Digital Neutral Density

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On the morning after Christmas my son, Anton, and I went out to shoot at Cooper Lake. One advantage to having a great place like this nearby is that you become familiar with the optimum times to be there and the optimum angles from which to shoot, depending on when you know the good light will be hitting a specific place. Since the path bordering Cooper Lake curves around, you can start at one spot for first light and then make your way to the next spot when the sun is slightly higher. (A lake surrounded by mountains has its own challenges when it comes to allowing for differences from the official sunrise and sunset times.) And while you’re waiting for the light to be in the right position, there’s always the beaver pond, or close-ups on the opposite side of the path.

On this particular morning one of my “while you’re waiting” shots was a capture of Anton in action. Instead of shooting from the edge of the path, he had got right down to the edge of the shore. I decided to go for an environmental shot, i.e., one that shows him in the broader landscape instead of a tight shot. (This is beautiful Cooper Lake, after all.)

The problem with the resulting image was that the lower half was too dark while the upper half verged on the too light side — perfect conditions for a graduated neutral density filter. But I don’t have one in my collection, or at least it wasn’t with me that day.  I remembered that Nik Color Efex Pro 4 has a grad NDF preset, so I pulled the image into Photoshop and then into Color Efex Pro. Easy! You can manipulate sliders to change the lightness/darkness of the two halves of the photo and to regulate the degree of blend. If your exposure problem affects the right and left halves of the image rather than the upper and lower halves, there’s a rotating slider as well.

Lightroom has an adjustment brush tool for this situation, but personally I found the Nik preset much easier (and faster) to use. Just a personal preference.

The processed image is at the top of this post.

While you’re at it, you might want to take a look at Anton’s website.

Winter Monochrome at the Lake

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Here in the Northeast we had a big snowstorm the day before Thanksgiving. On the day itself the snow was still coming down a bit and we went for a walk to Cooper Lake. It was very cold, the turkey was in process of roasting, so I grabbed my Olympus SH-1 point and shoot rather than my DSLR with tripod.

The images I’m showing you here are the best of the results from that walk. Conditions were a winter photographer’s dream come true. The processing was minimal — very minimal. No B&W conversion was involved; this is completely natural. I tried experimenting with converting one image to B&W and didn’t like the result; it wasn’t the right tone, somehow too warm. The cooler tones right out of the camera were spot-on for the feeling of that day. Hope you enjoy these; comments welcome!

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Last but not least — Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Thank you for being readers of my blog.

Black and White Photo Challenge

Fellow photoblogger Janice Sullivan nominated me for the 5-day Black and White Photo Challenge. It had been a while since I’d done any serious B&W conversions so I was glad to have this discipline. Below are the photos, with something about each one. Each image was originally posted on my Facebook page.

Ed IMG_1190 Nik Neutral sThis is the interior of The Coffee Pot in Littleton, NH; the old-fashioned interior lends itself well to B&W. I had already processed this in color and chose to make the B&W conversion from the psd file instead of from the jpg to which I had added some Topaz Adjust finishing touches. This conversion was made with Nik Silver Efex Pro 2, in which I used the Neutral preset and simply increased the structure a bit as I like the somewhat gritty look that gives.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you know my image Dreamtime at the Ashokan Reservoir, this is another taken on the same day. After preliminary processing in Lightroom 5, I brought it into Photoshop and added a B&W layer, decreased the Cyans and Blues to darken the clouds (and their reflections in the water), and increased the Yellows and Greens to lighten the bridge structure to make it more prominent. I also cropped it a bit from the bottom; without the “dreamy” look of the color image I wanted the bridge to stand out more.

 

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This was taken at the Sachuest National Wildlife Refuge, Middletown, RI, when sun and wind combined for the right conditions early one morning. Observing the waves and trying to capture “the decisive moment” is a meditative experience. Here I was struck not only by the wave action but also by the play of the rising sun on the edges of the rocks. B&W conversion was simply a B&W layer in Photoshop CS5. I darkened the Cyans and Blues at the top of the image to make the contrast with the wave stand out more.

 

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This image of a barn and tree in the Adirondacks first went into Lightroom to increase clarity to enhance detail in the barn and the grass. Then I brought it into Photoshop for B&W conversion by adding a B&W layer. I tweaked the Blues to darken the sky but not too dark, then increased the Greens to bring out more detail in the grass.

 

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Finally, here is the Diana’s Bath waterfall in New Hampshire. I began by working on my processed jpg, but then decided to take the psd file back into Lightroom to increase the Clarity. That worked! Then back into Photoshop where I added a B&W layer, then tweaked the Shadows/Highlights a bit. In the process, I ended up with a better color version as well.

What do you think? Let me hear from you. If you’re interested in purchasing a print as a gift for yourself or a friend, click on the photo to go through to my FAA website. Thank you for looking.

Fun at PhotoPlus 2014

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The enormous PhotoPlus event held at New York’s Javits Center in autumn each year is photographer heaven. Everything photography is there to visit, inspect, try out — it’s energizing just to be there. An amazing variety of seminars is also available, many of them by prominent photographers, but I just enjoy spending a couple of hours walking around the exhibit hall, usually with my map marked out with the booths I definitely don’t want to miss. As usual, this year I visited the Canson Infinity display where friend and fellow Hudson Valley photographer Robert Rodriguez, Jr. holds forth; the AdoramaPix display, where you can spin the prize wheel and are guaranteed to win something — perhaps even a $100 gift card (this time I won a free 8 x 10 canvas print; and the LaCie booth, as I’m usually interested in external hard drive storage solutions.

The major manufacturers such as Nikon and Canon always have gorgeous prints on display by the big-name photographers who use their gear, and taking these in is always a “must”; this year I was especially struck by the work of Elizabeth Carmel. And I went by the Sony display because, as often happens, I’m itching for a new high-end point-and-shoot and wanted to check out some of their gear that’s been highly praised. And if you were looking really hard, you would have noticed the little booth occupied by Adventures in Photography. Run by my friends from the Ridgewood Camera Club Martin Joffe, Boris Hardouin-Deleuze, and Jia Han Dong, Adventures in Photography is an offshoot of the Camera Club field trips (now a completely independent venture) that offers everything from photo trips of one or several days to workshops on postprocessing and presentations by prominent pros.

Here are some photos from Friday October 31:

I loved Sony's Halloween-like color.

I loved Sony’s Halloween-like color.

Martin and Boris of Adventures in Photography were on hand to greet people and talk about what they have to offer.

Martin and Boris of Adventures in Photography were on hand to greet people and talk about what they have to offer.

Take your chance at the AdoramaPix prize wheel -- you're guaranteed a prize.

Take your chance at the AdoramaPix prize wheel — you’re guaranteed a prize.

You can see where my loyalties lie. In any case, Nikon's display always provides great material for exploring shapes and angles.

You can see where my loyalties lie. In any case, Nikon’s display always provides great material for exploring shapes and angles.

New Hampshire Scenes: The Intimate Landscape

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No matter what time of year one visits New Hampshire, those grand mountain landscapes are always an irresistible draw for the camera. Especially (but not only) during foliage season, the scenic vistas along the Kancamagus Highway, Bear  Notch Road, and other major routes (think Rt 302 at Bretton Woods) are magnets for photographers of all stripes.

I enjoy photographing those grand scenes — “lofty mountain grandeur,” as the hymn says. And as long as one clear, sunny day is forecast, I’ll be up and out of my motel room well before the crack of dawn to station myself at Chocorua Lake Road and catch the light show (with luck, the light-and-fog show) over the lake and mountain. But what I find more rewarding is shooting the intimate landscape — particularly forest interiors. It’s a quieter, more meditative process, almost as if I’m waiting for something — a tree trunk or a group of rocks, or a particular arrangement of fallen leaves — to call out, “Hey! Here I am! Look at me!”

A clarification: By “intimate landscape” I mean a scene in which the distance between myself and the closest object is fairly small; I don’t mean macro photography.

Here are some “intimate landscape” images I made on my recent visit to the White Mountains.

DSC-2619 sDiana’s Bath. I arrived early enough on a rainy day to be able to shoot without other people getting into the images, but the recent drought hadn’t left much water in this multistream waterfall. I aimed in close and vertically so that the waterfall wouldn’t be lost in a series of rocks and played with the exposure to get a silky-but-not-too-silky look.

 

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Forest interior. After I made enough images of the actual waterfall, I looked around to see what else might be photo-worthy. Immediately I realized that the scene right before me — the photo to the right — was it. It was as if the tree trunks had bent slightly to let the foliage and the light in the distance be seen.

 

The Champney Falls Trail.

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Named for the 19th-century New Hampshire artist Benjamin Champney, this has always been one of the most popular trails along the famed Kancamagus Highway. Not even the fact that the bridge over the stream was destroyed in Hurricane Irene and will not be replaced has changed that. I’ve gotten good forest interiors here before on rainy days, and this time was no exception. When a dry summer has resulted in trees losing leaves rather prematurely, then photograph the leaves on the ground! The varied colors and patterns of those leaves “make” this photo (below), I think. Incidentally, as you can imagine, several of these images required long exposures. It helps that nothing in them was moving, except the water in the waterfalls!

 Shelburne waterfall.

DSC2732 ed sThis little waterfall has to be one of the best-kept secrets in New Hampshire, as waterfalls go. It’s not listed in any of the guides. Unless you park in the pullover next to it, you’ll hardly notice it; it’s quite hidden by trees. Long exposure needed again. I didn’t want murky shadows, nor did I want to include too much more of the waterfall above where the photo ends; it made for too busy an image. I wonder actually how much water there would have been had I tried this spot two days earlier; as I said above, the drought had depleted the water in all the falls. I had planned to shoot at this spot on the previous day and set out going north on Route 16, but by the time I reached Pinkham Notch the rain was so torrential and thus the visibility so nonexistent that I turned back. Aside from the safety factor, shooting in a bit of rain is one thing, but drowning your DSLR? Not a good idea.

I hope you enjoyed these images. I’ll continue with more from this shoot in subsequent posts. If you’d like to see larger versions, or perhaps would like one of these restful scenes decorating your home, click on the images themselves or on this link to my site. Thank you for looking!

Postprocessing Those Historic Buildings: A Lesson Learned

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Recently I posted about my experiences in shooting and postprocessing images of some historic buildings in Rhode Island, choosing images of two different sites for examples. One building, the Bradford Soap Factory, is still in use for its original purpose; the other, the Royal Mills, has been converted from its previous industrial use to a block of residential apartments. What they have in common, however, is that both are in essentially urban settings and are still in use. This enabled me to be quite consistent in my postprocessing; in each case it was the same preset in Topaz Adjust 5 and Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 that I could use with effect for color and monochrome versions respectively.

That changed when I went to process two other sets of images. One was from the same Rhode Island shoot — the “decrepit” (to use the Providence Journal‘s word) Hope Mill in Scituate — and the other from one of my frequent and recent trips to the Northern Catskills, home of many hotels and resorts that went bust — this time a resort called Villa Maria that occupies an extensive property in Haines Falls. These two sites also have two things in common: they’re not in urban settings and they’ve not been kept up. This means an awful lot of overgrowth with grass, greenery, and, in the case of the Haines Falls site, plenty of goldenrod.

BL DSC -1710 Top Hvy Pop SmoothSo, when I tried to process the Hope Mill images, I quickly realized that the same Topaz Adjust preset wasn’t going to work for the color: the greenery — and there was plenty of it — was undersaturated and the results were rather lifeless. I used different presets (again in Topaz Adjust) that worked for the Hope Mill images, and for the monochrome could continue with the same preset in Nik Silver Efex Pro 2. The one at the top of this post was done with Heavy Pop Grunge; the greenery isn’t that overwhelming and the preset brings out the detail in the building nicely.  For the image at the left, however, it had to be Heavy Pop Smooth — thus, similar but without the level of detail that would have caused the greenery to overwhelm the building. In both cases, the Heavy Pop brightened up the grass and the sky.

Villa Maria was a different story. For one thing, this isn’t one building but a variety of buildings. Also, there was quite a bit more overgrowth. Here’s the problem: I often like to show a lot of detail — structure — in these photographs, on the buildings themselves. But use a high-structure preset where there’s lots of grass and weeds overgrowth and the pictures looks too messy, too busy.

What to do? Basically, I separated these images into two types — the ones in which the building prevailed and those in which the overgrowth prevailed — and processed accordingly, again using Topaz Adjust presets (as yet I haven’t processed these in monochrome). Here are some results. Oh, and before I forget: This post could end up being another in my “Do It Now” series: My friend Bill Patenaude sent me an article from the Providence Journal reporting on a Connecticut developer who wants to take over the Hope Mill and give it a similar sort of treatment to the Royal Mills. And I understand (this is anecdotal from someone local in Haines Falls, I have no written source) that someone has bought the Villa Maria site. So, photograph these places while you have the chance … you never know when they’ll change, or even disappear.

Close-up of bjuilding. minimal greenery, thus a more detailed treatment was possible.

Close-up of building. minimal greenery, thus a more detailed treatment was possible.

In a sense, this image breaks the rules I've just established. The grass, weeds, and trees really are the main subject, more than the building, so I let in some detail to highlight this.

In a sense, this image breaks the rules I’ve just established. The grass, weeds, and trees really are the main subject, more than the building, so I let in some detail to highlight this.

Villa Maria. Too much detail in all that shruibbery would have overwhelmed the building. I went with a somewhat softer look in which the color prevails. This somehow shows a harmony between the building and the green.

Villa Maria. Too much detail in all that shrubbery would have overwhelmed the building. I went with a somewhat softer look in which the color prevails. This somehow shows a harmony between the building and the green.

Paying Photographic Homage to a Catskill Ruin

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Abandoned buildings get a lot of attention from me and my cameras, and the Cold Spring Resort in Tannersville, NY is one I’ve returned to again and again. It’s one of the few still remaining from the heyday of the Catskills resort industry. On Saturday I visited for the fourth time—or was it the fifth? In any case, the poor building is in such condition that I never know when a visit will be my last before the place finally gives up the ghost.

Speaking of ghosts, if there are any of those occupying the Cold Spring Resort’s many empty rooms, they are friendly ones. The place has a palpable, positive energy about it that I attribute to the countless people who vacationed here back in the day.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese are photos from the latest trip. When working on a unified project (which this visit was in aid of) it’s best to process all pictures in a fairly uniform way, but I had to make one exception here with the monochrome image; it was taken with a point and shoot, which produced a color cast that, try as I might, I couldn’t get rid of except by completely desaturating it. (Even without the persistent color cast the image fairly screamed monochrome – there was no color to speak of except for that bit of greenery that, well, isn’t all that green.) I finished it off with Nik Silver Efex Pro.

The other images—made with the Nikon D7100—were subjected toNancy_6_9 rather minimal postprocessing, by which I mean that I did the usual basics in Lightroom and then finished the enhancements in Photoshop – but no plugins, despite my array of Nik and Topaz products. The day was overcast with a sky almost (fortunately only almost) verging on blah washed-out monotone, and in order to help the building and surrounding flora to emerge from the murky grayness I selected the sky, used Brightness/Contrast to darken it and increase the contrast where necessary, then inverted the selection and increased the brightness and the vibrance to make the building pop—not only the building but also whatever greenery, foliage, and flowers were present. Nancy_6_4It was important to me to make enough images showing the building (or parts of it) among the vegetation that’s slowly taking it over; a contrast between the dying building and the lively-colored vegetation that, ironically, in its autumn colors represents the dying of the year. At least for some it does; my favorite poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, wrote that “Nothing is so beautiful as spring,” but then Fr. Hopkins had never experienced the stunning colors of autumn in the Northeastern USA.

I owe the idea for the postprocessing approach to renowned photographer and teacher Rob Sheppard, who is an unfailing source of wisdom as well as technical insights, though, as they say at the end of the Foreword to every academic book, “Any imperfections are strictly mine.”