TTL: “Through the Lens”
And that’s what this blog records. My experiences and observations of life through the lens, whether that be photography or filmmaking, along with some other posts including equipment reviews and such. Feedback is always welcome, and thanks so much for reading and stopping by.
After months of waiting for clear nights and the right phases, I can finally reveal to you the project that I mentioned a while ago. The Moon Phases. None of these are color corrected at all; that moon really was that red, and the atmosphere was still so thick the following morning that I could stare at the sun with no problem and see individual sunspots on its surface. I also discovered that it's quite hard to get a clear shot of a thin crescent moon. For one thing they're uncommon, and for another they hover so close to the horizon that there's always more distortion through the atmosphere than if it was straight overhead. Lastly, none of these shots are duplicated or rotated, so from the vantage point of Tennessee, what you see here is the section of the lunar cycle that we typically see, at least during the summer.
Now for some bigger news. For those of you observant enough to read subject lines, you'll notice that this is the 100th Weekly Photo. Yes indeed. One photo every week for the past 100 weeks. That's basically two years, and it's come a long way since the first one taken of myself on a nighttime street in Etowah, Tennessee. What started as a simple challenge has exceeded expectations and become one of the biggest positive influences ever on my photography, in both quality and consistency. It's been fun, stretching, and sometimes panicked, but totally worthwhile, and would be the first thing I recommend to anyone wanting to improve their photography.
As is always the case with time-lapse, I wasn’t entirely sure what was going to be the result, so without getting up I reached up to the playback button to see. Of course only one image at a time showed up instead of the 51 image composite you see here, but even so things looked good. By spinning the wheel on the back of the camera and scrolling through the photos one-by-one but very fast, I got an idea of how the final time-lapse video would turn out. That’s one of the many perks of shooting multiple exposures like this, you get two pieces of imagery for the work of one – a composite still photo like this one, and a time-lapse video, which in this case turned out to be four seconds long and a shot in my upcoming nature documentary test clip (more on that later).
It is a well known fact that there's next to nothing to do in Lewisburg, TN. However, the much more interesting city of Nashville is only an hour north, so my plan for all of last week was to find a good section of the city to go to then essentially wander around there on Saturday. I still plan on doing that one day soon, but luck/fate/divine intervention stepped in on Friday evening when I flipped on the radio and K-Love, the biggest Contemporary Christian Music station around, came on. In between songs, they were talking about the K-Love Fan Awards that had just started that evening and going through to Sunday, but what first caught my ear was that there was a charity 5K Run for Love that benefited the Hands and Feet Project Saturday morning. Why not go? It was in Nashville like I was already planning on, and even though I run a lot I've never done a 5K before, so on the spur of the moment I decided to go, got everything ready the night before, and left before 5:30am Saturday morning.
There was quite the line-up of performers. Matthew West, TobyMac, Tenth Avenue North, Plumb, Danny Gokey, I Am They, Lauren Daigle...and those are just some of the ones I saw in person. There were a bunch of others that were there on Sunday and not Saturday. Since there were so many on one day it wasn't like a full concert, but instead a stage that they all rotated out on at different times. Even so, it had the volume and feel of a concert bigger than what the available area would normally permit.
Not only was this an outright cool experience, it was also a major trial run for concert work with the Canon 100-400mm telephoto lens. It's not very fast (it maxes out at f/4.5) and I had to shoot at ISO 800 most of the time, but it did surprisingly well under the circumstances. The biggest problem was reducing blur since I couldn't use a super fast shutter speed and everything was shot handheld. Out of the 1,200+ shots taken I kept roughly 400, and out of that there were about 60 really good ones that will end up in a dedicated folder on the website later this week.
Long live spur of the moment.
To see the full gallery of photos from the event, click on one of the photos here.
Behold, the promised post on the topic of HDR photography. This is more of an introduction to the process and a synopsis of my take on it, and not an in-depth study of everything there is to know about it. Since I’ve merely seen far more HDR images than I’ve made myself, this is not an expert’s opinion on this often discussed subject, but rather that of a photographer living and working in a time when this genre is popular and often lauded. But can this type of photography hold up to such esteem? Perhaps, but first let’s have an overview of what it is on the technical side.
How is HDR Done?
No, the “HD” in “HDR” does NOT stand for “High Definition”. “HDR” is “High Dynamic Range”. And why do we care if dynamic range is high, low, or any particular measure? Because dynamic range is the ratio between the smallest and largest possible values of a changeable quantity, and the quantity that we care about in this case is light. The range goes from total black in the shadows or underexposed areas (the small quantity of light) all the way to the total white in the overexposed spots (the large quantity of light). Most scenes have one of these extremes or both, such as a bright, cloudy sky above a shaded, black road. In this example the contrast between the sky and road will be so severe that you can either expose the sky correctly and black out the road, or expose the road correctly and white out the sky. This might sound strange since the human eye can see most everything fairly evenly without losing detail in the blacks or whites, but cameras are many times less able to cope with a wide dynamic range than our eyes, so in this situation you’d have to pick one or the other – the sky or the road. This is where HDR comes in. Setting the camera on a tripod (or hand-held if you happen to be part statue), you could take a few shots overexposed for the road, a few underexposed for the sky, and a few exposed in between. Later these shots would be put into a program such as Photoshop or Photomatix and layered together one on top of another, thus meshing the exposures together to create an image closer to what the eye can see, with no blow-outs on either end of the range. The post-processing can be done so that the image looks like a totally realistic representation of the original scene, or fired-up into a very colorful and dramatic image.
How much should HDR be Done?
Before going any farther, I should point out that the main object of this viewpoint is not the photos that look totally natural with seemingly no post-editing even though they are indeed HDR. The HDR shots that I’m suggesting should be considered more closely are the ones that are obviously edited and are majorly more dramatic than reality.
Keeping that in mind, HDR photos are like candy. They’re colorful, dramatic, hyperrealistic…and should be taken in small quantities. True, the same could be said of some other photos, but these tend to be the most "done-up" as a whole. It’s an entirely valid from of photography and takes just as much skill as some other types of shooting, but post editing can play a larger role than the actual framing or telling a compelling story more often than in other genres.
The main issue is when HDR is put alongside regular photos. Even if the regular photos are perfectly fine, the HDR ones will grab more attention simply because humans like bright and colorful things. As a result, the unedited photos will tend to be overshadowed because they represent realism, and reality isn't as visually electrifying as HDR would lead us to believe. You could say that the danger is a "comparative danger". Comparing real photos with "candied" ones, and comparing reality with a "hyper reality".
These are some first impressions and a few things that I've been tossing around for a while. It's possible that my stance will shift to some degree as I make more HDR images myself, but that's for another time and another post. Now what about you? Any strong opinions on this topic? Type your agreements or disagreements in the comments.
Looking over the photos on this site, you may have caught on to the fact that landscapes, and sometimes simply wide shots in general, aren't my strong suite. For one thing, those kinds of shots require a large swath of photogenic mountains, ocean, prairie, fill in the blank; not something that's always accessible. A way to get around this problem is to back up from that wide view, focus a little closer, and see what small things there are all around you.
For this past Weekly Photo, that's exactly what I did. As it was getting to the end of the week and I still hadn't taken a photo (nor had any idea what to photograph), it became clear that a stroll through the woods around my house was in order. Now, going out on a specific assignment, whether one given to you by someone else or yourself, is a lot of fun. It helps you to mentally create the shots you want and go get 'em. There's a lot to be said for randomly wandering around with a camera, totally unsure about what you'll end up with as well, as was the case with this walk. As compared to being on assignment for one particular thing, you have no idea what you may come across, so everything gets looked at with equal attention. Weather, animals, wide shots, plants, abstract. There's no telling what may make the best shot. This method also makes you totally rely on your eye since there's no one subject you're after, and because of this, it's a very good way to train the eye to see potential shots everywhere, even in the small things.
Due to the season and the accompanying bare trees, there weren't many wide shot options, so into macro mode I went. That's one of the beauties of tiny things: even when the entire area looks bland, just lay down on the ground and BOOM. You've entered the Macro Realm, full of shapes, patterns, monsters and surprises. But it's not always apparent. Sometimes you have to wait and let the denizens of this world show themselves to you. Walking along, I finally sat down at the base of a tree in a clear part of the forest floor covered in fallen leaves, and waited. But this isn't the waiting-in-the-grocery-store-check-out-line sort of waiting where you wait until something happens regardless of whether or not you do anything. This is proactive. An "active patience". Look closely, searching in one spot for a while, and find scenes that would normally be walked right over without a second thought, such as these two photos (neither of which are Weekly Photos) taken during the walk.
Regardless of what you do, whether it be landscapes, macro, assignments, or a brief, wandering walk about the woods, there are things all around that are worth your time and attention. So slow down. Don't just look, but see.
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