Archive for the ‘Andrew’s Favorites’ Category

More at the Narrows

Back in April I had a weekend to myself in Zion again. I hadn’t really had a dedicated “go travel and be on the lookout for things to shoot” trip this year so when the opportunity came up to head to Utah and camp for a couple days again I had a hard time saying no. Pack some firewood, pop tarts, pb&j and you’re off to the races. Invitations went out for some friends to join me but it was probably equally good that everyone else had proper jobs and couldn’t be bothered to take Friday off. The solo trip left me feeling quite healthy and offered some great opportunities to make sure I was on the same page with myself. I didn’t go up there looking for a mental retreat, but it does seem that the more you can approach opportunities and new experiences free of firm expectations, the more likely it is that you’ll get something out of it if you allow yourself to pay attention.

 

I've yet to attempt the full length top-down overnight trip through the slot canyon but a great deal of the trail's finest views can be seen from the day hike from the Temple of Sinawava tram stop: Zion National Park, UT

I’ve yet to attempt the full length top-down overnight trip through the slot canyon but a great deal of the trail’s finest views can be seen from the day hike from the Temple of Sinawava tram stop: Zion National Park, UT

Looking back a little bit…

A couple of days ago I put together something nice from a trip to Utah last September. My earlier post was from our all-too-brief Narrows hike, but this was from a side trip to Snow Canyon State Park. It’s not often that clouds are actually the subject of pictures I take — usually they’re just up there to compliment the landscape — but this time it was the other way around.

All that to say, that’s not the image in this post. Since Tucker is still working up images from his Arizona trip and I’m sitting on Hawaii, Utah, and as it happens, still more New Zealand, I’m going with something that ought to play a little differently next to the red rocks of the American West. I was recently asked for a higher resolution copy of this post from 2011 and when I went to find it, I discovered that many of my older work files are corrupted!

Ugh. This is not what we talked about.

Ugh. This is not what we talked about.

And it gets worse: a lot of my originals from 2011 are simply missing from my Aperture library, leaving many HDR brackets incomplete! In the spirit of trying to provide a print file for this scene anyway, I scoured the bowels of Aperture and wrangled up 9  of the original 15 shots that comprise the final image. Upon closer inspection I found no bracket to be completely gone so I fired up the magic wand that is Adobe Camera Raw and recreated the remaining frames from the original nine. Ill-advised, but this is exactly the situation where that was the only course of action. What started as a simple request became a curious challenge as I realized that a full reprocessing of the scene would yield differing results from the original attempt in 2011, results that would undoubtedly reflect changes in, well, me. I am very pleased with the change in style over two and a half years’ time and look forward to occasionally looking back on old images to see more of how my tastes have changed.

Perhaps my favorite change is the small orange flowers. You can't even tell they're there in the first version: Milford Sound, NZ

Perhaps my favorite change is the small orange flowers. You can’t even tell they’re there in the first version: Milford Sound, NZ

The Narrows at Zion National Park

When I’ve described recent camping trips to my parents, they’ve both turned up their nose in disgust at the idea of trying to sleep in a tent. Apparently, it was because they had each been drug along on their family’s camping trips when they were much younger and for whatever reason it had rubbed them such the wrong way that not only did they avoid it years later, but they also agreed they wouldn’t subject my sister and I to it because it was assumed we’d also dislike it. Oddly, despite their distaste for camping, they’ve engineered more National Parks trips over the years than I can count. I’ve been visiting these amazing places with my family for as long as I can remember — quite literally, as long as I’ve been capable of remembering things. To my knowledge the count stands at 17: Acadia, Arches, Badlands, Bryce, Death Valley, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Great Smoky Mountains, Haleakalā, Joshua Tree, Kings Canyon, Mammoth Cave, Redwood, Sequoia, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Zion. So parks? Absolutely. But I’d never really been tent camping until a couple years into college — and I’m so glad I did. In fact, I’d have never stopped kicking myself if I had passed on the half dozen camping expeditions that unfolded when I was in New Zealand in 2011. Would have been a completely different experience, and certainly not for the better. All that to say, I’m so thankful that being raised on National Parks didn’t burn me out on them. And now, return trips are like gravy because camping in each is a completely new set of adventures.

WHICH MEANS that when I had the chance to return to lower Utah for the Docutah Film Festival this past weekend, my going was largely contingent on being able to camp at nearby Zion National Park. In between the two days that our film was screening, we buzzed up the road an hour, pitched a tent, started a fire, and cooked cheese-filled sausages on whittled sticks. To my knowledge, the Narrows is consistently voted among the top 5 hikes in the United States. So, planning to tackle as much of the Narrows as we could the next morning before having to head back to St. George, we got up at 6am and rode the park shuttle as far into the valley as it goes. The paved trail gradually gives way to stone steps into the river and from there it’s up to you — venture as far up the river as you can stand before turning back. We made it to the Orderville Canyon fork. The original plan had been to stay an extra few days after the festival and do this properly: a nearly 16-mile top to bottom trek through the knee-high river with an overnight camp halfway down. But schedules changed and there’s always next year…

Also, first post from 6D! Step up to full frame.

Unfortunately, June and September are the best times of year to do the whole hike because of the water temperature. No wet suits, please: Zion National Park, UT

Unfortunately, June and September are the best times of year to do the whole hike because of the water temperature. No wet suits, please: Zion National Park, UT

Beaches. I like them.

Bet you’ve never been coast-to-coast in under 5 minutes. Me neither, but this post should hopefully accomplish something similar.

St. Simon’s Island has been a staple get away for my family for as long as I can remember. Growing up, summers were filled with 6 hour drives from Atlanta to Georgia’s Golden Isles to visit with grandparents. Sandcastles were built, lighthouses were climbed, and french fries were tempura-battered. Thanksgiving was synonymous with the island for a long time for me. Most years we’d use the holiday as an excuse to load up the White Chrysler Town and Country LXI and make our way down to the beach. Thanksgiving lunch was always at the sumptuous King and Prince and dinner was usually the comatose affair of living off our fresh fat reserves from earlier in the day.

Unfortunately, going to college in and ultimately moving to Los Angeles makes rocking up at St. Simon’s on a whim significantly more difficult. Thanksgiving has often been forfeited the last several years, opting instead for a longer Christmas home stay, but last year I was able to do both. To celebrate my first Thanksgiving at home in ages, we arranged for a return to the Georgia Coast. A fantastic few days of relaxation, unhealthy southern seafood, and trying to play tennis. One of the highlights of the weekend was waking up extra early the day after Thanksgiving to see a proper East Coast sunrise. I walked down past East Beach around 6:30AM and found a bench between the King and Prince pool and the nearest public beach access at the end of tiny Neptune Road.

A very peaceful morning to ease into a day full of digestion: St. Simon’s Island GA

And woosh. Fast forward three months and 2,500 miles to arrive at a sunset on the other side of the country at my other favorite beach. I must exclude Hawaii as it would be like allowing a dictionary to compete in a spelling bee.

In Los Angeles, March’s idea of coming in like a lion is a balmy 80 degrees at Manhattan Beach. Ice cream cones and beach frisbee… sounds a lot better than the snow my sister was getting in Alabama. Surprisingly, we arrived on the beach to find the ocean full of sail boats, something I’d certainly never seen at Manhattan Beach before. Unfortunately they had all moved south down the coast by the time I set up shop under the pier for the shot that evening.

I’ve seen this angle executed many times before but I’d never done it myself. Not an extremely flattering angle for the iconic pier but a textbook example of when HDR might be considered an appropriate tool: Manhattan Beach CA

 

 

Happy Chinese New Year (From Vegas!)

I’m not sure what it is about Vegas but there always seems to be something interesting to photograph there… It’s a pretty crazy place I suppose, a bit heavy on the visual stimuli so I guess it’s not all that surprising that I like bringing a camera when I go. At any rate, we had a couple things that needed celebrating last weekend so we did something truly irresponsible: an evening in Disneyland followed by a midnight push up to Vegas. The drive was simple enough, doable in under 4.5 hours but we were shocked to look up and find ourselves plunging along through a desert snowstorm! We rolled up to the Hard Rock Hotel’s parking deck around 4am and passed out in the car until morning.

If I haven’t mentioned it already, the Hotel Tonight app is a game changer. If you don’t mind a little drama, you can wait until noon on the day that you need a room and the app will release an assortment of incredible deals for the area. In Vegas, there’s literally no telling what could come up but there’s so many amazing hotels you’re likely to find great values. A room at Caesar’s for $69 last Easter, for example. This time we pulled the trigger on a room at the very small and off-strip Artisan Hotel for $45… not bad at all for a Saturday night. With a very out-of-the-public-eye vibe, it seems to cultivate a massive after-party scene with a spectacularly dark club that really only cranks up after 2am or so. In fact, upon checking in, the front desk warned that no room in the hotel would be “quiet” that evening because a DJ was playing (loudly) up until 10am the following morning…

The Bacchanal at Caesar’s was in full form. Crab legs, veal, sushi, and I was more than happy to help myself to the lava cake and gelato on the dessert buffet. As we sat there recovering and planning our hunt for $5 blackjack at reputable casinos, I reflected on the ridiculous decor we’d seen earlier that day. Most striking were the Bellagio conservatory, always a crowd pleaser, and the lobby at the Wynn, both decked out to celebrate the coming of the Chinese New Year last Sunday. While the Bellagio had actually placed a massive boat in their exhibit, I was still won over by the Wynn’s straightforward dragon dance costume. Suspended among their light-wrapped trees under the skylight, it really made for an impressive welcome sign at the Wynn.

This place exudes lavishness. Look at this walkway. Lavish: Las Vegas, NV

And as it happens I really couldn’t decide which of these two pictures to post. Fortunately I know the site’s administrator and we worked it out where I could just do both.

The amount of detail in the costume is awesome, in particular the texture of the teeth. I’d never really looked at one of these things for long until I was working with these images… Happy New Year! Las Vegas, NV

 

NYC: Rockefeller Center

So this time it actually has been too long since a post. So much has happened in the past month it’s difficult to believe I’ve only been away from LA for 33 days.

We’ve just returned from shooting a promising documentary with material split across Pennsylvania and China. Not really planning on plugging it here, but if you’re at all curious, look up a man named William Geil from Doylestown, PA — if you aren’t just a little but impressed by what he accomplished 100 years ago, there may be something wrong with you. At any rate, yes, there’s a ton of awesome stuff to come soon from Beijing (with impossibly, miraculously clear weather!) and remote areas of the Great Wall but while I take some time to get back in the right time zone, I wanted to share a fuller version of something I shared a few weeks ago just as we closed out the PA leg of our trip. Our stay there granted us two weekends: the first was spent gearing up for and watching the Game of Thrones finale, and the second was spent goofing off in Manhattan after a $15 train from a nearby NJ station. (If that isn’t a travel deal, I don’t know what is…) Our time was spent following bubble blowers and rollerblade performers in Central Park, making the pilgrimage to the cubic Apple store, meeting a homesick USC friend for a spin through an authentic NYC comic store, Times Square, and an amazing dinner at Southern Hospitality, catching up with a NYU friend after photos in Grand Central Station and breakfast in Bryant Park, standing angrily outside the HBO retail store as we realized we didn’t have time to browse, and finally grabbing some last minute filters and gels at the foolishly massive B&H store.

And somewhere in there the following photo was taken.

Never know what you’ll see just walking around the sidewalk: New York City, NY

Sunset in the Lamar Valley: Yellowstone NP

Road trips are amazing things. You could jump on a plane and pay to check three duffels… or you could pile ten duffels into a sedan and enjoy the drive across the country. I’ve made the LA/ATL drive twice now and each time has been a complete adventure. Two very different adventures, but two nonetheless. Unlike our first marathon-style 3-day trek two Decembers ago, we opted to turn it into a more leisurely vacation. I’ve been to Yellowstone twice before, but each was well before I was anything much into photography. This time, though, I was able to appreciate it in a whole new way. One thing I’ll always remember is getting to do the Lake Yellowstone Hotel “photo safari” one morning with my mom. She had done it the first time we visited Yellowstone (back when I was nine, I think) and it was really special for her to get to do it again but this time with me tagging along.

At some point during our stay in Yellowstone, we found ourselves driving through the Lamar Valley at sunset. (Typing this now I realize I’d like to “find” myself there a little more often.) We pulled off for a minute to climb a foothill and had no choice but to enjoy the stunning view the valley’s still water offered.

Yellowstone is definitively NOT on the way from Atlanta to Los Angeles... but I'm so glad we made silly plans and came back to YNP anyways: Yellowstone National Park, WY

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone is an oddity. The geysers and bizarre geothermal features are the big ticket attractions but you find yourself forgetting about the “tamer” brand of landscape features that one comes to associate with National Parks. Really awesome waterfalls and crazy big yellow canyons would be examples of such. The next day, I went back to this lookout with a longer lens and punched in to see a bit more of the brink in a *gasp* non-HDR shot of the falls and the start of the gorge. Frankly, I’m appalled that none of my stuff from Yellowstone has made it onto the site yet so I will be working in the coming weeks to get more National Park material out of my Aperture library and onto TAG. Also, I’m working on putting together a ghosting walkthrough that should hopefully help you make sense of how to solve movement-heavy scenes in HDR (or at least how I like to do it, I’m sure there’s half a dozen different ways that work). Until then, enjoy the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone National Park.

At the backend of the canyon lies the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River, clocking in at a healthy 308-foot drop. If you view the image at full resolution, you can make out the specks of color just above and to the right of the brink -- park visitors who have braved the treacherously steep switchbacks down the far side of the canyon wall: Yellowstone National Park, WY

A more traditional take on Lower Falls... this is by no means the first time this exact angle has been taken, I'm afraid.

Grand Tetons NP: Sunrise from Snake River Overlook

Haven’t posted anything for a while! Now that my computer has caught up to me in LA I finally have some time to sit down and look back at the last month or so of my life: Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Las Vegas, Disneyland. Needless to say, I’ve got a lot to sift through. This first one I’ve chosen to share is easily one of my favorites and it comes bundled with plenty of neat historical relevance. In case there was any confusion out there, NO I was not the first person to take a picture of the Teton Range from this convenient little pull off. Most notably, perhaps, would be Ansel Adams’s work from the Snake River Overlook, though his most famous image from here was framed to only include the Grand Teton (the largest and most golden mountain in my picture below) and the strip of the Snake River right in front of it. Adams is a fun topic of discussion by himself – actually, I like to think of him as one of the pioneers of the HDR mindset. His Zone System allowed him to measure the range of exposure “zones” within his frame, useful for determining the number of stops between the darkest and the brightest parts of the image. Based on that, development times could be tweaked to stretch a fairly flat image (with a small zone range) into a more contrasty image via careful overdevelopment or to compress an image with unavoidable over/underexposure into a smaller and more manageable zone range via underdevelopment. I have no intention of judging myself against Adams but the mindset and final goals are similar: tweak an exposure after you’ve taken it in such a way that the greatest amount of detail can be simultaneously shown in the highlights and shadows. He used darkroom magic, we use software magic.

Enough about him though, let’s talk about me.

We left the Jackson Lake Lodge about 5:15am and sped up the road a few miles to get to the overlook. Over the next 45 minutes or so, the mountains began to glow as the sun cleared the eastern horizon directly behind us. Half an hour later we were all asleep at the lodge again. It was summer after all and I was determined to get unhealthy amounts of sleep.

So what does "Teton" even mean? The early French who explored this area named the range "les Trois Tétons," or "the three breasts." Surprised? Grand Teton NP, Wyoming

Milford (Sight and) Sound

Last weekend, Karl and I took a quick jaunt out to the Fiordlands to see what we could find. I’d been maybe 5 or 6 weeks earlier but the weather then was on the unremarkable side so I was hoping for a little bit of sun. What we found was rather stunning.

It’s a pretty amazing place in and of itself and it’s very easy to lose your scope of how huge it actually is. Simply walking around near the car park, you’re thinking, “wow I’m surrounded by these big mountain things jutting up out of nowhere.” So you walk over closer to the smallish harbor where they have 3- or 4-story cruise boats designed for touristy day trips. But, it’s only when those boats head out onto the sound and draw up even with the cliffs that you realize that the large boat from earlier was now a minuscule little dinghy in comparison to the mountains. It’s helped along by the fact that on each of the two times I’ve been, the mountains rise up and disappear in thick cloud cover, giving the very believable impression that they extend upwards into infinity. All in all, it’s one of the most surreal places I’ve ever seen and I’m happy to say I was able to return with a couple images that I’m very pleased with. Though it would be physically impossible to fully communicate how awesome this place is, I certainly had a decent attempt.

Though not as readily apparent as many of the other panoramas, this was made using our panorama technique but the final crop didn't take on a super widescreen ratio. Someday when I have an unhealthily large amount of money, I want to upscale and blow this up for a monstrous print for my home: Milford Sound, NZ

In light of a recent birthday around here, I’ve been thinking about where I’ve come from in terms of ability. I shall now wax philosophical for a little bit. How would the above have looked if I had processed it last May when I thought Photomatix’s “grunge” preset was a really cool place to start at with my brackets? If I recall, the first thing I ever posted on T.A.G. was a cramped shot of a staircase outside the Disney Concert Hall in LA — how would that have turned out if I had worked on it last week? Recently I’ve noticed that, whether I’m meaning to or not, I’m taking a great deal of time during processing to try and steer the final “look” of an image in a more and more subtle direction. Sometimes it’s fun to do something crazy every once in a while, sure, but making the software fingerprint more and more invisible can be a very rewarding challenge. It’s no secret that HDR doesn’t exactly have a good track record in terms of respectability and I would be the first to admit that most of the first shots I was happy with came out looking like the exact same stuff I find today when I Google search “flagrant misuse of HDR.” A lot of people unfortunately came to associate the worst of HDR as the best that HDR had to offer. I think it’s taken me a year to figure this out, but I definitely think that it has its place in the toolbox of techniques. And, like any technique, it can either be used to improve or overused to detract from the image.

I was working on another picture a few days ago when one of my friends who was in the shot dropped by and saw the work-in-progress HDR right next to the 7D’s original image. After looking at it for a few seconds, he concluded that even though the original image had a “truer” feel to it (in terms of the camera’s capabilities, complete with blown out skies and murky foregrounds), the HDR was much closer to how he actually remembered the scene. With the Milford Sound shot, my intention was to recreate the scenario as I saw it, how I remember it.

Sunrise Panorama

Well it’s about time I shared this one. It’s been in the works since we got back from Mt. Cook and I’m very pleased with how it turned out. In fact, it’s definitely my favorite panorama I’ve ever put together. From Mueller Hut we went about 20 minutes further up Mt. Ollivier’s ridge to get to a suitable vantage spot to see the sunrise at about 7am. One of the most utterly jaw-dropping experiences of my life. This panorama represents 11 bracketed sets, processed and stitched together to form a single 86 megapixel image.

Next week is our mid-semester break and I am spending it on the North Island. Can’t wait to see what they’ve got in store up there…

Couldn't have asked for a finer way to start the day: Mt. Cook, New Zealand

Mueller Hut and Mt. Cook

Greetings once more from NZ! I had a few images from a few weeks ago that I’ve been working on and was planning on posting… until we returned from a fantastic weekend in Mt. Cook National Park. So while I do a bit more housekeeping with those older pictures, I’ll throw up a brand new (literally, this shot is from this morning) Mt. Cook image to make up for the 19-day delay since my last post!

Mt. Cook… the tallest peak in New Zealand. It’s only four hours away from Dunedin and is absolutely stunning. Intending to stay overnight in Mueller Hut near the summit of Mt. Ollivier, we arrived at the Mt. Cook National Park Visitor Center at 8:15am to secure four bunks in the first-come-first-served-style system. However, there was already a throng of people waiting for the doors to open (even though we’d left Dunedin at 4:15am to get over there!) and we were within two people of the cutoff. Undaunted, we brought a 4-man tent to the top of the trail and camped under the hut — It was easily the most difficult hike I’ve ever attempted and I wasn’t even carrying the tent!

Beyond the hut, the ridgeline continued up to the summit. Looking back towards the hut shortly after sunrise the following morning offered the below vista…

Mt. Cook is the tall peak in the upper right area with an icy Hooker Lake in the valley beneath. If you can't find the hut, then, well... Mt. Cook, New Zealand

Hokitika Sunset

Once a year, New Zealand holds the Wildfoods Festival in Hokitika, a small (and I mean really small) town on the west coast of the South Island. It is probably the one day all year in which more than 100 people are within 3 miles of the place. And, as is usually the case in New Zealand, the fewer people there are the more spectacular the scenery. The festival itself was amazing and there were many strange things being eaten… and worn. After everyone had had their fill of ridiculous stuff, the crowds flocked to the beach to watch the sunset and later set their own fires to huddle around. The Tasman Sea lays between New Zealand and Australia and though I’ve seen previous images of the Tasman at sunset (like this one from last August), I tried to come at it with my own idea of how I wanted it to look. I rather like how it turned out so I’ve made seven different flavors of it available over in the desktop section. After the festival we took the scenic route back to Dunedin, heading south down the coast through Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers and then cutting east across central Otago. Suffice to say, there were plenty of other gorgeous places to stop along the way back so I’ll have my hands full of things to process for quite some time to come…

The nearly 30 beach fires that followed produced enough smoke to almost suffocate us but it was absolutely worth it! Hokitika, New Zealand

 

NZ Pan #1: Botanical Gardens Terrace at the African Garden

Well, it’s about time I get some of these up… I’ve lately been working on panoramas of different places I’ve gotten to go to and it has been eye-opening. I’ve been sitting on the raw files for maybe four or five different pans now, trying to tease the best possible results out of the sets, one of which was composed of 11 shots to be combined, or a total of 33 raw images with the minimum 3-shot bracket for each of the 11. Yet, some scenes have been begging for a 5-shot bracket but the amount of work necessary for that is questionable… whereas normally if I’m 3-shotting a scene I will elect for a simple two stops in each direction, for the pans, if a 5-shot is needed I’ve just been skimping and increasing the bracket size to 2 2/3 or maybe 3 and going from there. Anyways, enough numbers — suffice to say that this is one of my favorite end results and quite possibly the image that does the best job of capturing a mood that I think I’ve ever managed. When I see this (and skirt around in its 15,612 x 4,834 pixels worth of real estate) I am very vividly drawn back to this exact moment in time, about 5 seconds before the only battery I had on me went completely dead in the middle of taking the would-be 7th bracket for this scene (on the far right). More so than other posts, I really encourage you to click through to the full 17MB file so you can really get a feel for the view from the Botanical Gardens Terrace. As the Kiwis say, cheers!

Few places in the world like this. Here's hoping I can find as many as I can while I'm here for such a sort period of time: Dunedin, NZ

Dunedin Sunset

I have the extreme misfortune of being housed within 200 yards, er, metres, of Dunedin’s Botanical Gardens. Sadly, the weather is only allowed to have one clear day/week over here but it just means I have to take advantage of them when I can. Yesterday was one of those days and happily included a trip up the Taieri Gorge Railway complete with all you can eat BBQ. I’m still sifting through the hundreds of pictures from the train ride through the countryside so I will be adding one or two of those onto T.A.G. soon. For the most part, shooting from a moving train tends to be unhelpful when it comes down to setting up tripod brackets (who would have thought?) so I will do my best to handle a few single-shots in the next few days. As we walked back home from the train station, I decided that even though I was already quite tired, I had to take advantage of the visible sunset and veered off towards the gardens. Spectacularly, they are spread across a small, level area that then sprawls up the side of a large foothill. Finding a clearing in the trees, I set up shop just as the sun found a gap in the sparse clouds…

The gardens are stunning this time of day if you're lucky enough to see sunlight. The University Clocktower is actually visible down the hill: Dunedin, NZ