Saturday, February 28, 2009


Found a new tool to keep my creative juice going :) there is always something new to explore on my day off and find your groove as they say it. This time it is the Topaz plug in for Photoshop (I use CS2). I am using a 30 day trial and so far so good. It is certainly very arty, resulting in very dramatic image if you have a good starting image that is correctly exposed image or a fun image to dabble with.

For those who are learning about Topaz plug in for the first time. Topaz is a very similar to Photomatix HDR software, but offers a few quick adjustments on details, exposure, contrast, highlight by easily dragging a ruler slider on the menu. It is really for those who are drawn to Photography art or arty photography.

Here are a couple of my topazed images I like:

"Expansive wild mustard field and an old barn house in Milpitas

"The wooden gate of the wetlands in Alvioso. Compare this image with the tone mapped HDR image in my original posting if you scroll down to the bottom of the entire page"

"The famed Malibu fishing pier, slightly topazed"

Finally there is the purple daisy field taken last spring along a bike path in Marina del rey, CA. It is one of my stock photos transformed....

Daisy field "topazed"

If you are a photography traditionalist, please pardon me for pushing the limits here. I am always exploring the possibilities of a new creative tool. Guess you could say I am more of an arty photographer...frequently tipping my toes in the creative arty world to see what else is possible and then take three steps back - my own way of finding my own limits.

A word of caution: Topaz is not always stable, and does hang or refuse to process images from time to time forcing me to reboot my computer. From what I gathered from the many postings on the web, it is a known problem. So keep that in mind

Update on March 1st 2009: the Topaz Adjust trial plug in I downloaded has been unstable, frequently showing an error message that it cannot process due to program error. I had uninstalled and re-installed a few times and it would work only once or twice and the same error message would re-appear. So as of now, I have uninstalled it from PS CS2. This is a known program and widely reported on the web. There does not seem to be a bug free version at this point as the problem persists for those with lots of RAM space and those using the 2.6 version.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Who says there is no photo op when it rains (I am smiling)

You know how it is when it is your day off and you are determined to make the most of it. The weather forecast had projected rain all day long with no lull in sight for Sunday, the only day when a friend and I could do some photography - Do not put two crazy photographers together is all I can say.

It rained so hard that my Volvo 960 was hydroplaning. What started as a drizzle as we left San Jose at 7am this morning quickly turned into steady downpour on Highway 880 when we headed north towards Berkeley. Of all the days during the week mother nature could have its fun, it had to pick a Sunday.

Below are the shots in the rain, tone mapped with Photomatix, with little or no adjustment.

If there is a will, there is a way.

"Pink rose petals on the ground cover, it was the randomness of the pile that caught my attention"

"I was captivated by the raindrops on the elegant and yet very tiny leaves - as I moved in closer, I saw they had a nice shade of pink hue on its leaves"

Wish I could have shot it with the 100mm macro lens I did have in my bag, but that would be really risking it, getting the rain in my camera as I would have to change lens in the wet open air. You bet I am going back to that place marked F10 on the jogging path on another rainy day to shoot a couple more, and this time with my macro lens.

"Totally rained out, I took cover in my warm car, and decided if I can't beat it, why not join in the fun"

A side note, I did have to make a pit stop at the Fish and Tackle shop at the marina to get the ugliest looking fisherman's yellow raincoat. It was intended for me but it ended up being my camera's best friend - a makeshift tarp - best $7 investment.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

When photography transcends the genre and becomes art

Still on an HDR mission (well, I have really just begun), I decided to explore the boundaries of HDR photography. It was Valentine's Day yesterday so for all lovers and families out there, you would have plenty of photo opportunities to shoot the beautiful roses and tulips and have fun with HDR like me.

Here is an example of nature's gifts tone mapped using Photomatix HDR software. I like the "dreamy" look of the tulips and I think it would look good on greeting cards. It is going into my permanent collection :) a happy thought on an otherwise dreadful cold rainy Sunday in San Jose.

"When photography transcends the genre and becomes art"

Sunday, February 8, 2009

I am Speechless

OMG, OK, now I am speechless. Now I know how those beautiful images were created, some of them at least.

Painted archway leading to the wetland

Part II of my HDR study. I drove to Alviso, a rather charming old town 20 minutes north of San Jose proper this morning. A friend told me of the town and the weathered buildings, salt mines and cannery. There is also a tiny creek that drains 5 miles into south San Francisco Bay. I arrived around 8:15am as the sun was breaking through the dark clouds (rain expected later in the day). At the wetland were archways painted in light yellow and wooden pathways leading to each of the wildlife viewing platforms. It was magnificently beautiful, simple, yet, to a photographer, it was heaven. I had gone on an HDR mission, and so with the camera on the tripod, I shot a series of bracketed exposures and below are the toned mapped HDR images: I am blown away by what the software does to combine the tonal spectrum...... I am still in shock. Needless to say, I am sold on Photomatix, and will pay up ($99) to get the license so I can create my HDR without the Photomatix watermark and add my own watermark.

All 6 images were toned mapped using Photomatix, with little or no adjustment, all shot with camera on tripod, bracketed exposure and camera set for three consecutive shots with one single shutter click

Twigs in a small creek, Alviso marina

Painted building facade, Alviso, CA

Red brick building facade, Alvisio, CA

wild mustard field, Milpitas,CA

wild mustard flowers, Milpitas, CA

Monday, February 2, 2009

Images from my HDR study

Tripod, a sturdy one and ideally a wireless/or wired remote, no getting around it if you don't want to regret messing up an opportunity that presented itself. That is what I like about photography, every scene is unique and mother nature has a say in it. (Except in the case of a set up still life studio shot which to some extent can be repeated if you can figure out the light placement).

The Christmas scene below is a tone-mapped HDR (High Dynamic Range) image from three bracketed shots taken on a tripod during a foggy winter night. It was the lawn of the Capital building in Olympia. Without a tripod, one would not have three matching images to merge seamlessly. This one I was prepared. I had a decent tripod with me and it was worth bracing the cold night for it.

shot with tripod, long exposure, bracketed exposure

The second HDR image, that of a hillside pasture with a hint of spring was taken last weekend in San Jose. I was doing a small unplanned hike off a mountain range on a detour and did not have a tripod with me. It was 30 minutes before sunset and the hill slope just glowed with light. I set my camera to take three consecutive shots with a single shutter click and bracketed the shots (-2, 0, +2). Then I used Photomatix HDR software to map image details and shapes and merge the tonal properties. However the imperfect lines are visible if viewed at 100%.

No tripod, three consecutive shots, bracketed exposure

Then there is this last shot taken this past Fall at the Center for Wooden Boats in Seattle when on a spur of the moment, I decided to experiment with HDR. Without giving much thought to what I needed to do, I proceeded to bracket the three shots handheld (one of those stupid things I did) and thought to myself, yes, now I am going to merge them. Well, that is that, totally painfully obvious unmatched image tone mapped from three shots obviously from slightly different spot - It is sort of interesting and shows what it could have been if I had just used the tripod.

Disastrous HDR result - handheld, bracketed exposure - silly me

I remember a popular saying in the photography world:
"Beginner photographers debate over whether Nikon or Canon is a better camera, the real pros debate over which is the sturdiest tripod to have." Once lugging a good tripod with you becomes a second nature, the world you see through the lens will become that much sharper.

To see another tone mapped HDR image - of a city park shrouded in heavy fog, check out my first article on HDR Click Here

Support these places....bring out your film camera and have a blast again

Kaufmann's Cameras Inc
154 W 25th Ave
San Mateo, CA 94403
(650) 574-3429
Open Weekdays 9am-6pm; Sat 10am-4pm
My review:
Very good selection of negative and slide films, b&w/color, friendly, helpful, sells camera and lenses (new and used) darkroom chemicals (including Acufine), fiber papers, trays and everything you need for wet processing. Reasonable prices. Offers in house wet processing for b&w, sends color negative films and chromes out to third party, short turntime. I would rather frequent their stores than K&S in Palo Alto for my photography supplies.

Foto Express
304 E Santa Clara St # C
San Jose, CA 95113
(408) 971-3977
The only place in South Bay (San Jose vicinity that is, CA) that process 120 films and slides in house (and 35mm of course). Friendly, helpful, good turntime. Comparable pricing (to A&I or BelAir). Sells a small selection of negative and chrome films. If you want your 120 films processed on site, this is the place to go.

Just Films (a smallish corner store that has seen its fair share of industry consolidation, it is currently operating at the following location)
130 Russ St.
San Francisco, CA 94103
Sad but true, this seems to be the only place in SF where you can find a small but decent selection of films. Because it is a one man show, the owner, Volker may not be there all the time, call ahead before you show up so your trip is not in vain.