On a still day Austin’s Lady Bird Lake (still Town Lake to me) is a great spot to shoot the growing skyline (note yet another construction crane gracing the view) and get great reflections off the water. I met an out-of-town friend at Lou Neff Point this morning and was surprised to find that the lake was completely overgrown with a plant called Eurasian Water Milfoil. In hindsight I might have expected it as we had seen a lot of milfoil while kayaking on the lake recently but even then I wouldn’t have expected so much of it on the surface. Adding to the disappointment was that the forecast of “some clouds in the morning” wasn’t to be (until well after sunrise anyway).
Well, we were there and figured we might as well shoot some “stuff”. We fought off the mosquitos and fired away. I decided to shoot a panorama in order to increase the resolution a bit. I shot 3 frames — each bracketed +/-1 stop — and used Nik HDR Efex Pro to create very subtle (IMO) HDR images. Photoshop stitched them together nicely and I used several curves and saturation adjustment layers to tweak the final image.
To do this image justice it really needs to be viewed large. Click here for the full-res version.
On a photowalk last weekend (see previous post) I shot some frames in hopes of stitching a panorama of the Austin Skyline as viewed from the SRV statue on Auditorium Shores. I bracketed my shots with a mind toward using HDR and/or compositing to capture most of the dynamic range. I had no intention of filling in the deep shadows of course — It was getting dark after all.
In processing I set off to try the HDR route (I believe this is my first ever pano in HDR) and based on advice from Dave Wilson I first tonemapped the separate frames (3 exposures used for each) using the same settings in Photomatix. I used something on the order of 60% “strength” and tried to keep the HDR look toned down (FYI, the original exposures really do have this much blue in them). I tweaked the perspective of the individual frames a bit in Lightroom then merged to a panorama in CS5 using the ‘cylinder’ setting for the stitch. I could write an entire post about my perspective and stitching issues but suffice it to say that using the ‘auto’ setting was giving me very skewed perspectives from my wide-ish angle frames (30mm on a full-frame body). The automatic blending of the exposures after the stitch usually does a bang-up job of matching colors and creating a seamless stitch but I did have to manually tweak one area to make it match. Hopefully it’s not too noticeable…I won’t point it out of course. The HDR was a bit too saturated for my taste (it still kind of is…can’t make up my mind how I want this to look) so I used the vibrance adjustment to tone it down. Curves adjustments were used in various places for some final tweaks. No original exposures were masked into the final image.
Sunday night I enjoyed an evening photowalk with Todd Landry and several of the local “HDR Mafia” in Austin (Atmtx, Dave Wilson, Jim Nix, and Pete Talke) . I played around with some framing under the First Street Bridge and liked the sideways ‘V’ formed by the shadows under the bridge and on the water. I shot lots of brackets for this but I only used enough to give a hint of light under the bridge. I started down the path of masking in some of a lighter exposure but in the end preferred the deep shadow and how it draws more attention to the skyline and its reflection.
I tonemapped 7 exposures in Photomatix and blended pieces of the original exposures back in. This was followed by a few curves adjustments masked in here and there, selective sharpening, and noise reduction in much of the image. I had some chromatic aberration issues which I couldn’t get to go away via Lightroom adjustments so I used a trick I learned a while back: duplicate the final background layer, do a gaussian blur of 10-15 pixels, change the blend mode to ‘color’, and selectively mask into the problem areas. Works great for the most part but can cause a little of that blur to show sometimes.
We walked over to the SRV statue on Auditorium Shores to take some panoramas of the Austin skyline just after sunset. I got some cool shots but am frankly unable to get a stitch with a decent perspective (so far). I’ll keep working on that. Meanwhile, I decided to post a couple shots I took while the guys were shooting the skyline. Both were taken with my 50mm f/1.4 lens but I experimented a bit. One image used f/1.4 in order to get extreme bokeh while the other used f/8 to tone the bokeh down and show the skyline better.
Last Friday evening I joined Alex Suarez, Steve Wampler, and Sylvia Brogdon for an impromptu photo shoot outside the Palmer Events Center. They had just spent the day in the Flash Bus seminar put on by Joe McNally and David Hobby and wanted to practice what they’d learned to help cement it in their minds. I was not able to attend the Flash Bus event but I wanted to join in and learn what I could and get some practice myself. Our models were “Eight” and my daughter Evelyn. The location was the grounds of the Palmer Events Center in Austin, TX. It has many architectural features which lend themselves to unique portrait settings and there are different backgrounds to choose from on each side of the building.
As we got started, Steve talked about how David Hobby “lights in layers”. This is the process of building your setup one light at a time. Assuming a fixed shutter speed (at or below your max sync speed), start by picking the aperture which gives you the ambient light exposure you desire. The correct exposure is quite subjective of course — just find the one *you* want. You can darken the background somewhat or allow it to blow out. Next, add your main light and get it to the f-stop you want and in position. Finally, add fill as necessary and maybe even a rim light to light the hair or shoulders if you want.
We stuck with one or two lights and assisted each other by holding lights as we took turns shooting. I actually have as much fun helping with the shoot as I do taking the photographs and always enjoy the company too. We started out near the southwest corner of the building — very challenging due to the setting sun. The positive side of a situation like this is that it forces you think about solutions to the light problems, some of which equate to just going with it and trying to make interesting images with the light that is there, be it harsh or soft. The image at the top of the post was taken here with my daughter standing in the shadow of a large pillar. Shooting someone with very dark skin provides additional challenges as you need extra light to balance out the ambient and bring out the facial features. This extra light blows out light clothes (had that happen a lot) and sometimes other features like the pillar next to her. I shot in manual mode at 1/250s (max sync speed), did a few test shots without the strobe to pick my aperture (f/8) then began experimenting with light position and power. This shot had a strobe camera right, bare other than a 1/4 CTO gel, triggered with Elinchrom Skyports. I used my 70-200mm f/2.8 IS for all the portraits (love that lens for these situations).
We moved to the northwest corner of the build for a bit and I got the shot below. No strobe used in this portrait. Alex used a silver reflector to direct the sunlight to Evelyn’s face and I shot from down low to get a reasonable background. Aperture priority was used with an f-stop of f/4. The light was literally golden even off the silver reflector — made her skin look great.
Another mass migration of gear and bodies occurred as we relocated to the north side of the building. There was great shade and many choices for backgrounds including the Austin skyline. I shot this final portrait (below) at this location. I chose an aperture of f/9.5 and set up two lights. The main light was again a 1/4 CTO gel’ed bare strobe at camera right. The fill was a bare strobe (I didn’t have tape or velcro for another gel) placed on the ground in front of the camera. I placed the strobes on different Skyport channels and experimented with each separately to adjust them to taste. I had to lay out on the ground (see the pic by Alex Suarez at the bottom of the post) to get the composition I wanted (Evelyn + The Austonian + TX flag). I was somewhat limited due the angle required for my composition and the locations of some trees which blocked the flag if I moved out of this position. I would have liked the wind to blow the flag up a bit more but I took what I could get. Someday I’ll work on perfecting this shot. I would try two things for starters: (1) use a shoot-through umbrella with an assistant (no assistant was handy for this shot and it was too windy to set it up without an anchor) and (2) try a stronger CTO gel to warm up the subject to match the background better. I prefer the darker backgrounds but I think I’d experiment with backing off to f/8 or even f/7.1.
After shooting the skyline portrait, Sylvia and I were helping Steve shoot portraits of my daughter. In a moment of serendipity, Joe McNally and David Hobby walked out of the building. Our group bantered with them and Joe made a smiling comment on the order of “good luck with that portrait” as their group walked to a spot nearby. After a minute or so he and David Hobby just couldn’t stand watching us flounder so they came over, gave a few tips, and Joe McNally even held the strobe/umbrella for a couple of shots. That was cool. I think they took pity on us in the same way that we would a distressed animal — you just can’t stand watching it suffer
I had a lot of fun shooting with these folks and my daughter had a blast being the model (she’s asking to do it again). Hopefully soon…