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Curvature of Light Puzzle

Curvature of Light Puzzle

Something odd is going on here. Can you figure out why there’s a  halo around the head in the middle? It took me a while to figure it out and I was there! The “head” stepped infront of my subject just as I tried to shoot the pic I posted yesterday. So is there someone walking down Nicollet Ave with a really dense head? Did they generate their own distortion field? Is the Predator standing behind them? See if you can figure it out and then post a comment!

One Way

One Way

Only One Way to get to downtown Minneapolis. At the corner of 9th St and Marquette is the Foshay Tower, Manny’s Steak House and this lovely traffic light. Brandishing my Tamron Ultra-wide that goes to ELEVEN, I scrunched down and caught four Minneapolis Landmarks in one shot! From Left to right: The IDS Tower (built 1973, 792ft roof, 886ft antenna), Wells Fargo Center (built 1988, 773ft), The Foshay Tower (built 1929, 447ft) and Manny’s Steakhouse at Foshay Tower.

One of the perks of wide-angle is that slower shutter speeds are acceptable. Here’s a simple rule for shutter speed: The slowest shutter speed you can use is: 1/x second where x=focal length. For example, if you are using a standard 50mm lens, you can go as slow as 1/50sec and the camera shake won’t show. Remember that most DSLRs have higher effective focal lengths, i.e. 50mm is actually 75mm.

Here’s the personal challenge: see how slow of a shutter speed you can actually shoot hand-held. You’ll see me rave about my ‘human tripod’ skills (chicks dig guys with skills) which is my ability to remain as motionless as possible while shooting so I can go for longer exposures with big lenses. I can sometimes pull off 1/5 sec shots with a 150mm lens. Hints: cradle the lens with one hand, lightly grip the camera with the other. Hold the camera as gently as possible, relax, breath out, think zen, slowly squeeze the shutter. Mirror lockup can also help. Take lots of shots. Digital film is free and you can pick the best of the images when you can look at them on a bigger screen.

Composition: Lines

Composition: Lines

The Nicollet Mall light rail station offers a great opportunity to demonstrate the concept of lines. Lines are mostly a man-made compositional element, in drawing and painting lines can be emphasized to show weight, character, form or lead the eye. An artist can darken them, employing chiaroscuro to suggest form or modify the composition to create lines of interest. A photographer is bound by the constraints of reality, thus I had to seek out lines carved into reality itself so nature would have to be left behind for the world of man.

There’s a touch of sky in the distance, but other than that, welcome to the world of man. Lines, glorious lines. The rails and power cable, curbs and building edges all lead the eye to my focal point, the oncoming train — the beast that lives all it’s life on lines.

Since I’ve left the natural world behind for this composition, I decided to go further and take the color with me. I’ve increased the contrast, saturation and fuddled with all the color balances to emphasize the manufactured reality and strengthen the lines. Speaking of reality, the light-rail fare went up 25 cents today.

It’s October First and another City Daily Photo Blog Theme Day.

Other blogs participating in the theme day:Albuquerque (NM), USA by Helen, American Fork (UT), USA by Annie, Arradon, France by Alice, Ashton under Lyne, UK by Pennine, Aspen (CO), USA by IamMBB, Auckland, New Zealand by Lachezar, Auckland, New Zealand by Baruch, Austin (TX), USA by LB, Avignon, France by Nathalie, Bandung, Indonesia by Eki Akhwan, Bandung, Indonesia by Harry Makertia, Bandung, Indonesia by Bunyamin, Barrow-in-Furness, UK by Enitharmon, Barton (VT), USA by Andree, Baziège, France by PaB, Belgrade, Serbia by BgdPic, Belgrade, Serbia by Bibi, Bellefonte (PA), USA by Barb-n-PA, Bicheno, Australia by Greg, Birmingham (AL), USA by VJ, Bogor, Indonesia by Gagah, Boston (MA), USA by Cluelessinboston, Boston (MA), USA by Ilse, Budapest, Hungary by agrajag, Budapest, Hungary by Isadora, Budapest, Hungary by Zannnie and Zsolt, Buenos Aires, Argentina by Karine, Canterbury, UK by Rose, Cape Town, South Africa by JSB, Cape Town, South Africa by Kerry-Anne, Cavite, Philippines by Steven Que, Château-Gontier, France by Laurent, Chateaubriant, France by trieulet, Chateaubriant, France by Bergson, Cheltenham, UK by Marley, Chennai, India by Ram N, Coral Gables (FL), USA by Jnstropic, Durban, South Africa by CrazyCow, Edwardsville (IL), USA by Mdflores, Fort Lauderdale (FL), USA by Gigi, Franschhoek, South Africa by JSB, Geneva (IL), USA by Kelly, Glasgow, Scotland by Jackie, Greenville (SC), USA by Denton, Grenoble, France by Bleeding Orange, Hamilton, New Zealand by Sakiwi, Hangzhou, China by zoe, Helsinki, Finland by PPusa, Hobart, Australia by Greg, Honningsvag, Norway by J., Hyde, UK by Old Hyde, Hyde, UK by Gerald, Islip (NY), USA by Bettye, Jackson (MS), USA by Halcyon, Jakarta, Indonesia by Santy, Jefferson City (MO), USA by Chinamom2005, Karwar, India by Yogesh, Knoxville (TN), USA by Knoxville Girl, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia by Edwin, La Antigua, Guatemala by Rudy, Lakewood (OH), USA by mouse, Larchmont (NY), USA by Marie-Noyale, Las Vegas (NV), USA by Mo, Lisbon, Portugal by Sailor Girl, Lodz, Poland by ritalounge, London, UK by Mo, London, UK by Ham, Madrid, Spain by Tr3nta, Mainz, Germany by JB, Manila, Philippines by Hilda, Manila, Philippines by Anthony, Manila, Philippines by Heyokity, Melbourne, Australia by John, Menton, France by Jilly, Mexico City, Mexico by Carraol, Middletown (MD), USA by Bernie, Milton, New Zealand by Milton Daily Photo, Milwaukee (WI), USA by karl, Minneapolis (MN), USA by Mitch, Minneapolis (MN), USA by Greg, Minneapolis (MN), USA by Scott, Molfetta, Italy by saretta, Monrovia (CA), USA by Keith, Monte Carlo, Monaco by Jilly,

Monterrey, Mexico by rafa, Muizenberg, South Africa by Pentaxjunkie, Mumbai, India by Kunalbhatia, Mumbai, India by MumbaiiteAnu, Nelson, New Zealand by Meg and Ben, New Delhi, India by Delhi Photo Diary, New York City (NY), USA by Ming the Merciless, New York City (NY), USA by Kitty, Norwich, UK by Goddess888, Orlando (FL), USA by OrlFla, Paderborn, Germany by Soemchen, Palos Verdes (CA), USA by tash, Paris, France by Elsa, Paris, France by Eric, Pasadena (CA), USA by Can8ianben, Pasadena (CA), USA by Petrea, Pensacola (FL), USA by P J, Petoskey (MI), USA by Christie, Philadelphia (PA), USA by Andrew Foderaro, Phoenix (AZ), USA by Sharon, Pilisvörösvár, Hungary by Elise, Port Angeles (WA), USA by Jelvistar, Prague, Czech Republic by kakna, Quezon City, Philippines by ann pablo, Quincy (MA), USA by slim, Rabaul, Papua New Guinea by Jules, Ramsey, Isle of Man by babooshka, Reykjavik, Iceland by Vírgíll, Riga, Latvia by Riga Photos, Roanoke (VA), USA by Tanya, Rome, Italy by Giovanni, Rotterdam, Netherlands by Ineke, Rouen, France by Bbsato, Saarbrücken, Germany by LadyDemeter, Saigon, Vietnam by Simon, Saint Louis (MO), USA by Strangetastes, Saint Paul (MN), USA by Kate, Salt Lake City (UT), USA by Eric, San Antonio (TX), USA by Kramer, San Diego (CA), USA by Felicia, San Francisco (CA), USA by Burd Zel Krai, San Francisco (CA), USA by PFranson, Schenectady (NY), USA by Buck, Seattle (WA), USA by Kim, Seattle (WA), USA by Chuck, Selma (AL), USA by RamblingRound, Sequim (WA), USA by Eponabri, Sesimbra, Portugal by Aldeia, Setúbal, Portugal by Maria Elisa, Silver Spring (MD), USA by John, Singapore, Singapore by Zannnie, Singapore, Singapore by Keropok, Sofia, Bulgaria by Antonia, South Pasadena (CA), USA by Laurie, Stanwood (WA), USA by MaryBeth, Stayton (OR), USA by Celine, Stockholm, Sweden by Stromsjo, Sunshine Coast, Australia by bitingmidge, Sydney, Australia by Ann, Sydney, Australia by Sally, Székesfehérvár, Hungary by Teomo, Tacloban City, Philippines by agnesdv, Tamarindo, Costa Rica by David, Telluride (CO), USA by mtsrool, Terrell (TX), USA by Bstexas, Terrell (TX), USA by Jim K, Test City (MA), USA by , Torun, Poland by Glenn, Toulouse, France by Julia, Turin, Italy by Livio, Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina by Jazzy, Twin Cities (MN), USA by Slinger, Vienna, Austria by G_mirage2, Wailea (HI), USA by Kuanyin, Washington (DC), USA by D.C. Confidential, Wellington, New Zealand by Jeremyb, West Sacramento (CA), USA by Barbara, Weston (FL), USA by WestonDailyPhoto, Willits (CA), USA by Elaine, Yardley (PA), USA by Mrlynn

Obstruction: Restriction

Obstruction: Restriction

I’m back. Sorry for the missing days lately, much ado about many things. Lots of work, family events and summer stuff. I’ve noticed a lot of barriers and obstructions in my work recently, so this week is obstruction week. It seems a good theme since I was obstructed from posting yesterday: the hotel I was at in Grand Rapids, MN didn’t have internet.

This photo was taken from the window of my friend Lynne’s art studio in Lowertown St. Paul. It’s on the eighth floor of a warehouse and looks out to the North. The building across the street was converted into a parking garage. Her window is that security glass with chicken wire cast into it.

I liked the idea of the window being so prominent in the image, it really wants to keep you in. The obstruction makes you look around it and even move your head around trying to see around it. The framing and the chicken wire also mimic the rhythm and composition of the parking ramp.

Tomorrow Obstruction: Distortion

Railroad Abstract Photography

Railroad Abstract Photography

Railroads are a great source of abstract photos. This one was caught on the move; you can tell by the blurred grass on the far side.

Everything on a train is there because it’s supposed to be there. There’s very little decoration, it’s all working mechanical parts, which make for great abstracts. For a tutorial on abstract photography, check out my post from Monday. Basically, you are making the compositional elements prominent and reducing the realistic elements. Railroads and other industrial settings are great in the sense that these purpose-built machines are very simple in their design. Large solid parts, little detail or at least consistent repeating details.

How to: Abstract Photography

How to: Abstract Photography

Behold, the majesty of the Grand Lighting Tower of the Linden Yard. Ok… so the yard is now a city dump and the lights haven’t been on since we stopped building nuclear reactors, but still, from the right angle, it’s pretty cool. There is a lot going on in this shot, and I had fun at every step:

The Composition

This is a classic pyramid composition, offset to the left to follow the Rule of Thirds. Pyramids are very common compositions in design and painting. they draw the eye in and focus it to a central point, giving depth to the image. One of the great things about photography is that you don’t have to convince the viewer that it is real. This would make a lousy painting because it is abstract to the point of being incoherent — it would be dismissed as abstract. As a photo, you know it has to be something, so you figure it out. Abstract images loose their sense of space because the geometric shapes and strong lines destroy the organic real-world cues. By finding objects with simple lines and shapes, you can compose and image in which they dominate the space.

The Technique

This was shot with my Nikon D200 and the Nikkor 70-300mm VR f/4.5-5.6. Settings: Focal length 70mm, ISO 100, Aperture F/16, Shutter 1/80 sec, no flash. I placed the camera against the tower and worked out the composition. I took several photos at different settings with different compositions.

One of the big mistakes many amateur photographers make is that they don’t look at the entire image. They center the subject and shoot. I really enjoyed how I was able to get the top left light to fill the corner. Digital photos are free: take as many as you can. Keep moving the camera around and see what you can make.

The Processing

I love Adobe Lightroom. I can change an image in so many directions quickly without damaging the file or having oodles of layers to manage. I increased: exposure, recovery, blacks, vibrance, contrast, clarity and… Cranked the tonal curve and increased the luminosity and saturation of some colors. Add in a little Lens Vignetting and it’s done!

Black-capped Chickadee, Poecile atricapilla

Black-capped Chickadee, Poecile atricapilla

These chipper little chirpers bring a little joy to the long winter, but now seem more plentiful and active. I have been able to get closer to them as well.

Interesting fact: The chick-a-dee-dee-dee song is used to maintain contact and keep the flock together.

Shallow Depth of Field

This Chickadee was close enough for me to use a shallow depth of field. Depth of field (DOF) is the area that is in focus in an image. In the case of this photo, it is very shallow in that the chickadee is in focus, but not much else is, only a few inches of the branch he’s standing on is in focus. The DOF is determined by the size of the aperture, the focal length and the distance to the subject. In this case I was able to push all three meters toward a shallow DOF. I used a 300mm focal length lens set to f/5.6 and was about 10 feet from the subject.

The shallow DOF is the playground of the rich. Large aperture lenses are very expensive — go look up f/2.8 or f/1.8 lenses and you will see. The longer the focal length, the more expensive the bigger apertures. The one meter not affected by price is the distance to the subject. If you can focus close-up on something, you can get the shallow DOF effect with any lens. But if you want to get this effect on live wild birds, you need the big glass.

Tomorrow: The Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias

The Bell Tower

The Bell Tower

Remember the green building from yesterday? Here it is again with a different perspective.

Flat vs. Space

One of the main objectives of Plein Air painters is to show depth and dimension; to represent the space of the landscape. Much of what is seen as modern art is based on ideas from the early 20th century in which this attempt to portray space was questioned. Piet Mondrian created some extreme examples of this.

Most of these debates go away with photography because you don’t have to create and the illusion of reality for the viewer, they already believe it. The challenge for a photographer is to create an abstract image in spite of reality.

A City Photographer's Self Portrait

A City Photographer’s Self Portrait

Those in glass houses shouldn’t cast stones, but they do cast their fair share of reflections. Perched above the street in one of Minneapolis’ many skyways, my eye was caught by the reflection on the skyway window, but I quickly saw the reflections all down the street and saw the chance to capture myself in the act.

Composition Tips

Here’s a few tips on composing an image: The rule of thirds is a classic and oft debated, but good general rule. Divide the space into thirds in both directions and try to place areas of interest on the intersections or along the lines. For example, you can see that I placed my head at the intersection of the left and bottom thirds, then the horizon on the bottom third and the dark shape of the building above my head is on the left third. Centering subjects is really boring for the eye. Also, if you have a person or critter in the scene, try to leave room in front of them, like the way I turned myself to be facing into the image.

A Scientific Study on Composition

I’ve been running this daily photo blog for almost 6 months now and have been keeping track of it with Google Analytics (one of the benefits of designing your own blog). Google Analytics offers a tremendous amount of information, for example, I could look at a chart of how many visitors came from the City Daily Photo Blog on each day. I was looking at this and saw a large swing the the number of visitors each day. If you aren’t familiar with the CDPB, it shows thumbnails of photos from the participating blogs. The neat thing about this is that each of my daily photos appears there as a thumbnail along with 16 other photos on the page. This gives me a simple way to ‘test’ an image to see if people will pick it out as interesting enough to take a closer look. I looked at the top and bottom traffic-getting images and discovered a number of relationships.

The lowest traffic photos all had one thing in common, the horizon was dead-center. I know that this makes an image boring, but in some cases, it made sense. For example, this image from Feb 20th:

I explain the reason for the composition on that day’s post and my friend Paul says this is his favorite photo of all the ones I have placed on the blog. But that day I only got three visitors from the CDPB; compare that to 13 the day before and 23the day after. The five lowest ranking days all had dead-center horizons. Some were daytime, some were night. One didn’t have a traditional horizon, but there was a prominent horizontal line across the center of the image.

It was an amazing realization to me. One of the most exhausting elements of art school is all the cookie-cutter rebels that bring to class these two-dimensional tragedies and then proceed to explain why they are “breaking the rules.” I was doing the same thing with these images. Like a bad idea in the free market, nobody tells you why it’s bad, they just don’t buy it. So in the same way, nobody clicks on the photos with a centered horizon.

So when you look through the lens, move around a little, recompose and take a few shots. When you place the horizon, move it off center. If you want to rebel against the man, go for it, but save the rebellion for the subject matter. The more well-composed and interesting the composition, the more people will be drawn to the image itself, regardless of the content.