My photo adventure yesterday over to the coast was one of those rare ones – I captured so many great images very quickly in the beautiful light and cloudy skies. It truly was a photographer’s winter delight!
I enjoy exploring a wide range of post-processing techniques with my images. Realism is fine – and many (most?) of my images are exactly that – realistic as shot in the field.
But, sometimes, you find a special image that you just want to “push” – off into a different, more artistic direction. Yesterday’s lighthouse shots at Pigeon Point are just the latest example.
I processed this image as a single image HDR from the original RAW file shot handheld with my Canon D600. I used Photomatix Pro for that initial HDR conversion and then imported the image into Photoshop CS6. After a few tweaks in Adobe Camera Raw, I used Nik’s Color Efex Pro 4’s Brilliance/Warmth filter in two passes to shift the color of the sun. There’s something about the warmth of this kind of processing that adds to our appreciation of an image – and it seemed to work in this case.
Finally, I used a few Content Aware fills in Photoshop on various chunks of the sky to smooth things out a bit and remove some potentially distracting artifacts. And I was done.
Looking back on it, I think 2011 was perhaps the steepest slope in my photography learning curve – it was a remarkable year.
This year, my photography has continued to progress – but perhaps not quite as dramatically as that year of 2011. Looking back on it, I think I’ll remember 2011 as “my year” – when I seriously began moving beyond “snapshots” into serious photography. Here are my highlights of 2012 for my photography.
Last year I mentioned paying more attention to getting the image right in capture. What’s proven to be most important about that is slowing down – and “working the subject” in the moment. For me, it’s a struggle between my right/left brains. I need to force myself to flip between the more critical, analytical left brain and to get into the more creative right brain. I’m finding this easier to do – the more I shoot in the field, the more aware I’ve become of the flip.
I still worry a lot about getting the right capture – applying all of my left brain analytical skills to that task – but try to flip modes over to my right brain where I worry less about those details and just be creative. In my experience, I’ve begun to de-emphasize the gear and technique and emphasize the “in the moment” aspects – which are almost always surprising – and which I find delightful. Those shots add a lot to my enjoyment of photography.
Once again in 2012, Doug Kaye and I did several 1:1 photo walks around the Bay Area in 2012. These are always special – we pick a venue but let the experience take us where ever it does – at least once a month.
There’s nothing better that doing this kind of shooting – it’s great fun with a great friend and always a delight. As I mentioned last year, these photo walks are a “learning accelerator” for me.
I benefited greatly from several photo workshops this year.
Perhaps the most valuable was the Eastern Sierra Fall Colors workshop that Doug and I attended led by Michael Frye. I’d never been to the other side of the Sierras – and seeing the colors in the fall in the company of Michael was amazing. A wonderful experience. I’m a big fan of Michael’s – having taken a private one-day workshop from him in Yosemite with my son David back in the fall of 2010. He’s a great teacher!
Earlier Doug and I enjoyed the Sonoma Coast Workshop led by Derrick Story. We’ve both taken several weekend workshops from Derrick – and learned a lot from each one. This time we headed up to Fort Ross – and had a great time shooting in wonderful light – plus doing a model shoot on the beach at Bodega Bay.
If I were to label my 2012 photography learning, it’d be labeled Post-Processing. I’ve learned so much this year about how to take an image and make it into something I really enjoy. Lots of new tools have been part of that process for me – including the suite of Nik’s tools, Photoshop, Lightroom, etc. I’ve come to respect the Topaz tools for their ability to simplify and amplify images. And a huge set of learning came from the Lab color techniques of Dan Margulis and, simplified, Lee Varis. A workshop with local expert Mark Lindsay also had a big impact on my awareness of these techniques. 2012 was a great year for my post-processing skills – and I look forward to learning and applying them in 2013.
In 2011, I began creating my portfolio – for the first time. This year, I continued to add to it – such that there are now several hundred images in that portfolio.
This year, I wanted to focus on pairing that huge collection down to what I might consider “my best” – but I failed to do so. A goal of mine in 2013 is to try to do that – to distill my work down to 40 or so images that I consider my best work – out of the 400+ currently in my portfolio culled from the ~30,000 images in my Lightroom library. I’m always amazed at how the great photographers in history are judged on the basis of such a small set of their life’s work in photography. We went to see a Walker Evans exhibition at Stanford’s Cantor Art Museum this year – about 70 photographs represented his lifetime of work in Photography.
In November, I began working on a photo book with my most interesting work from 2012. I used iPhoto again this year to build the book – and the results came out looking great. I gave several copies to family members as Christmas gifts. Here are the photos I used for the 2012 photo book.
Online, I continue to enjoy Google+ where the community of photographers is very strong and engaged. After each of our photo walks, Doug and I typically share a few of our favorite shots on Google+. Flickr continues to be another valuable resource – and the iPhone app update that Flickr made late in the year brought a lot of fun back to using Flickr on the go.
I’ve been living a digital life with my photography – meaning that I’ve only been sharing bits of images online and doing very little printing of my images. What printing I’ve done this year has been using either Apple’s iPhoto books service or, for individual prints, Costco’s in-store printing.
I realize this is the next and, perhaps, final step for my work – completing the capture to print workflow. I’m looking forward to adding printing to my photography skills in 2013!
2012 was a different year for my photography – a more serious year and one more focused on both the details of capture but, perhaps more importantly, on the world of post-processing.
I’m looking forward to the new photography experiences and learning coming up in 2013 – including some radically new venues like Havana and Death Valley. Should be fun and rewarding!
My 2012 Photography Resources
See my Cool Tools page for my current list of recommendations. One major change this year was the purchase of a Nikon D600 2 – my first new DSLR in several years.
This image of the Pigeon Point Lighthouse was shot on January 13, 2012, during shoot with my photo buddy Doug Kaye. We started out at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve near Half Moon Bay and then headed south along US 1 to Pigeon Point. The light was very special that day – this image was shot about 1 PM but you can see the sun angle is still not very high.
The new version of Lightroom 4.1 has 32 bit HDR Tiff handling support – so I used Merge to HDR Pro in Photoshop CS6 to blend three images together (taken on a tripod using +/-2 EV exposure bracketing with my Canon 5D Mark II). I brought the image back into Lightroom and make a few final tweaks – love how this version turned out! Click on the image to see a larger version!
Last year, I wrote a bit about my mid-2011 photography processing workflow. I talked about how, for single-image HDR processing using RAW images, I would open them in Photomatix Pro rather than using Lightroom’s export image capability. I also wrote how, for HDR bracketed images, I did use Lightroom’s export image capability to convert them to JPEGs for processing in PhotoMatix pro.
My friend Doug Kaye has shared his new insights about a better workflow for HDR processing – one that maximizes the dynamic range available for post-processing rather than limits it as the Lightroom export flow automatically does. Be sure to read his insights – along with those of Klaus Herrmann who introduced the notion creating extended EV value images as TIFF files from the original bracketed RAW images in his article “Creating HDR Images the Right Way.” If you have comments for Doug, please share them on his Google+ post.
2011 turned out to be a big year for me in my pursuit of photography skills. As I reflect back on my learnings, I thought I’d try to write down the highlights of the year for me in this New Year’s Eve post.
Beginning with my purchase of my first digital SLR about five years ago (a Canon 30D which I purchased immediately after reading Doc Searls post about his evaluation of this camera!), I’ve been making steady progress learning more about both the most important shooting skills for capturing images as well as the post-processing techniques that can really help enhance an image.
For me, it’s all about trying to get it right at capture time in the camera – but then also maximizing the image’s beauty in post-processing. Among other things, I’ve learned that even if the capture isn’t perfect, the end result can still be stunning with the right post-processing. But, it all begins with trying to get the right image at capture.
Here’s another view of the Victorian homes across from San Francisco’s Alamo Square known as the Painted Ladies. There are usually several photographers up on this grassy hillside shooting this scene with the combination of the Victorians in the foreground and the San Francisco skyline in the background.
On this particular morning in February 2009, there was a clearing winter store and the sun had just begun lighting part of the city as the clouds remained in the sky. I had been up on Twin Peaks as the clearing began where I saw the opportunity to capture some interesting light and sky in this classic San Francisco shot.
This image was post-processed first as a single image HDR (from my Canon 5D Mark II) using Photomatix Pro and then in Photoshop CS5 using a combination of techniques that accentuate the drama in the sky and the colors and lighting of the Victorians themselves. Click on the image itself to see a larger version.
A couple of months ago HDR photographer Trey Ratcliff held a photo walk at Stanford University. It was a beautiful late afternoon – and some 200 photographers showed up to join Trey for his second photowalk around the Stanford Campus.
This shot was taken with my tiny Canon PowerShot S95 and post-processed in Photoshop using Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro 4 – in particular the Details Enhancer and Cross Processing Filters.
I titled it Breaking Away – with the bicyclist heading home…ignoring the crowd.
We’ve all seen photographs of this particular vantage point – Tunnel View as you enter Yosemite Valley on Wawona Road. When the valley opens up in front of you as you emerge from the tunnel, it’s stunning. And photographers love shooting the valley view from this site.
This January we spent a few days in Yosemite – and, naturally, we stopped at Tunnel View to snap a photo or two. As I was relaxing this Labor Day, I went looking through those photos to see if one might have potential. I chose this one taken in the late afternoon – because of the expansive view – and also because of how the sun shadow swept across the valley from upper right to lower left.
In the original image (see below), the shadow area in the lower right quadrant is almost completely darkened. I wondered what I might be able to accomplish with post-processing and first did a single-image tone mapped HDR of the original RAW file taken with my Canon 5D Mark II. Photomatix Pro did an amazing job of popping the details up out of the shadow area – including beautiful Bridalveil Fall. But, the rest of the image was very busy – a cluttered mess. I wanted something that was non-traditional – a different kind of perspective from this iconic location.
First, I used Nik’s Silver Efex 2 to convert the image to black and white. I adjusted the toning a bit, added a vignette – but was still unhappy with the result. After trying a couple of other filters, I settled in on the combination of the Low Key filter in Nik’s Color Efex 3 and Topaz Simplify. The toning is the result of Low Key, the reduced complexity/busy-ness of the image is the result of simplify. I used a tweak in Viveza to drop a control point on Bridalveil and brighten that up just a touch before pulling the image back into Lightroom for final noise reduction.
The result is different from the traditional valley view photos – hope you also enjoy the difference! Click on the image to see the large version.
Wow, here’s one more shot from this weekend’s photowalk yesterday at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco! When I arrived, the sky was grey and overcast – foggy – typical for July at this venue in San Francisco.
So, I decided not to try to shoot any traditional exposure bracketed shots – the normal drill for HDR photography – because the contrast just wasn’t there without the sun and the shadows. Instead, I just shot single shot RAW photos – which you can see here in this Flickr set.
After playing around a bit with textures this morning, I decided to see what some single-shot HDR (High Dynamic Range) images might look like after processing with Photomatix Pro. The image above is one of those I processed.
What was interesting to me was how the HDR process brought out the full dome – whereas the dome was almost invisible in the normal shots. The sky is classic HDR – almost always gets darker and moody.
What’s special about this shot for me? The swan. She’s a small detail overall in this image – but I really enjoyed watching her move across the water as I was setting up for this shot.
Hope you also enjoy this image! Share your thoughts in a comment below…
Last weekend, Doug Kaye and I attended Maker Faire Bay Area 2011 and had a blast shooting lots of images. I had both my “big” camera (Canon EOS 5D Mark II) and my “little” camera (Canon PowerShot S95) – shooting in RAW on both.
The image above is one from my little S95 – of a Tesla Coil machine (or some such – no quite sure what to call it!) taken outdoors at the Faire. It was a single image RAW file. To post-process the image, I went through three additional steps – tone mapping, double tone mapping, and then final adjustments/tweaks in PhotoShop.
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