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Turning over a New Leaf

Red Leaf

Red Leaf, Price Lake, Blue Ridge Highway. | Canon 5D Mark II and 24-70mm f/2.8L @ 70mm | Exposed 1/60 sec. @ f/4, ISO 100

Since it was launched in 2007, I have been an avid user of Adobe’s Lightroom.  One of the things that I have loved about the strengths of the “Develop” module (also called Camera RAW in Photoshop, as they share the same engine) is that I have felt progressively less need to port an image into Photoshop for further enhancement.  This has been especially true since version three onward, as the local enhancements offered by the brush and gradient tool have made selections very easy.  Need to brighten the bride’s face but keep the dress the same value?  No problem, just use the brush.  Photoshop?  Why bother.

I realize I’m likely the last person to get on board the Nik Software bandwagon (especially since even Google decided that it was a good one to hop onto….or guide into its garage, if we continue that metaphor). Because we don’t really know what that acquisition means, re-sellers are steeply discounting the existing lineup of products.  I tried their demo of HDR Efex a while back and was impressed, and decided to roll the dice and pick up their entire collection for Lightroom.  The disadvantage for some people is that this product cannot be launched from inside of Photoshop: instead, you create a copy of the image as a TIFF file and port it into whichever Nik program you’ve selected.  Since I’m avoiding Photoshop for the most part, this approach doesn’t phase me.

For making color images, Viveza 2 and Color Efex 4 are a pretty amazing combination.  Over the last few days I’ve developed a workflow of adjusting my images globally in Lightroom, and then working on local contrast in Viveza.  If I want the foliage of the trees to be more subdued to make the bare branches of the foreground trees to stand out, it’s easy to do.  No more near-impossible layer masks in Photoshop!

Fall Color and Bare Branches

Colors along the highway, Blue Ridge Highway near the Linn Cove Viaduct on October 14, 2012. | Canon 5D Mark II and 70-200mm f/4L IS lens @ 97mm | Exposed 1/15 sec. @ f/11, ISO 100

I have posted this image before; while it is similar to the original, the trees stand out more.  And going forward, I can only see advantages to using Nik software whenever my goal is to make tonal changes to ranges of color.  No, I would not suggest using these programs for every image.  But for those that have commercial value, I can see only advantages.  Below is a series of three panoramas.  The first was the result of stitching in Photoshop, but all of the toning had taken place as global adjustments on the RAW files within Photoshop.  Beneath that is the result of toning the image in Viveza 2, and the final photo is the finished product from Color Efex 4.  Each round of processing builds on the previous.

Price Lake, Lightroom Only

Price Lake, Lightroom Only

Price Lake, toned in Lightroom and Viveza

Price Lake, toned in Lightroom and Viveza

Price Lake, toned in Lightroom, Viveza, and Color Efex 4

Price Lake, toned in Lightroom, Viveza, and Color Efex 4

To my eyes, the key differences in these images can be found in the quality of the clouds and the colors and details of the reflection, especially in the treeline.  I don’t think that this software is for everyone, and some may wish to hold off on purchase until Google makes some sort of announcement to detail what kind of support will be extended to current users as they go forward.  For me, this is a worthwhile process for anything I rank three stars or higher, as well as some of my two star photographs.

More thoughts to come, as well as mini reviews of the 5D Mark III and LensAlign’s new software, Focus Tune!

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Price Lake

Price Lake, Blue Ridge Highway

Price Lake, Blue Ridge Highway the morning of October 13, 2012. | Canon 5D Mark II and 70-200mm f/4L IS lens @ 70mm | Six vertical images stitched, exposed 1/80 sec. @ f/11, ISO 100

About one month after a mutli-day intensive photo trip to the Blue Ridge Highway for fall color, I’m almost done processing my images.  This was a panorama made on our first morning at Julian Price Memorial Park, near the campgrounds.

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Fall along the Blue Ridge Highway

Fall color along the Blue Ridge Highway, North Carolina

Fall color along the Blue Ridge Highway near the Linn Cove Viaduct on October 14, 2012. | Canon 5D Mark II and 70-200mm f/4L IS lens @ 85mm | Exposed 1/13 sec. @ f/11, ISO 100

Earlier this month we moved a scheduled trip to the mountains up by one week–changing colors in the mountains decided not to follow what we thought were the demands of our own work calendars!  For four days, Summer and I traveled south from Boone, NC and worked out way to Asheville.  The daily changes in the weather seemed to have a direct effect on the colors we were seeing.  They would intensify with each passing night…even the morning after an epic rainstorm that tested the abilities of the rain fly on my ten year old tent.  A couple drips on my head did substitute the alarm I had set on my phone!

Colors along the highway

Colors along the highway, Blue Ridge Highway near the Linn Cove Viaduct on October 14, 2012. | Canon 5D Mark II and 70-200mm f/4L IS lens @ 97mm | Exposed 1/15 sec. @ f/11, ISO 100

The two lenses I found myself using most were my 70-200mm for isolating subjects, and my 24mm TS-E for the lens movements that it enables me to make for maximum sharpness and distortion-free framing.  My only regret several days into the trip was that the majority of my panorama photography equipment had been left at home.  For the most part, my move to the 5D Mark II in 2009 changed the way I approached landscape photography; I began to make fewer panoramas as the larger mexapigel count of the camera enabled to me to make large prints from a single file.  However, the wide and short panoramic format is befitting much of the scenery in the area.  Given that my preference for the Blue Ridge Highway and the Smokies in general is car camping, the panorama rails will be sure to make the cut for the next adventure!

More to follow!

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DeHart’s Botanical Gardens

DeHart's Botanical Gardens

DeHart’s Botanical Gardens, Louisburg, North Carolina | Canon 5D Mark II and 100mm f/2.8 macro | Exposed 1/2500 sec. @ f/4, ISO 400

The same day that I explored Medoc Mountain State Park with my partner and rescued a slider on the return home, we discovered an amazing botanical gardens.  Marked with a simple sign on US 401 , we had no idea what was beyond the small parking lot.  Allen DeHart, who created the space with his wife and recently bequeathed the property to Louisburg College, found us as we were making our exit.  Little did we know that DeHart was the author of a book on our shelf at home, Trails of the Triangle, and also participated in the creation of the Appalachian Trail as well as North Carolina’s Mountain to Sea trail.  While we were not there for the most ideal light, this is an amazing place.  This is place to which we will return.

More to come.

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Slider in the road!

Slider in the road

Slider in the road, Louisburg, North Carolina | Canon 5D Mark II and 100mm f/2.8 Macro | Exposed 1/5000 sec. @ f/4, ISO 400

On our way home from Medoc Mountain State Park, Summer exclaimed “Pull over!”  This happened just as we were passing an abandoned church in Louisburg, and I dodged into the old dirt driveway.  Before the car was off, she had already bolted out the passenger door and was running up the road where a turtle had been attempting to cross.  Before setting him down safely on the side of the road he was trying to reach (and in the general direction he was pointed before our intervention) I made a quick portrait with his distinct red patch.  Hopefully he found where he was trying to get to.

More to come.

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Walk in the Woods

Spider's Web

Spider’s Web, Medoc Mountain State Park, North Carolina | Canon 5D Mark II and 50mm f/1.2L | Exposed 1/200 sec. @ f/1.2, ISO 400

This weekend we went exploring a bit.  Rain pushed our plans back a bit but we arose early Sunday morning and headed out towards Medoc Mountain State Park, about ninety minutes northeast of the Triangle.  Once a volcanic mountain, the “peak” is now 325 feet above sea level and is entirely forested.  All the same, it was a gorgeous, cool (if humid), overcast, and surprisingly minimally-buggy morning hiking in the woods.

Shelves of Mushrooms

Shelves of Mushrooms, Medoc Mountain State Park, North Carolina | Canon 5D Mark II and 50mm f/1.2L | Exposed 1/100 sec. @ f/1.2 ISO 400

As with a lot of hiking in the East, I find myself looking down at my feet a lot.  This has the benefit of avoiding (most) roots and errant rocks, but it also gives me the opportunity to see things that others might easily miss.  The small details are often just as interesting as the whole.

Moss and rotting log

Moss and rotting log, Medoc Mountain State Park, North Carolina | Canon 5D Mark II and 50mm f/1.2L | Exposed 1/50 sec. @ f/1.2, ISO 100

While I packed several lenses for the trip, I found myself hiking the majority of the time with my new 50mm f/1.2L.  Some of that is the “new, shiny” effect of a new lens, but it’s also that I’m trying to work within the limitations of a fixed focal length: using the “human zoom” of getting closer or backing away from my subject, and thinking a bit outside of the box.

Tiger Swallowtail

Tiger Swallowtail, Medoc Mountain State Park, North Carolina | Canon 5D Mark II and 100mm f/2.8 Macro | Exposed 1/250 sec. @ f/4, ISO 400

When we returned to the trail we found a cluster of Tiger Swallowtails sitting on the ground.  I did not expect them to stay put while I ran to the car to grab my macro lens, but sure enough one let me approach!  It was a good day for walking in the woods.

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Exploring South Florida with a 300mm f/2.8

Juvenile White Ibis

Juvenile White Ibis at Anhinga Trail, Everglades National Park, Florida. | Canon 7D and 300mm f/2.8 L IS II with 1.4x TC | Exposed 1/125 sec. @ f/4, ISO 500

Last month we spent a few days in the Florida Keys and worked our way northward into the Everglades before embarking on a two-day road trip home to North Carolina.  I had borrowed a 300mm f/2.8L IS II lens from Canon Professional Services and was field testing it as a potential replacement for the 400mm DO IS lens.  This was also the final trial for my Canon 7D before making a decision to keep or sell the body.

I will admit that I was impressed by the new 300mm, but while it is wickedly sharp and the Image Stabilization system is incredibly good, the lens does begin to “feel” heavy in hand rather quickly.  This is especially true when in an awkward position to begin with, as in the image above, where I was crawling through the grass in the parking lot to Anhinga Trail (hence the blurred/hazy green effect on the lower part of the Ibis’ body) and keeping the front element of the lens propped up on fingertips became trying after a few minutes.  This lens weighs a full pound more than the 400mm DO, although it is a full stop faster.  That same Image Stabilizer is the reason that on a tripod this lens can do some amazing things.

Waiting.  American Alligator

Waiting. American Alligator, Shark Valley, Everglades National Park, Florida. | Canon 7D and 300mm f/2.8L IS II lens and 2x TC | Exposed 1/15 sec. @ f/8, ISO 800

The exposure information in the image above is accurate: I shot this at 1/15 second on a tripod, at f/8, for an effective 960mm (with the 7D’s 1.6x factor.)  And the results are sharp, to boot!  So, while I’m not actually convinced that optically the 300mm f/2.8 is any sharper than the 400mm DO in real world testing, the Image Stabilizer runs circles around the sibling that is ten years its senior.

Tern silhouette, Jekyll Island, Georgia | Canon 7D and 300mm f/2.8L IS II lens | Exposed 1/800 sec. @ f/2.8, ISO 200

For birds in flight the 300mm seems to be a great combination with the 7D.  Even in lower light and backlit situations, like this silhouette at sunset, the two in combination yielded several “keepers.”  That said, while I came away impressed with the 300mm f/2.8 and the 7D, I have decided not to keep the latter (and at the moment I simply cannot afford the former.)

The 7D is a very capable and versatile camera, but I simply do not use it enough to justify holding on to it.  It’s a camera that I think would have been more frequently in my bag had it been equipped with a smaller (and less noisy) sensor.  It’s my hope that its next owner will find more use for it than I have.

Summer in the Keys

Summer in the Keys | Canon 5D Mark II and 50mm f/1.2L | Exposed 1/2500 sec. @ f/1.2, ISO 100

What has become a go-to favorite, for me, is my 5D Mark II and the 50mm f/1.2L that my partner encouraged me to acquire after field testing one from Canon back in May.  Everything it produces has a special “look.”

More to come.

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Goodnight, Chicago

Wendella Boats' "Linnea" passes under the DuSable Bridge

Wendella Boats' "Linnea" passes under the DuSable Bridge that connects Michigan Avenue over the Chicago River on October 19, 2010. | Canon 5D Mk. II and 24-70mm f/2.8L lens @ 42mm | Exposed 1/160 sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 400

Finally, I present the last of my Chicago images.  Not necessarily for the master’s project, but for me: Elizabeth and I lived in Chicago for a time, but I never really carried a camera with me because I was concerned about keeping my equipment safe at our apartment in Hyde Park.  I figured the less I had, the safer we were (and we never had a break-in).  But this project gave me an excuse to walk around downtown and the Loop with some of my better gear.  Frankly, the 5D Mk. II and a 50mm lens would be a great combination, with a wide-angle lens and a telephoto as two accessory lenses, but I really needed to have the 24-70mm with me that day as I was working on my project, and needed the flexibility that it provides.  The next time I go to Chicago with a camera, it will just be for me, and the equipment choices will certainly reflect that!

Taxi and Carbide and Carbon Building

Taxi and Carbide and Carbon Building (Hard Rock Hotel) | Canon 5D Mk. II and 16-35mm f/2.8L II lens @ 16mm | Exposed 1/60 sec. @ f/4, ISO 400

Elevated train on Wabash Ave and Smurfit-Stone Building

Elevated train on Wabash Ave. and Smurfit-Stone Building | Canon 5D Mk. II and 24-70mm f/2.8L lens @ 24mm | Exposed 1/80 sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 400

Three more photographs after the jump!

Continue reading

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Berkeley, Illinois Metra Station

Berkeley Metra Stop

Metra stop, Berkeley, Illinois. | Canon 5D Mk. II and 24-70mm f/2.8L lens @ 30mm | Exposed 1/2000 sec. @ f/2.8, ISO 100.

A few images from Berkeley, Illinois, where I took the Metra West line to get into Chicago a couple of weeks ago to play tourist at Wendella Boats.  I think it’s fitting to show some of the rail infrastructure surrounding the city as rail would be one of the alternatives for carrying the cargo that barges currently push in and out of the region.

Also, I’ve been experimenting, perhaps too much, with leaving my large-aperture lenses wide open even mid-day for the selective focus and natural vignetting that you can get…and then enhancing the latter a touch in Lightroom.  Don’t worry–I’m sure it’s a phase that I’ll get over sooner rather than later.  At least the vignetting part!

Two more photos after the jump! Continue reading

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Why not my stock photos?

Hampton Inn, Gallipolis, Ohio

Dear crossing at room 300, Hampton Inn, Gallipolis, Ohio | Canon 5D Mk. II and 50mm f/1.4 lens | Exposed 1/60 sec. @ f/1.4, ISO 800.

So, I’m on my way back to North Carolina after spending the last six weeks in the Midwest to work on my master’s project about Asian carp.  After checking in at the front desk, I got up to the third floor of the hotel and realized that a different stock photograph adorns each door.  Evidently, a deer crossing sign was best suited for my room.  I think it’s an interesting use of stock photography–I wish that they had come calling to me, though!  I can’t imagine what a contract like that, for a major chain, must have been worth…