Thursday, July 28, 2011

I found myself this week

Ever since I started out with photography I knew I wanted to do landscape photography.
When I was still being schooled as a darkroom black and white photographer, my teacher was always complaining about how dark my skies and pictures where. I'm happy that I did not listen to him all the time. It just felt natural back then to burn skies really heavily. I did it instinctively. Not because somebody told me to. It's a bit hard to explain but I guess you could say it came from the inside, from the heart. I guess people call that vision.

Fast forward 10 years. I am now living in the most beautiful part of the world, Canada, where I can pursue that vision even further. And I am happy to say that I found my little niche where I can be who I am and I can do what I love doing. Even where I am proud of doing what I do.

Sure my landscapes are not photographed in the most scenic spots of Alberta and they are not taken at sunrise and or sunset. Yes they are dark and full of blacks with a lot of contrast. They do have a particular look. But that look just came naturally. This is what I like to look at.

For me it is more about the light itself. How light interacts with the sky, with clouds, with air even. Not how spectacular a mountain scene is.

I leave you with my favourites from this week so far.

Wonderful Mammatus

Hazy Rockies

Something's Brewing

Monday, July 25, 2011

Aurora Activity July 20th

So, last week a few shots got de-watermarked and re-uploaded to Twitpic.
I just like to share the album I've made yesterday with all the shots I took that night.
Just so you all have an 'official' link to share. And please DO SHARE!

As you notice, I am still very p*ssed there are actually people that lower themselves to the point of stealing someone else's efforts and claiming them for themselves.

Aurora Borealis 20 July 2011 - Images by Olivier Du Tre

Friday, July 22, 2011

Copyright anyone?

This morning I went through my Twitter account and saw – just by luck – somebody posted pictures of 'auroras boreales en Canada'. I was like 'hey, somebody else took shots last night! Let's check'em out'.

My stomach turned a little when I saw that as a matter of fact it were MY images I took on the night of July 21st, but with no watermark! I could swear I watermarked them before uploading them to

After checking that (I did in fact watermark my 4 shots and you can see the original post here), and some more digging, I ended up at the 'original' posters' Twitter account. A – what looks like – a genuine science and technology site.

Now I do LOVE science and I would do almost anything to help these usually under funded people out. But grabbing shots and removing watermarks (and NOT giving ANY credits or link back) is just plane old stealing in my book.

I sent a tweet out to them asking them to remove the photos from Twitpic but haven't recieved anything back yet.
I don't mind sharing pictures. As a matter of fact how would you otherwise get your work out?
But when I am missing out on potential clients that have no clue where pictures came from, that is another thing. Then you are pushing me into a corner and I have no clue how I will react.

If you look at the stats of these two images you'll see those shots got viewed approximately 9,000 times and got retweeted in about 1/10 of the views it got.

And to top that, they felt that they could repost this to their Facebook page as well.

SO here is my question. How would you handle this? Would you let this slide? Or would you sent them the bill? This is copyright infringement right? But I have no clue what I can do to people like this. Do I contact TwitPic?

Update 1
Here's the issue I am having. Thanks to all the privacy laws in place I can't see Twitter or Facebook page owners email addresses. I rather handle this through email though than shouting it in Twitter-space. So far they are not quick to react.
I got one tweet back saying, and I quote "we didn't remove it, our followers send us all the pictures, we just post them, send us the originals and we'll post them". So who did remove the watermarks then I question?
I tweeted again asking them (for the 2nd time now) to remove these shots. I am also filling in the Twitter Copyright Infringement form, but I'm not sending this off for now.
I like to believe these guys will remove the pics before I am forced to use more drastic measures.

Update 2
The owner of the page took the images down. SO that part of the issue is solved.
They claim they received these from an outside source and they were not the once that cropped the watermarks out. Could be, but how are we going to prove that?
I still like to find out who that 'source' was and go after them.

Update 3
The two pictures from yesterday were taken down. BUT I just found another one of my shots on their Twitpic page. This time around I sent them a simpler email. Asking them to take them down in 24h or I am filling a complaint through Twitter, and filling a complaint with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office.

Update 4
After 24h the picture is still up and I am putting the wheels in motion. Yes it is a weekend (but I don't give a damn). I gave them 24h to comply OR...
So here goes.

Update 5
I just got a reply from the CEO of Twitpic notifying me that as of 7:30pm the photo has been taken down.
I also filled a complaint with Twitter. Awaiting the response of that.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Don't they Look Moo-velous?

A few weeks ago I felt to need to print me some new business cards. Actually I never owned business cards before and more and more people where asking for them. I always had to scribble something down. And that does NOT look very professional of course.
Now I am happy to say that I own business cards that have the same look and feel as this blog and my website.

A colleague of mine actually found MOO one day. And everybody in the office here was impressed by how the samples (which they happily provide) looked like. After some debating I finally ordered a small batch as a test.

I ordered 50 and used their printfinity option. Which means you can basically have multiple fronts over a single generic back. Like a mini portfolio on your business card if you will. I designed the back using Illustrator and uploaded 10 different photos for the fronts.
When I was designing the cards, I ran into a bit of a technical thing about using blacks in print. MOO offers a Live Chat support function through their website and that worked flawlessly. I quickly had a rep on the line and had my answer in 2 minutes. Now that is a company that cares and knows what they are doing!

The cards itself are super heavy weight stock. They have a beautiful satin finish on them and they are made from recycled materials! Plus they came in a nice little holder. Pretty neat.
It is also very interesting to see what images are picked. This way you can keep a top 3 of what works and what does not. ;)

Overal I can't say anything bad about these guys and I just wanted to share my experience with you. For me this was a very enjoyable and satisfying experience (and cheap too! I payed just over $30 US). I am sure I will be using them again when I run out of cards.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Step by Step

A couple of posts back I kinda explained how I transform a seemingly uninteresting photo into a far better black and white image.
I've decided to do a more detailed description of what I do in this post. So let's begin.

This is the original shot straight out of the cam. You notice the huge blue/green cast on this image. This is because I used my custom White Balance in combination with that White Balance Shift I was talking about in this post. Blue in combination with a red filter gives you a very dark result. And that is the result that I like most. I love real blacks in black and white photography and lots of contrast too. That is me. This is not necessarily something YOU love of course.

Now let's start the conversion. For this shot I used a green filter. Hey, wait a minute. Didn't you just say you almost always use the red filter preset. Yes I did but wait a minute. Green is the opposite from red. Using the green filter produces very light grays where you have green. Using the red filter produces darker blacks where you have green (deep blues produce a solid black). You can get the same result going both with the green or red filter presets. On one you will be adding blacks and burn a lot of areas. On the other you will dodge a lot. In the end, you should get the same result. But what I'm always trying to achieve in these early stages of a print is to get a very flat looking photo where I have detail in every single area of the scene.

In 90% of my B&W shots, the first thing I do is drag a gradient going from black to nothing (see through) from the top to the horizon. This is of course done on a separate layer. This layer was set to "soft light" at 100%. This effectively burns that section of the shot, in this case the sky. 100% black gives you a 100% burn. 50% black, well... 50% burning. It's like using a grad filter and it sets my overal darkness of the photo.

Alright! Before I go and put even more attention in the sky I want to make sure my foreground is to my likings. So by using the same technique I burned the foreground. So I created a new layer and with a big soft brush, set to 20% opacity and using 100% black (just use the default black, Press D in photoshop), I burned away. Again I've set this layer to "soft light". You are entering the creative stages of the conversion now. It is up to you to render darker areas where you think they should be. It takes a little bit of practice but you can learn a lot by just looking at what Mother Nature does in real life. Be always on the lookout for light patterns and try to analyse if you see something you like. You can recreate this. Learn to understand how light works!

OK so we are getting somewhere here. Now in addition to the darker spots in the previous step, I want to create some contrast in the foreground. It's dodging time! So using the exact same process but this time using WHITE start dodging selected areas where light could be hitting the scene. You are trying to create a sweet spot for the eye to land on as well. So analyse your shot and decided where that spot needs to go.

In this stage I am concentrating on the sky again. I definitely want some more contrast in there as well. I looked at the lighter tones in this area and dodged them a bit more. Effectively enlarging the range of contrast between the darker clouds and the lighter clouds.

Sweet! What I did here was setting the overal contrast of the scene. Remember we started with a gray shot with lots of info in all areas? Now at this stage I went ahead and defined a black and white point using both levels and curves. After that I added contrast just by using curves again.
I like the overal darkness of this shot but it still lacks that central hooking point. That point where your eye focusses.

If you scroll back up to the previous image you can see that I added contrast to the central white spot adding overal texture to it. This gives your eye the necessary amount of detail to hover here for a sec (or longer). Ultimately this is a very simple scene with no real subject like a tree or rock. I also darkened up the sky some more.

I liked this. So the only thing that was left to do is some minor tweaking. I burned the upper and lower edge of the frame some more. Removed all spots and added sharpening using a high pass overlay. DONE

Now this is just a demo on how I process black and white shots in 95% of the time. Sometimes I do use NIK Silver Effects Pro because – well – it works very intuitive. But most of the time I use Photoshop CS5.
Feel free to ask any questions about this technique in the comments. Try it out. You'll see it is so much fun to create something out of nothing!

You can see the final result here.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Something different

Last night all my data suggested that the auroras could have been out. Everything went crazy (for no apparent reason). Around 10pm, I got a yellow alert from the aurora watch website in Edmonton. About an hour later that changed to a red alert which means 'If you go out now, you'll see them'.
So I grabbed my gear and headed out.

Summertime is an awesome time to be out and enjoy the heavens above. I like shooting startrails and other weather/space phenomenons. The people that know me will testify I am a science geek in disguise.

Anyhow, so last night I was out in anticipation of some aurora's. Long story short. The darkness falls way after 12am here now which is not really helping when you have to get up the next day to go to work. *yawn*

Although I did not see any auroras, I was rewarded with a nice display of NLC's on the northern horizon. NLC's, Noctilucent clouds or Night Shining Clouds are the highest clouds in our atmosphere. You can read all about it here. Scientists think they are a sign of changing conditions in the atmosphere. All the shots where taken between 12am and 12.15am.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Drama is my best friend

Photographing in Black and white is one thing I truly love doing. Not only do I like photographing scenes where I already know I want to convert them to black and white. But the conversion itself is so much fun.
Photographers have really forgotten how to dodge and burn in this age of over saturation and instant gratification. And yes, I am guilty on doing that as well in the past. That is why I took a step back a few weeks back, looked at my work and analysed what I really liked doing. And the answer is B&W photography.

Now, often people ask me how I get so much drama in my shots. It's quit easy actually. It is called dodging and burning. A long lost artform from the darkroom ages.
But first let me explain what I do prior to recording a scene.

I've configured 3 presets in my camera. One is for colour landscape photography. The other for aurora shots and the 3rd one is exclusively for black and white photography. In that preset I am actually shooting in black and white mode. So my preview and photos show as black and whites on the back of my camera. Also is my B&W preset configured with a red filter effect with a lot of contrast. But most importantly I am using a custom white balance with a white balance shift where I've pulled the blues all the way to the left. It works pretty well especially with the red filter.

My WB shift point is set to the circled position.

Of course I am working in RAW so all these presets actually ONLY affect the preview and not the actual RAW file. It just allows me to preview my intentions a bit easier.

After I've pulled the file through Photoshops Raw convertor making just a few tiny tweaks I convert the photo to black and white. Usually with the red filter or infrared presets. Then I start to dodge and burn selectively on layers.

Now how do you do that? It is actually quite easy. You make a new layer, and start painting in the area you want to dodge (use white) or burn (use black). Set your layer to Overlay (heavy effect) or Soft light. Done. Be sure to use lots of layers and don't try to do all of your burning, all at once. In the end you'll get something like this.

As an example I'm showing you this image from a few weeks back.

Shot as it came out of the camera. Notice the overcast sky, flat light (my favourite) and overal not really a scene people would see as worth photographing.

Black and white conversion using the infrared preset.

After dodging and burning I got the drama I wanted.

After that I pulled the shot back in Aperture and added sharpening. That was it.
A lot of people think the light actually happened as it was in the shot. Of course it did not! And that is why I love overcast skies.

By the way, people that think their cameras are devices that record reality will never become artists. Once they realize it is a tool that allows them to capture something in the way they saw it in their minds, then and only then we can start talking about photo creativity.

What is your opinion? Did I go too far again?