People strolling early in the morning on the Michigan Avenue bridge over the Chicago River. This was taken just as the sun was peeking up over the Lake Michigan horizon and the light was a deep orange. The sun’s rays had a straight shot down the river — unimpeded by skyscrapers — so the bridge managed to catch the best light.
While in Hawaii I managed to catch the sunrise most mornings (not necessarily for pictures). As the sun rose over this jetty in Kauai I stopped all the way down to f/22 in hopes of getting a nice sunburst — success. The lens flare effect (real — not added in post) is nice too. I had hoped to get more interest and/or color out of that rope in the rocks but it doesn’t add much unfortunately.
The image was processed in Nik HDR Efex Pro using 9 exposures. Lightroom was used for most of the touch-up and then Photoshop was used for curves and noise adjustments.
I recently downloaded a trial version of Nik Software’s HDR Efex Pro. I’d been semi-disappointed in many HDRs I’d created in Photomatix and had heard many people say they’d made the switch to Nik. If you’re hoping for a complete review of Nik HDR Efex Pro I apologize in advance — I’m only going to give some impressions here.
First, a bit on Photomatix. It’s great software in many ways and I’ve used it to make many cool (IMO) images. However, in many of my HDRs of late I’ve ended up doing so much masking in Photoshop after tone mapping in Photomatix that I’m practically producing a composite of the original exposures. Photomatix often doesn’t handle motion to my liking — leaving way too much work to do afterwards. I’ll readily admit that it could be the user — I’m no wizard with Photomatix. It could also be that I’m getting pickier as time goes on. On the plus side, I find Photomatix to be much faster than Nik but I don’t process all that many HDRs so that’s not a huge factor.
I used Nik HDR Efex Pro to process all but one of the images in this post. For my own comparison purposes I processed another Hawaii coast photo — similar to the one at the top of this post — with Photomatix. It’s not completely apples-to-apples since I didn’t process the *same* photo but I ended up having to spend a ton of time in Photoshop fixing up the Photomatix image (basically ending up with a composite as I mentioned above).
As for the mechanics of using Nik HDR Efex Pro, it’s quite simple. In each of the images (5-ish?) that I’ve processed with it I’ve started out with a preset and tweaked from there. Of course I’m still learning all the sliders, etc. but I’m happy with it so far. I find the “control point” concept useful (it defines circles in which you can separately tweak portions of the image) but I would prefer that it worked more like the adjustment brush in Lightroom where you can choose exactly where the effects are applied. The final images here aren’t completely to my liking (some spots would get fixed if I were to spend more time on the images) but are illustrative enough for this post.
A recent sunrise over the Gulf of Mexico along Padre Island National Seashore. The image was processed with 4 or 5 different textures in OnOne’s Perfect Photo Suite. After that I did a few Photoshop curves adjustments…that’s it.
“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…
I was fortunate to be able to grab some pictures of this P-51 Mustang on the ground at the Alliance Air Show in Fort Worth before the general public was allowed in the show. I wanted to get more angles but I was already encroaching on an off-limits area and wasn’t going to push it.
I used 8 exposures for this and took a few liberties in processing to amp up the colors just a bit. I wanted to clone out the light pole above the plane but as simple as that looks it can be hard to get it right when there are slight gradients in the sky colors. I’ll work on it…
I was very surprised to find that one of my (not-so-freshly-pressed) posts was featured on WordPress Freshly Pressed. I started thinking about what post I should follow up with to hopefully meet the expectations of any new followers, etc. I’m humble enough to realize that I’ve got nothing but photographs that *I* like — and hopefully others will like many of them. What’s the Ansel Adams quote? Something like “There no rules for good photographs, only good photographs”. And of course “good” is defined by personal taste. So…I’m just posting the next picture I had already planned to post in hopes that others like it too 🙂
On a recent trip to the Texas coast I was setting up for some bokeh shots with the 50mm f/1.4 and noticed this couple approaching. I quickly focused on the sand and recomposed to catch them as they passed in front of the camera. I said a quick ‘hello’ but otherwise pretended to ignore them and clicked off a couple of shots as they were in the frame.
My camera was already at what I considered a good aperture for this situation — f/2. From experience I knew that anything larger and the background would be too blurred to provide enough detail to give a sense of where the shot was taken. I had already experimented with some f/1.4 shots taken at a very close distance from the subject and the background was completely lost. For all you could tell, I was in a bright room inside my house as opposed to the beach. Sometimes that’s a nice effect but when I’m at the beach I typically want to show, or at the very least hint strongly, that I’m at the beach.
I knew my focus wouldn’t be perfect. With such a shallow depth of field it usually doesn’t work to recompose your image since you end up swinging the whole plane of focus away from the subject [see below for a short, lame-ish explanation of that]. I had no time to worry about that nor did I care for this shot since I didn’t really want to capture any detail of the couple — I was going for the overall scene of “some couple” walking on the beach. With the blown-out highlights and backlighting a precise point of focus wasn’t going to matter much anyway. I’m not wild about the composition but again, this was a hurried, serendipitous shot. The almost-opaque frame around the image was something I added while experimenting with OnOne Software’s Photoframe. I’m not sure if I like it but I’m considering this one “done”.
About those depth of field issues when recomposing a shot…When you focus your camera on a particular point, imagine a plane that is perpendicular to line between your lens and subject. Everything on that plane (including everything near the plane within the range of your chosen depth of field) will be in focus. Taking that further, if you focus on a subject 10 feet away it will obviously be in focus, but so will anything on the flat plane (NOT arc) which goes left and right from that point. [Here’s an illustration — not sure how helpful] When you focus and then rotate the camera (recompose) that whole plane moves. If you have a large depth of field (ie small aperture and/or fairly large distance to the focus point) that may not matter because the subject remains within the in-focus region even when you rotate the plane. If the depth of field is very narrow there’s a good chance that you end up moving the subject out of the in-focus region (actually you move the plane of focus away from the subject as you rotate it). I’ve seen a great illustration of this somewhere…I’m not able to find it with a couple quick internet searches though.
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.
As we were headed down Padre Island National Seashore to fish early Saturday morning, my older son and I were intently looking for bait fish activity, holes/cuts in the sandbars, etc. with the intent to find the best fishing spot — didn’t even notice the sun. My seven-year old piped up in a matter-of-fact voice, “Hey, Dad…you’re going to want to get a picture of this.” He’s in tune with my photography habit.
I hopped out of the truck and snapped off a few pictures. It’s amazing how quickly the sun rises in the sky at this point in the day.
Our family was supposed to spend last weekend in Rockport, TX but were unable to go to at the last minute due to medical reasons. As a consolation I’m taking a few of the kids to the beach this weekend. The shot above was taken on our last trip. We had just watched the sunrise and my daughter shed her shoes and went wading. On a whim I got down low and took a variety of shots. I wanted bokeh for the artsy look, yet enough detail to still see my daughter and the pattern in her dress. Turns out that the widest aperture on my Canon 17-40mm (f/4) just did the trick. I made a quick attempt at cloning the letters out of the shoes but it was soon clear that it would take a lot of work to make it look realistic…above my skill level.
This was the second shot I took (out of maybe 50). In the subsequent images I framed the shot in all manner of ways — no sun or reflection from the sun, put the sun at the 1/3 point in the frame, showed my daughter completely, etc. I like this one best. In particular, I like the leaning subject (partially due to taking a step and partially due to the distorted perspective of the wide-angle lens) and the motion implied here. I also like the extreme highlight in the left corner fading into the darker sky on the right.
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.
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.
Sometimes simple tweaks result in amazing improvements to an image. The photo above was the result of putting an original exposure through a simple ‘S’ curves adjustment, adding a very small cyan, blue, and yellow saturation boost, sharpening theedges of the wispy clouds, and a spin through noise reduction in Noiseware. That’s it. The curves adjustment by itself brought out a ton of color, especially the touch of red on the bottom of the darkest clouds. This edit was all of 5 minutes and 4 minutes of that was just experimentation.
I was going to try tonemapping a single exposure as well as tonemapping three bracketed exposures but there was no need (atleast not for what I was after). The clouds were moving so fast that a 3-exposure HDR would have required the whole sky to be masked from one exposure anyway. I would have been left with a tonemapped mountainside. Instead, I opted for the mountain to be a silhouette in order to put the focus on the sky.
Compositionally the image is not all that great. However, I was at my widest setting (18mm at the time) and didn’t want to chop off any more blue sky. I have other exposures in which I placed the sunrise in a more ideal spot but I’m not sure I like the overall image any better. Maybe I’ll post one at a later time.
This photo was taken last year in Davis Mountains State Park in Fort Davis, TX. During our week there we saw some of the most amazing cloud formations in the bluest of skies. The night skies are void of light pollution, providing beautiful views of the stars above. This of course is why the McDonald Observatory (part of the University of Texas) is located near Fort Davis. The weather is also very nice due to the high elevation (the town is about 5000′ and much of the park is higher). We were there in August and it got a touch warm in the hottest part of the day but it was very pleasant otherwise.
The original exposure is shown below for comparison.
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.
While out running in our neighborhood last week I witnessed an awesome sunrise. There were low, fast-moving clouds on the eastern horizon which made for lots of color as the sun came up. I wasn’t carrying my camera of course so I couldn’t capture this particular event. The next morning I noticed that there were a few clouds on the horizon again as the sun was rising so I popped out of the house with the camera — the first time in weeks I’ve been out to shoot anything at all. I captured only two scenes (several bracketed exposures of each though).
I initially started out to make a simple HDR with 6 exposures (-4 through +1 in single-stop increments) so I did the usual tonemapping in Photomatix, then brought that into CS4 with some original exposures. I replaced the sky — not for noise reasons but rather due to the blur that had been introduced by the fast-moving clouds. After that, I did some of the usual curves/levels/sharpness and was “finished”. I liked it OK…the lens flare was cool, sunburst was nice…I would enjoy seeing it pop up on my desktop screensaver for sure.
On a whim I started playing around with some textures. I only had 5-6 textures on-hand and wasn’t willing to spend a bunch of time searching for others. Long story made short, I ended up using a canvas texture and another random, blotchy texture. Most of my experimentation involved trying out different layer blending modes and opacities. I used “linear light” for one texture and overlay for the other. I offer you my free texture tutorial: “Play around until you like something”.
I also over-saturated the colors somewhat. I don’t normally add any saturation but I thought it fit the painterly effect I was going for.
When I witness a scene like this I can’t help but think of how amazing God’s creation is. My kids and thought Ps 113:3 fit this one: “From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the Lord is to be praised!”.
I spent last weekend in the Seattle area and had the privilege of second-shooting my nephew’s wedding. Maybe I’ll post some pics from that later.
Got to bed at 1:40am after the wedding and got up at 3:50am to take my daughter to the airport (she had another wedding to go). The skies had been quite clear during our visit so I had hopes of capturing some dawn shots of Mt. Rainier since I’d be further south toward the mountain.
After dropping my daughter off (at 4:30) I drove up to the 7th floor of the SE parking garage at SeaTac. There was a great vantage point so I abandoned my initial plan of driving further south toward the mountain — didn’t want to end up missing the first sunlight hitting the mountain.
Shot a bazillion images. Bracketed some of them +/- 1 stop to be sure to get something decent. Captured the pano at the top of the post after sunrise, and this one above before the sun hit the face of the mountain. The sky was a bit hazy but I’m quite happy with what I got. In several other visits to Seattle over the years Mt. Rainier was only visible for a brief period one Sunday morning — never saw it again. I was fortunate to see it for several days last weekend.
Surely these aren’t the best panos you’ve ever seen but they do look quite a bit better when viewed large on flickr (click the images to go to flickr then click the “All Sizes” button above the image).
Had a great Father’s Day this year! We spent Saturday night at our friend’s house in Fredericksburg and I woke up to a fresh cup of coffee and the sunrise in the image below (9-exposure HDR). It was such a cool morning (by Texas summer standards) so I just wandered around a bit and watched the cows graze.
We have so much fun with our friends and Sunday morning was no different as we enjoyed breakfast together and got ready for church. After church we headed home to meet our oldest (married) daughter and have a meal — of my choosing of course — together. The family got me something around 700 shirts which my son said was their way of telling me that they didn’t like my current wardrobe.
Speaking of being a father, we celebrated the birthday of one of our younger sons this past week. Whenever we celebrate our children’s birthdays I’m reminded of how old *I’m* getting.
Our son has become fascinated with cowboys of late (he wanted to invite Roy Rogers to his birthday) so we got him a cowboy hat and used matches for candles on the cake (seemed more like what cowboys would do). He loved it — “Mom, this is the BEST cowboy cake EVER!”. Here’s a shot of him getting ready to blow out his “candles”.
I don’t normally process single exposures (especially of people) as HDRs but I was inspired by Jayme Rutherford’s single-exposure turtle shot which you can view here. I decided that the cowboy theme lent itself well to the gritty texture that tonemapping an image brings about.