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.
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.
“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…
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 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).
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.