Jun 30, 2009

Bisti Dementia

Leaning Pagoda, Surreal, hoodoo, Bisti Badlands, Farmington, NM, bisti, mars, Bisti Adventure Tours
Leaning Pagoda
©Joe Bridwell
Light and shadow weave lovely intricacies,
Strange rock shapes resemble ancient Asian buildings,
A rock looses balance, slides…
Finally, a pagoda leans
like the Tower of Pisa.

Surreal Amalgams
Some small Bisti hoodoos become delightful surprises when sharply defined by light and shadow. Their ephemeral message is just as powerful as that of a larger landscape.
The Bisti is a magical amalgam of such surreal characters – at times like a macabre stage play; at other times, like a tapestry from Mars. Walk here and find this unique character; walk there and enjoy another completely different spirit.
It’s a left-behind palette upon which lives were spent painting...!

Lady Luck
My digital photography path started in the Bisti. Coming from geology, I found this one of the most uniquely challenging series of rocks I’d ever seen. Coming to photography, I started with a point-and-shoot.
Over the next few years, my fascination returned me time after time to the Bisti. As I grew into taking ‘real’ pictures, gained a DSLR, and began a life-long fascination with light and shape, the Bisti never failed to supply an interesting new, surreal aspect of its magical challenge. As you can see from early Bisti writings…

Bisti Emotions
"High desert jewels can create a beauty, peace, and serenity utterly lacking in a city. Relatively unknown, an illustrious wilderness is a photographic jewel inset in the heart of ancient Anasazi country. Even within New Mexico, asking about the Bisti may create blank, unknowing stares.
"Imagine a hard day of God's work creating the Universe. To relax, mayhap He hid a colorful, passionate, richly-textured jewel on our planet. Top a certain hill, then see His uniquely creative handiwork. Then add to the incredible beauty and deep serenity of surreal hoodoos a sense of a unique off-world adventure …
"Yet, to the intrepid explorer, once there, it's not at all unusual to meet international travelers from many nations!"

Working the Bisti
First, decide where these surprises are. Get out in the Bisti, explore, become one with nature. Then, estimate what light and shadow might do to change the scene, adding virtually immeasurable depth and drama. Finally, make sure you can find that particular area so your photography captures the off-world beauty of this sculptors’ surreal playground.
Process your Bisti images, not once, not twice, but over time as light's mystery adds real enhancement. Let God's handiwork creep into your bones...

Jun 27, 2009

Ahoy, Mars…!

Tram, Albuquerque, Kylie, Hayden
Assignment: Crinoid Hunt
©Joe Bridwell
Did you know that an ocean bottom could become a mountain top? Walk away from the tram north along the ridge; you're going to find crinoids some 500 million years old.
What's a crinoid... a crinoid [sometimes called a "sea lily," because it looks like a spreading flower] is "a filter feeding, marine, plant-like animal …." Crinoids first appeared in Earth's primeval seas over 500 million years ago, in the "Cambrian Era".

Technology Is a Wonderful Thing
The kid on the left flew in from California; the one on the right flew in from Oregon. Both wanted adventure...
We decided to go on a crinoid hunt. So we took the tram up the mountain some 3700 feet. It was cloudy, dark, and wind was really blowing. When we got to the top, it began to sprinkle, then rain as darker clouds closed in.
I had a hat, Hayden and Kylie had a pullover. While I only had a thin sweater, even with a pullover, Kylie finally began to get cold.
We scrambled around for a while, slip-sliding on dirt at the base of the limestone cliff. First Kylie, then Hayden climbed the small cliff. Pretty soon, I began to hear the cry, "Grandpa, I found a crinoid...!"

Crinoids, (c)Illinois State Museum
Here's a crinoid picture from the ©Illinois State Museum.

When Kylie's mother was just a baby in the early 1970s, I was looking at pictures of Mars sent back by Mariner 9 as a graduate student...
but, we hadn't put a lander on Mars at that time. So we didn't know what the rocks might contain.

We had a very good day up on the Sandia's and I thought, "Why not find the definition of a crinoid and when it lived!"
Between Google (I was looking for a crinoid definition) and the Mars rover (excited old memories about Mars studies) which came along some 30 years later, I want to share a truly remarkable story I found this morning.

Martian Exploration
American space ships first circled Mars taking pictures in the mid-60s. Mariner 9 brought back some 7300 pictures in 1972. A few years later, Viking landed on Mars.
But it wasn't until 2000 that we had a Mars rover. In 2004, Opportunity, the Mars rover was driving around the edge of a basin (near my birthday). Opportunity was told to take a series of close up pictures with the black-and-white CCD camera attached to its arm, before it drilled into the rock. As I was quite interested in what was happening on Mars, I remember seeing a picture of those rocks on the basin edge.

Crinoids from Mars?, NASA
Here's a before and after picture telemetered back from Meridiani Planum. ©NASA

Martian Crinoids?
That close-up picture, sent from millions of miles away, contains shapes very familiar to paleontologists on earth today - are those crinoids?
I found an article on the web from the Enterprise Mission titled
The Curious Case of the NASA Crinoid Cover-Up.

"A close-up enlargement of this fascinating object (Note “Segments…”), reveals an apparently "snapped off" body geometry, at least five visible cylindrical "segments," and a hint of other fossil-like features buried in the surrounding rock itself – all classic hallmarks of a former living organism!"
"E-mails from around the world in early 2004, from amateur and professional alike, pointed out the resemblance between "our" Martian fossil from the picture above... and a well known terrestrial counterpart – the crinoid."

Scientific Hypotheses
I've not had time to research this thesis. I haven't poured over the literature of the last five years to see what professionals have said about this idea. For a scientific hypothesis to be accepted as "law", it needs lots of verification.

In kidspeak, this gobbledygook sez, "This idea is interesting, but not proved. Nevertheless, you can surely think about it…"

Nevertheless, I was amazed at the coincidence! I suggest you read it for yourself, check out the literature through Internet links, and see what you might think of such a suggestion...?
So, while it may not pan out, it’s an interesting coincidence which might bear further scrutiny.
What’s the old saw “Time heals all wounds, and wounds all heels…!”

Instant Internet Technology
I'll post this blog about 3 o'clock Saturday. Kylie and Hayden will get on their respective airplanes about 4. About 6, one will land in California while the other lands in Oregon.
Meanwhile the Internet will churn for a while, then spit out this blog into each of their respective e-mail boxes so they can read it in the morning...
ain't technology really something?

I know crinoid hunting with the grandkids was truly something else!

Jun 25, 2009

Rave - Strong, Intuitive Tone Mapping Tools in CS4

New tools in Lightroom 2 and Photoshop CS4 are real time savers.  I'm thinking about Tone Mapping with Clipping Points, Targeted Adjustment Tools, and the Adjustments Panel.

CS4, Curves, Clipping Points, Photoshop, Lightroom

CS4 Adjustments Curves Clipping Point
This image shows red channel clipping.  After checking Show Clipping, by moving White Point slider to the left, I deliberately over clipped the area.
When real clipping was set to 235, underlying red and orange arch colors were more dramatic.  217 blew out some of the red channel.

What is Tone Mapping?
It’s how to look at an image and "listen" to it; how changes to the delicate matrix of light and shadow can transform drama and mood in the meaning of an image; how to sculpt perspective with light and contrast; and how to imagine gorgeous color and tonal changes to best express your vision.
Tone refers to the level of brightness.  Common terms describing tonal values are shadow, mid tone, and highlight brightness categories.
Contrast - simply put, contrast is difference between tonal values.  The greater the difference in brightness between tonal regions, the more contrast.
Clipping – tonal values recorded as either total black or total white.
So, let’s create a simple workflow which listens to our need for speed and accuracy as we Tone Map images?

Clipping Points
Our first step is to use Clipping Points of Curves dialog to set neutral Highlights and Shadows.  In CS4, click Adjustments panel, open Curves dialog, then click on the Expanded View list (upper right).  Check the 5th item Show Clipping for Black/White Points.  I know; it was a little easier to find in CS3 - you simply checked a Show Clipping box.
The horizontal histogram scale has two triangular points; on the left, the Black point, on the right, the White point.  When you move either point towards the middle, your image visually changes to begin showing when global clipping occurs.  This clipping image may have up to six colors, primary RGB or secondary CYM. 
You just decide when clipping starts and how much, if any, you want as you neutralize shadows and highlights.

CS4, TAT, Targeted Adjustment Tool, Curves, HSL, Black and White

Targeted Adjustment Tool
But, we're not done quite yet… let's move to the talented, localized Targeted Adjustment Tool!
First, we must warn you; this tool doesn't work as a single feature.  Rather, it works on Curves, Hue, Saturation, Lightness, and Black-and-White Adjustments.  Because it is selective, it only changes these effects for colors under the cursor.  WOW... that's more than a triple threat!
The icon for the TAT tool is a hand with forefinger pointing upward.  Next to the forefinger is a double headed arrow; it suggests you move the cursor up-and-down to independently modify contrast (Curves).  For color, intensity, and brightness, the double headed arrow is horizontal; move the cursor right-or-left (Hue, Saturation, Lightness, and Black-and-White). 
As you move the cursor, contrast or color may change - becoming stronger or weaker.  In HSL and B/W situations, one or more of the color sliders may react to your cursor motion.  This indicates more than one color is involved under the cursor.

Most of this discussion deals with CS4; the Lightroom 2 TAT tool icon performs the same functions.

Rant - Textbooks with Poor Indexing Using Different Terminology
While Clipping Point and TAT aren't gorgeous glamour tools, their early workflow usage is quite important.  Both tools are sort of buried in several functions of the Adjustments panel.
When asked about upgrading Photoshop, one of my tenant's is, "Get the best text to explain the complexity of your brave New World."  By best, I mean a text which clearly and explicitly explains where and how Adobe has adapted each of the new features.  I do not mean a users manual.
I have a Photoshop library of detailed works from Fraser (CS3), Kelby (LR2), Eismann  (CS3), and Evening (CS4).  Unfortunately, a methodical, by item approach to reporting Photoshop doesn't naturally group powerful tools with a similar, yet pervasive function. 
Some books contained a full index; Evening clearly didn't think to carefully guide you with a complete, in-depth index.  Some books treated these tools in more depth than others.  Some writers used English with both greater clarity and higher precision...
The result can be a lot of time-consuming digging.

For advanced Photoshop users who seek more than a ‘cook book’ approach to learning new and unique workflow, I suggest, if possible, you preview potential library entries prior to buying.  Make sure your new addition meets all your criteria for a new, exciting learning path.

Meanwhile, why not take a look at Clipping Points and TAT tools to smoothly speed your workflow!

Jun 24, 2009

Lightroom 2.4 & Camera Raw 5.4

Lightroom 2.4, CS4, Photoshop, Adobe Camera Raw 5.4

Adobe has just released Lightroom 2.4 and Adobe Camera Raw 5.4…
As with Lightroom 1,  there are 4 updates.  2.4 deals with numerous new cameras.  Crop problems, language shortcuts, and metadata when exporting DNG files were fixed. Installation was flawless; the last used catalog promptly loaded and new work is underway.

I first tried John Nacks site for downloads; when it hung the machine a couple of times, I went to the source, Lightroom Journal and download was flawless.

Jun 20, 2009

Creative Bisti Imagination

Royal Court, Surreal, hoodoo, Bisti Badlands, Farmington, NM, bisti, mars, Bisti Adventure Tours

Royal Court
©Joe Bridwell
Sunset's long shadows begin as small steps leading into the Royal Court. Perhaps, these are mere vassals of an off-world court. Suddenly, the Royal presence dominates as 2 hoodoos, King and Queen, stand tall and dominant. To the right, on their knees, Courtier's pledge fealty. The Court’s rug is a cover of small sandstone pebbles atop whitish mud swirls which hardened into clay after a rainfall.

How Does He do It?
Is this story a fantasy or is it just a picture of some remarkable rocks?
Actually, our story is a little bit of both;
As you already know, these surreal hoodoo shapes were created when water cut away soft clay, leaving sandstone caps.
And, as I've conjured, these serial shapes take on the mystical fabric of what a medieval court might have been like.

Bisti Adventures
I walked into the Albuquerque Journal one day to meet reporter Rick Nathanson. After telling him my Bisti story, he decided to come to the Bisti, let me give him a tour, and provided a photographer, Jaelyn deMaria, to commemorate the event. Rick wrote a very interesting article for the Journal. That article helped sponsor and create my first Bisti digital tours several years ago...
This image is one of many I captured that day...

Creative Art
Now, I know some people look at rocks - and they're just rocks.
But in the Bisti, because hoodoo shapes are so magically varied, so remarkably unusual, for some, seeing such rocks brings forth other creative juices. You look at a hoodoo and begin to wonder, "Where on this planet have I seen something remotely resembling such beauty?" Or, "Has an intrepid space traveler seen such fantasies on another off world planet?"
It's just such a little bump of curiosity which can transport you from 'rocks are just rocks' to a child's incredible delight. Simply tell a child 'Turn your imagination loose and describe the fantasies you see in these rocks!'

If you haven't tried a similar theme with children, it's a truly amazing what they come up with...
Now, what can you do as an adult?

Jun 15, 2009

Luck of the Irish

HDR, Sunset, Magic Hour

Monsoon Finale
© Joe Bridwell
Sun’s last blaze does a truly wonderful job of turning nearby cloud underbellies to gold filigree while creating a fantastic golden carapace for our distant horizon.

June's Weather
I, for one, have been absolutely delighted with June's cool weather. Mindful weather controls so much of gorgeous photography, I always look ahead to predictions a week out for storms so Magic Light can be my photographic companion. As I look ahead today, it begins to look like we are finally going to have high pressure create blazing hot days and turn on the air conditioner. Until real monsoon season, that means potentially blah photography.

Yesterday was one of those days when, contrary to a relatively normal weather stability, nothing seemed constant. A noon shopping spree had foreboding clouds over the Sandia's with dust skittering in the parking lot. I get home; the skies are clear. Late afternoon; a thunderstorm sits in the Bear Canyon drainage making me turn off studio computers. Early evening; looking east, the mountains are a dull gray. Was it worth getting out?

What's Tonight's Weather Going to Do? But I recently found a place where you can do sunset with an unimpeded view across the Rio Grande to distant Mount Taylor and environs.
With such variable weather, I knew trekking to that place, setting up, and trying to capture a high dynamic range (HDR) sunset might become a total waste. But, that is the life of those who chase Magic Light!
About five minutes after sunset, 15 HDR panoramic images (+/- 2 EV) quickly slipped onto the CF card.

As we've pointed out before, even with high ISO sensors, noise is a pernicious aspect of HDR capture. Add the fact that there would probably be chromatic aberration at the land-sky boundary and you've got a few things to reduce.
First, I Stacked all images based on a four second capture in Lightroom 2. Five images at a time, I Tone Compressed with default settings in Photomatix. Three resulting tiff files were Merge (d) to Panorama in CS4.
CS4 returned the pano to LR2 where we promptly provided Luminance noise reduction in Details tab. Carefully examining the horizon, we found chromatic aberration as well. We Defringed All Edges with both red/cyan and blue/yellow slider modifications.
The pano was slightly Tone Mapped in LR2. Medium contrast in Tone Curve made our response better. A little Fill Light to move shadows to darks, Clarity, and just a touch of Vibrance for that delightful cloud filigree...

Luck of the Irish Consider the following variables; highly variable weather during the day, no clear indication of a gorgeous sunset, everything literally 'up in the air...'
I'd have to come down on the Irish conclusion...
Monsoon Finale is a gorgeous sunset (and not a half bad image)!

Jun 14, 2009

Bisti Rainforest

Bisti Rainforest, Surreal, hoodoo, Bisti Badlands, Farmington, NM, bisti

Ancient Rainforest Tree
© Joe Bridwell
A huge log now lies on the ground in front of Bisti Hoodoos. A segment has broken away, rolling forward.
Don't be fooled by what you can see now; as dry as the Bisti presently is, there's much more to this remarkable rainforest story...

Cretaceous Seaway Seventy million years ago, northwestern New Mexico was covered by a Cretaceous sea. What would become the Bisti at the sea's edge was then barrier islands, peat bogs, and mangrove swamps. Mangrove trees grew quite tall in immense rainforests.
Dinosaurs inhabited the future Bisti region. If you saw Jurassic Park, perhaps you remember the striking movie version of a dinosaur eating leaves from atop of a very tall tree.

This Tree
You're only seeing a fraction of this tree; from the base (out of sight – left), along the trunk, to the broken edges perhaps near the top (out of sight – right), this tree was at least 120 feet long. At the base, it takes a very long-legged man to successfully straddle the trunk.
Other sediments covered this rainforest after the dinosaur’s demise. This tree and other remnants in the Bisti lay buried for many, many years.
When more recent streams (Denazin and Hunter washes, etc.) feeding the Chaco River began to erode headward, as they cut sand and clay away some of these ancient forest trees were uncovered.

Bisti Beast
Not far from here, Dr. Tom Williamson found the skull from the Bisti Beast - a 'cousin' to Tyrannosaurus Rex. The Beast can be seen at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History...

Bisti Beast, Surreal, Bisti Badlands, Farmington, NM, bisti

Jun 13, 2009

Anasazi Adventures

Photo tours draw two types of photographers; amateurs, who use their camera as a vehicle for immersion in beauty and really serious semi-pro or trophy photographers, who come to get great pictures to enhance their portfolio.
The Mesa Verde culture in Anasazi country allows tour leaders to deal with both amateurs and semi-pros. Anasazi history is strongly supported by Basketmaker and Pueblo site renovations in National Parks such as Chaco and Mesa Verde.
Amateurs can travel Chaco, NM, Mesa Verde, CO, etc. both photographing and enhancing their sense of culture and heritage. Rangers lead guided tours - but control time and place for photos. Magic Hour tours can be arranged with sufficient notice.
Semi-pros may want more; gorgeous Magic Hour shots of natural ruins near dawn/dusk with an expert photographer/storyteller sharing extended discussions of Anasazi history. Cedar Mesa, Utah, provides an outdoor museum where such explorations support nature’s abundance and remarkable Anasazi ruins anytime.
Pursuit of pictorial trophies requires sacrifice, packing gear and food in odd places at times of real beauty (dawn and dusk), patience with changing weather, and perseverance. Advanced amateurs might find such treks an exciting period of photographic growth while loving Magic Hour challenges.

For Anasazi Adventures, we provide a few bits of Anasazi history; where they lived, when they lived, then some natural ruins left behind as a timeless heritage.
For Anasazi background, we provide:
1. Why I Shoot Anasazi
2. Mesa Verde Culture ~ The Anasazi
3. Where Did Anasazi Live?
4. When Did Anasazi Live There?

You can find Anasazi Adventures references in the sidebar (right hand side) of Pathways of Light.

Natural Anasazi Ruins

Let me take you on a short photo tour showing some gorgeous aspects of accessible, natural ruins on Cedar Mesa, Utah. We like to trek out-of-the-way places, shoot at Magic Hour, and return with dramatic images and enhanced memories of Anasazi and their cultural heritage.

Cave Towers, Cedar Mesa, Anasazi Adventures, hdr

Cave Towers
© Joe Bridwell
A small tower on a Cedar Mesa canyon edge. A larger ruin occupies a light region up canyon.
Magic Hour finds the setting Sun nearly at the horizon. High dynamic range (HDR) capture included the full color range, bringing the canyon out of shadows.

Cedar Mesa, Utah
North of Mexican Hat and west of Blanding, Cedar Mesa was a canyon and ridge haven for Anasazi at different time periods before suddenly departing. Mesas and canyons, clear air, and that all most unlimited silence vast distances bring...
With due diligence, one can trek to private places Anasazi loved so deeply. I always feel a deep sense of awe when I see their ancient stone heritage. Each of the ruins is in a personalized environment, each contains such careful handwork, and each clearly shows how close the Anasazi were to our land.
With additional care, having explored a lonely canyon or climbed the steep intervening ridge, digital photography can capture indelible memories.

Magic Hour Capture
Deep, early morning canyon shadows, late afternoon low sun angles; when you shoot three to five photographs on tripod, after processing, these images create provocative memories. In this case, red rocks were used to build a tower on the distant canyon edge. In other cases, reds and gold’s of canyon walls color floors and roofs where truly splendid rock dwellings were hidden.

Trekking this ancient heritage, learning to think like an Anasazi, seeing the simplicity, yet elegance of such a lifestyle - all seem to bring one closer to this ancient land... teaching "How to think like an Anasazi...!"

Moon House, Cedar Mesa, Anasazi Adventures

Moon House
© Joe Bridwell
A more significant Anasazi ruin. Multiple rooms, a Kiva, far up a canyon, protected both by towering bluffs and hard climbs... a somewhat larger ruin with several nearby structures.

I love how Moon House is nestled along a bed of shale between huge cliffs. The Anasazi used these clays to make water jars. They weather proofed buildings against wind and cold with clay. Most buildings faced south; under towering ledges, they were shadowed during the day’s heat; in cold winter months, stone structures tried to catch every last Sun's ray.
As to water jars, there's a deep pool in the canyon below. To have water, they must fill jars and lug them up a series of clefts.
I can only guess where they farmed mesa tops.
In either case, they must have been world-class climbers...

Anasazi History
Cedar Mesa contains evidence of an intermittent Anasazi habitation for 1100 years from 200-1300 A.D., including Basketmaker II to Pueblo II/III styles. Various dominant living styles are found in an elevation range of 600 feet (6000-6600). Basketmaker II occupation was spread well across both mesa top and canyon. A unique environment, existing sites, and use of burial locations give this mesa top/canyon setting added importance in overall Basketmaker II settlement pattern. On the contrary, Pueblo III was mostly defensive canyon dwellings such as Moon House and the Citadel.

Fallen Roof, Cedar Mesa, Anasazi Adventures

Fallen Roof
© Joe Bridwell
A single-family dwelling nestled under a towering bluff. The collapsing roof is a signature; would any Anasazi mother want her children playing in a front yard filled with big rocks? Like many other ruins, Fallen Roof is not easy to spot.
Yet, it's one of the most aesthetically pleasing ruins of the departed Mesa Verde culture.

Fallen Roof and the Citadel inhabit the same canyon in Cedar Mesa. When I was there, a family came along. The little boy eagerly climbed everything in sight; the little girl enjoy it her surroundings more.
I sat there for a while, waiting on the rising Sun to illuminate Fallen Roof. When capture was complete, it was time to seek another ruin, sense the Anasazi another way, and continue the process of learning to think like an Anasazi!

Citadel, Cedar Mesa, Anasazi Adventures, hdr

© Joe Bridwell
Shot across a deep canyon looking north to Rabbit Ears. To the picture's left, a long difficult ridge is cut between two deep canyons providing protective insurance against intruders.

Typical Ruin
Fallen Roof, Citadel, and Monarch all appear to be single-or-multiple family dwellings with three to seven windows. This structural type occurs frequently, both on Cedar Mesa and elsewhere.
A granary, for storage of corn and beans may be nearby. Or, it may be hidden somewhere for safety.
Each ruin needs to be near a water supply and a place for growth of corn and beans.
I'm amazed at each habitat also includes such sweeping beauty... between their architectural heritage and where they lived, it seems quite simple,
"The Anasazi were a people close to their land who deeply loved beauty...!"

Monarch Ruin, Cedar Mesa, Anasazi Adventures, hdr

Monarch Ruin
© Joe Bridwell
Verdant spring, small draw bisecting a long earth flexure, soft light; Monarch sits in lone majesty at the canyon head. Sharp shadows from rising sun enhance solitary beauty. Green bushes add point-counterpoint.

Geologic Folds
In this part of red rock country, the Colorado plateau has many long geologic folds. A fold is a flexure of the earth; one side went up, the other side went down. Some of these folds are 50 to 100 miles long. All provide picturesque photography and unique habitats.
In Utah and Arizona, Anasazi were want to build in higher parts of such folds.
Monarch is almost like a quiet backwater. Yet, near sunrise, a cacophony of shadows, trees, and verdant plant life add to its amazing allure.

Monarch is another HDR capture (five shots, +/- 2 EV) processed in Photoshop CS4...

Jun 12, 2009

HDR Tips-Tricks, Bisti Chronicles, Anasazi Adventures

HDR - Tips & Tricks, Bisti Chronicles

Most bloggers write about several themes at some point in their week; fine art, photography, workflow, etc.
Recently, we’ve been blogging about HDR, with Tips & Tricks.  We've also been highlighting remarkable photography from the Bisti Badlands.

Rather than try to repeat ever growing lists per single blog, we decided it's more economical to provide individual lists as these blog themes grow.

So, we introduce:
HDR – Tips & Tricks
Bisti Chronicles
Anasazi Adventures

If you're interested in any topic, please keep up with expanding entries in each of these lists on the side bar (right-hand side) of Pathways of Light.


Jun 11, 2009

Issues in HDR Tone Mapping

HDR, Tone Mapping, CS4, Photoshop, Adjustments Panel, Masks Panel, Color Range Masking, Noise, Chromatic Aberration, Photomatix

Candyland Sky
©Joe Bridwell
Convoluted, chocolaty red rock shapes contain subdued white sandstone stringers. Long sky cloud stringers subtly emphasize the point-counterpoint red rock surface. I find God's handiwork quite artistic...

What's the Best HDR Software for Noise Reduction and Chromatic Aberration? We've compared Photomatix and CS4 for Magic Hour HDR. When you use Lightroom to remove noise and chromatic aberration before HDR, Photomatix returns an image with chromatic aberration - though you requested it be removed.
CS4 provides a clean image; although processing may be more convoluted, when the end result is printed on large printer, I feel it's worth using CS4.
We describe the entire CS4 process to achieve complete tone mapping. It's an experimental but reproducible process; one where you learn more and get better as you do more of it.

HDR Capture
Five high dynamic Range images were captured at +/- 2EV. The negative EV range contained Noise; images also contained Chromatic Aberration. One might expect such behavior when shooting at Magic Hour, that hour around dawn and dusk.

CS4 vs. Photomatix
With Lightroom 2, we globally eliminated dust smudges, reduced noise, and reduced chromatic aberration for each image before submitting them for high dynamic range processing.
When Photomatix created a 32-bit Tone Compressed HDR result from these images, chromatic aberration was present. When CS4 created a 32-bit Local Adaptation HDR result, chromatic aberration was absent.

Tone Mapping in Several Stages
When CS4 receives images to Merge to HDR from LR2, it may take a little while to create a 32-bit file. We recommend you save that 32-bit file because you may want to work with it later.
Image> Mode> 16 Bit brings up the HDR conversion routine in CS4 to create a 16-bit tif file. Use the drop-down menu to choose Local Adaptation, set Radius about 90 pixels, choose Threshold about 1%, and carefully map the Tone Curve. Martin Evening has pointed out that tone curve mapping of an HDR image is both complicated and different from the normal tone curve choices for a single image.
The HDR result may same bland; little distinctive color, sort of soft.

Mask Sky and Ground with Color Range
Magic Hour is enhanced by dramatic clouds. It's usually easier to select sky and clouds to create a mask between sky and ground. For this task, I use Color Range. By setting small values for Fuzziness and Range, the mask selection usually fits the boundary fairly well.
It's a very good practice to examine the image at 2:1 (200% zoom). Although keystroke techniques differ between LR 2 and CS4, this scan size lets you look for various effects which would be immediately apparent on a large print. In particular, you quickly get to see if Color Range selected portions of the sky and ground which need to be corrected in the mask.
When you've completed the Sky mask, duplicate channel, invert the channel, and name it Ground.

Hue/Saturation Color Adjustments with Masks
Create 2 adjustment layers using Hue/Saturation. Attach the Sky mask to one, then find the right sky color using Hue. Attach the Ground mask to the other, then find the right ground color using Hue.
When appropriate colors are found, vary Saturation and Lightness until the colors reflect nearly true colors from the 0 EV image on the initial capture.

Final Tone Mapping in Lightroom 2
Lightroom 2’s close connection with Adobe Camera Raw provides easy Basic, Tone Curve, and Details tabs for final, accurate touch up. We pay particular attention to contrast, clarity, and vibrance. We apply the landscape preset then carefully enhance the masking portion of sharpening to finalize our image.

I thank Bob Weber for a very enlightening session where, among many other topics, we dealt with fringing and correction of chromatic aberration. It prompted me to prepare a more detailed workflow describing how to use LR 2 and CS4.


Jun 10, 2009

Is the Bisti like Mars?

Far View, Surreal, hoodoo, Bisti Badlands, Farmington, NM, bisti, mars, Bisti Adventure Tours

Far View
©Joe Bridwell
A surreal, even sepulchral land can be found in the Bisti. It's even more interesting when you consider the origin of Red Dog Hills, the centerpiece. But, don't let the actual Bisti location dictate your imagination; perhaps you actually landed on Mars to take this dramatic off-world image...

One of graduate school's luxuries was the opportunity to study Mars from some earliest satellite photos.
Nevertheless, 40 years ago, I would not have imagined one day trekking a land which so vibrantly reminds me of visual concepts of Mars. Naturally, I can remember TV of the first moon landing.
Now, I must admit, that was in days before they found evidence of water on Mars.

Opportunity, the Mars rover, surveyed the rim and interior of Victoria Crater on the Red Planet from September 2006 through August 2008. Originally designed for a 90 day life, in January, Mars rovers, our remote sources for knowledge of water on Mars, were five years old and still chugging. In a May 21, 2009 news release, NASA said,
"Water repeatedly came and left billions of years ago. Wind persisted much longer, heaping sand into dunes between ancient water episodes. These activities still shape the Martian landscape today."

Red Dog Hills
In Oh My, I provided an explanation of the origin of red dog hills, from memory.
"Seventy million years ago, a Cretaceous Seaway deposited peat and coal across the Bisti in nearby lagoons before dinosaurs became extinct. Thunderstorms, akin to severe monsoon conditions, created dominated lightning strikes to impact the coal - setting it afire. These coal fires smoldered underground for long periods of time, turning sediments to an orange-red."

I Stand Corrected...
Bill Pelzmann, a very knowledgeable reader, sent these remarks:
"These clinkers were formed by coal fires in relatively recent history, certainly AFTER uplift, erosion and exposure of the coal beds. There are numerous coal fires currently burning underground in the San Juan Basin."
In geological lingo, clinker is the name for orange-red sediments which make up the Red Dog Hills.
And, I didn't know we had underground coal fires currently burning in northwestern New Mexico! WOW!!!
Thanks, Bill!

Now, Bill, If You Could Just Help Again...
Far View is a very distinctive Bisti image.
Unfortunately, I've tried to find where I shot this image this image, but failed.
Bill, do you know where it was taken?

For me, Far View seems like a bridge between all today's technology and ancient, true marvels of other planets...


Jun 5, 2009

Bisti : Small Scale

Pharaohs Saddle, Surreal, hoodoo, Bisti Badlands, Farmington, NM, bisti

Pharaoh’s Saddle
©Joe Bridwell
Most geologists learn to look both at the land where they're walking as well as at their surroundings. This lifelong habit provides so much incredible delight in the multi-faceted Bisti.
Delicate strata of interleaved white and gold; sandstone caps; dark broken rock fragments from nearby; all seem to complement the Sun's stark shadow. Just components in water's consummate artistry as it's carved such Bisti microcosms...

Surreal, Ever-Changing Character
The Bisti is an amalgam of characters - almost like a stage play. Walk here and see this character; walk there and see a completely different character. So, just simply finding your true Bisti can be a challenge.
When you add ever changing light, you begin to have time's very slow kaleidoscope effect. All right, you ask, "What does kaleidoscope effect mean?"
Practically speaking, it's not a difficult task to see each of the Bisti's spatial characters. Just get out there, walk around, and remember where you went.
Luckily speaking, it is a rather difficult task to find the Bisti's enhanced character as light changes. Of course, this truism represents any other natural wonder.

Exploration vs. Artistry
To figure out where interesting hoodoos are, you need to trek the Bisti during daylight. Be careful; it can be incredibly hot in the summer. Beyond that, you need to imagine what each of these spectacular sights might look like under specific, yet differing lighting conditions.
To become a Bisti artist, you need to know how to get where you want to be either before sunrise or near sunset. Magic Hour, that hour around dawn and dusk, may require you to shoot after the Sun's gone down. In either case, the artistry lies in the often spectacular combination of right light and surreal hoodoo.

But... this process offers an artist's strongest hope. Such persistent choices increase your lucky odds. Such choices put you in the artistic position of images.

Bisti Treks
Click to see other Bisti Images
Oh My…!


Jun 4, 2009

HDR - Tips & Tricks ~ Noise

Escalante Memories, Escalante, Grand Staircase-Escalante, Utah, early evening

©Joe Bridwell
From Albuquerque, there is an entire land of enchantment north of Lake Powell. One hundred forty years ago, Charles Dutton conceptualized the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument as a huge stairway ascending out of the bottom of the Grand Canyon northward with cliff edge of each layer forming giant steps.
In the Escalante, there are some truly remarkable images of hoodoos, arches, and land which stands on its end. No wonder the Anasazi loved this country...

Getting There Ain't Easy... For, you see, some 90 miles of Lake Powell is really in the way. On the other hand, dramatic charm of some of these images may change your mind. For all you know, the exquisite Escalante may lie in your photographic future.

HDR Processing Even with one of the newer DSLR camera bodies where the sensor captures less noise, Magic Hour shots, those shots in the hour before and after dawn and dusk, (-2, -1, 0, +1, and +2) can be noisy. Photomatix 3.1.3 may not necessarily remove all blue sky noise.
I typically process five high dynamic range (HDR) shots using Tone Compressor at default in Photomatix. If you're using Lightroom 2 (LR2), Photomatix has provided a plug-in so that you can process HDR images from Lightroom and return a 16-bit tiff.
The resulting 16-bit tiff may show considerable noise at 1:1. So what do you do to get rid of it?

Photoshop LR2 and CS4 Processing
Once the HDR image is back in LR2, I usually click Ctrl-+ twice to scale it to 1:1. The Home key takes me to the upper left-hand corner. After that, sequential Page Downs move me vertically down the left-hand side, return me to the top of the next column, move me down, etc..
This way, I perform an initial image scan, with first objective to remove any dust spots.

Photoshop CS4 Processing In CS4, a similar scan can be created at any scale. The Home and Page Down keys perform the same function as LR2. To move laterally to the right, use CTRL-Page Down. To move laterally to the left, use CTRL-Page up.
I load the tiff image, press CTRL-J to duplicate, then begin a second scan.
This scan also allows me to evaluate precision of sky-land interfaces. If I select the Quick Selection tool, I can rapidly create an initial sky selection. The sunlit sections of my HDR images usually lack accuracy in the selection. I use the scan technique and an initial brush size of four pixels. If the Quick Selection tool has missed an area I can either add or subtract from that area to get the mask line in an initial position.

But the critical step is at a scale of 800%. At 800%, I can see how many pixels are off in the noise mask outline I'm trying to create. For this step, I press the Q key to enable Quick Mask, set my brush size to 3 pixels, make my foreground color Black, and carefully paint the red Quick Selection mask until it exactly matches the sky-land boundary.

When I'm done, I go to the Channels palette, make a mask (press Save Selection As Channel-second button from the left), and name it Sky. I then press the first button from the left (Load Channel from Selection) and am ready to create a mask in the Layers panel after returning the masks to RGB.
On choosing the Layers panel, I convert the Background copy to a Smart Object, and label it Noise. I then press the Add Layer Mask button to put the sky-land mask on the Smart Object.

Finally, We Can Filter that Pernicious Noise... Filter> Noise> Reduce Noise brings up a dialog box where you manipulate the sliders to remove noise. Basically, you can see how much noise will be created in the window the dialog provides at 100%. Reduce Noise is a situation where you get to roll your own (move the sliders as you like)...


CS4 HDR workflow, cs4, hdr

Seem like a lot of rigmarole?
Maybe… or Yep...
But, try getting a noisy sky HDR photo in competition past a judge to become a winner. Forget that!

Here’s a layer panel for the entire Tone Mapping process.
Of course, after I complete noise resolution, I want to sharpen the entire image (only after removing noise), provide a spatial 3-D effect through individual customized sharpening brushes from Pixel Genius’ Photokit Sharpener, then work on additional 3-D Dodge and Burn dramatic enhancements before final Selective Coloring. This entire process is called Tone Mapping.

I was kidding you; the gorgeously dramatic aspects of Escalante memories attest to the remarkable vibrancy Dutton's Escalante creates.
I wrote this particular blog because each of these images is a ‘near’ Magic Hour HDR composite. Each also started with HDR noise.
Now, our skies are either quiet or dramatic, but clear and noiseless; nothing would be quite so debilitating as either getting low marks for your efforts or printing an image at 16 x 20 or 20 x 30 inches with a perniciously noisy sky.

HDR-Tips & Tricks
You might want to review some other HDR Tips & Tricks…
Chromatic Aberrations

Kaleidoscope contains a few images I've worked up from recent Escalante ventures...

Jun 3, 2009

Back Country Horsemen of New Mexico

Back Country Horsemen, Middle Rio Grande Chapter, Bisti Badlands, Farmington, NM

Oh My…!
©Joe Bridwell
Two members of Middle Rio Grande Chapter of BCH ride across the Bisti. Would you believe the man is in his mid-70’s?

BCH Recreational Ride
One highlight of my Bisti shoots was acting as photographer for a recreational ride by Middle Rio Grande Chapter from Back Country Horsemen of New Mexico. These guys and gals hauled their horses from Los Lunas to the Bisti for this ride.
As you can see here, the Bisti, which can be quite hot during summer, is building monsoon clouds.

Red Dog Hills
Here's a free geology lesson...
Seventy million years ago, a Cretaceous Seaway deposited peat and coal across the Bisti in nearby lagoons before dinosaurs became extinct. Thunderstorms, akin to severe monsoon conditions, created dominated lightning strikes to impact the coal - setting it afire. These coal fires smoldered underground for long periods of time, turning sediments to an orange-red.
As Paul Harvey said, "Now, the Rest of the Story..."
Much later, Bisti water erosion cut away sediments surrounding these soon-to-be prominent coals. Ruddy fragments of these coal fires could then tumble down each hill, creating a distinctively passionate carapace.
... now, you know why they're called Red Dog Hills!

Bisti Treks
Click to see other Bisti Images


Jun 2, 2009

HDR - Tips & Tricks ~ Autostacking

Spring Monsoon, New Mexico, after sunset

Spring Monsoon
©Joe Bridwell
When monsoon season comes to New Mexico, some Sunsets are beyond gorgeous!
These flamboyant colors were captured as high dynamic range (HDR) about 15 minutes after sunset. 

HDR Capture
You find a good vantage point, set up your camera on a tripod, attach the remote, set auto exposure bracketing to 5 images (0, -2, -1, +1, and +2), and fire away.  In a few seconds, you've taken those 5 exposures.
Of course, you may not be taking simple HDR's.  What do I mean by simple?
Last night, a long stretch of clouds 100 miles away caught the dying embers of sunset.  To successfully capture the subtle, yet breathtaking beauty, it was also necessary to shoot an HDR panorama.  Naturally, that meant collecting five images at one orientation, rotating the camera to leave 25% of image on whichever side you choose rotation, then ultimately combining four or five stacks.


Lightroom 2, auto-stack, hdr, panorama

Back in the studio, there's a trick which simplifies your HDR workflow.  In Lightroom 2, once you've uploaded the images, simply choose Photo> Stacking> Auto-Stack by Capture Time.  Then wiggle the slider until you get zero unstacked and whatever number of stacks you had on the CF card.  Presto, change-o, your stacks appear in library mode, grid view, as if by magic (shown above).
In this example, although it seems like a flash when taking photos, it looks like each picture takes about a second to shoot.  You will want to play around with the slider; in this case, I got 35 stacks and left 1 unstacked.  A key to the slider selection is ~ if you can see five pictures selected as a stack (that’s what the camera did), you're probably doing pretty good on your time.  You may still have to go through and refine stacks after the split of an airy step.

For Bridge gurus, I suspect you can find the same sort of workflow.  Matter of fact, just check out Scott Kelby's Photoshop CS4 book and see if that's not so.

Image Processing
Images processed by Lightroom 2 to Photomatix 3.1.3 using Tone Compressor (default settings).  Composite image - 6 sets of 5 HDR images.  Panorama created using CS4 (Settings – Cylindrical, Blend Images Together, Vignette Removal, Geometric Distortion Correction).  Noise reduction in CS4; color balance in Adobe Camera Raw 5.3.


Jun 1, 2009

HDR - Tips & Tricks

Candyland, Arizona, early evening

©Joe Bridwell
Late afternoon Hoodoos encapsulate beauty while crying subtle patriotism. In a remote Arizona corner, one can imagine a candymaker ladling chocolate in ropy swirls; in a fantasy land, maybe chocolate is red! Perhaps Mother Nature was the candymaker; she can choose to color any desert as she wishes.
For me, Candyland is also a delicately gorgeous high dynamic range (HDR) image which became a challenge during development.

Photomatix vs. CS4 HDR
Five HDR images ranging from -2, -1, 0, +1, +2 in EV (exposure value) are processed into a 32-bit image to capture the subject’s full color range. Then, one might choose to modify 32-bit image before saving it as a 16-bit tiff. I tried the same process in CS4 and Photomatix; each of the results contains major problems.


CS4 contains less chromatic aberration and a very distracting feature I will call 'edge grunge'. Edge grunge is a 4-5 pixel wide disruption - darker edge on dark colors and lighter edge at the sky (each about 2 pixels wide). It's usually noticeable at 100% magnification. Unfortunately, CS4 didn't achieve very much success in reproducing the rich colors of rocks and sky.

Photomatix, chromatic abberations, edge grunge

Photomatix tends to produce more appropriate colors. Unfortunately, it really emphasizes edge grunge and leaves red or blue chromatic aberrations much more strongly; not only on edges between sky and land, but within the rocks as well.
Scrooge would have said, “Bah…Humbug!”
Rather than use sliders provided by Photomatix, I've learned to take the 32-bit file at default settings, convert it to 16-bit. For best over all results, I use default values ~ then Tone Map in CS4.

CS4’s New OpenGL Ability as a Preferred Working Tool
CS4 does graphics calculations to a GPU (graphical processor unit). If your computer contains an appropriate graphics card, CS4 will let you blow your image to magnifications of 800-1200% for high-resolution touch up. At that scale, you're able to see individual pixels, scale your clone or repair brush to 3,4, or 5 pixels, and Clone these irritating scenes away.
To prepare CS4 for OpenGL, you go to Edit> Preferences> and choose Enable OpenGl Drawing for an appropriate graphics card. If you don't have an appropriate graphics card, the Enable button will not allow a checkmark (and you can't take advantage of additional features from the next section). An NVIDIA GeForce 7300 LT is about the minimum card to be of reasonable support.

Rotate, Smooth Pan and Zoom, Pixel Grid in CS4
A nice aspect of 'normalizing' edge grunge and chromatic aberrations is the speed CS4, OpenGL, and a good graphics card provide when Tone Mapping an HDR image.
I always evaluate the entire image at 1-to-1 (100% zoom) several times. I may be looking for dust spots, edge grunge, chromatic aberrations, or other eye-catching issues.
CTRL-+ scales your image up; above 600%, a pixel overlay is provided. For me, 800% quickly helps evaluate each problem and Clone corrections. ALT-click on a ‘good’ color lets me create a Clone source to replace bad colors. Holding down Space Bar turns the Clone Tool into a Hand; simply flick the zoomed image to a new position containing another repair area to swiftly proceed.
For those of you who do Paths (sharp vector outlines of specific objects to create masks), check out the Rotate tool! Instead of making corner points and bending lines during the creation of a path, you can use rotate the tool, use your Wacom pen tablet, and draw a straight line around the object. Wow; what a marvelously skilled Photoshop tool!

Although longer than usual, this HDR tip will certainly put you in a better position to submit your final images for judging.