I previously mentioned that I am working on several personal photo projects. One of those has reached its conclusion. As a member of the Mountaineers, I decided to document the “remodel” of the Tacoma branch’s clubhouse. The remodel involved tearing down the old building, except for a portion of one wall, and then building a whole new structure. Approximately weekly from January through August, I took shots of the clubhouse as it went down and back up again. I’ve made a couple of videos with those shots. The club will be showing them at the Grand Opening of the new facility this coming Thursday. However, I’ve posted them on Vimeo with links here.
Obviously to do a series of shots like this, you want to shoot from exactly the same spot with exactly the same setting every time. I found this is easier said than done. When I shot the images, I took two sets of shots from each vantage point. Using my 24-70mm lens, I shot one set at 24 mm and another set at 28 mm. Additionally, I always used aperture-priority mode with the f-stop at f/11 and ISO at 100. I had the camera on my tripod, and I always set the tripod feet in the same spots.
After taking shots for several weeks, I found I was more successful with the zoom set at 24 mm instead of 28 mm. I found that when I set it at 28 mm, it was difficult to set the lens consistently at 28 mm – sometimes it would up being at 27 mm, sometimes at 29 mm. I suggest if you try the same thing, and use a zoom lens, always set the lens at one end or the other of its zoom range for more consistent results.
Another difficulty resulted from my tripod, which has a ball head. With this tripod head, it was difficult to always get the camera pointed exactly the same direction and angle. I used a bubble level on the hot shoe to help and tried to line the edges of the frame at a consistent spot on the neighboring building. Even so, I found considerable variation between shots taken in different weeks. Consequently, I rotated and cropped each image in Lightroom, attempting to get the orientation exactly the same for each image. I was somewhat successful, the building does “wander” a bit back and forth between images, but it isn’t too objectionable in my opinion. Overall I’m happy with the result.
I wanted to label this post “Weather Forecasts Suck” but thought that was too self-evident. I’ve been trying to take a day off from my day job for the past 2 week to go out and do some photography. Unfortunately, I keep making the mistake of looking at the weather forecast.
Yesterday was the perfect example, the forecast called for 50% chance of rain, thunderstorms likely. So instead of taking the day off, I went to work. Sure enough, it did rain a bit in the morning, but then it stopped and the sun came out. Most of the day was partly cloudy, and it didn’t rain again until after the sun set. All in all, not much rain, no thunderstorms, and not too bad of conditions for photography (though the sunset was totally lacking). The spring weather foiled me again!
I keep reminding myself, that western Washingtonians need forget about the rain, or they will never go outside. So tomorrow, I’m taking the day off, rain or shine. In case you are curious, the forecast for tomorrow from the Weather Channel’s webpage: “Clouds and limited sunshine with the possibility of some scattered showers during the afternoon. High 53F. Winds SSW at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 40%. “
Just so I could post a photo or two, I did take the camera out in the yard yesterday evening to get a few spring flower shots. These were all taken with my Canon 100mm macro lens.
I’ve lived in the Tacoma area for almost 20 years and have never bothered to investigate the Port of Tacoma with camera in hand. So the other day, I went down there for a couple of hours to see what I could find. As it turns out, I didn’t find much. There is not much public access in the port. I guess that is not too surprising, and I could have figured that out before heading down there by checking out Washington’s public shore access website. There is plenty of public access on the Thea Foss Waterway, by downtown Tacoma. However, that area is much less “port-like,” being full of pleasure boat marinas. The north end of the Thea Foss does have large ships tie up at the grain elevator terminal, so my first stop was at Thea Park, just down the shoreline from the grain elevators.
After a few shots, such as the one featured with this post, I crossed over to the east side of the Thea Foss Waterway and tried to follow the shoreline looking for other views of ships. Most the views are fairly limited – behind fences, acres of containers, etc. There is restricted access on many roads – likely the result of 9/11. The only true public access in the whole port is at the Port of Tacoma office, on the southern end of Sitcum Waterway. Here, there is an observation tower, with a nice view of the working port. However, the port was not working much that day. There was only one ship in the Sitcum Waterway, so my photo opportunities were limited. The two photos below are from that spot.
Leaving there, I drove down the west side of the Blair waterway. There were ships in the Blair, but no way to photograph them. When driving back up the east side of the Blair, I finally found a promising spot – the former parking lot for the closed Emerald Queen Casino. It was a big empty lot, right next to the water. There were views available of several ships, including the old paddle-wheeler at the casino.
I was walking around a bit, camera and tripod in hand, checking out angles. But before I could take a shot, a car came shooting across the old lot directly for me. It pulled up, window rolled down. A security guard within, our conversation went something like this:
Security Guard: “Young man, can I ask you what you are doing?” (Now, I’m 52 and have mostly grey hair, which tells you about the age of this guard.)
Me: ” Just looking around.”
Security Guard: “This is private property and a restricted area. You drove right by a sign saying so when you came in here.”
Me: “I didn’t see any sign.”
Security Guard: “Well it’s there.”
Me: “I guess I’m leaving now then.”
I wanted to ask him if it’s such a secure place, how come there were thousands of spent fireworks all over the pavement. But thinking better of it, I just turned and walked back to my car. As a did, the guard drove around me and back toward the street entrance. There, he stopped. I thought he was just waiting for me to leave. But he got out of his car and started looking around on the side of the road. I got back in my car, and drove toward the entrance. Just before I got there, the guard picked up a sign that was laying face down on the ground and started struggling to make it stand upright. The sign read: “Private Property, Restricted Access, No Trespassing” or something to that effect.
As I was leaving, I stopped and rolled down my window. I asked the guard, “Is that the sign you mentioned?” He got a sheepish grin on his face, and said yes. I smiled, gave him a slight nod, and drove home.
“Workin’ on mysteries without any clues, Workin’ on our night moves” -Bob Seger, Night Moves
Last Tuesday, I spent a few hours working on some night photography down on the Ruston Way waterfront with a small group from the Mountaineers. We got quite a few questions about what we were doing down there with cameras and tripods at night. I guess we should have told them we were working on our night moves. But unlike the Bob Seger song, we were working in winter instead of summer. Winter is a great time for night photography because the night comes early, and you can still get home at a decent hour. Of course, it has disadvantages too, like the weather. Though not extremely cold, only about 40° F (about 4° C), it does get chilly standing around waiting on those long exposures.
I’m really starting to enjoy doing night photography. The camera picks up lots of color and detail that the eye cannot see. I recently read Night Photography, Finding Your Way in the Dark by Lance Keimig, and I have a long way to go before ever approaching his abilities. But I have fun. I highly recommend Keimig’s book to anyone wanting to learn more about night photography, it has lots of good information.
One of the great mysteries of night photography is getting the correct exposure without excessive noise. Digital noise is the bane of many a night photographer. Noise increases with long exposures, high ISOs, and underexposed shots. That’s why, with night photography, you should still use low ISOs and exposure for the right side of the histogram (while not allowing any important highlight to be blown out). Shooting this way, will help minimize noise, but will lead to long (or very long) exposure times, very often over 30 seconds (the longest programmed shutter speed on most cameras). Therefore, to get the correct exposure, you will often be shooting in manual mode with the shutter speed set to bulb. Knowing how long to leave the shutter open is a difficult question. It’s a real pain to wait through a 2-minute exposure only to discover when looking at the results that it should have been a 4- or 8-minute exposure.
Here’s one tip I found very useful from Keimig’s book. Set the camera to a very high ISO and take a test shot first. This can be used to check both composition (it’s sometimes hard to compose through the viewfinder in the dark) and exposure. To make the exposure math easy, Keimig presents a chart in his book and on his Nightskye website. Basically, for cameras with a native ISO of 100 (Canon cameras for example), set the ISO to 6,400 and take one or more test shots to find the correct exposure. The number of seconds in the correct exposure at ISO 6,400, is the number of minutes for the correct exposure at ISO 100. For cameras with a native ISO of 200 (like most Nikons), the test shot ISO should be set to 12,800 and the normal shot ISO at 200. (If your camera doesn’t have such high settings, his chart shows how to compensate). For example, I use a Canon camera. So for the featured photo above, I took a test shot at ISO 6,400 and found the correct exposure was 4 seconds. I switched the camera to ISO 100 and re-shot with an exposure of 4 minutes (in both cases, of course, using the same aperture, f/8 in this case). Much easier than guessing on the correct exposure.
Thanks to Lance Keimig, I’ve solved one the mysteries of my night moves!
I had hoped to offer some new images this week. I took Monday off from my day job to go do some photography. But instead, I ended up cutting a hole in my bathroom ceiling to evict a pregnant squirrel from my attic. The squirrel is gone, the hole remains, and still have no new images to show (and yes, I do feel bad for the squirrel, I hope she found a new home). So once again I reach into the archives.
Five years ago this month, my family took a trip to the Northwest Trek Wildlife Park just south of Tacoma. It was a family outing to show our Chinese exchange student some of the native wildlife of the Pacific Northwest, so I didn’t do a lot of photography, but of course I took the camera along.
I spent a about 15 minutes with a grizzly. Most of the time, it appeared to be asleep, but it did stir for a couple of minutes, which is when I took this series of pictures. I probably would have spent more time there, but the family beckoned.
Northwest Trek is a great place to take some wildlife images. They have a tram ride through a free-roaming area (which the bears are not part of) that can lead to some great images. Occasionally they have special photographer trips on the trams, which occur earlier in the morning and make more stops. Groups of photographers can even arrange for these special tours. I went on one back in my film days with the Pacific Northwest Nature Photographers and would like to go again some day.
When out at Northwest Trek or wherever your photographic adventures might take you, remember it sometimes helps to keep thing simple and look for the bare necessities in your compositions!
Breaking from my blog series on the American Southwest, I’m posting something completely different. As I have mentioned in earlier blogs, I am the chairman of the Photo Committee of the Tacoma branch of the Mountaineers. We occasionally have field trips to photograph instead of our regular meetings. Earlier this month, I led our group to downtown Tacoma to try some night photography. Unlike a similar trip earlier this year (described in this post), I did little light painting, mostly relying on existing light (with one exception, in the image of the Pantages Theater below, I used a flash to light up the sculpture in the foreground).
Photography at night is a special experience. Things always look different, and it isn’t always obvious how the camera will see the available light, especially if long exposures are used. Skies that are black to the human eye can pick up a tint, typically orange in urban areas (from sodium vapor street lights). Other lights may give off a more yellowish -orange (tungsten lamps) or greenish (fluorescent bulbs) tones. Then there are neon lights of all colors. Changing the color balance when processing the images can add new twists to the color.
Besides showing colors the human eye can’t normally see, I love long-exposure shots for another reason – they compress time into a single instant. Car lights become red and white trails, people can become ghostly shadows, objects that move into a frame during an exposure can seem half there. These are more results that are not totally predictable.
Here are some shots from one November Tacoma night (even though taken on a single night, I thought the title “Tacoma Nights” sounded better than “Tacoma Night”; a little literary license); I hope you like them.
If you live in the Pacific Northwest, you know we are not having a typical summer. It’s been generally much cooler than normal. This weather pattern has affected a lot around here. For example, August is usually prime wildflower season at Paradise on Mount Rainier. But currently, there is still snow on the ground there (check out the Paradise webcam). Summer flowers down here in the lowlands have been another casualty – there are less of them and they are blooming late.
However, even though the temperature is rarely getting above 75 degrees this year in Tacoma, there are some flowers out there. Last Tuesday I went with the Tacoma Mountaineers Photo group to the gardens at Point Defiance Park. The roses are blooming very well right now. The dahlias are wonderful now too – some of the earliest dahlias are starting to fade, the late dahlias are starting to bloom, and the mid-season dahlia are in their prime. I’m sure the fuchsia garden was doing well too, though I was so busy with the other flowers, I’d didn’t have time to get over there Tuesday night. So if you like taking flower images, it’s a good time to go to the park.
My next-door neighbor, Leah, is on a roller derby team – the Toxic 253. (253 is Tacoma’s area code.) Her rollergirl name is Slim Shanky. The Toxic 253 is a relatively new and inexperienced team. Last Saturday, Tanya and I went to the Toxic 253 bout against Team Bravo, a team from Fort Lewis. The conditions weren’t very good for photography – indoors, fairly dark, bright windows in the background, fast-moving subjects. I ended up pumping up my ISO to 3200 and worked with shutter speeds from 1/30 to 1/200 seconds with f-stops typically around f4 to f5.6. But it was fun shooting the event. Here’s a few highlights.
Last week I discussed why I like the start of daylight savings time. One reason, the subject of last week’s blog – the time change. The second reason – the start of spring. As of yesterday, spring is finally here. I am not much of a winter person. And while summer is good, spring is great. The days are getting longer, the weather warmer, but best of all, the photo opportunities are fantastic at this time of year.
As you may know, I live in the southern Puget Sound region of Washington, in Tacoma. Spring is the south sound is the best time of year for photographers. Don’t take my word for it. Check out Rod Barbee’s book, The Photographer’s Guide to Puget Sound & Northwest Washington. In his chapter on the South Sound, Rod lists the best time of year to photograph both the Tacoma and Olympia areas as spring. I don’t know what criteria Rod uses, but I’ll give you mine – flowers and unsettled weather. You can count on both to give you great images. And there is no better combination of both than in spring.
I captured all the images accompanying this blog in March. You never know what is in store in spring – one day it snows on your tulips, the next it’s a brilliant blue sky over a daffodil field, and in-between it’s cloudy and sunny and dark and light all at once. Dramatic weather makes for great photography. Flowers make great photography. That’s why I love spring.
I find it hard to get out of bed in the morning. Whatever time that alarm goes off, I still want just five more minutes. Please, just five more! So it may be a surprise to learn that I love it when Daylight Savings Time begins.
How’s that, you might ask; isn’t it “spring forward, fall back?” By adding an hour, don’t we lose and hour and won’t you have to get out of bed an hour earlier? True. When I need to get up to go to my day job, and that alarm goes off at 6:30 a.m., my body will be still thinking it’s 5:30 a.m. Ouch, that will hurt. But, when I get up to do some sunrise photography, oh yeah, an extra hour of sleep. You see, the sun doesn’t care about Daylight Savings Time. Yesterday the sun rose on Tacoma at 6:29 a.m. Today (assuming one could see it behind the clouds), the sun rose at 7:27 a.m.
Photographers love the “golden hours,” those hours immediately before and after sunrise and sunset. The light is beautiful during those times and doesn’t have the harsh contrast sunlight takes on during mid-day. And now, the morning golden hours are an hour later! So later this week, if I want to get up for a sunrise shoot, I don’t have to get up at 5:30 a.m. anymore. And once my body adjusts to the new clock time, that’s something I can sleep on.
The photo accompanying this blog is an example of the golden hours – a Tacoma sunrise taken in March 2010 (disclaimer: this particular photograph was taken early in the month, prior to Daylight Savings Time).
There’s another reason I love the beginning of Daylight Savings Time – it means spring is here. More on this in my next blog.
Now that it’s March, it seems a bit late for this. But I haven’t blogged in over a week and need to get something out there to all my loyal readers (which I’m sure there is at least one, though I wouldn’t bet money on it). I’ve been in the midst of a computer upgrade – converting a XP machine into a Windows 7 machine. So the computer’s been down for a while, and is now only partially back in commission. So, a simple blog about my favorite photograph of 2010 seemed like an easy topic to tackle.
Well, the topic may be easy, but picking the photograph is not. As best I can tell, I tripped the shutter on my camera about 9,100 times last year. I edited those down to about 3,670 keepers. Now many of those are essentially duplicate shots, with only minor changes of exposure (for potential conversion to HDR images) or small changes in viewpoint (where I couldn’t decide which one I liked better, so kept more than one after editing). Not considering these near duplicates, I probably shot about 1,500 to 2,000 different distinct images last year. Not so many considering I claim to be a professional, but perhaps more than the typical person. So how do I choose one image from those 2,000?
With difficulty! I should have known better than to attempt this topic. Every year I enter several photo competitions, typically entering somewhere between 3 and 10 images. And I always have a hard time figuring which ones to enter. If I find it hard enough to cut my favorites down to 10, how did I ever think I could get it down to one?
Well, it took some time and a lot of thought, but I’ve come up with my favorite. It apparently wasn’t only my favorite, as it won Best in Show at the Ocean Shores Photography Exhibition last spring. I call it “Wedge and Cone.” I shot this image at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma around 9:00 p.m. on a February night. It was shot with my 24-70mm lens set at 28mm with exposure settings of 30 seconds at f/8 and ISO 200. I obviously used a tripod. I like this image because it is simple, abstract, and has wonderful color. I like shooting at night with long exposures, though I don’t do it nearly enough. Night brings out things our eyes have trouble seeing – such as the glow from reflected lights on the “wedge.”
By the way, as of the end of February this year, I’ve tripped the shutter on my camera 1,551 times, approximately on the same pace as last year. With any luck, I’ll be able to get out a little more often and pick up the pace, and maybe get another shot I like as much as “Wedge and Cone.”
“Photographers do it in a darkroom,” or so says an old bumper sticker. But now in the days of digital photography, fewer and fewer photographers use a darkroom. So what do photographers now do in the dark – they do light painting of course!
Wait, you say, what is light painting? Light painting is a photographic technique where your make exposures by moving a light source to light select objects, or select portions of the photographic frame (you don’t have to paint an object). It is typically done in the dark. You can use any light source: flashlights, camera flash units, even cell phones – anything that makes light.
Last week, at our regular, monthly Mountaineers photography meeting, we walked down from the Tacoma clubhouse to Ruston Way. For those unfamiliar with Tacoma, Ruston Way is along the Commencement Bay waterfront and is lined with many waterfront parks. This was my first attempt at light painting with a digital camera (I tried it about 15 years ago with slide film and did not like the results). Light painting works great with digital cameras, you can easily see the results of your efforts and make changes as necessary.
In the featured image above, I used a book light, which had two LED bulbs, to draw the “person” sitting on the park bench then used a regular flashlight to light up the drinking fountain. The exposure lasted for 63 seconds at f/8 and ISO 100.
Sometimes it is fun to use a model in light painting. You can move the same person to multiple positions in the same photo. The second image shows my friend Gary Peniston resting on the park bench and drinking from the drinking fountain at the same time! I had Gary first sit on the bench, then lit him with a single flash from an off-camera strobe. Then he moved to the drinking fountain, and I used the flash again. The whole exposure was for 36 seconds at f/8 and ISO 100.
The third image is Gary again (Gary earned the honor of being everyone’s model by having the battery run out on his camera and not having a spare with him). In this image, which could appropriately be called “Afraid of his own Shadow,” I first had Gary stand with outstretched arms while I lit him from behind with a small LED flashlight, circling the flashlight around his perimeter. Then I had him move and sit down and act scared, while I lit him with the off-camera flash. The whole exposure was 75 seconds, again at f/8 and ISO 100.
The final three images show more traditional “painting.” In these three, I used a flashlight to light selected objects in the frame – in one case a tree, in other a cement wall and pilings, and in the last one a fish painted on a building wall. In the tree photo, I exposed the image for 77 seconds at f/8; in the cement wall and pilings (with Browns Point in the background)image, I used an exposure of 66 seconds at f/10; and the building with fish image was exposed for 29 seconds at f/10. All used ISO 100. On the fish building photo, the lit window showing the inside of the building was totally blown out by that exposure, so I took a second 5 second exposure and superimposed the window from the second shot onto the first.
Of course, a tripod is important for doing these kind of images. Also, digital noise is a problem, which is why I selected ISO 100, which is less noisy than higher ISOs. Plus, using a low ISO allows for longer exposures, which are needed as you move in and out of the picture with your light sources.
Our little light painting outing was great fun. I’ll definitely be doing this again in the future, not waiting 15 years this time.
Today I visited the LeMay Car Museum – officially known as the LeMay –AMERICA’S CAR MUSEUM® with a small photo group from the Tacoma Mountaineers. Though I’m not sure if I actually visited the museum or not, because according to the guide, the LeMay car collection I visited and the new museum being built next to the Tacoma Dome are not the same organization due to some sort of falling out. Regardless, the LeMay car collection is amazing, and I don’t even like cars that much!
We spent over four hours photographing cars (the typical tour takes about 2 hours, but it is up to you, as each group gets their own tour guide). I shot way too many images, it is going to take me a long time to edit these, but I wanted to blog about it and show a few shots. The car collection is housed on the old grounds of the Marymount Academy – a former Catholic school for boys. Harold LeMay was the garbage man for the nuns that ran the place, and after the school closed its doors and the nuns couldn’t keep the place up, LeMay bought it. The collection has thousands of cars, though most are not on display. Don’t despair though, there are more cars there on display than you can look at in a day, or even a weekend.
I found myself mainly photographing details of cars rather than shots encompassing whole cars. One reason – the cars are stacked in there bumper to bumper, and it is nearly impossible to get a photo of a single car without a lot of clutter in the way. Shooting a lot of detail shots, I found my macro lens came in very handy. While the macro lens was nice to have, my tripod was essential to photographing there. The collection is mostly indoors, though not all the buildings are heated. So, it was fairly dark (especially on a winter’s day), so without using a flash, either a tripod or a high ISO setting is required. I’m not a fan of high ISO noise, so a tripod was necessary. I also shot in RAW format. The lighting conditions were odd, mostly a mix of daylight and fluorescent. Shooting RAW will allow me to adjust colors when I process the images. I hope you enjoy the few sample images I’ve included here. The upper photo is the hood ornament from a 1939 Pontiac DeLuxe Eight Convertible. The center photo is from, what I call, the “expensive car room”, which includes a Tucker worth over $1,000,000. The last image is the front end of a 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air Convertible.