Mount St. Helens

Posted in Natural History with tags , , , , , , , on July 21, 2014 by chamimage
Mount St. Helens

Mount St. Helens from northeast

I visited Mount St. Helens last week. I’ve been there twice before, both times after the eruption and both times to climb its south face to the crater rim.

On May 18, 1980 I was racing at a motocross event in McMinnville, Oregon. I can’t remember if anything was announced at the race, but I vividly remembering leaving the race track and turning onto the highway heading north and immediately seeing a huge plume of smoke and ash where Mount St. Helens used to be. Talk about a car full of people with dropped jaws!

Before the May 18, 1980 eruption Mount St. Helens was a very pretty, symmetrical mountain. It is hard for me to believe that it erupted last in the 1840 or 1850′s. I had no idea mountains rebuilt themselves that fast. Native Americans said the mountain frequently erupted. In March of 1980 a crevasse formed on the north side of the mountain and started venting steam. The crevasse widened and the venting of plumes of steam and ash increased. Geologists were certain that we were in for a major volcanic eruption soon. In fact geologist David Johnston called it pretty much 100% in his prediction that a major eruption would occur in the next few months and it would blow out the north side of the mountain. There would be pyroclastic gas flows that would annihilate every living thing for several miles and there would be flooding of the Toutle River due to melted glacial snow. David Johnston was eight miles from the blast on May 18th and only lived to witness the eruption up to the pyroclastic flows. He was buried in the collapsing mountainside and his body was never found.

The image above is from the northeast and shows the north side of the volcano and the blast zone of mud and debris 34 years later.

Mt. St. Helens

Mt. St. Helens

A closer image shows the two lava domes growing inside the crater.  Climbers come up the south (opposite) side and only scientists get to go into the crater.

At the base of the north side of the mountain was Spirit Lake, a popular recreation and summer camp area. The owner of the Mt. St. Helens Lodge was an eight-something year old named Harry Truman (not the president). Harry was told the mountain was going to erupt soon and what would happen when it did. He wouldn’t leave. In the 1980′s I thought he was crazy. Now that I’m older I can better understand why he stayed. He had lived there since at least the 1930′s. He had no place else to go. He would not have had a very happy life if he had left. Harry is now buried in 120 feet of mud under 30 feet of water.

They say the pyroclastic flows started at 220 miles per hour and somehow accelerated to 670 miles per hour. They may have broken the sound barrier. Most of the 57 people who died that day were asphyxiated by gas and ash. There was also flying debris, falling trees, and, if you were close enough to the volcano, 360 degree heat.

Everything within 8 miles of the eruption was vaporized to dust. The explosion was 1600 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb blast. Spirit Lake and Toutle River waters were flashed to steam, causing a second explosion that was heard north of the mountain for hundreds of miles.

Trees were flattened in a 19 mile radius. Trees beyond 19 miles were killed, but still standing. 150 elk, 5000 deer, and 12 million salmon fingerlings were killed.

A twelve foot wall of water (basically a twelve foot wall of logs) came down the Toutle River, taking out bridges and houses along the way. I-5 was shut down until the flood passed. I hadn’t thought about it before, but when you suddenly heat a mountain glacier to 360 degrees, you get a lot of melt water.

People were warned not to be on the mountain that day. People being people, they were. One of those killed was a National Geographic photographer. His car was found, he was not. I suspect a disproportionate number of the other people that were up there that day were probably photographers, too. I mean, really, a glaciated mountain spewing plumes of steam and ash? Who wouldn’t want an image of that? Some of the survivors told harrowing tales of racing to their cars and speeding down the mountain roads just seconds ahead of the dust cloud.

Mount Saint Helens

Mount Saint Helens_South Face

After the eruption Spirit Lake started re-forming again, 120 feet higher in elevation. It had no outlet so there was concern about it breaching a mud wall and causing flooding downstream. At first it was pumped to keep the water level stable, then a long tunnel was drilled through a ridge to provide it with an outlet in the proper direction.

Everybody was stunned at how fast nature began to recover. Insects and animals that lived underground survived. Bushes sprouted. Forestry crews and volunteers replanted forests. Those trees are a healthy thirty years old now.

Clearwater Valley

Clearwater Valley

We have found many ways to manipulate and control nature, but events like volcanic eruptions, especially of a mountain close to home, remind us of the awesome power that is out there. And the even more awesome ability nature has to heal itself.

Luminosity Mask versus HDR

Posted in Photography Technique with tags , , , on June 16, 2014 by chamimage

Dump Truck

HDR has opened up some landscape opportunities that I otherwise might have had to pass up, like this truck in mid day. I used Photomatix Pro on it. Interestingly, the Interior 2 setting seemed to work best. That is not the first time the Interior setting pleased me the most. Maybe because I want a natural look.

Recently on 500px blog there was an interesting article on luminosity masks to stitch landscapes together (http://iso.500px.com/luminosity-masks-in-digital-blending/?utm_campaign=may222014digest&utm_content=link&utm_medium=email&utm_source=500px). I had first been introduced to the concept in a John Shaw Photoshop CD several years ago. The concept of making the luminosity masks was a bit daunting and I never took it up. I think I tried it once and it didn’t work out very well because of my skill level at that time.

In the 500px article Jimmy McIntyre proffered a link (http://www.throughstrangelenses.com/easy-panel-download-for-photoshop/) to his free easy panel for Photoshop that has an action for making luminosity masks, among other things like an Orton effect action (soft focus, like Glamor Glow in Color Effects Pro) and a Detail Enhancer action.

In a nutshell, The action makes a series of masks based on brightness. The masks are displayed in the Channels palette. Typically in a landscape you are wanting the sky to be darker and the foreground to be lighter so the mask allows you to choose a mask that includes just the brightness corresponding to the sky and then paint the darker sky into the brighter foreground image. It is a relatively easy process that is well-explained in the 500px article.

Why do it? HDR blends several different images together and to do that it has to make some compromises in sharpness and in noise. It also fails in images with wind-blown vegetation, fast moving clouds, etc. Luminosity masking is a way to maintain maximum quality in your image, which is handy if you are going to print a large landscape print or if you just want an edge on what everybody else is offering. Luminosity masking is also useful if you want to composite, say, a sky from a completely different image.

International Dump Truck

International Dump Truck

This is the result using luminosity masking instead of HDR. I was quite surprised when I finished this one and compared it to the HDR image how little difference there was in the result. The shadow areas are a bit more realistic and the glare on the paint was a bit more pronounced.

Dump Truck Vertical

Dump Truck Vertical

I did this one using luminosity masking as well. I did not do an HDR version of it.

The down side for me is that I am not very experienced with refining masks and in these truck images it was really difficult to get a clean edge between the sky and the truck. I used Refine Edge and Smart Radius and I still had to take a lot of time cloning along the truck edge to remove artifact. There was also some weird artifact in parts of the sky, but that was easily dealt with by deselecting the luminosity mask and just going back over the funky areas with the layer mask highlighted and a black brush.

I heard a Photoshop guy recently say he had little use for HDR any longer because he can just composite a darker and lighter version of the image together and get to the same place. The caveat here, I think, is that this particular Photoshop guy wrote a book on compositing and knows how to refine masks to blend them seamlessly. In reality the horizon, of a landscape would be much much easier to blend together than the sharp delineation between the truck and sky here, but I am gland that I discovered the weakness in the method for a lot of us that could use some work on refining selections. I wonder where I put that compositing book?

 

 

Fun with Squirrels

Posted in Natural History with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 12, 2014 by chamimage
Variegated Squirrel

Variegated Squirrel

I borrowed the title of this post from The Big Bang Theory where Sheldon does Fun with Flags.

I decided to process a bunch of squirrel images from Costa Rica all at the same time. I found these variegated squirrels to be a nice break from the bird photography. At one point I was going from a tree frog to birds to the squirrel all at the same time.

If I could ever have a tail, I’d want this guy’s tail. That would keep your nose warm on a winter’s night. You can tell when it is mating season at my house by how the squirrel’s flit their tails. Nose-warmer, message flag, balance corrector. I am a bit envious.

The Reach

The Reach

He couldn’t reach the food he was trying to get. No reason he couldn’t just go down there and get it, I think it is just more fun to steal it from above. It was a banana, by the way, and yes, he ate the whole thing. Little pig.

The Pose

The Pose

Does he not look like he is posing? A manly pose. Like George Costanza posed on a couch on Seinfeld.

Eating

Eating

This squirrel ate that seed head like a person eating a corn cob. This was at OTS (Organization for Tropical Studies) La Selva. Scientists come and stay at this place to do research in the rain forest. The paths are paved and they ride bicycles out to wherever they need to go. Of course it is located here because it is hopping with plants and animals. We benefited from a white cloth put out overnight to attract insects. What insects they have!

Upside Down Squirrel

Upside Down Squirrel

When it got too dark in the rain forest in the evening I went down by the river where the angled light could still penetrate. I have no idea if that is a fruit or a nut.

Rowena Crest and Oneonta Gorge

Posted in Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 5, 2014 by chamimage
Rowena Crest

Rowena Crest

I made a trip to the Columbia River Gorge last weekend for photography at Rowena Crest and Oneonta Gorge.

Rowena Crest is a plateau above the Columbia River on the east end of the Columbia Gorge just before you reach The Dalles on the Oregon side. The hills are carpeted with arrowleaf balsamroot and lupines in late April and early May. The most popular spot for photography is the Tom McCall Nature Conservancy area at the top of the hill. I’ve seen some photographs from the Washington side of the river, also, but have not gone over there to see what is there.

The previous times I have been to Rowena I was pretty much all alone, but last weekend was packed with photographers. Fortunately they all seemed to be enamored with areas where I didn’t want to work, anyway. I suspect the clustering of them in one spot suggested a photography workshop. I think photography social media such as Google+ has led to a lot more people finding my suddenly not so secret spots. I was told that the traffic jam to get to the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm in Woodburn, Oregonon the weekend this year was miles long.

Rowena Wildflowers

Rowena Wildflowers

The Columbia River Gorge is the windsurfing capitol of the world so photographing wildflowers on the open prairie in the evening is not going to happen. When I arrived late in the day I concentrated on the sheltered areas toward the base of the hill. The lupines were much better developed than they were on top of the hill. This area is more oak savanna with lots of poison oak and wild turkeys.

There were rain showers with brief clearings, so I sat in my car and read a book until it stopped raining and then sprinted out to take the next photograph. I usually had enough time for one photo and to scout the next one before it rained for another fifteen minutes. The only downside to my plan was a road kill deer in the ditch that made getting to and from the car and bit odorous.

At the end of the night I set up looking down on the winding road that comes up the hill and waited and waited for a car to provide me with headlights to streak, but no luck. In retrospect I should have gotten my long lens out and shot down onto the I-84 in the distance as Plan B. Driving up the hill at dusk I saw wild turkeys in two different places along the very short road.

Arrowleaf Balsamroot

Arrowleaf Balsamroot

The next morning was still raining, but it cleared just in time for the sunrise. The workshop group was working an area facing east, shooting into the sun. The photos I’ve seen looked very good. I worked the area facing northwest. I was all alone out there. There were deer grazing. Turkey vultures nest in the rock face overlooking the river.

Oneonta Gorge

Oneonta Gorge

On the way back west along the Columbia Gorge I stopped at Oneonta Gorge. It is located east of Multnomah Falls a few miles. You have to really want to photograph Oneonta. To get into the gorge you have to strap on your chest waders and get into the creek, then scale a twenty foot high log jam and get back into the creek on the other side. It is best to put all of your camera gear into a backpack so you can use two hands on the log jam, you’ll need them. If you fall and get swept under the log jam, nobody is ever going to find you. The Marines could use this as an obstacle course.

I’m not sure why the state of Oregon hasn’t cleared that log jam. I suspect they are waiting for a movie studio to want to shoot back in there bad enough to dynamite the log jam for them. This would be a great place to shoot a movie.

The water in the spring is fairly swift and deep. Everything in the bottom pockets of my photography vest got wet. Oneonta Gorge is relative short and there is a waterfall at the end of it.  You can see the end of it once over the log jam, though you don’t know it because the waterfall is off to one side a bit.

I was all alone at Oneonta. Time of day is unimportant, but if you want sun filtering through the misty water falling on each side of the gorge you will need to be there in mid day. A lot of people wade in the creek in summer, but very few scale the log jam and walk on the far side of it. Still you probably wouldn’t get a shot without people wading in the creek on a summer weekend unless you got there very early.

The Plateau

Posted in Photography Technique with tags , , , , , , on April 7, 2014 by chamimage
Cottonwood Inferno

Cottonwood Inferno

I have been reading a book by Seth Godin called “The Dip”. I would probably have called it The Plateau because it is about that plateau you hit when you take up something new, like photography, French, tennis.

At first you learn quickly and relatively easily, but once you learn the basics you reach a plateau where your improvement has stalled, and it is obvious it is going to take a lot more time and energy to take this thing any further. And even then, you will improve in baby steps from that point on.

This is the place most people quit, or continue on being mediocre. As Galen Rowell said, the difference between whether you make the effort or not depends on the size of the rat eating at your gut. My rat is humongous.

Bitterroot

Bitterroot

The payoffs at the end are good  because so few will make the investment in getting through the slog that it takes to break through to the next level. You will be in rare company in most pursuits if you master something. Maybe not so much with photography. There seem to be a lot of very talented photographers out there. Maybe we are wired differently. A lot of photographers will tell you quitting wasn’t an option, they had to see it through.

I tend to throw myself at pursuits so it is always surprising to me when I talk to local amateur photographers and make a suggestion about how they might improve and the response is almost always negative. They can’t (won’t) invest $150 in software that would help them process their images better and open up some creativity. These are people with good jobs, it is just not a priority to them. They want to BE better, but they don’t actually want to GET better.

Agate Beach Sunset

Agate Beach Sunset

One of the points made in the book is about how the internet has changed things. It is no longer good enough to be the best artist or gallery in town. People can now search worldwide so you have have to be the best in the world now.

And the difference between the best and number two is enormous. Why would anyone settle for second best? At least with photography the best is a matter of taste, and photo editors have many factors that influence what image fits their needs.

So if you want to win photo contests, publish images, sell stock images, or sell fine art prints, you have got to put in the work to be up there competing with the best in the world, because the competition for all of that is global now. One thing that is worthwhile trying is to do an image search on-line (use 500px or Getty or Corbis) for a subject of which you have a great image. See what the competition is. See where you have to get to. Remember, yours needs to be better than the best one there. In the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs they have a contraption in the swimming pool that they harness a swimmer into and then set it to move at world record speed, just so he knows what that feels like and knows how far she is from swimming that fast. Brilliant.

Winter Storm_Coastal Range, Oregon

Winter Storm_Coastal Range, Oregon

Everyone has their own way in which they learn the best so there is not one path to get there from here. One thing everybody advises is shoot a lot a lot, and edit mercilessly. Remember, good is no longer good enough, you’re going for great. Maybe it is my humble upbringing, but I still have a hard time trashing a good image just because it isn’t great,even though it is just pixels. I’m too thrifty for my own good.

Another universal recommendation is to look at a lot of good photographs. The Popular and Editor’s Choice galleries on 500px is a good place to do that on a daily basis. Compare those images with what you see on Flickr and you will soon appreciate the difference between good and great.

My favorite illustration in the book shows one stick figure saying “But, what if I fail?” And the other stick figure says, “We all get to laugh at you.”

Grass Widow

Grass Widow

All of the above images were old chrome slides I pulled and scanned recently. Even back then, five to ten years ago, I could take a decent photograph, I just couldn’t do it as consistently as I can now. I cringe at what I didn’t throw away. But back then I was trying to get to good, not great.

Once you have mastered photography and can consistently take great photographs that everybody loves, then you will hit plateaus with your marketing and need to either work through it, or change direction with something new. It never ends.

Nikon Capture NX-D beta

Posted in Photo Gear with tags , , , , , on March 24, 2014 by chamimage
Nikon Capture NX-D

Nikon Capture NX-D

I have been toying around with the new beta version of Nikon Capture NX-D.

Nikon Capture is the program Nikon provides to work on and convert Nikon RAW files. It will only read RAW files in Nikon’s NEF and NRW  formats, jpeg files and tiff files. Unfortunately, Capture does not show PSD files so cannot be used as a browser to find a psd file and open it.

Previous versions included NX-1 and NX-2. The two previous versions were a collaboration with NIK and they included NIK’s control point technology for selective editing. Nikon has gone a completely different approach with NX-D and no longer has control points or any other selective editing option, at least in the beta version.

On the plus side, the browser has been laid out in a much more user-friendly and familiar way. The new look is impressive. It is a browser and the layout is much like what is found in Lightroom or Bridge, very familiar. It generates jpegs faster than Bridge (who doesn’t? Really Adobe, that is the best you can do? Little Breeze systems and Photo Mechanic with a millionth of your budget have no problem generating jpegs fast), but you can overwhelm it and freeze it up if you go from one end of the film strip at the bottom to the other end too fast. Hopefully that will improve with the final release this fall.

The jpegs it generates are gorgeous. Flipping back and forth between Capture and Lightroom with the same image shows a clear advantage to Capture. Jpegs and TIFF files are equal in the two programs.

Which leads me to what I use Nikon Capture for. Mainly I want to convert RAW files with it. I want all of those beautiful colors that Nikon intended for that image to have. I do very minimal work in Capture, just global exposure, contrast, Picture Control settings, and Active D-lighting, which is Nikon’s way of handling highlights and shadows. Adobe Lightroom and Camera Raw have come a long way with their camera profiles for Nikon files, but they can’t match the colors you will get converting RAW files in Capture NX. I had been very lazy lately, just using Lightroom for all my basic editing and RAW file conversion. Then I ran across a problem I haven’t seen for a while. I worked on a file in Photoshop for thirty minutes before discovering there were color shifts in the gray of the clouds. Greens and magentas that didn’t belong there. They will also crop up in shadows from time to time as well. I had to start all over with a file converted in Capture NX to get rid of the color shift.

There has been a lot of hand wringing about how Capture NX-D does not allow any selective editing. It is not a stand alone product that will let you do it all in one program. I have never used one program alone for processing my files so it is less of an issue for me. I rarely used the Control Points in Capture NX2. I do now have Capture NX-D, Lightroom, and Photoshop all open at the same time, but I like the Capture NX-D RAW conversions so much better than what Adobe can do it is worth it for me.

There are a few nitpicky things I hope they change before the final version comes out. There is no zoom or hand tool so to zoom to 100% you need to use a keyboard shortcut or go into the Image drop down menu. The same with sizing the image to fit your screen. I hate that. If you zoom a horizontally oriented image and then fit it to screen, your next vertical image will not fit to screen. Argh!

There is no longer the Double Threshold check box above the histogram on previous versions of Capture NX that allowed you to adjust both your white point and black point. You have to, again, use a keyboard shortcut or drop down menu to adjust white point and then go back and do the black point. There are no white point and black point eyedroppers in the toolbox above as before, but  they are in the levels and curves tool below on the right column.

There is a way to batch process and there is a way to paste your setting changes to other images, so if you have five images from the same set-up you can adjust one image and paste those setting to the others. You can even save recipes to your hard drive if you create something wild and wacky you might want to use again.

My workflow for RAW files has now become 1.) Edit globally in Capture NX-D for exposure, white balance, contrast, and Active D-lighting to bring back any errant blown out whites or blocked up blacks. 2.) Convert RAW file to a tiff in Capture NX-D. 3.) Make further minor changes in Lightroom to white point, black point, gradient tool, etc. 4.) Open in Photoshop for application of NIK filters (they can be put on a layer and painted in or out on a layer mask in Photoshop), levels and curves (again, layer masked), dust spotting (I always forget to do it in Lightroom so do it in ACR as a filter {in CC version of PS only}), rarely color correction or saturation. 5.) Save psd file with layers intact, save flattened large jpeg for stock agency upload, save small jpeg for web.

I am hoping Nikon users will try Capture NX-D beta out and comment to Nikon on what they would like changed so we can get some changes made. When Capture NX-D is released this fall it needs to be the best it can be because Nikon will then no longer support updates for Capture NX 2 so as soon as we get into the next generation of cameras Capture NX2 will not have a camera profile for them.

One fine day

Posted in Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 17, 2014 by chamimage
Baby Green Sea Turtle

Baby Green Sea Turtle

By far the highlight of our last full day in Tortuguero National Park in Costa Rica was finding hatching baby green sea turtles. We had been told none of the nests looked like they were ready to hatch that evening. They always hatch at dusk, I assume to avoid bird predation.

We had been entertaining ourselves while our local boat driver took a look up and down the beach. He had given up and was almost back to the boat (which, strangely, was on the other side of the Tortuguero airport runway) when he came across the hatching nest. I had to sprint about one hundred yards in sand so was pretty breathless when I got to the turtles.

They go fast. The trick is to photograph them without leaving big old footprints in the sand for the next turtle to fall into. You lean a lot.

Todd

Todd

Here is our trip leader, Todd Gustaffson with his 15 mm fish-eye lens, getting the turtle, Caribbean, and sky all in the same shot. Tells a story. You can see where a little turtle might fall into foot or knee prints, but they were strong and climbed right out when the did. I wonder how they know which way the ocean is?

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

As fun as the evening was, the morning started off with a bang, as well. We had exhausted the rivers and lagoons by then so opted to take our morning boat ride northward, past the village of Tortuguero, itself.

I think the yellow-crowned night-herons are especially lovely. This one is on a sea wall.

 

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

The fog didn’t suddenly set in. I must have shot through someone’s hat or something. It was surprising how quickly we learned to not lurch around an rock the boat while shooting. It still helps to keep the shutter speed 1,000 or higher.

Tiger-herons

Tiger-herons

On my previous trip to Costa Rica I had seen just one tiger-heron so was hoping to find more. We ended up seeing them everywhere this time. These are bare-throated tiger-herons standing in a blue and white boat that is docked. The orange is a retaining wall.

Tiger-herons

Tiger-herons

Maybe they were waiting for a ride? The lagoon eventually leads to the Caribbean. Some of the lodges near where the herons were cater to marlin fishermen. All of the lodges were serviced by boats. There are no roads in Tortuguero. You get in via about a twenty mile boat ride, then end of which is pretty wild. Big boats speeding up and down a narrow, narrow river – both ways. We didn’t lose anybody. It costs a dollar to pee at the car park before your long bus ride back to civilization.

Caribbean

Caribbean

 

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