Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A snowy walk on the Raleigh Greenway system

A forecast of 3 to 6 inches of snow turned into something around the low end of that range, or perhaps less in our neck of the woods, but the "glorified dusting", as it might be viewed by those who hail from snow country, was still enough to transform our cityscape/landscape in Raleigh.

I was lucky to have the time to go hiking about for a few hours, and found a few interesting things (in my eyes) to photograph. Here are some of them. First, ice sheets hanging from a squirrel baffle beneath a bird feeder.

A reflection at the opposite bank of Crabtree Creek.

A precipitously leaning tree that was outlined nicely by the snow it caught thanks to its angle.

A bend in the creek.

Rusty bridge rails.

Two views from that bridge.

Some other people had to be out in the freezing weather, such as this surveyor.

I revisited a condemned bridge that I've photographed before.

I like the way the structure of the wooden planks shows through the snow accumulation.

This slower tributary of Crabtree Creek froze, which helped to emphasize the reflected colors and shadow patterns.

[photos done with EF16-35mm f/2.8 L II, 24-105mm f/4 L IS, and 70-200mm f/4 L IS]

From a few days ago, here are some photos when we had ice but no snow:

Highly variable weather has been the norm this year.


Monday, January 27, 2014

From the other side of the pond (more from Yates Mill)

Yesterday, when I said the sky was blank facing north or east to photograph the old Yates Mill, I should have clarified that I meant when I began shooting. Toward the end of the afternoon, actually just before sunset, the northern sky developed a mix of stratus clouds that added some interest to my composition. It was apparent that there were winds aloft, while amazingly the air was completely still at ground level, as you would guess from the motionless water in this image.

[TS-E 17mm f/4L]

Back at the mill, here's a detail of the frozen apparatus. Yates Mill has been restored, and operates certain days and hours, so this is not a permanent situation, any more than the ice itself.

[EF 70-200 f/4 L IS @ 200mm]

Here is a "duotone" conversion, cold blue shadows and warm pinkish sepia highlights to go with the mix of ice and water. By the way, this is a perfect example of why I like to toss my tiny 40mm "pancake" lens into the bag if I'm traveling light. Its focal length fits in the center of the gap between the "specialty" wide angles (17 and 24mm tilt/shift) and the 70-200 zoom.

[EF 40mm f/2.8 STM]

As I was leaving, I paused to capture the underbelly of the mill.

[EF 40mm f/2.8 STM]


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Yates Mill, lingering ice

The Polar Vortex last week did not bring appreciable snowfall to Raleigh, but there were some unusually cold days. Today the temperature moderated, topping 50ºF/10ºC. I made a photo trip to Yates Mill Pond, not expecting much of a wintery look. There were still significant areas of ice lingering around the dam spillway and the mill wheel. Here is a first installment of the exploration I did through the lens(es).

The sky to the west had some interest, though from any reachable vantage point the sky behind the mill building was blank. Trees, sun just above the spillway wall:

[24mm TS-E f/3.5 L II]
Water curtains and ice curtains:

[EF70-200mm f/4 L IS @ 70mm]
The Iceman Cometh*:

[EF70-200mm f/4 L IS @ 165mm]
He was guarding a rather nice bathing area:

[EF70-200mm f/4 L IS @ 121mm]
Anthropomorphism may be facile, but it's fun!
*apologies to Eugene O'Neill


Saturday, January 25, 2014

Luxury Ride

When I was a boy I had a much more basic Flexible Flyer sled than this one. It had no seat back or side rails. For stability at speed, I rode it lying on my belly. The important feature was the same, though: the flexible front end that made steering easy and accurate. I remember one winter when the series of hills in the park across the street not only got a good thick base of snow, but there was a very brief partial thaw followed by a re-freeze. The icy surface then made it possible to build a lot of momentum, and we could cover long stretches of level ground and even slide uphill, coasting to the next big downhill. There were turns to be made to avoid running into trees and rocks…it was a bit like high speed cross country skiing for city kids with only a sled. At the end of the run, we even had to do a sharp turn to a sideways skid, to avoid running into a fence, much the way a downhill skier might stop. (I don't know if that's good technique or bad for skis, but it was the only option on a sled!)

I've missed seeing snow, and with the first chance in Raleigh this winter turning out to be a fizzle, I decided today to photograph this antique sled that my wife found some years back. It probably dates to between World War I and WW II. Yes, it's just sitting on a white sheet.

[24mm TS-E f/3.5 L II + 1.4x Extender II]


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Impure as the Undriven Snow

Tonight, the very first tiny hint of a snowfall in Raleigh this winter. Here are some of those tiny ice crystals, captured by a rather battered group of leaves. I don't know about you, but I'd love to see the land blanketed by a heavy carpet of snow, driven by wind into beautiful drifts, covering the humdrum trees and houses with a fairyland look…sorry, not getting to actually see it, so the cliches just came pouring out.

Anyway, this is the stingy reality so far. When (and if) I decide that a few of the other leaves I shot are worth your glance, I'll post other shots.

And here is the unreality, because if I don't see what I hope for, maybe I can imagine it, and if I can imagine it, there's Photoshop®...


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Seeking Beautiful Light

If the goal is an attractive, reality-based photograph, two things are pretty much universally required:

1. a serviceable subject

2. good light

I use the completely subjective adjective good advisedly. As for serviceable, I would argue that although you generally will want something to stand out as as subject, as a focus for the viewer's attention, and while finding a subject that a viewer might feel is beautiful will improve the prospects of that viewer responding to your finished image as beautiful, in spite of all of that I say that what you (I) as a photographer most want - must have - for success is good, beautiful light on the scene. Almost anything can function as a subject, and the focus can almost become the behavior and quality of the light itself.

This afternoon after a rainfall, I saw what I thought was interesting light developing outside. I ran inside for a camera, knowing from experience that the quality wouldn't last long. What could I find nearby for a subject? Not a lot. A few fallen branches, fallen leaves and clinging drops of water.

The four photos here are a kind of progression from "ok, that gets some color and depth from the slant of light and reflection off the moisture" through "ooh, that makes a nice design from this exact angle, and look at the texture in the leaf!" to finally feeling I'd caught a little of the magic I was seeing in the light. The last photo is just leaves, water and light, nothing inherently prettier than the ingredients of the first three, but I think there is a sense of fantasy in it. I enjoyed my minutes outside amid the play of light, and now I can relive some of the joy. Perhaps you can catch some of it too. I hope so.


Monday, January 13, 2014

Two paths to shallow depth of field

As photography geeks already know, when a lens is focused at a particular distance, theoretically only one plane will be perfectly sharp. That is, if a lens could have infinite resolution, there would be no depth of field at all. Of course, there is always a limit to resolution, because of diffraction and other considerations (how close to perfect is the lens design and construction? how great is the resolution of the camera? how closely will the image be viewed? will it be printed, and if so how large? will it be viewed at full resolution on a screen? what are the limitations of the eyesight of the viewer?). The combination of all of these factors leads to some wiggle room. From a practical standpoint, rather than a dimensionless plane of perfect sharpness surrounded by blurs on either side, there will be a kind of wedge of acceptable sharpness surrounding the plane of theoretical perfect focus. (Incidentally, that plane may be curved as a result of spherical aberration.)

Thanks to the same compromises listed above, we can also expand that "wedge" - region of apparent sharpness and detail - to a broad region by choosing a small lens opening. The effect is familiar from all of the landscape photos we see in which the depth of field extends to the closest and furthest objects shown in the scene. For now, though, let's look at ways to limit the depth of field (DOF), to confine clarity to as small an area as feasible.

The DOF will vary with magnification. The larger you make your subject within the area of the image, the shallower the DOF. This could be accomplished by simply moving closer or by using a longer focal length lens. Of course the longer focal length will mean a narrower angle of view is included in the picture. Although an object in the background might be equally blurred in a wide angle shot and a telephoto shot, that object will cover a larger area in the telephoto version, so it will look "softer".

Sometimes overlooked when considering DOF, but often of equal or greater significance, is the character of the blurred areas outside the region of sharp focus, and also the transition from crispness to softness. This will vary with different optical designs.

This first example photo was shot in response to a friend's comment about galactic images that were modified in Photoshop to create artificial transitions from in-focus to out. I did not do any software manipulation of this image. I used a tilt-shift lens (24mm), and instead of tilting the plane of focus to accommodate the "galactic" spray of leaves, I tilted it in the opposite direction, so that it intersected just a small spray of berries in the mid-ground. This gave a nice soft character to the foreground leaves and a reasonably soft background for a wide angle lens of middling aperture (f/3.5).

For this carved African bird, I used a more typical approach to the hunt for shallow DOF - a somewhat longer focal length (85mm) and a very wide aperture (f/1.2). Your attention is called to the eye, and what could have been a very distracting background becomes just some soft colors.


Sunday, January 12, 2014

Wandering Cat

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I've not been able to complete any blog posts for a couple of weeks. So, just to satisfy my hordes of followers, here is a cat. Just a wandering neighborhood cat. To add weight to this post, I'll provide the relevant exif statistics: ISO 500, 300mm, f/2.8, 1/500 sec.

I plan to publish some more thoughtful things in the next few days, but really, the internet never tires of cat pictures, so I can't go wrong with this one, right?

By request, here is a known entity, our neighbor's cat Charlie: