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PROCESSING TIP OF THE MONTH Sharpening for Web using TK Actions



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Letter From Ken Follow Your Instincts

You’ve probably photographed in a location where there were other photographers around shooting the same subject. If so, you may have noticed that there is a whole group psychology going on. Some are clearly trying to exert themselves as the experts. Others come right out and start “talking photography” with you. And then there is the majority that are watching what others are doing, but pretending not to be. Here is the key take-away when shooting with groups of photographers: Do not assume that any of them know more than you do. Even if they have fancy cameras and lenses. Here’s what happens in these situations... A photographer with a fancy camera comes along and plants his or her tripod down in a particular location. This might be a less than optimal shooting position, but the photographer chose it because it was the leftmost or highest point available to shoot. Other photographers come along and see the fancy camera and set up their tripods in the same area. And so on. The best approach is to ignore other photographers in these situations. Follow your instincts on the lens choice, placement and composition that you think is best, even if it means ignoring dozens of photographers crowded into one location. I was reminded of this while shooting on a beach at sunset recently. A 10-person workshop led by two photographers with good name recognition showed up on the scene. None of the participants had tripods, which was puzzling because it was a sunset shot with moving water. While I was shooting, one of the workshop leaders stood near me and told one of his participants, “don’t shoot this wide-angle... this isn’t really a wide-angle shot.” Years ago, I might have changed lenses when he wasn’t looking. However, my immediate thought was, “yes, it is a wide-angle shot and next time tell your participants to bring their tripods”. Ironically, later that evening, I took a look at the workshop website page and found that one of the key images used to advertise the tour was a wide-angle shot from that very same beach! So, the moral of the story is listen to and follow your instincts... not the actions of the group... when you are out shooting. It makes photographing more fun and you will likely end up with images you like better. Ken Koskela 3

How and Why to Use Solid Neutral Density Filters

If you want to impress your friends, bring up the topic of neutral density filters. It sounds highly technical and will make you look smart. Truth be told, neutral density filters (a.k.a. ND filters) are just shaded pieces of glass or plastic that go over your camera lens. The fancy name is so that the suppliers can charge ridiculously high prices for them. If filters were rationed and I was only allowed to own two of them, both would be solid neutral density filters. The Purpose of Solid ND Filters Using a solid ND filter is like putting sunglasses on your camera, but without a polarizing effect. The filter uniformly reduces the light getting to the sensor so that you are able to slow down your shutter 4

speed. I own a 4-stop and 10-stop solid neutral density filter, as well as several graduated ND filters. The 4-stop filter reduces the light getting to the sensor by 4 stops. Each reduced stop reduces the light by half, meaning that you have to double the shutter speed to get the same level of light reaching the sensor. So, if your shutter speed is 1/16 with no filter, putting a 4-stop on will result in a 1-second exposure. Putting a 10-stop on will result in a 1-minute exposure. So, you can literally turn day into night with these filters. The picture above of the Portland Headlight was taken in the afternoon (in the pouring rain, actually) using a 10-stop filter.

Varieties of Solid ND Filters There are three main varieties of filters: 1. Screw-On Type. If you have lenses with different diameters, you will need one for each diameter that you want to use a filter with. Below is a picture of my (upside down) 10-stop screw-on ND filter.

Incidentally, some photographers prefer not to use a holder at all and just hand-hold their filters in front of the lens. Example of Solid Neutral Density Filters In Action Here is a real life example of how I used solid neutral density filters this week in Manarola, a village in Cinque Terre, Italy. In this example, I’ll leave the images mostly unprocessed so that you can see the color casts of each filter. (I was using auto white balance, by the way). I began shooting about 45 minutes prior to sunset. Here is what the scene looked like when shot without the use of any filter. My settings were ISO 100, f/11, 1/25.

2. Flat Type. These are flat pieces of glass or plastic (mostly plastic) which go into a holder, such as the Lee filter holder. The holder either screws onto your lens or gets pushed onto the outside of the lens, depending upon the holder.

If you zoom in, you will notice that there is detail in the waves, which is due to the relatively quick shutter speed. However, I wanted silky looking water that results from a longer exposure. So, I put on a 10-stop solid ND filter and used ISO 100, f/7.1 and 30-seconds. This gave the water the blurred look that I wanted.

3. Drop-In Filter. Some “bulbous� wide-angle lenses have a slot in the back of the lens for you to slide a small solid ND filter in, but this is not commonly used. Although I like the screw-on filters better, I primarily use the holder because I also use graduated filters that require you to position them properly by rotating and sliding them up or down. 5

As the light outside started fading, I took my 10-stop filter off and switched to a 4-stop ND filter. With less available light, the 4-stop filter was a better option. This next image is a 30-second exposure at ISO 100 and f/11.

Making People Disappear One other common reason to use a 10-stop filter is to “erase” moving elements, such as people walking around or vehicles in motion. If they are moving from place to place relatively quickly, then they will not be in the same place long enough to show up in a long exposure. A Note on Metering and Focusing With some cameras, you will not be able to focus through a 10-stop filter because the glass is so dark. However, on my Canon 5d Mark III, I use “Live View” and have the Exposure Simulation setting activated.

Notice that the colors look different in each image. These filters all have color casts. The Lee Big Stopper, a popular 10-stop ND, has a very blue color cast. I don’t like it, actually. My Singh-Ray 4-stop used to take the above picture has a magenta cast. Later on, as twilight began, I took off my 4-stop and shot with no filter. This is because none was needed to get a 30-second exposure. I shot this image at ISO 100, f/16 and 30 seconds.

With this setting, I can see the scene and even focus through a 10-stop while using Live View, provided it is not yet too dark. Without this option, it is best to do your composing and focusing before you put the filter on. Also, there are applications for your phone (such as Longtime Exposure Calculator) and charts available to calculate the new exposure setting after putting on a 10-stop. Or, you can calculate it manually by doubling the shutter speed 10 times.

Did you miss the March or April issue of Inspirational Photography? Click below to read...

I could have still used an ND filter at this late hour to get an even longer shutter speed. Shutter speeds of 5 minutes are good for capturing the blur of moving clouds. However, the clouds were moving slowly in this case, so it wasn’t really an option.


Image De-Stabilization Several years back, I spent a day at Kruger National Park in South Africa. As always, seeing and photographing the animals was an incredible experience. However, I ended up very disappointed when I realized later that many of my images were not sharp. Here is what happened.... I was in a truck and hand-holding the camera. I used a reasonably fast shutter speed and rested my left arm on the edge of the truck and then the camera on top of my left arm to keep it still. Because I was “sort of” hand-holding the camera, I set my Canon 70-200 lens to “image stabilization” (IS). (The Nikon equivalent is “vibration reduction” (VR).) The conventional wisdom is to turn IS/VR off when using a tripod because your pictures may come out blurry. However, prior to the trip, I read an article which (in theory) should have been the definitive source on the subject. This article stated that this

doesn’t really happen with the newer lenses and that you can pretty much leave IS on all the time. Well, from my experience on that trip and from the experience of others, this simply is not true, even with the newer lenses. The result was a number of blurred pictures due to IS being on. My technique effectively created enough of a tripod effect that the camera was still while shooting. I had some hyena pictures that would have been quite cool, but ended up being tossers. Nobody likes a blurry hyena. So, I went immediately back to the conventional wisdom and always leave IS off when shooting on a tripod. It is easy to forget to turn off IS after using it. In fact, if I do use IS, I turn it off immediately afterwards so that I do not end up inadvertently leaving it on during my next shoot with a tripod. 7

Processing Tip of the Month Sharpening for Web Using TK Actions

For many photographers, the last step in the image processing work flow is the creation of a downsized JPG from a large Photoshop file. During this downsizing process, you lose some sharpness in your image. Because of this, it is important to add back some “output sharpening” while creating the JPG. There are a range of options for doing this, including sharpening during export in Lightroom, sharpening a layer in Photoshop or using a Photoshop plug-in, such as Nik’s Sharpener Pro. I tried a number of methods and landed on a Photoshop action created by Tony Kuyper. The “Web-Sharpening” tool is built into Tony’s “TK Actions” panel. This set of actions is the best value out there. In fact, almost all of the landscape photographers I know use TK Actions. But, this blog is about the Web-Sharpening tool specifically, so I will [try to] stay focused on that. I sharpened the image below using the action and, as you can see, the sharpening looks great (click on the image to see it as it appears on my site).

I’ll take you through the process so that you can see how easy it is. The advantage of this action is that you can customize your sharpening easily. 8

Below is a screen shot of the Web-Sharpening section of Tony’s actions panel. To size this image at 800 pixels wide (as an example), I simply enter “800” pixels in the box, check “horizontal” for a horizontal image, leave the layer opacity at 50% (this can be adjusted later) and hit “OK”. If I understand correctly, the action first creates an image sized at 1.67 times your final specified image size. This image is over-sharpened and then resized to your originally specified size (in my case, 800 pixels wide). The action creates a separate file with a layer stack, as pictured below. Your Photoshop file is left unaltered.

On the next page is a close-up of the layers. The sharpened image layers are grouped together in the layer called “TK Web-Sharpen”. You’ll notice that the 50% opacity that I had specified in the set-up box now appears as the opacity in the sharpened group layer.

I find that 50% opacity works well on the sharpening group layer for most of my landscape images. For landscape images that have a clear horizon line (such as in this example), I then add a white mask to the sharpening group layer and paint a black line on the mask along the horizon line at between 80-100% opacity. This is because sharpening a high-contrast horizon line can often make a slight halo look more pronounced. Masking it out solves this potential problem.

Not Just for Landscapes I also use the Web-Sharpening action for my portrait work. Because I want to avoid over-sharpening my already-heavily-sharpened subjects, I drop the opacity to 30% which seems to be the right amount to me. Where to Buy

You then have the option of making additional adjustments using the available hue/saturation, curves or levels layers/masks. I normally use the Curves layer to increase contrast slightly to try to match the contrast of the Photoshop file. These three layers are available to further tweak the color or contrast of your JPG if you noticed a loss of either from your Photoshop file.

You can find the TK Actions panel at the link below, as well as some excellent videos by Sean Bagshaw on how to use the actions, including the Web-Sharpening tool. Even though the Web-Sharpening tool alone is worth the price, you get loads of actions as part of the TK Actions panel, including the famous luminosity mask actions that will change your life!

With the JPG copy still open, hit the “Save for Web” button on the Web-Sharpening section. This opens Photoshop’s Save for Web dialogue box. This dialogue box is beyond the scope of this blog, but you can see in the next column what it looked like prior to saving my image.

By the way, I can teach you my processing techniques through one-on-one, on-line instruction via Skype and screen share. I can help you with:

If I am concerned about digital noise more than sharpness in a particular area of the image (such as night sky), I will mask out that area in addition to the horizon line.

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


Following and Breaking The Rule of Thirds

What is the Rule of Thirds?

The rule of thirds is perhaps the most well-known guideline in art and photographic composition. I’ll talk about following the rule of thirds in your photography and, for you rebels out there, how to break the rule. So, there is something for everyone in this article. First, what is the “rule of thirds”? Let’s start with what it is NOT. Take a look at the lighthouse image here. This is your typical boring vacation snapshot that your college roommate just brought back from a weekend trip to Chicago. Notice how the subject is dead center (left to right), the horizon 10

line is very close to the bottom (and crooked) and there is too much sky in the picture. The picture just looks off-balance and compositionally boring. This picture is a snapshot and does not follow the rule of thirds. Now, take a look at this next image of a Chinese cormorant fisherman on his boat in China. Notice that this image really works compositionally. One reason

this picture works well is because it follows the rule of thirds. In the cover image, you will notice a “tic-tac-toe” grid over it using two horizontal and two vertical lines, each 1/3 of the way into the scene. To follow the rule of thirds, you place “points of interest” (the subject, horizon lines, etc) 1/3 of the way into the image, using both the lines and the intersections of the lines to guide you. You would often place your subject (or a key part of your subject) at one of the intersections and also use the lines themselves for important parts of the picture. In the fisherman image, I placed him at the lower right intersection, while the horizon line and mountains are generally along the top line. Optimal Placement With Rule of Thirds So, how do you know which line(s) and intersection(s) to place your subject and points of interest at or along? Good question! Remember, photography is more about what works as opposed to following rules. However, here are three guidelines to consider: 1. If your subject is moving, you usually want them moving into the image rather than out of it. Notice my placement of the fisherman on the right of the above image means he is moving into the composition. Placing him at the lower left intersection would have looked awkward… like he is moving right out of the image. 2. Similarly, if your subject is someone or something with eyes and is looking left or right, you generally want them looking into the picture,

not out of the picture. In this image, the woman on the left is looking into the image which works well. I’ve also placed the two women along each of the vertical lines. I’ve placed the main subject (the face of the woman on the right) at the top right intersection. 3. In many cases, you want the most important part of the picture to take more space. This factors into a decision on where to put the horizon line in a landscape photo. Placing the horizon on the bottom line would generally result in about 2/3’s of the image being sky. This might work if you want to emphasize the sky. However, you may not want to short-change the main subject of the image… the landscape foreground. In the image below, I placed the horizon along the top horizontal line because I wanted more emphasis on the lavender fields than the sky. Notice the tree (the subject) is at the top left intersection.

Personally, I think the rule is a good tool for beginners to think about when learning to compose. However, don’t be constrained by it. Many times, you can get a much more interesting composition by breaking the rule. Breaking the Rule of Thirds One major reason to break the rule is to create or take advantage of symmetry in a composition. For example, in the following image of the Green Tree Python, I placed the snake’s head dead center. This goes against the rule of thirds, but works well because of the symmetry of the snake. If I had placed the snake’s head at one of the intersections 11

of the rule of thirds grid, the image would not have been as strong.

size the pews by keeping them at the very bottom of the image.

Close-up portraits where the subject is looking straight at the camera generally look better composed dead center. I really like the composition in the Carnival model portrait below because of the symmetry in the mask and costume.

Combining symmetry with a slightly off-center subject can work well. Notice the foreground below is mostly symmetrical, while the sea stack is composed slightly off-center. The symmetry of the foreground holds the image together, while the slightly off-center sea stack really draws your eye in this case.

The same applies to the cathedral shot, which works well because of the perfect symmetry of the cathedral. I could have composed this image with the top of the church pews 1/3 from the bottom. However, the church pews are much less interesting than the beautiful walls and ceiling, so I opted to de-empha12

Photo Tours and Workshops SOON TO BE ANNOUNCED!! April, 2017 - New Zealand, together with RENEE DOYLE (watch for an announcement in May) October, 2017 - Romania, co-leading with JIM ZUCKERMAN (watch for an announcement in June) Learn more at


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

BOOK FAST... ONLY 5 SPOTS LEFT!! CLICK FOR MORE INFO! 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.

VENICE CARNIVAL 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.



Josh Merrill

Josh Merrill is a fine art nature photographer based out of Chicago, Illinois. Josh prefers making only minor adjustments to his images during post-processing. Instead, he focuses on finding vibrant colors and compositions in nature itself. He sells beautiful prints on his website and at art shows across the Midwest. Josh is completely immune to extreme cold weather and is actually happiest photographing during the coldest days and nights of Winter. 14

Packing for an Outdoor Photography & Camping Trip This past September, I went to Iceland on a 10-day photography trip that involved both camping and some backpacking. I’ve never really been a “packing list” person, but prior to the trip I created a detailed packing list. Below is what I brought along, organized by major category. But, first, why would I even bother including this article in the magazine? Prior to heading to Iceland, I compared packing lists with my photographer friend, who is considerably more organized than I am. This was actually really helpful to both of us. So, my thinking is that there are some of you who would benefit from having the list. Or, maybe you are just curious. Either way, if you would like an Excel version of my list, please feel free to email me and I’ll send you a copy. For all trips now, I use this Iceland list as my master list and then just bring along what I need for that particular trip. For example, if I am not camping, then my camping gear will not be included.

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Canon16-35 ii f/2.8L w/ hood Canon 24-105 f/4L w/ hood Canon 100-400 ii f/4.5-5.6L w/ hood, ring, tripod plate Memory Cards and case Card Reader and cable 580EX II flash(es) STE-2 flash trigger Umbrella (Lighting) Portable flash stand and connectors Lee filter, holder, polarizer Canon intervalometer Gitzo GT3542LS Tripod RRS BH-55 ballhead Tripod adjustment wrenches Hoodman Lens air blower Lens cleaning cloths, wipes

Camping Gear

Without further adieu, here is the master list, complete with pictures, of everything I brought to Iceland: Photography Equipment

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f-Stop Tilopa Bag (not pictured) with internal camera unit (note, for non-backpacking trips, I just bring my regular camera backpack) Rain cover, straps, hooks for camera bag Canon 5d Mark III with tripod plate Canon 5d Mark II with tripod plate Canon battery charger and extra batteries

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North Face Tent Tent Footprint Sleeping Bag and stuff bag Sleeping pad w/ bag Inflatable pillow MSR Stove w/ case and accessories MSR Fuel Bottle (empty) (I buy fuel canisters upon arrival) Foldable Pot Foldable cup/bowl Foldable measuring Cup / Drinking Cup Spork Water bottle GPS 15

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Headlamp Whistle & Compass Small Fenix flashlight Swiss Army Knife Water purification tablets Sunscreen - Mini Bugspray Camping Towels


Clothing Because I want to keep this article rated “G” for family viewing, I’ve excluded my underwear from this picture. But, trust me, I brought underwear to Iceland.

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Freeze-Dried Meals (I brought around 12) Protein Bars Snacks Hot chocolate Gatorade powder packets

Miscellaneous and Equipment

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Short-sleeve and long-sleeve “base layer” shirts Thermal underwear bottoms Hiking pants (2) Socks (Heavy) Socks (Light) T-shirts for sleep Pajama Bottoms for sleep or an extra layer in cold weather Patagonia Down Jacket North Face fleece jacket Rain jacket Rain pants Winter hat Baseball hat Thin gloves (waterproof ) Fisherman’s Boots (for cold water shooting) Hiking Boots Hiking Sandals Swimsuit Clothes dry bag (Medium) Clothes dry bag (Small) Larger ziplocks for shoes Umbrella Sunglasses and case/bag Glasses and reading glasses w/ case

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MacBook and cable External drive and cable Cell phone and charger Electric adapter(s) Memory stick Inverter Headphones - small AA Quick Charger and adapter AA Batteries and case Passport Copy of passport Airline itinerary & Boarding Passes Wallet w/ cash Pen Watch Ziplock bags Eye Shield Ear Plugs

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Duct Tape Things to light a fire (not pictured... check on airline regulations for approved items and how to pack)

Medication / First Aid / Toiletries (Not pictured) • • • • • • • •

Prescription meds Ibuprofin Bandaids Alcohol prep pads Elastic wrap Neosporin Benadryl Tweezers

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Nail clippers Lip Balm Towlettes - Small Campsuds Soap Hand sanitizer Toothbrush Toothpaste Floss Deodorant Shaver Tissue paper Contact lenses and supplies Eye glass wipes Glasses repair kit

The Story Behind the Picture Angry Bees at Deadvlei

I shot the above image in Deadvlei, which is a dead tree forest in the Namibian desert. For a period of time before sunset, I had the entire place to myself… not a single person there except me. I was lining up a shot and enjoying the solitude when, out of nowhere, a group of angry bees showed up. I guess I would be angry too if I lived in the Namibian desert. The bees were after my water bottle and, for some reason, liked my camera bag too. They were apparently pretty thirsty and not taking “no” for an answer. I literally could not get into my camera bag to change lenses without getting attacked by the bees. It took me 20 minutes to get the bag away. I finally ended up kicking my water bottle away, swinging my tripod at them, grabbing my backpack and running. 17

Creating Pictures That Make People Think Everyone loves an amazing landscape image that stands on its own with no analysis required. However, pictures that require a little extra thought by the viewer can be compelling too. Getting the viewer to take an extra second or two to think or wonder about your image is a good thing. Here are a few suggestions on how to make that happen:

Convey a concept. To me, the image below conveys the concept of solitude. A different word might come to mind when you see the picture. Either way, this picture holds your attention a little longer because it seems to tell a story.

Convey strong emotion or character. You can see the determination in the eyes of this young mother from Malawi. When I look at her picture, I don’t just give it a quick passing glance. Her obvious strong character and emotion make me think about who she is, as opposed to coming to a quick conclusion about what I think of the image itself.

I like that the footprints come from outside the image and that the boy is walking out of the picture. This leaves the story open for interpretation by the viewer. The next shot of the birds and fighter jets isn’t an amazing image. However, I like that it conveys a pretty cool concept. The juxtaposition of two very different types of flight in the same image makes you look a little longer at the picture. 18

By the way, in case you were wondering, this was taken as a single shot at an air show in Chicago. It is not a composite of two separate images. Show something that needs additional explanation. You might do a quick double-take when you look at the image of the dilapidated car at the top of the next column and wonder why an old rusty car is sitting in what looks to be a front yard. People will generally try to make some sense of an image before looking away, so this picture might hold your attention a little longer than if the car was sitting in a more proper context, such as a junkyard.

Include an intriguing person as your subject. There is something about intriguing people that make you want to better understand what is going on inside their head. The man with the machete has a unique look about him that might cause the viewer to stop and think for a brief second. Although he looks menacing in the image below, he was actually a very nice guy! There are may other ways to create images that make people think, but hopefully this article gave you a few ideas.


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: 20

Ken Koskela's Inspirational Photography May 2016  

An instructional photography magazine for beginner and intermediate landscape, portrait and human element photographers.

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