Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Dickens of a Dilemma - The Liquify Tool

So, if you read this blog or know me, you probably have heard or see by my recent posts that I'm trying to do more portraits and people photos. While pelicans in flight are still near and dear to my heart, it's time to branch out into the world of lighting and models. With that comes the pretty ominous task of facial retouching and postprocessing, or more specifically how much is acceptable? I posted the photo above left about two weeks ago --- a perfectly lovely young girl who Larry and I photographed at Dickens on the Strand. The photo on the right? Well, there's this tool in Photoshop called the Liquify tool, and it's not one that I use too often on pelicans. Literally, with a couple of clicks of the mouse you can take 15 pounds off the subject. Now, I ask: is it practical for the portrait photographer to do this to every shot? Would it increase your business if you were making a living from this or would it just increase your workload with no real payback? Would subjects be so thrilled, would you get more business? Anyway, I'd love to hear your opinions about this dilemma, and if you're a portrait photographer how you handle this. Please click to see the full size version, and feel free to comment...

Friday, December 26, 2008

In the Street at Dickens on the Strand

Here's another photo from Dickens on the Strand - a policeman who was in the middle of the street on a stand, high above the crowd. The old building facade behind him made for a nice background (shot at f/2.8). When you really study the scene you realize how good digital cameras are these days - white beard, black hat and coat, very dark glasses --- in full sun with a mixture of neutrals and colors in the background. If that's not a lot to throw at in-camera metering I don't know what is --- all at f/2.8. The only thing done was to add a little fill light in Camera Raw to bring out the shadows under the brim of his hat.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

In the Alley at Dickens on the Strand

Here's another photo from Dickens on the Strand in Galveston - probably my favorite of the day. This gentleman was sitting on the curb eating his lunch when Larry and I pounced on him, right after we had shot the girl in the pink hat that I posted a few days ago. That alley made for some great backgrounds, and he was so cooperative letting us take a few photos. Again, the same light setup was used, a Nikon SB800 off to the right shot through a soft box. I thought this almost looked like the light was snooted, but probably is because of his dark clothes and hat and the relative ambient dark alley behind him. Black and white conversion was done with Nik Silver Efex Pro with a selenium tint. Click to see the larger version -- it's worth it. I'm also posting the color version below. I'd be interested to hear which you like better in the comments.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Dickens on the Strand

Above is another photo from Dickens on the Strand, now almost two weeks ago. Setup was identical to the previous post - a single SB800 flash shot through a small softbox. This woman was nice enough to forward a photo taken by her husband of Larry and me in the act (below). I told Larry, "we almost look like we know what we're doing."

Monday, December 15, 2008

Dickens on the Strand

This photo was taken at Dickens on the Strand a week ago Saturday in Galveston. This is an annual festival on the island celebrating Victorian London and ringing in the Christmas season here in the Houston-Galveston area. My shooting partner, Larry Patrick, and I were using the same flash setup we used at the Renaissance Festival about a month ealier - a single Nikon SB800 flash shot through a small softbox triggered wirelessly with Alien Bees remotes. He'd shoot, and I'd run the flash; and then we'd switch off. This one young lady was heading quickly down the alley when we stopped her and asked to take her photo. I'm pretty sure she didn't know what to think of the two of us when we first approached her, but I think she liked the results. Anyway, it's truly amazing that so many people are willing to stop and spend a few minutes letting you take their photo. It's a great learning experience for aspiring portrait photographers - setting up a light and quickly composing a shot in a very short amount of time.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

abstraction #5

This abstraction involved moving the camera diagonally while photographing a shoreline of reeds at Armand Bayou.

Monday, December 8, 2008

abstraction #4

This photo was taken along Armand Bayou, and the effect was achieved by rocking the camera vertically during the exposure. Color tweaks and vignetting were added in Photoshop.

Friday, December 5, 2008

abstraction #3

Camera movement? Wild Photoshop filter? No, just the clouds over Galveston this morning ... and you can take take whatever way you like.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

abstraction #2

This photo was taken walking down the street in front of the Tremont House in Galveston, Texas. If you look closely, you can see the blurry emblem of the hotel in gold along the right side - not that you could ever decipher it if I hadn't told you because of the blur. This photo was shot at 1/8 of a second as I walked. I do that sometimes, put the camera in shutter priority at 1/20 of a second or below and take photos as I walk, most times without even looking through the viewfinder. It's surprising what you get, sort of like throwing paint on a canvas - sometimes you cringe and other times you say to yourself, "that's kind of cool." It's something you never could have captured without loosening your grip on what your mind tells you is a good photograph.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

intentional abstractions

Over the next couple of days I'm going to be posting a series of abstract photos - abstract because they are blurred intentionally to create a wash of color or texture. Whether done in camera with movement or with special lenses or attachments, they will hopefully challenge our expectations of what a pleasing photo should be in the classic sense. Sharpness will become blur, shape will become texture, and colors will become hyper-real. This is something I want to pursue more in 2009. Craig Tanner calls it "the power of play" - using the camera, unorthodox techniques, and not playing by the rules to open up the possibilty of creating something nontraditionally beautiful. In the photo above, I moved the camera in a circular motion as the shutter went off. It's a simple fall bouquet of flowers. No special Photoshop filters were involved - just opening your mind to the concept of "what if?"

Friday, November 28, 2008

an ike thanksgiving

If you live in the Houston-Galveston area, you have probably heard about the layoffs where I work - at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. Due to the heavy flooding of the island during Hurricane Ike, most of the university's buildings were damaged leaving patients no other choice but to seek care at other hospitals in the area. The University of Texas Board of Regents then voted to layoff 3,800 employees as a result of the falloff in revenue. I was fortunate - my job was spared, but many healthcare workers and support staff are now without jobs after already losing their homes and belongings to Ike. It's hard to say what will happen to Galveston and UTMB in the next six months. You hope for the best and give whatever support you can to the many hardworking professionals now facing Ike's second blow, but most of all you give thanks for what you have - family, friends, and the fact that the sun will rise in the morning.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

polynesian girl

In honor of my shooting partner at the Renaissance Festival last weekend, Larry Patrick, here's an 11x14 crop of the lovely Polynesian girl that posed for us early in the day. Larry's got a great body of work going at his web site of our day's shooting at:
Postprocessing of the image above involved using a sepia layer to desaturate the photo, bringing back some color to her eyes and lips, and vignetting the edges. Be sure to click the photo for a larger view.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

fall flowers

We've lived in our current house for two and a half years, and it always amazes me that in November a hibiscus bush on the side of our house begins to bloom profusely. On November 20 you wouldn't think you'd see such color and splendor, as pine needles and leaves seem to take over the landscaping. It bucks the odds, stands up to the cool fall breezes, and reminds me that even though January is right around the corner, hope and a splash of color are all that takes to get you through the coldest of winters.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

rickshaw girl

The photo above was taken at the Texas Renaissance Festival in Plantersville, TX. A group of photographers from the Bay Area Photo Club went up on Sunday to shoot the event - an annual festival of medieval culture with the accompanying food and frivolity. There were, to say the least, some great characters there, and most were more than willing to let you take their photos. Fellow BAPC member Larry Patrick and I teamed up, using his Alien Bees triggers - firing a Nikon SB800 flash through a small softbox mounted on a monopod. One of us would shoot while the other would run the flash, and then we'd switch off. This photo was taken pretty late in the day. I took 20 photos of this woman, and I must say probably 15 of them are keepers - such an engaging face with a great hat and hair to frame it. Usually, you'd think it would take a couple of shots to get you in the ballpark - both in exposure and comfort working with the model, but this was the first frame I took. The image was cropped slightly, toned with Nik Silver Efex, and the corners were burned with Photoshop. To see some of Larry's shots, check out his blog at:

Saturday, November 15, 2008

finding a new home

This photo was taken at Armand Bayou early one morning when I was out practicing some panning blurs - where you shake your camera as you take the photo creating an out of focus abstraction of the subject. I was shooting trees on one side of the bayou, and when I looked across I saw the scene above so I took a couple of photos. I didn't think much about them for quite a while, but when the Arts Alliance Center at Clear Lake announced they were holding an auction, I thought this print might be good to donate since it was of local interest. So last Saturday night they had the auction. There were some great items there. The theme was "small works by great minds," since the artwork had to be no larger than 11"x14". Anyway, as I stood in line to pay for a bluebonnet painting that I bid on and won, a young woman stood in the next line with my photo, which she had won. I probably should have told her that it was my photo she was holding...told her a little about the story of how it was shot and processed...but I didn't. I paid for my bluebonnets and quietly left the Arts Center, knowing that my print was getting a life outside of my computer. I thought about how casually I had dismissed this shot, and yet someone else had thought enough of it to buy it and bring it into their home. And that's what any piece of art (or person for that matter) needs - a place to call home, a place where they're valued.

Sunday, November 9, 2008


The photo above is of the pilings where a Galveston restaurant once stood over the Gulf of Mexico. It was destroyed during Hurricane Ike, and all that's left are these pilings. I've read news stories recently that some of these businesses are going to rebuild in the same location. Is it the lure of tourism dollars that causes people to think they can beat mother nature? Will tourism ever return to pre-Ike levels in Galveston? Hard to know. I see a church group tent along Broadway every day as I head home that offers a free meal at 3:30; and when I pass by at 5:30 it's still going strong. For me, it's hard to think of tourism when local residents just need a hot meal.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

men of the sea

The images above are all potential environmental portraits for the next Bay Area Photo Club honors night meeting. The top two are of Captain Kip Files, who sailed the tall ship Elissa out into the Gulf of Mexico during her sea trials in the spring. The first shot is probably less of an environmental portrait than any I'm considering submitting next week, but there's something about it that's really appealing to me - a sailor piloting the ship back to dock after a day at sea silhouetted against the late-day sun. No, it's not your typical portrait ... but it sure was quite a scene as I stood below him with my wide angle lens. The second shot of Captain Files was taken at the back of the boat midway through the sail. As I took photos of him smoking, he joked that his wife better not see these. Sorry, Captain, seven months is as long as I can wait. The bottom photo was taken last weekend in Galveston as a shrimp boat docked. This shrimper who was securing the line, I learned, was a king crab fisherman from Alaska and was visiting the boat owner to help shrimp and work on his damaged house after Ike. So, here are two men of the sea, stopping in Galveston on their journeys - on as disparate a mission as you can imagine.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

not much of a catch

Here's another environmental portrait of a shrimper ... taken on the Bay Area Photo Club field trip this past Saturday in Galveston. You'd never guess, but this shot was taken in mid-day sun - the background was SO bright, it really took some finessing to knock it down in tone and lighting in Photoshop. I used some layers with varying exposures to take the background down, then used Nik Silver Efex to make a sepia layer and mixed it with the full saturation layer at about 64%; also brought up the sharpness in the face, hands, and shirt - which I thought were visually interesting. .... I asked the guy how shrimping was, and he said "not much of a catch." I think I could say the same thing about my photos Saturday. It was one of those days. Comments welcome.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

environmental portraits

The assignment for the Bay Area Photo Club in November is environmental portrait. The photo of the shrimper was taken this past weekend in Galveston. I had to ask this guy a couple of times if I could take his photo, and finally he agreed. But in the rush to get a couple of shots, I totally underestimated how distracting the net behind him is. I was thinking it added to the environment, but since it's so sharp and dark it becomes pretty prominent. The photo of the surgeon is the chief of Plastic Surgery at UTMB, who needed some portraits made earlier this year. Just wanted some feedback on these images. Please feel free to post comments - composition, lighting, and applicability to environmental portrait.

in need of direction

Nothing flying today, just a simple landscape that was taken last weekend on the beach in Galveston. Some photo club members and I got up early and shot the pilings where the businesses like the Balinese Room once stood. We were trying to get the water movement blurred under the pilings ... and had mixed success. This shot was taken in the other direction - toward the Flagship Hotel, which is on a pier extending out into the Gulf of Mexico. If you look close you can see two fishermen on the rock pier in the background. I guess I was thinking that the bent metal shaft in the ground was somehow symbolic of the lack of direction in people's lives on the island post-Ike. And then when I got home, I realized that this metal pole was part of one of the businesses on piers all right - a Hooter's restaurant. So much for my theory.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

birds of a different feather

OK, two posts and two bird photos - some have asked if this is going to be exclusively bird photos. Well no, not exactly - just an outlet for some photos I'm working on. And recently it seems I've been shooting birds. Maybe that's where I have my greatest comfort zone - watching them and trying to figure the best ways to shoot them. This past weekend, though, I did some other kinds of photography besides nature, and I'll be posting them here in the near future. The photo above of the US Air Force Thunderbirds was taken Sunday at the Wings Over Houston Air Show at Ellington Field. It was a great day - bright blue skies and perfect shooting conditions. There's something about flight that really intriques me -- freezing that moment in time in a photograph is such a challenging and gratifying experience. I guess the Thunderbirds are not too different than a bird ... just a heck of a lot harder to track with a 400 mm lens.

Monday, October 27, 2008

welcome back, old friend

A welcome sight recently in the Galveston area has been the annual migration of white pelicans through the area. The migration seems earlier this year…or maybe it’s just that you’re looking for something to bring a sense of “the way it used to be” back into your life. So in this post-Ike world, is it nostalgia or hope? Hope that the powers that be see fit to rebuild Galveston and not let things linger to the point that good and talented people just walk away from the island out of frustration. This all will take time, I know, but for now it sure feels good to have the white pelicans here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

...with both feet

OK, I'm jumping into the deep end. Hand holding my nose and with a running start, I'm (finally) starting my blog. I've been threatening to do this for a while; I actually have had this blog name since July, but something always seemed to take precedence, so I never did much with it. Then came September 12 here in the Houston-Galveston area, and all things came to a screeching halt. Hurricane Ike hit the area, and anything that wasn't remotely involved with the clean up and recovery from that took a back seat. So now six weeks later, I'm still not back in my day job office in Galveston (although working from home), but things here in Clear Lake have seemed to become normal in this world some call "the new normal." Alot of people take photos of the devastation in Galveston - the piles of debris on street curbs and the gutted buildings - but I have a hard time doing it. I guess it's too personal, too hard to see the place you grew up in such ruin. Immediately after Ike, we put hummingbird feeders out to catch the fall migration of these beautiful (and extremely fast) creatures. They swarmed the feeders, and I put my beginner lighting skills to work by using an off-camera flash to capture them. So, this is my first post. It's not an Ike photo. Maybe some day, but not right now. Hummingbirds are so much prettier.