Fred A. Brown


Enjoying sunshine in Roswell, GA


Fred with brother-in-law Tom Rhyne

20121122-161641  20121208-172400  20121215-174400Fred A. Brown passed away at home, surrounded by family, on the morning of Saturday, December 29, 2012.  Graveside services were held Monday, December 31, 2012 at 3:00 pm at Bonaventure Cemetery, 330 Bonaventure Road, Savannah, GA.


He was born in 1941 and raised in the Bronx, NY by his parents Fannie and Joseph Brown.  His two siblings are Rosann Brown Kalish and Dr. Sydney Brown.  Fred celebrated his Bar Mitzvah in 1954, and proudly served his country in the Army from 1959 to 1962.


He attended Columbia College in Columbia, SC where he majored in English and drama, earning honors in the theater program in three separate years.


During his business career Fred became an executive in the children’s clothing industry.  He was founder and president of KIDS (Kids In Distressed Situations) which was an industry-wide charity that provided clothing, shoes, and toys to needy children in America and abroad.  He later started his own company, America’s Lighting Depot, in Atlanta, GA.




He was one of the founders of  the South Carolina Junior Tennis League, and enjoyed playing tennis his entire life.


20081128-163118A generous, giving, and loving man, he treated people with respect whenever he met them, and friends he made became friends forever, whether he lived in Palos Verdes, CA; Columbia, SC; Chattanooga, TN; Marietta, GA; or Bluffton, SC.  Fred was funny and loved to laugh and joke, often laughing at his own jokes.


He is survived by his devoted wife Nancy, his son Marc Brown and wife Betsy, his daughter Lori and partner Janet, and his son Philip and wife Geneva.  He is also survived by two grandchildren, Max and Levon, and his faithful canine companion Big Mac Brown.20110220-163112






Fred with newborn Levon

Fred with newborn Levon


Fred Brown was a man of great integrity and kindness; he was devoted to his family and friends.  He lived and died with dignity.

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HDR using Photomatix

I reprocessed the files taken at midday from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, using Photomatix 4.  Rather than try the 32-bit file technology with processing in Lightroom, I went with the “default” settings in Photomatix and did the tone mapping using the Photomatix presets.  It turned out pretty well, actually, and I think I like it better than the other options I considered in the previous post.  The original objectives of the experiment were met by giving a pleasing image which reduced the harsh light of midday.

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HDR Applications

I recently visited the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in midday sun with all the harsh contrast that goes with this lighting, and I wanted to get some good images even though the lighting was less than ideal.  Since I couldn’t be there at sunrise or sunset, I decided to take what I could get at midday by capturing some images using High Dynamic Range (HDR) techniques in an attempt to soften the harsh lighting.

I took five images of this scene from the canyon rim, all at an aperture of f/8.0 and ISO 200, varying the shutter speed from 1/3200 sec to 1/200 sec.  This gave a set of five images with one-stop variation in exposure over the set.  I exported these five images from Lightroom 4.2 to Adobe Photoshop CS6 as an external editor, choosing the option to Merge to HDR Pro in Photoshop.  As the images were imported to CS6 they were merged to produce a high-dynamic-range image which was automatically re-imported back to Lr 4.2 for stacking with the original five exposures.  Click on the image here to see a larger version of this HDR image.

One of the new features introduced in Lightroom 4.1 is the ability to tone-map 32-bit image files which contain additional image information beyond that found in the usual 16-bit (or 8-bit) files.  I decided to test this new feature by saving the 32-bit file produced in CS6 back to Lightroom rather than allowing it to be tone-mapped in CS6 and saved to Lightroom as a 16-bit file.  The resulting image, tone-mapped in Lightroom using this new capability, shows some subtle differences compared to the 16-bit image above.  Click on the image to see both results and decide which effect your prefer.

I also have Photomatix Pro software which can combine images to produce HDR output, including 32-bit output, so I exported the same five images to Photomatix Pro and retrieved the 32-bit file for tone-mapping in Lightroom 4.  The result was less pleasing to my eye, perhaps because of some color shift which was introduced when I tone-mapped the image.  Again, click on the image to compare the result to that obtained using the above methods.

So just what are the differences between 8-bit, 16-bit, and 32-bit images?  The numbers ultimately refer to the number of colors which can be represented in the images, based on the number of “bits” of information involved.  The binary arithmetic involved can be tricky for those not versed in counting in base 2, but a little review helps.  Recall that a computer “bit” can be either 0 or 1 (but not any other number) so a binary number with two bits can represent the configurations 00, 01, 10, or 11.  Thus the two bits can represent the binary numbers zero, one, ten, and eleven.  The binary number ten corresponds to the base-10 number two, giving rise to the popular nerdy tee-shirt message that “There are only 10 kinds of people in the world, those who understand binary arithmetic and those who don’t.”

Eight bits is represented as the binary base of 2 raised to the 8th power (2^8) which gives 256 levels of colors which can be represented in the image.  Sixteen-bit color refers to the base 2 raised to the 16th power (2^16) giving 65,536 levels of colors possible, which is often referred to as “High Color.”  Clearly, 2^32 gives a much larger number of possible colors (a billion or more, depending on the configuration of the screen) and this is often referred to as “Deep Color.”  Being able to tone-map an image containing so many colors would seem to be an advantage, so this feature introduced with Lightroom 4.1 is a welcome addition to the tool chest for digital photographers.  Now all that remains is learning how to use this tool to its full potential!


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Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

We recently returned from the 41st Annual Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta where we saw ~750 hot-air balloons rise in waves into the early morning sky.  These balloons were multi-colored and came in a variety of shapes, ranging from the traditional “inverted teardrop” to shapes of cartoon characters and demons and dragons of movie lore.

The Intel balloon took off first, rising into the pre-dawn sky at just the right angle to allow me to photograph it alongside the crescent moon.  This early riser was soon followed by a number of colorful balloons, rising in waves according to their assigned launch times.  The show was absolutely eye-popping, with so many balloons in so many colors and shapes rising so quickly in rapid succession through the cold morning sunrise.

The morning was cold and we really weren’t dressed for the weather, so by the time we returned to our motor coach for the ride back to our hotel and a big breakfast buffet we were all chilled to the bone, especially to the bones of our feet.  But I must confess that I never felt that cold until I reached the warmth of the motor coach, and it didn’t take long to forget the cold toes as we compared notes on the exciting events at the Balloon Fiesta Fairgrounds.


As our coach left the parking area we realized just how many thousands of people were at the event that morning as we drove for over a mile past the parking provided for private automobiles of people attending the show.  How lucky we were to come as members of a large group in our own private motor coach with preferred parking only a few steps from the gate to the Fiesta Fairgrounds!

As the sun came up over the Sandia Mountains the number of balloons in the air was overwhelming, but truth be told we were only about half-way through the launch at sunup.  The wind in the Albuquerque valley seemed to circle around and carry the balloons in a huge circle, allowing them to travel for a relatively long time without danger of being swept away over the mountains or down the valley toward the airport.

Some of the more interesting shapes of balloons were designed to portray characters from the movies and from TV.  This Darth Vader balloon was striking in its detail and it attracted a great deal of attention as it inflated in the early morning sun.  We didn’t see it launch before we left, but what we saw of it just before launch was pretty impressive.

It was appropriate that as we were leaving the Fiesta Fairgrounds, Elvis was preparing to leave the premises as well, one of the last wave of balloons to take to the sky on this beautiful morning.

What a wonderful experience this was to see these waves of color and shapes launching in waves into the early morning sky on such a beautiful morning.


Posted in Commentary, Travel Photography | 3 Comments

Focus Stacking African Violets

I’ve been trying a bit of focus stacking lately with African violet blooms. The violets were lit with compact fluorescent lights, and I took the shots with my Nikon D300 with a 105mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor lens, tripod, using mirror lock-up and a remote shutter release.

African Violet-Original Image 1The first image was taken with a focus point on the petal at the far left.  The majority of the image is out of the plane of focus, and the shallow depth of field is produced by the relatively large aperture (f/5.6) used in taking these shots.  Clicking on the image here will activate a larger image showing the zone of focus more clearly than in the smaller thumbnail image.

African Violet-Original Image 2The second image was taken with a focus point on the pistil tip in the blossom at the left.  Again, the shallow depth of field gives a relatively narrow zone of focus within the image, here centered around the pistil of the left blossom.  Again, click on the image to examine the zone of focus in this second of the four shots.


African Violet-Original Image 3The third image used in this stacking process concentrates the focus zone on the right-hand blossom, with a narrow zone of focus on the left-most petals and in the “well” of the flower.  Click on the image to see this zone of focus more clearly in the larger image.


African Violet-Original Image 4The fourth image shifts the focus point to the right-hand side of the flower cluster with the narrow focus zone centered on the tip of the pistil of the right-hand blossom, seen clearly in the larger image produced by clicking on the image here.  This completes the traverse of focus zones across the image, and the stacking process picks out the in-focus portion of each image and combines them into one sharply-focused image.

African Violet-Focus-Stacked_ResultThe final image was produced using Photoshop CS6 from a set of four manually-focused shots. The process involved minor adjustment of exposure (in the four original raw shots) using Lr 4.1, then opening these four as layers in Photoshop CS6. Next I selected all layers, auto-aligned them, and then auto-blended the layers to produce the resulting focus-stacked image.  As with each of the images above, clicking on this thumbnail will produce a larger image in which the zone of focus is shown to extend across the entire image.  The resulting tif image was sent back to Lightroom where it was then exported as a jpg along with the 4 original images.

Process Summary

So the process is pretty simple if you have access to Photoshop CS6 (don’t know if this function is available in Adobe Photoshop Elements):
1. Take a series of shots with focus points at different depths into the image
2. Adjust exposure(s) as needed in Adobe Camera Raw or in Lightroom
3. Import the images into CS6 as individual layers (open all as layers in CS6)
4. Select all layers
5. Auto-align layers
6. Auto-blend the layers to form the focus-stacked image.
7. Save the image

I re-import the resulting focus-stacked image to Lightroom and then stack all the associated images with the resulting focus-stacked image on the top of the stack.  This puts the individual images out of the way but still available and still associated with and filed with the resulting focus-stacked image which is now the center of attention.  I don’t expect to need the individual images again, but I don’t want to destroy them nor do I want them cluttering up the file system.  This method seems to work best for me right now.

Posted in Commentary, Plants | 1 Comment

Clawson-Burnley Park Wetlands Area

I have been fascinated this fall by the wetlands area at the Clawson-Burnley Park on the Boone Greenway Trail.  This wetlands area cleans the surface water runoff from a large area of parking lots and playing fields at the Watauga County Parks and Recreation facility and channels the cleaned water into the South Fork of the New River just downstream from the confluence of Goshen Creek, Middle Fork Creek, and Winkler’s Creek.  This area is ADA-accessible with a wheel-chair friendly path around the ponds and it has shelters nearby for picnics and other activities.  My fascination arises, not from these human amenities, but from the wildlife habitats which are generated by the plants growing in and around the ponds.

This goldfinch is only one of many birds that live in and feed in the wetlands area, and although I haven’t observed nesting activity for this species I assume that is probably happening.  I have seen evidence of nesting activity for red-wing blackbirds and green herons, and there is ample hoofprint evidence of deer watering at the ponds within the wetland.  I have also seen muskrat swimming in the wetlands which is a serious danger to the wetlands construction, since muskrat tunnels will over time weaken the dam containing the wetlands.  Upon hearing reports of the sighting of the muskrat, the water specialist who maintains the area immediately made plans to bring in a trapper to remove the muskrat(s).

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Walking the Greenway today was an adventure.  The fog was heavy, early, and every spider web was cloaked in fog droplets, looking for all the world like strings of crystal pearls.  This web was an example that caught my eye and I took the photo with the Canon P & S camera which I always carry in my pocket when hiking the Greenway Trail.  I didn’t see any signs of life on this web, so I don’t know whether the resident spider was sleeping in or simply hadn’t come out in the heavy dew.



The web in the photo to the right is a much larger one than the first one on the left above, but both show the same general characteristics of web construction.  Does that mean they are built by the same type of spider?



This third photo shows two webs, one above and one below the fence rail.  I’ve titled this photo “Darn those messy neighbors down the post!”  Clearly these must be different spiders because the webs are so very different.  In fact, I’ve always been told that the helter-skelter type web “down the post” is characteristic of the black widow spider.  I don’t know what type built the web shown here, but the contrast is striking, isn’t it?


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35mm Prime

Got a new lens recently, a very inexpensive one, that should be a big hit as a travel lens–the 35mm f/1.8 Nikkor lens.  Since it’s not a zoom, and since it’s built for DX sensors only, it costs less than most other Nikkor lenses.  I’ve heard good things about it, so I pulled the trigger during a weak moment, thinking ahead to our trip in October to the Albuquerque Balloon Festival.

I decided to try it out on the coneflowers in our back yard.  This shot is handheld (not the best, I know, but it’s a realistic trial for a travel lens ) with settings of ISO 200 and 1/500 sec at f/1.8.  This is a 1:1 crop, meaning that the image was viewed at 1:1 in Lightroom and this portion was cropped out.  When viewed at full size by clicking on the thumbnail at right the full resolution of the photographed can be seen.  You must click on the image to see the larger projection to get this full effect.

The image at the left is a closeup of the coneflower var. Tomato Soup taken handheld at ISO 200 with exposure of 1/400 sec at f/1.8.  Like the example above this is a 1:1 crop which can be viewed at full resolution by clicking on the thumbnail.  Examination of both images at full 1:1 crop resolution will reveal pleasing sharpness and a smooth, out-of-focus background (often referred to as bokeh) so that the principal image is isolated from the background.

I think I’m going to like this lens, especially for travel, with the features of fast aperture (f/1.8), sharp focus, and creamy bokeh.  When I get a chance I will try it on landscapes and some “touristy” building and cityscape shots.

Posted in Commentary, Plants | 2 Comments

Close-ups with the 70-200mm f/2.8 Nikkor Lens

The AF-S VR Zoom-NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G IF-ED, commonly referred to as the 70-200mm VRII to differentiate it from the original configuration of this VR telephoto, is an exceptional lens with excellent image quality and sharpness.  In addition, the bokeh produced by this lens is very smooth and “creamy” so that it is often used to produce clean close-ups with a smooth out-of-focus background image.  I decided to try it again, this time using it in combination with the 1.7x teleconverter.

One of my first subjects was this dragonfly, the Common Whitetail Skimmer, shot at Bass Lake on Sunday afternoon.  At least a half-dozen of these Skimmers were flitting around the shallow water in the holding ponds at the end of the lake below the Manor House, and I watched their behavior until I found one perching on a twig.  I noticed that this twig was a favorite perch, so I pre-focussed on the twig and waited for a Skimmer to pose there.  Before long I was rewarded with this shot.

This “close-up” was obtained using the lens combination described above, the 70-200mm VRII with the 1.7x teleconverter.  This combination extends the focal length to 340mm for this lens, and using it on the D300 with its 1.5x crop factor gives an effective focal length of 510mm at full extension.  The aperture of this combination becomes f/4.8 rather than the initial f/2.8 as the lens aperture is reduced by 1.5 stops.

After a bit I decided to photograph a water lily with this lens combo.  As I walked around the lake I noticed that indeed there were many lily pads but few actual blooms at this time.  When I found a likely candidate  I set up the tripod and took this shot from about fifteen feet.  There was no breeze, so the surface of the lake was like a mirror and the reflection of the water lily was pleasingly sharp.

Rather than try to photograph another water lily from such a distance, which really would not give me a close-up of the quality I wanted, I moved on to Price Lake to look for rhododendron blooms.  I was rewarded with many more options on the Price Lake Trail since the rhododendrons were in full bloom.  Whereas some of the rhododendrons were past their prime, this young bud cluster was one of many which I photographed near the boathouse on the Price Lake Trail.  The deep pink color fades as the blooms mature so that the flower cluster is almost white as the bloom cycle draws to its conclusion.

Finally, I decided to look for Turks-Cap Lilies in a roadside area near the Moses Cone Park Manor House where I found them blooming last summer.  I was in luck, but only barely so, as I found the first few blooms of this mountain beauty just opened up.  More will come later, but just now these few are mixed in with the Beebalm to make a striking display alongside the Parkway.  I used the lens combo described above to photograph this pair of blooms which were just out of reach across the drainage ditch at the roadside, perhaps 8-10 feet from the lens as it sat on the tripod.

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Adding the 1.7x Teleconverter to the 105mm Micro-Nikkor

I decided to try to get even closer with the 105mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor, and since it is listed as compatible with the Nikon 1.7x Teleconverter I put them together to see what came out of the mix.

The Nikon AF-S Teleconverter TC-17E-II multiplies the effective focal length by 1.7x of select compatible NIKKOR lenses, so this combination yields a close-focus macro lens with a focal length of 180 mm.  The combination loses 1.5 stops of exposure but the magnification is significant.  I took some test shots with the combination mounted on my D300, and I raised the ISO so that I could shoot hand-held for these tests.  I liked what I saw.

Not every subject lends itself to this combination, of course, but I was fascinated by the colors produced when I came in close on flowers using this lens combo.  The flower parts filled the screen and more, and the spray of colors was fantastic!  I didn’t measure the reproduction ratio accomplished with this lens combination, but I estimate that it can easily surpass 1:1.  My interest here was not magnification, however, but abstractions of colors from the flowers.  This goal was helped to be achieved by the out-of-focus swirls of color in those flower parts which were outside the plane of focus.

The lens combination retained the autofocus function of the D300 so that I was able to hand-hold the camera and obtain a focussed image.  In order to give me some leeway, I set the ISO to 1600, a higher value than I ordinarily use when shooting with the D300, but one that worked well within the goals I had set here.  The higher ISO produced some digital noise which I could remove with the processing tools in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4.1, and the resulting smoothing of the images enhanced the color swirls even more.  I liked this effect, so I decided to try it in a number of shots with different-colored flowers using the lens combo on my D300.

Some of my favorites are shown here.  I am looking forward to seeing how these shots display when I print them.  I think they will be striking primarily because of the strong  colors, but I also expect these photos to be popular because of the close-focus plant features in the shots.

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