Brain Fog

Ah, Saturday.  A day to get things done that I want to do instead of things I have to do.  But there seems to have been a problem with that plan.

It all started when I made the mistake of logging on to my work computer.  I did this for the purpose of changing my password because it was about to expire and I didn’t want to be locked out.  The problem started in that I had to open my inbox.  One should never open one’s inbox when one only wants to work for 5 minutes.  2 ½ hours later, I realized I was still in my PJs, my dog hadn’t been out yet, and most of the morning was gone.

After taking care of Tisen, I spent some time trying to get my head around my latest volunteer gig–I’m now the photo contest chair for the local photography club.  I had no idea how complicated it is to organize a photography contest.  The good news is that it’s fun and I’m getting to know more people.

I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but another couple of hours disappeared between testing FileZilla and realizing it was time to take the dog out again.  I decided I was not going to appear for a second time in the park in my PJs and headed for the shower.

. . . .

At the end of our walk, Tisen and I passed a chattering Belted Kingfisher hunting for fish over the wetland.

Now, I know it’s a long shot, but I figured something had to go right today, so maybe it would be getting a shot of the kingfisher?  My trusty iPhone is worthless when it comes to bird photography.  I rushed the last 100 yards of Tisen’s walk to get home and get my DSLR.  5 minutes later, the elevator reached the ground floor at the exact moment I realized the battery in my camera was dead.

Back up.  Back down.  Low and behold!  The kingfisher was still hunting over the wetland!  I crept down the long slope to the water, not looking at the bird.  Carefully, I raised my camera to focus on the bird.  The moment my lens pointed his way, he went chattering off to another section of the wetland, on the far side of a barrier that blocked my view of him.

I tried to move to the other side of the barrier, but as I was climbing over the rock wall, he reappeared, fish in his mouth, and flew off to enjoy his meal where he was never to be seen again.

This is when I discovered it is possible to do landscape photography with a 70-200mm lens and no tripod.  It’s kind of funny, really.  I think I started out doing landscape photography with the “wrong” lens and no tripod.  Today, it felt like a brand new epiphany.  As I searched for a subject, I discovered fog rising off the river.  Now that was fun.

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Final Point

Moccasin Bend one last time

Moccasin Bend one last time

I have a few photos from Point Park to wrap up on.  I shot one last look from the overlook with my DSLR vs a panoramic on the iPhone (which I have rapidly become addicted to).  With my 24-70mm lens on the camera, this was as wide as I could go.  If I would have stepped back a few feet, I might have been able to get all of the Tennessee River into the frame as it winds its way around Moccasin Bend.  But then I would have had more crap in the foreground.  Perhaps I will through my 17-35mm lens on the next time we go up to Point Park.

After enjoying the view from Ochs Museum overlook, we headed back up the slightly more rugged trail than the asphalt trail that circles the main portion of the park.  Tisen didn’t seem to want to leave the cool shade next to Ochs museum as we made our way back.  It wasn’t that hot out, but perhaps it feels warmer to someone wearing fur?

Tisen trying to go the wrong way

Tisen trying to go the wrong way

The trail heads uphill on the way back.  When you walk down it, you don’t realize you’re going downhill.  Yet, when you walk back up it, you definitely do notice the uphill.  Fortunately, the entire path is well-shaded so even our hot dog didn’t overcook.

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As we got closer to the asphalt paved and landscaped part of the park, I noticed a crooked tree highlighted in a beam of bright sunlight.  It was perched on the sharp edge of a fallen rock and growing with a 90 degree bend in the middle of its trunk.  I had a sudden vision of the rock having once been part of the mountain and this tree deciding it would conquer this rock some day as it spread its roots into every crack and crevice.  I imagined this bent and tiny tree feeling victorious for having brought down the rock after so many years of patient growing.  I wonder if a tree or water dripping is faster when it comes to carving off chunks of stone cliffs?

The victorious tree

The victorious tree

We made it safely back to the asphalt path that circles the landscaped part of the park.  We walked slowly around the park, allowing Tisen to sniff and explore as far as his leash would reach.  He paused to heed the call of nature more times than seemed physically possible, but you know how male dogs are about marking new territory.

As we waited, a female dog came over with her humans to say hello.  After a little doggy socialization, we headed back toward the park entrance.  Along the way, I spotted Sunset Rock off in the distance through the trees, looking much further away than I remembered.  I smiled sheepishly since I had wanted to walk all the way to Sunset Rock, believing it to be less than a mile from Point Park.  Pat gave me a side-ways glance that said, “Less than a mile, huh?”

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New Flash

Tisen looks nicely lit for this quick-and-dirty shot with the flash on camera

Tisen looks nicely lit for this quick-and-dirty shot with the flash on camera

 

I recall working pretty darn had to get a decent exposure with my manual flash

I recall working pretty darn had to get a decent exposure with my manual flash

 

I’ve been doing well on holding steady with the photography equipment I have.  I had the small splurge on small accessories for my iPhone along with a few dollars worth of apps for my iPhone, but otherwise, I haven’t bought anything for quite a while.

Then, I got frustrated with my inexpensive manual flash unit when I last pulled it out.  First, it doesn’t have an auto-focus assist function for low-light focusing.  Second, I have to take about 3 shots to figure out the right power settings on the flash (or buy a light meter).  Third, it won’t do high-speed sync (meaning I end up with black bars on my photos if I have too fast a shutter speed and my only option is to choose a slower shutter speed even when that’s not what I want.  Finally, I can’t do rear-curtain sync.  This is a feature you don’t think about until you try to shoot motion in dim lighting.

So, having these irritations right about tax return time combined with the realization that the price of the Speedlite I’ve been lusting after has dropped significantly since I last fantasized about owning it led to one of those late-night purchases that made me feel a little queasy when I woke up in the morning and realized what I’d done.

I put the card up to create catchlights in the eyes--another feature I was missing--but Tisen refused to look at me and even closed one eye

I put the card up to create catchlights in the eyes–another feature I was missing–but Tisen refused to look at me and even closed one eye

While it’s not the most expensive piece of equipment I’ve ever purchased, I tend to think of things as being “expensive” or “inexpensive” based on how much use I get out of them.  My tripod had a higher price tag, for example, but I use it all the time and it will last the rest of my life.  I feel the same way about my lenses.  While camera bodies are expensive and quickly out-dated, they last years and the camera body is the one piece of equipment I use for every shot I take.  A flash, on the other hand, is an occasional add-on accessory for me, not something I need 80% of the time.

In any case, I decided I should start learning how to use the thing immediately in order to increase the odds that I will be happy with having purchased it.  I tried to get Tisen to help me work on using rear-curtain sync, but he was resistant and seemed to think I was mad at him because I kept coaxing him onto one side of the room, making him sit, and then, when he started walking, pointing a big, black machine at him that kept flashing.  When he started cowering when I called him, I decided I needed to enlist Pat’s help.

Not quite what I was going for--was working on a trail leading up to a solid Tisen but me-thinks I have some learning to do

Not quite what I was going for–was working on a trail leading up to a solid Tisen but me-thinks I have some learning to do

Pat was not more cooperative and I didn’t have any better luck getting the image I was looking for.  But, I was pleased with how nicely the automatic abilities of the flash unit to choose the exposure worked.  I got far better exposures with ¼ of the effort.  That’s encouraging.

 

Pat got a little more solid, but he's still see-through

Pat got a little more solid, but he’s still see-through

Night Time Renaissance

Bright moon, pink clouds, twilight sky--but too much wind

Bright moon, pink clouds, twilight sky–but too much wind

Sometimes at night the clouds lay low over the city and reflect back the light from the street lights below, luminous against the twilight blue sky.  Usually, the phenomena of having low-lying clouds with a clear sky above is accompanied by wind.

If there is no wind, the clouds don’t break up.  They lie like a blanket, impenetrable, creating only a haze of light that just isn’t as interesting as on windy nights.  On this particular night, not only was the wind blowing hard with the clouds breaking up nicely, but the moon was bobbing and weaving amongst the blowing clouds.

For this special effect, the assistance of Tisen was required--a surprise pull on the leash captured Tisen's own form of art

For this special effect, the assistance of Tisen was required–a surprise pull on the leash captured Tisen’s own form of art

Who could resist trying to get a photo of that?  Of course, Tisen also needed to go out, so being the multi-tasker that I am, I hung my DSLR around my neck and put Tisen’s collar around his.

While I always take my iPhone with me when I wander around Renaissance park, I had no intention of using it tonight.  The iPhone is a light hog, like all digital cameras with tiny sensors.  Getting a night time image with an iPhone isn’t something I’ve figured out how to do and this wasn’t going to be the night I tried again.

Shot while swaying with a post I was trying to lean on for stability

Shot while swaying with a post I was trying to lean on for stability

I’m glad I didn’t bother trying with the iPhone.  With my DSLR set on ISO 10,000, I was still shooting at shutter speeds over 3 seconds long.  This is because I was being greedy.  I wanted lots of depth of field, which meant sacrificing light to get it.

This may not have been the best decision.  Armed with my camera and with my tripod tucked neatly in the closet back at home, I was buffeted about in the wind like a human sail.  I tried leaning against a light pole and discovered the light pole was also blowing in the wind.  We swayed together as I contemplated the hopelessness of getting a good shot in these conditions.

Closer to still, if only the clouds would have paused

Closer to still, if only the clouds would have paused

I remembered some of the lessons I learned about wind from hang gliding.  First and foremost, it cycles.  If you stand still and pay attention, you’ll feel it start to ease up until it will suddenly drop and be still.  Sometimes this lasts only a split second.  Sometimes it lasts several seconds.  I needed 3 second windows of calm to get any sharp photos.

To make matters more difficult, the wind tossing the clouds was blowing at a much steadier pace, keeping the clouds blowing across my frame during the exposure.  Even the plants in the foreground weren’t settling down when the breeze would briefly die.  Everything was in motion.  There were to be no sharp shots that night.

This is my favorite--the effect of the wind blowing everything in the long exposure reminds me of an impressionist painting

This is my favorite–the effect of the wind blowing everything in the long exposure reminds me of an impressionist painting

Tisen was happy to return to the indoors–the wind was cold and Tisen’s leg is sore.  He has created yet another hot spot because of his allergies.  We are treating it topically for the time being in the hope of avoiding more steroids.  The pink self-sticking tape was hard to resist–he looks so cute in pink.

Tisen spent most of the day napping--he managed to wake up long enough to yawn mid-day

Tisen spent most of the day napping–he managed to wake up long enough to yawn mid-day

I got one pose out of him before he went back to sleep

I got one pose out of him before he went back to sleep

 

Crayons and the Camera

I was reflecting today on what first excited me about photography.  I always appreciated others’ work, but the expense of film and printing photos just to discover if they were crap seemed like overwhelming deterrents to me when I was young.

There were two things that gave me the push to get started.  First, there was the advent of digital photography, providing immediate feedback and reducing the cost of learning.

The second was a work friend, Rick, who was (and is) a wonderful photographer.  He advised me on the camera purchase that started my endeavor to learn the fundamentals.  It was not a DSLR, however.  That would have been a waste of money for me back in early 2003 given that I had never heard the words “aperture,” “shutter speed,” or “depth of field.”

Instead, my friend advised me to look into the PowerShot G3.  It had one of the best lenses in a point-and-shoot with . . . wait for it . . .4x optical zoom and . . . drum roll . . . 4.0MP!

This photo was the first picture I took that made me think photography might be the most exciting hobby on the planet.  Who knew you could make it look like the wall was on fire with a camera?

While I won’t be putting this in my portfolio, I love it all the same.  The reason I love it so much is because it evokes the utter glee I felt in discovering that creating such an image was possible.  It was like handing a child their first box of crayons and a blank piece of paper.  I didn’t know enough to be self-critical; I was just having fun.

That camera with that attitude got me through my first five years of sporadic shooting.  It wasn’t until 2008 that I upgraded to a DSLR.  This was because I wasn’t shooting frequently enough to improve beyond my camera’s capabilities until 2007.  That year, I shot frequently enough to be frustrated repeatedly by the limitations of a point-and-shoot.  I knew exactly why I needed a DSLR when I bought one.

As I contemplate my next camera body, I pull out some of my photos from the old PowerShot G3.  Have I improved as a photographer since upgrading to a DSLR?

My photos with my latest gear are sharper, cleaner, and quieter.  But, I am reminded of when I was doing triathlons and I was choosing between Shimano Ultegra vs 105 components for my new road bike–would the extra $400 to shave a fraction of a second off how long it takes to shift make as much difference as, say, training more?

This helps me get clear in my own head on when to invest in gear.  In the end, I really don’t need to buy anything if I am not being frustrated by the current limitations of what I have.

Note on today’s dog picture:  Tisen is taking a break from modeling today due to having had too much fun at doggy daycare to pose for mommy in any position other than “sleeping on the couch,” which I think we’ve seen enough of for now.  So, here is another one of my favorites from my PowerShot G3 instead–this is Katie, who died along with a piece of my heart in April 2007:

Missing the Moon

I am out walking late again.  It’s 11PM and the moon is full.  As I cross the street with Tisen, I realize I forgot to check the lunar calendar.  I’d been experimenting with shooting the full moon on the horizon.  It’s a more interesting subject that way.

Last August, I discovered the moon was rising behind the Walnut St bridge and attempted to capture people walking in front of it on the bridge.  This was a great concept, but the lack of a tripod led to poor execution.  Since then, I’ve only managed to catch the full moon in November.

Tonight, I look up and see thin, high clouds blowing across the sky, making me feel like I’m watching time lapse photography of a moon rise.  As the clouds pass over the moon, the moon forms a brilliant ring.  As the clouds and light continue to shift, the ring turns a glowing red.  Inspired by a much better photographer, I pull out my iPhone and attempt to capture a shot.  The first picture in the gallery is the best I could do.

A couple of lessons learned on iPhone photography:  1)  even the iPhone 4S with it’s new improved camera doesn’t handle night landscape photography well, and 2) if you’re going to try to get a decent shot of the moon with an iPhone, it’s best not to be holding the leach of a feisty dog while you’re shooting.  No matter how adorable Tisen is, he only assists my photography when he is the model.

About the time I realize I cannot possibly get a decent shot, the ring around the moon shifts from a glowing red to a circular rainbow.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  Unfortunately, the colors do not show up in the iPhone shot and the clouds move on, the rainbow disappearing as quickly as it appeared.

As much as I want to return home to get out my DSLR and tripod, I know Tisen needs more time.  We complete our lap of the park until Tisen is satisfied.  Then, I rush us home as quickly as possible.  There is a huge bank of clouds blowing in and I’m sure I can get set up while it’s still passing over the moon.

I rush to grab my tripod bag.  I knock over a glass, drop the bag, and fall across the couch, waking my dozing husband.  After assuring him all is well, I get out my camera bag, pull out the camera, find the CF card and stick it back in the camera, attach the 1.4x extender and the 100-400mm lens, slide on the wireless remote, locate the remote, and snap the whole thing into the tripod.  I carry it all outside, locate the moon, position the tripod, and finally find the moon through my viewfinder just as the last wisp of cloud blows away.

All that’s left is the naked moon, overly bright and relatively uninteresting.  I’m fairly certain I can see the man in the moon laughing at me.