Wednesday, March 19, 2014

It's Nice to Know Who You're Photographing

Back in 2012, while photographing for the Portrait of Houston book, I ran across Chef Justin Yu.  He was doing a food demo at the local farmer's market.  He had a warm, open face and looked like a nice subject.

I asked him if I could take his photo, explained my purpose, and started to work.  He was gracious enough to stop and pose despite being surrounded by fans.

I got his name and a model release and quickly got out of his way.
Later while processing the photo I entered Justin's name into the description field and keyword field.  The book designer selected the photo for the final project and I had all the necessary information so we could use the shot in the book.

Then today I read in the Houston Chronicle that Justin has been nominated for the prestigious James Beard award.  Wow!  I felt like a friend had been nominated.   It's wonderful to see someone move up the ranks of their field.  Best wishes, Justin!  I'm pulling for you.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A Lot Goes Into Processing An Image

Processing images is part of the job of being a professional photographer.  I admit that I have help to process my photos every once and a while but most of the time the task falls on my shoulders -- or really my fingers.

Like any other photographer, I find processing tedious and time consuming.  Yet, there is a sense of satisfaction when a folder of images is finished and ready to go on the market.

I don't look at processing as simply moving sliders in Photoshop to get the color and exposure right.  That's just one part of processing a photo.

Let's take a look at the photo of a yellow-billed cuckoo that you see above.  Somethings you see and somethings you don't see.  Here were my processing steps:

  1. The image survived my initial cull.
  2. The file is named with the name of the species, my initials, and a four digit number.  
  3. The image is processed as a batch with all the similar shots.
  4. With the image enlarged to 100%, it is rated with *, **, ***, ****, or ***** stars.  One star means that I can keep the image but it's pretty bad. This is usually because I've never seen the species before or unusual behavior.  Two stars means it's okay but still worth keeping.  Three stars means I did a good job and the image is marketable.  Four stars means I did a really good job and I'm pretty proud of the image.  Five stars means I am thrilled with the shot and consider it one of my best.  
  5. I add metadata in the Description field that tells me and future clients what's going on in the image.  For the image above, "Yellow-billed cuckoo, Coccyzus americanus, feeding on fall webworms, Hyphantria cunea, in a mulberry tree, High island, Upper Texas Coast, in the spring"
  6. Then I keyword the image.  These would be:  Yellow-billed cuckoo; Coccyzus americanus; spring; feeding; fall webworms; Hyphantria cunea; mulberry; High island; Upper Texas Coast; Texas.
    1. Keywords help future clients find the image on the internet or in my public database.  Someone needing a photo of a yellow-billed cuckoo can find the shot.  Someone looking for a photo of webworm infestation can find the shot.  Someone looking for a photo of a bird in a mulberry can find the shot.  I have to think about the needs of a variety of clients.
  7. I consider the image finished only after all the steps have been completed.  Then I can send the file to the database and offer it to the market.  
Is all this necessary even if you're not a professional photographer?  I think it is.  
  1. Rating each image helps you find your best photos at a moment's notice.  Simply sort them by the stars in Photoshop or Lightroom or query by rating.
  2. Description tells you what's going on in the photo.  If you post your images on Zenfolio or SmugMug then the description shows up right under the photo so viewers can see the information.  Very nice touch.
  3. Keywords help you find images and help your images show up on web searches.  No information, no search results.    
A lot goes into processing an image.  It's not simply about color correction and sharpening.  

Check out my YouTube video tutorials on Photoshop if some of the software terms don't make sense.  Photoshop and Lightroom are not that hard to learn and make processing images easy and efficient.  Maybe even a little fun, too.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Cuba -- To the US

Jan 6 –

Trip home?  Oh, you really don’t want all the details.  Flight was five hours late.  Missed our flights in Miami.  Part of the group got out later the next night.  Gary and I rented a car and drove home since we couldn’t get a flight out for two days.  Wanda and Craig got home to Arizona about the same time Gary and I got to Houston. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Cuba -- Day 10

Jan 5 –

Early loading into the motor coach for our eight hour drive back to Havana.  Edel didn’t feel well so we stayed quiet most of the trip.  Folks rotated to the front seat of the bus so they could photograph old car, horsecarts, and life along the Cuban highway. 

Lunch at a silly zoo in a garden setting along the highway.  Food was good but the same as we’d had throughout Cuba.  We fed meat to the cats under the table and chickens ate the last of our black beans and rice. 

We arrived in Havana and checked into the Hotel Inglaterra.  We had the rest of the afternoon free so Gary and I headed to a nearby restaurant to make reservations for our farewell dinner.  We found members of our group on the promenade that runs along Paseo de Marti.  

Artist who painted
pictures of the
birds of Cuba.
The promenade was lined with artist and filled with families out walking on a fine Sunday afternoon.  We stopped to walk some ballroom dancers, bought some artwork, and generally enjoyed Havana in the afternoon.

Back at the hotel, we gathered the group and walked to the restaurant for our last night in Cuba.  Roger and Nancy took a pedicab and we laughed how routine that mode of transportation had become to us.  

Dinner at the restaurant was fabulous as we were serenaded by lovely Cuban music.  How ironic it was that our dining room had the state seals of every state in the United States along with crown molding.  Every state up to Arizona, that is.  Arizona entered the union in 1912 so we suspect the building dated back to the 1920s.  It was a lovely evening!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Cuba -- Day 9

Jan 4 –

Ready to go the next morning and look for more Cuban birds.  No bird guide, though, so Gary stepped up to the plate one more time.  Edel knew our first stop so we drove to an old airport that had be turned into a nature preserve. 

Cuban Pewee
Young men met us at the gate and led us down to some trails in the brush.  The grounds looked like they had once housed a casino along with the airport.  The walkway had old pressed concrete areas circled by oleanders and other tropical plantings. 

Stripe-headed tanager or Spindalis
The birders found palm warblers, spindalis, and other birds.  Photographers snapped away.  It was a fine morning.

Later we drove to a marshy area along the causeway that connects the island to the mainland.  We found water birds familiar to us at home such as reddish egret and common merganser.  Birds for our Cuban list but not the multitude of birds we hoped for.  

A stop at a roadside paladar gave us some forest birds like Cuban pewee and Antillean grackle. 
Antillean grackle

We had to head back to the resort for lunch and found out we couldn’t go out in the bus that afternoon.  We’d nearly exceeded our quote of mileage for the trip so birding and photography would had to be on foot in the afternoon.

Photographers headed to the white sandy beach on the north end of the resort.  

We photographed Carol’s toes because she'd painted a Cuban flag on them.  How could we resist? 

We made Edel walk “Cuban style” along the beach.  We played with our polarizing filters and got great shots of the clear, Caribbean waters. 

Dinner that evening on the beach at a Cuban restaurant.  Slim picking for vegetarians so Gary and I wrapped up the evening in the buffet.  The others headed off to have another cigar or walk on the beach.  Another nice evening for sleeping in Cuba.
Nancy and Carol photographing
the beach.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Cuba -- Day 8

Jan 3 –

We departed the Hotel Colon in Camaguey after a nice breakfast on the patio.  Our rooms were so small that it was nice to spread out onto the patio.  I now understand why a patio is so important when living quarters are so small.

About a half hour into the trip, our guide Edel told me that the food yesterday didn’t sit well on his stomach.  About a half hour later he asked for some antacids.  A half hour later I realized Edel needed a bathroom fast.  Our driver Jose and I found him a bathroom at the train station in Florida.  Nope, more serious than a simple stop at the bathroom.  One of our passengers, Barbara, is a nurse and she stepped up to the plate and took over. 

We arrived at the emergency room a few minutes later.  Passengers Ed and Stan followed Edel into the hospital with Jose and Gary close by.  The rest of us waited in the bus. 

The group was fabulous and we traded places monitoring Edel’s progress and watching the world go by around the hospital.  Healthcare in Cuba is free and part of the reforms put in place by the revolutionary government.  The hospital inside was clean but a bit ragged.  It didn’t smell or appear unsanitary.  Staff seemed well trained and competent.  There was an x-ray area, ultrasound, surgery, and busy clinic.  Edel spent his time in the observation room. 

Outside we watched horse-drawn buggies transport people here and there.  Pedicabs did the same.  We walked over to the 24-hour pharmacy and looked at the adequate but meager supply ibuprophen, antibiotics, and cough medicine.  There was also a wall of herbal medicine such as orange oil and eucalyptus oil.  A little boy in a yellow shirt took up residence with our group while his mother went inside the hospital to have something done to her hand.  The boy’s father kept an eye on him but we enjoyed the little guy’s company.

Edel and two of his nurses emerged from the hospital around 11:00.  They went over to the pharmacy and got Edel’s medicine for the rest of the trip.  We took pictures of the group and thanked them for their care.  Edel had become a member of our group and we were all sad to see his bubbly spirit disappear.

We had lunch at a paladar, or small eatery, in a garden setting off the main highway.  The royal palms on the grounds were very tall and gave us a neat photo opportunity.  Lunch consisted of meat or fish, beans and rice, and Bucanero beer.  (Did you think we were going to have something else?!)

Back in the motor coach with Edel sleeping in the back, we headed east on the highway and then turned north toward our next destination of Cayo Coco.

We arrived at the Memories Resort on Cayo Coco on the Caribbean shore around 5:00.  Rooms at this western-style resort was spacious.  There were 20 or so rooms per two-story building.  Buildings were scattered in a garden setting around a huge pool, entertainment venues, bars, restaurants, and lobby    Guests were mainly Canadian, European, and American. 

I overhead another slice of Cuban customer service while waiting at the front desk:

Lady:  Where’s the health club?
Hotel: Over by the tennis courts.
Lady:  Do I use my room key to get in?
Hotel:  Yes, but your key won’t work.
Lady:  Why not?
Hotel:  The health club is not open.
Lady:  The brochure says it’s open 24-hours a day.
Hotel:  It is but it’s not open now.
Lady:  When will it be open?
Hotel:  Maybe tomorrow.
Lady:  In the morning?
Hotel:  I don’t know.  You might want to check back in the afternoon.

I had to laugh because I’d gotten used to Cuban customer service.  “Wait over there for five minutes” was the usual answer I got when asking a question. 

Sunset photography from the tower overlooking the property, dinner at the buffet, another Bucanero beer, and bed.  

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Bay of Pigs Polarizer Test

We used a polarizing filter a lot in the bright sun during our trip to Cuba.  Someone told me that they couldn't see the difference through the viewfinder.  I understand that sometimes the impact of the filter is subtle.

Here are two photo that illustrate the difference a polarizer can make on a photo.

Look at the water first.  See how there's glare on the water in the photo on the right?  See how the polarizer removes the glare from the water in the photo on the left?

Notice the sky.  Deep blue in the photo on the left.  Lighter blue in the photo on the right.  That's the result of the polarizer.

A polarizing filter, sometimes called a polarizer, can make a big impact on your photos.

A polarizing filter has to be rotated when it's on the front of your lens.  Rotate the filter and look through the viewfinder.  You should be able to see the impact.  If you can't see a change, try changing your angle to the sun.  If there's still no change, remove the filter because the angle of the sun isn't right.

Some new polarizing filters have a white mark on the ring that rotates.  That white mark is supposed to be pointed toward the sun for maximum impact.

My favorite polarizing filters are made by Singh-Ray.