It’s Been a While! So let’s go to Peru.

I know it’s been forever since I’ve posted something up here… the HDR blog has been my main priority and only now am I finding the time to dig back and touch up the images that I have been meaning to post on this section. I want this to be mainly a place for me to upload photos that I’ve taken in the past, although occasionally I’ll put more current stuff up. For now, let’s go to a bit south…

Back in the summer of 2008, I took a trip to Lima, Peru, to do some volunteer work at a school there. The school itself was located 30 minutes outside the city, in a district called Villa el Salvador. ‘Villa’ (as we called it) had started as a shantytown in the 1970′s, when immigrant people from the countryside of Peru settled and needed a place to live. They created a mostly self-sustaining environment, growing their own food, creating their own form of government, etc. For this reason, unlike many other areas of extreme poverty, the residents of Villa have a very distinct pride in where they live and what they have, despite living in conditions that were frankly alien to a Westerner like myself and those who were working with me. I was asked to assist at a school, to help a teacher in a classroom with 17 3 year old kids. The school was set up for children from around Villa who came from families of four or more earning less than one american dollar a day. The school, Deporte y Vida (Sport and Life, I think, it translates to?) became my second home during that month, and I got to know the teachers, and especially the kids. My lack of spanish put a severe damper on my ability to connect with the teachers and adults, but I was able to communicate basically with the kids because, well, I guess I know about as much spanish as a 3 year old Peruvian. I spent my time making copies (manually, with ink and tracing paper) and entertaining the kids in any way possible, which I soon found out usually meant throwing them up in the air, spinning them around, generally doing all the things their teachers wouldn’t do for them!

I was advised by the staff at the volunteer headquarters in Lima not to even bring a camera outside of the city, but after spending a single day in Villa I knew I couldn’t leave without pictures. Most of the people there had never even seen a camera before, and did not even have running water or electricity. I tried my best to communicate my desire to bring a camera to the school, and when the teachers finally realized what I was saying their faces lit up and they began chattering amongst themselves with huge smiles on their faces. That was enough for me. The next day, I came with my 40D and 10-22mm, with no battery grip or lens hood to try and make the thing as unassuming as possible. The initial reaction was of puzzlement, but when I took a picture of one of the children and then turned the camera around to show him, the room completely erupted and I could quickly see all hopes of getting any learning done that day being tossed out the window. I started to apologize to the teachers but they were just as enthralled as the kids! They just couldn’t get enough of it, and constantly looked up at me smiling, waiting for me to raise the camera and make it click so they could see their faces. It was truly unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before, and doubt I’ll ever experience again. I’ll post a few of the kids, the school, and Villa el Salvador itself here. Most of the ones I’d taken of the kids were done without being able to look through the viewfinder, due to the fact that there was almost always a kid on my back, and in my other arm… luckily the 10mm is vastly wide, so if you aim it in the general direction of what you hope to capture, it will probably end up somewhere in the frame!

Most of Villa is behind fences, and there are guard towers spaced out every hundred feet or so that are occupied at all times.

Deporte y Vida, the school that I volunteered with.

The classroom where I was helped out, with their teacher in the background.

The Kids at Deporte couldn't get enough of the camera!

Jeferson quickly became my favorite of the 3 year olds, constantly clinging to me, jumping on my back, and calling me "Tucky."

The kids carried their chairs outside for a ceremony on Dia del Campesino, a celebration of the farmers who grow their food.

I love this one, with all the lines, textures, and, of course, that adorable face.

We had our weekends free to travel, and I took two trips into the Andes. The first was to Machu Picchu, but for various reason I won’t post any shots from there… mainly because, no matter what kind of camera you have, what cool angle you think you found, or how great the weather is that day, your shots look EXACTLY like those of the millions of other people who have been there and found the exact same cool angles as you… it honestly is a place you just have to visit. Photographs do not do it near justice. The second trip I took, however, was to the town of Huaraz, which is over 10,000 feet above sea level in the Andes. The town is famous for the glaciers that surround it, and me and a few others from my group were lucky enough to be able to take a hike up into these glaciers… it may have been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, hiking 5000 meters up a steep glacier when you are ALREADY oxygen deprived at 10,000 feet, but, as the pictures show, it was worth it and then some.

The glaciers in the distance melt slowly, causing these crystal-clear pools of water to form. It was rather like being in fairyland.

Unbelievable colors in the glacial-melt water.

Possibly my favorite from that trip, the only one that comes close to capturing the feeling of being 16,000 feet above sea level in the glaciers.

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Hello!

This page contains some of my non-HDR work, but the vast majority of my time and attention is paid to the main site containing my High Dynamic Range images. If you haven’t seen that page and got to this one through a search engine or by some other means, be sure to check out our other work as it is updated almost daily. Thanks for coming by!

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More of J Young MDK

Here are some edited shots of J, from the first and second photoshoots. I have since done two more shoots, but they have yet to be edited… I have too much other stuff going on! We did a shoot underneath the Freedom Parkway bridge, with all that awesome graffiti as a backdrop, but it was brief because he didn’t have enough outfits to warrant making a full shoot out of it. Most recently, we did a shoot in downtown Atlanta with a Maserati… I will edit both soon and post some from each. The last post I did was from the first photoshoot only, and the pictures were not edited. This is an example of what they look like after some Photoshop TLC:

One from the first shoot, touched up and cropped.

Two from the Cotton Mill Lofts shoot, side by side because I don't know which I like better

From the Cotton Mill Lofts shoot.

From the first shoot, on Paul's roof.

One of my favorites so far, also from the Cotton Mill Lofts shoot.

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J Young Da Million $ Kid

Yesterday, Paul asked me to help out with a shoot his friend had asked him to do. Turns out his friend was J Young, an up and coming Atlanta rapper, and I had a really fun time with it! I used a reflector for the first time, and I usually avoid lighting and flash at all costs, but the reflector was just simply awesome. We did the shoot on the roof of Paul’s building, and there was a great sunset that lit up the Atlanta skyline, and the reflector allowed me to bounce the flash off of it, onto J Young, and I was able to then expose exclusively for the background. Kinda HDR-y in a way, because everything in the shots has great tone. For some one who never does portrait work, this was really just a great chance to see how fun it can be. I was able to use not only my 580EX flash, which was a lifesaver, but also all of my glass, as the 70-200 and 100mm macro make great portrait lenses, while the 16-35 has those wide angles covered.. He told me he wanted to do a lot more work with me, which is great, and he has some awesome ideas for future shoots… who knows. Anyway, here are a few from what we did yesterday. I have not had time to edit them at all, but I shot all 9GB of pictures in RAW so I will be able to pull out tons more detail where it’s needed, dial back exposures, and remove powerlines, poles, and flash-reflections as necessary.

My favorite of the bunch.

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Under the Milky Way

There is something breathtakingly gorgeous about the stars at night in Maine. If you go out on the water on a still, cloudless night, and look up, you cannot help but feel overpowered by your own infinitesimally small part in this universe. Then again, it may just be that I have spent 18 years in Atlanta that I wax poetic about stars :)

At any rate, stars, and star photography, is cool. This is all from maine, at various points in my life… The idea is simple: camera + tripod + Bulb mode + lots of time waiting. If you don’t know, bulb mode allows you to take an exposure for as long as you hold down the shutter. My first experience with this was using a Canon Digital Rebel, the 300D. I had just gotten into photography, and decided to try my hand at some star shots after getting the hang of bulb mode. I knew I’d need the camera to be really stable for the hugely long exposure (30 minutes or more) so holding the shutter down by hand was out of the question; not only would my hand cramp up but the small vibrations of our hands would translate into a blurry image. I looked around where I was staying and found that I had a rubber band, and I found a small pebble on the ground and positioned the pebble on the shutter and wrapped the rubber band around it to hold it in place. Setting the self timer for 10 seconds, I had just those few seconds to get the whole contraption in place before the shutter clicked! I laugh looking back on it now, as I am now the proud owner of a 99 cent external remote that allows me to lock the shutter down for really easy bulb mode fun… but I had to start somewhere, and the rig worked.

My first ever star trail image! The bright star in the middle is the North Star.

That is straight out of the camera, a JPEG file from the 300D that was exposed for 958 seconds. I didn’t know enough to shoot in RAW, and I didn’t bother going into photoshop to get rid of the “hot pixels” that totally kill that image! They appear as the small red and blue dots there… many older sensors were plagued by this phenomenon that cropped up only in extra-long exposures (and even newer cameras still exhibit this, but not nearly to this extent, usually one or two at the most). If I were to do this again, as I hope to in the next few weeks when I return to Maine, I would expose it for at least twice as long to get longer trails.

Star trails taken on the same night as the first image.

I did the first one there mostly to get the “North Star Effect” of having all of the stars twirl around the central star. This next one is a far better image in terms of composition. The interesting thing is that the exposure time is only half of the first one. This is mostly because the farther out the stars are from the North Star, the more they appear to move as the earth spins. Those images were taken over 5 years ago at this point… and 5 years represents a huge leap in both my knowledge of photography and in camera equipment. It’s hard to believe that the current pictures I take are nearly four times the resolution of the images I got from my 300D! Moving on…

Later star trail image, including a shooter!

A few years later, I found myself back in Maine, again on a mission to get some star trails. This time I was armed with a 30D, 17-85mm IS lens, and a sturdier tripod, along with that ever-handy off-brand remote! No more gimp bulb mode, although it did have its charm. Giacomo also happened to be with me for this particular trip. This 847 second exposure actually required him to go into the house and selectively turn lights on and off in the rooms; we attempted it with the lights on the whole time and it was HUGELY blown out at the bottom. Keeping the lights on for only a few seconds seemed to do the trick. As a bonus for this shot, I was lucky enough to get a shooting star about halfway through the exposure! It’s pretty obvious, right in the center of the image streaking downward. There is also one slightly orange-yellow star right next to the shooter that may have been a planet, who knows.

The most recent rendition of the star trails in Maine, from the dock.

As I said before, these images trace both a development in photographic style and knowledge as well as a progression of new equipment and technology enabling better and better results. This time, I was back in Maine 2 years ago, toting a 40D, the same sturdy Manfrotto tripod, and the ultra-wide 10-22mm lens. That lens is an EF-S lens, meaning it only works on cropped sensors, so in terms of focal length it is exactly equivalent to the absolutely stunning 16-35mm lens that I use so much on my 5D. It tended to distort badly at 10mm when the subject was close, however it was stunning as a landscape wide angle. You can actually see some distortion up in the corners as the stars appear to straighten out, even bending the opposite ways! I dunno, I think it looks kinda cool… You can also see the milky way feathering its way along the middle of the image, something that could also be seen with the human eye on this clear night. The longest of all of these exposures at 1,252 seconds, this one allowed me to capture some city light from the nearby town of East Boothbay, as well as most likely some moon/sunlight although none of this was visible to the naked eye. Maine is truly a gorgeous place and as I mentioned I will be returning there soon… look for more pictures to come!

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A Visit to the Botanical Garden

…And of course, 99% of the time I spent there I had the 100mm macro on! For a guy with a weakness for flowers, a botanical garden is like a car show for some one really into cars… so many different kinds, all looking their best, ready to be photographed. I don’t actually know much about flowers; if these were pictures of cars I could tell you more about them but flowers for me really are just a great way for so much color and line to come together in one shot, and things like composition and slight changes in depth of field decide whether a shot is a keeper or a throwaway. The dragonfly one here is slightly different than the one I posted over on the main site, if you look up and left you will see, very out of focus, another dragonfly entering the shot… I didn’t notice this until I was editing the images, and it adds to it. This shot was also done at f/5.6, as opposed to the other one which is at f/2.8. This is mostly due to the fact that, as time went by and I realized that he was just gonna sit there, I took the time to adjust camera settings after knowing that I’d at least gotten the shot at 2.8. The slightly wider depth of field lets you better appreciate the beauty in those wings.

Double Dragonflies at the gardens (f/5.6 remix).

Oh, that bokeh!

Quick shot of a butterfly, no time to get closer as he zoomed off :(

One of many awesome orchids they have in the Orchid Room.

I'm not sure if I like this one more or the next one...

What do you think?

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Macro Mania Megapost

I’ve had the 100mm f/2.8L IS Macro for just 3 days now and it has literally still not come off my camera. I cannot overstate how good this lens is, in fact I think the quote that does it the most justice comes from dpreview’s excellent and in depth review of this lens:

“Just occasionally a lens turns up which delivers such implausibly good results in our studio tests that I have to go back and repeat everything, double checking all settings to make sure I haven’t done something wrong. The Canon EF 100mm F2.8 L IS USM Macro is one example; but in this case when I repeated the tests, the results were if anything slightly better. There’s little doubt that, all round, this is one of the very finest lenses we’ve seen – optically it’s superb, and operationally it works very well too, with fast and positive autofocus, and one of the most effective image stabilization systems currently available.”

It is simply the single most stunningly fun lens I have ever used, without exception. The 50mm f/1.2L was fun in a whole other, impractical, sense, but for some one who does not shoot portraits it makes no sense to have. This, though, will be a lens that gets, um, a lot of use. I recently had a few different people say to me, “oh, well any serious macro work is done from a tripod, the IS on that lens is just a gimmick.” I have found that this lens fundamentally alters your ability to shoot macros because I have yet to mount my camera on a tripod with this it. All of these shots are hand-held. I can get tack sharp results at 1/30th of a sec at 1:1; if I am shooting something farther away I can get down to 1/10sec. The lens is unbelievably sharp corner to corner all the way open at 2.8, shows literally no distortion, chromatic aberration, or halation, has creamy wonderful bokeh, and to top it all off the IS is superb.

I should say that, while this lens does completely free your macro work from a tripod, there is one thing that even Hybrid Image Stabilization cannot correct for: the small movements forward and backward that we are prone to making, even standing very still. This can even be an issue on a tripod, as you will sometimes encounter a subject such as a flower or plant that is moving slightly in the wind. With normal lenses, especially wide angles, these small focal distance changes are not an issue, but when you are zoomed in at 1:1 magnification and your plane of focus is literally determined by 10ths of an inch, your movements are hugely magnified and it becomes a matter of whether you get the shot or not. The cure? Get a big memory card and shoot a TON of the same image, with slightly different focus every time. It’s good practice for macro work anyway; what you see in the viewfinder may look different on the monitor, and you may decide that you like the composition you have but want your focus on a different part of the subject and if you’ve taken a bunch of shots of the same scene, you will have the freedom to choose. It is, in a way, like bracketing your exposure, in that you are keeping the same composition but just changing one variable and shooting around it.

I took a walk around my block to see what flowers I could find just on the sidewalk by people’s yards and, turns out, there was some good stuff… but then again, a macro lens lets you make small worlds out of anything you find. This lens just lets you do it free from a tripod wherever you are, at previously unheard of shutterspeeds. I will say it one last time: this is the best, sharpest, lens I have ever used, and it produces simply gorgeous results. All of the images below are linked to their full res versions so you can see the 21mp files in all their glory :) I can’t wait to really take it out and shoot things other than flowers, but I have a certain weakness for these colorful cliches….


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My City

I was born in New York City, but having lived there only 2 years and in Atlanta for 18, I feel a very strong attachment to this southern metropolis. It is where I spend almost all of my time these days, and because of this a vast majority of my photographs will come from various parts of the city. I thought it appropriate to make my first post an ode to the ATL, and you will surely see more from my explorations both in this city and many others scattered in future posts. This shot, as you will probably recognize, is the full version of the header. The pan is comprised of 12 separate images, taken over a period of 4 hours. The left side begins at 7pm, and I took panoramas continuously until 11pm, resulting in about 400 or so images! From those I chose 12 that I spent about a week stitching together in photoshop to make it look just right. This was done so long ago at this point, when I was still in high school, but I really do like the shot and thought it appropriate for a first post. The full version is 9000 pixels wide but I have yet to figure out the best way to link to the full rez images; I will try out both Flickr and Smugmug in the future but for now, clicking on the image will give you a slightly scaled down version.

Time-lapse panorama of the Atlanta skyline

While we’re on the topic of Atlanta skyline views…

Nice bokeh on the 50mm f/1.2L

I had the pleasure of using Canon’s 50mm f/1.2L prime for a few days and went back to the same bridge where that pan was taken and shot a few fun shots just to test out its famed bokeh. The lens really does perform at f/1.2, and would be one I’d love to have… maybe someday. I was choosing between that lens and the 100mm f/2.8L IS macro and chose the macro… with absolutely no regrets! For some one who does not shoot portraits at all, the prime really doesn’t make much sense… whereas the macro has not left my 5D since I took it out of the box :)

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New Blog!

I have decided to create a secondary blog that I will link off of our main HDR page for now. I got into photography well before I discovered the HDR process, and have lots to share in this area as well. I was also spurred to do this because I recently acquired the Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS Macro which is easily, far and away the most fun lens I have ever used. I will upload a vast range of more traditional images here, as well as my HDR work to the main part of the site. For now, consider this a work in progress :)

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