Archive for the ‘Technique’ Category

Superior Sunrise

Superior Sunrise © 2012

Morning Light

An early spring trip to the shore found the Great Lake mostly devoid of ice and activity.  The hue of he sky reflected on the waters surface, broken only by a stray piece of ice here and there.  As though a nod to the rising sun the beacons cast the last of their light to welcome the day.  The morning, strangely warm but expectedly calm, was ushered along by a warm breeze like a spring kiss.   The clouds covered the skies and let through only light with shades of blue.   Slowly the blue was replaced with the Gray of the clouds but for now a splash of color entertained the senses.

Painted Falls

© 2009 Gary Udstrand

The Falls

The Tettegouche State Park is located along the North Shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota.   Through the park runs the Baptism River and a short hike along its banks finds the High Falls.  On a beautiful sunny summer day my family and I made that hike and were rewarded with the scene above.  The day was hot and humid and the cold water running along the stream quickly refreshed our feet and our souls.   The site, the sounds and the gentle breeze made this a day to remember.   I am fortunate to have picture of that day to take me back there.

Finding Summer

Here in Minnesota spring has not been very warm, or dry. Rather it has been cold and wet for the most part which only added to the impact of a very long winter this year. After several days of cold and rain I decided that it was time to find some sunshine on my own. So off I went to browse my image catalog to see if I could find our missing summer.  When I ran across the image above I was brought back to that wonderful day and whisked away from the cold dreary day just outside my door. With the thoughts of that day still on my mind I found a smile on my face. And that is why I love photography.

So, find your summer even if Mother Nature refuses to cooperate. Post some pics and put a smile on your face, and if you (and me) are lucky, a smile on someone else’s as well. Smile

Topaz Adjust

The impact of the image was very good but when I looked at the original it seemed to me it could benefit from some more “pop”.   To me that usually means a trip to Topaz Adjust.  Once the image was loaded in the plugin I started clicking on the presets but once I got to Spicify I stopped.    Typically I like to tweak the various sliders and see if I can find any improvement, in this case I did not even try.  The preset was exactly the look I wanted and it could not have been any easier.

The Shore in Shades of Gray

The Shore In Shades of Gray © 2011 Gary Udstand

The North Shore

The heat of a hot summer day slowly eases its grip the closer we move towards the cold waters of Superior.  The sun’s rays dance on the surface of the water and it warms the stones on the beach.  Like a beautiful symphony the water laps upon the shore and the steady breeze whispers off the leaves and trees.  The view is spectacular and the day wonderful.  

 

Silver Efex Pro 2

All of my black and white images lately have been processed in Silver Efex Pro 2, and this one is no different.  Using SEP2 it was easy to open up the shadows of the foreground rocks while still maintaining the detail and the brilliant whites of the foliage.     Besides a few quick clicks in SEP2 the only thing I needed to do was sharpen. 

Swept Away

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© 2010 Gary Udstrand

Swept Away

Lake Superior has many beautiful areas and among them is Grand Marais.   Many of our family journeys are in and around “The Shore” and this particular summer day found us camping right on the Lake near Grand Marais.

When we arrived the wind was blowing in off  the lake and a chill was in the air, not the uncomfortable kind of chill but rather the kind that clears the senses and makes one feel alive.  We strolled along the beach taking in the sights and the smells and feeling a connection to the Lake.

Slowly across the horizon a dot appeared and it grew larger with each passing moment until we could see the masts of a sailing ship entering the harbor.  I took a photograph which always reminds me of that day.

 

Composition

I wanted to comment about the composition.  I find it an interesting discussion to talk about what makes a photograph appealing.  There are a number of things that can contribute to that end.  Does the picture tell a story?   Evoke an emotion?   Bring back memories, good and/or bad?

Judging one’s own pictures can sometimes be very difficult since emotion does play a part.  As I related above, this picture has a meaning to me and I try to take that into account when I look at an image.  While it may be appealing to me, will it hold interest for others?

When I looked at this photo I saw balance, a story and action.  The boat sailing into the frame and past the lighthouse gave it a sense of space.    I also liked the interaction between the lighthouse and the sailboat which balanced the composition nicely.  The white of the lighthouse plays well off the dark of the sails and provides a bit of tension.

Lastly, further scrutiny reveals a lone soul on the pier gazing wistfully towards an unknown destination.  Sometimes it is the little things and in this image, I think that  it serves to bring it all together.

 

Silver Efex Pro 2

I processed this photo with Lightroom and Silver Efex Pro 2.   I started with the preset High Structure (smooth) and as on Skagen Town Hall, I pushed the blacks a small amount with Amplify Blacks.  The lighthouse in the background ended up a bit too bright for my tastes and was easily corrected by placing a control point on it and reducing the brightness.

Part of the appeal of Silver Efex Pro 2 is the simplicity in achieving the look you want.  And the results?  Well I leave that to the viewer.  Smile

 

Feedback

I always enjoy hearing from people who have taken the time to view my photos.  I appreciate the feedback.  You can leave comments here on the blog or if you click on the picture (or any picture in my blog) you will be taken to a gallery where you can also leave a comment,   I look forward to hearing from you and as always thanks for taking the time to view my photographs and read my ramblings.

 

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Skagen Town Hall

©2010 Gary Udstrand

Skagen

Skagen Town Hall is located between Greenbush and Badger in the NW corner of MN.   As a kid we lived just a few short miles from here and drove by it almost every day.  Now, years later I have moved on and get back home just a few times a year.  Seeing the town hall reminds me of my childhood and all the adventures that comes with growing up in rural area.  

Many things are different and have changed since my youth, this town hall however is not among them.  The trees may be a little taller and the paint chipped a tad more here and there but in my minds eye it looks the same as it did the first time I happened to cast a glance its way.

Silver Efex Pro 2

Just this past week Nik released an update to their incredibly popular, and powerful, black and white conversion plugin.   This plugin works with many image editing tools but my use is confined to Lightroom and Photoshop.  For this particular image I used the plugin from within Lightroom.

There are several new features to recommend the updated version.  Two of these features are the Amplify Blacks and Amplify Whites and both are exceptional.  The photo above was shot in very flat light and did not hold much promise.  I tried the usual tweaks in both Photoshop CS5 and Lightroom and could not get the look or the depth that I wanted in the image.

When I finally got a copy of Silver Efex Pro 2 one of the first images that I processed was the one above.   I previewed one preset after another and I have to say I really enjoyed seeing all the possibilities  that were just a simple click away.   I finally settled on one, the default I believe, and then using the amplify blacks and whites I was able to expand the tonal contrast and add some depth to the image.   Just what I wanted.  

Grass Roots

© 2010 Gary Udstrand

Roots

To me this picture has several meanings.  Growing up in this area of MN it is quite literally the origin of my roots.  The Town Hall itself represent the real grass roots of our political system.  It is here that government starts and provides the seeds of democracy.  Pretty cool when you think about it.

But it is not only a place of politics but also a place for gathering.  Like all good rural gatherings there is conversation, sometimes about politics but often about people.  It is no different here; living in the country can sometimes feel isolated and places like this represent something more.

HDR

This image above actually started as three separate exposures.  While I have written about other HDR images in this blog, this one is just a bit different, at least in the terms of tools and techniques.  My attempts at HDR have included Photoshop, Photomatix and Lightroom/Enfuse.    I have achieved great results with all three but with the recent purchase of the Nik plugin Suite I have added a fourth,  Nik HDR Efex Pro.

Nik HDR Efex Pro

I am a big fan of Nik filters and could not wait to try out the latest plugin from Nik.  It is an ambitious and well thought out plugin and  I soon discovered two things, 

Tone Mapping

First, it does a fantastic job with tone mapping.    It is very flexible and offers a myriad of options and controls.  These can be somewhat intimidating so the provided presets are very welcome.  And very good.

Besides the provided presets there are also other preset options available for download on the web.   Getting great results can be as easy as clicking on the various presets until you find one you like.  If it is not quite what you want you can tweak away, knowing that you can save your own preset should you come up with “the look”.

Alignment and Ghosting

HDR by its very definition requires that you shoot multiple images of the same scene which are later blended and/or merged.  Anytime you are dealing with this you have to deal with image alignment and sometimes with ghosting issues.

Of the two, ghosting can be the more difficult.  In the case of the image above the wind was gusting and blowing 30-40 mph.  Hard enough that when I went to merge the images I found that the telephone pole in the foreground had moved several inches at the top and caused no end of problems   No matter what I did I could not get Nik HDR Efex Pro to adequately remove the ghosting.

Luckily for me, just as I was struggling with this image I ran across a posting on the Canon 5D Mark II mail list outlining a technique that would address the issue I was experiencing.  One of the list members, Henry Heerschap, had posted an outline of a technique he was using with great success.  He was using the superior alignment/ghosting capabilities of Photoshop CS5’s HDR Pro to create the 32 bit image, and once created he would load it into HDR Efex Pro to do the tone mapping and any other tweaking.

Henry also adds a few other pointers to the technique.

  • Make sure to check the anti-ghosting checkbox in HDR Pro!
  • Select 32 bit in CS5’s HDR Pro.  You want to save all the image information for HDR Efex Pro
  • Since most tweaking and tone mapping will take place in NEP the only tweak needed in CS5 HDR Pro is to move the slider mostly to the right to recover all the highlights.  

I have to say, this works very well.  I had all but given up on the image above but using this technique I was able to get the results I wanted.   Until Nik improves their ghosting/alignment techniques I plan to make great use of Henry’s technique.   For that, I have to send a big Thanks Henry’s way…. So, Thanks! 

Farm Setting

© 2010 Gary Udstrand – Farm Setting

The Day

The sunset over the horizon punctuated a bitterly cold December day.   The wind was brisk and did its best to remove the warmth from my face and hands, and quite successfully I might add.  Winter in Northern MN can be cold and bleak but it can also be beautiful.   This day I was glad that I braved the weather to enjoy the glow of the sunset.   Even if it was just for a moment; it reminded me that spring is getting closer every day. 

Getting the shot

The click and the click and the click of the shutter.  What??  If you have not already guessed, the picture above is actually three pictures combined together to produce an HDR image.   In a nutshell a HDR image is a photograph that attempts to capture more dynamic range than traditional techniques.

The dynamic range of an image is the difference in the luminance between the lightest and darkest areas of an image.  Make sense?  Probably not, but think of it this way.   Have you ever taken a picture of someone standing in front of a window inside the house during a bright sunny day?   If you have you have more than likely ended up with a picture in which the person is nothing more than a silhouette while the yard and trees outside look great.  Or, if your camera is a little “smarter” you may have ended up with a nice picture of the person surrounded by a wash of blown out white.  Gone are the nice trees and yard.  

If you were thinking ahead and used a fill flash to even out the bright whites of the sunny outdoors and the shadows of the person in front of you then you might get a picture with both.  However, when shooting landscapes and scenery using a fill flash is just not practical or possible in many cases.

That is where HDR enters the picture (pun intended).  Essentially you take multiple exposures of the scene.  Using the above scenario you would take one that exposed the person correctly and one for the highlights of the window.   Then you could combine the images and tone map the results and get both properly exposed.

HDR

For many landscape photographers HDR offers a new and creative way to capture the scenery before them.   HDR has been around for a few years but many photographers have yet to embrace or understand the technique.   It can be complicated, and it can be intimidating but these days there are a number of great software tools to assist the photographer.  Myself, I use Nik HDR Efex Pro and to a lesser extent the HDR tone mapping in Photoshop CS 5.

In the picture above I took three exposures, one at a –2 EV, one at 0 EV and one at +2 EV.  These three images were then imported into Lightroom.  Next, I selected the three images and from within Lightroom exported them into Nik HDR Efex Pro.    I tried a few of the presets and found one that I thought best represented the scene.  I tend to favor the more natural look in my HDR’s but many are fans of more over processed look too. 

The plugin has numerous options and tweaks and could keep the tinkerer busy for many hours.  For those just looking for a quick result there are also several very good presets.  Click on a few and ifind one you like.  It is as easy or involved as you like.  Besides the presets that come pre-installed with the plugin you can also find other presets available to be downloaded on the web. 

Setting

HDR is a great way to create new images of even familiar places.  It can add new variety to your pictures and maybe even fuel some creative inspiration.    Get out there with your camera in hand and give it a try.   You may find an entirely new way to enjoy your photography. 

Smile

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.

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.

Stylizing

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.  .

Guidance

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.

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