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Abstract Vision

What is your definition of abstract photography? Is it simply photographing something that we don’t recognize? Or perhaps does it need to be blurry for it to be considered abstract? Whatever your definition may be, it’s something that I have become interested in from about two years ago. I later found out though, that making an impactful abstract photograph is harder than it seems. Why? I’ll explain below.

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Webster’s Falls

Waterfalls are always fun to photograph especially when the weather cooperates. One fine day I came upon Webster’s Falls out in the Dundas area. The sky was blue with few clouds around. It was an ideal time for some great waterfall photography—except for all the people milling about!

Nikon D800, f/10, ISO 100, 24mm

Nikon D800, f/10, ISO 100, 24mm

Regardless, I came here with my tripod and gear in hand so I had to make due with what I was confronted with. There were so many people there was no way I could get any shot of the waterfalls by itself. Just to the right of this frame, a few dozen people just sat by the rocks admiring the view, wondering if they should risk everything by taking walk behind the waterfall.

Equipped with my 24-70mm f/2.8 and a 6-stop ND filter, and a polarizer, I climbed up the side of the hill so I had a nice vantage point of the entire falls. I stood my tripod precariously on some rocks and started taking some photos.

The only problem was if I extended the shutter for too long, the people would go blurry so I compromised and under-exposed the shot so that I could get the silky smooth waterfalls but have the people still looking sharp. This 0.6 second exposure was fast enough for these people to stay still for that period of time. And since the water was falling at a rapid speed, 0.6 sec. was slow enough to get that silky smooth water movement. I knew this photo could be lightened up in post-processing, so that’s what I relied on, in order to get this shot that I was after.

Now, I hear this place looks pretty nice in the autumn season as well. Perhaps I will have to come back in the near future.

Fireworks photography 101

Fireworks Photography 101

You may think that taking pictures of fireworks is as easy as pressing the shutter button—and sometimes it really is that easy—but if you’re really keen on taking some great shots, there are a couple things to note in terms of settings and equipment.

Nikon D800, 1.2 sec., f/9.0, ISO 200, 14mm

Nikon D800, 1.2 sec., f/9.0, ISO 200, 14mm

Go early to claim your spot

There’s nothing worse in going to see and photograph fireworks only to have your view blocked by a few heads in front of you. You have to go early, scout the area for the best vantage point, and stay in that spot until the fireworks start. There’s really no other way around this unless you have some sort of special access that the general public does not have.

Setting up your equipment

Once you claim your location, be sure to set up your gear well in advance of the start of the event. This will ensure that you’re not fidgeting with your camera settings when the fireworks are going off in front of you.

Ideally, you should have a tripod, cable release, and if you’re trying for an extended exposure, a black card to block light from your lens while the shutter is open—I’ll explain more about this below.

The cable release comes in handy because it prevents you from shaking your camera by having to press down on the shutter button.

Start shooting

There are a couple ways of shooting fireworks. But whichever way you choose to go, be sure to keep taking those photos because fireworks go fast, and they don’t wait for you to ready your camera!

A simple long exposure of about 1-2 seconds will give you a decent display of fireworks that will work for the most part. The photo above was an exposure of 1.2 seconds on my tripod using a cable release.

Given the long exposure nature of fireworks at night, you may instinctively think to set your ISO to a high amount because of the amount of ambient light available. The higher your ISO, however, the more noise you bring into the photo.

My settings above brought in just amount of light without yielding too much noise. My ISO of 200 yielded in a fairly dark image at first, but I was able to open up the shadow areas within Lightroom without producing too much noise. I much prefer to do it this way than increase my ISO from the beginning as it almost always tends to produce cleaner images.

I mentioned a black card earlier in this post. This technique can come in handy if you want to stack multiple fireworks over each other by leaving your shutter open in Bulb mode, and covering the lens with this black card when you don’t want any exposure. You only take the black card away from the lens when you want to capture the fireworks. The photo below is a 4.6 second exposure where I used the black card method. This is why you see the coloured explosion on the top, and the white fireworks from the bottom.

Nikon D800, 4.6 sec., f/9.0, ISO 200, 14mm

Nikon D800, 4.6 sec., f/9.0, ISO 200, 14mm

You really have to be careful with this though, since you can easily over-expose certain areas of your photo, like you see in the photo below. You will have to figure out in advance how many seconds will give you a properly exposed photo.

Nikon D800, 12 sec., f/13, ISO 100, 14mm

Nikon D800, 12 sec., f/13, ISO 100, 14mm

A little post-processing helps

When you’re done shooting your photos, no doubt a little post-processing will help give your photos that extra oomph. This particular photo was editing completely within Lightroom CC 2015. I opened up the shadow areas while reducing the highlights. I boosted the saturation slightly, and added some overall clarity. And finally, the new dehaze feature of Lightroom really worked well in this case to remove some of the haze produced from the smoke of the fireworks.

The level of post-processing is always different for each photographer, so you do as little or as much as you want to make the final image what you envisioned.

Nikon D800, 0.6 sec., f/5.6, ISO 1250, 14mm

Nikon D800, 0.6 sec., f/5.6, ISO 1250, 14mm

One final note

Remember to enjoy the fireworks while you are there! They happen very quickly so try not to be totally consumed with getting that perfect shot. You can easily be distracted by fiddling with your cameras while the beautiful colours explode above you, preventing you from actually enjoying the evening. But with a little bit of preparation, you should be able to fully enjoy the event and take decent shots that you are happy with.

Long Exposures are much easier with your iPhone

Long exposure photography has long been an interest of mine since I’ve been taking photographs. In particular I love taking long exposures at night to enhance the overall scene. However with the ever-so-advanced iPhone cameras coming out year after year, creating long exposures on my Nikon has become more and more tedious and sometimes more a task.

Nikon D800, 2.0 sec., f/18, ISO 100, 24mm, B+W 6-Stop ND filter and Polarizer

Nikon D800, 2.0 sec., f/18, ISO 100, 24mm, B+W 6-Stop ND filter and Polarizer

With my Nikon, I no doubt need a sturdy tripod that can withstand the weight of my camera and lens. Depending on the scene in front of me, I will need a Neutral Density filter to filter out enough light so that I can get a reasonably long exposure during the day. Otherwise, I will have to wait until the light goes down to be able to take any sort of decent long exposure. Once the shooting scenario is found, I then need to ensure that I don’t move the camera throughout the duration of the exposure. This includes any external camera shake or vibrations from the slap of the shutter, which often yields in the use of a shutter release cable, and the “Mirror Up” mode.

With my iPhone however, I only need a simple lightweight tripod that can fit in my shirt pocket, and a single app. That’s it! No filters, cables, or large and heavy tripods. Often times, the long exposures coming out of my iPhone are very impressive even though I will admit these are not true long exposures per se (iPhone long exposures are created by overlaying a number of photos on top of each other, rather than truly leaving the shutter open for a long period of time).

The quality of the resulting photo, however, is still a big factor in why I like to use my Nikon for photographs. An iPhone, no matter how advanced the app or camera is, still cannot compete with the quality of a dSLR camera. And that’s why when I travel, I still carry around my heavy and bulky Gitzo full sized tripod, cable release, filters, and multiple lenses so that I am prepared for any long exposure photos.

When will I eventually succumb to fully relying on my iPhone for photography? Only time will tell, but for now, I still do admire my Nikon and its ability to take fantastic photographs.

Done your photoshoot? Think again!

Nikon D800, 10 sec., f/18, ISO 100, 70mm

Nikon D800, 10 sec., f/18, ISO 100, 70mm

As the fog rolled in, I caught myself taking a long exposure of this view. With the fog overtaking the landscape, the overall image became so faded making it somewhat of a surreal moment. The glow from the sunrise just moments before still lingered on, giving the overall atmosphere a magical feel.

You’re not done yet

That’s the beauty of fog. It literally transforms your view as it quietly makes its way into the scene, sometimes unexpectedly. When you think you’re done your photoshoot, look around you one last time and take a closer look at what’s happening to your surroundings. You may find there’s more to catch than what meets the eye at first glance.

Taking in the view from a different vantage point will also introduce new life to the scene. A different composition can give you an unexpected surprise as well.

This has happened to me a number of times: I pack my camera in my bags and start heading back to my car, only to realize after looking back that an amazing photo opportunity is sitting right at that moment.

Always be on the lookout so you don’t regret any moments.

Product Review: Pedco Ultraclamp

As a longtime photographer and iPhoneographer, I’ve been accustomed to carrying both my Nikon and my iPhone with me on my photography trips. In addition, my tripod would also come along for the trip since you never know when you’ll need to make those low-light shots or long exposures. Over the years, the tripod I have for my iPhone has become an indispensable tool for my iPhoneography, as I often like to experiment with long exposure photography.

While this tripod does wonders, there are times when there are really no places to put my iPhone anywhere around me. In this case in the past, I’ve often opted to precariously balance my iPhone and tripod on top of my Nikon lens and/or body so that I could get that long exposure I was after. Not the least bit awkward looking, I have indeed turned heads with this clumsy setup.

Recently I came upon a solution that would change all of this. And this solution, is this Ultraclamp by Pedco. It’s essentially a clamp that grips to the leg of your tripod, and that will allow for an iPhone adapter to be connected on the other side. It holds the iPhone in place and lets you work your magic with it.

Pedco UltraClamp

Pedco UltraClamp

There are a number of things I like about this clamp:
-Light-weight (weighs just 6oz)
-Made with a durable aluminum clamp body and screw, and glass-reinforced nylon thermoplastic resin clamp head and knobs
-Can manipulate in any angle

There are really two parts to the clamp: the baseClamp, and the UltraMount.
The two attach to each other via a 1/4-20 threading.

The Pedco UltraClamp with its many degrees of orientation

The Pedco UltraClamp with its many degrees of orientation

The assembled clamp may be lightweight, but don’t let that fool you. It holds on tight and won’t budge even a little bit when clamped properly. It can clamp on to any round or flat objects with a maximum thickness of 1.5″ (3.8cm). The inset mould on the clamp conforms nicely with cylindrical objects like your tripod leg.

Note that the UltraMount comes with a 1/4-20 standard fitting on one end, so make sure your iPhone adaptor of choice includes this. Most—if not all–should have this. If you don’t have an adaptor yet, you can read about my review on the Joby tightgrip iPhone adaptor here, and see how it might be good for you.

Here’s how it works:
-Assemble the baseClamp and the UltraMount together, if not already assembled. Don’t tighten too hard at this point.
-Attach your iPhone adaptor to the 1/4-20 fitting of the UltraMount
-Clamp to an object, like your tripod leg
-Adjust and tighten the screw on the baseClamp so that it is rotated in the direction you wish it to be in. Be careful not to completely untwist this as it will separate the mount from the base.*
-Unwind the knob on the UltraClamp so that the iPhone adaptor is in your desired position. Tighten the knob.
-Attach your iPhone to the adaptor and you should be all set to shoot

*The people at Pedco seems to have made a new version of the ultraClamp where loosening this screw to rotate the mount no longer separates it from the base clamp. It costs a few dollars more, but may be worth the peace of mind that the two functions are no longer done by the same screw.

Pedco UltraClamp

Pedco UltraClamp attached to my tripod leg.

Pedco UltraClamp clamped to tripod leg

Pedco UltraClamp clamped to tripod leg

The back side of the Pedco UltraClamp

The back side of the Pedco UltraClamp

 

While it is flexible, there is one thing that I would love to see improved on this. The degree of movement is independent from its rotation. In other words, while you can untwist one knob to move the phone in one axis, you’ll have to unwind a second screw to rotate the phone in another direction. It’s not a big deal, however, it is an additional step that would have been more convenient had it not been made that way. If you invest in a mini tripod-head that allows for full 360 degree movement, this will also solve the problem.

UltraClamp with iPhone 6 Plus in portrait orientation

UltraClamp with iPhone 6 Plus in portrait orientation

The front knob of the Pedco UltraClamp

The front knob of the Pedco UltraClamp

All in all, I’m very happy with the Pedco ultraClamp. It serves my needs well, and allows me to shoot long exposures with my iPhone while no longer risking it falling off of my lens or body of my Nikon.

UltraClamp setup with my tripod and camera

UltraClamp setup with my tripod and camera

This by no means replaces my mini-tripod that I use with my iPhone though. For general purposes, that will do just fine.

The Pedco clamp assembly is available on Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, B&H or you can buy it at MEC in Toronto, or online at mec.ca.

Website: http://www.industrialrev.com/ultraclamps/

iPhone long exposure trickery

Here’s a little trick to deceive your eyes when doing a long exposure on your iPhone. This was brought to my attention by another fellow iPhone photographer, and I thought it was a great tip to have under your belt.

Tracks and ground are blurred but the bridge and buildings look sharp

Tracks and ground are blurred but the bridge and buildings look sharp

When you are on a moving object and you take a long exposure looking out, be conscious of what you’re taking a photo of. If your long exposure is short enough, the foreground objects will blur as intended, but your background objects that are so are away will look like they are still.

The photo above, for example illustrates this tip. I was standing inside a subway car, looking out the window. I shot this at probably 1/2 sec. or maybe even less. The tracks and ground are all blurry, but the bridge and buildings in the background aren’t blurred as much because they are so far back from the camera.

The photo below is another take on this tip. I was standing very far away from the boats in the water so while you see the water all blurry, the boats stayed sharp. It worked out great in this situation too.

Water is blurred but the boats stay sharp

Water is blurred but the boats stay sharp

Be on the lookout for what you’re shooting the next time you do any long exposures, and you may be able to trick your friends in wondering how you were able to achieve this without Photoshop!

App Review: Slow Shutter Cam

SlowShutter

Slow Shutter

Slow Shutter Cam app for iOS is the long exposure app that you’ve been waiting for. It does it all, and produces sharp results in an easy-to-use interface.

 

[ Website | iTunes ]

True long exposure photography on a dSLR opens and leaves the shutter for as long as you indicate. On an iPhone, however, it wasn’t until recent updates that the shutter speed could be manipulated at all. This left developers to create apps that mimic the effects of long exposure photographs by combining multiple photos together. Slow Shutter Cam is one such app.

There are many camera apps that provide the slow shutter capability. It was only by chance that I happened to download this particular one a few years back when I first started experimenting with long exposure photography on my iPhone. Even after trying a few other apps, I still kept to this one, which means, it must be doing some things right.

Slow Shutter Cam app allows for long exposure photography on your iPhone in an easy-to-use and fun package.

Functionality

The app is made to do long exposure photography, and does this well, in addition to adding a few other features that come in handy as well. There are three different capture modes in this app: Motion Blur, Light Trail, and Low Light.

Slow Shutter screen capture

Slow Shutter menu

While I don’t use the Low Light option in this app too much, I do use the other two quite frequently. The Motion Blur capture mode allows you to edit the blur strength from 1 to 7 (Min-Max), in addition to allowing you to change the capture duration from minimum (1/8 sec.) to unlimited. This mode is great for creating blurred motion behind (or in front of) the subject, much like you see when doing a long exposure on a dSLR.

The Light Trail has a Light Sensitivity option from 1/128 to Full (1), and the same Capture Duration setting as the Motion Blur. This option is ideal for creating light streaks behind a subject, much like you see with the headlights of a car as it goes by the camera.

Low Light allows for a boost in exposure and Capture Duration changes as well. This option is used for taking photos in low-light situations. I don’t really use this option as I tend not to take photos in low-light situations. You can read here why I don’t really shoot in low-light with my iPhone.

With all of the options, you can create a number of special effects by simply changing the capture duration, blur strength, and light sensitivity. The great thing about this app is that it allows you to see the first frame and last frame while allowing you to scroll through in-between the two. I use this option a lot to select which photo I want to use for my final edit.

The settings screen gives you some very useful options as well. The self-timer option with a value of 1, 3, 5, and 10 seconds is very useful in reducing any camera shake from when you press the shutter button on the screen. You can also edit the Picture Quality to give you the best quality for motion blurs, or for reducing noise in low-light captures.

Slow Shutter Screen Capture

Slow Shutter Screen Capture

Prior to this app’s update release in early January 2015, the resulting image quality from this app had never been the sharpest. Whether this is just a limitation of the app, or if it’s caused by the layering of several images, it’s quite evident when comparing an image shot from the native camera app to one that’s been taken with this app.

Now, however, the results are as sharp as if you took the photo with the native camera, and I couldn’t be happier with this app!

User Interface

The camera interface is pretty straightforward with a large shutter button, and zoom slider that allows for digital zoom. The standard options of flash, and auto focus and exposure are listed on top, in addition to being able to lock the latter two options.

There’s nothing too confusing about this interface, which is likely why I kept with it. After you take the long exposure, the app allows you to change additional settings like Saturation, Hue, Brightness, and select which frame you would like to keep.

The navigation is smooth, responsive, and works well for as long as I’ve been using this.

Final Thoughts

This has always been—and will continue to be—my go-to app for long exposures on an iPhone. It’s clean interface and efficient workflow makes it just the right app for my workflow. And now with even better quality images coming out from the app, it really is the only app that you may ever need for long exposures on an iPhone.

Here’s just a sample of some long exposures that I’ve done with my iPhone and the Slow Shutter Cam app.

Long exposure on water

Long exposure on water

Long exposure on waterfalls

Long exposure on waterfalls

Long exposure does weird things to fish!

Long exposure does weird things to fish!

Long exposure on water

Long exposure on water

Long exposure on water

Long exposure on water

Long exposure allows us to see through the water

Long exposure allows us to see through the water

Chasing waterfalls

Nikon D800, 70mm, f/10, 2.5 sec., ISO 400, B+W 6-Stop ND filter

Nikon D800, 70mm, f/10, 2.5 sec., ISO 400, B+W 6-Stop ND filter

No matter what the season, waterfalls always seem to be a great photo opportunity. In the winter, the ice around them gives a whole new emotion to the summertime rush of the flowing water. The rushing water here created such a large haze over it, making it almost surreal.

While I don’t live nearby any waterfalls per se, I am fortunate enough to be able to see some gorgeous falls within a 30min. to 1 hour drive to Hamilton and surrounding areas.

This one, however, wasn’t taken in Hamilton, but at a State park in New York State. The park was absolutely gorgeous, especially in the autumn season when I went there. I can’t wait to go back another time to experience the scenic vistas and natural waterfalls that Letchworth State Park provides us.