Just A Sip

This, as I'm told by Rocco Sette on Google+, is a saddle-billed stork. I snapped this picture while visiting the Memphis Zoo last year.

Well, that's not entirely true. This is the picture I actually took:

I still have a hard time capturing what I see "in the moment" in my camera. I wanted the ripples and the reflections and I guess I got them, but not how I had pictured it in my mind's eye. So this image just sat in storage for months with an occasional dusting off for me tinker with in Lightroom and Photoshop. I never came up with anything particularly satisfying.

Then one night of tinkering actually paid off and everything came together.

Using Lightroom 3, I reduced the noise, increased the sharpness and made some other minor adjustments to contrast and brightness. The goal was to create a little more balance and depth without straying to far from the original levels.

Once I had what I considered to be a decent staring point, that image became my baseline. Four virtual copies were created and the exposure levels for each were set to -4ev, -2ev, +2ev and +4ev.

Yeah, I know what you're thinking. You can't create image data where none existed previously. That is absolutely true. However, a RAW file actually has more range (data) than what you see. This is one of the things that makes shooting RAW so beneficial. An underexposed or overexposed image may actually contain details in the shadows and highlights that you won't see until you process the RAW file. So what I'm doing here is not completely crazy.

I will admit that it is overkill, though. There probably are not 4 exposure levels worth of information in a single RAW file let alone the 8 levels I have created here. It cost me nothing to create the additional copies and since this was just an experiment anyway, I figured what the heck.

Into Photomatix Pro 4 and here is where I landed:

Now we're cookin' and into Photoshop it goes!

This is where I am going to get a little vague. Not because I have any secrets. On the contrary. It's largely because what happens next would likely make a professional either cry or laugh (or both). These are the highlights:

  • The image was cropped to improve the composition.
  • Noise reduction. A lot of it.
  • A lens blur was used to create some depth of field. More blur in the background than in the foreground.
  • The background and foreground were darkened using exposure adjustment layers. Again, more (darker) in the background than in the foreground. (The background just isn't all that interesting.)
  • Did some targeted sharpening on the feather edges, the bill and the legs.
  • Brightened the epicenter of the ripple.
  • Increased the contrast on the bill and created a very slight highlight along the top and a slight shadow along the underside.
Much of the work in area of the ripple center and bill were done to help separate one from the other. I'm red-green colorblind which means that everything just kind of blends together. I have come to suspect that this might give many of my photographs an an ... oddness ... as I try to compensate.

That, as they say, is that. I am happy with the results. For now.

To get an idea of how long the journey from point A to point B was, here is the original and final shown side by side.

Egret Launch

If you follow my work at all, this may look familiar. As I'm wont to do, I revisited this with new tools and techniques. Starting from the original RAW file I gave this the HDR treatment. Thus you will see greater range and contrast across the entire photo. This is particularly noticeable on the back of the egret's left wing.

I also chose a different crop in order to get rid of the little bit of uninteresting sky that I found slightly distracting as well as a more open view. What you see above is the photo formatted for a desktop background. The print looks a little different and can be found in my Imagekind storefront.

If you would like the 2560x1600 image for your own desktop, please feel free to grab it here.

Search Engines And Social Networks

Yesterday Google announced "Search, plus your world", a change to the Google search results page that now includes surfaced Google+ content.

This, apparently, upset Twitter and others.

One example cited was a search in Google for @WWE, which is very obviously (at least to several million people) a reference to a Twitter profile. The issue being that Google gives precedence to its own social network in a very prominent way.

This is what you would see (I've highlighted the Twitter profile).

Now at first I thought that this was kind of obvious behavior. My understanding has always been that Google ignores most "special" characters like the ampersat.

Of course, Google never ignored the plus sign (+) because that was a Google search operator. At least up until a few months ago. The reason may very well be because they wanted to be able to use that to reference a Google+ profile.

Do a search for "+WWE" and you will be taken directly to the WWE's Google+ profile.

So one question is, "Could Google make a similar change that redirects a search to @WWE to the Twitter profile?" I think the answer to that is "yes". But I'm sure they don't want to because that launches the person right out of the Googleverse.

Should they, though? Or should they at least give the Twitter profile a more prominent position in the search results as many people think?

I don't really know. Part of me thinks that being "fair" is important. Another part of me thinks that this is all big business and yes, of course, it all comes down to how these decisions impact the bottom line financially.

It's mildly amusing (to me) that the same search for @WWE on Bing doesn't return the Twitter profile at all on the first page of results.

UPDATE: Well, beating me by several minutes at least was Danny Sullivan's post here. Great minds think alike?