Saturday, January 14, 2012

Just beneath the waves...

On my trip up north my mom and I stumbled upon something very cool - a catwalk underneath the Avila Beach Pier! We happened to find this enchanting (and somewhat spooky) location at low tide where the waves would ebbe to show a world just below the usual waterline.

We didn't have the right equipment with us to capture the beauty that day but I was able to go back the next day, tripod in tow, and neutral density filter in hand.  The conditions weren't quite as good when I went back - the waves were bigger (causing the pier to shake a bit more) and it was a bright sunny day (which made for a more drastic contrast in light underneath the pier).

Even though it wasn't ideal I grabbed the opportunity to practice a skill that I've been longing to master - smoothing water using long shutter speeds.  I threw my camera in Manual, cranked my aperture as small as it would go (to minimize the light entering the camera and maximize my depth of field) and played with my shutter speed to find the right combination to maximize my detail in the highlights and shadows while being slow enough to smooth the water.

Here are my favorite shots:

ISO 100, 175mm, f/36, 20 sec

ISO 100, 115mm, f/36, 20 sec

ISO 100, 51mm, f/29, 20 sec

ISO 100, 24mm, f/22, 8 sec

Did you notice all of the starfish!? They were mesmerizing to me! I don't think I had ever seem them in their natural habitat before, only in aquariums.

What I learned: If I could go back and reshoot this I would choose a day that was overcast, and that the waves weren't quite as big.  (Did I mention that there was a high surf advisory when I was UNDER the pier?)

With overcast skys I could dial back my aperture a bit to my lens' sweet spot, probably around f/16 and would have gotten sharper images.

Finally, I would take a bit more time to compose my shots.  I was admittedly a bit spooked being under the pier by myself with the surf surging just a few feet below me. As a result I wasn't able to fully concentrate on what I was shooting.

Overall, I'm really happy with my images. I'm really looking forward to practicing this technique again.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Making a Photograph

Several of the photography gurus that I follow stress the difference between taking a photograph and making a photograph.  What is the difference? Taking a photo is simply pointing and shooting, hoping for the best.  Making a photograph takes time - time to carefully choose a location, paying attention to light, composing the shot, and possibly spending time in post processing to make my artistic vision a reality.

The following photograph was made on a day trip with my mom up Highway 1 from San Luis Obispo to Cambria and back. The shoreline at Cambria was our first stop. I pulled out my tripod, borrowed my mom's neutral density filter and made my composition.  I wasn't done there, though.  This High Dynamic Range (HDR) image is a composite of five images. Pressing the shutter was just the first step of many.

Wedgewood Accessway - Cambria, CA
Here are the original RAW images:

Why did I need five images? My goal was to capture detail in both the highlights and shadows.  In this scene capturing that range required five images.  I was able to determine this while I was shooting by watching my histogram as I modified the shutter speed. In the darkest image I made sure that the histogram wasn't touching the right side of the graph.  In the brightest image I ensured that the histogram wasn't touching the left side of the graph.

Darkest image - histogram isn't touching the right side of the graph

Brightest image - histogram isn't touching the left side of the graph

The next step in making my photograph was to combine these five images into one using Photomatix Pro.  Again, my goal was to maintain detail in both the highlights and shadows, but now in a single, composite image.

Tone-mapped image from Photomatix Pro
Once I have the tone-mapped image I can start making my artistic vision take shape. I did a bit of cropping, and added a bit of contrast, and then for the final touches I took the image into Topaz Adjust to bring out detail and color.

The finished photograph
I MADE this photograph. It is my artistic interpretation. What do you think?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

2012 is well on its way!

It is January 12, 2012 and this is my first post of the year.  That wasn't part of my plan.  I had grand ideas about posting more regularly and making a few changes in how I'm running my photography business.  Those changes are still in the works but it seems life rarely goes as planned.

I was fortunate to spend three weeks with my family on the Central Coast of California for the holidays.  It was a roller coaster of a time but I'm so glad I was able to be there. I've been home a little less than a week, now, and with the post-holiday letdown my immune system tanked and I've been down the last few days with a nasty head cold.

Tonight, I'm finally feeling a bit more like myself and decided it was time to show you at least one of the images I made while I was up north.  Thats right, I did take a bit of time to go out shooting while I was up in San Luis Obispo County.

Harmony Bicycle Diptych
I made this image (or rather images) in Harmony, CA - population 18. It is a VERY small town with a few artists' studios that are definitely worth a look (there is a coffee mug in the pottery studio that I still kick myself for not buying). I came across this old bicycle along the side of a building with weeds growing up and around it. I love the details and textures.

Now that I'm feeling better I'll get around to posting a few more of my photographs from the trip. I promise.