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Pass

Posted on October 26th, 2010

Dave!Yesterday I was supposed to fly out of Albuquerque early in the morning. But mechanical difficulties with the plane kept pushing my flight back further and further until I was ultimately rebooked on an entirely different one. This meant getting into Seattle much later than I originally intended, where I was greeted by torrential rain and rush hour traffic. As if that weren't enough, it was snowing on the passes.

Not wanting to drive home through rain, traffic, and snow on three hours sleep, I decided to crash at my sister's house and come back home this morning.

Which was a smart move, because the drive was pretty spectacular.

At the top of the pass, it looks like all the color has been sucked from the scenery. It's drab, overcast, and depressing... yet still beautiful at the same time...

Stevens Pass Snowy

Stevens Pass Snowy

But once you get to the other side, it's another story entirely...

Wenatchee River Fall Colors

Wenatchee River Fall Colors

Wenatchee River Fall Colors

In the twenty+ years I've been driving over the mountains, I've never stopped along the way to take a look. I've always just enjoyed the view at 60mph. Today I did stop for some reason, and was glad that I did. And a little mad at myself that I never had before.

Sometimes its good to stop and smell the roses. Even if there aren't any roses to smell.

   

Reflection

Posted on October 25th, 2010

Dave!I really should have flown back last night. My friends had gone home in the afternoon, I'd seen the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Albuquerque, and I had to be to work today. But when I made my reservations, I thought it would be nice to have a full day in-between flights so, instead of traveling last night, I took the first flight I could get this morning. Which meant waking up at 3:30am. And as I sit here bleary-eyed at the airport wanting to sleep, I'm feeling pretty stupid about the whole ordeal. NOTE TO SELF: Never book an early flight unless you absolutely have to.

Despite the short length of this trip, I got to see some wacky wonderful things. I was reflecting on them as I rode the shuttle to the airport, and this is what I came up with...

   
• Rock You Queen Video Slot Machine. Arguably the most amazing slots game I've ever seen, Rock You Queen Slots is so entertaining that you don't even care that it's taking all your money. I hit the Bonus Round on my fourth or fifth spin, then spent all my winnings PLUS $20 trying to hit it again because it was so awesome. I never saw it again, but fortunately, somebody put it on YouTube...

What you are not seeing here is that ABOVE the play screen there's a video screen with the "Radio Ga Ga" video playing and lights going off. Truly impressive!

   
• A woman playing slots while wearing oxygen... and smoking. I can only hope that the oxygen was turned off at the time. I would have told her that oxygen is extremely flammable, and her face could explode, but instead got my ass as far away from her as possible.

   
• A man crying after (apparently) losing his last dollar at video poker. Ordinarily, I'd find this sad, as he obviously has a problem. But Culture Club's rediculously happy song "I'll Tumble 4 Ya" was blasting through the casino, which just made the situation funny as hell. I had to stifle a guffaw and run away so I didn't end up laughing in the poor guy's face.

   
• A woman punching a Kitty Glitter slot machine. In yet another senseless slots-related tragedy, one of my friends was playing "Maltese Puppy Slots" next to a woman who was playing "Kitty Glitter Slots" who all of a sudden screamed "I HAD THAT! I HAD THAT!" and started punching the video kitties. The three of us just kind of scooted away and waited for security to show up, but the crazy woman ran off still screaming "I HAD THAT!" before anybody could get there. Something tells me she really didn't have that.

   
• Cougarlicious Slots. Need I say more?

Cougarlicious Slots

   
• The Ladies of Hard Rock. There's a section of table games called "Baby Dolls" where brutally hot women dressed in pink corsets and fishnet stockings deal cards to hopelessly distracted guys wanting more for their entertainment dollar than you can get from Blackjack alone. I mentioned this yesterday, but didn't mention the uniforms for the waitresses at Lucha's where I had dinner last night... a black bustier, black short skirt, black fishnet stalkings, and... wait for it... fur-topped Ugg boots! Also brutally hot, but in a much weirder way. Say what you like about the place, but you never get tired of the scenery.

   
• HDR Pro App for iPhone. Apple may have introduced "High Dynamic Range imaging" as a standard feature for their built-in camera, but the stuff I get out of the HDR Pro App is in a league all its own. And sometimes not because of the reason you'd expect. I keep getting happy accidents and funky surprises that make me never want to shoot with any other camera app...

HDR Pro Rooftop Sunset

HDR Pro Cars at Sunset

   
• Airport Crazy. What's the first thing I see as I exit the Hard Rock Shuttle at Albuquerque International this morning? A crazy woman in the no-parking zone picking a fight with airport security! At least I'm assuming she's wacked out of her gourd... who in there right mind would mix it up with airport security now-a-days? My problem is that I can't be content with such simple amusements. My first instinct is always to "improve" the situation. Do you know how badly I wanted to scream "SHE'S GOT A GUN!" or even offer helpful advice like "I think you should cuff her, officer!"?? Fortunately, I was the model of restraint. I didn't even make goofy faces at the crazy lady as I passed. I wish I knew why I feel the need to be an unbelievable bastard all the time. Either I truly am evil to the core, or I just can't resist a good laugh. Problem is, I'm usually the only one who finds it funny.

   
• Unhappy Kitteh. A woman in a wheelchair pushing a cart was just pushed by me. On top of the cart is a kitty carrier with a very unhappy cat inside. Very. It's screeching "MEOW" every three seconds. This is surprising, because I always assumed that animals are drugged before flying. I rarely see people with pets going nuts like this, and have always wondered why kids can't be tranquilized too. Well, kids and old people who like to complain a lot. And loud talkers. And people who pull on your seat-back every ten minutes. And people with Windows laptops who have the volume on full so you get blasted with that hideous fucking Windows startup sound. And idiots who annoy me. Which is pretty much everybody. Heck, let's just tranquilize the entire plane. Including me. The cats can meow all they like.

   
And my laptop battery is dying. I guess my time to reflect is over, and I should publish this thing already.

Who knows what new amazing things will happen on the way home?

   

HDR

Posted on February 10th, 2010

Dave!Photography is very much just a hobby for me. I take snapshots when I travel, and don't think much about it when I'm not. When I was younger and had lots of time on my hands, things were different. I loved taking photos, and spent a lot of time trying different things so I could improve my pictures. Once film cameras died and I moved to digital photography, I started getting even more creative because I wasn't having to pay a fortune in film and photo processing charges. Alas, it was destined not to last, because I seem to have less and less free time available as time goes on.

But then my camera died and I bought a new Nikon D90 just in time for a vacation to Hawaii. Thanks to features like "Active D-Lighting" I was getting really good photos with very little effort if I took the time to set up my shot right. This kind of sparked a photography renaissance in me, and I started experimenting again.

And the thing I've been really interested in for the past year has been High Dynamic Range Photography (HDR).

The best way to explain it is to show it. When I was at Stonehenge, I lined up this beautiful shot of the sun rising behind the stones. Unfortunately, it turned out looking like crap...

Stonehenge Automatic Photo

The bright sun blew out the sky and caused the camera to underexpose the dark stones. So I decided to take the shot again, but at three different exposure levels...

HDR Multiple Exposures

The long exposure blows out the sky, but reveals the details in the rocks. The short exposure paints the rocks black, but fills in the sky nicely. The medium exposure holds the shadows really well, but is murky everywhere else. If only there was a way to combine the best parts of each photo so you had great exposure over the entire image.

Well, there is, and it's called HDR Photography...

Stonehenge HDR

After merging the best parts of all three photos, it's easy to make tone adjustments to the color so that things really pop. The sun behind the stone now looks as I intended, with an eerie glow around Stonehenge. In fact, it looks even MORE awesome than it did in person!

And that's the problem. Most HDR photos end up looking surreal and totally fake. For a mystical place like Stonehenge, this isn't such a bad thing. But for "regular" photographs, it ends up looking strange. And most of the time it's strange in a bad way. But with some experimentation, you can make it look strange in a good way. Like this kind of boring shot of Bath Cathedral which is kind of murky thanks to overcast skies...

Bath Cathedral Photo

But in HDR, you can make it look pretty cool...

Bath Cathedral HDR Photo

Where HDR really comes in handy is when light is scarce. Buildings at sunset can change completely...

Hapuna Prince Hotel Photo

This time I composited five separate shots with different exposures to get this...

Hapuna Prince Hotel HDR Photo

Sure it looks fake and can be difficult for the brain to process, but you do get to see details you'd never see otherwise. The best use of HDR seems to be in moderation. In this image from Kauai's Kalalau Lookout, the deep shadows from the clouds completely bury the details...

Kalalau Lookout Photo

When I just want to brighten dark areas, you can composite an HDR shot with a regular shot and end up with results that don't look quite so artificial, though you do lose some depth in the resulting image...

Kalalau Lookout HDR Photo

The danger being that you can completely change the tone of a photo if you're not careful. With this shot of a lava flow from The Big Island, for example, the rock is supposed to be dark...

Hawaiian Volcanos National Park Photo

But using HDR, you end up with something that has lots of detail, but no longer looks like lava...

Hawaiian Volcanos National Park HDR Photo

Sometimes using HDR can ruin a shot. This photo of a Banyan Tree has a kind of spooky vibe to it, even though I'm in broad daylight...

Banyan Tree Photo

Take three different exposures and run it as an HDR photo and you end up with something completely different...

Banyan Tree HDR Photo

Yes, being able to see the freaky details in the tree is kind of nice, but the mood of the shot has been destroyed. Perhaps combining the above two photos would create a happy balance, but sometimes I think HDR is best avoided.

While I don't see myself using High Dynamic Range very often, I do think it has interesting possibilities for some situations and opens up an entirely new level of creativity for photographers. With practice, I'm hoping I can get better at knowing when to use it... but even more importantly, when not to use it... to keep my photography hobby interesting and fun.

If you've got some time to kill, you can download a free demo of Photomatix (the HDR software I use) and be good to go. Then all you need is a steady hand (or a tripod) along with a camera that can do exposure bracketing (or, you could try setting the different exposures manually, but you'd have to be very careful not to move the camera in-between shots!). You need a minimum of three exposures to make a decent HDR image, but I've found that five exposures works best.

Now if only I could afford a new lens... I've long been wanting to try deep macro photography...

   

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