Photo of the Week - May 30, 2015

Green Heron foraging in the mud 
Budd Inlet

Port of Olympia, Washington
May 30, 2015

Photo of the Week - May 28, 2015

Backlit Leaf Detail

Washington Park Arboretum
Seattle, WA

May 29, 2015

Memorial Day 2015 - Capitol Campus Olympia, Washington

Tenino, Washington based T90 motorcycle drill team
 performs on Washington State Capitol Campus in
observation of Memorial Day 2015

Photo of the Week - May 21, 2015

Purple Martins on nesting boxes at Budd Inlet
Olympia, WA

May 21, 2014

Approximately 2 dozen nesting boxes have been placed on pilings in Budd Inlet, one of five inlets at the southern end of Puget Sound. Purple Martins arrive in Olympia each Spring to nest in the boxes. 

Volunteers with Thurston County Stream Team monitor the boxes multiple hours each week throughout the breeding season, recording population, breeding activities and other aspects of Purple Martin behavior. The data is part of a state-wide survey of our largest summer resident swallow. 

The nesting site is located near Olympia's Hands On Children's Museum and is along a popular pedestrian corridor, making it an active part of the hubbub of life in the city.  

Layering Bracketed Images in Photoshop using Layer Masks

Composite Image
Made by layering five bracketed images
In Photoshop
using layer masks
Landscape and architectural photographers are often confronted with less than ideal lighting situations - too much contrast, harsh shadows, buildings facing the "wrong" direction. Sometimes the problem can be solved automatically with HDR (high dynamic range) controls in camera or software. At other times, it takes a bit of finessing with Photoshop to get the image you want.

The Tumwater, WA city hall faces North. In the Spring, when cherry trees and azaleas are blooming, sunlight does not hit the front face of the building. I wanted to create an image showing the building, its landscaping and the beautiful blue sky.

Here is a short tutorial on how I created this composite image in Photoshop:

I began by bracketing my exposures in camera, mounted on a tripod. My Canon 7D Mark II does have the ability to shoot a 5 stop bracket, but in this case, I did it manually. I got a base exposure of 1/320 sec. at f/9 (ISO 200) by shooting the scene in Aperture Priority. Then, I plugged that setting into Manual exposure mode and bracketed in 2/3 stop increments to +/- 1 and 1/3 stops (5 total images).

Here are my original images

Bracketed Shots:

1/200 sec. at f/9.0          + 2/3 stops

1/320 sec. at f/9.0          Normal

1/500 sec. at f/9.0          - 2/3 stops

1/800 sec. at f/9.0          - 1 and 1/3 stops

Next, I created a single layered image in Photoshop. If you are using Adobe Bridge, you can use this easy method to make a single layered image:

  1. In Adobe Bridge, highlight all of your images
  2. Click Tools > Photoshop > Load Files into Photoshop Layers

If you do not have Adobe Bridge, or you are loading your images via Lightroom, do the following
  1. Open all of your images in Photoshop
  2. Choose one image as your background layer
  3. Activate one of the other images
  4. Select > All (Ctrl+A)
  5. Edit > Copy (Ctrl+C)
  6. Activate your background image
  7. Edit > Paste (Ctrl+V)
  8. Repeat with additional layers/images
  9. When all images have been layered into one, save your work and close all individual images

Now, you will want to align all your layers:
  1. In the layers panel, select all layers

  2. Click Edit > Auto-Align layers
  3. Save your work
To blend your different exposures, you will need to edit using layer masks
  1. Select your topmost layer in the layers panel and add a layer mask using the icon at the bottom of the panel
  2. Select each of the next layers and add a layer mask. (note: You will not be able to add a mask to the background layer if you used the copy and paste method to make your layered image)

Masks are used to reveal or hide parts of a layer without permanently altering or erasing them. In Photoshop, a white mask indicates that the layer is visible. A black mask tells us that the layer is hidden. A mask with both white and black parts signifies that the layer has both hidden and visible parts.

Masks can be altered with the paintbrush, eraser, gradient, paint bucket, or any similar tool. 

  1. Set your default colors in Photoshop to black and white by pressing the letter D on your keyboard. If white is not the foreground (top) color, press X on your keyboard to switch foreground and background.
  2. Make the mask on your topmost layer active (It will have an outline around it)
  3. Use your eraser to remove/hide parts of the topmost layer which are too dark or light
  4. Make the mask on your next layer active and erase unneeded parts of this layer
  5. Continue with each additional layer until you have a composite image
  6. Be sure to save your work along the way

If you make an error and need to replace/reveal a part of your image:
  1. Make the mask on your problem layer active
  2. Use your paintbrush to reveal/restore areas to the layer

This is a very simplified version of the process. It will take trial and error and practice to get the process right. Do not be afraid to try different sized brushes. Zoom in to see more accurate edges. Use the gradient tool for broad transitions. Experiment for the best effect.

Layering bracketed images in Photoshop - example photos

Bracketed Composite Image
Made using Photoshop Layers
and Masking

Image 1:
1/6 sec. at f/11

Image 2:
1/13 sec. at f/11
Image 3:
1/25 sec. at f/11

Image 4:
1/3 sec. at f/11

Image 5:
6/10 sec. at f/11

Bracketed Composite Image
Made using Photoshop Layers
and Masking

Photo of the Week - May 3, 2015

Tiny waterfall along the trail of our Sunday hike

Highway 410
near Greenwater, WA

May 3, 2015

White Balance and Night Photography

Auto White Balance
Camera is not able to automatically correct for the 
mercury or sodium vapor street lighting
Tungsten White Balance
Tungsten White Balance has a different color characteristic compared to mercury
or sodium vapor lights. The color correction is not accurate.
Custom White Balance
When shooting snow or other neutral subject matter, it is easy to get a custom white balance at the time one shoots the photograph. If there is not a readily available neutral or white target to use for custom white balancing, consider shooting in RAW and using the custom white balance tool in your Editing program. Customizing while editing is a good tactic when there are mixed light sources or when you want flexibility in deciding the perfect color balance. 

Photo of the Week - May 1, 2015

May Day at Scatter Creek Wildlife Area
May 1, 2015

When I use the words "Prairie" and "Puget Sound" in the same sentence, I usually get a look of confusion in response. Surely, you mean Nebraska or South Dakota? Nope. Western Washington!

A large rocky prairie exists south of Olympia, thanks to the receding glaciers of the last ice age. Surrounded by native oaks, the undulating landscape is covered with low vegetation. 

One of the best times to visit is late April to early May. The signature flowers - blue camas and Western buttercup - carpet many areas in dynamic blue and yellow. Spring gold lomatium, Scarlet paintbrush and Puget balsamroot dot the landscape with yellows and reds. Thanks to active restoration efforts on the part of many entities, including Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, invasive scotch broom and grasses are being eradicated and the natives are beginning to thrive. At Scatter Creek Wildlife Area, a controlled burn area rewards those who walk a bit from the parking area with a large expanse of tiny blue-eyed Mary - from a distance it looks like the ground has been dyed purple.  

Next Saturday, May 9, 2015, is a special day for wildflower and wild space lovers - Prairie Appreciation Day - May 9, 2015. From 10 AM until 3 PM, the Thurston County Black River-Mima Prairie Glacial Heritage Preserve will be open to the public. The preserve is normally closed to public access to protect the fragile landscape and protected plant and animal species. A special celebration will also take place at the nearby Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve. Prairie Appreciation Day is a great opportunity to enjoy a truly unique part of Western Washington's landscape.  
Scarlet Paintbrush and blue-eyed Mary
Castilleja miniata and Collinsia parviflora

Sea thrift
 Armeria maritima

Field chickweed and blue-eyed Mary
Cerastium arvense and Collinsia parviflora

Spring Gold and blue-eyed Mary
Lomatium utriculatum and Collinsia parviflora

Common camas and Western buttercup
Camassia quamash and Ranunculus occidentalis

Puget balsamroot
Balsamorhiza deltoidea


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