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.

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.
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!

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

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

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

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Magical Moonrise

I was fortunate to be at Monument Valley in Arizona for last week's full moonrise. What a treat to see it appear above one of the famous Mitten buttes. No matter how many full moons I have witnessed, each one is exciting and renewing.

The full moon always rises at about the same time as sunset, so there is still some ambient light on the scene which illuminates it to preserve the texture of the landscape. That's the good news.

The bad news is that exposure can be tough. First, you must set the shutter speed no slower than 1/30 sec. Slower than that and the motion of the moon shows in the image resulting in fuzzy edges and\or an oval moon rather than a round one.

Second it can be difficult to keep both the landscape and the moon properly exposed. Often the landscape can be rendered too dark or the moon too light, or both. Play it safe and do one exposure for the landscape and one for the moon. This image employs that technique, and then they were blended using Photoshop.

1/30 sec. at f/4, ISO 800. Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS lens set at 127mm on Canon 5D Mark III. Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age, which means never losing your enthusiasm."  --Aldous Huxley