Tag Archives: virginia

10 photos for 2015

How strange that this is the last Monday of 2015. I’ve done a lot in 2015. I moved 2000 miles and started a new life. There’s nothing like new digs to inspire photography and boy have I been inspired. Even after the standard culling, I have over 17,000 pictures from this year.

I’ve tried hard to improve my photography, revisiting basic lessons like composition and exposure and flash. I’ve taken photos that I wouldn’t have taken before–and I love them. I’ve committed to learning more about Photoshop, editing, and making the most of my images. I guess the best sign of all is that I’m eager for more in 2016 after all the hours I’ve spent behind the lens and in front of the computer this year.

So, without further ado, ten photos for 2015. They don’t cover everything from the year, but all ten represent different things. It’s great to look back over 17000 photos, you tend to forget some of them!

1

The famous columns and herringbone brickwork of University of Virginia’s Academical Village. And for me, revisiting the basics of composition, contrast, and lines.

2

A band of clouds (maybe some variant on Kelvin-Helmholtz clouds?) over a farm in rural Virginia. And a study in black and white.

3

The Cherry Blossom festival in Washington, DC. Perfect blooms, perfect weather. And a composite of two focal depths so I would have my cake and eat it too, photographically.

4

A pinhole of a pinhead. My lovely Chat Noir posing on National Pinhole Photography Day. Pinhole photography is more fun than ever with modern ISO capabilities.

7

Iconic imagery in a new land. Pueblo deco architecture and classic cars on Route 66 in Albuquerque.

5

Western landscapes. A slot canyon at Tent Rocks National Monument.

6

Industrial decay at the Albuquerque Railyards, once the largest employer in the city, now a weekly farmer’s market. And a lot of neat, disused buildings.

9

Classic car and red rocks on our October national parks trip. So many of my previous posts are stuffed with images from those journeys that I decided not to include more than just this one. Ten is quite the limit!

8

The day before the Albuquerque International Balloon Festival, balloonists visit local elementary schools and teach kids about aviation.

10

Bird love in Florida. Color, contrast, and life to end the year on a strong note.

Macro photography methods: early spring blooms

Here in Virginia, spring is just beginning, and most of the signs of it are small and close to the ground. This spring, I decided to zoom in on that small world. Macro photography can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. For my photos, I used a 100 mm macro lens, some extension tubes to cut the minimum focal distance, and a kick light for illumination. If you don’t have a macro lens, you can also get great macro images using any lens with reverse lens macro. I used reverse lens macro to capture the image below.

Resistors with reverse macro

While I waited for a warm day, I practiced indoors. Below is an image of a civil war token lit with a kick light. Kick lights are great– they are small and bright, and you can couple them to your smart phone to control the color of the light. I chose blue here, thinking it might complement the copper tones of the coin.

Token the size of a penny. Lit using a kick light set to blue light.

Token the size of a penny. Lit using a kick light set to blue light.

In another exercise, I went to the kitchen and took pictures next to the window. This way I could think about natural light without dealing with the more trying aspects of nature like wind and the lack of convenient countertops.

A bottle cap in macro.

A bottle cap in macro.

Finally I got a nice day. My first subject was a lenten rose. Viewed from above, these early bloomers look more like shrubs than flowers. Only from below do you see what pretty flowers they are. Which means getting underneath a shrub-height flower.

I used a kick light to pull up the deep shadows in the middle of the flower. A gorilla pod (a simple $10 mini-tripod/flexible grip sort of thing) let me get the kick light where I needed it. After some trial and error (and some laying in the dirt and cursing the glare on my view screen while simultaneously really appreciating the view screen since my older camera doesn’t have one), I got this image below. With the aperture set to f11, the depth of field is good. A few of the stamen are out of focus, and I wonder if another stop or two would have captured them. I didn’t notice them while I was taking the image. Still, pretty pleased with this image.

A lenten rose in macro, lit from beneath with a kick light.

A lenten rose in macro, lit from beneath with a kick light.

Next I found some scilla. These flowers are electrically blue, but they are dinky. Each flower below is about the size of a penny. They were growing in deep shadow, so again I used the kick light, this time more to achieve the contrast and the white balance I wanted.

Scilla flowers in macro.

Scilla flowers in macro.

Later, I found some moss growing on a brick. For this image, I used my extension tubes. They cut the light, but they allow great and affordable zoom. This was in full sun, so I didn’t need the kick light. I find this image slightly creepy, like those tendrils are going to grow into the pine cone and consume it. Here the aperture is f4– this was for effect rather than for exposure.

Moss and pine cone on a brick in macro.

Moss and pine cone on a brick in macro.

And finally, my favorite image of the day, a lovely purple crocus. This shot was just a matter of playing with angles and trying to stay in focus. Happy spring, everyone!

Crocus in macro.

Crocus in macro.

Merging photographs

Lately I’ve been improving my Photoshop skills with courses from Lynda.com. If you want to learn a design program, I strongly recommend them. In a year, I’ve learned so much about Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Lightroom, JavaScript, CSS, photography, and more. In Photoshop alone, I learned way more than I figured out in 15 years of experimentation.

With my new learning, I’ve been able to breathe new life into old photos. Over the past several years, I took numerous sets of photos that I intended to turn into panoramas and HDRs, but then I could never get them to look right. With newfound skills come newfound confidence. Check out these beautiful images!

 

moab-composite-302

American Southwest near Moab, Utah at sunset. Assembled from 40 24-megapixel images captured with a Sony Alpha 100. When it was assembling, it tied up over 100 gigs of space. This version is 1500×557 pixels; the full size is 19,000 x 7,000!

moab-composite-302-zoom-detail

Detail from above photo, center-left at horizon.

SONY DSC

Mount Saint Helen’s in Washington state. Assembled from 6 24-megapixel images from a Sony Alpha 100.

SONY DSC

Detail from above photo, center left.

SONY DSC

Waterfall in Central Virginia along the Blue Ridge Parkway. High dynamic range image assembled from five slow-exposures. Smart sharpen and high pass filters to add sharpness and clarity.

SONY DSC

Rainforest in Olympic National Park. Before assembly, I reduced noise and applied lens corrections. High dynamic range image assembled from five exposures. Smart sharpen and high pass filters to add sharpness and clarity.

 

 

 

Hiking in the Appalachians

 

One of the most popular hikes in Virginia is Old Rag. It’s a 9 mile loop that climbs up and down Old Rag Mountain, including rock scrambles and plenty of elevation. In autumn, it is especially beautiful, however the trails were covered with damp leaves and occasionally very slick. My legs were putty the next day, but as you can see, the views were worth it.old-rag-00947 old-rag-00960 old-rag-00973 old-rag-00985 old-rag-01079

Bizarre Tales from the Three Notch’d Road

 

 

Bizarre Tales from the Three Notch’d Road is a collection of  eight science fiction and fantasy stories celebrating the 5th anniversary of our SFF writing group. It’s now available for the kindle here.

All the contributors are local to central Virginia, with stories from tropical islands, snowy oblivions, the distant past and the distant future. The name for this volume honors the Three Notch’d Road, which runs through central Virginia and dates back at least 300 years.

So check it out! It’s the first anthology our group has produced, and we’re very excited and proud!

first-cover

Technology and art in the rail photography of O. Winston Link

If you are interested in rail photography, or if you’re like me and really never gave it a thought, the O Winston Link photography museum in Roanoke, Virginia is a fascinating visit. O (short for Ogle– I think I’d go by the initial too) Winston Link photographed steam locomotives in the 1950s, at the very end of their widespread use. The Norfolk and Western rail lines he snapped ran through Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, and other parts of the coal belt of Appalachia.

In his photographs, Link captures the end of a powerful technology, but he also captures life in 1950s Appalachian rail towns. People play in a pool twenty feet from a roaring locomotive. People read in their living room with a cat sleeping on their lap as a train passes the window. Folks chat on a porch as the N&W rolls past. In the image below, the train passes a drive-in movie.

Hotshot Eastbound, by O. Winston Link.

Link captured images with such technical precision that they would still be difficult shots today, barely possible without rare equipment until very recently. Link was a civil engineer, hired out of college as a photographer; during World War 2, he used his scientific and photographic backgrounds at the Airborne Instruments Laboratory.

Link’s railway shots rely heavily on both science and photographic techniques– in order to better control the lighting and thus the composition of his photos, he often shot at night. Because, he said, “I can’t move the sun — and it’s always in the wrong place — and I can’t even move the tracks, so I had to create my own environment through lighting.” This required the use of flash bulbs, one-use bulbs that burned metal to produce brief, intense illumination. According to the museum, one of his shots alone used illumination equivalent to 10,000- 100 watt light bulbs, although that light only lasted for a moment. Reading that, I wondered what the experience was like for the train conductor, driving through nearly black rural Virginia, when light so bright it might as well be lightning flashes. His first power source was too unreliable, and so he designed his own power source. Link invested $25,000 into the unpaid project, closer to $125,000 in today’s currency.

As someone who dabbles in photography, the difficulty of Link’s task and the quality of his work (60 years ago!) deeply impressed me. Bear with me as I explain some technical details of modern cameras to convey the awesomeness of Link’s work. Today, we might just be able to reproduce such shots without flashbulbs due to advances in digital photography. Flash bulbs (using combustion) are still brighter than any modern flash (using capacitors). A single flashbulb produced about 1 million lumens (the unit that measures the brightness of light) while a modern camera-mounted flash produces about 100,000. Many flashbulbs may be used at once, so the flashbulb is great for extreme illumination. Only one manufacturer of flash bulbs still exists. Their photo gallery is pretty neat.

Today, we have cameras that are more sensitive to low light, called high-ISO cameras. Camera speed, whether digital or film, is measured in a system called ISO-sensitivity. In this system, a film with double the ISO requires half the exposure time; a two-second exposure with 200 ISO film would take 1 second with 400 ISO film for the same level of exposure. In the 1950s, the fastest film was ISO 400-640. The Sony Alpha 7S, releasing in July, has up to ISO 409,600, 1024 times  faster than ISO 400. A shot requiring 30 seconds of exposure on ISO 400 would require roughly 1/30 of a second on ISO 409,600. This is really new technology; as of 2013, no ISOs above 10,000 existed.

So, in short, Link’s work is a beautiful hybrid of science and art, a testament to their combined power. Link’s scenes of rural 1950’s Appalachian life are beautiful, and remind us of the era of the man behind the lens. New advances behind the lens are happening today. What new wonders will they capture?