Around home, in the deep freeze
To refresh every one’s memory, around here, November was very cold and snowy, we set several record low temperatures as well as the most snow ever for the month of November. December was slightly milder than average, with only a little over an inch of snow, but no sunshine to speak of. Well, with January came a return to the cold and snow.
We’ve set a couple of more records for low temperatures, one morning it got down to -13 degree Fahrenheit (-25 degree Celsius), the coldest it’s been here in twenty years. Even with little snow in December, we’re still well above average for the season, almost on pace with last winter which was the second snowiest on record.
To put it different terms, this past Sunday I went to the Lake Michigan shore again, and the temperature was right around the freezing point, but it was forty degrees warmer than it had been a few mornings before.
So with the extreme cold, and the hours that I’ve been working, there was an entire week when I wasn’t able to get outside at all. That doesn’t mean that there will be a shortage of photos in this post though, as I’m still playing with my camera equipment, learning how to get better images out of the camera.
And, I have been trying to learn Photomatix, the HDR software, along with the photo editing software that came with my camera in order to improve my images even more. That has been a real pain on my badly outdated computer, it takes around thirty seconds to convert a RAW image to a jpeg for use here in my blog. It takes over five minutes for Photomatix to process a single HDR image.
I came home from the lakeshore on Sunday with 165 images that I cut down to 85 possible for my blog, it took my computer over an hour to process those images from the after edited RAW format to jpeg format for my blog. I don’t have the time or patience to wait that long. However, the new iMac computer is still a few weeks to a month away.
Things have slowed down a little at my new employer, so while I’m still earning more money than at my last job, it hasn’t been as much more as I hoped it would be. The new company is tied to the auto industry, which almost always slows down around the holidays. Signs are that things are starting to pick back up again though. Ha, as if right on cue, as I was typing that, dispatch at work called to see how soon I could make it there as they were swamped with loads. That was Wednesday morning, it’s now Thursday morning before I go into work, and I already have just over thirty hours in for the week. That’s more like it.
Anyway, maybe I’ve been foolish trying to do too much with too little computing power as far as processing my images up to this point, but I’m learning all the time, albeit slowly.
It’s funny, but I was opposed to any post-processing of images up until a few months ago. I can still recall when my opinion began to change, it was last summer. I was up at the Haymarsh State Game Area as a thunderstorm was moving in. I tried shooting photos, but either the approaching clouds were blown out (way overexposed), or all the shadow details in the wooded areas in the foreground were rendered as black (way underexposed).
That’s because the sensor in even the best digital cameras can not handle the dynamic range between very bright and very dark portions of a scene. It was shortly after that trip that I looked into HDR software, and purchased Photomatix software in an attempt to improve my images, that is, getting images that looked the same as the scene that I was trying to shoot.
Like everything else, the Photomatix software comes with a learning curve. The first step is to get images exposed correctly for the software to do its job properly. To assist me in that respect, I’m actually viewing the histograms of the images that I intend to load into Photomatix, and I have turned the “blinkies” on in the camera body that I use for landscapes and macros. The “blinkies” are another name for the highlight alert system in many cameras today. Any part of the image that is overexposed blinks on and off in different colors to alert you to the fact that parts of the images are overexposed.
I had tried that before, but for most bird or wildlife photos, I found the blinkies to be a distraction, especially since I knew that the background was overexposed even without using the blinkies. However, for landscapes, especially if I intend to merge several images into a HDR image, the blinkies are a great way of checking to see that I’m getting the exposure correct.
Maybe I should back up a step here, HDR software blends two or more images shot at different exposure settings into one image to capture the dynamic range in a scene better. Typically, I’ve been using three images, one shot at what the camera tells me is the correct exposure, one shot underexposed to capture the highlight detail (the brighter parts of a scene) and one shot overexposed to capture the shadow detail (the darker parts of a scene).
I’m finding that getting the correct amount of over and under exposure for a scene is one of the keys to getting good results out of the Photomatix software, and those settings are different for different scenes, depending on the amount of dynamic range in the scene. Sometimes, it’s only 2/3 of a stop, other times it can be 2 full stops, or even more. For some extreme scenes, three images may not be enough, it may take 5, 7, or even more exposures to get the final image correct. I haven’t run into one of those situations yet though, three images are usually enough if exposed correctly.
Okay then, with the explanation almost out of the way, here’s an example of what Photomatix can do, starting with the before, an image shot with what the camera told me was the best exposure for this scene.
Now, here’s the HDR version of the same scene.
In the HDR version, you can see down into the water and the broken slabs of concrete that are there, while the creek looks basically black in the first image. That’s what I like about HDR photography, it puts the color that was in a scene, but lost by the limitations of the camera sensor, back into the scene. Here’s another example of that.
In the HDR version, you can see that the pine needles are green, and the tree trunks brown, not almost black as they are in the non-HDR version.
These were shot the day after a storm moved through the area. It started as snow, changed to freezing rain, then rain, back to freezing rain, and ended as snow. So, most of the trees had ice and snow clinging to them, it was a beautiful day, even if there was no sunlight to speak of. I had switched to the 15-85 mm lens early on, knowing that I’d be trying to capture the scenes presented to me by nature.
Sometimes, I didn’t need to resort to HDR images.
However, I set-up to shoot three images of everything with the expectation of loading the images into Photomatix if needed. And, here’s the best example of why from the day. I loved this scene, I don’t know why, but I did.
Of course, I was disappointed in that photo, the evergreens look black for one thing. So, here’s the HDR image of the same scene.
The color is back! The evergreens look green, you can see the snowflakes in the air, just as I saw the scene when I shot it!
However, Photomatix is not without its faults, some of those are actually related to my computer, but not all.
For one thing, the adjustments available in Photomatix after you have done the basic merge of the images don’t make much sense as the adjustments relate to what you’d like to do to the image to improve it as far as the way that the adjustments are labeled. As I wrote before, I have watched several tutorials on how to use the Photomatix software, and the person doing the tutorial tells you to just play with the adjustments until you get the photo the way that you want it.
Well, I’ve been playing, but Photomatix has several different modes, and in each mode, the adjustments are different. It also seems that the adjustments have different effects in different images, so I’ve been doing a great deal of playing. That’s one area where my old computer really limits what I do.
Due to how slow my computer does the processing, I don’t have the patience to wait while Photomatix does its thing. I also don’t have the patience to dump the image if it doesn’t come out the way that I’d like, and start over.
Another thing related to my computer is the small view that I get of the processed image. I may think that I have it right, but after I save it, and then view the image full size, I found that I missed, usually by getting the image too bright.
And, there are times when I like both the HDR and non-HDR version of a scene.
Switching gears here for a while, I’ve also been using the Canon Digital Professional Photo editing software that came with my camera. That software is modeled after Lightroom, and intended to be Canon’s version of Lightroom, but it falls far short of Lightroom. It will however, allow me to tweak RAW images at least to some degree.
That’s Bruiser, the male red-tailed hawk doing a fly by for me. I used the Canon DPP software to brighten up the shadows under his wings a little. That software is better than nothing, but it is lacking many of the features of Lightroom, and doesn’t do a very good job of what it can do.
It also has another serious short-coming, it will only edit RAW images, not jpeg or tiff images. I save the output from Photomatix in 16 bit tiff format to preserve as much image quality as possible. I tried doing what most people who use Photomatix do, doing the final tweaking of a HDR image in Lightroom, but the Canon software that I have doesn’t allow that. But, the Canon software was free, and it’s all that I have to work with right now.
I may find that once I have a computer that can handle Lightroom, that I won’t need to use the Photomatix HDR software as often, but only time will tell about that. I do know that some scenes call for a HDR image, no matter how good Lightroom may be for basic editing.
Anyway, here’s the remainder of the photos that I shot after the mixed precipitation storm, some are HDR images, some aren’t.
So, on to other things, how about a few male cardinal photos to brighten up the winter.
And, for all of you squirrel lovers out there, a big, fat fox squirrel.
After the extremely cold air retreated back to the north for a few days, I found this.
There are a few species of stoneflies that hatch during the winter, I don’t know which species that one is, but it isn’t unusual to find them along rivers and creeks on a slightly warmer winter day.
Oh, that reminds me, I’ve forgotten a few things. One, I did some really dumb things in the past. In preparation for my new computer, I went back and looked at a few of the photos that I had shot with my old Nikon to see if I should import them into Lightroom once I have it. No, there’s no need, not only are most of the photos poor quality, but I saved them the same size and quality as they appeared in my blog. There’s really no reason to import them into Lightroom, as there’s nothing worth trying to improve in the state that I saved them in.
It was an eye-opening experience though, seeing how much the quality of my photos have improved since I made the switch from the old Nikon to my current Canon gear. That’s not to bash Nikon, but better lenses on a better camera equals better photos.
Not all of my editing of images has been done on the computer, sometimes it happens in the camera. Here’s the color version of some ice on the creek….
…then, I switched the camera to high contrast black and white for this one.
How about another cardinal to brighten things up again?
Do you remember the “selfie” that I had in a recent post? Here are the ornaments that decorated one of the small trees here.
And here’s another selfie, this one has the Death Star in it.
Here’s another image shot during the few minutes of sunshine that we had this past few weeks.
I suppose a few more birds are called for.
I threw in the eagle as I was playing with the new ball head that I recently purchased and mounted on my monopod. Since I didn’t find any subjects outside worth shooting, I played around indoors to see how well that set-up worked for macros. So far, so good!
The last two photos for this post are of the same thing, shot at slightly different settings. I can’t decide which one I like best, so here’s both of them.
It’s now Friday morning as I type this part before I go into work today. I have 42 hours in already this week, and I haven’t had to do a Chicago run this week either, so I’m a happy camper. My paycheck should be a good one, which will get me that new iMac soon.
I think that I’ll stay home this weekend, and just walk around here. As I said earlier, I went to the Lake Michigan shoreline last Sunday with the promise of some sunshine that never materialized, so most of my photos were shot in very poor light.
It doesn’t make much sense to drive that far when the weather forecast is calling for clouds and snow, I can stay home and shoot poor photos and save the money that I’d spend on gas towards the new computer.
Well, I was going to click the publish button yesterday morning before I left for work, but changed my mind, thinking that I’d read through this post again first after I got home that night. That didn’t happen, as I had my load changed at work, from a local run to an expedited run to Honda of America near Columbus, Ohio. So, I picked up and delivered the load on time, but had to spend the night at a motel since I didn’t have enough driving time left under DOT regulations to make it home last night.
The upshot of this is that I made some really big money this week, and it shows that the dispatchers trust me to run a load that absolutely has to be delivered on time. Not only that, but I was thanked to the point of embarrassment for taking such a run on no notice, and getting it done correctly. Like any job, there are things about this one that I dislike, but the way that management treats their employees more than makes up for the dislikes.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!