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.
Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin, TX (formerly Town Lake, which is still how I think of it) plays host to some serious rowing and for a good part of the year several parts of the lake have lanes set up for practice and competition. I don’t know if this group was part of a private club or part of the University of Texas team but I managed to catch a shot as they rowed away from the dock to embark on a practice run. It’s really quite amazing how synchronized the team members are with each other.
Town Lake is also a favorite recreation spot for canoes, kayaks, and the latest craze, SUPs — stand-up paddle boards. My family and I took advantage of the beautiful day today and kayaked on the lake. What a great way to get a couple hours of exercise and relaxation at the same time. Kudos to the Texas Rowing Center who only charged us for a single hour of rental. As always, we tried to pay what we fairly owed but they said, “It’s on us”.
Any opinions on how the photo above should be framed/cropped? They’re heading out of the left side of the frame…but backwards. I like this centered-ish framing the best (I tried several) although I don’t think there’s any right or wrong answer.
A few weeks ago our family and some friends camped at the Vineyard Campground in Grapevine, TX (while attending the Alliance Air Show). Snapped this shot of the girls watching the sunset from the dock behind our campsite.
Did some basic adjustments in Lightroom (mainly crop, contrast, clarity and some desaturation) then pulled it into Photoshop and combined it with a couple of subtle textures from Jerry Jones at Shadowhouse Creations.
Friends, food, hiking in God’s beautiful creation, relaxation, card games — good times! I recently spent a 4-day weekend in Nye, MT with my wife and friends. What a great time. One afternoon we hiked up the trail along the Stillwater River toward Sioux Charley Lake and took the group portrait above. Located in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, this little hike is a tiny portion of a 700-mile network of trails — amazing.
We did this hike together a couple years ago and got the standard mid-day, harsh facial shadows group photo. I didn’t plan to take many photos in the mid-day light so I decided not to lug the tripod up the trail just for the group shot. However, knowing ahead of time that the one shot we did want was a group photo from this hike, I’d brought my flash along (a friend was kind enough to keep it in his pack). Without flash, I had the choice between blowing out half of the scenery in order to properly expose the group or underexpose the group in order to properly expose the scenery. I didn’t ever consider HDR for this. Maybe I should have clicked off some brackets and just tried it, but I didn’t want any hint of that “HDR look” for our shot. I found some rocks to prop the camera on and framed the shot in such a way to maximize the amount of scenery captured while not making the group so small as to be unrecognizable.
I put the camera in manual mode and chose an exposure which didn’t blow out the sky. I may have blown out a tiny section here and there but I also wanted some detail in the portions of the mountains which were in shadow. I used the on-camera flash (Canon 580 EXii) in E-TTL mode with -1/2 stop flash compensation…seemed about right based on a test shot. Post processing was a series of curves to selectively adjust portions of the image.
I’m pretty happy with it. I wasn’t trying to make the *best* shot (wouldn’t have used on-camera flash of course) but I was trying to get a shot in which people and scenery were reasonably balanced with a minimum amount of gear and I think I accomplished that.
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.
The Oasis Restaurant, which sits on a cliff some 450′ above Lake Travis in Austin, labels itself as the sunset capital of Texas…and it may very well be. I recently visited with an out-of-town guest and a few of my daughters and was amazed at the enormity of what they are building out there. You see, in 2005 the Oasis burned as a result of a lightning strike. It has since been rebuilt and then some. An employee informed us that the place currently seats 2600 people — enough to be the third largest restaurant in the USA. Construction is well underway on an expansion which will increase the seating to 4000…largest in the country is their claim! According to their own website there will also be about 30 retail shops on site.
The signature architectural feature of the Oasis is its many levels of outdoor decks. Large patio umbrellas cover the tables and about ten minutes before the sun hits the horizon the staff makes a mad scramble to collapse all the umbrellas to maximize the view. As the sun sets, a bell rings out, hundreds of cameras click, and everyone cheers.
What’s the food like? Let’s just say that I’m not all that picky and I still don’t like it much. Oh well, I go (once every 5 years maybe) for the sunset and not the food.
I took brackets of three different compositions on our last visit. One was an immediate reject and I processed one of the others (shown above). Standard-ish 3-exp (or was it 6???) HDR tonemapped in Photomatix, combined with bits from the original exposures, and run through a bit of curves adjustments, etc. I plan to get out there again sometime soon and really spend a bit of time taking photos from various vantage points.
One of the fun things about photography is exploring new places and taking time to see new viewpoints. Diving deeper into photography this past year has caused me to view old places in a new way and visit new places that I wish I had seen years ago. An example of the former would be the Texas State Capitol building. I’ve been there many, many times in the 20 years I’ve lived in Austin but never took a picture there until 2 months ago. An example of the latter would be the cliffs high above the Pennybacker Bridge (or “Loop 360 Bridge” to most of us locals). What an awesome place and I can’t explain why I’ve never taken the time to visit before January of this year.
My daughter and I have been doing most of the assignments on dailyshoot.com. I approach these in a semi-serious manner. I want to improve my photography both in the technical aspect and the creative aspects therefore I make an attempt to come up with something original that also challenges me from a technical standpoint. However, I have a family and can’t devote all my time to the assignments so I often compromise and complete them with a result that I’m not entirely proud of. That’s OK though — I’m still learning in the process.
Today’s assignment was to “go somewhere today you’ve never been, even just a different street, and make a photo”. I was headed out on a date with one of my daughters tonight and we chose Mangia Pizza on Lake Austin Blvd. Yum. Not quite as good as Giordano’s in Chicago but ‘yum’ nonetheless. While pumping gas at the station next door we were looking at the incredible houses high on the cliffs above Lady Bird Lake. As usual I had the camera stashed in the trunk so we grabbed it and walked down to Eilers Park (or Deep Eddy as many know it) to attempt a capture or two of those houses. I’ve been to Mangia many times before…never took the time to go down to the park.
Eilers Park was built on a tract of lakefront which the City of Austin purchased from A.J. Eilers in 1935, for a price of $10,000. According to http://www.friendsofeilerspark.org/, “Mr. Eilers and his partners had developed the property as a resort that included a spring-fed pool, a bathhouse, rental cottages, a bandstand, and concession stand. The park had a carnival-like atmosphere with a Ferris wheel, music performances, free movies, and much, much more.” Over the years the park deteriorated but over the past several years improvements have been completed and a master plan for new projects has been created.
The image above is an HDR generated from 3 exposures. The light was just right. I wanted to capture a wider scene with several of the houses on the cliff but there are plenty of power lines around. I’m just not that good with photoshop yet and the lines would have seriously detracted from the image. I also had to shoot above some brush in the foreground which is why the house is tight to the bottom of the frame. I’d love to find out more about this house…someday. For now it remains another “place I’ve never been”.
I was a bit surprised at the number of questions I received regarding the sunset image below [Click on images to view them larger on flickr. Then click "ALL SIZES" above the image on flickr to view it large].
Most questions came from people who (as far as I know) do not have any particular knowledge or experience with photography. I’ll try to explain how this image was done in a generally non-technical way. No *promises* that I won’t use geeky terms and all that though…
First question — Can I see it larger (and in better resolution than facebook)? Yes. Click on the image above to view it on flickr then click on “ALL SIZES” above the photo to see a large version.
In answer to another question: No, this isn’t a painting. This image was generated using 5 exposures from the camera and processed in various pieces of software. I didn’t do any “painting” on the computer — all the colors and light that you see came from information in the 5 image files from the camera. However, depending on how you process an image it can look very much like a painting. In software all the pixels are manipulated in a myriad of ways — more or less saturation, brightness, etc. to bring out or tone down the colors. Check out http://www.hdrspotting.com and you’ll see some images that very much look like paintings.
Another question — Is it “fake”? Only if your definition of “real” is “light straight into the camera, image straight out of the camera”. In that case it’s very fake, as are 99.999% of the images you see in books, magazines, catalogs, black and white, etc. All those images are manipulated (often heavily) in some form or fashion. Ansel Adams was famous for spending hours in the darkroom manipulating portions of his prints…are his images fake? Also, when you put any sort of filter in front of your lens you’re manipulating the light and making the image look different. Even your (digital) camera does processing on the image before generating it. Two different cameras may give slightly different results when capturing the same scene.
Whether or not various effects or manipulations are desirable and/or attractive is a completely subjective matter. Sometimes I like it, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I like a strong effect, sometimes very subtle. This is true with respect to any type of photography or art. Could say tons more about that but I won’t bore you further. My personal opinion is that if you are honest — not misrepresenting how the image came about or how it was manipulated — then the only thing that matters is whether you and/or your target audience/client like it.
I’ll attempt to explain a bit of the “What, Why, and How?” of this type of image in as non-technical terms as possible.
The term for this type of image is “HDR” which is an acronym for “high dynamic range”. If any photogeek reading this wants to get into a debate about what is properly called “HDR” versus “tonemapping”, just know that I don’t care. If you think I’m poisoning the photography world with incorrect usage of the term “HDR”, I can live with that.
Why use HDR? The reason is to capture all the different levels of light in a scene. The human eye can roam around a scene and dynamically adjust to a wide range of light levels. A camera — even a high-tech one — cannot handle this wide range when capturing a scene with large disparities in light/dark. The camera makes a guess at the best exposure which results in some areas being too light, some too dark. When using HDR one generally takes three to five different exposures, some exposed to capture the dark areas (long exposures) and some the bright areas (short exposures). Think about pictures you’ve taken of a sunset in the past. You usually end up with one of two results: Either the sky looks great but the landscape (or your wife) is a black silhouette or the landscape is normal and the sky is completely white (all the sunset colors are gone because the camera over-exposed that portion of the image). If one of these is the effect you’re after, great. If not, you need to use special filters, use software, or a combination of both (I don’t use filters personally).
After capturing these multiple exposures I shove them through some software (Photomatix in my case). The *very* simple explanation is that the software merges the multiple exposures into one image such that each area is properly exposed. A really strange image results from that step. I then use Photoshop to ‘fix’ some of what that software did by bringing in pieces of the original exposures from the camera. After this it’s the usual brightness, contrast, saturation, etc. adjustments that many of you probably do on your own images in the software that came packaged with your camera or maybe on Picasa. Understand, that’s an extremely paraphrased version of what goes on. The total time to do this varies but the ‘Pennybacker Sunset’ image took approximately 1.5 hours (included two complete restarts because I messed things up beyond repair…I’m new to this HDR stuff).
Maybe I’ll write my own tutorial someday as I seem to be settling in a general groove in the way I’m processing my images. However, I think you’ll be far better served by reading tutorials from the others I list below. I’ll let you hunt for their tutorial links just so you have to check out their sites a little. I’ve used information from each of these — very helpful.
Trey Ratcliff (http://www.stuckincustoms.com)
Jim Nix (http://www.nomadicpursuits.com/blog/)
Dave Wilson (http://davewilsonphotography.com)
Well, I’ve probably created more questions than I’ve given answers. If you’d like to see more images you can add me as a contact on flickr and change your settings to notify you when I add photos (not all of them are HDR). My flickr site is http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk.
Here’s a parting shot from the evening that I took the sunset shot. Click through to the flickr page to read a bit about this one. Be sure to click on “ALL SIZES” to see it best.