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Who holds the key?

My first thought when I saw this lock through the broken glass wasn’t what it should have been. There are at least two other aspects of this scene that are way more interesting than the question that went through my head at the time:

I wonder who has the key to the lock…or does anyone even know where it is anymore?

So now you may wonder, what are the other two things?

Both of them only occurred to me AFTER I embedded this photo tonight. Which means to me that I need to take my time more. But it kind of makes sense…because I found this abandoned water/power structure while on the way to Lake Mead while the sun was going down and I honestly was a little nervous being all alone. I was rushing to get shots quickly, composing fast, without really noticing what was around me.

Yet even during post-processing I didn’t see it. Not until now.

Okay, the first may not be a big deal, but the fact that the chain is going through the broken windows is kind of amusing to me. Obviously someone decided they needed to keep people out after they’ve tried to get in a few times.

The bigger thing is that the friggin’ door is OPEN. I mean, I don’t know how far I could have pulled it ajar…but maybe enough to get a camera slid inside to take a couple of brackets? Maybe it would still be too tight.

But the strange thing is that I just didn’t even notice.

Regardless of all that, I just loved this old door and I still can’t sing enough praises about using the 50mm on stuff like this. It’s just brilliant.

(exif: canon 5d mark ii, canon 50mm 1.4, f/2.0, iso 100)

Sitting pretty

Dog Track Black Canyon City Arizona

We go back to the dog track from our December trip up to Black Canyon City (you can see all photos in the series here).

Again…one of my favorite things about the time we spent at this amazing, decayed and lost building…was the afternoon light. They aren’t solid, or in your face, but you can kind of see the shadows streaking from right to th left across the old, broken floor. In the foreground you can make out some square tiles that still remain intact, but most of them have fallen apart. In fact, you could hear cracking as you walked across the room where tiles broke solely from our footsteps.

I shot the image from a good 40-50 feet away I believe, using the 50mm to focus right on the chair off in the distance. I don’t think it takes much explanation to figure out why I loved this scene. Isolation is a key element in my compositions, be it urbex or storm chasing. Not always of course, but there is something beautiful about a singular object that is either different or somehow stands out from its surroundings.

(exif: canon rebel xsi, canon 50mm 1.4, f/2.2, iso100)

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

Tennis

(above image taken by Bob Lussier)

For awhile now I’ve been part of this amazing group of guys involved in a bit of healthy competition on Facebook we like to call HDR Tennis. We put up our “shots” and see who wins every few weeks. The public decides by clicking on those handy-dandy “Like” buttons on Facebook.

I know, like I don’t have enough going on right?

Basically one person supplies the brackets of images each time and we all process it how we see fit. Bob Lussier provided this match’s brackets, an image of an amazing set of stairs in one of those awesome abandoned places he finds in the Boston area.

The original “Zero” bracket from Bob is above. What I liked most about the image was the stairs of course and the doorway slightly open up top. So my version, which you see below, is cropped and uses the OnOne Focal Point plugin for Photoshop to help bring your attention to the doorway. I also did a little highlighting of the sign on the door to make it pop a bit. Lastly, I converted it to B&W using a little combination of Nik Silver Efex that I like.

I really love this image…think it has a creepy, Twilight-zone feel to it.

Check out the other versions on the HDR Tennis Facebook page or check out the sites of the other participants when you get a chance … Dave WilsonBrian Matiash,Peter TalkeJacob Lucas and Scott Wyden

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!

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.