Ron Peiffer Photography: Blog en-us (C) Ron Peiffer Photography [email protected] (Ron Peiffer Photography) Sun, 11 Jul 2021 17:47:00 GMT Sun, 11 Jul 2021 17:47:00 GMT Ron Peiffer Photography: Blog 94 120 Green Hornets Finish the Season

Congrats to Green Hornets 12U team. You played more and more like a team as the season went, and you were always surrounded by dedicated coaches who helped you through the heartbreaks and the euphoria

[email protected] (Ron Peiffer Photography) baseball Sun, 11 Jul 2021 09:47:24 GMT
Room with a View In March 2020, just before the Covid pandemic struck I was in Bluff, Utah on a hiking trip.  One day toward the end of the trip, we drove up Comb Wash to see if we could see some old spots such as this Cowboy Shack, about 6 or 7 miles up the wash.

Cowboy Shack, Comb Wash March, 2020 It was still there after a number of years and all the worse for the wear.  I took time to shoot it inside and out and settled on a bracketed set of three images from the inside looking out as ones I wanted to work with.  I bracketed the shots 1.7 stops up, 1.7 stops down, and one that was properly exposed. The three shots looked like this:

I used Lightroom’s HDR merge mode to combine the three images and then cropped the combined image to look like this:

I liked the warm tones and the dirt and grit on the window as well as the stretch of desert outside.  I have looked at the image for about 7 or 8 months now and decided the view was not dramatic enough and searched through about 7 years of photo files and settled on one I had shot a couple years ago on a short hike just outside of Bluff.

I had to select out the scenery in the original and wipe it out with the clear brush at 100% opacity.  I then had to wipe the broken glass with the same brush at 50% opacity so that the grit would remain and the original image would go away.  I then combined the two images using layers in Photoshop. This was the final photo.

In the end, it was just a nice photo I liked.  It was better than the original, but it worked for me because of the nice desert view and the weathered state of the window.  Sometimes you just have to make a photo for yourself, even if it doesn't get a lot of love. 


[email protected] (Ron Peiffer Photography) Thu, 19 Nov 2020 22:14:55 GMT
Winter Confessions of a Lazy Photographer I feel I have to make a few shocking admissions to some of my not-so-well-kept secrets. 

First is that I am increasingly eschewing the tripod. I know it has a long history as a critical tool for landscape photography and other forms.  However, a tripod reduces my mobility, and I want to see new and different things.  More importantly, my camera can capture some pretty nice images handheld at some very high ISO’s in some very low light.  It gives me mobility and the ability to capture things previously missed.  That said, I’m beginning to dabble a bit more in astrophotography, so I may be peddling backwards in the near future.

Secondly, since higher ISO levels allow decent images, and since some noise reduction software is easy to use and fairly good these days, I usually keep ISO set on Auto.  Generally, I miss fewer captures, and can make most images work by manipulating aperture or shutter speed or depth of field.  With live view, I can lean a camera on a railing or set it on a countertop and go to lower ISOs if necessary for a nice image. Here is one I took yesterday from a railing.  This photo was taken at Hampton House near Baltimore in late afternoon light through a nearby window. It did not suffer for the lack of a tripod. Sill Life at Hampton House, near Baltimore MD, shot from a railing.

Thirdly, I really like Canon’s EOS R mirrorless camera. The RF f/4 24-105mm lens is very fast and sharp for the fast majority of what I do.  And it is lighter. I’m hoping the improvements in the upcoming R5 are affordable.  I get annoyed about all the trash talk about the Canon brand.  I’ve been shooting Canon for nearly a decade because Sony wouldn’t update its line of DSLR’s at the time, thus prompting my switch to Canon.

Fourthly, I am using editing software more and more to tune up images.  You have to.  Contest judges want absolutely perfect images and require that every last detail be addressed in post processing if you missed the flaw in the initial capture.  That said, I am doing two kinds of images—one tending toward more realistic-looking captures with natural and clean images and the other unabashedly edging closer to the art side of things.  Both require post processing to make images work.  However, I see judges tolerating and expecting post processing.  That said, an image with no initial impact, regardless how technically perfect it is, won’t fly.  And an incredibly well-done image using fly paper, texture layers, or compositing won’t fly if they lack impact. You’ve got to crank up Photoshop regardless which direction you go. This image of a Lenapi Indian was taken in a busy pow wow.  I had to add the background and alter the lighting in post processing for the viewer to really appreciate his face. Lenapi Indian Dancer taken in busy event. I revised the background and lighting to allow the viewer to concentrate on his face.

Fifthly, my friends and mentors and my dining room table keep me from being blind with my images.  I often spend hours on perfecting an image I have fallen in love with, then print it full size and put it on the dining room table to see if my love affair with the image has receded enough so I can see its flaws.  I take it to lunch with a trusted friend or two and ask for a fresh perspective.  If a positive reaction takes more than three seconds, I know the impact is missing.  My truthful friends and mentors and the table haven’t failed me yet.  There are often ugly, blown out spots, distracting details, or alignment issues to which I am blind.  I want to hear the truth from my friends well before I hear it from the judge.  And even with that process, I am sometimes inadvertently persuaded because an image got 35 likes on Facebook, which has nothing to do with art value.  


So, that’s all that I care to confess at this point, maybe I’ll be a little smarter in the spring and will have more wisdom to impart.  


[email protected] (Ron Peiffer Photography) Tue, 18 Feb 2020 01:32:46 GMT
Assembling the Heron Photo

A sunny, Fall afternoon stroll down the boardwalk in Havre de Grace produced a few photos I downloaded and looked over a couple days later, but few images popped out as keepers.  The harsh sunlight made for silvery reflections on the surface of the nearly still water, and the grasses growing in the shallows of the Susquehanna were strewn across the surface of the water.  However, a regal, blue heron stood close to shore and preened her feathers and entertained the passersby, and that’s where it got interesting.

After about fifty photos, I finally got one pose that was reasonably close, with the bird’s face in good light.

However, a shot of a bird wasn’t going to elicit a lot of love from viewers, though the water was nice and smooth, and the bird’s feathers were quite detailed and well lit. A little work with Lightroom tools helped clean up the water some more and bring out some details on the bird’s face and feathers and added a dreamier quality to the image, but not enough yet.

The photo needed a sunset, so I looked through a couple hundred images I got of sunsets on the Pamlico Sound in Avon, North Carolina I recently took and selected a decent sun, though it was obviously a little dark.

I needed to lighten it up and erase all the dark material. And I needed to copy the image into a second layer and flip it to make a reflection. I also needed to lighten it and desaturate it a bit to start moving the whole project toward the feel of old paper. I know, it looks a little smudgy.

Lastly, I looked for a photo of a rusty looking rock or old door for texture and found one I think I took in Baltimore last September.

Now to assemble these pieces, they needed to be imported into Photoshop as layers of one image.  I started with 50% opacity on the upper layers so I could see the lower layers and so I could adjust the blending of the textures and components.  I used the paint brush and wiped away some of the details so the bird could shine through, and I used adjustment layers to edit individual components of the image.  Working the layered images a bit at a time, I was able to line all of the pieces up and get everything looking pretty old and exotic.  Then I cropped the image to the size of the original photo, but I moved the bird a bit to permit room for the sunset to show through.  The final image looks like this. By the way, I had to reconstruct the steps I used to build the image a bit, so the sun and reflection I used in this short narrative are a little different from the original, but you get the idea.


[email protected] (Ron Peiffer Photography) Thu, 26 Sep 2019 14:06:07 GMT
New Orleans Paste-Ups I liked walking the s streets of New Orleans a few months ago for all the sights, sounds, and smells of the city.  (Apologies to modernists: Please note that I prefer the Oxford comma). Particularly at night, the city became alive, and the photo opportunities multiplied.  I set my camera on automatic ISO and used different modes on the camera, pending the lighting, so that I could capture images in the very dim lights of the French Quarter.  Neon glows blended with the light spilling out onto the dirty streets from bars, and the often-battered French Quarter lampposts, now retooled with LED lights, made an interesting mash-up of lighting challenges.  Along Bourbon Street, I saw a row of restaurant and bar signs that seemed to tell part of the story.   I cropped in close in post processing and dropped the exposure a bit more so the signs told the story.

The scene took on a brighter, vibrant mix of hues, and the people melted into the darkness. This image gives me chills, but the people have disappeared, which is the whole story of Bourbon Street.  The question becomes, did I make the photo better?  For a photography contest judge, the second image may be better because it is crisp, bright, and certainly leads the eye down one side of Bourbon Street and out of the French Quarter.  But the people are gone!  For me, the first photo reminds me of how human the late night traffic of the French Quarter really is. 


At another point, I looked up and noticed the sign for the Monteleon Hotel and captured another image that seemed somehow sad and quiet, despite the cacophony around me, largely because of the contrasting color and pale blue light coming from the window in a nearby building. Here is where the photo took me somewhere I did not expect.   

I loved the simplicity of the image, but I also felt it may not communicate to some viewers.  Consequently, I started on a paste-up that may or may not be to the liking of viewers.  First, I went into Photoshop and decided I might be able to take an adopted image from a recent studio shoot and drop in a layer over the window with the photo of one of the models.  After a little work, the image seemed almost believable.  Then, the more I looked at it, I found the O and N in the hotel sign might possibly be layered into the image to finish out the chopped-off name of the hotel.  After that, I duplicated the layer with the hotel sign and flipped it so that I could place the reflection of the sign in the window. Next, I brought in a lamppost and street sign from off of Bourbon Street and dropped it into the bottom left side of the image.  Lastly, I moved the hotel sign up a bit so that the three image elements were believably positioned and at the same time facilitated the movement of the eye across the image. The resulting image is below...

I'm not terribly bothered that the color of the hotel sign was altered in the process, but the photo now seems to tell a story.  All that said, the reason I was drawn to photograph the hotel sign in the first place was the simplicity and sadness of the night that is evoked by an empty, lit window, and the looming hotel sign in the distance. And the wide landscape scale of the image seemed to make the night seem deeper and more morose, perhaps.  It felt a bit like the ending scene from an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel.  But what do I know? I liked the original.  I like the new image for different reasons.  But then, that may be because I am too caught up in the creative process.  Maybe I didn't trust the viewer to use his or her own imagination to write the story that is laid out in front of them.  It kind of reminds me of why singer-songwriters often evolve during their lifetime from soulful tale-tellers in their youth to older, skilled musicians caught up in their own musicianship and genius with swirling, twirling arpeggios and dazzling keyboard athleticism.  They often lose their ability to tell a clean, moving story, e.g. Paul Simon's American Tune.  The raw and pure beauty of a simple, clean image, for me, outshines the genius of a photoshop paste-up, even if it is my own! 

[email protected] (Ron Peiffer Photography) Mon, 11 Mar 2019 15:13:47 GMT
Shooting Kids' Sports for Fun It’s spring, so the grandchildren are playing on baseball teams.  I shot photos of their athletics over the past couple years, but for some reason this year, it is a lot more fun.  I attribute the photos in part to the coaches who are emphasizing skill building and fun over competition, and the parents have been equally supportive when there have been bumps and disappointments as well as hits and catches.  The kids have responded with smiles and enthusiasm, so for a grandfather, that is a magic formula for fun kid pics.  I’m sure you’ll see the flaws, but a few of the photos are among my favorites. I am using this post to share a few of my favorite photos from this season and few of the things I'm finding.  Honestly, I'm no sports photographer, but occasionally I get lucky with a nice shot.


A few of the lessons I’ve learned:     

ElvatonBest2016 (12 of 14)Runner on the MoveI loved the eyes of the shortstop as well as the runner's mid-stride action. It makes you wonder if he tagged him out. 1. Keep your finger on the shutter for the moment a kid’s face breaks into a smile. The joy is the subject, not always the child’s skill. 

ElvatonBest2016 (1 of 14)Happy BatterThis one always makes me smile. The batter didn't necessarily understand all the rules, but he was having fun anyway. 2.  Focus on the face when the kid is at bat and don’t worry if you miss the big hit.  Get the swing.  The viewer can’t tell if the bat hit the ball or not. Often, I have to take five or six shots of the baseball bat swing until I get one that works well. And if you can set your camera on multiple photos per shutter press, you often get even better results. ElvatonBest2016 (11 of 14)Watching the BallMy grandson had a nice hit into center field and wanted to enjoy the moment before running on to first base.

3. Watch the eyes.  They tell the story, especially when a ball is in play. Catching a child looking at another player or at an incoming ball adds action and interest to the photo.

4. Shoot a lot of photos.  I am finding I get maybe 10 good photos out of 150 or more from a game. But sometimes you get more.  I seldom delete photos from the memory card during the game.  I delete only once I get a good look at the photos on my computer screen.  Sometimes there is more there than you expected.

ElvatonBest2016 (13 of 14)Game BallChris got the game ball and was very happy. 5. Look at the sidelines on occasion.  Some of the best shots are there. Getting the game ball or horsing around or hugs after a bump are fun. ElvatonBest2016 (9 of 14)Runner's PortraitThis is perhaps my favorite photo from the season so far. The late afternoon light made the photo extra appealing.

6. I always try to shoot wide and crop close.  Get the whole scene and crop in tight on your final subject when you get to the computer. I want to get facial expressions, because they make the shots most fun.  A well exposed photo makes cropping easier. I use a full frame camera, so that makes cropping easier, but there are plenty of cameras sporting APS-C sensors that do just fine as well.  


7. Capture a little blur in the photo sometimes.  It puts action into the image.  ElvatonBest2016 (4 of 14)Outfield BoredomWhat do you do in the outfield when you play t-ball, because hits hardly ever reach you? ElvatonBest2016 (3 of 14)Did I Catch It?When he opened his eyes, he was excited about his catch.

8. Don’t be embarrassed about wielding your big, geeky telephoto lens at the game.  That’s what you bought it for, and you get better photos.  But whatever lens you have, get that camera out of the bag and shoot the game.  This moment will never happen again, and an iPhone photo won’t do the job. While I'd prefer to be invisible during a game, I found the grandchildren enjoy by being there and taking photos of them. ElvatonBest2016 (10 of 14)Second Base DebateGood exchange between friends on opposite teams in this game.


9.  Camera settings—Sorry, here is the geeky stuff:  Open your shutter as wide as possible (f/2.8 or f/5.6), ISO set at 100 or 200 if sunny, more if cloudy, but keep shutter speed at least at 1/250 second or 1/500 or faster to get stop action, a little less to get a little blur.  I know I’m supposed to shoot shutter priority for sports, but I use aperture priority, and keep an eye on the shutter speed.  It works fine for me.  ElvatonBest2016 (7 of 14)Catching PinkMy Granddaughter loves her pink glove, but she thought the catcher's gear was kinda cool too.

10. Lastly, have fun and share them. I use my website and find that family and friends look forward to the photos.

ElvatonBest2016 (12 of 14)Okay, Mom?I loved the smile on this little guy as he trudged to first base.

The photo is about the smile on the face of the viewer, the magic of the moment.  



[email protected] (Ron Peiffer Photography) Photography Sports Sun, 08 May 2016 17:42:01 GMT
Close-ups and Creativity As I took on macro images for the Arundel Camera Club February competition, I was faced with lots of challenges, but most of all, I faced the one problem that has been nagging me for some time—creativity and interest.  Macro can be very static and uninteresting to all except for the biology teacher.  Just because you see an object larger than life does not make it that interesting. Here is a bridge for a guitar.  I like the lines, and the geometrics of the image are interesting, but it could be argued that it is pretty static.  Taylor BridgeTaylor BridgeThe bridge of my favorite guitar.






I had two pins I thought might make interesting objects to photograph.  One was a pin issued to wounded British WWI veterans upon discharge.  It was never worn on a uniform, but rather was worn by the veteran on a jacket or shirt as a civilian.  It is a beautiful silver pin, which fetched $35 in an antique shop a number of years ago.  Though tarnished, it’s curly script looks elegant through the lens.  

For King and Empire StudyFor King and Empire Study

I shot it at a number of different angles, using different lighting strategies.  In the end, they all failed to capture my interest because they were static objects.  I then found an old family photo of a man who could have been a veteran of the WWI era, and I tried incorporating that image into the photo.  You be the judge.  I’m not sure the photo works, but I’m wondering if perhaps the photo now seems to tell a story.  It raises questions such as, “Is a photo that includes a photo a good subject?”  For King and EmpireFor King and EmpireThis pin was issued in the British Isles to wounded veterans upon discharge from World War service. The photo seemed to me to put the pin in context.







I tried a similar approach to a second pin—my father’s WWII battalion pin.  The result is below.  Perhaps this photo is more creative.  Perhaps it tells a story better. Maybe it holds interest only for me. Just a little food for thought... Mom and DadMom and DadI thought perhaps photographing my Dad's battalion pin from World War II over a couple vintage family photos might tell a good story. Battalion PinBattalion PinMy Dad wore this during World War II.

[email protected] (Ron Peiffer Photography) Fri, 29 Jan 2016 14:48:27 GMT
Karen's Lessons DSC04355DSC04355SONY DSC

Not long ago, I lost my wife of 45 years after a brave struggle against an insidious disease.  Putting life back together after her courageous battle and my terrible loss, I have found much solace in the camera.  We shared our love of travel and art and family over these many years and recorded a lot of the landmarks and waypoints on those journeys with photography.  She was also a talented artist, and I have many of her watercolors to cherish as well…and her advice and guidance in my head.  Her eye for composition and uncanny appreciation for color pushed me to stretch my skills and to pay attention to everything in the frame of my camera.  And so I hesitate more often before I press the shutter button and try to get the photo right to start with.  Admittedly, I will always be finishing up the job in post processing, for I love the slow creative processes involved in molding and crafting the image in the computer and via the printer. 

Red BarnRed Barn

I am going to share here a few photo lessons my wife taught me over the years that guide me to this day.  This is certainly not a comprehensive inventory of her wisdom.   But these and other lessons evolved over time as I pulled photo prints off of the printer one at a time and took them to her for review under the heartless glare of the kitchen light.    

It’s not all in the camera.  She recognized much more than I did that a brand new camera will not compensate for sloppy technique.  More pixels don’t improve your images.  It’s your patience and care in preparing for and taking the photograph that matters most. I’ve lost more shots because I didn’t take the time to get the settings right before raising the camera up to the eye. I lost even more good images because I upgraded to a new, better camera and stumbled over its unfamiliar controls and settings.

Pay attention to the color.  Karen loved color images over black and white images.  She could see clearly the nuances of color, shades, and color values that I am often blind to. But one skill she had that I never mastered was using the color wheel.  When she looked at my “draft” images for what colors were in the frame, she referenced the color wheel and pointed up my hits and misses. Reds opposite blues.  Greens opposite yellows.  Artists all seem to have programmed the color wheel into their DNA, and she was no eception.  Positioning color in the images with the color wheel in mind improves the result dramatically. She knew it well.

Chesapeake LightshipChesapeake LightshipThe large blocks of red and blue work well together in this image as does its simple composition

Don’t overprocess.  A photograph is a photograph, and a watercolor is a watercolor.  There is little to be gained by processing an image within an inch of its life until it imitates a piece of art.  By that point, an image is often lifeless.  Let the artist interpret the scene—I’m no Picasso with a camera.  She reminded me to try to capture the existing image with my camera.  That said, she had no objections to enhancing the image in Photoshop.  Indeed, I try to process the image to better match the conceptual image that was in my mind’s eye at the time of the capture.  Some days, the leaden skies don’t dampen the beauty of the scene I see in my mind, and so I turn up the contrast and saturation because that produces the image I remembered and sets it apart from the image I actually saw.

Keep it Simple.  Landscapes and macros alike.  Keep them simple.  She would often critique one of my “busy” images and see a cluttered mess where I had tuned out all the extraneous parts of the image and saw only one aspect of the photo.  Cropping, lighting, composing all work in your favor to simplify a cluttered field of view, but in the end, I am still learning to choose a simply presented subject.

Afternoon SunAfternoon SunThe image is simple and clean and communicates to the reader the serenity of the monastery.

Think about what the viewer sees.  This is the hardest part.  First, you photograph what speaks to you, but if you want the image to have impact, it must speak to other viewers as well.  Sometimes I spent hours on producing an image that I absolutely loved then found that it evoked no emotion with Karen when she critiqued it.  This criticism is the hardest to take when your invested effort is unappreciated.  A technically good photograph is useless unless the viewer can relate to it.  So, you thicken your skin and don’t get overinvested in the image and try to see the piece through the eyes of another viewer.


There are more lessons that Karen taught me, but I hope and pray that as I move forward I keep her voice in my head.  She made me a better photographer, but more than that, she made me a better human being.  I will miss her more than anyone will know, but I hope her voice is always with me.        

[email protected] (Ron Peiffer Photography) Photo Lessons Thu, 12 Nov 2015 21:00:31 GMT
My Mentor Serving in World War IIServing in World War II In September, my Dad, Ken Peiffer, died of a heart attack a few weeks after turning 88.  He was a veteran of World War II.  He was also my mentor and friend, dispensing advice on all my life decisions large and small as well as critiques of my photographs to the end. He had a lifelong gift for deconstructing complex and technical problems from misbehaving household appliances to Rubic's Cube to the iPad.  Often, his late evening FaceTime calls came as I sat before the computer editing images. Though he was not a photographer, he had clear opinions about photography.  He loved bold, colorful flowers in the summer, radiant sunsets seen from his front porch, and spooky half moons dodging among cold, winter clouds.  Most of all, he treasured photos of his family, especially his great grandchildren. Almost weekly, I sent him links to new images as I posted them, and we often discussed what he liked about them most. He was a gentle critic, dwelling mostly on those images that pleased him most.  But over time, I realized that black and white images were not generally his favorites.


One of my best last memories was a visit in the late spring when he asked me to drive him to a nearby produce stand. When we got there, he joked with the young Mennonite women who ran the stand as he proceeded to buy asparagus, blue berries and a few spring vegetables. On the way home, he asked me to stop at a couple houses where he delivered surprises to family and friends, not because they needed them but because it pleased him.  He was a man of boundless generosity and vitality, and as a result, his funeral seemed to be a celebration of his humor, kindness, and generosity.   Raising a Young Family in the 1950'sRaising a Young Family in the 1950's


He occasionally accompanied me on short excursions with my camera, and one of my last fond memories included a short drive into the Pennsylvania countryside.  I pulled off the road so I could photograph what I had hoped would be a beautiful sunset, across a wheat field waving in a stiff breeze.  As sometimes happens with photography, the light and the scenery didn't come together that afternoon as I had hoped, but I especially treasured that day because I had spent it with him. Though he seldom snapped a photo, we shared the same creative drive.  While his drove him into his workshop to find a piece of furniture in an old cherry plank, mine continues to drag me out of the house with camera in hand in search of images to capture.


My Father's childlike enthusiasm for creativity and love of life made every day for him a new one. He channeled his creativity through woodcraft, designing and building beautiful grandfather’s clocks for each of his children and grandchildren.  He loved the excitement of Christmas, Fourth of July fireworks, family gatherings, and front porch chats with his neighbors. His repertoire of greetings ran from "Come on in. The water's fine," and "You're looking good," to "I don't care what they do say about you--you're okay."   He got lots of mileage out of repeating one particular joke involving a weed whacker, a cat's dismembered tail, and a trip to Walmart. While I won't repeat the joke here, trust that his timing and delivery was perfect.  I took him to Annapolis, Maryland one spring afternoon so I could take some trial shots with a camera recently converted for infrared images. While I was busy taking photos of the Statehouse, he was busy cornering tourists on Maryland Avenue and telling them the cat joke as he ambled up and down the street while I took photos of the Statehouse.  I was much relieved to find that all of his audiences gave him the response he was hoping for--chuckles and belly laughs.


ImageFour Generations: Dad, Me, Jeremy, and Tom This iPhone photo, taken by my daughter-in-law Katie, is one of my favorites. He loved his family. After a Sunday donut stop this summer, he posed with my grandson Jeremy, my son Tom, and me. 

My Dad loved life and was able to wring every ounce out of his 88 years despite a laundry list of ailments that grew as he got older. He lived a simple life in a small town but lived larger than ten men and earned the love and respect of the many friends and family who knew him.  I will forever miss my mentor, my Father, my friend. But I know he will always be that voice in my head that pushes me to be better. 

[email protected] (Ron Peiffer Photography) Mon, 13 Oct 2014 03:48:31 GMT
Attention to Context When the cruelest blows of winter drive me indoors, I try to use the time productively, reviewing images, studying and practicing post processing techniques, and making sure my equipment is ready for some busy photography days ahead.  A few competition pieces have emerged from my computer time, including some new monochrome treatments for some recent images that I particularly like.

Ain't Pretty But It WorksAin't Pretty But It WorksIMG_9959
A barn latch of peculiar construction, this black and white image seems to frown at the viewer. The latch attests to the ingenuity of farmers. In a number of cases, barn latches were highly invented, inventive, and most of all functional. So how pretty does one of these gizmos need to be anyway?
Perhaps my most favorite is "Ain’t Pretty But It Works." I processed the image initially in NIK HDR Efex Pro, then brought up some detail using the Topaz plugin Clarity.  Lastly, I converted it to black and white using NIK Silver Efex Pro.  The challenge was to bring out the detail and to let some of the dark areas go to black or nearly black.  HDR sometimes equalizes the tonal qualities too much, so a little bit of brushing with the burn tool helped differentiate the detail in the image.  In competitions this winter, one judge liked it for several reasons, including the abstract frowny face.  Another liked the richness of the detail.  One placed it first and the other second in two different club competitions. It was nice to get so
me endorsement  for an image in which I had invested some work.


Unfortunately, it is not likely a gallery image.  Likely, few buyers would frame it and hang it on their walls. But it does tell a story about farm life, priorities, and functionality.  I found several other handmade latches around barns in recent months, and they all remind us that busy farmers are just fine with the tools and materials at hand.  They don’t have to make excuses to anyone for their handmade solutions crafted hastily from available materials.  A speedy repair works well enough to go on to the more pressing priorities.  And the lesson works well in our own lives, I think. 

The lesson for me was the role of Context in an image’s appeal.  On gallery walls and in photo competitions, art pieces and photographs are judged in isolation of any external context other than the experiences a viewer takes to the gallery.  A stand-alone photograph clicks for one viewer because the image is viewed within the silent context in the viewer’s head, based on his or her personal experiences.  The viewer does not have to reveal to others the trigger nor the emotion released by an image.  I am wondering if an image’s success turns on its ability to connect in isolation.  Part of the craft of the photograph is to produce the image as technically perfect as possible so that nothing interferes with the story told by the photo.

When we otherwise view images in a photography book, in a journalistic account, or along side others in a gallery exhibit, the photographer applies the same technical standards to the photo. However, an image that has difficulty triggering emotion in the viewer in isolation may let the surrounding photos or narrative provide the context and thus bridge to the viewer’s experience.  One would argue that the second and third barn latch photos in this series do not connect with the reader as well as the first, whether the media is monochrome or color.

Hence, the dilemma.  Might a noncompetitive photo be successful if placed in a narrative or in a gallery beside other related photos.  Still, one viewer may connect, and another may not.  Consequently, rather than being discouraged by a judge or patron who rejects an image and moves on to the next, the photographer’s job is to build a better sense of what ingredients in a photograph allow the image to stand alone.  And in that vein, it is still our job to be certain technical and compositional flaws do not distract the viewer.

This seems like a small lesson, but I am finding right now that some of my images seem to form stronger connections in monochrome than many color images.  I am only reminded that the learning process never ends.  You need to get the photo right, but you need to make sure you have taken the right photo in the first place.   You need to decide if it connects with viewers without prompts from other nearby images or adjacent text.  And can you be sure the photographer isn’t seeing something personal in the image that connects with no one else?  Oh well, I’m still learning!

​HmmNow that I look at the three additional barn latch photos in the current context, they seem to work a little better as tools to support this narrative, though they didn't seem to work all by themselves.

[email protected] (Ron Peiffer Photography) barn latches Mon, 17 Feb 2014 23:52:56 GMT
Summer School  

Summer is coming to an end, and what did I learn?  Actually quite a bit—embarrassingly simple fundamentals I should have known all along. I am going to share a few here in the event they might be of benefit to others.


1.              Don’t fear higher ISOs.  I have screwed up too many good shots because I was afraid to turn up the ISO to 1600.  Newer cameras actually produce pretty good images with little or no noise and decent resolution at higher ISO settings like 800 and 1600.  To qualify that, if you are shooting in good to bright light, then a higher ISO setting assures sharper images, particularly if you are photographing people or critters that might move some.  If you do get noise, dial it back with plug-ins like NIK Define or Topaz DeNoise. (See 4. Below).  That said, I prefer ISO 100 or 200 when possible.IMG_7732

2.              Don’t be afraid to use a monopod. I hate to stand out with my camera, so I hesitate to use a monopod or tripod unless I really need it.  However, particularly if the light is low or the lens is long, the monopod can save a lot of photos for you.  I think most newer lenses with image stabilization will work fine on a monopod, but I turn it off anyway on both the monopod and tripod just to be sure. I find that spiders, dragonflies, and butterflies are harder to photograph freehand as are people.  Monopods can be cheap and compact.  But I am now convinced that all my friends who have counseled me toward a sturdy tripod are right.  I recently upgraded my tripod to one that is considerably larger and more substantial, and I seem to be getting better images with my long lens as well as my standard lenses.  But in those situations when you cannot drag your tripod along, a monopod works well.  A half hour recently with my long lens on a monopod produced a number of insect photos I am very happy with.  I was able to get better aim on the moving critters.  I set the ISO at 800 and 1600 and pushed the shutter speed often to 1/3000 sec.  The extra stability made some of the shots work quite well.  Now I have to keep working on anticipating their movement so I can catch one in flight. 

3.              Let the shutter open.  Night photos taken using a tripod can be especially fun if you let the shutter stay open a few seconds.  Drop back the ISO to 100 or 200 or even 400 and use the mirror lock-up and a cable to keep the camera stable.  Don’t be afraid to experiment with exposure times.  If you are shooting at infinity, you can leave the aperture open pretty wide and get a nice image, or you can close it down.  I used to always close the aperture down to f/22 or so, but now I am finding I can get a crisper image on these long exposures if I shoot around f/8

4.              Get rid of the noise. Unless I am viewing a print shot with something like the old standby, Tri-X film, noise or grain turns me off.  Topaz Labs’ DeNoise and NIK’s Define both do a masterful job on eliminating noise.  While I use both liberally, I take care not to be too aggressive with noise reduction.  Sometimes, you need to tolerate a little noise to get the detail and sharpness you really want in an image. I guess you can take that advice with a grain of salt—pun intended.

5.              Plan your light. I have to admit that this really fundamental idea is one I have had to work on.  I knew better, but out of laziness or business, I too often ignored what is critical to a photographer’s success.  For outside photos, that means checking out the location, sun angle, weather, and time of day to make sure optimal natural lighting works for you.  When natural light is not working for you, make your own and test it out ahead of time to make sure you don’t lose the shot.  I guess if you get really good at this, you can walk in and make the shot under any conditions from experience, but successful photographers I know at all levels always plan their lighting.


Guarding Devil's Den 6.              Make the best of bad weather.  You know hackneyed advice about making lemonade when you are handed lemons.  Sometimes you get up early and are hoping to be rewarded with an awesome sunrise. Instead the sky fills with a slate gray canopy, and your dreams evaporate.  Remember, you are now looking at a monochrome landscape that is ideal for black and white conversion or possibly for treatment with software programs such as Topaz Labs’ recently released Clarity or ReStyle.  Whichever way you decide to go, you may be lucky and produce a moody image that speaks to your heart.


As much as I now know, I am amazed at how much more I have to learn and internalize so I can improve my photography. The summer months were particularly productive this year in that regard, but I am now looking forward to fall shooting.

[email protected] (Ron Peiffer Photography) Mon, 26 Aug 2013 17:24:16 GMT
Shooting the Moon--Lessons Learned Getting up at 2:15 AM Sunday morning a week ago was not my idea of fun, but that is what I had to do if I were to catch the Super Moon.  The moonset nearly coincided with sunrise that morning, and a dramatic skyline or backdrop would be necessary to give scale and interest to the moon itself, which would be somewhat larger than normal at its perigee.  My friend Reb suggested Baltimore Inner Harbor, and The Photographer's Ephemeris (TPE) was my first reference to determine the best backdrop.  It set toward the eastern horizon, and the USS Constellation looked to be a good recognizable context if one stood a hundred feet or so to the east.  Arriving around 5:00 AM, four of us set up with our tripods, but each with a different perspective and goals in mind. It was a good setting to eschew aperture priority in favor of manual exposure settings.  What a morning for learning.  I wanted the ship to be exposed enough that it would be clearly recognizable, and of course, I wanted the moon to be as sharp as possible.  As you know, with a telephoto lens aimed at an object a hundred feet away and a moon a quarter million miles away in the same frame,  focusing became a problem.  And with a bright moon in a black sky versus the ship, which was lit faintly with ambient light, exposures differed.

Okay, so what to do?  I found that if I shot a correctly exposed and focused photo of the ship with the out-of-focus moon in the nearby sky, I could reshoot the same scene with the exposure and focus set for the accompanying moon.  All that seems easy, but it took a bit of work to make sure the moon was shot with a short exposure, but as sharp as possible.  A 400mm lens on an APS-C sensor computes to about 640mm, so the lens power was there to grab both subjects with some clarity.  The moon was captured with an ISO setting of 100 at f/32 for about 1/5 second.  This allowed me to get a pretty sharp image, but without the blur that would have occurred with a longer exposure.  I fiddled a bit with the exposure of the moon and shot a series of images just in case the preferred one was a little over or under optimum exposure, and I refocused for each shot.

To capture the ship's image at its best, I composed the shot around the prow.  Carved detail in the white part of the ship's hull as well as chains and rope seemed to be interesting enough and, most importantly, was visible in the dim light.  I pulled back on the zoom to 210mm (336mm converted) and kept the camera on ISO 100.  At f/13, a 3.2 second exposure was adequate to get a good image.  I shot several photographs in sequence around the prow as the moon moved behind the chains and ropes, eventually reaching a point just in front of the chains.

I was able to get a few nice images in the process of trying to get good moon shots and good ship shots and have posted them in the Sunday Morning Moon gallery on my website.  I also shot a few long exposures of the harbor as the sun began to rise.  Those are also posted on the site.  I bracketed most of those images with from three to seven shots so I could either use HDR or use other post processing approaches with good single images.  I am starting to lean toward single shots since a lot of the newer software such as plug-ins in the Topaz and NIK suites often produce more natural results, yet still let you capture a good dynamic range as well as detail and color without over-saturating colors.

Meanwhile, what do you do after you finish a dawn shot and wives are still sleeping on a Sunday morning? Double T Diner for breakfast with your colleagues.  When I eventually got home, my wife was still snoozing, so I slipped away to the computer and downloaded the images.  Most of the work on the moon shot involved the new Clarity software from Topaz, with a little help from some of the brushes in Aperture.  I intentionally used an ISO of 100 to minimize noise, but I still did a final cleaning of the image with NIK's Define. The single shot of the moon shot at 640 mm provided a nice level of detail and sharpness that I liked, but I needed to use ReMask by Topaz to cut out the moon, resize it, and paste it over the blown-out moon in the best ship shot.  Though the initial moon image was about twice the size of the moon image I used in the final photo, the extra size permitted the camera to capture some of the detail on the moon's surface.  The paste-up done, I took the whole image into Aperture and used a variety of brush tools to bring out the ship's detail and to dodge the brightness of the moon's image to the appropriate level.

I can get into a debate with anyone questioning the honesty of a shot that looks like a single clean shot of the moon, but was actually a composite produced through multiple steps, but then again, the final product more accurately represents what my eye saw that Sunday morning. It was another lesson for me.  I give myself a B in planning in that I checked TPE for the right approach to the location.  I give myself a B+ for preparing my equipment the night before so that all I had to do was put the camera on the tripod and begin shooting.  I give myself a C for the time I lost in experimenting with the right exposure and composition.  A few dozen useless shots bear witness to my fumbling.  I do give myself a B for adaptability when I realized the focus and exposure issues and quickly regrouped with the plan to composite the image.

So how could I have done better?  The non-moon shots were incidental photographs I took in between moon shots or after the moon slipped behind a band of clouds shortly after my final moon shot.  I like some of those, but I have to say, I could have planned for them better and positioned myself better for maximum impact.  The water was like glass, and the reflections--particularly those from the Domino Sugar sign--were bright and bold.  The darkest early shots showed the best reflections of all.  The moon images were enhanced quite a bit with the post processing software, but it still comes down to the fact that you can't produce a good image by starting with a bad photograph.  In all, a productive and instructive morning.  

[email protected] (Ron Peiffer Photography) Sun, 30 Jun 2013 16:33:36 GMT
Competitions Are Really about Learning Last month, my local camera club, Arundel Camera Club, had its annual dinner and unveiled the results of its end-of-year competition.  The end-of-year competition involves judging the first through fourth place winners from all categories--color and monochrome prints, digital images, and slides from both the novice and unlimited categories.  Having come from a background where I had dedicated my career days to formal education, these past couple years of informal education in photography has been very instructive.  It has also been instructive in terms of the competition process itself.  I learned how to edit, crop, and print my photos.  I learned how important it is to title photos evocatively, and I learned the mechanics  and art of matting photos as well.  In the end, I feel I am a much better photographer because I went through this process and continue to do so.  I am especially grateful to the numerous judges who gave of their time and talent to make these monthly competitions so educational and rewarding for so many of us.  Unfortunately, the three guest judges who judged our end-of-year competitions currently remain anonymous to club members, but we are appreciative for their contributions as well.

This year, my photograph of an orb spider entitled Back from Lunch won 2012-13 Photograph of the year.

Back from LunchBack from Lunch  I was grateful for the recognition, knowing the work behind the image was invisible to the casual viewer.  Like most photos, this one tried the patience of the eight-legged subject as I found the correct lighting and exposure after many, many tries over several evenings. Then the hours in front of the computer trying to extract the detail and make the tattered web come into view paid off.  In the December 2012 novice monochrome print competition, the photo was awarded a fourth place.  I was very happy.  In May 2013, when the end-of-year competition rolled around, the spider photo was selected by the panel as the best image in all categories, including both novice and unlimited images.

Judges quite often preface their results by saying words such as, this is what I like, and other judges may judge very differently.  Wow, are they right.  But what is the sense of competing if the results are so variable?  There are individual images that I love and which have never placed in any competition.  I believe all competitive photographers have experienced similar results, and that's okay.  While I am very grateful to win, more importantly, I am grateful to learn.  one of the most valuable aspects of competing is listening to the feedback--lessons in things like leading lines, rule of thirds, saturation, composition, lighting, etc.  From many of my least successful entries I learned the greatest of lessons.  In some cases, I took the photos back home and rethought the treatment of the image.  Sometimes, the reworked image was a later winner, and sometimes not. But the lessons learned always exceeded the ribbons.  That said, any photographer loves it when that special image comes together and gets validation.

At the Arundel Camera Club end-of-year competition, I also found success with a color image created using HDR software.  The 2012-13 Novice Color Print First Prize winner was Sliver of Daylight (right, below). At the Franciscan monastery in Howard County, Maryland last summer, a work barn was open, and I wandered in to find a lot of typical and atypical wood items in storage and in disarray.  In the one corner of the barn a door was ajar and leaking a bit of daylight into an otherwise dark and dusty space. The image to the right, below resulted.  It placed second in the October 2012 Novice Color Print category.  When I studied the image recently, I began to rethink the processing and have begun a series of editing steps that will hopefully improve the image. It is interesting that this photo was one of my favorites last fall, and now I see many flaws I want to repair.  While online images do not always display fine edits so clearly, hopefully, a reworked image will appear here soon.Sliver of Daylight

The image below is Negotiating a Merger.  This image actually began almost two years ago.  It tells a different story.  I had shot about a hundred photos of these copulating damsel flies at the bank of our community pond and discarded the attempt some time ago because I could not find a good image in the lot.  In December 2012, I resurrected the files from the shoot and found two images that overlapped.  After stitching the two together in Photoshop, I discovered it was possible to create a single good photo.  A little bit of editing and clean-up on the final image, and the resulting image appeared.  It placed Fourth in the December 2012 color print category that month and was awarded Second Place in the 2012-13 Novice Color Print category for the year.  This adventure justifies at least partly my propensity to hang onto old photo files for a while and not to pronounce them failures the first time around.Negotiating a Merger










Several other photos won recognition this year in the club's 2012-13 end-of-year competition.  I am appreciative for what I have learned and to the other club members from whom I have learned throughout the year.  I have posted winning images in a featured gallery displayed on my home page if you want to view them and a little background on each.



[email protected] (Ron Peiffer Photography) Fri, 07 Jun 2013 21:16:45 GMT
The HDR Dilemma I enjoy reading the varied reactions of expert photographers to HDR.  It would be a disappointing and certainly a colorless field if photography didn’t stir some debate over the mechanics as well as the art. Some of us have struggled for years with the limits of image capture with traditional films from Tri-X to Kodachrome.  And we have further struggled in the transition to digital capture.  None of these technologies, regardless their attributes accurately replicate what the human eye records.  We seem to be divided on what we want the camera to do and what we think the viewer wants to see.  Is it about the replication of reality or about invoking an emotion in the viewer? Or is it some combination of the two? 


Digital photographers rely on the technology to assure exposure and color reproduction is as accurate as possible, but what do we mean by accurate?  The problem is that the digital camera and the software are increasingly more sophisticated, though it is still an imperfect technology.  The human eye works together with the brain to consume and analyze images.  The mathematical algorithms they use are practically incomprehensible and are unique to the individual.  Accuracy is unique to the viewer.


We often forget that our eye takes in three-dimensional images with a dynamic range far exceeding that of the best camera on the market today.  No camera comes near to capturing the wealth of visual information analyzed and recorded in our brains.  But most importantly, that which the eye takes in is more than an image.  It becomes a thought.  It rubs shoulders with the emotions that are manufactured in the brain, sometimes evoking subtle changes in our thinking, sometimes flooding us with fear, joy, dread.  The image perceived in the human brain not only triggers our emotions, but more importantly links with our memories, and the experience of sight becomes far bigger than technical accuracy of the image.


At this time in history, High Dynamic Range imaging can be completed in the firmware in some newer cameras to help capture information from the darker regions of the scene as well as information that is too well-lit and thus overexposed.  The human eye has amazing dynamic range and can often discern the details on the opposite ends of the exposure spectrum for the brain to process.  High Dynamic Range post-processing with a desktop computer can also simulate some of the brain’s rudimentary image processing by compositing multiple images, picking the best feature of each image, to make one final  image well exposed across the range of illumination.


Twenty-first century photo editing tools allow the photographer to fiddle with the color and the exposure and try to make a pleasing image.  That process permits the photographer to create an image that might start to approach what the photographer’s eye saw through the viewfinder when the image was captured…or not.  I have heard lots of trash talk about HDR as photographers compare it unfavorably to the work of the masters such as Ansel Adams, A. Aubrey Bodine, and Marion Warren.  But much has been written about the manipulations done by all of the masters in the darkroom to alter the imperfect image captured on the negative in that bygone era. There is a difference between digital editing and darkroom editing, but the difference is probably less than some would like to claim.


Let’s talk more about the real purpose of photographic art.  All captured images are imperfect and fall short of accurate.  While I do not claim to be an artist in any form of the term, I do want to produce photographs that do more than simply document somewhere I have been or something I have seen.  Rather, if I think of a sunset or a still life, I am trying to create an image that evokes an emotion in the viewer.  I want to connect with the visceral reaction of the viewer.  If I have manipulated the image so much that it looks more like an other-worldly experience unlike the human experience, It is likely that the average viewer will see the image and cannot feel anything.  It does not trigger memories, or it does not trigger emotions.


At the same time, I have vivid memories of viewing the setting sun over the desert horizon and remember the light in the western sky turning golden, then red, and feeling the warm sun on my face while sensing the singular cold of the night setting in as the wind becomes very still.  The technical imperfections of the camera limit my ability to see into the dark and the light, but through multiple image captures, I can get a wider range of information that can be made into a composite image.  I am then faced with the dilemma of which of the many views I am seeing becomes the gold standard.  Do I center the image around the textured golden clouds, the brilliant streaks in the God-rays, the morose shadows. 


I pretend to be the artist and pick one of these views from the many and begin to work the image with the software as an artist would work the oils.  I begin to recall the emotion of the moment, or perhaps an emotion from another sunset from another time. I want to convey to the viewer that emotion and still try to be true to reality…or not.  Perhaps my computer screen suddenly gives me new images I had not imagined and which evoke feelings unrelated to the original image, emotions I never felt at the time the image was captured.  Is that okay?  Of course.  I do not pretend to be an artist, but I do feel that as a photographer, I can take whatever license I want to produce an image that communicates to the viewer.


The fact is, bad HDR images come from novices like me who have not mastered the basics.  I remember a beautiful image of mating damselflies I shot a couple years ago at Longwood Gardens.  I was so enamored with the color and detail in the image that I couldn’t see the blown out detail of a lily bud in the foreground.  I forgot to see the whole photo.  I have photographed images amateurishly that have contained flaws I tried to brush over using editing tools, including HDR.  I believe that a good HDR image needs to be as near to perfect technically as possible to begin with.  The photographer may decide to ramp up the saturation or the grain to high levels to attain an effect, and that is the photographer’s choice.  He or she may decide that colors may need to be saturated strongly to deepen emotions.  And that may be fine as well.


I think the key with good imaging has to be honesty.  I do not want to be duped or manipulated by the photographer.  I don’t mind an HDR image that borders on what I heard one critic call “illustration” as if that is a bad attribute.  If it doesn’t look like a photograph, and yet I connect with the image, that is all that counts.  But if the so-called dramatic effects are all I can see in the image, and the subject of the photograph has been strongly altered to ameliorate the technical flaws, then I often cannot connect with the image.  The divide between the initial subject and the final image is so great that it feels dishonest.


A Maryland artist, Joseph English, creates beautiful silkscreen landscapes, each beginning with a photograph.  The printing process is intensive and precise, and the colors are vibrant. The viewer initially suspects the photograph upon which the piece of art is based and then realizes quickly that the brilliance of the artwork lies in the interpretation of the scene made by the artist.  The nuances and shading are stripped away, and the image is reconstructed entirely of small and large blocks of color.  The result is an image that makes the mind and eye work together to try to recreate the image behind the image.  The artist’s strong primary colors help the viewer understand the beauty of the moment. Sounds like HDR to me.


So where does that leave me as a photographer?  I like to use HDR when the dynamic range is hard to capture in a single image.  I like to capture up to 9 exposures of a single image so I can have at my fingertips all the information possible.  The HDR software—be it Nik HDR Efex Pro or Photomatix—helps me decide just how much of that information I need to get the image I want.  A hundred decisions go into adjusting the final image—both the individual image components and the overall tone.  In the end, if the emotion of the image eludes me, it may be because the technically accurate image is unfortunately just documenting something. And that may be acceptable for some uses, but to approach art in photography, the image must speak to me.  And if HDR helps turn up the volume a bit, then that’s all right with me.

[email protected] (Ron Peiffer Photography) Tue, 01 Jan 2013 20:00:19 GMT
Longer Shadows Every year, when the end of August unravels, the shadows sadly get longer, the sunsets come earlier and earlier, and the evening's air becomes noisier with the chorus of crickets and bullfrogs singing in the pond nearby.  The touch of yellow that brightened the foliage in the spring has long ago drained away, leaving the leaves fat and a deep, dark green.  The countryside often looks unkempt with lush foliage pouring out everywhere from roadsides and fencerows all across the area.  Unfortunately, many of the flowers are enjoying their last few days of rich color and are still attracting throngs of bees, but the approaching first frost and the end of some of the insects and foliage is clearly not far off.  For a photographer, this can be among the richest of life's seasons.  By now, many of the dragonflies and bees and spiders are abundant everywhere you walk.  The shadows are deeper, the skies are just a little bluer, and the clouds a bit more dramatic.  From the photographer's point of view, t is interesting how this summer's light in Maryland has been so crisp and bright on some days--almost like the bright skies of the Southwest.

As the summer wound down this year, we have had many opportunities to get outside with the camera and have tried to capture some of the warm days, the remnants of which will still linger into September, thank goodness. The galleries include some new photos from the Brandywine, Pennsylvania area--one of our favorite haunts year round--as well as some of the local and regional landscapes that have unfolded around us. Some of the photos posted in our galleries will disappear in coming weeks and may return with a little additional tweaking in the weeks to come.  Keep checking back.  Meanwhile, we will need to start getting ready for fall colors. 

[email protected] (Ron Peiffer Photography) Thu, 30 Aug 2012 01:58:58 GMT