Friday, July 25, 2014


This Summer we already had several thunderstorms crossing my city but either it happened at a time when I was in office or I was busy with other, more important things. This was very frustrating to me, because I love hunting lightning strikes, as I already mentioned in a former post.

Yesterday evening a non-forecasted storm came closer to the city. First I saw those huge dark clouds and soon they were also some flashes within them. The thunderstorm was moving very slowly, so I had plenty of time to get my camera and tripod ready. It was late in the evening and quite dark which is good for achieving long exposure times. After choosing an area where I expected to happen most lightning strikes I've set up my camera to continuous shooting. Every now and then a flash appears, but not very often. I immediately reviewed the last taken photo to check if I catched the strike. After about an hour with the storm coming closer slowly the was a bright flash suddenly. Again I checked the just taken photo and was amazed. What a beautiful lightning strike did I catch!

29mm  f/4.5  15sec  ISO100

For those of you who are interested I will explain how I do try to catch lightning strikes. I used my EOS 600D camera and chose the standard zoom kit lens with 18-55mm focal length. Using a lens with standard zoom or wide angle gives you the chance to frame a larger part of the sky. The key in catching flashes is long exposure time. I tend to use some between 10 and 30 seconds. Since flashes occur unexpectedly and last fractions of a second you are not able to release the shutter just in time. That's why I switch my camera to lowest possible ISO value, which is 100. This reduces image noise and enlarges shutter speed. Both is very welcome here. Then I switch the camera to shutter priority mode, which is Tv mode at my Canon. Depending on daylight situation I adjust shutter speed between 10 and 30 seconds. Aperture is calculated automatically. Luckily, in a city there is always enough light to get autofocus working. Even at night. So I adjust the focus with autofocus first and switch to manual focus afterwards. All the following shots are taken with this one focus setting. Furthermore I disable image stabilization which is recommended when the camera is mounted to a tripod. A tripod is essential with those long exposure times. To not miss any second I setup my camera for continuous shooting. By using a remote control with lock feature I can permanently press the release button and thus take photos continuously. With these settings I maximise the chance of catching a lightning strike.

Catching one flash is one thing. Post-processing the image is another. When using semi-automatic mode during night time you will always get quite bright images with usually a too warm color temperature. Furthermore, aperture is calculated on a night scene, but flashes are very bright, which usually results in overexposed areas. To get a more dramatic result I turn the color temperature to some lower and colder value. This results in a more blue shaded scene. I darken the image to increase the night feeling and reduce overexposure of the lightning. With adjusting the white balance I darken dark areas and brighten bright areas to increase contrast and intensify drama. From the original frame I crop out a frame that brings the lightning strike to best attention. At last, re-sharpening the image gives the final touch. To demonstrate all these post-processing steps, here is the original, un-edited photo of the above shown scene. (The dotted line is a departing airplane.)

29mm  f/4.5  15sec  ISO100

For rounding up today's post I present two more lightning strike from yesterday's thunderstorm. They are by far not as dramatic as the one above, but I also like them very much.

29mm  f/4.5  15sec  ISO100

29mm  f/4.5  15sec  ISO100

Friday, July 4, 2014

Summer Flowers

It is high Summer right now and colorful flowers are blooming everywhere. You can find them on meadows and fields, in parks and gardens or just at your balcony or terrace. Flowers are an great subject for taking photos. The are not escaping if you came too close and if the wind is calm they are not moving that much. Blossoms are colorful and interesting to watch in detail if you take a macro like shot. For this month's gallery I selected some beautiful flowers from my archive. I took these photos during the recent view years.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Flying Bee

400mm  f/10  1/800sec  ISO400
In a friends yard I spotted a group of plants with interesting pink colored blossoms. When I went to that group I noticed that hundreds of bees were running and flying around from blossom to blossom harvesting sweet nectar. This was my chance to try to capture some bees in flight. I grabbed my camera and sat down next to the plants. Because my lens has a minimum distance of 1.6 meter, or 63 inches, I was at a save distance. I sat down onto ground to get a nice perspective and to get a stable position with little shaking. To be more stable I rested my arm holding the lens onto my knee and stopped breathing while shooting.

400mm  f/9  1/800sec  ISO400
The time when I was taking these photos was at late afternoon. The sun was quite low and sent some smooth and warm light. I chose a location with the sun behind me for a nice illumination of the scene. Since the insects are quite small I needed a better control of focus point and therefore I switched the settings of my camera to center focus. The same did I with exposure control. I set it to center metering. Now it was my turn to keep the flying bee within the frame center. Later on in post-processing I cutted out a frame with a nicely arranged scene.

400mm  f/8  1/1600sec  ISO800
Taking photos of moving objects is quite challenging. If shutter speed is too low or objects moving too fast they get motion blurred. Another aspect is depth of field. If the time from focusing to releasing is too long, the object moves out of focus range. The key here is to achieve the right balance between aperture, shutter speed and ISO. Lower aperture values result in a narrow depth of field and increases the chance that the object has left focus range when releasing. To enlarge the range of focus you can increase aperture value. But this will slow down shutter speed and increases the chance of motion blur. Furthermore a higher aperture value brings out more background detail which can distract from the scene. ISO value is also in the game, but too high value result in image noise with is quite ugly.

400mm  f/10  1/800sec  ISO400
Usually, when trying to photograph insects, you have only little number of them and have to wait for the right scene. Here I had hundreds of bees flying around and I didn't know where to look first. So I had a lot of chances to play with different camera settings to get interesting and quite sharp photos. I was shooting in P mode and let the camera calculate aperture and shutter speed automatically. Later on I switched to Tv mode to control shutter speed. With other photos I used Av mode to adjust aperture value. All with a fixed ISO value to be sure, the camera does not adjust it too high automatically. I had lots of chances so I was not that sad if one or another photo was trash. A little re-sharpening in post-processing helps with not absolutely sharp photos.

400mm  f/8  1/2500sec  ISO800
One last word about this interesting, strange looking blossoms. Without the magnification of my zoom lens I didn't see their exact shape. That's why I was amazed when watching the photos at my large screen. There are no colorful leaves. Instead some cones with sweet nectar are folded out. In addition the blossoms provide an intensive scent to attract insects. It took me some time to identify the plant. It is some kind of Milkweed or Asclepias, but don't ask me of the exact species.

For those, who are interested: The camera I used was my EOS 500D and the lens was my excellent EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L zoom lens. The camera settings I explained already.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Poppy Art

When I was post processing my recent photos of Poppy I played a bit with the tools of image manipulation. There are several ways to change the appearance of an image. You can change white balance, contrast or saturation. One option in my image processing tool got my special attention: Color tone. When I was moving this ruler around the colors changed extremely, but without loosing any detail, like it would be with saturation or contrast. That was amazing. The same photo in same quality with completely different colors.

Another way to manipulate a photo is playing with black and white. I desaturated the whole image and with a second layer I cut out the strongly red Poppy blossom. This is an excellent technique to point out details or to separate things from it's surroundings. I did this with former photos of mine, like here, here and here.

To be complete, here is the original photograph, which I like very much as well.