Monday, June 29, 2015

Hang In There (A Chrysta Rae Scavenger Hunt Behind The Scenes Extravaganza)

For the 15th round of the +Chrysta Rae Photo Scavenger Hunt, one of the items on the hunt list was Hang In There.

The idea for Hang In There came to me relatively quickly, but it would prove to be one of the most complex photos I've ever created. I figure I'd document some of the process of making this shot.

So, the following is a behind the scenes exposé of Hang In There.

All of the editing was done in GIMP.  The shots were taken with a MotoX for the backgrounds, and a Sony a6000 for the minifig shots.

The concept was a moody scene that featured a Lego minifig hanging from a noose in the foreground, and in the background the soul of the same minifig meeting Death.

I didn't have a suitable Death minifig, so I hit up to order some parts to make one.  This meant I had to wait before I shot the main subject of the photo.

In the mean time, I had a specific scene in mind for the background.  The problem was I had no idea where I could find such a scene in real life for me to photograph.  I wracked my brain, and had come to the sickening realization that I may have to result to using some stock photography off the Interwebs. I had used such stock photography for my other Lego art, but it seemed wrong in this case since I was submitting this to a *photo* competition (even tho the rules do seem to permit it - one thing about the hunt is that the rules are few, and even then they are more guidelines than actual rules).

With the niggling thought of going half-assed with the background in mind I hopped onto my bike on a foggy morning and started my daily commute to work.  90 seconds later I slammed on my brakes, skidding to a halt.  For what lay before me was the most perfect tree for a hangin' (of a minifig).  So I stopped and took some photos (with my cell phone camera, no less).

300ft further down the road lay another nice foggy scene that would make a kickin' background, so I stopped for more cell phone photography:
1000ft beyond that, at the Baptist church on the corner, was a cemetery which seemed the perfect mid-field scene, so once more I stopped and pointed my cell phone lens and clicked the shutter:

So, completely chuffed that I got the makings of my "impossible to find" shot within a 5 minute bike ride from my house, I headed off to work.

When I get home, I loaded up M*A*S*H on Netflix, and started the long process of merging the three files together.  It took me over a season to get something I was happy with (ever try to mask out a tree? :)

This is the final result:
Most of the process of merging was masking out the parts of each scene I didn't want. Then overlaying them in a way that made sense, then smoothing the seams by adjusting the edges of each mask with semi-transparencies, and adding more fog with the paint tool on various semi-transparent settings. I also used the good ol' dodge/burn tool to darken some of the branches on the tree in the foreground.

I also added some foggy bits by using the Plasma Cloud tool on a new layer, converting that to black and white, then setting the transparency to resemble fog. I further masked out some of the plasma cloud parts, and left others, which allowed me to control where the fog lay in the scene.  Creating a layer like this also makes it easy to add some consistent fog over multiple layers, which helps merge two layers together more seamlessly. I used this trick a lot.

Now that I had a background, I needed to set up my main subject: the dead guy.  First things first, I Googled how to tie a noose, then I figured out how to do so using a piece of bailing twine.  I grabbed a scarecrow minifig and set up the shot:

If you notice, I have some fishing line coming from his legs.  This is to weigh him down a bit, so the "rope" stays taught.  The minifig is not heavy enough to do this on its own, and tends to curl up.

First step was to mask out the background, and resized the results to fit the scale of the background.  I used a cage transform tool to twist the body a bit in order to give the head a more "hanging from a rope" effect.  Before I did that the effect was more "flying live guy" than "hanging dead guy".  I also adjusted the lighting to be more shadow-y, and used a combination of transparency masks and the brush tool to add some more fog effects.

I also used the paint and clone tools to close his eyes, and remove his smile.  The result was one convincing hanged guy.

Now, on to the Grim Reaper.

I couldn't find a satisfactory scythe for Death online, so I set about making one.  Using a brown spear, and a dragons claw, and with clever application of a Dremel, I turned the bits into a passable scythe. Death himself is a Nazgul (from Lord Of The Rings) with a skeleton head.

I masked out the background, and added the fog effects - the exact same process with the main subject above.  To give a more ethereal impression, I added some drop shadows for the glowing effect, and a slight motion blur to give the idea that the dead guy's soul came from the hanging body.

I also added a Supernova effect to Deaths eyes to give them a slight glow effect.  Finally, I used the paint tool to add shadows for each minifig to give the impression they were either on the ground, or hanging above it, depending on the situation.

I finished off the piece by adding in some more fog effects to give a more consistent look.

Putting it all together gave me my final shot: Hang In There

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Padawan Learner in The Arcanum

So some news on the Dave front... I have been accepted as an apprentice in The Arcanum.

What is the Arcanum?  Let me explain.

No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

The Arcanum is the brain child of famed photographer +Trey Ratcliff.  The idea is to utilize the age old idea of the Master/Apprentice relationship, super-charge it using modern technology, and use the whole package to improve ones skills in photography.

To get in, one has to post a profile of ones work, goals, and expectations wrt photography, and personally selected by a master.  Yesterday I was indeed selected by an Arcanum master, and am now embarking on a journey that will hopefully sharpen my photography skills beyond what I could do on my own.

Such excite!

For more information, check out their website: The Arcanum.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Peachoid

Anyone who has driven thru Gaffney South Carolina along I85 has likely seen a giant peach off in the distance.  I have driven that stretch many times and noticed it each time.  However I never stopped to explore, or photograph, the mysterious peach.

Apparently it has also been featured in an episode of House Of Cards, so you also may be familiar with it from there.

The last time I drove I85 it I decided it was high time I did something about this peach situation, so I pulled off at the next exit and proceeded to track down the story of the giant peach.

It is, apparently, called the Peachoid.  This is what it looks like from the distance (facing north):
It is likely not a surprise to learn that the Peachoid is a water tower.  In fact it holds 1 million gallons of water (officially known as a metric crapton of H2O).

The reason why it is a peach is both an exercise in creative municipal budget management, and a snarky commentary about a neighbouring states adopted nickname.

The water tower was built in 1981 by the local municipality, but they wanted a way to use federal money, so they made it an art piece.

They made it a peach because that area, specifically Cherokee County, where Gaffney is located, grows more peaches than the entire state of Georgia, despite Georgia's adoption of "The Peach State" as their motto (Take that Georgia! (go Dawgs!))

It is for those reasons that I officially love this peach.  It is... (wait for it)... peachy.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Speedlight Chronicles

A month ago I purchased a speedlight - an off-camera flash unit (specifically a Yongnuo YN-560 IV).   Tonight I finally got around to playing with it.  I used myself as a subject, making all of these officially selfies.

These are the results.

The Legend Of Dawson's Mine: Chapter Three Published

Chapter three is published.  Check it out here.

Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Mandatory Fun

Last Friday night I had the pleasure of seeing "Weird Al" Yankovic in concert.

Let me tell you, it was a heck of a concert.  Weird Al is an amazing performer, and every song he did was in costume and followed his videos.

The first song of the concert was the song Tacky.  If you recall, the video for Tacky was done with one camera shot.  Amazingly Weird Al duplicated this feat live in concert.  The concert started with the band on stage playing the music, and Weird Al being displayed on the video screen, somewhere in the bowels of the theatre.  He starting singing as he walked thru the theatre, and even took a trip outside for a while, all while the camera followed him.  He made his way thru the main lobby, and entered the back of the seating area, walked thru the crowd, and hit the stage just as the song was ending.


He finished that set by singing a few more songs, and using bubbles (it's a special effect).
 He performed Fat in his fat suit, including makeup.  Dunno how he got the costume on so fast, but he did.

Smells Like Nirvana
Canadian Idiot ended with a cloud of streamers bursting over the crowd.
White & Nerdy.  He came on stage riding a Segway.
Amish Paradise 
Finished the show with The Saga Begins, and some rockin acordian polkas

Like I said, it was an amazing show. Its like getting the best of the top 40 songs for the last few decades, but with better lyrics and performed by someone with actual talent. Whats not to like?

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Legend Of Dawson's Mine: Chapter One Published

Chapter One of my geocaching themed novel is now published.  Check out the table of contents and catch up with the latest serialized chapter of my book.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Legend Of Dawsons Mine: The Serialization Of A Fictional Work

Holy crap, I Wrote A Novel!

During the month of November I participated in the National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. During that time I sat at my keyboard in the office in my basement and spewed forth a semi coherent story of just over 50,000 words.

Since then I have whittled the story down to a much more interesting and bite sized length of about 22,000 words.

Those words have been polished (slightly), edited (by a friend), formatted (thanks Google Docs!), and is ready to be unleashed unto the world.

The Synopsis Is Thus:

<queue booming movie trailer announcer voice>
"In a world governed by satellite geolocation technology, and tupperware hidden in the woods, two unsuspecting brothers head off geocaching in the mountains of North Carolina.

What they found was more than they ever imagined. The untold mystery of one of the darkest chapters in Appalachian history.

This secret, however, is not without its guardians.

Will they solve the mystery?  Will they survive the wrath of the guardians?  Will they go to the other side of the road, look behind the guardrail, find the cache, and sign the log?

Will they survive the horror that is The Legend Of Dawson's mine?

Well, will they?!?"

Still interested? Want to read further? Then this next part will excite you to no end (if not, well, no point in continuing.  Might I suggest you check out

In The Off Chance That Anyone Has Gotten This Far, The Exciting News Is Thus:

Over the course of the next month or so I will be releasing the novel on this blog. To increase the suspense and drama of this momentous event, I shall do it in serial form - a new chapter every few days or so (or until I get bored and just post the rest of the chapters en masse).

Your adventure awaits here --> Table Of Contents

Monday, June 15, 2015

Playing With The Garmin Virb Elite

My latest toy is a Garmin Virb Elite action camera.  If you are not familiar, think GoPro, but different form factor and a GPS built in.

The Virb looked like the perfect camera for my needs, which is mainly recording bike rides, and to act as a dash camera for road trips.  The tools make it easy to overlay useful information onto the videos, like elevation, speed, location etc.

Last night I took the Virb out on its maiden voyage in the form of recording part of my evening bike ride with the dog (hence the slow speeds).

This is the video, sped up 8x.  I need to work on my editing skills, but I think this camera is going to work out nicely.

Sunday, June 14, 2015


One of the great things about Europe is that you can visit other countries just as easily as one can visit other states in the US - just drive across the border, and odds are the border isn't terribly far away.

With this in mind, as soon as I found out I was being sent to Switzerland for work, I was determined to visit some other countries, and add them to my geocaching stats map.

Top of my list was the small country of Liechtenstein.

When I say small, I am not kidding.  At 61 square miles, the entire country is smaller than Washington DC, and at 37,000 residents, its 1/20th the size in terms of population.  It only has 176 geocaches in its borders.


It is, however, the second richest country in the world (per capita - first is Qatar), so it may be small, but it has some game.

As far as I can tell, the country is really just one long valley.  Nestled in the Alps, and just across the Rhine from Swizterland.

It also, being an old European country, is home to castles. This one is the Gutenberg castle.
The castle started construction in the 1100s.

Mountains dominate the landscape.  It always struck me as an odd mixture of seemingly large sweeping pastureland bordered by towering mountains.  Makes for some very dramatic landscape.

(also pictures, a Liechtensteinian cat)
Liechtenstein isn't very big so I had to double up on shots, so here is another, closer shot of Castle Gutenberg.
This is the view from Liechtenstein's First Cache, and  what a view it is.  I can take geocaching in a place like this all day.
Another view of the valley, with the Rhine river flowing through it.  Some of the closest peaks are 11KMs away.  Pretty sure the farthest peaks are actually in Austria.
Liechtenstein is a monarchy, with the head royal being a Prince - making it officially the Principality Of Liechtenstein.  This is, apparently, the Princes official residence.  Number of guards spotted during my visit?  Zero.  It pays to not make enemies.
My time in this beautiful country was short, but definitely a memorable one.  Pretty sure this place goes down as my most favourite European country I have visited to date.

I hope to make it back here someday.  Who wants to come with me?

Mountain Spring Water

An interesting fact about Switzerland is that fresh mountain spring water is in steady supply.  As a result, there are several places where fresh water is readily available to the general public, like this trough of fresh, potable water, right alongside the trails on the Uetliberg.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

A Birds Eye View

One  of the advantages of hiking the Uetliberg was getting a birds eye view of the city, including the part that, as a visitor, felt most like home, the Zurich office.

Hiking The Uetliberg

To the west of Zurich lies a mountain called the Uetliberg. It is part of the Albis chain of hills that outlines the western side of Lake Zurich.

The peak of the Uetlibeg is 2800ft above sea level, and ~1700ft above the lake.  The peak is mostly accessible via train (quick 5 minute walk from the station to the summit).

From the summit one has access to a large network of trails.  The ones we chose took us south about 2.5 miles along the ridgeline.

From the top one gets an amazing view of the Swiss countryside. As you can see, the views are quite spectacular.   This shot is of Lake Zurich.
 A lot of hand gliders launch from these hills, so I got a lot of views of hand gliders of various sorts in the skies.

One gets a good view of the city of Zurich from up here.  It seems larger from up here than it does when exploring at street level.
The first sections of the trail from the summit of the Uetliberg has a lot of steep slopes.  The Swiss were kind enough to build a series of stairs to help one navigate these slopes
After a short while the trails smooth out to rolling hills, partly in the woods, but increasingly through these amazing high mountain fields.  Many of these fields appear to be active farm or grazing lands, with many cattle.  I didn't see any of the famous cowbells, tho I heard plenty of them.

I did, however, make some friends with some cows equipped with GPS collars. The white and brown one on the front left came right up to me and made friends.
A nice shot of the rolling fields.  The walking trails are nice wide hard packed pathways.
This appears to be a farm house that the cows from the previous photos belong to.  There is a surprisingly large amount of stuff up here  - farms, a restaurant, and even a hotel.
We did this hike in the late afternoon, so the sunlight was getting lower and lower in the sky as we walked along.
This tree was just hanging out all on its own on top of a hill in the middle of a field.
 This is what I think of when I think Swiss Alps farmland.  It would not have surprised me in the slightest if Heidi walked by.
At the end of the hike we took a cable car down the mountain, and a train back to Zurich.  All in all it was a fantastic end to a great day of hiking in the Swiss countryside.