Building a Shot

A photographers life is all about compromises and every one of them comes with their own challenges. One of the compromises I made when choosing my camera was taking the crop sensor over a full frame sensor. For the majority of the shooting I do (wildlife, landscapes), this is the better choice. For some of the shooting I do (dance, event), it can cause some issues.  Since I have a dance shoot coming up in April I was looking for a way to lessen the compromise I had made with my choice of camera body. To that end, I purchased the Sigma 18-35 F1.8 Art series lens. On my crop sensor camera, this translates into a 28-56 F2.8 lens.  This lens will let in 4 times the amount of light as the lens I was using.  This is a good thing for indoor photography and will allow me to shoot at much  lower ISO’s to get the shutter speeds I am looking for.

 

As the lens arrived yesterday, I thought I would spend a little time putting it through a few test shots. As I was doing this, I realized that I had captured a few images that showed how I go about building the final photograph that I show people. One of my favorite photographers once said “If you want to be known as a great photographer, only show your great pictures”.  I am going to break that rule and show you some of the less than great ones that built to what I finally shared.

 

The subject of this shoot is a pewter candle holder that sits in my living room.

 

Candle

This first photo was taken allowing the camera to choose the correct exposure. I used aperture priority set to F1.8 to allow the most light to come in.  As you can see, it exposed perfectly for the candle light, but left the rest of the image black.

Candle-2

For this second shot, I turned on the room lights in the sunroom that is behind the position of the candle. This brought some life into the scene and showed the counter top that candle is resting on. However, the foreground is still really dark.  I know, let’s use some flash to fill this in!

Candle-3

 

Holy Cow!  What happened here?  When I set my flash up, I had it on eTTL exposure which means the flash was trying to light the entire scene.  As such, it completely blew out the foreground as it was trying to light the room in the back. Not exactly what I was looking for.  So, let’s adjust the flash to it’s lowest setting of 1/128th power and try again.

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Much better!  However, the humming bird in the foreground is much too bright and the counter top shows the direction of the flash.  Again, not quite what I am looking for.  So, let’s break this image down and see what we like and what needs to be adjusted.

1) the background looks good. A nice warm light and very diffused.

2) the counter top is too bright. Bad.

3) The candle holder is too bright and too white. Bad.

4) There is a directional shadow from the flash. Bad.

 

Ok, since I cannot turn the power on my flash down any further. How do I get less light from it?  I could move the flash farther away, but since it is attached to the camera it is not an option.  Ok, let’s place a diffuser between the camera and candle….. Hmmm, again, the flash is attached to the camera so not an option…  Think, Think, Think.   (imagine a light bulb going off over my head now).  I’VE GOT IT!  I will use my left hand and place a couple of fingers in front of the flash to diffuse it and and hope it is enough…

 

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This is perfect. It shows the glow of the candle and using my fingers reduces the light falling on the candle holder perfectly.

 

If I was to do this again, I would hold a piece of golden cellophane in my fingers as I blocked the light to provide a more golden glow to the candle holder. But all in all, I am very happy with the final result.

 

This all shows that the photography that we finally see is likely built through a series of mistakes to get to the final product.

The kindness of strangers

 

Yesterday was election day in the United States.  Many millions of Americans went to the polls to vote on the direction of the country for the next 2 years. While I also went, I had other items on my agenda for the day. You see, my wife does more than just go vote on that day, she is also a polling manager at one of the local precincts. So on election days, she is up and out of the house by 5 a.m. and does not return until well after 10 p.m.    I am very proud of her for doing this and it is something that she seems to enjoy.

I, on the other hand, have the entire day to myself. So guess what I go do?  First is take out local fur-baby to the dog park to run some of the energy out of him. He loves to run and there is nothing quite like the joy he expresses when he does so.  As I get off of work at 5 and the sunset occurs about 5:45, we only got about 30 minutes at the park.

Gotta love a goofy dog!

As we were leaving the park, I noticed the sky was starting to turn some incredible colors. So Chance and I headed to another local park so I could shoot the sunset.

I have shot many a sunset at Briscoe Park so I was looking for something a little different this time and I decided what I needed was people in my photos. Well, it was just Chance and I so what to do. Well, that turned out to be frightening and enlightening at the same time. I had to ask strangers to pose for me!  Not only that, but because I was shooting long exposures of 15-30 seconds, I had to ask them to sit still during the exposure….  No one I asked turned me down. (I think it was the dog!!!)

I asked this person who was taking a walk to pose on the bench for me.  With no hesitation, she did so.

So, on this image I had set the tripod up and got all of the metering done and started looking for a person to sit on the bench.  This young lady was walking by enjoying the evening when I asked if she would pose for me. I explained that she would be in silhouette and that there would be no detail other  than her general shape.  I also explained that she would need to be perfectly still for about 15 seconds and I would let her know when I was done. Surprisingly, she agreed with no hesitation and we got a great image!

 

Emboldened by that success I wet to scout another spot.  This is  bench just to the left of the previous image (In fact, you can see the bench in that image). and I set up for the shot. Just as I was doing so, I saw this young couple walk to the gazebo and start to sit down to enjoy the sunset. When I approached them, I could tell they were a little curious as to whey I was stalking them.  As I let them know what I wanted to do they immediately agreed and we set up this shot.

 

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While I like the shot, I should have had them switch sides so you could of seen them both in the image. As it is, the young lady is obscured by the young man and there is not real detail there. I would of also liked to have used a flash to bring out a little more detail in the tree to the left.  But I am happy with the image… I will just do better next time.

 

A long exposure experiment. Still have work to do.

For comparison, you can see a similar image without people in it and it just loses something… 

 

Lastly, as I was leaving the park, the sun had gone down and the moon had risen. As I glanced up, I saw this through the trees…

Moon in the trees. I missed set the ISO on this one... BOOO!

 

Another quick grab, but I had the camera set to ISO 6400 which introduced a lot of noise to the image.  I will be trying this one again.

So, If you happen to see a large, balding, man dragging a tripod and camera pack through Briscoe Park and he asks you to pose for him, you will now know why!

 

-mm-

The Prodigal Lens Returns

As you’ve read in my previous post, I had to send my 24-105 lens to Canon to be serviced. Yesterday, my long lost lens returned back to me after a short stay at the mother ship to be repaired. So what to do????  Of course! Head out to take photos and see how the lens performed.  The repairs I had done were to replace the aperture ring and to tighten the zoom ring so both of those were on my list to test.

Heading off to Briscoe Park, my goal was to catch the sunset. Taking the camera bag and the tripod out, I picked the perfect spot and set up the tripod (as me sometime about what an anchor a tripod can be).  Once staked out, I took the camera off for a quick stroll to take a couple of close up shots of the changing leaves.

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There appears to be a little softness here, but I expect that I need to recalibrate the lens, so I am not too disappointed. Focusing was fast and appears to be spot on. As I worked through the various apertures, the camera just happily kept taking pictures.  I was getting real excited as this was happening until I heard a squeal and a crash from behind me.  Two youngsters were rough housing around and took out my tripod.  It had crashed to the ground and caused the ball head to separate into multiple pieces!  Their mother was horrified that this had occurred (as was I!) and offered multiple times to pay for the replacement piece.  I let her know that I considered this my fault for leaving the tripod unattended and set up while I was wandering around.  Fortunately, I was able to cobble together the pieces into a somewhat working head.  It is going to have to be replaced, but at least I was able to use it for the rest of the evening for my testing.  As the sun set, it was obvious that I was not going to be able to capture a sunset that was worth the digital pixels it would burn to take it.

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While the colors are ok, they are just not what you want to show anyone.  At least the tripod was mostly stable (as long as I wasn’t touching it… Smile)

 

The next stop was heading to the Snellville town green to capture a few night time shots. The next two shots are very similar and I am not really sure which one I like more.

City Hall and the veterans memorial

Closer view of the previous scene. I can't decide which one I like more.

That is Snellville City hall in the background and the veterans memorial in the foreground.  The next shot is a close up of the veterans memorial.

 

The Snellville veterans memorial

To get this shot, I had to cross Henry Clower Blvd and shoot across the road. I was very fortunate in that drivers seeing I was taking this photo were stopping short to keep out of  my frame.  Once the light turned green, all bets were off.. Smile  I was pleased to see that not all folks care only about getting where they are going. I also had a couple of great conversations with the drives as they were asking what I was doing.  One funny story is that while I was taking the next photo, I had a guy in a pickup honk at me and ask me to please not blow up city hall… (I was wearing dark clothes and had a back pack on. Sad, but funny… )  The next photo is a close up of our city hall.

 

Snellville City hall

The last photo is of the First Baptist Church in Snellville. This thing is lit up at night and provides a beacon in the central part of our town.  I have always looked for a  shot on this building that was attractive and different from what everyone else has taken.  As I was leaving from taking the above photos, I found a perfect spot. Unfortunately, it is in a very dark location.  What to do, what to do??!!  I know, Light Painting!  So, grabbing my trusty flashlight, I placed the camera on the broken tripod (and prayed) and started painting in the foreground parts of the picture. While not a great photo (yet), it shows me where I need to be for my next attempt. I will need to have a different (stronger) flashlight that I can change the color of light prior to trying this again.  I am looking forward to it!

FIrst Baptist Church, Snellville. A little light painting.

 

What I want to do differently next time is use a darker light (maybe green or gold) on the tree trunk, Brighter lights on the leaves (also maybe green?) and then more completely light the fence line that you can’t see.  If I can do this and also light the graveyard in amber light, I think I will have something special…   Ah, something to try in the future…

Wings Over North Georgia

Ruth and I had a great chance to attend the Wings over North Georgia airshow in Rome Georgia during the weekend October 17th.  Part of attending this air show is the photographic package that is available that grants you access to the media day on Friday and early access on the air show performance days. This was a rather large airshow with more than 75,000 people attending over the weekend.  Fortunately, the photographers have a special chalet that is reserved for them and special shooting areas around the field that the public does not get access to.  This made for a very intimate time and very easy to swing the big glass around.

 

So if you don’t mind, I am going to take a day by day account through the weekend and, of course, there will be photos!

 

Thursday, October 16th

The plan for today was to get a mid-day start and drive up to Rome.  I was really surprised at the amount of traffic we had to navigate during the middle of the day on a Thursday.  But, we arrived in Rome about dinner time so after checking into the hotel we went in search of dinner.  Downtown Rome is a very cool place and it reminds me of what small towns should be. A large boulevard runs down the center of town with 3 and 4 story building lining each side of the street. The lower level of these building are shops and restaurants that cater to a diverse crowd of tourists, locals and college students (Berry College is in Rome and is one of the larger universities in North Georgia).  We chose a small tavern for dinner and was quite pleased with the meal. On a side note, there was a massive Geo Caching event going on at the same time that drew hundreds of people from around the U.S. and with the air show the same weekend made Rome seem the place to be!

One of the features of Rome is a trail where they have converted an old rail line into a city park that runs along the river in town. On this trail is an old trestle bridge that the city lights up in the evening. This bridge has drawn me for some time as a photographer and, of course, tonight was no different. I took my trusty model (Ruth) and headed out there.  Ruth and I were sitting in the truck as it was getting dark and just as I said “Well, I guess they aren’t coming on tonight” and started the truck Ruth said “I think…….” and the lights came on!  I suspect Ruth was hiding the switch and waiting for me to give up.

So onto the bridge we went.

 

This first photograph was taken just as the sun has gone down and the lights came on. On the left hand side of the bridge is a set of lights shaped like the American flag. That is the primary light source in the image. There is a few mercury vapor lights in various parking lots and businesses as well that lends to the over all feel of the image. After taking the shot, I felt as if it was missing something and Ruth volunteered to model for me. Adding her to the second image and getting a little closer made a huge difference as you can see below.

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Friday, October 17th

Today is media day and practice day at the air show. The local media is around with their video and still cameras and the performers are talking to everyone. Ruth and I got to the airport before sunrise hoping to take some static display photos as the sun rises. Unfortunately, nature has other plans. The day started with a very heavy fog over the airfield that made photography extremely difficult.  Many of the aircraft that were expected had not arrived due to weather conditions and so not many photos were taken this morning.

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As you can see, lots and lots of fog..  Ruth and I decided to leave the airport for a while and find a place to grab a quick cup of coffee and breakfast and hopefully return as the fog lifted. Upon returning, tragedy struck as my primary lens used for walking about and taking photos broke. It just decided that having taken over 10,000 images in its life over 8 years it was done. Ruth said it was because of the subject matter of its last image;

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(It has been sent to Canon for repair and should be back in service fairly quickly…. I hope!)

One other neat thing was the chance to meet Scott “Scooter” Yoak who pilots the P-51 Quicksilver and gift him with an aluminum print of his aircraft from last years show. Scott was very appreciative and gave Ruth and I each a Quicksilver patch. I was unexpected, but a wonderful meeting.

 

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Another really interesting thing was the landing of the C-17 Globemaster III.  This beast landed in under 1,500 feet. How something that big can stop in so short a runway is amazing. Especially when you consider that the Air Force would not let the Thunderbirds base at this field because the runway was 1,000 feet too short!  Not only did this thing do a short field landing, it also has a reverse gear!  WOW!

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Ruth and I stayed at the field until after the Thunderbirds finished their practice at 5 p.m. and then headed back to the hotel for a much needed nights rest.

 

Saturday, October 18th

Today is another early day to get to the airfield prior to sunrise and hopefully catch some of the shots I had missed from the day before. Unlike yesterday, today is a glorious day. Clear skies and wonderfully cool temperatures. While there is some morning fog, it is mostly near the hills and away from the flying field.

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As the sun rose, this aircraft was getting ready for an early morning flight. I loved the colors and the near silhouette caused by the bright sun!

 

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What a great way to start the day!

Again, I am not going to bore you with the dozens of aircraft shots from this day, but I do want to cover a couple of interesting things.  The first is this shot from one of the BBQ competitors;

 

 

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The yellow sign reads “You can smell our butts from outer space”…. Um, yeah.

The second is this food tent. Ruth and I had dinner here, such as it was.  For two plates of chicken fingers and two lemonades the bill came to $36!!  It was pure and simple robbery disguised as a concession. Talk about captive audience pricing!

 

 

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Two other cool things happened on Saturday that deserve a mention. One was the group of young men and women who took their military oath from an officer from the Thunderbirds. It was amazing that 35+ years on, I can still remember it word for word.

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And also they had a parade of veterans!  This was a planned event to have all of the veterans in the crowd march down the flight line in front of the viewing stands and the crowd. It was amazing the hear the crowd whoop and holler for these men and women who have served their country. Although I could of participated, I chose not to as I wanted to capture the moment photographically. In this parade were also a number of wounded veterans as well as elderly veterans who wanted to participate and had to be driven in golf carts.  It was a touching sight.

 

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The evening ended up with a night airshow and fireworks display. I have never seen this before and it was quite amazing.

 

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All in all, it was quite an amazing weekend. If you are interested in the 200 or so photos that I took, you can see them all here

Eyelight Photography

The ups and downs of landscape photography

For those who follow my work, you know that I am primarily a landscape photographer. I love getting out into the wilds and taking photos. However, one of the primary lessons to learn is that YOU ARE NOT IN CONTROL. There are things that happen that you have no control over. From wind and rain to cloudy days to the scene not being what you expected.

So, what do you do in these situations?  You look for the best photograph you can make at the time.  This past week was a prime example of this. There was a full lunar eclipse that was slated for our part of the world and it was going to be at a fairly reasonable hour (ok, so for some, a 5 a.m. start time is not reasonable…).  As I have never gotten a good shot of the blood moon (google it), I was really excited for this and was off to a local park to take the photos.

The total eclipse was slated to start at 6:24 and last until almost 7:30.  As I was wanting to get the moon in it’s various phases I staked out my shots and got this first one at 5:58 am,

 

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It is a very nice shot and you can see the red creeping across the frame of the moon.  However, by 6:04, you can start to see the problem that is heading in;

 

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While an interesting photograph, you can start to see the haziness of clouds rolling in. It softens the image and makes it much harder to get an exposure for both the high lights and the shadows.  This is not going to end well!  The next shot was at 6:08;

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And here you can really see that the coulds are starting to obscure the moon. While there is still some color, shortly after this the cloud cover got too great to take any photo.  I was greatly disappointed in this as I was really hoping for a nice shot of the moon over the local lake.

However, because I was already up early and looking for photographic subjects, I was able to capture this shot at 5:51 a.m.

 

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It may not be the blood moon, but it is still a very nice shot.  One that I would not of gotten if I had decided to stay in bed.

So, the moral of the story is, if you want to take landscape photographs, you have to take what nature is going to give you. You cannot be disappointed because you didn’t capture your vision. You need to change your vision to capture what is there…

-mm-

 

A Great weekend

This past weekend, Ruth and I took a little trip to the North Georgia mountains to hike a water fall and spend the day celebrating my birthday.  We took the pup along for the hike and headed for Dukes Creek Falls. This short little hike (about 2.5 miles round trip) was just what we needed to stretch our legs.  So with bags packed, we jumped into the truck and drove north.

It was a perfect day for a hike, highs were going to be in the low 80’s and the morning started off a little over cast.

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As you can see, Ruth was responsible for the dog.  The trail was in fine shape with an early paved section and then a mostly gravel covered walk.  The trail was mostly easy to follow and other than two places where it could of been marked better, was not problem to know where you were going.

The falls themselves are rather wonderful, but not easy to photograph. Much of the larger falls si covered with foliage and there is no clear line of sight to it.  However, that didn’t stop the camera from being pulled out many time!

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With all of the recent rains, the falls were really flowing. It was a great way to spend my birthday and we really enjoyed the falls for more than an hour.

 

After finishing the falls, we hiked back to the top for a well deserved picnic lunch. The really scary part here is that our pup, Chance, got spooked by something and was able to pull himself free of his harness. This allowed him to run free and, of course, he headed down the hill at a great rate of speed.  Very quickly he was outside of our line of sight and we could not hear him.  I thought he was gone for good, but 5 minutes or so later, he came bounding up the hill as happy to see us as you could imagine.  It was frightening, but satisfying that he came back quickly.

Of course, that used up the last of his energy and he slept for the next few days!

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Isn’t he a good boy??

The Difference a Second Makes

Readers of this blog will know that I rather adore photography. I absolutely love it when a plan comes together and you get the shot you want. There are other times, however, where the frustration of the hobby can absolutely drive you insane!

Last evening was just one of those times. While walking through Briscoe Park last evening with my camera along, I spotted a Great Blue Heron (now that is a bit of a fib, he spotted me first and exploded out of the water brush he was hiding in. WOW did that startle me!).  As I have always wanted to capture a shot of the heron taking off, I started to walk towards where the bird had landed.

Waiting out a heron can be a long exercise in patience. But since I had no where to go, I was able to wait him out. One of the great things about wanting this particular photograph is that you wind up studying the bird on the internet and you learn that just prior to taking off, the bird will dip his head towards the water. This can also be a false alarm as they also do the same thing when they are ready to strike a fish! (which would be another cool photograph!)

So there I am standing, camera in hand, when I see the tell-tale signs.  Camera up and……

Heron Takeoff Blurred

Timestamp 19:30:43.34

Bang, I start to rip off a few shots. Excited that I had captured what I was hoping for, I could not wait to get home and see what I got. What’s wrong with the above shot? It is exactly what I was looking for, the explosion out of the water and into the evening sun…. What more could I want?  How about it being in focus?  You see, I  purchased a new lens (a sigma 50-150 os) that I am trying to get used to and the optical stabilization takes a few micro seconds to get in gear. What happened here is that I did not give it the time, as you will see in this next photo..

Heron Takeoff

Timestamp 19:30:43.57

23 milliseconds! Can you believe it?  Now there is nothing wrong with the above photo, but it is not near as compelling as the one above it… But 23 milliseconds!!! Come on, less than the blink of an eye and I miss the photo.

However, all is not lost, the very next image kind of makes up for it..

Heron Takeoff 3

Timestamp 19:30:43.71

14 millisecond later and we get a great photo fo the bird skimming the water with the sun under lighting the wings. Over all, less than 1/2 of a second and we get three very different images.

This is what makes photography so compelling to me. One click of the shutter freezes an instant of time forever.

Now, this heron and I will have a future date where I will start up the stabilization a little earlier in the cycle.  I am looking forward to it!

When excitement over-rides the brain

Dark Camelia

I have been into photography for as long as I can remember. I remember taking a trip to Washington DC during my high school years and spending all of my extra cash on film. (I shot over 30 rolls on that trip and didn’t get most of them developed because I couldn’t afford it!)

For a graduation gift, my mom and dad bought me an upscale  Polaroid camera that had removable filters! But the photography bug really hit me when I got my first SLR almost 15 years ago. Ruth and I were on a trip celebrating our anniversary and we forgot to bring a camera along. A quick run to Wal-Mart was necessary and the only camera they had in stock was a Canon Rebel film camera. (remember those? Andre Agassi used to do the advertising for them.)

This is where I had my first real experience with the excitement of the moment over-riding thinking. Ruth and I were hiking through the woods when we spotter a red-headed woodpecker just off the path. As I had this new SLR I really wanted a picture. So off I go chasing this stupid bird trying to get close enough to get a photo. It must have been a comical sight for my wife as I would sneak up to the bird and just as I would raise the camera the bird would scoot off. This went on for nearly 30 minutes before I finally got the image I thought I wanted (as it turns out, the bird wound up a very very small part of the frame).

Fast forward a couple of years and a couple of camera bodies later. Ruth and I were hiking to Hemlock Falls in North Georgia. These falls are fairly small, dropping only about 50 feet, but because they come through a stand of hemlock pines you don’t see the water upstream.  And here comes the excitement again…. If I can just stand in the stream, I can shoot the falls from the water and get their reflection in the pool.  Traipsing out into the water, I fail to notice that the bottom is covered with a  fine green moss that might as well been ice.  Bringing the camera to my eye I perform a pedial-cranial inversion (i.e. my feel and head decided to trade places RIGHT NOW!) Fortunately I wasn’t hurt and Ruth tells me that I wrapped around the camera as I was falling. I hadn’t thought at all!  If I had gotten hurt, there was no way Ruth would be able to carry me out..

And I wish I could say these are the only examples of this. I have many other stories that would take days to tell. However, these do relate to the photo posted, but in a different way.

Yesterday morning as I was getting ready for work, I noticed a wonderful morning light on our camellia bushes. Grabbing the camera and a brand new lens I went outside in the frigid air to capture the light on the flowers.  Trying to work quickly because of the changing light and the freezing hands, I set the camera up and started snapping away.  And again, excitement bites me as I forgot to reset the camera settings from the night before and I underexposed every image!  While I kind of like the moodiness of this image, it is not what I had in mind!

So a lesson to all of you out there, when excitement strikes… Take a deep breath and THINK about what your going to do.  It might save you broken bones or bad images!