Backyard Bird Therapy

Last night I indulged my insomnia by listening to a lot of Aimee Mann, watching V for Vendetta, and then watching a documentary about Gene Clark, one of the founders of The Byrds. Woke up depressed, and even a motorcycle commute to work did not cheer me up. But when I got home, things got better. I do want a much longer lens, though. These are very small portions of the frame..

All shot with Nikon D610, 70-200 f/2.8, TC17eII teleconverter.

DSC_1602 (1)

DSC_1607 (1)

DSC_1629 (1)

DSC_1646 (1)

DSC_1663 (1)

DSC_1693 (1)

DSC_1688 (1)

Leave a comment

Filed under Motivation, Nature Photography

Year of Square Update

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 9.24.14 PM

Here are the most recent twelve days of the Year of Square, and I think my compositional skills are slowly improving. I’m not sure whether the principles are different for squares and rectangles, but forcing everything into a square is forcing me to stay more conscious of composition. I may aspire to be a role model for lazy, disorganized, impatient photographers, but I don’t want to be undisciplined. When opportunity arises, we do what we have practiced, so I’m going to use the Year of Square to practice finding the light, composing the scene, and catching the moment.

Oh, and here’s a better composed image of the bayberry. It’s not a square, though…

The berry needed more room around it.

The berry needed more room around it.

1 Comment

Filed under Composition, Motivation

A Pretty Good Day

An unexpected gift.

An unexpected gift. Nikon D610 with 70-200 f/2.8

Saturday, February 22, was a pretty good day. Around 1:00 I stepped out back to practice with a camera and lens combination I would use later in the day to photograph author Michael Moss. As I stepped onto the back deck, a hummingbird hovered directly in front of me. He then led me to the plant in the picture, posed for two frames, and zoomed away. A nice start to the day.

Deep set eyes, stage lighting, and walking between the projector and the screen. A challenge.

Deep set eyes, stage lighting, and walking between the projector and the screen. A challenge. Nikon D610 with 70-200 f/2.8.

The day’s assignment was challenging. UCSB Arts & Lectures presented author Michael Moss, and I was to capture publicity shots for both Arts & Lectures and the Orfalea Foundation. I chose a spot too close to the stage. I was shooting upward toward a man with deep set eyes who was lit by hard stage lights. Plus, he kept walking between the projector and screen. I got a few keepers, but it was unnerving there for a while.

But after the presentation…

The lagoon at UCSB, near the dorm where Laurie and I met in 1976.

The lagoon at UCSB, near the dorm where Laurie and I met in 1976. Fujifilm X100s

My wife and I took a walk around campus, and came to the lagoon. We walked around it, as we did hundreds of times between 1976 and 1980, when we were students.

This might have been us, almost forty years ago.

This might have been us, almost forty years ago. Fujifilm X100s

You know, it was just a nice day. Fujifilm X100s

You know, it was just a nice day. Fujifilm X100s

 

1 Comment

Filed under Motivation, Nature Photography

Honoring Access with Restraint

Ms. Gloria Steinem, speaking at the Orfalea Foundation Downtown Center on February 13, 2014

Ms. Gloria Steinem, radiating optimism and radicalism in equal measure at the Orfalea Foundation Downtown Center on February 13, 2014

In the eyes of the IRS, I’m a professional photographer because I get paid to make photographs. In the eyes of certain friends and coworkers, I’m a professional photographer because I’m “good enough” and the right price. In my own eyes, I am an eager-to-learn amateur who lacks certain qualities I associate with professionals, including the presence of mind and resourcefulness to walk into any situation and find a way to accomplish the mission.

That sort of professionalism comes from experience, and nothing in my photographic past prepared me for two hours as the sole photographer at a reception for Journalism and Feminism icon Gloria Steinem.

Strong backlighting was a challenge throughout. Here, Ms. Steinem chats with Sage Publishing founder Sara Miller McCune.

Strong backlighting was a challenge throughout. Here, Ms. Steinem chats with Sage Publishing founder Sara Miller McCune.

I had shot in the room before – unsuccessfully – so I came into the situation nervous but with a plan. There is no ceiling to speak of, and the eastern and southern exposures are picture windows. Ms. Steinem would be backlit for the entire event, but I would have no ceiling on which to bounce flash. I chose to shoot the entire event with on-camera flash units and diffuser domes.

I've shot receptions before, but never for an intellectual rock star. The energy level was very high, and I found it hard to keep my attention or my cameras focused.

I’ve shot receptions before, but never for a rock star. The energy level was very high, and I found it hard to keep my attention or my cameras focused.

I had liberty to roam the room and shoot at will, but I had a responsibility to Ms. Steinem and the attendees too, didn’t I? I couldn’t just keep clicking and firing flashes during their discussion, as much as I wanted to. Ms. Steinem is one of the most photographed people in the world – I wanted my chance to make a special image of a special person, but it was a reception for her, not me.

Here is Ms. Steinem with several of my coworkers, celebrating the conclusion of a very uplifting event.

Ms. Steinem with several of my coworkers, celebrating the conclusion of a very uplifting event. I still plan to retouch the flash hotspots, which of course appear in every picture of the day.

I made one photo that I like (at the top of the post) and several that will serve the purposes of my employer and possibly help some of the other community members who participated in the event.  I got to spend several hours listening to a fascinating person. And I got experience, which is sometimes defined as what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.

Regular readers will recall my post about "the fourth light." I may use one or two or three flashes in my portrait work, but it's the light radiating from the subject that makes the picture. Ms. Steinem absolutely glows with passion, empathy, and intellect. Quite fun to be near, frankly.

Regular readers will recall my post about “the fourth light.” I may use one or two or three flashes in my portrait work, but it’s the light radiating from the subject that makes the picture. Ms. Steinem absolutely glows with passion, empathy, and intellect. Quite fun to be near, frankly.

1 Comment

Filed under Lighting, Portraiture, Professional vs. Amateur

My Element

DSC_0780 (1)Sir Ken Robinson says your element is that space where your passion and your competency intersect. Sam Phillips says, “It is good to love what you love so much that you forget to be afraid of not knowing what you are doing or if you are any good at doing it.” I say that when I am photographing birds I have no idea that time is passing.

 

3 Comments

Filed under Motivation, Nature Photography, Personal

“How to Take A Decent Picture”

I recommended that Melissa keep her subjects off-center. This image doesn't exactly tell a story, but it does suggest where she is.

I recommended that Melissa keep her subjects off-center. This image doesn’t exactly tell a story, but it does suggest that she is in a garden on a nice day. Yeah, our offices are lovely.

I was honored to see that a coworker scheduled a meeting wherein I would teach her “how to take a decent picture.” She wants to contribute more to our online magazine, as she spends more time than most of us in the field, so she wanted the editor (me) to show her how to make better images.

I talk the talk better than I walk the walk, so the images below are for illustration purposes only.

Here are the fundamentals we worked on today.

  1. Each photo on our site should complement the story and tell a story of its own. One of the reasons photojournalists often work with wide-angle lenses is because they can get very close to the subject while still showing context.
  2. A photo is more compelling if it shows the viewer something he or she would not necessarily have seen. This is why I am fond of high and low angles. I’ve often said my knees are my chief photographic tools, because I’m always dropping to the ground for a more dramatic angle. For our purposes, I’d rather have an interesting image than a perfectly exposed, perfectly focused, perfectly balanced one.
  3. I shared Bob Krist‘s idea that a successful photo has great light, great composition, and a sense of moment.

So, my basic advice was to start out by using a wide-angle setting on her camera, get low and close, look for interesting light, use fill flash outdoors and  window light indoors, seek simple backgrounds, and if you’re getting low and close with a wide angle lens to photograph a person, make sure they lean toward you a bit.

Immediately after the frame at the top of this post, I lowered the camera near the table for this low angle shot. It's not a great photo, but it's more interesting than the first shot, and it includes her camera, which is very much a part of the story...

Immediately after the frame at the top of this post, I lowered the camera to the table for this low angle shot. It’s not a great photo, but it’s more interesting than the first shot, suggests a sense of moment, and it includes her camera, which is very much a part of the story…

To demonstrate the utility of fill-flash, we stepped into the bright day and snapped this one without flash.

To demonstrate the utility of fill-flash, we stepped into the bright day and snapped this one without flash. My camera has a lot more dynamic range than hers, so this isn’t terrible, but…

…fill flash makes a BIG difference in this scenario.

…look at those eyes! Fill flash makes a BIG difference in a backlit scenario.

We also talked about establishing shots…

…and detail shots.

…and detail shots.

What a wonderful exercise this turned out to be for me! I had to really think about “how to take a decent picture,” and articulate the fundamentals to someone who is not a photographic hobbyist. Best of all, the things I determined were most important to a decent photo for our magazine apply equally to her pocket camera and my DSLR – the picture is made behind the viewfinder, not in the camera.

Leave a comment

Filed under Camera Gear, Composition, Lighting

What is Photography To Me?

A very pedestrian bored-at-dinner shot turned into something a little more compelling by clicking a few buttons and moving some sliders. There's nothing inherently wrong with this, if you like the end result.

A very pedestrian bored-at-dinner shot turned into something a little more compelling by clicking a few buttons and moving some sliders. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, if you like the end result.

A friend in the Photo Club recently asked that we disqualify one of his images from our Annual Awards because he did a lot of post-processing and it is his personal belief that a photograph must come straight from the camera. That doesn’t explain why he submitted the image in the first place, but personally, I tend to tune out any discussion of “what photography is,” because I’m still trying to understand what photography is to me. And that changes sometimes.

Earlier this week, in a fit of insomnia, I opened a long-ago downloaded but never used iPhone app called Snapseed.  I modified some old images from my phone’s  library. I never thought I’d enjoy playing with all the heavy-handed photo filters I see on Instagram and Facebook, but I do. I like being able to turn weak or outright failed photos into something odd, and with more potential impact. And it lets me playfully experiment with composition and color and lighting even when I just have a few spare minutes to noodle on my phone. Here are some examples:

IMG_2013

This tree clings to the edge of Bryce Canyon. The original photo was interesting, but his adds a nice surrealism.

IMG_1995

This was a boring, pointless shot of tomatoes. I don’t even know why it was on my phone. Now I like the painterly feel of it.

IMG_2020

This one also springs from an okay original, but in my opinion the effects here add all sorts of mystery to an otherwise very straightforward shadow.

IMG_2012

Not my favorite model, but the most available. And I can get him to do almost anything.

This morning, I wandered outside with what I might consider the opposite of my phone: Nikon D7000, 70-200 f/2.8, TC17IIe teleconverter. I spent some time with my favorite subject: Backyard birds. I shoot in RAW, and the objective of my post-processing in Aperture is to recreate what I saw with my own eyes. It’s quite different from what I’ve been doing in Snapseed, and I cannot imagine myself layering a “grunge” filter onto one of my nature shots, although I might just to see what happens. It’s all photography to me. And a pure joy, too.

DSC_3254

DSC_3266

DSC_3283

DSC_3308

2 Comments

Filed under Camera Gear, Composition, Just for FUN, Motivation, Nature Photography, Personal, Post Processing