2010 Photography Journey Reflections

It is always difficult to pick out your “best of year” images. Last year I started and never finished. This year, at the prompting of my friend Hutch, instead of picking out my best, I’ve picked 9 images that explore my 2010 photography journey with friends. I am an active member of two local photo clubs and, since I must mostly plan my photo outings, there is hardly a significant image where I haven’t also shared the experience with one of them. Happy new year to Hutch, Connie, Jerry, Judy, Roy, Anne, Rachel, Suzanne, Mike, Darrel, Randi, Jeannie, Chuck, Allyson, Art, Joni, Susannah, and of course Chick.

1. Blossom

This image represents my first foray into seriously shallow depth of field macros. It was inspired by Martin Bailey, a nature photographer living in Japan. Martin is known for his incredibly beautiful low depth of field flowerscapes taken with 300mm and 400mm lenses at f/2.8. He graciously donated his image Lone White to your Thousand Oaks Photo Group picnic raffle. Whereas Martin often focuses on large gardens or patches of flowers in Japan, what I had at my disposal was smaller patches of wildflowers and blossoms. This image was taken on an overcast day in January 2010 the small Gardens of the World  in the center of Thousand Oaks. On this same day I made the image Yellow Expanse which won 1st Place in Flowers at the 2010 Ventura County Fair. (And, no Randi, I don’t do flowers.)

Blossom Photography

2. Dawn Flight

Each winter for the last couple of years, I ask members of the photo group if they want to hit the Santa Barbara pier at dawn. Each year, something new emerges. In 2009 I made the image Misty Morning. This morning I was with Jerry, Roy, Anne, Jeannie, Hutch, and others. The year before I was working on the birds that fly around the water that catches in a deep spot just in front of the pier. I got nothing. This year, I was working with both long and slow shutter speeds. The birds and the sun cooperated in this abstract image of movement.

Dawn Flight Photography

3. Fair Noir, Hot Dog

Who takes B&W images at the fair? I do, I do! At the Ventura County Fair with the usual photography suspects: Chick, Hutch, Jerry, Judy, Darrel, Anne, Roy, Rachel, John F., Susannah, and others. We would shoot and lose each other, then find each other, then shoot some more. My mission was to learn the power of the wide angle lens. I had no real intention of turning these into B&W, but when I got to processing them, the B&W brought out all the structure and contrast. I call this series Fair Noir.

Fair Noir, Hot Dog Photography

4. High Anxiety

This was taken at the Camarillo air show, my first. There I was on the flight line with the TO Photo Group. I was sitting next to, and taking lessons from, the master air show photographer – Hutch. He was using his built-for-action 7D and clicking off frames at 8 frames-per-second – pbrrrrrrrr, pbrrrrrrrr. I was using a terrific 300mm image-stabilized lens that was lent to me by Roy. It was mounted on my built-for-lanscpaces-and-portraits 5dmkII at 3 frames-per-second – ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-chunk. Hutch would take a few, chimp, and exclaim his pleasure or displeasure (mostly pleasure) as well as the shutter-speed he was using. I was getting the hang of things. When Chuck Aaron and his Red Bull Helicopter aerobatic act came on I thought I was getting the hang of it as I listen to Hutch tell me how difficult it is to get the blades of the helicopter because they move so slowly. I start shooting and with each shot I lower the shutter speed: 1/250th of a second, 200th, 125th. I’m getting seriously close to loosing it hand holding a 300mm lens. Hutch tells me the secret of switching on the IS. Now at 1/80th, 60th – and eureka – High Anxiety.

High Anxiety Photography

5. Dancing Yucca

The guy they call Condor at the local Sierra club tells me that there are 4 hike ratings: Easy, Moderate, Hard, and Tanaka. Nothing deters Suzanne Tanaka from a good hike including winding roads and warmer than usual weather. Summer started late this year with an exceptionally cool July, but by August the heat of the summer was starting to bear down. This day we hiked the 6-mile Mishe Mokwa trail with Suzanne, Jerry, Connie, Chick and by happens-chance met Victor (a friend of Suzanne’s) at the trail head. By all accounts, this is a beautiful trail, but a little warm and we almost lost Jerry and Connie on this trek due to the heat. Dancing Yucca is at a spot about ½ through the hike at the top of a hill. It was a little drier, hotter, and dustier than this image would imply – ah, the magic of white balance.

Dancing Yucca Photography

6. Wall of Wave

What would a year of 2010 remembrances be without an image from The Wave? In late September the 6 Utah Trekkers set out on a week photo-adventure to various points in Utah and Arizona. The trip was built around a mysterious hike to a place called “The Wave” – an enormous sandstone chute out in the wilderness area of Coyote Buttes. They allow only 20 hikers per day and 10 of those permits are given by lottery 3 months in advance. We had but 18 chances to “win” and, our lucky charm, was the one-and-only Jerry “the King”. On September 29th Chick, Connie, Jerry, Mike, Suzanne, and I setout on the 3-mile, each way, trip over hill and dale, and sand dune, and red rock, and more sand, and did I mention the sand, and reached The Wave. It was an extraordinary sight and I wish I was able to do it justice with my lens, but an abstract will have to do.

Wall of Wave Photography

7. Solitary Hiker

Did I mention that they day we went to the wave it was near 100-degrees? Here a solitary hiker rests at the mouth of the wave. Who do you think that is?

Solitary Hiker Photography

8. Lone Pine Peak

One of Jerry’s favorite places – Lone Pine and the Alabama Hills. When Jerry makes up his mind to visit Lone Pine, nothing stops him. This time he invited his buddies Mike, Connie, and me. It was just a short trip with one goal in mind, the sunrise in the Alabama hills. For people who haven’t experienced the desert southwest, this area must look like the moon with the brown rocks of the Alabama Hills meeting the blue peaks of the Eastern Sierras. The colors were just too distracting for this scene.

Lone Pine Peak Photography

9. Happy Holidays – Are You Home Yet?

Even though I was on a landscape shoot, I just can’t stop myself from framing up the city scene. Well, kind of a small town scene. Well, can you imagine a more depressing Holiday scene than this? This is my pick for next year’s holiday card. Happy Holidays – Are you home yet?

Happy Holidays Photography

The Good Stuff

The Good Stuff

Artist and Geek collided for this shot at the Ventura County Fair.Night at the Fair

Like a hunter in pursuit of that elusive prey, I’ve been in pursuit of night-time fair shots for some time. Mostly they end up in the bit-bucket, a jumble of over exposed lights and chaotic people. (A notable exception is my 2nd Place Fair Theme win at this years Ventura County Fair. It was taken last summer at the Santa Monica Pier). Given that luck and quantity weren’t helping with the quality of my output, a bit more thought was needed. Time to get the Artist and the Geek to talk to one another.

I’ll explain this one like I have a few others since listening to David duChemin’s CreativeLIVE Vision Driven Photography webinar. First a list of what I saw and felt. Then lists of how I went about the Frame, Capture, and the Process using the list as a guide.

The List – what I saw and felt, what I want to convey in the photography

  • Lights and bright colors
  • Excitement
  • Vendor booths of junk, pure junk
  • People, together and separate
  • Colors
  • Light in the darkness
  • People are part of the scene, but not the scene itself

The Frame – what will I put in the frame

  • I really wanted to see people interacting with the brightly lit vendor food booths. Here I saw these three friends in front of this booth. There was a lot to attract me to this subject. They were there for quite some time so I had time to think and compose. They were well back lit. It was a group of 3 (perfect!). There were good colors and contrasts of the group – red, black, and white.
  • The background booth was as colorful and audacious as it gets – The Good Stuff – all junk, pure junk. Then think about the friendship of the group of 3, hanging at the VC Fair for the evening. Now, isn’t that the Good Stuff too?
  • The rest just sort of fell into place – nice oblique angle, balance using the rule of thirds, timing getting the rest of the path clear.

The Capture – what camera settings, lenses and why

  • The oblique angle gives me some excitement
  • The exposure was the difficult part. The obvious solution to high-contrast situations is HDR – so I bracketed -2, 0, +2. This would allow me to capture the detail inside the building as well as the outside. I also knew that I would need to reblend in the middle-exposure of the people in order to avoid ghosting of movement.
  • 55mm – really just a standard street length. Let the building and the scene do the speaking.

The Process – post processing

  • I’m not a fan of wild HDR, but it is quite useful for these high-contrast scenes. For this I wanted lots of detail within the image, but keep the people as silhouettes with just the edge light. A combo of Photomatix from the RAW images and tweaks of the tonemapped image in Lightroom.
  • Then I processed the middle exposure to match the HDR and using Photoshop and layers, I masked the people in over the HDR to remove the ghosting effects of the people movement.

The result is a bright and dark scene. The colors of the fair and the emotion of friendship.

Tongue of Fire

Tongue of Fire

The 2010 Citrus Classic Balloon Festival was held this past weekend in Santa Paula, California home of vast citrus groves in Ventura County. I missed the event the past two years, once due to poor planning and the other due to a shoulder injury. Having seen the images my friends have flaunted, I wasn’t about to miss it this year. It is always interesting to read the local coverage of these events to get the full flavor of the event.

The event is organized around carnival events during the day and the Balloon Glow events in the evening. During the Balloon Glow, they fill 10-12 hot-air balloons and for about an hour or so they intermittently pump them with hot air using their large propane burners.

Continuing to practice the “vision-driven photography” approach which I recently learned from David duChemin’s CreativeLIVE webcast, I began making my mental lists. There were actually two distinct atmospheres at the festival. The time before sundown was characterized by a festival atmosphere with children playing in their painted faces, carnival foods, stunt planes, and family fun. But after the sun went down and the balloons started to go up, all focus turned to the rush of heat, contrast of light, enormity of the balloons, bright colors, and the chaos of hundreds of people running around getting their shots with everything from cell-phones to professional dSRLs. So that is my list. Mentally I shot two completely different events.

I’ve not really had chance to carefully edit my pictures, but in a quick look I spied this one, from the Balloon Glow event, which I knew was a keeper. Here is what I was thinking during the three stages of making this image: the Frame, the Capture, and the Process.

The Frame:

  • When the flame was on, some of the balloons lit up like stained glass windows while others were more opaque. I concentrated only on the transparent ones.
  • I wanted to capture the excitement of people as they look at the balloon and the flame so I should try to include both in my images.
  • The balloons are enormous, capture their size by juxtaposing them with other smaller objects.

The Capture

  • Use a wide-angle lens to get both people and balloon in the image
  • The flames create a very large amount of light, but I had little warning of when they would be lit or for how long the pilots would keep them lit. Be ready and have the focus set. Take a burst of images to get the right timing.
  • Since people were all over the place, I needed a combination of preparation and repetition to get a “lucky” formation of people and expressions.

The Process

  • I wanted to maintain the excitement, contrast, and mystery. Keep a lot of the darkness of the image.
  • The balloon needed to show its beautiful stained glass effect, add just a touch of dodging to the center of the balloon.
  • To achieve the stained glass look, I didn’t want the noise produced by ISO 1600 so I used the noise reduction in LR3 to bring back the smooth look to the balloon itself.

Many folks who have commented on the image have mentioned how I “got the exposure just right”. To be honest I let the camera do all the work shooting in AV-mode with evaluative metering. I just love the modern dSLRs, don’t you?

Post-script: I was quite surprised to find, after the fact, that I was shooting at f/2.8 – what was I thinking (or not thinking would be more like it). I was however pleased that due to good focus, wide angle, and distance from the subject, I got the sharpness that I needed.

Dodgertown (Isn’t it Laker season?)

Dodgertown Bar

Another from Old Pasadena. Handheld on the XT with a featherlight 35mm lens.

Processed in DxO and Lightroom. Although I do really like DxO its noise reduction and lens correction, I will probably not buy DxO beyond the 14 day trial. 1) it is too expensive for pro-model cameras (my 5D mk II is in the mail) and 2) it renders things slightly red when re-imported back to LR. It is just too hard to deal with a program where the images look different in the program than when they get back to Lightroom. Someone needs to tell DxO that and 3) with the 5D mk II on the way – my noise reduction needs should go down.

Today I’m going to install the Mac version of PTLens for lens distortion. (Just upgraded the iMac to Leopard – a prerequisite). I loved PTLens on the PC, but only recently has it be available for the Mac.