Archive for June, 2012

Ruined Reflections

Ruined Reflection, Austin Skyline, Panorama stitched from 3 HDR frames, 45mm, f/8

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.


Family Portraits…Another Lesson Learned

(Mostly Salvaged) Family Portrait

As much as I don’t want to post my mistakes — especially the really stupid ones — they can be helpful to look back on and point out to others.  It depends on the natural light situation of course, but in a portrait like the one above I often use a single strobe through, or reflected from, an umbrella placed above-camera.  This may be to provide a catchlight in the eyes, a bit of fill in the eye sockets, some overall light, or all of the above.  I occasionally use a bare strobe (well, sometimes with a gel but no other modifiers) to give a hint of a rim light on the shoulders to help separate the subjects from the background. My daughter typically holds this in position behind the subjects when I use it.  During a recent family portrait shoot on the grounds of the Texas Capitol I pulled a real boneheaded move with this light.

Just before we shot the pose above (which fortunately wasn’t the “preferred” pose) I got my rim light strobe out of the bag and quickly tested that everything was working (flash on, remote trigger operational, my guesstimated manual power set).  All was well so I dropped it in the grass and we set to arranging people and reminding the kids not to watch the squirrels running around.  We shot a bunch of frames to make sure we caught everyone looking their best-ish and moved on to our next pose.  I had decided not to use the rim light because the separation from the background seemed fine.

To my horror, when I loaded the pics up on the computer at home, I noticed that all the shots of this pose had a bright light in the grass and two of the subjects were lit like they were being blasted by the sun.  Well, they *were* being blasted — by my portable sun as you see in the picture below.  I had left it turned on and the trigger active…probably at 1/4 power.  Oops.  I couldn’t believe I had not noticed this while chimping my test shots.  My (young) daughters didn’t point it out — one didn’t even notice and the other assumed that I intended to use the flash that way.

Needless to say it was a big mistake.  While this was not the ideal pose we wanted to keep one from this set.  I was fortunate enough to have a reasonable fixable frame in the bunch so I went to work.  Switched a head, toned down some of the effects from the misplaced strobe, and made the other usual edits.  I believe the photo *is* completely salvageable given enough effort and time and I may work on it for practice in the future.

Lesson learned.  Chimp and look around the *whole* frame — Check everything…check again.

Unedited Frame


Harbor Hotel At Rowes Wharf

Harbor Hotel Entrance 17mm, f/8, 5 exposures, ISO 100

Sometimes a wide-angle lens isn’t quite wide enough.  I took this shot at the wide end of my 17-40mm lens and it just couldn’t capture it all.  The entrance to this hotel is amazing and is visible from across Boston Harbor (see here).

I used 5 exposures to make this HDR but I honestly could have gotten by with only two or three.  As always I wasn’t trying to eliminate the shadows by using HDR but rather attempting to bring out some depth and tone down some highlights.  Notice that the building on the left out by the harbor just disappears into shadow — that’s how it should be as it really looks that way.  I used Nik HDR Efex Pro to create the starting image, then used a dark exposure to tone down a few of the bright lights.  There was a bit of masking for the couple standing near the left, a couple of tonemapping artifacts fixed up, and basic contrast adjustments.  One thing that bothers me a little is how the lights near the left doorway have quite a green tone while the lights on the right are rather white (I’m a poet and didn’t even know it).  I decided not to balance them out — for whatever reason that’s just the way they were (see original exposure below).

One of the Original Exposures


Honda

Honda 30mm, f/7.1

I’m making arrangements for another trip to Boston and it put in mind some of the photos I took on my last trip.  While taking this photo of the Boston Skyline, a young couple pulled up on a motorcycle, parked it, and walked off to enjoy the view of the skyline across Boston Harbor.  The bike had all sorts of accessory lights which cast a deep reddish-orange glow around it (see below but note the white balance isn’t quite right on the color version).  I took some photos of it and generated this B+W HDR.  There was a bit of noise in the result…I left it in, I kind of like it.


Fort Worth Water Gardens

Water and Steps 40mm, f/16, 0.4s, ISO 100

Taking pictures of flowing water is always fun but it requires a bit of experimentation.  Of course the definition of a “good” result is completely subjective — Do you want to completely lose the definition of the water? Completely blow out the water’s highlights? Freeze the motion or splashing of the water?  All of those things are cool at times.  My objective in these pictures was to open the shutter long enough to show the motion of the water yet keep some definition in some of the individual streams/strands of water as it flowed over the features of the water park (i.e. not turning all the water into a plain white blur).

There’s no one method to use when doing this.  My ideal aperture would be something around f/11 to be in the sharp range of the typical lens and have reasonable DOF.  However, I don’t own a neutral density filter so I sometimes have to stop down to be able to open the shutter as long as I’d like (I used f/16 in these photos, f/22 in some of the others I took).  Sometimes I’ll use my circular polarizer (gets me 1.5 to 2 stops).  I pick a shutter speed next — via experimentation to get the definition (or lack of) that I’d like in the water.  ISO is ideally 100 but I’ll vary that as necessary.  Then I play around with all three exposure variables until I get “good” results, the definition of which varies from outing-to-outing.

Composition options were endless in this park, but rather tricky.  Unless I was zoomed in very tight on a feature, the angles were such that something always looked out of whack.  When one feature was nicely framed, something else was awkwardly framed.  It made it rather interesting…

Post-processing was simple Lightroom tweaking.

Cascading Water 35mm, f/16, 1/4s, ISO 100


I’m Eight, Darling!

Eight 24mm, f/5.6, 1/100s

Many of my local photo friends will understand the reference in the title.  If you don’t…then never mind 🙂  We celebrated another birthday today and my son asked me when we were going to take the “eight picture”.  I didn’t know what he was talking about until he reminded me that we had taken a picture of him holding up fingers representing his age each of his last three birthdays.  I’m glad he remembered.  We spent the day with immediate and extended family playing games, opening presents, eating cake and ice cream, and jumping on the trampoline with the sprinkler.

Photo stuff:

Top photo: Manual mode, on-camera flash bounced off the porch behind me for fill, basic edits in Lightroom.  It was taken early in the morning when the light was really soft.  I took two versions of this photo — one with the face in focus, one with the hands in focus (this one is our traditional picture).  Of course we want photos with his face in focus but we take lots of other pictures on the kids’ birthdays.

Bottom photos: Manual mode, on-camera flash in high-speed sync mode, with 1/4 CTO gel, pointed directly at the kids, basic edits in Lightroom.  Taken in the middle of the afternoon when the light was at its worst.  I used the flash in order to even it out a little bit.  I don’t (totally) care for the look — maybe could go to 1/2  or 3/4 CTO gel and/or dial down the flash a bit — but it’s better than not using the flash at all IMO (I did some non-flash shots too).  I could play with the white balance, etc. too and try to come up with something better but I’ve captured what I want…

Jumping 40mm, f/7.1, 1/500s

Acrobatics   28mm, f/9, 1/500s


Rowing On Town Lake

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.


Moving Bus

Moving Bus 24mm, f/22, 1/6s

Practiced capturing some motion “stuff” during a recent-ish photowalk on the University of Texas campus. I think the red blur and subtle wheel-spinning pattern from the passing SUV adds to the photo.  To shoot this I set my aperture to f/22, pre-focused on the far lane and switched to manual focus, used some test shots to pick a shutter speed, and then panned with the next bus which came by.


Michigan Avenue Bridge

People strolling early in the morning on the Michigan Avenue bridge over the Chicago River.  This was taken just as the sun was peeking up over the Lake Michigan horizon and the light was a deep orange.  The sun’s rays had a straight shot down the river — unimpeded by skyscrapers — so the bridge managed to catch the best light.


Skyscraper

Skyscraper

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.