Category Archives: Teaching

Fall photography workshops approaching

Four photography workshops are approaching fast. Each have just a few spots available.

For more information and to reserve your spot before they are gone, please visit the website at http://www.thenatureconnection.com/workshopschedule.html  .

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Copyright © 2017 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.

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Life after central Texas flooding

Early this year parts of the Texas Hill Country were in the most severe category of soil moisture drought – “exceptional” – for the first time since February 2012.

We can remember however as recently as 2010 when lake levels around Texas were near all time high levels, more than 50 feet higher than they were in the first part of this year. It was more than five years ago when Lake Travis was completely full. Contrast that with April when Lake Travis was less than a few feet from its all-time low.

Wimberley bridgeBlanco River bridge at Wimberley, TX, Memorial Day, 2015. Photo by Jay Janner, Austin American Statesman.

Change came quickly and with devastation this Spring as weather conditions brought record conditions. May 2015 became the wettest May and the wettest month on record for the lower 48 states dating to 1895, according to the State of the Climate report released by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Record rainfall ripped through parts of South Central Texas over the Memorial Day weekend causing flooding and displacing thousands of people.

In Austin extremely heavy rainfall on May 25 dumped 5.20 inches of rain at Camp Mabry, lifting Austin to its wettest May. The month’s rain tally was 17.59 inches, making it by far the wettest May on record since 1895.

The welcome and much-needed rain came with a serious price — severe flooding and catastrophic devastation. The Memorial Day weekend storms, combined with more rain from Tropical Depression Bill, brought widespread flooding to Texas, killing more than 30 people and resulting in flooding that damaged thousands of homes and other structures.

After the floodwater subsided, I had the chance to conduct a macro photography session with a friend and student, Nancy Norman. We went to a wooded  roadside parcel on the banks for the Blanco River near the town of Blanco, Texas. This is the same Central Texas stream that rose more than 43 feet above normal, wiping out several bridges, destroying more than 800 homes and resulting in the deaths of ten people in the Wimberley area.

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Our purpose was far from photographing flood damage, but to photograph the life thereafter. And we were quite successful. We found many birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects, lichens and fungi in the wake of destruction. As we were focusing on macro, we concentrated on insects, and fungi.

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Hundreds of cave swallow nests line the concrete structure of one of the bridges destroyed over the Blanco. Photo © Nancy Norman.

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A small, yet perfect mushroom arises from the stem of a Possum grape vine on the river bank.

_MG_9756-cicada.blanco A small, recently emerged Rush cicada found near the water’s edge.

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Nancy concentrates on several small groups of mushrooms. Her equipment includes Canon 70D, 100mm macro and 430 EX Speedlite flash, all on a tripod with ball head and Mike Kirk flash bracket.

All together we had a good morning. Lots of good images were made successfully. We also learned that Mother Nature rebounds quickly. Life goes on.

Copyright © 2015 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.

Meet Austin Artist, Shakti Sarkin

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A few weeks ago I had the pleasure to photograph my artist friend and previous photography student, Shakti Sarkin. I was invited to do so with some of her new abstract art in progress. She is developing a very interesting theme around trees and water. In the images may also be found additional forms that really stimulate the imagination.

As my followers may know, this is a big departure for me as my work is predominantly natural science. Never the less, I got a big thrill in making this portrait. I must admit I had a little preconceived idea as to how I wanted to work.

The portrait is in front of a window to our left with indirect light from an overcast day. In addition, I place a much diffused Nikon SB-910 Speedlight on a stand high and to the camera right using a lot of the ceiling as fill.

I believe these types of images must be created with much care to reproduce the artist’s colors and skin tones accurately. I used a Color Checker Passport to get white balance, color and exposure values down correctly. This is a tool that I use regularly in my natural science work and it makes great sense to do so with this type of work as well. The image was post processed primarily in Lightroom and in Photoshop CC.

To see more of Shakti’s inspirational art, visit her web site at: shaktisart.com.

Copyright © 2015 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.
Artwork © Shakti Sarkin.

Do you know what this is?

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You should!
It’s a Color Checker Passport (or CCP) !

If you are not familiar with this device you are missing a great tool for calibrating exposure, white balance and accurate color with one or two clicks in the computer. And in any light. Never more do you need to guess at how the subject looked at the time of exposure.

It works in two ways: First, it may be used to establish a camera, lens, light profile for use in Photoshop, Lightroom or other software. You may establish these profiles for standard lighting situations that you may encounter such as daylight, studio flash or your favorite Speedlight and/or softbox combination.

When first photographed it may look like this:

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In the computer software, use the ACR eyedropper tool to set white balance then set mid-tone, black and white values using the palette squares provided. Then save the file as a camera profile in your preferred post processing software. A bit of software is provided by the CCP from Xrite to do this.

Once the profile is loaded into your software, open the set of images you wish to adjust, click on the profile and voila, one or many more images can be simultaneously set.

Second, without a profile, white balance, tone values and color may still be set using the standard palette squares for any image and synchronized to a batch photographed in the same conditions.

With one click, this image:

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Can be processed into this:

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And with a little cropping, dust removal, dodging and burning you are all set! And the good thing- white balance, tone values and color are all standardized. No guessing or trying to remember how the subject and scene looked. Because our eyes play tricks on us and because people don’t see color the same, this makes our photography accurate.

If we want true-to-life accuracy, this is the tool to use.

Copyright © 2015 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.

Photograph South Texas Specialties & Fall Migrants

Workshop Dates:  October 30 – November 1, 2015

Goluch Jays
Image by participant, © Richard Goluch.

Join noted photographer Brian Loflin for a highly instructional, hands-on bird photography workshop in the heart of the South Texas flyway. The workshop features a half-day of full, hands-on instruction and three half-days of shooting in some of the best South Texas birding habitat available where the neotropical South Texas varieties abound. Take a moment to view participant images from previous workshops here:

The workshop will be held at the Laguna Seca Ranch north of Edinburg, Texas in the heart of the lush Rio Grande Valley. Features of this 700-acre ranch are purpose-designed for photography and preserved with all-native plants and animals. It features four constant-level ponds, each with permanent photography blinds oriented for the best use of light. Each location has been hand-crafted, and they all provide outstanding birding and photographing opportunities. Nearly eighty species have been listed on the ranch. Laguna Seca Ranch clearly offers a unique South Texas birding and photography adventure!

At Laguna Seca Ranch we bring the birds to you! We will set up natural perches considering the best photographic light possible. Most photography of the best scenarios is just 12-15 feet from your lens! Birds have water, dripping attractions and are fed year-round so attraction of the best species is stress-free.

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Image by Participant, © Dolph McCranie.

This workshop is designed for serious photographers who are competent in the use of their camera and equipment, yet may not have experienced the thrill of producing bird photographs of the highest quality. Copious instruction will include hands-on demonstrations in bird photography, understanding best exposures and camera settings, and the use of flash. Instruction will also include how to set up in a blind and shooting etiquette, setting up perches, best management of backgrounds and light and much more.

“Brian put so much work into this workshop, it was amazing! He took care of absolutely everything that you could imagine, meals, lodging, bird attracting set up, and always making sure that we were comfortable. At times there were so many birds around us, you didn’t know which shot to take first. We all had a great time, and I am ready to go back again! ” –C.C. – Austin, Texas

For more information see:  RGV Bird Workshop
or, Email direct to:   bkloflin@austin.rr.com

Copyright © 2015 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.

Nature & Macro in the Texas Hill Country

Join me at Mo Ranch in the very heart of the magical Texas Hill Country for a three-day nature and macro photography workshop geared to shooting in field settings and indoors. Dates are Friday-Sunday, September 18-20, 2015.

This workshop will be packed with hands-on instruction to help you grow your photographic abilities with new found skills, techniques and proficiency. Two nights lodging and six meals provided.

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The historic, 500 acre Mo Ranch is located in a beautiful setting on the North Fork of the Guadalupe River. Here, habitats include: aquatic, riparian areas, grasslands, oak-juniper woodlands, and limestone hills. We will make use of all of them.

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The workshop will feature classroom instruction, hands-on learning, and computer demonstrations  with native flora and fauna of the area. A computer lab is available for all participants for processing images. The workshop will cover many subjects including discussions on:

•    Equipment for getting close   •    Wide Angle Close-Ups
•    Backgrounds   •    Tools to make macro work easier
•    Lighting with Flash & High Speed Flash
•    High Key and White Box
     •    Macro Panorama
•    Extreme Macro   •    Focus Stacking

For more information, visit my website: Nature-Macro Workshop 
Or, E-mail me direct: bkloflin@austin.rr.com  .

Copyright © 2015 Brian K Loflin. All rights reserved. 

The importance of managing light.

Needless to say, light is of paramount importance in photography. The word photography is translated from the Greek as “writing with light.” Without light, photography would be most difficult indeed.

Light does a lot for us in our image making. It allows making the very basic exposure itself. It provides shape, form, texture and dimension. The management of light helps us to render our subject with the most emphasis where desired. We’ll look at these ideas in a moment.

To further understand light we need to remember that it has several vastly important characteristics:

  • Light has intensity, or the characteristic of brightness. That characteristic requires us to produce a proper exposure using our camera meter, setting shutter speed aperture and ISO.
  • Light has color, the inherent wave length or color temperature of the light as it illuminates the subject. This color requires us to manage White Balance.
  • Light has direction, the angle that it strikes the subject. Front light, side light and backlight all have important uses in rendering our subject with the best results, and finally,
  • Light has quality. This characteristic is perhaps one of the most important. Light may be very soft and pleasing or hard, high contrast and very unflattering. Of all the light characteristics, the management of this quality of light requires our utmost effort.

Of all the light characteristics, the camera can manage intensity and color, but we need to be careful to manage light’s quality and direction to achieve the optimum reproduction of our subject. Unfortunately, I see a lack of lighting management in these two areas quite frequently. Let’s look at some ideas.

First let’s understand that light in itself helps us produce a shape but shadow helps us create form and dimension. We really need to manage both in the creation of quality images. I know that shadows are often bad; they may block up detail and detract from the image. And, often we appreciate images that are virtually shadow-free. I have written a piece for a shadow-less light application for small close-up and macro subjects. You may read it here.

Lighting direction is important to use in making our images. Front light gives us shape and form. Light from over our camera or shoulder can reveal a lot about our subject. As light wraps around the subject features, the variations in intensity, or falloff, tells us a lot about the features of the subject. But this comes with a price. Front light is often flat, that is, lacking in contrast. This low contrast lighting fails to give adequate details of the subject surface.

Therefore, lighting direction is most important when attempting to bring out the most subject details. Three lighting techniques are important to learn: Axial (Front), Side and Back.

With axial lighting the light source is at the lens or close to it and illuminates the subject directly on the front surface. (See Diagram Below) The image of the Overcup oak acorns below is lit with an off-camera Speedlight flash in a small softbox right up against the lens. While it produces a nice image, it is somewhat flat and lacks the contrast to illustrate the detail at its best.

Axial Lighting

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Side light, corrects this failure of front light. In fact, to visually achieve maximum surface texture, extreme side light is the answer. Texture is that all-important tactile quality of what the subject feels like; as in does it feel smooth or rough.

The image below is lit with the same Speedlight and softbox to the far right of the subject. This image produces maximum detail and texture of the acorn and the surface of the caps.

Side Lighting Diagram

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Backlight, while sometimes difficult to work with because of little definition to front details, provide a maximum understanding of shape, a two-dimensional quality. Backlight can separate the subject from the background and produce a striking edge-light or “halo” around our subject for maximum definition. In the image below, the single Speedlight and softbox is placed behind the acorns. The image illustrates maximum shape and edge detail, but is lacking in front surface detail due to insufficient light from the single source.

Back Lighting Diagram

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Now, as it turns out, we may use more than only one style of lighting direction; a mixture is frequently best. Here the lighting is predominant back light with a front fill card. This image provides more information, better illustrating the acorns and the detail of the caps.

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In addition to direction, lighting quality is vastly important as well. Small point light sources create hard, high contrast light. A point light source is very small in relation to the subject and directional. The light from our sun is actually small (you can cover the sun with your thumb at noon) and directional, creating lots of unflattering, dark shadows.

On the other hand, large and broad light sources are much softer, especially when close to the subject. An overcast sky is a perfect example of a large light source; the clouds themselves act as the large source of light. Let’s look at some specific examples.

In the first two images below the light is a single off-camera Speedlight flash both at the same distance (2 ft.) from the subject. In the left image the flash is unmodified and the right uses an 18 inch diffuser in front of the Speedlight. The first has considerable more specular reflections and sharper (harder) shadows; the next with the larger light source is more diffused, both in the highlights and shadows. The larger the light source, the softer the light and less contrast.

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The quality of the light is also subject to the size of the light source relative to the subject as a function of its distance from the subject. In the four examples immediately below, the light source is the same exact fixture — an eight-inch softbox on a Speedlight. In the top examples the light source is six feet from the subject. In the lower images the light is only one foot away.

When the light source is at a distance it seems small as below, shadows are at their maximum and spectral highlights are small and hard. Look at the detail of the reflection from the light source. (Closeup second below).

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When the light source is large (closer) as below, shadows are at their minimum and spectral highlights are large and soft. (See the next closeup.)

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The images below are shot with a very soft lighting technique making use of a large light, close to the subject with reflectors and diffusers, resulting in less contrast, less shadows and more diffused highlights. This is a technique used frequently for shadow-less lighting with diffused specular highlights, like shiny metal or glass objects.

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So after all that, let’s take a look at some examples where direction and quality play an important role in making or breaking an image. The images below are of the skull of a white-tailed deer. This animal was probably killed by being hit by a car resulting in the crushed skull as shown here.

The first image is taken with the light suggested for everything. Near axial, front lighting with a softbox on an off-camera Speedlight flash. The enlarged detail shows the image is well lit and exposed and illustrates the subject and the trauma.

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The image below however, used side light with the same Speedlight and softbox. This image illustrates more detail than the first as the sidelight creates more texture, giving more definition to the bone and its structures. This is clearly visible in the enlarged detail.

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Copyright © 2015 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.