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Category Archives: Landscapes
Technical Details: Canon 5D MkII, Canon 16-35mm @ 35mm, f/16, ISO50, 1.3 Second shutter speed, Singh Ray Warming Polarizer
Welcome to today’s post, which is about keeping things simple. I’m not one to go for “photography as a metaphor for life,” but I’m afraid the post might read that way. I’m afraid because sometimes we artists tend to think that our work is as important as, say, curing cancer. Those of you who have hung around me while wearing my photography hat have heard me say, “We ain’t curing cancer here” as a way to talk myself back into a place where I’m just having fun, keeping things simple and enjoying the moment of creating images. Photography is not that serious, not that complicated.
I can get to where it is very serious and complicated because there is an investment in a photo shoot. For me, it is usually a lot of risky hours and miles behind the wheel to squeeze a Lake Superior outing in between my full time work as a professor, my commercial photography work, and the weather. Anxiety builds over the perceived need to get a good set of images to justify the investment of time and resources. To be totally honest, usually something external pulls me back to a more sane place. This weekend it was the weather.
My readership in the upper Midwest United States can attest to everyone else on this mailing list one simple fact – we are experiencing the most glorious and never before experienced warmest, earliest spring in our lifetime. That is a statistical fact, I think. If I’m wrong, who cares. The rivers on Lake Superior are open and full of water. The North Shore has experienced a lot of much needed rain in March. Lake Superior is 12 inches below average right now…that is a lot of water gone missing. My 18 hour trip to the North Shore this past weekend was no different. Rain and fog. And open raging rivers. And Rain and Fog.
The run up to the Cascade River from Saint Paul was rain all the way. As I passed Silver Bay, MN I started calling in to my weather radar guy, Travis in Kansas City, to give me updates on the movement of rain. The forecast was for an easing of the rain in a hour or two. Hard to say. Nothing like a tough forecast to take the pressure off a shoot. I just have to sit and take it, waiting out the rain in the car. Happy to be there, reading a book and waiting. The upside was that the quality of light was not changing rapidly. It was mid day, cloudy and foggy. Beautiful soft light for hours on end. No rush, no worries. Just be patient. “We ain’t curing cancer here,” I told myself. I even took a little nap in the car. It was the absence of rain drops hitting my car that woke me up. Time to go shoot.
I decided to keep things simple. A tripod, one camera, one lens, one polarizing filter. Go. Play. No rush. Stop along the trail and talk to folks. Family needs family portrait. Done. Another couple wants to talk about the funny shaped tree. Done. “Peace out” the husband said as we parted ways. Simple.
After an hour and a half of shooting it started to rain. And rain hard. I had some lovely images and gave the Cascade River a sign off. “Peace Out.” Simple.
Color is it’s own subject. So often I choose Black and White Photography for post production, because it simplifies the number of subjects in the image.
Filter 1: Singh Ray Gold & Blue Polarizer, Filter 2: Hi Tech 10 stop ND, Filter 3: Singh Ray 2 stop Reverse ND
Today’s post features black and white photography of the Weisman Art Museum and the use of a Hi Tech 10 stop neutral density filter to create some motion effects at hours of the day that previously were unattainable. We had some great clouds and wind on Saint Patrick’s Day and I chose the head out and do a little shooting. More specifically, I wanted to practice technique with this new 10 stop filter; to understand its strengths and short comings, technical challenges, etc. I’ll cove the photo editing I used to complete this image.
The RAW file looked like this:
The quality of light was amazing, considering it was 1:30 in the afternoon. Over the 50 second exposure that sun would peak through, then disappear. The combination of filters resulted in a yellowish cast to the image, which I didn’t mind because I already knew I was going to black and white. You can also get a sense of where the Singh Ray 2 stop Reverse Split ND cuts through the image just above the museum. I had my doubts going into the shot about this, but as it turns out I like the way it broke and left the museum in very bright place.
1. First I did noise reduction on the RAW converted file;
2. Then I proceeded to do my black and white photography work which included a black and white adjustment layer;
3. Then I flattened the image, duplicated the background and changed the duplicate layer blending mode to “Multiply.” This process allows me to add a great deal of black point without adding too much noise (versus Levels or Curves);
4. Once my masking work was done I ran the image through PhotoKit Sharpener and masked off the sharpening to just the bridge, bluff , buildings and museum. None was applied to the sky;
Hi Tech 10 stop filter:
1. I’m pleased with the optical clarity and relatively modest color shift;
2. Getting a shutter speed that works is a bit of a guessing game. I went right to 30 seconds and started adjusting from there. Partly this was getting a good exposure, partly it was getting something that worked visually given the speed of the clouds;
3. Technical alignment of the filter with the filter holder is important. A few times it was off slighting in the holder, allow light to bleed through and creating some bright spots at the edges of the frame;
4. I wish my 24-70mm lens had a zoom or barrel lock. Adjust the filter on camera resulted in the zoom changing. I had to restart a few times for corrections to composition.
There it is. I hope you enjoy today’s image and thanks for stopping by.
I was shooting with a client in the studio last week, the owner of Max’s in Saint Louis Park, MN. Her store is known for incredible jewelry, but she also has a very fine collection of fine crafted chocolates. Ellen Hertz, owner of Max’s, was kind enough to bring some chocolate for the shoot. That was a week ago and I noticed the box, mostly finished, sitting on the kitchen counter this morning and thought about it as I was editing this image from Death Valley.
You start all excited, working through the first good chocolates you see and then realize you need to slow down. The sugar buzz, the overwhelming calories, hell they don’t even taste all that good after 6 or 7. Then the box sits. For days. And the craving begins again. You slowly start to revisit the box, eating fewer each visit, being more and more selective, until you get near the end and spot a few remaining gems. With just a few left you really want to stretch out the joy of them. Well, sorting through a huge set of files from a shoot like Death Valley feels like the proverbial box of chocolates and I’m pretty sure I just emptied the box this morning.
I found this last image and I wondered why I had skipped by it. It was passed over several times, perhaps needing a special attention and consideration it just couldn’t get with all those other undeniable chocolates surrounding it. This was one of many amazing light events and I did a poor job of shooting it. Perhaps a bit too much sea salt on the chocolate, but waiting inside the was delicious caramel filling.
Enough of the analogy. I found the image inside the image and have put together a post production workflow and critique of the image which lead to the final crop. I hope you enjoy the image and tutorial.
Step 1 RAW conversion: I used two graduated neutral density filters provided in ACR to drive the sky and foreground more into balance. At this point I was fully intending to go black and white, but had not yet fully detected the problems with the composition. In the color image the highlights are more visually heavy, allowing the foreground elements to be a central subject, but not so in black and white, as well see.
Step 2 Run Through Noise Ninja: I use this product to minimize noise in file, especially when the image is being processed for Black and White. My BW process pushes pixels around which can exacerbate noise if it hasn’t been cleaned out beforehand.
Step 3 Multiple BW Adjust Layers: In this step I’ll separate sky from foreground in BW adjustment layers to manage my BW process separately. This idea is essential in many of my black and white images. Typical of this step is an image that is very flat or weak in contrast. It is not interesting yet, but in getting to a point of visual interest some issues appear.
Step 4 Tonality Adjustment via Color Channels In this step I just work with the color channel sliders in the BW adjustment layer to begin approximating the tonal range I desire in various parts of the image. This process is psuedo - global. In the next step I move to local adjustments to finish off the image. Contrast good, subject management getting worse. Highlights in black and white are not as visually heavy, allowing many subjects to compete with each other.
Step 5 Local Adjustments: At this point I’ll choose from a variety of tools, most typically Curves adjustment layers with masking, Dodging and Burning, and Levels to finish off a clear Black point in the image.
Step 6 Sharpening the Image: This is my last step, using today PhotoKit sharpening software.
Step 7 Fix The Photography: In my opinion this image was shot wrong for black and white. The image is very busy, with the contrast of the foreground elements really competing with the central subject, the clearing light on the mountain range. Use of leading lines or just a change of lens to isolate the central subject of light on the mountains would benefit this image. So, I decided to crop the image from the bottom, the finished image presented at the top of the post. Perhaps you fill differently. Feel free to comment. Each of us will make choices in the field and in post production, affecting how the images reads to us.
Technical Details: Canon 5D Mk II, Canon 24-70mm, Hitech 10 stop ND, ISO 100, f/8.0, 4 minute exposure
In today’s post I’m sharing an image shot recently in Two Harbors, MN. The image features the impressive 858 foot Roger Blough freighter. You may be interested in learning more about this gem of the Great Lakes fleet. If so, click here. I was fortunate to stumble upon it docking at the harbor at sunset back in December.
This is neither a typical or realistic capture of a Great Lakes Freighter. I used a Hitech 10 stop neutral density filter to achieve an 4 minute exposure giving rise to the movement in the clouds and in the Roger Blough. This style of imagery has strong appeal to me and is seen in a lot of my work on Lake Superior. It represents on one hand an abstraction of reality and on another a rock solid vision of reality. It is an abstraction of our sense of time and movement; we don’t experience the lake and freighters in slow motion, in 4 minute chunks of time. Lake Superior, and the freighters that travel it, are a dramatic sense of movement. Sometimes the movement arrives from the large daunting seas that advance on these vessels during the storm season. Sometimes the movement is amazingly subtle; watching this nearly 1000′ vessel dock was an exercise in very small subtle movements. Parking the Roger Blough is not the same as parking your minivan at the grocery store. It feels more like a spaceship docking on a space station. Small mistakes can result in large, unforgiving consequences.
In today’s post, the final from the Death Valley series, I share a collection of black and white images from Badwater Basin to Furnace Creek to Panamint Dunes to Alabama Hills. There are no stories of ruining famous photographers’ compositions, no information about geology of the park. Nothing. Just simple black and white images.
I get a lot of questions about work flow. In today’s post I go through, step by step, my workflow on a landscape image. Its not the ONLY workflow I have; it really depends on the scene, but its one I used quite often with some recent images. Many of the images I shot on my recent trip to Death Valley, from Badwater to Furnace Creek to Zabriskie Point, particularly the images shot in Alabama Hills, required a very technical approach. The location is amazing, but I did not feel that HDR engines, like Photomatix, were working sufficiently. So, without further delay, I’ll walk through an image shot on the trip.
General Comments: I almost always bracket +- 2 stops. This guarantees that I’ll have a full range of information for every pixel, i.e. full detail in shadows and full detail in highlights. I may not use all that data, but I have it somewhere in a raw file, providing me the best possible data to start with in my post production workflow. Often, I can use two raw conversions of the same frame to get what I want, but in this example I’m actually using two different frames at different exposures and going old school post production.
Step by Step:
1. Once I’ve selected the frames I open both in ACR and make my global adjustments. Most important is to work out the chromatic aberration (CA). Doing it at this stage with save a lot of work later. ACR has a menu selection to handle CA and you can find it in ACR; I also make use of another useful tool, the Parametric Tone Curve tool in ACR. Play with it, you may like the level of control it provides you;
2. What ever global adjustments I choose to make, one issue I always keep my eye on is the historgram, specifically the Red channel in the histogram. It is easy to lose detail in the Reds (Red channel stacks up on the right end of the historgram). In the image below I’ve created a situation where I’ve lost detail in the Reds, which is in the sky.
3. I open images as 16 bit, 300ppi files. If you’re an image quality freak, you’ll get this. If your larger concern is computer RAM limitations and storage, then you’ll probably use 8 bit. A 16 bit file can take quite a bit more punishment, especially when working in black and white; nonetheless, its what I do. Its a better starting point;
4. My next step is to stack the images in Layers. My choice is to place my foreground image as the Background layer and stack my sky frame on top of that.
4. Now things start to get a little more technical and require some elbow grease. I want to select out the sky from the foregound. As always in Photoshop, there are a 1000 ways to skin a cat and I’m open to ideas of how to better do this. I use a Magic Wand tool set to the default tolerance of 32 and make a quick rough selection. Then I zoom in to at least 100% or more, shift the tolerance to 20 or lower, and make refinements to the selection.
Step 5: Once I’m happy with the rough selection of marching ants around the sky, I make Layer 1 active and click on the Add Layer Mask icon. With the Layer 1 mask selected and active, I invoke the Refine Mask tool, found in Select/Refine Mask menu. This tool requires a bit of experimentation, but with some practice you’ll find what works best on your selection. I also view the image at around 300% to get a good view of what Refine Mask is doing. With that being said, I’m finding a starting point on a clean horizon selection like the one in this image that I use the Smart Radius selection and set the radius to about 2.5 pixels, but in this image I can take a lot more and get a better refinement. As it turns out, I can push this quite far, in the range of 40 + pixels.
Step 6: With the mask the way I want it, I take a potentially important next step. I reactivate the marching ants selection of the mask. This is done, on a Mac, by holding down the Apple key and clicking on the mask. With the selection active I choose Select/Save Selection. This places your selection in a new Channel. Don’t worry about what that means. Just know that your selection is saved and you can recall it at anytime. You may want to do this to make local adjustments to the sky at a later point in the workflow. Why do I do this? Because I don’t like a lot of layers. At this point I tend to flatten my image and work from here, but I still have the selection for sky stored in Channels and recall it later, if necessary.
Step 7: At this point I have a complete exposure of raw data. I now clean noise from the file. There are some different schools of thought, but it seems the dominate school is to clean noise early in the editing process. There are many, many different opinions on how/what software. I use Noise Ninja because that’s what I’ve always used and it works well with my files. I’m now ready to begin some additional global and localized editing for color and contrast.
Step 8: I switch the color mode to Lab. I won’t get into the pro’s and con’s of Lab color mode (Image/Mode/Lab). I like what it does and I like the efficiency with which I can get it done. I use Lab for color seperation, that is, to push colors away from each other, increasing color contrast (vs. tonal contrast) in the image. Its a nice boost to the image. This is also a great place to do some tonal contrast. If you want, you can search the internet or read Photoshop Lab Color by Dan Margulis. Great book. Nice read during these winter months. Word of caution: Its easy to go to far to fast with a curves adjustment in Lab. Experiment.
WARNING: WATCH YOUR RED/YELLOW, ie. ORANGE colors and make sure you don’t start loosing detail in them. If these colors are stacking up on the right side of your historgram, you’ve gone to far.
Step 9: Switch back to RGB color mode, check the warm tones for detail. Here I’ll finish most of my color work using a Selective Color adjustment layer. Play with it. Its very powerful. As you can see in the image below, I’ve held detail in the Reds and used the ability to darken blues, which brought out detail in the warm tones of the clouds.
Step 10: Local contrast work with a variety of tools, including Curves, Brightness and Levels adjustment layers.
Step 11: Ok, now were getting down to brass tacks. I’m not a big fan of “master” files, as many folks will use these for different reasons. I’ll use them, but I’ll throw them out later to save disk space. So, I might have saved off a master along the way in this process, but I just don’t find myself going back to them very often. If I rework an image, I’ll go back to the starting point. I do this with my fine art work and with my commercial work. So, here I flatten the image and get ready for final finishing steps. Zooming back in on the image I see that the horizon where I masked in the sky is still a little, well, less than perfect. I’m going to sharpen for output here, today using PhotoKit Sharpener. My experiments with it show it to be fairly good, but harsh on noise and places like the sky – foreground interface. You know what I’m talking about here – HALOS. I don’t like them, don’t tolerate them and will work my tail off to keep them from anywhere in my image. So, now I’ll sharpen but then I’ll go back in the final step, step 12 and clean it up a bit. Hey, if you’ve made it this far then read on. Sharpening routines sharpen everything, including NOISE. PhotoKit is no different. So, I invoke the sky mask we saved earlier to mask off the effects of sharpening from the sky. The sky is critically sharp already and doesn’t need any noise enhanced in it.
Step 12. Well, here we are the final, and most annoying task. Not everyone will do this, but I do. Sharpening has left a small halo at the sky – foreground interface and I’ll use the clone tool to clean that up. It is not as bad as it sound, but I recommend a good strong beverage while you do this. It will be over with in no time.
Ok, no more steps. That’s it. More or less. I did a few more things to finish off the image you see at the top of the post, but you can figure that out. Hopefully this was helpful. If you have questions or suggestions for better/more efficient technique, please leave your comments in the comment section for all to see. THANK YOU.
Welcome to today’s post with images from Alabama Hills. I’ll get back to that place in a moment. First, I’d like to discuss the unintended consequences of blogging.
One of my earliest posts ever was of a woman and her daughter on Nicollet Mall. They were homeless. I photographed the daughter and then posted a story and images on my blog. Long story short a gal in New Jersey found my post and recognized the mother as her old high school classmate and, I believe, they reconnected because of the blog post. I’ve cried telling this story to camera clubs many times. Thank you social media!
My most recent experience is more hilarious. In an earlier post I showed a panoramic image from Zabriskie Point. Apparently I found my way into an image shot by a very famous landscape photographer that morning at Zabriskie Point. Stephen Oachs, the famous photographer who’s images “grace” the pages of National Geographic and Outdoor Photographer Magazine, went 0n a Facebook rant about how another photographer walked into “his composition.” He put forth a challenge on Facebook to locate the individual who was so rude as to walk into his photo. With the stars aligned, one person was successful in finding my blog post and posting my name and web site on Mr. Oachs’ Facebook page. Our images were shot within moments of each other. Amazing. Mr. Oachs provided his image on Facebook and I was able to zoom enough to clearly identify the individual as me. I was wearing my Dark Horse Bar hoodie and was staring dumbfound at the scene, wondering how to shoot it. A few facts worth noting – I did not walk into “his” composition. My mates and I were first on the scene well before twilight. No one else was present. Hence, Mr. Oachs composed a shot with me in it and for that I am grateful. I can now say that I’ve been photographed by a very famous photographer. Also, since Mr. Oachs made a public campaign of identifying me I believe I ‘m due some royalties. Winking emoticon here.
Now, on to Alabama Hills, CA. This area is easily one of the more interesting places I’ve photographed, but is technically just outside Death Valley National Park.
Here is a geological description of the hills from Wikipedia:
“The rounded contours of the Alabamas contrast with the sharp ridges of the Sierra Nevada to the west. Though this might suggest that they formed from a different orogeny, the Alabamas are the same age as the nearby Sierras. The difference in wear can be accounted for by different patterns of erosion.
Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States, towers several thousand feet above this low range, which itself is 1,500 feet (460 m) above the floor of Owens Valley. However, gravity surveys indicate that the Owens Valley is filled with about 10,000 feet (3,000 m) of sediment and that the Alabamas are the tip of a very steep escarpment. This feature may have been created by many earthquakes similar to the 1872 Lone Pine earthquake which, in a single event, caused a vertical displacement of 15–20 feet.
There are two main types of rock exposed at Alabama Hills. One is an orange, drab weathered metamorphosed volcanic rock that is 150-200 million years old. The other type of rock exposed here is 90 million year old granite which weathers to potato-shaped large boulders, many of which stand on end due to spheroidal weathering acting on many nearly vertical joints in the rock.”
In my images you see these rock formations as well as a star trail shot. The star trail image was shot for 32 minutes with about a half moon providing all the foreground light. It also washed the star trails a little, but I like the shot nonetheless. I hope you enjoy today’s images and stories.
Today’s post features 5 images from somewhere between Furnace Creek and Salt Creek basin. Furnace Creek basin is just to the south and to the north is Salt Creek proper. A little further south sits the Mequite sand dunes. Salt creek is a year round surface level salt water creek and home to the endangered Death Valley Pupfish. The basin we photographed is a result of flooding and evaporation; this story is starting to repeat in my posts. Furnace Creek Basin is fed by springs of the Amargosa Range, giving rise to a natural oasis. An oasis is a body of spring water found in a desert region. Oases, if large enough, would support plant, animal and human life. The Furnace Creek oasis no longer exists in any meaningful form, most of the water being diverted for use by the the tourists and year round residents.
With that being said, there is still surface water and you can see some amazing sky’s and reflections in this water. Given the effects of a wide-angle lens used in these images, the water area appears much larger than it does to the naked eye. There isn’t much water and what there is is merely an inch deep. In the second image, which is void of water, you see what we called “lily pads,” or salt formations in the basin.
My next, and possibly last post on Death Valley, will feature images from the Alabama Hills area. This area is actually not in Death Valley, but located near Death Valley just outside the town of Lone Pine, CA in the foothills of the Sierras.
Technical Details: Canon 5d MarkII, Canon 16-35mm @16mm, F/16, ISO100, 0.8 sec exposure, no filters
Welcome to today’s post. Zabriskie Point, in my previous post, has an interesting geological relationship to Badwater Basin. Millions of years prior to the actual sinking and widening of Death Valley, a lake covered a large portion of Death Valley including the area around Zabriskie Point. This ancient lake began forming approximately nine million years ago. During several million years of the lake’s existence, sediments were collecting at the bottom in the form of saline mud and gravel from nearby mountains, and ashfalls from the then-active Black Mountain volcanic field (From Wikipedia).
“Sediments collected…”. This is very important to the story. As you know, there is very little rain in Death Valley. The annual average is 2.36 inches. By comparison, Minneapolis averages over 26 inches a year. There isn’t much water in Death Valley. What little there is collects in basins like Badwater, but there is more to the story.
Badwater Basin is what geologists call an endorheic basin. Lake Superior is exorheic. Water flows in and it flows out through rain and snow fall, rivers, seepage through bedrock and evaporation. Its an open system. Badwater is a closed system, or endorheic. Water, all 2.36 inches a year, flows in through runoff from surrounding mountains full of saline mud and then just sits there. This makes sense since its the lowest point in the United States. Badwater is a closed system. Water has no way out except through evaporation. When that drop of water evaporates it leaves behind the salty mud. These sediments go through a cycle of freezing and baking which results in the quintessential patchwork salt formations you see in today’s images.
And check out this very recent story: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111227142623.htm . Apparently some scientists have found a special kind of magnetic microbe growing in the Badwater water that will be useful in the nanotechnology space. I don’t pretend to understand it; it just sounds really cool.
I hope you enjoy today’s images and post. If you do, feel free to click the Facebook Like at the top of the post or share the post to your wall through the Facebook bottom just below here. Thank you.
Welcome to today’s post. I’ve just returned from an amazing photography trip to Death Valley with my good friends, Travis Bechtel and Robert Clark. We had some fantastic light and shooting conditions, but to be honest the trip was great because we laughed and joked the entire time. That, along with some sunshine, felt really good.
I’ve decided to present a few images from the trip that highlight the geology of the park. I hope you find this interesting. Today’s image is a panorama from Zabriskie Point. According to Wikipedia, Zabriskie Point is named after Christian Brevoort Zabriskie, vice-president and general manager of the Pacific Coast Borax Company in the early 20th century. The company’s famous, iconic twenty-mule teams were used to transport borax from its mining operations in Death Valley. Zabriskie Point is a part of Amargosa Range located in east of Death Valley in Death Valley National Park and is noted for its erosional landscape. It is composed of sediments from Furnace Creek Lake, which dried up 5 million years ago — long before Death Valley came into existence. The distant valley seen in the image is the “Badwater” playa, one of several playas in the park. In the next few posts you’ll see images from the palyas and I’ll provide a geological history of them.
Technical details of image:
The creation of this image starts by knowing when to shoot here. Both early and late twilight are great, but I prefer shooting “in favor of the light” on my subject. It is often more subtle and less dramatic, but can be more beautiful as well. This is the case in today’s image. A number of things are happening here. We’re in what is we called “pre-light” on the trip. It is a hybrid form of direct light that comes for a short period before sunrise, directional but very soft and warm, from the south east (camera left and behind). You see this falling on Zabriskie Point as well as the Black Mountain range to the west, behind Zabriskie Point. When the light arrived I switched to manual mode and spot meter to pull a good exposure from where I thought the middle of the pano would land. Then I swung the camera left and began to shoot my frames, overlapping them by 50%. I worked very, very fast – this pre-light is changing quickly.
The overlap and consistent exposure from frame to frame allows PTGui to provide a very good stitch and blending. If Aperture Priority mode is used, the exposures will vary in a way (because the light in the scene varies from left to right) that makes stitching messy. I didn’t use a pano head for this. I just shot each frame, repositioning the camera for the same elevation and leveling on each frame. Its not perfect, but PTGui doesn’t need it to be perfect. Just close. The output was a 16 bit .psd file, allowing me to complete the post production with incredible file quality.