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I'm now selling my photos!!!

I now host galleries of my favorite photos @ www.lloydshell.zenfolio.com Feel free to surf over there to see photo's that may have drifted into the darkest reaches of the archives here on Blogspot.

I also have begun selling my photographs when requested, I can handle most sizes and finishes either locally or via my on-line printing service.

Thanks for looking!

Lloyd
lloydshell@gmail.com

Sunday, November 23, 2014

What is HDR? And why does Some Dude use it?

I often have to explain what HDR is when I mention that I have used it for a picture. In this post I hope to explain why it is important to my work, and a little about HOW to do it, but without explaining it completely. It is always good to work at something a little isn't it?

HDR stands for "High Dynamic Range", which could lead one to think, what is low dynamic range, or for you really smart folks who get to the meat of things, what the heck is dynamic range? In photography we use dynamic range to refer the relative luminance of all the part of the image captured in a photograph. From the darkest to the lightest parts. Many scenes we want to photograph have a larger luminance range than the sensor (or in the old days film) can capture. Meaning that either the bright areas are correctly exposed and the darker areas are too dark, or the darker areas are correctly exposed and the brighter areas are too bright. Many scenes have such a range of bright to dark that one single exposure will have areas that are completely black (Blocked up) and other parts that are completely white (Blown out). (This is usually the case with most of my night time temple photographs. Which was a prime driver in developing my humble skills using HDR. Specifically the program Photomatix.)

Many cameras have a setting that will allow you to see blocked up or blown out areas with a blinking warning when you view the photo on your back LCD screen after taking it. On my Pentax K5 & K200d the black areas blink green/yellow and the all white areas blink red. Which drives my wife a bit crazy, but is helpful to me.

Why does that matter? Well... human eyes are much better than the best camera sensor we can possibly build, they can manage to see hugely different levels of light in the same scene and show you detail in the shadows and not have the brighter areas be too bright. That is why when you take a photo of a scene, the photo doesn't look just like what you were looking at. Between the lens, the sensor, the screen you are looking at it on (or heaven forbid an actual paper print!) and the ambient lighting your eyes are adjusted for etc........... It doesn't look the same. 

HDR is a way of combining multiple photos taken at different exposures to produce an image that when viewed on screen or as a print looks more like what you experienced when viewing the scene originally. Notice here I did not use the "R" word, "reality" is a concept I am not ready to discuss relative to photography. In part because I firmly believe that trying to capture "Reality" is a fools errand when you are a photographer!

Now, to many photographers HDR is a bad bad BAD thing, because there are so many examples of people producing results that are not... aesthetically pleasing. The software used for this type of work (I use Photomatix) has a multitude of settings, some intended for one type of scene and some for another. Misapplication of a certain pre-set can be disastrous! See the link above for some pretty bad photos.

Sometimes, on a very few occasions I have gone over the top for artistic reasons and produced a lurid image that has been popular, however, I try to NOT got there. I prefer to use a gentle touch that produces an image that looks more natural and is closer to an artistic representation of what was pleasing in an image.

Now, "how do you do it?" you ask. Easy, (Well not really but I want to to try it so I will tell you it is easy, but Shhhhhh don't tell anybody else!)  I first compose the scene I want to capture. This is really the hard part, it is what separates the photographers from the plebian masses. Composition! I have read and tend to agree that the best landscape photos are taken either within 3-4 feet of the ground or way above it. That is why I am not allowed to wear nice clothing when I am on a photo expedition. If your knees are not dirty, or even better your entire torso, then you probably didn't get anything. 

Once you have composed the photo, then you need to do all the other things correct, choose the best aperture for the scene, the correct base exposure, lock down the tripod etc...  Then you need to either set up your camera to auto bracket exposures, or if you are like me and shooting EVERYTHING manually a lot of the time, set the bracket exposures yourself. Most quality cameras will do 5 exposures automatically and you can set the exposure gaps as you like. For something like our example below I usually choose +/- 1 stop for each photo.

This was -2 stops. (f10, 1/125s)


-1 stops. (f10, 1/60s) notice the increased detail in the shadow areas and less detail in the sky.


+/- 0 (f10, 1/30s)(or as the camera metered the scene, off the bottom right bump)


+1 stop (f10, 1/15s)


+2 stops (f10, 1/8s)


Notice that the aperture or "f stop" doesn't change. You want to keep your aperture the same, and you want to choose the correct aperture from the beginning.  I usually will be anywhere from f8 to f13 depending on the lens. (Aperture determines Depth of Field or how much of the scene is in focus, as well as how much light reaches the sensor/film.)

None of these shots above looks exactly how my eye saw the scene, or how yours would either.

This, however, is more like what I remember seeing. Maybe a little enhanced, leveled and corrected for the inherent distortions of the lens, but what photographer doesn't enhance things a little though?


So, that is a brief introduction to the what of HDR and a little of HOW, but not all. There are some specifics to HDR that need mention:

1) Solid positioning of the camera. HDR programs can adjust for slight movements of the camera between shots, but it can result in decreased resolution. I have shot HDR handheld in bright sunlight, but it is MUCH easier to do when you shoot a tripod.

2) The movement of elements in the shot can be a problem, called "Ghosting" for me it usually happens with cloud movement. Avoiding longer exposures, and gaps between exposures helps with that. One of the nice features of the camera automatically setting the exposures for the bracketed photos. In the linked photo I was setting them manually due to the longer exposures needed and there were up to 1 minute gaps between exposures.

3) White balance can be a huge problem if you get it wrong. HDR can magnify small  differences in color and make the whole image skew off into weird color land. I will usually take several RAW images and play with them in my converter (ACR) until I like the color balance. Sometimes I have to Re-Convert ALL my shots after washing them through Photomatix and not liking the result. I prefer to work with 16-bit TIFF files in Photomatix rather than bring them in in RAW format. The converter in Photomatix tends to add noise.

4) You really should go easy on how much you use it. You can easily make an image that makes you go WOW! And everybody else barf...

5) don't limit yourself to just 3 or 4 or however many images. Some of my best images have been 6 or 7. One of my favorites was only 3, but gapped more than 1 stop apart. Longer exposures with small apertures (Larger f-stop numbers) can help you to get rid of people in a busy scene. Like this shot, if you have ever been to Temple Square in Salt Lake City at Christmas you know that it is PACKED with people. My longest exposure was something like 15 minutes which really helped to get rid of a lot of people!

Hope this whetted your appetite to try HDR! Thanks for reading!

-Lloyd

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

On The Rocks.

That was the phrase going through my mind Friday night. It may have been the cold, it may have been that there was a lot of bare rock that I was looking at. All I know is it was kind of annoying really.

So, I went to my usual favorite place, Goblin Valley State Park last Friday. I know I need to branch out, but I keep telling people about it and they want me to take them there. My bad I guess. I was worried that it would be cloudy, as it was cloudy in Salt Lake but the night was pretty much clear as a bell. No moon until later so it was a nice night for Milky Way shots.

On a technical note: ISO 3200 is a starting point with your lens wide open and 30s exposure, beyond that, you just have to play with it and look at your histograms closely. And a really steady tripod.

Two airplanes and the Milky Way in the sky, lit up tent in the foreground. Works for me!


I am not a huge selfie fan, but I hardly think this is your usual selfie. I was trying to stay warm more than anything else really.


For these next three I did something interesting, I went from a 8mm Fisheye with 180 degrees of view from corner to corner, to a 17mm lens wide open at f2.8, and, with this shot up to 6400 ISO I got a lot more noise AND a lot more star activity in the sky.


Going back to 3200 ISO I started working on my light painting technique. Using a simple headlamp, a Black Diamond Storm if you care to know. My first attempts put WAY too much light on the rocks, a nice problem to have.  Eventually I figured it out, of this framing, this was the best.


Now this was quite a bit more difficult, if you noticed above the rocks are not as well lit as below, which is OK, the problem becomes getting the sky looking right and the rocks the right color. I solved this by creating two layers in photoshop and color balancing the top layer correctly for the  rocks, then making the under layer correct for the sky. I then erased the sky from the top layer leaving only the foreground rocks (not as easy as it sounds) and then flattened them down. Leaving me with this. I am excited to try to print this and see how it looks. Could be a good one!


Early the next morning, I woke to frost on the INSIDE of the windshield, and the light just staining the sky to the east. The temp was in the mid to upper 20's F, and I am prepared enough to be able to shoot in those temps. In fact I was too hot by the time I hiked down to the valley of the goblins! Nice problem to have if you ask me.

While hiking down my old friends the "Three Sisters" were standing vigil off the side of the road. Took a picture to say "Hi!" and kept on hiking so I could be set up for first light.


This would work better as a sunset shot, I had to work the HDR route to get the sky and foreground to talk to each other. Loved the frost and snowy spots.


Moving back up I began to search for the perfect first light shot. This is one composition I really liked, but I began to realize that a butte was going to mess with my light. sigh.


Moving up higher, Molly's Castle was starting to get light so I quickly set up for it, REALLY liked it.


Turning around and moving 30ft I set up for "The Shot" I have wanted to get the Iconographic shot the epitomizes Goblin Valley. I think this is close, I again had to go the 5 shot bracket and HDR technique to get the light balanced properly. I think I avoided the really outre HDR look, and kept it natural. What do you think?


Thanks again for coming to look, enjoy your Thanksgiving Holiday!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Old Friends.

Every so often there is a convergence of some ineffable and unknown factors that creates something wonderful. Peanut Butter and Chocolate. Ferrari's and twisty mountain roads. Hot Cocoa and crisp fall mornings. For me it is my Pentax SMC 24mm f2.8 lens and my Pentax K200d camera. They combine in some way to create photos that speak to me. The focal length frames up just right for me eye on APS-C and the sensor creates pleasing colors. Now neither are up to current spec, the mirror on the K200 is a bit clanky, especially compared with my K5, & the resolution is only 10MP, but I can live with that. I am willing to carry the K200 with me in my backpack on a daily basis and with the 24mm it makes a nice fairly lightweight and unobtrusive combo. Which means it is ready to go at the drop of a hat.

On successive Mondays I just HAD to take a few moments and take some photos, that is my decompression time. Plus great clouds on crisp fall afternoons make photography even more tempting. I see this flag every time I work at the University and walk back to the light rail. I wanted to put the sun behind the flag but would have been standing in a tree. Played with black and white and desaturating all but the flag, but it didn't work.


Some buildings are just wrong, design, execution, detail. In some (many) ways this is that: just plain wrong. It doesn't fit with the older buildings next to it. No graceful curves, just cubist lines and mirrored sides. Yet... beauty can be found even in things you don't like.


The contrast between organic and inorganic, straight lines and chaotic curves.


Is it a jarring monument to modern design, a sharp edged chisel jammed into the sky, or is it an accent, a foil, that emphasizes the differences enhancing both in the process?


Maybe both, or none.

I feel a photo essay coming on spending a day comparing and contrasting the old with the new...

It is a nice place for a selfie though.


Monday, November 3, 2014

One Fine Day!

So... one of my best friends has a daughter who asked me to take some photos of her, her date and 3 more couples at a local high school dance being held at the State Capitol Building. Never one to turn down a chance to make a quick buck I agreed. You will however not see those photos here, I haven't asked if I can use them for publicity purposes and that could get me in trouble. What you get here is the photos I took before and after, why because that is more fun. I really don't like people photography that much, I am far too critical to feel relaxed doing that kind of stuff.

Yeah a flower photo, I don't really post that many so you can no roll your eyes and label me an amateur just because I took a pic of a flower... just to kinda get warmed up.



I had about an hour after I got off work and before the paying customers arrived. So I took off my shoes and socks and waded into the pool to play with my favorite perspective and see if I could come up with something interesting. I had to stitch two photos together to get it all in. I think I may have gotten a little too close. This is still my best shot I think. 


During the shoot the light became, more than somewhat awesome, so I snapped off a quick shot, this was taken with my 28mm f3.5, which was a perfect lens for the work of taking group pictures without wide angle distortion. 


After it was all said and shot I just HAD to try to capture the light. I really do like this building. A. Lot.




Sunday, October 19, 2014

Missed a few.....

Occasionally I troll back through the archives to see if I have missed processing anything. Found some. These were taken with my older 10MP K200d and my really old Pentax SMC 135mm f2.5 lens. This is actually a really REALLY killer combo. The photo below is heavily cropped, it is sharp. Really sharp, at 100% Love this lens, I really do!






Gone on a Walk About

I really need to make the time for photography nowdays. It used to come easier, but life intrudes constantly. Anyway, I decided to get crazy to spark some madness and took a single prime (non-zoom) lens with me to work last Monday and do some walking between light rail stops on my way home. The madness part was the focal length: 300mm. This is not a common FL for general photography I agree, but like I said, I was trying to spark some madness to get my creative juices flowing. It is a highly restrictive field of view on APS-C cameras and takes extra care to avoid blurriness from hand holding. Because I am just not going to take my tripod too. That is too crazy for a wandering kind of day. I was both frustrated and inspired by that cramping of my style, I definitely liked some of my shots, and really didn't like a lot of them too.

Shadows are a favorite subject, and shooting in the late afternoon makes shadows easy to find. This detail of the chain on a fire hydrant spoke to me of everyday objects that become extra-ordinary in the right circumstances. Integral to the safety of the public every few years, and mysterious in the afternoon light.


I have always been drawn to patterns and order. Sometimes having something different irritates me to no end, other times it is a delightful accent. Often the thing that is different brings the counterpoint  that simultaneously enhances the beauty of the orderly pattern and is beautiful in its own right.


The progression from health to decay and death is a natural one, repeated seasonally, yearly and over generations and lifetimes. I have had an image in my mind I need to photograph one day of the hands of a baby, a mother & an.... more mature mother. Birth, vital life & gentle fading away in one photo, black and white, dramatically lit. Until then, this captures that concept in another type of subject. The fading of brilliant green into yellow then dead brown without the full leaf capturing the potential of a golden moment.


Old buildings present endless opportunities for things to become more beautiful as they age. I kind of wish they had left this cornerstone unpainted. But, then it would have been less interesting.


Again, shadows rear their head, the texture of the ageing plywood is what attracted me the most. Patterns, unseen objects casting shadows, textures.


Ah, an old friend, I have taken several shots down the length of this street towards this building, I really like the compression I am getting from the longer focal length. May need to try on a colder day, at full resolution you can see how heat shimmer blurred the capitol building.


Monday, September 29, 2014

Looking for Aurora Borealis! (But coming up empty...)

A couple of weeks ago I went looking for the Aurora Borealis that were supposed to be widespread and at much further south latitudes than almost ever seen before. Nope, they were a no show. BUT I did take the opportunity while I was out there to shoot the Milky Way, I really had not gotten shots of the Milky Way before that I really liked. Now I can say I am getting closer!

On a technical note, there are a few things you need to do to prepare for this type of thing:

1) Get a really steady, solid, rock solid, thermonuclear proof Tripod & Head combination. 30 second exposures at high ISO are demanding, your support should be helping not hurting.

2) A Headlight that has a red setting so you don't destroy your night vision helps you a LOT!

3) Knowing where your lens focuses at infinity helps to make your shots sharp. Most of the time you will be shooting wide open or barely stopped down. Correct focus is critical.

4) Get a cable release with a timer and use the bulb setting on your camera AND learn how to use it.

So, technical info: I was shooting at ISO 3200 for most of these shots, f4-4.5 for my aperture and 30 second exposures. Cable release in bulb mode, or manual, depending on the shot. With the 2 second timer (Mirror Lock Up Mode) engaged to reduce vibration. I also only extended my first (larger) section of my tripod legs to make it more stable. I have had some shots ruined from having it set too high and getting a little shifting.

The hardest part of this was aiming the lens, you really cannot see the Milky Way through the viewfinder, putting a little bit of landscape in the frame and lighting it with a flashlight can help you set things up. Sometimes you just have to guess. It also helps to remember to stay out of the frame. On this first shot you can see my profile on the lower left edge where I stood for part of the exposure. sigh...



I have really wanted to take a cool selfie, not just the dorky ones people do with their cell phones. This is a start.



I am now facing East towards the rising Moon. There is still some Milky Way in the frame and some clouds for drama. The white balance part of the equation was hard trying to make the sky look nice without making the clouds look mongo funky.



As an experiment I liked this, don't think it is saleable, but I like the richness of the color.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Labor Day Morning: Rio Grande Depot, Salt Lake City

I normally don't drive when I work uptown, I would much rather ride the train. UNfortunately on labor day, certain groups of people tend to NOT want to work, even when us healthcare workers still need to be there. Have to say that despite the myriad pluses to my career as a PT, working holidays and weekends is a bit of a downer. I mean, REALLY, can't you people stop getting sick or needing surgery for a weekend so we can just shut the place down and take a week off? sigh....

Where was I? Oh yeah, I had to drive to work so I left early and took my camera and tripod. Challenges ensued, were overcome and pictures taken. See below for the shots I liked.






This shot was a LOT tougher than you might think, really had to pick the right exposure to not blow the sign out, and then bring up the shadows like a madman. Sorta like it, a lot!


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Up in the Mountains!

Not sure what it is but droplets of water collecting on things just please me. Hiking with my brother last month I saw these leaves and HAD to stop and take a few shots. Only had my Sigma 17-70 not my macro lens, but I still like what I got. The first one is my favorite, and I spent the most time on it.




My bro.


The skies were kinda nice too!