Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Insects (and a duck) from back in August - Lincoln Park

So I said I wanted to start sorting all my photos and posting everyday and then fell off the face of the internet for another week.  Sorry.  This is kind of how my life goes when it's unstructured.  When work starts up again next week, I should be around more regularly. :)

Anyway, I was sorting through a folder of images from a trip to Linocoln Park (North Pond, I *think*, I didn't label it - oops) in August and I found some shots I really liked.

Eastern Forktail Damselfly - 08.11
This is a damselfly.  If you've ever tried shooting dragonflies, you know they're hard.  Now try shooting something that's about 1/5 as wide as a dragonfly.  So yeah, this shot has somethings that could be improved, but for something this small, it's not too bad.  Also, it'll serve as a mile-marker as I try to improve my shooting of them next season.
Mating Wheel

This picture was only resized - it wasn't cropped.  This is a pair of Eastern Pondhawks in a matingwheel.  The fact that they are, in fact, mating, may explain why I was able to get so close without disturbing them. ;)  I love how crisp and clear both sets of eyes are.  (This is one worth clicking on to blow up to the full uploaded size - which is still only about 1/3 the full captured size.)  And then there are the little details like the shadows of the wing veins on the leaf below the female's wings and the little blue 'eyebrows' on the male's face.

Mottled Feet, Manky Duck

Another Manky Mallard.  You can see the iridescent green peeking out under his wing.  Even his feet are mottled (They aren't just dirty :)  But he has a whole bunch of things going on.  The while collar of a mallard, the dark head of an American (or even some kind of Loon), red/rustish on the chest.  Quite the mutt-duck!
Yellow on Purple

I'm getting better with butterflies.  I like this one because you can see the compound eyes.  (Right now, that's what I call a 'win' on a butterfly face shot.)
Shades of Yellow

And then there's this... Taken on the same day, in the same relative location as the shot above. They're even the same species, but there was something dark behind this daisy and the sunlight was so strong on the flower and butterfly that you get an almost studio-staged effect.  The butterfly blends in well enough that it takes just a second for you to realize what exactly you're looking at.  It has a whole different tone to to the picture, even though this one and the one above are both "Sulphur butterflies on flowers in Lincoln Park".

Okay, tomorrow I'm off to the Shedd Aquarium again, so I should have some fun stuff to share tomorrow night!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Back from an unexpectedly long hiatus!

So I sort of fell off the face of the Earth for a while there, but I'm back now! And I have some new computer kit that I think will let me update a lot more frequently. It's December, and here in Chicago that means a lot cold and gray and just plain icky outside. Which, for me, means not a whole lot of trips out to shoot. I have a fun one at coffee plant coming up in January, but until then, I'm starting to go through and clean out my absolutely ridiculous photo folder on the great big hard drive. So my plan is that when I don't have a new shoot to talk about, I'm going to post at least three shots I find in the cleaning effort that strike a chord with me on a given day. So he are a few shots of the sky from a day last fall when the clouds were doing some really wild things.
Within a matter of minutes it got darker and then lighter and back and forth for a while.
You can see that it was playing havoc with the light sensors on the street lamps. This one turned on, but the others didn't.
So there's a few shots as we get ready to wind up the year. I'm hoping to post everyday or as close as I can next year so I'm going to try to develop the habit before this year runs out. :) P.S. Please forgive any typos or weird formatting as I figure out the best way to make an iPad post to a photoblog. You'd think it would be exactly the kind of thing it was made for, but so far I've had to download three aps and google three different issues with moving photos around. I suspect I'll get it down to a science soon enough, but there seems to a steeper than expected learning curve on the issue. :)

Monday, August 22, 2011

Sunrise Shoot at Montrose Beach - 6.31.11 - Post 2

Just a few last shots from the sunrise shoot.

A Not So Misty Morning
I spent a good long while working on this stretch of beach.  As I fiddled with settings and the light changed, I got the same area in so many different ways.  This is a 20 second exposure at f-32.  It makes it lighter than a lot of my other similar shots, but it really gives the water a foggy, misty quality that's in such contrast to the sharpness of the undisturbed sand.
In Contrast

 I like this one for the lens flares on the sun.  I also like that the sun was giving nice sharp silhouettes of *everything*.  If you blow it up, you can see a bicycle on the left and a dog in between the photographers and lots of little details.
Of Puppies and Pictures

I did turn up the contrast on this one just a bit.  I actually had enough light coming in that I could see colors on things like the standing photographer's shirt.  I wanted to blacken them out.  You can see the adorable puppy in this one.  I was so bummed that I didn't get the one I was trying for of the dog jumping up.  It would have been a great action silhouette.
Okay, because I don't have that many shots for this post, I'm blowing this one up.  I *love* the colors in this.  This photo is cropped, but otherwise untouched.  The colors were just like that when I shot it. 

Once the sun was up I walked through the Hedge for a little while.  It had been completely taken over by spiderwebs.  Like I said in the last post, there was a huge dew issue that morning so the spiderwebs were... they were astonishing.  And good spiderweb shots are a bit of a bucket-list shot for me.  So I spent about an hour and a half on them.  I'll get them up next.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sunrise Shoot at Montrose Beach - 6.31.11 - Post 1

Wow, I'm so ridiculously behind on posting all the shots I've taken.

At the end of July a local photo group I belong to did a sunrise shoot.  Now, fortunately, it was at the beach next to the Magic Hedge, so I could basically roll out of bed, fall into some clothes and get there in like six minutes.

Which would have been important if I'd actually slept that night.  I'm not sure why, but my insomnia had been plaguing me so I had a whole... maybe forty-five minutes of sleep before getting to the beach at 4:30.

Now, sunrise is a kind of surreal time to begin with, but it's really trippy when you haven't slept leading into it.

That said, I had a lot of fun experimenting with different long exposures.  The sun actually comes up pretty quickly.  It went from full dark at a little after 4:30 to full light by 6:00.  This means you're constantly adjusting for new light levels, but when you get good weather like we did, it's worth a little time and effort.

On Alien Shores
A very plain stretch of beach turns orange and a long exposure makes the waves look soft and other-worldly.  The silhouette of a few ducks keep the shot from becoming bleak.
Where Earth and Sky Meet

A really long exposure (5 seconds) gives these pylons and the pier a very surreal effect.  Because of the long exposure the waves come up on the shore look like they're covered in mist, but it's just the effect of the moving water over time.  The layers of color add to the mysteriousness of the shot.
First Rays of Sun on Lake Michigan
This was one of the last ones I took - obviously - as the sun was over the horizon.

There's something so very different about the lighting and the feel of a sunrise shoot in Chicago as opposed to a sunset shoot.  I think it has to do with two major factors:

1.) Over the course of the day the air quality can change pretty spectacularly.  I think the haze that sets in on a hot day with a lot of car traffic and factory pollution in the air it can really change the way the colors in the sky appear when the sun isn't 'up'.

2.) In Chicago the sun rises over the water, but sets behind it.  We're west of Lake Michigan so we face the sun when we look over the water in the morning.  Shooting the sunset can lead to pretty colors, but you don't actually have *the sun* in your shots and you often have weird things happening with shadows since the sun is coming in low and behind you as you face the water.

Photograph of Photographers
Some of our group headed out onto the pier just south of where I was on the beach.  They made awesome, clear silhouettes.

Also, trying to get pictures of the sun without actually *looking* at the sun?  About as hard as it sounds.

Do Not Taunt The Happy Fun Balls.
Just after the sun came up completely I noticed these bouys in the water to the north of me.  They're clearly tethered to the lake-floor because they didn't move from their spots as I was shooting, but it looks like there are just these huge red balls out in the middle of the lake.  There was something very "The Prisoner" or maybe from the epsiode "Sound of Drums" from Doctor Who ("Decimate them!") about these bright red dots in an otherwise pretty monochromatic shot.

Seemingly Black Shores and Pink Skies
Another shot like that first one - this time without the ducks.  It amazes me how much more desolate this shot looks without them.  The water is being flattened by the long exposure and the pink and orange sky make the water and land look dark and foreboding.  By the way, the color in these shots was not altered in any way.  I corrected the horizons and did a little cropping after that, but the colors are true to life.

Early Morning Blues.
This is one of my favorite shots from the day.  It's only a 1/15th second exposure and an f-stop of 5.6, but it still has that bizarre, surreal quality.  Again, no color correction.  At this point the sun was *just* up far enough to keep the sky from seeming pink, but there are still bands of color from the the way the low sun reflected off the few clouds in the sky.  One of the biggest challenges we had shooting this was that the temperature was changing incredibly fast which meant that everything was getting covered with condensation, including our lenses.  We were constantly wiping them off with out lens cloths, but we still got more shots that were were a little more soft and fuzzy than we intended to.  I think this one ha a little of that going on - the camera was on a tripod and the shutter release was done with the timer, yet the posts aren't 100% sharp.  After staring at it for a while, I've decided that I like that effect, but it wasn't exactly planned.

I was able to get closer to the ducks just as the sun was creeping up on the horizon.  I love the harsh, stark silhouette of the two ducks (look closely, there really is two).  And again, the long shutter smooths out the water and almost makes it look like it's frozen and the ducks have crept up to the edge to investigate.

More sunrise pics next.  After that, the *amazing* morning of dew-sparkling spider webs in the Hedge.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Make a Face (or Several) in Chicago, Post 2/2

Here are the rest of the faces from the group activity last weekend.

Rusty Face
 This one was just in the sidewalk.  Two railroad spikes and a rust mark make a smiley face.
Smiling Face

Okay, this is the series of faces of I saw in a costruction site - I think I mentioned it yesterday.  Basically under a scaffolding there was a privacy/safety wall held up by pairs of screws.  The walls are scratched and dented and nicked like you'd expect on a construction site.  Some of the combinations made faces.
Smirking Face

Monday, August 8, 2011

Make a Face (or Several) in Chicago - 8.06.11 - North Lincoln Park (1/2)

I know it may have looked like I abandoned this blog.  I didn't.  July in Chicago was just stupidly hot and humid.  I'm good with being a little warm and uncomfortable in order to go out and get some good shots.  I'm not going to risk my health to get shots that would be there when the weather broke.  It was that level of hot for that long a time.  I've also been working a lot on my Etsy (online craft site, see the bottom of this post).  I need to generate a little income on all this creativity! :)

But in the past couple of days we've finally gotten back to feeling like Chicago.  Which is to say it's warm, but not frying-eggs-on-car-tops hot.  So I've had a few group shoots and one I did on my own.

One of the really fun group outings I went on was called "Make a face".  This was a challenge excursion.  We were tasked with finding faces in inanimate objects.  It really makes you look at your world differently.  If you're looking for something to shoot near you, you can do this challenge anywhere.  Get a friend and see who can find more faces.  This could be a really fun activity for kids.  Have a long walk ahead of you?  Challenge them to see who can find more faces as you go.

Here were the faces I found in two and a half hours in the northern part of Lincoln Park...

Black Eyed Susan's Face
 Finding faces in nature can be a little more difficult, but I loved how it looked like these Black Eyed Susans are eyes and the leaf between the flowers are the nose.

Black Scooter Face

Some man-made faces were ridiculously easy to find.

Red Scooter is Happy to See You

He came with a buddy too.  I should have taken half a step back so you could see the way the tire splash-guard made it look like he was sticking his tongue out.
 Some were a lot harder to find.  We actually couldn't go up to this building, but I could shoot the door through the iron fence and look at the design more carefully.

A Grate Face in the Door
So when you isolate the design, you can see the face.

Talking Out of One's Glass
This face has a moustache and a pouty mouth.
Johnny Five is a... Boat Trailer

Does anyone remember the movie Short Circuit from the 80s?  This reminded me a little bit of Johnny Five.
Oh No, Mr. Bill!

Some faces were in the must mundane places.  This weepy face was part of a manhole cover.
  This is the original shot (taken in the middle of the street, so I couldn't spend hours doing perfect composition). You can see how isolating a bit of something bigger helps to pull out the 'face' in the crowd.
Standpipe Family Portrait

And here's a whole family of faces on the side of a high-rise apartment buildings.  You've got Mr., Mrs. and Baby Standpipe.  I think the baby has a pacifier. :)

I have a very fun set taken under a construction scaffolding and a few others that I'll post tomorrow.  It was a fun trip that really made me re-evaluate what was "photo-worthy".

Friday, July 1, 2011

How to Shoot Fireworks in Five(ish) Easy Steps.

So we're coming up on Independence Day here in the United States.  And for many of us, one of the best parts of this summer celebration is the fireworks!  Fireworks paint the night sky with light, which can make for amazing photos if you know how to take the best advantage of your camera.

So here are some steps for getting the best fireworks pictures you can get...

Physical Set-up:

1.) Use a tripod.  I'll talk about the specific shutter times in a bit, but the short version is, you'll mostly want to let them go for about 8 or 10 seconds each.

Last year when I went to the fireworks, I forgot the foot to my tripod, so I was trying to balance the unsecured camera on the tripod body.  It was better than *nothing*, but it wasn't good.

Because I knew I would have stability problems, I ended up shooting a lot of 3.2 second shots in the hopes that I could be still that long, but it makes the fireworks look pretty anemic.  And there's still a lot of wiggle in the shot.  So absolutely have a tripod, even if it's a point-and-shoot camera you're using.  Some P-a-Ss have a fireworks setting and one of the things it's doing on that setting is running a longer than normal shutter.  So get the camera somewhere stable.

2.) Use a cable release, a remote control or the timer to activate the shutter.
For being hand-held and short shuttered (for fireworks), this shot could have been pretty decent if I didn't have that little wiggle that happened right at the beginning of the shot.  See where the blue arrows are pointing?  That's where the firework trails were starting when the shutter opened.  Odds are good the little wiggles right there are from nothing more than the action of me pressing the shutter button.  If you don't have a cable release or remote, you can do what I do - use a two-second timer.  It's a little harder to get that sudden "oh that looks cool!" shot, because you need a little lead time.  But the results are so much cleaner.

Here's a shot done on a tripod, with a timer-released shutter:

Because the camera was on the tripod I could run a 13 second shutter which gives that great depth of field with so much going on in the shot.

3.) Give some context.  If you can, if there's something interesting on the ground below the fireworks, try to include that in the shot.  A skyline, a treeline, some boats...

So while this is a nice shot of the finale...

The shot becomes more interesting when you see Navy Pier below it.  It gives the fireworks scale and it adds and element of "I was in this particular place for this" to your pictures.

Camera Settings:

Shutter speed:  You'll want to experiment with this as you go, but if there's not a lot of background light noise in your area, 8 to 10 seconds tends to give you nice shots with long trails and several shells in a shot. 

When I forgot my tripod, I was only running roughly 3-second shutters.  Which can leave the shots looking kind of thin and uninteresting.

Here's a shot done a 2.5 seconds - which is ridiculously long for anything shot in the daylight, or even indoor lighting, but for fireworks, it's pretty short.

Here's a similar shot at 6 seconds.  Just by doubling the time you can see how much more happens in the picture.

When you get up to 10 seconds, you get an even more full picture. 

On the flipside, you can leave the shutter open *too* long.  Twenty seconds, especially during the finale, can let in too much light, and the fireworks just pile up on top of each other.

ISO and F-stop:

Both ISO and F-stop determine how much light is hitting the camera sensor at any given time.  The shutter determines how long light is hitting the shutter.

Obviously when you're taking pictures of light, you don't want to narrow down your aperture so much that light can't get in reasonably quickly.  I shot most of these better shots at F-11.  It let the firework light in, but blocked out most of the streetlamp noise.

Using a very wide aperture lets in light you may not want - like if there's just a bit of daylight still behind the fireworks.  Then you get a shot like this:

You can see the clouds behind the fireworks because the shutter was open so long, the moonlight was actually making it through even though we really couldn't *see* that it wasn't pitch black there.  This was done at F-4.5, as low as my camera will go.

A lower ISO keeps the trails nice clean and the black of night a nice solid black sheet.  As with any shooting, a higher ISO makes for grainy pictures, which can be particularly noticeable on the black sky. 

So when you add all these tips up, you can get some really fun fireworks shots.

And of course, Happy 4th of July to everyone for whom it is relevant!