Military Truck for Sale

One of the things I've noticed I'm getting better at is being on the lookout for various photo opportunities.  Last year I wouldn't have given this a second thought, but as I'm always looking out for new stuff, I thought it was amusing.

I went to the dojo Monday night, and parked in the back as I always do. Getting out of my car, I noticed the house across the street had a military truck parked in its front yard with a sign.  I wasn't close enough to read the sign, but tossed my camera in my bag yesterday so I could snag a photo of this. I think this is the first time I've actually seen a military truck for sale at all, and definitely the first time I've seen one for sale at some random guy's house.

For Sale

On another note, the same guy has a really old clunker car in his yard. I'm trying to figure out how to get some HDR brackets of it without him yelling at me. I suppose that'll just have to be one of those things I can't photograph.

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Black Dog in the Snow

You know I'll be the first to admit that even though I'm learning a lot about photography, there's still a ton I don't know.  For every little extra tidbit I learn about, I feel as though there's a hundred other things I don't know, and didn't even know about until learning that first thing.

The one recently I'm still trying to figure out is taking photos of black dogs in the snow.  Normally when you take a photo, the camera will meter for light off of your subject.  Well in this case, it's metering the light off of a black dog, so I'm not getting as fast a shutter speed as I should/could be getting.  More research will need to be done on this.  I did end up over-exposing by about a half a stop, which seemed to work pretty well.

Today's photo is of my psycho puppy, Thor.  He's 3, but definitely still a puppy, and runs around like a maniac outside. Sometimes he'll race around the backyard doing full laps before coming back to you. I've come close to having him body check me while doing that as well, and I really would prefer him to not take out my knees.

Thor playing in the snow

The only big problem with playing fetch with him is that he'd prefer to play "keep-a-way".  Not just with Loki or Odin, but with whomever is trying to throw the ball for him. He'll bring it back to you fine, but when you go to reach for it, and try to get him to drop it, he'll race away.  Makes for an annoying game, but he likes getting chased, so I guess it's fun for him.

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HDR at the Railroad Museum

Yesterday was actually reasonably nice out (sunny, although still about 35 degrees), so I decided to take a trek over to the Railroad Museum to practice my HDR with the Promote.  Several benefits came to mind. 

  1. Peter was at daycare
  2. We have a membership
  3. It's 5 minutes from the house
  4. No problems with bringing in tripods or anything (I called to doublecheck)

I was only there for an hour, but got a bunch of decent brackets. This is one of my favorites. It's one of the last ones I took (it's the first engine you see when you go outside at the museum, and I started at the back this time), but I was very pleased with how it looked once I pulled it into Photomatix, and I only had to do minor touchup after that in PhotoTools.

HDR at the Railroad museum

According to Wikipedia, this train is the : "ex-Denver and Rio Grande Western RR No. 683, a coal burning 2-8-0 consolidation built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1890, builders number 11207. It is the only surviving standard gauge steam locomotive from the Denver & Rio Grande Western RR."

Jan 1 and 2 Photos

I'm going to give the whole "photo a day" thing a try again.  I tried doing this a couple of years ago, and failed miserably.  I think I made it to March or April, but even in that time period I had gaps.  But with my new photography habit, I'm more than willing to try it again, and hopefully can get some of my photography friends to do it as well so I have a motivation partner.

In any case, I also figured the photos don't have to be awesomely perfect, but I can't just take a random photo of say, my scanner (although I will have to add in technology photos this year, so maybe that wouldn't be a bad idea).

To start off, the photo from January 1:

Whipped Cream face

On New Year's Day, my friend Marie was in from Canada (or as we like to tease her: "Ca-nay-dee-ya"), and came over for dinner along with Randy.  Leif made Spaghetti A La Bacon (he's still a better cook than I am), salad, and for dessert we had Cream Puffs from the store. Peter decided he really liked the whipped cream.  This is of his own doing, and his infamous "cheese" face whenever someone takes his photo now.

January 2:

Speeding down the hallway

A few months ago, Leif told me he wanted to get Peter a Balance Bike. My initial reaction was "hell no, he's too young," but I promised to read up on it.  The Strider got amazing reviews, so I relented.  We didn't want to bring it up to the cabin, so we waited until the weekend to open it.  Who would've known he'd take right to it, and although he still needs work, he was speeding down the hallway in no time.

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My Cheese-y Boy

This is my cheesy boy:

My "cheese"y boy

You can't tell him if you're taking a photo or not now, because if you do, he does his funny "Cheese" face.  This isn't something he picked up from us, I'm suspecting daycare.

In any case, on Christmas Day, we went to the Sunspot Lodge at Winter Park for dinner.  While waiting in the warm lift building for the gondola, Peter shedded his hat, gloves, and jacket, and sat in a chair at a table for 6.  A couple minutes later, a group of Japanese girls (high school or early college I'd say) came in and sat down at the table with him.  He waved and said "hi" to all of them, and they said "hi" back, while smiling at him. When we had to leave to go get dinner, Peter flashed his winning smile, said "bye" to all of them, and they all insisted on getting a high five from him as they laughed at his cuteness.

He's already a ladies man.  Big sigh from Mom.

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Photo Friday: Colorado Sunset

Colorado Sunset

Colorado Sunset © 2010 by Michelle Hedstrom taken on 12/12/2010

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Oh Christmas Lights, Oh Christmas Lights

I'm constantly on the lookout now for new and fun things to photograph as part of my quest to get better.  I think honestly I'm probably going to focus on landscape photography since it's almost an automatic, being in Colorado, that there's awesome landscapes.  Not just around my house, but close by my house, in the mountains, and tons of other places I haven't been to yet.

In any case, our neighborhood has a ton of Christmas lights up, more-so than normal I think.  Since I knew virtually nothing about how to really photograph them, I did a web search, and came up with an article from Strobist.  For those who don't know, that site is an excellent resource for lighting, specifically off-camera flash.  What it said in the article made a lot of sense, but the big thing it stressed was timing. You don't want it to be too light outside, but you don't want it to be too dark, so you need something in between.  As I don't have control over the lights I was going to photograph, I had no idea if that was possible. Tonight right before sunset, I went out to get the mail, and noticed one of the houses I wanted to photograph was lit, so ran inside, grabbed my camera and tripod, and ran over the house to set up.  

Now here's the funny thing.  The photos from that initial house I wanted to photograph didn't turn out as well as I would've liked, but I ended up taking some close-up shots of the house next door. Those turned out decently:

Mariela's House

Nothing was done in the post processing for this one except I up'ed the exposure by 1/2 a stop, and used Matt Klowkowski's Warm and Fuzzy Lightroom preset.

Notice the royal blue sky. Thank you Strobist for that tip!  It's a combination of not only getting the correct light, but setting the white balance to Tungsten.  I never would've thought that.

As I was turning to go back to my house, I saw a lone little lit up tree between a couple of houses, so figured I'd try to do a quick HDR shot of that and see what happened.  Very little processing (after the PhotoMatix HDR merge) other than a few filters in PhotoTools to pop the tree a bit, and voila!

Lit Tree

Thanks to Lorne for helping me with the crop on this one.

The learning continues with all of the awesome resources available online, and in book form.

Geese: Before and After

I do have a post started as more of a tutorial post, as to why I post-process some photos, and how exactly I fixed up the geese, however I really want to watch a movie now, so that'll wait until Monday.  In preparation for that, here's a before and after of the geese:

BEFORE:

AFTER:

The Local Wildlife

I used Lightroom, PhotoTune, and PhotoTools to do all the editing, and actually the only things I did in Lightroom were white balance fix, highlight recovery, and cropping.

Why I Am a Green Screen Photographer

(while it's not original, I am playing off William Beem's last few blog post titles).

When I got back from Photoshop World, I decided the next step in my photography was to shoot my own family photos. As mentioned in the last post, it's not that I don't think other places can do a good job, it's just something I wanted to do.  When deciding how to shoot that, I definitely still wanted to do some of the more natural/candid shots (again, as evidenced by my last post), and still wanted to be able to shoot posed stuff in a studio.  

Peter

As this post isn't about lighting, the only thing I'll say about that is I love the Westcott Strobelite 3 Lite Educational Set. That's all I'll say about that for now.  

With a studio though, I did need to decide what kind of background(s) to use.  I was very very tempted to go the white seamless route, since Zack makes it look so easy, but I knew I wouldn't be satisfied just with that.  I read a bunch on green screens, and decided to try that, getting the Westcott Green Screen.

The main negatives with green screens I read about, and can confirm are:

  • when you download the photo from the camera, you still have to deal with the background
  • selecting the green screen or things off the green screen can be difficult
  • sometimes your images on the edges will get a green color cast so you have to deal with that as well.

Even with all that, I still actually enjoy it. I'm a person who likes to change things up, and once you can pull the image off the background (or the background off the image), you have a virtually unlimited number of choices as to what you can do.  Do I want a scenic background? Do I want a solid color? A combination of colors with a texture?  Snowflakes?  The sky is the limit.

While there are many different ways to find digital backgrounds, I went with buying the Photobacks Upgraded Advantage Set (hint: they sell on Ebay too and it's slightly cheaper).  Yes, a lot of the backgrounds look like an amateur made them, but I've found more often than not that there is something I really like and want to use.

For our family photo, I combined 2 different backgrounds from that collection, and dropped the opacity on one to get a little bit of a color mix. Then I found a texture I liked and added that in.  

Original, untouched photo:

Original, untouched photo

Final, edited photo:

Family portrait

(some will note that I took out Peter's scratch on his face. I thought about that one long, and hard, and while this post isn't going to talk about that, I decided to do it because it's not normally part of who he is).

Normally doing a selection isn't that bad. I do one of three things normally:

  • Photoshop CS5 Quick Select with the Refine Edges option
  • Photoshop CS5 Color Range selection
  • onOne Software Mask Pro

Which one I do, depends on basically which one I'm in the mood to do, and sometimes if my first option doesn't work well, I'll try a different one. I honestly can't remember which one I used here, but usually I can get great results with one of those options, making sure I get the hair selected, and removing the green haze from the edges that you can get sometimes.

In conclusion, if I had an infinite amount of money to buy an infinite number of backgrounds I liked, I'd definitely do that, but since that's not an option, I'll stick with my green screening.

Pensive

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Things I've Learned From Photographing a Toddler

With my whole new foray into the world of photography, I thought it would be fun to try and shoot Peter's 2-year photos myself. I mean, there's nothing wrong with a Sears, or Kiddie Kandids (well, except the latter screwed over all their customers and employees when they closed their doors and wouldn't give people the stuff they ordered, and then reopened later with different employees, but I digress...), and there's definitely nothing wrong with paying a professional to take kickass photos, but it's something I really wanted to do myself.

I mean, how better to learn, right?

The first thing with shooting a toddler, is that you really need another person.  It doesn't matter that I'm his mom.  He's constantly on the go, never staying in one place more than a couple of seconds.  I needed someone else there (Leif, in this instance), to distract him, make him laugh, whatever, so I could set up for the next shot.

The second thing I learned, is to shoot on continuous mode. When you think you've got a decent shot, hold down the shutter, and take a few. In most cases, a bunch will be blurry, he won't be doing what you want him to, but since all you need is that one, good shot, the more you have, the more chance you have at getting something worthwhile.

The third thing I learned, is to let him do his thing. Telling a 2 year old to "look at the camera" not only doesn't work, but if it does, he does this weird "CHEESE" thing (I didn't teach him that, I think he got that from school). Just ignore him, follow him around, and always be ready to snap the shutter.

The fourth thing I learned, which I knew already from observing him for the past 2 years, is to shoot his good photos in the morning when he's at his freshest.  Shooting something in the evening is extremely dicey because he may be in a good mood, he may not be.  In the morning, he's always in a good mood (as long as he's feeling ok).

I was initially planning on doing all his photos indoors in my new little studio, but one day last week I looked outside behind the house, and noticed that the big area of trees was still all pretty and yellow with their fall colors, and I realized I had to get him out there. The area is pretty close to the side of a road (hence another reason you want a second person with you), but we got lucky enough that with daylight savings time, he got up Monday morning at 6:30 (7:30 old time), so we had some time to work with before having to take him to school.  After getting him dressed and ready, all 3 of us headed out behind the house, and just let Peter do his thing. Every once in awhile I'd call his name to try and get his attention, but he was having fun stomping in the leaves, and looking at the trees.  All in all, we were only out there for about 10 minutes. These are my 2 favorite shots:

Playing in the woods

 and: 

Fall photo

Not to be content with that, I still did want to get some in-studio shots. Yesterday morning we were waiting at home for some friends to arrive (Peter wasn't at school so he could play with their kids), and I figured that was as good a time as any to try this out.  5 minutes downstairs with him sitting on a little stool, and this came out:

Peter

All of the photos were post-processed in PhotoTools, and I used PhotoFrame on the border for the last one, as well as a PhotoBacks background.  He's looking at Leif who's blowing raspberries or something.

I have a few more photos I want to take with him, especially on a white seamless background, but if this is all I get for his 2 year photos, then I'm happy with my progress.

As always, I still have a ways to go before I feel like I know what I'm doing, but in order to get there, I just have to keep practicing!

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