Thursday, March 22, 2012

Shattered Poltergeist...

The week started with a dust wave and suffocated lungs for some. Many things are keeping my mind occupied at the moment, but trying to push my work forward for now with the new pictures taken from Failaka island. Full panoramas, handheld panoramas, all are on the list and I'm trying to pick some new items to include in my website, but the great burden for now is the expo, which seems from my perspective that I'm enrolled in it alone and not with anyone else (i.e. my sister). I'm writing these words earlier so as to be posted on Thursday as scheduled. I'm nervous somehow for the expo, but I'm hoping for a positive response (but I'm not confident I will get it). I just hope I close my eyes and open them again and everything is just over with. I have to get ready to decorate the booth. I don't know how, but we'll see in time.

This said now, I've spent my days in the past week mainly on doing photos from Failaka taken recently in my last visit last week. I've started to name some of them with Greek names already, relating to the Greek past of the island. In fact, the history of the island and its surroundings of other islands and the main land of Kuwait do extend further back in history before the Sumerian civilization in the same area, in what is known as the Ubaid culture. Known as Culture because it is not yet in the level of an organization as a civilization, but something below that with tribes living under certain common shared thoughts and ideologies.
However, beside Latin, Greek seems a promising and interesting point of change in naming some of my pictures. I wonder though if I will put the name on my pictures, and whether, in case I put them there, would or should I put the original Greek text or a transliteration of the name? I'm not sure yet, but seems the original text in Greek is quite attractive to the eyes (and people are not used to it). I'm still looking through the collection I've made so far and I'm not sure I still got quite the image to add to my website. All of this talk about the Greek and Hellenic past of this island, makes me wonder, is there a Greek blood in this nation? Was the island just deserted by the Hellenic soldiers and other settlers came in? Or, life continued in a continued spectrum of living through the ages; Hellenic, Christian, Abbasid, to the time of modern Kuwait? I suppose some DNA tests can do some work here!

Processing Story
I. New Planet:
Until the time of writing these, I'm having some hard time with some panoramas, specially the one I made for the hotel itself from the inside. I'm not sure why but enough to say the panorama is full of straight lines with less features specially on the upper part of the panorama.
However, there were some successes on small fronts I'd say. Like the Planet Herba, made from some location near by the old bank location (and posted previously last week).

Planeta Herba

Probably should have named it in Greek! But the idea back then didn't occur to me in fact. This is one of the images under consideration for a simple QTVR (without zenith and nadir originally) and also, of course, a flat panorama of some projection (e.g. mercator, spherical) or even a tunnel view. It is under consideration as well to be added to my website for printing.

II. Megalou:
One of the largest panoramas done so far (and only in flat format so far) is the one I took from the ramp few moments before complete sunset...

Before The Storm

There was no real storm in fact, it is just a title! Anyway, I challenged myself (and my computer) here to do this panorama at 20,000 pixels wide (20K, 20 thousand). The maximum I've been doing so far was 10,000; meaning this is the double. Things went OK with the tone-mapping later on and hopefully I will produce more projections of this panorama alone too. A little planet is already waiting to be processed.
I've changed the watermark here into my new website, as a form of advertising, though I know it is hard to read anyway! I've been embedding the website also in the file's info (IPTC).

III. Poltergeist:
Then comes one of the most beloved shots to my heart, but unfortunately, something I can't put on my website and offer as a print because, simply, it is not in the taste of regular people! However, it is one of these images that offer you many chances of changes in colors, specially when done in HDR...


Poltergeist - BW

Poltergeist; in Arabic this name is translated into something close to "Noisy Ghost" [الشبح الضاج] but Google Translation machine was not good enough and simply yielded [evil spirit] in Arabic.
The place is the main power plant, with many turbines like these three spreading all over the place, and those were the last ones in the plant, with some space allowing me to stand and erect a tripod. There is a third version of the same image, done in low saturation style, but not shown here. A friend said it is more mysterious that way (low saturated), even more than the Black and White version, while some did like the colored version, maybe for the looks themselves without much feelings put into it. I like both versions, but I'm not sure it will be a lovely subject for printing, thus I'm reluctant to add it to my website so far.
Cleaning the noise from the colored version needed a bit of a lengthy work and layer masks added to control the effect (again, the Median trick). The Black and White version on the other hand was dealt with with a trick of "glamor" addition; an effect that adds a bit of fog to the highlights with some blur, to give a ghostly look.

IV. Golden Days:
An image that I was considering for adding up to my website, despite the comments I've received from some friends about its background.

Golden Days

Golden Days - BW

The image might be a bit unclear in this size with the water mark, however, the comments were pointing about the background of the dark trees. It can be a problematic view, with dark spots catching the eyes of the observer before the golden stems. I'm not sure Iwill add it, or maybe the black and white version is a bit less in distraction? I'm not sure yet...

V. Tranquility:
I've mentioned earlier that I've managed to do some handheld panoramas on the island; well, not completely handheld in this case here, but the main point here is that the VR-head was not used for such a simple panorama. Maybe it is one of these instances where a tilt-shift lenses can be useful for a simple job like this.

Tranquil Door

The stitching of course was not out of problems, and some cloning was used later on to fix some points. Unfortunately, my aim from the very beginning when I captured this panorama (with regular pan head on tripod with 6 angles; 3 top, 3 low) is to have a flat image with horizontal line being flat and straight; not curved.
Fixing the image was hard to be done, and even more hardships arrived with DxO as problems occurred with edited TIFF files. The files cannot be loaded into the program to be fixed for distortion and other things; and once loaded, it was hard to fix without losing key features in the image (by the cropping). I've decided to leave it like that after all.
The main purpose of the image, as the title endorses, is the simplicity of life and the tranquility provided in the island, with some depth. I'm not sure though, but seems there is a weak connection between the style of the old homes on the island with the Hellenistic style. I even remember that some old houses (deserted by now) were decorated in white and blue, just like the typical homes and houses that the Greek islands are famous for!

VI. Elliniki Glossa:
It was in fact the previous image, Tranquil Door, that inspired me to start to name some of my images from the island in Greek; as to show the Hellenistic connection with the island and its history. It was a bit hard in the beginning (technically) but I guess with CharMap provided by the Windows system itself, it is possible to type down simple names with ease (but I do have a Greek keyboard layout installed).

Ερείπια (Ereípia)

One of the funny things that I've faced when trying to type in Greek, is to discover that when typing in caps, the accent marks on a vowel are not placed on top like the regular Latin-based alphabets (e.g. É, Í) but instead, on the side! I thought in beginning there is a problem with my keyboard system until I've checked it out on some dictionaries online. Thus, if I was to write down the name of the image above all in caps that would be: Ε Ρ Ε Ί Π Ι Α. A bit awkward to my eyes if you ask me! Anyway, because the Greek alphabet is shorter than most of the Latin-based alphabets, I had some hard time finding the accent key on the keyboard; but the good news is that still most of the letters of the Greek alphabet coincide on keyboard with their Latin counterpart.

Back to the image.I rarely do take sunset images in fact since my work is typically at sunrise moments, when the beach area, on the mainland that is, is usually not so stuffed with people (but some annoying moments persist still). Anyway, this one image was one of the rarest moments. I've decided to make a silhouette here (by metering the highlights and putting down EV to one stop or so). In fact, right now I regret that I didn't experiment with my flash unit to make some interesting foreground and background. I did take some shots in a series of the same scene changing the value of the EV, but after all no HDR was intended, but only a single RAW file editing.

The morning started with a staggering wind and a low tide on the shores in front of the hotel. Although I was planning to wake up late since the ferry won't be leaving the island until 2 p.m., but anyway seems the freshening air there would keep you active all the time. I went hunting for snapshots along the beach, and it did feel like something... mediterranean, even though I've never been to any county across the Mediterranean.

Παραλία του Ίκαρου (Paralía tou Íkarou)
Beach of Ikaros

It is one of the images that I might consider adding to my website collection for printing despite the fact that in a close up view, there are some out of focus region as it seems. However, my experience so far with the prints somehow tell me that such out of focus regions are not a big deal, specially for large prints that are designed specifically to be viewed from afar and not in a close encounter. Also, with extra sharpening and canvas printing, such problems tend to be "covered up".
It was a hard time doing this image out of a single RAW. Although taken in brackets for HDR, but I thought some HDR here is really unnecessary, and vibrant colors can be achieved with simple adjustment from the RAW. Done previously with DxO to straighten the horizon line and elongate the image a bit, but the original file without any distortion fix was fine enough I believe, thus I've neglected the idea. The image was taken with my Rokinon 8mm fisheye lens but with Vivitar 2x teleconverter attached (thus supposedly pushing the focal length to 16mm). Maybe not much a difference from the Canon 15mm fisheye which I posses already.

The last of the Greek "icons," for the time being that is, is the staircase in the hotel itself. A view I liked, but I was somehow careless about it when I processed it! Don't ask me why, it is just one of those mood turn-abouts.

Έλιξ (Éliks)

It is a handheld panorama, and as expected, problems occurred, but not in stitching this time, but mainly in fixing the perspective and the tilt and having the perfect crop. So far, I don't see any of that is achieved so far in this image, and maybe this is what attempted me to tone-map the final image in a reckless way making hard contrast and hard highlights and shadows. Some people though did like the image like that already, but definitely it is not something to add to my website collection; unless I fix it somehow!

VII. Failed:
I've mentioned probably in my previous post that I've tried to do some long exposures on the island when the darkness hovered on, but I've failed. However, I did go on and tried to work on the only "real" long exposure left in the camera (other shots of the same scene were test shots made on ISO12800) with a time of 20 minutes.

Star Race

The high noise level made it necessary to an excessive effort with noise filters, and that, naturally, dispersed lot of details. However, the game kept on by trying to achieve a good contrast to enhance the thin lines of the star trails. I might as well summarize the problems in work here:
  • Generally, not a good location. The horizon contains light sources (from the mainland) making metering a bit harder and achieving a longer time for the exposure even harder. That made me use a smaller aperture (high f-number) and in return, that caused some flare as you see on the right side of the image (hexagonal rays).
  • Another problem with the location; on the top of the ramp with not a suitable orientation of the camera made of some excessive cropping in order to straighten the horizon, and that minimized the image size severely.
  • The noise level was so hard to clean at once. Cleaning with several plugins made the image in general without much details and only good for small size viewing. Probably I should check back again with "passive" noise cleaning - where I have to take an exposure of the same length under same settings of ISO and F-number, but with the led closed on lens, then take the picture and layer it on the original image and blend it in to subtract the noise. This method, even though I didn't try it much, but it is hard to deal with at the time I'm planning for more processing to the colors and other aspects of the image. This method requires that the image is not processed at all to subtract the noise correctly, supposedly.
  • Finally, in such dark environments, I proved to myself that I'm hopeless. I need some assistance with my tools and moving from one place to another and being alone in such atmosphere is not good, specially with my well-known clumsy movement.
Now, it is time to schedule this post to automatically be on the web by Thursday! I'm not sure how much I'm going to process but I'm sure there is so much stress awaiting for me in the coming week, and I might even not post anything by next week. As I write these words I'm still thinking of the decorations that I'm "supposed" to do to the booth. I do wish if I went through this all alone. I do hope though that I'm up to the level and won't disappoint others with the show. Maybe that's all about why I'm a loner person. Simply, cause I can't be around people for too long...
ta ta!

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