Sunday, November 20, 2016

Toy RC Helicopter

This weekend's subject was photo stacking a smaller subject than the Walking Shoes projects.  I have a small, very small, RC helicopter I bought a few years ago to keep me occupied for a Christmas Day.  The Cats were not amused.
The toy has been sitting on the shelf since then.
Before I get into the toy, I thought a look into what I am now calling the dungeon.  I've set aside a corner in our basement for my photographic equipment.  I have two tables set up - one has the mat cutting equipment and the other is the table top studio.

So far, the single lighting source into the umbrella is doing the trick.  I have been very happy with the results.  That tip alone was well worth the gas money to Procam and back.
On to the helicopter.
The goal was to test the Helicon Remote (PC) and Focus programs with something other than the default settings.
Over the course of the day, I found out a few things that sound like I should have known them before today, but like most things I have learned I needed to see it for myself.
The first thing I figured out, is don't be so fast to jump to a RAW format.  As RAW files are larger, guess what?  Yep - they take longer to process.  That probably cost me a hour.  Lesson learned, unless there is a reason for RAW format or you are just testing go with a medium JPG format.
Another lesson, it appears that the smaller f/stop (larger opening) doesn't always mean a clearer product.  i found in the course of the shooting that for some reason, the tail section would never come out clear when I was shooting f/2.  Not sure if it was the complexity of the section, or the backdrop or a combination of the two.  I would see clear shots in the stack, but in the processing it never came out.  I'm sure there is a way to clean that up, but that is time I'd rather not take.  When I shot a stack at f/4.5 and f/8 the tail section came in very nicely.  Lesson learned, if you have the time take multiple sets with different aperture settings.  I believe it can make a difference.
Next lesson, complex subjects can be frustrating.  I'll define complex as having multiple points of focus that overlap.  In this case, I spent a lot of time moving the rotor blades so they didn't overlap the body.  The more independent each element, the better.  It took me a while to get this straight, and coupled with the RAW image lesson, there was a lot of time consumed.  Lesson learned, practice, practice, practice.  Note: I always go back to my first stacking adventure, the DMRRC shoot.  These were not so much complex shots, for the most part the scenery was uncomplicated.  There was depth, but none of it was overlapping.
And probably the last lesson for the day, when it comes to rendering the photos there is always room for improvement.  In this case, methods A and B worked best when the radius and smoothing values were set to 1.  And while that was fun trying to figure those settings - option C worked the best with no extra effort.  The Helicon vendor website said that most of the default settings would work most of the time.  Don't believe it - explore.
So on to the Helicopter, again.
Using two different DOF web calculators with the following:  Camera D7200 crop sensor, distance to subject of 24 inches with 50 mm lens set to f/8 gives me a DOF of just under 2 inches.  The helicopter is 7 inches long, plus maybe 2.5 inches for the front rotor blade.  Something isn't going to fit.
This is one of the mid-photos in the stack where the focus is just forward of the rotor.

The front looks OK, but from roughly half way back on the tail the sharpness is fading.

With a 16 shot photostack, this is the image:

And a close up of the tail section:

The tail section is sharp all the way through.

So that is the stack part - done in JPG.

And the Blog version:

As this project was done in JPG, I'm stuck with the coloring of the backdrop and soften the object shadow a bit.  Still in the learning process.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Walking Shoes II

Had a really good photo related day on Saturday.  I started with a few hours at ProCam in Livonia for their Demo Days event.  I had a few subjects to address while I was there - and all were taken care of.
First, I had the sensors cleaned on the D90 and D7200.  Pretty reasonable price and they did it while I was there.
Next I wanted to see what the Nikon 200-500 lens really looked and felt like.  I did.  Yea, I could have bugged the store people about it at any other time, but on Saturday I could bug the Nikon Rep.  It's bigger and heavier than I thought.  What I found out is I need to include in that purchase price a mono-pod.  The lens is coming in at around 5 pounds, its not a real mobile thing.  Good information.  Still in the running.
I'll get to the walking shoes.
I also needed to chat with someone about lighting for the downstairs studio, aka Grandpa's (Munster) laboratory or dungeon.  In the first effort with the walking shoes (Walking Shoes) I thought the subject was OK, but the environment was not.  I was mostly concerned with correcting the shadows cast on the backdrop.  The first thing I could correct was moving the backdrop back a bit, and that's easy to do.  But that might not be enough, I needed to get to the light source.  So I needed to chat with someone about the dungeon lighting.
Seriously, I'll get to the walking shoes.
I found a sales rep for Westcott, a seller of studio lighting materials.  Condensing the story, he said I had everything pretty much all wrong.  (I take things like this well, as I hear it a lot.)  I had used two table lamps on the previous walking shoes photo.  The light was OK - but I did get unwanted shadows.
The sales rep's suggestion was to use the modeling light on one of my White Lightnings into an umbrella to expand the light source and see what that does.  Go down to one light?  Less is better, right?
I was all for that - I already have the stuff.  No extra $$$s necessary.
Now to the walking shoes.
I set up the environment so the backdrop was more relaxed and back off the subject.  I used one overhead light with the full power of the modeling light into an umbrella.
I used a nine shot photostack.  I changed the defaults on the Helicon program to take two shots per focus step instead of one.  More is better, right?
And one other teenie weenie change, I returned to processing RAW files.  (I was playing with JPGs earlier because in the stacking learning curve, I didn't want to confuse any issues.)
On the previous project, the light temperature from the table top lamps came out pretty close to what I would want.  In this new set up, not even close.

Looks like a bizarre autumn warming filter was used.  There's some heavy tungsten temps.  Maybe some white reflection from the umbrella as well.  For reference, the backdrop is black.  Seriously.
Maybe I've lived under a rock for most my photographic journey, but I've never really had to play with white balance before.  I remember trying to find a neutral spot on photographs and identifying it to Lightroom in hopes of making a difference I couldn't see.  But in this case, I need to do something.  So in PS raw editor, moved the WB from AS SHOT to AUTO.  Bingo!  I was in the ball park.  It was that easy.
After I hit it with the WB change, I applied a custom color profile file I created for the studio.
So, here are the vitals:  I used the D90 with a 50mm prime lens.  ISO was set to 200, Aperture was f/2.8, speed was 1/6 second.  I used Helicon Remote to calculate and manage the shots.  I used Helicon Focus to merge the nine shots.  

I hit it with a bit of NIK's HDR filters and Glow.  (Hey, it's still me.)  On the original file, you can increases to 100% and it is tack sharp everywhere, even in the color transition areas.  I attribute that improvement over the previous version of Walking Shoes to doubling the number of shots per focus step in Helicon Remote.
The walking shoes set up was a fun learning experience.  This project is closed.  Time to move on.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Walking Shoes

I've been working with Helicon Remote and Focus.  These programs are primarily used for focus stacking.
The Remote product serves two purposes.  I wanted a better tethering application than the base Nikon product.  The Remote product works on both my Samsung Tablet and my W10 laptop.  That is HUGE.  The product will control everything except a zoom function.
When I have the table attached to my camera, via WiFi, I can place the camera in places that are hard for me to use the live view and control the focus points plus all other elements.  I've configured the application to save the files on the camera which has more space than on the tablet.  I can use this when working on a location.
When I have the laptop attached to the camera via USB, I have the same control but I have the images sent to the laptop.  From there I can run the Focus program to verify the image is as I want it.
The entire package is a bit on the pricey side, that is north of $100.  After a few days of testing, for me it is worth it.
So this is my first public effort with the new package.  The goal is to be ultra sharp through the entire subject (running shoes).  The bonus is that even with a HDR effect, still very sharp.
The vitals:  f/1.8, 1/40th second, ISO 400.  The lens is a Nikon nifty 50.

First effort - not bad.

Friday, September 23, 2016

The White Barn

This is a barn in the Saginaw area.  I was out driving around and the sunlight and sky seem to be calling me.  This barn is photographed often by our Club, so it is not entirely unknown to me.  I've seen many shots at different times of year.  I think this has many possibilities.
First, I've started taking both RAW and JPG files.  I quit taking JPGs a few years ago, but now I have plenty of disk in the camera.  More information, even if it is not used ain't all that bad.

The RAW image:

The white siding is very close to being blown out.  On the histogram, that is represented by indications on the right and the warning symbol.  There just isn't a whole lot to deal with and the side is white so I'm expecting just a bit.

The Original Nikon JPG

By the histogram, it looks like the RGBs were reduced pretty evenly and added some dark blue.
Its OK, but not to my tastes.  First the golden vegetation has real possibilities.  I like yellows.  But I need more definition and a touch of saturation.  I think the real center of the picture is the white siding of the barn.  Again, more definition of the weathering.  And to finish up, the green on the tree and silo ivy is just plain boring, just some saturation.  Also, if I can do something with the sky in terms of clearing up the dull blue, that will be a bonus.

Now that I'm getting very comfortable Photoshop, I'm getting a solid workflow to 'prep' the image.  I start with the RAW filter.  In the RAW filter, I use the Transform tool to set the overall picture horizontal and vertical elements and correct for camera distortion.  Sounds busy, but I pretty much let PS do all the work.

In this case, there was some adjustment.

My next set of adjustments came from On One.  I tried the NIK adjustments and nothing suited me. In On One, I used Dynamic Contrast and Grunge filters.

On One Adjustments:

Now we're starting to get somewhere.  Starting at the top, the sky/clouds are starting to get some edge to them.  The tress and ivy have a lighter color and you can see much more definition.The flat white on the barn side is disappearing.  Not yet where I want it, but it is a start.  And as a bonus, I'm seeing some definition in the roof and silo.  The histogram is showing the image darkened a bit so I'll want to recover some overall light.  I used the RAW filter again to bump up the yellows and greens just a bit.

The Final Image:

I think I got what I wanted.  The sky has some definition, without looking too altered.  The tree and ivy have more color and definition.  The white barn siding isn't so bright, looks more weathered and detailed.  And the gold sea looks a lot more detailed.

Monday, September 19, 2016

High ISO with Polarizer

Continuing my practicing photos with high ISO, I headed out to Port Huron.  I figured there would be plenty of action shots between the boats and the birds.  I shot many images of boats going from 'no wake' to wide open and could follow/pan pretty easily with the 200 mm  lens.  I had lots of luck with clarity and had many more good shots than bad.  It was a good beginning.
Shooting the birds in flight was a bit more difficult.  They did not get the memo to fly close to me and in a direction I could use.  At least none of them crapped on me.
I did see some of them guarding the lights, and with the mix of blue sky and white puffys, there were some opportunities.
I wanted to shoot at ISO 1000 but I was using a polarizer, so bumped it down to 800.  With that set up, I had a shutter speed of 1/640.  I always use a polarizer around the water.
What I learned.  I've shot (photographically) a number of Gulls.  There is definition in the chest feathers.  On this shot, there is no definition.  Like he's wearing a T-shirt.  I'm going to take it that in the RAW image with enough time I might be able to bring something out - but I'm OK with this as it is.  There is a lot of white between the Gull, the lamp and the clouds.  All of it is nice and defined.
The final product is cropped pretty tight, if i was going to do something more with this image I might have to take a different approach.

Shutter:  1/640
Aperture:  F/11
ISO:  800
Mode:  Manual
Focal Length:  135 mm

Saturday, September 17, 2016

High ISO Shots

My next big photo op is roughly one year away.  I am heading west with a few friends to attend the Reno airshow.  As in Reno, Nevada.  Wow, I have some work to do!
First, this takes me a bit out of my element.  I like nice static subjects.  If I miss it, I can go back.  I'm not much for one and dones.
I've been looking at web sites for aviation photography and a few things I've learned.  One is I'll need to go shopping for something more powerful than my 200mm lens.  Doable.
I'll also need to be able to take shots at 1/2000.  The guideline for taking photos of prop driven aircraft is 1/40 to 1/125.  The blur of the prop makes the shot.  But for jets and very distant shots with longer focal distances, the higher speeds are essential.
One option to achieving higher speeds is to open up the lens' F/stop.  I'm real comfortable at F11.  I'll go to F/8 if I need to but that's about my limit.
Another option is to increase the ISO.  Being brought up in the 35mm days, 100, 400 and 800 are my familiar numbers.  The advertising on my D7200 says I should be able to get up to 1600 without too much issue.
OK, let's find out.
I've seen a number of sites that demo ISO noise effects.  Mostly the changes are in the area of color and definition, plus the introduction of 'noise'.  I should be able to compensate for definition to keep away from a really soft look.  I should be able to saturate as necessary for color.  The noise?  We'll have to see.
Now what I really need is a subject.  And as luck would have it, the snowmobile races that I went to last year - were going on today.  This is as close to air races as I'm going to get today.
To get where I want to go, I'm using Manual Mode.  I have the lens set at F11 and the speed at 1/1000.  I took a few evaluation shots and found that when shooting in the sunlight, 1/1250 painted a very nice histogram.  With a year to prep, I have one data point.

ISO 1,000
Speed  1/1250
Aperture  F11
Mode Manual
Focal Length  27mm
(Just in case you missed it before.)

The JPG that Nikon created was OK.  On the RAW image, which is the one above, all I did was let Photoshop add some depth and I added just a bit of green saturation for the grass.

First test passed.  I think the image is fine.  Next test - will the D90 do as well?  (It's going out west too!)

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Playing with NIK Software

I spent time today talking with two of my fellow photo-club members and as usual we wound up on the subject of workflow processes.
We started talking about the software we used.  We all had NIK software mostly because it is now free to use.  Thank you Google.  The software also works well with Photoshop and Lightroom.
In using NIK, one of the tips I picked up was to use a bleach filter early on in the process.  A bleach filter will do what bleach does - remove a lot of color.  Clean up the stains.  The filter will also sharpen and tone compress a lot of the photo.  In my limited experience (this afternoon) the filter seems to do a much cleaner job of sharpening and compression.  In the process, you can add color back  - and the color stays where you want it - that is no compression halos.
For my testing purposes, I'm using a photo of a church door I shot earlier this year in Flint.  Nothing reacts better to tonal compression that rock/stone and wood.  
This is the original RAW image.

The image is about as sharp as it will get naturally, I used a tripod.  As with RAW images, this is a bit flat and dull.  This is what the camera sees before going through some Nikon processing to make it a bit more pleasing to the eye.  This is the starting point.
My first step is to use the RAW editor to use the camera correction to straighten the image and lighten it up a bit.

In the next step or layer, I will add the bleach filter.

As with bleach, it has removed what looks like a layer of color.  Looking at the door in the center, you can now see wood grain definition.  The masonry looks like a sharpening effect was used, but was much easier than trying to find that right amount.
Next step will be to add some color back in with the Brilliance/Warming filter.

I like the way the color of the door has started to return.  When the new door lays is compared to the pre-bleach layer - you can tell the difference.

With a lot of work, I might be able to get the same result using multiple filters.  With this flow, there is no halo and the wood grain and masonry grain really pop.
I usually don't use - or haven't thought much of using this next filter, but for this photo it works.  The filter adds a bit lo light to the center.  it is basically the same as a vignette, but more of a circular pattern.  And in this case, I just want to accentuate the doors and this does the trick nicely.

So I now have the door where I want it color-wise and relatively speaking.  I'm on the final stretch here.  And because it is me, I need to add an HDR effect.

Now I've got the HDR effect I like.  The color is really close but going to give it just a little warm boost.

Clearly that last add of a warm is personal.
This is the final product up against the original.

If I was going to do more, I'd clean up the snow.  The HDR processing doesn't really do snow any favors, I like the pure white that is in the original.  I'd use masking to fix the snow.  That's about it for this image.
For this purpose, I like using the bleach filter.  That allows me to keep the sharpness of the photo through other adjustment layers.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Crim 2016 Hand cycle start

One of the races at the Crim is the hand cycle.  These amazing athletes go the 10 miles on their cycles.  With their arms.  Wow.

This was taken at the start of the race - clearly with the participants crossing the start line.  I had access to get past the crowd control fences, so I could sit right at the line.

I like the excess contrast and a bit of HDR on this - and most of my shots.

ISO 400
Aperture Priority

2106 Crim Festival of Races

Well - I after 15+ years in Flint, I finally made it to the Crim Races.
Like many things in life I can ask myself - why did I wait so long?
From a social point of view, I was really touched by the Special Olympics.  I expected to see the main participants - but what I didn't expect was the support each participant received, from family to strangers.  Very fun to watch.
I saw a number of 'professional' photographers at the event.  They all had lime green vests stating they were professional photographers.  OK then....  I shadowed some of them for a while, just to watch them work the crowd.  I have one real shortcoming - that is I'm not comfortable working with people.  These professional folks were very good at getting individuals and group to pose for them.  I have something to work for.
I also saw what I'd call independent professional photographers.  They had no special credentials or vests - but large camera bags and multiple cameras around their necks.  I watched some of these folks - and they hustled.  They had note pads and they were taking notes.
From a photographic point of view I changed all my plans at the last minute.  I carried only one camera just because this was the first time I've been in this environment and I came to the realization that trying to manage two cameras would have been just too much.  So I carried the D7200 with a 18-200 lens.
I shot all my photos in RAW - just because you never know when that artsy situation is going to happen.
I set my camera up for continuous auto focus, which was new to me.  I set it up for 51 points of sampling.  I found that when there is that much action that close, the camera became overwhelmed.  Next time I will go with fewer points.  I tossed a few shots where the point of focus was not what I expected.  On the bright side, sometimes the unexpected worked out nicely.
The goal for this project is to deliver photographs that can be used for future publication by the race organization.  In return, I was given access to all areas - course included.  This is the first time I've had to deliver 'normal' finished shot - no art.  Yikes!  More about that later.
I took close to 1600 shots.  Sounds like a lot, but I shoot bursts of 3 - 5 shots in most cases.  One of them should turn out OK, right?  In the end, I have close to 700 shots that I will need to process.
The Friday evening photos were mostly in shady light conditions.  In my normal post processing of running the RAW shots through Photomatix, I just couldn't get a normal looking shot.  I was trying to keep at 1/500th for my speed, but the Special Olympics I really didn't need that at all.  I could go pretty normal around 1/100th.  For the other Friday races where I could get some better light I stayed around 1/200.
The Saturday race shots that I shot manual (1/500 / ISO 400 / 5.6) turned out much better than I thought.  I also got some early shots (6:00 AM) of the race set up, but most of them will not see the light of day.
With the number of shots that I had, I also decided that if I can't make Lightroom work for me now, I never will.  Since the Photomatix wasn't giving me the results I wanted, I used LR to apply a general ICC file to add a little color to the RAW images and for the most past they turned out well for at least proofing.  
In the end I think there are maybe 20 photos that could be used for publications.  And I think I have 5 or 6 that have some real potential.
In the end, it was a lot of fun.  I'm happy with the results for a first time - and have some ideas for better shots next year.  (If I can remember that long!)

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Flint's Crim Races

The next project:  Flint's 2016 Crim Race.  (

Our photoclub has been working with the race for a few years providing hundreds of photos for promotional and historical publications.

On Friday August 26, there will be a Special Olympics race followed by a series of one mile races.  It looks like there will be some professional races along with some amateur school aged races.

On Saturday August 27, the main races will take place.  The first race is a 10 mile track, followed by a 8k track and then a 5k track.

Since this will be my first time at the event, I have pre-work to do.
1.  I need to see the course.  The route is well published - so a walk/drive is probably in order.
2.  I need to find a unique location/perspective.  As much as I' like to do the Start/Finish line standard shots, I'd find that - well BORING.  I heard there is a person who constructs a water tunnel that runners can use, or not.  I need to find out for sure but this has possibilities.
3.  This is a different environment for me.  My comfort zone is usually more forgiving, that is I can always go back for another try if I don't like the first attempt.  This environment is one and done.  I might be able to make mid-course corrections, if I'm fast enough.  I understand that 80% of the runners in any of the races will cross through the point where I'm shooting in about 10 minutes.  There will be time between races to review, but.....
4.  The whole auto-focus thing.  I usually shoot shoot in the single servo mode.  For action shots, I'll need to go to the continuous servo mode.  Sure sounds easy, but there are other considerations involved, such as when the camera shutter will actually release.  Does it wait for focus, or does it shoot even if the shot is out of focus?  I've enjoyed the back button focus set up - but now with a continuous focus is that going to present an issue?

It's been a nice summer, a long time between photos.  I got the equipment out this morning - charged batteries and started working.

I don't have any issues with using a hand-held camera for this project, but I need to make sure I can get the second camera to work as I want.  

The first camera is a Nikon D7200.  I'll be using that with my primary lens, Nikkor 18-200.  It will be hand held, but taking action shots.  I'm thinking of getting a 1/500 shutter speed at the very least.

The second camera will be a Nikon D90 with Nikkor's 18-105 kit lens.  I will be using a Neewer release timer.  So the work here is to remember how to program the unit.  In my head, I picture (Ha Ha- Pun alert) setting it to shoot one picture every one second for five minutes.  I'd like to hit the timer button then focus (Ha Ha - ah forget it.)  on the hand held shots.  Simple enough, but can the camera buffer take all that?  More pre work, find out how much I can stress the buffer.  As part of the new camera purchase earlier int he year, I had a 32 gig card thrown in.  That is now in the D90 - and will give me over 2k RAW shots.  The number of shots won't be the limiting factor here.  The next issue is the shutter speed.  My first camera, handheld, will be set around 1/500 for capture shots.  For the second camera, I think the effect I'm looking will be a much slower speed, around 1/30.  On a sunny day, that might be hard to achieve - so my have to get the neutral density filter out.  The lowest ISO for the D90 is 200, and I'd like to set the aperture somewhere between 8 and 11.  There'll be some testing involved.

I'm a lot more comfortable shooting in Manual mode these days.  I have no problem setting the second camera in total manual mode, including focus.  Sure, there are things that could go wrong like a cloud drifting through, but if I shoot 600 hundred shots, one is bound to come out just right!  

And the last thing I need to remember is the equipment temperature.  It's been so hot here lately - going from an A/C house to 85+ with high humidity might not be desirable.  

Friday, May 27, 2016

Williamsburg: The Boathouse

When one thinks of Williamsburg, VA - one tends to think colonial.  And in most cases, one would be correct.  But not this one time.
Just outside of the colonial village, there is Bassett Hall Nature Trail.  It's a 2 mile walk between two golf courses.  Being that it splits two golf courses, there is a lake/reservoir between the two golf courses, and the walk goes along the water for some time.  Along the walk, and in this body of water there is what looks to be a boat house.  It has all the qualifying marks, basically in the water and a larger enough door on the water to let a water vehicle transit.
This scene has all my favorite elements, water, wood, reflections and a story.
The particulars:  3 Shot HDR, 400 ISO, Aperture Priority, Focal length 50 mm, f/11, speeds 1/200, 1/1600, 1/25.
I used Photomatix to get my base image.  I was planning to just set the colors, but it turns out I really liked one of the preset effects.  Wow - I didn't have to go too much further on this one.  This is my base image.

There isn't too much to do for the color levels, although I might make it just a bit darker.  The sun was out full, but I see this as a bit darker.  i will crop it closer to the building to really see the wood and reflections.  I need to cop out the grass in the foreground and maybe remove a stray blade or two.  I'll work on some effect to age the building more than it is.  But the first thing I want to do is sharpen the image.  At the club meeting last night, we started talking about the Nik sharpening programs.  I applied the pre-sharpener to this image before I 'aged' the building - and then used the post sharpening at the end.  In the preview pane, you can see some action going on.
So in the end, after the effects, sharpening and a 5x7 crop, this is what I get.

I really like the end product doors.  I usually favor a deeper yellow - but this is right on.  I thought I'd be spending more time on this project but this fell right into place.  After the picture of the Inn (Williamsburg Inn Morning), this is more my speed.

Williamsburg: The Inn - Morning

Last week I spent a wonderful few days with the family.  Williamsburg, VA was the chosen location.  We had lots of time to visit (no kids).  We were there at the not quite tourist season and the weather was most comfortable.
On the photography side, I stayed mostly with HDR instead of focus stacking for my adventures.  I did try the stack on one outdoor flower and there was just too much movement in the air to get a good shot.  So I worked on my HDR technique.
One of the best changes I made was to utilize the camera timer.  I set it up to delay 1 second  after the shutter button was released to fire three shots with a half second in between each shot.  At first the one second delay was awkward - but I found after releasing the release, I could focus on steadying the camera.  Worked out quite nicely.
I also worked on my back button focus.  I like the configuration and have been using it for a few months.  I just have not used it enough to be second nature comfortable with the process.  I did work on this quite a bit and am getting much faster in getting to the picture.
I did get one photo request - that was to get a frontal picture of the Inn where we were staying.
I was able to get two shots of the Inn.  One at night and one early morning.
This is the early morning shot.  The particulars:  ISO 100, f/Stop f/8, focal length 18mm.  There were three shots: 1/60, 1/500 and 1/8.  Mode is Aperture priority.  Shots were taken hand held.
I put the three shots through Photomatix and chose one of the Smooth settings.  I did this to keep the halo between the roof of the building and the sky to a minimum.  For the most part, All i want is to set the colors and shadows.  i also upped the shadows a bit to bring out some of the red in the shutters.  This is what I came out with - and is my starting point.

I know from past experience when this gets to a 5x7 format I will lose quite a bit.  I'm not happy with the almost what area on the left in the trees.  I have options for removing that area, but I think it will be best to just make that part of the crop.  I will also do what I can to get most of the roadway out of the shot as well.  The light blue sky is not really what I like, needs to be deeper - and I can do that.  Last, being shot at 18mm there is a lot of camera distortion that needs to be corrected.
Working in Photoshop, I will be using the Smart Layer function with the RAW editor.
To darken out the sky a bit, I used the Adjustment brush to mask in a cooler color.  Very targeted cooler cast on the sky is just enough.  And I don't have to deal with a halo.

Didn't take much, just enough to get the haze look out.
All I need to do now is address the camera distortion before I do a final sizing adjustment.  To tackle the camera distortion, I will use the Camera Raw filter again - but this time on a separate layer.
Using the Camera Raw Filter, select the Lens Correction tab.  In this tab you will find the tool to correct level, horizontal and vertical perspective corrections.

When this filter is applied, the building with straighten out - and look like a building.

And you would be correct in saying that some of the photo is removed and unusable.  But I'm going to crop to a 5x7 format and I need to lose the sky issues on the left.  I'm looking at this as a win.
One of the issues I have not yet solved with Photoshop is when an image is re-sized, it re-sizes the entire process, not just the layer.  To bypass that problem I will save the layer as a TIFF and open it for editing in a new window.
On this file I will do my final crop/sizing and other final processing.

I think the crop worked out well.  I wanted to keep the barrel by the signpost.  And I wanted to get rid of the white sky.  The right side of the building is cut a bit close, but if that's all that is wrong - I'm good with the picture.

Since this was a request, I didn't go overboard on the effects - this may be the first 'conventional' photo I've every published.  Maybe I'll add my version later?

Sunday, May 15, 2016

DMRRC: Waiting at the Station

With all the photos I've done at the DMRRC, I'm now experimenting more with processing.   I've very comfortable with Photoshop - except when it comes to masking.  Hands down, On One is much easier.   Realistically, I can't say On One is better because I'm struggling with Photoshop in that area.
So, last night's efforts I pretty much cropped out any area I needed to mask.  (Cluck - Cluck)
This is eight shot photostack.  I probably should had made smaller increments on this, that is take more shots.  As I was looking at the photo really close up, I could see areas that were out of focus, if ever so slight.  Think of going to the TV store, seeing the HD TV surrounded by the newer Ultra HD units.  You can tell what doesn't belong.
After the stacking process - this is what I have to start.

Lots of track in the foreground and at the top of the ridge, I'd need to put in some form of sky.  Plain ridge lines are easy to mask, but this one has some trees which takes time to separate.  Clearly this screams to go lazy and get more creative with the crop.
As with previous shots, I really like playing with grounds and trees.  The rocks in the rail bed have so much potential.  The cut rock and trees have so many options.  The power plant building has such great detail.  (Need to go back for more...)
I can focus on the left side of the image, removing the top area above the ridge and removing some of the track in the foreground.
I'll add some HDR effect, because that's what I do.

Its a little on the dark side.  If I do much more with this, I'd start by upping the light a bit first.  But for now, I like this.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

DMRRC: Three Lights

In this photo, the train engines were not my initial focus.  Of course, I still wanted to do them justice.  But as I worked on this, I wanted to really bring out the rock colors and formations.
This is a seven shot stack.  I didn't need to do too much more, rally at the rock face that's all.

I don't know what the blue map on the left is.  It looks like something for the layout.  Another lesson learned - scope out your entire field.  Way too much to remove.
To crop this in a meaningful way, I'll lose the engine on the right.  The ridge on the upper right will have to go as well.  It's not bad, but the size is just enough to distract the eye.
For the rocks I added some tone or HDR effects to pullout some definition and split the colors.  I also removed some of the structure to the right of the small building.  The cropping will cut out most - and at that point it doesn't add to the photo.  I used the clone stamp to do the removal.

I really like the surprising effect on the loader building.  It is somewhat darker, but the soot marking in the center really come out.
As to the rock, I like what has happened.  Doesn't look to overdone.

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Updated Workflow (Thoughts)

As I've moved to new (to me) software, I'm working to find the best workflow.  The other sticky wicket is if I'm using stacking instead of HDR, I need to introduce some form of color to enhance the RAW images.  I don't want to stray from HDR - but it doesn't work so well with stacking.
Through working the photos of the DMRRC I've had plenty of time to try, delete and try again different paths from RAW image to publish.  About the only goal was to not retreat to Elements.
On the real positive side, I've watched hours of YouTube instructional videos.  Every package of software I use has multiple authors of videos, from software company sponsored productions to amateurs with interesting tips and tricks.  I have learned so much - and a lot I can't remember but have plenty of links for review.
What I've worked to is a two step process.  The first step takes the RAW images and either stacks them or follows a image merge for HDR with a default setting.  The second step takes that output and manipulates in a way I like.
If I'm doing HDR, I'm still working with Photomatix.  I continue to think Photomatix does the best job with the HDR merge.  At this stage I'm looking to mostly set the color.  There will be a little  HDR tone effect and that's OK.  At the end of this process all I'm trying to do is get a good tone mapped file.  The final file is a loss-less TIFF file.
If I'm doing a photo stack, I'm using Lightroom to add the photos as layers into Photoshop.  Lightroom is part of the software packing I'm using and this is Adobe's method for adding the photos into Photoshop as layers.  Once the photos have been added to Photoshop, the layers are aligned then merged/stacked.  Again, the final output file is a loss-less TIFF file.
From here, if there is any masking work to be done, I'll use On One.  I find their masking processes to be easy than Photoshop.
Once I have the photo from the first steps, I'm now comfortable with Photoshop.  In most cases, I take the photo and create a smart layer.  In this smart layer I'll do any camera corrections first followed by the Camera Raw filter.  In this step, I'll really work on the lighting and balances.  To finish, I'll add an effects layer to the smart layer.  I'm really liking the Nik HDR filters as a starting point.  if that hasn't worked, I'll use Photomatix.
Generally I don't do a lot of sharpening, if I do the Effects part right, it is not necessary.
My web presentation size is usually 5x7 at 150 PPI.  I usually save the JPG at around 60%.

Monday, May 2, 2016

DMRRC: Cabooses (?)

What is the plural for two caboose?  Guess what, if you Google the term, there are plenty of opinions with no definitive answers.  Ah, the world of Wikipedia.
Looking for more of the photos from the DMRRC to work.  And looking for something I don't have to mask in a sky or fill in a person.  My eyes need a break!
I like this shot for the textures and colors of the cabooses (?) and the water tower.  To be sure, I enhanced it a bit  with some HDR effects and sharpening.
This is a five shot stack.  Not a lot of distance from the front point to the back wall of rock.  I didn't find too many out of focus spots in this one.
This is the stacked shot.

The trick for me is to pull out some real definition from the background rocks and the cabeeses (?).  I also need a crop job, remove the right side of the water tower and some of the tracks in the foreground.  It also looks like it is not level to me.  I put a grid on it and the cabeese (?) roofs and the vertical supports on the water tower are where they should be.
And this is what we wind up with.

Mission accomplished.  Good definition in just about everything.  Still looks tilted.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

DMRRC: Bullpen

I previously mentioned I had a total of 22 shots of which maybe 18 were OK and there were four really good ones.  I'm really down to one really good one (Loading Station) and maybe four second tier ones.  We'll see.  A lot of times playing with an image does something unique which will catch me by surprise.
This photo was one I called Bullpen.  Baseball analogy.  These trains are waiting to be called into action.  The Bullpen is located under the main platform and there is no real scenery around.  The light also stinks.  At the time, I could have made
some better environmental choices.  The subject is there for sure.  There are some great colors on these units.  But coulda, woulda, shoulda.  Next time.  But what I have here I can work with.
This is a seven stack shot.  Should have been 14 to 15.  If you know what to look for, there are small areas that are not as sharp as they should be.  Again, I learned something.
This is a great lesson for shooting RAW.  The original images are very dark.  Because I shot in RAW, I could bring out more light and colors.
This is the initial image after the stacking process and sending it through Photomatix to give it some color, just at the Default setting.

Again, there is a bean bag involved.  A lesson here is I should have taken more time in setting up the bean bag to gain elevation.  Yet another lesson.  But for stacking purposes, this is a great effect.  Even at f22 - I'm guessing you wouldn't get the focus in the track you get with the stacking.  And might be good experiment for the next visit.
The next question would be to the DMRRC would be, do you like this background?  They might like this, where I think it needs help.
So the plan is going to be mask out the area above the trains, and merge with the Hollywoods mural from previous shots.
I did the masking work in On One.

I won't show the Hollywoods mural again, it can be seen in the previous posts.
I tried many effects, but most took away from the yellows that I didn't like.  This would be a good photograph to play with specific colors - yet another rainy day project.  I also decided to go away from my usual 5x7 format.  I changed to a 3.5x7 format for this one.  Just too much track in the foreground for me.
So the final image for me comes to this.

I like this shot a lot.  It's growing on me.  But the real question is, would the DMRRC like this version, or the original?  Bet they'd take the original.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

DMRCC: Loading Station

As I go through the shots from the DMRRC, I'm finding that four photos that are going to make the cut for extra work and display.  The Hollywoods Station was a real sleeper until I started playing with it.  The Zehaufer Mill was certainly fun to play with and did turn out better than I thought it would.  The fourth shot is the only shot from a tripod, looking up the side of a mountain straight into some florescent lights.  Yep - that needs a lot of work.  I need a crappy Saturday for that one.
Which leaves the third shot - the Loading Station.  From the time I first went on the scouting mission to the DMRRC, I had visions of this one and doing something really good with it.  
This started as a nine photo stack.  I did the fake HDR trick, using five images one stop apart.  This is what I came up with:

That is some piece of work.
Before I can even get to the effects, there is so much to do.  There is a level issue that needs to be corrected.  The unfinished structure needs to be covered.  I thought about trying to make it look like a bridge, but if you're going to alter it, just do it.  And the lights.
All that stuff is doable.  And done.

When I'm editing, I usually keep all the edit changes in case I want to work a tweak at a later time.  Like the Egyptians killing the slaves when the pyramids were completed - I killed the files.  There will be no tweaks.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

DMRRC: Zehaufer Milling

The finished photo turned out a bit darker than I originally thought it would.  And I'm not sure why - but that is where I wound up.  Sort of went a bit Charles Addams.  (Google it.)  This is my first attempt to combine focus stacking and HDR.
The initial issue when trying to combine the two styles is how can this be pulled off?  In a perfect world, you could take three sets of stacked images and try to combine them.  Let's see, 5 shot stack for each three or five set HDRs.  Quick!  I need a non-Common Core math expert.  Will the HDRs be sharp enough to line up?  Will HDR negate the photo stacking effect?
The primary goal here is a sharp image.  The focus, pun intended, here should be the focus stacking.  My light contrast just isn't all that wide so any HDR is really for effect only.  The image pixel information will be there - no blown channels.
So the plan is to focus stack to one .tiff image, then using ACR increase or decrease the image two stops to blend.
The image information:  6 shot focus stack.  f/stop 8; 1.3 seconds; ISO 100; 18 mm; Manual.  Camera was ground level on the tracks, using a bean bag for support.
Last is I know there will have to be a background 'sky' inserted.  I'll deal with that later in the process, I need to concentrate (couldn't use focus again.) on the scene. 
Step One:  The plan.  Completed.

Step two:  Focus stack the image:  This is the merged image from the six shots.  The 'extra' in the background couldn't stand still for all the shots.  Anyway - the primary purpose of the stack is for the subject to be in focus all the way through the depth of the photo - and it is.

Step two:  Completed

Step three:  Remove the background.  (And I hit it with a bit of sharpening and contrast effect.).

In trying to keep the DMRRC theme, the sky is from the mural with can be seen in the Hollywoods Station photo.  As it is just the top of the mural, tough to tell, but it is the mural.  I did the layer work in On One.  For me right now, On One seems to be much easier and quicker than Photoshop.  On One has a feature called 'smart brush' that allows painting out around objects fairly easily.  In Photoshop, the 'smart' brush' function starts with defining the object, then removing layers of pixels for sharpness.  Anyway - with the On One I have some decent definition with the trees.

Step three:  Completed.

Step four:  HDR it.
OK - lets dispense for now the argument that what I'm about to do really isn't HDR.  If it makes you happy to say that I'm doing a process that generates an HDR like image, go with it.
Since I'm working with .tiff files, all the pixel data is there.  There is plenty of room to move the light around

I decided to go with a total of five stops.  Two Up, two down and a 'normal'.
To do this, I use the ACR 'Exposure' sliding bar.

I'll move the slider to a value of -2, -1, 0, +1, +2 taking an image at each stop.  I'll then put the images through Photomatix using the Default setting to help set the colors.

Step four completed.

Step five:  Finish it off.

I didn't see anything in Photomatix that got me.  I saw some interesting effects, but nothing that was the end.  So I put it through Nik's HDR Efx pro 2.  OK - there's some stuff.  That will put some edge to it.

And the final image is:

As I mentioned in the beginning, it is a bit dark.  I could lighten it up a bit but this works for me.

As I go through these, I keep thinking that this probably isn't what the DMRRC was thinking when they offered my club access to the layout.  But that's OK, there were 12 other photographers there who probably came up with some real nice shots they'll like.  I sleep OK.