Will I Ever Take a Good Picture?

My journey trying to take good photos.

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UMASS Walkabout 5/25/2014. Plus jpg out of camera vs my edit from raw comparison.

Went to visit my daughter yesterday. We spent the afternoon together and went out for lunch and for ice cream. In between we went to the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus to see the ducklings and of course we took our cameras. It is hard to get a good picture of the little guys. I only took 36 pictures. I think that is the least I have ever taken when I went to take pictures. I have taken more of a single flower on the side of a trail!

My first keepers of the day were of a turtle. The pond was in the process of being dredged so it was very low. I am not sure if this guy was floating or walking across the muck.


Then Anna noticed another turtle by the bridge. This turtle was walking on the bottom of the pond.



Got two shots of the ducklings with Mom. I am happier with my turtle shots.



I shoot raw+jpg and when I go thru my photos from a shoot I look at the jpg versions to pick what I want to keep. Then I edit the raw photos. I have never compared my final edits to the jpgs out of the camera so I decided I would do that here. The only edits in the jpgs were from cropping. I wish I could figure out how to be able to rollover the image to switch between jpg and my edit but I can’t for the life of me figure out how to do that in WordPress. I don’t think I can do it in the free version since every time I try my edits are deleted. If anyone knows how to do it let me know. If you have no idea what I’m talking about check this blog post by Jeffrey Friedl where he does what I am looking to do. Scroll down to the picture of the X-Rite Color Checker Passport photo.

Blog that shows mouseover views.

The first turtle picture. First is jpg out of camera and then my edit.




They both are good. Looking at them in LR where I can switch back and forth the biggest difference is the change that was done by applying lens correction. The lens correction corrects the distortion from the lens I was using (Canon EF-S 18-135mm f3.5-5.6). This correction caused the rock in the top right of the shot to be removed from my edit. If you can’t find the rock here it is.UMASS_05-25-14-Edit

There is also a bit of difference in the brightness of the photo. Look at the mud/dirt in the foreground and the green highlights in the water.

Here is the second turtle picture. Again first is jpg out of camera and then my edit.



I think in this one my edit looks better.

Now for the second of the duck shot. first is jpg…



Both are fine. The dirt looks lighter in my edit but not by much.

For the turtle underwater picture I thought I would go back and try to edit the jpg to see if I could make it look like my edit. Here is the result.


Close but I’m getting some weirdness on the left hand side. So in this picture at least editing from raw helped. I also edited the first turtle picture and got the jpg from camera very close to my edit so in that case shooting raw didn’t make much difference. For what it is worth here is the jpg with edits.


I should have taken pictures of the ice cream we got. I know I ordered a small sundae but I was expecting a bit more than one small scoop of ice cream in it. Anna got a small cup and it looked all of 4 bites. It was good but for the price not worth it.


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Tower HIll botanic Gardens 5/21/14

Tower Hill is open on Wed. evenings and it is very convenient to stop on the way home from work. I took a lot of pictures and it took me a long time to go thru them. I still don’t trust myself to take a good picture and I take four or five shots of almost every subject. Then I get home and they are almost always all good or all bad. If they are bad no problem into the trash they go but if they are all good I can’t figure out which one I want to keep.

The gardens are just starting to grow. It will be interesting to take pictures again of the following two shots in a few months and then compare them:



The plants in the above photo bottom center were a bit wilted. I like trees and here is a Dawn Redwood. I didn’t know Redwoods would grow here in New England. According to Wikipedia it is a native of China and grows to two hundred feet.


Not sure what happened to these hostas. Looks like something took a nap in them.


Couple of plants had a tough winter. I don’t think the second one is going to make it.



The Magnolias were in bloom. Quite the flower!


Here is my favorite picture of the day. A grouping of potted plants.


A bit closer.


When I was taking the pictures I thought I would like the second one the best but once I looked at them I like the first one.

Here is one of the greenhouses that the plants winter in. Just a few plants left to be taken outside.


This looked much better in person:( I can’t take a picture of a free standing flowering bush/tree and have it come out nice.


Heading into the woods I found this on the side of the trail.


I should have moved that leaf in the bottom left before taking the picture. Another wildflower; I have taken pictures of these at Hodges in years past. I can’t quite get the white in the flower to look correct.


After taking the above picture I was walking down the trail and I heard a very loud gobble. Looking to my left there were two turkeys. Usually when you see turkeys they don’t get upset but they start walking away from you. Not these guys. They posed for a few minutes.


I think this one wanted to know why the sign, which had pictures of birds you might see, didn’t have a picture of a turkey.

Here is the second turkey.


A few more shots.



Then a bit further along the trail I ran into more Turkeys. These acted more like other turkeys I have seen. As soon as they saw me they picked up the pace.


Some pretty white flowers on the side of the trail.


Remember this field from a few weeks ago?


Here is what it looked like before.


My attempt at trying to get something a bit different than a scenery shot.


Not sure if I like it or not.

A couple of shots of the Systematic Garden.




and from the Tower HIll website a picture someone with better skills than I took. Note this is shot from a different angle then mine.

Picture of fountain.

My last picture of the day.


I like the way this picture came out.

Well that is all for this trip.



A trip To Tower Hill Botanic Garden

Went to Tower Hill Botanic Garden again yesterday. I had received an email saying the Daffodils were in bloom. They were also having an African Violet show/sale. Wasn’t that interested in the African Violet show but I did want to see the Daffodils. I was all ready to go on Saturday but it rained so I went on Suday (4/27/2013). It was an overcast day that was a bit on the chilly side.

I do not take good landscape pictures and was curious to see if I could get some good shots of the Daffodils. I took a walk on one of the trails before heading over to the Daffodil field. Here is a picture I took looking towards where the vegetable garden will be.

TowerHill_04-27-002From another view.

TowerHill_04-27-012As you can see the weather wasn’t the best but I didn’t have to worry about the sun casting shadows.

I checked out the apple orchard.TowerHill_04-27-003-Edit-2You want to read the sign don’t you?TowerHill_04-27-010

I hope to go back when the trees are in bloom. My first view of the Daffodils.TowerHill_04-27-025and my best shot of the Daffodils:(TowerHill_04-27-047-Edit-2Much more impressive if you were present. I tried a few shots from low looking thru the field and they were even worse than this one! Oh well.

Here is a picture of the coloring that I liked the best. I really liked the orange center.TowerHill_04-27-059There is this bust on the trail. It is something about youth and age but it creeps me out.


Not sure why but I always take a picture of the gazebo.TowerHill_04-27-033Here is almost the same shot from last summer. I can’t wait until things green up.TowerHill_07-25-2013-020Here is a picture of The Systematic Garden. Won’t be long before the plants start to grow!TowerHill_04-27-086-EditA picture form a different view from last summer.TowerHill_07-25-2013-074Last week was school vacation week and there were activities for the kids. One was a Story Walk, Fairy Houses and Spring Fling Scavenger Hunt. I took pictures of the Fairy Houses. Some were a bit worse for the wear but I think I got all of them but one. TowerHill_04-27-091
















All the fairy houses were amazing. I liked the Gourd House and the Tree House the best. While I was taking the pictures a family started to walk thru. Judging by the exclamations from the little girl the  fairy houses were a hit!

Here is a picture I really wanted to come out. It is a panorama of 3 shots stiched together. It is a bit out of focus though. TowerHill_04-27-216-EditI wasn’t that interested in the African Violet show but I did walk thru. There were a LOT of plants. Not a good picture but this gives you and idea.TowerHill_04-27-255Here is a picture of one of the plants.TowerHill_04-27-251

They even had violets in bottles.TowerHill_04-27-289

I had read in the paper a few days ago that Tower Hill was participating in trying to create a disease resistant American Chestnut. It said that the chestnuts had come from various seed orchards including one at Tower Hill. So I thought they had trees that were somewhat resistant to the blight. I asked where the trees were and was told where they were but also informed that the trees were infected. I was disappointed. Here are a few pictures of the chestnuts.TowerHill_04-27-303



As you can see they have the blight. I remember a tree near my house when I was a kid that looked like the second picture. Just a bunch of small shoots. I don’t remember it ever having any nuts. If you look in the bottom left of the first picture you can see the husks from the seeds.

At this point I was pretty much done for the day and it started to rain. If it was going to rain it was nice that it didn’t start until I was a few minutes from calling it a day anyway.




Went out on the porch last Saturday (4/12) and the crocuses were blooming so of course I had to take some pictures. More to get back in the picture taking mood since past experience has shown me that crocuses are not my best subject. I only took a few shots and ended up with three I like. The reason I find crocuses hard to take pictures of is it is hard to seperate the background from the flower. 







Which one do you like?

As I was walking back into the house I saw a few more by the stairs. They were darker and I wanted to see how the color showed up so I took a couple of quick shots. Here is the one that came out the best.


The color did come out nice. Note what is in the lower right though. It is a snake. I didn’t even notice it when I took the picture. I would have been very surprised if I had stuck my hand down to clean things up a bit! I usually do a bit of preparation like moving twigs or leaves. In the first three shots I also used a diffuser. Here is a shot of the setup.



Nothing exciting but it was nice to be taking some pictures!



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Coming out of hibernation

As I have mentioned before I don’t like taking pictures in the winter.  I like taking pictures outside when it is warm! Here is a picture I took one morning before work on 2/19. Not the type of weather that I like to go out and take pictures.


and looking the other way.



I did find a great place to take pictures though. Tower Hill Botanic Gardens. I have posted pictures before from Tower Hill last summer; here and here.

I joined Tower HIll so now I can go whenever I want. I went twice this winter. Once on 2/2 and again on 3/1. On the first trip there was an art exhibit by Mary Kocol. It was interesting but not my cup of tea. The pictures were all taken with a toy camera. I actually didn’t get any pictures from this. I was there to look not take pictures although I did have my camera and took some shots in the greenhouses but embarrassed to say none came out.

My next trip was to the Camellia Show. I am not sure what I expected (plants with flowers on them probably) but what they had was cut blooms in bowls of water. There were a lot of people and I’m not comfortable taking pictures in crowds because I feel like I am in the way. Folks were really nice and if they noticed you taking a picture they would pause while you shot away. I felt like I was ruining other folks experience.

I did get some nice pictures. Nothing that would make me think I could quit my day job and become a professional photographer though:)

Here are a couple that I liked:




Like I said, blooms in bowls of water!

Here was a nice arrangement.


This one didn’t come out very well (think I should have shot down on this rather then level) but it shows the amount of flowers there were.



Another shot showing the presentation.


Here is a picture of the winners although it doesn’t look complete since there are extra ribbons (that I really wanted to move out of the picture:))


My favorite shot of the day wasn’t even part of the show, just some plants they had in the same area.


That was it for the show. I went to one of the greenhouses and took some more pictures. Here are the ones I liked.

These were huge!


Nice place to sit and relax. My camera froze up on me and I sat here while I tried to get it to work. I was a bit worried because it stopped working after I changed a lens and I was afraid I broke the camera! No worries! I turned it off and back on and it came up. My battery died a bit after this so that might have been part of the problem.


When I sat down the plant that was leaning over the chair bit me. The leaves were very hard. I tried to take a picture of the leaf but they didn’t come out good (I was hand holding the camera).



That’s all for today. Hopefully the weather will warm up and I’ll get out to take more pictures!

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Camera Club Photo Competition Number Two

A couple of weeks ago I participated in the second photo competition of the season at the Camera Club I belong to (7HCC). The judge was Jeff Baker of Visions by Baker. I entered three prints, three digital images and a couple of snapshots. As in the last competition my strongest images were the ones I printed. I was excited about this competition because I thought that one of the prints I was showing was the best picture that I had ever taken and was curious how it would be judged.

The format was the same as last time. About 1/2 the images were selected and then awarded a blue or red ribbon. Jeff seemed to really enjoy looking at all the photos in the competition. He was a judge who tended to see the good in the photos rather than the bad which was interesting because he wanted to give more than 1/2 the pictures ribbons. I am not sure if I like this format of judging or whether I would like to get a score on each of my prints.

On to the photos I entered. I am writing this a bit late and have no idea what order they were judged so I am going to show the prints in the order they show up in Lightroom.

Here is a picture I really want to like that was one of my digital entries:


It took Photoshop CC to get this picture in good enough shape to even think of using. It was a bit out of focus and I used the shake reduction in Photoshop CC to get things a bit clearer. It made the picture useable. The problem I had with this picture is that you can’t see the face of the bird very well. It would be better if the bird wasn’t looking straight at the camera. Jeff wasn’t a big fan of this picture. One reason was that you couldn’t make out the birds face/head. I agree! Also interestingly he did not like the tree being in sharp focus. I will have to work on this image a bit more to see if I can get the tree out of focus. Before I used the shake reduction feature the tree was out of focus:). When I edit this again I’ll see if I can apply the shake reduction just to the bird. Unfortunately no matter what I do I can’t get the bird to pose differently. I am happy though that I entered this photo because the comments were very helpful. Two things I learned; no matter how hard you try to fix a picture if the composition isn’t good your wasting your time, and two blurred backgrounds are good even if the background is only inches from the subject.

The next photo I entered was one I didn’t think would get a ribbon. I just wanted to get a critique. This photo has a twig on a leaf and I wanted to see if that caused the image to be downgraded. I thought of taking it out in post processing but I wasn’t sure that was allowed. I should have noticed it when I was taking the picture and removed it! Live and learn; get the composition right in camera.


As expected Jeff noticed the twig and said to remove it before taking the shot! Also I got the impression I could have removed it in PS and no one would have cared. Jeff did like the overall photo though and gave this a red ribbon. 

Then my weakest picture of the day although being a gardener I like it. I had gone to Tower Hill Botanic Garden one evening this summer to try to get some sunset pictures. See my post about that trip here. Here was a photo I took waiting for sunset.


This is actually an HDR shot. I spent quite a bit of time getting this to look like this. Not to dark nor to light in any area and to not look like an HDR shot! Tossed out because it was just a snapshot. Any modern DSLR camera could take this was the reason. Ouch. I couldn’t get this from the camera directly since it kept coming out to dark in some areas (since it was taken late in the day). Guess I have some camera exposure techniques to learn.

On to my prints. I had taken a trip to Sturbridge Village and had got a few good shots that I entered. You can see my post on the trip here. This print I entered because a lot of folks at work liked it. I thought it was ok (good enough to print at 4×6 and show outside my cube at work) but not really a strong image. The comments I got though changed my mind so I thought I would enter it and see what happened.


I though of cropping it oval but couldn’t figure out how to do it (I did it on my iPad though and it looked good)  so I added the vignetting in LR instead. I like the way it came out. Jeff agreed and said without the vignetting it would be just a snapshot. This was awarded a Blue ribbon.

Next up was a picture of a mushroom.


I really like this shot! I am not sure why since it is a bit busy. Jeff didn’t like it. I didn’t understand his objections. I believe he wanted the background more blurred and maybe didn’t like the way I framed the shot. I guess you have to like mushrooms to like this. I have to say that most folks at work who saw the picture agreed with Jeff, they just didn’t think it was a very good photo.

Ok you must be wondering what I consider to be my best picture that I had ever taken since what I have shown so far are good (for me at least) but nothing that stands out. Well here it is. 



I am not a big Black&White fan and was surprised when I was looking at this in editing that the first thing that popped in my head was this needs to be B&W. To be honest the color version doesn’t look good. Folks at work also liked this so I had high hopes. Jeff liked it and said it was one of the better pictures he had seen that day and awarded this a Blue ribbon.  I might enter this at NECCC next summer. I would like to get a score and see if it beats my entry from last year (a 26 I believe).

Here are the snapshots I entered.


I think this is a nice picture of one of the pigs at Sturbridge Village. It reminds me of my trip.



All day this carriage would go by me and I would try to get a good photo. This is the ONLY one all day that I liked and it is the carriage going away from me. Jeff’s comment: “Would have been better if the carriage was coming toward you.” I tried Jeff, I tried, although I  like it because it is a different way of seeing the carriage. Most pictures of this are probably from the front!

I enjoyed the competition. Not just for the critiques of my photos but also it was great to look at all the photos submitted and hear the critiques for them. There are some talented photographers in the club! The best compliment I got was someone thought my blacksmith image was taken by one of the other photographers in the club whose photos I admire.

Well that’s it for the competition. I haven’t been out on a shoot since Sturbridge Village. I am a warm weather photographer! I am hoping to go thru my photos this winter and try to get better a LR and PS. 

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Photo competition at Camera Club

Participated in my first photo competition at the Camera Club I joined a while back. There were three categories; prints, digital, and snapshots. I had no idea what to expect but at the New England Camera Club Council competition they gave a number out of thirty for each photo so I as expecting the same thing but this competition was run differently. First the judge just looked at all the photos in one of the categories. Then on a second pass a photo was either in or out. On a third pass all the in photos either got a blue or red ribbon with blue being better than red. I think the goal was to have approximately 1/2 the photos get ribbons. 

On the second and third passes the judge would explain why he was making the decision he was making (in/out or blue/red ribbon). The judge was Alan Kidawski and I thought he did a great job. He gave insightful comments on every picture he looked at. I found it very interesting commentary. What was very interesting in my view was I don’t think he mentioned the rule of thirds once! Everything was about the subject and the feeling he got when he viewed the photo. 

I submitted two photos in the digital competition and three photos in the print competition. The digital competition was first and one of my pictures was one of the first ten or so shown. Here it is:


Alan did not like this photo at all. Didn’t like the green stem. Didn’t think there was a strong subject.  I thought the subject was the whole flower and I liked the green stem because I thought it kept the flower from ‘floating’. When I was editing I didn’t like the photo without the stem! So my first photo was out. Worse than being out was the fact that some of the reasons that the photo didn’t do well I intentionally made part of the photo! I was thinking oh no the judge hates flowers:) and two of my pictures are of flowers and a third is of an empty seedpod.

My next picture was my weakest submission and I didn’t have high hopes for it.


I like the picture but I didn’t think it was great and after viewing the other pictures submitted if I ranked all the pictures I would put this photo near the bottom. Needless to say Alan agreed. No strong subject, the clouds being the subject (we agreed on that!!). So my second picture was out.

What I find interesting is if I ranked all the pictures I submitted I would rank these two photos as 4 and 5. So if I was the only one in the competition and all 5 of my photos were in one category I would expect 2 or 3 to be out. I would have picked these photos also.

Next up was the print competition. There were not as many photos in this category as the digital category but there were still quite a few. Some of them were REALLY good. I enjoy printing my photos and had saved my best for this category but I have to say since two out of three of them were flowers/plants and I thought Alan didn’t like this type of picture I didn’t have high hopes. I believe Alan did pick a few flower/plants in the digital competition but a lot got kicked out. I might have the order wrong here but I believe the first photo that was shown was this.


I thought this was my second best picture that I submitted so I had high hopes and yes it made it in. I don’t think I could enter this in a nature competition for a few reasons; 1) it is in a flower garden (Tower Hill Botanic Gardens), 2) it is a focus stack (two of the same picture with different focal points merged together in Photoshop), and 3) I used Nik software to add the light to emphasize the flower. I believe though that the emphasis on the flower is one of the reasons it did well. You knew what the subject was! I was also proud of this picture because it was windy and it took a lot of patience to get a shot that wasn’t blurry because of the wind. In the third pass thru this was awarded a blue ribbon so this photo did very well.

Next up was this picture. What I considered my best photo.


I bring a lot of my pictures into work and make anyone who comes into my cube look at them and give me an opinion; maybe this is why I don’t get many folks visiting me. This was either a love or hate picture although more people liked it than not. This is taken at Hodges VIllage Dam and has one bit of editing that I wish I remembered doing before entering it because I would have entered the unedited version. The edit is on the left of the picture. I added a bit of background. If you look at the top left you can see it. The stem straightens. That part was actually the edge of the original picture so I added a bit to the left of the milkweed since when I did it I thought that made the picture look better plus I was practicing in photoshop using a method of doing this I found on youtube. I know it’s hard to believe I forgot I did this but I did. So how did Alan like it? He liked it a lot. Said that it just worked. I think some of it is that folks who photograph love getting a background like this and in this case it helps make the milkweed plant the obvious subject with no distractions This was in and on the third pass was awarded a blue ribbon. I was very happy because this is one of my favorite photos.

Now for the last photo i entered. I like this because it was taken at NECCC2013 so it reminds me of going to that conference. In the mornings I get up early and go take pictures on the UMASS campus and this is my best photo that I took that year.


When this was put up for viewing Alan went silent for almost 30 seconds. I thought, oh no he doesn’t like it and is trying to figure out something nice to say. I think his initial reaction was hey I like it but then he thought maybe not. There really isn’t a strong subject. I think it is actually the reflections of the buildings and the trees in the pond and so it is tough for the eye to zoom in on one thing. Alan thought the subject was the building in the middle and therein lies the issue; the photo doesn’t have an obvious subject. I still like the photo. Almost everyone at work who comments on it likes it but no one really loves it. Alan tossed this one (ok he just says out) but he did comment the printing was done well. With this picture it is almost like people want to like it rather than really like it (I am not making my point very well here). The other thing is this is an HDR shot (it is 3 photos at different exposures put together in Photoshop). if you look around the trees on the top left of the picture you see what looks like ghosting around the trees. I don’t think there really is but it does look a bit off. Not enough to scream Hey this is HDR and my trees were moving when I took the pictures but i think the mind  thinks something is off when it looks at the photo. Still I like this photo a lot. It is the photo I have hanging in my office at present! If a picture is supposed to invoke emotion this does for me since it reminds me of NECCC 2013!

I didn’t enter anything in the snapshot category and couldn’t get a good look at the photos while they were being judged so I don’t have anything to say about that competition.

I learned a lot by listening to the commentary by Alan. He did a great job. I didn’t agree with his commentary on some of the photos but hey that is what makes it interesting. Not everyone will like the same things!  

It will be very interesting for me to see what other judges look for when the club has its next competition. I already have one photo almost ready to print.

Well that is it for now.