Tag Archives: Photography
March 9, 2007

Kalahaku Overlook

Haleakala Crater from Kalahaku Overlook

I have a new theory.  The time I spend playing with a picture in Photoshop is inversely proportional to the quality of the original image.  On the face of it, that seems obvious, right?  If the photo sucks, you’re really going to have to work it over in the digital darkroom.  But then, if the picture is good, Photoshop work is more like play, and I can spend hours playing…  Okay, so maybe my new theory doesn’t have a proof.

This is a stitched panorama of the immense Haleakala Crater on Maui Island, Hawaii.  I believe it’s taken from the Kalahaku Overlook, but because Oksana and I stumbled upon this scenic view, I could be mistaken.  I wrote a bit about that day.

The view is awesome, of course, in the true sense of the word.  We spent at least 45 minutes hanging out at the railing, took countless pictures and even a time-lapse video of the clouds boiling below.  And though I like the panoramic photo you see here, I don’t think it’s one of my better pictures.  I wish I could put my thumb on why.

Is there too much sky?  Maybe, but if I crop it out the panorama becomes too thin.  Is it that the depth of the valley doesn’t translate?  We were practically standing on a vertical cliff, but here it looks like you could almost along the dip in the middle until you reached the crater floor below.

I tried a dozen variations of cropping, trying to make things right.  I lightened up some of the foreground elements, trying to create a sense of depth.  I even spent some time cloning out a huge foreground handrail in the lower right corner.  I know the scene is good; I just can’t seem to make the photo do it justice. 

But that doesn’t mean I can’t post it on my blog, now, does it?

It’s hard to see in the small version of this panorama, but the black lava flows and red cinder cones make for some attractive (also in the true sense of the word!) scenery.  I wish we had planned an excursion down into that crater.  As it was, we were only on Haleakala for the sunrise — we didn’t think to bring the hiking gear, extra water, maps, and cabin reservations that would have made a hike down Sliding Sands Trail really worthwhile.  Maybe next time.

Canon Digital Rebet XT
Date: 12 August 2005
Focal Length: 18mm
Shutter: 1/1000 second
Aperture: F/5
ISO: 100
Photoshop: Stitched with Autostitch, cropped, cloned extra rock on right, dodged foreground rocks, auto color adjustment

Continue reading to see the actual detail in the final panorama…

(more…)

March 2, 2007

Парк Победы (Park Pobedy)

Park Pobedy

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I could spend an entire vacation exploring Moscow’s Metro system.  Seriously.

While we were in Russia last summer, Oksana’s brother encouraged us to the use the metro as our primary means of travel around the city.  Whenever he was with us, which was more often than not, he’d steer us toward roundabout routes just so we could catch a glimpse of a new station.  Each station is designed with a different style.  Some are covered in ornate scrollwork, some in mosaic tiles, others have murals between every arch.  Some, like Victory Park Station, almost qualify as science fiction.

I think it was after the first long day of touring the city that I took this picture.  We were on our way back to the apartment, it was late, but Andrey decided that we need to take a look at Victory Park.  Парк Победы, as it’s known in Russian, commemorates Russian’s victory in World War II.  There’s an impressive museum on the grounds and all sorts of WWII relics both inside and out.  We returned to see all that later.  The first night was just to see the station.

Amazingly, the throng of humanity in most of the metro (even at that time of the night) was absent.  Between trains, Victory Park station almost emptied out entirely.  As we walked down the length of the corridor to get a better view of the murl, we passed only a couple communters and one lone janitor buffing the highly-polished floor tiles.  After taking pictures of the mural and getting an Oksana-sponsored translation of the plaque, I turned around to see the entire station, empty.  I took a couple pictures of the impressive marble and reflections — portrait, landscape, next to the wall, out in the open — before I had the idea to just set my camera on the floor.  The first snap, on auto, fired the flash and created an arching shadow where the lens blocked the light.  I could hear another train pulling into the station, so I rushed to manually turn off the flash and snapped one more photo.  Shortly after this picture was taken, the station was full of people again.

Canon Digital Rebel XT
Date: 7 August 2006
Focal Length: 18mm
Shutter: 1/8 second
Aperture: F/3.5
ISO: 100
Photoshop: Auto Levels only

February 22, 2007

Daisy

Daisy

Oksana gets all the credit for this one.

I take a lot of outdoor pictures.  If I’m browsing through a directory of my digital photos, the best way to tell if Oksana was with me the day I took them is to look for flower pictures.  When she asks to hold the camera, it’s almost always so that she can crouch down and take a macro shot of a particularly colorful blossom.

On this memorably sunny summer day, we decided to take a walk through the university.  The camera’s lens spent most of the walk shuttered, but we did uncap it long enough to take some pictures of the lake (me) and the landscaped flowers (her).  This particular daisy wasn’t even a part of the campus flowerbeds — it was down in the ditch along the bike path to housing.

I spent some time in Photoshop working the image over.  I cropped it to remove some excess head room (and to try to balance in the stray dandelion in the background.)  Most of the work was in cleaning up the white petals.  I cloned away some black and yellow specks, removed a few strands of spider web, but stopped short of removing the pinkish hemlock needle on the right.  Sounds like a lot of work, but really it’s not so different from the original image.

I think the contrast between the white petals and the black background is what makes this photo.  I also love the detail in the full-res image.  The tiny, not-quite-open-yet star-shapes in the yellow florets, the single grain of pollen(?) in the middle, and the dark and blurry depth of the background.

Canon Digital Rebel XT
Date: 13 June 2005
Focal Length: 55mm
Shutter: 1/320 second
Aperture: F/5.6
ISO: 200
Photoshop: Cropped, cloning to remove specks on petals

Continue on to see a closeup of the florets… (more…)

February 16, 2007

Feeding Time

Feeding Time

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The life of an amateur photographer in Hawaii must be depressing — some of the best photo ops are underwater.  Without a crazy-expensive setup consisting of an underwater housing and lights, there’s practically zero probability that you’ll take home a great photograph.  Every store has an 800-speed disposable camera at the checkout line, but you’ll be lucky to get a few pictures for the photo album with those.  There’s no real use in blowing up one of those dark and grainy images.

What can be done?  Take your camera to the Maui Ocean Center!

Oksana and I decided to spend half a day wandering around the aquarium.  Initially I was skeptical, but it turned out to be money well spent.  There’s hammerhead shark tanks and green sea turtle pens.  There’s a massive pool with all manner of sharks and rays and a transparent tube you could walk through as you marvel at them.  One never-ending series of darkened rooms held small, well-lit tanks containing all sorts of rarities you’d probably never see while snorkeling:   shrimp and lobster, octopi, anemones, seahorses, glowing jellyfish, sand worms, and the like.  We both had fun trading off the camera for the camcorder.

Shooting in an aquarium has its own problems, though.  With a tripod (which I didn’t have, anyway), one would be forced into using slow shutter speeds.  For fish that just sit there, that’d be fine, but most underwater life tends to move around… and blur.  You can always shoot handheld with a flash, though… and get a nice bright reflection in the glass.

So how did I manage to get this picture?  Just lucky, I guess.  I was snapping pictures of Oksana posing in front of the glass, getting bright flash spots or blurry fish in every one.  It wasn’t really bothering me, though, because we weren’t going for high art, just some “I been there” photos for the inevitable Hawaii photo album.  Oksana stepped away and I lowered my camera… and suddenly the tranquil aquarium burst into action.  Within maybe three seconds, colorful fish appeared out of nowhere, darted left and right, all flashes of color and motion.  I never saw what riled them up – feeding time or maybe a predator – but I did manage to bring the camera back up and snap a few pictures.  There had been no time to think about flash, aperture, and shutter speed, I just went with the previous settings on the camera.  Seconds later, the aquarium was back to normal.

EXIF data reveals that my camera’s iris was wide open and the shutter speed was set for 1/100th of a second.  That’s darn near the perfect setting for this situation.  Any faster and the exposure would have been too dark, any slower and the fish would have blurred (via their movements or the movements of my hand), and a flash would have reflected in the glass.  Lucky.

Canon Digital Rebel XT
Date: 11 August 2005
Focal Length: 25mm
Shutter: 1/100 second
Aperture: F/4
ISO: 1600
Photoshop: Auto color, Minor blurring of red and blue channels to reduce ISO noise

Continue reading to see some examples of what didn’t work…

(more…)

February 9, 2007

Plaza Mayor, Trinidad

Plaza Mayor, Trinidad

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Twice now, I’ve visited Cuba, and twice I’ve spent some time in Trinidad.  It’s a beautiful colonial town in central Cuba, just a couple miles from the coast.  There’s a church on the hill, cobblestones on the streets, and picturesque landscapes and architecture around every corner.

On my first visit, I spent a lot of time moving around the central plaza with my 35mm camera.  There’s a wonderful bell and clock tower at one corner and I was continually trying to find the best angle on it.  I eventually found one; it’s now framed and hanging on the wall in my home office.

Four years later, my camera had changed, but the view in Trinidad was mostly the same.  I amused myself by trying to find the exact spot where I’d taken the first picture, then set out to frame something new.

There’s a museum in the base of the bell tower — something I’m not sure I was aware of on the first trip.  My companions and I paid a few dollars to go inside, hoping we’d get a chance to climb the tower.  Despite the rickety stairs and often a lack of handrails, tourists are, indeed allowed up.  Not all the way, though; the top room with the clock was barred with a trapdoor and a hefty padlock.

We stepped out onto the museum roof and paced around the edges.  From there we had a wonderful view of the terra cotta tile rooftops and the lush green countryside.  (Not to mention an ancient, rusty air raid siren.)  Walking back down the stairs, I stopped at the oval window we’d skipped on the way up.  I had to climb half into the cement ring to take an unobstructed picture of the courtyard below.  When I climbed back out, I took another picture to remember what the window was like.

I like the cement window frame better than the original.  It gives the viewer an interesting perspective, and in combination with the other photo I took years before, tells an interesting story.  Looking back and forth between them, I can identify the exact location where I took each picture!

Canon Powershot s30
Date: 27 December 2003
Focal Length: 8.6mm
Shutter: 1/1000 second
Aperture: F/3.2
Photoshop: Adjusted levels slightly to deepen the black edging

February 2, 2007

Caution: Wet Paint!

Caution: Wet Paint

A little more than a year ago, our department decided to spruce up the office with an art project.  We decided on collaborative Jackson Pollock style painting.

Our canvas, once stretched, turned out to be around 6′ x 6′.  One fine fall day, we took it out on the deck, laid it down on a plastic drop-cloth, and cracked open many undesired cans of paint.

I didn’t actually take part in the painting; I was there with my camera, documenting the process.  It was a slow start.  As people experimented with the paint — dripping it, pouring it, splattering it — the white background disappeared slowly.  Too slowly, in fact.  There were some great early splatter patterns that were covered over completely as the paint was layered on enough to cover the canvas from frame-edge to frame-edge.  At one point, I worried that the whole Pollockness of the painting would be ruined as the most enthusiastic painters used their hands to smear the colors into an almost uniform shade of greenish-brown.  I shouldn’t have worried.  They were simply coating the canvas for the next few dozen layers of paint.

Most of the shots I took that day are dynamic:  People flinging and spattering paint, posing with dripping orange hands.  Surprisingly, my favorite shots happened to be of the artwork itself.  At the end of the session, before the paint was dry, I crawled all around the canvas, trying to find interesting angles from which to take a picture.

In choosing the photo for my website, I grudgingly eliminated three others that I really liked.  One had amazing glossy highlights that showcased the texture of the layered paint.  Another had great depth of field.  Two of them showed the sheer scale of the painting — the loops, squiggles, and drips are revealed to be quite complex.  But this one…  This one doesn’t have a lot of texture, almost no highlights, and just a bit of depth.  This one is about the color.

It only took a few days for the painting to dry, but we didn’t hang it up until months later.  I always felt a bit guilty about that; it was the longevity of my Post-It Note idea that monopolized the wall space…

Canon Digital Rebel XT
Date: 23 September 2005
Focal Length: 55mm
Shutter: 1/200 second
Aperture: F/5.6
ISO: 400
Photoshop: Negligible Auto Color adjustment

January 26, 2007

Nags Head Pier

Nags Head Pier

My grandparents have a cottage on the beach in Nags Head, North Carolina.  It’s one of the places I think of as “home,” and I try to get back there as often as possible.  Nags Head has grown up a lot in my lifetime — it’s actually quite crowded in the summer now — but photogenic scenes still abound.

As a kid, I was always given a downstairs or back room in the cottage.  On the last couple visits, however, I was given what I still consider to be an “adult” bedroom.  (Not because I was all grown up; I’m still in the third generation down on the totem pole!  I was simply the oldest family member visiting at the time.)  Other than my grandparents’ room, this is the only room facing the ocean.  At night you can open the windows and let the salt air and surf lull you to sleep.  Early in the morning, the sunlight pours into the room as the sun climbs up out of the ocean.

I’m not a morning person.  Given the choice, I’ll take my camera out of its bag for the latter golden hour.  I spent most of my last Nags Head vacation reading in the hammock.  I never built up the motivation to go out picture hunting.  But on my last morning there, that warm, bright sunlight came streaming in the windows and pulled me out of bed.  One last walk in the sand before heading off to the airport.

The Nags Head pier is only about a half mile down the beach from the cottage.  On a morning with a calm, featureless ocean and an empty expanse of sand, it was the only obvious photography subject.  I walked up to it, under it, right beside it, trying to find the best way to fit both it and the morning sun into frame.  I took about a dozen photos, varying the exposure and switching between portrait and landscape shots.  This was my favorite.

I like that the guy casting his pole creates a little bit of action for the scene (in the 8 MegaPixel original, you can just barely make out the fishing line.)  I like the small details, like the seagulls waiting on the rail, and the guy on the end of the pier with his pole pointed straight down.  Often, digital cameras add weird color gradients to pictures of the sun.  I love how the red and yellow rings came through on this one.

There was only one thing I didn’t like, and it was easily removed.  There used a small smudge in the sky above the cast fishing line.  I’m almost positive it couldn’t have been a fingerprint on the lens — the photos taken before and after this one are clean.  Perhaps it was a small bug, passing in front of my camera, I don’t know.  At any rate, Photoshop’s healing brush made quick work of it.  I also used Photoshop’s Level tools to darken the shadows just a tad.  It gives the photo just a little bit more of that silhouette feel.

Canon Digital Rebel XT
Date: 30 June 2006; 6:20am
Focal Length: 55mm
Shutter: 1/800 second
Aperture: F/5.6
Photoshop:  Levels adjustment, removed small, blurry smudge in sky

Jeez, I just realized that all the photos I’ve posted so far have some sort of body of water in them!  Well, except Moscow Thunderstorms, but even in that one you could argue that rain was in the background.  I gotta find a dry picture next week.