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By Jim Heid | Friday, July 19, 2013

Working with reflections: The Practicing Photographer

Reflections are something you often don’t want in photography. If you’re shooting through a window, for example, you might attach a polarizing filter to your lens to reduce the glare and reflections of the world behind you (see Chapter 2 in Foundations of Photography: Specialized Lenses).

At other times, though, reflections can add a striking element to a photo. And that’s the subject of this week’s installment of The Practicing Photographer, wherein Ben Long reflects on the value of reflections.

By Jim Heid | Thursday, July 11, 2013

Give yourself a year-long assignment: The Practicing Photographer

Freedom can be overwhelming. When you’re free to photograph anything you want, whenever you want, it’s easy to end up not photographing much of anything at all.  Psychologists use terms like choice overload to describe the paralysis that can accompany a world of unlimited options.

In this week’s installment of The Practicing Photographer, Ben Long offers one solution to the overload: Give yourself a year-long assignment. Choose a time interval: daily, weekly, monthly. Choose a scope: your city, your street, your chair. And choose a subject: an object, a color, an emotion, an event.

pract photog week 9 screen shot

By Jim Heid | Friday, July 05, 2013

Shooting without a memory card: The Practicing Photographer

It’s the classic movie depiction of writer’s block: a frustrated writer sits at a typewriter, occasionally tearing a page out, crumpling it, and throwing it into an overflowing wastebasket. Every writer has been there—and now and then, every photographer experiences its equivalent. You go out with your camera and just can’t seem to shoot anything that feels fresh or original. Your inner photo editor reminds you that you shot a similar photo last year. Or saw a similar shot in a book. Or on a website. It’s enough to make you want to crumple a sheet of photo paper and throw it in a wastebasket.

In this week’s installment of The Practicing Photographer, Ben Long shares your pain and suggests a remedy: spend an afternoon shooting without a memory card in your camera. Go through the mechanics of photography—compose, adjust metering, zoom, or change lenses—but without using any digital film to record the results.

Practicing Photographer - Shooting without a memory card

Crazy? Maybe. But it’s an exercise worth trying. As Ben points out, it’s easy to overthink your photography—to obsess so much on the need to Make Great Art that you affect your ability to see photographically.

By Jim Heid | Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Practicing Photographer: Expand your filter options with step-up and step-down rings

Expanding your collection of lens filters is a relatively inexpensive way to expand your creative options. A polarizer reduces glare and adds pop to clouds and skies. A neutral density filter reduces light so you can use slower shutter speeds to add blur to waterfalls and waves. An infrared filter lets you explore the surreal world of invisible light. And a close-up attachment lets you get closer without having to buy an expensive macro lens.

In the ideal world, you’d be able to buy each type of attachment and use it with all of your lenses. But that world doesn’t exist, at least not in this universe. The problem is that lenses often have different-sized threads for screwing filters into place. Some lenses have larger diameters than others, and that means they also have larger filter-thread diameters.

For example, my walk-around zoom lens has 72mm filter threads. My macro lens has a thread size of 62mm. My 50mm prime uses 52mm filters. And my ultra-wide zoom lens uses 77mm filters. So if I want the flexibility to shoot with a neutral density filter on each of the lenses I use most, I need to buy four ND filters—at about $75 apiece.

But there’s an alternative, and it’s the subject of this week’s The Practicing Photographer. Ben Long shows how to choose and use step-up and step-down rings—simple adapters that screw on to a lens and let you attach a filter that wouldn’t otherwise fit.

Using step-up and step-down rings to expand your filter options

By Jim Heid | Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Practicing Photographer: Compositing Street Photography Images with Photoshop

Practicing your photography skills also means practicing your post-processing skills. Almost every photo can benefit from some refinement later, whether it’s to optimize exposure, crop for better composition, or to retouch and remove unwanted subject matter. Back in the day, post-processing happened in darkrooms and at light tables. These days, it more commonly happens in Photoshop or programs like Lightroom and Aperture. Regardless of the tool, post-processing is an important part of the photographic process.

In this week’s installment of The Practicing Photographer, Ben Long dives into Photoshop to examine the process of combining, or compositing, two similar photos to obtain the best parts of each one. His subject is a street scene in San Francisco. Ben shot a photo of a bicyclist entering an intersection, but just as he pressed the shutter, a pedestrian intruded into the edge of the shot.

Compositing two images together

By Jim Heid | Friday, June 14, 2013

The Practicing Photographer: Let a lens reshape you

The Practicing Photographer - Exploring Lenses

In this week’s installment of The Practicing Photographer, Ben Long explores the fact that the photographic tools you use ultimately change the way you see. This is an important point to recognize as you get new gear—and subsequently struggle to get the best results out of it. The name of this week’s installment, “Let a lens reshape you,” is inspired by philosopher Marshall McLuhan, who wrote, “We shape our tools and our tools shape us.” What does that mean? It means that the tools we create—whether for painting, making music, or taking pictures—change us by expanding our abilities to paint, make music, or take photographs.

By Jim Heid | Friday, June 07, 2013

The Practicing Photographer: iPad Field Workflow

When you think of using an iPad as a photo accessory on the road, chances are you think of using it in place of a laptop computer—for example, to store photos transferred from your camera’s memory card, and to edit photos using apps like Snapseed from Google.

Those are indeed popular tasks for iPad toting photographers. But the iPad isn’t actually an ideal tool for them, particularly if you shoot using your camera’s raw mode. Raw-format images deliver better quality and provide more editing flexibility than their JPEG counterparts, but they utterly inhale storage space—it’s easy to fill up an iPad with the results of an afternoon’s shooting. Then there’s performance. No iPad can crunch through raw-format images as well as a laptop can, and most iOS photo apps can’t work with raw-format images at all.

But there’s another way to put an iPad to work on the road: to assign metadata to photos, such as ratings, keywords, and even geotags that record where you took each shot. This is a great way to put an iPad to work in field: cull your best shots and do some essential housekeeping, but save the photo-enhancement tasks for a real computer.

This workflow is the subject of this week’s installment of The Practicing Photographer. Ben Long demonstrates a $4.99 app called PhotosInfoPro, which lets you perform those essential chores, and then export the results as a series of XMP metadata files that programs like Adobe Lightroom can read.

The Practicing Photographer: iPad Field Workflow

The process is straightforward. Use the Apple Camera Connection Kit to transfer photos to your iPad, but don’t delete the originals from the memory card. Next, use PhotosInfoPro to add ratings, keywords, locations, and other details while they’re still fresh in your head. Finally, email XMP files to yourself using PhotosInfoPro (or stash them on Dropbox or an FTP server). Then delete the photos from your iPad to free up space. You can work through a large photo shoot in less time than it takes to watch a rerun of L.A. Law on your motel room’s TV set—and it’s one less thing you’ll have to do when you get home.

There’s a secondary message to this week’s installment: Take the time to assign metadata to your photos, whether you do this in the field on your iPad or back at your desk with your favorite imaging software. It’s an unglamorous but important task that will make your photos easier to organize and find. You’ll find details on assigning keywords and other metadata in many lynda.com courses on Lightroom, Aperture, Bridge, and iPhoto. For an overview of the process, check out Derrick Story’s Organizing and Archiving Digital Photos.

Interested in more?

• Start a 7-day free trial at lynda.com • The Practicing Photographerseries at lynda.com • Ben Long’s courses at lynda.com • All Photography courses at lynda.com

Adobe and Lightroom are registered trademarks of Adobe Systems Incorporated in the United States and/or countries. Aperture, Apple, iPad, and iPhoto are registered trademarks of Apple Inc. in the U.S. and other countries. Dropbox is a trademark of Dropbox, Inc. Google and Snapseed are registered trademarks of Google Inc.

By Jim Heid | Friday, May 31, 2013

The Practicing Photographer: Using a reflector to add fill light

A great way to improve your photography is to begin bending light to your will. That means going beyond ambient light and employing tools and techniques that enhance the light in a scene.

At an advanced level, it might involve using multiple strobe lights along with gizmos like gobos and snoots—the sort of thing David Hobby does in his Lighting with Flash series.

But at a basic level, bending light can be as simple as reflecting it. Working with a reflector is the subject of this week’s installment of The Practicing Photographer. A small reflector like the one Ben Long shows this week costs less than $10 and fits in any camera bag.

Ben Long demonstrates a reflector

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