Monday, March 7, 2011

Chicago Flower and Garden Show - 3.06.11 - Post 1

So I got another press pass to an event at Navy Pier.  Well, not actually a press pass, more like a press sticker.

I think I could have done this on my computer.

Yes, that's a picture of my knee.  They handed me the sticker with no backing and I got the definite impression that it wouldn't stick again if I moved it.  I've never been a fan of having nametags/labels on my shirt and I knew I'd be aggravating it (and it would be aggravating me) all day if it was up near my camera strap.  So it went on my jeans.

I'm glad I didn't pay to get in, because it wasn't a great event.  Now, having said that, I suspect if you're actually there to get ideas for landscaping it may have been just fine.  But as a photography event it was very, very poorly designed.  And there were an insane number of photographers around.  Not just "Oh, I should get a picture of this container garden so I can do something like it at home" photographers.  I don't think I've seen so many fully kitted-out dSLR photographers in one place since... well, possibly ever.  Lots of people who, like me, weren't afraid to get on the floor to shoot at a better angle or spend the time monkeying with lenses and tripods and filters and all the stuff that goes with them.

And yet... this was a photographer's nightmare in a lot of ways.  There were two ends of this large exhibit hall.  For reasons I don't understand at all, the end that had all the display gardens and the show plants contest was horribly, horribly underlit.  The bulbs appeared to be incandescent, but my white balance was being completely thrown off by them.  "Auto WB" wasn't working and in various places throughout the hall I had to change to different settings.  I have no idea how they could make the temperature of the light so radically different in about twenty feet, but they were managing.  The other end, where they had the vendors?  Very brightly lit.  Go figure.  The only good thing about this lighting was that there wasn't enough of it to make harsh shadows a concern.

To give you an idea, though not the point of this shot, you can see how much brighter the hallway was.  That bright spot behind the tree on the right hand side is the entrance/exit to the exhibit hall.  Look how much brighter the hall is than the lighting on the bench and 'plants'.

Due to the low lighting I had to spend a lot of time putting the camera on the tripod and bringing the apature down to about 22 or smaller (I played with 45 in some areas) and run a crazy long shutter to get a reasonable shot.  Having just gotten my camera cleaned (more about that later) I wanted to keep my ISO at 100 as often as possible, so I decided to take the time getting the long exposure shots.  Which can be pretty flipping difficult when there are a lot of people milling about in non-intuitive paths.  I think I've decided that I need to start going to some of these events armed with a stack of postcards or flyers that explain to people a little bit of photography etiquette.  Things like, if you hear the shutter click once, but not the second time, the photographer is taking a long shot.  DON'T WALK IN FRONT OF THE CAMERA!  An exceptionally long exposure is thirty seconds.  Unless you're chasing your errant toddler or you are on fire, thirty seconds is not that long for you to hold it for just a bit.  Most photographers try very hard not to set up in obtrusive places or where their tripod will be a trip-hazard.  Please show them the same consideration by waiting to go past their lens.  Oy.  I know there are always people who don't realize they're walking into your shot, but this place seemed to have an inordinate number of people who would walk through going, "Oh gee are you shooting?  Sorry."  Or one person in their party would stop and wait and someone else would say to them, "Oh, it's fine, you can go past, she isn't shooting," without asking if it was actually okay for them to go past or if I was shooting.

The show had a few other problems that were more relative to how the show is billed and promoted around Chicago vs. what you actually get...  The show is all over every local news channel.  They run the free Navy Pier trolleys for the event, even though they're generally shut down in the winter.  It's made out to be a Very Big Deal. And some of it is obviously very cool.  There were some really interesting garden and patio/porch displays by people from all over the country.  But then there were some really odd things too...

Between the show gardens and the vendors' area there are these 'rooms' set up by various sponsors. 

This is clearly a picnic set up done by a local community college's level two floral design class.  I've never done anything like this, but this doesn't look like a level two of much of anything.  Honestly, it reminded me more of "Quick Fire" challenge for an art Reality Show. (I can't think of the name of the one Bravo did last year, but it seemed like to should come from there.)  "You have 3000 carnations and a budget of $50 at Michaels.  Make a 'room' from this in the sixty-seven mintues."  It just screamed amateur to me.  Sticking red carnations in hot dog buns to make flower hot dogs?  I don't even know what the orange ones in blue bowls were supposed to be.  Or why there's construction fencing hanging from the walls.
Like I said, it may be harder than I think it is; I've never done it, but I was very very underwhelmed to see something like this at an event that is theoretically this Big of a Deal.

Another huge annoyance for me is that at best, 25% of the plants being used were labeled.  You would think that at a show where you're supposed to be giving people ideas, you might want to let them know what it is they were looking at.  And very few of the gardens had people attending them to tell you if you wanted to know.

Oh, and that picture above with the bench and the orange and yellow painted trees?  I have no earthly idea why they would bring those to a show that is primarily about living plants.  They're supposed to represent a park along Lake Shore Drive near Lincoln Park Zoo.  A number of trees down there died a few years back and for some truly incomprehensible reason, instead of removing them, the park district decided to paint them orange and yellow and a few green and blue.  We're living in a budget crisis in this city, but they somehow had the materials and the people to go paint dead trees.  I do. not. understand, but there it is.  And why would you want to showcase that at a flower and garden show?

Anyway, I got a lot of shots that will actually make for some great teaching moments.  I always wanted this to be a place where we could discuss technique and methods, but it's mostly been, "Look!  I took a picture of a thing!"  I've been reading a 'bookazine', as they call it, and they're breaking down both the basic and more specific concepts in photography and it's been helping me a lot.

So, while showing off the pictures I took (because, hey, I need to do that too. :) I want to talk about some basic concepts that new photographers might not be overly familiar with or that more seasoned folks haven't thought about.

To wit, I'll be posting on:
• ISO, so what?
• White balance: what color is your environmental light?
• You probably bathe your dog more often than you clean your camera.  You may want to do something about that.

But before I go... just a few of the good shots that I was pretty pleased with.

Another Anther
As you may have noticed, now that the snow's gone, I needed to change my banner photo at the top of the blog.  I'm going to do an entire post on the tulips - the huge tulip garden was one of the few places they did everything pretty much right.  This was my favorite shot from the entire day.  It looks great even at full size.  The peach and yellow make a really pretty background and the three brown anthers give the shot a great focal point.  For anyone keeping score at home this was taken at ISO 100, F36 and a shutter speed of 13 seconds.  I also used a two second timer to trip the shutter so I wouldn't bump the camera by pressing the button.  I did no post production edition of this, not even cropping (obviously it was scaled), but it came out of the camera like this, and I was pretty excited.

Wouldn't Look out of Place on Canvas

I've never been a huge fan of those old school nineteenth century oil paintings that are all in dark greens and browns with a little yellow or dark red in them.  And yet, these roses would fit in perfectly in one of those shots and I love them.

A Rose of Fire
Here's that top, center one blown up.  I don't know what they were called, but the colors make me think of what would happen if you made a rose out of fire.

Standing Out
This was in a windowbox display that actually had a key put up on the wall so I can go and look to see what it is, but I haven't checked yet.  I'm fairly sure it's some kind of daisy.  I did a metric ton of color-correction on this shot and I'm still not 100% thrilled with it.  But at least it's not pink any more.  These are really awesome flowers with bright purple centers and white petals with light green edges.  My favorite color combination ever.  I also like that I played with the aperture setting enough that I got the background to be just fuzzy enough that the flower stands out, but not so fuzzy that you can't tell what is behind the focus.

Okay, the next post will actually be a discussion of white balance and why it's worth fighting with. :)

1 comment:

  1. Wow, it sounds like you had a hell of a time with this. I'd love to hear more about all those settings because I have absolutely NO clue what most of it is, but I still play around a bit anyway. I can't wait to see the rest of the shots of the show, too.