Posts Tagged ‘Photography’


January 24, 2011 5 comments

Ah. That last post left me with a lot to think about, and even more to do. I vowed to change my approach to the Mac Lab by reincorporating learning into my schedule. Mission accomplished. All is well inside the double doors of room 246, for me anyway. And let’s leave it at that.

As opposed to last year’s frantic mission to churn out as many posts as possible in as least time as possible, this year I have tried to listen to some advice that Philip gave me a while back and am now only posting when I have something important to say. The problem is, its been seven weeks since my last post and I have not found much to say. I have found that so much has happened, that it is difficult to wrap it up into a neat little post. Last time, I had my anger to drive me, this time I have a promise.

I gave a speech today in my second period AP Literature class about the impact photography has had on my life over the past 454 days since I first borrowed a camera. I have always been a gifted public speaker, and I have to say that I pulled out all the stops to blow the doors off that classroom. The strange thing is, when I went to bed at 11pm last night, I had absolutely no idea what I was going to talk about. By 11:08pm, I had figured it out. I started with a single word – photography –  and in eight minutes drafted a five and a half minute speech that would determine my grade for semester one of AP Literature. You see, this speech was the Final Exam. The only reason I was able to pull off such a good speech in just eight minutes while lying in bed on a Sunday night is that photography is something I am passionate about. There were no drafts, no rewrites, no brainstorming sessions….I just laid down and started talking. Eight minutes later I had a speech.

At the end of that speech, I spoke about the power of a single action to transform someone’s life. This observation became the revelation that nicely tied up my anecdote. Another observation that I could have talked about was the power of passion to drive a person through even the most trying times. Interestingly for my posting career, the past seven weeks have been a very trying time and it’s my passion for photography the both has me posting now, and had me writing poetic phrases in my mind last night. Good things have a way of running my mind in circles.

Anyway, back to the promise that has me seated here instead of watching the second best television show of all time (that would be The West Wing – the first is Battlestar Galactica). It wasn’t really a promise, but if I tell myself that it was then I am more likely to sit here and not go grab some chocolate. In third period AP Calculus, my friend Chris C. asked for the link to my website, this website, which I had mentioned in my speech. I gave him the link but respectively asked him to wait until tomorrow to visit my site. The reason for this, I said, was that I had new content to upload. And boy is that true. Now I have no choice but to get up off the sofa, put down the Sees Candy, and give my keyboard a workout.

“How about that new content?” Well, here’s the story. Over Winter Break, my partner in crime (the 5D Mark II) and I took a trip across the country to the frozen winter wonderland of Northern Wisconsin and the two of us had some good times playing in the snow. Well, I had fun playing in the snow. The 5D spent the trip safely in my backpack inside my grandmother’s warm house. My Mom, sister Emily, and I have been to Wisconsin over a dozen times, but since this was our first time going there in the winter in a few years, I was especially excited. The 5D was excited too.

I spent the first third of our nine-day vacation taking pictures, but the harsh conditions outside confined the camera to the house. So I shot through the windows. I only actually took the 5D outside one time, at night, to capture the beauty of my grandmother’s old barn covered in snow. I took extra care to cover the camera, as it was still snowing out. I’ll let the pictures tell the rest of the story.

And then school started and my life was kicked back into high gear. I had three weeks to solidify A’s in four AP classes as well as Honor Spanish. As far as I can tell, that speech signaled the successful completion of that solidification.

Two weekends ago, Philip, Kyle, my Dad, and I spent the day taking pictures at Gillespie Field, where my Dad keeps his Piper Cherokee, and Mission Trails park in Mission Gorge. Our first stop was the airport, where I treated my friends to the best hamburger the world has ever seen: the B-52. One half-pound patty + two slices of ham + two cheeses + sautéed onions + lettuce + tomatoes + barbecue sauce + a toasted bun = the burger built to win a nuclear war. We spent a few minutes taking pictures around the tarmac, in the “Authorized Personnel Only” zone, before driving a few miles to Mission Trials park. We walked first to an old dam, photographing every rock, foam bubble, and disgusting puddle of ooze that we could find. Before calling it a day, we walked for about a mile on a beautiful trail and I took a picture of every manhole cover I could find.

I have spent the past two weeks editing eighteen of the three hundred, thirty-nine pictures I took that day. Here are the best four, in my opinion. I took a different approach when I Photoshopped these images than I usually do. Instead of going for realism, I experimented with blurs and blending modes to create heaving stylized works of art. Well, what do you think?

Be sure to check my photo gallery for the other twenty-one pictures from my trips to Wisconsin, the Gillespie Field Airport, and Mission Trails park.

Also, Mr. Skocko was so kind as to print the featured image from my last post. It is the eighteenth picture that I have had printed and marks the beginning of a new era in my printing practices. I plan to print fewer images, but frame the ones that I do print. This tumultuous image of the sunset is the first of my pictures that I have ever framed. It really is beautiful.

Ultimately, these past three weeks since I returned from Winter Break have been a transition period. I am waiting with bated breath for second semester, when I will charge forward with a single goal in mind: be the best that I can be. I am reloaded, re-energized, and reawakened to the magic that reverberates through the walls of the Valhalla Mac Lab.

Three, two, one…

The Sky’s the Limit

November 14, 2010 7 comments

Hmmm. Where to begin? I can’t believe that it’s been seventy days since I last posted. Well, in all honesty I can. I haven’t felt very inspired over the last two and a half months. This year in the Mac Lab has been exactly what Mr. Skocko said it would be: amazing on a scale we had never before seen. The reach and scope of the Mac Lab has expanded further than ever before, our little classroom is being called upon more and more to complete projects for the school, and Mac Lab students are accomplishing feats never before dreamed of. And yet, I can’t help feeling like I have gotten almost nowhere in the past seventy days.

Last year, Danny Owens and I decided that I would inherit his role as leader of the Mac Lab Video Team come the start of the 2010/2011 school year. I have done my best to assume this mantle of leadership and drive our little group of dedicated students into greatness. However, I can’t say that I am enjoying it. The year started with Kyle W, Philip B, Josh K, James W, and myself frantically pushing video after video through what felt like an assembly line for the school. For the first few weeks, I was so caught up in the adrenaline of this fast-paced workflow that I failed to realize how what I loved about the Mac Lab was crumbling around us. Simply put, I have not felt proud of a single video that we have produced for the school, despite people saying that they are good. And that is why I am unhappy. Perhaps the defining factor of my epic year in the Mac Lab last year was that I finally felt proud of something I had done, and now that is gone. That pride drove me day after day to work for hours on end in front of my computer at home, striving to be the best that I could be. The never-ending onslaught of projects this year has not allowed me to work at the best of my ability and that has diminished the quality of our projects. This decrease in quality has then sapped away my pride in what I am doing in the Mac Lab. And that is a problem.

At the same time, I encountered problems within our Video Team. People not wanting to work hard, being lazy, not liking to be told what to do, not being professional, and not holding themselves to Mac Lab standards tore a massive hole through the heart of Mac Lab Media. However, in the past month I have backed off, listened more, and lead less and that has in turn seemed to stabilize the social and political situation within MLM. Nobody is perfect, especially not me.

So how am I going to fix this problem of me not being happy in the Mac Lab right now? Well, first I need to identify a more concrete source of my unhappiness. After a few days of introspection, I realized that what made last year so great was that I had time to learn. I had time to learn, practice, and successfully (or not) implement new skills. That and my own determination strapped me to a rocket bound for Mac Lab greatness. Happiness ensued. So the logical way for me be happy again is to start learning again. (Some people are rolling their eyes right now. “Learning……I HATE LEARNING….How can learning make this lunatic happy?” My answer: find something you love doing, then learn about it and then ask yourself the same question.) Well, to learn, I need time. Ah, time, the illusive thing that has escaped me these past eleven weeks. In order to find time to learn, something else has to go. If I don’t deem a project to be conducive to my learning, I won’t take it. Period. That should clear up my schedule a little, and if it doesn’t I’m man enough to do whatever else is necessary to make sure that the rest of my Senior Year is better than these past eleven weeks.

And now on to a more positive topic: what I have liked/loved about these past eleven weeks. First and foremost, I have been able to build friendships that would never have grown without my time in the Mac Lab. In general, the friendships that I have made in the Mac Lab have been one of my main reasons for returning day after day. Mac Lab Media has become a tight-knit group of friends who do their best given the task at hand. Regardless of the projects we have worked on, the other members of Mac Lab Media have been true heroes to the Mac Lab, the school, and to me. Thank you guys. This year has been, above all else, a team effort.

My second reason for surviving these past months has been my Mac Lab work outside the Mac Lab. Specifically, the time I have spent working with Steven Moyer on his projects for Digital Group Audio has been, without doubt, the highlight of my summer and the past eleven weeks of this school year. Steven has taken all my classroom experience in the Mac Lab and channeled it, craft it into something I can use in the real world. For the details of the many-pronged Zipbuds project, read Steven, Kyle, Christian, and Philip’s detailed descriptions.

For me, the Zipbuds project took my skills as a photographer/Photoshopper to the next level while at the same time giving me real world experience that will have repercussions for the rest of my life. “What? You’ve gotta be kidding me. You expect me to believe that those endless hours in front of the computer or in Steven’s garage are going to have an impact on the rest of your life?” Hey, beyond the internal benefits and happiness that working on such a wonderful project has brought me, the successes of the Zipbuds project will fatten my resumé quite nicely. And that is extremely important in today’s gladiator battle for college acceptance. To all you people out there who live for your grades, there is another, equally important side to a college application: the extracurricular activities section. (And hey, I have been able to do all this stuff for the Mac Lab, continuously building my resumé, while still maintaining my straight A’s. That sounds like a good deal to me.)

The Zipbuds project is a true testament to the power of teamwork, because teamwork was the driving force for the greatness of the final result. Steven, Kyle, Danny, Philip, Christian, Evan, and myself could not have done it without each other. And what do we have to show for it? See for yourself: |  Gizmodo |  Gadget Review

I will build a gallery of the roughly two dozen Zipbuds pictures that I personally Photoshopped sometime in the next week (they are stored on a different computer than the one I am writing this post on).

There is no doubt that the Zipbuds project will go down in Mac Lab history as one of the greatest examples of how students can, given the opportunity (thanks to Steven), create work that is good enough to stand proud beside the best in the industry. To come right out and say it, the Zipbuds project has demonstrated how, in the Mac Lab, the sky really is the limit.

And so now I finally get to talk about that featured image. I took that picture almost two months ago and have been saving it for a really special post. Obviously, I did quite a bit of enhancement in Photoshop, but that is how I work. For me, an image isn’t complete until I have torn it pixel from pixel in Adobe’s king of pics. This post’s featured image symbolizes the turmoil and conflict of the skies, but given the success that I described in the preceding paragraphs it can be interpreted to illustrate the power of the Mac Lab to elevate a student’s abilities to the level where they can survive such chaos. But that’s just AP Literature talking. I think it’s a great picture.

I have taken a keen interest in the sky lately, and so here is another of my attempts to capture the beauty of nature. I know that the orange glow is lopsided.

While filming a history movie with my friend Chadd Cady, we noticed a horde of bees swarming a nearby bush. I put down my T1i and ran home to grab the 5D Mark II and 100mm Macro. Here is my first attempt to use that wonderful lens.

While taking a break during the same video shoot, I snapped these pictures of a nearby fence post. Check out that beastly depth of field, courtesy of the 100mm Macro.

I have not had much time to work on projects of my choosing, but one thing that I did do was try stop motion photography. I’ll spare you the details for now. Only one of the four test videos I made turned out semi-interesting. I learned a lot from these tests and next time I try stop motion photography the results will be much better.

Mr. Skocko printed one of my pictures during my seventy-day vacation from post-writing, but I don’t think it turned out good so I haven’t hung it. I did go frame-shopping a few days ago and took notes of various frame sizes. Now I have to decided which pictures I like enough to crop, reprint, and frame.

In the next few weeks, I will try stop motion photography again, give FLOAT my first honest attempt, learn more about Adobe Premiere, and do my best to keep learning, start having fun again, and find that zone of intrinsic motivation that made last year so epic.

Tweak Time

September 6, 2010 4 comments

“You’re never finished in the Mac Lab.” That quote seems to define my approach to a photo. No matter how much time I spend in Photoshop and Camera Raw working on an image the first time around, I always find something to improve upon in the following days (sometimes quite a few somethings).

This is a key quality in a digital artist; the ability to assess one’s work and recognize that it is never truly complete. I am constantly learning new skills and techniques that I can use on old photos to transform them into new wonders. This continual acquisition of knowledge is a defining factor of what makes the cutting edge such a great place. When we stop learning, then we have failed. And so I try to never stop learning.

The batch of photos that resulted from my trip to Mt. San Gorgonio, like most of my photos, has recently found itself inside Photoshop once again. Read this comment, and you will understand my eagerness to get to the tweaking. There is nothing more satisfying for me that seeing one of my photos rolling out of the big Epson, so I have been working fast to get my favorite images up to a level of quality that represents the best of my current abilities. Note that I did not say that I am done, but merely at a point where my skill is appropriately reflected in my images.

Of the four hundred picture I took on my trip to Mt. San Gorgonio, 12 made it to this blog. Of those twelve, I have selected my favorite five to get a second run through Photoshop.

My plan for the three picture of the Milky Way featured in this post is to create a single print for all three, and for that I must make them look like they go together. I used the this one as a starting point, and matched the color and contrast of the other two as close as I could. Here is the before and after of the second image. And the before and after of the third. The different exposure times made exact matching impossible, but I think they go together nicely. I tried very hard not to go crazy and make them too unrealistic.

In addition, for Orion_02, I tried something different. I went all the way back to the beginning and started over with the original file. My goal was to create an image that was mostly color correct but at the same time vibrant and dramatic. My result is feature on this post. It is completely different but I like it even more. What are your thoughts?

Next, I turned to this image. My problems with it were twofold: the sky and the white balance. I played with Hue/Saturation and managed to oust the excessive orange in the forest. I also used H/S to make the sky most pleasing. That was easy, and makes all the difference.

Then I tried to make the focal point of this image, Mt. San Jacinto, more defined, and succeeded with a simple Levels layer. While at it, I brightened the bushed in the foreground and threw a contrast curve on the already dramatic sky. I really like this picture because of its beauty and the personal connection I have with it (end of this post). I think I have done it justice.

I was about to call it a day, when my I realized I had forgotten this photo. I particularly like this one, and so tried my best to oust the red in the rocks and fallen tree and make the sky more peaceful. A handful of complicated Adjustment Layers and Masks later, I had succeeded, and made the leaves actually green.

Well, it has been two weeks since I first posted these photos and already I have found loads of thing to improve upon. That is life as a learner.

Am I finished? Not now, and not ever. By the time I return to these photos again, I will have learned new and interesting things. And the cycle continues forever.

Update: It is September 25th. I woke up at 5:00am to go the Mac Lab Saturday School™ but learned that the video shoot I was going to take part in was canceled, so I decided to stay home. Instead, I spent four hours returning to these pictures once again and make improvements on all of them. I’m not going to bother writing a new post to give the details on this, as that would be a little redundant.

Just never stop learning.

The Milky Way

August 23, 2010 10 comments

This picture is quite mind-boggling, if you think about it. The light that struck the image sensor of the 5D Mark II and created this beautiful stellar photo was forged in the center of a nuclear fusion reaction over 75,000 years ago. What you are looking at is the Milky Way Galaxy; our celestial neighborhood.

My quest for a picture of the Milky Way started a long time ago and was one of the reasons I took up photography in the first place. I first mentioned this goal here, way back in January, and have been striving to reach it ever since.

A little over a month ago, I went on a camping trip with my Dad and cousin Alex to Mount San Gorgonio, the tallest mountain in Southern California. I had three goals: have fun, climb the mountain, and take the picture featured above. For once, I accomplished all my objectives. I had loads of fun. The three of us walked 22.8 miles carrying a total of 125 pounds of supplies for two days until we reached the peak, at 11,503 feet in elevation. And I got my picture (well three actually).

So how did I do it? Well, it involved a lot of trial and error but in the end I found a recipe that consistently produced good results for my elevation (we camped at 10,000 feet) and time of night (9:30pm): 30 seconds at f/1.8 and 28mm with the focus turned almost all the way to far away. In my efforts to slim down the amount of gear I would have to carry up the mountain, I elected not to bring a tripod and instead settled for the gorillapod. Unfortunately, because I was not about of crawl around on the bug-infested ground, the height of the gorillapod meant that I was unable to frame my shot or focus the camera. I was left to trying different angles and focus measures at random until something worked. But in the end I achieved success.

But why did you have to go to the mountains in order to get a good picture of the night sky? Well, the answer is something called light pollution. The light from cities and houses blocks out the light from stars, so in order to get a detailed night photo, one must either go to the middle of nowhere (like the desert or forest) or go up (like the mountains). Being so high in elevation meant that I was far enough away from civilization so as to not be shrouded in light pollution. I took this picture at around 9:30pm, just after the sun went down, so I can’t help but wonder what it would have looked like if I had had the energy to stay up even later, thus allowing more stars to appear in the night sky.

When it came to post-production, I sort of hit a wall. I got a good result that was astronomically correct (as far as color) but was not satisfied. So, I asked Steven Moyer for help. I sent him the file for the image above and he managed to help me overcome my problems. The trick (what I had failed to do) was to raise both the Fill Light and Blacks but lower the temperature significantly. The result was a photo that was less color-correct but looked better overall. I spent an hour or two making minor adjustments and color tweaks before reaching a truly wonderful result. I implemented the same tactic in the next two photos, and they turned out quite nicely. One problem that I never overcame was the challenge of finding a balance between noise reduction and sharpening so as to retain detail but minimize noise.

So, there are at least three lessons to be learned from my experience with this photo. The first is that you need to experiment. I tried dozens of different settings and camera positions before I found what was just right and I did not let the lack of a suitable tripod get in my way. The second lesson is that if you take the time to give something a little extra effort, you will most likely be happy with the results. When nightfall came, I was exhausted and just wanted to sleep. I was sore and wanted to get in as much rest as I could before getting up early the next morning. Even though I had been planning for months to take pictures of the sky that night, I wanted so desperately just to sleep. But in the end, I muscled up enough willpower to go out into the freezing night and give it a try. I overcame my reluctance, knowing that if I did not just try, I would regret it. And well, the results speak for themselves. The third lesson (that I can think of right now) is that it is okay to ask for help. I knew that my picture had more potential that I was capable of extracting in Camera Raw, so I asked Steven for help and he gladly assisted me in making that picture everything it was meant to be. So thank you Steven.

And here are the other two photos.

Although not as impressive as the first three, I decided that nine other pictures from that camping trip are worth displaying. The truth is that there are dozens more of superb quality, but I just don’t have time to edit them all.

I especially like the next picture, because the mountain you see is Mount San Jacinto, which my Dad and I climbed last year (on the day before school started). It is about 500 feet shorter than San Gorgonio and can be done in a single day, whereas Gorgonio is a two day hike. The valley between San Jacinto and me is the San Gorgonio Pass, which is the primary route from San Diego to Palm Springs. In order to train for our next climb, Mount Shasta, my Dad and I are going to return to San Jacinto and climb the Snow Creek Trail, a grueling ascent from the backyard of Palm Springs straight up over 10,000 feet in the single greatest elevation change in the continental United States. Extreme temperatures mean it can only be done in winter, and even then the ascent is quite deadly. That should be fun.

One thing that I would like to add is that this time, I took extra care to frame my pictures correctly and therefore eliminated a lot of cropping. I highly suggest taking an extra ten seconds to make sure that the frame is good before taking a picture and hopefully you too will find that your images have a little extra beauty.

Well, that’s it for now. It’s been quite a while since my last post, but now I am back in full force and ready for whatever challenges the Mac Lab can throw at me.

A Day in Point Loma

July 9, 2010 Leave a comment

On Monday my Dad had the day off and so the whole family (plus a few extras) took a drive down to Point Loma to enjoy the ocean and take in the sights. In order to get out of having to hike around, I decided to bring the 5D Mark II and my T1i, along with three lenses. I had not used anything telephoto in a long time, so I was excited to try taking pictures of the city from really far away.

I took pictures of the ocean, the city, plants, rocks, and my family. The best photos fall under that last category.

I took over 450 pictures in two hours. Not counting dozens of duplicates, there were about ten pictures that made is past the first round of eliminations. I narrowed that down my favorite four, all captured by the 5D, and edited those. None are spectacular or amazing, but I like them nonetheless. It was overcast and so that sort of set the tone for the shoot. That’s just my light painting curse acting up during the day.

Here are those four. I know that the colors in the first two are slightly off but I was going for two different effects (dramatic and postcard) and so colored each photo differently in Camera Raw.

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Fireworks Photography, Part 2

July 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Well, I wish I had better news. My second try at fireworks photography did not go as well as my first, even though I lugged two 5D Mark II’s, a Rebel T1i, six lenses, and three tripods for what felt like ten miles up, down, and around the USS Midway for six hours on the 4th of July.

I was completely prepared and knew exactly what I needed to do to capture great pictures, but three things got in my way: clouds, smoke, and people. Fog started coming in as soon as it got dark and so the fireworks were exploding inside a bank of haze that was impossible for the camera to penetrate. I tried things like increasing the f-stop to 22 so as to capture as little surrounding light as possible, but to little avail. Second, there must have been five hundred fireworks going off every minute from nine different locations around the bay, so the fog was compounded by an impregnable layer of smoke that never blew away. Third, I had a great location to shoot the fireworks but at the last minute decided to move because I was standing in people’s way, and that proved disastrous. Most of my pictures have a line of heads along the bottom that obstruct the lower reaches of the fireworks. Oh well.

I took over 400 pictures in six hours, and less that 20 are worth editing. Like last time, here are the first four.

Most of the time the smoke was a nuisance, but sometimes it added to the composition.

Those fireworks with exploding bulbs make for interesting pictures.

Brief moments of clarity and a lot of Photoshopping produced some smokeless images. Notice the Coronado Bridge at the bottom of the next two pictures.

Big Update Time

May 29, 2010 9 comments

Just so you are forewarned, this post is designed to beat Christian’s latest super-post as far as word count is concerned. Here we go.

Philip, I apologize in advance (he doesn’t like lengthy posts).

Light Painting Update:

As I have mentioned many times before, I went through a dry spell as far as new work was concerned during the time leading up to AP Exams when I spent all my time studying and working on the 840 Poster. Well, as the AP Exams are over and the 840 Poster is slowly coming to an end, I have had time to consider and complete new light painting projects. As this post explains, I went to Harbor Island a few weekends ago and took 28 pictures of downtown and the sights of the city from afar. Since that post, I have edited two more images.

I think the first is good, but not spectacular.

I was getting bored with making realistic pictures of Dowtown over and over again, so I threw the “Fill Light” and “Blacks” sliders in Camera Raw all the way to the right, added a few extra crazy adjustments, and got the second image. I have no idea where the halo came from or I would have gotten rid of it (it’s not from “Clarity”).

After the District Art Show, Kyle W, Philip, Christian, Zack, and I went to Tidelands Park in Coronado to take pictures, and we had great success. Read more here and here. After browsing through my images, I counted 24 that were good enough to edit and eventually narrowed that down to nine.

Here they are:

I kind of like this shot of the Coronado Bridge, even though it didn’t turn out as good as I would have liked (I was using the wrong lens – Christian was using the right one).

With these next two images, I decided to listen to Philip’s advice and make them not as warm as the others. This forced me to approach them from a different angle and I think they turned out very nicely (some of my favorites). Thanks for the advice Philip. (But there is a point where cool (blue) turns into unrealistic (too blue/bad).)

This next one was out of focus and I tried to compensate by adding lots of different effects. I don’t really like it.

The next image is my favorite. I really like the contrast between the bluish background and orange foreground (complementary colors), even though the frame isn’t great.

I tried a lot of new techniques on these pictures, including using the “Threshold” Adjustment Layer for the first time. I also ventured deeper into Camera Raw than ever before and used the “Split Toning” panel for the first time.

I was all ready to post this post after three hours of writing, and then I realized I had forgotten to add vignettes to my new images. I had to go back and fix, re-save, re-upload, and re-add twelve images (it turns out the Dip wasn’t up-to-date too). Argh!

With more free time (now that most of my classes have toned done the workload) I should be able to produce more new work relatively quickly. I continue to get better at using the 5D Mark II as well as my Rebel T1i, which has translated into better pictures than ever before. I remember from the beginning of the year how out of two hundred pictures, maybe ten would be good. Well now maybe one hundred would turn out nicely.

The District Art Show:

As you all read here, Superintendent Collins surprised everyone when he awarded my already 1st place Dip picture (named “Night in the Light” for the Art Show) one of the biggest awards of the night. I was surprised my pictures won anything at all because they printed horribly bright (I had tailored them for the big Epson in the Mac Lab and not the small Epson at Mr. Skocko’s house). The actual print from the Art Show is hanging in my living room, and looks just fine in the dim lighting. I gave the “Navy Lights” picture to Kyle R because he hadn’t gotten a print of it yet.

For me, the greatest feeling of accomplishment in the Mac Lab is seeing something of mine being printed, and so to have had eleven things receive that honor, I feel pretty good about my year so far. Oh, and just to set the record straight, the bigger the print the better!!!!!! At only 20 inches by 13 inches, this image looks like a postage stamp next to this one and this one, which are both 30 by 20 inches. (I want my copy of the District 840 poster to be 44 inches by 70 inches, one square inch for every hour I spent working on it.)

The District 840 Poster:

The third thing I want to give an update on is the District 840 Poster. It is currently on its fourth version, which is two more than it was on when it was submitted and mass-printed. After a marathon Skype video conference and some last-minute tweaking the day before it was due, this is what the poster looked like. We (Kyle W, Philip, Mr. Skocko, and myself) all agreed that the sky was just awful and needed to be replaced, so I added some Photoshop clouds that night, which is version two. At that point, we had no choice but to submit the poster but we vowed to make it better. The poster was mass-printed 11 by 17 inches and distributed around the school and a 44 by 70 inch giant was printed for in front of the office. However, as time went on the sky looked worse and worse, so I began the process of finding somehow to make a new one. I decided to look at old photos and try to find one with an acceptable sky (we realized that the idea of making a sky from scratch in Photoshop proved futile). I turned first to the pictures in this post, and combined the skies from the two images (one, two) in Photoshop. Because the stars in the two images are different sizes, the result had a feeling of depth. I liked this third version, but had to agree with Philip when he said that it looked too peaceful. Also, adding a night sky created a different problem: night means the buildings need lights. Making that happen proved impossible with our current skills, and so I continued my search for an image that could work. I stumbled across this one while going through some old files and knew instantly that it was the one. Unfortunately, two problems arose: first, it was a JPG and second, it was VERY noisy. We had no choice but to live with the first problem, and the wonderful noise reduction features in Camera Raw beautifully solved the second. Instead of trying to add the new sky to the same file with the other two skies, we went all the way back to the beginning, to the version two trips through Camera Raw before this version: the big 1.38GB main file with all the components on their own layers. This made adding the new sky a piece of cake and also allowed some problems with the edges of the buildings to be solved relatively easily. However, this also meant that we had to repeat the Camera Raw steps, but in the end that proved to be a good thing too. After a week of work, Kyle and I managed to get the new fourth version looking much better than its predecessors. A few last-minute fixes made for a truly great poster, but since the Mac Lab is out of paper it will remain solely digital for now.

Looking at all the versions of the 840 Poster side by side, I think that the buildings in the final version need to be darker. That’s an easy fix, but I need to run it by the group first.

Photoshop Update:

Over the past couple of months when I couldn’t go out and take pictures because I was supposed to be focusing on my other classes, I turned to Photoshop. I learned dozens of new skills and have become truly great at using Photoshop. The District 840 poster taught me a lot about image correction and the healing tools, which gave me a new appreciation for a different side of Photoshop.

Also, instead of trying to push my images to the brink of destruction, I have really tried to reign in my enthusiasm and not over-process my images. When reworking the Dip and Cars images, I took special attention to this and ended up decreasing the vibrance on both images quite a lot. This took the edge off the bright and somewhat blinding colors and created two images that were pleasant, not painful, to look at. The main thing I fixed in the Dip image was severe over-processing, and it was only through some creative Camera Raw-ing that I was able to same the image. I experienced a moment of desperation and hopelessness while working on that picture, when I ran out of ideas and felt the pain of failure. Then I reached for the Adjustment Brush and blurred/desaturated/darkened the over-processing away. Miraculous, in my opinion anyway. Just look at the road in these two versions (one and two). See the difference? In this post I called the previous version a masterpiece, and now I feel foolish for doing so. There is a point when too much of a good thing (like Photoshop) can be a very, very bad and very, very destructive thing indeed, and that is something I have been trying to avoid in my latest images.

The new tools in Photoshop CS5, like Content-Aware Fill, the Content-Aware Spot-Healing Brush, Puppet Warp, Lens Correction, and the new blending modes have come in extremely handy and have changed the way I work with my images. The new skills that I have learned through thousands of hours in front of my computer have truly transformed my skills as a digital artist in the past six months. (Example: in three days I was able to capture, edit, and print a District Art Show-worthy picture. Unfortunately, when Mr. Skocko learned he could only submit eight things, he had to cut it, leaving only two of my images in the Art Show) Now I feel like whatever the challenge, I have the skills to overcome it.

Also, I have been using Camera Raw on a scale I would never have imagined before. I was just starting to really appreciate the power of Camera Raw 5 in CS4 when Camera Raw 6 was launched with CS5. The new version has a totally new engine that allows for better edits than ever before. The new noise reduction features may be my favorite, but then again the new lens correction software in the 6.1 update just may be cooler. I never realized just how distorted the images straight out of the camera really were until I tried out this new feature!

I almost forget to talk about the wonderful Adobe Digital Negative file format that I discovered a while ago but only started using with CS5. The Digital Negative format allows for increased compression without data loss (which is great when taking high-quality 30MB pictures) and does away with the old XMP sidecar files that CR2 files had. I especially like how if I start editing an image in Camera Raw but don’t finish, I can save the image directly in Camera Raw as a DNG without loosing any edibility (or the edits I just made). Basically, if it’s a picture and it’s not a PSD or a web-ready JPG, it needs to be a DNG. It’s that simple (in my opinion). DNG’s are smaller, store more information, and are more versatile that CR2′s, so why not use them?

Blog Update:

I haven’t done much to CRDESIGNLAB in the past months except remove all of Kyle R’s work. That means all the Digital Art pages are looking quite empty, which is likely how they will stay for the rest of the year (along with the 3D pages). I have been searching for a new blog theme, but have not found anything intriguing yet.

I think I will hold out on making new tutorials until summer because I don’t see myself as having any time before the end of the year. I plan to make dozens of new tutorials over the summer (on light painting, Photoshop, and photography) in order to build a wonderful student resource for next year. Speaking of next year, I will be a Senior but I will not be taking any Mac Lab classes. Don’t worry though, I will go periods one through five and spend six and seven in the Mac Lab anyway helping students and working on projects. I hope to be a resource next year both through my direct aid and the tutorials on this blog.

By the way, this is the 72nd post on CRDESIGNLAB. That’s a lot of posts. (Other stats: 550 comments, 6,736 hits)

Current Projects:

I am continuing to make final changes to the 840 Poster, but as soon as the Mac Lab gets paper it is ready to print.

Also, I have volunteered to set up fifteen new iMacs for Mrs. Ormsby and the SAGA. I have been working on just one of the computers and plan to build a master disk image that I can then transfer to the others. After some initial difficulties with InDesign, which is the primary program the journalism students use, Mr. Skocko suggested I bring the computer down to the Mac Lab for the setup process instead of working in Mrs. Ormsby’s room. Having access to a reliable internet connection allowed me to download the required updates to make InDesign work, and I was able to complete the installation of all the applications Mrs. Ormsby needs. Now I just need to here back from SAGA on what specific files need to be standardized across all the computers. Hopefully I should be done with the setup and ready to create the image using Carbon Copy Cloner within the coming week. That means that hopefully all fifteen new computers should be up and running and ready to replace the ten year old Macs in room 322 before too long.

Plans for the Rest of the Year:

Well, I have only 2 days left on my trial for CS5, so my plans for the next few weeks must include buying the CS5 Master Collection. Mac Lab Media needs to produce a video advertising next year’s Blood Drive, which I will be very involved in. I need to learn more about Final Cut Studio in preparation for leading Mac Lab Media next year. I need to continue to learn how to use the new audio/video equipment, which will be invaluable for all future video projects. I hope to work with Christian on a stop-motion light painting video, but that might get pushed until summer. The District 840 poster needs to be “finished” and printed for in front of the office. I need to finish setting up Mrs. Ormsby’s new computers. I need to edit my newest light painting pictures and capture new ones. The Mac Lab iDev Team has yet to get off its feet, but I hope that in the next few weeks I can put my iPad to good use and start working my way through the tutorials. And that’s just the stuff I can think of off the top of my head. There’s a lot more, but I think my subconscious is not letting me remember it.

Oh, I almost forgot: Kyle W and I have to assemble the Mac Lab iBook for the Final Exam. That’s going to take a while and teach us more about InDesign than we will ever wanted to know.

Sunday night I will attempt this challenge, which will help me appreciate the skill required to be a photographer before the invention of digital cameras. Plus, getting a free print isn’t bad either. My strategy is to pick four shots and take nine picture of each with different settings hoping to get something good. I will probably work with Kyle W and create some light painting masterpieces the old-fashioned way.

On Monday I have to film a group English project, but because my group didn’t want to step up to Mac Lab standards I am not allowed to use Mac Lab cameras. That’s too bad because I was really hoping to make a phenomenal video, but it looks like I am going to have to settle with what the group want, which isn’t phenomenal.

This year has been much more that I envisioned it to be. My first year in the Mac Lab (as a Freshman) was quite uneventful and, honestly, I expected this year to be the same. When I enrolled in the Mac Lab a year ago, I had no idea that I would have five things on the Wall of Fame (I think it’s five), have eleven beautiful prints hanging in my house, or have stood alongside Danny and Christian and received the ROP Champion of Champions Award (and then that totally unexpected follow-up  award from the California Legislature). And as a math and science guy, becoming one of the most decorated recipients at the 24th District Art Show was something that I would never have expected in a thousand years (me, winning art awards, you can’t be serious!!!). This year has been more fun than I could have possibly imagined, and I plan to end it on a high note. I have learned so much about myself and grown so much as a person in the past year that I would not trade my time in the Mac Lab for anything.

And the crazy thing is that something tells me that next year will be even better.

Christian, I cut down the length of this post by over a thousand words because the general consensus seemed to be that I write too much. But at 3014 words this post stills claims the trophy.

Catching Up, A New Focus, And The 9 Days of Light Painting

March 26, 2010 29 comments

This is three mini-posts smashed into one.

1: Catching Up.

It has been over a week since my last post. That’s just deplorable. I all honesty, I have lacked inspiration over the past few weeks. That might be partly due to the increasing workload as AP Exams approach. I will be taking three AP Tests in late April: AP Language, AP US History, and AP Chemistry. I have tried my best to manage the massive workload these three classes place upon my shoulders while at the same time trying to find time to work on Mac Lab stuff as the projects are only getting larger and more numerous. People don’t appreciate just how difficult it is to get an A in an AP class until they try. I have had to take a sort of break from my usual Mac Lab work to focus on maintaining my straight A’s, which has not always been possible. Unfortunately, I will have to find a way to work more on both regular classes and my Mac Lab projects at the same time. Oh, and I have to learn Final Cut Studio and After Effects as part of my duties to the video team, which I am now a member of. I have Adobe CS4 Design Premium and Apple Final Cut Studio on my home computer, but I don’t have After Effects, which means I will have to work on that during class.

While on the topic of video, I have to say that last Saturday was quite the day. I arrived at school at 5:30am and was the first person there, other than Mr. Skocko. A minute later, Danny and Cody arrived, followed by Philip, Fadi, Kyle, Aaron, Nikki, and a few others over the next three hours. We light painted for a few minutes while it was still dark, but the pictures didn’t turn out. When the filming for the Dodgeball video started, chaos broke out and it took us five hours to film a commercial that is less than a minute long. The finished product looks great, but it didn’t always look so good. Danny saved the day in Final Cut and After Effects. The best part of the day was that I learned a lot about video. I was Assistant Director (Danny was Director) and I set up about a third of the shots without his help. By the time the filming was over, I had gained a new skill and the confidence that came with it. High resolution version: right-click and download |  Low Resolution version.

At 2pm, Danny and I filmed the Theater Department’s production of Thoroughly Modern Millie, which was fantastic. I had never been to a school performance before, and really liked the play. Fadi tagged along but didn’t really do anything. By 5:15pm, after 11 hours and 45 minuets of work, we all left school and went out separate ways. Twelve hours working for the Mac Lab was a lot of fun.

2: A New Focus

Quite simply, my focus in the Mac Lab is changing. CRDESIGNLAB started out as a photography blog, but I think it will follow me and transition more towards other forms of media, most importantly video. Changes might be coming.

3: The 9 Days of Light Painting

Over Spring Break, I will have three tasks and only three tasks: finish Specialties for AP US History, read The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck for AP Language, and devote every other waking moment to the Mac Lab. As for the third of those tasks, I intend to spend most of my time light painting and working on tutorials. It’s about time I stop being lazy and actually get something done. Other than creating tutorials for light painting, I will try the new techniques Mr. Skocko has been urging me to employ over the pst few months. I will completely revamp my approach to light painting, and will hopefully produce the best work the Paint the World With Light project has seen yet.

As for these tutorials, I will use a combination of screen captures that explain the basics and camera setting and actual video footage of a light painting shoot, which should be filmed tomorrow.

I also have to work on the Valhalla 840 poster, which is coming together slowly. I am in charge of the Photoshopping, which is the majority of the project. Zack, Fadi, Philip (I think), and Kyle are also helping. We will have to combine our skills in Photoshop, Illustrator, and Cinema 4D to create a realistic poster. I don’t know if I am supposed to keep the theme a secret or not, so I’ll take the safe route and let you all just guess as to what masterpiece is sitting behind this Safari window on my computer right now. (Hint: if it works, it will be AMAZING!!!!!!) Photoshop CS5 and these tools would make the job infinitely easier. If only I knew someone with CS5…

That’s it for now. I bid you farewell for now and start planning the screen capture portion of my light painting tutorials.

Fun fact: for a few hours tomorrow I will have both of the Mac Lab’s 5D Mark II cameras. I will be carrying around $12,000 of technology as I go the site of the light painting tutorial.

Let the 9 Days of Light Painting begin!!!

7 Days Later

March 15, 2010 5 comments

Wow. This post is long overdue. The last time CRDESIGNLAB featured any new text was seven days ago, when Kyle discussed elections. Over these seven days of darkness, I have been busy reworking old images that have been neglected or could be improved. I have taken some already posted images and improved them as well as started working on some completely new (never been touched) ones. In total, there are 12 new images for the galleries, and not a single one is less than a three weeks old. It is amazing how when browsing through old work you find that there are gems hidden amongst the madness. So that is what I have been doing: separating the gems from the madness. Grab a soda because there is a lot of reading ahead of you.

Image Number 1: The Dip, Version 4

For the fourth time, I have put serious effort towards improving this image, which is dubbed “Dip” because of a dip in the road just before the entrance to the Horton Plaza mall. I tried my best to whiten the building in the back and achieve color correctness while bringing out as much color as I can. There are still things that need to be fixed, like granulation in the road and the trees, but overall, I call it an improvement.

Image Number 2: Street 01, Version 3

Like the Dip, this image has seen its share of time in Photoshop. I spent so much time staring at Version 2, that I became blind to the horrible over-sharpening and excessive color. So, I decided to start all over with the original file and try to produce a less painful-to-look-at image. I think I succeeded. Although it looks dull when compared to the previous version, I think that Version 3 is much better and doesn’t have that awful look of over-proccessing.

Image Number 3: The Parking Lot, Version 1

This is a completely new image from the latest batch of light paintings, which Kyle, my sister, and I created on February 26. I took the picture as Kyle and my sister outlined the parking lot of the Monarch Ridge community pool with lightsabers. The original was deplorably over-exposed, but I saved the image in Photoshop.

Image Number 4: Street 03, Version 1

This is also a completely new image from the latest batch of light paintings. Captured just a few minutes before the Parking Lot image, Kyle manned the camera as my sister and I showed Kyle how to paint like a Jedi.

Image Number 5: Spiral 03, Version 2

Kyle and I took this picture on February 5 when we hung a flashlight from a ceiling fan. I originally wrote this image off as a dud because it looked sloppy and not interesting, but Kyle had a different idea. Over the past few days, he has been playing with it in Photoshop and has produced a really cool image. He took a poor test shot and turned it into gallery-worthy work. Not bad at all.

Image Number 6: Spiral 04, Version 1

While going through our old files, I found this spiral and decided to add it to our collection. After a little Photoshop work, it was up to par.

Image Number 7: The Tennis Court 01, Version 1

This image was taken the same day as the Parking Lot and Street 03 images and just a few yards away in my neighborhood tennis court. I manned the camera as Kyle and my sister traced the court lines with lightsabers. This is the first of two tennis court pictures, but the second one is on my iMac at school.

Image Number 8: Cactus 03, Version 1

This is another really old picture, dating back all the way to January 16, when Kyle and I spent a few hours photographing his backyard. I played with it in Camera Raw and am pleased with the result. It is interesting, in that I had to make the image all fuzzy and distorted and then negate that in order to avoid some strange red blotches that appeared wherever there are colors close to white. Basically, I blurred the image and then sharpened it enough to make the blur go away (in way more steps than that).

Image Number 9: The Leaf, Version 1

I have no idea where this image came from, just that it was in my files, so I decided to Photoshop it. I messed with the color of the leaf and kind of like the result. I had to gaussian-blur the background in order to remove distortion and I think I need to go back and mask the blur out of the focused areas with more precision.

Image Number 10: The Purple Cactus 01, Version 1

This image also came from January 16, and I decided to take a drastically different route in Photoshop. In Camera Raw, I completely blew out the colors as far as I could, taking the Clarity, Vibrance, and Saturation sliders all the way to the right. I am not sure if I like it or not, but I wanted to try something different, so I did.

Image Number 11: The Purple Flower, Version 1

This purple flower was not meant for success. I can’t remember who took the picture (I think it was me), but I do remember that Kyle and I weren’t really trying and just burning time as we waited for it to get dark. Kyle found the picture in our files and saved it from digital death. He took it through Photoshop and managed to turn a good image into a great image. If you zoom in all the way, you can tell that it is extremely sharp, perhaps the sharpest picture we have ever taken. I added a couple of things in Photoshop (cropped it, and Dodge and Burned), but the vast majority of the work is Kyle’s. I really like it.

Image Number 12: The Red Berry, Version 1

Also a result of January 16, this image’s stay in our galleries might be very short, as I think it is over-sharpened and needs to be reworked. Kyle really liked it when we originally took the picture, so I decided to work on it in Photoshop. I think I worked a little too hard.

Well, that’s it. If I remember correctly, there are a few more images that I could have added, but they aren’t on my home iMac or MacBook Pro, so I can’t post them. I “took a break” from posting for a week, and think I might be better for it. I spent some time evaluating the future of CRDESIGNLAB and made some decisions about this blog’s, and my own, future. More of that is coming later.

Today in class, Mr. Skocko revealed that the Paint the World With Light project had been extended a month, and I am very happy that it has. To be honest, I don’t think a single one of our images has utilized our full potential as photographers and digital artists. This next month, and especially Spring Break, will be filled with light painting of a caliber not yet seen in the Mac Lab, and I intend for CRDESIGNLAB to be leading the way.

Also, Mr. Skocko has been pushing me towards creating light painting tutorials for Mac Lab students and students in the other two classrooms involved in the Paint the World With Light Project. I have been struggling with how I should make tutorials for light painting, and have decided that I will just do screen recordings using QuickTime X and see how it goes.

On another note, I have been thinking for a while that the Mac Lab light painters need to all work together on a massive light painting project somewhere away from school. At the same time, Mr. Skocko has been hinting (and saying) that I need to teach him how to light paint, and so I thought I would combine these two ideas. I was thinking that some day over Spring Break, anybody interesting in learning light painting and all those who already know how could meet somewhere of significance in the community and share skills and ideas while creating a masterpiece that would be the highlight of the Paint the World With Light book. Anyone would be invited. I think it is a good idea, but I want opinions.

If anyone has actually read this far, I must give you a round of applause. I have been writing this post for an hour and a half now, have typed out 1503 words, and am just now nearing the end of the rough draft.

There is just one last thing, a last-minute tech update.  The Mac Lab will be getting new 21.5 inch iMacs to replace the old white ones, so all of you who are sick of waiting ten minutes for a single small picture of a brick wall to Live Trace will soon have the best computers in the room.

So as not to make your eyes bleed any more, I will call this post completed. Hey, I haven’t posted anything in seven days, so I have a lot to say. This has to be some kind of record.

Five Hours of Fun for the Mac Lab (So Far)

February 20, 2010 26 comments

To my disappointment, I learned on Friday that there was to be no Mac Lab Saturday School™ today. Too bad. Well, at least I got to sleep in. As I mentioned before, I plan to make this weekend very productive, so I wasted no time getting to work. From the time I woke up, which was a little before noon, I have been sitting in front of my 27 inch iMac, burning my retinas out. I started by unloading the pictures that Kyle, Cameron, and I took yesterday.

My friend and fellow Mac Lab student Cameron Rabell accompanied Kyle and I on our trip downtown yesterday, where we took about 40 pictures of the sites located between the Star of India and the USS Midway. As I unloaded the images early this afternoon, I was mildly disappointed. Most of them didn’t turn out, as we had been taking long exposures and the wind was blowing, so things (like boats) moved (and were therefore blurry). Also, we intended the images to be light paintings, but they turned out more like regular photographs, just at night. A couple did turn out interesting, and I took one into Photoshop today and edited it a little. The result is featured on this post.

After that, or maybe before, I can’t remember, I did the rounds on all my favorite sites, including the blogs of Christian Lim, Fadi George, and Philip Behnam. I decided to make a new “Inspiration” widget in the right sidebar, which I populate with some of the links from the Inspiration page. I also added links to the sites of five Mac Lab students to the Inspiration page and widget: Christian Lim, Danny Owens, Diana I, Fadi George, and Philip Behnam.

After that, I did a little bit of file management on my iMac and took an hour break for lunch. (CRDESIGNLAB has over 25GB of files so far. Luckily we have the 50GB version of DropBox and luckily my iMac has 1.55 terabytes of space left. At this rate, I will have to buy the 100GB upgrade for DropBox in a few weeks.)

When I returned, I saw that there was a comment by Mr. Skocko (ix625) on the post I wrote earlier today. I added that task to my mental queue.

Next, I went through the five images Kyle and I have ready to print and did some resizing and finishing. We hope to print these images next week, but that is what we have been saying for the last two weeks. Mr. Skocko, if you are reading this, please don’t let Kyle and I leave school on Monday without talking to you about printing. Basically, I completely remade the print layout for all five images so that they are the same width, have the same size borders, titles, and subtitles, and have text of the same color. I think the result is a good improvement. I still have to decide if one more of my images is good enough for print. Diana I. has told me on many occasions that she thinks the Shoe picture is one of my best, and I agree. It is has not been included in the original list of photos to be printed because Kyle doesn’t like it. Well, I will definitely try to print a copy for myself.

Then I went to work on the task Mr. Skocko gave in this comment and decided to submit the Bridge, Cars, Purple Building, and Street_02 images, for now. I resized them in Photoshop and put them in a dedicated folder in DropBox. By then, it was 6:00 pm and I had been working for six hours, with a one hour break. At that point, I started writing this post. Now it is almost 7:30, so I have been working for seven and a half hours with a one hour break. I would change this post’s title, but then it would have less meaning.

Some people might wonder why I would want to spend all this time working on stuff for the Mac Lab on a weekend? I type away right now, when I could be playing XBox or watching TV, or talking to friends, or at a movie, because for me, this is just as fun. I love the Mac Lab. I love working in the Mac Lab. I love working and seeing the beautiful result. I love trying to be brilliant. I sit here and type because for me, there is nothing I would rather be doing. For me, I wish it were 7 am not 7 pm, that way I would have more time to work. I wish I could work like this forever. I wish I could do more.

And so I restart my favorite iTunes playlist for the third time, and get back to work.

Update: I call it a day at 9:30, after eight and a half hours of work.


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