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 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).
Located west of Austin, TX (about 20 miles from downtown as the crow flies), Hamilton Pool is a favorite swimming hole for many Austin-area residents. It’s formed at the point where Hamilton Creek pours over a 50 foot waterfall into an incredible grotto.
Jim Nix (http://www.nomadicpursuits.com) invited me to go shoot at the pool this weekend. I’ve lived in Austin for 19 years, 9months, and some-odd days and I had never been to Hamilton Pool. Because of this fact (and of course because Jim’s a great guy) I took him up on the invite and had a great time going after some images. Got a bit of exercise too.
You can see Jim in the photo below. I saw him standing near the falls and I plopped down my tripod right where I was to capture an image which included him. I had seen incredible images of this pool but they didn’t have anything as a reference point to convey the true size. Including a person in the frame gives the viewer a real sense of how big this grotto is.
3-exposure HDR, center exposure 18mm f/14, 1/2s, ISO 100
On the drive out the skies were looking promising for HDR (lots of texture) but by the time we were there and set up they seemed to have turned almost to plain, gray overcast. I didn’t end up with decent skies in any of the shots I’ve processed at so far.
I’m not super happy with any of the images so far but they’re good enough for me to at least enjoy them. I was on a semi-strict timeline that day but I came away with some angles I’d like to explore further on my next visit. My hope is to visit again on a *partly* sunny day (want some awesome clouds to include in the shots). I would also like to visit in the spring when there are some leaves on the (currently bare) trees.
Here’s another shot of Jim working on some compositions. The foreground is busy with all those branches but I still like the shot because of how the focal length compresses Jim and the falls in the frame.
3-exposure HDR, center exposure 70mm f/20, 1/2s, ISO 100
And one more, a spot along the creek with some interesting water, trees, and reflections. I might have played with more angles here if it were not for my schedule.
3-exposure HDR, center exposure 24mm f/13, 1/13s, ISO 100