Thursday, December 6, 2007

Elephant Seals and HDR

Jon Canfield led the class about 30 miles up the coast to the Piedras Blancas elephant seal rookery. If you have never seen these unbelievably large marine mammals, it is time to visit. Great information may be found at

It is still early in the "active" season but we witnessed multiple battles between Alpha bulls, juveniles playing, and a whole bunch of sleeping.

The images displayed today are high dynamic range (HDR) shots of the seals. I took three exposures of each subject (0, -2, and +2) with a hand held Canon 40D and 100-400 lens. The shots were combined to a 32-bit HDR file and processed with Photomatix Pro. After processing, the resultant 16-bit TIFFs were returned to Photoshop for additional work.

We are back in the digital darkroom today covering the Lightroom print module. By later in the day, the lab's 2400s, 3800s, 4800s, and 7800 will be humming.


Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Got Waves?

Jon Canfield is here this week shooting and teaching RAW Workflow in Photoshop and Lightroom. Huge winter swell hit and Los Osos had waves breaking from 15-25 feet. We, of course, had to take advantage of the elements.

There has been a large amount going on in and around The Institute. The studio space is painted and waiting for the flooring experts. Jon Canfield is here now and Ben Willmore was around last week. Lewis Kemper will be here next Monday.

This week, Jon is focusing on the RAW format. Why to shoot it, how to shoot it, and how to process it effectively and efficiently. We are spending a part of each day shooting (yesterday was sunset, today huge waves, tomorrow elephant seals and winery, Thursday who knows.) When we return to the digital darkroom all images are imported, rated, sorted, and the processing starts. So far we have spent a majority of our time in Lightroom. I'll update you later in the week with developments.

This past weekend, we held a successful "Finishing Touches" course. The FT, for short, course covered sizing, resolution, multiple sharpening techniques, over a dozen different border options, and print optimization. With our extensive print lab we made sure all participants took some great final products home. The course went very well and we look forward to holding the FT course about once per quarter.

Ben Willmore spent last week with us teaching "Advanced Photoshop for Photographers." Yet again, Ben wowed the class with unequalled knowledge and skill. Ben will be back at least twice in 2008, once in May (tentative class is "The Digital Fine Art Nude") and once in October ("Advanced Photoshop for Photographers.) Check out Ben's blog at He also has his new photo website up at

Well, that's all for today, back to class.


Monday, November 12, 2007

Canon's new spread!


(and more!)

The last couple of weeks have been like an early Christmas for the Institute!
We just finished unpacking box after box filled with lenses, flashes and brand new camera bodies from Canon.
Canon and the Institute believe you should be able to try a high-end piece of gear before you invest your money and time on new equipment. A great philosophy to share with such a big company!

Canon believes in us and we hope our students and clients do as well.
If you come to the Institute you will have access to shoot and familiarize yourself with the following:

2 x Rebel XTis
2 x 40Ds
3 x 5Ds
2 x 1D Mark IIIs (on their way)

They also gave us around 40 lenses ranging from a 15mm fish-eye to a 65mm 1-5x Macro to a few 100mm - 400mm zooms. I have personally dreamt of shooting with the 5D since it came out and, let me tell you, I am not disappointed! I love this camera! When I saw it arrive I tried to sneak off with the box...needless to say, Hal caught me and made me return it to the inventory!

Painting by Gayle Harris

Last week, we had Fay Sirkis here teaching Animal Photo Painting. Every time Fay is here the students take so much home with them (and that doesn't even include the canvas gallery wraps of their new paintings Hal made for them.) Fay just finished taping another DVD with NAPP and her current DVD is very effective and well done! Login to NAPP and find her DVD there!

This week Jonathan Kingston is here teaching Photoshop Unlimited. Starting from RAW and working into CS3 Jonathan shows you intermediate techniques in Photoshop and RAW for the photographer. He has been using Tim Grey's book, Photoshop CS3 for Nature Photographers to reference some of the techniques that are important for all photographers to know.

Just as a side note...

Victoria was asked to photograph a local ranch which belonged to a couple of farmers a long time ago who did some incredible work throughout their lives. When they passed on, they donated everything to local orphanages and charities, being orphans themselves.
These images can be seen at Booker Winery in Paso Robles. The reception was tremendous at the winery's "Industry Night" party. Everything was shot in Infrared and stretched on Canvas. Hal stretched all 12 pieces himself with our new canvas stretcher!

We will be closed on November 22 and 23 for Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Digital Photo Essays

Hello! After a few weeks off, we are back at it. David H. Wells just finished a week on Digital Photo Essays. Once again, the class shot gig after gig around the Central Coast. Subjects included everything from tomatoes to killer sunsets (aided by smoke that drifted north from the San Diego area) to a manual grape harvest.

The highlight of the week was when the class put everything they learned into practice and created an impact series of photos from a vineyard shoot. We left Los Osos at 0615 to ensure we could catch the first light of day hitting the grapes and pickers. It was an excellent morning as the shutters clicked away. After the picking, we visited a working winery to watch as winery personnel processed grapes and recently finished wines.

Another great week at the Institute.

On a cool, new equipment note, Hoodman USA recently sent us their new RAW compact flash cards, high speed card readers, hood loupes, and right angle viewers. Their gear is very fast, extremely reliable, and made in the USA. All of the aforementioned gear is available to try here at the school. For those of you looking into the brand new Canon cameras, make sure you pick up UDMA compliant memory cards. Give us a call if you need more information.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Classes back in session!

Well colors are turning and harvest is here! We had a couple weeks off to enjoy a bit of harvest up in Paso Robles, our very own spectacular wine country! We usually hang out on 46 West which is a beautiful area for growing high quality wine grapes.

As some of you may know Hal is the assistant wine maker for Midnight Cellars and has his own wine label named Volatus. Hal has been making wine for 10 years as part of his relaxation while flying jets in the Navy.

Now that classes are back in session we will have more photos to post soon. Here are a few photos that I took up in the wine country. I practiced panoramas, infrared and macro! Techniques I took from Rob Sheppard, Frank Lavelle and George Lepp in the past few weeks inspired me to get out and look at taking photos a bit differently.

This is a winery named Booker taken in Color and in IR. Both are roughly 6-8 shots, stitched
together in Photoshop CS3.

To stitch a Panorama in Photoshop:
Go to File-> Automate->PhotoMerge
I usually choose Auto. Browse for the files you would like stitched together and press "OK". It will take a few seconds to a couple of minutes depending on how many images you have.
It will give you multiple layers on your stitched document which you can add masks to if you need to fine tune areas it missed. I would save a copy with all of the layers and then flatten to work further on it.

Infrared photographs are very interesting to play with. Our cameras are Canon D60's that were converted over to an IR sensor. It is best to take your IR photos at high noon with a lot of sunshine, and a lot of interesting clouds. The effect is amazing! You get dramatic skies and trees that look very surreal. Make sure you have it on a low ISO around 100 that way your grain won't be an issue. IR tends to have a grainy look so any help in the camera is a bonus!

Hope to see you in classes here soon!

Check our courses page often for more classes and updates

For more information on Infrared cameras, George usually recommended this website:

For information on the wine country here on the Central Coast

(the affordable Napa) follow these links:


Monday, October 1, 2007

Down Time and Expansion

Although we do not have a class in session, I wanted to update everyone on the happenings with the Institute. The big news is... we are expanding.

Beginning 01 November the Institute will include an entirely new space increasing our size from 2900 up to 4400 sq. ft. With the new square footage we will build a full sized (@850 sq. ft.) photography studio, increase our print space (we will have more area for larger printers and our canvas stretching machine,) and add retail capability for equipment from some of our sponsors.

Renovation of the space should start next week. We are extremely excited since having a studio will allow us to expand our instructor roster and offer classes devoted to studio photography whether portrait or commercial.

Take care and hope to see you here soon.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Rob Sheppard - "Impact"

We recently finished our latest course. Rob Sheppard, long-time Editor of Outdoor Photographer Magazine and current Field Editor of the same publication, taught a course on adding "Impact" to your photography.

The week featured classroom instruction, intensive shooting, review, critique, and some Photoshop impact techniques. As always the weather and scenery of California's Central Coast were beautiful.

Rob taught the class to use angle, color, and light to add big impact to photography. Each day the class had an assignment to implement what was taught in the classroom.
The morning following a shoot, each student selected images for review and critique by not only Rob but the entire class. We finished the shooting with a location session at the winery and vineyard up in Paso Robles.

Everyone had an excellent week and as Rob promised everyone left the workshop a better photographer.

Thanks again to Rob Sheppard for his advice and direction as a member of our Board of Advisors. It is absolutely essential for Victoria and I to receive such great guidance.

The Institute will be dark for about three weeks as I concentrate on the wine grape harvest in Paso Robles. As many of you know I am the assistant winemaker at Midnight Cellars ( as well as the winemaker of my own private label, Volatus ( Weather is beautiful and the grapes look great.

Cheers, Hal

Monday, September 17, 2007

What a Great Week!

We finished the Best of Lepp course on Friday. Continuing from the previous post, we started Wednesday with a location model shoot. The weather cooperated and provided us with beautiful soft light and cool temperatures. The shoot focused on lighting and flash. In addition, this was the first time many students shot models. The interaction between photographer and model is tremendously important to the final image impact. After some quick coaching, the class gave some basic direction and the models took it from there.

We spent about three hours with the models experimenting with different techniques. Although the models wore bright colors some of the best shots were taken with our infrared cameras. Great shoot!

The next few hours allowed the class to catalog and edit the shoot using either Photoshop Lightroom or the Bridge/Photoshop combo.

Mid-afternoon we were off again to the Los Osos Oaks. The small nature preserve is filled with old oak trees covered in Spanish moss. The dramatic, filtered light makes for tremendous images. George used this location to cover high dynamic range (HDR) shots.

After we captured the oaks, we took it all back to the lab for processing in either Photoshop or Photomatix Pro (provided by HDRSoft.)

Oaks with HDR. Artsy effect from Photomatix Pro.Thursday was devoted to digital darkroom work and printing until about noon. After lunch we were off again to shoot agility dogs in action. George uses the dogs to teach any and all action photography. If you can capture the dogs you can capture race cars or sports.

All day Friday was digital darkroom and printing. We printed everything from contact sheets to four foot long panoramas. Thanks again to Epson for supporting our print efforts. Espon helps us so we can ensure you learn how to print here. That way when you get home you can produce an effective print while more efficiently using your inks and media.

Thanks to all for a great week. We're looking forward to George's next class in January.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Best of Lepp

George returned to the Institute this week teaching the Best of Lepp.

Yesterday was a classroom session in which George provided the students with the prerequisite knowledge before spending the rest of the week shooting, optimizing, and printing.

We started this morning with a shoot at Montana de Oro State Park. The focus was on basic panorama technique and longer exposures of water.

Montana de Oro is located about 2 miles from the Institute's front door and offers ideal beach, surf, rock, bird, etc. shooting.

After a quick lunch break we changed gears and worked macro. Dennis Sheridan, a local photographer and critter wrangler, brought a whole slew of animals to the Institute. From an anaconda to leopard geckos to an albino ornate horned frog to huge insects and arachnids, we shot them all.

African Egg-eating Snake, with one egg in and one to go!

Today was a great day for the class and the Institute. George back after a nine month hiatus and unbelievable shooting. The quality of instruction and diversity of photographic subjects happens only here!

Photoshop World

The Institute spent last week in Las Vegas at the annual Photoshop World conference. By any measure, it was a rousing success. The booth buzzed as George Lepp, Ben Willmore, Eddie Tapp, Randy Hufford, Tim Grey, Fay Sirkis and others stopped by and chatted with conference attendees.

We also ran several demos over the two days the expo floor was open. Tim Grey ran a session on brush dynamics using the Wacom Cintiq display. Randy Hufford led multiple demonstrations of canvas stretching and creating gallery wraps.

Thanks to everyone who stopped by and said hello. If you didn't make it to the conference this year plan on joining NAPP and us at PS World 08.

A final special thanks to our sponsors who provided the required equipment to make last week great. Premier Art, Eizo, Wacom, Adobe, and GTI; thank you.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Back on the Water

Victoria, Reagan, and I ventured out onto Morro Bay again with the wonderful crew of Orchid Outriggers ( The outriggers performed beautifully even with me at the controls, of course, the controls (a paddle) are somewhat rudimentary compared with those of the Hornet or Super Hornet. Regardless, we paddled at 2-3 knots for a few hours touring almost the entire estuary.

Once again the birding and photography were spectacular. The highlight of the day was when a flock of brown pelicans began dive bombing a school of small fish surrounding our outriggers.

We are close to finalizing the photo/lab courses we will run in conjunction with the Orchid Outriggers folks. Look to the website ( in the very near future for more information.

Morro Rock

Shooting up close.

He's coming right at us.

Great Blue Heron

Otter hanging out just right of the boat.

-All photographs by Marc Schulman