Category Archives: Photography Tips

Photography tips by Jim Crotty professional photographer Dayton Ohio

Chase Jarvis Best Camera is Best iPhone App

Chase Jarvis Blog: The Best Camera: iPhone App + Book + Community.

Being an iPhone user I am always on the lookout for useful apps, particularly those that are connected in some way to photography. Given the fact that my iPhone 3G (I still haven’t seen the need to upgrade to a 3Gs) comes with a minimalist approach toward a built-in camera phone – just 2 megapixels – there have more and more app developers who’ve learned to push that little camera beyond its original, technical limitations.

I learned about Chase Jarvis’ Best Camera app in the most recent issue of PDN Magazine. The Best Camera is by far the best camera app yet for the iPhone. It seamlessly integrates the camera function with some impressive in-camera, image editing effects as well online photo sharing and social community interaction.

The premise of the app is quite simple and one which I repeat quite often at my photography workshops and in photography articles. It’s not the gear that makes the photographer. It’s the person behind the camera and a keen observation of light and subject.

I must admit that nature, landscape and studio photography is a bit more methodical and requires more in the way of gear and technical knowledge, especially at the pro level, but for “street photography” Jarvis does an impressive job in showing what can be accomplished with just a simple, two- megapixel camera phone. Sure Jarvis makes a crack about “dynamic range,” but basically his approach toward image-making is the foundation from which all successful photographers – whether they be accomplished pro shooters or avid amateurs – create bodies of work that make viewers stop, look, imagine and think.

Season of the Good Light

Episode seven in my series of “Photographic Moment” video tutorials. “Season of the Good Light” provides some practical tips on capturing the Ohio landscape in autumn, including white balance and ISO settings, shutter speed, aperture and composition. This video was shot on location in the tall grass prairie of Sugarcreek MetroPark.

Outdoor Photographer August 2009 Issue Best Yet

Over the years I think I’ve subscribed to nearly all of major photography magazines. You name it, I’ve read it. Many photography publications are directed strictly toward the average hobbyist market, relying heavily on advertising from the big retailers that sell just about any type of photo gear you can imagine.

There are other photography magazines directed strictly toward the professional photographer. These are the publications with impressive portfolios and practical information on everything from studio lighting to optimal digital workflow.

There’s one photography magazine that has been able to consistently offer editorial content that is suited for both advanced hobbyist and professional shooter, particularly those who enjoy nature and landscape photography. Outdoor Photographer is that magazine, and this month’s issue is the best yet. It is timely that the August 2009 issue came to my attention now because it will serve as an excellent reference resource for my upcoming, full-day photography workshops on nature and landscape photography, the first of which is scheduled for September 26, 2009 at Cox Arboretum here in Dayton (it filled-up quite some time ago, but I will be doing another one this winter).

The articles that I found to be most interesting were “Get 4×5 Quality with a DSLR,” by Dennis Frates; “Get Into the Stock Market,” by Art Wolfe (thanks Art for introducing me to PhotoShelter back at the NANPA Summit in Albuquerque); “The Zone System Revisited,” by Ken Rockwell; “Making Your Best Black-And-White,” by Richard Lopinto; and “The Big Trip,” by Mark Edward Harris.

This why Outdoor Photographer is one of those magazines that I actually take the time to read from cover to back. It always deliver, especially if you are a photographer who is constantly seeking new information and ways to improve your craft, and who isn’t ? The constant learning process is what makes photography so much fun, whether you’re just starting out or an established professional.

The following images aren’t directly related to this blog entry other than they were taken by a “photographer” (me) and “outdoors.” Plus I thought it would be fun just to post them and provide a little variety. The landscape images were captured on the evening of July 16, 2006 from Dead Horse Point near Moab, Utah, overlooking Canyonlands National Park. Something kind of cool happened to me when I was out there photographing the scenes and the sunset that evening. Can’t quite explain it, but I think it comes through with the images.

The skyline shot is of Cincinnati during the 2006 Tall Stacks Festival.

Sunset from Dead Horse Point Utah by Jim Crotty

Colorado River from Dead Horse Point by Jim Crotty

Canyonlands National Park from Dead Horse Point by Jim Crotty

Tall Stacks Cincinnati 2006 by Jim Crotty

Again, back to black and white photography

I keep finding myself returning to monochrome – aka black and white – photography, particularly when converting from original digital files that are high dynamic range. My favorite digital tools for crafting these images includes Apple Aperture and the Nik plug-ins. When completed with care and attention to detail, the fine art black and white photograph should evoke a viewer reaction reminiscent of the works of the early masters, particularly Weston and Adams. I’m not sure if I will ever achieve work of that caliber, but it’s sure fun to try.

Capturing a Falling Star with Digital Photography

Those in Dayton with an interest in photography could very well be presented with an opportunity to expand their image making skills next week. The evening of August 12th will see nature’s fireworks – the annual return of the Perseid Meteor Shower. This cosmic display of flashing fire and rock through the Earth’s upper atmosphere is the biggest meteor shower of the year.

Many amateur photographers tend to limit their cameras to the more common subjects that we see around us everyday – nature, landscapes, wildlife, flowers, friends and family. However, with just the simple addition of a sturdy tripod and making use of the time exposure settings of most of today’s point and shoot digital cameras, photographers can capture on digital sensor a “falling star,” and with the Perseids just one photograph could easily contain several flashing trails of meteorites.

Photographing meteor showers is often the first step into the realm of “astrophotography” – the photography of night sky objects ranging from the Moon, the planets, nebula, star clusters and distant galaxies. But with photographing meteorites the difference is in the gear required. Most of the other subjects requiring the attaching of a digital camera body to a telescope through the use of mounting adapters, and then the tracking mechanism on the telescope (also known as a motor drive) has to be carefully aligned so that it tracks exactly with the rotation of the Earth. Deep sky subjects often require exposures of an hour or more, oftentimes multiple exposures that are later “merged” or combined together.

Meteorites speeding through the sky need just a basic camera body – either 35mm SLR or fixed-lens, point and shoot – and either a normal or wide angle lens, usually anything from 28 to 55mm, or a zoom in the range. The camera will need to offer the photographer the ability to manually select both shutter speed and aperture, which is usually the “M” setting. Attempting astrophotography in any type of “auto” exposure mode will not work, primarily due to the fact that the source of light that the camera meter is attempting to adjust to is simply too small or dim.

Any type of time exposure that is longer than 1/30th of a second will require the camera to be set-up on a tripod. Hand-holding the camera simply will not work and result in lots of little, indistinguishable blurry lights in darkness. A cable release from the camera’s shutter button is also a good idea so that all possible hand contact with the camera, during the exposure, is avoided. Also be careful to set your tripod on a sturdy surface, such as pavement or hard ground. Many people make the mistake of setting their tripod for night exposures on a porch deck or walkway. Even the smallest step from you or anyone else nearby will shake the camera during the exposure.

Aperture settings should be as wide as possible, such as 2.8 or 3.5, so as to allow as much light in as possible. It’s also a good idea to turn the auto-focus feature off and pre-focus on a distant tree or house on the horizon. If the focus is still on more nearby objects the stars and meteors will once again be blurry.

The longest shutter speed setting should be used for meteors, which on most cameras is 30 seconds. Here again you will want to be in a setting that is FAR away from house, street and city lights.

For the Perseids on August 12 the best time of night will be midnight and after. That’s when most of the meteor activity takes place. Rather than fumble in the dark with camera and tripod, try setting your gear up before sundown. Direct your camera and lens toward the northeast horizon, which after midnight will be the “epicenter” of the Perseid meteor activity. When the time comes just starting taking your exposures, one after the other, 30 seconds for each. The odds will be excellent that you will capture a streaking light of one or more meteorites.

With exposures that are 20 seconds or more the stars will begin to “trail,” meaning they look like little, curved lines dotting the sky versus pinpoints of perfect starlight. That’s okay, because when a meteor comes through it will be in a completely different direction than the lines of the stars, thus making a nice and noticeable difference between star and “falling star.”

Another tip is to try to include a telling (but not too intrusive) foreground element within the frame of the picture, such as a tree or treeline. A certain amount of depth and interest will be added to the final photograph that contains the meteor. However, it’s important to be aware of any possible man-made light that could be falling on the tree or trees. With just the faintest, far away street light the trees will “glow” within the time exposure and make your nighttime exposure tend to look unnatural as well as distract the viewer’s eye away from the primary subject.

Although the chances are good that photographers can photograph one or two of the brighter meteors of the Perseid shower within the limits of Dayton and surrounding suburbs, the best thing to do is drive as far out into a rural location as possible. The further away from intrusive light pollution the better, and will often double or triple the number of meteorites seen and photographed.

Closer to Dayton is John Bryan State Park, in Greene County. The Miami Valley Astronomical Society maintains an observatory in this location because it’s just far away from urban lights to allow for good night sky conditions.

Another option is to take the opportunity of this rare celestial event for a short trip to Hocking Hills State Park in Southeastern Ohio, just a two hour drive east of Dayton. The night sky in this part of the state is some of the darkest to be found within easy travel distance from the Montgomery County area.

Hocking Hills is so popular with amateur astronomers and astrophotographers that both Getaway Cabins and The Inn at Cedar Falls, which both offer superb overnight accommodations, include separate sections on their web sites for stargazers. There is nothing like the thrill of seeing the night sky with all the glory of the Milky Way when standing on the hilltop behind The Inn at Cedar Falls. The Perseids will surely look their best from that particular vantage point.

This year viewers and photographers will have the added benefit of a Moon that is not full on the evening of the Perseid Meteor Shower. The only other thing to do is to hope for clear weather, but even if the conditions aren’t good on the evening the 12th, there will still be sections of the meteor event visible a couple of nights prior and after.

Late summer has arrived with the grand show of the Perseids. With just a tripod and a some time exposures amateur photographers in the Dayton area will be able to capture with camera this amazing show.

For more information, please see http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2009/31jul_perseids2009.htm

A Tale of Two Mornings

From the back deck of my home I have a wonderful vantage point of the eastern horizon, perfect for capturing sunrises during the summer. Still my all-time, personal favorite location for dawn and sunrise photography is the hilltop behind the Inn at Cedar Falls in Hocking Hills. My back deck in Centerville is a good subsitute when I’m not there at the Inn in what I and others like to refer to as a “sacred place.”

Sunrise for landscape photography is a pure pleasure that I relish in. The peaceful beauty can not be matched. It’s God’s way of saying to us “here, another blessing of a new day, to start again, to renew.”

The following two images were captured in the cool stillness of dawn on the early morning of Monday, August 3d, 2009. I was well up before the light began in the eastern sky. I was greeted with the sight of Sirius (the brightest star in the sky) following my old friend of winter – Orion. The first harbinger of the cooler, golden days of autumn has arrived.

Photographer Jim Crotty captures the pre-dawn sky
Photographer Jim Crotty captures the pre-dawn sky
Sunflower Photograph by Dayton Photographer Jim Crotty
Sunflower Photograph by Dayton Photographer Jim Crotty

And then again what a difference a day makes. Pre-dawn this morning, August 4, 2009 and I’m awakened by the most spectacular show of lightening and sound of thunder seen yet this year. From the covered safety of my kitchen window I set-up my Canon 1D Mark III with a Canon 28-70mm f.2.8 lens on the tripod and fired 30-second exposure after 30-second exposure, hoping to capture just the right lightening strike. The following image came closest to what I had in mind –

Lightening Photograph by Dayton Ohio Photographer Jim Crotty on August 4 2009
Lightening Photograph by Dayton Ohio Photographer Jim Crotty on August 4 2009

Here again I’m reinforced with the belief that the artist captures best that which is closest to home, and oftentimes the most striking of nature and landscape photographs result from the subtle and oftentimes overlooked beauty that lies just out the front or back doors. This coming Saturday, August 8th, I will be presenting more images and talking about how the best photographs can be obtained just outside in one’s backyard at Dayton’s Wegerzyn Gardens. This is a one and half hour program on the basics of nature photography, being offered free to the public through Five Rivers MetroParks. It’s also a follow-up to the same program I presented to about 40 people at Wegerzyn on July 11th. The problem is that since then an article ran in the Dayton Daily News (with the headline error of “Local Artist to Present Free Workshops” – Five Rivers does; Jim Crotty does not), along with the fact that my number was given to register versus that of the Park office, my phone has been ringing off the hook. I’m estimating the turn-out to be twice that of July 11th. There’s only going to be so much I can cover in such a short amount of time to such a large group, but I will do my best.

My own, full-day workshop on nature and landscape photography is set for September 26 at Cox Arboretum. The fee is $89 per person and the group is limited to 20 people. That particular program filled within two weeks of announcing the details and I now have a waiting list 10 people deep. The good news is that I will be working on the details on another, similar full-day program at Cox, possibly on nature  and landscape photography in the winter. I’m thinking about a Saturday in January or February, 2010. The best way for people to receive an early notice and get signed-up is by registering for my e-mail newsletter.