Monthly Archives: August 2013

Sunset Sports Shot

Short post this week:  my son Mike is visiting and I didn’t have time for a photo expedition.

He wanted to go to the University of Central Florida football game last night.  Since it was a 7pm kick-off, I checked the open seats on the east side and there were still some available up in the nosebleed section.  We enjoyed the first quarter while I waited to see if the Florida sky would do it’s thing.   It cooperated – here’s my version of a sports photograph:

UCF Knights defeat the Akron Zips 38 - 7
Football foreground:  The sun set early on the visiting Akron Zips in the UCF football opening home game.

The Akron team was overmatched.  We had a good time watching UCF win – the final score was 38 – 7.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go sneak in a sunset photo!

©2013, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Captive wildlife

I went over to Tampa last week with Tom M. and toured both the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary and the Big Cat Rescue Sanctuary.

Not sleeping
Eyes of the tiger – resting in his den and watching visitors at the Big Cat Rescue sanctuary in Tampa Florida.

Neither place is intended to be a good photo-op (lots of fences and obstructions) – you have to be lucky to get a good image.  The geometry and light in the scene above worked well, but it’s the only animal photo I made that day that I like.

Volunteer caring for residents at the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary

Volunteer caring for residents at the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary

So why am I writing about these if they’re not good photo ops?  This is supposed to be a blog about photo ops, right?  Well, we met several volunteers at each place and learned a great deal from them about wildlife in captivity.  If you care about wildlife then there are  things about captives that you should know.

Seeing wild animals such as whales in their natural habitat is exciting and inspiring.  Seeing them in captivity, knowing some of the background on how they’re captured, bred, and kept is depressing.  The tiger in the photo above was well cared for and kept in nicer conditions than many others.  Although sometimes big cats can be returned to the wild, this tiger will never be released.  Wouldn’t it be better if they’d never been captured at all? Places like the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary and the Big Cat Rescue Sanctuary are doing their best to care for large, wild animals that can’t be returned to the wild.  But there are so many of these animals that they’ll never be able to keep up.

Are all instances of captive wildlife wrong?  Maybe not.  But many situations are clearly bad and should be against the law.

I know you don’t come to this site for editorials and commentary, but thanks anyway for stopping by and reading this.  And if you care about this subject, you should click on the links in this post to learn more.

©2013, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Topaz ReStyle Mini Review

Topaz released a new plug-in recently, called ReStyle.  You can download any of their products for a free thirty-day trial, so I thought I’d give it a go.  This isn’t a full review or tutorial (I haven’t used it long enough for either of those).  But I have used it a bit so I’ll try to introduce you to some possibilities with three examples I’ve played with.  If you want to see the “before” versions, I’ve included them towards the end of the post.

I had trouble with the white balance in this photo of Marineland beach at dawn.  I could have separately adjusted the color balance on the sky and ground using layer masks in Photoshop or gradients in Lightroom.  Instead, it was easy to pick out this version from the grid displayed inside ReStyle.  It’s interesting how   remapping changed the color in the beach and rocks differently from the sky.

Down on the beach at dawn

Down on the beach at dawn (after Topaz ReStyle).

ReStyle maps color and tone statistics from a selected style to a target image.  It seems like Photoshop’s “Image/Adjustments/Match Color” command.  When you do this in Photoshop, you have to supply an image with the colors you’re trying to match.  ReSyle comes with over 1000 presets and provides control / adjustment of the results that aren’t easily available in Photoshop.   There are so many presets that they’re overwhelming, but ReStyle breaks them down into collections (e.g. “Landscape”), and you can mark your favorites.   You can show a collection or your favorites as a grid applied to your photo, which makes choosing one very simple.  You can also search for  similar styles by color or by name.  Within each style, you can further adjust the hue, saturation, and luminance of the five colors in each style, as well as the opacity, original image “Texture” strength, and others variables.  It also includes mask / selections controls to apply the effects selectively.  There’s a lot more info available in the manual at this link.

In this photo of some struggling trees on a small rocky island near Haulover Canal, I wanted a more dramatic color palette.  Once again, it was easy to pick out this version from a grid of possibilities.

Survivors
Survivors (after Topaz ReStyle)

For this infra-red photo of sea oats on the beach that I made in Fred Howard Park near Tampa , I wanted a different look from a typical IR false color image.  I like this color mapping I found in ReStyle .
Sea oats

Sea oats – False color infra-red (After Topaz ReStyle)

There are so many presets, options and adjustments that ReStyle can be a little overwhelming.  It’s not hard to use, but it is hard to grasp all the possibilities and decide what to do.  It’ll take a bit more time for me to get comfortable with it, so I’ll have to play with it some more.

For comparison purposes, here are versions of the photos before I applied Topaz ReStyle:

__D8C4109_HDR_Ed-Rosack
Before:  Down on the beach at dawn.

_P8110813_Ed-Rosack

Before: Survivors

Sea oats

Before:  Sea oats – False color infra-red processing.

Summary:  Do you have to use plug-ins?  Of course not, but they’re useful and save time.  And ReStyle seems to offer something I haven’t seen elsewhere.  It’ll definitely make your images look different.  Are they better?  I think ReStyle improved these three images, but only you can decide for your photos.  Will this fix all of your problems and should you use it on every photo?    Definitely not  – I’m new to the tool, but on several photos I tried, I couldn’t get anything that I thought looked good.  But it does look like something that’ll be good to have in your bag of tricks.

Off topic public service announcement:  I’m always telling you to get out and enjoy nature.  I also need to remind you to protect yourself from the sun.  I had two skin cancers removed last week.  I’m fine – but it’s not the most pleasant thing to go through.  And it can be much, much worse than mine were.  So when you’re out in the sun enjoying nature, please protect yourself.  Use sunscreen, wear a hat and long sleeves, stay in the shade as much as possible, etc.  The sun is brutal, especially in Florida.  And no one wants to suffer the consequences of too much exposure ten or twenty years down the road.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!  And use sunscreen!

©2013, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

St. Augustine, Florida and vicinity – photo hints

Lynn was out-of-town last week at the Pressing Iron & Trivet Collectors of America Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana. I talked her into letting me out of my spousal support services subcontract, so I had a chance to sneak in a few days of photography while she was away. I spent the time in St. Augustine, Florida, which is “the oldest continuously occupied European-established settlement and port in the continental United States”. I’ve written about it many times (see this link) and it’s one of my favorite places to photograph. Photo ops abound and include landscapes, architecture, street scenes, beaches, historic landmarks, wildlife, and much more. It’s hard to go anywhere in the area and not come back with a photo! Here are some of mine along with hints on how I made them.
There are some wonderful sunrise and sunset spots. Friends told me about Marineland Beach (thanks Kevin M. and JT) which is just a little south of St. Augustine. It’s now one of my new favorites. The coquina rocks there worked really well as foreground objects in my photos.

Long exposure sunrise

Long exposure sunrise – Marineland Beach, Florida

This is a single exposure, made through a Hoya ND400 filter right after sunrise. The waves were coming in around me, but I stood my tripod on one of the rocks to keep us dry. I used my lowest ISO setting (50) and even with the sun in the frame, the 8 2/3 stop ND filter gave me a 14 second exposure at f/8 . The long shutter speed makes the water surface contrast nicely with the rock texture.

One thing you’ll run into in Florida on summer mornings is condensation. It’s so humid that if you take your camera gear directly from your air-conditioned room or car out into the moist air, you can expect 15 to 30 minutes of fog before they clear. You can decrease this by not running your car’s AC on the way. You can also seal your camera and lens in a plastic bag with as much air removed as possible until it warms up. And it’s a good idea to bring along a micro-fiber cloth to remove condensation if needed. The larger your camera / lens is, the longer it will take to warm up. This is one time that good glass works against you – at least until the temperature equalizes. One more point: try not to change lenses under these conditions. If water condenses on your sensor, it can be hard to remove and may cause dust to adhere to the surface.

The harbor and fort (Castillo de San Marcos) also provide interesting detail for sunrise or sunset and landscapes in general.

A calm morning in the St. Augustine harbor.
A calm morning in the St. Augustine harbor: Clouds to the north over the Castillo de San Marcos and the quarter Moon above the Bridge of Lions add interesting detail to this image.

This photo and the next were both multi-shot panoramas made with the techniques I described last week. Images like the harbor scene can be tough to blend due to smooth gradients in the sky and water. Be sure you check carefully and correct any glitches.

Another thing about summer in Florida: We have awesome afternoon thunderstorms. Clouds add a lot of drama to photos, but the storms were so bad on two of the days I was there that I couldn’t go out for sunset. Plan accordingly.

St. Augustine Sunset
St. Augustine Sunset behind the Castillo de San Marcos

On this evening at the fort, there was a large thunder-storm to the west. The sky wasn’t colorful at all until the sun moved down below the thunder head, resulting in these shadows and rays. One big advantage of sunset photography vs. sunrise is that you can wait to see what develops. At sunrise, you need to be in place extremely early to see all the variations happen.

I had a great time walking around the fort at sunset with my large tripod and big DSLR camera. Most people were oblivious and walked right through my photos (I don’t blame them – I don’t own the place).  I’d wait for a clear spot in the traffic and make another exposure. Other folks stood next to me since they thought wherever someone with a big camera is has to be a good spot. At one point, a tour guide in a pirate costume leading a group of 20 or so people saw me and stopped his group from walking in front of me until I finished my exposure. It turned out he’s a photographer too.

I wanted to try a night photo of the lighthouse. I also wanted to capture the look of the beam coming out of the light. This turned out to be a tough assignment. The contrast range is huge and there’s a lot of glare from the lights in the scene.

St. Augustine Light Station
St. Augustine Light Station

I ended up merging two exposures. The first one was long (f/4 @ 3 seconds) at a low ISO (400) to decrease noise. The slow shutter blurred the light beam, so I made a second exposure (ISO 3200, f/4 @ 0.4 seconds) and this stopped the beam enough to highlight it. The second exposure had some noise, but was fine with a bit of post processing before I blended the two manually in Photoshop.  I made this photo about an hour before sunrise. It was dark and there was no one around. One of my contacts on Flickr commented that spooky things happen in this area. I’m glad I didn’t notice any when I was there.

Tom M. met me up there on one of the days and we spent several hours just walking around. There were many interesting scenes, and I never saw any two doors  alike.

Red door #33
Red door #33

We were walking down one street and saw someone in the distance photographing this house with his iPhone. He was really working it, making multiple photos / compositions and was still there when we arrived several minutes later. We waited for him to finish and when he looked up and noticed us he asked what kind of cameras we had. It turned out he’s a photographer too and was there on vacation, but forgot his Nikon D3S DSLR. He said using the iPhone was “very liberating”. Photo hint 101: If someone’s taking a picture, look at what he’s photographing – it might be interesting. Photo hint 102: Don’t forget your camera.

A little later, out of the corner of my eye, I saw this waiter zipping through traffic on the way to work.  On a skate board.  I managed to make a quick photo.

Morning commute
Morning commute – very eco-friendly

We also noticed this person reading on the bench.  I really liked the symmetry of the columns and how they led my eye towards the subject. Tom posted a different composition that I think is really good too.

Reading
Reading.

By the way, if you have Lightroom 5, try out the “Upright” settings in the Lens Corrections panel on photos like the one above. It does a great job squaring things up.

Like I said, there’s a tremendous amount of photo-ops in the area. I didn’t make it by the St. Augustine Alligator Farm on this visit, but from March to June, it’s one of the best places in Florida to photograph a variety of wild birds nesting in the rookery there.  I also didn’t get to Fort Matanzas.  It’s a little south of the city and makes a nice side excursion. The Nombre de Dios Mission in the northern part of the city has a beautiful chapel and grounds as well as a view into the harbor.  And I’m sure that there are a great many more photo ops that I still have to discover in this beautiful place.

You can see these photos larger if you click on them and I have many others from St. Augustine in this set on Flickr.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!

©2013, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

A Panorama Workflow Example

Intro

I had a question recently about how I process panoramas – so I thought I’d document my workflow using a recent image as an example.  This will be a bit geeky.  Next week I should have a more normal post after I finish selecting / editing photos from a visit to St. Augustine.

I was up on Mount Evans near Denver, Colorado with an Olympus E-PL5 camera and a 24-100mm equivalent lens.  This is a 16MP camera and the mountains and valley were just too large to fit through that lens and onto that sensor.  I really wanted to capture something that would give viewers a sense of the scene.  So how did I make a 46MP (9608×4804) wide-angle panorama with the gear I had?  Read on.

Valley of sunbeams and shadows

Mount Evans panorama – the completed 46MP image (click to see larger on Flickr)

This is a multi-photo panorama.  Many cameras have a panorama capability built-in.  I’m not sure if the E-PL5 has it, because I never use it.  Why?  I like the flexibility, control, and quality I can achieve with a manual process.  I don’t like letting the camera decide everything automatically.  And I like the result – huge, rich files that I can print large, or even crop to yield several different compositions.

In this post, I’ll write about using the software that I have (Lightroom V5 and Photoshop CS6) but the concepts are similar no matter what software you have.  You’ll need to interpret / apply this info to your own tools and workflow.  There’s four main phases:  1) Capture, 2) Initial Adjustments in Lightroom, 3) Photoshop stitching and processing, and 4) Final Lightroom tweaks.  I’ll give you some hints about each.

Capture:

Carefully capturing the input frames is extremely important to the end result.  Input variations can be hard for software to handle, so try to minimize differences.  You should use manual white balance, exposure, and focus.

For horizontal panoramas, shoot vertical frames and overlap them by  thirty to fifty percent but not more.  Too many frames means more seams, and this could add  problems you’ll have to fix.   If this happens, try removing a frame – it might not impact the final image.

I shoot either on my tripod or handheld.  If there’s enough light, I’ve had good luck shooting handheld.  I’m careful to keep the camera level and use a grid line or focus mark in the view finder aligned with the horizon as a guide.

I always shoot in RAW format, but the stitching will of course work with JPG input frames.  It’s best to use a camera / lens supported by Lightroom so that you can correct lens distortions. If you don’t, the distortions can build up across the stitched images and look especially bad when there are straight lines in the scene.

Initial Adjustments in Lightroom:

I load  the images into Lightroom and adjust them all identically.    I aim for a neutral, low contrast setting across all images.  I enable distortion correction and usually turn off sharpening / noise reduction (and deal with them in later steps).

Be conservative with the highlights – I’ve found that stitch software may blow out parts of the image when attempting to blend between frames.  I’ll dial down highlights if I have any concern.  If I didn’t use manual exposure, I may also try to match white and black points in all the histograms.

Source files

The seven source images in Lightroom after the initial adjustments

Photoshop stitching and processing:

Once I’ve got the frames adjusted in Lightroom, I open them as layers in Photoshop.  This allows me to try different auto align algorithms (under the Edit / Auto-Align menu), undo them, and try again if there are issues. For the wide-angle shots I usually make, the cylindrical alignment method seems to work best.  I check the result at 100%.  Sometimes the software doesn’t line up the most important parts of the image perfectly and I’ll use the move tool to make small adjustments.

Edit-auto-align-layers_Cylindrical

Seven source images opened as layers in Photoshop and auto aligned.

Next I’ll do the blending (Edit / Auto-Blend).  Then I look for variations across the image (most often in smooth sky).  You can see the leftmost frame above is a bit darker.  If the auto blend hasn’t worked well enough, I’ll undo it and tweak the levels or curves in each layer and then re-blend.

Once I’m happy with the blend, I’ll flatten the layers, and then rotate and crop the image.  I don’t do final cropping at this point – I save that for the later in Lightroom.  It’s OK to leave a bit of white around the edges.  In CS6, content aware fill can fix those for you.  If you do use Content Aware Fill, review those areas at 100% for flaws.  You might need to touch them up with the clone tool.  This is also the time to do any other cloning the image needs.

initial crop

In Photoshop after auto blend, merge layers and initial crop / straighten

Now do your noise reduction on a new layer.  I use Topaz DeNoise 5, but other software works well too.  I just like the user interface in this plug-in.  Check the result at 100% again and decide whether to apply it to the whole image or selectively.  Most of the time I add a layer mask to the noise layer and apply it to the sky and / or smoother parts of the image only.  This preserves detail where the noise isn’t obvious (ground, trees, etc.).

Final edit in PS

Final Photoshop edit after content aware fill, noise reduction on the sky and a dose of Topaz Clarity

I’ll then merge the layers (shift-alt-command-E) and play around with various filters (Nik Color Effects Pro or HDR Efx, Topaz Clarity, etc.) to get to something close to what I want.  Then I return to Lightroom.

Final Lightroom tweaks:

Final steps in Lightroom are sharpening, any tweaks to white balance, exposure, white and black points, cropping, etc.

Final edits in LR

Output in Lightroom after final adjustments (White Balance, exposure, sharpening, cropping, etc)

Conclusions

This workflow takes time.  Is every scene worth all this?  Nope – I only go through it if I think the final image will be worth it.  Even so, sometimes I’ll start the process and stop when I realize that the composition didn’t turn out.  You’ll have to decide whether it’s worth the time and effort to you.

I hope I’ve given you some insight.  Try it yourself and please let me know how it turns out.  Even if you don’t go through the whole thing, some of the info might be useful. I’d be happy to answer your questions.  The best place to ask them is in the comments for this post so they’ll help others.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some really big photos!

©2013, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved