Archive for April, 2013

Lost Italian Holiday

Friday, April 19th, 2013

Italian Holiday

Sometimes I wonder how many orphaned pictures are wandering around my hard drive, not recognized as being attractive, or interesting, let alone prize worthy. In digital limbo for 6 years,  this 2006 photo of an Italian family swimming and rowing in the Bay of Naples off the coast of Vico Equense is a good case in point.  I like this picture—it has humor, it tells a story, and something about it seems very typical and authentic of the place.  This is street photography on the beach.

Looking for a relatively inexpensive, yet interesting place for a week’s holiday, Elizabeth bought us a trip to Naples in July. Even if wasn’t the 5th week of a garbage workers’ strike, it didn’t take much time in that frantic city to figure out why the rates were low. There’s a reason why Italians say “va fa Napoli” instead of “go to hell.” Claiming Norwegian DNA, Kirk and I melted all over several archeological ruins.  But everybody should get a chance to see Pompeii, and anyone who has failed to experience a bus ride down the Amalfi coast lacks sufficient appreciation for the advantages of western civilization.

Elizabeth did find us a delightful and newly renovated hotel in Vico Equense, a place with fantastic pizza, a relatively laid back lifestyle, and a steep cliff overlooking the vivid green bay of Naples and distant Mount Vesuvius. We spent some time in a lovely little park, overlooking the Bay, watching swimmers, boaters, and a wedding party coming out of a nearby church.  Reaching to the very limits of a 70-200mm zoom, I was checking out the beach, and captured a couple pictures of a family in a rented row boat.  The last one was over exposed and a bit far away.  I don’t know how I eventually stumbled over it years later, but I applied some newer highlight adjustment in Lightroom, pulled down the blacks slider, cropped it, and the unremarkable little picture below suddenly turned into the image at above.

Italian Holiday

My new office furniture

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

Office in the Country

Spending large amounts of time on and off work sitting in front of my desk at home, I thought it was finally time to get some hardwood furniture for the office in the cabin.  Elizabeth and I bought a nice solid oak desk and chair at one of the larger Amish furniture shops. I thought it fit in very nicely with the rustic interior of the cabin’s lower level.

Route 15 Bridge Avoids Photoshop

Sunday, April 14th, 2013

Route 15 Bridge, Point of Rocks, MD

Recent posts might give the inaccurate impression that all of my favorite photos have spent long amounts of time in the digital darkroom. While this shot did benefit from the careful selection of 14 different sliders in Adobe Lightroom, along with a minor crop, it’s a single layer, and was not processed in Photoshop (or anything else).

Route 15 Bridge, Point of Rocks, MD

A lot of photographers are blissfully unaware of the degree to which their camera, or the film in their non-digital camera, is making aesthetic decisions on their behalf, and without their cooperation. If you are just using the JPGs spit out by your camera, and haven’t put any significant effort into adjusting the camera’s various processing parameters, then at a minimum, you are letting some Japanese engineer decide how colorful, bright, and contrasty your images are.

The lower image comes as close as possible to showing what the camera saw (Canon EOS 50D, Canon EF-S 17-55 f/2.8 IS USM @37mm, ISO 125, f/5.0, 1/160).  RAW, which confusingly is not an acronym so much as a pretentiously capitalized description, refers to a bitmap dumped directly from the sensor to the memory card, without any processing. Lacking contrast, sharpness, white balance, and the loving touch of a digital darkroom technician, RAW images need to be processed into JPG or TIF before they can be used. The advantage of always shooing in RAW (which is not the same as always shooting in the raw), is that you have the largest possible amount of picture data available to process at your leisure on your PC.

This misty photo of the Rt 15 bridge over the Potomac at Point of Rocks was taken through my Subaru’s window (trick: wait for the wiper to go past) during a record-setting rain in March 2011 (another trick: even if you don’t get out, stop the car—especially if you are the driver).

Old Shoes

Friday, April 12th, 2013


Old Shoes

The Lonaconing Silk Mill has become something of a photographic mecca for the mid-Atlantic. All of the judges, and camera club regulars, have learned to recognize the increasingly iconic spindles, machines, and shoes that have been cooling their heels in this crumbling site since it was shutdown without warning in 1957.

Paying the owner $75 for the privilege of being able to go wherever we wanted, and move whatever we wanted to,  Elizabeth and I joined a group from the local camera club on a bitter cold January morning several years ago.  I found my favorite scene in a cramped locker room on the top floor.  Golden winter sunlight was streaming in through a grimy window, lighting up the contents of open cubbyholes containing shoes and other personal effects that had been left behind for over a half century.

Old Shoes

I experimented with several different pairs of shoes, but the red shoes, which looked more like some pope’s Italian loafers than a working woman’s practical footwear for the factory, contrasted nicely with the darkened old green locker.  Getting my tripod as close to the far wall as I could, while still being able to see the LCD, I took a bracketed series of exposures.


It took me 8 layers to create an image that approached what I’d seen when I was actually at the mill. Dealing with the cramped quarters and not wanting to block the golden light, I ended up a slightly skewed perspective that I corrected with the Transform tool, ensuring that the bottom border was square with the sides of the photo.  I had first experimented with an HDR image, but just didn’t like the way it came out. However, I did end up superimposing the HDR version on top of the normal version, and selectively unmasked it, providing some additional detail in the shadows at the back of the shoes (see Brighter shoes layer above). This version of the red shoes was missing the top of the open bin, so I copied it from a different picture, pasted it on top, and then used the Transform tool to correct the horizontal perspective, and straighten it so that it would be square with the photo and the other 3 borders.  I used a curves layer to match the exposure to the other 3 borders.

A bright object next to the shoes had to go, I cleaned the chalk marks off of the upper wooden piece, and then I did some local corrections, burning & dodging in an overlay layer, and an adjustment layer masked to the #75 label improved its contrast. After saving the multi-layered composite as a TIFF, I made some global adjustments in Lightroom, dialing some yellow back in to restore that nice golden glow. Using my favorite Velvet Fine Art paper, I made a 17.5 inch wide print, and matted it with Rising white.

Lonaconing Silk Mill Exterior

All Aboard: 20 Layers in Photoshop

Thursday, April 11th, 2013

All Aboard

A few pictures leap right out of the memory card, through your printer, and into the eyes of admiring viewers, looking just like you expected when you took the picture in the first place. Very few.  Most digital images benefit from some time in the digital darkroom, and sometimes it can take several hours of computer work to create a finished image that is worth the price of a sheet of fine art paper.

The intriguingly rusty interior of  Shaker Heights Rapid Transit Car #76, a Pullman-Standard special for that line which served from 1947 to 1975,  motivated me to setup my Canon DSLR on a tripod and spend some time exploring angles and exposures.  For each of several different angles, I took 3 bracketed exposures, recognizing that the tonal range exceeded the capture ability of my camera.  The image below shows the ‘normal’ exposure for that image without any manual attention in Photoshop.

RAW image before postprocessing

My first step was to combine 3 images into a single HDRI image using Photomatix, and then tone map it back into a standard bitmap for editing in Photoshop.  The advantage of HDRI is that it allows you to equalize out the exposure, even on a high contrast scene, such as this shadowy streetcar interior surrounded by the bright sunlight.

High Dynamic Range techniques allow to pull a lot of detail out of the shadow, without blowing out the highlights. It is also an effective way to emphasize texture, so it is well suited to grotty and rusty subjects.  Its also easy to turn a photograph into a cartoon, with distorted and unnaturally vivid colors, and terminally high levels of dirty-looking mid tones.  If I was going to reprocess this image, I think I’d tone down the HDRishness, but printed on Velvet Fine Art paper, I’ve had nice compliments on this image, and it one a first prize at a camera club end of year competition.


The image above shows the multiple layers required to pull these surprisingly complex image together. The black & white rectangle visible to the right in most of the layers is a mask, allowing me to apply the effect to selected parts of the image.  I did a lot of local exposure correction to make the steps visible, to ensure that the seat was well lit, to open up some of the details, and to highlight the incredibly filthy window.  I ended up reconstructing the metal strip along the left side of the image to neatly frame it, and I copied the ‘rd’ from the mid-car door, pasting it here to complete ‘Aboard’.  I also pasted in the window and reflection behind it.  Some of the above layers were tonemapped through Photomatix, and some are from a single exposure. Confronted with different textures, I ended up doing different levels of sharpening to different parts of the picture.

Shaker Rapid #71 & #76

I love all the details in the interior, with the handset on the floor, and some kind of control box lying on top of a driver’s seat with a lot of miles under and over it.  The rust and grime, and decay are evidence of the authenticity of use and time. It did feel like I put a lot of Photoshop work into this image, but in comparison to the amount of time Ansel Adams spent in the darkroom on some prints, a couple hours isn’t so bad.  It’s the price you pay when you enjoy found subjects, instead of studio subjects, where light can be much better controlled.

Amish Minivan

Sunday, April 7th, 2013

Amish Minivan

The Amish find lots of imaginative ways to stretch the boundaries of the Ordnung. On weekends, we sometimes encounter ‘Amish minivans’, a tractor pulling a wagon with lawn chairs, a cooler, and loaded up with the entire family.

Our builder, Sam, has a nice new Kubota tractor that dwarfs our little 3-cylinder diesel, but his bishop won’t let him put air in the tires.  Like many Central Ohio Amish, he has phenolic inserts that awkwardly attach the original rubber tires to the wheels.  He’d be better off with the old fashioned pre-war metal tractor tires, but because they chew up the asphalt, they have long been forbidden on public roads.  As the bishop intended, Sam doesn’t go very far afield with his tractor. He either takes his horse and buggy, which is primarily for church and family visits, or if it’s a trip to a job site, his non-Amish nephew drives the pickup truck..

Amish in different Ordnungs, like the Yodeling Yoders we’ve used for tree fellers, are fully pneumatic, and are happy to drive a tractor all the way across the county for business purposes.  The Massey Ferguson above, captured at the Holmes County Home charity auction last Fall, would make for a relatively comfortable afternoon drive, which is why some of the bishops have tried to crack down on the use of tractors for transportation by reducing the practicality of the rear wheels.