Tag Archives: technique

Night Shoot at Pima

One of the special parts of the trip to Arizona was that Mark and I got invited along by our friend Joe to a night shoot at the Pima Air and Space Museum.  I had seen some images from previous night shoots and the idea of photographing the many interesting airframes there in the dark intrigued me.  The museum is excellent and well worth a visit, but it can be hotter than hell there and the light can be quite harsh, so this was a great alternative to try.

When I was a student, I used to do quite a lot of night photography.  In the days of film, you played a lot more of a guessing game as to how things were working out.  Also, film suffered from what was known as reciprocity failure so you could really extend the exposure in low light without necessarily ruining things.  Digital is a lot more linear and also gives you the chance to see how things are coming out and have another go.

A lot of the attendees had done this more than once and had come equipped with a variety of tools to play with.  Lights on stands, wands of different LEDs, huge flashlights etc.  Plenty of things to work with.  I had brought some tools along but was definitely keeping it simpler.  Joe offered us some lights to work with but, since this was a new effort for me, I decided to keep it simple and try to get one approach worked out.

I had a tripod so I could leave the camera in place and then a couple of strobes to play around with.  I had to make some set up adjustments first.  Take off IS from the camera since it can wander over long exposures and make things blurry.  Second, put the strobes on manual power and experiment with how well they do illuminating things.  What I didn’t do but should have with hindsight was to go to bulb mode rather than 30 seconds on the shutter.  At some points with the larger airframes, I was very frantic in trying to get everything lit in the 30 seconds.  It proved to be rather energetic, and I was pretty pooped by the end of it.

I would open the shutter and then move around the airframe illuminating it with pops of the strobe.  I quickly learned to shield the strobe, so it didn’t illuminate me and add me in to the shot.  I also came to realize how the larger areas when I stood back a bit needed more light to compensate.  All of this is logical but not something I thought of before trying it.  More research/planning would have been a good idea.  I was also surprised how my shadow could show up in some shots when I have no idea how it would have got there.

I did photograph some of the more famous assets in the collection – how can you ignore a B-58 or a B-36 – but I did also take time for others that were just of more interest to me.  The size of the place meant you could easily not come across one of the other photographers for a while.  They were helpful in pointing out the hazards of guy wires.  Some of the larger planes have wires to stabilize them and these are basically invisible in the dark.  If you are running around popping off flashes, you could easily collide with something unyielding.  Fortunately, nothing like this for me but maybe some luck in that?

Would I do it again?  Absolutely!  It was very interesting and got some nice results.  It also taught me a lot about what I wasn’t doing right and would set me up for a few ideas of how to do things differently in the future.  I think a large flashlight would be an addition I would make, and I would definitely use the cable release and bulb mode.  My thanks to Joe for taking us along and to the team for letting us join in. 

Tight on a Departing Falcon 7X

When shooting departing jets at BFI, I often have a conundrum about the lens to use.  For some of the higher performing aircraft, they get off the ground quickly, so the longest lens is probably going to be best.  However, other types use a lot more of the runway and can rotate a lot closer to some of the places I like to shoot from.  The long prime can be best a lot of the time but, if they run long, I might be too close for the shot.  A Falcon 7X can run a bit longer if it is heavy as a result of the three-engine configuration versus the twins like the Gulfstreams and Globals.  This one did that but, it rotated quite close to me.  I was actually really pleased with how things turned out and then I spun around to get the climb out from a tight angle as well.

Pigeon Dynamics

Walking along the shore, someone had been feeding the pigeons.  The term rats with wings is often applied to pigeons and you can see why.  (I think rats are amazing creatures so it might be a compliment to draw the analogy.) While pigeons might not be too popular, they are incredible flyers and I find their flight and, specifically, their wings, to be amazing.  As we watched from a distance, they got spooked by a dog and all flew off.  However, they only circled for a short while before landing on a nearby roof.  Soon, they swooped down to the railings and then back to the ground where the food still was.

They repeated the process shortly afterwards and this got me interested.  Photographing wildlife can be tricky since you never know what they will do next.  Having some predictability can give you better options.  I decided to get around to the other side of them and wait for them to get spooked again.  With so many people walking dogs in the area, it couldn’t take too long!  Sure enough, they were soon back up on the roof.

I didn’t try to get any one bird.  That would be very tough to do.  Instead, I shot wider and with a higher shutter speed to freeze the action and waited for them all to return.  They kindly performed exactly as they had done before so it was a case of waiting and shooting as they all gradually made their way back down.  Some of them had really amazing poses as their wings flexed and folded as they flew to the food.  What amazing creatures they are.

Hawk and the Moon

My El Centro wildlife encounters continued after the owls had been photographed.  A hawk showed up on a utility pole close to us at one point and, since no jets were landing, I was happy to take its photo.  Then I realized that the moon was rising not far away, and a short movement allowed me to bring the two into closer alignment.  With the long lens, the focus depth was narrow, so I took shots of the bird and shots of the moon.  When I got home, a little focus stacking allowed me to make both sharp to show how it looked to me at the time I was there.

Building a Bridge One Bit at a Time

One of our work projects includes the construction of a long span bridge for the light rail line to run over.  I have been down on many occasions since the construction started on this section but much of the early work was the preparation of the ground and the creation of the foundations for the final bridge.  We now have the piers in place and the construction of the bridge itself is underway.

This type of construction involves casting the bridge in sections in place rather than offsite and then bringing them in.  Steel supporters called travelers, hold the formwork in place as each section is cast.  When it is cured, the traveler moves out onto the new section and the process is repeated.  This happens symmetrically about the pier, so the bridge grows out in both directions at once keeping everything balanced.

The process moves quite quickly so, each time I go down, the bridge has got noticeably larger.  There are actually to sections happening at once to make the two halves of the bridge.  They grow towards each other, and the final casting will connect the two cantilevered spans to complete the bridge.  That will happen later in 2024.  The section of the bridge is hollow so it will be possible to access the insides of it in the future.  If I get a chance to go inside at some point, expect more images here.

Experimenting With Enhance Levels in Lightroom

In one of the bigger updates of Lightroom and Photoshop, Adobe introduced the Enhance functions adding either resolution or noise reduction.  The noise reduction has been very effective for some of the shots I have taken with very high ISO levels.  I decided to edit a shot with varying levels of noise reduction to see how things look.  Since I had a bunch of cheetah shots taken in low light, I figured that would be a good subject.

You can vary the noise reduction level from 1-100.  I made five edits with one unchanged and the remainder at 25, 50, 75 and 100.  I then layered them in to one file to show the comparison.  The unchanged edit is on the right while the 100 noise reduction is one the left.  I felt like my previous experience had been that a level around 50 was a good outcome for much of what I had shot.  When I looked at these results, I again concluded that the middle level was the best compromise.  The 100 was just too much and 75 looked like things were a bit smudged.  You can judge what you think.  I shall experiment with levels each time I use it but it does give me a good idea of what to start with.

iPhone RAW Image Exposures

When RAW capture first became available on my phone, I started to use it.  Initially, I had to use a third party camera app which was fine but it did have some quirks about it and some things that just didn’t work right, despite some extensive communication with the developer.  Then the camera app of the phone got updated to allow RAW capture and I have been using that ever since.  There is something very strange about it, though.  When I import the images in to Lightroom, they are always about one stop overexposed.  I am curious whether this is a function of the raw format for Apple in order to preserve details in the shadows or whether it is a weirdness with my phone.  Included are two images – one with the base settings after import and one edited.  This is representative of what I get.  It doesn’t hurt the end result but it is rather strange.  Anyone have similar results?

Playing With an Old CRJ Moon Shot

For some reason, I recently came back to an old photo I took of a Delta Connection CRJ900 as it climbed out of O’Hare.  It had climbed right by the moon as it was rising in the eastern sky towards the end of the day.  I had liked the photo at the time but now I was thinking about how to do a better job of editing it.  Now I have been using the masking tools in Lightroom a lot more, I figured I could take different approaches for the jet and the background.  The results were a lot better than my original efforts and I quite like how it now looks.

Time Lapse Experiments With Ice

I used to play with time lapses a fair bit.  I would shoot a series of images and use LRTimelapse to process them. However, that software had a license agreement that meant, when they upgraded the software, they required you to update your license and the old version was deactivated.  This was very annoying.  I figured I would be able to keep using the old version but apparently not.  I don’t do it that much to justify the cost and was disinclined to use that software after this experience.

My latest cameras have a time lapse function built into them which I had been meaning to try out.  I had done this on my little M6 but not with the latest bodies.  What to use them on, though.  I figured an experiment doesn’t require me to be original in the subject.  Just try it out and see how it works.  Consequently, I thought melting ice would be good enough.  My first effort was not successful.  I hadn’t given it enough time to record the melting fully.  Second was better but, while the timing was okay, I had focused on the ice cube when it started melting and it slid across the plate as it melted and out of frame.  The mode on the camera sets focus and exposure on the first shot so this meant everything was well out of focus.

This is why you experiment with things.  The last try worked pretty much as intended.  (I should note that I did all of these in the evening, so the lighting didn’t change during the shoot.) I had a long enough time for the ice cube to almost fully melt, it didn’t move, and the lighting was fine.  Watching the ice disappear and the cube gradually sink into the water that is progressively growing was rather fun.  This isn’t some epic revelation of the nature of melting ice, but it did teach me about some functionality of the camera.

Getting Down to the Level of Fungi

Ever since I have had cameras with flip out screens, I have been far more likely to get down to the right level for a photo.  Lying on the ground was something I would only do in the right circumstances.  Walking through the arboretum with Nancy is not the right time to get grubby doing that.  However, now I can let the camera be low down and check the shots from a slightly more comfortable height.  This was the right thing to do when I was taking some shots of some mushrooms.  You get a totally different perspective from ground level!