Off to Iceland!

Tomorrow I will be heading up to Iceland with a pair of photo colleagues for about eight days on a photo workshop.

We have been on several joint ventures previously but this will be the first time our little trio has joined a workshop.  It’s also the first of our photo expeditions to a location that none of us has seen before and our first international destination.  Given all of that, this promises to be an interesting time.

After the workshop I will be heading to New York City for about 5 days where I hope to meet up with a few fellow bloggers.  The itinerary will probably prevent any postings for a while, but I hope to resume sometime after the 3rd week in September.

So, in the meantime, here are a few images from some of my previous photo shoots with my two colleagues.

Great Falls 01

Potomac River Rapids, near Great Falls, Virginia

West Virginia 01

Elakala Falls, Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia

West Virginia 02

Shays Creek, Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia

West Virginia 03

Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia

Yosemite 02

Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite 03

Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite 01

Clearing Storm at Sunset, Yosemite Valley

After-Before Friday Week 38

First of all, some news to share:  two of my images were accepted as finalists in the 2015 Fine Art Photography Competition at the Herndon ArtSpace Gallery in Herndon, Virginia.  I’m told over 100 photographers submitted entries and 37 images were selected.  The awards will be announced tomorrow night at the Opening Reception, but I am just pleased to have made the cut. The two that were selected are shown below.  Details on the exhibit can be found at www.artspaceherndon.com

Kent Cannon Beach 2

Haystack Rock at Sunset

Yosemite-D-13-05-09-8714

 Clearing Storm, Yosemite Valley

Now, back to the regular weekly Friday feature sponsored by Stacy Fischer of Visual Venturing, a forum open to anyone with an interest in exchanging ideas and experiences about post-processing, sometimes called the “digital darkroom.” The submissions are often surprising, and always interesting.  For those who would like to participate, check Stacy’s site for the guidelines here.

As most people living in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions of the United States already know, the past several weeks have brought us more than our fair share of winter weather.  A week ago, the Washington, DC area set a new record low temperature, so what better time to see if  Great Falls of the Potomac might be frozen solid.   Short answer: No, not really close.  But I took a few shots anyway.

Robin Kent ABFriday Week 38 Before After Dual“After” Image                                           “Before” Image

The “Before” image above is the unprocessed RAW image from the camera.  I made a few corrections in Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) as follows:  Whites increased to +44, Blacks decreased to -3 (to set the white and black points), Clarity increased to +28 and Vibrance increased to +25.  The changes were quite minor and hard to detect in the small sizes shown here (image below):

Robin Kent ABFriday Week 38 Before 02

Image with ACR Corrections

The image was then opened in Photoshop CC and it seemed that a Black and White version might be the best way to go. I used a Black and White Adjustment Layer (Blend mode=Normal) and selected the High Contrast Red Filter preset (which imitates the effect of shooting B&W with a red filter).  This was followed with a Curves Adjustment layer (Blend Mode=luminosity) and using the Linear Contrast preset (which adds just a slight increase in contrast).  As a final step, I made a fairly substantial crop to highlight a specific section of the falls.  The final result is shown below.

Robin Kent ABFriday Week 38 After

Final Cropped Image

Please check out the other submissions to this week’s ABFriday Forum here.  And don’t forget the OnePhoto Focus next week in its usual schedule on the first Friday of each month.  Everyone gets to try their hand on an image submitted by one photographer.

Next Post–Back to Antarctica

P.S.  In response to LensAdiction’s suggestion, the image below with a different crop is submitted for discussion.

 

Robin Kent ABFriday Week 38 After Feedback 02

Thoughts?

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.

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.