After Before Friday Forum Week 15

My submission to Stacy Fisher’s After-Before Friday Forum for Week 15 was taken at the Bodie State Historical Park in California earlier this month.  Bodie is a kind of preserved ghost town and, thanks to the leader of a photo workshop, our group of about ten photographers had the town to ourselves.  Gold was discovered here in 1859, but not much happened until the mid-1870s when a rich vein of ore was discovered. By 1879, the town was booming and population surged to some 7,000 people.  But a decline soon followed as better mining prospects were discovered elsewhere. By 1910, less than 700 people lived there and eventually the town was abandoned.

Today only 5% of the original buildings remain, but they all are fascinating as photographic subjects.  As the sun was setting, I started looking for a building that had windows facing to the west so I could catch the reflected colors of the sky and clouds and also include a good part of the sky in the overall picture.  The sky was much brighter than the building, so checking the histogram was critical in making sure that some detail would be present in the shadows of the building and the sky would not be blown out.  (Technical Info: Nikon D800E on tripod with 14-24 mm lens extended to 14mm; exposure 1/15th sec. @ f/16, ISO 400).  The aperture setting was to insure that both the building and the sky would be sharp.  In order to include more of the building on the left and sky on the right, two images were taken to capture the entire scene.  The final image would be a Photomerge of  the two images.  But the processing was the same for both in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR).  But to keep things simple, the initial “Before” image shown below is just one of the two shots.  This initial image shows the original file without any changes made in ACR.

Kent ABFriday Before Bodie  Blog 01

 Original Raw Image

As it turns out, almost all of the processing was accomplished with the tools in ACR.   The Screen Capture below shows the ACR dialog box with the changes that were made.  The red arrows identify the sliders and the adjustments were as follows:

Highlights: decreased to -21 (to tone down the bright spots in the sky and the windows)

Shadows: Increase to +48 (to open up the dark tones on the building and in terrain)

Whites: Increase to +25 (to set the white point)

Blacks: Decrease to -6 (to set the black point)

Clarity: Increase to +28 (within my usual range of 25-30)

Vibrance: Increase to +28 (to bump up the colors in the sky just a bit and add warmth to the building)

Kent ABFriday Before 03A Week 15

 Adobe Camera Raw Adjustments

 The two images, both with these settings, were then opened in Photoshop and combined into a single panorama format using the Photomerge tool.  The merged result is shown in the image below.

Kent ABFriday Before 04A Week 15

After Camera Raw and Photomerge

The final step was to darken the sky just a bit more. Using the Polygon Lasso Tool, (feather = 20 pixels) the sky was selected and then a Curves adjustment layer (blend mode = normal) was applied to recreate the colors that I saw that night.  The image below shows the Photoshop display after this step had been implemented.  The first five steps in the History panel (red bracket) show the steps of the Photomerge.  The remaining steps show the selection of the sky and the application of the Curves adjustment.

Kent ABFriday Before 05 Week 15

Final Photoshop Adjustments

That was it for the Photoshop segment.  I tried a few other adjustments, such as darkening the reflection of the sky in the windows and also adding a touch of saturation to the overall image but none seemed to improve the scene, so it ended with just the one small tweak.  The difference is small and may be difficult to see in this smaller size, but the final result is shown below.

Kent ABFriday After Bodie Blog 01


Final Image

Thanks again to Stacy Fischer for organizing and maintaining this forum. You can see the other contributions at her site later this morning.  You will find some excellent examples of how others bring the image as they envisioned it into reality.


Shooting theStars at Gaylor Lake

When conditions are perfect, the Gaylor Lakes area of Yosemite National Park can be a wonderful location for photographing star trails and the Milky Way. There are some drawbacks, however, not the least of which is a hike of about one mile starting at about 10,000 feet and going up about 600 feet before descending 250 feet to the shore of Middle Gaylor Lake.   The second aspect that might give one pause is that the hike back is in near-total darkness.

Undeterred, our group started out about two hours before sunset and before long we reached a saddle ridge overlooking Middle Gaylor Lake—a classic alpine lake nestled in a broad basin—a sparkling blue oval below us. The scenery in all directions was spectacular, a sufficient reward by itself for the effort we had expended.

But we were here for the stars that would appear in a few hours and so we started scouting possible locations. As we did so, two hawks circled overhead and an occasional marmot gave us disapproving stares. But no other human was here, another payoff for the hike we had just completed.

My goal was to make a second attempt for the so-called ecliptic, the location in the sky where the field of stars appearing to rotate counter-clockwise around the north star borders the stars appearing to rotate clockwise around the southern hemisphere. I had come close at Mono Lake, but tonight I hoped for a more obvious display of the divergent lines.

If there had been no wind, the lake would have served as a mirror for the scene in the sky, but this was not in the cards for last night. But complaints were muted because near-perfection is not a bad deal when you think about it.

Thanks to Michael, our workshop leader, I was lined up nicely as the image below demonstrates. This image is in fact a composite of 20 exposures, each 4 minutes long taken in quick succession.

Kent Yosemite Blog 04

Star Trails over Gaylor Lake

(Technical Data: Nikon D800E on a tripod with 14-24 mm lens extended to 14mm; Exposure: 20 exposures at 4 minutes each, separated by 1.0 sec; Aperture set @ f/5.6 with ISO at 400)

After about two hours of photographing star trails, the group gathered at the northern end of the lake to take advantage of the Milky Way’s location, hovering over the “infinity pool” edge of the shoreline.   Our hopes for an end to the windy conditions continued to be disappointed, so there would be no mirror effects tonight. The image below is one of several taken, with the golden light of Fresno outlining the horizon to the south.

Kent Yosemite Blog 05

Milky Way over Gaylor Lake

(Technical Data: Nikon D800E on tripod with 14-24 mm lens extended to 14mm; Exposure: 20 sec. @ f/3.5, ISO 4000, Time of day: 12:15 AM)

Star Trails

Last night featured an attempt to produce a star trails image, a long time exposure that tracks the movement of the stars in the sky. The members of the workshop group assembled in various locations along the shore of Lake Mono and waited for nightfall. There are two basic ways to create such an image. The traditional procedure is to leave the shutter open for a long time, say about 90 minutes) and take just one image. A second method is to take a series of shorter images, say about 4 minutes long, and combine them in Photoshop to produce a single image that seems to have an unbroken set of star trails. The benefit of this latter approach is that it produces images with less noise or digital artifacts. More on this in a future post, but I decided on the multiple image approach.

When shooting a star trails sequence, one has to decide where to point the camera. If it is pointed directly at the North Star, the trails of the other stars will appear as concentric rings around the center point. If you point somewhat away from the North Star, the effect is different, depending on the direction of the camera. Last night, I chose a northeasterly direction. The rocks in the water were illuminated during one of the exposures and some unintended ambient light caused the dim illumination of the foreground rocks during another exposure.

A fair amount of minor adjustment work (removing jet trails, etc.,) is necessary after the images are downloaded, but those actions have been postponed until I get home to a better display monitor than I have with me here. What is shown below is the preliminary result, which provides a pretty close idea of what the final image will look like.

Kent Star Trails BLOG crop 03Star Trails over Mono Lake


(Technical Data: Nikon D800E on a tripod with 14-24 mm lens extended to 14mm; exposure: 20 exposures at 4 minutes each, separated by 1.0 sec; Aperture set @ f/5.6 with ISO at 400)

The Milky Way

The night sky, unsullied by the artificial lights of civilization, never ceases to amaze me. Even here in Yosemite National Park, you cannot find absolute darkness but you can get pretty close. Last night was the first night of our night photography workshop, led by Michael Frye, and Olmstead Point in the eastern portion of the park would be ground zero.

We arrived about an hour before sunset and hiked a short distance up an inclined granite dome littered with glacial erratics and a scattering of pine trees that somehow had found places to grow on this massive stone. This little jaunt took us only about 100 yards from the parking area, a spot that provides a premium viewpoint for little effort. This will not be the case two nights from now, however.

But I digress. If you are in a good location, capturing a single image of the Milky Way is relatively simple, except for one minor thing: focusing in the dark. It doesn’t work to simply turn the lens to the infinity point until it stops because modern lenses are designed to go a little past infinity. We were given several techniques to try (subject for a future post) and I opted for using the Live View function on my camera.

The Milky Way becomes visible to the naked eye about 2 hours after sunset and then moves slowly across the sky as the earth rotates. This gives one the opportunity to find several possible compositions using foreground objects and/or the horizon.   The highlight here would come at about 11:00 PM when the Milky Way would be directly above Half Dome, seeming to erupt from this iconic feature of the park in a spectacular arc across the entire sky above us and disappearing into the horizon to our north.

In order to capture as much of the sky as possible, we all used very wide-angle lenses and in my case, that is a 14-24mm f/2.8 zoom. The image showing Half Dome is below. Because it is several miles away and the lens was set to 14mm, Half Dome is a little hard to pick out in this small size, but it is there (the small bump in the valley on the horizon) if you look carefully.

Kent Yosemite Blog 03

Milky Way over Half Dome

(Technical Data: Nikon D800E on tripod with 14-24 mm lens extended to 14mm; exposure: 15 sec. @ f/4.0, ISO 6400, Time of day: 11:17 PM)

The group then spent some time working on light painting, which involves using a flashlight or other light source to illuminate an object in the foreground while using the sky as a dramatic background. Michael knows Yosemite extremely well and he led us to a Western Juniper pine tree that he had found several years ago. The group clustered around the tree, each one selecting a different composition and on the count of three, shutters were opened and a member of Michael’s team “painted” the tree with a flashlight for about 2 seconds. The result is shown below.

Kent Yosemite Blog 02

Juniper Tree and Milky Way

(Technical Data: Nikon D800E on tripod with 14-24 mm lens extended to 14mm; exposure: 15 sec. @ f/4.0, ISO 6400, Time of day: 12:25 AM)

Tonight, depending on weather conditions, the group will be off to another location. Again, thanks to Latte Da Coffee in Lee Vining for making this post possible with their wi-fi service. And another good cup of coffee which I desperately needed.


Tenaya Lake

Yesterday, I took advantage of some free time to do a little exploring along Tioga Road in Yosemite National Park. I found a nice view on the shore of Tenaya Lake. and returned about 90 minutes before sunset to see what would happen. It didn’t look promising with a relatively heavy cloud cover blocking the sun but it was a beautiful setting and there was a nice flat boulder to sit on while I waited.   Sure enough, the sun started breaking through about 25 minutes before the sun dropped below the ridgeline. The image below shows the result.

Kent Yosemite Blog 01 Late Afternoon, Tenaya Lake

(Technical Data: Nikon D800E on tripod with 24-70mm lens extended to 38mm; exposure: 1/40th sec. @ f/16.0, ISO 400, Time of day; 7:12 PM;

I should add my thanks to LAtteDa Coffee in Lee Vining for their wi-fi service. And a good cup of coffee as well.

Mono Lake

I’m back on the road again, this time in Lee Vining, California where I will be joining a night photography workshop led by Michael Frye. The class starts tomorrow, but that shouldn’t be reason not to go out at sunrise, especially when the body clock is on Eastern Time and something like Mono Lake is a short distance away. The one downside of this area is Internet poverty. So this will have to be a small post so it can fit through the little bitty Wi-Fi pipes that are available.

Kent Mono Lake Blog 01

Mono Lake at Dawn

(Technical Data: Nikon D800E on tripod with 24-70mm lens extended to 70mm; exposure: 1/40th sec. @ f/4.0, ISO 400, Time of day: 5:46 AM)

Summer Specials

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in Washington, DC is famed for its lotus display that peaks in late July.  This year I found time for only one brief visit about five weeks ago.  But I did manage to capture a few images which are shown below.  The most recent report I have on the status of the blooms is pretty dated–July 31st.  They apparently were looking very good on that day.  If you are thinking of going there now, it would be best to check ahead.  Here is the link the the Kenilwoth Aquatic Gardens website.  The best time to go is early morning.

Kent Lotus Blog 01A

Pollinator Hovering

Kent Lotus Blog 02A

Single Lotus

Both images were taken with a Nikon D800E on a tripod, 70-200mm lens with an exposure of 1/640th sec. @ ISO 400.  The apertures varied only slightly, about f/4 ,and the lens was close to fully extended.

If all goes well next week, I should have an image or two from Yosemite National Park.  If Mother Nature is kind to me, I’ll have some images quite different from these.

After-Before Friday (Week 13)

ABFriday Kent Before Week 13

Original RAW Image

This week’s submission to Stacy Fischer’s After-Before Friday Forum was taken several years ago at Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park.  I arrived at the shoreline in the late afternoon hoping for a nice sunset image.  As the sun dropped toward the horizon, the low angular light was having an increasingly dramatic effect on some boats stacked on top of a dock.   (Technical Data: Nikon D200 with 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 lens  extended to 56mm; Exposure 1/80th @ f/18, ISO 640)  As expected, the RAW file that resulted  (shown above) did not convey the intense colors I had seen. But the information was there and using Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) the adjustments made were as follows:

Exposure: decreased to -0.40

Contrast: Increased to +15

Blacks: decreased to -5

Saturation: increased to +31

ABFriday Kent Before 02 Week 13

Image after Changes in ACR

The adjusted image (shown just above) was then moved to Photoshop for the final steps. These are shown in the sequence of the three images below. All changes were made with adjustment layers.

ABFriday Kent Before 03 Week 13

Levels Adjustment Layer

As a first step, the levels setting of 255 was decreased to 242 to darken the overall image just a bit (see red arrow in image above).

ABFriday Kent Before 04 Week 13

Curves Adjustment  Layer

Next, some additional contrast was added to the overall image which helped emphasize the color of the boats (see red arrow in image above).

ABFriday Kent Before 05 Week 13Selective Color Adjustment Layer

Finally a Selective Color adjustment layer was used to bring more life to the blue sky and the lake.  The color Cyan was chosen from the drop-down menu (white arrow) on the Colors bar and the Black value was increased to 22% (red arrow).

ABFriday Kent After Week 13

Final Image

The final result is shown above.  About ten minutes after this photograph was taken, the sun dipped behind a ridge,casting this dock into shadow.   Thanks again to Stacy Fischer for managing 13 straight weeks of the After-Before Forum.  Please visit her post at Visual Venturing to check out the examples by other contributors.

Super Moon: Always Have a Plan B

Spoiler Alert:  There will be no moon photograph in this post; hence you will have to skip down several paragraphs if you just want to see the pictures.

Last week, the weather forecasters and other media were touting the so-called “Super Moon” that would be rising as a full moon on Monday evening.  I am always looking  for images that have a full moon nicely aligned with one of the iconic scenes in Washington, DC but a quick check of the details on time and placement were not encouraging.   The moonrise was timed to occur about 10 minutes before the sunset, so the moon would be pretty high before the deep blue twilight colors would be at their best. The best location seemed to be at the Tidal Basin with the moon coming up adjacent to the Jefferson Memorial but the placement wasn’t ideal.  But, you never know for sure, so it’s best to show up just in case.

But clouds began to appear in the afternoon, so prospects were getting dimmer by the minute. But one of the benefits of the location is that the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial is right along that side of the Tidal Basin and I had been intending to check some evening to see if the fountains were running and illuminated.  This would be Plan B.

Arriving at the Tidal Basin, it was quickly obvious that the media’s flogging of the Super Moon story had the expected effect: At least 3 dozen tripods were strung along the sidewalk of the Tidal Basin, with their cameras all pointed at the Jefferson Memorial.  But for a change, there was no consensus on where the best spot would be.  I joined the group closest to the Memorial (about 6 shooters) and checked The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) app which confirmed this was the best spot.

With 15 minutes to go, I strolled about 100 yards up the sidewalk where a larger group had congregated (seeking safety in numbers?).  Here TPE was saying the moon would rise way off to the left of the Memorial while the PhotoPils app indicated the moon would be much closer to the Memorial and if it was right, this was the place to be. What to do? Well, the clouds looked really bad, there was a very nice bench right next to my tripod, the other photographers were friendly, and the FDR Memorial  fountains were only a 2-minute walk away.  The bench tipped the decision.

Ten minutes after the scheduled rise, one of the other shooters pointed out a faint pink circle almost completely covered by the clouds and it was way over to the left, exactly where TPE had predicted.  But it didn’t matter because it was hardly visible and soon was completely gone from view.  While my neighbors picked up their gear and started to migrate toward the other spot, I chose Plan B and went directly to the FDR Memorial.

The image below is a quick pick from the night’s take but I was pretty happy with all of the results.  It turns out that the light is very nice during a brief period of 10-20 minutes after sunset.  After that, the lighting tends to blow out and detail in the rocks becomes difficult to pull out.  The Memorial is loaded with fountains so this implies a number of future visits will be rewarding.

FDR Memorial Blog 01 (D-14-08-11-2995_98

FDR Memorial Fountain (2 seconds at f/16, lens at 38 mm)

When finished with the fountains, it seemed appropriate to check on the folks who had cast their fate with the moon.  It is entirely possible that there was a spectacular moment while I was away, but the scene below indicates that nothing was going on at 8:35.  It seemed best not to ask.

FDR Memorial Blog 03 (D-14-08-11-3035

Jefferson Memorial at Twilight

After-Before Friday Week 12

My submission to Stacy Fischer’s After-Before Friday Forum this week is from a recent trip to Paris (which is pretty obvious when one looks at the image).  I am often shooting cityscapes during twilight and one of the challenges in these circumstances is exposing for extremely bright lights scattered across an otherwise very dark scene.  Such was the case with this twilight image of the Eiffel Tower.  The problems are not so apparent when looking at the image in the small size here, but when printed at sizes of 24 inches-plus, a string of overexposed street lamps can be a little obnoxious.  My go-to tool (until I can find something better) for reducing the glare is the “Highlights” slider in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR).  The starting image is shown below and is the unprocessed RAW image with no changes.  I should add that the final image, shown at the end of this post is actually a Photomerge with one other image, which explains the slightly wider field of view.  But both images were treated the same.

ABFriday Kent Before Week 12

Original Image, Unprocessed RAW File

The two images were photographed at twilight and the numerous bright lights complicated the exposure because much of the scene was not well illuminated.  I chose an exposure that would provide at least some detail in the darker areas, knowing that further refinements could be made in ACR.  (Technical data: Nikon D800E on tripod with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens extended to 31mm; exposure: 5 sec. @ f/16, EV= -0.67, ISO 400). The small aperture was necessary to get a hyperfocal effect, maximizing the depth of field.  Although it is somewhat hard to see at the small size here, the street lamps, carousel lights, and the Eiffel Tower itself are somewhat blown out.

Once downloaded into ACR, a number of adjustments were made to compensate for the initial exposure. The results are shown in the image below.

ABFriday Kent Before 02A Week 12

The settings were as follows:

Highlights: decrease to -93 (an extreme decline to suppress the glare of the blown out lights)

Shadows: increase to +78 (also extreme, to open up the underexposed dark areas)

Clarity: Increase to +18

Vibrance: Increase to +25

The image above, given its size, may not clearly show the difference between the two images.  However, an enlarged detail section below showing the image before and after the ACR adjustments should help show the improvement.  The top section, the image prior to ACR adjustments, shows that in a larger print, the lights of the carousel, street

ABFriday Kent Before 03C Week 12

lights, vehicle lights, and the Eiffel Tower all have a harsh glare.  After the adjustments in ACR, the effect is less pronounced.  One last note; the “star effect” on the street lamps is a result of the chosen aperture (f/16), not a special filter.  In twilight scenes such as this, I find that this optical effect is more pleasing to the eye of the viewer than an unstructured flare around the bulb.

With the ACR adjustments finished, the image was photomerged with another that had received an identical treatment (for more on Photomerge techniques, check my post of August 1st here.)    There was a little clean-up work undertaken, but no major Photoshop steps after the merge were necessary. The final image is shown below.

ABFriday Kent After Week 12

Final Image

Again, I would to thank Stacy Fischer for keeping this forum running.  Please check out the excellent submissions by the other contributors at her Visual Venturing blog.