I Should Not Have Been Able to Do This

In 35mm equivalents, this was a 510 mm lens. Hand held. In a dark theater. Aimed at a moving subject.

In 35mm equivalents, this was a 510mm lens. Hand held. In a dark theater. Aimed at a moving subject.

UCSB Arts & Lectures brings the world’s greatest talent to Santa Barbara. I was given the opportunity to shoot the season-opening event last night: Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue. I was nervous, and rightfully so. I’d never shot in the venue before, and I would have ten minutes, from a fixed position, to wrangle a couple of keepers.

I needed to counter two primary obstacles: First, the distance from back-of-theater to stage was greater than any I’d worked before. Continue reading

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Sketches for a Project

Here are three recent frames that are trying to convince me to do a series about solitude. Last year I came to hate my Photo-A-Day project, but I have to admit it forced me to produce.  Thinking it through.

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I Was Sad, but I Couldn’t Look Away

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We watched her build the nest for weeks.

It grew much larger than we expected.

It grew much larger than we expected.

We were thrilled to see three chicks.

We were thrilled to see three chicks. (The beak of the third chick is barely visible behind the second chick)

During the week, my reported that a snake got into the nest, although how was unclear. Two chicks survived.

On Thursday, my wife reported that a snake got into the nest, although how was unclear. Two chicks survived and I got this shot on Saturday morning. We weren’t sure how the snake had gotten up under the eaves, but assumed it would not need to eat again for a week or so.

I looked forward to photographing the mother feeding the chicks.

I looked forward to photographing the mother feeding the chicks, and was most concerned about finding a better angle for photographs.

But Saturday afternoon, I came home to this horrific tableau.

But Saturday afternoon, I came home to this horrific tableau.

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The adult oriole tried frantically to disrupt the snake.

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The snake had already dropped a dead chick to the ground. He wasn’t letting go of this one.

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Eventually, the snake dropped about twenty feet to the ground with his prey.

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I felt awful, but I couldn’t look away. I’m a photographer.

The bereaved. I cannot begrudge the snake his nature. I photographed him as I stood beside my BBQ grill, where a slab of cow was sizzling. Still, we had come to view the oriole family as neighbors, and I feel sad for the mother's loss.

The bereaved. I cannot begrudge the snake his nature. I photographed him as I stood beside my BBQ grill, where a slab of cow was sizzling. Still, we had come to view the oriole family as neighbors, and I feel sad for the mother’s loss.

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Best Camera, Best Lens, Wide Open, Black and White

I like the way shallow depth of field and monochrome presentation add a little bit of seriousness to the most mundane of subjects. Please don't tell The Chairman that I called him

I like the way shallow depth of field and monochrome presentation add a little bit of seriousness to the most mundane of subjects. Please don’t tell The Chairman that I called him “mundane.”

I suffer from gear-itis, and while I’m not seeking a cure, I do need to treat some of the symptoms. I’m grateful to have a collection of cameras, lenses, and flashes sufficient to tackle whatever assignment comes my way, but it also makes me lazy and indecisive, making technical rather than artistic choices.

Not quite far enough from the background for creamy out-of-focus areas, but far better subject isolation than I would have gotten at f/2.8 from the same distance.

Not quite far enough from the background for extra-creamy out-of-focus areas, but far better subject isolation than I would have gotten at f/2.8 from the same distance.

As I described in the previous post, I’m testing myself (luxuriously) by trying to limit personal work to one camera body (Nikon D610), one lens (Nikon 85mm f/1.4), and black and white output. This is great gear – better than anything I’ve owned before, but this “deprivation” exercise helps me rekindle the passion I had as a teenager who could only afford one camera body, one lens, and black-and-white film – and had the time of his life learning how to SEE things photographically.

Backgrounds are a constant nemesis to this lazy, disorganized, impatient photographer, but shooting the 85 wide open simplifies otherwise complex backgrounds.

Backgrounds are a constant nemesis to this lazy, disorganized, impatient photographer, but shooting the 85 wide open simplifies otherwise complex backgrounds.

Quality shows. The 85 f/1.4 and D610 work very well together, letting me get sharply focused eyes and beautiful focus fall-off in the foreground and background.

Quality shows. The 85 f/1.4 and D610 work very well together, letting me get sharply focused eyes and beautiful focus fall-off in the foreground and background.

Of course, many of our day-to-day images require the OPPOSITE of my exercise: wide depth of field and full color. Vive la difference!

Of course, many of our day-to-day images require the OPPOSITE of my exercise: wide depth of field and full color. Vive la difference!

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Personal Assignment – Wide Open

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I don’t choose lenses just for focal length and speed. Oh no. Each lens has its own character. Technically, a Nikon 85mm f/1.4 lens is at its best stopped down to f/5.6. But you don’t buy a 1.4 lens to shoot it at f/5.6.  So for July, my assignment is to shoot the 85mm f/1.4 wide open, in black and white.

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