Monthly Archives: April 2007

Who Qualifies As A Photographer?


The digital revolution has made photography accessible to so many new people. I won’t lie, I’m one of them — I never shot film. But just because you have a camera, does this make you a photographer?

Personally, I would consider anybody who takes pictures for the sake of taking pictures, a photographer. You may disagree with me on this, and I welcome you to share your thoughts, but I still believe this to be true. I also believe that the question is not a simple one; there’s more to it than yes or no, black or white.

There are professional photographers among us, and I consider this group of people to be those who make a living of photography. But even here, there are shades of gray. My idea of a professional photographer (or a professional anything for that matter) is somebody who makes at least half their income from photography. So what am I a professional at? I’m a professional engineer — not in the strictest sense (a professional engineer actually requires a special certification), but I mean that I am an engineer by profession. That’s how I make my money.

If you’re not a professional photographer, where does that leave you? From here, I would divide the rest of us into two major groups: the casuals and the hobbyists. You might say that there are also photography students, but I would consider them to be a hobbyist who happens to be a student.

The casuals are the group of people who like to take pictures, but that’s about where their interest peaks. They have no ambition to get bigger-better camera and spend all their savings on photography equipment. They usually don’t care to edit photos, participate in photography communities, or learn the more advanced tricks and techniques associated with photography. They just like to take pictures. Nothing wrong with this. I know, and associate with, a lot of folks in this category — in fact, I married one. My wife could care less about the how or the why, but she probably takes as many pictures as I do.

Then there are the hobbyists. We love taking photos. Notice I said “photos” rather than “pictures”. I suppose the two are really interchangeable, but I consider a photo to be a thought out picture. We think about what we’re doing with the camera and how it affects the photo. We experiment, and we learn from it. We want to know more about photography in general, and we seek out sources of information such as books, websites, blogs, communities, and other photographers. We drool over that piece of equipment we can’t afford, and we find that we’re never quite satisfied with what we already have. All right — maybe not all hobbyists are exactly like me, but you know you can’t deny some of these things.

So am I totally off my rocker here? You tell me — who qualifies as a photographer?

Equipment Review: Giottos Rocket Air Blaster

When it comes to photography gear, dirt is bad. This is ever so true with dSLR systems. Static electricity causes dirt and fuzz to cling to lens elements, mirrors, and sensors. Each time you change a lens, you open up your camera and invite debris to enter. Small amounts of dust don’t typically cause problems, but it can build up until you get unsightly spots on your photos. Here’s something to help prevent buildup.

Rocket Air Blaster
By Giottos

The Rocket Blaster is a key tool for preventative maintenance. When squeezed, it directs a focused stream of air at the target, clearing any loose dust or particles. It won’t take care of the really stuck-on stuff, but you’d be surprised at what it can do.

I use this tool for clearing off the front and rear elements of my lenses before and after each use. A simple wipe-down may not be effective when static electricity is holding the dust to the elements. I also use the rocket blaster during lens changes to blow out the sensor chamber. This clears the mirror and sensor of any loose dust that may have found it’s way in during the lens swap. To do this, just hold the camera face down (so the dust doesn’t settle back into the chamber) and blow it out. If you really want to go nuts, you can lock the mirror and get a better shot at the sensor, but it’s not always necessary.

Another use I found for the Rocket Blaster is in macro photography. When you take photos of things at high magnification, you make it much easier to see any debris that is stuck to the subject you’re trying to photograph — dust, fuzz, pollen, dirt, small bugs, etc. Just take the Rocket Blaster and give the subject a little air shower prior to shooting it, and your macro photos will come out much cleaner.

Physically, the tool isn’t a small one. It won’t fit in your pocket like a spare battery or lens cleaning cloth will. But if you can make room for it in your camera bag or backpack, it’s well worth having it with you. The price is right on this thing, usually between $5 and $10 at Amazon or most other photography shops — certainly much less than the cost of getting your sensor cleaned.

Funky Jazz Graffiti

Another of my photos from my trip to Europe. There are parts of Neuchatel (and other cities) in Switzerland that are bursting with colorful graffiti. This one kind of struck me mostly because of the orange wall with 6 foot lettering on it. The fact that somebody spray-painted the word “fonky” (which I’m assuming was “funky” at one point) right in front of it kind of made me laugh, so I took a picture. I wish I had been paying more attention to my composition, because I ended up cropping the bottom of the “J” a little bit. Oh well, too late now.

Funky Jazz Graffiti

The JPEG image (1) actually had colors that were pretty close to the real colors. I decided that I wanted to warm it up a little bit with the RAW conversion (2). I also adjusted the image for less contrast during the conversion, because I knew I was going to need it for the next step. I duplicated the image into a new layer and applied a Hard Mix layer blend (3) at 48% opacity and 48% fill. This blend really boosts the contrast and color saturation, so I needed to start with a fairly dull image so I didn’t clip the highlights or shadows. I still had a little bit of room to play on the histogram, so I applied levels and curves adjustment layers (4). For the levels, I brought the black point up to 7 and the white point down to 230. The curves adjustment was just a very slight “S” curve to help bring the mid-tone contrast up. On top of these adjustment layers (5), I created a new empty layer and did a “Stamp Visible” command (CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+E) to create a merged copy of the image and adjustments into the new layer. Then I duplicated it one more time. The first copy got a Color Dodge layer blend at 20% opacity and 9% fill — this brightened the highlights a bit more. The second copy got a Color Burn layer blend at 21% opacity and 11% fill — this darkened the shadows a bit more. The final step was to copy the merged output again into a new layer using the Stamp Visible command, and apply sharpening using the Unsharp Mask.

Fonky Jazz Graffiti

Photo by Brian Auer
03/05/07 Neuchatel, Switzerland
Funky Jazz Graffiti
Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D
Konica Minolta AF DT 18-200
75mm equiv * f/4.5 * 1/30s * ISO100

Photography Blog Project: Reader Sites

UPDATE: The polls are closed on this project. The response was overwhelming, and I thank everybody who participated. The results can be found in the “Photography Sites From My Readers” post.

I’ve noticed that many of you commenters have your own photography-related sites, whether it be a blog about photography, a photoblog, or a gallery. I usually subscribe if you have a feed, so I can keep up with all of you. I’m curious how many of you non-commenters also have photography sites.

I propose we do a little blog project that will allow everyone to share their sites with the other readers. Nothing major — I just want to get a roundup of all your sites and post them here with a link and a description for all the other readers to see. Plus I’d like to add your sites to my arsenal of feeds that I digest every day.

So if you have a photography-related site, take 2 minutes and…

  1. Go to the Contact page
  2. For the subject line type “Reader Site”
  3. In the message put the name of your site, web address, and a one sentence description
  • DEADLINE: May 2, 2007

DON’T SUBMIT YOUR SITES IN THE COMMENTS! I want it to be a surprise for everyone. If you have more than one site, do a separate message for each one or separate them in a single message with extra line breaks. You’ll get a confirmation email when I get your submission. I’ll give you guys five days to get your sites in to me, then I’ll compile everything and try to group sites by category. I’ll post everybody’s sites in an article on May 4th, and the format will look something like this:

Epic Edits Weblog by Brian Auer
A Photography Resource for the Aspiring Hobbyist

Auer PhotoWorks by Brian Auer
High Quality Fine-Art Photography Prints

So don’t be shy, don’t hold back, and don’t assume I’ll include your site just because I know you — you must submit your site through the contact form. Your sites will be listed by date and time of submission, so do it early to get a top spot. Everybody who fulfils the requirement of having a photography related site is welcome to participate.

After I post the article, I’ll email you the list in html and you are more than welcome to take it and post it on your own site. It’s not a requirement that you do, but it’s a nice gesture to spread the link love and give some visibility to the other photographers. If you decide to post the links, I just ask that you don’t remove anybody from the list or change the site titles or descriptions. Other than that, you’re free to reorganize, re-categorize, or re-stylize the list.

If you don’t have a photography site and you want to participate, don’t worry just yet. If this one goes well, I have a few other ideas for group projects that will include everybody. If you have an idea for another group project, let me know in the comments or through the contact page.

Now get over to the contact page and tell me about your site.

Social Networking for Bloggers and Photographers

I’ve been getting more involved with social networks and online communities lately. There are a ton of resources out there for bloggers and photographers alike. These social networks are a great place to learn about specific topics and interact with other people who share a common interest.

If you haven’t noticed (or if you only read the feed), I’ve placed “My Networks” on the right sidebar so you can meet up with me online in various places. If you belong to any of these groups, and you like my blog or my photography, add me as a friend or contact and I’ll gladly do the same for you. If you want to learn more about me or my other interests, that information is scattered across my various networks.

Here are the five I’m most active with:

StumbleUpon! — This one is my favorite, and I’ve been spending a lot of time there. The site offers hours of mind-numbing websurfing fun, social networks, and discussion groups. If you’re not a Stumbler, you’ve got to try it. Visit me at StumbleUpon!

photographyVoter — If you know about digg and you hate the fact that they don’t have a category for photography, this site takes care of that. It’s like digg, but only for photography. Visit me at photographyVoter.

MyBlogLog — This is a site for bloggers to network with each other. It’s not quite as interactive as the previous two sites, but it’s not bad. Visit me at MyBlogLog or visit the Epic Edits Weblog community.

MySpace — Yes… I have a MySpace. I just made one a week ago, and I’m finding that there are a ton of discussion groups here that you can interact with. Haven’t been able to participate yet because my account is less than 7 days old, but I’ll be hitting the discussion groups this weekend. Visit me at MySpace.

Technorati — Not really an interactive discussion-type site, but you can add favorite sites and things. Visit me at Technorati.

If you, yourself, have a blog or a photo gallery that you’re trying to promote, these networks are a great place to do so. Just remember, you have to be an active contributor to these communities to really reap the benefits — otherwise you’ll just look like a spammer and get shunned from the community.

So get out there and make some connections with the people you’d otherwise never meet!

Three Geese

This photo was taken at the pond next to our home in New Jersey. It’s always filled with geese, especially during migrations. The kids were running around in the grass (which was why I had the camera with me in the first place), and there were a few geese hanging out in the water. The sun was setting in the direction I was pointing the camera, so the reflection in the water was very strong. I snapped a few shots of the birds as the swam in front of us. Nothing major, nothing really planned or thought out — I just took a couple of pictures.

Three Geese

The original color photo (1) wasn’t too bad, but I wanted to see what I could do with black & white. I used the Adobe Photoshop CS3 black & white adjustment layer (2) set to a high contrast blue filter, which is -50% red, -50% yellow, -50% green, 150% cyan, 150% blue, and 150% magenta. There really wasn’t much of anything but red and yellow in there, so it really darkened the photo a lot. I liked the way it was starting to look because the ripples in the water were becoming more pronounced. So then I did a levels adjustment (3) where I brought the white point down to 85. The last step was a curves adjustment layer (4) to raise the highlights a bit more and make the water stand out. I tried sharpening, but it looked funny so I left it out of this one. I’m pretty happy with the end result and how the water has kind of a metallic appearance — and I was really surprised at how much contrast I was able to pull out of the ripples in the water.

Three Geese

Photo by Brian Auer
10/28/06 Flemington, NJ
Three Geese
Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D
Konica Minolta AF DT 18-200
300mm equiv * f/8.0 * 1/200s * ISO100

The Ten Commandments of Photography

I’m not a seasoned photographer by anybodies standards, but I’ve managed to gather up a few thought “nuggets” on the subject of photography. I probably have more, but I set my limit to 10. So here are my ten commandments of photography, in no particular order.

  1. ALWAYS Know Your Equipment – Know how to use your equipment, know what all the settings and options do, and know how they affect your photography. Be comfortable with your camera.
  2. NEVER Try Too Hard – Have fun and learn as you go. The hard stuff will start to come naturally; you’ll just get frustrated if you try forcing it.
  3. ALWAYS Break The Rules – Maybe not always, but don’t be afraid to do it. Know the rules of photography well enough to know how to properly break them.
  4. ALWAYS Rediscover Yourself – Don’t forget about your past photos. Go back through them, look at them in new ways, and make something of them.
  5. ALWAYS Try New Things – Don’t hesitate to alter compositions while shooting, use your equipment in a non-traditional way, explore the camera settings while shooting, and try new post processing techniques.
  6. ALWAYS Mimic Those Who Inspire You – If you like an artist or a photo, figure out why. Apply that to your own work and mix it with other styles you’ve picked up.
  7. NEVER Forget Your Roots – What got you into photography? If you’re ever lacking inspiration, go back to your roots. For me, it’s my kids.
  8. ALWAYS Do It For Yourself – Don’t take pictures that you think other people will like. If you like them, that’s all that counts.
  9. ALWAYS Get Your Priorities Straight – Your camera gear is expensive. Your pictures are worth more than money. But your knowledge of photography is invaluable.
  10. NEVER Stop Learning – I try to apply this philosophy to life in general. You’ll never cease to be amazed at the things you can learn. And my favorite saying “The more you learn, the less you know” is so dang true.

What commandments do you photograph by?

Windows In Brussels

Another one of my shots from my short trip to Europe. This one was taken in Brussels, Belgium at the “Grand Place”, which is kind of the central market square. It was late and the sun had set, but there was a little bit of light left in the sky. I had to shoot at ISO 1600 and a wide open aperture just to get the shot off. Even then, I could only get the shutter speed down to 1/15 seconds. I shot handheld, but I got down on one knee and rested my elbow on the other knee. I also shot at the shortest focal length to help hide any camera shake. All in all, it turned out okay. But it would have been really really nice to have a tripod with me.

Windows in Brussels

The JPEG of this photo (1) wasn’t too bad, but it was a little clipped on both ends of the histogram and it seemed over saturated too. The RAW conversion (2) had a better dynamic range and the colors weren’t as overbearing. The color still didn’t thrill me, so I went black & white (3) with the Adobe Photoshop CS3 black & white adjustment layer set to 168% red, 10% yellow, -23% green, 300% cyan, -48% blue, and 123% magenta. This gave pretty good contrast in the sky and in the building. Then I did an initial curves adjustment layer (4) with an “S” curve to increase the contrast. I did a little bit of masking by hand to get the clouds looking better here too. Then I did another curves adjustment layer (5) to bring the midtones up a bit for more contrast — and again more masking by hand. The last step was a sharpening (6) with the unsharp mask. This actually made the sky much grainier than it had looked before, but I liked it so I left it in.

Windows in Brussels

Photo by Brian Auer
03/07/07 Brussels, Belgium
Windows in Brussels
Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D
Konica Minolta AF DT 18-200
27mm equiv * f/3.5 * 1/15s * ISO1600

The New Rule Of Thirds

So here’s a little weekend humor for ya. I saw this on Adult Swim the other night — I forget the context, but it didn’t have anything to do with photography. Naturally, as a photographer, I couldn’t help but relate it to the widely-known rule of thirds. So here’s my suggestion for the next-gen rule of thirds, or thirds 2.0 if you will.

  1. 1/3 Is Good
  2. 1/3 Is Crap
  3. 1/3 Doesn’t Matter

That’s it. No more trying to line things up on the 1/3 marks within the frame. Nobody follows that garbage anymore. Next time you’re out shooting, fill the frame with 1/3 good stuff, 1/3 crap (not literally), and 1/3 that doesn’t matter.

Let me know how that works out for you.

The Capital of the World

Yet another shot of mine from the deck of a moving boat. I really am terrible. It’s hard not to when you’re in the New York waterways. This one presented itself to me as kind of a nice little capture of the Statue of Liberty with Manhattan in the frame. Since the boat was moving, I didn’t have much time to frame it up and try different things. For this one, I pretty much centered the statue vertically (which incidentally positioned the city-line at about the 1/3 mark) and zoomed to include the statue and all of Manhattan. The sun was setting, so there wasn’t a lot of light, and it also caused the haze to look abnormally dirty. The only saving grace for this photo was turning it black & white.

click for larger image

As you can see, the original image (1) was a bit dull and washed out. The layer of brown haze hovering over the city didn’t make it any more exciting either. Before I did anything, I cloned out the buoy in the foreground water (2). Then I toyed around with the Adobe Photoshop CS3 black and white adjustment layer (3). I settled on 120% red, 120% yellow, -10% green, -50% cyan, -115% blue, and 120% magenta. This turned the water and upper sky dark while brightening the brownish color of the city and the haze. For me, it created a nice 3 band separation from dark to light to dark again. For the finishing touches I applied a levels adjustment layer (4) with the shadow input at 11, the highlight input at 227, and the midtone at 1.00. A curves adjustment layer (5) was used to brighten the highlights/midtones just slightly, while maintaining the shadows. Last step was sharpening (6) with the unsharp mask.

Gates of New York

Photo by Brian Auer
11/05/06 New York, NY
The Capital of the World
Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D
Konica Minolta AF DT 18-200
45mm equiv * f/16 * 1/45s * ISO100