Photography by J.D. Magers

Sports Authority Sunset

Added on by J.D. Magers.

Yesterday right before the start of the Denver Broncos playoff game with the Pittsburgh Steelers, I posted this image that I shot back in November of the stadium all lit up during sunset.  This was an awesome shoot, and yesterday was an awesome game.  We'll just leave it at that for today.

Sports Authority Field, Home of the Denver Broncos.

Sports Authority Field, Home of the Denver Broncos.

To Convert or Not to Convert?

Added on by J.D. Magers.

One thing I have noticed in analyzing the website is that I tend to get a lot of traffic to my Black and White gallery.  Over the years I have had a lot of friends ask me about my black and white images.  I've even sold a few black and white prints.  There is just something appealing about black and white to a lot of people.  I like shooting for black and white, and it is something I consciously think about when I go out.

When I first saw the hoar frost on the frozen lake a couple of weekends ago, I had in my mind's eye that I wanted to shoot for black and white.  I was careful in how I composed my frame, making sure on my histogram that I had a good tonal range, since that's important for conversion.  When I got home, a couple of test conversions looked promising.  Later on though, when I did it for real, I wasn't too impressed.  All of my presets and filters seemed to make the image too cluttered, or too dark, and I wasn't happy with how they looked.  They weren't representing how I was feeling when I was taking the images, and the emotional response I was feeling inside was not a pleasant one.

As you can see below, I processed this particular shot in color.  I love how sharp these starbursts are, and how nice the contrast is between the lighter tones and the darker ones.  The photograph has excellent detail in both the highlights and the shadow areas.  I love how these little bursts of frost are sitting on top of each other, which is keeping my eye moving on the frame without getting lost.  This gives the appearance of height, which is important on a 2D photograph. Also, there are essentially two colors here.  One is obviously white.  The other is the deep dark blue of the frozen lake surface.  The dark blue is so dark that it appears almost black, so this is sort of like a black and white with a blue tint.  I like it.  This image resonates with me.

Starburst

As I was writing this post though, I took one more stab at processing as a Black and White. Staying within Lightroom, I clicked on the B & W header.  Just one simple click and this is the result.  Thinking it looks pretty good, I finished the photo with a quick Vignette preset.  This image kind of has a different mood than I was seeing before.  The vignette that I put on blocks out most of the out of focus areas, keeping me locked on the sharp subject.  This image is now speaking to me differently than those previous black and white conversions.

Black and White Starburst

Before doing this, I didn't like any of the previous black and white conversions, and I had my mind set on the color one above.  Now though, I'm torn.  I kind of like them both.  So...which one do you like?  Make sure to let me know what you think.  Black and White...or Color?

January's Goals (Before the Month is Over)

Added on by J.D. Magers.

You heard it here first, I am bound and determined to accomplish all three of these goals in the month of January.  I think the goals I've identified are approaching the point of being realistic, which is awfully important for being successful.  So, without further ado, here they are:

Goal #1:  Work

Get through Day 8 of 31 Days to Build a Better Blog.  I am currently on Day 3, and I want to do at least another weeks worth before the end of the month.  This will be the stretch goal for the month as I anticipate being very busy at the day job.

 

Goal #2: More Work

I will process a minimum of three more photos with the challenge/constraint of using completely new filters (except vignette.  Every photo needs a vignette).

 

Goal #3:  Still More Work

I will complete the reader vision statement that was supposed to be done in December.  I will need to get 3-4 posts ahead for posting to the blog so I can have adequate time to sit down and put my previously completed outline into paragraph form.

I'll of course be writing on my current schedule, which is three times per week.  Check back at the end of the month to see how I did.  See you on Wednesday...

Let's Self-Critique the Ice Images

Added on by J.D. Magers.

On Monday I posted one my favorite images from the previous weekend, when I went over to the South Platte River and ended up shooting the hoar frost on the ice of a man-made lake at the Adams County Regional Park. I shot at the lake for 30 minutes or so, capturing around 80-90 different frames.  While I posted one of my best and most interesting compositions, I wanted to also share with you some of the frames that looked good in camera but didn't appeal so much when I got them home.  This is a public self critique of these images.  Self critique is an exercise we should all go through with each of our photoshoots.  That we we can learn from our mistakes, because as much as we want them to be, they're not all keepers.  All of these images are jpegs of the raw file.  I haven't touched them in any way.  

Puffballs

This first one is kind of bland.  While it shows the detail of what the hoar frost looked like, and how it was clumped into these little puffballs on the ice surface, I don't like how my eye is drawn to the empty space in the lower left hand corner.  I think the image does have good depth of field.  Trying to imagine what it would look like without the lower left, I think the image would just turn into a white photo of nothing special.  

Negative space

Moving on to the second image, there is no clear subject.  This is because there is not enough separation between the in focus clump and the out of focus clump in the background.  My eye doesn't know what to look at.  I want to say that the frost right there in the middle that looks like a tree leaf was intended to be my main subject when I composed this image, but it isn't strong enough.  The shadow area in the upper right doesn't do anything to maintain my interest either. I took other images that isolated one clump against the dark ice, and those work much better.  I will say that I am intrigued by isolating the in focus clump by itself in a square crop. That could have potential, as that might make the height of the puffball a little more evident.

Hole in the Ice

This depression in the ice I am still trying to figure out actually.  I took a lot of Chemistry classes in school, and never once did we learn about water freezing in a man made lake with a six inch diameter depression magically appearing in the ice.  I'm not sure how this is even physically possible, as this was three feet from the shore and there were no rocks around it for a wind blown wave to cascade over and freeze.  It's almost like somebody put a bowl in the water, and then came back after the lake froze and removed the bowl.

But I digress.  I made this image mainly because of the oddity of it.  The subject is clearly the hole.  The little bits of frost clinging to the side of it give a little bit of visual interest. There is some potential here, but I'm wishing I would not have let the hole dominate the frame.  I feel that it needs a little something more.  I should have shot it with my wide angle lens on the full frame camera.

Crooked Horizon

This is what happens when it's 25 degrees out a few days after a big snow storm, and the ice patterns you're trying to photograph are right at the shore line.  Of course you don't want to kneel down in the snow to get as close as possible with your wide angle lens because your tripod needs an upgrade and doesn't go below 18 inches. So you hold the camera down as close to the front element of the intended composition as possible, and hope for the best.  What this leads to is a shotgun approach and crooked horizons and a lot of not good photographs.  This is another one that might look decent with a square crop cut off right at the depth of field boundary, but I have much better images that isolated the patterns.

Overall, I got four or five images out of this expedition that I like and will try and process.  That's about average.  When I self critique my images, I try and be pretty hard on myself.  I have never shown my not-my-favorite images publicly before, but I really enjoyed this exercise.  Describing in words what I don't like about these shots made me be even more critical.  

That being said, what did I miss?  Am I being too hard on these images?  Do you agree with what I said?  Please let me know in the comments sections how you would critique one or all four of these images.  I really appreciate you reading today.  Have a great weekend.  See you on Monday, and Happy Shooting!

December 2015 Goals and Metrics Revisited

Added on by J.D. Magers.

This will be just a quick roundup of last month's goals and metrics.  The original post was here. Once again, I think I overreached a little bit and set some unrealistic goals.  Since this is a self-critique (which is very important in photography by the way), we need to go through this exercise, so here it is.

Goal #1: Post three times per week during the month.  You should see new posts every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  In order to be successful in this goal, on Saturday or Sunday of every week, I am going to plan what my posts are going to be about.  That way I no longer will be sitting at my computer the night before (and after a long day of work), thinking about what I want to write about. 

Assessment: This one I actually came pretty close on.  I missed only three days, which is a vast improvement over November.  I did a much better job of not only thinking of posts on Saturday and Sunday, but actually writing them.  This helps a lot.  I just need to make sure when I go to write on the weekend, I know what I am going to write about.  That is half the battle.

Goal #2: I think 300 page views for the entire month of December is doable.  That would be 10 per day.  In order to be successful with this goal, I will need to continue to interact with other blogs and websites to build some community.  If you come here from Google + or Facebook, or anywhere really, please drop me a line and tell me where you saw this blog.

Assessment:  This is the unrealistic goal.  I only had 137 page sessions (which I just noticed is not the same as page views) during the month, and about 40 of those came in just the last three days of the month.  In all, I had 220 page views.  This just reinforces the idea that blogging is hard, and I have a lot of work to do to build a community.  I did get someone checking out my site from a comment I left on David DuChemin's blog, so that was cool.  

Goal #3: I will write the Vision and Purpose document for this website.  This will be my effort to define my ideal reader (and eventually customer), and put some thought into the kinds of content I want to create.  I am going to get some feedback from a couple of friends first, but I do want to be transparent, so I will post it here, probably near the end of the month.

Assessment:  I made some pretty good progress on this goal at the beginning of the month, and then my day job took over and I honestly forgot about it.  This still needs to be written, along with other exercises from the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog exercise.  It is something else to work on here in January.  

These last two months have taught me a lot about building this blog and business.  But every time I sit down at this keyboard I get a smile on my face and I can honestly say I am having fun. At this stage of the game, I think that is most important.  I'll come up with some goals for January, and get them posted soon.  In the meantime, if there is something you want to see me write about, please feel free to contact me.  See you on Friday...

On1 Processing For a Very Cold Image

Added on by J.D. Magers.

On Friday morning, I drove over the South Platte River to run an errand.  It had been especially cold the night before, and the moisture from the river coated all the trees next to it with an awesome layer of hoar frost.  It was extremely pretty.  Of course, I didn't have my camera (when will I learn this lesson?!?), so I wasn't able to photograph it.  Friday was cold though, so I figured the frost would still be there on Saturday morning.  I got up, and with camera in hand, I drove back over to the river.  Nothing.  Apparently hoar frost doesn't stay around too long.  Oh well, I was out of the house, and that was good enough for me to try and make some images.  So I walked down to the edge of the main lake and saw a whole bunch of these little jagged icicles sitting on top of the frozen lake.  I spent about 15-20 minutes shooting these little intimate compositions.  This one here is one of my favorites:

Unprocessed image of frozen lake water at Adams County Regional Park, near the South Platte River.  Adams County, Colorado.

Unprocessed image of frozen lake water at Adams County Regional Park, near the South Platte River.  Adams County, Colorado.

Now let's look at how I processed it.  This image was taken around 09:00 in the morning, so the sun had already risen quite a bit. It was also over my right shoulder and slightly behind me.  In photographing scenes like this, it is important to get down low to avoid shooting down on the subject.  I try and shoot across the subject to show depth of field.  

The raw image is pretty flat, and there is not a lot of color in here.  My first thought was to try and convert this to black and white.  There is definitely potential here as a monochrome, but I decided to start out by conveying the feeling of exactly how cold it was when I was out shooting. It was around 25 degrees.  In Lightroom, I lowered the temperature slider down until I got a nice blue tone, and then adjusted the HSL blue sliders until I liked what I saw.  From there, I opened the image in On1 Effects.  

Since this is a photograph of ice, I wanted to bring out the texture that ice has.  The first preset I used was Dynamic Contrast.  This did a very nice job of bringing out the textural elements I was looking for.  Especially in that big air bubble towards the upper right.  I then added a Tone Enhancer layer to bring out the blue color a little bit more. Within the tone enhancer, I slightly lowered the brightness, and increased the Compression setting just a little bit.  The other sliders I didn't touch.  Lastly, I added a subtle vignette to finish off the image.  

The final image, processed using Lightroom and On1 software.

The final image, processed using Lightroom and On1 software.

I really like the way this image looks and think it's a nice way to start off 2016.  What drew me into this image is all of the circles, and the jagged edges of the frost on the surface.  I like how I processed the image too, but realize there might be some aspects that make it look a little off. I would love to hear what you think, so please let me know in the comments.  And, we'll see you on Wednesday.

The Plan for 2016

Added on by J.D. Magers.

The New Year is here at last.  2015 brought with it a heck of a lot of change in my life, from the baby, to my day job, to finally getting serious about blogging.  Blogging certainly takes a lot of focused energy, which I am realizing now more than ever.  I want to accomplish so much more with my photography and this blog in the coming year.  I thought I would make a quick list of things I want to get done.

  • Monetize the blog - I will be working very diligently to get this blog to pay for itself and working to get my photography out there so people can see it.  Whether it be ads, or affiliate links, my own products, or even a local portrait session, it's time to take this to the next level.  I'm going to do this by creating content that has value to the people that read it.  I really think by explaining my workflow to the reader, I might be able to help a fellow self taught photographer learn something. 
  • Create my own product line - I have several ideas in this area.  I want to create my own presets in both Lightroom and On1.  I want to write an ebook.  I want to make portraits for clients.  I also have a couple of images that I would like to try and get published or licensed.  Anything I can do to work through presets and filters, we're going to try and do.
  • Work more on personal projects - Mainly around photographing my kids, but there are a couple of other areas too.  I want to continue to photograph and identify species of birds.  And I want to get up to Rocky Mountain National Park more.  I have never been to the Western side of the park. That is going to change this year.
  • The last major thing I'll mention is that I want to do a little revamping of the website.  I need to have an about me page, and I want to consolidate all the galleries under one portfolio umbrella.  I also don't like how the blog page looks right now.  I want to make it look a little more traditional. Doing this will make the site flow a little bit better and might help the reader to more easily be able to find information.  Maybe I should create a page dedicated to what I'm trying to teach to help with that as well.  

These are just four quick ideas to put down on paper to get me started.  As I said, consistent blogging is a great deal of work.  Everyone who blogs knows that, and I'm certainly not afraid of work.  I'm am more than willing to put in the effort to get my ideas out there, so you can learn from me, and I can learn from you.  I'm excited to see what 2016 holds and where it takes us.  It's time to get started...

So What Exactly Did I Do In 2015?

Added on by J.D. Magers.

Here it is, the last post of 2015.  I thought it might be a good idea to reflect on what I accomplished photographically in 2015.  That way I can have a sort of baseline for when I do this exercise again at the end of next year.  So here goes:

  • The first one can't be considered an accomplishment.  According to my Lightroom library, I pressed the shutter button nearly 3,000 times less in 2015 than the previous year.  I even took less photos than I did in 2013.  For someone that wants to keep learning, I need to practice, which means I need to be shooting more.  There certainly is a good reason for shooting less, as the baby came right when she was supposed to.  In addition, my day job keeps me extremely busy, and I am pretty much limited to creating and shooting to on the weekends.  Shooting on the weekends is hard with an infant, but I should be photographing her instead.
  • I did start the year off with a trip to Barr Lake State Park (which I will actually be doing again this year.  Have I started a tradition?).  I went at sunset, and got a really great photograph of mullein against some out of focus cottonwood trees.  I posted that image here.  We love this photo, and it's now hanging up on our walls.
  • I took 200-300 photos of various kids' birthday parties.  The first one, I actually took the best photos of each of the kids and made prints to give away to the parents.  I was hoping this would lead to a family photo shoot, but that never materialized.  Maybe this year.
  • I took some maternity shots of my wife before the baby came.  That practice will come in handy this year too, as I have a plan for doing more of this.
  • In my limited birding time, I knocked a few new species off my bird photography life list.  This is also something I will be doing more of.  Especially now that I have a little bit more reach with the 7D.
Western Grebe, Barr Lake State Park, Adams County, Colorado.

Western Grebe, Barr Lake State Park, Adams County, Colorado.

 

  • My first attempt at light painting was a resounding success in my book.  Light painting is a lot of fun.  If you want to check out someone who's really good at it, check out Dave Black Photography.  More on my light painting later.
  • I made it up to Rocky Mountain National Park once.  That's also unacceptable and will change in 2016.
  • In October, I walked in the annual Kelby Photowalk in downtown Denver.  Our leader was not very organized, and even forgot to pick a winner.  In 2016, I resolve to lead a walk along the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder.
  • On the photowalk, I got an idea for a photo of Sports Authority Field (where the Broncos play). My idea was to shoot the stadium at sunset during a game when it is all lit up.  That shot became reality in November, and it was one of my favorite photo shoots of the year.

Looking at this list, I did more this year then I thought I had.  When I first started looking through the library, I felt disappointed like I didn't shoot enough.  But, as I said, it gives me a sort of baseline to compare to for all the ideas that are floating around in my head for where I want to go this year.  And I will get there.  I have a plan.  I have goals.  It's going to be an exciting ride in 2016.  I invite you to please join me.

Merry Christmas!!

Added on by J.D. Magers.

Today is Christmas, so I am taking the day off to play with the kids.  I would sincerely like to thank everyone who has taken the time to view this blog.  May the joy of the season be with you always.  Merry Christmas!

A Note to Santa Clause...as written by a three year old.

A Note to Santa Clause...as written by a three year old.


The Beginnings of an Elevator Pitch

Added on by J.D. Magers.

I have mentioned before that I have a pretty long commute to work, and that I listen to podcasts while I'm driving.  If you want to start a blog, or want to take your blog to the next level, I highly recommend the Problogger podcast by Darren Rowse.  Well, I have purchased Darren's e-book, 31 Days to Build a Better Blog, and I am going to be making my way through it.  There's no way I can do a challenge a day, as I've already proven in November that I don't have time to post even five days a week.  So it might take a couple of months.  I'm fine with that, as it will help me to continue building momentum and getting used to writing.  I am learning that writing is a craft, and if I want to get better at it, then I need practice and to just do it.

So, Lesson 1 in 31 Days to Build a Better Blog is to create an elevator pitch.  I know of an elevator pitch as something you can deliver to a complete stranger in about ten seconds to explain what your business is about.  It needs to be short and to the point.  So without giving away the content of Darren's book (definitely don't want to do that), here are my thoughts on what the elevator pitch could be for this blog.  

Short Version (to be put in my tagline)- Helping Self-taught photographers understand plug-ins.

The longer versions help to tell a little bit more of the story and who my target audience is:

Long Version Number 1 -  I am a self-taught photographer who understands it can be frustrating trying to figure out a post-processing workflow.  Many plug-ins that rely on templates and presets don’t come with a manual.  I am here to figure out how these software programs work, and if I can teach other self-taught photographers something as well, then we both will win and be creating beautiful photographs that go well beyond the snapshot.

Long Version Number 2 - FocustheFrame is one self-taught photographer’s way of helping other people interested in taking their photography to the next level shorten their learning curve.  We all need help learning how to quickly and efficiently post process the photographs that we take. FocustheFrame explores how to effectively use plug-ins, presets and filters during your post processing workflow.

There is also an expanded pitch, which is an exercise to get you to think about answers to the next logical questions.  I came up with these questions myself.  They are not in the ebook and are distinct for what I think a new reader or someone I'm talking to might ask me.

Expanded Pitch (what are the answers to potential next logical questions)

Potential Question #1:  Why do you need to know where presets and filters start, when all you have to do is click on them?  

Answer #1:  The starting point of presets and filters is just that, a starting point.  There might be certain areas of an image that can be tweaked even further to bring out the details in the shadows, or increase (or decrease) local contrast, etc.  Knowing where and how the presets and filters begin allows us to carefully craft our images to meet our artistic vision.

Potential Question #2:  What’s the best way to break down a pre-set?

Answer #2:  I’m not sure right now as we’re just getting started, but the plan is to take a raw image, and experimenting with basic pre-sets.  If I select one and don’t like it, I will undo to get back to the starting image.  After my selection speaks to me, I’ll carefully note where the sliders are.  For example if it’s a high key image, where are the sliders for the highlights and whites?  Is it the opposite for a low key image with lots of mood?  Doing this will give me the “muscle memory” for the next time I am processing a similar image, whether it be next week or next month.  It will also help if I want to create a similar look.  I can use the base knowledge to recreate something that appeals to me.

Potential Question #3:  Why play with sliders at all?

This is very similar to Question #1.  But let me answer it with a question of my own.  What if we want to create our own pre-sets and filters with our own custom look?  There are an infinite number of possibilities for us to create with these software programs. As artists, we should be passionate about pushing the boundaries of what we are capable of doing in the digital darkroom.  If we don’t push sliders around in both directions, we are relying on someone else’s work to accomplish our vision.  I want to create my own vision. 

Summary

I am happy that I did this exercise.  It took me nine days to complete it, and I honestly don't know if I'm quite there yet with the final draft.  I know I have some readers out there. If you're a returning visitor (or even here for the first time!), I would love to get your feedback on which long form elevator pitch you think might suit me.  You've read the blog, so what do you think? Also, what other questions should I be asking, or do you have for me?  Be sure to let me know in the comments below.

Who Wants What for Christmas

Added on by J.D. Magers.

Over the last couple of weeks, we have been bombarded with list after list of what to get the photographer in your life for Christmas.  What's one more?  But instead of creating my own list (of what I want really), I thought it would be cool to link to everyone else's list and make it easier on everyone. So here we go:

  1. Scott Kelby's Annual Gonzo Gear Guide has been a cool read for me over the last few years.  I have always liked the way it is structured, and the rules Scott puts in place for recommending the gear.  I'll take the Tether Tool strap please.
  2. This list from Improve Photography has a nice mix of stuff from stocking stuffer on up to the expensive items.  I liked this list because it looks like a bunch of selections from a variety of people over all the categories. It isn't just one photographer's opinion in this list. I am intrigued by that X-rite ColorMunki display for $150.00.  That is something I have needed for quite awhile, and it's now in my Amazon cart.
  3. These two lists from American Photo Mag and Popphoto.com are actually quite similar.  It even looks like the same media company produced them. Both of these lists contain the Peak Design Messenger Bag that was designed by Trey Ratcliff. That thing must really be awesome, because it is being recommended everywhere.  So I'll take that.
  4. Photodoto.com has a really long list with 130 or so items on it.  Most of them seem to be gadgety type stuff, including about every version of iPhone camera case, or iPhone camera accessory, or camera lens coffee mug you can think of.  I already have a camera mug thanks.  Still, there were a couple of pretty cool gifts on here.  I'll take the Vintage Camera Bookends at Number 48 please.
  5. Last, but most definitely not least, I came across this post from one of my favorite photographers, David DuChemin.  The gift guide is perfect.  You just have to read it for yourself.

There is your information overload for the day.  There are an infinite number of other lists anyway.  Whether you're shopping for someone else or yourself, we need to remember that there are a variety of reasons for the season.  Me?  It's about spending time with my family and celebrating our baby's first Christmas.  We'll be tearing open all of her - I'm about to be spoiled rotten - gifts.  I encourage everyone to read David's post linked above.  It was awesome, and definitely something to think about.

Elephant Driver

Added on by J.D. Magers.

In 2006, my wife and I went to Thailand.  Part of our trip took us up to Chaing Mai, and the Maesa Elephant Camp.  This place was awesome.  We got to watch elephants playing in the river, play soccer, and paint pictures.  We also got to hop on the back of a 15 foot tall, 40 year old elephant and waddle off into the jungle.  About half way through the one hour ride, our elephant decided he was hungry and wanted to eat.  While parked on the side of the trail, our guide turned back to us and asked if we wanted a picture.  Not understanding him completely, I brought my camera to my eye and snapped this portrait of him.  His look is priceless.  My wife told me he wanted to know if we wanted him to take our picture.  I handed over the camera and hugged my wife.  The pictures he took were blurry because my dSLR was on Manual mode with a slow shutter speed, but this one I got of him is one of my favorite memories from that trip.  It was a fair trade in my mind.

Elephant Driver

This photograph is also one of my favorite portraits that I have ever made.  Portraits I have tended to struggle with over the years, and have realized that portraits are one of my bigger photographic challenges (that's a teaser by the way).  As we steamroll quickly towards 2016, this is an area I definitely want to set some goals around and improve upon.  Especially so I can learn how to best explore and write about On1 Portrait in the coming months.

In the mean time, I would love to see what your favorite portraits you have taken are.  I have recently joined Twitter.  You can follow me at @focustheframe, and send me a link to your portraits.  I would love to see them.  Anyone who does, I promise I will drop by to say hi.  

 

The Adjustable Gradient Experiment Part II

Added on by J.D. Magers.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote my first real post about learning how On1 softwares presets and filters really work.  In that post, I opened up a blank white .jpg and applied an Adjustable Gradient Filter. After closely looking at how the filter works on white, the next thing to do would be to open up a pure black image.  I was actually kind of surprised by the results, which we'll talk about here in a second.

In the white image, we discovered that some of the preset filters (Darken, Warmer, etc) would actually put an adjustable gradient that you can sort of visualize.  When we learned to manipulate that gradient, we could see how it worked.  I was expecting the same thing on the black image in reverse.  For example, I figured that if "Darken" would have an effect on the white test plate, than certainly "Lighten" should be able to have an opposite effect on the black test plate.  That doesn't happen.  If you open a black test plate, all you see is black.  The Lighten Adjustable Gradient does nothing.  I played around with every one of the starting points, including the Gradient Shape dropdown, and then the Overall Setting sliders and got nothing.

Thinking about this, I suppose it makes some sense.  Pure black is pure black.  There wouldn't be any detail in those pixels that could be lightened or adjusted, so that's probably why it doesn't work.  At least that's my current theory.  This is important to note when we apply this knowledge to a real photograph.  If our image has a lot of deep, dark shadows, an adjustable gradient filter isn't going to work on those local areas.  It will definitely have an affect globally, but those little intricate areas might not.  If we want these areas to be lighter, we might have to use a Brightness or Curves adjustment layer in Photoshop to lighten the area that we want.  I suppose that area could also be dodged in Photoshop as well.  

Putting this into practice as I begin to use the adjustable gradients filters, I am going to be very aware of where I am placing them and the the range of highlights to shadows the filter is having an impact on.  I've never really paid attention to this before. I have one more test plate to do (50% Gray).  I suspect the results of that test will be much like the white one, but after doing this on black, who knows.  

I'm going to try and get to the Gray test plate experiment next week, so check back then.  If in the mean time, you know of a better explanation of why the black gradient doesn't seem to work, please let me know in the comments or by dropping me an email.  I'd love to hear from you. More soon.  Thank you for reading today.

 

Those missed shots

Added on by J.D. Magers.

A couple of months ago, I was driving to work on that train wreck that is the Highway 36 construction project between Denver and Boulder.  In one of the many places that I had to temporarily stop, I looked to my left into the median and saw a construction worker, complete with bright orange vest and hard hat standing up in the back of a dirt hauler with cars zooming by behind him.  The next thought that raced through my head was of course, "If only I had my camera!"

This would have been an awesome photograph.  Not only were there cars racing by that could have been juxtaposed against his stationary profile, he also had the Flatirons behind him.  As I was at a complete stop, I could have very easily rolled down the window and gotten a few clicks before having to move again.  But I didn't have the camera, and that moment is now gone forever. 

A couple of weeks ago I was on one of the back roads going to work, when the car in front of me slowed down and made a swerving motion to avoid hitting something.  I saw a hawk fly a few feet in the air and then land in the bike lane.  I slowed down to get a good look, but once again I did not have the camera with me.  I have managed to get only one good photo of a hawk in over eight years of passively trying, and here I was driving by one on the side of the road just sitting there.  At first I thought the bird might have been injured because he didn't fly up very high with the first car, and he just sat there as I drove by.  I could have very easily stopped the car real quick and walked back to a safe distance where I could still get a great composition and I simply wasn't prepared.  I wanted to kick myself, and it reminded me of my earlier experience with the missed opportunity to shoot the construction worker guy.  Side note, the bird must have been fine because I saw him the next day up in a tree.

I'm sure we all have these stories of missed opportunities because we weren't carrying the camera around.  My reason I don't take the camera to work is because I don't want my bag to sit at my desk all day long, and I don't want to leave it in the car where it would be exposed to high heat in the summer and freezing temps in the winter, or worse stolen.  And I don't carry it around when we go out as a family because I am usually the one carrying the baby, and it would be too much.  

In the end though, these are just excuses.  The family time particularly is the most important time when I should be carrying the camera.  You never know when somebody is going to do something cute or will make a lasting memory. If I have the camera and see something else, then I am prepared. After all, can I truly call myself a photographer if I don't carry around my camera? I think the answer to that might just be no.  I don't want there to be any other missed opportunities.  In 2016, there needs to be a concentrated effort on carrying my camera bag at least 90% of the time.  After all, I can not grow as a photographer unless I am making photographs.  

That's the message I want to leave you with heading into the weekend.  Whatever we decide to do tomorrow, or next week, or next month, our challenge should be to take the camera with us. You never know what we'll see.  And since I know everyone has stories to tell about missed opportunities, go ahead and leave a comment telling us what they were.  Let's build a community here on Focustheframe where we can all learn from each other.  So go ahead, tell us what your missed shot stories are?

December Goals and Metrics

Added on by J.D. Magers.

I talked last week about how November wasn't a very good month for achieving the goals I had set for that month.  Well it was a very good month metrics wise.  According to my Google Analytics page, I had 240 visits to my blog in November compared to 51 in October.  That is a 370% increase in page views.  Growth here in the US was up 335% (135 page views versus 31 in October).  If we eliminate the U.S. entirely, my page growth was up 425%.  Not only are more people coming to the blog, they're actually reading it as well.  Worldwide, people are spending an average of 3 minutes and 14 seconds reading what I have to say.  This is extremely exciting for me.  I sincerely thank everyone who have chosen to spend a few minutes of their day here in my little slice of the internet.  I sincerely hope I can continue to provide content that is worth reading and that you'll keep coming back.  Please tell your friends.

So we need to put some goals in place for December as we continue to relaunch FocustheFrame. I think November's goals were a little bit too aggressive.  We're going to dial it back just a little bit this month and continue to build good momentum.  Here they are, in no particular order:

  1. Post three times per week during the month.  You should see new posts every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  In order to be successful in this goal, on Saturday or Sunday of every week, I am going to plan what my posts are going to be about.  That way I no longer will be sitting at my computer the night before (and after a long day of work), thinking about what I want to write about.
  2. I think 300 page views for the entire month of December is doable.  That would be 10 per day.  In order to be successful with this goal, I will need to continue to interact with other blogs and websites to build some community.  If you come here from Google + or Facebook, or anywhere really, please drop me a line and tell me where you saw this blog.
  3. I will write the Vision and Purpose document for this website.  This will be my effort to define my ideal reader (and eventually customer), and put some thought into the kinds of content I want to create.  I am going to get some feedback from a couple of friends first, but I do want to be transparent, so I will post it here, probably near the end of the month.  

As with any type of goal setting, we need a deadline.  Just like last month we'll say the end, so 31 December 2015 will be when I need to have these goals accomplished.  I think this is realistic, although the second one might be a little bit of a stretch goal.  That one will challenge me to get out there and interact, hopefully driving some traffic back this way.  

It's gonna be a fun, busy month.  Christmas is upon us, and very soon we'll be in the new year. I am determined to make 2016 the start of something new and wonderful in my life, which is launching this blog and creating a business.  I know we're in the beginning stages of creating content, but if there is something you want me to write about or just want to say hi, please leave a comment (I got one in November!) or send me an email from the contact page.  With that, thank you for reading and see you Wednesday.

Did I Make a Wrong Choice Three Years Ago?

Added on by J.D. Magers.

I have mentioned before that I have a long commute to work, and I fill that time by listening to podcasts.  The podcasts that I listen to are part of the inspiration for reviving Focustheframe and my photography.  One of the podcasts that I listen to is This Week In Photo, which is owned and run by Frederick Van Johnson.  There are typically two other speakers on the weekly show, where they all discuss relevant news stories related to the photography industry.  

Every week the show's hosts invariable talk about their gear, and I have noticed that more and more they have made the transition from dSLR's to mirrorless cameras from Sony or Fuji. Frederick for instance likes to talk about all of his Sony cameras and how great they are.  I also know David Duchemin shoots with Fuji when he travels, and Trey Ratcliff shoots with Sony.  I could go on for an hour about photographers who go out in the field, all seem to be shooting exclusively with mirrorless, and not traditional dSLR's.

Seeing all this buzz around mirrorless has got me wondering about my choice three years ago when I bought my 5D Mark III.  I saved up for almost two years in anticipation of buying a Mark II, but just as I was getting ready to make the investment, the Mark III came out.  I knew I would want that one, so I saved for another year.  I vividly remember the day in 2013 when I picked up the box at the UPS warehouse, and having the lady tell me she couldn't believe how big my smile was.  Three years is a long time to wait for something, but it makes it oh so much sweeter when you finally get it.

Fast forward three years though, and it seems like the dSLR is becoming a dinosaur and might be extinct in five to ten years.  This has me a little scared.  I bought my camera for the long haul, and I am building my gear out from that base.  I don't want to find myself down the road having to start all over again because the big players have suddenly switched gears and foregone the dSLR.  Cameras and lenses are expensive after all.  There are little alarm bells going off in the back of my head telling me I should start doing some research and look into switching before I get lost.  I feel like for once, I want to be out in front of the technology curve instead of just getting by.

What is bringing me back however, is that I am not a pro (yet), and right now the Mark III is awesome for my purposes.  I love this camera.  It works for me.  It works for the type of photography that I am doing and will be doing in 2016 and beyond.  I have to remember that when I hear all this talk about mirrorless cameras being the wave of the future and they're so great because they're so light, and flexible, and blah, blah, blah.  It's just noise in my head right now, and it's causing me to be distracted.  My focus right now needs to be on continuing to launch this business with the gear I have and know how to use.  That's what's most important.  When I've succeeded in that, maybe a transition to the hottest gear of 2025 won't matter anyway.  After all, I'm in it for the long haul.  In the end, we have to remember, don't get lost in the noise.  It's just that.

 

How Did I Do With November Goals?

Added on by J.D. Magers.

Back at the beginning of November, I posted my intent to state some monthly goals to accomplish during the month.  You can read more about why I'm doing this here.  Since November is over, it's time to pay the piper and see how I did.  We'll take these goals one by one and do an assessment.  Here we go:

  1. Rick Sammon suggested in one of his recent Kelby One training classes to read the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.  The book has been purchased, and will be read by the end of the month.  Assessment:  Complete.  This book is a very quick read for being a 300 page book.  I liked it.  It turned out to be a little different than I thought it was going to be, but I think I got the message.  Success equals work.  I already knew that, but it was nice to be reminded of that fact.
  2. I will write a post detailing what I currently know about curves in Photoshop.  Assessment: Not Complete. This was an unrealistic goal.  I realized that I know a little bit about curves, but not nearly enough to write a post that is going to be useful for my readers.
  3. I will finish reprocessing the bison image and the Double Arch image that will go into my portfolio book I talked about last spring, and send the book out for publishing. Assessment:  Also not complete.  I worked on the Bison photo a little bit, but it still isn't done.  I just need to carve out time, which has been a struggle lately.
  4. I will write blog posts every business day in November.  That's five days a week! Assessment:  Yeah.  This was much harder than I thought it was going to be.  I started off with some pretty good momentum, but I ran out of steam.  I quickly realized that I would much rather take my time and write meaningful content than throw something together at the last minute.  I owe that to my readers.  Five days a week is just too much.  I know that publishing regularly is important for building a community, so I am going to shoot for three days a week here in December, posting on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

As you can see, I didn't do very well. I only hit on one of the four goals I identified at the beginning of the month.  If anything, I am accountable for my actions and that is why I am writing this post here.  I will do better in December.  I did learn some things during the month though. For Example:

  • This is hard.  Publishing five times per week is a lot of work, especially with a day job and a family.  I only get to work on my photography for around an hour per night.  I will need to apply time management and take a project management approach to get where I want to go.
  • Publishing valuable content is more important than throwing spaghetti at the wall.
  • I still have a lot of planning to do regarding what kind of content to create and who my ideal reader is.  I need to draft and implement some rules around this so I can develop some consistency.

There you have it.  A no holds barred self critique of my month.  As we get going, I think it was valuable.  It helped me to realize there is much work to be done.  I'll get there, we just have to keep moving forward.  I'll publish my December goals soon, but for now, I think I'll work on the bison image...

Some Women to Follow in Photography

Added on by J.D. Magers.

A couple of weeks ago I posted my top 10 list of photographers who are inspiring to me right now.  As I noted in my summary of that post, there weren't any women on the list. This has been bothering me ever since I realized that fact, and I have put a great deal of thought and energy into searching through my resources to put female photographers back into my creative spotlight.

The first and easiest place to look is my Google + contacts list.  Here I found three women who's work I had known about, but for one reason or another just forgotten about.

Nicole S. Young - I was first introduced to Nicole Young in a Google Hangout a very long time ago with Trey Ratcliff of Stuck in Customs. She looked like she was participating in the Hangout from underneath a tent while camping.  I don't know if Nicole has ever participated in an internet video chat while camping, but I thought how cool is this lady?  I found her on Google + that night.  I have since seen her in a KelbyOne Training Class, and have a few of her presets that I received in my monthly free stuff from On1.  She does excellent work, and is a great teacher.  

Karen Hutton - Karen Hutton is an extremely talented artist.  Her photography is mostly landscape and nature work, but I have also recently learned that she does voiceover work - including the voice of Denver's own lightrail system.  She has an energetic personality, and you can tell she's just fun to be around.  I have bookmarked her blog, and will be diving into that here very shortly.

Lotus Carroll - Speaking of being fun to be around, there is something about Lotus Carroll's G+ page that makes me smile every time I see it.  She is a selfie master.  How she is able to take a selfie in such creative and artistic ways every time she gets in front of the camera is really cool to see.  You can tell that this woman has an incredible imagination.  That's good enough for me. You should check her out.

After coming through my G+ contacts and thinking about the women I saw in there, I remembered Elizabeth Carmel from my Outdoor Photographer magazines.  She has a fairly regular column in the magazine.  Her focus is on Fine Art Landscape, mainly around the Sierra Nevada in California.  I am planning on spending some time looking through her portfolio galleries and studying her compositions.

The last woman I want to mention on this list is someone who I guarantee you have never heard of.  Sarah Lasker is like me.  She is self taught, and does photography as a hobby.  I have no idea if she wants to go professional or not, but I am certain she would do quite well.  I first came to appreciate Sarah's photography in a 365 Flickr group.  She was about 200 days into her year long challenge when I started mine.  Anyway, her pictures of the Phoenix area were amazing.  I also really liked the way she was processing them.  Each day, I would get home from work and check to see if she had posted yet.  I remember "friending" her on Flickr and feeling pretty good about myself a couple weeks later when she friended me back.  I felt like I had a lot in common with this woman, including her love of the sport of Baseball.  Her brother was actually drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers, and it was fun to follow his career while he was still in that organization.  Back to Sarah though, after she finished her 365 challenge, she kind of disappeared from Flickr.  I found her blog a little later, and enjoy checking in on her from time to time.  She loves to travel, go to baseball stadiums, and just enjoy life.  Sarah would not know me from any other person on the planet, but she had a small part in making me a better photographer by making me want to take photos for my 365 challenge.  She's inspirational, and that's the point.

There we go.  I have scoured the internet and my memory banks searching for inspirational female photographers.  This is a great list to start.  Everyone on these two lists is a great place to learn from and follow.  You should check them out.  I would love to see your suggestions as well.  Especially self taught photographers like Sarah and myself.  Let me know in the comments below or send me an email.  More later...

 

Using the On1 10 Adjustable Gradient Experiment, Part I

Added on by J.D. Magers.

One aspect of my processing that I want to improve at is the use of adjustable gradients, whether it be in Photoshop, Lightroom, or On1 10.  Yesterday morning I was up early, so I thought I would take some time and start playing around in On1 and the Adjustable Gradient Filter for processing.

The first thing that I'm doing to really learn how these filters work is to not open a photo at all. Instead I created a blank white .jpg that I can open within any program.  When the white photo is opened in On1, we can see what kind of impact any individual preset or filter is going to have when a real photo is opened.  This is a great teaching tool, and it's a lot like experimenting with layers in Photoshop.  This is going to be a really powerful exercise for me, and I encourage everyone to create some simple base documents that are white, black and 50% gray to start learning your processing strategies.

Anyway, I opened my white image in the Adjustable Gradients Filter and selected Lighten.  Right away it hit me that I wasn't going to be able to see anything because how can you lighten an already white image?  That's okay though, as I took the opportunity to look around the window and see what is there with this particular filter.

When the white image was first opened, the main area had the typical adjustable gradient pattern on it.  From here, we can adjust the height and tilt of the areas to be lightened. I'm going to experiment more with this in a real photograph in the coming days.

Moving over to the adjustments panel, I noticed there are five different filters that we can select from (Lighten, Darken, Detail, Vibrance, and Glow).  These same gradients are also selectable in the main list of filters over on the left.  I'm going to have to experiment in a real photo to see what happens when I select a type from the right, if it has the same effect as selecting it initially.

Beyond that, right below the slider for Glow, there is another dropdown menu where we can select five different layers (Screen, Overlay, Overlay Strong, Softlight, and Softlight Strong).  Off the top of my head, I know Screen and Overlay are layers types in Photoshop and Lightroom, so I assume Softlight is as well.  

There are also several shapes that we can create an adjustable gradient with as well.  On the top tool bar, there is the following drop down list.  

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 6.50.48 AM.png

The Gradient selection is the default setting when you first select this filter.  Center and Edges both give us an oval, and I suspect they are opposites of each other.  I can probably use this to create a vignette.  At this time I don't know what the Reflected Gradient is or what it does, but we'll figure it out.  A topic for another day.

The last thing I took note of is the Preset dropdown to the left of the Shape Gradient drop down.  Underneath this drop down are immediate selections for applying an adjustable vignette (both black and white), and then hard linear gradients from the four sides of the image.  These appear to work together with the Shape Gradient dropdown.  For example, when I select the Vignette Preset, if my shape is on Gradient, the program will automatically change to the Center selection.  But when you have one of the Presets selected first, and then try to change the shape, the preset defaults back to none.  So I think these two are intertwined.

This exercise has taught me a lot about the selections that are available with the Adjustable Gradient Filter.  Since I originally selected the Lighten Filter on a white image though, it wasn't really that informative.  I need to do this exercise on gray or black to really start digging in to what this filter type can do.  That and get it on a real image.  We'll get to that in the coming days. We have lots of work left to do with this filter.  

I hope this exercise has been valuable to you as well.  As I mentioned, I think looking at presets on a blank white, black, and gray image will teach you a lot about how that particular preset works. As such, we're going to be doing a lot of this in the future.  Please let me know what you think of this strategy in the comments, or shoot me an email.  Thank you for reading today.  More later...

San Juan Rainbow

Added on by J.D. Magers.

While I was writing yesterdays post on my first impressions of On1 10, I came across this image from 2010 of a sunset rainbow down in Great Sand Dunes National Park near Alamosa, Colorado. This photo is significant to me, as it is one of the only times I have been able to get my wife to go hiking.  Anyway, I started to play around with some of the filters and presets in the On1 Effects suite, and I really liked the end results that I came up with.  Unfortunately, I didn't write down which filters I used, so I can't share that info.  I realize I need to get better at this, and I apologize. Regardless though, I hope you like the picture.  Please let me know what you think in the comments below.  Enjoy...

Sunset rainbow outside of Great Sand Dunes National Park, near Alamosa, Colorado.  Processed using On1 Effects.

Sunset rainbow outside of Great Sand Dunes National Park, near Alamosa, Colorado.  Processed using On1 Effects.