Friday, August 29, 2008

Spotlight on "Sidereal"

'Happy Rain' by Sidereal
Sidereal is the Flickr username of a very talented photographer whose work we can all learn from.

I stumbled across some of his photos on when I was looking for some pictures of the Canton neighborhood in Baltimore. This led me to his photostream, where many of his images of ordinary items and scenes just blew me away.

Apparently, Sidereal lives in Randallstown, the area in Baltimore County where I grew up. Familiarity having in me bred contempt, I have thought of Randallstown as a pictorially nothin' happenin' place. But Sidereal's Randallstown photo set has made me see the error of my ways.

Sometimes we photographers get in a rut and think that if we could only travel to someplace picturesque and exciting, we'd be able to make compelling photos. Sidereal reminds us that amazing images sit in our own back yards, just waiting for us to frame them.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Photogenic Boston

Trinity Church reflected in Hancock TowerThe weekend before last, we were in Boston for the wedding of one of the sons of dear friends of ours. Aside from the happy occassion, I was delighted to be in Boston after an absence of more than 30 years.

Arriving in Boston by car, I got that same rush of endorphins that I experience every time I'm on that long, sweeping curve of Lincoln Tunnel ramp in Weehauken that gives you your first close-up look at the Manhattan skyline.

Boston is a beautiful city filled with compelling architecture, from colonial to postmodern. Spending every workday as I do in architecturally-challenged Baltimore, being here was quite a treat.

Swan Boats - Boston GardenThe morning after the wedding, I was out of my hotel room by 6:30 AM, I walked past the Boston Public Library, a Beaux-Arts beauty by McKim, Mead and White, Trinity Church, and the Hancock Tower, the worthy skyscraper-regnant of the Back Bay skyline. Then just a few blocks east to Boston Garden and the famous Swan Boats, which I'd never seen in real life.

The clear day and the early hour made for beautiful morning sidelighting and nice reflections. I haven't gotten out this early to photograph in quite a while, but it really paid off.

On the way back to the hotel, looped back around the other side of the Hancock Tower for some more photos. One I had in mind was an image of the older 1947 John Hancock Building, "Little John", with the newer tower, "Big John", in the background. Here's the result - as it was still before 8AM, the western sky behind Big John was still a deep blue - no polarizer needed! I really like the contrast between the blocky, robust, all-granite design of John the Elder and the slender, pane-of-glass look of John Junior.

I remember the growing pains that the Hancock Tower went through in the mid- to late-70's. Most dramatic, even frightening, was the problem with entire windowpanes popping out and plunging, all forty-four square feet of them, hundreds of feet to the pavement below. Years went by with many empty windows replaced with plywood panels, and some took to calling the skyscraper "Plywood Palace." Another problem was a pronounced and nauseating sway of upper floors in high winds.

More than 30 years later, all of these problems have been solved, and I was able to enjoy Big John and its relationship to its surroundings in peace and confidence.

I wouldn't want to live there (I've become a complete cold-weather wimp in my old age,) but it's sure a nice place to visit. Good-looking people, great food, eye-pleasing architecture. If you haven't been there yet, I hope you get an opportunity to go - and bring your camera.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

250 W Pratt - Abstract

250 W Pratt Street - Baltimore, MDWhen it comes to skyscrapers, Baltimore is an architecturally impaired city, but there are a few exceptions. This is one of them, one of my favorites in Baltimore, 250 W Pratt Street.

This 1986-vintage, 24-floor building was designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. It's 360 feet tall (110 m), and its half-ziggurat profile and handsome banding make it a real standout any city would be proud the call its own.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tech Tuesday: Photoshop 80-20 Rule

Believe me, I'm no expert in Photoshop, but I've found that like many things in life, there is an 80-20 Rule that seems to apply. That is, you can get 80 percent of the benefit out of Photoshop by using 20 percent (or less) of its considerable array of tools.

Here is an example of that - Except for cropping, it's the first series of steps that I use on a .jpg file out of my camera. It only uses two tools, Levels and Unsharp Mask, and takes about two minutes if you do it slowly. But it really has improved the look of my images.

Now I happen to use Photoshop 4.0, a "ligher" version of Photoshop, but the same steps apply to honest-to-gosh Photoshop.

Tenth Street Tailor - Crop from Original FileHere is an image that, except for cropping, came right out of my Canon A620. I took it through the window of a tailor shop on Tenth Avenue in NYC on a cloudy day. The color balance is off - too blueish- and the image just has no snap - it's as dull as the weather outside.
Set the Black PointThe first thing I did was to bring up the Levels dialog (CTL-L). What I want to do now is key Photoshop into the blackest black in the image. To do that, I selected the Black Point eyedropper (the one on the left) and clicked it on that black patch (I think it's a hole) on the sewing machine.
Set the White PointNext, with the Levels dialog still open, I picked the White Point eyedropper (the one on the right) and clicked it to what I wanted to be the whitest white in the photo - in this case, the top of a white spool of thread.
Set the Medium Gray PointBefore I closed the Levels dialog, I picked the Gray Point eyedropper (the one in the middle) and clicked it on something that should be medium-gray, in this case, the tailor's sweater.
Tenth Street Tailor - Crop from Original FileI've repeated the original photo again here, so that you can easily compare it to the color-corrected image below.
Tenth Street Tailor - Color CorrectedHere is the color-corrected image that results after setting the black, white, and gray points and clicking OK in the Levels dialog. Compare this image to the original. Note the skin tones seem about right, and the overall bluish cast is gone. Also, the overall contrast is much better - it's as if you stripped a layer of dirty transparent film off of the photo.
Tenth Street Tailor - Local Contrast Sharpening AppliedAt this point, I usually do something that I recently found on the excellent website Luminous Landscape - it's called Local Contrast Enhancement and it's dead simple, but I find it makes a big difference.

Using the main menu, select on Filter/Sharpen/Unsharp Mask, which brings up the Unsharp Mask dialog. Select an Amount value of 20, a Radius value of 50, and a Threshold value of 0 (zero.) Before you close the dialog, click the Preview checkbox on and off a few times to see the effect. This technique adds a lot of snap to an image with almost none of the adverse affects of sharpening.

You can see the difference between the last two photos above. In the final photo, I applied Local Contrast Enhancement.

If you'd like to learn more about why this works, there is a good article here on the Luminous Landscape website.

Depending on what I'm going to do with the image (i.e., display it on the web or print it,) I usually do some "normal" sharpening as a final step, again using the Unsharp Mask.

I hope you find these few simple steps useful. I'll try to add some more Photoshop tips over the next few weeks. But if what I've shown you today isn't a great example of the 80-20 rule, I don't know what is.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Impulse Photography with a Digicam

Acton Cove Punt - Annapolis, MDOne of the great things about having a good-quality little camera is that you can do impulse photography. Sure, you've heard of impulse buying - well this is the same thing, but with taking photos. You can't impulse buy unless you have money, or more likely a credit card, on you. Likewise, you can't impulse-photograph unless you've got a camera on you.

And this has been the absolute best thing about my digicam, (a 2006-vintage Canon A620) as far as I'm concerned. It's small enough that I take it with me pretty much everywhere, and when the mood strikes, I'm ready to shoot.

I was in Annapolis this morning - not scenic Annapolis, but a few blocks away in the nothing-doing-nothing-interesting part. After my business there was over, though, I remembered seeing a nice photo the other day taken at Acton Cove, which was only a few minutes drive away. Acton Cove is on picturesque Spa Creek, and I had my Canon A620 in my jacket pocket, so there you go.

No big deal - just a few photos on an impulse. Little time expended and little risk involved. If I end up with nothing good, who will know?

The little punt that was tied up at the small public dock at Acton Cove had a nice shape, and with a little Photoshop to compensate for the flat lighting, I ended up with a pretty nice impulse photo.

Retractable SharpiesBefore I headed home, I needed a sheet of black mat board, so I headed over to Art Things, which was right on the way. They always have some sort of nice display on their porch, and this time, what caught my eye was a container full of different-colored, retractable Sharpies.

Out came the Canon A620, and I took a quick photo. Whoops, I got that little shakey-camera icon on the LCD, and sure enough, the shot looked a little blurry. A few button presses, and I switched from ISO 50 to ISO 200. Picture taken, problem solved.

Impulse satisfied.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Shutterbug Excursions Goes to Greenmount Cemetery

Greenmount Cemetery - BaltimoreIf you saw an inappropriately jolly group of people traipsing around historic Greenmount Cemetery in Baltimore today, that was us, the Shutterbug Excursionaires, on our second outing.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

My New 28 Megapixel Superwide Camera...

I don't know why I haven't tried this before... here's a panorama of the Charles River from the Back Bay in Boston.

This 180-degree photo is actually made up of five "normal" images I took with my 18-55mm zoom at it's widest setting. Equivalent to a 28mm lens on a 35mm camera, it's not a superwide by any means. But coupled with the PhotoStitch software that came with my Canon DSLR, I was able to create this panorama in a few minutes. The resulting image was 13,530 x 2142 pixels, or about 28.6 megapixels.

I did this on the spur of the moment last weekend while in Boston for a wedding, without giving it much thought, but here is a good article by Ken Rockwell on using PhotoStitch. Ken notes that even the least expensive Canon digicams made in the last two years, come with this software. The digicams even come with a special "stitch assist" mode to make life easier still.

I see this as a good technique for making some dramatic panoramas in Annapolis and Baltimore. Look for some soon.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

More Otakon 2008

Otakon 2008 - Baltimore, MDNo prompting necessary, she got right into several poses. These kids are great models! She made the costume herself... even the guitar! It's mostly cardboard, with some real guitar bits glued on.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Final Fantasy Four

Final Fantasy Four: Otakon 2008 - Baltimore, MDA great set of costumes, all made by the young man 2nd from the right. I posed them in front of a blank white wall in the food pavillion at the inner harbor. Lighting came mostly from a skylight a little to the front of the group. As usual at Otakon, I only asked them to stand in a certain location; after that, they assumed great poses on their own.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Otakon Preview

Otakon 2008 BaltimoreI'm chargin' up my battery and formatin' my card so I'll be ready for the lively scene tomorrow at this year's Otakon at the Baltimore Convention Center.

I'll let Wikipedia tell you what Otakon is all about:

Otakon is a fan convention in the United States focusing on East Asian popular culture (primarily animé, manga, music, and cinema) and its fandom. The name is a portmanteau derived from convention and the Japanese word otaku. Otakon is traditionally held on a Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in late summer at the Baltimore Convention Center in Baltimore, Maryland's Inner Harbor district. It is considered the second largest and one of the longest-running Anime conventions in the United States.

There was a line, which had been there since morning, wrapped around the Center, with people waiting to pre-register. I saw this young man tonight on my way back to the Light Rail station, just across the street from the Convention Center, and he was gracious enough to pose for me.

Now to badly paraphrase Justice Potter Stewart,I don't know much about animé or manga, but I know a great costume when I see one.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Roxy Swings

"Roxy" (Lynn Roxanne Gambrill Green) of The Fabulous Hubcaps lets loose with a riff on the saxaphone.

Elvis Sighted In Maryland!

Elvis!I saw and heard him myself! In Pikesville, no less.

Tom Connelly, aka The Elvis Man, is a pretty convincing Elvis. Along with The Fabulous Hubcaps (who really are fabulous), he was one of the acts this past Sunday at the Dancing in the Street event in Pikesville. In addition to great live music, there was an impressive display of vintage cars and various food and services booths. Sandy and I each had a foot reflexology treatment - pretty nice!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Shutterbug Excursions

Originally uploaded by Steve Rosenbach

If you live in the Baltimore-Washington metro area and are looking for a lively group of fellow photo-enthusiasts, you couldn't do better than the Shutterbug Excursions Meetup Group.

Our fearless leader, Lyn, organized the group on just a few weeks ago, and yesterday, we had our very first meetup in Annapolis.

We met at City Dock Café and headed out along Ego Alley, then over the the Naval Academy. From there we walked over to one of the many old street that have picturesque houses along the way, like this one.

By then, we had been out and about for over two hours, and most of the gang bid each other goodbye for the day. Three of us, Lyn, Tracey, and I, decided to soldier on, and we walked back to City Dock. After a few minutes of snapping photos around the Alex Haley memorial, we were treated to a full-scale hailstorm.

No problem, we just ran across the street and took shelter in Market Place. By then, we were hungry anyway and took advantage of the food concessions inside. Once the storm passed by, we had the best lighting of the day; by then it was getting on towards 7pm, and sunset, I knew, would be around 7:15.

We took more photos on the Spa Creek Bridge and around the Eastport end of the bridge, continuing well past sunset. Here's photographic proof of our steadfastness; the picture of Lyn and Tacey is timestamped just before 8 pm.

For a bunch of people who had never met before, we all got along really well and had a lot of laughs.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Self-Publishing with MyPublisher

Thanks once again to Dave Beckerman for showing the way! In his blog, Dave has chronicled his adventures with publish-on-demand photo books. He tried several and found that MyPublisher did a very good job. You can see an online version of his very fine new book, Central Park Portrait, via MyPublisher's preview facility.

I just placed my order with MyPublisher late last night, so I haven't seen the physical results yet, but you can take a peek by clicking on the photo below.

If it comes out looking anything like this online preview, I'll be very happy indeed!

I encourage all of you to try this out. MyPublisher gives you free software to help you layout your masterpiece. There are several templates and other options. It doesn't even have to be for a collection of artsy-fartsy photos - this would make a great souvenir of a family vacation. In fact, MyPublisher right now is offering a two-for-one deal; for the price of one, you'll get two copies of your first book. The website explains it all - check it out at