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Images from the End of the Earth: Behind the Scenes of Landon Curt Noll’s Antarctic Adventures

Having been afflicted with a chronic case of wanderlust for as long as I can remember, I was instantly hooked when one particularly interesting story ran across my desk a few months back: the story of Landon Curt Noll and his trips to Antarctica, where he searches for and studies meteorites. Though he’s a Cryptographer and Number Theorist by day, Landon travelled as the Expedition Scientist on TravelQuest International’s Expedition to Antarctica in January 2014. Landon and his team were the first people to tweet (@astronomytravel) while standing at the South Pole, which required the use of an Iridium satellite phone because of their remote location. They were also able to take some stunning images, capturing a small percentage of the South Pole’s many wonders. Since this chilly tundra is not your typical photo destination, I reached out to Landon and his photo-processing partner in crime, JC Dill, to share more of their story.

Antarctica is the widest continent on Earth. Strong winds flowing over the Ellsworth Mountains form lenticular clouds with amazing shapes.

Antarctica is the widest continent on Earth. Strong winds flowing over the Ellsworth Mountains form lenticular clouds with amazing shapes.

Tell us a little about yourself, including why you’re interested in photography.

Landon: The first complete sentence I spoke as a child of age 2 was, “How far is the Sun?” I remain an Astronomer to this day, focused on the inner solar system. I have made astronomical observations during total solar eclipses in the US, Turkey, Zambia, Australia, Antarctica, Libya, China, Eniwetok, French Polynesia, Australia and Antarctica – my first when I was just 10. While the totality lasts for only a few minutes, the journey is about visiting, learning about, and photographing the people and places along the way.

So what exactly are you doing at the South Pole?

Landon: Our research involves testing methods to search for meteorites resting just below the surface of the Antarctic ice. In the pure ice conditions of the interior, these Antarctic meteorites provide a rare uncontaminated view of material from outer space: uncontaminated by human contact or weathering from earth elements. Not only do we test methods for detecting meteorites below the surface of the ice, we actually find them! (15 in total from the 2011, 2013 and 2014 expeditions.)

One objective of the TravelQuest Antarctica expedition was to locate meteorites (objects from outer space that survive impact) resting just below the surface of the ice.

One objective of the TravelQuest Antarctica expedition was to locate meteorites (objects from outer space that survive impact) resting just below the surface of the ice.

What are some difficulties about photographing in Antarctica?

Landon: A lot of things, actually. The cold makes battery management problematic. Complex mechanical zoom lenses can fail. Point and shoot pocket cameras have a surprisingly high failure rate as their electro-mechanical functions jam, like when you turn on and extend a telephoto lens. Large body SLRs with large internal batteries seem to work best. With the nearest camera store on the next continent, taking a spare camera is a must.

Special care must be taken to avoid condensation and freezing of your camera gear. When moving from the cold outside into a vehicle, tent, or commissary, you have to place the camera into a breathable bag, leaving it inside until the camera is warm to the touch.

Ice dust is a constant problem. At those very low temperatures, fine ice particles act like dust. Unlike normal dust, ice dust can convert to water vapor, work its way through seals and deposit itself inside the camera. Ice dust on a sensor is particularly problematic.

Antarctica is under the ozone hole. Together with high altitude, UV radiation is a problem for eyes, skin and cameras. High quality UV filters are important. Without a UV filter, the bright UV will impact the quality of the image. To protect the eyes, one needs to use strong polarized goggles over dark sunglasses, and since most camera back displays are also polarized, unless you rotate the camera just the right way, you won’t see the image displayed very well. Due to problems with viewing camera back displays with polarized goggles and dark glasses, we opted for SLR cameras with optical viewfinders.

One of the most interesting things about photographing in Antarctica is deciding when to sleep and how to make sure you capture certain features when the light is coming from the direction you desire. Because the sun is up 24 hours a day, it traverses 360 degrees every day. You have the special opportunity to get light from any compass direction.

Meteorites found in Antarctic ice are in a pristine state; free from the common contamination that they suffer when they land almost any other place on Earth. Once located in the ice, we carefully scrape down to the meteorite and photograph from a safe distance to avoid contaminating them.

Meteorites found in Antarctic ice are in a pristine state; free from the common contamination that they suffer when they land almost any other place on Earth. Once located in the ice, we carefully scrape down to the meteorite and photograph from a safe distance to avoid contaminating them.

So Landon takes the photos, then JC processes them. Is that right?

JC: When Landon travels, he’s on the road for weeks at a time and comes home with thousands of images. I couldn’t begin to handle the workload without Lightroom.

This first pass is quick, I may have one to three thousand photos to evaluate and I need to quickly whittle down to the ones that will get edited. During the second pass, I concentrate on photos with three or more stars, and then I start to edit the images themselves – adjust exposure, batch process with similar photos in the same light, then crop and up-star the ones that stand out. Landon will make a pass through and indicate the two-star photos that help tell the story, but may not necessarily be exceptional photographs.

Lastly, we go to work with the detailed editing, which mostly includes using the tool available in Lightroom to show/enhance dust. Somehow the cameras manage to accumulate dust inside even when they are not opened during a trip. Taking cleaning tools and cleaning the sensor is problematic for a number of reasons, so it is not done on ice. This means that I have substantial dust spot editing to do to get those spots out of the snow and sky.

Big thanks to Landon and JC for answering our questions. We hope you enjoyed getting a glimpse into what it’s like to photograph in one of the most challenging environments on Earth. More of the team’s images can be seen below.

And what’s on-deck next for Landon? Well, later this year he’ll be on an astronomical and photographic expedition to Botswana, after which he’ll photograph the total solar eclipse above the Arctic Circle, near the North Pole, and then he’ll finish out 2015 with a return to Antarctica for another meteorite search. Best of luck and Godspeed, Landon…I, for one, wish I was riding shotgun on all these epic adventures.

Our Illusion 76 aircraft, just landed on the Union Glacier Blue Ice runway, is being uploaded with our supplies.

Our Ilyushin II-76 aircraft, just landed on the Union Glacier Blue Ice runway, is being uploaded with our supplies.

As the desert wind turns rock into sand, so the polar wind scrapes the ice of Antarctica to form ice dust. What you see is not the mere surface of a frozen lake, but rather the top of solid ice more than 1.5km (almost a mile) thick!

As the desert wind turns rock into sand, so the polar wind scrapes the ice of Antarctica to form ice dust. What you see is not the mere surface of a frozen lake, but rather the top of solid ice more than 1.5km (almost a mile) thick!

The air of Antarctica, free from dust, pollen and smog, is the cleanest air found on Earth. Without anything to interfere with sunlight, the sky is really this blue (this image was calibrated by a color chart). The mirror of the ice reflects the blue sky, turning an even richer blue in return.

The air of Antarctica, free from dust, pollen and smog, is the cleanest air found on Earth. Without anything to interfere with sunlight, the sky is really this blue (this image was calibrated by a color chart). The mirror of the ice reflects the blue sky, turning an even richer blue in return.

Ice from the high polar plateau flows through gaps in the Trans-Antarctic Mountains on its way down to the sea. The scale of this flow may be appreciated by observing the buildings of a base camp in the foreground.

Ice from the high polar plateau flows through gaps in the Trans-Antarctic Mountains on its way down to the sea. The scale of this flow may be appreciated by observing the buildings of a base camp in the foreground.

Antarctica offers amazing photographic opportunities on the grand scale as well as the micro. Antarctic ice comes in a wide variety of patterns. This ice surface measures 5cm (2 inches) across.

Antarctica offers amazing photographic opportunities on the grand scale as well as the micro. Antarctic ice comes in a wide variety of patterns. This ice surface measures 5cm (2 inches) across.

Snowcats are an effective way to travel on ice. TravelQuest used them to travel from base camp to meteorite search locations in the Union Glacier area.

Snowcats are an effective way to travel on ice. TravelQuest used them to travel from base camp to meteorite search locations in the Union Glacier area.

While it is said that “a picture is worth a thousand words”, this photo of my feet needs a few more words to help identify its unique context.

While it is said that “a picture is worth a thousand words”, this photo of my feet needs a few more words to help identify its unique context.

Travelers arriving at the Ceremonial South Pole (located some 500 m [0.3 miles] from the Geographical South Pole) should always know where their towel is.

Travelers arriving at the Ceremonial South Pole (located some 500 m [0.3 miles] from the Geographical South Pole) should always know where their towel is.

Photoshop Mix 1.1: New Features Thanks to Your Feedback

About a year ago, a few members of the Photoshop team and some really talented folks in our Beijing office embarked on a mission to turn a prototype into a shipping project.  The team quickly grew and together we raced to deliver Photoshop Mix 1.0 alongside all of the new desktop applications at our June launch event in New York. Photoshop Mix – a free iPad application focused on selective edits, basic compositing and a little bit of Photoshop magic – has since enjoyed a tremendous number of downloads…thank you!  In the race to launch, we left a few things undone, but with a tremendous effort from our team and a LOT of input from our users (again, thank you!) today we’re proud to announce Photoshop Mix 1.1.

1.1 might sound like a minor update, but it satisfies the majority of feedback we’ve heard from in-app feedback, research and reviews.  Of course, the Mix team couldn’t help but sprinkle in a few things above and beyond.

Photoshop Mix 1.1


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The Lightroom Team Volunteers with Gilda’s Club Twin Cities

One of the reasons I love working for Adobe is that it’s a company with a heart.  On a daily basis, I work to perfect a program that helps photographers all over the world create their own brand of magic, but once in awhile we get to help those in need directly through the power of imagery.

It was in this spirit that the Lightroom team recently embarked on our own philanthropic adventure. We heard about the Grand Opening of the Minneapolis chapter of Gilda’s Club, a non-profit organization helping those dealing with the effects of cancer, and instantly knew we wanted to get involved. After brainstorming, we decided to volunteer our photography knowledge and expertise to create memorable photographs for cancer patients and their families. Collaborating with Gilda’s club, we came up with two photo setups:

  • A photo booth equipped with props to celebrate the festive nature of the Grand Opening party
  • A photo studio setup with backdrops and lights for formal family portraits

For the photo booth, we built a tethered capture station that fed photos directly into Lightroom.  We applied a black & white develop preset to images from the photo booth, simulating traditional photo booth snapshots. These were displayed 4-up in Survey mode on a nearby monitor for everybody at the party to see and enjoy.  After the event, the photo booth images were shared on the GCTC Facebook page.

4up

Adobe team members Paul Kleczka, Jesse Zibble, Dan Gerber and Craig Marble test out the props

For the photo studio, 2 tethered capture stations were set up, and we alternated between stations for each session. Images were fed into Lightroom and members from the Lightroom and Premiere Pro teams prepped the images, applied color corrections, and exported to individual thumb drives for the families.  We shot 21 different groups in 4 hours!

Gildas-8

The DeCamillis family (Ali, Joe, Luca & Siena)

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Michelle Silverman and Leslie Shore

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CoCo Banken and Chase Andrew Banken, Grandmother and Grandson

We had such an amazing time with everybody and are so thankful for the stories that they shared with us. We shot a couple celebrating their 34th anniversary, a 4-generation quartet of beautiful women, and one family of 14, where both Grandma and one grandson are cancer survivors.

Both the photobooth and the studio setup were huge hits, reminding us that photography is a special way to capture moments in time. The team at Gilda’s Club Twin Cities is already asking about ‘next time’ and we can’t wait to do it all over again.

Adobe Voluteer Photographers-4

Front Row (L-R): Zach Nelson, Jeff Van de Walker, Mark Soderberg, Alex Seabold. Back row (L-R): Becky Sowada, Arri Kooiman, Craig Marble, Jesse Zibble, Paul Kleczka, Dan Gerber, Ben Zibble

We’d love to hear other stories of you using Lightroom and photography to help the local community…post a comment telling your story!

 

About Gilda’s Club

Gilda’s Club, founded by Gene Wilder and Joanna Bull in honor of Gilda Radner, is an organization that provides support and resources to people dealing with cancer.  Membership is free, and Gilda’s Club supports anybody affected with cancer, including cancer patients and survivors and their friends and family. It’s a great organization that lives up to its mission; “No one should face cancer alone”.

 

New 3D printing features and enhancements in Photoshop CC

Today we are releasing an update to Photoshop CC that includes new 3D printing features and enhancements designed to make it easier to create beautiful 3D printed designs and give you more printing options. This represents the third set of new and enhanced 3D printing features in Photoshop CC in 6 months since we first announced 3D printing support back in January!

Our goal is to help you take your 3D design ideas to the next level, and bring them into the physical world, and since January, we’ve seen artists like Sophie Kahn and Tobias Klein inspire us with their artwork and creativity, creatives like Paul Liaw amaze us with their ideas, agencies like Jeff Johnson’s Replace disrupt the design process by bringing 3D printed prototypes to initial client meetings, and innovators like Bradley Rothenberg challenge the fashion world.

Sophie Kahn; Tobias Klein; Paul Liaw

Sophie Kahn; Tobias Klein; Paul Liaw


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Apple’s Aperture News

Today, Apple announced they will no longer be developing Aperture in light of their new photography app for OS X. If you are an Aperture or iPhoto customer looking for change, check out our new Creative Cloud Photography plan announced last week, or our standalone Lightroom app for your desktop as alternatives.

The all new Creative Cloud Photography Plan gives you Photoshop (Mac / Win) and Lightroom (Mac / Win / iPhone / iPad / Web). This new offer not only addresses traditional desktop photo requirements but extends these workflows to the web and your mobile devices. Today, Lightroom mobile provides seamless access from desktop, tablet, phone and web.

Put simply we’re doubling down on our investments in Lightroom and the new Creative Cloud Photography plan and you can expect to see a rich roadmap of rapid innovation for desktop, web and device workflows in the coming weeks, months and years. We also continue to invest actively on the iOS and OSX platforms, and are committed to helping interested iPhoto and Aperture customers migrate to our rich solution across desktop, device and web workflows.

To learn more about our offer for Photographers click here. To learn more about the announcements we made last week click here.