Enhance Your Photography: Look Into the Smaller “Landscapes”


My personal work includes a lot of landscape shooting, and I usually try to take in a large swath of territory. I often like the grand vistas, the sweeping plains and looming mountains. In urban landscapes I might include wide-angle shots of buildings crowded together, along with bustling streets and milling people. But sometimes it’s the things at my feet that intrigue me too. Here’s a few images from a trip to Bodie, California, a 100+ year-old ghost town built around a gold and silver mine.

These were originally shot in digital color and converted to black and white.

These images are all from the machinery used to extract the gold and silver from the rock ore.

_MG_5783 stamps copy


_MG_5773 nuts copy

_MG_5779 detail copy v copy

Photography Quote of the Day – 4/5/12


Butterflies are self-propelled flowers – Robert Heinlein


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Photography / Quote of the Day – Feb 24

"Patience" © D. Saffir

“Follow the spiders? Follow the spiders?! Why couldn’t it be “follow the butterflies”? – from Harry Potter

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Photography Quote of the Day – February 3

Poppy Fields © David Saffir


 There are always flowers for those who want to see them. ~ Henri Matisse

I will be the gladdest thing under the sun! I will touch a hundred flowers and not pick one. – Edna St. Vincent Millay

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Photography Quote of the Day – April 8


Eyes for You

“The body says what words cannot.”
Martha Graham

“The ideas and subject matter are important but it is the light that gives them their life and meaning.”
Sonya Sanchez Arias

Join us in our upcoming workshop on Black and White imaging and printing, April 10!

Creating Deep Black Backgrounds for Your Images

Written by guest author, Ron Brewer

A dark background can draw the viewer’s attention into an image, and create a dramatic effect that is unique and compelling. Subtleties of lighting in the foreground or mid-ground, for example, become more noticeable and have great impact on the “feeling” of the image.

The easiest, quickest way to create a black background for your image is to make it happen in-camera and not in post-production work (such as in Photoshop).

A Dark Background Adds Dramatic Impact © R Brewer


Shoot in a dimly lit room. Use a light source that falls only on the subject. The speedlight (flash) you use in your camera’s hotshoe will work fine for this, but you will want to take it off-camera to create this effect. A remote trigger is best.

And if you don’t have a speedlight, don’t fear. You can even use a flashlight (more on this is a later post).

The first method you could use involves use of a black piece of material in the background of the shot. Place the background at least 4-6 feet behind the subject. Keep the light that is on your subject from illuminating the background, so it stays dark in the image.

I prefer a different method. It is called “working above the ambient” by David Hobby of Strobist fame (www.strobist.com). This method is rather easy to create indoors. It can be done outdoors, but in this case, we are going to focus on an indoor shot.

We want to eliminate the influence of ambient light in the picture. The only light you will be working with will be from the flash. Your camera’s exposure will be set so as not to pick up any ambient light, and then you will bring the power of the flash to the right setting to get a proper exposure on the subject. Sounds challenging? Experiment and it will quickly become second nature.

Image Creation

  1. Use a room or space that has low light
  2. Set your ISO to 100 or 200; at least the lowest “native” setting offered in your camera
  3. Set camera to manual exposure
  4. Set shutter speed to highest available flash sync, usually 1/125, 1/200, or 1/250
  5. Take a test shot without flash. Set aperture small; anywhere from f/11 to f/22. You want the result to be a completely black frame.
  6. Evaluate the histogram. Increase aperture size (from f/22 to f/18 for example) by steps until you start to see ambient light in the frame, and back off to the previous setting.

    © R Brewer

    Next, you’ll start working on lighting the subject. We’ll discuss using flash first:

    1. With your flash off-camera, set it to a power that is sufficient to properly expose your subject. You might start with the flash about two feet from the subject and to its side (for example, let’s say the subject is something small, like a single flower bloom). Try setting the power to 1/128 or whatever the lowest power setting is on your flash. Take the shot and check the LCD and histogram. If the shot is over exposed, then lower the power of the flash or move it farther away from the subject
    2. If under exposed, then up the power of the flash or move the flash either closer away until the proper exposure is achieved.
    3. Do not adjust the camera exposure settings or you will start recording the ambient light again. Camera exposure settings are set to remove the ambient light from the picture, not to set the exposure of the subject.
    4. Put another way: set the exposure for the subject by adjusting the power setting on the flash or by changing the distance between the flash and subject. In essence, you are going to adjust the amount of light on the subject until it properly exposes the subject at the exposure settings you have already set into your camera.

      Setting Up For A Dark Background

      (red circle is the subject)


      1. If you find that you are still getting some light on the background, then use something to block the light from hitting the background. Such items are called a “gobo” which will “cut” the light. You can even use a small piece of cardboard. Set the cardboard up close to the flash head, placing it between the flash head and the background. The light will hit the cardboard and be blocked from hitting the background.
      2. Using a black background in your shots will provide a unique look to your photographs. Using a black background makes the foreground colors of the subject really pop. And it guides the viewer’s eye to go straight to the main subject and not drift out of the borders.
      3. With practice, you’ll find that this is a very simple process which you can execute very quickly in most indoor situations. Not only is it a lot of fun, you can end up with some great pictures.

        Written by Ron Brewer, January 2010 www.ronbrewerimages.com

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        Quick Selective Sharpening Technique In Photoshop

        Sharpening images can be a challenging task. One of the issues involved is the choice between sharpening the entire image, or sharpening only the areas that will really add to image quality.

        This is a cropped portion of a portrait taken a few weeks ago. It is shown at roughly 100%, or actual pixels. Some very basic adjustments have been made, such as color and contrast. These layers were consolidated into Group 1.

        In the next step, I duplicated Group 1. This command is found under Layer > Group Layers. Next, we will duplicate the Group, by selecting the duplicate Group (blue highlight) and
        using the command Layer > Merge Group. This merges the underlying layers in the group into one new layer. See the illustration below this one, and note that the group has changed to a normal layer.



        I’ll sharpen the layer using a technique which may be new to some. Go Filter>Other>High Pass. Set the intensity to 2.o, and click OK.



        Change the blending mode of this layer to Hard Light (see Layer panel).




        Now for the best part: First, we are going to create a layer mask which hides this sharpening effect. Select the Layer (blue highlight) and Go Layer>Layer Mask>Hide All.


        Next, left click on the layer mask (black box next to the layer thumbnail. You’ll see a highlight, or “picture frame” appear around the layer mask. Select the Brush tool, and set opacity to 100%.

        Now, set the brush color to white. The easiest way to do this is to press the “d” key, which will select the default brush colors. You’ll see a black and a white square appear at the bottom of the tool bar. Left click once on the white square to select that color.


        Use this brush, set to soft edges and sized appropriately, to paint on the black layer, using the white colored brush. (I have used a red circle to show this brush clearly). This will “reveal” the sharpening you have created on the layer. You should brush over the eyes, eyebrows, mouth, edges of the nose, ears, and if desired, the hair/hairline. Do not brush over the wider skin areas, as these will usually appear to be too sharp, making the portrait unattractive.

        You can set the brush opacity to 100% for full effect, or a lesser intensity for less sharpening. You can also change the sharpening layer opacity to a lower amount if you find the sharpening effect is too aggressive. Make a test print, and enjoy! (btw, with a bit of practice this takes < 1 minute).




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