I’m not much for the minimalist thing in general but I’ve always liked this picture. It was taken from the beach — looking inland over the dunes — in Port Aransas, TX. While swimming and fishing with the kids one evening I happened to look back and see this kite all by itself in the sky. I’m not sure what else to say other than “I though it was kind of cool”. Adding to the cool factor IMO was the clear sky. Normally we photographers like dramatic skies but that would take away from this scene in my estimation.
We went out to watch the eclipse with another family tonight. I lugged the camera and lenses out just in case I wanted to get pictures of the kids with their funny eclipse glasses, etc. At first I didn’t bother to get it out and just snapped iPhone shots of the kids but on a whim I decided to play around with pictures of the eclipse. While the sun was high I started with f/32, 1/8000s with a polarizing filter (just to close down two more stops) and even then the sun was completely blown out. As the sun neared the horizon I was able to remove the polarizer, open up the shutter a bit, and get a silhouette of the horizon and some color in the sky. Not bad for just fiddling around on a whim. An improvement might have been to open up the aperture to a point where the lens tends to be sharper but once the sun nears the horizon around here it drops like a rock so I didn’t bother with that…I just kept clicking the remote here and there to capture different stages of the sunset/eclipse. Processing was spot removal and noise reduction in Lightroom.
A few weeks ago our family and some friends camped at the Vineyard Campground in Grapevine, TX (while attending the Alliance Air Show). Snapped this shot of the girls watching the sunset from the dock behind our campsite.
Did some basic adjustments in Lightroom (mainly crop, contrast, clarity and some desaturation) then pulled it into Photoshop and combined it with a couple of subtle textures from Jerry Jones at Shadowhouse Creations.
While setting up camp last weekend in Port Aransas, TX we saw the most amazing colors in the sky. I’m usually in mission mode when setting up camp and wouldn’t normally stop for pics, but this was too cool. Given that we were in an RV park there weren’t a lot of great foreground elements to choose from but I think the palm tree silhouette does the trick in a pinch.
This was shot with daylight white balance and post-processing consisted of noise reduction and bringing the luminance of the blues and oranges down a notch to get the colors looking like the actual sky. I also dropped the exposure of the lower part of the frame (the campground) about a stop. This image could use a border to keep it from blending into the background of the page…maybe I’ll update it later.
My daughter happened to notice this cloud the other night and called me out to take a pic. If I had noticed the storm building up I might have chronicled its development a bit more.
The shot was taken from the end of my driveway (same spot as this one). The exposure was chosen to expose the brightest portion of the cloud as far as I could without blowing out anything. In hindsight I’d stop down to f/8 and bump up the ISO to compensate. Even though I was on a tripod I wanted a fast-ish shutter speed because I was in the bed of my truck (to get a bit of clearance over the trees) and the suspension was moving around with the gusting wind. Processing was some clarity and curves.
Mike Connell has a better shot of this cloud taken from a different angle here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mdconnell/5763584527/
“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork”. That’s about all there is to say about an awesome sky like this.
Had dinner with some friends tonight and when I got home this was the view from my driveway. I snapped some photos as the sun went down but mostly just stood and watched as this cloud billowed and tumbled and whatever else clouds do. It changed rapidly. The processing on this photo was simple: Selected a preset I had in Lightroom which mostly adjusted clarity, contrast and brightness, used three curves layers in Photoshop to tweak some areas, reduced noise, sharpened slighty, and blended in at 50%-ish opacity a layer which had been run through Topaz Adjust’s “Exposure Correction” filter.
[Updates: An additional note in response to some questions I got. I first shot this with a Canon 50D and a Sigma 10-20mm lens. I made that choice simply based on the availability of the 10mm focal length (24mm is the widest I have for my 5D — equivalent to 15mm-ish on the 50D). I also shot this with the full-frame Canon 5D Mark ii to see if I could *really* bring out some sharp detail in the clouds with the slightly higher resolution. In the end I chose a 16mm shot from the 50D. This cloud was changing by the second and the choice of which frame to process was based solely on the shape and color of the cloud in the frame and not at all on the focal length or which camera was used. With regards to exposure, I was bracketing around the hairy edge of where the brightest highlights of the cloud *almost* were blown out.
Also, see this cool capture by DJ Schulte which adds a great foreground element. I tried to find something interesting at my place but didn’t find anything compelling enough to include in the shot. I decided the cloud itself was worth the shot anyway.]
There’s a spot near my house which has a great vantage point for watching the sunset. Yesterday I noticed the clouds were forming up nicely as the sun got lower in the sky so I decided to pop over to that spot and catch some pics of the event.
I shot four sets of images — two sets of brackets for some prospective HDRs, some shots of other cloud formations with some of the local vegetation blowing in the wind, and one set of images for a panorama shot. For the panorama I shot in manual mode so the exposure remained consistent throughout the shots. If you shoot in Av or any other automatic mode the camera will meter every time you press the shutter. As you sweep the camera from a light part of the sky to a darker part, the camera tries to compensate by increasing the exposure. When you stitch the frames the sky won’t match from frame to frame. I also bracketed the panorama frames +/- 1 stop…just in case.
After stitching the center exposures in Photoshop I applied a couple of curves adjustment layers — a separate curve for the blue and red channels. I then added an exposure adjustment layer, set it to +1.8 stops, then applied a gradient mask so that only the right side of the image was actually increased by 1.8 stops. Pretty simple treatment and quick to apply.
Here’s an 8-exposure HDR taken earlier in the evening. Tonemapped, applied two sets of curves, blended a Topaz Adjust “Photo Pop” layer at 50% opacity. I wish there was an interesting foreground subject or feature to have included, but the sky makes it worth the shot IMO.
This past weekend was the first time in five weekends that I was in town. I was going to get all sorts of work done around the house, etc and catch up on things. Photography was still going to be relegated to the wish list — no time for that. Well, Thursday night I started to feel a bit under the weather and by Friday morning I was out-and-out ill. I ended up in bed throughout this weekend and one of the things I did (when not in a complete fog) was watch a few videos on kelbytraining.com. I got to do *something* related to photography at least.
Being the geek that I am, I watched a few videos on the Lab color space done by a guy named Dan Margulis. Lab is a color space (like RGB for example) which uses three channels: ‘L’ for luminosity, ‘a’ for green/magenta, and ‘b’ for blue/yellow. I won’t even try to explain when and why one might want to use the Lab color space but I will attempt a poor-man’s explanation of one use I’ve already found for Lab with the help of Mr. Margulis.
The portrait above-left was taken on a bright, sunny day in Vancouver’s Stanley Park. Note the blown-out highlights on the forehead and nose. No amount of curves, saturation, or other adjustments would bring the proper color back to those spots. The only real option is to paint color in if you really want the color back. The way you’d generally do this is to sample a nearby color in the skin (option-click when you have the paintbrush tool open in Photoshop) and paint over the area. The main problem with this is that your “paint” covers every pixel — better make sure you don’t paint over any of the areas you want to keep (those areas with non-blown-out colors and textures). One way to prevent this is to paint on another layer and use the ‘color’ blend mode which will add color but keep the existing texture. The problem with this? In RGB, adding color to something already blown-out will simply remain blown-out.
If you convert your layer to Lab (I’m not going to attempt to explain the exact mechanics because I’ll surely leave out something important), you can paint while using color blend mode and the color “sticks”. This is essentially because Lab has a much larger color gamut than RGB. One way of saying it is that in Lab space there exists a color which is blown-out (from a luminosity standpoint) but still has a color value. Your first thought might be, “Don’t you lose that color when you convert back to RGB eventually?”. Nope. And that’s just the way it works — Photoshop doesn’t know that the Lab colors you painted in were blown-out highlights. It just sees a color that it has to make a best guess about converting back to RGB.
It’s very subtle, but in the above-right image you can see that I added a touch of color to the blown-out spots on the forehead and nose, and to the right ear and forehead above the right eye. There are still highlights, but they are no longer brilliant white.
Here’s another example. In this sunset silhouette taken in Corpus Christi, TX there’s a huge blown-out area in the sky. In RGB you could paint some color in very carefully — being sure to avoid the buildings, etc. In Lab, I simply painted in color using the ‘color’ blend mode and the image is much-improved IMO. There’s now a touch of color in the whole sky and in the water and the edit took about one minute. [You’ll note that the overall color cast is slightly different on the right and I simply don’t remember if I touched some other setting — Just trust that the color in the previously blown-out areas is due to painting in the Lab color space.]
I have no doubt that there are 20 other ways to tackle the problem of blown-out highlights in post, but I wanted to share this one that I learned. If you’re geeky enough to find this interesting, I hope I’ve whet your appetite enough to go figure it out with the help of a book or video. If you’re not geeky enough then I won’t be able to explain it well enough to help you anyway.
The Oasis Restaurant, which sits on a cliff some 450′ above Lake Travis in Austin, labels itself as the sunset capital of Texas…and it may very well be. I recently visited with an out-of-town guest and a few of my daughters and was amazed at the enormity of what they are building out there. You see, in 2005 the Oasis burned as a result of a lightning strike. It has since been rebuilt and then some. An employee informed us that the place currently seats 2600 people — enough to be the third largest restaurant in the USA. Construction is well underway on an expansion which will increase the seating to 4000…largest in the country is their claim! According to their own website there will also be about 30 retail shops on site.
The signature architectural feature of the Oasis is its many levels of outdoor decks. Large patio umbrellas cover the tables and about ten minutes before the sun hits the horizon the staff makes a mad scramble to collapse all the umbrellas to maximize the view. As the sun sets, a bell rings out, hundreds of cameras click, and everyone cheers.
What’s the food like? Let’s just say that I’m not all that picky and I still don’t like it much. Oh well, I go (once every 5 years maybe) for the sunset and not the food.
I took brackets of three different compositions on our last visit. One was an immediate reject and I processed one of the others (shown above). Standard-ish 3-exp (or was it 6???) HDR tonemapped in Photomatix, combined with bits from the original exposures, and run through a bit of curves adjustments, etc. I plan to get out there again sometime soon and really spend a bit of time taking photos from various vantage points.
I’ve got Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” playing through my head these days. I haven’t heard the song since, oh, 1985 but I thought of it when I viewed the sunset above. When I saw those clouds (I didn’t even manage to catch them at the peak of brightness and color), the first thing that popped into my head was the phrase “fire in the sky”. The clouds looked like flames. My 3 year old asked me if the sky was on fire — even he thought it looked like fire. Frankly, the image doesn’t stand on its own but I thought the uniqueness of these clouds made them worth sharing.
An hour before this sunset the sky looked like this:
I figured we’d have a great sunset after seeing those clouds but I was busy throwing the football around with the kids so I missed the best part of it. I would have loved to zip over to a nice vista to take this shot but I settled for the back-porch version.
Smoke on the water…fire in the sky. Someone please make the music in my head stop 🙂
We’ve been getting a ton of rain this week thanks to the relative proximity of Hurricane Alex and the fact that we’re on the north side of it. I’m very glad for the rain, thanking God for it each time I look out the window, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a few more peeks of the sun.
In light of that (no pun intended) I decided to post this sunset image that I took sometime back. Nothing fancy — a picture of my son in our backyard as the sun heads to the horizon. I never get tired of seeing sunsets and am tempted to get the camera out for each one of them. It’s a run-of-the-mill 3-exposure HDR with some basic adjustments.
Speaking of rain, some of our family is headed to Seattle for a wedding next week. I’m reminded of the classic saying “I spent the summer in Seattle — both days were sunny”. I’m also reminded of a joke I heard sometime back that goes something like this:
A man moved to Seattle from sunny California and of course, it was raining. It rained the next day, and the next…and the next. After 7 or 8 straight days of rain he was wondering if it would ever stop. He asked a young boy passing by, “Does it ever stop raining here?!?”. To which the boy answered, “How should I know? I’m only six…”.
One of the fun things about photography is exploring new places and taking time to see new viewpoints. Diving deeper into photography this past year has caused me to view old places in a new way and visit new places that I wish I had seen years ago. An example of the former would be the Texas State Capitol building. I’ve been there many, many times in the 20 years I’ve lived in Austin but never took a picture there until 2 months ago. An example of the latter would be the cliffs high above the Pennybacker Bridge (or “Loop 360 Bridge” to most of us locals). What an awesome place and I can’t explain why I’ve never taken the time to visit before January of this year.
My daughter and I have been doing most of the assignments on dailyshoot.com. I approach these in a semi-serious manner. I want to improve my photography both in the technical aspect and the creative aspects therefore I make an attempt to come up with something original that also challenges me from a technical standpoint. However, I have a family and can’t devote all my time to the assignments so I often compromise and complete them with a result that I’m not entirely proud of. That’s OK though — I’m still learning in the process.
Today’s assignment was to “go somewhere today you’ve never been, even just a different street, and make a photo”. I was headed out on a date with one of my daughters tonight and we chose Mangia Pizza on Lake Austin Blvd. Yum. Not quite as good as Giordano’s in Chicago but ‘yum’ nonetheless. While pumping gas at the station next door we were looking at the incredible houses high on the cliffs above Lady Bird Lake. As usual I had the camera stashed in the trunk so we grabbed it and walked down to Eilers Park (or Deep Eddy as many know it) to attempt a capture or two of those houses. I’ve been to Mangia many times before…never took the time to go down to the park.
Eilers Park was built on a tract of lakefront which the City of Austin purchased from A.J. Eilers in 1935, for a price of $10,000. According to http://www.friendsofeilerspark.org/, “Mr. Eilers and his partners had developed the property as a resort that included a spring-fed pool, a bathhouse, rental cottages, a bandstand, and concession stand. The park had a carnival-like atmosphere with a Ferris wheel, music performances, free movies, and much, much more.” Over the years the park deteriorated but over the past several years improvements have been completed and a master plan for new projects has been created.
The image above is an HDR generated from 3 exposures. The light was just right. I wanted to capture a wider scene with several of the houses on the cliff but there are plenty of power lines around. I’m just not that good with photoshop yet and the lines would have seriously detracted from the image. I also had to shoot above some brush in the foreground which is why the house is tight to the bottom of the frame. I’d love to find out more about this house…someday. For now it remains another “place I’ve never been”.
I was a bit surprised at the number of questions I received regarding the sunset image below [Click on images to view them larger on flickr. Then click “ALL SIZES” above the image on flickr to view it large].
Most questions came from people who (as far as I know) do not have any particular knowledge or experience with photography. I’ll try to explain how this image was done in a generally non-technical way. No *promises* that I won’t use geeky terms and all that though…
First question — Can I see it larger (and in better resolution than facebook)? Yes. Click on the image above to view it on flickr then click on “ALL SIZES” above the photo to see a large version.
In answer to another question: No, this isn’t a painting. This image was generated using 5 exposures from the camera and processed in various pieces of software. I didn’t do any “painting” on the computer — all the colors and light that you see came from information in the 5 image files from the camera. However, depending on how you process an image it can look very much like a painting. In software all the pixels are manipulated in a myriad of ways — more or less saturation, brightness, etc. to bring out or tone down the colors. Check out http://www.hdrspotting.com and you’ll see some images that very much look like paintings.
Another question — Is it “fake”? Only if your definition of “real” is “light straight into the camera, image straight out of the camera”. In that case it’s very fake, as are 99.999% of the images you see in books, magazines, catalogs, black and white, etc. All those images are manipulated (often heavily) in some form or fashion. Ansel Adams was famous for spending hours in the darkroom manipulating portions of his prints…are his images fake? Also, when you put any sort of filter in front of your lens you’re manipulating the light and making the image look different. Even your (digital) camera does processing on the image before generating it. Two different cameras may give slightly different results when capturing the same scene.
Whether or not various effects or manipulations are desirable and/or attractive is a completely subjective matter. Sometimes I like it, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I like a strong effect, sometimes very subtle. This is true with respect to any type of photography or art. Could say tons more about that but I won’t bore you further. My personal opinion is that if you are honest — not misrepresenting how the image came about or how it was manipulated — then the only thing that matters is whether you and/or your target audience/client like it.
I’ll attempt to explain a bit of the “What, Why, and How?” of this type of image in as non-technical terms as possible.
The term for this type of image is “HDR” which is an acronym for “high dynamic range”. If any photogeek reading this wants to get into a debate about what is properly called “HDR” versus “tonemapping”, just know that I don’t care. If you think I’m poisoning the photography world with incorrect usage of the term “HDR”, I can live with that.
Why use HDR? The reason is to capture all the different levels of light in a scene. The human eye can roam around a scene and dynamically adjust to a wide range of light levels. A camera — even a high-tech one — cannot handle this wide range when capturing a scene with large disparities in light/dark. The camera makes a guess at the best exposure which results in some areas being too light, some too dark. When using HDR one generally takes three to five different exposures, some exposed to capture the dark areas (long exposures) and some the bright areas (short exposures). Think about pictures you’ve taken of a sunset in the past. You usually end up with one of two results: Either the sky looks great but the landscape (or your wife) is a black silhouette or the landscape is normal and the sky is completely white (all the sunset colors are gone because the camera over-exposed that portion of the image). If one of these is the effect you’re after, great. If not, you need to use special filters, use software, or a combination of both (I don’t use filters personally).
After capturing these multiple exposures I shove them through some software (Photomatix in my case). The *very* simple explanation is that the software merges the multiple exposures into one image such that each area is properly exposed. A really strange image results from that step. I then use Photoshop to ‘fix’ some of what that software did by bringing in pieces of the original exposures from the camera. After this it’s the usual brightness, contrast, saturation, etc. adjustments that many of you probably do on your own images in the software that came packaged with your camera or maybe on Picasa. Understand, that’s an extremely paraphrased version of what goes on. The total time to do this varies but the ‘Pennybacker Sunset’ image took approximately 1.5 hours (included two complete restarts because I messed things up beyond repair…I’m new to this HDR stuff).
Maybe I’ll write my own tutorial someday as I seem to be settling in a general groove in the way I’m processing my images. However, I think you’ll be far better served by reading tutorials from the others I list below. I’ll let you hunt for their tutorial links just so you have to check out their sites a little. I’ve used information from each of these — very helpful.
Trey Ratcliff (http://www.stuckincustoms.com)
Jim Nix (http://www.nomadicpursuits.com/blog/)
Dave Wilson (http://davewilsonphotography.com)
Well, I’ve probably created more questions than I’ve given answers. If you’d like to see more images you can add me as a contact on flickr and change your settings to notify you when I add photos (not all of them are HDR). My flickr site is http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk.
Here’s a parting shot from the evening that I took the sunset shot. Click through to the flickr page to read a bit about this one. Be sure to click on “ALL SIZES” to see it best.