The Ring of Kerry

By Mark

Every guide book for Ireland says you must visit the Ring of Kerry.  They are right.  A rugged peninsula jutting into the Atlantic Ocean holds much of the history of settlements from the earliest footholds and still shows many of the scars from the Potato Famine.  

The clouds meet the sea and the land

The clouds meet the sea and the land

We knew that the roads were narrow and wound their way around the coastline.   I really wanted to be able to enjoy the sights and take photos without the stress of driving and navigating narrow roads on the wrong side.

We engaged a driver and car for the day and it was a smart choice.  Our driver Tom was a great guide and a lot of fun. 

Our first stop was another Heritage village, showcasing village life around the time of the famine. 

One of the most poignant signs was this eviction notice to a Widow to clear out of her cottage. 

Wreckers would come in and tear out the roof and doors leaving the residents without shelter or support.  Houses like this, are still evident everywhere.  

The town of Cahirsiveen was the turning off point for Ballycarbery Castle and some stone forts.

Unlike the U.S. where everything would have had safety rails and warning signs, you could climb up as far into the ruins as you dared. 

Cahergall and Leacanabuile stone forts were built by hand with thick walls to shelter a farm and their livestock from raiders by land and by sea.

These two were pretty well visited by tourists. Tom took us down a sheep trail, where it was obvious very few visitors went to see Caherdaniel fort.  

The state mowing crew had just finished and the smell of the grass, the sea air and the incredible variety of the shades of green really made us feel we were back in time. 

Old walls and houses and new sheep

Old walls and houses and new sheep

We stopped for lunch in the colorful village of Sneem.

These rocks and the river also seem to appear in every advertisement for the area.  I wouldn’t want to go kayaking or tubing here. 

As we drove back towards the Gap of Dunloe, every time we stopped we had the chance to watch the play of clouds and light on the hills. 

Every few seconds rays of sunshine would break through and illuminate little segments of the valleys and rocks.

Finally we stopped at Torc Waterfall.  A nice hike up the trail with a few hundred folks takes you to lookout points where you can’t tell that another person was in a hundred miles

It was a long day, but one that neither of us will forget.   Of course we had some Guinness and Cider to enjoy as we looked back on the day.   Well only one more adventure to go—Cork and Waterford.    

Restoring Faded Color Photos

By Roger (26 July 2015)

When you're restoring really old photographs, you spend most of your time repairing rips, scratches, and faded monochrome tones. It can be tedious work, but most people can do it without too much trouble.

People seem to stumble, however, when confronted with an old color photo. It has been exposed to light for decades and has faded significantly.

A faded, color photo from 1971

A faded, color photo from 1971

This photo is pretty typical. How can you get those colors back? You can do a pretty good job in Lightroom if you're patient. I would spend time in the HSL/Color/BW sliders of the Develop module, if you want to use just Lightroom.

There are several good methods to try. You can find a variety of them on the web. My preferred method is using a Levels and a Threshold Layer, inside of Photoshop. This is a tried and true method that has been used for a long time (at least, in computer years).

Open the photo as a copy, so you keep your original scan. I always retouch the image, first, before I fix the colors. You can see the scratches better when you zoom in. Yikes.

Zooming shows the magnitude of the repair needed

Zooming shows the magnitude of the repair needed

We've talked about how to fix those, so let's jump ahead to the problem of faded colors.

Open a Levels layer and, then, a Threshold layer. Highlight the Levels layer.Move the White's slider (on the right) until the screen is all white. Now, slowly move it until you see some blocks of black. The top eyedropper in the Levels properties panel is to set the black point. Use it to sample the the middle of the black blocks. The image on your screen will shift; don't worry about it. The image, below, shows the these two points.

photoshop close-up

Now, just move the black slider so the screen is completely black and slowly move it until you see the first blocks of white. Use the whites eyedropper (bottom of the three eyedroppers in the Levels panel) to sample that point. The screen will change, again.

You don't need the Threshold layer anymore, so pull it into the trash can. Use the center eyedropper to sample a gray point, and your photo's color should be restored.

The difference is significant

The difference is significant

The difference is pretty dramatic. You can save the file and make further adjustments in Photoshop – maybe use your favorite plug-ins. Or take it back into Lightroom to make final changes. I would want to crop it a little to make the subject a little more prominent. With practice, you can make these color corrections in less than five minutes.

Thanks for the question, Allan.

Cathedrals and HDR

By Mark

Have I mentioned how much I love my 14-24mm wide angle lens Sarah got me for Christmas?  One of the things I knew I would find on our Ireland was lots of beautiful old churches and cathedrals.

Killarney Cathedral

Killarney Cathedral

These massive structures pose some distinctive photographic challenges.  There is a huge range of light as these were mostly built before the introduction of electricity.  The huge stained glass windows provide color but their reach can be limited.  Next, you have the sheer scale of the buildings.  Cathedrals were intended to be imposing and impressive reminders of the power of the church.  Soaring roofs and columns with intricate carvings add lots of dark shadows to try and capture. Finally, there are side rooms and art pieces everywhere which are intended to catch the eye and inspire the viewer.  Taken all together these are exactly the kinds of circumstances for which HDR was designed. 

I very purposely shot a lot of 7 shot bracketed grouping planning to convert them when I processed them.

One of the more useful, but underused features in LR are the Stacking commands.  Instead of cluttering up your screen space you can just make a pile and only see the top shot.  

Once I have created my final results, I just put that on top and the originals are hidden, however they remain accessible if I change my mind.  

7 Shot stacks in LR

7 Shot stacks in LR

Since you can create HDR directly from LR these days, I played around with the number of different processing tools I had and was interested to observe that the results varied widely.  You can use LR, Photoshop, Nik’s HDR Efx, or OnOne Perfect Effects HDR Panel.  I found that there really isn’t a common vocabulary among the tools.  Which version I liked seemed to have more to do with the subject than in the software I used.  I processed Ashford Castle’s grand hallway in Photoshop. 

I used OnOne for Killarney’s St Mary’s Cathedral, but liked the baptistery much better directly from LR.   

Finally, I used Nik for this single image HDR toning to bring out the details of the peat pile, while not overdoing the rest of the cottage.  

As with most things in the Photoshop world, there are multiple ways of doing anything and you as the “artist” need to use the tools that bring the image to life as you want the viewer to see it. 

Rodeo Time

By Roger (19 July 2015)

It's been a busy couple of weeks, with very little chance to exercise my shutter fingers. I did get to spend a couple of hours, at the Fauquier County Fair, with our local camera group. We went on opening night for the rodeo.

As rodeos go, this one is small. You don't get to see many of the events found at the big rodeos. This one is limited to a couple dozen bull riders and the barrel racers. And, since it started late, the sun set before we got to the barrel racers. The good thing about small rodeos is you can get close to the action if you get there early enough. We did and were right on the fence, across from the chutes.

While we were waiting, we got to chat with the show's official photographer, Chris “Click” Thompson. (You can check out his site here.) He was setting up strobes around the arena, so he could keep working after sunset. He spent some time with our group, talking camera geek stuff. He travels with the show, as a free-lancer, so he's seen the action many times and passed out some shooting advice. He dropped by, again, mid-way through the bull riding to check in on us. It was a thoughtful gesture from a full-time professional.

Since our group had been to this rodeo, last year, we knew the best place to catch the bulls coming right out of the chutes.

Let 'er rip

Let 'er rip

This is a good time for a zoom lens, with a quick autofocus, because the action moves quickly around the arena, and you can't move with it. I used the 70-200 and kept the autofocus on active. The sun was fading, so we were increasing our ISO to keep the shutter speeds above 1/640.

Hanging on

Hanging on

My favorite shots have the bull's feet completely off the ground. You might not think a 1,600 pound bull could jump that high, but they seem to get real agitated at the riders. You can tell how low the sun is by looking at the bull's shadow on the chute.

That bull has great hang time

That bull has great hang time

I noticed more riders wearing helmets, rather than hats, this year. I'm all for safety, but maybe you shouldn't be hanging onto the back of a bull to begin with. The disadvantage of those helmets becomes apparent when you hit the dirt. And many of the riders did just that.

Bull Rider Faceplant

Bull Rider Faceplant

That facemask scoops up lots of dirt.

That facemask scoops up lots of dirt.

When the bulls cooperate, you can get some great facial expressions from the riders. There comes a point on the ride where they realize the bull has the upper hand, and they are going down.

End of the ride

End of the ride

Uh-oh!

Uh-oh!

Unfortunately, because of the late start, I didn't have the light I needed for the barrel racers. The speed and skill those horsewomen display is fun to photograph. Here's one of my favorites from last year.

Gotta love the barrel racers

Gotta love the barrel racers

We all had a great time at the rodeo: eating only the finest cuisine; hanging with other photographers; and lots of challenging subjects to photograph. Don't miss your chance when the rodeo comes to town.