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A chair at the dog track

A chair at the black canyon dog track

(Click to see the photo larger, almost like you’re sitting in that chair)

I don’t know when the last time was that I posted an image from the dog track visit we did in the final week of December, but believe it or not, I still have a few shots left to show eventually! If you’ve missed any of the series or would like to look back, click here for the “dog track” tag.

This chair of course was just sitting there waiting to be photographed. I’m sure at some point it was moved out to this spot to either be sat on or to be a prop for someone else’s photography. I think it’s way interesting at a place like this to wonder a bit about why things are where they are. One of my buddies with me on this trip kept pointing out objects that were different from the time he was there before. In fact, a giant ticket booth was sitting in the middle of the main building, definitely a new thing. Who dragged that booth into here? The owner looking to dump stuff? A photographer wanting something interesting for a backdrop?

Anyways, I”ll always remember back fondly on the three hours or so we were here. A great experience.

Tonight a bunch of us are descending upon Tempe for a little photowalking action, so I’m looking forward to that! Haven’t been down there for awhile and while the forecast calls for the opposite, I’m praying for clouds over the lake to help us with some great sunset photos. If you are interested in going, let me know!

Have a nice weekend!

(exif: canon rebel xsi, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, iso 100, f/5)

 

Shards

(View a little larger, a little better by clicking on image for a lightbox)

I keep finding images from our dog track visit back in December that I haven’t processed, so I took a bit of time this week to blaze through a few.

I love this place. The scene above was so indicative of the current deterioration of the structure. It was also interesting how all these foreground seats were places on the outside of the facility and now it’s almost like the entire place is “outside.”

The first thing we talked about when we got near the windows was that we should all steer clear of them…because those shards aren’t just small bits of glass, but huge pieces that I would assume could take your head off if they dropped directly on you.

I automatically had a desire to stand next to and look through these windows, so I had to make sure I kept reminding myself to keep away.

This scene has a very post-apocalyptic feel to it for me. Chairs falling in disrepair, vegetation growing all over, the fact that everything just feels out in the open now. At one point in my life (and it may still happen), I had planned on writing a book that would take place in a future where people hadn’t really lived on the planet for a couple hundred years.

Things would likely be way worse than this, but it might be a scene I’d use to describe the way things were.

(exif: canon rebel xsi, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, f/5, iso 100)

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)

Inside Out

Dog Track Black Canyon City Chairs

After wandering around the dog track for an hour or so, I ended up coming back to the rows of seats with a new perspective and a new lens on my camera. As I’m prone to do, I started with the 17-35mm because I wanted to capture the vastness and enormity of the place. But later I realized I was missing out on the subtle nuances everywhere you looked.

One of them was the weirdness of standing inside a building but still feeling like you were outside. All the giant windows were broken, bushes were growing inside and occasionally a breeze would float through. The panes of glass would wobble from the wind…a few ropes hanging from the ceiling would swing…you get the idea.

My goal here was to use the 50mm 1.4 to focus on a small area of the row of chairs, but still capture the way the windows beyond led right to the desert outside. Probably my favorite element of this shot is the low angle of the sun and the way it highlights the top portion of the chairs. Now I know I haven’t explored tons of these urbex locations, but I can’t stress enough the importance of natural light in places like this.

I think this is one of my favorite images from the trip. And while I don’t tend to talk about the processing as much these days, I just want to point out how great HDR is for situations like this. You get to see the clouds in the distance despite maintaining the light and shadows on the chairs. It wouldn’t be as easy to get all of this in a single shot without possibly a few filters and even then you may do exposure blending in Photoshop.

And despite some of my urbex shots where I take liberty with the processing and stylizing…this one has to be as close to how I remember it in person as any HDR shot I’ve done.

The Ruins

I loved the movie A Simple Plan, which was made from a book of the same name by Scott B. Smith, so when I heard he was writing a scary horror novel, I was pumped.  I think the first day The Ruins hit bookstore shelves, I bought it.

Now, this is Movie Title Wednesday and here I am talking about a friggin’ book! Well, of course The Ruins was made into a movie, and while it was a lot of fun to see it for those of us who are huge fans of the book, the film was just so-so. But if you aren’t into reading and just like a good popcorn horror flick, then check it out. The concept is fun, a little different than the norm.

However, if you love books, it’s a great read. If you don’t know this about me, I’m a huge book fan. I gobble them up. One year I discovered Dean Koontz and probably read 30 of his books in 12 months. I love that supernatural/sci-fi genre of storytelling.

This image has a bit of that feel to it for me. I think if you were walking up to this place by yourself, as the sun was going down…you’d probably get some chills, perhaps a few goosebumps, and likely turn around. Although I know a few of my urban explorer buddies would just whip out a couple of cannons and blaze ahead.

The building above is from my abandoned dog track series. My cohort Rick pointed out the actual track itself earlier in our outing, so I made sure to walk out there and see what I could see. Basically dirt and some cement borders that disappeared into overgrowth in a lot of spots. But looking back towards the building from the track was an awesome angle. You guys probably know how much I love roads and paths disappearing into the horizon, so this was kind of my money shot. Long, lost road, desert, broken glass windows…and of course, clouds in the sky.

Because for me, this shot would have been about 40% less exciting without the sky looking the way it did.

Lots more to come from the dog track…being there for around three hours was a perfect amount of time to just walk around slowly, see angles, explore and then even go back over it all one more time.

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!