While in Chicago a couple of months back I hoped to get some sunset pictures of Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park. Instead I got cloudy sky shots as it began to rain. Earlier in the day the sun was shining brightly on a 80-ish degree day. By late afternoon cold winds were blowing and it began to rain. We were prepared since this was precisely the weather forecast we had been hearing. However, I had held out hope that the transition from sunshine to clouds would occur more near sunset so that I’d be able to capture something dramatic with the fountain. It wasn’t meant to be.
I was able to get some shots off quickly before the rain got too heavy but I was very limited on my composition options due to the seemingly millions of white tents and blue porta-potties set up nearby in preparation for the Chicago Marathon which was being held a few days later. I chose to post an image without all that stuff, but unfortunately that meant not posting the best view of the fountain either.
Nothing fancy on the processing — Lightroom tweaks.
My son leaping out of the water pretending to be a monster. I love how the motion makes his hands look like claws. And the mask? Well, nothing needs to be said.
It was in the middle of a bright sunny afternoon — terrible time for photographs. I used a flash so that I could dial down the ambient a bit. We took several shots like this, using a fast-ish shutter speed but not so fast that it froze all motion. In post I processed things pretty heavily in Lightroom — lots of contrast and clarity.
On a still day Austin’s Lady Bird Lake (still Town Lake to me) is a great spot to shoot the growing skyline (note yet another construction crane gracing the view) and get great reflections off the water. I met an out-of-town friend at Lou Neff Point this morning and was surprised to find that the lake was completely overgrown with a plant called Eurasian Water Milfoil. In hindsight I might have expected it as we had seen a lot of milfoil while kayaking on the lake recently but even then I wouldn’t have expected so much of it on the surface. Adding to the disappointment was that the forecast of “some clouds in the morning” wasn’t to be (until well after sunrise anyway).
Well, we were there and figured we might as well shoot some “stuff”. We fought off the mosquitos and fired away. I decided to shoot a panorama in order to increase the resolution a bit. I shot 3 frames — each bracketed +/-1 stop — and used Nik HDR Efex Pro to create very subtle (IMO) HDR images. Photoshop stitched them together nicely and I used several curves and saturation adjustment layers to tweak the final image.
Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin, TX (formerly Town Lake, which is still how I think of it) plays host to some serious rowing and for a good part of the year several parts of the lake have lanes set up for practice and competition. I don’t know if this group was part of a private club or part of the University of Texas team but I managed to catch a shot as they rowed away from the dock to embark on a practice run. It’s really quite amazing how synchronized the team members are with each other.
Town Lake is also a favorite recreation spot for canoes, kayaks, and the latest craze, SUPs — stand-up paddle boards. My family and I took advantage of the beautiful day today and kayaked on the lake. What a great way to get a couple hours of exercise and relaxation at the same time. Kudos to the Texas Rowing Center who only charged us for a single hour of rental. As always, we tried to pay what we fairly owed but they said, “It’s on us”.
Any opinions on how the photo above should be framed/cropped? They’re heading out of the left side of the frame…but backwards. I like this centered-ish framing the best (I tried several) although I don’t think there’s any right or wrong answer.
Fishing is what I’d like to be doing today…or any other day. I’ve been quite under the weather today and am feeling sorry for myself for not being able to get out shooting photos downtown tonight with my buddy Pete Talke. Life is still good though! 🙂
Photo taken at sunrise on the beach in Port Aransas, TX with a 50mm lens @ f/1.4.
I’ve gotten over my thing about missing the snow and am now thinking about getting back to the Texas coast. My 7-year old son brings it up constantly so we’re just going to have to set a date and do it. The shot above was taken on our last big trip which was during Sharkfest at Padre Island National Seashore. When we scheduled our trip we weren’t aware of Sharkfest and on arrival were very surprised by the crowds. This 63-mile stretch of beach has one way in and out (via land) as is mostly limited to 4×4 vehicles so it’s generally rather empty. Of course “crowded” is a relative thing and even with 10x the normal crowd there were still plenty of places along the seashore to fish and play in the water without crowding anyone out. Normally you can pick a place where you have at *least* 1/2 mile between you and your nearest neighbor. We had to settle for 1/8 – 1/4 mile this trip (once we made it 30 or 40 miles)…first-world problems. Unfortunately we saw no sharks being caught. On our “normal” trips we often see them and thought that with all these shark fishermen we’d see several. No luck.
For those of you not familiar with shark fishing in the surf, here’s the very rough description of how it works. Gear consists of short-ish, stiff rods with reels capable of holding hundreds of yards of approximately 100# test line. At the terminal end there are leader rigs made out of materials ranging from 400# test monofilament to stainless steel cable. Hanging from those are huge hooks (the size of your hand). For bait something like a big chunk (even half) of a jack crevalle is used. Once the rig is ready, the bait is generally paddled out with a kayak and placed beyond the third sand bar. Then you wait, and wait, and wait. When you get a decent sized shark on the line the fight often lasts well over an hour. It’s pretty amazing to watch. On a side note, it’s extremely interesting to witness the various vehicular rigs that people come up with for their shark fishing — giant platforms on top of trucks, etc. If I’d known how unsuccessful our fishing was going to be on this trip I might have just spent time photographing the shark rigs.
I processed the image to make it appear a bit like an old print from film. Kept the colors reasonably saturated (via the vibrance slider in Lightroom) and made the image warm like prints in the “old” days. In Lightroom I added grain to taste. I rarely use additional grain in images but really like it for this beach scene and if it weren’t for the vehicles it could pass for a pic from the ’70s. I wasn’t “into” photography in my film days so I can’t wax nostalgic about this film or that film or tell you that I mimicked a certain film. I bought whatever was cheap.
Last weekend, after spending the day touring Boston, I walked across the pedestrian bridge (near the left side of the above image) next to Seaport Blvd which connects downtown to the old seaport district. The bridge is part of the South Bay Harbor Trail. I stopped for dinner and waited for the sun to set behind the city. As I neared this photo spot I found that four photographers were already sitting there — tripods and cameras already set up. I walked toward them and without a word stopped 10′ in front of them and pretended to set up my tripod. Silence. After a few seconds I turned and said I was just kidding and relieved laughter set in. I asked if it was OK to set up just behind them and they were nice enough to extend an offer to make room in the middle of them if I wanted (I just set up behind and above them).
My intent was to bracket a bunch of exposures as it got darker using f/22 to get a starburst effect. I switched to f/8 because (1) I really wasn’t getting much of that effect, (2) f/8 is good and sharp, and (3) my exposures were getting longer than 30 seconds and I was too lazy to start timing the exposures manually even though I was using a remote 🙂 White balance was set to daylight. That’s somewhat arbitrary since I always shoot in RAW but it helps keep things consistent when viewed in the LCD. I included a couple of straight-out-of-the-camera exposures below so you can see a sample of what I was working with.
On my flight home I plugged six exposures into Nik HDR Efex Pro. My personal default is to use the realistic-subtle preset as a starting point 99% of the time and I tweak a bit in Nik. Tweaking and saving complete, I took the Nik output into Photoshop along with a couple of the darker exposures and masked in a few spots which were still over-exposed after the HDR junk. I toned down the colors in the water and burned the sidewalk darker a bit (more on the dodging and burning below). Relative to colors, I did want an “HDR look” to this image but I sometimes find the reflections and colors on the water to be a bit overdone for my taste in these skyline shots. I also dropped the overall saturation by 20 points to bring it back to realistic colors as tools like Nik HDR Efex Pro and Photomatix tend to saturate everything a lot.
Finally, since the perspective wasn’t too bad I decided to fix it by stretching out the top corners a bit and aligning the buildings with rulers to make them more upright on the edges (the SOOC images above do not have that correction). If you do too big of an edit like this it can degrade the image but it’s fine for this one. The final image turned out crisp and sharp at high resolution.
This screenshot shows my dodging and burning layer. A trick I learned watching a Joe Brady video (something about Photoshop for landscapes sponsored by Xrite) is to create a new layer, fill it with 50% gray, then dodge and burn on that with black/white. There’s no real need for that but the layer gives you a visual to show where you’re doing your adjustments.
My daughters and I went to downtown Seattle today to hang out and on the way we stopped in Kerry Park (thanks, Jim Nix for suggesting it). I had low expectations regarding the weather but did hope to grab a skyline panorama in any case. Long story short, the rains came and other visitors got in the way somewhat so all I managed was the quick, handheld bokeh panorama (from 16 frames) shown above. I look at it as making lemonade out of lemons — we did what we could given the conditions. I gave up on my plans for a high-res (zoomed in and in-focus) panorama since the rain was hard and blowing directly on to the lens. We headed to lunch at Pike Place Market and afterward the clouds broke and the sun peeked out. We headed back to Kerry Park on our way back home but by the time we got there it was raining hard again — could barely even see across the water. I didn’t bother trying any more photos. I may try some black and white treatments with this one someday…
I’m posting another HDR that I processed in my Photomatix vs Nik HDR Efex Pro evaluation war. The subject here is the lobby of the St. Regis Hotel on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. There was a multi-level water feature (a bit of which you see in this image) which provided all sorts of reflections and begged to be turned into some HDRs. I didn’t have a tripod with me so I simply plopped the camera down on a ledge and fired of 9 bracket exposures in several locations. This limited my composition choices but I was able to get the main thing I was after — the reflections in the water. The hotel is situated in a beautiful spot on the island and commands a gorgeous view the mountains across a small bay. If I’d had a tripod I would have taken shots from other positions to include a nice view of the ocean and mountains through the windows.
In this case Photomatix was dramatically better for quickly coming up with a result I liked. The photo above is almost straight out of Photomatix — I only added some clarity/sharpening/noise reduction after that. Nik gave some interesting results but did a lousy job keeping the clouds outside from being blown out. Whenever I used the more realistic presets (realistic HDRs are generally my preference) the view out the windows was completely blown out. No doubt I could have figured out how to get an acceptable result but it was taking a lot of time to begin to match what I got out of the Photomatix effort.
You’ll note the large shift in color cast across the image. This was due to the prominence of daylight through the windows on the left side versus the interior tungsten lighting on the right. It bothered me at first but it’s more realistic this way so I decided to leave the color as-is.
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.