Saturday, February 19, 2011

Be Prepared, Even if You're Unprepared

"Fallen Leaf Falls"

"Be prepared" is the modo of the Boy Scouts.  I was a scout for most of my life, and certainly live my life under that creed... often times to the point of odd-wonderment or amusement on the part of others.  

The other day I arrived home a little earlier than usual... well, a lot earlier than usual.  It was noon, and a beautiful day.  I didn't feel like sitting inside and playing on the computer, and I happen to live (at the moment) in one of the most beautiful places on Earth, South Lake Tahoe, CA.   So, I decided to have another photo-adventure.  My neighbor informed me of a waterfall near Fallen Leaf Lake, a beautiful glacial lake next to Lake Tahoe, and said it was about a 30 minute hike.  

Eager for the adventure of newness, I grabbed my case-logic camera bag, tripod, and set out towards Fallen Leaf Lake.  However, since it's winter, Fallen Leaf Lake Rd. was closed (a fact I found out upon reaching a gate).  No worries, I'm always up for a bit of a nature walk.  Of course I realized that this unexpected turn would likely add a bit of time to the 30-minute prediction.  

It was a warm walk through melting-snow-covered cedar forest, but once I got to the lake, the wind picked up.  This made me incredibly happy, because that meant snow was blowing in, and I LOVE when it snows.  But, that also meant I had to pick up my pace, because I didn't want to be caught in the snow after dark, and the sun was getting lower in the sky.  

Well, after about an hour and a half walk, I arrived at Glen Alpine Creek, which empties into Fallen Leaf Lake.  I love waterfalls, and natural bodies of water in general, so I was very excited when I saw the size of the waterfall.  It was huge, covered in ice and snow, and picking up a beautiful glow from the light of the clouds.  The deep snow around the rocky bank made for some very precarious positions on my part.  I hustled all over the place trying to find good angles, while at the same time not getting footprints all over the foreground.  

DRATS!

I only brought my Tamron 18-250 lens, which was just not wide enough to capture the whole scene from where I needed to be.  Normally I would also have my Canon 15mm fisheye lens, but I neglected to throw it in my bag.  This meant I was going to have to take multiple frames and stitch them together in Photoshop to get the whole scene.  Also, the light was so bright, that even at ISO 100 and f22 I wasn't able to get the shutter-speed slow enough to get the effect I wanted on the moving water (even at +2 stops for the Auto-Exposure Bracketing I do for my HDR images).  Fortunately, I was prepared with my Hoya Neutral Density Filters.  So, I slapped a 6x ND filter on, which gave me the slower shutter speed I wanted.  

The clouds were beginning to get spectacular, and the reflected light on the snow was disappearing.  I had to act fast.  Camera on tripod, shutter-release cable attached, I framed the bottom-right 8th of the image with my lens set to 18mm, and took three exposures at (-2, 0, +2), then immediately shifted the angle of my camera up to fill the lower-middle-right 8th of the image, making sure to overlap about 30-40% of what was previously framed, and repeated the exposures at the exact same settings.  I continued this process in a counter clockwise fashion another 6-times until I had 8-bracketed frames of what would be my final image.  (for a total of 24 RAW files).  I made sure to frame the scene in a way that I could capture more of the surroundings than I would want in my final image, which I'll explain later.

I did this for a few different angles until I lost the light, and then headed back.  I wasn't worried about hiking in the dark, because I always hike with a headlamp and spare batteries.  But it was getting colder and windier.  Well, I wish I could make this story more exciting, but it didn't start snowing until after I got home.  But the skiing the next day was EPIC!

ON TO PROCESSING!

Like I said, be prepared, even if you're unprepared.  Even though I didn't have my fisheye, I was able to make do with my 18mm.  Some of you may be wondering how in the world I got away with combining wide-angle images with Photoshop's Panoramic stitch option without ending up with an impossibly distorted image.  Well, it's simple.  After I created my High Dynamic Range images with Photomatix Pro, I selected them in Adobe Bridge (8 in all), selected Tools>Photoshop>Photomerge, and then the photomerge window popped up, asking what type of merge I wanted.  I from the options of automatic, reposition, cylindrical, etc., I always select automatic, and then click "Geometric Distortion Correction."  "Blend Images Together" should also be checked... it is by default, but if not... well, Duh, blend your images together!

Photoshop with chug away for a while, but once it's done, you have (usually) a beautifully merged image.  Before flattening the image, zoom in to 100% to check for weird spots where the images don't quite blend together correctly... you may need to do some blending by hand.  My image was blended wonderfully, because each frame overlapped one another by about 30-40%.  The more they overlap, the easier it is to blend them together, even if I were to use my distorted fisheye.  

Remember how I captured a bit more of the surroundings than I would want?  One thing you will notice once your image is merged, is that the edges will either bulge out or pull in (due to shooting with a wide-angle and applying Geometric Distortion Correction).  This can be corrected with minor adjustments using the warp tool, or lens distortion filter, followed by cropping.  So, basically, anticipate the need to crop a little when making any type of panoramic image.  Don't get caught with having to crop out something you wanted in the image, or warping your image to the point that it's more of a Picasso than a photo.  

That's all for today everyone.  It's been snowing here non-stop for 5 days now, and I'm exhausted from all of the powder I've been skiing.  Time to rest!

Be Well!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Storms Peak- Breathtaking Black and Whites


Storms Peak, originally uploaded by navandale.
Hi Everyone.
This image of Mills Lake, Storms Peak, and Thatchtop was taken at midday, using the same lighting conditions favored by Ansel Adams. Often when I talk about HDR processing, I mention the processing Adams used in his darkroom. What many people don't realize when they see one of his images, is that he "processed the hell out of 'em." He, and others, would dodge and burn and use all sorts of other techniques which I cannot intelligently speak about. But suffice it to say, composition, exposure, lighting: the "camera-side of photography"--is only part of what makes a fine art image. Processing is the other part.

You can check out my video tutorials to see how I process my HDR images using Photomatix Pro and Photoshop. To make rich Black and White images, I do more than just desaturate or apply split-toning in Adobe RAW. Though that is a quick way to yield a nice B&W. Instead, harking back to Ansel Adams, I create pantone Black and Whites. The easiest pantone for most people to recognize is sepia.

Pantones, tritones, and duotones exist because in the early days of printing, it was near impossible to get completely black and white. So, using mixtures of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key (i.e. black) (CMYK), for example, I can create a much richer black and white image.

The process is simple. In Photoshop with the image open as an 8 bit image, go to Image>Mode>Greyscale
Then click ok to discard color information.
Then go to Image>Mode>Duotone.
It's THAT easy. Once you select Duotone, a window will open with many preset Duotone, Tritone, and Pantone options. Find one that feels close to what you want. It may require some adjusting per color, but that is easy enough to play around with too.

THIS IS IMPORTANT THOUGH!!! Once you get your image pantoned the way you want it, you must change the image mode back to RGB if you want to save your image as a jpg or tiff, or do any normal levels or curves edits.

I hope that was easy enough to follow. I may go ahead and make a video tutorial for this.

Thanks for visiting!
Be Well!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Time to Print

The opening of my exhibit at the Heritage Gallery in Mt. Vernon, WA

Hi Everyone.

I have recently signed up with Smugmug to handle all of my printing needs.  Since I still can't afford my own high quality printer, I have to outsource my printing.  I've tried various print labs over the past few years, from local to online, and in my opinion, Smugmug gives you the best bang for your buck.  And here's why:


Quality- Smugmug's labs offer some of the best print quality I've seen, on numerous different, high quality materials, from lustre, to matte, to metal, to canvas.  And, you can even order a proof of your print, just to make sure the quality is what you want.  Not to badmouth anyone, but I tried printing with Mpix for one of my art shows, and 4 of 5 batches of cards were misprinted with a terrible blue cast, and lots of cards had a little white dot or two in random places.  After a series of e-mails with their customer service department, they were unwilling to make any corrections or recompense.  By this time, I had already had the show, and missed out on a huge opportunity to make some profit.  With Smugmug, quality is guaranteed!

Ease- I am not a computer guy... sure I use all sorts of programs on a regular basis, but my internet savvy and HTML skills are slightly better than novice at best.  I don't want to spend all sorts of time trying to figure out how to create my website in dreamweaver and set it up to where I can profit from my work (believe me, I have).  Smugmug has the easiest interface out of any photo-website I've used, allowing me to make my galleries look professional and unique without spending a bunch of time setting them up.

Products- Smugmug offers a large variety of print products for my customers, saving me on overhead, and letting my customers decide how they want my art printed for their viewing pleasure.  Sure, lot's of companies offer products, but usually there are a few decent products, and a bunch of really lame ones... well, ok, that's my opinion, but it's also my opinion that Smugmug has very intelligently selected their product line.

Profit- This is the big one!  I have work in galleries throughout the united states.  If someone sees one of my pieces hanging on a wall, then comes home and looks me up online, I want to make as much profit as I would have if that person purchased my work off of the wall.  Well, Smugmug allows me to standardize my prices, making purchasing fun and fair for everyone involved.

So, take the time to check out my Print Shop at  nvaphoto.smugmug.com.

Thanks for reading!
Be well!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Horseshoe Bend


Horseshoe Bend, originally uploaded by navandale.
Probably one of the most recognizable images from the American Southwest is Horseshoe Bend in Page, AZ. A short hike from the convenient parking lot, and hundreds of visitors a day enjoy a sudden geologic marvel.

Although My 15mm fisheye was wide enough to fit the whole bend in the frame, I just wasn't happy with the composition. For such a straight-forward shooting location, I wanted to make an image that's a little more memorable. So, as is normally the case, I set my camera up to take auto-bracketed exposures that I would later merge into an HDR image (See the Video Tutorial).  But I decided to turn my camera vertically, and take three frames of the bend, from left to right, overlapping by about 30% or so.

After I processed each frame into an HDR image using Photomatix Pro, I merged the images using Photoshop's "Photomerge" option, and selecting "Geometric Distortion Correction." After a couple of songs-worth of processing, the resulting panorama needed a little cropping. Once I had the composition cropped the way I wanted, I went about with my usual editing procedures using Camera RAW and Photoshop's Adjustment Layers. After getting the image where I wanted it as far as contrast, sharpness, and levels, I converted it to Greyscale, and then to a Pantone image under Image>Mode>Duotone to give it a richer black and white effect.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

How to apply Finishing Touches to HDR photos using Camera RAW and Photoshop Adjustment Layers

This is the final video tutorial using my HDR photo of the Tower Bridge in London: "Queen's Bridge"

The previous two tutorials covered How to Create an HDR image using Photomatix Pro and How to Create an HDR image from 1 RAW file, and how to fix ghosting from moving objects using Layer Masks in Photoshop.  My goal with these tutorials is to introduce you to basic tools that you can then expand upon to make your own works of art.  Have a suggested tutorial?  Feel free to leave me a comment or suggestion any time.


How to polish your HDR images using Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop CS4 from Nathan Van Arsdale on Vimeo.