That Time Robin Fought the Hulk

I love this image.  I found it serendipitously (which spell-check tells me is not a word, because spell-check is a snob).

No, it’s not a far fight.  But if any version of Robin is going to take this challenge, it’s going to be Burt Ward’s Robin.

Source: Free photo: Incredible Hulk, Robin, Comic Book – Free Image on Pixabay – 1202678

[B]rad Infinitum: After The Violence in Paris

[Edit] Please don’t like this, but, instead please post a comment. [/Edit]

Paris is a great city. One of the first foreign cities I ever visited, and the first foreign city I ever visited without my parents present (1997). Paris is one of the few foreign cities I have been to multiple times (3 to be exact, 1997 x2, 2004).

The events of this past weekend are heartbreaking. I do not know why, but, to me, it feels a lot like the attacks on the USA on 9/11/01. Je suis Parisien. J’adore Paris. #prayforparis

This photo is of one of the tributes that my current city has for one of my favorite cities. I may live in Seattle, but right now, I’m a Citizen of Paris.

I am happy that the city I live in has done this, and I fully support this action.

I am aware that other city landmarks have done similar things. This is a good thing.

I hope and pray, but do not expect, that this is the last time such a gesture is required.

-Brad

[B]rad Infinitum: #thedress and White Balance as an Artistic Choice

Hello everyone.

I realize I’m getting into this conversation well after it is relevant, but I was on vacation.

When #thedress went viral, it sparked a big conversation about how we see color. Our eyes have evolved over a few million years [citation needed] to be able to evaluate the color in the surrounding environment to be able to subtract other colors and figure out what is the actual color of an item.

Personally, I performed an experiment where I would open and close the blinds on a window, and watch the color “change”. It was fascinating to watch the perceived colors of an object change as the light source in my room changed.

So how does this relate to photography?

This is how ‘white balance’ works on digital cameras. The electronics will evaluate the scene and attempt to handle this adjustment for you. If you’ve ever set your white balance to ‘cloudy’ on a sunny day, only to realize your photos have a yellow color when you get home, this is white balance (setting your white balance to sunny on a cloudy day will result in blue photos).

Normally, your camera’s auto white balance is good. Not perfect, but good. It will almost always be a little blue or a little yellow, but will usually be close enough that most people will not notice.

The other side of white balance is the purple/green color cast. Outside of fairly unusual situations, this is something that most people will never notice. Cameras will frequently favor green, which our eyes are more sensitive to, and we will end up liking it more with the green cast.

Since I like unusual situations, here is an example of the auto white balance not handling purple/green properly.

01 - aurora purple

At first glace, this photo looks really cool. There’s 2 people out taking photos underneath an aurora.

After a few minutes of letting your eyes adjust, you may start to notice that everything is probably more purple than it should be (especially the snow, that should really be close to white). Why did this happen? This goes back to the electronics guessing what is white. Much like #thedress, the electronics of the camera and software of the computer are evaluating the scene and trying to guess what is the correct balance for blue/yellow and purple/green. Due to the green of the aurora (an unusual situation for most images), the camera assumes it needs to compensate by giving the image a purple tint. Normally, this would be the correct choice. In this situation, it is the incorrect choice.

This situation is easy to correct. We move the slider (I use Adobe Lightroom, I’m sure other applications have something similar) for purple/green about 60 units, and we end up with this image.

02 - aurora green

So, what does this all mean? Well, if you add a lot of blue to the scene, it can feel cooler or colder, while adding yellow makes the scene warmer. Adding too much purple often looks like a mistake, while adding more green or yellow generally makes the image more liked.

If you want to take this further, you can use a tool like the paintbrush tool in Lightroom to paint different white balances in different parts of the scene.

Let’s take an example. Recently, I was at the Jökulsárlón Iceberg Graveyard in Iceland. It was a fairly cloudy day, but, the ice had this really amazing blue color. When I was able to transfer the photos, the photos no longer had the correct ‘blue’.

03 - ice on beack

This photo has some processing performed already. The black point did not get set properly (the beach was black sand), so it was fixed for this photo. For comparison, here is the photo before I fixed the black point.

03.1 - ice on beack

Setting your black and white points is more important to printing than it is for composing to a screen. But it does help to illustrate just how different the camera senses the world than our eyes do. It also helps to illustrate part of the trend called Shoot to the Right, or STTR, which is probably a good topic for another day.

Back to the photo. Since the resulting image was not a good representation of 1) What I wanted, or 2) What the beach looked like, I decided to fix the issue. By taking a brush tool in Lightroom and painting in a bluer white balance on the ice, I was able to create a very blue iceberg on a black sand beach, which is what I wanted.

04 - ice on beach blue

Looking back at other photos, this is likely more blue than reality. But that is ok. I chose to make it more blue to give it a cooler feeling, it is, after all, ice.

For a sunset, you may wish to selectively paint on a more yellow white balance to give that section of the image a warmer feeling.

But what happens if we give the cool/blue ice a yellower white balance?

04.1 - ice on beach yellow

Wow, that looks terrible. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide exactly what shade of yellow that is. One thing is certain, it has lost that cool/ice feeling that the heavy blue image had.

If we adjust the temperature (blue/yellow) and tint (green/purple), we can actually change the ice to a variety of strange colors. Orange (yellow + purple), purple, green, turquoise (green + blue), etc, are all possibilities. Some of these possibilities are better than others.

Much like in #thedress, colors can change based on other items in and out of the scene. As a photographer, you can control the various elements in a scene to emphasize what you are trying to show, and balance the temperatures to support the main subject.

-Brad

[B]rad Infinitum: Things I Enjoy – Smartphone Photography

Many of us have a lot of equipment.

Since I’m preparing for a trip, I may be a bit more aware of how much I have right now than other times of the year. On this trip, I’ll be carrying a primary and backup body, as well as a Micro 4:3 camera because it is small and easy to carry. My brother is coming with me, and for at last part of the trip, will be using my backup body as his primary. As a result, I’ll be carrying at least 8 lenses, vs the normal 3-4.

Sometimes, I just need a break from swapping lenses and use something that is as simple as possible. Enter the smart phone, something I carry with me at almost all times. It only has a handful of options, which means you don’t need to focus on if you should swap out the big lens for a macro because it is a bit annoying to swap with all of these people around and it is raining.

With a smartphone you generally only have a few options, 4:3, Square, Pano. And the entire device fits easily in a pocket.

When I first started using a smartphone, it was to get a quick picture on FB or for SMS to a friend or relative.

Haha you are at work and I am here!
Haha you are at work and I am here!

Or one of my favorites, “Here is my camera ready to take a picture tonight”.

This is the setup for taking a photo at Bandon Beach, Oregon at Sunset
This is the setup for taking a photo at Bandon Beach, Oregon at Sunset

And of course a “Well, that was dumb” type of image.

The result of being caught in a rainstorm with my camera
The result of being caught in a rainstorm with my camera

The entire camera is designed for much worse than this.  It looks kind of bad, but, everything is weather sealed and I’ve had it in worse conditions.

For a long time, I never really thought of a smartphone as a real camera. Then I was out on a rooftop deck in Seattle during an amazing sunset, and my phone managed to capture this image.

Seattle Sunset
Seattle Sunset

Oh wow, that is actually really nice.  I also enjoy wide angle photography, and, while I’m not totally certain, I think this image is fairly wide angle.

The real turning point for me was when I posted a photo from my iPhone and it was mistaken for a photo from my DSLR.

Photo from an iPhone 5S, Fisherman's Bridge, Rovaniemi Finland
Photo from an iPhone 5S, Fisherman’s Bridge, Rovaniemi Finland

I got far too many ‘wow, but you only got this photo because you have a nice camera’ comments.

One thing that I really enjoy about the iPhone is the automatic panorama stitching.  I’m sure it is available on Android, BB, WinPhone, etc, but I’ve only used the iOS version.

Panorama of Mt. St. Helens in Washington State
Panorama of Mt. St. Helens in Washington State

Yes, one could take a dozen photos with a DSLR and stitch them later, but there really is something amazing about the instant results.  Plus, my phone handles ghosting really well.

After some practice, I took a quick panorama during my trip to a volcano and a beach in Costa Rica.

Panorama from the Poas Volcano in Costa Rica
Panorama from the Poas Volcano in Costa Rica
Tortugas Island, on the Pacific Side of Costa Rica
Tortugas Island, on the Pacific Side of Costa Rica

I really started to enjoy the panorama format.  And I enjoy how easy and fast it is when using my phone.

This last fall, I was boarding a plane in Jackson, Wyoming, and managed to capture this photo on a very clear day.

Boarding a plane in Jackson, Wyoming
Boarding a plane in Jackson, Wyoming

This is by far my favorite panorama to date.  I also would likely not have been able to capture it unless I used a phone.  I doubt the people boarding the plane would have had the patience to wait for me to unpack my camera, swap lenses, take a series of photos, and repack the camera.  But 20 seconds using a smart phone?  Yeah, I definitely had that much time.

Like any camera, a smartphone is a tool to capture images.  It is also a very light and simple tool which most people always have with them.  I enjoy the simplicity of taking the photos as a change of pace from setting up tripods and carrying around heavy cameras with multiple lenses.  Is the quality the same as my DSLR?  Nope, but that’s ok.

-Brad

[B]rad Infinitum: Cannon Beach, Oregon, at Sunset

For this post, I would like to talk about how I created a photo from Cannon Beach, Oregon, last year.

Before I left on this trip, I read about a new technique that can create interesting patterns in the sky when you stack a series of photos taken about 5-10 seconds apart with fast moving clouds. (The technique is described on PetaPixel, among other places, and it tend to resurface as a ‘new’ idea every few years)

I wanted to try it. But the clouds were not moving very quickly and the sun was setting very quickly.

So I thought, since I was on a beach, why not try the same concept, but with waves. Either way, it was too late to move to a new spot, so my choices were to work with what I had or give up and ensure I walked away with nothing.

I set up my camera and took a series several series of photos. One particular group of about 20 photos is what I would like to discuss in this post. Of this group of 20 photos, this was the first:

First Photo!
First Photo!

Ok, not too bad. There’s a lot I really like about this photo, especially in the color of the sky and the sea stacks in shadow.

I opened up the series of photos in Photoshop and stacked them on top of each other with Darken as the blend mode. Darken, like Lighten, are really nice for working with this kind of scene. In the earlier part of this post I linked to an article which talked about using ‘Lighten’ as your blend mode for clouds. I have found that Lighten works best for lighter objects, and Darken works best for darker objects. This is all subjective and mostly about what you like best or what just works best for you.

However, 20 photos was a bit too many. So I turned layers on and off until only about 6 remained. These 6 felt right, so I performed a merge visible on all but the bottom layer and set this new layer to ‘darken’.

_DS84282-Edit2_in_progress

Oops, I left a little too much of the transparency on. That just won’t work right. (See the Sun for what I mean)

_DS84282-Edit2_in_progress2

Ahh better. I’ve masked out the area where the sun sits in the image. This means that the bottom layer’s sun is now showing through.

What is left do do on this photo? 2 major things. In Photoshop, I want to create a mask for the Oranges. I feel like this color is just not where I want it to be. So I’ll create a quick mask and adjust the Hue to make it a little more orange, and also underexpose the area a little to bring the brightness down.

Next, I’ll do the opposite for the waves. I feel like they need to be made brighter, as well as have their colors saturated a bit more.

Finish it all up with a sharpening layer and we have:

_DS84282-Edit

After this image had been published, I noticed that the orange in the waves that I so liked was actually due to me forgetting to turn off the transparency of the layer. Once that was turned down, we get:

_DS84282-Edit2

Now we are nearly at our completed image. I am really liking where this image is going.

There is still an issue with this image that I would like to correct. Do you see the area between the sea and the sky? There is a small color halo. This is an easy fix. We create a new Darken layer and using the paintbrush tool, we sample a nearby color and paint our way across the image. The result is a subtle change, but, it eliminates the annoying halo.

_DS84282-Edit2-2

And there it is, the finished image. By stacking images, we can make a relatively calm ocean look like a much more active ocean.

-Brad

[B]rad Infinitum: Photographing Hummingbirds in Costa Rica

Brad Molnar

Hello everyone, and a special thanks to Chris for inviting me to write about photography.  This article is about photographing hummingbirds at the La Paz Waterfall Gardens in Costa Rica.

[Ed. note: Brad, thank YOU!  I’ve had the pleasure of seeing your work for years and am happy to share it.  And I love that you’re taking us through the process of editing and preparing the final image, and I know others will, too.]

About a year ago, I had the opportunity to take a work trip to Central America to help bring our San Jose team up to speed.  I extended my trip by a few days so I would have some time to see parts of the country.

One of the places I was able to visit was the La Paz Waterfall Gardens, which is about 2 hours outside of San Jose.  Among other things at this location is a Hummingbird Garden.  This only the second time I’ve had the opportunity to photograph hummingbirds, the first being wild hummingbirds on Alcatraz, in San Francisco.

I tried to take advantage of the time, and below is a screenshot of the thumbnails from the software Lightroom.

All of my thumbnails from the day
Screenshot of my Lightroom Catalog of the Hummingbird Gardens

These birds move quickly, much quicker than my autofocus was happy with.

Hyperactive bird drinking a sugar mix
Hyperactive bird drinking a sugar mix

Although the background is really uninteresting.

However, I would frequently end up with the birds out of focus.

Why yes, I was trying to get the feeder in focus and the bird out of focus
Why yes, I was trying to get the feeder in focus and the bird out of focus

Sometimes, the birds would move out of frame giving me a fantastic photo of the feeder.

A picture of a feeder with invisible Hummingbirds
A picture of a feeder with invisible Hummingbirds

I even ended up with a silhouette.  I still like this photo, even if it is not my favorite from the day.

_DS83126

Eventually, my luck began to change and I started getting photos with birds that were both in focus and out of the shadows.

This one came out nice
This one came out nice

This photo in particular was just sitting on my external drive.  I didn’t realize I had it until I started to prepare photos for this post.

I also caught this colorful fellow.

Purple Hummingbird
Purple Hummingbird

Then, I managed to capture my favorite.

My favorite photo from the day
My favorite photo from the day

This one is really nice.  It has 3 birds, but the 2 on the left are looking at each other.  One of them is a bit out of focus, but that’s fine, you can tell what it is.  The one bird is in perfect focus.  This was a really lucky shot.

Now that I have my favorite, it is time to start to work on it.  I shoot my photos in RAW, which means capturing the photo is really only the beginning.  Generally, there’s at least 30 more minutes of work behind every photo that gets shared.

For this photo, I decided that the best part was on the left, and I decided to crop it to a vertical.

After cropping, it was time to get the colors balanced the way I wanted, turn up the saturation, and balance the brightness to my liking.

The result is this:

Final version of Hummingbirds Picture
Final version of Hummingbirds Picture

And there it is, my finalized version of the photo.  I did turn up the saturation a little more than normal.  This was an item I debated for a while, but in the end, I’m happy with how it turned out.  I also turned up the clarity, which brings out the detail in the bird’s feathers.

-Brad