365 Challenge #274 - Growth

Growth, originally uploaded by Melanie Surplice.
FINALLY! The rain stopped long enough to get outside and take some pics. Mt Cootha Botanic Gardens was waterlogged and green, and I spied this little bud set against a huge colourful leaf.

It sorta symbolised new growth, and the new year. Bring on 2011!

There's more pics from this shoot at http://www.flickr.com/photos/revive-photography/sets/72157625697888008/

Holiday reading - no chic lit in sight!

In the old days, before photography became the obsession that it has become for me, Christmas holidays would have meant stocking up on Chic Lit and reading books from cover to cover. I used to spend hours curled up on the lounge with books by Marian Keyes or Cathy Kelly, getting lost in the amusing love lives of 30-somethings. Not so these days!

This morning, three books of rather a different nature arrived from Amazon.com - all photography related.

Captured by the Light: The Essential Guide to Creating Extraordinary Wedding Photography The first, Captured By the Light, by David A. Ziser, was recommended to me by photog buddy, Steve Peters. It's a wedding photography how-to book, and flicking through it this morning, it looks like a great, step by step kinda book that covers exposure, on and off camera flash, backlighting, composition, and what Ziser describes as "wedding workflows".

It has lots of pictures - which I reckon is imperative for a book about photography, but I particularly like the diagrams of the set up of each shot.

It also lists the gear this photographer users, and which lenses he uses in which situations - I find that sort of stuff helpful - besides, he's a Canon shooter, so I can relate to the gear he talks about.

The Photographer's Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital PhotosWhile I was checking out the reviews of the first book on Amazon, I came across The Photographer's Eye, by Michael Freeman.

It's a book about composition and design, and also came with some great reviews.

It covers subjects such as framing, design basics such as contrast, balance, tension and rhythm, graphic and photographic elements, light and colour, intent and process.

Again, it has lots of good quality colour pictures, with notes about what makes each image weak or strong from a composition and design perspective.

Photojournalism, Sixth Edition: The Professionals' ApproachThe final book, Photojournalism: The Professionals' Approach, is one that interests me because of my interest in journalism.

Hindsight is a brilliant thing, and had I known I was going to develop such an interest in photography, I'd have probably taken some photography and photojournalism units when I did my MA in Journalism. Oh well...life's like that sometimes.

According to the many reviews on Amazon, this book is apparently used as a textbook in journalism courses. It covers a bunch of topics including spot news, general news, features, portraits, sports, photo editing, camera gear, multimedia, video, illustration, ethics, law, history and more - it's one chunky book, which I think is going to keep me going for some time!

So - that's my holiday reading list. Have you read any cool photography books or blogs lately? If so, feel free to leave comments below about what you read and how it helped your photography!

365 Challenge #273 - And so this is Christmas

Another big Christmas Day rolled by - Ben's second. He thought he looked pretty hot in this hat - I did too :)

There was the usual bubbly in the morning, stuffing of faces, lounging round in the afternoon, more drinks, food and naps. All a bit excessive really - but fun. I'm still polishing off rumballs. Let the diet begin - tomorrow. or maybe the next day...

Hope you had a great Christmas wherever you were!

365 Challenge #272 - Rum Balls!

Ah, Christmas. Gotta love all the little rituals, and once-a-year behaviours that go with it.

Making rum balls is one of my favourite Christmas rituals. Other than during the four years I was in London, I reckon I've been doing rum balls for about the last 15 years. And I only didn't make them in London because I couldn't find copha. Apparently copha is only sold in Australia. I researched it intensely when I lived in the UK, cos I needed that damn ingredient for this recipe. And this is the ONLY recipe I use for rum balls.

I've been using the same recipe that my mother has been using for years. She got it off a friend whose mother had been using it for years. Suffice to say - it's a good receipe. It's been tried and tested, and people who have these little alcohol-laden truffley things, all seem to ooh and ahh quite a lot while they're eating them. Then it's "hic!" afterwards.They do pack a punch.

Usually, I roll them in coconut - like this batch. But I made two double batches this evening , and the other half are rolled in chocolate sprinkles. Chocolate and rum on steroids really.

So...there's just one more day of work left before I can kick up my feet, crack the champas, ponder what the big old fat bloke will drop down the chimney, and of course, share the rumballs. Usually I get so sick of looking at them as I roll them, I can't eat them by the time Christmas day rolls around, but they sure do smell good :)

365 Challenge #271 - The "not-so-red" moon of the lunar eclipse

So much for a red moon! People milled around the boardwalk at Teneriffe on Tuesday night, awaiting to see the lunar eclipse. I've seen some awesome pictures of a red tinged moon - this unfortunately ain't one of them. But I like how the moon is peeping through the clouds here, low over Bulimba.

365 Challenge #270 - Brisbane River

Hoorah! The rain finally held off for an entire day - not a drop in sight!

I was minding my own business, and glanced outside this evening, just as I saw the moon rising. What a beautiful thing.

No less than four people stopped me as I was taking a series of long exposures like this shot, and asked what I was taking photos of.

Sometimes it pays to look up :)

365 Challenge #269 - the Turkish lamp

Once again it was too wet for taking photos outside, so I decided to muck around with one studio light and a softbox, and take a pic of this lamp I bought in Istanbul. Actually, I took three shots (auto-bracketed at -2, 0, +2) so I could HDR process it afterwards. 

I had been listening to a Kelby Training online video about HDR processing techniques, and wanted to play around with the edge glow on this shot to seperate the lamp from the background. So...voila! If I rub it, will a genie come out?

HDRing the woolstore

Yet more rain in Brisbane today, so I thought I'd stay close to home to get some shots to practice HDR. These images taken in the Mactaggarts woolstore are each composed of three shots, with exposure at -2, 0, +2. I love the detail and texture that HDR processing gives, particularly on fantastic old structures like this building.

365 Challenge #266 - The Hoodman Loupe

 Wow - I'm nearly 3/4 of the way through this 365 Challenge and this would have to be one of the most uninspiring shots I've taken.
BUT - it's a photo of my new Hoodman Loupe - the fabulous gadget for those bright sunny Brisbane days. Let me re-phrase that - if it stopped raining  long enough in South East Queensland for there to be glare and sun, this gadget would be great.

I first saw the Hoodman Loupe hanging around the neck of Glynn Lavender, of Creative Photo Workshops fame. Then other photog buddies, such as the Gadget Man himself, Mr Peters, started to use them on shoots. And I drooled. What a great idea!

So what do they do? Basically, when you're taking pics out in the glaring sun, and can't see WHAT you're shooting, the loupe sits over your camera's LCD viewing screen. When you look through the eye piece, you can see the images perfectly. Glare be gone! The Hoodman website even has a video demonstrating this marvelous little piece of wizardry.

When I first started looking for Hoodman Loupes, there seemed to be a minimal supply of them in Australia - but now more outlets seem to have them. They're currently selling for $110 at Discount Digital or about USD$80 direct from Hoodman or Amazon.

I can't wait to get outside and use this new toy. If only the sun would show itself for any length of time!

365 Challenge #265 - Black & White Conversions

I'm still working my way through Scott Kelby's book, The Adobe Photoshop CS5 Book for Digital Photographers. It's so helpful! I've been reading about HDR, and all manner of retouching in Photoshop. There are a few pages dedicated to the conversion of raw files to black and white, and I'm really liking Mr Kelby's step by step style.

As I've realised recently, there are about a million shades of gray, which is what you're dealing with in a black and white photo. It's all about the contrasts between variations of gray.

What I love about Kelby's books, is their simplicity - he uses a lot of words to get across each concept, but ultimately, the books are really easy to follow, particularly when you're using your own photos to work through the steps.

The image(s) above are an example of converting a RAW image to black and white, using one of Scott Kelby's "recipes".

Basically, he does much of his processing in Camera Raw, because it's easy to do there. Gotta love that!

Basically, the steps he goes through to achieve a high contrast B/W conversion like this one are as follows:
  • Click on the HSL/Grayscale icon (the 4th icon on the left in the main Camera Raw menu).
  • Go back to the first Camera Raw editing tab and crank up to your exposure as high as it will go just until you start clipping the highlights (the book gives pictures here, which make it much easier to follow).
  • Crank up the blacks, by dragging the Blacks slider to the right until it looks really contrasty.
  • Go to the Tone Panel Curve and choose Strong Contrast from the pop up menu - or otherwise, just drag the Contrast slider to the right until the image looks really contrasty.
  • Then, increase the Clarity to about 75 (or 25 for a portrait, or 0 for a baby, says Kelby)
  • And that should be that!
Ok, so it might be a bit too high contrasty for your liking, but for a day where the skies were completely blown out and blah (like in my image), I reckon blow them out and focus on the detail elsewhere in the image.

What's your favourite black & white conversion technique?

Delving into HDR

As part of my ongoing mission to improve my Photoshop skills, I've been reading about HDR (high Dynamic Range) processing.

The Adobe Photoshop CS5 Book for Digital Photographers (Voices That Matter)I've been working my way through Scott Kelby's awesome book, The Adobe Photoshop CS5 Book for Digital Photographers - it's SO practical! It's literally a step-by-step guide on how to do a bunch of stuff in Photoshop CS5.

According to Scott, when you increase the dynamic range of the photo, you get a greater range of tone and light than today's digital cameras can create, which gives you an image closer to what the human eye captures.

Photoshop CS5 comes with Merge to HDR Pro - a module that pretty much does everything required to take one or a series of images into "photorealistic" look right through to the "hyperreal look" which HDR images seem to be renown for.

Scott's book tells you how to set up your camera to shoot HDR, and then goes through the steps to get an image that started off as something like this:

to this:

Ok, so it looks Photoshopped to bejeezus, but I kinda like it - this is way more towards the "hyperreal" end of the scale than the first photo, which is the actual correctly exposed image that the camera took.

I also tried processing a few images HDR-style, where I manually changed the exposure in Photoshop - again, cheating, according to HDR-purist rules, but hey - I like experimenting. Watch this space for more HDR experiments!

365 Challenge #263 - today's Angel card :)

This was the today's Angel card. Like the photo I take every day, I turn up one of these little cards.

To be reminded that there is abundance everyday, everywhere, is a good thing. Tonight, it's been an abundance of chattin' with old friends - even if for only briefly, I'm grateful.

365 Challenge #260 - pink bling

I was playing around with a cross processing action from Totally Rad Actions, on this shot of a pink thong. Or flip flop, depending where you're from. Clearly, it's still raining in Brisvegas....slim pickings on the outdoor photography front :)

365 Challenge #259 - down the hallway

It's STILL raining in Brisbane - the weather seemed to let up just long enough for the clouds to collect more water to fuel another furious dump. Ugh....I'm so over the rain!

Anyway, that's turned my photographic attention indoors, and I thought I'd try to get a shot with a different perspective of my apartment. This is looking down the hallway past my mini gallery.

I am *really* hoping it fines up soon...otherwise it will be time to start building the ark!

365 Challenge #258 - The Baby Shower

Now that my friend Tiff has posted the photos of her Baby Shower on Saturday, I wanted to do a belated post of the adorable table trimmings on the table - how cute :). Looking forward to the news of the arrival of Tiff and Aidan's little bub!

Go the Gigapan!

Copyright David Bergman http://www.gigapan.org/viewGigapan.php?id=17217

At first, this may look like an unassuming photo of President Obama's Inaugural Address.

If you click through to this link of an image taken by David Bergman, you can scroll around the photo, zooming in until you see minute detail - like the distinctive white L-series Canon lenses used by the photographers who are perched on the white scaffolding structure just off centre of the photo, or in the stands virtually right in the centre of the photo. You can even see the faces of people in the crowds - pretty amazing! Click the link - it's a spinout.

I learnt that this is a gigapan - kind of like a panorama photo on steroids. The image you see above is made up of 220 individually captured images, all stitched together in post-production, to form a whopping 1.57 gigapixel image.

From the link above, I started to read about GigaPan, which according to its website is "the newest development of the Global Connection Project, which aims to help us meet our neighbors across the globe, and learn about our planet itself. GigaPan will help bring distant communities and peoples together through images that have so much detail that they are, themselves, the objects of exploration, discovery and wonder."

"GigaPan consists of three technological developments: a robotic camera mount for capturing very high-resolution (gigapixel and up) panoramic images using a standard digital camera; custom software for constructing very high-resolution gigapixel panoramas; and, a new type of website for exploring, sharing and commenting on gigapixel panoramas and the detail our users will discover within them.

The GigaPan website allows hosting and sharing all kinds of panoramas, and so the robotic GigaPan mount is recommended but is certainly not required to be part of this community."

The GigaPan site has all sorts of cool mega-photos that you can zoom in and look around - the most popular images, as currently ranked by the GigaPan community are of Dubai,  Hanauma Bay in Hawaii, a Macedonian landscape and this image above of the Presidential Address.

My mind boggles at what technology makes possible - and I'm guessing, the computing power required to stitch together 220 images. My little laptop grinds to a halt now when I use some of the more complex Photoshop actions.

Computing power aside, I reckon it's cool. Maybe I can convince Santa to buy me a GigaPan Panohead - like I need more camera gear! :)

365 Challenge #257 - Evidence!

This was yesterday's 365 pic. Someone who shall remained, got stuck into the Cookies & Cream icecream. Naughty! But nice.

Friday's Fantasy: Ginza Crossing

Ginza Crossing, originally uploaded by /\ltus.
It's only about 7 weeks until I fly out to Tokyo with Mum - can't wait! I found this photo on Flickr, of Ginza, the mad shopping district of Tokyo. I'm hoping to get some pics just like this when I'm there - if Mum, a non-photographer, will put up with the boredom of long exposures :)

Have an awesome weekend!

365 Challenge #256 - Moi?

*Sigh*. I was a few days behind in my 365 challenge, hence the second blog post today. I can't believe I'm 256 days into the project! And, that there are still over 100 days to go.

I caught this amusing little picture on a calendar that sites on my fridge. Miss Cranky Pants - moi? I think not.

Happy Friday to you :)

365 Challenge #255 - Bubbles!

I love gifts of the bubbly kind! I'd never noticed this little feature on the back of the packaging which Veuve comes in.

Now - just looking for the ideal moment to crack the bottle. Chink!

365 Challenge #254 - Light & Drops

Today's 365 is actually a series of pics. I was playing around with a CD, oil and water drops, the macro lens and my flash. As you do :). In the end, I used no flash for these pics - the flash seemed to be blowing out all the colour, despite having dialled the power right down.

I love the abstract shapes, colours and patterns that came out of this experiment - it reminds me of planets floating out there in the universe. But, I want to keep playing with this idea. Didn't quite crack the images I had in my mind, so it'll be back to the drawing board with all the gadgets another evening :)

Star Trails over the Flumes

Dan Newton's night work is fantastic! He discovered that when doing star trails (or long exposures at night), he could generate amazing images by doing a series of short exposures and stacking them in the post-processing phase.

He reckons it gets around the issues with noise, of doing what would otherwise be very long exposures (45-60 mins or longer).

I'm really keen to try this technique!

Dan also does some pretty impressive high speed work with eggs and glass. As you do! Check out his blog too - I found it inspiring.

365 Challenge #253 - Naan Bread

Sooo...some days I'm inspired my 365 Challenge, and some days I'm just hungry. Today's shot is of the very yummy naan bread I devoured for dinner. That big chunk missing from the bread is quite deliberate...

Aurora Swirl

Aurora Swirl, originally uploaded by Iceland Aurora.
Wow - some photos are just so stunning they take my breath away. I visited Iceland a couple of years ago, with the specific intention of capturing the green swirling lights of the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights.

Alas, my Northern Lights experience was doomed because it was 1) too cold the particular night we headed out to the Icelandic wilderness to spy the lights, and 2) it was too clear. Apparently there needs to be a bit of fog, dammit!

I came across the landscape photographer, Iceland Aurora, on Flickr this evening and I just love his work. What an awesome landscape to be able to do long night exposures on!

365 Challenge #252 - a busy bee

It was a blah day here in Brisbane - cloudy and looked like it was going to rain for most of the day. But it was a great day for playing with the macro lens on a walk around Boondal Wetlands. There were bugs, flowers and all manner of minutiae to be photographed.

This bee was busy doing its thing. Am loving the combination of the tamron macro lens and the 5D - when I blew this photo up to 100%, I could actually see individual hairs on the bees head. Who'da thunk!

Lights, Camera, Action!

Sooo....despite saying I wouldn't buy anymore camera gear this year (famous last words!), I bit the bullet, and this is the lighting kit that's heading my way. I'm not sure where I'm going to install this stuff in my very small apartment, but I'm sure I'll find it a little corner and make it feel welcome.

The purchase was inspired by my recent week with Shelton and Glynn from Creative Photo Workshops. This kit will (theoretically) let me re-create some of the cool work we did in the studio lighting and advanced flash workshops.

One of the websites that Glynn referenced as a resource, was strobox.com. I've been checking it out this morning (the perfect answer to housework-related procrastination...), and it's very cool! The site describes itself as:
Strobox is a place for all types of photographers to share how they set up that amazing photo! The easiest way to learn is to look at photos and their lighting diagrams so you can see for yourself how they were created. 
If I want to create a shot, I simply go to the strobox.com home page, select the type of shot I want to create, select the equipment I have (or think I want to use), hit Search, and a bunch of images come up together with a plan of the lighting setup that was used.

This shot below, for example, came up when I looked for "Fashion" shots, using a strobe, softbox and hairlight. The page also lists the camera settings, and where the photographer is feeling particularly helpful - the light settings. How good is that??

I'm sure that after I get over the first hurdle of working out how to set up this kit, I'll be right onto strobox looking for ideas.

Kelby Online Training rocks!

Image Copyright of Kelby Training
I have been a fan of Scott Kelby since I read his first series of digital photography books. These books are never far from my reach, and are now dog-earred, much-loved references. As Scott says, reading these books is like having your own personal tutor, telling you how he shoots a multitude of scenes, and how he handles different lighting situations. They're SO full of practical advice at whatever level of photography you're at. I keep going back to these books time and time again! Perhaps it's because I'm a slow learner...

When my interest in PhotoShop CS5 started to get a bit more obsessive earlier this year, I bought Kelby's The Adobe Photoshop CS5 Book for Digital Photographers. What another awesome book! I sit with it at the computer and try techniques as I read. It's taking me a while to work my way through the book, but I practice as I go. It's also very practical and uses screen shots and before/after shots to show the effects in action.

Further fuelling my Kelby obsession, is my recent subscription to Kelby Training. For a couple of hundred bucks, you can subscribe for a year with unlimited access, to this MASSIVE library of online tutorials about pretty much any aspect of photograhy which interests you.

I have spent the last couple of nights watching tutorials about my Canon EOS 5D Mark II. It's seriously easier to follow than the instruction manual! Ok, so it might seem a bit lame to watch video tutorials about which buttons do what, but the tutorials are helping me to learn more about my camera every day. For example, I have been meaning to test out the HD video function on the 5D, and when I watched a tutorial that walked me through the (very few and simple) steps, I tried it straight away. So cool!

Through Kelby Training, you also get access to tutorials about flash by photography legend, Joe McNally and many other photography experts. Incidentally, I'm halfway through Joe's book, The Hot Shoe Diaries, which discusses his amazing work with flash photography. So far, I've watched tutorials about landscape photography, macro photgraphy, studio lighting and all manner of useful stuff. There's also tutorials on how to use photo editing software, including Photoshop and Lightroom, complete with downloadable files for you to practice on. Oh, so much to learn, so little time!

I love that I can keep going back to these tutorials (I told you I was a slow learner!), and that there are tutorials for pretty much anything I want to know about photography. I love that I can watch the tutorials in my own time, and at a time that the subject is relevant to me.

If there's a photographer in your life, buy 'em a subscription to this for Xmas. They'll love ya for it.

365 Challenge #250 - who said light doesn't bend?

I walked down my hallway earlier, to find these cool shadows. I love how it looks like the light is bending when it hits the joint between the ceiling and the wall.

There are a couple of other versions of this on my Flickr photostream.

Friday's Fantasy - Moroccan Landscape

Moroccan Landscape, originally uploaded by Melanie Surplice.
Ah, Morocco! This photo brings back memories of an amazing two weeks in Northern Africa nearly three years ago.

We traversed the country, from the chaos and colour of Marrakech, to the High Atlas mountains and Sahara Desert.

This landscape greeted us as the coach driver stopped on the side of the road so we could sample some local fruit. What an amazing place! Hope it brings back memories for Paula, Susie and Billy :)

National Geographic's Photography Contest 2010 - The Big Picture - Boston.com

National Geographic's Photography Contest 2010 - The Big Picture - Boston.com

This collection has some of the most amazing images. When I see competition entries like this, I'm inspired to push on with my photography: to keep looking, to keep learning, to keep improving.

I found it nearly impossible to choose a favourite out of this lot, but I love #33, the landscape of Ki Gompa, and Laura's story (#46) is as horrific as it is inspirational.

Which images from this year's National Geographic Photography Contest do you rate??

365 Challenge #247 - Red Leather

I had an early morning play with the Tamron 90mm macro lens on the 400D today - seeing what the combination of the cropped sensor and macro lens would produce.

This is what a red leather knot on my hand bag looks like through the equivalent of a 144mm macro lens. Go figure! :)