The march of progress continues along a southern section of Airport Road in Longmont, Colorado (as it does all along the entire Front Range). The constant drone of generators and the pop-pop-pop of the air guns as they relentlessly and ceaselessly drive nails into the wood framing…the sound of jobs…the sound of new homes in the making…the sound of a “healthy” economy.
These new apartments or condos are going up along Airport Road, on the southwestern outskirts of Longmont. Note how Nature (here, as exemplified by that sliver of a glimpse of Longs Peak on the far horizon) is slowly being boarded up. The storm clouds are gathering–no coincidence. A “worm” or “snake” in the foreground tempts our eye into the image:
Here is another, very similar, view. We still have the storm clouds and Nature in the distant background slowly being extinguished but, to this composition, I add a hilly foreground that rhymes with Longs Peak in a certain way–they are both mountains of rock and dirt, but the former is a result of short-term human economic activity, the latter a very, very long-term project of the geologic forces–plate tectonics–of the Earth:
From the sea back to the high mountains… and a local iconic (cliché?) postcard landscape for you from just above the Boulder Bubble, aka The Friendly People’s Republic of Boulder.
With my D800 and my 24-70mm lens off at Nikon for repairs (they were dropped some time ago…both still worked, but were pretty banged up), it is the iPhone that I have with me most often these days.
REPAIR UPDATE: It appears that my D800 is coming back from Nikon as “unrepairable” This means I will have to use the thing sans battery door and with a small pointy object always handy to pry the battery out of its slot each time I need to charge or change it. The camera still makes good images, though, even with the bashed batt compartment.
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.
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:
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:
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
–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!)
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:
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:
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:
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:
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):
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:
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:
Then the wind woke up and the early morning went full-on, roaring orange:
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:
2016 Black & White Magazine, Spotlight Award Winner! (Issue: June, 2017, #121)
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