Friday, August 27, 2010

AR 25 - Status and Lessons

I've done 25 of these photo-walks in the past five months. It's been a valuable experience, and I've written down five things that I've learned.

If you're not familiar with this project, please read my first post that described the project's scope:

Earthworm and leaf:

click for larger image

1. How to See

This is subjective, but I feel that I'm learning how to see (as opposed to just "looking"). When I walk and look at things, I feel a deeper connection, i.e. a heightened sense of observation and detail awareness.

I wouldn't declare "I see now!" in an absolute sense, but I'm getting better at it. I just feel so much more aware of my surroundings.

What it all means is that it seems much easier for me to find interesting things to photograph (and sometimes, there seems to be too many things :-)

Vine detail:

click for larger image

2. The Value of Practice

One of the main purposes of this project was to keep my photographic skills maintained over time. It's worked.

I've done several "serious" photo-outings in the past five months, and I've noticed that my practice (the photo-walks) have made a difference. I've found it so much easier to get into "photo-mode" and enjoy photographing AND produce photos that I'm satisfied with.

The path:

click for larger image

3. Repetitive Subject Matter

Projects usually involve shooting the same subject matter repeatedly. The benefit is that as you become more familiar with things, you usually produce better and more meaningful photos.

I've done other photography projects and realize this benefit. However, these photo-walks have been in an area that I would describe as difficult (i.e. it gets very repetitive and somewhat boring).

What I've found is that despite the apparent difficulty, I always find new and interesting things to photograph. It's the same old scenes in the same old area, walk after walk, but it has not been boring. Instead of feeling like the subject matter has become repetitive, I've felt that each walk goes deeper and beyond the previous in terms of finding interesting things that grab my attention and that I want to photograph.

Water crossing:

click for larger image

4. When to Stop

Knowing when to stop and take a photograph has always been a difficult thing for me. Usually, I get into so much of a rush that I pass up interesting things.

During my walks, especially the earlier ones, I've forced myself to stop. Over time, this practice has helped me develop a sense and an "eye" for things that interest me and that I should stop to photograph.


click for larger image

5. Difficult Subject Matter

As I mentioned before, this area (the trail through the Addicks Reservoir), is filled with low, dense, cluttered woods and is a place that I think most folks would describe as fairly un-photogenic. The trees are small and thick, it's hot and humid, there are tons of mosquitoes (and snakes and spiders too), it's totally flat, and there are really no wide, open spaces providing expansive views. Nearly everyone who goes out there is just there to exercise and seems completely unaware of their surroundings.

I've lived in this area for over 10 years and have only recently given thought to doing "serious" photography in the reservoir. Now that I have, I can see the beauty and potential. It's every bit as good as any other natural area. It's different, for sure, but still as grand.

And that's probably the biggest benefit or rather realization. It's not really something that I've learned so much as something that I've come to appreciate as my mind has opened up to the possibilities.

At the end of each walk, I feel refreshed and a sense of having communicated and related to nature and the beauty in the natural world. It's about as good as being in a "grand, beautiful" landscape, like that found in our national parks and other such scenic locations. It's different, but awesome.

It shall continue...

Thursday, August 26, 2010

AR 24 - Spiders, Dragonflies, and Snakes

The humidity dropped down to near 30% yesterday and the walk was really nice. It's still hot, however.

I've walked another set of 3-days-in-a-row. I'm debating on whether or not to walk tonight. My knees are killing me!

click for larger image

Dragonfly. It's what's for dinner:

click for larger image

These were the first snakes I've seen in several months:

click for larger images


click for larger images

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

AR 23 - Hand of Man

My usual shooting style is focused on all-natural subjects. We all realize that human presence is found just about everywhere, and such "all-natural" photos are an abstraction from reality.

click for larger image

Some photographers embrace it and some avoid it. Some show the effects of man in a pleasant way and others don't.

click for larger image

I feel like I'm ignoring it sometimes, but then I have to fulfill my vision by photographing what attracts me.

This could turn into a very long discussion :-)

AR 22 - Alternatives & Planes

There is a small patch of woods along the trail that is usually very swampy. This spot is beautiful, but heavily cluttered with small trees. I've tried many times to photograph this area, but have yet to capture what I think is most beautiful.

I tried a motion blur in attempts to abstract two main things that I find attractive: the slender trunks of the trees and the green light from the canopy. I think I like it.

click for larger image

Some motion overhead caught my attention as I walked along the trail. It was a cicada caught in a banana spider's web.

click for larger image

As if on cue, a plane flew through the scene as I photographed it.

On the return, I got caught in a very heavy downpour. Fortunately I had taken along two little water resistant stuff-sacks to protect my phone and camera, but the rest of me went for a swim.

Friday, August 20, 2010

AR 21 - Moss, Spider, & Bee

For the first time in a very long while, I've managed to walk three days in a row. And my legs and joints feel it!

Yesterday's walk was a break from the usual direct sunlight and massive heat. Temperatures were a good 8 degrees cooler and cloud cover gave me shade the whole way. It was almost pleasant, although I won't be calling my walks full-blown pleasant until after the first few cold fronts later this year :-)

click for larger image

This scene (above) caused a lot of thought and emotion to surface. That's all I'll say about that ;-)

click for larger image

I came across a banana spider working hard to rebuild her web. It had just been hit by a small branch knocked out of the tree above.

The large, colorful banana spiders are the females. The smaller ones (not pictured here) are the males. And they're so much smaller that they look like intruders on their mate's webs. In effect, they are and typically get eaten after mating. Glad I'm not a spider.

click for larger image

Thursday, August 19, 2010

AR 20 - Equivalence Times Three

Continuing with the concept of equivalence...

click for larger image

I reacted to scenes that sparked a feeling or emotion not related to the literal scene itself and then attempted to photograph those scenes.

click for larger image

I won't say what I was thinking or feeling when I shot them. I think that ruins the meaning of it.

click for larger image

What I like about this concept is that it's completely open to the interpretations of the viewer. Maybe you will feel something similar or completely different. Maybe you will feel nothing at all.

More thought, and more work is needed, I feel. This is really interesting to me.

The Audio Learning Curve

Earlier this summer I bought an H2 Zoom digital audio recorder.

It's somewhat small (pocketable, if you have big pockets and don't mind a substantial bulge in the side of your pants). I bought a protective silicon jacket for it. It's not smooth and that makes it easy to grip and hold, but it's rubberiness makes it a pain to slide in and out of your pockets.

I've made several recordings of ambient sounds. Capturing sound with this device is fairly easy (i.e. it's an intuitive and simple device) but as with anything, there's a learning curve.

I'm far away from being a novice at sound recording, but here are some things I've learned so far:

- The H2 has sets of microphones, each set is suited for a particular application and the rear set captures a field at 120° - this is about right for what I've been recording.
- The Low/Med/High microphone gain switch is very important - "High" is necessary to get ambient noises such as birds and insects at a somewhat decent level. This switch is very easy to accidentally bump and change.
- The recording levels flash on-screen in real time. These need to be considered when attempting to get a recording at an acceptable sound level. It's a lot like looking at the histogram on a digital camera.
- The recorder is very sensitive to handling noise. My cleanest recordings have come from setting the thing down somewhere and not touching it while it records.
- It picks up everything, especially when it's in high sensitivity mode. Distant planes and vehicles plus any movement I make (footsteps, breathing, sniffling, etc.) get captured.

I've had fun with it and enjoy the results, and I'll keep on going up the learning curve, hopefully. And maybe I'll use it for recording my own thoughts on photography ;-)

(Hope that answers all Kent's questions :-) )

Canon G11 Likes and Dislikes

My primary tool on my "photo walks" in the Addicks Reservoir is a Canon G11. It's small, versatile, and relatively good amongst point-n-shoot type digital cameras.

But I'm about to throw the damn thing in a creek. I'm developing a dislike for it.

Dynamic Range

My primary complaint is dynamic range, or lack thereof. The camera does indeed have a good DR for a point-n-shoot, but it (like any other digital camera and also film) has limits to DR.

The resulting problem is that when shooting the G11 and highlights blow out, they're toast. There's little to no highlight recovery when processing the raw file. This is unlike a typical DSLR where you usually have SOME highlight recovery.

This problem is exacerbated by the camera's exposure metering always wanting to over expose. I don't think there's anything wrong with the meter, I just think it's a trend among camera manufacturers now to default to a brighter exposure because folks, in general, dislike a dark, underexposed image.

More often than not, I've got -1 to -2 exposure compensation dialed in to keep the highlights from blowing out. Even if they're just shy of being blown out, they still look bad. They're rough looking and "digital" in appearance in the photo.


Another issue with the G11 is the autofocus. It's "course" as compared to a typical DSLR, but the camera's generally huge DOF makes up for this coarseness.

The issue really is that it won't focus on small objects. This becomes problematic when shooting a small flower or insect or spider. A spider on a web, for example, is almost impossible to focus on using the autofocus. The AF only locks onto background objects (even with macro mode enabled).

The camera does have manual focus, but using it is very cumbersome and relies on the LCD screen, which isn't always easily viewable especially in broad daylight. It's fine for tripod use on a still subject, but using it hand-held on, for example, a spider sitting on its web and moving around in the breeze is really impossible.

Other Options

I have two other cameras (both DSLRs) that I'd consider taking with me on my walks, but they're much larger and heavier. I've actually done one walk with my 5DII and it was awkward. I could get used to carrying it, I'm sure, much like I got used to carrying the G11 (which was awkward at first too whereas previously I carried nothing with me on my walks).

Looking at the sensor performance of my digital cameras (from DxOMark), you could conclude that the G11 isn't all that bad particularly at base or low ISO settings.

This kind of goes off a tangent, but dynamic range test results like this are a load of bullshit. After my EXTENSIVE use of all three of these cameras in practical applications, I would never guess that the G11 rates like this as compared to the other two.

What I believe is going on with these tests is that they are a "laboratory test" of DR and do not represent "usable, practical" DR. I.e. these tests show what DR is theoretically possible when you squeeze every paltry, near-negligible data off the sensor. What they do NOT show is that data is crap, er... not photo-quality.

The G11's performance at the low and high end of its dynamic range is impressive considering "data", but it makes a poor looking photo.

The Good Stuff

I hate to complain and rant only, so here are the good points to the G11 and why I keep using it:

- relatively small considering the features
- relatively cheap considering the features
- the features: full manual control, IS, awesome LCD screen, big sensor (for a p-n-s), etc. (there's a bunch)
- great battery life
- fast performance (for a point-n-shoot)

I will keep using it, albeit within it's limitations. I just have to realize that it can't shoot every scene that I want to photograph. It's the same with any camera; every photo-imaging device has its limits.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

AR 19 - Equivalence, Deer, and Sound

It's still hot here, in case anyone's forgotten. Yesterday topped out about 98°F and around 50% humidity. Yuck.

click for larger image

I've been reading about Minor White and Equivalence (see this link for more info.). In the past, I've come across scenes that have stirred some old thought or feeling, and I have thought about trying to capture it in a photo. It's not a new concept of course, but it's new to me and neat to discover that it in photographic history. I don't know where I'm going with this, it's just interesting.

click for larger image

The banana spiders do this thing when it's really hot. They orient their bodies so that their long abdomens are pointed towards the sun. This minimizes the amount of surface area being directly lit and therefore helps to keep their bodies from heating up even more.

I've seen them just raise their abdomens, or in this case (see below) dangle from their webs. It's really creepy because it looks like the spider is dead and about to drop. I try not to walk directly underneath these guys :-)

click for larger image

I came across a buck just inside the treeline along the trail. He spooked and ran but then stopped to watch me. I managed a quick, bad photo. It's good enough to see that his antlers are still in velvet.

click for larger image

And, finally, continuing with the audio recording... I realized a big mistake that I'd made in my recent recordings. I'll do a separate post later to talk about it. For now, here are two clips taken on the walk:

- Birds and Distant Thunder (MP3 file, 0.2 MB)
- Birds and Cicadas (MP3 file, 0.3 MB)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Underwater Landscapes

In June I got a Canon underwater housing for my G11 for father's day. I played around with it some in the pool with the kids. It's an amazing tool considering the price. Housings for DSLRs cost on the order of 6 times more (at the very low end).

click to view larger

For years now, I've fantasized about underwater landscapes. I thought about doing typical landscape work (with a tripod and all) sub-surface.

This past weekend, I tried. I'll post more about this in the coming weeks, but I'll just say that it was way more difficult than I had imagined. And I have a new-found appreciation for anyone who has ever taken a camera underwater and tried to take quality photos.

AR 18 - Green

Continuing the catching-up:

click for larger image

This was really an "off" day for me. I wasn't into making pictures, and the ones I did take do not appeal to me.

click for larger image

I'm always impressed at the strength of the banana spider webs. The captured dragonfly I photographed the other day was an amazing sight, and this cicada dangling from a web was equally if not more impressive. Cicadas seem stout and heavy (relative to other insects) and I was surprised to see one caught.

New stuff is on the way. I just returned from a four night trip to the Sabinal River near Utopia, TX.

RMNP Gallery Finished

I wrapped up my online gallery from our trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. You can view it here.

click to view gallery

AR 17 - Moss and Berries

I'm behind on my AR postings. I made two walks in the previous two weeks, and I'm just now getting to post the photos.

click for larger image

My walking schedule is being disrupted by my mowing schedule at home. I can either walk or mow grass, but I can't do both on the same day. I suppose I should mow on the weekends.

click for larger image

There are a few large oaks with moss-covered trunks along the trail. I'm surprised that I haven't photographed them yet. The textures and colors are what have grabbed my interest.