Gaussian Blur

I posted the photos of Charley the Bluejay on the CNPA web site asking for critique of the images, and fellow members and moderators offered the suggestion that the background was too busy with too much detail.  I agreed with these observations, and I set about the tedious task of changing the backgrounds of the two photos.

The first step in this process involves creating a virtual copy of the image in Lightroom 4.3 and bringing this copy into Photoshop CS6 for editing.  I selected the bird by drawing around it with the mouse, a tedious process which took some time.  Once the bird was selected, I selected the inverse (the background) and set about changing the detail which is the source of the problem.  First I chose a black background and then a 50% gray background, both of which caused the bird to seem too artificial and not to my liking.  I then applied a Gaussian blur filter to the background, and with a setting of about 55 I found that result to be pleasing to my eye.  The results are displayed here.  As usual, click on the thumbnail to see a full-size image.


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What color is a bluejay?

Old friend (long-time friend?) Jim Greene of northern Virginia and Boone, NC commented in my previous posting that the bluejay has no blue pigments in its feathers.  I had forgotten that feature of bird coloration, but a quick search of the internet located a number of references to structural coloration with some explanations of the bases for blues (and greens) in birds.

This short article by Anita Carpenter in Wisconsin Natural Resources gives the full story using layman’s terminology, and I recommend that you read it for a meaningful explanation.  The experimental test of this explanation of structural coloration is easily carried out if you find a bluejay feather:  the feather viewed in reflected light is blue, but if the feather is backlit and viewed by the light transmitted through the feather it appears brown!

Thanks, Jim, for offering this interesting observation.

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Charley the Blue Jay

20121227-084107Billie and I walk almost every day, following a 2.6 mile route that goes by Hidden Cypress Golf Clubhouse and the boardwalk through the wetlands wild area behind The Aviary.  One day in late December we met a lady who was talking with a bird, referring to him (or her?) as “Jay.”  She was trying mightily to get Jay to perch on her hand, and she easily convinced us that she had been able to do that in times past.  She even told us that this bird, or one like it, was known to perch on golf carts and to eat snacks from golf carts while golfers were on the green.  We were astounded to see a Blue Jay so tolerant of people since our experience has been that these birds are very skittish.

20130116-090605Today we met Jay again, this time on our own, as he came flitting up to us at almost the same point on the sidewalk near Hidden Cypress.  This time he came very close to us, seeming to want to check out whether we had any food to offer.  We did not, of course, but even so Jay stayed with us for several minutes and posed for some portraits which I took using my Canon Powershot P&S.  Jay was incredibly close and very patient with me as I clicked away.

Billie tried to get Jay to perch on her hand, but no dice!  He didn’t panic when she held out her hand, but he wouldn’t perch there either.  Perhaps he was looking for some food as reward for touching a human.  At any rate he stayed with us a bit longer until he seemed to be convinced that we had nothing to feed him, and then he flew away.

20130116-090630We have since learned that the accepted name for this bird is Charley rather than Jay, and that Charley has a very wide reputation here in Sun City.  Hope we see Charley again!  Maybe next time we’ll have some food.

You can see larger portraits of Charley by clicking on the photo above and the one at right.


Posted in Birds, Commentary, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

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!


Posted in Commentary, Landscape Photography | 1 Comment

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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