Image Deconstructed: Summer Creek Kawarthas

Today I’d like to write a bit about the latest addition to the PhotoCrossroads Gallery. The image was taken last July (2013) in the Kawarthas area. I was driving on Highway 36 from the town of Buckhorn to another town in the area, Burleigh Falls. It was early. VERY early. It was July after all and to get some sunrise shots I had to get up, I don’t know, at 4 am. Or something like that. And of course, I didn’t get up at the first buzz of my alarm clock so I was late.

Summer Creek Kawarthas Ontario

So, here I am, driving like a maniac to photograph Burleigh Falls (the actual Falls, not the town), I still have a few kilometers to go, and I know that this is not going to work. I know that no matter what, my car is not capable of getting me to where I planned to be, on time. I was beginning to process that thought when, in the corner of my eye, I saw this scene. I slammed the brakes and did a 180 degree spin at 120 km/h. Well, almost. But it felt like that. Kids, do not do it at home. Leave it to professionals. I was lucky there were no other cars on the road and I made it safely to the other side. But I lived and that is what matters.

This is the image “as is”, directly from the camera. I used 24mm – 105mm f/4L lens at f/18 and 105mm As you can see, the scene didn’t have a lot of dynamic range, so the histogram looks quite good and no tricks to expand the DR were needed. Other than the obviously crappy White Balance and lack of contrast, there were two major issues that I wanted to fix in the post processing. One, the foreground was bright and not very interesting. Secondly, the central portion of the background (the trees behind the fallen log) were a little too bright and distracting.

BFalls - 0

So, firstly I decided to crop the foreground out and level the photo. Here’s what I did:

BFalls - 3

The next screen capture shows the kind of global adjustments I used to process the photo.

BFalls - 1

In my next step, I introduced local adjustments. One to darken the centre of the background and another one to increase contrast in the foreground (see the next two captures).

Reduced exposure.

BFalls - 4

Increased contrast.

BFalls - 5

Finally, I decided to go a little bit for a “fairy tale look” so I shifted green hue a bit towards yellow.

BFalls - 2

The last screen capture shows the map where I marked the area where this image was shot.

BFalls Map

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Shooting in Sedona

Last week I returned from a trip to the US South West. I spent over two weeks there visiting: Zion, Bryce Canyon, Death Valley, Grand Canyon and Sedona. The first four locations are without the doubt on the “A-List” of photo-destinations. Sedona, on the other hand, is more known as the New Age mecca for all things related to: vortexes, cosmic powers, natural healing, etc., despite the fact that visually it is very interesting.

Afternoon in Verde Valley

So, if you are in Sedona, what are the prime spots for landscape photography ? I found three locations that, I believe, have a very good potential for interesting images. The key word is: potential. As usual, everything depends on a happy coincidence of several factors, weather conditions being the most important. During my trip, most of the time I had to deal with bald, cloudless skies, the situation that strikes fear in the hearts of even seasoned landscape photographers.

SOOO, getting back to the locations in and around Sedona, here are my thoughts.

  • If you want to capture a grand vista of rocks towering over Sedona then my favourite spot would be Yavapai Point (a.k.a. Yavapai Vista). It is located a little bit south of town. The trail-head is situated just off Road 179. It is well marked so you will not have any problems finding it. From the parking lot it is just a short hike (5 min) to the vista point. There are a lot of landscape elements there that can be used in the foreground of your images: rocks, yuccas, trees, cacti, etc. What is more important, you can shoot there during both sunrise and sunset since you have a 270 degree view of the area (there will be some rock formations in the west quadrant).
  • For shooting in the middle of the day, I would recommend West Fork Canyon. To get there you need to follow Highway 89A north (towards Flagstaff). The West Fork trail will be approximately 4 miles north of Slide Rock State Park on the west side of the road. I was there early in January when the scenery wasn’t at its the best but I can imagine that in the fall there will be many excellent opportunities for “small landscape” images: red rocks, reflections on the water surface, colorful leaves. You get the picture.
  • The third interesting area is actually a little bit outside of Sedona. It is called Verde Canyon or Verde River Valley. I took a scenic train trip from Cottonwood (20 miles from Sedona) one afternoon and really enjoyed the ride along Mogollon Rim. There were many fantastic vistas to be enjoyed, especially in late afternoon. It was one of those rare occasions when there were actually some thin clouds, so the light was very soft and pleasant. I was shooting from the moving train (albeit slowly moving) so I switched to manual exposure metering, increased the ISO and tried to pick some interesting angles to show the beauty of that area. I definitely wouldn’t mind to explore Verde Valley “on foot”. Just 3-4 miles outside of Cottonwood there is a town of Jerome with some interesting galleries and also nice view of Mogollon Rim and Humphreys Peak way back on the horizon.

The photograph that illustrates today’s post was taken in the Verde Valley from the train I just mentioned above. At that point the train actually stopped and the engine was being moved to the back so we could start our trek back to Cottonwood. I had a little bit of time to find this scene. It was shot handheld (obviously) with polarizing filter on, at 45mm.

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New Year Post – 2014

Happy New Year everybody ! Hope that you will have a great time and lost of fantastic shooting opportunities.

Zion

Well, well, well, another New Year bash came and went without major incidents (like having to dance 🙂 ) and it’s time to reflect of what the future may hold. So, without too much waiting, which trends  will be interesting to watch in 2014 in the world of photography ? There are the three areas that I’ll keep my eye on (in no particular order):

  • First: I think that one of the potentially interesting stories may be the introduction of first cameras by Panasonic and FujiFilm sporting their jointly developed sensor which uses an organic film for capturing photons. It was formally announced back in June (here is the link to the press release) and if we believed the claims there, there is a chance to see some tangible improvements over the standard CMOS sensors. We shall see.
  • Second: I have a hunch that sometime this year Adobe will release a tablet version of the Lightroom. It was showed by one of the Adobe guys last year on Kelby TV (or was it The Grid ?) but it was still at a very preliminary stage, not ready for release. Considering that they decided to tease us, with that piece of info and that the processing power of tablets is improving at great rate, I think that it is quite possible we’ll see such  a product this year. Does the world need an app like that ? It depends on a combination of price and capabilities but yes, I can see some useful applications for such technology. I would use it to quickly review my photos on an iPad during the times when I’m away from home on a shooting trip. As an example, I would quickly process the more promising images and use one or two as an illustration for posts on this blog. Certainly, I’m intrigued and I’m willing to try it.
  • Third: Since I’m a Canon shooter, it is obvious that I’m extremely curious about what Canon is planning for this year. See, for more than a decade, between 2000 and 2010, they dominated the DSLR market (I’m not sure about the Point and Shoot segment). They were the leaders, setting trends and introducing great, if not iconic, cameras. Remember the original 5D and and then the 5D MkII ? I’m sure you do. Now ? With the exception of sports/action camera (1Dx), Canon has lost its mojo, it seems. They lost focus preoccupied by video camera market, it seems. In the pro and semi-pro sub-segment, Nikon is eating its lunch with such great cameras like D800. In the mirror-less market, they stumbled badly with EOS-M and are being beaten by virtually everybody: Olympus, Sony, FujiFilm, Panasonic. Even Nikon, with its less than inspiring Nikon 1 cameras seem to do better. And of course, the P&S cameras are quickly going the way of the Dodo bird pushed aside by smartphones and tablets. Now, I firmly believe that Canon is too big of a company, with too many smart people to let it continue for too long, hence my curiosity. What will they do to compete ? I have a hunch that it will be a very interesting year. … Added on Jan 9th – Just read a post at Canon Rumors that nicely supports my “hunch” 🙂

The image in this post was taken during my latest trip to the US South West. More specifically, I took it in Zion National Park while hiking from above the Scout Lookout on the West Rim Trail.

Once again, Happy New Year !!!

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Zion &Bryce: The things I learned

I’m currently in Zion National Park and just returned from Bryce Canyon. What can I say ? Both places are breathtaking. I’m sure it is not my last visit in the area. The amazing concentration of iconic locations in a relatively small area of the US South West makes it the “go to” place for landscape photographers.

SOOO, what did I learn ? A few things. Here it is:

  • Never procrastinate when you see an interesting scene. Never assume that you can take a picture 20 minutes later, “on my way back”. I kinda knew that but was bitten a couple of times when the sun moved and the light wasn’t the same anymore.
  • 3-star, chain hotels are WAAY better than 4 and 5 star fancy ones. You get the same value for half the price. Best Western, Holiday Inn, Hampton Inn rock !!!
  • Nothin beats YakTrax in snow and ice !!!

To all readers of this blog, Happy Holidays and awesome light !!! Keep shoting !!!

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My thoughts on HDR. One more time.

It’s been a while since my last post and I must say, I don’t feel too good about it. Being consistent and persistent is something that I value quite a bit in life so for the last few weeks I felt a lot of guilt for neglecting my blog. But on the other hand, things happen, especially if life gets really busy at work and sometimes you have no choice. Anyway, I’ll try to post more regularly. Cheers.

Trans Canada Highway

As some of you may remember, I mentioned in one of my previous posts about graduated filters, that I didn’t like the HDR. I didn’t delve into this subject deeper as I didn’t want to go off on a tangent. But then a few weeks ago I had a brief email exchange with a photographer friend which forced me to analyse a bit more in depth my feelings regarding this. I started to think about the reasons why I have those negative emotions about the HDR. What I concluded can be summarized in a couple of points:

  • I have nothing against the HDR as a tool (!!!). Really ! It is just a tool. Like my polarizers, grad filters, Lightroom, Photoshop, etc. There is absolutely no reason to “hate” tools. It would have been silly if I did that.
  • What I really despise however, is the way this tool is used by a majority of photographers who are “into this”. I hate the “HDR look”: the overcooked, over saturated, unnatural look that screams: HDR !!! You know what I mean: the halos, way over the top clarity and sharpness, the whole nine yards. The same way like I don’t like when polarizers or grad filters are used incorrectly. The same way I don’t like when the saturation slider is pushed waaaay too far without any concern about the result. Essentially, every time when it is obvious what technique was used to achieve the final result I don’t like it. I consider it to be sub-par, heavy-handed and distracting from the essence of the image.

Have I seen any good HDR images ? Yes. But unfortunately it doesn’t happen too often. There are very few photographers who really mastered it and as far as I understand they often use HDR in combination with some other techniques to achieve more subtle, natural results. Which brings us to a related subject. Perhaps the current crop of tools (Photoshop, Photomatix, etc.) is “not there yet”. May be they are not good enough yet. May be we have to wait a bit until the algorithms are improved. I don’t know. But I know that too many photographers are using HDR as a crutch. They mechanically plug a bunch of frames into a software, push some sliders and voila: A new artifical drama was created. Not my cup of tea.

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