A Cozumel Seascape, Before and After

I thought this would be interesting to some folks. Especially those who have yet to plunge into the wide and wacky world of post-processing their images.

What comes out of the camera is really just the first step in photography, as you will see in my example.

Caveat: If you are just shooting JPEGs and you have your menu selections dialed in on your camera, it is possible to get good images straight out o’ the camera without doing any further work. For example, setting your White Balance to, say, “Warm” instead of “Auto” will generally give things a warmer look. You may also have something like a “Creative Style” setting in which you can select, say, “Vivid” which will enhance contrast and saturation.

The problem is, you don’t have any control over the process as it is all done automatically in the camera. To ALL your photos.

Recommendation: Shoot RAW and do your own post-processing if you really want to tweak a photograph to your personal taste.

To wit:

Here is an example of what my raw file looked like straight out of the camera with no manipulation. And here I must insert an important comment on exposure: I have my LCD display set to show me the histogram (which is based on your JPEG picture selections, by the way). When I look at the LCD, I check two things…first, basic composition. But, more importantly, I look at the histogram to make sure I haven’t totally blown important highlights and, ideally, the shadows aren’t smashed against the left wall either.

In this case, the darker tones in the histogram were just a hair’s width off of the left wall. On the right, I did have a tiny collection of highlights climbing the right wall–but only that area you see around the Sun and the Sun’s disc, which I thought was fine:

El Mirador, #15 (Original file). Cozumel, Mexico, 2017
El Mirador, #15 (Original file). Cozumel, Mexico, 2017

 

Pretty blah, eh? Now, if you had selected some fired up JPEG camera settings in your machine (mine are set at neutral) you might get a JPEG to come out a bit better, but this is difficult light. Note the dark shadows. Other problems…note the lack of contrast and the very minimal saturation of colors. And, yes, there is the slightly crooked horizon and the trash in the algae beds.

This, of course, is not what I was “seeing” in my mind’s hairy eyeball, so I took it into Lightroom, then Photoshop, for various adjustments…to make it match my “personal vision” as they say.

Here is the result:

El Mirador, #15. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017
El Mirador, #15. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017

 

What did I do? In brief…

–Some basic sharpening, and I clicked on the boxes to improve chromatic aberration and to make the standard lens corrections

–Used the Shadows slider to bring out detail in the dark areas of the foreground

–Straightened the horizon

–Cloned out the trash and the many dust spots from my dirty sensor

–Added a bit of contrast and saturation

–Ran it through one of my Tonal Contrast filters from Google Color Efex Pro

–Did a slight bit of burning and dodging here and there

That is a very condensed summary of what I did–all in about 15 minutes–to make the picture look much better.

Finally, know that I don’t particularly like post-processing and don’t consider myself very good at it. A true Photoshop guru would say my methods are sloppy and incomplete–in fact, they are just plain awful.

Point being, if I can do this, so can you. (And, yes, I plan on constantly improving my skills as time goes on!)

Color Seascapes: Cozumel, Mexico

El Mirador, #18. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017
El Mirador, #18. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017

 

Sorry about the lack of posts of late. We have been spending a lot of our emotional capitol recently and decided to drop off of the grid and out of the social media gerbil mill for ten days or so.

It was refreshing.

Enthused by a new environment, I did hoist my sleepy fanny perpendicular on nearly every morning in search of interesting sunrise sites, the above being one: El Mirador on the windy (Caribbean) side of the isle.

Some photography tips for this and other spots on Cozumel:

–First and foremost, the east area of the island, which I found most interesting, is theoretically off-limits before 6a.m. and after 7p.m., which will be a problem during certain times of the year for a photographer looking for good light. In the dark wee hours, you may run in to some reflectors stretched across the road next to a smallish warning sign that states the hours of access. (The sign actually says you can’t go into the southern and eastern areas between 6a.m. and 7p.m., but that is clearly a mistake.) It is easy enough to drive around the reflectors–they were unmanned when I encountered them–and continue on your way, but you could be taking a risk. The reason for the restriction (according to three different locals we asked) was that contraband and drug shipment activities were at one time an unpleasant reality in the relatively unpopulated areas (not so much now, apparently) and the local authorities didn’t want tourists inadvertently walking into some sort of Breaking Bad business transaction on one of the desolate beaches. I am not sure what the police would do if they found you and your tripod there outside of the posted hours but an educated guess would be that it would likely involve a fine. In my case, typically passing the check point at 5:40a.m. and arriving at my chosen photo op spots by 6a.m., I saw absolutely no one. YMMV!

–You will need a rental car (or scooter) to get out east and back during the “golden hours” of sunrise/sunset. We rented a car and had no close calls with other vehicles, people, iguanas, or crocodiles, although you have to be very alert when driving anywhere near San Miguel–motorcycles and scooters, like buzzing locusts, are everywhere. Note on car rental: The initial price will look very, very cheap. You’ll need to add on all the different required insurance policies, so you’ll likely end up paying $300.00 or even more for a week with a small economy car. It is worth it, though, if you need the photographic flexibility.

–Remember all the usual salt water/beach precautions: Be careful about sand and salt spray getting in and on your equipment. Bring cloths to clean things up and for wiping off lenses. Many folks will use a clear filter to protect their lenses in these conditions. Take great care when changing lenses–reminder: the east side is the windy side.

–The rock around El Mirador and on the southeastern side of the island is SHARPLY sculptured limestone. If you fall on it, you could stab yourself to death, poke an eye out, bust a kneecap…or, at the very least, come up very scraped, bloodied, and humbled. So, wear some good shoes–and watch your step.

–Be ready to fill a memory card or two as you experiment with different wave combinations and shutter speeds. I tried everything from longer 30-second exposures with my 9-stop ND filter, to exposures short enough to freeze the water motion. I tended to prefer the 2-second to 1/8 of a second range because of the wonderful water effects this would often create. (The above image was shot at 1/4 second and f/22. Yeah, yeah, I know…diffraction and all. It does indeed have a negative effect on sharpness but I’m OK with it.)

–Expect to do a fair amount of cloning in post-processing due to the amount of trash that collects along tide line on top of the algae. Or, alternatively, you could just fill up a few bags with trash before you shoot.

–Other spots to consider: the tide pools at Chen Rio at Kilometer 44, and the interesting blow holes at Kilometer 32. El Mirador is at about Kilometer 34.

–In a future post, I’ll show one or two before and after post-processing comparisons using my raw files. You will see that I did a fair amount of lifting of shadows and dropping of highlights, cloning out of trash and water droplets, contrast and saturation increases, horizon straightening, and so on…to turn the images into what I saw on that morning!

Here are some examples of what I came up with on the different mornings I shot along the east coast…

First, here is an example pre-sunrise image. Sometimes there is very nice light, with more subtle colors, before sunrise, so plan accordingly. I liked arriving just as first light was approaching. This gave me time to play with longer shutter speeds (8 seconds in this case) as well as scope out the area:

El Mirador, #1. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017
El Mirador, #1. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017

 

Here is another pre-sunrise photograph taken on a different morning, this time with Venus above and also reflected in the foreground pool. I only saw the planet’s reflection later, during post. If I had noticed at the time, I would have moved slightly right so as to put the reflection just slightly to the right in the water. This was a 20-second exposure and the naked eye saw much less light than what you see here:

El Mirador, #30. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017
El Mirador, #30. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017

 

As the Sun comes up, your shutter speed will have to get shorter (unless you use filters), but this is a nice opportunity to try to catch waves in flagrante delicto, as in the following three examples–two into the sun, and one away. In the last, a half Moon happened to position itself nicely in the blue between the high clouds:

El Mirador, #7. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017
El Mirador, #7. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017

 

El Mirador, #40. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017
El Mirador, #40. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017

 

El Mirador, #42. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017
El Mirador, #42. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017

 

Another option for a completely different mood and look is to throw on a 9-stop filter and go for a long exposure–30 seconds at f/11 in this case. These filters are so dark you have to frame and focus first, then put the filter on for the shot:

Chen Rio, #5. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017
Chen Rio, #5. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017

 

The opposite extreme is to stop at least some of the water motion. Here, at the blow holes at Kilometer 32, I used 1/200 and f/11 with full morning sun. I wasn’t quite successful in capturing the partial rainbow that would fleetingly appear through the mist (sorta seen below the Moon):

Blow Holes, #2. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017
Blow Holes, #2. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017

 

Finally, if you are stuck at “home” maybe try shooting the pier right next to your hotel as I did here. The near full Moon helped by adding a nice center-o’-interest with an anchored boat and dock light on the left as secondary tidbits. This was a 25-second exposure at f/22 but done sans filters as it was still quite dark out (well, with moonlight). The slow shutter smoothed out the sea (and blurred a few clouds) and the small aperture helped bring out the star effect on the Moon and the pier lights:

Moon Over the Pier. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017
Moon Over the Pier. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017

Heavy Spring Snow on Sugarloaf Mountain!

With the latest storm moving out yesterday, I thought it might be an opportune time to hike up Sugarloaf Mountain. The idea would be to catch sunrise on the Continental Divide, maybe see the trees plastered with snow, and hopefully even get a nice undercast layer of writhing fog fingers caressing the low mountain valleys.

These photo trips never really pan out like you expect, though. On this morning, for example, there was no undercast and the Continental Divide peak tops were mostly obscured by cloud remnants from the recent storm. At least there were lots of snow-laden trees.

What really attracted me, though, were the huge snow sculptures and drifts at the summit–some of them hip deep. The driving wind, and thus blowing snow, helped give the images some unusual movement effects, even if it was difficult to keep the lens relatively spot-free. (Forget trying to actually change lenses!)

The hike up was through a smooth, fluffy coat of shin-deep powder snow.

First tracks are the best!

On to the images…

 

The magic moment. Another day quietly begins with orange plasma on the horizon and light pink on the snow at my feet:

Sugarloaf, April Snow, #2. Sugarloaf Mountain, Colorado, 2017
Sugarloaf, April Snow, #2. Sugarloaf Mountain, Colorado, 2017

 

Then the wind woke up and the early morning went full-on, roaring orange:

Sugarloaf, April Snow, #4. Sugarloaf Mountain, Colorado, 2017
Sugarloaf, April Snow, #4. Sugarloaf Mountain, Colorado, 2017

 

Sugarloaf, April Snow, #5. Sugarloaf Mountain, Colorado, 2017
Sugarloaf, April Snow, #5. Sugarloaf Mountain, Colorado, 2017

 

This was my favorite photograph of the day, a portrait of Longs Peak as the first rays of the sun hit the mountain. The wind was blowing directly into my lens, which made for some wonderful blurring and subtle colors in the foreground…but the flakes would quickly start filling up the spaces around the inside the lens shade. I cloned out a number of inconvenient spots from flakes that stuck themselves to the glass:

Sugarloaf, April Snow, #3. Sugarloaf Mountain, Colorado, 2017
Sugarloaf, April Snow, #3. Sugarloaf Mountain, Colorado, 2017

April in the Colorado High Country

There may be trees blossoming down in Boulder, but it is still looking like winter up above 9,000′ or so.

Here is a block print-like image of Dillon Lake I liked, made just a couple of days ago. It is definitely an experiment with unconventional composition.

Screw the rules (sometimes)!

Dillon Lake, April Contrasts. Dillon, Colorado, 2017
Dillon Lake, April Contrasts. Dillon, Colorado, 2017

 

And a few more monochrome images from the same general area of Colorado, all made during the first few days of April…

 

Island in the Clouds. Near Dillon, Colorado, 2017
Island in the Clouds. Near Dillon, Colorado, 2017

 

Tenmile Range in Cloud. Near Frisco, Colorado, 2017
Tenmile Range in Cloud. Near Frisco, Colorado, 2017

 

Snow Dunes. Near Dillon, Colorado, 2017
Snow Dunes. Near Dillon, Colorado, 2017

 

April Snow. From Loveland Pass, Colorado, 2017
April Snowpack. From Loveland Pass, Colorado, 2017

 

Making Tracks. Near Loveland Pass, Colorado, 2017
Making Tracks. Near Loveland Pass, Colorado, 2017

 

A Skier's Landscape. Breckenridge, Colorado, 2017
A Skier’s Landscape. Breckenridge, Colorado, 2017

 

Wanderlust. Breckenridge, Colorado, 2017
Wanderlust. Breckenridge, Colorado, 2017 (14ers Grays and Torreys Peaks are just under the sign with Keystone ski runs below.)

Black & White Magazine Spotlight Portfolio!

An Orwellian New York. NYC, NY, 2015
An Orwellian New York. NYC, NY, 2015

 

B&W Magazine, in their current issue (June, 2017, Number 121), just came out with a short article and three pages of images from my Orwellian New York portfolio. (Yes, it is indeed the June issue–they put it out waaay early.)

It was quite an honor to be selected and I am thrilled about it!

You can see the spread in hard copy if you pick up the magazine at your local large bookstore. Or, for the online version of the article at the B&W Magazine website, simply click your mouse arrow HERE.

And, finally…you can see even more images from this particular portfolio by clicking on the Galleries tab above and scrolling down to “NYC – An Orwellian View”.

 

The Great Escape. NYC, NY, 2015
The Great Escape. NYC, NY, 2015

Ten Simple Questions

Dancer Deformed. Mendoza, Argentina, 2017
Dancer Deformed. Mendoza, Argentina, 2017

 

Try these on for size and see how “deformed” your general knowledge of current political events might be…

  1. ***Obama personally ordered the wiretapping of Trump’s communications in Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign.   True or False?
  2. The Trump campaign’s connections to Russia is an issue invented by the Democrats to distract.    True or False?
  3. The FBI specifically told Congress that Russia did not interfere in the electoral process.    True or False?
  4. Attendance at Trump’s inauguration in Washington D.C. was much larger than Obama’s in 2009.    True or False?
  5. Some 3 to 5 million non-citizens voted (and voted for Hillary) in the 2016 Presidential election.    True or False?
  6. Trump’s electoral college win in the 2016 election was the biggest margin since Reagan.    True or False?
  7. Germany owes vast sums of money to NATO.  True or False?
  8. Trump was responsible for bringing down the price of the F-35 jet fighter.   True or False?
  9. Terrorists from the countries targeted in President Trump’s two travel ban versions (Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen) have been responsible for nearly all the terrorism-related deaths in the USA since 9-11.    True or False?
  10. Trumps current approval ratings are at an all-time high compared to the last four Presidents at this point in the term.    True or False?

Now, for the answers…

If you answered all of them “False”, congratulations, you are a well-informed citizen who likely uses credible news sources.

If you answered any of these as “True”, you might reconsider where you get your news. Avoid the temptation to listen only to news outlets, certain radio hosts, conspiracy theories, etc. that confirm what you would like to be true. (This last statement is directed at both lefties and right-winger types.)

[***NOTE: I may get some push back on this one. Apparently, there is an on-going investigation into ties between the Russians and the Trump campaign in which some Trump campaign officials may have had their conversations recorded. We will have to see how this investigation develops. However, I am taking Trump at his word, which is false. To wit: “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism! 4:35a.m. – 4 Mar 2017.” I read into words their traditional meaning IAW the Oxford English Dictionary. If Trump meant something else, well then he needs to be more precise in his use of the English language.]

Whenever you have the slightest doubt, use the fact-checking websites: Politifact, FactCheck.org, Snopes.com, Open Secrets, and the Washington Post Fact Checker.

Avoid out-of-the-mainstream news sources on either the left or the right–or at least take what they say with a huge block o’ salt and temper your findings with what you see elsewhere. Despite the talk these days of “fake news”, places like the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, ABC, CBS, NBC, Reuters, The Economist, USA Today, yes, even CNN and NPR, will have higher standards for what they are willing to publish than lesser outlets.

For various long lists ranging from left-biased to right-biased media outlets, check out the very good Media Bias/Fact Check site. For an explanation of their methodology for determining media bias, go HERE. It all makes for an interesting read.

The truth might be hard to swallow, pilgrim, but it’s pretty damned important we start agreeing on basic facts in this country.

Changing Colors on Sugarloaf Mountain

It had been too long since I had been up on Sugarloaf Mountain (8,917′), my favorite local golden hour perch.

(My favorite perch? A hearty, “Yep”. Just type “Sugarloaf” into my website SEARCH box to see how many times I have dragged my camera and tripod up there–in all kinds of conditions!)

So, this morning, with the just-past-full Moon setting some 45 minutes or so after sunrise, and a weather service fore-guess that indicated some clouds but not too many, I thought it might be the place to go.

Getting unstuck from the warm bed and into various layers of winter threads was tough, but I was generously rewarded with the following scenes…

 

Approaching sunrise, low fog, and suburban sprawl from Denver on the right to Boulder in the center:

Sugarloaf, #1. Sugarloaf Mountain, Colorado, 2017
Sugarloaf, #1. Sugarloaf Mountain, Colorado, 2017

 

Patterns of purple and pink to the north:

Sugarloaf, #5. Sugarloaf Mountain, Colorado, 2017
Sugarloaf, #5. Sugarloaf Mountain, Colorado, 2017

 

That’s the rounded summit of Mt. Audubon (13,229′) on the left and Longs Peak (14,259′) near the center. The wave clouds indicate high winds aloft, but the low fog contradicts with calm winds below:

Sugarloaf, #7. Sugarloaf Mountain, Colorado, 2017
Sugarloaf, #7. Sugarloaf Mountain, Colorado, 2017

 

As the Sun lights the snowy Continental Divide on fire, the grand Moon, drops down toward the lenticular clouds behind the two Arapaho Peaks. The taller of the two summits, North Arapaho (13,502′), is under the larger cumulus cloud while South Arapaho (13,397′) is the highest little bump along the ridge to its left. The higher mount on the right is Kiowa Peak (13,276′):

Sugarloaf, #10a. From Sugarloaf Mountain, Colorado, 2017
Sugarloaf, #10a. From Sugarloaf Mountain, Colorado, 2017