Friday, October 31, 2008

A couple of Freebies

Bald Rock Panorama

This panorama was taken from the Bald Rock overlook on US Highway 276. It is comprised of three overlapping images taken with the wide-angle lens. I then used the new Microsoft Image Composite Editor to stitch them together into one image. It is a very simple utility to use. There are a handful of different algorithms you can choose from depending on if you took the images by rotating in one spot as with a tripod, or if you panned side-to-side as if you were moving in a vehicle. You can also crop the image as necessary. All in all I was quite impressed with it. A couple of cons that I noticed is that it didn't support RAW file types so you have to convert to TIFF or JPEG prior to stitching them together. Plus, it doesn't support the Mac OS. Still it is free, easy to use, and gives good results. Just a note, Microsoft Research is the same group that made Photosynth. Also, check out their Worldwide Telescope project.

Another free application that I recently found is Picturenaut. It is used to create High Dynamic Range (HDR) images. HDR images are created by taking several photographs of the same scene with each photograph being exposed differently. You then use a special application to blend them together to produce an image with greater dynamic range than can be captured with just one photograph. HDR photography has really started to pick up steam in the past couple of years and there are several mature applications that are commonly used for it. However, the choices available for those of use wanting to try HDR imagery without purchasing expensive software were quite few. Picturenaut is one such application. I have just started playing around with it and don't have any final, presentable images yet. However, so far it does most everything that I want for now. It is an open-source application with a small community growing around it. I hope to have some presentable images processed with it in a week or two.

I found out about Picturenaut as it was included on a CD in a book that I am currently reading. The HDRI Handbook by Christian Bloch is a fairly technical book that delves into imaging technologies in general and HDR techniques and uses in video, still photography and computer graphics/animation. While it does get into technical details in some chapters, the reader never really feels bogged down by them. Well, at least I didn't, but that might just be my science background coming out. If you want to have a better understanding of the theories as well as general applications of HDR imaging, then I do recommend the book. As mentioned a CD is included that contains the Picturenaut HDR application for Windows operating systems, an HDR application for MACs, and sample images you can practice with along with the reading.

Tonight is Halloween. Stay safe if you are going out.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Mountains and Waterfalls

Looking Glass Falls

Well, it is Autumn and that means it was time to head up into the mountains for the annual color hunt. We went a different route this year. Instead of heading up to Asheville, NC first; we took US Highway 276 up the escarpment toward Brevard, NC. Along the way we stopped at the Bald Rock overlook and Caesar's Head State Park in South Carolina. A big rain system was moving through the area and gave us equal amounts of dramatic clouds, overcast skies and rain until finally clearing out after lunch. Then we went through Pisgah National Forest to the Blue Ridge Parkway. We headed south on the Parkway for a while, but the higher elevations there were heavily clouded so we turned around and head back toward Asheville, NC. We had lunch at the Mount Pisgah Picnic Area on the Park and the front started to clear out afterward. Finally we traveled to Chimney Rock, NC before heading home. The seasonal colors had not yet started at Chimney Rock. Most of the trees there were still green.

The photograph above is from Looking Glass falls in Pisgah National Forest near Brevard. It is easily accessed as it is right along the highway through Pisgah National Forest. A couple more after the jump.

Bald Rock Panorama
This is the first panoramic photograph that I have made by stitching together separate photographs. This particular image was made from three over lapping photographs. I used Microsoft's free Image Compositing Engine software to merge the photographs together. It was very easy to use, and I like the results and that fact that it was free.

The Illuminated Bush
There was a small rainbow at the top of Caesar's Head when we were there. A light cloud was coming over the mountain and into the foothills below where it caught the sunlight and gave us this part of a rainbow. It was almost close enough to touch.

Colorful Blue Ridge Mountains
A shot of the Autumn colors exploding in a valley along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Lake Lure
This shot was taken from the parking lot of the Chimney Rock Park's Visitor Center. I found it interesting that the trees had not started changing colors here yet while they have already started back home.

There are more photographs from the trip over on the Zenfolio gallery.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Family Events (updated)

Sitting Down

Note: I had clicked the "Publish Post" button a couple of times instead of the "Save Post" button. Just in case you saw the post before I had finished writing it.

I was under the weather last weekend and didn't get out of the house for any photography outings. However, my son did have a couple of things early in the week where I managed to capture a few photographs.

First was his Cub Scout meeting. His den has been learning how to handle, raise, lower and fold the American Flag. This week they walked to Connor's elementary school which is just a block away from where the den meets and practiced raising the flag and lowering the flag on the school's flag pole. Since I take my camera most places I go, I decided to practice some nighttime flash photography. There was really only one shot from that evening that I liked, and it could be better. However, it does capture the moment of these boys learning something that many of us take for granted because other people do it for us. Here is the shot:

Folding the Flag

More after the jump.

For this photograph, I did several things that are kind of different from what most people would do. First, I held my flash unit off to the side with my left hand. I tried to hold it a bit above the boys' heads, but not pointed directly at them. Basically, I was trying to "feather" the light so that they wouldn't be too over exposed compared to the background. I used my Stofen diffuser on the flash to try to soften it as much as possible, and I triggered it with the camera's built-in flash set to "Commander mode". The built-in flash was only providing the light signals to the external flash. It didn't supply enough light to add to the exposure.

The trick in this kind of setting is having a slow enough shutter speed to get the background light to expose so that the subjects aren't in a sea of black while keeping the shutter speed fast enough so the subjects won't be blurred. The flash will freeze the subjects, but there could still be some motion blur due to the background, street lights. I also used the wide angle lens for these shots so that I would have a smaller focal length to minimize camera shake blurring. The longer the focal length of the lens, the more magnified camera shake becomes. Thus, for this shot I used a combination of several things: ISO 800 to increase the camera's sensitivity in order to allow the exterior lights to expose the background while keeping reasonable shutter speeds, external off-camera flash held at arms length to the left and above the camera, slow (1/20 second) shutter speed for background exposure, slow synch/rear curtain flash to aid the background exposure, and a wide angle lens i.e. a very short focal length of 17mm to minimize camera shake as I was holding the camera with one hand and the flash with the other. The wide angle lens is also why the vertical lines are going all over the place. If you look closely, the verticals in the wall behind the den leader are vertical. However, if you look at the flag pole it is tilted at an angle. This is due to perspective distortion of pointing the camera down with a wide angle lens. Actually, I suppose that it will happen with most lenses. The wider angle focal lengths just magnify the effect more.

Looking at the photograph and thinking about it, I could have done some things better. I could have use an umbrella or a soft-box on a light stand. This would have softened the flash better and given better light coverage. However, I don't have stands, umbrellas or soft-boxes yet. Plus, I'm not sure if I could have used them very well here as I was constantly moving around to get different angles as the boys' practiced with the flag.

I could have also used some colored gel filters on the flash and set my camera's white balance for the exterior lighting. Again, I don't have any gel filters yet so I had to make due with what I had without them. The reason the gel filters and white balancing would be important here is because of the color cast you see from the exterior lights. If you look back at the photograph, notice how the background is sort of an orange to reddish color but the boys' and the flag seem to be "normal" colored. That is because the flash and exterior lights are not the same "color balance" and since the camera was set to "see" the flash's light as being white the camera "saw" the exterior lights as a different color.

Our eyes can compensate for these sorts of color difference remarkably well. Cameras, however, record the actual colors of the lights and unfortunately all types of lights emit different colors of the spectrum to a greater or lesser degree. When photographers talk about white balance, what they are discussing is the variation of the color of the light from a "white" light, i.e. a colorless light. The process of color balancing lights is to determine what you have in the environment, what light is going to be dominate and filtering the other lights to get them into the same color range so you don't end up with odd color casts in different parts of the photograph. This is something that all photographers and videographers deal with to great or lesser degrees. It can be as simple as putting a colored gel filter over your only flash, or as complex as geling windows and multiple light types for a movie set. Color balancing is one of the reasons professional photographers charge what they do. It is part of the technical knowledge they have learned and can apply to situations that an untrained photographer wouldn't consider. In other words, it is why Joe McNally shoots for National Geographic and I shoot for myself and this blog. ;)

Anyway, I suppose that is enough about that photograph. Connor is also in his school's Fitness Club. Earlier this week there was a Red Ribbon Fun Run that several of the area elementary schools participated in. The Red Ribbon events are part of the local police and sheriff's departments' anti-drug and alcohol awareness programs. This event was sponsored by the local YMCA chapter and was held at the track facility of the South Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind here in Spartanburg.

The kids were divided into groups based on grade levels as well as boys and girls. Connor's group ran a 400m which was one lap around the track, a 100 yard/meter dash, and a long jump. All of the kids got red ribbons for participating in the event. There were no awards for the winners of the events since it was a "Fun Run" and a track meet.

The event was scheduled for after school. So, I was shooting with contrasty mid-afternoon sunlight. To compound this, I was normally on the shadow side of the kids due to the arrangement of the track and the events. In the end, Connor had fun and I got some nice memento photographs. My favorite of them is the lead photograph at the top of this post. Here are a couple more of them:

Connor Finishing the 400m

Special Athlete

This runner was one of the students at the SC School for the Deaf and Blind. He was being cheered for as he crossed the finish line for the 400m.

3rd Grade Girls' 100 yd/m Dash
This shot was when the 3rd grade girls were running the first of their 100 yd/m dashes. They were on the other side of the field from me so I had to use my telephoto zoom lens.

There are a few more shots from the Fun Run over on the Zenfolio site.

Thank you for reading all of the way down to here.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Going W...I...D...E

Reedy River Falls from the Liberty Bridge

I finally broke down and picked up a Sigma 10-20mm ultra wide angle lens. The local photography store had it at an exceptional price, and it is a lens that I will need for developing my architectural / Real Estate portfolio. I have use it a couple of times now, including yesterday when I was in Greenville while running some errands. So, I took my camera with me and went to Falls Park to test the lens out on the Liberty Bridge. The bridge provides a great view of the Reedy River Falls. However, I had never been able to get the bank to bank vantage that illustrates the sweep of the falls. The new Sigma 10-20mm can easily get the bank to bank shot and then some. As the Liberty Bridge forms an arc across the river, it is almost possible to get both ends of the bridge in the shot at the widest setting.

Anyway, this is going to be a fun lens with so much potential. I am chomping at the bit to take it up into the mountains for some Autumn landscapes. That will probably be in a couple of weeks from now. I'll leave you with a couple more keepers from yesterday's brief excursion and test session.

Shadow Arch

Across the Reedy River

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Busy Weekend

Hub City Jam (Oct., 2008)

This past weekend was fairly busy. I went to what I thought would be an antique, European car show at the BMW plant. However, I had the wrong date. It wasn't last weekend, it is this coming weekend. Oh well.

However, the Hub City Jam had their annual get together in Morgan Square. There weren't as many musicians there as last month, but it was still a good, relaxing thing to do in the afternoon.


There was also an art installation down on Main Street near where I parked. It was using renewable and recycled materials to build tipis as statement about modern building waste. It was titled "Tent(ative)" and was the work of a couple of Hub-Bub's artists-in-residence.

Sunday after the jump

On Sunday, the Spartanburg City Fire Department held an open house at their main facility in City Hall downtown. It was an event to raise awareness of fire safety, to provide fire safety education to children, and to provide a community out-reach about the Fire Department. They had quite a few activities for the kids. Plus, there was free food and drinks which is always a big draw. We particularly enjoyed the fire station tour and talking with the firefighters about the trucks and their equipment. Connor had fun with all of the activities; he was quite excited the entire time we were there.

Hose Practice

Fireman Connor

Repelling Demonstation

Ladder 1

Memorial on Ladder 1

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Playing Around Again

Cotton Grass

I went to Cleveland Park near Wofford College at lunch time. I had been getting stir crazy and needed some fresh air. On this visit I concentrated on the lake area near the Event House and Helvetia Island. In particular I thought I would practice some wide-angle compositions for both close-ups and scenic images. I'm not sure I'm completely happy with the photographs, but I still had a good time and it did help to clear my head a bit.

The shot above is from the edge of the park's overgrown, storm water retention pond. The pond feeds into the parks small lake, but is overgrown with cat-tails and other wet-environment vegetation such has the cotton grass.

A couple more after the jump.

Red Leaves Under Clouds

I was surprised that there was still some Spring-like color in the park. These bushes on the island had vibrant red leaves. You can see how gray the clouds were at the time. I think it makes for an interesting contrast.

Storm Shelter

I processed this image of the gazebo on Helvetia Island to try to give it a feeling of sheltering from a coming storm. I'm not sure that it worked out, but there it is. I desaturated the colors in the areas around the gazebo and added a dark, edge vignette while leaving the full colors of the gazebo and the vista beyond it to attempt to draw the eye into the gazebo.

There are a couple more photographs from the outing over at the Zenfolio site if you are interested in seeing more.

This weekend could be a busy one. There is a European automobile show at the BMW Zentrum that could be interesting to visit. The annual Fall for Greenville event is taking place in downtown Greenville, SC. The Spartanburg Symphony is giving a concert for children at Twichell Auditorium at Converse College. And those are all on Saturday. I think there might be something happening on Sunday too, but it has slipped my mind at the moment.

Anyway, hope you enjoyed today's images. See ya next week, have a good weekend and ... keep shooting.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Festifall at Walnut Grove Plantation


This past weekend we went out to Walnut Grove Plantation. Walnut Grove is a Revolutionary War farmhouse that had been home to a couple of local Patriot heroes and a small raid by Loyalists. The plantation is now owned by the Spartanburg County Historical Association and they present a living history event on the grounds every fall. Part of the exhibitions is a battle reenactment. The reenactment itself is larger than the raid that occurred at the home, but it does give an idea of how such battles may have occurred.

The above photograph is one that I took during the battle reenactment. It is of the "British" drummer boy that was a "casualty" in this mock battle. I processed the photograph for more of an antique feel and to enhance the dramatic impact. Post processing is something that I'm trying to do more of and I'm pleased with how this one turned out. The original photograph is below for comparison.

Casualty (original)

The complete gallery of my selected images is of course over on my Zenfolio site.

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Friday, October 3, 2008

On the Edge

On the Edge

Yesterday I spent an hour at a local nature park called Hatcher Gardens. It was a beautiful afternoon: clear, cool, a good breeze. My favorite kind of weather. I ended up playing around with my 50mm lens again and got some interesting shots of the small waterfall in the park as well as some flower images. The waterfall was in a dark, shaded spot and I was using slow shutter speeds to blur the water. They are kind of abstract, but that was the effect I was going for. Sometime I will take a tripod and try to capture them the "correct" way.

He's a photograph of some of the flowers. There was some interesting contrasts between lighted and shadowed areas. Notice how the flower in the foreground is nicely backlit.

Pink Glow

That's it for today. There is a Revolutionary War re-enactment tomorrow that I hope to go to. I hope the weather is as nice tomorrow as it has been the past couple of days.

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Thursday, October 2, 2008

Blogging Blahs

Sunset on Lake Moultrie

I know that the posts have been sparse this week. I've just been in a bit of funk and haven't had anything to say. Sorry, I know that makes be a bad blogger. Hope to have something soon ... I hope.

Anyway, the above photograph was taken this past Spring at Lake Moultrie near Charleston, SC. It was the first time I had actually gotten to shoot a sunset. I used a graduated, neutral density filter to even out the exposures between the sky and the foreground. It was also the first time that I had used that filter. I think it turned out really well. I was pleased with several of the shots I got of the sunset. The sky certainly was agreeable and gave use plenty of nice colors and clouds for texture.

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