We live in a neighborhood that’s quite friendly for trick-or-treating, and we have two boys who love dressing up, so Halloween is a big deal in our house. Getting them in their costumes on Halloween night is easy; getting nice pictures is more difficult when excitement, adventure, and candy are beckoning, and it was not until the end of November last year that I could get some costume portraits.
I had a complex three-light idea in mind:
With squirmy kids, the only way to make 2) work was to be my own VAL (Voice-Activated Lightstand), with my camera on a tripod, triggered by a wireless remote.
Leading off we have
Thomas Johnny the Tank Engine. John wasn’t really into giving me a good expression that evening. Note how the raw (white) spill from the hole in the top of the pumpkin becomes a little accent on John’s hat and shoulder. Totally unplanned but quite nice.
Darth Joey is batting cleanup. To fit the composition he needed to stand on something, so my wife used a black cloth to cover a stepstool. It also served the secondary but essential function of keeping Joey from wandering all about the room. I got many fewer shots of Joey than I did of John, but by way of compensation I got this fabulous expression.
I think my idea here was sound, although I goofed the implementation in two ways. First, I should have kept or used an exposure without one of the boys to composite out the shadow of the snooted face light on the wall/floor behind. Second, the fill light needed to be brighter by about a stop. As it was, I had to use Lightroom’s Shadows slider almost at maximum, which had the unfortunate effect of exaggerating some very bright noisy pixels in the shadows of Joey’s costume. It’s hard to see except at 100%, but it wouldn’t be there if I had gotten the exposure right the first time around. As many wise men have said, never do in post what you can do in camera.
I went out for a stroll at lunch late last week and walked down to the Boneyard Creek behind the Everitt Lab machine shop:
The rocks in the stream caught my eye here. When I reviewed this exposure on-camera at the end of the day, I was not impressed, but I let it sit for another couple days before reviewing it on my computer, at which point I saw that cropping from 3:2 to 16:9 would eliminate an anomalous bright reflection and improve the image. Some basic lens correction, tonal adjustments, and sharpening were quickly applied, but there wasn’t enough local contrast; the water and rocks did not have enough separation. I was feeling stymied and about to give up when it hit me: gee, why don’t you burn in the water, dummy? Photoshop not needed; Lightroom’s Adjustment Brush did exactly what I wanted. I might further tweak the dry tops of the rocks; as it is, they have subtle high-value gradations that could need help to print well.
I haven’t decided if the rocks are more interesting by themselves or in the full context of the channel with landscaped banks. I may go back for another try with a different lens.
A few Christmases back, we hung a string of lights on our mantelpiece, and we liked the effect so much that we left it up. (They’re not Christmas lights, they’re mood lights. ) My mind quickly turned to thoughts of long-exposure camera-in-motion photographs. I took an evening to experiment, and out of 15 exposures, one was clearly superior to the others:
A friend subsequently challenged me to ride through the U of I campus with my camera set for a long exposure. It took some time to find the right opportunity, but when it came I was driving and we were not on campus. The idea was still a good idea, though, and once I explained it and prepared the camera, my wife was game to help out:
This next one got high marks from a friend who is a graphic designer and a good photographer in her own right:
First and (so far) only joint photographic project I’ve undertaken. Alicia, you were fabulous; I may have set up the camera but you chose where to point it, and you chose well.
All the images above were taken in 2010. For the next couple of years I noodled around from time to time with long exposures, not really trying and certainly not producing anything of value, until my wife was driving me home from work one very gloomy afternoon last fall:
After that little sortie into hyperspace I don’t know that I have much left to say with camera-in-motion exposures, but I’ll not say “never again.” Whenever I do, it always comes back to haunt me.
My friend Mark in New Mexico, for whom I made a pay-it-forward print, was born and raised in western Illinois, and though he has lived in the Southwest for a few years he is still not used to the harsh, contrasty light so common there. When he first saw the two pictures shown below, he complimented me on capturing the particular soft, luminous quality of autumn in Illinois.
I had taken the car down the street for an oil change and decided I’d pass the time with a little photowalk. I was lucky to catch the bus turning here along with the red bushes.
The “creek” (it’s more of a drainage ditch, really) that empties into Mattis Park has long frustrated my attempts to make what I feel is a compelling image; here at last I think I have found a good combination of location and lens.
This is St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Pesotum, IL. Currently, it shares a pastor with St. Thomas, Philo, and Immaculate Conception, Bongard, and has done so for some years. My wife was once organist at the other two churches and occasionally helped out here; this picture was taken in 2010 on her last day playing for all three churches. It has a lovely little early-20th-Century organ, built by Carl Barckhoff sometime between 1900 and 1910, which has been kept up and was restored only a few years ago.
Apart from the the hint of an SUV parked in front of the church, this scene could have existed in 1950; apart from the electric wires, it could have existed in 1900 (the church was built in 1894). The architecture is vernacular American Brick Gothic, so it’s a stretch to say that what we see here could also be found in Germany, but the thought is apt, as German immigrant families founded the parish and built the church.
There are many little gems just like this scattered across central Illinois, and I wish I had more time to go photograph them.
In January 2012, I decided to try a little “pay it forward” experiment: I offered a free print to the first five friends who commented on a Facebook thread. Ideally, it would be a win-win for all concerned: they’d get a one-of-a-kind piece of wall decor and I’d get experience making good prints. I set a deadline of December 31, 2012, and I almost made it…but not quite, as we will see below.
For Mother’s Day, here’s my mom:
I was testing a two-strobe setup here: one under the shade of the lamp to my mom’s right, another through an umbrella on-axis. It did not work the way I intended it to, but it turned out better than my original conception, so I’m not going to quibble. It was my mom’s idea to mime a cigarette and look all sophisticated with two stuffed cows on her lap, which created the truest portrait of her I’ve ever seen.
Happy Mother’s Day to my mom, my wife, and all you who are, even in the most tangential way, mothers to someone.