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.
I wish I had a photograph with some deep meaning behind it (maybe I’ll come up with one tomorrow), but all I have is this shot taken two years ago. My wife was out of town over the July 4th holiday so I sent this to her. This was my 2nd or 3rd try — kind of challenging to write backwards neatly in the air.
Hope all my U.S. friends have a great holiday!
I’m making arrangements for another trip to Boston and it put in mind some of the photos I took on my last trip. While taking this photo of the Boston Skyline, a young couple pulled up on a motorcycle, parked it, and walked off to enjoy the view of the skyline across Boston Harbor. The bike had all sorts of accessory lights which cast a deep reddish-orange glow around it (see below but note the white balance isn’t quite right on the color version). I took some photos of it and generated this B+W HDR. There was a bit of noise in the result…I left it in, I kind of like it.
Our family went on a great camping trip in Central Texas this past weekend. I woke up at about 5 am on Saturday morning and stepped outside to amazing skies. I thought to try my hand at some night sky photography but had no idea where my camera, tripod, and wide-angle lens were at the moment. Of course I was not about to shine a light and go looking for things, especially with our 4-month old soundly asleep. So, Saturday night I set the appropriate gear out in case I woke up early Sunday morning. I *did* wake up early and spent a bit of time trying to get some good images of the stars. I experimented with aperture, shutter speed, and ISO and found some reasonable combinations. Only later did I hear of the “600 rule” which says that for these night shots you should set your max shutter duration to 600 divided by your focal length if you want to avoid obvious star trails. My results roughly correlate with that. A quick internet search yields all sorts of information about night sky photography and post-processing by stacking images…I’ll leave it to you readers to do that research if you’re interested. I may dig deeper someday myself.
I tried a bit of light painting in an attempt to barely show the trees and add interest to the photo but all I had was a Streamlight brand flashlight (an amazingly bright little pocket flashlight which I highly recommend). I first of all didn’t want to disturb any campers and then even when I could shine the light away from other campers it was simply too bright to have reasonable control over the exposure.
I believe the glow on the horizon is from San Antonio. The city is quite far but a long exposure will pick that up quite a bit. The camera is definitely pointing toward the city.
In the image above you can see a faint shooting star to the lower left of the milky way clouds (kind of tough to see at this size). In the shot below I captured a more obvious shooting star but the overall image is kind of boring. I did minimal processing on these — noise reduction, slight contrast adjustments.
When we told my sister-in-law — twenty-two-ish years ago — that we were moving to Texas the first thing out of her mouth was, “Oh great, now your kids are going to have big heads!”. Turns out she was right as most of us pretty much love living in Texas. Truth be told, we would be happy living anywhere since life is more about the people around you than the place itself. In fact, not many years ago we passed on an opportunity to move the family to a place my wife had always dreamed of living. Her words: “This [Austin] is home now.” The pride of Texans is manifest in many ways. First, I’ve never been to a state where the state flag flies as much as it does here. People sport “Native Texan” tattoos and bumper stickers. Some transplants (not me) display bumper stickers which say “I wasn’t born in Texas but I got here as quick as I could”.
So, March 2nd was Texas Independence Day and I really didn’t plan on posting anything. However, in the wee hours of this morning — wide awake after a 2 am run to Walgreens for chicken pox relief potions for my son — I found some unprocessed pictures like the one above that I had taken on the way back to my truck after a recent photowalk on the University of Texas campus.
Some brief tidbits: Six national flags have flown over Texas (the origin of the “Six Flags” amusement park name). They were the Spanish, French, Mexican, Republic of Texas, Confederate, and now the US flag.
Texas is a huge state in land area — far larger than California which is the next largest in the lower 48. My big Texas head is not so large that I don’t get a good laugh at an Alaskan saying, “We were going to divide Alaska into two states but we didn’t want to make Texas the third largest”. That’s a pretty good put-down for too-proud Texans IMO 🙂
Texas also has very distinct geographical areas. When we lived in Illinois we constantly saw TV ads which used a slogan along the lines of “Texas — It’s like a whole other country.” Frankly, it’s true in many ways. We grew up equating Texas with tumbleweeds but I probably lived in Texas 15 years before I ever saw one. The regions range from plains in the north to hill country in the middle to plains and river valleys in the south. There are piney forests in the east to mountains in the west. The coastal plains with their fertile black soil are pretty much like the fields in Illinois.
I think we’ll stay a while.
My wife and I (and several in her family) attended a luau while in Hawaii last week. I have no idea what an old traditional luau was like or how authentic the festivities were but in any case it was immensely enjoyable. Knowing that the main show would be after dark, I fitted my camera with my 50mm f/1.4 lens. Night photography has never been something I’ve been good at (maybe that can be said about all my photography 🙂 ). I’m always going back and forth with myself on the best combination for getting good exposures — shutter/aperture/ISO. Noise is always a consideration (not so much now that one of my bodies is a 5D Mkii).
For much of this show I wanted to mostly freeze the motion (like in the second shot above) so I shot in manual mode with an aperture between 1.4 and 2.8, shutter speed in the 1/500s – 1/640s range, and ISO 1600-3200 (the stage lighting varied from act to act and I tweaked settings accordingly). Depth of field wasn’t much of an issue because my focus point was quite far. However, I also spent time trying to capture some of the motion in the dances. I was shooting handheld so I did have to consider that when deciding how long to open the shutter. I played around with various shutter speeds and came out with some fun shots. For the fire shots I had hoped to be able to reduce the exposure enough to avoid blowing out the highlights of the flames completely but in doing so I ended up underexposing everything else much more than I liked. In the shot above I like the balance between capturing motion in the flame yet keeping some clarity in the dancer. Some shots blurred things more (see image below) and that’s interesting in its own right but I prefer the balance in the shot at the top of the post.
Processing was quite simple for all these shots. I shot with daylight white balance so that I effectively captured the colors consistently. The color turned out rather well. I used a bit of clarity and sometimes bumped the exposure up a hair in Lightroom. Finally, I exported from Lightroom with a preset that ran the images through a noise reduction action (using Noiseware) in Photoshop.
We had a great bunch of little ones (three of whom are my children) gathered at a recent graduation party. I grabbed a hastily posed shot of some of them who happened to be playing near me.
I shot this using shutter priority and on-camera flash. I started out the night shooting with some off-camera lighting but it really got unwieldy due to try to take shots from all different directions (with no assistant). There was nothing but open sky above (and walls were too far behind me) so fixed bounce flashes was out of the question. I also tried a second remote flash for additional light and backlight but wasn’t satisfied with the results I was getting so I abandoned that. If I had the ability to bounce that flash I likely would’ve been happier with the second flash. Sometimes I use a 3′ sync chord and handhold my flash to get it off-camera but my cord went AWOL for a few weeks (it has since been located).
Since I was casually recording the event as a favor I wasn’t under pressure (except my own) to have “perfect” shots. This picture — and most of the rest — turned out fine IMO. Blue hour was just ending so I was able to retain some color in the sky even with the fast-ish shutter speed. A back light or rim light would have been really nice to separate the heads from the background but this was a quick candid afterall.
My camera was a Canon 5D mkii so high ISO was an available lever. I shot most of the evening using an ISO between 1600-4000. In the RAW files there is some noise — especially in the underexposed areas — but Noiseware is great at fixing that up. I can’t recommend Noiseware enough although I hear good things about programs like Noise Ninja and Topaz DeNoise too.
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 spent an enjoyable weekend with my oldest son in Big Bend National Park. It was hotter than blazes in the desert (110 in the shade the first day) but this was our only available weekend for many months. Frankly the heat wasn’t a big problem.
On past trips we’ve backpacked into the high Chisos Mountains but so far this summer all the mountain backcountry sites are closed due to extreme fire danger. So, we camped out in the Chisos Basin campground — enjoyed it very much actually. It was nice not having to lug a 50# pack full of water up into the mountains.
Before heading to bed one night I experimented with long exposures of the skies. I never did seem to find the “right” settings but got some fun shots nonetheless. The above shot of the mountain known as Casa Grande gives a sense of what the sky was like. That night there were clouds moving across the sky which annoyed me at first but they do add another dimension to the shot. This photo needs a frame to make it stand out from the page background…maybe later.
I made another dark o’clock airport run last week and brought the camera along to catch the sunrise blue hour on my way into the office. There were no clouds in the sky (boring) so I decided to swing by the Texas Capitol to take some shots of it against the colors of the sky. It turned out to be a gray hour rather than blue — no color at all so I was about to bag it completely. However, I did notice the reflections in this fountain at the corner of Congress and Cesar Chavez and stopped for some pictures. The above image was taken on the NE corner of the intersection looking east down Cesar Chavez. As the traffic lights (and the traffic) changed it provided many variations in the colors and this was my favorite. Processing was a handful of curves adjustments mainly.
The image below was a 3-second exposure at the same fountain but on the other side of the wall where the water cascades down into the courtyard. Processing was done in Lightroom — so minor that I really don’t even remember what I did 🙂
In truth, this fountain has endless photographic possibilities both as a subject and as a background. I’m sure I’ll be back some day.