For the Beauty of the Earth – A gallery exhibit

Posted by on Sep 25, 2013 in Blog | 0 comments

I have printed and framed 32 of my favorite landscape photos for my first gallery exhibit.  The prints will be on display in the Tate Gallery at:

Christ Congregational Church

9525 Colesville Road

Silver Spring, MD 20901

and will run from October 1, 2013 through November 30, 2013.  If you are interested in viewing it, please call 301-585-8010 for viewing hours.

The title of the exhibit is For the Beauty of the Earth.  For the Beauty of the Earth is one of the first hymns I learned in Sunday school as a child.  I still get choked up when singing it, undoubtedly because it taps into tender childhood memories, but also because it reminds me how beautiful and precious our planetary home is.  The photos in this exhibit represent my efforts to record and share examples of natural beauty that stir my heart.  It will be obvious to the viewer that what attracts my photographer’s eye usually involves scenes of tranquility, peacefulness, still water, color and big sky.  People are absent from these photos, thereby creating the opportunity for the viewer to feel unburdened, “off the net,” and open to communing with God, nature, beauty, and chance without the distractions of daily life.

Chronologically the exhibit begins with a photo of a creek flowing slowly through a redwood forest in northern California, sunlight peeking through the tall trees, taken on the winter solstice of 2010.  The exhibit ends with a view of sunset from the summit of Cadillac Mountain, Mount Desert Island, Maine, with evergreen trees in abundance, taken on the summer solstice of 2013.  Aside from these two continental and solar bookends, most of the photos contain little that is green.  The majority were taken in Death Valley National Park and in the Mono Lake basin, both of which are in eastern California.  The vastness of these places fills me with feelings of possibility, wonder, and awe.

The arid climate and austere surroundings of eastern California are inhospitable, to be sure, but they give rise to dramatic beauty, especially at sunrise and sunset.  The rising full moon appears to be bouncing like a beach ball along a ridge.  The color of sunrise at Zabriskie Point and movement of shadow across the floor of Death Valley are stunning.  One scene at Artist’s Palette reminds me of a mouth-watering double-scoop serving of mint chip and chocolate ice cream.  I love the sensuous curves of the sand dunes sculpted by the wind at Stovepipe Wells.  Photos taken in the Mono Lake basin include unique tufa formations, groves of aspen trees, snow-capped eastern Sierras, and an abandoned gold mining town, a mix of images that stirs my imagination.  Just to bring us back home, there are two photos taken on a foggy morning at Angler’s bridge along the C&O canal, scenes of ethereal beauty and serenity.

I hope that you experience the wonder and beauty of God’s creation in this space as I do.

Digitizing 35 mm Slides

Posted by on Mar 20, 2013 in Blog | 0 comments

In June 1970 I completed three months of counter-insurgency and Vietnamese language training at the U.S. Naval Amphibious Base, Coronado, California, and flew across the Pacific to Danang, Republic of Vietnam, and from there by helicopter to Coastal Group 12, a remote outpost of the Vietnamese Navy, to serve as senior naval advisor to Lieutenant Loc, the commanding officer of the base.  Coastal Group 12 was located in a circular fort built by the French near the village of Thuan An, where the Perfume River flows into the South China Sea.  To the west is Hue, the ancient capital and site of some of the bloodiest fighting during the January 1968 Tet offensive.  To the east, between Coastal Group 12 and the South China Sea, is a barrier island called Tan My, site of the in-country rest and relaxation (“R&R”) facility for the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division.  Given its proximity to this R&R center, Coastal Group 12 was one of the most secure Vietnamese naval bases.  As luck would have it, however, after one month at Coastal Group 12 I was transferred to Coastal Group 14, located at the mouth of the Cua Dai River about 25 miles south of Danang and 5 miles east of Hoi An, where I spent the next 11 months in much more exciting surroundings. During my year in-country, I took about 160 photographs using Kodachrome film, the processing of which results in 35 mm color slides.  Those slides have been stored in a metal box for 40 years.

Consistent with the reputation of Kodachrome film, when I looked at the slides recently, I found that most of the slides are still as good now as when they were first developed.  For about the last five years I have been thinking that I should digitize them.  The question was, how best to do it? I decided to create my own image capture set up using a Canon 5D Mark II 35 mm DSLR camera equipped with a 100 mm macro lens and an LED flood lamp rated at 5000°K color temperature.  The Canon 5D Mark II is equipped with a full frame, 21 megapixel sensor that is approximately the same size as a 35 mm slide image, so, when using a macro lens, the resulting image ought to have very high resolution.  The image capture set up is shown in the photograph below.

This image capture set up works very well.  Here is the process.  First, with the room lights off and the flood lamp turned on, I inspect the translucent Plexiglas through which the light passes to make sure it is clean.  If I see dust or lint when looking through the camera viewfinder, I clean the Plexiglas.  I also check the camera mirror and sensor to make sure the dust is not inside the camera itself.  Next, I insert a slide in the slide holder and view the image through the camera viewfinder to check alignment and to inspect for dust again.  If I see dust, then I remove the slide, vacuum it carefully, return it to the slide holder, and inspect again.  Once the image as seen through the camera viewfinder passes inspection, then I adjust the shutter speed and aperture, if needed, for optimal exposure and click the shutter release cable to take the picture. Capture is instantaneous, and the image is displayed on the camera’s display screen.  The display is set to show both the image and its histogram so I can confirm that the exposure settings were appropriate.  After about 50 slides have been have been captured (in Camera RAW format), I remove the compact flash card from the camera and transfer the image files to my computer. (I could tether the camera directly to a laptop and avoid the compact flash intermediary storage device.)  Then I use Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop, if needed, to process the images.  The final images can be delivered in a variety of digital formats, including Camera RAW, uncompressed TIFF, and JPEG. The steps in image processing are illustrated and explained below using a photograph taken from the perimeter of Coastal Group 12 in July 1970.

  • Initial capture.  This is the image as captured by the camera using the macro lens.  The dark border is the cardboard slide frame surrounding the transparent film.

  • Horizontal alignment.  The Adobe Lightroom rotation adjustment tool is used to align the horizon properly.

  • Cropping.  The Adobe Lightroom cropping tool is used to crop out the slide frame.

  • Spot removal.  The Adobe Lightroom spot removal tool is used to remove lint that escaped detection prior to image capture.  If you expand the image above, you can find a piece of lint in the sky in the upper right quadrant.  In the image below, this lint has been removed.

  • Exposure adjustment.  The white balance has been adjusted and the exposure brightened to make the image consistent with the bright tropical sunshine that I remember so well, and the shadow detail has been brightened also using the exposure sliders available in Adobe Lightroom.
  • The value of high resolution.   There is a reason, of course, for seeking high resolution.  If we are going to be projecting digital images on a screen for an audience, or if we are going to be making photographic prints up to 20″ x 30”, then we want the digital images to be as sharp as possible.  The image below is about a 5x magnification of the image above.  The resolution of the detail in this scene is still quite good.

This entire digitizing process is fast and efficient, and it produces excellent results.

Creating an Action Portrait

Posted by on Feb 7, 2013 in Blog | 0 comments

Last month my son and daughter-in-law said they wanted some new photos of their two children for framing and mounting on their dining room wall.  They asked me if I had taken any shots recently that might be good candidates.  I knew that I had three or four good ones of our grandson but none of our granddaughter that I thought were suitable.  A couple of weeks ago my wife and I spent a long weekend with them, and I took the opportunity to take some shots of our granddaughter.  Actually, I took a lot of shots.  The trick, of course, is to take many shots and hope that one or two of them will turn out to be really special.  I transferred the photos from my camera to my laptop in Camera RAW format and imported them into Adobe Photoshop Lightroom After previewing each shot, I opened the one shown below and checked focus and dynamic range. 

The focus is excellent.  The dynamic range is not as a great as I would like, but it is good enough, and I will adjust brightness after final cropping.

The next step is to crop the image for a framed portrait.  I wanted to crop out the beige colored wall to her right and to keep the orange and blue ribbon attached to the balloon trailing behind her.  I noted that there is a small keystone effect resulting from the downward angle of the camera.  I adjusted for the keystone effect using the vertical transform adjustment slider in Lightroom and then cropped the image.  The result of these two steps is shown below.

I like having her face in the right-hand third of this image.  When I took the photo, she was running past me, so having her face on the right with the mysterious ribbon trailing behind suggests motion and that she is about to exit the frame stage right.

Finally, I increased the brightness slightly in Lightroom.  The result appears below.

As cropped, this image file is 2066 pixels x 2661 pixels.  At 240 pixels per inch, it will make a nice 8″ x 10″ or 8.5” x 11” print.  If I make a print on canvas, I will need to return to the original and crop it a little larger for the purpose of having some image to wrap around the sides of the canvas frame.

Mono Lake and the Eastern Sierra Photography Workshop

Posted by on Dec 12, 2012 in Blog | 0 comments

The first sight of the Mono Lake Basin when approaching from the north occurs after cresting Conway Summit (8,138 ft above sea level).  The view is spectacular, as illustrated by the photo below.  The elevation of the lake is about 1,756 ft lower than Conway Summit.

 

 Mono Basin Viewed from Conway Summit

I arrived in Reno, NV about 3:00 p.m. PDT on Friday, October 12, rented a car, and headed south on US 395.  The distance from Reno to Mono Lake at Lee Vining, CA is 142 miles.  The drive took about three hours, including a stop in Carson City for a delicious curried chicken dinner at a nice Thai restaurant.  I drove over Conway Summit well after sunset and therefore did not experience this view of the Mono Basin at that time.

The photography workshop with Stephen Johnson began the next morning.  After presenting the schedule for the next four days and talking about what we can expect during the workshop, Steve took us to the Mono Lake Visitor Center to learn the geological history of Mono Lake and why the lake is so important to several species of migratory birds.  After lunch we went to Panum Crater, one of many volcanic craters in the region, and began taking photographs of the amazing rocks within the crater and views from the rim of the crater.  We spent perhaps an hour at Panum Crater and then went to the South Shore Tufa Grove, where we remained until after sunset.  Returning to the Lake View Lodge in Lee Vining, CA, we grabbed a quick supper and then gathered in one of the rooms to view and discuss some of the photos taken during the day.

Each of the subsequent three days followed a pattern of rising well before dawn and staying out until well after sunset.  The sites chosen for our photography were different each day.  In addition to sites along the Mono Lake shoreline, we spent time along Lee Vining Creek (the key tributary for Mono Lake), at the abandoned mining town of Bodie, at Lundy Lake, and in Rattlesnake Gulch, where the huge rocks can be found.  When we weren’t shooting water and rocks, we were shooting aspen trees displaying their full autumn glory.

At Rattlesnake Gulch

I took about 300 photographs during the workshop.  Each time we returned to the Lake View Lodge, I transferred all of the day’s RAW image files from the CF card in the camera to the hard drive in my laptop and then imported the images into Adobe Lightroom for processing.  Thus I was able to limit my workload to only 40-50 images at a time, which is quite manageable.  When I set up this web site, I decided that I would limit the number of images in the Mono Lake collection to 50, so I proceeded to select the 50 best shots.  Having organized the images in Lightroom into folders, one folder for each day of shooting, I could select the best 10-15 shots on each of the four days to narrow the selection down, ultimately to the 50 best.

Stephen Johnson is an excellent photography workshop leader and teacher.  I look forward to enrolling in additional photography workshops with him in the future.

Getting Serious About Photography

Posted by on Nov 12, 2012 in Blog | 0 comments

Like my first kiss, I remember the date when and the place where I became serious about digital photography: September 10, 2010, Pacifica, California.  Acting on the recommendation of Mike Collette, founder and CEO of Better Light, Inc. (www.betterlight.com), whom I had met in February 2010 at a Better Light user’s workshop in San Carlos, California, I signed up for a two-day Photoshop and Photography class with photographer Stephen Johnson at his studio in Pacifica, California.  Stephen asked that we bring examples of our photographic work, preferably in RAW image format.  That meant I would have to change the image format setting on my Canon Digital Rebel from “JPEG” to “RAW” and shoot some pictures, something I had read about but never done.  This was definitely new territory for me.

I arrived in Pacifica on the afternoon of the day before the workshop was to begin and had some time to walk the beach and bluffs along the beautiful Pacifica coast.  After settling comfortably on a rock above the crashing surf, I took a deep breath, changed the image setting to “RAW,” and took several shots, the first of which appears below.

The beach and bluffs at Pacifica, California

 To my amazement, the camera did not suffer a meltdown or erase the contents of its compact flash card, but I had no idea what I needed to do to make anything out of these RAW images.  That is what I expected to learn during the workshop.  Stephen is an excellent instructor, and over the course of two days, I learned a great deal about RAW image processing.  I have never reverted to JPEG since.  During the workshop, after listening to Stephen and observing what the other participants were using, I also decided to upgrade my camera, lenses, and image processing software.  This was a big financial investment, but I knew it was the right thing to do.  I bought a Canon 5D Mk II, a couple of “L” series lens, a heavy-duty tripod, and an upgrade to Photoshop.  I also decided to use Adobe Lightroom to process and manage RAW files.

After the workshop, I purchased a copy of Stephen Johnson, On Digital Photography, (O’Reilly, 2006) and read it cover-to-cover.  I recommend this book and his workshops highly.  Information can be found on his web site, www.sjphoto.com.

Eight months would pass before I took the leap from “fully automatic” to “manual” on the camera’s shooting mode dial.  The date was May 10, 2011, and the place was the National Mall, Washington, DC.  I was there because I had signed up for a Washington Photo Safari workshop led by E. David Luria entitled “The Monuments at Night.”  As the sun was setting, the workshop leader began the session by saying, “Please rotate the mode dial on your camera to M.”  To put this request into perspective, I must point out that my father was an avid photographer, and as a child I frequently overheard him muttering “a 30th of a second at f/8” to himself after using a light meter.  So, I was aware of the concept of proper exposure setting, but having relied on automated 35mm “point and shoot” cameras up to that point in my life, I had never been forced to master the concept experientially.  I felt as if I was being told to remove the training wheels from my bicycle, but I did it, and within a few minutes, I became comfortable operating in manual mode.  More importantly, I felt as though I was now in control of the camera, rather than the camera being in control of me.  Not only did I master the trade-off choices for aperture, shutter speed, and ISO settings to achieve an optimal exposure, but I also learned where the controls are on the camera body and how to find them in the dark.  Since that night, my camera’s mode dial has remained set on “M.”  One of the first shots taken that evening is shown below.

World War II Memorial at sunset on the National Mall

 Another important step in my transition to serious photographic work was to master the processing and organizing of RAW image files.  I liked Adobe Lightroom well enough that I decided to master it as I had learned to master the controls on the camera.  I took a couple of local one-day courses in the use of Lightroom, and then I purchased The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 Book by Martin Evening (copyright 2010, published by Peachpit) and read it carefully cover-to-cover.  When finished, Lightroom made sense to me, and I have relied on it ever since as the tool for processing and organizing RAW image files.

My goal is to present examples of my photographic work that are likely to be of interest to the general public as a result of their intrinsic beauty or subject matter.  Having commissioned the creation of this web site as a place to display my photographs, I was faced with the task of choosing which photos to post from several years worth of digital photos stored on my computer’s hard drive.  I decided that the best way to organize the photos on the web site is as a gallery containing several collections, where each collection contains photos that are related in some meaningful way.  I also decided that I would be highly selective in the photos displayed on the web site, with each collection containing somewhere between 10 and 50 photos.  With my original photos organized in a Lightroom catalog, it was an easy matter to open a collection for a particular subject, review the photos in the collection and tag the best using Lightroom’s “star” rating feature, and then export the tagged photos into a file folder with the file output parameters optimized for web viewing.  It was a simple matter to transfer the image files in the export folder to the web site, post them for viewing, and give each an appropriate caption.

I hope that you enjoy the finished product.