Saturday, October 27, 2018

Filled Up One: Iceland

It's been a couple months, and for some reason, I have been blocked trying to write about my most recent experiences in Iceland. Part of the reason for this was that three weeks on the tail of Iceland, we enjoyed a two week odyssey in Canada along the St Lawrence Seaway followed by a photography workshop with Freeman Patterson and Andre Gallant in St Martins, New Brunswick. These were the first two photo shoots since my eye surgery in late 2016, early 2017. Both were extremely fulfilling and I will write about the St Martins experience in a later blog; here, I will tell you a bit about Iceland and my post processing so far.

First, if you have not visited Iceland, you must go. My friend, Mark Alberhasky, had been after me for a couple of years to visit and now, I finally understand! Great people, great food, and spectacular scenery, what could be more motivating? For my next visit, I think I would rent a car and stay at the wonderful B&B type lodges scattered along the highways, frequently in beautiful locations. I can see Mark smiling as I write this: Thanks, Mark and PhotoZoneTours for making it possible! I have been on a few terrific tours with Mark and fellow guide, Layne Kennedy; both fabulous photographers and teachers (note links to their respective websites), but this tour was one of the best... so far!

When I landed in Iceland at the Keflavik airport, it was pissing rain. I brooded on dark thoughts during the seemingly endless bus ride into Reykjavik, the capital city. Then it dawned on me that maybe the moody weather reflected something of the ambiance of Iceland; my outlook brightened and I found that this realization turned out to be a recurring theme. After a three hour nap in my comfortable hotel, I walked around Reykjavik, snapping photos an evening before the rest of the crowd arrived. A Russian four-masted schooner was in port and very interesting to see. The architecture in town stood out for some reason; Icelanders are not afraid of bright colors on their houses or places of business! Did I mention beer? Viking IPA, try it, you'll like it! Hungry, I found a seaside shack, which served a lovely lobster and fish stew. Sated, knowing the tour would be great (running out of superlatives!), I strolled back to the hotel for the night, but not without sampling some more Viking IPA. Jetlag is a funny thing.

The next morning, after a hearty breakfast (I love the European plan!), I again wandered around the city, this time with blue skies. Such was the Icelandic weather, clear as a bell one moment, cloudy and dark the next; it made for interesting photography. I have started a collection on my website with all of the Iceland photographs; I am still working on it, but you can check my progress here. The images are organized based on the tour's start to finish, so you might imagine how the trip progressed. One of my most favorite photographs is rather fine art-ish, but it shows the gentle features of the afternoon light at this high latitude; see below. Click on the images to see larger versions.

Nikon 1 v2, 10-100 zoom @ 71 mm, 1/100 sec, f/5.6, ISO 800
The letters that show at top of frame were formed from some sort of reflection off one of the surrounding buildings, almost surreal really. To see more, you can click on each of the following links to get a feel for what called to me in Reykjavik: Reykjavik AlleyReykjavik 2BHallgrímskirkja SanctuaryHarpa Reykjavik 1Yellow House Reyjavik, or, you can see all, here, at least as far as I've got to date!

On from Reykjavik, we headed to the Western Fjords where cliffs, black churches, myriad waterfalls, fjords, and strange mountains awaited us. I was eagerly anticipating capturing some waterfalls , but I must confess, by the end of the trip, I'd had enough waterfalls, at least for the meantime. Here, I show one of my favorites:

Kirkjufellsfoss Magic
Nikon D850, Nikkor 16-35 zoom @ 35 mm, 8sec, f/16, ISO 64
And another, taken at a different location, of course; more can be found on my website.

Waterfall at Foss Farm
Nikon D850, Nikkor 28-300 zoom @ 250 mm, 1/4 sec, f/16, ISO 32
The geological formations of Iceland are truly fascinating. Foreboding mountain peaks and unfamiliar topography could be discovered in every direction. The light and soft colors were often sublime. Sometimes the sun would shine, sometimes we'd catch a fleeting flash of sunset, and sometimes words didn't exist to portray what I was feeling. Some examples:

Mt Stapafell Near Bárðar Snæfellsáss
Nikon D850, Nikkor 16-35 zoom @ 35 mm, 1/1600 sec, f/4, ISO 200
On Mt Stapafell, legend has it that elves inhabit the area and magic occurs at the top of the peak. Not sure whether the mountain guards a statue of Bárðr, part human, part giant, part troll, at the base of the mountain or the other way round. A bit eerie.

Columnar basalt formations are evident throughout Iceland. Caused by rapid cooling and crystallization of volcanic rock, the hexagonal geometry can be seen edge on in great columns or, end on creating interesting patterns; both forms are shown here and confront the extremes of the North Atlantic:

Basaltic Bastions of Iceland
Nikon D850, Nikkor 16-35 zoom @ 24 mm, 1/1600 sec, f/5.6, ISO 400
An iconic peak to the north of Kirkjufellsfoss, is loosely translated "Church Mountain" and broods over the town of Grundarfjörður. While we were out late, shooting the waterfalls, we happened to catch a beam from the setting sun bathing the slopes of Kirkjufell in rosy light.

Sunset on the Kirkjufell
Nikon D850, Nikkor 16-35 zoom @ 16 mm, 1/2 sec, f/11, ISO 64
And that brings us to the end of this episode. I slept deeply that night, full of a profound satisfaction that perhaps I had captured what may have been a few of my best photographs to date. I hope each speaks to you with at least some morsel of the delicious moods I experienced in each moment.

Night Falls on Grundarfjörður
Nikon D850, Nikkor 16-35 zoom @ 35 mm, 8 sec, f/16, ISO 64

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Next Time on an Airplane

A while back, I was flying to a conference in Chicago. Leaving Salt Lake City and climbing out over the Wasatch Front, I was sitting in the window seat I usually prefer and fondling my little newly purchased Nikon 1 v2. As we traversed the eastern Rockies in late afternoon, I wondered how the camera would "perceive" the fabulous landscape sliding by slowly below. Would it be sharp enough, even though shooting through the plane's windows? Could I adjust for haze without a filter? Would the compositions even be interesting? Undaunted, I started shooting with a 10-100 mm zoom, the equivalent of 27-270 mm given the crop factor of 2.7x.

Yesterday, almost five years later (!), I was experimenting with these aerial shots in Lightroom and Photoshop. Being retired is great! Anyway, I was quite pleased to see some interesting possibilities emerge and wanted to share the results with you. So, the next time you are on an airplane with nothing to do, dig out your camera; you never know!


Eastern Utah
Nikon 1 v2, Nikkor 10-100 @ 34 mm, 1/500 sec, f/8, ISO 200

Flaming Gorge Reservoir
Nikon 2 v2, Nikkor 10-100 @ 22 mm, 1/400 sec, f/8, ISO 200

Chipped Flint
Nikon 1 v2, Nikkor 10-100 @ 30 mm, 1/400 sec, f/8, ISO 200
This last one reminded me of an Indian arrowhead, which is why I chose the title. The late afternoon light from a setting sun aided and abetted the contrast and texture of what might have been an otherwise ordinary formation. Recalling floating somewhere over the Rockies, I think of how many times I have flown above this land and basically ignored the wonders over which I sailed. Seeing. That's the beginning of photography. Without it there is no vision. And without a vision, people perish.

Afterthought: I have tried taking photos with my phone. From an airplane, I have yet to achieve success with this strategy although I have made others images that I found satisfying. Part of it is the lenses of the phone cameras and part of it is being able to shoot in RAW format because, I think, the post processing can be somewhat extreme. Of course, without trying, who knows?

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Touch the Sky Revisited Revisited

Learning from Mistakes

Just a few days ago, I published a story about revisiting an image from 2012. Thanks to all for your comments, both posted and private! Some of those were somewhat critical, which is great; such cause me to look closer, make fewer assumptions, and visualize more accurately. That being said, I knew the revisited image was a mistake when I posted it. I also realized I should not have done so and am reminded of something my friend and photographic mentor Mark Alberhasky taught me: Never post an image unless you are satisfied as to its perfection. I wanted to share what I learned from this mistake.

Most photography blogs will share a picture and then explain how this or that result was achieved. In other words, what went right assuming the reader would like to duplicate their results. Here, I want to help anyone interested to avoid my mistakes! They are numerous, by the way, but then I wax philosophical too much methinks!

First, I had started with what I knew was an imperfect file, less for exposure and more for composition. I knew I had unavoidable lens flare, but I needed to move the tripod to reposition the flare so it would be easier to deal with; I was lazy. Further, because it was a composite, I failed to align the frames accurately, which led to halo artifacts. It also needlessly made blending of the three different layers harder. And I tried to composite overtly extreme exposures, really degrees of contrast. The shadows were blocked and the contrast between the sky and the "finger" touching the sky (a critical subject I think!) became diminished for several reasons. But at the heart of all this was the fact that I was in a hurry. I was excited about where the image was leading me and I couldn't wait to share the "dialog" with you; I rushed it. Sloppy and lazy in retrospect.

Knowing I had shamed myself publicly😁, I put my nose back to the grindstone, intent on delivering as perfect a product as I could muster. On this I have spent the better part of three days. Then I had to figure out what I'd learned, which is why I write this blog! Kinda like life, isn't it? We often learn more from our mistakes than from our successes; take time to share your mistakes with those you care about. Couldn't resist an admonition!

To address my deficiencies, LOL, I went back to a better starting point. I chose three frames, all of which were shot from the same camera/tripod position. I made absolutely sure the first two exposures, chosen for their relative quality with respect to shadow and highlight detail, were aligned; in other words, when switching rapidly from one to the other, nothing moves. These I merged and made usual adjustments in Photoshop. To bring up shadow detail, I chose a third frame with a suitable exposure and diligently made sure it too was aligned with the first ones and added a few more adjustment layers, always making certain I could retrace my steps.

Given a good negative, the rest was relatively easy except for removing bits of lens flare. But then I learned something new again from Tony Kuyper using a process known as frequency separation; I took out the distracting bits of flare while leaving those which I thought were esthetically pleasing. Satisfied that the image was now as good as I could get it given my current level of skill in post processing, I didn't publish it, I slept on it! Look before you leap. The pause that refreshes. Once burned, twice shy. Count the cost. You get the point. Anyway, a few subtle but necessary tweaks this morning and here it is!

Touch the Sky Revisited Revisited
Composited from three frames at different exposures in Photoshop

I know it is much more saturated than the original, but this was a deliberate choice on my part. Stylistic preferences aside, this version is now what I was going after in the first place. Third time's a charm! Borrowing from another metaphor, I left it all in the image. But as you may know about me, I did my best, for now


Monday, July 16, 2018

Touch the Sky Revisited

I have mentioned previously that I am revisiting some of my older images. This is mainly to help me evaluate whether I have learned anything over the past several years. Old dogs sometimes learn new tricks! In this example, there are no long stories, just examples of images processed in 2012 and 2018, respectively.

The originals were taken in Sedona from atop a small butte during what was leading up to a spectacular sunset. With visions of making the cover of Arizona Highways, I snapped away on a tripod with all settings the same except that I varied the shutter speed from 1/8000 sec down to 1/125 sec. These images were all combined in an HDR (high dynamic range) merge and developed from there in Photoshop. This technique can enable the photographer to include very bright objects such as the setting sun along with much darker areas such as a backlit log. Our eyes can compensate for such huge differences in luminosity, but not so much our cameras. Below is my original interpretation:

Touch the Sky - Original
Nikon D800E, Nikkor 24-120 zoom @ 30 mm, f/8, ISO 200, shutter variable
Today I decided to have another go at this file just to see how I might interpret it now. I didn't even look at the original, wanting to approach it without preconceived notions, or at least a minimum of such. I started with three frames, originally exposed at 1/8000, 1/2000, and 1/250 sec, aligned them in Photoshop and blended them manually, using what I thought was the best of each. I also kept the vividness rather than de-saturating as I did with the original. A different look, a different feel. You say tow-MAH-tow, I say tow-MAY-tow. Preference for one versus the other version is a matter of taste.

Touch the Sky - Revisited
Same equipment and setting; shutter speeds as above
Is one "better" than the other? I don't know, maybe you do. If you feel strongly one way or the other, I look forward to your comments. In any event, I hope you enjoy this as much as I did sharing it!

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Monsoon Season Today in the Verde Valley

Monsoon season started on July 4 this year, at least here in the Verde Valley of Arizona. Off the back porch, the cloud formations above the Mogollon Rim are absolutely magnificent and the lightning shows spectacular. Woke up this morning to the clouds beginning to percolate, first gentle mists, then these beauties, all followed by stupendous sound and fury signifying something. What could that be? Some folks are not engaged by black and white although light and dark, even with respect to color, comprise the essence of photography. In color, this image was essentially monochromatic anyway, yellow and gray, so I decided to render it as you see. Taken this morning at 1040 local time, or Zulu as they say in the military.

Monsoon Season Today
Nikon D850, Nikkor 200-500 zoom at 200 mm, 1/1600, f/8, ISO 400
Speaking of the military, Chris and I were in Las Vegas last weekend and decided to check out a bar (oh my!) in which a parka is donned to accommodate the 20 degree chill factor. In the "icebox" we encountered two gentleman that had served in Iraq 2.0. One of them, I noted, was riding an elevated "scooter" that was necessitated by his wartime injury. This was explained quietly to me by his compatriot.

As I studied the injured young fellow from across the bar, I realized that I could not leave that room without saying something. "Your buddy shared with me a bit of your story," I started. I was surprised at his gregariousness as well as his open responsiveness. His eyes level with mine, we shook hands and chatted a little. His name was Brian. He'd been traumatically injured, losing everything from his hips on down. He'd helped invent the "scooter" he was riding and was in good spirits. Of course, the ice and I mean ICE cold vodka he was sipping (us too!) probably helped. By that time, Chris was getting really cold and we said goodbye and slipped out, a little bit ashamed.

As we were warming up outside, Brian and his friends emerged and we waived. A little while later, he came over and asked Chris if she'd like to play some ping-pong. He proceeded to give her quite a thrashing, which only added to our astonishment and respect. The game finished, Brian asked, "You seem very interested, any particular reason?" We explained that our son was soon due to deploy to some shithole, yes, shithole country and that we just could not ignore what our "kids" that serve often endure for our country. I was floored when immediately Brian replied, "It's hardest on a soldier's parents. God bless you!"

I have been thinking about this conversation for the last several days, sometimes on the edge of tears. This man had lost half his body and his last word was to bolster and encourage US! Just wanted to share this with you; it is worth reflecting upon, lest we forget those that we put out on the edge to protect our freedom. I know it may be a cliche, but that freedom has been hard won; let's not fail to remember their sacrifice.