Posts Tagged ‘storm’

We had breakfast this morning in a little cafe in Ocean Park, down along the beach access road. Anyway, I walked out after a last cup of coffee and spotted the distant suff down the road and in a flash this shot jumped into my head – I even tried to describe it to my wife.

To my wife’s consternation, I drove my Honda Civic out onto the sand (we usually bring our Subaru Outback) and parked it close to the edge beyond which two driven wheels would not be enough. I’d known from the first instant that I wanted – needed – as flat a perspective as I could get, so I threw on my 70-300mm, mounted the camera on a tripod, extended it out to 300mm and started framing.

Making the photo: What I was seeking was a confluence of waves and wind where all the random bits would come together in a dynamic whole. Yeah, right – just like that… I’ve spent lots of time with cameras on tripods all framed up and ready to shoot when the perfect waves roll by, but usually I’m waiting for a line of waves to match the other elements in the overall design. This had an added twist: there was nothing to frame in reference to – other than ocean – it was all waves. I picked a patch based on a bit of watching the overall wave patterns and the sun and clouds and hoped I was pointing at (or at least near) a spot that would give me what I wanted (ok, the camera wasn’t that rigidly fixed; the ball head was set to allow some slight panning to follow wave patterns, but you get what I mean). Basically: wait as sets of rollers comes through then combine “critical moment” timing with occasional high-speed shooting bursts and go for the best.

This is very similar to shooting sporting events where you try to position yourself, plan the shot and then start shooting as the critical moments come and go. Shooting waves is unlike shooting sports in that you can know pretty much where a runner’s feet will fall or where a jumpers shadow will pass. Not so with waves, so they’re harder to get just right. Accordingly, unless you are incredibly patient, lucky, or skilled, you will be cropping the image to a greater or lesser degree. That was certainly the case here.

The hardest part of cropping is knowing what to crop – and when shooting something as chaotic as waves it isn’t always easy – not for me at least – to spot a fragment of order amid the chaos. The “subject” isn’t just sitting there – a duck on a pond so to speak. It is camouflaged by all the surrounding action. Cropping amounts to paring away everything that isn’t “the shot”.

As a consequence, on the beach I didn’t know for sure that I had “the shot” until later, back on the computer, scanning through all the images. This was on the third to last shot out of a couple of dozen exposures; I can only wonder if subconsciously I knew this pattern had flickered in front of my eye during the shoot, causing me to stop. 

A problem shooting material in stormy conditions is that the scene, while begging for drama, tends to be rather flat; the contrasts are mostly of texture and shape, not light and dark. Nature co-operated here, throwing a Flickr of weak sun across a portion of the scene for just a few seconds, giving the white froth a bit of added brightness to capitalize on. Even so, the overall contrast didn’t exceed 4 or 5 stops, if that. Photoshop curves set the white and black points giving the scene contrast it lacked in nature. But the small textures, little micro waves and ripples, while interesting and accurate, seemed like noise, distracting from the design, so I used Topaz adjust on a duplicate base layer to smooth the smaller details, then blended the original and smoothed layers to strike a balance between texture/detail and shapes.  The final step was some judicious burning and dodging, mostly to punch up the highlights.

This “subject” invites repeat attempts; no one version will ever be definitive – a be all, end all. Each attempt will generate moments of crystallized chaos – raw material to mold into finished images. Great fun :-)


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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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