Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Mr. Blue Sky

There's something odd about Valley Falls State Park near Fairmont.  It seems that the sky is overcast whenever I go there, and that's despite the fact that the sky is clear elsewhere.

The fall colors were probably at their peak on Sunday, and at least the sun was breaking through in places.  Some think that sky adds to the drama of the picture.  Some think that it's a shame that it was overcast.

This is for them:

I have had some experience with using PhotoShop to fix a dull sky, but I had always steered clear of situations where there was a lot of feathery detail like heavy foliage.  You should see the challenge that such a shot would present:  the foliage is difficult to isolate and mask.

I found and tried this tutorial: Photoshop Tutorial: How to Replace a sky in photoshop cs5.  The trick was to use channels, isolating the one channel which presents the greatest contrast between the foliage and the sky.  In this case, I worked with the blue channel.  You then progressively tweak levels to further isolate the difference between foliage and sky.

While the results are nice, I can't help feeling cheap.  I've cheated in some way, improving upon nature.

On that pensive thought, here's my SYTL: ELO - Mr. Blue Sky (official video - 2012 version)

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Something from the Oven

Took a recent set of pictures of the Henry Clay iron furnace at Coopers Rock State Park.  This isn't quite an HDR shot.  Rather, it was created with an Adobe Lightroom plugin called LR/Enfuse.

LR/Enfuse does a nice little trick with a number of bracketed shots, creating a well-balanced lighting effect without the intensity of a high dynamic range picture.

While shooting there, I met a photographer from Pittsburgh, who was also shooting the furnace.  We swapped lenses, so I got to try his Tamron 28-80 mm lens.

I learned that this opening has a special name -- it's called a tuyere. That's the name for an entry through which the blast of air enters a furnace.  If you're interested, here's where I got my old iron furnace anatomy lesson:  http://www.oldindustry.org/OH_HTML/OH_Buckeye.html#Description.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Revisiting Illustrator Revisited

Previously, I shared an Adobe Illustrator drawing that I was thinking of using as a subject in the framing/matting course that I'm taking.

I showed it to one of my Ukrainian friends, and her daughter made lots of useful suggestions.  As a result of the suggestions, I completely overhauled the color work of the original, collapsing a variety of disparate colors into a very limited palette of art history colors.  The results are not unpleasing.

First of all, the daughter thought that the white background of the original was too glaring.  Rather than fussing with mat color schemes and conspiracies, the suggestion was to just use a harmonious background color and frame directly to that.  After experimenting with the creamy-yellow color that's in the flower petals, I tried the green that's in the leaves.  That received several thumbs-up.

I just ordered an 8"x10" print through Superior Photo.  I can't wait to make this one of my first framing projects.  Prior to this, all of my classwork has been with cutting mats.  That experience has been frustrating, to say the least.  It was almost an epiphany for me to realize that I didn't have to mat this particular work.

Bang, bang!  Maslow's hammer came down upon my head.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Illustrator Revisited

I'm taking a ten-week adult learning class on picture framing and matting.  Most of my effort is with my photographs, but I thought that I might resurrect one of my Adobe Illustrator drawings from a few years back.

I took one of my favorite pysanky designs, the "piven," which is a stylized rooster.  This is it, in the front-right.

Going the extra mile, I touched up some of the rougher areas around the cock's comb and tail feathers.  The nicest effect that I tweaked was making the flower stems on the bottom look like they were passing through the scroll work of the "feet."  Previous attempts had the stems breaking at the junctures.  This left tiny gaps that you could see in the blown up image. This time, I copied portions of the scrolling and placed them in a layer over the flower stem.

When I mat this, I'm thinking of a couple of concentric rectangles.  Even the $2,000 mat cutters in class can't do oval cutting.  The inner quarter-inch mat would use the light green color from the picture, and the larger outer mat would use the reddish brick color.  Something about the way that this browser is rendering the artwork is making the brick color look like cherry-red.  I sure hope the final printed copy remains brick!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

On the Bandwagon

A while back, there was a twitter meme that struck my fancy:  https://twitter.com/hashtag/trumpyourcat.

I have a cat that fits the profile well, so I had to contribute:

"Show me someone without an ego, and I'll show you a loser" --
  Donald "Cooter" Trump

Monday, August 10, 2015

Fleur du Jour

Meet the Asiatic dayflower (Commelina communis), which gets its name because the blooms last only one day. It is classified as a noxious weed in North America, but it is used as a medicinal herb in China, its native habitat. 

According to Chinese folk medicine, it has febrifugal, antipyretic, anti-inflammatory, and diuretic effects. It is also used for treating sore throats and tonsillitis.

In Japan the flowers were used to produce a pigment in many world-renowned woodcuts from the 18th and early 19th centuries.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Chinese Measels

An Ars Technica article. NSA report shows China hacked 600+ US targets over 5 years, features a map, which shows the more than 600 sites around the continental U.S. that have been hit by Chinese hackers.

Can you spot WVU on this map?  I knew you could.

It looks like North Dakota is the only "safe" place in this country if you want to live off the grid.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

My Pictures Stink

Earlier this year, I bought the book Your Photos Stink!: David Busch's Lessons in Elevating Your Photography from Awful to Awesome.  Sorry to say that I haven't gone all the way through this book, but I learned enough to be dangerous.

Here's a lesson that I applied:

This picture is of a Fuller's Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) that I shot near Wally World.  Granted, it's nothing special, but to me it has a certain je ne sais quoi.  I even tried to go artsy-fartsy with it and render it in black & white.  It was then that I noted the "stink" factor:  the ant on the top-right of teasel is distracting.  I mean, it's a nice ant and all, but she wasn't meant to be the subject of my picture.  She had to go.

Here is the artsy-fartsy black & white teasel but without the ant:

You probably think I'm talking about putting lipstick on a pig, if you want to call my teasel a pig. Truth be told, I'm thinking that the color shot is more aesthetically pleasing.  But you have to admit that the shot is much better without the little photo bomber.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Using PhotoShop Stack Mode to minimize high ISO graininess

Meet the Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa), a species of milkweed native to eastern North America.  This seems to be a particularly good year for them.  I see prominent patches of their orange blooms off the side of the road as I drive around lately.

I took a series of focus-stack shots in the evening yesterday and ended up using 19 of them to make this picture.  Lately, I've been using the Auto ISO setting on my camera, so because of the time of day and the f/16 stop I was using, the Auto ISO ended up going all the way to 3200.

The first step in my process is to align all of the shots to each other.  Although I was using a tripod, a slight breeze was causing noticeable movement.  It wasn't so bad that the alignment process couldn't deal with it.

A bigger problem arose when I tried to do the Auto-blend step in PhotoShop to create the focus stack.  I had a very pesky photo bomber waltzing through my picture.  That's her, below, dancing from flower to flower.

Normally, like in the case of a fly, I'll just eliminate the shots that have the photo bomber.  In this case, however, the bomber was in quite a few of them.

I decided to invoke a technique that I have rarely used.  After I restacked the images, I used the PhotoShop command Layer --> Smart Objects --> Stack Mode --> Median, which analyzed the picture and removed anything that wasn't in all of the shots, i.e., the ant.

Try as I might, however, I couldn't find a way to Auto-blend the layers without bringing back the photo bomber.  As luck would have it, though, the f/16 aperture I had used already gave me a fairly decent depth of field.  While researching the other Stack Mode commands in the hope of finding something that would help me, I discovered that the Mean command was particularly good for removing graininess from high-ISO stacked images.  And it did it quite well.

If you look closely at the image with the photo bomber and compare it to the first image, you'll see the reduction in graininess that I'm talking about.  

Friday, June 5, 2015

Avian Flu

I'm hearing more and more recently about the avian flu.  The price of eggs is supposed to be going up because of this.  There was even a piece in today's Mountaineer ENews:   Safeguard your poultry flock amid avian flu concerns.  Wouldn't you know it, though?  The direct link to the safeguard article is broken!

But I'm going somewhere with this, and I had better get there...   another idea for my first million dollars:  flu masks for poultry, i..e., chickens and ducks.  This is going to be a test of my PhotoShop skills, because I doubt that I'm actually going to be able to get masks on a bird for real.

I did some marketing research on Google, looking to see if anyone else has come up with my brilliant idea.  So far, it's MY idea.    Visions of crowd funding are dancing in my head.

Oh, BTW, in my search, this was among the first hits:  a DIY mask:

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Close call on the mythic gold bug

Last year, I declared the gold bug to be one of my goals.  Yes, you may laugh.  Later, I actually sighted one, but it got away before I could photograph it.

The gods mocked me again last night, when I was able to photograph the gold bug's close relative, the Mottled Tortoise Beetle (Deloyala guttata).

It's sitting on a sheet of paper.  I photographed it with my iPhone 5s, with an Olloclip 7x magnification lens.  The MTB (as we bug brains like to call it) is quite fetching it its own right.

And lest you think I stand alone among nuts, here's a nice page of tortoise beetle pictures.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Plum Rude

I do not wish to mock the dead or the living for that matter.  There's a stone monument in the Oak Grove Cemetery off of Dorsey Avenue in Morgantown that cannot escape my comment, however.  Two families, Plum and Rude, share a plot together.

Plum, as an adjective, can be used as an intensifier (e.g., "I'm plum tuckered out").

I hope that I haven't been plum rude to point this out.

It's not dead yet

Came across an article in The Guardian yesterday (Thursday 28 May 2015) by Dorian Lynskey. Titled How the compact disc lost its shine, the article is an epitaph for the compact disk, 1985-2015.

I'm not going to get into the whole thing here.  Something in the article, however, led me to recall an artifact from the early 80s that I bought at a used record store.  It's a CBS Records Compact Disc Demonstration CD.

Here's a scan of a part of the insert:

The jewel case cover is on the right, and as you can see, it's been defaced a bit by the previous owner, with assorted scratches and pen scribbles.  The CD itself has minor scuffing, but it's still quite playable.

Googling the CD title turned up some interesting things.

MJJCollectors.com, a site for collectors of Michael Jackson ephemera, mentions the CD here.  It says that the CD is from USA, which isn't quite correct.  It was made in Japan, but it was sent to radio DJs in the USA as a promotional item.
Sent to select USA radio stations in 1983 by "CBS Records", this 21 track promo-only CD was one of the first compact discs ever made in the USA. Features Michael's first appearance on a compact disc format in the USA. Track #19 is "Thriller."
Another site, Top40MusiconCD.com, posts a forum discussion that mentions the Electric Light Orchestra song Don't Bring Me Down, which appears on the compilation.
The very old promo disc CBS Records Compact Disc Demonstration (1983) runs at 115.2 BPM throughout, and sounds a little dull, but only a little.
And here's an entry from SearchingForAGem.com, which talks about Bob Dylan songs.  Under the 1983 heading, I found this entry:
Bob's contribution to this very rare demonstration disc (intended for the US market but actually made in Japan) is Just Like A Woman from Blonde On Blonde.

Thanks to Hans Seegers for information and scans. Thanks to "Ranger Granger" for dating this as 1983, it was given away with some of the first CD players sold in the USA.
I searched on eBay, and I found under completed items that some discerning buyer had paid $25.49 for a copy of this CD.  Granted, the insert paper was in much better condition than the one that I scanned in above.  However, my copy of the CD itself appears to be in much better condition.

The wheels are starting to turn.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Great Photo Project

A co-worker sent me a link today to this interesting blog post by Chris Dale from Morgantown:
Historical photos – Then and now.  This was posted May 25, 2015, but as far as I can tell, it's the only thing currently on this Morgantown History site.

Chris Dale did a fabulous job recreating the camera angle and image size for a number of historical photos.  He superimposed his images over the originals, giving a very fine before & after view.  Due to differences in lens, no doubt, some photos such as the March 1944 "West Virginia University and The War," aren't as dead-on as other shots.  That's a minor complaint, though.  I can't emphasize how amazing this work really is.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Giving You a Laurel

Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia) blossom.

Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia) blossom.

Factoid:  Kalmia latifolia is notable for its unusual method of dispensing its pollen. As the flower grows, the filaments of its stamens are bent and brought into tension. When an insect lands on the flower, the tension is released, catapulting the pollen forcefully onto the insect. Experiments have shown the flower capable of flinging its pollen up to 15 cm. (from Wikipedia).

Tuesday, May 26, 2015


Back almost a year ago, I posted this shot of a chicken pondering its inner Rex:

Little did I know that my snarkiness was already passe, as witnessed by this December 22, 2011, piece in LiveScience:  How to Make a Dino-Chicken (Infographic).

Now, it is said, we're half way there: Dino-Chicken Gets One Step Closer.

I'm glad they're working with little 'ol chickens.  Imagine what an order of those chick wings would look like!

You can keep the tail, though.  Even though Anthony Bourdain says  "...chicken ass is the best part. You can get it at any [Japanese] Yakatori joint. It's fatty and delicious."

Sure.  Send them to Japan.

A Spartan Portrait

I took some pictures of emus last week on my visit to Shields' Greenhouse in Spraggs, PA.  Using a telephoto lens, I managed to get in close.  Too close, some might say.

This is what it looked like, processed in color:

I usually don't do much black & white, but this subject demanded that I try.  Here's the same emu rendered with Silver Efex Pro 2.  I used the D019 Fine Art filter w/ a Kodak ISO 32 Panatomic X grain (or lack of) effect:

Thus my dilemma.  Which is better?  The color or the black & white?  From my indecision came a compromise.  I layered the black & white over the color and then set the blending mode to Multiply. The result looks like something in the style of the movie 300.

It works for the emu.  This is a very Spartan portrait.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Too much of a pink thing

Rhododendron blooms in the natural light of this morning's "golden hour."  Composed from a 15-shot focus stack.  

I normally like to process with LAB color (picture #1), but this time I thought that a straight RGB image (picture #2) was easier on the eyes.