I just returned from a lengthy western road trip, including, amongst other things, 4000 photographs filling many gigs of space. I have hours of editing ahead of me. Today, enjoy some images from Monument Valley, one of the famous vistas of the American West. This lonely place is in northeast Arizona, near the Four Corners. It’s where Forrest Gump stopped running, and it’s appeared in many movies. And it’s only 6 hours from Albuquerque!
It’s raining in California. A lot. I’ve lived in the midwest, the mountains, the desert, and the northeast, but California weather is weird. Marc Reisner’s Cadillac Desert (which I reviewed here) details how California’s precipitation comes in 30 year cycles. Since we only have 150 years of modern weather records, that’s 5 cycles of rain. That’s not much data. So it causes havok. In 1916, San Diego hired a guy named Hatfield to literally make it rain. Just as he started work, it rained torrentially, and Hatfield had to flee a lynch mob. (Below is the Backstory Podcast segment on this story.)
I visited beautiful Balboa Park (home of the San Diego Zoo) in endless rain. I braved bus stops without awnings and big puddles. Because San Diegans live outdoors so much, only one restaurant had indoor seating, and was full of dripping puddle people like me. It was a harrowing adventure for one from the desert. I took a few rain-speckled pictures and fled back to the museums. I was lucky they weren’t outdoors too!
Last week I posted about using software to merge HDR or High Dynamic Range images. Well, just a few days ago, that software went from $150 to free. So that means an awesome refund for me, and even more incentive to try Nik Software for everybody else. Nik Software includes an HDR merger and a variety of effects ranging from black and white to faux vintage. I’ve had the package for three weeks, and I’m still finding new and exciting aspects.
I spent the weekend in northern New Mexico and Taos. I’m behind on everything, but I still couldn’t wait to assemble a few images. Without comment, here they are below. Happy photo editing!
Have you ever taken a picture where the brightest areas were lost to white and the darkest areas were lost to black? It’s an old photographic challenge with fun new solutions.
For over a century, photographers have used clever techniques to incorporate large brightness ranges in images. Ansel Adams used dodging and burning to compress the dynamic range of film to the smaller range possible on paper. For challenging scientific shots, scientists produced film with three layers, each capturing a different film speed. Today, given multiple exposures of a scene, computers can auto-merge the best parts of each image in a process called tone mapping. The resulting shot has become known as an HDR or High Dynamic Range image. In just the last decade, the process has become much simpler and more useful.
Photoshop is the most famous of the merging softwares, but it isn’t the best. For years, I wrestled with Photoshop’s clunky and artificial looking HDR outputs. If you think of HDR as a pejorative, Photoshop may be why. Fortunately, there are other pieces of software out there that do a better job. I recently purchased the Nik Software package, which includes HDR Efex 2. I have several hundred old captures that I gave up on in Photoshop that are new and exciting and beautiful again. If you’ve ever tried making HDR images and felt disappointed, you should check out the market again. The results from HDR Efex and Photomatix are glorious. Happy tone mapping!
A note to Mac users: as of March 2016, the HDR Efex plug-in for Lightroom does not always work. I had to email the company and get them to send me a module file. Their email was detailed enough to suggest that this bug is common. With the module file, it was an easy fix, so contact the company if you too encounter this challenge.
HDR Efex (left) and Photoshop (right)
In the case of the cave image, I vastly prefer the HDR Efex image. The Photoshop controls aren’t intuitive, and even their built in presets mostly look awful. Some of the Nik presets are too extreme for my usual preference, but many of them look great immediately. In the case of the waterfall image, I prefer the HDR Efex image, but I don’t dislike the Photoshop image. The light is more exciting in the HDR Efex image, and I did it quickly and easily.
I’ve had HDR Efex for about three weeks. The first two weeks are free with a fully functional trial copy. Below are some of the images I’ve assembled. I’m pretty happy with it so far, especially after years of feeling uninspired by Photoshop’s HDR function. Happy photographing!
Early this morning, my Flickr page crossed over the one million views threshold. Which is pretty exciting! I started my Flickr page almost exactly eight years ago, just after I got my first DSLR. Since then, I’ve taken a lot of pictures and learned a ton, and had a blast doing it.
And early yesterday morning, I biked to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, one of the biggest hot air balloon gatherings in the world. It. Was. Amazing. The bike ride, the balloons, the launches, EVERYTHING. It was one of the most fun things I’ve done, and easily one of most exciting things to photograph. I took about 1500 photos (though a lot of them were duplicates to hedge my exposure bets). It’s been a wonderful weekend!
Albuquerque’s a great place to explore with a camera. The weather’s cooperative, mostly, with consistent lighting and low humidity. There’s a great balance of industry and nature, gaudy and dilapidated, geometric and organic. There aren’t many trees, so there are more opportunities for sweeping vistas, often punctuated by mountains or volcanoes. There’s even a great chance you’ll catch something awesome in the sky, be it a flyover from the air force base or a hot air balloon. So this weekend I explored Albuquerque–not the surrounding area– on a photo tour.
With my new learning, I’ve been able to breathe new life into old photos. Over the past several years, I took numerous sets of photos that I intended to turn into panoramas and HDRs, but then I could never get them to look right. With newfound skills come newfound confidence. Check out these beautiful images!