Monday, July 4, 2011

High Dynamic Range Shuttle


I stumbled over an amazing artist in the world of HDR; all hail the power of the re-tweet! Yeah, one of the guys I follow re-tweeted from one of the guys HE follows, who re-tweeted a remarkable photograph from one Danny Garcia, the gallery owner of Miami HDR Photography.

Despite skydiving pictures, out-the-airplane window snapshots, ground high resolution photography, and even after watching two shuttle launches with my own eyes, I had never seen someone capture a launch in quite so powerfully before:

Space Shuttle Launch
264 Seconds of the Space Shuttle Discovery Launch
STS-131 on April 5, 2010

You list yourself as an "amateur" photographer on your website, but that blows my mind, given the quality of your work. Methinks you could change that to "professional" anytime! Your portrayal of Discovery's final launch trail (STS-133 on February 24, 2011) brought tears to my eyes, it was so stunning. What made you attend this launch?
DANNY GARCIA: Heather, thank you so much on your kind words about my work. I started shooting in 2008 with an entry level Canon Rebel, and upgraded to a Canon 7D when I found myself getting positive feedback from friends, family and followers on Twitter and Flickr. I read a little, practiced a lot (well over 20,000 pictures now), and am happy with most of my shots. As for my "professional" status, I do this as a hobby in my "off time" from my career in Miami, as a contract instructor for a private company.

This was actually the first time I attended a launch! I checked out the Twitter feed for @SpaceFlightNow and read that there was an 80% chance. I rallied up two friends that had never been, jumped in the car and started driving the night before. For weeks prior, I had been looking up information about photography locations for launches, what settings to use in the camera, where to park, traffic patterns, and simply decided it was time to go for it. Boy, am I glad I did!

In May, I received a shocking email through my web gallery about one of my shuttle launch pictures. It was such an honor to get this message:

Alan Poindexter Email
I provided the image. I asked in return for a printed version with his real signature on it. Unfortunately, it seems that I will not hear back from Captain Poindexter since his email address no longer works post-retirement. I tried contacting him via the Naval Postgraduate School where he is now the Dean of Students. Perhaps one of your readers may know someone who knows someone?

An email from Alan Poindexter himself, that's great! I do hope you find him. If someone knows, they can email you from here! What precisely is "High Dynamic Range" and how did you get into this sort of imaging?
DANNY GARCIA: In basic terms, High Dynamic Range (HDR) is the art of taking multiple exposures of the same scene and blending them into one image that brings out textures, colors, and other details to make the picture "pop." As I started shooting and sharing pictures on Flickr, I noticed some of the photos shared by other photographers were stunning compared to others. I looked at their work, read their descriptions, and stumbled upon the world of HDR quite by accident.

I ran across one particular artist's work repeatedly. I visited his site, took his free online HDR tutorial and started creating my own images based on his instructions. That's when people started to pay more attention to my pictures. I had the opportunity to attend a live one-day HDR workshop with the master himself, Trey Ratcliff in Tampa, Florida. I learned there was more to HDR than just putting the images through one program. I have found myself spending anywhere from 15 minutes to a over an hour in post-processing, depending on the image I wanted to produce. I highly recommend his free tutorial and/or his optional products -- they are worth the money if someone really wants to learn!

Redwood Trees
Coastal Redwood Sequoia

How did you enjoy California? I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so I am very partial to redwoods, of which you got some great shots! I also love your sunset at Golden Gate Bridge. What is next on your travel itinerary for 2011?
DANNY GARCIA: Well, it so happens I was born and raised in Southern California! I had been to the San Francisco area before, but on this particular trip, I wanted to make sure to capture things with what I had learned in the HDR workshop. Capturing the San Francisco area and the Redwoods in Muir Woods was a delight. The entire area is a photographer's dream. Between the water, sunset, city scenes and the wonders of nature all in one small area, it's an awesome place to visit.

This year is not as busy as last year. Most of my travel is based on where my contract work takes me. In the coming months I am set to visit Orlando, Florida, New York City, Las Vegas, the DC area, and possible trips to San Francisco, Alabama, and maybe head across the pond to check out Europe for the first time!

Your story on SmugMug is great, and you have piled up quite a list of travel destinations! Unfortunately, the Brickfish site no longer shows the contest I know you won… tell us about how you got the grand prize?
DANNY GARCIA: I noticed Brickfish is gone and apparently a lot of people are wondering what happened to that site. Brickfish used to run campaigns for major companies and the one I entered was for Blackberry. I had taken a picture on my Blackberry Storm of some storm clouds over Miami which had zero photo editing done to it. It sat on my phone for months until I saw the contest. Not only did they want a photo, but they also wanted to know why I loved my Blackberry. In the first phase of the contest, I ranked 22 out of nearly 400 entries. In phase 2 of voting, I was ranked number 2. The top contenders then were rated by folks at Blackberry themselves. One thing I will say to anyone trying to win a contest is that they should READ everything and see exactly what they are looking for. To make a long story short, my entry hit all the points they wanted and I ended up being selected as the grand prize winner!

Danny Garcia Galleries
Apparently, what happens in Vegas really does stay in Vegas