We learn from our mistakes

American alligator, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Titusville Florida
American alligator, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Titusville Florida | Canon 1D Mark III and 300mm f/4 lens with 1.4x TC | Exposed 1/320 sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 500

Over the last couple of weeks we’ve explored the Atlantic coast of Florida as we consider a move to the sunshine state.  A visit to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge treated us to an amazing sunset and a young American alligator in brilliant blue water the following morning.

American alligator image in Lightroom with all of the clone stamp indicators highlighted
American alligator image in Lightroom with all of the clone stamp indicators highlighted

Unfortunately, I made a pretty serious tactical error the evening before: I mounted the 300mm lens I would use to make the image above while the car’s air conditioning was still running, and did not check and clean the sensor back at the motel that evening.  The result?  The above image, upon scrutiny, revealed a field of dust bunnies scattered along the lower third of the frame (top 1/3 of the sensor, since the image is reversed.)  While image cleanup has become easier with each new version of Photoshop and Lightroom, I still prefer not to have to do very much in the first place.  Lesson?  Better to take the 10 minutes to clean the sensor than to spend an hour and a half in front of the computer to rescue a photograph!

Trying to be spring but with memories of fall

Trying to be spring but with memories of fall, Cary, North Carolina | Fuji X-E1 and 35mm f/1.4 XF R lens | Exposed 1/2400 sec. @ f/2, ISO 400
Trying to be spring but with memories of fall, Cary, North Carolina | Fuji X-E1 and 35mm f/1.4 XF R lens | Exposed 1/2400 sec. @ f/2, ISO 400

It has been a while since I have posted here.  I had the best intentions of crafting my new Web site format in a different location, perfecting it, and then replacing the Web site here overnight.  Sometimes, life has other plans!  I’ve been trying to give Light’s Edge Studios the space it needs to really showcase the range of skills and abilities I’ve developed over the last nineteen years, and the quality services I provide using my experience.

Photographically that includes everything from mulltimedia storytelling, book publishing, wedding and celebration photography, professional and personal portraiture, and of course my roots in natural history: landscapes and wildlife.  But to make all those images, videos, and books, I had to develop other skills along the way, such as fine art inkjet printing, and what better place than here to offer to consult on photographic technique, issues, equipment maintenance as well as equipment selection.  I’ve used several cameras and lenses over time.  Recently, I sold my Micro Four-Thirds system and I’ve begun to work with a Fuji X-E1.  I have more thoughts on that camera to share, but suffice to say that over the years, several people have asked me “what camera should I buy?” and I am more than happy to ask about their needs and wants in equipment.  I then narrow a list of options for them from hundreds  to choose from to a selection of two or three.

To be sure, there will be more adjustments and edits in the coming weeks, but for the most part, the web site is up and running, which means I can returned to regularly scheduled blogging!

Black November Print Sale

Vines in Fall Color
Vines in Fall Color, Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina | Canon 5D Mark II and 70-200mm f/4L IS lens with 1.4x II TC @ 280mm | Exposed 1/50 sec. @ f/11, ISO 400

I’d like to announce that I am offering a 25% Off and Free Shipping at Light’s Edge Prints for “Black November.”  Everyone has “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday,” but through the rest of the month I am offering a sale on all fine art prints.  Event photographs not included, sorry!  Use coupon code nov2012 at checkout.  Don’t see a size you want, or a particular image you’re looking for?  Contact me and we’ll make it happen!

And I might also bring to your attention a gallery of my Blue Ridge Highway fall color work that has appeared on the blog:

Filters for an entirely different feel

Blue Ridge Highway sunset
Blue Ridge Highway sunset, North Carolina | Canon 5D Mark II and 70-200mm f/4L IS lens @ 135mm | Exposed 1/125 sec. @ f/14, ISO 100 | Edited in Nik Color Efex 4

Say what you will about the height of the mountains of the eastern United States.  No, they do not soar to the heights of those in the west, but there’s something rather special about the ridges that color the horizon in blue.  And while I am still finding my footing with Nik Color Efex 4, and would normally find effects like the one above to be “over the top,” I found that for this image, it simply “worked.”  Does it have a “true black” and a “true white?”  No.  Did the 5D Mark II actually produce that much noise, let alone noise that looks like film grain?  No.  Does it matter?  I think that’s up to the viewer.  More to come.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Blue Sky over the Blue Ridge Highway
Blue Sky over the Blue Ridge Highway near Blowing Rock, NC | Canon 5D Mark II and 24mm f/3.5L TS-E | Multiple exposures at f/16, ISO 100

Here in the United States its Thanksgiving, a day to be with friends and family.  In the spirit of sharing, I thought I’d post one of the images that blends a technique I’ll be writing more about soon: blending HDR and stitching to get large photographs with incredibly wide tonal values while still looking pretty “normal!”

Black Creek Greenway Stitched HDR

Black Creek Greenway
Black Creek Greenway, Cary, North Carolina | Canon 5D Mark III and 24mm f/3.5L TS-E | Multiple exposures at f/11, ISO 200

Recently I began working more with landscape photography and, in turn, my old habit of making multiple photographs of a scene and stitching them together.  Related to that, I recently began to explore what would happen if I made multiple versions of the multiple pictures to be stitched together: that is, what if you bracket for High Dynamic Range photography with each “view” in a panorama or other stitched image.  The results can be pretty amazing, but so is the amount of work that can be required to pull it off!  I’ll be writing more on this topic after Thanksgiving!

Forest Glow

Forest Glow
Forest Glow, Cary, North Carolina | Canon 5D Mark III and 24-70mm f/2.8L lens @ 48mm | Seven bracketed exposures converted with Nik HDR Efex

While I was experimenting with a 5D Mark III camera body on loan from CPS, I discovered that one of its killer apps is for high dynamic range photography.  No, not its built-in HDR functionality (which is rather underwhelming).  Rather, I am referring to its ability to set autoexposure bracketing for up to seven frames and, when the shutter button is depressed, automatically go into mirror lock-up and rapidly fire each frame in sequence.  The one wrinkle?  If you already have mirror lock-up enabled, this while actually cause a hiccup: it will want you to hit the shutter for each frame.  Canon, please fix this quirk in your next firmware release!

This is much more useful than previous incarnations of autoexposure bracketing: three images really is not enough for HDR photography.  Seven?  I can work with seven!


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!

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.