Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Years Eve

Greetings from the backyard. I'm currently sitting outside, watching Henry play and smoking some chickens.

Of course a good backyard cook-out isn't complete without beer :-) I'm sipping on some Trippel from New Belgium Brewing Co. Good stuff!

And the chickens? Well, it's pretty simple: three whole birds (two with sliced and pickled jalepenos stuffed under the skins) with salt, pepper, and a lot of Mesquite smoke :-) We'll also have some pinto beans and potato salad later.

Hope you all have a fantastic and safe New Year's Eve!


While we were in Del Rio over the Christmas holiday, Henry and I went camping out at Lake Amistad one night. It was a daddy/son camping trip, our first real one since he and I camped in the backyard last year.

We passed a pretty good time. The weather wasn't ideal - the skies were gray and the temps were pretty chilly (low 40's, but the wind was blowing pretty good).

About 3am we both had enough of the cold (our tent was not blocking out the wind effectively, even with the rain fly on), and I put the air mattress in the back of our RAV4. We climbed inside and enjoyed a wind-less sleep the rest of the night.

Henry hunts for rocks to throw into the lake.

Henry and daddy kick back and enjoy a few cold ones (Capri Suns & Fat Tire)

Henry warms by the campfire and makes a good-night phone call to momma.

Many thanks to the kind rangers at the Amistad NRA headquarters. They were very helpful and friendly to us. They even gave Henry a Jr. Ranger badge, which he proudly wore. And thanks also to the camp host (at the San Pedro campground) and his lab (Montana). They were very kind as well and even checked up on us.

Post Christmas Decompression

I'm back from a nearly week-long trip to see my in-laws in Del Rio. We had a fantastic time. It was our first big outing since Michael was born, and the time away from home was much needed and beneficial.

I shot nearly 700 photos during the trip! :-) And nearly all of that was just family. I did manage to get just a little "serious" shooting in.

We ventured downtown on Christmas Eve after sunset to photograph the lights. My mother-in-law is getting into photography now and I thought she'd enjoy some night shooting. This shot is of the courthouse in Del Rio.

click for larger image

Hope you all had a great Christmas (or what ever holiday you celebrate this season)!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas from the Avery family! We wish you happy holidays and look forward to a great new year in 2009.

The Boys (Henry and Michael)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

High Lonesome Trees

I made two weekend trips to the High Lonesome Ranch in November. I shot in my usual ways, focusing on nature and whatever caught my interest as I walked about.

Oak tree hanging over a dry creekbed
click to enter gallery

Sometime during the second trip, I became consciously aware that I was shooting a lot of trees. I was definitely attracted to the amazing fall colors we've been having (it's been more colorful than in past years... for Texas). But I was also focused on the trees in general.

Mesquite tree at sunset
click to enter gallery

At the end of the month, when I finally sat down to take a hard look at what I had shot, I really didn't have too many shots of the fall colors. However, I did have a lot of tree photos - dead trees, silhouetted trees, Oak trees, Mesquite trees, etc.

Fall color in Texas!
click to enter gallery

Lately, when I've been out shooting, I've let myself wander a bit and have let go my forceful desires to "get the shot", i.e. I've tossed out my expectations and not let myself fear the onset of disappointment if I returned home with no good photos. It's easy to justify - it really doesn't matter what photos I take. I'm not shooting to get paid nor for any deadlines. I have no requirements.

I've been a bit of an anxious control freak my whole life, and the same applies to my photography. After letting go, it felt liberating not to have that self-induced pressure to make photos.

The end result is that my "take", i.e. my selection of keepers from the shoots, was just as numerous (if not more) than previous shoots when I applied my forceful, unrealistic photographic desires and wants. It's hard to let go. But it works.

Click to enter the gallery and see more photos from my November shooting:

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Night Sky - Long Exposures

So while I was busy making my 30 second shots with the 5D (see previous blog entry), I put the 40D to work :-)

Click for larger image.

Canon 40D, 17-40mm f/4L
40 minutes, f/5.6, 17mm, ISO 200 (and then pushed 1/3 stop in RAW processing)

40 minutes later (actually 80 due to the NR cycle), this magnificent spinning sky spun up on my LCD. Damn, I was happy. A little disappointed too. The dark skies that we have at the High Lonesome Ranch aren't that dark after all. There's light over the north horizon polluting the sky. I could just barely see it with my naked eye, but I'm surprized how brightly it showed up in these long exposures.

Here are two more:

Shots made with same settings as above.
Click for larger images.

The Night Sky - Test Shots Take 2

Over the Thanksgiving weekend I got another opportunity to shoot the night sky under clear and dark conditions. Again, I tried more of the same with my f/2.8 zoom. Look for Venus and Jupiter near the horizon on the left side of the frame:

Click for larger image.

Canon 5D, 24-70mm f/2.8L
30 sec., f/2.8, 24mm, ISO 1600 (and then pushed 1.3 stops in RAW processing)

This next shot was taken just inside a tree line. I took my first steps towards designing a real landscape/starscape shot. The break in the trees frames the "cloudy" band of the Milky Way. I love the look of leafless trees silhouetted against the starry sky. This is the sort of shot I ultimately want to produce, having components of the land with a sky full of bright stars.

Shot with same settings as above.
Click for larger image.

It's difficult to compose shots because of the darkness. Even an f/2.8 lens on a full frame camera does not transmit enough light to see and compose the scene through the viewfinder. Keep in mind this is under a moonless sky.

I also get frustrated because I have to alternate between using a flashlight to move around and manage gear and then getting my eyes to adjust to the dark to compose shots. I've more than once flashed my eyes while fumbling with gear thus having to sit there for a minute or two waiting for the light spots to go away :-)

I also borked up a few shots 'cause I had to flip on the flashlight during an exposure to check and see what was lurking in the dark. I'm not alone out there. Most noises turned out to be birds or raccoons. I definitely do not want to have a close encounter with a large boar in the pitch black.

Regarding composing the shots, I tried shining a flashlight on the trees while looking through the viewfinder, but that only helped to compose the near to mid-positioned landscape elements. Anything far away, and also the sky, was still dark. Plus it was a little difficult to hold the light and reposition the camera sitting on a ballhead. I need three hands.

Trial and error shots still work best. But at several minutes per shot (30 sec. exposure + 30 sec. noise reduction + time to evaluate the LCD and reposition the camera + time for eyes to adjust to the dark), it takes a while to make a few test shots to fine-tune the composition. I suppose I could shut off the long-exposure noise reduction and bump the ISO to 3200 and take 15 seconds shots, but that requires changing settings and diving into the custom menus, and that takes time too even in broad daylight.

Plus I was shooting in the cold, so operating the camera and managing gear with gloves on adds an extra level of frustration and difficulty.

On this last outing, I brought along my fast 50. I really wanted to see what the view was like through an f/1.4 lens, and it's a very nice, noticeable difference over an f/2.8 lens. Composing scenes is just possible through the viewfinder if your eyes adjust to the dark.

However, 50mm is a little too long for what I want to do, and the DOF at f/1.4 to f/2.0 apertures is too shallow to make the fore/mid-ground objects acceptably sharp. Anyway, I had some fun with it.

Here's a shot looking up at the sky only. I was blown away by how bright the photo was and how many more stars appeared as compared to my shots with the f/2.8 lens.

Click for larger image.

Canon 5D, 50mm f/1.4
15 sec., f/1.8, ISO 1600

Here's another with the 50. A little bit of reddish/purplish color showed up in the middle of the frame. I hope that's natural, and not some weird noise pattern/amp glow crud from the sensor.

Shot with same settings as above.
Click for larger image.