Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Disney with an iPhone

Mickey Balloons
I am in Florida spending a Holiday vacation with my family.  Normally, this means I pack along all the camera gear and make everyone wait while I take photos.  This trip I decided to take on a new challenge.  The challenge is to get some good photography using only my iPhone.

While traveling, I am taking a little break from the blog, but found a few minutes with my cigar and glass of wine to throw this up as a tease for a future post.  These shots, and those I will show later, are all iPhone shots.

Main Street-1
Enjoy your holidays, and go make some great photography.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas in Washington DC–Wrapping it up

Old Ebbitt Grill
Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, and I am furiously finishing this series of posts featuring Christmas in Washington DC.  I had a great time making the photographs and I hope you have similarly enjoyed seeing them.

Holly and 6th
If you missed the rest of the series, here are some convenient links:
  1. Christmas in Washington DC
  2. Christmas in Washington DC-Library of Congress
  3. Christmas in Washington DC-US Capitol
  4. Christmas in Washington DC-Army Navy Country Club
  5. Christmas in Washington DC-US Capitol at Night
  6. Christmas in Washington DC-The White House and National Christmas Tree

The Willard

I have a long list of other “Christmas” things to do, so I will keep this post short on words.  However, I hope you enjoy the rest of the photographs of snowy Washington DC.
Wreath at the Old Executive Office Building
Skaters at the National Archives
Runners on a Snowy Mall
Along the Reflecting Pool
Moon over Capitol Christmas Tree
Washington Monument and Barren Tree

Have fun, and Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas in Washington DC–The White House and National Christmas Tree

National Christams Tree at Night
Christmas is no longer sneaking up on us.  It is flying straight at us with the laser like precision of a Tom Brady pass.  With just a few days left, I am hustling to finish processing my Christmas themed photography.  In order to dedicate more time to processing, I will be brief.

Utah State Tree
The first photograph in this post (the National Christmas Tree and the White House at night) was a terribly difficult shot to get.  As I mentioned in the post “Christmas in Washington DC-US Capitol at Night” the conditions were not great; very cold and 15+ knot winds.  Windy conditions are always a challenge when shooting long exposures.  In this case it was exaggerated further because this shot was taken at a 400mm focal length (Canon EF 100-400 f4.5-5.6 L which, BTW I am selling…send me a note if you are interested).  To get this unobstructed shot, I had to set up at the base of the Washington Monument, and use every bit of the 400mm focal length.

Twinkle Twinkle
If you are unclear why use of the 400mm introduces a new level of difficulty , I will explain.  At such a long focal length, it takes only a small amount of camera movement to shift what you see through the lens.  At 400mm, If I move the camera just a few degrees, the White House would no longer be in the frame.  With a 17mm wide angle lens, I could move the camera nearly 80 degrees and still have the White House in the frame.  In summary, at 400mm, just a tiny bit of camera shake (wind, flapping cable or camera strap, shutter movement, or even breathing) would make the photograph unusable.

Whitehouse from Lafayette Park
I still have a few more groups of photos to post before Christmas.  Visit again soon, and enjoy the rest of the photographs.

National Christmas Tree

Whitehouse Gate
Have fun, and go make some great photography.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas in Washington DC–US Capitol at Night

Moon over Capitol Christmas Tree-1

Continuing the Christmas in Washington DC series, here are some night photographs of the US Capitol and the Capitol Christmas tree.  I have to admit there was some challenge in getting these shots.  Exposure control at night is an continuing challenge.  But even more challenging was the wind. 


Capitol Christmas Tree at Night

When I took these shots, the wind was blowing at 15+ knots which made keeping the camera steady during 2 to 5 second exposures a bit difficult.  The fact that it was about 30 degrees F did not add to my patience when coupled with the wind.


Capitol Christmas tree Reflection

While enduring the cold, I also took some shots of the National Christmas tree in front of the White House.  These shots were even more difficult for reasons I will explain in an upcoming post.

The colors from the Christmas tree and the reflections off the frozen reflecting pool are key features to these photographs.  However, I am including the following black and white photograph.  Even though the colors are important to the photograph, I think this black and white shows an interesting perspective.

Capitol Christmas Tree at Night BW


We are quickly closing in on Christmas, so I have just a couple more posts to round out this series on Christmas in Washington DC.  I hope you are enjoying.

Have fun, and go make some great photography.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas in Washington DC–Army Navy Country Club

Red 2

Ok, I will admit to a bit of false advertising.  Army Navy County Club is not in DC.  And other than my Christmas wish list being 50% golf gear and the other 50% camera gear, golf has little to do with Christmas.  On the other hand, I know some of you are visiting this series of entries to see some of the cheerful snow we have on the ground…so we will roll with the license I took with the title.


Red 2-4

Living in Washington DC, my opportunities for photographing in the snow are not as regular as those of you living in the great white North like my friends in Canada or friends and family in Michigan.  Photographing a scene dominated by snow is not easy.  Lets face it, it is a lot of white, and getting the exposure right so there is some definition in the snow while not turning all else into silhouettes is challenging.


White 3

The photographs featured here demonstrate one way of dealing with the naturally high contrast exposures that are common when shooting snow scenes; HDR.  I had not planned on shooting HDR when I took these shots and therefore did not have my tripod with me.  While Photomatix Pro does a reasonably good job of aligning handheld shots, it is not perfect.  The result is a little softness and edge halos.  Fortunately, with the size of the photographs in the blog, you are not likely to see these flaws.


Red 2-7

As you might imagine, for me the snow is both a blessing and a curse.  From a photographic perspective, I am having a great time – seeing all the ordinary things I see daily in an entirely different way.  On the other hand, as I look at the forecast I don’t see any golf in my foreseeable future.


Red 2-3

Finally, just in case the course superintendent at ANCC reads this, none of the prints or tracks on the greens were my doing.  Honestly.

Have fun, and go make some great photography.


Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas in Washington DC–US Capitol

US Capitol at Christmas-2
The snow in Washington DC yesterday was great!  DC is so beautiful after a fresh coat of makeup.  This post continues the theme of Christmas in Washington and features the U.S capitol, and the snow certainly adds to the Christmas atmosphere.

US Capitol at Christmas
I must have walked 10 miles in the snow (against the wind, up hill, and with no shoes) and learned a little about shooting while it is snowing.  While I have photographed regularly in the cold, a blowing wet snow is a completely different thing.  In addition to my normal cold weather precautions (battery care, slow transition of camera/lens temp, etc.) I found a couple of things handy yesterday.  First, the rocket blower to keep snow off the lens was indispensible.  I also took a micro fiber cloth to keep the camera relatively dry.  Finally, practical things like pointing the camera toward the ground when not shooting and keeping the lens cover on while moving from locations were helpful in keeping the camera ready to go.

US Capitol at Christmas-3
The one precaution I failed to takes was use of a camera bag.  I normally don’t like the hassle of taking the camera in and out of the bag.  I much prefer hanging the camera on a Black Rapid strap which is very comfortable and keeps the camera at the ready.  However, in snowy conditions, the viewfinder and the LCD screen were all but useless.  A little snow, a little water, and some ice crystals conspired to leaving me with little more than the ability to see that the shot was framed somewhat correctly.

US Capitol at Christmas-4
Due to the small size of the photos, you probably can’t see much of the falling snow, but trust me, it was falling pretty rapidly.  I was wearing a long wool coat and it did not take long for me to transform into some resemblance of Frosty the Snowman.

US Capitol at Christmas-1
I will be continuing the theme of Christmas in Washington DC.  So visit again soon.
Have fun, and go make some great photography.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas in Washington DC–Library of Congress

Library of Congress Christmas Tree-2
As promised in my last post, here is the next installment of Christmas photography in Washington DC.  The photographs here all come from the Library of Congress.  The Library of Congress is a beautiful and impressive building.  If you have not been there, I highly recommend a visit.

Library of Congress Christmas Tree-5
While I was shooting, there were a number of people taking the free tour.  Of course I was doing a bit of eve’s dropping and was impressed with the detailed conversation of the architecture and history of the building.

Library of Congress Christmas Tree-4
As I write this, the snow in DC has started.  This will result in three things; 1) closures of most everything, 2) traffic chaos, and most importantly, 3) some great photography opportunities.  I will be heading out momentarily to take some photographs for the next posts of this series.

Library of Congress Christmas Tree-8
Have fun and go make some great photography.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas in Washington DC

This is a short post just to let you know that over the next few days, maybe next two weeks, I will be focusing my photography on Washington DC at Christmas.  As I collect interesting photographs I will be posting them so those of you who don’t have the pleasure of seeing DC at Christmas can enjoy it as I do.  Most people visiting DC do so during the beautiful springtime and balmy summers.  Tourists this time of the year are limited.  For those of us who live here, there are a few benefits of a smaller crowd of visitors – like parking and traffic.

The photo of the Whitehouse was taken a few years ago.  I am not a big fan of the general practice of decolorizing photos while leaving in touches of color, but this one works moderately well.  My real challenge in getting the shots I want to over the next couple of weeks is the fact that it is stinking cold (I woke up to 20 degrees F this morning) in DC and the wind is blowing about 20 knots.  This not only makes it a wee bit uncomfortable, but when trying to get a long exposure night shot of the National Christmas tree, a swaying tree becomes a real challenge.

Standby for more photographs of Washington DC at Christmas and chilling tales of my adventure.

Have fun and go make some great photography.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Don’t Delete Your Photographs Part IV–Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem

Ghosts at the West Wall
Thanks for coming back.  This is the fourth and final installment focusing on software that can salvage photographs you might otherwise discard.  Today’s subject is noise and the example photograph is an HDR photograph of the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem.

First, a little about the photograph.  Featured are two very prominent icons in the Old City of Jerusalem; the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock.  The Western Wall commonly refers to an exposed section of ancient wall situated on the western flank of the Temple Mount. This section faces a large plaza and is set aside for prayer. In its entirety, however, the above ground portion of the Western Wall stretches 1,600 feet, most of which is hidden behind residential structures. 

The Dome of the Rock is an Islamic shrine who’s significance stems from religious beliefs regarding the rock (Islamic, Jewish, and Christian beliefs), known as the Foundation Stone, at its heart.  According to the sources I reviewed, the Western Wall gained its significance as a place of prayer because it is the closest gathering place to the Foundation Stone housed under the Islamic shrine that allows Jewish Prayer.  The Temple Mount, location of the Dome of the Rock, is in the Islamic quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem and Jewish Prayer is prohibited on the Temple Mount.

Ghosts at the West Wall Noise
OK, now back to the geeky stuff.  Several types of photography are susceptible to noise issues; long exposure, night, HDR, and low light/high ISO photography.  The photograph above is a tight crop of the original at the top of the post.  In the highly textured areas such as the stone walls, the noise is not noticeable.  On the other hand, our expectations of a smooth sky are compromised by the grit – noise.  This is a common product of HDR processing.  (Note; the original photograph at the top of the post was treated with noise reduction software).

Depending on your tolerance for noise, the artistic intent of the photograph, and the purpose of the photograph, noise may or may not be of concern.  If it happens to be of concern for the intended purpose, there are a number of great programs that can help.  Until the recent release of Adobe Lightroom 3, we were generally forced to accept the noise, or use a third party plug-in or other software to reduce the unwanted noise.  We now have a number of options that are both increasing in number and quality.

The next photograph is the same cropped segment featuring the Dome of the Rock, and a much smoother sky. Applying noise reducing algorithms is always a compromise.  Unless you want to spend a bunch of time masking in Photoshop, noise reduction tools are applied in a shotgun approach.  In other words, both the areas of noise, and detailed texture is “softened.”  Unless I want to put in the effort to eliminate noise while maintaining the crisp detail, I will normally select a compromise application of noise reduction.

Ghosts at the West Wall No Noise
In this series of posts regarding I have encouraged you to do your best to get the shot right the first time – “in camera.”  However, if your execution, or the limitations of your equipment/circumstance result in something less than perfect, there is help.  A lot of really smart people have produced a bunch of software to help you get the final product you see in your mind, but don’t yet see on the screen or paper.  Here are some of the more popular and useful products:

Finally, here are links to the previous three posts in case you missed them.

I hope you enjoyed this mini-series.  Have fun, and go make some great photography.


Friday, December 10, 2010

Don’t Delete Your Photographs Part III–Graffiti in Focus


This is the third in a series of posts discussing software packages that offer the opportunity to salvage photographs you may otherwise discard.  Just so we are all clear, getting the shot right the first time is undoubtedly the best approach.  But if you have that once in a lifetime opportunity to shoot the Central Park Yeti – and you miss the focus – there may be some help available.  And focus is the topic of today’s post.



Last week, I heard of a new software package by Topaz Labs called InFocus.  The software was touted as having the capability to restore photos that suffered from either motion blur or simply being out of focus.  I just had to experience this miracle.  Well, I was both disappointed and encouraged at the same time.  I was disappointed that the software did not live up to my expectations, but encouraged that Topaz Labs took a first step in providing a solution.  Topaz Labs makes some great products, so I expect the next generations of this package to move the focus recovery concept to a truly valuable piece of software.


CHE In Focus-2

I would like to provide you some examples of out of focus shots and the result from InFocus, but I will rather focus on a positive application of this package.  Fundamentally, Infocus is a targeted sharpening software.  So rather than continue to be disappointed by attempts to heal unfocused shots, I decided to apply InFocus as a sharpening tool.  The photographs here show the results.


The first photograph is the post-processed yet unsharpened original.  The second photograph is a cropped area of the original – unsharpened – to give you a better view of what InFocus can do.  Finally, the third photograph is a repeat of the cropped section with InFocus applied as a sharpening tool.  In my opinion, InFocus makes a fine sharpening tool although it lacks some of the controls other dedicated sharpening packages provide.  Finally, the last photo is the entire composition with InFocus applied as a sharpening tool.


CHE In Focus

In summary, I am not recommending InFocus as a tool to salvage out of focus, or motion blurred shots.  The good news is that some really bright people are working on this, and a solid solution is likely just around the corner.

Have fun, and go make some great photography.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Don’t Delete Your Photographs Part II–Ghosts at Damascus Gate

Damascus Gate - No Ghosts

This is the second in a series of posts discussing a few pieces of software that present the opportunity to save photographs you may otherwise decided to discard.  The conclusion resulting from these advancements is to save your photographs (even the flawed ones that hold promise); a software magician is about to make them better.


Damascus Gate - Auto Ghosts

In this post, I focus on Photomatix Pro.   This software package is specialized for processing multiple exposure HDR photography.  Photomatix has always done a fine job of processing HDR photos.  However, until recently it had some difficulties handling “ghosts.”  Ghosts result from people or objects moving  - in other words they show up in a different location in each exposure.  Imagine a three exposure HDR image that has a person walking from left to right through the frame.  When processing the three images, the software is confronted with a person in three different positions…where does the person belong?


Damascus Gate - Ghosts

A recent update to Photomatix Pro went a long way to remedy this by allowing the user to select ghosted areas, then designate which exposure to use for eliminating the ghosts.  The photograph of Damascus Gate (The old city of Jerusalem) featured here is an example.  The first version was processed with the selective ghosting tool.  The next two versions are tighter crops so you can see the differences.  The second version uses the “automatic” deghosting function of Photomatix Pro.  The auto mode was as good as it gets prior to the update unless you went through a good deal of tedious masking in Photoshop.  Finally, the last version shows the same shot with no deghosting.


For my taste, and what I was trying to achieve with this photograph, the second and third versions are unacceptable.  6 months ago, I might have overlooked a photo with such ghosting problems unless the “ghosts” were an interesting part of the composition (see my photograph of the Brooklyn Bridge in a previous post).  With the recent advancements to Photomatix Pro, I can shoot crowds with confidence and know that I will not be spending hours in Photoshop masking out ghosts.


Have fun, and go make some great photography.



Sunday, December 5, 2010

Don’t Delete Your Photographs

Statue of Freedom-2
This post is a preview of several articles I plan to write in the near future.  The theme tying these posts together is that of technology rescuing what you may have thought was an unsalvageable photo.  First, let me be clear that it is always best to get the shot right at the moment of exposure.  Most of what you might do in post processing is either compensation for not nailing the shot, or application of your artistic vision for the photograph.  In the first case (compensation for a less than perfect shot) the result of post processing will likely be a compromise from what you had in mind when you first viewed the scene.  Therefore, it is always best to capture the best representation of what you intended when taking the photograph.
Statue of Freedom
Unfortunately, getting it perfect at the moment of exposure is not always possible.  Some of these shots may not be of great interest in retrospect, but others can be frustratingly great shots doomed by some flaw.  Think of the great shot you took…at precisely the decisive moment, and you did not get something right (motion, focus, exposure, etc.).  This is maddening and you have nothing but the story of the “one that got away.”
Statue of Freedom-1
Increasingly, the software magicians are making advances that offer the opportunity of recovering these fundamentally great shots that are flawed in some way.  In the coming days, I will talk about several of these tools that have advanced the possibility of saving those great shots we might have otherwise discarded.  For now, trust me and do not delete those great shots that are flawed in some way – some super-smart software engineer is working on the solution as we speak.
The photographs featured in this post are detail shots of the plaster model for the Statue of Freedom.  The bronze version of the statue sits atop the U.S. Capitol building, while the plaster version is on display in the Capitol Visitors Center’s Emancipation Hall.  For more information on the statue, visit the Architect of the Capitol.
Have fun, and don’t delete your photographs.