“Bella And The Umbrella” or “chromatic aberration overdrive”

A beautiful young woman with an umbrella on a rainy day in Santa Cruz, CA

I have a treasured side gig taking pictures for a local magazine here in Santa Cruz. In November of 2014 I needed something for a gallery of photos. Usually that’s a collection of surf photos from some favorite spots. This particular day it was raining and there was nothing going on. I went downtown instead looking for anything interesting. I had a new lens that I was dying to put to use: a Canon 135mm f/2.0 L-series that I bought from Dan Mitchell. This thing is glorious and I rarely get to use it.

While I wandered around I spotted a beautiful young lady under an umbrella walking my direction. A quick decision on my part meant a ISO 800, f/2.0 for 1/500 second. I loved the result. The texture of the rain drops on her umbrella were what captivated me the most. The fact that I couldn’t see her face added to the story.

A nice lady who often commented on my posts on Google Plus (ahh remember Google Plus?) titled it “Bella And The Umbrella” and the name stuck.

I keep a version of this photograph as a wallpaper on my display at work (ahh that’s right, I don’t do photography full time. I know very few people who do or can). There’s a problem with that version that’s been bothering me since November of 2014. Wes Hardaker pointed out a severe problem with chromatic aberration throughout the photograph. I just had no idea how to fix it because it was so rampant.

I can’t unsee it

Once you see it you can’t unsee it. You start seeing it everywhere. Look at the high contrast areas. There is a green and purple fringe where light meets dark. And it’s everywhere in the picture.

Chromatic aberration detail – look at the high contrast areas.

Tonight I had some time and decided to tackle the chromatic aberration monster that tried eating my photograph. Lightroom alone is not enough in this instance. Helping this one meant opening the image in Photoshop.

  • Duplicate the layer
  • apply a Gaussian blur enough so that the edges are blurry but you can still identify the main subject
  • set that layer’s mode to “color”
  • The chromatic aberration mostly vanishes

Here’s where I get fiddly with it (that’s another term for “detail oriented” or some would say “anal retentive”… your call really). I don’t like how applying the color mode dulls the color throughout the image. I want this to be selective to the problem areas.

  • Create a black layer mask for the layer mentioned above
  • using a fairly small brush paint white on the outlines of the problem areas just in the black layer mask
See the layer named “Background copy”. Yeah clever name, I know. Shaddap.

This takes a lot of time but it’s worth the effort. It’s not perfect, but to quote The Cult Of Done Manifesto

“Laugh at perfection. It’s boring and keeps you from being done.”

The Cult Of Done Manifesto

That’s a pretty cool quote. In this case please ignore #3 just for me. Just this once. Please. This is photography; I edit everything. Even the line to the left about editing things. I edited that. Twice. No shit.

There is no editing stage.

The Cult Of Done Manifesto

June Lake, Black and White

June Lake, California. October 2015

This photograph is available in different sizes and print methods on my sales site. Contact me if you’d like something customized.

Debbie and I visited June Lake at sunrise in October, 2015. This trip was so full of wonder and surprises. California was in the midst of a long drought and the water in the lake was low. We got here just before sunrise and it was cool but not freezing.

Thoughts about the process at the time

There are a lot of choices I made for this photograph, many that I “past me” and “present me” wouldn’t really agree on. For example the aperture I chose was f/20. I don’t think that was necessary and it had an undesirable result with focus. I was using my Canon 7D Mk II. It’s not a bad camera but today I understand how depth of field is different on a crop sensor than with a full frame sensor. The lens used was a Sigma 17-50mm. It’s not a bad lens, but it’s nowhere near the quality of a Sigma Art series or a Canon L series. I had my reasons for using the Sigma, mostly because I was looking for the highest quality I could get on a strict budget. The body/lens combination worked very well for me for a few years until the lens fell apart. No really, that lens fell apart. A screw came loose inside and it would no longer focus.

What would I do differently today?

I’d definitely use my 5d Mk III (a fairly new addition to my toolset and a L-Series lens). I might use an aperture more like f/16 and possibly stack exposures with different focus points. I’d also probably take it less seriously. I’d probably work less hard at it and enjoy the moment more.

Processing the photograph

I’ve been thinking about my next trip into the Sierra for the past couple of days. I went through my Lightroom library for photographs of June Lake that I could process differently. The color version has a slight glow to the mountains. The lake reflects the sky as a deep blue. That was nice but I really wanted a dramatic black and white. I fuss over my black and whites at length and I love doing it like that. No one-click filters, no one-size-fits-all approach. Each one is different. I dialed down the blues to a near black. I brought down the highlights to recover some details in the clouds. A slight s-curve was added to the midtones selectively to bring out some detail in the foreground rocks. A high pass filter and a layer mask helped with selective sharpening (note, different print processes will have very different results. I keep this as a layer so it can be disabled if it utterly doesn’t work in a print. Finally a vignette was added as an organic shape to draw the viewer’s eye around the photograph.

There are a lot more details to this longer story, but I’ll break that up into smaller posts. It’s only been 4 years, why not draw it out a little longer? Spoiler alert: this trip was legendary.

Challenges

There’s a lot of things on my mind tonight. My friends know that I’ve had a lot of challenges to deal with over the past several months. Some of those challenges involved taking a leap of faith, firmly believing that a new adventure would improve the lives of individual people. Then I had to face the reality of that idealism collapsing. Do I regret that? No. Can I go into details? (Reads over the NDA again) No. (spoiler alert: that nightmare is nearly over).

I’ve had to answer the questions: what have you been doing for the past few months? I rested. I got angry. I climbed some stuff. I lifted more, ran more, challenged myself more. This has been a rough time but I promised that I’d stay true to myself.

Duh.

Actually that’s kind of stupid because that’s how I’m wired. “…stay true to myself”… snrrrk, anybody who knows me knows that anything else is unthinkable.

So what have I been doing in the meantime? I read. I did a ton of soul searching and learned some things. I took a class. I got even more exercise than when I worked for the Well Known Fitness Brand. I toughened up some. I loved more deeply. I hiked a lot. I got better at portrait photography. I did some more freelance photography. I got paid to go to a music festival. I finally did that yard work I had been unable to get to. And I completely ignored the complete disaster that is my desk and studio.

No, really. “Clean desk” has been on my To-Do list for the past 4 years. I even have a book about removing clutter… under a pile of clutter on my desk. That’s how much I hated the idea of cleaning up my desk. I have a couple of weeks, I may still get there. I’ll share a picture if it really gets done. Update 5/31/2019: I cleaned my desk. I can see the desktop surface. It’s terrifying.

I caught the sunset at Taft Point with my daughter B last night. I couldn’t possibly have asked for more. #yosemite #taftpoint #sunset #2018 #canon5dmkiii #neverstopexploring #thisiswhyfitness

I spent some more time in Yosemite. I shared a special spot there with my beloved daughter. I climbed up a snowy non-trail with a buddy. I did a ton of day hikes with friends around the Big Sur and the Santa Cruz Mountains.

I also trusted. I trusted my wife Lisa to hang in there with me. She did in her grand and spectacular way. I trusted my savings to hold out. I trusted my closest allies to advocate for me when times were tough. All that came through and I will never, ever let them down. And they know it.

I also forgave.

That’s part of being The Grownup In The Room. Not everybody was that steadfast friend. What now? Forgive and move on. Trust? No, that needs to be earned back. Retaliate? That’s a stupid question; of course not. Move forward a little wiser? Yes.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for coming back.

Not rocks and water.

A lot of my photos are along the coast. That’s not a big surprise really since the Pacific Ocean has been part of my life for pretty much every day except for maybe 2 years when I lived in Las Vegas. I often hike among the tall redwoods here in the Santa Cruz Mountains. They are difficult to photograph and almost impossible to relay their size without some point of reference. These enormous trees can be hundreds… thousands of years old. Here’s a sad surprise: these ones are probably less than 100 years old. Much of this area was clear cut to build around San Francisco after the earthquake and devastating fire in 1906. Much of the area is only now starting to recover from the logging. In recent decades responsible lumber harvesting came into practice, and now large areas are thriving again.

I don’t recall for sure but this photo was probably hand held on a hike around Big Basin Redwoods State park. I often hike or run along these trails.
Anyway, thanks for reading. I know I rambled a bit here.

“By The Wind Sailors” at Refugio State Beach

A few days ago I spent the night at Refugio State Beach, Santa Barbara, CA. I haven’t been here since I was a little boy, so getting a camp site here was pure joy. I was greeted by dozens of these little Velella (“by the wind sailor”) . I’ve seen them along the beaches from San Francisco to Santa Cruz before, but I haven’t personally seen them this far south before. I think that says more about my travel habits than theirs though.

This photograph is on my sales site with my good friends at Studio Comradz.

2019 Do It Ourselves Festival

This weekend was the 2019 Do It Ourselves festival (DIO, no not as in Ronny James). I had the incredibly fun assignment of gathering pictures of… oh everything really. Here’s the gallery in no particular order. Keeping with the spirit of the Do It Ourselves festival, these photos are free for your personal use (maybe check The Fine Print at the bottom). Enjoy!

The Fine Print

  • The Event Imagery can be used only for the poster’s personal use and not for any other purpose.
  • The Event Imagery may be downloaded or copied only in accordance with one of three Creative Commons’ licenses that prohibit the licensee from using the Event Imagery for commercial purposes, including CC BY-NC, CC BY-NC-SA, and CC BY-NC-ND (available at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/)
  • I will not license any Event Imagery that contains any nudity or partial nudity (including any imagery in which bare breasts, bare buttocks, genitals, or genital areas are visible) (ahem, there’s none of that on this page folks)
  • If DIO notifies me that any such images must be removed, for any reason whatsoever in DIO’s sole discretion, I will promptly remove or cause to be removed those images. DIO, as joint copyright holder, reserves all rights to revoke any Creative Commons license that was erroneously placed on Event Imagery in violation of these Terms and may cause the removal of such Event Imagery on any webpage on which it is displayed. I understand that use of the Creative Commons’ licenses approved herein does not supersede these Terms and Conditions, nor my responsibility as the photographer or videographer to obtain all necessary permissions from subjects and artists as appropriate.

2019 Santa Cruz Waves Swellies Awards

This year Tyler Fox asked me if I’d help shoot the awards for his magazine’s Swellies event. This is always so much fun, there was just no way I’d say no. What I love about shooting events like this is that my job isn’t just to take pictures but to really engage with everybody and to be part of the life of the party. I can be ridiculously social so it’s not hard for me to get people to put on their best selves for my camera.

The Gallery

A ton of pictures will be available on the Santa Cruz Waves website and maybe in an upcoming print edition. In the meantime here is a gallery of smaller pictures. Please consider purchasing a higher quality version by following the link to my sales site. Ask me about shooting your next event, portraits, and headshots.

Day 2: Carrizo Plain

Continuing the story from Day 1:

Stretch Goal

I have a stretch goal in mind depending on the weather and when I finally turn in. Carrizo Plain just about 2 hours from Pismo Beach; it’s possible for me to get there for sunrise if I’m up by 4:30am. Fortunately for me the couple in the tent nearby is chatty and the guy in the RV the opposite direction snores enough to be mistaken for the train that passes by every so often. So I’m up at 4 instead.

Hwy 58 in the dark.

All I can see is the trees and the road in my headlights. As far as I can tell I’m driving through a long, dark valley. A few miles from Carrizo Plain there are hints of sunrise, meaning that parts of the sky aren’t as dark as other parts of the sky.

Up until then it’s very clear to the south and the moon hasn’t risen. It’s possible to get some shots of the Milky Way but I haven’t done any serious research for this part of the trip. A photograph of the Milky Way without an interesting foreground is just another picture of the Milky Way. Yeah, it’s fairly interesting, but that’s not enough for me today. I’m also very aware of two other big details:

  1. I don’t see anywhere obvious that I could setup safely. It’s rare but there is the occasional other car on the road.
  2. stopping puts my arrival time at Carrizo Plain at risk.

I don’t like to write about things I didn’t do… but I think you’ll excuse me for writing about not taking a picture of the Milky Way this time.

Soda Lake Point View

I’ve done a little research on the area but not a whole lot. There’s a headlamp visible on top of a hill — it takes a moment to realize that this is the Soda Lake Point View that I had in mind for sunrise. Park, hike up the hill, introduce myself, set up my tripod and my camp chair, and wait. It’s just me and the one other photographer and it’s pretty darned cold. I was prepared for the temperature so no big deal. Pretty soon we’re joined by a few more people who camped nearby.

Moments before sunrise at Carrizo Plain. April, 2019

The sun is over the horizon now but hasn’t crested the ridge to the east yet. There’s enough light to create soft shadows along the hills suggesting volume. A few clouds make an increasingly interesting sky.

Foothills to the northwest in morning light

The foreground becomes more interesting as the flowers become more visible. Every direction offers a compelling composition: volume, color, leading lines. The only thing I purposely ignored was the sun bursting over the ridge.

Road, hills, and wild flowers – using a 70-200mm telephoto

I wanted to use a telephoto lens to isolate some details of the landscape. You’d be surprised how often I use a telephoto in the field. It’s an opportunity to use the characteristics of the lens not only to bring attention to specific elements, but also compress the background.

Some lenticular clouds moved into the scene

Some lenticular clouds moved into the scene as I was shooting. This looked like a good opportunity to switch to a portrait orientation.

Time to get adventurous

Me, the AdventureMobile, and so… many… flowers…

Now I wanted to explore. Soda Lake Road eventually turns to dirt after a few miles. The flowers are opening up more as the sun gets higher so I look for more photo opportunities.

Flowers beside Soda Lake
Seemingly endless flowers

The sea of flowers is almost impossible to convey in words. It’s even difficult in photographs. There’s a spot that I liked at the edge of Soda Lake while the light is still good. Flowers, more flowers, pops of white, yellow, purple and it just kept going.

Shadow Selfie. Just some good fun.

I got back on the road looking for interesting subjects. The light was starting to get bright so there wasn’t much time left for quality photographs. I spotted a shack with a couple of water tanks in the field of grass and flowers against a hilly backdrop.

Shack, water tanks, field, and colorful hills

The pavement ended a few miles ago (yes I’m aware that I switch tense a few times in this story. My favorite grammar experts are probably melting down while reading this. Sorry.) And now there are cows. They’re bewildered by my presence. They’re cows, they’re bewildered by their own shadows.

An exotic, stealthy, cow among the wild flowers. Maybe one of the happiest cows ever.

By about 9:30 am the light is getting too harsh. I’m also super hungry. I know there are a couple of BLM campgrounds along this route and the plan is now to plop down in one, make breakfast, and let whatever happens next happen. That turned out to be that I’d make the best blueberry pancakes ever, make a new friend, and go for a wild flower hike. Note for future reference: the KCL Campground is pretty darned awesome and you can’t beat the price.

Blueberry pancakes, coffee, and bliss

My part of the hike was fairly brief. I only had enough time for a couple of miles and then I needed to get back to Pismo Beach. The view from up the hill was pretty spectacular.

KCL Campground , wild flowers, distant hills, and clouds
Pops of purple, yellow, orange as far as I could see.

More in Part 3…

CA Highway 1 road trip

April 1, 2019 11:15am
About 100 miles south of Santa Cruz along Hwy 1.

I brought a little notebook just in case I felt like writing. There’s a lot on my mind. I’m driving to Pizmo Pismo Beach (holy smokes, no matter how hard I try I have misspelled Pismo Beach as “Pizmo” for as long as I can remember. Thanks for correcting me Tori. ) to see some friends. Two I’ve known for decades now but haven’t seen in pushing 20 years. One I’ve known mostly online for the past 5 (via what used to be Google Plus… a long story).

I lost my job with 23 other people 2 months ago. We were all passionate about what we did at the “well known fitness brand.” This isn’t that story, but it is on my mind.

I’m hoping for a job offer in the next few days. This seemed like my last chance to see my friends E, S & L. I’m in no hurry since they’re all busy people so I’m taking the slow scenic route. Camping in Pismo Beach but not going especially light. The firewood in the skybox on top of my Subaru definitely cancels out the “light.”“Cheap” might be more accurate.

Just out of Carmel was the expected ultra slow tourist. I get it, she’s from the city. This is scenery she’s only seen in pictures and has never experienced herself. The coastline is mind boggling beautiful so she looks out the window instead of at the road, swerving like a drunk and going 20mph.

I know she’s going to stop at Bixby Bridge for The Perfect Tourist Selfie. She does, right on cue. The drive gets far less frustrating south of McWay Falls which for some reason is closed today. No worries, I’ve been there many times before.

The coffee caught up with me and it was time for a break. I’m sitting on the cliff writing in my notebook and snacking. I haven’t stopped here before and it’s a nice view. This is a bit further south on Hwy 1 than I’ve been before, somewhere between McWay Falls and Ragged Point. I’ve done the stretch from LA to Mexico, LA to Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz north past San Francisco… so this part between Big Sur and Pismo Beach is the big Hwy 1 gap for me. It’s one of those bucket list kinds of drives that most people dream about — until they’re behind that tourist headed to Bixby Bridge of course.

The little Panasonic Lumix does an OK job for snapshots like this

Some bicyclists just cruised past. I hung behind them a few miles ago providing them with some safety in a fast downhill stretch. They appreciated that. I raced bikes in college (badly) so I get it. Passing them would be dangerous for everybody, so this way I could be helpful.

Miles and miles of coastline highway

I’ve been listening to music that my buddy John H gave me years ago. Some of this I’ve never heard before. I wonder why. A lot of it is good.

Piedras Blancas Light Station

The next stop is a brief pause at Ragged Point. This looks like a place I’d like to spend more time, so I note the lodging so I can bring my family here another day. I think they’d like it. It’s about noon and the light is awful so there’s no point in taking many pictures. I brought my little Panasonic Lumix superzoom for these snapshots, the Canon 5d Mk III for the quality stuff.

Elephant seals having a lengthy conversation

I read about the San Simeon elephant seal migration, so that’s the next destination. The seals are all females and juveniles. I see a lot of these guys around Año Nuevo and they’re beautiful. I can get much closer since there’s a fenced boardwalk without causing any problems for the wildlife. It’s a good opportunity to use the Canon and a telephoto lens. Lots of people now want to talk about photography topics and I’ve become that guy declining shots because “the light’s no good that direction.” A snapshot of an excellent subject in bad light is nowhere near as good as a mundane subject in quality light. So I politely decline with only the brief explanation.

A young elephant seal resting in the warm sun

A couple of hours later I rolled through San Louis Obispo and into my campsite near Pismo Beach.

Oceano Campground, Pismo Beach

I unloaded, setup camp, and explored my new surroundings a bit before visiting my friends. Funny thing, I had forgotten that this was a popular spot to drive on the beach. I don’t feel inclined to get stuck in the sand so far from home so I’ll pass this trip.

Oceano State Beach

Teaching an Intro To Off-Camera Flash workshop

For the past couple of years I wanted to facilitate a simple portrait lighting workshop with my favorite local photography group, the Hwy 9 Photography Group. Ideally what that meant was that I’d coordinate with a local portrait photographer who would actually do the presentation. After a few false starts I decided OK… why not me?

Behind the scenes with Katie

What I wanted to show was that you could create stunning portraits using low cost equipment. No need for high end lighting; this could be done with speedlights, diffusers, a backdrop, radio triggers, and a hand-held light meter.

I worked out a basic outline that I thought would take 20 minutes to present. I contacted Katie to model for us, worked out times, availability, and rates. Then I worked out a deal for the exotic location of the gym at the Boulder Creek Recreation Center. Fancy, I know.

I did my best to keep my actual talking to a minimum. I get a little tired of hearing my own voice. I also don’t really consider myself an expert on much, but like I said earlier “why not me?” I wanted to give the basic idea. What you could do with one light. Two lights. Three.

Snapshot of me giving the brief rundown. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Kahn

It didn’t matter that none of the attendees had never shot with off-camera flash before. It also didn’t matter that none had worked with an experienced model before! I had a series of emails with Katie where I explained the situation. What I needed from her was to be herself, know where the lights were, be at ease, and mostly just do her stuff without needing direction. She was magnificent.

One light

We started out with a single light at camera left. A simple manual Yongnuo YN-560 II Speedlight connected to a PocketWizard PlusX Transceiver. The speedlight was placed inside a 36″ Fotodiox Pro 36″ (90cm) Octagon Softbox. After determining the correct exposure settings with the hand held light meter we were ready to go. The single light at camera left created some very dramatic light and shadows.

A single light at camera left shot as low key and dramatic. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Kahn

One light and a reflector

Next I introduced a reflector at camera right to fill in some of the shadows.

Many thanks to Katie’s mom for (a) being there and (b) holding the reflector. The softbox at camera right wasn’t used yet.

The results from just adding the reflector were stunning. Each participant spent about 5 minutes each shooting with this setup. I would tell everyone the exposure recommendation based on my meter then I’d hand my radio trigger to the next participant.

Photo courtesy of Ian Webb
Photo courtesy of Jonathan Kahn

Two lights: one at camera left, one at camera right

I setup the second light; virtually identical to the first light. The only difference was that the second speedlight was triggered optically. That meant that I needed to have only the one set of radio triggers. As soon as any other speedlight would fire then the second light would fire too. The optical trigger itself was built into the speedlights. I setup the second light to be about a stop less than the main light. Now we started getting even more volume to our subject. The point isn’t just to light your subject, it’s also to provide depth.

A shot from me using two lights
Behind the scenes with Mike Gendimenico
Behind the scenes with Keith Wyner

Three Lights: gels

I added a third speedlight behind Katie and put a purple gel on it. This speedlight was also on an optical trigger so it would fire when any other flash would fire. I had a few goals with the third light:

  1. separate the subject from the background
  2. demonstrate that you could change the color of the background
  3. introduce rim lighting
By placing a speedlight behind Katie and pointing it at the backdrop I could change the color of the background to nearly anything I wanted.
Courtesy of Erik Elfring
I’m not remotely as attractive as Katie. This is what happens when I’m talking and I hand the radio trigger to somebody. Photo courtesy of Erik Elfring.

Another great look is a rim light. Ideally you’d setup a light higher up and pointing down from behind your subject. Here I simply turned the speedlight around to face into the camera. I left the same color gel so Katie’s hair lights up with purple.

Rim light demonstration
For fun we played around a little with lens flares just by moving the camera a bit.

The Popup Flash

Now that everybody was acquainted with the benefits of off-camera flash and getting a little comfortable with the idea I wanted to take a step backwards. I wanted to show where the typical popup flash falls short.

Photo with the popup flash on my Canon 7d Mk II

The flash built in on many cameras points straight at your subject and right above the lens barrel. The result is a flat look. There is very little volume now. Notice also the weird catchlight in Katie’s eyes. It’s right there in the middle of her eyes. It’s not awful, but we can do so much better.

Putting it all together

It was time for a wardrobe change when Jon had an inspiration. He saw a small plush chair and thought she would look nice seated in it. Katie came back out in a stunning red dress and Jon’s idea absolutely came to life.

Seating Katie in the chair now meant moving the lights and metering again.
Behind the scenes with Mike and Katie. This was the entire setup.
Selective color. Photo courtesy Jonathan Kahn
My own favorite for the day