Cloud first, train second

So, there I am in Portola, CA last August.

It’s getting late in the day, and I’m standing on the South Gulling Street Bridge.

The passerby are friendly, and not at all curious about someone on the bridge with a camera.  After all, this IS Portola, CA on the former Western Pacific (now Union Pacific) Railroad, and I’m there during 2014’s Railroad Days.  It’s not the first time they’ve seen this…

I’ve got sunshine, great light and this absolutely killer cumulonimbus cloud with an anvil in the distance against a great blue sky.

There’s a westbound grain train at the east switch (see the white dot about 1/4 in from the right and about 1/3 of the way up from the bottom) waiting to enter the yard.

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I’m waiting.  The train is waiting for clearance.  I’m waiting.  The train is waiting.  We’re both waiting.  And waiting.

And as we’re both waiting, the cloud starts to dissipate.  I wait.  The train waits.  The cloud dissipates.

The cycle continues…

The cloud is now essentially formless.

And the train begins to move west….

C’est la vie…

You can find this image, and those of the train entering the Portola Yard in the Union Pacific – former Western Pacific gallery on Laughing Frog Images.

The 2015 Portola Railroad Days event is from August 21-23, 2015.

While in Portola, don’t miss the Western Pacific Railroad Museum.

Don’t forget to check out the Western Pacific Railroad Museum Gallery on Laughing Frog Images!

Camera and details: Nokia Lumia Icon 929, ISO 100, f2.4, 1/2000 sec, converted to jpg from a dng original.


Sunset from the back of a plane

When I fly, I tend to get a an aisle seat.  I’m not always sure why, because my head and arms are regularly hit with nary a tinge of guilt on the part of those striking me.

However, I might want to start rethinking that.

When I replaced my old cell phone from the Dark Ages (it was a flip phone with no keyboard…) with a new smartphone, I chose the camera first, and then the phone.  I wanted a Windows phone so I could manage this site in Internet Explorer, so that somewhat narrowed my choices, but they weren’t bad choices.  I ended up with the Lumia Icon, which has a 20mp camera, and also produces a RAW image in .dng format.  It takes phone photography to a new level that I won’t get into here, because this isn’t about a phone or a camera – it’s about a snapshot in time memorialized in bytes.

More importantly, the Icon gives me the opportunity to capture some fantastic images without having to carry a camera with me all of the time.

Here’s a shot from a window seat in the back of a Southwest Boeing 737.  We’re heading east over Huntington Beach at sunset. As we turned east, I noticed the sunset and thought “there might be a picture here…”

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You can see ships waiting to get in to Long Beach Harbor in silhouette from the setting sun, you can see the waves headed towards the beach, the blue sky and darkness separated by the rain clouds.  There’s a lot going on here.

This is the jpeg file straight from the camera.  I haven’t played around with the dng file to what I might be able to do with it.  I didn’t have time to go to manual and select the settings as I would try to do for a sunset – so I metered off of the clouds above the sun and hoped for the best. ISO 64, f2.8, 1/1250 second – all set by the Icon’s camera.

I ended up with a quality image of something fresh and different, and that’s what makes time behind the camera meaningful.

Shoot often and shoot well!


Some of our flowers are hosting unwelcome visitors – aphids.

Mrs. Frog purchased some ladybugs to help in getting rid of the unwelcome guests naturally.

It’s really kind of interesting…

The container on the counter that I thought might have been a pint of ice cream for me was actually full of 1500 ladybugs.

So much for the ice cream munchies.

It’s best to release them at dusk when things are cooling off – you set the container near where you want them to go, take the lid off, and the theory/hope is that they climb the plants you want them to climb and either move in or leave their larvae.  In the process, you hope that enough of them stick around for dinner – that being the aphids.


In the process, I thought I’d have some fun photographing the dinner rush.

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So, it was off to get the D5100, the 60mm f2.8 micro lens, the flash and the Gary Fong Lightsphere diffuser (so I would have even lighting and I wouldn’t get any hot spots).

To provide for even lighting, I shot with the flash aimed straight up and let the diffuser do its’ thing.   I know that sounds counter-intuitive – but see for yourself.  It works!  I could and should do a post about this diffuser – it’s a phenomenal addition to the camera bag for anyone who regularly uses any shoe-mounted flash.

From there, I figured out that it’s not as easy as it sounds…

First off, ladybugs have the attention span of a cat.  They don’t stay in one place very long.

Second, I was trying to shoot them with a short micro lens with a flash and with diffuser as it was dusk.  Not the greatest combination.  All of this meant a wide aperture – which also meant my depth of field wasn’t going to be very much.

Let’s just say that I had a less than 5% success rate that night.  I’ll chalk it up to a learning experience, as I’d never tried this before.  This image was made at ISO 100, 1/160 second and f3.5.

I didn’t get any images that will end up in the Galleries on Laughing Frog Images.  But that shouldn’t stop you from paying a visit anyway…!

More importantly, I learned that night.  (I’m not much for reading photography books – right or wrong, I like to learn new photographic techniques by trial and error.  I’ve never taken a class or lesson, so why start now!?

I’ll try this again – but it will be before dusk when there’s enough natural light that I don’t need a flash and can get my aperture above f8 – then I’ll at least have a fighting chance of success.

Fifi in pictures

Fifi is the only operable Boeing B-29 Superfortress Bomber in the world as of March 2015.

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I was privileged, honored, and fortunate to see Fifi at the Van Nuys Ca Airport as part of the CAF AirPower History Tour.  That event went beyond expectations, as I was able to watch (and smell) her start up (video here) and to see her fly.  I wasn’t able to take a tour, so that remains on my Bucket List, but in no way can I complain about the living history I saw that day.

All images were made in color using a Nikon D-90 and Tamron 18-270 lens.

Then, I did something different for this gallery.

Fifi is a product of the black and white era – black and white television, black and white newspapers, and (predominantly) black and white photographic film.

To maintain the spirit of Fifi’s era, I used two different black and white effects in Perfect Photo Suite 9 by on1 Software to create most of the images of Fifi that I’m sharing with you.

The first is a gritty and grainy effect that mimics how these images might have appeared to the readers of a 1940’s newspaper.  The second is a cleaner effect that mimics Kodak’s legendary Tri-X black and white film.

There are a few color images as well, and these are along the lines of a chrome slide film.

I’m curious to hear feedback about the black and white images, particularly which effect you like better and why.

Instead of placing these images in the Military section of the Planes gallery on Laughing Frog Images, I decided that it was more than appropriate for Fifi to have her own gallery – you can check Fifi’s gallery out by clicking here.

The Commemorative Air Force are the folks that keep Fifi going, and made that day and these images possible.  My thanks to all who make Fifi happen.

Smartphone Sunset

Here’s a little “how to”post.

I was at Ontario (CA) International Airport at sunset recently, and saw the sunset, and you can guess what happened next.

Out came my Lumia Icon, and I made a few images.  Let’s take a look at them, and talk about how you can make great smartphone sunset images.  Both images were shot on “auto” and are straight from the camera.

WP_20150311_19_02_52_Raw 420 wmDetails of the above image: ISO 80, f2.4, 1/40 second.

WP_20150311_19_04_28_Raw 420 wmDetails of the above image: ISO 64, f2.4, 1/12 second.

So – how did I get the “ooh, aah” first image and get a “so-so” second image?

Many (most) smartphones allow you to select a focus area by selecting the area you want the camera to focus on by tapping the screen with your finger.  This also controls where the camera meters (measures light)!  Proper metering is the trick to great smartphone sunset images.

In the first image, I selected the brightest area of the sunset as the focus and metering point.  As a result, the camera thought everything was really bright and reacted accordingly – this caused the camera to let in less light.  This made most of the image darker, and allowed the reflected color in the clouds to appear in the image.

In the second image, I let the camera decide everything.  The result is “blah”, at least to me.

The images are shown in the order they were taken.  There are 90 seconds between the two – I was taking images and metering off of different points.  The first image is the best of the bunch.

Next time you see a great sunset, try this!  It’s a way to control your smartphone camera for sunsets even if there are no control options.

(This simple technique will also work for sunrises.  It will also work with pocket digital cameras that allow you to lock on to a focus point.)

Remember, film is cheap these days.  Shoot often, and have fun.

This concludes your smartphone sunset lesson.

As always, shares and likes are appreciated, and don’t forget to visit Laughing Frog Images for your decorating and gifting needs (and your own indulgences).


Sunrise Done Different

Most of the time you see a picture of a sunrise, the photographer is looking at the sun…

Always having to be different, the Frog presents an alternative way to capture a sunrise.  Look the other way!

While on vacation in Hawaii (before you East Coast folks start, it’s closer to me than Boston is right now…) on the island of Kauai, I awoke to a very bright day (which is easy to do when you’ve traveled west).

I looked to the east, and the sun was hidden by a cloud layer.  No shot there…

But, as I looked to the west, well, here’s what I saw:

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The mountains were in shadow, the clouds were lit by the sun, there was a faint rainbow, and the moon was still out!

Being 2015 and all, I did what most anyone would do – I grabbed my phone to take a picture!  I would have grabbed my camera, but the phone was closer and the rainbow was changing (for the worse) before my eyes as the sun rose behind me.

This image is straight from the camera’s raw file (Nokia Lumia Icon), and was cropped to a square image and converted to a jpg for posting and sharing.

I tried to play with it a bit in an editing program to bring out the rainbow, but as every action has a reaction, and the reactions were not favorable, I decided against that train of thought.

You can find the image here on Laughing Frog Images.

Thanks for looking!

Sometimes you need a little luck #2


Getting images of seals on a beach in their basic form isn’t all that hard.

After all – they’re seals. And, they’re on a beach.  As I said, the basics aren’t hard.

Getting those really memorable photos of seals on a beach isn’t technically hard – it’s not much different than getting an image of a seal on a beach.  You generally just need to capture a seal doing something on the beach other than sleeping.  But that’s the whole point of why they’re on the beach.  To sleep.

Starting to see the challenge?

So, you sit there and focus on a seal and wait.  Or, you scout the seals and, using your best seal sense, try to figure out which one is going to do something photogenic and focus on that one and wait.  At least until you figure out your seal sense isn’t quite as good as what you thought it was.  Then, you start to scan the seals thorough your lens, because you know that’s going to work!

As either and/or both your feet and butt get sore from waiting, you realize that there’s only one thing that is going to work for you.  Sometimes, you need a little luck.

That’s what finally happened here when I caught this guy/gal moving in mid-nap.  A little luck had come my way.  I swung the camera around (Casio Exilim EX-V8) and captured this image.  This is a crop of the original – I had a pocket digital with me, and not my DSLR.

There are a lot of potential captions for this image – and each of us has our own take on that.  We can all relate to having a peaceful sleep ruined by things like an alarm clock, or someone making a loud noise.

There was noise, and this guy/gal wasn’t all that happy.  I’m not sure if I saw the seal version of flipping someone off before the eyes were again closed and it was time to visit Sleepy Town once again.

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(Yeah, I know, that was an incredibly bad groaner, but if you’ve been following along on the blog, you shouldn’t be surprised by now!)

You can see the original image here in the Galleries on Laughing Frog Images.

Most everyone out there knows someone who deserves this on their coffee/tea cup – and we can help with that!

Thanks for reading.

What does the Frog process with?

Another recent question was “what software do you use to process your images?”

My current image processing software is ACDSee Pro 8 available from ACD Systems.

I also have Corel Paint Shop Pro (came with the computer), Microsoft Photo Gallery (free for Windows 7 & 8 users), Picasa (free, from Google), an older version of Adobe Photoshop Elements, and Nikon’s View NX2 that came with my cameras.  Each of these is good – I’m not slighting any of them.  But I’m currently using ACDSee Pro 8.


I’m simply not that good at post-processing.  I can’t process an image file and take a cloudy sky and make it blue, or swap out a foreground, or anything like that.  I process very simply (for the most part) and stick to the basics, and they do the basics very well.

Disclosure: occasionally, I do find that I can pull off a mini-miracle with this software and salvage a slide or botched exposure.  These are adventures in trial and error, and always involve working with a copy of the image file and not the original file.  Sometimes, it can take hours to save an old slide – but it’s the only way.  It’s much simpler on most digital images.

Three key things that I really, really like about this software:

The Light EQ tool is absolutely fantastic when working with an image – you can set up to nine (9) individual tone bands when adjusting the lighting on an image.  When you’re working with old Kodachromes, that means you can bring out shadow detail very discretely, as well as tone down clouds and the sky.

I find the Hybrid tool for noise removal to be (1) fantastic and (2) equally effective with scans and RAW files.

And, the Sharpening tool is intuitive and easy to use.

Overall, the software is very easy to use as an image organizer and as an editing software.  And, it’s intuitive.  Very intuitive.  I find myself looking at the manual every so often, but you can be up and running in a short time without reading the manual.  One of the hardest things for me is establishing a consistent workflow, as I only seem to work on images on the weekends, and then, not every weekend.  I tend to forget workflows and processes once in a while.  I guess I could take notes…

So, if I sound like a commercial for ACD Systems, I guess I am.  If anyone knows anyone there who can hook me up with a sponsorship deal…  If anyone has any questions about how I got to ACDSee among all the other programs, please ask!  If you’re considering (new) processing software, it’s definitely worth a look.

Oh, before I wrap this post up, there’s one very, very, very important thing – you need a good mouse.

There’s a companion post to follow on what I call finishing software (a program that does not cease to amaze me).

Happy shooting / scanning and processing!





RAW. Just shoot it!

Not too long ago, I had a conversation with someone who had some nice new mirrorless camera gear.

I asked them if they were shooting RAW format and jpeg format, just RAW format, or just jpegs.  They answer was “just jpegs.”

To which I replied: “RAW.  Just shoot it!”


Many of us have digital cameras that will capture images in RAW format in addition to jpeg.  RAW is somewhat of a generic term for a “raw” image file that stores everything that the camera sensor captured when you clicked the shutter.  Some cameras only capture the jpeg, which is compressed and processed for optimal results according to the camera manufacturer’s software.  The jpeg images are also smaller than RAW files – sometimes by as much as 75%.

So, why shoot RAW (which in reality has many different filename extensions – .nef, .raf, etc. – it’s whatever the manufacturer wants to call it) if you have to process it and it’s a bigger file?

In simple terms, it presents a wider range of editing and processing options, particularly if the jpeg is overexposed or underexposed.  You might be really unhappy with your jpeg – but you can probably make a winner out of the RAW file in your editing software.  RAW images can have an exposure latitude of +/- 2 stops or more – that’s really a wide margin for error.  You can also work to bring out the shadow detail in a RAW file, or tone down the highlights to even out an image.

I have to admit that when I first got a camera that was capable of shooting RAW images (a Fuji S-9000 9MP all-in-one) – I didn’t shoot RAW.

Confession time: I was intimidated by the notion of digital processing more so than anything else, and was under the (mistaken) impression that the jpegs my camera put out were the best that could be done with the image.  One word: WRONG!

I started to play around with RAW, and as I got comfortable with processing images, actually reached the point where now I only shoot RAW.  It started to get to be too much to organize and keep straight. Most of my processed images are saved as jpegs (although some are saved as lossless .tif files if I really had to do some work on them – and then saved as jpegs) for posting.  You can always convert the RAW image to whatever file format you’d like, but you can never work backwards to the original information and quality of the RAW file.

You can use the software that came with your camera, or download free software such as Picasa by Google or Gimp, or buy software (Acdsee, Adobe, Corel, onOne, etc.) to process your RAW files.  It might take some time to learn the software, and you might actually have to read the instructions, but it’s well worth it!

So, in case you missed my point…  RAW.  Just shoot it!