Perseveration/Indecision

General Thoughts
The White House in Fog © jj raia

The White House in Fog © jj raia

I have read that the most difficult aspect in painting is knowing when to stop…to know that the painting is complete. The same holds true for post-processing in photography. There comes a point where you are picking out and tweaking minute details that need attention to make the image just a tiny bit better, or to correct something that is bothersome to you, even though no viewer would ever even notice in a print that was enlarged to a super size. When you get to that point, it’s probably time to step away and let the image sit for a few days. Then go back and see if there is anything that still needs to be changed. This is one of those photos. It was beginning to haunt me, and finally I determined that all the attention I was giving it would not make it into a better image; it was just not all that great to begin with. It seems to be off balance, too heavy on the right side with not too much that is engaging on the left side. Although at times, I do feel that the foam on the left counterbalances the weight of the foggy shapes in the upper right. But I constantly waffle between the two. So, even though it had already been severely cropped, I tried to crop it again to what is below.

Second Crop Version © jj raia

Second Cropped Version © jj raia

This version seems more balanced, and the boring left side eliminated, but the somewhat expansive view of the initial one at the top has been lost. Additionally, the long, sweeping curve of the foam as it was making its way in toward shore is now gone, a missing element that helped lead the eye toward the fogged-in shapes along the horizon line. The second version seems much flatter, lacking the distance and depth conveyed in the original.

However, what does seem to work are the muted, almost watercolor tones that give it such a soft feeling of silence which, on such a foggy day, is pretty easy to capture simply by tripping the shutter. I will probably continue to perseverate on these two options and, in all likelihood, will probably never reach a conclusion. So, feel free to voice opinions and/or comments, even if it means to say that both should, without passing Go, head directly to the trash bin.

Below is the un-retouched original.

The White House in Fog - Original © jj raia

The White House in Fog – Original © jj raia

 

Cleaning Up

General Thoughts
Stormy Sunrise — Isle of Palms, South Carolina © jj raia

Stormy Sunrise — Isle of Palms, South Carolina © jj raia

Going through the frames that were taken of the ocean in the recent trip to Isle of Palms just outside Charleston, I came across a series of blurred shots taken at sunrise that I had forgotten about. There was, thankfully, very little of the debris I spoke about in the last post, but the horizon was at a pretty severe angle that was rescued by Lightroom’s ability to rotate the image in the Lens Correction section of the Develop Module. Since the morning was bright at the time the image above was taken, I only had 1.3 seconds to move the camera even with lowering the ISO to 50 and setting the aperture to f/22. I could have slowed the shutter speed a bit more by adding a polarizer (about 2-stops), but didn’t want to take the time and chance losing the reflection in the surf as the sun climbed behind the clouds. This blur, attained by moving the camera ever so slightly, gives a more painterly look, with “brushstrokes”, throughout the image rather than just the area where the water is moving. In addition, the sunlight reflections seem to glow a bit more than a straight forward exposure. It also allows me to linger a bit longer and continue taking photos beyond the few brief moments of glorious color at sunrise.

Sudden Sunrise — Isle of Palms, South Carolina © jj raia

Sudden Sunrise — Isle of Palms, South Carolina © jj raia

The image above is similar to one from a previous post (click here to see the image), but illustrates how taking several images allows for options when selecting the best combination of waves and surging surf.  You will always find a preference among all those you might take during that fleeting moment, and sometimes there are several that you prefer. The timing of the shutter release was just as the foam attained its furthest reach and a nice line of it was caught just beyond the sheen reflecting the sky in this 2-second exposure; yet, the blur of its retreat is maintained. The unedited RAW image is below, without the debris cleaning that I usually do for beach scenes. Shells, stray foam, or other things are almost always present along the water’s edge, and they seem to be a distraction, drawing the eye to them and therefore, away from the main subject of the sunlight on the upper level of clouds. It may take some time and patience to get through them all, but it is necessary unless a completely accurate rendering of the scene is the purpose. In addition to cleaning up the foreground and removing dust spots, an unexplainable, vertical bright spot in the clouds was also corrected.

Before Debris was Removed © jj raia

Before Debris was Removed © jj raia

Something way out from my usual type of photo was this lucky accident of the couple on the beach at Sullivan’s Island. I wanted to try my 10-stop Neutral Density Filter for blurring the waves against the rocks, and while I was setting up, a couple arrived and just didn’t seemed inclined to move on. They could possibly provide a focal point which the sand and rocks would lead a viewer’s eye to, so I decided to take the 25-second exposure with them included hoping they would either move and not record at all while the shutter was open, or they would remain basically in place. As it turned out, they stayed pretty much in place and this was the result. The bonus was the odd light pattern that was probably due to light leaks during the long exposure and forgetting to close the eyepiece. The dense fog provided a veil on whatever was beyond them that made for a simple, soft background.

Couple on the Beach — Sullivan's Island, South Carolina © jj raia

Couple on the Beach — Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina © jj raia

Surf

General Thoughts
Crosshatch Pattern — Isle of Palms, South Carolina © jj raia

Crosshatch Pattern and Surf — Isle of Palms, South Carolina © jj raia

Photographing moving water is always a difficult proposition. Most of the difficulty lies in producing an image that best represents your vision, which may not necessarily accurately depict what was in front of the camera when the shutter was tripped. If the vision is clear, then reproducing it is simply a matter of making the camera record the scene in a way that will allow your initial vision to be transformed into a final image on the computer screen, or eventually a print. Moving water in a stream, cascade or waterfall, is fairly straight forward in that the speed at which the water moves is constant, and the shutter speed then translates that movement into streaks or a blur through the use of a longer shutter speed, or freezes the movement with a higher shutter speed. There is no “correct” shutter speed, because it is directly connected to the speed of the water itself as it travels through the stream bed, and how you want to portray that movement The shutter speeds have to be fine-tuned in the field after checking the screen on the back of the camera to see if the water’s movement was recorded as you intended. If not, then adjustments need to be made. This method is far better than just crossing your fingers back in the days of film. There is a bit of a trick to use when there is a breeze and any trees that may surround the brook/stream/etc. will also end up blurred if a longer shutter speed is used, and that is to blend two separate frames together later in your post processing. One frame is solely for the actual stream that utilizes a longer shutter speed to blur the water (low ISO, smaller f/stop, or an added filter such as a polarizer), and another frame of equal exposure using a faster shutter speed to stop any surrounding movements (larger f/stop, higher ISO). Of course, each frame needs to be taken on a tripod without moving it between images so they can be stacked on separate layers afterward in Photoshop.

Hint of Sunrise — Isle of Palms, South Carolina, © jj raia

Hint of Sunrise — Isle of Palms, South Carolina, © jj raia

Waves along the shores of a beach are another matter. The speed that waves wash up on the shore is constantly changing, initially going at a pretty good clip, but slowing to a stop when the surf reaches its maximum reach, and then increasing speed again as the water returns. Timing is also important in deciding when to trip the shutter. If the surf is to remain within the confines of the frame, as it is above, the shutter should ideally be tripped just as the foam attains its maximum reach and begins its return into the ocean. Trip it too soon and the movement will be “doubled” in one area and “singled” at its furthest reach, making for an uneven flow. If the surf will continue through  the edge of the frame, then all that needs to be correctly measured is what shutter speed will provide the proper blur to the foam you wish. The other thing to consider when tripping the shutter is the action of the waves in the middle distance and their position within the frame. Try to trip the shutter just as the wave begins to crest since a longer exposure will blend it better and try to not have any wave that is on the edge as that may lead a viewers eye out of the frame, as they do in the photo below. Since it is probably most important to time the surf correctly, it is probably a good idea to make several attempts so that there are choices in determining which is the best from that day. Or, you can choose the best surf and the best middle ground waves to be blended together later.concept to consider

First Sight of Dawn — Isle of Palms, South Carolina © jj raia

First Sight of Dawn — Isle of Palms, South Carolina © jj raia

Another point about the waves as they run up on the shore, is in which direction they are flowing. Does the surf flow straight into the beach? at an angle? or does the surf flow across or parallel to the beach? Often times, two waves may flow into one another making interesting designs in the water as they meld into each other. It’s always a good idea to watch the action of the waves as you’re taking your photos to see what is going on in other areas along the beach that may prove more interesting than where you may  be standing at the moment. If the beach itself is very flat, then you might get some excellent sky reflections in the sheen left after a wave retreats, and the timing for the maximum reflection before the onslaught of the next wave is important as well. For the image at the top, I waited for the wave to retreat while another surge of foam was coming in but not yet at the sheen, and was able to get a bit of both, a sunrise reflection that revealed an interesting cross-hatch pattern, and have the movement in the water as well.

One note about the post processing for these ocean sunrises that is strictly a personal preference which may not be universally accepted, is the possible presence of shells and other debris in the surf or sheen. In most instances, they are a distraction to the overall serenity of the scene or to the flow of elements, or a viewers eye within the frame. I may spend quite a bit of time removing them in Photoshop using the cloning tool on a separate layer, along with all the dust spots and any other distractions, or things that just don’t seem right. Their removal does not in any way alter the emotional connection to what occurred, but does alter the absolute recording of that instant in time. This is a choice you have to make and decide in which direction you wish to go with your work. In most instances, I opt for the cleaner look.

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Stormy Skies and Surf — Isle of Palms, South Carolina © jj raia

Florida

General Thoughts
Cascading Surf — Marineland Park, Florida

Approaching Storm and Cascading Surf — Marineland Park, Florida

The drive from Charleston to Florida was a bit intense, with thunderstorms and heavy downpours throughout the day making driving difficult at times. It’s been almost 30 years since I’d been to Florida, and my first whose partial purpose was photographic. The first stop was Washington Oaks State Park just south of St. Augustine where there was supposed to be coquina rocks on the beach, and I looked forward to photographing them with the surf crashing through them. My navigation brought me to a spot that was definitely not Washington Oaks however!

Receding Surf — Marineland Park, Florida

Receding Surf — Marineland Park, Florida

It turned out to be the first of several navigation snafus during the trip that had to be overcome. Luckily, someone told me how to get there, but when I arrived, the road to the rocks was gated and closed because of damage from October’s Hurricane Matthew…the same one that damaged and closed Botany Bay and Hunting Island in South Carolina that our group had hoped to photograph. A seemingly disastrous start! But as luck would have it, someone told me about another place just north with the same rocks called Marineland Park. So off I went and found a beautiful place with rocks as far as I could see, with so many spots to explore and the weather still threatening with black clouds coming and going adding dramatic skies to the photos. At one point, I even had to take shelter in the car a while a storm  roared through, but afterward that same storm provided a great sky for the rocks that were lit by the late afternoon sun.

Passing Storm — Marineland Park, Florida

Passing Storm — Marineland Park, Florida

When another storm came through, I packed up and headed for my first experience using Air BnB (excellent, by the way), and the navigation took me right there, taking almost an hour, which was much more than I thought it would be when I booked it, so I calculated my time to get back to Marineland for sunrise the next morning. Going back however, the navigation took me a different way and it took only twenty minutes!! Snafu number two!! I could have slept in a bit longer! Not much of a sunrise though as there were still clouds around from the storms and tornado watches overnight. But as the sun rose higher, it broke through a bit and created some God beams over the ocean that added an additional element to the photos.

God Beams and Coquina Rocks — Marineland Park, Florida

God Beams and Coquina Rocks — Marineland Park, Florida

The next part of the trip was mostly for visiting, an uncle in Daytona and some friends I hadn’t seen for years in Tampa and Venice, and another one I hadn’t seen in almost 40 years! He was in Sanibel Island that offered both sunset and sunrise opportunities, but no clouds for either, so not much came of it. It was great to see these folks and wished I could stay longer, but I had to head home and decided to break up the trip with a stop at Amelia Island and Fort Cliff State Park just north of Jacksonville. Navigation snafu number three led me to a dead-end road nowhere near Amelia Island!!! I finally had to get out the trusty map to figure out where I was and how to get to the Island. It caused me to lose a good part of the afternoon before sunset and just managed a few shots of the ocean and dunes before the sunset fizzled out.

Palm and Dunes — Fort Cliff State Park, Florida

Palm and Dunes — Fort Cliff State Park, Florida

I had hoped it would light the storm clouds over the ocean, but it just never did. Next morning turned out to be mostly cloudless except a line along the horizon, so not much came of it, although I did have someone stop by and chat with me for almost the entire time I spent on the beach. Then it was back to the hotel (yes, hotel) to grab breakfast and begin the 7-1/2 hour ride home.

The trip certainly wasn’t my typical photo adventure of remote locations and solitude, but it was fun to actually interact with people, sleep in real beds and eat real dinners in restaurants, a complete departure from most of my trips. But this was not solely a photo trip where I am completely immersed in the landscape and experience a tangible connection to my surroundings every waking moment. Nonetheless, the trip was very satisfying on, for this trip, several fronts.

Breaking Dawn — Amelia Island, Florida

Breaking Dawn — Amelia Island, Florida

A Different Kind of Trip

General Thoughts
Hunting Island State Park

A Bit of Pink — Isle of Palms, SC

A few weeks ago, some photo friends and I planned to meet at a home we rented for a few days just outside Charleston, SC as a kind of mini-workshop where we would photograph a variety of things, help each other with our processing and critiquing, as well as enjoy each others company. One of the things I researched before we went was an abandoned hospital that I had seen on You Tube that I thought might be an interesting urban exploration for the group if others were interested, or on a day of rain since it would be inside. I wasn’t able to get an address, but I searched maps and thought I came up with a general vicinity and decided to try to locate it before I arrived at the house. When I got to the area in which I thought it might be, I came across a few familiar landmarks I had seen online, and with a bit more driving in the area, I found it!! I was super excited because of the photographic possibilities that may lie inside, but when I drove around to one side, I found everything boarded up completely, with the addition of several steel bars bolted in place across each door and window! The ground floor was totally sealed shut, but I could see through some broken and open windows on the second floor, that it would definitely be something worth exploring. So I ended up taking some pictures on the outside in a small area of the complete complex, all the time hoping I would find an entry point, but none materialized. Finally, a bit disappointed, I packed up to head to our rental and driving away, I noticed the main entrance to the building and thought I’d take a look so I parked the car. Then I noticed a door off the main entrance that was slightly open, with the metal bar removed and I peeked inside. What a place!!

Hunting Island State Park

Day Room — Abandoned Building, Charleston, SC

I took a few shots with my cell phone just to take back to see if anyone would be interested in returning during our trip, and headed back to the car. Then I said to myself, “Well, I’m already here, so I should really explore it with my camera.” So, I went back in with my camera and on up to the second floor where there was light since it wasn’t boarded up, and ended up spending quite a bit more time in there because I found so many interesting things throughout the labyrinth of corridors and rooms, but of course, not everything was photogenic and most of the rooms were completely empty. I found what appeared to be a small courtroom(!), two in fact(!!), several very long hallways, a large, open room with windows completely surrounding it on three sides, and finally a big room with artistic graffiti!! Not like most of the other graffiti I’d seen throughout, this room was really well done. For any images that included windows, I bracketed three frames 1-stop apart for use in HDR software later to balance the variations in values of the inside and outside light. Eventually, I had to tear myself away because it really was time to go and meet up with everyone at the house in time for a sunset shoot, so I made my way back to the door where I got in and was totally stunned that the door had been closed, locked and the metal bar bolted across it!! I searched everywhere, but there was no way out I could find. I was trapped inside!!

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Peeling Paint — Abandoned Building, Charleston, SC