Texas Landscape Safari – Pedernales Falls

Here’s another shot taken at Pedernales Falls State Park on a warm, muggy summer evening. The summer long drought had lowered the river’s level enough to expose the wonderful color of the limestone boulders cut by the water thousands and thousands of years ago. Each time I visit this unique spot, I find another feature of these beautiful falls just waiting to be photographed. That’s the truly wonderful thing about shooting waterfalls. They are constantly changing with the flow of the water.

Pedernales Falls State Park is the fourth stop on the Texas Landscape Safari beginning October 18th and running through October 21st. Given the weather forecast for next week and the rain we’ve had lately I’m certain we’ll all get some nice shots at the falls.

Pedernales Falls

Pedernales Falls near Johnson City, Texas
Copyright © 2009 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 50D set on aperture priority (Av) using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens tripod-mounted. The exposure was taken at 50mm, f/13 for 1/10th of a second using a Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer at ISO 100 on Lexar Professional digital film. Post capture processing was done in Adobe Lightroom 2. Click on the image above for a larger version.

Landscape Photography – Green and Gold

Pedernales Falls State Park near Johnson City, Texas is one of the most picturesque spots in the Hill Country. The elevation of the Pedernales river drops about 50 feet over a distance of less than 1/2 mile, and the cascading falls are formed by the flow of water over the uplifted limestone layers. The falls are extremely dynamic and never look exactly the same two days in a row, especially during the rainy season. This is one location every Texas landscape photographer should visit again and again.

Wildlife in the park is typical of the Hill Country and includes deer, coyotes, rabbits, armadillos, opossums, and raccoons. According to the folks at Texas Parks & Wildlife, “over 150 species of birds have been seen in the park” including ravens, vultures, herons, quail, doves, owls, roadrunners, wild turkeys as well as sparrows and western scrub jays.

I’ll be perfectly honest here folks, every time I venture out to explore the falls, a flock of turkey vultures are usually circling overhead just waiting for me to drop. The only other wildlife I’ve seen were a pair of Texas A&M coeds on the prowl. Pretty scary at that!

Green and Gold

Green & Gold at Pedernales Falls, Texas
Copyright © 2009 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 50D set on aperture priority (Av) using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens tripod-mounted. The exposure was taken at 28mm, f/13 for 1/6th of a second using a Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer at ISO 100 on Lexar Professional digital film. Post capture processing was done in Adobe Lightroom 2. Click on the image above for a larger version.

Using Alien Skin’s Bokeh for Wildlife Photography

I realize that this post may offend a certain population of wildlife photographers out there and for that I do apologize. I’m not a wildlife photography “purist” and I will enhance my wildlife images in Lightroom or Photoshop just as I do my commercial, portrait or landscape work. I do this in wildlife images for the very same reason I do it in other types of images, to tell a story and to evoke an emotional response. For me, that’s what photography is all about.

Having said that, I do realize that many well known wildlife photographers (and most wildlife magazines) require that the image be manipulated as little as possible, just as a photojournalist would when covering the war in Iraq for example. I certainly respect that style of wildlife photography but it’s just not my style and that’s why I’ll always let you know when I’ve manipulated a wildlife image during post capture processing as I did in this image below.

Flying Solo Again

Flying Solo
Copyright © 2008 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 50D set on aperture priority (Av) using an EF 300mm f/4 L IS USM + EF 1.4x Extender monopod-mounted. The exposure was taken at 420mm, f/5.6 for 1/500th of a second at ISO 100 on SanDisk digital film. Post capture processing was done in Lightroom 2 and Photoshop CS4 using Alien Skin’s “Bokeh” plug-in filter. Click on the image above for a larger version.

My first step in creating this image was to process it as I would normally do in Lightroom. I generally work on the Basic settings like Exposure, Recovery (very important), Blacks (also very important), Brightness and overall Contrast. I almost always crank up the Clarity (adding mid-tone contrast) and Vibrance (adding mid-tone saturation) and may play with these two settings for 20 or 30 minutes until I find a combination I like.

At this point, my work in Lightroom is complete and my next step is to export the image in Photoshop CS4 and use the Quick Selection tool to select the duck as shown here. Although the selection doesn’t have to be pixel perfect, it always pays in realism to spend a little extra time making a thorough selection of all parts of the subject.

Using the Quick Select Tool

Using the Quick Select Tool

Once you’ve got a basic selection done it’s time to use the Refine Edge tool to Smooth, Feather and Expand the selection you’ve just made. For birds in flight these are the settings I normally use to make sure all the bird’s feathers are included in the selection.

Refine, Expand & Feather the Selection

Smooth, Feather & Expand the Selection

Once that’s done your new selection should look something like this.

Selection Refined

Selection Refined

You’ll understand why this step is vital when you begin to play around with the settings in the Alien Skin Bokeh plug-in filter.

Click on the Image Above for a Larger View

Click on the Image Above for a Larger View

Bokeh provides creative controls to enhance images by focusing the viewer’s attention anywhere you want. In the image above, the Bokeh plug-in was used to enhance the background blur. This allows me to shoot the image at f/5.6, which is the fastest my Canon EF 300mm f/4L + 1.4x Extender can go, but make it appear as if I shot it with Canon’s much more expensive EF 400mm f/2.8 lens. Blurring the background in an image like this one makes the subject “pop” and seem that much sharper.

Another trick to enhance an image like this is to apply some sharpening  to the subject only, as shown below.

Using Sharpener Pro on the Original Selection

Click on the Image Above for a Larger View

It’s easy to do this by clicking on the layer that your selection is on and using Nik Software’s Sharpener Pro plug-in. I prefer this plug-in because it acts more subtly and with fewer artifacts showing up in the final image. Sharpening only the selection is important since you’d hate to mess up that beautifully blurred background you just created using Bokeh.

Blending Layers in Photoshop

Blending Layers in Photoshop

The final step in Photoshop CS4 is to blend the three layers you’ve just created using Lightroom (background layer), Alien Skin’s Bokeh (bokeh layer) and Nik Software’s Sharpener Pro (sharpener pro layer). Now you could do this simply by flattening the layers but I suggest you take a little time and experiment with the Opacity of each layer until you achieve the desired results. I tend to blend the Bokeh layer at 100% but the Sharpener Pro layer at only 60% – 80% to achieve the most realistic look to my image.

Once you’ve completed this process, you just save the image in Photoshop and it should automatically show up in Lightroom, ready to be exported or printed.

Bird Photography – Flying Solo

Here’s a shot I took last December at the Brazos Bend State Park near Needville, Texas. It’s unusual to see a Black-Bellied Whistling Duck flying alone. There are usually hundreds of them on this pond and when one takes off, they all take off.

I have a small confession to make about this image. I cheated a little in post by using Alien Skin’s “Bokeh plug-in filter in Photoshop CS4 to blur the background. This has the intended effect to make the bird appear much sharper than it really is.

It’s a great little trick you can use on any image with a diffuse background but many wildlife photographers and most nature photography magazines frown on this practice since it’s not “natural”. Well, I’m no photojournalist and for me it beats having to spend $5000 on a fast super-telephoto lens.

Flying Solo

Flying Solo
Copyright © 2008 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 50D set on aperture priority (Av) using an EF 300mm f/4 L IS USM + EF 1.4x Extender monopod-mounted. The exposure was taken at 420mm, f/5.6 for 1/500th of a second at ISO 100 on SanDisk digital film. Post capture processing was done in Lightroom 2 and Photoshop CS4 using Alien Skin’s “Bokeh” plug-in filter. Click on the image above for a larger version.

Comparing the Canon 5D Mark II, 7D and 50D

Canon EOS 7D

Unless you’ve been living off world for the past few days, you know that Canon has introduced a new DSLR camera, the EOS 7D. In the coming days there will be reviews galore posted on the various industry watching blogs with in depth discussions of this new model’s features and benefits. Folks that recently purchased the 50D or 5D Mark II may start to feel “buyers remorse” and “upgraders envy” over the perceived differences between their camera and the new 7D. The amount of forum traffic on DPReview.com will jump as folks begin to post their rants and raves about this new camera.

To help cut through some of the rhetoric I thought I’d post a quick and dirty comparison of the 5D Mark II, the 7D and the 50D cameras based upon the information currently available. Basically, the same comparison I recently posted on the new G11 and G10 cameras. Let me state for the record that this comparison is from a still photographer’s perspective only. The video capabilities of these cameras are cool but not where my interests lay.

List Price:
5D2 – $2700 (USD)
7D – $1700 (USD)
50D – $1200 (USD)

Sensor:
5D2 – FF (5616 x 3744) (21 MP)
7D – APS-C (5184 x 3456) (18 MP)
50D – APS-C (4752 x 3168) (15 MP)

Processor:
5D2 – DIGIC 4
7d – Dual DIGIC 4
50D – DIGIC 4

ISO:
5D2 – 50, 100 – 6400, 12800, 25600
7D – Auto, 100 – 6400, 12800(H)
50D – Auto, 100 – 1600, 3200(H), 6400(H), 12800(H)

Metering:
5D2 – 35 Area Eval, Center Weighted, Partial, Spot
7D – 63 Area Eval, Center Weighted, Partial, Spot
50D – 35 Area Eval, Center Weighted, Partial, Spot

Auto Focus:
5D2 – 9 Point / 6 Assist
7D – 19 Point (new technology)
50D – 9 Point

Exposure Compensation:
5D2 – -2 to +2 EV in 1/3 EV or 1/2 EV steps
7D – -5 to +5 EV in 1/3 EV or 1/2 EV steps (really???)
50D – -2 to +2 EV in 1/3 EV or 1/2 EV steps

Continuous Shooting:
5D2 – 3.9 fps
7D – 8 fps
50D – 6.3 fps

Raw Formats:
5D2 – RAW, sRAW1, sRAW2
7D – RAW, sRAW, mRAW
50D – RAW, sRAW1, sRAW2

Viewfinder:
5D2 – Pentaprism, 98% Coverage, 0.71x Mag
7D – Pentaprism, 100% Coverage, 1.00x Mag
50D – Pentaprism, 95% Coverage, 0.95x Mag

Battery:
5D2 – LP-E6 ($66 USD)
7D – LP-E6 ($66 USD)
50D – BP-511A ($46 USD)

Weight:
5D2 – 850g
7D – 860g
50D – 822g

Conclusions:
The flame wars have already started on the new EOS 7D as they do anytime Canon releases a new DSLR camera. The comparison between the 50D and the 7D is very easy to judge in most respects with the 7D offering some very compelling new features such as the increased resolution, the dual DIGIC 4 processors, the very high 8 fps continuous frame rate, the 100% viewfinder, the new metering system and the brand new auto focus system. If the high ISO performance of this new 18 MP sensor is at least as good as the 50D’s, then the new 7D is a sure fire winner for anyone looking for 1.6x crop body.

The comparison to the 5D Mark II is much more difficult, which is generally the case when comparing a full frame sensor to an ASP-C sensor. The single biggest difference between these two cameras is the huge difference in the size of the sensors and should not be underestimated. Having said that, the new 7D does have a much more modern auto focus and metering system, both of which would be very welcome on a future full frame model.

Final Thoughts:
In the words of David duChemin, “Gear is Good, Vision is Better”. It’s not the camera that makes the photograph, it’s the person behind the camera. Don’t get all caught up in the hype over a new camera. A new camera will NOT make you a better photographer. Only YOU can do that. And it’s not done by reading the rants and raves on every new piece of gear that comes out each week. So shut down that MacBook, grab your camera and get out there and make some magic happen!

Just a Normal Post on Wildlife Photography

Here’s a shot I took many months ago and decided to redevelop in Lightroom 2 and Photoshop CS4. Blue-winged Teals generally swim in mating pairs and it’s difficult to get a good shot of a single bird in the water. This little beauty was kind enough to swim very slowly and let me get several shots before the sun completely set.

BTW – If the rumors are correct, Canon should be announcing something big either today or tomorrow. Probably another high pixel density DSLR with more wiz-bangs, golly-gee willikers and do-hickies than any of us really need. How do I know you ask? Because I just bought and new DSLR and being Irish, Murphy follows me around like a bad rash.

Swimming Alone

Swimming Alone
Copyright © 2009 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 50D set on aperture priority (Av) using an EF 300mm f/4 L IS USM + EF 1.4x Extender monopod-mounted. The exposure was taken at 420mm, f/8 for 1/30th of a second at ISO 100 on Sandisk digital film. Post capture processing was done in Lightroom 2 and Photoshop CS4 using Nik Software’s Viveza plug-in filter. Click on the image above for a larger version.

Post Capture Processing in Lightroom 2

I got an email yesterday from a reader asking for a little more detail about my post capture workflow in Lightroom. It’s funny but the actual workflow I use is really determined by the image and the story I want to tell. Some images are converted from Raw to Jpeg in only a few steps (usually to add contrast) and others may take hours of trial and error like this image for example.

Mirror

Mirror – Pedernales Falls State Park, Texas
Copyright © 2009 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 50D set on aperture priority (Av) using an EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM tripod-mounted with a Singh-Ray Vari-ND neutral density filter attached. The exposure was taken at 35mm, f/11 for 8 seconds at ISO 100 on Lexar Professional digital film. Post capture processing was done in Lightroom 2. Click on the image above for a larger version.

Original RAW ImageHere’s what the raw file looked like in Lightroom 2 before any processing was done. As you can see the long exposure (8 seconds) I used with my Singh-Ray Vari-ND neutral density filter overexposed the image significantly in the highlights. Luckily the silky smooth looking water turned out just as I had hoped,  so all in all not a bad place to begin.

My first step is to Crop the image as shown above to eliminate the “clutter” at the top of the frame. The water now runs from the lower right hand corner diagonally to the left and then to right and (hopefully) draws the viewers eye deeper into the scene.

Camera Calibration

Camera Profile Preset

My next step is to select the Camera Profile preset I wish to use. For landscape shots this is usually Camera Landscape or Camera Portrait because of the extra saturation these two presets add.

White Balance

White Balance

Then I set the White Balance directly rather than accepting the default. This usually adds some warmth to the image which most raw landscape images need. If there happens to be any neutral gray in my image I may use the eye-dropper to set a custom WB but most of the time Daylight or Cloudy works well.

Basic Settings

Basic Settings

After setting the White Balance I generally work on the other Basic settings like Exposure, Recovery (very important), Blacks (also very important), Brightness and overall Contrast. I almost always crank up the Clarity (adding mid-tone contrast) and Vibrance (adding mid-tone saturation) and may play with these two settings for 20 or 30 minutes until I find a combination I like.

Tone Curve

Tone Curve

Finally I begin tweaking the Tone Curve controls until I obtain the contrast desired in the image. A good rule of thumb I always try to follow is to make sure you have some deep black areas and pure white areas when you’re done adjusting the Tone Curve. It’s that Ansel Adams “Zone” training coming back to me.

HSL Settings

HSL Settings

To enhance the colors and really set the “mood” of the image I’ll generally spend quite some time playing around with the Hue, Saturation and Luminance settings. This is where you let your creative side go wild trying different combinations for each color until you obtain just the right look and feel.

RAW Sharpness Adjustment

RAW Sharpness Adjustment

The last two steps are the easiest. Every RAW image needs some Sharpening and depending upon your image, the tools built into Lightroom may or may not be up to the job. In this case, the mid-tone contrast of the rocks and water in this image is sharp enough that I can use Lightroom to add just a wee bit more before exporting it.

Post Crop Settings

Post Crop Settings

My final step is to add some darkening around the edges to highlight the center of the image. This is commonly done to emphasize the subject and draw the viewer’s eye into the image. Ligtroom’s Lens Correction and Post-Crop settings do a very good job of this without adding significant noise to the image. I really like how the Feather and Roundness controls allow very detailed control of the vignetting desired.

For an image targeted for the web, I’m done except for exporting the image to a JPEG. For an image that I’m going to print, the workflow is similar but many steps are done in Photoshop CS4 using Nik Software’s plug-in filters like Sharpener Pro, Viveza and Dfine. These Photoshop plug-ins allow me greater control and much faster speed than I can achieve in Lightroom itself.

Folks, like anything else in photography, your mileage may vary when using these techniques. Please keep in mind that each image you take is unique and will require it’s own workflow. I make no claim that this is the “best” workflow and I’m no Matt Kosklowski, Scott Kelby or Dave Cross. Feel free to comment to your heart’s content, but be kind!

Landscape Photography – Shadows

Just a quick post to start off your weekend on the right foot. I took this shot last month at the Pedernales Falls State Park in Johnson City, Texas. It was a warm evening with an even warmer breeze blowing in from the south. The sun was just over the horizon and sinking fast behind the trees west of this section of the falls. It’s always nice to take a few shots right before the sun sets. The long dark shadows bring out the wonderful textures all around you.

I’m heading down to Goliad, Texas this weekend to shoot at the Presidio de la Bahia & Mission Espiritu Santo de Zuniga historic sites for my book. Have a wonderful weekend and get out there and make some great exposures!

Shadows

Shadows
Copyright © 2009 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 50D set on aperture priority (Av) using an EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 24mm, f/8 for 1/100th of a second at ISO 100 on Lexar Professional digital film. Post capture processing was done in Lightroom 2 and Photoshop CS4. Click on the image above for a larger version.