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Travel Photography and Preconceived Expectations

August 10, 20100 Comments

I’m lucky in that I have a job that allows me to travel internationally 9 weeks out of the year.  I usually travel to Europe, Asia or South America.  My travel also gives me an opportunity to indulge in my favorite pastime, photography.  We usually have half a day or so when we arrive in a city to take in the sights.  I also occasionally extend a trip by taking some vacation time.  Prior to trips I map out what I’d like to photograph, though I’m invariably a little too ambitious,  I’m generally able to check off some of the locations on my list.  
On my last trip to Europe in July I extended a business trip and I met my mother and daughter in Paris.  My daughter hadn’t been to Europe so we spent a few days in Paris being the typical tourists, then we hopped on a train to London.  I guess I haven’t been to a major European city in the middle of summer because I’ve never seen so many tourist in one place, I’m not quite sure what I was expecting.  A big part of my photography goals for the trip was to do some night photography, specifically of the Louvre.  Additionally I wanted some really wide angle shots of the Eiffel Tower, some of the Eiffel Tower from the Trocadero and possibly the Arc de Triomphe.  The second night I was there I ventured onto the subway and strolled into the main courtyard at the Louvre along with a couple hundred of my new Parisian  friends.  It was just before sunset so I hung out and waited, figuring many of the people would leave once they attempted to take pictures after dark without tripods and viewing a blurry mess on their LCDs.   After an hour and a half or so, the sky turned to a deep blue, most of the people disappeared and I started shooting.  It wasn’t always easy, there was a lot of litter on the ground, people walking in front of the camera and a couple and their dogs decided to use one of the reflecting pools for bathing.  Here is one of the shots.
Louvre
The next evening I decided to tackle a picture of the Eiffel Tower from the Trocadero.  There are some interesting statues, nice patterns in the main courtyard, etc.  I thought I would have lots of photo opportunities.  I arrived at the Trocadero around sunset and to my dismay, hundreds of people, trash, vendors, nothing was as I expected.   There was not a shot to be had without someone or something in the way.  I fumed and fussed for a while and then made my way as far forward as I could.  I made the best of the situation by getting a shot of the tower, but not what I had envisioned in my head, something I’ll add to the list for a future trip.
Eiffel Tower
I had a much better experience in London, not that there weren’t a plethora of people, but I was able to work around the masses and get the shots I wanted, though I only hit one location on my list of night shots, St. Paul’s and the Millennium bridge from across the Thames.
St. Paul's and Millennium BridgeI’m pretty happy with the night shots I brought home, though I’m still looking forward to getting some great shots of Paris.  My photography friend, Linda I ‘Anson is arranging a trip with a professional photographer for a private workshop in Paris next spring, so I should get my chance…fingers crossed.
I always have high expectations of what I’m going to accomplish and I always visualize the perfect situation, but that’s rarely the case.  When traveling, all we can do is make the best of the conditions and do what we can.  It may be that we don’t get the shots we envisioned, but we can enjoy the views and the culture.  There will always be another day.
Until next time – Jim

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A Great Few Days of Photography

June 7, 20100 Comments

Recently, I traveled down to Los Angeles to visit my good photography buddy, Linda I’ Anson.   We planned to do some night photography around L.A. and then a photo shoot with an aspiring lifestyle model, Jules.  The few days I was there exceeded any expectations I might have had in anticipation of my trip.

I arrived at LAX on Thursday, we had an early dinner with Linda’s daughter and husband and then headed out with our tripods to the Walt Disney Concert Hall located in downtown L.A.  Great place for abstracts.  The architect, Frank Gehry is the same architect that designed the EMP in Seattle.

Linda was taking some very cool shots with her Lensbaby.  I’ve posted a couple below.

Walt Disney Concert Hall

Downtown L.A.

And a couple of mine (obviously, not with a Lensbaby).

Walt Disney Concert Hall

Walt Disney Concert Hall

We also spent some time taking some long exposure shots specifically to capture the streaks of lights from cars and buses to give a sense of motion.  We spend some time at the Concert Hall and then moved on to a great freeway overpass about a mile away.

Long exposure - Bus lights Walt Disney Concert Hall

Downtown 6th Street

I spent the next day at the The Getty.   I wasn’t too much into the art exhibits, but the grounds and architecture are amazing as are the views of the Los Angeles area.

The Getty

That night we headed down to San Pedro to get pictures of the Vincent Thomas Bridge.  There is a wonderful little park and boardwalk near the bridge that make for great pictures.

San Pedro - Vincent Thomas Bridge

The next day we met Jules, our aspiring model, at 7am down near the Santa Monica pier. 

Here is my favorite picture from the beach.  Linda was holding a diffuser, I think it was 2 stops,  it sure helped with the harsh light.  Great eyes!

 Jules

After some breakfast and a break, we headed out of town to a client of Linda’s who generously offered the photography studio in his home for us to use.

We spent a few more hours trying to figure out the lighting and came away with a few shots I like.

Jules

Wow! What a great few days in L.A.!!  Linda should put on photography workshops.  I’m looking forward to going again.

Until next time – Jim

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Photos from the Panasonic LX3

October 18, 20090 Comments

As promised, here are some pictures from the LX3.  I’m still very happy with the performance of the camera, it has turned out to be a great camera to carry around when I don’t want to drag out the D700. 

The first photo was taken in the Bay area and the rest in Vancouver B.C.

BayBridge_LX3Relief  BeachCityFromStanleyPark Bench Gords LionsGate

Until next time – Jim

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Photography book Giving Campaign update

October 2, 20090 Comments

Blurb.com has highlighted the Photography book by making it their lead blog post.

Check it out.

http://blog.blurb.com/index.php/2009/10/02/blurb-helps-microsoft-give-back-to-united-way/

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Buy a wonderful photo book and give to charity

September 30, 20090 Comments

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I am a member of the Microsoft Photography Club. This year Photography Club Members from around the world spent five months assembling and publishing a world-class, fine art photo book. The time and talent that went into this project makes every copy of the book a gift to its owner.  There is a full book preview online (160 pages of preview!).   100% of the profit from sales goes directly to the United Way and you get a valued and timeless reminder of how you too make a difference for those in need.

Not only does this book make a wonderful addition to any collection, and a thoughtful gift, each copy you purchase contributes directly to the ongoing, important work of United Way. This book is offered for purchase at the cost of printing plus $25.00. This additional amount is contributed directly to United Way in your name and is fully tax deductable as a charitable contribution.

The book is currently a best seller and Blurb staff pick.  Even if you don’t think you’ll buy a copy of the book, go take a look at the online preview anyway.  It really is amazing!

Jim

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The New Walkabout

August 30, 20090 Comments

I love my full frame DSLR and the various lenses, but having the monster by my side constantly just isn’t practical so for the last 6 months or so, I’ve been looking for a compact camera.  I wanted something I could throw in my pocket, or bag and always have with me, but I didn’t want to sacrifice quality.  I narrowed my search down to two, the Canon G9/10 and the Panasonic LX3.  Both seem to have rabid followers and from the reviews I’ve read, both are wonderful compact cameras that produce superb images.  After much contemplation, I settled on the Panasonic. 

Panasonic LX3Why the Panasonic?  Well, I really like the aesthetics.  It reminds me of the old Rangefinder style cameras.  It has a F2.0 Leica lens, great for low light.  Settings are fairly simple to change, white balance, ISO, f-stop, metering, etc. by using a little joystick on the back of the camera, it will even bracket exposures, something I came across accidently.  Of course, if you want to go fully automatic, it has a ton of preset scene settings and all the bells and whistles of the most recent compacts.

What could be improved?  I would like to see a built in viewfinder instead of having to look at the LCD to compose.  There is an option to add a viewfinder that slips into the flash shoe, but sometimes I want to use that to trip a flash.   A longer focal length lens, though this isn’t a big deal to me, I tend to like the wide angle lenses.  It would just be nice to have the option.  Other than that, I’m very happy with my purchase so far.  I’ll be making a trip up to Canada in a couple of weeks so it will get a good workout.

I’ve posted a couple of quick handheld photos below:

Lunch – outside, mixture of shade and sun.

lunch - Baja Tacos

Macr0 – New presidential dollar.  It’s amazing how many gouges and scratches you can see.  Studio flash triggered by the LX3.

Presidential Dollar Macro

Until next time. – Jim

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Using Levels to Increase Contrast and Interest

August 10, 20090 Comments

I’ve been playing around with the levels feature of Photoshop lately after some recent interest in extending my knowledge of the curves and levels dialogs.  I’ve found it fairly quick and easy to add contrast and interest to an otherwise flat, blah photo. 

Here is a photo I took up in the San Juan Islands in Washington State.  As you can see, it has a very uninteresting sky and is generally flat and could use a contrast boost.  This is straight out of the camera. 

I’m going to attempt to add more interest in the sky and more contrast overall.

Before

With your favorite selection tool select the sky.  I’m using the Quick Selection Tool.

image

Once you have a good selection of the sky, open the Levels dialog by either using the keyboard Ctrl+L or selecting the black and white cookie at the bottom of the layers panel.

image

For this photo, most of the pixels in the selection are on the far right.  To darken the sky I moved the black black slider to the right until the sky had the look I was going for, I then adjust the grey mid-tone slider also to the right to darken the mid-tones.

image

Now, so we don’t have a definite line across the top of the tree line, we are going to add a Gaussian blur to the mask.

With the mask in the layer selected, click Filter, Blur, Gaussian Blur.  I use a value around 25px.

Make your next selection, I did the lake next and made the same level adjustments.  I moved the black slider to the edge of the black pixels and then adjusted the mid-tones.

image

Next apply the Gaussian Blur to your mask.

Continue with each section of the photo.  I did a shore selection and finally the tree line.

Next I warmed up the sky and shore, by adding some yellow using the Levels dialog.

To add yellow to your selection, select the Blue channel.  To adjust the color you move the mid-tone slider left to add blue and to the right to add yellow, since yellow is the opposite of blue.  You can use the same method to adjust the Red and Green channels.

image

Before:

 Before

After:

after

We turned this uninteresting, flat photo into something a little more interesting.  It’s not perfect, but it gives you an idea of what you can do with the Levels dialog.  Of course, this is just one of many ways to accomplish similar results in Photoshop.  It’s another tool you can add to your repertoire.

Until next time – Jim

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