Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Art Under the Rotunda

Art Under the Rotunda

My last post talked about something I wanted to investigate at the Texas State Capitol. Well, it was a fruitless endeavor. It had to do with the legislatures back in the Reconstruction Era. On the ground floor, there are posters that show all the members of each legislature in Texas' history. Most of them are there, but there are a few missing and I was researching to see who was in some of them. However, the ones I was searching for are not on the wall. Maybe someday I will find them, but for now I will call my search off. If I ever decide to try again to find what I'm looking for, I will certainly post it here and let you know the outcome.  Also, I only had a limited time to search, so I didn't have time to shoot anything new there.

So, in that vein, here's another shot from my outing with Van Sutherland taken the same day as my previous post. This is another shot that has a soft spot in it that does not seem to be as bad as I once thought. This is the area underneath the rotunda on the ground floor. This is a place where the State puts on various art exhibits and other things. It's kind of a cool thing and it;s an area less traveled by tourists in the Capitol. Most tourists don't know about it so it's not hard to get some nice shots on the ground floor.

Standard processing worked for this one. One other thing I used was the White Neutralizer filter in Nik Color Efex.  That really does a nice job of getting the white balance almost perfect.  Other info includes:

Camera: Nikon D90
Lens: Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6D EX DC HSM Autofocus Zoom Lens
ISO: 200
Aperture: f8
Focal Length: 12mm
Mode: Aperture Priority
Tripod: Induro AB0
Nikon MC-DC2 Remote Release Cord

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Texas Capitol Ground Floor Corridor

Texas Capitol Ground Floor Corridor

Friday I found out something about the Texas Capitol that I want to explore to find out if it's true. That will take some time, but I hope to get out there this week. If I find out what I heard is true, I will try to capture it and put it out here. In the meantime, what I heard inspired me to put out a shot of the capitol that I haven't posted. This is a shot of the ground floor that often goes unnoticed by most tourists. There's not much to it, but it has it's own uniqueness that I think is pretty cool. I posted a similar shot of the ground floor under the rotunda a while back and this shot here is one of the hallways that extends from there. I took this shot while on a lunchtime jaunt back in February with friend and co-worker Van Sutherland.

I haven't posted any of the shots I took with him from that day because I noticed after the shoot that all of the shots I took were at an aperture of f8, this one included. What I found with my sigma 10-20 wide angle that I used that day is that it has a soft spot in it at f8 and larger apertures. When I shoot at f11, it seems to be sharp everywhere. It's a shame as it was a hard lesson to learn, but I still like how this shot turned out. I'll leave it up to you to see if you can see where the softness is. If it's hard to see where, then maybe I'll have second thoughts about using f8 again, but then again, probably not.

Standard processing worked for this one. Other info includes:

Camera: Nikon D90
Lens: Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6D EX DC HSM Autofocus Zoom Lens
ISO: 200
Aperture: f8
Focal Length: 11mm
Mode: Aperture Priority
Tripod: Induro AB0
Nikon MC-DC2 Remote Release Cord

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Mission San Jose Church Interior

Mission San Jose Church

This is the inside of the church at Mission San Jose in San Antonio, Texas. It's still an active church there, I think the only one of all the missions down there. The missions down there were like miniature cities, very self sustaining. The inhabitants grew and stored their own food, raised their own kids and spread Christianity to the local indigenous population. A couple things there that amazed me was the mill where they ground their grain into flour and the granary where they stored it. Apparently, they could store enough grain to feed everyone on the mission for one year. Pretty incredible since the mission had living quarters for up to 85 families, if I remember correctly. I have a picture of the granary that I may post at another time. Anyway, I really enjoyed shooting the mission and getting this shot inside the church. I hope to get down there again to shoot the other missions.

You might notice one other thing about this shot... it's a little bigger than the others that I've posted here. The reason for that is because I link these shots to my flickr account and flickr has changed their format. They have more sizes that one can display his/her photos, and the format of how you can apply different settings has changed as well. I'm sure most of you flickrites have probably noticed the difference by now, but I think they are growing on me. I like the new sizes and I like the way you can add photos to sets and groups now. Especially with groups, you don't have to add the to one group at a time. What a time saver! All I can say is it's about time!!!

I used my standard processing for this shot and other camera settings are as follows:

Camera: Nikon D90
Lens: Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6D EX DC HSM Autofocus Zoom Lens
ISO: 200
Aperture: f11
Focal Length: 12mm
Mode: Aperture Priority
Tripod: Induro AB0
Nikon MC-DC2 Remote Release Cord 

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Sunset Over Lake Georgetown

Sunset Over Lake Georgetown

Lake Georgetown sure seems like a nice place to be. I don't get out there much, and living so close to it makes me think I need to make a better effort to get there. I bet there's lots to explore. I took this shot during a Sunday night last month in an effort to get more shots for my portfolio. This was taken from atop the dam overlooking some live oaks while the sun went down. Unfortunately, I couldn't stay much longer because the custodians of the dam were getting ready to close up for the evening. It would've been nice to get another shot with the sun a tad lower, but this turned out OK for the most part. I think the possibility of being stuck on the dam for the rest of the evening hastened my departure quite easily. That took a little more priority than getting the "perfect shot". ;-)

I used my standard processing for this one and also added a little Nik Viveza to the sky to bring out the blue and to the trees to make those stand out a little more.  All you have to do with Viveza is put a control point on the color you want to modify, like the sky in this situation, and then adjust the hue and saturation.  Wa-la!  It's an excellent product!  It sure makes life easier.

Other settings include:

Camera: Nikon D90
Lens: Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6D EX DC HSM Autofocus Zoom Lens
ISO: 200
Aperture: f16
Shutter: 1/125
Focal Length: 16mm
Mode: Aperture Priority
Tripod: Induro AB0
Nikon MC-DC2 Remote Release Cord

Friday, June 18, 2010

Cathedral Sitting Room

National Cathedral Sitting Room?

I really need to get out and shoot. Why? Because I'm starting to run out of things to post and plus I haven't been out in a while to get anything worthwhile. The problem is I can't think of a good place to go. Not to mention, I have some other projects around the house going on and those have focused my attention. But, maybe soon I'll get some inspiration from somewhere. With that being said, this is one of the last shots from DC that I have. I have quite a few more, but they really aren't very good. Maybe someday I'll come back to them and try to make something of them.

Anyway, this is another shot from inside the National Cathedral. I'm not sure what the room is for, but it has some beautiful mosaics on the walls and I really like the gothic architecture of it all. I call it "The Sitting Room" because of all the chairs, but I bet it has something to do with either Bible study or Sunday school or something along those lines.

I used the old standard processing for this one.

Some of the specs for this shot are as follows:

Camera: Nikon D90
Lens: Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6D EX DC HSM Autofocus Zoom Lens
ISO: 200
Aperture: f11
Mode: Aperture Priority
Tripod: Induro AB0
Nikon MC-DC2 Remote Release Cord

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sexy John Deere Bike

Sexy John Deere Bike

Last weekend was the big Republic of Texas Biker Rally held here in Austin Texas. This is one of the cool custom bikes that came in that weekend. I'm not sure where these people were from exactly, but I thought this was a cool looking bike. When I saw it, I was on my way home from work. Luckily, I brought my little point and shoot Lumix DMC-TZ5 that day because I had to snap a couple of things for work and I didn't want to lug the D90. For what I needed to do, the D90 wasn't necessary. So, as I headed home, I pulled up next to them a popped off a couple of shots all while keeping focused on the road ahead, of course. Of course. Ahem. Anyway, I flashed them the thumbs up and they gave me a cool sideways peace/victory sign, smiled and took off.

Since this was taken with the old point and shoot, there really are no camera settings to point out here.  However, I did do a little work with it using the Nik Color Efex too, mostly with the Pro Contrast, Tonal Contrast and Darken/Lighten Center filters.  I also tried out the new version of Topaz Denoise 4 which worked out quite nicely.  It seems much better than their previous version.  The previous version seemed to leave little square artifacts on most of the various presets in it, but this new version blends much better.  I'll have to try it on my more artsy-fartsy stuff sometime soon.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Amante's Restaurant Tribute

Amante's Restaurant Tribute

This weekend was kind of sad for me.  You see, back in January, one of the owners of Amante's Restaurant here in Georgetown, Kim Daskam, saw some of my work on Flickr and contacted me to take some shots of her establishment.  It was the first and only time anyone hired me to do any commercial work.  That was really cool!  Well, on Friday I found out that they had to close their doors.  Things didn't work out for them for various reasons.  What a shame.  I hate to see things like that happen to really cool people.  Hopefully they will find other endeavors that will turn out better for them.  Good luck Kim and thanks!

This is one of the shots she bought from me and they used on their website.  It's probably my favorite of the bunch.  I used my standard processing for this one. Other camera settings are:

Camera: Nikon D90
Lens: Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6D EX DC HSM Autofocus Zoom Lens
ISO: 200
Aperture: f11
Mode: Aperture Priority
Tripod: Induro AB0

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Domelight

Domelight

Dave Wilson conducted a photowalk a few weeks back here in Austin and the oft photoed Capitol building was one of the main subjects.  I've taken quite a few shots in there previously and really enjoy shooting in there.  It's very photographer-friendly there.  However, now they have installed magnetometers at the entrances due to a shooting a few months ago. Nobody was hurt btw, but in this day and age, prudence has become the better part of valor as far as security goes most anywhere.  Hence, the mags.  I don't know how easy it will be to go in there and shoot anymore, but I'm sure I will find out someday.  As I was saying, I've shot the dome before, but not with the light shining in at the time of day I shot this one.  I like how it turned out.

I used my standard processing on this one along with the usual camera settings..

Friday, June 4, 2010

National Cathedral Entrance

National Cathedral Entrance

When we arrived at the National Cathedral on our last day of touring DC, we got there a little early.  So we hung out right in front of the place and I snapped this off.  It's very impressive from the outside and reminded me a lot 0f Westminster Abbey from when I was stationed in England many moons ago.  Since the Cathedral was just finished in 1990, it makes me think that this is what those old medieval Cathedrals must've looked like back in the 14/15th centuries once they were completed, before pollution and weather wore them down.  The Cathedral used 14th or 15th century craftsmanship to build it which leads me to that conclusion.  You can read more about the place here.

I used my standard processing except for a couple minor tweaks.  Instead of using about 67% opacity with the Pro Contrast filter in Nik Color Efex, I kept it at 100%.  The original tone-mapped image was quite dark and this opacity level turned out perfect.  The other tweak was that I had to use Nik Viveza 2.0 to lighten the sky in the upper left corner to lighten the sky a bit.  Lastly, I had to fix the perspective with the lens distortion tool in Photoshop and I had to use the warp tool because I guess I really had a bad angle or something when I took it.  It now looks pretty normal.

Some of the specs for this shot are as follows:

Camera: Nikon D90
Lens: Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6D EX DC HSM Autofocus Zoom Lens
ISO: 200
Aperture: f11
Mode: Aperture Priority
Tripod: Induro AB0

One last thing... Since most of the pictures I take now are HDR and I like to use at least 5 brackets most of the time, I'm thinking of upgrading to a Nikon D300 instead of a D90.  The D90 only lets one take 3 brackets at a time whereas the D300 lets one take up to 9 brackets, I believe. It's a pain in the butt to change settings in the middle of a shot to get more than just 3 brackets, but the price of the D300s is a little high.  But, it also has a magnesium body and other cool things. Is that worth it?  If so, anyone have a used D300s for sale?  Any thoughts would be most appreciated.  Thanks!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Fun With the White House

Fun With the White House

This is a shot of the White House that I took on my recent trip to DC.  It's the front of the house from what used to be the sidewalk on Pennsylvania Avenue.  Cars used to be able to drive on Pennsylvania Ave before 9-11, but now it's close to traffic other than pedestrian. Here, I broke out the tripod, stuck the lens through the fence and snapped away.

We tried to get a tour, but it's not as easy as it used to be.  Back in the day, all you had to do was buy a ticket at a place on the Elipse just south of the White House, line up on the east side of the White House, and go in at the time stated on your ticket.  At least that's the way I remember it.  Nowadays, it's not that easy.  You have to go through your representative's office 6 months in advance, give them a range of dates you would like to go and then wait until 10 days prior to the dates you told them just to find out if you've been accepted or denied.  We, of course, were denied.  I'm not sure of the reason, whether it was because those days were already booked or because we were from Texas and our rep doesn't like the present occupant too much.  Either way, it's total BS.  We traveled all that way and did everything by the book and requested the tour as far in advance as possible and we still got denied.  It's a shame.  My wife and I had seen it before, but we brought my wife's Mom and one of her Mom's old friends who really wanted to see it.  They didn't get that chance, and I don't know if they will again. 

This final product is a mish-mash of all kinds of processing to kind of give it some pizazz.  Not sure if I made it better or worse, but it's growing on me a little.  I can't really explain everything I've done, but I can tell you the programs I've used.  Those include my normal ones plus a new one that I haven't talked about before.  The normal ones are Nik's Color Efex 3.0 Pro, Viveza 2, and Sharpener Pro 3, Imagenomic's Noiseware Pro, and the new one I used was Topaz Remask. Topaz Remask is one I haven't tried before but since I bought the bundle a while back in which this was included, I thought might as well try it.

The original tone-mapped image was pretty blah and I didn't like how the White House looked in it.  So I took one of the original brackets and masked in the White House.  It's pretty easy to do in Topaz Remask.  You just trace around the portion you want to mask, fill in the area with a solid red or green depending on if you want to keep it or lose it and hit OK.  Remask does the rest.  It's not perfect, but neither am I and I still have to read up on it and play with it a little more to really learn the intricacies of it.  After that, I just went crazy with a bunch of filters in Nik Color Efex including, Darken/Lighten Center, Indian Summer, Pro Contrast, Tonal Contrast, BiColor Filter (I think it's called).  I used this with varying opacities and positive and negative control points.  I also used various control points in Viveza to change some brightness on the tree to the right, some of the sky, etc. I still think I need to do something more with the sky, but I'm getting kind of tired working on it.  You can compare what I've done above to the original tone-mapped image is below:

whitehouse_tonemapped

Sorry my explanations weren't much better, but like I said, I've done so many different things to it that I just basically lost track.  One thing I have learned from these programs is that the more I use them, the more I know what look I can achieve while composing the original shot. I guess that  means I'm growing? Either that, or I'm really learning how to make my picture even worse than when they came out of the camera. ;-)

Anyway, what do you think of my final shot, at least compared to the original tone-mapped one above?  Don't hold back.  If you think it looks good, great.  But if not, tell me what you don't like and let me know what you would do to improve it. BTW, I already know that the masking isn't perfect on the left side.  I'm always open to suggestions.  Thanks!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

"Practical HDR" Book Review



Sometime back I wrote a review of Trey Ratcliff's, "A World in HDR."  It's a very good book in it's own right, but I found it simply a regurgitation of his very good StuckInCustoms website.  So, I thought I'd write up a little something regarding a couple other books I've used to understand the "mechanics" - for lack of a better term - of HDR.  One of those books is "Practical HDR" by David Nightingale

It's comprised of six chapters; Understanding Dynamic Range, Shooting for HDR, Merging Your Bracketed Sequence, Creating Photo-realistic Images, Creating Hyper-real Images and HDR Post-production.

In the first chapter, "Understanding Dynamic Range", Nightingale talks about what HDR is and what the photos we call HDRs really are.  The final products that we achieve with the HDR process are really low dynamic range images or LDRs for short.  This is because computer screens and printers basically cannot reproduce the range of an HDR image properly, so the HDR image needs to be tone-mapped.  When you tone-map, you reduce the range of the image, thus producing an LDR shot.  I've never hear it called this before, but he explains it very well.  He also gives some great info about how to use the histogram for shooting these types of shots.

The second chapter involves the kind of gear one should use, how to meter a scene, and the bracketing sequence.  He states that you can use the minimum 3 brackets from -2 to +2 EVs, but you really don't quite get all of the light much of the time and that it's better to take more brackets at 1 stop EVs instead.  Depending on how many brackets you should take for particular scene will depend on what you see in your histogram.  Great stuff.  I probably need to work on that a little more because I'm kind of lazy when it comes to the histogram.  I really only use 5 exposures from -2 to +2 at 1 stop intervals.  It seems to work for me most of the time, but once in a while the tone-mapped shot does not look right because I haven't gotten enough light at one end of the scale or the other.

The next chapter, "Merging Your Bracketed Sequence" involves some of the different programs that merge brackets into an HDR image.  He mentions Adobe's "Photoshop", "Photomatix" and "FDR Tools".  Each one works for different types of shots.  Most of us have one version of Photoshop or another as well as Photomatix, but learning about FDR Tools was pretty cool.  That piece of software is really good for things that have a lot of lines such a cables from a suspension bridge, the underside of a pier or tree branches that can make the background behind look light on one side of the branch or cable and dark on the other.  FDR Tools cleans that up.

The two following chapters involve ways of processing your shots to make them look realistic or for getting more of an artsy look to them.  I like both because sometimes I want the picture to look like what I saw when I was there and sometimes I want to add a mood to it.

Lastly, David talks about good ways to remove noise and halos, improving contrast, creating HDRs from a single shot and merging two HDRs.  It's interesting info, but I must admit, I haven't tried any of those techniques. But, it's an interesting read.

Spread throughout the book are pictures from the author as well as other well-known HDR artists such as Ben Willmore, Trey Ratcliff and Pete Carr.  David Nightingale is no slouch either. I really like the shot of the train tracks on page 127.  Very dramatic and a ton of detail.

So as you can see, there's plenty of information in this book to really help one understand what it takes to produce fantastic HDRs.  This was the kind of stuff I was hoping would've been in Trey Ratcliff's, "A World in HDR", but this makes a great companion to that book.  I highly recommend it!

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