Miriam’s Place

Posted in Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 16, 2014 by chamimage
Flame-colored Tanager

Flame-colored Tanager

One of the most awesome days I have had as a photographer occurred last December in Costa Rica at Miriam’s Place, Comidas Tipicas Miriam.

We spent the morning in transit from La Selva in the hot and humid central Costa Rica to the Talamanca Mountains in southern Costa Rica, which are cool and not humid at all.

We arrived in time for lunch, and oh what a lunch Miriam made for us. Her restaurant is on a windy gravel road that runs seriously downhill from the main highway to Savegre Lodge where we were to stay.

She kept bringing out dishes full of chicken that fell off of the bone, the traditional rice and beans that are required fare for every meal in Costa Rica, even breakfast. I can’t even remember what all was served now, but I remember it was the best lunch I ever had and I was hungry.

After lunch we got our gear and headed out into the back yard where bird feeders were set up. The action in Miriam’s back yard was non-stop all afternoon. We shot flame-colored tanagers, acorn woodpeckers, yellow-thighed finches, slaty flowerpiercers (they pierce the base of a flower with their beak to get at the nectar); mountain robins, slaty robins; rufus-collared sparrows and magnificent hummingbirds.

Acorn Woodpecker

Acorn Woodpecker

At one point some other photographers stopped by and were very disappointed that we were already there. They decided they would come back later. They had some perches they wanted to set up so we offered to set them up for them.

“Oh no, these are our very own special perches just for our photographs.” Really. They hid the perches in the house for later. We heard Miriam and her daughter laughing in the kitchen. It turns out she knew where these very special perches were hidden and wanted us to set them up. She was not impressed with the other photographers attitude. She was feeling naughty and so were we so we got the perches out and set them up, fully intending to leave them set up.

Slaty Flowerpiercer

Slaty Flowerpiercer male

Slaty Flowerpiercer

Slaty Flowerpiercer female piercing flower.

The evening was then spent photographing Resplendent Quetzals in a wild avocado tree down the canyon a ways, just to round out a long, productive day in the rain forest. And the cool nights in the mountains were so welcome after sleeping in wet sheets from the humidity in other humid parts of Costa Rica.

Yellow-thighed Finch

Yellow-thighed Finch

Mountain Robin

Mountain Robin

 

Photoshop Tutorials

Posted in Photography Technique with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 4, 2014 by chamimage

Caribbean Sea

I find myself not getting much work done today because I keep running into interesting Photoshop tutorials everywhere I look. And I look.

Some of them are so good I thought I would pass them along for anyone interested in going beyond the basics in Photoshop.

Jimmy McIntyre has become a great source for Photoshop education. His weekly newsletter not only gives links to his latest offerings, but also links to others he has found over the week.

This week he hit it out of the park in a tutorial on landscape image editing he did for 500px at http://iso.500px.com/post-processing-tips-for-landscape-photos/. There should be enough there to keep you busy for a few hours.

Julianne Kost is my prime source for all things new in Photoshop and Lightroom. Any time there is a new release she is all over it with videos on the new features. This week she gives a very good review of what is new in the latest Camera Raw 8.2 release at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a4UTmTai5FU#t=375. I learned several new things I did not know in that 15 minute video.

Lastly, I discovered an amazing new natural light portrait photographer, Lisa Holloway, from a link in Jimmy McIntyre’s newsletter (you really ought to subscribe, it’s free) at http://iso.500px.com/backlight-natural-light-portrait-photo-tutorial/. It is also on 500px, which is coming up with some very good tutorials lately.

Those ought to keep anybody remotely interested in improving his or her camera and Photoshop skills busy for several hours.

Rialto Beach Sunset

Washougal National Motocross Race

Posted in Photography Technique with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 28, 2014 by chamimage
Marvin Musquin

Marvin Musquin

Motocross races are a photographer’s dream. There are brightly colored subjects perched on a chocolate brown river of dirt. There is the gesture of speed and athleticism. And, as in all sports photography, there is no end to the ways you can do it better next time. You never stop learning.

I went to the National Professional Motocross race in Washougal, Washington on Saturday. I thought it had been thirty years since I had been to Washougal, but my son says I took him there in 1994. He even recalls the photograph I took of the first corner in one of the races. It now hangs on my wall. I have better cable  TV this year so have been following the pro circuit as it tours the country. I was getting kind of tired of just taking nature photographs and can’t afford to travel to Europe for travel photos, so the national race in my backyard was an opportunity to mix things up a bit and challenge myself.

As you can see in the image above, I used flash all day. It was bright bright mid day sun and you can’t shoot an HDR of a moving motorcycle. I used my Better Beamer to project my flash, but for some reason it was shooting low all day. Next time I’ll leave it off. There were the lucky few photographers in blue aprons with press passes that got unrestricted access behind the gates and I noticed they were all using bare flash units. One of the downsides to a national race is that you don’t get close enough to the track at times, and when you could, there are people standing three deep. Looking at some of the magazine photo galleries already up from the race I recognize a lot of the exact same images I shot on there. Spooky the same in some cases.

First Corner_250 cc Class

First Corner_250 cc Class

I used my 70-200 mm lens, with and without the 2x teleconverter. I tried not using my polarizing filter, but ended up putting it back on. It really helps with the dirt and the reflections, especially after they have watered the track between races. I shot at ISO 200-400 most of the day. At least with a bright mid day race the settings don’t really change all day so I left it on manual mode at f/8, 1/250th second.

The trick with motor sports is that you have to shoot a low enough shutter speed to let the wheels spin a bit. 1/250th of a second is about right for motocross. Of course that drops your keeper rate significantly, especially when you are panning with a rider parallel to you or going off of a jump. I actually did kick it up to 1/1000th of a second for some of the jump images because when you are on the far side of a jump (a hill, basically), you have to get on the rider, focus, and shoot in a millisecond as he goes flying by.

Washougal Motocross

Washougal Motocross

One of the most important pieces of equipment at a motocross race is earplugs. I want to thank the school charity that was selling them at the front gate. I had thought about them, but forgot them. Now I will leave a pair in my camera bag.

I survived the day with only a minor sunburn. Unfortunately, wearing my baseball cap backwards to facilitate shooting my camera resulted in a funny sunburn pattern on my forehead that people are going to be staring at for a couple of weeks. Better to have brought a broad brimmed hat, I suppose. I’ve been to Africa a couple of times, you’d think I’d know better. My knee was another casualty of the day. I was already waiting to see an orthopedist about it. Walking up and down the hill at Washougal ought to make the diagnosis easier for him because it is ten times worse now. Of course, it is my gas pedal leg so driving is excruciating at times, like driving one hundred miles home after a motorcycle race.

Pourcel vs Musquin

Pourcel vs Musquin

It was a good day of shooting. I shot almost 1,000 images. As of right now I’ve edited that down to 195 images. One way to improve the keeper rate would be to shoot at a higher shutter speed and then use the new spin blur filter in Photoshop to add spin to the wheels. Not exactly photojournalistically kosher, but I’m not a photojournalist. I added a blur path filter to image at the top of this page to blur the cars and the television scissor lift in the background.

I might have to go back next year in spite of the 6 miles of stop and go traffic jam and the mile long concession lines. You think I exaggerate? Really, Washougal, a few more concessions would be nice on a hot day. Someone is going to get mugged for their lemonade if things don’t improve. Fortunate for me one of the equipment vendors was giving away free water and I had a couple of protein bars in my bag. But when the crowd thinned at the end and I finally got that strawberry lemonade it was heaven in a cup.

One of the downsides to seeing a motocross race live is that you can see only a small fraction of the track at one time and if you are busy shooting a camera you really can’t keep up with all that is going on. I basically knew who was in the lead and a few positions behind him. Once they start lapping slower riders it is easy to miss the leading rider when he goes by. I concentrated on the lead riders because they are going faster and doing more athletically interesting stuff. Apparently there were some crashes. My son in Las Vegas knows more about what happened than I do because he watched it on TV. I can’t find an official attendance, but it used to be about twenty thousand people and that is what it felt like Saturday.

Who knows, maybe by the time of the 2015 race I’ll have schemed my way into one of those blue aprons.

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.

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