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.
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.
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.
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.