Cherry Blossoms at Peak

 

The cherry trees were entering the peak phase today and the tidal basin was lined with photographers at sunrise.  Last night, however, there was a full moon and only three of us (photo colleagues Joan and Cynthia) were shooting in this new location.

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Full Moon, View from Virginia Shoreline

(Technical: Nikon D810 with 70-200mm f/2.8 lens extended to 165mm; exposure: 2.5 sec. at f/5.6, ISO 400; taken about 35 minutes after sunset)

While the moon was rising the cherry trees were hard at work, getting ready for this morning.  Both of the images below were taken before sunrise this morning.

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Dawn, Tidal Basin

(Technical: Nikon D810 with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens extended to 24mm; exposure: 5 sec. at f/16, ISO 800; On-camera flash at reduced power to provide slight fill on blossoms, taken about 35 minutes before sunrise)

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Dawn, Jefferson Memorial

(Technical: Nikon D810 with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens extended to 48mm; exposure: 0.5 sec. at f/16, ISO 800; On-camera flash at normal power to provide fill on blossoms, taken about 25 minutes before sunrise)

I suspect none of the photographers there were thrilled to see all those cranes to the left of the Jefferson Memorial.  They are in the early phases of a major development along the waterfront on Maine Avenue.  I suspect most of us will be using Photoshop to “disappear” them.

The blossoms will be with us for a few more days, weather permitting.

Keep Shooting….

Hidden Gem: Mexico’s Monarch Preserves

Well, the Google Doodle beat me to the punch yesterday, marking the 41st anniversary of the discovery of the overwintering site of the Monarch butterfly.  But that’s OK, I’m going ahead with this anyway.

D-11-01-18-0271 (Keynote)Monarchs Overwintering in Mexico (2011)

By the mid-20th century the existence of the monarch migration had been well known for many years, but not its full route.  Every August and September, millions of monarchs in the eastern United States and Canada would start flying south toward Mexico and disappear.   Then, around March, they would reappear on a northward journey. The location where they spent those intervening months was unknown.  It was one of nature’s great mysteries.

Until January 9, 1975.

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In that year, a group of scientists following clues left by tagged butterflies that had fallen on the journey south were led to a place high in the mountains of Mexico’s eastern Sierra Madre Mountains. There they found millions of butterflies clinging to the branches of the oyamel trees that grow at altitudes as high as 11,000-12,000 feet.

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The fact that these small creatures can actually make the trip of several thousand miles is not the most amazing part of the story.  What is most incredible is that none of them had ever been there before. Yet each year a new torrent of monarchs, separated by three or four generations from those that flew there the previous year, finds its way to those same oyamel trees.

I became entranced with this story in 2001, after reading “Four Wings and a Prayer” by Sue Halpern who traveled to Mexico in a truck with legendary monarch tracker Bill Calvert and experienced first-hand the spectacle of the monarch migration.

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My own journey started shortly afterwards with a trip to Cape May, New Jersey,  a key crossing point for the southbound monarchs over Delaware Bay.  Butterfly researchers at the Cape May Bird Observatory demonstrated the technique of tagging the monarchs and how the tracking depends on anonymous individuals who find a tagged butterfly and report the information of where and when to research centers.

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Tagged Monarch Before Release (2001)

A few days later, I caught up with a researcher in Lorton, Virginia who was tagging southbound monarchs in a field of yellow wildflowers (image below).   He had almost

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Migrating Monarch, Lorton VA (2001)

reached his annual goal of 500 taggings, but was despondent over the fact that this waystation for the monarchs was about to become a shopping center.

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Lorton, Virginia (2001)

Seven years later, I was at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, on the south shore of Lake Superior, when I spotted a few flashes of orange.  It was a pair of migrating monarchs just arriving from their 100-mile-plus flight across the great lake from Canada.  They still were over 2,500 miles from their destination.

Monarch

Migrating Monarch, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, MI (2008)

In the fall of 2010, a friend called asking if I would like to join her on a trip to see the overwintering sites in Mexico. My answer was quick and the following January, we found ourselves on a long bus ride from Mexico City to the mountain village of Angangueo. But this was just the first of many transportation modes we would use in the coming days such as the back of pick-up trucks, riding horses, and finally hiking on our own at lung-busting (to us at least) altitudes of 11,000 feet and higher.

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Getting Closer, but a Tough Hike Awaits (2011)

But it was all worth it.  Photographs really can’t communicate the scale of the scenes we witnessed.  There are so many butterflies clustered on the trees that the branches bend downward from the weight, occasionally even breaking.The image below shows a small section of a stand of trees in one of the preserves.  Imagine that no matter where you look from this position, all the trees surrounding you are covered from top to bottom with what seem like orange leaves but really are butterflies.

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Monarch Clusters on Oyamel Trees, Mexico (2011)

Mexico does try to protect the sanctuaries, although illegal logging is one of many serious threats.  But on the positive side they enforce strict (5 mph) speed limits on a highway that occasionally is also used by the monarchs when searching for water outside the preserves.

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Monarch Crossing, Mexico  (2011)

An equally serious threat is the loss of habitat in the United States.  Remember that shopping center in Lorton, Virginia? There has been a steady decline in the numbers of monarchs reaching the preserves over the past decade, but there was a slight uptick last

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Chart of Monarch Counts in Mexico (1994-2014)

year.  Preliminary estimates for this winter are cautiously optimistic, with hopes that they might reach the levels of 2011, when I was there.  Keep your fingers crossed and….

 

Keep Shooting….

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

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Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia

Yosemite 02

Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite 03

Yosemite National Park, California

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Clearing Storm at Sunset, Yosemite Valley

ABFriday Forum– Week 51

Week 51!!! 

Next week is the 1st Anniversary Edition and that will be extra special but there never will be another Week 51.

The AfterBefore Friday Forum has been adroitly managed by Stacy Fischer for 51 consecutive weeks, allowing anyone with an interest in image post-processing to participate.  Guidelines and this week’s edition are available for all to see at her Visual Venturing site.

My submission this week takes a look at one of my favorite tools in Photoshop, the Photomerge process.  If you have never tried this, it’s really easy to do.  For example, let’s stay with the theme of last week—“Road Trip”–and use a location that is a little further west:  Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park, Montana.  The late afternoon sun made the colorful boats stacked on the dock a natural subject and the result of the first image taken is shown below.

Robin Kent ABFriday Week 51 Before

First Image, Unprocessed RAW File

But while this was a reasonably decent image, it didn’t seem to convey the great expanse of the scene that I saw.  Thinking a panorama format would do the trick, a second shot (same exposure as the first) was taken with the camera swung to the left but partially overlapping the first image.

Both images were opened in Adobe Camera RAW, but only minimal changes were needed.  So minimal, we won’t waste time on them.  Next, they both were opened in Photoshop and then the command sequence File–>Automate–>Photomerge was executed to bring up the display shown below:

Robin Kent ABFriday Week 51 Before 03

The Photomerge Dialog Box

The first step is to click on “Add Open Files,” (Red Arrow) which brings all open images into the list.  If any appear that are not supposed to be there, highlight them and click on “Remove.”  Most of the time, the “Auto” process will work just fine (Red Arrow.)  Make sure you click on “Blend Images Together.”  (Red Arrow) Then click “OK.” (Blue Arrow)   Something like the screen capture below will appear.

Robin Kent ABFriday Week 51 Before 02

The process produces separate layers for each image used.  In this case we have only two (Red Arrow).  The image must first be flattened before any further work is done (Layer–>Flatten Image).  Next, a judicious crop removes the uneven edges (Yellow Arrows) and one is ready to continue with whatever additional adjustments are necessary.

Very little additional work was needed at this point.  A slight boost in contrast using a Curves Layer Adjustment (Preset: Linear; Blend Mode: Normal), then a neutral density gradient layer for the sky and mountains (Blend Mode: Soft Light), and finally, a teeny bump with a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer (Saturation: +6).  The final result is shown below.

Robin Kent ABFriday Week 51 After

Please visit Stacy Fischer’s Visual Venturing Site to see all of the other submissions.  There are always many interesting ideas to be found.

 

AfterBefore Friday Forum–Week 50

The philosophy of the After-Before Friday Forum is to discuss how to take an image you’ve captured and change it into the image you want it to be.  Usually, the approach is to make the changes during “post-processing” where the original image is optimized using Lightroom, Photoshop, or some other software program(s).  But there are no rules, so this post will have a new wrinkle—how to improve the original image by evaluating your results in the field and making some significant changes on the scene before you get anywhere near a computer.

Robin Kent ABFriday Week 50 Before

 “Before” Image

The first image of this scene (Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota) is shown above.  It is what I call a “Parking Lot Shot.”  I saw the scene, liked the leading line of the path up the hill as it curved around the tree on the hill, and stopped the car to take the shot.  But I wasn’t thrilled with the result.  There was something missing.  The empty sky looked….well, empty.  Behind me was a path up another hill that would give a different angle so I walked up that hill and realized that there was a totally different scene waiting to be captured.  I took the shot and liked what I saw much better.  A little more work would be needed in Photoshop, but this one seemed to have more promise.

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2nd  Image, from the Hillside Above

On returning home, the first step was to give a small boost to the overall contrast, and I used a Curves Adjustment Layer.  I chose the Linear Contrast preset (red arrow), left the Blend mode on the default setting of “Normal” (yellow arrow) and the Opacity at 100%  (green arrow).  The screen capture below shows the settings.

Robin Kent ABFriday Week 50 Before 02A

Adding a Curves Adjustment Layer

Next, it seemed that the greens needed a little punch to restore the look of what I saw that afternoon so a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer was used, with the colors set to “Green” (green arrow), the Saturation to +42 (yellow arrow), the Blend mode on the default setting of “Normal,” and the Opacity at 100%.  The screen capture below shows the Hue/Saturation settings.

Robin Kent ABFriday Week27 Before 03A

 Adding a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer

The mountains and sky in the background were too light, and a gradient filter effect was the logical way to go.  I created a new layer, selected a gradient (foreground to transparent), and dragged the mouse down to the large tree (red arrow). I have promised in the past to do a more detailed discussion on the gradient tool, and I still intend to do so.  But not today.  I chose “Soft Light” as the Blend Mode (yellow arrow) and left the Opacity at 100%.  The settings are shown below.

Robin Kent ABFriday Week 50 Before 04A

Using the Gradient Tool

But the sky at the very top edge still was a bit too bright.  So the Gradient Tool was deployed one more time.  But only with a slight touch.  The mouse was dragged down a very short distance, the Blend Mode was “Soft Light” again, but the Opacity was cut back to 80%.  The final result is the “After” image for this week and is shown below.  The differences from the original “2nd shot” are small, but the difference between the first and second locations is pretty substantial.

Robin Kent ABFriday Week 50 After

So, it often is a good idea to evaluate initial results in the field and make some adjustments in the point of view rather than passing the buck to Photoshop right away. Or, as I like to say….

Keep Shooting…..

Check out the submissions of the other participants this week.  There is always something interesting over there from some very talented photographers. You can find them by clicking here.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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Even the Tripod Police dressed up with nice blue accessories.

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Everyone was in a good mood, some especially so.

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

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Still, photo ops are where you find them

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

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This magnolia tree is a favorite for wedding photographers

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A wedding announcement?  Not a bad idea.

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This pose started to draw a crowd.

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As did this one

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

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

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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

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

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 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?