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.

IMG_0244 IMG_0253 IMG_0251 IMG_0241 IMG_0239IMG_0243

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.

Return to the basics

I finally gathered up all the exposed film sitting around in the freezer and took it over to the local studio/lab I found on the web.  Haven’t had to send my sheet film off to a distant lab so far after these few years learning how to use it so I was very happy to find someone in town who processes it.  My first round turned out very nice (they even processed my 5×7 Velvia, an unusual size) so I expect to finally get back to film this year.

Didn’t really know what these images were – been too long ago since I made them – so it was a nice surprise to see what I’d done.  Looks like I was trying to learn how to use flash with my view camera, tricky because there is no trigger for a flash on such an old camera.  Apparently I set up my scene, turned off the lights, opened the shutter and then fired the flash manually.  I must be getting good with a light meter because these really turned out better than I expected.

Kodak Ektachrome 100G, 4×5″ slide

Kodak Ektachrome 100g, 4×5″ slide

Fuji Velvia 50, 5×7″ slide

The bigness of huge.

One of the challenges of photographing something that is really big is to provide a reference for the immense size you want to show.  If you back up enough to get the whole subject in the image it’s hard to convey the impression of just how big it is.  If you get too close it’s hard to provide that feeling of immensity you want for the viewer.  Sometimes it’s better to show a little of the subject with some point of reference, and leave the rest to the viewer’s imagination.

Mt- Rainier Climb, MEM1995S004-09As an example, here’s a photo of Mt. Rainier.  Trust me, it’s Rainier.  One does think of mountains as being large but it’s sometimes hard to have a good reference, mostly because any one mountain is surrounded by other, fairly large, mountains.  Not Rainier.  It stands out pretty much by itself surrounded by forest.  When you see it close you’re immediately struck by a “wow, that’s really huge!” feeling.  But how to convey that in an image?

OK, you see the people in the middle of the scene – they look like tiny specks on the snow field.  But follow the line from them upward toward the grey block in the upper right.  See those even small specks just where the snow line is?  Those are people too, about a half mile away.  That rock you see behind them?  Probably another half mile beyond them.  From that rock outcropping to the summit (toward the upper left of the image) is easily another mile and 5000′ in altitude.

This is a big mountain.  My little Olympus film camera and 50mm lens just wasn’t up to the challenge to show the whole thing from here but hopefully you get a sense there’s a lot more not in the image.

Without the people this is just a nice picture of snow and rocks – with them there’s a sense that this is a big, open place leading to something even bigger.  Leaving most of the mountain out of the image gives the viewer a chance to wonder what else is there and just how big is this thing!?