Tag Archives: photography

The Port

  
One of my favorite places to wander and take photographs is along the Deep Water Channel across from the Port of Sacramento. The shipping channel was built in 1949 and is 30 feet deep and 43 miles long, running from Suisun Bay to an inland harbor in West Sacramento. The port was opened to deep sea traffic in 1963. Too shallow for container ships, the channel accommodates ships that carry bulk products like corn, rice, barley, almonds, and wheat as well as cement, lumber, clay, and metals.
Every time I visit I see something new. Whether it be another ship in port, a crew rowing a sculling boat, a fisherman paddling a kayak, or a calm reflection on the water, I am drawn to pull out my camera and capture the moment. 

   
    
    
   

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Night Wanderings

  Tower Bridge, Sacramento, CA. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved.
It has been awhile since my last post due to an incredibly busy life. I have a lot of catching up to do since I have been doing a lot of shooting and little posting :). So until I have more time to sit down and write some thorough posts, here are a few recent night shots I took with my iPhone for you to peruse. I also wanted to take a moment to wish you all a very Happy Holidays!

 A quiet walkway in Old Sacramento along the Sacramento River. ©Tracy J Thomas. All rights reserved.

  The approach to the Tower Bridge along Capitol Avenue, Sacramento, CA. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved.
  The “Money Building” and CalSters reflecting in the Sacramento River, Sacramento, CA. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved.
  Downtown Sacramento and lighted Palm Trees. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved.


Favorite Mobile Photo Apps – Camera+ for Macro Shots

I love macro photography. It forces me to slow down and find the astounding beauty in the small things. Details and activity that aren’t always apparent to the naked eye become revealed when shooting macro. 

In the past, the majority of my macro photographs have been taken with my DSLR and a special 90mm macro lens. This setup requires patience and a good tripod to capture the images I desire since the camera and lens combination are heavy and a bit bulky. 

On my most recent sojourn into the woods, I decided to forego my DSLR and shoot exclusively with my iPhone6. I had planned to focus on landscapes, wildlife, and documentary work at a Pow Wow I would attend. This was a partial experiment in minimizing as well as a true test of the capabilities of my iPhone.

While wandering the property one day and shooting landscapes I noticed a beautiful Dragonfly sitting on a leaf. I wished at that moment that I had my DSLR macro setup with me. I played with one of my go-to camera apps and zoomed in on the insect but the quality of a straight zoom wasn’t as sharp nor as close as I desired for the beautiful detail of the Dragonfly. Then I remembered a recent post someone made on Facebook about the Camera+ app and its macro option. I opened the app, chose the macro option and was immediately amazed at how close I was able to zoom in on the bug and the sharpness of detail it provided. Additionally, there was great DOF and even some Bokeh or lens flare effect in certain lighting conditions.

The downfall of using an app for macro with the iPhone and no lens attachment is the lack of extreme sharpness. The fact you are using digital zoom causes the focus to fall off a bit and throws in some pixelation. Printing out macro photos in large scale with this technique would not provide you with the best quality. However, smaller prints and posting digital images can offer some very compelling imagery.

Below are a few screenshots of the app and its macro mode followed by a series of images I shot at the cabin.

**This screenshot is of an Iris through the Normal mode of Camera+. Even in this straight shot there is some nice depth of field and Bokeh in the background.**

  
**When you click on the “+” symbol to the right of the shutter buttonthe menu including the mode buttons appear.**

  
**When you click on the Macro button, the app zooms in on your subject. Note the “Stabilizer” button. I played around with this feature but do not recommend using it in Macro mode especially if you are trying to capture something that may move out of your frame quickly like an insect. When you have the Stabilizer on it won’t allow you to take a shot until the camera is very still (the shutter button turns red when not stable, yellow when you are getting closer, and green when stable and you can take the shot). This would be a great feature when you have your iPhone secured to a tripod and are shooting something that won’t fly away from you like a flower, but I found it frustrating to use when stabilizing by hand and attempting to get off a quick shot before my subject buzzed away into the sunset.

  
**Once you take your first shot in Macro mode, a zoom slider appears to your right which will allow you to get even closer to your subject. The photo below is of the Iris in Macro mode with 3x magnification. What appeared with my naked eye to be a discolored spot on the drying flower petal turned out to be revealed as an interesting little striped bug when I shot in Macro mode. (These screenshots are not the sharpest of images because it is pretty difficult to hold the phone steady when trying to simultaneously click the power button and the shutter to capture the image on screen, but you get the idea, right?)

  
Below are several of the macro shots I captured with this app while at the little cabin in the woods.

  A bee collects pollen on a wildflower. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved. 

 Tiny Spiky Galls created by Wasps surround the stem of a Wild Rose. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved.

 A Dragonfly suns itself on a Thimbleberry leaf. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved.

Overall I believe the Camera+ Macro feature is a great one especially for the photographer who doesn’t want to spend a lot of money and time on expensive cameras and macro lense setups. The downside is the falloff you receive when using digital zoom as opposed to shooting with a sharp add on lens with optical zoom. Rumors have it that the next iteration of the iPhone (iPhone 6S) will have a dual lens array which means it will have optical zoom built-in. Now that will be a killer combination with any macro app.

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** Click to purchase Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature on Amazon. **


Free Kindle Book

IMG_2189 You can download a FREE Kindle version of “Zen in the Garden” today and tomorrow only on Amazon. Here is the link to learn more about the book and to grab your copy: http://amzn.com/B00TN2GQHM. If you have already read it, please feel free to share this post or the link with your followers and friends.

You can also enter to win one of three signed softcover copies of this book on Goodreads. The giveaway ends on July 24th. Just click on the image below to enter.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Zen in the Garden by Tracy J.  Thomas

Zen in the Garden

by Tracy J. Thomas

Giveaway ends July 24, 2015.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

I will be journeying back into the woods for fifteen days beginning this Wednesday. I will post regular updates about my journey on Instagram, Twitter, and Periscope (search Tracy J. Thomas on Periscope app) so follow me on any and all for some peaceful nature photos/videos, hopefully some amazing wildlife shots, and quite possibly the Aurora Borealis if they all decide to cooperate ;).

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Do you like handmade Boho Chic jewelry? Then visit my Etsy shop and receive 50% OFF through 7/1. Just enter coupon code SUMMER15 at checkout: http://www.etsy.com/shop/ZenInTheGarden

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Favorite Mobile Photo Apps – Big Lens

  

 

One of my favorite mobile photography apps for editing product photos is Big Lens by Reallusion, Inc. Since I am exclusively an Apple finatic, I can’t speak to the Android version of this app, however the reviews on Google Play are just as solid as they are on iTunes.

I can’t quite agree with the Developer’s claims that this app will “turn your iPhone into a professional SLR camera.” Sorry, but there is currently no app on the market that can do that. There are indeed apps that will allow you to have some similar capabilities or at least mimic fairly well the capabilities of a lower end SLR, but the bottom line is there (currently) is no comparison between an iPhone or Android and a high-end DSLR. 

There are many in the mobile photography world who would argue vehemenently against the above sentiment, however, when it comes to straight shooting there can be no argument about the quality of the end result when comparing the unedited photos side by side. The high-end DSLR will win hands down. 

The beauty of the mobile photography movement lies in the ability to edit on-the-fly. Once a mobile photo is brought into a mobile app and edited by an experienced user it then becomes more difficult to distinguish whether it was shot originally on a mobile phone or on a DSLR.

When shooting product photography, depth of field becomes an important factor if you desire professional quality and a compelling photograph. In the past I have shot product photographs for Francis Ford Coppola’s Napa Valley wineries among others. Those shoots entailed blacking out my studio windows, positioning multiple lights, scrims, reflectors, and a plethora of high-end lenses mounted on my professional DSLR. This type of job required this type of equipment since the final images needed to be sharp and of the highest resolution possible. My iPhone would definitely not have been an appropriate tool for that particular task.

At this juncture in life, like many other crafty people, I have an Etsy shop. I like to keep my store stocked up with a variety of my handmade products so this requires a lot of product photos. Now I could go the route of spending all day setting up my studio and shooting each piece with my professional setup then spending hours on Lightroom and Photoshop editing my RAW files, but honestly, I don’t bring in enough money through my Etsy shop (yet) to pay for that type of precious time committment. So I shoot with my iPhone 6 and use wonderful apps like Big Lens to edit them into more professional looking images.

I utilize Big Lens primarily for its depth of field tools and occasionally its filters. There are several camera apps that allow you to adjust DOF in-camera while shooting, however I like to take straight shots in order to edit them any way I desire post shoot. Below I outline the process for how I use this app to edit a photograph of a piece of my handmade jewelry.

  
You can shoot with the Big Lens app but I prefer to shoot with ProCamera. When I am ready to edit my product photos I bring a photo into the Big Lens app by choosing “Load Photo” and import from my camera roll. The “Basic” and “Advanced” buttons are your choice for masking. I always use the “Advanced” button since it provides me with fine control over what I want masked in my image. 

  
Before I begin to mask, I choose the “Brush” tool in order to adjust the size of the brush. This allows me to better control the edges of the mask.

  
In the above screenshot, for the sake of example, I am only masking a portion of my bracelet. You can utilize the “Eraser” button to be even more precise with your edges or boundaries of your mask if needed.

  
I personally like to mask some of the foreground in order to create a leading line from bottom of the image towards the focal point.

  
The above is an exaggerated example of how the masking feature works. With the current settings The DOF is extreme and the transition is not very smoothe. The leading line is sharp focus and the edges fall off the cliff into an extreme blur.

  
This blur transition and intensity can be adjusted via the “Aperture” setting by choosing different F-stops and adjusting the slider until you are satisfied with the result.

  
Above is an example of the change from 100% in F1.8 to around 30% in F2.8. A bit smoother transition.

  
Once I have the DOF adjusted to where I desire, I then add one of the filters. I usually choose the “Vivid” filter so the colors will pop a bit more.

  
The colors are now popping after adding 100% Vivid to the photograph.

  

The app also allows you to adjust the “Lens” style. In other words you can create a circular blur, star-shaped blur, heart blur, etc. if you feel so inclined.  Additional tools allow you to adjust for focus and amount of blur.

  
 

There is also the ubiquitous “HDR” button on the top of the app. While some people like this feature, I do not like it in this app because it provides you with few options to adjust the intensity of the HDR effect such as contrast. Although the bright pink color is nice in the above photo, it is not true to the piece itself so I would not use this result to post on my shop.

  
One of the last wonderful things this app offers is the ability to save your images in full resolution. A very important feature when you want to present sharp, professional images.

Overall I would rate this easy to use app as a 4+. It is user-friendly, intuitive, and fun to use!

Oh, and you can purchase the handmade, hemp braided, beaded, Boho Chic, friendship bracelet featured in these photos on my Etsy shop along with much more here! 🙂

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Click here or on image to purchase your copy today!

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Birch Bark – The Gifts of a Fallen Tree

  
I adore Birch trees. The light coloring of the Western Paper Birch with its unique peeling bark and lenticels catch my eye immediately when wandering the forest. Their foliage turns a brilliant yellow during the Fall and the leaves make a beautiful rustling sound in the wind. These trees can grow up to 70 feet tall and 1-2 feet in diameter over 80+ years. 

The Native Americans utilized the Birch tree for a number of things. They used the outer bark for the skin of their canoes and to cover their wigwams. They made bark containers for collection and storage of food as well as for cooking. The wood of the Birch was used to make musical instruments, toys for children, and hunting and fishing gear. The bark was also woven into baskets and incorporated into their beadwork. 

  
Birch bark can be used for tinder to start a fire (even when it’s wet), as paper to write on, and can be woven into a hat or a pair of shoes if you find yourself lost in the forest. The sap from the Birch tree can be made into wine or beer and the leaves and inner bark can be turned into a detoxing tea or medicinal cream for issues with the skin.

It is never a good idea to peel the bark from a live, standing Birch. It can leave the tree vulnerable and sometimes it will die, especially if some of the protective inner bark is cut and removed during the process. It is best to remove bark from a fallen tree. Where there are Birch trees there are usually several that have fallen due to disease, high winds, or snow load. Occassionally a larger Birch may become a hazard tree and segments begin breaking off of the top and falling onto whatever is below. If the hazard tree is near a home or building or in an area with a frequently travelled trail, then it should be removed. 

While on our recent trip to North Idaho, a large Birch needed to be felled since it was close to a cabin and had lost several feet from its top, most likely due to disease.

  
As much as I do not like to see trees cut down for the purpose of encroaching on the forest for development, I do understand certain trees need to be removed when they become a hazard to people and other things in their surroundings. 

Although no longer standing, this lovely tree still had many gifts to give. We decided to collect the bark to use it for jewelry and other crafts. The trunk will be cut into slices to create beautiful side tables for the cabin and the main log will be milled into lumber for later use. Some of the smaller sections will be used to heat the cabin and the rest will decay over time on the forest floor to provide shelter to small animals and insects and nutrition for new seedlings to grow.

Below is a series of photographs illustrating the process we used for the Birch bark removal. You can use a carpet knife to score the section of bark you want to remove then use the same knife to carefully pull away the edges from the inner bark. Once the outer bark begins to release, slowly peel the sheet from the log. Store the sheets flat or use water and a heat gun later to flatten any curled pieces. And of course remember to thank the tree for its beautiful gifts :).

   
               

Here are two examples of pieces of jewelry I have made from this bark over the past few days.

The first is a necklace where I used pieces of bark that had lichen growing on them and incorporated it with earth-toned beads and silver wire.

  
The second is a pair of earrings I am still designing that mixes bark with metal and alcohol inks.

  

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** Click to purchase Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature on Amazon. **


Lost in the Woods

  

I just spent ten glorious days “lost” in the woods of North Idaho. This was my first vacation in over two years since dealing with West Nile Virus and then treatment for skin cancer. It felt so good to get far away from the house that had become my hermit’s cave and sanctuary during my illness and treatment. The beauty that surrounded me in Idaho seemed magnified tenfold and I couldn’t stop exclaiming “It’s so pretty here!” As those who have read my book “Zen in the Garden” know, I have always found peace and healing through nature. Following my recent struggles, that desire to reconnect with the earth for a bit of healing has been foremost on my mind.

  

It was so nice to sit in a quiet place void of the noise pollution of an urban environment for hours at a time. The sound of birdsong and of the wind as it rustled through the pines created the perfect symphony for my tired soul. Each day I could feel my body relax even more than the day before as the stressors of everyday life became nothing more than a fading shadow inside my reawakened mind. I felt present. Mindful. Embraced by what truly matters in this life. I felt alive and happy as I touched the earth and opened my eyes to its simple yet elegant gifts.

  

As we wandered the woods that surrounded our little log cabin I knew without a doubt that this was where I belonged. It all seemed so familiar to me. It was as if a piece of myself had spent my entire life wandering under that beautiful, peaceful canopy while the other parts had struggled to exist in the chaos of a world quite foreign to my soul. My childhood was spent in an environment similar to this place but I chose to leave it at the age of 18 to pursue a college degree and make my way out in the “real” world. That world has proven to be both rewarding and cruel. I have often felt myself struggle to fit in when my heart keeps telling me to run back into the woods where I belong.

  

This trip into the woods healed me in more ways than I can explain with words. It brought me peace and it brought me hope. It provided me with a renewed sense of motivation. The wheels are now in motion to make my way back into the woods for good where I can embrace nature for the remainder of my life. No matter how long it takes to reach that goal, I now know it is going to happen. I can’t wait…

  

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** Click to purchase Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature on Amazon. **