Sunday, July 17, 2016

Solving Color Problems in Photos

Selective colorization of a photo is not something I typically do.  In fact, I'm pretty sure this is only the second time I've ever done it.  In this case, it solved some serious color issues and made the story of this photo more dramatic at the same time.


When you have strong lights of dramatically different colors it can make it almost impossible to make a photo with realistic colors.   The blue lights from the patrol car and the yellow street lights made this scene appear like something from The Twilight Zone.   I don't know how I could have fixed these colors.  Converting the image to black & white removes those color problems.

Black and White

This conversion caused another issue.  The red and blue of the flag were now gone and it just sort of blends into the photo.  The key to the story in this photo is the man preparing to carry the flag in the race that was to start in just a few minutes.   I want to draw the viewers attention to the man with the flag.   Bringing back the colors in the flag can do that.


The blue lights made some of the red stripes appear purple and I had to use Photoshop to edit out some of that purple in the flag.  In addition, I turned down the brightest spots, increased the contrast and cropped a little off the left to remove some people that added distractions and took away from the scene. 

What do you think?   Do you like the original or final version better?   Leave a comment and let me know.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Telling A Story

People like stories.   It starts early in life with "read me a story Dad" but it doesn't end as we grow older.   Storytelling is an important tradition here in East Tennessee with the National Story Telling Center in Jonesborough and the National Story Telling Festival.  You can even get a degree in storytelling at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City.

We usually think of storytelling as an oral tradition but paintings, drawings, and photographs can visually tell a story in a powerful way.    Ansel Adams said there are always two people in a photograph - the photographer and the viewer.   The photographer needs to think about how to capture an image in such a way that it can tell a compelling story to the viewer.

There is a wealth of good information available on how to tell a story with a photograph.   Just try googling "photography storytelling" .

I'm going to try to use some of my photographs from our trip to Iceland to tell the story of geographic isolation and the forces of nature that define the culture of Iceland.

Although Iceland is not a large country it is defined by large expanses of wilderness with few signs of people or buildings.  The landscape is made up of volcanic mountains and very few trees. The people who live outside the capital of Reykjav√≠k and the small towns along the coast have to deal with being isolated from their neighbors.  How can I use my photographs to tell the story of isolation in Iceland?

A wide panoramic photograph that shows a single building in a vast landscape can make the viewer feel the building stands alone in a vast frozen wilderness.   If I had made the photo of the building without the mountains or just the mountains without the building it would not tell the same story.

Above is a photo of June walking on the black sand beach before sunrise.  A small single figure in a simple uncluttered landscape can give the feeling that the person is alone or maybe even lost.

Including a person in a photo can give a sense of scale.  Without the tiny figure in the photo above the viewer may not understand how big the landscape is.   

The photo above also includes a couple objects that give a sense of scale.   The pack in the foreground and the van in the distance connected by a path through the snow tells a story of a difficult journey.   It was not difficult to exclude signs of civilization in this photo.  We were miles from anything.

Iceland today is very connected via the internet.  In the past, people living in Iceland had to travel long distances or find other ways to communicate.  This is an old short wave radio that people used to get news and music from around the world. 

Do these photos tell a story?  You'll have to decide for yourself.   Next time you're out taking photos think about how you can tell an interesting story that others will want to see.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Want To Get Pumped Up This Weekend?

Something is happening in Kingsport Tennessee this weekend that few communities have.  There is an event that will get your heart pumping and juices flowing.  It's not a sporting event or the appearance of a rock star.  What it is is the Liberty Celebration 2016 Concert, A Musical Extravaganza Honoring God and Country.

Since 1997 volunteers from our communities have come together biannually for Liberty Celebration, a patriotic musical celebrating Independence Day. The event provides an opportunity to celebrate freedom in a family atmosphere with emphasis on the traditional values of God and Country.  The show features a large adult choir, children’s choir, full orchestra, soloists, dance groups, dramatic presentations, along with a strong military presence emphasizing and recognizing our service men and women all combine to anchor Liberty Celebration.

This year I have been blessed to get to take photos of the volunteers rehearsing and preparing for this weekend.   Tonight I had a blast photographing the dress rehearsal in the Eastman Employee Center.  

This event will make you proud to be an American.   The music is rousing, upbeat, fun and best of all it highlights the best of what makes America great.   Little of what we hear or the radio, YouTube, or the internet today will make you feel good like this music performed by a choir of over 100 voices, an orchestra, and very talented soloists.

The shows are

July 1 at 7:30pm
July 2 at 2:30 and 7:30pm
Auditorium at the Eastman Employee Center
Tickets are $5 at the door.

I have really enjoyed being the "Official Photographer".   I took over 1,200 in about 2 hours this evening.   I'll be narrowing those down to a manageable number to share with the volunteers that make this show so great.  Here's a few I picked out tonight.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Portsmouth Floodwall Murals

Historic Downtown
Now that I am retired and have more time, we can take a little extra time on trips to explore.   Recently on the way home from visiting our son in Ypsilanti Michigan we took a detour to Portsmouth Ohio.  Thanks to Susan Scharenberg for the suggestion.

Like most small towns, Portsmouth has a historic downtown area that they are trying to revitalize. There are many old buildings with the character that comes from hard years.   What Portsmouth has that no other town has is a 2,000-foot long floodwall covered from end to end with murals.

Part of the Flood Wall
These murals portray the history of the area from the mound building Indians to the present day and use the 20ft. high, 2000 ft. long floodwall as a canvas. The project runs the length of the historic district and includes approximately 50 different scenes.

The Flood
We spent over an hour walking the length of the wall reading about each mural and photographing many.   I have created an online gallery of some of the photos.  I invite you to check them out, learn a little about the history of Portsmouth, and enjoy the art-work.

Portsmouth Ohio  Gallery

Windows on The World

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Spring Wildflowers in the Great Smoky Mountains

What a blessing retirement is!   We were able to go to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on a Monday and Tuesday when the wildflowers were near their peak and the crowds were low.   I took 360 photos in two days and have selected 22 to share online.  Each photo shows a different variety of plant or flower, which will give you and idea of the diversity of blooms we found.   The one exception is a photo of a bear cub coming down a tree after an afternoon nap in the branches.

We hiked a trail we have driven past over a hundred times but never hiked.   The Chestnut Top Trail starts near the Townsend Tennessee park entrance.   We found the first half mile on that trail was one of the best wildflower trails we have been on.   After that, the flowers thinned out a bit, which was a good thing.   It probably took an hour to go the first half mile because I was continuously stopping to shoot the next flower.  We saw flowers along the entire length of the trail, including more Lady Slippers that we had ever seen before.   These were about a week from peak bloom.
Pink Lady Slipper

Fire Pink and Dwarf Crested Iris
Our destination was White Oak Sinks.  We've been there three times before, but we always took the shorter Schoolhouse Gap Trail.  This day we ended up hiking about 12 miles round trip.  Probably not the smartest thing to tackle as the first hike of the year and we were dead tired when we finished.

White Oak Sinks is a paradise for wildflower lovers.   We found it was a bit past peak when we got there.   Also, the park service has closed off the area around the cave and the waterfall to protect the bats from White Nose Syndrome.   I don't think the waterfall will be closed off all year.  Check with the park service before going.

We also visited several spots along the Little River Road and spent some time at the Chimneys Picnic Area, which is always a good spot for wildflowers.

Bear Cub After His Nap
On our way down from the Chimneys Picnic Area, we ran into a crowd of cars and people along the road.  Anyone who has been in the park knows that is a sure sign of wildlife near the road.   We stopped and found a mother and two cubs.   They were difficult to see because of the brush and trees but I was able to get one shot of this cub making his way down the tree.   He was sleeping high in the tree when we got there.   One concerned park visitor was afraid he was stuck in the tree and wanted me to use my zoom lens to check on him.  We told her that bears sleep in the trees and he was just having his afternoon nap.   I'm not sure we convinced her, but he did come down safely.

We had a great two days and am looking forward to spending more time in nature.

Be sure to check out all twenty-two photos here. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Nik Software Suite of Tools Is Now Free -- Is this the beginning of the end?

At one time, Nik software was one of the premier photo editing packages on the market.   Lately
development on the Nik suite has slowed up.   The writing was on the wall -- Google was investing in the mobile and web apps and not the Nik suite.
I bought a copy three or four years ago for a couple hundred dollars and have used it with Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop ever since.   Then, a couple years ago Google bought the company to get the mobile app Snapseed.

Today, Google announced that the Nik suite of software is now free to all.  You can download in here.

Here is a list of all the tools in the suite:

  • Analog Efex Pro - converts photos to the look of classic cameras, films, and lenses.
  • Color Efex Pro -  a comprehensive set of filters for color correction, retouching, and creative effects.
  • Silver Efex Pro - black-and-white conversion with darkroom-inspired controls.
  • Viveza - selectively adjust the color and tonality of your images without complicated masks or selections.
  • HDR Efex Pro - powerful HDR conversion tools
  • Sharpener Pro - professional sharpening tools
  • Define - noise reduction software that takes into account the camera, ISO and exposure

All these tools work with Lightroom, Photoshop, and Photoshop Elements as external editors or filters.   They are available for Windows and Macs.

Nik Color Efex Pro continues to be the tool I go to when I want to selectively apply edits.   The u-point technology in the Nik software makes it easy to select areas of a photo based on luminosity and color without the need to create complex masks.   Silver Efex Pro is my favorite B&W conversion tool.  HDR Efex Pro is the HDR software I use.    I have found the noise reduction in Lightroom to be as good as Deine and don't use that tool as much as I used to.

Should you download the Nik suite of software?   Well, it's certainly worth the purchase price.   I'm not sure it's worth the time it will take to learn the tools.  In my opinion, Google making the tools free is the final step before killing them off.  It has already been some time since the last software update.

What's the alternative?   I also have the On1 software suite that does many of the same things as Nik. I have not learned more than the basics of the On1 tools because I kept going back to the Nik tools I know.  Now I'm going to spend more time with On1 and move off the Nik tools.

On1 is investing in their development and will continue to improve the tools.  They are running a Spring Special right now and you can get the suite of On1 tools for $79.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Avoiding Mergers

Last week I wrote about how slight changes in the camera position and focal length of the lens can have an unexpected impact on a photo.   Today I want to give an example of changing the camera position to avoid something called mergers.

While on our recent trip to Iceland with great friends and photographers we stopped at a small stream just off the road.   The water was smooth and partially covered with a skim of ice.   Add a very interesting cliff face in the distance and you have many opportunities for interesting compositions.
Some of our group shooting the reflections
To get the mountain and cliffs in the reflections you must position your camera low, just a few feet off the ground and surface of the water.  

55mm and lower position

The stream had some thin ice on the surface, which added some interest to the surface reflections.  I picked out a position where the shape of the skim ice and the near bank mirrored the shape of the mountain in the distance.  You can see this in the photo above.

I made several different shots at different focal lengths, camera heights and positions.  I also changed the camera from landscape to portrait orientation.  When out in the field it's important to move around and try different angles, heights, focal lengths, etc.  It's frustrating to get home and realize I missed the best photo because I didn't move around and look for different compositions. When I got home I had 28 different photos from this location to choose from. In the end, I choose the photo below as my favorite.

50mm and higher position
There is only a slight difference between the two photos and it's in the space between the ice and the reflection of the mountain in the water.  Both photos show the ice mirroring the reflection of the mountain, but the second photo above has a little more separation between these two elements.  If I had positioned the camera even lower the ice and mountain reflection would have merged or overlapped.  When compositing a shot it is important to pay attention to mergers between important elements and avoid them when possible.  Here's a short article on mergers with a better example.

This example and the one from last week illustrate how little changes can improve a photo.   I hope you get some value from these examples.  I'm still working through my photos from Iceland and will post more as I make more progress.