I’m a fan of the Topaz Labs family of Photoshop plug-ins. Perhaps the most outrageous Topaz filter is Spicify, in their Adjust package. It boosts color, saturation, and fine detail. We previously showed the filter applied to a marine landscape. I recently tried the filter on a lifeless beach scene, with good results. The filter most often takes an image to bizarre over-the-top colors, but I think it often works for beach scenes.
Photography is supposed to teach one to be a keen observer. I was embarrassed to have have taken the picture of Onekahakaha Beach, below, and not to have noticed the turtle at the time. Viewing the world through a wide angle lens discourages looking for smaller features of the broad vista. Putting the pictures through Photoshop ® I finally noticed the sea beast in repose. In some respects being on the spot is better than looking at a photo, but not in every respect.
Vallejo, California is on the northeast extremity of San Francisco Bay, with ferries running to San Francisco. I recently found the ferry terminal to be an interesting place to eat lunch, and I used the opportunity to take pictures — of course. I wanted to take a panorama of the scene outside the large windows. My first attempt lacked a few things, like a ferry and people. In mid-sandwich I saw the ferry arrive and went back to the spot for another try. In the meantime a man had taken up a chair in the corner, and I only had to wait another moment for cyclist to take a position.
Daffodil Hill is a private ranch in the California mountains near the town of Volcano, roughly two-and-half hours drive from the San Francisco area. (No, there is no volcano.) The McLaughlin family that’s owned the ranch since the 1880’s likes daffodils. They have about 300,000 bulbs, which is how I know they like daffodils, and they open the ranch to the public from late March through mid-April. If you want to photograph daffodils, this place is it.
Last week it was problems with uncooperative seagulls. This week a different problem, and with a flighty hawk. At our local Coyote Hills Regional Park I saw the hawk perched in a distant walnut tree and zoomed the lens on my pocket camera (a Nikon P7000) in time to get a picture of him taking flight. After taking the picture I realized I had zoomed too much and just gotten the tree top. A misty landscape is not to be overlooked, so I took a second image to splice into a an odd-sort of panorama — there are not too many panoramas taken with a telephoto. The splicing turned out to present challenges.
Here are two panoramic images of Point Lobos. In one image there is a single person in the image, so tiny relative to the image size that it’s hard to see on the small version here. The figure is near the left edge, about half way up the frame. In a second image I’ve used Photoshop™ to erase the person. The question is which image is better. A person gives scale to the landscape, but many nature photographers seem to prefer images having no sign of humanity.
California’s Highway 1 has a reputation as one of America’s most scenic highways. It lives up to it. A week ago we drove on the highway with visiting friends, and I took this spliced panorama a few miles north of Jenner. Jenner is small town at the mouth of the Russian River, about two hours north of San Francisco. The bright violet flowers are from wild pea plants, and the trumpet-shaped yellow-orange ones are bush monkeyflowers. I think the latter flowers are supposed to resemble a monkey’s face, but in all the times I’ve looked at them I’ve never been aware of a monkey looking back.
Great scenes fly by when you can’t stop to photograph them. Parking in the fast lane on an Interstate is ill-advised, even for a potentially masterful shot. Other times the situation is marginal. This May a nice scene presented itself when we were returning to the Lake Tahoe region in the California mountains from the pleasant town of Minden, Nevada. I pulled barely off the road and grabbed two frames out of the car window, and somehow managed to splice them into a respectable panorama.
I have quite a few pictures of parking lots. They are are an overlooked resource for photographers. Perhaps someday I’ll convince a publisher to put them out as a coffee table book, America’s Most Scenic Parking Lots. I shall be the Ansel Adams of parking lots. Yes, for sure. For now, however, I’m still building inventory, and the other day I took one in a parking lot in Coyote Hills Regional Park near San Francisco Bay. It had the potential for high drama, at least as parking lots go.
Point Lobos is one of the world’s great scenic places. While the rocky shore and surf are reliable, sunshine there is not. We were lucky recently and had brilliant sun along with spring wild flowers. With all those things helping, it’s not too difficult to take good pictures. We drove to the Bird Rock area, at the end of the short park road. To make photography a more interesting problem, add some kids running near the edge of the ocean bluff.
Silver Lake is a small lake in the mountains near better-known Mono Lake. The Lakes are east of Yosemite National Park in California, and as of last week the pass through Yosemite was still closed by snow. We drove south from Tahoe on the east side of the Sierras. Apparently not many people do that, because things were, shall we say, quiet. There were a few signs of early spring, but the aspen trees still had no leaves. It must be around 8,000 feet at Silver Lake, because aspens don’t grow at much lower altitudes.
Early this month we traveled east to the California mountains for a few days. It was Spring in most of California, including the foothills where stayed. It was nice weather the first day, but it rained for the next two. Rain down slope means snow in the higher elevations. The best conditions for beautiful snow cover are temperatures not far below freezing with no wind. That lets the snow accumulate on the trees. With that prospect overnight and clear skies the next morning we drove to Calaveras Big Trees State Park.
A viaduct is a long bridge consisting of a series of short spans supported on piers or towers. In the U.S. viaducts became popular in the era of railroad building to take the rails across wide valleys. Not long ago I had a two-viaduct day in northern Pennsylvania. The best photos are aerial shots with blue sky, fall foliage, and an historic locomotive traversing the span. I didn’t manage that, but viaducts are nonetheless interesting subjects worth capturing.
I found three aspects of viaducts I could treat on a cloudy winter’s day: the panorama of the setting, the craftsmanship of construction, and life under the bridge.
Starrucca Viaduct. Larger version here.
Autumn is a time for visiting farm stands. There are pumpkins to be selected for Halloween, apples, and all manner of squash. So maybe not everyone thinks “panorama” at the farm stand, but, of course, I do. I like panoramic photos. Panoramas are well suited to scenes where there is a lot going on, as there was recently at Mike’s Truck Garden in Fulton, California.
Point Reyes National Seashore is well known for scenery, wildflowers, and summer fog. The park is about an hour north of the Golden Gate Bridge, either following California’s Highway 1 up the coast or winding through the hills west of the city of San Raphael. During a recent visit there were wildflowers, but not much sunshine. Hence the adjusted goal was to taken moody pictures of gumplant. I ended up merging four images into a wide angle view.
click to enlarge
I took two still frames to stitch into a vertical panorama. Usually auto exposure helps, but this time the misty portion of the image is overexposed to pure white. That makes the vegetation in the other frame, autoexposed without the white sky, relatively too light. The task in Photoshop™ is then to darken the pure white sky to restore some of that rainy day atmosphere, then get the vegetation in the lower part of the spliced panorama to reasonably match the upper.
The Why Not Travel Center is in Why, Arizona. It’s the last stop before Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, and not too far from the Mexican border. And, yes, you do ask yourself, “Why is there a town here?” The Travel Center includes a gas station and a really great general store full of kitschy memorabilia, desert necessities, and snacks. The RVs gassing up and poised for travel captured the outpost spirit of the place.
The grand landscapes of Ansel Adams generally do not include tourists in the foreground gawking at the spectacle along with Ansel. That 8” x 10” film was pricey so he had to be rather picky about subject matter. A click away with a digital camera, so we can afford to experiment. Including human subjects lends scale to the scenes, gives cues to the era, and tells more about what it was like to have been at the place. Moreover, tourists are preoccupied so they tend not to care if they happen to be in your pictures.
I like wide angle shots, but I usually quit at splicing two frames horizontally or three frames vertically. Going to four our more frames spliced horizontally produces a long skinny picture. There are not many subjects well suited to such a long format, and when a good subject is found there are not many ways to effectively display the results. But sometimes, I just can’t resist.
When the sky is reasonably exposed, the foreground is reduced to featureless shadow. When the foreground is reasonably exposed, the sky blanks out in overexposure. The tricks is to take two frames that overlap very near the horizon. When a Photomerge™ panorama is made, both the sky and foreground detail are retained.
Multilevel indoor shopping malls provide good subject matter for spliced panoramas that use four images in a 2 × 2 array. Activities on the levels provide a doll house effect, with many small “rooms” in the scene to view. I took this panorama at the Newpark Mall in Newark, California recently:
The high percentage of sky caused the exposure to be reduced, compared to the darker scene at ground level. This has the good effect of keeping some detail in the clouds. The sky in the lower image is blanked by overexposure.
Redwoods do tend to be tall, at least the old ones. One problem in making a redwood look tall in a photo is getting back far enough to get the whole tree in view. Other redwoods get in the way. If you get a view down a path that shows the whole tree, the scale is lost.
I was trying to get the woman walking down the path, the kite fliers flying kites, and a car traveling on the road, all captured for a stitched panorama. It’s important to have a zone at the frame edges with no motion so that the stitching can occur successfully.
These images show advantages and disadvantages of splicing. Notice that the exposures are different in the two images. You can see the difference in the sand area, where the sand in the bottom image is overexposed to the point where detail is lost.
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