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The Shadow

There was really only one choice for this week’s Movie Title Wednesday when it came to this picture. I actually don’t remember much about The Shadow other than it was a sort of old 1940’s superher noir kind of film and it had Alec Baldwin.

One scene that did stand out to me was that hidden building on some corner…the lot looked abandoned to anyone walking by, but that was just masking this giant skyscaper. I also remember thinking the Shadow’s powers were kind of cool…but darn it I’m writing this fast on the road and haven’t had time to get the plot refreshed in my mind.

This image was taken during this past weekend’s photowalk in downtown Phoenix. Part of the fun of a photowalk is just observing what’s around you and snapping shots without any prior planning. While I was paused taking a picture of a doorway, I looked over and saw this. In fact, I wasn’t the only one because I was asked by at least two other photogs to FREEZE in place so they could snap a few shots of my shadow.

One man’s trash…

Downtown Phoenix Urban Trash Can

…you know the rest.

Taken after I took in a Suns game with my old man…dropped him off at his car, I stopped in quickly to see if anyone was still up at home, no one was, so I grabbed my gear and went out into the rain-soaked downtown Phoenix area.

Not too many wet spots in this scene, although you can see some puddles here and there. This bricked area has a large cover over the entire area, although it’s probably more of a screen than anything else.

Shot with the 50mm once again, I knew I wanted to capture the light and shadows playing off the bricks and leaves, plus isolate the focus on this lone garbage can standing watch over the whole area. There is something magical to me when I see fall leaves strewn about cobblestone, pavement or bricks…it’s hard for me to look away and not want to snap a million photos. Perhaps without them, this image wouldn’t have demanded I capture it…who knows.

Hoping to find a few more scenes like this on our early morning photowalk coming this Saturday.

Diagone Alley

This was a popular scene on our photowalk in late December. I had found this alleyway about a year prior to that when I was so hungry to shoot anything that I left home without much direction and ended up in downtown Phoenix. After daring myself to walk down it despite the very late hour, I ended up loving the back of this particular building. It’s a small section of an entire block and it kind of stands out…almost like it’s the entrance to the magical Diagone Alley from Harry Potter.

One of my co-horts Adam Schmid really got a nice view of this same building with an ultra-wide angle, which you can see right here. Gives you an idea of what I mean about it “standing out.”

What’s remarkable and fun about this spot is the eerie green glow that comes from above and on the opposite side of the alley. You may not notice it at first, but after doing a few long exposures, the green really pops. You can see in my image, the link above and some of the ones below from the other guys that the greenish tint is everywhere. And it casts some heavy shadows too.

Hence…while it’s probably a nice place during the day to shoot, at night you get something a bit more unique.

Photo Walkers

Green Alley

Lockdown

Missing

A shot from our downtown Phoenix photowalk back in late December. We’re doing another one on February 5th in case you missed it, you can find out more information right here.

Doing a photowalk is such a great way to just observe your surroundings and look for those subtle details that might look good as a picture. I think we oftentimes have huge goals in mind like getting to that crystal clear lake for a sunset shot, or some amazing waterfall, or the Grand Canyon, etc…because we get it stuck in our brain that we need something awesome like that to make a good photograph.

But you can find something to shoot anywhere…at anytime.

There is not much too this photograph. It was an old wall of bricks and I just noticed one was missing out of literally hundreds and hundreds and it moved me enough to want to shoot it. What I did do that day that is now carrying over to other things is I used my 50mm 1.4 a lot more for doing HDR images. And what I found a heck of a lot of fun was to setup a shot on my tripod, frame it, turn on Live View and then play with the manual focus to kind of see where I wanted my main focal point to be located in the scene.

For this image, I found putting that focused spot right on the corner of the far side of the empty space was perfect for what I was trying to do.

Holey Windows: Before and After

Yet another awesome external wall to an abandoned or barely used building in downtown Phoenix. Loved the sort of monotone colors on this wall, something I don’t always look for. I tend to like scenes like the Blue Door I posted a few days ago where there is some color that pops out at you. But this just had a very post-apocalyptic feel to it…almost a Matrix-like color to the thing.

I used PhotoTools on this image as I have been doing a lot lately, and I have to say, I absolutely love the amazing flexibility and range that the software package has. And I’m not blowing smoke. There is so much versatility in how you want to present your image…so many tools that allow for a serious amount of creativity.

I’ve never really done a “Before and After” before and in some ways I almost hesitate to do it…but I’m also kind of excited. I mean, you don’t necessarily want everyone knowing the full extent of how you process an image, but on the other hand, it’s so much fun to show people what you do and perhaps even help them learn how to do it themselves. There are some friends of mine out there that are incredibly humble and sacrificial in the way they help other photographers, the way they freely give away their secrets and tricks…and I have to believe that’s the right way to be.

So the above image was composed of six bracketed photos, the one below being the “Zero (0)” bracket.  Depending on the brightness of scenes, I tend to go from -3 to +2 most of the time, or if I want more, I’ll just go up to +3. Occasionally I do the whole -4 to +4, but since I’m still without a Promote Tool, I tend to stick to six brackets right now. I find they give me what I want, but I’m sure someday shooting nine or more will be something I want to give a shot.

Plus when I shoot weather and fast moving clouds…six is about all I can do without a ton of movement. Someday I’ll pick up the Promote Tool, but it’s pricey for me right now.

So this is the RAW zero bracket right out of the camera:

The image below is the intermediate, tonemapped image right out of Photomatix. What I’ve been trying very hard to do lately is to keep my tonemapping simple. I only want to make sure I see the entire dynamic range of the image. I used to overprocess and over-tonemap in Photomatix, which led to a lot of noisy images and stuff that I’m just not as fond of anymore.

Now I stick to doing the processing in Photoshop and instead use Photomatix to give me a starting point. It’s amazing how much I’ve seen my noise go down in my images because of changing this up. Even late evening sunset photos with just six brackets yield hardly any noise at all.

So you can see the tonemapped image above kind of looks like the middle ground between my original raw and the final product.

Now here is the part where I can’t remember what I did in Phototools to polish off the image. I didn’t do much, just a few filters…more than likely one of the new HDR presets in their latest package. I did apply my own vignette to the image to give it some darker edging and more internal focus.

That’s it…the behind the scenes look at how I process an image, or at least, the major steps I go through. I plan on doing a little video tutorial soon on what I do and I also have some plans to do HDR Workshops in downtown Phoenix this coming new year. If you are interested learning this amazing way of processing photographs, let me know.

Oh, and if you like what you see with Phototools, you can learn more by visiting there website. I have my own coupon code now and if you use “OLBINSKI” when you check-out, you’ll get 15% off.

If you have any questions or comments on anything I talked about, please don’t hesitate!

Drink at the Duce

This is another shot from The Duce, a hidden gem in downtown Phoenix that we discovered a few weeks ago. The inside is crazy…there is a boxing ring, restaurant, vintage shop, bar, bleachers for Suns games and more. While the inside probably demands some HDR attention from me down the road, on this night I was focused mainly on grungy walls and alleyways, and the west side of the building was calling my name.

I absolutely love the sign on this wall, right down to the font and layout of the name of the building. The way the light from behind the metal cutout shows you not only the name, but some of the brick details behind it is awesome. That light also helped illuminate the area below it and highlight a few other things. There is just so much about this wall I loved…the textures in the bricks and doorway, the sidewalk, the vertical “drink” and the specks of light coming through the square windows on either side (which you can see better if you view the larger version).

I definitely would like to head back inside the place at some point to snatch some shots of the awesomely quirky interior.  The boxing ring is kind of stuck in my head and I know I must capture it someday.

The Blue Door

In my relatively young journey into urban exploration, the discovery of color in the midst of grunge and oldness is something to be treasured. Especially if it’s in contrast with the stuff surrounding it.

A pretty stark wall…dirty whites, grays and blacks make up the textures of the bricks and pavement, but all the plainness just enhances the pop that comes from the blue doorway.

What’s interesting about these old doors and alleyways that I find in downtown Phoenix is that most of them appear to still be used. The sign on this door looks like it was installed recently so I can only assume this loading dock sees frequent traffic. That sign actually bothers me, I almost tried to “Content Aware Fill” it away…but it didn’t look right and I also felt that wasn’t something I needed to start doing.

My urban exploration so far as been solely on the exterior of things. Because of that, I feel like I am doing a lot of these kind of images…finding awesome doors and walls and shooting them straight on. In my head I hear the words “cliche” pop up because everyone takes shots like these. But I still enjoy them and I like the framing. I have another one coming out later on that I love even more. What makes these unique is that they come from downtown Phoenix and may show people the urban portion of the older areas that haven’t been seen before. And for that I’m really enjoying this stuf.f

Soon I’m going to try to make headway into the interiors of the older buildings and see what happens.

Shop 525

I may have written about it already, but last week I dragged my wife and kid out to explore downtown Phoenix with me right before the sun went down. As we drove around, we suddenly saw this old brick warehouse with the doors wide open, and there was a restaurant and a vintage clothing store inside with globe lights hanging everywhere. It was amazing because there really was nothing around it that was like it. No stores, no malls…it sits a few blocks south of US Airways and is called The Duce.

We checked out the inside, which is a collection of the most crazy stuff you’ll see…bleachers with a big screen TV, a bar, a clothing store, an old kitchen from a trailer, a BOXING RING and a bunch of crap I’m forgetting. It was the strangest, coolest place I’d seen since moving down here.

When we left, I stopped on the west side of the building and took a few shots. They have the words “Shop” “Eat” “Drink” on the outside walls and I wanted to capture them if I could. I liked this specific spot because of the dual lights kind of illuminating the “shop” text.

For those interested, I polished off this image using the onOne Perfect Photo Suite. I don’t have a tilt-shift lens nor will likely get one anytime soon, so I tried out FocalPoint on this and it was awesome to use. I wanted to keep the words sharp, but push the out-of-focus a bit on the outskirts of the wall. So a combination of PhotoTools and FocalPoint helped arrive at this finished product.

I have to say, I’m loving the software. I’m using it for urbex shots now of course, but I’ve also created some presets for my portrait photography as well and love the results. If you are interested in checking this software out, you can now use my awesome coupon code “OLBINSKI” to get 15% off. Just visit their site to get an overview.

Please Kee Door Close

(Rebel XSi, Tamron 17-35mm, 17mm, ISO100, F8, six exposure HDR)

No, the title isn’t a typo.

I’ve been teetering on the edge of buying the onOne Software Perfect Photo Suite for awhile now. My good buddy Brian Matiash just went to work for that company and I discovered yesterday that he named a couple of the Photo Tools presets after some photographer friends he has, including yours truly.

As most good friendships between buddies go, insults are the way we communicate. So of course instead of naming the preset “AZ Bad Ass” he decided to go with the more humiliating, “Graddad Mike O’s Secret Sauce.” This stems from an inside joke where apparently I’m much older than some of these guys, use a cane to get around and my death is imminent. The preset may or may not contain Metamucil.

Either way, I cried a little at first, but then I got over it and downloaded the Photo Suite. I mean, what else was I going to do?

So the image above was made using my Secret Sauce. It’s a simple wall in downtown Phoenix just a bit west of Coach & Willy’s. I liked the amazing textures and various colors of the wall, but thought the sign was kind of funny considering the door probably hasn’t been opened in a decade.

I’m having a serious  blast exploring downtown. The wife, daughter and myself drove around again tonight looking for awesomeness and I shot some brackets. I really want to spend a few hours down there in the near future to really take my time finding hidden gems. But when you are busy with work all the time, it’s nice to bring the family along for a short little drive around the desolate, abandoned areas of town right?

Perfect Photo Suite is pretty awesome and I’m slowly getting the hang of it. One thing brilliant about onOne themselves as a company is the way they go about helping you learn how to use their software, with webinars, video tutorials, etc. Brian even did a little webex for me to show me quickly how it worked with Photoshop, because I really want to be able to use it for processing portraits as well. Amazing customer service at onOne. That’s how you earn loyalty and good word of mouth.

There is a smashing deal going on right now for the thing…check it out (offer expires on the 8th).

Can’t wait to show off a few more images next week…and hopefully get out there to shoot some more.

Closed

(Canon XSi, Tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, ISO100, F8, Six Exposures, HDR)

Feels like it’s been awhile since I just went out shooting for “me” instead of client photoshoots…and I have to say, Sunday evening was a lot of fun. I had a short, 40 minute shoot at 4pm, so that left me with a bit of daylight to explore the downtown Phoenix area a bit more. I drove down some alleyways, stopped under bridges and saw some things I hadn’t known were there before.

There is one real takeaway from my urban exploration trips…I’m a chicken. The sun was down, the light fading…every now and then I’d see a homeless person walk by at the end of the alleyway, or even just a random guy in a hoody headed south towards an old neighborhood. I should feel safe down there (I think)…afterall, this was just a block or two from the US Airways Center and an impending Suns game 2 hours away. But in the quiet dusk hour…looking at the side of an old building in a deserted alleyway…it’s super-easy for me to get creeped out. And this is with my car parked right behind me *grins sheepishly*

Still, I love doing this and it’s probably just a matter of doing it more and more and getting over those nerves.

I loved this wall though…the loading dock doorway was amazing and the various colors all over the bricks was awesome. I don’t have a tilt-shift lens, but I wanted to bring the focus to the door, so I blurred the left side just a bit.

Need to get back down around this area and shoot a bit more. So much awesome stuff down here…in fact, I may use this spot for an upcoming shoot with a guitar-playing family of four.