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Essential Night Landscape Photography Tips from Chris Burkard

August 13, 2014 8 comments

chris burkardToday’s post comes from extraordinary surf and landscape photographer Chris Burkard, who we recently featured in our short film, Arctic Swell. Chris has made it his life’s work to find wild, remote destinations and then capture the juxtaposition of humans in these environments. The world is an oftentimes harsh, humbling, and magical place, and Chris wants to photograph it all.

He shares his essential night landscape tips below. You can browse his portfolio and print store on his site.

It’s hard to beat the enchanting feeling of star gazing at a clear night sky.  You soon become lost in its beauty like a giant kaleidoscope full of shooting stars, planets, and glow from the setting sun or nearby cities.  I’ve traveled to countless countries over the past ten years and some of my fondest memories occur long after the sun has set.  Whether it’s camping near my home in Big Sur or witnessing a rare northern lights show in the Arctic, I’ve had the privilege and challenge of documenting these night landscapes.

My introduction to night photography happened when I took a road trip in 2006 along the entire California coastline.  My friend Eric Soderquist and I spent over two months on the road in his Volkswagon bus in search of waves in every California county.  The trip was later turned into a book, The California Surf Project, and looking back through its pages you can see some of the early stages of my night photography.  Camping under the stars literally every night made me that much more appreciative and eager to capture the beauty of the night sky.  Fast forward 8 years and I’m still drawn to these dark moments where my friends and I are huddled around a campfire in Iceland or getting lost in the magic of the northern lights in Norway.  Photographing in the dark certainly requires some adjusting but here’s some tips to prepare you for the next time you’re shooting night landscapes.   

Night Landscape Photography Tip 1: Get Away From the City

Photo Credit: Chris Burkard

Photo Credit: Chris Burkard

The farther you are from city lights the clearer you will be able to see stars and the less light pollution you’re going to have. The photo pictured above was shot in Big Sur, CA a few hours from any major cities.

Night Landscape Photography Tip 2: To Infinity! 

Photo Credit: Chris Burkard

Photo Credit: Chris Burkard

Set your focus to infinity or focus on far away light sources to make sure you get the sky in focus.  If you want to focus on your subject shine a light on them.

Night Landscape Photography Tip 3: Trial & Error

Photo Credit: Chris Burkard

Photo Credit: Chris Burkard

Don’t be afraid to test settings to see what works best.  The beauty of working with digital cameras is that you get instant feedback.  I usually open my aperture as wide as it will go (f/2.8 or wider) and then vary my ISO depending on how bright the sky is.  In this particular photo I exposed for 30 seconds at f/1.8 and 400 ISO.  I like to keep my ISO as low as possible.

Night Landscape Photography Tip 4: Frame Up

Photo Credit: Chris Burkard

Photo Credit: Chris Burkard

Remember that the sky is your hero in the photo.  Try framing the sky in the upper 2/3 of your image and then vary your angle depending on the scenario. With the northern lights creating a really dramatic light trail I framed up.  You could do the same with the milky way or stars in general.

Night Landscape Photography Tip 5: Expose Long & Short

Photo Credit: Chris Burkard

Photo Credit: Chris Burkard

Long exposures are going to leave you light trails and short ones should make the stars nice and sharp.  Try both methods for variety in your imagery.

Night Landscape Photography Tip 6: Bring a Headlamp

Photo Credit: Chris Burkard

Photo Credit: Chris Burkard

You can use a headlamp to light up your tent or even light paint a tree or waterfall.  Practice the amount of light that you are shining out of your headlamp because it is easy to wash out the picture with too much light.

Night Landscape Photography Tip 7: Add a Subject

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Photo Credit: Chris Burkard

Adding that human element to a picture can give it a sense of perspective and depth. Play around with where you place the subject in your frame.  The less busy your framing is the better.

Night Landscape Photography Tip 8: Mind the Moon

Photo Credit: Chris Burkard

Photo Credit: Chris Burkard

If you want to have clear stars shoot underneath a new moon or when the moon is below the horizon.  If the moon is out you can play with the effects that it can have on your photograph. Use it to backlight trees or your subject but be careful not to let it wash out your picture.

Night Landscape Photography Tip 9: Use a Tripod

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Photo Credit: Chris Burkard

Or a rock or the hood of your car.  A tripod is you’re most crucial piece of night photography gear.  Joby makes great camping tripods cause they are small and packable.  I also recommend a remote so you can make sure your shots are even more stable.

Night Landscape Photography Tip 10: Stay Up Late

Photo Credit: Chris Burkard

Photo Credit: Chris Burkard

Night skies are often darkest and most active late into the night.  I’ve seen tons of meteor showers and northern lights shows way past midnight.  Set an alarm and wake up if you have to or use a remote to take photos periodically throughout the night.

Want More?

Check out our short film, Arctic Swell, to see Chris Burkard and pro surfers Patrick Millin, Brett Barley, and Chadd Konig brave sub-zero temperatures in the Arctic Circle.

http://youtu.be/cBJyo0tgLnw

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5 Camera Tips Pros Wished They’d Known Sooner

August 5, 2014 5 comments

They say your first 10,000 pictures are your worst, or that it takes 10 years to become an expert. While we can’t necessarily refute those words of wisdom, we can share tips from our team of passionate photographers that may help shorten that climb to the top.

1) f/8 Is Usually Best

Without getting too deep into the details about optics and light paths, your lens has a sharpest point within the range of f-stops that you see on it. As a rule, the largest and smallest ends of the range are the softest, or least sharp, and f/8 or somewhere in the middle is where you’ll get the sharpest images. This varies by lens of course, but we suggest shooting your own test shots of the same subject at different apertures, zooming in, and seeing how that affects your images.

Tip: Don’t know what f/8 translates to in your photos? You can search for any kind of photo on SmugMug and then refine your search to see just the photos shot within a specific aperture range. Neat!

2) Cropping is OK

Unless you’ve jumped straight into big league macro or wildlife communities (where cropping is “cheating”) it’s totally fine to take your original photo and crop it so you have a better, stronger composition. Or maybe you just used the wrong lens and need a bit more zoom. Either way, it’s your trade secret and artistic decisions like this are part of what makes you – the photographer – unique.

Tip: You don’t have to crop before you upload to your SmugMug galleries. Use our handy Photo Tools to crop your images, or even Make a Copy and crop that one so you can compare the two and see which version you like best.

3) Renting is OK

You don’t have to own the gear to shoot with the gear. So you can’t drop $14K on a 800mm lens to shoot the next game? No problem – pay a pittance to have one for just the time you need, then send it back and call it a job well done. We can’t all be big spenders… even if we strive to get the perfect shot every time.

Tip: Our friends at Borrowlenses.com have a huge variety of photo, video, and lighting gear for every reason that needs a camera. You can even customize the amount of time you rent, if the standard time spans won’t work for you. Plus, SmugMug customers get an extra 10% off your entire order.

4) Editing is Essential

While we’ve stressed before that getting your photos right SOOC is good practice, it’s rare when a photo looks better raw than polished. Even the most perfectly-lit, powerfully-composed photo can benefit from a few finishing tweaks to color, sharpness, and other aspects that make pop to the eye. So even if you think that sunset couldn’t get better than it is, just give it a boost and see what happens. You just might like what you find.

Tip: You’ve got the power of Photo Effects (in your Photo Tools) and Picmonkey for the photos that live in your SmugMug galleries. But take it a step further with Lightroom: with the ability to sync and publish direct to SmugMug and pro-worthy features simple enough for beginners, we think you’ll be hooked. Check out the tutorials and see why.

5) Technique Can Solve (Pretty Much) Anything

Backlit subject? Contrasty sunset? Wind in your umbrellas? White dress, red walls? All of these scenarios (and thousands more) can throw a monkey wrench into how you thought the shoot would go, but you can still get the final photo you had in mind with practice, practice, practice. Study hard, stay inspired, experiment, and make mistakes. Lots of mistakes. The more you know, the more you can overcome challenges that would throw photo greenhorns into despair.

Tip: We can’t promise to have a ready answer to every problem, but we’re trying. As photographers ourselves, we strive to write and deliver photography-, website-, and business-focused articles on our blog, the SmugMug School website, and through our email newsletters. It’s our mission to help make photography (and whatever you do with it) more fun.

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SmugMug Films: Exploring the Wild with Chris Burkard

July 15, 2014 3 comments

We’ve long wanted to film famed surf photographer Chris Burkard in action, so when we heard that he was headed to the Arctic with professional surfers to tackle the brutally harsh seas, we packed our bags and followed. In our latest installment of SmugMug Films, we travel with Burkard on his journey with professional surfers Patrick Millen, Brett Barley, and Chadd Konig as they brave sub-zero temperatures to capture moments of raw beauty, adventure, and community. Keep reading after the video to get an exclusive interview with Chris about how he got his start, what he looks for in a fantastic image, and that time he got deported from Russia.

How did you get started with photography?

I did a lot of art in high school. And I transitioned to wanting to explore doing art out in the field, but I soon realized it wasn’t very fun. It wasn’t a very intimate experience to me. You’re just a bystander. When I picked up a camera and started taking photos of my friends surfing and landscapes, I realized I was in the moment. I was out there, and shooting these photos was an extension of the body. It was intimate. You’re a part of it, and you can take it anywhere: social settings, mountaintops, oceans. It was a perfect extension and a great medium of expression for me. To this day I’m seeking out new places so I can bring a camera and experience them.

Photo Courtesy of Chris Burkard

Photo Courtesy of Chris Burkard

If you hadn’t become a photographer what would you have been?

Probably a fireman. I don’t know! I worked for many years in random jobs. Before I was working to be a photographer, I worked on cars a lot. I loved old vehicles and the idea of making them how I wanted. It came down to the idea of wanting to do something where people will appreciate my craft and my talents, and I realized that was what made me want to turn machines into artwork. If I wasn’t a photographer, maybe I’d be working on cars somewhere.

How would you describe what you do today?

I’m always seeking out the adventures in life, whether I’m shooting surfing in a cold, harsh environment or shooting a commercial assignment. And that’s meant to speak to the idea of going to a new place, summiting a new peak, or surfing a new wave. It doesn’t matter to me how big or how small. My goal has always been to create images that inspire people to get off their couch and go explore something new.

The idea of exploration is the thing that really makes me want to push harder. It’s the driving force behind a lot of my work.

2012, CHRIS BURKARD PHOTOGRAPHY, GLOBE, ICELAND,

Photo Courtesy of Chris Burkard

What do you look for when creating an image?

There’s a lot of technical things I’ll look for. I’m looking for light, contrast, and all those elements that make a good image. But I consider other elements when I’m thinking of how to capture something. Like if there’s historical value to a photo—where I’m shooting a place that might not be around for very long—that’s very important to me.

Coming from an art background, I’m used to trying to put everything I want into this easel shape. I’m just bringing in all the elements. When you’re shooting and photographing in this frame, you have to get everything inside it. You’re really constricted in being able to make it happen.

For me, it’s also super important to push your cameras as far as they can go to capture what you’re seeing. A photograph is usually a two-dimensional item. If there’s anything you can do to make it feel three dimensional, that’s the goal.

I also like the idea of creating images that will carry weight with people. Photos that aren’t driven by advertisements or logos. And it’s super important, too, when creating a body of work that you want to be around longer than yourself.

Photo Courtesy of Chris Burkard

Photo Courtesy of Chris Burkard

Given the adventurous nature of your work and the harsh conditions you’re in, are there any great pictures you didn’t get to take?

There’s always a lot of pictures I don’t get, or I feel I haven’t had a chance to capture yet. As a photographer, or anyone who’s a perfectionist, that’s all you think about: all the moments you didn’t get. And that’s just life. You’re striving for something better, and you always wish there’s something you could’ve captured, but if you get them all, you’ll have nothing left to strive for.

What do you consider the biggest challenge about your work?

It all depends on where I’m going. The nature element is the hardest thing, like if I’m going somewhere really cold or somewhere that has a harsh environment. Being in the water in high 30s or low 40s can be brutal on your body, mind, and psyche, and it’s always challenging. You’re always weighing out risk versus reward. Luckily, 90 percent of the time you’re not far from a warm car, but there are those moments when you know in order to get the shot you have to go out and suffer a bit. Those are the times I feel most alive. I have to put in more effort and lose a little bit of skin.

Photo Courtesy of Chris Burkard

Photo Courtesy of Chris Burkard

Your explorations often take you to off-the-beaten-path locations. What do you look for?

I’m drawn to places that feel and look more wild. I think it’s human nature to want to see these places, but the reality is most people don’t want to put in the time to find them. So a big part of what I do is try to find spots that will speak to that aesthetic. The location is almost as important as who I’m with and what I’m shooting. Each place plays a huge character role in these stories. Whether I’m on a remote beach in Norway or somewhere in Russia, I want to be in a place that people naturally associate with adventure.

How do you find these places?

There’s a certain recipe. There are a lot of amazing places I could go, but I have to have an assignment that takes me there. I have a list of places I would love to see and love to experience, but I don’t have opportunities to shoot there. But I have a list. And it’s something I tick off as I get to go to places.

With so many places yet to see, is there a favorite place you’ve already been?

Oh, yeah. I’ve been to Iceland 13 times. That place is pretty dang special.

What do you love about it?

The way the landscape is always changing really draws me in. It’s inspiring to me and makes me want to go back because the conditions and climate are constantly evolving. For a photographer, it’s what you’re always searching for. You could shoot only one day there and have so many different conditions.

I don’t like to go to places that wouldn’t be inspiring to me on a personal level. Because if you’re not excited about the work you’re doing, then it’s hard to want to photograph it.

Photo Courtesy of Chris Burkard

Photo Courtesy of Chris Burkard

Is there a photography project that’s been the most meaningful for you to date?

The trips I do, I invest a lot of my energy, heart, and soul. That’s why when they turn out successful, it means so much. Success can be measured many different ways, but for me it’s pretty simple: If I feel like I got the images I needed, or got the job done while still being able to experience the culture for myself, then the trip was a success.

I plan for three years or more to do these trips, and when I’m able to set foot on the landscape and experience it, I don’t want to leave anything behind. For me, that’s been Russia, Alaska, Iceland, and Norway. These are places I put a big part of myself into.

What’s been your most challenging to date?

I’d say Russia just because of the logistical challenge of getting there. It took three years to plan and find the place to go.

I went to Russia for the first time in 2009, and you have to fill out a visa request like three months ahead of time. I was in a crew with four people, and we had to go through customs. I get stopped. They look at my passport. They look at me. They look at my passport again. They look at me. And I realize the entry date on my visa was for the next day. It was the wrong date.

After a long discussion, they put me in a holding cell for 24 hours, and then deported me to South Korea. After recouping a day later, I flew back. It was scary. Really scary. I didn’t get food and water until I talked to the embassy. It was crazy.

It was one of the first places I traveled to that was really wild and remote. And it was such an eye-opening one because I realized for the first time what it felt like to have all your rights stripped from you. It makes you really appreciate being on American soil.

What’s at the top of list for a place you’d like to return to?

I really want to go back to Chile and explore Tierra del Fuego. It’s at the very end of South America, and it looks amazing.

In a lot of your behind-the-scenes shots, it looks like surfers are headed right at you. Have you ever suffered any collisions?

Oh, yeah. I’ve been run over. I’ve had surfers hit me with their board. Cut my nose and other things. Those are the experiences that make it exciting. You’re very much at risk. And it makes it that much cooler, really, being able to be a part of the action. Being hidden in the midst of it myself.

Photo Courtesy of Chris Burkard

Photo Courtesy of Chris Burkard

Ever lost any gear?

I’ve lost quite a bit of gear. One time I was on a little boat, and we got hit by a wave. Basically my entire kit went overboard, and I lost about $30,000 worth of gear. Luckily, I had insurance for it.

Speaking of gear, what are your must-haves?

I have a lot of must-haves. It comes down to the fact that I think, man, if I don’t need to use this it’s not going to be much of an adventure!

A multitool is super important when it comes to being somewhere remote and interesting. Obviously having a good, reliable camera is crucial, and that’s personal preference. I like to travel really light and really small, so I use a lot of mirrorless cameras, like the Sonys. There’s usually a solar charger of some kind, whether for cell phone or camera. An ultralight, ultrasmall water-purification device that uses UV light. Energy bars. A light rain jacket is always crucial. A lightweight tripod is always in there. Filters. Almost always a pair of gloves.

If you don’t need a headlamp, it’s not even a place you want to go. I can’t count how many times I’ve gone out driving around, having a great time, then coming back for a couple hours to sleep until dark. That’s when, as a photographer, you know the best light is going to be, or when the stars are going to come out. Nine times out of 10 we’re hiking back in the dark with a headlamp on.

Photo Courtesy of Chris Burkard

Photo Courtesy of Chris Burkard

It sounds like you have a survival kit with some camera gear versus a camera kit with some survival gear.

That’s really what it comes down to. I want to make sure that when I’m shooting photos that I’m able to relax, knowing that safety is taken care of. I occasionally have a small rope and carabiner just in case I need to lower down from somewhere. Usually the most unusual thing I have in there is a packet of gummy candy, because that’s one of my favorite things. It’s either a reward after the shoot because things have gone well, or I just got beat down by rain or no sun and I want to have something sweet.

Given the chaos you’re in for your shooting conditions, do you shoot manually?

Yeah, always. I love shooting manually. You really start to work with your camera, and it becomes second nature. I like to have complete control. I don’t want to have my camera trying to make decisions for me.

Do you have any rules when it comes to your overall process?

When I’m going somewhere new, I’m really careful not to research too many of the places I’m going to see because I don’t want to get some interpreted view of what these places should look like on a postcard. I want to be able leave my view and perspective unskewed so I can maintain ultimate creative freedom. That being said, I also want to make sure that I’m being educated on where I’m going, because the more unique the less you know. That’s a really important mantra to have at all times.

Photo Courtesy of Chris Burkard

Photo Courtesy of Chris Burkard

If someone decided to pursue a similar path, what advice would you give them?

I personally would tell them that I don’t think school is going to teach you the type of skills you need to do what I do. A big part of this is experiencing things. Learn from a magazine setting or an editorial conference. Study a photographer you like and really understand the hustle it takes to do what they do. Understand what it’s like to be in those commercial and editorial situations where you’re trying to make it all work for a client.

I look back at the time I spent driving down to Oceanside every week to intern at Transworld Surf, and a summer I interned with a landscape photographer. That’s where I feel like I gained the biggest understanding of what photography was really like. I realized what it means to run your own business. And if you still want to do it after that, you should.

Any advice for capturing a great image?

There’s great moments happening everywhere, but for me there’s two main types. There’s the one that happens all of a sudden, which requires being there and being ready, and knowing your equipment inside and out. And the second is the one you’ve preconceived. Sometimes those are really special to me because you have this idea and you get to see it through.

Look for unique lighting situations. Go out in storms and go out at a time when no one else is. That’s when you’re going to capture something unique.

Photo Courtesy of Chris Burkard

Photo Courtesy of Chris Burkard

And what about the best advice you’ve ever received?

My grandpa told me to kick ass and take names. I don’t know if that’s good advice or not.

I guess a personal mantra I try to follow is the more you know, the less you need. I’ve always been a big proponent of traveling with less and not being the person who has the biggest, most expensive camera. It’s not that I can’t afford it, I just like to experience moments personally as well as through my camera. If you walk away from any trip and it’s a complete blur because you were shooting the whole time, then you weren’t really experiencing it.

In the end, you should have all these cool stories to share with loved ones and family and friends. At least that’s how it is for me. I always try to be present in the moment and really experiencing it myself, too.

What do you find exciting about the photography industry today?

Now everyone is a photographer. People have cameras and video cameras in their phones. At any time I could have four or five cameras on me. It’s crazy.

What we’re seeing is the emergence of these smaller, lighter cameras being able to capture more real, intimate moments. And I think the idea of mobile photography and how it’s changed photography as a whole is really exciting.

I think we’re really seeing, too, a changing of the guard where a lot of established photographers have lost touch with the people who are interested in their work because they haven’t adapted to these new forms of social media or ways of promoting their work.

Photography as a whole is really moving toward those who are open to sharing. Nothing’s a secret anymore. If you try to keep secrets, people just aren’t going to embrace it. They want to find people who are sources of knowledge and are able to share that knowledge. That’s how I look at inspiration.

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Find Chris online:

Portfolio and Print Shop on SmugMug

Instagram

Facebook

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Subscribe to the SmugMug Films channel to watch and see future installments as soon as we set them free. If you enjoyed the film with Chris Burkard, you may like these artist profiles on underwater photographer Sarah Lee, YouTube superstar DevinSuperTramp, and lava chases Lava Light.

Photo Tip: 4 New Easy-to-Swallow Lightroom Tutorials

July 9, 2014 1 comment

We’ve talked a lot about Lightroom, and not without reason. We think it’s one of the best, most powerful tools any photographer can use to organize, edit, and get their photos online, and it’s connected seamlessly to your SmugMug account so you can sync your online and offline photos easily.

But with great power often comes complexity. You may be nervous about diving in if you’ve never used Lightroom before, so that’s where our friends over at KelbyOne step in.

Beginner-to-Expert Lightroom Tutorials by KelbyOne

KelbyOne was founded on approachable, down-to-earth education for photographers by photographers, and they specialize in teaching about Adobe products. So there’s no better person than Education Director Matt Kloskowski to create how-to videos about something they know inside and out.

We’ve added these videos to our growing library of helpful (and totally free) resources over on our SmugMug School website. So take a look and get ready to become an organizational pro.

Enjoy!

 

Photo Tip: 5 Reasons Why We Fell in Love with Lightroom

June 4, 2014 113 comments

It’s been a while since we’ve talked about our love for one of the best photo tools on the market, Lightroom. We’re going to share some of our favorite things about it that knocks our socks off and why we hope you’ll give it a try, too. Plus, if you’re just scared about diving into the Adobe pool, we’re giving away 4 (signed!) copies of Scott Kelby’s fantastic instructional book, The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 Book for Digital Photographers, at the end of this post.

So keep reading to see how you can win yours!

Now, here are our top 5 reasons why Lightroom’s awesome.

1) Keywording Is a Breeze

Keywords are a small, but important part of getting your photos properly searchable. Whether you’ll be looking through your own galleries or hoping to cash in on sales sparked by Google, keywording is how you get there.

While SmugMug has great bulk keyword and caption tools, adding them during your Lightroom workflow is a step saver and has the added benefit of adding the keywords to the photo’s metadata.

You can enter keywords using the Library module, and even apply them to batches of photos all at once. The best part? Lightroom will automatically suggest keywords you’ve used before when you start typing.

And yes, these keywords and captions will transfer over to SmugMug when you publish.

2) No JPGs Required

Unless you’re new to SmugMug, you probably already know that we’ve got a free Publish to SmugMug plugin available in Lightroom. (You can download it here.)The fact that it doesn’t cost a cent is pretty great, but even better is that you can easily Publish your photos to new or existing galleries on your SmugMug account, all without needing to create — or store — a separate JPG file on your computer’s hard drive.

Try the easy, one-click syncing between your Lightroom catalog and your SmugMug folder structure. We’ll worry about your JPG storage so you don’t have to.

3) Everything’s Better in Bulk

The greatest power of Lightroom is how easily it lets you do sweeping changes to swaths of photos at once. Presets, flags, and anything you can think of — you can add them with just a few clicks and get your event photos out the door and into your clients’ inboxes in no time.

Check out this post that Adobe educator Matt Kloskowski did for us to help sift through your massive photo piles with ease.

4) Easy-to-Replace Proofs

Pro photographers, this one’s for you: When your client orders prints from your SmugMug galleries and you’ve set up Proof Delay, did you know that you can use Lightroom to quickly polish, edit, and republish only those photos back to your SmugMug galleries before sending the order to the lab?

We think this is the biggest lifesaver for any photographer who knows their clients will buy only a few photos out of thousands. Rather than editing every single photo from the shoot, simply upload your proofs and let them make their choice.

Tip: Take it a step further with Events & Favorites. Lightroom will sync their Favorites galleries and pull their choices back into your catalog, making it even easier for you to edit (and republish) just the ones they love best.

5) It’s Always Improving

Adobe’s always making their products more powerful and better for you, and we are, too. Both Lightroom and the SmugMug plugin check automatically for updates, and you’ll notice this when you open up the program and see that window.

What we’ve added recently: The ability to choose your gallery’s Featured Photo via the plugin, and the ability to create/edit/delete Quick Settings, Watermarks, and Printmarks. And lots more.

You can always check to see the updates we’ve made to the plugin on the dedicated page in our help pages.

The Book Giveaway

As promised, we’ve got 4 signed copies of Scott Kelby’s best-selling Lightroom 5 bible to give away, The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 Book for Digital Photographers:

This comprehensive book covers everything from basic sliders to Scott’s own workflow, and is the #1 Lightroom book on the market (with good reason). So if you’re ready to get this into your hands and begin your journey to becoming a Lightroom wizard, simply leave a comment below and include these two responses:

1) What are the biggest stumbling blocks in your photo editing workflow?

2) A link to your SmugMug website (so we know how to reach you if you win)

We’ll choose 4 lucky random winners on Wednesday, June 11th, 2014, and announce them right here.

Stay tuned, good luck, and watch this space!

UPDATE 6/11/2014: Winners! We randomly picked 4 winners who commented here and here’s who we drew:

We’ll be in touch with you individually to deliver your books. Congrats!

How to Photograph Lava Without HDR or Photoshop

May 28, 2014 4 comments

CJ Kale and Nick Selway long ago fell in love with Hawaii and founded Lava Light, a photography gallery focused on capturing the ever-changing landscape created by an active volcano and crashing waves—and sometimes both together when the conditions are just right.

And if swimming with fire and dodging lava bombs weren’t challenging enough, these photographers believe in creating their images completely in camera. Balancing exposures between sky, water, and lava can be incredibly tricky.

Luckily, Lava Light has shared some tips to help you get the shot without combining exposures or using HDR.

Photo Tip #1

To capture lava and stars together, put a neutral-density (ND) gradient filter on your lens upside down to balance the extreme exposures between the lava and stars.

Photo Credit: Nick Selway/Lava Light Galleries

Photo Credit: Nick Selway/Lava Light Galleries

 

Photo Tip #2

When photographing lava in the daytime, use the ND grad right side up to balance the light from the sunrise, because the sun will eventually be brighter than the lava is.

Volcano images Kilauea Hawaii

Photo Credit: CJ Kale/Lava Light Galleries

 

Photo Tip #3

For front-lit scenes, a hard ND grad balances light from a bright sky and a dark foreground, allowing you to darken the sky and deepen colors. For example, in this shot I used a polarizer to intensify the rainbow, but it left the sky a fraction too bright. So I added a 1-stop hard ND grad across the entire sky to darken it and get its depth and color to match with the lava and everything that’s front lit below.

Volcano images Kilauea Hawaii

Photo Credit: CJ Kale/Lava Light Galleries

 

Photo Tip #4

To capture the little curvature of a wave, a shutter speed around 1/3 of a second is usually enough to get a little light blur to the water but keep that shape in the wave.

Photo Credit: CJ Kale/Lava Light Galleries

Photo Credit: CJ Kale/Lava Light Galleries

 

Photo Tip #5

If you’re trying to capture a really misty feel, where the water almost looks like fog, use a 2- to 3-second exposure.

kona_sunset

Photo Credit: Nick Selway/Lava Light Galleries

 

Photo Tip #6

Since we capture everything in camera, sometimes we have to compromise on exposures and accept some clipping of highlights or shadows. So maybe a rock by the lava won’t have any detail in the shadows because I want to capture the detail in the lava instead, and I prioritize my exposure for the lava.

Photo Credit: Nick Selway/Lava Light Galleries

Photo Credit: Nick Selway/Lava Light Galleries

 

Photo Tip #7

Prepare the right gear for the day. My normal, hike-out-to-the-volcano kit includes a Nikon D800e, Canon 5dMkIII, 16–35 L lens for Canon, 14–24 for Nikon, a 50mm and an 85mm prime, and a 50–500 Sigma telephoto. Because sometimes you want a wide-angle shot, like the rainbow and lava, and others you want to zoom in on the drip, which requires a telephoto.

Photo Credit: CJ Kale/Lava Light Galleries

Photo Credit: CJ Kale/Lava Light Galleries

 

Want more?

Check out the SmugMug Films artist profile of Lava Light below. Thanks for the tips, Nick and CJ!

Find Lava Light online:

The All-New, In-SmugMug Photo Editor

May 21, 2014 44 comments

If you’ve used our photo editing tools since we launched the New SmugMug you’ve probably noticed that our new look didn’t stretch beyond the surface. Many of our owner-only features still displayed the old legacy look and feel.

We’ve been working on it! So today, in addition to giving your photo tools a makeover, we’ve gone one step further and combined a few of the best owner-only features into one easy-to-use screen.

What Does It Do?

Our new Photo Editor lets you edit photos (and videos) that you’ve already uploaded into your galleries:

Where To Find It

You’ll find your new photo editor under any single uploaded photo or video, right in your gallery. You’ll see “Open in Editor” as the first option under the wrench icon.

Or, edit multiple photos at once: Open up your site-wide Organizer and select the photos you want to tweak in the preview pane on the right. Then click the wrench icon. Any of the photo editing options you’ll see there will automatically take you to the new Photo Editor. Presto!

“What About Video Files?”

You’ll still be able to open the Photo Editor for your video files to edit your Titles, Captions, Keywords, as well as geographical info.

However, the other options you’ll usually see for photos aren’t available for videos.

About Your Originals…

Since keeping your original files archived is (and always has been) super important to us, we’ll display a confirmation window any time changes you’re making here will affect your originals, such as cropping and the application of color effects.

Tip: If you’re unsure, we always suggest that you make a copy of the image first, then work on that. You can always delete it if you change your mind.

“Is It Available On My Account?”

Yes! All accounts from Basic to Business get this feature, with the exception of the Watermarking tools, which are only available at the Portfolio and Business levels.

You can read all the nitty-gritty details about the Photo Editor in our updated help pages.

Enjoy quicker, easier editing for everything you shoot!

Link roundup:

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