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Best of Sri Lanka 2010-2014

For today, it has been exactly four years since my trustworthy camera was ordered. After four years and almost 40,000 shots, I picked out the favorite pictures I have taken in Sri Lanka. We’ve come a long way. Hope you enjoy the pictures.

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Wattala

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Wattala

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Ratnapura

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Ratnapura

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Ratnapura

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Ratnapura

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Nuwara Eliya

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Sigiriya Rock Fortress

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Ratnapura

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Yala National Park

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Bundala National Park

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Bundala National Park

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Induruwa

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Water’s Edge

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Water’s Edge

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Ratnapura

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Bopath Falls

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Ratnapura

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Galle Fort

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Ratnapura

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Udawalawa National Park

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Ratnapura

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Ratnapura

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Ratnapura

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Dambulla Golden Temple

Sigiriya_2

Sigiri Frescoes

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Ratnapura

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Polonnaruwa

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Ratnapura

Polonnaruwa

Polonnaruwa

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Pasikuda

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Bundala National Park

Minneriya_2

Minneriya National Park

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Yala National Park

Pasikuda

Pasikuda

Gal Viharaya_1

Polonnaruwa Gal Viharaya

Dunhinda Falls

Dunhinda Falls

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Pasikuda

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Dambulla

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Yala National Park

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Water’s Edge

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Ratnapura

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Udawalawa National Park

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Bambarakanda Falls

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Near Dehena Falls

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Udawalawa National Park

Arugam Bay

Arugam Bay

Sigiriya

Sigirya

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Wattala

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Ratnapura

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Yala National Park

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I don’t remember where this is

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Galle Fort

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Galle Fort

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Salgala Monastery

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Weheragala National Park

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Salgala Monastery

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How to Create Panoramas Using Photoshop

Panoramas are fun and useful when you don’t have a super wide lens. Sometimes even a super wide lens isn’t capable of capturing the true glory of the scene that is in front of you. Making panoramas is actually a pretty easy straight forward process. Of course with most smart phones you just have to pan it and it will create a panorama for you. I still resort to my DSLR because I love my RAW files.

There are especially designed sophisticated robotic heads that will automatically take couple hundred pictures and create huge panoramas exceeding couple of gigapixels. What I’m describing here is the standard cheap method where you take seven, eight, or nine etc. pictures with your camera and stitching them together later. Due to a phenomenon called lens distortion, you can’t simply open the images in photoshop and overlap them. You have to automate the process. We’ll get to that later.

The Setup

All you actually need is a camera. However, a tripod is extremely useful. Orientation of the camera is something that is often overlooked when it comes to panoramas. Here’s the trick. If you are panning your camera horizontally, you want to have your camera in the vertical (portrait) position and vice versa. This way you capture more scenery. When you take pictures, make sure that you have at least 30% overlap between each two pictures. It is also advised that you switch your camera to manual focus in order to have the same focus throughout the panorama. Then you just click away!

The Workflow

I’m going to use 7 pictures I took recently for this demonstration and I’m using Adobe Bridge and Adobe Photoshop CS6. Once you import your pictures into Adobe Bridge, you can select them and open them using Adobe Camera RAW. Then you can do all the global adjustments on one picture and synchronize the changes with the others by selecting them and pressing “synchronize”. Enabling the lens profile corrections is always a good idea especially if you shot your pictures with a super wide lens due to high distortion. You may do local adjustments on specific pictures to remove and fix minor errors if there are any. Once you’re done with your adjustments, hit done.

Sync

Global adjustment using Camera RAW

Back in Bridge and while you still have your pictures selected, go to Tools > Photoshop > Photomerge. This will open up a dialog in photoshop. I keep all of the settings default. There is no need to turn on “Vignette Removal” if you enabled the lens profile correction earlier because it would have removed most if not all vignetting. Then hit “OK”. This is going to take some time depending on how many pictures you have and the speed of your computer. Let it run its course.

Photomerge

Photomerge dialog

Once it’s done, you will get this odd shaped panorama. You simply have to crop it into the shape you desire.

Photomerge_1

Odd shaped panorama

Crop

Crop it out

Don’t worry too much about the sky because that empty space can be easily filled using a filter. You can try to fill the other areas using the same method but it’s either a hit or a miss depending on how many objects you have close by. The more cluttered it is the more difficult to fill. However the sky is almost always spot on. Once you’re done cropping, create a new layer on top of all the other layers. While the new layer is selected, go to Image > Apply Image. This will copy all you see in your photoshop document into the new layer. You can then remove all the other layers if you’re sure you don’t need them anymore to speed up the process. Then using the magic wand tool, select the empty space. Then go to Edit > Fill (shortcut: Shift + F5). Make sure you have “content aware” selected which is the default and hit “OK” and see the magic happens.

Content Aware

Content aware filter

Then you’re basically done. It is always a good idea to zoom in and see where the images overlapped and where you used the content aware filter to see if there are any minor distortions. If there are any, you can almost always use the healing brush to fix them and if not, you can just go through your regular workflow to further enhance your newly made panorama.

Final

Final image before the regular workflow

There are obviously other software out there to create panoramas. Canon comes with a software called PhotoStitch. It almost looks like it was made for windows 95. I’m not kidding. Also, I find it weird that it does not support their own RAW files. It only supports JPEG, TIFF and several other formats. Furthermore, you can’t enter anything below 20mm as the focal length. I tried to create the same panorama with PhotoStitch but it spat out a horrible result which I’m ashamed to post here. At least they make damn good cameras. You may be able to find some good software to do the same job but I like to stick with Photoshop for the moment.

Arugam Bay

Final product

I hope you enjoyed this post and learned something new. Please consider sharing it if you think it’s useful. Thank you.

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Road Trip – Sri Lanka

A road trip around Sri Lanka was long overdue. Specially as a photographer, travelling is one of the best things in life. Last week I had the privilege of travelling around Sri Lanka with a bunch of wonderful companions. Even though I was born and raised here, there are still so many places I haven’t been to. It’s truly extraordinary to witness the sceneries described to us through grandmother’s tales, history books, and folklore colored by our own imagination since we were toddlers. Smell of the mountains, pine trees, and wet soil, the sound of the monsoon rain, the eastern wind, white golden beaches, palm trees, tuk tuks ruling the streets, bright smiles, old remains of castles, palaces, and temples telling a tale of a once glorious civilization, an occasional self appointed tour guide trying to rip you off, exotic wildlife, lush green forests, and a heck of a lot of inside jokes were the highlights of our journey.

Here’s an important traveler’s tip if you plan to visit Sri Lanka: Approach the regular locals if you are in need of help and ignore most who approach you.

I hope you enjoy these pictures as much as I did making them. 

Map

The map. We ended up traveling around 1100 kms in 8 days. Ratnapura > Kandy > Dambulla > Sigirya > Minneriya > Polonnaruwa > Pasikuda > Arugam Bay > Badulla > Bandarawela > Horton Plains > Ratnapura.

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Dambulla Golden Temple. f/11, ISO 100, 10mm, 10 sec

Dambulla

View from top of Dambulla. 8 Picture Panorama.

Dambulla_2

Teamwork – Dambulla. f/4.5, ISO 400, 112mm, 1/160 sec

Dambulla_1

Curiosity – Dambulla. f/4.0, ISO 800, 70mm, 1/250 sec

Sigiriya_3

Typical tourist shot – Sigiriya. f/11, ISO 100, 20mm, 1/60 sec

Sigiriya_2

Sigiriya Frescoes. f/4.5, ISO 800, 18mm, 1/100 sec

Sigiriya_1

Sigiriya. f/11, ISO 100, 10mm, 1/100 sec

Sigiriya

View from top of Sigiriya. 7 picture panorama.

Minneriya_2

Minneriya National Park. f/5.6, ISO 400, 70mm, 1/2500 sec

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Minneriya National Park. f/8.0, ISO 400, 22mm, 1/1600 sec

Minneriya

Minneriya National Park. f/8.0, ISO 400, 70mm, 1/1600 sec

Polonnaruwa_1

Polonnaruwa. f/11, ISO 400, 10mm, 1/400 sec

Polonnaruwa

Polonnaruwa. f/11, ISO 400, 10mm, 1/640 sec

Gal Viharaya_1

Polonnaruwa Gal Viharaya. f/11, ISO 400, 15mm, 1/100 sec

Gal Viharaya

Polonnaruwa Gal Viharaya. f/8.0, ISO 400, 22mm, 1/125 sec

Pasikuda_1

Pasikuda Beach. f/11, ISO 100, 10mm, 20 sec

Pasikuda

Pasikuda. f/5.6, ISO 400, 300mm, 1/3200 sec

milky way

Milky Way – Pasikuda Beach. 4 pictures stacked.

star trails

Star Trails – Pasikuda Beach. 98 pictures.

Arugam Bay

Arugam Bay. 7 picture panorama.

Dunhinda Falls

Dunhinda Falls – Badulla. f/11, ISO 100, 10mm, 15 sec

Horton Plains_1

Horton Plains National Park. f/8.0, ISO 400, 10mm, 1/1600 sec, -1EV

Horton Plains

Horton Plains National Park. f/8.0, ISO 400, 10mm, 1/250 sec

Baker's Falls

Baker’s Falls – Horton Plains National Park. Too many water droplets on my lens. f/11, ISO 100, 10mm, 15 sec

World's End

View from the mini world’s end – Horton Plains National Park. 8 picture panorama.

Leave Nothing but Footprints. Take Nothing but Memories (and pictures).

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How to Shoot Star Trails

The night sky can be a very interesting thing to photograph, provided that you have the patience to do so. I recently started photographing the night sky even though it has been cloudy for the most part here. A couple of people already asked me how it is done. So I decided to share what I know here. Please note that there is more than one way to do this.

What You Need

  • A camera with manual controls
  • Sturdy tripod
  • Shutter release cable
  • Preferably a fast wide lens
  • Clear sky
  • A lot of time

When and Where

It goes without saying that you need a clear night sky. It is better if it’s moonless night because it’s rather difficult to see stars with moonlight. It also helps a lot if you can move to an area where the light pollution is minimal. If you’re lucky, you might just be able to see the milky way (which is an awesome thing to photograph on its own).

Shooting

Set-up your camera on the tripod and compose it to your liking. Then switch to manual mode and turn your lens focus ring to infinity (maybe about a hair less than infinity). It’s always good to take a test shot first. Use the highest aperture of your lens (lowest f number), ISO 1600 or above if your camera is good with noise processing, 30 second exposures. It is important that you’re in the continuous mode. Once all the settings are dialed in, plug in your shutter release cable and lock it in the shoot position. Then it’s just a waiting game. If you don’t have a shutter release cable, a cheap solution is to use duct tape to press the camera shutter button. If it sounds stupid, but it works, it’s not stupid. The number of pictures you need depends on how long you want your trails to be. But generally you should shoot for at least more than 30 minutes to get reasonably sized trails. One important thing is that when we shoot landscapes we generally stop down the lens to f/8 or f/11 or so but when you shoot star trails, you need to have your lens wide open because you need to be able to collect as much light as possible. Even though the depth of field is going to be rather small, it is sufficient to contain your entire subject because the stars are so far away. If you have a big foreground, you may have to take several shots with the foreground focused so that you may combine them later in photoshop.

Post Processing

I use Adobe Bridge and Photoshop CS6 for almost all of my work. Import the pictures using Bridge, select them all and open them using Camera RAW. You can do all the global adjustments and sync the settings so that all of your pictures look uniform. When you’re done, do not click on “open images”. That would start opening all of your images in different tabs in Photoshop. Just click “Done” and it’ll save all of the changes you made. Once you’re back in Bridge, select all of your pictures again and go to Tools > Photoshop > Load Files into Photoshop Layers. This is going to take some time depending on how many images you have. All of your images will load into a single photoshop document. Select all of your layers except the bottom one and set the blending mode into “Lighten”.

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Setting the blending mode

You will immediately see the trails when you do this. If you have any unnecessary trails (air plane trails etc.), you can simply use a healing brush to remove them but you need to find the appropriate layer in order to do so. If they are visible, it might be a good idea to change the blending mode of the layers one by one instead of doing all of them at the same time because then you know exactly what layer contains what. This method is going to take a lot of time but like I mentioned before, you need to have the patience to shoot star trails. If your foreground is too light, you can use a layer mask to darken it. Once you’re happy with the result, you can flatten the image and go through your regular work flow. Noise reduction is almost always a must because you’re shooting at very high ISOs.

star trails

Canon Rebel T1i, EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-5.6 USM, Adobe Bridge, Photoshop CS6, 98 Pictures (my OCD sensors are tingling), 10mm, 30 Seconds, f/3.5, ISO 1600, Taken at Pasikuda (Sri Lanka).

End Notes

It is awesome if you have a full frame DSLR with a very fast wide lens but I shot mine with an entry level crop sensor DSLR and a relatively slow lens. So it’s not impossible. Full frame bodies are better at noise processing than crop bodies. So you can crank up the ISO without worrying too much about noise. 

There are two ways to shoot star trails. One is taking a lot of pictures and combine them later like I described. The other method is to take one long exposure shot. If you want to do that, set your shutter speed to bulb mode and let it go for as long as you want to. But if you do take multiple shots, you basically have everything you need to make a time lapse later. Plus you might be able to capture some milky way shots while you’re at it. I prefer to take multiple shots.

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Milky Way – 4 Pictures stacked, f/3.5, 30 Seconds, ISO 3200, 10mm

This is the first time lapse video I made and I have no experience what-so-ever when it comes to time lapse photography. I basically just used Lightroom to put the images together with no post processing. The reason why I put it here is to show you that it can be done. 

Hope you enjoyed this post and if you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer. Consider sharing this if you liked it. Thank you.