West Coast Wildfires Brings out the Indiana Sun

So yesterday morning I was struck by how spectacular the sunrise was; it was a big red ball that I could look right at.  I was truly amazed; I don’t recall ever seeing that before.  Later that day learned that it due to the smoke that had traveled all the way from the West Coast wildfires!  WOW!  More specifically, the smoke filters out shorter wavelengths of light (like blue), leaving mostly red and orange wavelengths to shine through.  During the day when the sun is higher, it is not as bright and the sky lacks color. 

So last evening as the sun was setting, I headed out to a location that I have been wanting to shoot at a nice September evening ever since I saw it a few years ago, Benton County Indiana where wind turbines fill the cornfields and air above.  The sight that I saw a few years earlier that I have been after is the sky just after the sun has set, leaving the sky an upward gradient of red, orange, purple and then deepening shades of blue.  But why this location?  Because the wind turbines stand as tall dark silhouette statues in the foreground.  So with this sun yesterday, I rushed out there with my camera and tripod, hoping to capture something spectacular.  The sun was amazing, but unfortunately, the sky wasn’t.  It was pale and lacked color.  My photos all ended up with a gray background.  I discovered that the same thing that causes the sun to be such a vibrant red and orange, also makes the sky colorless and boring (at least in Indiana, 2 thousand miles away from the fires).

So my plan for this shoot was to take mostly bracketed shots of three for a powerful HDR image.  I could see from the small LCD screen on the camera that shots showed the beautiful sun, but the sky was all gray.  That was disappointing but I held out hope that I could bring out some color in post-processing.  I took all kinds of shots, varying shutter speeds and aperture settings, tight and wide bracket settings, and so on.  Nothing changed the gray sky.  The higher exposed shots had a bright gray sky with a light orange/red sun while the underexposed shots had a dark gray sky with a deeper and more vibrant red sun.  The HDR composites didn’t look right.  They looked really weird.  So I ended up selecting the one I liked the most and worked with that in Lightroom. 

Using the baseline photo, not over exposed or underexposed, I started by using a graduated filter on the sky and changed the temperature, the hue, and increased the blue saturation.  I used another graduated filter on the lower half of the sky to bring out some purple.  I used a third graduated filter on the field of wildflowers and corn in the background to bring the exposure and color in that but I was not satisfied with the end result.  It was too flat to begin with.  I tried not to alter the sun too much because I was trying to capture what was really there, but I did have to make some adjustments to correct what was done with the gradient filter for the rest of the sky.  Most of what I did was to bring it back to its original form as much as I could. 

Overall, I am pleased with how the final photo turned out.  I am attaching the original photo that I shot before I started working on it so you can see how the sky turned out. 

Photo as shot. 1/4 second, f32, ISO 100
Before and after post-processing

COVID-19, Photography, and Sanity (Part 2)

Like I said in my last post, my family went on a lot of nature hikes during our quarantine.  That provided opportunities for some nature photography while also providing for good family time.  But it can be hard to give appropriate attention to spending time with my family and focusing on taking good photos.  So as a result, both usually suffered a little, unfortunately.  But I got some good shots to work with at home and I captured good memories of these times that I got to spend with my family during such an unusual and stressful time.  The photo in this post was taken on that same first nature hike as in my previous post.  The improvements that I was able to make to this photo from what it was originally is amazing and that has driven me to spending lots of time in the evenings working on my photos.  Not only do I have new photos to work on, but I have been going through my older photos and editing them, adding additional metadata, and with the new website that I have created, very slowly moving them from old online access system, Flicker, to my new one, SmugMug. 

So for me, photography and working on my digital photos has been therapeutic and helped keep my mind occupied on things other than the s*******m known as 2020. 

COVID-19, Photography, and Sanity (Part 1)

So back in March when everyone was figuring out how to deal with the shock-to-the-system of living in quarantine, (most for the first time in their lives), and finding ways of staying busy, entertained, and sane, for me that came in part through family hikes and photography.  Even though I was working full-time from home in my basement, there needed to be outlets to channel both mental and physical energy.  My latest burst of photography enthusiasm started shortly before the pandemic started, when things were just starting to get crazy and it was looking like there was going to be a quarantine.  I discovered that I had access to Adobe Lightroom and the rest of the Adobe Creative suite through Purdue as an employee.  This software benefit included a the ability to install a copy on my personal PC.  As I got engrossed in learning this software, I got hooked on it and soon said that if I ever lost access to it through Purdue, that I would be dishing out the money for a yearly subscription, something I had avoided in the past. This software is so powerful it has revolutionized my photo management and editing that I feel it’s worth the money

On the very first weekend that we went into quarantine, my family started going on nature hikes.  This became a regular occurrence as there was really nothing else to do and my wife kept finding fantastic places to go that we didn’t know about previously   Our first excursion was to the Celery Bog Nature Area in West Lafayette, a place we live near and have visited frequently.  The photo attached to this post is from that day.  I edited this photo in Lightroom and changed it from a throw-a-way photo to something that I really liked. It opened my eyes to the possibilities of what I could do in post-processing to photos taken with my little Canon Rebel T2i.   One thing that always went with me on these hikes was my DSLR.  The photos I‘ve taken are 2 parts COVID-19 documentary and 1 part photography.  But it was on one of these family excursions to get out of the house that I got the idea for a major photo project that I have been undertaking since the Spring and will continue for some time to come.  See an upcoming post to find out more about it.