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Cabins in the Mountains - Pseudo-HDR

While out sledding in Granby the other day, I decided to take a quick click of some of the cabins since I liked how they were sitting all in a row.  At that moment, I wished I had my tripod out so I could do a proper HDR photo, but after downloading the photos and looking at what I had, I decided to try the pseudo-HDR ability in Photomatix by using only the one image.  Honestly, it turned out decently in Photomatix, but turned out even more decently once I pulled it into PhotoTools and did some more adjustments. Granted, this isn't the true definition of HDR (hence why it's called pseudo-HDR), but sometimes it actually comes out nicely.

Mountain cabins

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."

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:



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.

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


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:


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!

The Worst Shot is the One You Don't Take (or: Morning Landscapes)

Somebody at Photoshop World, and forgive me since I don't remember who it was, said to their class that the worst photo is the one you don't take.  I've been trying to remember that whenever I mentally try to talk myself out of taking a shot.  One that's not perfectly set up, one where I think the lighting sucks, one where I have to go out of my way.  I've been trying to just take them all since it doesn't matter if it's perfect or not, as long as I'm taking photos.

Yesterday morning I was driving home from the morning karate instructor academy workout.  I hit a nice clear view area on my drive, looked off to my left in the distance, and saw a snow-capped mountain top sitting right next to just a plain old brown mountain top.  The plain brown one was obviously a much closer distance, and a much lower altitude, but I thought that was really cool. I didn't stop and take a photo at that time for 2 reasons. 1) I didn't have my camera (and if I had, I wouldn't have had my zoom lens on it most likely), and 2) I really didn't have time since I had to run home and eat lunch before going to my private lesson.  I put in my back of my head to go grab a photo this morning after dropping Peter off at daycare.

I set up the camera last night, and almost didn't grab it this morning since it was 45 degrees outside, but then I remembered that cool view, and tossed it in my car. After dropping Peter off, I honestly wasn't sure exactly where to stop to take it, so I headed back towards the dojo and figured I'd turn around at some point, and find a good spot.  Nothing looked good until I drove past the Majestic View Nature Center. Nothing in the way of the view, just clear grass, a pond, some trees off in the distance, and some distant houses.  A perfect venue.

I snapped off a few, trying to follow the tips I had picked up from the Composition Digital Field Guide by Alan Hess, and then decided to try a few HDR shots.  That seemed to go well. The funny thing is, in my mind I had a view of the shot I wanted.  When I got out there, I did take that shot, but took a bunch of others, and got one similar to my mental image, but better:


Processed in Photomatix Pro, enhanced with PhotoTools.

Finally I turned to head back to the car. At the last second before opening the door, I looked up past the car, and saw a house with a bunch of colorful trees around it.  Even though our weather had been weird lately (cold, really windy, then warm again, then cold at night, etc...), the leaves on these trees decided to hang on for awhile longer. I re-set up the tripod, and came away with this bonus shot:

The last of the fall foliage

This HDR I processed in Photoshop, but again enhanced it in PhotoTools.

Both of these photos I took within 5 miles of my house. 

My First Foray into onOne Software's PhotoTools

While at Photoshop World a few weeks ago, I sat through several demos of the onOne Software Plugin Suite 5. Honestly, I had no intention of buying the entire suite, but after watching demos from Brian Matiash, Dave Cross, and a few of the onOne Software guys, I was sold. At some point it just gets more cost effective to buy the suite. And with the NAPP/secret show special discount, it was a really good price, so I couldn't pass it up.

I got it home, and still wasn't sure exactly what to do with it. I mean, kudos to the demo guys for making it look so easy, but in reality, as a newbie sitting down with it for the first time, it was overwhelming. Fortunately I caught the Scott Stulberg webinar on Creating Images with Impact which cleared a bunch of my questions up. I was ready to at least make some attempt at trying to use it, and decided to tackle each plugin one at a time. First up, PhotoTools!

It just so happened, that evening I had taken a photo of a double rainbow (all the way!) from the deck. Here's the out of the camera RAW photo:

Original photo

Typical rainy day, cloudy, dreary looking, photo. It's not bad, but I figured it could use some touchups. Normally I'd just pull it into Lightroom and do the best I could with it, but today I had PhotoTools, so wanted to see what it could do.

This is the point where I'd mention exactly what presets I applied to the photo, however I can't seem to figure out how to see the history of what you did in PhotoTools. I'm sure it's there, and I have a support email into onOne, and I'll update this when I know how to do it, but for now, just take my word for it, that I did a bunch of stuff. :)

After editing in PhotoTools, I did very minimal edits in Lightroom. More vibrance, more clarity, a little extra luminence smoothing, and here's the final result:

Double Rainbow!

I kind of like it honestly. The house is a tiny bit yellow, but I'm leaving it as is because you have the sun shining on it, which is what the color is from, I think. In the original photo, you can barely see the second rainbow, and even the first one is a little dull.

Granted I'm still extremely new at PhotoTools, but I'm sold on using it. It's actually surprisingly easy to use, and as long as you have the patience to go through the various presets, you can easily touch up your photo almost any way you want to.


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