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Archive for the ‘Tips and Tricks’ Category

Panoramic Portraiture

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Nikon D800 +  Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G | 1/200 sec, f/1.4, ISO 100 (19 image stitch)

Wait, what? The thought of stitching several photos together to make a portrait, a technique developed and made popular by Ryan Brenizer, seemed like an odd idea to me at first. But the kind of look you can achieve by doing so is really unique. Like any other kind of panoramic photo, the idea behind the method is to increase your final image’s angle of view while maintaining a given focal length and distance from your subject. However, this technique can work wonders when shooting very close to a human subject at wide apertures, because stitching several of the resulting photos together allows you to achieve some really pretty bokeh effects.

For example, at the distance I was from my lovely wife for the first panorama, a single-frame shot using the 85mm f/1.4 looks like this:

Nikon D800 +  Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G | 1/200 sec, f/1.4, ISO 100 

The photo above was taken wide open and pretty near the lens’ closest focusing distance. As a result, Bridget’s left eye is in sharp focus, but the background is completely and beautifully blurred into bokeh heaven due to the extremely shallow depth of field. But what if I wanted a wider angle of view while maintaining both the focal length and the super shallow dof? No problem! Lock your focus and exposure settings, and then take a series of overlapping photos surrounding the first photo’s point of focus. Merge the photos together in post, and poof! Bokeh panorama. The image at the top of this post is a 19-photo stitch from a series of photos I took surrounding the first image in the series, pictured directly above, which served an anchor point for the rest of the panorama.

One mistake I immediately realized that I made after the merge is that I didn’t take enough frames to cover the bottom right of my intended composition, though a little work in CS5 still gave me the composition I was after. But hey, not bad for a second try, right? (Wife will not allow me to post my first try because she’s not wearing makeup in the photo. I think she looks beautiful regardless, but hey, I understand). Indeed, the most difficult part of the entire process is pre-visualizing your intended composition and then taking enough frames to cover the composition when you finally merge the photos.

Nikon D800 +  Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G | 1/160 sec, f/1.4, ISO 100 

Another example of a single frame shot with the 85mm. This time I’m going for a full length portrait, accomplished by merging 19 total frames:

Nikon D800 +  Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G | 1/160 sec, f/1.4, ISO 100 (19 image stitch)

One side note: I did not stitch full resolution, 36 megapixel frames from the D800 here, but can you imagine the final size of these images if I had? Hoo boy….

Bokeh panoramas look pretty awesome on small, inanimate objects as well. Here’s a 13 image stitch:

Nikon D800 +  Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G | 1/320 sec, f/1.4, ISO 100 (13 image stitch)

I’ve heard of this awesome technique before, but never really thought about trying it myself until another blogger I’ve been following, Kim Miller, put this ridiculously awesome blog post together that tipped me over the edge. To thank her for said tipping, a plug seems appropriate: Head to her blog for a little inspiration, because she does a much better job walking you through the process than I ever could, and her site is littered with awesome examples of bokeh panoramas. Enjoy!


All Images: Nikon D800 | 85mm f/1.4G

Processing: RAW images processed using VSCO in Lightroom 4 / Image stitching in Photoshop CS5

Written by Jonathan

April 14, 2012 at 8:03 pm

Tych Panel 2: Creating Image Layouts Just Got More Awesome

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I’ve been using the first version of Tych Panel to create all of the custom image layouts I display here on my blog, and it has been such a huge time saver for me. So I was thrilled to get an email today from the developer, Reimund Trost, letting me know that he has finally released Tych Panel 2, an extensive update to the Photoshop CS5 extension I’ve come to love so much.

Tych Panel 2 has a ton of new features and enhancements, starting with a brand new compositing algorithm that lets you add both rows and columns, which means you can be much more creative with your layouts than ever before. It also gives you the ability to reorder images as you compose your ntych (a feature you’ll love if you’ve been using the first version), the ability to maintain a custom width and height as you add pictures (very helpful in blogging applications), integration with Adobe Bridge, smart objects and layer masks (you can re-crop your panels even after they’ve been laid out!), actions, and even more output options.

You can also play with background color, outer borders, and even have the extension automatically create rounded corners for you. I had a little fun with this today using some images from my first post about Tych Panel.

(Yes I know, wonderfully random to end this string of images with a goofy picture of Suki)

Reimund has put together a great video explaining how to make the most out of Tych Panel 2, so check it out and download the new extension at

It’s free. What are you waiting for? =)

Written by Jonathan

March 25, 2012 at 10:04 pm

When the Light is Beautiful

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Fuji X100 | 1/250 sec, f/4, ISO 400 -2/3EV

The most common questions I get in my inbox and in comments on the blog lately go something like this:

  • Is there a post processing trick you use to give your images that dimensional look?
  • What camera settings do you use to get your images to look the way they do?
  • JPEG or RAW?

These questions most often pertain to my work with the Fuji X100, which makes sense since I use it for 90% of what I’ve been shooting lately.  But my answers aren’t very cut and dry. JPEG or RAW? Both, but mostly JPEG with the X100, mostly RAW with my DSLR. Camera settings? It depends, but usually my X100 is at default settings.  Post processing tricks? My post processing workflow is usually pretty simple, especially when I shoot JPEG for my casual work. If I do anything to a JPEG in post, it’s usually adding some vignetting, converting to black and white, and/or making slight tweaks to exposure or tone curves. Emphasis on slight. Nothing crazy.

If these answers aren’t terribly satisfying, it’s simply because I believe the look of my images has more to do with what I decide to point my camera at than with how I process the images or what picture control parameters I have set at the camera. Everyone sees and thinks differently, and my settings and work flow match my own vision and depend on how I desire to interpret a given scene. But what works for me may not work for you.

That being said, for this post I’ve chosen some random images I’ve taken over the last few weeks, either while on vacation or just out and about. I’ll discuss them briefly in order to answer what I feel is a more important question:

What am I looking for when out shooting photos?

Fuji X100 | 1/350 sec, f/5, ISO 800

I’m always on the lookout for dramatic light. When looking to add a sense of dimension to an otherwise flat image on photo paper or on a computer screen, focal length choice definitely comes into play, but light does as well. I try to put highlights next to shadows in my images, which reveals texture and shape and makes simple objects look pretty interesting, even, say, an old broom.

The above image was shot during sunrise on my way to grab some coffee. The early morning sun was low in the sky, casting some dramatic side light through the city. Most of the sun was being blocked by the tall buildings that surrounded me at the time, but slivers of sun light made their way through trees and spaces between structures. From across the street I spotted this broom sticking out from a homeless person’s cart, spot lit with this dramatic beam of light. My eyes were drawn by the texture the lighting revealed on the brick, the long shadow cast by the broom, and how the broom head broke the repeating lines in the background. This is a JPEG file out of the camera, with a little vignetting and shadow darkening applied in post.

Fuji X100 | 1/400 sec, f/5.6, ISO 800

Even something as mundane as a standpipe can look interesting in the right light. Again, highlights next to shadows bring shape and dimension into an image. The above was just a quick snap made during sunset while I was waiting outside a store for the wife to finish shopping. Below? Dramatic sunset light hitting a building. Not much else to it. Find that beautiful light, and go click!

Fuji X100 |  1/450 sec, f/5.6, ISO 800 -1/3EV

Fuji X100 | 1/450 sec, f/6.4, ISO 800

Above, the door of a subway train opens to reveal some fantastic light and shadow on the ground. Click! A couple more shots below:

Fuji X100 | 1/350 sec, f/5.6, ISO 800 -2/3EV

Fuji X100 | 1/220 sec, f/4, ISO 400 -1EV

The most common exposure setting I use is aperture priority, which I tend to stick to because it lets you make depth of field decisions while the camera takes care of the rest. It’s worth noting, therefore, that I’m on the exposure compensation dial a lot in response to these kinds of high-contrast scenes.

Fuji X100 | 1/300 sec, f/2.8, ISO 400

Light coming from behind your subject can give your viewer a sense of dimension and contrast as well. In the image above,  I made sure to compose the brightly back-lit leaves against a darker background (the building), which, in the final image, gives the leaves a more dimensional look, like they’re popping out at the viewer. A little vignetting was added in post to keep the viewer’s attention fixed on the leaves.

Fuji X100 | 1/30 sec, f/4, ISO 200 -1/3EV

In trying to create strong visual contrasts, I’m also on the lookout for colors that vibrate well together. One of my favorite looks is warm-colored light against dark, cool-colored light. The shot above was taken at Blue Bottle Coffee, where I regularly order up a brew made in these nifty siphon pots. The pots are lit by very strong orange light as they heat up, and using the tungsten white balance setting on my camera cools the orange light a little while making the daylight coming through the windows a really deep blue. I shot this one RAW, which allowed me to bring the overall color temperature down even lower in post, further cooling that blue daylight. I often use this technique by putting orange gels over my flash units.

Fuji X100 | 1/950 sec, f/2, ISO 400 -2/3EV

I made Suki stop at the sliver of sunlight above as we exited a local dog park. I think her facial expression says it all.

Fuji X100 | 1/1,000 sec, f/11, ISO 1000

For those who have been wondering about my black and white images, I convert them in Color Efex Pro II.  I also receive many questions about how I focus with the X100. Usually I’ll use the manual focus mode with the rear AFL/AEL button to activate focus. Works like a charm. If I’m chasing Suki around, or in the case above, Suki is chasing my wife and they’re both coming towards the camera, I’ll often preset my focus manually and use the camera’s distance/depth of field scale judge what’s in focus. This lets me catch the action immediately, without waiting for the camera’s auto focus to lock on my subject.

Fuji X100 | 1/250 sec, f/5.6, ISO 400 -2/3EV

I’m often drawn to reflections. Taking a walk among massive buildings covered in glass during sunrise or sunset is the best time to capture images like the one above.

Oh, and one more thing. If your intention is to get better and better at taking photos, you should always have a camera with you. Seriously. My friends make fun of me constantly because I take my camera absolutely everywhere, even when it doesn’t seem to make sense (don’t ask me to explain that). I bring it whether or not I think I’ll be taking pictures. But you know what? All of these shots were taken on outings when I didn’t expect to use my camera very much, if at all. Out on dog walks, taking trips to the store, out for a cup of coffee, these are often the only opportunities I have to focus on my personal photography these days.

But the main point? I try my best to shoot when the light is beautiful, which has a significantly greater impact on my photos than what settings I use. Hopefully this post gives those who have asked a better idea of my thought process, however. Find the camera settings and post processing techniques that match your vision, and experiment like crazy. =)

Written by Jonathan

October 7, 2011 at 9:06 pm

Fuji X100 : Intelligent Flash

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Fuji X100 | 1/400 sec, f/5.6, ISO 800

You know those tiny and often useless flash units built into many smaller cameras or that pop out of the top of many DSLRs? The ones that many people totally avoid using because they seem to hurt more than help? The X100 has one of those. Here’s the thing though: I actually find it useful.

Sometimes you’re dealing with pretty crummy lighting and you need a small amount of fill, a kiss of light to hit your subject to keep them from being all shadowed up. Muah:

A few more examples of how well the fill flash works on this camera.

In these three image there was so much harsh sunlight (the sun was directly above us at this particular time of the day) that a straight shot without flash would have looked terrible. So I had my subjects look down, essentially shadowing their faces, and I popped some on camera light at them. Worked great for preserving detail in the background without completely silhouetting my subjects.

There is one problem you can run into however. You can see it in the image of the wifie above: Notice how her eyes and nose are lit by the flash, but there seems to be a loss of light from her nose down? That’s the accessory hood getting in the way:

I kind of light the spot light sort of look it gave to the image, but in most cases you’ll want to remove the X100′s lens hood (if you have one) before you use the flash.

Fuji X100 |  1/950 sec, f/2, ISO 400

I wrote a post a while back that covered the X100′s ability to sync with my SB-900 flashgun at crazy high shutter speeds. That high speed sync helps the camera’s tiny, relatively low-powered built-in flash as well, allowing you to shoot wide open and still light a heavily backlit subject with it, as seen in the example above.

Left: Fuji X100 | 1/30 sec, f/2, ISO 3200 || Right: Fuji X100 | 1/40 sec, f/2, ISO 3200

Don’t get me wrong, I certainly don’t go out of my way to use that tiny little on-camera flash. Sometimes however, using it becomes the difference between getting a shot and not getting a shot. In that sort of situation, I’m pretty surprised at how easy it is to get natural results with the built-in flash. Low light portraits are a good example (above).

Ever use flash to take someone’s photo in a dark room or outside at night and get a super bright or even blown-out subject with a black hole for a background? Yuck. You can usually compensate by manually using a slower shutter speed to burn in some ambient while you mix your flash in to get a better image, or in the X100′s case, just turn the flash on and shoot.  Both of the low light shots above were taken in Aperture Priority Auto. All I did was turn the flash on and the camera did the rest, properly exposing my subject and balancing in the ambient (whatever little amount of ambient there was anyway).

Of course, human beings are not the only subjects the little flash can help you out with:

Fuji X100 | 1/750 sec, f/10, ISO 400

A little on-axis fill to lessen the harsh shadows on Bo Bear here. Also comes in handy for bringing a little more detail out of heavily shadowed areas of your frame. Check out the difference in detail, especially inside the shadowed area of the gas pump on the right, between the first image shot without flash, and the second with flash activated:

Fuji X100 | 1/340 sec, f/5, ISO 800 (flash off)

Fuji X100 | 1/300 sec, f/5.6, ISO 800 (flash on)

I like that the results are subtle. They don’t scream “taken with flash!!!!”

Fuji X100 | 1/220 sec, f/4.5, ISO 200

These leaves were pretty heavily shadowed. Use the flash to lighten them up against the background.

I must say, when I first saw the little built-in flash on the X100 I just chuckled. But hey, it comes in handy. Fuji calls it an “intelligent flash.” Seems like an appropriate name considering how easy it is to get natural results with it.  Good job, Fuji!

Written by Jonathan

July 11, 2011 at 12:57 pm