After-Before Friday Forum

Kent ABFriday After Pan (Week 19)

The Final Image (After)

For the past four months-plus Stacy Fischer of VisualVenturing has sponsored the After-Before Friday Forum where photographers can display examples of how they process their images to accomplish their creative vision.  Sometimes the changes are substantial; other times they can be minimal.   My submission for this week’s Forum is an example of minimal change (if you don’t count the photomerge steps).   The “After” version shown above has undergone a few adjustments in Adobe Camera Raw and the only actions taken in Photoshop were a simple Photomerge, a cropping, and some sharpening.  The scene is the city of Pittsburgh taken from the sidewalk across the street from a restaurant where we had stopped for dinner (Details on location are at the end of the post)

Kent ABFriday Before (Week 19)

Original Raw Image (left side)

 The image above is one of the two photographs that were merged.  Both had the same exposure (Nikon D800E on tripod with 70-200mm f/2.8 lens extended to 70mm; 1/6th sec. @ f/2.8, ISO 1600).  The reason for the high ISO and wide-open aperture is the moving boat in the river.

Kent ABFriday Before 02 Week 19

Adjustments Made in ACR Dialog Window

Opening the images in Adobe Camera RAW, I made only four adjustments, the same for both images.  The screen capture above shows the changes (red arrows).  The specific settings were:

Highlights: Decrease to -39; Shadows: Increase to +45; Clarity: Increase to +18 Vibrance: Increase to +14.

Kent ABFriday Before 03 Week 19

File > Automate > Photomerge

The two images were then opened in Photoshop and processed through the Photomerge routine.  The screen capture above shows the command sequence which is under “File” on the main command line of Photoshop.  After clicking on “Photomerge” (red arrow), the Photomerge Dialog window appears as shown below.

Kent ABFriday Before 04 Week 19

Photomerge Display Window

The screen capture above shows the dialog window for the Photomerge routine.  If the images are open, click on “Add Open Files” (red arrow) and the image files will be listed (other red arrow).  Usually, the default selections of “Auto” and “Blend Images Together” (yellow arrows) will do the job.  Click “OK” and the system will chug away for a little while and then display the results.

Kent ABFriday Before 05 Week 19

The screen capture above shows a small portion of the merged image and the layers palette (red arrow) showing a separate layer for each image.  The white areas in the mask icons represent the section of the image that was used. The blue arrow shows a section of the irregular border created during the routine.

Kent ABFriday Before 06 Week 19

Merged Panorama Before Cropping

The image above shows the full panorama immediately after the merging is completed.  The borders are always irregular (red arrows), often much more than shown here.  The next step, before any further actions are taken, is to flatten the image.  The only remaining step in this example is a crop to eliminate the uneven edges, producing the final image shown below.  Sharpening should not be applied until the image is sized for printing.

Kent ABFriday After Pan (Week 19)

 Final Panorama

The location for capturing this image is across the street from the Monterey Bay Fish Grotto located at 1411 Grandview Avenue #2 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  It is one of the better restaurants in the city and the window seats boast a view pretty close to this image.   Because the vista is pretty spectacular at twilight, it’s unlikely you will have the sidewalk all to yourself.  But if you are visiting Pittsburgh, this is a location you may want to check out.But before you go there, you should check out the other submissions to Week 19 at Visual Venturing.

Hidden Gem: Bartholdi Fountain

Bartholdi Fountain Blog 01

Bartholdi Fountain, Evening Light

Last Friday, a photographer colleague and I went into the city to take some photographs of the Bartholdi Fountain, located directly across Independence Avenue from the US Botanic Garden.  The fountain is located in Bartholdi Park, a two-acre garden managed by the US Botanic Garden. It is named after Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, the designer of the 30-foot tall fountain which is the central feature of the park.  Bartholdi is best known as the creator of the Statue of Liberty. The fountain was originally commissioned for the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and was brought to Washington afterwards.  It fell into disrepair but a 3-year restoration was completed in 2011 and the result was well worth the wait. (Technical data for above image: Nikon D800E on tripod with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens @ 24mm; 5 sec. @ f/16, ISO 100; 5 separate images photomerged)

Bartholdi Blog 02

Bartholdi Park, April 2012

The park features a wonderful horticultural display that changes with the seasons.  Tables, with folding umbrellas and chairs surround the fountain and benches are placed among the plantings where one can enjoy a few moments of serenity a short distance from the US Capitol Building. The park’s website can be found here. (Technical data for above image: Nikon D700 on tripod with 70-200mm f/2.8 lens @ 70mm; 1/100th @ f/16, ISO 400)

Bartholdi Carla Steckley

Bartholdi Fountain by Carla Steckley

The best time, at least in my opinion, to photograph the fountain is during the evening twilight as shown above in the image taken by my colleague about 25 minutes after sunset.   (Technical Data: Canon DSLR on tripod with 13-85mm EF-S  f/3.5 lens; 1/20th sec  @ f/13, ISO 100)

It was an excellent evening for a shoot.  The weather was perfect, the fountain was illuminated and flowing normally, a fresh bed of pansies had been planted in the circular plot, creating a floral necklace around the basin.  The glass dome of the Botanic Garden across the street was being illuminated from within by a  green light.  A few people passed through the park while we there, but we were quite impressed  with a group of five (see image at top) who brought in a tablecloth, silverware, sparkling water, an assortment of cheeses, and other good things and had what looked like a wonderful evening as we moved around photographing the fountain.

Bartholdi Fountain Blog 03

Bartholdi Fountain, Looking Southeast

Twilight lasts only a short time, but sometimes the lights of the city will illuminate the clouds overhead with an interesting color.  The image above, looking in a southeasterly direction toward the Rayburn House Office Building, was photographed just before we left, about 45 minutes after sunset. (Technical data: Nikon D800E on tripod with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens @ 48mm; 5 sec. @ f/16, ISO 400)

And on nights when there is a moon, clouds are less desirable as shown in the image below taken last year. (Technical data Nikon D800E on tripod with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens @70mm; 3 sec. @ f/16, ISO 800, 5 images photomerged)  This could have easily been a single image by bringing the extension back to about 35mm, but the moon would have looked quite small with that approach.

Bartholdi Fountain Blog 04

Full Moon and Bartholdi Fountain, June  2013


Saying Goodbye: Corcoran Gallery of Art

Corcoran Gallery 01

After almost 150 years, the Corcoran Gallery of Art will be closing its doors to the public.  Financial difficulties could not be resolved and a major institution will disappear.

Corcoran Gallery 02

The collection, focusing on American art, will be broken up and scattered to other locations.  The National Gallery of Art will assume responsibility for the majority of the works, but it is unlikely that the permanent displays now in the Corcoran will ever be seen together again.

Corcoran Gallery 03

Sunday, September 28th will be the last day before it closes to begin a renovation that will take about a year.

Corcoran Gallery 07

It is expected that the building will be re-opened in the fall of 2015 but the exhibit space will be slimmed down to a so-called “Legacy Collection.”

Corcoran Gallery 06

Much of the current exhibit space will be used for an expansion of the Corcoran School of Art which will be managed by George Washington University.

Corcoran Gallery 08

I wonder what will happen to the Salon Doré, a room created in Paris six years before Thomas Jefferson wrote the  the Declaration of Independence.  The Count  d’Orsay had it constructed as a drawing room for his bride-to-be.  It was purchased in 1904 by William A. Clark for a mansion he was building on 5th Avenue in New York City.  In 1925 Clark donated this room and his art collection to the Corcoran.

Corcoran Gallery 05

The gallery was not crowded today when I visited this morning.  It was hard to walk out the front entrance, knowing I’ll not be here again.

Washington, DC–September Scouting Report

Breaking News:  Time is running out for fans of the Corcoran Gallery of Art which will close its doors at the end of this month, less than ten days away because it is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.  The closure is part of the transition of control of the Corcoran to the National Gallery of Art and George Washington University.  Work will begin to renovate the second floor gallery space and it is expected it will be about a year before a smaller gallery space will reopen.   Here is a link to the Gallery’s website:

 Scouting Report

On Thursday, I made a quick scouting run into the city to verify that a planned shooting location for the next evening held no surprises.  Along the way, I checked the status of other sites that may be of interest to local photographers.

Problem Areas

Kennedy Center:  A large tent remains installed on the south side of the building, an obstacle for anyone planning to photograph the building from the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge pedestrian sidewalk or from vantage points on that side of the Center.

John Paul Jones Memorial: The small water feature on the base of the statue was not operating.  It is not a well-known memorial despite its excellent location close to the World War II Memorial at the intersection of 17th Street and Independence Avenue.

The White House:  A small project is underway to repair a section of the iron fence along Pennsylvania Avenue.  The section is small, but efforts to have a centered photograph of the White House and the fountain in the front lawn will be frustrated. However, It doesn’t look like it will be a problem for long.

Renwick Gallery:  A major renovation, begun earlier this year, is still underway and will probably last through next year. The Gallery is closed and well hidden behind the construction scaffolding.  Nothing to see here, move along…

Old Post Office: Also closed, also lots of scaffolding. The Trump organization is busy transforming this historic building into a luxury hotel.

U.S. Capitol: Scaffolding is now about half-way up the dome.  This will be a long wait, but see the good news below.

The Good News

U.S. Capitol:  Depending on your taste, there may be some opportunities with the presence of the scaffolding.  We don’t have the benefit of the elegant illuminated effects that charmed night-time visitors to the Washington Memorial when it was being repaired.  But as the night approaches, the dome begins to look a little like a wedding cake.  In addition, the dome’s interior lighting is much brighter than usual, probably due to the construction work inside.  Take a look, get creative.

The Tulip Library:  The tulip season is long past but the garden, located along Independence Avenue, is full of colorful annuals.  The Washington Monument provides a nice backdrop

Court of Neptune Fountain: Fronting the Library of Congress, it was running nicely when I drove by but some of the figures could use a little scrubbing.  It appears that some white mineral deposits are appearing.

Senate Garage Fountain:  Running nicely, but I didn’t get a close look.  A great subject for a twilight shot, especially when the light show begins.  Located in the park between the U.S. Capitol and Union Station.

Bartholdi Park and Fountain:  This is my favorite park in the city and was the reason for the scouting trip.  I planned to join a fellow photographer the next evening to photograph the fountain at twilight.  The fountain was running as hoped and the park was in perfect condition.  I will do a post very soon on what happened.  In the meantime, here is a preview:

Bartholdi FountainBartholdi Fountain, September 19, 2014

After-Before Friday Forum Week 18

Stacy Fischer’s blog Visual Venturing hosts the weekly After-Before Friday Forum that provides a unique opportunity for photographers to exchange ideas about post-processing their images.  I have found these exchanges to be extremely instructive.   This week’s Forum will be up later this morning and can be found here.

Kent ABFriday Before Week 18

Original Raw Image

Nearly always, my goal in post-processing is to create an image that is a close representation to what I was seeing when I was taking the photograph.  But every so often, I am tempted to create a scene the way I wished it had been.  Usually, I manage to resist this inclination but not in the case of my submission this week.  The “Before” image above shows the original RAW image of the Washington Monument in the late afternoon of early March 2013.  An incredible shaft of golden sunlight was illuminating the monument as the dark clouds of a clearing storm moved toward the east.  I’ve been at that spot many times, but had never seen light this dramatic before.  But in capturing the image, it was necessary to choose an exposure (based on a careful check of the histogram on the camera’s LCD display) that minimized the loss of detail.  (Technical data: Nikon D800E on tripod, 24-70mm f/2.8 lens extended to 35mm; exposure 1/200th sec. @f/7.1 at ISO 200)

The image above obviously does not show the dramatic lighting and dark clouds, so some adjustments were necessary in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR).  The screen capture of the ACR dialog window below shows the adjustments that were made (Exposure: -0.30, Whites: +19; Blacks: -44; Clarity: +26; Vibrance: +24).

Kent ABFriday Before 03A Week 18

Adjustments made in Adobe Camera Raw

These global changes brought the scene closer to what I was seeing when I took the picture, but a little more work was needed and I moved the image into Photoshop.  The sky was still too light and the golden color of the sun was too understated.  The first step was a Curves Adjustment Layer to darken the sky.  The screen capture below illustrates this step.  The foreground and the monument were masked so the adjustment only affected the sky.

Kent ABFriday Before 02 Week 18

Curves Adjustment Layer

The second step was to correct the color of the sunlight on the scene and this required only a modest increase with a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer.  The screen capture shown below illustrates that adjustment, an increase of only +8.  Given the small size of this image, the difference is hardly noticeable, but in a large print, it would make a difference.  The blend mode in both adjustment layers was Normal.  I don’t usually select that mode, but I always check to see the effect and in both cases, I preferred the effects of Normal instead of Luminosity for the curves layer and Normal instead of Saturation for the Hue/Sat layer.

Kent ABFriday Before 03B Week 18

Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer

The results of these steps are shown in the image below.  It is a faithful rendition of the scene as I saw it when I took the photograph.

But there is still a problem, and a fairly serious one.  While not terribly obvious in this small size, a  full screen version on a 27-inch monitor clearly reveals the presence of a considerable and annoying amount of construction paraphernalia.   The image below gives a better sense of the scope of the problem.

Kent ABFriday Before 03 Week 17

Detail of Scaffolding and Fence

I guess this is what they call an ethical conundrum. If this image was to be printed in a size (e.g., 18” X 24” or larger), the construction activity would be obnoxious. I decided to give it a try, rationalizing that it would be a learning experience.  What I did not bargain for was that this “learning experience” would last for nearly three days.  Lacking knowledge of any elegant solution, I applied the Photoshop equivalent of brute force.  Only 3 Photoshop tools were used to remove the offending material from the site and none will be a surprise to Photoshop users.  They were the Healing Brush, the Clone tool, and the Edit>Content>fill procedure.   The first two are well known actions to remove flaws or unwanted objects from a scene.  The third is less well known but often can be an incredibly powerful assistant as the photographer changes roles from faithful recorder of reality to creator of something that never existed. The result of these efforts is shown below.

Kent ABFriday After Week 18

Final Image After “Clean-up”

Not all evidence of the renovation was removed as is shown in the detailed section below. While the “cleaned”  version seems to be an improvement, it’s reasonable to ask if it was worth the effort.

Kent ABFriday Before 03C Week 18

Detail of Final Image


Comments on the results are most welcome and thoughts on the ethical question would also be interesting to hear.  Please visit Stacy Fischer’s post with the submissions of some very talented photographers when it appears later this morning.

ABFriday Forum Week 17

My submission to Stacy Fischer’s After-Before Friday Forum is a photograph I made last year along the Oregon coast.  Thor’s Well, described as a large salt water fountain driven by ocean tides, is fairly popular with local visitors but is not found in most guidebooks.  When conditions are right, around high tide, it can be pretty spectacular and sometime dangerous during stormy or icy weather.   The desired effects occur at high tide when waves surge into an underwater cave beneath the rocky shoreline. The wave, with no other exit, explodes through the large hole in the cave’s roof, collapses, and then flows back into the cave.  I decided that high tide at sunset would be the best time to capture an image.  I wanted to give a sense of the flow of water so after several experiments with different shutter speeds, I settled on 1/20th sec.  There was an overcast sky overhead with a slight opening in the west that allowed some of the sunset colors to very softly paint the surface of the water as it flowed back into the chasm.  The initial result is shown below. (Technical data: Nikon D800e on a tripod with a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens extended to 70mm; exposure 1/20th sec. @f/11, ISO 800)

Kent ABFriday Before (Week 17)

Original RAW Image

The opening is about 15 X 20 feet and the trick was to get pretty close, but not too close.   Using a 14-24 wide angle would require getting a little closer than I considered wise. And the results didn’t capture the drama as well as I would have liked. I was looking down into the mouth of this abyss and the wide angle made it seem the view was from 100 feet away.  I switched to the 70-200 telephoto and liked what I saw at 70mm.  Cropping out the horizon was a conscious decision.

After opening the image in Adobe Camera RAW (ACR), I made a number of adjustments to open up the darker segments and restore the subtle warm tones that I had seen when taking the picture.  The Figure below shows a screen capture of the ACR window with the adjustments I made (red arrows).

Kent ABFriday Before 02 Thor (Week 17)

ACR Dialog Window with Adjustments

The next step was to open the image in Photoshop and the image at this stage is shown below.  It seemed to be about where I wanted it, but it needed just a touch more saturation.

 Kent ABFriday Before 03 Thor (Week 17)Image After ACR Adjustments

 As a final step, I added a Hue/Saturation Adjustment layer as shown in the Figure below.  I moved the slider to plus 33 (red arrow) which brought out the blue of the water in shadow and the warm touch of sunlight on the water in the foreground. The blend mode (blue arrow) was set to Saturation.

Kent ABFriday Before 04 Thor (Week 17)

Adding a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer

That was it.  The final image is shown below.  The overall time required was about 15 minutes, a lot less complicated than the star trails image from last week.

Kent ABFriday Final After (Week 17)

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.


While visiting New York City last year, I visited the 9/11 Memorial.  In observation of this day, I thought I would post two pictures from that visit.  The first, a panorama, gives an overview of the Memorial.  As I walked along the railing, I noticed a yellow rose placed in the engraving of one of the victims’ names, shown in the second image.  I later learned that the name, Ada M. Davis, was a civilian working in the Pentagon and was one of those killed when Flight 77 struck the building. NYC 911 Memorial 02 Blog

9/11 Memorial, New York City

NYC 911 Memorial 01 Blog

 Ada M. Davis, 9/11 Memorial, New York City

ABFriday Forum Week 16

My submission to Stacy Fischer’s After-Before Friday Forum this week is in response to some viewers’ questions about the techniques of producing a Star Trails image.  To do this, I won’t be showing the true “before” image because, in reality, about 20-25 separate images were used to produce the final result. So, the “Before” shown here is just a single example. And, had I shown all 20, it would be nearly impossible to tell one from another (with two exceptions).   And, I suspect, would produce many yawns among the few who took the time to look them over. Still, this is a pretty wordy approach so those not interested in techie talk may want to skip ahead when they see the acronym “ACR.”

These images were all taken on a single night in Bodie State Historical Park in California at a workshop guided by Michael Frye.   There are two ways you can make a star trails photograph.  The simplest way is to put the camera on a tripod, point it at the sky and when gets dark, open the shutter.  After waiting about 90 minutes or longer the shutter is closed.  That was not done here.  The second starts the same, with the camera on tripod pointing at the sky. But instead of making a single exposure, a timer (known as an intervalomter) directs the camera to make a sequence of exposures, one immediately after another, until the desired time has passed.  In this case, the exposures were 4 minutes long, so 22-23 exposures would be needed to cover a period of about 90 minutes. The sample “Before” image below was early in the sequence.

Robin Kent ABFriday Before Week 16

Example of a 4-minute Exposure in the Overall Sequence

(Technical Information: Nikon D-800E on tripod with 14-24 mm lens extended to 14mm; Exposure: 4:00 minutes @ f/5.6, ISO 400)

Once the sequence starts, the camera isn’t touched until it is time to stop.  For the next 90 minutes, all that can be done is to worry about things that could ruin the entire evening:  will someone bump the tripod; will an unexpected vehicle with bright headlights pass through the scene; did I correctly step through that long list of settings (auto focus off; mirror-lock-up off; vibration reduction off; self-timer off); Will a nearby photographer turn on his/her headlamp; etc.  And in this case, two of those things happened.

Once home and after some sleep, the images were downloaded and opened in Adobe Camera RAW (ACR).   The figure below shows a screen capture of the ACR window with 5 of the before images.  For now, no ACR adjustments will be made; the important thing is first to determine whether one has a decent final image that is worth spending the time needed to perfect it.

Kent ABFriday Before 02 Week 16

 Images opened in ACR Window

The only choices made in ACR were in the Workflow Options Window.   The red arrow is pointing to the chosen options at the bottom of the screen (above).  Clicking on that line opens the Options window shown in the image below.

Kent ABFriday Before 03 Week 16

Workflow Options Window

The choices have a lot to do with how the image will be published: as a large print, a smaller print, or on a display monitor (e.g., a website).   My choices are usually governed by the need to make large prints, so I typically opt for the color space that provides the greatest range of colors (ProPhoto RGB), the most information (16 bits instead of 8), and a resolution best suited for printing (300 ppi).   The image size is set to the Default native pixel dimensions of the camera (4912 X 7360).  The result is usually a very large file, about 200 MB.  However, the process for star trails engages all of these images simultaneously, the final image would easily top 4 Gigabytes, so the smaller 8-bit size was selected here.

Next, it is necessary to open all of the images stacked into individual layers as a single file. For Bridge users, this can be done by highlighting all of the selected files in Bridge and then click on Tools–>Photoshop–>Load Files into Photoshop Layers. (See Figure below)

Kent ABFriday Before 04 Week 16

Commands for Opening in Layers

The next thing that happens is a lot of churning by Photoshop as it lines up all of the layers on top of each other.  Depending on the power of your computer, you may wish to go get a cup of coffee while it whirls away.  After a period of time, if all goes well, something like the image in Figure below is produced. But wait!  This looks no different than the initial “Before” image at the beginning of this post.

Kent ABFriday Before 05 Week 16

 Selected Images loaded as Layers

No need to panic, at least not yet.  Because what one sees at this point is no different than looking at the top picture resting on a stack of 20 other pictures–it is not possible to see through the first image.  One more step is needed to bring out the key information in the others.  All the layers except the bottom layer are selected to make them active, and then the blend mode in those layers is changed to Lighten. If the star trails do not appear now, it is OK to push the panic button.  This step is shown in the Figure below. The yellow

Kent ABFriday Before 06 Week 16.

After Blend Mode Change is Made

arrows point to 21 top layers.  The red arrow at the top points to the blend mode=Lighten step.  The magenta arrow points to the bottom layer (last image in the sequence) which is not active, so the blend mode remained at Normal.  What is happening here is that the blend mode “reveals” only sections of each image that are lighter than that same part of all the images above them.  So, as the earth turns during the 90 minutes, the stars are in a slightly different section in each image and the 4-minute trace of light in that section is added to those above it.  The same is true for the building and car lights at the very bottom.

There is very noticeable problem, however.  The blown out bottom section of the image was caused by a car driving slowly through the scene with its lights fully illuminated. In addition, a less obvious problem is the small red lights near the right edge of the image caused by several photographers who briefly illuminated their headlamps not knowing they were in our shot.  started working in our scene a.(Remember those worries mentioned above?)

The second problem is easy to fix.  The layer on which the red lights appear can be made active and using a brush tool with the color black, one can paint over the red lights.  They are no longer brighter than the layers above and disappear.  The car lights are more difficult.  The easy solution is to just eliminate that image since it was the last one taken (Magenta arrow). (Eliminating one of the middle images would cause a noticeable gap in all the trails.)  But the lighting on the face of the church is nice, so a combination of cropping from the bottom and judicious use of the cloning tool made it possible to produce the image below.

Robin Kent ABFriday After Week 16

Final Image

Once again, many thanks to Stacy Fischer for organizing and keeping this forum going.  Please visit  her Week 16 post here and check out the excellent submissions of the other contributors.