Category Archives: PhotoBlog

Selected photos of mine, and how I created them.

Editing John’s Photo

Editing John's Photo
Copyright John Huson — Processed by Brian Auer — Used With Permission

The deadline for the “Edit John’s Photo” project is only a few days away, so if you’re planning on participating be sure to get your entry to me by the end of October 16th (that’s this Friday). I’ll be posting the final project results on the 19th as a thumbnail gallery linked out to the individual entries so everyone can explore the different takes on this photo. So far, we have 18 entries.

For my own entry, I didn’t do anything terribly difficult. I started off finding a crop that I liked. Then I processed the color image with ACR in a fairly mild manner with medium to low contrast, and pulled it into Photoshop. I opened the color image back up in ACR and converted to b/w, again with medium to low contrast, and again pulling it into Photoshop. I put the b/w layer on top of the color layer and set the blend mode to overlay at 100%. This got me close to what I wanted, but not quite. So I duplicated the b/w layer and set the blend mode to soft light.

What I was generally going for with the blends was a digital version of the bleach bypass process sometimes used in film photography/videography. A simple way to achieve bleach bypass with color negative film is to reduce the time in the bleach (hence the term bleach bypass) while carrying out the rest of the C41 process as normal. This leaves some of the silver in the emulsion along with the color dyes (the bleach strips the silver compounds that actually captured the latent image). So you end up with a color negative AND a black & white negative on the same emulsion. The result is a low saturation and high contrast image.

I have an exposed roll of medium format Ektar 100 I intend to do this with, but I haven’t had any luck getting it developed. Most C41 developers out there are push-button no-touchy, so they can’t just modify the bleaching step. If I ever find somebody with the right equipment (or just get my own C41 stuff), I’ll have to share the results from the roll and we can see how close the digital method comes to it.

Salton Sea Sunset

Brian Auer | 02/22/2009 | Salton Sea, CA | 10mm * f/5.6 * 1/350s * ISO200

This photo was taken over at Salton Sea on the way to the Sonny Bono Wildlife Refuge at the south end of the lake. The three dead oak trees in the photo are somewhat of an icon for the area, and I’ve seen many photos of them before. I just so happened to arrive at this location a few minutes prior to sunset and the clouds on display were quite amazing. Shooting with my wide angle lens gave me the opportunity to catch the great textures in the ground along with the clouds in the sky.

I took several shots from this location and perspective, but I liked this one the best. I think that the strong symmetry right at center frame works well for this photo, and the difference in scenery between top and bottom frame helps to break things up. Looking back now, I probably would have shot at f/8 rather than f/5.6 to get a little better DOF and sharpness. And a graduated ND filter would have produced a much more balanced exposure, resulting in higher quality shadows and highlights. But… too late now! Maybe next time.

Salton Sea Sunset Post-Processing

This image did fairly well on Flickr recently, probably because of the extreme colors presented. Above, you can see my workflow from start to finish. And below, you can read how I processed the image using Adobe Camera Raw (all of which can also be done with Lightroom). The reason for the crazy colors is because I was trying to reproduce a cross processed effect similar to that of Velvia 100 slide film. I don’t know that I made my goal, but I’m not too disappointed with the results of this one.

    A bit underexposed in the foreground, but I wanted to keep the highlights from completely blowing out. This is where a graduated ND filter would have helped out.
    Temperature = 6750; Tint = 0; Exposure = +.35; Recovery = 18; Fill Light = 48; Blacks = 12; Brightness = +65; Contrast = +80; Clarity = 0; Vibrance = 0; Saturation = 0; I warmed the photo up a little bit while also pulling out some of the shadows and pushing down the highlights. Basically, I tried to get the foreground in good shape without worrying about the sky (which is where this next step comes in).
    Since the sky was totally blown out from the previous settings, I needed to get things back to normal. I used a horizontal graduated filter with a -1 exposure just above the horizon. I also used a vertical graduated filter with a -.5 exposure to take the left side down a bit more. These filters allowed me to keep the foreground where I set it while pulling the sky back to a usable state.
    Highlights = -32; Lights = +40; Darks = -8; Shadows = 0; This was just a quick adjustment to the tones in order to get a bit more contrast out of the image while holding back those bright highlights.
    Highlight Saturation = 0; Shadow Hue = 30; Shadow Saturation = 80; Balance = -59; This is where most of the crazy colors come from. I pushed all of the shadows and midtones into a very red hue, which is what usually happens with the Velvia 100 when cross processed.
    HUE: Orange = +100; Yellow = +25; Green = -70; Blue = +30; SATURATION: Red = +100; Orange = -100; Blue = +50; Purple = +50; LUMINANCE: Orange = +15; Green = +40; Aqua = +20; EVERYTHING ELSE = 0; In this step, I toyed around with the colors a bit more to give me something other than pure red tones. Mostly, I wanted to get the portions of the sky to turn purple since that’s an effect I’ve seen with the xpro’d Velvia film. I also tamed down some of the orange and red in the water areas.

So there you go! If you have ACR or Lightroom, try out some of these settings and see what you can come up with. It’s always fun to experiment with these things.

In addition to the settings above, I applied sharpening and noise reduction as needed.

What Would You Do?

In the “PhotoBlog” section, I usually post an article about how I created a particular photo. But this time, I’d like to see how you might approach a particular scene. I want you to step into my shoes at the moment I shot the photo shown below, and tell me how you might have done things differently (or the same).

Name Forgotten

For this post, read through the stuff below and tell me how you might have taken the shot.

Let’s start with the location… Salton Sea, California. This is a strange place to new visitors, filled with an interesting mix of beauty and decay. I was at a location known as “Salvation Mountain” on the east side of the lake, a small distance from the water. It’s sort-of a “holy” destination, created by a few (mainly one) religious enthusiasts. I don’t know how I can explain any better than to point you to my set of Salvation Mountain photos.

For this particular scene and subject… random guy, playing the guitar, on the back of a broken-down and over-decorated truck. He was sort of on the sidelines of the main attractions at Salvation Mountain, not really trying to draw attention to himself — just keeping to his own business. But he, and his surroundings, interested me so I asked him for a portrait. He agreed and asked what he should do. I said “just keep doing what you’re doing and I’ll get the shot”. So there you go — you’ve got a willing participant posing for a portrait in an informal state.

Bible Bus

And the technical stuff… like equipment, lighting, etc. I was using a 1956 Minolta Autocord MXS — this is a fully manual TLR (square format Twin Lens Reflex) with no light meter, loaded with Ilford PanF+ film (ASA50). The fixed focal length is 75mm (but remember, this is medium format film), a maximum shutter speed of 1/400 seconds, and a maximum f-number of f/3.5. Oh, and the ambient light was mostly sunny, fading into somewhat overcast, but hard shadows existed. The sun was to the left of you (as you faced the subject) and it wasn’t too high in the sky (approaching sunset by about an hour or two).

Oh, and one last thing… you’re on shot 12 for this roll (the last shot), and the rest of your film is out of reach. You get one chance to make this work and you want to get a good portrait of this fella playing the guitar as he sits on the back of an old truck. Also envision yourself wanting to get the shot off quickly so you don’t lose the opportunity or frustrate the subject. The smaller photo shown here is a different perspective of the scene and subject.


… right down to the technical details of the camera settings, the crop, the perspective, and the timing. In particular, would you frame it the same way I did? I ask this because I know I committed a “guitarist portrait sin” by cutting off the head of the guitar. My friend Tasha brought this point up because she’s a very talented concert and musician photographer — and I’m glad she did, because I was waiting for somebody to call me out on it. But given the circumstances, I’m curious how others may have done it differently under the same conditions.


The technical stuff first — I shot the photo at 1/400 seconds and f/4 because it was slightly less than full sunshine. I wanted a shallow depth of field because he was sitting so close to the busy designs of the truck right behind him, so a the fastest shutter speed was a requirement in my mind. I also wanted to get as close to him as possible so that I could utilize that depth of field and blur the background a bit. This is where my dilemma began — get close to achieve the desired dof and background blur, or step back and get the desired framing. I knew that I couldn’t get both effectively. I did frame-up the shot to include the whole guitar, but I was far enough back that there would be no real separation between him and the background. I decided against this choice. Any closer and I’d cut out the guitar entirely — not really what I wanted either. What to do? I chose a middle ground and I cut off the head of the guitar. I was probably standing 6 or 8 feet from him when I took the shot. Maybe it wasn’t the best choice, but it was most reasonable decision I could make in a 10 second window.

So again, what would you do given the situation I outlined above? Would you take the same shot? Would you step back and include the whole guitar at the cost of blending the busy background with the main subject? Or would you step closer and throw the guitar out of the frame entirely while maximizing the background blur? And remember — you only have one shot with no crutches!

Opposites Attract

Opposites Attract

Phill Price | 02/07/2009 | London | 135mm * f/2 * 1/3200s * ISO100
[See the Project Details] [See it at Flickr]

This photo is a joint effort between myself and Phill Price. He’s running an “Edit My Photo” project (see details here) and I decided to jump in. Over the last year or two, several of these projects have been hosted by various photography bloggers, including myself. If you want to view the results of these projects (all three of which I also participated in) you can visit: Brian Auer, Rich Legg, and Ryan Goodman. I think it would be cool if another blogger picked up the project in a few months!

OK, so on with the photo… I really struggled with this one. The original image is a bit on the minimalist side of things, so it was hard to get creative at first. Not a ton of colors to tweak, strong simple shapes and lines — I ended up getting quite frustrated that I couldn’t come up with something more unique. So I dug a little deeper and for some reason I had the notion to do a faked-in double-exposure type of thing. Now, this isn’t something I typically do (actually, I don’t know that I’ve ever done it with my photos), so I fumbled around with it for a while until I got something that looked interesting to me. Read below for more on my post processing.

Opposites Attract

    So here’s what I started with.
    I tried all sorts of things in Adobe Camera Raw, but I ended up settling on a toned black and white version of the image. I was fairly happy with the photo at this point, but I wanted to experiment a bit more.
    After getting the idea to create a double exposure I had to choose a photo… what a painful experience that was. I landed on one of my cross processed film photos from Venice Beach shot with my Diana+. From there, I just transformed the layer to fit the layout I wanted, set the opacity to about 40% and the blend mode to Overlay.

And the title? It seemed suiting considering that the two images used were about as opposite as humanly possible. Phill’s was simple, clean, geometric, shot in London, and with a digital camera equipped with nice glass. Mine was busy, messy, organic (that’s a hemp bikini for crying out loud!), shot in California’s Venice Beach, and with a film camera equipped with a crappy plastic lens. But hey, they look good together!

Happy Holidays, 2008!

Brian Auer | 12/12/2008 | San Diego, CA | 75mm * f/5.6 * 1/400s * ASA50
[See the print scan at Flickr] [See the film scan at Flickr]

I just wanted to wish everybody a happy holiday this year! I hope you all get to take some time off, relax with friends and family, and do whatever it is you usually do over the winter holidays.

This is our family portrait for the 2008 holidays. I decided that I wanted to shoot it on medium format b/w film, so I loaded up the old Minolta Autocord TLR (vintage 1956) with some Ilford PanF Plus (ASA50). We decided to head up to the cliffs above Black’s Beach in order to get a nice backdrop. Rex freaked out the whole time because he was convinced that he would slide down the cliff at any moment.

One cool thing about this old camera is that it has a self-timer — about 15 seconds or so. I set it up on the tripod, focused on the wife and kids, set the exposure using the sunny 16 rule, and fired a few off. After developing the film myself, I went and bought a pack of 6″ x 4″ papers to print on.

Using my cheap-o Voss 75mm enlarger lens, I set it to f/8 and exposed the paper at 3 seconds with a #2 contrast filter. The photo you see above is a scan of the print. And I’m finding that my film scanner does a pretty good job at matching the darkroom prints.

So there you have it — in the height of the digital age, I managed to pull off a family portrait using completely analog techniques. Merry Christmas!

The Watchman

Brian Auer | 09/20/2008 | San Diego, CA | 20mm * f/5.6 * 1/160s * ISO200
[Purchase a Print] [See it at Flickr]

This photo was taken at a location very close to my home, and I’ve shot there many times. It’s a gliderport near Torrey Pines State Park, sitting atop a 300-foot sand cliff overlooking Black’s Beach. Just to the side of the gliderport, there’s an area where you can walk right up to the point of steep decsent. This scary little lifeguard station sits perched right near the edge.

I shot using my wide angle lens to capture the vast openness of the scenery. The lifeguard was unaware that I was taking a photo of him, so his pose is quite natural. The lighting really sucked because it was heavy overcast and the sun was setting, but it worked out just fine.

The Watchman Post-Processing

All of the post-processing on this photo was done with Adobe Camera Raw 5. The intent wasn’t to use extreme processing or fancy tricks to get an interesting outcome — it was only to make small adjustments where necessary to convey a true lifelike scene.

    Being very overcast and slightly dim, the original image doesn’t show much of the detail and color that was present in the scene.
  2. BASIC
    Temperature = 6050; Tint = +3; Exposure = 0; Fill Light = 10; Blacks = 8; Brightness = +24; Contrast = +50; Clarity = 0; Vibrance = +30; Saturation = +10;
    So I basically filled in some of the shadows, deepened the blacks, brightened up the whole image, added some contrast, and boosted the overall colors.
    Highlights = 0; Lights = +25; Darks = -10; Shadows = 0;
    Here, I’ve just added some contrast to the mid-tones while maintaining my extremes.
    Amount = 50; Radius = 1.5; Detail = 25; Masking = 0; Luminance = 35; Color = 25;
    These are pretty typical sharpening values that I use with my Sony a700, but I’ve bumped up the Luminance Noise Reduction a bit more than usual because I was seeing some junk up in the clouds and the water (blues suck for noise).
  5. HSL
    Aquas (Hue) = -30; Aquas (Saturation) = +15; Blues (Saturation) = +30; Aquas (Luminance) = +16; Blues (Luminance) = -5;
    This is where a lot of the magic happens with this photo. I love utilizing these controls in colorful scenes to pinpoint the look for each specific color. By lowering the Hue of the Aqua, it turned more green. Bumping up the saturation on Aqua and Blue made them stand out more. Boosting the luminance of the Aqua made it separate better from the rest of the water, as did lowering the luminance of the blues — and it gave the sky a better tone. I would have dropped the blues even further, but the noise really started to kick up.

So that’s it really — no Photoshop or local adjustments. Just a few small changes with the raw processor.

Keep Out: Sewage Contaminated Water

Sewage Contaminated Water

I’ve often seen the warning signs around San Diego County beaches that appear immediately after rainfall warning visitors to stay out of the water due to runoff contamination, but this sign was a first for me. The yellow signs on the bottom warn of sewage contaminated water that may cause illness — and it hadn’t rained in many months, so the contamination was coming from another source.

This particular beach is located within the Border Field State Park just south of the Tijuana river outlet and north of the Mexican Border. Where the sewage contamination comes from, I have no idea — possibly from the river? At any rate, it’s a shame that these huge stretches of beach south of Imperial Beach are completely unused except for a few curious visitors to the state park. Not to mention the harm that is likely being done to the animals inhabiting this area.

View Larger Map

This photo is part of an Environmental Awareness Photography Project. The deadline for this project is October 18, and I’d encourage everyone to consider participating.

Graffiti Artists

Graffiti Artists

Brian Auer | 03/08/2008 | Venice Beach, CA | 105mm * f/2.8 * 1/1000s * ISO200
[See it at Flickr]

I’ve been so tied up with film lately, so I wanted to take a look back at a digital photo that had quite a bit of post-processing done to it. This photo was taken at the graffiti walls in Venice Beach, California. I’ve always been attracted to graffiti as an art form, and being able to capture one of these artists at work was a treat. This area is designated for graffiti artists, so there’s no vandalism happening here.

Graffiti Artists Post-Processing

I wanted this image to really pop with color and intensity, while having an “edgy” look to enhance the mood. The photo was shot in RAW and processed entirely through the Adobe Camera Raw software (so no Photoshop). Here’s the process:

  1. Unprocessed RAW
    The RAW file looks pretty bad. It’s too cold, the contrast sucks, and the colors are dull.
  2. White Balance
    First things first, I corrected the white balance issue. The camera was set to “Auto WB”, but it made a really bad decision. So I bumped the temperature from 5500 to 7500 and the tint from +3 to +10 by setting the image to the “Shade” preset (since this was taken in the shade).
  3. Exposure
    I set the exposure to -.20, recovery to 36, fill light to 24, blacks to 17, brightness to +59, and contrast to +34. Not a huge change in the appearance of the photo, but it got my tones and histogram where I wanted them.
  4. Saturation
    I set the clarity to +85, vibrance to +33, and saturation to +11. Again, not a huge difference in the appearance of the photo, but these changes would be amplified in the next step.
  5. Curves
    I set the point curve to “strong contrast” and the values of the parametric curve as: highlights +32, lights +43, darks -49, and shadows -8. This really super-saturated the image and boosted the contrast way up. This wasn’t a linear one shot adjustment either — there was a lot of back and forth between the curves and the exposure/saturation values.
  6. Vignette
    I added some lens vignette with an amount of -75 and a midpoint of 60. This darkened the near and far edges while toning down the super-saturation — which helps to draw attention to the center portion of the photo.

This may be a bit extreme for your tastes, but I wanted to push the photo until it was alive with color.

It’s Lonely Out Here

It's Lonely Out Here

Brian Auer | 06/29/2008 | Huntington Beach, CA | 135mm * f/2.8 * 1/?s * ISO50
[Purchase Prints] [See it at Flickr]

This photo is quickly becoming one of my personal favorites — but we have yet to see if it stands the test of time. It was shot recently at Huntington Beach around the same time and location that my “Darkness Creeps In” photo was taken. Like that photo, this one was also taken on film — Ilford PanF Plus, which is rated at ISO 50. This was the first roll of PanF I’ve used, but the results remind me of the Ilford HP5. Nice smooth tones and gradients, and lower contrast than films like the Delta, XP2, or Neopan. I think it goes well with an old camera and glass, giving the photo more of an “old school” look and feel.


Shoot, develop, scan, upload. That’s one of the things I like about film — you can often get great looking and interesting results without post processing. It’s actually a relief sometimes when you don’t feel obligated to process a set of photos.

Darkness Creeps In

Darkness Creeps In

Brian Auer | 06/29/2008 | Huntington Beach, CA | 135mm * f/2.8 * 1/?s * ISO50
[Purchase Prints] [See it at Flickr]

This photo was taken while I was hanging out with a few friends one afternoon at Huntington Beach. It was kind of a last minute “whatcha doin this weekend” sort of thing. Bryan Villarin (F/B/T), Arnold (F/T), Jason Stone (F/B/T), John Watson (F/B/T), my son Rex (F), and I (F/B/T) were all there to grab some shots of the beach and pier while we waited for the sunset to see if anything exciting would happen (you can see them all in this Polaroid I took).

The Guys at Huntington Beach

Just as we were finishing up dinner, the sunset was approaching so we zoomed back over to the beach to grab some shots. I only had film cameras with me that day (4 of them), and I had been shooting black and white with my SLR and TLR. I still had about 10 shots on the roll in the SLR, so I finished that one off and quickly loaded a roll of Velvia 50 with the intent of cross processing. I got about half way through the roll before the sun was gone. If I had decided to swap out the roll in my TLR, I probably would have missed it altogether.

I took the Velvia with me solely for the purpose of shooting the sunset and cross processing it. I assumed that the Velvia 50 would turn out the same as the Velvia 100 when cross processed, so I was expecting to get some serious red/magenta shifts on the already red/orange sunset. Instead, I got a blue/green shift similar to what I’ve seen with Ektachrome. I’m not at all disappointed with the results… it’s just not what I had expected.

And on top of all that, I got this really neat photo that ended up with a heavy vignette/underexposure on the right side of the frame. Very cool results all around. This is one of the reasons I’m attracted to film — sometimes the results are completely unpredictable, but better than you had expected.


  1. Take exposed film out of camera
  2. Give film to camera store and say “Cross process, please. No prints and no cuts.”
  3. Go outside and take photos for 15 minutes
  4. Go back to the store and pick up film
  5. Take film home and scan
  6. Post photo on the Internet

Yup, seriously… no digital post processing other than maybe some dust removal. Sometimes I also adjust the white balance on my cross processed stuff to remove most of the color cast, but I left this one alone.