Each year in Burnet, TX, the First Baptist Church opens Main Street Bethlehem to the public. The church has a permanent town of Bethlehem built near the church and for a pair of weekends it comes alive with shepherds, blacksmiths, bakers, rope makers, candle makers, tax collectors, Roman soldiers…and bazillions of visitors from all over Central Texas. All these actors take on their full character and as you walk through the town they treat you as if you are actually in Bethlehem 2000 years ago. They ask you if you want to buy their products, taste their bread, and “Did you hear about the Messiah?!?”. If you try to get them out of character by talking about some modern thing they do a remarkable job of acting as if they have no idea what you’re talking about and they quiz you back with questions fitting the times. Our children’s favorite spot in the town is the tax collector’s table. As the townsfolk come to pay their taxes there’s the occasional person whose taxes are delinquent. The children like to watch the Roman soldiers haul them off to jail.
Most importantly, there is a manger where Mary and Joseph hold a baby to remind us of the gift of Jesus Christ that God gave us many years ago.
Shooting in the low light was difficult as the 50mm f/1.4 lens has a terrible time focusing. With the place being so crowded I really didn’t have time to fiddle around so I tried to quickly find high contrast points to focus on and snapped away in aperture priority mode. I also used between minus 1/2 to minus 1-1/2 exposure compensation so the camera properly captured the night scenes.
“…Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Phil 2:5(b)-11
Circle C Ranch is a development near our house and the neighborhood is known for its great Christmas light displays. I took three of the kids out last night and drove the streets (along with lots of other cars). We stopped at two locations to grab a quick portrait. I brought red, blue, and green gels in hopes of matching the flash to the lights somewhat — I had mixed success but since our purpose was to view the lights I didn’t spend any extra time attempting to perfect the shots. I dialed down the flash way down in hopes of making the images look more like they were lit by the surrounding Christmas lights. There’s a tell-tale shadow of course but I’m not trying *hide* the fact that flash was used, just match the lighting (and its brightness) to the environment.
The kid’s favorite house is one they call “the jungle”. The displays (front and back yards) are walk-through and have all manner of decorations from a nativity scene to Elvis to the Grinch to Winnie the Pooh to…everything you can think of. For as long as I can remember, the neighbor to the jungle has put up a “Ditto” sign. Funny.
The next shots were taken in the backyard of “the jungle”. The nativity scene used bare flash handheld on a sync cord and the other shot used a red gel on the flash to match the lights. I could have used a different color — the main idea was to prevent the flash from lighting the kids with daylight (bare flash) while they were standing in the middle of the colored lights. I wish I’d had a red gel which was slightly weaker…
Finally, an out of focus shot in the back yard of “the jungle”.
A recent sunrise over the Gulf of Mexico along Padre Island National Seashore. The image was processed with 4 or 5 different textures in OnOne’s Perfect Photo Suite. After that I did a few Photoshop curves adjustments…that’s it.
Most people who like to do HDRs are suckers for reflections. I’m no exception and when my children and I walked into San Antonio’s Alamodome for the NCAA volleyball championship I saw these shiny floors and decided to fire off some brackets. I set up the camera to fire 3 brackets (the max on Canon) with the auto timer and set the camera on the floor. It would’ve been nearly impossible to change the settings without moving the camera so I didn’t even try. I took another set of brackets with more crowds in the picture but the motion was too great to process reasonably.
I ran this through Photomatix and then brought the tonemapped image into Photoshop along with the brightest exposure. I used a few adjustment layers on the bright exposure to semi-match it to what I wanted to fix — the people in the hallway and a few other areas where ghosting had caused some weirdness in the tonemapped image. After blending those areas in, I went to work on the result with a half-dozen other adjustment layers (mostly curves). There are some missing people-parts but I don’t really mind as it gives a sense of motion and the work to clone in new pieces wouldn’t be worth it.
Busy, busy, busy these days and no time for (much) photography. Posting my own photographic reminder of where I need to focus first…
I was saving this so I could post it in honor of the Longhorns making the final four in the NCAA tournament but…they lost in the regional final over the weekend. Illinois managed to win and will face USC on Thursday.
Here it is:
Just for fun, here are some pics from the University of Texas Longhorns vs. Michigan State match in the second round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament. I hadn’t ever brought my camera to Gregory Gym but decided to for this last home match of the year. I used only my 17-40 f/4L (“long” lenses are not allowed) and took most pictures from my seat. Right away I discovered that the color temperature is not consistent throughout the place — something I hadn’t noticed until I took pictures — but I didn’t attempt to fix the color at all. It’s amazing how our eyes just adjust to the situation but the camera cannot. Most (all?) of the images were shot in manual mode at f/4, 1/500s, and at ISO 3200 since I didn’t have the benefit of using any strobes like the official photographer (he has four strobes mounted in the rafters). I chose the fast shutter speed in hopes of freezing the action reasonably well. For shots in between the fast action (preparing for service for example) I could have switched to a smaller aperture and slower shutter but I was mostly there to enjoy watching the match and didn’t want to fiddle with settings. ”Photography” wasn’t number one on the agenda for the night. The pictures are by no means awesome but in any case recorded a fun evening watching volleyball with my girls.
Of course we cheer for the Longhorns…for now. However, my alma mater (Illinois — the #3 seed) is still in the tournament and should they meet Texas in the finals we’ll be behind the Fighting Illini (we already have our tickets!). My kids know they will be grounded if they choose to favor the Longhorns
And finally, what happens when your shutter is open and the stadium photographer triggers the strobes in the rafters.
I recently posted our Thanksgiving Day family portrait and today wanted to show how I modified it. The only direction I gave to the family for the picture was “wear something solid-ish on top, and something denim on the bottom”. As you see in the picture at this link, we all ended up in rather muted colors except my youngest son who had a bright yellow shirt on. I was busy thinking about how to add fill to the shot, position us reasonably without taking all day to do it, etc. (I should have spent a bit more time on the positioning). So, when the bright yellow shirt was pointed out to me I thought to myself, “Whatever…it won’t matter”. Of course, when editing the photos it bugged me to death and I wished I had changed it.
The solution? Photoshop’s “Replace Color” adjustment. I used the tutorial linked below as a starting point to learn about it and experimented from there. Other than choosing the new color, the key setting for me was the “fuzziness”. This determines how aggressive the automatic selection is. What I found is that because of the variation in saturation throughout the shirt I had to slide the fuzziness way up which causes other parts of the image to also be selected (trying to automatically select the shirt’s colors reveals how much variation is really there). I thought the checkbox for ‘Localized Color Clusters” (not shown in the tutorial but exists in CS5 at least) would help minimize the selection but I didn’t see a lot of difference once the the fuzziness was increased much. I also used the +/- eye droppers to add/subtract from the selection. Finally I needed a bit of manual masking to only change the shirt and not other areas of the image. Something which is more solid in color would far easier to use this tool with. The resulting photo is above — a 5-minute edit. I will probably do another version and use a color picked from someone else’s shirt so that it matches even better with the rest of us. When I look at the new image I kind of think it doesn’t look right because *I* know that I made the edit but in my brief survey of people who didn’t know about it, not a single person noticed anything.
Here’s the link to the tutorial I started with.
Many of these pictures are reruns but I thought I’d post them in honor of Pearl Harbor Day. The aircraft carrier in the top image is the USS Lexington (CV-16) which was in service from 1943 through 1991 and now sits as a (very cool) museum in Corpus Christi, TX. This image is a 3-exposure HDR. I’m getting some odd pixelization on export from Lightroom which I can’t figure out but the point of posting this is not for the image’s sake itself anyway.
My grandfather joined the Navy during WWII (sometime after Pearl Harbor due to his age) and went through training to become a Navy pilot. I am very fortunate to have a 90-minute recording of him recounting his Navy experiences. My favorite quote: “I graduated from flight school on August 14th, 1945. The Japanese heard I was coming and surrendered the next day.” This is the most recent snapshot I have of him.
Hope you enjoy the rest of these photos from various air shows I’ve attended.
“I will live in Montana. And I will marry a round American woman and raise rabbits, and she will cook them for me. And I will have a pickup truck… maybe even a “recreational vehicle.” And drive from state to state. Do they let you do that?”, Captain Borodin, Hunt For Red October.
I always think of that quote when I think of Montana. It cracks me up. I thought I’d post a few more of my favorite pictures from our summer Montana trip. A very friendly horse and some very green fields with a background of snow-capped mountains at sunrise.
Both images were processed with a series of curves adjustment layers to balance out various areas of the image. Nothing fancy…
I was fortunate to be able to grab some pictures of this P-51 Mustang on the ground at the Alliance Air Show in Fort Worth before the general public was allowed in the show. I wanted to get more angles but I was already encroaching on an off-limits area and wasn’t going to push it.
I used 8 exposures for this and took a few liberties in processing to amp up the colors just a bit. I wanted to clone out the light pole above the plane but as simple as that looks it can be hard to get it right when there are slight gradients in the sky colors. I’ll work on it…
Kind of a boring post today but maybe it will save someone some trouble. While snapping pictures in the hospital recently I learned a lesson about shooting in fluorescent lighting situations. I already “knew” about this but had never experienced it firsthand and didn’t think about it ahead of time. The problem boils down to the fact that certain types of fluorescent light fixtures do not produce steady light. It may generally appear to be a constant light but is actually flickering at some multiple of the electrical supply frequency (the dominant frequency depends on the ballast, type and age of the bulbs, etc.). I forgot about this and snapped a bunch of pictures without chimping and ended up with a bunch of wigged-out shots.
How does that affect your pictures? In the image above notice that my wife’s hand is not color matched to the rest of the image (I attempted to make corrections in this image — it was worse to begin with). Also check out the images below (sorry for the boring subject matter). The images were shot in sequence with the same settings (f/2.8, 1/350s) but you can see extreme variations in the frames. What happens is that if you use a shutter speed that is faster than the length of one “flicker” (one power cycle of the light) you get variations in the image depending when your shutter opens up relative to the light variation. One time the shutter opens when the light is at its brightest and all looks normal-ish (as much as it can under fluorescents). Another time the shutter opens as the light is dimming and so forth. In actuality the color temperature also varies at different points of the power cycle which causes the weird color banding you see in these shots.
Once I bumped my shutter speed down to 1/30s (and went to f/11) I consistently reproduced the image below.
After a little research I found that most newer fluorescents are designed to operate in a way which avoids most of these problems. However, if you run into issues with old lights you can work around them. Ideally, just turn off the fluorescents and use natural light and/or flash. If your camera works reasonably well at high ISO use it to your advantage and crank it up in order to turn off those lights. If turning them off is not practical you can add light with a flash to reduce the effects or use a shutter speed which is longer than the period of the light. In other words, if the light is flickering at 120 Hz (120 times a second), use a shutter speed somewhat slower than 1/120s. This makes sure the shutter is open during at least one full cycle of the light. I found that 1/60s eliminated the problem at the hospital although with some lights you might have to slow it up even further.
Hopefully that made some sense to somebody. I tried to explain what can be pretty technical, in non-technical-ish terms. Shooting flash and balancing its color with fluorescent lighting is a whole other topic too…go to to strobist.blogspot.com or your favorite internet photo resource for info on that. There’s also some interesting info on this on Nikon’s site (includes a nice visual using a gray card).
Although it was an overcast morning when I was photographing these rapids, an HDR was necessary to capture the whole dynamic range of the scene. Of course an overcast sky is easy to blow out but you’ll find that whitewater reflects so much light that it’s often completely blown out also. Or, if you’re letting your camera choose your exposure and your subject is anything other than the whitewater, your subject will likely be way underexposed. There are still a few tiny portions of my image which are blown out but it wasn’t my goal to prevent that — it was just to present the image in a way which more represented what the eye could see as opposed to what the camera could capture in a single frame.
Note that this image was shot at ISO 320. There’s nothing magical about 320 per se but when you’re shooting fast-moving water, you’ll find a certain shutter speed which gives the “look” you want. If you’re shutter speed is too long, the water is simply a blur. If it’s too short, you lose some sense of the motion. Of course freezing motion or completely blurred water may very well be the “look” you want but in this case I wanted somewhere in the middle. I chose f/11 as my aperture because it’s in the sweet spot of the lens yet gives reasonable depth of field when the focus distance is relatively long. With the aperture fixed, ISO became my main lever for setting the range of shutter speeds I’d capture in my brackets. I shot brackets from ISO 100 up to 1600 and chose this ISO 320 value for the final image based on how the water looked. This allowed me to keep some detail in the water such as what you see in the water pouring over the smallish rock outcropping near the center of the image.
We *tried* to take some portraits of my wife and daughter but not everyone was cooperating. Eden was a bit fussy when we posed her but I snapped off some frames anyway. This is image is one — the ONLY one — worth keeping. Despite being the only good image I call it an outtake because it’s not at all the image I was after. I like the expression on my wife’s face and Eden’s outstretched arms but it has a few technical issues. For starters, because I was shooting near wide-open and my wife was moving back and forth to rock the baby, the focus is a bit off. We’ll try again soon.
This was shot with two lights: a Canon 580EXii at about 1/16 power in a small softbox at camera left for the key light and a Canon 430EXii high, behind my wife at camera right for hair/highlight (1/64 power and gel’ed with some ND to kill more of the power). The background is a sheet we hung in the hallway (yep, I need to get some backgrounds). I started by setting an exposure which killed the ambient. Using my older daughter as a test subject I then added the key light followed by the hair light. The background is not lit because my intent was to make it pitch black.
Before even shooting this my intent was to process in black and white but I haven’t even attempted to go that route in processing yet. I tweaked some areas in Lightroom then brought the image into Photoshop. I used masked curves to brighten the hair, eyes (a tad), and a few areas of skin. I also used curves to darken a few areas. One final curve dropped the red channel ever so slightly. I sharpened the hair and used noise reduction on the rest of the image. That’s all I can remember anyway…
Here’s another version of the same image which I processed slightly differently. I can’t personally decide which I like best although I lean toward the one at the top of the post which blends subject/background relatively seamlessly.