Vacation Photography — Remove All Those Tourists — Well, maybe

Some say that HDR, or high-dynamic range, is a great way to remove tourists from our photos taken in busy vacation locations.  Well, maybe sometimes.

First some explanations.  HDR is high-dynamic range photography.  Our eye sees 22-stops of light but the camera can capture about 5-stops.  HDR images allow us to photograph details in the shadows while still maintaining details in the highlights.

To create a HDR photo, we take 2 or more photos from the same location and vary the exposure.  The examples below have been created from seven photos.  The exposures range from balanced light meter to -3-stops all the way to +3-stops.

HDR software has an option to deghost or remove people.  Deghosting removes people from the final photo if those people didn’t appear in the same spot in all the photos.  There’s usually a scale so we can vary the intensity of deghosting.  I’ve set the deghosting to maximum on each image.

You see that people are still in my photo of the busy street in San Gimignano, Italy.  The only person who stood still through all seven photos was the man in the gray windbreaker on the left.  Everyone else moved.  The lady in the orange coat walked straight at the camera through all seven photos.  The man with the umbrella walked across the scene from right to left.

In conclusion, the crowded street is still crowded with people.  The different software, though, handled processing in a variety of ways.


San Gimignano Italy KAC5699_HDR_aurora
This is an HDR image created with Macphun’s Aurora HDR software.
San Gimignano Italy KAC5699_HDR_nik
This is an HDR image created from the same files but processed with Nik’s  HDR Efex software.  Notice that there’s a half person on the left and two half people on the right.  We call these “ghosts.”  All of the HDR software offer a deghosting option.
San Gimignano Italy KAC5699-HDR_PS
Same files processed in Photoshop’s Adobe Camera Raw HDR feature.  Notice there is no ghosting.  The man with the umbrella in the center of the photo doesn’t appear in that location in any of the other examples.

Here are the seven photos used to build these HDR photos.

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Vacation Photography — Remove All Those Tourist

We’ve all encountered vacation locations crowded with other tourists.  A clear shot of the amazing location is impossible because people keep walking through the scene.  Our irritation grows as each opportunity for a great photo is messed-up by one more human walking through the scene.

It is possible to get rid of all those pesky tourists.  Capture the scene is the right way and then ask Photoshop to come to the rescue!

At the location — Put your camera on a tripod.  Compose your amazing photo.  Focus on one spot so the focus point in your scene does not change.  Then take a series of photos as people move through the scene.  Space the time between photos.  You don’t want anyone to be in the same spot in all of the photos.

Later on the computer — Open Photoshop.  Click File>Scripts>Statistics.  A dialogue box will open.  Select “Median” from the drop-down menu.  Then select the photos you took at the crowded tourist location.

Screen Shot 2017-06-10 at 11.42.27 AM
Screen capture with all the photos selected

Here are all the photos I took at the location.

Press the OK button and Photoshop will go to work.  In a few seconds or minutes, your final photo will be presented on the screen.

Landry Kemah Boardwalk KAC9306_12 stack
This is the composite of the seven image I showed above. Notice that there’s a bit of a smudgy area on the right.
Landry Kemah Boardwalk KAC9306_12 stackfixed
I took the image back into Adobe Camera Raw and did a bit of work on the smudgy area on the right using the healing brush.  A bit more work and all of the smudge could be erased.

Notice that the people on the bench were in all the photos.  That means they will stay in the finished photo.  There’s no way around that.

Enjoy this technique as you visit crowded tourist locations during your travels.

Nature Photography Day — June 15


A reminder that June 15th is Nature Photography Day.  That’s a day to celebrate and spread the word about nature photography.

The North American Nature Photography Association is holding a photo contest to celebrate Nature Photography Day.  There are some nice prizes.

Check out the contest and enter your best image.  We can post one photo a day.  Great way to see and share great photographs of our natural world.


Two Bad Words in Photography — Crop & High ISO

Back in 2002 and 2003, at the dawn of digital photography with SLR cameras, there were two bad words.  Crop and High ISO.  No photographer wanted to crop a photo and no photographer wanted to use high ISO.

Why?  The photos produced by a Canon 10D or Nikon D100 were only 8MB.  They were 12-bit and 240 pixels-per-inch on the longest side.  Yet, they really weren’t much bigger than the photos we get today from a high-end cell phone camera.

Our photos from the Canon 10D or Nikon D100 were good enough for a magazine cover or full-page photo inside.  We didn’t want to crop, though, unless absolutely necessary.

Today we have DSLR camera that take 24MB files and higher.  We can crop without worrying that the files aren’t big enough to appear in a magazine or that the files aren’t big enough for a nice print.

Least sandpiper KAC7711_1

We can crop our photos thanks for cameras that produce large files.

Avoiding high ISO is also a thing of the past.  Back in the dark ages of digital photography it was really hard to get rid of noise due to using a high ISO.  ISO 400 was acceptable but ISO 800 or ISO 1600 was only for the newspaper photographers.  Newspaper reproduction quality was nothing like the quality we needed for glossy magazines.

That all changed when Adobe gave us noise reduction.  Each generation of Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom does a better and better job of reducing those noisy pixels.

“High ISO?  No problem.  I’ll take that out in Photoshop or Lightroom later on.”

How nice it is to push the boundaries of photography today knowing we can crop and use high ISO.

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The three images in this slide show were shot at high ISO and then cropped.

I still try to crop in the camera when possible — that means I get closer and move to eliminate distractions.  I sometimes use a shorter lenses because I can crop versus lugging the 500mm everywhere to photograph birds.

High ISO has become a friend.  It’s so nice to know I can raise the ISO and never miss an opportunity.  I might miss the shot but at least I didn’t miss the opportunity.

Digital photography is evolving fast.  Thanks to great innovations in camera technology and software development we benefit and can leave two bad words behind.



Costa Rica Photo Tour — March 2017

Several people have asked about our next trip to Costa Rica.  I thought I’d give you a short look at the trip here.  We have three openings if you’re interested.


  • Seven days
  • Three hotels
  • Easy travel
  • Lots of birds
  • You can drink the water

Please remember that you can email me at any time if you have questions.  Strabo Photo Tour Collection coordinates this trip.  Call Jacque at Strabo to register.  Her number is 607-756-8676.

Our group is comprised of photographers, birders, bird photographers, and nature lovers.  Gary and I love this type of a group because it covers all our passions.

I will look out for things to photograph.  I’ll point out subjects, offer suggestions on camera settings, and offer congratulations when you get a great shot.  Gary will focus on the birds but he’ll never pass up a nice frog, lizard, snake, or view.  We allow you to direct your attention either way.  We’re both nature lovers with a particular love of Costa Rica.

Our trip begins in San Jose where it will be temperate and comfortable.  The first stop will be at La Paz Waterfall Gardens in the cool mountains.  Here we’ll photograph high-mountain hummingbirds such as the black-bellied hummingbird and coppery-headed emerald.

Our day ends in Sarapiqui where we enter a different eco-system.  The humidity will increase along with the temperature.   The variety of wildlife will also increase.

There are several places we’ll visit in the Sarapiqui area.  We should see and photograph strawberry poison-dart frogs, green-and-black frogs, three-toes sloth, broad-billed motmot, buff-throated saltator, and cinnamon woodpecker.

We’ll stay at the  SuenoAzul Resort where we’ll see and photograph birds, monkeys, frogs, and maybe a bat or two.  Gary and our guide Willy Alfaro will lead bird walks around the grounds and into the surrounding forests.  Stay with me or take a walk with Gary.  We leave that up to you.

One day we’ll visit La Selva Biological Station.  Walk the jungle, see birds feeding in trees, and experience a real research facility.

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Our next  stop will be a completely different eco-system at Savegre Mountain Lodge.  Gloves might be in store if you’re cold natured. Another day we’ll visit Sarapiqui Eco-Observatory  Super easy bird photography from an incredible photo blind.  We’re inside in comfortable chairs and drinking coffee while the birds visit fruit feeders outside.  Perfect for photography and bird watching.

Our daily activities will continue at the same pace.  Birders can go out into the gardens for a pre-breakfast walk and look for birds high in the canopy or deep in the forest.  Photographers might want to stay with me for hummingbirds at the feeders around the dining room.

Savegre is our best place to see and photograph the resplendent quetzal.  This is our target bird.  We’ll stay together as a group during our hunts for this magnificent bird.

The overall trip has several changes in elevation.  San Jose is moderately high for people used to living at sea-level.  Sarapiqui is lower but then Savegre will take us to 7,000 feet.

I’ll carry at 100-400mm lens most of the time.  This is equivalent to Nikon’s 80-400mm lens.  Both are great for birds, monkeys, and sloths.  The birds and hummingbirds we’ll see can be photographed with a 75-300mm lens or a 70-300mm lens.  A 70-200mm would work well if you added a tele-extender.

It’s not necessary to bring a 500mm or 600mm lens on this trip unless you want to carry the weight.  We’ve designed the trip to visit place where we can get close to birds and wildlife.

Email if you have questions.  This will be our 15th year leading photo/birding tours to Costa Rica.  I hope you’ll join us on this trip.

Holiday Photography — With a Crystal Ball

I’ve written about bokeh — or lovely blurred backgrounds — in previous posts.  Now, let’s toss in a crystal ball to create something different.

Christmas tree photographed through a crystal ball.
I used f/22 to get the starburst on the lights and tiny sparkles in the background.

Here’s the set-up.

My friend, Patti Edens, is photographing the Christmas tree
through the crystal ball.


Patti took this shot of me photographing a lighted
bridge through the crystal ball.
We’ve placed the crystal ball on a towel on top of a tripod.

Here’s where you buy a crystal ball:

  • Patti bought her 3″ ball from The Crystal Company
    • This is a small ball that fits in the palm of your hand.  You’ll need to get closer or crop.
  • I bought a 4.5″ ball from Amazon
    • This weighs 4.7 lbs and is the size of a small cannonball.  It’s easy to fill the frame with a 100mm lens.
Here’s lessons learned and observations.  All images have been flipped to make the scene inside the crystal ball appear normal.
Decorations in office windows.
I used f/22 to make the edge of the crystal ball crisp and clear.
That gives smaller circles of light in the background.


Decorations in office windows.
I used f/6.8 and that makes the edge of the crystal ball soft.
The lights in the background are larger and softer.
Nice bokeh!
The view through the crystal ball can be captivating to the photographer.
Stay mentally focused on what you’re seeing through the ball.
The image through the ball is okay but a bit confusing.
f/22 to get starbursts on the lights.


A cleaner view through the crystal ball.
We changed our position to the tree to get a simpler composition.
f/22 to get starbursts on the lights.
Canon 24-105mm lens at 105mm.


Including the entire tree in the background.
f/22 to get starbursts on the lights in the background.


Same as above but using f/6.8 to get a nice bokeh.

More photos from our outing with the crystal ball tomorrow.

Questions or comments?  Feel free to post them below.

Holiday Ornament Photography: Add Layers

Consider using layers of items in your holiday ornament photos.  No, not Photoshop layers.  Arrange different layers of elements to give your photos more depth.

Ornament —— 2-3 feet —> Greenery ——–2-5 feet—–>  Lights


holiday, ornaments, bokah, Christmas, decorations.
Ornament with greenery placed about two feet behind and then lights on the wall about three feet away. Canon 24-105mm at f/4
holiday, ornaments, bokah, Christmas, decorations.
Same set-up.

Breathe New Life into Holiday Ornaments

Breathe new life into your holiday ornaments by making them the star of your photographs.

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All were photographed using f/4 to soften the background.  The lights in the background are 5-feet away from the ornaments.  Lights are held to the wall with clear thumbtacks.



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