Monday, August 30, 2010

The Balloons Were Only One Part

What a beautiful day Saturday was. Solid blue skies (until I got home), a free balloon lift and some friends. That’s hard to beat. We found out about a balloon lift that’s been going on for the past twenty five years up toward the middle of the state. Connecticut isn’t exactly a big state, being only two hours wide and an hour top to bottom. Being mid-state and us being on the western edge and spilling slightly into New York meant it was a little less than an hour’s drive away, rather than a day’s drive like you’d have in some of the western states. There were four chances for seeing the balloons go off. Friday evening, Saturday morning, Saturday evening and Sunday morning. Being a social group and probably a surly group before we get our coffee, we opted for the Saturday evening launch. Being a local, not very well publicized (at least not in western Connecticut) event, we didn’t know if there’d be one balloon or twenty. It was closer to twenty. Today’s image was one of the easy shots. Two balloons with a boring, solid blue, sky. The position was fine, but the sky made a very colorful scene look unnecessarily dull. There’s not a whole lot of interest in a solid color, even with a polarizer. I don’t do a lot of “chimping”. I was shooting a five shot bracket, so I had a choice of starting point. Normally, lately, I shoot a three shot bracket. One over, one under and one “normal”. The reason for putting “normal” in quotes is to explain that normal is a -.3 EV (Exposure Value). Nikon does a great job setting the “normal” exposure in their cameras, but I like something that’s just a little bit denser. When I’m teaching a class, the first thing I tell people is that they can improve the quality of their shots by changing the EV by -.3. Does it work all the time? No! Nothing does, but about 90% of normal shooting can benefit from a slight reduction in exposure. There is one thing that wound up being a lifesaver with today’s image. To find out what that was, hit the “read more”.

Because I was using a circular polarizer I was losing two stops of exposure. I wanted to maintain a reasonably high shutter speed and F-stop, so I cranked up the ISO from 200 to 800. That’s the same two stops I lost to the polarizer. The Nikon D300 is sort of a mid-step level in noise suppression compared to the newer D300S, D700 and D3S cameras, so a slight bit of noise could be seen in the darker exposures. It’s amazing to watch the noise reduction work in Adobe Lightroom 3. I used to be able to do about as well using a clumsier method. I’d take each Color Channel (Red, Green, Blue) and use a Surface Blur (Image/Adjustments/Blur/Surface Blur) to reduce the noise in each separate Channel. Now, with Lightroom 3 it’s a simple matter of sliding the Noise Sliders found in the Develop Module under the Detail Panel. It gives you a preview window and you can watch the noise go away. Very cool.

Today’s image is a composite. I went to my “clouds folder”, found something that would work and popped it in. Has it been a bald sky it would have just been a Blend Mode change to Darker Color and Photoshop would have figured out what was what. There would have been a Layer Mask necessary to catch the whites in the higher balloon, but that would have been crazy easy. Making a Mask for the two balloons wasn’t that much harder. Using the Quick Selection Tool (W) made short work of getting the bigger balloon and the blue balloon only needed a little tweaking to get it. Saving the Selection as an Alpha Channel made popping in in as required a snap. It was a five minute finishing job.

The nice thing about Lightroom and Photoshop is that the more you know, the easier things get. Things that used to be time consuming are now almost instant fixes. Don’t stop learning either program.