iPhone Friday

A mosquito that I don’t mind at all!

Happy Friday to everyone! For this week’s installment, I opted for one of the images from my recent trip to Valley of Fire state park in Nevada…

Mosquito Arch

Even though I was predominantly shooting with my main camera on a tripod, I like using my iPhone to get a sense of the composition that I want, particularly to determine the height from which I want to capture the scene; it’s a lot easier to go low with your iPhone than adjust a tripod 5 times.

As the sun was getting very low behind us, the light became really saturated, so I actually reduced the overall saturation quite a bit in this shot.

Developing an Image – part 2

The focus stacking process

Welcome to the 2nd installment and follow up to the Develop an Image – part-2 post from a couple of weeks ago. As a reminder, we were working on the intriguing image of rock formation in Gold Butte National Monument and had completed processing in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR):

ACR work is done

One quick note is that ACR can be invoked as a filter in Photoshop, which is an option that is fun to explore as there are some great presets in the Camera Raw Filter.

Next we take the 5 images and open them in Photoshop by clicking on the Open button. This opens the 5 files individually, so we’ll have to bring them into a single Photoshop file. I do this by going to using the first file that is open as the Background layer; then I go to the remaining files and select the image with a Command-A, copying it to the clipboard with a Command-C going to the background file tab and with a simple Command-V bringing the image in as a layer. That provides the following layers:

Focus Stack layers

Select all 5 layers and in Photoshop’s Edit menu select Auto-Align Layers… and use the Auto option; this ensures that any slight shifts between the shots are fully aligned. Then select Auto-Blend Layers… from the Edit menu, and the following dialog pops up:

Auto-Blend Layer options

The choice here is to Stack Images; I use the smarts of Photoshop to let it ensure that Tones and Colors are blended seamlessly and I trust its Content Aware Fill algorithms (they are good!). After some compute cycles, your layer panel will look as follows:

Auto-Blend Results

The magic is in the masks that Photoshop generates for each of the layers, as it uses the focal distance of each shot and selects that which is the most precise focus to composite the resultant focus-stacked layer.

At this point, all we have left to do is make the final adjustments, which I will cover in the next installment. In part 3, I’ll introduce you to some of the other tools in my Photoshop arsenal to help unleash some of its power without having to master all the complexities.

iPhone Friday

Rock of many colors

In between work on the larger blog post, here’s a quick shot from the recent Valley of Fire trip…

Slot Canyon

This was one of my iPhone shots looking back into the slot canyon that is part of the White Domes loop trail; I use my iPhone to get a quick view of what a shot will look like at different heights, so I only set my tripod up once.

One of the things that struck me about this canyon is how some of the rock is just about grayish white and almost integrates with the red rock next to it. It gave me the sense of a selective color image, which I don’t expect in Nature.

Developing an Image – part 1

The Steps in the Process

In this post, I’d like to give you a view of some of the approach that I take in developing the final image from the shots that I capture on scene.

This particular shot was taken at Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada, as we were exploring some of the Joshua Trees, rock arches and beautifully colored landscape. I came upon a deposit formation in the rocks that caught my eye…

Alpine Crossing

Sometimes our minds make an immediate connection with something that we see, which occurred for me in this case; at the angle that I viewed this through the lens there appeared the eye of an elephant imbued with high intelligence. This regal creature was bejeweled running down its trunk, and I could see tusks protruding to the lower right. In my mind’s eye, I saw it trudging through a challenging mountainous landscape in severe weather conditions, which led me to the working title of ‘Alpine Crossing.’

As I wanted to get as much detail into this image as possible, I opted for using the Focus Bracketing on my Canon EOS R5. If you’re not familiar with this technique, it is a method of taking the focal point in a series of shots from the near to the far; this allows for compositing of the images into a single, high depth of field image. For my options, I chose to shoot a set of 5 images and a somewhat below mid-range focus increment; reason being that I was shooting with a 21 mm focus length at f/8, so there was already significant depth of field. This series of images was the following…

The eagle-eyed among you might be able to spot the transition in focal plane, which is hard to see until examined on a big monitor.

The next step is to do some basic editing on these images, for which I use Adobe Camera Raw (ACR), which I find easiest to access through Adobe Bridge. In ACR, there are 2 main features that I tend to lean on, as they make life easier: Profiles and Calibration. Let’s start with Profiles…

Profile Selections

If you’re not a frequent user of ACR, you may not be aware of the wonderful selection of preset profiles that are provided here. They are a great shortcut to closing in on a look that you have in mind for the final image. In this case, I used the Artistic 04 profile and set the opacity at 81% to tone it down a little bit. Note that I’ve selected all 5 images for this edit; if you find yourself editing only one of the images, don’t worry, as you can sync your edits across all of them. If you wonder how to access Profiles, the arrow in this image shows the way…

Calibration and Pointer to Profiles Icon

Calibration is another quick way to take a look at the colors in your image and allow them to pop. Note that if you have a large amount of one color, such as a blue sky, you may want to de-emphasize that color. In a lot of cases, I find that working just the Blue and Green primaries does the trick; as you can see, I added some Red as well.

Next step will be to take the process into Photoshop, which I’ll cover in tomorrow’s post.

Valley of Fire – ep. 3

Brilliant colors and fiery reds!

As a follow up to the image from Valley of Fire state park that I shared in this week’s Monochrome Monday, I thought it might be interesting to see the color version…

Sunrise on Striped Rocks

My mind was blown by the variety of colors that are in the rock formations in this park and how the red becomes the fiery hue that gave the valley its name when the warm light of early morning catches it.

Monochrome Monday

The majesty of nature on display

Valley of Fire State Park definitely merits a return journey at some point in the future, as there are so many more vistas to capture!

For today’s monochrome image, I’m going for a thoroughly modern approach…

Sunrise on Striped Rocks

These glorious rocks were just getting lit up by the sun in our backs, as the tips of the buttes in the foreground are just getting a bit of light, while in the background light is bathing those formations already.

To explain the modern approach of this image. This is a focus stacked set of 5 images to get the greater depth of field and overall sharpness. There was a bit of processing to get them together and properly adjusted. There’s one more aspect to account for; the sky was a lovely, bland shade of blue, so with the help of Luminar AI, I created something a bit more interesting.

I’ll share the color version of this image later this week, so you can compare notes!

Valley of Fire – ep. 1

Sand and minerals turned to butterfly wings; now that’s geology!

During the week of January 30, 2023, I had the pleasure of spending 4 days in a stunning state park in Nevada: Valley of Fire. This first of Nevada’s state parks lies in the Mojave Desert and is known for its red Aztec sandstone formations that appear on fire when lit up by the sun.

My visit was part of a photo tour organized by Joseph Rosbach Photography and was a wonderful experience, as Joe really knows the park and area. Joe organized our day to be in the park by sunrise to catch locations that set up great for that time of day and spend 3-4 hours shooting until the light was not ideal. A break and time for some quick editing tips and lessons (I learned some cool techniques), and then back to the park by 2:30-3pm to shoot until after sunset.

The park has many features and lots of color in the rock, so as I start my editing, I’ll kick off with one of my favorites so far…

Rainbow Vista Butterfly Wing

The rock formations in the Rainbow Vista area of the park present a stunning array of colors, as seen in the image above. As the dunes turned to sandstone during the Early Jurassic period, various minerals were captured in the sand lending vibrant colors. The continued erosion and geological forces created exposures that are dramatic in their appearance and form.

As there is still a lot of editing to do, keep an eye open for future posts, featuring a variety of colors, arches and stunning landscape features, even including bacon strips!

Monochrome Monday

Connecting to a monochrome past

Photographing in Valley of Fire State Park over the past week gave me a sense of connection to all those well-known landscape images from photographers in the early part of the 20th century. While definitely not comparing my work with theirs, I did draw some inspiration from them for this week’s monochrome image.

Pancakes in Fire Wave

The Fire Wave trail leads to an amazing area of multi-colored red and white formations. Right next to the ‘bacon strips’ formation, I found this lovely view against a cloudy sky; it reminded me of a stack of pancakes that would go well with the bacon just over to the right of this image.

This image was captured using a Canon EOS R5 and Canon RF 14-35mm F4/L IS USM lens; as I shot at 14mm focal length, I used f/8 for an aperture at 400 ISO. This was a series of 3 shots to generate the HDR using Aurora HDR; B&W conversion was done in Photoshop.

Exploring a State Park

Photo ops are everywhere!

Over the past week, I enjoyed the pleasure of a photo tour of Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada, which was led by Joseph Rossbach; it was a great way to learn more about this park, as well as picking up some new (for me) processing techniques.

Of course, being in this part of the country, there are the majestic landscape photo opportunities, some of which I will definitely share with you. One of the fun things to also explore are some of the details of the rock structures and formations.

Rock Structure 1

The structure of this rock gives a sense of an almost living entity or possibly the remains of what once was a living being, possibly a skull fragment of an ancient and wise dragon; or our mind might take us further, as if we’re looking at the landscape of a distant, alien planet.

One of the aspects of this rock is that the color appears to be there in myriad micro-dots, creating a fuzzy, almost unfocused feeling to the image.

This image was captured using a Canon EOS R5 and EOS RF 24-105mm F4/L lens. I used focus bracketing to increases the fine focus on this fuzzy-looking image.

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