Sunday Sunset

I was up too late last night, worked too long today, went to too late a meeting tonight, and am now too tired to write a blog post.  I could sit writing half asleep, but I think I will just let my photos communicate, at the literal level, the spectacular sunset we were treated to Sunday evening as well as at the symbolic level of exactly how I feel tonight.


Sun Before the Moon

A rising cumulous cloud forms a silhouette in front of the setting sun

A rising cumulous cloud forms a silhouette in front of the setting sun

After shooting the moon from the Market Street Bridge the evening before the full moon,  I got to share the view from the common room in our building with a group of photographers from the local photographic society chapter.  A neighbor of mine and I organized a bit of a field trip.  Since the common room has a wonderful view of the river and of the anticipated location of the moonrise, it seemed like the perfect choice of destinations for photographers interested in capturing the full super moon rising over the Tennessee River.

The setting sun highlights the low-lying clouds at the horizon--they don't bode well for the moonrise

The setting sun highlights the low-lying clouds at the horizon–they don’t bode well for the moonrise

The thing about the moon is that it’s not particularly cooperative.  It really can’t help it.  It just has a lot of dependencies.  It’s light is determined by the sun.  It’s visibility determined by the clouds.  It’s appearance above the horizon dependent on the objects between the moon and the viewer.  When you consider that there are nearly 239,000 miles between the earth and the moon, I suppose it’s a wonder that we are able to see it at all.

Back on the other side, the cloud stretches tall in front of the sun

Back on the other side, the cloud stretches tall in front of the sun

But the first problem is figuring out when to expect it.  There are tons of places to find out the time of the moonrise, but none of them are ever right for exactly the place where you might be standing at that given time.  Not unless you happen to be in the same spot the time of moonrise was calculated from.

The second problem is figuring out when the sun will set.  The opportunity to capture the moon in full glory while the surroundings are still visible becomes increasingly difficult as the moonrise falls later and later relative to sunset.

Wispy pink clouds decorate the Northern sky

Wispy pink clouds decorate the Northern sky

On this particular night, the moon would not rise until a good half hour after sunset.  We, of course, scheduled our field trip to begin much earlier.  We probably should have taken the group on a tour of the riverfront while we waited for moonrise to approach.  However, we got to talking and snacking and decided to find a spot to shoot the sunset instead.  Finding a perch on an outdoor staircase with a view of the setting sun afforded some nice views of the clouds forming in front of the sun.

As the sun fades, the pink haze turns darker

As the sun fades, the pink haze turns darker

The sunset is no more reliable than the moonrise from a photographic perspective.  The clouds were interesting, but didn’t quite result in the super-dramatic sunset one might hope for as a prelude to a rising super moon.  After shooting the sunset long enough to end up with many wasted images, we returned to the opposing view to watch for the moon.  The setting sun cast a warm glow across the Market Street Bridge and set some of the clouds aglow as well.

While it may not have been the most dramatic of sunsets, it still seemed photo-worthy.

A saucer-like cloud captured my attention

A saucer-like cloud captured my attention

Finding Fun

Pink clouds capture my attention when I glance out the window

Pink clouds capture my attention when I glance out the window

We agreed to do something fun this weekend.  However, we didn’t agree on what we would do.  I, of course, wanted to go hiking.  My husband, however, wanted to do something that wasn’t physical because his ankle has been bothering him.  Given that I can’t argue with an injury, I contemplated what we could possibly do that would not be physically demanding, but that could include Tisen.

I suggested we take a drive to Atlanta to go to IKEA, something we had planned to do a month or so ago, but ended up not doing.

The pink streaks reach all the way to the view directly in front of us, which is almost due North

The pink streaks reach all the way to the view directly in front of us, which is almost due North

IKEA is one of those places that always sounds great to me.  Lots of cool, clever, and affordable concepts to make a home more livable.  And, we could use some shelving and lighting, etc. in our new place.

So, we loaded Tisen up in the car about mid-morning Saturday and off we went.  The drive to Atlanta is not nearly as scenic as the drive to Nashville.  There is no IKEA in Tennessee, however, so Atlanta was the closest choice.  We made one stop for a fast-food lunch.  It occurred to me that if we’re going to do a road trip, we should start planning our route based on enjoyable, healthier restaurants.  It’s just no fun to eat fast food.

Once we made it to IKEA, by the time we found a parking spot and through the front door, I was ready for a nap.  Have I mentioned I hate to shop?  I don’t know why I always think going to IKEA is going to be fun.  I’ve been to about 3 IKEAs now and I always have the same experience:  I start out excited by the idea; then, as soon as we walk in the door, I feel exhausted and overwhelmed by choices.  By the time we get about a quarter of the way through the first show room, I am practically shoving people out of the way because I can’t get through there fast enough.

The light eventually fades, leaving only a faint glow between the clouds and the ridge

The light eventually fades, leaving only a faint glow between the clouds and the ridge

The further we get into the store, the more my desire to leave increases.  All I can think about it how much I don’t want to be there.

We did make it out of the store without inciting a riot.  We immediately used my iPhone to find the closest park.  We found a lovely little park in the middle of a nearby neighborhood and took Tisen for a loop around it.  I felt human again afterwards.

Able to breathe again, we returned to the car and drove the nearly two hours back home.

We not only failed to do something fun, but we also ended up walking further than my husband intended.

On the plus side, we spent some quality time together in the car.  And, later that day, there was a nice sunset partially viewable from our balcony.

I decided to do a short time lapse “video” of the clouds blowing through as the sun went down and the light faded away.

Tisen and his infamous purple monkey

Tisen and his infamous purple monkey

Honorable Mention

As many of you may know, last month, for the first time ever, I submitted photos in the local club’s quarterly photo contest.  My goal was to get feedback because the judges often provide comments on each image.

After much deliberation, the photos I chose were the three that I had the most visceral response to.

Molten Sky was my favorite.  It was one of those mornings when you get up and think it’s just another day and then step outside and the sky is doing crazy stuff.  I had to grab my tripod and camera and shoot.  I’ve never seen a sky that looks like molten lava before–or since.

As I might have predicted, my favorite image was the judge’s least favorite.  In fact, in the score sheet of all the nearly 100 photos submitted, it wasn’t pretty close to the bottom.  What was disappointed me was that the judges provided no comments on this image, so I still don’t know why my taste is so different from the judges’.

The second image in the gallery was my second favorite shot.  This was taken right around sunset one winter night when the rays of the sun shot across the clouds, creating sunset stripes in the Southern sky.  This was an image I took to a photography club critique and did some post-processing on based on feedback from other club members.  Had they not suggested I submit this image to the club contest, I would not have submitted any images.

I like this image, but I actually like some of my other shots I didn’t submit better.  Having no discernment between “contest-worthy images” and not-so-worthy images, I defaulted to the recommendation of the folks who gave me pointers on editing it.  It scored just a point or so below the top 10 images.  However, still no comments.

The third image was one I really had a hard time selecting.  I shot so many amazing images of the sky that evening.  I had about 30 shots from the same evening that turned out really well.  I guess that’s what happens when the sky does amazing things–it’s hard not to get a good shot.  There was a dramatic sunset in the western sky, the reflection of that sunset in the eastern sky, a double rainbow, and a rain storm that blew through in a line all in the same shoot.

I guess since I’ve never seen a sunset reflected in the clouds like this one before, I chose this shot, hoping it would be a bit more unique.  It got an honorable mention, meaning it scored in the top 10.  More importantly, the judges did provide comments for the top 10 images.

Unfortunately, the comments were a little vague for me.  They liked the color and the lighting that draws attention to the sky over the rest of the image given the theme of the contest.

Maybe photo contests aren’t the best way to get critiques.

Going Dark

I am not a woman of my word.  I have sworn off shooting sunsets so many times now, I don’t know how anyone can believe me if I say I’m not going to shoot anymore of them.  This is an unexpected side effect of having a great view–I seem to notice the sunset much of the time.  It may also be a side effect of being in a river valley where interesting clouds form on a regular basis.  I still haven’t figured out if sunsets are really that much more beautiful here that much more of the time or if I just wasn’t paying attention when we lived in Columbus.

I originally shot these each with 5 different exposures thinking I might want to process them using Photomatix for an HDR effect.  However, I found I liked the slightly under exposed images enough that I didn’t bother with the HDR processing.  In fact, these are barely post-processed at all.  They are very close to what came out of the camera.

It’s funny how watching a sunset with a camera in hand can quickly result in about 100 photos (or more) of virtually the same thing.  I am learning to wait between shots.  I wait until something really spectacular happens or until a few minutes have passed.  I figure, on the one hand, you don’t know what the peak moment was until after the entire sunset is over, and then it’s too late to go back and shoot the best moment.  However, I want there to be enough difference between shots that I don’t sit there staring at them trying to decide if one is actually any different than another.

The first time I went to San Diego many, many years ago, I took a little film camera.  Something cheap and horrible that had tiny little negatives and was fully automatic, I’m sure.  I shot an entire roll of film of one sunset but we only watched it for a total of 15 minutes.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t even the last 15 minutes of sunset or, even better, the last 5 minutes of sunset and the first 10 minutes of dusk.  It was just 15 minutes of the sun moving lower in the sky with a couple wisps of clouds that turned a little bit more pink over a roll of film.  Then I was stuck with a stack of photos that looked nearly identical that I didn’t want to get rid of because they were prints.

Now, I have 5 exposures of each shot to delete–I’m already filling up a 2TB hard drive.   This is precisely why I swore off shooting sunsets.

Plus, relaxing into sunset is a little easier when I’m not shooting.  Shooting makes me busy with my camera, changing settings and getting in position and checking to see what I got.  It’s not the same as sitting back in an Adirondack chair, drink in hand, and watching the dark chase the light over the horizon.

In Search of a New View

On Friday night, Pat decided it was time for us to try Nikki’s, a Southern Fried Chicken and Seafood drive in that we’ve been going past regularly ever since we started taking Tisen to doggy daycare.  Pat’s idea was to get take out and go have a picnic.  I decided this was the perfect opportunity to find a new location to shoot sunsets from.

After getting two fried shrimp dinners with coleslaw, fries, and hush puppies, we follow google maps up the hill to a nearby conservation area.  There isn’t a picnic area, so we wolf down 3 weeks worth of saturated fat sitting in our mini-van.

The conservation area is a shady woods that, unfortunately, has been invaded by many foreign plants that block the view through the forest.  The trail is an abandoned road that looks wide with easy walking, but we decide to forego a hike since I’m hoping to shoot the sunset.  There is no hope of getting any views of the sunset from where we are.  Not only are there no views through the thick growth, but we’re on the East-facing side of the ridge.

We decide to drive to the other side of the ridge to a different trailhead to see if we can get a view from there.  After crossing under the ridge through a tunnel and driving around to the other side, we wind our way around to the next trailhead only to find that we are still on the wrong side of the ridge.  It’s like some kind of joke.  There is no explanation as to how we still ended up facing East.

As we head back out, the trill of a wood thrush catches my ear.  I suddenly realize I haven’t heard one since we moved to Tennessee.  As I listen to its sweet flute-like voice, I suddenly ache for the ravine we left behind.  But I am soon distracted by the search for a view of the sunset.

We end up on the backside of the ridge facing the freeway.  There is a big, bald hillside on the other side of the freeway where a new complex is under construction.  It looks like the developer hired strip miners to do the excavation.  It breaks my heart.  I cannot bring myself to shoot with this eyesore in the frame and I cannot shoot around it.  Perhaps I will have to think about how to capture the ugliness of this site, but tonight I’m seeking beauty.

After trying every road we can get access to along the ridge, we give up on having a really good view and return to our roof at home.  We are in time for twilight.  The almost full super-moon has already risen high, shining so brightly I cannot resist shooting it.  Equipped only with my wide-angle lens, I play with long exposures.

All-in-all, it’s been a fun little adventure even though we never strayed far from home.

Double Sunset

Between working on a self-portrait, working my way through another online photography workshop, and taking a break from from both by shooting outside, I’ve managed to spend nearly all of my weekend on photography.  I pick up my camera and start to tuck it back into my bag when I look out the window.  The sun is doing something amazing.  It’s setting in the East.

I am reminded of a conversation I once had with a directionally challenged friend.  It went roughly like this:

I said, “Look at the sunset!”

She said, “Oh wow!  It’s really beautiful.  I always thought that was the East.”

I replied, “What?”

She repeated, “I always though that was the East.”

Confused, I said, “The sun always sets in the West, so that has to be the West.”

She replied, “Oh, I know the sun always sets in the West, but that’s the East.”

At this point I gave up.

However, I am not confused.  The sun, of course, is setting in the West, but the light is bouncing around in inexplicable ways that make it look like it is also setting in the East.  I cannot explain why the clouds reflect the sun so brilliantly in the Eastern sky tonight, but it’s beautiful.

Frozen with my camera still in my hands, mid-way to being put away, I look at the camera and immediately head to the balcony, grabbing my tripod on the way.  The obstacles from the balcony quickly frustrate me.  I return inside, tripod over my shoulder, and head on up to the roof.

The double sunset motivates me to try to shoot a set of photos that I can stitch together into a panoramic image.  I start in the East and work my way around to the real sunset.  I end up with 12 overlapping photos.  I consider reshooting on the vertical, but the light is starting to change and do other interesting things.

A small wisp of clouds forms just over the ridge in the distance, turning brilliant red.  I decide not to risk missing the last of the light by reshooting the panoramic and shoot the changing light instead.

When I return inside and try to figure out how to stitch the photos, I learn that my Canon software is so outdated it won’t run on any of my computers anymore.  I do some googling to figure out I can use Photoshop Elements to stitch a panoramic and go to work.

Something has gone awry in my 12-photo series and one photo seems to be out of place.  It’s as if I changed focal length in one shot.  I don’t remember doing that, but maybe I bumped the lens and magically bumped it back.  In any case, I don’t much like the panoramic with 12 pictures.  I create one of the East and one of the West instead and am much happier with the results.

I still want that full frame camera, though.

Don’t Want to Miss This Syndrome

Once again, I find myself shooting the sunset.  Every time I sit down to process photos of the sunset taken from our building, I promise myself I will find a new perspective and not create yet another 100 shots that look like the thousands I’ve taken before.  But then, I look out the window, see amazing things, and grab my camera.

There are several problems with this.  For one thing, I tend to get a very busy foreground with a lot of crap in it I’d really like to get out of my pictures.  I can’t crop the crap out because I would lose much of the sky, which is the whole reason I wanted to shoot in the first place.

The choices that must be made when shooting!  Wouldn’t it be nice if I could just arrange the buildings and landscape with a remote control to best fit my vision?  More realistically, I keep thinking I will run across the street and up the mound so I can shoot over the trees.  But do I ever do that?  No.  I panic when I see the sky and don’t want to miss the perfect color even though I almost always end up deleting the first 10 minutes worth of shots because the color gets better as the sun disappears.

I believe I suffer from “Don’t Want to Miss This” syndrome.  Besides shooting sunsets from bad view points, I also find myself eating foods that no human should ever touch, attending events that are of no interest to me, and taking unreasonable risks (ask me how I once ended up in an ultralight crash).  I wonder if I were in a flock of sheep I would follow them over a cliff just to find out what that was like?

Restraining myself to the subject of photography for the purposes of this post, I find the “Don’t Want to Miss This” syndrome causes an all or nothing kind of pursuit of photos.  It just depends on whether my phobia of missing a shot is outweighing my phobia of missing an experience because I’m too wrapped up in camera gear to participate.  What I need is balance.

The thing about sunsets is that it’s easy enough to find out what time the sun will set.  And, I’m getting pretty good at predicting when we’ll have a great one (which is pretty much about 75% of the time), so seems like I should be able to just plan to go across the street at the right time and shoot.  Perhaps scheduling shoots a few times a week would help balance out the equation?  While I might still grab shots when I notice a sunset, at least I wouldn’t always be shooting from the same place.

Is it too late to change my New Year’s resolutions?

Fire in the Sky

Tonight, as the sun sinks, I look up just in time to see the clouds streaking across the sky, brilliantly lit in red and orange.  I’ve never seen the sunset in such a way as to create a striped backdrop for the skyline before.  I drop everything and run up to the roof.  Well, maybe not run, but walk as quickly as I can without falling on my face while carrying a tripod and camera.

When I get to the roof, I am amazed by the stillness of the air and the feeling of warmth rising from the roof.  I stand up my camera and start to shoot.  I would like to shoot nothing but the sky, but I can’t get the roof top across the street out of the frame.

The clouds create a blaze of fire over the horizon.  I stand there pondering whether my photos will look fake, the color is so brilliant.  I wonder what about Chattanooga causes so many glorious sunsets?  Is it just that because our windows give us a great view of the sunset that I notice how beautiful it is?  Or does Chattanooga have some sort of special set of circumstances that generates spectacular sunrises and sunsets on a regular basis?  Perhaps it’s just that coming from Columbus, Ohio, we so seldom saw the sun.

I stand for a moment between shots.  I let the light change a little before taking the next one.  I zoom out and try to capture the vastness of the sky.  It’s impossible.  I decide right then and there I’m buying a wider-angle lens.  I breathe in the evening air, moist with humidity rising off the cooling river.  I breathe out and let go of every worry.  All I see, think, and feel is the blazing sky.

I look closely and take aim.  I capture a moment of light and clouds and manmade structures all combined in a way that they have never been combined before and will never be combined again.  I adjust my exposure until, at last, what I see in my LCD is as spectacular as the sky that surrounds me.  I breathe again as I look at the Christmas tree reflecting in the river.  I wonder if it will show up in my picture.

I watch as the sunlight fades and the sky turns to more subtle shades of fire against twilight blue and then I shoot again, this time zoomed in to capture the reflection of the city on the river.

When the last of the light has faded away and I stand shivering on the roof top as the wind picks up, I pack up my tripod and camera and head back inside.  I take a look at my photos on my monitor and I am pleased.  While I have much to learn, at least there is one shot that perfectly captured what I wanted to capture while standing on the roof, shooting fire.

Back in Chattown

Having spent the night just outside of Lexington in a semi-frightening hotel, I am doubly surprised when the alarm jerks me out of a sound sleep.  First there is the expected surprise (sort of paradoxical, isn’t it?) of the alarm itself, but then I am also surprised to realize that I have slept through the night undisturbed.  I hop out of bed and get myself ready to roll quickly.  We have a 3 hour drive to home, today is a work day, and I have an important conference call this morning.  Fortunately, I was able to finish the presentation material last night and send it out for a quick review.  I check my mail to see if I have any responses.  Only one with no suggested changes.

We forgo the free breakfast that comes with the room (probably just cereal and bananas anyway) since it’s still a half an hour before the service starts.  We get in the car with me setting up to work from the car while Pat drives.  It’s early enough that nothing much urgent is happening and my cellular MiFi is getting sketchy reception as we get into the hills.  Deciding I’m as caught up as I’m going to get this morning, I put the work away and watch the sunrise over the mountains as we make our way from Kentucky to Tennessee.  It’s a gorgeous morning.

Pat starts nodding off at the wheel, so we stop for a break and to grab something to eat.  Then, we switch drivers.  I drive us the final stretch into Chattanooga.  It’s the first time I’ve been the one behind the wheel as we returned to our now hometown.  It’s only the 2nd time I’ve driven in Chattanooga since our move.  I get to experience some of the oddly banked curves of 27 as we round the city and cross the river to our exit.  I manage to drive us safely to our parking lot, but with the stop we made, it’s almost 9AM.  I grab all of my work related items and dash upstairs to get back online.

When I get online, nothing has happened.  My boss hasn’t sent me any comments on the slide deck.  No one in Australia responded to the replies I sent early this morning (already past their office hours).  I’ve still heard nothing from Singapore, Hong Kong, or China on any of the things I’m working on there.  And no one in any other part of the world sent me an email between 7:30AM and 9AM.  That hour and a half that I wasn’t able to check emails really wasn’t so critical after all.  I’m glad that I relieved Pat of driving rather than insisting I needed to be working.

During the day, fortunately during a break between conference calls (and after my most important call of the day was over), squealing tires and a big crash attract my attention.  Two cars have collided in the intersection below our balcony.  Since my camera is already set up, I indulge in a few quick shots from the window and then return to work.  I count the number of sirens required for this accident.  Both drivers are alone and both walk away with no apparent injuries, yet 3 fire trucks, 1 ambulance, and 6 police cars all come screaming to the scene.  This helps explain the ridiculous number of sirens that go by every day!  When I next look out the window, they are loading up one of the cars on a flatbed tow truck and sweeping the debris out of the street.  I get a few more quick shots and then forget all about the accident.

That evening, the sunset reminds me why I tolerate the sirens during the day for our view.  I talk Pat into going up on the roof with me so I can get a better shot of the sunset since there’s a building between us and the horizon to the West.  I watch the sun go down with deep breaths.  I slow down all of the anxiety-produced nervousness.  I settle into myself as I watch the sun settle into the landscape.

I think this is why I love to shoot–it creates stillness.  It stops the motion of time and pauses in a single moment.  While a photo stays in that moment forever, the photographer moves on to the next moment and repeats the process.  Between shots, I watch with an open mind and wide eyes.  I am eager to see what next will present itself.  All my senses feel alive and alert as I decide, “Is this the moment to shoot?  Is this?”  This is especially true during a sunset when I might shoot a hundred pictures of virtually the same thing–I watch for minute changes that make the scene worth shooting again.

Today, I am also working on some skills.  As much as I enjoy shooting, I am rarely really pleased with the end results.  Today I am practicing using a tripod and a remote shutter release in the hope of improving the sharpness of my images.  While I’m at it, I play with long exposures and car lights, which is always fun.  I also always try to improve composition.  Unfortunately, I’m finding the use of the tripod is making composition much more difficult.  In addition, my viewpoint makes getting the elements I want in the photo difficult to arrange around the rule-of-thirds.

Although I work on each of these things and take them into consideration as I set up for each shot, it is without anxiety.  After all, this is a low-risk activity.  If I don’t like the picture, I delete it.  Instead, I work with the tripod to figure out how to best position the camera for the composition I want.  I don’t worry so much about the rule-of-thirds for tonight.  I breathe into the sunset and push the button on my remote.  I feel calmness, serenity, and perhaps a little awe as I watch the light disappear.  This is why I shoot.