Holidazzle Christmas Shopping Parade

Holidazzle Christmas Shopping Parade

The Festival of the Illuminati returns to Minneapolis. New York has a Christmas shopping parade on Thanksgiving, but in Minneapolis they have one every Thursday through Sunday night from turkey day ’till Christmas. It’s pretty interesting, a few floats, a band and lots of people. What makes the Holidazzle Parade so unusual is that it’s in the dark at 6:30 and all the people in the parade are covered in lights. I want to know how they are powered — must be some big batteries.

This is a ten second exposure at f10 & ISO 100. I’m using the new Tamron 11-18mm to fit all this in, as you can see, there is very little distortion. Pretty cool getting both sides of the street, a parade and the top of a skyscraper all in the same frame.

That skyway you see is not unique. Minneapolis has a habitrail system that spans the whole city. You can walk on the second floor in the warm air from one side of the city to another. Since you are above the traffic, it’s actually the fastest way around too.

I took quite a few images of the Holidazzle, so check back tomorrow. There’s another place for you to check too, I met Greg from View from the Tundra photo blog for the first time. We scurried through the skyway and took lots of pics along the way. After shooting the parade, we stopped and took some shots of Sam who runs the Red Wagon Popcorn Stand across from Gaviidae. The popcorn stand is on the other side of the skyway in my photo above. Sam’s a real nice guy, he offered us hot cider and hot chocolate. He said he’ll have chili there tonight, so if you get down to the parade, stop by and see Sam, he’ll set you up with some warm goodies.

High Noon Light with Bokeh

High Noon Light with Bokeh

Ah, the lovely browns of late autumn in Minnesota. I went exploring along the Minnesota River yesterday and though I chased a woodpecker for a while, I chose this picture for today.

The high-noon sun is usually a problem for most situations, but I found a way to make it work. The high light was glancing down on this little fluff-ball giving it dimension — notice the way the stems have clear light and dark sides. Since the sun was high, the dark-brown trees were, well, dark. By using my telephoto at the widest aperture and placing the subject just inside my minimum focal distance, I was able to throw the background completely out of focus.

Depth of Field (the area in focus) is determined by three things: aperture, distance to the subject and focal length. In this case, I was maximizing all of these factors which makes for a nice Bokeh. I’ve done this before and probably will again. A good time to try this is when you have a good solid color in the background or a confusing one.

Bokeh is the light effect created by the out of focus light from the background. The quality of this effect on the image is a function of and an important distinction in the quality of the lens. For example, at some point everyone who has an SLR with interchangeable lenses discovers the 500mm mirror lens for $90 on ebay. Why is this powerful lens so cheap? It has very little glass in it and two problems: the aperture is fixed at f/8 and the bokeh looks like little donuts. Seriously, little white donuts.

That’s it for today, have fun and keep your focus!

Thanksgiving Rush Out of Minneapolis

Thanksgiving Rush Out of Minneapolis

The shining emerald city of Minneapolis offers it’s best view from 35W, in fact, if you are a fan of the movie Fargo, you will see this angle as the guys drive in from Brainerd. Actually, if they were coming from Brainerd, they would be coming the other direction, but the view of downtown from the North isn’t nearly as spectacular. Unless you were there on the first of August.

Long exposures is one of the many benefits of night photography. To learn how to take photos like this and many more photography tips, please stay tuned to my daily photo blog, where I publish a photo from Minneapolis every day.

Learn more about Night Photography techniques in this post.

Weisman Art Museum — Frank Gehry

Weisman Art Museum — Frank Gehry

And they said you couldn’t take a good picture on a crappy gray day. I was out shooting Sunday with Bob and went to an old classic, the Weisman Museum. This Frank Gehry masterpiece is snugged up on the edge of the UM campus and overlooks the 35W Bridge collapse site. This building is beautiful on a blue sunny day and glares like a frozen lake. Bob and I were there on a completely overcast day and I wasn’t sure what I would get. If you check out Bob’s picture, you can see what that day really looked like. I abused Lightroom to get the color and texture into this image.

I’m getting sufficiently jealous of all the other bloggers’ twilight shots of downtown from the pedestrian bridge over 35W, so I hope to get out and try it this evening.

Minneapolis Greenway Bridge Part Two

Minneapolis Greenway Bridge Part Two

This is an additional picture of the Minneapolis Midtown Greenway Bridge. I spent some more time cranking the color balance around to get this bridge to match the Guthrie Theater colors (also known as Best Buy or Ikea colors).

Minneapolis Metro Blog just featured my Greenway pictures on their site.

Intermodal Shipping Containers & A Near Death Experience

Intermodal Shipping Containers & A Near Death Experience

I have an unusual interest in intermodal shipping containers. A couple of years ago I started noticing these colorful boxes full of earthly delights. They are really an amazing concept when you stop to think about it: load them up in China, put them on a massive ship that’s in port only 24 hours, send them around the world, load them straight to a train, unload and then use as a warehouse for as long as needed and unload them once. Have you wondered why there are no large warehouses anymore? Yep, that’s why. Having grown up looking over the deep-sea port of Kenosha, I used to watch them unload ships for days. Longshoremen (who made $22/hour in the ’70s) loaded items by hand into seven-story deep ship holds. These ISO containers changed all of that.

As usual, when I make realizations like this I end up spending inordinate amounts of time thinking about it and then go risk my life for no reason.

The picture above was taken in the Union Yard in St. Paul. I wasn’t actually in the yard itself, I was on the miles of parallel track leading into the yard from the North. After shooting the massive Bungee grain elevator (elevators revolutionized the grain commodities market early in the 20th century, but that’s another article), I started walking the length of a parked train of TTX well cars. I walked in the snow for quite a while looking at the neighborhood and the graffiti. Then I came upon the image above. I shot over the parked empty TTX cars at a loaded double stack on the far side. I constructed an abstract image which, if I may say, came out pretty well. The contrast of saturated colors and detailed subjects is something I have been working on for a long time and the picture of Sarah at the State Fair Grounds is along the same idea.

After the shot, I decided that I could get a better one of the containers if I didn’t have the TTX cars in front of them. So I climbed up and over them. That was a lot of work, the ‘ladder’ was bent inward under the car and there were no handles on top. It took a while and the frozen steel was painful. (Have I mentioned how cold it gets up here in Minnesota?) When I landed on the other side I wasn’t going back.

I took a few shots which didn’t work because I couldn’t get back far enough, there was only one open track between the parked trains. So I started backtracking along the empty rail. As I walked, I looked up the track and saw in the distance another train coming. I thought I might get a good engine shot, but I was now on the wrong side of the parked train — there were six empty rail lines on the other side of the parked train and I was sure it was going to pass over there, but I wasn’t going over the parked train again. So I kept walking.

Turns out I wasn’t going to miss that train.

As I walked, I realized that that train was on the same line I was on. The parked trains on both sides of me were really long. It was 15 cars to the end between me and the oncoming train and much longer the other way. I started running. I ran and ran, counting the cars to the end as I went. It’s hard to run on frozen gravel. Eleven cars to go, ten…

Then the engineer started blasting the horn at me. Six cars, five… It became clear that I wasn’t going to make it. Now, if you haven’t spent much time in rail yards, and based on my lonely experiences there, not many of you have, the rail lines are really really close together. I decided that I had to do something, and climbing wasn’t a good idea, I could fall into the path of the oncoming train. So I jammed myself up against a hitch between the parked cars. Again, not safe, but better than standing in front of a moving train.

Amidst the blaring horn and the very angry glare of the engineer, the three BNSF EMD 60’s rumbled by and I could reach out and touch them. There was about eight inches between the trains. Time moves slowly when you are caught between trains.

Suffice to say I made it out alive and it was a nice walk back to the Jeep. The birds were singing, the snow had a lovely crunch to it, and now I had another rule to live by: don’t walk on single rails between parked trains.

Oh, another disclaimer, my friend Larry has since told me that in this post-9/11 world, walking on railroad property is a really bad idea. It seems that the good old days of railroad bulls beating hobos aren’t gone forever. So if my story has a romantic appeal to to you, stay out of rail yards and seek immediate help of a psychological nature.

Hydraulic Truck Crane

Hydraulic Truck Crane

Had a visitor in my neighborhood today. I’ve already professed my fondness for gunpowder, but hydraulic anything is pretty neat too.

I spent some time a while back watching a tower crane assembled and I finally get how they add sections to make them taller; but now I have another crane mystery. How do these things work? I know how hydraulics work, but these big telescoping booms make my head itch. I know there’s not one big hydraulic ram inside the boom, that won’t work. They have to be integrated into the sections somehow. Where are the rams and lines and what do they look like? What’s pushing against what? If you know of a good cut-away illustration, please link to it as a comment, I need to know this.

I asked the guy working on it and he started explaining hydraulics. After trying to explain my question I felt like I was asking a squirrel about how a tree gets water up from the roots and he keeps showing me the acorns. Besides, I didn’t want to pester a guy with ten-pound wrench in his hand working a crane that probably costs $500 and hour.

Back to the picture: what did I do here? I centered the subject because I wanted to show the weight of the tackle — you don’t get to see this end of a crane much either. By centering an image, it makes it a little jarring, which is bad for nature & people, but it makes sense here.

This crane has seen some use. The industrial scuffed-up nature influenced me to give it a “direct positive” look: that’s the torqued-out contrast and saturation. I think it reminds me of Legos, so the color processing goes with the giant-toy appeal of the crane. I took it a step further and gave you a larger image than I usually do as well to add to the effect I’m going for. I’m trying to recreate for you the experience I had when I wandered out for my walk and found this massive machine jammed into my narrow little street & hemmed in by trees.

I hope you’ve been inspired to get some serious work done this Friday. Hop up into that big gear and crank — ’cause tomorrow’s Saturday!

Minnesota Autumn Colors

Minnesota Autumn Colors

AAAAGH! It’s all coming to an end! Just like the fireworks grand finale, the best colors mean the end is near. Stiff wind and crisp air send a biblical shiver down the spine of any good Minnesotan. Remember 35 below? Yep, not far off. It’s time for us proud citizens of the most Northern Metropolis to start thinking about snow tires, new car batteries and the high-tech members of the crowd to ponder the lithium batteries in our cameras. Will Mitchster.com survive the winter? If the batteries hold out and I can find my snowshoes.

Until then, enjoy the colors, because soon there will be only one.

Sarah's Greenspace

Sarah’s Greenspace

I went out to the Minnesota State Fair Grounds today with Carol Anne. She and I were attendees of Chris Marquart’s Learning To See Workshop. We were working on the Challenge: Negative Space. This is her daughter Sarah.

One of the interesting things about these gray Minnesota days is that the local color of objects is much more saturated than you’d think. Without the harsh dynamic range of a sunny day, you can get some great colors on digital. This wall of green on the side of the Butterfly house caught my eye, since it matches the current color scheme of mitchster.com. It was great to have Carol Anne and her daughters with me, Sarah is a great model. This green wall would never work without a subject. I like images like this because they remind me of Mark Rothko’s paintings — it looks like a very simple abstract image, but there are little details that give it character like the dent in the wall and the patchy grass. Even Sarah’s akimbo stance adds tension to the otherwise static image.

Just a quick note, this photo won the Tips From The Top Floor Two-Week Photo Challenge! Thanks to all those who voted on and participated in the challenge titled Negative Space. The new Two-Week Challenge was just published. As the winner of the last challenge, I got to choose the the next one — Contrast.

Purple Delights

Purple Delights

I saw the purple invasive plants in the background and changed to my telephoto so that I could group the thistle in the foreground with the soft, out-of-focus plants in the back. Just as I got the picture framed up, this little hero dropped in for his close-up!