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PROCESSING TIP OF THE MONTH Photoshop’s “Blend If” Feature: An Alternative to Complex Selections

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Cover Photo: Rialto Beach, Pacific Northwest 2


Letter From Ken Photograph with Others

I recommend traveling and photographing with other photographers who are as committed as you to doing whatever it takes to get good pictures. There are quite a few images that would not be in my portfolio if I had not been out shooting with photographer friends. Part of the reason for this is that you are more likely to do certain shoots if you are with another photographer. Night photography is a good example. My friend Josh Merrill is an avid night photographer who is always trying to push the limit on how little sleep a human being can endure. When traveling with Josh, we tend to pre-plan these night shoots and will never cancel plans if conditions look promising. I am much more likely to shoot stars in a field all night with another photographer than by myself. You can also benefit from each other’s knowledge and research. My friend Dusty Doddridge is the king of photography trip research and advised me to bring along fisherman’s boots for Bruarfoss waterfall in Iceland due to the cold temperature of the water. I purchased the boots and dragged them all the way to Iceland just for this one shot. The water was so intensely cold that I would not have gotten my image from that location without the boots. Also, when you travel and photograph with friends, you end up contacting each other to go out shooting. This naturally results in more images in your portfolio. I am planning a Norway trip because my photographer friend Mirko Vecernik contacted me with the suggestion. On a final note, you can use other photographers as models when you need one. And they work cheap! Ken Koskela To receive this magazine FREE each month click HERE 3

Eliminating Camera Shake

I decided against doing a comprehensive article on how to get sharp pictures. It is a big topic and can end up as a laundry list of reasons that your images might not be sharp. Instead, I’ll focus in on just one aspect: eliminating the dreaded “camera shake”.

Causes of Camera Shake

There are three factors that affect the amount (or lack of ) camera shake in your image:

For purposes of organizing this article, we’ll look at two scenarios:

1. The amount of movement of the camera while you are shooting. 2. Your shutter speed. 3. How narrow or wide you are shooting. Shooting at 200mm vs 14mm increases vulnerability to camera shake as the effect is magnified with a narrower point of view.

1. Preventing camera shake when shooting with a tripod. 2. Preventing camera shake when shooting handheld.

Photographers generally do not make lens decisions based on preventing camera shake. So, we are essentially down to two factors... camera movement and shutter speed.

This article is not about getting you to use a tripod, but about how to eliminate camera shake under both scenarios.

Shutter speed is primarily (although not completely) related to the hand-held shooting scenario.

Camera shake happens when the sensor captures movement of the camera. This is easy to recognize, as your entire image will have motion blur.


When I Use a Tripod and When I Don’t

Use a good quality tripod and ball head

Photographers have a sort of love/hate relationship with tripods. They can be bulky and a pain to carry, but useful in getting sharp pictures at slow shutter speeds.

It is important to know that not all tripods are created equal. A flimsy tripod might be okay in some circumstances, but add a little wind and you will be unpleasantly surprised when you see your pictures. Using a good quality, stable tripod really pays off in these circumstances.

In the June issue of Inspirational Photography, I included an article on recommended minimum shutter speeds (see pages 12-14) which touched on both camera shake and motion blur. The article provides some guidance on acceptable shutter speeds if you are hand-holding the camera. However, for me, I most often shoot when the sun is low in the sky or even below the horizon. This means lower levels of brightness. I like my images to be the best quality, so I shoot at a low ISO whenever possible. For this reason, here is my approach: •

I shoot virtually all of my landscape images on a tripod. To determine my composition, I keep the camera off the tripod as I look at different angles, but more than 99% of the time use the tripod when shooting. I shoot ALL of my portrait images hand-held. Most of my portraits are shot using off-camera flash, which helps freeze the movement of the subject. I need the mobility to walk around my subjects and shoot from slightly different angles, so a tripod is unworkable.

There is a lot more to say about this approach, but I will try to stay focused here and keep this article about eliminating camera shake. Scenario 1: When Using a Tripod You might be wondering why there is even a section on this. After all, doesn’t the tripod eliminate camera shake? Well, in the real world, no, it doesn’t. Windy conditions will move a tripod. Also, If you are shooting in water, count on a little movement. Even worse, if your tripod legs are in underwater sand, the sand under the legs becomes displaced with each wave coming in. Here are some ideas for eliminating camera shake or keeping it to a minimum when using a tripod:

Ensure stability in your tripod setup When possible, get the tripod legs spread out as wide as they go. In some cases, this isn’t possible. If you are positioning yourself on a loose and uneven surface, such as on rocks, make sure the rocks are stable by pushing down on the tripod to make sure it doesn’t move. Of course, make sure you have properly tightened the legs. If your tripod has a center column, you will definitely lose stability by using it. In windy conditions, you will almost be guaranteed to get camera shake when extending the center column. Don’t touch the camera while shooting Every time you touch the camera, you move it slightly. Because of this, avoid pressing the shutter button while shooting. Instead, use a remote shutter trigger. If you forget your trigger or accidentally drop it in the water (like I’ve done on a couple of occasions), then you can use the 2-second timer as a back-up. Use your camera’s mirror lock-up feature With single lens reflex (SLR) cameras, the internal mirror must move out of the way in order to expose the camera’s sensor and create the image. This movement of the mirror can shake the camera slightly. Using your SLR’s “mirror lock-up” feature (not available on all cameras) separates the movement of the mirror from the capturing of the image. So, you press your remote trigger once to move the mirror and then again to capture the image. This eliminates any camera shake that would be caused by the mirror’s movement. 5

Weigh down your tripod For windy conditions, you can weigh down your tripod. Most tripods have a hook in the center that you can latch something heavy onto. Many photographers connect their camera bag to the hook. Although I don’t necessarily recommend this, I often resort to pushing gently down on the tripod when it gets really windy. Shoot multiple exposures

ing. Bridges are the best example of this. The picture in the left column comes to mind... I had the camera on a stable tripod, but my friend and I were shooting on a flimsy bridge. Another photographer came running up just as the sky started lighting up and kept moving around while shooting (we politely requested him to stand still). As a result, my best images were not sharp.

When there is a threat of camera shake, I fire off three shots in low speed continuous shooting mode. This gives me some extra chances of capturing a sharp image in case of tripod movement.

The only solution when the surface itself is moving is to use shorter shutter speeds, time your shooting when there is less movement and shoot multiple shots in low speed continuous mode. Long exposure images are very susceptible to camera shake in these situations.

Avoid moving surfaces

Scenario 2: When Shooting Hand-Held

As if wind, running water and sinking sand weren’t bad enough, you also sometimes need to be concerned about the surface you are on actually mov-

Observe minimum shutter speeds The general rule for shooting STILL subjects is to NOT hand-hold the camera at shutter speeds slower than the reciprocal of the focal length of the lens. So, if you are shooting with a 50mm lens (or zoomed in to that equivalent), then you would not want to hand-hold the camera at speeds slower than 1/50. (There is no 1/50, so you go to the next fastest speed, which is 1/60.) If you are shooting at 200mm, then 1/250 (there is no 1/200) is the slowest you will want to hand-hold. This is just general guidance, although a good starting point. Hold the camera steady Holding the camera still during shooting is important at any shutter speed. I grab the right side of the camera with my right hand and use my index finger to press the shutter button. I rest the camera on the palm of my left hand. I hold the camera close to my body and look through the viewfinder. Do not hold the camera out in front of you and look at the LED screen when shooting. I usually breathe in and hold my breath for a second while pressing the shutter, then exhale after the shot. It is also important to stand in a stable way. I always


lean against a fixed object if I can. If nothing is available, I spread my feet apart (about shoulder width). For those of you that use monopods, you can put the monopod in front of you which, together with your legs, creates a sort of “human tripod”. In some cases, use Image Stabilization (a.k.a. Vibration Reduction) Some of the better lenses have a feature that allows you to shoot still subjects at considerably slower shutter speeds. In Canon, this feature is called Image Stabilization. For Nikon, it is called Vibration Reduction. This is meant to decrease camera shake and is not intended for moving objects. The feature should not be used if the camera is on a tripod or otherwise completely still, as many photographers (including myself ) have gotten blurry images by forgetting to turn it off when using a tripod.

Use continuous shooting mode When hand-holding the camera, I more frequently use the technique of firing off three shots in lowspeed continuous shooting mode. Any time I am shooting at a somewhat borderline shutter speed, I’ll use this technique. Review Your Images in Camera Last, but not least, I’d like to highlight the importance of evaluating your images for sharpness while out shooting. Don’t wait until you get home to learn that your images are less than sharp. The best way to do this is to zoom in on the LED screen as far as possible and scroll to key parts of the image, such as a person’s eyes. You can use a loupe, such as the Hoodman, to eliminate glare on the screen and help you better evaluate the image for sharpness.

For this reason, I turn this feature off immediately after using it, rather than relying on my memory later.

Watch for upcoming tour announcements: Patagonia in November 2017 Rick Sammon and Ken Koskela

Venice Carnival in February 2018 Ken Koskela and Renee Doyle


Location Feature: Cinque Terre, Italy coastal villages that hug rocky cliffs. The villages are connected via trails, so you can walk between them. I did not do the full hike, but I could tell by the exhaustion on the faces of the hikers that it is no small feat. Fortunately, the villages are also conveniently connected by train. Three of the five villages offer the best photograph-

In October, I’ll be co-leading a photography tour to Tuscany and Cinque Terre with Jim Zuckerman. I spent part of last May in both of these places and loved every minute. I am trying to limit this location feature to a couple of pages, so I’ll just focus on Cinque Terre here. The Cinque Terre Coast consists of five colorful 8

Riomaggiore (first page, smaller image on left) is a must-have morning shot. This city was very quiet in the early morning. I was the only person around when I shot this image at sunrise. Additionally, Riomaggiore offers a myriad of photogenic details in the village, such as colorful mailboxes, doorways and windows. Cinque Terre is a popular tourist destination, so there are reportedly plans underway to require permits to enter the area in the Summer in order to bring down the number of visitors. There is conflicting information about whether this is true, but check into it first if you plan to go during the Summer. I do not recommend Summer for photography. For accommodations, you can either stay in one of the five villages or in La Spezia, which is the gateway to the villages and easily accessible by train. The trains run early, so getting around before sunrise is not a problem.

ic opportunities, in my opinion. The most iconic is Manarola, which is pictured above. The multi-colored houses are built into the cliff face. Morning is the best time to photograph Manarola. Be sure to also capture close-ups of the houses with your telephoto, such as in the image to the left. Manarola also offers some great twilight opportunities. The blue of the twilight sky combined with cobblestone streets and warm incandescent lighting complement each other perfectly, as pictured to the right. Photographing after a rain is ideal because of the added reflectivity of the cobblestone. Vernazza (the cover shot) can be captured via a dramatic elevated perspective by climbing a well-worn trail up the mountain. From here, sunset and twilight is breathtaking. Vernazza is also a nice place to hang out in the evening. It is more lively than the other villages and offers a nice plaza to relax and have dinner. 9


Erwyn Ardyan

Last year, I was looking around for photographers in Asia to join my “East Meets West” photography group. It became obvious quickly that Indonesia breeds very talented photographers and post-processors. One of the people I found in my search was Erwyn Ardyan, who is this month’s featured photographer. Erwyn likes human interest, surreal and fantasy art photography. Although Erwyn says he has “a lot to learn”, he is miles ahead of most in his post-processing abilities, all of which are self-taught. In addition to the link above, you can also find Erwyn on Instagram at @erwynardyan.



How to Create Starbursts in Camera Although the scenery in the image above of Gordes, France is spectacular, the “sunburst” or “starburst” created by the sun adds a nice finishing touch. This is really easy to do in camera. You will need a “point source of light”, such as the sun, somewhere in your image. If the light source is large in the frame, you can create a smaller light source by positioning a foreground element in front of the sun to partially obscure it. Or, you can position the light source along the edge of the image, so that only a part of it is in the frame. In order to get the starburst, use a wide angle lens and set your f/stop to a small aperture, such as f/22. Some lenses work better than others and create nice starbursts at apertures wider than f/22. The Canon 16-35 is great for starbursts. Experiment with different f/stops to see what kind of effect you get. 12

Creating Starbursts During Post-Processing One thing to keep in mind is that your image will not be as high quality when shot at f/22 versus a more optimal aperture (in terms of quality), such as f/8. Because of that, some photographers choose to shoot at a wider aperture and then drop in a starburst during post-processing. Although I haven’t done this, you can create a separate “starburst only” image file by shooting a picture of some dark material or surface that is non reflective, that has a small hole in it, and that has light coming through the hole. Shoot up close with a wide angle lens using a narrow aperture. Then, in post-processing, drop the file in as the top layer and switch the blending mode to Lighten. Photoshop will only include pixels that are lighter than the visible layer(s) below, meaning the starburst will be visible and dark material will not.

The Story Behind the Picture Sleeping on a Rock

Sometimes photo shoots don’t go quite as planned. The above image is of Torres del Paine, in Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park. It is part of Patagonia. This is not one of those pictures that you just pull off to the side of the road, roll down the window and snap a photograph of. This one really requires some work to get to. Especially for me. Although it probably looks like I am a big outdoors guy with all this running around in remote areas and camping, I am actually a big wimp when it comes to inclines. There is something in my DNA that doesn’t do well with climbing hills and mountains. I would rather hike all day on a flat surface than spend an hour slugging my way up a steep hill. The day before taking this picture was a long day that involved lots of inclines. After a 4 mile morning hike and battling 100 mph winds, followed by a long drive, we reached the base camp area to hike to the above location. To get here is a 6.2 mile (10 km) hike, almost all which is up and down some nasty hills. At the end of that hike is a 1200 foot (300 meter) ascent up a rocky slope. Add to that our 60 pound backpacks and this particular location required some effort. We arrived around sunset with plans to shoot star trails all night, followed by sunrise. I got my one-monthold camera all set up to shoot some initial images during the blue hour. And then, the unthinkable happened. My camera died. Both myself and my friend had left our backup cameras in the car 6 miles back in order to reduce weight. Without a working camera, I pulled out a sleeping bag, threw it over me and went to sleep on a rock. I woke up 3 or 4 hours later with frost all over my sleeping bag. My friend let me borrow his camera at sunrise to at least fire off a few shots before we began hiking back. The above shot is about all I got out of that day. I like the picture, though, so it was probably worth the effort. 13




From jagged, snow-capped peaks to turquoise glacial lakes, the Rockies offer some of the best landscape photography opportunities in the world. I am excited to be co-leading this tour with Josh Merrill, who is a knowledgeable, talented landscape photographer. We will focus on the majestic Banff and Jasper National Parks. Additionally, we will keep our eyes open for clear skies at night with the hopes of capturing the Northern Lights and star-filled skies with the Rocky Mountains as an amazing foreground. CLICK HERE FOR INFO!



NEW ZEALAND w/ RENEE DOYLE April 18-May 1, 2017 (includes Milford Sound)

Join Renee and I to photograph this amazingly beautiful country during the best time of year... Autumn. In addition to the iconic Church of the Good Shepherd, the lone Wanaka Lake tree and Nugget Point Lighthouse, we will photograph turquoise lakes, rolling hills, hidden waterfalls and New Zealand’s iconic mountainous regions. We also will photograph the majestic Milford Sound to round out an amazing visit to the South Island of New Zealand! CLICK HERE FOR INFO!



Join veteran photographer and tour leader Jim Zuckerman and Ken Koskela to photograph the beautiful scenery of Tuscany, including rolling hills, Cypress trees, fortified medieval towns, golden mists in the morning and cobblestone streets. Add to that the amazing Cinque Terre coastal villages and this is a trip that is not to be missed! CLICK HERE FOR INFO!



GUILIN, CHINA w/ RICK SAMMON May 17-25, 2017


Join Rick and I to photograph the beautiful karst mountains, Li River, cormorant fisherman at sunrise and sunset, the incredible Longji rice terraces, the XiangGongShan overlook, Cuipinghsan Hill, and many other locations. We will also meet and photograph rural villagers. CLICK HERE TO BE ADDED TO WAITLIST

VENICE CARNIVAL w/ RENEE DOYLE February 18-24, 2017


Venice comes alive during Carnival as amazing models in ornate masks and incredible costumes descend upon the city. I am co-leading this tour with Renee Doyle. Renee and I have some great connections with many of the best models which will allow our group to have opportunities for private shoots in some locations away from the crowds and not accessible to the general public. SOLD OUT! CLICK HERE TO BE ADDED TO THE WAITING LIST.


Processing Tip of the Month

Photoshop’s “Blend If ” Feature: An Alternative to Complex Selections The ability to efficiently make accurate selections in Photoshop is an important post-processing skill. Familiarity with automated selection tools and techniques can speed up your workflow and improve the accuracy of your selections. From the standpoint of speed, the less you are clicking on or dragging across areas of the image, the better. Techniques such as luminosity masking and tools like color range selection can quickly accomplish what you often cannot do with manual tools. Although not a selection tool, Photoshop’s “Blend If” feature can replace the need for performing complex selections in many cases. Photoshop’s Blend If Feature Many users of Photoshop have heard about Blend If but don’t use it. Although it is a fairly easy feature to use, it is somewhat hidden and therefore a mystery to many. Blend If is useful when you want to blend a top layer with the visible layers beneath based on tonal differences (light vs dark). You can achieve very targeted blends by pulling a couple of sliders. You can then use a mask to further isolate the areas for the blend.

way to accomplish this very quickly. Let’s make a very visible adjustment that you can easily see. Let’s turn the structure into a bronze color and leave the shadows untouched. Not only that, but let’s do so in a way that feathers the adjustment in areas where the light fades off. To set up the layers for blending, I will create a duplicate of the Background layer. On that new top layer, I will choose Image-Adjustments-Photo Filter.

An Example of How to Use Blend If The image in the next column will be helpful at illustrating the power of Blend If. To highlight how great this feature is, take a good look at the picture. Now, close your eyes and imagine that you need to work with Photoshop’s manual tools to create a selection that separates the structure itself from the dark areas, including fading that selection in areas where the light fades off. Essentially, you would have a Photoshop nightmare on your hands. Although luminosity masks (see my article on pages 6-9 of the June issue) are a good solution, Blend If is a very versatile and controllable 18

I will then choose a warm filter and turn it up all the way.

After hitting OK, the warming filter turns the top layer a bronze color throughout the entire image.

at using Blend If. The Blend If sliders are found in the Layer Style dialogue box. You can get there in a few ways, but the easiest is double-clicking on the layer (in this case the top layer). Alternatively, you can go to the icons below your layer stack and click on “fx” and choose “Blending Options”, as seen at the bottom of the previous column. You then get a Layer Style dialogue box that looks like this.

My layer stack now consists of the original image on the bottom and the warmed image on top, as seen below.

At the bottom of that box are the Blend If sliders. Notice the gradient in between the sliders and that each slider has a small vertical line in the middle.

Accessing the Blend If Feature With that out of the way, we are now ready to look How the Sliders Work The top slider is labeled “This Layer” because it affects the selected layer, which should be your top layer. The bottom slider is labeled “Underlying Layer”, although it affects all layers underneath the selected layer. Let’s keep the Blend If mode on “Gray” (I won’t go into the color options in this article). When you move the top white slider to the left, it excludes the brighter pixels from being visible in the top (current) layer. Because those brighter pixels are invisible, the layer(s) underneath show through where those brighter pixels are. 19

Similarly, moving the top black slider to the right excludes the pixels in the layer based on their relative darkness. Moving that slider to the right makes more pixels invisible on the top layer, starting with the darkest and gradually making lighter and lighter pixels invisible as you move farther right. The bottom slider is similar, but instead of making the current (top) layer’s pixels invisible, it brings the bottom layer(s)’ pixels up to become visible in the image, overriding what is on the top layer. Blending the Bronze with the Silver Images In this example, let’s focus only on the top slider.

Unfortunately, as you can see, the results look pretty bad. The transitions are very harsh as there is a single luminosity value where the transition between visible and invisible pixels is made. Fortunately, those smart Adobe folks have that figured out. In order to smooth the transition, we can split the black slider (or the white slider) by holding down “Alt/Option” (Mac) or “Alt” (Windows) and clicking on one side or the other of the slider and then pulling it away. For this example, I hold Alt/Option on my Mac, click on the left half of the black slider, and pull it left, as seen below.

Let’s use that slider to blend the images so that the lighter parts of the bronze image (the structure, lights and reflections) are visible and the darker areas are invisible. To do so, I pull the top black slider to the right, as seen below.

After moving the slider halves left and right until the transitions look smooth, the result is what you see on the top of the next page. This looks a lot better now. Here is what is actually happening with the sliders positioned like this: The image below is what appears. If you look closely, you can see that all the tonalities darker than the value determined by the slider are excluded from the top layer’s visibility. For those areas, you see the bottom layer.

• • •

All tones to the left of the left black slider half (the darkest tones) are invisible on the top bronze layer. All tones that are right of the right black slider half (the lightest tones) are visible on the top bronze layer. Between the two slider halves, the amount of visibility of the tones in that range is feathered from black (invisible) to white (visible) moving from left to right, similar to how a mask with a gradient functions.

Modifying and Re-Adjusting One of the beautiful things about Blend If is that the sliders stay where they are after the adjustment is made. So, you can go back into the Layer Style box and re-adjust at any time. 20

Additionally, I can add a layer mask to my top layer to further isolate the areas of the top layer I want visible. The white areas of the mask will allow the Blend If feature to do its work, while the black areas of the mask will reveal the underlying layers and avoid the top layer altogether. Versatility of Blend If Blend If can be used in all types of photography, including landscape images. In the image below, you could use Blend If to add warmth to the brighter ar-

eas of the clouds using the same technique of adding a warm layer on top, moving the black Blend If slider right, splitting the left side of it and pulling left. Conversely, you could brighten the dark areas of the trees by adding a brighter layer on top, pulling the white Blend If slider left, splitting the right side of it and pulling right. I can teach you my processing techniques through one-on-one, on-line instruction via Skype and screen share. I can help you with: • • •

Basic Lightroom and/or Photoshop Intermediate and Advanced Environmental Portrait Processing Techniques Intermediate and Advanced Landscape Processing Techniques


MISS AN ISSUE? Click the magazine covers below to see past issues.


March 2016 • Pushing blue into the shadows • Smoke composites • Guilin, China • Including motion in your images • Wide-angle portraits • Backing up your pictures • Big impact with small subjects

April 2016 • Complementary colors • Dealing with foggy lenses • Effective silhouette images • Gradient vignettes • Watch the windows • Shooting into the sun

May 2016 • Solid neutral density filters • Web sharpening using TK Actions • Following and breaking the rule of thirds • Packing for an outdoor photography camping trip • Pictures that make people think

June 2016 • Using a circular polarizer • Intro to luminosity masking • Oil and water pictures • Minimum shutter speeds • Coastline moving water images

July 2016 • Exposing flash and ambient light separately • Incorporating opposites into your images • Venice during Carnival • Orton effect • Including reflections in your pictures

August 2016 • Shooting the Milky Way, Stars and Northern Lights • Cathedral images • Controlling tonal contrast with a histogram • Focusing strategies for moving subjects

Click HERE to receive Inspirational Photography each month. September 2016 • Post-processing Milky Way shots • Controlling motion in landscape images • Increasing water texture with Nik • Shooting cities at night

October 2016 • Shooting and processing star trails • Eliminating distractions • Dramatic side-lighting • Creating a texture layer in Photoshop • Inconvenience leads to better pictures.

November 2016 • How to use an ultra-wide lens • Search Engine Optimization for Images • Photoshop’s Smart Objects for 2nd Chance Adjustments • Leading Lines

December 2016 • Natural vs. Artificial Light Portraits • Blurred Water Creek Images • Layer Adjustments for Printing • Don’t Miss the Shot


Click the link below to sign up to receive this magazine for free each month! Website: Click here for my Facebook page Click here for my 500px page Instagram: @kenkoskela Questions? You can reach me at: 24

Inspirational Photography January 2017  

A free monthly instructional photography magazine by Ken Koskela for beginner and intermediate photographers interested in landscape, portra...

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