Bassam Park


Originally uploaded by mjm1138.

Sarah and I spent a lovely Memorial Day weekend staying at the Bassam Forest Service cabin just down the road from Buena Vista. If you live in Colorado (and probably elsewhere, but I don’t know), Forest Service cabins are a great way to get into the woods for a weekend without all of the fuss and planning involved in tent camping. Bassam Cabin ended up being lovely, and smack dab in the middle of a network of nice 4×4 trails and some of the most lovely scenery I’ve seen in Colorado.

Unfortunately the aspens didn’t have their leaves yet, so I ended up getting a lot of shots of dead-looking trees. Also took some shots for HDR processing which I’m hoping to get to in the next couple days. In my flickr stream there’s also a shot of maybe the biggest aspen I’ve ever seen. Bassam Park (the area where the cabin is) is definitely on my list of places to visit in the fall to catch the aspens turning.


April Snow

April Snow

Originally uploaded by mjm1138.

I think a lot of people would pick February as their least favorite month, at least anyone who has spent February in the upper midwest. Here in Colorado though, I think it’s April that really drives people crazy. This shot is from the 17th of April. Two days previous the temperature reached 78F. The snow in April comes fast and thick, and right when you’ve overcome your rational self and become convinced that spring is, at long last, here. Oh no it isn’t. Of course on the flip side, I had to take this picture first thing in the morning, as the snow was all gone by evening. Today, three days later, it was in the 70’s again and I was out golfing.

I reckon the fact that the ground was retaining heat from the previous days explains the weird lumpy nature of the snow here. Any snow that came in contact with the ground melted, so it was just the flakes that were suspended on the (let’s call it) grass in our yard stayed frozen. Nice almost foamy effect.

Shot with the Canon G9, using the built-in “snow” setting, with no post processing other than cropping and whatever resizing flickr did. I got the camera because I can go full-manual and shoot RAW, but there’s definitely something to be said for the idiot-proof modes when I’m walking to my truck in the morning and I just want to snag a couple shots without thinking about them too hard.

Happy Nora

Happy Nora

Originally uploaded by mjm1138.

Our cats Nora and Lenina just turned 17 years old! They are two of the shrimpiest cats you’re likely to meet (Lennie is the big one by a wide margin and last time she sat still on a scale she was 8.5 pounds). They’re transitioning from kittenish straight to little-old-ladyish. Nora here has been on maintenance meds for chronic intestinal troubles for a couple years now, so we’re lucky to have had as much time with her as we have. Last spring when she shed her winter coat she was suddenly all salt-and-pepper with lots of white hairs appearing everywhere.

Here, she sits on the wool rug in our bedroom and enjoys some sunshine. Shot with my iPhone a couple months ago, while she was still in her winter coat.  I like how the white rug in the foreground contrasted with the black background echo’s Nora’s coloring.

New Camera – Canon Powershot G9

Boulder Creek

Originally uploaded by mjm1138.

Got a new camera as a carry-around daily shooter, a Canon Powershot G9. Great specs for a (fairly) compact camera, with some important features for photo geeks, notably the ability to shoot raw. It feels great in the hand, very solid, and the manual features are easy to get at and reasonable to use. Yes, we’d all prefer knurled rings on the lens barrel for aperture and shutter speed setting, but let’s all repeat together: “Canon is not Leica”.

The only real quibble I have with this camera is the sensor. At 12 megapixels, it’s way too much resolution, especially for a small sensor type like this. I’d much rather have purchased this camera with an eight megapixel sensor and gotten even lower noise at higher ISO ratings. When you’re talking about the consumer space like this, the main thing that more megapixels buys you is more noise in the image, more disk space taken up on your computer, and longer transfer and processing times.

That said it’s a minor quibble, as it achieves very low noise even at reasonably high ISO, and the extreme ISO settings (800 and above) I’d go so far as to call usable in a pinch. The image above is a shot of Boulder Creek I took this morning before heading in to work. We got a nice little snowfall last night to remind us that spring is not here yet, and in fact March is the snowiest month of the year usually.

HDR – Another attempt

Sarah and I stayed Saturday night at Elwood Cabin, a Forest Service cabin on Elwood Pass in southern Colorado.  About four miles from the cabin is the ghost town of Summitville, and the site of the Summitville Mine superfund site.  Sunday morning we spent about an hour walking through the ghost town and taking pictures.  Again, I did some handheld bracketed shots, and this time I decided to try out a Linux workflow. The images were combined using qtpfsgui, which is a Linux native GUI for creating and tone-mapping HDR images.

Click the image to go to the Flickr set, which has the original images post RAW conversion (while balance set to Bibble’s “cloudy” preset).  I think the result is not half bad.   I plan on doing a few more images from this shoot. The effect is more naturalistic than my previous attempts.  Unfortunately I think the composition of the image might rob it of too much context, making it a bit uninteresting even if visually pleasing.  I also should have paid more attention to the aperture setting and tried to get the foreground in better focus.  I think there will be stronger images from this shoot once I finish going through them.

Image to image consistency is important preparing HDR images. Your source images must not only line up, they must have identical white balance settings.  You must bracket by shutter speed rather than aperture so the depth of field is consistent.  It’s helpful to shoot RAW for HDR. This way you can override your camera’s automatic white balance and contrast settings. If your camera doesn’t shoot RAW, you can always manually set white balance and contrast settings, but RAW makes it easy to make fine tuning decisions after the fact.

It seems like Linux is thinking about catching up with regards to RAW digital photography workflow. There are high quality RAW conversion apps, and qtpfsgui feels very powerful and compares quite favorably with commercial apps like Photomatix.  The Gimp (open source’s answer to Photoshop) doesn’t quite measure up, mainly since it supports only 8-bit images, but CinePaint, which is The Gimp adapted for film use, has a core that can handle even 32-bit HDR images.  The flip side is that the software is significantly more difficult to learn than commercial equivalents just as Linux demands more from its users than MacOS or Windows. I am not aware of any open-source workflow app at the level of Aperture or Lightroom, but the excellent Bibble Pro from Bibble Labs is available for Linux. The core strength of Open Source software is that as the different pieces evolve and improve, they can be combined into powerful solutions. Given the right momentum around the right projects, it’s possible we’ll be seeing professional grade workflows running on Linux with 100% free software within a couple years. Photography is by its nature a pretty geeky pursuit, so I give it very good odds.

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Handmade HDR?

We went out for a day of shooting in September, driving the pickup south over Guanella Pass. The day was blustery and cloudy, which made for some nice shooting conditions. I attempted to shoot several pictures with the idea to combine them into HDR images, however I didn’t have a tripod on hand, so I set my camera for auto-bracketing, set for continuous shooting, and shot off three hand-held shots in quick succession. This produced photos which weren’t suitable for automated HDR creation methods, so I was left to line the photos up by hand and use the magic of layer masks to combine properly exposed areas from two photos. Here’s the result of the first attempt:


Clicking on the image will take you to my flickr account, where the picture can be viewed larger. This is from two exposures. The sky is from an underexposure and the foreground is from a metered exposure. The hills in the background are blended between the two exposures. It’s definitely got that faky HDR thing going on. There’s a bit of haloing around the border between the hills and the sky, due imperfections in the layer mask and layer alignment. It’s a kind of interesting, the border provides contrast while maintaining the atmospheric perspective, but it doesn’t feel genuine. For comparison, here’s one of the exposures by itself, processed through Aperture:

20070923-Guanella Pass 304

Again, you can click the image to go to my flickr account and see other sizes. A somewhat more natural photo, with the tradeoff that it does show the limitations of the camera’s dynamic range. Oh and the layer mask method: whatta pain in the butt! I’m sure it’s possible to become efficient with practice, and it feels like a very powerful method viz the control you have over what comes out of it. Maybe with a truly exceptional shot that can’t be processed any other way it’d be worth the effort.

More iPhone Photos

Some images from a train trip Sarah and I took to Iowa about a week ago:

IMG_0107 - 2007-09-03 at 08-54-36

Here’s a link to the set. The phone sensor is slow to scan as you can see above, resulting in the interesting slanted effect. There are some shots I like from the Osceola Amtrak station in the set as well. The station has apparently had virtually no work done save paint since it was built, making it a bit of a throwbacck.

IMG_0088 - 2007-09-02 at 21-03-20

Note the high tank on the urinal.  The toilet was more conventional, but the plumbing still enters the stall several feet above the tank.