Monday, November 26, 2007

Up In Smoke

My first attempt at editing a couple of smoke shots together, using layers and basic Photoshop Elements tools like dodge, burn, eraser.

To get this result I shot incense smoke from about 3 feet away. I used an external flash mounted on my camera (head rotated to mainly bounced off a wall to the side), manually set f/8 and 1/200 sec. (ISO 100), and had a dark background (black $2 disposable table cloth from a party store) a few feet behind.

I then edited a couple of shots together, using layers and basic Photoshop Elements tools like dodge, burn, eraser. The blue was in the smoke but I saturated it.

For more examples and technique ideas such as false coloring and mirroring, see:

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Night Photography with Photographers

Here are a few photos from tonight's outing with the Northern California Photography group, which organizes frequent outings through

I used my Canon's Auto Exposure Bracketing function to take exposures darker and lighter than the automatic exposure recommendation, and I adjusted that recommended center exposure darker to reduce overexposure of the neon signs. I found that one to two stops underexposure seemed to produce the best results.

To spice things up a bit I decided to try some special effects. I had such good interesting results with zoom blur that I stuck with that for the evening. My best results seemed to be at ISO 100, f/16 or f/22, yielding an automatic exposure (after exposure compensation to make it a stop or two darker than the default camera recommendation) of 2 to 8 seconds, giving me plenty of time to make a slow, smooth zoom. For these shots I eventually tightened the bracketing to its small increments of 1/3 to 2/3 of one stop, not really doing much with exposure, just ensuring that I had multiple attempts at a given shot so I would have one with a smooth zoom and minimal vibration.

For night "cityscape" photos I processed my exposure bracketed files with Photomatix HDR (High Dynamic Range) software to extend the limited dynamic range of my digital camera and get better shadow and hightlight detail. Next time I want to use light sources (spotlight, flash), and try some handheld shots.

To get yourself out shooting more often, in a variety of environments and under a variety of conditions, in a productive learning environment sharing ideas and tips with other photographers, I highly recommend that you look into local groups through!

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Fall Trip 2: Return via the Eastern Sierra

With a flat tire resulting from hours of driving on washboard dirt roads in Death Valley, I decided to spend the night close to the town of Biskop in the BLM campground aptly named "The Pit."

The Pit is a former gravel pit. Now that it's a campground, it's still basically just a gravel pit... with the addition of a pit toilet. The price? $2, entirely appropriate for a pit. Fortunately there's a county park nearby with a pond, so it's a short drive to nicer dawn vistas.

Dawn sun lights the Eastern Sierra on the way home from Death Valley.

Smoke mixes with morning mist over Crowley Lake alongside the Eastern Sierra range in California.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Fall Trip 2: More Death Valley

The Racetrack in Death Valley National Park is an amazing place. In seasons of high rainfall, the lake bed at The Racetrack becomes covered by a shallow depth of water, and a layer of slippery clay fills the cracks in the surface. Scientists speculate that if the surface of the water freezes and the wind blows hard enough, large sheets of ice with rocks stuck down through them can "sail" across the flat surface, moving the rocks and making trails in the mud as they pass.

One example that scientists' theories regarding rock movement at The Racetrack in Death Valley don't seem to explain is when rocks seem to take equal but opposite paths, such as these two paths here.

One of the first intersting shot opportunities is to catch the sunlight as it first reaches the mountains to the West.

The shadows move quickly across the surface of the playa at The Racetrack in Death Valley, but if you get just ahead of them you have a few seconds to set up your shot before the next rock and its track straddle the boundary between darkness and light. As the sun rose and the shadows retreated, I jogged from rock to rock and from shot to shot along the shadow boundary and ended up about a mile away from where I started!

To capture the detail and texture of the cracked mud surface of the playa, this shot was taken with a 10mm wide angle lens (16mm equivalent) about 16" off the ground, capturing the ground below out to the horizon (at the lens' smallest aperture of f/22 for depth of field of course).

As I chased mountain shadows into the middle of the Racetrack playa I encountered a very large rock, probably weighing 300-400 pounds, which had made its way via wind, mud and ice over the past 3000 years out to the middle of the dry lake bed. It was large enough to make a good subject in a wide angle shot that embraced the clouds forming overhead around the moon.

Next I headed further northward to Eureka Dunes... note the size of the hikers on the mound towards the upper right! Upon reaching the town of Big Pine a couple of hours later, I intended to buy gas then head up to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest for sunset light. Unfortunately I had a flat tire, my second failure of a Goodyear tire in three weeks due to driving on washboard dirt roads.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Fall Trip 2: Zion National Park to Death Valley

When you reach the "standard" dawn shooting spot in Zion National Park a little early, you might as well capture a star trail shot. If the moon is up as it was for this shot, you can capture color in the surrounding trees and landscape as well.

As the sun lights the surrounding peaks, a graduated neutral density filter can be useful, but additional software or darkroom postprocessing may be warranted.

With light reaching the bottom of the canyon so slowly in Zion, it is fairly straightforward to head up the valley and find places to catch the advancing light in reflections in the Virgin River. A late morning departure from Zion leaves enough time to reach Death Valley by sunset.

The vast salt plain near Devil's Golf Course is one good option for dusk shots.

If you're really ambitious you can continue on another couple of hours on rough dirt roads to reach The Racetrack. Many people destroy a tire or two on the trip (as I did twice in my last 2 weeks on dirt roads, including here). This shot is one exposure, catching a spotlight shining into the air, then shining it on me standing as it I were still holding the spotlight... done twice.

For this single exposure shot I simply walked backwards holding a flashlight, then stood still as a spotlight was briefly flashed on me.