The Digital Photo Guy

Score! in Bishop

by on Dec.22, 2013, under Composition, Lightroom, Monday Morning Tips, Photo Editing

Small Town Service at It’s Best

If you read the last two posts, you know we started this year’s Eastern Sierras trip with a broken right rear turn signal on our toad (towed vehicle.) Towing without turn signals and brake lights is both dangerous and illegal. I knew the part I needed but no one seemed to know what I was talking about. We stopped at several stores on the way with no luck. Here’s Arbey (RV, get it?) and R2 (toad) at Tuttle Creek BLM campground overlooking Owens Lake.

Arbey & R2

In Bishop, I stopped at a local trailer shop. The owner gave me one to take back to the RV to see if it worked. If it did, he said, “Come back tomorrow and pay for it.” I was flabbergasted but took him up on the offer. Back at the RV, I scoured the Web to learn how that adapter worked and decided it was wrong for my needs. The next day, when I returned it, he pointed me to a local U-Haul dealer who also worked on RVs. BINGO! That was the key.

The owner of the U-Haul dealer, a bushy bearded gentleman with the demeanor of a crotchety curmudgeon but who turned out to be the nicest guy, knew exactly what I needed before I finished explaining my dilemma. For less than $30, I was set. Upon returning to the RV, it took less than 30 minutes to install the part and “voila” all was well with brake & tail lights! The whole episode made me feel so warm and fuzzy that I went back the next day and bought another $100 worth of RV accessories I’d been putting off.

In a small RV like ours (24 ft) we need to hook up every 4-5 days to take on fresh water and dump our waste water tanks. This year we tried the Tri-County Fairgrounds in Bishop. At $25/day for full hookups (electric, water, sewer) plus the best, cleanest bathrooms and showers I’ve ever seen in an RV park, this place is a bargain. From the fairgrounds, we scouted the Bishop area for photo ops but didn’t find much. Despondent over my lack of good photos up to this point, we headed to Lone Pine and Alabama Hills. By now, I was beginning to feel tired and had a scratchy throat. By the time we got home, I had a full-blown cold and sinus infection so I didn’t immediately review my photos. When I finally got around to it, I was appalled at the lack of creativity and composition.

In the process of setting up my new laptop I came across several Topaz Labs plug-ins that I had tried over the years. Since I had nothing to lose, I played around with several photos in Topaz Labs Adjust and Simplify. Here are the results. Let me know what you think.

Bishop-1   Bishop-3   Bishop-4

TL_BW@-2   TL_BW@-1   TL_BW@-3

All were done in TL (Topaz Labs) Adjust and Simplify but I don’t recall which was which. Also, don’t ask what I did because I don’t recall. The artistic term for my technique is “futzing around.” I just wanted to make each look like a painting. All started with some version of “Painterly effects.” I tried to make the first one (Grand Army of the Republic Highway) look like an oil or acrylic but, to me, all three look like watercolors.

The next two are well outside my comfort zone. The last image is where I started, an uninspiring photo of arches at the Gunga Din movie location in the Alabama Hills. If you look carefully, you can see 3 or 4 combined arches near the top middle. IF I hadn’t been feeling like something the dog threw up, I would have changed lenses and waited for the sun to better illuminate the scene. IF I had felt better, I would have climbed up for a better look. IF a frog had wings, it wouldn’t bump its butt every time it jumped.

My first inclination was to convert this to black & white but a lousy photo is a lousy photo regardless of whether it’s color or B&W. While futzing around in TL Simplify 4 I came across a preset titled Colored Pencil Light on Black. Using that as a starting point, I played around until I got to the first version which I titled Neon Rocks. Playing around some more, I found a Transparency control. Increasing that gave me the second version which I haven’t yet titled.

Both versions still need work. For example, I automatically included a bit of the sky in the upper left corner but that’s totally superfluous in these TL versions so I need to crop that out. Please note, I am not claiming these are “real” photos any more than I claim my HDR efforts to be photos although restrained HDR is actually closer to a real photo than SOOC (straight out of camera) since it tries to emulate the wider dynamic range of the human eye. In fact, what we call “photographs” are nothing more than a sliver of what our eyes actually see and must always be interpreted in some manner.

Protecting Yourself from Internet Creeps

Have you ever searched for something on the web and soon noticed ads for that exact or similar products/services popping up on all your other sites? For example, if you search for Termidor, a termite eradication chemical, you’ll suddenly be bombarded with ads for termite services or other termite chemicals when you visit a news site or Amazon or Yahoo. Search for tires and suddenly, you’ll see ads for Big O, Bridgestone, Sears, Tire Rack and Discount Tires including a bunch of stores located 3000 miles away. If you find that a bit creepy, have I got a tip for you!

Install Tunnel Bear, a VPN (virtual private network) that keeps sites from knowing anything about your web surfing preferences. The basic service is free for up to 500MB of data. Depending on how much you use the Internet, that may or may not be enough for you. Since I practically live on the WWW, I ran through 500MB in about 2 days. In two days, I was so impressed with TB that I paid US$5.00 for a one month trial that allows unlimited bandwidth. If all goes well, in January 2014, I’ll upgrade to an annual subscription for $50.

The only downside is that your connections may be delayed by 1/2 to 2 seconds because your requests now go through TB servers to first be stripped of all personal information. On the flip side, when the site serves a page (displays it on your screen,) it first goes to TB so the site has no idea who requested it. A really cool advantage is when surfing limited view sites that cut you off at a preset number of views. For example, I read the Washington Post (a long-haired, hippie-type, commie, junkie, pinko-sympathizing liberal lame stream media site.) WaPo limits non-subscribers to 20 articles per month. Using TB, WaPo has no idea who is reading their site so I get unlimited access as long as I also disable cookies. A tip of the fedora to my smart, long-suffering wife, Mary for this idea.


3 Comments for this entry

  • Dick Schroeder

    Thanks Lee, I’ll have a look at the refurbs. Didn’t even know about them.

  • Dick Schroeder

    Hi Lee, enjoyed the humor in you RV tales. Also enjoyed the photos or sorta photos. Like 2 & 3 the best & they do look like watercolors.
    I’m shopping for a new computer myself, what did you get?

    • Lee

      Thanks Dick,
      Yeah, I think 2 & 3 came out closest to what I had in mind. I especially liked 2 because, compositionally, it’s a technique I learned years ago that includes a foreground element to anchor the image and a background but no mid-ground element to focus our attention. It doesn’t always work but I think it did for this image.

      I bought a refurb HP Envy DV7 with an Intel i7 CPU, 8GB RAM, dual HDD bays, 1TB HDD and a 17.3 inch screen that sucks for photo editing but that’s no big deal because I edit on an external monitor anyway. If you buy from places like, their refurbs are usually just overstocks. They’re exactly the same as new except they come in a brown box without all the useless gee-gaws. Of course, there’s always a first time for problems. My first unit came with a cracked screen but they immediately issued a refund so I only lost out on the return postage. The PITA was that was their last one so I bought from another outfit whose name escapes me at the moment. At this point in laptop evolution, I believe all L/Ts come out of one gigantic Chinese factory and each company simply slaps on their logo.

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