If there is one thing in the world that I'm highly attracted to visually, it's the combination of color, light and motion--and nothing combines those three elements better than a Ferris wheel. I've been photographing them since I was a about 16 and stopped one night at a carnival in a nearby town to take some snapshots. While I was shooting, a cop who was patrolling the carnival stopped to chat and asked me what shutter speed I was using. At the time I was just trying to record an image of the wheel and hadn't thought much (or at all) about the motion of the wheel. I was shooting as I always did, just using a shutter speed that was slow enough to record the Ferris wheel when it was stopped--probably 1/30 second or so. This cop (who told me he did a lot of photography for his department--in Shelton, Connecticut, by the way) suggested that since I was using a tripod I should try to capture some motion shots and experiment with long exposures--a second or more. And so I did. I shot a whole roll (Ektachrome slides in those days) of photos at between one and four or five seconds.
When I got that film back from the lab, I was completely blown away. Instead of just still shots of a pretty ride, I had these intense swirls of color and light. Wow, cool! Many of the shots were grossly overexposed (what I wouldn't have given for an LCD back then!). Ever since then I've been drawn like a moth to the light at carnivals and I think of that nice cop every time I shoot ride photos. Many of these photos have been published in my books and, in fact, the cover of my book Exposure Photo Workshop (the first edition) features a motion shot of a Ferris wheel (the 2nd edition features a shot of a different carnival ride).
Getting shots like the ones here is easy--and I didn't even use a tripod for the second shot, I was just resting the camera (a Nikon D90) on the roof of my friend Pam's car. The exposure for the second shot was about 1/8 second at f/8 and for the first shot above it was a full second at f/22, on a Manfrotto tripod. I shot both nights at ISO 200 to preserve image quality (though I did bump up the ISO for a few shots as an experiment). I shot hundreds of photos over the course of the two nights, endlessly experimenting with shutter speeds. There are three things that will effect the outcome of your photos: the shutter speed that you're using, the speed of the wheel and the color patterns since the lights are almost always changing. Also, these days one wonderful change in the wheels is that most use LED lights which are vastly brighter and more colorful--a really tremendous improvement for photographers. I also did some "zooming" shots both nights, racking the zoom during the long exposures and I'll post a few of those in a few days.
Finally, one thing you should do is experiment with your white balance. I set my white balance to tungsten lighting and then used the color picker graphic (available on most dSLR cameras) to custom set the balance. I had to play with the setting many times to get it to record the colors of the wheel accurately (and you're never really sure until you see the images on a bigger screen--which is partly why I went back the second night, to work more with white balance). Of course, I always shoot in RAW (and jpeg simultaneously most of the time) so that I can play with the white balance after the fact, as well. Both of the images here are exactly as they came out of the camera--I did nothing to the color balance other than set the black point for the background using curves (and you should be sure you have a good rich Dmax to set off the colors nicely). They are not sharpened either, though you could do this to crisp up the edges if you wanted.
Fun stuff, right? Well summer is here, so get our your tripod and make sure your batteries are charged (long exposures use a lot of battery power) and go have fun at the carnival.
The wondrous singer/songwriter/activist/storyteller/ecologist Pete Seeger turned 94 on Friday May 3rd. Happy Birthday to you Pete! Thanks for all you've done for music, for art, for the Earth and for humanity.
If you've ever fantasized about photographing bears in Alaska, this may be your opportunity. Due to a cancellation, Alaska photographer Ron Niebrugge has an unexpected opening for one more photographer for his August 7 - 13, 2013 (7 days/6 nights) bear photo workshop in Lake Clark National Park. Ron is an Alaskan native (and resident) and is one of the country's premiere wilderness and wildlife photographers; I profiled him for Outdoor Photographer magazine a few years back.
On his blog Ron writes: "In August the spring cubs are a little bigger and a bit more
independent. The possibility of photographing fishing bears; bears
chasing, catching and eating salmon is always high in August as the
salmon start running. Another opportunity is perching Puffin. In
August the Puffin are busy feeding chicks, and will be flying to and
from their burrows with mouths full of needlefish."
Time magazine said of Ron's tour: "This tour around Lake Clark National Park promises bear sightings,
and thanks to a precision-timed itinerary, they're prolific: brown
bears walking, sleeping and feeding on salmon."
I can't think of a more exciting way to spend a week than photographing brown bears in Alaska with a master wildlife photographer. According to Ron airfares to Alaska area also extremely cheap right now. Life is short, have fun, go photograph bears!
Probably the one question that I'm asked most about digital photography (particularly from Facebook friends) is: What's the best digital camera to buy? I'm always happy to hear the question because it shows that at least some people realize that there are cameras beyond the cell-phone camera in their pocket (an important warning about those in a minute). It's often a tough question to answer because the models seem to change so quickly and also, not all of the best digital cameras are made by the traditional camera makers (Canon, Olympus, Nikon, etc.). Companies like Samsung and Sony, better known as electronics manufacturers than camera companies, make some very respectable cameras--which isn't surprising since (lens design aside) all digital cameras are, in fact, electronic gizmos.
The first thing you have to consider, of course, is price. How much are you willing to invest in your photography? You can get a great compact digital camera for well under $150 and probably even under $100 if you aren't looking for too many features. You can get a great digital advanced zoom camera (essentially an advanced compact with a larger optical zoom and more exposure features in most cases) for around $300. And if you're willing to go to the $500-1,000 range and you want the ultimate in digital-camera flexibility and sophistication, you can get a very good MILC (mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera) or a dSLR. Both of the latter allow you to change lenses.
Time magazine has published a pretty handy introduction to camera buying and it covers the rest of the basics pretty well. One thing I'll add (or at least emphasize) is not to get too caught up in the megapixel wars. There was a time when more pixels meant much better images but we've long passed that point. Now manufacturers are cramming more and more pixels (light-gathering elements) onto tiny sensors (the smaller the sensor the smaller the camera, which is what most people want) and image quality is actually beginning to degrade--and I'll write more about that in a future post. But for now, keep in mind that any camera that offers 10 or 12 megapixels will provide excellent pictures and very big enlargements. Bigger or "full frame" (the size of a frame of 35mm film) sensors have more real estate an so can offer more and bigger pixels and so they are an exception--with those sensors more pixels can vastly improve image quality.
My cell camera warning: It has happened to another friend of mine--he lost his iPhone! Painful enough to lose a $500 phone, but he also lost hundreds and hundreds of digital photos and videos that he never bothered to download. One of my primary complaints about cell phones is that people either don't know how to download their images or they don't bother. Either way, if that is your primary camera (a mistake, I think) and you lose the camera or have it stolen--there go your photos. Forever. If you are using your phone as your primary picture-taking device, learn how to download the images and do it on a weekly if not daily basis. Yes, you can upload images to Facebook or Flickr, but those images are crunched (for space reasons) and you'll never be able to get a good digital file from them for printing purposes. Download, download, download. And back up your downloads, too.
If you’ve always fantasized about chucking it all and hopping a fast freight but just didn’t have the nerve, not to worry—you can still sample this gritty lifestyle through the eyes of an incredibly gifted and brave shooter: photographer Mike Brodie. Brodie hopped his first freight train when he was just 17 and rode it from his home in Pensacola, Florida to Jacksonville and then home again. Seems innocent enough. But that trip ignited something in Brodie’s imagination and what started as a whim turned into an all-out passion. Between 2002 and 2012 he rode on more than 170 freight trains in 46 states and logged more than 50,000 miles. In 2004 he started recording his journeys, at first with an old Polaroid and then in 35mm. His pictures are an amazing record of a lifestyle most of us have only seen through Hollywood's eyes and they have now been collected and published in a hardcover book called A Period of Juvenile Prosperity published by Twin Palms Publishers. A non-signed casebound first edition is available immediately and there is a signed version on back order. The latter should be available on March 25, 2013. A fascinating book, the photos are incredible--I'm sure the first edition will sell out quickly. (Photos courtesy of Mike Brodie.)
Winter holds on With claws tight Around rooted trees Flakes fall to remind us Spring is gaining strength As migrations ride The southern wind's Warm currents They chase the chill Of bitter cold Off the clouds To fall into the ocean Father sun and Mother Earth Grow closer As their union melts The frozen terrain Their tears of happiness fall in the freezing breeze Seasons transition As crocus emerge A bittersweet visit Each year - winter and Spring Competing To win the season
We had a warm day in Connecticut today, it reached the mid 50s and I'm not sure how they know how warm it is outside, but the kitties requested that I let them out to the porch first thing. Later I took a break from a retouching assignment to go and check on them and found them in this sweet pose. I had to run and grab a camera, change lenses and hope they were still cuddled up when I got back. Thankfully they were.
The porch had plenty of light, but I wanted to use flash to brighten it up a bit more. I put the flash of my D90 into the "slow sync" mode so as to catch some of the daylight around them but the flash was still a bit too harsh. Normally I might just toss a Gaussian blur on to soften the look a bit, but lately I've been experimenting with the median filter (Filters>Noise>Median) and that's what I used for this shot. Prior to playing with the median, I did my basic adjustments: crop, a curves correction and some minor color corrections (using hue/saturation mainly). Then I applied the median filter, as follows:
Duplicate the background layer (Command J on a Mac).
Apply the Median filter (again, Filters>Noise>Median) and choose an amount. In this case it was arbitrary, but I used a pretty heavy setting of around 25. At this setting the image is barely recognizable but don't worry about that. You're going to use the opacity setting to bring back detail from the original background layer.
I then adjusted the opacity of background copy to about 40%.
I made some tweaks to color balance and saturation and that's it.
I think this would be a nice technique to use for portraits, too. The effect kind of reminds me of some more complex softening methods, but this is so fast you can do it in a few seconds.