Monthly Archives

February 2011

Greg Boyer Photography

Photography

Greg Boyer has a new website, www.GregBoyerPhotography.com. Start with his “portfolio” link (upper right corner). His first Sierra Nevada image is wonderful, and the inspiring images continue through his website. It is his Sierra images that first caught my attention a few years ago, but now that I see the range of his California photography I am more impressed. Greg Boyer’s collection of images is characterized by rich vibrant color and appealing composition. Check out Greg Boyer Photography, you will be happy you did!

A Tale of Two Panoramas and One iPhone

Panoramas, Wisdom

Recently I encountered two panoramic photo situations in which the software that I am accustomed to using for stitching panoramas failed. It gave me the impetus to try Photoshop for panoramas, with mixed results explained below. And the biggest surprise of my recent panorama efforts has been with, well, you’ll have to read to the end to find out unless my clever post title gave it away. Fair warning: if the entire notion of stitching and blending multiple images into a long, high resolution panorama makes your shutter glaze over, click away now!

Part 1 of 3: Failure then Success

This above panoramic photo of San Diego’s Embarcadero Marina, including the Marriott Hotel, Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel, Roy’s Restaurant and the San Diego Convention Center, is a composite of three original frames. I used Panorama Factory to stitch an initial version, and was disappointed to see some severe distortion artifacts on many of the buildings. I have encountered these occasionally in the past, and usually solved the problem by lessening or increasing the number of control points, or changing the perspective (spherical/cylindrical), or resorting to “full automatic stitching”. I think each of these alternatives changes the way in which Panorama Factory is constrained to correct for distortion, tilt and roll. By trying a few different alternatives, sometimes Panorama Factory is freed of enough mathematical constraints that the distortion artifacts go away. However, in this image the artifacts appeared, strongly, in all versions I made with Panorama Factory. For example, the following detail is from the top right corner of the Marriott Hotel, and shows ghosting (which is easily fixed in post by modifying the layer masks that Panorama Factory provides). The ghosting actually serves to illustrate the point that distortion is observed in both layers that overlap at this point. In other words, simply resorting to one layer or the other does not solve the distortion problem (although it would solve the ghosting).

I decided to give the stitching a try in Photoshop PS5’s “image merge”. In the past I did not have much faith in Photoshop’s “image merge”, given that it is nearly a “full auto” process and there is no allowance for the user to input, say, control points to ensure alignment. I’m a control freak, and giving complete control of the stitching to Photoshop did not appeal to me. For example, it does not even permit the user to offer such a basic starting point as defining what order (left to right) the images are to be considered — Photoshop figures this out on its own. So imagine my surprise when Photoshop produced as flawless a panoramic stitch as I have ever seen. On hindsight I should not have been surprised that Adobe, with its vast resources and programming talent, could produce an excellent panoramic stitching engine. Nevertheless, I was floored. I’ve scoured the detail in Photoshop’s version of this panoramic photo and have not found a stitching flaw or noticeable bit of distortion yet. For comparison, the same detail from the Photoshop version of the panoramic photo:

Part 2 of 3: Failure (Boo, Hiss!)

I encountered a second example of panoramic stitching challenges last week when my daughter and I enjoyed the sunset and made photos of Scripps Pier in La Jolla. In this case, both Panorama Factory and Photoshop failed, but in different ways. First, the full panorama looks pretty good at first glance:

There is plenty of wave movement in this composition, and I knew in advance that blending the waves would be near impossible. (I really should have used a 3-stop ND filter and f/22 to blur the water movement as much as possible, lessening the detail and making a pleasing blend more attainable. And next time I’ll do just that!) However, Panorama Factory shows significant distortion on several sections of the pier:

Panorama Factory does produce a layered PSD file complete with blending masks, and I tried to compensate for these distortions in post but was unable to remove them satisfactorily. When the distortions exist they exist in both layers being blended at that point, which makes it impossible to use the layer masks to solve the problem.

On the other hand, Photoshop shows a much better blend of the pier but a more jarring discontinuity in the waves to the left and right of the rightmost set of pier pilings:

Photoshop’s panorama product does NOT provide a layered PSD with masks, so I am unable to make further improvements to this image. That’s too bad. One of the strongest features of Panorama Factory is its ability to provide a layered PSD with blending masks, since this can be fine-tuned afterward in Photoshop to remove most ghosting artifacts and sometimes address distortion artifacts as well (although not in this case).

Part 3: Success, Unexpected!

Lastly, Sarah was fooling around with my iPhone while I used the “real camera”. She produced the above panorama in about 60 seconds using Autostitch for the iPhone. This just blows me away. For crying out loud, this is a 10-year-old using a phone and a $2.99 app to produce panoramas that would have been difficult for some computers to produce just a decade ago or less! It will be interesting to see what the iPhone and apps like Autostitch can do in coming years. Panorama Factory and Photoshop had better watch their heels.

Here are a few more I shot while running. I stop for about 60 seconds to shoot 3-6 photos, then Autostitch takes 10-20 seconds to blend them into a panorama, trim the overage off and upload a reduced-size version to Facebook where my family can see them long before I am back home and near a computer. I don’t have my glasses on, can’t see for the sweat in my eyes, and my hands are shaking. And still they often turn out pretty darn good. The full res version can always be accessed via iPhoto the next time the phone is synced to iTunes. These thumbnails link through to the unretouched full res versions if you are interested in seeing how much ghosting or exposure flaws there are in the final versions. Amazing!








Palm Canyon Brittlebush

Desert, Wildflowers

This brittlebush photo, at dawn in Palm Canyon in Anza Borrego Desert State Park, was one of only a handful of desert wildflower photos I made last year. It is raining again, the second bout of rain the coast of Southern California has received this week. This is on the heels of much rain earlier in the winter. The pattern of precipitation that we have received this winter — lots of rain in early and mid-winter, followed by a few more lighter storms in Jan/Feb/Mar — oftens sets up a great desert wildflower bloom. It is no guarantee of course, just favorable conditions and increased odds. Importantly, unlike the front that came through earlier in the week, yesterday and last night’s system had enough push to get over the mountains and reach the desert. It could provide that last bit of moisture that the sprouting seeds and young plants need to reach maturity and spread out, which should really help the bloom this year. I’ve got my fingers crossed and am hoping to squeeze out a day or two to take a look for flowers soon and make a visit to my favorite desert wildflower spots.

Brittlebush at sunrise, dawn, springtime bloom, Palm Canyon, Anza Borrego Desert State Park, Encelia farinosa, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Brittlebush at sunrise, dawn, springtime bloom, Palm Canyon, Anza Borrego Desert State Park.
Image ID: 24301
Species: Brittlebush, Encelia farinosa
Location: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Anza Borrego, California, USA

Cholla cactus, sunrise, dawn, Palm Canyon, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Opuntia, Anza Borrego, California

Cholla cactus, sunrise, dawn, Palm Canyon, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
Image ID: 24305
Species: Cholla cactus, Opuntia
Location: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Anza Borrego, California, USA

Henderson Canyon Road Dune Evening Primrose

Desert, Wildflowers

Its raining now. If the deserts to the east of us get some of this moisture, it should bode very well for the wildflower season. We received a lot of rain in November and December. When this occurs, typically all that is needed is another moderate rain or two in January or February to really make the desert wildflower bloom flourish. I’ve got my fingers crossed.

This is a cluster of dune evening primrose, my favorite desert wildflower. This was made along Henderson Canyon Road in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. It is quite possible that we will never see such displays on Henderson Canyon Road again, due to the recent spreading of invasive Saharan mustard that is unfortunately now carpeting much of the state park. Henderson Canyon Road used to be one of the “go to” places to see spectacular wildflower displays in Anza Borrego. I suspect those days are over.

Dune primrose blooms in spring following winter rains.  Dune primrose is a common ephemeral wildflower on the Colorado Desert, growing on dunes.  Its blooms open in the evening and last through midmorning.  Anza Borrego Desert State Park, Oenothera deltoides, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Dune primrose blooms in spring following winter rains. Dune primrose is a common ephemeral wildflower on the Colorado Desert, growing on dunes. Its blooms open in the evening and last through midmorning. Anza Borrego Desert State Park.
Image ID: 20467
Species: Dune Primrose, Dune Evening Primrose, Oenothera deltoides
Location: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Anza Borrego, California, USA

Backyard Wilderness

Skip's Trips

From Skip: I jokingly suggested to Phil that I should do a blog entry titled ”Skip Stubbs in the wilds of his backyard” based on my rejected photos for this year’s nature’s best backyards contest. He said “sure, we could do that.” So here we go. All photos were taken with a Canon 180 macro, some with extension tubes, but mostly not. Click the image to see many more!

Photos of Scripps Pier, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

California, La Jolla, San Diego

Photos of Scripps Pier, La Jolla

Below is the Scripps Institution of Oceanography Research Pier, the pier that supports the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California. The original wooden Scripps Pier was built in 1915 and was replaced by the modern cement pier in 1988. On the hill behind the pier can be seen many of the buildings that make up Scripps Institute of Oceanography. To the left (north) is the southern edge of Black’s Beach, while if one walked along the beach to the right (south) one would come to La Jolla Shores Beach in a few minutes. When I was in grad school I worked in the Norpax building on the far left above the sandstone bluff. Some of the greatest minds in all of science work on this hill, wearing flip-flops as their laser brains study climate change and deep ocean phenomena, and go surfing at the pier at lunch. It’s brutal living in Southern California.

Scripps Pier, predawn abstract study of pier pilings and moving water, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California

Scripps Pier, predawn abstract study of pier pilings and moving water.
Image ID: 26340
Location: Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California, USA

Scripps Pier, sunrise, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California

Scripps Pier, sunrise.
Image ID: 26456
Location: Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California, USA

Research pier at Scripps Institution of Oceanography SIO, sunset, La Jolla, California

Research pier at Scripps Institution of Oceanography SIO, sunset.
Image ID: 26531
Location: Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California, USA

SIO Pier.  The Scripps Institution of Oceanography research pier is 1090 feet long and was built of reinforced concrete in 1988, replacing the original wooden pier built in 1915. The Scripps Pier is home to a variety of sensing equipment above and below water that collects various oceanographic data. The Scripps research diving facility is located at the foot of the pier. Fresh seawater is pumped from the pier to the many tanks and facilities of SIO, including the Birch Aquarium. The Scripps Pier is named in honor of Ellen Browning Scripps, the most significant donor and benefactor of the Institution, La Jolla, California

SIO Pier. The Scripps Institution of Oceanography research pier is 1090 feet long and was built of reinforced concrete in 1988, replacing the original wooden pier built in 1915. The Scripps Pier is home to a variety of sensing equipment above and below water that collects various oceanographic data. The Scripps research diving facility is located at the foot of the pier. Fresh seawater is pumped from the pier to the many tanks and facilities of SIO, including the Birch Aquarium. The Scripps Pier is named in honor of Ellen Browning Scripps, the most significant donor and benefactor of the Institution.
Image ID: 22293
Location: Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California, USA

Scripps Pier, sunrise, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California

Scripps Pier, sunrise.
Image ID: 26458
Location: Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California, USA

Scripps Pier solstice, surfer's view from among the waves, sunset aligned perfectly with the pier. Research pier at Scripps Institution of Oceanography SIO, sunset, La Jolla, California

Scripps Pier solstice, surfer’s view from among the waves, sunset aligned perfectly with the pier. Research pier at Scripps Institution of Oceanography SIO, sunset.
Image ID: 30150
Location: Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California, USA

Scripps Pier solstice, sunset aligned perfectly with the pier, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California

Scripps Pier solstice, sunset aligned perfectly with the pier.
Image ID: 28478
Location: Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California, USA

See more San Diego photos and photos of Scripps Pier.

Earth Shadow Photographs

California, La Jolla, Morro Bay

Photographs of Earth Shadow

Earth Shadow is an atmospheric phenomenon most easily seen on a cloudless morning with a relatively clear horizon. But you have to get up early to see it, since it occurs before sunrise! Have you ever seen those layers of blue, purple and pink along the horizon just before sunrise or just after sunset? The darker sky, lowest on the horizon, is actually the shadow of the Earth cast upon the atmosphere, while the lighter sky above is the atmosphere as it is lit by the sun. As dawn nears, the shadowed portion of the sky is squeezed down on the horizon and disappears. The pink in the upper “layer” is the result of the sun passing at a highly oblique angle through the dust-filled atmosphere to the east (or west at sunset), colored by the particulate suspended in the air. I made a couple of photographs illustrating earth shadow recently while doing some early morning photography in La Jolla along with an older one from some years ago in Morro Bay:

La Jolla Cove and earth shadow at dawn.  Just before sunrise the shadow of the Earth can seen as the darker sky below the pink sunrise

La Jolla Cove and earth shadow at dawn. Just before sunrise the shadow of the Earth can seen as the darker sky below the pink sunrise
Image ID: 26523
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Earth Shadow lies over Point La Jolla at dawn

Earth Shadow lies over Point La Jolla at dawn.
Image ID: 26444
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Earth shadow over Morro Rock and Morro Bay.  Just before sunrise the shadow of the Earth can seen as the darker sky below the pink sunrise

Earth shadow over Morro Rock and Morro Bay. Just before sunrise the shadow of the Earth can seen as the darker sky below the pink sunrise.
Image ID: 22213
Location: Morro Bay, California, USA

By the way, earth shadow occurs after sunset as well. But I’m usually slaving away at the grill or watching my daughters’ volleyball practices so I rarely photograph end-of-day earth shadow…

See more photos of La Jolla and Morro Bay photographs.

En Línea con la Ecología – A Photographic Exhibition in Mexico City

Mexico, Photography

En Línea con la Ecología is a major natural history photographic exhibition on display now in Mexico City. Sponsored by Telmex, the goal of the exhibition is to show viewers the extraordinary biological diversity and beauty of the landscapes of Mexico and heighten interest and a sense of ownership in Mexico’s natural wonders. Included in the exhition are landscapes and wildlife portraits representative of Mexico, including rain forests and lowlands, mangroves, grasslands, temperate forests, deserts and coral reefs. I am fortunate to have five images included in the collection, alongside the work of some of the best photographers in the world.

The exhibition is held from February 1 through March 6 at Circuito de Galerías Abiertas de las Rejas de Chapultepec, Entre Reforma y Gandhi. More information can be found here, here and here. Telmex’s Facebook page includes a gallery of all the images.

If you are curious, four of my images can be seen in the above two photos.

Moon and Sandstone Arch, Valley of Fire

Nevada, Valley of Fire

Valley of Fire stock photos

This is my favorite image from the Valley of Fire. It was incredibly peaceful and quiet with not a speck of wind or noise. The moon was positioned just right to fit nicely into a small cleft in this 10′ natural sandstone arch. While the daytime temps were warm enough that I could wear shorts and t-shirt, once the sun went down I had my long pants, hat and two sweaters on. One of my cameras suddenly started sparking and then spontaneously blew apart when I first photographed this arch under glorious golden morning sunlight. I’m pretty sure it was because the poor sensor could not cope with the incredibly rich and saturated red and orange hues that this gem of an arch exudes when the sun warms it up. I don’t think Canon Professional Services will be covering that one. My remaining camera (coward) insisted that it only be subjected to this arch at night when the color and detail of the scene is more subdued, which is why I ended up with this image. I’m already looking forward to a return to the incredible Valley of Fire State Park when I pass by on my way to Page for a few days of desert landscape photography with some buddies in March!

Natural arch formed in sandstone frames the setting moon, Valley of Fire State Park

Natural arch formed in sandstone frames the setting moon.
Image ID: 26486
Location: Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada, USA

Do you like how I worked the word incredible into this blog post three times? No, make that four! Incredible! Oops, that’s five. Google loves that.

See more Valley of Fire stock photographs.

Windstone Arch, Valley of Fire State Park

Nevada, Valley of Fire

Windstone Arch, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

An arch within a cave! I’ve seen this interesting spot in Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park referred to as “Windstone Arch”, “Fire Cave”, and a few other names. Admittedly, it is more of a curiosity than a grand inspiring landscape view. While this miniature setting — only about 2.5′ high — is nearly underfoot and very close to a well-traveled road, nevertheless it took me a bit of time to find it. I imagine many people walk or drive right by it without realizing it is there. Its a bit of a squeeze to line up the camera for this view. The arrangement of those round holes reminds me of some of the desert scenes in Star Wars, like they are little cliff dwelling hive-holes from which small winged alien creatures might emerge:

Fire Arch or Windstone Arch, also known as Fire Cave, is a tiny cave with a miniature arch and a group of natural pocket holes.  Many people walk by this cave without realizing it is there!, Valley of Fire State Park

Fire Arch or Windstone Arch, also known as Fire Cave, is a tiny cave with a miniature arch and a group of natural pocket holes. Many people walk by this cave without realizing it is there!
Image ID: 26475
Location: Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada, USA