Oct 11

Fleet Week

I spent much of Saturday in San Francisco with a friend and half of our kids. It was Fleet Week, where military ships sail into San Francisco Bay and there is a major airshow over the water. Let me share with you my top ten photos from this day, in no particular order.

We arrived early and got great parking spaces (7 hours for $23). We walked along the mostly empty streets in the general direction of Pier 39, believing that there was a ship that we could tour. The reflections along the wharf were terrific! My friend took much the same picture as this, but more focused upon the pilings and reflections. He then turned it sideways to create a more abstract photo. He’s gotten quite a lot of attention for his creativity!

Continuing along, taking photos of whatever caught our eye, this picture was just a quick shot, but it turned out to be one of my favorites because of the wonderful bokeh. It was shot at f/5.6 with a 300 mm lens, but the background blur made the bird really stand out in contrast! This is a great example of how to isolate your subject using depth of field. You can see that the colors are very similar in both the bird and the background, and bird could easily have gotten lost in the complexity of the background, but the wide aperture turned this into a very nice shot.

Well, we never did find the ship we thought to tour, but we did come across a WWII submarine. This is a standard attraction at the wharf and we got in on a family pass for $20 for all five of us. I had never been in a real submarine before. This ship held a crew of 80! The corridors were so narrow that I could practically touch both walls with my shoulders. The hatches were only about four feet tall. It was a very interesting tour and I must say that submarines and me don’t mix. They really ought to be manned by small, thin – but athletic – people. The docent aboard the ship regaled us with stories and knowledge of his time serving on board a sub.

The main event of the day was the airshow. There were several military groups – such as the famous Blue Angels – as well as individual aircraft. The group displays put on quite a show, performing precision maneuvers in formation, often trailing smoke streams and frequently very close to the water.

I liked both of these photos, showing the formation flying over the water, so I include both vertical as well as horizontal formats for your enjoyment.

Of all the pictures that I took of these acrobatics, this one best captured the event itself. You can see the streaming smoke indicating their path, whilst the jets are descending from their apex in tight formation, clearly visible. Many of the other antics, while impressive from the ground or appreciating as a pilot (or a computer-based pilot), didn’t translate well in the photos. Either the aircraft were too small to be clearly seen, or else you lost all sense of angle, speed, etc. when the plane was isolated in the sky.

One of the recurring themes of these fantastic pilots was to have two (or more!) jets race towards each other at 400 mph and (apparently) rotate at the last second to miss a disastrous collision. I’m sure the distance wasn’t quite as close as it seemed, but it held the attention of the crowd. I was fortunate to get several photos of various jets crossing, but this was perhaps my most clear picture.

During a respite from the aerial acrobatics, we spied a sea lion wending his way amongst the pilings. It’s interesting – their eyes appear to be all brown, although I suppose there must be a very thin pupil in there somewhere. This was one of the best of these photos and made for a nice break in the show. These airshows are a lot like watching fireworks – they’re great fun, but after awhile you get rather tired of seeing the same sort of thing over an over again. Not to take away from the skill of these pilots, but the show would have been better had it lasted only an hour or so, rather than nearly four hours.

Another of my favorite shots was this one where all the jets started in tight formation and then split off, with smoke trailing the whole way. Again, it was the context of the smoke that made this picture work.

And finally, my favorite shot of the day. There were five jets all coming fairly straight toward the audience, smoke trailing out behind. Then all at once, they just sort of exploded into this chaotic looking mess! It made for great drama and a great shot!

That’s it for this time. I will be starting to post some educational articles I’m putting together soon, so check back often!

 

Oct 10

A Tale of Two Photographers

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief…

I know two photographers. Each is experienced, knowledgeable, and has a wealth of excellent photos attesting to their skill with a camera. But if you send them both out to take pictures for a couple of hours, one will come back with three hundred photos; the other with fifteen. This demonstrates two widely used but disparate approaches to photography.

The one who takes three hundred photos will claim that digital photography is essentially free and so why not take more photos? You never know what might work or when you will luck into that unique photo that everyone loves. He looks with amusement at the photographer who only comes back with fifteen pictures, claiming perhaps that he would do better to experiment more; capture the ephemeral moment; be less rigid.

The other who comes back with fifteen picture says the he is applying his knowledge to a situation and takes the time to properly set up every shot and so avoids a plethora of throw away images to sort through. He looks with disdain at the three hundred picture photographer, citing his lack of focus and knowledge of the craft, claiming perhaps that his successes are more a matter of luck than skill and he should be more disciplined.

Myself, I take the middle ground. Some shots I take great care to set up or create according to some inner vision; other times I try to capture the moment and hence the feel of spontaneity. I don’t do either of these approaches as well as these other fellows. I come back with perhaps 150 photos – some casual, some set up; most not worth keeping.

The thing is: we all end up with around the same number of good shots. We all took about the same amount of time. We all had a good time and felt good about our photography. So who’s right? We all are. There’s no best way to do photography, just as there is no best way to photograph a scene. If it bugs you that someone else takes a different approach then perhaps you shouldn’t shoot photos with them. On the other hand, maybe that’s exactly what you need to do. Maybe what you need is to break your patterns, try something new, and you just might learn something in the process.

So here’s my challenge to you: Try a new methodology. If you normally take the shotgun approach, then spend an afternoon searching for a worthy subject, thinking about the shot and setting it up carefully. If you are the careful, methodical type then try taking an afternoon and shooting from the hip – catch those fleeting moments and try for those lucky happenstances. And if you’re the guy in the middle, then pick a method and stick with it for the afternoon. Maybe you won’t like it. Maybe you’ll come back without a single keeper. But maybe you’ll learn something – about photography; about yourself.

One of the great things about photography is there is so much to see and so many ways of seeing things. If you see someone taking a different approach – especially if you like their results – take the time to learn from them and share your approaches in return. We all have things to share and we will all be the wealthier for it.

Oct 05

Anatomy of a 365 picture

I have been doing a 365 photo project this year. I committed to taking one picture every day throughout the year. I thought it might be interesting to occasionally share my process to see how I arrived at my finished photo.

A picture of the day from early January

First, as happens so often, I started asking myself the question “What should I take a picture of today?” It was coming on dinnertime and rather dreary and wet outside. I was on dinner duty and making macaroni and cheese – real comfort foot on a gray day – so I thought that perhaps that would make a decent picture. Now I’ve been taking a picture a day for over nine months now, so I wasn’t sure if I had perhaps already taken such a picture, so I checked my 365 postings. I found that I did a macaroni and cheese picture in the very first month, but that was a picture of ingredients; the finished product had not been shown, so my idea was viable. Time to take the picture.

I gathered my camera and put my 24-105 f/4 lens on it, then got my Speedlite 580ex II. Often, when I’m taking an photo indoors I will pull out my external flash so that I have more control of the lighting. Natural light is certainly possible, but then I have to use a tripod or else boost the ISO way high, and even then I don’t really have any control over the quality or direction of the light, so out comes the external flash. With my Canon 60D, it has remote flash capability built into the camera, so I can set it up so that the external flash is triggered by the camera without any wires at all. I also have control of the flash compensation of the flash, as well as whether the built-in flash triggers as well. In this case I opted for the external flash alone. If I didn’t like the results I could modify my setup later.

Macaroni and Cheese as a texture

The dish was done and had just come out of the oven in an iron skillet. I tried composing a shot of the mac & cheese in the skillet, but it didn’t really work – it was just a sea of texture in the pan and just wasn’t very recognizable or interesting, so my first thought was to zoom in further. I wasn’t very happy with the result. It made for an OK texture and – technically – I had now satisfied my picture of the day goal, but I thought I could do better.

Adding broccoli made a much better photo

I decided that it would be much more interesting to have a serving on a plate with some broccoli to add green. As soon as I started to lay out the broccoli I could see the image coming to life. I remembered something I once heard about food shots – how they were all staged. For example, in a macaroni and cheese picture (that used real macaroni, not these squiggly things), they would rotate every piece of macaroni so that the hole wasn’t facing the camera. It’s true. If you can find a picture in a book or magazine of macaroni, you’ll see that the holes aren’t facing the camera. Coincidence? Apparently not! Anyway, I didn’t have to worry about this, but the broccoli would have looked much less appealing if I hadn’t rotated the pieces so that the heads were visible. Just a detail, but it makes a difference!

With the first shot I took, I pointed the flash at the ceiling for general illumination. The result was pretty even illumination, but the photo lacked definition. I decided to try for more directional lighting.

Directional light added contrast

I next turned the flash so that it pointed at the plate rather than the ceiling. Now I was getting some definition in the image, but the light was too strong. I could either turn on the on-camera flash (for a two-flash) shot and try to balance the light, or try to diffuse the light from the flash so the shadows weren’t so stark.

Indirect light from the wall adds softened contrast

I decided to use the wall as a diffuser, so I held the flash pointed toward the wall. To get the wall lighting I moved to the left, which highlighted the broccoli, and I wanted the macaroni and cheese to be the star of this shot.

Soft light from the left highlights the macaroni and cheese

So I moved back to the right, but I then realized that I wanted the light to come more from the left, so I rotated the entire place setting so that the wall was on the left side of the plate rather than in front of it.  This resulted in a picture that I liked.

The last step in the process was post-processing. I mostly take my photos in RAW mode – that is a mode available on most DSLRs that allows you to save everything that the camera captured and process it after the fact. When you take a JPEG photo, the camera makes decisions about color, lighting, contrast; even sharpening. When you take a RAW photo, there are some standard settings, but you then have full control over everything to adjust it just the way you want. I use Adobe Lightroom in almost every case to process the RAW photo before posting.

The final picture after post-processing.

In this case, I adjusted the white balance, then brightened the dark areas a bit, enhanced the clarity (this makes things appear a bit crisper), added a touch more vibrance (color saturation), and added a touch more contrast only in the dark areas. For the final step I added a bit of vignetting – you will notice how the corners are a bit darker in this final picture – and that was my final photo that I posted.

I hope this helps to see my creative process a little bit. This was a relatively easy picture. Sometimes my ideas get way ahead of my ability and I’m never able to get the shot that I want. In this case, I was able to get it fairly quickly, with a minimum of experimentation. But it’s important to note that experimentation is the key to a 365 project. The idea – at least for me – is not to just take a picture a day (although I’ve taken some bad pictures just to get that one photo a day done), but I’d like to at least make an effort to take a decent picture. I think that I’ve succeeded for the most part.

I’ll be writing more on this in the future.

 

Oct 03

Worldwide Photowalk anon

Since the Worldwide Photowalk occurred on two days this year, I decided to participate twice! The second one was scheduled for a walk from Levi plaza to the top of Telegraph Hill in San Francisco. Since I had never been in this area, I thought that would make for a nice venue.

Our leader - Jenzie Hallifax

Our leader was Jenzie Hallifax, a native San Franciscan. This was her first year as a Photowalk leader and she did a pretty good job! She laid out a very nice route that took us up a series of stairs through a very scenic neighborhood with great views. The one problem we had was that the time was changed at the very last minute and I never received any emails from her. Well, I guess that’s two problems. Apparently she sent out emails, but I never received any. Anyway, the time was originally scheduled for 9:45am and got changed at 10:55pm the night before to 12:15. It’s a good thing that I checked the site just before leaving or else I would have driven an hour to an empty meeting place (presumably – perhaps there were others who also missed the change).

Levi Plaza - our gathering point

Well, the weather was beautiful – bright and sunny with just a touch of a breeze and clear visibility (for San Francisco). The bright sun was not especially helpful, but the mild weather was certainly welcome. We met in Levi plaza, which has some lovely fountains. Jenzie got a group picture and laid out the basic rules – watch where you’re going, be safe – stuff like that, and we were off!

The start of our climb toward Coit tower!

The route up consisted of a very pretty climb up a variety of staircases that wound their way through the surrounding neighborhood.

Peek-a-boo scenes like this were common on the stairway up.

The bay was full of sailboats, that could be seen in a peek-a-boo fashion through the trees and bushes on the way up. The Bay Bridge was prominent in many of these views, as was Treasure Island.

 

Neighborhood personality abounds

About 2/3 of the way up I came across this fire hydrant that had a lovely little painting on the walls behind it. It’s always fun to see the personality of a city and neighborhood come out in such a way!

 

 

 

View from the Coit tower parking lot

The final stairway opened out at Coit Tower. From here there was a vista point that afforded a view of the Golden Gate bridge, Alcatraz, Lombard Street, and much of the bay. Unfortunately the surrounding bushes had been allowed to (deliberately?) choke off the view for the most part, only allowing us to catch bits and pieces over the juniper bushes.

A view of the Golden Gate

There was a clear (except for the bushes) view of the Golden Gate bridge. It was a great view of the full span, although the air was not as clear as you might like, it beat the heck out of the usual fog that chokes the bay.

 

Christopher Columbus at Coit tower

In the front courtyard stand a statue that I’m told is Christopher Columbus, but I didn’t see that prominently displayed anywhere (I failed to take a picture of the plaque to refer to – my bad). I didn’t find it to be a particularly inspiring statue; he is depicted in a somewhat awkward pose; I think they could have done better. Also, I don’t really get why there’s a status of Christopher Columbus there at all…

Murals decorate the interior walls on the ground floor

Inside, Coit Tower is decorated with murals that were commissioned as part of the New Deal in 1933 where artists were hired to decorate the interior as a Public Works project.

 

 

 

The clock tower on the Ferry Building

Around back was a view of the Bay Bridge, the Transamerica Pyramid, and the clock tower at the Ferry Building.

The back yard of Coit tower

It was also from here that you got what I think was the best view of Coit Tower. The elevator to the top of the tower cost $7, but I didn’t feel that I had enough time to spare for the view, and it gives me a good excuse to return!

 

 

 

 

The stairway down

A somewhat steeper stairway lead back down to the neighborhood below. At this point I was pretty much by myself, most of the photographers having dispersed at Coit Tower. I walked through the neighborhoods enjoying the scenic views of the city and the bay.

A family enjoys the fountains

Back at sea level I walked back to our starting point – into a park just opposite Levi plaza (or perhaps it’s considered part of it?) – where I found a father and two children watching the fountains there. I also saw other young families enjoying the great weather.

 

 

The Fog City Diner - our meeting place

The terminus for this photowalk was the Fog City Diner – a retro 50’s sort of place with great food and prices to match. A bowl of admittedly very good macaroni and cheese went for $13.50!!! I didn’t see anything on the menu – not even appetizers – for less than $5. Booths were cramped, but the atmosphere was amiable. I sat with our leader and two other photowalkers and talked a little of what we saw. Like the photowalk the previous day I didn’t see many people sharing their photos and I was more than a little disappointed by that.

Thus endeth the Fourth Annual Worldwide Photowalk. I’ll look forward to next year where I might just decide to step up and lead a walk myself!

 

Oct 01

Day 1 and The Fourth Annual Worldwide Photowalk!

Welcome to my photo blog!

My name is Carl Ferreira, and I run Lifelike Photos – a website where I post and sell my photos as well as photos from occasional events.

This blog is intended to provide a forum where I can post educational articles, tutorials, exercises, and hopefully commentary of general interest to photographers. Although I own a DSLR, I come from a compact camera background and I will generally try to include information that will be of use to anyone that would like to take better pictures. As this is my first attempt at using this technology, this will be a bit of a learning experience for me as well. Already I have discovered that spammers have posted to my blog (it was removed) and the blog hadn’t even gone ‘live’ yet. *Sigh* Such is the world we live in.

I have been taking digital photos for nearly ten years. I have also conducted training classes in a wide range of subjects for over 20 years. I’ve done some contract photography work, but I’m an engineer by trade and apply those skills to learn and analyze photographic techniques so that I can first apply them effectively, and then teach them to others. That’s where this blog comes in!

So without further delay, let me get into my first topic:

The Fourth Annual Worldwide Photowalk

Scott Kelby – Photoshop and photography educator – has been sponsoring this even for four years now. With the exception of the second year (or was it the third?) where I had a scheduling conflict, I’ve participated in every one. I have picked different venues each year and this year I attended the event in beautiful downtown Los Gatos, California.

Charlie Gibson, our photowalk leader

Our photowalk leader was Charlie Gibson, who is also active in the Los Gatos-Saratoga Camera Club. I’m going to have to check them out! Charlie did a great job of organizing the walk and planning out a route that covered a large section of old downtown Los Gatos. It was a great route, but a bit long, in my view. The group split in two and traveled past a variety of locales that were target rich environments.

The 9th Annual Art Glass Pumpkin Sale

Our first stop was a fundraiser for Los Gatos High School, the 9th Annual Art Glass Pumpkin Sale. I have no idea where they go so many glass pumpkins, but they had a ton! Click on the photo to the right to enlarge it and check out the colors and appearance of these decorations.

Since it took place on the front lawn of Los Gatos High School, there were many flower gardens available to photograph and lots of folks ended up stalling at our first stop – and we were only two blocks into it!

 

Taken with a 300mm lens with a +4 macro filter

We spent a good 45 minutes at this location alone, but we all got a variety of photos that were worthwhile, such as this macro photo on the right of a rose. This was taken with a 300mm lens with a +4 macro filter.

Making lemonade out of lemons

Adjacent to the high school was an office building which also had many interesting landscaping and architectural features that many of the group oriented towards.

About this time the sun disappeared behind the morning overcast and a slight breeze kicked in. Some people in the group were complaining about the wind, but I figured I would make lemonade from lemons, so I set my shutter speed to 1/15 second and zoomed in as I took this picture. It makes me dizzy every time I look at it!

We finally got back on track and walked over to the Los Gatos Creek trail, although we were feeling a little pressed for time. It didn’t stop us from taking pictures – there were some very interesting “graffiti art” on the overpass walls, for example. I think we would have spent more time along this path also were it not for the feeling of time pressure, so we pressed on.

A large backlit leaf in a planterbox along the main drag

As we made our way across the main road, one of the flower box planters caught my eye. The sun had come out of its funk and had backlit this large leaf (probably about 12-14 inches tall). The colors and texture of this photo make it a keeper!

A row of bikes for sale

A row of bikes for sale afforded us another photo op with all of the bikes lined up for display on the sidewalk. By this time the sun had come back and shadows were strong, so I incorporated them into the composition.

We then headed into a residential neighborhood where there were quite a few beautiful old houses. Many had gardens or decorations that caught our eye. In front of one was some sort of big yard sale that had cookies and donuts for sale – I’m sure they did some unexpectedly good business today!

An ornamental face on a chimney

Some of the houses were old and funky, such as one that had molded faces attached to the sides of the chimney, such as this picture to the right.

A hummingbird does his thing outside the Museum of Art

Coming back into the commercial section, we came across the Los Gatos Art Museum, where I was lucky enough to find a hummingbird working away in the garden. Since I had my camera set up previously for another (missed) hummingbird opportunity, I was able to get a few quick(!) shots in before the hummer zipped over our heads and away.

 

 

A youngster enjoys the park

The final leg of our route led past a small park near the post office that sports a decorative fountain. There were several children enjoying the park and I grabbed a ‘stealth’ shot of this youngster on his (her?) weekend adventure.

The route ended – albeit about half-an-hour late – at the Purple Onion, a nice coffee cafe that has a restful outdoor area where many of the group met to share stories and chimp their shots.

All in all, a nice photowalk, thanks in large part to Charlie. I’ll have to check out the local photography club sometime in the near future.

That’s all for this time. There are lots more photos I could post, but you probably got at least a little feel for how this walk went for me. This blog thing can really eat up the time, but I hope to get two or three postings a week. Please feel free to leave comments and suggestions!

Until next time…