Friday, May 29, 2009

What's in the Sky?

Cloud Face

A photograph from a couple of weeks ago. I think I see a dragon's face in the clouds. Do you? It is more of an Oriental style dragon than a European style one if that helps.

As part of my learning how to use Photoshop, I purchased and have been using a couple of books. Brief reviews of them after the jump.

I have been using three books for educating myself on Photoshop CS4 and one for Lightroom 2. I have generally read them all of the way through, except for one, but they have all been instrumental in getting me up to speed on the applications.

Two of the books really form a nice set as they are written by the same author and are generally organized in a similar manner. The are The Adobe Lightroom 2 Book for Digital Photographers and The Adobe Photoshop CS4 Book for Digital Photographers by Scott Kelby and published by New Riders/Voices that Matter. If you have read any of Scott Kelby's books in the past, then you will be familiar with his conversational, straight to the point, step-by-step style. If you haven't then I will say that I find his style quite approachable and instructive. The only places were he wonders off on tangents are the chapter introductions which really serve only to break up what should be a monotonous subject matter. Taken together both books have served as good "kick-starters" to get oriented with the given applications and understand their capabilities. However, if you are looking for more textbook / reference style books, then these are not the books you are looking for. He doesn't linger too long on any given subject, but does give you the approaches and step-by-step methods he uses in his own image workflow and processing. I read these before the other books and found that they got me up to speed very quickly. You can download low-resolution samples off all of the images he uses in the book so you can follow along with him throughout the lessons.

The next book is Photoshop CS4 for Nature Photographers: A Workshop in a Book written by Ellen Anon & Josh Anon and published by Sybex. This book interested me as it focuses on using Photoshop CS4 with nature photography which is what a majority of my work has been thus far. I thought it might provide a bit more focus on those aspects of Photoshop CS4 that I would find useful then those areas that I wouldn't. Luckily, I was correct. It is a more traditionally written book than Mr. Kelby's. Which is to say that the prose is more lengthy and not as bullet-point oriented. It goes in to a bit more depth than Mr. Kelby's books which I appreciated. Still, the book is not boring to read and is written in a more modern, conversational style. It is definitely not a dry textbook style of presentation. It is well organized and includes a CD with sample images to use while following the lessons as well as several tutorial videos to help with some of the more important subjects such as making selections. The CD is compatible with both PCs and Macs. Another feature of the book is that it contains sidebars for people that are using the latest version of Photoshop Elements. These sidebars illustrate how similar results can be achieved in Elements' toolset. I thought this was a nice touch, but I am not certain that most Elements users would expect to find such information in a Photoshop CS4 book. Overall, I found the book to be a good compliment to Mr. Kelby's in that it goes into more detail in the areas that I am most interested in for nature photography.

The last book is Photoshop CS4: The Missing Manual by Lesa Snider King and published by Pogue Press/O'Reilly. The Missing Manual books are a series of technology books managed by New York Times' technology columnist David Pogue. They are intended to provide accessible, in-depth information on various technology subjects such as computer applications and devices. Many applications do not come with a manual these days or are packaged with a very minimal, bare-bones manual and/or a technophile oriented PDF file/help system. The Missing Manuals seek to bridge the gap the manufacturers leave in simply using an application and learning an application. I had the Missing Manual for Photoshop Elements 5 when and was impressed with it. Thus, I thought the CS4 version would be worth a look. Again, I was not disappointed. Photoshop CS4: The Missing Manual is a much larger book than the others that I have discussed here. It goes into much more detail than the other books and really does serve as the manual that Adobe didn't include in the box with Photoshop CS4. Like the other books here, it is written in an approachable style with amble directions and illustrations. Like Mr. Kelby's book you can download sample images to work on as you read through the book. If you only want to get get one book for Photoshop CS4, then this is probably the one that you want. It leaves no stone unturned in Photoshop, it is much more generally focused than the other books, and can serve has a reference manual that you pull off of the shelve when you get stuck on an image/technique.

I recommend each of these books. Indeed, I think I have learned different things from each of them as the authors' presentations and focus areas are just enough different that what one might gloss over, another will provide a useful insight in to.

Disclaimer: While I have provided links to the books on Amazon, I am not an Amazon affiliate. I don't get anything back from either Amazon, the writers or the publishers for reviewing the books. The links are simply provided for informational purposes. Where you purchase your books is entirely your decision.

Keep shooting.
Read more!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Color Corrected Image

Looking Glass Falls in Autumn 2

It is a slow week this week blog wise. I am still working on the histogram post. I am having trouble getting images of histograms for illustrations. It is difficult to discuss them without a visual reference. Plus, our plans fell through this past weekend. My parents had come up to visit and we planned to go to a local festival. However, it rained all weekend and we decided to stay in. We still had a good visit though, and that is all that really matters.

More after the jump.

One thing that I have been working on is a color corrected version of an image I took last Autumn. The photograph up top is the result of the color correction. The original had a slight blue cast to it that was particularly pronounced in the water itself. The original photograph is shown below for comparison.

Looking Glass Falls in Autumn

I had been wanting to make some prints of this image, but color cast had been getting on my nerves so I hadn't ordered any prints. I spent a few days on and off working on the image to remove the blue cast. At first I tried simple white balance adjustments. However, none of the adjustments made really satisfied me. While they corrected the water, the other colors were affected too much for my liking. Eventually, I used a combination of the HSL color range saturation and lightness adjustments. Those allowed me to target just the blue ranges leaving the other colors alone. Plus, I could use those other color ranges to put a little more pop into the colors that was lost by removing the blue tones globally. I am much more satisfied with the photograph now.

One other adjustment that gave me problems was sharpening. I had originally processed this in Nikon Capture NX 2. However, when I reprocessed it with Lightroom 2 / Photoshop I seemed to loose some fine detail and crispness that I had in the original version. I finally pulled out a couple of my Photoshop CS4 books and tried a couple of other sharpening methods and got results that I was much more pleased with. I'm not sure that the final image has quite as much detail as the Capture NX2 version, but it is so close now that it is hard for me to tell the difference.

Keep shooting

Read more!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day 2009

Old Glory at Patriot's Point

It is Memorial Day here in the US. It is the day that we set aside to remember the men and women who lost their lives in service to our country.

This photograph was taken a couple of months ago when my son and I visited the USS Yorktown memorial at Patriot's Point in Charleston, SC. The island of the Yorktown is visible in the background. Since this Yorktown was named in honor of the aircraft carrier which was sunk at the battle of Midway during WWII, I felt this photograph was a fitting image for today's post.

Always remember ...

Read more!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Have some fun

Dancin' in the park

Here is a picture of my son dancing to the pre-show music at the Movie in the Park the other day. He was having fun. These days we seem to always try to get the sharpest photographs possible. Sometimes, though, blurry pictures are better particularly when they convey movement or an emotion. Remember to try using slow shutter speeds at times. The blurs might be better than freezing something in mid-stride. Have fun ... blur a little!

Keep shooting.

Read more!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Sky with people!

People at the Park

I tend to be hesitate to take photographs of strangers. I'm not a people person and I never know how people will react if/when they see my camera pointed in their direction. Luckily, most people seem to assume that I'm with a local newspaper thus far so I haven't had any incidents with paranoids. This particular shot was taken on the wide angle of the particular lens in order to encompass the growing crowd underneath the sky. I think that it distorts the perspective sufficiently to give the impression of a large sky miles overhead. I took it lying down on our blanket and framed it with another blanket leading the eye into the frame. Of course, I'm not sure that I could have framed it without that blanket corner in the frame.

Keep shooting.

Read more!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

More Sky

Evening Sky

Another photograph of the evening sky over Barnett Park from this past Saturday. I tried to get some "evening" color in it, but the sky didn't light up with the reds and oranges I really wanted. Still, it was a beautiful sky that evening. I wanted to get a bit of foreground into the image as well, which is why the tops of some trees are visible. However, being right downtown there was a lot of junk I had to screen out. Thus, I'm not really sure if these trees add anything to composition or are just a distraction.

A little off-topic question. Would any of you readers be interested in reading more technical information here? For example, after yesterday's post I got to thinking about a post explaining the camera's histogram(s) and highlight warning displays. The reason that I haven't done so thus far is that I thought there were already numerous blogs and sites with that sort of information around. However, my style tends to be a bit more conversational, so I hope that I could simplify some of the more arcane features of our cameras and software. Any thoughts about that? Good idea? Bad idea? Let me know in the comments.

Keep shooting.

Read more!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Shooting the sky again

Sky over Spartanburg

We had such a nice sky while out at Barnett Park on Saturday, that I took lots of photographs of it. Like textures, they can be used as layers in Photoshop to provide a textured appearance to an image. They can also be used to replace "bad skies" in otherwise good images. Or, they can just be nice too look at by themselves. The trick to shooting the sky is to pay attention to your highlight warning / histogram to make sure that you are not over exposure large areas or areas of important detail. Under exposure, negative exposure compensation, etc. are generally necessary here. Slight to moderate under exposure tends to saturate the colors in the sky quite nicely. Again, pay attention to your histogram to make certain that you do not completely under expose the sky and loose import details.

Keep shooting.

Read more!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Rainbow Arc

Rainbow Arc

We went to a see a movie at Barnett Park in Spartanburg. This is the second year that the Hub City Church has hosted Movies at the Park there. It is a monthly event during the Spring and Summer to raise money for some charities. We stopped by KFC to pick up dinner, ate on the grass in the park, and enjoyed the evening. The weather forecast was for rain and while we had a couple of drizzles early on, the rain held off until after the movie and everyone was getting back in their cars. The movie this month was Kung-Fu Panda. All of the kids seemed to enjoy it. I enjoyed it as I had not seen it yet.

A small branch of a rainbow appeared briefly after the drizzle had abated. Very few people seemed to notice it though. I took several shots of it with and without the polarizing filter. A polarizing filter can help accentuate a rainbow as the light from it is naturally polarized. Plus, a little color boosting during development helps out too.

Keep shooting.

Read more!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Good Ol' Days?

Antiqued Store Fronts

The texture image that I posted yesterday inspired me to try something that I had been thinking about for sometime now. I have been taking photographs of interesting textures so that I could use them as elements in other projects or images. For instance, they could make an interesting background for other photographs in a photo-book, or they can be used as layers in other images. The last is what I did with today's "photograph". Hit the jump to read more about it.

I started with a photograph of storefronts taken in downtown Spartanburg. Shown below:

Store Fronts

I opened a copy in Photoshop and converted it to black & white using an adjustment layer. In the B&W adjustment layer, I darkened the reds and blues to get some more contrast and pop to them. I also added the sepia tint, but selected a lighter tone than Photoshop's default as I thought the default looked to ... well, bad. Then I added a Curves adjustment layer to lighten the image overall to get the highlights closer to the blown out feel you see in old photograph. Finally, I added an edge vignette using the Lens Distortion filter again to get a similar effect to what is seen in vintage photographs.

With the photograph of the stores itself converted the way I wanted it to be, I turned to adding the in the "damage" effect to the image. I did this using the photograph from yesterday's post of the decorative stonework. The veining in that image looked to me like the water damage you might expect to see in a mishandled vintage photograph.

I opened the stone work photograph in Photoshop. Next, I selected the entire photograph using Ctrl+A and pasted it into the Store Front image as a new layer on top of the other layers. Of course, the stone photograph now blocked the store front photograph. I blended the two of them together via the opacity, fill, and blending mode settings. Initially, I set the blending mode to Overlay, then dropped the opacity down to about 40% and the fill down to about 50%. The effect seemed close, but not quite right. As I looked at it on my monitor, I released that one problem was that the veining in the stone work was white on a dark background. This gave the opposite effect than you would expect. To correct it, I selected the stone work photograph again then inverted it. This changed it to dark veining/streaks on a lighter, mottled background much closer to what I was wanting from the texture overlay. From here I just played around with the blending mode, opacity, and fill settings until I got an effect I liked. In the end, the texture uses the Hard Light blending mode, an opacity of 20-25% and a fill around 50%.

This was really just a quick trial intended to familiarize myself with the process. I like it though. I'll have to keep this technique in mind in the future. The only way that you really learn tools like Photoshop is to play around with them. Preferable when you don't have an important deadline breathing down your neck ... although that can certainly be a learning situation as well. ;-)

Keep shooting.

Read more!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Shoot some textures

Verde Antique

Sometimes the textures of an object appeals to me. This decorative stonework is on the facade of a downtown building. I shot hoping to emphasize the veining throughout the stone and to bring out some of the green as well. Something like this could be used as a background texture for a weathered or antiqued look. Thinking about that just now gave me an idea. I'll have to fire up Photoshop later today.

Keep shooting.

Read more!

Friday, May 8, 2009

More Architecture

A bit of Green

Another architecture shot from downtown Spartanburg. I could spend days photographing the details of buildings in towns. Oddly enough, I had never wanted to be an architect, but now I really enjoy the craftsmanship put into older buildings like this one. Professional photographers frequently say to shoot what you love. I'm not sure that I necessarily love old buildings, but I do admire some of them. I guess I'll keep photographing them. Who knows, someday I might actually get good at it. ;-)

Edit: I just found an article and slideshow about the National Trust for Historic Preservation's 11 most endangered historic places. Maybe these snapshots of mine can actually serve a purpose? Something for me to think about.

Keep shooting.

Read more!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Spartanburg Architecture

W in the Sky

There are are a lot of interesting architectural details in the older buildings in downtown Spartanburg. I thought that this "W" inset was unique and it seemed to accent the blue sky and cloud above it. Many of the buildings now house different businesses than when they were first built making from some interesting juxtapositions. Quite a few of them are also empty. Skeletons from before the move out of the city center. I hope that many of the these older buildings will be reused as it would be a shame to loose these kinds of links to the past.

Keep shooting

Read more!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Family Fun

Family Fun Area

A view down Church Street at the Family Fun area of Spring Fling 2009. They had bounce castles and various, small rides for the kids to enjoy.

Keep shooting

Read more!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Spring Fling 2009

DiscConnected Frisbee Dogs

We went out to Spring Fling on Sunday. One of the shows we watched was the DiscConnected Frisbee Dogs demonstration. It was a lot of fun. My son especially enjoyed it. The dog in the photograph above was rescued when it was a puppy. It had been so badly abused that it still has two metal rods in one of it's back legs. I don't know about you, but I couldn't jump like that right now and I don't have any metal rods in my legs. After the show, my son wanted to get his picture taken with this particular dog. I don't have the photograph at the moment as my wife was with him at the time and used his camera. I had wandered off to see some other parts of the festival.

I will be posting more photographs from the festival throughout the week.

Keep shooting.

Read more!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Sunday Best

White Spire in Blue and Green

Sunday seemed like an appropriate day to post this image taken while we were in downtown Spartanburg for the bike races.

Keep shooting.

Read more!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Bike Race

Faces in the Peleton

Here are a few photographs from the Spartanburg Regional Bicycle Races.

More after the jump.

Women's Leader

Men's Leader

Into a turn

Out of a Turn

Keep shooting.
Read more!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Some times the camera is right


We had a fun time at the Spartanburg Regional Classic Pro Bicycle Races Friday evening. We got to see the women's category 3&4/Junior's race and most of the men's category 3&4 race. It was a pleasant evening with a nice breeze/wind. The announcer said that it was about 15 mph at times. It was blowing right down the main straight aways for the course. Thus, the riders had either a 15 mph tail wind or a 15 mph head wind. The part of the course with a hill had the head wind of course. Still, some of the men we saw race were hitting up to 35 mph. The course was a 1 km circuit through downtown around the Denny's corporate building. The men's race we saw was a 30 km race. The women's was a 25 km race. It was fun to see it in that kind of setting though. However, there were not very many spectators.

More after the jump.

Overall, I'm happy with some of the images I got from this outing. The shot above though kind of had a story to it. You see, I was actually trying to line up a shot of the racers passing by the review stand for the next lap. However, the camera decided to focus on this police officer and child that were just a bit in front of me. It was as if the camera was saying, "No you dumby! THIS is the shot you really want!". Luckily, I recognized the moment for what it was and shot off a couple of quick frames. It didn't last very long and was underexposed. However, the camera was right. It was the shot I wanted. It seems to capture the spirit of the event. That being the community coming to town to enjoy an event together. The child is watching the racers approach and the police officer seems to be watching over him. I know it looks like she's holding the boy, but the mother was actually holding him just out of the frame and behind the officer. Fortunately, it wasn't so badly under exposed that I couldn't recover it. That is one of the reasons I shoot in RAW (NEF) format. You have more latitude and information in the file. It was under exposed because I had the exposure set for the distant riders who were in the bright afternoon sunlight. The moment with the child and officer, who were in shade, was so quick that I didn't have time to adjust the shutter speed to get a proper exposure on them.

Still, I'm quite pleased with how it turned out. Pay attention to your viewfinder. Sometimes what you see might not be want you want to see in it, but sometimes it might be even better than what you want. Keep your eyes and mind open for those fleeting moments you can't plan.

More shots of the race to come.

Keep shooting.
Read more!

At the Park

At the Park.

Well, I had an eventful morning. While I was getting myself some breakfast, my wife screamed as she was walking into the computer office. At first, I thought that she had seen another mouse as we've had one for awhile now that knows how to avoid all of the traps I set out for it. I swear that I think it's name is Jerry. Anyway, that wasn't what had startled her. It was a critter of the slithier variety. All that I saw of it was a small tail going behind a bookcase. Once I found where it was and that it wasn't going to move right away, my wife and son were able to leave house. Then, it was just me and the critter. I cleared out a the area around where it was, made a plan and gathered my supplies/weapons. I don't know what kind it was, but it was a baby. I successfully got it out of the house and onto the carport. It wasn't happy at all during this as you can imagine, but it couldn't get any traction on the concrete. Thus, it was easy to deal with it because I didn't want it coming back inside. I'm glad that it wasn't any larger though as I probably would have had a harder time getting it out of the house. Anyway, I owe it all to my weapons of choice: a toilet brush, a garden wind chime (think long skinny metal pole) and a bicycle tire pump. Am I armed and dangerous, or what?

Anyway, I didn't think to get any photographs of the excitement. So, today's image is from yesterday's trip to the park with my son. It was a nice day with pretty clouds in the sky. I thought it would be a good change of pace for us to go out to one of the parks inside of straight home to the TV. My son liked that idea and picked Cleveland Park here in Spartanburg. The photograph above is of him sitting on a bench enjoying the fresh air while I was photographing some flowers. Yeah, more flower shots are on the way ;-) , but I did try to get some interesting ones plus, I got some nice abstracts from around the park as well. All-in-all a fun afternoon out with my son. Can't ask for much more that that.

The town's Spring festival is today and this weekend. There is a bike race this afternoon and evening that we might go to. Then there is the general street festival this weekend. The weather forecast is for thunderstorms, but I am hopeful that they will be isolated and not continuous. If they hold off, there should be even more things to share next week.

Keep shooting.

Read more!