Featured Photo – Himalayan Festival During Monsoon Rains

White Mask Dancer, Ladakh, India

White Mask Dancer, Ladakh, India, taken in the pouring rain

For my Featured Photo this week, I’m choosing the White Mask Dancer.  This was taken in some heavy Himalayan rain during the Hemis Festival in Ladakh, a Tibetan Buddhist region in India.

I want to emphasize here that sometimes you can still get really interesting shots in less than ideal conditions.  Sometimes, you have to work for them.  Sometimes really hard.  During many of the shots that I took, I was being pushed and jostled.  I sat in mud, in rain, next to crying kids.  During some of the shots, I even briefly had an adult sitting on my shoulder while I was seated cross-legged in the mud!

The monsoon rains came down hard.  I tucked my camera inside my waterproof jacket, pulling it out when shooting, since I had difficulty managing my umbrella, the jostling, and the photography simultaneously.

Prayer Beads, Ladakh, India

Prayer Beads, Ladakh, India, taken under less-than-ideal conditions….if you consider pushing, shoving, sitting in mud in monsoon rains, and someone sitting on your shoulder to be “less than ideal”.

The devout in the audience fingered their mala beads while watching the performance, devoted to the birth of Guru Padmasambhava, who brought Buddhism to these far Himalayan reaches of the world,  Many of these people had traveled from the farthest corners of Ladakh to attend the festival.


Unfortunately, after the festival at Hemis, returning to Leh wasn’t that simple. It continued raining. I stopped and talked to a few of the monks, and went inside the main temple to hang out. When I came out, there were still streams of people walking downhill. The problem is that there were no buses to meet any of these streams of people. The only buses we saw were already full and pulling away.

After about an hour of waiting for buses, about half of us, numbering in the hundreds, started walking downhill towards Karu, along the main highway. We were all soaking wet and shivering while walking downhill. I don’t know how long that took, but it was several kilometers away, and it seemed to take a really long time.

Nikon D50, Nikkor 18-200mm VR lens, a muddy REI waterproof jacket, and a small umbrella purchased in Ladakh.

Featured Photo – How I Reposition Dogs In A Photo (sort of a bonus Photo Tip of the Month!)

You never know where you are going to get a really fun photo of a dog.  This one was at a photo shoot for commercial products.  Christal Smith, owner of Emergency Kits 4 All (www.ek4a.com), wanted her chihuahua next to some of the emergency kits.  Between placing the product  on the black backdrop, I took a photo of her dog.  I liked this, but wanted to reposition this sweet but hyperactive chihuahua to create the photo that you see directly below:

Stephanie the Chihuahua - alternate photo

Final version of this overhead photo of Stephanie the chihuahua after moving Stephanie’s position in Photoshop CS4.

The above photo, however, wasn’t the original.  She’s a very quick moving chihuahua, and was just about to wander out of frame in the original shot, shown below:

Stephanie the chihuahua-original photo

The original photo of Stephanie the chihuahua before I moved her positioning using Photoshop CS4.

You can see she was bunched in the lower left corner.  I liked this because the placement is unusual.

But after a while, I decided to experiment with her placement within the photo.  I opened up this original photo in Photoshop CS4 and reoriented Stephanie’s position with the Ruler Tool (right-click the Eyedropper Tool to select the Ruler Tool).  You then simply draw your line from one position to another on your photo. Not to worry, dear reader, the line is not permanent.  Then, go up and select Image > Image Rotation > Arbitrary and hit “OK”.   Boom.  This repositions your photo.  Looks funny with you photo askew, doesn’t it?  But I wouldn’t leave you hangin’.  We ain’t done yet.

I went to Color Picker (again, on the left Tool Bar, which are the two squares.  I selected black for both the foreground and background color so I would match the black background of my photo.

After this, I created a new workspace (File > New), making sure to select Blackground Color in the pulldown menu entitled “Background Contents”.  I made this MUCH larger than the original Stephanie photo.  I then simply moved the photo around using the Move Tool (the thing at the top of the Tool Menu that looks like a cross made up of arrows at the top), cropped, and voila…a new version of the photo in just a couple of minutes!!!

This is sort of a bonus Tip of the Month.  I started writing and kept going.

This was shot with a Nikon D90 and a 50mm f/1.4 Nikkor lens, 1/80 second at f/1.6 with a black velour cloth, lightweight travel tripod, and portable studio lighting.  I am going to discuss portable studio lighting and the tripod in upcoming Photo Tip of the Month articles.

Featured Photo – Oblivious in Bolivia: Abandoned Bus

Contact Guinness Book of World Records. This must be the shortest vacation to Bolivia on record.

I as in San Pedro de Atacama in Northern Chile.  I wanted to go see Salar de Uyuni, across the Andes Mountains in Bolivia, not far away.  But no.

As near as I can tell with my less-than-fluent Spanish skills, I was turned back after 30 minutes at the Bolivian border because:
– it was snowing and they were concerned I would not be able to return to San Pedro four days later
– my visa was different because I was a citizen of the United States
– the tour operator at Estrella Del Sur did not know that “USA” stood for “EE UU” and apparently special considerations were necessary for Bolivian immigration

Consequently, this is the only photo of Bolivia in this entire collection.

Bolivia Bus

Well, no.  I actually have another one. As I was lining up this photo, a young tourist inexplicably wandered right past me, walking right into frame, and pissed right next to this abandoned bus. I did what any other self-respecting photographer would do with camera in hand; I took the photo. However, I ended up using this photo because shortly after his pee break, the sun came out, making this a considerably more vibrant photo.


This was featured in the print version of the LA Times Travel Section Editor’s Choice photo on 28 August 2011!

Nikon D90 with my trusty 18-200mm lens.

Photo Link: Refocusing Photos After You Take Them!

What am I goin’ on about, you might ask?  Lytro has recently introduced a camera with an f/2 lens that they say captures the entire light field, allowing you to focus on parts of the image — AFTER you have taken the photo.

Have a look at some of the Lytro images here, all of which you may continually refocus:  https://www.lytro.com/living-pictures/282.

No Auto-Focus.  No delay.  Just point and shoot.

Right now, you can’t do too much editing, although I suspect this will change with subsequent versions.  It’s Mac only, although that too will change, according to Lytro.  Oh, and no, you can’t make *everything* in focus, although the Lytro site indicates they’re workin’ on it.

Lytros camera

It’s a little odd looking for a camera, but the technology is intriguing.

Sharing is not quite pointing and clicking with an iPhone and uploading it to Facebook.  Right now, the camera is not wireless.  But more than that, to share, you must upload photos to the Lytro website and share from there.  There’s a good reason for this. The Lytro camera uses a different photo format, necessary because the camera captures very different data from “traditional” cameras.  Lytro says, “The information is different because, while traditional cameras capture the intensity of the light, the sensor on our light field camera captures both the intensity and the direction of light.”  They further go on to say, ”You aren’t changing the captured light field data, but are instead changing parameters that control projection of those data to the sequence of 2-D images that you see. Thus, light field pictures are ‘living pictures,’ and they make different demands of a picture format than do traditional photographs.”

And yes, I know that Raytrix (Germany) had developed light field camera that does something similar, allowing you to refocus the photo after the fact as well.

Raytrix R11 light field camera
Raytrix R11 light field camera from Germany . According to their website, Raytrix cameras offer you a brand new enabling technology: digital cameras with 4D lightfield image-sensors. Using the new R11-camera you have full control in digital post processing of the perspective and focus setting of your pictures you have already taken. Also a 3D reconstruction of the original scene is possible. The 4D lightfield consists of all lightray intensities passing through our 3D space and not only one flat 2D image-projection. By recording this 4D lightfield with only a single shot, raytrix cameras store more information of the 3D scene compareable by taking many shots at the same time but from different point of views.

Future applications of this technology may someday forever change the way we share and experience photos, as well as have implications for other applications of photography, such as surveillance, security, perceived dimensionality in photographs, and even how we go about taking photos.  Will Lytro or Raytrix license their technology to other manufacturers?  How is this going to impact the kinds of photography we do?  How will it impact 3D cinema, gaming, or scientific research?

I mentioned that every once in a while, I will link to something of interest.  This is the first of many to come. 

Featured Photo: Abandoned Buildings – The Lunatic Is In the Hall

The Lunatic Is In the Hall
The Lunatic Is In the Hall. I was originally considering shooting the asylum in black and white to try and heighten the creep factor. But after seeing the vivid colors of the asylum, I knew I had to display the photos in color. Many of the rooms were different colors – green, blue, yellow, red, pink – and the light shining through the windows and out into the hallway was often quite beautiful.

The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, Weston, West Virginia.
I love wandering and photographing abandoned buildings and cities.  So many questions.  Why did people leave?  What makes hundreds or thousands of people leave a place?  What are the stories behind these places?

And the places themselves.  The decay of an abandoned building can be alluring, fascinating, even beautiful.

The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum had this going for it.  And more.  It was allegedly haunted, the ghosts of tormented inmates still roaming the halls.

Gaining admission to the lunatic asylum nowadays was decidedly easier than yesteryear.  Pay a ticket, take a tour.  But yesteryear’s admittance was far more interesting.  Back then, we e could have been admitted for imaginary female trouble.  Or superstition.  Or masturbation for 30 years.  Or perhaps doubt about mother’s ancestors.  Or even bad whiskey.

We took the tour.  I took photos since I couldn’t wander most of the 242,000 square feet of the asylum independently.  But I did lag.  The tour guide was quite relaxed about letting me lag, trusting that I would catch up.  And I always did.

A decaying doctor's residence on the premise of the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston, West Virginia

A decaying doctor’s residence on the premise of the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston, West Virginia, with some amazing textures from the peeling paint. Some of the doctors had special wings, where their wife and children would stay.  Can you imagine being a kid, living and growing up at an insane asylum?

Now, this is a photography blog, after all, so we can get to a little bit of the equipment used.  I would love to have wandered with a lightweight tripod, but we were on the go, and as it was, I was frequently running to catch up with the group.  So this is all used with a Nikon D90 and my trusty Nikkor 18-200mm VR all-purpose lens, what I call my “walkabout” lens.  It may not be the greatest lens, certainly not the fastest, but for sheer versatility, it’s hard to beat.  This was before I purchased my 50mm f/1.4 prime, a wonderful lens, although not as versatile, forcing you to move your feet much more.  I was so enamored with the natural lighting that I rarely if ever used my SB-600 speedlight (which was purchased with money that I received to photograph a wedding later on this same trip to West Virginia!).

You can see more of these photos here  on my Ken Lee Photography Facebook Page.  You may purchase this photo at my photo store.  And…you can view photos of my trip to West Virginia, including many photos of the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum as well as an Appalachian wedding.  Thank you so much for looking!

The haunted lunatic asylum operated from 1864 until 1994, and was abandoned for years until Joe Jordan purchased it in 2007 for $3 million, opening it up for tours to raise money for restoration. The rooms smelled, as decaying rooms left to neglect always do. While I wouldn’t want to conduct tours here, spending a couple of hours here was so fascinating that it didn’t matter. Still, I appreciated the fresh air after the tour was over.

Thanks!  -Ken



Photo Tip of the Month: How To Create Antique Photos With Sloppy Borders

Dia de los Muertos Doll Woman

Dia de los Muertos Doll Woman. This was shot with a Nikon D90 and 18-200mm VR lens. I then created an antique appearance with sloppy borders. Want to know how? Read on, my friend, read on!

There are some times when you want to create a timeless, vintage look.  I love the aesthetics and how it can create more emotion in a photograph.  I also love the whole idea of taking my time, getting a good strong sharp image with great lighting, and then completely screwing it up!!!

I’ve used this antique look for photos of Dia de los Muertos, pictured here and in the Featured Photo, and for photos of Civil War reenactments and postcards for assignment.  There’s several ways to do this, and some photo editing programs can do this for you automatically.  I’ll describe it using Photoshop CS4, but you can do this in other versions of Photoshop, Elements, or other photo editing programs.

But before you begin, you need to either scan or download some antique paper.  If you can’t scan the paper, you’ll need to do a Google search on “antique paper” or “old paper”.  You can put “Photoshop” or “texture” in your search if it helps, and then download it.  One source is ibackgroundz.com.

Now we’re ready to start screwing up your photo.  In Photoshop, open your photo.  We’re going to desaturate its color first.  I like using Image >  Adjustments > Black and White so I can control accentuate the black and white image further.  You can also simply use your Hue/Saturation function.

After this, I like to add a little bit of noise to the image.  While this step is not absolutely necessary, it adds a little more realism.  Go to Filter > Noise > Add Noise and add noise as you prefer.  I often add somewhere between 8-12 percent.  I also like to boost the contrast (Image > Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast) and sometime darken the photo.  This is because the act of adding the antique paper tends to lighten the image a bit, and as well, boosting the contrast allows your image to punch through the antique paper a bit more.  You’ll see.

Now, open your antique or old paper that you downloaded.  What I do is resize the paper to make sure that it matches the photo.  However, you don’t have to do this because Photoshop will resize it for you, although it will be “edited” and you might not get all the edge textures.  Select Control-A to select the entire antique paper image, then Control-C to copy it.  If you’re on a Mac, it’d be Command-A and then Command-C.  Click on your desaturated photo, and hit Control-V (Command-V) to paste your image on top.  Done!

But, oh wait….you can’t see your image anymore, just the paper!  No problem.  Go over to Layers Menu, which typically defaults to the right side of your monitor.  There’s a pulldown menu which will have defaulted to “Normal“.  Change that to “Overlay“.  You should be able to see both your image and the antique paper magically melded together.  Nice.  I almost always keep this as 100% opacity.  If I don’t like how it looks exactly, I’ll go and lighten or darken the image or alter the contrast.

I’m going to tell you the easy way to do sloppy borders first.  Pay for it.  Yes, pay for it.  The time you save is worth it.  I was doing this by hand for the longest time, but with the time involved, it’s just not worth it when you can pay $40 and have it done effortlessly and quickly.  Go to James Cook Photography and follow the directions for buying and installing.  What you are downloading is a script, which is a method of automating tasks in Photoshop, and a series of sloppy borders.  If this does not work for you, fret not, you can either find scripts for your photo editing program or do this by hand (more on this later).

And just as a disclaimer, I don’t know James Cook, I get no kickback from him, I am not dating his daughter, any of that.  I am simply mentioning this because it’s easy to install, works efficiently, looks great, is relatively cheap, and gives you numerous border options.  It works on CS2 through CS4, and there’s another one for CS5 as of this writing.

Using the James Cook Sloppy Borders is easy in Photoshop.  Go to File > Scripts > JcpSLOPPY.  This will produce a pop-up window.  Follow the easy directions.   I like “Sloppy Borders 2”.  The script automatically flattens your image.  If you don’t want that, go back through two layers of undo and the layers will reappear.  Bang.  Done.

This is the way I did sloppy borders before using the James Cook Photography script.  It’s time-consuming, but you have a lot of control over your image.  But first, you’ll either have to scan some sloppy borders or search around for one.  “Sloppy border image” are good keywords for your search.  If possible, look for ones in which the middle is transparent so it doesn’t affect the color of your image.  There’s a number of free ones available, and you may want to download several to try them out.  Deviant Art has some good ones that are PSD files that are transparent in the middle so you don’t have to create that yourself.  If that link doesn’t work, try Design Resource Box 

After you download the sloppy border image, open it in Photoshop.  You’ll probably need to resize it slightly larger than your desaturated image for this to work.  Select Control-A to select the the sloppy border image, then Control-C to copy it.  If you’re on a Mac, it’d be Command-A and then Command-C.  Then, click on your desaturated photo, and hit Control-V (Command-V) to paste the sloppy border on top.

Unless you’re extraordinarily lucky or good at guessing how large the sloppy border should be, you may have to resize your border several times.  Eventually, you’ll get a size that seems to work for the majority of your photos.  You can save this as a template if you wish.

When you paste border on top of your image, you may jiggle the border around.  You can do this by using the Move Tool, which is the icon with the four arrows criss-crossed like a cross on the left side, and adjusting the canvas size (Images > Canvas Size).  You can always crop later, but this gives you a little wiggle room if you need to adjust the sloppy border without it “disappearing” off the canvas.   Now it’s just a matter of massaging this until you like it.  When you’re satisfied, either save this as a PSD file (this is larger because you are saving all your layers, but you can go back later and adjust it more if you wish).  Or you can get rid of the layers by flattening (Layer > Flatten Image).  You can also Save For Web, which will automatically flatten it for you.

Obviously, you can make your photo look antique or have sloppy borders alone, not both.  But you’ve just gotten two tutorials for the price of one.  And considering that the price is free, you’ve really lucked out today.