Archive for the ‘Andrew’ Category

Almost New Years: LA Auto Show 2011

We usually start a post by admitting fault for how much time has passed since the previous post… I’m not about to change that. Since we’re dangerously close to not having a December entry, I think I ought to slip in something I nabbed at the LA Auto Show back around Thanksgiving (on Thanksgiving, actually). We kind of flew through the exhibition and I don’t quite remember the details of the Volvo pictured below — Audi had a blindingly legit display so the e-tron and R8 GT Spyders may have distracted me — but I saw this angle of the Volvo display and loved how the glass and other reflective surfaces played havoc with the sense of space in the Convention Center ballroom. We spotted six manufacturer logos in this image; at the risk of sounding campy… can you find them too?

If not for the glass separator between the frontmost windows, this would be a really cool concept image advertising the Volvo of tomorrow, today! Or something... Los Angeles CA

Disneyland Teacups at Night

My road trip earlier this summer ended in Disneyland, home of the iconic Alice in Wonderland Teacups. It’s a pretty cool attraction regardless, but at night, it’s quite a dazzling sight. Because the motion between and during exposures would have been just too much, this is a single-shot HDR of the ride in action at nighttime. I’ve never actually ridden the Teacups, but I have a feeling they’d make me sick: bring on all the crazy roller coasters you want, but as soon as a ride devolves down to concentrated spinning, I’m out.

Stay tuned for Tucker to post the full image of the current site banner from Yosemite. It may be the most planned shot on here and is certainly the most collaborative.

Just working on this image makes me want to go back... I've got the annual pass so I really have no excuse: Anaheim, CA

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.

Lunch at the Blue Bayou, Disneyland

As our road trip came to a close this summer, Disneyland was our final stop before the family headed to LAX and made a break for the East Coast again. For us, Disneyland has a handful of very special places (not a super unique claim, no doubt you’ve got your own favorite nooks) and the Blue Bayou restaurant may just be at the top of that list. Situating its guests in a simulated New Orleans evening on a back patio, it is the end-all be-all of how to do dining atmosphere with style. I may have been here eight or nine times in my life and pretty much each time I’ve tried to take a picture of it that I liked… and I finally have one. Just after being seated, I spotted a freshly cleared table overlooking the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Knowing the table would be vacant for less than five minutes, I quickly built my tripod and framed up. I realize not everybody in the world is a 30 minute drive from the Happiest Place on Earth, but next time you plan on visiting, call ahead and make a reservation at the Blue Bayou for a classy lunch or dinner. Order the gumbo. Regarding some technicalities, the 16-35mm on the 7D is really a 26-56mm and though that means my wide angle lens is not being fully realized, it keeps me honest with my framing. Whereas a full frame body would have given me the easy option of including the entire seating area, this 26mm view allowed a “wide but not obnoxiously so” composition that I like very much.

The Blue Bayou restaurant is far and away my favorite dining experience at Disneyland (Disney World just wishes they had one): Anaheim CA

Vegas Extravagance: The Venetian Lobby

Before Tucker and Giacomo came to visit LA a few weeks back, my family embarked on a classic road trip to get me and my car back across the country for the fall semester. As such, we saw it fit to stop by a few places “on the way” from Atlanta to LA: Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, and Las Vegas. Needless to say, Vegas was the only one of these stops that was even close to being “on the way.” I’d like to eventually make my way back up to Vegas when I get a chance, most of what I was shooting while we were there was a spur of the moment, “I wonder what this’ll look like” kind of deal. Now that I’ve got a better sense of the area, I feel like I would be able to get some better material with a more planned out return trip.

As it happens, there are some casinos in the town. And these casinos tend to go… overboard in the theming department. One of the most impressively themed properties I wandered around was The Venetian, complete with functional canals (outdoor and indoor), St. Marks-esque plazas and archways, and generally awesome Italian Renaissance imagery. A long time ago, I saw this image over at stuckincustoms and was stunned that a hotel lobby could ever be so ludicrous. Naturally I decided to take a crack at the same shot, albeit with a tighter framing to cut back on the Footceiling effect that wide angle images usually suffer from (in which the photographer’s feet and the room’s ceiling are able to simultaneously squeeze into frame). In all seriousness though, I am very pleased with how this turned out. The white balance certainly took some after-the-fact loving to coax it back into normalcy but hey, that’s why you shoot in RAW. In the spirit of Las Vegas showmanship and general extravagance, I let this one sit on the tone mapping burner a little longer than normal. It’s a jaw dropping room to experience firsthand and I’d prefer to remember it as the crazy, colorful, and extravagantly themed surprise that my mind first encountered.

This entrance atrium is circular and (as evidenced by the stuckincustoms image) is therefore very susceptible to glaring lens distortion that can make some of the room’s upper arches look twice as big as others despite their being the same size. Actually, it’s probably better that I don’t shoot on a full frame body right now because my 16-35mm is never truly any wider than 26mm, lessening that disconcerting distortion while making me put a little more consideration into composition. Super wide angle (true 14mm or thereabouts) naturally draws an initial “wow” reaction because it’s so shockingly wide… but if you’re not careful it can turn into a shallow “wow” crutch for an otherwise unremarkable shot, giving you an freshly distorted but still unremarkable shot. Just my two cents.

At any rate, there’s PLENTY more to come from the Yellowstone/Tetons/Vegas/Disneyland cornucopia — And that’s just me! I left 90% of the Yosemite stuff to Tucker and Giacomo so there’s lots more goodies around the corner…

Great hotel, great lobby. Unfortunately, the canals were drained and the gondolas were being serviced while we were there... an excuse to go back some other time: Las Vegas, NV

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.

Knight’s Point: NZ West Coast

Well, my time in NZ is drawing to a close. As I thought back to some of this semester’s adventure, I went looking through some of my stuff from the trip to the food festival on the west coast. Recalling that the drive back to Dunedin along the coast had been nothing short of spectacular, I pulled out the shots from the Knight’s Point pull off along the road back. It’s essentially this outcrop of rocks way down the hill that sit just off shore. I imagine they’re significantly larger when you get right down on them — I think puttering around this cove in a little boat would be the best way to appreciate Knight’s Point, but we don’t own a boat so that didn’t happen. At any rate, I’m running over to the Fiordlands this weekend for a quick camping trip with a visiting friend from LA…hopefully the weather will cooperate just a little bit and Milford Sound will be a bit more visible than it was earlier this semester.

Like many things in New Zealand, the pull-off afforded a fairly understated view of the amazing rock formation: West Coast, NZ

Evening at Lake Taupo (a.k.a. More NZ Sunsets)

Well since it seems the burden of keeping the site fresh has fallen squarely on me, I will be happy to oblige with more stuff from the North Island trip a few weeks ago. After touring the Te Puia geothermal area in Rotorua one fine morning, we hopped in the rental and moseyed 70km south to the town of Taupo. It wasn’t our initial plan to head due south from Rotorua, but a weather scare earlier in the week led us to rethink driving way east out to Gisborne. Honestly, there doesn’t seem to be a lot to do there and the novelty of being among the first 20 or so people on the planet to see the sun come up would have worn off pretty quickly. Instead, we made a beeline to Wellington from Rotorua and stopping a night on Lake Taupo seemed like a good idea. We didn’t realize it at first, but Taupo happens to be the location of these really interesting-looking Maori rock carvings we had read about before leaving Dunners. So, before heading on to Wellington we chartered a couple spots on a small replica steamboat to take us out to the carvings since they are only accessible via boat or kayak. The boat took us right up to the carvings — we could almost reach off the boat and touch them actually. We were feeling pretty special right up until when the boat’s captain informed us that the carvings were done in the 70s. Despite not being the centuries-old relics we were initially led to believe, the carvings were actually a cool example of how the Maori culture is still a very active one. As we learned earlier at Te Puia, they don’t see their heritage as something of the past to be proud of because it’s still something of the present to be proud of.

Oh right, so the picture.

This is from the night we arrived in Taupo. We were initially banking on asking the people running the hostel where a good place to see the sunset would be… until they straight-facedly recommended the hostel’s balcony. Which faced east. We smiled and nodded and opted to drive around the lake until we found something nice…

On a quiet little cove of the lake. I took a few that included the sailboats which were off frame to the right but decided to go sans-boats since "Boats on a Lake" is Tucker's department: Taupo, New Zealand

Wellington Sunset – Mt. Victoria

Well, this past week on the North Island was nothing short of awesome. The sun sure did a lot of shining despite rain being forecast for the entire island for an entire week… just goes to show how completely unpredictable New Zealand’s island climate can be when it comes to weather. Our road trip ended in Wellington, right at the southern end of the North Island. By far my favorite city in NZ so far, Wellington has an awesome vibe that strikes a really nice balance between hardcore city life (it’s the nation’s capital after all) and natural beauty. I was particularly impressed by the Botanical Gardens, accessible from the immediate downtown area by a 5 minute ride on a vintage cable car. In fact, I straight up fell asleep for the better part of an hour when we sat down to relax in a grassy clearing on our walk through the garden back down to the city. And, there’s no way I could write this travel blurb on Wellington without mentioning the amazing “Zealandia” habitat only 15 minutes out of downtown. It’s an incredibly ambitious attempt to restore a large section of land (an entire valley actually) back to the original tropical rainforest environment it was before humans first came to the area, involving the placement of dozens of endangered species back into the valley and a careful attention to guiding the flora back to prime condition. I only had an hour and a half there but could have easily spent the whole day.

At any rate, after Zealandia closed at 5 o’clock I went across town up to the top of Mt. Victoria to catch the sunset…

Very windy up here. I think I read something about Wellington being the windiest city in the southern hemisphere: Wellington, New Zealand

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

Peter’s Pool at Franz Josef Glacier

On the way back from Hokitika, we conveniently had to drive straight through the Franz Josef and Fox Glacier areas. Our plan was to stop off for just a few minutes and keep on trucking but a few minutes turned into a few hours and a hike once we saw how spectacular Franz Josef was. Peter’s Pool is a small, still pond that offers a spectacular view of the glaciers and it sits about an hour’s walk away from the foot of it. I went back and forth for several days on how I felt about the tree limbs in the upper right corner and in fact had taken and processed an entirely separate framing of this scene that did not include the limbs but sacrificed foreground on the left. But, I eventually decided I liked the branches since they make a sort of opposite corner complement with the pond grass in the bottom left corner. Amazing place to visit — if you ever, er, happen to find yourself on the west coast of the South Island, Franz Josef is a must see!

The observant among you may notice from the image's title that 9 shots were used for this. Indeed, I decided to settle in for a little while here and do 3 separate brackets with 1 stop increments between images. Admittedly, it wasn't entirely necessary to do so, but I think I just wanted to soak up as much of the glacier as I could since I'm not really sure when I'll be back: Franz Josef, 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