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.

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