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Dramatic Architecture in Black and White

Packard - Stanford - 2011//

Over the holidays, I spent some time working through the post-processing techniques of Joel Tjintjelaar.

Joel’s a master of long exposure black and white images – along with dramatic architectural images. His techniques have evolved – from using lots of hard selections to now using a combination of a few hard selections along with luminosity masks to shape the light in his monochrome images.

This is an early example of my application of some of Joel’s teachings. It’s the David Packard Electrical Engineering Building at Stanford – captured with my tiny vest pocket Canon Powershot S95 almost five years ago.

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So, Where’s Santa?

Where's Santa? - Dun Lagohaire -2010

My search for fun holiday photos continues…

Here’s one from a trip we made to Dublin, Ireland in November 2010. The town of Dún Laoghaire had finished installing their street decorations – and I captured this shot of Santa and his reindeer – but no Santa – with my tiny Canon PowerShot S95.

Made me smile – sort of like the reindeer and sleigh were on autopilot – without the old man along to guide!

Ireland’s high on my list of places I’d like to return to and spend more time!

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More Monochrome from the Beach in Hawaii


Here’s another monochrome from the beach on the Big Island of Hawaii.

This image was shot using my tiny Canon PowerShot S100 and tweaked initially in Lightroom for straightening and then into Photoshop for conversion to monochrome using Nik’s Silver Efex Pro 2.

It was finished with some dodging and burning – along with a couple of Curves adjustment layers to augment the tonality of the image. A final pass of “hiraloam” sharpening completed the processing.

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Lessons from 2012: Our Web Has a Long Memory

New Year's Day - San Francisco - 2012

I just took a look back at the most popular web pages here on my blog during the last twelve months of 2012. The most popular pages – based on page views – weren’t written this year – but they’ve stood the test of time – at least as far as Google and the other search engines are concerned.

Here’s the list of top 10 posts based on page views during 2012:

  1. The Winner Is: Oven Roasted Tri-Tip Roast for Football Sunday (Feb 1, 2009) – Best ways to cook tri-tip!
  2. My Life in a Sling! (Nov 10, 2009) – The story of my rotator cuff surgery – and an amazing community of others who’ve also been through this rough surgery.
  3. HOW TO: Setting up the Canon PowerShot S90 to Shoot HDR (Jan 31, 2010) – All about how to shoot HDR images from compact point and shoot camera.
  4. New Photoshop Learnings from Jaime Ibarra (Nov 13, 2011) – Jaime’s a master and I took a private 1:1 workshop with him.
  5. Sunday Morning Coffee: Carmel and Point Lobos (Jan 25, 2009) – So many memories of the Monterey coast. If you go, check this out.
  6. Yosemite’s Half Dome – Handheld HDR with Canon 5D Mark II (jun 5, 2010) – My early learnings about HDR.
  7. First Time Out with HDR Photography on a Canon 40D (Sep 6, 2008) – More early HDR learnings.
  8. My Mid-2011 Photography Workflow (Jul 30, 2011) – An important milestone in my workflow – which has since moved beyond.
  9. Hierarchies – of Life and Privacy (Aug 13, 2005) – A perspective that’s stood the test of time.
  10. A Floating Faucet Fountain (Jun 13, 2009) – One of those fun stories that brings back childhood memories of home shows and the like!

Look at that list – no posts from 2012 made the top 10! It’s kinda crazy how long the long tail is. In the case of my blog, the top 3 posts accounted for over 50% of this year’s page views. The remaining 40+% were spread out among hundreds of other posts. I wonder how this distribution might change in 2013?

What post from 2012 was the most viewed? This one – How We Appreciate Great Photographs.

Looking back a year ago, here’s my list of the most popular posts of 2011 – with my commentary. Interesting to see some changes this year in the rankings.

See you next year!

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Sydney Opera House in Monochrome

Opera House - Sydney - 2011

In March 2011, we were in Sydney, Australia for the wedding of a close family friend. Of course, while there, we spent some time on the amazing Sydney Ferries.

This image was shot with my tiny Canon PowerShot S95 as we were heading back into Circular Quay. I loved this perspective on the Opera House – and processed it in monochrome using Nik’s Silver Efex Pro 2 and Topaz Simplify 4. I love the contrast and composition in this image – and hope you do too! (Click on the image to see a larger view)

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The Master’s Tools – Fort Ross – Sonoma Coast

The Master's Tools - Fort Ross - 2012

Last weekend, I was in Bodega Bay for the Sonoma Coast Workshop led by Derrick Story. This was my third workshop with Derrick – and the second taken alongside my photo buddy Doug Kaye.

Derrick is a great teacher and his workshops are among the best I’ve ever experienced. The groups are small – which makes everyone feel open and sharing – and this particular venue was just outstanding.

The shot below is from Fort Ross on the Sonoma Coast. Doug pointed out this amazing room – I thought of it as the carpenter’s master suite – and I shot this image with my tiny Canon PowerShot S100. It was post-processed using Nik’s Silver Efex Pro 2 and Lightroom 4 – a great combination for this kind of nimble, lightweight photography on the move!

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Oh Sydney!

Morning Glory - Sydney - 2012

Last Friday evening, my colleague Carol Coye Benson and I flew to Sydney for a few days of teaching and consulting. With the flight over from San Francisco, you lose a day enroute – leaving late Friday and arriving early Sunday morning. After arriving, I headed over to Circular Quay and the Sydney Opera House with my tiny Canon PowerShot S100 in hand.

This is one of the shots from my walk – a family posing for a group shot on the upper level at the Opera House. The light was really special that morning – and the processing I’ve used on this version tries to highlight that special morning glow. I post-processed this using Nik’s Color Efex Pro 4 and Trey Ratcliff’s new Lightroom presets.

Hope you like it! It’s amazing to me that you can board an airplane, fly for over 13 hours and end up on the other side of the world.

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The Church Saint Teresa of Avila at Bodega

Saint Teresa of Avila - Bodega - 2010

This image, taken with a tiny Canon PowerShot S90 during a photo workshop weekend in the fall of 2010, shows the church Saint Teresa of Avila – made famous in the Alfred Hitchcock movie “The Birds”. We were there on a cool, foggy morning and the light was just right to capture some moody images!

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A Pastoral Panorama at Point Reyes


Last Saturday, I took a drive up to Point Reyes – mostly to visit some photographers’ open studios but also to do a bit of exploring out at Pierce Point Ranch.

As I was heading back into Inverness for my first open studio visit (Richard Blair), I had been watching the beautiful clouds off in the distance. At one point, the road made a 60 degree turn to the left and I puled over – taking two shots with my little Canon PowerShot S100. This image is a two shot panorama stitched together in Photoshop CS6 and then converted to monochrome using Nik’s Silver Efex Pro 2.

I enjoy the tree on the right and almost how the clouds are flowing out from it to the left. The fence provides a bit of layering to the image which I also enjoy. A fun – and beautiful – image shot with a bit of whimsy along the road to Inverness. Be sure to click on the image to see a much larger version!

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How Do You Learn And Improve Your Photography?

Point Montara Light Station - Montara - 2012

Tonight’s edition of Trey’s Variety Hour (Episode #34) is hosted by my friend Doug Kaye. The topic of the show – totally unrelated to gear for a change! – is “How do you learn and improve your photography?” A great topic – and one I’m sure I can learn from.

As I think about the topic before watching the show, it’s caused me to do a little reflecting back on what has been important to me as I’ve been learning and exploring photography over the last five years or so. I happened to get back into photography in a big way about that time when my first granddaughter was born. That gave me a great excuse (!) to go out and buy a decent digital SLR. Since then, it’s been mostly about practice – but sometimes new inputs are very helpful in lifting you from plateau to a new level!

So, unlike the show topic, let me first talk about my experience with gear – because that’s been an important part of my learning of photography…


How did I decide which DSLR to buy? Well, I happened to come across a blog post by Doc Searles – he had taken a memory card into a camera store and shot a bunch of images using both a Canon and Nikon body. After looking at his results, he decided to buy the Canon EOS 30D DSLR. It took me about three minutes to read Doc’s review – which caused me to then pull the trigger on and order my own 30D! Amazing how social recommendations can be so powerful! As any DSLR photographer knows, that first camera body decision effectively locks you in – since once you start adding “glass” (lenses), you’re committed to that manufacturers system.

My 30D was a great DSLR to get me back into photography. When I bought it, I didn’t even know what a crop (APC) sensor was – I learned that after the fact when I bought an additional lens. I’ve got many images on Flickr shot with that 30D – see some of them here. Mostly snapshots of family and local environs.

About a year later, Canon introduced the 40D – and for no good reason I decided to upgrade to it – selling my 30D to help pay for the new camera. About this time, I became acquainted with HDR – High Dynamic Range photography – and some of my images from this period have that “over the top” amateur HDR look. I remember one of my first attempts at handheld HDR at Stanford – the rapid fire bracketing of the 40D was just right for my early experiments. Heck, I didn’t even own a tripod then!

Then, in January 2009, I upgraded again to the Canon 5D Mark II – again selling my 40D. I listed the 40D for sale used on – and the buyer ended up being another local Menlo Park resident. We met at my office to give him the camera – small world sometimes!

The 5D Mark II has been my main camera for serious work over the last three years. Along the way, I’ve added some additional lenses – including the Canon 70-200MM f/2.8 L and the Canon 24-105 f/4 L lenses – both of which have been my workhorse lenses. I’ve also got a few primes – 28mm, 50mm f/1.4 and the 85mm f/1.8 which see less frequent usage.

Along the way, I had a serious rotator cuff injury in my right shoulder such that I couldn’t even lift the 5D for shooting. That’s all been fixed – but, along the way, I bought a Canon PowerShot S90 to allow me to continue to shoot pre-surgery. Since then, I’ve upgraded my tiny camera twice – to a Canon PowerShot S95 and am now using a Canon PowerShot S100. These are great tiny cameras! On most of my serious photo sessions, I’ll have my 5D Mark II over my shoulder (thank you Black Rapid!) with the PowerShot in my jacket pocket. I’ll always also have along my iPhone which, now with the iPhone 4S, also takes some amazingly great images! So, I’ve got three cameras with me in the field! Go figure!


On to learning. So what’s been my learning process? Of course, since I’m an avid online reader, I’ve soaked up a bunch of articles, etc. that have taught me new things. My early infatuation with HDR was fueled by Trey’s own Stuck in Customs blog – and his tutorials. Trey also taught me about the use of textures to enhance images – and I’ve had fun with that for a few of my shots.

I’ve taken several photo workshops along the way including one with Ken Rockwell and Dave Wyman that was a lot of fun out in the field. Perhaps the most valuable workshops for me have been the two I’ve taken with Derrick Story at his studio in Santa Rosa. Derrick’s a great teacher and these workshops with seven other colleagues were very helpful to me – highly recommend what Derrick does.

But I think, as is so often the case, the real learning takes place by just doing it – trying new things, experimenting, and pushing myself. The best approach for me is a combination of regular solo shooting – photography really is mostly a solitary pursuit – along with regular venue shoots that Doug and I have been doing over the last couple of years – here’s a list of my posts about our adventures.

I find a two person photo walk with a good friend to be very rewarding – we see through each others eyes in new ways, things we might otherwise have missed. We slow down, we work a venue – and things just open up for us in the process. After the shoot, we each go home and independently work on our images – and then slowly share them. It’s so much fun to see what we each pick to work on first, how we approach post-processing, and then sharing our comments back and forth. My son and I also did a one day workshop in Yosemite with Michael Frye – a very similar experience. These sessions have definitely been the most valuable learning opportunities for me.


As I’m finishing up an already too long post, I realize that I’ve skipped over the post-processing learnings that have also had a big impact on me (including an amazing 2 hour 1:1 Skype workshop last year with Jaime Ibarra). I’ve also unfortunately overlooked the learnings from the late Chris Gulker – my good friend and walking partner who taught me so much about the power of black and white photography in the short time that I knew him. I’ll have to share more on those later. One final learning – in 2011 – was the begin curating what I thought were my best images – you can find them in my gallery here: – I’d love to hear your feedback on them! Click on the Contact link in the nab bar above to email me your thoughts.

Note: see also my 2011 wrap up post: What I’ve Learned about Photography in 2011!