Local Light

For three decades I lived and worked on the Colorado Plateau in northern Arizona.  I was a pharmacist with the Indian Health Service working at remote hospitals and clinics on the Navajo Indian Reservation.  I fell in love with that land and almost my entire image portfolio during that time was devoted to the region’s extraordinary geology.  But as that career was ending, I knew there was an opportunity to try something different.  Several friends had been recommending I check out Tucson, and I moved here in November 2013. 

Once upon a time I imagined a retirement filled with travel and photography, but Tucson changed that story line.  While I had more time than ever, I didn’t want to spend it driving for days in order to take pictures for a few hours.  There was too much happening right here.  The culture, the food, the events, the scenery, the mild winters, my new neighbors and new friends made this a great place to land.  It was easy for me to adapt to the new location, and I was determined my photography could adapt as well.

 It took a couple of years but I’m now quite pleased with the local photo opportunities.  In fact, since moving here, my interest in photography has expanded substantially in terms of the subjects I shoot, where I like to take pictures, and the variety of images I enjoy perusing.  I suffered a bit of photographic tunnel vision living on the Colorado Plateau, but that’s perhaps understandable given its extreme beauty.  Things feel more balanced here. I’ve come to appreciate that local light can be fresh, dynamic, and spiritually nourishing and, given the chance, will present itself in surprising ways.

As I approach my anniversary of arriving in Tucson, I compiled a couple of lists on this topic with the help of my local friends Bruce Bartholomew, James Capo, Bob Hills, and Chris Wesselman.  The first list reviews some benefits of shooting locally.  The second one offers different approaches for finding local light.

Benefits of shooting local

Logistical Benefits

  • No packing luggage, medications, food, camping gear, and so on for extended time away from home. This agave image is from a day trip to visit local ghost towns with the camera club.
  • Less planning.  Photograph whenever you want and whenever it’s convenient. But keep the camera bag handy so you can grab-and-go when you see good light starting to happen.

Less expensive.  No meals, lodging, and transportation costs. A neighbor’s wildflower garden might be as inspiring as a California super-bloom. It’s also likely more accessible and less crowded.

  • Fewer security issues like an unattended home or losing luggage or camera gear. A small body of water, some reflected branches, and a light breeze were the highlights of a short day-trip.
  • Weather conditions matter less.  If it’s not nice outside, try shooting inside. Bob Hills built a rig to photograph light refracted through water droplets.
  • More spontaneous.  If you see a picture, take it. You might not get another chance. The Eichonopsis cactus flower below was unexpectedly blooming along my driveway when I stepped outside one morning. It had good light for roughly an hour and that was the only time it was open and looking this good.
  • Efficient photography.  More time spent taking pictures and less time spent getting somewhere to take them. Bob Hills photographed pickelball action on a short walk from his home.
  • Fewer gear decisions.  Go ahead, take whatever fits in the car. Corollary—challenge yourself to shoot with one camera and lens combination.
  • Scout, scout, and re-scout.  You can easily revisit a place multiple times to find what works best for pictures. Frequent hikes in nearby Sabino Canyon helped plan this image taken near sunset when the brittlebush flowers were blooming.
  • Time is on your side.  Your only itinerary is what works for you. The image below was from a leisurely day at the zoo with a friend, enjoying their company and experimenting with animal photography.
  • Less pressure.  No worries about having to capture a specific scene in a specific season with specific light. I went to photograph mountain scenery but happily came back with an image of burnt wood instead.
  • More control.  Work in everyday settings where you’re familiar with the light and layout of potential scenes. This saguaro is one I drive by frequently. I know when it’s blooming and took advantage of soft light to capture the buds and blossoms.

Educational Benefits and Learning New stuff

  • The opportunity to know your hometown better than ever by purposefully exploring it with a photographic intent. I was surprised to learn that southern Arizona has a large collection of ancient rock art.
  • Explore different genres of photography. You’ll never run out of possibilities. The image below is an experiment with high-key monochrome.
  • Originality might flourish and you’ll enjoy it.  Searching for new light in places that have NOT been extensively explored yet by other photographers can often yield unique and rewarding images.  This is an abstract image of elevator lights reflected in elevator walls in a downtown apartment complex.
  • Finding a new favorite spot that you can return to repeatedly as the light changes.  Different light, different seasons, and different weather that in the end provide an entire series of unique images. This viewpoint has yielded numerous photos of different cloud formations over the Catalina Mountains on the north edge of Tucson.
  • The chance get to know the subject well.  Watch and photograph some plant, animal, or location frequently to determine the best times to photograph it. This low-hanging rainbow is from the same location as the image above, and was somewhat predictable given my familiarity with this place.
  • Practice makes perfect.   Test and become an expert at using a new camera, lens, or other gear.  Learn new techniques.  Try out the camera’s less commonly used settings.  Maybe even shoot video.  What you learn locally in terms of taking pictures can be used globally when you do travel, and it’s much easier to practice frequently close to home. Bob Hills honed his astrophotography over several years of shooting the night sky in the nearby desert learning new lighting techniques and the local movement of the Milky Way in the process.

Social Benefits

  • New friends to photograph with.  Someone or even lots of people from the local camera club might want to join you.  You will be surprised how many people like to shoot the same thing you do. Corollary—if you don’t like their company, you’re not stuck with them an entire week.
  • Less time away from family and friends if they don’t take pictures.  Corollary—more quality time with family and friends if they do take pictures. This image was from a downtown walk with photography friends where there was also the opportunity to eat and socialize.
  • Easier and more fun to share images with neighbors and friends who will likely have a shared sense of place for the images you show them. My neighbor and I were both shooting this scene from our homes as smoke from a forest fire created unusual sunrise conditions.

Environmental Benefits

  • Decidedly greener.  Local photography requires less travel via transportation (automobiles and airplanes) that burn fossil fuels.  Even greener, carpool or take public transportation when possible.  Even greener still, just shoot within walking distance of your home. These night-blooming Cereus cactus flowers were discovered just over my back wall a couple of years after moving to Tucson. They only bloom for one night each year.

Approaches to shooting locally

  • First and foremost, believe in your local environment and that it’s full of photographs just waiting to be discovered. Keep an open mind and be ready to work with what whatever the light may offer. Wild flowers were on Bob Hills’ agenda this day, but it turned out Nature was doing seed pods instead.
  • Think big. “Big” might be as simple as something large in scale (e.g. clouds in the sky or a tall building) or “big” might be something that shows how small we humans are in the grand scheme of the universe.
  • Think small.  Your local environment probably has plenty of macro images once you take the time to look for them. These saguaro cactus flower buds were found in nearby Sabino Canyon.
  • Choose subjects that change constantly or frequently such as people, clouds, or local festivals. The annual “All Souls Procession” provides new opportunities each year to practice street photography.
  • Use a different style.  Switch from color to monochrome.  Or shoot hand-held instead of using a tripod. This University of Arizona building is meant to mimic a slot canyon, so the colors are quite interesting. But looking at the shapes and textures in black and white reveals additional possibilities.
  • Look for unique compositions.  Patterns, shadows, and abstracts, for example. This is a yucca plant growing beside my garage.
  • Try a completely different subject.  Photograph people if you’re used to photographing nature.  Try architecture instead of animals.  Downtown Tucson has some surprisingly interesting buildings.
  • Experiment with different techniques when shooting.  Think iPhone, unusual angles, or different camera settings. Bob Hills found the the right shutter speed during blue hour that froze parts of the scene and blurred other elements with their motion.
  • Experiment with post-processing. There’s no shortage of plug-ins and YouTube videos to get you started, but the best results still come from images that have meaning to you and reflect your style. In the image below, Bob Hills applied a watercolor effect to a photo of a nearby monastery. Here’s a download for watercolor effects and another one for sketch effects that offer lots of options to personalize the end results.
  • Visit local attractions and events, like museums, farmers markets, zoos, special events, and concerts.  Many of these provide tremendous insight to the local culture. Take your camera and see what you find. Bob Hills has a fantastic gallery of Native American dancers from nearby Pow Wow events.
  • Join a camera club. The group will help you improve your photography and find new places to take pictures. Bob Hill’s picture below is from a camera club field trip to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum north of Tucson
  • Try still-life images that you either find or set up. Bruce Bartholomew created an image based on his sister’s haiku:
Back in the kitchen
Drawn by the dark force, seeking
Finding chocolate
  • Change the light. Use filters, refractive elements in front of the lens, camera movement, blur, flash . . . whatever you can think of. Adding artificial light to the foreground often improves night-sky photography.
  • Give yourself an assignment like a building, an event, an overlook, an animal, a place, a person, a plant, or any subject that interests you.  Visit and photograph often and create a photo essay of what it feels like to interact with this subject. The image below is from a six-image series that starts here. All the images were taken at the Environmental Sciences building on the University of Arizona campus .

In addition to helping generate these lists, Bruce Bartholomew and Bob Hills also provided images for this post, and their contributions are noted and appreciated. However, lists like these are never complete. If you have additional ideas or recollections of how you benefited from or approached local light in your locale, please feel free to share them in the comments section.

TK7 Go panel workflow

panel with version number

Sean Bagshaw has an excellent video that demonstrates how the new TK7 Go module can easily fit into your processing workflow. It’s part of his TK7 Video Guide series and is linked at the bottom of this post. It’s not meant to show every feature in the Go module, but does cover a lot of territory on what’s available. He also touches on some important decision-making aspects of using masks and shows how to create and use them efficiently. Here are some of the highlights.

The mental checklist. This is a really nice review on how to decide what type of mask to use, or even if a mask is needed at all. Basically, deciding what you want to accomplish is an important first step in choosing the best tool to achieve that goal.

Experimentation is sometimes necessary. The best type of pixel-value mask (luminosity, color, zone, channel, saturation, or vibrance), isn’t always obvious. You might try one mask and find it’s not ideal. If that happens, don’t give up. As Sean demonstrates, it’s easy to switch to a different type of mask with the Go module, and there’s a good chance there will one that matches the areas of the image you want to select.

The targeted adjustment tool is your friend. Once you find a mask that works and have created an adjustment layer with the mask as a layer mask, the targeted-adjustment tool makes the necessary adjustment easy. Simply choose the tool in the Properties panel and then click and drag on the image. The tool finds the matching color or tone in the image and dragging on the image makes the adjustment. Curves, Hue/Saturation, and Black and White adjustment layers offer the targeted adjustment tool.

The mask calculator is cool. I’m always impressed at how combining different types of masks using this calculator can create some very useful masks that would be hard to achieve without it. It does take a little practice to think in terms of selected areas instead of numbers when using the mask calculator, but once you see how it works, a whole new level of custom masks becomes available. As Sean shows in the video, the subtract function is one of the most useful calculations. Be sure to give it a try.

Image processing with masks is incremental. Using pixel-value masks is not a one-click approach to image development. Each mask is usually combined with just one step in the process, and it’s the combination of several masks and steps that creates the final image. The Go module makes generating and using complex masks easy, but you’ll still spend some time deciding how things flow. Because of this hands-on approach, the final image reflects your individual sense of how this photograph should look and what it conveys to the viewer. In the end, it’s your vision that these masks make possible.

I’m sure you’ll enjoy this video and I hope it gives you new ideas for using pixel-value masks and the Go module to develop your images.

Be sure to subscribe to Sean’s YouTube channel for more videos about photography and digital processing.

TK7: Update 2020

The updated TK7 panel is now available. This is a major update for 2020 that was released on July 1 and starts version 2.0 for the TK7 panel. A subsequent bug fix (version 2.0.1) was released roughly a week later (July 6 and 7) to provide a workaround for changes Adobe introduced in the latest version of Photoshop 2020 v21.2.

Previous customers should have received an email from Sean Bagshaw or me detailing update options and providing appropriate discount codes. These update emails were sent on July 1 and July 2. Be sure to check your junk/spam folder for these dates if you didn’t receive update information. My MailChimp server indicates about 20% of these emails are still unopened. If you can’t find it, contact Sean if you originally purchased from him or contact me if you purchased from me.

If you downloaded the updated panel from July 1 through July 6, before I fixed the bug, you were sent a additional download info for updating to version 2.0.1 on July 6 or 7. Again, you may need to check spam/junk folder. If you didn’t receive the new download link for the bug fix, you can also download again using your original download link. That original link now downloads the bug-fixed version of the panel, version 2.0.1. A fresh download will contain the new installer that removes your previous installation and installs the latest version of the panel. The Go module will say “TK7 v 2.0.1” if you have the most up-to-date version of the TK7 panel installed. I apologize for the inconvenience required by this bug fix, but it didn’t show up until Photoshop 2020 v21.2 was released on June 15, and since most people are unaffected by it, it wasn’t well reported until after the new TK7 update was released. Once I could predictably replicate it, I coded a workaround and released it as version 2.0.1.

panel with version number

Despite having to rectify an unexpected bug that showed up in Photoshop 2020, I’m still very excited about the latest update of the TK7 panel. In addition to keeping all the previous modules and features, it adds the new Go module for making pixel-based masks and several new features in the Combo and Cx modules. The videos at the bottom of this post review and demonstrate some of them.

The Go module is certainly the biggest change. It provides an entirely new way to make pixel-based masks, like luminosity masks. It’s still very fast at generating masks and it still makes 16-bit masks, but it has a new layout to simplify the entire process of generating, modifying, and then deploying these masks. Some of its features are listed below.

  • A distinctive interface for each of the different types of masks (luminosity presets, Zone masks, Infinity Color masks, Saturation and Vibrance masks, My Channels masks, and calculated masks).
  • New Zone masks that provide new ways to control zone width and brightness plus linear Zone mask presets.
  • Color presets for Infinity Color masks and a new method to adjust color mask brightness.
  • More output options on the main interface eliminates the need to open a menu to access common deployment methods. These now include the ability to generate common adjustment layers and also to quickly set up burning and dodging by painting through luminosity masks.

I see the Go module as an evolution of the RapidMask module. Go has most of the same functions, but with a simpler interface that’s easier to learn and navigate and with more core functions accessible directly from the front of the panel.

The Combo and Cx modules have also been significantly improved in this update.

panel with version number

New features include:

  • Live-clipping in order to view when highlights and shadows clip as you’re adjusting the image or when burning and dodging.
  • A dedicated “Apply” button for interfacing with the Channels panel to easily apply channel masks as layer masks or to load them as selections.
  • An image-mask toggle button to switch between viewing the image and the layer mask with no shortcut keys.
  • New actions: Soft Pop and Paint Contrast.
  • User actions that are easier to set up and access.
  • Buttons that can be reprogrammed and renamed to run the user’s actions instead of the button’s default action.
  • Color-tagging for buttons and menu items to help you find your favorites faster.

These new features in Combo and Cx will add improved capability and efficiency within your Photoshop workflow

The videos below review the new features and show how they work.

NOTE: I’ve been working on this update for nearly a year and could not have done it without the input and help from many people. These includes my affiliates: Sean Bagshaw, Rafael Coutinho, Antonio Prado, Roy Yuan, Isabella Tabacchi, and Andre Distel. Bruce Bartholomew was a major contributor in providing new ideas, proofreading, and suggesting improvement. Watching Steve Dell use the panel was also extremely useful in seeing how it worked for others and ways it could be improved. Email conversations with Gerald Vincent also led to improvements. In addition, there were countless emails, conversations, and YouTube videos that triggered new ideas that found their way into various parts of the panel. I am sincerely grateful for the network of photographers who use the panel and provide feedback on how to make it better.

TK7 update information

This is just a quick post to let you know that I’m in the process of releasing a major update to the TK7 panel. Over the next week I’ll be emailing previous customers with update options. Please watch for this information. It might end up in your junk/spam folder, so be sure to check there.

Unfortunately, my download server will likely NOT be able to keep up with all the requests for free updates. TK7 purchases within the previous 12-month period are slated to get a free update. That means, at least initially, there will be some days when you might not be able to get a free update once the limit for free updates is exceeded. If that happens, please try again the following day. I’ll apologize in advance for this inconvenience. I purchased additional server capacity, so it should only be for the first few days. Previous customers outside the 12-month free-update period will get a 50% discount. These will not be affected; only free updates are limited by the download server.

I’m really excited about this update and think you will be too. There’s more information coming soon. Releasing updates is a very busy time and there are always plenty of questions. I’ll post additional information next week once I’ve contacted everyone and am sure the download server is able to keep up. Please be patient until then and be sure you’re subscribed to get the latest information.

NOTE: To install the updated version, just run the installer file in the fresh download. It will remove the old modules and install the new ones.