Archive for July, 2008

Daily Photo – ATT Crit 2008

This shot was taken at the ATT Crit in Austin on June 21st, the longest day of the year. Four square blocks are cordoned off downtown and crowds gather to watch riders loop around the short 1k course throughout the day. There are seven races total, each lasting for a fixed amount of time (40 – 75 min depending on the category). I only had an opportunity to shoot the last couple races, but the course conveniently runs in front of my apartment.

This particular shot was taken during the Women’s Pro race, as the light was fading from the day, on the corner of 2nd and Guadalupe. Despite a number of tall buildings in and around the area, there’s really nothing obstructing the view (yet) when you face west down 2nd. I could tell the sun was going to line up perfectly down the street, so I waited as long as possible before positioning myself on the northeast corner.

The riders were cutting the corner pretty tight — it’s not obvious in this shot, but they’re actually leaning over the curb. I was looking for some sort of backlit composition, with the sun poking through the spokes or the racer’s handlebars, so I sat on the ground as close as I felt comfortable and held the camera out from my body towards the racers as they zipped by (probably about two or three feet from them). I zoomed out as wide as I could: 16mm, which was effectively 21mm on the 1d due to the 1.3x crop.

I chose the 1d over the 1ds for this shot for two reasons: first, the speed of the riders meant I really wanted to do this at 10fps. I was basically just holding down the shutter and letting it fly (with AI Servo set), hoping I’d get enough in focus with the 10fps drive speed. Second, even though I was shooting into the sun, the riders themselves were pretty dark in silhouette at the 1/1600 I felt I needed to shoot at. So that meant a higher ISO, and the 1d is about 1 stop better from a noise standpoint than the 1ds. I gave up a lot of pixels though (10mp vs. 21mp).

The shot is actually a touch soft for my liking — I probably should have shot at 1/2500 or higher and ISO 1600 instead.


  • Shutter: 1/1600
  • Aperture: f/2.8
  • ISO: 800
  • Camera: Canon EOS 1d mIII
  • Lens: Canon EF 16-35 f/2.8L II USM (at 16mm, but an effective 21mm with the crop)

Final Shot:

Original Shot:


  • The racers were still too dark, so I pushed up the Exposure slider up a couple stops (+1.71), and tried to bring some of the highlights back with Recovery (+13). But having the sun blown out behind the racer was kinda the point of the shot, so I wasn’t too worried about that.
  • I lazily hit the Medium Contrast setting in the Tone Curve and was comfortable with that. Honestly, for a lot of shots that setting is close enough it’s not worth tweaking the individual sliders; unless it looks too contrasty or there’s a specific problem with the highlights or shadows in the scene, I usually do that and move on.
  • The image was too warm for my liking, so I dropped the temperature from 5800 to 5095.
  • Adjusted Blacks by +4. I could have increased Blacks by more, but I though I might do some stuff in Photoshop where I’d lose some detail in the shadows, so I left myself some room.
  • Cropped it and sent it to Photoshop.


  • I’ve been doing a lot of tinkering in Photoshop with the Nik Color Efex plug in, and I thought their bleach bypass effect might wash the image out in a way that matched the strong backlighting. The resulting image was a bit high key — I lost detail in both the highlights and shadows — but I liked what it did to skin tones and the racer’s outfits. That’s all I did — back to Lightroom.


  • I did some very subtle changes that were so small I’m not even sure they were noticeable: Vibrance +5, Clarity +4, Orange Saturation +5, Red Saturation +5. It’s easy to get carried away with Clarity and Vibrance, but unless you have a specific look in mind, I think they make the image appear too artificial above +10.
  • I ran the Vignette slider down to -40. I didn’t want the shot to have a strong vignette, but this was just enough to darken the edges and draw a little more attention to the lead racer.
  • I still had a little room to play with the shadows after coming back from Photoshop, so I moved the Darks slider down -5 in the Tone Curve.
  • Lastly, I sharpened the image as much as I could without halos showing up (+27, left everything else default). Still not sharp enough, but probably ok at small sizes.

While I would have liked a sharper image and a slightly different sun position, I’m still fairly pleased with the end result.

July 27 2008 | Photography | No Comments »

Daily Photo – Steph in Black and White

This shot was taken on April 25th as part of a test shoot to try out the home studio for the first time. Stephanie brought over a number of costumes, which we combined with some large patches of fabric I had on hand (both the black silk and reddish-brown/black patterned material she has wrapped around her waist in the shot). Also collaborating on this shoot were Janus Anderson and Christopher Fergusen.

Lighting and Background

  • Zeus head in 60″ softlighter camera right
  • SB800 on floor behind model to light up the background
  • 9′ white paper background, rolled out far enough to cover the floor as well
  • 4′ x 8′ black foam core on each side of the model


  • Shutter: 1/250
  • Aperture: f/5.6
  • ISO: 100
  • Camera: Canon EOS 1ds mIII
  • Lens: Canon EF24-70 f/2.8L USM (at 45mm)

Final Shot:

Original Shot:

There’s obviously a pretty big difference between the original and the final, so let’s look at the changes.


  • It was too dark. I boosted exposure about a stop, which was enough to bring up the subject as well as blow out the background. I used the Recovery slider a little bit (+4) to take the extra shine off her arms, cheek and nose (which I got back later in Photoshop).
  • The image felt too yellow/orange, so I knocked the white balance down to 5200 from an initial 6500.
  • Blacks were a little light, so I increased the Blacks slider by 5.
  • I adjusted the tone curve to increase contrast, raising highlights and lowering shadows (+10, +7, -2, -10). That really helped separate her skin tones from what she was wearing, and brightened them up a touch.


  • Removed anything in the background that wasn’t white using the brush tool (set to the same color as the background).
  • I thought this might look best in a horizontal format, with Steph off center to one side. But that would have been impossible in the original shot: the 9′ roll wasn’t wide enough, and the width of the room wouldn’t have accommodated a wider backdrop (along with lights) anyway. So I expanded the image to one side and filled it with white. I actually tried multiple compositions, but preferred the one with Steph to the right because her head and shoulders are turning to the left (into the frame).
  • At this point the color of the shot looked good with just the Lightroom adjustments. But I make a point of looking at other processing looks to see if there’s something that stands out. Converting to black and white looked ok, but I didn’t seem to be getting anything that really jumped out at me no matter how much I mucked with different channels.
  • I had recently purchased Nik Color Efex Pro but hadn’t had a chance to try it out. After sampling a number of different effects, I noticed the infrared filter, with contrast reduced and brightness boosted, produced a black and white effect I really liked. Now I could have gotten there eventually had I twiddled with different channels enough. But this was faster and showed me something I wasn’t previously imagining.

Back to Lightroom

  • Clarity (+5). Probably unnecessary, particularly at this size.
  • Sharpening. Also unnoticeable at this size, but definitely helped when I printed it later.

That’s it. The pseudo infrared filter in post really amped the contrast on the shot, dropping some of the detail out of the shadows and blowing out parts of the face, arms and shoulders. But I’ve noticed that black and white images, or washed out color ones, tend to be more accommodating to that technique. And in the case of this image, really enhanced it.

July 23 2008 | Photography | No Comments »

Daily Photo — Town Lake Fireworks

I’m going to take one of the shots from my portfolio and do a brief walkthrough of how the shot was composed, shot and processed. I’ll probably do this on a daily basis — at least until I run out of photos worth talking about. I’m a bit of an amateur still when it comes to photoshop and its kin, so I’ll likely spend more time on the reasons why I chose a particular method instead of the how I did it (I do welcome comments on how to further improve a given shot, or how to process it more efficiently).

Today’s shot was taken on March 20. I live in downtown Austin, and my balcony faces south toward Town Lake. I have no idea what event this was for — I was eating dinner and was a bit surprised to see fireworks going off outside my window. So I grabbed one of my cameras and a tripod and started snapping shots.

My original intent was to take multiple exposures and HDR them together to get the best combination of fireworks and background. Mostly I shot various combinations of exposures from 4 seconds to 30 seconds, between f/11 and f/22. What I found was that anything longer than 8 seconds tended to capture too many explosions, crowding the scene and overexposing the image where they overlapped. Anything less than 8 seconds didn’t provide long enough trails to really show them off (although 4 seconds sometimes worked, depending on the effect).

Here’s the final image, followed below by the original (click on the image to see a larger version).

  • Shutter: 8 seconds
  • Aperture: f/22
  • ISO: 200
  • Camera: Canon EOS 1ds mIII
  • Lens: Canon EF 24-70 f/2.8L USM (at 25mm)

And the original:

The first thing I noticed looking at this shot was that HDR wasn’t really going to help it. It didn’t need any additional explosions, and the background was relatively dull — no amount of surreal HDR processing of multiple images was going to help that. So I stuck with the single image.

A quick aside: I tend to use Lightroom for general exposure control and color balancing, then Photoshop for more localized changes, followed by Lightroom again for a couple final tweaks (like sharpening).

One of the problems with shooting fireworks is the smoke. The fireworks themselves light it up and depending on which way the wind is blowing, they’ll muddy the picture. The smoke in this shot isn’t too bad, but it’s definitely noticeable and detracts from the shot. To get rid of it I ran the “shadows” tone slider all the way down to -100. That really darkened the background of course, but more on that later.

The image was still a little crowded though– I wanted to create more separation between the different light trails figuring they’d pop a bit more against the black background. So I ran the “lights” tone slider all the way down to -100 too, and moved the “highlights” slider to +100. That effectively slimmed each of the trails to get the effect I wanted. I also moved the blacks up to +14, which thinned them slightly more.

In Photoshop I removed a number of distracting elements: some of the spray from the explosions didn’t look good, and that Silicon Labs sign was an eyesore. I then took a second copy of the shot from lightroom that hadn’t been altered (including none of the lightroom adjustments to the tone curve) and created an additional layer.

With this unaltered version, I color balanced and mucked with HSL sliders to try and add as much color to the bland background as possible. I then used a layer mask to paint into the main image those parts of the background I wanted to show more brightly. Even though the background was uninteresting, fireworks without some context are kind of weak. So I did the best I could to amp it up.  I also added a little bit of space at the top of the shot to give the fireworks a little bit of breathing room.

The combined shot came back to Lightroom for some minor cropping and the shot was done.

July 22 2008 | Photography | No Comments »