Recently I was editing some of my image files from the Eastern Sierra, a wondrous place east of Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia National Parks where trees grow for thousands of years, land erodes abandoning balancing boulders, and alpine snowmelt feeds ancient lakes.

 
While I reprocessed a few shots, taking advantage of new wonderful features in Lightroom 5.2 and Photoshop CS6, I came across this scene (below)- a photo captured years ago just east of Mono Lake.  A sunset road scene on a long desolate stretch of Highway 120 west of the California/ Nevada border, documented during a long February road trip photographing the US West.  As I recalled this wonderful peaceful road that led us to our final destination of Mono Lake, the name David Gaines came to mind.
Highway 120 near the California/Nevada border at sunset © Sean Arbabi

Originally part of the Great Basin, Mono Lake is a one-of-a-kind place.  Home to trillions of brine shrimp and alkali flies, and over 2,000,000 migratory waterbirds, including 35 species of shorebirds, use the ancient lake as a resting, nesting, and feeding place.  When you walk along the lakeshore viewing thousands of flies fan out as they avoid each of your footsteps, touch the salty waters painted red by the abundance of tiny shrimp, and gaze in awe at the monstrous clouds rolling over the Sierra, you feel how special and unique this body of water really is. 

The southern shores of Mono Lake and the Sierra Nevada at sunrise © Sean Arbabi

A lake with no outlets, the alpine streams and annual rainfall that feed it remain in the natural bowl for tens of thousands of years- that is until Los Angeles’ Department of Water and Power (the DWP) began searching for new sources of water to supply their ever-growing Southern California metroplex.  From 1941 to 1990, the lake level began dropping as the DWP diverted unrestrained amounts of water from Mono Basin streams.  Mono Lake dropped 45 vertical feet over 50 years, lost half its volume, doubled in salinity, and exposed previously submerged tufa towers (limestone structures that grow exclusively underwater).

Moonrise over the Eastern Sierra, as seen from the southern Tufa-lined shores of Mono Lake © Sean Arbabi

 

Courtesy of NASA

People like David, and those who worked tirelessly at the Mono Lake Committee, fought Los Angeles’ DWP from draining the lake through numerous ecological studies, court cases, and injunctions.  I 1989 I joined the cause, photographing the Mono Lake Bike-A-Thon, capturing over a hundred riders as they peddled 332 miles from the DWP offices to the shores of the lake, raising funds for the fight.  Many of the decisions that came in favor of Mono Lake and the Mono Lake Basin allow us all- humans, birds, and wildlife- to enjoy its wonders.  Sadly, Owens Lake, an ancient body of water covering 108 square miles nestled in southern Owens Valley 10,000 feet below the towering Whitney range, was not able to be saved, drained by the DWP over a span of roughly 40 years.  Full in 1913, desiccated by the mid 1940s.  Much of the Owens River was diverted into the Los Angeles Aqueduct, and today the mostly dry lake bed is the largest single source of dust pollution in the United States.

Looking west at Highway 136 and Owens Lake below the Whitney Range © Sean Arbabi
David Gaines (courtesy of the Mono Lake Committee)

So why did a photo of a highway remind me of David Gaines, a person I never met?  Well, David was tragically killed in a car accident in the winter of 1988 along Highway 395, south of Mono Lake, on a stretch of road similar to the one I posted above.  I drove along the road he did a few months later and captured that photo above on my first visit to the area.  Someday I will use that road to take my two daughters to the shores of Mono Lake.  I will tell them about the history of this region, about its ancient waters, and how we are still able to share it with future generations thanks to people like David Gaines.  He may have been taken far too early, but he gave far more to the world than most.


22Jul

Aperture vs. Lightroom – a quick response

Had a friend ask me today about Lightroom vs. Aperture- here was my response:

When it comes to digital workflow, you can’t go wrong with either.

Apple makes a solid program that works great, and as they are with everything, Aperture will continue to be integrated into more and more of their products most likely (not that you need it, but it’s nice to know).

Lightroom is fantastic. Having both programs, I probably use it more because of the seamless flow with Photoshop. I say that, but Aperture has enough plug-ins (i.e. Nik software, Photomatix, etc) and menus, and can link up to Photoshop if necessary (you just have to set that up in Preferences with Aperture, choosing your external editing program like Photoshop).


Again, oranges vs oranges. Lay outs are a bit different, but both are extremely user friendly- I tend to jump between the two depending on the project I’m working on. Both have tons of menus, sliders, etc. to correct color shifts, adjust a number of images through batch processing, fix exposure, contrast, saturation, etc.

If possible, download both trail versions (not sure if Aperture has one) and test ’em to see what you like- if Apple doesn’t have one, I’m sure you can review it at a store.

Here’s two screenshots of both programs in one of my Facebook albums (similar to the ones I loaded in this blog): https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.220105390806.143046.122003760806&type=1

BTW, I should have a Digital Workflow workshop coming up sometime later this year where I cover both of these programs, and how I handle my image workflow and cataloging- I’ll update you all when that happens (whether at Camera West, Calumet, Point Reyes, online with PPSOP.com, or another workshop company).

Wish I could answer everyone’s personal email questions, but this might be an easier way to spread the word.

Have a great weekend all!

18Mar

Through the Looking Glass…

I recently read this comment online and thought it was hilarious – “As someone who is new to photography, I am amazed at the spectrum of photos todays cameras and software are able to produce”.
This thought from a newbie to photography pushes me to confess something I’ve never told anyone- that’s right, I didn’t take all my photos I sell, share, and teach with – my camera did. That’s right- in fact, with the advent of digital photography, cameras now take all the photos. 🙂
Of course I’m being facetious but it does bring up a good point that so many people feel the improvements in digital technology has made it easier to take better photos. To me, it’s made it easier to make millions feel they could take better photos- for the most part, there’s just millions of more images out there being shared- not necessarily good, sometimes not bad, and on rare occasion amazing.
Since the day the first photos were being taken, painters were criticizing these image-makers as non-artists, doing something they couldn’t do on a canvas.
Unfortunately in this day and age of Photoshop and DSLRs, so many assume these new tools are making photography easier. And as much as I love Photoshop and DSLRs, they simple aren’t.
It’s funny- people throw all kinds of words at your images- “you do some great photoshop work”, “what filter did you use on that” – but most of the time (if not all the time) capturing a great image is a combination of a lot of things including hard work.

20May

A great deal for Photoshop lite

Love me some Costco – great deals, yummy food, quality products. While shopping there with my daughters last weekend, I couldn’t help but notice the great deal Costco has for Adobe’s Photoshop Elements.


Most list the product for $139 (including Adobe), maybe as low as $99, but Costco has it for $79.99.

They only have it for Windows (didn’t see a Mac version there), but so many of you are on PCs, and it’s a great program to own. A must have piece of software for many photo enthusiasts wanting to get into Photoshop, but not interested in shelling out a ton for the full CS4 version -a version where they may only use a small percentage of the amazing functions available.

Click this link to see the software on Costco’s site: Costco-Adobe PS Elements

Enjoy Photogurus and Photoguruesses….

03Feb

Photo Potpourri

A few fun february facts, images to check out, and items to think about in the photo world. By the way, here’s a fun image of the Na Pali coast in Kauai, I captured from a helicopter a few years ago while on assignment.


A piece of news I got from Calypso Imaging‘s newsletter (a great printer in the San Francisco Bay Area, although I personally use West Coast Imaging– awesome printer)- 18 years ago this month, Adobe shipped Photoshop 1.0. That was the first year of my career, but in February I was a few months away from graduating college at Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara. So although I had learned a ton about photography in college, by the time I graduated, a whole new world of digital was emerging – an aspect I had to educate myself on to keep up with the times. How Photoshop opened so many doors toward quality imagery. Now in the 11th version of the program (Photoshop 1-7, then the CS series, now at CS4), the software has morphed into something amazing and unreal – congrats Adobe.


Wanna see how unreal digital photography HAS become? Check out this 1,474 Megapixel shot of the
President Obama’s inaugural address, created by David Bregman, combining 220 images together in a process / robotic camera mount called Gigapan. The final image size was 59,783 X 24,658 pixels or 1,474 megapixels. Nice shot David. Wow- I’ve gotta try it soon! (click on David’s name to review the shot)

A hundred and seven year ago this month, Ansel Adams was born (in 1902),

and although he past away 25 years ago, the impact he had on photography is not only beyond measure, but well beyond what any other photographer has done to date. I never had the chance to meet him, but I feel what he feels about image-making. Here’s a wonderful photo of Ansel, taken by an amazing photographer Jim Alinder (with permission – © Jim Alinder) – to see his work and gallery, go to: http://www.alindergallery.com/

Have a wonderful February all – keep an eye out for me on “The View From the Bay” in a week or so, Feb 23rd, at 3pm on ABC’s San Francisco TV station, KGO channel 7. Then my first book signing event in Clayton CA February 15th.

23Jan

Photo of the Week

I’m starting a “Photo of the Week” section of my blog, to display an image, describe how I shot it, and what my thought process start to finish – here’s my first:


USA: Nevada: Clark County: Las Vegas: Visitors watch the amazing Bellagio water show at night along Las Vegas Boulevard

This image was part of a week-long assignment to capture Las Vegas for a photo essay for Endless Vacation magazine.  I prepared the job by contacting dozens of casinos and resorts, acquiring permission to photograph on various properties, submitting my million dollar liability insurance (which is required for many different types of photo shoots, especially resorts, casinos, and large corporations), then driving from the San Francisco Bay Area to Las Vegas (just to lug more gear without the airport hassle since I was on my own for the week).

This evening I went out with my Fuji 680 III camera, a bulky medium format beast that I love, with a large tripod and walked along the Strip.  I shot many angles of the Bellagio water show but this one was one of my favorites.  The first thought I had while finding a spot to shoot was incorporating all the elements of the show- the water, the glow at night, Bellagio Hotel and Casino, and the visitors gathering around to watch it.  I backlit the entire scene using the tree to help frame my composition hoping it would be outlined by some of the high shooting water.  I metered the front facade of the building to get a reference, took other meter readings around the scene, and used my best guestimate for the shot (shooting film, I wouldn’t see my results until a week later). The lights on the tree and the nice spacing of the people was a nice small addition.

Once I received my film and picked the top selects, I scanned them in with my Nikon CoolScan 8000 (not available anymore- today Nikon makes the CoolScan 9000, they turned digital in a 300MB file, and a tiny bit more detail was pulled out to stretch the contrast ratio to fit what I saw – for the most part, 99% of what you see is in the film.

My editors thankfully loved the shots I captured that week.  It ran as a cover story and feature spread, and some of the work now rests in my files as well as my stock agency’s files.  I’ll be back in Vegas in March to capture new images of the ever-changing resort city.

When it comes to digital photography, exposure, technical details, and photographer theories, many feel you simply can’t lose your highlights in the shot – you can’t cut them off on your histogram, have ‘blinkies’ (showing you in your digital image where the detail is lost) etc, etc.  I don’t necessarily believe for all instances.  To me, photography is also about capturing mood, a feel, a glow, a moment, the heart of something – that’s when technical aspects are important but throw out a bit- it’s about the final image.

03Dec

Photoshop CS4 continued and my book on Amazon.com

Here’s a link to my book on Amazon.com – it’s out January 6th, 2009, and sellin’ like hot cakes.  If you want to learn all about photographic exposure, which includes many aspects of photography that will help you improve your skills, pre-order it today.  It’s less than $20 and with over 225 pages, 200 photos, diagrams, and lessons, it’s worth every dollar!

And if you live outside the United States, there are over 30 sites carrying the book, in places like Canada, Denmark, Finland, ItalyNorway, South Africa, Switzerland, Taiwan, United Kingdom.

Moving back to Photoshop CS4, as I began to

 get up-to-speed on the recent release, my new favorite toy is the clone tool with now offers a preview of the clone before you ever click on an area in a photo – it’s fantastic!  Not only does it save you a step of cloning if the clone is wrong (in tone, color, subject matter, etc), but it also helps a ton with lines and patterns of any kind (branches, building, power lines, road markings, and so on).

More to come on all the new Adobe’s Photoshop CS4 features, as well as the rest of Adobe’s Master Collection!

21Nov

Affection for my Master Collection

I finally landed my copy of Adobe’s Master Collection which launched in late September, and I can’t wait to get started! Yahooie.


I’m mainly looking forward to using all the new jammin’ functions in Photoshop CS4 and Lightroom 2.1 (Lightroom doesn’t come with Master Collection), but Adobe Creative Suite 4 Master Collection comes with a ton of programs:

From video to stills, graphics to design, audio to html, the Master Collection is everything a multi-media person could desire. I use Dreamweaver CS3 since moving over from GoLive CS2, but lookin’ forward to Dreamweaver CS4 for new updated web design. Photoshop CS4 Extended also has a new 3D object painting which sounds like a fantastic feature – who says we need to shoot all product colors from here out?! There’s many new aspects of Bridge and Camera Raw that simplify Photoshop functions, allowing you to get a ton of work done before even opening and processing the file.

There’s a ton to go through, but I hope to add updates over the next few months on all the new cool features. The main programs I’ll start with are Photoshop CS4, Bridge CS4, Dreamweaver CS4, and Indesign CS4.

Stay tuned groovy photo dudes and dudettes.

10Oct

Self Portrait via Photoshop’s artist tools

I’m rarely pleased with shots of myself these days…who is when you’re 40?!  And although I’m gettin’ back into better shape (that always helps with portraits), I still look at images from my 20s and think that same ol’ thing, “hey, I was thin and wasn’t bad looking back then!”.  


But every so often when I get a nice shot, I like to take it into Photoshop CS3 and trick it out a bit for fun, using Adobe’s artist filter tools like “Cut Out”, “Palette Knife” and “Dry Brush”.  I know what you’re thinkin’, “hey Sean, you should be using the Blur tool with the radius on 100 dude!”

(By the way, Adobe Photoshop CS4 is on the way and I’m sure it’s only going to get better- CS3 advancements with exposure, ACR, and HDR were amazing, so I’m eager to see what they’ve added and improved!).

But when you go into the filters, there’s a variety of options in each giving you tons of different outcomes depending on the shot itself, the lighting, the contrast, the detail and the color.  It’s a blast to mess around with, and the results can be cool lookin’. 
Here’s one to check out – a recent shot of me in Vegas, digitally altered in Photoshop using the Cut Out artistic filter to give me a “Reservoir Dog” feel….I’m Mr. Brown.