Welcome to (The Occasional) Photo Tip of the Day! Please also visit my main site jeffwignall.com. Text and photographs Copyright 2014 Jeff Wignall.

"Vision without execution is hallucination."


Thomas Edison

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Orton Effect, Sort of...

Back in the pre-digital days when I (and most serious photographers) shot mainly color slides, we were always looking for some creative little twist that we could use to make our photos stand out. One trick that someone showed me (I think it was the late Robin Perry, but I'm not certain--in fact, I'm not even certain he's late, but I think so) was using a kind of off-focus trick. The images were created by shooting one sharply focused photo of a subject (on a tripod) and one out-of-focus shot and then sandwiching the two images together and copying them back to one slide. What you ended up with was a picture that was sort of soft and sort of sharp and had a nice kind of plushness to it. It wasn't until recently that I learned that the technique had a name: the Orton Effect (named after a guy named Michael Orton). I should have called it the Wignall Effect back then and I could have claimed it was mine! Or Robin should have named it after himself.

Anyway, these days a lot of people (do a search on Flickr and you'll find a lot of examples) have figured out ways to create the effect in Photoshop. And to be honest, it's pretty simple, but some of the people that are describing it have convoluted it a bit. The best teaching site I've found for it so far is Photoshop Girl (and what a cool name for a site). There is a video tutorial (lots of clicking involved--so yes, you really do click on the things she says to click on) that uses the same technique that I used to create the photo of my kitty Buddha (shown here). The effect is kind of subtle in my shot, but if you click on the image you should see it pretty well. Basically all that you're doing is duping the image a few times, adding a Gaussian blur and changing the blending modes as you go. It's not difficult and there is a lot of room for play in the various steps.

For some reason the technique works better with some subjects than others--and landscape and portraits (animal or human) seem to work very well. Again, do a search on Flickr and or do a Google Image search on "Orton Effect" and you'll see more examples. It's a fun thing to play with on a cold winter night and it doesn't require a new lens or a new camera, just Photoshop and some imagination.

By the way, this is my 489th posting on this blog. Amazing. I'll be at 500 soon and then I think I'll retire it :)

Photo Notes:  The photo was made with a Nikon D90 and a 70-300mm Nikkor zoom. Exposure at ISO 200 was 1/60 at f/4 and fill-flash from the built-in flash was used.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas!


little tree
by: e.e. cummings (1894-1962)
ITTLE tree
little silent Christmas tree
you are so little
you are more like a flower
who found you in the green forest
and were you very sorry to come away?
see i will comfort you
because you smell so sweetly
i will kiss your cool bark
and hug you safe and tight
just as your mother would,
only don't be afraid
look the spangles
that sleep all the year in a dark box
dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine,
the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,
put up your little arms
and i'll give them all to you to hold
every finger shall have its ring
and there won't be a single place dark or unhappy
then when you're quite dressed
you'll stand in the window for everyone to see
and how they'll stare!
oh but you'll be very proud
and my little sister and i will take hands
and looking up at our beautiful tree
we'll dance and sing
"Noel Noel"

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Mice Sleeping in Sunlight: A Tableau

One of the nice things about having cats in the house is that they are always doing interesting things with their toys. My two cats have about 10 of these "pet" mice and they use them for all sorts of games and ritualistic activities. (One of their favorite games is to gather all of the mice at the top of the stairs and then toss them down--and then chase after them as if the mice have made a run for it.) I found this pair lying on the dining room floor, presumably left there to bask warmly in the sunlight (I have very benevolent cats). At any rate, I thought the sunlight and the shadows created a very fetching image, so I went and fetched my camera and shot about two dozen images from several angles and with a variety of zoom settings. Wildlife photography at its finest: "Smile little mice, the camera loves you!" The cats slept through the entire shoot, oh, well. Little do they know that they designed some of my photos for me.

One funny editing note: There was a thread sticking out of the top of the mouse on the left and I cloned it out in Photoshop (no one wants to see a mouse with a loose thread). But I forgot to edit the thread out of the shadow--look at the red circle here:

That's the shadow I forgot to get rid of. Lesson learned: make sure if you edit out something, you look for it's shadow too! Ahh, well, the mice were just happy not to be getting tossed up and down the stairs. Everyone needs a nap in the sunlight.


Photo Notes:  Shot with a Nikon D90 using an 18-70mm Nikkor zoom. Shot with available light and captured in RAW; processed in Photoshop CS3. Exposure was 1/100 second at f/6.3, ISO 640.

Book Notes:  If you're going to buy any of my books for Christmas this year,  please shop locally--preferably at an independent book store. Amazon has recently released an app that allows you to scan bar codes at the local book store and then buy the book cheaper from Amazon. The net result of that is that you save a few bucks but you put the local store out of business.

Monday, December 12, 2011

How to Handle a White Sky Background

This summer I had the opportunity to photograph high-wire artist Tino Wallenda again outdoors at a country fair. I've photographed Tino several times and I'm always hoping for a nice blue sky because it provides such a brilliant and colorful background. This year the weather didn't cooperate and just as Tino took to the wire a white sky slid in behind him--ughhh! I got more than a little annoyed, but there wasn't much I could do and so I had to figure out a way to use the white sky and to expose correctly for it. I knew that the only way to keep him correctly exposed would be to meter directly from his face (or the gray part of his vest--either would have worked), so I put my Nikon D90 in the spot-metering mode and took a reading just from his face. In that mode the camera is only metering a tiny area of about 3mm of the viewfinder. If I had exposed for the normal matrix metering pattern then the camera would have exposed for the sky area and turned Tino into a silhouette. Also, normally would I would add a stop of exposure (using exposure compensation) to a face reading to expose it correctly but since I was shooting in RAW (as I do 100% of the time now), I knew I could tweak the exposure in editing.

When I processed the images I was pleasantly surprised by how surreal and interesting the background looked. Tino doesn't usually perform in such an outlandish costume, but this year it was part of the show and that, along with the white background, adds some nice color to the shot. By the way, you really can' see it in this shot, but Tino is about 40' or more off of the ground and working without a net--as usual (he never works with a net). I've photographed him at more than twice that height, but it's still a scary feat. And he did a headstand on the chair during the performance--something I'll never get used to seeing.

 Incidentally, a quick editing note: Since the background of the blog and the background in the shot were white, I added a thin black line around the frame in Photoshop. That's easy to do: just use the rectangular marquis selection tool to outline the shot, then go to Edit>Stroke and select a pixel width for the stroke (outline). I used a black 3 pixel stroke here--otherwise the shot would have just faded into the page.
Photo Note: Shot with a Nikon D90 with a 70-300mm Nikkor lens. Exposure was 1/160 second at f/7.1. The shot was recorded in RAW and white balance was set to cloudy day (to warm up the shot a bit).
Exposure Book: There is an entire chapter on exposing for difficult subjects in my new book Exposure Photo Workshop, 2nd Edition. It's available on Amazon and at most bookstores. The original edition of the book has been translated to Spanish, Polish, Chinese and both editions are available on Kindle or Fire (you can read both on your iPad with a free app). 


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Cool Olympus SP810 In-Camera Effects


I've been doing some more playing with an Olympus SP810-UZ zoom camera that I have on loan from Olympus and I have to tell you that while I still hate only having the LCD to focus with, I'm loving this camera. In my last posting (scroll down, you have to see this) I demonstrated the scope of the amazing 36X optical zoom lens. I'm still having a blast with that lens.

This past Sunday I took a walk around a local pond and experimented with some fun in-camera effects (that I discovered purely by accident while looking at the menus). Two of those effects are show here: the "soft focus" effect at top and then the "reflection" mode below that. There are others too: including a pop art filter (you end up with a purple and black silhouette basically), a fisheye lens effect (which is actually kind of cool), a watercolor filter and five others. These aren't the kinds of things I'd use seriously (I can create them better in Photoshop), but they are still a lot of fun to play around with--and everyone I've shown them too is getting a kick out of them. I thought both filters did a fine job of capturing the mood of an overcast November day in New England.

Too many people take cameras way too seriously. They're supposed to be fun and have an experimental nature to them, I think--that's how you learn what you like and it's also away to just break out of your day-to-day visual limitations. So, for me, discovering weird stuff like this in cameras is just great. Don't let people tell you that "it's just a gimmick" because hey, gimmicks are fun, too. When I was a kid I always wanted a Lite Brite set to play with (and never got one!) and guess what--I still want one! I think I was born being in love with light and color!

Holiday gift idea:  If you're looking for something different and easy to buy for a Christmas gift, consider making a donation in someone's name to a worthy cause. One of my favorites is the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. The sanctuary is a non-public refuge where elephants that have been rescued from the circus or from zoos can live out their lives in dignity and peace in a wild and free environment. They deserve nothing less.