Posts tagged “ranch

Christmas Lights, Circle C Ranch

Christmas Light Portrait 65mm, f/2.8, 1/60s, ISO 1000, flash with blue gel

Circle C Ranch is a development near our house and the neighborhood is known for its great Christmas light displays.  I took three of the kids out last night and drove the streets (along with lots of other cars).  We stopped at two locations to grab a quick portrait.  I brought red, blue, and green gels in hopes of matching the flash to the lights somewhat — I had mixed success but since our purpose was to view the lights I didn’t spend any extra time attempting to perfect the shots.  I dialed down the flash way down in hopes of making the images look more like they were lit by the surrounding Christmas lights.  There’s a tell-tale shadow of course but I’m not trying *hide* the fact that flash was used, just match the lighting (and its brightness) to the environment.

The kid’s favorite house is one they call “the jungle”.  The displays (front and back yards) are walk-through and have all manner of decorations from a nativity scene to Elvis to the Grinch to Winnie the Pooh to…everything you can think of.  For as long as I can remember, the neighbor to the jungle has put up a “Ditto” sign.  Funny.

The Jungle 27mm, f/5, 1/40s, ISO 1000

The next shots were taken in the backyard of “the jungle”.  The nativity scene used bare flash handheld on a sync cord and the other shot used a red gel on the flash to match the lights.  I could have used a different color — the main idea was to prevent the flash from lighting the kids with daylight (bare flash) while they were standing in the middle of the colored lights.  I wish I’d had a red gel which was slightly weaker…

Nativity Portrait 30mm, f/5.6, 1/160s, ISO 1600, bare flash

In The Jungle 30mm, f/2.8, 1/200s, ISO 1600, flash with red gel

Finally, an out of focus shot in the back yard of “the jungle”.

Obligatory Bokeh Shot

“I Will Live In Montana…” (Capt. Borodin)

“I will live in Montana. And I will marry a round American woman and raise rabbits, and she will cook them for me. And I will have a pickup truck… maybe even a “recreational vehicle.” And drive from state to state. Do they let you do that?”, Captain Borodin, Hunt For Red October.

I always think of that quote when I think of Montana.  It cracks me up.  I thought I’d post a few more of my favorite pictures from our summer Montana trip.  A very friendly horse and some very green fields with a background of snow-capped mountains at sunrise.

Both images were processed with a series of curves adjustment layers to balance out various areas of the image. Nothing fancy…

Green Fields At Sunrise In Montana 60mm, f/13, 1/20s, ISO 100

Horses, Montana Ranch

Horses, Montana Ranch 70mm, f/8, 1/20s, ISO 100

I loved Montana.  There were scenes like this everywhere — wide open spaces, mountains, horses — beautiful.  I passed this place several times and decided I needed to take a picture of it.  I waited a little bit for the horses to move into an interesting position (ie not with ALL their backs turned) and took the shot.  Simple, but I like it.

Processing consisted of cropping and playing around with things in Lightroom.  The main effect is the semi-desaturated, “old picture” look.

Just down the road from this ranch, I captured this shot of an old, rusty tractor and gave it a similar “old picture” treatment.

[Update in response to questions]

What a surprise to featured in Freshly Pressed. Thanks, everyone for the kind comments! What I liked about this picture was its simplicity and its portrayal of the vast open spaces — glad you like it too.

The picture was taken near Nye, MT in the Stillwater Valley. For those familiar with the area it was approximately half way between the Nye post office and the Stillwater mine. While I’ve driven through other parts of Montana, the Stillwater Valley is the only area where I’ve spent significant time (three different trips). There is basically no tourism which makes it that much more attractive. I’d highly recommend a visit to the forests and wilderness in this area. I’d also recommend renting an ATV ( and heading up into the mountains — AMAZING views to be had. Unfortunately severe rain was threatening (and eventually arrived) when we rented the ATVs so the camera gear stayed in our cabin — no pics. The camera used was a Canon 5D mkii with a Canon 24-70 f/2.8L (at 70mm). The image was cropped slightly for aesthetic reasons which slightly reduces the “vastness” effect but improved the overall image.  Over time I’ll try to visit everyone’s blogs, but it may take a while!

Old Tractor, Montana Ranch

Old Tractor, Montana Ranch 25mm, f/13, 7 exposures

My wife and I just enjoyed a four-day weekend in Montana’s Stillwater County with four other couples (I’ll post a picture of this fantastically good-looking group soon).  While out wandering among the ranches early one morning I spotted this rusty old tractor just off the highway.  Dramatic skies + rusty tractor + twisted barbed wire + broken fence  posts = great HDR scene.

I shot seven exposures to capture the entire dynamic range.  Since I generally like to leave some deep shadows in my HDRs I probably could have done without the brightest exposure.  Likewise with the darkest exposure…not *sure* that I needed it but I shot it anyway.

After tonemapping in Photomatix I fired up Photoshop with the intent of doing the usual blending with the original exposures and adjusting with curves.  The image had a bit too much color saturation for my taste and as I tried different methods to tone that down I got the idea to turn this into an antique-ish photo.  So, I used a channel mixer adjustment layer and tweaked to take almost all the color out, my new goal being to make it look like a photo that had been sitting under the glass on someone’s desk for fifty years.  Five curves layers/masks were used and noise was reduced in the sky.  All it needs IMO is a leather-skinned farmer leaning on the wheel with a blade of grass stuck in his mouth.

T Minus 12

Stillwater Valley, Nye, MT 70mm, f/11, 1/60, ISO 100

Headed to Montana in 12 days with my wife and friends.  The picture above was taken early one morning during our last visit to the Stillwater Valley in Nye, MT.  Had a blast and can’t wait to get back there.  Our trip to Montana in the summer of 2009 marked the first time I ever used a real tripod and head, and the first time I made a “real” attempt at taking “good” pictures.  I had just read through Scott Kelby’s tips on landscape photography but forgot most of them of course.  Nothing overly special about this shot other than the memories.  Simple processing with curves.

I’d better start practicing rising early if I’m going to hit the sunrises — it starts getting pretty light by 5am up there.  That’s actually one thing I miss from living up north; I love when it gets light very early in the morning as it really helps get the day going.

Texas Hill Country Wedding…Boots Required

Boots, Bride and Bridemaids 50mm, f/2.8, 1/750s, ISO 200

Last Saturday Pete Talke and I helped shoot a wedding held at a ranch outside of Austin.  The only shots I posed were some of the groomsmen getting ready and the boots on the stairs shown below.  I mainly concentrated on getting candids throughout the night.  I’ve posted a few which I feel sufficiently captured the Texas nature of the event…

The lighting was very tough.  It was late evening so there was direct sunlight from one side as the sun neared the horizon.  If you weren’t careful you ended up with one half of a face being blown out while the shadow side barely had any detail.  Girls with blonde hair were particularly difficult — easy to lose all detail in the hair.  Pete and I both chose to shoot in mostly in manual mode so the camera’s metering didn’t go all squirrelly with the lighting and we squeezed off a few test shots to make sure we weren’t losing any (important) details and adjusted as the light changed.

[Random note: I’m posting this from the HP laptop which my company purchased for me…I’m very sorry for all of you who always have to use monitors which are this bad.  My pictures (and all of yours) look terrible on this thing.]

The wedding was standing room only.  These guys were standing in back and I asked them to stand together to frame the bride and groom.

Texas Ranch Wedding 150mm, f/5.6, 1/350s, ISO 200

After the bridesmaids were finished with their formal portraits I asked them to pose on the steps. The sun was just setting, providing a perfect, golden light. They were relieved that I was only taking pictures of the boots — no need to smile or keep their eyes open in the sunlight.

Bridesmaids In Boots 70mm, f/2.8, 1/750s, ISO 200

Mini HDR Tutorial-ish Thingy

Cabin on a Texas Ranch

I promised someone I’d either write a brief description of how (in the general sense) HDRs are done or point them to other tutorials.  I decided to do both and provide a (hopefully) brief write-up.  I know before I even start that I always feel like I need to clarify and expound on things too much (I need an editor).  For some of you this will be basic, basic, basic.  Others just learning about HDR or photography in general will feel like I’ve skipped all sorts of things they need to know.  However, I just don’t have the time, nor the skill probably, to make a great tutorial for everyone and I think others have done that anyway.  I don’t plan to go into much detail about the when and why to use HDR techniques (or what the technical definitions of “HDR”, “tonemapping”, etc are).  I’ll provide some links to other tutorials at the end of the post.  Those of you who read this feel free to add other links in the comments.

One note that I’ll start off with is that the definition of a “good” HDR is completely subjective.  Same with any other photograph and I don’t get why people still argue over whether a photograph is good or not.  You either like it or you don’t…your own opinion is what counts.  With HDR in particular there’s this religious aspect to it where some worship and others scorn.  Within the group of photogs who dabble in HDR there’s even religious debate.  How many exposures to use?  When should you use HDR and when should you not?  When is “tonemapping” the proper term to describe the process versus the term “HDR” (yeah, I really saw someone go off on that topic — probably the same people who argue over using the term “kleenex” instead of “tissue”)?  I don’t mind if some people want to be all technical about it.  They just shouldn’t get so hot and bothered about those of us who don’t care about the technicalities.  A good HDR is one *you* like.  For example, on a popular HDR site ( I think that many of the editor’s picks are awful.  However, that’s just my opinion and it doesn’t matter if others’ opinions differ.

Brief definitions:  HDR = high dynamic range.  Tonemapping = something the Photomatix software does when it munges your images together.  That’s as far as *I* want to get into that.

My idea of when to shoot multiple images at differing exposures (“bracketing” your exposures):  Whenever you want.  HDR techniques can result in really cool images even when the dynamic range isn’t all that “high”.  Maybe you can get the same result from a single exposure, or two exposures.  That’s great, but digital film is cheap and it’s nice to be sure you’ve got the exposures you want.

Here are three exposures I’ll use for this tutorial (I actually used 7 exposures for the final image but I’m trying to keep it simple-ish):

[Sorry — In my editor the exposures are side-by-side but for the life of me I can’t get them to show up that way in the final post]

Note that in the dark exposure the sky is nice and blue and the sun isn’t blowing everything out.  In the center exposure you’ve got decent exposure in the pasture beyond the cabins, some detail in the trees and leaves, and what I consider good exposure in the shadow areas (ie they still look like shadows and aren’t over-exposed).  The lightest exposure provides more detail in the shadows.  Again, I actually used 7 exposures for this image so that in every area of the frame I would have good (an entirely subjective term) exposure in at least one of the images.

My typical steps after importing my images on the computer:

1) Slight tweaks in Adobe Lightroom.  I might do small contrast/exposure adjustments.  I usually attempt to fix chromatic aberration.

2) Open the original exposures in Photomatix (I go directly from Lightroom to Photomatix) and tonemap to get a starting point for the final image.  There are all sorts of settings and sliders in Photomatix to control what your output image looks like but I’ll leave those for others to describe.  I just play with things until I like something.  Here’s an example of an output file from Photomatix.

Note that some of the best features of each exposure are retained in this image.  The sky is a deep blue, the sun isn’t blowing things out, the view of the shadow side of cabins still look like shadows, etc.  Frankly, this output from Photomatix turned out better than many images I do.  However, what I immediately see that I’d like to improve is the contrast, sharpness, and the details in the shadows (don’t want to overdo it but I want to bring out more and increase the exposure slightly).  For this image, that’s about it.  Many times the Photomatix output severely lacks contrast but this one isn’t bad at all.  Sometimes the color saturation is messed up…again, this one is pretty close to how I’d like it.

3) In this case I will open Photoshop (PS) with the two brighter exposures as well as the Photomatix output (“open as layers” from Lightroom).  My first step in PS is to add a curves adjustment to get the contrast closer to where I’d like it.  If you don’t have PS or an editor which lets you adjust “curves” you can just adjust “contrast” (every editor should have that).  I would then duplicate my Photomatix layer and use a piece of software called Topaz Adjust to play around with the image to see if it can accomplish that shadow detail/exposure adjustment that I’d like (it often does a great job).  I can also do the same thing by using levels/curves/exposure adjustments and mask them in to various areas of the frame.  Assuming I get a usable result from Topaz I will then selectively mask that Topaz layer into areas of the image where I want those adjustments made.  For this image I used a combination of Topaz Adjust and curves adjustments.

Final tweaks might include noise reduction (not needed here) and more sharpening.  I used plain, old “unsharp mask” in PS for this image.

Hope that’s moderately interesting and/or helpful for some of you.  For those who haven’t ever messed around with HDR I hope it whets your appetite for trying it out.  I listed a few links below. These are off the top of my head and there are many more where these came from…but I’m not going to list more. Search for “HDR tutorial” on the internet and you’ll find plenty of advice.  Experiment with it and make images to suit your own tastes. (link on right side) (tutorials link at the top) (link on right side

A Rancher’s Face Of Wisdom

A Rancher's Face Of Wisdom 70mm, f/6.7, 1/180s

I spent a good part of the past weekend at a friend’s ranch. My main purpose there was to set up his new iMac (the beautiful 27″ model) and get all his “stuff” transferred from his old Windows box. During this process, while software was updating, files were copying, and backups were running, we also plinked around with some guns and shared stories.

Walking a lot is one of the main instructions from my back surgeon so I headed out on a walk around part of the ranch Saturday morning and took my camera along. There was still snow on the ground (the ranch got 3″ the previous day) and some frost on the vegetation. Unfortunately the frost was disappearing fast so I wasn’t able to catch many very cool pics.

I traipsed through the brush, careful to avoid a particular type of bountiful cactus which, besides poking into your skin, attaches to your clothing and forces you to pick the pieces off (I can’t remember the name of it). I found a few interesting things and took some photographs. There were several shots I wanted to take but it seems that my preferred angle always placed the shadow of the camera and tripod in the frame (the sun was still low). I passed on most of those.

Returning to my truck, I put away the camera and tripod. My rancher friend came over to the truck and leaned on the side of the bed as we talked. As I looked at him I realized I was staring at a very cool, candid shot. The sunlight was backlighting him and his face was in shadow with a perfect level of light. I asked him if he wouldn’t mind me grabbing the camera and snapping a few pictures and he sheepishly obliged.

The man pictured above is very wise. He’s full of skills and wisdom regarding ranching and all it entails, gardening, shooting guns and bows, hunting, cooking, and life in general. He helps me so much and it makes me glad that I have something to offer him (setting up his computer). I think the shot above reflects his skills in so many ways. The reflective look in his “I’ve lived life” face. The dirt on the hat hints at the hard, outdoor work he’s done.

In the two minutes (or less) that I spent photographing him I did run into some minor challenges. In the shot above one might notice that I violated one of the “rules” of photography in that I cut off his hands in the middle. I wanted to capture his hands as they were part of what made the shot IMO. However, when I zoomed (with lens and/or feet) to the correct point to do this, the sun snuck into my lens (I was using a hood) in such a way that I got flare (OK with me) and horribly reduced contrast (not OK with me). Maybe I can save some of those exposures in post but a quick look says they’re not very good. I didn’t want to be at a higher point either (nor did I have the means to get there at the time). So, I went with this shot (uncropped from the original frame) and I like it just fine. Rules are made to be broken.

Chromatic aberration was a problem as well even though I was using a high-quality lens (Canon 24-70 f/2.8). When a subject is so strongly backlit you just have to deal with CA. I fixed that up in Lightroom as best I could before processing but didn’t feel that it was worth the trouble to fix up further in P. The final image is a blend (via layer masks) of the original exposure, a single exposure tonemapped in Photomatix, and various adjustment layers. I brought in just enough of the tonemapped version to give the face an edgy look and highlight the rough-looking stubble on his face. With the large variation in exposure I also ended up using several adjustment brushes in Lightroom to balance light and dark areas somewhat. I left the face on the underexposed side (I agree with Raul Touzon’s statement in the photo workshop I attended — many portraits/photos are over-exposed and shouldn’t generally be so “bright”).

I would have loved to play with more angles, especially using my wide-angle lens, with him as a subject but I didn’t want to turn the moment into a regular photo shoot. I got what I wanted…hope you like it.

Wisdom From Those Who Have “Lived”

Telling Stories by the Fire 10mm, f/3.5, 1/10s, ISO 1600

People who have really “lived” have fascinating stories to tell.  Some are fascinating just because they took place in such a different time than we live in (back when people walked barefoot through the snow, uphill both ways, to get to school).  Others are remarkable because of the people they involve.  You know, those stories about someone they knew or befriended as children who eventually became someone famous, maybe an important political figure or famous athlete.  Many of their stories are of interest because they took place before so much of our culture became so sissified…back when kids were allowed to climb trees without signing waivers and lawyers weren’t hanging around everywhere like vultures.

“Bearpa” is shown above telling stories to my wife and a couple of the kids by the fire one evening.  We recently spent a (cold) weekend camping on their ranch while we hunted for deer.  Between hunts and during meals Bearpa shared many stories of interest to all.  He’s a wise man and imparted much of his wisdom and knowledge — about hunting and life in general —  to all of us.

Skinning a Deer 14mm, f/4.5, 1/60s, ISO 1600

I only had the camera out here and there (was busy hunting and skinning myself) but when I did it was usually in very low light.  I used 1600 ISO most of the time yet some shots were still very challenging.  If I left the camera in “normal” metering mode it overexposed much of the image since so much of the background was dark.  So, I switched to partial metering (which on the Canon 50D is essentially spot metering using 9% of the center of the frame) and this allowed me to expose based on the brightest portion of the frame and keep it from being blown out.  I also used an exposure bias of -1/2 all the way to -3/2.  Notice how the picture of Bearpa beginning to skin a deer has deep black shadows in the background and how he himself is just a tad underexposed.  This captures the scene perfectly in my opinion.  This was taken out in a barn late at night, and the slightly underexposed picture reflects this.  I cleaned up the night shots with Noiseware, which works magnificently.

Due to my back pain (this was pre-surgery) I was limited on how much I could twist, turn, and get into good positions but I did manage a few other shots.  The trophy wall below is an HDR from 6 exposures and the one from in the blind was taken with my iPhone.

Trophy Wall 10mm, f/3.5, ISO 400, Six-exp HDR

Waiting (iPhone pic)

I Used To Have A Blog

Deer In Headlights

What an autumn our family had in 2010 — I hope my three regular readers didn’t miss my blog too much. We dealt with breast cancer, a back injury which will require surgery, and the normal busy-ness of a family with lots of children. All is good however. My wife is doing great and I’m walking again. I might even take a picture sometime soon.

God is good. While in bed with a severe back condition — which was most of the month of December — I meditated a lot on Philippians 4. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God”. So, I did that. In my pain I rejoiced. In my pain I thought of a thousand things I was thankful for and expressed that thanks to God.

What’s with the picture above you may ask? The whole family is headed out to a friend’s ranch next weekend to hunt deer and stock up on venison. Our friend needs to cull some of the herd in order to keep the deer healthy and we’d love to have the meat. He is going to show us his method of processing a deer from field to freezer. He’ll show us how to make our own venison sausage (many variations). Since I am now able to stand and walk reasonably I am going to take advantage of the opportunity to hunt on the weekend before my surgery (which is just after the final week of deer season). I can shoot and wield a knife just fine and my oldest son can do all the lifting. I went to the range and sighted in the rifle yesterday (and blasted a bunch of rounds out the Glock). While I had the rifle out I had my son snap a picture of my younger son and me holding our guns. My six year old (in the picture) inherited this BB gun as a Christmas present and just loves to shoot. Don’t worry — we keep the gun out of reach, only let him shoot with supervision, and make him wear eye protection. We tried to be serious in the picture but came out looking like deer in headlights.

I hope to be taking pictures again soon. It’s been necessary to put the camera down for a while but I think I’ll have time to do a little bit here and there in the near future. Maybe I’ll have something useful to post as well. See you around.