Sunday, April 20, 2014

One Shot image-by-image recap

I wrote about a few images in depth, but for most I didn’t have much to say, and let the image speak for itself. Since the point of the project was to see if I could make a decent image with only one shot, though, I thought I should offer some opinions about how well each image succeeded.

I’ll use my 5-star ranking system from Lightroom:

Technically unacceptable. Often deleted.


Acceptable, but uninteresting, or better variations are available.


Decent shot. The threshold for posting publicly.


Very good shot. Memorable.


Excellent shot. Among my all-time favorites.

Ash Wednesday: When I got up, I wasn’t completely sure that I wanted to do this project, but this dawn scene was good enough to push me over the edge. ★★★

Curves and Lines: Puts Ash Wednesday to shame. Natural colors like this don’t come along every day. ★★★★★

Cinderella: A technically flawed shot that was salvaged to ★★★. Maybe. This is one where more time on the subject might have helped.

Boots: As I mentioned, I would have liked more working room to blur the background more. ★★★

US 219: I drove around forever on the weekend without finding anything I liked. I went under this underpass pretty early, and figured I’d come back to it if I didn’t find anything better. I didn’t find anything better. But the sky was nice, and with the ultra-wide-angle, the perspective was dramatic. I’m still learning the quirks of the Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6. The upper right corner of the bridge is soft, while the electric wires there appear sharp—I’ll call that astigmatism. ★★★★

Decrepit: It’s a decaying house, does what it says on the tin. It’s nice to find one without “ugly” junk in the yard, and the sky was nice, and I like the snow on the ground. It’s the kind of subject I find myself drawn to too easily though, and I’m not sure I have anything new to say. ★★★

Rugged Terrain: What I was going for was the appearance of a hillside—an exercise in topography. I’m not sure the relief and shadow comes through quite enough. I originally set up  at a lower angle, which I think would show it better, but the light fell off too much in the background. ★★★

Dog: Technically ★, conceptually ★★★★. I love the contrast of the red dog and the green dresses. I don’t know how I ended up with so much camera shake, but at least I was able to make it look OK at small size.

The Edge of Dawn: This image exhibits a known flaw with the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 lens on certain Olympus bodies: In very low light, a horizontal banding pattern, probably due to electronic noise, is visible in the image. I should know better. I applied a bunch of noise reduction, and even introduced “grain” in Lightroom to try to conceal it, but for me it’s the kind of flaw that once you see it, you can’t un-see it. I should have had the K-5 II with me and set it up on a tripod. I’ll go with technically ★, conceptually ★★★★ once again.

Thaw: I like this one well enough. The challenges were to get lined up nice and square (or close enough to adjust in Lightroom), and to preserve highlight detail (I find a bunch of –Highlights in Lightroom helpful to separate tones). ★★★

Hill: I was very pleased with the way the patches of snow on the hillside resembled clouds in the sky (and luckily I had a nice sky to match). My one complaint is that there’s a bit of a bright edge where the sky meets the hill, from the negative blue filtration in Lightroom not having quite enough effect at the boundary. ★★★★

Boundary: I drove around looking for something, and this is something. This was shot at f/5.6, and I’m thinking I should have gone for shallower depth-of-field. ★★★

Trapped: I like this one. Technically sound and well-detailed, with a composition that’s pleasing to me. I was able to crank up the contrast to show the texture of the ice and leaves (and then had to dial back the saturation to keep the leaves realistic). ★★★★, maybe more with further consideration.

Lichen: I’m likin’ this one as well. I’m happy with the composition and depth-of-field, and the focus is pretty accurate. I had to pull back the highlights considerably to hold detail. ★★★★

Edges: Another one that I’m happy with. As usual, a bunch of –Highlights to reveal the detail and texture in the ice. One thing I think is weird about this one is that the near edge of the ice looks like it’s had a gradient effect applied—it seems to fade to darkness. But that was its natural appearance as it melted near the foreground spillway. ★★★★

Storage: I walked around our property for a while, and couldn’t find much. I find the gray, muddy spring days to be challenging. I decided on our fence with the neighbor’s trailer, but this is probably the first shot of the project that I wouldn’t have chosen to share. ★★

Food: Redemption, I suppose. I was on a long drive this afternoon, and knew that I had to find something to photograph during the nice light around sunset. I saw this old sign near a highway exit, but didn’t get off in time, so I had to drive to the next exit (several miles) and turn around. I shot the sign into the light, framing it with the electric lines. The sun was in the frame, to the right, but cropped out of the final image. I envisioned a high-contrast Kodalith-type treatment, and it ended up working well. The main challenge in processing was to get some detail in both the sky and the sign. This was reblogged on Tumblr by LENSBLR, and hundreds of kind folks responded favorably. I’m happy with it too, so I’ll go with ★★★★★.

Shop Online: Amusing enough, with the strange juxtaposition of a shopping cart with landscaping rocks waiting to be used somewhere. I saw this at the shopping center, and wasn’t sure I’d see anything better that day, so I went with it. (It was a tossup between this, and an overstuffed recliner with a sad yellow helium balloon on the sidewalk outside the Rent-A-Center.) ★★★

Burrs: I collected these burrs on my dress shoes the day I ended up shooting Storage. I thought they would be an interesting subject, so I let them be for a couple of days. I’m pretty sure I was wrong. ★★

Spring: I didn’t have much time to shoot, so I needed something easy. The big bird poop on the bright red roof of my car looked interesting enough in real life, but I don’t think I did anything successful with it. The pure red tones look a little weird reflecting the blue sky, and it’s a little too hard to figure out what you’re looking at. ★★

Timber: I drove around the back roads on my way home from work, and didn’t see anything for a while. When I found these stacked logs, I thought the richly detailed cut ends might make a good, textural B&W photograph. I shot them with the Olympus E-PL5, which was set to display B&W in the EVF. I made the sinuous alignment of cracks the focus of my composition. When I got home, I realized that the blue paint continues the curve—it hadn’t really shown up in the B&W EVF display. So I went with color to show the blue paint clearly, and cropped off the left edge that didn’t add anything to the curve. ★★★★

Please Order: Another case of needing to shoot something without much time, and this was something. It’s a former KFC. Not as interesting as I’d hoped it would be. ★★

Stop Go: I had time to spend a few minutes walking around downtown after work. I’d been thinking there would be something interesting to shoot on this side of the mills, but it’s hard to get a clean line of sight due to a fence in the foreground. By shooting the railroad sign with a telephoto lens, I could isolate a relatively “clean” image. The perfectly squared-off background is an interesting contrast to the oblique subject, I think. ★★★★

Beaverdale: Drove around a while after work, finally found this scene. Quite successful, I think, with the big, modern wind turbines towering over the small town. The framing is a little tight, especially on the right edge (I was using the 70-300mm at 70mm, so I would have had to drop down to the 50mm lens to frame wider.) I’m also not crazy about the bottom edge (couldn’t really avoid cropping through a building or some trees). There was some weirdness with the trees on the hillside—they turned mushy and strangely toned in the image, like their spatial frequencies were interacting badly with the antialiasing filter or something. I burned in the hillside pretty hard to hide the problem. ★★★★

Stream: Drove around a while (sensing a pattern?) and came across a State Game Lands near Nanty-Glo that I hadn’t known about. This attractive little stream was right next to a parking area, and the water was low enough to cross easily. The “falls” is very small, just a few inches, but I was able to put the ultra-wide right up next to it. With an 8x ND filter and f/13, I was able to attain an exposure of 1 second, which was sufficient to blur the water. As usual, everything was brown and dull, so I went with a black-and-white treatment. ★★★

Branches: I was fed up with winter, of course, but this late snow clung attractively to all surfaces. When I went out on our property, I was envisioning a wider scene, showing perhaps a few pine trees. But I came across this perspective, with uncountably many fine branches, rendered in stark contrast by the snow. This one is best viewed large. ★★★★

Tree: I’d driven past this majestic specimen on several occasions, and on this day, with clear blue skies for contrast, I decided it was time to capture its resplendent glory. The result is, I think, fully successful in its aims. ★★★★

Mounds: Another scene I’d been noticing on a daily basis. I found the layers of grungy snow (with varying amounts of grunge) to be captivating, and time would soon run out as the snow melted. But I don’t think the photograph captures the layer after layer of depth that I had intended. ★★

Dormant: The result of wandering around the property with no ideas, and finding the usual brown spring muck. I decided to try a macro on this goldenrod, and it’s came out in line with my intentions, but it’s just a boring idea. The plane of focus should have been slightly farther away, but given how much the frail plant was bouncing around, I can’t complain. ★★★

Dawn: On a morning like this, you have to get something while the sky is perfect. I settled for my usual cliché, Good Ol’ Rock. It required some effort in Lightroom to bring the foreground out of the darkness without (I hope) overdoing it. I think the composition should have been a little further to the left (as the sky to the right is less interesting), although that may have brought an unsightly steel barn into the frame. ★★★

Barn: I’d driven past this barn on the back roads home from work many times, but hadn’t really paid attention to it. I think getting both the brick and wood textures in a single structure is pretty interesting, and it wasn’t a bad find on a dreary day. Black and white really lets the textures come forward. ★★★★

Gold/Green: I saw this scene the evening before, on the way home from dinner after already taking Barn. The green container, with its markings truncated to GREEN, immediately struck me. The next day, my mom came up to spend the day shooting my cameras, because she was becoming interested in photography and was trying to decide what to buy. We went to lunch, and I had her pull over so I could make this picture. It satisfies both my New Topographics sensibilities and my sense of humor. ★★★★ with room to grow.

Camera Porn: I’d been wanting to take a portrait of my E-PL5 with the Pana-cake and handsome Gordy's strap for a while, and Mom’s decision to get the same camera made me decide it was time. But I’m not thrilled with this. The Pentax FA 50mm f/1.4 at f/2 blurred the background plants nicely, but the depth-of-field on the camera and strap is just too shallow. And the FA50’s spherochromatism required the use of Lightroom’s Defringe tool to remove magenta fringes from the Olympus logo. ★★

Easter: Jesus. Bunnies. Pretty much has it all, amirite? I only had a few minutes to photograph in Windber, but luckily I found this. ★★★

Field: This sharp-edged tree line was another subject I’d wanted to photograph for some time, and a day with beautiful puffy clouds seemed like a good opportunity. The processing was pretty straightforward, and could have worked in color as well (though, as usual, I’m weary of the brown fields). I like a good bit of negative Highlights and a bunch of Clarity in Lightroom to reveal the textures within clouds. ★★★★

Palindrome (or: Kayak Kayak Kayak Kayak): These brightly colored watercraft were a target of opportunity while shopping. ★★★

Jagger Bush: The title is from the local dialect. An ugly duck had shown up at our place the day before, and was still around. The Spousal Unit reported that he was friendly toward her and followed her around. My idea was to head out with the ultra-wide and try to get the duck to approach, so I could get a funny shot of his big bill right in front of the lens. (Admittedly, this was a risky notion for a one-shot project.) The duck, however, didn’t like me that much, and swam away when I approached. Still with the ultra-wide on the camera, I found this thorny bush forming an intriguing arch, with sufficiently interesting clouds behind. I processed it with a lot of Clarity to emphasize the graphic arch and the texture of the clouds. I rarely use presets, but went with an X-Equals Cold Storage “Daguerrotype” preset that looked good. Their split toning is pretty close to my usual, anyway. ★★★★ (PS: The ugly duck is visible as a floating speck in the background.)

Museum: A chance to show off the bokeh of the Pana-cake while enjoying beer and art at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art’s temporary facility. The architectural model depicts their future home. I like this well enough, but I wish the bartender was behind something more attractive than an Igloo cooler. ★★★

UVA: It was a beautiful, warm spring day, so I decided to drive up toward Altoona, take a picture, and get some Chipotle. I had an idea in mind, north of Altoona, but I took back roads in case I came across something better on the way. I saw this scene on the way through town. I like the graphic simplicity of the building, framed by the tunnel and offset by arches. The dynamic range of the K-5 II served me well here, holding detail in the highlights even in an imperfect exposure. I didn’t notice that this was taken at 1/20 second until I got home. It’s tack-sharp (thanks SR!) but I should have used a higher ISO. (Also, I feel like this is actually too smooth… I may revisit it and add some grain.) ★★★★

Palm: Well, this is an interesting one. I figured for Palm Sunday, I could be a bit clever and photograph my palm, and one idea that came to mind was to press it up against the shower door. I was going for “exhaustion” but I think I ended up with something far more morbid. With the ultra-wide-angle lens necessary in the confined space, my body recedes from my palm dramatically, taking on a grotesque, disfigured appearance. And the dark water drop falling from my palm could be read as blood, with the surrounding hand prints also reading like bloodstains. ★★★★

Hotel: A chilly evening with just a few minutes to shoot before dinner at the Windber Hotel. I’d been thinking about this shot for a while, and grabbed it. I always liked the sign, and the graffiti is a nice counterbalance. ★★★★

Unsprung: More snow in the spring that wouldn’t end. The dusting of snow on the oak leaves looked attractive, and the green shoot of young grass indicates the season. But the dimensionality doesn’t come through in the photograph, and it comes across to me as flat. ★★

Church: On my way to work the next morning, I was struck by the dusting of snow that blew off some shingles and collected on others on this church roof. A bridge conveniently provided eye-level shooting of the roof. I immediately envisioned a high-contrast, almost binary, image. I thought of the work of Chuck Kimmerle, one of my favorite contemporary photographers. The resulting image, which is still in full color, was true to my vision, and one of my favorite recent photographs. It is best appreciated large—in fact, I’m tempted to print it 20x30 and use it as a background for portraits or something. The response to this photograph on the social networks has been rather subdued, but I take Chuck's advice to heart. ★★★★★

Daffy: I first saw these daffodils, at the edge of a vast field, before the snow. I should have photographed them then. After the snow, they were drooping and sad. This photo gets the basic idea, but it has a number of flaws: I couldn’t find a daffodil facing me (with the field behind), the daffodils were damaged by snow, and I had trouble composing accurately. I was using the Pentax K-5 II with the Sigma ultra-wide, and composed using live view to get the low angle. But I had trouble seeing the screen and composing precisely due to the sun, and placed the flower too close to center. I had to crop to 4x5 to move the flower off center, and it’s a less dramatic frame than I intended. But at least it looks like spring. ★★★, maybe less.

Good Friday: The iPhone 5 is not my favorite camera, but it’s part of the arsenal, and deserves a shot, right? Lots of people use their phones as a primary camera, and while the iPhones have good cameras for a phone, the results still fall short of my technical expectations, and I don’t find the ergonomics enjoyable for shooting. But I was in the mall for a haircut, and ended up behind the Easter Bunny as he approached his booth at the start of his shift, with all the children waiting in line. I was tempted to caption this Matthew 27:33. The iPhone blew out the highlights on the bunny’s head, but I was able to clone some texture from the side of the head. ★★★, maybe more.

Crane: This crane was near a series of cellular and radio towers adjacent to farm fields (the same fields as Field). I opted for the Pentax 100mm f/2.8 Macro to isolate a graphic, minimalist composition, dominated by the negative space of the sky. A Kodachrome 64 preset from X-Equals gave colors and contrast that worked for me, although I shifted the sky back toward a truer blue from the preset’s cyan. ★★★★

An overall recap of the project will be forthcoming.

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