Archive for the ‘Photography’ Category

Memories of a Tractor

Memories of a Tractor  © 2010 Gary Udstrand

One of the earliest (and only memories) that I have of my Grandpa was riding on a tractor with him. I was four years old and to me he was larger than life.  With me sitting alongside we made a couple of laps around the farmyard.  I can still smell the great belches of smoke and taste the raw diesel fuel that were the remnants of  the roaring engine. It was a great day and I still see the Yellow tractor with its name spread across the side, Minneapolis Moline. To this day these tractors are near and dear to me.

This past summer my wife and I took the kids to the Wright County fair, a pretty small event but it was fun none the less. As we wandered towards the back of the fairground imagine my surprise when I saw literally *hundreds* of Minneapolis Moline tractors. There were models from virtually every year (if not every) and many one of a kind and other oddities. WOW!

I took tons of pictures and found myself wishing very much that I knew the exact year and model of Grandpa’s old Moline so that I could get a picture of myself with the tractor. Of the shots I took this one reminded me most of my Grandpa for some reason. For all I know this tractor is way newer and maybe not even close to the same model but I can’t help but think of that day so many years ago when I look at this image.

Tettegouche Arch becomes the Stack

The Stack”    © 2010 Gary Udstrand

Fall becomes winter, spring becomes summer and green leaves turn brown.  Changes,  we expect them and we see them all around us.  Some occur slowly over time and others in just an instant.  In this case it occurred both at once and over eons of time.

One of the most famous icons along the North Shore of Lake Superior is the Stone Arch found at Tettegouche State Park.  As an icon it is photographed each year by thousands of visitors, many coming for the first time and some who are returning for another look.   It had stood along the shores of Lake Superior weathering eons of storms, Minnesota winters and the occasional crash of a powerful wave from the mighty lake.  But no more.

Over the past week visiting photographers were met with something they did not expect, the arch had collapsed.   After years and years of erosion and weathering even rock must succumb.    There were no reports of weather, no big waves, no storm.  It appears that it was the simply felled by the ever moving force of time

The landscape along  North Shore is always evolving but usually in such small increments that only the culmination of many becomes noticeable.   In this case the change was dramatic and sudden and seemingly happened when no one was looking.   The first reports came in on Saturday but exactly when it happened is unclear.

The Arch at Tettegouche had stood in place since the last ice age.   It is hard to imagine that something that had survived for so long is no more.    As an icon it will be missed and all we have left is the many photographs that show us what once was.  Some will remember and some will be sad that it is gone while others will be excited to see the new landscape that now graces the Shores of Lake Superior.

This past weekend I made a trip to Tettegouche to welcome the new icon.  At this time a new name is yet to stick but the park rangers refer to it affectionately as “The Stack”.  Standing before the new formation is it is easy to see why.   I was told that so far no one was really sure what had happened to the displaced rock.    According to the park ranger that I spoke too, several naturalists had hiked out to The Stack and were not able to find any remnants of the fallen arch.

So, while we all will miss an old friend in the Arch we now have a new icon to photograph and to view.   Things change, even those that have seemingly stood the test of time.  So long Arch, and welcome to a new North Shore icon.

Tracks in Time

The tracks lead into the distance, fueling the imagination and ideas of adventure. 

Home Town

I have to admit that this photo has a special meaning to me.  The tracks above are from a small town located in the far NW corner of MN.  It is where I grew up all those years ago. 

To me they represent a time in my life when a choice had to be made, my crossroads as it were.  My decision was to stay here and start my life or to move on to greater opportunities.   Ultimately I decided to pull up stakes and head off  in pursuit of an education.  By the time I finished school I found my life was now  firmly entrenched in the city.  I have been living there since then and wonder how different things would be had I not loaded up the car and left everything that I knew behind.

The Tracks

The tracks above wind lazily through Greenbush, MN.  It is nothing more than a blip on the map and seemingly gets smaller with each passing day.     In the distance is one of the grain elevators in town and represents the agricultural basis of the economy. 

Most people don’t even notice the tracks anymore, with the intermittent exception of a passing car jostled about as it continues on to its destination.  The tracks represent many things but mostly commerce in this area.

And Now

To this day I return to my home as often as I can.  I still have lots of family and friends in the area and many memories that I cherish.  Here I find inspiration in my photography and my life and there is a part of me that has always remained behind.  

The tracks move goods both in and out of town and are synonymous with my journey.   While I left and have made my life elsewhere, I still return and find myself here as well.    I can never stay as long as I like and always find myself needing to continue along the tracks once again.

Churchill Downs

The excitement was palpable as the throngs of race fans awaited the arrival of the first horses of the day.   You could feel and taste the history of this place.

The Paddock

Churchill Downs is virtually synonymous with horse racing and is hallowed ground to horse racing aficionados.  As we arrived we were greeted with the scene above and the level of excitement and grandeur was overwhelming.   Standing here one could not help but think about all the past Champions that had strolled around the paddock before heading to the track to make their mark in the history books.


For this image I used Photoshop CS5  and Topaz Adjust 4.  Besides some simple sharpening and toning I applied the Spicify preset in Topaz and was done.    To me the buildings and the surroundings had  a magical /fantasy look to them and I wanted the image to convey that.  The saturated colors and slight glow to the edges added by the effect really accentuated the image and added to the overall feel and look I was after.  .


Eyes on many a ship had turned towards the beacon on Split Rock for guidance. Today its watchful eye is no longer needed by the ships of Lake Superior, instead it stands as a reminder of days, and ships, past.

Split Rock

One of my favorite places to spend time is along the North Shore of Lake Superior.  Among its many treasures is the Light House at Split Rock.  Many photographs have been shot of this iconic landscape over the years, and in all kinds of weather and conditions.  One can’t help but think about the many storms of November on the Great Lake and the welcome sight the beacon of Split Rock must have been.

On this beautiful summer day the lake was calm and provided no hint of the great fury its icy waters could deliver.  Instead the warmth of the suns rays fought back the chill of the lake swept breeze and was serene and idyllic.

The couple

The setting, the sun and the calm waters all contribute to this image, but the couple in the forefront add not only dimension and scale but also perspective.  I have no way of knowing for sure but I like to think that they were taking the opportunity to spend time and connect with each other.  In a familiar context the Lighthouse was there for them, as it had in the past for the ships of Lake Superior.

Why that crop?

Soon after posting this image I was asked by a fellow photographer why I chose that particular crop.   My reply was as follows:

I had initially shot this scene in a portrait mode.  When I reviewed it  the sky did not have much interesting detail, so I cropped the top a bit.  At the bottom there was a pattern of ripples on the water but I thought they did not really add to the image.   By cropping top and bottom I was able to distill the image down to only the elements in the scene that were an element of the overall theme.  I felt the Lighthouse was providing guidance both to the ships on the lake (hinted at by the disappearing water over the horizon) and to the couple in foreground.   Ultimately I try to crop images to distill them down to the barest of elements and that is what I have attempted here.

Lazy Summer Day

The hike had left us hot and tired and our sense of adventure had waned. Wading into the cool water we began to feel our spirits rise. Rejuvenated, our interest returned and the exploring once again began in earnest.

Classic Americana

The processing on this image has a very Norman Rockwell type of feel.  I really like this effect on certain photos,   In this image  the scene, the setting and the kids are timeless and remind us of an era where youth and innocence were celebrated.  To me the photo and effect compliment each other perfectly.

This scene harkens back to a time when days were simpler and ones pastimes were more about enjoying the things around you rather then the things you have.   A stream, a stick and a kid seem so right.  To me, this photo is about the wonder of discovery and the innocence of youth.

Make your own Rockwell

Since this is a photo blog I felt it was worth at least a few words on how I processed this image.  And, if you are interested in this effect you will be happy to hear that all it needs is a few words.  🙂

This photo was shot as a jpg by an ordinary P&S camera and processed in Lightroom.    In Lightroom I simply boosted the blacks a small amount and then opened the image in Topaz Adjust.

Topaz Adjust

I have run other images on my blog in the past that discussed Topaz Adjust in more detail (see blog article here).  For the image above it could not be more simple.  Once the image was opened in Topaz Adjust I simply selected the Psychedelic preset.  I played around with some of the sliders but in the end I just went back to the default settings. 

Adjust has lots of different looks and effects and it a very creative and useful tool to add to your arsenal.   Among other things you can approximate the Dave Hill effect or get something like the above which is kind of a cross between a Rockwell painting and the Dave Hill Effect. 

Topaz does have a 30 day trial for most of its plugins, including Adjust.  It is a very fun and creative tool and well worth the time to download and kick the tires.  If you decide to buy you can use the coupon code tnttopaz and save 10%.

The Orton Effect

Pastels ©2009 Gary Udstrand


This article is about a popular processing technique known as the Orton effect.   It is a technique named after photographer Michael Orton who pioneered the effect.

The technique takes an image and from it you create an in-focus version and an out of focus version.  The two images are then blended together to create an image with a dreamy, surreal look.    The technique originated during the days of film, but now with Photoshop and other image editors the look can be achieved quickly and easily with a single exposure


How its Done

The technique works best with images that have strong lines.  In my experience pictures of buildings and flowers seem to work well.  Probably most important is that the image contains a strong focal point.

Pastels © 2009 Gary Udstrand

Above  is an image that I shot a few years back.  The image is OK but I wanted to accentuate the colors of the flowers and give it a dreamy look to emphasize the softness of the pastel flower color.

The Orton effect is easily achieved in just a couple of steps.  You can drop to the end of the article for a list of the steps, otherwise you can follow along as I convert the image above


Step One

Once you have your starting image opened in Photoshop (I used Photoshop CS4) the first step is to duplicate the original layer (ctrl-j).  In the layers panel, select the blend mode screen to create a lightened version of your starting image.  Merge the screened layer with the background layer (right click on screen layer and select merge down). 

Step Two


Next, duplicate the background layer again (ctrl-j).  Set the blend mode to multiply.   Don’t merge this layer just yet. 


Step Three

Select the layer and choose Gaussian blur (filter->blur->gaussian blur).  You should see a dialog box as below, Click on preview, then you can slide the radius slider and see your changes.

Here I have chosen a radius of 30 but anything from 15 to 50 will work.  You need to experiment to get the look you prefer.    The final result is below



Step Four

Flatten the image, post to web and share with all of us.  🙂


  • Duplicate Layer (ctrl-j)
  • set the blend mode to screen
  • merge layers down
  • copy layer again (ctrl-j)
  • set the blend mode multiply
  • open the gaussian blur filter
  • turn on preview, move slider back and forth to get finished look
  • flatten image
  • save and share

City on the Lake of the Isles

Lake of the Isles – Minneapolis, MN


The metro area of the Twin Cities offers stark contrasts between the metal and concrete of its towering structures and the gentle waters of the lakes that surround it.  On this day the city on the Lake found its reflection starting back from the smooth, still waters of Lake of the Isles.      As though the buildings were standing upon tiptoe to peek over the trees, they loomed large upon the backdrop of the darkening skies.

Pileated Woodpecker

The cold winds of winter had started to subside and would soon be replaced with the warm fragrant breezes of a Minnesota spring.  As the two forces battled with each other the woods and waters started to return to life.  On this day the last vestiges of winter could be felt as the breeze stiffened and the occasional snowflake appeared in the sky.

The Pileated was not to be deterred however, knowing that spring would soon win out.  And so the woods were filled with the raucous echo of the powerful strikes upon the yielding wood and bark.  This somehow made the breeze warmer and the flakes less obvious.    Ah yes, spring was near.

Image Blending in Lightroom with Enfuse

The Minneapolis skyline after dark can be spectacular.   In the picture above the skyline and its vibrant colors are reflected on the mirror-like finish of Lake Calhoun.

Dynamic Range

Before we can start a discussion about HDR (High Dynamic Range), we first need to begin with an understanding of what dynamic range means.  In photography dynamic range is the ratio between the minimum (shadows) and the maximum (highlights) light intensities in an image.   This ratio is measured in f-stops when referring to digital cameras.

I will leave it to the experts to debate how f-stops of dynamic range the various formats and cameras can attain.  Even if you use the very best DSLR it is still likely that you will on occasion (often?) find photo opportunities that will exceed the dynamic range of the camera.  This is where HDR and/or blending techniques come in.

For those looking for more information about dynamic range you can find a great reference here.

HDR or High Dynamic Range

HDR has become a very popular technique due in large part to a number of very good tools that have become available.  Photomatix is probably the most well known and popular, and while it does a good job, it can be very difficult to get decent results.  Most HDR that I have seen ends up looking kind of unreal and/or like a cartoon.   Some people like this, but it is not for me.

The trick, I think, is to use the tools to accomplish a subtle effect and to not go overboard.  While the goal is to present a much larger dynamic range than can be accomplished with a single shot, you should also strive for realism.

While Photomatix and similar tools use tone mapping and exposure fusion, there is another technique that can be used which is image blending.    One of the tools that can be used for blending is Enfuse.


Enfuse is an open source tool which can be downloaded for free.  The Wiki page does a much better job of describing it:

Enfuse Wiki page

Enfuse is a command-line program used to merge different exposures of the same scene to produce an image that looks very much like a tone mapped image (without the halos) but requires no creation of an HDR image. Therefore it is much simpler to use and allows the creation of very large multiple exposure panoramas.

Sounds like just what we want.  🙂

Lightroom plug-in

The downside to Enfuse is that it can be daunting to use for those less technically inclined.  It is a command line tool, and if you’ve never ventured out of Windows and into the world of command prompts, it could be a show stopper.   However, if you have Lightroom there is an alternative.

Timothy Armes, who has authored a number of Lightroom plug-ins, has created one just for Enfuse called LR/Enfuse. In short this plug-in allows you to simply select the images that you would like to blend within Lightroom.

Accessing the plug-in

Once you have the images selected the next step is to start the plug-in.   The Enfuse plug-in is a bit different from most, to launch the Enfuse process select  File->Plug-In Extra’s->Blend Exposures using LR/Enfuse.


When the plug-in is launched you are presented a window that contains four tabs that configure and control the output.  It may seem like a lot but  the settings for the most part do not change all that much between sessions and the actual blending options are limited to one tab (Enfuse)

Output tab

The output tab is where you specify the name and location of the output file.  I almost always output to the 16 bit TIFF format.  You can also opt to import the output file back into Lightroom, copy meta data to the blended image, etc..  You can see my typical settings below.

Auto Align Tab

The auto-align configuration determines how (or if) the images should be aligned during the blend.  Even shooting on a tripod I find that I do need to have the plug-in automatically align the images.  Even the slightest shift of the source material can lead to a blurry image, auto-aligning can correct for that.

Enfuse Tab

This tab is the one place where you are able to tweak the blending.   I leave the levels set to automatic and if you are just starting out you should too.

The other parameters control the weighting factors used by Enfuse to blend the images.  Input images are weighted according to their exposure, contrast and saturation.  Changing these values will effect the blend and how the pixels are blended.  The contrast weighting is the only one of the values that is not determined on a per pixel basis.    Instead it looks at a window of values whose size is determined by the Contrast Window Size.

Al the bottom of all the panels is a generate previews button,  I would recommend that you leave the auto generate unchecked and instead manually create a preview when you are done with  you r changes.


Configuration Tab

The configuration tab typically needs to be set up only once.  The only config here that is interesting is the preview pixel size.   The larger the size the longer it takes to generate the preview.  The default is 500 which is too small for my taste, 800 seems about right.

Shooting to blend

When shooting HDR, you typically will need 3-5 images which are bracketed at equal stops.    The beauty of blending is that you can be much more liberal with your source material.    The documentation for Enfuse recommends starting out with pictures bracketed by 2/3 to 1 1/3 stops to make it easier to visualize.   Typically you want to get a “base” exposure that is as close to the look you like and bracket from there.  If you are concerned about the shadows, bracket up and don’t worry about bracketing on the –EV side for highlights.  Blending is very forgiving and is not dependent on a certain mix of photos.

Also, to make your life easier, you will want to use a tripod.  Some of the various blending and/or tone mapping products will handle slight movements of the camera, but from my experience it is just best to start with images that are framed as identically as possible.

For the image I present here I shot three exposures.   As I said earlier I am not a huge fan of the really overdone HDR in most cases.  For some source material it works pretty well (see my article on Topaz adjust for one that I think puts the effect to good use.  IMHO   :-))   but for this scene I definitely wanted something with more realism.  Blending is just the tool.



Below are the three images that were blended to create the photo at the beginning of this article.   As you can see each image captures detail in some areas but not in all.  By blending the three images, we are able to get a final result that combines the areas from each photo to ultimately deliver an image that exceeds the dynamic range of a single frame.

Exposure at –2 EV

In this image you can see the details in the city lights and in the reflections on the water.   The buildings themselves are obscured by the shadows and the tree line is nothing more than a silhouette.


Exposure at 0 EV

At this exposure you can see the buildings are opening up and there is detail appearing in the tree line.


Exposure at +2 EV

Now we see lots of detail in the tree line but the buildings are washed out.  The city lights are mostly white blobs.




Blending images is a great way to increase the dynamic range of your photo.    It also has the advantage of providing a more realistic look, and with less work than the popular tone mapping tools.    As a bonus Enfuse itself is free and the plug-in for Lightroom is much cheaper than the popular tone mapping tools (think PhotoMatix).

In short if you are a landscape photographer, you owe it to yourself to try out Enfuse and blending;   Heck, any photographer would benefit from having this tool in their arsenal.   Download Enfuse and the plug-in and try it out.  I would love to hear from you and see your results.  I think you will be as excited about blending as I am.  🙂

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