The Bluest Skies in Texas

I’m a sucker for a good country song and back in ’88 it was Restless Heart‘s “The Bluest Eyes in Texas” which made it to the top of the country charts that year. It’s still a great song for hot Saturday afternoon in the Texas Hill Country.

Yes Sabrina, I do seem to find the bluest skies in Texas!

Monument Hill Summit

Monument Hill Summit – La Grange, Texas
Copyright © 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 21mm, f/18 for 1/20th of a second at ISO 100 with a Singh-Ray warming polarizer filter. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3.

Click on the image above for a larger version.

View Location on Panoramio & Google Earth: Monument Hill Summit – La Grange, Texas

The Quiet of Palo Duro Canyon

Most folks visit the Texas Panhandle with it’s gorgeous plains and incredible canyons to gaze upon a part of the old west and think of simpler times. According to the park rangers, most folks that visit Palo Duro Canyon State Park stay for only a few short hours perhaps to watch the sunrise and then be on their way to destinations unknown. To many, the canyons are a tourist stop on their way through life.

But for others, those that live nearby or return each year, the canyon becomes a part of their daily thoughts, their prayers and their soul. They return to the canyon again and again, drawn by its simple beauty and its majesty. Many prefer to visit Palo Duro Canyon by themselves to experience what few folks ever do these days, the perfect quiet of the canyon at dusk. In all my years and all my travels, I’ve found few places on this planet that invite you to sit back and enjoy the end of the day more than the quiet of Palo Duro Canyon.

Palo Duro Canyon at Dusk

Palo Duro Canyon at Dusk – Claude, Texas
Copyright © 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 28mm, f/16 for 1/6th of a second at ISO 100 with a Singh-Ray warming polarizer filter. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3.

Click on the image above for a larger version.

View Location on Panoramio & Google Earth: Palo Duro Canyon at Dusk – Claude, Texas

Gear Friday Canon Style

I’m sure you’ve all heard the news but Canon has just announced six new L Series lenses and one new prosumer grade DSLR, the EOS 60D. Below are the links to the various news releases and other technical information from Canon.

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USMAll well and good but this new lens really caught my attention. The new EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM lens offers a very unique design in a high performance zoom lens with outstanding mobility. If you’ve ever hand held Canon’s EF 100-400mm “push-pull” zoom lens or the EF 300mm f/4L prime you’ll understand my excitement.

The new EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM is very compact at 143mm in length as compared to the EF 100-400mm which is 189mm long and the EF 300mm f/4L which is 212mm long. With its impressive zoom range and compact size, the EF70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM is well suited to landscape, nature and wildlife photographers who have grown tired of lugging around their heavy super-telephoto or super-zoom lenses.

Canon has also pulled out all the stops on new technology in this lens with two ultra-low dispersion (UD) elements and Canon’s Super Spectra Coatings designed to reduce ghosting and flare. This lens also incorporates Canon’s latest generation Image Stabilization (IS) system providing an impressive four-stop IS advantage. The lens’ eight-blade circular aperture also offers excellent bokeh that’s ideal for wildlife shooting. The lens’ autofocus system promises to be very fast and quiet thanks to a ring-type USM motor and as with all L-series lenses, full time manual focus is available. Canon has also coated the front and back lens elements with a new Fluorine Coating (similar to the DSLR’s LCD coating) which helps prevent smears or fingerprints from sticking.

But what’s really exciting about this new lens is the $1500 price tag. I honestly expected this lens to cost well over $2000 initially. What a pleasant surprise!

I’ll be reviewing this lens in detail as soon as my loaner comes in from Canon so stay tuned!

Canon Focuses On Professionals By Introducing Six New L-Series EF Lenses And Accessories

Preorder the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS L USM Lens at Adorama

Framing Your Subject

I really enjoy landscape photography and I enjoy teaching landscape photography, especially to folks just getting started with this hobby of a lifetime. I’ve never been a fan of rules (it comes from growing up in the 60′s), especially rules about photographic composition.

In fact, I generally start off my lectures by telling everyone to forget the rule of thirds. The looks I get when making this simple statement are amazing. From abject horror to tearful sorrow. It never ceases to amaze me how entrenched an idea can become if it’s repeated enough times. I honestly never understood the rule of thirds and after 35 years of shooting it’s way too late to learn.

What I do try to teach folks is to understand how the human mind “sees” an image. How the proper foreground can lead a viewer “into” your image and how the proper background can keep a viewer “inside” your image. I also try to teach folks to frame their subjects in such a way that the viewer spends as much time as possible “looking around” and enjoying your image. The whole idea is to lure the viewer deeper and deeper into your image and to keep him or her there for as long as possible (usually less than 3 seconds, honest).

Upper Pedernales Falls

Upper Pedernales Falls – Johnson City, Texas
Copyright © 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 93mm, f/22 for 8/10th of a second at ISO 50 with a Singh-Ray warming polarizer filter. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3.

Click on the image above for a larger version.

View Location on Panoramio & Google Earth: Upper Pedernales Falls – Johnson City, Texas

Take this shot of the upper section of Pedernales Falls for example. Last spring I walked around this section of the falls and took over 50 shots from various angles, elevations and positions. None of the compositions really appealed to me until I walked behind this large, cup-shaped boulder and small tree. Just as soon as I had framed the falls in the curve of the rocks I knew I had found the shot I wanted. The fact that the background also curved over the falls provided the symmetry I was looking for.

Now I had a nice foreground to lead the viewer into the image. The falls in the middle-ground as my main subject and the rocks and trees in the background keeping the viewer inside the shot. (Of course this all could be a figment of my 60′s delusions ;-))

I also try to teach folks that learning this stuff takes practice and that there is no “right way” or “wrong way” to compose a landscape shot. I’ll be the first to admit that upon visiting a new location, I’ll take 40 or 50 shots from various angles using different compositions and cull through them back in the office until I find the few that I like. Even though I shoot over 30,000 exposures in a year, my overall hit rate is generally less than 10%.

Yes, landscape photography is a lot like baseball. The more times at bat, the better your average. And like baseball, it’s also true that for spectators (husbands or wives that dutifully follow their spouse on workshops), landscape photography is about as exciting as watching the grass grow at Wrigley Field.

The Making of Camelot

Vision & VoiceIf you haven’t read David duChemin’s latest book Vision & Voice: Refining Your Vision in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom then you’re missing out on what’s possibly the best overall “guide” to using Adobe Lightroom ever written. Like all of David’s books, it’s written for photographers (right-brain) not computer geeks (left-brain).

If you want to explore the minutia of sharpening, color spaces, key-wording, bla, bla, bla then find another book. But if you want concrete examples from start to finish of how and (more importantly) why David processes his images, then buy this book now!

The Making of Camelot
I took this shot several weeks ago during a trip to the Texas panhandle. I had seen this Tule Canyon butte featured in Wyman Meinzer’s 2001 book Canyons of the Texas High Plains and was captivated by its resemblance to a medieval castle. I also wanted to find an image that I could use to practice some of David’s post-capture magic.

Step 1: Zeroed
Every few months I’ll get an email or comment asking me what my “raw” image looked like before I began “developing” it in Lightroom. I get this question a lot from folks that live up north where the sun doesn’t shine quite as brightly as it does here in Texas. The assumption is that I’ve somehow “cheated” to make the image look better than it did in real life.

Camelot (Zeroed)

So for those of you that “knew” I was cheating all along, here is the proof! A raw file exported to a JPEG using Lightroom 3′s “Zeroed” preset. No added contrast, vibrance, clarity, luminance, exposure, brightness, fill light, black point, blah, blah, blah. A dull, lifeless, underexposed raw file.

The only trouble is, this image doesn’t look anything like what I remember seeing.

Step 2: Normalized
So while David prefers to start out with a “zeroed” file, I most often begin with Lightroom 3′s default settings which include brightness & contrast as well as applying a medium contrast tone curve using whatever white balance you took the shot at.

Camelot (Default)

Now, this is much closer to what I remember.

Step 3: Camera Calibration
Strangely enough I now begin by working “up” the panels in Lightroom 3′s Develop Module. Nine times out of ten, I’ll use the “Camera Standard” (Canon 5D Mark II) profile for my landscape images because it tends to deepen the earth tones and adds contrast to the blue sky.

Camera Calibration

Camera Calibration in Lightroom 3

Step 4: Lens Corrections
Next I use the new Lens Corrections settings and check the Enable Profile Corrections box which fixes any barrel or pincushion distortion, chromatic aberration and vignetting problems inherent in my Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens. This is similar to what the well respected PTLens plugin from Tom Niemann does in Photoshop, although the effect in Lightroom 3 is more subtle.

Lens Corrections

Lens Corrections in Lightroom 3

Step 5: Basic Settings
My next step is to adjust the Basic settings such as White Balance (usually set for Daylight depending upon the image), Clarity (which adds some wonderful mid-tone contrast) and Vibrance (which is more subtle than adding saturation).

I generally adjust the White Balance to somewhere between 5000K and 5500K in Lightroom to make the images match what I remember seeing. This is a key step in creating the mood you want in the image.

Basic Settings

Basic Setting in Lightroom 3

At this point in my workflow, I’ll also adjust the Exposure, Recovery, Brightness and Contrast settings until I find the right exposure balance (lights and darks) and tone (color gradations) for the image. I may spend as little as ten minutes or as much as several hours trying different combinations until I achieve the look and feel I want.

Step 6: Tone Curve
Next I generally adjust the Tone Curve by setting the Point Curve to Medium Contrast which adds some much contrast to the entire image. Notice how I’ve set my “Shadows” slider to bring back some detail in the deep shadows on the right side of the butte.

Tone Curve

Tone Curve in Lightroom 3

Note: It’s important to remember Ansel Adams’ Zone System. To make a scene look realistic you need some bright whites and pure blacks in the shade, so a little “clipping” in the histogram is perfectly acceptable.

Step 7: Luminance
My final “tweaks” to the image are done by adjusting the Luminance settings. This is where my fine tuning is done to create drama in my images. I’ll generally reduce the Aqua and Blue color values to darken the sky and make the clouds stand out more. I’ll also increase the Green and Yellow luminance values to enhance the color of the foliage.

Note: I’ve found nothing in Lightroom 3 that works half as well as a circular polarizer does in the field to enhance contrast and add saturation to an image. Just something to think about.

Luminance

Luminance Settings in Lightroom 3

Small, incremental changes go a long way here, so I’m careful not to push things too far and end up with an image that looks unrealistic. I have enough trouble with folks that don’t live in Texas believing that our skies are actually this blue and our clouds this white.

Step 8: Repeat as Necessary
When using Lightroom’s Develop Module to create your personal VDW (Vision Driven Workflow) the Virtual Copy is your best friend. The undo history is a great feature but nothing beats creating a Virtual Copy at key points in your workflow. Once you’ve made these copies, you are free to experiment to your heart’s content with no fear of finding your way back from a creative dead-end in Lightroom.

The Results
I wanted to create an image that you might imagine seeing on a hot summer afternoon in jolly old England, looking up at the grandeur of Camelot. Let your mind wander and suspend your disbelief for a moment. Gaze up at the battlements atop the towers of the castle.

I can almost here Richard Harris singing . . .

Where once it never rained till after sundown,
By eight a.m. the morning fog had flown…
Don’t let it be forgot
That once there was a spot
For one brief shining moment that was known
As Camelot.

Now, this is how I remember the scene looking.

Camelot

Camelot – Silverton, Texas
Copyright © 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 22mm, f/16 for 1/25th of a second at ISO 100 with a Singh-Ray warming polarizer filter. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3.

Click on the image above for a larger version.

View Location on Panoramio & Google Earth: Camelot – Silverton, Texas

Many Thanks to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department

Summertime in southeast Texas can be brutal. Most folks around here spend the summer cooped up in their air-conditioned homes, cars or offices and never venture forth until the cooler, dryer days of autumn. Other folks like myself, head for the closest state park when the mercury begins to rise.

We are blessed here in Texas with some of the most beautiful and well maintained state parks found in the US. The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) folks do a great job of managing and maintaining these incredible parks, most of which have been in continuous services since the 1930′s. In fact, many of these wonderful parks were built or expanded by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

The Texas Legislature has charged the folks at TPWD with protecting the state’s fish and wildlife resources and managing the state parks, wildlife management areas and historic sites for people to use and enjoy, now and in the future.

As a landscape and nature photographer, I am constantly amazed at the beauty and grandeur of our state parks. As a husband and father of four daughters, I am grateful for the efforts of the folks at the TPWD in preserving these treasures for future generations to enjoy as we do today.

Summer at the Lake

Bastrop State Park Lake – Bastrop, Texas
Copyright © 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 38mm, f/16 for 1/30th of a second at ISO 100 with a Singh-Ray warming polarizer filter. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3.

Click on the image above for a larger version.

View Location on Panoramio & Google Earth: Bastrop State Park Lake – Bastrop, Texas

Park Road 1C Between Buescher and Bastrop State ParksHere’s a bit of advice for you summer couch potatoes. Grab your keys, your kids and your car this Saturday and head on out to Buescher State Park or Bastrop State Park just a few miles northwest of La Grange, Texas on Highway 71.

It’s only 90 minutes from Houston (if you drive like I do) but the scenery is unlike anything Houston has to offer. Rent a canoe, bring your fishing pole or just dip your toes in the water. Life is too short to spend it inside waiting for cooler weather.

And just before sunset, you’ll find me on Park Road 1C setting up my tripod and camera and enjoying the late evening Texas heat. Come on out and join me! There’s always plenty of room for folks looking to enjoy a beautiful Texas sunset.

Lightroom 3 Poster Tutorial

I received a comment from a reader last week who was curious how I created my posters and what software I used. I covered this in detail about nine months ago but it’s well worth the time to review it once more today.

As you know, there are several different ways to create a poster in Photoshop CS4 or CS5 and Scott Kelby’s books explain most of these methods in great detail. Being lazy, I prefer to let Adobe’s Lightroom 3 Print Module do the heavy lifting most of the time.

Palo Duro Canyon 20x16 Poster

The first step in creating this type of Print Template is to setup a custom Page Size in Lightroom 3 such as the 20″ x 16″ page shown above. I chose 20″ x 16″ since its a common frame size available and the white borders used result in a very viewable 17″ x 11″ image size.

Once you’ve set your page size you’ll need to change the Image Settings as shown below to add a medium gray Stroke Border around your image giving it the appearance of being matted.

Lightroom Print Layout Settings

Lightroom Image Settings & Layout

To create a poster Layout, you’ll need to change the Margins to add the white border and set the Page Grid to 1 row and 1 column. This should result in a Cell Size exactly 17″ wide and 11″ high.

I use Lightroom 3′s Overlay settings to add a custom Identity Plate to the white border below the image as shown below.

Lightroom's Overlay Settings

Lightroom's Overlay Settings

This is where things can get a little tricky so I’ve created three custom Identity Plate templates including a one-line, two-line and three-line version to add and modify as needed.

Lightroom's Identity Plate

Centering Lightroom's Identity Plate

Centering the Identity Plate in the bottom white border can also be a little tricky and this feature has been improved only slightly in the Lightroom 3.

The best way I’ve found to do this is enlarge it to 100% and then center it with the edges of your image, moving it up and down, little by little until it looks about right. Then reduce to to somewhere between 60% – 75% until the text is smaller than the image width as shown above.

Editing an Identity Plate

Editing an Identity Plate

A few tricks to make this look really nice:

  • Use an all-caps font like Trajan Pro for a really elegant look.
  • Add a blank space between each letter in a word and three blank spaces between each word.
  • Create a multi-line identity plate by adding pressing Option+Return to start a new line.
  • Use different font sizes for different parts of the identity plate.

Once you’ve finished this you can save your poster as a Print Template to use again and again.

Caprock Canyons State Park

Caprock Canyons State Park & Trailway is one of the largest and most diverse state parks in Texas. It’s certainly one of my favorite parks, even though it’s a nine hour drive from Sugar Land. The park lies about 100 miles southeast of Amarillo and about 100 miles northeast of Lubbock at the far edge of the Llano Estacado where it drops to form the Caprock Escarpment.

Streams running east from the Llano Estacado flow onto the lower plains through the Caprock Escarpment, then into the Red River, the Brazos River and the mighty Colorado River. Over thousands of years, the waters of the Little Red River have exposed the different geologic layers (“red beds”) of shale, sandstone, siltstone and mudstone. Each layer exposed by this weathering contains different colors of rock including the beautiful shades of red, orange and white you can see in the shots below.

These steep and colorful canyons are one reason I love this area so much, but it’s the sky and the clouds that really captivate the senses. Driving through the park is a feast for the eyes but to get the best landscape shots you’ll need to grab your camera and hike to some of the parks more remote locations. Be sure to take along plenty of water. That red clay you’re walking on heats up something fierce under the hot Texas sun and doesn’t cool down until well past sunset.

Caprock Canyons State Park has more photographic opportunities in it than any other state park I’ve ever visited. I’d be willing to bet that you could spend years wandering the hiking trails and never run out of scenes to shoot. Check back with me in 20 years or so and I’ll let you know! ;-)

Caprock Canyons Entrance

Caprock Canyons Entrance – Quitaque, Texas
Copyright © 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 23mm, f/16 for 1/80th of a second at ISO 100 with a Singh-Ray warming polarizer filter and 2-stop, soft, graduated neutral density filter. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3.

Click on the image above for a larger version.

View Location on Panoramio & Google Earth: Caprock Canyons Entrance – Quitaque, Texas

Clouds Over Caprock Canyons

Clouds Over Caprock Canyons – Quitaque, Texas
Copyright © 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 78mm, f/16 for 1/40th of a second at ISO 100 with a Singh-Ray warming polarizer filter. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3.

Click on the image above for a larger version.

View Location on Panoramio & Google Earth: Clouds Over Caprock Canyons – Quitaque, Texas

Caprock Canyons Butte

Caprock Canyons Butte – Quitaque, Texas
Copyright © 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 116mm, f/16 for 1/40th of a second at ISO 100 with a Singh-Ray warming polarizer filter. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3.

Click on the image above for a larger version.

View Location on Panoramio & Google Earth: Caprock Canyons Butte – Quitaque, Texas