Monday, June 30, 2014

Toy Trains

U.P. 9375 - Stallion Springs, California
Earlier this year I began building an N scale model train layout. It's not all that big (2'x3'), so it is a doable project that doesn't take up too much of my time. It's maybe 35% complete. The photograph above is my very first image of the train layout.

My four-year-old son is nuts about trains. He loves real trains, model trains, wooden trains, pictures of trains. You get the idea. His older sister also like trains, but not nearly as much as he does. It is still too early to know if his baby brother will like them, too.
Choices - Stallion Springs, California
I captured the three photographs in this post this last weekend. It shows that ordinary objects can look extraordinary in great light. Always be on the lookout for great light.

I used a Sigma DP2 Merrill camera to capture the images and post processed them using Alien Skin Exposure 6.
Yellow Gondola - Stallion Springs, California

Adventure of Summer Youth - A Look At A Photograph

Adventure of Summer Youth - Stallion Springs, California
I really like the photograph above. I captured it two days ago in my yard. It's a conceptual image that I imagined in my mind prior to creating it. The boy is my four-year-old son.

I'm not necessarily big into concept photography. I'm more of a photojournalist. I like to capture what I find with only minimal manufacturing (if any at all). I manipulate the scene with my camera, as opposed to manufacturing a scene. 

The scene in the photograph is indeed manufactured. I placed the trike in the grass and had my son sit on it. I placed the hat on his head. I told him to look to the left. I gave him the toy "cork gun" to hold (that's what you see over his right shoulder). I invented the scene, but I was trying to make sure that it felt authentic.

The camera of choice is a Sigma DP2 Merrill. It's an amazing and quirky camera that is both stunning and frustrating. It was the right tool for this photograph.

Square format seems to fit this scene well. Because of how the scene is balanced, this was the strongest shape choice in my opinion.

I post-processed the image using Alien Skin Exposure 6. I picked a "cross-processed slide film" (I don't recall which one), made some minor adjustments to the saturation, contrast, etc, added the "light leak" on the right, and put a border around the whole thing. 

The reason that I chose the cross-processed film effect was to give the photograph a vintage look. I wanted it to, in a way, bring back childhood memories. The purpose of the light leak was to provide subtle balance and interest to the right half of the image while also continuing with the vintage theme. The border was to give the impression that the photograph is a finished and tangible image. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

Photography Thoughts: Black & White or Color?

I'm a firm believer that you need photographic vision in order to create successful images. As a part of photographic vision, it is important for me to see in my mind's eye the finished photograph before it is even captured. This means knowing if the image will be black-and-white or color.

Recently I photographed an abandoned house, and twice I knew how I wanted an image to look, but changed my mind later.
Hitching Post & House - Mojave, California
Ilford Delta 100 version.
Hitching Post & House - Mojave, California
Kodak Ektachrome 100VS version.
When I captured Hitching Post & House I wanted a black-and-white photograph. That's how I envisioned the final image. But, for the sake of a blog post, I made a color version (five color versions, in fact). And I really liked the color image that you see above.

I originally wanted the photograph to be black-and-white because I did not think that color was important to it. Monochrome tends to be more dramatic and have a fine-art quality. It seemed like the obvious choice. But the color version brings out the desert. You really feel that this is a hot, dry, lonely place. While I like both versions, I think that the color image is slightly stronger.
Brake Design Monochrome - Mojave, California
Brake Design Color - Mojave, California
I envisioned Brake Design as a color photograph. I liked the reds, oranges and blues on the circle. It reminded me of the colors from a soft sunset. But for the heck of it I made a black-and-white version. That monochrome version is more dramatic, emphasizing the design of the wheel and minimizing the background distractions. It's simply a stronger photograph.

Vision is incredibly important to photography, but it is also subject to change. Always be open to refining the vision. Look for ways to create a better photograph. In the case of the photographs above, it meant rethinking how I wanted them to look. It meant choosing color when I originally thought black-and-white, and choosing black-and-white when I originally thought color.

Abandonment: Surprise Home - Mojave, California

Hitching Post & House - Mojave, California
Near the Forsaken House in the lonely desert outside of Mojave, California, is an abandoned home that holds a surprise. Inside of a somewhat uninteresting structure sits a vintage Boles-Aero streamline travel trailer, likely from the 1960's. 

Someone built a house around the old trailer. As best as I can tell, the trailer was the kitchen, dining room, bedroom and bathroom, while the rest of the home was the living room/great room. Certainly this was a unique home.
Abandoned Boles-Aero Trailer
This house sits on what was some sort of ranch. They had horses, and perhaps some other animals. There had been some small structures on the property, but at some point they were removed, leaving behind only the foundations.

A little girl lived in this home. She left behind a My Little Pony, a small plastic doll and some metal hearts.
Uninhabited Window - Mojave, California
I don't know when the structure was built or when exactly it was abandoned. Someone lived in this place as recently as 2006. I have no idea why the left.

I used a Sigma DP2 Merrill camera to capture these images. I post-processed them using Alien Skin Exposure 6.
Thoroughbred Times - Mojave, California
Hidden Exposed - Mojave, California
Underside Design - Mojave, California
Brake Design Monochrome - Mojave, California
Window Insulation - Mojave, California
Treasures of a Young Girl - Mojave, California
Forgotten Horseshoe - Mojave, California
Pathfinder Light - Mojave, California
Deserted Desert View - Mojave, California

Thursday, June 26, 2014


Two Elk Enjoying Breakfast - Stallion Springs, California
Five elk stopped by for an early morning visit today. This was just as the sun was rising. There were some clouds partly covering the sky. It was a very pleasant morning, really.

I was alerted to the elk by my dogs who were barking like crazy. I checked out the window and sure enough there were five elk hanging around, eating the brown grass.
Solitary Elk - Stallion Springs, California
This is not the first time that elk have stopped by. They come up from the historic Tejon Ranch to eat and drink. The most I've seen in one group is nine.

I captured these images using a Sigma DP2 Merrill camera. I post-processed them using Alien Skin Exposure 6.
Double Elk - Stallion Springs, California

Why Alien Skin Exposure 6 Is Great

As I mentioned a few days ago, I very recently downloaded Alien Skin Exposure 6 photo editing software. I continue to be impressed with Exposure 6, and even said the other day, "This is the software I've been waiting for!"

I grew up in the days of film. When I was a kid I used to borrow my dad's Sears KS Super 35mm SLR and shoot Kadachrome 64. My first real camera was a Canon AE-1 SLR. I used a number of different black-and-white and color films, and even spent many, many hours in a darkroom. I went digital about five years ago, but I still own and occasionally use several film cameras.

I love the look of many different films that I've used for years and years. There's a quality that's difficult to quantify that I appreciate. It's simply missing in digital images.

Now with Exposure 6 you have full control of the editing process, and there are a whole host of ways to make tons of different adjustments. But that's not what makes the software great. Alien Skin has done painstaking research and figured out how to make a digital image look like film with one click.

Which film? You name it. Every film that I've ever used, plus a bunch that I haven't (including some that have been discontinued) are all available. Even push processed, bleach bypass, cross processed, different chemicals, toning, etc.--they've figured this all out. And they look very much like the real deal, including the grain.

Exposure 6 is the software for photographers who really like film, but prefer the convenience of digital.

Below are 10 photographs (five color and five black-and-white). They are all different versions of one photograph called Hitching Post & House. I captured that photograph using a Sigma DP2 Merrill camera. I had to open up the RAW file in Sigma's software and save it as a TIFF. I applied nothing other than the default settings.

I then opened up the TIFF file in Exposure 6 and applied different film presets. Some of the presets I let stand "as-is" while others I made some minor tweaks. I made no major adjustments other than applying the different film presets. Below you can see the results and judge for yourself.

All of the film presets that I chose are of films that I have personally used at least once with the exception of Kodalith, which I've never had the chance to use. Exposure 6 just nails the look of each of these films. Some of the differences between the different films are subtle, while others are more obvious.

Kodak Plus-X 125
Ilford Delta 100
I darkened the sky a little in this version to simulate an orange filter.
Kodak Kodalith
Just a little too contrasty for this scene.
Kodak Tri-X 400 pushed to 3200
Just a tad too grainy for this scene. I darkened the sky a little to simulate an orange filter.
Kodak Tri-X 400 pushed to 800
I darkened the sky a little to simulate an orange filter.
Of these five monochrome versions, I like each of them, but it is a toss-up between the Delta 100 and the Tri-X pushed one stop for which would be my favorite. For this scene, I like the cleanness of the Ilford film, but the contrast of the Tri-X. If Kodalith was just a little less contrasty I'd prefer it (actually, there is a less-contrasty Kodalith option available, I just didn't choose it).

Fuji Reala 100 pushed to 400
A little too grainy for this scene.
Kodachrome 64
Kodak Ektar 100
Fuji Velvia 100
Kodak Ektachrome 100VS
When I captured this scene I did not intend to make a color version of this photograph. I did so to illustrate that Exposure 6 does a great job of replicating the look of the different films.

Of these five color versions, I prefer the Ektachrome 100VS. That was one of my favorite color films back in the day. The Ektar version would be my runner up. The Reala film is too grainy for this scene, the Kodachrome isn't saturated enough, and the Velvia isn't warm enough. If it were a different scene, I might prefer a different film. You choose the film that's most appropriate for the scene.

Interestingly, Kodachrome has been discontinued for a while now, and even if you still have some old rolls, there are no labs that will develop it. Yet, thanks to Alien Skin, it lives on in digital form. Kodachrome, for those who may not know, was the standard film for National Geographic for many decades. 

News: The Nikon D810

Nikon just announced a new DSLR: the D810. What is this new camera? It's a slightly faster D800E, with a little bit lower base ISO, and the auto-focus system from the D4s. The camera will cost you $3,300 for the body.

Unless you are a sports photographer, there really isn't enough improvement here to justify buying this camera over the D800E (which will surely cost less in the coming months). The Nikon D610 is pretty much just as good as the D800E and the D810, but will cost you significantly less. The entry level D3300 is more than sufficient for most people.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Why You Need A Cell Phone With A Good Camera (Such As The Nokia Lumia 1020)

Stallion Springs Sunset - Stallion Springs, California
When this sunrise unfolded, I didn't have time to grab any camera other than my cell phone.
You need have a cell phone that has a good camera on it. Why? Because you always have your cell phone with you, and you never know when a photographic opportunity will present itself.

It doesn't really matter what camera you have with you, just so long as you have a camera. Any camera. Cell phones are good because it's almost a guarantee that you have one with you wherever you are. But often cell phones have sub par cameras with tiny sensors that don't deliver on image quality.
May Sunrise - Tehachapi, California
I wasn't expecting to photograph anything, so the only camera I had with me was my cell phone.
Lately cell phone manufacturers have included better cameras on their phones. Some of these cameras are actually respectable. My personal favorite is the Nokia Lumia 1020.

The Lumia 1020 delivers medium-format resolution, full-frame sharpness, and micro-4/3 dynamic range while doubling as your smart phone. That's pretty darn good. You really can't ask for more from a "I-don't-have-my-DSLR-with-me" camera. 
Soledad Mountains - Mojave, California
The only camera I had was my cell phone.
I really like my Lumia 1020 camera, but my Samsung Galaxy S did just fine, too. Really, any camera is capable just so long as the photographer is also capable. With that said, I much prefer the Lumia 1020 over the Galaxy S.

All of the photographs in this post were captured over the last few months using my cell phone. 
Wind & Horses - Tehachapi, California
I wasn't planning to photograph, but since I had my cell phone I was able to capture this image.
Burger Spot Sign - Tehachapi, California
I captured this while waiting for my order to be cooked.
Energy - Tehachapi, California
The only camera that I had with me was my cell phone.
Metal Bird Abstract - Tehachapi, California
I had no camera other than my cell phone with me.
Do Not Block Door - Tehachapi, California
I was heading into a store to shop when inspiration hit. Thankfully, I had my cell phone in my pocket.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

You Don't Need To Travel To Create Great Photographs

Summer Solstice Sunset - Stallion Springs, California
You don't need to travel to create great photographs. In fact, you don't even need to leave your own yard. Where ever it is that you are at right now, there are opportunities to create great images.

You may have noticed that two photographs in this post, Summer Solstice Sunset and Rain Tease, were in my post yesterday about Alien Skin's Exposure 6 photo editing software. What you may not know is that I captured these two photographs this last weekend while standing in my yard. In fact, I had my six-month-old baby in my left arm and my Sigma DP2 Merrill camera in my right hand as I captured Summer Solstice Sunset. He kept grabbing the camera strap, which made capturing the image a challenge. 
Rain Tease - Stallion Springs, California
The lesson here is that it's alright if you cannot "get away" to photograph. You can still make the most of it by making great photographs of what's around you. Pay attention to everything that others overlook. Find beauty in the ordinary

In your yard or your neighborhood or your community, there are opportunities to create works of art with your camera. Be sure to take advantage of those opportunities.

Abandonment: Twisted Home - Mojave, California

Twisted Home - Mojave, California
I recently photographed another abandoned home in the desert outside of Mojave, California. This one's a little different. The home had been taken off its foundation and moved to a new location. I don't think this was the intended destination, but for some reason the house got left behind.

I say house, but there are in fact two houses at this location: a large house and a small house. Both were put on trailers and moved. Both of these places have been abandoned for years, and their rigs are falling apart. The houses are bent, especially the large one. They are well beyond the point of repair.
Kitchen Nightmare - Mojave, California
It's difficult to know when these places were built, why they were moved, where they were supposed to go, why they never made it, or how long they've been wasting away in the desert. As is usually the case, there are more questions than answers.

Window Lock - Mojave, California
The Broken Wall - Mojave, California
Tired Old Purse - Mojave, California
Messy Bathroom - Mojave, California
Collapsed Roof - Mojave, California