Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Camera size matters

If you're not in the mood for even a non-technical how-and-why discussion, just skip over the next two paragraphs and look at the pictures.  I won't mind

There are optical properties which are inherent to the physical dimensions of a camera's sensor, because the lens focal length that is needed to give a particular field of view will depend upon the size of that sensor.  Today, I'm not going to delve into the details (there are discussions and examples on my web site), but one property that was a factor in photos I made today (and the reason I used the equipment I did) is that a long focal length lens can blur a background more than a short focal length. A very small camera might be advertised to "zoom to an equivalent focal length of 400mm", but that is actually a fiction.  The angle of view (what is included in your picture) may be exactly the same as what would be included had the photo been shot with a 400mm lens on a "big" camera (a full-frame DSLR, e.g.), but the actual focal length will be much shorter, and even with compensation in the form of changing lens apertures, there will be no way to equalize the look of the backgrounds in many distance/perspective situations.

So, to photograph these berries and turn the grass and weeds right behind them into diffuse areas of color, I used a 100-400mm, at the long end, on a full-frame camera, with the addition of a 1.4X extender to increase the focal length to 560mm.  Computer monitors vary greatly in their pixel density, so the displayed size of an image is not fixed, but if you're seeing this first image as about 4x5 inches, then you're seeing the berries a bit more than twice life size.

Even at f/11, the depth of field is so shallow that only one berry in this cluster is in focus.

Here's an iPhone snap showing the camera setup for that second photo.  From this vantage you can't even really see the berries, but they are there, right where the lens is pointed.  The black rings attached to the front of the camera body are extension tubes, to allow the whole rig to focus closer.  Next is the 1.4X multiplier, or tele-converter (or "extender" in Canon speak), which looks like part of the lens unless you know what to look for.  Yes, the tripod is purposely skewed, with the downhill leg longer than the others, and the center column tilted to get the head a little closer to the ground.

Here is the image just recorded, with the camera still in position.  Notice how the plants in the background, although out of focus because I focused the iPhone on the Canon's back, are still distinct, especially compared to the berry photo.


Monday, December 29, 2014

Sometimes a photograph needs a massage

After shooting the rain drops on tree twigs, I took Ziva on a nice long hike.  We got all the way to Crabtree Valley via the Greenway, so to "celebrate", on the way back I stopped near my much appreciated, abandoned bridge, and photographed it from a vantage point I hadn't used before.  The result was dreary and dull.  Although the wet weather was part of the atmosphere of the scene, I did want the bridge to stand out from the vegetation which had almost swallowed it in the grayness.  Adobe Photoshop® to the rescue.  The hues have not been altered, no objects have been moved or removed, but changes, both local and global, to exposure, contrast, saturation, and other tonal effects brought the image to life, so that I see the bridge now as a viable subject.

In case you're curious, here's the original shot, straight out of my iPhone 5s.  It does capture the somber light, and if the scene itself had more strength and character, I might have preferred the realistic rendering...  But this was all basically playing with a snapshot.



I tried to get some really close views of raindrops on trees today.  There wasn't a particularly nice background to be rendered in miniature within the drops, but the overall effect was ok.  I'll have to explore the possibilities again.  I added extension tubes and a 1.4X tele-extender to my macro lens to enable greater than life-size reproduction.

There were some nice colors in one view, so I increased the saturation and got this result:


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Tree Trauma

Having seen Into the Woods just a few days ago (and nearing the end of a run of Nutcracker ballet performances), I've been particularly tuned in to the seemingly magical effects of the trees that surround us.  During a run with Ziva, we halted briefly at two spots so that I could point my iPhone at two types of tree trauma.

First, some logs remaining when a dead tree was cut down near the Greenway.  Fungi were growing well in their environment, and the bright sunlight was coming from behind the scene, but blocked by a standing tree from striking the camera lens.  This gave lots of contrast to the textures of leaves, bark, vines and mushrooms, which I further enhanced when I converted the image to black and white.

Next was the site of a fallen tree, which has now lain across the river for many months.  On the bank where I was standing, another tree appears to be meeting its demise, perhaps due to a lightning strike.


Saturday, December 27, 2014

Wild Berries of Winter

Here we are in the midst of winter weather (well, at least the nights are cool/cold, and many of the trees are actually bare), and what should I find but a lot of ripe wild berries.  Well, the birds should be very happy, and I'm happy that I spotted these before they (apparently) did.  Having just returned from a hike with Ziva, I grabbed a camera and macro lens, and dashed outside again, leaving Ziva inside to stew.

She was behind the glass door watching me when I returned to the house.  I'm easily amused, and am still intrigued by reflections superimposed on direct sight.  I'll probably do photos along these lines until someday I get really lucky with the light and have something that can fool the eye and be beautiful.  Trompe l'oeil is not one of my usual genres, but I enjoy seeing paintings in that style, and I think it could be a good influence on my photography.  At least, it keeps me thinking and imagining.

[All of that was before the first Nutcracker performance of today.  Now back to do the second one...]


Holiday iPhonography

The evening of the 25th, we shared a celebratory dinner with friends.  The host created a very simple dessert that was a visual treat in the making, so here is some iPhonography of the occasion.  Cherries Jubilee, like any flambĂ©, involves burning off the alcohol from a liqueur.  The "sauce" was preheated over an open flame.

After being poured over the cherries, it was lit within the pan.

Then the concoction was enjoyed over ice cream.

No doubt Escoffier did a fancier job for Queen Victoria, but Rick LaBach's dessert was enjoyed by all!

A cat may look upon a king.  Presumably a cat may look upon a queen as well.  Rick's cat Sparkle looked upon whomever she chose, and stayed in the shadows for this mysterious portrait.

I can't leave Ziva out of the picture for long.  Friday morning, she ran through rows of puddles along the Greenway, and waded more slowly through this mini-pond.  I've named the photo "Ziva, Center of a Tension".


Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Tug of War

Yes, it's time again for tug-o-war, a game that Ziva always wins.  Today, we saw the new cinema version of Sondheim's "Into the Woods" - wonderful! - then shared a festive meal with friends, so I'm in a good mood to show my somewhat dangerous activity of this morning.  Ziva is not a mean dog, but she's a playful animal, and doesn't have as much control over her teeth and jaw strength as our late Photon did.  The hazard arises when an object that she is intending to grab gets too close to our hands or arms.  I'm still Pretty Damned Quick, so I've not suffered anything worse than slight skin abrasions or inconsequential bruises, but some training is going to be needed, because Ziva absolutely loves to play with interlocking rubber rings, cotton sock rags, etc.

See how sedately she is surveying the area, just moments before erupting into action.

Yes, that is my violinistically crucial left hand holding the ring, ready to release when necessary, while my right hand is operating a camera that usually requires two hands.

Take a look at Ziva's determination!  I always let her "win" before too long, for both our sakes.

The last shot in this sequence maybe gives some idea of the movement and effort that is going on.

Later in the day, Ziva will be as loving as any creature, and even purrs somewhat like a cat.


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Pouring Rain, Photo Fun

This morning I was obliged to walk/run Ziva in rather heavy rain.  Unlike some dogs I could name, she is not the least bit dissuaded by precipitation, or even thunder.  She loves to run through water channels, such as the rush down the street along the gutter on the way to a storm sewer opening at the bottom of a hill.  And if there are piles of wet leaves along the way, so much the better!

Well, after an hour or so of that, I thought I owed it to myself to go out into the rain again with a weather resistant camera.  I had spotted some interesting possibilities along our neighborhood creek.  This is where I say "kids, don't try this at home!"  To put it seriously, if you want to keep your expensive camera gear working, and shoot in heavy rain, you should consider putting a plastic bag around the camera body, with just the hood of the lens poking out of a hole sealed around it.  There are also specially made rain covers for cameras that you can purchase.  Digital cameras are, in large part, computers.  Any water that gets into electronics can cause trouble.  Salt water is especially evil - corrosive! - but that's a discussion for another day.  If you get a little rain on the outside of your camera, just be careful to wipe it off when you get indoors.

All of that notwithstanding, I wasn't worried about the camera and lens I was carrying*, because they are very substantially moisture sealed.  I was careful to keep rain from landing on the front surface of the lens (lens hoods do more than keep stray bright light from hitting the lens), and just went out and shot.  The results were worth it, to me, and it gave me some more experience to call upon if I'm at some gorgeous scenic site on a rainy day.  Here are eight examples.  I began with small things.

Here's a stage-setting view of the creek, running high.

Next are some shots of the white water action.

Note how a high shutter speed freezes the water in the foreground, where it is in focus.

A slow shutter speed perhaps gives a better sense of the many directions of flow.

Finally, a close view of leaves that were collecting and dripping rain. You can see a scattering spray behind them as rain hit a bark projection.  The tree was purplish in the bluish overcast light, and I emphasized the color by increasing the saturation, as if I were shooting the old Fuji Velvia slide film from days of yore.

[Canon 1DX, 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS II]

When my brief excursion was done, the inside of my weather resistant jacket was wet, and my Tilley hat was soaked through.  However, the innards of the camera seem unaffected.  Well, to be fair, the soak-through of my clothing was a result of my hour out with Ziva as well as twenty minutes with the camera!


Dull Light

Tuesday morning was drizzly and the light was dull, nor was there anything interesting like fog when Ziva and I did our jaunt along Crabtree Creek.  Nonetheless, when we got to the bridge over the river, I decided to grab a few pics to compare to how different it was when I got the "Slanting Light" photo posted here.

The overall look is drab, but the wetness did bring out some of the left over autumn colors.  At any rate, just to demonstrate how the light can make (or break) a photo:


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Ziva at home, at rest

Here are two portraits of Ziva at home.  I was on my way out the door, headed for work, when she struck a pose quite similar to the black dog in the oil painting behind her.

[iPhone 5s]

After an athletic workout, she dreamed happily.  There's residual red-brown mud on her black muzzle.  Ziva was a diggy dog!  I shot this (in very dim light) from a distance of about 4 meters, so there's an effect of telephoto compression (which actually results from the distant perspective).

[Canon 1DX, 400 mm, 1/15 sec., f/5.6, ISO 6400]


Interlocking rings, not a logo...

Here are sixteen shots of Ziva playing with her tug-of-war rings, in the course of some fetch and return exercises.  The animated GIF will show each shot for one second, in a continuous loop.  The color quality of GIFs is not equal to what a JPEG can show, but that's unimportant to me in this case. I wanted you to see some of the configurations of her body and the three rings that show up momentarily as she dances around.  Maybe we should add a ring or two and Ziva could do a commercial for the next Olympics?  Or for Audi?

Here are three quick "portraits", done just before the wildness began.  In the first she is relaxed, and the next two are when she was briefly distracted by some crows overhead.


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Storm Large backstage

If you've followed Pink Martini lately, then you're familiar with singer Storm Large.  At intermission of Saturday's matinee concert with the North Carolina Symphony, Storm took a moment to check something on her phone backstage.  I used my phone to grab this shot.  The light in most parts of Meymandi Concert Hall's backstage areas is dismal for photos, but Storm sat in a good place and was facing just the right direction, so everything worked.

The show was fun to play, and the capacity crowd had a great time!  One of them blogged about it from an audience perspective, so you can see and read about the other side.


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.