Thursday, December 31, 2009

Midnight is Rapidly Approaching!

The year is nearly gone. And, I am so far behind in posting my sunset photos to my web albums, and writing about them here, that I am ashamed. Like you, I've been very busy. This has been a very stressful year. But, I wanted to make sure to get one last blog entry done before 2010 begins. So, here goes ...
I think I'll just keep this one simple, and show a few recent photos. This first one is to show that, yes, we have still been having beautiful sunsets here in Florence. And, yes, I have been out photographing them. This is one is from my 'near backyard.'

This next series was taken just two nights ago, and far, far away from my home. I have wanted to drive into the Superstition Mountains for some sunset photos for quite a while. But, that is about 40 miles, and an hour, from my home. Since you never know whether there will be a good sunset or not, I've been a little hesitant to just up and drive there. But, this looked like a very promising day. So, off I went. I drove about a mile off US60 on the Peralta Road, and stopped beside the road. There is some really beautiful desert all around there. I've been back in here several times in the past, to hike the Peralta trail. I did it again about a month ago.

Make sure to click on these images to view them larger.

This first picture turned out pretty good. This is the Superstition Mountains with the setting sun shining on them. The desert is real pretty, and the clouds are great.

The sunset wasn't too bad, either. I really like having the cactus forest to shoot through.

And now comes the surprising part. After the sun goes down, it gets dark. (That's not the surprising part!) In the following shot, the clouds are being illuminated by the city lights of Phoenix. I see that effect all the way down in Florence, so that didn't surprise either. Remember, it was dark. There was nearly a full moon hidden above the clouds behind me, which provided enough light to see (kinda) where I was walking even without a flashlight. Did I mention that it was dark? And, did I mention that there was a breeze?

Since it was rather dark, I set my camera aperature to F8 so a long exposure would be required. The first shot below was 25 seconds, and the last one was 30 seconds. I normally shoot at ISO100, but for these shots I changed to ISO400.

The breeze was moving the clouds, and that caused a blur in the image that has produced a fantastic 3D effect in the images. You can see that the cactus is still and in focus, and so are the stars in the sky. Just the clouds are blured.

I just love this effect, and I think I will be trying to duplicate it much more in the future.

Meanwhile, thanks for reading, and I pray that God will bless you with a wonderful New Year.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A New Effect - Graduated Tint

Most of the photos that I post to my web albums are unedited; just as they came from the camera. Some however, do go through some minor edits - such as rotating and cropping. Some even experience some contrast enhancement. For working with my photos I have some free photo editing programs, and some that I have purchased. My favorite of all of them is Google's Picasa. And yes, it's free! It may not be as fully featured as some of my other programs, but it is very capable none the less, and is also very simple and intuitive to use.

In case you haven't noticed, there are a LOT of ways to edit a photograph. And, what I've found, is that the majority of them actually make the picture look worse than the original. Snapping a picture with a camera is simple, compared to the art of photo editing. To do this requires a very talented eye, and a flare for art. Mind you, I don't claim to have any such skills. At least, not yet.

Over the last couple of years, I've maintained a constantly running slide show in my office at work. That gives me 8 hours, give or take, every day to examine my work. What I've found is that lately, some of the photos that I used to consider a very enjoyable, now seem quite bland, or washed out. And so, I have begun a slightly more serious look into photo editing.

I have discovered a couple of very simple things in Picasa that can make very stunning improvements in some shots. Not all shots, mind you; just some shots. Number one on this list is increasing the contrast. I'm sure that it is the same with you; when you get back from a photo shoot and look at your results, some shots are keepers, and some are only fit for the round file. Sometimes, a little enhancement is all that is necessary to change one of those disposable pictures into a keeper.

As an example...

Actually, I never considered throwing this shot away; I liked the colors too much. This was a one of those very special nights where the sunset was spectacular. And to the South of me, some clouds were beautifully glowing in the light of the setting sun. And to top that off, a very localized rain storm was passing by. The storm was close enough to enjoy but not close enough to get wet. This is a shot looking South at that storm, but it's kinda hard to tell from the original image that there really is a storm here because the picture is so dark.

The first thing that I learned to use in Picasa to really help shots like these, is the Tuning tab, which you can see below.

On this tab, I like to use the Fill Light and Shadows sliders. To show what effect these sliders can have, first I have moved the Fill Light slighter all the way to the right.

As you can now see above, there is actually some desert in the foreground. But, now the clouds are all washed out. So, the next thing to see, is what happens if I slide the Shadows slider all the way to the right.

As you can see below, the saturation of the colors is greatly increased, making them look much brighter. However, this has now taken on a very artificial look. And, if you will notice, the foreground has nearly disappeared again.

So, next I will bring the Shadows slider all the way back to the left and back off on the Fill Light slider a bit, as you see below. I adjusted this down until the desert plants in the foreground are just visible, approximately as I would like them to appear in the final version.

As you can now see above, the desert has some character to it, and the clouds have a little definition back to them. But, they are still too washed out. So, it seams that what I need to do is to darken the sky without darkening the foreground. Enter the Graduated Tint Effect.

When you click on this tool, two sliders appear; Feather and Shade.

Also, in the middle of your photograph, a green plus symbol appears (see below). You can click on this plus sign and drag it around your picture.

As you can see below, I've positioned the plus just below the bottom of the clouds.

You should experiment with the two sliders to fully understand what they do. The Feather slider broadens the darkening effect, so as to soften its impact on the lower portion of your photo. The Shade slider causes the image above the plus sign to become darker the further you move the slider to the right. By the way, below the Shade slider is the Pick Color tool that allows you to alter the color used to tint the image. If you leave this alone, the color of your image is not changed - it is only darkened. You should play with this, as you can get some very interesting effects. So far, I haven't seen any need to use the Pick Color box, as I am quite satisfied with the normal darkening tint.

Once I get a desired image, I click on Apply. Below is the final result. The clouds have a fairly bright coloration, and yet not unappealing. They also exhibit a lot of detail. And, the rain storm and the desert foreground are nicely visible. I knew there was a reason that I didn't want to throw away the original!

Below is another example using this technique. The shot is of the Superstition Mountains, looking over a pasture with some cows enjoying the coming of the evening. In the original shot, the foreground and the cows are very dark; there is hardly any green visible in the grass. This is not how this scene appeared to my eyes; the colors were much more vibrant as I stood there.

So, in the shot below, you can see the fruits of the editing technique described above. I don't know about you, but I much prefer this second image.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Night I've Been Waiting For!

Sometimes the sky is absolutely amazing. What God has designed is beyond all possible comprehension.

As I have been working my way through my sunset collection, and trying to get at least some of them uploaded to my Picasa Web Albums, I've been approaching this particular night of July 21, 2008 (Yes, I know - that IS more that a year ago!) with great excitement. It was indeed a very magical night. I was shooting this night with the Fujifilm FinePix S8000fd, since I did not have the Canon Rebel-xsi yet. But, that is actually part of this story.

You will recognize the cactus in these photos, as I have photographed it literally thousands of times because it is probably about 500 yards from my house - quick and easy to walk to. By my count, on that night I took 102 photos! That in itself indicates that it was probably a pretty good night. Since there are so many pictures from that night, I'm going to try something new -- I've created a short movie from some of them, along with some credits at the end, giving credit where credit is due!! Here is how the night progressed:

The final picture in the video is a special one to me. Shortly after taking these, I noticed that the theme for Circuit City's Photo Contest of the Month for August, was "Sunrises and Sunsets." It hit me right between the eyes that I should try entering one of my photos. Of course, I wouldn't stand a chance, but I should give it a try any way.

At that time, my sunset collection consisted of about 8,000 photos. The rules of the contest allowed for each person to enter only one picture. So, I proceeded to go over each and every photo in my collection several times. Whew! Once I narrowed the search to about 500 pictures, I asked my wife and granddaughter for their input. Of course, they refused to even look until I further reduced the number of candidates. So, I put some more sweat into it, and got the number of choices down to about 70. Then I turned it over to them. They fussed and fumed for a while, and further narrowed the selection down to about a dozen. And then it was back to me again.

I looked at their choices, and although I liked them (after all, it was I who put them in the list of 70), I just couldn't pick one of their dozen as my one favorite. I wanted to pick a shot that I both liked myself, and one that I thought the judges might like. So, I thanked my wife and granddaughter for their efforts, and returned to the list of 500, and picked the one that is at the end of the video above.

To complete the story, and to be real careful to give credit where it is really due, the photo I entered into Circuit City's contest took first place in the August contest. The result was that I won the Canon Rebel-xsi camera from them. The irony in this is, that before I received the camera from them, Circuit City announced that they were closing all their Arizona stores. And after that, they announced the closure of all their stores. But, I am very happy to say that the camera did arrive, I'm very thankful for it, and I really enjoy it.

Now, as for the credit that is due, I have said it before and always will, that God puts the beauty in the sunsets. He has simply given me the great love for that beauty, and the ability to push the shutter button. I also think that He must have helped me select which photo to submit to the contest. Mind you, my wife and granddaughter were slightly disappointed that I hadn't picked one of their choices. However, since the photo that I selected actually won, they have gotten over their disappointment.

Again, here is the wining photo:

Thank You, Lord!!

And you can see more photos from this night in my July 2008 web album. Just know that I haven't finished uploading all the pictures from night that I want to. So, more will be coming.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Where Ever You Are ...

... You just gotta stop, and take a picture! So, you had better be ready, huh?

You know, I find it rather strange, that a good portion of my collection of nearly 16,000 (!!!) sunset pictures, I can remember taking. Well, OK, not all of them. But, I got around to posting these shots from last July (a year ago) to my Picasa web albums, and I can remember where I was, and what the circumstances were, when I shot them.

In the shot below do you recognize the reflections? Can you identify what they are off of?

On this day in July, I was on my way home at the end of the day. And, of course, I was racing the sun. It was obvious that there was going to be a nice sunset, and I wanted to get to a place outside, or at least mostly outside, of town where I could place myself behind some mountains or cactus. But, the setting sun waits for no man, and I couldn't get out of town fast enough. I was headed South on Val Vista Drive, when I came to this somewhat open area. So, I just pulled over and started shooting. OK, now can you figure out what the reflections are off of? No, that's not water. They are off of the roof of my car! It turns out that I rather liked the results, even though they were quite unexpected and unplanned. Sometimes, you just accidentally learn something new!

So, after clicking a few shots, I headed on down the road. But, I hadn't gone far when I had to pull over again. I really liked the pastel colors of the clouds. This time, I at least moved clear of the car.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Sometimes the Water is Nice

We had some beautiful clouds throughout the day. And, as they usually do, I was afraid that they would completely disappear before sundown. But, alas! Some of them were kind enough to stick around. So, tonight I rode my trusty bicycle up to the community lake, hoping to get some good reflections. The first thing that you are probably thinking is "Where is the cactus?" That's a fair question. And the second is probably "What are lakes doing in the middle of the Arizona desert?" That's an even better question.

As for the cactus, well, sometimes I just like to broaden my horizons (no pun intended). And, after all, who doesn't like reflections off of water? As for what the lakes are doing in the desert, well, who doesn't like reflections off of water? This community lake is by the playground area and near the community center. This puts it near the streets. And streets bring street lights. When I am shooting around cactus, I try to avoid getting any man-made objects in the pictures. If I can't completely avoid them, I at least try to hide them behind the cactus or a handy bush. But, hey, when you are at the lake by the street, your gonna have street lights! You can see them in all of the following shots. It's just almost impossible to keep away from them. So I do my best with them, and try to make them fit in as best as I can.

Any way, when I first arrived at the lake tonight, the sun was still behind a cloud. But, I could see that there was a clear area beneath the cloud that the sun should come bursting through. This first shot give you and idea what the cloud was like that the sun was hiding behind.

As I was waiting for the sun to make it's appearance, I rode my bike around the lake a few times, trying to pick my positions for my shots. I decided on the location below for the shots of when the sun first dropped below the clouds. I tried to include the reflection of the sun itself, as well as reflections of trees, light poles, etc.

Whenever there is a tree nearby, I like to use some of its branches to add a little interest to the foreground, as in this next shot.

A little later, I moved around to another location, where the pool of water is larger and more still. The still water provides smoother reflections.

And, tonight we had a small crescent moon. Click on this next shot to see it a little larger. I tried to capture the moon and its reflection along with the colors of the sky.

Then I hopped on my bike and made my way back home.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Wow! Where does the time go?

I ended my last post by saying that I had just thrown my back out of whack. Well, I'm glad to say that I am up and about. I'm just taking it rather easy, as my back is still kind of edgy. Add to that the fact that I've been really busy at my work. Add to that the fact that we haven't had a very rainy season this summer. Not much rain, not many clouds. So, I've only been out shooting sunsets a couple of times in the last couple of weeks.

So, I thought that this time I'd talk about a couple of photos from last July (yes, a year ago!). I have posted these pictures in my Picasa web albums, so you can see these and more, there.

The first shot is one that I took when I stepped out my back door just to check the sky and see if I was going to need to go shoot the sunset. As I looked at the sky, I was really stunned at the sun's rays through the hole in the cloud. So, I ran back in the house to get my camera, and was very happy to see that the hole had not vanished when I got back to the yard. I try to not take pictures of roof tops and light poles, but sometimes you gotta take the picture where you stand. Any way, I love the sun's rays around and through the cloud.

It was looking like some good things might happen in the coming sunset, so I hit the road in search of of the setting sun. Here are a few more pictures from later that same day.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

I'm Still Here!!

I could start by asking, what else could go wrong? But I won't. If I did, you might think that I was just whining. On the other hand, I know that each of you has experienced much of the same. The happy news is that I'm now back on the air!

OK, so what's been going on?

Computer crash - One day, my computer decided that it didn't want to boot up any more. The Windows boot procedure reported that a certain file was missing or corrupt. After spending about a week trying to restore a copy of that file and get running again, I finally gave up. The next approach was to buy a new hard drive, and start over by restoring from the factory restore disk. Of course, this puts the machine back into its factory new state, which means that every Windows Update needed to be reinstalled, and every program that I use needed to be reinstalled. What with only being able to work on this in the evenings after getting home from work, this took several weeks to get back up again. As for all my photographs, I was able to install the old hard drive as a second drive, and copy all my pictures to the new disk. I wasn't so concerned about loosing the picture files, since I keep a copy of all of them on a external USB hard drive, and on burnable DVD disks. So, I was quite certain that I could recover them all. Note to all -- MAKE SURE TO BACKUP ALL OF YOUR IMPORTANT FILES!!!

Office furniture exchange - In the midst of trying to get my computer back up again, my wife wanted me to exchange my office furniture with hers. It would seem that it would have been easier to exchange offices, but she didn't want to do that. Did you ever play that computer game Sokoban? This games goes back several years ago; it was a simple game involving a bunch of boxes that you had to push around to get them into the proper places. There were 50 levels to solve, and some of them were extremely difficult. But, not nearly as difficult as actually exchanging furniture between two rooms. In reality, it involves at least four rooms in the house, and more likely every room in the house. And that's exactly what it did. And to start off, all of the computers had to be shut down and moved to a safe waiting area. It took me about two solid days to get the furniture moved. And then it took about another week to get the computers back up and running. And, of course, my wife's computer had to come first. Anyway, both my wife's computer and mine are back up and running. But, there seems to be a lot of stuff left all over the house. The entire household has not recovered yet. So, the job is not yet finished.

Through it all, do you think that I stopped taking photos. No!!! Alright, here two photos from just last night.

So what's next? Well, today I threw my back out, and right now as the sun is ready to set, it's raining real hard to boot. So, no pictures tonight. Hopefully I'll be up and at 'em real soon.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Oh No - It's June Already!!

Where does the time go?!?! For a while, I thought that I might be able to catch up with photo uploading and blogging. Well, here it is, and we are more than half-way through the month of June. And, I only just now finished uploading the pictures that I took last June. Yikes!!

I'd like to present just a couple more shots from last June. Make sure to click on the following pictures to see them in a larger format. There are a lot of details to see in these shots. No matter how many sunsets I've photographed, I never cease to be surprised by something new. If the clouds are in just the right position, and the sun has a clear view, when the sun just goes down below the horizon, even when it is no longer shining on you, it will be shining on the bottoms of the clouds above you. And wow! Usually, the clouds turn red. But, there are times when they turn an almost brown color. And the bottoms of them can look all puffy and billowy.

In the first shot below, you can see that the sun is just about to drop below the horizon. Due to the stuff that is in the air, the color of the sunlight shining on the cloud bottoms makes them look brown.

In the following shots, I just wanted to show what I thought were some really beautiful clouds. Make sure to click them to see them larger.

Believe it or not, I'm all done now with last June's photos. I think that now I'd like to spend more time talking about current photo shoots, rather than talking about year-old shots. So, here is a picture from a couple of weeks ago.

That's all I have for right now. Life has been quite busy, as has probably been the case with you, also. I certainly hope to not be so long before making the next post. Till then...

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Almost the End of June

Sooner of later, I'm sure that the month of June will come to an end. But, until that time arrives, I have some more special picture to share. After all, last June, we had some really great sunsets.

We are very near the end of June. These shots were taken on the 26th. So, there are not that many shots remaining before we finally get in to July. The first shot below shows how great the sky was looking. As the sun began to disappear into the haze at the horizon, it turned its typical beautiful Arizona Orange. Above that, was a patch of blue sky. And above that, was a cloud bank that was beginning to take on a brown cast.

Zooming in a lot shows what almost looks like a Martian landscape.

And then it was time to start playing around. I repositioned myself to put the sun behind some trees. After all, I do like having something of interest in the foreground.

Once again zooming in, reveals the Martian landscape again. But, this time with those rather non-Martian looking tree leaves bracketing the shot.

As the sun continued down, it encountered another bank of clouds. The next two shots show the sun partially hidden by the clouds. I really like seeing the big round ball of the sun with a streak of clouds in front of it.

Here is one last shot from that night, just before the sun began to sink below the mountains.

Alas, to let you know that we have had a few nice sunsets more recently than a year ago, here is a shot I got just a couple of nights ago. The sun is setting in the West, and this shot is looking Northeast. I've mentioned before, sometimes the best stuff is happening behind you!