Thursday, September 24, 2015

Using Texture to Spice Up your Photos

You've probably heard of "textures" as related to photography. A simple analogy might be looking at something through a screen door, colored glass, a dirty window, etc. It makes the object you are looking at look different, similar to the way a photo looks after adding a texture.

I haven't taken many photos over the past week or two, so this a good time to take an image from my files (in this example, June of this year) and share how using a texture (or multiple textures) can impact the way it looks. Here's an example of a texture by Kerstin Frank. She's one of my favorites, and shares her textures freely (just give her credit). There are many, many other textures on Flickr and similar sites. I have collected literally thousands of textures as well as made my own.
The only tricky part to using textures is you must have a program that allows you to add multiple "layers" on top of each other and blend them together. I use PhotoShop, but there are other software programs that do the same thing. There are also blog link-ups dedicated to sharing textured photos and websites that sell textures.

Let's start with this image of my granddaughter and I out on a dusty desert road. Just a so-so image in my opinion, but it has potential. I had set up my iphone on a tripod and used the 10-second timer for this shot.

I don't like all the foreground or the overall composition, so let's start with a crop and add a little color saturation. The crop helps put emphasis on the long, straight road and provides better balance.

Rule #1 is that adding a texture may or may not enhance the photo. You never know exactly what you're going to get, which is half the fun! Now I'll take this shot and add the above texture to it, and mix the two together. I kind of like the result, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder!
Textured Image #1
There are many different mixing options in PhotoShop. Here's a really heavily modified use of the texture along with an additional crop. It turns my granddaughter and I into silhouettes. I like this version too, but it's a major departure from the original and probably not for everyone!
Textured Image #2

Here's another version... similar to the first one, but with a little heavier blend of the texture.
Textured Image #3

Finally, at the risk of overdoing it, let's add a second texture:

Here's what you get with this second texture blended in. Usually after adding more than a couple or few textures, the law of diminishing returns kicks in.
Textured Image #4

So after making all these textured photos, you have to ask yourself the tough question: Are they any better than the original, and which one do I like best?? I would love to hear what you think!!

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PS: Can't resist... Here's an example of a Kerstin Frank photo. Using textures can give your photos a painterly feel to them. Beautiful work, wouldn't you agree?

Thursday, September 17, 2015

With Water... and Without!

With water (February photo after some winter rains):

And without water (taken a week ago, same location):
You can see why so much of California has extremely high fire danger. All the wild mustard plants and other weeds have totally dried up and are highly flammable.

Even without rain, the skies are still beautiful! And I'm lucky to have my little photo-model with me wherever I go!!

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Thursday, September 10, 2015

Private Property within a National Park?

My latest adventure was over the Labor Day weekend. Early Sunday evening, I drove into Joshua Tree National Park. My main goal was to get some sunset shots and perhaps even some Milky Way shots. Using Google Maps, I had seen some structures not too far off the main highway that looked secluded and interesting. So off I hiked, camera bag, tripod, and flashlight in hand!

Within less than a mile, I came across a small road. I was expecting it (based on my Google Maps research), but what I wasn't expecting was a road without any tire marks or footprints. None. This road hadn't been driven on or even hiked on in some time, which seemed odd.

Hiking in just after sunset, I was treated to pretty desert skies and purple clouds.

A few hundred yards up the road, I found the first structure I had seen on Google Maps. Actually, structures (pleural).
Two pink cabins nestled up against the rocks. Both appeared to be abandoned and in bad shape (doors open and windows broken out). I'm pretty sure I saw bats flying in and out of one of the cabins. Finding these old cabins was not only exciting but raised a ton of questions. Since these are in the National Park, are they owned and maintained by the Park Service? What's their history? Why aren't they being maintained and why aren't they on the Park Service maps?? Here's another shot of one of the cabins. You can just barely see the old silver water tank out back, so the cabin likely has (or had) plumbing, but no electricity.

I very nearly missed it, but there's an old vintage trailer about 100 yards to the west of the cabins, hiding in the bushes.
I thought of my sister, who just finished restoring her own vintage trailer. She would like this. The little pink trailer looks like it's been sitting here a really long time. In very good condition, other than a couple broken windows. Here's a closer shot...
Peaking in the window, I could see the trailer was full of stuff. Boxes piled high. Again, all the questions swirling around in my mind. Who owned it? Why is it being left here to deteriorate? How interesting would it be to spend an afternoon sorting through the contents of this little "time capsule"! Looking at the cholla cactus growing in front of the door (and knowing how slow these cactus grow) makes me think no one's been in this trailer for a number of years!

A little further up the road, I found this old adobe homestead cabin.
How cool is this!!?  It's in one of the most beautiful spots in the Park, with incredible boulder formations all around it. Keep in mind that by the time I found this little cabin, it was already dark. I wasn't able to do much exploring, just take the photo and move on. This is a 10 second exposure, helped along a bit by shining my flashlight toward the cabin.

Time to start heading back to my car. I haven't hiked too far, but it's now nighttime and I need to hike across open desert (no trail) to get back to my car. The last thing I want is to get turned around and have to spend the night in the desert!

Oh yes, and I did manage to get some decent Milky Way shots on my hike back. Here's one of my favorites.
Postscript: After posting the cabin pics on the Joshua Tree National Park Photographers page on Facebook, I learned this area is the "Cohn property". Strange as it may seem, this is private property within a National Park. The owners laid claim to the land and were living there prior to the land surrounding it being declared a National Monument in 1936 (Joshua Tree became a National Park in 1994). Although I didn't see any signs of him (or her), a caretaker lives in the area full time. Another website I found has this to say about the Cohn property: "The area marked off on the map on page 80 [the Cohn property] is privately owned. The owners are very unfriendly, and [rock] climbers have actually been shot at for trespassing here! Unless or until this situation changes, all climbers are advised to stay off this property." Yikes, glad I didn't run into that caretaker! A final thought: If my family owned this property, I would be living out here full time and restoring these cabins! Incredibly beautiful location within Joshua Tree National Park.

Post Postscript:  Mr./Mrs. Cohn, if you read this and are interested in selling your property, please contact me immediately!!

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Thursday, September 3, 2015

Pinyon Well, Joshua Tree National Park

My wife and I took our granddaughter and the chihuahua out for a hike in JTNP about a week ago. The hike is relatively short (a little under 2 miles round trip). However, temps were in the mid-90's, so I was being really careful... carrying lots of water, snacks, hats, sunscreen, etc. There is no cell service in the Park, so you need to be super careful, especially when traveling with a toddler. This is a great hike for a number of reasons. For one, it's remote, so few if any tourists know about it and you will probably have the area to yourself. You take Geology Tour Road to get to the trailhead, and 4WD is recommended. For a great overview of the Pinyon Well area, check out this blog:
My granddaughter started out strong...
But she soon ran out of gas!! The chihuahua picked up a cactus thorn in her foot not once, not twice, but three times! Wish I would have managed to get a photo of my wife trying to pull out thorns without being bitten! It's quite a challenge.
One of the first interesting finds on the hike was this skull of a bighorn sheep. I didn't see any sign of the rest of the carcass. In researching the area, I learned that there is water available further up the canyon and bighorn sheep are common in this area. I also learned that sheep carcasses are occasionally found, which means there are likely mountain lions in the area. I took this shot of the skull, then put it back the way I found it for the next hikers to enjoy.
Photo credit:
The next interesting find is (I think) the actual Pinyon Well location. It's just a big hole in the ground that's been fenced off by the park service).
Photo credit:
Here's a close-up looking down into the well. I nearly missed it, but just above the well, as if guarding the entrance or warning off potential visitors of grave danger, was another bighorn sheep skull! That's two on one hike!!
This got my imagination going (as in the Indiana Jones movie). If I lifted up the skull, would poison darts or something even worse happen??! I picked up the skull to inspect it and fortunately survived the experience!
An old metal water trough. I wonder what it was used for?
Multiple cement water tanks in this area, along with what look like stone foundations of what once was likely mining cabins. The water tanks were probably used for mining operations. At one time, this must have been a thriving area!
Back where we started, as the sun sets and a nice view of Malapai Hill in the distance. There's a lot more to see up this canyon. It's definitely on my list of hikes to do... next time going deeper into the canyon.
Shot earlier in the day... that's Geology Tour Road, AKA, our road back home!
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