Photos from the 2014 DallasChildBaby Model Search

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Spent the better half of my Saturday photographing babies at The Shops at Willow Bend for the 2014 DallasChildBaby Model Search.

Parents entered their babies (newborn – 12 months) for a chance to be the next DallasChildbaby magazine cover model.

This is just a fraction of what I photographed.

Dallas, TX – Skyline from Above

The Dallas skyline, as photographed on Tuesday, April 22, 2014.

The Dallas skyline, as photographed on Tuesday, April 22, 2014.

One of my newest images of the Dallas, TX skyline. View more at www.stephenmasker.com.

Dallas, Texas – The Beginnings of a Photographic Essay

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I began photographing the city of Dallas on March 1st of 2012. I remember seeing images of Dallas by an extraordinarily talented photographer and thinking, “I don’t have any images of home.” It inspired me to want to create my own images of Dallas, and, to share that with other people who also call this city home.

I remember the very first image I intentionally made of Dallas – long before 2012 – was, by all accounts, terrible; far too awful to share here. That evening, the sun had already gone down, so the sky had become black with only those yellow, artificial lights from the buildings to illuminate the city. I set up my camera at a popular tourist site just along Commerce St, right across the Trinity River. Right in front of me, of course, was the Dallas County Jail, then the cityscape. But I can clearly remember this rush of energy and feeling of excitement. Maybe it was from actually standing in front of the skyline for the first time in my life.

At the time, I hardly knew much about photography. I believe I was using an 8MP Canon Rebel XT, likely with one of the kit lenses – and, not to knock the equipment – but I certainly wasn’t using then what I’m using today. My tripod was likely flimsy and cheap, and despite having Photoshop, my post-production skills were meager at best. But I had passion, and energy, and excitement.

Thanksgiving Chapel, Dallas, TX

Thanksgiving Chapel, Dallas, TX

So I took that image of the skyline. Even now, I’m looking at it here in my archives, dated: November 19, 2006. I went home and brought it into Photoshop. Then, with hardly any understanding about how the program worked, I navigated my way to the clone stamp tool and carefully began to erase the electrical wires that were in the foreground. Adding a little saturation and contrast, I shared the image with family and friends through email and Facebook. I printed copies to hang on my wall, and even set it as the background on my computer.

I felt so accomplished to have taken this image of Dallas that I wanted to share it with the world.

At the time, I was graduating high school, and college was just a summer away. I became busy with my education, my job – working in the camera department at Best Buy, relationships, and having fun with my friends. I didn’t revisit the skyline for another seven years.

Dealey Plaza, Dallas, TX

Dealey Plaza, Dallas, TX

In college, I found I was becoming more and more interested in photography. What was once a hobby was becoming a ‘serious hobby’, and I was joining the National Press Photographer’s Association, the Photography Club, and even switched my major to Photojournalism. I went on to take advantage of great opportunities, interning with elite photographers at the White House, National Geographic, later returning to Texas as a photographer at the Dallas Observer, D Magazine and The Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Bank of America Plaza, Dallas, TX

Bank of America Plaza, Dallas, TX

 

One day, I was browsing my Flickr account, when I noticed another breathtaking photograph of the skyline. It turns out, it was taken by the same photographer who inspired me initially. By now, he had a huge following, with a vast portfolio of stunning images from the Dallas skyline.  I couldn’t believe how beautiful Dallas could look, and I thought it would be just amazing if I could learn to take images like him.

March 1st, 2012: I couldn’t sleep. I’d been awake literally all night long. And, I thought, man.. what a great opportunity this would be to go shoot some early morning photos the cityscape. So, I messaged a friend on Facebook who joined me, and we went down to Dallas together, not knowing what we’d find.

Victory Park, Dallas, TX

Victory Park, Dallas, TX

We happened upon this small little pond at Trammell Crow Park, just as the sun was breaking over the horizon. At first, I thought it was going to be a bad picture and a bunch of time wasted. If you’re a Dallas native, you know that Trammell Crow Park is located on the Northwest side of Dallas… opposite sunrise.

I thought, “I’m here. I’m going to make a picture.” And shot a few frames with my friend, called it a morning, and made the 40 minute commute back home.

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After some editing in post production, I was hesitant to share it online, but I went for it anyway. Several days later, it had garnished hundreds of likes on my personal Facebook page – more likes, in-fact, than any other image I’ve ever shared. I can say definitively that this image initiated my journey to photograph Dallas: 2014-04-21_0008

What an amazing time I’ve had photographing the city. Every year, there are new locations to visit, and different weather patterns to shoot. The thrill of photographing Dallas, and understanding the raw creative potential of an unprocessed image, keeps me going back.

I’ve been stuck in mud knee deep, caught in rain, ice, and snow. I’ve photographed Dallas in 100+ degrees, and when it’s been colder than cold. I’ve been held up at gun point, stopped by the police more times than I can count, and spent more time, money, and energy to photograph this city than on any other project I’ve ever worked on.

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But it has been worth it. All of it. All of the experiences, and knowledge, and images I’ve made, shared and published. I am grateful to have met the photographer who, even now, continues to inspire me. Justin Terveen.

I plan to continue this project of photographing Dallas, and I hope that I can continue to share my passion with everyone else who calls this small part of the globe home.

Updated Google Terms of Service and Privacy Policy

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The new Google Terms of Service, effective April 14, 2014, states in part:

“Some of our Services allow you to upload, submit, store, send or receive content. You retain ownership of any intellectual property rights that you hold in that content. In short, what belongs to you stays yours. [<–LOL, not really.. read on..]

When you upload, submit, store, send or receive content to or through our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content. The rights you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones. This license continues even if you stop using our Services (for example, for a business listing you have added to Google Maps). Some Services may offer you ways to access and remove content that has been provided to that Service. Also, in some of our Services, there are terms or settings that narrow the scope of our use of the content submitted in those Services. Make sure you have the necessary rights to grant us this license for any content that you submit to our Services. http://www.google.com/intl/US-en/policies/terms/

How will this change effect the intellectual copyright of photographers? More importantly, why is Google doing this?

Share your thoughts in the comments below, and let me know what you think about Google’s new Terms of Service agreement.

 

Sky Replacement and Accurate Color Blending in Photoshop CS6

sky_replacement_before_vs_after

**UPDATE: Be sure to check out the video I made to go along with this tutorial, found at the bottom of this post.**

Some of the most powerful and visually aesthetic content in both landscape and architectural photography lies not in the foreground, but in the sky. A salient and impactful visual property, skies enhance and intensify temperature, colors, depth, mood, and feeling.

For better or worse, despite meticulous planning and untold hours of patience, Mother Nature makes her own plans. While most of us aren’t financially secure enough to persevere against prolonged inclement weather, the resources we do have can often save us time and money on location.

Sky replacement exists for those instances where you just so happen to have received the unfavorable luck of nature’s plain, unembellished circumstances. An example of this occurs frequently in my city, when at the moment of twilight the sky transitions from a royal blue to an unclassified version of yellow and black, filling the sky with light pollution and impairing the comprehensive aesthetic beauty of the image. Despite all of the meticulous prep time and planning, the framing, and the gorgeous foreground in front of me, without a brilliant sky, the image suffers, and – as a result – it loses significant visual interest.

The correction for this issue, like with most problems, is solved in post-production. Providing you have an alternative sky that is well suited for your foreground content, you can, with practice, make beautiful art out of what was once less than desirable photography.

The key to replacing sky content is first identifying how the light is interacting with the foreground. Special attention should be given to reflections, manmade materials such as concrete and artificial lights, nature – such as trees and grass, and all other content visible in the image. The intensity, direction, and color temperature of light is equally important.

Once you have identified a suitable sky to replace the original with, it’s time to begin your post-production workflow. Tip: A great source to look for royalty-free photographs is by navigating to Google’s Advanced Image Search Engine and selecting either the ‘Free to Use, Share, or Modify’ or the ‘Free to Use, Share, or Modify, even Commercially’ options, found under the Usage Rights category. Layer masks in Photoshop are essential tools when manipulating skies, as is the Magic Wand tool for selecting and eliminating the original sky.

The Post-Production Workflow

To begin, pull both of your images into Photoshop; the original and the sky replacement. To do this, I prefer exporting from Lightroom via ‘Library Module > Select Image > Right Click > Edit In > Adobe Photoshop’ (Figure 1).

Figure 1

Figure 1

Starting with the new sky image, select the entire image (Cmd+A on Mac, Ctrl+A on PC), copy it (Cmd/Ctrl+C), then paste it (Cmd/Ctrl+V) onto your original photo (Figure 2).

Figure 2

Figure 2

Using Free Transform (Cmd/Ctrl+T), hold the shift button as you stretch the sky image across your original, making every effort to align the horizons of both images (Figure 3).

Figure 3

Figure 3

To help with this, adjust the Layer Opacity of the new sky image as needed – around 40% should do the trick. Remember, too, that your new sky image doesn’t need to be the same dimensions as your original photo – you’re only masking out the sky, so modify your new sky image as needed, being careful not to ‘stretch’ or modify any clouds or other features that would otherwise make the sky look unnatural (Figure 4).

Figure 4

Figure 4

Once the new sky image is properly aligned, return the Layer Opacity to 100% and press Enter. Your new sky image layer should be on top of your original photo layer.  The next step is to unlock your original photo layer by clicking Alt+double click on the padlock icon to unlock the layer. Then, move your sky replacement layer below your original photo layer (Figures 5A and 5B).

Figure 5A and 5B

Figure 5A and 5B

Now, it’s time to select the content you want to replace (the sky). Begin by selecting the Magic Wand tool, designate the option ‘add to selection’, set the Tolerance to 30, and begin selecting the sky you plan to replace (Figure 6). Importantly, any content within the marching ants selection will be replaced with the new sky.

Figure 6

Figure 6

This may become more difficult around the edges of buildings, or with any objects that project into the sky, such as trees. In these cases, I find it’s most helpful to reduce the Tolerance down to around 10 or so, zoom in on the image, and continue adding to your selection. Additionally, you can use the Color Range tool (Select > Color Range) with the eye droplet set to ‘+’. This tool is especially helpful for contiguous colors found throughout your image, such as an empty blue sky.

Once you have your selection, click ‘add a layer mask’. Your result will look terrible, as you’ve just cloned out your foreground instead of the sky (Figure 7).

Figure 7

Figure 7

To fix this, click Cmd+I to invert the layer mask. This should effectively replace the selection you made in your original image (Figure 8).

Figure 8

Figure 8

Take your editing one step further by zooming in on the image and checking the blend between the foreground and the sky. You want the transition to look natural, and this can be very difficult to do. To help, right click on your mask and choose ‘refine mask’. Begin by moving the ‘Radius’ slider under the Edge Detection category to help refine the blend of your replaced sky with the horizon line of your original image. Lastly, manipulate the sliders under the Adjust Edge category as needed to really authenticate the final blend result (Figures 9A and 9B). Tip: Be careful when modifying these sliders. I recommend zooming in on your image when making these adjustments, but be sure to zoom back out and check your work across the entire photo. Sometimes, moving these sliders may benefit you in one area of the image, but create harsh halos in other areas of the photo.

Figures 9A and 9B

Figures 9A and 9B

Taking Your Photos One Step Further

One very important technique in augmenting the ‘authentic relationship’ the viewer has with the image is by carefully blending colors from the sky with subject(s) in the foreground, as both color and light would in reality. One of the most effective ways to accomplish this is by creating a blank layer above the original image, changing the blending mode to ‘color’, then reducing the opacity to around 60%. Next, use a soft brush around 20% to ‘paint’ borrowed color from the replaced sky onto the foreground (Figure 10).

Figure 10

Figure 10

Finally, once you have a successful blend of your replaced sky with the original horizon, it’s time to go even further to authenticate your image. I highly recommend editing the sky through hue/saturation, color balance, photo filters, contrast and other edits to really express your creative vision (Figure 11). Each one of the previous edits will build on a new layer, so it’s easy to change as your editing process goes on.

Figure 11

Figure 11

Sky replacement requires a lot of time and attention, and is not a post-production method that should be hurried through. Much like in the field, due diligence, patience, planning, and execution will pay off in the end. However, if you can identify an alternative sky image with near identical light direction, color and intensity, you can and will make stunning backgrounds to enhance your intentioned foreground.

Sky Replacement and Accurate Color Blending in Photoshop CS6 from Stephen Masker on Vimeo.

Like this article? Share it with friends, and check out more of my work at www.stephenmasker.com, or follow me on Facebook.

Lens Comparison: Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM vs. Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM

Canon vs. Sigma (logos).

After spending most of the day indoors as a result of inclement weather, friend and photographer Thorpe Griner and I decided that we would spend our Sunday afternoon doing something useful: a lens comparison test. We had both bought large aperture 85mm lenses not all too long ago. Mine from Canon, and Thorpe’s from Sigma. So we decided to test them out with the initial intent to see which was sharper.

About the Test

Using a Datacolor SpyderLensCal Autofocus Calibration Aid, we connected both lenses to a Canon EOS 5D Mark III DSLR. The calibration aid was secured to a light stand a few feet in front of the camera, while the camera was secured to a tripod. Attaching the Canon 85mm first, I took and discarded a test shot to focus on the small square (maximized below) so set both the focus and the exposure in the camera’s manual mode. As part of the focusing process, I used the center spot autofocus point because it is the most accurate and sensitive for achieving accurate focus, especially with prime lenses at wide apertures (read more about the 5DMKIII AF Point Management System, here).

After achieving focus and appropriate exposure, I then discarded the original image and switched the lens to manual focus; this step was performed to eliminate any slight focusing the lens might have otherwise done as we continued to stop down (aka increasing the f-stop). Importantly, this process was repeated on both the Canon and Sigma lenses, and all images for this test were taken in Canon’s .CR2 (RAW) file format. The files were then imported to Adobe Photoshop Lightroom version 5.3. No post production or lens profile corrections were applied.

One last point: You may notice below that the Canon image was photographed at f/1.2, while the Sigma was photographed at f/1.4. This is because the respective maximum aperture on each lens is different, that is to say, the test is not exact – since the apertures are not the same – but it does highlight some key findings as discussed below.

Results

Lens Comparison: Canon vs. Sigma 85mm lens comparison at f/1.2 and f/1.4Unfortunately, based on the results achieved via the process described above, it is clear that the Canon suffers from extreme chromatic aberration (CA), specifically, purple fringing (PF) – a term for an out-of-focus purple or magenta “ghost” image on a photograph. While most fast aperture prime lenses suffer from some degree of CA, the Canon 85mm seems to be especially bad. Moreover, even contrast seems to be much improved on the Sigma 85mm – when compared to Canon’s version – with deeper blacks, richer whites, and superior resolution. Stacked against Canon’s hazy, muddy image full of PF, the winner is clear, in my opinion.

Some Relief

If, like me, you are the owner of the Canon 85mm, their is some relief. You can enable a lens profile correction in Lightroom that does an extremely effective job at eliminating PF. Here is the same image as above, with the lens profile correction applied to the Canon image:

Canon vs. Sigma 85mm lens comparison at f/1.2 and f/1.4 with lens calibration applied to the Canon image.As I hope you can tell, this is a massive improvement to the original image. While unfortunate that a $2,200.00 Canon L-Series camera lens performs this way – compared to Sigma’s much more affordable $894.00 – it is a necessary post-production step that, for me, will be applied upon import (more on this topic below) for all images shot with this lens.

And, while although this step has removed most, if not all of the PF seen in the original Canon image, the Canon photograph is still fuzzy and still lacks contrast when compared to the out-of-the-camera Sigma image that requires zero post production.

A Few More Examples

All images in this section are straight out of the camera. No presets or post-production has been applied to these images.

F/2.0

Image 5921 and 5928 below are both photographed at f/2.0. Notice that the Sigma still outperforms the Canon.

Canon vs. Sigma 85mm lens comparison at f/2.0

F/3.2

The test is repeated again at f/3.2 across both lenses, below. You can see the Canon is beginning to improve. At this point, only a slight amount of PF remains:

Canon vs. Sigma 85mm lens comparison at f/3.2

F/5.0

At f/5.0, both lenses have become pretty equal. Only a slight, very tiny amount of PF occurs on the bars to the right in the Canon image. Although the settings are the same, the Canon image appears brighter. As this test was performed outdoors on a very cloudy day, it’s possible – although unlikely – that the difference in exposure between these two images is a result of sun coming through. I say ‘unlikely’ because this perceived difference in exposure is evident from f/5.0 onwards – even when all of the settings are kept the same:

Canon vs. Sigma 85mm lens comparison at f/5.0

F/7.1

The Canon seems to outperform the Sigma for the first time at f/7.1. Canon’s image appears brighter and sharper with better contrast than the Sigma image:

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F/11

F/11 is more of the same. No real differences so far as I can tell from the description for the sequence at f/7.1:

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Final Thoughts

Based on the findings of this lens comparison test, it is – in my opinion – disheartening, aggravating, and financially unpopular to purchase the Canon version of this lens. As a rational person, it would seem to make little to no sense to spend a difference of $1306.00 on the Canon lens only to receive a clearly less desirable image. Regardless of the .2-stop difference (Canon’s f/1.2 vs. Sigma f/1.4), I would much rather spend less money on an optically superior lens, even if I am brand loyal.

I concede: I may have a bad version of the lens. Based on the results of this test, I may be using several benefits of my Canon Professional Services (CPS) Platinum Membership – among which include free overnight shipping to/from the Canon Factory Service Center – and, if needed, the 30% discount (formerly 60%) on repairs. I will provide an update labeled *UPDATE* at the top of this blog with whatever information I receive back from Canon once they inspect my lens and return it to me.

Regarding the Application of Lens Profile Correction Upon Import

As with most modifications in post-production, their are, of-course, multiple ways of doing things. Here is the method that I prefer to use, which I find most efficient for me:

  1. After photographing some images with the Canon 85mm, import the images into the Lightroom library, switch to the ‘Develop’ module and navigate down to ‘Lens Corrections’ on the right hand side. Then choose ‘Color’.
  2. Check the box that says ‘Remove Chromatic Aberrations’, then apply your settings as follows to eliminate purple fringing (PF):2014-02-14_0009
  3. Next, bring up your Copy Settings by pressing Command+C (⌘+C) on Mac, or Ctrl+C on Windows. Be sure to press your commands while the image is highlighted in the ‘Develop’ module. Copy Settings should appear on your screen. Specifically, you’ll want to make sure that you have all of the boxes checked in ‘Lens Corrections': 2014-02-14_0010
  4. Press ‘Copy’. Now, with the same image selected, navigate to the left side of the ‘Develop’ module to the category called ‘Presets’. To the right of the word ‘Presets’ will be a  ‘-‘ and a ‘+’ symbol. Choose ‘+': 2014-02-14_0011
  5. A drop drown menu will appear. Label the preset name ‘Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM’ (presuming you are following these steps for the Canon 85mm lens). Then, click on the ‘Folder’ drop down list. Scroll up to ‘New Folder’ and title this folder ‘Lenses’. Lastly, be sure the ‘Lens Corrections’ box is ticked in the ‘Settings’ panel, then click ‘Create':2014-02-14_0012
  6. Now, go shoot some pictures with the Canon 85mm. The next time you import into Lightroom, navigate to the right side of the LR import screen, and scroll down to an area that says ‘Apply During Import’. Scroll down to your ‘Lenses’ folder, then select ‘Canon 85mm f/1.2L II USM’. This will apply your preset to all of the checked images! Then sit back and enjoy – Lightroom will do the rest. 2014-02-14_0013

If you’ve found this blog helpful, leave some comments below, share it with friends, and help others learn. Become a fan on my Facebook Fan Page, or check me out on Twitter: @stephenmasker. Thanks guys!

Society6

Print available for purchase at Society6

I just joined an awesome website for artists selling their artwork as gallery quality art prints, iPhone cases, t-shirts and other fine products – without giving up control of your rights.

When my friend Shaina Sheaff Photography recommended Society6 to me, I instantly created an account and began uploading my portfolio of the American Southwest.

Easy to use with a vast variety of affordably priced artwork, creating an account is a no-brainer for any artist looking to expand their online inventory.

Check out my page at http://society6.com/StephenMasker, and if you like something, show it some love by adding in to your cart.

Printing and Standardized 3:2 Aspect Ratios

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Recently, as I was creating price lists for my new client portal and print shop, I had to research what the “full-frame”, 3:2 aspect ratios were for the list of ‘standard’ (aka, common) print sizes that my press makes available.

This research is annoying, as I’d often encounter partial lists that were sometimes mixed with other dimensions; 8×10, for example, is not a 3:2 aspect ratio, yet, the author of the article assumed it was, and therefore included it.

So I’ve decided to provide a list of common, “full-frame” 3:2 aspect ratios in the hopes that it will help any photographer looking for a single comprehensive list. There may be one somewhere out there on the internet – and I’m sure there is – but I never did locate it.

Here is the list:

  • 4×6
  • 6×9
  • 8×12
  • 10×15
  • 12×18
  • 16×24
  • 20×30
  • 24×36
  • 30×45
  • 36×54
  • 40×60

This list is significant, to me and other photographers, because it provides the dimensions at which an image can be printed without being cropped, meaning, none of the information recorded at the original time of capture will be cut or removed from the frame if printed in any of the above dimensions.

Parker Family Photo Shoot – 12.27.2013

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I was really excited when Claire had contacted me to take her family photos this past Friday. I had met Claire recently through our mutual friend, Alex Fox, when I was taking team photos at Globe Runner SEO in Lewisville, TX. Claire and her family met me at a local park in Coppell, and what an energetic group, so full of energy and life. Sometimes it’s easy to overlook the small moments that we all share, but with the Parker family, it all shines through.

Portrait: George Clooney

In October 2010, I had the opportunity to shadow staff Getty Images photojournalist Chip Somodevilla on Capitol Hill. One of his assignments at the White House was to photograph actor George Clooney, who was meeting with President Obama in the Rose Garden.

This is an image I took of George Clooney after his meeting with the President, standing outside the West Wing of the White House:

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