the blog of Seldom Seen Photography

Posts tagged “Tacoma

Rainier Moon Success

Rainier Moon

Rainier MoonAfter trying for about a year, I finally captured the shot of the full moon (or almost full moon) rising over Mount Rainier. I’ve discussed my various attempts at capturing this shot in several previous posts, including this one from August 2019 and this one from earlier this year. Using the Photographers Ephemeris, I calculated what days the nearly full moon will rise behind Mount Rainier from spots near to Tacoma. This happens every year in June, July, and August.

I say almost full moon because I wanted to capture the moon just before sunset, and on day of the actual full moon, it ususally rises after sunset. The shots here were taken two days before the official full moon. My other attempts, described below, were the day before the full moon.

Last August, I went to the Fox Island Bridge along with several friends to capture the rising moon. We did see the moon rise behind Rainier, but the clouds partially obscured the moon and the light on the mountain itself was not optimal. I went again last June and had similar results. In July, I again met two friends, this time at Dune Park in Tacoma. However, the mountain and the rising moon were not visible due to clouds (though I did get some other worthwhile shots).

Finally, last month I had success, as you can see from the shot above and those below. Once again I journeyed to Dune Park, and all the necessary elements for a successful shot fell into place. I had the added bonus of seeing a dolphin frolicking off the park’s shores – the first time I’ve ever seen a dolphin there. Were the shots worth waiting and planning over an entire year? You be the judge.

Moon Topper

Rainier Moon 2

Rainier Moon 3

Dolphin Play


Photography in the Land of Covid-19

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!

 


Drone 101

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?


Last Light

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.


Explore Tacoma!

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.

Part of the glass ceiling on the Bridge of Glass leading to the Glass Museum.

Fountain in the plaza of the Glass Museum with Hot Room cone in background

Murray Morgan Bridge, also known as the 11th Street Bridge, in downtown Tacoma. Mount Rainier in the distance.

View of Mount Rainier, the Cable Bridge, and the Glass Museum

Point Defiance Ferry sailing on Puget Sound

Japanese Garden in Point Defiance Park

Dahlia Garden of Point Defiance Park

Chinese Reconciliation Park on a foggy day.


Merry Christmas from Tacoma

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!

 


A Fine Spring Evening

Point RustonNot 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?

Mount Rainier just at sunset

Mount Rainier just at sunset

Looking northwesterly toward the Olympic Mountains

Looking northwesterly toward the Olympic Mountains

Mount Rainier about 20 minutes after the sun set (in the blue hour)

Mount Rainier about 20 minutes after the sun set (in the blue hour)


Spring in January

Rainier and PilingsMy 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.

Rainier

Sky over Tacoma


Playing in the Park

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!).Point Defiance detail shot 1Point Defiance detail shot 2Point Defiance detail shot 3Point Defiance detail shot 4Point Defiance detail shot 5


Moon Troubles

Full Moon TacomaI 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.


Choices, Choices

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?

Union Station - single exposure

Union Station – single exposure

Union Station - more "realistic" HDR version

Union Station – more “realistic” HDR version

Union Station - more "realistic" HDR cropped with distortion correction

Union Station – more “realistic” HDR cropped with distortion correction

Union Station - grungy HDR look

Union Station – grungy HDR look

 


Panning for Hidden Gems (Christmas Edition)

One chore I accomplish each winter is to edit my photo library for all the photos I neglected to edit earlier in the year. Editing is a thankless task that some notable photographers even suggest is unnecessary due to disk drives being inexpensive. However, it is hard enough for me to find the photos I want when things are edited, let alone when I don’t edit.

Editing, at least for me, has one big added benefit. By going over those thousands of image I took that I didn’t pay a lot of attention to earlier, I always find some hidden gems that I missed earlier (along with lots of dogs – but more on that in a later blog). As my Christmas present to you, I offer a look at some of the hidden gems I’ve found thus far during my editing. Merry Christmas everyone!

Tulips

Tulip fields in the Skagit Valley last spring. I took so many shots on the day I was there, I was bound to miss a few good one when I first looked at the images. Here’s one I missed until my editing this December.

Seattle Moon

This moonrise over Seattle last January was another case of taking a lot of images on one day. Previously when looking at images from this shoot, I was concentrating on horizontal formats, so missed this vertical shot.

Seattle Abstract

I took this during a private workshop I held earlier in the year. Since the focus of the workshop was my student, I didn’t pay much attention to the images I took that day until my recent edit. BTW, I love the downtown Seattle Library for abstract shots such as this.

Hoodoo

On my trip to the Paria last spring, we took a short hike before setting off on the long one. When previously looking at images from the trip, I focused mainly on those from the long hike and didn’t bother to develop this one until much later.

Double Alcove

Another from the same trip, this is the Double Alcove in Zion National Park

Colorful Canoes and Kayaks

Somehow, when going over of images from a day trip to Bainbridge Island last February, I overlooked this image.

Tacoma at NIght

Last April I did a night shoot with friends in downtown Tacoma, the next three shots are images I didn’t process from the trip until recently. I love the colors in these shots.

Tacoma Tug

Another shot from the same shoot

Tacoma HDR

I almost threw away the series of images that this photo came from. I took them with HDR in mind, and when putting it together, didn’t like the result. But when editing this month, I thought I’d try a surrealistic look (which I normally don’t like). In this case, I do like the result.


How do You Photograph Ugly, how do You Photograph Time?

Over the past couple weekends, I’ve led two photo scavenger hunts. Participants in the hunts had 3 hours to photograph a list of 20 topics, such as: color, contrast, bark, soft, old, action, life, and ugly. The area I chose for the hunts was the Old Town portion of the Tacoma waterfront because of the wide range of possible photographic subjects (and, quite frankly, the nearness to my house). I think all the participants would agree, it was a fun time. Because there were two hunts, for two different clubs, and a few people members of both clubs, I made two separate lists with only a couple topics repeated on both lists.

Doing a scavenger hunt is a great way to push your photographic vision, to force yourself to think outside your normal “box.” Want to give it a try? Here’s a list of my favorite topics compiled from the two different lists I used over the past two weekends (minus topics specific to the place). Go someplace you think might have good photographic opportunities, give yourself 3 hours, and try to get a good image of everything on the list. Try for something different from your normal routine shot, be creative and push the envelope!

I’d love to see some of your results or hear your thoughts on whether this is a worthy exercise. Send me some of your results, and I’ll post them in my blog.

Here’s the list:

  1. ugly
  2. time (many people in the hunts I led photographed a watch or clock; try to think a bit more creatively and make a photograph that shows time itself)
  3. soft
  4. person/people (try to make it someone you don’t know)
  5. shadow
  6. light
  7. layers
  8. contrast (many options here, contrast between objects, contrast between light and dark, etc.)
  9. curve
  10. lines
  11. life
  12. action
  13. negative space
  14. color
  15. symmetry
  16. autumn (if in the southern hemisphere, substitute spring)
  17. old
  18. macro/closeup
  19. photographer’s choice (photograph anything you want)
  20. self-portrait

To give a bit of inspiration, here are a few of my shots for the above topics. (Disclaimer: for the actual scavenger hunts, participants are required to take jpegs, so the images submitted have no post-processing. The images below have undergone post-processing with Lightroom 5).

Ugly

Ugly – I found this old bottle nipple stuffed with something green and shot it with a macro lens. It would have worked for the macro category as well.

Autumn

Autumn – colorful leaves fallen onto an evergreen bush. I borrowed a fellow photographer’s black coat, which I laid on the ground, to make the black background.

Negative Space

Negative Space – it’s been foggy recently in the Puget Sound region, making it easy to find an image with lots of negative space

Old

Old – these old foundations from a historic mill on the Tacoma waterfront made an interesting subject and had good light as well.

Photographers Choice

Photographers Choice – the pagoda in Chinese Reconciliation Park looked great with the fog and the fall colors

People

People – this couple (and son) asked me to take their photo with their phone, I took one with my camera as well.

Time

Time – for me, this 4-minute exposure of some old pilings is an image of time, both for the calming effect the long exposure has on the water, but also the mystery of what the pilings were part of in the past


An Evening Shoot

dahlia1If 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.

Rose1

rose2

dahlia2


Quick Shot – Titlow Beach

Tacoma Narrows SunsetI’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).

Digging the side sewer


Tacoma Mountaineers Photography Exhibition Now Open

Door and Window

Colorful door and window in Taos Pueblo, New Mexico. I took this image last fall on my trip to New Mexico and Utah. It won 1st place in the “World of Man” category at this year’s exhibition.

The 10th Annual Tacoma Mountaineers Photography Exhibition is ongoing at the Tahoma Center Gallery here in Tacoma. The exhibition features 40 jury-selected images from eight photographers, including eight of my images. The exhibition runs through October 31st. The gallery is located at the Catholic Community Service building at 1323 S Yakima Avenue and is open Monday – Wednesday and Friday from 8:00 am to 5 pm, and until 8 pm on Thursday. The exhibition was featured today in the Tacoma News Tribune, including one of my images. You can read that story here.

This Thursday, September 27th, is our photographers reception from 6 – 7:30 pm. Come see some great photography and meet the photographers. Hope to see you there.


What Goes Down, Must Go Up

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.


Striking Out at the Port

Thea ParkI’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.

Sitcum Waterway

Containers and Olympic Mountains


Perspective on Reality

Tacoma Pilings

Tacoma PilingsI recently read a blog post by Tim Grey on photographic perspective. In it, Tim Grey asks his readers:

Is it ever ‘wrong’ to present an image as ‘real’ if we’ve used a bit of perspective to create a scene that isn’t exactly representative of reality? Creating tricks of perspective can be done very easily by changing your position relative to the subject or changing lenses on the camera. Is that wrong?

In response, I commented:

“I don’t believe it is wrong to present something as ‘real’ just because of the perspective. Perspective has been an important part of photography as long there has been cameras. Am I suppose to label every image taken with a telephoto lens as ‘this image may not represent reality as you experience it if you visit this location?’

I love taking telephoto shots of Mount Rainier, such as the one shown here [my original response included a link to the the image shown below]. When showing images like this, many people comment on how it can’t be “real”, the mountain is not that close. But this is what the camera sees. It’s the same as the human eye sees at the same location, it’s just that the human eye also takes in a much broader view, so the isolate perspective is not realized. If you use binoculars from the same vantage point, you would get essentially the same view. Is the view from binoculars not ‘real’?”

I thought I’d explore this a bit further in this post. The image above and the image below, both of which show Mount Rainier, but with differing perspectives, where both taken from the spot just 4 minutes apart. The one above (which is actually a HDR image with 3 exposures) was captured with a setting of 24 mm (38 mm equivalent) on my 24-70 mm lens, and thus represents slight wide-angle view. The one below was taken with a setting of 175 mm (280 mm equivalent) on my 70 to 200 mm lens, and represents a telephoto view.

It’s images like the one below that get comments about not being real (I’ve been asked more than once if I’ve photoshopped the mountain in). It is easily shown that the image below is real, with no Photoshop trickery (at least if you believe the upper photo is “real”). If I crop the upper photo to the same field of view as the second photo (as shown in the third photo), the compressional distortion is the same, and the photos look very similar (except of course for the quality on the extremely cropped version). FYI – the pier in front of the buildings on the photo below is Les Davis Pier, featured in my last post on night photography.

I love to play with perspective distortion in my images, using various focal lengths  and camera to subject distances to expand (with wide-angle shots) or compress (with telephoto shots). There is a good explanation of the phenomena on Wikipedia.

Since Tim Grey inspired this post, I might as well put in a plug for him. Tim teaches about digital photography and imaging. He provides an excellent, free daily email service that provides answers to digital photography questions – often involving processing with Photoshop or Lightroom. I’ve gotten is daily email for years, and can highly recommend it.

Tahoma over Tacoma

Telephoto compression - taken from the same spot as the photo above, but with a telephoto lens instead of a wide angle one.

Crop of Tacoma Pilings

Extreme crop of the featured image showing telephoto compression by cropping field of view rather than using a telephoto lens. The image quality is poor due to the extreme cropping.


Night Moves – Correct Exposure for Night Photography

Squid Fishers

Squid fishermen on Les Davis Pier - 4 minutes at f/8

“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.

Fireboat

Fireboat - 25 seconds at f/8

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!

NIght on the Pier

Les Davis Pier - HDR image, 4 exposures at 2, 8, 30, and 120 seconds at f/8

Nozzles

Fireboat detail - 2.5 minutes at f/8

Les Davis Pier

Les Davis Pier - 32 seconds at f/8

Swarm

Light Swarm - waving a LED flash light on the pier (as you can see, my technique needs improving) - 1 minute at f/8


Tacoma Nights

Colors of the Night

Colors of the NightBreaking 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.

Pantages

Pantages Theater (f/11, 5 seconds, hand-held flash)

Ghostly People

Ghost people on Broadway Street (f/11, 30 seconds)

Tullys

Coffee shop at corner of St. Helens and Broadway (f/8, 3.2 seconds)

Bridge of Reflections

Walkway to a parking garage (f/11, 20 seconds)

Ravenous and the Ghost Car

Ravenous and the ghost car (f/8, 15 seconds)

Outside the Silverstone

Club Silverstone on St Helens Avenue (f/8, 4 seconds)

The YMCA

Former YMCA on Market Street (f/8, 2.5 seconds)


Mountaineers Photos

Mount Adams and Takalakh Lake, Gifford Pinchot National Forest

I’m the chairman of the Photography Committee of the Tacoma branch of the Mountaineers. The Mountaineers is a western Washington outdoors group dedicated to hiking, climbing, kayaking, and doing most other human-powered activities in the outdoors (including photography). Right now, running through October 31, we are having a photographic exhibition at the Tahoma Center Gallery in Tacoma. The exhibition features 42 photographs selected by a jury (including the six images of mine attached to this blog); all were taken by members of the Tacoma Mountaineers.

Come check it out, there’s some great images there. The gallery is open from 8 to 5 on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and from 8 to 8 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The gallery is located at 1323 S Yakima Avenue, Tacoma, Washington in the Catholic Community Services building. We are having a photographers reception on September 15th, from 6:00 – 7:30 p.m. Food and beverages will be served; please come by if you are in Tacoma that night.

The Point Defiance Ferry, Tacoma

Skunk cabbage, Blodel Reserve, Bainbridge Island, Washington

Maple tree, Point Defiance Park, Tacoma

Dahlia, Point Defiance Park, Tacoma

Bare maple tree, Ruston Way, Tacoma


Time for Summer Flowers

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.

Sometimes the back of the flowers are worth photographing too!

Not all flowers at the Point Defiance gardens look like flowers. This is (I think) the flower of a Gunnera plant - also known as Prickly Rhubarb. The plant is 7 or 8 feet tall, and the leaves are about 2 to 3 feet across.


What is Reality? What is Art?

Twin Ships
Twin Ships

Image 5: Optimized in Photoshop using a RAW file manually converted in Lightroom (image 4).

In my last blog entry, I talked about enhancing digital photos, about RAW versus JPEG digital images.The blog was about people asking, “Is this photo enhanced?” Other similar questions I hear include “Does this photo show what was really there?” or “Has this photo been ‘photoshopped’?” or simply “Is this photo real?”

This subject warrants more discussion than just one blog, especially since the last one was largely a rant. When any camera takes a photograph, the lens opens up and allows light into the camera. For digital cameras, the light falls upon a photosensitive digital sensor (for film cameras, it falls on a photosensitive chemical coating on film). The digital sensor is made up of thousands of tiny small sensors, each sensor making up a “pixel” in the image. The light falling on each sensor is recorded as a different value. At this point, the camera can save the recording as a RAW file, or can process the raw electrical data and save it as some other file format, the most common being JPEG.

A RAW file is not really an image. It is simply a data file in which actual values from the digital sensor are recorded. While some special computer programs can view the information stored in these files and show them as images, most cannot. For example, Photoshop cannot directly show a RAW file as an image. It must first be processed and converted to an image file (such as a PSD, TIFF, or JPEG file) for Photoshop to show it. These special programs are RAW converters, and they have to process the information to show a RAW file as an image. Adobe Lightroom, which I use, is RAW convertor program (with many other features as well). A JPEG file is an image file, it presents information that can be viewed by many computer programs without future processing. It has already been processed. When a digital camera takes an image as a JPEG, it processes the sensor data into an image file. This means that the camera is doing some interpretation of what the image data is supposed to look like. Essentially, a RAW converter program, like Lightroom, does the job of the camera – it processes the sensor data to make an image file. However, it allows the photographer to control the process (rather than letting the camera control it).

Of course, further processing is possible. Either the converted RAW image or the JPEG from the camera can be further processed in Photoshop (or other photo editing programs, such as Picassa). Who is to say what looks the most like reality, the RAW file, a JPEG processed by the camera, the RAW file processed by a RAW converter, or that same image further processed in Photoshop? I can’t answer that question; I don’t think anyone can.

But how about this question, which one makes the best looking image? Or which one best represents the art of the photographer? The answer to those questions can be answered, but the answers depend on the individual and the particular photographer. For me, a RAW image processed by the photographer and then optimized in Photoshop best represents the art of the photographer. And that is my typical workflow. I shoot RAW images. I import those into Lightroom. I do not accept the default RAW processing, but customize it for each image myself. Then, if I’m serious about an image, I further process it in Photoshop. It’s a lengthy process, but it gives the best representation of what I am trying to achieve with my photography – my art.

I’ve illustrated this blog with a series of five images. All were recorded at the same time, from a single click of my shutter. This image of two ships along the Tacoma waterfront was taken with a shutter speed of 25 seconds and an aperture of f/18. One image (first below the featured image) is the closest representation of the RAW image visible – it is the RAW image processed by Lightroom with all the controls set to zero. The next image in the series is the RAW image processed with the Lightroom default settings. The next image is the same scene processed by the camera as a JPEG (my camera allows images to be recorded in both RAW and JPEG formats – a feature common to many DSLRs and some higher end point-and-shoots). The fourth image represents how I processed the RAW file. And the final image (the featured image at the beginning of the blog) is my RAW processed file than further optimized in Photoshop.

Which one do you thinks looks the most “real”? Which one looks the best?

Image 1. Minimaly process RAW image (all Lightroom controls set to zero).

 

Image 2. Default RAW processing in Lightroom.

 

Image 3. JPEG image processed by the camera.

 

Image 4. RAW image which I manually converted in Lightroom.