Archive for the ‘Sunset’ Category

Sedona Sunset

It’s been a whirlwind of a year, with my graduation in December followed by my starting a full time job, and it has left me with very little free time to shoot. I now have a lot more time, however, and so I thought I’d post something that I took recently. After I finished school, my family took a trip to Arizona as a way to celebrate both the holidays and my graduation. We stayed in Sedona, which is about two hours from Phoenix, and we arrived very late at night, driving to our house in the pitch dark. We had absolutely no conception of what it was going to look like, and while I’d seen pictures on the internet, I knew enough to know that it would be nothing like seeing it with my own eyes. I was entirely correct, and I’ll never forget seeing that Martian landscape the first morning we were there. The red rocks, shaped by countless years of wind and water erosion, are incredibly strange and beautiful, completely dominating the landscape. The place that we stayed had a fantastic view out over Red Rock State Park (the naming conventions are all along these lines, with landmarks such as “Submarine Rock” and “Bell Rock” the norm. I suppose calling something “The Grand Canyon” should have tipped me off to this naming scheme…!) and the first night we were there we were lucky enough to have a fantastic sunset, courtesy of some great clouds. This is the view from the balcony of my room, and is one of only a few HDRs that I shot there that was done on a tripod. I took over 4,000 photos there, but a lot of that was handheld 5-shot brackets that have yet to be processed. So fear not, for in the coming days I will post plenty more shots from this amazing trip.

 

Sunset over Red Rock State Park in Sedona, AZ.

Sunset over Red Rock State Park in Sedona, AZ.

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

 

 

A long-overdue taste of the Northeast

As the title says, it’s clearly been too long since we’ve posted. It just seems like when we started this project over two years ago, we all had a lot more time on our hands and a lot less on our plates. Now we’re all finishing school and looking for jobs, making it that much harder to devote the time needed to post on any sort of regular basis. At any rate, I recently took a trip up to the Adirondacks to do some rock climbing with my girlfriend, and I of course had my camera with me the entire time. We spent the weekend out climbing, but at night we came back to a cabin belonging to one of my girlfriend’s best friends, affectionately called The Hut. I do have some HDRs to post that I took while out on the mountains themselves, but I thought I’d start with these because it seems hard to choose which one is the best. We were relaxing after a day of climbing, playing some boardgames and listening to music, when I looked out the windows in the back of the house and saw this tree just shooting up like a lollipop into the landscape. Up north, as some of you probably know, when the light starts to change toward the end of the day, it changes fast. There is no “twilight” really, like we have down south, so you have to be quick. If you see light you like, you’d better hope you’re within running distance of your camera. I kept mine by my side and every half our or so would go out and shoot some brackets of the scene. The issue I came across is that I really wanted to have the “lollipop tree” in the center of the composition (yes, going against everything they teach you in beginning photo classes… but hey, rules are meant to be broken!) but I would then lose the really nice reddish-brown color of the fallen pine needles and leaves in the foreground. But, in order to get that extra color, I had to contend with this large unsightly rock that was just off to my left…. So I just did what I always do, make sure to shoot every angle possible and ask the tough questions later during processing! I’ll post three here so you can see not only the changing light but also the different compositions.

 

Oh.. also, we got a nice comment a few days back in which the suggestion was made that we start posting the “original” shots along with the final, processed HDR versions. I really like this idea, so I’ll talk with Andrew and Giacomo to see how we should do this (i.e. should we post all 3 from the original bracket or just the middle exposure). Anyway, thanks for the comment and we’re going to take it into consideration for sure.

 

The initial view, around 6pm just as it was starting to get cloudy. No foreground here, just the mountains and trees.

This next one was the toughest, as it was much later in the night with much less light, meaning the exposures were just about at the limits of what’s possible to hand-hold. Because of this, the final shot is amazingly blurry… do not zoom in on the full-resolution image! You have been warned! You will see no details!

The view about an hour later, as the sun was setting and making some nice colors in the foliage and clouds. This one’s a compromise, cutting the top of the tree in order to get a bit of the foreground while not having the rock here at all!

The final image that I think I settled on as my favorite.. although this is easily debatable! It wasn’t an easy shot to frame. I’m still not even sure this is my favorite…

 

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

Finally, Winter in Williamstown!

I mentioned in my last post that there’s very little to shoot in the dead of winter this far north. I was proven wrong, however, and I could not be happier about it. I was leaving the Clark Art Institute a few weeks ago at around 4 when I noticed some unbelievable colors in the sky. I decided it would be worth the cold, snowy hike up Stone Hill (in my gym shoes, no less!) to capture the sunset in all its glory. I arrived at the top of the hill with my feet literally soaking wet and numb, but that didn’t concern me as much as the sight that I was greeted with. I’ve been up the hill many times before, and the last time I went up there was during the fall, where I did a bracket of this exact same tree and the ending shot captured all that is autumn in Williamstown quite nicely. I normally would not return to a place like this, much less post the shot on the blog, but in this case it’s different enough to warrant a post, and I think it’s a fitting representation of just how different and beautiful each season is up here.

 

This one took a TON of editing to get right. There was a flag waving from the large branch that was ghosted horribly and ended up needing to be removed altogether.

Half Dome Under the Stars

This has to be one of my favorite shots that I’ve taken over the past few years. It was one of those times when “everything came together” as they say, and as Andrew mentioned it was in a large way a group effort between the three of us. Knowing we wanted to get a night shot of the iconic Half Dome with star trails behind it, we scoped out the location early on in the day, while there was still plenty of light. We spent hours taking test shots to get the framing we wanted, and as night fell we had all 3 of our cameras constantly taking images, comparing exposure times, apertures, every variable really, trying to do our best educated guesswork as to what the final settings should be. We knew we had about a 15-minute window to get the “perfect shot;” there is a very small period of time right as the first stars begin to show before the sun truly sets, leaving you some light in the sky that we knew would reflect off the mountain and give some detail to the foreground as well as give the sky a much bluer hue. As luck would have it, the setting sun cast a reddish orange hue directly on the face of Half Dome, which translated really well in the long exposure that I ended up finally taking. That exposure was 868 seconds long, at an aperture of F/4, ISO 200, and 16mm. Of course, it was just a single shot, and I had to process it out in Photoshop to create the light and the dark images needed to make the final HDR image. If I could go back and do it again, I’d bump the ISO to 400 and go for about 1000 seconds, but overall this came out pretty well! It took a huge amount of time to get right, as I had to remove a ton of pixel-level noise manually, especially in the foreground trees (if you zoom in on the full-rez image you can still see there’s a lot of it!) but needless to say, this one’s been my desktop background since I got back from Yosemite! Now we need a new banner image….

In addition to noise, I also had to Photoshop out about 5 different airplanes that cut across the entire image... Yosemite may be far from LA by car, but the planes never stop flying over!

Half Dome from Glacier Point

This will be the first of many posts from our recent trip to Yosemite! This was a particularly fun trip as it was the first excursion that all three members of TAG have ever undertaken together; all of our other content on this site has been generated individually or in twos as we capture images from our travels. It was very fun to be hiking around with Giacomo and Andrew, each with their own backpack full of lenses/tripods and camera slung around their neck, and to come to a great lookout site and say “Ok, lets post up here for some HDRs.” Normally whoever you’re traveling with will roll their eyes and say “ok, but just don’t take as long as you did LAST time…” but we must have spent hours just setting up and shooting wherever we felt like it. We spent a particularly long time at the outlook on Glacier Point (we were there from about 5pm to 11pm or so!) Andrew and Giacomo had done the Yosemite trip last year around this time, and you may recall some shots they posted from that trip, but the Glacier Point overlook was one spot that they hadn’t come to, so we decided to check it out. It was a bit of a drive, but once you’re there you have an incredible panoramic view of Yosemite Valley and all of the mountains surrounding it, including, of course, the iconic peak of Half Dome. We plunked down all our backpacks, tripods, and cameras in a little corner, and literally sat there eating sandwiches, photographing chipmunks, and taking the occasional HDR as the light changed. The point of the whole thing was to get star trails and night photography, but this shot I’m posting to kick off the Yosemite HDRs is actually one from minutes before sunset. This was taken in that 1 minute span of time where the sun has just a sliver remaining above the horizon, and it cast this amazing red glow that hit just the top of Half Dome and a few other mountains. I will post at least 2 or 3 more from Glacier Point in the coming weeks, but the star trail images take a lot longer to process, particularly if I want to make pseudo-HDRs out of them, which I intend to at least try. Anyway, here is the view of Half Dome right before sunset, from Glacier Point.

About half an hour later all of the lights come on along the streets and in the houses on the valley floor.

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

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.

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

 

More HDR Panorama – Honolulu At Night

I’ve been pretty busy lately doing video/photo shoots as well as continuing work for the High Museum, and when you combine that with the epically long time it took to edit this, you end up with the reason that I haven’t posted in a while. It’s worth it though! This pan is one of the largest photography-related projects I’ve undertaken, and that’s the main reason I put off editing it when I got back from Hawaii. The original photographs were taken around 10pm from the balcony of a cousin’s house in Honolulu. As you can see, the balcony had an absolutely unmatched view of the entire city of Honolulu, and the only reason I didn’t extend this further left was that it would have caught the house and deck in the frame and I wanted the focus to be on the city, houses, mountain, and clouds. Always clouds! The setup wasn’t hard, the only annoying thing was that the long exposure shot of each bracket was hitting the 30 second ceiling, so the overall process took about half an hour to get all of the brackets I wanted. I’ll go ahead and post the final shot for those of you who just want to see pretty pictures and don’t care about the text (I myself am guilty of this!)

The final product, after a week in Photomatix and Photoshop. It came out OK for what it is; I can't wait to do even more experimentation with HDR panoramas!

 

I really, really wish I’d been there about 2 hours earlier for this. HDR and night photography do not mix well (there are exceptions, but they are rare) and generally result in less than awesome images. This is because at night, there is no sun (…….) to create scenes with ultra-high contrast. Usually when you’re shooting at night, the lighting is pretty even (non-existant) and bracketing doesn’t add anything. Still, I bracketed away for this and thought to myself “meh, I may not end up even processing these because they’ll just be orange.” Sure enough, when I processed them, they were all that awful sickly orange color of the sodium lights that are on every single street around the world at night. The first few times you do long-exposure night photography in a city the lights are cool, but very, very quickly they become ugly and unwanted. Still, you sometimes have to make do. That would have been another benefit of being there earlier; the streetlights would have been off, allowing for a real difference in contrast between the sunset (bright) and the houses and mountains in shadow. Oh well. To give you an idea of what I had to work with, here’s an example of a single RAW file (unprocessed) and the HDR version of the same shot (processed only in Photomatix):

This is the neutral (0ev) exposure from the first bracketed set in the panorama.

This is the same shot, with the 3 bracketed RAWS processed into an HDR image in Photomatix.

So, admittedly, the HDR does help here as it gives me much greater tone in the houses and trees, and adds a bit to the sky and clouds but not much. The overwhelming problem here was the ORANGE… something had to be done. I processed the rest of the shots in Photomatix and began piecing it together in Photoshop. The orange problem became even more apparent at this stage:

 

Orange! Yuck!

It was flat, not dynamic and contrasty and “wow-inducing” like HDR should be. I hate sodium streetlights. It can’t be said enough. It’s one of the best things about night photography in places like Maine, because you can get just the tones that are there naturally. Anyway… At this stage, it would seem as if the hard work is over, in that I’ve pieced the 5 shots together and blended them so it looks like a continuous shot. That is usually the hardest part of doing the whole pan process, but it was not the case here. I then embarked on a crusade of de-oranging the shot, a process that took me all week mostly because I’d work on it some, get fed up, and come back the next day. I used a combination of selective color, color balance, and layer masks to slowly remove the orange from the places I didn’t want it, which was 95% of the panorama. A few days later, I had something like this:

 

Less orange, but less color in general... still not dynamic... getting there, but not done.

With the orange having been banished (or at least somewhat tamed), I was able to claim the first major victory. It still wasn’t right though, because in the process of de-oranging the image the clouds became white which they normally are, except when there’s a sunset, and that was half of the point of this picture to begin with. I made the decision to attempt to recreate the sunset that night by whatever means necessary, and that ended up meaning using much more Photoshop than I usually employ. I usually post-process my HDRs in Photoshop in order to add a bit of selective contrast and saturation, but for this I ended up having to do a ton of coloring, shading, and just generally breathing some life back into the shot. You can see the final result above but I’m finally pleased with it. Man was it a process though! The final shot is just how I like it: a bit over the top, a bit over-saturated, and bit over-contrasty, and a lot “wow!”

I’ve been using the pan as a dual-monitor desktop wallpaper which is pretty fun as it’s the first one that I’ve ever made. I’m adding it to the Desktops section now. Enjoy!

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

HDR Panorama!

In keeping with the idea of branching out from the norm, I’ll follow up the HDR video from Andrew with an HDR panorama. I know Giacomo recently posted a shot from this same day, but I  wanted to try my hands at processing a panorama with the added twist that each segment of it was an HDR shot and this is the only one that I’ve shot so I was stuck with it. This is the same old skyline, nothing special about the shot really, but it was one of those rare days with really dramatic skies that makes the picture worth taking, and the texture and type of clouds was so varied that it actually justified doing the whole pan! I hope to find a more suitable location soon, one that will really lend itself to something like this… if I could get closer to the city perhaps? Definitely something I am keeping in mind. This is composed of 4 separate HDR images stitched together, which really wasn’t too difficult because the lighting was fairly even and I’d zoomed in to 24mm to help minimize distortion from the 16-35mm. This is probably one that you’ll want to click through to the full-resolution image just to zoom around and see it, well, bigger!

We honestly only have a few days like this every year in Atlanta; skies like this are "just" average in places like Maine.