Roadside Snow On the Rocks – Working with Layers

I’m finally starting to slow down a little bit and try to concentrate on learning more about the software that I use to process my photos.  Rather than cranking out a lot of so-so shots, I’m trying to pick one shot (or one set of brackets) and play around with the various options in Paintshop Pro to compare the results of various techniques.  Tonight I started trying to figure out how to use adjustment levels in my processing.

I ran across a great blog called HDR Cookbook that is authored by Klaus Herrmann, who turns out some of the most beautiful HDR images I’ve seen. The HDR Cookbook is filled with some very useful information that is very helpful to beginners like myself. One of the first chapters discusses workflow, and I found some extremely helpful information in there about using levels to separate each tweak to the image so that the original image is untouched. The tutorial is written for the Photoshop products (including Adobe Camera Raw), which I don’t own, but I was able to translate a lot of the information to Paintshop Photo Pro with no difficulty.

One thing that the Cookbook talks about at the very beginning is a phenomenon called “chromatic aberration” (CA). This is the purple fringe that sometimes shows up when there are areas of high contrast in a photo. I hadn’t had to deal with that problem until I started processing HDR’s from the snow shots from this past weekend. The Cookbook recommends using Adobe Camera Raw to remove the CA. Since that software isn’t in my arsenal, I tried using the Photomatix option “Reduce Chromatic Aberration” during the HDR process, but it didn’t appear to have much of an effect…the purple was still there. Of course, you have to zoom in close to see it, but now that I know it’s there, it will haunt me.

Anyway, I did the best I could with this shot, playing with separate layers for Topaz Adjust, DeNoise, Curves, and Saturation. I couldn’t figure out how to create a separate layer for sharpening, so I applied that step after I merged the layers. The great thing is, I still have all the original image files and I can go back and try this over and over until I get it right as I learn more about the process.

So, here’s my shot for today…snow on the roadside rocks. Enjoy!

Roadside Snow and Stone

Snowy Rough Rider

The Yavapai County Courthouse in Prescott, Arizona has several Western-themed sculptures on the grounds.  A couple of days ago I posted a shot of one of them, and today I’ve processed another one.  This is the Buckey O’Neill Monument dedicated to the Rough Riders.  Buckey O’Neill was the true archetype of the American cowboy.  There’s a nice article about him on Wikipedia, where you’ll find, for instance, that he was played by Sam Elliot in the TNT movie Rough Riders.

The statue is not Buckey, but Buckey was a member of the Rough Riders and was killed in action in 1898 in the war against the Spanish.  Teddy Roosevelt wrote about the death of O’Neill: “The most serious loss that I and the regiment could have suffered befell just before we charged”.

The statue, designed and created by Solon Borglum, was erected in Prescott in 1907.  It was seen in the movie Billy Jack in the Korean martial art scene.

The HDR image below was created from three hand-held bracketed photos.  I used Photomatix to merge the photos, and then used Paintshop Photo Pro X3 and Topaz Adjust / DeNoise to post-process.  It’s challenging to work with the dark sculpture against the lighter sky and snow, but hopefully I didn’t butcher this one too badly….I like it anyway!

Snowy Rough Rider

No Entry

This shot was taken on Highway 89 south of Prescott, Arizona late last Sunday afternoon.  Arizona was hit by a sizeable winter storm just before New Years Day, and there was still plenty of snow on the ground around Prescott, enough to entice us to drive up from Phoenix (about 90 miles away) for a quick photo shoot.

This is a HDR image from three bracketed photos.  I tweaked it quite a bit using Photomatix, Topaz Adjust/DeNoise, and Paintshop Photo Pro X3. I even added the sunburst since the day was actually quite overcast…it just seemed to need a little bit of light.  Click the photo to view large on black:

No Entry

Even though the sign says “No Entry”, it’s obvious from the tracks in the snow that the sign was being ignored. Here in Arizona, snow is a big event, and people of all ages get out to play in it at every opportunity, no matter what the sign says. I know I did!!

The Flag, the Tree and the Snow

I’m working through the shots that I took on Sunday afternoon in Prescott after the big New Year’s snowstorm.  There was still a lot of snow around on Sunday, but there wasn’t much sun, so the shots that I took were mostly dull and flat.  Thank goodness for the digital darkroom and the power of software!

I’m finding that there are all kinds of possibilities for working with such high-contrast subjects as snow, an overcast sky, and the darker objects in the foreground.  Here’s a shot that I especially like.  This is the flagpole in front of the Yavapai County courthouse in downtown Prescott.  By aiming my camera up at the flag, I caught the dark, snow-covered branches of the trees, with the overcast sky in the background.  The shot was kind of dull out of the camera, but by boosting the contrast and doing some edge enhancement, it improved quite dramatically (click to view large on black).  It almost looks like a black and white photo with some color-popping applied, but it’s not:

Flag Trees and Snow

While the photo above was processed from a single image, I’m also getting some good HDR results, even though my shots were hand-held and I was shivering from the cold (thanks, Photomatix V4, for your great image alignment functionality!). Here’s a shot of one of the municipal buildings across from the courthouse, with a beautiful snow-covered spruce tree giving it a fairy-tale appearance. After combining three bracketed images to create the HDR image, I then used the Vibrance preset in Topaz Adjust to bring out the colors that had been washed out by the overcast skies. A little bit of Topaz DeNoise, and a little tweaking of the Curves in Paintshop Pro X3 yielded this result:

Snow Icing

More snow shots to follow, so stay tuned!

Yes, It Snows in Arizona

Last week we had a pretty powerful winter storm come sweeping through Arizona just in time for New Years.  There were even reports of snow here in the Phoenix area, although the weather gurus said that most of it was sleet or tiny hail.  Whatever.  Anyway, about 90 minutes and 4000 feet in altitude away, there was quite a bit of snow in Prescott.  I had to work over the weekend, and didn’t get a chance to go check it out until today.

I finished my “work” work about 2:00PM, and then we figured we still had about three good hours of daylight left so we packed the camera gear and some gloves in the car and headed north.  When we left Phoenix the skies were partly cloudy, but it was obvious that it was becoming more overcast as the day went on.  And sure enough, by the time we reached Prescott about 3:30, the skies were completely cloudy.

That didn’t stop us from trying to get some interesting photos, however.  Our first stop was at the Yavapai County courthouse in downtown Prescott.  We parked the car on the square and then had a great time walking around in the snow with all the other tourists who had probably driven up from the Valley.

I didn’t bother getting the tripod out because there was still a lot of ice in places, and I was doing good to keep myself upright without having my hands full.  I shot everything hand-held, including some bracketed series that I intended to use for HDR’s, relying on Photomatix to line up the shots.  Even though I had the VR turned on, I was shivering enough that it was hard to keep the camera steady, so I really hope Photomatix comes through for me.

We didn’t get home until 8PM, and I have to go back to work tomorrow, so I only processed one shot tonight, just to get a feel for what I got.  I’ll be sharing more shots later this week, including some that we took in the Prescott National Forest that are pretty cool.

Here’s a shot of one of the sculptures on the lawn of the courthouse.  It was tough to get a good exposure reading with the dark bronze sculpture against the white snow and the overcast sky.  I think that’s where HDR really shines.  I took a bracketed series so that I was able to capture the detail of the sculpture in one exposure, but get the detail of the snow in another, and then combine them so that it’s all visible.  Then I couldn’t resist applying a little Topaz treatment to really make the colors pop (it was such a drab day, why not liven things up a little?), and I really liked the results.

Hope you do too! Be sure to view it large!!

Bronze in Snow