I’m headed to Seattle next week and that put this picture in mind (a rerun on the blog). During our last Seattle trip the weather consisted of cold temperatures (50-ish) with rain — *every* day. The sun partially peaked out *one* afternoon for a couple hours. The picture above is a good reflection of that I think. To be fair, we knew in advance that the weather would stink that time of year but visiting family (with 3 new babies among us) was worth it and we had a great time. I have hopes of someday getting a clear-weather shot from Kerry Park with Mt. Rainier in the background but it’s not likely to happen next week as I doubt there will be much time for photographic adventures. In fact, I might not even pack more than the camera body, a single lens, and a flash (for the baby snapshots of course). We’ll see though — my tripod might sneak into the luggage.
Aside from a family photo shoot a couple of weeks ago (which I’ve been asked not to post online) I haven’t taken any pictures. Work at “work”, work at home, and family this and that have consumed all my time. That’s not a bad thing necessarily — those are the right priorities — but I hope to get out shooting sometime soon.
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.
Last weekend, after spending the day touring Boston, I walked across the pedestrian bridge (near the left side of the above image) next to Seaport Blvd which connects downtown to the old seaport district. The bridge is part of the South Bay Harbor Trail. I stopped for dinner and waited for the sun to set behind the city. As I neared this photo spot I found that four photographers were already sitting there — tripods and cameras already set up. I walked toward them and without a word stopped 10′ in front of them and pretended to set up my tripod. Silence. After a few seconds I turned and said I was just kidding and relieved laughter set in. I asked if it was OK to set up just behind them and they were nice enough to extend an offer to make room in the middle of them if I wanted (I just set up behind and above them).
My intent was to bracket a bunch of exposures as it got darker using f/22 to get a starburst effect. I switched to f/8 because (1) I really wasn’t getting much of that effect, (2) f/8 is good and sharp, and (3) my exposures were getting longer than 30 seconds and I was too lazy to start timing the exposures manually even though I was using a remote 🙂 White balance was set to daylight. That’s somewhat arbitrary since I always shoot in RAW but it helps keep things consistent when viewed in the LCD. I included a couple of straight-out-of-the-camera exposures below so you can see a sample of what I was working with.
On my flight home I plugged six exposures into Nik HDR Efex Pro. My personal default is to use the realistic-subtle preset as a starting point 99% of the time and I tweak a bit in Nik. Tweaking and saving complete, I took the Nik output into Photoshop along with a couple of the darker exposures and masked in a few spots which were still over-exposed after the HDR junk. I toned down the colors in the water and burned the sidewalk darker a bit (more on the dodging and burning below). Relative to colors, I did want an “HDR look” to this image but I sometimes find the reflections and colors on the water to be a bit overdone for my taste in these skyline shots. I also dropped the overall saturation by 20 points to bring it back to realistic colors as tools like Nik HDR Efex Pro and Photomatix tend to saturate everything a lot.
Finally, since the perspective wasn’t too bad I decided to fix it by stretching out the top corners a bit and aligning the buildings with rulers to make them more upright on the edges (the SOOC images above do not have that correction). If you do too big of an edit like this it can degrade the image but it’s fine for this one. The final image turned out crisp and sharp at high resolution.
This screenshot shows my dodging and burning layer. A trick I learned watching a Joe Brady video (something about Photoshop for landscapes sponsored by Xrite) is to create a new layer, fill it with 50% gray, then dodge and burn on that with black/white. There’s no real need for that but the layer gives you a visual to show where you’re doing your adjustments.
“If you own a house which faces west on an island in the Indian Ocean and your youngest sibling is left-handed and your primary vehicle is white, then subtract line 21 from line 13, multiply by 0.285, subtract your latitude and longitude and enter the result on line 85.” What’s that got to do with anything? I just did my income taxes and it seems like half the directions are as nonsensical as the one above. So, I’m just venting…our tax code is too complex and MESSED UP. It doesn’t matter what political party affiliation you claim, whether you think the system is fair or unfair, or you think the rich should pay more or less — I don’t see how anyone could disagree that it’s a mess. Solutions? I don’t get into those kinds of debates online 🙂
In a previous post I showed a bokeh panorama (or “bokehrama”) from the same place the above picture was taken. The one above was a quick snapshot as we packed up to get out of the rain. I hadn’t planned on doing much with it but as I continued to see it among my photos it grew on me — I like the overall gloomy mood contrasted with the random colors of the skyscraper windows for example. Having a bit of detail and drama in the clouds helps too and I don’t think I would like it as much if the skies had been a flat gray.
This image is from a single frame captured with a 50mm lens. You may note the odd settings used — not typical for a landscape shot. The fact of the matter is that I had just used roughly the same settings for the panorama I linked to above. For this skyline image I sped up the shutter one stop with a flick of the dial (didn’t need quite the length of exposure that I needed for my daughter’s dark skin) and snapped this quickly so we could get going. Something like f/8 would’ve been sharper, etc. but there was no time to worry about that stuff. I cropped to a more panoramic aspect ratio (and cropped out another visitor to the park who was in the left side of my frame) then processed mainly with a bunch of curves and masks to selectively adjust contrast. I tweaked the white balance a bit to move from a completely black and white cast toward having a wee bit of warmth.
My daughters and I went to downtown Seattle today to hang out and on the way we stopped in Kerry Park (thanks, Jim Nix for suggesting it). I had low expectations regarding the weather but did hope to grab a skyline panorama in any case. Long story short, the rains came and other visitors got in the way somewhat so all I managed was the quick, handheld bokeh panorama (from 16 frames) shown above. I look at it as making lemonade out of lemons — we did what we could given the conditions. I gave up on my plans for a high-res (zoomed in and in-focus) panorama since the rain was hard and blowing directly on to the lens. We headed to lunch at Pike Place Market and afterward the clouds broke and the sun peeked out. We headed back to Kerry Park on our way back home but by the time we got there it was raining hard again — could barely even see across the water. I didn’t bother trying any more photos. I may try some black and white treatments with this one someday…
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.
Last Friday evening I joined Alex Suarez, Steve Wampler, and Sylvia Brogdon for an impromptu photo shoot outside the Palmer Events Center. They had just spent the day in the Flash Bus seminar put on by Joe McNally and David Hobby and wanted to practice what they’d learned to help cement it in their minds. I was not able to attend the Flash Bus event but I wanted to join in and learn what I could and get some practice myself. Our models were “Eight” and my daughter Evelyn. The location was the grounds of the Palmer Events Center in Austin, TX. It has many architectural features which lend themselves to unique portrait settings and there are different backgrounds to choose from on each side of the building.
As we got started, Steve talked about how David Hobby “lights in layers”. This is the process of building your setup one light at a time. Assuming a fixed shutter speed (at or below your max sync speed), start by picking the aperture which gives you the ambient light exposure you desire. The correct exposure is quite subjective of course — just find the one *you* want. You can darken the background somewhat or allow it to blow out. Next, add your main light and get it to the f-stop you want and in position. Finally, add fill as necessary and maybe even a rim light to light the hair or shoulders if you want.
We stuck with one or two lights and assisted each other by holding lights as we took turns shooting. I actually have as much fun helping with the shoot as I do taking the photographs and always enjoy the company too. We started out near the southwest corner of the building — very challenging due to the setting sun. The positive side of a situation like this is that it forces you think about solutions to the light problems, some of which equate to just going with it and trying to make interesting images with the light that is there, be it harsh or soft. The image at the top of the post was taken here with my daughter standing in the shadow of a large pillar. Shooting someone with very dark skin provides additional challenges as you need extra light to balance out the ambient and bring out the facial features. This extra light blows out light clothes (had that happen a lot) and sometimes other features like the pillar next to her. I shot in manual mode at 1/250s (max sync speed), did a few test shots without the strobe to pick my aperture (f/8) then began experimenting with light position and power. This shot had a strobe camera right, bare other than a 1/4 CTO gel, triggered with Elinchrom Skyports. I used my 70-200mm f/2.8 IS for all the portraits (love that lens for these situations).
We moved to the northwest corner of the build for a bit and I got the shot below. No strobe used in this portrait. Alex used a silver reflector to direct the sunlight to Evelyn’s face and I shot from down low to get a reasonable background. Aperture priority was used with an f-stop of f/4. The light was literally golden even off the silver reflector — made her skin look great.
Another mass migration of gear and bodies occurred as we relocated to the north side of the building. There was great shade and many choices for backgrounds including the Austin skyline. I shot this final portrait (below) at this location. I chose an aperture of f/9.5 and set up two lights. The main light was again a 1/4 CTO gel’ed bare strobe at camera right. The fill was a bare strobe (I didn’t have tape or velcro for another gel) placed on the ground in front of the camera. I placed the strobes on different Skyport channels and experimented with each separately to adjust them to taste. I had to lay out on the ground (see the pic by Alex Suarez at the bottom of the post) to get the composition I wanted (Evelyn + The Austonian + TX flag). I was somewhat limited due the angle required for my composition and the locations of some trees which blocked the flag if I moved out of this position. I would have liked the wind to blow the flag up a bit more but I took what I could get. Someday I’ll work on perfecting this shot. I would try two things for starters: (1) use a shoot-through umbrella with an assistant (no assistant was handy for this shot and it was too windy to set it up without an anchor) and (2) try a stronger CTO gel to warm up the subject to match the background better. I prefer the darker backgrounds but I think I’d experiment with backing off to f/8 or even f/7.1.
After shooting the skyline portrait, Sylvia and I were helping Steve shoot portraits of my daughter. In a moment of serendipity, Joe McNally and David Hobby walked out of the building. Our group bantered with them and Joe made a smiling comment on the order of “good luck with that portrait” as their group walked to a spot nearby. After a minute or so he and David Hobby just couldn’t stand watching us flounder so they came over, gave a few tips, and Joe McNally even held the strobe/umbrella for a couple of shots. That was cool. I think they took pity on us in the same way that we would a distressed animal — you just can’t stand watching it suffer 🙂
I had a lot of fun shooting with these folks and my daughter had a blast being the model (she’s asking to do it again). Hopefully soon…
This shot looks much better large so after reading click on the image to view it on flickr, where you can view in a larger size.
I thought I’d post a semi-old panorama of the Austin skyline (taken 9 months ago). It’s already out of date given that the cranes are no longer part of the scene, but I hope to capture a new one soon. The sun was completely gone but there was just enough orange left in the western sky to reflect some sunset color off some of the buildings.
A wide panorama like this can be a bit tricky when the light is changing. When you shoot images for a panorama you ideally use manual mode to keep the same exposure for each individual image. This makes it easier to generate smooth, consistent exposure and colors when you stitch/blend the images. However, one must shoot quickly around sunrise/sunset so that the colors don’t change between the beginning and end of the final image. This is especially true if your exposures are long and you’re overlapping each image by 50% (my typical choice, although it generally works well even with only 20% overlap).
Processing was pretty “normal” by my standards. I used Photoshop to stitch the image from nine exposures (each at 90mm, f/5.6, 1/2s), bumped up the exposure about 1/2 stop, played with curves, reduced the noise with Noiseware, and selectively sharpened (via layer masks). I had bracketed my images so I used the underexposed frames to get a couple blown-out areas back, notably the top of the Frost Bank Tower (the one that looks like a nose trimmer).