Wednesday, October 31, 2007

New Directions?



In a way I surprised even myself when I started thinking seriously about making moving pictures instead of stills. It was an idea that came out of left field, as I have never fancied myself the producer/director type.

But a couple of things happened recently which have me looking in that direction. The first was the purchase of the little fuji f31 digicam. It takes video, but I never bothered testing it out until the Utah trip where I took a few small clips. And like the iso800 stills, the low-light movies look pretty darned impressive... well, for digicam movies anyway.

The second was stumbling across a site the other day where they were discussing the merits of various lens adapters used on camcorders to achieve cinema-like shallow DOF. They accomplish this little trick by focusing regular 35mm lenses (usually old, MF lenses) on a matte screen in front of the camcorders regular lens. The camcorder sees and records the image on the matte screen, and because the lenses producing the image are 35mm, you get all the DOF that you normally get with with 35mm on a camcorder. Nice idea, I thought. And then I saw some of the sample footage taken with prosumer 3-chip camcorders. Impressive stuff.

Then I started thinking about a couple of screenplay ideas that I have had for awhile (doesn't everybody have a few?) and how I could actually write and produce something that at least "looked" kinda like a steak dinner on a 99 cent value meal budget.

The last piece of the puzzle is that movie making is not a solitary pursuit. And if you have followed my blog then you know how lazy I am. So maybe collaborating with some others on a few projects would help keep me focused and allow me to explore some new directions.

Oh yea, todays image. It was taken the next morning just up the river from Labyrinth camp. In fact, if you look closely you will notice that the rock formation is the same one seen on the left hand side of the river in the previous post.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Labyrinth Canyon



Todays image is another from the Labyrinth camp, this one taken at sunset. I must have taken a dozen or more different compositions of this same basic scene. Some with a crescent moon that was rising just left of the frame, some without moon, with tent, without tent, etc....

What I like about this one is the inclusion of the tent. It was the only tent shot that worked, but for me it works well. There is something about the human element that seems to ground everything. It lends it a sense of scale and contrasts nicely with the geological layers.

This is an HDR image. Three RAWs worked to TIFFs before merging in Photomatix. Sometimes it seems to work better that way. Other times working straight from the RAWs seems to work better. You just never know.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Making Mugs



All this chat lately about clich├ęs and what not has me looking differently at the Utah shots. Which is a good thing. Because after living with them for the past month I had about decided that for one reason or another they all sucked and that there wasn't a mouse farts worth of decent images in the whole bunch.

This tends to happen from time to time when I get lazy with my image processing and expect these RAW captures to magically give up the goods with only minimal effort. Now, I'm a Photoshop guy, like I know most of the regular readers of my blog are, and we all process RAW files and manipulate them to our desires. Which, of course, is not always an easy thing to do. Even if you do it every day for years you can still find yourself faced with compositions that you may like but are at a loss to get looking the way you want. Happens to me, anyways.

Then something, somewhere, got me to thinking about a small plaque that rests on the wall in our kitchen, and how it relates to the way I process images. It belongs to my wife (she had it before we ever met) and it says, "Men are of clay, and Women make mugs of them." And while it may make perfect sense to you, I puzzled over the meaning of that plaque for years. Then one day it hit me... women take something worthless and make something useful! Duh. I knew there was reason I always hated that plaque.

What it doesn't mention is how much hard work it's gonna take to make that mug.

I have liked this shot from the moment I saw it, but initial attempts at processing didn't do a thing for me. To finally get a handle on the image I used one RAW file, processed through Photomatix using 3 differently exposed Tiff's, gave it a very delicate tone-mapping (if there is such a thing) and then tweaked it using Color Mechanic Pro, The Shadow/Highlights in CS, selective color adjustments, and all kinds of groovy things. Took me three tries and as many hours to get it right. Insanity. And I'm still not happy with the clear blue sky. Part of me really wants a cloud in there.

Anyhow, this image was the first to get printed. Printed it big too, 12x18, biggest my printer will go without going borderless. Looks pretty good. I guess you could say I finally threw a mug from the clay.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Place Names and Introduced Species


Our first night in Utah was at one of the many campgrounds outside of Moab that sit alongside the Colorado river on highway U-128. A nice little BLM operation called Negro Bill. Lots of other campgrounds were available just down the road, but this was one of the cheapest. Besides, it happens to be situated right next to the trail-head for Negro Bill Canyon, which supposedly makes for fine day-hiking and mountain biking.

The name of the canyon (and later the campground) Negro Bill, became of interest to me as I was planning the trip, not only because of its relatively cheap price, but also because the name had been amended at some point (the 70's?) from its original place name of "Nigger Bill Canyon" to the more politically correct "Negro Bill Canyon." Seems Bill was a settler of the region back in the late 1800's who held the proper name of William Granstaff. For several years he grazed his cattle in the canyon before being run out, supposedly for selling liquor to the local Ute Indians.

Now, why change a perfectly good place name? I personally find the original place name much more endearing and characteristic of the American West. But, I suppose such a name just couldn't fly in this day in age, as I don't think there is another single word in the entire English language that carries as much baggage. (If you were to shout SNAKE, or FIRE, in the midst of a large crowd the reaction would likely be good. But try shouting NIGGER. You'll be lucky to get out in one piece.) And why not just change the name to Granstaff Canyon?

I can't help but wonder what Bill would have thought.

Today's image was taken through the Tamarisk trees that surrounded our camp. These low-growing invasive trees were reportedly introduced for erosion control in the 1800's and have been gaining ground every since. Now every major waterway and perennial wet spot in the Southwest is getting overrun.

A project is underway to control them with another introduced species, the Tamarisk Leaf Beetle. These pea-sized buggers strip the Tamarisk of their leaves and choke the life right out of 'em. The project has worked so well in other parts of the west that they started introducing them into the Moab area this year. They had nifty little signs about it posted all over the place.

As a riverside companion the Tamarisk seemed pretty harmless to me. They grew so closely together that they created a dense canopy, shading us from the desert sun. They also shed a nice bed of fine needles that were perfect for pitching camp over, and a handful of the fresh boughs made for a great makeshift broom. These were quite useful for sweeping out the tents and dusting off our gear.

The problem is that these trees also suck up billions and billions of gallons of water each year from an already water-starved area. And the fine needles that made for such a nice camp are so laden with salt that nothing else will grow where they fall. No wonder the natives want them gone.

Next time I visit I'll try to remember to bring my own broom.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Processing Wonderland\Nightmare


Rarely have so many images of such (hmm, what's the word I'm looking for...) let's call it-- "usefulness," been available to me after a shoot. Usually I'm rather experimentive when I'm shooting locally. After all, I can always return later and my primary goal is usually to get something different from anything I may have shot there before.

Not so with the Canyonlands trip. Most the shots I took were with the lenses in MF mode set to the best hyperfocal distance for maximum sharpness and DOF. I charted this out pretty well before the trip, and went so far as to make little marks on a couple of the lenses just to help me remember where the best settings were. Boring, yes. But it worked like a charm.

The cheap Sigma 18-50mm DC f3.5/5.6 saw the most use. It's a capable performer from f11-f16, and diffraction is just starting at f16... barely. It's not the sharpest lens in the world, but it's not like anybody is gonna know the difference but me. After careful processing I don't even think another photographer would be able see the difference between it and a 10x more expensive lens, even in a large print (at least to 11x17, which is the largest I'll likely go). Seriously, if used carefully it is one heck of a worthy little lens.

The problems is that, knowing these things made much of the work rather boring. I was rarely tempted to "get off course" and experiment, preferring to go with the settings I knew would deliver good shots. So be it. Now I have over 1000 images, all of them decent technically, and with many of them differentiated only by a change in location.

So now the real enchilada has been in the post-processing. I can't go back and redo the shots, so I have to bring the best out of what I've got. It's been a frustrating challenge.

Today's image was one of the first I tried a B&W to sepia treatment with. Again, I don't see it as a great shot or anything, but I do like the way the treatment works for it. I'll be doing it with some others soon.