Friday, August 28, 2015

Bryce Canyon Meadow

This was taken on our ATV trip to the Bryce National Park area.  Here we are just outside the park.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Shooting the Milky Way...the REST of the Story:

Please see previous post before reading this.

I know from my blog statistics, that more people look at my photos than make comments, and I'm sure that some of you are not photographers.  I feel the need to have a little talk with you folks first, before going into the details of making my Milky Way image.

(Note to you seasoned photographers out there:  just skip the next few paragraphs if you wish, and go right to 'The Rest of the Story' below, because you will know everything I have to say to the non photographers who might be reading this.)

With that preface, I'll start with a WARNING:  For anyone reading this who still believes that most of the spectacular landscape images you see on the internet are SOOTC, (Straight Out Of The Camera), I don't want to burst your bubble or your enjoyment of my photo, so I won't be offended if you stop reading right now!

The fact is, photographers, and most everyone else, know the majority of photos on the web today, speaking primarily of landscape images taken by professionals or serious hobbyists, (I would be inclined to say at least 90%, but that's just my opinion), have been edited in some way, if only with minor adjustments such as cropping to straighten a horizon, changing to black & white, or adding a small amount of contrast or sharpness.  

Additionally, many of the amazing landscape photos we see on photography websites such as 500px and flickr, have been created by applying even more sophisticated post processing skills, such as focus stacking, light painting, combining multiple exposures of the same scene, (commonly called HDR), or by actually combining entirely different photos to make one image.  If you can recover from that shocking news, and want to know more about the modern photographer's world, read on!

For a few people, knowing this reality sometimes alters how they feel about an image; they think that an image's 'awesomeness' is compromised because it is somehow 'fake'.  Now, however, after many years since the invention of digital photography and the invention of Photoshop and other sophisticated computer editing programs, most of us welcome these advancements that have taken photography, combined with artistic imagination and interpretation, to whole new levels of beauty and creativity.  I've said before, that I bet if Ansel Adams were alive now, (who altered his images in the darkroom), he would have fully embraced and used this new technology to help create his images.

Now for a little background information for those not familiar with taking photos of the night sky.  And really, these are just my first impressions and observations after only a few hours of trying to take this photo of the Milky Way.  (You photographers out there with experience in this type of photography, please correct me if I am wrong.)

Taking only one shot with no editing, that correctly exposes the night sky, would render a distant mountain range in silhouette, and a close up foreground object that is not lit with any other light source, as too dark or under exposed. 

That being said, I think it would be nearly impossible to take a shot like mine with one exposure, where the wagon is positioned close to the camera and is artificially lit, for several reasons.  Focus: one couldn't focus on infinity or close to infinity for the stars, and still have a very close foreground object in sharp focus at the same time, without some compromise.  Exposure: if the night was black or very dark, it is not likely that one could correctly expose for the sky and at the same time correctly expose for the wagon.  If there was an artificial light source illuminating the foreground, and a very bright moon, or the photo was taken before the sky was totally dark, would this be enough of a compromise for one exposure to handle it all?  I don't know.  I do know that often, night sky photographers use artificial means to light a foreground object, whether by a portable lighting system, or even car headlights.  (Car headlights did not work for me on this image!)    But if you have light on the foreground object, how do you take a long exposure necessary for the sky, without 'blowing out' the bright foreground object?

The choice for many photographers dealing with this dilemma, who want an image with a properly exposed night sky and a properly exposed non silhouetted foreground object, is to take at least two exposures: one focusing and exposing for the sky, and one focusing and exposing for the foreground; and then combining them in post processing.

(I want to emphasis again that I'm a total novice here, and all this information, right or wrong, is what I came away with after just a couple of hours that night.  Being a non 'techie' person who barely understands how my camera works, I would love for you experienced photographers out there to correct me or add information that would help me understand night photography better.)

Now for The Rest of the Story:

When we got back to the motel that night, I looked at my images in camera, and from what I could see, I thought I had a few shots where I achieved a balance between having reasonable sharpness with minimal sky movement, acceptable noise level, and acceptable brightness.  (I wouldn't know for sure until I got home the next day and downloaded them to my computer.)  Of course, I had no interesting foreground, but I did have the silhouette of the distant mountain range and some trees silhouetted in the far foreground. That would have to do for my first attempt.

The next morning we were packed and ready to go home and I was waiting for Jeff to load our RZR onto the truck and trailer, when I glanced over at the driveway entrance to the motel.  For the first time I noticed that old wagon sitting in front of the fence.  I realized it was sitting in the right position and direction to have been in a composition with the Milky Way behind it.  I was SO upset when I realized I could have had a perfect foreground object and wouldn't have had to go any more than a few steps from our motel room!!! 

I stood there fuming for a few minutes, and then on a whim, I wondered if it was possible, however unlikely, for me to take a shot of the bright midday sun....  and then have enough editing skills to make this wagon photo look like it was taken at night and blend it into my Milky Way shot!  What the heck, I was standing in front of it and my camera was right there, so I quickly took several shots at different exposures, hand held and with not much thought.

Well you know where this is going.  First I went through my images and found the best one of the Milky Way.  I did some very simple editing here.  In LR I increased the exposure a small amount, I increased the contrast a small amount, I increased the vibrancy a small amount, I moved the temperature sliders to the blue and magenta sides a small amount and I decreased the noise a small amount.  Done in about a minute. 

Then I started working on the wagon shots.  I first tried blending several exposures together to create an 'HDR' image, but that looked too fake.  I ended up taking one image, and began experimenting in Lightroom and Photoshop.  I did not do anything complicated or difficult.  My main concerns were the harsh lighting, the color temperature and tones, and the shadow under the wagon created by the bright sun. (I guess I can say that I did not use any 'artificial' light on the wagon - haha.)

Lighting -  I decreased the exposure and the brightness until I was pleased with the balance between the night sky and the wagon, making sure the Milky Way was the brightest.  I decreased the shadow slider and black slider in LR to see more detail on the side of the wagon and make the shadow under the wagon less harsh.  I wanted the lighting on the wagon to be soft and dim, yet light enough to see the details, like you would naturally see, if it were illuminated with a minimal amount of artificial light.  I also wanted to see the fence in the background but I didn't want the fence as bright at the wagon, so I used the graduated filter in LR to reduce the exposure on the fence and have it blend into the wagon.

Color tones -  Because the wagon was shot in bright sun, the temperature or color was on the yellow side and not the color tones of the sky or a typical night shot.  My goal was to have the foreground blend and compliment the color tones of the sky, but not overpower or upstage the sky.    After all, the Milky Way was the main subject of the image....or should I say the 'stars' of the show!  I used the temperature sliders and color sliders in LR to reduce the yellow and add a soft, cool color tone.  That's it.

Wagon Shadow -  Would there ever be a shadow under the wagon if this image were shot at night along with the Milky Way?  Yes, if there had been a bright moon or if there was an artificial light shinning on it from approximately the same direction as the sun was.  Somehow, it still didn't look quite right when comparing it with the Milky Way photo, so I flipped the wagon horizontally.  This worked for me.  The composition was more pleasing and the shadows looked more realistic.  The lower right side portion of the Milky Way photo was naturally brighter, I think because of the sliver of a moon that had just disappeared in that direction.  And, it was also believable that the shadow could have been caused by using an artificial light source, positioned high, close to the fence, and just outside of the right side of the frame.  Seemed believable to me.  I then burned the ground in front of the wagon on the left lower corner, to put that area in more shadow, as it would naturally be.

Finally I had to combine the two images, which was surprisingly quite simple.  I did this by using layer masking in Photoshop.  The first thing I realized was there was not enough room at the bottom part of the Milky Way photo to fit in the wagon and fence and still see the silhouette of the mountain and trees in the background.  So I added 1-2 inches of black canvas space to the bottom of the Milky Way photo, and that worked perfectly.  Behind the fence you can see the road and then a bit more of the ground on a little rise, before the light disappears and turns black.  That is basically where the two photos merge.  I don't particularly like the road in the image, and if I had been thinking, I could have shot the wagon from a lower angle so the road would have been hidden.   I think the lighting drop off  behind the little rise of ground past the road is believable, if the wagon had been lit by an artificial light source.  After combining the two images I cloned out the trunk and bottom part of the tree that was right behind the fence.  To finish, I cropped off a portion of the top of the image for a more pleasing proportion.

Well, that's my saga!  I'd appreciate any comments, or corrections, or additional information.   I think I could get hooked on night photography, but I have lots to learn!

Here is the technical information for the Milky Way photo (in the previous post):
Camera:  Canon 5dmk2, mounted on tripod, set on manual
Lens:  Canon 16-35mm L series wide angle, set at 17mm focal length
ISO:  5000
Temperature: 3800K
Exposure:  25 sec at f/3.2  (exposure time longer than 25-30 sec made star movement too noticeable)
Focus:  manual, set close to infinity

Here is a shot of the wagon:  (boring, no technical info needed)

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Milky Way - While They Were Sleeping

The Milky Way.... 
(While They Were Sleeping!)

My very first attempt turned into a mini adventure and learning experience both in field and in front of the computer!

For the past few days we have been on a RZR riding trip in the Bryce National Park area with our friends.  Normally I don't take my 'big girl' camera on these outings because there is no time for any serious landscape or nature photography.  I usually just use my iphone to take snapshots to document our fun and to post on our blog, Timpanogos Trail Riders.  But on a whim, this time I packed up my camera gear and tripod, and I did shoot a few landscape photos while on our rides.

I always have trouble sleeping at night during these trips, and on the second to last night, as I lay awake at 3 am, I had this idea.  I don't have any time during the day for photography, but I have all night while everyone else is sleeping.  Maybe I should try a little night photography and see if I can find the Milky Way.  Heck, I'm awake anyway!!  I haven't done much night photography, with the exception of a few full moon shots, but I know that night sky photography is best done when in a very dark location away from city lights, and I was in a perfect place.

The next morning before our day's ride, I sent a quick note to my photographer friend Scott Law, telling him I had ONE night to shoot the Milky Way and NO time to prepare, and I asked if he could give me a few quick pointers, (i.e. camera settings, lens choice, timing, etc.), to get me started.   Scott is a very talented photographer and has recently posted some amazing images of the Milky Way.  (See his work on his facebook and flickr pages.)

After we returned from the day's activities, I checked my messages, and I was in luck!  Not only had Scott received my note on such short notice, but he graciously gave me just the information I needed.  So I grabbed my gear, and Jeff, and we headed out.  (Jeff willingly, well kind of, went without sleep to help me.)

My first problem was that I didn't have any time beforehand to check out locations.  It was pitch black outside by the time we left the motel and I couldn't see anything past the side of the road.  I was looking for some sort of interesting foreground subject, an old log cabin, an interesting tree, a unique rock formation, something that would be facing the right direction in front of the Milky Way.  I saw nothing but black!

We drove and drove and finally turned onto a lonely dirt road and drove some more.  Jeff was getting grumpy and I was getting frustrated so we finally just stopped.  I found the Milky Way and set up my tripod some yards away from the truck, to get the best view I could.  We only had our iphone flashlights for light, so I tripped, and squinted, and fumbled around trying to position the tripod and to see the settings on my camera.  I took some shots and experimented with different settings and compositions.  Finally I had Jeff shine the truck lights on an ugly tree for some foreground interest.  It was too far away and the light looked horrible.  Then I asked him to walk over to the tree and shine his iphone light on it.  What a stupid idea!  I would have been so embarrassed if there had been other photographers around to witness how ill prepared, ill equipped and comical I looked!

Then, during all of these antics, I heard a rustling noise in the trees not far from us.  I suddenly remembered that earlier, on one of our rides, two of our group were startled as a big bear ran across the trail in front of them.  (The riders who are in the first position on a trail often see animals that the following riders don't see.)  I realized that if a bear was irritated because we had invaded his territory and he started chasing us, we could never make it back to the truck.  So, it was time to pack it up and call it a night.  I was pretty dejected and sure my one chance to capture a shot of the Milky Way on this trip, was a bust.

But, skipping the rest of the story, I finally ended up with the above image, and I'm pretty pleased with the results of my very first Milky Way attempt!

This tale is already way too long, and can end now for those of you who just like to look at my photos.  But, for any hard core photographers out there, (or just the curious ones), who want to know the details of how I ended up with this image, which by the way, included lots of luck, some imagination, taking the advice of someone smarter and more experienced than I am for the technical in-camera stuff, (Scott), and stretching my own post editing, post processing skills, (big time), leave me a comment below that you are interested in learning all the 'down and dirty' details.  I'll share all my secrets and tell you....
The Rest of the Story......


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Utah Cactus

Forgotten But Still Beautiful

Spent a few minutes this morning organizing, filing and/or deleting photos which is a never ending task for me.  Here are a couple of spring blooms that on second look I decided were worth posting.

Monday, August 10, 2015

My BOYS and their TOYS



Saturday there was a car and airplane show in Heber, Utah.  They had classic airplanes on display, many from WWII, and one was called the 'Mormon Mustang'.  The show was all about classic airplanes and classic Mustang cars.  So what are these 'cudas doing here???  Our friend who was one of the organizers asked Jeff if he and our sons would bring their cars as well.  (Since this was the first year of the show, they might have been worried that not enough cars would show up.)  However, there was a great turnout, and the car owners each had a chance to park in front of the 'Mormom Mustang' and have a photographer take their picture.  When my men parked their three cars side by side, more than a few heads turned and all of a sudden there were a lot of people snapping pictures.  This may have primarily been a Mustang event, but I think the 'Cudas stole the show!  (Or I could just be biased!) 

Saturday, August 8, 2015

After the Storm

Beautiful Water Droplets

After the storm I walked through a group of these plants, (don't know what they are), and each leaf cluster had a perfect raindrop nestled in the center.  It was like looking down at dozens of little sparkling lights reflecting the shapes of the leaves.  So simple, so lovely!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Wildflower Fantasy

 Wildflower Fantasy

Rocky Mountain wildflower meadows are breathtakingly beautiful, but sometimes overwhelming as my eyes and brain try to take in the jumble of vibrant colors, shapes, sizes, and textures in such large varieties and quantities.  When looking through my viewfinder, it was difficult trying to isolate and bring order to a scene like this, as I tried to find one subject flower that stood out and anchored the composition by being the main subject.  After some frustration of not finding a composition I was happy with, I decided not to fight it but to change my perspective and purpose, (every photo should have a purpose or tell a story).  With a new purpose I totally changed how I approached composing the image.  I decided the story or purpose of this image was to show the busyness and complexity of being surrounded by such a wildflower scene as I experienced that day.   

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Albion Basin, Utah

Albion Basin

The WORST kept secret in Utah.  Albion Basion is a small but beautiful area, and an easy hike up in the mountains near Salt Lake City.  It is above Alta and Snowbird ski resorts.  Around this time of year, it is a mass of beautiful wildflowers and not only does it attract many local people to enjoy the beauty, but photographers from all over the world.  It also draws local wedding and portrait photographers and families who want to take pictures for their Christmas cards, etc.  Many of these people, trample the flowers with people, chairs, picnic blankets, voluminous wedding dresses and large wedding parties.  Really sad.  I think the landscape and nature photographers are much more respectful than the general public who often are only thinking about getting their photo and not worrying too much about ruining the beauty for those who come after.  Yesterday was near the end of the wildflower season but there were still hordes of people.  Sadly, most of the wildflower fields looked kind of sad.