Though clear now, the skies of Washington State, and indeed most of the Pacific Northwest, have been very smokey almost the entire month of August. The smoke is from wildfires, both in the United States and Canada. I fear, with climate changes, this may be our new “normal” for August, as smokey skies have been prevalent in August the past several years.
As long as the smoke is not too thick, smokey skies can have some advantages to landscape and travel photography. Though I tend not to, some people like the sunsets provided by smokey conditions. I do, however, appreciate that smokey conditions can soften light and can extend golden hour conditions by changing the color of sunlight. On the other hand, they can also dim sunlight so that the light during the actual golden hours is weak.
In my opinion, the disadvantages outweigh any advantages gained. I am fond on blue skies and wide vistas. Smoke can suck the blue out of the sky and obscure views with haze. I also like to use telephoto lenses to pull in distance subjects. Obviously, this does not work so well if there is a lot of smoke.
On my trip to the Palouse last month, the skies were quite smokey. Not smokey enough to totally ruin the trip, but I certainly did not have ideal conditions. The Palouse is known for its blue skies with great clouds. On my last trip, the sky, though clear, was more of a dusky gray. It was also cloud free on except for one day. So much for the wide sky shots I often favor, such as this one I posted on instagram. I found myself following several techniques to minimize the effects of the smoke.
1. Limiting distance in my compositions – instead of including distant hills and vistas in my compositions, I selected relatively close subjects, or chose compositions where the distant background was less important. For example, on my August visit to the Palouse, I did shoot one evening from Steptoe Butte. However, with the smokey haze, I chose one of the lower viewpoint instead of going to the top, and I mostly shot compositions with subjects relatively close to the butte rather than subjects thousands of meters away.
2. Eliminating or limiting the amount of sky in my compositions – with the sky not the blue color one expects, in many cases, I tried to either totally eliminate the sky from my composition or at least limit the amount of sky in the shot.
3. Processing using the Dehaze slider in Lightroom – I often use the dehaze slider in lightroom, and not just to remove haze; I like the microconstrast it adds to images. However, smokey conditions are what the dehaze slider was made for. While processing images from the August Palouse trip in Lightroom, I found myself adding more dehaze than I normally would.
4. Adding blue back into the sky in Lightroom – I typically do not do selective color corrections in Lightroom. Typically I’ll set the color balance for the entire photo and let well enough alone (saving selective color adjustments for Photoshop if I want to do them at all). But with new masking tools for the gradient and brush tools, I found it relatively easy to add some blue back into the sky in Lightroom. Typically, I’d make a fairly tight gradient (or perhaps the brush too) and apply it to the area of the photo containing the sky. Then, using the range mask tool in color mode, I select a wide portion of the sky. This usually masks most of the non-sky areas, but to be sure, I’ll check the Show Selected Mask Overlay checkbox (which uses a red tone to indicate where the gradient is effective). Depending on the image, I may or may not need to do some cleanup of the mask with the eraser brush). To correct the sky, I’ll move the temperature slider toward blue, typically move the exposure slider down about 1/2 to 1/2 a stop, and move the clarity slider down as well. Depending on the image, I may also increase the dehaze slightly. Sounds complicated, but it is fairly easy with a bit of practice. This technique does a nice job on restoring sky color (see the examples below).
Adobe recently updated Lightroom, in the process creating a new version of the program. They renamed the old version Lightroom Classic CC, while the new version took the previous name of the old version: Lightroom CC. Confused yet?
If you have the photography CC subscription service (currently at $10/month), either version is available to download – but you can only have both if you fork out an extra $10 per month. The new Lightroom CC is the wave of the future. It’s main feature is that your Lightroom catalog and all your photos are saved to the Adobe cloud so that you can work on them in Lightroom from anywhere with a internet connection. Sounds like a great idea. The service comes with 1 TB of storage on the cloud. Unfortunately, I would need about 4 times as much space to upload all my photo files. And while I’m sure I could rent extra cloud space, I’m not sure I ready to give Adobe more money yet.
I have my own somewhat convoluted way of working in Lightroom on multiple computers. I export selected portions of my Lightroom catalog with smart previews to the 20GB of cloud storage that comes with the old Lightroom (and the Lightroom Classic), then work with that catalog when away from my main desktop computer. When finished, I import the catalog back into my main catalog. So, for now, I’m sticking with Lightroom Classic.
Plus, Lightroom Classic received a nice upgrade. Reportedly its speed performance has improved, but what I really like is the addition of range masking. Now, any mask made by the adjustment brush, gradient filter, or radial filter can be modified by color or luminance. Simply first create a rough mask using one of the three tools. Then, at the bottom of the Mask dialog, there’s a new setting labeled “Range Mask” with the default setting of off. Change the setting to color, and you get an amount slider and a color picker tool. Only want your blue sky to be selected, use your mouse to select the color picker, move it to the blue sky and click – the other colors are deleted from the rough mask. You can shift and click to select multiple colors and click and drag to define a “box” of colors. It helps to have the Mask Overlay selected to see how your mask changes.
The luminance setting for the Range Mask works similarly, but with brightness instead of color. It does not including a picking tool, but has a “two-handled” slider for defining a brightness range and a smoothness slider. With your mask overlay on, it is easy to play around with these two sliders to see the effect.
The photo above, that I took in mid-October in northeastern Washington, provides an example of the usefulness of the new range masking. I actually first tried developing the image without the new range masking tools. And while the result was nice, it did have problems. Specifically there was some haloing around the aspen trees, I couldn’t get the brightness of the leaves and tree trunks to what I wanted, and the sky color was not totally natural. I probably could have corrected these issues with Photoshop, but thought I’d try the range masking tools in Lightroom to see if they could help.
Below is a progression of how I developed the image in Lightroom Classic starting with the original image with default Lightroom settings.
Winter just seems never to end. We’ve had nothing but a cold, rainy March so far. So what should you do when bored and stuck inside on a rainy winter day? Try your hand at scanography – photography using a flat-bed scanner. If you don’t already own such a scanner, you can often find them cheap at a second-hand store. The images shown here were taken with my Epson Perfection 2450 Photo scanner that I purchased several years ago at Goodwill for $5. The trick is getting such a scanner to run on your computer – often drivers are not available for newer versions of Windows. For example, Epson offer a driver for my scanner for Windows version after XP.
I’m running Windows 7. When I first got the scanner several years back, Windows 7 was still fairly new. To get the scanner to work, I did a Google search on Windows 7 drivers for my scanner model. I discovered that a different Epson model had a driver that worked, so I downloaded that and sure enough, it worked.
Now skip ahead a few years. I tried Widows 10 and decided to go back to Window 7, but when I did so, I lost the driver for the scanner. Well actually, I still had the driver, but Windows would not allow me to install it because it was “unsigned.” This is a case of the software trying to protect your computer from malignant software. I get it, but I really did want to use the scanner again. Finally, after several long Google searches, I discovered there is a way to get Windows to install unsigned drivers. You must first disable the driver signature enforcement, then install the driver. It wasn’t that hard to do, and sure enough, I was back in business.
Since if you pick up a cheap, used scanner, it probably won’t be the same model as mine, I suggest the following. First, go the the manufacturer’s support site and see if there is a driver available. If so, your golden. If not, search Google for an alternate driver. For example, in my case, the Google search might be: “windows 7 driver for epson 2450 scanner”. There is a good chance this will give you a driver that will work. However, if it is unsigned, you still will need some help installing it. So try this Google search: “installing unsigned drivers windows 10”. You will get a number of results that explain how to install unsigned drivers. Good luck!
Once you do get your scanner installed, it’s time to have fun. All of the images here were taken using the scanner. The fun thing about using a scanner for photography, of scanography as it is called, is that you can create interesting effects because the scanner captures an image a line at a time. This means that as the scanner light and sensor moves, you can move your subject either blurring it or making it appear more than once in the frame. I found this is particularly fun for self portraits (just watch out for fogging the glass with your breath).
I found that scanning to TIFF files worked better than to JPGs, but your experience may be different. Once the files are created, I imported them into Lightroom and treated them just like any other file, optimizing them as I saw fit. I found the biggest problem is dust. I’m use to a few dust spots from my camera sensor. With the scanner, you can get hundreds of dust spots, all perfectly in focus. So be sure the clean the glass well when doing your scanography.
Wondering what kind of images you can make with a scanner? My samples here will give you a few ideas. If you want more, just do a Flickr or Google image search for scanography. There is some very creative work out there.
I hope you are having a great summer (or winter for my friends down south). I’m not sure where the time has gone this summer. It seems like I’ve been busy, but have little to show for it. I know my time has not been taken up by photography. I sort my image in my Lightroom catalog by date, and the catalog for July only has two dates in it. Same with August – and those two were from consecutive days of a non-photography trip where the camera barely left the bag. The purpose of the trip earlier this month was a family reunion. Us Beckers gather every year the first weekend in August.
This year, the get-together was at my sister’s house in Lyle, Washington. For those of you that don’t know where Lyle is, it is a small town in the Columbia River Gorge, on the Washington side of the river, ten miles or so east of Hood River, Oregon. My sister actually lives north of town another 10 miles or so in a house with a fantastic view of Mount Adams. However, I didn’t take any shots of Mount Adams when I was there, the air was quite hazy.
Tanya and I stayed right in the town of Lyle in an Airbnb house with a view of the Columbia River. The only photograph I planned to take that weekend was the image above. I knew by checking the Photographer Ephemeris that the crescent moon would be setting directly down the gorge from Lyle. In fact, I didn’t have to travel far to get the shot. The image above was taken from the deck of our rental.
So why is this post called “Rookie Mistakes?” Because I made a mess of my photo shoot. For those of you that have been to the Columbia River Gorge, you probably know the wind blows there a lot, and the night I shot this image was no exception. So, one would think that I, being somewhat of a professional photographer, would take precautions against camera shake. Well, I thought I did. I used my sturdiest tripod, I bumped up the ISO to 800 and used wide apertures to make for shorter shutter speeds. I shot some 30 images. All of them had camera shake to a certain extent. The one above, the last image I shot that night, was the best of the lot. I used Photoshop’s shake reduction filter, and that helped, but I could have done more. I should have used a weight on the tripod. I should have left the stabilizer on my lens, which I normally turn off when shooting from a tripod, turned on. Bad mistakes. I’m lucky I had even one halfway decent shot.
Mistake number two – the moon (and the planet above it in this image, Jupiter, I think) moves fast. My shutter speeds were between 2.5 and 30 seconds. When shooting stars at night, a 30-second exposure is typically not long enough to have star trails show when using a very wide-angle lens. However, I was not using a very wide-angle lens; I was using a telephoto lens. In everything I shot with a shutter speed over 2.5 seconds, the moon was horribly blurred due to the earth’s rotation. The image above is actually a composite, the moon and Jupiter are a 2.5 second exposure, the rest is a 10 second exposure.
All I can say is that when I downloaded these images to my computer, I was very disappointed. I let the excitement of the photo shoot overwhelm good technique. That’s why it is important to get out and practice your craft as much as possible. Keep working on your technique until it becomes second nature. I guess I’m not there yet. Here I encountered two different, unrelated phenomenon that, had I been thinking properly, should have made me use a fast shutter speed. Neither did. I failed and am lucky to have anything to show. But, I learned a lesson and, hopefully, will not make these mistakes again.
Most of us have been there, that wonderful travel destination and the light is bad. All those pre-visulations of wonderful photos you planned to capture go right out the door. This happened to me a couple of weeks ago on a day trip to Olympic National Park. Tanya, Nahla and I headed out to Kalaloch for a day on the beach. (Aside for dog owners: Kalaloch is a great place to take your dog. Most national parks, and Olympic National Park is no exception, do not allow dogs outside of campgrounds or parking lots, let alone on trails. We got scolded by a ranger once for having our dog on a snowbank at the edge of a parking lot at Mount Rainier National Park. But, Ruby Beach and the other beaches at Kalaloch are a different story. Leashed dogs are allowed on the beaches. It is great!)
If the weather is nice, the beaches at Kalaloch are a great place for a bit of photography. But the weather on the coast can be unpredictable, so I had a backup plan. If it was overcast on the coast, we’d go to the Hoh rainforest (Nahla would have to stay in the car, but such is the sacrifice of a photographer’s dog). Because of the huge contrast in the rainforest on sunny days, photography there is best on overcast days (and even better with a little rain making everything wet).
As it turned out, it was overcast on the beach. We took a nice walk, and Nahla took a dip in the waves, but the camera stayed in the bag. So we headed over to the Hoh, about a 45-minute drive from Kalaloch. Unfortunately for my photography, once we got away from the coast, the weather turned mostly sunny. And indeed, the contrast in the rainforest was extreme (5 stops or more). My visions of wonderful shots of green moss-draped trees was not to be fulfilled.
Instead, I worked mostly on detail shots, taking what the conditions allowed. Looking for small scenes that were mostly in shadow, or mostly in sunshine, so that contrast was less of an issue. Or I looked for backlit scenes, where the sunlight provided unique views for the rainforest. I can’t say I came away with any prize winners, but I was happy with a few of the results posted below.
I still had hope for a great shot. I figured the clouds would break along the coast, and a good sunset was possible. We drove back to Kalaloch and ate dinner (during which was probably the best light of the day) and afterward drove to Ruby Beach for sunset. As it turned out, the sunset was mostly a dud, and though I took a lot of frames, I’m not that pleased with them.
So once again, I took what was offered. In this case, shooting after sunset in the blue hour. The featured photo above was shot perhaps half an hour after sunset and is my favorite of the day.
The adventure of travel photography is that you never know exactly what you will get. When conditions are not right, you need to be able to see beyond the obvious shots and look with images that the conditions allow. With luck, even with bad light, you will get a few keepers.