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.
On a still day Austin’s Lady Bird Lake (still Town Lake to me) is a great spot to shoot the growing skyline (note yet another construction crane gracing the view) and get great reflections off the water. I met an out-of-town friend at Lou Neff Point this morning and was surprised to find that the lake was completely overgrown with a plant called Eurasian Water Milfoil. In hindsight I might have expected it as we had seen a lot of milfoil while kayaking on the lake recently but even then I wouldn’t have expected so much of it on the surface. Adding to the disappointment was that the forecast of “some clouds in the morning” wasn’t to be (until well after sunrise anyway).
Well, we were there and figured we might as well shoot some “stuff”. We fought off the mosquitos and fired away. I decided to shoot a panorama in order to increase the resolution a bit. I shot 3 frames — each bracketed +/-1 stop — and used Nik HDR Efex Pro to create very subtle (IMO) HDR images. Photoshop stitched them together nicely and I used several curves and saturation adjustment layers to tweak the final image.
I was headed to my trolley tour stop in Boston when I spotted this picture. Sun peeking from behind the building, moderate interest in the sky, sky and cloud reflections in the windows of the tall building, and dappled reflections of light in the short one. As I took the shot I got a bonus lens flare and guy crossing the street. It’s not an *amazing* scene, but pleasant enough IMO.
This is an HDR and naturally it bugs me that there’s a slight halo around that tall skyscraper. The thing is, that halo is present in the original exposures too. Despite the fact that there will be those who attribute the halo effect to “bad HDR”, I decided to leave it as is. For those of you interested in one method of fixing this (particularly in difficult, detailed scenes), see Dave Wilson’s handy tips here.
The bright portion of the street (and the guy walking across) were masked in from a single exposure. That exposure (fast shutter speed to freeze his motion somewhat) was tweaked a bit to match the scene as I saw fit. Given that it was a bright, sunny day I wanted it to still look “bright” and I wanted the portion of the street at the left to remain in shadow. One could argue that I should have used a slower shutter speed to show his motion but that’s simply a matter of personal preference — neither one is more correct than the other IMO. Various curves were masked in all over the place as usual.
This building, in the heart of downtown Boston amidst very modern skyscrapers, was once the home of Chadwick Lead Works (obviously). Given that it was built in 1887 it was amazing (and rather charming) to see it standing in a modern downtown area.
This shot is a panoramic stitch of five frames taken from the sidewalk across the street. I would shoot one frame then move down the sidewalk a bit to take the next shot. Having been stitched from several frames you can zoom in and see quite a bit of detail (click the image to get to flickr where you can view the larger size).
I recently posted this on Google+ but thought I’d share it here too.
It seems like the piano goes 24/7 in the house, which is a good thing when the music is Debussy, Beethoven Sonatas, incredible arrangements of the Pirates theme, beautifully improvised hymns, etc. Sometimes “The Little Indian Song” can wear on you though (a couple young ones are just starting out) 🙂
Having our own regrets about quitting music lessons and hearing so many others express those same regrets, we’ve always “made” our kids take piano lessons until they were 18 under pain of death and all that (for the record it’s never been a real problem to keep them going). They could learn other instruments too but piano was a must. Without exception our children (age 24 and down) have expressed great gratitude for our rigidness in this. I don’t believe any child actually kept up with lessons until age 18 but that was because proficiency, rather than an arbitrary timeframe, was our goal. All were quite good before age 18 and a couple even played in UT’s Bates Recital Hall. The daughter pictured here requested on her own to start lessons again even after we said she could be done — she enjoys it.
I’m posting another HDR that I processed in my Photomatix vs Nik HDR Efex Pro evaluation war. The subject here is the lobby of the St. Regis Hotel on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. There was a multi-level water feature (a bit of which you see in this image) which provided all sorts of reflections and begged to be turned into some HDRs. I didn’t have a tripod with me so I simply plopped the camera down on a ledge and fired of 9 bracket exposures in several locations. This limited my composition choices but I was able to get the main thing I was after — the reflections in the water. The hotel is situated in a beautiful spot on the island and commands a gorgeous view the mountains across a small bay. If I’d had a tripod I would have taken shots from other positions to include a nice view of the ocean and mountains through the windows.
In this case Photomatix was dramatically better for quickly coming up with a result I liked. The photo above is almost straight out of Photomatix — I only added some clarity/sharpening/noise reduction after that. Nik gave some interesting results but did a lousy job keeping the clouds outside from being blown out. Whenever I used the more realistic presets (realistic HDRs are generally my preference) the view out the windows was completely blown out. No doubt I could have figured out how to get an acceptable result but it was taking a lot of time to begin to match what I got out of the Photomatix effort.
You’ll note the large shift in color cast across the image. This was due to the prominence of daylight through the windows on the left side versus the interior tungsten lighting on the right. It bothered me at first but it’s more realistic this way so I decided to leave the color as-is.
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.
On a recent evening I dropped my daughters off at the IMAX theater downtown and decided to poke around with the camera while waiting for them. I had in mind a particular shot of the Capitol (which is only a few blocks away from the IMAX). The planned shot was one of the Capitol’s reflection on another building. I had been inspired to get this planned shot after noticing the reflection on our drive home from the Texas Longhorn volleyball matches. In these drive-by glimpses it seemed like such a cool place for a shot, not so much in person though. It turned out not to be compelling at all and I never even put the camera up to my eye when I arrived at the spot.
While trekking around I noticed this a puddle in the parking lot above and decided to get some images of the Capitol in the reflection. While shooting a car approached at one point. I realized that if I stayed where I was the car would be forced to drive through the puddle, messing up my glassy reflection. So, I quickly grabbed the tripod and backed away to allow the car to go around the water. Turns out it was a security guard and I think I aroused his suspicions after grabbing my stuff and running off a bit. He quizzed me a bit but was satisfied that I was up to no harm and let me continue.
The shot above was a single exposure which was tweaked a bit in Lightroom. I shot this with several apertures — f/16 in hopes of awesome starbursts from the lights (f/22 was beyond my 30-second manual exposure, I did not have my remote along, and I was not going to hold my shutter button in bulb mode), f/2.8 in case I liked the bokeh of the background. I decided that I liked the background (parking lot) mostly in focus to make it clear what the scene was about.
The following shot started life as a 7-exposure HDR but I bet I masked in enough from the original exposures to make it more of a composite in the end.
Most people who like to do HDRs are suckers for reflections. I’m no exception and when my children and I walked into San Antonio’s Alamodome for the NCAA volleyball championship I saw these shiny floors and decided to fire off some brackets. I set up the camera to fire 3 brackets (the max on Canon) with the auto timer and set the camera on the floor. It would’ve been nearly impossible to change the settings without moving the camera so I didn’t even try. I took another set of brackets with more crowds in the picture but the motion was too great to process reasonably.
I ran this through Photomatix and then brought the tonemapped image into Photoshop along with the brightest exposure. I used a few adjustment layers on the bright exposure to semi-match it to what I wanted to fix — the people in the hallway and a few other areas where ghosting had caused some weirdness in the tonemapped image. After blending those areas in, I went to work on the result with a half-dozen other adjustment layers (mostly curves). There are some missing people-parts but I don’t really mind as it gives a sense of motion and the work to clone in new pieces wouldn’t be worth it.
I don’t ever get tired of beautiful sunrises…like this one I recently witnessed on the beach in Port Aransas, TX.
I used two versions of the same exposure to create the image above. One version used daylight white balance while the other used (nearly) a tungsten white balance. A gradient mask blended the two, keeping the golden light in the lower portion of the frame and gradually transitioning to the blue sky above. Four or five curves layers were used to touch up portions of the image and create a vignette. Some minor cloning/healing was done to get rid of some birds zipping across the screen and a few other tiny elements.
My daughter and I watched the birds and the sunrise last Saturday on the beach in Port Aransas, TX. The weather was perfect and the Gulf was the calmest I’ve ever seen it. While I was playing around with photo stuff, my daughter waded out. I told her to freeze for some silhouettes and captured many photos like the one above. I underexposed a bit to be sure to produce a dark silhouette — the goal being to avoid any detail in the subject of course. Processing consisted of basic adjustments in Lightroom, including some purposely heavy contrast/clarity. I debated whether to clone out the birds streaking across the frame…I obviously elected to leave them in. There were a lot of interesting looks I could have gone for in this image and I had trouble deciding what I liked best.
One consideration in shots like this is the height of the camera. Low to the ground results in a lot more sky as opposed to beach and water. It also places the silhouette mostly against the sky which is generally nice IMO. Camera placement high off the ground — say standing height — gives more water and beach, plus a longer reflection/shadow of the subject on the water. There’s no “right” choice. In a beach situation I prefer to show more water in the shot but you have to be careful about having the horizon cut through the subject’s head and things like that if you place the camera too high (see image below — it’s OK, but not my preference). I think the shot above strikes a reasonable balance.
Later I played around with flash in the mid-day sun while taking pictures of the kids playing on the beach. I’ll post some of those soon.
To do this image justice it really needs to be viewed large. Click here for the full-res version.
On a photowalk last weekend (see previous post) I shot some frames in hopes of stitching a panorama of the Austin Skyline as viewed from the SRV statue on Auditorium Shores. I bracketed my shots with a mind toward using HDR and/or compositing to capture most of the dynamic range. I had no intention of filling in the deep shadows of course — It was getting dark after all.
In processing I set off to try the HDR route (I believe this is my first ever pano in HDR) and based on advice from Dave Wilson I first tonemapped the separate frames (3 exposures used for each) using the same settings in Photomatix. I used something on the order of 60% “strength” and tried to keep the HDR look toned down (FYI, the original exposures really do have this much blue in them). I tweaked the perspective of the individual frames a bit in Lightroom then merged to a panorama in CS5 using the ‘cylinder’ setting for the stitch. I could write an entire post about my perspective and stitching issues but suffice it to say that using the ‘auto’ setting was giving me very skewed perspectives from my wide-ish angle frames (30mm on a full-frame body). The automatic blending of the exposures after the stitch usually does a bang-up job of matching colors and creating a seamless stitch but I did have to manually tweak one area to make it match. Hopefully it’s not too noticeable…I won’t point it out of course. The HDR was a bit too saturated for my taste (it still kind of is…can’t make up my mind how I want this to look) so I used the vibrance adjustment to tone it down. Curves adjustments were used in various places for some final tweaks. No original exposures were masked into the final image.
Sunday night I enjoyed an evening photowalk with Todd Landry and several of the local “HDR Mafia” in Austin (Atmtx, Dave Wilson, Jim Nix, and Pete Talke) . I played around with some framing under the First Street Bridge and liked the sideways ‘V’ formed by the shadows under the bridge and on the water. I shot lots of brackets for this but I only used enough to give a hint of light under the bridge. I started down the path of masking in some of a lighter exposure but in the end preferred the deep shadow and how it draws more attention to the skyline and its reflection.
I tonemapped 7 exposures in Photomatix and blended pieces of the original exposures back in. This was followed by a few curves adjustments masked in here and there, selective sharpening, and noise reduction in much of the image. I had some chromatic aberration issues which I couldn’t get to go away via Lightroom adjustments so I used a trick I learned a while back: duplicate the final background layer, do a gaussian blur of 10-15 pixels, change the blend mode to ‘color’, and selectively mask into the problem areas. Works great for the most part but can cause a little of that blur to show sometimes.
We walked over to the SRV statue on Auditorium Shores to take some panoramas of the Austin skyline just after sunset. I got some cool shots but am frankly unable to get a stitch with a decent perspective (so far). I’ll keep working on that. Meanwhile, I decided to post a couple shots I took while the guys were shooting the skyline. Both were taken with my 50mm f/1.4 lens but I experimented a bit. One image used f/1.4 in order to get extreme bokeh while the other used f/8 to tone the bokeh down and show the skyline better.
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.
On a whim last weekend, my wife and I went to stay at a nearby resort called the Hyatt Lost Pines. It’s a great place set on 405 acres along the Colorado River near Bastrop, TX. Our goal was purely to get some relaxation time and we accomplished that in spades. The rough schedule was eat, read, nap, snack, walk, read…then repeat it all again. We had a thoroughly enjoyable time.
On a side note, many people who haven’t ever been to Texas think only of plains and tumbleweed (that pretty much sums up my picture of Texas when I lived in Illinois). However, the geography of Texas is quite varied and the eastern portion — starting around the location of this resort just east of Austin — is full of tall pine trees. Bastrop has dense areas of pines and this continues through much of the eastern part of the state. I’ll leave it to the reader to research where the “Lost” reference in the resort’s name originates but now you know why the “Pines” reference is applicable.
I managed a few pictures early Sunday morning. Normally on a trip like this I make it a point not to “do photography”. However, since the goal was to do whatever we found relaxing, I did spend about 45 minutes taking pictures early Sunday morning. There were many interesting things to photograph in the halls and main lobby but there were a surprising number of people milling about at 6am so I was limited somewhat.
The photo at the top of the post shows a table which was made from the trunk of one of six large pines which were removed from the property. It was a nice centerpiece for the main lobby and had a finish with the potential to provide some great reflected images. It wasn’t meant to be though as I didn’t find any pleasing compositions at the correct angles to make use of the mirror-like properties of the table. I tonemapped six exposures in photomatix then masked in pieces from the original exposures. One tricky thing about this image was controlling the white balance because the room was heavily tungsten-lit. I kept a lot of that warmth but found that each exposure had a bit of a different color cast and had to be individually adjusted in order to match the tonemapped layer for masking. I ran a copy of the nearly-finished image through Topaz Adjust and included that at about 60% opacity. Finally I used two curves adjustment layers to tweak parts of the image and selectively used Noiseware for noise reduction in parts of the frame.
This picture below of the main lobby was processed in much the same way as the above image. Note the light fixture hanging from the ceiling. It was also made from one of the pines on the property.
The final image is a panorama stitched from 10 frames. Due to the way I shot the frames I was left with a piece of sky which had no pixels and thus I either needed to crop the image accordingly or clone in some sky. I chose the cloning route and it turned out reasonably…I’m not overly skilled with the cloning tool. I increased the exposure of the buildings with an adjustment layer and mask. Then I increased the tonal range of the sky with a curves adjustment layer and mask. “Increased the tonal range of the sky” makes me sound really smart but I have to admit that I got that from David Nightingale’s tutorial on curves (see here: http://www.chromasia.com/tutorials/online/curves/). This really helped to sky out a lot. I added some noise reduction here and there and voila…a panorama of the main lobby area of the resort. It’s nothing too exciting but it was good shooting and post-processing practice. It really has to be viewed large to appreciate it (click on the image to view on flickr).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Recently I went on a photowalk on the University of Texas campus with my friend Beecher. It was early morning on a foggy, drizzly Saturday and we hoped to capture some cool shots of some structures lit up in the fog. We had imagined shots of the UT Tower or Littlefield Fountain glowing in the fog-diffused light. What we got instead was enough drizzle to prevent us from wanting our gear out in the open.
What did we do? We found other things to shoot. We stopped by the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum where there are lots of overhangs under which to avoid the rain. I captured this shot of the (beautiful) lobby through the glass.
3-exposure HDR. Center exposure: 2s, f8, ISO 100, 12mm focal length
There were two tricky things to this shot. First, the reflections on the glass completely overwhelmed parts of the image so I leaned the lens hood on the glass and blocked the reflections with my hands. As you can see, there are some leftover reflections but I find them rather appropriate as they give a sense of where the shot was taken (outside the glass). In hindsight I’m glad that I wasn’t able to avoid the reflections altogether.
The second thing I had to deal with was the cleaning staff — they kept wandering around in the lobby and occasionally showed up in the exposures. I shot and re-shot. I timed my exposures such that the shutter would open when the staff was behind a pillar. This is much like when you are attempting a portrait in public and you have to ‘click’ at just the right time to avoid people in your foreground and background…just something you deal with.
Anyone else have tricks for shooting through glass? Or, do you have opinions on how to treat a shot from the standpoint of allowing/eliminating reflections? Do you purposely include them in your shots? Do you go through lengths to avoid them?