Agnes Caruso Photography

Photography


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12 Essential Photo Equipment Items for Travel

Packing up for a trip can be difficult even when you are not taking your photography equipment. However, if you are planning holidays and want to take some of your equipment it can become even more difficult. So let’s look at what you may need on your trip. I will try to divide items into must have, good to have and nice to have. Many items are very basic and you will wonder why I even mention them, but trust me they can be forgotten. The more obvious something is, the more likely we are to forget it. In order to ensure you pack all that is needed you can make a list and follow it when packing the gear.

The lists below are intended for general purpose trip, family holiday or sightseeing trip not a photographic expedition.

Must have items:

  • camera body of your choice, ones with swivel back screen have an advantage as you do not have to crawl on the ground in mud, water or some other enticing place to take low angled shots
  • zoom lens allowing you to take decent distance and close up pictures, e.g. 24-105mm lens
  • charger for the battery and if you have spare, charged batteries; for overseas trips pack also an adapter for the power points
  • rain protector for the camera and lens, they come in different sizes depending what lens you are using
  • memory cards with a hard shell case for storage, if you use mini cards, they can be shared between your camera and phone
  • tripod, a mini one such as GorillaPod works in a number of situations fairly well
  • backpack or a bag and a lens case, good to invest in ones with rain protection
  • lens cleaning solution and a cleaning cloth
  • camera manual – Yes, you may need it

 

Good to have items:

  • a set of filters – UV filter, circular polarizer and at least one ND filter, while some people swear against filters, I found them useful to keep sand and dust away from the lens while shooting in poor conditions
  • second camera body, so you can attach your second lens to it as changing them while shooting pictures becomes tiresome and can lead to problems, especially in windy and dusty conditions
  • second lens with a lens case, depending on your interests and destination – macro lens, wide angle or a powerful zoom lens
  • actual tripod – good size, sturdy and lightweight. Yes, such things exist but you may need to spend some serious money if you want a top line tripod. Yet, it is one of the most important items you need in your bag

Nice to have items:

  • remote release
  • speedlight, can come handy in full sunshine when taking portraits or in dark interiors
  • third lens for any special objects
  • closeup filters, while not a substitution for a macro lens, can help you take close-up pictures without a need to change lenses, make sure they fit your largest diameter lens

When choosing lens for travel, you need to consider the weight of the lens as well as its optical quality. I have a Tamron lens 18-270mm, covers a perfect zoom range, takes good quality pictures in bright light, it is light, has a lock to prevent is extending when it is carried around. If I am forced to take a small photo bag and only one lens, due to luggage restrictions, it is a good choice, but a heavier lens with a low aperture f/2.8 or so can give you fabulous images at low light or inside buildings. The choice is really depending on where you going and what you like photographing.

When traveling on holidays, you may need to carry your gear with you, so weight is a big consideration, as is ability to quickly pull it out or put it away. Leaving your gear in cars or hotel rooms can end up with it being stolen, so having only what you can comfortably carry around a city or on a hiking trail is very important.

I have also created a travel checklist which you can download from the Resource page on my website.


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Focusing on sunsets – Part 1

Sunsets are probably one of the most photographed subjects. What makes sunsets so attractive? Obviously colors and light, but frequently there are also clouds and their texture or shape that makes the images unforgettable. Many tourist attractions or scenic views attract crowds every day to admire the setting sun. It is often hard to find a perfect spot to pick for taking pictures.

What makes a spot perfect? A place allowing you an unobstructed view of the sky, a city skyline or another particular feature. Remember that moving along your location may reveal a very different view. Also turning a camera slightly from the same point can deliver a very different image. Therefore, even if you have been to a particular spot before, every day and every sunset is different. You can see below how different are the four sunsets. All are taken in Arlington, from the same spot in a little different direction to best capture drama in the sky.

 

Framing your view is important, what do you want to show in the image besides the changing color and light. Are there any shapes, buildings, trees, anything interesting that can play a central role in your photograph? Remember that each sunset only happens once and what you are trying to convey is a particular moment, one that cannot ever be reproduced. It is important that if someone looks at your picture they can relate to the moment you captured. There has to be something that makes it unique.

As the sun sets there is less and less light. So two things become important, having a fast lens and a tripod. Wide angle lens can help in capturing sunset or sunrise, many of those are also fast lenses. The above images were all shot without a tripod and through glass, so not under the best conditions. Using a Canon EF85mm f/1.8USM lens gives enough angle and allows to take pictures at relatively slow speeds.

City skylines and glass skyscrapers offer a great subjects to photograph at sunset. There are two ways of doing it.

One way of shooting a sunset, is to capture a moment when it happens and is spectacular. You can see examples of those types of shots below, San Antonio on the left and New York on the right. In NYC, a late afternoon stroll to Times Square was rewarded with this image of sky looking like a fireball. In this case I did not use any image enhancement for the NYC picture, it was extremely dramatic without a need for any additional changes. On the other hand, in San Antonio, I was strolling back towards the hotel, when the reflection in the windows captured my eye. You can see how different floors of the building reflect different colors of the sunset. When I turned around, the sunset was spectacular with amazing colors and textures. Finding the right angle and putting a camera on a tripod was a race, which I think I won with the below image of the sunset in San Antonio.

 

 

The second way, is to pre-plan your sunset trip to a scenic location around the city, set up and wait till the sunset starts happening. This is a well tried approach and beautiful shots can be made, especially when there are clouds in the sky. Skyline of Seattle and New York show different lighting conditions and directions of the shots. In Seattle, Kerry Park is one of the best places to see a sunset, as it offers an unobstructed view of the city. A panorama image taken from Long Island towards Manhattan shows just one of the great places to photograph a sunset in NYC.

As this story draws to a close, I wanted to share an image from Durham, NC, taken from the parking lot of the Southpoint Mall. I am sure you are thinking why this location? An explanation is simple. As I was driving along the road I have noticed the most gorgeous sunset one can see, colors, clouds everything so perfect. There was just one problem, I was on a highway, no way I can stop and take pictures. By pulling into the mall parking lot I was able to capture at least some of the beauty of this evening. It is not the perfect image one might want but it captures a unique moment in time.

The bottom line is do not get discouraged when it looks like you may miss a beautiful moment, try to capture it. If you are lucky enough to not be a driver, you can attempt taking pictures from the car. This requires a bit more than just a good eye, it needs a steady hand, good road and a bit of luck. Taking pictures from a moving car that is a separate topic, that I hope to get to later this year.

And to leave you with something actually not accidental for a sunset, here is a sunset in Toronto, Canada, over the lake. Enjoy and I will be back with more images of sunsets.

 


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Corel PaintShop Pro 2018 – testing the new version of the old tool

Editing images is a big part of our job as photographers. Even if those are only minute alterations we need an easy to use, yet powerful software. Over the years I used various versions of Adobe Photoshop, which is definitely a great tool. I tried the new online editing version as well, however, not having the actual physical copy makes you fully dependent on your internet and connection. While not a problem in itself, it could be challenging in some areas of the country. Since I switched to Windows 10 for my processing a new choice in photo editing was available to me – Corel PaintShop Pro.

I have now used Corel PaintShop Pro for over 3 years and it definitely fulfills all my needs for photo editing.  It is a real alternative to an Adobe Photoshop, especially considering Adobe’s pricing model based on subscription to software. The changes over the previous versions were not dramatic, the biggest difference was with the transfer to Windows 10 and working out how certain functions work compare to previous Windows versions. So yes, it was a bit frustrating but not too hard to figure out.

Now the new version just came out – Corel PaintShop Pro 2018 and Corel PaintShop Pro 2018 Ultimate.

Is it really better than the previous versions? I am still exploring that, so for now want to show you some of the new features and what can be done in this software.

A front screen showing some of the options, such as learn or get more is now anchored to the home tab. This screen also now allows you to choose workspace layout from essentials to complete. The essentials workspace has only two tabs: home and edit. Manage tab is not there. This is good if you do not use the software frequently, but I find manage tab indispensable for easy choosing of the photos I want to edit.

Have you have ever been frustrated by the size of icons in an application? Now you can adjust the sizes of the icons, scroll bar and nodes to your preferences, you can make your workspace lighter or darker. This personalization is limited but useful as finding small items can be a problem. To further make your life easier, you are now able to add or remove the icons appearing in a toolbar to suit your editing needs. All this makes it possible to de-clutter and personalize the workspace.

What good changes appear in the new version?

One thing you will notice is that Adjust tab has disappeared from the workspace. If you wonder where it went, it is  now within the edit menu bar. This is kind of logical as adjust is part of photo editing. One thing that tripped me though is that “Instant Effects” got moved to “Palettes Menu”.

A great improvement over the previous versions is the crop tool with overlay selection matching that of Adobe Lightroom. You can now choose golden spiral, diagonal, triangle or golden ratio not just rule of thirds. This by itself is a great addition. But there are more options with cropping. For example you can rotate your image to produce an effect you desire for any other application you may want. This allows you to reposition the image in a way you wish. In this case, a car was shot on an angle but I wanted to get it positioned straight for a print. It is a very handy tool to have, again makes it much more similar to options available in Adobe Lightroom.

 

 

Does that mean that PaintShop Pro 2018 will replace Adobe Lightroom in my workflow? I do not think so but it has features which suddenly made use of it nicer and easier. Adjusting image appearance can be done in any software that feels right for you, Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop, Corel AfterShot, or Corel PaintShop Pro. Ultimate version of Corel Paintshop Pro 2018 includes the basic version of AfterShot 3. I have not really played with it so far, but did have a look at it. A better integration of AfterShot with PaintShop Pro would be great, for example having direct access to the AfterShot tools within PaintShop Pro, so there is no need to export the images.

Coming back to the actual PaintShop Pro 2018. There are some tools, which I have not yet tested adequately to comment and those are text and clone tools. In meantime I tried the new “Sample and Fill” tool. It is a version of a dropper tool that allows you to copy entire information from one part of an image and apply it in another, used in the coffee image below.

Now, is this new version worth the extra cost compared to PaintShop Pro 9?

  1. If you do lots of photo editing and think of upgrading, I would say yes, it is worth it. The little fixes made are making work easier, the price tag on the upgrade is still substantial though.
  2. If you are brand new to Corel PaintShop Pro and want to get started, it is as good version as any other to get you going.
  3. If you have been using the software occasionally and are not a professional photographer, I would suggest to get a trial version and see if it has features that you love and will make your editing easier. However, you can probably stick with previous versions of the software.
  4. If you do not have any image processing software besides what came with your camera, you should explore PaintShop Pro 2018 Ultimate. It can help you process RAW images from your camera with AfterShot 3 and will allow you to also get started with more advanced image editing with PaintShop Pro 2018.

For all those new and not so new to RAW photo editing you should look at the review of Corel AfterShot 3Pro, Adobe Lightroom and Capture One by Jaron Schneider in Resource Magazine. It is also a great read and points out pros and cons of the different softwares.

One big claim that Corel has made is the speed of opening files, however, working on a fast computer I have not noticed any difference from version 9. There are also features that I do not pay much attention to when deciding to upgrade or not, which are new brushes, gradients, patterns and textures. Those things are nice to have but they would never convince me to upgrade.

Now one big thing we are coming to is customer support. This is being patchy at best. I am still waiting for an answer 5 days after submitting a ticket! You can get started with some of the online tutorials by Corel Discovery Center and some professional photographers out there that published instructions of how to do various things in Corel PaintShop Pro. You will find that there is limited support for the new version. However, here is the good news, most basic features work fairly similar between the versions. A word of warning here though, if you are using Windows 10 you will occasionally find that instructions given are not working. I found a number of cases where I had to do things differently or use a different tool. There seems to be less bugs in PaintShop Pro 2018 but there are still a few. I will be identifying them as I go and post them soon so you can avoid having to look for a solution yourself.

Just to leave you with some pretty images edited with Corel PaintShop Pro 2018, using some of the new tools.

 

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Using a reflector – indoors and outdoors

Light is the heart of photography and getting it right is extremely important. Reflector is something that many starting photographers wonder about. “Do I need it? How do I use it?” If you cannot or do not want to invest in anything super fancy, you like taking pictures with natural light – a reflector is something that I would strongly recommend. There are stacks of different types, priced from very cheap to very expensive. So how do you even start?

What are you photographing? Portraits, still life, large scenes or objects or small? An answer to this question will determine what size reflector you will need. The larger the subjects, the larger should be your reflector or you will only get change of light in a small portion of your object. A related consideration is how are you going to handle a reflector? Are you going to buy a stand or are you going to hold it? Questions just keep coming and honestly you have no idea where to start or if on fact you need a reflector.

I will try to explain in this post why you should use one and when as well as how to start working with a reflector.

A reflector at its basic, is a piece of white foam board. However, more frequently reflectors are much more advanced with silver or gold foil covering them. You can make one yourself if you wish (DYI Photography How to make a photo reflector, Make your own reflector DIY tutorial) or you can even use your car sunshade. Using a white foam board will help you not to blind your subjects and depending on the board can actually produce a nice soft light. That said, the most frequently used reflector is probably the silver one. Similarly to white board it does not alter the appearance of the subject.However, you need to be careful not to blind your subject so reflect with care!

You can also use a gold foil reflector, however, it will give your subject a bit of a golden glow. Depending on your intentions that can be a desired outcome. All this is very interesting but why should you even bother using one? It is not even convenient carrying one with you all the time.

If you look at the following pictures you will notice the difference between the images on the left with no reflector and ones on the right with silver reflector on the side opposing the light source.

As you can see, in an image with no reflector you can see the dark shadows on the face away from the window. They do not look pleasing and it would be best to lighten them up. One way of doing it is to place another light source to lit up this side of the face. However, a much simpler way is to place a reflector opposite to the light.

In order to get a appearance you wish a reflector can be easily moved a little to the front or to the back. I can hear the next question, how do you hold on to a reflector while taking a picture? You can ask someone to hold it for you, place it on a stand, have your subject hold it, stand it on a chair, table, hand it from a door, coat hanger… There are many ways to place it in position.

Light will reflect in many directions, so the little drawing is a simplification of the set up.

 

 

 

 

 

My favorite model, toy chimp, this time has a light coming from the right, this time a strobe. A reflector in the second image is positioned on left. You may also notice that a reflector has softened shadow cast by the light.

However, those are not the only cases for using a reflector. It can be also used when shooting outdoors, especially on a very sunny day a reflector can come in handy. Would not having one affect your pictures? It does not have to, however, in such case you will need to stay clear of a bright or direct sunlight if you are taking portraits and want them to look great. Yet, even then it could be handy to bring just a bit more light onto your subject.

A little bit of reflected light here makes a difference. In this case, I was taking picture in shade and while no obvious deep shadows are seen, the image is not appealing. By using a reflector you can make a lot of difference in appearance.

Portraits and studio pictures get usually the most attention when it comes to use of a reflector, they are not the only ones that benefit from such approach. How many times have you gone out to photograph flowers? Yes, those great subject that do not walk away or fly away. Frequently we go out in nice weather or the flowers we want to photograph are in full sunshine. Yes, we can come back when it is cloudy. However, that is not always possible. So how can you make a pleasing photo while still photographing in full sunshine?

You guessed it! Use a reflector. I took one with me on an outing to National Arboretum in Washington DC. And here are some of the images it produced.

 

   

The first image was taken without a reflector. By adding a reflector I was able to reduce the highlights, soften the image just a little, bring the azalea flowers to much more natural and pleasing appearance.

 

Creative use of a reflector can allow you to manipulate light and highlight the area you want to bring to a viewer’s attention. In general I use mostly silver reflector as it keeps the colors true, while the gold one will warm up your images by altering the color just a bit. If this is something you wish to do, then try it out. You also need to test different angles as not all will create a desired effect. Above all be creative with objects you already have, until you truly know if you need a reflector make it happen with things you have on hand.

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