High Water

It's hard to tell if there is any separation between the wetland and the river

It’s hard to tell if there is any separation between the wetland and the river

The other day, the water levels reached a new high.  I decided to go grab a few shots from the common room balcony where I had shot the landscape in times of normal water levels for comparison.

Taken last June before the drought dropped the water levels

Taken last June before the drought dropped the water levels–previously the highest I’d seen it

Two things distracted me.  First, I started experimenting with the in-camera HDR feature since there was a lot of contrast between the wetland (in the shadows) and the sky.  Second, the clouds were interesting.  They never got really colorful–I watched until the sun was well below the horizon–but they were making some pretty interesting shapes.

All of these images are the HDR version of the image created in the camera.

My favorite cloud

My favorite cloud

On the one hand, I get better dynamic range using Photomatix.  On the other hand, I didn’t have to do any special post-processing to get these and given that I didn’t start processing photos until after midnight, I appreciate that.

I will try processing the 3 exposures using Photomatix and doing a comparison when I have some more time (like that will ever happen), but for now, I feel like the feature did improve the dynamic range of the image some and I didn’t have to do as much work.

I should also note that the clouds were moving, yet the in-camera feature managed to match them up across 3 images and then crop the image to the size that worked with the data it had.  While I wasn’t crazy about the cropping, I thought the matching worked very well.

Bed is calling . . .

Getting Rosy as the sun goes down

Getting Rosy as the sun goes down

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Super Moon

Moon faintly glowing through Walnut St Bridge

Moon faintly glowing through Walnut St Bridge

I made it back from Monaco and Nice just in time for the super moon.  The super moon refers to when the moon is closer to the earth than usual, resulting in an extra large moon.  The point when the moon is full is the point when it appears the largest.  I’m not sure if this is because the moon is actually the closest to the earth at that point or just the effect of it being a full moon. In any case, I have now chalked up a couple of years of experience shooting full moons.  I remember the words of advice I got from a fellow photographer when I first started shooting full moons.  They were, “Don’t.”  He went on to explain that the full moon is too bright to make an interesting image.  It simply looks like a flat, smooth circle with some gray areas in it compared to the much more pock-marked, three-dimensional moon one can get when shooting a crescent moon.

Moon over the heads of unsuspecting lovers

Moon over the heads of unsuspecting lovers

I experimented with this advice.  I found that he was absolutely right that if you just shoot the moon, once it’s much more than half full, it becomes a very flat, uninteresting rock.  However, I also found that if you shoot the moon rising at the the horizon or going through architectural features or clouds as it rises, it’s much more interesting. Since this discovery, I have attempted to pay attention to when the moon is full (or close enough to full) and where and when it will rise in the hope of getting interesting moonrise images. I’ve gotten a few I like, although there’s always room for improvement.  The hardest part about shooting moonrise is how fast it goes.  While the moon is usually quite late appearing in the sky compared to when the official moonrise is supposed to start, once it appears, the period of time when it’s most interesting to shoot lasts only a few minutes.  The moon moves so quickly that you have to watch your shutter speeds–too slow and you start to get motion blur from the movement of the moon.

Moon over the bridge

Moon over the bridge

On this night, it was a pre-cursor to the actual full moon.  While the moon was fullest the next morning, it was still close enough to full to get a full moon effect both the night before and the night after the moment of total fullness. I decided to walk out to Market St Bridge in the hope of catching people walking in front of the moon on Walnut St bridge.  Unfortunately, low-lying clouds along the horizon prevented the moon from being visible until it was too high for people to be in front of it.  When it finally appeared, it was barely a glow through the haze with the sun still relatively high in the sky (although it was headed towards sunset). It was still beautiful, though.

Wide view of moon, bridge, water, and boats

Wide view of moon, bridge, water, and boats

Human Fireworks

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The theme of fireworks made me think of the chemical fireworks that sometimes ignite between two people. This thought reminded me of a story from my teenage years. It was about someone I didn’t know well, I just knew of her. She was a mother and wife and she went to her high school reunion, reunited with a high school sweetheart and KABOOM! Fireworks.

Fireworks so powerful that she left her husband of over 20 years to marry this man from her past. It was an incident that shocked and dismayed many of the woman’s friends. I believe it was the notion that someone could be so overpowered by a chemical response that they could lose all sense of direction and suddenly wind up on a new course that they found terrifying.

In contrast to this story, my own father was reunited with a woman he went to school with about a year after my mother died. They never dated in school, although she and her husband and my father and mother double-dated in college. The four of them maintained a long distance relationship over the years, exchanging hand-me-downs for each others’ children (I got the daughter’s clothes; her brother got my brother’s clothes), and even visiting a few times when we were children in spite of living many hundreds of miles apart.

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When both her husband and my mother died within 6 months of each other, my father and his friend found support in exchanging emails about the experience, which eventually led to a first date. I never asked if there were fireworks, but I tend to think there were. After all, they saw each other in person for the first time in 20(?) years at the end of May that year, then she came out to visit Dad for their 2nd in-person date in early July. Her second day in town, they showed up on my porch excited to announce their engagement

While I was not prepared at the time to accept that while I was still struggling emotionally with my mother’s death my father was ready to move on, I have come to really love this story. I find it incredibly romantic that two kids who grew up together in the country came together and fell in love 40 years later. I’m happy to report that my father and his wife seem to still have the fireworks going strong 13 years later.

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Dogs and Fireworks

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Dogs are frequently afraid of fireworks. I would venture to guys that dogs fall into two categories: Those who are completely oblivious and those who think the world is coming to an end. Tisen does not like fireworks. Nor does Twiggy, who is visiting with us again while her mom and dad are on vacation.

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Tisen seems somewhat embarrassed about his fear of fireworks. Like he knows he’s supposed to be a big tough boy and not be afraid of loud noises. Instead of whining, howling, or barking, which would only draw attention to his cowardice, he hides. But if you happen to look in on him from time to time, you’ll discover he often has a puzzled look on his face like he can’t understand why his humans are not distraught by all the noise.

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I think there is a simple explanation for this disparity in human and dog interpretation of loud noises. I think it’s hearing. While one might speculate that canines have less ability to understand the source of loud noises or to reason as to whether they are in potential danger or not, I really think it comes down to pain. The deep, reverberating booms and high pitched crackles sound so much louder to a dog than to a human, it seems quite possible they are in physical pain.

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This being my theory, I was doubly surprised when I spent the entire length of the Riverbend fireworks out on the balcony of the common room (where dogs are not allowed) and Tisen remained parked by the front door waiting for my return instead of hiding under the sofa, desk, or Daddy. Twiggy cuddled with Daddy, leaving Tisen to fend for himself as the stalwart guard patiently awaiting the return of Mommy. I felt pretty guilty when I got home and found him still waiting for me.

I wonder if he is more afraid of losing Mommy than he is of fireworks? This also made me feel more guilty getting on a plane the following morning.

Tisen braving it out at the door

Tisen braving it out at the door

More of the Same

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Continuing yesterday’s list of tips on photographing fireworks . . .

Fourth, think carefully about depth of field.  If you’re shooting wide and trying to get the landscape into the photo at all, you’ll want to stop down the aperture as much as possible.

Fifth, as a contrary point to the above, be aware that because the fireworks are so bright, you aren’t going to be able to get a single exposure for both the fireworks and the landscape unless the landscape is brightly lit (like the city lights).  Some photographers solve this by combining two photos manually later.  Be aware the HDR settings will not be very helpful (although may be interesting) because of the motion of the fireworks.  To combine the two manual exposures, you would need to be able to layer them together in an application like Photoshop.

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Sixth, fireworks move.  To get long, bright streaks of light in the sky, you need a fairly long shutter speed.  This helps with the fourth tip–you get more depth of field as a bonus.  I’m pretty happy with the size, shape, length of the streaks I get at about .4 seconds.  However, there are some types of fireworks that look better with longer exposures.  The only downside of exposing longer is that you get more smoke showing up in the process.

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Seventh, I once missed about ½ of a fireworks show trying this trick, but maybe it will work better for you.  Supposedly, you can put your camera on bulb and use a piece of paper or your hand to cover the lens in between the rockets being fired.  Then, you can get multiple fireworks into one shot.  This might have worked last night when I was in very close proximity to the launch point.  However, from a further distance, I just got very dull looking fireworks that were often barely visible.

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Shooting Fireworks

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Well, there comes a time when we are all caught off guard by ill preparation.  I can list a long number of excuses as to how this happened, starting with working way too many hours for my day job, but the truth of the matter is that I didn’t give getting my blog posts ready ahead of time top priority and, therefore, it didn’t happen.

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So, I am about 45 minutes away from leaving for the airport.  I’m headed overseas on a business trip where my internet access may be limited and my time most certainly will be.  And, I have only photos of fireworks ready to post.

So what’s a daily blogger to do?

Well, I’ve decided to do some really short posts on the theme of “fireworks.”  We’ll see if I manage to get a post a day up!

For today’s fireworks-themed post, let’s talk about some things I’ve learned about shooting fireworks.

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First, if you’re going to be really close to the fireworks (in this case, we were within a .10 of a mile as the crow flies from where they were being fired), put your widest lens on your camera.  Since most of us now have cameras with 20+ megapixels, cropping to get tight photos is an option and there is a bigger problem with fitting all the action in the frame.

Second, if you know which way the wind is blowing, find a spot upwind.  This will help reduce the amount of smoke in your images.  Unfortunately, that was not a possibility for me, so I do have a lot of smoke in my images.  I managed to do some adjusting to reduce it’s appearance, but it’s still annoyingly visible.

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Third, your cameras metering is useless while you’re shooting.  It will jump all over the place as the fireworks create large amounts of light and then fade.  By the time you adjust exposure, it will be too late.  Remain calm.  Check your photos on your LCD early even if it means missing a shot of the next one going off.  It’s better to miss one or two getting your exposure set right than to get home and find that every shot you took was completely blown out or too dark.

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To Sunset

The fast-fading glow in the Eastern sky

The fast-fading glow in the Eastern sky

No energy.  That’s me tonight.  I’ve barely been able to keep my eyes open since about 8PM.  I hope this doesn’t mean I’ve caught something (again).  It’s just as likely Tisen is the cause.  He is back to scratching all night again.  I feel like I did when we last had a puppy–being awakened every hour or so and finally settling down for the best sleep after taking our boy out to go potty in the wee hours of the morning, just before the alarm would go off.

The park fading into shadows

The park fading into shadows

Except there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.  We are trying a drug we’ve tried before that helped.  We’re trying a new dose because it made him sick the last time we tried it.  We’ll see if giving him less helps without the side effects.  I feel guilty about this.  At some point I wonder how much is about my need to sleep vs ending my dog’s suffering?  Should I really be trying to give him a medication that made him sick?  And which is worse for him?  Scratching and chewing himself until he draws blood or a drug that makes him vomit and have diarrhea?  Can’t we have a nice easy route to ending his allergies without side effects?

Only gray is left to the East

Only gray is left to the East

In the meantime, I’m nodding off over the keyboard yet again and wanting nothing more than a good night’s sleep tonight.  I look at these photos of sunset and think that’s an apt way to describe how I feel at the moment–like the light is fading fast.  But, the sun will rise again in the morning and I’ll be blinking, squinting, and, with much resistance, dragging myself back out of bed regardless of how much or how little I sleep.

A bright glow remains in the West

A bright glow remains in the West

Going to be is far easier.  Here’s to sunset!

One final shot of the glowing trail the sun has left behind

One final shot of the glowing trail the sun has left behind