State champs is over which means the mountain bike season has sadly come to an end. I wasn’t ready for it to end. I had a blast this year as the ride leader for the Iron Giants JV A and Varsity boys. I spent five months chasing them at practice. They always left me in the dust. I suppose most practices I rode by myself :) I loved that this group can ride farther and faster than anyone else, which means we were able to do more at practice, ride more challenging trails and ride more miles.
This year the league held the first-ever head coaches race. They raced after all student-athlete races finished. Coaches got time deductions for wearing costumes, reciting limericks, eating cookies in the feed zone, etc. The coaches' race drew a huge crowd, bigger than any single student-athlete division. The energy was amazing. It was a great reminder that having fun is a big part of the NICA way. It was also a good reminder that we shouldn’t take life so seriously all the time.
If you don’t look back on old work and cringe, you aren’t progressing. In my day job as a programmer, that is also very true. If you look at the old code you wrote and don’t cringe, then you probably aren’t improving as you should. It can take a lot of willpower to see old code and resist completely re-writing it. In the programming world, that is a lousy practice most of the time, unless you are already in that code to add new things or fix things. It is a bad practice because it can potentially introduce new bugs and probably waste time you could be spending on new features and functionality. In short, it is counterproductive.
Refactoring old photos, on the other hand, is probably a good idea. New techniques, software, and knowledge can make a dramatic difference with photos. Also, when you are new to photography, even new to a new type of photography, you almost always overdo things. What looks good is subjective, but I try to go for more natural feeling edits. Unfortunately, some of my early nightscapes are far from “natural” feeling. Here is an excellent example of how I’ve progressed with my nightscape editing. The first photo is my updated editing style. It has more natural tones, the stars aren’t “juiced up,” and the saturation is toned down. The second photo is my original edit from 2017.
Even my updated edit leaves me cringing a bit. Although new editing techniques and new software can make a big difference, there are things you can’t go back and change. For example, I can’t go back and change the camera I used, the lens I used to take the photo, and the techniques for capturing the exposure (camera settings, exposure, star tracker, etc.). I was brand-new to nightscapes in 2017, and I had a lens that I thought would be amazing for nightscape/astrophotography that turned out to be terrible. The Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 lens is a terrible lens for night skies because of what it does to stars in the corners and edges of the frame. I sold this lens several years ago in favor of lenses that produce much sharper stars.
I have never been very intentional about landscape photography, and I want to improve. I’ve realized I’m just a beginner when it comes to landscape editing. Like Astrophotography, good landscapes require a lot of post-processing. I’m starting to appreciate the sophistication that goes into great landscape edits. Even the landscape master, Ansel Adams, had a very sophisticated post-processing workflow in his darkroom. Each print he made was essentially edited by hand according to his detailed notes of where to apply dodging and burning.
The negative is comparable to the composer’s score and the print to its performance. Each performance differs in subtle ways. -Ansel Adams
The new Lightroom masking capabilities sent me down this path. With the new masking capabilities in Lightroom, you can now start to approach the level of editing sophistication that Photoshop has always provided. Ironically, the masking features in Lightroom pushed me to start learning how to do this stuff in Photoshop because it is still a superior tool for the job, particularly for landscapes.
I took the kids to Three Peaks this evening and let them climb on the rocks while practicing some landscape work. I captured a few scenes, but this is the one I liked the best. After that, I put my new Photoshop skills to work. I’m sure I’ll look back on this photo and hate it. When learning new editing skills, it is easy to overdo them.
New skills employed on this photo:
As a coach on the Iron Giants mountain bike team, I became the self-appointed team photographer. What else does a guy with all the gear do? On race days, I don’t stand still for very long. I end up crisscrossing the course for about 12 hours straight without really taking any breaks. As a result, I appear and disappear all day long. That behavior has landed me with the nickname “Wizard Ninja” from the other coaches. Tonight at our team dinner, they gave me this little ninja guy with a camera to recognize the photography wizard ninja behavior 😁. I love this team. The camera is hand-made and has little photographs representing me inside it, often with my hat backward as I take photos, my bike, and my truck. Neat.
Adobe Lightroom Classic version 11 was released a few days ago. It introduced an amazing feature that allows you to edit your photos using masks right in develop mode. It is powered by artificial intelligence to automatically detect the subject of your image or detect the sky and intelligently apply a mask that allows you to edit just that selection. Of course, this is stuff you could do in Photoshop, but bringing this functionality to Lightroom is a big deal, having it be AI-powered is also a big deal.
I’ve found that Lightroom is pretty darn good at detecting the subject, even with a busy background. Here are a couple of examples:
What a fascinating modern age we live in.
This year was our first time racing at the Manti course, and it became my favorite course to photograph. The course is fun to ride too. It is fast and fun. Not a lot of technical, but that is okay. The Manti course is the first course I know of that was purpose-built for the Utah NICA league. As such, it is very well thought out. The start and finish are very close to each other. There are many opportunities to photograph racers within a reasonable walking distance, and the course dynamics in those locations make great photos. These are my favorite race photos to date. The banked “party turns” make it possible to grab multiple angles as the racers pass by, and as they come over a ridge, there is nothing but blue sky or clouds as a backdrop.
I illustrated a map of the course where I spent all my time photographing.
I was hired last-minute to be the official event photographer for the One Utah Summit hosted at SUU. The organizers of One Utah Summit have raised the bar on this event over the past few years. For me, it was fun to be a fly on the wall for the whole experience. Some pretty neat things are happening in Utah.
On a personal note, it was fun to work alongside another media professional. I got to know the videographer as we crisscrossed paths all day. He is a cool guy. I don’t think I caught his last name, but his first name is Noah. Noah’s videos made for and from this event are posted below. A talented guy that Noah.
In June of this year, I took my kids and met a bunch of my family on Ferron Mountain for a few days of camping, relaxing, mountain biking, and Milky Way photography. We had favorable dark skies, which means getting out to shoot the Milky Way was a must, no matter how tired or unmotivated we felt. So I got my kids settled in our tent, took 22-month-old Lillie to sleep in my parent’s trailer. My dad, niece, and I headed out for some dark sky hours around 10:00 pm. We drove to the top of Ferron Mountain and enjoyed the next three hours watching falling stars, photographing the Milky Way, and listening to all the night-time critters. Bats and owls kept us company.
When I got home, I downloaded my photos, and I haven’t touched them until now. Life is busy. Milky Way photography requires a lot of post-processing. It takes a lot of time to get the shots and a lot of time to edit them relative to any other photography. Capturing the photos usually take hours. I’ve got my editing process down pretty well, but it is still a multi-step process. The image above is 8 photos from the same tripod spot and this is one of the simple Milky Way photos. The complex Milky Way photos I do involve a star tracker, multiple rows of shots to get a panorama and lots of post-processing to bring it all together. For a simple Milky Way photo, here is what the process looks like:
So there is the process. I actually like the way this image came together more than I thought I would. I wasn’t super excited about the foreground, but I like the way the composition turned out. I like the leading lines of the converging double-track roads.