Sunday, May 25, 2008

New Addition to the Avery Clan

The big news around here is that come mid-October-ish, we'll have a new addition to the Avery clan. Yes, once again we'll be subject to changing daipers and hand-feeding a little one. Oh wait... we're still doing that :-)

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Little Henry is excited, but still doesn't fully realize what's going to happen. Sharing toys is too hard for him right now, so I can't imaging what he'll do when he has to share mommy and daddy.

Looks like it's going to be another boy. We're definitely excited. Although we really didn't care if it was a boy or girl. We just wanted a second child. They only thing we're hoping and praying for is a healthy baby.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Forest Light & HDR

Over a month ago, my family and I camped at Bastrop state park. I did a little serious photography* and spent some brief time exploring the patches of bracken fern in the pine forest.

I've still not yet processed all my images from those serious sessions. In fact, I've only done one.

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Most of those shots contain a very wide dynamic range, more than my camera's sensor can handle effectively. What makes these shots difficult is that the bright areas are mixed within the dark areas. I.e. there aren't large seperate portions of bright and dark, like in a typical wide-angle landscape shot where you can somewhat easily deal with the wide dynamic range using split neutral density filters or simulate that effect with multiple exposures in Photoshop.

The photo above is a blend of two different exposures. I blended them by hand using masks in Photoshop, and I painted in (or out) different areas to make the overall photo natural looking (and consequently, HDR - high (or wide) dynamic range).

The technique is fairly straightforward, but it requires a lot of work as well as trial and error. Being daunted by this amount of work, I've put off processing the rest of my images from this trip. (If you're wondering why I'm not using a more automated processing program like Photomatix or PS's Merge to HDR, it's because I've never been able to get realistic looking results.)

Recently, I've come across a new blending program - TuFuse. Many thanks to Jeff K. for this find!

TuFuse blends multiple exposures by using an "exposure weight curve" that targets the midtones. It's easy to use and the results are surprisingly impressive. Although it does have its negatives. The program does not handle subject movement (between the multiple exposures) well.

Like Jeff, I'm finding that TuFuse'd blended images serve well to fill in the transition areas. When I manually stack multiple exposures in Photoshop, I make very quick and rough "cuts" (using masks) to blend the exposures, then I'll refine the overal exposure blend by "masking-in" sections of the TuFuse'd image. The sections that get "masked-in" are the transition areas, or rather, the boundaries between dark and light areas of the photo. These transition areas are the most difficult to create using all-manual methods (i.e. painting sections of the layers in or out using layer masks).

TuFuse looks very promising in this respect. You might ask, "why not use the whole TuFuse image?" Well, it's good, but not that good. To me, blended exposures always seem to look better and more realistic if a good portion of the photo contains pixels from the ORIGINAL exposures.

I will keep experimenting with TuFuse. And hopefully I'll find some motivation to finish processing those "forest light" images :-)

BTW, the "forest light" experience was amazing. Seeing the fern-blanketed ground hit by beams of evening sunlight was good for the soul. The pine forest glowed warmly and took on an aura of tranquility and fantasy. I halfway expected to see a hobbit or elf pop up and start talking to me.

* serious, meaning that I got to focus 100% on photography and didn't have to watch my son - as he always travels down that knife-edge between safety and danger :-) complete with those heart-pounding "oh crap" moments as he frequently attempts to do something that would surely result in blood, tears, and a trip to the ER). Many thanks to my wife for giving me respite of my parenting duties and allowing me a little one-on-one time with nature and my camera :-)

Monday, May 5, 2008

Washington-on-the-Brazos Wildflowers

I'm still sorting through my back-log of photos taken over the past month or so. Here's a pair taken in late March at Washington-on-the-Brazos state park.

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These were taken hand-held with my 5D and trusty "beater" lens (the Canon 28-105mm). When I say hand-held, it doesn't exactly mean what you'd normally think (e.g. like some tourist with a digicam held at arms length). These shots were taken with me squatting on the ground, elbows planted firmly against my legs, and camera smashed up against my face. That's as close to a tripod as I can get without using a tripod.

I didn't have the luxury of taking my time with these shots or planning them at a different time of day to catch better light. I was with my wife and son to enjoy a family outing to see the wildflowers. My wife was assigned monkey-wrangling duty (i.e. watching our son) while I paused for these pics.

I really wanted to get a portrait of those two in the flowers, but it didn't quite work out. Henry is constantly moving and won't sit still for anything. If you try to hold him against his will, you're likely to catch a stray flying elbow or fist. I never knew holding onto a 3-year old could be so dangerous :-)

Anyway, W-o-t-B park has a few nice trails out into the woods. They're short and well-traveled, but we did find neat openings into the woods with wildflowers right next to the trails. With better light, I think you could find a few decent small-scale landscape scenes worth shooting there.

And, it's a great place to take the family for a picnic and portraits in the wildflowers (much safer than the side of the highway).