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Sleeklens Presets – Put to the Test

A few months ago I received an email from a software company call Sleeklens.  They offered to give me a set of their Lightroom Presets (Through the Woods) for free in exchange for a product review.  At first I was skeptical because I had never heard of this company or so I thought!

I searched their internet page and contacted another photographer, Mike Moats (he was listed on their Facebook Page), he recalled their products, and said, “Why not give it try?”

I contacted Sleeklens and ideally they wanted a turn-around time of a couple of weeks.  I knew based on my schedule and other life happenings, it probably would not happen for a couple of months!

My opinion on presets is not a “Hip-Hip-Hooray” attitude.  My past experience with presets are “It’s a good start” then I have to tweak to get it to the stage I want it. With that being said, I think my review may come as a surprise!

I have other presets that I’ve received from other companies, either as a premium or something I’ve purchased. I opened the presets in Lightroom and noticed I had other presets from Sleeklens…I’m not quite sure where I had downloaded them from.  I played around with them a little; at least it was somewhat of an assurance this was a legit company.

I had just returned from Yellowstone National Park and was still playing around with my images when the email came with the “Through the Woods” presets.  The presets come with Develop and Adjustment Brush presets.  I had loaded some of my previous brush presets in the wrong folder and with the instructions I moved those to the correct location so I had a whole new game going!

Lets look at before and after images. Many of these I did reset to the original, some I added the preset after my initial adjustments were present.

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Original unedited image

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After making adjustments on my own I added the Break of Dawn preset and it gave the image warmth and opened the shadows.

I felt encouraged after I saw the results of this image so I tried another.

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Original image

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I used the Exposure-Brighten preset on this one.

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As Shot

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The humming bird was initially adjusted with the Heavenly Warmth preset then I used the Brighten Shadows adjustment brush to pull out the details.

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As shot

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I used the Calm Sunset preset and then made further adjustments with graduated filters, luminance, and temperature.

Since the color presets were working so well, I decided to do a monochrome image.

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I picked this image because in color the water was still brown and thought it may look better in black and white

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I used the Pressed in Time preset, then added Monochrome Fantasy, and darken shadows and less highlights.

By now I feel that using the Sleeklens presets is definitely a great start to any image, but also can stand alone!

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As shot

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I aded Warm Shadows preset; adjusted shadows and clarity…BOOM…that’s all I did!

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As shot

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Calm Sunset preset added and highlights adjusted.

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As shot

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I used Darken Shadows preset and Autumn Colors

To conclude, yes, the Sleeklens Through the Woods presets are a “winner, winner!” I went in feeling very skeptical about using a preset, but the more I played and worked with them, it became apparent that the presets could function on their own without much help or further adjustments. I give this a thumbs up! To purchase your set of presets and brushes you can go to  Sleeklens for Lightroom

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Old Country Store, Jackson, Tennessee

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Ice Cream Parlor at the Old Country Store in Jackson, Tennessee

Every so often I browse through my images and something catches my eye. I look at it and think, “What can I do with this?”  Images like this have so much detail and I like converting that detail into an HDR-like image. I started out by making a few adjustments to the shadows and highlights in Lightroom. I then moved the image over to On1 Effects to do the rest. I used the Amazing Detail Finder, Clarity, I lightened the shadows, Exaggerated the tones and edges, and added a subtle HDR look to the image. I moved it back into Lightroom to adjust the contrast slightly for my finished product.

See the before and after side by side:

Never give up on images you may have in your files. I hear people all of the time say they delete pictures. While I have many, many images I will never process, occasionally I find one that surprises me!

After posting this blog, it was suggested to me to see what the image looked like in black and white. Here is the result:

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Black and White Version of the Ice Cream Parlor


My Favorite Images of 2015: Macro/Close-up

Happy New Year to all! Each new year brings hope and the prospect of new opportunities for us to pursue.

On April 23, I will host my first Spring Flower Workshop. You will notice that I do not always use a macro lens to capture a nice sharp close-up.  A good zoom lens (like the one your received if you purchased a kit) will give you the range you need to create wonderful close-up images. If your zoom says “macro” on it, you will be able to get a little closer than you would with a regular zoom lens. It is not a 1:1 macro, but you should be able to get close enough to capture many of the small details in your image. I wanted to share some of my macro/close-up images from 2015 to inspire you to get out and explore your surroundings!

This first group of images was taken in Colorado at Garden of the Gods. I saw this as the life span of a thistle. Through the series you can see how it changes over time. These were taken with my Tamron 24 – 75mm f/2.8. I often use it as a carry around lens and it has great close-up capabilities. I love how it blurs the background, but keeps the main image sharp.

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White Trillium

This image will always be special to me. It was taken at the Shoot the Hills weekend photography competition. You are not able to edit your images and you have to choose your best image in each category (approximately 6 images) and turn those in to the judges.  The white trillium was taken with my Sigma 105mm Macro lens using the ring flash. This was my first time participating in the competition; the image won an honorable mention in the Flora Category.

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Here Kitty!

While not a flower; this cat is a nice example of a close-up image. Eyes are in focus and looking straight into the camera!  I had put my camera on the ground and “hoped” it would focus on the right area.  Again, this was taken with my Tamron 24 – 75mm f/2.8.

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Intersecting Lines

I enjoy experimenting with textures and other processing techniques. I try to look for interesting forms and shapes in my surroundings.  This was taken at the Huntington Museum of Art Conservatory. It is a wonderful place to take photographs. Most of the time is is not crowded and it is great to go to on a cold day. The palm branch was processed using the On1 Photo system.

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Follow the Line

I also look for leading lines. The vine entwined itself along the branch of this plant. There is a nice curve for the eye to follow.

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Young Coneflower

Young Coneflower was an image I enjoyed experimenting with. I had photographed the coneflower in front as it developed over several days. I wanted a nice linen texture and painterly feel. I used a combination of Oil Paint filter in Photoshop and did texture layering using On1 Photo. I had it printed on metallic paper with a linen texture. It does have the look and feel of a painting.

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All Alone

This was taken in North Carolina at Thanksgiving. I saw the “lone” leaf sticking up off of a branch in the woods.  This was photographed with my Sigma 120 – 300mm f2.8.  The image was processed in Lightroom.

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Purple Basil

In my opinion, I saved the best for last!  My image, Purple Basil, was captured with the LensBaby Spark.  The Spark comes with multiple disks that you can insert to create interesting shapes out of light.  I did very little processing to this image; just basic adjustments using Lightroom. The morning sun was hitting the leaf just right. I had only a couple of minutes to photograph the leaf and the light was gone!  I print this image on metallic paper and also have had a metal print created. The highly saturated colors pop on the metallic mediums. It won an Honorable Mention at the Foothills Competition in the fall.

I hope you have enjoyed the 2015 recap of my favorite images!  I look forward to sharing more information in 2016!

Watch for notices of my classes and workshops for the upcoming year!


My Favorite Images of 2015: People

A second installment of my favorite images of 2015 has to do with people. I love to photograph people in their natural settings or as a portrait shoot environment.  People can be very expressive and interesting.

A couple of my favorite photographs came from my 98 year-old uncle’s life-long companion, Lela’s 100th birthday!  Lela and Thelma were being interviewed by a local television station on their “secrets to a long life.” They were wonderful to listen to.

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Jules In Motion

A friend of mine has a daughter who is a ballerina and I had been wanting to try out a few new flash techniques.  This image was taken using stroboscopic flash technique.  The flash strobes while the individual continues movement.  The result is a sequence captured in one singular image.

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Pasta Lady at Fil0mena’s in Georgetown (Washington DC)

During a trip to Washington DC we dined at Filomena’s Italian Restaurant.  I stood in the entry way and watched as this lady kneaded dough making gnocchi for the customers. She looked up and smiled just as I touched the shutter on my iPhone.  I did add texturing with On1 Photo and converted the image to sepia for a competition. It won first place in that competition.

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Wedding party goes to the dogs!

While taking photographs at a friend’s wedding reception, I saw this group leave the reception hall with the dogs. Since it was early, I decided to follow them to see what the layout of the property was. The husky was pulling the groom, and almost went into the water. After taking this photograph I studied the dynamics of it. The main photographer is trying to set the scene while one of the groomsman directs. The groomsman is trying to take a shot with his phone. The second shooter is “chimping”. You have one of the bridesmaids coming in to check things out. Meanwhile the bulldog is trying to eat the bouquet!  Such a fun image!

Two of my favorite wedding photographs of the year were from Ben and Elisha’s reception and Stephanie and Andy’s wedding. Ben and Elisha got married in Australia where they live and came to Cincinnati for their reception.  I went outside to check on the sunset and asked them to come out for a few photographs.  I took this using a flash so I could retain the colors in the sunset, also so I could have them visible in the image.

Andy is my cousin. He and Stephanie were married in March behind the Smithsonian Castle. While we were taking a few photographs we were asked to leave by security agents. We were told the reason we had to leave was because we could not have an “organized photoshoot” on federal property.  Because I was using professional equipment (my flash was on a monopod and I was using it for fill) I guess they thought we were having an “organized photoshoot.”  We got what we needed plus a great story to tell! I do like this photograph; the cherry blossoms were added in post processing.

A couple of fun photographs from 2015 were on my trip to Ossabaw Island in Georgia. The domesticated donkeys were a first for me.

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Edward Warren as Maleficent

One of my fun photoshoots this year was with RJ Haddy and his assistant Edward Warren. I used a flash with a green filter then added the special effects to the orb using Photoshop.

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This was taken at the Fire and Ice Festival in Medina, Ohio. The lighting of the ice tower.

I became aware of the Fire and Ice Festival in 2014; when it was already over. I put it on my calendar for 2015; what a fun event it was…COLD! They light wood in a tower made of ice and allow it to burn until the ice melts and the fire goes out.

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Taking aim!

Another fun photoshoot I had this year was a good friend of mine’s grandson, Nelson Craycraft’s senior photographs.  I had an idea in my mind for this but due to equipment not cooperating with me at the time, I had to switch gears.  A compound bow is very heavy and his arms were getting fatigued. I definitely wanted to get the eye in the site.

I hope you have enjoyed my people pictures for 2o15!


My Favorite Images of 2015: Landscapes

As 2015 comes to a close, I have decided to share my favorite images of 2015 and why they are special to me. I hope you enjoy these images as much as I do!

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Arlington National Cemetery

My first image was taken this fall at Arlington National Cemetery. I was fortunate enough to be witness to the funeral of 3 Star General Frank E. Petersen, Jr. He was the first African American Aviator in the United States Marine Corps. He was also the first African American Marine General. The photograph holds a special memory for me and also marks an event in history.

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New River Gorge, West Virginia

My next landscape is of New River Gorge in West Virginia. The photograph displays the vastness of this region and the beauty of the fall colors. This was my first trip there; I do plan on going back.

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Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

As I was walking around the Great Sand Dunes National Park area, I saw this couple walking toward me.  I used the trees to frame them and to demonstrate the size of the area. The woman was dressed in a white desert type outfit, like the kind you would see Katharine Hepburn wear in African Queen. They looked like they had been on safari.

The two images above are from the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas. I had taken a trip out west in 2013 and passed this area without knowing what it was until after the fact.  I knew we were going to be going past here again so I made sure we stopped. The bold, highly saturated colors stand out against the cloudless blue sky. My daughter enjoyed the fact she could “legally” paint graffiti onto an object and not be arrested. Her initials EM were boldly painted in yellow and I’m sure were gone by days end. What a great experience though!

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Abandoned Corral, Roy, New Mexico

It was great to travel some of the back roads through Colorado and New Mexico. To see the sunset over the mountains was breathtaking. I saw all of the wooden structures in the field and pulled off the road to capture a few shots of the beautiful sunset.

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Cabin in the Woods, Adams County, Ohio

This cabin is in a very private area of Adams County, Ohio. I was hiking one day in early spring and stopped at the top of an incline to look around. When I looked behind me I saw the cabin’s red tin roof. It stood out from all of the branches and trees. This image is currently on loan to the Ohio Governor’s Office from 2015 – 2017.

Enhanced Landscapes

The next 3 images are ones that I did special processing on to give the images an aged feeling or to enhance specific details in the photograph.

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Sleigh Ride, Maryland

I had taken a winter workshop in Oakland, Maryland and one of our stops was an Amish farm that gave sleigh rides. I processed this image with the On1 Photo suite. As I worked on it the scene became that of a Currier and Ives style “painting.” I used this as my Christmas Card this year.

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Old Mill of Guilford, North Carolina

I photographed this old grist mill in Oak Ridge, North Carolina over Thanksgiving. While the original photograph was nice, I decided to add a little texture to the image and give it an aged feel. I used the On1 Photo processing system to bring out the details and to add texture to the photograph.

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Tabby Shack dating from the 1700’s on Ossabaw Island.

My final favorite landscape image from 2015 is that of a Tabby Shack on Ossabaw Island along the coast of Savannah, Georgia. The leading lines of the road allows the eye to travel along these historical structures. This image was also processed with On1 Photo to give it an aged appearance.

I hope you enjoyed these images! Photographs capture our moments in time and bring back the memories connected to those moments.

Look for my other favorites of 2015!


Photographing Americana: Signs and Structures of our Past: Chapter 3

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The Anna Plaza Motel sign in Anna, Illinois is very much a “blast from the past”.  The actual age of the sign is unknown but based on the style and shape it is likely late 1940’s or early 1950’s.

Take note of the conveniences listed: Modern Electrically Heated (I assume that means the rooms) and TV.  Then as the times changed a sign was added at the bottom to include Cable TV with remote, water beds, and direct dial phones.

Think about what we consider modern conveniences today. Free wifi probably tops the list for most people. I remember traveling with my parents, we looked for places that had a pool; a heated pool was a bonus. We stayed in Ithaca, New York one summer and it was unseasonably cold. The motel said they had a heated outdoor pool, but after an evening swim I was as blue from the cold water as the guy in Big Fat Liar after his swim in the blue dye!

Think about having “direct dial phones” when the majority of the nation has cell phones. How times change. I found an article written in 2005 by someone who also photographed this sign. They said in their article that this sign probably would be gone soon. Here it is 10 years later and it still stands.

As for staying at the Anna Plaza Motel; no thanks! I am sure in the early days it was a very fine establishment. The town of Anna has many old structures and other interesting signs. I look forward to sharing those with you in the future.


Fisheye Lens: Pros and Cons

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Yorktown Beach captured with a fisheye lens; you can see the slight curve in the foreground from lens distortion

The 8mm Rokinon fisheye lens is a great lens to capture landscapes and to create surreal images. There are definite advantages and disadvantages to using a fisheye lens.  The photographer has to decide what adds to or takes away from the image.

Pros of using a fisheye:

 

Using the fisheye to creatively “bend” the subject is a pro of this fine lens. The clarity throughout remains intact. It creates a snow globe effect when used close-up.

When shooting with a fisheye lens it is possible to capture sweeping landscapes with a greater depth of field. The image quality and sharpness throughout the image is a definite pro.  The photographer can also create surreal images with a fisheye lens.

Getting low to the ground will provide for interesting foreground in the image.

Cons of using a fisheye:

While the pros listed above are very positive uses, they can turn into cons if you do not want your subject to bend or curve. Even in the best case scenario you may end up with a slight curve on the edges. When looking  through the viewfinder, move the camera up and down and watch for the bend.  The image can be exaggerated or will look fairly normal as the camera is moved.

Photoshop and Lightroom have excellent lens correction features; with practice, lens distortion can be corrected or enhanced depending on the final vision of the photographer.

In the sunrise photos above you can see how the clouds curve, but the horizon is fairly level. It does make for a nice effect with the arching clouds.  In the photograph of the boat, the horizon is curved and the foreground is bubbled toward the viewer.  While this may not be a desirable outcome, the photographer has to decide if that is what the end result should be.

The fisheye lens definitely has its place in the photographer’s bag and there are many creative uses for it.  Adding a slight curve to a photograph can enhance the image or provide an unwanted distraction to the viewer. It is up to the photographer to decide how to use the lens. If given the opportunity to try one; see what kind of images can be made!

Photography is a skill with infinite learning opportunities!

 


Photographing Americana: Signs and Structures of Our Past: Chapter 2

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Standard Oil Service Station, Vienna, Illinois

Having grown up in a small rural community, I remember an old castle gas station in the center of town. It is long gone and I so wish I had taken a photograph of it to preserve its heritage. Vienna, Illinois has a beautiful gem that has fallen victim to vandals and decay.

The station was built in 1930 by the Standard Oil Company. It is one of several that was built across the country to fit the space available. Many of these old stations have been converted into private residences and other businesses.  I spoke to a resident of Vienna and he said, “Many people have expressed interest in the building, but there it sits, decaying each day.”

My imagination wandered to the days of “full service” stations. I could visualize the service man rushing out to gas the car, clean the windscreen and “take a look under the hood!”

As you can see from the above photographs, the torch (in photographs of other stations, it was a beautiful gold and red torch) has been chiseled away. It also appears that someone has tried to removed the entire “service” emblem!  The lettering on the crown has also been removed leaving behind a skeleton of the past.

Other views of the building show the decay that is occurring. It is just a matter of time this beautiful landmark will be a memory just as the castle in my hometown is a memory for me.

I could only see inside the bay area; there were broken panes of glass that I could aim my camera through.  I read other articles lamenting the sadness people have for this wonderful icon on the corner of Routes 146 and 45. It is a shame that someone will not step up and take charge of the restoration. I’m sure the expense is a hinderance.  The red tiled roof, the yellow brick; a wonderful contrast of color!

Take the time to notice the images around you; pause and reflect on the past.


Photographing Americana: Signs and Structures of Our Past Chapter 1

 

When you take the roads less traveled there are gems to be found!

While driving through Carbondale, Illinois this sign caught my attention.  I stopped and took as many photographs as I could.

The sign says closed for the season, but according to research this Dairy Queen on 508 South Illinois Avenue is a busy place!  The building is the original structure that was built in 1951 by Jack Clover. According to a 2014 article in the Southern Illinoisan, the stand has been owned by Mark Waicukauski for over 25 years and was owned by his father before him. In the article, Waicukauski says, “That old sign’s been there since the beginning!”

While traveling across the country, take the time to look around you! The gems you uncover may be diamonds in the rough!


Williamsburg Winery: A Worthwhile Stop

Williamsburg Winery Vineyard

Williamsburg Winery Vineyard

When traveling to the Williamsburg, Virginia or even to the Virginia Beach area, you should add on a stop to the Williamsburg Winery.  Located on about 300 acres in the Williamsburg area, the driveway into the winery is surrounded by vineyards.  On the day of my visit it was a very cloudy and rainy day…a great day for an indoor activity such as wine tasting!

Walking around the gift shop it is difficult not to notice the assortment of awards their wines have received over the years.  There were ribbons, metals, and plaques adorning the rooms.  This was my first visit to the winery. Our tour guide poked fun at the group I was in because we all had “real” cameras with us!  No cell phone photographers in this group! We watched a video on the history of the winery and the wine making process. Our guide led the way into the very large banquet room just off the meeting area.

Wine on display in the gift shop

Wine on display in the gift shop

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Banquet hall at Williamsburg Winery

I was impressed with the size of the banquet hall and the winery itself.  Sometimes “local” wineries are much smaller and produce a product on a smaller scale.  Williamsburg definitely has a world class facility to produce a large volume of their product.

After leaving the banquet hall we made our way into the wine cellar where the wine is stored in oak, stainless steel, or concrete tanks/barrels.  Yes, concrete!  Our guide showed us an egg shaped fermentation tank that they have been using.  I can’t remember all of the details but I believe he said it gave the wine a more milder flavor. The oak barrels are used for about 3 batches before they lose their flavor and then those barrels are recycled for flower pots or decorative use.  Stainless steel is primarily used for the sweet wines.

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Wine aging area

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Barrels in the wine cellar

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The egg-shaped fermentation vat

We also went past the private tasting area.  I thought it looked very “secretive” like out of a spy movie.

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Private tasting area

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Spiral staircase leading to the private tasting area

We made our way to the tasting room.  The James River White was very good.  I do like their spiced wine, Settlers’ Spiced Wine for the holidays; heavy on cloves and cinnamon, it will great warmed up with apple cider for a mulled wine.  I also liked their sweet dessert wine, Petit Fleur.  They give us a taste of the private reserve red wine, Virginia Trianon Cabernet Franc; it was very smooth and a mild wine. I also came home with a bottle of the Virginia Claret; close to a merlot in flavor. I am looking forward to making my spiced wine this winter! It will make the house smell so good!

During the tasting, Matthew Meyer, the vice president and winemaker made a visit to the tasting room.  Our guide said Matthew travels a great deal and they call him the “traveling winemaker” because he travels around the country to different wineries.  He, too, has won many awards for his winemaking skills.

Our guide on the left; Winemaker Matthew Meyer on the right

Our guide on the left; Winemaker Matthew Meyer on the right

If you enjoy a great glass of wine, the Williamsburg Winery is a perfect stop…especially on a rainy day!

Vineyard at Williamsburg Winery

Vineyard at Williamsburg Winery