Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Busted Shooting

Very interesting day Saturday.  My great plan was to go shoot the Celina hot air ballon festival on Saturday, November 5th with a good friend of mine Stephan Terrill.

I got up at 5am well before sunrise and headed off to pick up my friend and I was pumped as I had not been out shooting for a couple of weeks and I had never shot hot air balloons with anything other than my iPhone.  It was super cold for good old McKinney Texas in early November - 42F, but there was a great sunrise to make it worth while.

Now it was stand and wait time for the anticipated launch of the balloons.  Weather looked great except one little problem; it seemed a tad windy for hot air balloons but the wind did seem to be dropping so fingers were crossed.  The balloon trailers were all lined and looked ready to go.

After standing around and freezing for another 45 minutes the balloon pilot spokesman came over and declared there would be no launch due to the wind so we hung our heads and packed up our gear.  My partner in crime, Stephan, declared "Lets go shoot the barn" so oh yeh grab a Starbucks and lets go get the barn.  Not shooting the balloons was a big disappointment but at least we were going to push on the shutter and still have fun and the I am pretty happy with some of the results.  Also we did get the joy of having the property owner asking us what we were doing even though we were shooting from public property in the open.  We of course said heh we like your barn and just wanted to take pictures and our names are Alastair and Stephan.  Pretty sure she thought we were nuts but she drove away after that.

Ok the one below is not the barn but there are some very cool old signs in McKinney Texas and they are rapidly disappearing so we thought we would grab this one of Bill Smith's Cafe before it too went away.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Oh Oh - I Have To Do What

You know I love to shot anything almost with my camera - building, landscapes and sports maybe favorites, but I will try anything.

Well this weekend was a trip quite literally.  I went from shooting my daughter cheerleading at High School Football, to Volleyball, and on to the Homecoming Parade.  What was frightening though was I was at the parade to take pictures of my kid's teams and the organizer of the local High School weekly Program Guide came up to me and said the school contract photographer wasn't there and she needed some parade shots.  Hmm interesting wasn't going to be for money but I have never had that request before so I agreed.  Heh no one has ever asked to print one of my shots before except as a photo in a frame so in the interest of my kids and my ego they got the pictures.  I do agree free shots are not a habit I want to have anything to do with, but I do feel this was really work (more fun than work) for a charity setup.  Also I ended up with 4 out of 6 shots on the cover of the Football program guide for that week

What is interesting is with the three events I ended up shooting offer and require different photography dynamics and some common elements.

1) Cheerleading requires pretty high shutter speed to capture movement and given the game was at night low light requirements and then finally being in stands and after closeups obviously means a zoom or telephoto

2) Volleyball in a gym is low light and movement means a faster lens and therefore my 70-200mm f2.8 which in a gym is a bit crowded

3)  Last but not least was the casual shoot for the Homecoming Parade that turned into a command performance fot poor old, but lucky me as well.  Big downside was no monopod and only a 18-55mm kit lens in hand so that forced me to really think.  Some ok shots and a bunch of satisfaction

Thursday, September 29, 2011

SS Great Britain - A Photo Tour and Essay

Wow I spent 90 incredible minutes on the SS Great Britain in Bristol, built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel for the Great Western Steamship Company as a successor to the SS Great Western for luxury transatlantic crossings. I felt like I was literally running around to see her and try and take some interesting shots with no tripod, but worth and it and I am going back if I get a chance and hopefully more time.

View from the gangplank as I boarded

This ship is now on display in the original drydock where it was launched in 1843.  The drydock itself was in use until 1977.  The ship has the most incredible history and is one of those stories that is almost to incredible to believe.  She is the first all iron hulled ship powered by a propellor and at 320ft and over 3200 tons was over 1000 tons bigger than anything else at the time.

2 X 500HP Engines

She was being built as a bigger successor to the Great Western which was a oak plank & iron strap paddle wheeler but after seeing the propellor powered SS Archimedes in the river Brunel decided the SS Great Britain not only would have an iron hull but would go the propeller route.

Long elegant lines

As can be seen in some of these shots the SS Great Britain really was large and still leaves one with that impression as you walk around her.  The SS Great Britain finally went into service in 1845 and for some period of time had the transatlantic record crossing record of 14 days between New York and Liverpool.  After only 2 seasons of service she ran aground off the coast of Ireland where she sat for a year before being refloated by Brunel himself.  After repairs here owners went bankrupt and she was sold into service for taking immigrants to Australia at 700 passengers per trip and she served in this role for 30 years with two brief periods as a troop ship.

During the 1880s she was converted to all sail and served as a bulk hauler of coal and finally after a fire in 1886 at Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands she was sold there as a floating storage an quarantine facility. She was finally scuttled in 1937 and even then some of her iron was scavenged by HMS Exeter's crew to repair Battle of the River Plate damage.

Ultimately the SS Great Britain was salvaged in 1970 and was placed on a salvage pontoon and towed back to her original Bristol home port on the River Avon for conservation and to be setup as museum.

 Back at Home

Below the Waterline

Thursday, September 22, 2011

England - A Shooters Paradise on Steroids

I just spent three whirlwind days in England on a work trip travelling between London and Bristol.

The funny thing is it was a crazy trip for work with tons of meetings and 100s of miles of driving, but I took my camera and somehow crammed in some great shooting - I am very happy with the results in general.  What was also very frustrating and close to a disaster is I left my camera on the backseat of the car of my colleague; first I panicked as to where the camera was and then after remembering I sheepishly called him and asked where he was after dropping me off at Gatwick airport.  Hmm he was two hours away already and almost home so DHL had to be the answer.  It took five days, but I finally got the camera, memory card and all and fortunately all was good and no harm done.

I stayed in a hotel in a little town called Nassington and the sights within 5 minutes were amazing for someone living in Dallas.

The church in the picture below was built sometime in the 1300/1400s and was a photographers feast.  I spent 30 minutes there and had no tripod but could have easily spent 2 hours

This two shots below were taken 5 minutes from town as we crossed a one lane stone bridge and I got my friend to stop the car as I had to shoot this. Finally he pushed on me and said we had to go work awaits and watch out a bus is about to run you over.

Then all within the same town is this huge church from an old Eclesiastical school.  I couldn't get any closer but it was an unbelievable structure in a tiny town and awesome weather to boot.

Probably need to go back with tripod and time all in hand.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Topaz Coupon Code

As some of you know, I have mentioned TOPAZ Lab's awesome Plugins, Photomatix,  numerous times.  

Now I am also able to offer anyone who uses my Coupon Code - "ABWPHOTOS" -  a discount from Topaz when purchasing their software.

Topax is awesome enough to give the discount to readers of the site. At the TOPAZ webpage, you can get a free trial or buy it.  The coupon code has to be entered in the 'Coupon Field' of the order form that shows after having clicked on one of the "Buy" buttons of the purchase page of the TOPAZ LAb's website.

If there are any issue with the coupon code contact me and I will get it fixed.

Daily Dose - One Shot HDR

Love HDR or Hate HDR it is definitely controversial.  Personally I have tons of fun with it and sometimes it can produce a wow photo and sometimes it just doesn't work and it should not be done - eg HDR in skin not so good.  Now for me you often I get a single non-bracketed shot that is interesting for me composition wise but it is just sort of dull so playing one shot tone-mapping can be at least fun and interesting at least for another version.  This is exactly what I did with the shot above. The original is below.

A great tool for this is Topaz's Adjust.  I use it for a couple of uses.  I find HDR often drains some pop and color and makes the shot flat and Adjust is super useful to help address that and also for working on single photos to add some overall interesting alternative.

Also I use my coupon code for Topaz products and get a TOPAZ LABS

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Daily Dose - Blue Moon

Do you ever look up after 4pm, but before it is dark and see the moon in the sky and think wow that is cool it is not even dark yet.  It seems to usually only happen when the air is super clear and this week in Dallas has been one of those times.  The fact it has the "it doesn't belong feel" makes it even better to see and I was determined to try and shoot it.  Not an easy exposure to get right but worth the effort.  Hope you like it as much as I do.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Daily Dose - Open Sesame

First time post on the blog for my Daily Dose - this is my one shot per day effort.  I have been doing this for about 3 months on Facebook and Google+ but I figured it belonged here as well plus maybe a little what and why will be provided and help.

This is the Brunel Locks in Huntsville, Ontario. A blue sky sunny day would have been awesome for shooting, but this was our one cloudy day of our entire summer vacation.  Oh well still a magical spot.  I went there early in he morning to try and get magic hour but unfortunately had solid cloud.  However, no rain which was a possibility according to Mr. Weatherman on Mr iPad.  In that small area there is so much to see within 50 yards of walking: river, a dam, locks, rapids, wildlife....  All very peaceful and picturesque.  Since my family lives in Huntsville I will keep going back until the sun shines and I have my camera with me.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Photomatix Coupon Code

As some of you know, I have mentioned HDRSoft's awesome HDR software, Photomatix,  multiple times.  

Now I am also able to offer anyone who uses my Coupon Code - "ABWPHOTOS" -  a 15% discount from HDRSoft when purchasing the software.

HDRSoft is awesome enough to give the discount to readers of the site. At the Photomatix webpage, you can get a free trial or buy it.  The coupon code has to be entered in the 'Coupon Field' of the order form that shows after having clicked on one of the "Buy" buttons of the purchase page of the HDRSoft website.

If there are any issue with the coupon code contact me and I will get it fixed.

My review of Photomatix is located here - PHOTOMATIX REVIEW

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Topaz B&W and Shooting In The Heat

Just maybe we might be done or very close to it. What I mean by that is the 100F Texas weather for 2011 might be finally behind us.  I love taking pictures, but taking most landscape shots in the middle of the day has harsh tough lighting.  When you do it in the middle of the Texas summer at noon the problem is magnified 10X worse - way to much sweat and 100X to much sunlight.

However here was the challenge.  I knew that I could not go at sunset or sunrise to shoot some straw bales that were all over the area around McKinney Texas before they got picked up - the sweat I could take but the light yuk.  I had to do something as the strawbales were way to inviting to not shoot.

Now let me say categorically that there is no substitution for awesome light.  However, I was able to get the shots wrt decent composition standards of at least for a hack like me and get the quality to at least pretty cool by two methods - Photomatix HDR processing and Topaz B&W Effects.  I would not rate myself as awesome but I am pretty happy with the results.

Photomatix 3 shot Bracket

Link to Topaz - coupon code for 15% discount "ABWPHOTOS": 

Friday, September 2, 2011

A Little Inspiration

It's moments like this that got me motivated to try and really figure out my DSLR.  Trying to shoot sports with a point and shoot is useless more or less unless your close and it is bright light and they are playing chess.  They all have a sports mode but sure enough you get into a high speed low light moment and the flash is going off from 200 yards and the subject has already left the frame before the camera fires.  Of course still shots, family snaps etc point and shoots have come leaps and bounds and I do love to have one in the family but camera phones are getting closer all the time and especially when you have apps like Camera+ to trick them out - thanks Mostly Lisa and Tap Tap.

Now the flip side is leave a DSLR on full auto and I think is marginally worse than a point and shoot and that is what made me take the leap and try to become user of the DSLR - always wanted to be a photog.  Tons and fun later and finally I am starting to get it after 7 months and I end up with some ok shots.  Plus I can actually do a little something in post.  It is so fun to look back at the older images and cringe and I am sure I will continue to do that forever, but in another 5 or 8 years I may actually be good vs purely tolerable but I think the journey is the real thing.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Improving Your Picture Adventure and Google+ Impacts

I am rapidly becoming a huge Topaz fan.  The latest plugin I have been having a great experience with is  Topaz InFocus and it has really made a difference on the first few shots I used it on.  When I was reviewing photos on Google+ I noticed the best ones always had superior sharpness so I figured I needed to see if something could work magic to de-fuzz HDR a bit.

I found out about Topaz InFocus from Stuck In Customs where Trey Ratcliff was very positive about it's merits, but for me I was plain excited and in fact immediately turned my trial into a paid for download.  Basically it is a sharpening product with a superior set of algorithms vs standard sharpening in Aperture Lightroom etc.  It does not improve every single shot as some come from the camera after a small amount of post as sharp as they will get but when items lend to slight blur - leaves on trees, letters on signs in the distance, small sharp edges (peeling paint etc), HDR processing etc the algorithms noticeably tighten and sharpen to the real Tack Sharp we want in many many causes.

It is highly recommended you use this product sparingly on slightly fuzzed portrait shots or you will trash the effect you had.

I am going to add more to this review with some pictures etc later today or tomorrow but I thought I will at least get my short write out ASAP so all can have a look.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Composition vs Technology

First of all a confession that many of the photography community share and this is zero surprise.  I am a gadget geek.  I would love to have all the latest camera, lens, accessory, software etc etc bits and pieces

However I also know and as I saw someone on Google+ say the other day, "composition trumps resolution" (most of the time).  Clearly there are pretty extreme examples where noise or unintentional lack of focus trashes the image, but in general this is absolutely true.  In fact I posted an image on G+ the other day that shows this little factoid.  I saw this stellar sunrise on my way to work and all I had with me was an iPhone4 and so stopped to take the shot.  The shot was pretty cool and the composition very interesting despite being with an iPhone.  I sure wished I had a DLSR with me though.

Now what is funny is most people who +1'd or commented on Google+ loved the image and only one noted the noise which was very obvious.  I subsequently used a trial version of Topaz DeNoise and it did really improve the picture and pull much of the noise out.  Classic case of technology didn't make the shot but it definitely improved it, but I do agree that the best camera is the best one you actually have with you.

This is the shot with the noise - click to enlarge the image and look at the clouds on the right blown up a bit and you will see the noise

Below is the shot after using Topaz DeNoise - click on the image again and the noise on the right is almost gone

Link to Topaz - coupon code for 15% discount "ABWPHOTOS":
Topaz DeNoise, Click here

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Get A Real Strap

I am always very opinionated on products I use or would like to use so I thought it would be useful to share my thoughts on the Black Rapid RS-7 strap.  The net net of it is I really like this camera strap.  It is not perfect but pretty close to it.

I use Canon cameras and obviously had the base strap for the body but I quickly hated how the camera was either around my neck facing the front when I wanted to use it but then was either in the way when idle or the strap was over my shoulder to the side but was awkward and not convenient to swing up front for shooting.  The other issue was I did not want to hang the camera around my neck with the strap on the body with a large telephoto or zoom lens on the camera for fear of torquing the body.

With the Black Rapid RS-7 the strap is basically slung over your shoulder across your chest and hangs normally to the side when carrying.  When you want to shoot you pull up the camera to your eye and it slides on a swivel and metal guide loop up to you eye and when you put it down it goes back to the side.  With that motion it is really smooth, seamless and fast.  It also looks way cooler than the tourist around the neck Canon, Nikon etc straps.  The strap also has two bumpers to ensure the shoulder pad pulls back to the right place when you lower the camera or the camera stays behind your back when carrying.  Net net this is definitely a huge improvement over the included strap.

Now for the negatives and I only have one.  Changing the camera to a tripod is a pain as you have to remove the body or lens connector to screw back onto the tripod mount.  Back Rapid has a Manfrotto tripod plate adaptor but I am not lucky or wealthy enough to have that tripod so I am still trying to figure out a quick and easy solution there - the solution will likely be save pennies and buy Manfrotto, is my guess.

Here is their link:

Monday, August 22, 2011

Deleting, Phtomatix and what I learned from an ok HDR Effort

Vacations always produce mounds of shots.  For me I find somewhere between 15%-25% that should avoid the trash bin on your computer.  In the past I would keep everything and boy oh boy was there a lot of junk - overexposed, underexposed, missing heads/feet/hands and just plain crappy composition.  Don't get me wrong snaps of random family things I love and want to keep when they are good and not everything has to be a soaring landscape, but I just didn't have what it took to get rid of the junk.  I am getting much better at the purging but I think I still need to be more ruthless with myself.  It also hurts me to delete photos of my kids and close family but I also know longterm nobody wants an out of focus shot of Auntie Bee.

I use a 5 star system plus in camera and here are my better but not optimal steps.
1) Delete in camera pure junk as even the LCD will show these
2) I try to give a Star rating to all remaining when I import.  Anything that has crap composition or really out of focus or was a pure mistake gets a 1 star.  2 stars go to so so composition but soft focus or really soft but not terrible focus.  3 stars is basically any picture that is ok or better but has an obvious flaw - composition somewhat out but cropping may help or it is slightly soft.  4 and 5 stars are used on good to great pictures with 5 being wow I nailed that.  I also group any HDR brackets so I don't accidentally throw them away as who knows when I will visit those.
3) I delete all the 1 stars at this point
4) I post process all the 5 stars and many of the 4 stars - this is where I have 15-25% left adding up these groups
5) I review the 3 stars for any that maybe salvaged and if possible work it and upgrade to a 4 star, plus make sure the brackets are marked to save
6) Delete the 2 star and remaining 3 star photos

My HDR adventure. I love HDR and use Photomatix now which is awesome due to it's speed, controls and super ease of use, but I do not "HDR" everything I shoot.  I have seen many an HDR that causes me to go wow that is incredible.  I have also seen a few that are not my taste, but oh well everyone has their opinion and just because I don't like it doesn't mean others don't.  On the shot captured in this blog post I am very satisfied with it for one of my early efforts.  The is my mother's lakehouse and it is clearly in the woods so it is super hard to get a shot of it in the summer as it is so dark and then when you expose the cottage the trees and sky are way blown out - trust me I have tried.  A split ND also doesn't really help much as due to the trees mixing with the sky so to speak.  Anyway I have been reading and reading the various tutorials on HDR and recently acquired Photmatix Pro after reading various recommendations on different products.  My first effort with other HDR S/W was marginal at best, but then I moved onto Photomatix, tried again and stuck closer to Trey Ratcliff's setting initial recommendations before deviating on my own and then it started to really come together but some of the sky and trees above the cottage still looked a bit muddy.  I took the additional plunge and went into a layered editor added one of the brackets as a layer masked it and then painted through to one of the bracket shots and low and behold it worked - that was a first and almost an aha moment for me as Photomatix plus the layered editor was a huge winning combination.

I will be putting up a more detailed Photomatix review next week or two as I have processed a half dozen more shots and have more to do over the next couple of weeks as well

Friday, August 19, 2011

Wow what a difference 8 months makes

Ok I am now going to try and really use my blog or at least occasionally

First a confession I am a recovering Point and Shoot guy.  I have alway loved taking pictures, but have never owned my own SLR/DSLR.  We always had point and shoots and I filled the memory cards with shots all the time. My wife has had film SLRs and DSLRs and she was alway pretty good at composition, but I sucked and I always left it on the green fully auto square.  She occasionally ventured to Aperture or Shutter Priority but also mostly fully auto or fully auto no flash (the black square).

What I really started to notice is that many times the DSLR images looked dull and flat and the point of shoots of the same thing were better.  Then I downloaded the Stuck in Customs iPhone app and it caused me to look at the Stuck In Customs website and I saw HDR and thought wow that is unreal.  So March of this year (2011) I literally decided to take the plunge and really learn our (sorry my wife's Canon T1i) DSLR and leave the all auto world and start shooting exclusively in RAW.  I had zero idea of what I was doing and reading the basic manual was pretty much useless as it had zero real explanation just simple this does this but not why or how or context and my pictures got worse, but nonetheless I was all the more intrigued.  I then bought DSLR for Dummies and yes I was a dummy so needed it.  I read it cover to cover and started to slowly figure out a lot.

I took the camera and the DSLR for Dummies book with me on a trip to Spain and finally things started to make sense and I was starting to understand why my shots really were not very good at all.  Then I started to get a wee bit better and then when I started to use Aperture to post process, I finally saw my DSLR pictures beat out my Point and Shoot efforts.

So today, my wife wants her camera back and I really want to get a full frame body of my own so that is on the horizon.  The net of the journey so far is I still am very very average at best, but much better than I was.  I also now at least can see what I like and some ways to produce that plus I now see how much more exciting stuff there is to learn.

The shot above is of my son sticking his feet int he rushing water at Ragged Falls near Huntsville, Ontario Canada.  I just love the colors from his shirt to the rocks to even the black of the water.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Waiting © Alastair Westgarth

Delayed In Newark nothing to do but shoot