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One Republic, Spongebob, and Others

I see I've been lax the last few days posting my photo a day here, so while I had a few minutes, I thought I'd catch up.

First and foremost though, my photo for today is of One Republic. I'm planning on doing a dedicated post on that event once I've had a chance to go through all of the photos I took, but I was lucky enough to not only see them at Denver Big Air, but also be right in the front so I could get some good pics.  Shooting concert photography is really really hard, and I'd like to thank Alan Hess for giving me a few pointers beforehand so I at least at a chance of getting some good shots!

Like I said, I'm going to do a dedicated post about it, and I haven't gone through all my photos, but this one caught my eye. Even though the lighting is kind of weird on his face, I really like the action I captured with this one.  

Blasting it on keyboard during Apologize

Yesterday I chose Spongebob as my photo.  The Random Acts of Photography meetup I'm a member of does a monthly photo assignment. This month, the theme was music, but it had the added bonus of no post-processing allowed - everything had to be straight out of the camera.  Hard for me, but I did it. Shot on a white background, metered the light, and set a custom white balance.

Spongebob Bangs it Out

Tuesday was Peter and his Hot Wheels track. Randy got it for him for Christmas, and I had my doubts about it, since it said "7+" on the package.  We unpacked it, set it up, showed Peter a couple of times how to put the car on the track, and the fact that you had to push it a little bit to get it going, and that was it!  Now he always wants to play cars, and always plays cars with the track.  He loves to line up all the cars first, and take the next one in line if one falls off the track.

Loving his Hot Wheels track

Lastly, Monday was Arby's day, and the absolute best thing Arby's has on their menu, are the Chocolate Turnovers.  That's all that needs to be said about that.

Best Dessert

Photo of Me Photographing the Snowstorm

Every once in awhile as a photographer, you have to remember to actually be in some of the photos.

While I was taking snow storm photos of my neighbor's trees, she got home from work, and remarked that somebody should get a photo of me in the snow.  I immediately went inside, and made Leif come out to take it.  He was grumbly, but did it. :)

Photographing in the Snow Storm

Photo Friday: Colorado Sunset

Colorado Sunset

Colorado Sunset © 2010 by Michelle Hedstrom taken on 12/12/2010

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Oh Christmas Lights, Oh Christmas Lights

I'm constantly on the lookout now for new and fun things to photograph as part of my quest to get better.  I think honestly I'm probably going to focus on landscape photography since it's almost an automatic, being in Colorado, that there's awesome landscapes.  Not just around my house, but close by my house, in the mountains, and tons of other places I haven't been to yet.

In any case, our neighborhood has a ton of Christmas lights up, more-so than normal I think.  Since I knew virtually nothing about how to really photograph them, I did a web search, and came up with an article from Strobist.  For those who don't know, that site is an excellent resource for lighting, specifically off-camera flash.  What it said in the article made a lot of sense, but the big thing it stressed was timing. You don't want it to be too light outside, but you don't want it to be too dark, so you need something in between.  As I don't have control over the lights I was going to photograph, I had no idea if that was possible. Tonight right before sunset, I went out to get the mail, and noticed one of the houses I wanted to photograph was lit, so ran inside, grabbed my camera and tripod, and ran over the house to set up.  

Now here's the funny thing.  The photos from that initial house I wanted to photograph didn't turn out as well as I would've liked, but I ended up taking some close-up shots of the house next door. Those turned out decently:

Mariela's House

Nothing was done in the post processing for this one except I up'ed the exposure by 1/2 a stop, and used Matt Klowkowski's Warm and Fuzzy Lightroom preset.

Notice the royal blue sky. Thank you Strobist for that tip!  It's a combination of not only getting the correct light, but setting the white balance to Tungsten.  I never would've thought that.

As I was turning to go back to my house, I saw a lone little lit up tree between a couple of houses, so figured I'd try to do a quick HDR shot of that and see what happened.  Very little processing (after the PhotoMatix HDR merge) other than a few filters in PhotoTools to pop the tree a bit, and voila!

Lit Tree

Thanks to Lorne for helping me with the crop on this one.

The learning continues with all of the awesome resources available online, and in book form.

Geese: Before and After

I do have a post started as more of a tutorial post, as to why I post-process some photos, and how exactly I fixed up the geese, however I really want to watch a movie now, so that'll wait until Monday.  In preparation for that, here's a before and after of the geese:



The Local Wildlife

I used Lightroom, PhotoTune, and PhotoTools to do all the editing, and actually the only things I did in Lightroom were white balance fix, highlight recovery, and cropping.

Why I Am a Green Screen Photographer

(while it's not original, I am playing off William Beem's last few blog post titles).

When I got back from Photoshop World, I decided the next step in my photography was to shoot my own family photos. As mentioned in the last post, it's not that I don't think other places can do a good job, it's just something I wanted to do.  When deciding how to shoot that, I definitely still wanted to do some of the more natural/candid shots (again, as evidenced by my last post), and still wanted to be able to shoot posed stuff in a studio.  


As this post isn't about lighting, the only thing I'll say about that is I love the Westcott Strobelite 3 Lite Educational Set. That's all I'll say about that for now.  

With a studio though, I did need to decide what kind of background(s) to use.  I was very very tempted to go the white seamless route, since Zack makes it look so easy, but I knew I wouldn't be satisfied just with that.  I read a bunch on green screens, and decided to try that, getting the Westcott Green Screen.

The main negatives with green screens I read about, and can confirm are:

  • when you download the photo from the camera, you still have to deal with the background
  • selecting the green screen or things off the green screen can be difficult
  • sometimes your images on the edges will get a green color cast so you have to deal with that as well.

Even with all that, I still actually enjoy it. I'm a person who likes to change things up, and once you can pull the image off the background (or the background off the image), you have a virtually unlimited number of choices as to what you can do.  Do I want a scenic background? Do I want a solid color? A combination of colors with a texture?  Snowflakes?  The sky is the limit.

While there are many different ways to find digital backgrounds, I went with buying the Photobacks Upgraded Advantage Set (hint: they sell on Ebay too and it's slightly cheaper).  Yes, a lot of the backgrounds look like an amateur made them, but I've found more often than not that there is something I really like and want to use.

For our family photo, I combined 2 different backgrounds from that collection, and dropped the opacity on one to get a little bit of a color mix. Then I found a texture I liked and added that in.  

Original, untouched photo:

Original, untouched photo

Final, edited photo:

Family portrait

(some will note that I took out Peter's scratch on his face. I thought about that one long, and hard, and while this post isn't going to talk about that, I decided to do it because it's not normally part of who he is).

Normally doing a selection isn't that bad. I do one of three things normally:

  • Photoshop CS5 Quick Select with the Refine Edges option
  • Photoshop CS5 Color Range selection
  • onOne Software Mask Pro

Which one I do, depends on basically which one I'm in the mood to do, and sometimes if my first option doesn't work well, I'll try a different one. I honestly can't remember which one I used here, but usually I can get great results with one of those options, making sure I get the hair selected, and removing the green haze from the edges that you can get sometimes.

In conclusion, if I had an infinite amount of money to buy an infinite number of backgrounds I liked, I'd definitely do that, but since that's not an option, I'll stick with my green screening.


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Things I've Learned From Photographing a Toddler

With my whole new foray into the world of photography, I thought it would be fun to try and shoot Peter's 2-year photos myself. I mean, there's nothing wrong with a Sears, or Kiddie Kandids (well, except the latter screwed over all their customers and employees when they closed their doors and wouldn't give people the stuff they ordered, and then reopened later with different employees, but I digress...), and there's definitely nothing wrong with paying a professional to take kickass photos, but it's something I really wanted to do myself.

I mean, how better to learn, right?

The first thing with shooting a toddler, is that you really need another person.  It doesn't matter that I'm his mom.  He's constantly on the go, never staying in one place more than a couple of seconds.  I needed someone else there (Leif, in this instance), to distract him, make him laugh, whatever, so I could set up for the next shot.

The second thing I learned, is to shoot on continuous mode. When you think you've got a decent shot, hold down the shutter, and take a few. In most cases, a bunch will be blurry, he won't be doing what you want him to, but since all you need is that one, good shot, the more you have, the more chance you have at getting something worthwhile.

The third thing I learned, is to let him do his thing. Telling a 2 year old to "look at the camera" not only doesn't work, but if it does, he does this weird "CHEESE" thing (I didn't teach him that, I think he got that from school). Just ignore him, follow him around, and always be ready to snap the shutter.

The fourth thing I learned, which I knew already from observing him for the past 2 years, is to shoot his good photos in the morning when he's at his freshest.  Shooting something in the evening is extremely dicey because he may be in a good mood, he may not be.  In the morning, he's always in a good mood (as long as he's feeling ok).

I was initially planning on doing all his photos indoors in my new little studio, but one day last week I looked outside behind the house, and noticed that the big area of trees was still all pretty and yellow with their fall colors, and I realized I had to get him out there. The area is pretty close to the side of a road (hence another reason you want a second person with you), but we got lucky enough that with daylight savings time, he got up Monday morning at 6:30 (7:30 old time), so we had some time to work with before having to take him to school.  After getting him dressed and ready, all 3 of us headed out behind the house, and just let Peter do his thing. Every once in awhile I'd call his name to try and get his attention, but he was having fun stomping in the leaves, and looking at the trees.  All in all, we were only out there for about 10 minutes. These are my 2 favorite shots:

Playing in the woods


Fall photo

Not to be content with that, I still did want to get some in-studio shots. Yesterday morning we were waiting at home for some friends to arrive (Peter wasn't at school so he could play with their kids), and I figured that was as good a time as any to try this out.  5 minutes downstairs with him sitting on a little stool, and this came out:


All of the photos were post-processed in PhotoTools, and I used PhotoFrame on the border for the last one, as well as a PhotoBacks background.  He's looking at Leif who's blowing raspberries or something.

I have a few more photos I want to take with him, especially on a white seamless background, but if this is all I get for his 2 year photos, then I'm happy with my progress.

As always, I still have a ways to go before I feel like I know what I'm doing, but in order to get there, I just have to keep practicing!

The Worst Shot is the One You Don't Take (or: Morning Landscapes)

Somebody at Photoshop World, and forgive me since I don't remember who it was, said to their class that the worst photo is the one you don't take.  I've been trying to remember that whenever I mentally try to talk myself out of taking a shot.  One that's not perfectly set up, one where I think the lighting sucks, one where I have to go out of my way.  I've been trying to just take them all since it doesn't matter if it's perfect or not, as long as I'm taking photos.

Yesterday morning I was driving home from the morning karate instructor academy workout.  I hit a nice clear view area on my drive, looked off to my left in the distance, and saw a snow-capped mountain top sitting right next to just a plain old brown mountain top.  The plain brown one was obviously a much closer distance, and a much lower altitude, but I thought that was really cool. I didn't stop and take a photo at that time for 2 reasons. 1) I didn't have my camera (and if I had, I wouldn't have had my zoom lens on it most likely), and 2) I really didn't have time since I had to run home and eat lunch before going to my private lesson.  I put in my back of my head to go grab a photo this morning after dropping Peter off at daycare.

I set up the camera last night, and almost didn't grab it this morning since it was 45 degrees outside, but then I remembered that cool view, and tossed it in my car. After dropping Peter off, I honestly wasn't sure exactly where to stop to take it, so I headed back towards the dojo and figured I'd turn around at some point, and find a good spot.  Nothing looked good until I drove past the Majestic View Nature Center. Nothing in the way of the view, just clear grass, a pond, some trees off in the distance, and some distant houses.  A perfect venue.

I snapped off a few, trying to follow the tips I had picked up from the Composition Digital Field Guide by Alan Hess, and then decided to try a few HDR shots.  That seemed to go well. The funny thing is, in my mind I had a view of the shot I wanted.  When I got out there, I did take that shot, but took a bunch of others, and got one similar to my mental image, but better:


Processed in Photomatix Pro, enhanced with PhotoTools.

Finally I turned to head back to the car. At the last second before opening the door, I looked up past the car, and saw a house with a bunch of colorful trees around it.  Even though our weather had been weird lately (cold, really windy, then warm again, then cold at night, etc...), the leaves on these trees decided to hang on for awhile longer. I re-set up the tripod, and came away with this bonus shot:

The last of the fall foliage

This HDR I processed in Photoshop, but again enhanced it in PhotoTools.

Both of these photos I took within 5 miles of my house. 

Trains and Fall and Pumpkins (oh my!)

Lots of photos this weekend! While I've learned in the past that it's really hard to set up for photos when I've got Peter with me, I've also learned to just suck it up and bring my camera with me when I take him somewhere, just in case I get a chance to take some shots.

First up, Pumpkin Fest! We got there right when it started, and skipped getting pumpkins. The line for the pumpkins was HUGE, and I figured that a) It was only October 2nd, so plenty of time, and plenty of places to get pumpkins, and b) there were virtually no lines for anything else, so why not do all that stuff? We were the first on the hay ride, and ended up being able to go twice because people were in the long pumpkin line, did the bouncy slide, petting zoo, saw the firetruck (Peter got his fireman's hat), and wandered around checking everything out. They did have a little "family photo area" where you could pose your child, so somehow managed to do that. I really didn't like the lighting, but didn't have much choice. :)


Sunday we went to the Colorado Railroad Museum. WOW!! This place is so freakin' sweet, and much bigger than I thought. So many trains to wander around and see, and some of them you can go inside. I really want to go back when I don't have Peter with me to take some photos, but I did end up getting my favorite weekend photo while he was playing around in the gravel.

Vintage engine

I used one of Matt Kloskowski's Lightroom presets (the Vintage one) for this shot, and love how it turned out.

However, I do need to share another photo I got that I love - Peter walking down the railroad tracks.

Walking Down the Tracks

And finally, I'm taking a class over at Big Picture Classes called Picture Fall, where you get an email prompt everyday, and you have to take a fall related photo dealing with that prompt. So far, I'm 4/4 on photos, which is a new record for me. I took this one yesterday for the "things you see outside but never think of photographing" prompt of the start of the neighbor's firewood pile.

Start of the firewood pile

Waterfall at Various Shutter Speeds

Now granted, I didn't get the idea to show these photos together until AFTER I took them, so I'll be the first to admit I probably could've gotten a more interesting sample, but oh well.

Last Friday I was over at a fellow karate instructor's house for an instructor gathering. I decided to show up slightly early because he had been telling me how awesome his backyard was, and he had a great waterfall to photograph. As I've learned from various sources, the best times to photograph a waterfall are at sunrise and sunset since there's not as much extraneous light, so you can control the shutter speed better. Why would you want to do that? So you can control what the flow of the water looks like. Taking photos at a really fast shutter speed will basically freeze the action, which is great for sports photography. However a flowing waterfall frozen in time doesn't look the most exciting, so slowing down the shutter speed will give you a sense of motion.

Here's the same photo, taken at 3 different shutter speeds, one right after the other. Like I said, I *should've* taken one much faster too, but well, I didn't.

1 second:
1 second shutter
.3 seconds:
.3 second shutter
1/8 second:
1/8 second shutter

Even with just that tiny sample, you can still see the difference in the water flow. I think I actually like the 1/8 second one the best though.

In any case, here's my favorite photo from the evening, and one which I just ordered as a canvas from APC.

John and Dorothy Waterfall


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