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“Despite my best efforts, I can’t always predict when it is going to occur. But, when it’s happening, I know it. Of course, the question is whether or not I was ready to capture it.”
This is what I once said in response to a question about how I decide when to take a picture. Let’s just say he was less than impressed with the awesomeness of my answer and pretty much walked away thinking I was a complete moron.
So, in a departure from my normal blog style, I thought I would set aside the more traditional topics about technique or location and try to provide a better answer to his question.
The problem, of course, is that trying to describe a uniquely personal and spiritual experience in words alone is difficult. I also don’t want to give anyone the idea that “the moment” is always there and ready to be captured each time I pick up my camera. If that was the case, I wouldn’t have hard drives full of images that I can best describe as “bleh” – and that’s me being generous.
Hopefully, using images and associated captions to describe the context, I will be able to provide some insight into those times I think I was successful.
First, I want to cover what I perceive as the three fundamentals of the moment:
- The moment is personal.
- The velocity of the moment depends on the type of photography involved and the nature of the scene.
- The passion of the moment depends on the degree of my emotional investment prior to capture.
It’s personal, okay?
To paraphrase a quote from “The Princess Bride,” since there isn’t enough room here “to explain” – let me sum up: One person’s art is another person’s crap.
I can spend all day viewing John Singer Sargent’s “plein-air” paintings, but stick me in front of anything done by Andy Warhol and you will see what I look like when I discover a dead rat in my soup. Both are talented artists – but I don’t like them equally. Just as one of my images, where I think I captured the moment perfectly, may make someone else wonder if I know anything about photography.
Some of my favorite images, those that I have a deep emotional connection to, that felt the most familiar at the moment of capture, where there was harmony between me and the scene, are often the same ones that my dear, loving wife and children will look at and say “I guess it’s nice.” Ouch.
Velocity depends on type and nature
Landscapes, even those with rapidly changing light, still evolve in a way that allow me to slowly build an appreciation for the inherent natural beauty that I am trying to capture. The longer I take to evaluate, position, compose and capture, the more I become immersed and connected to the dynamics of the rich, visual tapestry of the scene. And, the better the resulting image.
Streetscapes lay at the other end of the pace spectrum. While I may position myself to increase the chances of spotting “the moment,” when it happens it happens fast (as a side note: I’m a street photography “lurker” who positions and then waits). The positioning sets the context, but it’s “the glance” or “the spontaneous interaction” that defines the moment. Rather than unfolding over minutes or hours as it may during landscape photography, you are lucky if you have more than a second or two to capture the moment of a streetscape.
The degree of my investment plays a role
The minute I pick up my camera, think about the act of photography and start to adjust the settings for whatever style of photography I plan to do, I begin the process of becoming attached and invested.
Many people think street photography consists of just quickly and spontaneously snapping pictures. In fact, I find myself spending a lot of time developing my street “tunnel vision,” looking for tell-tales and clues about where the best and most interesting interactions are likely to happen, evaluating the light and then positioning myself to wait for the moment. During landscape photography, I do much the same but rather than human tell-tales, it is often natural ones that evolve slower. In both cases though (and everything between), my concentration becomes increasingly intense to the point of becoming unaware of surrounding distracting elements that don’t directly contribute to the visual event unfolding in front of me.
In a sense, the more I invest in the process, the more meditative the experience becomes for me and the greater my ability to recognize and capture the passion of the moment when, or if, it arrives.
Bottom-line? It’s personal, it varies and, of course, everything in this article could all be wrong. But, are you ready?
~ Tom Gaitley
This time of year in New England is what most photographers live for. The trees in reds, yellows, oranges and combinations of the three combined with waterfalls, ponds, barns, churches and mountains. Classic New England imagery that turns northern New England into a seasonal mecca for leaf peepers. While these images are classic and iconic and I have many in my portfolio, in my opinion, they tend to become routine.
So how does one take something so monumentally iconic as New England fall foliage and put a new spin on it? It’s something I’ve been toying around with for a few seasons and I’ll gladly share some tips with you.
By far the easiest spin on foliage is the abstract. It can be as simple as using a long lens and zooming in tightly to a cluster of trees on a mountainside instead of going wide and capturing the whole scene. A classic fall abstract is to simply shoot the reflection of the foliage in moving water. It’s timeless, and when done right, can sell for a million bucks like the famous Peter Lik photo “One”. To get a true abstract, try using intentional camera movement. Focus on part of a tree, set your shutter speed slow enough that you can zoom in while the shutter is open. Try panning side to side or up and down while the shutter is open, or get really creative and twist the camera while exposing. It’s generally hit or miss, but when it’s a hit you can walk away with a really amazing and unique image. The following images are examples of some of these techniques.
Try using a 9 or 10 stop ND filter, or stack a 2 and 3 stop ND to get a long exposure during daylight. This can have a really dramatic effect when combined with water and moving clouds. I have used both my 9 stop and two 3 stop filters in the late afternoon to get 90-second exposures of foliage reflecting into a pond with clouds that appear to be racing by.
There is foliage along the coast that turns color in the fall. Most people either forget that or are unaware. Beach roses in particular, turn very vibrant orange, red and yellow in autumn. The grasses and reeds that grow along salt water marshes also turn golden in the fall. These can be used to create some dramatically different fall foliage images.
Many of the iconic fall images include something man made, like a barn or church. Step it up a notch and include city streets, or an old factory. An abandoned car in the woods would make an excellent subject when surrounded by bright fall foliage. Instead of focusing on the barn and silo, find the tractor or baler and compose it with the foliage.
Close Up and Depth of Field
You could use a macro lens or extension tubes and zoom in really close to backlit leaves. Or zoom in tight with a small aperture and shoot at the sun to get a star burst behind a leaf. Sometimes a little fill flash helps with this. You could use a wider angle lens but open up to as wide as you can and focus on some foreground leaves. This would leave (no pun intended) the background soft and out of focus. This would even work with an iconic shot of a white church blurred in the background. Another option I’ll add in here is a Lensbaby. If you have one, try it out on foliage landscapes. You might end up with something really amazing.
Instead of focusing on the trees, turn your camera to the variety of fall flowers and berries that appear in October. Put the trees in the background, and you can have some really great images.
Blue Hour and Night Images
Fall foliage looks its best in good light, but how about moon light? Get out to one of your favorite spots after the sun has gone down and take a few shots. This will look especially good if there is some moonlight. The blue hour, or twilight, also can also make some great images. Light painting would also yield a unique image, especially if you would like to include stars or the Milky Way in your image. Taking a foliage shot at night in an urban setting will let you get artificial light on the foliage and possibly turn the points of light into starbursts by using a small aperture. Shooting in low light conditions like these can be tricky to get proper exposure, so bracketing and combining your images in post may be a good solution. I have to admit that I haven’t personally tried shooting foliage at night yet, but I will have by the time this foliage season is over. I do have this example taken about 20 minutes after sunset as the blue hour was beginning.
In closing, this fall, don’t be afraid to think outside the box when it comes to your foliage images.
~ Bryan Bzdula
Last chance for Friendship in Fireworks in Salem!
As some may know I’m now a National Park Ranger in Salem and I get to give tours aboard the Friendship (tough job but someone has to do it!)
Well, if you were going to hold off till next year to get down to Salem to photograph the fireworks with the ship in the frame, DON’T WAIT! The masts are going to be coming down this fall, (All of them) and they will be working on the keel for the next year or two depending how much rot they find. So If you like my shot down below with the explosions going off behind the masts, like a battle is going on?? Then get down there and see it this year!
Leave me a comment if you have any questions on where to sit… I did get out there at 2 in the afternoon so bring a cooler but be prepared to be looked over very carefully. The police and park rangers will be looking at packages, backpacks and coolers (Thank you idiot terrorists for making our lives a little more secure)
I have the day off so I will be out on Winter Island looking over the fireworks from that angle. please enjoy your 4th of July, be safe! But if you can’t make it down this year, I will be sure to post when the ship is… Shipshape again hopefully 2016!
Focal Length or how much lens to use
I like a 24-105mm for this purpose. A wide angle is nice but I usually have to be too close. A big telephoto has its own issues unless you are a half mile away. I prefer a mid-range telephoto that allows some wide and zoom capability. I believe in flexibility.
I plan on setting my aperture/f-stop for f4 but I will usually go higher, earlier in the evening. You generally don’t need too much depth of field. As it gets darker you can trade off the fstop as needed. [note] I also lock my focus on the first shot and then turn off autofocus. Most cameras won’t focus if it doesn’t have something bright to focus on.
My secret technique is to open the shutter before anything is happening (black sky) and then I hold the shutter open for the count of one thousand one, one thousand two. You get the idea, and then at some point, I release it and stand ready for the next shot.
This depends on your camera. My normal setting is an ISO of 200-400 but my newer camera can go as high as 1600 if I wanted to. By going higher, though, you take the chance of inducing noise into the shot (colored dots of light). If your camera is prone to noise then set it for a low ISO and make your exposures longer.
Shutter Speed, cable release, and a tripod
Fireworks look better when you have the Rockets trail rising from the ground and the explosion with the points of light expanding outward. To accomplish this, the shutter speed will need to be measured in seconds. Most times my shots range from 2 seconds out to 12 seconds.
To me shutter speed is the key to successful fireworks photos.
There are two trains of thought on this. If you want some crazy patterns to the lights then by all means hand hold it. What-the-hey, move the camera while the shutter is open and paint with light. But for images that people really enjoy (or buy) then I will put the camera on a sturdy tripod and use a shutter release. The type of release doesn’t matter as long as you can use it to keep the shutter open manually
My cable release allows me to open my shutter, hold it open, and then close it, based on what I’m seeing.
Putting it all together
Each year I pick a different location to see what the fireworks look like from a different aspect. To me the best images (not always mine) are the ones that have a strong visual element in addition to the firework explosion.
In this image I was in Salem and I positioned myself so that the Friendship of Salem was between me and the fireworks. The result was the ship looked like it was in a massive battle with the bombs bursting in the air above the ship.
People in your shots or not?
This next image is over in Marblehead on Fort Beach. Low tide hit an hour before the fireworks were to start. So I found a large rock to get an unobstructed view and away from the crowds. As luck would have it the tide kept going out and revealed more rocks and the crowds went out in front of me to sit and watch the fireworks.
So, for the first time ever, I had people in my 4th of July photos and I think these are some of my best.
The Grand Finale
One of the problems we all have is the finale. They starting throwing everything and the kitchen sink into the air and you have way too much light. In an effort to tame the light you have to shorten the exposure, but then you lose the light trails due to a half second exposure.
My friend Eyal Oren used the photo tree in the image to block much of the intense light, resulting in this very pleasing image. See more of his work at Wednesday in Marblehead.
I suggest you go read the manual (RTFM), Yes, Read The Freakin Manual and see what it says..
Don’t wait until one hour before the start of the fireworks. Pull the manual out now and read what it says for low light situations and then go out and practice with it.
I hope this article helps you take some real winners and, if you are so inclined, please share them on our NEPGuild Facebook page.
Questions? Leave a comment.
The Hill West bridge and the VAST trail tale.
This is a story about the Art of getting lost. I wrote that article about my favorite season (Autumn) but it applies to any time you can get off the main road or highways and onto the backroads of New England. This story is to warn you that map books don’t always tell the whole truth so be careful out there. We could have just as easily had to walk out of there if I wasn’t lucky. Read the article on the art of getting lost to see what you should be getting out of back road travel.
The Hill West Covered Bridge is one of the five covered bridges of Montgomery, Vermont. This covered bridge is a bit off the beaten path, but if you keep your eyes open, you can find it. (Maybe.)
Beware the VAST!
Some of you may know what’s coming because you know what a VAST is (I’ll tell you at the end). So Lisa and I were driving up the Hill West Road from the Deep Gibou Rd. We were looking for the Creamery Bridge road but missed it and were a mile or two past it when Lisa said there was a small connecting road over to the West Hill Road… (Watch those unmarked roads in the Gazetteers).
As you read you may get confused. First, they named the two parallel roads, of which the Creamery Bridge road connects, almost the same? The Eastern road is Hill West and the western road is the West Hill road? Lucky for me, this was back when I was driving my big red Z-71/4X4 and I was invulnerable (or so I thought).
Ok, so we’re on the connecting road which quickly narrowed down to one lane and I thought to myself, that I could back-out, if it grew much closer. (Hindsight is 20/20.) Then the road became rutted and it looked more like a stream bed with round rocks in it… Ok, at this point, I stopped and put it in 4X4 low and continued on, I mean how bad could it be? (Stop laughing!)
Ok, how many of you have Googled what a VAST is? It stands for “Vermont Association of Snow Travelers” or in other words, a snowmobile trail!
Soon the track became even larger stones… OK, I believe the off-road enthusiasts would call this bouldering and Lisa and I are lurching side to side like drunken sailors. And I look behind me but quickly realize that going in reverse is a no-go.
So the journey continues to the end of the VAST! But just when we thought we were safe — there at the end of the track is a boulder (5 or so feet high!) sitting in the middle of the trail exit.
I suppose this is to encourage vehicles like mine to not go this way… TOO LATE!
I notice that the track goes around the boulder and I might add, at a steep incline. But I don’t see any other option so I start to make my way around it. Imagine your vehicle at this incline on a dirt track and you are so close to the rock that you have to pull the mirror in and Lisa is holding on to the “OH Crap” handle above her door!
The covered bridge is found!
Well we survive that and came down the West Hill road. We now find an unmarked road which turned out to be the Creamery Bridge road. We took it and in 90 feet +/- and at the bottom of the hill we found the West Hill Covered Bridge. According to Wikipedia, it’s also known as Crystal Springs Covered Bridge… which is over the West Hill brook in Montgomery, VT.
Are you confused? Me too!
SO, we have the West Hill Covered Bridge which lies between the Hill West Road and the West Hill Road. (That’s not too bad.) We have a covered bridge that is named the West Hill Covered Bridge but is sitting on the Creamery Bridge road (The actual… “Creamery Covered Bridge” is in Brattleboro, VT, just so you know).
This covered bridge is also known as the Crystal Springs Covered Bridge but doesn’t cross Crystal Springs but West Hill Brook???
I’m still looking for Abbott and Costello to come out and do “Who’s on first and What’s on second” and so forth. (Yes, for those of you who are nowhere near as old as me, I’m including a link to YouTube and their routine).
Finally the bridge!
The lattice truss bridge was renovated in between 2011 and Sept. 2013 and has been opened up to cars once again. The Bridge is starting to age and get the gray patina that we as artists love to see. The only problem is kids using this area and tagging the inside with graffiti.
I hope you find the covered bridge a much easier trip and to help a bit further, here is a map.
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What is a Panorama?
Webster’s dictionary defines a panorama as “a full and wide view of something,” derived from two Greek words: pan, meaning “all,” and horama, meaning “sight, spectacle, that which is seen.” The first documented use of the word was in 1787 by Robert Barker to describe his paintings of Edinburgh and London. There is no formal aspect ratio or field of view (FOV) that defines a panorama, but it is generally accepted that to be a panorama a photo must have a field of view that is wider than the human eye and at least a 2:1 aspect ratio, meaning at least twice as wide as they are tall. Some people accept either characteristic to define a panorama, others insist on both characteristics being met. After much research, I’ve discovered there really is no concrete definition to what constitutes a panorama however.
Field of View (FOV)
Humans have an almost 180° horizontal field of view, but only about 120° of that is binocular (both eyes) with depth perception. Thus there is some disagreement on how wide a FOV a photo must cover to be considered a panorama. I personally go with around 140° or more horizontally. A full sphere would be 360° horizontal and 180° vertical. These spherical panoramas are my favorite type of panorama to shoot.
That brings up an interesting dilemma however—what of vertical panoramas?! Do they also need a 140° vertical FOV to be considered a “panorama”? Or would a vertical FOV of 70° or more be enough to qualify since that is about what a human can see with visual acuity without moving the eye? Perhaps the field of view is too difficult a measurement to define a panorama and the aspect ratio is a better requirement.
Most DSLRs (cropped sensor and full frame sensor) shoot an aspect ratio of 3:2 (or 1.5:1). Most point and shoot cameras, four thirds cameras, compact cameras, etc., have an aspect ratio of 4:3 (or 1.33:1). High definition video, such as DVDs, Blu-ray, HDTV, is typically 16:9 (or 1.78:1). Movies theaters are usually either 1.85:1 or 2.39:1, which gets into panoramic aspect ratio, but not usually the same FOV obviously (unless it’s an OmniMax theatre). Common print sizes for panoramas are 2:1, 2.5:1, 3:1, 4:1, and 6:1 so I tend to crop my panoramas along those aspect ratios for easier printing, my favorite being 3:1. Many places will do custom printing of any aspect ratio though. Some projections like stereographic or “little planet” and a hemisphere of the full sky are 1:1 or square and still considered to be a panorama due to the extreme field of view. From my research, the overwhelming opinion is that to be a panorama an image must be at least a 2:1 ratio minimum. The majority of photographers, print competitions, and panoramic associations didn’t stipulate the field of view as a requirement to be considered a panorama.
Wide-angle photography can often be confused as panoramic photography. A 14mm rectilinear lens like my favorite Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 on a full frame 35mm sensor gives a horizontal FOV of 104°. You could crop the top and bottom off a single frame from that lens and call it a panorama, but a purist would still consider it to be wide-angle photography and not panoramic photography because the horizontal FOV is still less than human vision. A 16mm fisheye on the other hand has a horizontal FOV of 137° and a cropped 2:1 or wider aspect ratio could be considered a true panorama without stitching, although the subject would be distorted due to the projection.
Gigapixel and High-resolution Photography
The size or density of a photo has little to do with it being a panorama or not. A panorama does not have to be a very high resolution. Technically speaking, a gigapixel photograph is one that consists of more than 1 billion pixels, regardless of field of view or aspect ratio. A high-resolution stitched photograph in my opinion is one that is larger than your camera’s sensor by a significant amount. A high resolution or gigapixel image isn’t necessarily a panorama though since the aspect ratio might be less than 2:1 and the FOV might be less than human vision (regardless of aspect ratio), but most panoramic associations and print competitions do not seem to make this distinction. Ironically, many accept any high resolution or gigapixel stitched image as a panorama regardless of aspect ratio, which I find inconsistent. I tend to call anything higher than 50 megapixels, and not wider 2:1 aspect ratio, a high-resolution image and not a high-resolution panorama, but that’s my personal opinion. The same with gigapixel images.
In the photography world panoramas mean different things to different people, but generally it is accepted to be a bigger than normal view—whether that means aspect ratio, focal length, field of view, or size seems to be an individual interpretation. If this topic is of interest, I plan to write a series of articles on panoramas: their history, different types of projections and methods of displaying them, and also how to shoot and create them, covering both hardware and software from simple to complicated. Follow the New England Photography Guild blog or Facebook page for more!