“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.

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

Berry Creek Falls

It’s no big secret that I love being physically active, outdoors, and probably doing something that takes some real effort. Yesterday I joined a group of friends for a long day hike to Berry Creek Falls nestled deep in Big Basin Redwoods State Park. This is one of my very favorite California State Parks not only because it’s historic and stunning, but hey it’s also just a few miles from my home.

Usually when I do this hike I go lightweight and I carry a smaller Canon Rebel XT. That poor little thing finally met its demise late in 2018. We had a good run. I went heavy this time to photograph the falls. When I’m carrying my gear with a plan that means I’m using my 65 liter backpack. I can strap my better tripod to it, carry lunch, plenty of water, a couple of lenses, a warm jacket, emergency gear etc. The weight is just under what I’d carry for a 2 day backpacking trip. This time I used everything but the jacket.

The Artistic Photographs

Berry Creek Falls, Big Basin Redwoods State Park
I had previsualized a few compositions long before starting. I had this low angle long exposure in mind for a few years.

Photographing this waterfall is both easy and difficult. There’s a viewing platform that’s nice and stable. It’s a long day hike to get here and the condition of the trail will vary depending of recent weather and park funding. This can technically be done with a small travel tripod and a reasonable quality camera. The trick is getting here in quality light. If you start hiking around 9 you can expect to arrive about 11 or 12. On a clear day that makes for a high contrast snapshot that’s not especially pleasant to the eye. Today was overcast and about as close to perfect as you can get near noon. One of the fun details is the prisms that occur. I shot this one with my Canon 5d Mk III, a 3-stop ND filter on my favorite Manfrotto carbon fiber tripod.

Hiking snapshots

Hikers on their way to the waterfall

I like to help tell the story of the folks hiking the trail. It’s fun for me, fun for them, and gives everybody a keepsake from the trip.

I try to get out ahead just a little bit to capture images of crossing like this.

Tara led Sunday’s hike. She’s fun, outgoing, energetic, and all around good people. She’s training for the John Muir Trail section of the Pacific Crest Trail which she expects to take 3 weeks.

Tara Magpusao 100% in her element.
Seeing Tara jump for joy isn’t unusual. Capturing it takes a little more effort though.
@misfittany having some fun along the creek

Not everything goes to plan. A few minutes after this this fun snapshot @misfittany slipped and the sole of her boot completely fell apart. This is why I carry so much stuff. Today’s gear to the rescue? The cord I use to hang food up in a tree so the critters don’t get it.

Improvise. She finished the hike without injury.
Group photo courtesy of Rob Cattivera
If you pack in it then please pack it out.
Self portrait at one of the falls a little farther up the trail

45 Seconds on North Dome

For 45 seconds I watched the sun’s light move across Half Dome like a flashlight sweeping across the north face. I wasn’t remotely prepared for this. I was all setup with a telephoto when what I really wanted was my wide angle. I made do with what I had ready to go. Then I saw that storm coming with 4+ miles to hike back in the dark. This was one long, incredible day that I will never forget.

This is a photograph reimagined from a hike out to North Dome with my bud Gary Crabbe in Oct 2016. I had my Canon 70-200 f/4 ready to go with the plan of getting a nice shot of Gary against Half Dome. Then the sun poked between the clouds, lighting up the granite face in a way that I can only hope comes across in this series of photographs. I knew I didn’t have the camera/lens combination that I really wanted for this moment since it was unexpected. So, I filled the frame and ran with it.

I want to do more of this kind of thing. Much, much more.

I spent a fair amount of time with Lightroom and Photoshop to bring the colors about the way that I want to get across. There are competing color temperatures in this so it needed a lot of tweaking. Admittedly there’s still a touch of green that I’m not crazy about in the sky. The funny thing is that there are a lot of reflective surfaces here: the granite, snow, clouds etc. All of these reflect more blues from the sky than you’d really imagine. Bringing that back down to something believable takes some effort (and masking in Photoshop). The foreground is this blazing warm tone: oranges, purples, reds as the sun shone across it. Meanwhile the snow in the background is under cloud cover and is reflecting a lot of blue.

This was shot in a couple of years ago now, and my memory of how it looked isn’t nearly as accurate as how it felt. So here I am trying to bring across how it felt.

A few minutes ago a friend of mine asked about the hike back. That was a great question, so I’ll post my response to Anita here:

We got about a mile before it got genuinely dark. That was a good thing because honestly that first mile it’s kind of hard to pick the trail back up since we were on exposed granite. We made a lot of noise (talking etc) to keep the critters uninterested. By the time we got to the cars it was pretty obvious that we were in for a really good storm. We made it to a little camp site in El Portal where we rode out one hell of a lightning storm. I don’t think I ever slept so soundly. That’s the truth.