Monday, August 24, 2009

Mission San Jose Side View

This will probably be the "look" of the final series of these mission photos -- sepia toned and wide angle, emphasizing the mission architecture against the sky. This is a five-frame HDR merged together with Photomatix Pro, cropped, converted to monochrome with Nik Silver Efex, then some additional curves layers were added to paint in some highlights and shadows. I like the way the palms in the foreground mimic the two mission peaks, even the way visually that the palms take you up and out into the image. I guess the only missing things would be two dominant clouds in the sky that would complete the foreground-midground-background triad. Still, for showing up at a random mission on a random day and taking what's there, I think it works pretty well and meets what I set out to do.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Mission Espada

Interesting story behind this image. This is Mission Espada, the southern most mission in San Antonio along the San Antonio River and the mission trail. As soon as I got to San Antonio last Saturday, I went here and like most unplanned photo shoots ran into a few issues. First, this mission is oriented to the southeast, so late afternoon sun provided some horrible harsh backlighting. Second, there was a wedding here that ended about 10 minutes after I got there, so there were lots of people milling around for about an hour. I took a few photos, but my plan was to come back early Sunday morning and shoot with low, soft light. So, the next morning things seemed perfect. I got there around 7:30 -- no church service, great light, nice clouds, a couple of church cats playing around in the courtyard who seemed unusually fascinated with my tripod, and hymns being piped out of the speaker system into the courtyard. One problem: my lens fogged. There's nothing more frustrating for a photographer, and it always seems to happen at the worst time. Not much you can do, just takes a while for the glass to acclimate. Not wanting to miss the nice light, I started to shoot anyway wiping down the lens every now and then. I deleted some images right then and there, and after 15 minutes the lens was fine. When I got home and started going through images I noticed there were a few remaining images shot through the fogged lens. I was almost ready to hit the delete key in Bridge, but decided to see what would happen if I just went with the fog and took the image into a very moody, soft focus look. So that's what you see here, not for everyone's tastes and probably not one that I ever expected to make, but there's something about the styling that fits the subject matter. Sepia tone and grain were done with Nik Silver Efex; soft focus done with a cold lens on a hot day.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Mission San Jose

I spent the last couple of days in San Antonio shooting the missions for a series of photos for our good friends Pep and Patricia. This is the facade of Mission San Jose, which is open to the public until 8:00 p.m. through the summer. With my great photo assistants, Kim and Robert, we scouted the four missions and I shot about 16 gigabytes and nearly 900 images over a two-day period. There were alot of bracketed exposures mixed in to that total, so there were probably 350 unique images. I had the idea of doing alot of HDR and expanded dynamic range stuff with these images, and probably will in the future, but this first one is a single exposure. You just can't beat great light. In Photoshop, I shifted the sky a little to give it a warmer tone just because I thought it complimented the golden tones on the building better.
I've also changed the look of the blog - white background, black text, and a new frame for the image. I'd be interested in comments about the image and any other of the blog changes.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Evolution of Textures

It seems like for the past few weeks I've been posting lots of HDR and Lucis images on this blog. I'll admit, I'm a big proponent of expanding dynamic range either in camera or in Photoshop, but another thing that really interests me visually is mixing texture and mood with a pristine digital image. Those pixels coming out of modern digital SLRs are so good, it's fun to experiment with textures and tones to add some grit and earthiness. The photo above was taken at the Renaissance Festival last fall -- yes, now nine months later I still find myself going back to that folder of images and mining out little bits of clay to shape and mold. Like the others from that day, Larry Patrick and I were shooting with an off-camera speedlight shot through a small softbox. We posed this young woman against a lace curtain that was part of her shop. The light we used was pretty basic, and the resulting shot was also pretty basic. After doing a little digital cleanup on the file -- some skin retouching, sharpening, and eye enhancement -- I added three layers of texture with various blending modes, opacities and masks to get the final look. One of the nicest things about using multiply as a blending mode is how well hair and fine objects blend from layer to layer. I've posted this image at a pretty large size, so be sure to click to see the full size view and look at the individual hairs that can be seen against the textured background. There's no elaborate mask at work here, just a multiply blending mode --impressive stuff, and much faster than masking hair. As I continue to work with textures and pristine pixels, the challenge becomes making the composite seem unforced -- not hammering away at an image trying to make it into something that it's not...part of my evolution as an imagemaker.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Tourist Shot

Late last week, Larry Patrick posted a photo of a California landscape on his blog. It was a classic Pacific Ocean/cliffs/beach scene, taken from high above. He did a really fine job with a neutral density filter to bring out the great dynamic clouds in the image. But I don't think he was 100% happy with the shot, and there were lots of comments and suggestions on how to improve it. A few days later he posted a second version which was cropped more panoramic, darkened, and converted to black and white. Here are links to the original and the altered. I think Larry's feelings about that image happen to all of us who are traveling and come to a scene that is, as they say, "mature." Scenes like the Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower -- scenes that are so often photographed that it's difficult to come up with something novel. But you're there, you have your camera, so you pretty much have to take the cliched shot. The same thing can be said of my photo above. This is the rotunda on the University of Virginia campus, and I took this 5-frame HDR as I was setting up for some dusk/night shots later that night in May. It's straight in, not dynamic and unimaginative. It's a shot every out of towner takes as he or she walks through the beautiful campus. I suppose if you lived there you'd go to this location when it was snowy or icy and shoot the statue of Jefferson with bare trees blurred in the background -- a much more creative approach than this straight-in shot. But as a tourist on a late spring evening, you drop your tripod and take this shot, not because it's art but because it's your postcard-like memory of May 9, 2009.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Single Frame HDR

A couple of weeks ago on his blog, Mark S. Johnson showed a technique for processing a single file through Photomatix Pro to simulate the HDR look. Here's the link to the video tutorial. Since I've had Lucis Art, I've never really tried much with a single frame. It crossed my mind to adjust a single frame a couple of ways in Adobe Camera Raw and process them in Photomatix, and I've tried that a couple of times, but I've never been real happy with the result. So I thought I'd give Mark's tutorial a try with this image -- taken in May on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. Even though the sky is enhanced with this technique, it's not totally fabricated here. It poured down rain about 10 minutes after I took this photo, and luckily I was able to duck into the U.S. Botanic Gardens to avoid getting drenched. Selenium tone conversion was done with Nik Silver Efex; edge added with blending mode texture.