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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

Making the Sky Purple

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Fuji X100 | 1/240 sec, f/8, ISO 800

Recently I posted a photo of Suki on Flickr that made some wonder, “hey, how’d you get the sky so purple in that shot!?”

Some sort of post-processing trick perhaps? Or maybe the sky really WAS a surreal, deep purple that night? The answer is neither actually. It started with a simple white-balance adjustment in my camera.

Shooting RAW does allow you to make color corrections in post, but depending on your camera, you already have a ton of control over the color of your images while you’re actually shooting. Besides providing the typical white balance presets that can be selected at the camera depending on the situation (daylight, cloudy, shade, tungsten, flourescent etc), many cameras allow you to further customize white balance by shifting it along blue/amber, green/magenta axes. Below is an example of the white balance shift menus from Nikon (left) and Canon (right).

Want your selected white balance to be a bit warmer? Add some amber in this menu. Cooler? Add some blue. Greener or magentaer more magenta? You get the picture.

My Fuji X100 presents the white balance shift menu differently, along the red/cyan, blue/yellow axes.  So, to add amber warmth to a white balance setting in the x100’s menu, you have to add some +Red and -Yellow steps, instead of just simply adding amber like you can in Nikon and Canon DSLRs. Me no like.

See how purple the image at the top of the post appears? I achieved that look by shifting my auto-white balance as magenta as possible, which on my X100 was +9 Red and +9 Blue (or on Canon and Nikon, just shift on the magenta axis…come on, Fuji!!!)

Ok, so now daylight is thrown into magenta, but there’s a problem that comes with doing this. If you take a picture of someone with this white balance trim, they’re also going to come out purple! What to do?

Fuji X100 | 1/1,000 sec, f/2, ISO 200

Take a look at the two images above. It’s actually the same RAW file from my X100, converted in Lightroom 3. The one on the left is the output from my camera with the magenta bias and the one on the right is corrected. How? Simply by moving the hue slider in Lightroom towards green until the colors look more natural.  The green corrects the magenta cast, and vice versa.

So if green corrects magenta and you’re in a magenta-biased white balance, couldn’t you light your subject with a green light source to preserve a more natural skin tone? Yup:

Fuji X100 | 1/1,000 sec, f/4, ISO 200 (sb-900 bare camera left)

Notice that my happy volunteer here is lit with what appears to be much more natural looking color compared to the purple daylight you see behind her. This is the same magenta biased white balance set at the camera that I described above, with a bare strobe on camera left lighting my subject.  But here’s the important part: I stacked two green gels on the strobe to compensate for the magenta cast. It’s like correcting the white balance on JUST my subject. Without the green gels, I’d just be hitting my subject with more magenta light.

So now I have a surreal, magenta background with a color corrected subject. This was the method behind the shot I took of Suki at the dog park:

Fuji X100 | 1/1,000 sec, f/2, ISO 200

I started at sunset with an underexposed background, magenta biased white balance…

Fuji X100 | 1/250 sec, f/2, ISO 200

Add Suki in the mix, light her with the green gelled strobe…

Fuji X100 |  1/500 sec, f/2.8, ISO 200

…Wait for her to give me a better pose…

Fuji X100 | 1/250 sec, f/2.8, ISO 200

…Almost there…

Fuji X100 |  1/500 sec, f/2, ISO 200

Perfect! Now get out there and experiment with your color controls. Don’t forget to break rules while you’re at it!

Also, just an update on Suki’s health. She had a horrible day yesterday with her allergies but is doing much better today, She’s becoming more playful again which is a very good sign. Thanks for all your well wishes for Suki!

Written by Jonathan

June 29, 2011 at 1:19 pm

Tych Panel: Making Diptychs, Triptychs, and More

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I follow many photo bloggers who arrange their images in beautiful multi-panel layouts on their blog posts. I love the look of multiple panels, so I started presenting my work in the same way here. Ever since I started doing it, however, I’ve been asked the same question many, many times:

“Hey Jonathan, how do you make these multi-panel thingys? Do you arrange them manually or do you use some kind of software?”

Here’s the secret:

When I first started arranging my photos into multiple panels, I did indeed make everything manually in Photoshop. What a pain! Now I use a third-party Photoshop CS5 extension called Tych Panel. As a Photoshop extension, it works right in CS5 as an additional panel that automates the diptych/triptych process. It’s so easy to use that I laughed the first time I gave it a try. How easy? Check out the video below to see what was involved in making the diptych at the top of this post (might want to view in full screen):


Whew! Doesn’t get much simpler than that, does it? What about the triptych below?

Just open the files, chose the pattern you want, and Tych Panel does the rest:


Ok, what if you want to get crazy and just keep adding photos to make one really big multi-tych? Can do!


I know the videos moved a little fast and didn’t specifically outline the step by step directions for using Tych Panel. Have no fear! Reimund Trost, the developer of this amazing extension, has very detailed instructions on how to use Tych Panel on his website.

Oh, and I forgot to mention, Tych Panel is FREE. Head on over to the link below to download it and give it a try yourself:

Hey fellow bloggers, how do you create your dips and trips?

Written by Jonathan

June 16, 2011 at 9:49 pm

Finding Good Light

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Photography has a lot to do with being in the right place at the right time. Sometimes good light finds you.  Once a photographer spots a scene where the light is dramatic and or beautiful, he or she will usually stop whatever they’re doing and capitalize on that light. This past Tuesday after work, we were taking Suki to the park to meet a fellow photographer buddy of mine. We parked, got out of the car, I saw the scene you see above.

The sunlight was low and golden in color. How could I NOT get the camera out? So we brought Suki to the grassy area and started firing away:

You’d be surprised how often Suki gets tangled up like this. When she’s on the retractable, bounding around, she often wraps around me a few times with the tether, a lot like the Battle of Hoth of in Empire Strikes Back. Little rebel!

Having the light cast over Suki from behind caused a beautiful rim light around her fur, and gave me an opportunity to add in some flash to control the entire exposure:

The background was pretty busy, with people, other dogs, and buildings cluttering up the frame. So I used a long focal length to make it all disappear.

I chose this image here for week 39 of my 52 week project. These are all JPEGs straight from the camera, which was an accident since I usually shoot RAW. Didn’t realize this until I got home and uploaded the images. Good thing I took the time to get everything right at the camera! I think it’s best to solve any problems with a photographic solution anyway, rather than always resorting to “fixing” exposure or color issues in post. Of course, whatever your workflow looks like, what matters is the final image, right?


Images: Nikon D300s + Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR

Written by Jonathan

October 1, 2010 at 9:24 am