Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Finding Art

I had an early appointment in downtown Kingsport this morning and thought about heading up to Bays Mountain to make some photos of fall foliage. The morning skies were clear and bright, which is not great light for landscape photos so I decided to skip the park.  As I was driving through town I came across this massive mountain of ladders on the lawn of the Kingsport Renaissance Center.

I had my camera in the car and couldn't resist stopping.  This massive collection of ladders, all tied together at multiple heights and angles is a community art project called Rise Together Kingsport.  What I found is a sculpture celebrating the combined hopes and dreams that are the community of Kingsport.  It is a project by the City of Kingsport Office of Cultural Arts, the Tennessee Arts Commission and artist Charlie Brouwer. The project provides an opportunity for anyone in the community to participate in creating a sculpture signifying the combined hopes and dreams that depend on, build upon and support each other in Kingsport.  People and organizations came together to loan or donate ladders.  Some were obviously used, others were made just for this purpose.  There were really long extension ladders, step ladders, stools, and even ladders made of cloth and pipe cleaners.

Photographing this sculpture was a little challenging.  First, it is BIG, stretching across the lawn and a couple stories high.  Second, it appears to be very random with no central point to capture a viewers interest.  Photos of the entire web of ladders can show the massive size, but don't give the viewer a point of interest to focus on.

At first, I shot up from what is more or less the center, trying to capture the height.

I also tried playing with the sunlight.  Bright contrasty sunlight is not good for landscape photography but it can help a subject that is made up of high contrast elements.

As I walked around within the sculpture, I found individual pieces of art donated by the community. 

I was talking with one of the ladder donors while I was there.  He showed me the ladder he made, what he called "An Asian Kingsport Ladder". It was made of bamboo grown in Colonial Heights and boards broken by his daughter in her Tae Kwon Do class. He compared it to another bamboo ladder made by a friend that was similar, yet unique pieces of art.

DB HIgh School Art & Design Classes
It is these details that help tell the story behind the sculpture.  In fact, there are many stories from the community hidden in the apparent randomness.  I wonder what the story is behind the ladder made of walking canes or the multi-colored fabric.

Walking Canes Reaching Higher

Community Climbing Ladders
Someone had taken time to create a string of pipe cleaner people that snaked in and through the entire mountain of ladders.

Inspire, Believe, Celebrate!

A Ladder of Colors
As photographers, we are storytellers. Our photos need to help people understand and want to know more about the subject in our photos.  Sometimes we need to get up close to find the stories hidden right in front of us.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

It's Past Time...

As I have done for several years, I will be selling a  2018 Wall Calendar to raise money for Hope Haven Ministries.  Due to some recent travels, I am already behind schedule and will need to work quickly to get the calendars out in time for Christmas.
Will This One Make The Cut?

I still cannot pick the photos to go on the calendar and will rely on you to help me. I am in the process of picking candidate photos to be voted on by you.  I'll let you know when the voting starts. For now, please consider ordering one or more 2018 calendars. I'll be happy to ship calendars again this year.

All the profit will go to Hope Haven Ministries, Christian based homeless shelters in Kingsport.  I'm currently working with the printer to minimize costs and hopefully keep the same low low price of $15 each.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Something Different From The Solar Eclipse

Like millions of others, June and I took a couple days and traveled to watch and hopefully photograph the total solar eclipse on August 20. By now you've seen dozens of photos from that day and they all pretty much look the same. Here's my story and some different photos from Total Solar Eclipse Day.

I planned for a couple months leading up to the eclipse day.   I picked my location and booked one of the last hotel rooms in Townsend Tennessee months before.  I wanted to be close so we could get there early to claim our spot.  I ordered eclipse
Eclipse Glasses for $20 Each
glasses and a solar filter for my camera.  I even wrote a 10-page document with details on times, locations, angles of the sun, camera settings, diagrams, etc.  I consulted with Kent Ervin, one of the best photographers I know, comparing plans, etc. I was ready.

The Tree
June and I spent the day before Eclipse Day in the Smokies, including some time under "The Tree" in Cades Cove where I planned on making my photos.

On the big day, we got up and left our hotel around 6 AM, more than seven hours before the start of the eclipse.  At 6:30, two miles from the entrance to Cades Cove we found ourselves in a line of cars with license plate from all over the east.

6:30 AM
We were there in line for almost 2 hours. I don't know but wouldn't be surprised if that line of cars went all the way back to Townsend. Everyone was excited and in a good mood. We met some nice people and I got to photograph a cool mushroom while we waited.
7:20 AM
Cable Mill Area by June
The Park Service finally opened the gate a little after 8 AM and we were soon in The Cove slowly following a line of cars around the loop.  As planned we took Hyatt Lane across to the other side to get to our spot and set up.

I really had no idea how many people would want to watch or photograph from our spot.  We saw very few cars go by while we waited.  Where were all the cars?  Knowing that we would be waiting for most of a day I brought our bikes.  I rode to the Cable Mill for a bathroom break and found the cars.  It was a difficult ride because the cars were moving too slow for me to ride my bike and much of the time I was standing still waiting on the line of cars or walking my bike.

360 Degree Pano of Our Spot by June
Turns out few people made it past the mill.  There were hundreds of cars and thousands of people at the Cable Mill area. Other than another photographer and a young couple we had the Oak tree to ourselves.

That old Oak is the most photographed tree in the park.  Try Googling "The Tree Cades Cove" and you will see hundreds of photos.  Like all photographers who visit the park, I've also photographed The Tree many times but never gotten up under it.  We were there for the shade and hopefully to include part of The Tree in eclipse photos.  What we found was a wealth of photos waiting to be made.  These are some of my "bonus shots" I found while waiting under The Tree.

There were many song birds among the branches of the Oak tree and in the grasses of the recently mowed field.  We were there for several hours, giving me many opportunities to photograph them.


Eastern Kingbird

Song Sparrow

Indian Paintbrush and Coneflower
The birds were in their subdued summer colors.  The flower and grasses, however, were in their glory.

Dew on Grass

Queen Anne's Lace


The one thing I couldn't plan was the weather, but by the time the eclipse started we had mostly clear blue skies with only a few clouds.  However, not all my photography plans worked out.  I gave up on the shot with the tree and the sun and put that camera up.  I did take close up photos of the sun every 10 minutes to use to create a composite of the different phases.


My Composite
All my planning didn't prepare me for the actual totality event.  When it happened, it got dark very fast and I got excited.  I needed to change camera settings and it was dark enough that I had a hard time seeing the dials on my camera.  The exposures weren't working out anything like I planned and I didn't realize until it was over that in the excitement of the two minutes of totality I forgot to remove the solar filter from my lens!  I didn't get the cool totality shots that everyone else got, but I am happy with what I did get.

Although the totality only lasted 2 minutes where we were, it was worth everything we put into it. I'm planning to go to the next one on April 8, 2024.  Less than 7 years away!  I wonder if I will find a spot with birds, flowers, and an old Oak tree...

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Power of Color in Black and White Photos

Black and white photography can produce some captivating and artistic photos. By removing color from the image you emphasize the tonality, geometric shapes, and composition of the photo. Of course, not all images work in black and white. A brilliant sunset loses its a beauty when all the color is removed. I find converting an image to black and white to be a fun creative challenge that can result in an image to be proud of.

Most digital cameras and even some cell phones can take photos in black and white. If you let your camera do the conversion to black and white it will store the image without the color information. You have now limited your ability to adjust the image later.  My suggestion is to always capture your images in color and convert to black and white in post processing.  Here's why.

The best way to explain what I am talking about is by showing an example.  The video below shows how powerful the color information is behind a black and white photo.


I hope that video is helpful.  Making videos is new for me and was a little intimidating.  I think I need some practice.

Here are some more examples of converting a color photo to black and white.

Sample Number One - Street Portrait

I made this photo of Carrington Kay at the Music On The Square in Jonesborough TN. I wasn't in a great position to make photos and was more interested in enjoying the music anyway. The musicians were in the shade but the background building was still in the sun. I edited the color version to deemphasize the background and focus on the two individuals, however, the red brick still grabs your attention more than I wanted it to.
I used Lightroom to convert the image to black and white using the color sliders like I did in the video. The red brick wall no longer grabs the viewers attention allowing the musicians to be what your eye sees first.

Converted to BW in Lightroom
Click on the first image to zoom in then use the right and left arrow keys to flip through the different versions to see the differences in each.

Sample Number Two - Dull Sunrise

I said earlier that sunrises or sunsets are not typically what I would convert to black and white. In the example below the sunrise colors were very muted.  In fact, there is very little color in this image.
Fuji Provia Profile
When you shoot color in RAW format you can apply camera profiles later in Lightroom. In this example, I used a profile that simulates the Fuji Acros B&W film.  Applying this profile also changes the contrast and introduces simulated grain to make the digital image appear as if it was shot on Fuji Acros B&W film.

Fuji Acros Profile
By converting this image to B&W I removed the color distractions and emphasized the repeating patterns and composition. The surface of the water was blurred by using a 9-second exposure.

I really like the Acros profile and it's easy to apply in Lightroom.  If I don't like the result, it is easy to switch back to the default Provia color profile.

Sample Number Three- Timeless Scene

One more example of converting a color image to black and white.  In this case, the crisp color image appeared too new for the subject, which looked like it was set in the 1950s.  
Produce Stand in Color
 By converting to B&W the resulting image fits better with the subject.
Converted to BW in Lightroom
There are a number of ways to convert a color image to black and white.  I have shown you two ways in Lightroom. Other tools I use are Silver Efex Pro 2 from Google (Nik) and On1 Photo RAW.

Converted to BW in Silver Efex Pro 2 High Structure (Harsh) preset.

Converted to BW in On1 Photo RAW 2017 - Black & White Rugged Preset
These are just a few tools available for converting to B&W. There is an infinite number of ways to adjust an image when converting.  How you convert your photos is up to you. Use your creativity to express yourself and tell a story with your photos. Just make sure you capture the image in your camera, in color, preferably in RAW format.

Do you find these blog posts worth the time it takes to read them? Is there something you would like to see on the blog? Send me a note and give me some feedback.  I really do appreciate the feedback.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Working A Scene

One of my favorite waterfalls can be found in Western North Carolina near Rosman. It's not in a National Park, National Forest or even a State Park. In fact, it's not on public lands at all.  It is in the back yard of a private residence! The owners are nice enough to allow, and even encourage, visitors to their own private waterfall on Shoal Creek.

After parking behind the house and walking about 200 yards the trail climbs a very short distance and then descends a set of stairs to the base of the falls. This is the first view of the falls taken next to the small pool below the 60-foot falls.

1/2 sec at f/16

I've been here twice and neither time was there a lot of water flowing over the falls. I think this level of water is just about perfect. It allows individuals streams to separate when falling over the rocky bluff. There is a lot of interesting details and patterns in these falls. While you can easily see the entire waterfall from this vantage point, there is much more to see and photograph.

Landscape photographers need to move around and "work the scene".  Avoid the temptation to place your tripod in the first place you find.  Move closer or farther back.  Use your zoom lens, which can give a different view from moving closer.  Get lower.  If possible, get higher and shoot down. We didn't stay long enough because standing in water with thunder storms near by is not a good way to live long and prosper.

1/2 sec at f/16

Hoping across the rocks to the center of the stream gives you a slightly different perspective with the rocks in the foreground. The first and second shots include the lush green foliage and thick moss on the sides of the waterfall. It was an overcast day and the soft indirect light really made these greens pop.
1.8 sec at f/16

The pool below the falls is not very interesting and does not add much to the composition. Wading through the pool I got closer to the falls and made the shot above, cropping out most of the pool and the gray skies. You'll notice I also cropped off the top of the falls. I did this to emphasize the shapes and patterns in the lower falls, which I found to be very interesting.

2.0 sec at f/16

I think the triangular shape of the bottom of the falls with the water flowing down the stair step to makes an interesting composition. I was able to include just enough of the water flowing in from the left and the greens in the upper right.  

Tall waterfalls like this typically work best as vertical portrait orientation shots. However, the horizontal ledges in the falls made an interesting landscape orientation composition when I zoomed in closer.

0.9 sec at f/16
I zoomed in closer to emphasize the hard geometric lines and shapes of the rocks and the soft flowing water. I always like green plants or moss showing through behind a waterfall.  
4.3 sec at f/16
All these photos were shot at ISO 200 and f/16. The shutter speed varied due to the changing light conditions. By the time I made this last photo the skies had turned dark from the returning thunderstorms. It was time to head for the safety of the car again.

Making Photos With Flowing Water

To make photos with the soft flowing water you should start with a shutter speed of 1/2 second and vary it to get different effects. You might need to adjust your exposure compensation or use manual mode to not let the white water become over exposed in the long exposures. Of course, your camera must be steady through the long exposure so a tripod is pretty much essential to keep the rocks solid and sharp. If you place your tripod in a stream be aware that the water will introduce some movement and potentially blur your long exposure photos. I  place my hand on the tripod and press down during the shot to control as much of the movement as possible.

The other thing I find to be essential for these shots is a polarizer filter. This will reduce the glare off the wet rocks and foliage.  Be sure to turn the filter to adjust how much glare you want to remove.

Finally, if you have read this far you probably want to know where these falls are so you can visit them yourself.  These are Eastatoe Falls near Roseman North Carolina.

Directions to Eastatoe Falls:

  1. From Rosman NC, drive south on U.S. 178 for approximately 3.4 miles to a private drive on the right.
  2. There is a sign for Mountain Meadow here, and the driveway leads back to a house, and what used to be a craftshop on the left.
  3. The home owners have made a small parking area behind the house labeled with "Park Here" signs. The trail leads across the lawn into the woods and to the falls.
Please be courteous and respectful when visiting these falls. There are many beautiful falls on private property, but very few of them are accessible to the public because the land owners do not allow access.  

Friday, July 14, 2017

An Easy Photoshop Trick for Blending Exposures

Our eyes are amazing creations and in most cases, far superior to a film or digital camera.  Our eyes are able to look around a scene and dynamically adjust based on subject matter. This trait accounts for many of our commonly understood advantages over cameras. For example, our eyes can compensate as we focus on regions of varying brightness, can look around to encompass a broader angle of view, or can alternately focus on objects at a variety of distances.

Cameras capture a single still image.  Some adjustment to the image can be done after capture with photo editing software, but that is limited by the camera technology.  If areas of our photo are too bright (blown out) or too dark then no information will be available in those areas, no matter how much we try to fix the image.

Our eyes are more akin to a video camera — not a still camera.  Our eyes and brain work together to compile relevant snapshots to form a mental image. What we really see is our mind's reconstruction of objects based on input provided by the eyes — not the actual light received by our eyes. As a result, we can see into dark and light areas of a scene at the same time.

There are techniques for overcoming the limitations of our digital cameras to try and simulate what our eyes see.  One of the most popular is High Dynamic Range or HDR.  Even our cell phones can do HDR now.  However, the result can look unrealistic or even cartoonish.  Recently I have been using image masking in Photoshop that can produce more realistic results.

Warning - this works in Photoshop.  If you don't have Photoshop you may not be interested.  If you are, please read on.

1. Make a series of photos using exposure bracketing.  You want the darkest shot to have no blown highlights and the brightest shot to have no underexposed areas.   I set my camera up to take 5 exposures at - 2 2/3, -1 1/3, 0, +1 1/3, and +2 2/3 EV.  Most DSLRs support bracketing. You may have to find and read your manual to make this work.  You should have your camera on a steady tripod to make sure the images line up.

-2 2/3 EV

-1 1./3 EV

0 EV

+1 1/3 EV

+2 2/3 EV

2. Load the five images into Lightroom.  You can use other photo editing tools.  Lightroom is what I use.

3. Pick enough of the bracketed shots to cover the dynamic range by looking at the histograms. The histogram on the darkest one should not be touching the right side.  The histogram on the brightest should not be touching the left side. 

First Shot

Third Shot

Use control-click in Lightroom to select those images and any in between.

4. In Lightroom, choose the Photo menu, Edit in and Open As Layers In Photoshop...  This will launch Photoshop and bring the images in as individual layers.

5. Drag the layers around to put the brightest on top and the darkest on the bottom.

6. Click the eye icon to the left of the layer to turn off all but the bottom two layers.  In this example, I only have 3 layers.

7. Click the second to the bottom layer, then click the Add Layer Mask icon.


8. With the layer mask on the second to the bottom layer selected, go to the Image menu and select Apply Image.
A dialog box will appear.  Click the Invert box and click OK.

Photoshop will create a layer mask for you that masks out the brightest parts of the top image. You can click the eye icon on the second to the last layer to turn in on/off to see the effect.

9. Turn on the next layer up by clicking on the eye icon and then repeating steps 7 and 8.  Do this for each layer.

I will sometimes paint in some additional masking on some layers to brighten or darken areas of the photo.

The resulting image will be low contrast and will appear flat and uninteresting.  You'll fix this in Lightroom.

10. You can save the image as is with the layers or flatten the layers before saving.  I flatten the layers this to make the files a little smaller and save space.  Close the file in Photoshop.  It will appear in Lightroom along with the originals.

11. Use Lightroom Tone sliders to darken the backs, lighten the whites and add some contrast.   Be careful to not reintroduce blown highlights or dark shadows. At this point, you can do what ever additional edits you want.  In this example I used the Vertical Transform slider to correct some of the perspective distortion, and added a little clarity.

This example does not have extreme contrast to deal with.  I have used this technique in some extreme situations, such as the sunset example below.

Exposed for the sunset sky

A little brighter

Exposed for the flowers in the foreground

End Result

I hope this is helpful for a few people who use Photoshop.  There are other techniques, such as Luminosity Masking, which are even more powerful but are much too complicated to explain here.  I have found I can use Image Masking in most cases.