George Lepp's Photographic Tips and Insights
Tuesday 10 April 2012 — Category: Miscellaneous
As I wrote a few days ago, I recently attended the semiannual Nature Photographers of the Pacific Northwest meeting — held this time around on the campus of Lewis & Clark College, just up the I-5 in Portland. The main speaker was George Lepp. He gave two presentations: “George Lepp’s Innovative Approaches to Photographing Birds” and “From Snowflakes to Gigascapes: Maximizing the Creative Power of Today’s DSLRs.”
I was there in the third row, right in front of the podium, taking lots of notes on my iPad in a ClamCase. Rather than rewriting them into more sophisticated prose, I’m just going to leave them basically how they are, in the order they were written. Here goes....
MovingPhotos3D is an interesting piece of Mac software ... gotta check it out.
The morning presentation is “Whatever It Takes to Photograph Birds.” Three main points:
As an aside — come to find out George used to live by Morro Bay, which is in my old neck of the woods. He showed a photo of a hawk at Montaña de Oro State Park.
Klamath Falls Winter Wings Festival — George will be speaking next year (2013). Check it out!
Put a good teleconverter on a good lens, otherwise you will have quality issues. Ultimately, you will be disappointed with a bad teleconverter on a good lens, or a good teleconverter on a bad lens.
Better Beamer for focusing a flash to a narrower angle — for use with a telephoto lens. See www.BirdsAsArt.com — $44 (includes shipping).
You can use fill-flash for better photos. Use flash to fill in shadows, or to freeze action. Lower power settings have a shorter flash duration. Flash together with ambient light is a nice combination, especially at dawn or dusk. Interesting effects when you use a flash with a slow shutter speed on fast moving objects. When using a lot of flash, you might need an external power pack for the flash.
Blinds (aka hides) are ideal for photographic birds. These multiple-flash and blinds solutions George is showing are getting a lot more sophisticated and complicated. You can also use your vehicle as a blind — it works pretty good.
Interaction between animals in a photograph takes your shots to a whole nother level.
Remember that making panoramas of a series of photos can be very nice, even for wildlife not in the far distance.
You can also possible combine more than one teleconverter by stacking them! There are quality issues though.
During one of his short photo presentations, George used this song as background music (it must have been an instrumental section, because there was no singing): A Better Life by Brought Low. It was great music, but I didn’t realize there were lyrics. I guess I’ll pass on it after all.
Hoodman HoodCrane for DSLR video — check it out. They also have a Hoodman HoodLoupe — be sure to watch the product videos.
Now George is making some comments about the competition winning photos. According to him, the two biggest problems with competition entries is over-sharpening and over-saturation — both issues which can cause a photo to look unnatural. Be careful!
This serves to confirm whhat I was feeling about some cloud photos I processed yesterday, which I was — I hate to admit — over-sharpening. I’m going to have to re-do those and back off on the sharpening this time. Fortunately there are only seven photos, so it won’t be too much work. Check out the improved photos in the Albany Clouds 2012 photo album.
You can’t apply what you don’t know! You have to know what the post-production possibilities are BEFORE you go out and shoot!
Panoramas: make more use of it, for more than just wide landscape scenes. If you can, move your position when you take panorama photos, to avoid a distorted perspective. Make sure you have plenty of overlap to avoid problems — 50% overlap would be great.
You can also do multiple-image panoramas of macro shots. Move the object rather than the camera. You can get a lot more detail this way, and also a lot more of the object.
Helicon Focus software will let you composite photos with different areas of focus. From what George was sharing and showing, this is REALLY the way to go for awesome macro photography!
GigaPan software and EPIC Pro hardware for panoramas. You can even use this hardware for macro shots.
You can even do overlapping moving action shots, to have the same subject multiple times in the same panorama. Time and distance within the same photo. Example: running animal — high-speed shots while following the subject, then put it together. I wish he had a copy of these stunning photos on his Web site! You gotta see it to understand what he’s talking about!
Auxillary incandescent lighting — also known as light painting. Long exposures with ambient, natural light, plus light painting are even nicer than photos with light painting only.
LED lights can be good for time-lapse photography, because they are cool and long lasting.
Canon Macro Twin Lite Flash puts lighting closer to the front of the lens, on the sides. This equipment is expensive and works only with Canon equipment. Need to research if there are similar (and hopefully cheaper) solutions for my Sony Alpha α77.
Zerene Stacker, Helicon Focus — both software that will let you stack images with different parts in focus, so that the whole image will be in focus. There’s also Auto-Blend Layers in Adobe Photoshop. This stacking of multiple images is useful for macro, but you can use it for landscapes and other shots too. Especially useful for long focal lengths, which has shallow depth of field. George says, “It’s a miracle!”
Small f-stops like f/22, f/32 have problems with defraction, which causes a loss of sharpness. So using this stacking software can solve that problem. Extended depth-of-field through focus stacking.
Using a flash is great for shooting butterflies, and other creatures that move.
Extension tubes are useful with both macro lenses and telephoto lenses, can help you focus closes, and give you a different perspective with macro lenses.
At higher magnifications (5x, 8x, 10x, etc., with special equipment), you have to use stacking software because of the almost non-existent depth-of-field. You start getting into the scientific realm at this point. You can use an old microscope stand stage, which allows you to raise or lower the subject in very small increments for multi-image, focus-stacking, macro photography.
For snowflake photography, you have to be in a temperature of around 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Camera mounted on a copy stand, using the microscope stage. Kenneth Libbrecht made books on snowflakes.
HDR should be used as a tool, not an effect! Set your camera for exposure braketing, maybe 1.5 stops over and 1.5 stops under. HDR software listed from more-capable/expensive to less-capable/cheaper: HDR Efex Pro by Nik, HDR Expose by Unified Color, Photomatix Pro by HDR Soft, Bracketeer by Pangea.
Photomatix Pro can take a single RAW image and process it three different ways, and then combine the three results into an HDR. Photoshop CS5 has an HDR Toning menu option.
Time-lapse — get an intervalometer and do it!! Use smallest resolution JPG setting, because you don’t need high resolution RAW files, even for HD video! Apple’s QuickTime Pro can put it all together if you don’t have any video-editing software. Use at a balloon festival! (George had an amazing video of this! The video here is just as good, and it gives you an idea of what is possible.)
Use LED lights for time-lapse of flowers opening. Use Adobe Lightroom to batch process all your photos before combining into a video. Use Ken Burns effect to zoom into the photos while making the video.
Start your astronomic, stacked, time-lapse stills while it’s still a bit light out, and continues as it gets darker. Then combine using “lighten” or “lighter color” blend modes in Photoshop, or use dedicated software like Stellar Magic Pro and others. This kind of blending works great for combining multiple lightning shots too.
For high-speed, many-shots-per-second photography, use low resolution JPGs to get maximum number of shots.
Learn by doing! Get out there and practice!
You can’t apply techniques in post-production that you didn’t incorporate at capture!
George makes most of his living, not off his photographs, but off the seminars he gives and books he writes, teaching others how to be better photographers. It’s the same for many other professional photographers.
Well, that’s the end of my notes. He really crammed a lot of information into three hours! Obviously I didn’t write down everything — only what struck me as important. It’s going to take me weeks and months to process all of this information and learn how to incorporate it into my everyday photography. I hope these notes inspire you too!