Flame

Red Iris

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:1-4)

Two of my neighbors grow these red irises, and I was fortunate to capture one of them this year just in time for Pentecost.

Sailing By

Sailing By

We went to visit my parents for my younger son’s birthday again after Christmas. As I did in 2013/14, I took my camera down to North School Park for some blue-hour pictures of the light displays. Alas, there was no snow this year to add a warm halo around the lights, which gave the scene a desolate quality I don’t usually associate with Christmas decorations. Perhaps, since I took the picture on New Year’s Eve, it projects the mingled excitement and melancholy one feels as the old year gives way to the new.

To all my readers/viewers, may your 2015 be happy and healthy.

Visiting Warsaw (Sort Of)

When I posted about my thunderstorm picture, I said that I wanted to take more time to demonstrate that rural Illinois is not boring, and possesses rather a subtle beauty. Of course, you can always wait until blue hour to really amp things up.

Warszawa Sunset

The Warsaw family owns this land, right across the tracks from the church where my wife works. The church’s fall festival/potluck had just completed and we were on our way home, when I saw the moon rising over this barn and needed to turn back. The mosquitoes were fierce and I had not prepared with bug spray; I consider it a miracle that I brought back anything usable.

At the tail end of blue hour the full spectrum of white light can be seen painted across the sky, as it was when I photographed another crescent moon in a sunset two years ago. Back then, I discovered that the Cross Process 2 preset in Lightroom 4 did just the right magic to separate out the colors, and I used it again here. The image above is layered from three “prints” of two exposures:

  • First exposure for the grass and barn, tonal modifications only.
  • First exposure for the barn with the Cross Process 2 preset, to get a little bit of the wild sky colors into the white paint.
  • Second exposure for the sky, with the Cross Process 2 preset.

The Warsaw clan is numerous here, and the daughter-in-law of this farm’s owners, who is a photographer herself, asked for a print before she even saw the result. She still wants it having seen the result 🙂 and I’ll be happy to oblige.

Rocket Glare

The technical side of fireworks photography is easy and repeatable: low ISO, small aperture, infinity focus, bulb shutter, remote shutter release. The artistic side is much harder; one must find the right location and angle, and time the shutter to get the optimal part of the explosion. One also depends on the skill and imagination (or lack thereof) shown by the pyrotechnicists.

The fireworks people who do the annual Independence Day show in Champaign always seem to send their rockets up into exactly the same part of the sky, so I’ve begun shooting individual bursts and making composite images in post. Here’s July 4, 2011, viewed from the back patio of a friend’s house:

Pretty Boomy Things

In 2012 I was at the same friend’s house but didn’t get the composite I wanted out of that session, and in 2013 I had to stay home during the show.

This year, I was finally able to shoot from the east side of Assembly Hall:

Pretty Boomy Things II

Without the twilight behind to define Assembly Hall’s silhouette, I could not have made this picture. I haven’t given much thought to 2015 yet, but I know that I don’t want to repeat myself.

Warm Winter

When I posted before Christmas I mentioned wanting some pictures of Christmas lights. I was able to get them and realize a long-unfulfilled desire to photograph something in my home town at the same time.

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North School Park in Arlington Heights, IL was built when I was in my early teens, and ever since it has been home during December to an elaborate display of Christmas lights. From the day I first read David Hobby’s guide to shooting Christmas lights, I have wanted to photograph North School Park in its winter glory, but could never quite make the time on multiple trips to visit my parents. I finally got my pictures last week, when we visited for my younger son’s birthday. Mother Nature was kind to me and (literally) iced the cake with a foot of snow. The train shown above, of course, is my kids’ favorite.

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Capturing the windmill above took some trial and error, as well as defying diffraction with an aperture of f/22. I’m long overdue to buy some ND filters to allow longer exposures at smaller apertures.

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By the time I took this frame, the twilight had deepened enough to give me 20 s @ f/16. Still need those ND filters….

It was when I edited these pictures that I finally decided I like my new D7100 a lot. Not that the D90 couldn’t have done a good job, but there is a combination of smoothness, sharpness, and deep dynamic range in the D7100 files that the D90 just can’t match. I’m looking forward to the next time I go photographing at dusk.

Palm Sunday Blizzard

The church where my wife works has members living at nursing homes scattered across three counties, and it is customary to go around to visit and sing to them both at Christmas and Easter. This year’s Easter trip was scheduled for Palm Sunday, but all that changed when the weather threw us a knuckleslidecurve ball:

Palm Sunday

Thanks be to God, this was the real last snowfall before spring.

Comeback

*tap* *tap* Is this thing on?

The family obligations I mentioned in my last post are now completed: my wife has earned the degree of Master of Music in Organ Performance. (We’ve seen her at the console before.) I’m still working my way back into some pictures, so let me reach into the archive for a shot from Black Friday 2011:

Black Friday

The idea of a long exposure to capture the essence of the first day of the Christmas Shopping Season suggested itself to me easily, but finding the right location was more difficult. In order not to cut off the top of the building I had to tilt the camera, which required perspective correction in post. Further, in order to be ready when the sunset was properly blending with the street and interior lights, I had to get there and get set up in advance. I do not remember just how long it took to find both the right light and the right mix of traffic passing, but it felt like more than an hour.

In retrospect, a neutral density filter might have been useful for this shot, to allow a slower shutter speed and more/longer light trails.

While I was shooting I attracted the attention of a writer for Shutterbug magazine, whose name I no longer remember. We had a nice chat about this and that, although I was glad when he left so I could focus more attention on photography. 🙂 This remains the only time I can remember that someone has come up to talk to me while I was photographing.

There; my toes are wet again. Let’s see if I can restart and post on a regular basis.

Subtractive Synthesis

The following image was included in last night’s omnibus post, but on further reflection I think I should give it its own space, because there are a couple lessons it can teach us.

Glædene

I’d been wanting to try the 90mm on a bearded iris but the irises nearby kept dying before I could get to them. Miraculously, I found one not only alive but in full beauty, and had all my equipment ready to immortalize it. This is not a true macro shot, of course, but no other lens in my bag could give me what the Tamron did in this picture. I am pleased with this image and it prints very well, but there is one oddity that bears further examination.

Photography is a subtractive art. To borrow Saint-ExupĂ©ry’s definition of engineering elegance, a photograph is complete not when you have nothing left to add, but when you have nothing left to take away. Naturally, photography has developed many ways to take things out of the frame: choice of lens, choice of perspective, physically moving or rearranging objects, cropping, burning, airbrushing, and the various kinds of clone/heal operations available in Photoshop and similar software.

I did not notice the spider on the upper petals until I was reviewing my shots later that night. I could have cloned it out, as I did with the petal of another flower in the lower left corner (note to self: holding the other flower out of the way with one’s hand is far faster and easier), but I chose to leave the spider there. Why? First, I had another shot taken a few minutes before, featuring the same species of spider:

Arachne

Second, I should have held the intruding flower out of the way before I photographed the iris, but the spider becomes both a unifying element across the shoot, and a whimsical oddity reminding us that life is not tidy. To eliminate all poossiblity of extraneous matter in a shot like this, I would have to cut the flower, remove any unwanted arthropods, take it to my studio, put it in water, light it against an appropriate background, and photograph it there. A studio shot was not an option here; apart from wanting to photograph the flowers in situ in the soft evening light, the iris belongs to my neighbor, so I couldn’t cut it in the first place.

By now you may be wondering “When is he going to talk about the ethics of image manipulation?” This topic deserves a post of its own, but briefly I can say this: I consider most of my photographic work to be fine art; that is, I seek to create photographs that depict what I felt, rather than scientifically accurate documents of a place or thing. In this context, there is no problem with cloning/retouching; they are legitimate tools of artistic expression. If I were doing documentary photography or photojournalism, the changes I made to the image of the iris would be completely unacceptable.

Trusting the Software

The photographers I admire can (or could) anticipate the tools needed to produce a certain effect, and get it right more often than not. I aspire to that level of mental preparedness and fluency in the craft. Since I remain a rank amateur, there have been far too many days when I just can’t make the tools do what I want, all of which ended with me throwing away images which a better photographer would know how to process. Today was almost one of those days, but this time, the tools came to my rescue: the programmers at Adobe seem to have anticipated exactly what I wanted to do.

Prarie Gradient

Every so often the twilight resolves into this sort of lovely full-spectrum pattern when the sun is far enough below the horizon. I’ve seen it many times and have never successfully photographed it until now. The red on bottom and blue on top are easy; it’s the yellow and green in the middle that have always frustrated me. I was pretty frustrated tonight as well after hacking at it in Lightroom for a while, and in desperation I headed over to the presets. I idly moved my cursor over the Cross Process 2 preset and, wouldn’t you know, there were my yellows and greens. Unlike the others, the Cross Process 2 preset doesn’t perform hue shifts, only saturation and luminance. With the preset as a base I tweaked the tone curve and shifted the blues, which had turned cyan, back to blue.

Funny thing is, I had tried to do something similar without a preset five minutes earlier, but I had failed. I still don’t understand why a modified version of Cross Process 2 did exactly what I wanted, and I am angry with myself that I couldn’t develop this image without help, but I’m glad at least that I didn’t throw it away.

In A Fog

Unless you’re in San Francisco, you’re generally lucky to find yourself shooting in fog. (Veteran travel photographer Bob Krist helps a bit with tips on predicting fog, but like all forecasters, he’s not infallible.) I was lucky recently when I got up early to grab a shot of a companion to some other graffiti on an underpass, and tried to give the found subject its due attention too.

I confidently forgot to bring a memory card with me, which forced a mad dash back to headquarters, causing me to miss some lovely purples and magentas in the twilight. Thankfully, I was still in time for some blues and dusky orange/pink.

Trail

I walked over for a closer shot of the barn/silo, which I fumbled; I was packing my camera back in the car when I noticed the trail of my footprints through the dew.

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Finally, I moved to the St. Mary’s Road underpass for the shot I originally wanted. The sun is frame right, high enough to give some “lift” to the edges without creating too much contrast. I’m standing across the road in a little marked walkway with a long lens; there is no corresponding walkway on the other side, so I couldn’t go in with a wide lens as I did for the companion graffito at Stadium Drive.