Night Moves

I don’t know much about event shooting (besides the fact that it makes me nervous), but I figured having some photos of the crowd would be a good thing.  Since the crowd at the Acres of Darkness event was standing in line for the haunted trail, I figured that’s where I needed to be.

This presented a special challenge:  Large groups of people clumped along a line that spanned about 50 yards.  Add to that, ridiculously little light.  Even with my ISO setting all the way up to 25600, with an aperture of f/22, I needed a 1.3 second shutter speed to get the shot of the line.

Funny, I don’t remember ISO 25600 being in the table of reciprocal settings to get the same exposure with different ISO, shutter speed, and aperture combinations.  I still shake my head, remembering how excited my dad was when he discovered 800 ISO film.

In any case, getting 50ish people strung out in a line to all hold still for 1.3 seconds was not an option.  I experimented with even longer shutter speeds to see how much blur I got and whether I liked the effect or not.  I like the mood the slight blurring creates for the halloween theme quite a bit, actually.  The motion makes it seem more interesting somehow.

I might have gotten a bit carried away when I decided to try to create ghost images as people entered the trail.  I asked several groups to “slow walk” as they started down the trail in the hope of creating some really great apparitions.  This didn’t work out so well.  The people created more of a haze in my image instead of actual ghosts.  Next time, I will have them stand still for approximately 1/2 the time my shutter is open and see if that creates more of the effect I’m looking for.

On a more positive note, I added an entertainment factor no one expected.  The people I asked to slow walk turned the assignment into the hokey pokey, robot moves, imitations of the 6 million dollar man (although I’m not sure any of them were old enough to have heard of him), and even a brief line dance.  I, on the other hand, did not do any dancing.

I find it an interesting psychological experiment:  ask people to perform and unusual but simple task and their self-consciousness causes them to turn it into something more usual, like dancing.  Or, maybe it’s more of an act of embracing a moment of silliness and just rolling with it?  Whichever the case, we all laughed a lot.

The Blind Shooting Blind

One of the skills in photography I try to work on is composition.  The easiest aspect of composition to focus on (pun!) is what is in or out of your frame.  For example, not ending up with a sign post in the background sticking out of the head of your subject.  Or, not cutting off your subject’s hand.  Or not chopping off the edge of a shape in an awkward and inexplicable way.  These are things I pay attention to.  Sometimes, I pay attention to them after the shoot, in which case, I say “shoot!” in a different way.

Shooting loose is a cheat.  This means leaving lots of space around your subject so you can crop later to get what you want in the frame.  I’m not very good at shooting loose.  I always end up with some awkward position where I have to either cut off the subject’s hand or foot to get the framing I want.

For this reason, I try to come home with at least the framing right.  This is not to imply that how you frame a shot is the only thing to think about when it comes to composition.

In any case, shooting at the haunt over the weekend was a completely new lesson in composition.  When I was shooting in unlighted areas, I literally could not see my subject at all when I looked through the viewfinder.  My technique was to take a shot with my flash, look at it on the LCD screen, and then try to guess where I was positioned and which way I needed to move to get the subject completely in the frame.

This is a case where shooting loose was absolutely necessary.  I ended up with a lot of headless people on my first shot.  Then I would zoom out a bit to make sure I at least got the heads included in the second shot.  After a few dozen wasted shots, I finally started getting to where I could get the subjects into the frame in one shot.  On the one hand I was excited I was managing to get subjects into the frame.  On the other hand, I was really wishing I had a floodlight I could use to frame up the shot I wanted.

As a side effect of shooting blind, I ended up with a lot of strange things in the background.  This is also the side effect of shooting at an event.  There are lots of people milling about so you end up with someone’s nose sticking out of your subject’s ear or a rear end in the background next to the head of your subject–sometimes my flash was just a little more powerful than I really wanted it to be.  This all led to more time in Aperture cloning black areas over top of unwanted objects.

Perhaps that’s a life lesson:  shooting blind leads to spending more time cleaning up the mess.

Event Shooting

I am gaining a greater and greater appreciation for event photographers.  Think about it.  You show up, you’re supposed to get great photos in what may be the most difficult of circumstances to shoot in and you’re supposed to do it without distracting from the event.

We went to a wedding reception Friday night and I found myself feeling incredibly grateful that I am not a wedding photographer.  I’m not sure I could take the pressure of shooting that kind of once (or twice or thrice) in a lifetime event.  I watched the two photographers at the event and they seemed so calm and collected.  They were both young.  They shot for a while, took a break to eat cake, and then started shooting again.  They seemed to feel no stress at all.  I admire that.

I got to play event photographer Saturday night in the lowest stress situation possible when it comes to event photography.  First, it was a volunteer job, so I didn’t have to worry about people feeling like they didn’t get what they paid for.  Second, the group is fun and appreciative, so I felt like they would be patient.  And finally, this is a recurring event, so it will happen again next year and there will be more opportunities to get better shots.

However, what did create stress is that it was a Halloween Haunt.  And that means it was dark.  Very dark.  And I am not exactly an expert with a flash.  In fact, I had kind of given up on learning how to use my flash a few months back when I broke a hot shoe adapter that allowed me to put it on an umbrella stand.

I seem to take little interest in flash photography until the moment of panic when I realize I’m going to need to shoot with a flash.  Then I suddenly wish I’d spent a lot of time becoming an expert with the thing.

Saturday night, I decide to warm up in the family area.  This area is well lit by comparison.  It still requires a flash, but people are sitting at tables for pumpkin decorating and face painting, so I have the opportunity to shoot and reshoot without having to worry about missing the action.

With my flash unit attached to my camera directly, I couldn’t shoot vertically.  It was like having a hand tied behind my back.  Having a manual flash turned out to be quite a bit more difficult than I expected.  For one thing, it has no auto focus assist feature so I had to pull out my iPhone and use the flashlight app to find focus in the dark.  It was also hard to see to adjust the settings.

I found myself creating a shopping list:  flash bracket, speedlite, portable battery pack.  I guess I’d better decide if I like event shooting or not before I start buying more equipment!

Welcoming Cow Ball

I’m beginning to think Lamb is a bit of a tramp.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  I’m happy she’s living her life to the fullest.  After all, it’s probably a lot more fun then just hiding under the bed until Tisen decides it’s her turn to go for a walk.  But, first we had the whole disappearance with ‘Possum.  Then we had the Duck incident.  And now, it appears she and Big Dog have run off for some sort of road trip.

I discovered Lamb was, once again, lost when I gathered everyone together for a dual-purpose portrait:  to create a record of all of Tisen’s toys so we can remember when they’ve gone missing, and to practice using my flash on camera since I broke a hot shoe adapter for my light stand and will need the flash for a shoot tonight.

I was playing with a honeycomb grid attachment for my flash unit to see what it looks like on camera (as opposed to on a light stand).  It creates a very tight, spotlight effect which seems like it will work well for shooting at the Haunt tonight.

Cow Ball appears at the far left of the group shot.  I’m at least 50% sure she is, in fact, a cow.  I like her because she matches Tisen’s coloring.  Tisen likes her because a) she has nice soft fur and b) she has a very loud squeak.  Tisen is a sucker for a good squeak.  He tried out Monkey, Pink Elephant, Silly Dog, and Flat Cow, but decided Cow Ball was the one he wanted to take home with him.

This was a Tisen day.  Given how much I’ve been working, Tisen’s been feeling neglected.  And, of couse, I will be gone all evening shooting at the Haunt.

After sleeping late, we took a long walk to a dog-friendly pub, Hair of the Dog, where we sat on the patio for a late lunch.  Tisen enjoyed people watching.  He also enjoyed some of Daddy’s fries.

Tisen was quite a hit walking down the road with Jack in his mouth.  Tisen’s toy-carrying habit is the best PR move for pit bulls ever.  Or it would be–most people don’t recognize him as a pit when they seem him with a toy.  It’s an interesting psychological phenomena.

After our walk and lunch, Tisen and I went looking for a hot shoe adapter to replace my broken one.  Unfortunately, one camera store who might have had it has gone out of business.  The other one closed an hour earlier.  Best Buy had never heard of a hot shoe adapter.

But, we were next to PetsMart, so I took Tisen in to pick out a toy since he’d been so good about guarding the car.  It was hard to get it out of his mouth long enough to scan it at the register.  Hopefully Cow Ball will stay closer to home than Lamb.

Bad Birds

The plentiful song birds migrating through Chattanooga right now have not only evaded my lens, but also my vision.  I haven’t even been able to figure out what they are.  Usually when I can’t see a bird well and I run into it for several days in a row, after I obsess about trying to identify it for a while, it will perch in front of me and I will discover it’s something as exciting as a house sparrow.

Because I find the difficulty of shooting such small birds amusing, I’ve decided to share some photos today that I would mostly not choose to share under ordinary circumstances.  As any wannabe photographer will tell you, most actual photographers advise never to put your crap photos on the web; only show you’re best.  But what’s more amusing than headless birds cut partly out of the frame completely out of focus and under exposed?

I guess what’s funny to me about them is not the actual image I ended up with so much as the story behind it.  If you can visualize me crouching patiently with my camera, firing as rapidly as I can while I try to keep a tiny songbird in my frame and walk towards it in the hope of ending up with something bigger than a tiny dark spot that is indistinguishable from a leaf.  Inevitably, this ends in the bird flying away and me tripping over something.

Or, there’s the blurry shot of Cayse coming right at me in a flare.  I’m sitting there trying to refocus on her as she perfectly spreads her wings and even fits in my frame.  But, no.  She’s closer than my lens’ minimum focusing distance.  Or, the fact that her solid black feathers present no contrast for my camera’s focusing system to work with prevents reaching focus before she’s flying over my head.

I would love to have a video of me trying to follow a hummingbird with my lens and get a shot of it in flight.  I’m amazed I got even the shot in the gallery, but I must have looked insane bobbing and weaving with my camera trying to follow the flight pattern of the hummer.

Whenever I am in Florida, I am relieved by the large, cooperative birds who will gladly stand around and pose for hours at a time.  Northern waterbirds are far less cooperative.  This is apparently true in Europe too–we were at the Bodensee on the southern border of Germany when I attempted to shot a group of swans.  Much like a fly that will shoot out from under your hand when you try to slap it, these swans would tip upside down as soon as I pushed the shutter button.

I suppose much like the rare bird seems more beautiful than the common one, the rare decent shot seems more beautiful because it’s rare.  In the meantime, I keep watching eBay for a great deal on a used 600mm lens.

New View

Writing my blog at the end of my day, which seems to be getting later and later, leads to pondering the meaning of life.  I’m becoming increasingly suspicious that the meaning of life cannot be pondered–if I’m thinking about it, I’m probably missing it.

Having been obsessed with Powerpoint for the past couple of weeks, spending virtually every waking moment either on conference calls looking at/talking to Powerpoint presentations or creating/revising one giant Powerpoint file that likes to crash whenever I modify the data contained in the charts, I found I’ve gradually lost sight of everything else.  It’s as if my vision has shortened to the distance between my eyes and my computer screen.

Even when I took a break to walk Tisen (poor guy had to wait for my husband to come home for lunch to get a mid-day break) at what was supposed to be dinner time (Dinner!  I knew I forgot something!), I was so inside my head thinking about what I was working on that I could only remember about half of the walk when I returned and I wasn’t sure which route we had taken through the park.

Now, having temporarily pulled myself away from the need to endlessly revise my slides, I find myself wondering why I am so obsessed with finishing something that can never be done.  It contains information that will change, data that will grow, and theories that will be disproven.  It is as transitory as I am, but with a shorter life expectancy.

I will finish using it for what I need it for.  I will change it if I need it again in the future.  I will share it and get feedback and make more changes.  Some day, it will be set aside never to be opened again.  Yet, right now, it has become the center of my life.

I decided I needed some perspective.  Having shortened my view for so many hours over so many days now, the endless view from an overlook seemed like just what I needed.  Unfortunately, it’s too late to take a drive to an overlook and I’m too tired to contemplate going out for a view.  Instead, I dive into my photos and find the views I’m looking for.

It’s a funny thing how looking at a photo of a big view can make you feel like you’re really looking out a window instead of at yet another computer screen the same distance from your eyes as the one you were tired of staring at all day.

Leave No Trace

The realization that from at least the time we’re in the 3rd grade we have an instinctive need to be noticed and recognized and that need only seems to grow as we become adults has me thinking.

Is that what everything we do is really all about?  From whining about loud music at 6:15AM to flying solo in a hang glider off a mountain launch to taking pictures and posting them on the web.  Is it really all about the same thing?

How do we make a mark.  How do we matter.  How does the life we live add up to something that was worthwhile.

Far away, in a beautiful place called Montana, a young woman I think of as a “surrogate” daughter (as in, she’s someone else’s child, but I would like to claim her and her twin sister for my own) is in the middle of creating a new life–literally.  Just over half way through her first pregnancy, she is glowing so much it’s evident even in mobile phone photos and posts on FB.

Watching her grow with this new life inside her via the internet gives whole new meaning to virtual reality.  I am reminded of our visit there about this time of year a couple of years ago.  I pull out the old photos and pick out a few with fall colors that fit my mood.

Having retouched the photos a bit to make them look a little more like I remember the place, I find myself wondering if this will be my contribution to the world.  Pictures that make people smile politely and say, “that’s nice.”  Is this the best I can do when it comes to making my own mark?

I have dreamt of riding my bike (alternately motorized and not, depending on which year I was dreaming in) across the US, of through-hiking the whole of the Appalachian Trail, of writing daring and evocative fiction, of starting a community garden and teaching inner city children how to grow their own food.  I have dreamt of things I have no skills to do and of solving problems I know virtually nothing about.  But when it comes to leaving my mark, instead of raising my hand, I seem to lift my feet.  I want to move, to see, to do.  And the only evidence I leave behind is my footprints.

Do the mountains and trees know I’ve been there appreciating them?  Does the sun set with a little extra punch?

In the end, we are all nomads–we’re all just visiting.  Maybe it’s ok if, like good houseguests, once the laundry has been washed, it’s as if we were never there.

Raised Hands

Today’s photos provided by my guest photographer and husband, Pat.

Today, I did a volunteer gig instead of eating lunch.  The company I work for provided a grant to fund taking an educational program using birds of prey to underfunded schools that can’t afford special programs.  I’m psyched about having the opportunity to work with both the kids and the birds.

But, when I arrived at the school, I got a text message from one my best friends in the world, Gina.  She was having a bad day.  Her text to me was representative of something I feel all the time.  It was along the lines of “I feel invisible.”  Dismissed, unheard, unimportant, irrelevant.

These are the words that describe the worst feelings any person who regards herself as a valuable asset in the workplace can have, except maybe fired.  But, I suspect it’s the fear of being fired and what that represents to us that makes these feelings so difficult to deal with.  We all want to feel indispensable.  Invisible and indispensable don’t work in the same sentence (except, of course, this one).

I returned from vacation vaguely disappointed that the entire company didn’t come to a halt while I was gone.  It hurts my ego to realize the company didn’t even skip a beat.

But there I was, about to meet two 3rd grade classes with a bunch of birds and I’m getting this text that reminds me about my own fears of inadequacy in a corporate, adult world that often feels foreign to me.

I set my phone aside and focus on the event at hand.  The 3rd graders file in and the program begins.  The children are fascinated.  They smile, laugh, and look amazed.  Not mildly interested and politely faking amazement.  No, they ARE amazed.  And I don’t mean that in the over-used, can’t-think-of-a-better-word sort of amazed.  I mean they were surprised and delighted that something so wondrous as the opportunity to pet a Screech Owl and feed a Black Vulture was happening to them.

And then, they start raising their hands.  They want to be called on.  As each takes their turn, it becomes evident they often don’t know the answer to the question they volunteered to answer or they don’t actually have a question even though that’s why they were supposedly raising their hand.

I had the sudden realization that these were children who feared invisibility.  They raised their hands not because they had something to say but because they didn’t want to disappear in the crowd of their peers or the rules of their teachers who seemed to largely focus on making sure they behaved.

Behaving seemed to be an act of making oneself invisible.  But raising your hand, speaking out, those are acceptable actions that allow you to stand alone and be recognized.  A statement of being worthwhile, important, relevant, and noticeable.

It all suddenly seemed so simple–it’s all about raising your hand.

Visual Effects

At times like these, I wish I had the kind of job that could be blogged about.  I say this only because I have been spending way too many hours working the past few weeks and, as a result, am running out of more universally interesting things to write about.

Normally, I would have done enough shooting over the weekend to have brand new photos for you and stories to tell about them for the next five days.  Unfortunately, between my photography-free road trip on Saturday and working all day Sunday, I am out of new photos.

Even more frighteningly, I am nearly out of old photos I haven’t previously shared as well.

So, for today’s blog, I thought I would experiment with some old photos from our second trip to Mt. St. Helen.

It’s pretty amazing what can be done with a photo in even relatively simple photo editing software like Aperture, my personal favorite.  In today’s gallery, I’ve posted a series of photos that are quite similar.  I processed 3 exposures using the Photomatix HDR plug-in for Aperture and created two unique exports from Photomatix.  In the one, I used more natural-looking settings.  In the other, I used an “artistic” lighting effect that made the foreground and sky look lit differently.

Then, I used my standard post-processing adjustments on them in Aperture.  Mainly, I played with highlights and shadows and the levels.  Once this was done, I made a duplicate of each version and then tried something new.

The first image used a built-in effect for black and white with a red filter.  I also pulled the black point up–many greens disappeared into the shadows.  I experimented with different combinations of lifting the shadows and then raising the black point and finally settled on this one.  It’s dark and gloomy.  I hope it shows up OK for folks–sometimes photos look brighter to me on my iMac than they do after posting to my blog.

The other crazy thing I did was with the second duplicate.  I played with tint and saturation and took the photo to the point where I thought my eyes would bleed if I looked at it any longer.  Then, I backed it off to the brink of pain.

I have no explanation for why I did this.  It just looks too purple when I look at it now.  Perhaps I thought it was time to start exploring the possibilities instead of remaining stuck in reality.

Wouldn’t it be nice if it only took a slider control to add saturation, luminance, and vibrancy to real life?

Sleeping In

Warning:  Complaining follows.

I spent 8 hours in the car on Saturday.  I pushed myself to get home when I might have been safer pulling over to sleep in a hotel or even in the car.  What I looked forward to was sleeping in on Sunday morning.

Chattanooga did not get the memo that I was planning to sleep in.  Or, I missed the memo that the Chattanooga Marathon organizers felt it was absolutely necessary to have the loudest available speakers set up directly across the street and start blaring “The Eye of the Tiger” at 6:15AM.

For a moment, I thought I’d been returned to the summer between the 9th and 10th grade during which I saw Rocky III three times.  I’d gone to the theater to see E.T. all three times, but it was sold out.  I guess it was karma since I had never seen Rocky or Rocky II.

As a side effect, my girlfriends and I learned every word to the song and sang it loudly (and badly) along with the radio whenever it came on.  I wonder how much we actually liked the song vs wanted to impress the boys who saw the movie with us?  I would bet they were not impressed.

Nor was I at 6:15AM on Sunday morning.  After recognizing that no time travel had occurred, I laid in bed thinking it was a car stereo and it would move on quickly.  It didn’t move on.  I threw back the covers and walked onto the balcony to discover it was an event, not a car.

Frustrated when The Eye of the Tiger gave way to another song at the same volume and recognizing the music wasn’t going to stop any time soon, I took Tisen for his morning walk.

I made a stop to ask my tormentors if they had a noise permit.  They claimed they did, although they couldn’t produce it.  I walked over to a cop parked at the intersection and he assured me they did have a permit.  I really wanted to meet the person who thought that was a good idea, but I kept my mouth shut.

Tisen and I walked down to the river where it was significantly quieter.  I debated trying to curl up on a park bench, but decided it was too cold to sleep outside.  We made our way back to the loud crowd and squeezed between runners warming up for the run of their lives.

I always wonder about the sanity of a marathon runner.  I’ve run a few 10Ks, including one that was part of a triathlon, but I’ve never found any joy in running.  I feel even less joy now that being rudely awakened at 6:15AM on Sunday morning is part of the sport.

After our walk, I went up to the roof to try to catch some fall color.  I realized it just isn’t peak color yet here.  I knew I should have stayed in bed.