Mono Lake

I’m back on the road again, this time in Lee Vining, California where I will be joining a night photography workshop led by Michael Frye. The class starts tomorrow, but that shouldn’t be reason not to go out at sunrise, especially when the body clock is on Eastern Time and something like Mono Lake is a short distance away. The one downside of this area is Internet poverty. So this will have to be a small post so it can fit through the little bitty Wi-Fi pipes that are available.

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Mono Lake at Dawn

(Technical Data: Nikon D800E on tripod with 24-70mm lens extended to 70mm; exposure: 1/40th sec. @ f/4.0, ISO 400, Time of day: 5:46 AM)

Summer Specials

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in Washington, DC is famed for its lotus display that peaks in late July.  This year I found time for only one brief visit about five weeks ago.  But I did manage to capture a few images which are shown below.  The most recent report I have on the status of the blooms is pretty dated–July 31st.  They apparently were looking very good on that day.  If you are thinking of going there now, it would be best to check ahead.  Here is the link the the Kenilwoth Aquatic Gardens website.  The best time to go is early morning.

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Pollinator Hovering

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Single Lotus

Both images were taken with a Nikon D800E on a tripod, 70-200mm lens with an exposure of 1/640th sec. @ ISO 400.  The apertures varied only slightly, about f/4 ,and the lens was close to fully extended.

If all goes well next week, I should have an image or two from Yosemite National Park.  If Mother Nature is kind to me, I’ll have some images quite different from these.

After-Before Friday (Week 13)

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Original RAW Image

This week’s submission to Stacy Fischer’s After-Before Friday Forum was taken several years ago at Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park.  I arrived at the shoreline in the late afternoon hoping for a nice sunset image.  As the sun dropped toward the horizon, the low angular light was having an increasingly dramatic effect on some boats stacked on top of a dock.   (Technical Data: Nikon D200 with 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 lens  extended to 56mm; Exposure 1/80th @ f/18, ISO 640)  As expected, the RAW file that resulted  (shown above) did not convey the intense colors I had seen. But the information was there and using Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) the adjustments made were as follows:

Exposure: decreased to -0.40

Contrast: Increased to +15

Blacks: decreased to -5

Saturation: increased to +31

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Image after Changes in ACR

The adjusted image (shown just above) was then moved to Photoshop for the final steps. These are shown in the sequence of the three images below. All changes were made with adjustment layers.

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Levels Adjustment Layer

As a first step, the levels setting of 255 was decreased to 242 to darken the overall image just a bit (see red arrow in image above).

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Curves Adjustment  Layer

Next, some additional contrast was added to the overall image which helped emphasize the color of the boats (see red arrow in image above).

ABFriday Kent Before 05 Week 13Selective Color Adjustment Layer

Finally a Selective Color adjustment layer was used to bring more life to the blue sky and the lake.  The color Cyan was chosen from the drop-down menu (white arrow) on the Colors bar and the Black value was increased to 22% (red arrow).

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Final Image

The final result is shown above.  About ten minutes after this photograph was taken, the sun dipped behind a ridge,casting this dock into shadow.   Thanks again to Stacy Fischer for managing 13 straight weeks of the After-Before Forum.  Please visit her post at Visual Venturing to check out the examples by other contributors.

Super Moon: Always Have a Plan B

Spoiler Alert:  There will be no moon photograph in this post; hence you will have to skip down several paragraphs if you just want to see the pictures.

Last week, the weather forecasters and other media were touting the so-called “Super Moon” that would be rising as a full moon on Monday evening.  I am always looking  for images that have a full moon nicely aligned with one of the iconic scenes in Washington, DC but a quick check of the details on time and placement were not encouraging.   The moonrise was timed to occur about 10 minutes before the sunset, so the moon would be pretty high before the deep blue twilight colors would be at their best. The best location seemed to be at the Tidal Basin with the moon coming up adjacent to the Jefferson Memorial but the placement wasn’t ideal.  But, you never know for sure, so it’s best to show up just in case.

But clouds began to appear in the afternoon, so prospects were getting dimmer by the minute. But one of the benefits of the location is that the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial is right along that side of the Tidal Basin and I had been intending to check some evening to see if the fountains were running and illuminated.  This would be Plan B.

Arriving at the Tidal Basin, it was quickly obvious that the media’s flogging of the Super Moon story had the expected effect: At least 3 dozen tripods were strung along the sidewalk of the Tidal Basin, with their cameras all pointed at the Jefferson Memorial.  But for a change, there was no consensus on where the best spot would be.  I joined the group closest to the Memorial (about 6 shooters) and checked The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) app which confirmed this was the best spot.

With 15 minutes to go, I strolled about 100 yards up the sidewalk where a larger group had congregated (seeking safety in numbers?).  Here TPE was saying the moon would rise way off to the left of the Memorial while the PhotoPils app indicated the moon would be much closer to the Memorial and if it was right, this was the place to be. What to do? Well, the clouds looked really bad, there was a very nice bench right next to my tripod, the other photographers were friendly, and the FDR Memorial  fountains were only a 2-minute walk away.  The bench tipped the decision.

Ten minutes after the scheduled rise, one of the other shooters pointed out a faint pink circle almost completely covered by the clouds and it was way over to the left, exactly where TPE had predicted.  But it didn’t matter because it was hardly visible and soon was completely gone from view.  While my neighbors picked up their gear and started to migrate toward the other spot, I chose Plan B and went directly to the FDR Memorial.

The image below is a quick pick from the night’s take but I was pretty happy with all of the results.  It turns out that the light is very nice during a brief period of 10-20 minutes after sunset.  After that, the lighting tends to blow out and detail in the rocks becomes difficult to pull out.  The Memorial is loaded with fountains so this implies a number of future visits will be rewarding.

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FDR Memorial Fountain (2 seconds at f/16, lens at 38 mm)

When finished with the fountains, it seemed appropriate to check on the folks who had cast their fate with the moon.  It is entirely possible that there was a spectacular moment while I was away, but the scene below indicates that nothing was going on at 8:35.  It seemed best not to ask.

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Jefferson Memorial at Twilight

After-Before Friday Week 12

My submission to Stacy Fischer’s After-Before Friday Forum this week is from a recent trip to Paris (which is pretty obvious when one looks at the image).  I am often shooting cityscapes during twilight and one of the challenges in these circumstances is exposing for extremely bright lights scattered across an otherwise very dark scene.  Such was the case with this twilight image of the Eiffel Tower.  The problems are not so apparent when looking at the image in the small size here, but when printed at sizes of 24 inches-plus, a string of overexposed street lamps can be a little obnoxious.  My go-to tool (until I can find something better) for reducing the glare is the “Highlights” slider in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR).  The starting image is shown below and is the unprocessed RAW image with no changes.  I should add that the final image, shown at the end of this post is actually a Photomerge with one other image, which explains the slightly wider field of view.  But both images were treated the same.

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Original Image, Unprocessed RAW File

The two images were photographed at twilight and the numerous bright lights complicated the exposure because much of the scene was not well illuminated.  I chose an exposure that would provide at least some detail in the darker areas, knowing that further refinements could be made in ACR.  (Technical data: Nikon D800E on tripod with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens extended to 31mm; exposure: 5 sec. @ f/16, EV= -0.67, ISO 400). The small aperture was necessary to get a hyperfocal effect, maximizing the depth of field.  Although it is somewhat hard to see at the small size here, the street lamps, carousel lights, and the Eiffel Tower itself are somewhat blown out.

Once downloaded into ACR, a number of adjustments were made to compensate for the initial exposure. The results are shown in the image below.

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The settings were as follows:

Highlights: decrease to -93 (an extreme decline to suppress the glare of the blown out lights)

Shadows: increase to +78 (also extreme, to open up the underexposed dark areas)

Clarity: Increase to +18

Vibrance: Increase to +25

The image above, given its size, may not clearly show the difference between the two images.  However, an enlarged detail section below showing the image before and after the ACR adjustments should help show the improvement.  The top section, the image prior to ACR adjustments, shows that in a larger print, the lights of the carousel, street

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lights, vehicle lights, and the Eiffel Tower all have a harsh glare.  After the adjustments in ACR, the effect is less pronounced.  One last note; the “star effect” on the street lamps is a result of the chosen aperture (f/16), not a special filter.  In twilight scenes such as this, I find that this optical effect is more pleasing to the eye of the viewer than an unstructured flare around the bulb.

With the ACR adjustments finished, the image was photomerged with another that had received an identical treatment (for more on Photomerge techniques, check my post of August 1st here.)    There was a little clean-up work undertaken, but no major Photoshop steps after the merge were necessary. The final image is shown below.

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Final Image

Again, I would to thank Stacy Fischer for keeping this forum running.  Please check out the excellent submissions by the other contributors at her Visual Venturing blog.

Washington, DC—August Scouting Report

Breaking News:  Local readers, photographers or not, should take into account that this coming Monday to Wednesday (August 4-6) could be somewhat chaotic in downtown Washington as the leaders of 40- 50 African nations will be here for a summit meeting.

OK, back to our normal programming:

Yesterday I thought it would be a good idea to zip down to the city and check out the status of possible shooting locations.  The weather was cloudy and it looked like we might get a shower or two, so the prospects for actually stopping and doing some serious photography seemed remote.  I almost didn’t take my camera, but a Little Voice said: “You might be sorry.”

As it turned out, the Little Voice was right.  My first stop was Union Station which is still undergoing a massive interior renovation started months ago.  The first sight when you walk in the front entrance is a mass of scaffolding, huge tarpaulins, and netting to protect pedestrians from falling debris.  (See image below)

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 Union Station Washington, DC Under Renovation

But then I turned left and I was already glad that I had brought the camera. The west wing of the Waiting Area was free of construction and the station’s famous centurions were on duty and alert.  Be aware, however, that there is a strict prohibition on tripods at Union Station, so one needs a high ISO and a wide aperture, especially on a cloudy day. (Technical Data: hand held Nikon D800E with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens extended to 45mm; Exposure 1/125th sec @f2.8, EV= -0.67, ISO 800).  Three images, photomerged.

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 The Centurions of Union Station

Over at the Supreme Court, a new repair project has just begun.  The Capitol Police officer on duty told me that this set of scaffolding had just gone up this week.

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 Yet Another Renovation at the Supreme Court

Next stop: The U.S. Capitol Building.  The long awaited and much-needed repair of the Capitol Dome is now underway and the scaffolding is being erected now.  On the positive side, Congress is on recess and the shallow reflecting pools on the eastern plaza have been repaired and the water is running again (See image below).

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 US Capitol, East Plaza

 Photographers that want to include the dome will have to accept the presence of scaffolding for perhaps the next two years.  (See the list of the end of this post for details on the situation around the Capitol.)  But there is a positive side: it makes one think about different approaches as exemplified by the image below.

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The US Capitol, View from South Side

 And down the hill on the western side of the Capitol, the flowers around the base of the James Garfield statue are looking great.  I couldn’t resist this image, even with the scaffolding in full view.

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James A. Garfield Statue and US Capitol

 The following summarizes my observations on the drive:

Good news:

  • A lot of the fountains are running, including those in front of the American History Museum, the Library of Congress (Court of Neptune), Senate Garage Fountains, Supreme Court fountains, the Bartholdi Park fountain, the Haupt Fountains on Constitution Avenue across from the German Friendship Garden and most of those at the World War II Memorial (But see the Bad News Below).
  • Almost all of the scaffolding has been removed from the renovation project at the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building. (But see the Bad News below)
  • The eastern plaza of the US Capitol Building is no longer a parking lot (as it was on Thursday) for Congressional VIPS as they have departed for the August recess. The reflection pools surrounding the two main skylights for the underground visitor center are back up and running and there must have been a bump up in the gardening budget because the flowers around the Capitol are looking better than I have seen in a long time.
  • The National Park Service Tulip Library, located near the Tidal Basin at Independence Avenue and Maine Avenue, is well past the tulip season. But the annuals that were planted after the tulip bulbs were removed are looking good.  And it appears that an ugly wooden fence right across the street (ruining any possibility of combining these flowers with the Washington Monument) is in the process of being removed.  I have been hating this fence since I first saw it 7 years ago.

Bad news:

  • The work on the western wall (Freedom Wall) of the World War II Memorial is still not completed.
  • Although the renovation of the Arts and Industries Building is complete, there are no plans to open it due to a lack of funds. So there may be some minor gates and barriers to prevent people from entering the space.
  • The US Capitol dome project includes a large construction support zone on the northwest sector of the grounds and a lot of netting inside the dome. Tours are still ongoing.
  • The Supreme Court front entrance now has scaffolding for a new project.
  • The impressively tall fountain (name unknown to me) at the intersection of 20th and C St. NW is not running.
  • And, not surprisingly, the Columbus Fountain at Union Station continues its 10-year-plus streak of neglect, despite a recent renovation of the entire plaza surrounding it.

After-Before Friday Week 11

I always like to participate in Stacy Fischer’s After-Before Friday Forum where photographers can exchange ideas on how to achieve their artistic vision.  The best part is seeing what the others are doing and I hope you will zip right over there right after you finish reading this.  Spoiler Alert: The link to her blog is at the end of this post.

This week, I thought that it might be interesting to talk about a specific technique rather than go through the entire post process of a selected image.  One of my favorite tools is the so-called “Photomerge” process in Photoshop.  The technique can be used to solve a variety of problems and is most often used to maintain sharpness in large prints.  In this case, however, I used it to compensate for the fact that I did not have a super-wide lens at a time I needed it.  The location is Mitchell Pass in Scotts Bluff National Monument in Nebraska. The “Before” image here shows two separate images taken a few seconds apart.  Both have already been through Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) and the next step for them was the Photomerge process.  (Technical Data: Nikon D700 on tripod with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens set at 24mm; Exposure: 1/60th sec. at f/13, ISO 400.)

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   The Two Starting Images, after ACR

There are any number of ways to merge multiple photographs but I have not tried any outside Photoshop.  But the following steps seem to work for me, so why go searching?  After the ACR process, the two images were opened as .NEF files in Photoshop.  To get things started, the following file sequence was used: File->Automate->Photomerge.  This opens the Photomerge dialog box (See image Below).

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The Photomerge Dialog Display Panel

The next step is to click the “Add Open Files” button (Red Arrow) which brings in all files that you may have open at the time.  Just select those not wanted (blue highlight) and click on “Remove. “On the left is the “Layout” pane with a variety of different Photomerge procedures.  It’s best to start with “Auto” if you’re not sure and that is the choice made here.  Finally, make sure the “Blend Images Together” box is checked.  Then click OK.

The computer will churn for a little bit, depending on how many images are being merged and how much RAM is available.  If you are lucky, you will get something like the image below which is fairly easy to deal with.  This isn’t the place to go into all the rules about taking panorama images (most of which can be broken), but generally the wider the arc of your camera, the more challenging the merge process becomes.  In this case, we have only two images with a slight upward arc.  At this point, the image has two layers (red arrow) and it is necessary to flatten the image before going any further.

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The Initial Result from the Photomerge Process

In this example, a simple crop could be applied to eliminate the blank space, but sometimes it is desirable to keep some of the image rather than be forced to crop it out.  Two ways to get around this problem involve the Transform function and the Content-Aware Fill function.  So let’s say we want to keep all of the bottom information in this image.  First, select the entire image, then use the command sequence: Edit->Transform. A display sub-panel opens with a bunch of choices.  “Distort” was used in this case.  (See blue highlights in the Image below)

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Launching the Edit->Transform Function

A border will appear around the image, similar to the crop tool with control points in the corners.  It is also possible to segment the image into 9 control areas by clicking the icon (not shown) at the top of the main Photoshop Window.  This shows up in the location indicated by the red arrow above after the Edit->Transform command is executed.  When selected, there are 16 control points, one at every intersection of the dividing lines (See Image below).  After some adjustments with the control points, mainly on the bottom and left side (See blue arrows in the Image below) all of the bottom information and much of the left side have been preserved.

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After the  Transform Moves Have Been Made

But suppose it was necessary to avoid losing anything on the left side.  It is at this point we arrive at an ethical issue.  Is it “cheating” to create something that was not there?  If the answer is “No,” then the Content-Aware Fill procedure might be chosen.  After a unanimous No vote, the Polygon Lasso Tool was used to select the empty area (See black arrow in the Image below), making sure the Feather control was set to 0 pixels.  Then the command sequence: Edit->Fill was used and the Fill display box appeared.  Select “Content-Aware” in the Use: box, “Normal” in the Mode: box and set Opacity at 100%. No other boxes should be checked. Then click OK.

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Setting up for the Edit->Fill->Content-Aware Action

The computer will churn again for a brief moment or two and Voila!   The result is shown in the image below.  In this case, and most of the time, it is impossible to tell that what is there in the new image wasn’t there when it was taken. (Please note that in this screen capture image the right  and bottom sections of the Photoshop display window are chopped off.)

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From here all that is needed is a simple crop eliminating the jagged edge on the right, a couple of adjustment layers (Curves and Hue/Saturation) and the final result is shown below.  Thanks again to Stacy for keeping this forum going. Please check out the other examples of “After-Before” at her Blog here.

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Final Image