Last summer I took my 6 year old son camping for the weekend at Padre Island National Seashore (PINS…see this post, and this post). I didn’t do a lot of photography but managed a few shots to document the weekend.
The night shot that I recently posted from Big Bend National Park brought to mind some of the pictures I took at night at PINS. The shot above had some really cool clouds and it looked to me like an angel with its wings spread across the ocean (kind of sappy I know). The surf is always pounding down there but I like how the long exposure gives the Gulf a smooth look.
I can’t explain why, but the view of the stars from the beach is every bit as clear and amazing as the view in the middle of west Texas (which has some of the darkest skies in the US). Depending where you are on the beach you may be as close as 15 miles from Corpus Christi — a decently-sized metro area of about 430,000 people according to wikipedia. There’s a lot of glow from the city but on a cloudless night the Milky Way is as clear as ever (looks like clouds in the sky). Obviously this picture was taken with a bright moon which kills much of the view of the stars so there were no Milky Way pictures that night.
My goal was to make this image rather dramatic given the cloud formation and the processing steps to get there were rather simple. In Lightroom I removed a couple of stars within the angel shape with the spot removal tool. They detracted from the aesthetics of the overall image because they were too bright. [My opinion is that one is free to do this kind of thing as long as they don’t dishonestly portray the final result as 100% accurate]. Then in Photoshop I used the channel mixer to tone the image to a blue-ish monochrome — I didn’t want a straight black and white image. [David Nightingale’s tutorials have inspired a lot of experimentation with things like the channel mixer and with “dramatic” images in general]. I used a vibrance adjustment to back off on the blue a bit (couldn’t quite figure out the channel mixer settings to get the color just how I wanted it). I added one general s-curve and then another curve masked in to provide a touch of vignette. Some noise reduction and sharpening for the stars topped that off the Photoshop work. Once I was back in Lightroom I tweaked the color a tiny bit more because I wasn’t quite satisfied upon a second look.
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).
Sometimes you find yourself in a photographic situation where you don’t have a good shot. You may not be able to find a good angle, there may not be enough light (and you don’t have a tripod), or you may not have your preferred lens on hand. Many purists would tell you not to take a shot if it isn’t a perfect situation but in this digital age I don’t buy into that.
If the angle or framing isn’t just what you want, try it anyway. You may very well find something (a certain crop for example) in post-processing which actually works. “Do everything in-camera” is a great idea but some take it nearly to the point of “if you can’t do it in-camera, don’t do it at all”. For pros it surely makes business sense as they are very sensitive to efficiency in their work. However, I disagree that it should be a black-and-white mantra for everyone. I say take the shot and throw it away if it’s clear you can’t do anything with it later. It *is* a bit of a pain to cull the day’s shoot when there are a lot of pics, but I’ve found it worth it to take extra shots most of the time. That said, I don’t want to give the impression that I fire away blindly — there are lots of shots that I pass up because I don’t think the situation measures up.
The shot above was one that I almost didn’t take but it’s one that I personally enjoy seeing come up on my screensaver and background regularly. First, it reminds me of a great trip to Europe with my wife. Secondly, I “just like it” — quiet, somber scene of a couple worshippers, impressive stone walls, beautiful wooden pews. The light was tricky — very bright from the windows, very dark in the shadows. I had no tripod and wasn’t going attempt to get 6-ish (minimum) handheld exposures for an HDR or composite. So, I just took the shot. The exposure was 1/4s but with the wide angle (10mm) it turned out relatively good. Sure, the windows and floor are blown out but I wasn’t after a nice architectural shot after all.
The location is All Hallows by the Tower Church in London. It claims to be the oldest church in London (a claim which I have no reason to dispute) having been established in 675 AD (!). My wife and I popped in there after touring the Tower of London. Much of the church has been reconstructed over time for reasons of expansion and damage but it still retains a doorway from the 600s. Cool place. My wife and I were two of the five people in the church (us, two in the pews, and a caretaker/receptionist of sorts). That was a refreshing difference from the crowds at places like Notre Dame and St. Sulpice.
I had never seen an F-22 Raptor perform live until I attended AirFest in San Antonio a few weeks ago. While I’ve always been impressed by other fighter jets that I’ve watched, and despite the fact that a high-speed pass is still my favorite thing to watch, the F-22 adds a new dimension to the performance of a fighter jet. I was completely amazed by the maneuverability of the Raptor at slow speeds. At some points it almost appeared to have the same capabilities as a Harrier. I know basically nothing regarding the technical side of aircraft maneuverability and stability, I was nonetheless left wondering how the control surfaces of the Raptor could possibly maneuver the jet while it was hardly moving. Even the slow-speed pass was rather impressive — nose was pointed way up and the ground speed was very slow. I couldn’t figure out how it was getting enough lift to stay aloft. I suppose that it’s a combination of lift from the wing (probably minimal at that angle of attack) and the sheer thrust of the engines.
The photo at the top of the page shows the F-22 as the pilot exposes the open bomb bay for the crowd. I panned this shot using aperture-priority mode and auto focus. It’s reasonable given the speed of the jet and the zoom I was using. I’d probably go into full manual mode, set the focus ahead of time, then turn auto focus off if I were setting up for this shot again.
The shot below is quite blurry but illustrates an interesting phenomena call “shock diamonds” or “mach disks”. The standing wave in the exhaust of a jet engine comes from the difference in pressures of the engine exhaust and the atmosphere. For you techies there’s a pretty good explanation here: http://www.aerospaceweb.org/question/propulsion/q0224.shtml and also some information on wikipedia.
Finally, a very simple shot which IMO shows how sleek the F-22 looks while it flies. The rounded belly and cockpit make the “old” F-18s look clunky.
It’s finally getting (almost) chilly here in Texas and I’m glad for it. I know that after a couple of really cold days I’ll be longing for the heat of summer again and I definitely prefer the heat over the cold. I don’t miss those Chicago winters I experienced growing up.
The cold reminded me of the ice skating our kids got to do in Fredericksburg last winter. Just off Main Street in Market Square (Marktplatz) there was a very small rink set up for a week or two and the kids gave skating a try (the older ones already know how to skate). Despite my love for skating (I grew up playing pick-up hockey in the winters) I sat out and photographed the occasion. I’m sure I had back problems, knee problems, or some other old-man thing going on at the time else I would have been skating.
The shot at the top of the post has a great Norman Rockwell look to it. That effect was all done in Lightroom and then I use Photoshop to tweak a few areas. The portrait of my daughter was processed in Lightroom and got some ‘clarity’ added and a lot of adjustment brush to manually tone down the sunny spots and the like. Both shots got a bit of noise reduction in Photoshop (applied sparingly to the Norman Rackwell image).
I couldn’t pass up capturing this candid of my son. His do-rag (some spell it doo-rag) is made from his favorite blanket so he calls this his “favorite hair”. The rag was pretty cute at first but it got to the point where he wanted to wear it *everywhere*…had to put an end to it.
This shot was snapped with my 50mm f/1.4 lens (stopped down to f/2.5) and used only light from a window at camera right. I just love the light in this shot. In Lightroom I added sharpness to the eyes, tweaked the clarity slider, and did a slight crop — that’s it.
One thing I love about Texas is the set of cool creatures you get to see without going to the zoo. This furry spider (a Texas brown tarantula as far as I can tell) was making his way across our backyard yesterday so I snapped a few shots. Processing involved basic curves, slight vignette, sharpening on the spider itself, and a 40%-ish blended layer processed in Topaz Adjust.
I recently spent a day with friends and family at AirFest 2010 at Lackland AFB in San Antonio. It was my kind of air show — lots of high-performance jets. There were F-15s, F-16s, an F-18, and an F-22. In addition, the Thunderbirds gave a great show.
It’s always interesting photographing aerial performances. The brightness of the sky can fool you camera’s meter into underexposing. If there are lots of puffy, white clouds it’s even worse and you’re often left with blown-out clouds if you want to get the exposure correct on the planes.
For the shot above I can’t even decide what exposure I like the best. Deep blue sky with slightly underexposed jets? Brighten everything up to lighten the jets? Use an adjustment brush to lighten the jets while keeping the sky deep blue (tried it — doesn’t look natural). You can see what I settled on above. In-camera I over-exposed 1/2 stop and increased the exposure a bit further in Lightroom. This is a shot which seems to vary quite a bit depending on the monitor you’re viewing on so your mileage may vary.
I spent the day shooting with my all-purpose Sigma 18-250mm because I didn’t want to lug my Canon 70-200 f/2.8 IS around. It did OK but there is noticeable vignetting in many of the shots and just doesn’t match up with the Canon in sharpness (of course I didn’t expect it to). I’ll bring the Canon next time for sure.
As mentioned in a previous post my mom hosts an annual pumpkin carving and/or painting party each fall in Illinois. This year my family’s annual trek to Illinois happened to coincide with the event and my kids got to participate.
My son was particularly proud of his choice of pumpkins. His grandmother showed him the finer points of choosing the best ones, explaining which blemishes will add/detract from the final product and how important it is that it stands up straight enough for painting/displaying. One also learns that the shape (tall and thin, short and round, etc) has to be considered in light of the final piece art you want to make. Who knew there could be so much to think about with pumpkins?
The shot above shows the state of my son’s pumpkin before and after our big party. I don’t show it, but the opposite side of the pumpkin has a face carved into it. He wanted to paint *and* carve.
From a photography standpoint I’m pretty disappointed with the shot on the right — it’s a bit blurry although it displays OK at a small size. I had the camera on aperture priority mode with a flash mounted on-camera to add light to the indoor ambient. I was snapping shots here and there without paying much attention to how they were turning out except for glancing at the LCD screen to make sure the exposure was reasonable. I didn’t notice that my shutter speed was rather slow sometimes, allowing the shot to blur slightly despite the “freeze” effect of the flash. Live and learn.