Do It Now! — Again

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Some time ago I wrote a blog post admonishing my readers not to postpone getting that picture until “later,” because you never know whether the subject you want to photograph will still be there later, and as an example I posted a photo I had taken of a vintage, no longer operative country store in Arkville, Delaware County, NY. That was the “before” image. In the “after” image, the building had been sanitized into a red-vinyl cookie-cutter adjunct to a petrol station by a company that obviously had plans to operate the business in a, well, somewhat more character-challenged incarnation. Clearly my “Do it now!” admonition doesn’t apply in every single instance — for example, Mt. Washington isn’t likely to change much or disappear if you put off shooting it for a few weeks or so. But it does have to be taken seriously when you’re shooting ruins or abandoned buildings, for example.

I just had another example of this happen last week. One year ago I visited Gloucester, Massachusetts for the first time and, in a random walk through the town, came upon the old fish processing factory you see in the above photo. This is the best of three photos I took, all fairly wide-angle shots. The sky was clouding over, the wind was picking up (the latter is nothing unusual for Gloucester), so I packed it in, figuring I could try some close-ups on another visit. (The close-ups would have required a change of lens, and with the wind there was quite a lot of dirt and sand blowing around — enough to make you consider whether it was worth risking a lens change.)

Fast forward one year, and I was in Gloucester once again, two weeks ago. Since this building wasn’t too far from the famous Fishermen’s Memorial, and I was heading that way, I figured it would be a good time to revisit the building and get some different shots.

And when I got there, here, to my dismay, is what I saw:

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The Good Harbor Fillet Co. deconstructed!

Well, I’m glad I got some images of it when I did. Do I regret not having changed the lens for close-ups on my previous visit? Given the weather conditions that day, no. But now that I have the Olympus SH-1, with its 600-mm zoom, that I carry round as a backup. I would have regretted not pulling that out and using it as an alternative.

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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.

Intimate Landscapes by Robert Rodriguez

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Robert Rodriguez, Jr. is one of the greatest landscape photographers working in the Hudson Valley. Robert has that most important gift of all — knowing how and when to capture the beautiful light. But that gift doesn’t come without hard work, work that takes time. In fact, at Sunday’s reception for his new show at the RiverWinds Gallery in his home town of Beacon, Robert emphasized that the most important “tool” in a nature photographer’s kit is time–time to return again and again to a specific place in order to scope out the best compositions and to wait patiently until the lighting conditions are optimum for your vision of a scene. As an example, he pointed to his stunning black-and-white image from Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, taken during a vacation with his family, and recounted how it took four visits to that particular site before the light was right and he got the image he wanted. This is food for thought in a day and age when prodigious prolificness seems to be demanded of photographers; Robert shows that one needn’t buy into this.

And a gorgeous image this is. I find it interesting that many nature photographers are turning to black-and-white, not exclusively, but certainly a sufficient number of magnificent black-and-white landscape pictures are turning up that one can speak of a black-and-white renaissance.

My little snapshot at the top of the blog gives you a modest (very modest) idea of Robert’s work through the windows of the RiverWinds Gallery. If you have the opportunity to visit his exhibit, it will be at the gallery through March 4. Visit the gallery’s website for opening hours and directions. It is very easy to get to (if I say that, it’s guaranteed to be true), right off Route 9D from the I-84, and Beacon itself is worth visiting, especially for art aficionados and anyone who would appreciate amazing views of the Hudson River.

Ashokan Deep Winter: Win a free print!

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Photo 1

I love shooting at the Ashokan Reservoir, that once-controversial body of water in New York State’s Catskill Region whose creation necessitated the obliteration of several villages in the Esopus Valley in order to supply water to New York City. The above image, made yesterday in bone-chilling temperatures, is arguably the finest in my Ashokan Reservoir collection. This version of the picture is the original postprocessed version, done first in Raw and then in Photoshop CS5 using a few adjustment layers.

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Photo 2

Then, just out of curiosity, I brought the photo into Nik Color Efex Pro 4 and used the Tonal Contrast preset, which gives values of  25% (Highlights), 50% (Midtones), 25% (Shadows), and 20% (Saturation).  To my eye the result–here it is above–seemed a bit of overkill, but I saved it along with the original.  Then–and here is always the insidious trap with these plug-ins–the more I looked at the two versions, the more “normal” the Nik version looked, and the more “boring” the original. Not a good thing–to me it issues a powerful warning about the potential for plug-ins and filters (or at least, I should clarify, their overuse, especially in nature images) to influence what the eye will accept.

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Photo 3

I decided to experiment with creating a third version. This is, let me emphasize, not so much a compromise as an alternative interpretation. Again it uses Tonal Contrast in Nik Color Efex Pro 4, but here I’ve changed the values to 20%, 25%, 20%, and 20%. Here it is above.

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Then came the inevitable step: a black-and-white conversion. Again, an alternative interpretation, not something to replace the color versions. I first tried it with a B&W Adjustment Layer in Photoshop but didn’t particularly care for any of the results I was getting, so I went with–guess what–the B&W preset in Nik Color Efex Pro 4. Why? Because it’s a nature/landscape image, and I’m perhaps a bit wary of falling into an overly “artsy” interpretation were I to use Nik Silver Efex Pro 2, which I especially like for my old and historic buildings. Here I used 60% (Filter Color) 34 (Strength), 8 (Brightness), and 44 (Contrast), as well as 31 and 20 for the Shadows and Highlights sliders respectively. Here you see the results.

Now comes your opportunity to win a free matted print of one of these images. Just reply in a comment to this post and tell me (1) which of the three color images you prefer; and (2) whether you prefer the color or the black-and-white.  There are no “right” or “wrong” answers–just call it a marketing survey. Please identify your preference by the number given in the caption — Photo 1, Photo 2, Photo 3 — to avoid any misunderstandings. From the replies received by February 17, 2013 to both questions I will randomly choose two persons to receive a 5 x 7 print, matted to 8 x 10 and signed by me. Each winner will receive the version he or she preferred.

All images are printed on high-quality professional Lustre paper, carefully matted and inserted into a protective sleeve before being carefully packed and shipped. I will notify the winners by email to request their mailing address.

Thank you for participating in my marketing survey! — Oh! At the top of the blog I described the Ashokan Reservoir as “once controversial.” You can well imagine that the destruction and flooding of such a large portion of the Esopus Valley evoked strong feelings, heartache, not to mention the loss of many homes and livelihoods. Then I recently watched an excellent DVD by renowned historian/film maker Tobe Carey on the construction of the Ashokan Reservoir, which eloquently depicted the effects this project had on the lives of those who were displaced by it. Near the end of the film, a man was interviewed who observed that if the reservoir had not been built here, this area would undoubtedly have been subjected to massive development. “What would you rather be looking at,” he asked, “this beautiful reservoir or a shopping mall?”

To this observer, anyway, that’s a no-brainer.

Memories of Staten Island

Having spent many happy hours between 2006 and 2009 visiting and photographing Staten Island, I was devastated to read about and see the photographs of the unbelievable damage that the island sustained during Hurricane Sandy earlier this week. At times like this photography is therapeutic for me, and so I went through my files and revisited all my photos of Staten Island. Even at the best of times this can be an interesting and productive thing to do, since it may well unearth photos you’ve forgotten about and never post-processed or, in this case, it helped me to rediscover photos I did post-process, but with the skills (and software) I’ve acquired in the intervening years I could improve my work on them.

I selected eight photos taken at different times over those three years, and at some point I may well go back and select more, not to mention process a few from the boat tour our Camera Club did back in the spring. Here I’m going to show you three of the eight photos and explain briefly what I’ve done in my latest post-processing round. To view all eight photos, please visit the special Staten Island Gallery I’ve created on my Zenfolio website. I’m designating all eight photos my Prints of the Month for November, which means that until the end of this month there are special sale prices on these photos. All the proceeds from sales of these photos will go to hurricane relief for the suffering victims of Hurricane Sandy on Staten Island, so please, if you’re thinking of doing some early Christmas/holiday shopping or even want to buy something for yourself, consider ordering one of my Staten Island photos.

Now, here we go:

The bright orange ferries stand out so well against the prevailing blues and grays of the water, sky, and buildings. It was a somewhat hazy day, and I just needed to intensify the colors a bit, which I did using a Levels adjustment layer. I also cropped out a bit of the sky at the top to ensure that the ferry and buildings didn’t get lost in the overall picture.

This was the first time any of these photos had had my black-and-white treatment; I wasn’t into it in those days. This lone clamshell on the sand just needed a B&W adjustment layer in Photoshop, and I chose the blue filter, which made the photo a bit darker, thereby highlighting the texture of the sand. The slight tint gives it a softer and yet somewhat more “natural” look.

The sand dunes at the Gateway National Recreation Area seemed a perfect candidate for black and white. Here I used Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 and went with the first Push Process preset.

What, no photos of the iconic Verrazano Bridge? Yes, there are two of them, along with a couple of nature photos that you’ll be surprised were taken within New York City’s borders, in the Staten Island Gallery on my website. And one of my earliest successful examples of what has since become a significant, recurring  theme for me–a historic building that played a role in the American Revolution. I look forward to your visit!

Some Quick B&W Conversions

Cardinal Timothy Dolan is coming to St. Anastasia’s parish in Orange County, NY to celebrate the centennial of our parish cemetery, and I’ve been asked to provide photos of the cemetery for use in the Commemorative Book and to photograph the event itself. In return for my services, the Centennial committee has kindly given me a free full-page ad in the Commemorative Book; I just had to supply the ad copy.

I selected five representative photos, added the text, and arranged it all into what I think is a really attractive design; hopefully the printer can tweak it a bit.

Then I realized that the ad would be printed in black-and-white, not in stunning color. And I thought, I want it to be my black-and-white, not the printing firm’s default B&W. Back to Photoshop. I made my own B&W versions of each photo and reassembled the ad. Here below are three of the five images and how I did quick (very quick — they needed them urgently) conversions of each.

For this autumn image of Cooper Lake I used the Neutral preset in Nik Silver Efex Pro 2, set the Brightness to 5 and the Contrast to 10 to ensure definition of what otherwise might have appeared as murky shadows.

What to do with a fall foliage image of New Hampshire’s beautiful Shelburne Birches that depends primarily on color for its effect? Relying on the whiteness of the tree trunks for definition, I simply added a B&W adjustment layer in Photoshop and used the “Lighter” preset to ensure some detail in the leaves.

It’s usually somewhat easier to do a B&W conversion of a non-nature image. This one is from my “Stieg Larsson’s Sweden” collection. With more time I would, and probably will, give this one more thought for a more “artistic” rendition, but for now I used the “High Structure (smooth)” preset in Nik Silver Efex, left the other values at 0 but set the Structure at 20.

Not leaving anything to chance, I provided a print-out along with the images on a disk. At first I set the printing option to “Use black cartridge only,” but this really muddied up the blacks, especially in the Cooper Lake image, so then I tried leaving it at the “High quality” default under the Color tab in the printing dialogue and this worked.

Converting One of My Favorite Photos

One of my most popular photos (as well as one of my own personal favorites) is this one of a colorful street in Providence, Rhode Island. It’s just across the street from a historic Baptist church. I think the vivid colors combine with the downward slope to create interest and dynamism. Someone once criticized the fact that there were people in the photo but hey, you know what? Providence isn’t a ghost town! It’s a state capital! People live there! I did desaturate the man’s shirt somewhat so that the bright red wouldn’t draw unnecessary attention to him, but removing the people seemed an unnecessarily pedantic move.

As I said, the colors are obviously one of the image’s strongest features. And yet, because of my ongoing “Rhode Island in Black and White” project, I wondered how such a monochrome version would look. Maybe the variety of shapes and designs would enable it to succeed.

I tried four different versions, all with Nik Silver Efex Pro 2: three straightforward B&W and one sepia, since I definitely wanted a sepia in the mix. The three B&W versions all turned out to look remarkably alike–which, I think, shows that I had a certain vision for the image and ended up achieving it in three different ways. The one I’ve chosen is the one below, because it showed the most detail at one critical point. This was with the Fine Art preset, with Brightness, Contrast, and Structure adjusted to 0, 24, and 65 respectively.

For the sepia version I went with Soft Sepia, again with the Nik software. Here I adjusted the settings to Brightness 0, Contrast -23, and Structure 56. Note that the default Structure setting for this preset is -35, so that’s quite an adjustment. The rationale: If you dial down such an important feature as the color in this image, you have to make the best use of the other characteristics; the “softness” of Soft Sepia wouldn’t work, and I had to maintain the structural details–the lines, patterns, designs. Here is the result. What do you think?