The 2013 Longhorn Open (annual racquetball tournament at the University of Texas) featured the #1 ranked women’s racquetball player in the world, Paola Longoria. Learn how to consistently hit shots like the one above and you’re one step closer to a #1 ranking. I decided to take a few pictures on the final day of the tournament — just to see how they’d turn out. I shot in manual mode and played around with the balance between aperture (depth of field), shutter speed (freezing the players and the ball), and high ISO (noise considerations). The lighting was actually pretty good in most of the courts, allowing “reasonable” settings. Most of the courts didn’t have any viewing area except from above. That isn’t so great for pictures but I was just experimenting anyway. Focusing was another challenge and I frankly never figured out a good strategy.
Practiced capturing some motion “stuff” during a recent-ish photowalk on the University of Texas campus. I think the red blur and subtle wheel-spinning pattern from the passing SUV adds to the photo. To shoot this I set my aperture to f/22, pre-focused on the far lane and switched to manual focus, used some test shots to pick a shutter speed, and then panned with the next bus which came by.
Many have given their lives for our freedoms…I’m grateful. War memorial at DKR Texas Memorial Stadium at the University of Texas.
The shot above didn’t turn out quite as cool as I’d hoped but it’s fun nonetheless. While out on a photo walk on the University of Texas campus I set up my camera on my tripod as the photographer crowd gathered on the steps of the UT Tower. As people milled around I captured shots in a semi-regular cadence. My idea was to capture people in different positions and mask them together in Photoshop. When I uploaded my photos to my computer it turned out that I really didn’t capture enough frames. For example, look at the guy in the red jacket. He probably wandered all around the scene but in reality I only capture him in a few spots. There are a couple of people who did appear in widely varied positions around the scene.
The photo above was captured at the base of the UT Tower, a prominent 307-foot building on the University of Texas campus. A couple other views of the UT Tower are shown below.
When we told my sister-in-law — twenty-two-ish years ago — that we were moving to Texas the first thing out of her mouth was, “Oh great, now your kids are going to have big heads!”. Turns out she was right as most of us pretty much love living in Texas. Truth be told, we would be happy living anywhere since life is more about the people around you than the place itself. In fact, not many years ago we passed on an opportunity to move the family to a place my wife had always dreamed of living. Her words: “This [Austin] is home now.” The pride of Texans is manifest in many ways. First, I’ve never been to a state where the state flag flies as much as it does here. People sport “Native Texan” tattoos and bumper stickers. Some transplants (not me) display bumper stickers which say “I wasn’t born in Texas but I got here as quick as I could”.
So, March 2nd was Texas Independence Day and I really didn’t plan on posting anything. However, in the wee hours of this morning — wide awake after a 2 am run to Walgreens for chicken pox relief potions for my son — I found some unprocessed pictures like the one above that I had taken on the way back to my truck after a recent photowalk on the University of Texas campus.
Some brief tidbits: Six national flags have flown over Texas (the origin of the “Six Flags” amusement park name). They were the Spanish, French, Mexican, Republic of Texas, Confederate, and now the US flag.
Texas is a huge state in land area — far larger than California which is the next largest in the lower 48. My big Texas head is not so large that I don’t get a good laugh at an Alaskan saying, “We were going to divide Alaska into two states but we didn’t want to make Texas the third largest”. That’s a pretty good put-down for too-proud Texans IMO 🙂
Texas also has very distinct geographical areas. When we lived in Illinois we constantly saw TV ads which used a slogan along the lines of “Texas — It’s like a whole other country.” Frankly, it’s true in many ways. We grew up equating Texas with tumbleweeds but I probably lived in Texas 15 years before I ever saw one. The regions range from plains in the north to hill country in the middle to plains and river valleys in the south. There are piney forests in the east to mountains in the west. The coastal plains with their fertile black soil are pretty much like the fields in Illinois.
I think we’ll stay a while.
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.
I was saving this so I could post it in honor of the Longhorns making the final four in the NCAA tournament but…they lost in the regional final over the weekend. Illinois managed to win and will face USC on Thursday.
Here it is:
Just for fun, here are some pics from the University of Texas Longhorns vs. Michigan State match in the second round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament. I hadn’t ever brought my camera to Gregory Gym but decided to for this last home match of the year. I used only my 17-40 f/4L (“long” lenses are not allowed) and took most pictures from my seat. Right away I discovered that the color temperature is not consistent throughout the place — something I hadn’t noticed until I took pictures — but I didn’t attempt to fix the color at all. It’s amazing how our eyes just adjust to the situation but the camera cannot. Most (all?) of the images were shot in manual mode at f/4, 1/500s, and at ISO 3200 since I didn’t have the benefit of using any strobes like the official photographer (he has four strobes mounted in the rafters). I chose the fast shutter speed in hopes of freezing the action reasonably well. For shots in between the fast action (preparing for service for example) I could have switched to a smaller aperture and slower shutter but I was mostly there to enjoy watching the match and didn’t want to fiddle with settings. “Photography” wasn’t number one on the agenda for the night. The pictures are by no means awesome but in any case recorded a fun evening watching volleyball with my girls.
Of course we cheer for the Longhorns…for now. However, my alma mater (Illinois — the #3 seed) is still in the tournament and should they meet Texas in the finals we’ll be behind the Fighting Illini (we already have our tickets!). My kids know they will be grounded if they choose to favor the Longhorns 🙂
And finally, what happens when your shutter is open and the stadium photographer triggers the strobes in the rafters.
On a recent evening I went out with my friend Scott and some of our children to experiment with portrait lighting. I haven’t gotten through all the pictures yet but I’m not too excited about what I see so far. In my defense I was initially trying out some new setups which I had never used before. Learned a few things there but didn’t come out of it with any great images. I switched to bare off-camera flashes but we were also attempting some lighting in really tight spaces with lots of features which could cast shadows, etc. That made things rather challenging and again…no great images from what I’ve seen so far.
I did get a few decent shots while the sun was poking through some trees and bushes. The shot above was taken with my daughter standing directly in front of the sun. I shot about 30 variations of this scene with different poses, framing, and exposures. I liked the backlighting and the rim of light it created around the hair, shoulder, and arm. The image above started out life almost two stops underexposed (part of all that playing with settings). However, my daughter liked this pose and expression so I proceeded to try to make something out of the shot.
I remembered back to a video I had watched by Dan Margulis called “There Are No Bad Originals” in which Dan started out with horrendous raw files and turned them into pretty great pictures. I thought “I can do something with this shot” and just started fooling around. In the end what I did turned out to be really straightforward. I bumped the exposure way up, used white balance to warm the image way over the top (as my daughter was the “client” I was letting her choose which direction I went with the image). I don’t typically go for the really warm look but I have to admit I like what it did here and probably should experiment more with this. I used Noiseware mainly to do noise reduction on the background but it also had a great effect on my daughter’s skin. Then I used some curves to tweak a couple spots and add some vignette.
I initially used a jaunt into lab color mode to get some color in the blown-out highlights (see a post about that here) but my daughter liked the blown-out highlights better so I reverted to that. After all, she was the “client”. The highlights are too prominent for my taste but my daughter pointed out that they actually cause her face to stand out more (I agree with that). All-in-all this image was not what I had in mind when I shot it, but I like what I ended up with nonetheless.
[Update: I just looked at this post on my windows box at the office. On this monitor there’s a lot of green from the background trees still showing in the image whereas on my home monitor(s) the image was more homogenous in tone (orange-ish color). I don’t like the green here…may try to fix this later]
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.
A friend called up this afternoon to let me know that a “photographic opportunity” was coming up this evening. The University of Texas Men’s swim team had won the national championship so the UT Tower was being lit orange tonight in their honor. Now, I’m not a huge UT fan (flame away) but as a photographer I recognized that it truly was a unique chance to get a great image. I really felt like staying home for the evening (my wife and I had bagged some errand plans for that very reason).
My wife reminded me that I’d regret not going so I packed up and went to campus with one of my daughters. The weather was perfect and we had a great evening out. I even took some street portraits for some ladies who wanted their picture taken with the tower in the background. They were quite the jokesters — “I want my head put on Sandra Bullock’s body…I want so-and-so’s body…Do a lot of that soft-focus thing on my face”. We had a good time.
The image above was generated by taking four manual exposures then using Photomatix to fuse the exposures (no tonemapping). I used to darkest exposures to bring back a few highlights. I’ve only played with fusing exposures a little, but I’ve found it to generally produce a nice, clean image. If fusing did not work out I would probably have gone the composite route (manually blending the exposures in Photoshop). I didn’t even try tonemapping as I often don’t like it much for night shots. I added some sharpening a smidgen of clarity in Lightroom. That’s all I did — no noise reduction, no curves.
I hope all you UT fans like this photo. Well, I hope you all like the photo…