges to take on with just a bit of imagination.  As I have observed some of the new and creative avenues being explored by the current crop of photographers, I have noticed some terrific technical and artistic approaches to aerial photography – particularly in that “no mans land” just above the ground up to around 100 feet.  This is the area that is very difficult to shoot from traditional platforms (real helicopters, booms, cranes, etc.).  The RC helicopter is a versatile, promising, and challenging platform for this unique altitude and perspective.


So this is my first installment on what appears to be a lengthy (and expensive) path toward aerial RC helicopter photography.  To begin my journey, I went to the local hobby shop and explained my objective and the fact that I was starting from an experience level of precisely one degree above nil.  I have flown real helicopters, but I realize this has little bearing other than knowing a helicopter goes up, down, left, right, and rotates around it’s central axis.  The gentleman at the hobby shop listened to my goal of attaching a 6 pound load to a three axis gyro stabilized mount attached to a very substantial RC helicopter.  He then outlined the progression of helicopters I would need to master to achieve my goal.

Helicopter-2 The first step in this process is the tiny, 6” long helicopter you see in these photographs.  I decided to take the opportunity to do some lensbaby – macro photography with my new toy.  This helicopter is truly small and intended for indoor flight only.  Any slight wind, even that of an air-conditioning vent, can send it into a tizzy.  For the last couple of weeks, I have been flying this mosquito around my living room and practicing controlled landing on various pieces of furniture.  My skills have improved rapidly, and I look forward to the next upgrade in a couple of weeks.

I look forward to reporting on my progress toward mounting a Canon 5D MKII on an RC helicopter while completely encased in bubble wrap!

Have fun, and go make some great photography.


Monday, July 5, 2010

July 4th Fireworks Wrap up from Piney Point Maryland

Floating Palm Tree
In my last post I suggested some tips for fireworks photography.  This post is a wrap up of the 4th of July weekend and a few of my shots from the festivities of last night.
Unlike other forms of photography, shooting fireworks is truly a matter of experimenting as light conditions change, and timing (sometimes known as luck).  The key to fostering luck (and timing) is anticipating the next launch, and shooting – a lot.
Crazy Palm Tree
Another key aspect of this photography, as is the case with all photography, is composition.  For these shots I was fortunate to have the beach and waterline as a leading line, some foreground activity, the subject (fireworks), and some background explosions to add interest to the scene.
I hope you enjoyed your Independence Day celebrations and had the chance to do some shooting.
Have fun and go make some great photography.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Independence Day Fireworks

Too Close
People love fireworks.  In my neighborhood, any good excuse to light the sky brings out the pyromaniacs.  Photographing fireworks will account for a lot of shutter snaps this weekend, and not wanting to be left out, I went out to the beach last night and set up the tripod for some of the “warm-up” displays.
Red Tide
I have plenty of photography featuring fireworks, so once again, the challenge was to find something unique or particularly attractive other than the average shot.  I was attracted to the first shot because of the perception of the person being engulfed in the explosion.  No worries, it just appears that way because of the long exposure; no one was injured.
Sky Flower
I like the second and third shots for several reasons. 1.  I like the water reflection and the milky appearance of the water resulting from the long exposure.  2.  Including the flag in the shot is appropriate for the celebration, and 3. The onshore wind made for some interesting light streaks.
So here are some tips for shooting fireworks this evening:
  1. Use a tripod and a remote shutter release to eliminate camera movement.  If you don’t have a remote shutter release, you can use the exposure release timer, but you may miss some shots.  As a last resort, careful manual release will work.
  2. Use a wide angle lens, particularly if you are close to the fireworks.  Your goal should be to fill the frame with the light and include some reference objects to provide scale.
  3. Turn on the camera’s long exposure noise reduction.
  4. Use a low ISO; 100 to 200
  5. Set your camera to manual and experiment with different aperture and shutter speed settings.  I like exposure times of between 5 and 8 seconds which allows you to capture the launch trail, explosion, and movement of the light. After selecting the time, I shifted the aperture until I arrived at the exposure I was looking for.  In these cases, it was 5.6 on my 50mm f1.8 lens.
Go make some great photography, and don’t get too close to the fireworks.

Stars Over the Dock

4th of July
I was out on the dock last night taking some photography of fire works.  It was a beautiful evening with cool temperatures and a clear sky.  I was so engrossed in shooting the fire works that it wasn’t until they had ended when I realized the sky was full of stars. 
I like this shot for a number of reasons.  One of which is the minimal light.  This is something I have been intending on exploring a bit – a kind of dark, moody, minimalist feel.  I will let you know how it goes.
Have fun and go make some great photography!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Just a Thought While Celebrating Independence Day

4th of July

No commentary needed.


U.S. Coast Guard Silent Drill Team (color)

Coast Guard Silent Drill Team-3

This post wraps up my coverage of the retirement ceremony for Capt David Newton.  This post features some color photography of the U.S. Coast Guard Silent Drill team (opposed to the black and white presented in my last post).

Coast Guard Silent Drill Team-4

As you are likely aware, I am biased toward black and white photography and have written frequently about my thoughts on this subject (if you enter “why black and white” in the search box at the top of the page, you will be rewarded with a number of prior posts describing my thoughts on choosing black and white over color photography).  However, sometimes color works…even for me.  In the case of the photographs in this post, I’m not sure the choice of color complies with my normal rules.  For these photographs I believe it may be a matter of psychology completely unrelated to photography.  There is not much important color in these photographs.  In other words, the color does not provide a notable level of new information that would not be present in the black and white photography – the color simply does not play an important role.  My theory in explaining my choice to maintain the color is that after spending 27 years in a Coast Guard uniform, I somehow had to save at least a few color photographs in reminiscence of my time in blue.

Coast Guard Silent Drill Team-13

I hope you have enjoyed this series of photographs from Captain David Newton’s retirement.  I had a great time shooting this event and look forward to similar opportunities.