I’m headed to Seattle next week and that put this picture in mind (a rerun on the blog). During our last Seattle trip the weather consisted of cold temperatures (50-ish) with rain — *every* day. The sun partially peaked out *one* afternoon for a couple hours. The picture above is a good reflection of that I think. To be fair, we knew in advance that the weather would stink that time of year but visiting family (with 3 new babies among us) was worth it and we had a great time. I have hopes of someday getting a clear-weather shot from Kerry Park with Mt. Rainier in the background but it’s not likely to happen next week as I doubt there will be much time for photographic adventures. In fact, I might not even pack more than the camera body, a single lens, and a flash (for the baby snapshots of course). We’ll see though — my tripod might sneak into the luggage.
Aside from a family photo shoot a couple of weeks ago (which I’ve been asked not to post online) I haven’t taken any pictures. Work at “work”, work at home, and family this and that have consumed all my time. That’s not a bad thing necessarily — those are the right priorities — but I hope to get out shooting sometime soon.
It’s pouring rain again tonight. Lots of lightning and thunder too…awesome. Last night after the rain I noticed some clouds to the east so I shot about 20 handheld frames along the horizon. The above image was cropped from the resulting stitched panorama (probably about 10 frames worth). I did some basic contrast adjustments in Photoshop after the stitch then went back into Lightroom. I’d recently seen a very cool cloud/lightning image done in black and white and decided to go that route with this one. I used the channel mixer in Lightroom to adjust the image to taste. In very rough terms that meant darkening the blues and brightening the reds.
I was headed to my trolley tour stop in Boston when I spotted this picture. Sun peeking from behind the building, moderate interest in the sky, sky and cloud reflections in the windows of the tall building, and dappled reflections of light in the short one. As I took the shot I got a bonus lens flare and guy crossing the street. It’s not an *amazing* scene, but pleasant enough IMO.
This is an HDR and naturally it bugs me that there’s a slight halo around that tall skyscraper. The thing is, that halo is present in the original exposures too. Despite the fact that there will be those who attribute the halo effect to “bad HDR”, I decided to leave it as is. For those of you interested in one method of fixing this (particularly in difficult, detailed scenes), see Dave Wilson’s handy tips here.
The bright portion of the street (and the guy walking across) were masked in from a single exposure. That exposure (fast shutter speed to freeze his motion somewhat) was tweaked a bit to match the scene as I saw fit. Given that it was a bright, sunny day I wanted it to still look “bright” and I wanted the portion of the street at the left to remain in shadow. One could argue that I should have used a slower shutter speed to show his motion but that’s simply a matter of personal preference — neither one is more correct than the other IMO. Various curves were masked in all over the place as usual.
“If you own a house which faces west on an island in the Indian Ocean and your youngest sibling is left-handed and your primary vehicle is white, then subtract line 21 from line 13, multiply by 0.285, subtract your latitude and longitude and enter the result on line 85.” What’s that got to do with anything? I just did my income taxes and it seems like half the directions are as nonsensical as the one above. So, I’m just venting…our tax code is too complex and MESSED UP. It doesn’t matter what political party affiliation you claim, whether you think the system is fair or unfair, or you think the rich should pay more or less — I don’t see how anyone could disagree that it’s a mess. Solutions? I don’t get into those kinds of debates online
In a previous post I showed a bokeh panorama (or “bokehrama”) from the same place the above picture was taken. The one above was a quick snapshot as we packed up to get out of the rain. I hadn’t planned on doing much with it but as I continued to see it among my photos it grew on me — I like the overall gloomy mood contrasted with the random colors of the skyscraper windows for example. Having a bit of detail and drama in the clouds helps too and I don’t think I would like it as much if the skies had been a flat gray.
This image is from a single frame captured with a 50mm lens. You may note the odd settings used — not typical for a landscape shot. The fact of the matter is that I had just used roughly the same settings for the panorama I linked to above. For this skyline image I sped up the shutter one stop with a flick of the dial (didn’t need quite the length of exposure that I needed for my daughter’s dark skin) and snapped this quickly so we could get going. Something like f/8 would’ve been sharper, etc. but there was no time to worry about that stuff. I cropped to a more panoramic aspect ratio (and cropped out another visitor to the park who was in the left side of my frame) then processed mainly with a bunch of curves and masks to selectively adjust contrast. I tweaked the white balance a bit to move from a completely black and white cast toward having a wee bit of warmth.
I’m posting another HDR that I processed in my Photomatix vs Nik HDR Efex Pro evaluation war. The subject here is the lobby of the St. Regis Hotel on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. There was a multi-level water feature (a bit of which you see in this image) which provided all sorts of reflections and begged to be turned into some HDRs. I didn’t have a tripod with me so I simply plopped the camera down on a ledge and fired of 9 bracket exposures in several locations. This limited my composition choices but I was able to get the main thing I was after — the reflections in the water. The hotel is situated in a beautiful spot on the island and commands a gorgeous view the mountains across a small bay. If I’d had a tripod I would have taken shots from other positions to include a nice view of the ocean and mountains through the windows.
In this case Photomatix was dramatically better for quickly coming up with a result I liked. The photo above is almost straight out of Photomatix — I only added some clarity/sharpening/noise reduction after that. Nik gave some interesting results but did a lousy job keeping the clouds outside from being blown out. Whenever I used the more realistic presets (realistic HDRs are generally my preference) the view out the windows was completely blown out. No doubt I could have figured out how to get an acceptable result but it was taking a lot of time to begin to match what I got out of the Photomatix effort.
You’ll note the large shift in color cast across the image. This was due to the prominence of daylight through the windows on the left side versus the interior tungsten lighting on the right. It bothered me at first but it’s more realistic this way so I decided to leave the color as-is.
Today I’m posting an HDR panorama of the Hanalei Valley in Kauai, Hawaii. The main crop in the valley is taro. I mentioned in another post that I rarely lugged the tripod around while out with the family but I did usually have it in the car. When we stopped at this lookout I went ahead and used to capture images for a pano of this valley. As you can clearly see the dynamic range was quite large, especially with the bright clouds. I quickly picked an exposure (using manual mode) and fired off 3 exposures per position. I didn’t want to hold the family up so I didn’t take the time to capture the whole dynamic range. As such, the clouds still are blown out in spots but it’s still a picture worth having from the trip.
I tonemapped each set of brackets using the same settings then used Photoshop to stitch them together. After that I simply tweaked the contrast. One obvious improvement would be to clone or crop out the branch sticking into the top left part of the frame but I haven’t yet taken the time…
I recently downloaded a trial version of Nik Software’s HDR Efex Pro. I’d been semi-disappointed in many HDRs I’d created in Photomatix and had heard many people say they’d made the switch to Nik. If you’re hoping for a complete review of Nik HDR Efex Pro I apologize in advance — I’m only going to give some impressions here.
First, a bit on Photomatix. It’s great software in many ways and I’ve used it to make many cool (IMO) images. However, in many of my HDRs of late I’ve ended up doing so much masking in Photoshop after tone mapping in Photomatix that I’m practically producing a composite of the original exposures. Photomatix often doesn’t handle motion to my liking — leaving way too much work to do afterwards. I’ll readily admit that it could be the user — I’m no wizard with Photomatix. It could also be that I’m getting pickier as time goes on. On the plus side, I find Photomatix to be much faster than Nik but I don’t process all that many HDRs so that’s not a huge factor.
I used Nik HDR Efex Pro to process all but one of the images in this post. For my own comparison purposes I processed another Hawaii coast photo — similar to the one at the top of this post — with Photomatix. It’s not completely apples-to-apples since I didn’t process the *same* photo but I ended up having to spend a ton of time in Photoshop fixing up the Photomatix image (basically ending up with a composite as I mentioned above).
As for the mechanics of using Nik HDR Efex Pro, it’s quite simple. In each of the images (5-ish?) that I’ve processed with it I’ve started out with a preset and tweaked from there. Of course I’m still learning all the sliders, etc. but I’m happy with it so far. I find the “control point” concept useful (it defines circles in which you can separately tweak portions of the image) but I would prefer that it worked more like the adjustment brush in Lightroom where you can choose exactly where the effects are applied. The final images here aren’t completely to my liking (some spots would get fixed if I were to spend more time on the images) but are illustrative enough for this post.
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.
“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…
My wife saw that quote on a billboard as we drove out of the DFW area last weekend (I believe the billboard used a military ship as the backdrop). I had just attended the Alliance Airshow in Fort Worth the day before and I thought the quote was appropriate for a shot of the Thunderbirds.
A friend and I bought photographer passes for the show. The passes were sold to 70-ish photographers and granted access to the show 2 hours before the general public so we could photograph the static displays without the crowds. We also had a designated area at the flight line — just to one side of the show’s announcer at show center. Plenty of room, free water ($3 per bottle if you buy at the concession stand), and lunch provided. It was well worth it.
Editing was simple: “Auto” preset in Lightroom, set daylight white balance, added some clarity and a little fill light. Vignette and deep blue sky are courtesy of the polarizing filter I was using.
I had to snap this photo of all the glass in the photo area. All I could think of is Mark Garbowski’s blog title “Too Much Glass”. It was entertaining to watch the chorus of lenses scanning the sky in synchronicity as planes flew by. I had some serious lens envy with my puny 70-200mm f/2.8 IS.
I don’t ever get tired of beautiful sunrises…like this one I recently witnessed on the beach in Port Aransas, TX.
I used two versions of the same exposure to create the image above. One version used daylight white balance while the other used (nearly) a tungsten white balance. A gradient mask blended the two, keeping the golden light in the lower portion of the frame and gradually transitioning to the blue sky above. Four or five curves layers were used to touch up portions of the image and create a vignette. Some minor cloning/healing was done to get rid of some birds zipping across the screen and a few other tiny elements.
As we were headed down Padre Island National Seashore to fish early Saturday morning, my older son and I were intently looking for bait fish activity, holes/cuts in the sandbars, etc. with the intent to find the best fishing spot — didn’t even notice the sun. My seven-year old piped up in a matter-of-fact voice, “Hey, Dad…you’re going to want to get a picture of this.” He’s in tune with my photography habit.
I hopped out of the truck and snapped off a few pictures. It’s amazing how quickly the sun rises in the sky at this point in the day.
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.
My wife and I just enjoyed a four-day weekend in Montana’s Stillwater County with four other couples (I’ll post a picture of this fantastically good-looking group soon). While out wandering among the ranches early one morning I spotted this rusty old tractor just off the highway. Dramatic skies + rusty tractor + twisted barbed wire + broken fence posts = great HDR scene.
I shot seven exposures to capture the entire dynamic range. Since I generally like to leave some deep shadows in my HDRs I probably could have done without the brightest exposure. Likewise with the darkest exposure…not *sure* that I needed it but I shot it anyway.
After tonemapping in Photomatix I fired up Photoshop with the intent of doing the usual blending with the original exposures and adjusting with curves. The image had a bit too much color saturation for my taste and as I tried different methods to tone that down I got the idea to turn this into an antique-ish photo. So, I used a channel mixer adjustment layer and tweaked to take almost all the color out, my new goal being to make it look like a photo that had been sitting under the glass on someone’s desk for fifty years. Five curves layers/masks were used and noise was reduced in the sky. All it needs IMO is a leather-skinned farmer leaning on the wheel with a blade of grass stuck in his mouth.
This shot was cropped from a 19-shot panorama in the desert of Big Bend National Park. It was taken late in the afternoon — horrible light — but I still like the view and the subtle rays from the sun shining from behind the clouds. A neutral density filter would have been handy to balance out the exposure of land an sky but I don’t one so I picked the exposure I liked best. HDR would have been an option but I’ve never been happy with my HDR pano attempts.
Processing consisted of the pano merge in Photoshop, 3 curves layers (and associated masks), exposure tweaks in a few spots, and noise reduction in the sky areas.
My daughter happened to notice this cloud the other night and called me out to take a pic. If I had noticed the storm building up I might have chronicled its development a bit more.
The shot was taken from the end of my driveway (same spot as this one). The exposure was chosen to expose the brightest portion of the cloud as far as I could without blowing out anything. In hindsight I’d stop down to f/8 and bump up the ISO to compensate. Even though I was on a tripod I wanted a fast-ish shutter speed because I was in the bed of my truck (to get a bit of clearance over the trees) and the suspension was moving around with the gusting wind. Processing was some clarity and curves.
Mike Connell has a better shot of this cloud taken from a different angle here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mdconnell/5763584527/
“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork”. That’s about all there is to say about an awesome sky like this.
Had dinner with some friends tonight and when I got home this was the view from my driveway. I snapped some photos as the sun went down but mostly just stood and watched as this cloud billowed and tumbled and whatever else clouds do. It changed rapidly. The processing on this photo was simple: Selected a preset I had in Lightroom which mostly adjusted clarity, contrast and brightness, used three curves layers in Photoshop to tweak some areas, reduced noise, sharpened slighty, and blended in at 50%-ish opacity a layer which had been run through Topaz Adjust’s “Exposure Correction” filter.
[Updates: An additional note in response to some questions I got. I first shot this with a Canon 50D and a Sigma 10-20mm lens. I made that choice simply based on the availability of the 10mm focal length (24mm is the widest I have for my 5D -- equivalent to 15mm-ish on the 50D). I also shot this with the full-frame Canon 5D Mark ii to see if I could *really* bring out some sharp detail in the clouds with the slightly higher resolution. In the end I chose a 16mm shot from the 50D. This cloud was changing by the second and the choice of which frame to process was based solely on the shape and color of the cloud in the frame and not at all on the focal length or which camera was used. With regards to exposure, I was bracketing around the hairy edge of where the brightest highlights of the cloud *almost* were blown out.
Also, see this cool capture by DJ Schulte which adds a great foreground element. I tried to find something interesting at my place but didn't find anything compelling enough to include in the shot. I decided the cloud itself was worth the shot anyway.]
Sometimes simple tweaks result in amazing improvements to an image. The photo above was the result of putting an original exposure through a simple ‘S’ curves adjustment, adding a very small cyan, blue, and yellow saturation boost, sharpening theedges of the wispy clouds, and a spin through noise reduction in Noiseware. That’s it. The curves adjustment by itself brought out a ton of color, especially the touch of red on the bottom of the darkest clouds. This edit was all of 5 minutes and 4 minutes of that was just experimentation.
I was going to try tonemapping a single exposure as well as tonemapping three bracketed exposures but there was no need (atleast not for what I was after). The clouds were moving so fast that a 3-exposure HDR would have required the whole sky to be masked from one exposure anyway. I would have been left with a tonemapped mountainside. Instead, I opted for the mountain to be a silhouette in order to put the focus on the sky.
Compositionally the image is not all that great. However, I was at my widest setting (18mm at the time) and didn’t want to chop off any more blue sky. I have other exposures in which I placed the sunrise in a more ideal spot but I’m not sure I like the overall image any better. Maybe I’ll post one at a later time.
This photo was taken last year in Davis Mountains State Park in Fort Davis, TX. During our week there we saw some of the most amazing cloud formations in the bluest of skies. The night skies are void of light pollution, providing beautiful views of the stars above. This of course is why the McDonald Observatory (part of the University of Texas) is located near Fort Davis. The weather is also very nice due to the high elevation (the town is about 5000′ and much of the park is higher). We were there in August and it got a touch warm in the hottest part of the day but it was very pleasant otherwise.
The original exposure is shown below for comparison.
I’ve got Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” playing through my head these days. I haven’t heard the song since, oh, 1985 but I thought of it when I viewed the sunset above. When I saw those clouds (I didn’t even manage to catch them at the peak of brightness and color), the first thing that popped into my head was the phrase “fire in the sky”. The clouds looked like flames. My 3 year old asked me if the sky was on fire — even he thought it looked like fire. Frankly, the image doesn’t stand on its own but I thought the uniqueness of these clouds made them worth sharing.
An hour before this sunset the sky looked like this:
I figured we’d have a great sunset after seeing those clouds but I was busy throwing the football around with the kids so I missed the best part of it. I would have loved to zip over to a nice vista to take this shot but I settled for the back-porch version.
Smoke on the water…fire in the sky. Someone please make the music in my head stop
While out running in our neighborhood last week I witnessed an awesome sunrise. There were low, fast-moving clouds on the eastern horizon which made for lots of color as the sun came up. I wasn’t carrying my camera of course so I couldn’t capture this particular event. The next morning I noticed that there were a few clouds on the horizon again as the sun was rising so I popped out of the house with the camera — the first time in weeks I’ve been out to shoot anything at all. I captured only two scenes (several bracketed exposures of each though).
I initially started out to make a simple HDR with 6 exposures (-4 through +1 in single-stop increments) so I did the usual tonemapping in Photomatix, then brought that into CS4 with some original exposures. I replaced the sky — not for noise reasons but rather due to the blur that had been introduced by the fast-moving clouds. After that, I did some of the usual curves/levels/sharpness and was “finished”. I liked it OK…the lens flare was cool, sunburst was nice…I would enjoy seeing it pop up on my desktop screensaver for sure.
On a whim I started playing around with some textures. I only had 5-6 textures on-hand and wasn’t willing to spend a bunch of time searching for others. Long story made short, I ended up using a canvas texture and another random, blotchy texture. Most of my experimentation involved trying out different layer blending modes and opacities. I used “linear light” for one texture and overlay for the other. I offer you my free texture tutorial: “Play around until you like something”.
I also over-saturated the colors somewhat. I don’t normally add any saturation but I thought it fit the painterly effect I was going for.
When I witness a scene like this I can’t help but think of how amazing God’s creation is. My kids and thought Ps 113:3 fit this one: “From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the Lord is to be praised!”.
Had a great Father’s Day this year! We spent Saturday night at our friend’s house in Fredericksburg and I woke up to a fresh cup of coffee and the sunrise in the image below (9-exposure HDR). It was such a cool morning (by Texas summer standards) so I just wandered around a bit and watched the cows graze.
We have so much fun with our friends and Sunday morning was no different as we enjoyed breakfast together and got ready for church. After church we headed home to meet our oldest (married) daughter and have a meal — of my choosing of course — together. The family got me something around 700 shirts which my son said was their way of telling me that they didn’t like my current wardrobe.
Speaking of being a father, we celebrated the birthday of one of our younger sons this past week. Whenever we celebrate our children’s birthdays I’m reminded of how old *I’m* getting.
Our son has become fascinated with cowboys of late (he wanted to invite Roy Rogers to his birthday) so we got him a cowboy hat and used matches for candles on the cake (seemed more like what cowboys would do). He loved it — “Mom, this is the BEST cowboy cake EVER!”. Here’s a shot of him getting ready to blow out his “candles”.
I don’t normally process single exposures (especially of people) as HDRs but I was inspired by Jayme Rutherford’s single-exposure turtle shot which you can view here. I decided that the cowboy theme lent itself well to the gritty texture that tonemapping an image brings about.