Saturday, May 30, 2009

Air Force Memorial

Today's image is from my recent trip to DC -- it's the Air Force Memorial near the Pentagon. I've been to DC a number of times over the past 10 years, and I never remember seeing this memorial, but it's one of the most striking in the area. It's made up of three arcs ascending into the sky at different heights and angles. I'll post a full shot of that one day; this image is just one of the arcs. It reminds me of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis because it's made of gleaming stainless steel. It's up on a hill about a mile from the Pentagon Metro stop, so it was a little bit of a hike. But I'm glad I went there. I read that it's designed after the famous jet trails of the Air Force Thunderbirds. Anyway, if you're ever in DC, it's worth a visit. There's a nice view down to the Washington Monument and the Mall there too.
Black and white conversion was done with Nik Silver Efex.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


Well, this is my requisite photo of Monticello. Home of Thomas Jefferson and immortalized on the back of the nickel, it's hard to get a really unique perspective here -- it's probably one of the most photographed buildings in America. And to make it even more difficult, it's only open from 8:00 to 5:00, so shooting it in really nice light isn't easy to do. In fact, Kim and I looked into doing a "Signature" tour, which started at 6:30 p.m. --- for $45. And so at the visitor's desk, you should have seen the look on the attendant's face when I asked if I could purchase a "signature" ticket and shoot exteriors of the house while everyone else went on the tour. Thankfully, the 20 "signature" tickets were all sold out that day -- saving me from the stares of 19 people heading into the house while I set up my tripod.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

poor man's HDR

After the rambling last post the other day about tripods, HDR, and clouds - here's an alternative. It was taken from a single frame shot on the grounds of Montpelier, home of James Madison - just north of Charlottesville. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has just completed the structural renovation, and the foundation is trying now to acquire period and family furniture. One day, I'm sure it will rival Monticello as far as grandeur. What I was going for in this shot was an HDR look without the really saturated colors ... and I also only had a single frame to work with. You often see this look with musicians and sports personality portraits - a really high definition look with slightly cool, desaturated, even metallic-looking colors. I got this look by first applying a Lucis Art layer and masking it just to the sky, then creating a high contrast black and white layer with Nik Silver Efex and mixing it in using Luminosity blending mode at about 75%. Finally, I used a curves adjustment layer to bring out a little more detail in the fence, and I added a dark soft edge. For reference, the original file out of camera is below. I also changed proportions a little to make it not quite so tall.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

University of Virginia Rotunda

When I go on a trip I always debate whether or not to bring a tripod. It's a hassle -- lugging it through airports and security, not being sure the situation will even come up where you need it, etc, etc. I normally try and travel pretty light, and the tripod just seems to be counter to that. But in the end, I normally talk myself into bringing it; and on this last trip to Virginia I'm glad I did. The photo above is the Rotunda at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. After dinner at a nearby restaurant, it was too early to start shooting and too late to try and do something else and come back for the photos, so my wife Kim and I parked ourselves on a bench -- where we enjoyed the great spring weather, watched a wedding photographer take some photos of a bridal party on the steps, and basically waited patiently for dusk. The photo here is a 5-shot bracketed HDR just as some great clouds were moving through near the end of the shoot. The longer exposures in this series were in the 8-second range (so the tripod was absolutely necessary). At first I was a little bothered by the movement of the clouds, but the more I see this image, the more I like them. There are alot of landscape photographers who, I think, see blurred clouds as a badge of honor. Like, "Yes, of course the clouds are blurred. How else could I shoot that scene." It's sort of the photographic equivalent of foie gras and sushi - that only foodie types can appreciate those foods; and only more advanced photography aficionados can truly understand and appreciate blurred clouds ... or maybe I'm just making a bigger deal than necessary out of something technically necessary to get a good exposure.
Never having been to Charlottesville before, what really struck me about this building and Monticello was how similar they both are to the Jefferson Monument in DC -- a pantheon design with a large center rotunda and columns along the entrances. In this shot at the university, a life-size statue of Jefferson sits on the north side (shown here). The blurred clouds, however, just take some getting used to.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


The May assignment for the Bay Area Photo Club was motion blur, and as it turned out my trip home from Washington, DC was that same night so I missed the meeting. This probably would have been one of my entries if I could have made it back in time. It's something of a departure from the vibrant colors and perfect focusing of modern digital cameras. I'd someday like to do a body of work in this same style. Cindi Barker has started a blog and has a great post about blur and abstracting the human figure with motion - here's the link. This photo was taken at the Dupont Circle Metro Station in Washington, DC - handheld at 1/8 of a second, ISO400, and toned with Nik Silver Efex.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Dupont Circle

This is the Dupont Circle Metro station in Washington, DC. This photo was taken during a rainy afternoon last Thursday - the same place as yesterday's image. Although there are signs all over the place that say no photography, I went on the assumption they were talking about the always controversial use of tripods. So I sat photographing trains, people, and the cavernous walls of the station for about an hour. Metro police passed by, and I'm happy to say no problems. All photos were shot handheld at about 1/10 of a second. In this image I used a Lucis Art layer on the ceiling and a Nik Color Efex Monday Morning Sepia layer masked into the train.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


This photo was taken last week on my trip to Washington, DC. I think it's interesting because the positive and negative spaces play off each other in a very odd way. The longer you look at it, I think the more this becomes apparent. It's a very graphic/pattern shot, and the light and dark shapes begin to fool the mind as to whether the blocks are raised or recessed. Please comment if you'd like to guess what it is. I'll be posting more from this same location this week that will put it in perspective.

Monday, May 4, 2009

my attempt at salvage

Yesterday, Larry Patrick posted a photo over on his blog that he took at Dickens on the Strand in December. During the fall, he and I took photos at festivals together using an off-camera flash shot through a small softbox -- approaching people asking to take their photos, and only spending about 4-5 minutes composing and lighting the impromptu portrait. He'd shoot and I'd handle the flash, and then we'd switch off. So, essentially we'd get pretty similar shots. Here's a link to his photo of this woman. The main issue we both had with this image is the terribly distracting background -- mostly items under the vendor's tent where she was standing. It would have been nice to get her into a neutral background, but that probably would have broken our 4-5 minute rule and made things way too simple. So, on Larry's blog I made a comment about using the clarity slider in the conversion, and how that may have played up the creases in her face. So, here's my attempt at salvage. Like Larry, I dropped in a new background. Mine was made of three layers - emulsion, bokeh, and watercolor. I masked her and brought her to the top, then used a Nik Color Efex filter to try and unify the color tones, and finally used a sepia Nik Silver Efex layer in overlay blending mode to desaturate the image slightly. What I really tried to do early on in the workflow was to de-emphasize and soften the natural lines in her face, while keeping the eyes sharp and colorful. So what resulted was a 400 megabyte, 16-layer file of adjustment layers, blending modes, and masks, sprinkled with the toning layers described earlier as icing on the cake. Was it worth it? I think, like Larry, I'm not really satisfied with the image. It definitely has mood and strong colors. But what sticks in my mind is that there was potential there with that subject, and we both failed to come away with a good photo. And as much as I tried, you just can't overcome those inherent flaws ... and that's one of the biggest frustrations of photography. Sometimes you just have to give up on an image, learn from your mistakes, and fight another day.

The Candid Frame

No photo on this post. I think it's been a week since my last one. Maybe I'm in a creative lull ... more likely it's because I've discovered Facebook, and have been reconnecting with some old friends. Anyway, if you have a few moments and are into podcasts, Ibarionex Perrello produces some really well done interviews about photography. Here are the links -- highly recommended. His latest podcast is an interview with Douglas Kirkland.