Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Do You Feel Persecuted?

Many churches today are persecuted in one way or another for many different reasons.   The Prince William's Parish Church, or the Sheldon Church as it is known today, has seen extreme persecution in it's 266 year history.  The church is located between the towns of Beaufort and Yemassee in South Carolina.  It was built between 1745 and 1753 and funded by William Bull, who was the Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina.  Bull died before the church was even completed and was buried at the base of the altar inside the church.  His grave is there, inside the old walls.
William Bull's Grave

During the Revolutionary War, the church was set on fire when British General Augustine Prevost invaded the area in 1779.  In 1826, the church was rebuilt using the surviving walls of the original structure.  On January 14, 1865, the church was burned a second time when it was set on fire by Sherman's troops during his "March to the Sea'' campaign.   It was never rebuilt.

I have done a little internet research to try and understand why churches were burned during the wars.  One site claimed gunpowder was stored in the church during the Civil War.  Another claimed the British associated some churches with American revolutionaries.   I never did find anything definitive. 

Today the wall and front columns are still standing surrounded by beautiful Live Oaks and Dogwoods.   There are a few graves around the church dating back to the early 1700's.

Some of the oldest graves

Old Sheldon Church
We got to the church not long after sunrise to take advantage of the soft, warm early morning light.   Before the sun was high enough to shine on the church itself, the indirect light made the church ruins glow like there was a light on inside.   It was a bit hazy early in the morning, which made the skies white or grey.   I've intentionally cropped the photos to remove as much of the sky as possible.

After spending some quality time with South Carolina's finest mosquitoes, we were getting ready to leave when the sun got just high enough to shine through the tree leaves.   I took advantage of this to capture a "sun burst" above the church.   To get this effect you need to shoot with a small aperture (I used f/25 here) and position the camera so the sun is partially blocked, creating a pinpoint light source. 

I hope you enjoy these photos.  These and others are available for purchase in the Sheldon Church Gallery

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Hilton Head Sunrise

Here I am on vacation getting very little sleep.  Seems when I'm on vacation I'll get up after 4 hours sleep and head out in hopes of a good sunrise.   This time we're in Hilton Head, SC staying a short walk from the beach.   After staying up to almost 1:00 I got up at 5:15 AM and walked down to the beach.   The thing about photographing sunrises is you never know what you'll get.   Sometimes I get there and the sunrise is a dud, like my recent Roan Mountain sunrise hike.   Other times I'm blessed with a beautiful dawn.

This morning I got there long before the sun.   There were very few people out that early.   By the time the sun came up there were dozens of people walking, running or walking their dogs on the beach.   It was low tide and there was probably 200' of beach.  Later today when the tide comes in there will only be about 30' of beach with people everywhere.   Early morning is the time to be on the beach on the Eastern shore.

Hilton Head Sunrise

This photo is available for purchase here

This was taken with a 17-50mm lens @ 33mm then cropped down to a wide landscape.  I used a small f/16 aperture to maximize my depth of field and manually focused on the grass in the foreground.   I also used a 2-stop and a 3-stop graduated neutral density filter stacked together to keep from blowing out the sky.   I still had to darken the sky some in Lightroom.  It's tough shooting into the sun and still being able to see the details in the darker areas of the image.

I also had to adjust the white balance.  The camera was on auto white balance and because the sky was so orange it compensated by making the photo more blue.   The sand had a distinct blue tint to it before adjusting.

Because we're on an island we also have the opportunity to shoot some sunsets as well.   I'll try a couple sunsets before the weeks is out.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Sunrise Layers

June and I got up at 3:30 AM Saturday, jumped in the car and drove 1 1/2 hours to Carvers Gap on the Tennessee - North Carolina state line then took off up the Appalachian Trail towards Round Bald to be there for sunrise.   We were hoping for some clouds to make the sunrise dramatic but when the sky started in lighten there were no clouds in sight.   When the sun did come up over the mountains of Western North Carolina the sky was very bright but the mountains and grassy bald we were standing on was still very dark.  No digital camera can handle this extreme tonal range from dark to very bright without the darks being almost black or the sky being totally white or "blown out".

To handle this I used a combination of two techniques - graduated neutral density filter and High Dynamic Range or HDR.

The Graduated Neutral Density Filter or ND Grad is dark grey on one side and clear on the other.  I placed the filter on the front of my lens with the dark grey on the top to block much of the light from the bright sky and the clear portion on the bottom so I didn't darken the already dark grasses and mountain ridges.  I used a 2-stop ND grad, which cut the light from the sky to 25%.  That wasn't quite dark enough.  I think I need to get a 3-stop ND Grad for my camera bag for these conditions.

I also took three different exposures of the same image shown below

As metered by the camera

-2 stops darker

+2 stops brighter

The first exposure was almost good enough but some of the sky was blown out, meaning there was no information there only bright light.   A 3-stop filter would have fixed this but I didn't have one.  When I got back home I used HDR Efex Pro from Nik Software to combine the three images.   The software will basically take the properly exposed parts from each image and blend them together to make one High Dynamic Range or HDR image.   I use HDR Efex Pro because it allows me to create HDR images that are realistic and close to what my eye was able to see.

Once I had the HDR image I did a little additional editing in Adobe Lightroom to crop it, adjust the tone curve, update the color balance, add a little edge vignette and sharpened the photo.  Here's the end result.

This is not what I was hoping for when we got up at 3:30 AM, but I do like the layers of green, blue/grey and orange. 

We spent the rest of the morning, which there was still plenty of, hiking the Appalachian Trail to Round Bald, Jane Bald, and Grassy Ridge Bald.   The Rhododendrons and Flame Azaleas were in full bloom and beautiful.   Photos from our hike are available in the Blue Ridge Gallery on

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Sometimes you need more than one exposure

I was at the Grandfather Mountain Nature Photographers Workshop this past weekend.   In addition to spending the weekend with great speakers and and a fine bunch of photographers, I also got to be on the mountain after dark.  That meant staying up late to get the sunset and then getting up at "0 dark thirty" for the sunrise.  

I was one of the first to drive up the windy road to the top of the mountain.   I staked out my spot looking East and waited for the light show.   The mountain blocked sunrise and there were few clouds so nothing very spectacular developed in the sky that morning.  However, I did catch several other photographers rushing to the top to get there for sunrise.

When I got home and started going through the photos from the weekend I noticed that I had taken several from the exact same spot with the camera mounted on the tripod.   Here are three of those.

All were taken at f/8.0, ISO 320, 17mm.   The exposures were 15, 25 and 6 seconds respectively.   I used a two-stop graduated neutral density filter on each one.

The light trails from the tail lights were interesting in two of them and the sky was pretty nice in the third, but none of them were keepers by themselves.  Because the camera didn't move and only the exposure time varied between shots I was able to use Photoshop Elements to stack them together as layers and use layer masking to blend the three together.  Layer masks is one of the most powerful features of Photoshop and was exactly what I needed.  I'd never tried this before but with Scott Kelby's Photoshop Elements book  and 30 minutes I came out with this.

Click any image for a larger version.

I then used Lightroom to adjust the tone, clarity and vibrance in the final image.  I'm not a big fan of photoshopping a photo to create something that wasn't really there but am pretty happy with these results.   I don't think I could have gotten an image like this with just one exposure.