Archive for the ‘Maine’ Category

Storms, Site Problems, and the Future

It’s great to be back up and running! Thanks to a bit of help from a friend, we fixed the (embarrassingly simple) problem with the site and are back in business.

I can’t believe that the last time I posted a picture was almost a year ago. That is… simply unacceptable. It was mostly due to being very busy at school and unable to travel to new locations to get new material, but luckily I’ve had the pleasure of spending the summer in LA and Maine, and have come up with a few good images from my trips. I have processed a few images from my trip to LA, but that hard drive is currently sitting in a bag on the floor somewhere and I don’t feel like unpacking until I’m home so… I’ll start off with two shots from a more familiar location, my house in Maine. This was taken back in June, and I’d just taken delivery of my new 5D Mark III. I really wanted to test it out, but it looked like it was about to rain, so I dashed down to the dock just in time to fire off a bracket before the big drops started coming down. The Mark III lets me do five shot brackets from ±5, which is a big improvement from the Mark II, which limited me to three shot brackets that were ±3 stops. The extra dynamic range of my new camera will certainly add to the HDRs that I take, especially in cases where there is a huge contrast between light and dark. I’ll update my bio page with all of my new equipment as I’ve recently picked up a lot of upgrades.

These images are interesting for me, because they are almost entirely “straight” HDRs; in other words I simply took the bracket, threw the images in Photomatix, and found myself satisfied. Rarely does this happen, and most of the time I find myself spending a lot of time in Photoshop color correcting, dodging, burning… not so with these two. The sky just spoke for itself.

In the future, I plan to post at least three images from my trip to LA, as well as a few from the most recent TAG expedition to Acadia National Park in Maine. We are going to be working on a Smugmug site that will allow for more e-commerce integration (if you want to buy prints or images, etc.) as well as simply improving the site, hopefully with a new theme and new look in the coming months. All in all, it’s great to be back!


The ominous clouds of the oncoming storm from an all-too-familiar vantage point.

The ominous clouds of the oncoming storm from an all-too-familiar vantage point.Maine Storm 1



Maine Update

I recently got back from two weeks in Maine, but it was not nearly as fruitful photography-wise as my previous trips have been. This is mostly because I’ve all but exhausted the nearby locations, and we live very much in the middle of nowhere up there, so to get anywhere else you need a car, and I’d have to be 25 to drive the rental car…. so I end up kayaking, reading, and generally enjoying getting away from the city. That’s not to say that I didn’t shoot at all, however. A few years ago we built a little website for the house so we could advertise it in various places for people to rent during the summer. It’s been successful, but the images were outdated and featured furniture (or the lack thereof) that has since been changed or added. Because of this, my mom asked if I’d be willing to reshoot the house but in HDR and I was of course more than happy to oblige. Making ANYTHING look accurate with the 16-35, especially architecture, is an exercise in patience and compromise, but the final shots were pretty fun. Here’s just a few of my favorites. I have one or two other unrelated HDRs from Maine that I’ll post soon, but I don’t want to overload one post with pictures so I’ll save them for after the other two post (because I KNOW they each have things to get up here…!)

The second of the two upstairs bedrooms.

The dining room table, which up until recently was literally a picnic table that the builders made for us after construction finished.

A view down the house longways. It is honestly my favorite place on earth.

More from Maine – Summer Sunset

I know it’s been forever since I last posted, and I promise to get back on track! Giacomo and I are going to hopefully be able to take advantage of these few, fleeting days in Atlanta that are beautiful, bug and (mostly) pollen-free to get some photographs before the summer kicks in and we are locked indoors. For now, here’s a simple but pretty sunset from almost a year ago at this point. I’ve got lots more from Hawaii to put up but I wanted to break up the volcanoes and mountains with a serene seascape and some fire in the sky. I chose a rather unorthodox crop on this one because there was a lot of uninteresting sky and water that contained very little in terms of interesting color or texture, and I think it helps. The completely windless night caused not a ripple on the surface of the ocean, allowing for perfect axial symmetry. I noticed afterwards that there was lots of mist, and with no wind to speak of the fog was able to hover just above the surface of the ocean. It looks pretty cool and gives the classic sunset shot a bit of a twist!

I also love the way the islands and spits of land recede into the distance. It is fun to explore the many coves during the day.

Composing a Winter Sunset in Maine

This shot was really tough. I still have many problems with it, but the main reason I am posting it is so I can discuss them here, as many photographers run into these problems a lot (especially those trying to shoot architecture accurately, or really anything with an ultra-wide angle lens). Many things were going through my head as I stared at the LCD screen on the back of my camera. Ever since I was exposed to the work of architecture photographer Julius Schulman (some would argue that he is THE expert in this area) I find it nearly impossible to compose a shot in which all parallel lines are not, well, parallel. This was the first and foremost thought in my head as I was trying to get this shot just right. I knew I needed the side of the building on the left, for example, to be completely parallel with the side of the frame, which limited the amount of the sailboats that could be included and I was forced to cut off the tops of the masts. Already making some sacrifices, but honestly it would have looked worse to have a distorted building popping out of the corner rather than something that is at least somewhat perspectivally accurate. Since the masts were parallel with the side of the building, I knew that the verticals in the image would all line up nicely with the sides of the frame. By doing this however, I created another problem for myself: My image was not anywhere close to the traditional “rule of thirds,” which states that a good composition, landscapes in particular, will have some combination of 1/3 sky and 2/3 foreground, or vice versa. Putting the horizon smack in the middle of the frame is usually regarded as a visual no-no, but here I can almost get away with it because of the amount that is going on in the foreground, and the fact that the foreground objects, the boats, interact with the sky because of the tall masts. I still think there’s a bit too much foreground, but if I’d tilted the camera up a bit to capture more sky, I would have immediately turned all of my nice verticals into distorted diagonals. It would have been nice to get more of the building on the left (which is in fact a cool old abandoned boathouse that partially burned down) but if I’d moved the frame a bit that way, I would have lost the back of the rightmost boat that reads “Boothbay, Maine” which I love because it is an identifier, and it would have cut into the sunset reflecting off the puddle. All in all, I had to continuously adjust the frame both in camera and in Photoshop to get it the best I could, but there’s a lot to be wanted.

I’ll give you an example of what I mean by “distorted verticals” or lines that should be parallel but are not due to the use of a wide-angle lens and the framing chosen by the photographer. Don’t get me wrong, I love Trey Ratcliff and the work he does, but pictures like this make me wonder if all that distortion could have been avoided. Looking back on my work from even 6 months ago there are definite instances where I chose to do similar things, and I still sometimes have to, but these days I really try my best to avoid it. I also don’t like it when verticals, especially walls and doors, are cut off, as he does in the corners of this shot… Again, love the guy and he’s an inspiration to the three of us and tons of other HDR photographers, it’s just interesting to compare my way of looking at things to his, and realize that there’s more to work on in both cases. Maybe if he would just switch to Canon… 😀

This is another one of those "well, it's 4:00pm, better get shooting before the sun sets... in 15 minutes..."

Maine in the Winter

I have no real excuse for my lack of posts lately other than the fact that I have no new material… until now! I just got back from having Thanksgiving up in Maine, and I was able to take a little time to go exploring and get some HDRs. This was hard for a few reasons, beyond the fact that Thanksgiving is family time and I have a really cute new cousin. The biggest issue is that during the winter, the sun sets unnaturally early in the North, beginning around 3:30 and totally pitch black by 4:30. Waking up early is, of course, not an option, so I have about 3 hours of daylight to play with each day! I made good use of it on our last day, when some awesome clouds rolled in just as the sun began to set. After eating lunch, I went out to a favorite summertime-restaurant (closed for the winter) to use their deck to get some HDRs of the great clouds and colors. The sun also sets in an entirely different place in the winter, so my go-to spots to watch it during the summer are useless. That caused me to have to get creative, but that’s never a bad thing. The objects in the foreground here are floats from people’s docks; the ocean freezes around the edges during the winter, and many bays and coves (like ours) freeze over entirely, and if you were to leave your dock and float in the water it would simply break off because of the strain from the ice. All dock owners have their floats taken up on land as the seasons change, and some were stored on the shore by the Coveside restaurant. The boardwalk that stretches from the shore out across the water to the island doesn’t have a float, so the island remains accessible (albeit private…) during the winter.

There were many other floats around me but I wanted the focus to be as much on that great sky as on the foreground!

Spectacular South Bristol Sunset

This is quite possibly my favorite HDR I have processed, for a lot of reasons: it was one of the best sunsets I’ve witnessed on an incredibly still night; it is really cliche and I’m all about cliche; and the colors are just all there. The sky reall

y looked like that, just a gradient of everything… it was also pouring rain, which doesn’t come through in the picture at all (except for the drops of water that were on my lens, requiring lots of love with photoshop to remove them…) I guess this shot just really encapsulates a lot of what Maine is to me, great sunsets, calm, open expanses of ocean, far-off islands, docks, lobster boats, buoys…. I’ve been sitting on it for a while and decided to reprocess it and was so pleased I just had to post it. It’s also available in the new desktops section for use as a wallpaper (as are a few new ones that I’ve added recently… check it out!) Anyway, here’s your daily dose of Maine sunset cliché.

The wooden structure in the foreground is a boat launching ramp, where you back your trailer up and unload your boat into the bay. At high tide, of course!

Updated HDR Overview and More from Maine

In the spirit of tweaking things on the site, I decided to revamp the HDR overview that I’d written a while back. It’s mostly the same, giving readers who don’t know much about the process an idea of the theory behind what we are doing and why it works so well. The old image I had used for that was OK, but not great, and I decided to root through my photo library to find a bracket that really showed what HDR is for. It’s still not perfect, but way better than it was. Hopefully I will have the time to really lay out a tutorial on how to do HDR from start to finish, but that is a very time-consuming task. The image I used in the overview might look familiar as I posted one from that same night a few weeks ago. This beautiful sunset was in Rockland, Maine, and the dramatic clouds and train tracks complete the shot. This is one of those “the photo wouldn’t be remarkable at all if not for the sunset and the HDR process” images, but that doesn’t bother me as much any more because part of what makes HDR so great is that it can do just that, turn something that would otherwise not have been worth photographing into something worth looking at.

This was a great little spot and I wish I'd had more time to properly explore it with a tripod, instead of going hand-held. Still, you can always count on Maine for great sunsets.

Moonrise and New Desktops!

So I’ve finally had time to sit down and begin work on the site (beyond the occasional blog post, of course) and have gotten a very early version of the “Desktops” page online. The purpose of this page is really simple: to provide some of our favorite images in the most popular desktop sizes, ready for you to download and use as wallpapers. Right now there are only 3 images up, one of them being the image in this post 🙂 It takes a seriously long amount of time to make the crops of each image, mostly because the aspect ratios change from 16:10 to 16:9 and the worst is the 4:3, non-widescreen because it usually involves chopping off a significant portion of the image and ruining the composition. But, those of you with resolutions of 1280×1024 or 1024×768 will be able to use them, and that’s what counts. It takes me a long time to decide what to get rid of in the crops, and then I have to upload them and create all of the different links… Expect more images to show up there over time; I will probably put a note in my future blog posts when there are new ones to be had. As always, if you want the full-resolution image, just click on it on the main blog. I have no idea how much time or energy Giacomo or Andrew has for this, so it may just be my imagery for a while, but you never know.

Here’s yet another one of Maine, a place that has given me a wealth of material to work with in just the two short visits I’ve taken there recently. This is from the familiar location of my dock, but at a different time and in a different direction. The moon is rising on the left, but the sun has just barely set, so there’s still a lot of ambient light giving definition to the trees and clouds. I really like this one, and it is the second to last image from Maine that I had left to post. The last is my favorite! Anyway, here’s the moonrise, and be sure to check it out in desktop form as well.

Usually it is hard to capture the moon, as lack of light results in long exposures which show the moon's movement, but luckily there was enough light for fast exposures.

Little Red House on the Coast of Maine

On the same night that I took this shot of the lighthouse on Pemaquid Point, I wandered down even further, out onto the point itself, and the small red house caught my eye. It wasn’t the greatest sunset in the world, but it made for a tranquil scene. One of the many things I love about Maine, and I’ll say it again, is that scenes like this are ubiquitous up and down the coast; if I were living in Maine full time you would probably not see me post shots like this! But as a city-boy it is places like this that get stuck in my head. I reprocessed this a few times trying to get the white balance right; straight out of the camera the rocks were really, really blue, but I may have overcompensated a bit in this edit? I like it nonetheless.

I have been working furiously on my room these past few weeks, and as of today I am putting the finishing touches on it, including a second coat of the dark red paint and window hardware, a ceiling fan, etc. Possibly as soon as tomorrow I will (finally) have a place to properly sit down and do some real work in the internet world. I plan to do a few things:

-process a bunch of HDRs that I have sitting around and post them; recently I have been posting things that I processed months ago and haven’t been working on new stuff as much as I should
-experiment more with the macro-HDR side of things (more elephants for sam! and I want to do things with water/droplets,etc)
-create a “Desktop Background” page that will link from the sidebar so that you can download your favorite images from the site in a variety of screen sizes
-finally finish off the long-time coming in-depth HDR tutorial, which has been put on the back burner since the inception of the site.

-completely re-theme/re-design the site. This is proving to be quite a challenge, and will require lots of time messing with back end code and things like that. I want to eventually have a landing page, with a rotating set of images in the center that we will update frequently with our favorite shots. Upgrading to a WordPress 3 compatible theme will allow us to have a menubar across the top, and have much better organization for what is currently on the sidebar. I want to also have a place at the bottom of the main landing page where three “random posts” from the past will come up every time you go to it, so that newcomers who may only look at the contents of the first page or so won’t miss out on what we’ve been done for the past few months. The site is quite functional as it is; I just want to make it a bit flashier, and more accessible. The blog will, of course, remain the main attraction of the site.
-depending on viewership trends I may consider adding a system to order prints. I have had several requests in person, and recently got a great photo printer that can do up to 13×19, but who knows. It really depends on how popular the site becomes over time, and if we can keep adding content like we have been able to do. Currently we are getting about 70 views a day and that has been rising drastically; it was only 50 a day a week ago! Yes, these numbers are literally nothing in the big wide world of the web, but to a few college kids with a website, it’s kinda cool to think that a few people around the world come here often to see what’s new.

The bottom line is, don’t be surprised if you see some changes in the coming weeks! Ok, enough of my rambling. Here is the photo!

The red house stands out at sunset on the rocky Maine coastline.

Sunset and Moonrise under the Stars

This is the second of the two shots that I took a month ago in Maine, while waiting for the Northern Lights to appear (which they never did). I had no idea how they would turn out, and I was definitely pleased, especially after I processed the single file into three differently exposed ones, to simulate a ±2 stop, three shot bracket that is normally used for processing into an HDR. The 814 second exposure was long enough to capture the clouds receding, lit by the rising moon (directly behind me opposite the clouds, not in the shot) as the stars began to show. The result looks like something between a sunset and a sunrise, which is really just the clouds receding over time. The dock moves constantly with the water, and it is that movement that causes it to appear fuzzy in the shot.

The reddish orange light on the wooden posts of the dock is coming from our house, all the way back up the hill behind me.

Boats at Rest in Rockland, Maine

Rockland is a great little town in Maine, picturesque, on the coast, and defined by its harbor. There is an annual boat show that takes place there, drawing large crowds, but we went on a different night for dinner and I had an hour or so to walk around beforehand to take some photos. Not wishing to be held down by a tripod, I decided once again to go hand-held and the more I do it, the more I like it. If there is enough light to get all 3 of the exposures above 1/30th of a second or so, Photomatix will take care of the rest in terms of the slight adjustments that need to be done to align the shots. These boats are most likely seasonal, pulled out of the water during the time of the year when the owners are away… but for all I know they are ownerless, for sale, or in storage… I just liked the way they looked! Lobster boats and lighthouses are two things that are iconic of Maine, and it is hard to travel in the state without seeing them constantly, either along the coast, or references to them in merchandise, store names, etc in the inland cities. And of course some cooperative clouds don’t hurt!

Civilian pleasure boats, like the sailboat on the right, sit next to working lobster boats on land and in the water.

Sunset Envy

*UPDATE* I have recently launched a desktops section of the site, and it features a touched-up, cropped version of this shot that is even better than what I had originally put here! Head over there to check it out.

I have had a slew of fairly underwhelming sunsets while in Maine this time around… so I decided to go back in time a month and look at what I’d shot from my previous visit, during which there seemed to be an endless supply of colorful nights. (And also because we all know that sunsets are the ONLY subject to HDR, ever. No other options exist so we should all limit ourselves to sunsets only. 😀 ) We’re just going to pretend this shot is from tonight…. This shot posed an interesting problem to me. The framing is fine in camera, and the shot processed well and came out as a good-looking HDR. The issue was that there seemed to be no good way of cropping it in Photoshop. 80% of the time I spent post-processing this picture was cropping and un-cropping trying to figure out how to frame it for the final shot. I was (and still kind of am) stymied by this one. The problem came as I was editing it at 100% zoom; I kept noticing how cool each individual piece of the scene was all on its own, and how it lost impact as you zoomed out to take in the overall scene. I love the reflections of the trees on the water on the left, I love the illuminated flagpole over the house with the sun and reflection in the middle, I love the two docks with their reflections, I love the silhouettes of the trees with the sun glowing behind them on the right… The final crop had to be a balance of being able to see everything, yet not lose the details in the process. This is an almost unreachable balance in this case. Here is the original, and two crops that show some of the possibilities…

The original, un-cropped image. Click through to examine all of the details yourself!

The final "overall" crop that I decided on, relying on the rule of thirds. I saved out a few of the other closer-in crops too just in case. They are almost like different pictures!

One of many possible crops of this image... I would love to add the glowy trees to the left of this but then I lose the close-up feel that you get at this near 100% crop...

Odd Encounters in Rockland

We went on a small journey to Rockland, Maine for dinner, yet another quaint, picturesque town in Maine. The destination was Suzuki’s, some of the best sushi I’ve ever had, being as it is basically unloaded from the boats that come into the harbor. Doesn’t get much fresher, and it’s my favorite food, so naturally I was quite happy. Of course, I had my camera with me and lately I have been feeling much more adventurous with doing hand-held HDRs. I used to think it wasn’t a viable option but Photomatix has such good correction for the small shifts that occur during hand-held bracketing that I have gotten more comfortable with it. I had about an hour before our reservation, so I decided to simply get lost and see where I ended up, always a surefire way of getting great pictures. Unfortunately, the harbor in Rockland faces east, the exact opposite direction from the setting sun, but with a sunset this good it didn’t really matter as it illuminates the entire sky. I found myself following some train tracks next to the shore, and I ended up inside a fenced-in compound that had some train cars in it, and some tugboats pulled up to a dock. Not really sure if I was allowed to even be there, I decided to take some HDRs and leave quickly. As I was popping off a few, I saw a tall man with a ponytail and a leather jacket approaching me and was like oh, here we go, I get to be yelled at for taking pictures in a place that I’m not supposed to be for the umpteenth time. Us photographers get used to it but it is never fun. I said hi and quickly turned around to get out of there, and as I was walking away I heard “Hey, why don’t you take a picture of me and my friend? She walks her dogs through here a lot and I’ve gotten to know her real well.” And I was like um…. “ok… sure.” The woman in question was walking up at that exact moment, and they said hi and then posed for this picture, which I was of course not prepared for and so fired off a 3 shot bracket with them moving the entire time, making for an impossible-to-process HDR. The guy went on to tell me how he worked from 3am to 2pm every day unloading tugboats full of cement and loading it onto trains, which then took off along the tracks to travel throughout Maine. We didn’t have much in common, so the conversation ended fairly quickly… I came home and was puzzled as I began to process the picture. It didn’t work at all when I threw the 3 into Photomatix like I would normally do, so I decided to choose the middle frame and do a pseudo-HDR using the Raw Converter. This worked OK, but the resulting image just wasn’t that great composition-wise, was too saturated, and noisy. I decided to try black and white HDR, something I have never really experimented with. Using tone mapping, I was able to simulate the effect of an Orange filter (terminology from all the way back to when cameras actually used film….) and am pretty happy with the effect (after some severe cropping…). The other shot is simply one of the harbor in Rockland, with the same train tracks that are used to carry this random dude’s cement throughout Maine. It was rather surreal.

Random leather-jacketed, nice guy who works unloading cement from tugboats onto freight trains. Single-shot, hand-held HDR tone-mapped to black and white.

Train tracks running alongside the harbor in Rockland, Maine.

Star Trails

This is something I never thought I’d attempt, but rumors that the Northern Lights were supposed to be visible tonight had me out on the dock at around 11pm with my camera… and no lights in sight 🙁 there were, however, some great clouds that were partially covering the stars, lit by the lights of far-away East Boothbay, so I decided to kill some time while waiting to see if the Aurora would appear by doing some star trails. This is a technique that requires use of the Bulb mode on the camera, which means that the shutter stays open as long as I have it pressed, and it closes when I release it. I have a wired remote that I attach to the camera that can lock the shutter open, so all I have to do is lock the remote and wait around. This particular exposure was 815 seconds, but I have done some much longer, around 2000 seconds. I find that that just results in more noise and not a huge improvement in the star trails, so I keep it to just over 10 minutes (the exception to this would be if you were in a particularly dark place, with ONLY starlight and no man-made interference… a rare occasion, even for Maine). I did two of these, and I actually like the second one better, but this first one took about 2 hours to clean up in Photoshop after doing the initial HDR processing in Photomatix…. ugh. This is of course a single-shot HDR; it would be nearly impossible to do an actual, 3 shot HDR of a scene like this because you would need to have approximately an hour, and the clouds and stars would have changed so much during that time that it just wouldn’t work. I used the Raw Converter in Photoshop to simulate a +2 and -2 exposure, and then merged those in Photomatix for the HDR that then was processed in Photoshop. I’m quite pleased with the results, and I can’t wait to process the second one!

Single-shot HDR of an 815 second long exposure, resulting in star trails and cool moving clouds.

HDR for the sake of HDR

I have been bored, and that leads to long photo walks. Photo walks inevitably lead to HDR, and I found myself at poorhouse cove with a rather tame sunset (once again, no clouds…. I am still waiting for a good night!) and a profusion of flowers. It was low tide, which further provoked me to use depth of field to my advantage and cause the sunset to be merely background color, while focusing on the flowers in the front. Not my favorite work ever, and yes, it goes against my rule of “not making HDRs when the original, straight photo isn’t great…” but hey, I am having too much fun with HDR to not do some every day! I still have yet to photograph the little fishing town of South Bristol, which is right down the road from our house here. The village contains a swinging drawbridge called the “gut”  but I am waiting for a particularly good night as it is truly a picturesque town that needs a great sunset to really do it justice… with the right light, the images I take there could well be some of my favorites ever. Maybe I will get lucky in the coming days 🙂 for now, some more cliché.

Some flowers and out of focus sunset....

...followed by some flowers, and some out of focus sunset.