Friday, November 23, 2012

Photographer's Dance

Look up, look down,
turn left, turn around,
pivot right, and day or night,
look for quality of light.
Move in tight,
now back away.
Get it right,
for, night or day,
this may be your only chance.
So do the photo maker’s dance!

- Jess Isaiah Levin

Okay, low grade doggerel, but I take the ideas seriously. On November 19 I noticed that a neighbor's rose bush was blooming, in spite of temperatures just above freezing overnight. My first step was to try to place myself for a good angle to view the highest rose. A cluster of bare branches behind it blurred into a nice simulation of motion, whereas a fairly high shutter speed froze the swaying flower into apparent stasis.

A few steps forward and to one side yielded a simpler background and let me frame the bloom in the crook of a small tree.

Notice how similar the viewpoint of the next shot is to the preceding. I shifted just far enough to allow a  shaft of sunlight to burst into "bloom" for a glamorous backdrop.

Leaving the flowers, I found a leaf that had curled so much it resembled a jester's hat. (Lately I'm noticing a tendency to want my nature photographs to look like something that they are not. Well, not just lately - there's been some of that direction in my work for a long time.) Maybe a jester's hat in an aquarium?



Monday, November 19, 2012

Potpourri Week

The past week was one of my "dense" ones, both in variety of jobs and tasks, and in the way one thing ran up to the next with barely any relaxation time. Still, I had the opportunity to be creative and have fun, which is why it sometimes really doesn't feel like work - but don't be filled with envy until you've tried my life for a few weeks! At any rate, that's why nothing new showed up here. I think I'll do my catching up in reverse.

Sunday began with five hours of volunteer photography for the SPCA of Wake County, specifically to do "Santa Paws" - portraits of pets and their families with Santa Claus. The pet owners contribute to the organization in exchange for photos. Many of the pics are rather "normal looking", that is, suitable for holiday cards to be sent out to family and friends. The settled and attentive look of the animals belies the effort that goes into catching what is most often a very brief moment of calm. "Santa" has many years of experience at this, and also not only knows animals, but clearly loves them. They virtually always feel the same way, so one of my favorite shots was this candid moment from off on the side of our small, crowded set.

This little pooch almost disappeared into Santa's beard!

This nice boxer wanted to be sure Mr. Claus listened carefully to his wish list.

After many hours of shooting mostly dogs (and people), we were rewarded with the chance to pose this group. I think that might be an Australian shepherd on the rug...but I may be forgetting who mentioned that breed about which dog. Anyway, look at the parrot on the man's shoulder.

Here's a portion of the same photo, so you can get a better look. This gray bird has red tail feathers, matching Frosty's nose.

We all got hungry in the course of the work, and I'm glad I managed to grab a slice of pizza during a two minute break. The bird seemed to want a chance at the leftovers.

The rest of my Sunday involved playing a concert of Mozart #25 and Shostakovich #7 in Chapel Hill with the North Carolina Symphony. It was a workout of a day, but now let me back up to Saturday. I had the honor of photographing a lovely outdoor wedding at the Umstead Hotel. It's late fall, and it was quite cool, but the bride was more than game for the weather, and it was great to be out there. I have a lot of editing to do, of course, but here is one photo that I liked right off the bat.

See, when I tell people that doing a bit of sports shooting is good practice for weddings, I'm not kidding! After the wedding, I played the previously mentioned concert program in Raleigh's Meymandi Concert Hall (second of three performances of that program). Before I leave the subject of the wedding, though, here's one more shot, done during the ceremony:

I think it shows a lot of how they feel about each other, and to me that is the most important goal of wedding photography. That's all the wedding photos I'll show for now, but let's back up further to Tuesday, when I did head shots for 52 musicians of the Durham Symphony. Here are a few.

By the way, I'm their official photographer, so you can see a lot of my work on their website.

Speed work is beginning to seem normal to me, so I'll need to do some slow, contemplative landscape photography to be sure I keep a balance. I did do some nature photography today, but that's for another post.


Saturday, November 10, 2012

When a miss leads to a new shot

Today I got home with a load of groceries and spotted a beautiful shaft of sunlight on the top of a small Japanese maple with a particularly nice arrangement of leaves. Unfortunately, when I put away the perishables and ran back out with a camera, the sun had already dropped too low for the effect that initially caught my eye.

Rather than give up, I looked around me to see if anything else turned up. At first I was disappointed, but after awhile I found a perspective that was lit to advantage. It even had a bit of foreground/middle-ground/background separation, so it could qualify as a landscape!

Looking upward for more light, I found this:

Next I moved to a different grouping of foliage and played with this avi-morphic leaf. I spot metered the sunlit subject and allowed the background to go very dark.

The next photo is the one that I think I'll be glad I was able to get. Composing with a fixed focal length lens, there were some constraints on what I could get into my field of view. (I was using a 135 mm f/2 specifically for the wide aperture and potential for separation between subject and background.) Of course I could crop out a distraction afterward, but couldn't add to the width of coverage. I liked having the little bit of of a second leaf appearing in the corner, and tried to include just enough of it for clarity, but little enough to leave a kind of sense of mystery. That may sound like an overblown interpretation, but it was the kind of thing that was flitting through my head as I worked.

I did expand my view a bit by lying on my back on the ground. That enabled this composition of lacy lines.

As I finished up and headed inside, this leaf jumped out at me from the ivy, so this time I grabbed it before the light changed.


Friday, November 9, 2012

Seeds of autumn

I like to see the tiny blue-black seeds that these weeds produce, and it's impressive to see them appearing this late in the year. This was another very quick afternoon project, and like Tuesday's, not centered around a conventionally beautiful subject. The first shot describes the plant pretty well, except for its long, spindly stalk, which I didn't think would add anything to the composition.

I was drawn to the way this second sample had captured a vibrantly healthy stalk of another, taller plant. It seems to be hanging on and seeking help.

This third one called for an aerial view. A bit of an amusement park perspective, perhaps.

From just a little higher, the support structure changes and the background separates into halves.

Finally, a still higher viewpoint renders things quite differently. A slight breeze altered foreground to background angles from time to time as I was shooting.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Fighting the approach of winter

It's clear that fighting the change of seasons is a losing battle, unless you want to count the victories of artificial interior climate. Sometimes, though, it seems as if parts of nature work at resisting the inevitable. I had that thought when I spotted some daisies blooming amid a carpet of dead leaves. They weren't quite up to the level of the phrase "fresh as a daisy", but still pretty impressive. Blooming now? Really? With a hard freeze on the way and all the deciduous trees ridding themselves of the burden of photosynthesis factories that can't operate efficiently during the short days with sun low in the sky?

This sight greeted me after I voted today, so I grabbed a camera to record it. This hasn't been an autumn of grand colors and perfect leaf specimens, but it seems to me that there's beauty to be found in imperfections, stages of life, and evolution. A kind of grandeur in the challenging search for a new look. I also like the discipline of creating when I'm close to home, not surrounded by exotic vistas.

After playing with the daisy, I took a careful look upward to see if I could find anything interesting. Insects have done quite a number on the leaves this year.

Next, a horizontal view accentuates the layers of shrubbery. Quite heavy egg laying and feasting must have occurred in this wing of the insect housing complex.

One lonely, withered brown hanger-on, surrounded by a bit of diffuse color.

And finally, a slightly different view of the same scene yields a completely different background.

I haven't really seen or created anything qualitatively different from what countless other people have seen and rendered, yet I feel a certain satisfaction simply in having looked for myself and tried to observe a little more than I managed the last time. I may be in the autumn of my own life, but I'd rather try to bloom like that daisy than fall to the ground like the oak leaves.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Spherical intersection, aka soccer headers

In the last two soccer games I shot, I decided to try to catch some headers, and had a few chances to do so. I'm hired to cover a team, so I essentially follow their players, rather than going for action regardless of who it features. Anyway, I saw a few instances of using the noggin to propel the ball, and tried to anticipate them, time the shots, and focus at the right place. Even shooting at high fps (frames per second), action like this moves so fast that the best chance of catching the peak comes from timing the shutter release. Of course video at 30 fps, or even better, 60 fps or higher, would mean a very high probability of catching any desired moment of action, but as of now, the quality of a frame grab for a print is not equal to what comes from a still camera. Technology moves fast, and eventually high speed video will be ultra high resolution...and some of the fun and challenge may disappear from action photography. It's wonderful the things that have been studied and revealed through ultra high speed photography in scientific research, so I certainly have no regrets about the way things are progressing. But back to my little world of photography.

Aside from technology and reflexes, there's the whole issue of being at the right place for the best view. When you shoot from sidelines of the field instead of a raised press box, you have to scurry to get a clear view through closer players, referees, and sometimes spectators. Here's a shot that was a little late (about .05 second after contact - no I'm not exaggerating). I like it because it shows the leap, the player's face shows concentration, and the opposition player is watching.

Got the timing here, but everyone was facing the other way. I haven't worked out how to teleport to the other side of the field!


A glancing header.

Ah, caught the moment here.

I had this one anticipated, but the opposition player was taller and intercepted with her head.

This could have been a successful shot if the ball had come down more on my side of the player.

Here's what I like to catch! A clear view, and timed well enough to show the compression of the ball.

Here's a closer look at the same shot. I think that's pretty much maximum compression of the soccer ball.

And one more. My only disappointment with this shot is the cluttered background, but of course I can't control that. I was shooting with the widest available aperture for this long focal length, to blur the background as much as I could.

Cropped, it doesn't look bad. Some compression too.