My family and I try to get to downtown Chicago every year and we almost always visit the Cloud Gate (aka “The Bean”) in Millennium Park. We take goofy pictures in the reflections and pictures of other people taking goofy pictures of themselves. The shot above was taken at the end of our last visit to Chicago. It was cold and rainy but we were prepared with jackets, umbrellas, and a rain cover for the camera bag. The forecast for the day was sunny and warm early, turning to cold and rainy in the afternoon and for once the weatherman was completely correct. The shots below were only taken 5-ish hours earlier in the day. I liked how the blown-out sky and top of the bean blend together in the last shot. Someday I’ll get through all the photos and post some of the goofy ones.
While in Chicago a couple of months back I hoped to get some sunset pictures of Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park. Instead I got cloudy sky shots as it began to rain. Earlier in the day the sun was shining brightly on a 80-ish degree day. By late afternoon cold winds were blowing and it began to rain. We were prepared since this was precisely the weather forecast we had been hearing. However, I had held out hope that the transition from sunshine to clouds would occur more near sunset so that I’d be able to capture something dramatic with the fountain. It wasn’t meant to be.
I was able to get some shots off quickly before the rain got too heavy but I was very limited on my composition options due to the seemingly millions of white tents and blue porta-potties set up nearby in preparation for the Chicago Marathon which was being held a few days later. I chose to post an image without all that stuff, but unfortunately that meant not posting the best view of the fountain either.
Nothing fancy on the processing — Lightroom tweaks.
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.
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.
All I could think of when I saw these two conversing on the street in Boston: “One if by land, two if by sea! C’mon, lady, how hard can this be to remember?!” Heavily cropped, but not much processing on this photo otherwise.
This building, in the heart of downtown Boston amidst very modern skyscrapers, was once the home of Chadwick Lead Works (obviously). Given that it was built in 1887 it was amazing (and rather charming) to see it standing in a modern downtown area.
This shot is a panoramic stitch of five frames taken from the sidewalk across the street. I would shoot one frame then move down the sidewalk a bit to take the next shot. Having been stitched from several frames you can zoom in and see quite a bit of detail (click the image to get to flickr where you can view the larger size).
Last weekend, after spending the day touring Boston, I walked across the pedestrian bridge (near the left side of the above image) next to Seaport Blvd which connects downtown to the old seaport district. The bridge is part of the South Bay Harbor Trail. I stopped for dinner and waited for the sun to set behind the city. As I neared this photo spot I found that four photographers were already sitting there — tripods and cameras already set up. I walked toward them and without a word stopped 10′ in front of them and pretended to set up my tripod. Silence. After a few seconds I turned and said I was just kidding and relieved laughter set in. I asked if it was OK to set up just behind them and they were nice enough to extend an offer to make room in the middle of them if I wanted (I just set up behind and above them).
My intent was to bracket a bunch of exposures as it got darker using f/22 to get a starburst effect. I switched to f/8 because (1) I really wasn’t getting much of that effect, (2) f/8 is good and sharp, and (3) my exposures were getting longer than 30 seconds and I was too lazy to start timing the exposures manually even though I was using a remote White balance was set to daylight. That’s somewhat arbitrary since I always shoot in RAW but it helps keep things consistent when viewed in the LCD. I included a couple of straight-out-of-the-camera exposures below so you can see a sample of what I was working with.
On my flight home I plugged six exposures into Nik HDR Efex Pro. My personal default is to use the realistic-subtle preset as a starting point 99% of the time and I tweak a bit in Nik. Tweaking and saving complete, I took the Nik output into Photoshop along with a couple of the darker exposures and masked in a few spots which were still over-exposed after the HDR junk. I toned down the colors in the water and burned the sidewalk darker a bit (more on the dodging and burning below). Relative to colors, I did want an “HDR look” to this image but I sometimes find the reflections and colors on the water to be a bit overdone for my taste in these skyline shots. I also dropped the overall saturation by 20 points to bring it back to realistic colors as tools like Nik HDR Efex Pro and Photomatix tend to saturate everything a lot.
Finally, since the perspective wasn’t too bad I decided to fix it by stretching out the top corners a bit and aligning the buildings with rulers to make them more upright on the edges (the SOOC images above do not have that correction). If you do too big of an edit like this it can degrade the image but it’s fine for this one. The final image turned out crisp and sharp at high resolution.
This screenshot shows my dodging and burning layer. A trick I learned watching a Joe Brady video (something about Photoshop for landscapes sponsored by Xrite) is to create a new layer, fill it with 50% gray, then dodge and burn on that with black/white. There’s no real need for that but the layer gives you a visual to show where you’re doing your adjustments.
My daughters and I went to downtown Seattle today to hang out and on the way we stopped in Kerry Park (thanks, Jim Nix for suggesting it). I had low expectations regarding the weather but did hope to grab a skyline panorama in any case. Long story short, the rains came and other visitors got in the way somewhat so all I managed was the quick, handheld bokeh panorama (from 16 frames) shown above. I look at it as making lemonade out of lemons — we did what we could given the conditions. I gave up on my plans for a high-res (zoomed in and in-focus) panorama since the rain was hard and blowing directly on to the lens. We headed to lunch at Pike Place Market and afterward the clouds broke and the sun peeked out. We headed back to Kerry Park on our way back home but by the time we got there it was raining hard again — could barely even see across the water. I didn’t bother trying any more photos. I may try some black and white treatments with this one someday…
My daughter and I were on a walk in downtown Austin today and ran across this shattered glass in a door. I snapped a shot of my reflected portrait. I had a mind to see what I could bring out of it using Photoshop’s curves layers. I knew from past experience that curves could do some cool stuff to images like this.
The images at the bottom of the post were taken inside the decommissioned Seaholm Power Plant in Austin (posts about that here and here and here). The blown-out spots in the original image are from bright daylight coming in through windows on the opposite side of the building. Inspired by David Nightingale’s tutorials on creating dramatic images, I experimented with all sorts of wacky curves and masks. With some of those wacky curves adjustments the blown-out spots really created problems so in the end I just cropped them out. The final image is rather abstract — the hand is obvious but the camera, tripod, and my body are there but not completely obvious. There are a few issues (knuckles on the hand for example) but it’s fun nonetheless.
Back to the images at the top of the post. You may already know that curves adjustments can cause a color shift depending on the blend mode of the layer. I took advantage of this to bring out a bunch of color in this image. It would have been nice if I’d been wearing something other than a black jacket but I didn’t exactly plan this in advance. The adjustments on this image were just a strong s-curve and a combination of curves which lightened/darkened the midtones — all in normal blend mode and masked a bit here and there. Some selective sharpening, noise reduction, and a small bit of overall saturation were added.
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.
Quick post tonight…
Today at lunch I joined Pete Talke, Steve Wampler, and Alex Suarez for a photo shoot in downtown Austin with a model named Tiffany. We took turns shooting pics and holding lights and reflectors. Tiffany was very easy to work with and we all got some great shots.
We started out in front of some cool doors on Colorado Street and in the course of an hour only moved a total of fifty feet. Next door to these doors is the entrance of a new bar called TenOak (the grand opening is tonight) — an entrance with another set of cool doors. We had been shooting for a while in front of the doors when one of the bar owners popped out and invited us to shoot inside if we’d send him some of the pics. Very cool…had the whole place to ourselves and he graciously encouraged us to shoot anywhere inside.
Rather than show pics of Tiffany just now, I thought I’d post a few environmental shots from our little shoot. Sometimes we all get so busy shooting that we forget to step back and grab some shots of the whole scene. I snapped a few shots of the group when we were out on the sidewalk and just before I had to take off I grabbed some bracketed shots in the bar with HDRs in mind. I didn’t have time to be very thoughtful about my compositions so bear with me. The image at the top shows a view of the bar with Tiffany posing on the bar itself (far side). Pete’s flash is on the bar at the right edge of the frame. He got some very cool shots with Tiffany’s reflection in the frame along with her (watch his blog — maybe he’ll post a couple).
The shot below is another view of the place and if you look carefully you’ll see Tiffany posing beneath the “E” in the “ELIXIR” sign.
Simple processing on both images: Photomatix, quick masking from original exposures, tweaks in Lightroom.
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…
I decided to process something different today. This shot of the “bean” — more properly known as the Cloud Gate in Chicago’s Millenium Park — is unique to me because of the way it interrupts the sky. It almost appears as if some weird time/space warp is going on. I also liked the gradients in the sky and the sky’s reflection in the bean. The original exposures were taken during our family’s annual trip to downtown Chicago last fall.
This image is a 2-exposure handheld HDR which was tonemapped in Photomatix then brought into Photoshop for masking and curves. Lots of masking and curves…and a little sharpening thrown in as well. The people were moving which presented some challenges…lots of masking. I did not add any saturation or other color mods other than what curves does.
I mentioned the gradients in the sky and it may appear that those are an artifact of the tonemapping step. Us HDR fanatics have all seen (and processed) images with various kinds of halos around objects. However, the original exposures contained these gradients/halos as well (one of the original exposures is shown below).
This shot looks much better large so after reading click on the image to view it on flickr, where you can view in a larger size.
I thought I’d post a semi-old panorama of the Austin skyline (taken 9 months ago). It’s already out of date given that the cranes are no longer part of the scene, but I hope to capture a new one soon. The sun was completely gone but there was just enough orange left in the western sky to reflect some sunset color off some of the buildings.
A wide panorama like this can be a bit tricky when the light is changing. When you shoot images for a panorama you ideally use manual mode to keep the same exposure for each individual image. This makes it easier to generate smooth, consistent exposure and colors when you stitch/blend the images. However, one must shoot quickly around sunrise/sunset so that the colors don’t change between the beginning and end of the final image. This is especially true if your exposures are long and you’re overlapping each image by 50% (my typical choice, although it generally works well even with only 20% overlap).
Processing was pretty “normal” by my standards. I used Photoshop to stitch the image from nine exposures (each at 90mm, f/5.6, 1/2s), bumped up the exposure about 1/2 stop, played with curves, reduced the noise with Noiseware, and selectively sharpened (via layer masks). I had bracketed my images so I used the underexposed frames to get a couple blown-out areas back, notably the top of the Frost Bank Tower (the one that looks like a nose trimmer).
Most of my family still lives in the Chicago area so we make a yearly trek to IL. As part of this year’s trip I took some of my family on an overnight visit to downtown Chicago. Life has kept me from being able to spend much time on photography but I had hopes of doing some “serious” photography in the city this year. I figured that being on vacation would allow some time for pics but the highest priority was spending time with the kids and that’s what I mostly did. I did manage some shots but really couldn’t spend time composing or trying different vantage points.
That said, I snuck out of the hotel room at sunrise and headed toward Michigan Avenue. I caught a glimpse of the orange light of the early morning sun on the Trump Tower from a block away so I picked up the pace and walked to the Chicago River a block east of Michigan Ave. In order to get the composition I wanted I had to set up the camera on one of the pillars of the stone wall above the river. I was a bit nervous about that but just moved with caution to avoid knocking everything over the wall.
There are several things I like about this shot. The orange glow of the Trump Tower was just right. I liked how the wide-angle lens makes the buildings on either side of the river lean as if they’re getting ready for a cross-river showdown. Finally, I’m partial to Chicago and therefore just think any downtown shot in the city looks cool. I hope you like it too.
As for processing, this shot started life as a 4-exposure HDR (-4, -2, 0, +2). Three exposures were nearly sufficient but I needed the -4 exposure to tame the reflective highlights at the bottom of the Trump Tower. I brought the tonemapped image into Photoshop with the four original exposures and masked pieces of each into the image. I use Noiseware to clean up the sky. Finally, some sharpening and curves adjustments and I was pretty much done. I had intended to play around with Topaz Adjust to see what I came up with but I never got around to that…maybe I’ll have some fun with that in the future.
Here’s a daytime shot of the Trump Tower. As you can see, there’s no orange in that building at all — the morning sun was simply *that* orange.
(Many years ago) I was born on the south side of the Windy City in the Roseland neighborhood. My family moved to the south suburbs when I was pretty young, then out to a rural area (still close to the city) in high school. I went to lots of Blackhawks games in Chicago Stadium, Sox (and Sting) games at Comiskey Park, and even managed one Cubs game at Wrigley. Incidentally, I never made it to a Bears game — haven’t ever been to a pro football game to this day.
I remember watching Stan Mikita, Pit Martin, and Keith Magnuson play for the Hawks. I loved Sox players like Chet Lemon (when I was really young), Harold Baines, and Carlton Fisk. I had a home run ball hit by Brian Downing back in the 70′s. I wasn’t actually at the game and honestly don’t remember if he played for the Sox or the Angels at the time. I was at the 1983 game where the Sox *could have* clinched the division but they needed a win or loss from someone else so they didn’t clinch until the following night…something like that. I watched every game of the Bears run up to the Super Bowl in 1985 — what a fun season. I practically worshipped Karl-Heinz Granitza of the Chicago Sting.
I wasn’t big into autographs but I had Harold Baines, Walter Payton (got that one at the auto show in McCormick Place), and Johnny Morris (got his in the stands at Comiskey Park the same day I got Baines’).
Although I now live in Texas, the rest of my family still lives in the Chicago area and downtown Chicago is pretty much a yearly destination for our family. We take the Metra in to the Randolph station from the south side, walk the streets, and take in whatever attractions we feel like that visit. The kids love it. I haven’t visited since really getting into photography but I’m really looking forward to it. [Side note: One member of the family lives in Milwaukee but we Chicagoans simply consider that a suburb…those of you from Chicago appreciate this I'm sure]
The picture above was taken as my wife and I were landing at O’Hare en route to Paris. I grabbed the camera a bit late and missed some better shots but I’m still pleased with this one — reminds me of home.
Thought I’d share a couple more night shots from the recent photowalk with Alex Suarez & Co in downtown Austin. Both shots are 3-exposure HDRs. The shot above shot is on 6th St. and shows a typical stretch of the club district before any crowd developed. The shot below shows the intersection of 6th and Congress from the vantage point of the parking garage.
I processed both of these mostly as an exercise in improving my work with night scenes. Even though I had abandoned tonemapping for some of my recent night shots, I found it to work reasonably well for both of these images. In truth, the main “skill” I learned was patience. Each image had to be worked on little-by-little in order to properly bring out certain details. Sometimes the original exposures needed processing to make them suitable for blending with the tonemapped layer. The skies needed to be masked in, noise needed some reduction (and then some masking to keep detail where necessary). I had to determine how I wanted to show the traffic (mostly still-ish or really bookin’?) — and then had to work to execute on what I decided. Lots of work around some of the lights…I spent a fair amount of time on these images, but it was enjoyable.
On a side note, while I processed these images I “watched” (half watched, half listened) some episodes of Foyle’s War. Look it up on the net. Really great show (available on Netflix).
Let me know how you like the images…or Foyle’s War.