Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Pitchoff Mountain

On the 21st I went to the Adirondacks to climb a mountain. I had planned to climb Hopkins in Keene Valley but I started later than I intended and decided as I was driving through the Cascade Lakes area to stop there and climb to the Balanced Rocks on Pitchoff. I had two guide books with me and discovered that there is a discrepancy in the name, one calling them Balanced Rocks and the other calling them Balancing Rocks. I would not call them by either were I the one naming them, but we'll get to that. Starting out on the trail I was truly sorry I hadn't gotten around to climbing Pitchoff sooner. It has a varied and interesting trail, some stretches quite steep,  others nearly level and some mildly adrenalin pumping close to the edges of sheer drop offs with only a few small trees between the trail and empty space.

The guidebook I had taken with me said the turn to Balanced Rocks wasn't marked and that was correct so sure enough, I missed it. There was an obvious trail on the right at one point but the guidebook cautioned hikers to avoid the "old trail" on the right because it was unsafe and I thought that was it so I continued on. By the time I reached the summit of Pitchoff I realized my error but decided to continue on to the secondary summit which, although lower, has a better view.

While there I shot a two frame panorama (above) before turning back to find Balanced Rocks. It turned out that my error was fortunate because I arrived at the Balanced rocks area just as the sun was lowering into the warm evening light zone. The light was especially good for the Mountain Ash  which was prolific around the ledges there.

I came upon the namesake rocks from a lower ledge. I have to say here that when hearing the name Balanced Rocks I envisioned glacial erratics precariously positioned and in danger of tipping off the mountain without much provocation. Calling them Balancing Rocks gives rise to an even more precarious state in my mind. These rocks however, are neither in my estimation. On the contrary, they are extremely stable on a mildly sloping open ledge. They aren't even on the edge of the ledge. They are very picturesque though as the following photos demonstrate.

As you can see the rocks appear to be on the precipice from some viewpoints because they rest on a ridge in the ledge but in fact, there is ledge all the way around them. The actual drop off is some distance from them and the precariousness is an illusion. It was a great day in the mountains and Pitchoff has made my short list of favorite mountains. I will return another day, probably several times.

Monday, September 14, 2015

At Last I Did It

I spent most of the last two weeks under the weather as they say. Today I am feeling much better and I finally got around to building a scanner box for making images from 3D objects. I have been meaning to do that for a long time. Today was the day. I made it from black foam board, large enough to cover the entire glass and 6" deep.

These are a pair of spent sunflowers. I scanned some other things, but I have a lot of cleaning up to do on the images. Every time you touch the dry flowers, they drop pollen and dust on the scanner glass so it is impossible to get a clean scan. Lots of work for a clone tool but it is a fun thing to do and I can see me getting more use from the box in the future.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Jenkins Mountain Hike

I had climbed Jenkins Mt. about 25 years ago at a time when the Paul Smiths VIC was run by the state (it is now part of Paul Smiths College) and my memory of the hike was rather foggy. I remembered that the trail started on an old road, but I didn't remember that the road part was as long as it is. I remembered walking along a couple of eskers and I thought I remembered being able to see the lower summit of the two-humped mountain from the higher summit. I was totally wrong on the last memory.

The road part has changed since my hike of yore. The road is no longer in the process of overgrowing as it was when the state ran the VIC. Paul Smiths is a forestry college and they call it "Logger's Loop". It winds gradually uphill and there are several demonstration plots along it showing different methods of forestry management. Not too far up I spotted a patch of Bergamot (Bee Balm) alongside the road. I don't know if it is natural or whether it was 'encouraged' to grow there, but it warranted several photos including the one above. Another subject that presented itself along the roadside near a culvert was this fungus.

Over the years I have collected more than 400 photos of fungi, a large proportion of them at the VIC and this trip was no exception. I spotted several more to add to my collection.

After leaving the road which had narrowed to an AVT trail (motorized use limited to the college's staff) the walking trail follows the ridge of an esker (deposits of glacial till) between two low wet areas. The one on the side toward the mountain contained two beaver lodges and offered a view of the lower peak of the mountain. I was fortunate that the raspberries and blackberries were in season. There were patches near the point where a stream cut through the esker to the opposite side.

There was very little climbing to the trail so far but that was about to change although none of the trail is very steep. After leaving the esker you begin climbing the mountain itself through pleasant woods. I had thought perhaps I was alone because it was mid-week and hadn't seen anyone but nearing the top I met a couple descending and at the summit a young woman, her son and their dog were enjoying the view. They soon left however and I ate a late lunch in solitude. I saw no one else the rest of the day. I made a 5 frame panorama from the summit and photographed some other views including a birch tree that was growing next to the summit ledge. The mountain peak in the panorama is St. Regis Mt.

I left the summit around 3 PM and made some photos along the trail as I went back down.

All the data I could find on the web about this hike indicated that it was 4.5 miles to the summit, but my GPS only came up with 8.2 miles for the whole trip which started at the gate by the beginning of the Logger's Loop road. Perhaps the others were using a starting point near the VIC entrance on Rt. 30.

Please honor my copyright. Do not repost the photos without permission. If you want to share this with others, give them the URL of this page.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Climbing Mt Gilligan

Sometimes I *need* a hike. It's a matter of attitude adjustment. I'm bummed out, annoyed with the world, too burdened with concern over things I can't change, whatever. A walk in the woods is the best cure. Yesterday I decided it was time even though it was a weekend and every trailhead seemed to be mobbed. The parking areas were full and overflow lined the roadsides so I chose Mt Gilligan (formerly Sunrise Mt) as a hike I thought would be less likely to be crowded.

Bruce Wadsworth's "Day Hikes For all Seasons" guidebook gave directions for finding the trail along Rt 9. It said there was a Public Fishing sign and a small green sign that said "Gilligan" next to a dirt road. There is, but I missed it at first and drove several miles too far. The guidebook might better have said to look for the road sign, "Scriver Rd", which is larger and easier to spot. When I eventually found the turn I arrived in the parking area adjacent to the Boquet River and was amused to see that it was segregated into parking for hikers on one side and parking for anglers on another. There was no indication of penalties for hikers parking on the anglers side or vice versa, but I wondered. Mine was the only car in the lot, a blessing on a warm (82°) summer weekend when *everybody* seemed to be out hiking..

The guidebook described the trail as having "a few short steep sections" which, while accurate, was also something of an understatement. The very first steep section is so steep that at points that if I stretched my arm out in front of me, my fingertips were within about 6-8" from touching the trail. There were 2-3 other steep sections but none as steep as that first one. The photo above is from an overlook just off the trail on that first section.

Most of the 1.3-mile trail is relatively easy hiking, a flat or gradually ascending walk in the woods. I had gone about halfway when I heard voices behind me. Shortly a group of late teen to early twenty-somthing males caught up to me. One asked which way the trail went and I pointed to the trail marker directly in front of him. He asked "How far to the top" and I replied that I didn't know as this was my first time climbing this mountain. They then charged on ahead. A short time later I met them again going back down and I asked "Going down already?" The first three ignored me and the fourth mumbled something I couldn't understand as he went by.

The trail was sufficiently damp that fresh footprints were evident and where there was leaf cover their passing disturbed the otherwise even layer. I hadn't gone too much further before all evidence of their passing disappeared. For whatever reason they had turned back about two-thirds of the way up and I had the mountain to myself after all. Us old guys may be slower, but we don't quit easily.

There are several points as you ascend where you come to ledges that overlook the High Peaks, specifically Rocky Peak Ridge and Giant. The above panorama is about midway up the trail. Giant's summit is lost in the clouds.  The view below looks off in another direction.

The trail between overlooks is a pleasant walk with interesting views of the woods. The following photos were made while going back down.

Just above the last overlook (where I ate my lunch) is a sign "End of Marked Trail". The summit is only a bit higher than the last overlook but it is wooded over with no views. It appears to have been logged in the not too distant past as there are stumps here and there and remains of a logging road as seen in the photo below.

Unless you feel the need to be able to say you went all the way to the top, there is little point to going past the last open ledge shown in the panorama below. The summit is probably no more than 10-15 feet higher (if that) anyway. The Hare Bell and moss photos were found on the last ledge.

Overall, aside from the short steep sections, Gilligan is an easy hike which offers good views and would be especially nice on a crisp autumn day when the leaves were turned. I may go back then.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Further Impressions

I've been playing with the Topaz Impression software again. These two images were created with a preset I created and saved. I photographed the bed because I liked the folds in the top sheet that had beed pushed in from both sides. I struck me as a good subject for drawing and I knew it wouldn't be around long enough to draw to I took pictures. Then I wondered how it would look rendered with an Impression preset. I found one I sort of liked but ended up modifying substantially and saving for possible future use. I think I like the second one (below) better because it is simpler but the first one may read better for others because it is more obvious what it is.

As always, respect my copyright. If you want to share this post or the photos please link to this page. Don not repost elsewhere without my permission. The photos were made in RAW mode with a Canon G11 on a monopod. Initial processing was done in Lightroom CC 2015 and the drawing effect created in Topaz Impression.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Topaz Impression Review

A while back Topaz ran a drawing for a free copy of their new Impression software on Facebook. To enter you only had to comment on the post. I did and I won. I didn't get to use it right away because it requires a graphics adapter with Open GL 3.2 or newer. My computer was too old. I had already upgraded the graphics board once (to Open GL 2.1) and wasn't about to put more money into such an out-of-date machine. Then Adobe came out with Lightroom CC and that wouldn't run on my computer either, again because of the old graphics board which was the newest part of my computer. Since LR is the software I use most I was forced to bite the bullet and buy a new computer.

Unlike Topaz's earlier filters, Impression is designed as a stand-alone program rather than a plugin for Photoshop.*** It will open JPG, TIFF, PNG and RAW files but it seems to generate previews in the File>Open window only of JPGs. I also find that the first time I choose File>Open after starting the program I don't get any previews at all, just a blank window. If I close it and retry it works normally and will work normally to open subsequent images until I exit the program and restart it. That brings me to the other oddity, there is no "File>Close" option. You can Open, Save, Save As, or Exit. If you try to open another file (or exit) without first saving the current one you are asked if you want to save it and can choose not to.

The program is designed to make your photos mimic traditional art media and the styles of a limited number of artists. Some are fairly successful like the one above which is one of the Impressionistic presets. Others, not so much, like the image below which is supposed to mimic Van Gogh.

To be fair I don't see how one could write software to render like Vincent Van Gogh, particularly in large areas like the sky. Vincent would have made the sky with a number of colors in large, bold strokes. The software doesn't have the variance of color he would have used as a resource to interpret. It can only work with what is already in the image.

The program works through groups of presets classed under the titles Ancient, Impressionistic, Modern, Painting (styles and media), Pencil, (color/liquid/graphite). Pictorial, Charcoal & Pastel with a variety of presets in each. There are previews of each showing how your image will be changed before clicking on one. You can modify any of the presets by clicking on the arrows symbol displayed on the current active preset or on the tab at the top of the presets with the same arrows symbol and you can revert to the original at any time before saving.

The program will allow you to modify or create your own presets by changing the stroke (brush size, opacity, and other qualities). In the Color section there are color swatches which, when you click on one, shows where that color is present in the image and allow you to modify just that hue. In the Lighting section, you can modify the light brightness, contrast, vignette, and direction. These are set to mimic light falling on the surface of whatever media you are mimicking. Last is the texture control that allows you to choose the surface, paper, canvas, stone, etc. and the characteristics of that surface including color.

The set of images below show an original image and two drawing variations, the first with the unaltered preset and the second with the paper color changed. The choice of color is  a standard color picker. You can choose any color your computer can produce for the background surface.

Although Impression isn't  capable of full layer processing (you can't stack several effects) the preset is applied over the original image which remains unchanged until you save it. This means that you can vary the opacity of the effect to allow the original to show through as in the following pair of images.

The upper image is at 50% opacity so that you are seeing part of the original image through the effect. The lower one is just the effect at 100% with none of the underlying image visible. There are also a limited number of Blend Modes for altering the combination of original and effect. I suppose it would be possible to layer multiple effects by saving after creating each one then adding the next but I haven't tried that and I suspect that subsequent effects would be based on the saved version rather than the original. Additionally because you couldn't create multiple layers that you could switch between, you couldn't modify the lower (already saved) layer(s). You could create multiple versions, import them to Photoshop as layers and play with them there. The image below is an example of one that was layered with the original in Photoshop and the flower portion was partially masked out to reduce the effect on that part of the photo thus revealing more more of the original.

Topaz Impression is an interesting addition to the available digital imaging toolbox and I suspect it will see many improvements in future releases just as the Topaz plugin filters have. I am particularly impressed with the pencil effects. I have done a lot of pencil drawing myself and the effect is pretty convincing. I also like some of the other effects. Below are several examples from an afternoon of playing around. The first has a border that I added in Photoshop based on the background color. The border lacks the texture because it was added after. Had I added a white border to the original before processing it in Impression it would have the texture to match the rest of the image.

*** Jun 29 2015 Correction: Although Impression does not appear in my Photoshop CC 2015 filters I discover that is a problem with the latest version of PS, not Topaz Impression. When trying to use my other Topaz filters I noted that they are all missing from the PS CC 2015 program. I thought perhaps they had simply failed to migrate when Adobe auto updated PS CC 2014. I checked the CC 2014 Plugins folder and they were there so I copied the folder to the PS CC 2015 Plugins folder. When I restarted PS CC 2015 I got a message that not all my plugins might work and sure enough, they didn't. I reverted to PS 6 (the update apparently overwrote my previous PS CC versions, they're gone) and opened a file to edit it I found that Impressions was listed in the filters and indeed it does function as a plugin, in PS 6 at least. This leads me to believe that if yo are using another editor that uses PS style plugins, Impressions will likely work as a plugin in your software.

Disclaimer: Although I did get the program for free it was an open competition that was available to anyone who follows Topaz on Facebook and there was no requirement to write this review nor did I discuss writing it with Topaz. I do like and use a number of their filters and recommend them. All the images are clickable to see them larger if you want a closer look.

All images are copyrighted. Please respect my copyright. Do not repost anywhere without permission. It's called stealing, like in the Ten Commandments. It's not nice to steal. Thank you for being nice.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

I'm still alive. I just haven't been posting.

I am at a crossroad in terms of where my photography is going from here. For years I have tried selling prints but that market is virtually dead, not that it was ever a booming business for me. I don't derive any income from this blog and while I am a photographer primarily because I love it, it is a costly pastime and I feel I either have to reduce the expense or find a better way to sell prints. And what am I going to do with the hundreds of prints that I have made for shows/exhibits that did not sell.

It is a common problem and I have read all the stuff I could find on the web, not to mention buying and reading books on marketing, yet I still have the problem of too many prints and too few buyers. Yes, I know about Barney Davey's site (and others). I'm not sure where I going from here photographically. The blog will most likely be less frequent and when I do post it will more photos and less writing Although I plan to follow this post with a review of Topaz new Impression software

In the meantime enjoy these photos of a unique church that my mother was pastor of back in the early to mid-'70s.  Although I haven't attended church since my youth (a long time ago) I am fascinated by the often unusual structures that religion has inspired and I enjoy photographing the more unique ones.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

"What is truth? " Pontius Pilate

A while ago on the Online Photographer blog Mike Johnston posted about truth in landscape photos. As an example he posted a photo of a barn in Steamboat Springs and posed the question of whether the photo was truthful. It was a posed promotional photo of a classic barn with two riders on horseback coming down the slope through deep snow in front and mountain slopes behind. Mike's point was that there was only one spot from which that photo could be made without including a lot of other less classic structures and other things.

There was a fair amount of discussion and it was clear that a number of commenters favored a journalistic standard of truth in photographs as did Mike. I have to say that as a landscape photographer that kind of stuck in my craw leading to my revisiting the idea here.

My first and broadest objection to photographs as truth is that the medium takes a 3D world where the photographer is standing in a 360° reality (both horizontally and vertically) which includes sound, smell and touch (temperature, rain/snow falling on you, wind blowing your hair, etc.) and from that selects out one small section of the visual part to show the viewer in 2D. The rest is at best implied, snow tells you it is cold, etc.. So no, a photograph is never "truth", it is never reality. It can convey one small slice of the experience of being there but that's all.

My other objection is that all artists and photographers select from the available subject what part(s) they wish to show their viewer. The artist simply leaves distractions out. The photographer chooses where to stand. Ansel Adams once said that a big part of being a photographer was "knowing where to stand". The tree in the photo above is near one corner of my barn, down the slope behind it is my garden shed and some other evergreens. I didn't want to show you them so I found an angle that moved the barn out of the frame to the right and hid the other trees, one behind this tree and the angle of the slope hides the smaller one. The chosen angle also left out the garden shed. Because I deliberately left those things out of the image I suppose one could look at this and assume that this tree was standing alone somewhere in a field with nothing around it. But that would be their interpretation. It certainly wasn't my intent to give that impression. My intent was simply to show you this tree. The things I left out were simply irrelevant and would have been a distraction. I'm not lying by leaving those things out. I'm directing your attention to what I want to show you.

Artists have always left out distracting elements but because photography was considered a literal view of the world photographs have often been assumed to be a "truthful" representation. One of the main objections to "Photoshopping" an image is that is considered by many to be untruthful. The f.64 group was all about the literal image. I know some photographers who insist on "getting it right in the camera" all the while ignoring that the camera does not "see" like a human does (a whole other discussion) and that the things they do "in camera" are arguably manipulations as well.

Today I went snowshoeing in back of my house. The trip started by the tree above. It also passed the barn and the garden shed but this tree was the only thing on that first section of the jaunt that struck me as something I wanted to share. It's not what my whole back yard looks like but it is an accurate representation of the tree as it impressed me to photograph it. It and the photos below are as truthful as a photo can be even though I did leave some things out of each of them and you can't feel the wind blowing snow in your face while you look at them. All were made with a Canon G11. It was a good outing. I needed to get out. Winter here feels like it is never going to end.

If you'd like to buy a print of any photo that appears on this blog please email me. Please respect my copyright and do not repost without permission.