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The Lobby

This is the lobby of the dog track in Black Canyon City, part of the series I’ve been posting for the last few weeks. Broken glass, debris, dust, discarded items and this cushion litter the floor in every direction. The surface is made up of tiles, but they are warped, fragile and almost every step seems to result in loud, cracking noises. For this young urban explorer, it was the only time in my entire life I can remember being in a place as degraded as the dog track.

And it was awesome…of course.

Never having been on a shoot of a place like this before, I was kind of just wandering and shooting randomly when I started…almost like a kid in a candy store who has no idea what he wants. I felt like the longer I was there, the better my composition and framing became. I relaxed, started “seeing” better and was much more happy with the stuff I ended up with later in the tour.

The goal with this shot should be pretty obvious. Focus on something up close in the foreground, but use the wide angle to give an idea of the vastness of the space. I loved all the minute details of the floor and I kind of just scoured it for awhile before settling on this cushion to be my main element.

More to come…oh boy…lots more to come from the dog track *grin*

(exif: canon xsi, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, ISO 100, F5)

Skylights

Sunsets are sometimes a challenge. First off, it helps if you kind of have an instinct about when you think it’s going to be a good one.  But when you do think you’ve got one of those amazing Arizona evening skies headed your way, the next bit of fun is trying to decide just where you’re going to setup. Obviously you can plan ahead and select a few locations you may have found in the past, but I enjoy just heading out and finding something on the fly.

The problem is…when you get that epic sunset…you really only have one shot at it. There is an apex to every sunset, a moment where it’s the best it’s going to be, and you can only hope you are in the spot you want to be.

On this night, I was lucky enough to have a few options within 40 feet of each other that allowed two totally different framings. The first I posted about a month ago, which had train tracks and graffiti. But as I sat there knowing I had just hit the pinnacle of this sunset, I looked around for something, some other point of interest. It really didn’t take more than 2.5 seconds to realize this old train platform roof would look even more amazing if I was right under it.

One of the tiny details I like about this shot are the bits of broken glass speckled all over the platform…more than likely from a homeless person at some point, but they add an interesting element to the shot.

And the roof itself…kind of like a bunch of skylights, allowing the colors to be seen directly overhead. Just beautiful.

I still would like to go back to this place sometime and explore just a little more…it was wide open to the public, no fences, nothing…just right there off the side of the road.

(Exif: Canon Rebel XSi, Tamron 17-35mm F2.8, F8, ISO 100)

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.

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

The missing leg

There is something magical about natural light. I’m still so young in photography, especially portraits, so sometimes using light is a challenge. But I know it’s something that can add an element to your photos that you can’t get otherwise. One guy who kind of inspired me a bit with the above photo and others I took on this day is Jacques Gude…who runs a blog called “Exposed by the Light.” When it comes to urban exploration, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better photographer who knows how to use light in these kinds of environments.

The idea of getting some of this light out at the dog track north of town was why I was kind of pushy about heading out there in the afternoon…because I knew which way the main windows faced.

I used the 50mm 1.4 on this shot, something I’m doing a lot more of lately. A lot. I love being able to setup on a tripod, click into live view, frame the shot and then play with the manual focus to see where I want my focal point to be and what kind of depth of field I’m getting.

Speaking of chairs…my  buddy Rick who was out there shooting with us posted his own chair shot today, one that I actually also photographed from the opposite angle. That image will drop at a later date. I love Rick’s image, he creates an awesome focal point on the chair itself, making it the center of the image where your eyes immediately get drawn to.

Also, I’ve gotten an amazing amount of comments and positive feedback on my “Window to the End of the World” photo from earlier this week. Thank you all so much for that, it’s been amazing. My buddy Scott Wood, who was also out there shooting with us, snagged a photo of me taking that Window image! It’s a great image, and kind of fun to see yourself in action, so check it out when you get a chance!

Watchmen

This week’s Movie Title Wednesday was one I really didn’t need to consult the wife on for what film to use. Although…I was still a taaaaad bit nervous. Kidding. Sort of.

Watchmen…which is foremost a graphic novel turned movie, for you younger people. Although I say that tongue-in-cheek because I really didn’t pickup comic books until around 2-3 years ago. The first thing I read though was the Watchmen graphic novel. Long, full of story, violence and awesomeness. There was even a story within a story. I was hooked on comics from that point on and still get them each week from Heavy Ink, an online comic book store.

The movie though was almost as good. It’s hard for a film to copy a book as precise as Watchmen even with a few minor adjustments. Lord of the Rings was kind of the same…minor changes, but it kept the essence of the story and the plot. I loved the film, thought it not only followed the story, but also the feel of the art, the characters and the music. Brilliant job by Zack Snyder.

This image is another one taken from the dog track north of Phoenix. This room is off from the main building and was full of mostly chairs and squishy carpeting that had a lot of bird crap on it. A LOT. Was slightly concerned that the “squishy” was entirely birdy droppings, but I tried not to think about it.

I don’t always talk about my processing habits, but this year things have changed a bit for me when it comes to my HDR images. I’m embracing shadows a lot more than I used to, which is sometimes contrary to what HDR is all about. The goal of HDR is to capture the entire dynamic range of a scene so you can see everything, even the darkest corners. I’m kind of over that. At least, on some images. Like my sunset photo from yesterday…the chairs are fairly dark and you don’t see much detail other than the highlights from the sun. Or my Four Peaks snow shot last week…I purposely kept the cactus darker than I would have done in the past because in reality, that was the scene.

So this image has some darker areas where you really can’t see inside the shadows and I love it. And I honestly am kind of excited about where this change is leading me, especially with other photos I’ve processed this week.

Window to the End of the World

Black Canyon City Abandoned Dog Track Sunset

This is the first of many, many images from the abandoned dog track north of Phoenix near Black Canyon City. I made the trek up there with my good AZ photog buddies Rick Young and Scott Wood. The place hasn’t been used as a dog track since 1982 and after that it was a swap meet until closed a few years later. Now it sits there waiting for explorers to venture inside in search of hidden treasures…which for us are photographs.

There was talk that we’d go in the morning, but I pushed for the late afternoon hours, having told Rick that the seats and windows face West/Southwest, so the light coming in will be amazing while we’re there and maybe we’ll get a sunset out of it. Of course, I’d never been there really, only saw it from the road once. This was Rick’s second time.

Well, he doubted me, saying the mountains were too close for a good sunset, but we decided to get out there around 3pm anyways and spent a couple of hours wandering the place until the sun finally did set and gave us one of the most magnificent shows in awhile. Rick called out to me from across the bleachers area, “See Mike, told you the sunset would suck.

But even if the show was good, there was nothing like sitting in those old chairs, in eerie quiet, watching this amazing sunset framed by huge windows which themselves were framed with whatever remaining glass they had left. I can’t even describe the feeling…part of me wanted to just sit there and watch, and the other (more commanding) part scrambled around to find the perfect way to compose the shot.

I’m thrilled and excited to bring you more images from that trip…it was an amazing place of course, but also the very first true indoor urban exploration for me and I relished every moment.

Sunrise photowalk in downtown Phoenix

A few of my photo buddies from Flickr and Twitter braved the chilly morning weather in Phoenix and joined me on a photowalk starting at the wee dark hour of 6am. We hit some great spots, but the one of the best was arriving at these railroad tracks right when the sunrise lit up for what amounted to maybe 5 minutes of stunning color before it vanished. I used my 50mm 1.4 on this shot instead of the usual 17-35mm that tends to dominate my landscape/urbex photos. I decided the night before that I would stick mainly to the 50 just to see what happened. I love that lens so much.

Below is a shot of most of the crew…Ed, Adam, Denver, Ken, Chris X 2, Rick…a great bunch of guys, we chatted along the way, saw some old buildings, creepy alleyways and even some light rail cars flying by.

The group now knows that me losing lens caps wasn’t just me blowing smoke. Nor is it confined to only lens caps. I left behind my brand new tripod bag in an alleyway and thankfully Denver ran across it. I am completely absent-minded sometimes, ugh. Thanks man.

Hope to see you guys all again very soon. I’m going to wait until people post more images from the day and then do a collaborative blog post later on.

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 Departed

Yes, it’s Movie Title Wednesday once again, where I choose a movie title to go with one of my photographs. Although, in reality, it now goes something like this on Tuesday nights:

“Hey, Jina, come look at this.”

“What?”

“I need you to pick a movie title for this week’s image, I obviously suck at life when I do it. Far and Away? REALLY? Ugh…”

So now I run it by the lady in charge…because she is wise, keen and knows much more than me. She’s always been that way in many different areas, but now it spreads over to my photo blog. Her potential for helping me be a better person is endless.

The Departed. Wow…an epic mobster film from Martin Scorsese, Leo, Marky Mark (who is awesome btw) and a whole mess of good actors. It’s set in the Boston area (which I love) and involves undercover people on both sides of the law…the police and the Irish Mafia. I only saw the film once, I don’t honestly remember a lot of it other than some shocking scene of a guy getting blasted in the head with a gun. What I do remember is loving the film and being glued to the screen the entire time.

The title of the movie can be seen in this image on so many levels it’s not even funny. First off, it definitely has that South Boston, urban feel to it…it might work as a location in the film. Next up the sun is setting…leaving or departing for the day. Wow, can you believe we’re not done yet? Third it’s a train platform where people or products would end up leaving from on a journey to who knows where. FINALLY, it’s abandoned, unused and sitting alone…almost departed from relevancy in this world.

Although for a guy like me, it’s very relevant. It’s beautiful. Once again it was one of those nights where I pack Lyla up in the car, turn on Mickey Mouse and drive around looking for a good, grungy spot for a sunset. There was a road I’d never been down before and suddenly I see this ramp leading up to a long lost train platform. The tracks stop just left of the image at the platform, which I’m standing on.

Of course I was blessed with an epic sunset. Whenever I see one of these, I always like to place it in the best 2-3 of the year. But the fact is, we get these a lot more often than that. This state has unfounded beauty that I continue to discover on a daily basis, be it in the sky, the desert or the forgotten parts of downtown Phoenix.

(special nod to Brian Matiash for looking at this image last week and telling me to “pop” the graffiti a bit more)