Sunday, April 22, 2018

Deliberate Distortion


Generally, when shooting architectural subjects, it is best to avoid distortion of vertical lines. But sometimes doing just the opposite can create a more dynamic image. It can give the impression of great height and creates a more powerful composition.

On a recent trip to the desert Southwest I visited the Mission San Xavier del Bac in Tucson, AZ.  Built in the late 1700's, it is considered to be one of the finest examples of Spanish Colonial architecture in the United States. In its day it was a huge building, but by today's standards, while still imposing, it is not overpoweringly large. 

But because of its history and its beauty, I wanted to make it look towering which was easy to do with a wide angle lens. Wide angle lenses, because of their optics, generally distort horizontal and/or vertical lines due to the extreme curvature of the lens. If you do not want distortion, keep the camera parallel to the building and do not point the camera upwards. But to increase distortion, stand close to the building and DO point the camera upwards. You will immediately see the effect in the viewfinder. 

For this type of image, your point of view can make or break the shot.

TECH SPECS
1/200 sec., f/25, ISO 400. Canon 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS lens, set at 13mm, on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "The photographer [unlike the artist] must take what he or she sees just as it is, [but] the liberty is in the selection of the point of view."  -- H. J. Morton

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Give It A Whirl


Sometimes a girl's just gotta have fun. While generally most of us create images that are of recognizable things, there are times when creating something a little different is in order.

This image is of a spiral staircase that I wanted to look more like a nautilus shell. The original image, shown here,
BEFORE
was just not working for me. I really wanted a striking image of this stairway and after many unsuccessful attempts I thought I would give the Twirl filter in Photoshop a try. After a little trial and error, I finally got the look I was hoping for.

To access the Twirl filter, first you have to make your image an 8-bit rather than a 16-bit that many cameras normally create. To do this, use Photoshop. Go to Image > Mode. When the drop down box appears, click on 8 bits/channel. Now you can access all filters in Photoshop.

Next go to Filter > Distort > Twirl. Experiment with moving the slider until the amount of twirl suits your vision.

It is easy to overdue the use of filters, so I recommend using them only as an artistic tool that suits the image and the look you want. Using them on the wrong images can result in images that look unusual but not especially visually pleasing. But as with all things, ultimately beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and it is YOUR eye that counts the most.

TECH SPECS
1.3 seconds, f/20, ISO 800.  Canon 17-40mm f/4L lens set at 17mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Creativity is piercing the mundane to find the marvelous."  --Bill Moyers

Friday, April 13, 2018

Simple Sunset


Sometimes a very simple image can be powerful. Sunsets, although commonplace in our daily lives, almost always elicit an emotional response.

Placing the setting sun behind tall grasses makes a simple scene a little more interesting. It adds contrast, texture, and vertical elements.

The mix of warm and cool tones creates color contrast and more visual interest. So don't shy away from simple images of scenes that many people see every day. YOUR view of it, and YOUR interpretation can create an interesting image that has emotional impact and visual appeal.

TECH SPECS
1/500 sec., at f/20, ISO 800.  Canon 7D Mark II body with Canon 17-40mm f/4L lens set at 33mm. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Some days you have to create your own sunshine."  --anonymous

Friday, April 6, 2018

Pano Images Made Easy


Wide panoramic images are fun to shoot and easy to create. This one is of the famous Mittens in Monument Valley Tribal Park in Arizona.

I arrived at the area later in the day than I had intended so I had very little time to grab my gear out of the car and run over to the nearest vantage point. The light was changing quickly since the sun had just set. The Mittens are iconic and photographed quite often. But I wanted something a little different so I decided to shoot for a panoramic image to be created later with Lightroom.

So I quickly took 10 shots of this landscape, starting on the left and overlapping each shot about 30% to 40%. Overlapping is important when using software so that it can merge the images as cleanly as possible.

You do not have to use a tripod for successful panos. This one was created by hand-holding the camera, being careful to keep the horizon pretty much level and in the same place in each shot.

To create a pano in Lightroom, simply select all the images in the series, then click on Photo > Photo Merge > Panorama and then just wait for the software to do its work. One word of caution - the resulting file will be quite large and it will take some time for the pano to be created. This image was originally 80 inches wide. An image that size is slow to form, and is storage hungry. So I recommend that once Lightroom has created the pano, you reduce the size to something more manageable like 15 to 20 inches wide.

TECH SPECS
1/100 sec., f/7.1, ISO 400. Canon 5D Mark III with Canon 70-200mm lens set at 70mm. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Life is like a landscape. You live in the midst of it but can describe it only from the vantage point of distance. "  --Charles Lindbergh

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Too Pretty To Eat - NOT!


On a personal trip to Switzerland with friends, we stopped for dinner at a basic restaurant in Geneva. A mid-level restaurant, certainly nice but not terribly high-end. But the food presentation was exquisite, worthy of a 5-star restaurant anywhere in the world. And worthy of an art award. The composition of the elements in this simple dessert and the attention to detail were beautiful and impressive.

The basic elements - a small round of chocolate cake, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, 2 sliced strawberries, and a cylindrical cookie -  were beautifully arranged on the "canvas" of the plate, and tied together perfectly with a few diagonal lines of chocolate sauce. We have all had similar ingredients in our hometown restaurants where usually the ice cream is on top of the cake, the chocolate sauce is drizzled over the top, and a couple of strawberries are placed beside it. Certainly tasty but not an art piece as this presentation was. This chef took pride in his work, not only the taste but the appearance as well.

It was certainly photo-worthy, so I snapped this with an iPhone 6. It was so striking that I debated whether to eat the art piece or not. Well, honestly I did not think about it for very long, and quickly devoured the whole thing!

They say art is where you find it, but I never expected to find it in this unassuming restaurant in Geneva.

TECH SPECS
1/35 sec., f/2.2, ISO 160. iPhone 6 with 4.15mm f/2.2 lens.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Art is not a thing, it is a way."  --Elbert Hubbard

Friday, March 30, 2018

Denali In The Autumn


Denali National Park. One of my favorite places, 
especially in the autumn. 

By fall, the animals have bulked up 
and sport beautiful coats and antlers. 

The mountains are dusted with snow. 

The weather is perfect, the skies are clear.

Denali (formerly Mr. McKinley) is visible nearly every day.

We stay deep in the wilderness of Denali National Park in a beautiful lodge with chef-prepared meals. We have our own large vehicle and naturalist driver and can go where the action and scenery are best. 

If this appeals to you, come with me to Denali this fall. There are only 2 spaces left. Complete details at this link  http://awakethelight.com/denali-national-park/

Nearly everything is included in the price. Just get yourself to Anchorage, and we will take care of the rest!

If you have questions, call me at 757-773-0194, or email me at awakethelight@charter.net

TODAY'S QUOTE: "What you do not see, do not hear, do not experience, you will never really know."  --Native Alaskan saying

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Simple Is Super


This church in Iceland has a beautiful altar and spectacular organ pipes. But when I looked up at the ceiling it was the simple white-on-white design that caught my eye.

Simplicity can be a powerful compositional tool. Strip away any distractions and look for the essence of the subject.

The net result of this image is essentially an abstract using very simple tones, lines, and shapes. For this type of shot it is important to keep things symmetrical. Make sure that the sides match as much as possible, and that the center of the image is centered in the frame. And that any verticals are truly vertical and not tipped slightly in one direction or another.

While I wish I had shot this with my "real" camera, all I had with me was my iPhone and it did a pretty good job. Overall the image is sharp and the whites are clean with no digital artifacts or color "noise."

This is not at all the shot I expected to capture in this church. But as I have pointed out before, it is important to keep all your options open, look around and examine all that is before you. Get the basic shots or the iconic shots, but then search for other views or angles that appeal to you and might even represent the essence of the scene better than the iconic images you were seeking.

TECH SPECS
1/35 sec. at f/2.2, ISO 50. iPhone 6 with 4.15mm f/2.2 lens. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Creativity is contagious. Pass it on."  --Albert Einstein

Monday, March 19, 2018

Alaska Abstract


Sometimes interesting shots appear when you least expect it. On a low-level small plane flight from my favorite Alaska grizzly bears location back to Anchorage, we flew over fascinating shapes and colors. Our altitude varied between 1000 and 1500 feet.

While it might be difficult to discern what you are looking at, when the subject is abstract, what it IS really doesn't matter. All that matters are the shapes, colors, and movement throughout the image.

But I don't want to keep you in suspense, so I'm spilling the beans  -  this is an aerial view of winding water courses along a very shallow area at the shoreline of the Cook Inlet.

In a 4-seater small plane I find it easiest to shoot with my iPhone. The space is so tight inside the plane that juggling a full-size camera and lens can be dicey. Plus, the super wide angle lens of the basic iPhone is great for capturing the vast, quickly changing terrain below.

This image has been enhanced in Lightroom. I increased the overall color saturation, the contrast, and then saturated specific colors even more, like the blues at the top of the image. Upon close inspection you will see artifacts and aberrations created by the low-quality iPhone lens, but for an interpretive art piece such as this, those are not issues that concern me.

The sky's the limit, so to speak, when it comes to abstracts. If distortions, aberrations, or other issues enhance the final result, then that is OK. If this were intended to be a more traditional representation of the landscape, I would not be happy with anything less than a realistic view of the scene. But as an artistic representation, the aberrations just add further to the artsy look in my opinion.

TECH SPECS
1/3200 sec. at f/2.2, ISO 32. iPhone 6 standard camera with built-in 4.15mm f/2.2 lens.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "There is no abstract art. You must always start with something. Afterward you can remove all traces of reality."  -- Pablo Picasso

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Desert Dweller


Bighorn sheep are beautiful subjects. We usually see several different species in the mountains of the American west and Alaska. But there are also Desert Bighorns like this guy.

I usually do not photograph captive animals, and prefer to find them in the wild. But this handsome guy was a resident of the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson, and was too appealing to pass by. The Desert Museum does a good job of creating large and realistic-looking enclosures for large animals. All the rocks you see are man-made, but they look like the real thing. 

This image was cropped and optimized in Lightroom. It took less than 5 minutes to tweak the original RAW image, shown here, to create the final version above.
BEFORE
The ram was deep inside the enclosure, behind a rock wall, with no direct light falling on him. So as always, Lightroom came to the rescue.

After cropping the image, I used the following Lightroom controls:
1. Move the Whites slider to brighten the horns and fur.
2. Move the Blacks slider to deepen the blacks slightly.
3. Increase Clarity to +30 for more mid-tone contrast.
4. Move Luminance slider to +30 to reduce noise.
5. Use the Graduated Filter to significantly reduce the brightness of the bottom rock.
6. Use the Brush Tool to lighten the eye.

That's it. Quick and easy.

Many people despair when they download their images and see something like the BEFORE image. They think they have done something wrong, and often delete the image. But Lightroom can bring out incredible details in most images with just a little bit of time and thought.

So go back through your old image files and see what you can find to work on in Lightroom (or Photoshop or Elements which work similarly). You will be surprised at how easily you can bring images back to life with just a little digital help!

TECH SPECS
1/800 sec., f/9, ISO 400. Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS lens set at 200mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better."  --
Albert Einstein

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Ansel Adams Revisited


The two most pivotal things that got me started in photography many years ago were the first time I had the opportunity to use an adjustable 35mm camera, owned by my high school friend Marion (with whom I am still friends today), and seeing the work of Ansel Adams. His images of unique and beautiful places in the west were arresting and compelling. So compelling in fact that I went to his home bases of Carmel, California and Yosemite National Park to have two short stints of studying with him. Those were deeply meaningful times in my photographic journey.

When I first saw his photograph of the ancient Native American ruins at Canyon de Chelly in Arizona, I knew that someday I had to go there to see it in person.

I got that opportunity a few years later, and on my recent trip to the desert southwest I made my fourth pilgrimage to this special place. There are ruins scattered throughout Canyon de Chelly and other nearby canyons, and this one, named White House Ruin, is among the most beautiful.

Part of the beauty of this place is not only the ruins themselves, but also the dark streaks marking the cliff faces. Called Desert Varnish, the streaks are caused by mineral deposits formed over thousands of years, left behind by the evaporation of dew and water, and then polished by the winds.

While my image pales in comparison to the photographs Ansel Adams made of this place, I did make an attempt at the black and white conversion below using Lightroom. See Ansel Adams original photographs made of White House Ruin here  http://anseladams.com/white-house-ruin/

If you have a preference, let me know if you like the color version or the black and white version better.


TECH SPECS
1/640 sec. at f/11, ISO 400. Canon 17-40mm f/4L lens set at 19mm on Canon 5D Mark III body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Some photographers take reality and impose the domination of their own thought and spirit. Others come before reality more tenderly and a photograph to them is an instrument of love and revelation."  --Ansel Adams