Steps of the Cathedral

Each time I’m in Barcelona, I roam the gothic section late into the night.

Steps of the Cathedral

Around the main cathedral, there are rich opportunities for taking people photos set against ancient architecture. Once I get going, the hours fly by, and before you know, it’s time to get back to the hotel and crash. Anyway, the lady sitting on the steps is just one example of the Barcelona vibe at night.

Savannah Reflections

Recently we purchased a trailer and begun traveling on weekends.

Savannah Reflections

After getting the hang of it, we went for a week and stayed here by the lake in the Creekside RV Resort in Savannah, Georgia. Having given up on traveling in the era of COVID, RV’ing seems like a good alternative. Suffice it to say; this was a nice place to hang out while maintaining proper social distancing.

AI Sky Replacement in Luminar

Lately, I’ve been using the AI Sky Replacement tool inside Skylum’s Luminar 4.

The idea behind it is to make a scene more engaging by enhancing the sky. It cleverly replaces an uninteresting sky for another of your choosing. Anyone whose done this manually in Photoshop knows it’s a tedious chore to get right.

An image of a harbor entrance light before sky replacement.
The same image after using Luminar’s AI Sky Replacement (click for full size)

Luminar provides several dozen sky images with the tool; all you have to do is try one out. If you don’t like it, try another and keep experimenting until you find one you like.  

In some scenarios, if it doesn’t recognize a sky in your image, the tool becomes disabled. For instance, if you take a picture of your foot, AI Sky Replacement is disabled. But if there is the sky in your image, it works more often than not. I’ve tried cases where I thought it wouldn’t work, and it does.

Here’s an example where Luminar correctly identified the sky through an arch. This surprised me as I thought the software would get confused, but the AI proved me wrong. The photo is of an Instagramer at the Abbey of Montserrat in Catalonia.

Also, there are sliders you can use to tweak the results, but it does the job with or without the sliders. As someone who spends a lot of time looking at details in images, it’s pretty good. 

I won’t go into the arguments of what’s real and what’s fake. I create a lot of images, and I always manipulate them one way or another. I consider photographs straight out of the camera raw material. It is with this resource that I apply post-processing techniques to get the look and tell the story I have in my mind. In that vein, I have no compunction about using software (AI or not) to edit photos. 

Over the years, I’ve taken many thousands of digital images that now sit in a Lightroom library. Less than one percent ever qualify for public consumption. Compositionally, most are just plain bad, but in a few cases, it’s because the sky is too flat.

I’ve started looking at some of these “reject” images with new eyes and asking myself, what if? What if it had a different sky and, perhaps, different lighting? Before I go on, let’s pause here because it’s the second part of this question that I find the most interesting. 

Not only does it (as the name suggests) replace the sky, but it intelligently relights the scene to match the light from the new sky.

Here’s a surreal image of a mountain lake in Oregon after adding a long exposure of the Florida sky? The lighting of the scene below the sky is a result of the AI software.

Think about that for a moment. If your scene was taken in midday, but the sky you’ve chosen as a replacement is from sunset, merely replacing one sky for another might create an unbelievable, if not odd, lighting contrast. As humans, we recognize subtle changes in light, even if we are not always aware of it. But combine a sunset sky with a noontime landscape, and we get a feeling that something is not quite right. 

This is where the AI shines through. Skylums’s software agent works at relighting the non-sky elements with subtle tones of the sky that you selected. If Luminar simply replaced the sky, that would be a cool thing indeed, but Skylum is building upon years of AI experience. They’ve created a machine that combines the expertise of masking (sky replacement) with the techniques of expert toning. That is, given a scene, figure out how to achieve a believable lighting scheme. Of course, the idea of “believability” is subjective, and it depends on your individual preferences. All things considered, it does a pretty good job in a fraction of the time that you could do manually. There are infinite combinations of skies and landscapes, and each result is entirely unique. You could make the argument that it’s not perfect, but then, what or who is? The goal of AI is not perfection, rather accomplishment of things that formerly, only humans could do. In that regard, it’s as good or better and way faster than most humans. 

While we’re on the subject of AI, I just finished Stuart Russell’s book, Human Compatible, Artificial Intelligence and the problem of control.

In it, he explains just how far and fast AI is advancing. Stuart draws the curtain back on the future of our civilization once AI is fully realized. And from the sounds of it, we are much closer to that than most of us wish to believe. I recommend picking it up if you are the least bit interested in what the future holds. 

Skylum’s Luminar is a fascinating tool, and it’s a little uncanny how well of a job it does. But as I’ve come to learn from Russell’s book, this is just the tip of the iceberg, everything is moving in this direction, and we’d all better get used to it. Children born today will never know a world without AI. Any doubts you may have are quickly dispelled the next time you look at your smartphone or ask Google a question. 

So back to the photos, I’ve included some examples of both extreme and subtle applications. In the most extreme case here, the lighting of the ENTIRE scene is changed from daylight to night, as determined by my selection of one of Luminar’s out-of-the-box night skies. I added some additional elements like the light in the lighthouse and some extra toning. But the majority of the scene lighting is done by AI. 

This is how the Oregon coastal scene appears straight out of the camera.
Here, the same image is toned automatically to match the starry sky. (Click for full resolution).

By now, I’ve used it in a lot of different scenarios, some extreme like the previous example, but more often, I use it in subtle ways. Examples of this are where I’m just adding a little bit of texture to a picture where the sky is only a minor background component, not necessarily to be noticed. Here are some examples of that. 

An example of the subtle use of sky replacement on a minor background component of an image
Another example of sky replacement as a minor element to an image.

There’s a lot to like with the combination of replacement and toning, but there’s one more thing that seals it, at least for me. Luminar supplies about thirty skies, from sunrise to the Milkyway galaxy, and everything in-between. So they basically give you enough of a selection for most situations. They also provide addition sky packs from accomplished photographers that you can purchase as plug-ins. But to be frank, I would prefer to use my own skies. And the one feature clinches the deal for me is that Luminar allows you to use your own skies. 

As it happens, I take way too many pictures of the sky. Whenever I’m out shooting landscapes, and I see beautiful clouds, I can’t help but take a picture. By itself, an image of the sky is not that interesting; pretty maybe, but as far as being a complete composition, generally not. 

It’s always been in the back of my mind that one day I’d do something with these images, and that time has come. All those skies I’ve collected can now be used in Luminar AI Sky Replacement. 

I’ve started selecting a few and preparing them for use in the tool. I have morning, daylight, sunrises, and sunsets. I don’t have many night skies, so, for the time being, I’m using nights supplied by Luminar, and truth be told, those are the most fun to try out.

Playing with Luminar’s night skies are perhaps the most fun of all. Here is the silhouette of Mt Tibidabo from Barcelona with one of the out-of-the-box skies supplied by Luminar.

But I’m more of a sunrise and sunset person, so that’s most of what I have. Here’s a snapshot of the ones I’ve prepared so far. 

A snapshot of some of the skies I’ve prepared to be used inside Luminar. Most are from Florida where I live and others are from around the globe.

With my old skies now ready, I’m going back over my archives and revisiting images. Luminar’s AI Sky Replacement is breathing new life into my library. Photos that would never make the cut are being reconsidered with some pleasant results. Anyway, if you’re into post-processing, give it a try. As for me, it’s become a permanent part of my kit. And, like it or not, this is a taste of the future, even as it is upon us now. 

Skyway All Lit Up

Crews recently finished working on the bridge. Only afterward did I realize what they were up to.

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The Sunshine Skyway Bridge over the opening to Tampa Bay

I photographed this from the adjacent south fishing pier. I was here early on a Sunday morning hanging out with some fishermen while I took a bunch of photos.

The colors are always changing, so I’ll probably post another one with a different color. I used Skylum’s Luminar 4 to process this. As part of that, I used the new AI sky replacement tool to add stars. Typically there’s too much light pollution to see the sky in all it’s glory. But in the days of AI, that’s no longer a problem, at least concerning post-processing.

Big Hunting Creek

It goes without saying, Big Hunting Creek is big with hunters. However, the only thing I was hunting for was a waterfall.

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Big Hunting Creek

In fact, I was looking for Cunningham Falls State Park. As it turned out, it’s just up the creek, which I eventually got to, without a paddle.

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This is a long exposure that I made using a tripod and an aperture of F-22. It’s a good thing it wasn’t windy; otherwise, the leaves would have come out blurry. Scenes like this are gratifying for me, and exactly why I love photography in the first place.

Night Scenes from Lloret de Mar

Here are a few scenes from Lloret de Mar. One of my favorite things to do is walk around and take photos of night scenes. I guess you could call it a type of street photography.

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Lloret de Mar Night Scenes 3

I like capturing people enjoying themselves in cafes. I also love leading lines, and so I look for people walking down alleyways illuminated with overhead lights.

Lloret de Mar Night Scenes 4

These are all from our first night in Spain after landing in Barcelona. Of course, we were tired after the redeye flight. But, because our body clocks were 6 hours earlier, we felt fine. So we walked along the streets and shops, stopping for dessert and coffee.

Spanish Nights

Nevermind it was the end of summer, it was warm, and the cafes were full of people talking and enjoying themselves. It was a happy experience.

Lloret de Mar Night Scenes 1

Anyway, this type of photography wouldn’t be the same without people in it. I enjoy being in places where people are relaxed and having fun milling about, socializing with friends and family. These photos try to capture some of that.

Lloret de Mar Night Scenes 2

Forest Carpet

I took this a couple of weeks ago on a walk through the forest. Autumn came late this year, and only about half the trees had changed colors.

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Forest Carpet
The forest floor on an autumn day in Annapolis, MD – click on image to see full resolution

It’s pretty cool how the forest floor is carpeted with leaves while the afternoon sun shines through the trees. It was an amazing walk, and I was so happy to be in Maryland, which has all kinds of forest trails like this.

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To get this photo, I held the camera close to the forest floor and used a small aperture; that way, both the foreground and the background are in focus. That same aperture setting is what causes the sun to give off the starburst-like rays.

Siesta at La Bodeguita

Every afternoon at two, most French businesses close for a siesta. What that means for clueless foreigners like me is, no lunch.

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Siesta at La Bodeguita

The siesta, for me, has always been an abstract concept. However, now, I have first-hand experience. As we walked around French villages, we needed to be mindful of this custom. The best rule is to get up early, get out, and stop for lunch at a reasonable time. But getting up early doesn’t always work out when you’re on vacation, so thoughts of lunch get pushed out as well.

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On more than one occasion, we’d see an enchanting little place like this, and think to stop for a taste of local cuisine: not during siesta. It’s the law, and if you think you’re going to starve, then pack a snack.

Tibidabo in the Fog

On the day I drove up to Tibidabo, it was raining and foggy and cloudy and, generally, a great day for photography.

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Tibidabo In The Fog

Even though I had a GPS, I passed it several times; the fog was so thick you couldn’t see more than a hundred feet.

Tibidabo In The Fog

Anyway, when I got here, I walked around, literally in the clouds. Tibidabo is a popular attraction on top of a mountain, but there were only a handful of people here; I think there were more employees than visitors.

Tibidabo In The Fog

I could see some of the attractions but not altogether. It was hard to get s sense of the place, I had to piece it together in my mind. I would walk up upon each attraction and have more of the puzzle. As I walked around, I felt like a ghost.

Tibidabo In The Fog

It made for a fun excursion, but it mirrored the oddity of the park itself. It felt like being in some strange dreamlike universe where things were not as they are in the waking world.

Tibidabo In The Fog

If the weather isn’t right, it usually means there could be some interesting photos, and that’s why I went. I’m glad I did; had I gone when it was sunny, it would have been a lot of people, and I think it would have been a much more mundane experience.

Tibidabo In The Fog

Forest Highlights

It’s a late fall in Maryland and walking through the forest; there are only smatterings of color here and there.

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Forest Highlights
A smattering of colors in a Maryland grove

I expected the deciduous groves to be rich in autumn hues, but it’s mostly green. But here and there, one tree has broken from the crowd.

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To be sure, there are areas within an hour’s drive of Annapolis that are more colorful. Walking through a nature trail is reward enough. And when I do see a flash of color, all the better.