the blog of Seldom Seen Photography

Archive for August, 2011

Mountain Blues

Mountain blues? Well, lots blue sky maybe. In fact, the only thing to be blue about was the lack of clouds (ever notice how photographers are never happy with the weather – believe me, Tanya has noticed [and has told me so]). So I saw lots of blue. But how about purples, yellows and reds? I saw them too during the three days I spent on Blue Mountain in Olympic National Park over last weekend.

The trip was an official Mountaineers photography outing, lead by my friend and most excellent photographer John Woods. We camped at campground at Deer Park and had great views of the Olympic Mountains without leaving our picnic table. But we did leave the picnic table, to travel the short distance the rest the way up Blue Mountain for sunset and sunrise shots.

Blue Mountain is 6,007 feet high, which may not sound like much, but because its summit is only less than 12 miles from sea level, it seems like it is way up there. It is one of the highest places you can drive to in Washington State (the parking lot is about 170 feet below the summit). The view is incredible – look to the north and see the Straits of Juan de Fuca, Vancouver Island, the San Juan Islands,  the Canadian Cascades, Port Angeles, Sequim, and Victoria, British Columbia; look to the east and see Whidbey Island, Puget Sound, Mount Baker, Glacier Peak, and the North Cascades; and look to the south and west see the Olympic Mountains.

But there was much more to photograph than the view from Blue Mountain. There were lots of wildflowers and animal life (they don’t call it Deer Park for nothing). And there were hikes to take. It was a great weekend – definitely nothing to be blue about.

Sunset over the Olympic Mountains

Early morning fog in the low lands and over Puget Sound

Morning light on the Olympics

A hawk came to visit our camp

Colorful thistle were abundant in the Deer Park area

A view from very near our campsite

Wildflowers and Mount Olympus

Another view from near our campsite

Indian paintbrush

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Vacation Dreaming

Capital Reef National Park at sunset

We finally had a decent summer weekend. It was sure a long time coming this year. And where was I when the weather finally reached over 80 degrees? Up in the mountains photographing wildflowers and snowfields? Photographing tidepools in Olympic National Park at Ruby Beach or Kalaloch? Or even enjoying a family picnic sans camera? No, no, and no. I was stuck inside my studio most the weekend working on processing portrait shots. It’s not that I hate processing photos, in fact I like it; for me, processing is part of the art of photography. I like taking a RAW image and turning it into a thing of beauty (though repeating the same enhancements over and over again on a series of portraits can get a bit tedious). But when the weather is nice, I should be out shooting!

Alas, the portrait work needed doing, regardless of the weather. So I slaved over the computer most the weekend (and am actually happy with the amount of work I got done). However, I couldn’t help be dream of being outside, taking photographs in a beautiful landscape. With that, my day dreams turned to my pending vacation. Late next month Tanya and I hope to drive down to southern Utah and northern New Mexico. We are planning to go to some spots I’ve never been before, and I’m excited about the photographic opportunities.

I love the American Southwest. In part, I think, it is due to my formal training as a geologist. I like seeing all the bare rocks – no soil, trees or other vegetation covering their colors and patterns. And as a travel and landscape photographer, I can’t think of a more photogenic area. I like the American Southwest so much I named my photography company after a character, Seldom Seen Smith, in the Edward Abbey novel The Monkey Wrench Gang. For awhile, I had been visiting southern Utah about every other year. But now it’s been about four years and I’m itching to go again. Seeing some of New Mexico will be great too. I haven’t been there in over 25 years, not since my Texas A&M grad school days when I was a teaching assistant on a geology field camp. I imagine it has changed much in that quarter century.

Now on Monday, the rain has returned to Tacoma, and dreaming of a vacation in the Southwest has only gotten stronger. In support of my vacation dreams, I’m posting these shots from some of my previous trips to Utah. These are images I haven’t much shown before. I hope you enjoy them.

Tanya in our Saturn Vue in the middle of Utah

North Window, Arches National Park

Lower Calf Creek Falls, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Lake Powell near Hite

Nice light in Bryce Canyon National Park

Hoodoos, Devils Garden near Escalante

Old cabin, San Rafael Swell

Green River, Cayonlands National Park

Panorama in Arches National Park


Lavender Redux

Last month, I blogged about the lavender fields in Sequim, Washington; about how they weren’t quite ready for prime time even though the annual Lavender Festival was at hand. I was up in Sequim the past several days for the annual Becker family campout, held this year at Sequim Bay State Park. Being so close to the lavender fields again, I decided to make a second visit to see what another month had brought.

There was definitely much more lavender blooming than a month earlier. However, it appeared that all the farms have started harvesting the blooms, some more than others. Some fields are completely flowerless. Others are in full bloom. Still there were many good photo opportunities to be had. The Purple Haze farm we visited in July had many cut fields, but did have other fields in bloom, as well as many other flowers. We were not able to visit the Jardin du Soleil farm, the other farm we visited in July, as it was temporarily closed. However, from the road, its fields looked in good shape. By just driving around north of town, we found and stopped at four or five other farms as well.

Many of the farms are currently distilling lavender oil. At the Port Williams farm, Tanya and I learned about lavender farming, how the oil is distilled, what products are made from it, as well as other interesting facts. For example, we learned the lavender is not irrigated, because it creates more oil when it is water stressed, and that humans are the only animals to eat lavender.

Overall, it was definitely worth doing the lavender redux. You might try it as well if you find yourself in the Sequim area.

Lavender and sunflowers at Purple Haze

Lavendar closeup at The Lavendar Connection

Tanya learns about how lavender oil is distilled at the Port Williams Lavender Farm

Another scene from the Port Williams Lavender Farm

A chair in the fields at the Purple Haze farm


Time for Summer Flowers

If you live in the Pacific Northwest, you know we are not having a typical summer. It’s been generally much cooler than normal. This weather pattern has affected a lot around here. For example, August is usually prime wildflower season at Paradise on Mount Rainier. But currently, there is still snow on the ground there (check out the Paradise webcam). Summer flowers down here in the lowlands have been another casualty – there are less of them and they are blooming late.

However, even though the temperature is rarely getting above 75 degrees this year in Tacoma, there are some flowers out there. Last Tuesday I went with the Tacoma Mountaineers Photo group to the gardens at Point Defiance Park. The roses are blooming very well right now. The dahlias are wonderful now too – some of the earliest dahlias are starting to fade, the late dahlias are starting to bloom, and the mid-season dahlia are in their prime. I’m sure the fuchsia garden was doing well too, though I was so busy with the other flowers, I’d didn’t have time to get over there Tuesday night. So if you like taking flower images, it’s a good time to go to the park.

Sometimes the back of the flowers are worth photographing too!

Not all flowers at the Point Defiance gardens look like flowers. This is (I think) the flower of a Gunnera plant - also known as Prickly Rhubarb. The plant is 7 or 8 feet tall, and the leaves are about 2 to 3 feet across.


What is Reality? What is Art?

Twin Ships
Twin Ships

Image 5: Optimized in Photoshop using a RAW file manually converted in Lightroom (image 4).

In my last blog entry, I talked about enhancing digital photos, about RAW versus JPEG digital images.The blog was about people asking, “Is this photo enhanced?” Other similar questions I hear include “Does this photo show what was really there?” or “Has this photo been ‘photoshopped’?” or simply “Is this photo real?”

This subject warrants more discussion than just one blog, especially since the last one was largely a rant. When any camera takes a photograph, the lens opens up and allows light into the camera. For digital cameras, the light falls upon a photosensitive digital sensor (for film cameras, it falls on a photosensitive chemical coating on film). The digital sensor is made up of thousands of tiny small sensors, each sensor making up a “pixel” in the image. The light falling on each sensor is recorded as a different value. At this point, the camera can save the recording as a RAW file, or can process the raw electrical data and save it as some other file format, the most common being JPEG.

A RAW file is not really an image. It is simply a data file in which actual values from the digital sensor are recorded. While some special computer programs can view the information stored in these files and show them as images, most cannot. For example, Photoshop cannot directly show a RAW file as an image. It must first be processed and converted to an image file (such as a PSD, TIFF, or JPEG file) for Photoshop to show it. These special programs are RAW converters, and they have to process the information to show a RAW file as an image. Adobe Lightroom, which I use, is RAW convertor program (with many other features as well). A JPEG file is an image file, it presents information that can be viewed by many computer programs without future processing. It has already been processed. When a digital camera takes an image as a JPEG, it processes the sensor data into an image file. This means that the camera is doing some interpretation of what the image data is supposed to look like. Essentially, a RAW converter program, like Lightroom, does the job of the camera – it processes the sensor data to make an image file. However, it allows the photographer to control the process (rather than letting the camera control it).

Of course, further processing is possible. Either the converted RAW image or the JPEG from the camera can be further processed in Photoshop (or other photo editing programs, such as Picassa). Who is to say what looks the most like reality, the RAW file, a JPEG processed by the camera, the RAW file processed by a RAW converter, or that same image further processed in Photoshop? I can’t answer that question; I don’t think anyone can.

But how about this question, which one makes the best looking image? Or which one best represents the art of the photographer? The answer to those questions can be answered, but the answers depend on the individual and the particular photographer. For me, a RAW image processed by the photographer and then optimized in Photoshop best represents the art of the photographer. And that is my typical workflow. I shoot RAW images. I import those into Lightroom. I do not accept the default RAW processing, but customize it for each image myself. Then, if I’m serious about an image, I further process it in Photoshop. It’s a lengthy process, but it gives the best representation of what I am trying to achieve with my photography – my art.

I’ve illustrated this blog with a series of five images. All were recorded at the same time, from a single click of my shutter. This image of two ships along the Tacoma waterfront was taken with a shutter speed of 25 seconds and an aperture of f/18. One image (first below the featured image) is the closest representation of the RAW image visible – it is the RAW image processed by Lightroom with all the controls set to zero. The next image in the series is the RAW image processed with the Lightroom default settings. The next image is the same scene processed by the camera as a JPEG (my camera allows images to be recorded in both RAW and JPEG formats – a feature common to many DSLRs and some higher end point-and-shoots). The fourth image represents how I processed the RAW file. And the final image (the featured image at the beginning of the blog) is my RAW processed file than further optimized in Photoshop.

Which one do you thinks looks the most “real”? Which one looks the best?

Image 1. Minimaly process RAW image (all Lightroom controls set to zero).

 

Image 2. Default RAW processing in Lightroom.

 

Image 3. JPEG image processed by the camera.

 

Image 4. RAW image which I manually converted in Lightroom.