Wednesday, June 7, 2017

White Out

The morning after the "moonglow" photo I forgot to change the camera settings and took this wildly overexposed shot from the garage. (1/8sec, f/2.8, ISO 6400)

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Moonlit Napa Nights

Friends gather

For words and drinks

Laughs and loves


All of that

Under a lunar halo

Moon and Jupiter


In the hazy night sky

The truth is not quite as poetic. We gathered by the pool after dinner and I looked up and said, "Woah! Look at that halo around the moon!" and everyone else was like, "Woah!" and I jumped out of the hot tub, ran, dripping wet and cold, to the house, grabbed my Lumix micro-4/3rds camera and spent the next fifteen minutes lying on my belly in the grass to get this 1/3 second manual focus exposure at f/1.7 and ISO 3200. Thank goodness for image stabilization and friends who understand quirky obsession, the aesthetic method to my madness. Developing this picture was trickier than most. 

Monday, June 5, 2017

Sunset Rose

You think of a rose as this flawless thing of beauty, a studio sculpture of petals crowning a stem of artfully arranged thorns and leaves. In my wanderings I could find no such perfect flower, and when sunset came I found myself facing a rose that had weathered the elements, damaged, flawed, slowly wilting in the dying light of day. I found a rose standing in the real world, exposed to the weather all its life, a history written in sunburns, tears, and imperfections. I don't try to improve its appearance, pluck the unsightly black petals or hide its stipule scars. I dare not touch it for fear my clumsy attempts cause further damage. This isn't something made to my own desires. I came to it, and photographed, and let it be the flower that it is.

You think of a sunset as a peaceful, calm, serene thing. In reality it is a fiery dynamic wave rolling across the landscape. The Earth has a light side and a dark side, and sunset is that razor thin border between the two. Standing on the surface of our planet we rotate through this meridian at a thousand miles per hour, passing through all the colors in a precious few minutes. To capture a sunset picture I arrive at the appointed hour and wait patiently.  The colors move east to west from my perspective, so I watch both opposite horizons. When the sunset hits its peak, I spring to action, already in place to take the picture I think I want, the vineyard, then run across the road for another one, to gain as many different perspectives as I can while the moment lasts, and then back again to the rose bush which I only later discover is the best picture, the centerpiece around which all the other images revolve. Soon it's over, the story ends, colors fade, and we depart.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Summer is Here

Really I think the picture says it all. This is just what you do in Napa.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Negative Space

I want to feel the confidence of a tiny boat bobbing across an endless sea.

Fire-Proof Safe

You have a house. You have stuff. You want to keep it safe at night. You buy a lock box. 

The first question when shopping for a home safe is what do you want to put in it. Big things? Little things? Jewelry? Documents? Photo albums? Going through this exercise made me realize the only possessions I have that are truly irreplaceable are my data. Pictures and videos of loved ones in exotic locales. Fun we had. How young we were. You're not getting that back and all you can keep in this modern world is memories and digital shadows cast in micrometric silicon.

Protect it. Guard it jealously. Copy and save every last pixel. Store it in three places, at least one offsite. Someone will steal your laptop, you'll lose your backpack, your hard drive will fail, your house will burn down. Someday you will find an old picture you never noticed before and zoom in as far as you possibly can and wish you could keep zooming into more and more detail until you feel like you're back there again, that moment in time. You'll want to save in native resolution for that.

So it goes, I have the raw camera data on a portable hard drive backed up to another external hard drive at home and uploaded to cloud storage just in case. Keenai promises unlimited photo storage and I intend to take advantage of it. We'll see, I'm still on my extended free trial and I'm still uploading digital negatives. The finished photos are on my laptop, google photos, Keenai, and a few other sharing sites.

So if there's a fire, or burglars, or aliens researching human nostalgia, we can feel better knowing the sentimental jewelry is safe, the hard-to-replace documents are secure, the equipment is insured, and the data is backed up. I know I will always have my pictures.

That's one less thing to worry about.

Photographing the Grand Canyon

Don't. You'll be disappointed. You're not going to get any picture that hasn't already been done better. Don't even bother with the camera. Okay, do, but don't expect anything. Expect it can be a challenge, an exercise, a test of your skill, but if you're pointing your camera towards a big hole in the ground and snapping the button you won't be showing off photos with any real wow factor, not like you would expect. The Grand Canyon has wow factor when you see it in person, and yet somehow the grandeur doesn't compress into a twenty megapixel jpeg file.

Plus the light is terrible. The sky is bright and the canyon is dark. The clouds are completely blown out fields of white, and the canyon is various shades of black. This sort of snapshot is best used as a frustrating exercise in post-processing. If you're serious about getting a good picture you can bring a set of graduated filters and spend lots of time finding the right combination of darkening the sky and exposing various depths of the earth while your friends stand around bored. I'd rather not, most of the time.

Not to say it isn't fun. Walking around, looking for compositions, trying new angles, posing, and generally looking for cool stuff you haven't seen before, it's part of any good vacation. It's also an opportunity to be social. Because everyone has a camera, and sunsets are the enthusiast photographers' watering hole. It's fun to watch the sunset, fun to line up with everyone, discuss the weather, the equipment, lenses, and play a round of what have you seen today. It's fun to at times turn the camera away from the sunset and towards the people.

Okay, so it isn't realistic to go to the Grand Canyon and not take pictures. And as much as I warn against it, I can't resist taking the same photo from the same view everybody else does, so let's get that out of the way. The first day I walked around with only a 50mm lens. And you can take a sub-par photo, convert it to high contrast black and white, and have something kind of, okay.

Occasionally you'll mindlessly snap a photo, say of the rising full moon, and later on think, I kind of like how that looks. Good enough for memories.

If you're really lucky you'll get bad weather and have lots of clouds, fog, and snow in your picture. Better than the typical sunny day from the observation deck railing.

Better yet, don't photograph the canyon, take snapshots of people and use the canyon as a backdrop. Like a cowboy leading a mule train.

Or how happy you are to be at a place called Ooh-Aah Point.

Or just living on the edge.

Finally, if you insist on doing the typical canyon shot, you can take two approaches. You can try to subtly bring out the details to get a somewhat realistic view that doesn't look like you've spent an hour fiddling with the color balance. Trying for the natural look. (full disclosure: it doesn't hurt to nudge up the orange and blue saturation, just try not to look like you're doing that!)

Or you can point your camera directly into the blazing sun, exposure bracket the crap out of everything, and go for a look that's completely stylized and to hell with the purists.

The pictures don't do anything justice. It's simply better being there.