Looking for one thing, finding another – just another day in the woods

The sun is coming up later and going away earlier, cool weather grass is growing faster, football is on TV and harvest festival dates are being promoted.  Must be fall.  Time for the last great burst of color before the long, white sleep.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOK, the last one is less about color and more about tone and structure.  I read an article recently by a photographer who loved cloudy days because of the great light for B&W photos.  Soon after getting into the woods today a line of overcast just moved right over the woods, cutting off the bright colors I was looking for.  At first I was frustrated (going out to shoot in the woods is as good as being a rainmaker sometimes) then I remembered the writer’s words, stopped being ticked off and started looking around for some B&W opportunities.  I don’t know what the plant above is but it really stood out against the green forest floor.  After making this image I started looking around for similar sights but of course the sun came back out!  Oh well, back to color.

Wasn’t summer just here?

In 1816 a convergence of solar conditions and volcanic activity resulted in a significant lowering of temperature in the northern hemisphere.  What resulted as has been called an agricultural disaster.  Between the cooler temperatures throughout the summer and unusual patterns of rain or fog many crops never matured and food supplies fell.  It is speculated that farmers in New England and the upper east coast started a movement west because of the bad weather, beginning the settlements of the Midwest and leading to the expansion onto the Great Plains.

Why do I bring this up?  Because this summer has been very pleasant if you like cool, slightly wet weather.  In this area of Wisconsin we’ve rarely seen days in the 90’s and enough rain to really green up the corn, soybeans and lawns.  If you hate heat and humidity, this has been the place to be.

One result of this, though, is some foliage believes fall is coming much earlier than usual.  Sumac is turning bright red, summer plants are blooming later and berries on trees are ripening.  It looks like the harbingers of seasonal changes are telling us something.

For an autumn photographer – no problem!


Too much time on your hands

Visited the Art Institute of Chicago this week and viewed an exhibit I’d not seen before.  It was an installation of miniature rooms that had been commissioned over the years.  The detail of these presentations was stunning and the story behind the craftspeople who created them was amazing.  Imagine building a faithful reproduction of a famous room (say Marie Antoinette’s bedroom, at scale of 1 inch = 1 foot.  Everything, from wooden furniture to floor textiles to wall coverings – all exactly reproduced to a tiny scale and with intricate detail, using materials similar to the ones in the original room.  These images don’t begin to do justice to the visual delight of these (reflections on the glass were a big problem) but I wanted to share some of them if only to encourage people to get there and view them in person.  Gaze into the rooms long enough and you expect people to come walking into them.  Stand in the right place and the perspective makes the scene like looking into a window of a house.  Simply amazing.  From a photographer’s view the lighting used in each one really enhances the sense of a full-sized building.  I would love to have the opportunity to remove the glass and photograph these directly.

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Reason to be, thwarted

See all those trucks on the interstate highway system, moving commerce around the country?  Once the Great Lakes teemed with shipping, moving the resources of the westward moving frontier back east to the manufacturing and exporting businesses.  Sail followed by steam ships plied these freshwater seas for years, creating a culture and nautical tradition all their own.  Some of that tradition isn’t even on the water, but rather dots the shoreline.

Standing on Lake Michigan’s shore on a sunny, calm day one wonders why there are so many lighthouses.  It seems there was one every few miles or so.  What possible purpose would they serve on a body of water where the shore was usually visible and ships could see their ports?  The view from the beach is deceiving; you have to get out on the water to appreciate the value of a beacon.  The Great Lakes are famous for their storms, their shallow borders, their fog.  Sometimes you can almost see across them; other days you are hard pressed to see the lake while just a few dozen yards away from the shore.  No, lighthouses served the same purpose here as everywhere – to point out the shore, the shallows, the harbor entrance.

Within Wisconsin there is another large lake, perhaps not sizable enough to be ‘great’ but nonetheless big enough to have shipping of its own.  Lake Winnebago saw cargo moved from shore to shore just as the larger lakes, and being near Lake Michigan, saw similar weather hazards.  Lighthouses were as useful in this large inland lake as they were on the bigger bodies of water and ultimately six were built.

20140201001_borderOddly enough, this lighthouse, the Asylum Point Lighthouse, was never active.  Built by the WPA around 1937 on a point of land at the entrance to Asylum Bay off the main lake, it was rejected by the Department of Transportation as a signal light so the traditional light source and lenses were never installed.  Today it is the centerpiece of a small park with a great location for picnics, fishing and watching the lake traffic near Oshkosh.  As you can see, it does greet the weather it was built to warn about while serving as a reminder of the importance of this maybe-not-great lake to the state’s development.


Move your feet or your pictures are all the same

Can you see what the following pictures have in common?

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No, it’s not the cathedral or the soybeans.  They are all essentially the same picture.  Why?

I read something the other day that jogged my memory about zoom lenses.  The author was saying how great they are for bringing distant subjects closer but they don’t really change perspective.  To do that you have to change the actual distance between camera and subject – basically move your feet.  And new perspectives can make all the difference for compositions.

The images above were taken with a 50mm, 75mm and 150mm lens on the same camera.  The somewhat odd color is due to the film I was using, a B&W film that is processed like color negatives.  The film has nothing to do with my point – I just like the color cast!

I shot the three from the same point, simply changing lenses with each shot.  Don’t see how they are the same?  Look at these crops.

20140822006-50mm 20140822004-75mm20140822005-150mm These are the 50mm, 75mm and 150mm images above cropped to show the same portion of each image at the same size.  Look at the relationship between the two trees framing the cathedral and the building itself.  Notice the perspective doesn’t change – the trees are the same distance from each other and the building in each image.  Although I changed prime lenses I would have gotten the same result with a zoom lens set at each of these focal lengths.

Suppose I wanted the trees to appear farther apart, or closer to me than they are?  I would have had to walk closer to them to change the perspective.  Doing so would have also made them look bigger than the cathedral.

BTW, this is also what’s behind the “crop” factor you read about for sensors less than full frame (or the size of a piece of 35mm film).  A lens of a given focal length will cast a circle of light on the sensor that’s the same size regardless of the size of sensor.  Smaller sensors ‘see’ a smaller part of the image – they ‘crop’ the image to their size.  What you see looks as if it was shot through a longer lens.  Thus, for a 2x crop factor camera (like the Four-Thirds system), using a 50mm lens results in an image that looks like it was shot through a 100mm lens.  Again, perspective doesn’t change, just the amount of the image you see.

The moral of the story?  Yes, zoom lenses are much better now than 20 years ago – faster, sharper, probably lighter.  But in order to bring variety to the look of your images you still need to use your legs to work the scene.