Windows For the Soul - Photography

What can I photograph when the lions don't show up?

As much as I would love that, there are no lions, zebras, leopards, wildebeests, etc., around here. Although there is, I imagine, a good number of different species that could surely be worthy of a photo, they just don’t cross my way when I am running all my daily errands, which is pretty much all I do most of my day. Either that or seat at my desk, stuck on my desktop, trying to do what pays the bills. They call it working. Anyway, as I was saying, I lack the usual interesting subjects for a shot that is worthy of more than 2 seconds of attention. Of course, I lack much more than just that, but I’d rather not go into that because it’s easier to complain about what is beyond my power to change. So (I keep digressing, I know), what could possibly make the difference between a photo of a simple horse on a field, or what a friend of mine would call a “Frére Jacques” (sorry for the private joke) kind of photo, and a decent shot? On my way to the car wash, late in the afternoon on a sunny day about to turn into a stormy one, I was keeping an eye on the sunset when I looked inland and saw the sky with these strong colours, threatening to drop a shower on my head pretty soon. And yet, in front of me all I had was a busy rush hour avenue packed with cars entering a roundabout. Not the prettiest sight. To the left, I spotted this horse in the middle of a field, about fifty meters from the road and I found my subject. I wasn’t wearing the best shoes to walk into the knee-high grass but... who cares? The horse was facing westward, barely lit by what was left of the sunset light. I dialled the compensation down a bit and managed to take a couple of shots just before the horse’s ears showed that my presence wasn’t welcome and my model turned away to as far as the rope allowed. I had to leave, because my car was supposed to be ready and I had just 5 minutes to pick it up. Or so I thought, because I had to wait almost an hour more, instead of taking some more photos elsewhere. Typical...
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Nikon D7100, Nikon 80-200 mm f/2.8 @80 mm, ISO 640, 1/320, f/6.3, -2/3EV.

In need of a telephoto lens... or not.

I hesitated considerably before posting these photos. I mean, I always do, maybe too much... or maybe not enough. This time, though, I had a further reason to question whether I should do it or not. However, this set of photos is a good illustration of a couple of things I feel that are worthy of a few lines. I hope I am not too wrong. The past few weeks, everyday, with an amazing punctuality just before sunset, flocks of cormorants fly over my house, coming from the seaside, flying inland for the night. I had this photo in my mind of one of those flocks (ranging from only two birds to well over twenty) flying in from the sunset from an almost horizontal perspective. How could I do that if they were flying rather high above my head? Well, by climbing onto the roof of my house, of course. With that in mind, I waited for a day with some rain-threatening clouds, but sunny enough to ensure a colourful late afternoon sky. I got lucky with the weather and I was not disappointed with the light conditions. However, when I showed these photos to two very different people, they had quite distinct reactions. The first one, who I usually consider, more or less as a joke, the acid test for my photography, seemed to be quite pleased with the result. I guess it was the colourful sky that got her sympathy. The second one, a friend who, in my opinion (for what it is worth), is a great nature photographer, was kind enough not to trash them bluntly. Kindly, he just said: ”your 80-200 mm lens is short, isn´t it?” I guess he is right, the lens is short because I had to crop some of the photos a bit and still the birds are little more than tiny spots in the sky. I suppose his precious feedback alone should be enough to keep me from posting them and to understand that the photos are, to put it mildly, plain boring. Yet, every single one of these shots is much closer to what I wanted to do than they would be if I had used a longer lens. True, I would have been able to get closer to the cormorants, but I would have lost too much diversity in the sky and it was the sky with the birds that I wanted to capture rather than the other way around. So, this just goes to show a couple of things: first, you should not trust the approval of your most ferocious critic; secondly, if you really want to find opportunities to use your gear, all you have to do is to open your eyes and.... climb to the roof top of your house; finally, sometimes having the gear that one could think that it would be the most suitable for the situation may keep you from taking the photo that you have imagined. The problem is when the photo that you have imagine is a cr*ppy one, as it seems to be the case. Be that as it may, I am still mad at Santa for forgetting that 500 mm that was on my Christmas wish list.

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Nikon D7100, Nikon 80-200 mm f/2.8 @200 mm, ISO 900, 1/200, f/7.1.

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Nikon D7100, Nikon 80-200 mm f/2.8 @200 mm, ISO 640, 1/250, f/7.1.

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Nikon D7100, Nikon 80-200 mm f/2.8 @200 mm, ISO 280, 1/320, f/10.

When the threads of time get tangled up

We have all heard too many times the expression “the decisive moment”, but forgive me for bringing up my own preference for “decisive moments”. When coincidence creates a scene that is somewhat unexpected, awkward, ironic, or even somewhat nonsense, if I happen to have my camera with me and my frequent clumsiness does not stand between me and the photo I wish to take, I’m a happy camper. In such cases, I can even be less frustrated if I can spot potential technical flaws on the shots taken. I don’t really care too much, as long as I feel that I have managed to freeze that moment when the threads of time got tangled up.
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Nikon D300, Nikon 80-200 mm f/2.8 @200 mm, ISO 500, 1/500, f/5.

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Nikon D300, Nikon 80-200 mm f/2.8 @80 mm, ISO 400, 1/800, f/9.

To publish or not to publish...

Time and again, whenever I drove by this spot, I told myself I had to go there with a little time to spare. I drive by this stork nest on a weekly basis, but always an hour too soon and always with the lot on board. However, pulling over to the side road and telling them “give an hour” is obviously not an option. This is a good example why photography is not a suitable hobby for those who are not selfish enough to systematically abandon the spouse (avoiding gender distinction...) and the offspring, to indulge in a few hours of fiddling around with settings, of composition adjusting, and so on. Finally, I managed to take a little time to go to that stork nest to try to photograph it at “that” time of the day. The task, however, proved to be a bit harder than I expected. The nest is on top of what is left of an old tree and it has been there for years. Unfortunately, this year someone decided, for whatever reason, that the log had to be shortened to almost half of its length. Consequently, the nest is now only about five meters above the road level, right there by the road side and as soon as I get closer the adult storks fly away and only come back when I leave. So, this called for a stealth approach. Hiding behind some bushes on the other side of the road, I managed to find an opening on those bushes that allowed me to be within reach of the nest. The angle was not the best, but it was good enough.

This photo reminds me that a couple of days ago I was discussing with a friend why do people publish photos that are subpar. I suppose that different reasons can explain this and that how and where they choose to publish may also hint at their motivation. Personally, though, I believe that this can be explained by two fundamental reasons: the first reason is the fact that they just don’t know any better; the second is the fact that that subpar work is all they have. Yes, guilty as charged and this photo is a good example. Yes, there are quite a few details on this photo that should lead no a “do not publish” label on it, methinks. However, although I can tell that, I am sure that an experienced photographer would easily spot a whole bunch of details that should award it a “trash it” label (If only I would receive an email from that photographer... ). On the other hand, this photo was taken after a couple of very busy weeks, with little time left for photography. So, after such a painfully long period of time, being able to take the time to finally go to that spot and the great feeling of just being there and doing it can probably cloud my judgment. In my defense, I can only say that, by publishing this subpar stuff, I do not seek meaningless taps on my back. If I wanted that, I would be publishing on Facebook, where so many people scratch each others backs with unfelt compliments on their photos. So, if you have reasons to trash my photos, please, do drop me a line and you will get a big “thank you” from me!

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Nikon D600, Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 @135mm, ISO 360, 1/1000, f/10.

The waiting

Apart from photographing my own family, I am not really into portrait photography. It’s not that I don’t like it, but I suppose portrait photography is not for everybody. Some people feel uncomfortable when they are being photographed and I would dare say that most of us do. But then there are those who feel uncomfortable when they are photographing others. Yes, that’s me, go figure... Anyway, this is just another example that if I always have my camera with me I avoid regretting leaving it home and the common excuse to sell one’s gear: lack of use.
I had just had my sunday lunch and was messing around with the camera as usual, when I saw this photograph in my mind, and I saw it in black & white, of an old man staring at the TV set in standby mode... and I don’t mean the TV. Petrified enough for me to be able to take the shot at a low speed, hand-held ... well, not really hand-held, because I laid the camera on the table. Personally, but maybe it’s just me, I look at this photo and a word comes to mind: respect. Is that not what we feel when we see photos of old people? And when we see photos of children, don’t we all see innocence? And so many other stereotypes. Maybe this is why I have some mixed feelings for portrait photography: it usually only captures the person’s good side. Who knows what wickedness hides behind a face?... Still, I will not be posting this in the “No excuses” category, but rather start a new category for my posts: “Us” and who knows... maybe I will come up with a portrait once in a while.

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Nikon D90, Nikon 55-200mm f/4.0-5.6 @165mm, ISO 400, 1/3, f/8.0.

A wish come true

I had been waiting for the opportunity to take a night shot of a stork on its nest, but as I did not want to use a very long exposure, lest the stork decided to move, I knew I had to do it just after dusk, when there is still some light on the sky, a souvenir of the sun that has just disappeared. When I could finally have a chance to be there at the time of the day that I wanted, I was lucky enough to have no rain for a change. Once there, I had the stork standing, I could see it enough to know it would not take such a long exposure nor cranking up the ISO so I knew my wish had come true. I saw this shinny spot in the sky and immediately decided where I wanted to place it in the shot. It took me some to and froing, circling the nest, choosing the right height for the tripod, a couple of trial shots with different ISO values and...well, that was a nice way to finish my day.

Night photo of a stork on its nest
Nikon D7000, Nikon 80-200 mm f/2.8 @200 mm, ISO 400, 1,6sec, f/22, Tripod.

The Lady and the Papparazzo

There she was, one second she was moving around as if she was looking for someone, the next she stood still, as if she was waiting. Briefly, though, because she never stood still long enough to give the paparazzo (me) time to compose the shot properly. The light was natural, no strobes, reflectors or any other devices to compensate for the less than perfect light (in the shade, actually) of a late afternoon of the early spring. No macro lens, just my poor man’s Nikon 18-55 kit lens and no tripod to compensate for my usually rather shaky hands for low shutter speed. With a regular white plastic bag I improvised a reflector to slightly brighten up my subject. Disturbed by our presence (mine and the bag’s) the ladybug stopped and seemed to look over her shoulder as if she was saying something like “get lost, will you?!” Well, I know the result could be better, but it could also be worse... I hope.

Ladybug being harassed by a papparazzo

Nikon D90, Nikon 15-55mm f/3.5-5.6 VR @55mm, ISO 200, 1/60, f/5.6.

Mushroom effects

This is one of my pet-projects. On an old log, or on what is left of it, in my parents’ backyard I have been following the life of these mushrooms (Trametes Versicolor, aka Turkey Tail Mushroom) for a couple of years now. Every week, before my usual sunday lunch, I check on them. Their exotic aspect does not suggest that they could be of any interest, at least from a gastronomic point-of-view. However, they are actually commonly consumed, for example as tea, they have been used in traditional medicine (e.g. Traditional Chinese Medicine) and they even seem to have promising qualities in the treatment of cancer. They also provide an interesting photography subject, at least for the photography enthusiast with no better subject available at the moment. In this shot, the speedlight and the underexposure highlighted the white rims of the mushrooms, concealing (albeit not totally as I would have preferred) the grass on the ground in the corners of the photo.

Trametes Versicolor from above perspective
Nikon D7000, Nikon 50mm f/1.8, ISO 200, 1.3sec, f/22, Tripod, SB-28 off-camera.

Links for examples of sites with information on this type of mushroom: Wild Brunch Mushrooms and American Cancer Society.

Wishes for 2014

These days, what can one wish for the new year? Well, that it is just as good (or bad) as the one that is finishing. I mean, we did manage through this one, didn’t we?
For what it’s worth, may the year that is coming be whatever we wish it to be.

Bird in the sunset
Nikon D7000, Nikon 80-200 mm f/2.8 @80mm, ISO 640, 1/400, f/16, Tripod.

Stork traffic lane

About thirty years ago, when I was a little more than 10, I remember that I once saw a small flock of storks flying over my neighbourhood and that I had never seen them around here before. Surely, their passage was no reason for amazement but it was by no means common. Nowadays, for different reasons, we have storks around here the whole year and, in some areas, it is almost easier to spot a stork than a common sparrow. One would dare suggesting that there should be some traffic signs for stork rush hour.

Stork Traffic Sign Roundabout
Nikon D7000, Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 @200mm, ISO 400, 1/1250, f/7.1.

Look over your shoulder

Quite often, when I am out and about to take a few shots of the sunset (or sunrise, for that matter) I end up missing great opportunities for some colourful photos because I forget to look behind my back. Facing west, obsessed with catching the full colour pallet of the sky, whilst trying to avoid burning part of the shot by the sun, I tend to forget to look around. This was not one of those cases, though.

Coloured skiy Dusk by the river
Nikon D7000, Nikon 50mm f/1.8, ISO 500, 1/60, f/9.0, Tripod.

Kick off

Today I am feeling bold. So... I am starting this web site and this blog as a way to share my passion for photography and, hopefully, to use it as a log for my evolution as a photographer. I have no idea whatsoever what this will turn out to be. So, bear with me...

Just after sunset on a late November day, facing NW, I mounted my tripod with the lowest point of view possible, just short of getting my shoes wet.


Boat on lagoon at dusk
Nikon D7000, Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 @120mm, ISO 500, 1/25, f/8.0, Tripod.

A photographer's dull life or creative jealousy?

A post by John Schell (Turning Around That Creative Jealousy) on stoppers.com brought me back to the subject on a previous post. Basically, the question could be summarised as something like “why does my work stink?” I imagine that many of those who love photography but are only newbies or even enthusiasts often look at their shots and think: “Sh**! What happened to the photo I thought I had taken? What have I done?” And things get worse when we look at the work of others and realize how poor our portfolio is. Sometimes I get quite blown away with some photos I see on the web. The jealousy meter would not reach the red line if all those shot were taken by real pros, with real pro gear, in dream-only scenarios and stuff like that. The problem is that often enough those jaw-dropping shots are taken by amateurs, with amateur gear, in everyday scenarios. How can one live with the quality of one’s work? How can one not give up in hopeless frustration? Too often we can find people selling their gear for confessed lack of use. I wonder if this is not a sign of forfeiting to creative jealousy.
Creative Jealousy, as John Schell called it on his post, must not lead to forfeiting one’s dream of being able to capture his vision of the world through photography. This jealousy must be accepted as natural. Recognising it is, indeed, liberating. If you don't feel it at all, you are probably wrongly convinced that what you do is great and you face the risk you being ridiculous. Just go through all the profiles on Flickr and such and when you find people looking for meaningless compliments you will see a lot of that. However, just feeling that Jealousy but failing to recognise it may lead you to hide what you do, not daring to expose yourself to honest criticism. Once you acknowledge the true (small) size of your work, you accept what you are and become much more open to get slammed in the face with criticism. Of course, much can be justified with differences in gear, in subjects, places, opportunities, time available, etc., but when deep down you accept that what you do is just so-so, you are truly ready to start learning. Acknowledging that most of what goes wrong in my photos is my own doing is the only way to improve. Understanding what went wrong is a condition for you to go back, to take my time, not to rush, to correct your settings and try to do it properly. Many times, though, it is not possible, either because that dawn is gone, the bird has flown or the skills are just too short. Even when this is the case, there is surely a learning outcome.
The work of others is more and more cause for admiration rather than true jealousy. The more I struggle to get results that I can be happy with, the more I admire the work of others but also the more I understand how often there is so much post processing into some photos, sometimes way too much. In the end, what really matters is how I feel about my photos, more than what others do, as long as I keep my feet on the ground...

Autumn sunset_7SC_2308
Nikon D7000, Nikon 50mm f/1.8, ISO 400, 1/40, f/8, Tripod.

The story of the future starts on day 1

A new year is always time for important resolutions, those of a fundamental importance that always end up being neglected after the first few weeks or even days. Today I found this suggestion for an app in a post in fstoppers.com and I though this could be a funny project to carry out throughout 2014 and decided to give it a shot. I am talking about the app “1 second every day” developed by Cesar Kuriyama in 2012.
It is curious that I read this post today, early in the morning (well, I did have a late start of the day...), when just a couple hours before, whilst tumbling around on my bed trying to find the will to get up, I was looking back into the past for long gone episodes of my life, reviewing them visually and regretting the lack of photographs of those moments. Yes, this app would have been quite useful back then. We often have photos of decisive moments such as births, weddings, parties, graduations, etc. However, the memories I am talking about are of the seemingly trifle moments, episodes, routines, places and people, all of them, though, a part of who we are. A long-lasting project, with a motive such as the one behind this app but over a longer period of time, would be an interesting one to pursue, even though the idea of retaining such visuals memories reminds me of Patrick Süskind’s (The Perfume) Jean-Baptiste Grenouille and his obsessive quest to trap scent. We’ll see... but I suspect that it is just a New Year’s resolution like many others before.

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Links: stoppers.com and 1 second every day