All posts by The Gray Bull

Novice photographer using Canon gear. I tend to like photographs of urban scenes.

Blog Posts

Philadelphia Panorama Photos

The title for this blogpost makes use of the letter P three times and that is a lot. It is also appropriate because this blogpost is about taking many photos and creating a panorama. It is also a blogpost that prominently (another P) displays my rather poor skill in shooting panoramas. That is ok because this blog is about my journey to becoming a better photographer and what I learn along the way.

Last week, my wife and I took a day trip to Philadelphia and I brought my camera and tripod along specifically to try a few cityscape panoramas. I had only done one panorama before this attempt; therefore, I thought it was time to explore the technique. I decided to not look at any videos beforehand to prepare myself just to do something different as a challenge. I am guessing that some of you readers also experiment this way but most probably try to learn a new technique prior to putting the camera on a tripod. The later technique certainly makes more sense than my approach, but I like to take risk!

I made quite a few mistakes and these photos show those errors, but I think I did learn a lot in this experiment. Rather than list all of my mistakes, I’ll let you look at the photos and figure out what went wrong for yourself. I read in a photo magazine that analyzing photos done by others is a good practice to help you refine your own skills, so hopefully these photos will help all of you!

The three photos below were all taken from Camden, NJ looking across the Delaware River towards Philadelphia. I used Adobe Lightroom to stitch the photos together into a panorama. The first photo is a monochrome conversion that consists of 7 individual photos.

untitled shoot-5036-Pano

 

The next photo was taken from a similar location and consists of 6 individual photos.

untitled shoot-5042-Pano

 

I tried a different approach on the next photo and used 12 individual photos for it. It should be clear what went wrong with this photo.

untitled shoot-5081-Pano

After going to lunch with my wife at a riverside sports bar we drove across the Benjamin Franklin Bridge into Philadelphia. I wanted to take a photo from the South Street Bridge near the University of Pennsylvania campus. This panorama consists of four photos. This was probably the best photo of the group.

Autumn in Philadelphia

When I returned home it was time to go to my photography school of choice, YouTube.com. There are many great videos here and I found several on creating panoramas. After viewing these videos and then looking at my photos I can certainly see how to do an improved panorama photo shoot on my next opportunity. Hopefully, you managed to dissect these photos, and in the process learned more about taking panoramas.

Please come back to visit www.cestlavie4me.com to check on my progress in becoming a better photographer.

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Blog Posts

Interesting?

Since I started my interest in digital photography in the last 3+ years the number of videos on photography, articles on photography, books on photography and photography podcasts that have passed before my eyes or through my ears has been substantial. Hopefully, all of this has helped me to improve both my photography and post-processing skills. Recently, I found myself gaining more interest in monochrome images. Fortunately, in digital photography all it takes is a simple button click in Adobe Lightroom to convert a color photo to monochrome. Then the magic of Lightroom, DxO Silver eFex, Photoshop or any other software programs can help you further edit your masterpiece.

One of the facets of photography that is also getting my attention is the concept of “Interest” which to me is how to create a photograph that is interesting to view? This is a very subjective exercise because everyone would probably have an opinion on why any given picture is interesting or not to them. How often do you look at a photo and think to yourself, “That is an interesting photo”? I must admit that I have just recently started to do this myself. In the past my comments would have been primarily, “That is a good photo”, or “Wow, that is beautiful” or something like “Good capture”. What are your most common comments when you view a photo? Perhaps you are the technical type and say, “Great Composition” or “This photo is tack sharp throughout” maybe you would say “Good tonality in this photo”. At times it seems that a monochrome photo limits distraction by allowing the eye to just see tonality in the image. There is no wrong answer, I think we all see photos with a different eye (pun intended).

Here are a few examples from my perspective. The first two photos are nice but not particularly interesting to my eye. How about your eye?

Mountain Festival-4890-2

Blacksmith at Work

New York City-002

Which Train?

The next photo is one that I find interesting. You may be asking why I find this one interesting. That is a fair question. I think the photo has an element of mystery, the lighting creates a strong emotion of potential danger yet the bright building and sky in the background points a way out. This photo is interesting to me as a monochrome image but as a color image it is a little boring! What are your thoughts on this photo?

Pittsburg-4777-Edit

Bright Passage

It seems to me that for a photo to be interesting to view it needs to connect with the viewer in some emotional manner. That is what will cause the viewer to spend a few more moments gazing at a photo. It makes the viewer feel some tug at their emotions. In the modern world we have a multitude of distractions all grabbing for our attention. As we look to create an interesting photo, we need to keep in mind that we are competing for the viewer’s attention. As stated earlier in this post everyone has a different eye for what might interest them in a photo. My goal going forward is to try to create interesting photos and that means connecting on some emotional level with the viewer. That should prove to be a great photographic challenge for me.

Please come back to visit www.cestlavie4me.com to see where my photography journey takes me next!

Blog Posts

The Mountain Festival

A few weeks ago, the family decided to take a day trip to West Virginia to attend the 43rd Annual Mountain Heritage Arts & Crafts Festival. I decided to bring my camera and check out any good photo opportunities. The festival itself was a great deal of fun! I managed to eat a lot of food and even bought some canned items to bring home. My wife, daughter and granddaughter bought magnetic bracelets constructed of semi-precious stones that are supposed to block pain. If you are interested check out the website below. I have no connection to this business or any way to know if the magnets work as advertised but the bracelets are attractive!

www.uniquemagneticjewelry.com

 

The festival offered many great photo opportunities and I am posting a few pictures in this post. I decided to focus on a blacksmith theme. I also wanted to be creative in using Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom to test my skills. The first photo is an anvil and I tried to bring out the texture in the old metal.

Mountain Festival-4884

The next photo is of the furnace that the blacksmith used to create his metal objects d’ arte. I finished the photo by using the Patch Tool in Photoshop to remove the clutter in the background. It was amazing to see how well it turned out. There are a few errors but with practice my skills should improve.

Mountain Festival-4887  Mountain Festival-4887-Edit

The next photo is of the blacksmith working on a heated metal rod that he was shaping into a plant leaf. I had his full attention because no one else was around, so he answered a lot of my questions. When he finished he gave me the leaf that he had just fashioned. It is now hanging on the bulletin board in my office! Since it was a photo of a blacksmith, I thought it would look better as a monochrome image. This was converted from color to monochrome in Adobe Lightroom. I also used one of the new monochrome profiles, number 6, that was included in a recent update to Lightroom.

Mountain Festival-4890  Mountain Festival BW-4890

This was a fun outing and it even gave me a few good photos to add to my collection. Please come back to visit www.cestlavie4me.com to see more of my photo journey to becoming a better photographer.

Blog Posts

Post-Processing Explored

My first camera was a small Kodak Instamatic. I’m sure most of the readers of this blog have no idea what that is or for that matter even care! To tell you the truth, it was so long ago I had forgotten what it looked like myself. So, a quick visit to Wikipedia restored my lost memory! Kodak Instamatic

But, just as way of clarification, it was a small plastic film camera. You just snapped the picture; therefore, we called the resulting photos snapshots. When you had finished your roll of film, typically about 12 pictures as I remember, you would send the roll to your local lab or drugstore to be developed and have prints made. It was a lot of fun opening the envelope and looking at your photos for the first time. There was no such thing as an LED screen on the back of your camera back in those ancient times! Sometimes the surprises were not too pleasant. It was not unusual to have several severely underexposed photos. Also, if you hadn’t advanced the film properly, you might have partial images on your prints. We don’t have time to talk about how you had to insert or remove the film in the camera in this blog!

 Today most of us are taking a photographs by using a digital device. Either a DSLR or a mobile phone. In any case we can quickly see the photos and with the available software manipulate the image almost instantly. In the last couple of years, I have rekindled my interest in photography and as the readers of this blog know I have been trying to document my progress as an amateur photographer in this blog. Today I want to share some of my photos with you; but I also want to share what the photos looked like before any adjustments were made with Adobe Lightroom and or NIK software.

 Recently, I was in Pittsburgh for a very short visit and had the opportunity to photograph several scenes around the city. One of the first areas that appeared in my viewfinder was the Strip District. This is an older part of the city near downtown the filled with shops, restaurants, grocery stores and even furniture stores. It has become a busy area for both locals and tourists. The photo below is a street scene from the Strip District. This photo was taken in the early afternoon and the sky was extremely bright. The photo right out of the camera was rather dark as you can see from the screenshot below.

 Unadjusted Street Scene

After processing this photo in Adobe Lightroom I was able to recover a lot of the detail in the shadows and darker areas and the resulting photo is pretty decent. Below is the screenshot from Lightroom when I had finished processing the photo.

 Adjusted Street Scene

Here’s a better view of that photo.

Adjustments made in Lightroom

 

The next shot was a view of the city skyline from the 16th Street bridge near the Strip District. Again, the sky was very bright, so the resulting photo was dark as you can see from the screenshot below.

 Unadjusted Cityscape

Again, after working through Photoshop I managed to recover a lot of detail and I’m very satisfied with the resulting photo. Below is the screenshot showing some of the Lightroom adjustments that were made.

 Adjusted Cityscape

Here’s a better view of that photo.

 Adjustments made in Lightroom (2)

As we were walking around the downtown area we passed an alley and I thought it would make an interesting photo. When I uploaded this photo to my computer I decided it would be a much better picture if I processed it is a monochrome image. Below is the screenshot of the image before I started to process it.

 Before any adjustments

After I had worked the photo in Lightroom I decided to move it to NIK’s Silver eFex software. Below is a screenshot showing the photo after adjustments in both Lightroom and NIK.

 After adjustments in Lightroom and NIK

Here is a better view of this photo. I think the resulting image is very moody and somewhat mysterious. This is probably my favorite photo of the ones I took on the trip to Pittsburg.

 Adjustments made in Lightroom and NIK

As I have mentioned before in previous posts this blog is not about how to instruct you in doing anything because I’m just learning myself. What I do want to do is continue to share my progress as an amateur photographer. To this point I feel that I am making reasonable progress with my new hobby. I can also see that I have a long way to go in the areas of correctly using the exposure triangle, composition and post-processing, but progress is being made. Please come back to visit www.cestlavie4me.com  in the future.

Blog Posts

Blue Hour and Sunrise

Last week I wanted to lose some sleep and get up before dawn was even close! I decided that I may as well take my camera for a short trip to Washington, D.C. since I would be awake with nothing to do. The alarm started to buzz at 4:00am and it seemed for a moment that my idea of rising early may have been a bad one. Struggling out of the bed I managed to washup and get dressed by 4:30am. Soon after I was traveling to Washington, D.C. with a few other intrepid early morning folks.

My photographic object was to capture both the U.S. Supreme Court Building and the U.S. Capitol Dome during the blue hour and at sunrise. The sun rose behind and to the left of the Supreme Court building and therefore lit the U.S. Capitol Dome which is directly across the street from the courthouse. I also wanted to capture these buildings from a few different vantage points. The first photo of the U.S. Supreme Court Building was taken at 5:27am during the blue hour. You can see the crescent moon above the building. I could not backup any further because I would have been standing in the street!

Supreme Court-4603

 

After taking this photo, I crossed the street and setup my tripod on the sidewalk facing the U.S. Capitol and took this photo at 5:31am. The blue hour is clearly captured in the sky and the dome was well illuminated by the building lights.

Capitol Dome-4605

Sunrise was at approximately 6:00am, so as I looked back to the Supreme Court the sky was starting to light up in anticipation of sunrise. I setup in front of the courthouse and took a series of photos with differing camera settings. My goal was to bracket as much as possible and use the power of Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop to process the photos when I returned home. The following three photos were from that series. The first photo is done in a portrait format, the second is a Lightroom HDR image made up of 3 photos. The third photo I tried to process with more purple in the sky.

Supreme Court-4607

Supreme Court-4608-HDR

Supreme Court-4614

 

The two photos below were taken 15 minutes apart, the first a little before sunrise at 5:56am and the second very near sunrise at 6:11am. I captured the security guard in both frames (no pun intended). The first photo was edited in both Lightroom and Photoshop and the second photo was only edited in Lightroom.

Supreme Court-4627-Edit

Supreme Court-4636

By now the sun was rising so I turned back to the Capitol and took the following photos. The first one is a single image. The second photo is a 2-image combination using the prior photo and another taken immediately following that capture. Both photos were then processed in Photoshop. I used the Select and Mask tool to place the bright dome and trees against the darker sky of the other image. I don’t think this one turned out very good, but I enjoyed the experiment!

Capitol Dome-4632

Capitol Dome-4632-Edit

 

So far it had been a good morning for photography, good subjects, great light and quiet streets! I looked around and saw that life was returning to the streets, joggers were heading towards me, traffic was beginning to flow and tourists were out early. It seemed like a good time to pack up and head home for breakfast and coffee!

 This photo shoot provided me with the opportunity to work with different lighting situations and also use both Lightroom and Photoshop on similar photos. I learned a few things that will hopefully help me on my next cityscape photo shoot. By the way, I hope to be in Pittsburg in a few days to photograph some city scenes there.

Please come back to visit www.cestlavie4me.com to join me in my next photo adventure and learn if my photos have improved!

Blog Posts

Birds of a Different Feather

The rain has been falling incessantly here in northern Virginia during the last half of July. As a matter of fact, a new record for rainfall in the month of July has been established. When the rain is coming down constantly and local flooding conditions develop it is not exactly a good time for photography! Last weekend during a brief lull in the rain I decided to take some photos of the birds who were visiting the birdfeeder in my yard. Normally I am not a photographer who spends a time photographing nature and wildlife. However, I just wanted to photograph something, so my backyard became my studio.

 Calling Me

I placed my camera on a tripod approximately 5 feet from the birdfeeder and connected my wireless remote trigger. Now, all I had to do was wait for a bird to land. Naturally I waited and waited and birds. Apparently, the birds did not like the food I put in the feeder! So, I went inside and got myself a snack and as I was looking out the window I saw several birds landing on the feeder and chasing each other off! I went back outside and sat on my deck in close enough proximity to fire the shutter remotely. Thankfully, over the next 30 minutes or so I had several birds land on the feeder that led to some pretty good shots, however, you can be the judge of that.

 On the Lookout

Please come back and visit this blog, www.cestlavie4me.com, to continue following my journey in photography.
Posing

Blog Posts

New York Scenes

One of the most photographed and photographable cities in the world is New York City. Everywhere you look it seems that a great photograph is just waiting to be taken! The skyscrapers, skyline, Financial District, Central Park, Broadway and the theatre district, river views, harbor, churches, and street scenes everywhere are a photographer’s delight! The key problem is to find a shot that hasn’t been taken a million times before. Perhaps the best bet is to try and take a photo in a somewhat unique style or from a non-traditional point of view.

A few days ago, I spent a couple of hours on Manhattan Island attempting to photograph some sights without taking the same photos I had seen before. It was a very challenging enterprise and I did not always succeed. The beauty of photography in New York is even when you fail at an attempt to photograph something in a unique manner, you still end up with a nice photo! The following are a few of the photos from my day in New York.

It seems you can get any information you need via a smartphone.

Get Info Here?

                                                    Get Info Here?

There are millions of people in New York and sometimes it may feel that even the signs are watching you!

 Who's Looking?

Who’s Lookin?

The New York Theatre District features some of the most famous musicals in the world. It just so happens that there is also music on the streets.

Mazel Tov

Great music. Mazel Tov!

The traffic is always heavy and it is difficult to catch a taxi, Uber or Lyft in NYC, but there are other means of city transportation.

It's the Hat!

It’s the hat!

New York can feed your body and your spirit!

Food Carts and St. Patrick's

Food Carts and St. Patrick’s

Please come back and visit www.cestlavie4me.com to check out more of my photographic exploits.

Blog Posts

Family Vacation Photography

I suspect that many of us tend to photograph in a somewhat solitary manner. We go out on a photo shoot usually with just our camera, bag, tripod and our thoughts. If we do go out with someone else, it is usually better if they are also a photographer. Taking time out during a family vacation or group activity to photograph something other than your family members or the group will not make you the most popular person that day.

There are many times during something like a family vacation or group outing where you can plan ahead and carve out some time to take photographs without interfering with everyone else’s activity. I had this opportunity during the past week when my wife and I went on holiday with our grandchildren, daughter and son-in-law. My daughter found a beautiful house that was available for short-term rentals in the Pocono Mountains of Northeastern Pennsylvania.

The Mehoopany Creek which is a tributary of the Susquehanna River was just a short walk down the mountain from the house. A small stream flowed from near the house down to the creek and provided some nice photo opportunities. I found an area that had a small waterfall. Early one day before everyone was up I went to the waterfall and took some photographs. In this post I decided to show the before and after version of one of my photographs. I used Adobe Lightroom Classic for the edits. So even when you are on a family vacation or with a group, if you plan ahead you can find some time to enjoy your photographic hobby. Just remember not to abuse the opportunity or you’ll become that person constantly getting the evil eye while you are taking your photos!

Singing Waters Creek

Before Editing in Adobe Lightroom Classic

Singing Waters Creek

After Editing in Adobe Lightroom Classic

Please come back to visit www.cestlavie4me.com to track my progress as a hobbyist photographer.

Blog Posts

Hand-Held Panoramas

Some images shout out to be created as a Panorama. This sometimes gives the viewer a much better perspective of the subject and sense of place than a standard photograph. One of the primary tools for great panoramic shots is the use of a steady tripod. Unfortunately, in my case I did not have a tripod on a recent day-trip to Baltimore, Maryland. I do, however, carry a bean bag in my camera bag that I sometimes use as a support for my camera.

My wife and I visited the World Trade Center in Baltimore and on the top floor there is a great observation room with a 360-degree view of Baltimore. I was up for the challenge of attempting panoramic shots without a tripod. Just to make matters a little more difficult, I had to shoot thru the somewhat dirty and streaky glass windows of the Observation Room! So, I proceeded to find spots where I could anchor the bean bag with the camera either on top or pressed against the side and then went to work.

Here are four photos that are each made up of three images. I used Adobe Lightroom to process and combine the images into a panorama. I doubt if any of these photos would win a photography contest prize; but I was very pleased with how well they turned out considering the challenges of hand-holding a camera for panoramas!

Port of Baltimore

Baltimore Marina

Baltimore City Center

Baltimore City Center

Later in the day, we visited The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, also called the Baltimore Basilica. It was the first Roman Catholic cathedral built in the United States and was among the first major religious buildings constructed in the nation after the adoption of the U.S. Constitution. This gave me the opportunity to try a panoramic shot indoors in low light. I again took out my bean bag and took some photos of the altar area. Even with people in the scene the four-image panorama came out well!

Altar

I would always prefer a tripod to a bean-bag, but, it seems that you can make a decent panorama by hand-holding with the help of software like Adobe Lightroom. Now might be a good time for you to take out your camera and try the same technique. Keep on shooting!

Blog Posts

Old Point Comfort Lighthouse

A few weeks back my wife and I took a short drive to Hampton and Norfolk Virginia to enjoy a middle of the week holiday. In addition to eating great seafood I did go out for a couple of photo shoots. One of my goals was to focus on making sure I shot a subject from different viewpoints. I did this at the Point Comfort Lighthouse at Fort Monroe near Hampton. Here is some background on the Point Comfort Lighthouse:

“With the establishment of the United States government and its ensuing lighthouse projects at places like Cape Henry, pressure mounted to build a permanent aid to navigation at Old Point Comfort. An early edition of the American Coast Pilot noted the 1798 law passed by the U.S. Congress that set aside $3,050 for a light at Old Point Comfort and proclaimed: “We wish, for the security of navigation, that the important work may soon be undertaken, for the safety of our mariners.” Between 1800 and 1801, Congress appropriated another $5,000 for construction costs, and contracted the services of Elzy Burroughs to complete the octagonal stone structure.

Burroughs completed most of the work on the lighthouse, which stands fifty-four feet high, during 1803. The tower possesses a spiral staircase composed of hand-cut stone, stacked strategically on top of each other. The stairs lead to a ladder that ascends to a trap door, beyond which is the lantern room. Ten oil lanterns, which consumed 486 gallons of oil each year, were set in reflectors to produce a light that could be seen from fourteen miles at sea.”

Source: http://lighthousefriends.com/light.asp?ID=444

When I was editing these photos, I decided to try something new. The sky in one photo was a dull, washed out gray, so a sky replacement was in order. Since this photo had some trees, I decided to try to use the Channels Selection method in Photoshop which I believed would make a better selection. After viewing several videos on YouTube and more than a few attempts at this method, a final product was created.

This is the original photo with only a minor set of adjustments in Lightroom, I also started the adjustments by utilizing the new Profiles feature in Lightroom “Modern 10”.

Old Point Comfort Lighthouse

This is the same photo with the sky replaced by removing the dull, gray sky via a Channels Selection process.

Old Point Comfort Lighthouse

The next photo is from a different viewpoint and taken the next day, so there was a better sky as the background. I also used the new Lightroom Profile “Modern 10” to begin the editing process.

Old Point Comfort Lighthouse

There are a few more photos to share from this trip, but I’ll save those for the next post. Thanks for visiting and please come back to see what progress I am making in becoming a better photographer.