My family and I try to get to downtown Chicago every year and we almost always visit the Cloud Gate (aka “The Bean”) in Millennium Park. We take goofy pictures in the reflections and pictures of other people taking goofy pictures of themselves. The shot above was taken at the end of our last visit to Chicago. It was cold and rainy but we were prepared with jackets, umbrellas, and a rain cover for the camera bag. The forecast for the day was sunny and warm early, turning to cold and rainy in the afternoon and for once the weatherman was completely correct. The shots below were only taken 5-ish hours earlier in the day. I liked how the blown-out sky and top of the bean blend together in the last shot. Someday I’ll get through all the photos and post some of the goofy ones.
While in Chicago a couple of months back I hoped to get some sunset pictures of Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park. Instead I got cloudy sky shots as it began to rain. Earlier in the day the sun was shining brightly on a 80-ish degree day. By late afternoon cold winds were blowing and it began to rain. We were prepared since this was precisely the weather forecast we had been hearing. However, I had held out hope that the transition from sunshine to clouds would occur more near sunset so that I’d be able to capture something dramatic with the fountain. It wasn’t meant to be.
I was able to get some shots off quickly before the rain got too heavy but I was very limited on my composition options due to the seemingly millions of white tents and blue porta-potties set up nearby in preparation for the Chicago Marathon which was being held a few days later. I chose to post an image without all that stuff, but unfortunately that meant not posting the best view of the fountain either.
Nothing fancy on the processing — Lightroom tweaks.
We had yet another perfect weather day here in Texas — it’s been an awesome fall. The middle of November and it was somewhere around 80 degrees. The morning was a crisp 60-ish which was perfect for a run. Despite not having the same type of seasons as we did where I grew up in the Midwest, I still think of fall or autumn in the same way and it still reminds me of fall colors (we get a *little* of that) and fall decorations.
My mom is a master of outdoor gardening and decoration. The picture above shows a typical decoration she would make for the house. This one adorned her outdoor shed. Others like it were mixed in with all the decorations around her house.
Going for the extreme bokeh (love the colors in this photo) I used my 50mm lens at f/1.4. The focus distance was relatively close which adds to the effect. Often the bokeh in shots with the 50mm (the Canon f1.8 and f/1.4 at least) can be a bit ragged for lack of a better term. In other words it doesn’t usually come out silky smooth like you’d get with a 70-200mm lens at f/2.8. However, it turned out pretty good here.
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.
My mother lives close to Bradley Bourbonnais Community High School in Bradley, IL. Their band performed in a parade we watched last year and I caught this shot. I don’t know what this guy’s title is though — I just call him Big Red. The kids enjoyed the fire trucks and candy most of all of course.
My daughters and I can’t wait for NCAA volleyball to start…
At most sporting events I’m in attendance because I want to *watch* the event. I’m always tempted to carry my camera with me but I generally leave it at home so I’m not distracted. When I attended the semi-finals of the NCAA volleyball championship this past December I left my camera behind. However, when I saw that fans were allowed to carry in any camera/lens combo they wanted, I decided to take my camera and 70-200mm f/2.8L IS to the championship match and at least take a few pictures.
While warm ups were going on I experimented a bit with settings. When shooting any fast-action sport one is generally trying to freeze the action (there are exceptions to this of course). If you don’t use a relatively fast shutter speed you have no chance of getting a decent photo of a hard kill for instance — unless your goal is to turn the ball into a blur that you can hardly see in the frame. Manual mode is pretty much a given in a venue like the Alamodome as the light never changes and being very well-lit a fast shutter speed is possible (the gym where my daughters play is not so well-lit and a really fast shutter speed isn’t possible) . For shots of the action on the court I settled on using manual mode with 1/750s to 1/1000s shutter, f/2.8 aperture, and ISO 2000. Generally the only time you vary your exposure is if you are taking shots of the crowd as opposed to the court (the crowd near the court was lit a stop or so less than the court).
I was able to convince the elevator operator to allow me and my son upstairs to the skybox area so we could take some pictures from a different perspective. While there, a pro photog plopped down two seats away from us and we got to chatting a bit. I asked him what settings he typically used in the stadium and they were 1/1250s, f/2.8, ISO 2500 — not far off what I was shooting. He said my settings were fine for the lens I was using (70-200mm) but he wanted that slightly faster shutter because he was using a 400mm lens and needed some help compensating for lens movement. We talked about depth of field (DOF) a bit too. Up in the balcony we were maybe 200 feet from the net which gave him a DOF of approximately 10-12 feet (depends on the camera body…he had one of the Canon 1D bodies I’m sure). That really required accurate focus — if he accidentally focused on a back row the action *at* the net would be out of focus. When I shot at 200mm, I had a great DOF of about 52 feet to work with.
My 5D mkii has great high ISO performance which is nice for these sporting events but one huge deficiency is its (relatively) low frame rate — not so great for sports. I was kind of jealous of the pro as he machine-gunned frames when a kill was imminent. Of course, the slow frame rate cuts down on the number of images I need to go through in post 🙂
Another quick one in this post…still really busy. The Cloud Gate sculpture in Chicago (aka “The Bean”) is just like a fun house mirror with infinite possibilities as far as my children are concerned. We took a lot of group/self portraits on our last visit to Millennium Park and I’m sure this won’t be the last one I post. I put this one through all sorts of tweaks in Lightroom in an attempt to highlight the subjects (us) and to bring out the various fingerprints, dirt, streaks, and distortion on the sculpture. I pulled the image into Photoshop and tweaked some colors here and there (to mute them a bit). I used Topaz Adjust to do some wild-ish things on a duplicate layer and blended that into most of the image at about 30% opacity. Finally I used selective (via masks) sharpening and noise reduction to touch it up.
I was saving this so I could post it in honor of the Longhorns making the final four in the NCAA tournament but…they lost in the regional final over the weekend. Illinois managed to win and will face USC on Thursday.
Here it is:
Just for fun, here are some pics from the University of Texas Longhorns vs. Michigan State match in the second round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament. I hadn’t ever brought my camera to Gregory Gym but decided to for this last home match of the year. I used only my 17-40 f/4L (“long” lenses are not allowed) and took most pictures from my seat. Right away I discovered that the color temperature is not consistent throughout the place — something I hadn’t noticed until I took pictures — but I didn’t attempt to fix the color at all. It’s amazing how our eyes just adjust to the situation but the camera cannot. Most (all?) of the images were shot in manual mode at f/4, 1/500s, and at ISO 3200 since I didn’t have the benefit of using any strobes like the official photographer (he has four strobes mounted in the rafters). I chose the fast shutter speed in hopes of freezing the action reasonably well. For shots in between the fast action (preparing for service for example) I could have switched to a smaller aperture and slower shutter but I was mostly there to enjoy watching the match and didn’t want to fiddle with settings. “Photography” wasn’t number one on the agenda for the night. The pictures are by no means awesome but in any case recorded a fun evening watching volleyball with my girls.
Of course we cheer for the Longhorns…for now. However, my alma mater (Illinois — the #3 seed) is still in the tournament and should they meet Texas in the finals we’ll be behind the Fighting Illini (we already have our tickets!). My kids know they will be grounded if they choose to favor the Longhorns 🙂
And finally, what happens when your shutter is open and the stadium photographer triggers the strobes in the rafters.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
(Many years ago) I was born on the south side of the Windy City in the Roseland neighborhood. My family moved to the south suburbs when I was pretty young, then out to a rural area (still close to the city) in high school. I went to lots of Blackhawks games in Chicago Stadium, Sox (and Sting) games at Comiskey Park, and even managed one Cubs game at Wrigley. Incidentally, I never made it to a Bears game — haven’t ever been to a pro football game to this day.
I remember watching Stan Mikita, Pit Martin, and Keith Magnuson play for the Hawks. I loved Sox players like Chet Lemon (when I was really young), Harold Baines, and Carlton Fisk. I had a home run ball hit by Brian Downing back in the 70’s. I wasn’t actually at the game and honestly don’t remember if he played for the Sox or the Angels at the time. I was at the 1983 game where the Sox *could have* clinched the division but they needed a win or loss from someone else so they didn’t clinch until the following night…something like that. I watched every game of the Bears run up to the Super Bowl in 1985 — what a fun season. I practically worshipped Karl-Heinz Granitza of the Chicago Sting.
I wasn’t big into autographs but I had Harold Baines, Walter Payton (got that one at the auto show in McCormick Place), and Johnny Morris (got his in the stands at Comiskey Park the same day I got Baines’).
Although I now live in Texas, the rest of my family still lives in the Chicago area and downtown Chicago is pretty much a yearly destination for our family. We take the Metra in to the Randolph station from the south side, walk the streets, and take in whatever attractions we feel like that visit. The kids love it. I haven’t visited since really getting into photography but I’m really looking forward to it. [Side note: One member of the family lives in Milwaukee but we Chicagoans simply consider that a suburb…those of you from Chicago appreciate this I’m sure]
The picture above was taken as my wife and I were landing at O’Hare en route to Paris. I grabbed the camera a bit late and missed some better shots but I’m still pleased with this one — reminds me of home.