What’s the weather like where you are? Here on the New England coast it’s been bitterly cold this last week – a polar vortex the weather guys seem to call it. I was in Jamestown recently to photograph around Beavertail lighthouse with the temperature cold and feeling colder because of the wind chill.
This was the first time that I’d actually gone to Jamestown with the intention of photographing around the lighthouse and, although I had prepared as well as I could, I wasn’t prepared for the difficulties that the cold would present. I was playing with the 24 mm tilt-shift lens again but what I quickly found was that I was too clumsy with gloved hands to operate the buttons and knobs that you need to work to adjust the lens. I struggled along the best that I could but was very frustrated by the time I was done.
I did however get a couple of images that I liked and managed to find a couple of fun spots that I plan to return to in the coming weeks.
I’ve enjoyed poking around on Tony Hewitt’s website as part of learning more about the photographers that make up the Ninety Degrees Five collaborative group. Tony is a wedding and portrait photographer although it’s his landscape and fine art work that I’m drawn to. I was curious to see that he isn’t just what I consider a ‘straight shooter’ but is will to add textures to his photographs and really push them to get the feeling he’s looking for in his photographs. I wasn’t expecting that from some of the work that I’d seen of his as part of the ND5 exhibitions but it just goes to show that it’s worth digging in to get a better sense of the breadth of work people are doing. Check out the interview and other videos of Tony below.
I thought that I’d share my first in the field experiment with a tilt shift lens. My first attempt with a tilt shift was this which of course taught me that in addition to manual focusing I needed to also be manual exposure. Probably not too much of a surprise for anyone whose used these lenses but it’s all new to me. I also was ready for the back end freak out where photoshop isn’t able to stitch my images together for me but that comes later.
So how did I get here? I’ve been worrying unnecessarily about depth of field. While you, like me, are setting the F stop to 22 (or some other high number) focusing a third into the scene and then firing away with the knowledge that you’re going to have good front to back focus. While this has served me well I realize that the only thing in your image that actual is in focus in the thing that you’ve focused upon and everything else in the same plane as that point of focus. Everything else is acceptably out of focus.
The medium and large focus photographers that have access to tilt and shift are able to angle the plane of focus and by doing so get more (all?) of the image in focus. Scheimpflug principle anyone? With a DSLR one way to achieve the same large depth of field is by taking multiple images with different points of focus and then blend them to extend the depth of field. Helicon focus is a well respected piece of software that can help if this is something that you’re interested in, beyond what you can achieve in photoshop. This approach is somewhat problematic when things in your image are in motion, such as my favorite subject – water. This is where a tilt shift lens comes in. It should give you access to the same tilt and shift functions that you would have with a medium or large format camera.
My playing so far has been restricted to the shift function which is how the image above was made. A vertical panorama stitched together and then cropped. See the images that I used below.
Which when stitched together give:
Which I then cropped to this:
I think that this is working. The next experiment will be to see what I can do with the tilt functionality. That should be fun.
As I was setting up my tripod for this shot this summer as I collapsed, de-telescoped, closed or whatever you call it, one of the legs the rubber foot shot off sending me scrambling to find it. Luckily I did! The glue had finally given up on the Gitzo 1325 legs of my tripod. Not bad after taking a beating for 8 years. I got a two part adhesive and glued it back in place and my tripod problems were over. Or at least I thought my tripod problems were over.
When I was using the tripod this week one i found that one of the legs was impossible to fully extend. Years of neglect had finally come home to roost. Photographing in and around the ocean means that your gear takes a pounding. Ideally you would rinse the salt water off your gear with fresh water. There are obvious problems doing that with cameras and lenses but you can and should do some clean up of your gear with a soft damp cloth after you’ve been out. I do this as needed after every shoot but I’ve never properly cleaned my tripod. This has largely been out of fear of getting the tripod to pieces and not being able to get it back together again.
I actually found that taking the tripod to pieces was much easier than I’d expected. On the old Gitzo that I have it’s simply a matter of unscrewing the leg lock the whole way and then pulling on the leg. The one that was stuck needed me to stand on the head of the tripod and then yank hard on the leg. Eventually it yielded to force! While the tripod was in pieces I took the opportunity to clean up the threads both on the leg and on the screw lock. The leg locks had been making awful grinding noises for years, presumably from sand and salt getting in there. This was easy enough to do with a rag for the legs and a toothbrush to get into the locks. As an aside I had always been taught to extend the tripod fattest section first, which of course meant that the lower section lock ended up under water the first time I used the tripod at the beach. While this advice is generally sound I typically have the lower section extended the width of my hand – about 4 inches – and then when working at the beach this is the first section that gets extended.
At the top of the tripod legs I found 3 bushings – two plastic and one that could easily be carbon fiber. Trying to get the legs back together was a little tricky and after a little bit of trial and error I realized that it was the plastic bushings causing the problems. I took these off the tripod and wound them into a tighter circle and then when they went back on the tripod the plastic stayed in this tighter configuration long enough to allow me to reassemble the whole thing relatively easily,
It was quite an educational process and easy enough that I could have been doing regularly all along!
If you’ve been following along here, in the last few weeks we’ve been digging in to identify our purpose, the big why that is the underlying reason for the choices that we make in life. A touchstone that helps guide us through difficult decisions.
Before I leave this topic for a little while I could help but ask a final question. Why do you photograph? Perhaps related is how does your photography support your big why?
Now I’m not thinking about what kind of photography, sports, documentary, editorial, fine art etc., or what you photograph but why do you do the thing that you’ve chosen to do.
There are lots of reasons that people photograph, to capture the essence of a person or a pet, to make other people feel emotion, to preserve significant moments, to create something, as a meditative practice. The list goes on.
Making the connection between your photography and your big why can help identify new photography projects, bring existing photographic projects into focus, give a sense of direction to your work and also a reason to keep going when you’re wondering is it worth it. Additionally, as we’ve discussed previously understand why helps guide your decision making and help make sense of the myriad of options you have for spend your most precious resource of all – time.
I can’t remember where I first read about Carleton Watkins, perhaps it was this article in the Smithsonian magazine. For someone like me, who thought that photography started with Ansel Adams, it was something of a revelation to read about and see Watkin’s photographs of the American west and particularly of Yosemite Valley. While many of his photographs are stereograms the views of Yosemite are quite familiar. It was his series of photographs of Yosemite Valley in the 1860s that helped influence Congress’s decision to make the valley a National Park in 1864.
There’s an exhibition of Watkin’s photographs at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University until August 17. To find out more about the exhibition see here. Unfortunately I’m in the wrong part of the country to be able to get to the exhibition but I did get the related book and have been enjoying looking at the photographs.
Recognizing many of the views made famous through the work of Ansel Adams in the Yosemite Valley made me think about what Ansel Adams brought to the table. Perhaps not his vision but his superior control of the medium and printing abilities?
Check out the video below for more details on the exhibition at the Cantor Arts Center.