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Meanwhile, over on AugieShoots.com…

Jake Shimabukuro!

jakes_generic-01Virtuoso Ukulele Player!

Seriously, the guy’s insanely good.  The flamenco song he played would rip anyone else’s tendons right out of their arms. And then there’s the crowd-pleasing covers of “Hallelujah,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” that are classics.  Here’s a sample:

8.5 million views on that sucker.  Well deserved.

Check out more of my concert pictures and the stories behind them right now at Augieshoots.com.

How to Improve the iPhone Camera

Posted today at AugieShoots.com is my essay on ways that Apple could improve the camera experience on the next iPhone.  Some of these would be relatively easy, others might be more difficult, but I hope it’s food for thought. . .

2011 New Year’s Resolution

Last year, I decided against doing any New Year’s Resolutions, since I failed most spectaularly on the ones I had set the year before.

This year, I’m feeling more adventurous, so I’ve set some photographic New Year’s Resolutions. Click on the link to visit the all-new AugieShoots.com for that post.

My first resolution for the new year: Keep AugieShoots.com running regularly. It might not be daily, but at least three times a week should be doable.

The second resolution: Get VariousAndSundry updated regularly again, even if it’s only once a week.

Three: Watch more Blu-ray movies. I’ve been very slow to buy them, mostly because I haven’t watched enough of the ones I DID buy. So let’s start correcting for that in 2011.

10 Lessons Learned from Photographing the Lunar Eclipse

Before the Eclipse

Before the Eclipse

I woke up at 2:00 a.m. to shoot the lunar eclipse, and learned a few things:

  1. Batteries fade quickly in cold temperatures. I can’t complain because I got off plenty of shots, but the night’s shooting did end with a blinking red battery light indicator.

  2. Gloves are your friend. It’s cold at night in mid-December. And the wind only makes it colder.

  3. I’m paying the Tripod Tax. It’s a photography truism, and I finally ran up against it. I own a cheap-o $35 Best Buy tripod. And it can’t support my camera and long lens at an extreme angle in the wind without compromising the pictures.

    Eclipsing

    Eclipsing

  4. The 10 second timer is your friend. I found that after pushing the shutter button, the camera would take 5 or 6 seconds to settle back down. Like I said, the tripod is a cheap piece of crap. With the 10 second delay, it was much better settled before the exposure is taken.

  5. Remember the ISO. I was having a tough time getting a shorter exposure time. Stupid me was about 3/4 of the night into shooting before it dawned on me to raise the ISO past 200. Once I got it to 800 and even 1600, the shutter speed was almost manageable with the tripod.

  6. Ambient light is a pain in the butt at night. I live on a street corner that comes complete with a street light on it. I set up my tripod behind my car to block as much of that light as possible. I’m just grateful that the neighbor’s Christmas lights on their front lawn turned off before I went outside.

  7. I love live view. Never thought I’d say that, but it’s key in focusing on the moon. Going to live view and looking at the scene in 10x magnification helped me manually focus better than I ever could through the viewfinder. It also showed me how pathetically awful my tripod was. I took my shots with a 10 second delay. After pushing the shutter button, I could see the camera settling down for the next 5 or 6 seconds, via the moon moving up the screen in live view.

eclipse-03

  1. Taking a picture of the eclipsing moon is hard. The bright part of the moon is many stops brighter than the orange/rusty part. You could take two exposures and sandwich them together, or even exposure bracket the thing. I didn’t trust my tripod enough for that, though.

  2. Did I mention how bad my tripod is? Really, it was so bad that I left the lens stabilization on to help counteract some of the movement.

  3. I miss my remote release. The one I have for my Canon XTi doesn’t work with the 60D. Also, I’m tired of the infrared being on the front of the camera. I don’t want to reach around my camera to set off the shutter. So my next shutter release will be cabled. I also want to try to do star trails with that.

Moon coming out of the eclipse

Moon coming out of the eclipse

Midnight Madness, Thanksgiving 2010

At midnight on Thanksgiving, I was out at a couple of major national retail chains. They were packed. Lines formed that wrapped around the building. The tents were already pitched outside of Best Buy for those waiting for tickets at 3:00 to get their new video game system or high end TV at 5:00 a.m.

Meanwhile, the 24 hour food store down the street was empty. They had no Black Friday circular.

blackfridaymidnight

What business lesson did you just learn from this? That’s right — nobody cares if your bananas are only 79 cents a pound this weekend. They can get ‘em tomorrow.

Shooting the Band

Here’s a quick look at the band I shot last weekend, squawBrook. (Warning: MySpace link.)

Of course, you need a banner: 20101114-IMG_2427

99% of the pics so far wind up as black and whites. This one was bright enough to stay in color. I love the way this worked out. The wider angle lens (28mm) worked beautifully here: 20101114-IMG_2617_filtered

More of the band. NoiseNinja did an amazing job here: 20101114-IMG_2658_filtered

My First Attempt at Band Photography

I shot my first “bar band” last night. I know a band member, so getting permission wasn’t a problem. The problem was, well, the lighting. Or lack thereof. The band brought their own lights — a bank of colored lights that sat on the floor in front of the drummer and changed in rhythm with the music, basically. But that was it. The lead singers stood in front of those lights, so they were always backlit, with no light from the front.

This left me with one lens that could do the job — my new Canon 28mm f/1.8. Everything else I had started at f/2.8, which was fine for the drummer who had a light on over his head, or for the guitarists off on the side, where the flashing lights would often spill onto them. But it was not good enough anywhere else, unless I wanted to shoot at 1/30th of a second or less and hope for the best with the movement.

I missed my 50mm f/1.8 this weekend more than ever. (Sadly, it broke on me a month or two back.) But I also am more determined to replace it someday with the 50mm f/1.4, just for the extra bit of light that would let in for such an environment. Of course, I also want the 85mm f/1.8 so I can take tighter pictures, but that’s photography, isn’t it? There’s always something else to buy.

Finding a place to take pictures was a bit of a problem, too: Small bar, lots of people standing around. I spent most of the time on one knee off to the right side of the stage, shooting up at the band. Occasionally, I would stand up with my back to a pole so as not to block too many views. But at that angle, mic stands started to get into the picture in uncomfortable ways. After the first set, I repositioned to the opposite side of the stage when a spot along the wall opened up. I shot there mostly standing up, but knelt down once in a while. Then, finally, I got into the side area almost behind the stage where I could get one more look at the band.

Shot most of the night at a ridiculous ISO 4000 and 1/40th of a second. Yes, manual mode. Just hit burst mode and prayed for the best. That’s how I took 900+ pics. Most of it will be garbage. The funny thing is that every picture is a different color. If I took ten pics in a row, those lights on the floor would cycle through twice, so you can see the rotation of colors — blue, purple, red, orange, white. So a single shot might have four different looks, and hopefully one of them will be sharp enough to use.

I would have preferred shooting 1/80th or 1/125th of a second, but there wasn’t enough light to get anything on the sensor at that speed. And cranking it up to ISO 6400 was just too noisy for me to deal with.

In the end, I’m thinking that most of these shots will be converted to black and white. From what little I’ve seen of them so far, they’re extremely grainy. ISO 4000, even on a Canon 60D is pushing it. And at f/1.8, I was never getting more than one band member in focus at a time.

I also learned just how large the files are on an 18 megapixel camera than a 10 megapixel camera. I’m pushing 25 MB per file now, or about 40 pics per Gig on the memory card. I’m pretty sure that’s more than twice as much per file, for 80% more megapixels. I blew through the 16GB and 8GB cards like they were nothing. And now I have a hard drive issue at home, because I’ve run out of space from the 60D pics in the last month.

Fun!

Sorry I don’t have any pictures to accompany this writeup with. They’re still converting to DNG and getting loaded up into a LightRoom catalog in the background. Sadly, it’s LR2. I should be getting LR3 in December, at which time I might have to go back to these pictures with the better noise reduction. For now, I’m hoping Noise Ninja and LR2 will suffice.

More to come. . .

Shooting the Blue Lights, Part 5

(This has been sitting as a draft for a month now, just waiting for me to plug the pictures in. I give up. Let me just post the rest of the story. I have other things I need to talk about in the days ahead…)

The big issue with shooting two and three second exposures is having items moving in the scene. You’d think I’d be safe in shooting cityscapes, but no. For starters, there were still boats out on the river at night, including one large booze cruise ship that noticeably blurred across a shot or two. And the planes streaked across the sky, with long white trails at inopportune times. With all the airports around the area, they’re impossible to miss.

At one point, I tried a longer lens to take a few shots, and that caused me to miss a picture that I’m still not sure if I’m ticked off or happy to have missed. One particularly low-flying commercial plan flew between my camera and the blue beams, crossing over it at a fairly eerie angle. The plane looked huge. In reality, I never could have frozen the plane in place and still get anything with enough light on it in the picture. But for a moment, I was disappointed.

In any case, I went back to the wide angle lens and played around with my composition. Unfortunately, at 9:55 p.m., a golf cart came by, telling everyone that the park was closing in five minutes. I didn’t want my car locked in the parking lot, so I called it a night.

Almost.

Remembering what the bicycling photographer said, I drove north after leaving the park, instead of the southern direction I’d take on that road to get back home. About a mile up, I found a small side street lined with businesses and restaurants and free street parking. At the end was a nice brick-pavement circle, some dramatic lighting, and an awful lot of fencing along the Hudson. There were some people there, but none of them blinked at the site of me and my tripod looking for a good angle. The angle was straight down the Hudson and right at the lights. Being further away from the lights meant a tiny bit longer of an exposure was needed, but the lights turned out to be the bigger problem.

The walkway was lined with lights, and every one of them flared up across my camera’s lens. I tried standing between the camera and the light to the left. That helped shade the camera, but then the lens flare would come from the right side of the camera. There was no winning. Still managed to squeeze in a couple decent shots, though they look a lot like my others.

I tried to get a clean pic of the brick circle, complete with water feature and surrounding circle of lights, but there was too much foot traffic to ever get a clean shot. Oh, well.

Shooting the Blue Lights, Part 4

Walking down a little further, I passed by all the tourists taking pictures. Saw one guy with his point and shoot on a tripod, trying to a pic of his three friends in front of the city. I quietly wished him luck and kept walking. I saw a couple of other photographers there with their SLRs and tripods (all fancier than mine) set up along the way, and tried to stay out of their way. I picked a spot that had a clear view of the Empire State Building to my left, and the blue lights straight ahead. Just to the right of the beams was a string of lights from a bridge, though I have no idea which one. To the left were some low-lying buildings, nothing remarkable. That’s what I had to work with.

On the bright side, the sky was mostly clear, minus an occasional small cloud drifting by in the far distance. The wind was up, but I thought I had everything I needed to get a decent shot. Again, it just came down to getting the right settings. How quick a shutter speed to minimize the wind? How high an ISO to achieve that? How large an aperture could I use? Adjust one to the left, adjust the other to the right. Click, try again.

ISO 400, 2.5 seconds, 17mm @ f/5.6

ISO 400, 2.5 seconds, 17mm @ f/5.6

I did notice something from the new perspective, though. It’s something that came up in an earlier conversation. It looked like only one beam was on. I suspected that was because we were looking across the beams, and one was hiding behind the other effectively. Looking up at the clouds where the light ended, I could see I was right. Two clear bright spots of light indicated that two beams were piercing the sky. But from there, it only looked like one. Perspective is your enemy. And, again, my choice of location came back to bit me. I’d rather have a shot with both lights visible, but I’d take what I could get.

From this angle, you can make out the two beams of light separated as they hit the clouds.

From this angle, you can make out the two beams of light separated as they hit the clouds.

TOMORROW: The problems with planes and cruise ships.

Shooting the Blue Lights, Part 3

vands_leadinglines2

You have to keep an open mind when taking pictures like this. Sure, I had some ideas for what I wanted to capture. And if I had gone to Jersey City, I might have had a better angle to get those shots. Instead, I was shooting a bright blue light in a dark sky on a fairly clear night in an un-scouted location. Time to think on one’s toes.

That’s how I wound up with today’s shot. This is not something I ever would have pre-visualized, but when I walked a bit and saw everything lining up so perfectly, I jumped at it. I planted my tripod in a patch of grass, moved it to the sidewalk, and played with the angle to get the right spot. I’m still not sure I got it. I wonder if I had stepped back more, would I have had a better line leading into the picture? Or would I have had more dead space at the bottom? I guess we’ll never know.

But this is the spot where I learned my most valuable lesson of the name: Manual focus is your friend. The camera couldn’t grab focus on the blue light here. Heck, it was having a hard time grabbing focus ANYWHERE. My poor little Canon XTi only has one cross sensor. That’s at dead center in the picture, where there’s not much besides black sky and a blue light that’s multiple stops less bright than the lights surrounding it. There’s not enough edge contrast there for the camera to lock focus.

That’s when it hit me to go with manual focus. And that’s when I was happiest that my lens was a Tamron and had all the markings I needed. Specifically, it has the infinite focus spot labeled on the focus ring. Thanks to that, I had everything effectively in focus, from front to back. After that, all I needed to do was play with the aperture to dim the bright lights a little bit, and the ISO to get the shutter speed quick enough to avoid some shake.

One other lesson I was already learning from this picture: Lens compensation would be a very handy thing to have. I don’t have Lightroom 3 yet. Don’t have a computer that will work with it. Butbeing able to straighten out some of the lines in this picture would be a good thing. Look at the way the light pole pulls in on the left there. The blue beam is straight, only because it’s in the center of the frame, where the distortion doesn’t happen.

Shooting the Blue Lights, Part 2

The park was fairly quiet. The soccer field was lit up and some guys were playing a game over there. But the walk way that ran up and down the Hudson in Weehawken was fairly quiet. Just scattered folks. I took up position right at the end of the parking lot and decided to take some night pics of the city. From that vantage point, everything is looming large across the Hudson. The Empire State Building sticks out, and the “New York” sign stands out from a building in front at that angle. Perfect shot.

So I set up my busted tripod and attached my camera with its wide angle lens. Seriously, two of the three legs on my tripod don’t attach to the center pole anymore. THAT’S why you don’t “invest” in a $30 tripod. I can get it to stand up and support the camera weight, but I’d hardly call it sturdy and reliable. It’s “good enough.” Maybe.

Shooting in manual mode, I went with auto-focus on my 17-35mm lens and played with the ISO setting and the shutter speed. It was extremely difficult to get a crisp shot of the lit-up buildings, though, for two reasons. First, the wind was howling off the river, shaking everything in its path, including my camera. Second, the tripod is such a piece of crap that who knows how steady it was. I used my remote shutter button with a two second delay to help minimize shake, but it wasn’t really enough. I took a lot of shots in the hopes of getting lucky with one. I think I did.

Along the way, a bicyclist came by with a backpack and stopped to chat. I noticed the tripod hanging off his backpack and we struck up a conversation about shooting the city in the wind. He had a slight accent. Not sure if it was British or Australian or what, but we talked about the lights and the best places to shoot them. He said the best place was a couple miles north, but that the wind made it impossible.

Another gentleman came by later with his point and shoot. He couldn’t get the flash to not pop off with every shot. I tried to help him, but couldn’t. It was tricky to do that in the dark with someone else’s camera, no manual, and no obvious button next to the old flash with a bar striking through it.

The walkway winds south from there, around the fields and eventually over to a restaurant that juts out into the water. I decided to see if an angle would open up on the lights from there for me. Spoiler: It did. But there were a lot of lessons yet to learn.

Tomorrow: Manual is your friend. Why I love Tamron lenses.

You can see two things in the pictures below. First, a longer exposure time leads to greater chance of shake. Two, a sturdy tripod with some sort of spirit level on it would help keep pictures straight. These two are a little off…

At a 1.3 second exposure, there's shake

At a 1.3 second exposure, there's shake


At 1/3 of a second, less shake.  Also, less light.

At 1/3 of a second, less shake. Also, less light.

Shooting the Blue Lights, Part 1

NYC from Weehawken

Every year on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, New York City has stationed two beams of blue light at the site of the World Trade Center. As far as I understand it, there’s no firm plan for the lights after next year’s tenth anniversary. While I’m sure they’ll continue for a long time to come, I didn’t want to take the chance of missing them. So this year, on Saturday September 11th, I took the bull by the horns and went out to shoot the lights.

As the crow flies, I guess I live about 20 miles west of the city. When I walked out of the house, I saw a bright light in the middle of the clouds across the street. The moon was a beautiful crescent shape, clinging low to the horizon and looking huge — but in the opposite direction. That bright patch of light came from the WTC.

I’ve been to the Weehawken/Port Imperial section of New Jersey often enough, to take the ferry ride over the Hudson to the Jacob Javitz Convention Center. Being somewhat familiar with that area, I planned on shooting the lights from there. Worst case scenario: I pay the parking fee to park at the ferry terminal lot to take pictures from the sidewalk that lines the Hudson.

Luck was on my side in one way, though: There’s a park next door to the ferry area that had free parking. It was a small parking lot, but at 8:30 on a Saturday night, it’s not a problem. After a smooth ride in (slowed down only by a bit of the Lincoln Tunnel traffic), I found a parking spot and unpacked my tripod and was ready to go.

Silly me, though, missed one important geographic problem. Port Imperial is across the way from the Empire State Building, about 30 blocks north of the WTC site. The light wasn’t shining in line with most of Manhattan. Instead, it was way far over to the right, due south more than east.

I wasn’t even sure when I got to Weehawken that I’d have a decent shot of it.

Tomorrow: Taking some backup shots first.

Coming this week…

Adventures in making this picture:

wtc_landscape

The Parking Garage

Zombie Wiggles

As I said in an earlier post, timing is crucial. And knowing what the guys on the stage are going to do in the course of a song is important, too. Put that together during the final number, and you get to time your picture to the height of their jump in the “Hot Potato” song. Repeatedly.

Slap the pics together, and it looks like Zombie Wiggles to me:

wiggles_jump-1wiggles_jump-2wiggles_jump-3