Monday, December 10, 2012

Smiles that never faded

A number of years ago, there was this couple, an elderly couple, a loving, happy hearted, sweet couple that I just fell in love with; Ed and Katie.  I met them through my church and every time I saw them I couldn't stop myself from smiling ear to ear. They were the kind of people that just loved you unconditionally. Extremely outgoing, faithful to each other for 60 years. I just had to photograph them.

After working up the courage to ask them if I could photograph them together (I'm still working on doing things like that, I always feel so weird asking....), I was relieved when they smiled big for me and in a thick polish accent gracefully accepted my offer. I was thrilled.

On a cold winter day some weeks later, we arranged to setup my lights in their living room. It was an honor for me to take their photograph, and made even more fun because I was able to bring my oldest boy along with me in hopes that I might generate some interest in photography. (It didn't work).

When we arrived at their home, Ed was half dressed in sweat pants and a good shirt & tie and suite jacket. Katie was in a dress. The two of them shuffled around the modest country home while I got my gear setup, then they sat down on a dark red leather sofa and the rest, as they say, was photo magic.

For the next hour, Ed and Katie enjoyed talking with me and my son. I learned that Ed had survived the  nazi war camps and saw some pretty terrible things, but he survived. He came out of the camps a changed man, a better man. He never took life for granted and he lived every minute of it in the moment, always expressing his endearing feelings to others and to his wife of 60 years.

Just before the the shoot came to an end, I asked them if they would hold onto a portrait of themselves taken when they were in their early 20's. I had noticed it when I first entered their house and I had been staring at it on and off during the photo shoot. I felt it would make for a beautiful final image, and it did.

In processing the images a couple of days later, I noticed just how badly damaged that early portrait was. Water damage, tears, and the black & white image had faded to more of a black & green tone.

In just under 30 minutes, I had used Photoshop CS5 to fix that older portrait, restoring it to it's original beauty. About a year later it was officially their 60th anniversary, so I had the 'portrait within a portrait' printed extra large and mounted onto foam core. The final product was amazing to look at and Ed and Katie loved it.

Sadly, Ed passed away shortly afterwards, but Katie still goes strong, still smiling, still hugging.

It was an honor and a blessing for me to photograph Ed and Katie. It was one of those opportunities that I so badly wanted and had to work the courage up just to ask for the chance. But had I not taken the chance, these pictures would not exist. Together they were a great example for married people everywhere. They were full of love for each other and for others and they never passed up a chance to express it, always in that thick polish accent.

If you know someone whose smile inspires you, don't hesitate to ask them if you can take their picture, you'll be glad you did, and you never know what you might learn about that smile along the way.

Kevin Kratka

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Faded Summer

A stiff, crisp winter breeze cut right through me as I ventured out to photograph what looked like a lonely paddle boat. Stuck half way into mud and surrounded by ice, the faded red paddleboat looked like it had been abandoned years ago and seeing it immediately brought back memories of when I used one as a kid in New Hampshire at my uncles cabin on the lake.

At first I figured I fire off a few frames and then quickly jump back into the warm van, but as I got closer and framed up the image, I noticed that the contrast between the boat and the angry skies would make for a handsome HDR image.

But first, I would need my winter coat. Brrr baby.

After bundling up and realizing my tripod was safely home and not with me (when I needed it most) I decided to handhold the camera and squeeze off 3 frames as quickly as possible. In less than a second I had my shots, and then I quickly jumped back into the warmth of my vehicle.

Processed in Photomatix Pro and Lightroom 4, this is the final image. The amazing thing about HDR images is that basically what you see is what you other words, the picture you see here is almost identical to what the scene actually looked like there at the edge of the pond.

Like the paint job on this boat, the summer of 2012 has faded away, soon to be replaced by ice fishing, snowmobiling and skiing. But for today, I'm happy to have captured an image that stands on it's own, a picture that revives long dormant memories of many summers gone by.

Kevin Kratka

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Learning a new word: HDR (ok ok, so it’s not a word…)

It dawned on me this morning that, not only am I now a full time photographer, but by default, I’m also a full time blogger. What does this mean? It means that now I have both a creative outlet for making images but also now an outlet for sharing the stories behind those images!
Case in point…High Dynamic Range imagery, or HDR for short. I find the majority of people I ask don’t know what an HDR image is, but unbeknownst to them, they’ve probably been looking at HDR type images all their lives. More on that later.
Creating an HDR starts with making multiple images, all shot at different exposures, and then using special software and algorithms to blend the images together to create one beautifully exposed final image.
The different exposures are meant to bring out details based on the light levels of the given scene. For instance, a scene with high levels of contrast (the areas between bright highlights and dark shadows…and everything in between). A normal camera, or even a very high end camera, has difficulty exposing for all these different ranges of light at the same time. You may expose that beautiful blue sky perfectly, but the people in the picture (the ones standing in the shadows of a tree for instance) will come out to dark. Or perhaps you’ve experienced the classic “blown out sky” syndrome… take a picture of the kids in their Sunday best and the kids expose perfectly….but that blue sky is suddenly white? What happened? That’s known as blown highlights, and while it’s considered “normal” in many situations, it’s far from desirable.
With HDR images, we would make a minimum of 3 different exposures. In the scenario mentioned above, we would shoot one exposure for the sky (the highlights) the kids in the shadow of the tree (the shadows) and one exposure that’s kinda-sorta in the middle range (that’s the technical term for ‘take a normally exposed image).
Now to create our HDR.
Below is series of images I took of my children horse playing. Because I needed at least 3 images for the final HDR picture, I had to shoot quickly because they were moving. A lot.
3 exposures
Notice the three different exposures below. With my camera in MANUAL MODE, the first one is OVEREXPOSED by about 2 stops, the second exposure is UNDEREXPOSED also by about 2 stops, and finally the third image, which is basically a ‘regular’ or normal exposure just the way the camera originally wanted to take the picture.
Next comes the fun part. I open a program called Photomatix and I drag & drop the three images into that program. From there it’s just a matter of agreeing to various settings and then adjusting the image to taste. Once you get the picture to look the way you want it, hit <PROCESS> and then save the image to your folder of choice.
And that’s it! We’ve made our HDR image. It was fast, it was fun, and the details are fantastic. Here is the final image.
I should point out that I am in no way affiliated with the Photomatix software or HDRSoft, the company that puts out the software. However I am a huge user of it and I’ve been with them since the very beginning. The software has gone thru tons of updates over the years and it continues to get better and better with each update. It’s highly recommended.
So there we have it, HDR photography. This post just scratches the surface of what is possible with HDR photography. I encourage anyone to give it a try. The software runs $99 so it’s a very inexpensive but powerful way to get into this fascinating type of photography.  Below are some additional HDR images I shot over the years. Some of them exceed the ‘three exposure rule’, in fact some of them are up to 15 separate exposures!
Your feedback is always welcome and if you like what you read, please considering subscribing to my blog. I will be posting lots of tips & tricks in the near future.

Monday, December 3, 2012


Wonderful news, I’ve decided to take Kratka Photography full time! As of December 1st, 2012, I am now a full time photographer, providing high quality images to the fine folks of Maine. If you’re local to Kennebec or Waldo Counties, (or even the surrounding counties for that matter), we want to hear from you.
We will be offering the following services:
  • Senior portraits
  • Family photo sessions
  • Infant and children photography
  • Professional head shots
  • Special occasion imagery
Being mobile, we bring our services to you. No waiting in line at some photo studio. With one call, we can arrange a time and day that suites your schedule. We provide valuable tips on how to dress for family portraits, and of course all of our sessions are stress free, fun and productive.
We look forward to hearing from you! Call us today to book your next photo session.
In Maine, 207.619.3994, or contact

Meet the photographer
Kevin Kratka has over 22 years experience as a photographer, his work has been published on a regular basis by Bangor Metro magazine and his commercial work has seen publication worldwide. Kevin provides a fun and lively, stress free photo experience for his clients, and with a keen eye for detail, he only provides his customers with the best quality images. When your looking to capture memories to last a lifetime, Kevin is the one you want behind the lens.

Kratka Photography Flyer

Friday, October 12, 2012

“Just because I can” Video

In 8th grade, I took an interest in video production. I didn’t know the first thing about, well, anything really, I just thought it was cool. Apparently so did a couple of other kids because it was just me and them, all 4 of us.

Now I don’t recall the teachers name, but I do remember what he looked like. Long brown hair, long side burns, mustache and thick, dark rimmed glasses. Come to think of it, he sort of reminded me of Woody Alan. And I remember where he came from: Connecticut Public Television. This guy was my hero.

The details are somewhat fuzzy, but I do recall that our equipment. I smile with fondness when I think about the old fashion and very large black & white video camera, a separate reel-to-reel recorder (yes! reel-to-reel!) and a separate battery back. It took at least two people to manage all of that gear, or in our case, 3 eighth graders.

It’s amazing how far we’ve come since those days, and today just about anyone with a cell phone has the ability to recorder video. In color. In HD! And it all fits in your pocket. Amazing.

The video posted here is just for fun. I enjoy the song and I was looking for an outlet for some burning creativity. I went out and filmed some windy scenes (apologies for the camera shake in some of the shots, but it was really windy!) and then inserted some other footage and combined it all with still images that I have shot over the years.

If you like what I did, leave a comment! Even better, subscribe to my blog! And thanks!

Gear: Canon 7D & Canon lenses. Still shots on Canon 20D and Canon 7D. Edited using Sony Vegas.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Fall in Maine – the making of memories

My childhood is full of happy memories. Like the many generations of children that came before me, I enjoyed the change of seasons, especially the transition from summer into fall.

As a youngster growing up in the back country of northwestern Connecticut, fall was the most beautiful time of the year. The crisp morning air, the color of the leaves in the trees, the crunchy IMG_2778sound they made under your foot and the swooshing noise they made as you walked through endless piles of them along the route to school.

But the best part of fall was the smells. Leaves that have fallen gracefully from the trees gently float down and land all around the grass and the sidewalks below the tree, and eventually the hundreds and thousands of them start to breakdown. The smell of old leaves is heavenly, but now mix that smell in with the aroma of the smoke coming from the neighbors wood stove and throw in all the old apples on the ground from Mrs. Higgins's crab apple tree that I passed on the way to school.

This morning I watched my 8 year old stand at the end of our driveway, waiting for his bus. Unbeknownst to him, the synopsis's in his young brain are quietly forming memories that he will hopefully remember with fondness. His ears were making note of the crunchy sound of the leaves under his size 5 sneakers, the cool air on his face, and the familiar smell of diesel that arrived with a gust of wind as the bus pulled up. With the yellow flashing lights transitioning to red, Robbie stood there as he always does, waiving to the bus driver as she slowly came to a full stop and opened the squeaky bus door. With a quick hug and a kiss, he climbed up the steps, took his seat, and he was gone.

waiting for the school bus
While many of the same smells and sounds are the same as they were when I was a child, the one thing I hope he remembers with fondness will be that of his endearing father, clicking away with the camera, desperately trying to capture the fleeting moments of time that he can never get back.

Making memories, making pictures; perhaps the combination of the two will help Robbie to further enjoy these little moments when he has children of his own and the memories he will help them create.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

I'm up, so I might as well shoot something

So lately I've been getting up at 4am for no apparent reason. Something just wakes me up. The other day I woke up and noticed how foggy it was outside...nothing out of the ordinary for us here on the coast of Maine. But this particular morning I woke up itching to take pictures of something or someone. The rest of the house was still asleep, but I knew that I could get out and explore downtown for photo opportunities, and there would be no traffic to speak of...I'd have the place to myself!

Heading out the door, I made sure to grab the essentials; camera, tripod, portable speedlights, wireless triggers, coffee. Downtown was a ghost town, nothing to see or do, but the fog over the harbor was beautiful in it's own way. With nothing to see here, I decided to look for photo opportunities in a more unusual place.  

The Belfast Graveyard is not exactly your photo mecca, but with a nice mixture of old old tombstones and statues, the shapes and textures do make for some interesting subjects. This morning I choose to shoot one of the older statues, a beautiful work of marble that must be at least 100 years old.

Setting up the shot, I places two strobe lights, one on each side of the statue. The first light was raised up as high as the statues head and softened with a shoot thru umbrella, the second strobe was a bare bulb strobe, and it was low and pointed upward to fill in the shadows of the face.

I figured because the statue was so close to the road, surely the police would show up to ask what I was doing. With each shot I took, I considered myself fortunate that had yet bothered me. Turns out, my worries were for not; nobody came over to investigate all the flashing lights coming from the cemetery.

The resulting images were satisfying, and provided me with some practice so that the next time I photograph living people I will have an extra bit of confidence.


Every photo shoot brings with it challenges and opportunities. I always learn something new, and I'm getting better at not repeating past mistakes.Today's pictures were no different.

I only brought the one shoot-thru umbrella, hindsight says I should have brought both. This would afforded me the chance to soft the light coming from the second strobe, and while the lighting worked out this time, it's always nice to be able to soften things up when needed.  Sandbags...even though there was very little or no wind to speak of, my shoot-thru umbrella was at least 8-9 feet off the ground when fully extended. A very - and I mean very slight breeze came up and blew it over. It didn't go far, it came to rest on the statues head. I dodged a bullet this time. A simple sandbag would have prevented this and I left it home out of sheer laziness.

My tripod...I should have used it. Even though my subject matter was perfectly still, I, on the other hand, was not. Even a little bit of camera shake can degrade the image, and I was so nervous that the cops were going to come by that I decided to forgo the tripod. I should have just chanced it. The worse they could say was I would have to leave. I'm working on that aspect oh my photography...taking chances!

Overall, I am pleased with the outcome of the images. The grass was wet and my sneakers got soaked, but other than that, I had a great time. It was time for my second cup of coffee, so I left the cemetery with a sense of peace. The photos I had just taken were not rushed, it was peaceful in the cemetery, and my subject matter was perfect. I am going back for more someday soon.

Now it's your turn, get out there and take some pictures!

Monday, January 30, 2012

2012 - Let’s get this party started.

I’m sorry. I haven’t blogged in a while. I hope I can make up for it with the following update.
One of the best things about being a photographer is the ability to create an image in your head, and then chasing it down with your camera to make it a reality. It may take a few minutes, a few days, or maybe you have to wait months before you have the opportunity to get that picture.

While making plans for 2012, I decided that one of my fields of focus this year would be creating fine art, something I am passionate about. But fine art is so subjective…it can take the form of virtually anything, and as a photographer I have to be careful not to get too overwhelmed with all the possibilities that are before me. Heck, I live in Maine for crying out loud, the opportunities are endless!

Let’s take lighthouses for instance. People love lighthouses, and Maine has more than 60 (count ‘em! 60!!) lighthouses. Where does one begin? The logical place to start would be the beginning ….the Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth. As it would happen we had a doctors appointment in Portland coming up shortly which meant we would be ‘in the neighborhood’ of this iconic lighthouse. With an air temperature of a whopping 3 degrees above zero, we made the trip to Portland, got the doctors appointment out of the way, then headed down to Cape Elizabeth, about a 20 minute jaunt.

One of the perks of living in Maine during the winter is that all the tourists are gone which means we got the place to ourselves, so arriving at the lighthouse, we found we were mostly alone in the parking lot aside from some seagulls. Stepping outside the van I realized that the excitement of starting my new fine art collection with todays images was going to be challenging. It’s winter time, in Maine, on the coast…it’s 3 degrees and the winds are just howling. To say it was cold was an understatement, but I didn’t come all this way just to sit in the van and watch the seagulls have all the fun. I grabbed my gear, my gloves and forced myself to walk up to the lighthouse.

The first images I took were less than stellar. I was using an extreme wide angle lens and a 10 stop neutral density filter. Each image took about 5 minutes to produce and my proximity to the lighthouse combined with my lens proved to be too much; the distortion the lens caused made the lighthouse lookHow NOT to use a wide angle lens like it was stretched sideways and falling backwards. (see image to the left)  Weird. I had to get farther away…much…much farther away. With the winds still blowing in my face, the cold air was literally taking my breath away, I had to resort to breathing the air that was in between my jacket and my body by burying my face in my jacket. Even with gloves on my fingers were starting to tingle with cold. I needed to keep moving.

I managed to walk north on the public pathway and found some better views of the lighthouse, and after about 20 minutes I had some nice pictures, but I still wasn’t ready to quit for the day. More views and photo opportunities were here….somewhere….I just had to keep looking. Then I looked noticed the weather worn rocks below, and before my my brain could talk my feet out of it, I started to climb down the side of the cliff to get down to the ocean itself. In all the pictures of the Portland Head Light that I’ve seen, I’ve never seen one from the water’s edge. I just had to get down there. With numb fingers and tingling toes, I carefully took each step with extreme caution until I had finally arrived at the rocks below.

Setting up my tripod, I managed to find a view of the lighthouse that I felt was a unique one. With each exposure running close to 5 minutes each, I had time to hide my head in my jacket in between shots. At this point I could hardly feel my fingers and my toes were a lost cause, but it was all in the name of fine art, so I kept telling myself that it was all worth it. I would be warm again someday soon….as long as I didn’t freeze to death in the meantime.

With my pictures safely stored on my memory card, I made my way back to the van. Oh sweet warmth how I crave thee. With watery eyes and fingers and toes that I was pretty sure I still had, I climbed in the van, started it up and cranked the heat.

Whew! Now that was fun! 

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This and many other samples of my artwork are available at Fine Art America.