Archive for the ‘Tucker’s Favorites’ Category

The Critical Moment: Half Dome at Dusk

Getting a unique shot of a subject like Half Dome in Yosemite is no easy task. Millions of tourists, many carrying good cameras and armed with a good grasp of photography, visit this location every year. The plethora of photographs taken from all angles at all times of day really does make this a challenge, but Andrew, Giacomo and I set out to do it anyway. In doing some night photography on the previous nights, we noticed that there was a window of about 10-15 minutes where the light “lingered” in the sky; the sun had officially set, but there was still a decent amount of light left, enough to provide depth in the foreground and a gradient of color above. Timing, however, was critical, as it wasn’t always obvious exactly when to start shooting, and we only had one shot as we knew we’d need close to a 30 minute exposure to achieve the star trails we wanted. The second we pressed the shutter, we were committed to that time window for that night. Too early and we’d have too much light in the sky and be unable to see the stars; too late and we’d have a normal star trail image which would lack any detail in the foreground. We knew we were going to be at Mirror Lake the next night, and the view of Half Dome from that spot is perhaps the most awe-inspiring and iconic, so we wanted to have the perfect shot lined up, which would require learning precisely when this window of light would occur. That final shot came out well, but it was thanks to our observation the night before that we were able to get that critical window of light. This shot, from Glacier Point, is another single shot HDR, and as such required a good bit of Photoshop to get it the way I wanted it. Other byproducts of these ultra-long exposures include sensor-level noise, as you can see in the lower left corner of the shot, as well as a distinct loss of detail in moving objects, which can be seen in the “clumpiness” or softness of the tree. Despite all of this, the final shot is just how I like it: surreal but not insane. It makes people stop and say “wait a minute…” and you get to explain to them why it’s not just a photograph. At that point they either write you off as a talentless hack or beg you to teach them how to use Photomatix…

The band of yellow light just above the horizon is what we were going for by waiting for that moment just a few minutes after the sun set directly behind us.

I know I make this point very often (indeed, as often as I can!) but here, yet again, is an example of why I value HDR as much as I do. Take a peek at the original shot… at best it is “eh, kinda cool.” Definitely not blog post material. But with a lot of tweaking, all that data in the 30MB+ RAW file can be turned into, well, my new desktop background anyway 🙂


Those streaks in the sky that are clearly not stars are airplanes... unbelievably annoying to remove! Next time I do this I will set up AA guns next to my tripod...

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!

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.





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.

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.

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!


If there’s one thing HDR does well, it is to showcase all of the colors in a scene in all their saturated glory. This picture stands out to me in this regard, because I do not remember seeing nearly this much red, blue, purple, or yellow in the rocks at the time. It was late afternoon, and the sun was at just the right angle to light up the water all the way down at the bottom, and reflecting off to catch the different hues of the rocks. This scene has it all, every color, texture, and angle you could ask for. There’s one other one from this same spot that came out really well and I processed them both simultaneously but I will wait to post that one. I’m thinking of throwing up another one from my most recent trip to Maine first as I shot a lot there over Thanksgiving and have only posted one of them. I guess the holes in the ground are caused by either volcanic or aquatic erosion… one of the two usually applies on Hawaii! In order to reach this spot we has to drive over some incredibly rough terrain but it was worth it. I do wish I’d had the luxury of time and a tripod, which would have enabled me to get a full, ±4 stop, 5 shot bracket and even more importantly, stability. If you are the pixel peeper type, which I myself am, you will see that this image is not nearly as sharp as the 5D usually provides, mostly because the 3 bracketed images were not quite perfectly aligned, even with all of Photomatix’s magic. This shot is now available in many resolutions over at our desktops page. Enjoy!

You can't see it in this one, but in other holes adjacent to this there are ladders running up the side. The cliffs are so steep that people would haul their canoes up these ladders.

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!

More Macro Experiments

While on another shoot for Rick recently, this one in Garden Hills, I came across a small object that caught me attention as I was about to pack away my gear. This glittering statuette seemed too cool and full of detail to be missed, so I grabbed a few quick shots of it with the 100mm macro as I left. and I had the idea to do two HDRs, one with the Owl in focus, and one with the background in focus, and merge them somehow. These are the preliminary shots:

The first HDR, with the focus on the owl figure.

The second one, with focus on the background.

After making those two HDRs from the two sets of 3 brackets, I took each image into Photoshop, created two layers, and began to selectively adjust opacity and erasing in areas where I wanted to get details back, namely the owl. I left the out of focus trees at about 20% opacity over the fully in focus ones, mostly because it looked “too” fake if I just had crisp focus on both parts. This way I think it looks obviously manipulated, as I like my HDRs, but not completely fake. Looking back, I wish I could have taken a third HDR with the wall behind the owl in focus. It had a great texture and would have helped make the final look a bit less weird, I think, but I dunno… this whole close-up HDR thing is new for me! Anyway, here is what I ended up with. I really like the cobwebs, and I did not notice them at all when I was shooting. I am actually kinda glad about this, as I would probably have removed them before taking the shot.

The final edit, with crisp focus on the owl and some definition in the background, but not a distracting amount.

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.

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.

Another Average Day in Maine

I don’t have to say it twice but I will anyway; it’s moments like these that make Maine the great place that it is. I came home from dinner, saw the sunset, and raced down to the dock to make sure I got a few good HDRs in before it went down. The dock is, well, floating, and therefore very susceptible to the slightest movements which are the bane of HDR’s existence. Luckily, it was fairly calm out and I was able to use the options in Photomatix to compensate for the fact that the boat drifted half a foot toward the dock during the brackets… I cannot wait to go back at the end of the month!

The sunset flares over Seal Cove in Maine. Our little dinghy floats in the foreground.

Just Another Day in Maine

The thing I love about this place is that sunsets like the one we had tonight are considered commonplace, not even worth spending time looking at because they happen so frequently. I guess that marks me as a non-Mainer, but I don’t care… I got out of the car in the pouring rain to get this shot! I spent about 15 minutes outside shooting, and my camera was literally soaked when I was done but I just trusted Canon’s weather sealing and all seems well. The sunset was really awesome by Atlanta standards anyway, and I figured, on my last night here, I gotta get the shots, whatever it takes. Braving the mosquitoes that were out despite the downpour, and the rain itself, as well as fighting to keep my mini tripod (I’d left the big guy back at the house) stable through the ±4 stop, 6-shot bracketing was no fun, but I kept thinking… wait till they are processed! And I was rewarded. After spending 2 hours in Photoshop editing out the drops of water that showed up as large out of focus dark blotches on the images because I was shooting at F11 to attempt to get the sun to make a light star, which failed in this particular image but worked in a few others… I got this, which sums up Maine in a picture.

The many colors of a Maine sunset suffuse the sky and waters of South Bristol.

Sunset on the Dock

I went down to the dock at sunset tonight and braved the gnats to shoot a ton as the light changed rapidly. I got a lot, and have processed most of it, but I will add them to my “to sprinkle in later entries” pile. There was absolutely no wind, so the water was completely still allowing for great reflections. I attempted to do an HDR panorama but omigod that is going to be so much work that I don’t feel like doing unless the scene is 100% worth it and, in this case, it just wasn’t… the sun made great colors, but the sky could have used more clouds. I will eventually find something that is worth attempting this on but it will entail probably a weeks worth of time in Photomatix and Photoshop that I just don’t want to do right now. I have yet to do some star trail work, but that is in the works… I can’t guarantee if that will be HDR or not, but either way it will show up here or on my photo page. I will take some time in the near future to upload some of what I shot this morning to my “straight photography” blog; I went down the road to this garden to get some absolutely awesome macros of flowers covered with droplets of water after the rain this morning. I’ll break the “HDR only” rule and put one in this post… I have like 8 shots from tonight that I want to put up but I will limit myself to my favorite one!

Kayks, docks, oceans, and great sunsets... that's Maine! (Well, that's a lot of places that are not Atlanta anyway...)

No, this is not HDR... but isn't it awesome how the surroundings are reflected in the individual droplets of water? This is a 100% crop of the full res version; click for the whole thing!