Thursday, November 25, 2010

Sandhills cranes, Photographers, and Wildlife Refuges

I was in Socorro for a couple of days this week, on my way to visit family in Grants, NM. This time of year is good for seeing some of the migratory birds that winter at two wildlife refuges in the area. The larger of the two wildlife areas, Bosque del Apache, is an excellent place to see these birds and is much larger than the Sevilleta NWR at least as far as tour roads go, and Bosque has more water which is nice for reflections and morning flyouts. However, Bosque has become very popular with photographers and this time of year any place in the refuge where birds are accessibly close to the road is very busy with parked cars and lines of photographers. Some pro photographers even teach workshops at Bosque. On the other hand the small area available at Sevelleta isn't nearly as popular.

"A Siege of Cranes" Sevilleta NWR, NM
The photograph above was taken Tuesday afternoon/evening at Sevelleta.  I went into the refuge area and found myself the only one there, I drove down the road and found a large group of sandhill cranes in a field, across the road, and into the next field.  I estimated there were two or three hundred cranes in the group and they seemed to be relaxed because nobody was around.  I parked the car a distance away and approached he group slowly with my camera and telephoto lens handheld.  As I got close they began to get more nervous and began moving to a more distant field in small groups. At one point, a fairly large group took to the air and I shot this image as the cranes flew in the late evening light.

A group of sandhill cranes flies with a sunset backdrop
I went thrice to Bosque and once to Sevilleta and my best results came from the visit to Sevilleta because the access to the birds and the lack of crowds allowed for a more relaxed environment for both myself and the animals.  Fortunately, there was a very nice sunset the evening I was at Sevilleta, so that helped!

I have, generally, seen some different animals at the two refuges.  At Sevilleta, I've taken some very nice photos of American kestrel and at Bosque I've seen more hawks of various breeds so this might be an important consideration for the photographer interested in certain subjects.  I've also seen more deer at Bosque and took the photo below on the second morning I was there.

Mule deer, early morning, Bosque del Apache NWR
As ever, click on a photo to see a larger version.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Frost and Intermediate Landscapes

I just finished going through some photographs I took last weekend.  I drove up to northern Arizona to the Navajo reservation and then to a high part of the White Mountains.  I found snow in the Lukachukai Mountains and enjoyed this little taste of winter.  I've posted 26 of the photographs here.

Driving along a road near Chinle, Arizona, early in the morning, I noticed the sun sparkling off the frost on the dead flowers along the road and stopped to explore and photograph.  Some of the very small, frosty flowers were really pretty close up so I spent some time with my 300mm lens exploring.

This experience sensitized me to the possibility of photographing frost.  The following morning found me following a trail that leads east from Hannigan Meadow, AZ where I found a lot of heavy frost on some of the grasses in the meadows.  I was struck by the size and patters of the frost and spent some time photographing there.

Canon 5D mk II, Canon 300mm f/4, Canon 1.4x converter

Click on the images to see larger versions.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Logo work, social networking thoughts.

I've been reading a book called "The Whuffie Factor" by Tara Hunt which is all about marketing your business using social media.   She also talks a lot about business identity, logos, web sites, etc.  I've been thinking about these things lately too.  More than a year ago, I designed a logo for myself and posted to this blog about it.  More recently I've decided that that old logo is a bit complicated and I needed a simpler logo.  One idea I've had for a replacement appears in the current header of this blog, the LYTLEDRIVE text in green and orange with "photography from the heart" below it.  I've shown this to a few friends and most didn't like it much so I'm still searching for a logo.  I want to use the "Lytle Drive" idea because I've always liked it and plan to use it for my company name. Here is the logo without a byline:

The byline is something else, and I've been thinking about what it is that I'm offering folks, that is, what product do I make.  Photography, yes, but there are many forms of photography and I only do a few, landscapes, macro, people (mostly children).  I don't so much of the gritty street photography, or document disadvantaged people, etc.  Usually, I'm trying to make beautiful, aesthetically pleasing images to share, photos that I enjoy looking at myself.  So, I've changed my byline to "Finding the Beauty" which can mean finding the beauty in nature or finding the beauty in people, etc.  Here is the logo with the byline:

Generally I'm using ideas from a number of other logos I've looked at.  I suppose I should pay a professional logo designer to design me a logo, but I rather enjoy playing with ideas myself.  The graphic I'm using is available for free download at this link.  I've modified it a bit to work with my design.

Of course the colors of the text and graphic will have to vary in some instances, depending on how it is used, but I think this is a pleasant and simple logo and I'll use it for now.  I plan to get some business cards printed using a few of my images on one side of the card and my logo and other info on the back.  I'll order the cards from Moo, they have some creative products available, including their MiniCards.  I can carry around a mini-portfolio on a small set of high quality business cards!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Tucson All Souls Procession and ISO 6400

I went to the All Souls Procession in downtown Tucson on Sunday to experience the fun and make some photographs.  This event seems to be bigger every year (now in its 21st year) and downtown was humming with activity.  The event started at 6 PM and, earlier in the day, I thought I'd find a flash to mount on my camera so I could get better images in the low light (and with better color balance under the sodium lights). Calls to a couple camera stores didn't yield any luck finding a Canon 580EX II which I had decided to buy, so I ordered the flash on Amazon and went flashless to the procession.  I was using my 135mm f/2 lens on the 5D mk II so, as I had done at the fire dance the night before, I used shutter priority with the shutter speed set to 1/200 sec.  I looked for a place that wasn't directly under the sodium lights and found a place near some fluorescent street lamps, not the best, and darker than last year, but at least I wouldn't drown in low pressure sodium light which I find hard to correct for even shooting raw files.

Blue eyes and the veil and hat make a great look!
With that shutter speed and wide open at f/2, I found I needed to set the ISO to 6400 to get reasonable exposures.  Wow, I haven't really used this setting much so I was concerned about the amount of noise that I'd see in the resulting images.  I did get a fair amount of both luminosity noise and color noise but the corrections for these in Adobe Lightroom are quite good and I was able to clean up the noise to a level that is satisfactory.  Next year I'll have a flash and will try that option, but I'm fairly happy with the results from this year.

There was a lot of face paint but I really liked some of the paper machete.
I didn't stay for the final show at the end of the event.  This means I missed a lot of fire, but, well, I don't like crowds much and I wanted to watch Masterpiece on PBS (Sherlock Holmes).  I guess I'm just not a enough of a party person :-)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Fire Dance! Tucson Celtic Festival

Photographing without a flash outside at night is always interesting.  I wrnt the the Celtic festival here in Tucson to see what it was about, I hadn't been before.  I got there late, about 6 PM, so I knew I'd be shooting in low light situations, I brought a fast lens.  At first I though I'd bring my 70-200 f/4L lens because it has very good image stabilization but then I thought I'd probably be shooting people performing so the image stabilization wouldn't help with moving subjects.  Then I thought I'd take the 85mm f/1.8 which is a nice fast and sharp lens, one of my favorites.  But, shooting performances means that I want to be able to reach into the scene and capture details of people's faces so I needed a longer lens.  Also, I wanted to use the 5D mk II because I know I can shoot it at ISO 1600 with good results.  I have a 40D too but it gets noisy at  ISO 1600.

Given these considerations, I took my Canon 5D mk II with my 135mm f/2L lens.  A problem with the 135mm lens is that it has no image stabilization and is long enough to require a fast shutter speed.  However, it seemed like the best choice in this case so I needed a strategy to keep the shutter speed fast enough to get sharp photos in low light conditions.  I decided to put the camera into shutter priority mode with the shutter speed set to 1/200 second and hope for the best.  I could have tried a slightly slower shutter but experience tells me that, for me, I need a 200th.

When I got to the event the place was flooded with light from a huge lighting system used for the horse races at Rillito park, I took a couple of photos, at f/2 and they looked fine.  When I discovered they were having a "Fire Dance" at 7 PM  I looked forward to it.  I figured that I could probably get some photos if the fire was bright enough.  What I didn't know was that they would turn off the bright lights for the fire dance.  I'm certainly glad these lights were turned off because it make the fire dance much more fantastic than it would have been with them on.  However, I didn't know how well my camera setup would handle the situation.  Well, it worked out fairly well.  Here is a photograph of one of the dancers blowing fire.  This was so bright that the camera stopped the aperture down to f/7.1 giving me more depth of field than most of the other images.

A dancer blowing fire,  1/200, f/7.1, ISO 1600
I tried to get photographs where the fire the dancer was handling was shining light on their face.  This worked out fairly well in most cases.  There were examples, however, where the dancer was facing away from me and I got a silhouette.  I shot about 250 frames, of which, I quite like about 18 of them.  This small percentage can be ascribed to a number of factors.  The camera focus sometimes got confused (I was using the center focus point and had the autofocus set to track focus).  Also, when photographing dancers, it is hard to predict their movements and I get it wrong frequently and get photos of their backs, etc.  I'll post a couple more examples from the shoot below.

A dancer swing chains of fire, I liked the silhouette. 1/200, f/2, ISO 1600 
Dancing with fiery hoops. 1/200, f/2, ISO 1600

Friday, November 5, 2010

Style of Presentation on Website

I'm thinking about the design of my website, as I mentioned in my last blog post.  The way a photograph is presented to the viewer is important and I want to do that in a way that is both pleasing and simple.  I put a few photographs into a simple flash based web page a couple of days ago and I liked the presentation well enough to consider using some of the style from that lightroom template for my presentation on my web site.  I've also used the "print" module in lightroom and I like the "fine art mat" style of printing photographs which has a lot of similarities to the web page linked above.  I did a mockup in photoshop of the way I might like to have one of my photographs presented on a web page.

Example photograph presentation

So, I've embedded the photograph into a white rectangle which represents the paper it would be printed on, then I added a caption and signature, and finally floated the result above a grey rectangle using a drop shadow and a two pixel stroke around the white rectangle to give it substance.  I'd like to have the background of the web page be the gray and have the white frame and text added automatically by the web site for each photograph.  If there are thumbnails on the page, I wouldn't have them framed, just the expanded photo being viewed.  I'll have to see if there is a way to do this with a template or write html5 and css to do this.  Of course, my blogging software adds yet another frame in this case, try to ignore that :-).

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Time to update my website: Beginnings

About two years ago I bought the domain at, bought web hosting, and put up my first website that wasn't tied to my job (I write software at the University or Arizona).  I take a lot of photographs and I like to share them on the web for others to see.  Since then, I've been using JAlbum ( to construct galleries of photographs.  This has worked ok but I've never been happy with the look of the website and have been itching to update it (I updated the look of this blog recently, do you like it?).

The front page of my current web site.
So, I've begun looking at the possibilities for a better looking and better functioning web site.  The first thing I've done is look at a lot of other photography websites.  I find that a large fraction of these sites use Adobe Flash to do animations, zoom in/out, and move things around on the screen.  I also find that many of them don't work on my iPad or iPhone because those mobile devices don't support Flash.

Not a nice result when you go to a web site.
So, although Flash is flashy, it won't work on some important mobile devices.  Also, I find that some of the flash sites are slow for whatever reason, and it takes a while to see the first photograph.  So, I don't think I want to use flash.  Another thing I've noticed is that a lot of photographic web sites are similar with sections for "about me", "galleries", "contact", "blog", etc. and the "galleries" link often takes me to a page with more links like: "people", "places", "mood", "landscapes", "black & white", etc.  So I started looking around and found that there are quite a few website "templates" available, some free, some you have to pay for.  I suspect quite a few people use these templates and that the templates are often copies of other templates, etc.  So, I'm going to try to avoid using templates if possible.  From this analysis, it seems that I should use html (perhaps version 5, although older browsers won't support it) and I'll need to try to write the website myself.  Dang, I've written some web sites with html-4 and css but not many, this will be a lot of work.

There are some html5 plugins for Adobe Lightroom that look interesting.  For example: HTML5/CSS Photo Portfolio and I may use something like that as a fallback if I can't write my own or it is taking too long.  Another possibility is "The Turning Gate" which makes a product called "TTG Stage CE" which will translate flash content, for example galleries made with Adobe Lightroom's web module, into something viewable on mobile devices.

Choices, choices, and a lot to do, and a lot to learn.  Fortunately, I enjoy this stuff.  :-)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The eyes have it

Photographing people can be a real joy and at the same time one of the most difficult things to do. I enjoy the people pictures I take that capture something about the individual being photographed. Personalities can be captured at times with a depth that surprises me. Perhaps it is a moment frozen in time when a particular bit of expression shines through a normally impassive facade. Other times I'm photographing people, particularly children, who are amazingly expressive and their emotions are changing from moment to moment. This really shows on their face an in their eyes, and my job is to capture that expression.

Last weekend I went out looking for pictures about halloween in small towns. I wasn't sure what I was looking for but I followed a route east from Tucson towards New Mexico and I ended up spending the night in Silver City, NM with a stop in Wilcox, AZ along the way.

When I got to Wilcox, I looked for houses with unusual decorations, in fact, it was a windy day and I looked for the effect of the wind on hanging skeletons and giant plastic pumpkins. Not finding much I went down to the old part of town, along the railroad tracks where there are a few stores and restaurants. I was surprised to see the main street closed off and a number of people dressed in 1880s old west style clothing so I asked one of them when the shootout was going to happen. To my surprise, the guy said 2 o'clock. I got to talking to some of the actors, they were interested in me because I had my camera, and ended up shooting some informal portraits of some of the group before the actual shootout began. The person leading the event asked me if I would take some photographs of the action during the play and I agreed, for me, this is fun.

Marshall Marshal Bo (and shotgun)
After getting various phone numbers and e-mail addresses from the folks who were interested in photos I packed up and headed for Silver City, NM. I had read in the online New Mexico calendar of events that there was an event planned in Silver to benefit the restoration of the old Silco theater downtown. I lived in Silver City from 1962 to 1966 and I didn't remember the Silco, when I was there the Gila theater was open downtown and that was it. When I arrived, Bullard street downtown was closed off for a block surrounding the Silco and they were having a vintage car show in the street. I started asking folks to pose with their cars because I like these sort of portraits of people with something they are proud of. I had to hunt around to match owners to cars, everyone was milling around and owners were not standing by their cars. The guy in the photo below was very nice to me, he let me photograph him and then he went around an hunted up other owners so I could photograph them too.

A very nice guy with his old truck, I don't remember his name.

I got to talking with the guy in charge of the restoration effort on the Silco theater and he gave me a tour of the place, even taking me into the basement to show me how a flat floor had been installed in the 1960s when the building was used as a furniture store. Under this flat floor, still remains the sloped theater floor and even a bunch of the old theater folding chairs are still down there waiting to be revived when the flat floor is removed. He ended up asking me to send him photos from the event and I was happy to oblige since I think the Silco restoration is a great project for downtown Silver City.

And, just because I'm talking about photographing people, and because I have a friend with a two year old daughter with personality plus, I'll include a photo, taken recently, of Cecilia Emily. I've been photographing her since a few days after she was born. Truly, the eyes have it.

Cecilia Emily Pasek

Friday, October 29, 2010

Focus, Group f/1.4 vs Group f/64

When I started trying my hand at travel photography, I was inspired by Ansel Adams and believed in the "Group f/64" philosophy of "everything in sharp focus". For some subjects, I still think this is the best choice but since I started doing some portraits (of people), I've fallen in love with the shallow depth of field of large aperture prime lenses. When the subject of a photograph is a person's face, background clutter can be a distraction and a shallow depth of field allows the eye to be drawn to the face, particularly the eyes of the subject which I usually want to be in sharp focus.

Esther (shot at f/2.0)

Lately, I've been trying this shallow depth of field more and more in other situations, for portraits of things and even landscapes. Sometimes I wonder, how much of an image needs to be in focus for the photograph to convey the story I have in mind?  For example, the following photograph, looking through the spokes of an old wagon on a ranch in southern Arizona, has very little in focus. There is just one wagon wheel spoke in focus, and only part of that. Still, I like the feeling of the image, the out of focus ranch house still tells the story without really needing details. I'll plan to explore this style more in the next weeks.

Looking through a wagon wheel at the ranch house, Empire Ranch, AZ. (shot at f1.6)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

iPhone 4 Camera, surprisingly good, needs raw.

I'm guessing there is no application that can be written for the iPhone that will allow me to capture the raw file from the little 5 megapixel camera.  Too bad!  I find the tiny camera to be a gem, with a sharp lens that focuses quite close to the camera. (See photo below)

A "Horselubber" grasshopper eating one of its own kind on an asphalt road.  I just set my iPhone on the road next to it and used an application with a 3 second timer to fire the shutter.

As many have said, sometimes the best camera is the one you have with you.  When I bought my iPhone 4, I was looking at the latest model iPod touch but the specifications for the camera on the touch were so much worse than the iPhone, I decided to ditch my old cell phone and switch to the iPhone just to get the better camera.  I find the back illuminated CMOS sensor on this camera performs well, giving reasonable shutter speeds in dim light (in spite of the auto ISO adjustment) and sharp JPEG files with good pixel to pixel resolution.  Of course I'd like more control over the shutter speed and ISO settings but these can be worked around, sort of, by carefully picking the part of the image the meter sees.

A sculpture found at La Entrada and River Road in Tucson.  I picked a bright point in  the center of the image for both focus and metering, keeping the sky dark and not blowing out the highlights.  I made the sky darker when I converted to black and white.

I have found there are various useful applications for the iPhone camera.  One that I like is "Camera Plus" which has a timer setting that delays the shutter for a few seconds after I touch the screen to take a photo.  This allows me to better use the "Blur" tripod and mount I bought for the phone from Mobile Mechatronics Inc. (  The "Camera" app that comes with the phone provides a setting for in-camera High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography which sets the camera to take 3 photos at varying exposures and merges the three into a final image that covers a wider range of exposures than a single photo could.  Of course, the camera and subject must stay fairly still for this to work.

On the left is the "normal" image taken with the iPhone camera, on the right is the HDR version of the same image taken at the same time.  Notice the blown highlights and darker shadows in the first image.

The fixed aperture of f/2.8 on this camera means the depth of field is always the same. I find this compromise to be acceptable for the small size of the camera.  Given the tiny sensor size and the 3.85mm focal length of the lens the depth of field is quite deep even for macro shots.

Vines on a slope.  Even a couple of feet away from the camera the depth of field is a couple of feet.  For closest focusing distance, it is only an inch or two (see first image in this post).

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Serendipity is Relative

Last Saturday, I had intended to get out in the field for some photography, but ended up cleaning the house most of the day (including shampooing carpet, rearranging furniture, etc. etc.).  So, Sunday morning I had some psychological withdrawal symptoms, got up early and headed down state route 83 toward Sonoita.  I had intended to do some more shooting of flowers (gone to seed) along the road, and I did some of that, but then I decided to drive in to the Empire Ranch because I hadn't been there for a few years.

The Empire Ranch is an old ranch preserve in the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area.  I've visited the area for 20 years, off an on, to photograph the old buildings and equipment as well as the trees and flora along the nearby creek.  When I arrived, I saw a number of old stagecoaches and other horse-drawn vehicles scattered around the property as well as some tents, stacks of folding chairs and other event paraphernalia.  There were a couple of guys loading 19th century buggies onto a trailer pulled by a pickup truck and I spoke to them, commenting on the coaches and buggies.  They told me that there had been an "open house" at the ranch the previous day and they were busy packing up the various equipment that had been brought in for the event.

A "Mud Wagon" was used for muddy or rough conditions, canvas was used on the top and sides to reduce weight. I converted this image to black an white for the "old timey" effect and because the wheels were too, too  yellow.

So, I photographed coaches and buggies.  These vehicles are used in the Tucson Rodeo Parade every year and, serendipitously, I had a chance to photograph them in their "natural environment".  Generally, when I see things like this, they are in a museum or in a parade or somewhere surrounded by modern "stuff".  Of course, another person, not interested in photographing old wagons, wouldn't necessarily be as pleased as I was to happen upon this circumstance, hence the word "relative" in the title of this post.

The other thing that was nice, after the guys left in their truck, there was absolutely nobody else around, I didn't hear or see a soul except for a couple of cars driving down a dirt road that passes by the property.  I also consider this part of the serendipity, with a lot of people around, I often find it hard to get a shot without onlookers, which are the shots I enjoy most.  So, getting up early and exploring old haunts payed off on this day for me.

An old wagon shows the size the apparent fragility of the wheels used, I liked the circle within circle effect apparent from this perspective and I used a shallow depth of field to emphasize the foreground wheel.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Bisbee Philosophy

Photographing in Bisbee, AZ yesterday, I came upon this, sort of, shrine next to the dog play area up Brewery Gulch.

Sort of a collection of philosophy, artwork, and ruin.  (click on image to see full size).