Posts Tagged ‘clouds’


Originally uploaded by chris_rutkowski

This is Dennis. Dennis is reading a book, waiting while his wife rides her horse around the wildlife preserve surrounding this lake in central NJ.

I rode my bicycle within a half mile of this spot a hundred times when I lived in NJ and never even knew the lake was there. I found it while driving my mom around, just to get out and see some country, buy some tomatoes and corn at a roadside stand, etc. Off far to the right of this shot, near the opposite shore, a large flock of swans was doing what swans do. Several fishing boats were working the shoreline. It was, as you can see, beautiful. Then across the parking lot I saw Dennis (I didn’t know his name at the time) walk into the parking lot from the road, chair in hand, then out onto the pier, and sit. And I knew I wanted this shot.

I walked over and struck up a conversation, and learned that he comes here often: he parks the truck and horse trailer out on the road, his wife rides, and he comes here to read. By and by I asked if I could take his photograph to which he readily agreed and asked "What do you want me to do?" I said "Nothing. Just read your book." He smiled and said "That I can do." This is the result.

Making the Photo:

In non-public communications a "Straight photographer" lambasted this shot, lured in at first by me mentioning that this photo was done 5 shot HDR, hand-held. His first response was accusatory; "no one in the world can do 5 shot HDR handheld." Then, observing overlap images in the water and pixel-sized doubling in the trees, chastised me for using HDR at all on water or trees, as well as for wasting my time doing it handheld when a single shot would do, yada, yada, yada…

To quote Peewee Herman, "I meant to do that."

One of the curious and basic techniques in photography is that shutter speed can be used to freeze or enhance motion at the whim of the photographer. What constitutes an "instant" in life is variable. The mind accepts this because that’s the way the mind works; by integrating individual data elements into a set containing more detail than any one original perceptive moment. HDR achieves a similar effect by providing different images in which the motion is recorded in a strobe-like stop -motion effect. Get it? Think of "stop motion" as an effect rather than as a problem and it makes a lot more sense. And as with any other effect the question becomes "is the effect being used properly" rather than "is it good or bad".

In the case of moving water – or moving anything for that matter – if the motion is linear (as in a moving river or stream, a wave coming in to shore, etc.) the stop-motion effect can be plainly visible and hard for the mind to reconcile. There are ways to fix and alter some of those doublings that certainly don’t rule out the technique, but it is not straight forward. However if the motion has a more random characteristic – such as wavelets breaking the surface of a lake, then the doublings appear as just more randomness, which the eye gratefully accepts. In fact, by increasing the “random” in some parts of a scene you can create greater contrast with parts that are motionless. Get it? That’s the same “kind” of effect you get by blurring things with longer exposures.

Ghosts of Champions Past (aka Neglected Ski Jump - Cloquet, MN)

For another example of how stop-motion can accentuate a feeling of motion and power in a shot, take a look at this photo from my Flickr site. The trees are blowing around – and it feels right. The eye happily integrates the doubling of the trees into “one which is moving”.

The point here is not whether these are good photos or not – it is that there is a distinct “effect” here that can be used to advantage. When you have lemons, make lemonade.


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Sadly the windmills on top of the modern structure are spinning so fast in the winds of the approaching storm that the blades are blurred in this shot. The future bearing down on the past – the kind of thing old guys like me think about :-)

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This verion is “out of camera” plus one click in the Photoshop Topaz Adjust plugin, then Imagenomic’s Noiseware. Ironically, this looks more "real" than straight out of camera… Maybe one could load the out of camera shot with this one as a layer and blend the two, making this look more like out of camera and less real with more manipulation…. nah.

Making the Shot

This was not planned at all. I spent all day
Saturday working in a server room in downtown Portland rebuilding power equipment that failed on Friday – but on toward the end of a 10 hour day I glanced out my office window and noticed that the sky was reflecting a wild rose-colored hue – sensing a photo op I grabbed my camera (I just about never leave home without it) and walked down to the conference room which featured picture windows showing a bit of skyline. The sky and light were everything I could have hoped for – the clouds were moving low and fast, and the lighting patterns were moving fast too. I took a few shots trying to get a feel for the scene, and over the course of a few shots I moved lower and lower and further to the right until I ended up kneeling on the floor with the camera pointing up at a dramatic angle, pressed against the window in the far right hand corner. That gave the shot the film-noir kind of angular disorientation I wanted – the scene outside looked like a sci-fi movie set… While I’m a rectilinear lines kind of guy (still miss swinging and tilting controls on my old view camera) this was one shot where I wanted the angles and distortion to work as part of the composition.

Although the shot was handheld (1/10 or so at f8) propping it against the glass window (and bear in mind it was shot through two layers of glass) gave great support in spite of the crazy angle I was viewing at, so it is very sharp – this will print nicely up to poster-size… 

Because the clouds were moving fast the light was changing rapidly. At one moment the reflections of the modern structure were dramatic, a few seconds later, flat. Ditto the sky glow; this exposure is out of a series of 10 or so shots made while waiting for the clouds to get into exactly the right position – backlighting the building in a halo of fiery glow.

As I mentioned in my Flickr posts, this is quite visually accurate – this is pretty much what it looked like – if anything the rosy glow in sky and on building is played down in this shot. Maybe this is what Portland is called the “Rose city” (no, but I felt like saying that)! The “out of camera” un-processed version of the shot in the preceding post is, if anything, slightly more surreal in appearance!

Glad I had the camera, and glad I took a breath and looked out the window at the right moment.

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I took the exposures for this during my trip to Minnesota last summer, but only just got to process it this week.

Minneapolis is a vibrant, growing metropolis. But down by the Mississippi a district of old buildings has been preserved near St. Anthony Falls. This falls is the only falls on the Mississippi and its potential as a source of power – the engine of industry – was not lost upon those who built this place. The Stone Arch Bridge was built in 1883 to carry railroad cars as part of a major engineering project that included complex waterworks diverting the river’s power to turbines which in turn powered the numerous mills that grew along the shore. Many of those mills remain household names in America: Pillsbury, General Mills, Gold Medal, and many others.

I had very little time to explore this structure (people were waiting), and rain had started spitting from the storm clouds that turned the sky a vibrant purple in spots. This shot was made standing on the bridge (now a pedestrian and cyclist walkway – the last train traveled its length in 1965) looking back at the city. Sturdy, old, Midwestern mills frame beautiful modern structures reflecting strong sky light and clouds illuminated by the sun.

If you get up that way I suggest checking it out – photo ops abound!

Notes on making the picture

The scene was actually rather flat, but bright highlights in the distant window reflections and small shadows of the brick-lines contained key visual elements. So, while not a “typical” HDR scene, the small very dark and very bright bits had to be dealt with. So a 5 shot bracket was made (I should comment that my basic policy is “when possible and practical, bracket.” It’s cheap insurance: these days, with Digital cameras and digital film, banging off an extra few exposures is trivial and painless).

So here was a scene in which those distant windows, though tiny, were key. They were vibrant and colorful (I suggest viewing the image large on Flickr, then look closely at those distant building windows – you can make out the stunning cloud-scene reflected there). It’s accurate to say this is the subject of this photograph – “storm clouds reflected in distant windows- storm light on buildings”. There lay the other problem. The foreground buildings were in shadow from the clouds, flattening the scene. Worse, the muted yellow/brownish color of the bricks can suck the blue out of a bright sunlit sky, in shadow their colors turn downright dark and muddy, lifeless.

All of this was going through my head while setting up and taking the shot (complicated by, no tripod, wind and spits of rain).

Back at the computer, I processed the raw files with photomatix using the default settings. I then corrected the image for lens and convergence distortion (5 degrees) using a great little utility called PT-Lens (setting up the shot I knew I wanted the image as rectilinear as practical). Then it was off to Photoshop (and a couple of plugins) for contrast, color, sharpness and noise adjustments. The tricky part was that the brightnesses of the chimney and surrounding brick structures (i.e. what they’d look like in B&W) were very similar. However, the colors were sufficiently different that they could be successfully accentuated by pushing the saturation. The overall effect was adjusted to get the tonalaties of the foreground structures right – they “read right”, but those colors are more like what you would see on a sunny day. With these setting the distant newer buildings take on an other-worldy appearance – and the window reflections border on over-the-top… and for now, I decided to leave it that way. It further highlights the differences between the new and the old, the surreal and the real…

Then I’m sitting there looking at the image on-screen, and the light goes on in my head and I say – that’s what I wanted when I snapped the shutter.

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Mary Travers died today.

That’s “Mary” as in “Peter, Paul and Mary”.

Let me tell you a story:

A long time ago when the world was on the verge of Vietnam, and I was just a high school kid, I went to hear PP&M sing at the Lambertville Music Circus, a theatre in the round in central New Jersey. That night Mary sang a song that was new for the group, Leaving on a Jet Plane by a then-unknown song writer named John Denver. By and by that song became well-known, and John Denver became a household name. And by and by it came to pass that 20+ years later I was backstage at a Peter, Paul & Mary concert in Philadelphia the night John D. plunged his homebuilt aircraft into Monterey Bay. I stood there listening, once more, as Mary sang “I’m leaving on a jet plane, don’t know when I’ll be back again…” My heart soared.

Mary’s gone. We all knew she’d had cancer for a while, but still… I’m surprised that I would feel it so deeply, but there it is, I do, and I felt obligated to share this discovery with you.

The photo is in tribute – dazzling clouds passing overhead at dizzying speed, singing in the guy wires of this aging ski jump – seen from below – and I feel the spirits of young people throwing themselves down that jump to fly with purpose through that sky – with unwavering enthusiasm and boundless belief in the limitless possibility of life…

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