2016: A Year of Skies

Last year I did a year in photos but it took forever and was in like five parts. It was fun looking back through all the pictures and remembering the days they were taken. I’ve always been interested in the ever-changing skies, sunrise, sunset, clouds, fog, even rain. Some make for better pictures than others.

WARNING! Photo geek stuff ahead…

I normally shoot Camera RAW with my 10 year old Nikon DSLR. Someone recently said, “A good starter camera…” Ouch! It does everything I need and more. I have been processing the images as HDR, high dynamic range. This is equivalent to the old neutral density filter in photography. With Camera RAW and HDR, like with the human eye, the deep shadows and blowout bright highlights are evened out. In a photo, whether digital or on film, the highlights and shadows can ruin the picture. This is probably why people show you a picture and say, “But it didn’t look like that in person, it was much more alive, real, dynamic.” Your eye, not the camera (and computer) was doing the processing. HDR makes a photo that is very close to how the scene appears to the human eye.

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In Mexico in 2011

HDR used to involve a tripod and multiple bracketed exposures at like a half stop from super bright to almost black. See some early HDR here. I still do this sometimes, but mostly now I shoot one image Camera RAW and process as HDR. This is ideal since, 1) tripod not required, 2) less space on disk with otherwise unusable images and 3) HDR processing has evolved. Greatly.

Sometime last year, I was processing some sky pictures and accidentally dragged two into the image area that were not bracketed. They were shot in the same sky and time period but objects did not align as normal HDR does. It was what Mr. Rugolo, one of my art professors called “a happy accident.”

We used to make double exposures in the camera and not know the resulting image until the film was processed.This is sort of like being back in the darkroom and not knowing what a double exposure in the enlarger would look like until it was processed. Or a solarized print. I like the suspense and the outcome was always unique.

Now, we have the technology to process on the computer and can create double or multiple exposures there. I loved processing the film and printing black and white and color in the darkroom but I would never go back to it, as some have. The computer can do all the things we wished we could do back then. In the olden days…

These two images caused the happy accident.
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This January sky in our Rio Grande Valley spot was pretty impressive on its own. We have a perfect uninterrupted sky view from our site so I just run out and take a picture or two when good ones come along. Both are one exposure RAW files. The accident occurred when I dragged the two different images into the HDR software. It tried its best to line up the similarities  but there was just some left over as you can see from the image below on the right and bottom.

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I cropped that off and ended up with this.
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I liked the way it attempted to make sense of the images and that it represented a roiling  and more complex picture of that day’s sky on January 12, 2016.

On March 18th, we had an incredible display of mammatus clouds and straight photos were shot.
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The fun thing about this technique is that you can always go back later and combine the images. Later in the year I got more used to shooting specifically with Layered Skies in mind. This is one from the same day’s sky processed later. The heavens were alive in every direction that evening.
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A later combination of three images from March 18.
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A few nights later on March 22 I got this straight shot of the full moon. We also have an excellent view of the moonrise here.
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In April we went to Austin and saw the sunset from friends’ boat on Lake Travis. This was a nice enough sunset on its own but the layering really gives the mood and motion of the sky.
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On the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, two images.
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April 12, 2016
And playing around with panoramas there too. These are single images stitched together in Photoshop. There wasn’t much to photograph except the sky…
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April 13, 2016

Another full moon on April 20 in Alabama
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April 26 in Chattanooga
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May 28, Jim’s birthday in Marthasville, Missouri. The sky was big and busy that night. This is the only layered image, the rest are straight out of camera. (SOOC)
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And Colorado never disappoints. A fisheye view near Canon City.
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Layered sunsets in Colorado Springs July 26
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Regular old skies in Ft. Collins were pretty spectacular.
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Montana is aptly described as Big Sky Country.
Layered sky in Billings July 15
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Layered sky in Montana July 19
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Sunset in Lame Deer July 20
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Montana rainbow
The horse pasture
Panorama at Little Bighorn battlefield
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Wyoming’s Devil’s Tower. The view from our site on July 22

Wyoming panorama July 24, 2016
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Nebraska
Storm a comin’ July 26.
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And after the storm:
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More panoramas on the Cowboy Trail
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July 30

Minnesota panorama
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Minnesota sunset with my phone, August 8
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And layered:
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Wisconsin, on the Elroy Sparta Trail August 20: SOOC
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Lake of the Ozarks on September 13
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Missouri and Illinois
On the Katy Trail near Portland September 21portland-pano copy.jpg
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The Tunnel Hill State Trail in Illinois October 4:
Layered
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And panorama
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On the Chief Ladiga Trail in Alabama October 21
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Pensacola November 7-10: The Blue Angels!
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Gulf Islands National Seashore sunset
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Layered sunset in Biloxi, Mississippi November 10
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At Padre Island National Seashore November 20
Vertical panorama
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This was the first time I shot deliberately for the Layered Sky series. Sometimes it takes me a while…
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And back at our spot for the winter in the Rio Grande Valley.
Straight and Layered Sky November 26
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Sunset November 29
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December 2 Layered Skies:
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December 22
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December 27
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December 28
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I really like this one.

So, a year of skies! The sky is always changing so don’t forget to Look Up!

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2 comments on “2016: A Year of Skies

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