Monday, November 23, 2009

See the Flames

Friday night there was a "hot air balloon glow" event on the mall at the University of Arizona to benefit the Tucson Community Food Bank. I brought in my tripod and an extra lens to photograph the event although I ended up not using the tripod and I only used my 50mm lens. The things I found the most interesting at the event were the people I met there and the fire!

I've always enjoyed fire, bonfires, campfires, etc. as long as people and property aren't threatened. When we were young, my brother and I made gunpowder from scratch and used it to make fireworks. They weren't very good but we had great fun making a mess and a lot of smoke.

Fire, because it's in constant motion and is often much brighter than its environment, poses an interesting photographic challenge. Fast shutter speeds allow you to capture details of the fire you wouldn't see with the naked eye. The photograph below, of the flame used to start filling a hot air balloon, was taken at 1/4000th of a second. The speed of the shutter "freezes" the flame, showing all the intricate shapes as well as the blue and orange parts.

Click on the image to see a larger version. In the original, 21 megapixel, version there is an amazing amount of flame detail. I'll post a tightly cropped version of this flame soon on my web site. The image was shot with a Canon 5D mk II and a Sigma 50mm f/1.4 lens at f/2.8 and ISO 3200.

A slower shutter speed, on the other hand, allows the fire to blur a bit and look more liquid. The next shot was made later in the evening when most of the daylight was gone so my exposure times were longer because I was still depending on my automatic exposure which was set to center-weighted. The darker surroundings meant the exposure control slowed the shutter, thus over-exposing the fire, smearing it out, but giving some detail to the background.

Same camera and lens, still at f/2.8 and ISO 3200 but now the shutter speed was 1/60th of a second.

This fire, of course, was what made the balloons glow. Some of the balloons (there were seven balloons in all) were made of dark fabrics and didn't glow very brightly even when it was dark. But a few were made of lighter, more translucent fabric and glowed like lanterns when the the flame was on. Unfortunately, the best glowing balloon, a yellow one with a saguaro on the side, had to shut down early because the wind was sufficient to make it unstable and they didn't have enough people/weight to control it.  They had to put it away before it was really dark. The second best balloon for glowing and seeing the fire is shown below. This was late enough that the sky was almost black and my center weighted metering on the camera saw the frame filled with bright balloon and gave me a shutter speed of 1/800th of a second, freezing the fire inside the balloon pretty well.

Same camera, lens aperture, ISO, etc. as before.

Thanks to Guy McArthur for alerting me to this photographic opportunity. I'll have to go to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta next year and photograph some more fire!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Feel the Cold

I live in Tucson Arizona and I'm a heat wimp! I suffer in the hot, moist weather we get during our "monsoon" in July and August, and I think it is too hot from about May to late October. Winters are "nice" here but I miss snow even though I've not spent many years living with snow.

I was up in the White mountains of Arizona last weekend, on my way back from photographing in Petrified Forest National Park. I got up early and headed up hill from Springerville AZ, on route 260 to where the road runs along level at about 9100 feet and it was cold. There was a bit of snow the day before and there were dull gray clouds hanging low enough to enshroud the tops of the small hills in the area. The temperature was about 10F and the wind was blowing with gusts up to 25 mph.

I had planned to photograph the light sprinkling of snow in the morning light, with the little sparklies you see when the sun is at the right angle. I've always enjoyed shots like that. But no, that wasn't the world mother nature spread before me, she was showing me what cold is like. And I was enjoying it.

I've photographed this line of aspens at the edge of an open field of grass in the summer when the leaves are green and they blend in with the background pines. I've photographed them when they are brilliant with the golden leaves of fall. I've even photographed them when there was much more snow on the ground, but the sun was shining. This image is all about the cold.

I often see photographs of cactus taken around Tucson, particularly the saguaros and I like a lot of those images but I often can't really tell if the weather was cold or hot when the photo was taken unless, of course, there is snow on the cactus. And even then, it might well be above freezing when the image was made. Communicating a sense of the environment is an interesting puzzle to solve when photographing. Some subjects really tell you about the environment, particularly images with ice and snow in them. Blue is often the color of cold, but red can be autumn leaves and other non-hot things.

When I was looking at the color balance in these two photographs, I decreased the amount of blue in the images and I noticed that, when I made the snow nice and white, they didn't look as cold. I put a little blue back in but not as much as I saw in the raw files as they came up in lightroom. As ever, click on the images to see a larger version.

Ahhh, photos to look at when it's 110F in Tucson in July!

Camera data:
photo 1: Canon 5D mk II, Canon 85mm F/1.8, 1/5 second at f/11, ISO 400
photo 2: Canon 5D mk II, Canon 85mm F/1.8, 1/25 second at f/16, ISO 400

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Petrified Logs, Jasper Forest, Petrified Forest National Park

I've only been to Petrified Forest NP once before to take photographs. I'd been there a couple of times when I was much younger and found it to be a boring place, no huge mountains or deep canyons or underground caves! Now I wonder around and am amazed by both the landscape and the beautiful petrified logs that can be found weathering out of the soil, this is a strange place!

Today was windy and cold and mostly cloudy.  When I thought about photographing rocks it made me think of photographing flowers because they can be similar photographically. I want to capture the colors and avoid harsh shadows so cloudy days and sometimes shade are good for flowers and I think the same can be said for colorful rocks.

I hadn't stopped at the "Jasper Forest" last time I was photographing here. Now I think it is the best place because of the landscape and the beauty of some of the logs.  These logs are short, not nearly as long as the ones at places like "Long Logs Trail" near the south entrance. However, I find the colorful cross-sections more interesting than the shear mass of the really big logs.

I still have a lot of post processing to do but here is one image. Taken with a Canon 5D mkII and a 17-40 f/4.0 lens.  (I would have put a 17mm tilt-shift lens to good use today if I had one.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Day of the Dead Procession

I went to the "Dia de los Muertos" procession Sunday night in downtown Tucson.  This is a time for family and friends to pray for family members who have died.  The procession in Tucson is anything but solemn, most of the people seemed to be having fun.  I was amazed by the size of the procession, the number of spectators lining the streets, and the free outdoor performance that happened at the end of the procession.  Photographing without a flash was a challenge, I was shooting with a Canon 5D mk II and a Canon 85mm f/1.8 lens.  I had a monopod attached to the camera but because of the crowds, I often had to lift this off the ground to get above the heads of some of the other onlookers. Of course, the subjects of my photographs were in constant motion as well so I felt I needed a shutter speed of at least  1/100 second.  To reach this goal, I shot in an area where there were some street lights (low pressure sodium, a color balance problem), shot at ISO 3200, and kept the aperture open to f/2.2.  The contrast between the various masks and other constructions against the night sky was another difficulty.

I ended up with about 50 useful photos, out of a few hundred, and a couple of pretty good HD videos.  Many of the images I got were blurred for one reason or another, mostly camera or subject motion.  I probably should have shot at ISO 6400 or higher but then the quality of the images begins to be compromised.

A lot of the people in the procession had simply painted their faces and added black shadows around their eyes, nose, and mouth to give a skull-like impression but there were quite a few that had obviously spent quite a lot of time putting together costumes and display pieces for the event.  I'll post more photographs later but I'll add a couple to this blog post.  The first image is of a skull mask that was raised above the procession on a pole.  I like the design of the mask and the painting on it.  The small skulls radiating from the mask had lights inside them and the "candles" in the eyes of the mask where illuminated.

For the second image, I wanted to show something unusual.  A lot of what I saw consisted of skulls of various kinds, black and white, some using face paint and others made from paper mache.  The sun face/skull pictured here struck me as out of the ordinary in an already unusual and creative landscape.  Perhaps, just because of the color, I'm not sure, but I liked it.  As ever, click on images to see larger versions.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Photographing at work

This last week, I was asked to photograph an event at my place of employment and to take a group photo of some of my co-workers.  I've been showing my photography around at work for a couple of years and have had friends ask me to photograph their grandkids, which I've done gladly because I love to photograph children, but I hadn't been asked to take photos that will be used in annual reports and web pages for the laboratory.  Today, another friend of mine told me I really should go photograph at the "Dia de los Muertos" procession tomorrow night. People, at least locally, are beginning to think of me as a photographer, I like the feeling.

The event I photographed was a public outreach event from the Lunar and Planetary Lab to a fifth grade class from an elementary school.  The children (about 12) got a chance to examine a collection of meteorites, make their own comets using dry ice, water, soil, and a collection of other ingredients similar to those found in real comets, and make small impact craters in tubs of flour layered with other colored powders.  These were smart kids who were very engaged in the process, listened well to instruction, expressed themselves clearly, and had a lot of fun in the process (what kid doesn't have fun with dry ice?). The photo below shows two girls with a ziplock bag full of comet ingredients, the white cloud above the bag is condensing CO2 and water vapor escaping from the bag.

Adam Showman, one of the professors here at the lab, wanted a photograph of him and his graduate student group.  This was also fun to do, we tried a variety of locations and shot about 15 photographs indoors, outdoors in the shade, and outdoors in the sun.  The photograph below was, I think, the most successful of the group because it captures a little of the personalities of the people in the photograph, and the background indicates that the subjects are involved with planets (although a background with Jupiter in it would have been more appropriate to the work they do, the 3D poster of Mercury works well I think.

Most of these shots were indoor shots without flash.  For those of you interested in camera details, both shots here were made with a Canon 5D mk II and a Canon 85mm f/1.8 lens.  The first shot was made at f/2.8 at 1/125 second and ISO 800, the second was made at f/2.8 at 1/160 second and ISO 1600.  Click to images to see larger versions.