Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How to Create an HDR Pano using Photomatix Pro's Batch Processing, and Photoshop's Photomerge

"A Good Place to Sit"
Ahh, Lake Tahoe.  A slice of Heaven on Earth.  I took this image in Zephyr Cove, which is on the Nevada shore, at sunset during a break in our most recent set of storms.  This may look like a photo taken with a full-frame sensor DSLR, but it is not.  It is actually a panoramic stitch from 5 vertical frames.  If you want to see how I process my HDR panos, check out the free video tutorial I made down below.

I usually try not to have any human-made objects in my nature photos, but the bench here really worked with the scene.  Also, I thought the tiny snowman towards center-left was pretty cute.  Lake Tahoe is probably one of the more heavily touristed naturally beautiful areas I've ever been.  Much of the shoreline is privately owned, and that which is not is usually a bit more trafficked by people.  So, wanting to remain true to my location, I decided to make lemonade and incorporate the human-made features.  (between you and me, I suspect that much of the beach and sandbar at Zephyr cove was constructed anyway).  Also, if you look closely you can find the edges of a rainbow equidistant from the sun just above the horizon line.

Have a great day!

How to Create an HDR Pano using Photomatix Pro's Batch Processing and Photoshop's Photomerge. from Nathan Van Arsdale on Vimeo.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Thy Rod & Thy Staff

Shepherd, originally uploaded by navandale.

"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me." Psalm 23

This image is an "abstract" photo I took of some icicles.  I love discovering transcendental features of the everyday or mundane.  I chose this image for this blog post because I took it when I got home from the story below.  Something as simple and abundant as water can become ignored as white noise, as is the case with many things in life... but as is the case with most everything, when examined under the meditative, inquisitive, photographic lens, new layers and emotions emerge.  Photo specs, f5.6 1/200 ISO 250.  Contrast adjustments in Camera RAW.

I'm not dogmatic in my spiritual beliefs, and I don't often write about them online because of the myriad understandings of the same words, and people's sensitivity towards their attachment to those understandings.  But I think I have to share what happened the other day:

I quite enjoy when I can witness the Universe working through/with people.  In my own practice, I have felt/perceived extreme connection and universal oneness, but
usually through meditation.  But on this day, I wasn't trying... I was just enjoying myself, skiing as I have done nearly every day this year at Sierra at Tahoe.  On this day, I was placed in the exact right place, and at the exact right time.  Though anyone in my place would have done the exact same thing, I am humbled to have been put in the situation to save a man's life.

It was a very snowy powder day, and I was deep in trees on a run that I never ski--I had been making laps on one of my favorite routes, but when I got off the lift this time, I found myself for some reason turning down the main run.  I turned off of the main run into the woods, only occasionally coming upon other tracks.  It was great powder skiing, but I felt the urge to stop, so I did.  Ten feet away in a tree-well I saw a sliver of black sticking out of the snow, just about 3 inches of the edge of a ski.  I figured I would retrieve the ski and bring it to Lost and Found.  Then I noticed the tip of a ski pole mixed in with the hanging, snow-covered branches of the tree.  At this point I stopped thinking.

"HEY, ARE YOU OK!!!" I shouted at the realization that someone was likely buried in that tree well.  Three more times I shouted, "HEY, ARE YOU OK?!?!?"  Then I saw the ski move a little with a kick, confirming that someone was indeed buried, and that they were at least conscious.  I started to move closer.

I should point out that this year the Sierra's have received more snow than they have in at least 15 years (according to local friends).  Maneuvering on mountainous terrain in chest-deep snow is NOT easy, even with awesome powder skis like what I have (K2 Kung Fujas).   And, in order to dig this guy out, I would have to unclip from my skis.  His ski was locked by the tree's trunk and branches on the uphill side, and his head was on the downhill side under an unknown amount of snow.

As I moved closer, I continued shouting, and to my surprise and delight he replied, "I'm OK!"  
"Keep breathing." I said, "Are you injured?"
"I think I'm ok, he said, but I'm stuck and can't breath.  I can't move my legs."  He kicked his leg a little, showing how pinned he was.
"Don't try to move." I shouted. "I'm going to get you out of there... but first I need to dig down to you."
I stomped out a platform to take off my skis close to the tree well.  Once I unclipped, I sank down to about my waist, and used my poles and skis to keep myself supported.  
"What's your name?" I asked.  
no reply
"HEY, I'm going to unclip your skis,  OK?"  I shouted.
"OK" he softly replied.  

I had no idea how long he'd been buried.  But I knew that every second of a claustrophobic situation like that feels like an eternity.  I unclipped his ski, and continued talking to him... if anything just to let him know I was there.  His other ski was still on his other foot, buried about 2 feet below his showing ski.  I reached through the snow, and once I found his release lever, I unclipped his other boot.  The sense of relief was palpable, but he was still really stuck.  He was still buried in a cage of frozen branches with his head downhill.  

I told him I was going to have to dig around the tree to where his head was.  So, with snow up to my chest I forced my way around the tree, half-digging, half-bull-dozing.  I kept talking to him, letting him know I was getting closer.  I made it around the tree to where I heard his voice, and started digging.  About 3 feet down, and I still don't see his head.  I found his arm, and grabbed his hand.  It was more for reassurance than for anything, but he pulled at it as though he was grasping at straws.   He was really stuck!  

A snowboarder appeared about 20 feet away and shouted asking if everything was ok.  I told him to go tell Ski Patrol, that there were no apparent injuries, but to come quickly.  I gave him landmark details that would let Ski Patrol find us easily.  After a minute of hesitation, I told him the quicker the better, and he left.  

I continued digging.

Then... Finally.  I felt his goggles, and then quickly went to clear the snow over his face.  He was face up!  I'm so happy he didn't drown!  His goggles were loaded with snow.  "Try to take slow breaths and don't move," I cautioned, "because were not done yet."  I had basically borrowed a hole to his head, leaving walls of delicate snow all around.  Any movement would surely send snow avalanching back onto his face.  "My name's Nathan, what's yours?"
"Jim" he replied gratefully, "and thank you Nathan."
"Jim, I've still got a bit of digging I have to do... some snow might fall back in your face.  Don't panic if that happens.  I know it's been a dark and hard to breath.  Just stay calm, and I'll get you out of here in a sec."

A little snow did indeed fall and re-cover his face... but it was easily brushed away.  The snow around his helmet was nearly cemented, which made it impossible for him to move his head, and difficult for me to dig him out.  I also wanted to be careful not to aggravate any potentially damaged bones.  After another few seconds, though, I had enough of his upper body dug out that he could move and wriggle to a manageable position.  

Taking the snow-filled goggles off his face he sighed, "OOh that's a scary movie." and then paused for a moment of reflection.  We tried in vain to find his other pole, all the while chatting.  He thanked me numerous times by the time I gave up searching for his pole, telling him, "Well Jim, I think we should chalk this pole up as a sacrifice to the snow Gods."  

This whole ordeal took about 20 minutes from the time I first noticed his ski.  I asked him how long he'd been down there before I arrived, although I know it probably felt like forever.  He estimated about 2 minutes.  With the rate of snowfall we had, another two minutes and his ski may have been completely covered.  Aside from the snowboarder who stopped when he saw me digging, only 2 other people skied by within 30 feet.  

I am sharing this story, because I am so grateful for the way angels, the universe, God, the Source, biochemical-electromagnetic-gravitational forces, etc. steer us from time to time.  I don't think that what I did was heroic, or deserving of any accolades, but simply the necessary thing to do in the given circumstance.  I am sharing this story because I hope it inspires you in some way.  

Monday, March 21, 2011

High Flying Sierra's

SierraAtTahoeSkiPhotography028, originally uploaded by navandale.
This is one of my favorite photos from this season at Sierra at Tahoe, where I'm a contract photographer through Flowskipix.

Aside from being able to ski every day, I love being able to capture people doing awesome things like it's nothing. In order for me to make a living (*ahem), it's in my best interest to capture their awesomeness in a unique, eye-catching, clear, focused, and flattering way. I've created a flickr set that features a few of my other favorite images from this year, where I've employed techniques such as longer shutter speeds, sequence shots, and high-speed panning to get my money-making shots.

To get this image, I first set up my position on the corner of the knuckle (the rounded transition to the landing) so that I was not a hazard to anyone wanting to take the jump, but so that I could photograph people both coming towards me, and flying past me. It was a bright sunny day, and the sun was behind me to camera right. I could have easily set my camera to an open aperture (btw, I was using a Tamron 18-250 3.5-6.3 Macro Zoom) and been able to freeze the action with a fast shutter-speed. But anyone can do that... and I wanted to show a sense of movement. So, I cranked up my aperture to f14 (which allows me to worry a little less about focus) and slow my shutter-speed down to 1/125 at ISO 200 (I almost always shoot at ISO 200 in lieu of 100 when shooting people on bright sunny days, because I enable highlight tone priority on my 40D).

You may be thinking I'm crazy, that shooting moving objects at such a slow shutter speed will yield blurry images. Well, it depends. If I were to photograph a moving object coming towards or going away from me, a slow shutter-speed is a BAD IDEA. But, when the subject is moving parallel to me, I can pan with a slow shutter-speed, allowing the subject to be clear and in focus, and the background to be motion-blurred. Panning may take a little practice to get used to, and you will not always be successful, but it's a great way to make an action shot really come alive. I've found that, depending on the speed of the subject, I can shoot at anywhere from 1/80-1/400 and achieve the desired blurry background and sharp subject. When panning, or shooting any moving subjects, have your camera set to AI Servo, and Full-Blast shooting (the icon with the "H" next to multiple frames).

Something to be aware of, however, is that if your subject is moving on any other axis in addition to their trajectory (i.e., if the bird's wings are flapping, the skier is spinning, etc.) those areas will not be as in focus with slower shutter-speeds.

I hope you enjoyed this tip, and have a great day!