Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Rules Are Made To Be Broken

One of the cardinal rules of landscape photography is never put the horizon in the vertical center of the picture. The rule exists because placing the horizon in the center tends to create a flat, lifeless composition. For the most part, it's a good rule. But, like most rules in photography, there are times when it doesn't apply. I would argue that the picture above is one of those times. This picture, of an island in Lake Keowee, near Seneca, South Carolina, is actually strengthened by the center placement of the horizon. Why? Because the mirror effect of the almost-still lake reflects an image of the island and sky whose intensity is established through the equal division of sky and water. Anyway, that's what I think.

The rules of composition in photography are, like the rules of grammar in English, useful guides that will help you express what you want to in photographs. But just as with grammar, a thinking photographer knows when to break those rules in order to achieve an artistic effect.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Shooting in the Desert

I'm preparing for my first photography trip to the western desert, in this case Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. As I begin to think about what, and how, I want to shoot on the trip, I thought it would be useful to look at some pictures from my only other photo foray into the desert--A brief visit to Lake Mead National Recreation Area on a trip to Las Vegas in 2006. I got some nice shots there, and I want to understand what I like about them.

The light is obviously key. Skies were very clear, and the air dry, giving everything a crisp look. In this case it was March, but I'm pretty confident that October will be similar. I also like the depopulated look of the empty landscape.
Another thing I've noticed is that these shots translate quite well into black and white, as you can see from the comparison above and below. In fact, I'm not sure I know which I prefer in theses shots. But that's one of the advantages of the digital age: I don't have to make an irrevocable choice.

I guess I'm more concerned with what my vision is for the images I want to make on this trip. I run the risk, as always when encountering a new environment, of coming home with a bunch of cliche shots. That wouldn't be a disaster per se--the desert is very beautiful, after all--but I'd like to find something deeper or more meaningful in the pictures I make.
There are, of course, practical considerations for what I'm planning. Most of my shooting will be in National or Tribal parks, with pretty good access to scenic spots, or by the side of the road. I will be renting an SUV for the trip, and so could go along rougher roads than I would be willing to in my regular car. I will be carrying all my gear, so I will be able to respond to a broad array of photo opportunities. On the other hand, a persistent foot problem (and let's face it, my weight) will keep me from getting too far on foot, which may a be a real limitation. We'll have to see.

This trip will take me to an environment that is about as different as you can find from east-central Illinois, and still get to by car. I don't want to set the intellectual bar too high in planning my photography; the trip should be fun no matter what.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Photo of the day

It's Niagara Falls! Taken form the observation tower on the Canadian side in the summer of 1981, this photo was shot on 35mm film. I scanned it, and then cleaned it up and reduced noise in Photoshop.

I haven't been back to Niagara Falls since 1981 so I don't know what it's like today. Back then it struck me as being somewhere between a "must see" sight, and fading tourist kitsch.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

And the winner is...

It's new camera time.

Like many serious photographers, I have a main DSLR body that I use with an array of lenses for serious shooting (along with an older model as a second body and backup), and an advanced compact digital camera that will fit in a coat pocket for "carry everywhere" purposes. Both my current DSLR, the Canon Rebel XTi, and my current compact, the Canon G9, were purchased in 2006. Not only has the technology marched on since then, but since I use them so much, they are wearing out. With my sabbatical coming up, and I hope lots of chances for photography with it, I have been thinking for a while that it is time to upgrade.

I have commented before on the amazing advances in cameras, on the incredible array of camera models available to choose from, and on the accelerating pace of change in those cameras. Sooner or later, though, you have to make a choice, and put your money on the barrel head. I think I have made my decisions, and here they are:

DSLR: The Canon 60D

This was a tough one. Canon has placed three DSLR models tantalizingly close to each other in features, making a choice difficult. For a while I was sure that I would get the Canon 7D, a "prosumer" model that shoots HD video, and has lots of great features, including two DIGIC processors, and a rugged titanium frame body with weather proofing. The $1600 price tag was a bit of a bite, though.

Then they released the latest iteration of the Rebel, the T2i, which, at about $700, had many of the same features as the 7D in a cheaper body. Not as rugged, only one DIGIC processor, and fewer shutter cycles, but otherwise much the same. Finally, just last month, Canon announced the Canon 60D. It sits right between the other two in terms of features, body construction, and so on, as does the price, at $1,100.

How to choose? I am not alone in agonizing over this. A Google search for comparisons of the 7D, 60D, and T2i returns about 669,000 results. Ultimately I decided on the 60D. It has the right mix of features, and also has one feature the others don't: An articulating LCD screen, which can be very useful for someone, like me, who often shoots on a tripod. Now I just have to take a deep breath, and order it.

Compact digital: Canon G12

I had assumed that there was no question on this one. I have had a G7 and now a G9, and both are amazing cameras for being a compact. The G series shoots RAW at 10 megapixels, has a decent zoom lens, full manual control, and an external flash shoe. Even though it's a compact camera, there isn't much compromise in the results. I was just waiting for the latest version, the G12, to be released, before I upgraded.

Then this week Fuji announced the Fuji FinePix X100, a beautiful pro level compact camera. It has retro styling, looking like an old film range finder, and a fast f2 24mm lens. It looks like quite a camera. Ultimately, though, I decided to stay with the G12. First, there is no word on pricing for the X100, and it could be in the Leica range (Update: Price will be $1,000.00--over twice that of the G12). Also, as nice as that fast 24mm lens will be, I really do use the zoom on my G9. Throw in the new articulated LCD on the G12, and I think it's the camera for me.

I'm off to limber up the old credit card.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The reutrn of the IMac

I finally got my new 27" IMac out of the shop yesterday. It looks like the problem may have been in the expansion RAM they put in for me (16 gigabytes!). Here's hoping. In the meantime, I am still getting organized, uploading all the pictures I took in the interim, and so on.

This week I hope to resume my regular posting schedule. There will be new cameras to discuss, and lots of pictures to post. For now, here is a picture of the house my grandfather grew up in, in Creede Colorado, rendered as a painting. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Photo of the Day

First thing you learn how to do in Photoshop: Push those curves all around and see what happens. The photo above is from the days of my very first steps into Photoshop. I liked the graphic lines of this image as they combine wires with contrails, but as a high contrast image, it works even better.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Summing up

I can feel the beginning of the change of seasons. The massive cornfields of East Central Illinois all desiccate on cue at the end of August, and the constant humidity evaporates with it. It's still warm, but the oppressive heat of summer is past. Windows are open, the AC is off. Cool nights mean really good sleeping weather. Fall is coming.

On the negative side of the ledger, my new computer is till in the shop mystifying the technicians. This is getting ridiculous. My photography work is on hold until that gets resolved. On the positive side of things...everything else. Life is pretty darn good. It's only a month until my nine-month sabbatical starts, I have some exciting travel coming up, and everything else is going smoothly. Things aren't perfect, but everything that isn't perfect could be worse. That's enough to keep me happy.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Photo of the Day

I'm posting this one mostly for the sky, which I like, but if you look closely you'll see the Midwest's latest bumper crop: Wind turbines. This shot is in Cherry County, Nebraska, June 2009.

The picture below shows more of a profusion of turbines in northwest Iowa, also June 2009.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Reflections Redux

I have written before on this blog about shooting reflections. In doing so, I didn't really address one of my favorite techniques, which is to shoot reflections in still water, and then turn them upside down. The technique renders the scene as a straight portrait, except that the water is never completely still, and so a certain impressionist effect is achieved.
The key is to be open to looking for such reflections. Even when there is something on the surface of the water, as in the picture above, the cues of the upright reflection (when it should be upside-down) overwhelm the surface items and fool the eye. Or, at least, it fools mine.
The three pictures here are all from Japan, where shrines and castles provide an abundant supply of moats with still water. But still water is everywhere if you look for it. Not just lakes and ponds, but puddles after the rain and man-made pools all provide an opportunity for this kind of shot.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Photo of the day

I guess I'm still treading water while I adjust to the new semester. Here's a night shot of the moat around the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. The venerable Palace Hotel (currently being reconstructed) is on the right.