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A study in ICM photography

On my last post I mentioned that I went to Monterey on the week of May 22. I wanted to take some more pictures to add to my Ocean gallery. But since the weather was bad for long exposure (high winds, harsh sun), I tried different photography techniques I am not familiar with. One of those techniques is ICM (see Tips for more details).

Since the end of 2019, the idea of doing ICM has been stuck in my head. I joined a Facebook group dedicated to it and browsed a few thousand pictures there. I also read about what is involved in getting these kinds of pictures and went out shooting with a friend who taught me the principles. Despite my theoretical “studies” on ICM, I did not get to practice it much in 2020.

The picture above was my favorite of all the ones I took in Monterey. The morning was cool, and the sun had not been out for too long. I like the pastel colors, the ethereal look, and the golden sunrays on the sand and water, the lines, the implied movement, and the fact that I can still figure out what’s going on despite the general softness of the picture. 

Location: Asilomar Beach in the Pacific Grove, CA, USA;

Equipment: Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm F2.8, tripod; 

Settings: 70 mm, f/22, 1.3 s, ISO 50;

Tips:  ICM is a photographic technique where you move the camera as the image is taken. To obtain this photo I gently rotated the camera to the side while pressing the shutter, with the camera sitting on the tripod. The exposure needs to be long enough to capture motion blur, or conversely, you need to move the camera fast enough. I recommend anything from 1/3s or 1/2s to multi-second exposures. Experiment with faster or slower shutter speeds and liberate your creativity.

The few thoughts I have on the technique after trying it for such short period of time, are as follows:

  1. It will be difficult to make this technique work in black and white. When I take color from the resulting pictures, there is very little interest left in them;
  2. If I decide to do this on a regular basis, I will buy a few round ND filters. Closing down the lens to f/22 with the sole purpose of obtaining a long shutter speed requires that the sensor is kept extra clean: every piece of dust shows up and they are hard to get rid of in these types of pictures;
  3. Using a tripod helps to keep the horizon line somewhat straight if you are shooting the ocean.
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Monterey Dreaming

Monterey is a place, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream.-John Steinbeck, Cannery Row

Wind Bent

Last week I spent two days at the Asilomar Conference Center in Monterey, where I took the picture above. This is a welcome addition to my small Monterey Trees collection, in which I portray live and dead trees found in that County. This collection deviates from my usual work in that I apply a texture and a sepia tone to my images (see under Tips below for details).

The conditions in windy Monterey County are very harsh on trees and one ubiquitous species there, Hesperocyparis macrocarpa, is particularly resilient. This coniferous tree, commonly known as the Monterey cypress, is one of several species of cypress trees endemic to California. One notable example is the iconic Lone Cypress at the 17-mile drive, one of the most photographed trees in this state, if not in the world.

While in Monterey I also took a few other pictures, which I might share on another opportunity. The Monterey coast is one of the most beautiful places I have seen, and yet, I have a difficult time taking a good picture there. First of all, despite the few iconic sites like the Lone Cypress or the Ghost Tree, composition is very challenging on a coast with lots of scattered, small, brown rocks, very white waves breaking on them and few elements to use as the focal point. 

Apart from challenges in composition, every time I travel there the conditions fail to line up right. It’s the haze, the clear skies and harsh light that turn into overcast without the in-between, the wild wind making it difficult to stay put and hold the camera steady. For two days I alternated between trying to take photos on the beach and watching life go by from the porch of our hotel room at Asilomar. I experimented with techniques I had not tried before.  It felt good to defy the elements, the harsh wind, the haze, the people walking alone in the outdoors wearing face masks; to watch the balloons, kites, happy children in swimsuits interacting with adults dressed for the winter. It also felt good to give it up, to go back to the room where ants crawled on the desk that lacks an electricity outlet, and the broken thermometer indicating 65 F too cold.

Location: Asilomar State Park, Pacific Grove coast, Monterey County, CA, USA;

Equipment: Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm F2.8;

Settings: 50 mm, f/5, 1/800 s, ISO 50.

Tips:  Both the cover image and the rest of the Monterey Trees collection were produced with the help of Topaz Labs, a free online tool that integrates fully with Adobe Photoshop and other apps. I used a texture preset and made some modifications to its tone by desaturating it and applying a photoshop sepia filter. The original is below for your appreciation.

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Light and Shadow

One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.- C.G.Jung, The Philosophical Tree” (1945).

One of my photography collections, entitled “Light and Shadow”, is rather small and I have only shared one image here, actually, my fist blog post

Spanning from 2018 and despite the fact that I like taking these types of photos, I have very few of them. This is not surprising since these images are more easily found in an urban environment, whereas I usually go out for photography in nature.

The other day, however, I decided to buy a dedicated lens for my “toy camera”, the Nikon Z50 mirrorless, and on the way back from the store I stopped at Sacramento’s Capital Mall to test it, since I could not wait the 20 min drive home to do so.

The lens, Nikon Z  50mm f/1.8, is surprisingly sharp. I took several pictures of flowers and other botanicals and was very pleased with them. On my way back to the car I saw this building. 

The symmetrical lines called my attention, and the light was just right. 

Location: Capital East Complex, Sacramento, California, USA;

Equipment: Nikon Z50, Nikon Z 50mm f/1.8;

Settings: f/14, 1/125s, ISO 200;

Tips: Look for sunny days, early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the shadows are long. Weekends and early morning are best to avoid people.

 

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A photo walk

One if my favorite pastimes is going on a photo walk.  Alone or in a group, photo walks offer a great opportunity to enjoy what’s there, to notice and to document. A good photo walk has no goal, no agenda, no ambition at artistic achievement. To take the best advantage of a photo walk, pack light: one camera, one lens, no tripod (just a cell phone is fine); mix beginners with pros, old with young, men and women; and do not take family members who complain about your obsession with photography. The best photo outings end in a café, restaurant or a bar, excellent places for more photography, reviewing each other’s photographs on the camera’s LCD and talking about the day’s achievements. 

I used to go on lots of photo walks in a seemingly distant past, often with local meetup groups. I learned a lot from others, got to know new locations and made a few friends.  Since the pandemics hit, however, photo peeps tend to  see each other as vectors of a potentially deadly disease. Consequently, group photo outings are few and far in-between. And when group outings happen, trying to follow CDC guidelines completely ruins them for me.

The other Saturday I woke up in a mood for a photo walk and set out alone, COVID-19 style. It had rained overnight, and the air was crisp, spring fresh. I walked along a riparian preserve located not far from my home. Although the place is not very photogenic and is heavily trafficked, I always find opportunities for snapshots.  Above is what I found that day. The composition is simple, centered, and the simplicity of color is highlighted also in the square format of the frame.

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Splash

I don’t know if wave splashes in long exposure have any artistic value, but they are sure fun to obtain. They are also impossible to replicate. Taking a long exposure photograph is looking at the scene in whole different away. It is magical, it slows up the time for your eye to see.

A few times in the last two months I have been, alone or with friends, to this place near the Golden Gate Bridge called Rodeo Beach. It is relatively close to my home and that allows me to arrive early and leave before lunch time, just when the parking lots are getting full. There, on the right hand corner where the surfers hang out, it is possible to photograph the most amazing splashes.

Click on the thumbnails below to see a larger version of the images. A summary of my long exposure images can be found in my Ocean gallery.

Location: Coastal trail at the Marin Headlands, Sausalito, California, USA;

Equipment: Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm F2.8,  Lee Filters (Polarizer, 6 stops); tripod;

Settings: 200 mm f/18, 1/5s, ISO 320; 

Tips: Get there early. The Marin Headlands is a very popular place, and it gets really full of people. Take different grades of neutral density filters to the photoshoot: the light in this location changes fast, from overcast and dark to bright and sunny. When doing long exposure of the ocean, don’t be scanty, take many pictures with the same settings and vary the camera’s settings also. It is better to sort things out at home than to miss that especial moment when the waves do just the right thing.

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My dream of Bodie

This post summarizes my impressions of Bodie State Historic Park, which I visited for the first time last October (2020). Despite the heat, dust and smoke from wildfires, I did enjoy the visit. My friend Beth and I were in the midst of a fall colors chasing expedition when we found ourselves in the area. The small detour to the park was a good way to take a break from yellow leaves.

For those who don’t know, Bodie was a bustling town with more than 10,000 residents and produced more than $35 million in gold and silver, from 1877 to 1882. Now, long past the days of the gold mining of California, it counts with almost 200 abandoned wooden buildings in a state of “arrested decay”. The buildings are not maintained and at the time of our visit, quite a few sites had restricted public access due to collapsing structures.

Scroll to see all photos in the slide show below.

Location: Bodie State Historic Park of California is located in the Eastern Sierra close to Bridgeport, CA, USA

Equipment: Nikon D750, Nikon Z50, AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm F2.8G and AF-S NIKKOR 70-200 mm F2.8G). 

Settings: variable, compatible with hand holding the camera.

Tips: get there early, particularly in the summertime. No cell phone reception in the park. Bring plenty of water, a hat, suncreen. To give the photographs an old look, I lightened the sky and and grass using with the blue and aqua and green and yellow color sliders in Photoshop, respectively. I also added grain and a white vignette to that effect.

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Spring Musings in black and white

We were a group of four going out for photography on a Saturday. Then one group member also wanted to go out on the Friday before, two volunteered to join. I bailed on the Friday because I had to work. Next, two of the three bailed on the Friday outing and then three of us made plans for Saturday morning, but two bailed on the Saturday plans and all was suddenly canceled as a result. The light was not going to be good anyway.  This is not the end of the story, but…

Unlike photography plans with other people, still life and close-ups at home by oneself does not require good weather and depends on no one else. In a previous post I mentioned darkening the background and selective lightening as a means to make flower pictures a little more interesting. If you are like me and rather work in black and white, there are also numerous possibilities. However, since color is not present to bring interest, the composition will have to highlight the shape, form and texture of the flower.  

More of my botanical photographs can be found here.

Location: studio;

Equipment: Nikon Z50, AF-S NIKKOR 105mm F2.8G,  speedlight, off camera trigger, light stand, diffuser, Red Lee Polyester filter, black background;

Settings: f/18, 6s, ISO 100;

Tips: separate the background from the subject when using the flash, position one flash plus diffuser around 8 o’clock with respect to the flower. In the picture above, I used  Lee Polyester Filters for black and white photography. These types of filters are rarely used these days because there is a way to achieve a similar effect in post-processing. A filter will lighten any color that is similar to its own and darken other colors. In the example above, the red flower would be rendered dark, almost black, “out of camera” if you set your picture mode to monochrome, or in post-processing, if you convert to black and white by simply desaturating the picture. With the filter, it was rendered light grey, giving me more possibilities to work with. 

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Cloudy ocean

Sometimes a photograph becomes so abstract that it is no longer a representation of reality. I took this black and white, high key picture during a camping trip at Patrick’s Point State Park, September 2019. The park, located 25 miles north of Eureka, has many sweeping views of the ocean from cliffs and beaches. The weather was mostly rainy, overcast, and foggy, typical of the region.

Unlike the ocean photos in my previous posts (Beyond Fort Ross, My Mood of the Ocean and The Face of the Ocean), where I emphasized dark areas in conjunction with smaller bright areas to achieve a “dark and moody” feeling, the image above  has a “bright and airy” look with a preponderance of paler tones. These types of images, to me, are dreamy, soothing, and have the lightness of unreality.

The two types of images mentioned above are best taken under different conditions: generally, dark and moody require a contrasty scene to start with, whereas bright and airy are easier to take under very diffuse light and low natural contrast.

Location: Patrick’s Point State Park, CA, USA

Equipment: Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm F2.8, tripod, lee filters (polarizer, 6 stops, blue filter).

Settings: 50 mm, f/14, 30”, ISO 100

Tips: Southern and central Californians be aware, it rains there! Little to no cell phone reception on the coast. Use a remote trigger, experiment with very long exposures for this look (25″ and up). In post, played the the blue slider in Photoshop to lighten the blues and slightly overexposed the image.

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Anatomy of a monocot leaf

In a previous post I showed the leaf of a dicot plant, which is characterized by branching major leaf veins. The leaf above, on which I applied the same photographic technique, is a monocot plant, characterized by major leaf veins running parallel.

This is the leaf of a Cala Lilly. I took this photograph on January 31, at the local arboretum. The leaf is large, green, glossy. I converted the photograph into black and white to enhance the vein pattern and I also added grain in post-processing to enhance the texture.

Location: UC Davis Arboretum, CA, USA.

Equipment: Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 105mm F2.8G,  speedlight, off camera trigger, light stand, diffuser.

Settings: f/8, 1/200”, ISO 100.

Tips: to highlight the shape of the leaf and the veins, and avoid glow, illuminate from behind. I used an off-camera speed light going through a diffuser placed behind the leaf.

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Ocean view

Classically, landscape photography has focused on the natural landscape that has not been modified by humans. Little by little, however, photographers have started to balance the pristine beauty of the land with anthropic elements in a movement loosely known as “contemporary landscape”. 

Last Monday, February 8th, when I visited the Portuguese Beach for photography, I initially tried to avoid photographing the houses on the cliffs and along the beach.  However, they were so ubiquitous and so conspicuous that not only I surrendered to their presence, but I also made them an important component of my compositions.

Location: Portuguese Beach along Highway 1, Sonoma County, CA, USA

Equipment: Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 70-200 mm; tripod, Lee filters (polarizer, Neutral density, Graduated Neutral density, blue);

Settings: 200 mm, f/20, 5”, ISO 50 ;

Tips:  Get there early. Sonoma Coast is a very popular place, and it gets really full of people. Be careful on the cliffs, it can be dangerous to approach the edges. Take different grades of neutral density filters, because the light in this location changes fast, from overcast and dark to bright and sunny. A polarizer and graduated ND filters are also advisable.

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Spring musings

“If you want something to look interesting, don’t light all of it.” Quote attributed to John Loengard (he died last year at age 85).

Chaparral Currant, Hybrid Hellebore and California Poppy were flowering last weekend at the UC Davis arboretum. There were a few other flowers in the garden: Angel’s trumpets, succulents, yellow daisies, Manzanita, Narcissus and Oxalis

Spring is finally upon us in California. Soon, the social media sites will be filled with flower pictures, so it’s a good time now to start thinking about different techniques to capture these beautiful subjects. Selective lighting and darkening the background are among my favorite tricks to make a flower picture look a little different. What is yours?

Chaparral Currant

California Poppy

Location: UC Davis Arboretum, CA, USA;

Equipment: Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 105mm F2.8G,  speedlight, off camera trigger, light stand, Rogue Flash Grid System;

Settings: f/5, 1/200”, ISO 100;

Tips: To obtain a dark background,  I used an off-camera speed light going through a Rogue Flash Grid pointing at the flower from the side. The grid directs the light into a spot, rather than illuminating all of the subject. A diffuser between the subject and the flash is always advisable. I used a piece of foam underneath the grid to soften the otherwise hard light coming from the speed-light.   

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The Mermaid’s face

It is Friday again and the weekend is upon us. I have not made photography plans yet, the forecast says that it will be sunny everywhere. Definitely not a good forecast for photography.

I have been to the Marin Headlands a number of times, and those who follow me on Instagram might have seen a few photos I took at that place. And even though I have photographed the three rocks below several times and again, it was only last Saturday that I saw the Mermaid’s face. 

Location: Coastal trail at the Marin Headlands, Sausalito, California, USA;

Equipment: Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm F2.8,  Lee Filters (Polarizer, 6 stops); tripod;

Settings: 200 mm f/20, 5”, ISO 50;

Tips: Get there early. The Marin Headlands is a very popular place, and it gets really full of people. Take different grades of neutral density filters to the photoshoot: the light in this location changes fast, from overcast and dark to bright and sunny. When doing long exposure of the ocean, don’t be scanty, take many pictures with the same settings and vary the camera’s settings also. It is better to sort things out at home than to miss that especial moment when the waves do just the right thing.

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Curves

Curves

This blog is now one month old, a baby still. And since this is an anniversary of sorts, I want to call attention to a book that has inspired me in my photographic journey, “Fine Art Photography, Water, Ice and Fog” by Tony Sweet,  Stackpole Books (not sure which year it was published). The book centers around the idea of working-the-subject, whereby the photographer focuses on one thing while using different lenses and techniques to bring out his or her vision. This tactic sharply contrasts with the hit-and-run method, more common, of taking a few snapshots of one subject and quickly moving on to another. 

I am drawn to the curves and shapes of the flowers of these solanaceous plants of the genus Brugmansia. Also known as Angel’s trumpets, these flowers contain hallucinogen alkaloids which, if ingested (don’t do it, it can be fatal), would cause them to look even more strange. Practicing the working-the-subject approach, I came back to the garden a few times and used different techniques to obtain my images. I liked the results of the one above, and a few others I might post here in the future.

Location: UC Davis Arboretum, CA, US;

Equipment: Nikon Z50, AF-S NIKKOR 105mm f2.8G, tripod, speedlight;

Settings: f/18, 1/200s, ISO 320;

Tips: to obtain a black background, put your camera in spot metering and calculate the exposure for the flower. I used an off-camera speed light going through a diffuser placed underneath the hanging flower to allow me to use flash sync speed, since it was a little windy out there. 

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The face of the ocean

The Face of the Ocean

On January 09, I came home with many pictures from the Fort Ross expedition. At first, I wanted to delete all of them: the camera-processed jpgs looked lifeless and uninteresting. As I started processing the raw files, however, I began to like a few, two of which I have already posted on this blog: Beyond Fort Ross and My Mood of the Ocean. The one above is, in my opinion, a nice abstract addition to that series. 

Unlike the photographers who are proud of their “in camera” photographic accomplishments and process their images with “no edits” and only small adjustments, I like to work more consistently on my photos in post-processing. The final product may take several hours of work to accomplish, and it may not look anything like I saw when I was taking the picture. As I pointed out in a previous post, developing my photographs in black and white helps to free my mind, and the viewers’, from the original scene, or from what an equivalent scene is supposed to look like. On this day, the sky was blue, the sun was out, and the ocean was unquiet.

Location: Fort Ross Cove in Sonoma County, CA, USA;

Equipment: Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm F2.8G ED, tripod, lee filters (polarizer, 6 stops Neutral Density filter,  1 stop N.D. graduated filter);

Settings: 70 mm, f/22, 10”, ISO 50;

Tips: get there early, particularly in the summer. No cell phone reception on the coast. Use a remote trigger with the filters mentioned above, experiment with different exposures. To darken the sky and bring out contrast in the ocean water, play with the blue and aqua color sliders in Photoshop. To have shapes appearing at the wave break while also capturing some texture, 6’’ to 10’’ exposures are needed. 

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My mood of the ocean

My Mood of the Ocean

It is Friday again and with that comes the promise of a weekend. Maybe some photography…

I was asked why all my pictures here are in black and white. I am not against color and I may post color pictures here at some point. However, I like the freedom from reality that black and white gives me. In color, there is often the expectation that a scene has some resemblance with reality, and when it does not, it looks strange, because in our minds we compare it with the real world. In black and white, by contrast, there is no such expectation because there is no real world in black and white to use as a reference.  

I took the picture above on the 09/Jan/2021 when I drove with my son and friends to the coast. The day was beautiful, the breeze was light, and the sky was blue. A perfect day, calm, soothing day by the sea. This picture, however, is dark and contrasty, emphasizing the movements and mood of the ocean: a personal interpretation.  

Location: Sonoma County along Highway 1, CA, USA;

Equipment: Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm F2.8G ED, tripod, lee filters (polarizer, 6 stops Neutral Density filter,  1 stop N.D. graduated filter);

Settings: 70 mm, f/22, 2”, ISO 320;

Tips: get there early, particularly in the summertime, bring a jacket. No cell phone reception on the coast. Use a remote trigger with the filters mentioned above, experiment with different exposures. To darken the sky and bring out contrast in the ocean water, play with the blue and aqua color sliders in Photoshop. 

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Branching patterns

I am fascinated by the branching patterns in nature. Our circulatory system, our lungs, the tops and roots of trees, the rivers flowing to the ocean, and the evolution of life itself can be recovered as a branching pattern.

I took this photograph on 17 January, in the local arboretum. The leaf is large, green, glossy. I converted the photograph into black and white to enhance the patterns and shapes. I have also added grain in post-processing to enhance the texture.

Location: UC Davis Arboretum, CA, USA;

Equipment: Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 105mm F2.8, tripod, tripod, speedlight;

Settings: f/18, 1/15s, ISO 220;

Tips: to highlight the shape of the leaf and the veins, and avoid glow, illuminate from behind. I used an off-camera speed light going through a diffuser placed behind the leaf.

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Beyond Fort Ross

Beyond Fort Ross

I took this photo last weekend on a trip to the coast with my son and friends. It was a beautiful sunny day with no fog, and we went all the way north to Fort Ross. I used to go the the California coast a lot back in 2018-2019 for photoraphy and I took quite a few pictures that I still like, but in 2020 I stopped going because of the pandemics and lockdowns. Last weekend we decided to go anyway. We took the usual covid-19 precautions and it was an almost perfect day, only lacking a stop by a café or restaurant on the way back, to warm the soul.

I like the mood of this picture and want to create a few more to complete my series. One thing I have been trying to decide is how am I going to deal with black areas in this type of photograph henceforward. In the California coast, the rocks are often dark, covered with mussels, and for that reason they may appear partly to completely black, even under soft light. Black areas without detail are often frowned upon by photographers and may look funky in print . In this photo, instead of trying to recover the details in the shadows, I used a non-destructive burning method to darken the rocky ridge in the background. Although I like this result better than the more usual alternative of dodging it, how much burn to apply, and where, remains open to investigation.

Location: Fort Ross, Sonoma County, CA, USA;

Equipment: Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm F2.8G ED, tripod, lee filters (polarizer, 6 stops Neutral Density filter,  1 stop N.D. graduated filter);

Settings: 50 mm, f/22, 3”, ISO 100;

Tips: get there early, particularly in the summertime. Bring a jacket. No cell phone reception on the coast. Use a remote trigger with the filters mentioned above, experiment with different exposures. In post, dodge and burn to bring out your vision. 

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UFO at the Arroyo Park

UFO in the Fog

The fog is minimalist, it only reveals what is essential.

A while ago someone brought to my attention the fact that I rarely show a portrait image, and that I should remember to explore that orientation as well. With that in mind, I have started a small, solo project taking portraits of the winter versions of the trees in the Sacramento area. 

Even though this winter’s fog has been perfect to hide the visual clutter typical of city parks, I was not able to leave, out of the frame, this UFO, which, I have been told, crashed at the Arroyo park a long time ago…  But I think that it complements the frame very well.

Location: Arroyo Park, Davis, CA, USA;

Equipment: Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm F2.8G ED, tripod;

Settings: 24 mm, f/8 1/8s ISO 100;

Tips: for this kind of photograph, use a wide angle, get close, use spot metering to calculate the exposure and expose for the tree (this will overexpose the fog and make it brighter).

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Foggy morning by the lake

Foggy Morning

Although fog is one of my favorite weather conditions for photography, I find it extremely difficult to successfully post-process a picture taken in thick fog. The light is flat, homogenous, the contrast is low, and conveying a tri-dimensional perspective can be very challenging.  But since I find the misty, damp, surreal, dream-like atmosphere that fog creates to be very pleasant, I keep coming back for one more challenge. Last Sunday, the fog covered the park for quite some time in the morning, and I got the chance to photograph a few misty landscapes. 

Location: Lagoon Valley park, Vacaville, CA, USA;

Equipment: Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm F2.8G ED, tripod;

Settings: 103 mm, f/18 0.3s ISO 100;

Tips: Bring an extra pair of shoes to get back in the car. Overexpose from 0.3 up to 1 stop to get a brighter fog.