Monday, December 7, 2015

Better Noise Reduction with Darktable

In a previous post, I wrote about Darktable's profiled noise reduction with a set of sample images to compare the results. And while the basic profiled denoise algorithm still gets great results in Darktable, I have found another method that yields even better results (that incidentally, still utilizes the profiled denoise, but to a lesser extent). It may not show as much as I had hoped in the images below, but I have found this method especially attractive when dealing with photos of people. Steps and samples below:

First step is of course to import your images to Darktable. Next, we will run the Raw Denoise module. In most instances (especially with people) I have found .003 to be a good starting point. Typically the default .010 threshold can make images too soft. For the compared images of the kiddo toys, I used .014 for this setting.

Next step is to apply the profiled denoise option. The default strength of 1.000 is typically overkill after applying the raw denoise first. For my images I have found a value of less than .300 is a good balance to retain detail, typically I use .289. For the sample image, the value used was about .400.

Composition for Comparision
No Noise Reduction
No noise Reduction (Imported and then Exported in Darktable)

Profiled Denoise Only
Profile Denoise Only

Raw Denoise & Profiled Denoise
Raw denoise & Profiled denoise used together

For additional comparison I have added a new image to the original Flickr set that shows the processing done with my refined noise reduction routine.



Monday, November 30, 2015

Heron, Osprey, Yellow Jacket & Ducks - Photos from the Lake Vacation

As I wrote in my last post, I love vacationing at my mom's family's lake property in Eastern Washington. Quiet, peaceful and when we are there in the summer nice and hot. Of course when you are lake side, hot weather is always welcome as the coolness of the lake beckons to cool you down when the need arises.

Nature and Wildlife are my favorite subjects (outside of my kids) to photograph. While on vacation at the lake, I had several opportunities for photography while relaxing on vacation. We saw several Heron's and a few Osprey either looking for fish on the docks, or perched in the evergreen trees along the shore.

The Heron's were fun to watch, slowing walking along portions of the dock looking for fish. My 3 year old son and I got to see one take a stab at one, didn't have my camera with me for that one though. With the Osprey, I stood there watching him for quite a while – just waiting for him to take off to attempt to get a wing spreading take off photo. Well, as luck would have it, when I wasn't aiming up waiting my mom made a whistle or some other noise just to see if the bird would react. And at the sound, took off – missed opportunity!

Blue Heron on the Hunt for Lunch on a lakeshore dock
On the Hunt for Fish

Blue Heron about to Take Flight from a lakeshore dock
Taking off, the next shot in the series was not in focus

Yellow Jacket on a Lakeside Flower
Yellow Jacket

Osprey Preening High Up in an Evergreen Tree Near the Lakeshore
Osprey Preening

Four little ducklings looking about
Looking for food, waddled all the way up to the cabin

Till next time, hopefully I will get some of the take off shots I really wanted to get this go around!



Monday, November 23, 2015

Lake Vacation, one of the best parts: Cell reception stinks!

One of my favorite places in all of God's creation is the lake property belonging to my mom's family on the shores of Lake Spokane in Eastern Washington. This was our yearly vacation spot growing up and I look forward to every moment I am blessed to be able to spend there with my family. The peace and quiet of the lake, looking out at the glass smooth surface of the blue/green water in the cool of an August morning – to me this is a small taste of heaven on earth. A blessing from God to be able to enjoy something so beautiful in His creation, away from all the hustle and bustle of modern life.

Aside from the natural beauty of the lake, the quiet atmosphere and relaxation of being on vacation, the lake has another huge benefit that as an adult I absolutely love: The cellular reception is virtually non-existent! Best thing to do is simply leave it off since its going to drain the battery in a hurry while constantly searching for service and rarely ever connecting. Having the phone off means enjoying the outdoors and family without a stupid phone constantly squawking at you, begging you foor your attention and focus on a barrage of worthless drivel and distractions from the life that is actually happening in front of you at the moment. With the poor reception, people won't be continually checking their Facebook feed or responding to every chirp and beep of the phone while you are trying to have an enjoyable visit with them. Everyone's attention is solely on the people and activities around them, instead of constantly zoning out to stare at a cold and lifeless digital screen. I love it.

In today's “connected” world, we have lost the art of meaningful communication, lost the ability to be intentional and personal about communication. Everything is secondary, incidental as its randomly displayed in a feed of other random information. Its time to learn to live life again and unplug, and rediscover the richness of our surroundings instead of experiencing everything through a digital display.

Next up, photos from my trip to the lake in August.



Wednesday, October 21, 2015

An October Flood Sunset

With all the natural beauty God has created here on this earth, it is amazing how beautiful a negative natural event can be - such as the picture below taken during the flooding of the Skagit River in October of 2003.  This shot is still one of my favorite sunset pictures I have taken to date, the colors are vibrant and I love how they reflect on the flood waters.  In the bottom portion of the picture you may be able to make out the yellow caution tape strung across the parking lot by the police department, and more visible in the lower right is the public parking sign.  This is where I would park virtually every day when I worked in down town Mount Vernon.

Sunset Over the Flood

This photo was taken 12 years ago today.



Monday, September 14, 2015

A New Direction

I have had in mind a new direction planned for my blog for some time now, but just haven't gotten around to adding additional content yet. The primary reason for that is my family (especially my two young children) come before a keyboard and computer screen.

As alluded to in the new blog description, the blog will now be more of a general interest blog covering topics that spark my interest and inspire me to write out my thoughts about. Naturally, this includes photography so that aspect of the blog is not going anywhere for the foreseeable future. I have a fair bit written out on, get this, actual paper and have yet had the time to type it up and prepare for its digital publication here (life as a dad, keeping my priorities straight). I assure you though it is coming and I am excited about adding more in depth content here for all to read.

Stay tuned, and I hope you enjoy the expanded content.



Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Hand Held Long Exposures of Multnomah Falls

Depending on your definition of long exposures, the title may be more accurate to read: hand held slow shutter speed photos of Multnomah Falls. On a recent trip to Hood River Oregon, we had one day where the plan was to take the family to Multnomah Falls. My two year old son absolutely loved it, as he was very excited to see the big waterfall - especially as we had been telling him about it for several weeks leading up to the trip. Our one day available to take the trip to the falls turned out to be an absolutely perfect day for it. The day included some cloud cover that kept temperatures comfortable and the light nice and even.

Now with no tripod and no filters to aid in achieving slower shutter speeds for the shot I was going for, my only option was to ratchet down the aperture as small as possible and brace the camera on a railing (OK, so not 100% hand held after all). I was actually very happy with the results.

Multnomah Falls
All of Multnomah Falls

Lower Multnomah Falls
Lower Multnomah Falls

I was especially happy with how vibrant the colors were with the late spring foilage in a brilliant green.



Tuesday, July 21, 2015

New Zazzle Store

Life with little kids is a very busy, but very fulfilling life. One of the side effects if you will, of this busy life is less time for the not so important items on the check list. Such as updating a blog. While I have plenty of ideas and content I am working on, after working all day (in front of a computer) my kiddos take priority over sitting in front of a computer again.

One of the items on my check list was to create a Zazzle store for photo prints made from my photos. I have the store created, and started with a few photos uploaded with products created and ready to go.

Store is very basic right now, with a few canvas prints and some cell phone cases in the product list from a few of my photos. There are more planned as I sort through my favorite and best photos to upload and create more options from.

Take a look and enjoy!



Friday, April 3, 2015

A Bald Eagle and His Rabbit Dinner

To set the stage for tonight's photos, we will rewind a month and a half ago or so to a return trip from my in-laws. We had just recently exited the freeway and were on the home stretch to arriving at home and on the side of the road not 20 feet from the pavement is a mature bald eagle standing there, likely eating some small animal. Returning from a weekend trip we had the camera in the car and everything, but as the kids have already been in the car for a good two hours I didn't think it fair to them to stop and prolong the impending arrival at home. Looking back I wish I would have stopped as, at the very least, I would have been able to jump out for a minute and a half and taken a couple quick photos of the lovely bird.

Now, fast forward to last Friday when I am on my way home after making two quick stops after work. My wife and our two kids are already at her parent's house and I would be heading out after work to join them for the weekend. I was actually thinking on my way home how sweet it would be to see another eagle on my way out of town as I will have the camera and no kiddos to worry about, making it quite convenient to stop for photos. Turns out I didn't have to wait until my way out of town to see one. Driving home I see what looks to be the unmistakable white tail feathers of a bald eagle flying away toward the foot hills and also nearby I can see two juvenile eagles circling around above the field. As I was passing the house adjacent to this particular field I look over just in time to see another eagle descending near the home toward the field. With time to spare before leaving town (my way of avoiding traffic, leave later and miss it all!) and an empty house, there is no way I am passing up this potential opportunity for eagle watching! I get home, change shoes, grab the camera bag, attach the 55-300mm lens, jump back in the car and head back out to see if the large raptor is still nearby.

As I near the field I can see that no more than about 50 yards from the side of the road the sight I was looking forward to seeing was right there: a beautiful mature bald eagle, picking at a dead rabbit. I pull off the road, get out of my car and start my evenings adventure of avian photography. The photo session begins with me taking pictures of the bird while he consumes his rabbit dinner, not a lot of movement, but nonetheless I am enjoying every moment.

At one point while I was crouching there watching the eagle eat, I hear the loud blast of a passing vehicle's horn. Slightly startled, I instinctively glance back at the road seeking the source of the disturbance. The loud, and brief, outpouring of sound also gave a slight start to our feasting feathered friend. As I shift my focus once again to the field and the subject of my evening's fascination, I am refocusing just in time to see his wings close up and his feet settle back down onto the valley's floor. My first thought was oh no, I missed it! Why did I turn and look away?! But this little disturbance would prove to be a God sent blessing as it would lead to my favorite and best photo of the day. Moments after my attention was once again fixated on the magnificent eagle, he took one little hop then spread out his wings to make the short jaunt of several feet back over to his momentarily neglected meal. Once settled back down to his evening's sustanence I checked my LCD screen to see that I had in fact captured his little hop and flap movement in focus with wings fully spread!

No wanting to miss anything, I stayed and watched the eagle until he took off and flew out my 300mm zoom lenses usable range for detailed photos of my subject. I did manage to capture a photo of him moments after take off, still clutching in his talons what was left of the rabbit meal just before he dropped it. Unfortunately, this photo wasn't focused perfectly though it is acceptable for viewing and might still look alright as maybe a 5x7 print. On my way out of town, I glanced over at the field to see if there would be reason to stop for an encore show. There wouldn't be this trip. The  two juveniles were still lingering around the field, but not close enough to make for any compelling photos with the gear I have. There's my story, now for the photos!

Bald Eagle and His Rabbit Dinner
Picking at his rabbit dinner

Bald Eagle Looking Up from His Rabbit Dinner
Looking up from the rabbit

Bald Eagle Spreading His Wings
Spreading his wings with a hop-flight back to his dinner

Bald Eagle Approaching His Rabbit Dinner
Almost back to his dinner

Bald Eagle Taking Flight With His Rabbit Dinner
Taking off with his rabbit dinner

I sure hope this isn't my last time being blessed with a similar scene to photograph along this road. With any luck I will either have a longer lens or a closer bird for a target! This sure felt like a small gift from God, as the thought was on my mind as I was leaving work and the timing was incredible given the travel plans of the weekend (no kids waiting at home).



Saturday, March 28, 2015

Fiery Sunset

One of my favorite things about photography is capturing moments in time that are unique and will not exist as seen again. The sunset photo featured tonight is one of those type of moments on two accounts. The first is the combination of the clouds and the intensity of the colors of the sunset. The other and less obvious is the silhouetted tree line. Since this photo was taken, one of the trees that is in this photo has been cut down.

Fiery Summer Sunset

One aspect of this photo I really like is how the trees form a visual valley that leads down to the setting sun behind the distant hills. It will be interesting to revisit another photo from the same spot and see how the picture may change with the tree no longer there.



Monday, January 26, 2015

First Visit to Rasar State Park

As a photographer it's tough to beat state parks for scenery to photograph, bonus for lesser known or visited parks that present photo ops that aren't as cliché.

Here in Washington, our state parks are accessible with a yearly pass (called the Discover Pass) or a daily use fee. However, they do offer a handful of Discover Pass free days. Two of the free days for 2015 happen over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday (which I had off from work). Taking advantage of the free day, I took my two year old son and my camera to the park hoping to do some eagle watching. As January also happens to be part of the peak season for migratory eagles in the Skagit Valley, I came sporting my 55-300mm lens hoping for some eagles and wildlife photos.

Well, the eagles weren't around while we were there and the only Raptor I saw was a hawk making a landing on a phone pole during the drive there. Wildlife viewing was minimal at the park as well, all we saw were a few small birds (probably finches) and some half eaten dead salmon. We even had some light rain at the park, even though it was dry and nice when we left home, so my little one didn't get any playground time as it was soaked.

Skagit River from Rasar State Park
View from the river's edge
On this trip I was sporting the wrong lens for the type of photos I would end up looking for. Times like this I can really start to see the appeal of all-in-one zoom lens like Nikon's 18-200/18-300 or Tamron's new 16-300mm, would have come in handy this trip!