Planning for Photoshop™


One of the most overused statements by photographers has to be, “I’ll fix it in Photoshop™.”

When photo editing software is used to compensate for sloppy camera settings, poor composition or incorrect lighting, the photographer must, by definition, degrade the image in order to “fix” it. Exposure adjustments, color temperature adjustments and cropping all remove pixels and, therefore, reduce detail in an image. The photographer does not deliver the best images and the client suffers with this lower quality.

To be clear, I use Photoshop and/or Lightroom on just about every image I deliver. Digital images are not in final form when captured in the camera. RAW images must be processed and some editing adjustments are also needed. But my strategy is to use any photo editing software as little as possible, and only as a last resort if needed to fix a mistake that cannot be recovered in another way (such as a re-shoot.)

Recently I took some photos of an artwork restoration project. Tom Jones owns Sierra Hills Framing in downtown Lincoln. He recently framed a large painting that had been meticulously restored and he wanted some photos of the finished product before it was delivered to the owner.

Here is the back story on this painting: The artist was Gustave Henry Mosler, who lived from 1875 – 1906. He painted this image in 1902. The painting is nearly 8′ tall and about 11′ wide. The owner discovered it stored in a barn on rural property that she had inherited. When she found it, the painting was rolled up, had several rips in the canvas and was covered in mud and dust. At first she considered discarding it without investigating, but soon realized what it was. A professional fine art restorer in Grass Valley brought the painting back to life by attaching it to a new canvas and attaching it to a stretching frame, and carefully cleaning it. Tom Jones completed the final framing work.

I first considered the best way to light the painting in order to photograph it. The surface of the canvas has several ripples and creases, and the glossy paint finish was very reflective. I determined that any lights within the family of angles would reflect on the surface. If I moved the lights more to the sides, the raking of light would bring out the rippled surface and likely reflect those as well. After looking at the painting, I decided the best solution was to photograph this item with the full intention of using Photoshop as part of the primary capture process.  I would light and shoot the painting as two separate images and blend them into one image in post production.

The most important key to blending images is to use a sturdy tripod – this provides images that register and align without any changes in perspective.  I positioned the tripod at the center of the painting, and raised it as high as it would go. I noticed that the painting was leaning at a different angle than the back of my camera, so I made a note to also adjust the perspective of the final image. I chose not to move the painting at all.

I positioned two monolights, each one high on a light stand on either side of the camera, about 10′ away from the camera. Each light had a 7″ reflector and cast a bright glare on its respective side of the image. In my test shots I could see that the placement was correct for the effect I wanted. I was getting a clean shot of each half of the image. With the lights set at equal power, I shot two frames, each with only one light firing.

With one light firing from the left, its reflection appears in the upper quadrant of the painting, but the part I plan to use is the right half.
The light on the right gives clear color, and very little reflection on the left half of the image. I knew had the pieces I needed to make a complete image.

Before moving anything, I also positioned Tom to one side of the painting, put a softbox on one of the lights, moved it closer to Tom and took an additional photo with him standing next to the painting. This would give me an additional frame for blending.

The only part of this image I cared about was the section outside of the edge of the painting where Tom is standing. The softbox is visible in the upper left part of the image.

That was it for the camera – half of my capture was done. I brought the images into Photoshop and put each of them in a layer. With simple layer masking I was able to blend the two images of the painting with very little effort. An additional layer mask allowed me to include Tom in the photo, as seen below.

The final image, the result of a planned composite of three images.

In this result, the colors of the painting are reproduced accurately and as vibrant as the original. Including Tom in the image gives the viewer immediate information about the size of this painting.

I spent about 5 minutes planning my approach. The setup time was about 10 minutes, shooting took about 5 minutes and the post production work was an additional 10 minutes.

This is a similar technique to the way I’ve made many real estate photographs, where the lighting gear is best located within the image and removed later in a blended image.

Here is another example of this technique. I wanted a tight grid light on Jen, but also wanted to include a large part of the empty room. The light needed to be fairly close to her, so I chose to shoot an image with the light stand in the image and remove it by blending two images. (These photos were taken at the old rail yard buildings in downtown Sacramento prior to reconstruction.)

The light stand is visible in this frame.
One ambient-light image with the light stand removed.
The final image – no light stand visible.

When a photographer appropriately plans to use editing software as part of the image-making process, the resulting photo can be made quickly and easily, without loss of detail.

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Gear review: Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO lens

Olympus recently released its second PRO level lens: the Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO zoom lens


Note: This review is written as a casual review based on user experiences. I don’t intend to provide a calibrated, scientific description of this lens.

In 2014, Olympus came through on their promise to bring a second PRO-version zoom lens to market. After the heralded debut of the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens late in 2013, the natural companion lens, the 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO zoom lens began shipping in November.

This 40-150mm zoom lens (hereafter called the “40-150”) has all the engineering and design aspects of its older sibling. Made with polished black metal and high-grade plastics, the 40-150 feels solid and well-balanced in hand. The zoom and focus rings are dampened and turn smoothly without play. The focus ring features the manual focus clutch that’s also seen on the 12-40 lens – with a simple snap backwards the lens shifts into manual focus mode and reveals a distance scale. The manual focus ring has stops at both ends and the focus throw is a bit short. Push the focus ring forward to return to auto focus mode.

The lens remains at one physical length while focusing and zooming; both functions are internal movements and do not extend the length of the lens.

The earlier 40-150mm R f/4-5.6 lens (left) in less than half the size and weight of the new 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO lens (right).

Weather sealing is part of the design, providing splashproof, dustproof and freezeproof protection.

The included (Yes!) lens hood has a very unique design to it. Rather than deal with the usual clumsy method of twisting, removing, turning around and remounting the lens shade, the shade on the 40-150 stays attached and simply retracts backward until the front of the shade is even with the front of the lens. The lens shade can be removed completely, if desired. This is a very simple and convenient way to store a lens shade.

Mounted on an Olympus E-M1, the lens hood has been removed. The tripod collar mount on the lens is in use here.
The lens hood is attached and extended in this image.
When retracted, the front of the lens hood aligns with the front of the lens. Very clever design feature.

Wouldn’t it be great if Olympus offered a retro-fit lens shade like this for the 12-40mm PRO lens?

The maximum aperture of this lens is a constant f/2.8 and the 40-150mm range provides a 35mm equivalent field of view of 80-300mm. Coupled with the Olympus in-body image stabilization, this lens is comparable to the ubiquitous “70-200 f/2.8 IS/VR” lens genre that is popular among DSLR crowds. One distinction of this Olympus version is the relatively smaller size and weight compared to the full frame tribes. The Olympus 40-150 weighs just under 2 pounds (with the tripod collar included) and measures about 6 1/4″ in length and 3″ diameter. The filter size is 72mm. This lens is definitely larger than other Micro 4/3 lenses and approaches the limits of satisfying the “small/light” aspect that attracts many users to M4/3 systems.

The 40-150 lens is constructed of 16 elements in 10 groups, with one aspherical ED lens, and two aspherical lenses.

In use, the lens complements the Olympus OMD E-M1 body nicely. When attached to the E-M5 or E-M10 body, the lens dominates the presence of the camera in the hands. Adding an accessory grip to either of these bodies will provide a more secure way to hold onto the rig. I don’t have any of the Olympus PEN cameras, but I expect this lens would overpower those smaller bodies.

The auto focus is extremely fast and silent. So fast, I needed to perform a couple of deliberate focusing moves to confirm that it was actually operating. I had previously upgraded the E-M1 firmware to version 2.2; this version reportedly supports improved auto-focusing for the 40-150 lens. It was a bit of a surprise to see how closely this lens can focus on a subject. The lens specs list this distance at 27.5 inches and this allows for some near-macro effects. (The 12-40mm PRO lens also features a very close focus range, apparently another family trait.)

Image quality of the 40-150 lens is excellent, even at wide-open. The image acceptably holds its sharpness into the corners of the frame. When used for portraiture at a wide aperture, the out of focus areas in the background look smooth and soft. With the smaller M4/3 sensor, the depth of field at the widest aperture is not razor thin; it shows a bit more sharpness than a larger sensor would display.

I used the lens for an editorial assignment the day after it arrived. ISO 100, 1/125, f/3.5 @100mm
ISO200, f/2.8 1/1600 @150mm, handheld about 3′ away from flower
100% crop from above image.
ISO400, 1/1250, f/2.8 @82mm
ISO400, 1/1600, f/4.5 @150mm handheld
100% crop from above image.
ISO100, 3.2 seconds, f/11, @70mm on tripod

Overall, the Olympus 40-150mm PRO lens delivers as promised. When paired with the 12-40mm PRO lens, a photographer can have a constant f/2.8 maximum aperture spanning across an effective field of view of 24-300mm.

Many comments on discussions forums raise the question, “With these two lenses, how much will you use your fast prime lenses?”

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Olympus 25mm lens: the new Normal

The Olympus 25mm f/1.8 lens is the new Normal lens.



When I bought my first single lens reflex (SLR) camera in 1974, it came with a 50mm lens. This lens was often referred to as a “normal” lens because its focal length closely mimics the field of view of the human eye. Lenses with a focal length shorter than 35mm were considered “wide angle” lenses and those with focal lengths longer than 100mm were known as “telephoto” lenses. Zoom lenses were rare, expensive and considered to be inferior quality because of the additional glass elements.

I should also mention this was at a time well before an auto-focus lens was considered viable.

During this same time, Olympus introduced its OM-1 SLR 35mm film camera. This camera was primarily touted for its compact size.

Fast forward to the 21st century and we still try to reconcile the technology of film cameras with digital photography. With the advent of crop-sensor digital SLR cameras, the concept of lens focal length gets more confusing, requiring some quick multiplication with “crop factors” like 1.5 (Nikon) or 1.6 (Canon). As an example, a 50mm lens on a full frame camera is considered a normal lens, but that same lens mounted on a crop-sensor camera would result in a field of view more like a 75-80mm lens.

Adding to the crop-sensor arena, the Micro Four Thirds (M4/3) format was introduced in 2008. The M4/3 sensor is approximately one-half the diagonal measurement of a full frame sensor. Conveniently for the math-challenged, the crop-factor is 2, meaning a 50mm lens would have the field of view of a 100mm lens on a full frame camera.

Olympus entered the M4/3 market with a line of Pen cameras and in 2012 released its OMD E-M5 DSLR camera. This camera has retro designs that harken back to the original OM-1 camera, including the more compact body size. Recently Olympus completed the retro package when it introduced the 25mm f/1.8 lens for M4/3. This 25mm lens is my  new Normal lens.

The Olympus OM1 (left) and the OMD E-M5 DSLR (right) share a similar design style.

When the E-M5 and 25mm lens are positioned next to the original OM-1 with 50mm lens, it is apparent how retro the E-M5 is. It is also interesting to note how small the OM-1 really was; it is only slightly larger than the E-M5.

Head to head – the OM-1 camera was a small camera for its time, and is only slightly larger than the current E-M5.

The Olympus 25mm lens is small and light. It balances well when mounted on the E-M5 camera body. With a maximum aperture of f/1.8, it offers some very good low light capabilities. The construction of the lens is very solid. When using manual focus, the focus ring in well-dampened and smooth.

I put the lens on my silver E-M5 camera and headed out for a walk. I immediately felt like I was 17 again, the my brand-spanking-new fancy pants camera. The “normal” field of view was vaguely familiar, having many years of many different lenses since then to cloud my memory.

The lens focuses very quickly and quietly. Even at its widest aperture, the image area from edge to edge is sharp. The depth of field is not as shallow as its ancestors, due to the smaller sensor size. However, the 25mm lens does a great job at softening the background when used in the right conditions.

The Olympus 50mm lens on an E-M5 body. The metal lens hood doubles as a filter adapter, stepping up from 46mm to 52mm filter size.
I took a walk through a vintage mall. It seemed like the perfect location to take some retro-themed photos.
A former fruit-packing facility has been converted into an artist’s haven.


Plenty of soft-focus available at f/1.8.
This person died 97 years before JFK.
The normal field of view.
Making room for new development.
A new US Bank building stands above Capitol Mall.
Bird’s eye view.

P2180009– + –


2013 – Looking back over the last 12 months

The sun sets on another year. (Lincoln countryside)


This has been a great year, one filled with changes, growth and plenty of fun.

The year started with relocating to Lincoln, California. While Lincoln is not far from Sacramento, it has a very different feel. With a population of 44,000 people, Lincoln offers a quieter and slower-paced lifestyle. Local businesses are very friendly and comfortable. People regularly say “Hello” on the sidewalks and I’ve seen numerous examples of the community coming together to help a neighbor who may struggling with one of life’s challenges.

Downtown Lincoln has a small-town feel.
The benches offer a place to sit and visit with neighbors.
A local resident parks his classic car in front of the Carnegie Library building.

One of the hurdles of moving was establishing my photo business in our new location. After living in Sacramento for almost 50 years, I knew it would be important to make new connections in Lincoln. Joining the local Chamber of Commerce and Art League were the first steps; both of these organizations were very welcoming and open to new members. We immediately met some friendly and supportive people and began making connections to others.

Before we moved to Lincoln, I tried to research information about Lincoln and noticed a dearth of information about the town, its traditions and events. I realized there was likely an unmet need for local news, so I launched “LIFE in Lincoln,” a feature-news website. I figured this would be a great way to learn more about the town and gain some exposure to the locals at the same time. I asked around about interesting events and people, interviewed them and took their photos and posted stories. I was a bit surprised at the response. In 2013, LIFE in Lincoln had 3,575 unique visitors and 7,410 pageviews. I consider that a big accomplishment for the first year.

In addition to the exposure provided by the site, I had the greater pleasure of learning more about the people of Lincoln. Some examples:

Fortunately, the move to Lincoln did not disrupt my current photography business in Sacramento. I had the pleasure of working some new clients in 2013, including KB Homes, Range of Light, Motel 6 and Hill Physicians. I also enjoyed shooting again for many regular clients, some of whom have been working with me for several years.

The 4th of July parade in downtown Lincoln.
Fireworks fill the sky over the crowd at the local park.

After teaching photo classes at the Learning Exchange for four years, I decided it was time to pass it on to someone else. I’ve meet over 1,000 students in these classes and teaching has been very rewarding. The additional miles of driving began to wear on me, plus I’m really compelled to begin teaching photo classes in Lincoln.

Some personal projects also kept me busy this year. I helped a friend convert a few hundred 35mm color slides to digital files. These were photos he took as a young man in the service in the 60’s. It was fun to hear his reactions when he saw the images of old friends and family members. Some of these images looked better after digital enhancement than they did as the original slides. I also had the honor of hanging some of my photographic art in art shows and coffee shops. With all the digital viewing methods available, sometimes a framed print is still the most enjoyable to look at.

In the category of photo gear, this was also a year of changes. I downsized, both in the quantity of equipment and the footprint as well. I noticed a growing accumulation of camera gear and decided I needed to lighten my load. I sold off most of it and in doing so, I’ve also moved over to a new system of cameras. These cameras offer excellent image quality in a smaller and lighter design. I’m really enjoying the freedom and fun in shooting with less clutter, both in my hands and in my head.

New camera (left) is smaller and lighter than the former gear (right).

I’m looking forward to 2014 – every year is better than the last. Happy New Year!

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Give me three feet or give me death


At 40 MPH, three feet is not a lot of room.


Well, maybe there is no need for such drama.

I took this photo five years ago as a personal assignment. I wanted to illustrate how it feels to ride a bicycle on a busy city street.

The California Bicycle Coalition asked if they could use the photo as part of their campaign to pass a law requiring drivers to give bicyclists three feet of space on a roadway. Of course, I agreed.

This week Governor Jerry Brown just signed the “three-foot” legislation, Assembly Bill 1371. The bill is not heavy-handed; it has a base fine of $35. I’m also guessing that most drivers won’t change much of their behavior because of AB1371. After all, we’ve had laws on the books for decades about stopping at a stop sign, yielding right of way to pedestrians and, more recently, no texting while driving. If you look around, you’ll notice that these laws aren’t always followed by some drivers either.

At least there’s a law now.

If you’re interested in knowing how this photo was taken, it was pretty simple. I modified a shelf bracket to mount a small DSLR camera onto the rear axle of my bicycle. I used a 10-20mm lens for a very wide perspective, set the shutter speed to 1/30 second for some blur effects, and used a small radio remote to fire the camera while I navigated in traffic. After about 250 shots, I found at least one good one (above).


I mounted my DSLR camera to the bike frame with a modified shelf bracket and a ball head.


I used some safety cables to keep the camera from bouncing down the street. It never came loose.

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Sports photos – how much gear is enough?

Steve Nash plays with a "professional" basketball.

04-02-2013  (Click on photos to see a larger view.)

I’ve been shooting quite a few sporting events lately. Actually, it was action photography that got me started in photography, um, 39 years ago. Motorcycle racing, to be more specific.


Kenny Roberts, circa 1975 (The continuous shooting rate was as fast as I could crank the lever.)

Sports photography requires specialized photo gear if you want to improve your chances of getting something good. Some of the basic requirements are:

  • – Fast shutter speeds to minimize unwanted motion blur
  • – Enough lens magnification to fill the frame with action that is usually happening at some distance away
  • – Rapid continuous shooting rates to give you more choices
  • – Decent low light/high ISO image quality
  • – Usually more than one camera body/lens combination for a variety of viewpoints

Sports photography also requires some specialized techniques:

Fast Food – Food Photography on the Run


Tempura that stands on its own.


I recently wrapped up a couple of editorial assignments that required lip-smacking images of food.

When I approach food photography, I lean towards large simple lighting, clean backgrounds and authentic food appearances. This last point is important to me. I don’t change the food once the chef has handed it off for two reasons: I want to show the food exactly the way it was prepared, and more importantly, I will probably eat some of it when I’m done photographing it. I certainly don’t want to dress up the food with any products that aren’t part of the original recipe. So no motor oil on the meats for me, thank you.

Since I usually get to “shoot my cake and eat it too,”  this makes me very happy.

The challenges with food photography include working carefully to light the food so it looks its best and working quickly before the appeal of the food wears off. Freshly cooked food can lose its luster quickly.

The first assignment was a photo essay of a newly-opened Sushi/Karaoke Restaurant in downtown Sacramento. Oishii Sushi Bar and Grill is a visual treat. Located on the second level at 10th & K Streets, the large bar area is lit with remote-controlled LED lights that pulsate in different colors. In addition to the bar and restaurant seating areas, Oishii offers a number of private karaoke party rooms; some rooms are small and some are very large with several large TV screens.


Oishii Sushi Bar and Grill features LED-lit rooms

Since I was working on location, I brought a couple of small speedlights, adjustable radio triggers, a 24″ square softbox, Continue reading “Fast Food – Food Photography on the Run”