Posts Tagged ‘Understanding Exposure’

Color theory is all fine and good, but how can IPO photographers use color effectively in their images? We may not have control over the setting as landscape, commercial and portrait photographers do, but we can be aware of the setting we are in and take advantage of the colors that are there. We also can educate handlers and helpers about their clothing choices to create the best chance for getting the shot.

Consider the following examples:

Colors in IPO-1

This is one of my favorite images and has been featured in recent posts. The story here is a puppy contemplating his future life. The green says calmness and serenity, but the puppy’s expression is not all that calm and serene. He’s way too serious and just a bit worried! The red collar draws the viewer’s eye up towards the puppy’s face.

Colors in IPO-2

This is another favorite image, which like the image above features red and green, along with blue. This is a classic color combination! I would recommend this color combination to any handler. Also, notice the yellows in the background; nice highlights to what otherwise might be a boring, monochromatic background.

Colors in IPO-3

This image was taken in the winter, at a field devoid of much color. In taking this image, I choose to frame the dog and handler to the left of the yellow blind. The power pole also provides a frame, but I usually prefer to take power poles out as they are not very attractive. What is cool about this image is how the yellow strip on the handler’s arm picks up the yellow from the blind. His shirt also is a nice contrast to the background and his dog, as are his khaki pants. Another good color combination for handlers. Notice the handler by the blind kind of disappears into the background, thanks to dressing in black. That’s okay for this image, but might not work as well as the primary subject. More about dressing in black a bit later in this post.

Colors in IPO-4

This is another example of a winter scene. The pasture’s grass features various shades of orange, along with a bit of green here and there. I like how the brightness of the grass allows the dog to stand out from the background. It is monochromatic, but it works, because it’s unusual to see shades of orange in a grass pasture and the color tones and shades are harmonious.

Colors in IPO-5

Back to summer. Green grass provides a wonderful contrast for black dogs! Taking this image from a position that shows the dog against the green grass and not right up against the helper, who is also in black, captures the action without muddying things up. There is also some red along the fence line, which adds a little interest and framing.

Although handlers and helpers love to wear black, it isn’t a great choice for photography as there is no contrast. Remember, black absorbs all light. As a result, a black dog and the handler’s and/or helper’s leg will likely meld together, without much definition or detail.

This is also true for white, which reflects all light. Very often, the white tends to blow out and all definition and detail is lost, not only in the white area, but also in the surround pixels. Many times, I will expose for the dog and then in post-processing separately adjust different areas of the image, such as the dog, the handler and the background. It takes more time, but it’s worth it, especially with those “money” shots.

Colors in IPO-6

This image is a very good example of a monochromatic image. I really like the image of the dog, but the background and dog are a little too close in color. As a result, the dog tends to blend in with the background. The white along the dogs chest, neck and muzzle offers a nice contrast, however. For this image, consider placing the dog on another background or change the background color in post-processing.

Colors in IPO-7

Puppies are fun to photograph as they have great expressions. The puppy stands out nicely from the green grass, but also notice the puppies hazel eyes.  Are you seeing a pattern here of how a single color can provide a focal point and/or highlight?

Colors in IPO-8

And, finally, this image illustrates what happens when a black dog and a helper in black are photographed one on top of the other. It’s hard to see the differentiation between the dog and the helper’s leg. It is good that the field and trees contrast with the helper and dog.

In closing, I encourage you to take the time to survey the field and think about how to use the available color to enhance your images. I also encourage you to explain to handlers and helpers how wearing contrasting colors to their dogs really helps you take high quality, dramatic images of their work. Helpers may not have a lot of options, as scratch pants most often come only in black, but handlers do!  It’s worth mentioning, even if they do look at you like you’re nuts.

Until next time, Happy Shooting!


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This past week I had an opportunity to photograph dogs, cats and other critters at a friend’s farm. She also owns the kennel where our dogs stay when we’re traveling to places dogs cannot go. The purpose of the photo shoot was to grab some great shots for my BJ Spanos Ink Photography portfolio. The added benefit, though, is I was reminded of how paying attention to depth of field can add an artsy look to photos as well as remove distractions.

How many times have you taken a photo of a Schutzhund (IPO) dog at work and realized that not only is the dog in focus, but so is everything else in the field of view (see image below). I’ve taken plenty – more than I care to remember! Tends to be rather distracting, doesn’t it? The viewer’s focus is diffused over the entire image rather than drawn into the focal point, which in this case is the dog going over the one-meter hurdle.

Depth of Field-11

There’s a reason I used the word “diffused” to describe the viewer’s experience, as it directly relates to depth of field. Consider the image below.

Depth of Field-10

The background is diffused, and the dog and helper are in focus as is a bit of the foreground. The viewer’s eye is drawn right to the action, even though there’s a bit of interest in the upper right with the horses grazing. It adds a bit of symmetry to the image.

As a review, depth of field is the area of acceptable focus or sharpness. It extends from the nearest to the farthest part of the subject area in focus. Depth of field is controlled via the aperture and focal length of the lens. As you know, changing the aperture size directly affects the overall sharpness of the image. A small aperture, say f/11 or f/16, results in a deeper depth of field than a large aperture, say f/2.8 or f/5. The wider open the aperture, the shallower the depth of field; that is, the less area is within the zone of focus. What this means is at wider apertures, the subject will be in focus, but the area in front and behind the subject may be softly focused and/or even have a nice blur effect, called bokeh.

For a detailed explanation of depth of field and lens focal length, I refer you to Robert Hirsch’s book Light and Lens: Photography for a Digital Age. An earlier post from December 2010, entitled Using Aperture and Shutter Speed Creatively, also offers a good review and discusses how to balance ISO, aperture and shutter speed to get creative images. This post relies heavily on Bryan Peterson’s expertise. Worth re-reading in conjunction with this post.

Back to this week’s photo shoot. Much of the photo shoot took place in a hay field with very tall grass and just letting our two dogs, Kira and Brio, be dogs. They did not disappoint.

Depth of Field-1

This image of Brio showed me how cool “hay on the hoof” looks with a soft focus. It has a neat texture. Yet, Brio is kind of lost in the brush. So, with a bit of cropping, he becomes much more the focal point.

Depth of Field-3

The next image is Kira in the hay and shows the textured look of the blurred out background even better. Also, notice the foreground is blurred too, so that only the area around Kira is totally in focus, especially her face and the ball.

Depth of Field-5

To close out this post are a few additional examples from the photo shoot of how using depth of field can add drama to images, while minimizing distracting backgrounds. They feature two of our friend’s five dogs, one of her 11 cats and one of her three horses, plus a neighbor’s horse. I particularly like the image of the pit bull mix coming into the field of focus, like he’s jumping right out of the picture. So, the next time  you’re out shooting, remember depth of field is more than just getting the subject into focus. It can add interest and drama to your images and help focus the viewer (yea – I know – a pun!). Until next time, Happy Shooting!

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Striking a balance so both the dog and the field are properly exposed is a continuing challenge for Schutzhund photographers. While this topic has been explored in earlier posts, one aspect that has yet to be discussed in any great degree is contrast. What is contrast and is it friend or foe to Schutzhund photography? The Digital Photography School blog has a very good post about contrast and explains the concept very simply:

  • Contrast: The difference between dark and light
  • High Contrast: An extreme difference between dark and light
  • Low Contrast: A gradual or lesser difference between dark and light
  • Colour Contrast: Tonal differences, as well as Saturation levels, of colours
  • High Key: Mostly light including whites
  • Low Key: Mostly darks including blacks
  • No Contrast: Is a Whiteout in the Antarctic and very dangerous. Best advice is return to Base Station.

I really like that definition for “No Contrast”, having just been to Antarctica and photographed floating ice (see images below). These images show how different floating ice can look in different lighting conditions and contexts.

In Antarctica as on the Schutzhund field, it is important to remember that white reflects while black absorbs light. Schutzhund fields often are very bright and reflect light, while dark sable and black dogs absorb light. On cloudy days, when everything seems murky, dark sable and black dogs can turn out very muddy and blobs – again they are absorbing available light, which on these days isn’t very much. There is not enough light to provide contrast. Photographers love light overcast, which tends to neutralize the very bright sunlight and provide more even lighting.

Reflective light may play games with color balance, such as a bright blue sky may add more blue to the picture. This was certainly true in Antarctica, where some photos seemed too cool and needed to be warmed up with respect to white balance, in other words remove some of the blue (see Images 5, 6, 8 and 9, which show before and after adjustments). In other photos, in order to get the rest of the photo properly exposed, I elected to let part of the floating ice be very white and reflective (see Images 1, 2, 4 and 10). While it would be nice to have toned some of this down, it is – in fact – pretty close to what we saw.

It is easy to assume that ice and snow are all white, but in actuality ice has a myriad of colors, especially glacial ice, which has many shades of blue, some of which seem to glow!  Also, ice and snow pick up debris and sometimes have penguins and seals handing out. Images 7, 11, 12 and 13 are good examples.

I really like Image 3 as it offers an excellent balance and a lot of detail. It was taken later when the sun was low, providing a very colorful sky and soft light on the ice berg. The sea was dark, which offered a nice contrast.

Going back to the Digital Photography School blog post, here are a few practical tips for “getting the most contrast in a scene”:

  • Shoot with the narrowest aperture possible for light conditions
  • Shoot with the fastest shutter speed possible for light conditions

Also, use your camera’s exposure compensation, adding dark to dark and light to light to help with getting proper exposure. Some photographers also rely heavily on histograms. The next post will take a more in-depth look at histograms and will be up in early March, following the Greater Atlanta Schutzhund Association annual trial on February 23 and 24.

Until then – Happy Shooting!

Floating Ice 1

Floating Ice 1

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Taking dramatic photographs of Schutzhund dogs at work that stop the action cold, in focus and with the proper exposure is no mean feat, as all Schutzhund photographers can attest. For any one photographic opportunity, there are many challenges, such as lighting conditions, dog coat colors, handler clothing colors, background distractions and the nature of the sport. Understanding the relationship between aperture, ISO and shutter speed, and not just relying on your camera’s automated settings, will allow you adapt to changing condition while capturing creative and dramatic images.

After taking tens of thousands of images of Schutzhund dogs over the past six years, I still get confused about this relationship. It’s a concept that just does not come easily to me. My cousin, Nick Piesco, referred me to CameraSim – The Online SLR Simulator where you can adjust the lighting, distance, focal length, ISO, aperture and shutter speed in aperture priority, shutter speed priority or manual modes. After you make your adjustments, you can “take the photo”, see your results and then go back and try again. I found it extremely helpful. I also refer you to several previous posts that address the aperture, shutter speed and ISO:

To cement this concept in my brain, I am experimenting with keeping ISO, shutter speed or aperture at one setting and varying the other two settings. This week, I used aperture priority, which kept the aperture at f/4.5, f/5.0 or f/5.6 (most photos were at f/5.0). My goal was to try different ISO and shutter speeds to confirm which worked best under bright sunny summer conditions in Georgia at these aperture settings.

Photography experts recommend keeping the ISO setting as low as possible to minimize noise in the images. Ideal is between 100 and 400. Great advice, but fast action requires fast shutter speeds, which also means pushing the ISO up. These same experts say that 1/500 shutter speed should be sufficient to stop action.  Experience has taught me, however, that I get better results at 1/640 or higher, so that’s where I started the day.

On this particular day, I shot with a Canon EOS 7D camera, with a Canon 70-300mm DO IS USM 1:4.5 – 5.6 lens. In addition to a UV filter, I also use a ProMaster Digital Circular Polarizer filter on sunny days, which I find helps cut the glare on the Schutzhund field and enhances the colors.

The first photo below was taken with an ISO set at 200 and 1/640 shutter speed at f/5.6. The photo is in focus, but it’s dark and the color over saturated, which may be a function in part of using a circular polarizer to cut the glare on the field. I adjusted the photo in Lightroom (second image below), but the dog’s face is still a bit fuzzy and muted.

Here is a photo of the same handler and dog taken with ISO set at 400 and 1/640 shutter speed at f/5.0. The dog’s ears and muzzle still are not as sharp as I would like, but the photo overall has a more balanced, pleasing look.

The softness of focus, however, adds an interesting, impressionistic touch to this image of this dog zipping down the field, which was taken at ISO 400, 1/640 at f/5.0.

Just for kicks, I upped the shutter speed to 1/800 for the first image below. ISO was set at 400 and the aperture was f/5.6. This second photo was also taken at the same ISO and shutter speed at f/5.0. In my experience – and it may not make intuitive sense – I find that even at higher shutter speeds camera shake becomes an issue, especially when I shoot in burst mode and follow the dog (pan).  An upcoming post will look at the pros and cons of using a monopod or tripod in Schutzhund photography. Conversely, the third photo demonstrates my results at setting the ISO at 800, the shutter speed at 1/640 at f/5.0.

Another significant challenge we all face is changing lighting conditions. A dark cloud passed over when I took the photo below, with the sun shining on the background. The ISO was set at 400, shutter speed at 1/640 and aperture at f/4.5. Only thing to do is to be aware of the cloud cover and get ready to make some quick adjustments to compensate! Knowing what settings work for a cloudy day will allow you to make quick adjustments, without missing a shot.

The final two photos demonstrate a technique for photographing dark-coated dogs that has served me well time and again. In the first photo, the dog looks great, but the background is a little over exposed. The second photo illustrates the results after making a few adjustments in Lightroom. The lesson here is to set the camera for the darkest element in the photo, in this case the dog, and adjust the rest via photo editing. Be careful, though, not to over expose the rest of the photo so much that you won’t have anything to work with later.

I must confess that I welcome the chance to photograph dogs that have lighter coats, as shown in these two images. They really stand out!  But then, you might say, “Where is the challenge? And, besides most working dogs have darker coats.” Okay, you got me there!

Seriously, I would be very interested in hearing from you about your experiences! Please post a comment or send me a message. Thank you for visiting.

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Editor’s Note: Dee Clark has graciously come to this blogger’s rescue by penning a guest post on photographing puppies and young dogs. With integrating our new German Shepherd Dog, Brio (Baccardi Liquido) into our pack, a whole lot of travel in June, including a couple of unexpected trips, life has been a bit chaotic. Thank you, Dee, for sharing your experience on how to photograph puppies and young dogs!

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Photographing puppies and young dogs is like trying to capture lightning in a bottle. They are very unpredictable and you never know when that great image opportunity may strike. To get great shots, you will need patience and be ready to click that shutter, as the moment can come and go as quick as lightning.

Other important tools, besides your camera and lens, are an assistant, treats and a repertoire of interesting noises to gain the attention of your subjects. Puppies and young dogs, although wonderfully fun to watch, have an amazing capacity for “attention deficit disorder (ADD).” They also may be so focused on you – the photographer – that they will not leave you alone or get far enough away from you to take pictures.

The following are some key points to remember when trying to capture lightning in a bottle:

  • Have an assistant; kids are great for this!!
  • Check the lighting and get your camera set for optimal exposure. Also, scope out the area for good backgrounds and optimal lighting conditions.
  • A set environment helps; for example, obstacles for exploration, a kiddie pool, giant ball, wheelbarrow or large rocks. Again, be mindful of what is in the background and what items could be hazardous.
  • Let the puppies get the “zoomies” out when you first take them outside, but have the camera at the ready. It also is good time to take some test shots and adjust your settings, if necessary. If your camera has a burst mode, use it.
  • Have a basket or pile of toys in a central area for the pups to access. Puppies actively engaged in play inspire some wonderful facial expressions.
  • If you have a trustworthy adult dog available, let h/she mingle with the puppies, as the dog will help keep them moving. It will also help the pups settle to capture close headshots.
  • Hungry puppies will respond better to the pocketful of treats that you and your assistant will have on you.
  • Keep squeaky toys on you, too, which you can use to grab a pup’s attention quickly. These toys are particularly useful for getting photos where the puppy looks perplexed.
  • Be mindful of where your feet are. When moving shuffle your feet, as your eye is trained through the lens, and you cannot usually keep track of where all the puppies are. Stepping on a puppy or being jumped on by a young dog is never good J
  • Wrap that camera strap tightly around your wrist!! Puppies of all ages see the strap as a tug toy!

Use your assistant well! Stand or sit back, and let your assistant to entice and engage the puppies. This will allow you to become the observer. If you do not have an assistant, then you will need to find ways to keep the puppies attention on toys or other objects so that you can move out of the way to get the shots. Small smears of peanut butter on toys or objects will almost always get the puppies to ignore you and your movements. After awhile, you usually can see the pups settle into their litter games and you can shoot away. This is a lot easier when it is not your own litter that you are trying to shoot.

When photographing puppies and young dogs, ages four months and older, puppy ADD is even higher. They might know how to sit for a treat, but puppies and young dogs rarely know how to hold the sit so that you can get into position for the shot. Again, an assistant or an older well-trained dog is helpful. You will find most of your photos are action shots, unless the puppy(s) or young dog(s) you are photographing has some training. Having an array of vocalizations you can use to get a pup’s attention really helps.

With respect to young dogs, action is the word! Having someone play ball or throw toys allows you to focus on the movement and your location in reference to the action to get the best shots. Side views and head on shots are great! These photos usually require that you be low to the ground. To add interest to your photos, have your assistant use objects with an array of sizes and colors to elicit movement.

Don’t forget to take frequent breaks, which will help you regain patience and allow the pup(s) to focus back on natural play. Again, keep the camera handy as this is when you usually get those shots you were looking for, but did not think would ever happen.

Puppies and young dogs are unpredictable and lightning fast. Getting them to do what you want to get that perfect shot is very difficult for us and for them. You can spend hours with the camera at the ready, snap thousands of shots, and maybe only getting 10 shots you actually like. It all comes down to patience. I liken puppy and young dog photography to sitting on the Serengeti waiting for the lioness to appear to cut a gazelle out of the herd. Sometimes it just never happens, but when it does – be ready – a great photo is at hand!

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Master Photographer Peter Lik takes his best pictures just after sunrise and just before sunset when the suns rays are barely visible and the lighting is very soft and full of color. He also bemoans shooting midday as the light is harsh, colors wash out and it is difficult to capture detail. While Peter will get no argument from me about shooting in the midday sun, we Schutzhund photographers do not often have the luxury of photographing our subjects in ideal lighting conditions or standing still.

A challenging scenario is bright midday sun and dark sable or black dogs, especially at trials. It is enough to make even the most stable photographer go barking mad! The following offers some tips that I hope will be helpful and keep you from howling in frustration.

My thanks to Betty Lindblom of 5 Dogs Photography for her advice, which is reflected in this post. By the way, if you’re not familiar with Peter’s work, I recommend checking out his website or better yet stop in at one of his galleries to view some amazing landscape photography. We have visited a couple of them in our travels; truly inspiring.

Always be aware of the sun’s angle and the background.  More so than any other time of the year, your position relative to the sun and the background are critical considerations for getting great shots. The sun’s rays are stronger, vertical during midday hours, more intense in the summer and reflect off of everything! See the photos below. Notice how the detail of the dog is lost among the brightness of the wood background in the first photo and how the grass and sky serve as massive reflectors in the second photo to wash out the helper and the dog. In addition, the very bright sky throws off the camera’s ability to produce a balanced exposure. I often use a circle polarizer filter  or neutral density filters to minimize the glare and enhance colors. Also, try to shoot at a slight angle to the subject. Take a lot of photos and be patient. Between the hours of 11 am and 3 pm, there really is not much you can do about the harsh lighting. Resign yourself to taking a lot of photos, with slightly different settings, and realize that more photos than not may turn out over exposed, with focus problems or the dog will be a black blob.

Focus in tight. The next photo shows how going for a tighter shot takes away the problems produced by the sky and large reflective backgrounds, such as grass, buildings or wood platforms, leaving a much better exposure with good detail, color and contrast. A little touch up with the dodge and burn tools in Photoshop was all that was needed to give this photo a little extra punch. The dodge tool allows for selective lightening, while the burn tool allows for selective darkening. Very useful for toning down bright spots or adding in some color depth, without having to do a lot of detailed selections and time-consuming layer adjustments.

More About Angles. Shadows produced by the blind itself are a major challenge especially during the summer months. The first photo below has many of the same problems already discussed, but by shooting from a position where the lighting is fairly even in the blind – more from the side – the shadows are minimized. With cropping and some adjustments with the dodge and burn tools, the second photo is much better. Another reason why I like the dodge and burn tools is overall adjustments do not work well when part of the image is very bright and part is very dark. To me, the results seem to mute the color and vibrance of the photo.

Contrasting handler’s clothes with the dog’s coat color. Many handlers think it’s cool to wear black slacks when training or showing their dog in trial. This is not necessarily the best costume for garnishing great photos, especially in the summer. Think about it! Dark or black dog against black pants, how is the camera to distinguish one from another? Encourage handlers to wear slacks that contrast with their dog’s coloring. Blue jeans and tan khakis work very well for dark sable or black dogs. See the photo below.

Portraits in the sun – well maybe not.  This time of year is ideal for taking portraits. Look for even lighting conditions, such as shade with maybe a little bit of sun coming through the trees for a dappling effect. Again, be aware of the sun’s angle and shoot at a slight angle to the dog with the sun over your shoulder. If you are shooting in bright light, again shoot at an angle. Try not to have the sun directly front light the dog as you may lose color and detail. Dogs, especially dark sable or black dogs, look great in green grass, but watch out for color reflections on their fur. If at all possible, take portrait shots early or late in the day. See below for several examples.

Do you have any tips you can offer? Share them here or let me know for a future post. Thank you for visiting!

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One of the hardest concepts for me to understand is aperture and how to use these settings creatively in Schutzhund photography. Aperture settings allow more or less light in through the lens to the digital sensor. That is straight forward enough. But the challenge for me is the settings themselves are not intuitive.

Unlike ISO and shutter speed, aperture settings (or f-stops) are not linear, but fractional. With each full stop, the amount of light entering the camera either doubles or is reduced by 50 percent. Many cameras offer one-third stop intervals in addition to full-stop intervals.  The smallest aperture settings (1.4, 2, 2.8 or 4, depending on the lens) let in the greatest amount of light. Conversely, the largest settings (16, 22 or 32) let in the least amount of light.

What I have discovered is balancing aperture, ISO and shutter speed is a lot like Schutzhund; there is no one rule or method to achieve a desired goal. For each correct exposure, there are at least six different aperture settings, each of which will change how the image appears. This is because different aperture settings have a direct impact on the image’s depth of field; that is, what and how much of the image is in focus.

With smaller or wide open aperture settings (2.8, 4 or 5.6), only the light that falls on the focused subject will be rendered as sharp (shallow depth of field). The rest of the scene will be unfocused or “splattered” across the sensor, so the background appears as blobs, blurs and blips. At the other end of the spectrum (larger aperture settings), the light entering the lens is much less, which results is a greater area of sharpness and detail (greater depth of field).

In his books, Understanding Exposure and Learning to See Creatively, Bryan Peterson offers a great explanation of how all this work, along with how to use exposure creatively. The following is a very brief summary of seven creative exposure options he describes in his books:

  • Small apertures (16, 22 and 32) are the creative force behind storytelling exposures – images that have a beginning (the foreground), the middle (where the main subject is) and an end (or a backdrop, such as a sky). The middle is the area of sharpest focus. Using this option also requires careful composition.
  • Large apertures (2.8, 4 or 5.6) are the creative force behind singular theme or isolation exposures – images where focus is limited to a specific area of the image, leaving the rest blurry (a shallow depth of field).
  • Middle apertures (8 and 11) are what Bryan calls the “Who cares?” exposures – those in which of the depth of field is of no concern.
  • Fast shutters speeds (1/250, 1/500, 1/1000 sec) stop the action cold.
  • Slow shutter speeds (1/30, 1/15) are the creative force behind panning – images where the subject is in focus but the background gives the impression of fast movement.
  • Super slow shutter speeds (1/4, ½ and 1) imply motion.
  • Super close up or macro – images with extremely shallow depth of field.

This past Saturday at the GASA club, I took up the challenge and experimented with combining different aperture and shutter speed settings to create some really neat effects. I kept the ISO between 100 and 400, depending on whether the sun was shining or behind clouds.  I varied the aperture and shutter speed settings, and I switched back and forth between aperture and shutter priority modes. The slowest shutter speed I used was 1/250. The very slow shutter speeds really are not practical for fast moving dogs, unless you are going for a impressionist painting effect. I will have to try that sometime when I have a tripod handy. I end this post with a slide show of some of my favorites.

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