Can you expose for color?

Exposing for color

As you may know if you are a regular here, I tend to shy away from post processing although if you read on I will discuss a technique that is very useful a bit later on. But I contend that it is possible to expose for color right when you take the picture. In the photo above, I saw the deep hue of the sky and wanted that to be the dominent theme of the picture. So I used three techniques to take the picture without the necessity to bump up the blue channel in post-processing. First I adjusted the in-camera color saturation to “vivid”. Most cameras have this ability. Now the colors will pop more in general because they will be a bit more saturated, but some shadow detail may get lost. In the photo above, there is little shadow to begin with. Second I used spot metering and exposed for the bluest part of the water. This could effect the photograph’s overall exposure, so I also metered using evaluative metering to compare the difference. It was about 2/3 of a stop. So I decided to bracket 3 shots in 1/3 f/stop increments. The spot meter won the day. Finally I turned down the ISO rating from 200 (which I had been shooting at all day) to 80. This allowed more dynamic range in the picture and I hoped that would produce a better result.

Now lets consider the following photo…..

Here using saturation to advantage produced a great result.

There are times when you can take some license with your shots in post processing. Here I used effectively and used the unsharp mask to add color saturation to the sky and the river, leaving the rest of the photo untouched. In order to get the colors in a nature photograph to “pop”, a great technique is to make one color “pop” that becomes the focal point of the photograph. Here I chose the blue which has a strong impact and makes the entire photo more memorable.

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The Case for Fill-in Flash

Winter shots are never easy. Capturing the blueberries and using depth of field to blur the background easily draws your attention to the subject. However, one problem that is apparent is that the blueberries look rather flat and don’t really stand out enough. What if there is a simple way for us to give the scene an extra bit of oomph?

Simply let the camera flash add some dimensionality to the scene. Its a technique known as “fill-in flash”, meaning that the flash is a secondary light source. Here the light was coming from the side in the waning hours of the afternoon on an overcast day. I knew that a touch of light coming from the front would create more life in the subject of the scene – the blueberries.Note however that the addition of flash did slightly wipe out a small amount of detail in the branches by washing them out just a tad. I should have bracketed the fill-in flash by reducing it to half power. Still all-in-all I am happy with the results.


Best of all today’s cameras do not require any sort of compensation or corrections from the photographer. Enjoy experimenting with this wonderful and simple technique.

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Seeing Pictures in B&W

Shooting in B&W is harder than it looks. Color defines an image. But, B&W uses details to define the image.

Learning When Not To Use Black & White

The picture of the squirrel just doesn’t work in Black & White. If it had more contrast it may be a bit more compelling, however the squirrel is much better in color because it stands out from the tree and the background of the photo.

The Squirrel photo is better in color. There is not enough detail to make the photo compelling in B&W.

Good B&W Images

B&W does well in compositions that show detail, contrast, and drama. The best way to shoot B&W is in camera! The algorythm for shooting B&W in the camera is much superior to doing it in post processing. Here are a couple of examples.

Detail & Drama

B&W photographs revolve around both detail and drama. The first photograph is an example of one that shows tremendous detail, such as the pebbles along the path. For that reason the photo was produced in black & white.

The second photograph shows a unique sense of drama in B&W that would not be present in a color shot. The snow contrasts the trees as the pattern of the branches is chiseled into various layers. Here I have also gently used depth of field to produice almost a 3D effect as different parts of the scene snap into and out of focus.

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There’s No Business Like Snow Business!


Winter is the most difficult season to take pictures in because it provides the most diversity, in both contrast and brightness, between subject and background. As photographers our goal is always to do as little post processing as possible. Corrections should be made before we take the picture keeping in mind the three basic elements that make up any photograph – composition, exposure, and depth of field. It is with these three elements that a photographer reveals what he/she wants his audience to see. And, all three of these areas are more difficult in winter.

Managing Composition

The first problem we encounter is composition. In other seasons we can just frame the shot as we wish, drawing the interest of our audience to our subject. However in winter because of the difference in brightness between the subject and the background, we often have to make trade offs. How we frame the picture will often have a great impact on how we control both exposure and depth of field.  A balance should be kept to not let the subject take up less than 50% of the scene. As we compensate for the disparity between the brightness of the backgrond and the relative darkness of the subject, depth of field will suffer.

 Depth Of Field

For those who may not know….depth of field is the amount of the picture that we allow to remain in focus. We usually want our subject to have the most attention in the shot. But sometimes we want to empacize elements in the foreground or the background as well. Depth of Field is set by adjusting the aperture of the camera. The larger the number, the more in focus the bacground and foreground will be.

In the shot above, I wanted to maintain the starkness and definition of the trees. So I had to use a small f/stop. However, when I compensated for the exposure, the result would yield less depth of field. Therefore I used a small aperture and slow shutter speed (f/22 at 1/100th of a second…)  I then compensated from there… (read on…)


I took the picture above specifically for this blog. It is 50% background (snow and sky) and 50% subject and foreground. You will note that this is a completely overcast day. In fact the sky and the snow are the same relative colour temperature. The concept here was to expose for the gazebo and trees, leaving the background snow and sky to meld into each other.

Without any adjustment by the photographer, the camera will naturally see this shot as follows….

By default most cameras metering is evaluative. The meter reads the light from the entire scene and averages it. Here we can see the result. The camera has left the gazebo looking dark in contrast to the background. Our gazebo is under exposed because the camera let less light into the scene than is required to expose our intended subject and highlight it it appropriately in the picture. So how do we ensure better results? we have a few solutions at hand.

1 – Exposure compensation. Every camera, even the simplest ones has an exposure compensation button. It is marked with a “+ – ” on it. In the picture above I compensated by one and a half full f/stops. The rule of thumb being 50% background (snow, sky etc.) is about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 stops of increased exposure. (25% would be about 3/4 stop, 75% would be 2 -3 stops etc.)

2 – Use spot metering. Many cameras have selective metering patterns. It is easy to use a spot metering pattern that only measures 5% – 10% of the frame. In this case you simply meter on your subject, re-compose, and shoot. If your camera is a mega zoom, advanced amature, prosumer, or DSLR, you probably can use spot metering to help you out.

3 – Time of day. Getting exposure less wrong is easier in the late afternoon, although shadows can be a problem.

4 – The cloudier the better. Clouds tend to lessen the amount of diversity between background and subject. Flat lighting will make the pictures that are wrongly exposed more salvageable.

All in all winter provides photographers our greatest challenge. One way to learn is to do. So here is a simple excercise. take the same shot and adjust your compensation in half stop increments and see what happens to your exposure and depth of field. By practicing controlling exposure, composition, and depth of field we can learn to take great wintertime photos.

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PICASA 3 – A Gift From Google – Life Without Photoshop Series 3

If you want to organize your photos and do basic editing tasks, nothing beats Google’s Picasa. Its straight forward user interface and powerful features such as face recognition and geo tagging make Picasa perhaps the best photo organizer around. But where Picasa surprises is its adeptness as a casual editor.

While the program doesn’t have layers its various automated features delight at doing complex tasks well. Contrast, brightness, color correction, cropping, red eye removal, simple retouches and straightening your photos can be accomplished with absolute simplicity. An effects tab allows images to be converted to B&W, sepia, warmified, etc. For more sophisticated editing jobs  Picasa integrates with Piknic, and online image editor that does have layers and many more features.

Picasa also integrates with Google Web Albums seamlessly and synchronizing an album with the web is a snap. Picasa also manages and can upload videos to different services.

In fact if the composition of your photos is good, sometimes Picasa is all you need. Most of the time it is all I will use.

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The GIMP and Its Derivatives – Life Without Photoshop Series 2

The GIMP is a Bonifide Rival to Photoshop

If it were up to me, every graphics art school in the world would use the GIMP and not Photoshop. While the interface is quirky, (the GIMP opens 3 screens to work on at once) I would argue that it is more productive than its commercial rival. And once you realize that there is a right-click menu system that allows you to do most anything that the program can do no matter where you are on the image, the GIMP becomes a productivity powerhouse!

So what makes the GIMP so good? The application provides professional tools that can stand against the big boys without the hefty price tag. Even the installation process has gotten simple, with no need to register a license because the program is open source. Extremely powerful and easy to work with, the GIMP has thousands of free plugins available that can do almost anything!

GIMP features include channels, layers and masks, filters and effects, tabbed palettes, editable text tools, perspective clone, improved printing, and color operations such as levels. New improvements include GEGL integration for 32-bit color support, dynamic brushes, and more options for the free select tool. It even has regex-based pattern matching for power users.

One of the most challenging aspects of the GIMP for Photoshop users is the user interface, which feels a bit out of place to those who are steeped in the Photoshop world. Well there is a ready-made solution for them too. GIMPhoto is a hybrid of the GIMP that mimics the Photoshop environment quite well. In fact even the tool icons are changed to look liuke the Photoshop ones. GIMPshop is another program that does the same thing only with a much older version of GIMP. What would I do? Learn GIMP since its derivatives get modified on a slower development cycle.

What can’t the GIMP do? There is no Bridge in the GIMP. I use Picasa a free program from Google to handle photo organization and basic editing.

Download GIMP  Download GIMPhoto

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While the interface looks a bit simplistic, it is a great place to get things done quickly! With an ample collection of selection tools, a good basic set of filters and a “no-nonsense get-things done” utilitarian feel to it, is a more than capable replacement for Photoshop Elements.

And, is replete with all the essentials, including tools to crop, rotate, and resize images, adjust colors, and create collages. It supports common image formats–JPEG, PNG, GIF, TIFF, and others–but not high-resolution RAW files. There are enough basic and intermediate effects and features to keep image-tweakers happy, including a red-eye removal tool that has seen dramatic improvements. Unlike most free image editors, Paint.NET supports layers, history, and has an actions manager. The pleasing interface boasts semitransparent windows for ease of use. Unfotunately I couldn’t capture all of the semitransparent windows in the screen shot but they include a huge and easy to use color wheel, a history pallet and a layers pallet as well.

There are hundreds of free plugins available that can do everything from open a .psd file to producing a .pdf. There is even a plugin to handle RAW image file which does not handle by itself. Many of the plugins are indeed quite good.

It is also pretty easy to find tutorials online including on its home site, however this article ( highlights the ten best. So why not look at the tutorials here first and then see if you feel its worth the download. There are many forums and video tutorials online as well.

If you don’t understand the basics of image editing, including layers, selections, and masks, is an ideal and unintinedating place to start. If you are skilled in Photoshop guru should make you a bit more productive for routine fixes and editing. Why not give it a try. Its free open source software that runs on Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7. You can download at

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Life Without Photoshop

Retouched gently using

Let’s face facts, Photoshop is as ubiquious with image editing as Xerox once was with photocopying. But can you survive without Photoshop? What if you cannot afford it, or like me, find Photoshop needlessly complex? What if you do not like Photoshop, for whatever reason?

My argument is that post processing should be kept to a minimum. However we all want to bring out the full potential of our photos don’t we? so over the next few weeks I will help explore five free image editors and organiozation tools.

  1. – is a project that was once endorsed by Microsoft. It has become a very capable free image editor and can do much of what Photosho[ can do. I put first not because I like it best, but because it is so easy to use, especially for selections and re-sizing pictures. (
  2. Picassa (by google) – Picassa’s strength isn’t editing, it is phot re-organization and touchup. Think of it as Photoshop’s “bridge”, or Photoshop Elements Orgnizer. The software had unioque features like face recognition and has some cool filters. You can adjust the exposure, crop, and fix red-eye. It is a must have for all photographers. (
  3. GIMP – Graphics Image Manipulation Program – Is my favorite! It is powerful and in many respects mlore powerful than Photshop! It has more plugins available than Photoshop and because it is open source, everythiong for the GIMP is absolutely free. It is also easy to use, once you get the hang of it. What is its downfall? The interface is very different and you either like it, or you hate it. Because of that difference, some say its hard to learn but only if you know Photoshop already and are closed-minded. The GIMP rocks! (
  4. GIMPhoto – Imagine that somebody took the GIMP and made it very much like Photoshop CS4 by changing the interface. Well somebody did.  (
  5. Gimpshop – Is based on an older version of GIMP but it ALMOST PERFECTLY mimics Photoshop CS2. This is great for learning. And because it accepts all of the GIMP’s myriad of plugins things like red eye can be fixed with a mouseclick. (

And there you have it – five excellent FREE image editing tools. I believe that and GIMP can rival or even improve Photoshop’s workflow. Now can somebody answer me a question? Why is it that people who know Phoptoshop are so reluctant to try something else, even if it is better? GIMP is better for many tasks, has more filters and plugns, etc. is more user-friedly, has a better interface, and is speedier to work with!

Over the next while, we will look at some aspects of the free photo editors and we will explore some inexpensive commercial products such as Corel Paintshop X4 and Serif Graphics X4 as well.

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Should photographers shoot more WYSIWYG??

A Moment in Time (unretouched just as it happened)

We live in a world of perfection don’t we? Everything has to live up to a collective expectation of whatever Madison Avenue is selling us. Perhaps in this digital age, today’s photographers are so interested in creating perfection that they often ignore the beauty of reality!

Honestly,  I am not a fan of Photoshop. Well not exactly the product, but the concept of “fixing” photos to death. In fact, the fact that “photoshopped” is a verb bugs me! Who says that “reality bites?”

I recently took my camera to Stowe Vt. I took some photos of a covered bridge that the town is famous for. I showed the photo to a friend who is also a photographer.  My friend suggested what I could do to improve the image and make it “pop”. I liked it the way it was.

And this illustrates a point. Why are we so obsessed with taking out every blemish, every zit, every last stray shadow, and making every photo as  “managed” and “messaged” as possible. In the process we have forgotten how to “see pictures”. We no longer place an emphasis on composition, and depth of field, and technique when taking the picture. in the good old days, a scant 10 years ago, most self-respecting photographers would use Kodachrome (just ask Paul Simon!) The one nuance about color slide film is its WYSIWYG! No retouching possible. What you see is what you get every time. Exposure, compensation, depth of field, and especially composition have to be perfect. A moment in time is enshrined forever EXACTLY as the camera sees it. What a great lesson for today’s digital darkroom mavens.

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Hello world!

If you want to know more about me, and why I am writing this blog, just read the “about page“.

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