Tag: Fun

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West Virginia Fall Foliage

At the conclusion of my last blog post, I mentioned that I would be taking a trip to West Virginia to view the fall foliage. My wife and I decided to travel on the Highland Scenic Highway in West Virginia. This is an approximately 91-mile highway that goes through the Monongahela National Forest. This was planned to be a simple daytrip so we packed a picnic lunch and planned stops to take photographs along the way and return home around 8 PM.

 

My wife and I lived in Colorado for approximately 20 years and had the opportunity to see the fall foliage change in the great Rocky Mountains. The colors there were bright and spectacular due to the leaves of the Aspen Trees that dominate the mountains. The foliage in West Virginia is very different primarily because there is a greater variety of trees in this area. This led to a tremendous variation in the color and vibrancy of the fall foliage in West Virginia. Our trip took place probably a few days in advance of the peaking of the fall foliage, but nonetheless we saw some very picturesque scenes. Overall, the colors were much more muted than what we were used to in Colorado.

 

Shortly after entering West Virginia I decided to turn off the main road to see if there were any interesting sites to photograph. Very quickly I came upon the scene of a silo in a field along with a small shed and I decided to stop and capture that shot. I had to walk through the farm field to get in position to take this picture and fortunately the field was dry that day otherwise I would’ve been a muddy mess.

 Silo in Autumn

Many of you who have been to Washington, D.C. have seen the Potomac River. It separates the District of Columbia from Virginia and Virginia from Maryland. During the summer months you see many boats, sailboards and kayaks on the river. As we were driving thru West Virginia we saw the North Fork of the Potomac River. It is significantly narrower and much shallower than the Potomac River in D.C.

 North Fortk of Potomac River

As we approached the Monongahela Forest, I stopped at the Ranger station to get some suggestions on good locations to photograph. The Ranger was very helpful; however, he did tell me that there was a small forest fire in one of the areas that he would usually recommend, as it happened that area was called Smoke Hole Canyon! Unfortunately, we would not be able to view the area but he did give me some other suggestions. As we continued our drive I happened to notice a road named Smoke Hole Road and decided to turn and go up that road to see what was there. The first photograph is from a small bridge on this road overlooking a pond with some beautiful reflections of the mountains above.

 Autumn Reflection-2

We continued to drive up the road and noticed the smoke that was very slightly obscuring the view of the mountains in the distance along with the distinct smell of wood burning. But we could tell the fire was nowhere near us at that point. We came upon a small clearing and pulled the car over, parked and enjoyed a great picnic lunch! This is the photograph that I took directly in front of where we stopped to have our lunch.

 Curves-

By now it was around 1 o’clock in the afternoon so we decided to go back the way we came and photograph some of the sights that we saw as we were driving up the mountain. Here are a few of those photographs.

 

We left the forest and returned to the main highway and proceeded to drive home. I noticed a scenic overlook sign and pulled over into the parking lot. We looked around and thought it was not much of a scenic overlook until I noticed a trail leading up the hill behind us. My wife decided to stay in the car and wait. I grabbed my gear and hiked up the hill. After a short climb a very nice view did come into focus. Cutting right through the scene below me was the highway that we had just left. I slightly raised the angle of my camera to crop out the highway and this is the photo that I captured.

 Appalachian Autumn

I hope you enjoyed traveling with us on our short drive through West Virginia to enjoy the fall foliage. Please come back to visit http://www.cestlavie4me.com to view some photographs from my recent visit to the U.S. Library of Congress here in Washington DC. It is not only the largest library in the world but the Jefferson building is a beautiful architectural delight! I think you’ll enjoy the photos. Au revoir!

 

 

 

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Monuments in Washington, D.C.

This past summer has been a quiet photography season for me. It was a great summer filled with family activities including traveling to South Carolina to see the total eclipse. That was an incredible experience and I just concentrated on enjoying it and did not even bring my camera! I have found that photography for me is a somewhat solitary experience. I seem to enjoy it more when I can take my time and concentrate on the photograph I’m trying to take. That means when I travel with the family I concentrate on them and if I need a photography outing I usually go by myself or possibly with another photographer. How many of you reading this post feel the same about separating your photography from other activities?

 

Since I live in the Washington D.C. area I decided that I would try my hand at photographing some of the many monuments and historic buildings in the district. In this post, I want to share four of the photographs from this collection. I will plan on sharing more photographs of the Washington D.C.  area later. Photographing monuments is somewhat of a challenge because of the crowds of tourists that are usually always present. This meant that at times the angle of the camera was not ideal for the photograph but it did eliminate unnecessary distractions. Photoshop also came in very handy at removing those other distractions that the camera angle could not compensate for. As I mentioned when I first started this blog, my objective was to document my progress as a photographer. This meant not only my artistic progress but also my technical progress with the camera and post-production software. I think I’ve made some progress on all counts but I have a long way to go to become a competent photographer!

 

This first photo is a sunrise over the Washington Monument and the US Capitol and it was an afterthought. I had initially come to the National Mall to photograph the Lincoln Monument at sunrise which is the next picture in the post. As I was setting up to photograph the Lincoln Monument I remembered to turn around to see what was behind me and fortunately the sunrise turned out to be very photogenic. This photo was edited in not only Lightroom but also Photoshop to enhance colors and take advantage of some dodging and burning techniques. You can probably figure out where this took place in the photo.

Monument Sunrise-2

This picture of the Lincoln Monument is the one that I mentioned in the previous paragraph. There were quite a few tourists around that morning even at sunrise! I took about 25 different photographs of the monument and this is the one I was most pleased with. Hopefully, you can see the golden glow of the sun on the façade of the monument. This photo also gave me the opportunity to use Photoshop to remove more than eight tourists who were either on the steps or near the columns. Feel free to look because I’m sure a practiced eye will be able to find those edits. I also used Photoshop to accentuate the blue and gray color of the sky. This was important to me because blue and gray represented the colors of the opposing Union and Confederate forces in the U.S Civil War. President Lincoln brought the country through this crisis and allowed it to remain a United country. So, I titled this photograph United.

United-

The Thomas Jefferson Monument is one of the most visited monuments in Washington D.C. It is not on the National Mall but it is just a short distance away. This photograph was taken from a location just in front of the Martin Luther King Jr. Monument which is the last photo in this post. Interestingly, it was a moonless evening, so I decided to put the moon in the photo for dramatic impact. It is larger than it would naturally appear; however, that is my artistic prerogative!

Thomas Jefferson Monument at dusk

The Martin Luther King Jr. Monument is the newest monument on the National Mall. It is located a short distance away from the Lincoln Monument. This is probably the most challenging of all the photographs due to the large number of tourists and the limited space for me to set up my camera. Fortunately, after taking several shots over a 20-minute period, I did manage to catch one before the tourists clambered back in front of it to take selfies. The quote is not engraved on the monument; however, it is a quote taken from the wall directly behind the monument and it seems an appropriate quote because of current events in America.

MLK-

I hope you enjoyed reading the posts and viewing the photographs. Come back to visit in the future because I hope to show some photos from an autumn trip that I’m planning to West Virginia to capture some of the fall color from the seasonal change.

 

 

Blog Posts

Abstract Photos

As I have mentioned in previous blog posts, my journey into photography has necessitated me learning the art and skills of Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. I’m starting to feel very comfortable in using Lightroom as my digital darkroom. There are still frustrating times when making some type of adjustment I don’t notice a significant change. This most often happens when I am using the sharpening tool. Another area that frequently causes me some consternation is the Split Toning panel. I have a hard time finding a photo that benefits from this feature. There are a few other minor points that bother me but overall, as I mentioned previously I am getting much more comfortable with Lightroom.

Photoshop is a much more difficult learning exercise. I have purchased a book and looked at numerous videos just to get a basic understanding of how some of the tools work for photography. Most of the photos I have edited with Photoshop have just been attempts to learn how the software works. I can tell that this is going to be a long-term educational saga for me.

Fortunately for me, I recently had an opportunity to use both programs for editing photos to display at my local photography club’s monthly competition. The theme for that competition was abstract photography which by its nature allows for a great deal of freedom in defining what is an abstract photograph. Since this blog post is about my journey to become a better photographer and not a blog for technical instruction; I will just post the photographs that I used, without a lot of detail outlining the editing process that was incorporated into producing them.

The first photograph that I edited was a snippet of mosaic tile from the St. Louis Cathedral in St. Louis, Missouri. The artwork throughout this Cathedral is made up almost entirely of mosaic panels that are stunning. While I was at the Cathedral I took quite a few pictures including a close-up of a small portion of a scene. That photo was edited only using Lightroom. Next, I sent the photo over to Photoshop where several extensive edits were made using layers and filters along with the bloat tool to create the composite image that you see below the original photograph. Much to my surprise, this composite earned a ribbon at the club competition.

Mosaic Original

Mosaic Composite

Next photo was taken in the woods behind my home. I deliberately moved the camera as I released the shutter to create a blurred photo of the trees. Again, this photo was only edited in Lightroom. A composite of this photograph was then made using Photoshop. I had previously taken a photo of some plywood with my smart phone. This was used as a texture overlay for the original photo in Photoshop. Both photos can be seen below.

Springtime

Trees with Overlay

The next photos are that of a chicken egg. To create an abstract photo, a small flashlight was placed directly behind the egg to illuminate the inside of it. This created a very interesting lighting effect because the egg was much more translucent I had expected. The flashlight also created a band of white light beneath the egg that added to the effect. I prefer the black and white version of this photograph for that reason. I was surprised a second time when the black and white photo received a ribbon at the club competition. It was a lot of fun creating this photograph and using the flashlight in different positions. Some of the other photos also turned out quite nice, especially when converted to black and white, but I decided to only use these two in this blog post.

Egg Color

Egg B&W

I will continue my attempts to learn photography, Lightroom and Photoshop and hopefully the next photos I post in this blog will show significant improvement in my skill. Please come back to visit www.cestlavie4me.com for future posts.

 

Blog Posts

Where is the story?

Since I started my interest in photography as a hobby there have been many new topics for me to explore. You know the basics, how to shoot in manual, jpeg vs Raw, Photoshop, Lightroom, composition, HDR and on and on. I have even opined about some of these topics in this blog myself. These, and many more aspects of becoming a good photographic artist are important to invest time in mastering. I continue to be amazed at how much I’ve learned and how much more there is to learn about photography.

Lately I have been considering the concept of storytelling with a photograph. This is a subject that has come up many times in some of the YouTube videos I have viewed, along with books and blogs on photography that have occupied my time. Interestingly, many of the photographs that I see do not always convey any significant or obvious story to me. I suspect that has also been the experience of many of you reading this post.

Naturally, this brings us to the question of how to tell a story with photography. For example, consider a landscape photo. At first, I could not see any story in a photo of a mountain, waterfall or some trees. I just thought that I was viewing some good photos. How about macro photography? What is the story that is told by examining a closeup of the inside of a flower or the wings of a butterfly? Even street photography sometimes appears to have no story that I can discern. Maybe I’m just looking at a photo of a man talking to a woman or some graffiti art on the side of a building.

I have arrived at the conclusion that my difficulty in finding stories in photographs is really a problem of my seeing. What does that mean? Simply put, it means I have been focused, pun intended, on looking at a photo from a technical viewpoint. Since I am in the learning phase of photography, it has been natural for me to try to view the focus, clarity, color or tone, composition and many other mechanical aspects of photography. I have not put any time or effort into looking deeper into a photo to find a story that is meaningful to me. It might not even be what the photographer intended but I suspect in many cases it is exactly the story the photographer intended.

This thought occurred to me due to a recent photo contest at my local photography club. The topic was Street Photography. The initial photos I took were ok from a technical standpoint but there was something missing. It became clear to me that I was just taking a photo of a scene that looked like it might be a good photo for the competition but I was not tuned to looking for a story to photograph. That caused me to finally go back and look at photos on Flickr, 5oopx, Instagram, Facebook and my club’s website to concentrate on stories. Slowly I began to see something I had missed before. The lighting and beauty of a landscape that may never occur again in precisely the same way. Did the picture give me an experience of being there when it was taken? I saw photos of the inside of a flower that displayed the awesomeness of God’s creation.

Hopefully, I will be a better photographer in the future by looking for the story in addition to successfully mastering all the technical manipulations to create a good photo. Back to the Photography Club competition. I managed to use my smartphone’s camera to capture some scenes that I hope convey a story with emotion. The first one is of a woman who was talking on her phone while waiting for her car to be washed and I could tell she was receiving some bad news. I was close enough to take the photo without being noticed. The next photo was of an older man just sitting on a bench. It struck me that he probably spent a lot of time at his age just sitting and possibly thinking of times gone by. As I am also getting older this connected with me in a particular way. Here are the photos for you to judge if you sense any emotion or story in them. Come back to www.cestlavie4me.com in the future to read more of my adventures in the journey to becoming an artist in photography.

Bad News

Bad News

Killing Time

Waiting

Blog Posts

Flashing Around

I have been away from this blog for quite a long time. It seems that since the end of the year many other things have been occupying my time. Recently, it occurred to me that perhaps I should get back to photography by doing some photos. That was my first brilliant thought of the new year! It’s not that photography has been something that I had forgotten about, after all; I had been reading other photographers blogs, listening to podcasts, going to my photo club meetings and studying YouTube videos about Lightroom and Photoshop. I just had not been taking pictures. Perhaps some of you have experienced the same type of lull in your photography.

 One of the photography podcasts that I listen to, Improve Photography, had a segment that discussed this very issue. A suggestion was made to try something different in photography to get reengaged. This seemed like a great idea and I decided to begin with flash photography. This is an area that is new to me. I had purchased a Canon 430EX II Speedlite a year or two ago and had used it very infrequently. To help get some training I viewed a few YouTube videos explaining the use of speedlites. Every video almost demanded that you take the flash off camera.  I proceeded to purchase two Yongnuo Digital Wireless Flash trigger/transceivers from Amazon. I had read that these were good units and significantly less expensive than Canon’s equipment. I also had a circular reflector that I had never used, so I took it out of the package hoping that I would be able to repackage it when I finished.

 The next issue to deal with was finding an interesting subject to photograph. Fortunately, the Amaryllis bulb that I had planted a few weeks ago, had bloomed. The flowers are a beautiful red, large and almost translucent, so this was to be my flash photography subject. I had a lot of fun putting the flash in different positions and using the manual control to adjust the intensity of the flash. The reflector did come in handy on several shots and fortunately I did get it back in its storage bag after a few attempts!

 One of the many facets of photography is the level of anticipation that occurs as you engage the shutter. You find yourself getting excited about viewing your newly created masterpiece on the camera’s LCD screen. In an instant, you can go from elation to disappointment when seeing your creation! Each of you probably experiences these emotions as you finish framing your shot and finally depress the shutter. As I was experimenting with my speedlite, I felt this anticipation increase because I had absolutely no idea what the result would be. I must admit this added a great deal to my enjoyment of this exercise in flash photography!

 None of the photos displayed below would win any prizes but that was not the point. Each photo was a type of adventure. I would examine it on the back of my camera to evaluate what change the flash had made and then try to determine the next speedlite position and setting. Sometimes I would add the reflector to see how that changed the image. Every photo became a sort of classroom by itself.

This blog is not about instructions because I don’t have that level of skill. My goals for the blog is to share my photographic experiences with whomever takes the time to read it. Thus, below are the photos that I took with minimal information on how I did it or where the speedlite was located. The first photograph was shot at f9, 2.5 second shutter, 70mm and ISO 100. The other photos were all shot at f9, 1/200 second shutter and ISO 100. The differences seen are due to the speedlite flash power amount, position and reflector use. I have my favorite, now you can choose yours.

 So, what did I learn from this exercise? First, it helped get me doing some photography work again. I probably shot 200 photos of this flower with different lighting and I enjoyed the activity tremendously. It also became very clear to me why taking the flash off camera is so highly encouraged. I try to always shoot in manual mode with my camera and this gave me the opportunity to learn about manual mode on a speedlite. Because of this exercise, I now feel a little more comfortable in using a speedlite off-camera. Since I don’t have a light stand for my speedlite, I now have something else to buy for my photography hobby!

Amaryllis Flash-1

 

Please come back to visit http://www.Cestlavie4me.com in the future for more of my experiences in photography. Keep shooting!

Blog Posts

White Balance

It has been a while since my last post and all I can say is I just haven’t been taking many photos lately. So for this post I thought that white balance would be a good topic. I have made some progress in my post-processing skill set, so maybe I can share some of my newfound knowledge with the readers of this blog about my journey into photography.

Ok, that is not quite true. My skill and knowledge level are not sufficient to actually discuss white balance to any meaningful degree, however, I do want to show you a few examples of how changing white balance does make a big difference in some photos. The first example is a photo of a squirrel sitting in a tree. Fortunately, it was taken at sunset so the background has some color. When I opened the photo in Adobe Lightroom it had a blue tone even though I had set the white balance in camera and thought it would look better than it did. Here is the picture:

Squirrel at Sunset

I then started to adjust the white balance by selecting the different options in the drop down menu. None of them looked very good. As a last resort, I just started to move the temperature slider to the right to warm the photo and the results were a significant improvement. Here is the same picture after the white balance has been warmed.

Squirrel at Sunset

Probably a little over cooked but it is more pleasing to my eye. My next picture is a photo that was converted to black & white in Lightroom. First, let me show you the original color photo.

Portland & Columbia River at dusk

When I converted it to black & white I set the white balance to Tungsten and the tones in the photo were much more muted. I also noticed that the street lights looked more like starbursts.

Portland & Columbia River at dusk

To wrap up, I decided to see how the color photo would look if I used Tungsten for the white balance. Here it is.

Portland & Columbia River at dusk

Obviously a really bad photo. As I said at the beginning, my knowledge of white balance is not very good. These experiments did teach me that in the future, I will pay more attention to this aspect of editing photos because it could help to improve some photos tremendously.

I hope you enjoyed this post and will visit again in the near future to see if I have made any progress in my journey into photography.

Blog Posts

Adobe Fun!

In prior blogs I have talked about my attempt to learn Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop Elements. Continuing to develop my technical skill with these great products has been a challenge but there has been progress. Unfortunately, I have a long way to go. Maybe some of you have experienced similar issues in your journey through these photo editing programs.

First let’s talk about Lightroom. This is the digital darkroom for your images. I have invested a great deal of time viewing training videos on YouTube.com. It is amazing how much free training is available to you and how good the training actually is. My frustrations; however, is that beyond describing what the controls do and how that particular photographer uses them to make fantastic photos, there is not a lot of depth in explaining what setting to use! The frequent response is “depends on what you like”. I guess in the world of art this is something I will have to get used to it, but from my more precise business background I tend to like absolutes and answers that are clear-cut. Another area of confusion for me is “sharpness”. I have tried many different levels of sharpening of photographs and sometimes it’s hard to see any real improvement. It seems that I degrade the photos more than improve them. So lately I have started not to bother with sharpening at all and just use the preset level of 25 that Lightroom provides.

I must admit that when I look at some of my photos from a year ago and compare them to newly edited photos, I like what I’m seeing. Two of the tools that I’m beginning to have a greater appreciation for are the Tone Curve and the HSL sliders. These tools have helped improve quite a few photos that otherwise were a little dull and lacking. I suspect many of you have had similar awakenings with using these tools. One of the newer features of Lightroom 6 is the ability to create panoramas. I recently visited New York City on a rather chilly, hazy winter day. I went across the Hudson River to Liberty Island State Park and took a series of photos of Manhattan Island and then used this new feature to create the panorama that you see below.

Photoshop Elements version 14 is Adobe’s latest enhancement to their popular hobbyist version of Photoshop. A trial version is available and I took advantage of that because I wasn’t sure there were enough new features to make a purchase worthwhile. One of the new additions is Dehaze. This feature turned out to be quite helpful in several photos that I recently edited. It is not perfect, but it did make an improvement in photos by removing what appears to be haze and leaving a much clearer photograph.

Continuing with the theme of struggling has been my utilizing some of the tools in Photoshop Elements such as the Selection and Clone Stamp tools. I looked at many videos and then tried to duplicate what I just learned and in some instances it was difficult to get the same results. As it turned out the problems I was experiencing had nothing to do with my learning ability or the software itself. One of the issues is I have developed an irritating twitch in my right hand. Since I am right-handed this creates problems in editing photos. Research for solutions led me to larger input devices such as trackballs and a larger mouse. I should also mention that I have been using a Wacom pen & tablet along with a mouse. I seem to have compensated for the twitch by purchasing a beanbag type wrist support along with a better surface for my mouse. I also changed the sensitivity of both the mouse and the pen. These steps have helped significantly; however, there is still a problem with the tablet; it sometimes acts rather erratically. I could not find out why until I did some Internet searching and found out a lot of other people are having the same problem and it seems to be related to Microsoft Windows 10! So until Microsoft communicates fixes to these pen & tablet developers I suspect many people including myself will continue to experience problems with their pens and tablets when using this operating system. How many of you are having similar problems?

Okay, back to photo editing. I have been enjoying the use of Photoshop Elements 14. I want to share some of my photos with you. One is a photo taken on the U.S. National Mall in Washington, DC of the Korean War Memorial. I edited this photo with both Lightroom and Nic Silver Efex software. This created a somewhat dated look in the photo but it was still missing something. While I was out on a windy day I noticed an American flag blowing in the wind and I decided to use a photograph of that flag in the picture. Through the magic of layers, selections and patience I managed to create the photo below.

While on that recent trip to New York a visit to Wall Street provided another great photo opportunity. The famous statue of the Wall Street bull is around the corner from the New York Stock Exchange. In the last several weeks I have watch my stock portfolio drop so I decided to create a rather silly photograph of the bull market crash. I hope you enjoy looking at this composite as much as I had making it. The market will come back one day and my portfolio will improve or I may have to try to sell these photographs to buy food! It probably means I’ll starve to death.

Well that’s enough ranting for this blog post. Hopefully you found something interesting in it or found it to be a good way to waste a few minutes of your valuable time. I hope it was the former! Now stop wasting time with this blog and go out and take some photographs.

Blog Posts

A Horse of another Color

When I started this blog I was using a Canon Rebel T3i. This camera has been performing well for me and meeting all of my needs. Since I purchased the camera with the kit lens I have upgraded the lenses to the EF series. My primary lens is the Canon EF 24 – 70mm L-series lens. This is an incredible lens designed for a full frame camera body. For the last several months I have been debating whether or not I should upgrade the camera body to the new Canon 70d Mark VII, older full frame 6D or wait for the replacement to the 6D.

 The thought of moving to a full frame camera body has been very intriguing to me. It seems that most of my photographs are of people or objects that are stationary. I’m not a nature or a sports photographer, so the features of the 70D were not my priority. I tend to enjoy urban scenes and anything that strikes me as interesting. As it happens, I was at my local camera store talking to the owner and he asked me if I would consider buying a slightly used Canon 5D Mark III that had only 17,000 shutter operations. I told him that was slightly above my price range and skill level. He asked me about both and then he made me an offer I could not refuse. I’m now the proud owner of the Canon 5D Mark III!

 Fortunately, the Canon operating environment for both cameras is fairly similar. In the last several weeks that I have owned my 5D, I have been able to make the transition from the Rebel fairly easily. There are many, many features that I cannot take advantage of as of today, but I hope to incorporate the new features as I continue to employ this camera in my photographic journey. The quality of the images from my Canon 5D Mark III are certainly a horse of a different color from those taken with my Rebel T3i!

 Recently, my wife and I were driving through the countryside on the way to a farm market to buy some fresh produce. As I turned into the parking lot I noticed a multicolored, whimsical statue of a horse in the field a few yards away. Fortunately, I had my camera in the car, so I decided to take advantage of an unexpected photographic opportunity. The image of this horse is probably only the 20th or 30th picture that I had taken with the 5D at that time. The picture style was set to neutral and I have done some minor editing with Adobe Lightroom version 6. The colors are bright and the image is sharp. I now understand why more the more advanced photographers in my photo club have advised me to always keep some extra money set aside for camera and accessories purchases!

Horse of another Color

Horse of another Color