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…

 

posted by tucker
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Happy (slightly late) Independence Day: Welcome to China!

Happy 4th! We hope everyone enjoyed plenty of picnics and fireworks on Wednesday, odds are you had a lot more fun than the poor folks who turned out for San Diego’s famous fireworks spectacular. To anyone who’s ever wondered what it would look/sound

like if you accidentally set off an entire fireworks show in a matter of seconds, whip out the Googles and watch the video.

We are, unfortunately, fresh out of gaudy, dripping-with-America Independence Day imagery but I will blame that on Tucker since he was recently in Baltimore, placing him physically and chronologically closest to the nation’s capital for the holiday and therefore responsible for representing it. TAG has dropped the patriotic ball this year so I’ll just own it and talk about China.

For the first official China entry I thought it fitting to start with something traditional. Having just returned from shooting along the Wall with a couple days left in China, we opted to take advantage of Beijing’s unusually clear weather and paid a visit to one of the most recognizably Chinese locations in the world, the Temple of Heaven. From what I remember, the complex is located is southeast Beijing and is somewhere in the neighborhood of 600 years old, or, 2.5 USA lifetimes to put that in a timely context. Full disclosure, the iconic Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests (below) is actually much younger since the original structure burned down and was rebuilt in the late 1800’s. The area’s ample park space is now a little bit of a tourist trap in places, but is without a doubt a beautifully serene place to just spend an afternoon soaking up the sun.

One of the more recognizable pieces of Taoist Chinese architecture, the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests at the Temple of Heaven always attracts a mob of awestruck visitors: Beijing, China

 

posted by andrew
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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

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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...

posted by tucker
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The Conservatory at the Bellagio: Las Vegas

In a sudden burst of concentrated irresponsibility, my roommate and I decided to go have Easter dinner at The Buffet at the Bellagio. Now, there are several arguments to be had about why this was an unorthodox decision, but easily the most questionable was the fact that we were literally eating lunch at Bubba Gump’s at Universal CityWalk when the idea went from conversational joke to finalized plan in less than 10 seconds. On a whim we quickly looked into staying the night (since driving 4 hours in the ultimate food coma is simply not a good idea) and thanks to the Hotel Tonight app, we locked in a room at Caesar’s Palace for a paltry $69 less than 8 hours before check-in.

The Buffet itself did not disappoint: bottomless Kobe beef, lamb shank, sushi, king crab legs, manicotti, and beef Wellington were among my favorite items on the menu. We decided to eat until the moment when it actually becomes uncomfortable, put in an extra 20 minutes, and then headed around the corner to the Conservatory to decompress.

The Conservatory is a seasonal showcase but I have no idea what those tiny shoes are about. Stuff gets reused of course, I think the umbrellas on the ceiling actually hung above the Via Bellagio shops last year: Las Vegas, NV

posted by andrew
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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

posted by andrew
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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.

posted by tucker
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On the beach

A brief reminder that winter does come to an end. At the end of last summer, I went to visit a friend’s beach house on the Georgia coast, and brought my camera out on a walk one day. Hopefully the sand and the sea can help ward off any winter chills…

 

A lonely conch shell in the sand. Many of the ones I saw had little inhabitants, but they were all too shy to let me take pictures of them

 

Unfortunately I didn't have my tripod, so I couldn't shoot a bracket. However, I liked this boat enough to do a single-shot process on the photo. I especially like the name, "Rip Tide"

posted by giacomo
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LA Architecture: Bonaventure Hotel / Bradbury Building

I went on a downtown field trip with my Art History class last semester. It’s a good thing we didn’t do anything that charged admission because 4-hour parking managed to rack up a healthy $20 charge… but I made the most of it and used the opportunity to scout locations for a 4×5 project in another class.

It's a maze in there. Later that week I took the 4x5 to shoot a similar angle. I got what I needed but got so lost in there the only exit I could find was on the opposite side of the building.

We met in the lobby of the Bradbury Building and it didn’t take long to realize why it was worth visiting! It’s been used in TONS of films over the years and, inspired by the recent scene in The Artist, I set to work on combining the set I’d taken.

The stacked stairs at the far end of the atrium should look familiar. You can't shoot something in this building and not include them: Los Angeles CA

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Hawaii Revisted

It’s crazy that it was over a year ago that I was in Hawaii, and I was thinking about what to post I realized that I still had a ton of unprocessed brackets from that trip that could be fun to run through Photomatix, so that’s what I did! There is really nothing to shoot during the winter up here; snow makes for really gray and dismal looking HDRs, and beyond that it’s really hard to get motivated to go exploring around town when its -3° outside. So, to help make up for my inexcusable lack of posting I’ll post two shots here, both from Hawaii but that’s about where any similarities end. The first shot is from our walk across the interior crater of the volcano Kilauea-Iki. The volcano was active sometime in the ’90’s I think, but when we visited the lava had hardened into a black desert that enabled us to walk across it. It took the better part of a day to make the journey, and the landscape was truly alien. Along the way, and not surprisingly seeing as we were standing inside a volcano, there were many fissures where boiling steam would hiss up out of the ground. This seemed to be a good subject for a picture, and the dramatic clouds, as ever, add to the effect. The craziest part is that the volcano has erupted massively since we visited, meaning that most of the foreground in this shot is totally different now. I’d love to go back and see what changed!

The minerals that were in the lava that hardened give the rocks all sorts of interesting colors.

The next image is again from Hawaii, but in a stark contrast to the barren volcanic landscape, this shot is from the Limahuli botanic garden on Kauai. As you’d expect a botanic garden on a tropical island to be, the scenery was fantastic, with countless plants and animals that were foreign to me. As we got to the top of one of the hills, this fantastic view presented itself and, well, you know the rest!

After we visited the park, we walked along the beach and were able to see the mountains from a totally different angle. I’ll post those shots some other time!

posted by tucker
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Almost New Years: LA Auto Show 2011

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

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

posted by andrew
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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!

posted by tucker
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Disneyland Teacups at Night

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

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

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

posted by andrew
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Australian Wildlife

One of the things I miss most about my time is Australia was the birds-every day when I was outside, I could constantly hear or see at least a dozen different species of birds, from lorikeets to cockatoos to curlews. At times, they could be quite annoying (especially the curlews-their call sounded like someone screaming bloody murder and they would call at night seemingly outside my window) but as soon as I got back I missed their livelihood and diversity. Australia had a lot of awesome animals, and fortunately I had the chance to go to a wildlife sanctuary that was near the University I was studying at and see lots of them up close. Here are some of my favorite shots from that trip – all 1 shot HDRs because most of the animals moved too fast so I didn’t bother trying to use my tripod with them.

I'm not sure what kind of bird this one is, but I only saw one in the whole sanctuary. It looks kind of like a small ibis...but it's not. Hmm

The scariest animal I saw in Australia, in my opinion. The salties could live in salt or freshwater, and swim in the open ocean...AND GO ON LAND. NOWHERE IS SAFE. Ok, I guess they move pretty slow when its cold, but they can lunge like, 6 feet in the air and are ridiculously good at hiding in the water.

Definitely the cutest bird I saw. These little ducks are about the size of a shoe and make a delightful little whistling sound (which explains the name). I even got them to eat out of my hand.

posted by giacomo
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Fall in Williamstown!

So I did as I promised! Fall is so unbelievably gorgeous up here in the Berkshires that I just had to go out with my camera to get some shots. I took a short hike up to the top of Stone Hill (by short I mean a 200 foot walk…) which is located behind the Clark Art Institute where I’m currently interning. It was an overcast day, and lacking interesting clouds I decided I’d focus on the amazing natural beauty up on top of the hill. It really speaks for itself, but every single tree goes through the fall season at slightly different time, and the staggered colors let you see the entire process at one time. It’s truly breathtaking and I’m certainly not used to it as we have nothing like this in Atlanta! This particular tree caught my eye, as it was essentially done shedding its leaves, while the others around it were in the various stages.

This one was very tricky to process, as Photomatix kept wanting to make the different areas of sky in between the branches vastly different tones.

I also took a quick shot of the Clark a few days later when the skies were clear. The building is iconic, and although they are about to begin an incredible construction project that will really transform the place internally and allow for even more incredible art to be displayed, the front will remain the same. I love spending time at the museum and the surrounding grounds and trails; I’ve taken to bringing my homework with me and sitting on a bench in the middle of the woods. It’s just a wonderful place to be.

 

The darker stone building that you can barely see to the left is the Manton Research Center, home to a vast library that will soon be even more accessible to the public.

posted by tucker
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