I was in Sacramento, California in October. Beautiful weather, daytime highs in the upper 80’s and nighttime lows in the low 60’s. No humidity.
Because Sacramento is three time zones from my home, and because I normally get up at 5 a.m. to go to the gym, I found myself awake far before dawn every morning. Nothing better to do than grab the camera and go for some night shots.
My hotel, the Embassy Suites Riverfront, was right next to the iconic Tower Bridge, a gleaming golden drawbridge that, together with the State Capital, bookends Capital Mall downtown.
This is my favorite photo of many that I took in Sacramento. Here I am looking back toward the hotel. My tripod is straddling the guard rail, though I was quite safe from traffic. The traffic was light at this hour (6 a.m. or so), which allowed me to get some uncluttered light trails.
2 second exposure, f/8, ISO 400. Shot with my 18-55mm kit lens wide open.
Every month or so, a different member of the First Light Camera Club gets to have a sampling of their work featured on the club web page. This month is my lucky month. A slide show of twelve of my photos, favorites of mine and my Flickr contacts, are currently on display. Follow the link above and click “Featured.” Then leave a comment below and tell me what you think!
I acquired my first DSLR camera for Christmas of 2010. It’s a Sony a230, which is an entry-level DSLR. I bought it* refurbished (though barely used) because it was inexpensive compared to the comparable Nikon and Canon Models. I also bought it because the Sony Alphas are compatible with old Minolta autofocus lenses, meaning I could save some money in building out my lens collection.
(* Yes, it was a “gift,” but my wife was kind enough to select what I wanted, because she doesn’t know much about cameras. Plus it was mostly my own money.)
A few months later my friend Cathy decided that she was done with her 35mm SLR camera, and she was going to sell it at a yard sale. She said that she thought the lenses were compatible with some digital cameras, and I informed her that indeed they were. In fact they were compatible with my Sony. She offered to give me the lenses, under the condition that I take her camera, too. (And a bunch of other stuff, like a flash and some film.)
I naturally agreed to these terms, and became the proud owner of a Minolta Maxxum 5, which is pretty advanced for the pre-digital age. This camera has many of the settings of my Sony (indeed, Sony purchased Minolta a few years back), though I didn’t know how to navigate them through the first roll. The biggest challenge was getting used to the fact that the photo wasn’t going to appear immediately on the back of the camera body. I would have to wait.
It took me several months to expose the first roll, and I just got it back the other day. Opening the package felt like tearing into a pack of baseball cards. I had no idea what I would find inside.
Though there were some exposure problems – which I fully expected, given that I went out shooting instead of reading the owner’s manual – I got a handful of decent photos, too. I’ve taken a lot of close-ups, mostly flowers, but a few seascapes, too. I’ve included a sampling with this post.
I started out the second roll with another of my favorite subjects, the moon. Because this can’t be done well on the “auto” settings, I took the time to learn how to use the camera. I’m excited to work through the second roll, now, and see what I’ve got.
I have a friend named Charlene who will occasionally comment on a photo that I post on Facebook. “You take such great photos,” she’ll write. “I need lessons.”
It’s a wonderful compliment, but it’s only part of the equation. One can take classes, or read books, or ask questions on Internet forums, and this will help you take great photos. But you also have to be there – you can’t take a photo of something that you don’t see.
Many of my better photos are of sunrises and sunsets. I also favor shooting the full moon. Often these are, from a pure technical standpoint, only fair images. But a fair exposure of spectacular light is usually going to be an impressive photo. I don’t take great photos of sunrises or moon rises because I’m a great photographer. I’m not especially talented. I get some great photos because I prepare for the opportunity and make a point to be there to capture it.
And so it was that I was climbing Montpelier, Vermont’s Hubbard Tower a couple of weeks back an hour before sunrise. The temperatures were hovering just above zero degrees, and I hiked up the steep hill via flashlight.
I made the climb because the full moon would be setting in the west just before the sun rose in the east. I love photos of the moon looking huge over the horizon, and I wanted to get some of my own. And the hour of this event (just before 7 am) was too convenient not to take advantage.
The truth of the matter is that this was the second time in about 14 hours that I had made this climb. The moonrise coincided with the sunset at about 5:30 the previous evening. Unfortunately there were no clouds to juice up the sunset, and the moon rose behind some trees that obscured that view.
Sometimes being there isn’t enough. You can’t will the magic to happen. (I should note that the obverse is also true. Magic light often happens when you’re not looking for it. It helps to have a camera nearby to take advantage.)
But the conditions were ripe for the moonset that Wednesday morning. Clear skies surrounded the bright, perfectly round moon as it gently lowered behind the Green Mountains west of the city. The moon obligingly dropped between Mount Ethan Allen and Camel’s Hump, perhaps the most recognizable peak in Vermont.
I was pleased with the photos I took, though the exposures could be more crisp. There’s more for me to learn, and more practice to be had. But it’s fun to keep trying, to challenge myself, and to live the stories behind the photos.
Most of my photos from the event are super isolated macros. I think the nature of these venues necessitated this approach. The antique mall is so filled with stuff, and the farmer’s market so filled with people, that wider views are too cluttered. So they are all up close – a mannequins hand, a bit of a trumpet, a close up of some beans.
This approach dovetails with my current approach to writing – my long-term approach as well. In my class, we talked about letting the work stand on its own rather than think about outside forces, i.e. the audience. In a different vein, Anne Lamott in her book “Bird by Bird” talks about looking through a one-inch window and describing what you see.
This isn’t meant to be “Joe’s Writing Blog,” though writing is a part of my original vision for this space. I’ll be moving back to more photo-centric posts in the near future. At the moment I am happy with my ability to focus closely on the tasks at hand.
The first week of the New Year I spent at a writer’s retreat at Kripalu in the heart of the Berkshires. The program was titled “The Writing Warrior: Deepening Your Writing by Bravely Facing Yourself.”
It was a powerful experience. 18 students, all but a couple of us complete strangers, came from across the Northeast (and one from Montreal) looking for a way to re-energize or re-envision their writing.
Laraine Herring, the class leader and the author of The Writing Warrior, set an open and welcoming tone for the class. Students were encouraged to tune into their bodies and breath, to release expectations and open up space for the writing to happen. Such a simple and profound approach.
On the third day the magic really happened. Strangers began to trust one another, to really engage in each other’s writing, and to share some powerful, profound, and deeply personal stories. It was remarkable, a day I will never forget, and a day that I will write about more in the future – I have 15 journal pages dedicated to that one day!
Of course I brought my camera with me, as I wanted to capture the beauty of the Kripalu grounds and the essence of the building. Unbeknownst to my classmates, I snuck back to the room a couple of times during non-class hours and took some photos to try to capture the experience. Photos of a circle of empty chairs fell a bit flat, but I was able to play around with a cup full of pens.
This idea seemed to have the most heat for me. The pens represent writing, of course, and the Kripalu label sets the scene. The fact that the pens don’t all face the same direction reflects the diversity of the group. And, though you’ll have to take my word for it, all of the pens are open, to show that we were all open to the experience and our writing lives.
I’m sure I’ll have more to show and say in this space in the future. A couple of my classmates have blogged about the week, and I invite you to read their take on the events, too. Here’s Barb, and here’s Lindsey. Two women who are at different stages of their writing lives, who shared incredible writing with the class, and whose unique perspectives can help color your understanding of this experience. I’ve spoken in platitudes about my week at Kripalu to anyone who would listen (heck, I was even moved to poetry!), but it really was fun, energizing and invigorating.
People are constantly trolling along flickr looking for photos to use on their websites. I know, I’ve done the same thing. Every once in awhile they’ll come across my photo stream and see something they like, and they’ll ask to use it. Usually they are looking to offer no more than photo credit.
A few of times in the past I’ve said OK. At first I was flattered, and then I justified giving away the rights with the thought that I wasn’t likely to actively market that particular photo anyway, so I’m not really sacrificing income.
What I discovered was that allowing use in return “photo credit” is basically just giving the image away. So when I recently received another solicitation, for the photo in question, I decided to ask for a little cash for the trouble. And much to my surprise, the folks agreed! So what you see here is the first photo that I have ever sold. May there be more in the future!
Before you know what serenity is, you must fly
In a small airplane
With canoes for feet
That takes you from deep in the forest
And carries you over a breathing map
With miles of trees and iridescent ponds
To deeper in the forest
Where no people are
Because the hike is too long
And the streams are too narrow
Before you know what serenity is
You must wake before dawn
And sit beneath the moon
Among the stars
And hear the drops from last night’s rain
Fall a second time
From the pine boughs
And listen to the loons greeting their friends
Who live on another pond
The show’s visual appeal requires all of the art to be displayed in 10 inch-by-10 inch frames. (The art is not limited to photography – in fact, photos are historically in the minority.) I have chosen two 5-inch square photos, which will be matted to fit the 10×10 frames.
Both images are sparse seascapes with prominent lines and curves, but the similarities end there.
The top image was taken at Maquoit Bay at sunrise. The tide is low and the water is glass calm. A few plovers can be seen wading and seeking breakfast. There is a gentle haze on the horizon. I’ve chosen to show this in black and white, to capitalize on the moonscape feel of the rocky mud flats.
The second image was taken at Land’s End, Bailey Island, just as the sun was setting and the moon rising. The waves are rough, crashing over the rocks. The sunset casts a reddish glow on the moon, and the graininess of the image lends an apocalyptic feel. This image also has fog on the horizon, but in this case it obscures the lower third of the moon.
My hope is that my images sell and help continue a flourishing art program in the local schools. (And I would get a cut too, which would also be nice.) I also hope that these images inspire other photographers and artists to find what touches them inside, and to seek a way to capture and keep it or share with others.
10×10 Brunswick is on September 30 from 5 – 8 p.m. The art will be diplayed at the Curtis Memorial Library on Pleasant Street, or St. Paul’s Church next door. If you’re nearby, do stop in and see me and all the other great images on display.
I attended a Capturing Maine meetup at McLaughlin Garden in South Paris, Maine today. It was a fun time, with nine or ten of us in total.
The garden is famous for its lilacs, but those were a bit past peak. There are tons of flowers currently in bloom, including rhododendrons, globe flowers, forget-me-nots (everywhere), columbines, and the elusive Jack in the Pulpit. There is a lot of interesting foliage among all the flowers. Read more about it at Examiner.
We also met the new Director, Ruth Copeland. She is an accomplished photographer in her own right.
These gardens were open to the public when they Bernard McLaughlin’s private garden. But I never really knew about them back then, even though South Paris is my home town. I’ve visited a couple of times in recent years. It’s a great place for photos, and a terrific excuse to go home and visit family.
I was in Portland for a meeting the other day. Rather than rush back to my office, I wandered around downtown with my camera. Here are a couple of shots.
I recently acquired a couple of second-hand Minolta kit lenses that fit my Sony. These shots were taken with the 28-80 mm lens. It’s a useful size for me.
In lieu of going to the gym this morning, I spent some time in the yard photographing daffodils. Then I noticed the early sun sparkling on the dewey grass.
I’m not sure what the neighbors thought of me lying on the ground in my pajamas taking photos, but they are probably getting used to it. Fortunately I was able to lie on the driveway to get these shots, so I avoided getting myself wet.
Thoughts for photographers on Earth Day.
The Maine Photography Meetup group got together for a shoot on Saturday morning in Old Orchard Beach. Many members arrived in time for the sunrise. I love photographing the sunrise, but didn’t get up in time to make it.
The sunrise shoot was followed by breakfast at JJ’s Eatery (good food, bad coffee, terrible service), then a walk around the closed theme park and desolate streets of off-season OOB.
It turns out that downtown OOB is pretty small, so we next ventured a couple of miles to Pine Point in Scarborough. There we were met with boats in the water and on the beach, and a variety of hidden treasures.
It’s always fun to get together with photo friends to share the joy of photography. The group’s Flickr page has lots of great images.
My job takes me to Montpelier a few times per year. Downtown Montpelier lies nestled along the river, but much of the city rests on the side of – or on top of – its many hills.
Atop a hill behind the statehouse is Hubbard Park, and atop Hubbard Park is Hubbard Tower, a 54-foot stone monolith that offers 360-degree views of the town and the hills both near and far.
When in Montpelier recently, I woke up before dawn to take some photos of the small city as it woke up. At the top is a shot of the corner of State and Main Streets. This was a two-second exposure that captured a box truck moving through the intersection. Below is a photo of the Winooski River running toward the State House, taken from the Main Street Bridge.
I had hoped to get “Golden Hour” light shining upon the dome, but cloudy sky that morning dashed the early morning light. This will be a challenge for my next trip. For many more photos of Montpelier, check out my set on Flickr.
The Earth’s continuous circuit of the Sun has brought us once again to the Vernal Equinox. Spring has begun, and though winter still has a thing or two left to offer – it’s snowing in Southern Maine as I write this – nature is starting another cycle. Sure signs of warm weather to come: the robins are hopping around the lawn looking for worms, and in warm patches of earth, the crocuses have appeared.
Flowers on the South-facing side of the Bank of America building in Brunswick always seem to be a week or two ahead of their brethren elsewhere. So it is with these crocuses, which are in full bloom while snow still covers my flower gardens. The daffodils and tulips are surely not far behind.
Just a photo of the moon, to show that I haven’t forgotten about the blog. Shot from the top of Hubbard Tower in Montpelier, Vermont with the Big Beercan. The sky was still blue, but all the photos came out with a black background, else the moon itself was all washed out.
I love the details visible. This was what I had in mind when I got the new lens. I’ve shot the moon every month since I bought it.
The other day I made a makeshift studio on my kitchen table to play around with a variety of shots. Eventually I took out my electric guitar – a Fender Toronado – and took a bunch of photos with it. This was my first try on the guitar with my new camera. It was a fun experiment in light and focus and depth-of-field.
I got some decent shots with my old camera, but a combination of the camera’s and my own shortcomings in dealing with low light usually led to a fair amount of graininess, as in the Tuners photo:
Guitars, with their curves and shiny bits, are a lot of fun to photograph. One day I hope to get a satisfactory image of the whole thing!
Since I got the Big Beercan lens, I’ve taken the opportunity to try to shoot the full moon. The first attempts didn’t go so well, but round two provided some good shots.
I recently wrote about what I have learned about shooting the moon in a recent piece at Examiner.com.
This morning I saw a sliver of the moon, so I thought I would give that a try. Not as good as the full moon. Perhaps I needed to kick up the ISO.
I’ve entered into a couple of new projects for 2011, to mix things into all the sunrises and keep the creative juices flowing. One of these new things is joining a challenge group on Flickr called “Take Aim.”
Every two weeks, two new challenges are issued. Photographers have a little over a week to come up with up to two entries for the challenge, then there are a few days for votes. The winners issue the next challenge.
I took a bunch of photos of a honey bear for the “Keep it Local” challenge. This challenge acknowledges that not everybody, especially those of us in colder climates, is getting outside during the winter to take a lot of photos. So the idea is to take shots of something close by – in your house or office, or any place you find yourself on a regular basis. Hopefully you’ll try an interesting new interpretation of the object.
This photo that I took of the honey bear fit well into this week’s second challenge: “Look into my eyes.”
The photo below was take for the previous “Cold Cold Winter” challenge. For this shot, I waded through four feet of snow in the Pines Cemetery in Brunswick to capture the stones nearly – or in some cases, completely – covered over. I titled this one “Buried Again,” though a friend suggested “Ten Feet Under.”
I find the challenges to be a good way for me to think about getting away from comfort of the tried-and-true. The give me a reason learn new techniques and more about how my camera works. All of which will make me a better photographer.
A few photos that I took while interviewing Heather Frederick for my Examiner.com article about VoxPhotographs. Above is a portrait that I think was a good idea, but that I failed to pull off. Below are a couple views of the gallery walls.
In taking photos, I like to occasionally incorporate an element of the unexpected into the composition. Perhaps taking a slightly different interpretation of a subject, or including something that doesn’t quite fit in with the main focus of the shot.
It’s a perspective that I’m comfortable with, as I’ve always thought of myself as being a bit off from from from the norm. It amuses me to turn around a phrase – “the lights aren’t on, but someone’s home” – to confuse the obvious. I enjoy very private jokes.
As such, the theme of deviation from the norm usually isn’t as overt as it is in these photographs. One domino is facing in the opposite direction from the rest. There is purpose behind this as well. As much as this domino is trying to show it’s individualism, it’s quite obvious that it is only subtly different from the rest. You have to study it’s dots to see that it is not like all the others.
I took these shots in answer to a challenge to take abstract photos. The dominoes are terrific photography subjects. Their smooth lines are very pleasing to the eye and accept light well, and their uniformity lends itself to abstract interpretation. I enjoyed allowing one to show its colors in most of the shots. Even though the individuals were randomly selected.
The other day I acquired second (third? fourth?)-hand a Minolta Maxxum AF Zoom 75-300 mm 4.5-5.6 lens, aka the “Big Beercan.” This thing is a beast, made of metal and probably could double as a dumbbell.
This lens fills a great need for zoom, as the 18-55 mm kit lens only provides about 3x zoom. It’s also a macro lens, which will be nice for photographing birds at the bird feeder. (Or on the fence, as the case may be.)
It’s not the speediest lens with maximum f5.6 at full zoom. I tested it out at the Mt. Ararat vs. Lewiston vs. St. Dom swim meet at the Bowdoin pool on Friday night. The Sony exhibits some graininess at high ISO. But I’m OK with this, as I didn’t buy either the camera or the lens with sports photography in mind. Other than baseball, I suppose.
I had a moment of fear when my camera strap gave way under the weight of the lens, but fortunately I had a hood and a UV filter on the lens. The UV filter was lost, and the lens got a couple of dings, but all is working properly.