Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A little ice

Here are a few attempts to find some visual interest on a day that we did not get the snow that had been forecast as a fair probability. What did show up were a few icicles, including some hanging from plants.

And dripping...

The birds found the tiny patch of snow dust that miraculously harbored some seeds and fruit.

Icy and wet leaves have a great way of reflecting a diffuse light source (the cloudy sky through a space in the trees).

On this holly tree, I caught a pair of "drip points" that synchronized perfectly for one cycle. I have shots of the water pooling on the icicles, and falling in unison from both leaves. Here is the shot showing the water beginning to pull loose, just before it fell.

Of course, an easy place to find icicles is hanging from eaves. I liked this composition because of the end of a pine branch frozen in an odd position, and also the mid-ground perspective and texture provided by the shingled roof and the background of the trees.


Music and Dance for Children

The afternoon of January 26, the Durham Symphony Orchestra, led by its music director William Henry Curry, presented a concert and dance performance aimed at a young audience. As a prelude, High Strung Violins set up an instrument petting zoo to give the young folk a chance - in most cases their very first chance - to see what it might feel like to play an orchestral string instrument. They provided various sizes of violins and cellos, and even a guitar for contrast.

(I chose to present these images in black and white because I felt that the bright colored clothing that was abundant all around was a distraction from the much more interesting expressions on the children's faces.)

A left handed approach:

Please keep in mind, I am not making fun of the way these young kids are holding the instruments. They're trying something new. I just can't help myself with the well-intentioned comments because...well, because I'm a violinist, and it's hard to "turn it off"!
Mastering the technique of "sul tasto" or "sur la touche" bowing:

Then it was time for the concert to begin, with works by Bizet, drawn from L'Arlesienne and Carmen. These, along with individual demos, served as an introduction to the instruments of the orchestra.

Next up was the featured performance, with choreographer and narrator Chuck Davis and members of the African American Dance Ensemble joining the DSO for a rendition of the classic story of Babar the Elephant, with music by Francis Poulenc.

The hunter and other characters followed the story line of the original 1937 book by Jean de Brunhoff.

After the crowning and conclusion of the dance with a few audience members invited to participate as guests at the coronation, the performers were treated to a rousing ovation.

At that point, I had to hurry home to prepare for my own evening performance with the North Carolina Symphony, guest conductor Mei-Ann Chen, and pianist Lise de la Salle.


Monday, January 28, 2013

Yates Mill, with the last remnants of ice

I had never visited Yates Mill before today, but thanks to fellow nature photographer Ken Whitlow, I knew it would be a worthwhile place to explore. We arrived about a half hour before sunset, hoping that the sky colors would be warm enough to throw some interesting light on the mill. There never was much of a pictorial sunset, but the clouds offered a nice background field in the northwestern direction. While Ken headed for the lake view above the mill, I paused to explore the possibilities from below the water wheel.

The shot above is a blend of two exposures, one for the sky and one for everything else. I used a 24 mm tilt-shift lens, shifted up a few mm.

I became so intrigued by the water wheel, the rusted gear teeth, and the ice that I quickly did a series of images using a telephoto zoom (100-400 mm).

These icicles must have formed in the manner of stalagmites, though much faster than stones formed by deposition of minerals from dripping water. They appear to be "hanging upward"! No fancy hypoid gear teeth on this wheel, just a straight cut. I wonder what it sounds like in operation. I'll have to wait at least until March to find out.

I used the longest focal length to highlight the shower of water from ice melting on the stonework above.

When I finally tore myself away from the mill works and walked part way around the lake, the light was beginning to fade, but still not showing much warmth of color. I first did an "establishing shot" with the tele. I think you can sense the cold weather in the image.

This is one of my favorite shots of the outing. The vantage point is similar to what Ken Whitlow used for a photo he recently showed me, but we each have our own way of seeing things, and I feel that my image shows an individual approach. 

My final image is an attempt to tie together the foreground and background, both through the obvious use of the water as reflective medium and by setting up the weeds as an analog in size and tone for the mill building.

I can hardly wait for more chances to probe the photo opportunities of Yates Mill - maybe even on a warm day!


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Conscious and hidden decisions in photography

There are sometimes arguments over whether photography should or shouldn't portray reality. Of course in the case of photojournalism, I don't think there's any question: when the purpose of a photo is to illustrate or clarify events that are reported as news, the photo should, as far as possible, be an unaltered representation of things as they "really" are, as they happened. It's worth pointing out that any journalist brings an individual background to the scene, and may - intentionally or not - notice certain facts and not notice others. That's just part of being human. The same is true of any photographer. The decisions about what is relevant to a photograph and what constitutes merely distraction are being made all the time and affect such basic constituents of a photograph as where the photographer decides to stand (or kneel, or lie on the ground), what direction the camera is pointed, what angle of view (determined by lens focal length) is chosen, and at what moment the shutter is released.

After that decisive moment, many other choices remain. Here's a mundane shot of a mourning dove that  I made a day or two ago. I liked the attitude it struck, and the shaft of sunlight. But how to process the photo, what to do with it...
First, I cropped heavily, because the only interesting things to me were the bird and the patterns of light and dark immediately around it. (The choice of focal length was limited to what was at hand, and 400 mm didn't give a narrow enough view to get me "close to" the dove.) Second, I made adjustments to exposure and contrast, and realized that there were two dominant tones: the blue of the sky (which spilled into the white feathers) and the brown tree bark (which was mirrored by the brown feathers). I decided to emphasize those colors by exaggerating them. I converted the image to monochrome (black and white, which of course actually includes a whole range of gray tones), then applied a duotone mix. I used a red brown for the dark tones, a compromise between the color of the feathers and that of the bark. Then I chose an almost sky blue for the bright tones. I think the result has at least a color harmony, and perhaps evokes the cold that was in the air, without the benefit of snow or ruffled feathers to help convey the impression.

This next image is a straight forward depiction of a confluence of trees, one deciduous variety bare of any leaves, with a backdrop of evergreens. I simply liked the pattern. It wasn't completed by snapping the shutter, though. I worked the image in Adobe Lightroom® to bring each of the three layers of the scene (textured trunk and branches, green needles, blue sky) to equal strength. This way the whole comes through as an abstract pattern more than a three dimensional reality. In many cases I would be striving to intensify the illusion of depth that can be created with a two dimensional image, but not this time.

Finally, I present one more attempt to show the look of a dry winter.

Do you see the light stone path that travels across the width of this image? Of course you don't! At least half of it is hidden behind the foreground leaves. But you may have the impression that there is a continuous path there (and in fact there is). The point is obviously that we are so strongly inclined to notice straight lines and regularity of shape that our minds complete implied structures, sometimes from rather scant visual evidence.


Saturday, January 19, 2013

A tiny hint of snow

Thursday night, central North Carolina got a mix of rain and snow. In Raleigh, it was rain until about midnight, followed by a puny dusting of snow that soon ended, with an accumulation - at least in our neighborhood - that would better be measured in millimeters than fractions of an inch. Still, I prepared a camera and lens so that I could do some quick shooting in the morning before it was necessary to leave for rehearsal. If only I'd had time to drive an hour northwest, where the snowfall was significant...but there's no sense in bemoaning what wasn't an option.

I like to make the best of situations, including when I've assigned myself a task that seems to depend on external circumstances. In this case, I wanted to create some images that said "winter", and even though we didn't have the wall to wall carpet of white that immediately describes the season, I hoped I could arrange elements to highlight hints of snow and frost without looking contrived.

No doubt due to the warm weather we've had recently, some perennials are starting to bloom. It would have been nice (from a photographic point of view) if they had been covered with flakes, but there was only water from the rain. The leaves on the ground did catch a little snow and ice, so I chose a high enough vantage to make that my background.

This leaf caught the sun just right, making its texture a good contrast with the ice.

There was lots of water on this group, along with just a hint of remaining frost.

The morning sun began working on what little frozen stuff there was.

This little beauty flaunted her charms, acting as if the sparse field of frost around her might be the perfect frozen stage of a ballet on ice:

Just when I was running out of time, I caught sight of a curved leaf that made a pretty effective ice trap. This is a rather cluttered composition, and I have misgivings about it, but there are also some things to like, so I'll let it be seen.

Now I can go back to hoping that in the next month or two there might be a "real" snowstorm that I can get to. It's a purely selfish wish, I know! Children like to play in the snow, and I guess at heart I'm still very much a child, though this kid likes to play with a camera instead of a sled!


Thursday, January 17, 2013

A few more from the shore

Here are three more seashore sunrise photos that I decided should also "make the cut".

Again, all were shot with a Canon G10.

Cliché: the very best camera is the one that you actually have with you when a photo opportunity presents itself!
Also: sometimes the best time to shoot "sunrise" is before the sun actually rises. The light of the sky, although dimmer, may have more color and contrast, and be more easily captured in the same exposure with landscape features than the sun itself could be. That goes double when you're using a small-sensor camera, which, other things being equal, will tend to have less capacity to capture a great range of tones than a large-sensor camera. This is one thing that was completely different in the age of film, although large format film had other advantages over small format.

seashore sunrise, horizontal oblique

seashore sunrise, horizontal

seashore sunrise, vertical

All in all, I think it's pretty amazing what we can now capture with cameras that we can carry in a pocket. A bit of processing skill also helps.


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A winter walk by the water, with a pocket camera

Winter weather is still eluding us in North Carolina. I was out around Carolina Beach Tuesday afternoon, with temps around 70ºF (21ºC for the rest of the world). It gradually cooled a little, and the breeze made a windbreaker a reasonable proposition, but still...winter...well, no cause to complain: it was a beautiful day to be outside. Off I went, carrying a Canon G10, a four year old pocketable digital camera.

The ocean and sky were not strikingly unusual when I arrived, but attractive nonetheless. The colors were not as saturated as presented in this image, but then, this is my reality, I'll see it as I want to!

I had performed an Education Concert earlier in the day, so this was the second time that I had a large audience:

I cut back and forth between the town streets and the weed-covered dunes along the beach.

Jealously guarded parking areas, left vacant in the off season:

This little lake attracted a few varieties of birds. I would rather have photographed them with a DSLR and a long telephoto lens, but some things were possible with my little Canon G10.

I'm disappointed when I see trash abandoned in inappropriate places, but I admit to a certain fascination with photographing it in some circumstances. The ibises didn't seem to mind (though that doesn't mean no harm was done).

Someone left quite a footprint in the mud!

Ah, tranquility!

To "frame" the series of photos above, here are some pre-sunrise shots from the next morning: