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.
On a recent photo walk on the University of Texas campus these three joined in and were simply having a blast posing and taking pictures of each other. They were quite fun to watch and the provided the rest of us with some interesting pictures too. Unfortunately they dropped out of the group at some point and I never got the chance to properly meet them.
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.
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]
Littlefield Fountain is a World War I memorial at the University of Texas created by Italian sculptor Pompeo Coppini and financed by George Washington Littlefield. There’s some great information on the fountain here. While researching a bit of information about Coppini I ran across a quote by J. Frank Dobie who said of Coppini, “…he has littered up Texas with his monstrosities”. I find that quite funny given that Dobie’s namesake (Dobie Mall) is located practically across the street. Coppini did many works in Texas — they’re worth checking out.
For photographers in Austin playing with HDR, Littlefield Fountain seems to be one of those required shots — analogous to the required elements in figure skating or gymnastics. The State Capitol and a skyline shot along Lady Bird Lake are among the other “required elements”.
Friday evening I took my friend and daughter to the University of Texas campus for a short photowalk. We got a parking space right by the Littlefield Fountain and it became our first stop for pictures. On a personal note, as soon as we stopped in front of the fountain we were face-to-face with my sister-in-law. She’s a visiting professor in the business school for the spring semester and just happened to be headed home for the day…great to run into her like that. Seeing our cameras, she commented on how someone is *always* taking a picture of the fountain.
The water is full of algae…it’s really the green color seen in these images. I frankly don’t care to ever see green water but I’ll be nice and say that it “adds to the images”. There are many great perspectives and angles to be had around this fountain but I stuck with a couple “safe” and standard shots here.