Monthly Archives: March 2012

Trumpets Shall Sound

I thought I’d get you all ready for an Easter parade by laying a suitably pastel palette on you. These are Brugmansia, not lilies, but I think they convey the general idea.

A Year Ago: Indirect

Building in reflected light.Sometimes I wonder why I have any friends or family who still love me…
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Good Neighbors

Picket Fence, Harpers Ferry, WV

Apparently my love for the white picket fence knows no bounds. I found this one in Harpers Ferry. I also like the more rustic tongue-depressor fence behind it.

Sometimes, in moments of fantasy, I think that I would love to live in a beautiful small town like Harpers Ferry. And then I note how empty it feels, and how all the roads seem to lead away.

A Year Ago: Two Views

Aloe-like plant.I used to strongly prefer to make black & white photographs…
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Hughes Mews

Bicyclist rides through intersection.

It’s no decisive moment, but I like the contrast between the ellipses and the rectangles in this picture. And it has bounced light.

A Year Ago: Father, Son, Waiter

Young boy.It was the boy who caught my eye first…
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Sunshine, Distilled

Yellow flower, backlit.

On an overcast day, even the memory of sunlight can be sustaining.

A Year Ago: You Could Be Dancing, Yeah!

Girls posing on the beach, Captiva, FLCharlize the Heron (seen in background in this shot) was not the only bathing beauty that evening…
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Camera Choice

Hanging mobile.

I was hanging out on Abbie and Denis’s back porch when I spotted this somewhat collapsed mobile in the late afternoon light. After the annoyance with the airplane photo, I wanted to make sure I at least documented it for myself, so I whipped out the iPhone and made the photo above, which I think we can all agree is nothing to write home about.

As soon as it became clear that I had some more time to work with before we headed to dinner, I got out the GF-1 to explore a little further.

Here’s the equivalent photo from the GF-1:

Hanging mobile.

The differences are immediately obvious. First, the angle is less wide than the iPhone’s field of view. Second, the image is less saturated and less contrasty (snapshot cameras almost always boost color and contrast in software, creating “eye candy” which consumers generally prefer). Third, and most important, the GF-1 is capable of a much shallower depth of field, which allows me to isolate the cascading discs and renders the entire image more abstract.

Out of curiosity, I took the iPhone image into Snapseed to see if I could simulate a shallower depth of field, and ended up with the next image.

Hanging mobile/

While it may be more atmospheric, I don’t think it in any way duplicates the results from the GF-1. Still, I’d rather have the iPhone photo than no photo at all.

I did some further exploration with the Lumix.

Hanging mobile.
Up close and personal.

Hanging mobile
Playing with the circular diffusion through the grid of the screen. Tasty bokeh from a normal lens.

Hanging mobile.
I’m not sure what set is illustrated here, but I like it.

So yes, the camera and the lens matter, largely because a camera like the Lumix gives you more latitude, more ways to editorialize in-camera. Although I did very little manipulation to the images from the GF-1, I could have done more with impunity because I was working with the camera RAW, and there’s just a lot more information available. The iPhone 4S produces nice, high-quality JPEGs, but it’s a case of you get what you get; if the highlights are too hot, for example, you’re screwed.

But the bottom line remains the same: any camera is better than none, and any camera can produce an image you’ll be glad to have.

A Year Ago: Promise

New cherry blossoms with Washington Monument in background.So I had this clever plan: go to Florida in mid-March…
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Color Choice

One of the best ways to learn from your own photography is to look at most of your images in both color and black-and-white. Even pictures that you took explicitly because of their color content can teach you something useful about relative light and dark values and abstract elements of composition when viewed in black-and-white.

On my last visit to Harper’s Ferry, I took a passel of pictures in the old town cemetery, which is exceedingly lovely. It sits at the top of the headlands above the juncture of the Shenandoah and the Potomac. It is ancient but well-tended, and not at all crowded (either with the dead or the living). None of the photographs showing the water gave any sense of the grandeur and depth of the scene, so I’m sparing you those.

This was my favorite shot from the cemetery (I recommend clicking through to the large view):

Harpers Ferry, WV

Why? Well, I like the division of the image into sky and ground. I like the zig-zag of the headstones into the foreground and the filigree of trees on the horizon. I like the half-hidden house. And I like the raking shadows of the gravestones on the undulating grass.

As I inventoried those compositional qualities, I realized that they would all be present in a black-and-white version. In fact, they might even be enhanced if the distracting, seductive color were removed.

Okay then, let’s see the image in black-and-white (again, click through for the bigger version):

Harpers Ferry, WV

So, which do you prefer?

I like both of them. But if forced to keep one and burn the other, I think I’d hold on to the color version. And here’s why…

The blue of the sky and the green of the grass emphasize the graphic bisection of the composition (the counterintuitive lushness of the land of the dead below, contrasting with the stark land of the living above). The trees are more visually distinct because of their colored haze of new leaves. I find that the green of the grass makes the toothy headstone shadows more visible, and shows the undulations of the hillside more clearly. And lastly, I believe that the black-and-white graveyard photo runs the risk of being trite or cliché; in any case we’ve certainly seen a lot more of them.

I’d be very curious to know whether others agree with this assessment. What do you think? Which one would you keep, and why?

A Year Ago: What Bird?

Egret, Ft. Myers, FLBird? What bird?…
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Seeds of Spring

Seed wings on oak tree.

I tweeted an Instagram version of this image not long after I took it (which is all you need to know to deduce that I used my iPhone for this one). And while I like the soft, muted quality of the Instagram version, I don’t think it captures the concentrated, almost muscular force of Spring that I see embodied in these seed sprouts. I wanted to see it bigger (Instagram automatically downsizes) and brighter.

It’s worth pausing and acknowledging just how good the tiny lens in the iPhone is. Seriously, the thing is petite-pea-sized in diameter! Yet it generates a 5MP image that resolves an impressive amount of detail with remarkable color accuracy. That people are able to carry around a point-and-shoot camera like this just because they have their phone on them is nothing short of miraculous.

A Year Ago: Thistle

ThistleI was consistently blown away by the performance…
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Incidental Geometry

Airplane and architecture

There was a significant amount of swearing involved in the creation of this image.

I was walking along with Crystal on the pedestrian mall at Silver Spring, marveling at the blue sky and 80º weather. I spot a plane leaving a narrow white chalk-mark across the pristine sky in pleasing juxtaposition with the nearby architecture.

Immediately, the internal debate: iPhone or GF-1? Both will involve getting into my bag, which I am currently wearing as a backpack. The iPhone is in an outer pocket, the GF-1 in the main compartment. Gah! What to do? What to do?!

The iPhone’s lens is wider-angle. So I’ll probably have to crop to approximate what I’m seeing right now. And if I have to crop (which seems likely), I want to have as many pixels as possible, but the iPhone is lower resolution; if the angle of the normal lens of the GF-1 will give me what I’m seeing, I probably won’t have to crop at all, but if I do, I’ll have more pixels to work with. Okay, so I guess the GF-1 is best.

I unsling the backpack and fish out the GF-1, which has wedged itself in an unfortunate spot in my bag and practically requires a crowbar to extricate it. The seconds are ticking by. I uncap the lens. I turn the camera on. I hold the electric viewfinder up to my eye and I can see nothing. It’s whited out. WTF??? I turn it off and on again.

The plane is moving in an inexorable trajectory, and the picture I thought I would make is changing and becoming less compelling.

Still white.

Crap. The ISO was left set to 1600.

Use the menuing system to change the ISO back to auto.

DAMN IT, the EVF has once again failed to retain its diopter setting. Focus the diopter to accommodate my middle-aged eyes.

I now make four exposures in rapid succession with the bitter taste of defeat in my mouth. A steady stream of invective has accompanied this entire process.

Would I have been able to get the picture quicker or better with the iPhone? Hard to say.

  • Fish out the iPhone.
  • Orient it correctly (with my old iPhone it was extremely easy to tell simply by touching the edges which way was front/back and up/down; the new one, not so much).
  • Double click to quickly activate in locked camera-mode.
  • Tap camera icon.
  • Frame.
  • Tap to focus or set exposure (focus was pretty much infinity in this shot).
  • Tap or press volume button to release shutter.

My best guess is that I would have gotten a picture more quickly, but only by a small margin. And I would probably not have been as happy with the image quality. As it turns out, I quite like this last of the four exposures I made while swearing up a storm.

The take-away from this is: if you want to make a photograph quickly, at a moment’s notice, there is no substitute for having it in your hand. If you have to virtually get undressed to deploy it, you’ll miss the shot. Furthermore, it’s better to get the shot you want with the wrong camera than to not get it at all.

Oh, and one other lesson? If you’re willing to be my friend, you’ll inevitably get to witness one of these DEFCON 1 aesthetic emergencies, where it looks like I’m having an attack of some horrible St. Vitus’ Dance/Tourette’s mash-up as I scramble to photograph a thing, often not at all obvious, which probably nobody but me thinks is worth a second glance. And it will probably happen while you’re in the middle of saying something important and interesting. So I apologize both retrospectively and in advance.

A Year Ago: Picky

Bird at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, FLI almost didn’t see this bird, picking its away across a surface of water plants…
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Tropical plant.

Scarlett is the color of both shame and passion.

A Year Ago: Come Hither

Lizard, Ft. Myers, FLThere are a lot of little lizards in Florida…
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M Street Facade

Georgetown, Washington, DC

These days I routinely carry two cameras with me, the GF-1 and my iPhone 4S. And even though I know I’m more likely to get a high-quality image from the GF-1, I usually have it tucked away in my bag, while the iPhone is frequently in my hand. As a result, for the quick snap on the fly, I’m using the iPhone more often than not.

And since I’ve already compromised on the image quality, I have fewer qualms about getting in there and shoving the pixels about. This photo has had a lot of work done. Its perspective’s been corrected. The exposure’s been tweaked. It’s had myriad filters applied to it. Let’s put it this way—this photos’s own mother might not recognize it right away.

And that’s okay with me. It conveys the feeling of walking down M Street at 6:30 in the evening, on what felt like an early-summer day. (It’s official: this winter was the warmest on record.) I also note, after the fact, that my picket-fence obsession continues unabated.

A Year Ago: Sand & Dirt

Landscaping materials, Sanibel, FLThere’ll be more nature and “pretty” from my Florida trip soon enough…
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