Fireworks – It’s all in the Presentation

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It is hard to make something new with fireworks. I can think of several styles: traditional, lots of context, and zoomies. This year I saw something new to me – changing focus. What I learned when I started to edit mine, is that it was not so much what I took, but how I chose to present it.

All images taken with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 and M. Zuiko 12-50 Zoom. Roughly f/11 @ ISO 200. Some straight, some zoomed. I used the LIVEBULB mode to judge exposure and timing as I watched the image appear on the back screen. This is what I would call the antithesis of shooting film.

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The Puzzle

Puzzle

Here is my second image of Frank Gehry’s Disney Hall in Los Angeles taken on film with a Hasselblad 500 C/M and 80mm Planar lens.

An implication of shooting medium format is that, due to the prohibitive cost of an entry-level medium format digital camera or digital back, I now need to work with film. At first I was intimidated. Although I have blossomed as a photographer using digital, I can also see how it makes us lazy. It has made me lazy in evaluating composition and lazy in evaluating exposure. I shoot, look at the back of the camera, adjust, and shoot again. If I get close, I move on remembering the digital mantra, “I can fix it in post”.

I built my plan to use a digital camera for proofing the exposure and composition before committing an image to film. After reading and re-reading Ansel Adam’s The Negative, I carefully metered the scene both using spot metering and evaluative metering. I was interested in see the difference between what I might set thinking through the Zone system and the evaluative metering the camera would suggest. I also bracketed one stop lighter for fear of losing detail in the shadows, as Mr. Adams so carefully warns.

Stop and Smell the Roses

The Crowd
The Crowd by I Nancy, on Flickr
Part of the Flower Dances Series

One of the messages we hear about professional photographers (and many artists in fact) is that they should concentrate on a single thing. You are encouraged to pick your poison – Landscape, Portrait, Flower, Still Life, Street. But as an amateur I can enjoy a 50mm walk through downtown LA on Saturday and enjoy a close up and personal 100mm stop and smell the roses stroll through Huntington Gardens Sunday.

Yucca Abstraction

Yucca Bloom
Yucca Bloom by I Nancy, on Flickr

Each week, I change the wallpaper on my work computer with a recent image. The purpose of this exercise is to evaluate any recent image to see if it has holding power for me. Can I stand to look at this image for the whole week? The process is simple. On Monday morning, I surf on over to my flickr account, pick one of the images I processed and posted during the last week, view all sizes at the largest resolution (usually 1024 on the longest side) and “Set as Desktop Background”. My work computer is not a very ideal place to look at images. It is not calibrated, not in good lighting, and is often projected through a business-purposed projector for meetings which reduces the resolution dramatically.  There are images that I have taken down after a day, many where I notice a flaw (or two) that often can either be adjusted in post or convince me that the image is not up to snuff for any serious showing, and a few rare images that I don’t want to ever take down.

This is one of those rare images that I’ve been staring at for almost 2 weeks and it hasn’t lost its luster in my eyes. It is calming, simple, and complex all at the same time. I have grown fond of the white-on-white look and when I can find this in nature, I like to take full advantage. As I worked the plant, I noticed that in certain angles, you could see just one little, yellow, stamen peeking out from surrounding white petals. I liked this peek-a-boo act and the depth it added to the image. Playing with super shallow depth of field, I knew that this had to be the focus point, at it had to be in focus. I placed it in a powerful spot in the image and adjusted the angle to provide pleasing patterns. Even at f/7.1 the depth of field was pretty shallow given my distance to the flower (right up to it) and the distances between the layers of pedals. The bits of purple and green in the image come from areas of the stem showing in between pedals and I liked the contrast and contours they create.

I knew this year, that I wanted to get some interesting images of the local Yucca blooms. they bloom in a big stalk right out of the middle of a set of pointy spears. After the bloom they turn to these big seed pods. I have been concentrating over the past year on really working my subjects. Taking images at different scales and different angles. Here you can see a couple of the other images from this years season of yuccas blooms. These other images are beautiful and capture details in the blooms that most people never take the time notice. However they are not mysterious enough for me. Before the summer is out, I will also take a try at the seedpods.

Yucca Bloom
Yucca Bloom by I Nancy, on Flickr

Yucca Bloom
Yucca Bloom by I Nancy, on Flickr

All my Yucca images

Mountain View at Salt Creek

Mountain View
Mountain View by I Nancy, on Flickr

Q: What do you do in the middle of the day in Death Valley?

A: Experiment.

There is a big debate about this image around the camera club after a judge made a negative comment about the horizon being too close to the middle. The same night he also knocked a reflection image for the same reason. After many discussions about different crops I have decided that this image is just perfect.

Fern Abstractions

Fern Abstractions
Fern Abstractions by I Nancy, on Flickr

My collection of abstract light paintings is growing faster that I had anticipated. Is this just eye candy or have a struck on to something with core and substance?

Here I was on a local hike. I didn’t spare the gear for this hike as I was headed for a local waterfall: camera, 24-70mm, 17-14mm, ND and polarizer filters, tripod, shutter release. Now bear in mind that the definition of a water fall in southern California is somewhat loose. If there is water (any water) and it falls (any distance), it is a waterfall. It is often not very dramatic. The waterfall we were headed to was on the side of Boney Mountain. During the summer months it is but a trickle, during the winter just a bit more. Yesterday the water was flowing well enough but it just wasn’t pretty – just water falling down big gray granite rocks. No particularly pleasing lighting, mosses, or plants; only big brown sycamore leaves caught in the crevasses.

What I found myself attracted to were the big ferns growing on the right side of one of the pools of water. There was a nice contrast between the greens and gray/browns and a good flow of movement created by the fronds and the base of rocks and grasses. I wanted the movement to mimic the flow of growth but also catch some of the jaggy nature of the ferns. It was rather shaded, so the slow shutter speed was easy to get with a 3-stop ND (notice actually that I am at f/4 – the 3-stop almost being overkill). Standard post processing was used, adjusting the tone curve and a bit of saturation.

Landscape Abstracts – Spumoni Ice Cream Mountains

Artist's Pallet
Artist’s Pallet by I Nancy, on Flickr

Death Valley’s iconic Artist’s Pallet. It is an area where various mineral deposits have created a color pallet that looks like spumoni ice cream in with chocolate, strawberry, pistachio, and vanilla mountains. More Landscape Abstracts.

Just a few weeks ago I discovered the landscape photography of William Neil. I purchased 3 of his books in eBook form (downloadable PDF) for $25: Meditations in Monochrome, Landscapes of the Spirit, and Impressions of Light. His images are subtle, quiet, and layered often juxtaposing light with dark, fog with clarity,  still and motion. Where Meditations in Monochrome and Landscapes of the Spirit are traditional landscape technique and composition, Impressions of Light departs by using camera movement to create, as the title indicates, impressions of the landscape. Like his other work, they too are subtle and layered and simply beautiful to admire.

I was moved by his work and approach and squirreled away a note in my head to start to explore this same technique in addition to my continued pursuit of more traditional landscape approaches. I had my first chance in Death Valley and will be posting a series of images taken in this style during the trip. The work created in camera with the use of slow shutter speeds and camera movement. I looked for opportunities to highlight color and textures and experimented with different types of camera movement and learning what best supports the natural structure of the image elements. I often stacked 3-stop ND filter my circular polarizer to give me a full 4-stops of darkening. Combining this with small apertures and long exposures I had the basic equipment that I needed. In post I used standard processing techniques working curves and white balance to create the final image.