Marion Owen Alaska

Ansel and the Snowflake

It was 8 PM and I’d been trying to photograph snowflakes all day. But try as I might, the wind was howling and I could only “harvest” bits and pieces blown off the roof.

Read More

My favorite smartphone photo apps for travel

Florida Everglades by bike -- fat tire!
Bike riding, fat tire style, in the Florida Everglades.

Every winter, Marty and I exit Alaska in search of new hiking trails and a Vitamin D fix. This year was different. First, we traveled by land-yacht (RV), and second, I vowed to play with my iPhone’s photo apps. How did it go? Well, I perfected the art of grilling a PB&J sandwich in a one-fanny kitchen. And I dove into photography with Crayon-like enthusiasm–all helpful stuff for when you hit the road with a frying pan and a smartphone. I’ll show you what I mean…

An evening with giant cauliflowers

On a late afternoon in February, we drove into Joshua Tree National Park, a natural and geological stunner of a desert landscape. Heaps of boulders and cliffs rose from the high desert floor, parched from a 4-year drought. A dusting of snow, a ranger told us at the entrance gate, brought some relief in December. “But we could use more. You gotta love those Joshua trees, though. They just keep hanging on.”
Sunset was 30 minutes away, so while Marty managed the winding, 2-lane road, I searched the landscape for curvy horizons and shapely Joshua trees. “Let’s pull over by this grove,” I said. “Wow, they look like giant cauliflowers.”
I perched my tripod near a tree that felt grandfather-ish. (Joshua trees don’t have normal tree rings, so I guessed 100 years). It was the “blue hour”, a special time of day when the colors of sunrise and sunset share the sky with the blue dome of midday. I took a series of photos with my Big Camera and then pulled out my iPhone.
Here are the before and after shots, followed by the two basic steps to get there:

Before and after image using snapseed and Perfect Image app. photo tips, photography tips, photo apps, Instagram, Joshua Tree National Park, Arizona, National Parks
The left photo is the original image. Great potential here. After working with it in Snapseed, I looked at the dark base and thought, “What a fun place to put some text.”

Step 1: The Snapseed app

I began by processing the original photo (left) in Snapseed to saturate color and adjust contrast. Let me pause for a moment to say something about contrast: Even a little adjustment goes a long way.

Increasing the contrast of your photos is one of the most important steps before posting your images online.

There are an astounding 2.5 million apps but Snapseed (free) is one of the most popular photo editing apps available for iPhone and Android, offers a variety of powerful photo-correction tools and filters. To learn how to use the different features of this app, Google has an excellent Snapseed Help Center.
Below is the opening page of Snapseed as it appears on your iPhone or Android screen. The left side shows some of the photo editing options, the right side, a sample image before replacing it with your own.

Snapseed, app, photo editing, Nik, Google, android, iphone, photo app
The Snapseed home page showing some of the processing filter options.

After making adjustments in Snapseed, I saved the photo in my iPhone’s Photo Library. I could have stopped there, but I thought a mini-poster (with text) would  be fun to share on my Marion_Owen_Photography Instagram page.

Step 2: The Perfect Image app

Perfect Image, photo app, iTunes, photo processing, iPhone, Marion OwenTo create my mini-poster, I wanted to add text on top of, and below, the image.  So I re-opened the picture in another powerful app called Perfect Image, a free app available through iTunes. With it, you can add a gzillion special effects with ease.
One of the best things about these two apps is that they are non-destructive, which means when you save your picture after applying the effects you like, a new copy is made, leaving your original untouched. Another thing: you can share your masterpiece photo instantly on Facebook, Instagram, via e-mail, or messaging.

Black and white photos rock!

There’s no art more exquisite than a well-done black and white image. They sing with texture and tone in ways that color images can only dream of. As a former darkroom junkie, what can I say?
So take a look at these two examples. Both were processed in Snapseed in another 2-step process: First, I enhanced the clouds a bit to make them pop as if I used a polarizing filter. You can see the results in the left photo. Then I selected the Black and White filter, lightened the shadows a little and created the photo you see at right. Which one do you like best?

snapseed, polarizer, polarizing filter, photo tips, photography tips, photo apps, Instagram, Joshua Tree National Park, Arizona
See how changing the color image to black and white makes the clouds and textures in the rocks really pop?

Camels on Route 66?

RV-ing the right way means being flexible and open to surprises. Take Kingman, Arizona, for example. Straddling Route 66 (off Highway 40) in the western part of the state, Kingman is part tourist trap and part legit stopover. Back in 1859 though, Kingman was the twinkle in Lt. Edward Beale’s eye. While in the service of the U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers, he was charged with two tasks: Survey for a wagon trail and test the feasibility of using camels as pack animals in the desert. Beale’s wagon trail eventually became a road and part of Route 66…
We arrived in Kingman on a sunny weekday, pulled into a local park and piled out of the RV to stretch our legs. Marty was craving Italian, so he took off in search of restaurant while I roamed around looking for potential sunrise shots. The next morning, I got up at 5 AM and drove to Mr. D’s Route 66 Diner. Some of the staff had just arrived and turned on the lights. Perfect.
Here’s another example of using Snapseed and Perfect Image together:IMG_5542-route66-poster

I created a border and saturated the color using the HDR (High Dynamic Range) filter in Snapseed and then added the retro, “Get Your Kicks” in Perfect Image and placed it at the bottom. I really like the playfulness of the final photo.

In conclusion: Sharing what I learned

Firstly, cooking in a compact space was an easy adjustment for me, since every summer I prepare gourmet dinners for small groups aboard our 40-foot yacht in Kodiak, Alaska.
As for taking pictures, I said at the beginning that I dove into photography during this trip with Crayon-like enthusiasm. You see, I’ve faithfully used 35mm Canon gear for my professional work since the mid-1970s. But lately I sensed a subtle lack of fizz toward my photography, an art form  I’ve enjoyed since my parents gave me a Kodiak Brownie camera when I was eight. But hey, I don’t blame it on the lack of inspiring subjects though. I love to just get out and look (I can find cool stuff in a spruce forest or a junk yard).
Using the iPhone and experimenting with Snapseed and Perfect Image taught me something. No, more than that…it helped me out. I started using my Canon gear with a lighter step, a refreshed attitude. Isn’t that one of the reasons to hit the road?
Thanks for visiting. I’d love to hear about your adventures on the road.
IMG_4633-Florida-orange

Read More

Up a creek without a camera

When I grabbed my camera bag and headed out the door, I had no particular agenda in mind. The sky was still peppered with stars and faint outlines of clouds meant the sunrise had potential. So did the day, as I soon learned.marion_owen_photography.

Read More

Snowflakes: Pretty in Pink

Snowflake, snow crystal, winter, ice, Alaska, Kodiak, photograph, macro, microscope
Photograph of a real snowflake, taken in Kodiak, Alaska by Marion Owen. (Canon EOS 5D Mark II, ISO 100 1/4 sec)

Keys in hand, grocery list in my pocket, I head to the door for a round of errands.
While slipping on my gloves, I glance out the office window just long enough to watch several snowflakes make their way earthward. Finally, snow! I tossed the keys on the desk and scoot outside. Grabbing the black, 3-ring binder sitting on the barbecue, I hold it out at arm’s length like a beggar. One, two, three… the clear, individual snow crystals follow an air current down to the black plastic, and then touch down, oh so gently, like Apollo 11 landing on the surface of the moon. Magic fills the air as I prepare for what turns out to be 10-hour session of photographing snowflakes.
For five long days I had waited for snow. Outside, my camera-microscope waited by the barbeque, balanced on two milk crates in the wood shed. The weathermen teased me with forecasts of snow and single-digit temperatures, ideal snowflake conditions.
Snowflake, snow crystal, winter, ice, snow, photograph, macro, Kodiak, Alaska, cold
Photograph of a simple stellar dendrite snow crystal, by Marion Owen, Kodiak, Alaska (Canon EOS 5D Mark II, ISO 100 1/4 sec)

One after another the snowflakes come: Stellar dendrites, sectored plates, needles, double-plates, split plates, and snowflakes that look like cartoon characters. I work without gloves to allow for easy handling of the camera controls. But first I have to capture the snowflakes…
This is done by lifting a snow crystal off the notebook with the tip of a small paintbrush and transferring it to a glass microscope slide. While holding my breath I quickly focus and press the shutter release cable.
After 20+ years of practicing the art of snowflake photography, I still have a lot to learn. Lighting, for example, is very critical to illuminate an otherwise clear object. But I’ve picked up a few interesting factoids along the way. Like this one: Did you know that it takes only 15 minutes from the time the snow crystal begins to form around a tiny particle of dust (like a pearl around a grain of sand) to the moment it lands on my black notebook?
And that there are skinny snowflakes and fat snowflakes? Snowflake triangles and 12-sided snowflakes?
Snowflake, snow crystal, winter, ice, snow, photograph, macro, Kodiak, Alaska
Photograph of a stellar dendrite snow crystal, by Marion Owen, Kodiak, Alaska (Canon EOS 5D Mark II, ISO 100 1/5 sec)

I suppose it’s easy to overanalyze snow crystals, how they form, what controls their shape and so on. Believe me, my mind craves to go there. But I’m reminded of a quote I read the other day, which helped me let go of the restlessness.

“One who mentally dissects and analyzes the botanical properties of a flower misses a full appreciation of its beauty. But one who focuses on how beautiful that flower is, allowing one’s intuitive feelings to respond to its pure essence, enjoys fully its loveliness.” — Paramahansa Yogananda

I hope you have a wonderful week. Thanks for stopping by. I’m finally off to do those errands I talked about at the beginning which includes mailing my seed orders for this year’s gardening season. Ah, the garden. That’s another story…
You can also find me on Facebook at Marion Owen Photography.

Read More