Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

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.

TAG is One Year Old!

That’s right! Just over a year ago we decided that we should “create a blog already” mainly as a way to show each other what we were working on. Seeing as how I was in Williamstown, Andrew was in LA, and Giacomo was in ATL, it had become a bit of an annoyance to email huge pictures constantly, and a blog seemed like the logical way to solve our problem. It’s been really fun, and grown into a way to show our friends what we’re up to as well. I would love to say I have big plans for the one year anniversary but sadly, it is all I can do to just keep posting! I’ve been working Monday-Saturday, which leaves little time to go take pictures. However, I know my two weeks in Maine (and Giacomo’s extended stay in Australia!) will lead to some fresh content in the coming months. Andrew has some more fantastic stuff from NZ to post (which he has ironically shared with us over email…) and it seems that the other side of the world refuses to stop being beautiful. The same simply cannot be said for Atlanta… (can’t wait for Wednesday)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It seems as if the next few days are probably NOT the ideal time to go and look for pictures… so I’ll sit in my air conditioned room and poke back through Hawaii, a lot of which is still unprocessed.

I posted a shot from this same location a month or so ago, and it was definitely one of my favorites in terms of showcasing what HDR can really do.

 

Underexposed

Neutral

Overexposed

I know I’ve made this point a lot, but I figured why not again… especially because it is so apparent here. The “Neutral” image, in the middle, is the one that the camera would have spat out had you just taken one picture. An essentially useless picture on all counts… no detail in the sky whatsoever, and you lose nearly all of the rock texture in the shadows… really just an unappealing image. When you bracket it, and take the two additional shots, you suddenly see “OH! there’s a sky!” and the same for that great rock texture and the little green pools in the shadows. None of the shots really do that well by themselves. In the overexposed shot you can’t see the wooden docks, the volcano or windfarm in the distance, and in the underexposed image you lose nearly all of the foreground rocks and can barely tell that you’re staring down a 30 foot hole into the ocean. When you let Photomatix work its magic, however…

 

In this case, the HDR process really turns an unusable image into one of my favorites.

I was tempted to bring more light into the shadow areas, but I think in the end this darker version helps preserve a bit of the harsh dynamic light that midday sun brings to a scene, while taking full advantage of the HDR process to get great detail back into the highlights and shadows. While we are all guilty of using HDR for the sake of HDR, in other words applying the technique to scenes or photographs where one shot really COULD capture the whole thing… I think it’s fitting to celebrate TAG’s one year anniversary with a photo that truly could not exist were it not for the HDR process. Whether you’ve been checking in periodically for the past year, or you’ve just recently stumbled upon us, we hope you like what you’ve seen! Rest assured there’s another fantastic, photography-filled year ahead.

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

Above The Crater

As Andrew rightfully pointed out, I have dropped the ball (and then punted it away!) in terms of posting lately. My hours have been extended at work, and on top of that I’m shooting a wedding every Saturday for the next six, so my free time is limit

ed. That doesn’t mean I don’t have any though, and will definitely try and keep posting what I’ve got left from Hawaii until we leave for Maine at the end of June. Get pumped… cliché sunsets, boats, ocean, and coastlines are in the near future! Back to this post though. This was truly an incredible sight, and it rather hit us over the head as we walked into Volcano National Park. We’d parked the car and walked over to an area marked “scenic overlook” (photographers read those signs as “attempt to take unique picture here”). What we saw was a vast canyon, and at the bottom an unending sea of hardened, black lava. It was the scale of the thing that really blew me away, however, and to demonstrate this, I will show you the full picture…

Truly a spectacular view. If you look closely, you can see the billowing steam in the distance from an active volcano.

…and now, I will show you a 100% crop of some…. people.

Yes, those blurry noisy little dots are in fact humans, wandering across the lake of hardened lava. In the full image, you can see the lighter colored trail that most people use.

We started at the far end after walking around the rim and then down a steep slope into the crater. It took us all day to walk across the bottom but I’ve done few things in my life more breathtaking. It sounds corny but every 5 seconds you look around and say “ok… I am, in fact, walking across a volcano. That could theoretically still erupt.” And then you smile, grab yet another 3-shot bracket and keep walking.

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

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

In The Clouds

This is probably my first or second favorite shot from Hawaii. It was one of those moments in life that I hope to have many more of, when you stop, and think to yourself “this is something that I have legitimately never seen before and will probably never see again.” In case you are confused by the picture, as some who have seen it so far seem to be, I’ll try my best to explain how it came about. We spent some time on the Big Island while in Hawaii for Christmas, an island famous for its active volcanoes. It is the newest of the Hawaiian islands and is thus still forming as the volcano burps over time. We took a road trip up to Volcano National Park, where we were able to hike along the rim of a volcano that had erupted less than 10 years ago, as well as a road trip along the tops of a few mountains (read: dormant volcanoes). The road trip gave us a good idea of what a truly alien landscape is, driving through incredibly thick fog (we were up in the clouds after all) with an endless expanse of hardened lava all around you, and in complete silence. We would get out ever hundred feet or so to read signs, examine craters, and just try and make sense of where we were. Right before we began our descent, I saw the sun peeking through the clouds, and (for the millionth time) asked if we could stop the car so I could take some pictures. It turned out that what I was seeing was in fact the sun reflecting off of the Pacific Ocean, gleaming up at us from underneath the clouds! The layer of clouds abruptly ended at a certain altitude, revealing the grand landscape below. The mountain cascades down into what are known as “lava shelves” or land that forms when molten lava hits the ocean water and immediately hardens. You can see that plant life has actually grown on some parts of the shelves way over to the left. These newly formed landmasses are very dangerous though, as they are quite brittle and do not attach to the seafloor but rather simply stick to the pre-existant shore. Because of this they have a high tendency to break off and sink rapidly, so you cannot go out on them. Nevertheless, viewed from almost a mile up in the air and inland, they make for an unforgettable sight.

The mountain turned into a sheer cliff about 20 feet in front of me. I did not really feel like stepping off the observation platform to get a better shot!

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

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.

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

Paradise on a Mountain

The Hawaiian islands themselves were formed by lava, burbling up from underneath the Pacific over millions of years, and even after that lava rises to the surface and hardens into the islands, the “lava tubes” underneath remain active for many years. It is for this reason that the Hawaiian islands are so mountainous and hilly, as they are all (or were at some point) volcanoes. The newer islands (new from a geological standpoint, anyway) still feature live volcanoes, but Kaua’i, at the northern end of the archipelago, is the oldest of the main islands and its volcanic roots have been dormant for millions of years. This particular mountain is part of a long range stretching across Kaua’i but I cannot for the life of me remember the name… ah well. We walked for a few hours on the beach the first day we were there just to get to the base of this mountain, which we could see from where we were staying. The clouds obscure the top of it but I actually like that. This is about as simple as landscapes get, with your sky, mountains, sand, and water, but I really like the shot as it reminds me of the paradise that we were in, and it’s been my desktop background for a while now. It will soon be available in our desktops section, but I wanted to post it on the blog first and making it into a desktop takes a bit of time, with all the cropping you’ve got to do. I’ve shot a bit of HDR in the galleries of the High Museum and also some from Calloway Gardens, at a recent wedding that I shot, but in both cases I need to make sure I’m able to post them here. Rest assured they will make it up if I can wrangle it.

The water looks calm and wonderful but underneath that aquamarine beauty there are incredibly strong rip-currents, waiting to snare the unwitting tourist.

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