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!”

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.

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!

Alissa and Paul

Alissa and Paul, Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort, Kentucky
Alissa and Paul married on September 8, 2012 at the Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort, Kentucky | Canon 5D Mark II and 24-70mm f/2.8L lens @ 28mm | Exposed 1/200 sec. @ f/10, ISO 100 | Strobes fired with Phottix remote triggers

I returned on Sunday afternoon from photographing Alissa and Paul’s wedding at the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky.  One of the items on their “wish list” of photographs was a portrait that highlighted the industrial look and feel of the distillery.  Here, we photographed them adjacent to a warehouse, standing on the tracks used to roll barrels of aged bourbon to the bottling plant.

We used three lights for this portrait: the key was in an umbrella on camera left, with a fill held by my partner on camera right.  The yellow backwash for the brick was created with a flash behind the bride and groom (their wedding colors were yellow and orange.)  I think this light really helps to separate them from the wall behind them and gives the image more of a three-dimensional appearance.

More to come!

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.

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.

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.

Summer on the Beach

Summer on the beach, May 29, 2012 in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. | Canon 5D Mark II and 50mm f/1.2L | Exposed 1/2500 sec. @ f/1.2, ISO 100

The week before I helped Summer settle in for a month-long internship in Florida I borrowed a 50mm f/1.2L lens from Canon Professional Services.  Over the time I had the lens in my possession, she commented numerous times that I was using my camera more since I’d gotten that lens than in the entire time she’s known me.  While I thought it might break the budget, I am now considering acquiring one for myself before the Canon rebates expire at the end of the month of June.  While you can read plenty of reviews online that pan the lens for a myriad of issues (many of which can be resolved with focus calibration) the reality is that this lens makes really beautiful images.  Bokeh is soft and creamy…it just has a special “look” that it’s f/1.4 brother simply doesn’t share.  And is it worth the cost?  I don’t know if it’s worth it to anyone else, but if it keeps me in the game–makes me want to pick up my camera and make more images–then it’s worth it to me.  It’s worth it to us.

For a minute there I lost myself, phew…for a minute there

Summer at Lake Crabtree
Summer at Lake Crabtree, Cary, North Carolina, February 2012, Canon 5D Mark II and 70-200mm f/4L IS lens @ 121mm; exposed 1/200 sec. @ f/8, ISO 100, Canon Speedlite 580EX II triggered wirelessly

Radiohead references aside, I’ve gone through a number of life changes, both professionally and with respect to lifestyle since I last updated this blog.  I posted last from the coast of Washington as I was in the middle of some significant soul-searching.  I was at a crossroads both professionally and personally.  Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting images from the last six months–what I have to show for them, that is.  There have been moments that I considered packing up all of my gear and selling it off, closing the shutters on a dream.  Summer, my partner who has seen me through this transition in my life, has expressed at numerous points a concern that she has somehow negatively influenced by passion for photography.  I’m taking stock of life as I recognize that I’m emerging from a state of prolonged shell-shock at the fallout from the end of long and complicated relationship.  She certainly has not stifled my desire to make images of the world.  If anything, she inspires me.

Summer and a cup of tea
Summer and a cup of tea, Savannah, Georgia

I have a backlog of images I would like to share with the world, but first I wanted to share this amazing woman.  I want to be a better person, a better partner, a better photographer, a better communicator, a better citizen of the Earth because I know that my own life is better for having her as such a central part of it.  She shares with me a deep respect for this planet.  A visceral connection to the landscape and the flora and fauna that color it in.

Summer on Sanibel Island
Summer on Sanibel Island, Florida

Early in our relationship we spoke of partners creating space for the other to grow.  I don’t think either of us had any idea just how much space that would mean as my life changed dramatically.  I have a new appreciation for intentional family (to say nothing of my biological family, whom I love dearly).  In many ways, I feel like my vision has been fogged for a months now but it’s beginning to burn off.  Confidence is slowly being restored to my heart, my head, and pumping in my veins.

Summer in Tower Grove Park, St. Louis
Summer in Tower Grove Park, St. Louis

This remarkable woman is the reason that, come August, I can append two letters to my name.  In March she traveled with me to Columbia to defend my M.A. project at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.  That project, “A River in Reverse: Asian carp and The Great Lakes” was the result of hours of blood, sweat, and tears over the last two years, but especially the month of February and into March of 2012.  She helped me to reframe some of my darker experiences in graduate school.  She helps me to realize just how amazing life can be.  How fortunate I am to be on this path together.  How blessed I am with the talents I have.

Summer walking on the beach on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
Summer walking on the beach on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

I don’t have a crystal ball.  I don’t know with certainty what my future holds.  What I do know is that as I take stock of my life, I cannot help but to feel fortunate and loved at this moment in time.  We’re planning to hand-fast so that we might share the joy we feel about the the peregrinations that we will share over the course of our life together.