Posts tagged “2010

Cloud Angel In The Night Sky

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/5810101541/in/photostream

Could Angel In The Night Sky 10mm, f/3.5, 30s, ISO 400

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.


Sky Interrupted

 

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/5469837521/

Sky Interrupted (10mm, f/13, 1/125s)

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).

 

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/5470424900/in/photostream/

Original Exposure


Austin Just After Sunset

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/5219476411/

Austin Skyline After Sunset (panorama from nine images)

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).


Take the Shot Anyway

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/5201563273/

All Hallows by the Tower

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.


F-22 Raptor

 

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/5200078972/

F-22 Raptor Bomb Bay 250mm, f/5.6, 1/750s, ISO100

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.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/5199343253/

Shock Diamonds 250mm, f/8, 1/180s, ISO100

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.

 

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/5199337497/

Sleekness 250mm, f/5.6, 1/750s, ISO100


Almost Time For Ice Skating

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/5182946859/

Learning to Skate 73mm, f/2.8, 1/400s

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.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/5183546522/

Portrait 20mm, f/3.5, 1/400s

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).


“Favorite Hair”

 

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/5168237341/

Favorite Hair 50mm, f/2.5, 1/15, ISO 100

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.


Furry Friend

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/5166279278/

Furry Friend 210mm, f/6.3, 1/50s, ISO 400

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.


Thunderbirds In Formation

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/5161176356/

Thunderbirds In Formation 178mm, f/5.6, 1/750s

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.


Fun With Pumpkins

 

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/5120543125/

Before and After

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.


Trying Out the Lab Color Space

This past weekend was the first time in five weekends that I was in town.  I was going to get all sorts of work done around the house, etc and catch up on things.  Photography was still going to be relegated to the wish list — no time for that.  Well, Thursday night I started to feel a bit under the weather and by Friday morning I was out-and-out ill.  I ended up in bed throughout this weekend and one of the things I did (when not in a complete fog) was watch a few videos on kelbytraining.com.  I got to do *something* related to photography at least.

Being the geek that I am, I watched a few videos on the Lab color space done by a guy named Dan Margulis.  Lab is a color space (like RGB for example) which uses three channels:  ‘L’ for luminosity, ‘a’ for green/magenta, and ‘b’ for blue/yellow.  I won’t even try to explain when and why one might want to use the Lab color space but I will attempt a poor-man’s explanation of one use I’ve already found for Lab with the help of Mr. Margulis.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/5111031593/

Touching Up Highlights in the Lab Color Space

The portrait above-left was taken on a bright, sunny day in Vancouver’s Stanley Park.  Note the blown-out highlights on the forehead and nose.  No amount of curves, saturation, or other adjustments would bring the proper color back to those spots.  The only real option is to paint color in if you really want the color back.  The way you’d generally do this is to sample a nearby color in the skin (option-click when you have the paintbrush tool open in Photoshop) and paint over the area.  The main problem with this is that your “paint” covers every pixel — better make sure you don’t paint over any of the areas you want to keep (those areas with non-blown-out colors and textures).  One way to prevent this is to paint on another layer and use the ‘color’ blend mode which will add color but keep the existing texture.  The problem with this?  In RGB, adding color to something already blown-out will simply remain blown-out.

If you convert your layer to Lab (I’m not going to attempt to explain the exact mechanics because I’ll surely leave out something important), you can paint while using color blend mode and the color “sticks”.  This is essentially because Lab has a much larger color gamut than RGB.  One way of saying it is that in Lab space there exists a color which is blown-out (from a luminosity standpoint) but still has a color value.  Your first thought might be, “Don’t you lose that color when you convert back to RGB eventually?”.  Nope.  And that’s just the way it works — Photoshop doesn’t know that the Lab colors you painted in were blown-out highlights.  It just sees a color that it has to make a best guess about converting back to RGB.

It’s very subtle, but in the above-right image you can see that I added a touch of color to the blown-out spots on the forehead and nose, and to the right ear and forehead above the right eye.  There are still highlights, but they are no longer brilliant white.

Here’s another example.  In this sunset silhouette taken in Corpus Christi, TX there’s a huge blown-out area in the sky.  In RGB you could paint some color in very carefully — being sure to avoid the buildings, etc.  In Lab, I simply painted in color using the ‘color’ blend mode and the image is much-improved IMO.  There’s now a touch of color in the whole sky and in the water and the edit took about one minute.  [You’ll note that the overall color cast is slightly different on the right and I simply don’t remember if I touched some other setting — Just trust that the color in the previously blown-out areas is due to painting in the Lab color space.]

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/5111032327/

Fixing a Blown-out Sky in the Lab Color Space

I have no doubt that there are 20 other ways to tackle the problem of blown-out highlights in post, but I wanted to share this one that I learned.  If you’re geeky enough to find this interesting, I hope I’ve whet your appetite enough to go figure it out with the help of a book or video.  If you’re not geeky enough then I won’t be able to explain it well enough to help you anyway.


Self Portrait #1

 

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/5076644217/

Self Portrait #1 15mm, f/6.7, 1/350s, ISO 200

 

I’m pretty shy about getting my picture taken and am rarely happy with any pictures I’m in.  However, inspired by other photographers, I occasionally attempt a self-portrait.  Every attempt has ended up in the trash.  I don’t even save the original files because they’re so bad.  I’ve always got some goofy look, fake smile, or crinkled forehead (those who know me are saying “That’s how you really always look!”).

I did save this self-portrait though.  It was taken in the “bean” as the Cloud Gate sculpture in Chicago’s Millennium Park is affectionately known.  I tried it just for fun and it *is* fun IMO to look at yourself all distorted, etc.  One doesn’t expect to look good in a photo like this. That’s reason #1 why I kept this one.  Reason #2 is that little girl with the camera in the background.  Cute.

My kids love the bean.  When we returned home my wife asked the kids how they liked their trip.  For the 3-year old it wasn’t the walk through the city, or the overnight stay in a nice downtown hotel.  His response?  “I touched the bean!”.

The processing was relatively straight forward.  Slight tweaks to basic exposure and clarity in Lightroom then off to Photoshop.  My first thought was to go really edgy with it using Topaz Adjust but once I got in there I found that it also brought out too much of the dirt and fingerprints on the bean.  What I settled on was the original exposure from Lightroom with a Topaz Adjusted version of myself masked in at 50% (ish) opacity.  A small curves adjustment finished it off.

More bean photos to follow at some future date.


It’s Time for Pumpkins

 

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/5060982826/

Pumpkins 70mm, f22, 1/90s

 

I have still have no free time for photography.  However, I happen to be sitting in a waiting room most of the day without a connection to work and this affords an excuse to do spend the time writing a post.

It’s the time of year for pumpkins and in preparation for my mom’s annual pumpkin carving and painting bash we took the kids out to the farm to get the goods.  It turned out that this farm was closed for business on Tuesdays and Wednesdays but they had a scale and an honor box to leave you payment.  I like that…

Carts and wagons were available also and the younger kids thoroughly enjoyed pulling them around and filling them with the pumpkins they picked out.  Good times for all!

The pumpkin picture at the top of the post was straight out of the camera with the exception of adding ‘clarity’ in Lightroom and then adding some selective sharpening to the stalks on the pumpkins in Photoshop.  I started down the path of using curves to add contrast but decided it was good as-is.  While messing with curves I was amazed by how much a very slight tweak drastically altered the color in the photo (bright, orange pumpkins being a perfect subject to experiment with).  I’ve known that curves could effect color but hadn’t ever observed it in a very noticeable fashion.  I experimented with changing the blend mode of the curves adjustment layer and that yielded interesting results too.  Fun stuff.


Chicago River Sunrise

 

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/5042745675/

Chicago River Sunrise Center exposure: 10mm, f/8, 1/6s ISO 100

 

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.

 

Trump Tower

 

 


Zipping By

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/4994610725/

Zipping By (10mm, f/8, 1/15s, ISO 200)

For the last 4+ years, my main drive (or “sled” as a former neighbor used to say) has been a 2000 BMW 540i.  Awesome V8, 6-speed manual transmission, sport package, and sport suspension .  One note of trivia is that it’s one of the few cars where you actually had to pay *extra* for the stick.  At 10 years old with over 150,000 miles it still runs perfectly and handles like a dream.  The car is tight.  However, the maintenance is getting to be a real headache.  I generally like to do my own maintenance when I can (water pumps, radiators, alternators and such) and BMWs — at least the three that I’ve had over the years — are quite easy to work on.  There are so many resources available in print and on the internet which can tell you what every last bolt on the car is for.  These days it’s really hard to find the time so “maintenance” has degraded into “take it to the shop”.  I haven’t even done my own oil changes lately.  My 6 year old loves to change the oil and I’m robbing him of a great chance to learn to work on cars…

A couple of months ago I bought a truck to replace the one I gave my oldest daughter when she got married.  That truck has become my daily drive for various reasons (maybe someday I’ll write a post about trucks, 4-wheeling at the beach, and just being manly).  Occasionally I’ll drive the 540 and I still enjoy it, but it’s time to sell it (anyone in the market?).

As I prepped to sell the car, I thought back to this image taken on the streets of Paris last spring.  I was poking around with the camera and spotted a Mini Cooper speeding toward me.  I was fairly fresh off a workshop taught by Raul Touzon and one of the things he had taught us was his method for capturing motion like this (see this post). I attempted a panning shot of the Mini and this 5 series followed soon after…grabbed it too.  The shot of the car headed away symbolizes my 5 series leaving the family (sniff).  Just kidding, how sappy would that be? — it’s actually just a cool shot IMO!  No symbolism in this one 🙂  It would have been great if the entire car was sharp but I can live with the look here — it gives an additional sense of speed like the car is just headed into some sort of a time warp.

I started with a single exposure and I tonemapped it in Photomax.  Then I blended it at about 50% opacity with the original exposure.  I used overlay mode for the blending.  Topaz Adjust, curves, sharpening, and Noiseware were used selectively in the image.  I left in lots of the noise to give the motion-blurred portions a bit of grain and texture.  Finally I brought it into Lightroom and touched up a few things before exporting.

I hope you think this is a cool scene too.


An Oasis Sunset

https://i1.wp.com/farm5.static.flickr.com/4088/4991972859_2177984f63_b_d.jpg

Sunset Over Lake Travis

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.


Fire in the Sky

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/4966484238/

Fire in the Sky 20mm, f/11, 1/20s

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:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/4965879351/

Predicting a Great Sunset 10mm, f/11, 1/125s

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 🙂


Overcoming My Fear

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Descending… 20mm, f/4, 1/180s (Taken by Ellen Tuuk)

My son Evan has successfully completed all sorts of emergency/rescue training over the past two years.  In addition to having become a fully licensed paramedic, he’s obtained diving certifications, high-angle and swift-water rescue certifications, sawyer certifications (yep), specialty medical emergency certifications, and who knows what else.

For his birthday we bought him a rappelling rope so naturally he got it in his mind to take his family rappelling.  Off we went to the Barton Creek Greenbelt in search of scary cliffs to hang from.  Evan scouted out a nice spot for us — a cliff ~25′ high, with a hollow cave-like area halfway down the wall which you had to rope past without having the benefit of using your feet.

Three of my girls and I learned how to tie a Swiss Seat — the poor-man’s harness — and were then schooled on how to attach the “eight” to the rope and to our harness.   We practiced rappelling and belaying from a ledge about 6′ off the ground (none of us had ever rappelled).  From the standpoint of the mechanics it really couldn’t get much simpler.  With a little practice one learns to control their descent relatively smoothly.

On to the top of the cliff…got a little scarier up there.  Out loud, I quoted (roughly) Rizzo the Rat from Muppet Christmas Carol — “There are two things I hate: heights…and jumping from them”.  Now, I’m not *really* that afraid of heights and am fine looking over the edge of a cliff or climbing extension ladders, etc.  However, the thought of backing myself over this cliff (rope or no rope) was making my stomach turn and my hands shake.  I honestly haven’t been afraid like that since I was a little kid.  I did it though.  Walked back, pretended to be a cool cat.  After all, I was encouraging my girls to overcome their fears and do this as well (all three did the 6′ ledge and two of them did the cliff).  It was awkward going over the edge since the rope had no leverage point except a tree 20′ away, but once I got going and the rope resting in the cliff’s edge it was a piece of cake.

We glanced over and noticed my 3 year old attempting to tie a Swiss Seat — it was hilarious to watch.  He was as serious as ever.  I’m sure he’ll be rappelling down cliffs before long.  I had to include a shot of that.

Since we were in deep shade I placed a remote-triggered (via an Elinchrom Skyport) flash on the ground while we were up on the rocks.  We were busy climbing so I couldn’t always place it optimally or adjust the power but it worked pretty well for many of the shots.

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Tying His Own Swiss Seat 20mm, f/4.5, 1/45s


The Great Court

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The Great Court 10mm, f4.5, 1/500s nominal

During my not-a-photo-trip to Paris and London this past spring I still managed some interesting (IMO) shots.  This image taken in the Great Court inside the British Museum has been one of my favorites from the standpoint of its composition and the contrast of the blues and greens against the drab-ish stone.  Again, that’s just my opinion of course.

I’ve had difficulty processing this image, however.  I really wanted to process as an HDR and the three original handheld exposures were extremely difficult to line up properly.  I’ve noted that when shooting wide angles a slight bit of movement and/or rotation between exposures makes a huge difference.  Because of this, Photomatix did a very poor job of alignment and this left a lot of ghosting in the image.  Of course, I had the ability to mix the tonemapped image with the original exposures but it was proving to be a lot of work to tweak pieces of each layer to line up with the section I wanted to mask it into.  It also took more work than usual to get the original exposures looking just right in order to match the main image.  I pushed the texture and HDR-ishness farther than I normally do…just because it seems to work here.

One mistake that I couldn’t overcome was the fact that the light coming through the glass roof was blown out in all the exposures.  I call that a “mistake” but I really wasn’t taking the time to think through all the shots because I was doing very well at keeping the trip about time with my wife, not about photography.  Heath O’Fee has a good post about mistakes like this by the way — they don’t always ruin the shot [Here’s the link: http://yycofee.wordpress.com/2010/08/30/mistakes/].

Well, there it is — one of *my* favorite images.


We Will Remember

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We Will Remember

My wife, myself, and two other couples visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial last night.  We had been told that it had the most impact at night so after dark we took the walk from OKC’s Bricktown to the memorial.  We chatted loudly as we walked the streets but naturally became somber and hushed in tone as we arrived at the city block where the bombing occurred.

Our entrance was through a 4-story tall bronze “gate” which led to a 1″ deep reflecting pool which replaced the street along which the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building once stood.  There was a bronze gate at the other end of the pool as well.

Shortly after our arrival we were approached by Tucker, one of the National Park Service employees.  He was quite friendly and asked if we had any questions so one of our company asked him to explain the various pieces of symbolism contained in the memorial.  Tucker did a fantastic job explaining the memorial with great enthusiasm — I will be writing the park service to commend him.  As I recall there were 8 major elements in the memorial.  The bronze “Gates of Time” represented the minute before the life-changing event.  One gate is marked “9:01” — one minute of innocence before the blast.  The other gate is labeled “9:03” to mark the first minute into the healing process after the blast.  The reflecting pool is there to allow one to look into it and see a life forever changed by what happened.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/4940112214/

Gates of Time

The “Field of Empty Chairs” was the most significant part of the memorial to me.  The field itself is the footprint of the former building.  Each chair has the name of a victim and is placed in such a way as to indicate the floor of the building where the person was killed.  I attempted some pictures — all I had was a basic point-and-shoot camera — but none are good enough to post .

Other symbols included the Survivor Wall, Survivor Tree, Rescuers’ Orchard, Children’s Area, and the Fence.  Tucker explained each one and even gave us insight into why the memorial’s designers chose to represent things as they did.  However, I’ll leave it to you to read about these on the internet if you are interested.

Despite the poor quality of the night-time point-and-shoot pictures I decided to post them anyway and I encourage each of you to take a bit of time to remember the victims of this horrible tragedy.  We marked our remembrance by doing something Tucker suggested.  We dipped our hands in the reflecting pool and placed them on the bronze gates for a few seconds.  This leaves a lasting hand print on the bronze — a lasting mark of our visit.


Chuy’s TexMex

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Chuy's TexMex

Today’s shot was taken several months ago in front of Chuy’s TexMex on Barton Springs Road in Austin, TX.  Chuy’s is an iconic place and I love to eat there.  Unfortunately, my wife isn’t crazy about Mexican food or TexMex (Sacrilege?), so I’ve got to go there on my own time for the most part.

I’ve been craving Chuy’s lately and the cravings get stronger every time I see the image above come across my screen (it’s one of my random desktop backgrounds).  The drive-up speakers pictured are typical of the not-so-typical decor in the various locations.  There are bottle caps embedded in cement, Elvis shrines, hubcaps hanging densely from the ceiling, and so on.  Each location is eclectic, but each is also unique.  In fact, the owners have a saying: “If you’ve seen one Chuy’s, you’ve seen one Chuy’s”.

The food is also unique, as even the names of the entrees indicate: Chicka-chicka Boom-boom, Chuychanga, and the Elvis Presley Memorial Combo.  I’ve liked everything I’ve everything I’ve ever eaten there.  Yum.

Chuy’s has TexMex locations all around Texas and now even in Tennessee and Alabama — a regular global conglomerate!  The company also has other types of restaurants and they’re excellent IMO.

This image was created from two exposures.  I honestly don’t remember if I tonemapped the image or if I simply fused exposures — nothing fancy in any case.


Neighborhood Sunrise

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Neighborhood Sunrise

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!”.


F-18 Up Close And Personal

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F-18 Engine Nozzles Up Close

As mentioned several times before, military jets seriously impress me.  The amount of thrust generated by the engines above allows this jet to do amazing things.  I took a shot of these F-18 nozzles at the Wings Over South Texas air show a few months ago.  I’ve peeked at this photo here and there and finally decided to share it.

The final image comes from just playing around with Topaz Adjust, Photomatix, Lightroom, and Photoshop.  The rough process: tonemapped a single hand-held exposure in Photomatix and brought it into Photoshop.  I ran it through Noiseware to clean up the sky then masked the rest of the original tonemapped image back in.  Played around in Topaz Adjust to taste and ran the sky through Noiseware again.  Adjusted levels, curves, and used a black and white adjustment layer to fix up a bit of the clouds that Topaz had overdone color-wise.  Sharpened the final image then used this tip from Nicole Young to fix a bunch of chromatic aberation.


Capturing What Matters Most

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Working The Fish

I bought the spinning rod/reel combo pictured above for my son’s recent birthday.  I knew I’d be taking him fishing at the beach and wanted him to have something he could handle, yet something stout enough to handle the creatures one may catch in the surf of the Gulf of Mexico.  My oldest son caught a 40″ redfish (yep, 40″) on a rig just like this when he was 10 or 11 years old.

I’m amazed again and again how young children are able to learn and accomplish much more than we give them credit for.  [In fact, I think that some part of society’s problems these days are related to expecting too little out of our young people from age 2 all the way to 25…but that’s a discussion to have in person over lunch or something]  There were some lousy casts at first as my son learned how to use the spinning reel, but within 30 minutes he was practically a pro.  He put on his own bait, cast it, reeled it in to check it here and there, and landed some fish completely on his own.  I still removed them from the hook…we’ll work in that next trip maybe.

I didn’t have my camera out much on the beach b/c I (1) the trip was about father/son time and (2) I wanted to keep the sand out of the camera.  But, I did take a little time to record some shots of him fishing.  I took many that included a wider scene — the entire rod, more background, etc. but this is really my favorite.  This photo wasn’t posed at all and he looks like a little man “working the fish”.

There were several cropping options considered but in the end I didn’t crop it at all.  I really like a square crop because of the focus it put on my son, but I wanted the dunes and sky to give a more complete sense of location.  Having the fishing rod disappear out of the frame actually bugs me somewhat.  Post-processing was minimal and consisted of simple tone/contrast adjustments…I believe I did everything in Lightroom.

If I were a photographer on assignment I suppose what I would’ve done is gotten out in the water further — almost straight in front of my son.  This might have allowed me to capture the whole rod with the dunes and sky while keeping my son relatively prominent in the frame.  I was on a father/son assignment though and I got what I was really after and what mattered most — shots that capture the memory of the trip.