Almost The Olympics

By Roger (17 July 2016)

Last weekend, I photographed the FEI Nations Cup, at Great Meadow, in The Plains, Virginia (link). This was the last event for the US Eventing Team, heading to the Olympics in Rio. It was a long, hot weekend, but the equestrian skills of the competitors were what you'd expect from Olympians – top notch. There were riders from the US, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Puerto Rico. This was the first time the Nations Cup was held outside of Europe, and it ended with a US victory. Go, Team!

On Friday, we had the opening ceremonies and a bareback puissance. A puissance tests a horse's ability to jump large obstacles, and this one was done with no saddle. You may think riding a horse is no big issue, since there is plenty of room for you on top, but, I think, jumping over tall obstacles, with no saddle and stirrups, is just plain nuts. Chris Talley, riding Wyeth, jumped a fence at five feet, 3 inches to win the event. The top rail was taller than the horse's withers. It was an exciting competition to watch.

Up high, with no saddle

Up high, with no saddle

Chris Talley, in one of his early jumps

Chris Talley, in one of his early jumps

Saturday began with the dressage, a highly regulated expression of horse training in which the horse and rider are expected to perform a judged series of predetermined movements, from memory. To the uninitiated (me), dressage can be hard to follow. Luckily, my experienced assistant for the weekend talked me through the important moves and moments to look for. (Thanks, Jen.) This is always a formal dress event, and the British Team went all out. Clark Montgomery, from the US Team, won the event on Loughan Glen.

Ben Way, from Great Britain, dressed in his top hat

Ben Way, from Great Britain, dressed in his top hat

Emily Beshear, USA

Emily Beshear, USA

The afternoon was dedicated to show jumping. This is another of the three Olympic equestrian events. The jumps vary in height and width, and the riders must negotiate the course, with a time consideration. Of course, the horse cannot knock down any of the rails or refuse a jump. The winner of the event was Clark Montgomery, from Team USA.

The location, inside the brand new Fleming Arena, was full of colorful and interesting jumps. This made for a very cluttered background. I needed to move around to find the backgrounds with the fewest distractions. I found a couple, but that gave me too many repetitive photos. Photography is full of compromises.

American Clark Montgomery swept the entire event

American Clark Montgomery swept the entire event

Canadian Colleen Loach heading for the last jumps

Canadian Colleen Loach heading for the last jumps

Sunday began with the sounds of the hounds from the Middleburg Hunt. The dogs ran around the course, delighting the kids in the crowd. They were well-behaved, but couldn't resist the call of the pond. With the sound of the horn, they were off, and the final event could begin.

Middleburg Hunt hounds taking a dip

The final event was the cross-country. Although time is still a consideration in scoring, this is an endurance test. Courses can vary from less than two miles to four miles. Sunday's course was just under two miles. It was designed by Mike Etherington-Smith, and he took full advantage of the beautiful Great Meadows grounds. Each of the jumps were, again, different heights and widths, through water, up and down hills. The course wound throughout the grounds, with portions running through the arena for those avoiding the heat in the spectator and sponsor tents. The shapes of the jumps were all different and meant to appeal to the eye and imagination. There were wagons, houses, brush, a cannon, and even one that looked like a hammock between two trees. Craig Montgomery finished off a great weekend and, again, won the event for a complete sweep.

The cross-country event is definitely the crowd favorite. The course was packed with spectators, and the design of the course allowed them to move between the jumps. We visited many of them, but I spent the most time around the pond for the most dramatic shots.

Hallie Coon, USA, jumps the hammock

Sinead Halpin, USA, jumps the beer wagon

Boyd Martin, USA, in the pond

Holly Payne Caravella, USA, and a different angle on the pond

All in all, it was another great weekend at Great Meadows. It is always one of my favorite venues for photographs. You can see the scores for all the competitors here. Here's wishing the best for our Olympic Equestrian Team when they compete in Rio. They certainly made for an enjoyable weekend.

A Strong Impression

By Mark

Every once in a while I bemoan that I have no drawing or painting talent at all.  One of the things about Photoshop and all of the available plug-ins that add to the fun are the creative tools which can help anyone overcome their own natural artistic limitations through the application of math and technology.  

Photoshop used to have a lot more “artistic” filters included including the “oil painting” one.  For a couple of releases they removed it, but they have brought it back. I think it has fairly limited tools. 

I recently had the opportunity, thanks to a loyalty coupon to get a copy of Topaz Impression.  Topaz makes some good software, but I have never purchased the whole set, because between the Nik Google collection and the OnOne software they had everything covered.  Impression is intended to convert images into drawings, sketches and paintings.  It works from Lightroom, Photoshop and as a stand-alone application. 

I’m really just starting to play with it, but have found it pretty easy to use.   The Menu has two parts, some starting presets which are grouped according to the various art forms you are trying to emulate and a panel where you can create your own effects.  

I’ve always loved impressionist paintings so naturally I started there.  I had the chance to shoot in Monet’s Garden in Argenteuil at his lily pond.  

France-4-192.jpg

Topaz has presets recreating the styles of many artists including Monet.  They even give you the option of his earlier and later periods.  

I tried different effects on the same image so you can see the range of options.  I used the later Monet, Renoir and Cezanne and you can really see the changes from picture to picture.  

Base Photo

Base Photo

Monet 2

Monet 2

Renoir

Renoir

Cezanne

Cezanne

The software also allows you to apply texture effects like different types of canvas, wood or brick, but I haven’t really explored those yet.  You also can mask out the effect from various areas of your photo directly.  Of course if you open the image from Photoshop, and create a new layer first, you can apply more complex layer masks.

So far, the software has been fun to use and provides some pathways to overcome my inability to draw anything beyond stick figures.    

Straighten Those Lines

By Roger (27 June 2016)

In the last couple of weeks, Adobe released upgrades to Lightroom and Photoshop, and they are very useful tools to further improve your photos. We'll go over them, as we try them out in our photos. If you are a CC subscriber, you should definitely download these upgrades.

The first new tool I really starting working with was the Guided Upright tool, in a new Transform panel, in the Develop module. This tool is a great aid for correcting the problem of recording straight lines with your camera. I'm sure you've noticed, especially in building photos, that lines that should be straight – vertically or horizontally – tend to be bent.

The distortion (bending) varies by lens and your position, relative to the lines. If you stand directly in front of the building, with your camera level, you will minimize these effects. However, it may not be possible to position yourself properly, with the correct focal length (or you just might not think about it at the time). You can buy a specialized lens, with tilt and shift, to correct this; it is used by architectural photographers. Most of us will need to make do with the lenses we have. The perspective corrections have been a big help to me.

In the older version, Lightroom had several automatic correction choices and manual sliders to assist with perspective adjustments. In the latest version, they have re-located the automatic perspective controls, from the prior version, and added a new Guided Upright to the new Transform panel. All of the older buttons work as they did before, and the manual sliders are there for those who prefer them.

So, now that you know why you'd want to use it and where to find it, how does this new tool work?

I do all my normal color and contrast corrections, first, before going to the Transform panel. You may choose to go directly to the Transform panel. The order of the post-processing is not important.

When you click the Guided button, you get a zoomed-in window, with a cross-hair. You'll align the cross-hair at one end of an easily-referenced location in your photo that should be vertical or horizontal. If you click and hold, you can stretch the line out to the far point. Be aware you won't notice any change to the photo until you put down a second line.

Position the cross-hair on the line you want straightened.

Position the cross-hair on the line you want straightened.

You can put up to four reference lines, in either horizontal or vertical alignments. After the first two reference lines are in place, the photo will be adjusted for the third and fourth. You do not have to use four reference lines if the first two produce the desired effect. Here is an example of the changes you can make to improve your photo's perspective.

Original, Auto Correction, Guided Upright

Original, Auto Correction, Guided Upright

The Guided Upright tool warps the photo to straighten the lines. This is a fairly easy example, but little things can have a beneficial impact on the quality of your photos. You'll get the best results on simpler photos, but you might be surprised how much you can do. The tool can make really big changes to your photo. Look at this next series:

Slanted window washer

Slanted window washer

I photographed this window washer from the ground, while he was on the third floor. To complicate my error, I was about half a block away.  My telephoto lens brought him into focus, but I have perspective problems in height and angle. With Guided Upright, I can fix these problems.

Straightened and cropped

Straightened and cropped

The changes are dramatic, and the photograph looks much better. There is a slight stretching of the window washer, but it is only noticeable to the sharpest eyes or another photographer looking closely for hints of your post-processing.

So how much warping was required to straighten these lines? You can see this by moving the Scale slider under the buttons, in the Transform panel.

That is some serious warping

That is some serious warping

You'll quickly learn which photos will respond best to these corrections. If the tool causes warping that is too objectionable, you can un-do the effect. This tool is non-destructive, as are all the Lightroom tools, so you have nothing to lose by trying it on your own photographs. Have fun with it.

Krakow RD47018

Support a Charity

By Roger (12 June 2016)

We make a very conscious effort to limit our blogs to photographic topics. Occasionally, we bend our rules to discuss topics about which we are passionate and still connect them to photography.

Both Mark and I support several charitable organizations and supporting your favorite charity is always a good thing. Of course, they request money for their operations, but they also need other types of support – including photography services.

The range of charities you can choose to support are as varied as the type of photography support they need. They need photo restorations, archival work, recording of events, and almost any type of photo work you can think of. There are even several photography-specific charitable organizations, if you prefer those. You can find a charity to match your area of interest, with very little effort. Give them some help.

Like many families, we have had several close family members afflicted with cancer, so, those charities are high on our list. This weekend, several of our family members participated in a Relay for Life walk. My wife's school sponsored a tent for the walkers, and I shot a few photographs for them. Besides the emotional Survivor's Lap, the organizers set up personal luminaires that honored those who were still fighting cancer; those who were survivors; and those who lost their fight. The luminaires lined the walking path and spelled out HOPE on the bleachers.

The Survivor's Lap

Personalizing the luminaire

Since I'm talking charity, another charity I have worked with (although I'm overdue for more support) is St. Mary's Home, link, in Norfolk, Va. Please give them a look and a donation. St. Mary's is a long-term pediatric residential care facility dedicated, exclusively, to children with severe physical and intellectual disabilities. It is one of only approximately 100 facilities of its kind, nationwide. The kids there can always use your support.

St. Mary's Fun Run

So go support a charity of your choosing. You can give them money, but your time and services may be even more helpful. They can use your photos as part of their advertising or publicity for their sponsors. You'll get a warm fuzzy and good karma for helping a worthy cause.