A Gorge-ous Hike

By Mark

While we were at the Homestead Resort, one of the other fun activities we went on was their Cascades Gorge Hike.  There is a unique rain forest area nearby, which the resort also owns.   We were very fortunate, in that it rained all night and only stopped an hour before our group was scheduled to go out, which meant that we had a relatively small group.  Each hike is led by a naturalist and professional cat herder.  We were very fortunate to get Brian La Fountain as our guide and master level bad joke teller.   His puns, Sarah said in amazement are worse than mine.   He has been doing this for 30 years and you can tell totally loves his job.   You can read a bit more about him here; http://bit.ly/1Yxtlhy.

Anyway, the hike goes past 12 beautiful small waterfalls along its three mile path.  Each cascade has a very unique look.  This blog is about how I tried to process the images to capture what I saw there. 

When you go out chasing waterfalls, you have some key choices to make.  Are you trying to capture the energy of the rushing water, or are you trying to show the silkiness of the water that comes with the passage of time?  Normally, I shoot with my camera on Aperture priority.  I like choosing what elements of my image are going to be in the sharpest focus and then letting the camera figure out the right shutter speed to deliver that.   Waterfalls, like sports are best shot in Shutter priority mode.  You decide how much of the activity you want to freeze.   The longer the exposure, the smoother the water appears.  Since we were on a group hike, I didn’t have the luxury to really stay and linger, so I couldn’t do any true “long” exposures.   

I’m going to walk through three representative images from the hike.  I processed each of them slightly differently to try and experiment a bit.  Each image was initially processed in LR, but then sent them all over to Photoshop were I took slightly different approaches towards finishing each one.  

Image 213 Initial

Image 213 Initial

Image 213 wasn’t slow enough to get the really silky water, but also not crisp enough to capture the spray.   After opening the image in Photoshop, I used Nik Perfect Effects and applied the Dynamic contrast filter.  That filter made the image look too “crunchy”, so I reduced the opacity of that layer down to about 75 percent which made it look more natural.  I then returned it to LR and used the brush adjustment tool only on the water.  I applied negative Highlights and fairly strong De-haze and Clarity along the path of the waterfall.  I finished the image by applying a slight edge vignette to help draw the viewer’s eye towards the now visible details.

Image 213 Final

Image 213 Final

For image 218 I went strictly old school Photoshop, using a combination of luminosity masks and targeted adjustment levels.  

Image 218 Initial

Image 218 Initial

Under the Channels palette, I made copies of the blue and Green Channels and then made them into a selection.  

That creates a mask for applying a curves adjustment layer.  For each channel I applied the same method.  First I used the eye droppers on the side of the Curves panel to set the black and white points for the image.  I then dragged the shadows curve downward on the left and slightly raised the highlights into a gentle “S” which increased the contrast on both sides of the scale.

I repeated this for the blue Channel as well.  Finally I added a Vibrance adjustment layer to make the greens “pop” just a bit more. 

Layers Palette

Layers Palette

218 Final Image

218 Final Image

For image 228, I liked the silkiness, but thought the background was pretty blah.  Again I used the Nik Perfect Effects filters starting with the Dynamic Contrast, this time though I added a slight bit of Tonal Contrast as well to brighten and sharpen the overall image.   

228 Initial

228 Initial

You have to be careful, because some of those effects can rapidly take your image to cartoon land.  Because the Nik tools get added as a separate layer in PS, you have the option of using the masking tools on top of the effects.  The Dynamic contrast added too much detail into the water and so this time I used very soft brush set with about 10% flow and slowly painted out about half of the filter’s impact over the water.  Exactly the reverse of what I did on the very first image. 

228 Final

228 Final

The final images show how you can use the tools available to get the image you shot in your mind, and that there is always more than one way to accomplish an effect.   

Perfectly Clear for Landscapes

By Mark

Last week I wrote about how much I like this plug in for quickly and effectively editing portraits.  It also has settings for Landscapes and for fixing dark images.

With just basic Lightroom adjustments

With just basic Lightroom adjustments

With Perfectly Clear applied

With Perfectly Clear applied

I have to say that I don’t think it is quite as good on those as it is on people.   The top level menu is exactly the same.

The presets only impact the top part of the adjustment menu.

They pump up the vibrancy and detail and they certainly have a visible impact as can be seen from this side by side comparison. 

I like the effect on the sky and clouds, but am not thrilled with the color changes in the foreground.

The fix dark images preset actually does a nice job in brightening up those shadow areas while managing the noise levels those areas create. I think that it adds a strange glow however to the trees.  

Ireland3-259.jpg
Ireland3-259-Edit.jpg

Applying it to this nice water and castle crisped up the details and made both the sky and lake much more vibrant, but did nothing really special. 

Ireland3-288.jpg
Ireland3-288-Edit.jpg

I understand that the next update to the software plans on making significant improvements to the non-portrait features, so I am not giving up on them yet.  It’s just not going to displace some of the other tools in my bag of tricks for landscapes.  

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.    

The Cliffs of Insanity

By Mark

Our next stop was Lahinch and the Cliffs of Moher.

We were worried that after leaving the castle, the rest of the trip would be somewhat anticlimactic. Thank goodness our friends had recommended that we stay at their favorite B&B in Ireland, it definitely helped cushion the blow.   The drive from Cong southwards went across the Burren, and I wished that I wasn’t driving.  It was some of the rockiest, barren but really beautiful terrain I’d ever seen.

The narrow, narrow roads though meant not a lot of opportunities to stop and enjoy the view.  Now if you are a golfer, then Lahinch is a legendary place with its world famous Links course.  For us, it was a logical place to stop, as I had planned on shooting the sunset from the cliffs.  Our recommended stop was the Moy House.  

We managed to snag the “Well Suite”; named as it has a glass covered opening in the bathroom leading down to an inlet from the sea, where they used to draw water in for cleaning.  This was the view we were forced to deal with from the sitting room in our suite.  Tough, I know, but we dealt with it. 

We drove around the bay over to the cliffs.  Now this is one of the most picturesque locations in Ireland and these cliffs have appeared in many films including Princess Bride and as the Cave from Harry Potter.  

It was a pretty calm day, for there, and the seas were not pounding against the rocks.  Each year the violent storms from the Atlantic erode more of the Cliffside. 

You can walk along the pathway from one end to the other.  It wasn’t until a few years ago, that they put up any kind of barriers.  People would get too close to the edge and the incredibly powerful wind gusts would push them over the side.  It’s a long, long ways down. With the cloudy skies we could tell it wasn’t going to be much of a spectacular sunset. Combine that with the fact that sunset wasn’t until after 10PM, and we decided to go back to the inn for a spectacular dinner. 

The next day, we knew we had a fairly short drive, but with lots to see along the way.  Bunratty Castle and the Irish Heritage Park really proved to be a great way to spend the day.

irst of all we found the best shopping deals on the trip; a lovely woolen mill, with beautiful stuff, which they ship for free if you buy enough—we did. The castle has 4 four towers accessible on very narrow spiral staircases.

The rooms are very much worth the climb, even for someone who really doesn’t like heights.

The heritage park has a bunch of houses and shops relocated from across the country.  It represents the full range of economic history.  A group of school kids were visiting and their teacher started playing so they put on an impromptu show of Irish dancing. 

They were very pleased and proud to do so.  There are other residents of the park as well. 

I liked this historic old mill and the thatcher’s cottage. 

You could say we were as happy as….

Irish Bacon, the early stages

Irish Bacon, the early stages