Ready, Set, Go!

You gotta love summer fairs with all their blinking lights and wide-eyed kids. In contrast to my B&W Fair Noir, here is some color illuminating the anticipation of these two boys (friends? brothers?) getting ready for the ride of the night.

Ready
Wide Eyed and Ready

Set
The Ready Position

Go!
Whirl Away

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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.

Night into Day

Ghosts on the Pier
Exposure: 2 sec (2), Aperture: f/4.5, Focal Length: 42 mm, ISO Speed: 100

Exit - Additional Parking
Exposure: 20 sec (20), Aperture: f/9, Focal Length: 24 mm, ISO Speed: 100

I got an assignment to turn night into day. In the few previous night photos that I have taken, I have intentially worked the exposure to keep the appropriate dark tones avoiding clipping any bright lights. In these images, the intent was to expose long enough to bring out all the fill details.

Read more about the ones that got away