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!


Saturday, February 8, 2014

Going South, Day 3, Flying in the Valley of the Gods

The culmination of this wondrous weekend of photography arrived on Sunday Morning, checking out early, we followed the intermittent caravan of pilots and observers west from Bluff to the Turn off to "The Valley of the Gods" an area I had heard of, but never visited. It was spectacular, Monument Valley spectacular, but with dirt roads and no tribal restrictions on where you can go. The fact that Hot Air Ballooning was/is allowed here is mind blowingly awesome!

The sense of adventure contained in that morning is embodied in this shot for me. A string of cars headed into the desert, the sun just barely touching the not so distant buttes, off the beaten path on a dirt road. The exact opposite of what national parks have become, paved parking lots and bus's full of tourists at an overlook with a fence to keep you from getting too close to the edge. The very unfettered nature of this environment breathing joy into your soul!

As we waited for the balloonists to pick a spot to launch, we enjoyed the delicate beauty of the moon again sinking towards the western horizon in the early dawn light. I wished for more clouds to give the sky texture, but... I will take clear skies over full overcast! The rule of thirds didn't suit me here, so I broke it. I don't know if it works, but I like it for some reason.

I keep coming back to this shot, it was my wallpaper for awhile, I struggled with the red saturation, this is as close to reality as I can remember it being. Warm light on a COLD morning.

Away out there somewhere is Monument Valley, many miles away. I don't feel bad to have missed going there.

The travel of many vehicles  created some ground haze behind us, it looks worse than it is due to the sun's direction relative to the camera.

I think I had a strong infatuation with the moon on this trip, I remain unapologetic about it, steadfastly, I had a LOT of fun taking these pictures. And maybe more looking at them and playing with them.

As the balloons began to inflate and launch my excitement level soared, words cannot describe the beauty of these behemoths rising above the landscape, powered only by hot air. I need to finagle a ride on one of these someday. Hello Bucket List!!!

I wish I knew who owned this balloon, I think they would be interested in having this sequence of shots.

The action began to get even more fast and furious as more and more balloons launched.

The sky filled with balloons was a magnificent sight!

This panorama is my Piece de Resistance of the whole trip. I really want to print it large, really really large!

Typical of this area, all roads lead to beauty.

It turns out that landing something that you cannot really steer very well can be a chancy proposition, landing near a road nearly miraculous! But quite likely appreciated!

Back on the pavement again, time to head back home, dusty (Yes you can see the specks on the front of my lens element.....) but enthralled with the trip.

Thanks for coming along on this trip with me!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Going South, Day 2, PM

After our fabulous morning with our ballonish friends, we turned our attention south to Canyon de Chelly. A national monument near Chinle, Arizona that was not far away from Bluff and that none of us had ever had the pleasure of visiting. After a short and mainly un-inspiring drive after the first few miles, we arrived at our destination, with lunch in mind we headed to the Antelope House Ruin overlook for food and photography.

The topography is quite interesting, you slowly drive uphill on a plain of juniper and cedar, passing some Navajo homes, the monument is in, surrounded by, and part of, the reservation. Even in January there were trinket vendors at the overlooks, though there was a veritable paucity of tourists to shop. Venturing out to the viewpoint allows you to look down into the canyon, the gentle rise you just gained dropping off precipitously via nearly sheer walls hundreds of feet down to a flat floor. You can see how this area would be conducive to defense against invaders and yet still offer a fabulous place for agricultural activities with readily available water resources.

The feature on the far right of this photo is a wedge shaped piece of rock sticking out where two canyons come together, according to the guidebooks it functioned as a place of last resort that was highly defensible by just a few individuals. I found myself wondering what a medieval castle designer could have done with the place. Formidably Impregnable comes to mind.

The ruin lies to the west of the viewpoint, and is at the base of a sheer cliff, I don't know if the overhang was far enough out to shield the area from objects thrown from overhead. One would hope, the ancients were that smart...

The only part of the canyon you can enter without a permit is the trail to the "White House Ruin". With the afternoon proceeding quickly and wanting to be at Spider Rock for sunset, we decided to hike to the ruin and skip a few overlooks along the way. The hike down and back is spectacular, and really not that strenuous.

The lighting made it difficult to get the textures I really wanted, like in this shot. However the temperatures were perfect for hiking and I can highly recommend a visit in the winter months.

Anything that was not part of the evergreen family was dead as dead can be. Though challenging it allowed for images not available other times of the year. With green foliage this shot would be completely different.

Unfortunately the ruin is distanced from observers by a quite stout fence, you can shoot over it, but it is hard to get a good shot.

Heading back to attempt to make Spider Rock before the light is gone, allowed us to catch the evening light as it simply got better with every second.

Both of these panoramas were shot handheld, I was NOT lugging a tripod down there and back. Just too lazy!

Spider Rock... I am not sure I can fully wax eloquent enough to describe the simple majesty of this pinnacle. Rising 800ft above the floor of the canyon, it stands supremely grand compared to the landscape around it. We arrived just before the sun set, the light liming the tops of the walls too harsh of a contrast to properly photograph, we waited. As the sun finally left the ground, the soft tones of the rock below became beguilingly mine for the taking. All that was needed was patience, a long enough exposure and a solid tripod.

As a technical side note, all of the following photographs are HDR composites, processed in a program called Photomatix. I have found it to be the best, most flexible, program I have used to date. At some point I may try others, but this just works. I varied my exposures based on my histograms, and experience. As a general rule I try to get 4-5 exposures that take me from under exposed enough to preserve every highlight in the image by several stops, to over exposed enough to provide detail in all shadowed areas by at least 1-2 stops.

As I prepare my RAW files for Photomatix, I run them through ACR and into Photoshop. Setting a consistent and appropriate White Balance for all photos, and tweaking shadows, recovering highlights as needed, adding sharpening and clarity. I then save the files as 16 bit TIFF's, and import them into HDR processing. Once they files have been merged into a 32 bit HDR file I toggle through the presets until I find one or two that get me close to where I want to be, then I fine tune them to look like I want them to, often with little to no rhyme or reason. I then process the photo and export it as a single 16 bit TIFF file, which I then bring back into Photoshop CS6 for final tweaking, sharpening as needed and watermarking. Often I will do two versions to see what the possibilities are, one more true to life, and one more... gaudy?

This first shot is more true to life, it did require a heavy dose of perspective correction due to pointing a ultra wide angle lens downwards. The contrast between varied colors of rock in layers is a feature I wanted to focus on.

This is a bit (ok a LOT) more out there, but... it really works for me in a hyper realistic way. It was NOT that brilliantly colored in real life, nor will it ever be. Yet the drama invoked is worth the ridicule you may heap on me. I would love to print this on brushed aluminum and put it in a well lit room. It would simply knock your socks off!!!!

These next two photos are processed from the same set of original RAW files, the first more brilliant, and the second less so. The second was ordered by a co-worker printed at 24x36 inches and looked stupendous!!!!

I cannot say that I like either one better, that is why you get to see both of them!

Of note a fellow photographer, I occasionally correspond with, noted the Penumbra that I captured, here. Penumbra being the earths shadow. It was good to know that I captured something he never had seen in this area.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Going South, Day 2, AM

After arriving in Bluff, settling into our....... interesting hotel. (Think FEMA portable housing re-purposed as a hotel. But hey it was clean, had hot water and enough beds.) We went to the Senior/Community Center to eat Navajo Tacos and Navajo Fry bread and watch a program of the local indigenous tribes singing and dancing (Kind of fun actually!) we crashed and prepared for the sunrise fly of the Hot Air Balloons we were there to see!

6:45 am pilots briefing came early, after, we proceeded up to the cemetery that overlooks the town. There was some absolutely stunning color on the bluffs west of town, with our friendly setting moon hanging around to add something to the sky. I have to say that my biggest hardship was the lack of character in the sky, "Severe Clear" is great for the balloons but not so much for photography.

Some nice cumulus would have changed this panorama from "Nice" to "STUNNING!" rather quickly. It still captures a moment of great joy to me, poised to experience the ethereal beauty of Hot Air Balloons flying, camera in hand, anticipation building.

With a bit more telephoto, the landscape could be brought closer to hand, and interesting compositions could be had. I look at this photo and I can feel the utter stillness I felt simply gazing across that lonely town towards the west.

Despite the number of photos included here, there are more to see from this morning and the next, here.

Watching the choreographed movements of the teams laying out and filling the balloons was a sight to behold. They are first connected to the baskets while lying on their sides. Air is blown in by gas powered fans to partially inflate the envelopes. Then the burners are lit off to begin filling the balloons with hot air.

The heat can be felt from many feet away and the sound is a physical presence.

The basket is pulled upright by the balloon as it rises, I was quite nervous about the flame catching the envelope of the balloon on fire, but apparently the burner swivels and the pilots tend to be careful about where they aim.

The crews were nice enough to allow me to poke my camera into several balloons from the top as the fans were filling them. It seemed to me that I was poking my head into a bubble of stained glass, illuminated by the rays of the rising sun.

Crowding is apparently OK, the proximity of the balloons to each other was a little startling to me as an uneducated noob.

As more balloons made their exit, flying slowly to the East, it became apparent that we needed to get ahead of them to get the best light. We jumped into our trusty Pilot and headed east on UT Route 162 (also labeled "Mission Road") where we stopped at... wait for it... a church by the side of the road (I think it was the mission referred to) where we were able to see the balloons as they came to and past us.

It is not often that you get to see that many balloons at the same time.

Many of the balloons skimmed close to the cliffs. Almost too close for my comfort at times. I really need to arrange a ride in one of these some year!

As the sun rose higher the light grew harsher which posed some challenges to me as a photographer. Exposure became more critical, and protecting highlights a must!

The best skies seemed to come with the sun almost 90 degrees off axis from where you are pointing the camera.

Balloons landing ON the road while convenient, must be somewhat disconcerting to a driver who doesn't know what is actually going on. Though I doubt anybody in the county was not aware.

The sandstone makes a fabulous backdrop to the colorful balloons, I really find myself strongly inclined to go back and take my entire family next year.