the blog of Seldom Seen Photography

Archive for March, 2011

Do as I Say, Not as I Do

Gig Harbor's MountainIf you are serious about photography, you should always carry your camera with you. I’ve often given this advice to less experienced photographers. You never know when you will find fantastic light – and you can’t capture it without a camera. This is one reason, a little more than a year ago, I purchased a small point-and-shoot camera – so I could carry that one around when I don’t have my regular one. (Of course, I couldn’t just buy any small camera, I purchased a point-and-shoot that still allows me to shoot in RAW format and aperture-priority mode.)

About a week ago, Tanya and I traveled up to west Seattle to have brunch with family at a small restaurant on Alki Beach. Rounding the corner from Harbor Avenue to Alki Avenue, we were treated with an iconic Seattle scene – ferries plying Puget Sound in front of the snow-capped Olympic Mountains. The light was beautiful, the mountains were gorgeous with a background of stormy clouds. To make it even better, a strong north wind was blowing, and the Sound was covered with whitecaps. In addition to the ferries, there were several kitesurfers  (or kiteboarders, I’m not sure of the correct term) jumping the waves, getting 20 feet of air.

So with these great subjects and that great light, why is this blog illustrated with a picture of Mount Rainier taken in Gig Harbor? Because I didn’t follow my own advice. My big camera was safely at home. And while I did have the little point-and-shot, the images I had in mind needed my telephoto lens. I wanted to isolate the ferry, with the mountains big in the background (similar to what I did with this shot of Rainier). Same with the kiteboarders. The little camera couldn’t do this. And I was disgusted with myself for not following my own advice.

Why the photo of Rainier? Because this is an example of what you can do if you carry your camera around with you. I captured this image about five or six years ago (when I lived in Gig Harbor, though not near the harbor itself). I was commuting home from work one day, when I noticed the lenticular cloud on top of Rainier. It was near sunset, and I thought something special might be up. So, instead of heading home, I went to downtown Gig Harbor and captured this shot. I’ve probably sold more copies of this image than any other photograph I’ve taken – all because I was carrying my camera with me.

So do as I say, not as I do – carry your camera with you.

Spring Forward (Part 2)

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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.

Mercy for Japan

Cimtamani-cakraI’ve been thinking a lot about Japan lately; hard not to with all the news lately. Foremost, I’ve been thinking about all those poor people who died, were injured, or were left homeless in the cold weather; and about the nuclear workers who will be getting radiation sickness while trying to save their country from an even larger disaster. But I’ve also been thinking about how the same thing could happen here in my home, Washington State. I’m a geologist by training and work as a hydrogeologist in my day job; I know all too well that the tectonic setting of Japan is very similar to that of the Pacific Northwest coast. Epic earthquakes and tsunamis can happen here. They have done so in the past, and they will do so again.  It’s not a matter of if it will happen here; it’s a matter of when.

The news also has brought me thoughts of my time in Japan. I’ve traveled there twice; once, for a single month, as part of an exchange-student program between sister cities (Spokane, my home town, and Nishinomiya), and later for a summer when in college. Needless to say, both were a long time ago. I mainly visited the Osaka-Kobe area, far south of the current earthquake/tsunami damage zone, but that area had its own earthquake troubles from the last time a major quake hit Japan (in 1995).

My photography owes a lot to Japan. I bought my first SLR camera there, an Olympus OM1, back in 1977 when I was in high school. The image accompanying this blog was taken with that camera on that trip. It’s a transparency, recorded on Kodachrome film, and scanned this week (which is another story – since Nikon doesn’t support its film scanners anymore with new drivers; so with my Windows 7 upgrade, it was a challenge getting the scanner to work).

I believe the image is also the first photo I ever won an award with (a ribbon at the Spokane County Interstate Fair). Looking at it now, it’s not such a great image – it’s underexposed, not framed all that well, and has some weird reflections and artifacts. However, the image, and the rest I took on my two trips to Japan, really helped fuel my love for photography, especially travel photography. Of course, the other Japanese connection to my photography is in my equipment – Canon all the way (except for that pesky film scanner). Also, when I was shooting film, my favorites were from Fuji film, especially Velvia slide film.

The image is of Cimtamani-cakra in Nara. It sits in the Great Buddha Hall in Todai-ji, reported as the largest wooden building in the world. The building is so large because it also houses the largest bronze statue of Buddha in the world, Buddha Vairocana or the Great Buddha, also known as Daibutsu. Diabutsu is 49 feet (15 meters) tall. By contrast, Cimtamani-cakra (also known as the Golden Budda, though it is a Bodhisattva not Buddha) is only about 20 feet (6 meters) high. It sits on the right side of the Great Buddha and represents mercy. A fitting image for these times in Japan, a time when I, and most of the world, wish mercy for that country.

Spring Forward (Part 1)

Spring morning in Tacoma

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.

Better Late than Never

Wedge and Cone

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.”