Friday, February 13, 2015

Even more adventures in HDR and other work

It's so nice when all the kids fit in the frame and look at the camera
Out the front door
February 13th, 2015

In anticipation of the arrival of my new Nikon D7100, I've gone back to working on my own skills, trying to make myself worthy of my new toy/tool.  Primarily, I'm getting out almost every day, camera in hand, hoping to learn from my own mistakes, and then using the advice of others to improve my work.  The shot above, for example, came as a result of lots of photos I've taken of deer in the yard, usually when it's too early to get a good light on the scene.  To get this photo, I used a tripod, increased the ISO to 400 (when I normally use 125), and put on a telephoto lens (my old Sigma 70-300 lens) set at 170mm.  I posted this photo in the Expert Photography Action Takers group on Facebook, and got several very positive comments, but one suggestion that I should use the "Pet Eye Removal Tool" to get rid of the unnatural shine in the eyes.  Well, the version of Photoshop I have (CS5) does not have a "Pet Eye Removal Tool," but using Google, I found several ways to "fix" the eyes, and the version above shows the image after I "doctored" the eyes in Photoshop.  It's not an easy fix when you have 8 eyes looking at you, but it can be done.  If I wanted to take the time, there's more work I could do here, but I'm happy with the result as is.  Especially at this resolution.  Blow it up and let me know what you think.

Yesterday, Kevin had an Emergency Services meeting in Thompson Falls, so I rode along, then took the truck up Blue Slide Road to take some pictures and find some geocaches while he was in his meeting.  Turning off Montana Highway 200 just west of town, I drove up Blue Slide Road then took the cross road to the bridge at Birdland Bay.  There's a geocache hidden on the bridge, or so they say, but I didn't find it.  Due mostly to my own vertigo, I found standing at the side of the bridge, looking down into the water while feeling along the bridge supports for a hidden magnetic key holder, just upset my system no end.  That plus the fear of dropping my new Garmin 650t into the water, and I gave up.  It wasn't worth it.  But the area is very photogenic, so I grabbed the camera and tripod and starting snapping away.  The picture below shows the bridge in all its glory, as a composite three bracketed shots merged together using Photoshop's HDR merge feature.

Birdland Bay Road Bridge over the Clark Fork River
West of Thompson Falls, Montana
February 12th, 2015

Once I had my fill of photography, I set off to find caches along Blue Slide Road.  This is the original U.S. Highway 10 Alternate which runs on the north side of the river from Thompson Falls to just past Trout Creek.  I was on a time schedule, as I needed to get back to pick up Kevin without making him wait, so rather than drive all the way to Trout Creek, I went as far as Cougar Peak Road, near where our friends Mike and Norm lived when they first moved to Montana from Memphis.  My GPS was not cooperating well, refusing to go into portrait mode, and in landscape mode, the last word on the cache description was partially hidden.  It told me that the cache was hidden in the "sign..." which I read as signal, even though there was nothing remotely like a signal around.  When I was finally able to get the orientation changed to landscape, I learned that the hidden word was "signage," which made a lot more sense, and sure enough there was the cache.  Score one No, one Yes and on to the next.

The next actually meant turning back toward Thompson Falls and stopping at Graves Creek Road.  That cache was very easily found, as was the one just a few hundred feet on down the road at Steep River Ranch Road.   The last cache I looked for was titled "Squaw Creek," but in all the times I've driven Blue Slide Road, I've never seen a Squaw Creek.  I know it's not politically correct to use the word Squaw, and I'm sure that's why the highway sign no longer calls the stream that.  Instead there is a sign I've always wondered at, telling all that cross the bridge that they are at "Squaylth-Kwum."  I leave it to my Salish speaking friends to tell me what that means, if anything.

Pat's Knob at Twilight in HDR
Plains, Montana
February 11th, 2015

On Wednesday I stayed home all day, fighting a head ache and mild nausea, but did take advantage of our beautiful location to go out on the deck and shoot some pixels.  The scene above is an HDR composite shot of Pat's Knob, the second highest peak in the Coeur d'Alene range, across the valley from us.  I feel the need to point out that the Coeur d'Alene range is the group of mountains, part of the Bitterroot Mountains, that separates our part of Montana from northern Idaho.  The mountains behind us, and in whose foothills we live, are the Cabinet Mountains.  The highest peak in our area is Baldy (and the road from which our driveway leads is Baldy View), but Baldy is in the Cabinets, not the Coeur d'Alenes.   To get that vintage post card look, I used a program called Photomatix to merge the three exposures and then "tone-map" the image.  I'm pretty happy with the way it turned out, even though it's not at all in keeping with modern photographic standards.  But it does look like a post card from the 40s or 50s, wouldn't you say?

Tuesday Kevin was in Missoula all day for a meeting sponsored by the Montana Department of Public Instruction on how to keep your schools safe from terrorist attack.  I can't quite picture Al Qaeda operating a cell in Sanders County, but you never know.  Kevin said that every school in Sanders County was represented at the meeting.  I took advantage of him going into town to spend the day sight seeing, eating good bread from Le Petit Outre bakery and good raw fish at Asahi, and trying not to fall asleep in the comfy chair at Barnes and Noble.  I did pick up a couple of books while at the latter, one a very readable guide to the Nikon D7100 written by a photographer who spends part of the year in Montana, and also  The HDR Book by Rafael "RC" Concepcion.  Kevin was a bit taken aback when I told him that latter book cost $45, but that's what happens in the arts--and believe me, this kind of photography is definitely an art form.  I'm working my way through the book and its accompanying website, which is what led to the two HDR images above (and the one immediately below).

Maclay Bridge over the Bitterroot River
Missoula, Montana
February 10th, 2015

After my sashimi bento box at Asahi, I stopped at Goodwill and found a small, but serviceable, covered clay baking dish, and then I headed out to Blue Mountain to try for some good scenery shots.  The road up Blue Mountain was ice covered, so I turned around and went to Maclay Flats instead.  I got some interesting shots there, but I was most pleased with the shots I took at Maclay Bridge, the one-lane bridge crossing the Bitterroot River on the western edge of Missoula.  The image above is, once more, a composite of six exposures merged and tone-mapped in Photomatix.  Not realistic at all, but I really like the way it turned out.  By all means click on the image and view it full screen and see if you don't find it intriguing.  Looks like something a painter from the Impressionist School would come up with, should Monet have visited Missoula.  At least that's what it looks like to me.

And that clay baking dish I bought?  Well yesterday, I took some sweet pizza dough I had in the fridge, formed it into a round loaf, and let it rise a bit before baking it in the new dish.  Here's how it turned out.  Not bad for a first attempt, but I'm going to have to try with fresh dough and see what happens then.  The "oven spring" was so successful with this dough that the bread actually reached the clay lid and stuck to it in one place.  Unfortunately, the bread didn't bake all the way through and there was a dough pocket in the center.  Guess 1 hour at 400 degrees just wasn't enough inside that little baking dish.  What did bake tasted pretty good though.

Sweet Pizza Dough baked as a loaf in a covered clay baking dish
Plains, Montana
February 12th, 2015

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