Friday, December 19, 2014

Slanting light

On the Greenway over Crabtree Creek yesterday, slanting sunlight made this scene interesting.

[iPhone 5s]

At a stopping point, Ziva's activity resulted in a certain slant to this photo.  I'm careful to level the horizons of my landscape images, but there's no law that says everything has to be shot that way.  My own rule of thumb is that camera tilt usually works best if it is sufficient to be obviously intentional.  Of course, even that "rule" is violable.  I wouldn't say I'm "all thumbs", but I sometimes wish that I had two thumbs on one hand for better operation of the iPhone!  It can be a struggle when the other hand is on a leash that is under constantly changing tension.

[iPhone 5s]


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Testing gear as an excuse for photo fun

I like to try to photograph common subjects in unusual ways.  Sometimes I need a little nudge to get going.  Even though there may be no one watching me, it can feel a little silly to be putting time and effort into yet more pictures of...whatever...let's say another stupid dead leaf and some nondescript pine straw.  That unease absolutely should not be a consideration, but the psychology of hesitation is what it is.   So I find various modes of thought to push myself over that small initial hurdle, but today I had no trouble, thanks to an extra stimulus.

I just acquired a new bit of gear, a lens to replace another, adding a dash of new capability (I hope) and making certain things easier to do.  Its primary functions (in theory, at least) will be shooting wildlife, sports, and narrow landscapes.  However, this telephoto zoom has an excellent range of close focusing, which opens other areas for exploration.  Aha, what more excuse could I need to notice what the fallen leaves are up to today?  Here is one of my first shots with the new lens.

That was done right in my own front yard.  Oh, and looking back at the house, what do you know - someone has been watching me!  Ziva got the glass door quite misty!

Here are two small leaves on a very large one.  This lens will be good for shooting butterflies and dragonflies, I think.

Next is just a hanging leaf, but I like the patterns made by the blurred branches behind it.  One of the lens characteristics that I was testing is the quality of blur both behind and in front of the plane of focus.  Bokeh is the fancy (Japanese) term for blur character.  I am pleased with the bokeh as an ingredient of the first shot, at the top.

A tangled mess that perhaps could be a metaphor for life and its inherent beauty and struggle:

As I re-entered the house after my ten pace safari, I got a really quick shot of Ziva, who was moving. This actually was a good first test of high speed autofocus response in dim light, suggesting that I will be a happy camper when I get to chase after birds in flight, soccer players leaping, and dogs running.

[all photos using Canon EF 100-400/4.5-5.6 L IS II]


Some Serendipity

Here are two quick shots of things I hadn't expected to see.  On the road to New Bern Tuesday afternoon, a double rainbow appeared through the windshield ("take the bus, and leave the driving to us" - so I was free to safely shoot), and I caught it arcing directly at an approaching SUV.  This of course led to childish imaginings of an energy weapon destroying a vehicle.

Today I spotted a spotless antique Chevrolet truck, an Apache 32, perhaps a 1959 model?  I see many photos of gorgeous antique cars in pristine surroundings, so stumbling on this baby in an ordinary dirty parking lot was like finding a diamond in the rough.  By the way, remember when the common advice for photos was "have the sun at your back"?  That was always a good rule to break.  You can certainly see where the sun is in this shot, and though I could easily crop it out, I don't mind having it there.

I really love having that little iPhone in my pocket for stuff like this.  I've done some "serious" shooting lately too, but I'll save that for other posts.


Monday, December 15, 2014

Me And My Shadow

The title phrase is part of the sentence "This is a photo of me and my shadow", rather than a reference to the old song.  So my shadow and I were out for a goodly trip today, and upon our return we spotted this:

We both thought it was pretty cool, a shadow of me and my shadow.

Me and my shadow, strolling down the avenue,
me and my shadow, sharing stuff we never knew...


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Festooning the Foliage in Festive Fashion

There are more and more lights beginning to appear in our neighborhood yards at night.  Some people put a lot of effort into holiday decorations, and some of them do a wonderful job of creating an artistically balanced winter wonderland of colored lights.  Many of us have admired one yard in Oak Park for several years now.  This home has also been done up with some humor, such as a mechanically animated "whack-a-penguin" display.

I want to capture some of the festivity this winter (I've usually been so busy that I could barely manage a few snapshots), so to start things off right, it seemed appropriate to set up some good equipment on a tripod.  I used a tilt-shift lens, a Canon TS-E 17mm.  With the tripod head leveled, I composed so that shifting the lens fully to the left and right would cover the scene as I wanted.  I then did three exposures: full left shift, centered, and full right.  The lens can be shifted 12 mm in any direction.  When the three exposures were combined (in Photoshop®), the result was an image equivalent to having a sensor measuring 60x24 mm (the normal 36x24 mm "full-frame" sensor dimensions augmented by an extra 24 mm width).  This gives a horizontal angle of view of about 120ยบ, with minimal distortion.  When you were a child, did you ever hear an adult say "I've got eyes in the back of my head!" to discourage you from misbehaving when out of their sight?  This view isn't quite like that, but it's wide!

I did an HDR* sequence for each of the three shots, which yielded this (upper image) result, showing foliage and other dark details.  However, I preferred a single optimized exposure, leaving more mystery and emphasizing the decorative lights that were my subject.  That's the lower image,  displayed a little larger.

*HDR stands for "High Dynamic Range", and is digital photography jargon for a process of combining multiple exposures in order to capture a greater range of tones from dark to bright than could be captured in a single exposure.  We are then left with the issue of how to render (depict) that great range of brightness in a medium (a print or a computer monitor display) that has a smaller maximum range.

Given a little time to play with things, I may ultimately prefer a compromise between the two versions, or rather than compromise, I'll describe my aim as a combination of the best characteristics of each.  In the mean time, here is the single-exposure panorama (actually three stitched exposures to get the wide angle, but not 3x4 - a dozen exposures, total! - as in the HDR panorama):


Simple Pleasures

"Yum!  A fresh bone!  I'm glad you allow me to follow my omnivorous tastes!"

It was so good to see Ziva's eyes widen with excitement that I went for my best low-light camera, swapped the lens on it for a wide aperture prime, and did a series of shots.  Most were "meh", until finally she looked up at just the right angle to get some light in her eyes.  Yay!  I caught the moment, and was lucky enough to also catch her tongue extended and curled.  (Parents don't want pictures of their children with tongues out, but, hey folks, Ziva is a dog!)  This may have a place in the Ziva book that is a work in progress.

Now to set up for a studio portrait session with a nice couple.  Ziva is even a good warm-up for people photography!


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Goldilocks camera

Goldilocks and the three cameras:

"This cell phone camera sure is convenient to carry!  But it's so small that certain things are difficult to do..."
"This full-frame DSLR sure is amazingly capable!  But it's so large and heavy that it's not very practical for going out on a jog with a dog on a leash..."

So this time I toted a sort of mid-sized compromise, hoping it would be just right.  At any rate, my six year old Canon G10 wasn't a burden on the trail, even when we (Ziva and I) ran a bit.  But did it add anything to what I could have done with my iPhone 5s?  Well, it was a little better at holding texture in a very bright tree lying across the river.

When we got to my favorite abandoned bridge, I tied Ziva to a post for just a minute so that I could climb through the thorns to a new vantage point.  The G10 raw file responded to massaging in the computer (Adobe Lightroom®) better than jpegs from my phone camera would have done.  I was able to bring out the dark colors and textures, and still preserve the  intense blue of the sky.

On the return trip, I focused on a white tree against the deep blue sky, and used the exposure compensation dial (-2/3) to bias for the highlights instead of the shadows.  This gave me the tones I wanted in the tree, and richened the sky.

After all this, I still grabbed "baby bear" (iPhone) for a quick sunset snap today.  The trees were going to be silhouetted, so the dynamic range of the sky was not too challenging for the tiny digital sensor.    I tapped the brightest part of the scene to be sure the yellow, orange and pink areas would not be overexposed.  It's not the Grand Canyon, there's no view of the horizon, but I'm glad for every colorful sky that I get to see.


Leaves Via Ziva

Ziva really loves to play in leaf piles.  I can't trust her off the leash on city streets, so to make a video I have to attempt everything one-handed.  Here's a still frame from a slow motion vid that worked pretty well.

And here are a couple of vids, a "slo-mo" and a normal speed (different occasions):



Friday, December 12, 2014

More scenes by the river, via Ziva

Early this fall, one of my blog followers asked if I had ever gotten a shot of a leaf in mid-air.  I admitted that aside from set-up shots, I had not.  Today, walking the Greenway with Ziva, I spotted a leaf just after it detached from an upper branch of a tall tree.  Going for broke, I dropped Ziva's leash while pulling my iPhone out of my pocket.  Luckily, the thumb print reader worked first try, so the phone was unlocked, and I had left the camera app on.  I got this shot:

Not long after, we came upon a very colorful isolated "hanger-on".  I got fairly close to it, to see how similar a result I could get to the delicate photos I did last month with more serious camera gear.  The answer was - not too similar.  On the other hand, I like the way the wide view included the hanger-on in the lower right corner.  Or maybe I should refer to myself as the hanger-on!

I wanted to inspect the evolution/degradation of the abandoned bridge over Crabtree Creek, as it shows signs of being taken over and pulled apart by plant life.

At this point, I think it would be cool if it could safely be allowed to completely disintegrate, but I suppose it will probably be razed at some point.  As I've raised the point, kids - don't try anything foolish, like exploring rickety structures.

The shot above is a stitched panorama, created with the iPhone.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Hearing service dog

The North Carolina Symphony played in Wilmington Wednesday evening, and I noticed a beautiful dog in the front row of the audience.  At intermission I was able to slip down and meet her.  She is eleven years old, a highly trained service dog whose specialty is alerting hearing-impaired people to sounds that are important for them.  It's not rare to find service dogs assisting the visually impaired at concerts, but while people with limited hearing do enjoy some concerts with special provision made for them, in this instance the dog was on the scene as a part of her continuing training.  She was completely quiet throughout, even when assaulted by some rather loud sounds from the stage.

This evening we're on our way to Tarboro for another concert, so I'll have to delay posting my latest Ziva video.  I think animal lovers will enjoy it.