Antarctica–Lessons Learned

Last December I wrote a guest post “Up for Discussion- Travel Photography” for Leanne Cole, a talented photographer and writer in Australia.  Both she and I were planning major trips to completely different destinations—New York City and Antarctica—and we asked readers to offer their thoughts on what gear we should be taking.  The responses were numerous and full of good ideas.

After my Antarctica trip was completed, Leanne suggested a “Lessons Learned” post might be of interest.  I saw it as also as an opportunity to thank those who commented on the original article.   Their collective wisdom was of great help in my pre-trip research.  On the subject of pre-trip research I would also recommend a post by Susan Portnoy,  an exceptional travel photographer and writer based in New York City.

My Lessons Learned essay, along with a number of images from Antarctica, has just been posted on Leanne’s site so If you have an interest on how to prepare for a major photography trip, please check it out here.  Leanne’s blog has a wide readership so there is bound to be some interesting commentary from her followers.

Antarctica 08

Early Morning, Antarctica

Virginia Bluebell Bonanza

Every year in mid-April, a few wooded areas in northern Virginia (as well as Maryland) are briefly transformed with dazzling carpets of blue.  It seems only certain places, usually bordering a stream or the Potomac River itself, have the perfect conditions for a magical wildflower, the Virginia bluebell.

Madeira 10

Virginia bluebells & other wildflowers along Potomac River side channel, 2009

The plant has a fleeting existence above ground.  They appear when only a few weeks of warm weather remain before the life giving sunlight is blocked out by the emerging leaves of the overhead tree canopy.  On the Virginia side of the Potomac, large tracts can be found in public places such as Riverbend Park along the Potomac River and Bull Run Regional Park along Cub Run.

Another location, which requires permission to enter, is the Madeira School, located in McLean, Virginia along the Potomac River.  One morning last week, when the blooms were at their peak, I tagged along with fellow photographer and blogger Stacy Fischer who did have permission for a photo shoot at Madeira.  Please check out her report by clicking here.

Here are a few iumages from that morning.  Some technical notes are included at the bottom keyed to the numbers in parentheses.

Madeira 02 (1888_89 PAN Crop) - Copy

View from a bluff above the Potomac as it exits Mather Gorge (1)

Madeira 06 (1835_36 PAN) - Copy

The trail leading to Black Pond (2)

Madeira 09 (1822_23 Auto Align) - Copy

Bluebells, with Black Pond in background (3)

Madeira 08 (1749_51 PAN) - Copy

Black Pond, spring fed and almost completely encircled by a bedrock terrace (4)

Madeira 05 (1773 ) - Copy

Outlet stream from Black Pond (5)

Madeira 04 (1742_43 Aligned) - Copy

Moss covered log and bluebells

*Some technical notes:

Image 1: Telephoto image cropped for equivalent of 250mm view;

Image 2: Two images combined with Photomerge in Photoshop

Image 3: Two wide angle(36 mm) images; one focused on flowers, second on pond & rocks, then supermimposed on each other in Photoshop. Masking technique used to reveal only portions in focus.

Image 4: Three images combined with Photomerge in Photoshop.

Image 5: Single image, but difficult lighting required 6 Curves Adjustment layers and two Gradient layers in Photoshop.

Image 6: Two telephoto (200 mm) images; one focused on log, second on bluebells, then supermimposed on each other in Photoshop. Masking technique used to reveal only portions in focus.  Should have taken two more images because log on right side and moss on left side are not sharp.  There is very little depth of field with telephoto images of close objects, even at F/16.

Thanks again to Stacy for inviting me along.  I’ve been an avid fan of her Visual Venturing Blog since I discovered it early last year and her AfterBefore Friday Forum series has been great fun.

ABFriday Forum–Week 46

It’s Friday already, and that means it’s time for ABFriday Forum, which is rocketing toward its one-year anniversary, a mere six weeks away.  But while the chattering class debates whether we will actually make it to that glorious milestone, we choose to focus on the present and deliver some new examples of the many ways to transform what the camera gives us into our own creative visions.

Earth Day was also this week, and in recognition of the day, I’ve been spending my photography time in several local parks where Mother Nature is the prime attraction.  And in Virginia, this week is when the Virginia bluebells put on their show.  I haven’t had a chance to process them yet, so I selected an image taken on Earth Day last Year.  The location is Riverbend Park, a small park along the Potomac River in Fairfax County, Virginia.  It is one of the best places to go for local photographers on the hunt for the bluebells.

Robin Kent ABFriday Week 46 Bluebells BeforeBefore Image

(Technical Data: Nikon D800E on tripod with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens extended to 62 mm. Exposure: 1/100th sec. at f/16, ISO 200.)

The original “Before” Image is shown above, straight out of the camera with no processing at all.  It was an overcast day, which provided an excellent soft lighting.   But there was a slight touch of afternoon sunlight striking the rock in the river and the trees on the opposite shore which added a nice glow.  My intent was to restore the scene as I saw it on that day and fortunately only a light touch with the post-processing toolset was necessary.

As usual, the first step was to make basic exposure adjustments in Adobe Camera RAW.  After setting the White and Black Points, it was necessary to cut back on the highlights a fair amount and open up the shadows for better detail.  Clarity and Vibrance were increased to the level I usually choose.  The image at this stage is shown below and the specific settings are listed immediately afterwards.

Robin Kent ABFriday Week 46 Bluebells Before 02

After the ACR Adjustments

ACR Settings: Highlights: decrease to -40; Shadows: increase to +25; Whites: increaseto +48; Blacks: decrease to -13; Clarity and Vibrance: Both increased to +30.

The image was then opened in Photoshop cropped to provide better framing for the bluebells in the foreground. The bluebells are the principal subject so I wanted to brighten them just a bit.  This was done by selecting the foreground with the Polygon Selection Tool and then opening an Adjustment Layer–>Curves. The bluebells were given just a slight bump.  The image at this stage is shown below.

Robin Kent ABFriday Week 46 Bluebells Before 03

 After the Curves Adjustment to Lighten Bluebells

Next, I wanted to add some warmth to get that glow of the afternoon sun. Rather than the tedious process of carefully selecting everything that should be included, I used the Polygon Lasso to select the large rock in the River, opened an Adjustment Layer for Hue/Saturation (Blend Mode=Normal) and moved the Saturation to +53.  Then it was just a matter of using the Paint Brush (opacity = 50%) to add the Hue/Saturation to the trees on far shoreline.  Basically, the Paint Brush action has the effect of reducing the effect of the mask but not entirely. The rock has the full effect and the trees about 50% of the effect.  If this abbreviated explanation isn’t clear, just say so in the comments and I’ll go into greater detail.

Robin Kent ABFriday Week 46 Bluebells Before 04After the Hue/Saturation Adjustment

The final step was to tone down the brightness of the sky just a bit. This was done by creating a new Layer and using the Gradient Tool (Blend Mode=Soft Light) to mimic the effect of a graduated neutral density filter.  The advantage to doing this in Photoshop is that one is able to mask out the effects of the graduated filter where they are not wanted—in this case the large tree on the right side of the frame.  All that is required is to create a Mask on the adjustment layer and use the Paint Brush to block out the effects of the Gradient Layer on the tree trunk.  The final results are shown below.

Robin Kent ABFriday Week 46 Bluebells After 02

Final Image

Questions? Comments?   But first, everyone who hasn’t already done so, should go directly to Stacy Fischer’s ABFriday Forum and check out all the other examples of post processing creativity. All you have to do is CLICK HERE.

ABFriday Forum–Week 45

It’s Friday, and time for all post-processing aficionados to gather around the campfire at Stacy Fischer’s Visual Venturing Emporium to swap stories about their creative wizardry. My submission to the ritual is a simple tale, an homage to Mother Nature’s renewal of life cycle, also known as spring, here in Virginia.  All of the other stories are centrally located for your convenience at Stacy’s site, and the link to them is located at the end of this post.

The cherry blossoms are fading here, but the dogwood, redbud, and Virginia bluebells are emerging. And soon we will see the English bluebells, at least where they have been planted.  Looking back to last year, the English bluebells were at their peak on May 8th as I found when looking for a timely example for this week’s ABFriday Forum.  As I recall, a bit of stealth was required to sneak into the backyard of a nearby house, and there was time for only a few exposures.   The image chosen was opened in Adobe Camera RAW and the original version is shown below.

Robin Kent ABFriday Backyard Week 45 Before

Original Unprocessed Image

(Technical data: Nikon D800E on tripod with 70-200mm f2.8 lens extended to 200mm; Exposure: 1/4 sec. @f/16, ISO 100)

After setting the White and Black points, some additional tweaking was necessary. Highlights were reduced (-70), Shadows opened up (+23), and I pushed harder than the usual +30 on both Clarity and Vibrance (+43 on both).  The result is shown below.

Robin Kent ABFriday Week 45 Backyard Before 02

After RAW Processing

From here, it seemed only two changes were needed.  First, a slight increase in overall contrast,which was accomplished with the Adjustment Layer Curves option, selecting the preset “Linear Contrast” and the blend mode stayed at “Normal”.  The result, shown below,slightly darkens the green foliage at the top and the rocks near the waterfall.

Robin Kent ABFriday Week 45 Backyard Before 03

After Overall Curves Adjustment

But the foreground is still way too bright.  So, using the polygon lasso tool, the lower half of the image was selected and a second  Adjustment Layer Curves was used.  The image below shows the area in red that was was masked from the effect of the adjustment.  The setting on the adjustment layer is indicated with the blue (teal) arrow.

Robin Kent ABFriday Week 45 Backyard Before 04Curves Adjustment on Foreground

This seemed to be sufficient and the final result is shown below.

Robin Kent ABFriday Week 45 BAckyard After

Final Result

Please take a look at the submissions by other participants at Stacy’s Visual Venturing Blog by clicking here.

Keep shooting….

Cherry Blossom Mania

It had been a quiet week, thanks to the cloudy weather and intermittent rain.  The cherry blossoms had not been officially declared “at peak.”  Few photographers bothered to show up in the wee hours before the sun made its appearance.  But on Saturday, everything changed.

Cherry Blossom Chaos 18

A little after 6:00 AM and there were only a few spots with some room.

Cherry Blossom Chaos 01A

And it was possible to get a pretty decent image at 6:25 AM

Cherry Blossom Chaos 03

But soon it seemed that anyone who had a camera was here.

Cherry Blossom Chaos 02

Even an IMAX film crew working a documentary for the National Park Service.

Cherry Blossom Chaos 06

A few photographers were fashionably color coordinated (Note the teal accents).

Cherry Blossom Chaos 05

Even the Tripod Police dressed up with nice blue accessories.

Cherry Blossom Chaos 04

Everyone was in a good mood, some especially so.

Cherry Blossom Chaos 07

Those who got up late paid the price (But pink and blue was still the rule).

Cherry Blossom Chaos 13

Still, photo ops are where you find them

Cherry Blossom Chaos 10

Others used the blossoms as a prop instead of the subject.

Cherry Blossom Chaos 11

This magnolia tree is a favorite for wedding photographers

Cherry Blossom Chaos 08

A wedding announcement?  Not a bad idea.

Cherry Blossom Chaos 14

This pose started to draw a crowd.

Cherry Blossom Chaos 12

As did this one

Cherry Blossom Chaos 01

But the men practicing for the Kumu’ohu Challenge race on April 18 could care less.

Cherry Blossom Chaos 15

No need to hire a photographer, get a remote and Voila!

Cherry Blossom Chaos 16

A classic áo dài, and a perfect occasion for it.

Recipe for a perfect cherry blossom shoot?

The day before official peak must be a weekday, with a forecast that calls for clouds, rain, and wind. And the forecast turns out to be wrong on all three counts.

Keep shooting

AbFriday Forum Week 44

It’s Friday already!  And that means it’s time for Stacy Fisher’s AfterBefore Friday Forum where photographers from around the globe gather in our Virtual Conference Room to exchange ideas on what we do after the camera’s image has been downloaded into our processing device.  That  device can be a big computer, a tiny phone, or a tray of odiferous chemicals (remember them?).  You can see the other creative efforts at Stacy’s Visual Venturing blog and I highly recommend you check them out.

But before we go any farther, I’m pleased to announce the winner of last week’s quiz: Janice Foreman, of  “Moments in Time“, an excellent blog that I have been following for some time.  She will receive a copy of “Washington, DC,” a small collection of images I have taken of the city as soon as I can gather enough stamps to send it to Canada.  If you want to see the answers to the quiz they have been posted in the updated version (right at the top) of the original post.  Click here for details.

I’ve been spending a lot of time down at the Tidal Basin this week as the annual cherry blossom extravaganza builds toward its climax.  But sometimes the not-quite-ready star of the show (cherry blossoms in this case) gets upstaged by the old pro (the Jefferson Memorial).  Last Sunday morning’s sunrise provided Thomas an opportunity to take center stage as the prime photography subject. And he did not disappoint.

Robin Kent ABFriday Week 44 Before

Original RAW Image

The original photo was taken about 20 minutes after sunrise, and the golden light on the Jefferson Memorial looked really nice.  The original, unprocessed RAW image is shown above. (Nikon D800E, handheld with a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens extended to 42mm. Exposure 1/160th sec @ f/16, ISO 400)

The adjustments in Adobe Camera RAW were straight forward, with the primary need for opening up the shadows and dark areas on the Memorial.  This was done by setting the White point to +60, and then, after setting the Black point, increasing the Shadows to the maximum value of +100.   The Clarity and Vibrance settings to +30, which is the usual amount for me. (See image below)

Robin Kent ABFriday Week 44 Before 01B

Adobe Camera RAW Dialog Panel

The image was then opened in Photoshop CC, and the primary step was to crop the image to bring attention to the sun’s light on the stone surface.  Next, a very slight boost with a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer. The only remaining step was to add just a little impact to the sky.  I created a new layer and used the gradient tool, setting the blend mode for soft light.  (See image below)

Robin Kent ABFriday Week 44 After

 

The gradient tool (as I used it here)  essentially mimics the effect of those neutral density graduated filters made famous by Galen Rowell and Singh Ray 15 years or so ago.  There are many, many ways to accomplish this in Photoshop and you will be relieved to know that this post is not going to discuss any of them.  A far more enjoyable use of your time would be to visit Stacy’s Forum and enjoy the submissions of the other participants.  You can do that by clicking here.

Cherry Blossoms-Now!

MMMaDespite the threat of rain, it was time for another dawn patrol to check on things in DC. After all, the entire city (or so the news played it) had experienced a power loss yesterday, who knows what conditions would be like around the monuments.  First stop, the Lincoln Memorial about 30 minutes before sunrise.  I figured with the dismal weather, there would be no one else about.  But what had been a deserted plaza two days ago was now filled with about 50 twenty-somethings engaged in an energetic calisthenics workout .  I managed to resist their enthusiasm and climbed the steps in search of a puddle that might provide an interesting reflection.

Lincoln Memorial 01

Reflections, Lincoln Memorial

Shortly afterwards, the entire gang of exercise enthusiasts came up the steps apparently having completed their routine and intent on giving themselves a standing ovation for their efforts.  This was my cue to head over to the Tidal Basin.

The lights were still ablaze at the Martin Luther King Memorial and it was clear that the cherry trees  were making excellent progress.  In fact, they are ready to be photographed. So I obliged them, trying out a few new compositions of the Memorial with some of the trees as a backdrop.  The image below is a sample.

MLK 01

Early Morning, Martin Luther King Memorial

The conditions in the Tidal Basin itself were less positive.  The heavy cloud cover prevented any color from the rising sun and a medium breeze eliminated any chances for an interesting reflection in the water.  But as the image below shows, the trees are doing their part.

Tidal Basin 03

Morning clouds, Tidal Basin

Finally, to provide a better idea of the status of the blossoms this morning, the image below shows a close-up.

Cherry Blossoms 01

If today’s forecast of temperatures in the low 50s holds true, the blossoms’ emergence will be a little less rapid.  My advice: get down there as soon as you think the weather is favorable for your visit.  The crowds will be there soon.