I happen to be one of those types who loves the military. I’ve never been in the services myself but many family members have. I’ve got nothing but respect for those who serve and it bugs me when people diss them.
I also happen to love (fast) military aircraft. I don’t geek out about them in the sense that I get to know everything about them — they just impress me to no end and my jaw drops when I see them perform. When I remind myself that the performance I’m watching (the Blue Angels for example) consists of jets performing maneuvers at one-third to one-half their maximum speed, I’m even more impressed. What I wouldn’t give to witness a high-speed pass at full speed! I remember the days when Bergstrom Air Force Base was still open in Austin. Several times a day pairs of (old) F4s would fly over our house. I loved how the whole house would rumble when they flew by.
The picture above was taken at Kingsville Naval Air Station (Kingsville, TX) and shows a host of T-45 Goshawk training aircraft used by the modern-day Navy to train pilots. When I saw these my first thought was of my grandfather, who did his Naval flight training in Kingsville and Corpus during WWII (he would have loved to fly these). My grandfather graduated from flight school on August 14, 1945 and says “When the Japanese heard I was coming they surrendered immediately”. These T-45s also bring to mind all the current pilots who are preparing to be the next wave of defenders of our freedom. I respect them.
The image above was created from three exposures which were then fused (not tonemapped) in photomatix. The single, center exposure wasn’t too bad but fusing brought back the blown-out sky and added subtle detail in the cockpit and landing gear. Did very basic curves and sharpening after that.
For the past several years I’ve taken my family to watch the Blue Angels perform in Corpus Christi. This year my family was out of town during the performance but nonetheless I made the trek to Kingsville Naval Air Station to watch them this year. I carried two lenses: a 70-200mm to capture some of the aerial performances and a 10-20mm wide angle which I used for 80% of the ground shots.
I took only a few pictures of the Blue Angels performance this year (I really like to *watch* and didn’t want to be overly distracted always trying to get the best shots). However, I took plenty of shots of the static displays on the ground. I bracketed many (shooting handheld) in hopes of generating some HDR images from the show. On side note, I did try the panning IS mode on my 70-200mm lens and it did an amazing job capturing jets screaming past.
The image above was generated from three handheld exposures and shows the underside of a B-1 bomber with it’s bomb doors open — and a couple young girls doing some modeling. It was quite a processing challenge (for my skill level anyway) due to the movement in the crowd. In a night shot I’ve found masking in crowds to be far simpler because the darkness of the shot generally gives you a lot of leeway. With a day shot like this I found it very difficult because when you mask in a moving subject from a particular exposure you often bring in bits of background (previously hidden by the moving subject in the tonemapped image) which severely differ from the tonemapped image. Adding to my difficulty was the smoke in the background sky from the Tora, Tora, Tora performance. As I worked to fix the background after masking this smoke created challenges in cloning in some sky…a great exercise for improving my skillset.
Here’s the rough outline of my processing on this image: Tonemapping in Photomatix and lots of masking to get the people looking OK. On a duplicate layer I played with exposure and contrast to adjust the sky to my general liking then I masked it in where I could — I wasn’t able to mask in everything around the people because of them being in a different position. To get around this I used the clone stamp to add sky where needed (had to do this a bit on the ground as well). I used Topaz Adjust to modify another duplicate layer and masked portions of that in. Exposure/Levels/Curves followed that. Finally, I tried a new sharpening flow which I picked up from @TipSquirrel today. It involved using “Stamp Visible”, converting the new layer to a smart object, then using unsharp mask with that layer set to luminosity blending. Probably unnecessary for this image but I wanted to learn something new.
I’m pretty happy with the image — my first handheld HDR (though it isn’t too hard to get decent exposures in broad daylight) and certainly the most challenge I’ve faced relative to the need to mask moving subjects. Do you like it…?
Located west of Austin, TX (about 20 miles from downtown as the crow flies), Hamilton Pool is a favorite swimming hole for many Austin-area residents. It’s formed at the point where Hamilton Creek pours over a 50 foot waterfall into an incredible grotto.
Jim Nix (http://www.nomadicpursuits.com) invited me to go shoot at the pool this weekend. I’ve lived in Austin for 19 years, 9months, and some-odd days and I had never been to Hamilton Pool. Because of this fact (and of course because Jim’s a great guy) I took him up on the invite and had a great time going after some images. Got a bit of exercise too.
You can see Jim in the photo below. I saw him standing near the falls and I plopped down my tripod right where I was to capture an image which included him. I had seen incredible images of this pool but they didn’t have anything as a reference point to convey the true size. Including a person in the frame gives the viewer a real sense of how big this grotto is.
3-exposure HDR, center exposure 18mm f/14, 1/2s, ISO 100
On the drive out the skies were looking promising for HDR (lots of texture) but by the time we were there and set up they seemed to have turned almost to plain, gray overcast. I didn’t end up with decent skies in any of the shots I’ve processed at so far.
I’m not super happy with any of the images so far but they’re good enough for me to at least enjoy them. I was on a semi-strict timeline that day but I came away with some angles I’d like to explore further on my next visit. My hope is to visit again on a *partly* sunny day (want some awesome clouds to include in the shots). I would also like to visit in the spring when there are some leaves on the (currently bare) trees.
Here’s another shot of Jim working on some compositions. The foreground is busy with all those branches but I still like the shot because of how the focal length compresses Jim and the falls in the frame.
3-exposure HDR, center exposure 70mm f/20, 1/2s, ISO 100
And one more, a spot along the creek with some interesting water, trees, and reflections. I might have played with more angles here if it were not for my schedule.
3-exposure HDR, center exposure 24mm f/13, 1/13s, ISO 100
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”.
Littlefield Fountain is a World War I memorial at the University of Texas created by Italian sculptor Pompeo Coppini and financed by George Washington Littlefield. There’s some great information on the fountain here. While researching a bit of information about Coppini I ran across a quote by J. Frank Dobie who said of Coppini, “…he has littered up Texas with his monstrosities”. I find that quite funny given that Dobie’s namesake (Dobie Mall) is located practically across the street. Coppini did many works in Texas — they’re worth checking out.
For photographers in Austin playing with HDR, Littlefield Fountain seems to be one of those required shots — analogous to the required elements in figure skating or gymnastics. The State Capitol and a skyline shot along Lady Bird Lake are among the other “required elements”.
Friday evening I took my friend and daughter to the University of Texas campus for a short photowalk. We got a parking space right by the Littlefield Fountain and it became our first stop for pictures. On a personal note, as soon as we stopped in front of the fountain we were face-to-face with my sister-in-law. She’s a visiting professor in the business school for the spring semester and just happened to be headed home for the day…great to run into her like that. Seeing our cameras, she commented on how someone is *always* taking a picture of the fountain.
The water is full of algae…it’s really the green color seen in these images. I frankly don’t care to ever see green water but I’ll be nice and say that it “adds to the images”. There are many great perspectives and angles to be had around this fountain but I stuck with a couple “safe” and standard shots here.
We were staying with friends in Rockport, TX this past summer. As some of us were standing on the second-story porch my wife called out, “Mike, get the camera quick!”. I quickly captured this shot with our Rebel XT. It tells of a 19-year-old boy loving his young adopted brother. The younger brother feels safe walking with his older brother…you get the idea. It’s a special photo.
Sometime back I wrote about capturing candids even when you are posing your subjects. I also wrote about being ready with the camera. As I was looking through some old pictures recently, I found myself being reminded over and over to take plenty of candid shots. These often end up being our family favorites.
Here are a few other candids which have become favorites. They aren’t necessarily the best technical or artistic shots but they’re personally meaningful because of the moment they captured
My son spent hours on this little piece of Rockport waterfront picking up “stuff”. I have no idea what he was finding but he sure had a good time. It was very cute to see the intensity with which he scoured the sand.
My wife and I are blessed with a set of very close friends. Over the summer five couples took a trip to Montana and simply had a blast. One afternoon we drove to Bear Tooth Pass (see a great image of what we were looking at here in Justin Kern’s photos) and got out to walk around. I was snapping photos here and there and as I turned back to the group I saw them in this pose. I said, “Freeze” and took this shot. It’s one of the images I revisit regularly and it reminds me of a great time with friends.
Shoot tons of photos and you’ll capture some good ones. Of course, be ruthless when you’re committing them to your hard drive — throw out the junk. You’ll be glad you didn’t hesitate to click the shutter.
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.