Monday, May 31, 2010

World War II Memorial, Pacific Side

World War II Memorial, Pacific Side

As stated in the image above:

"They fought together as brothers in arms, they died together and now they sleep side by side. To them we have a solemn obligation." -Admiral Chester Nimitz

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery

This is a section inside Arlington National Cemetery located just across from the amphitheater of the Tomb of the Unknowns.  The whole cemetery is something incredible to see.  It really makes one understand the sacrifices these men and women made for the cause of liberty and freedom.  I don't think this picture does it justice, but I thought it appropriate for this Memorial Day weekend.  Everyone gets so caught up in having three days off, going to all of the great sales and maybe taking a little quickie vacation, we sometimes lose focus as to why we can do those things.  Let's hope the real reason for Memorial Day never gets lost.  The fallen deserve it.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Some Gave all...

Some Gave all...

In honor of the upcoming Memorial Day weekend, I thought I'd post some of the last pictures I took in Washington DC of the various memorials there dedicated to our heroes of the military.

The Vietnam War Memorial is a very powerful place.  To see all of the names on the wall, 58,000 of them, really brings home the huge sacrifice made for the cause of freedom. Those who served there did so honorably.  I just wish those that sent them had that same honor.

The day I was there, the wall had been decorated every 10 feet or so with single roses.  The few other times I have been this site, there were usually small US flags, wreaths and various military memorabilia laid as tributes to those whose names are inscribed.  But this day, all that were there were the roses.  I'm not sure what the significance of that was, but it made for a very powerful shot in my opinion.

This shot isn't an HDR.  This is just a single raw that I had tweaked using the various Nik Software plugins, Viveza 2 and Color Efex 3.0 Pro. I tweaked all kinds of stuff to make it look better, from the black on the wall to the green leaves on the rose. To be honest, I've done the modifications to this shot over the course of a couple of days, experimenting with the various filters.  So, I can't really say what I've done exactly.  However, one thing that did help is that I bought the Official Nik Software Image Enhancement Guide. That thing is packed with great information.  I had seen the book before.  My friend and co-photog, Van Sutherland let me borrow it once before, but I really didn't get the info in it at that point.  But when I saw the demo at the recent photo expo, it really opened my eyes. It almost helps to the point where if you have a really good single shot of something, you might be able to get it to where it looks as good as an HDR.  I love this stuff.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Fire Trucks?

Fire Trucks?

Towards the end of my photo-drive in Georgetown the other night, I made one last stop at a gravel company.  The name of the company eludes me and I'm not really sure it was even a gravel company.  The only clue I had was that one of the trucks had the name of a gravel company on it.  Plus, most of the trucks here were dump trucks, so I put two and two together.  Whether my conclusion is correct or not is up for debate.  Anyway, the Freightliners and Kenworths in this shot along with the fiery looking sky at sunset just made for a shot that I knew I just had to get.  There's just something about trucks that says, "Take an HDR of me!"  I may have to go back there another time to see if I can get something a little more creative, but I really like how this particular one turned out.

As usual, I used my standard processing for this shot. A couple of extra things I had to do were dodge and burn the grill on the white Freightliner with Photoshop as well as adjust the contrast on it with Nik's Viveza.  It really needed evening out from the tone-mapping process in Photomatix. I also had to clone out a power line that went all the way across the middle of the sky.  One last thing I did was add a darken/lighten filter to it with negative control points on the white truck to make the gravel a little darker.

Other info includes ISO 200, aperture of f11, focal length of 12mm and shutter speed of 1/8 sec.

Dam Sunset Over Lake

Dam Sunset Over Lake

My previous post mentioned that I took a trip out to Lake Georgetown to get some sunset shots.  This is one of the better ones from that little trip.  It's not bad, but I was hoping to be able to get another similar shot only with the sun behind the clouds.  It was almost there, but a guy wearing a red vest while riding a moped sped by saying that they were going to close the gate soon.  I wasn't sure what capacity he played at the dam there, but I didn't want to take any chances getting stuck out there on a Sunday night..  Son of a...! 

I used my standard processing on this shot.  However, I merged a three shot bracket from -2 to +2 at 2 stop EVs, and I merged a 5 shot bracket from -2 to +2 at 1 stop EVs.  The 5 shot HDR had a lot of ghosting in the sky, so I masked in the sky from the 3 shot HDR. The other thing I did was brighten the road with Nik's Viveza 2 demo.  I just dropped a control point on the road, bumped up the brightness a smidge and saved it.  Love that Viveza! Other settings include ISO 200, aperture f16, focal length of 15mm, and shutter speed of 1/80.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Wheel Reflection

Wheel Reflection

Sunday evening I took a self-imposed photo-drive around the Georgetown, Texas area to see if I could scare up something nice to post since I have been anxious to get something new.  I started out by going to Lake Georgetown to see if I might get a good sunset shot or two.  On the way, I stopped at a law firm that had an old firetruck and farm equipment in front.  Yeah, I don't get why either, but it made for some nice HDR possibilities.  After that stop, I did make it to the lake and got some shots that I'm still debating on.  Lastly, on the way home, I stopped by a place that looked like a grain elevator with a bunch of dump trucks parked next to it.  I don't think it was a grain elevator though because the trucks had the name of a gravel company on them.  That was my first clue.  I guess it was maybe a gravel elevator?  I dunno, but I grabbed some shots of the trucks.  I kind of liked this one because of the great chrome and the reflection in the wheel of the dump truck next to it.

I took this shot at ISO 200, aperture of f18, focal length of 14mm and I shot 5 brackets in raw format ranging from -2 to +2 at 1 stop EVs.  I used my standard work-flow for this one with the exception of bumping up the bleach bypass filter layer to 25% opacity.  I also added a couple of negative control points on the sky and on the wheel to keep some of the color of the sunset.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Mission San Jose Cross

Mission Cross

Mission San Jose in San Antonio, Texas is a very picturesque place.  I had mentioned before that a lot of couples come there to get there pre-wedding shots taken.  I think one of the reasons may be because of the way the crosses on the grounds are decorated.  They really look nice with the white flowing material and the lilies hanging on them.  It really adds something to them.

This picture has been driving me a little batty. Once I was finished, it has some great color and I kind of like the composition, but I really didn't feel like the cross stood out like it should. I thought that cross should be the focal point of the shot. So, I took what I learned at the recent photo expo and tried to see if I could make it any better.  So, along with my standard processing, I added a bw conversion layer in Nik Color Efex, and put in a couple of negative control points on the shrubs and on the limestone walls. Once I clicked OK, Nik added another layer on top of my original.  From there, I masked in the cross with the white material hanging from it and then bumped up the brightness, contrast, lightness and hue until I got what you see here.  I think it makes the cross stand out a little more and gives the whole overall shot a unique look.

Red Truck and Train Engine Shot On Display at Shelby Wood Design

I'm going to brag on myself a little more...   I've recently had the honor of getting a couple of my shots purchased for display at Shelby Wood Design. The two pictures are my red truck shot and one of my Union Pacific train engine shots as seen below:

Red Truck

Union Pacific Train

Shelby Wood Design specializes in interior design for private and commercial enterprises as well as art direction for films and print.  If you check out the resume on her site, you'll see why I just had to blog about this.  She's done some commercial work for some big names out there ranging from Bank of America, Lowe's and Volkswagen to magazine print work featuring Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford and Gene Simmons.  Pretty cool stuff!  Shelby said she would send along some shots of my work hanging there when she gets them matted and framed.  I'll post them here when I get them. 

Speaking of the prints, she wanted the prints signed.  So, they were sent to me first for my signature and then forwarded on to her firm.  They were printed on 20 x 30 inch metallic paper from MPix and I must say, for pictures like these, metallic is the way to go.  The colors really pop on it and everything just had a really cool look to it.  It's hard to describe, only that if you've never printed anything on metallic, give a try and see what you think next time you need something printed.  I don't think you'll go back to anything else.  I'm very impressed.  I'm also very happy with how well everything showed up at that size from a little APS-C sensor on my D90.  I think I may not need to worry about upgrading to a full-frame anymore, especially since my lenses are only for APS-C cameras anyway.

Well, even with things like this happening, I don't think I can quit my day job, although that's still somewhat of a dream for me.  But, you just never know what may happen. 

Now, to think of some more stuff to shoot....

One last thing, please check out my HDR work-flow if you would like to know how I process my shots...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Resurrection Chapel Mosaic

Resurrection Chapel Mosaic

Lately I've been posting stuff of a religious nature.  That's really unintentional, but it's what I have as of late.  So, as far as content, I'm not trying to push any particular message or anything like that.  I just happen to like these shots, but I hope to get some new material soon.

Anyway, this one was taken during my recent trip to Washington DC.  We toured the National Cathedral and this subject is located in one of the three chapels below the main level called the "crypt level".  This chapel is called the Resurrection Chapel and has this beautiful mosaic located behind the altar.  It shows Christ rising after his crucifixion. It's very intricate and has great color.  I hope my processing gave it some justice.  The Cathedral is definitely a place I recommend you see if you are ever in the DC area, whether you are religious or not.  They are very camera friendly there as well as long as there aren't any services going on.

For this shot, I used my standard work-flow, but I masked out the mosaic during the sharpening phase.  I think when it sharpened that portion of the shot it looked too weird, like each individual tile in the mosaic stuck out versus the tiles working together to show the final image conveyed.  Does that make sense?   It's hard to describe, but anyway, it looked better without that portion going through the sharpener.

Lastly, in a bit of other news, I 'm gonna publish a couple of quick little reviews of two of books I used to help get me started in this HDR stuff.  I already put out a review of Trey Ratcliff's "A World in HDR" book if you are interested in my take on that one. However, there a couple other books that get into more of the "nuts and bolts" or maybe I should say "tones and brackets" of how to get good HDRs.  Stay tuned...

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Austin Photo Expo 2010 and Info on Nik Software

This weekend was the big Austin Photo Expo 2010 here in Austin, Texas.  I decided to go yesterday just to see what it was all about.  I'd never been to anything like this for photography, but I had been to shows like this for work... computer geek stuff.  So, I expected photography geek stuff for this one and that's what I saw.  It wasn't quite as big as I expected, but it was pretty cool to go to nevertheless.  It was located in a building that used to be a shopping mall, but just didn't make it.  Part of it is torn down and the rest of it has now been segregated into different areas. One area was a dance studio, another area was the old skating rink left over from the mall days and yet another looked to be a giant beauty spa.  Lastly, in the back of the place were what looked to be meeting rooms that you would see if you were in a hotel or something.  That's where the expo was.  It took up about 5 or 6 of those meeting rooms.  One room had all of the big vendors, Nikon, Canon, Sigma, Tamron, and a whole slew of others.  However, the room wasn't REAL big, but yet there were a lot of people there, so it was kind of cramped.  The other rooms had different seminars going on; from glamour photography, to lens sales, to photoshop tips for landscape photography.  I tried to get into the last one, but it was standing room only.  I also wandered into the glamour photography one for a little bit.  It looked interesting especially with the pictures of the pretty women the instructor kept showing, but unfortunately I don't have the gear for this type of work, nor the interest.  But maybe someday.  Lots of cool stuff going on to say the least.

Well, as I walked around, the sales guy from Nik Software was making a presentation.  Now, I'm not trying to sell the stuff or anything like that, but after his presentation, I must say I think I've been doing everything all wrong for a long time.  I do use some of their stuff, the Color Efex package and the Sharpener package which work great.  However, I really didn't understand the U-Point technology built into it.  My friend and co-worker Van Sutherland let me borrow a book from Nik he bought called The Official Nik Software Image Enhancement Guide but I really didn't quite get what U-Point technology was about from the book. Now that I've seen it first hand from the sales guy, all I can say is WOW!  The stuff that software can do when one really knows what he is doing is simply incredible.  It really makes things easy.  It makes multi-step manipulation in Photoshop take one or two steps.  Here's an example:

One thing I've always wanted to do is isolate a color from a shot and make the rest black and white.  With Photoshop, you have to select that color with the magic wand or another section tool, feather it, make another layer of it, desaturate the layer beneath it merge the layers and then you are done.  Well, really that's quite easy.  But, with Nik's BW filter in Color Efex, when you have your shot open, click on the BW filter, put a negative control point on the color you want to keep and bingo, you are done!  You can see what I mean in the two pictures below:

Holy crap that it easy!  That's just one example.  You can do that with everything they sell, from the noise-reduction tool to the color enhancement tool.  Now that I have a greater understanding of how it works, I feel I can take my game to another level, I hope.  Then the guy busted out what he could do with Viveza 2.  Let's just say, that's the next software I'm gonna have to get.  You can manipulate colors with that so easy without having to mask or anything.  You can make some colors darker while making others brighter, adding more pizzaz to the shot.  All using this U-Point technology.  It was really incredible seeing it in person. He took this picture with a blown out sky and brought out all of the colors of it with one click on the U-Point.  It's hard to describe with out seeing it for yourself, but I was blown away.  I should've bought everything on the spot as they had a pretty good deal going on, but I didn't have the cash for it at the time.  However, I will really have to get it sometime soon.  When I did get home, I got on Amazon and bought the book.  Since I've seen the stuff work, I'll have a better idea of what's going on in the book.

That's about it.  I don't think I'll change up my work-flow any time soon since I like the results I get from it. But now that I know how to be more selective with it, hopefully that will make my stuff that much better.

It was a productive day at the expo and I hope to go to more sometime soon.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Mission San Jose Altar

Mission San Jose Altar


"Soon after the building of the Alamo, a second mission was founded in 1720 about five miles downstream. Named San Jose, this new mission was established by Fray Antonio Margil de Jesus, who had previously left a failed mission in East Texas. A model among the Texas missions, San Jose gained a reputation as a major social and cultural center. Among the San Antonio missions, it also provided the strongest garrison against raids from Indians."

The church on the mission is a still a functioning church and people are encouraged to attend. Me, I'm just happy I didn't get struck by lightning by entering, but I love shooting the interiors of these churches. The architecture is so interesting. And, in HDR, they really look amazing.

I processed this shot using my standard processing. The only thing I did different was use the bleach bypass filter in Nik Color Efex at about 20% opacity in Photoshop CS4.

Along with the trusty Nikon D90, I also used my Sigma 10-20mm wide angle, I used an aperture of f11, I shot 5 brackets from -2 to +2, and I think I used an ISO of 200, tripod mounted of course.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Abraham Lincoln Statue

Abraham Lincoln Statue

I follow a few photoblogs and you can click on some of them in the right column of this blog. Pete Talke and Trey Ratcliff are a couple of them and they are very good photographers, but what makes them more enjoyable is that they have a HUGE repository of shots from all over the world that they can post. I'm not sure how they are able to travel the world as they do and it makes me wildly jealous, especially now that I'm getting into this photography thing more. Me, I can only post the same relative stuff until I run out. If you've followed my blog or my flickr stream you'll know that recently I've been posting a lot of Washington DC stuff. Well, I'm starting to get low on the DC shots, but I will probably save a few for later on... Maybe special occasions like Memorial Day coming up. I hope this doesn't bore too many of you out there, but it's what I have. I think I'll just need to keep getting out there and hone my style to get more of a variety of images to post. With that said...

This shot was taken on the first evening of my recent trip to DC. Right after we checked into the place we stayed, we put on the walking shoes and hit road. We made our way to the Mall and walked all the way down to the Lincoln Memorial. This is the statue of President Lincoln inside the memorial. I took a variety of shots inside, but most were filled with high school kids during their field trips. I think all high school kids from the US were there. Well, at least it seemed like it. So, with all of those kids loitering around, I had to get a little creative. I took one from the side with the Sigma 10-20mm wide angle lens, which worked out well. For this one, I slapped on the kit 18-105mm and barreled my way to the front for a quick set of brackets. I had to be quick about it because I really didn't want to stay in the way of all of those kids, so I'm happy with the result.

I used my standard processing for this one, with some additional modifications. Once I was done with the workflow, I still had a really bad yellow cast on Abe's torso and knees. So in Photoshop CS4, I had to meticulously select those areas with the magic wand and desaturate and color balance them until it looked a little more like the rest of the statue. It still has a little bit of that yellowish in it, but the light there is a little yellow and I wanted it to show some of what you see when you are actually there. That's about it.

One last thing.. If you ever go to DC, don't go during the 2nd half of April, unless you like roaming everywhere with every high school kid in the country. Fall would probably be better since they SHOULD actually be IN school then. JK of course. ;-)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

My HDR Work-flow

Welcome to my explanation of how I process pictures.  I hope what I've explained here will be easy to understand and I hope you might be able to use some, if not all of what I do here.  If you have time, please take a read.  If you find something difficult to understand or have something you'd like to add or would like me to add, please don't be afraid to comment.  I would really appreciate it.  I may tweak this from time to time and when I do, I will certainly let you know.  Also, if you think screen-shots would help, let me know and I may add some in later.  I just didn't feel they were necessary.  This is really a hybrid work-flow and tutorial, sans screen-shots.

This is a synopsis of how I GENERALLY process most of my pictures.  There will be times when this processing does not work and a different approach is needed, but I find this really works for me most of the time.  Before I get started, I must point out a couple of quick caveats to this. First, everyone's camera is different and what comes out of it may a look a little different than what comes out of mine.  I haven't processed anyone else's shots using my formula so I can't guarantee you will get the same look.  However, I think you will get something quite close.  The other caveat is that the processing I use here will strip off the exif data from your final product.  It actually happens during the "merge to hdr" process in Photoshop CS4.  I'm hoping the new version, CS5, will mitigate that problem since I hear it has a more robust HDR processing engine in it.  However, I don't know for sure if it is fixed or not, but I hope to find out someday when I upgrade. Lastly, I usually take 5 bracketed raws ranging from -2 to +2 EVs in 1 stop increments.  The minimum of three will work fine as well, but I prefer 5. With that said, on to the workflow...

Tools I use are as follows:

Photoshop CS4
Photomatix Pro 3.2.6
Nik Color Efex Pro 3 Complete
Nik Sharpener Pro 3
Imagenomic's Noiseware Pro

1. Merge photos in Photoshop CS4
    A. Open Adobe Bridge and select all brackets to use.  Open all in Adobe Camera Raw.  Make any adjustments you see necessary.  I usually click on auto white balance.  That's about the extent of it for me.  Then click done.
   B.  With all of the brackets selected, go to Tools | Photoshop | Merge to HDR...  I feel the alignment engine in Photoshop works better overall than it does in Photomatix.  This is a trick I learned in Scott Kelby's CS4 book.  Once the merge is complete, save it as an .hdr file.  This is the process that strips the exif data that I mentioned in the caveats earlier.  It sucks, but I live with it...

2. In Photomatix, I open the .hdr file I just created with Photoshop and tonemap it with Details Enhancer. The settings I use are as follows (but sometimes I will vary them slightly, but these are usually what I use):

Strength: 95
Color Saturation: 76
Luminosity: 9.1
Microcontrast: 0.0
Smoothing: put a check mark in Light Mode and select better look between High and Max
White Point: 0.111
Black Point. 0.111
Gamma: 1.00
Temperature: 0.0
Saturation Highlights: 0.0
Saturation Shadows: 0.0
Micro-smoothing 2.0
Highlights Smoothness: 0.0
Shadows Smoothness: 0.0
Shadows Clipping: 0.0
The only things I really vary here are 'Color Saturation', 'White Point', ' Black Point', and 'Micro-smoothing'.  People say to adjust the white point and black point until the the flat portion of the bell curve at both ends are gone, but I really adjust it until I think the shot looks most natural.  I also check the difference between 'High' and 'Max' smoothing and pick the better of the two.  Sometimes I use High and sometimes I use Max.  Just depends on the shot. Color Saturation does what it says and just lets you put more or less color into your final product by adjusting the slider.  The micro-smoothing does a good job of removing halos and getting rid of some noise by moving the slider to the right and increasing the value, but it will also makes the shot duller the higher the number you go.  So, I usually keep it low and let Noiseware take care of it later on. I really don't mess with the other sliders.  Save the file as an 8-bit tiff (you can use 16-bit, but I want to save space on my hard drive).

3. Mask if needed. This portion may need to be done more than once depending on how many areas need to be corrected.  I usually do the sky first, especially if it's a night shot and then I will mask in people/objects after that (I got this trick from Trey Ratcliff's HDR tutorial and modified it slightly):

     A. Open _tonemapped file in Photoshop CS4. Here is where I mask in or out anything that really didn't turn out too well during the merge process.  So, if I have people that are ghosted, a noisy sky, or anything else that doesn't look nice, I go find one of my raw brackets that looks the closest and the best for what I would like to see in my final shot.  How I do this is first, copy the background layer (CTL-J) and then layer the raw bracket in between the two layers. Open the raw bracket that I wish to mask in, hit CTL-A, CTL-C and then go back to the tonemapped shot and hit CTL-V.  That will put the bracket at the top of the layer stack.  With the cursor, left click and hold that layer and drag it in-between the background layer and the copy.  Now, create a layer mask by highlighting the top layer, then go to Layer | Layer Mask | Reveal All.  With the brush tool, use one of the round ones and set the opacity somewhere around 50%.  Make sure the white mask thumbnail is selected on the top layer and make sure the slider on the color palette is all the way to the right so that the color is back.  Now, on the picture on the top layer, I'll start painting out the areas of the tonemapped shot that I would like to see corrected.  Around the edges that I want to keep, I vary the size of my brush and the opacity of it to make sure they blend properly.  In areas that are not close to the edges, I usually go 100% opacity to make the job go a little quicker.

B.  Once I have all the areas masked in, I adjust the bracketed raw layer to make it looks more like the tonemapped layer.  To do this, I usually adjust the brightness/contrast and hue/saturation.  Click on the the middle layer and open Image | Adjustments | Hue/Saturation and adjust to get it the masked in portion to look as close to the tonemapped portion as possible.  Once complete with that, open Image | Adjustments | Brightness/Contrast and adjust until it starts to blend with the tonemapped layer until it looks like it's part of the picture.  Usually I will have to adjust these down quite a bit, but it will all come back later in the Nik Color Efex portion of the workflow.

C. Once I'm done with this, I merge all the layers by right clicking on a layer, select Merge Visible. Then I'll restart the process again if I have other areas to mask in.

4. After masking comes the part I really enjoy and that is the Nik Color Efex portion:

A. I use the Nik Color Efex (Nik CE) plugin for Photoshop (PS).  I think the stand alone works similarly to the plugin, but it may be a pain to keep going back and forth between PS and Nik CE.  The first filter I go for is the Pro Contrast filter.  Open Nik and go to Pro Contrast and click OK.  It will create a layer on top of the original background layer.  Sometimes Nik can go a little too far when adjusting the colors so I like to keep some of the original colors and tones in it.  So I usually start by adjusting the opacity to 67% generally.  This is just a good reference point that's pleasing to the eye.  Depending on the shot, I may add more or less opacity.  Again, 67% is a good general starting point.  Next, I use Tonal Contrast the same way as the Pro Contrast.  I go about 67% with that as well.  Everything begins to look a little noisy there, but that will get cleaned up later on.  The last filter I use is Bleach Bypass, and I blend that in at about 10-15%.  Again, this is generally speaking.

B. Once this is all done, I will merge the visible layers by right clicking on the layer and selecting Merge Visible.

5. Now it's time to remove noise and sharpen it up:

A. Here I use Imagenomic's Noiseware Pro.  It installs as a plugin and works really well.  So, create a layer by hitting CTL-J.  Then go to Filter | Imagenomic | Noiseware.  I mainly use either the Default or the Weaker Noise setting.  If there's not too much noise and a lot of detail, go with the Weaker Noise setting.  The thing is phenomenal.  Sometimes I will even adjust the opacity of the layer to keep a little more detail.  After this, merge visible layers again.

B. Now to sharpen it up.  Nik Sharpener looks and works similarly to Color Efex.  I just use Output Sharpener and the defaults on that portion.  It will add another layer, but it's a little funky when it's done because the sharpener layer sometimes goes away when it's done, even though the image will be sharpened.  So, I usually go to Edit | Step Backwards in PS to get that layer back and then adjust the opacity down to around 85%, generally speaking again.

Now here, sometimes I'll mask out the sky with the previous layer because I usually like the really smooth look that Noiseware gives to skies, whether they are clouds or clear.  When Nik sharpens them, it can give the sky a sort of jpg "blockiness" for lack of a better term.  So, I use the same technique discussed above for masking in people or objects, only I do it with the sky here.

Merge the visible layers once more.

6.  Lastly, I'll do something I like to call "lifting the mist":

What I do is, I adjust the exposure in Photoshop ever so slightly.  I create a layer (CTL-J) and then go to Image | Adjustments | Exposure.  The settings I generally use are as follows:

Exposure: +0.08
Offset: -0.0020
Gamma: .96

These are all a general starting point for me and sometimes I'll adjust the opacity of the layer if it's too much.  Mainly this darkens the darks a little bit and brightens the brights just a hair.  Really, it darkens more than brightens and your mileage may vary.  But, once I do this, my shots usually get some added depth to them, like you could almost jump into them.  Be advised, you may lose some detail in your darks and some may not like that, but I prefer the overall look to the shot instead of having the slight detail in the dark areas.  To me, it looks as if the fog or mist has been lifted, hence my little term "lift the mist".

Merge the layers.

7.  I then usually save the file as a tif and then save another copy as a jpg for posting.

That's it!!! Thanks for reading and let me know what you think!  If you try it all or a portion of my work-flow, please let me know how it worked for you.  I'm really curious to see if others get similar results.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Wedding Season at the Mission

Wedding Season At Mission San Jose

While wandering the grounds of Mission San Jose in San Antonio, Texas this past Saturday, I discovered something very interesting.  It seems that place is very popular for those getting ready to tie the knot or have graduation pictures taken. The mission does make for a great backdrop. I must've seen 2-3 couples during the hour I spent there getting their wedding pictures taken.  I also saw a group of girls don their graduation gowns to get their pictures taken.  According to another photographer I met there, the amount of people getting the pictures taken was low on this day.  Well, as I was getting ready to leave, a beautiful woman in her wedding gown and a few photographers walked in to take some pics of the lovely bride.  I guess the groom must've been busy drinking or something like nervous grooms tend to do.  I, on the other hand did no such thing before my wedding, but I hear it happens.. ;-) Anyone believe me?  But, I digress...  So, I grabbed my camera, slapped on the kit 18-105mm lens and snapped a few off.  I didn't think that was an opportunity I should pass up.  I probably should've gotten a little closer or something, but it happened quite fast and I was pressed for time.  This is what I came up with.  The moment captured here is just before they started shooting.  I guess this means it's wedding season at the missions.  I never would've guessed that but it makes sense.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Capitol Moon (A Blunderous Companion)

Capitol Moon (A Blunderous Companion)

A few weeks ago, I posted a shot of the Texas Capitol under a full moon with a story of how I kind of screwed the pooch with that particular shot. Well this is the other shot of the Capitol I took on that fateful morning, doing the same stupid thing I did with the previous one. However, I think they both turned out pretty nice considering. I just HAVE to keep remembering to check my settings like I discussed in the post mentioned previously. I still find myself forgetting to do that. I think it's a bad habit left over from my point and shoot days. Old dogs and all that...

Processing this shot was pretty standard for me. I think the main thing I did was mask in the sky from the longest exposure bracket and I also cloned out something that looked like a black rubber band that was laying on the glass of the extension.

Speaking of processing, I'm very close to publishing my HDR processing workflow. I hope to have it out by the end of the week. It's basically an explanation of the general settings I use for about 75% of the shots I process. I hope once I put it out there, you all will take a look at it and ask questions or provide suggestions to help make it a little better. Currently, it's just a written document stating what I do. I don't have any screen shots except for maybe one showing my tonemapping settings in Photomatix. I'm debating whether to leave that in there or not because just writing the settings down would take up less space than the screen shot of the settings. That's the whole reason for not having screen shots... I think they may take up way too much space, but I might add some in later on if people think it would help. I like to think the explanation/instruction of what I do will be good enough, but I'm definitely willing to change it.

So, stay tuned and thanks for reading!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Prayer Candles

Prayer Candles

Yesterday I took a trip to San Antonio for a little personal photowalk of one of the missions down there. I've never been to any of them other than the Alamo and it's been many years since I've been to that one. I ended up at Mission San Jose. It certainly has a lot of photographic possibilities. Plus, the day was overcast so that made for interesting skies. But, the exterior shots I took I'm not real happy with. Instead I thought I'd post some an interior or two. This one here is by the entrance to the church there where offerings can be made. These votive candles are lit by parishioners as "a reminder that their prayers continue even after they leave the church." - from Not being a particularly religious person or a Catholic, I had to look that one up. But, I love the history and the architecture of these old missions. The mission is still an active parish. It's also a big place for couples to get wedding pictures taken there. There must've been three groups of photographers with either couples or brides getting their pictures taken. Very pretty place for that.

Click here for more info on Mission San Jose.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Home of George Washington

This is the estate of our founder, George Washington, called Mount Vernon. The following is from

"When George Washington lived here, Mount Vernon was an 8,000-acre plantation divided into five farms. Each farm was a complete unit, with its own overseers, work force of slaves, livestock, equipment, and buildings.

The farm where Washington and his family lived was called the "Mansion House Farm." This is the part of the plantation that visitors see today. Washington developed the property's 500 acres to create a fitting setting for a country gentleman. He designed the grounds to include a deep border of woods, rolling meadows, serpentine walkways, a pleasure garden, a kitchen garden,and groves of trees. Between the Mansion and the shores of the Potomac River lay an extensive park.

As nearly as possible, Mount Vernon was a self-contained community. Nothing was purchased that could be produced on site. Yet the Mansion House Farm was so well designed that the service lanes did not intrude upon the area reserved for the enjoyment of Washington, his family, and their many guests. From the Potomac River on the east to the Estate's west gate entrance ran the pleasure grounds and wide vistas; along the north-south line were the outbuildings, or dependencies, where much of the work was done. Over the past 150 years, George Washington's architectural achievements at Mount Vernon have been painstakingly preserved and restored for visitors to appreciate both in person and via our virtual tours."

This picture proved a bit tricky for me, so I cheated a little bit. It's a 5 shot bracket that I used my standard processing on, but the sky was totally clear that day. I thought some wispy clouds might add a little something to it. So, I decided to try my hand at some masking using something other than just the paintbrush tool. Instead I used the magic wand and selected the sky, inverted the selection and hit the quick mask. I used this b17 shot for the sky and then adjusted the opacity to about 40 to make it blend in with the sky from the original. I thought that would make it a little more natural. I think it looks pretty good considering the original was a little blah. At least there's a little more pizazz to it. Let me know what you think.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

National Cathedral Nave

More stats about the National Cathedral from

Washington National Cathedral is the sixth-largest cathedral in the world and soars higher than a thirty-story skyscraper. Embellished with over two hundred stained-glass windows, a fifty-three-bell carillon, and a 10,647-pipe organ, this Gothic masterpiece can accommodate more than three thousand worshipers.

It took 83 years to build: September 29, 1907, to September 29, 1990.

It is the only Gothic Cathedral built in the 20th century. It was built using the same techniques as those in the 15th century.

This is a 5 bracketed raw shot using my standard processing that I will publish soon.

Hope you enjoy this shot of the nave.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Audie Murphy's Resting Place

Audie Murphy's Resting Place

One of our greatest combat soldiers from World War II was Audie Murphy. He was the most decorated soldier from that war and went on to become a movie star and successful business man. He earned the highest military honor, the Congressional Medal of Honor for combat. If you are not familiar with him, go to and you can find out everything there is to know about this hero. The following is from his citation from his Medal of Honor:

"I.. MEDAL OF HONOR. - By direction of the President, under the provisions of the act of Congress approved 9 July 1918 (WD Bul. 43, 1918), a Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty was awarded by the War Department in the name of Congress to the following-named officer:

Second Lieutenant Audie L. Murphy, 01692509, 15th Infantry, Army of the United States, on 26 January 1945, near Holtzwihr, France, commanded Company B, which was attacked by six tanks and waves of infantry. Lieutenant Murphy ordered his men to withdraw to a prepared position in a woods while he remained forward at his command post and continued to give fire directions to the artillery by telephone. Behind him to his right one of our tank destroyers received a direct hit and began to burn. Its crew withdrew to the woods. Lieutenant Murphy continued to direct artillery fire which killed large numbers of the advancing enemy infantry.

With the enemy tanks abreast of his position, Lieutenant Murphy climbed on the burning tank destroyer which was in danger of blowing up any instant and employed its .50 caliber machine gun against the enemy. He was alone and exposed to German fire from three sides, but his deadly fire killed dozens of Germans and caused their infantry attack to waver. The enemy tanks, losing infantry support, began to fall back.

For an hour the Germans tried every available weapon to eliminate Lieutenant Murphy, but he continued to hold his position and wiped out a squad which was trying to creep up unnoticed on his right flank. Germans reached as close as 10 yards only to be mowed down by his fire. Be received a leg wound but ignored it and continued the single-handed fight until his ammunition was exhausted. He then made his way to his company, refused medical attention, and organized the company in a counterattack which forced the Germans to withdraw.

His directing of artillery fire wiped out many of the enemy; he personally killed or wounded about 50. Lieutenant Murphy's indomitable courage and his refusal to give an inch of ground saved his company from possible encirclement and destruction and enabled it to hold the woods which had been the enemy's objective."

His marker is located just across from the amphitheater of the tomb of the unknown soldier. It is the second most visited grave-site other than the Kennedy area. The pennies left on top of his marker is a tradition from the Jewish faith showing that one has visited his site.

He was one incredible person.

As a bonus shot, I'm adding this shot of the entrance to Arlington.  I just love the how the clouds turned out.  Hope you like it too...

Road to Arlington Cemetery

Monday, May 3, 2010

Two More from DC

WWII Memorial and Lincoln Memorial

In the interest of efficiency, not to mention that I think both of these shots are kinda cool with the clouds and all, I thought I'd do a two-for-one deal. Plus, I promised to bore everyone with more of my DC shots. So here you are..

The shot above is one taken at the World War II Memorial over looking the Mall towards the Lincoln Memorial at Sunset. It had rained about two hours prior to this show, but it still wasn't quite dry yet when I took this. I think that helps add a little drama to the shot. While we were there, I was taken by a part of the memorial that show a lot of gold stars. I wasn't sure what they represented, so I looked it up. On that wall there are 4000 stars each on representing 100 killed during the war. It's pretty powerful to see as is the rest of it. I'm glad we finally have something to represent "The Greatest Generation."


This was taken while strolling the ground of the Capitol (obviously). It has a few flaws as I took it hand-held and has a little noise in it, but I really like how the overall look came out after the processing. I think the clouds really add something to it, like whatever it is they are doing in there is bringing on a bad storm.

The top shot was a 5 bracketed raw shot taken with a tripod whereas the bottom one was a 3 shot bracket taken hand-held. Other that that, my usual processing took place which I hope to elaborate on sometime soon. I do have a work-flow document in the works to reference in the near future. It still needs some work, but it should be out there soon.

Thanks for following and I hope you enjoy these shots.

As a side note, anyone have an idea why I called the capitol shot "Punchbowl" on my flickr site?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Capitol Underground Rotunda

Well, I'm taking a little bit of a break from the DC pictures. But, never fear, I will bore you with plenty more soon! In the meantime...

This past Friday, April 30, 2010, a very good photographer that I've been following named Dave Wilson organized a local photowalk here in Austin. A few of us showed up and had a very good time. We started out from Auditorium Shores on Lady Bird Lake (aka Town Lake) and made our way up to the Capitol. We stopped at the Austin City Hall for a few snaps and then strode Congress Ave to our final destination. I have a few shots of the capitol already, but I was always fascinated by one of Dave's shots in particular. I asked him if he did a panorama of it or something and he said that all he did was use his D90 and Sigma 10-20 lens vertically. Duh, I should've thought of that, but I just didn't think it would work for some weird reason. So, while we were there, I thought I'd give it a go. Here's the result.

Funny thing is, almost everyone left while I was taking this shot. I However, I did walk back up Congress with two other stragglers and we had a nice conversation. Those two were Claudia Cobianchi and William "Whey" Johnson. I guess the three of us were just too slow. We did catch back up with the main group. That was about the extent of the walk for me. I was too tired to stick around any longer after putting in a full day at work and then walking in the hot, yet not summer hot, heat.

Thanks again, Dave for putting this together!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

US Supreme Court

Twenty some odd years ago, I lived out in DC, but I never visited the Supreme Court. So while we were there this time, we thought it might be a good idea to check it out. I think one time I tried to get in before, but for some reason I couldn't. It was closed, or they didn't trust my mug, or something. Anyway, this time it was a beautiful day as you can see and it was open and we checked it out. It's a very impressive place. We were able to go inside and even look inside the courtroom. Very cool. There were even people lined up inside to watch the supreme court go into session. That would be something fun to do sometime I think. From the outside, this place reminds me of some sort of Parthenon or Greek temple. I guess that was the point.

Well, this shot, like my US Capitol Art shot was fused in photomatix instead of merged in Photoshop CS4 and tonemapped in Photomatix. I tried doing the merge to HDR and tonemapping, but the clear blue sky just doesn't turn out right when doing that. So, I fused it and then did my Nik Color Efex thing as well as the Noiseware and Nik Sharpener thing. Sometimes the fusing just works better. I'm glad it's an option.

Oh, and one thing I forgot to add, this was taken hand-held.  It was 3 raw brackets from -2 to +2 at 2 stop intervals using my handy-dandy 18-105 kit lens.  ISO was 200 and aperture was f11.  I took this hand-held because I REALLY got tired of lugging the backpack and the tripod around while on our little expeditions.  There's got to be a better way, I just don't know what that would be.  Maybe a little Rascal scooter or something.  Well, maybe not...

Disqus for Evan's Expo