I’m currently reading The Soul of the Camera, the Photographer’s Place in Picture-Making by David duChemin. This book is full of nuggets of photographic wisdom, and I can highly recommend it to any photographer who wants to improve their game. You will not find much in the way of technical details about how to shoot great images. Instead, duChemin discusses the photographer’s mind and it relationship to picture-making.
There are easily dozens of blog post topics I could cover based on this book, but for now I’ll discuss his four “rules” or “principles” of photographic improvisation; the first of which is to agree or to say “yes” and not “no.” That is, say yes to the scene in front of you even if it was not what you expected or intended. You could say this is to go with the flow (which duChemin also talks about earlier in the book). Say yes to photographing what the world gives you rather than turning your back on the scene and giving up because it isn’t what you wanted. Accept what’s there and make the most of it.
A couple weeks ago, I went over to Fox Island Bridge to take a photo of Mount Rainier with the full moon rising behind it right before sunset. This situation only happens on two days each year: the day before the full moon in both June and August. Last August I tried for the same shot with only limited success. I was disappointed from that shoot, and that probably set me up to ignore the principle of saying yes. The weather was not ideal, and the view of the moon was not very good. I snapped a few shots, including the shown here, and packed up and went home disappointed. I failed to look for what else nature might be offering up. It was a few days later that I read about duChemin’s first principle.
I should have known better even before reading the book. I had a similar idea earlier this year. Back in February, I wanted to photograph the full moon setting behind the Olympic Mountains at sunrise. On the appointed day, I got up early and drove across town to Brown’s Point in Northeast Tacoma. When I got there, the Olympics, let alone the moon, were obscured by clouds. I climbed back in the car and headed toward home, thinking that perhaps I still might get some decent sunrise shots from the Cliff House parking lot. Sure enough, Mount Rainier was visible and the rising sun painted it and the low hanging clouds, as shown on the featured shot above and the other images below. I didn’t get what I wanted, but I said yes to what was given, which wasn’t bad at all.
As you may know, the Seattle area is a hot spot for Covid-19 in the United States, though it is spreading fast elsewhere as well. Two days ago, our State’s Governor announced a moratorium on gatherings of more than 250 people the three counties forming the Seattle metropolitan area. Major League Baseball is postponing the start of the season – it’s just as well, the Mariners had already announced they were moving the home opener (which I attend every year) out of town. I got a call from the theater about a cancelled show Tanya and I have tickets to later this month.
On Tuesday, Tanya and I went up to Seattle to visit our daughter, Janelle, and her partner, Matt. We ate at a restaurant we have been to several times before. It has always been packed, and reservations are usually necessary, even on Tuesday nights. We walked in at 7 pm and besides two people at the bar, we were the only customers in the place. That’s one of the “nice” things about this virus outbreak, it’s easy to find a table at a restaurant, at least until the restaurant’s close due to lack of business. Another bonus was the lack of traffic on the freeway.
In addition to the moratorium on crowds, the health department recommends keeping a separation of at least 4 to 6 feet from other people. Public life around here is pretty much at a standstill.
What is one to do? How about going out and shooting some photography? Luckily, photography is one activity that is easy to do while keeping that separation from other people. Besides, if you like to shoot the type of photography I do, crowds are a pain and something to avoid. So if Covid-19 has got you down, take your camera out and do some photography!
That’s exactly what I did a few days ago when I headed over to Dune Park.The official name for the park is Dune Peninsula at Point Defiance Park. I guess we could call it DPPDP, but it is easier to call it Dune Park.
It is the newest park in Tacoma, opening last July. As its official name suggests, the park is located on a small peninsula. The peninsula is not a natural feature, but instead consists of a pile of slag from the old Asarco smelter that formerly existed near the park location. Apparently, they dumped the slag in Puget Sound to create a boat basin for the Tacoma Yacht Club, which also occupies a portion of the peninsula – the park on the outside of the peninsula facing Puget Sound and the yacht club on the inside, facing the boat basin. The park is a remediated portion of the Asarco superfund site. By the way, the park is named after Frank Herbert’s novel Dune; pretty cool in my opinion. Herbert was a Tacoma native. The shoreline trail through the park is named the Frank Herbert Trail.
I’ve made several trips to Dune Park over the past several months to shoot the view of Mount Rainer.The view of Rainier from the park is magnificent, perhaps the best in the City of Tacoma. With a telephoto lens, the Mountain towers over the city and Commencement Bay. But it also looks great with a wider view incorporating the curving shoreline. The view is good for sunset year round and for sunrise portions of the year – at least when the Mountain is out. The blue hour can also provide excellent images.
My trip to the park Monday evening was my third trip trying to capture a decent sunset. The alpenglow on the mountain has been good two of the three times I’ve gone, but I’ve yet to get some good sunset clouds. Monday there was a little cloud cap on the top of the mountain, but it was so small it is almost not visible in the images. Still better than nothing and no need to get within 6 feet of anyone else! The featured shot above is from Monday, as is the wider-angle shot below. The final shot is from December, in the blue hour after sunset.
The park is less than 2 miles from my house, so I’ll keep trying for the great sunset. In the meantime, enjoy these shots, wash your hands frequently, and stay healthy!
It’s been way too long since I posted. The winter has been busy with editing my 2019 photos as well as lots of other chores. But with some nice weather this President’s Day holiday, I was able to get out for the first flight of my new drone (other than just playing around in the yard). The drone is a Mavic Mini, which Tanya gave me for Christmas. It has a 12 megapixel camera, that only shoots jpg, but it seems to do a decent job based on the photos I took today.
I didn’t head very far for this flight. I went to Mason Gulch, about 5 blocks or so from my house. Mason Gulch is a steep ravine cut into the hillside populated with lots of deciduous trees, which are still barren of leaves. It’s a little bit of wilderness here in Tacoma.
So here are a few sample shots. What do you think?
Once again I’m in the Tacoma Open Studio Tour. The tour will be this Saturday and Sunday, October 12 and 13, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days. The tour invites you inside the working studios of 96 local artists to learn about the artistic process, ask questions, and purchase one-of-a-kind creations. All studios will feature demonstrations or will have hands-on activities for visitors. I will be offering visitors a chance to make a photographic masterpiece using scanography – photography with a flat-bed scanner. I will also have more than 50 prints on display, including the five featured on the this post, many new images from this year, and some of my “classic” images.
Please come by if you have the chance! You can get more information about the tour at the studio tour website. Or you can check out this map with all the studio locations to plan your tour (I’m studio #51).
December has been a busy month for me with personal obligations and the holidays. I haven’t been able to do much photography, and if I want to do a blog post this month, today is it. So, I’ll leave 2018 with a shot I took early in the year which I’ve titled “Last Light Tacoma“. I posted a similar shot earlier this year, but this one I’ve worked on quite a bit, and it earns a spot of one of my favorites of the year.
Unfortunately, the place I shot this image is no longer accessible. I took this shot from the outside stairwell on the southeast corner of the Tacoma Convention Center. The stairwell was removed last spring during the still on-going construction of a building next door to the convention center, and it is unclear whether it will be replaced. This illustrates one of my personal rules for photography (which I admit I don’t always follow and often regret it), that is: when you see a shot, take it, because you don’t know if you will ever be able to return and get the shot again.
Photographically, 2018 was a good year for me, and I hope 2019 will be even better. Personally, other than my Dad dying, it was pretty good as well. I hope 2019 brings you happiness, love, and good light. If you find yourself in the Seattle/Tacoma area in 2019, be sure to stop and say hi.
Some of you may know I host an AirBnb experience in Seattle. With the success of that tour, I decided to do one for Tacoma as well and show guests my hometown (and also save me from driving to Seattle so often). My Explore Tacoma experience was just approved by AirBnb and went live online yesterday.
For this new experience, I’ll lead individuals or groups up to 4 on a personal photo tour and workshop in Tacoma. Unlike my Seattle tour, which is in the morning, this tour will be in the afternoon and evening, designed to catch sunset on Mount Rainier or the Olympic Mountains. I’ll lead my guests to the Museum of Glass, shooting both the iconic outside of the museum and glass blowing inside in the Hot Room. We’ll also explore the downtown Tacoma waterfront and either the Ruston Way waterfront or Port Defiance Park. I’ll show guests some of my favorite shot locations in Tacoma and provide photographic advice and instruction. The photos accompanying this blog are some of the places where the tour will likely go.
So if you are going to be in the area, and want to do a little photography in Tacoma, consider signing up. I’d love to show you around.
Merry Christmas from Tacoma! One of my presents came early when I found this scene yesterday during some beautiful sunny winter skies. Today, it is overcast again with snow forecast for tonight – so Tanya and I are hoping for a white Christmas in the morning. But if not, we can always get a view of snow by just looking at The Mountain (at least when it isn’t covered by clouds). Thank go out to my photographer buddy, Ernie Misner, for telling me about the location for this shot. Have a tremendous holiday season everyone!
Not only have I not posted in awhile, I haven’t had time to get the camera out either and it was starting to make me antsy. So yesterday evening, I grabbed the camera and drove down the hill to take a few shots of Mount Rainier and the sunset from Ruston Way here in Tacoma. These shots were taken from a spot about a mile from my house. I still want to get out for a full day with camera in hand, but for a short while, the hour I spent last night scratched my photography itch. Do you have a special, go-to spot when you just have to get out there an click a shutter button for awhile?
My last post talked about how little snow in the Pacific Northwest mountains this winter. It hasn’t improved this week, as the weather has been spring-like all week-long. I can only blame myself as I jinxed the weather by buying a season snow-park pass and not a one-day pass (snow-park passes are used to park in selected plowed winter destinations in the mountains in Washington and Oregon).
Last Sunday, the high temperature was over 60 degrees F – very unusual for January in western Washington. The day was so nice, I had to run down to the Ruston Way waterfront to capture a few shots of Mount Rainier and Puget Sound. Just a few quick shots of the end of a Tacoma spring day in January.
One of my favorite places to shoot in Tacoma is the Museum of Glass. With its unique architecture, reflecting ponds, and setting on the Thea Foss Waterway next to the historic Albers Mills building, it provides plenty of fun compositions. Though it can be photographed any time of day, I especially like photographing there at night. I really like the varying metal textures of the hot-room cone and “wing” over the elevators on the upper plaza, and how they reflect light at night. I also quite like the contrast between the brick of Albers Mill and the metal of the Glass Museum’s hot-room cone. There is something magic about shooting there in the dark with long exposures; you are never quite sure what you will end up with in your shot. What the camera sees is always different from what the naked eye sees. With practice, I’ve learned to anticipate what my long-exposure images of the Glass Museum will look like, but I always get a couple of surprises as well.
Last Tuesday, about five of us from the Tacoma Mountaineers went down there to shoot. We stayed about two hours and had a good time playing around in the dark. There were very few other people round to potentially mess up compositions; but doing night photography, other people don’t matter too much. With long exposures, they can walk right through your composition and never be seen. It’s the magic of night.
There are quite a few light sources around the area, both from the museum itself and from neighboring properties, so the exposures don’t have to be too long. Most my exposures were one to three minutes using ISO 100 with f-stops of f/8 – f/16. What makes things interesting from a photographic perspective is that the lights have many different color temperatures. There is a general orange glow to the area from sodium-vapor lights that are common in the city, but there is also green, yellow, red, blue and even purple light in the area. There seems to be no “correct” white balance due to all these various light sources, so it is fun processing in Lightroom and playing with the white balance sliders to find pleasing sets of colors. Typically I like one color setting for the buildings, typically something warm, and a different one for the sky. On the photos shown here, I used the Lightroom paintbrush to tone down and darken the orange tone of the sky that results from the city street lights.
Enjoy these images of night at the Glass Museum, and as always, feel free to leave a comment.
Summer is here and I have not been able to get out and play in the wonderful Pacific Northwest outdoors. It feels like I’m wasting my summer away! Hopefully you are finding time to go out and do what you love this July. I am hoping perhaps to get a backpacking trip in later in the month. Last week I did manage to get over to Point Defiance Park with my camera to take a few shots. I found myself concentrating on details of plants, buildings, etc. Here’s a few shots from my evening playing in the park. Enjoy your summer (or winter for those of you in the other hemisphere!).
I have trouble photographing the moon. Okay, it’s not so hard before for the sun sets (which is why the best full moon pictures are typically taken the day before the full moon and, consequently, before the sun sets), but after dark, I have lots of problems. There is just too much contrast. The moon is bright, basically as bright as anything lit by sunlight on a cloudless sunny mid-day. Everything else is dark. The dynamic range of any scene with the moon is too much for a camera to handle.
Perfect time to try some HDR photography, right? Maybe, but I’ve never gotten it to work well. I’ve always get funny looking light artifacts around the moon; all my attempts at using HDR for scenes with the moon have looked awful. How about shooting one exposure for the moon, one for the rest of the scene, and combining them in Photoshop. Again, maybe you can do that, but every time I’ve tried it, it doesn’t work – there’s too much glare around the moon and I can’t get the sky to look right.
Last month when I wanted to photograph the full moon rising behind the Glass Museum in Tacoma, I was disappointed when there were clouds on the eastern horizon and the moon wasn’t visible. Less than an hour later, the moon rose above the clouds, and though it was no longer aligned with the Glass Museum, it lined up nicely with the cable bridge over the Thea Foss Waterway. Nice shot, I thought, except now it was way too dark to capture both the moon and the with a single exposure. I set up the tripod anyway and took a series of shots, hoping that perhaps the contrast would not be too extreme.
Later, when I downloaded the shots, I was disappointed to find out contrast was too great – moon troubles were visiting me again. I tried HDR (once again) and was disappointed with the results (once again). I was frustrated. At that point, I figured someone else must have an answer to this problem, so I spent some time researching moon photography on Google. Most advice centered around photographing during twilight before it was too dark. Not helpful in my case. After a bit of searching, I found a YouTube video (which I can’t find again to credit here), where the photographer used HDR for only the moon and the area of sky immediately around it, a single image for the rest of the shot, then combined the two images in Photoshop. He then re-imported the resultant image into Photomatix for additional tone mapping, which I thought wasn’t necessary. But the first part sounded interesting.
I had a series of seven images, shot one f-stop apart. I imported all into Photomatix and worked it for the moon only. I re-imported the HDR moon image into Lightroom. Then I took a single image from the original seven and worked it in Lightroom for the foreground only. I also worked the HDR moon image in Lightroom to approximately match the sky to the sky (away from the moon) in the foreground image. I exported both images to Photoshop into a single document, with the foreground image as the background layer and the HDR moon image laying on top. I used a layer mask on the HDR moon layer to mask out everything but the area around the moon, feathering the mask match the sky in the underlying layer. The two skies didnt quite match, so I used a curves layer with a clipping mask on the HDR moon layer to get the tone of the two skies to be more similar. Once I was satisfied with the result, I continued with my normal Photoshop workflow to finish the image.
Perfect? No. But in the end, after a lot of work, the result is the best moon image I’ve ever captured after dark. What do you think, is it any good? And please, if anyone has some better way to handle my moon troubles, be kind and let me know.
When photography is exercised as an art form rather than an attempt to purely replicate a scene without any interpretation (which, of course is impossible, photographs cannot replicate reality – they are in 2 dimensions instead of 3, they are cropped and reality is not, etc. – this could be a whole separate blog by itself, but I digress), the photographer has a myriad of choices to make. Many choices are made when capturing the image – what lens to use, what exposure settings to use, what to leave in the frame and what to crop out, whether to use a high viewpoint or a low viewpoint, etc. And post capture, there are also a myriad of choices concerning processing – there are global adjustments for exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, the white point, the black point, clarity, saturation, vibrance; cropping; distortion corrections; adding gradients or brush stroke or radial filters; etc. etc. and that is just in Lightroom; go to Photoshop and the choices explode seemingly exponentially.
For the capture side of photography, I’m a big advocate of trying out lots of different options when photographing a subject to really explore its possibilities (see this old post on the subject). Much is said about per-visualizing an image when photographing. And doing so makes a lot of sense and can make for a great image. However, don’t let that per-visualization get in the way of looking at a subject from different, non-per-visualized vantage points.
Okay, I have a confession to make here, I did not follow my own advice when capturing the images accompanying this post. I had one viewpoint in mind, went out, took the shots, and left. Call me bad. These images were taken earlier in the week at Union Station in downtown Tacoma. Union Station is no longer a train station but is now the US courthouse here in the city. Union Station is an iconic shot of Tacoma which I haven’t explored much before (so iconic in fact that I saw another photographer’s image of it hanging on a wall earlier the same evening I took this shot). And the fact that it is an iconic shot maybe why I neglected to cover it from other angles. So here’s so more unsolicited advice – when shooting icons, get the iconic shot out of the way, then try to cover it from other angles and get your own take on the subject (yes, I hear you, I should follow my own advice).
But even when you only get one shot, even the iconic shot, with your post-capture processing you can put your own spin on a subject by the choices you make. Here are four different interpretations of the same subject. Three are HDR images, processed initially in Lightroom, exported to Photomatrix, then re-imported and finished in Lightroom. The other is not an HDR image and was processed solely in Lightroom. If I decide to work on one or more of the images in the future, I may take it to Photoshop to make additional adjustments. The HDR images are made from a set of five images taken one f-stop apart.
The images represent choices for a single exposure of HDR, more realistic HDR and more “grungy” HDR, and distortion correction and cropping versus no distortion correction and cropping. No one image is correct, and no one image is wrong. None represent the reality of the scene as viewed by my eye (this scene, taken at night, is mostly lit from ugly yellow sodium-vapor street lamps for example). All are interpretations; all are artwork; all represent different choices. With these shots, I believe, at least to a small extent, I put my own spin on an icon. I think I favor the cropped, distortion-corrected version the best; but do like the other ones as well. Do you have a favorite?
If you read my last post, you know I have been frustrated by not having time to go out and shoot. I’m still pretty busy with other stuff, but did find a few hours last Thursday to sneak out with the camera. The evening sky was partially overcast with light clouds, which provided a nice diffuse, low-contrast light. The air as still. A perfect evening for macro flower shots. Luckily, I live less than two miles from one of the nicest dahlia and rose gardens in the Puget Sound region. I grabbed the gear and headed over to Point Defiance Park.
As I was entering the gate to the garden (the garden is surrounded by a 10-foot tall fence to keep the deer out), a gardener was coming out. She told me they had just dead-headed the whole garden and it was in prime condition. I couldn’t have picked a better time. The dahlia blooms did look like they were in their prime, as were most the roses. I set up the tripod, slapped on a 100-mm macro lens and some extension tubes and lost myself in the work. Perfect!
I wasn’t the only photographer there that night, there were three portrait photographers in the garden, two doing senior-high photos and one was shooting two young children (I don’t envy that poor photog). They were making money, and may or may not being enjoying their work. I was not making money, it is highly unlikely I will ever sell any of the images I made that night, instead I was enjoying my craft and saving my sanity.
Occasionally, there was the slightest breath of a breeze, slightly moving the blossoms. I turned up the ISO a couple stops to keep the shutter speed less than a second, and kept on shooting. I ended up shooting for about two hours until the light started fading and the exposure times became increasing long. It was the perfect antidote to my pent-up need to create.
I’ve been very busy lately and haven’t had much chance to take any new photos. However, I did go out with the Mountaineers last night for a quick trip to Titlow Beach here in Tacoma. Titlow is on the Tacoma Narrows, just south of the Tacoma Narrows Bridges. Titlow was the former ferry landing before the first Narrows bridge was built. Today, there is no ferry, but lots of pilings left, some shown here in the featured photo. It’s usually a good place for sunsets. Last night’s sunset was only fair, not great; but it does make a pretty picture.
So, what have I been working on other than photos? I’ve been busy digging up my front yard to replace the side sewer – a necessary job (at least if Tanya and I still want inside plumbing), but not very fun. The other shot here (taken with my cell phone) shows my buddy, Mike, working on the digging up the old sewer line. Unfortunately, we had to dig perhaps half the hole by hand. Oh, and by the way, the yellow line running the length of the trench is the natural gas line to the house. Nice placement, isn’t it? And the project isn’t done. Later this month, we will be digging up the concrete basement floor to replace the drain line connected to the sewer (more non-fun).
But I wanted to post something, so here’s a quick shot from Titlow Beach (and one from the big dig in my yard).
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.