The wildfires that spread throughout the west in September resulted in some really bad air quality in our area. It was hard to see too far on some occasions and you definitely weren’t supposed to exercise if you could avoid it. At one point, I had thought a short bike ride might be okay but I didn’t do it and, when I went out to take some photos, I realized that even walking around the park was resulting in me feeling quite bad. Serious exertion would have been a bad idea.
I wanted to get some photos that demonstrated how bad the air quality was. However, I discovered that it was quite hard to compose a shot that showed how bad things are. You can take pictures that show distant objects as obscured by the smoke particles (although post processing techniques can reduce or increase the obscuration if you wish) but the difficulty with that is that a photo doesn’t give a good idea for the viewer of how far away things really are.
A wide lens makes even things that are close look distant and a telephoto lens brings distant things in close so you struggle to make the viewer perceive things the way you actually saw them at the time. I tried with these shots to have enough in the foreground to give some concept of how quickly the visibility fell off but I don’t think it really tells the story in the way that being there did. However, this is a record of what it was like and maybe I will come back to these pictures to remember.
I’m sure a bunch of my relatives will look away for this post. Maybe they aren’t fans of focus stacking but it could be the spiders that put them off. My macro lens has been out a lot during the pandemic since it provides something to photograph close at home that is a bit different. In fact, I have got so used to having it available, when I am out with a normal lens and come across something small and interesting, I am a bit frustrated to realize I can’t get a close up shot.
The problem with the lens is that it is not a very advanced one and the autofocus on it is pretty crap. When I am trying to hand hold the lens and something is moving and so am I, things get a little unpredictable. We had a few spider webs in the backyard with the owners sitting in the middle. The afternoon sun provided great illumination so I figured I should give it a go. I tend to go to manual focus and move to get the shot but with the breeze moving the web a lot, things are pretty tricky. This is what prompted me to try cheating.
I figured that focus stacking does a good job of increasing the area in focus and it manages to align images and make use of what is already in focus. If I can be straight on to the spider and stay reasonably still and roughly at the right focus point, let the web move towards and away from me and fire a bunch of shots off hand held. Ignore the ones that have nothing in focus and then let Photoshop work on the remainder.
It isn’t a perfect solution and some weird things happen at the edges of the frame but the center works out pretty well and you can crop in a little to address the edges. I was quite pleased with the outcome to be honest. It is making the best of a few bad elements but it did do quite well. You don’t get to control what is in focus for each shot so getting a complete set to work with is unlikely but overall, not a bad experiment.
Summer weather means lots of sunny days but also means lots of heat haze. I was at Boeing Field one sunny afternoon and there were two jets parked across the field that I wanted shots of – one was an Illinois ANG KC-135R and the other was a Falcon 20. Looking through the viewfinder, both of the were shimmering in the heat haze that a warm and reasonably humid day brings. This is the downside of summer in the Pacific Northwest.
Not long before I had watched a video on YouTube about photographing Saturn through a telescope. The image of Saturn was all over the shop but they were using a software technique to take multiple images and build a more stable and sharper final image. It worked reasonably well and this got me thinking about how to do something similar. In the past I have used Photoshop to blend together multiple images to remove the moving elements of a shot like people or traffic. I wrote about it in this post.
I thought I would see if something similar could be done. I put the frame rate on to high and steadied myself before firing off a few seconds of shots. I wanted a lot of images to provide the best opportunity for the statistical analysis to find the right solution. Importing this in to Photoshop as layers and then auto aligning them allowed the analysis tool to do its thing. I don’t think the result is quite what I want and I may experiment with different analysis methods – median versus mean for example – to see which ones are most effective. However, there is clearly a smoothing out of the distortion and, if I needed to get a shot on a hazy day when there wouldn’t be another chance, I would definitely fall back on this approach to see whether it produced something more usable.
While scanning through some images, one of the shots that showed up in my catalog was an HDR processing of some shots of a US Army Chinook. It had been processed with a plugin that I had previously experimented with. I thought it looked over vibrant but I was impressed with the way the dark interior of the helicopter had shown up while the outside was also well lit. I decided to have another go at processing the images.
I used Lightroom initially to do the processing. It came out surprisingly well and looked not unlike the outcome from the plugin. However, there was some ghosting on people in the shot and there was a lot of chromatic aberration. I have noticed issues with Lightroom making a worse job of it than Photoshop so I decided to try HDR Pro in Photoshop as well and use Camera Raw for tone mapping. The outcome was very similar from an overall perspective. However, the ghosting was virtually eliminated and the aberration was not apparent either. It clearly is still a better bet than Lightroom.
After four months of no hair cut, I finally managed to get some clippers and set about cleaning up my head. I won’t share the awful look that I had developed (and the current look might not be that great either) but I did have Nancy take some pictures before and after. While she was taking the after shots, I asked her to take a couple that were directly head on. I was interested in facial symmetry.
I had seen articles in the past about how some people have quite symmetric faces while others didn’t and I had been meaning to try this out for myself. I got a shot that was nice and head on so took it in to Photoshop. There I duplicated the layer and flipped it horizontally. Aligning it centrally was a bit of a choice because you can move it around a little and just widen or narrow the face. I got it to a place that seemed about right. The fact my face is asymmetric means that there isn’t an exact center to align against.
I then added a layer mask to two versions of the image to blank one side or the other out. The result is two versions of my face using either the left or the right side. The difference between them is quite stark. My jaw is slightly lopsided as is my nose and so one version has a far broader look to it while the other is a lot thinner. It’s like two different people.
Not being able to go anywhere means you can only photograph things close to home. Why not dig out the macro lens. I have no doubt that many photographers have been doing the same thing when stuck at home too. I initially didn’t have any obvious plan for this. I just decided to photograph anything around me to see what it looked like when seen up very close. Textures on the surface become apparent in a way that aren’t normally. I also discovered just how much dust on on somethings that I never noticed until looking at the images.
My effort at shooting macro images of bees in our front yard (this post) also yielded a surprised. While I was waiting on a flower for the bee to come to me, I noticed the flower already had a resident. A little white spider was hanging out in there. I am not sure what its intended prey was. It seemed a bit small to take on a bee but I have no idea if that could happen. Maybe it wanted something smaller. I got a couple of shots of it that interested me. The prime shots show its “face” in detail. Macro shots have a very shallow depth of field so I missed with plenty of shots but one or two had the end of the legs in focus. The detail of the hairs on the legs was so cool so I include that too even if it looks like I missed focus on the shot (which obviously I did!).
The Puget Sound area is currently abloom. Everywhere you look there are flowers. It is quite beautiful. We haven’t seen too many hummingbirds on our feeder recently and it’s not hard to see why when they have so many places to feed right now. We have some blooms in our front yard too and this means the bees are visiting. I decided to try and use the macro lens to get some shots of them. My lens is a Tokina unit. I bought it for the negative scanning process for which it worked well. However, the focusing drive is not fantastic and it hunts a bit when I use it for things other than manual mode. However, it is still worth a shot. Here are a couple of bee shots from the yard. I can’t go anywhere so I may as well shoot at home!
I was recently watching a video of a landscape photographer and he took a trip to the Hoh Rain Forest on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. Nancy and I went there on a vacation a few years ago and I posted about it here. I decided to go back and look at some of the images from that visit and see what I liked. I had taken a bunch of photos in multiple locations on that trip and I found that I had not really given many of the shots any effort.
I decided to take a look at both those that I shared in the original post but also some “new” ones. I realized that a little effort made the images so much more interesting. The rain forest is so lush and there is so much green that it almost seems unnatural. I brought down the exposures a bit and did punch of the saturation a little. It does look a little overdone but I assure you it is actually a reflection of what the place is really like. I think digital cameras tend to tone down greens a bit and, when the place you are looking at is all green, this is a bit of a problem that needs to be addressed.
Oho is about four hours drive from where we are now. A bit of a trek for a day out but I think a trip over to that side of the peninsula is definitely something we should do again before too long. We can also check out the coastline over there which is really stunning.
When putting together some images for a group online that I am involved with, a dug out a couple of shots of jets departing O’Hare I shot years back. When coming off 22L, some of the jets make an early turn to the south and you can get a view of them that is either quite level with the wing line or slightly above. When shooting them, they are climbing so it is obvious what you were shooting. However, as I looked at these shots, it occurred to me that they looked a lot like an air to air position except the angles were wrong because of the climb. Since I had shot quite tightly, re-cropping the shot required some Photoshop work.
Taking the image out of Lightroom and in to Photoshop, I selected the crop tool and rotated the image to be the sort of angle that an air to air shot might be. Doing this crops off the nose and tail of the jet. However, one feature of the crop tool in Photoshop is that, if you then drag the edges of the tool back out, you can expand the canvas size. You now have the whole plane in shot but have added some white space in each corner where no image previously existed.
It is a simple task to then use Content Aware Fill to add sky back in to these areas. The result is a shot that looks almost as if you had been flying in formation at altitude. Would you have spotted it? Having done it with an A320, I then had a go with a 757. The light angle makes it look a bit like we are flying along towards a setting sun. I was rather pleased with the trick.