Visual Effects

At times like these, I wish I had the kind of job that could be blogged about.  I say this only because I have been spending way too many hours working the past few weeks and, as a result, am running out of more universally interesting things to write about.

Normally, I would have done enough shooting over the weekend to have brand new photos for you and stories to tell about them for the next five days.  Unfortunately, between my photography-free road trip on Saturday and working all day Sunday, I am out of new photos.

Even more frighteningly, I am nearly out of old photos I haven’t previously shared as well.

So, for today’s blog, I thought I would experiment with some old photos from our second trip to Mt. St. Helen.

It’s pretty amazing what can be done with a photo in even relatively simple photo editing software like Aperture, my personal favorite.  In today’s gallery, I’ve posted a series of photos that are quite similar.  I processed 3 exposures using the Photomatix HDR plug-in for Aperture and created two unique exports from Photomatix.  In the one, I used more natural-looking settings.  In the other, I used an “artistic” lighting effect that made the foreground and sky look lit differently.

Then, I used my standard post-processing adjustments on them in Aperture.  Mainly, I played with highlights and shadows and the levels.  Once this was done, I made a duplicate of each version and then tried something new.

The first image used a built-in effect for black and white with a red filter.  I also pulled the black point up–many greens disappeared into the shadows.  I experimented with different combinations of lifting the shadows and then raising the black point and finally settled on this one.  It’s dark and gloomy.  I hope it shows up OK for folks–sometimes photos look brighter to me on my iMac than they do after posting to my blog.

The other crazy thing I did was with the second duplicate.  I played with tint and saturation and took the photo to the point where I thought my eyes would bleed if I looked at it any longer.  Then, I backed it off to the brink of pain.

I have no explanation for why I did this.  It just looks too purple when I look at it now.  Perhaps I thought it was time to start exploring the possibilities instead of remaining stuck in reality.

Wouldn’t it be nice if it only took a slider control to add saturation, luminance, and vibrancy to real life?

Honorable Mention

As many of you may know, last month, for the first time ever, I submitted photos in the local club’s quarterly photo contest.  My goal was to get feedback because the judges often provide comments on each image.

After much deliberation, the photos I chose were the three that I had the most visceral response to.

Molten Sky was my favorite.  It was one of those mornings when you get up and think it’s just another day and then step outside and the sky is doing crazy stuff.  I had to grab my tripod and camera and shoot.  I’ve never seen a sky that looks like molten lava before–or since.

As I might have predicted, my favorite image was the judge’s least favorite.  In fact, in the score sheet of all the nearly 100 photos submitted, it wasn’t pretty close to the bottom.  What was disappointed me was that the judges provided no comments on this image, so I still don’t know why my taste is so different from the judges’.

The second image in the gallery was my second favorite shot.  This was taken right around sunset one winter night when the rays of the sun shot across the clouds, creating sunset stripes in the Southern sky.  This was an image I took to a photography club critique and did some post-processing on based on feedback from other club members.  Had they not suggested I submit this image to the club contest, I would not have submitted any images.

I like this image, but I actually like some of my other shots I didn’t submit better.  Having no discernment between “contest-worthy images” and not-so-worthy images, I defaulted to the recommendation of the folks who gave me pointers on editing it.  It scored just a point or so below the top 10 images.  However, still no comments.

The third image was one I really had a hard time selecting.  I shot so many amazing images of the sky that evening.  I had about 30 shots from the same evening that turned out really well.  I guess that’s what happens when the sky does amazing things–it’s hard not to get a good shot.  There was a dramatic sunset in the western sky, the reflection of that sunset in the eastern sky, a double rainbow, and a rain storm that blew through in a line all in the same shoot.

I guess since I’ve never seen a sunset reflected in the clouds like this one before, I chose this shot, hoping it would be a bit more unique.  It got an honorable mention, meaning it scored in the top 10.  More importantly, the judges did provide comments for the top 10 images.

Unfortunately, the comments were a little vague for me.  They liked the color and the lighting that draws attention to the sky over the rest of the image given the theme of the contest.

Maybe photo contests aren’t the best way to get critiques.

Big Dog in a Flash

Today, a mysterious brown box showed up outside our door.  I hadn’t ordered anything and yet a package arrived.  The address was hand written like maybe it came from someone we knew.  It was addressed to both my husband and me.  When Pat came home, we opened it together.  It turned out, it was a gift for Tisen!

Tisen’s very thoughtful grandma sent him his own dog friend!  This is not just a little squeaky toy to add to his collection.  No, this is a life-sized stuffed dog that’s so incredibly soft, I tried it out as a pillow.  It makes a great pillow.

Since Tisen was at puppy daycare when we opened the package, we set Big Dog up on the couch with Lion.  When Tisen came home, he ran to the couch, grabbed Big Dog and threw him on the floor, snagging Lion in the process.  I guess he thought Big Dog had no business playing with Lion.

After a while, Tisen started carrying Big Dog around, which was pretty amusing because Big Dog is about the same size as Tisen.  Eventually, he settled down on the couch with Big Dog and discovered just how comfy a pillow Big Dog makes.

This gave me an opportunity to get a little portrait practice in.  Having just gotten my new flash before leaving for Columbus last week, I hadn’t tried it at home yet.  Interestingly, when I use my monolights (which can only be turned down to 1/8 power), Tisen gets up and leaves.  With my flash on an umbrella stand and turned down to 1/64 power, he seems to actually pose for me instead.  I could be onto something.

One of the challenges of properly exposing Tisen is that he is black and white.  As you can see from the last photo (taken with my iPhone), the whites tend to blow out and/or the blacks get clipped.  This is fine for an iPhone photo, but not really what I’m shooting for (a pun!).  I started with the umbrella on the white side of his face first because the black side of his face was in lots of ambient light.  Then, I tried speeding up the shutter to exclude the ambient light and moving the flash to the black side of his face.

One discovery from this experiment:  pleather makes a very bad background for shooting with a flash–the glare makes it pretty obvious that a flash is in use.  That said, you should now be able to tell which of the photos were taken with ambient light only and which of the photos used the flash on the umbrella stand.

Tisen was not too concerned about the glare.  He was just happy to have something soft and cushy to snuggle with.  He decided he liked Big Dog so much that when we went out to pick up a pizza, Tisen grabbed Big Dog for the ride.  Here’s a video of Tisen with Big Dog for your enjoyment.

Home is Where the Holstein Is

I spent four days back in Columbus for both work and personal activities, although I’m afraid I had too tight a schedule to see everyone I wanted to see.

There was one “person” who was particularly upset that I didn’t manage to work him into my schedule for four days straight:  Tisen.

My poor boy suffered greatly from the lack of a mother.  No one told him (in a high, happy voice) he’s the best dog in the whole world for four days.  No one rubbed his armpits in the exact spot he likes so well.  He didn’t get to take any of his toys with him on walks. And no lap was acceptable to rest his head on while mine wasn’t an option.

In spite of all our efforts to create a bond between Tisen and Daddy so that Tisen would be OK without me, he was a very sad boy indeed.

Over the past few weeks, Pat has become the sole feeder of the dog.  The good news is that even though Tisen was depressed, he kept eating for the most part.  But, he wouldn’t cuddle with Daddy on the couch.  As long as I was gone, if Pat called Tisen to come lay with him, Tisen would run and hide, sometimes even going to the bedroom and getting in his crate.

Pat was worried enough about Tisen’s strange behavior, including sleeping most the day, that he didn’t take Tisen to doggy day care, thinking Tisen wasn’t up for it.

As I drove home, I could think of little else besides my poor boy suffering from my absence.  I confess I may have driven a little faster than was prudent.

When I got to our door, I knocked loudly, but I heard nothing inside.  I dug out my key and swung the door wide, calling “Hello?” No one.  I walked the rest of the way into the apartment to discover it was empty.

Two friends I didn’t get to see in Columbus had stopped in to see us at home.  Pat was out walking with them and Tisen and hadn’t heard his phone buzzing when I’d called.  So much for my emotional homecoming.

Instead, I drove over to where they were to pick them up.  Tisen seemed not to recognize me at first, but then he started running at me and licking my face.  Later, our friends commented about how much perkier he seemed now that I was home.

Currently, I am laying on the bed typing this.  Tisen dozes on a blanket on the floor right next to the bed.  He dozed off for a while, but then started awake and immediately lifted his head to check and see if I was still here.

Since I didn’t have a chance to take any new photos tonight, I pulled together a montage of Tisen photos.  While many are not such great images, they all helped get me through the four days of separation.

Eating Virtual Space

I mentioned before that I am volunteering to help organize a fund raising event for S.O.A.R.  Well, I decided to donate a matted and framed photo for the silent auction.  It seemed like a simple enough thing to do.  After all, I have thousands of photos, a handful of ones I actually like, and the matting and framing part can be taken care of inexpensively.

But, today, I spent time culling out the handful of photos I would consider hanging on my wall.  Then, I pulled in the few that were of birds (since S.O.A.R. is all about birds) and a couple from hang gliding.  It’s a difficult thing to judge.  First, I have to step back and see photos the way normal people see photos.  It’s hard.

I find myself noticing when the rule of thirds hasn’t been applied and trying to decide if it works anyway.  Then I notice when bits of things in the foreground have popped into the frame when I’d rather they weren’t there.  Then I try to decide if the color looks off or if it’s just my imagination.  In the end, I’m down to 16 photos I will put in front of Dale, the woman running the show, to see if she thinks any of them will inspire bids.  If not, we can always make it a raffle item.

The process of filtering through the past 8 months of photos (thank goodness I stuck to the Chattanooga theme–otherwise I’d be going through 9 years of photos!) was an interesting one.  First, I realize how little time I’ve actually spent doing wildlife photography, supposedly my preferred form of the art.  Second, I realized how I don’t like to choose.  I end up with collections of extremely similar photos where the lighting is slightly different and the angle might change just a hair, but I can’t come to a conclusion as to which one I like better.

I have gotten quite strict with myself on that point.  I am trying to limit the number of photos I keep.  Given that most of my pictures are over 13 MB (and I’m shooting with an older camera–I can’t imagine what will happen the next time I upgrade), I’ve run my 120 GB hard drive on my laptop out of space more than once.  I now have a collection of disk drives lingering about in various stages of fullness.  I am constantly worried that my  2 TB backup drive will fill and overwrite some critical photo I’ll never get back.  Not sure what it would be critical for, but who knows?

What amazes me is for the number of photos I have and the amount of disk space I’m maintaining, there are so few pictures I really like.  There are even fewer I would say I’m proud of.  I wonder if this is the unintended consequence of digital photography or if film photographers have the same problem?

Ghosts Among Us and Family Fun

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, a few creatures were stirring, using a mouse.

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, stuffed to the brim ‘cuz Mom and Dad were already there.

The children were texting all over the house, while clicking on iPhones in browsers with a mouse.

And I with my camera, perched on a tripod, stealing photos, but leaving the iPods.

When off of the couch my nephew did rise, creating a blur right before my eyes,

I sprang from my seat to see what was the matter, adjusting the camera before my nephews could dash, I opened the shutter and turned off the flash.

The movement of people and an open shutter created enough ghosts to make me shudder.

When what to my jaded self did appear, but silliness, laughter, and even a happy tear.

While photography is a solitary past time for most photography addicts, there are certain effects that are just good family fun.  This Christmas, I set up my camera on my tripod (since I finally bought a good one, I thought I should get some use out of it) and used my remote to occasionally snap photos.  However, because I wanted to be stealthy about my shooting, I didn’t use the flash.  As a result, I had to use a slow shutter speed in the low light around the tree.  While I’m not sure my family has enough photo-tolerance to hold still for pictures anyway, the fact that they often didn’t know when the camera was shooting prevented them from trying.

As a result, I got a bunch of blurred shots that lead us to downright silliness in trying to create ghost images in the shots.

This turned into a game of trying to create the best ghost effect in the shot, at least for everyone except my oldest nephew, who was too busy texting to be silly.  The two photos included here were the best of the lot.  Both pictures have 7 people in them.  I like the first one because the “ghost” images on the left look like they’re dancing (or perhaps trying to dance but not exactly succeeding).  I like the second one because my youngest nephew successfully created a ghost boy looking over the shoulder of my older nephew.

Who knew photography could replace charades for family games?