Today was a fantastic day!  I had the day off work and everyone in the family had something on (school for the kids and work for Lisa) so I was left to my own devices.  So this morning I got up as they left the house and headed out with my camera gear on my own.  I spent time in Pike Place Market, the Seattle Public Library (yes I went back), and Gasworks Park.

Gasworks Park is a 20 acre public park on the north shore of Lake Union overlooking downtown Seattle.  It’s the former site of the Seattle Gas Light company’s “Gasification Plant” (and no I didn’t make that up).  The park still has a number of old machines left from when the plant shut down.  Some of it is fenced off, but there’s a play barn and picnic shelter that has loads of old machines that have been painted bright colors.

This is a really cool park, they even have a man-made kite flying hill to help you get loads of wind.  While I was there a woman was at the top of the hill flying her stunt kite.

Anyhow, hopefully you can see from the picture below just how cool the play barn is.  The best bit was that as today was a work day, nobody was there!  I had the place completely to myself and got the chance to take loads of really cool pictures.  As I’ve posted some “right out of the camera” shots over the last couple of days, I thought I’d go in the other direction.  This is a 5 shot HDR image.  For those that don’t know, that stands for High Dynamic Range and allows me to photograph subjects that have very dark and very light areas.

(Here is the technical bit – stop reading if you want) Now the human eye can take in around 14 stops of light, but a digital camera can only do high single digits.  This is why when you see something cool and take a picture it doesn’t always look the same.  Using multiple images, each of which is taken with a different exposure (i.e. some are dark and some are light), you can mix them together in special software to get a composite image the shows you the dark shadows without “blowing out” the highlights.  This is HDR.  I won’t lie I really love this process, I find I can better reproduce what I actually saw, and usually even make it better.

I know I said no more tulips, but our Halo heroes felt they didn’t get their chance to pay homage to spring and the tulip extravaganza I’ve been on for the last couple of weeks.  Here is their one and only tulip image.

Next week Abi is 9 year’s old which to me is unbelievable as the last 9 years have gone by so quickly!  Anyhow for her birthday she decided she wanted a party at this place called Stone Gardens.  Stone Gardens is an indoor rock climbing club.  You basically join and hire equipment and they teach you how to spider-man up walls.

Before we booked the place for a party, we thought Abi had better try it out first (to make sure she enjoyed it and it didn’t end up a waste of time and money).  So this morning we went over to give it a go.  Abi’s best friend Valerie and her brother Quin came too and the three of them got the necessary special shoes and harnesses on you need to wear.  James was with us as well but he didn’t want to do it which is a real pity as I think he would be really good.  He’s tall and skinny and pretty strong, I bet he would be great and enjoy it too!  But no luck.

So Abi, Val and Quin met the instructor for their hour session (a guy called Jay) and we headed off to the beginner walls for some guidance.  Jay was really good, very patient and helped the kids gain confidence quickly.  All three scaled the first wall with ease, so we moved up to the next, higher walls.

By the time we left, the place was pretty busy and the kids had scaled walls of over 40 feet tall.  They all had a great time so we booked a party for the end of May (which was the first booking we could make).  I was amazed at how big the facility was and the number of people climbing – I really had no idea how popular the sport was.

One of the down sides however was the lighting was not very good for pictures.  I had to ramp up my ISO to be able to take a shot at f/2.8 with an exposure of at least 40 seconds, and most of those images were blurry (as the kids were moving so much).  If I had gone any higher with the ISO the pictures would have been full of noise and unusable.  That’s the down side of the D300s – hopefully my D4 will be here in the next few weeks and I can use it for the party.

The image below was posed by Abi and I used a flash off camera.  As you can see she was very happy to be there.

Carter and Master Chief are supper happy with their new friend, I think it’s Robot Love.

Today’s image is again from Mount Vernon and shows rows of tulips.  This image is a favorite of Lisa’s, she likes the one tulip sticking out into the row (that’s different from all the others).  I like the lines of the rows that lead you to the building structure in the top right of the image (unsurprisingly this is called “leading lines” and guides the eyes where to look).  Also if you look at the top center, you can see Mount Baker popping above the hills.

This is another image that was taken directly from the camera.  In this one there were actually no tourists in the way so I really didn’t have to do anything in Photoshop at all.

If you’re getting tired of these tulip pics, don’t worry, I have Monday off work and plan to get LOTS of cool pics, so expect some new ones next week.  That said of course I still have loads of tulip ones left so they may pop up throughout the year.

Carter and Master Chief found a friend to play with at work and took turns riding his back.

Today’s image was taken again in Mount Vernon.  This time it’s a shot of a field of tulips (I really needed to point that out didn’t I).  Hopefully you get a sense of the scenery here which is truly spectacular.  I have other shots that have Mount Baker in the background topped with snow (you’ll see those ones soon I’m sure).  It was such a lovely day and the back drop of the top of the Cascades behind the fields just looked great.

Now I know that my photography and image processing is not to everyone’s taste.  What’s that you ask, “people don’t like your pictures Tony?”  Well some don’t.  There are a couple of different schools of thought in photography, one school see’s it as an art form, where you do what you need to do to get the end result you wanted.  This involves modifying images in Photoshop, removing distractions from the primary subject or enhancing tones, contrast or colors etc., even re-composing the image after the fact (that means cropping), well, this is obviously the camp I’m in.  But then there are the “purists”, the people who believe that you take a photograph, and whatever you get out of the camera is the final image – no messing about.  Interestingly these people are a bit of a dieing breed as everything is post processed these days (as even if you don’t do it, your camera does it for you!)  This is kind-a sad, as there is something to their argument.  As with most things in life photography is about balance, so I try to get the best composition I can in camera, try to get the lighting right etc., and then only modify what I need in Photoshop after the fact.

So why on earth am I rambling on about this?  Well this shot is pretty much right out of the camera.  “Pretty much you say?”, Well yeah, if you remember I told you that there were loads of tourists there tramping all over the fields and this shot was no exception.  So I removed them in Photoshop – can you see where?  But that was it.  I didn’t change any colors, I didn’t crop or modify the images contrast or add any filters.  Once the annoying people were removed, this is what I saw.

See I can be “old school” too.

Now I know that when people say “he was wired” they sometimes mean the person was tense with excitement and enthusiasm as from a rush of adrenaline, but when Master Chief got wired it was different, he literally got caught up in a load of wires!  Bit embarrassing but it happens to us all (when you’re 3″ tall anyway).

Back to tulips – well I did warn you yesterday.  Tonight’s posting is a great example of what to do when there are hundreds of people all around you and you want a picture of flowers (with no people).  GET IN CLOSE.

Ironically this image was taken with quite a long lens from a distance, but the “get in close” approach is the same.  I liked the fact that not all the flowers had bloomed here and the fact that they aren’t pointing straight up, I also was aiming for a narrow depth of field (for those of you who don’t talk camera – this means that the front of the picture and the back of the picture are out of focus and the middle is sharp – well that’s the idea anyway).

Expect to see more tulips for the next few days, but I have a long weekend coming up and am planning a day out to get some new stellar shots (that you won’t see until Monday) so hang in there.

While walking around the office at work Carter and Master Chief found a load of enslaved “dudes”, they are currently planning their escape.