Archive for February, 2012

IN THE FIELD: Railroad Museum 2

February 29, 2012 43 comments

In my previous post, I mentioned the challenging lighting conditions inside the railroad museum I recently toured. I use the word challenging, not because the conditions were difficult, but because the lighting was constantly changing.

The combination of the skylights overhead providing one light source on a blustery winter’s day alternating between sunshine and cloud cover, along with the high intensity interior building lights, set the stage for the challenge of this shoot. After composing the shot and adjusting the shutter speed and aperture for the exposure I wanted, within seconds the light would change.

Time to change methods. I realized in order to have a fighting chance of getting the proper exposure, I needed to switch to aperture priority. Aperture and shutter priority are two settings I seldom use for outdoor applications, but in this case I found aperture priority especially handy. I was able to compose the shot, choose the aperture so I could control the depth of field, and let the camera decide on the appropriate shutter speed as the intensity of light continued to change. In most cases, it worked pretty well.

Although the museum was well lit with artificial light in combination with the ever-changing natural light, I did use a flash for small close-up shots. Even then, I played around with different aperture, shutter and flash settings to alter the effect of the flash and the amount of light I added to the scene.

For these compositions, I wanted the blacks to remain black, still have some detail in the shadows, and keep the lighter areas from becoming over-exposed. I experimented with different shutter and aperture settings so I could achieve the image I was after. I wanted to capture the final image in-camera, and not have to take multiple images and combine them in the computer with post-processing. Overall, I am pleased with the results.


IN THE FIELD: Railroad Museum

February 27, 2012 18 comments

Recently I was honored with a private tour of the Railroad Museum Of Pennsylvania, located in the eastern part of the state. The invitation gave me the luxury to photograph the site without the distractions from daily visitors.

And I will say, I am glad my mother taught me good manners, so when I was asked by yet another volunteer if I was “that photographer that came to take pictures”, I was able to graciously nod and reply with a smile, “Yes, it’s me.” Apparently, they are not used to seeing someone walk around their museum with a camera and lens attached to a tripod slung over his shoulder and schlepping a camera backpack.

The museum houses one of the most significant collections of historic railroad artifacts in the world. Inside the museum you will find steam, diesel, and electric powered locomotives, freight, passenger, baggage, mail cars, and cabooses that have, thankfully, been preserved for years to come. There is also a mock train station complete with an operating telegraph office and a few store fronts that would have been found near the railroad station.

Also depicted are dioramas illustrating the daily life of a railroad worker. Memorabilia such as tools, parts of machines, lanterns, benches that would be found at a typical train station, plus other artifacts and artwork were displayed as well. One room called the “Education Room” is provided for children and adults alike, to learn the operations of a railroad. Inside this room are small train layouts of various types and sizes that can be operated at the push of a button.

Lighting conditions for this shoot were, at times, a bit of a challenge. There are skylights through out the building along with overhead lights. With it being a sunny windy day with clouds passing over the skylights, the light was constantly changing. I was switching between flash or no flash, daylight to cloudy to flash white balance settings, along with shutter speeds, that were all over the map.

By now, you have probably figured out I am obsessed with trains and boats. And I promise, I promise, I promise…I won’t write the next 15 posts about trains. Although, when it comes to boats, all bets are off.

IN THE FIELD: A Monster In The Sky

February 24, 2012 33 comments

Living in the woods has its advantages for wildlife observation, especially when walking the dogs. We never know what we may come across on our morning adventures with “our puppies”.

Deer are too big and fast to chase so they just growl and stare at them. Chipmunks are always exciting creatures to startle from rock outcroppings. The dog’s leashes tighten up and we have to hold on for dear life as they try to catch them. Rabbits get the same response. Squirrels don’t offer much excitement any more…just a dumb ole squirrel is the look we get from the pups. Songbirds are plentiful as well. Again, the same look…they’re just birds.

All bets are off if we come across a flock of wild turkeys. “Yahoo let’s go git ‘em! After all…aren’t they just big chickens??” Our dogs love chicken…it is their favorite treat topping to a Saturday night dinner.

One day this past fall we were out on our daily walkabout on a beautiful crisp morning. There wasn’t much animal activity, so the dogs were doing the usual “we’re bored” routine and were dawdling along. Suddenly, we all heard a noise up in the trees that we don’t usually hear. We humans knew what it was, but the doggies never heard anything like this before. They gave us a look we interpreted as…

“Look, a big monster and it’s going to attack us! Run fast! It’s making loud swooshing noises and it breathes fire! And we hear voices too!”

In between bouts of laughter it took quite a bit of re-assuring to calm them down. Especially after we hollered good morning to the humans waving at us from this monster’s belly flying overhead at tree top level.

INSPIRATION: Spring Is In The Air

February 22, 2012 29 comments

Unlike other areas of the world, we haven’t had much of a winter this year…if the amount of snowfall is how a harsh winter is judged.

Lately, most days have been quite balmy in the afternoon. The temperatures go back down to typical winter numbers at night, and the ground re-freezes which reminds us that it really is winter.

We have noticed that a few varieties of spring bulbs are emerging from their winter dormancy earlier than usual, and there have been more songbirds in the area than we typically see and hear this time of year.

Maybe this winter is a reprieve from the mass quantities of snow we received last year. Or mother nature is waiting to catch us off guard.

With all the hints of an early spring, I thought I would post a photo from last season…just to get in the spirit.

IN THE FIELD: Vignette Of A Streetcar

February 20, 2012 22 comments

When I first made the transition from traditional film to digital cameras, I always carried both types of cameras with me. Partly to be sure I would capture what I intended to and partly because I was learning the capabilities of digital photography. As it turns out digital was then, and is now, capable of rendering what I envision. During my film days, I always had to be aware of how many shots I left on a roll of film, and how many rolls I had with me. And I had no way of knowing whether I captured the scene the way I had hoped until the film came back from the lab. The waiting was the hardest part, but when those little yellow boxes of slides showed up, they were filled with two inch square little presents. Some of those presents needed to be returned to the waste basket.

With digital, I have to be aware how many shots are left on a data card. Although, these days most digital cards hold way more photos than a roll of film ever could. And extra data cards take up very little space in a camera bag or pocket. Digital has the advantage of instantaneous review of the photos taken, and the ability to delete unwanted photos in the field.

Back in the days of film, I loved photographing rusty old machinery and that passion carries on with me in the digital age… almost to the point of obsession.

This photo of the front of an old streetcar, or what is sometimes known as a trolley, was taken on a clear day in the back lot of a railroad yard. It was built sometime in the mid 1940’s. Maybe someday the folks from a railroad museum will haul it off to do a complete restoration and bring it back to it’s full glory.

HOW TO: Back To Basics Snow

February 17, 2012 26 comments

Capturing the pure white of snow or ice can be tricky depending on the available light, your camera settings, and how much snow or ice is in your composition.

Cameras don’t necessarily know what your intentions are. They record the image as an average based on the meter reading.

Camera meters are generally set to take a reading of the scene and convert it to an average of about 18% gray, or what is known as a medium tone. Snow and ice is not typically 18% gray, so the camera meter sees all this light and instructs the camera, or suggests to the user, to close down the aperture. Whoa…it’s bright…way to much light coming in here. If the photo is taken at this metered setting, typically the shot is under-exposed and the snow or ice turns blueish, especially if you have a lot of snow or ice in your composition.

But, it can be easier to capture what you are seeing through the viewfinder, and avoid underexposing your photos of snow and ice, with a few simple solutions.

If you are shooting in manual mode, and have the aperture set for the depth of field you want, you can adjust the shutter speed to overexpose from what the meter recommends by a stop or two. It may take some experimentation to get the results you want without overexposing so much that the snow or ice become blown out and there is no texture left.

You may also want to adjust your white balance to sunny, cloudy or even a custom setting, depending on the type of light available that day.

Another method, is to use exposure compensation which can be used in auto or manual mode. You can dial in as much or as little overexposure as you want, just be sure to set it back to zero when you are finished, otherwise all your subsequent photos will be overexposed.

If you want to evoke a cold feeling to the scene by letting the camera show the snow or ice with a blueish cast, and not add extra exposure, that’s ok too…you are the photographer, after all….and you get to choose.


IN THE FIELD: Frozen Waves

February 15, 2012 40 comments

At this time of year in the part of the world where I live, protecting camera equipment from the cold winter weather is a priority. If the snow is blowing, I use a Rainsleeve to keep the snow off the camera and lens. I also carry a spare battery in my pants pocket to keep it warm, so when the battery in the camera begins to lose energy from exposure to the cold, I have a backup.

These are not hard things to do, allowing me the luxury to shoot throughout the year. And to capture not only larger scenics, but smaller seasonal vignettes.

This handrail was covered in snow which had begun to melt from the afternoon sun. When the temperature fell at night, the snow and water refroze into this formation that, to me, resembled waves on a beach.

When I took this photograph it was 21 degrees, sunny and windy. I had plenty of battery power…I just could have used warmer gloves.

IN THE FIELD: Weekend Snow

February 13, 2012 48 comments

I don’t know how many times I have photographed the woodlands surrounding my home throughout all the seasons. Whether it is the morning light, a tree limb that has fallen in a recent storm, or a fresh snowfall at this time of year, I still seem to discover new vistas.

This past weekend we had a wet and heavy snowfall starting Friday afternoon with temps in the low 30s. As the evening progressed, it got colder and the snow dried out to a fluffy powder. It continued to snow during the day on Saturday and into that evening, with more snow squalls blowing through, bringing 30-plus mile per hour winds. And it has been blowing ever since with wind chills in the single digits to low teens.

I took this photo just after sunrise Saturday morning, although the sun was not visible due to heavy cloud cover. I wanted to capture the experience of being in a winter wonderland. The contrast of the fresh white snow against the dark tree trunks, and the few leaves still clinging to the branches despite the winds, all contribute to this winter scenic.

I guess it just goes to show, no matter how many times you revisit a location, if you take a moment to truly see, you may just find what you are looking for.


INSPIRATION: Adding The Human Element

February 10, 2012 33 comments

Portraiture is not my usual venue for photography since I primarily shoot outdoors and nature. Although I do include people in my compositions occasionally, to enhance the overall mood in a scene or if I want to provide a sense of scale.

I have shown this photo to quite a few people to gauge their reaction. The responses have been varied, with many folks saying it is peaceful, while some have described it as moody, and others feel is it contemplative. Relaxed, saddened, and exhausted have been other responses. Everyone seems to interpret the mood of this image in their own way, which is what I expected.

Adding the human element can change the entire dynamics of an image. However, there are times when we are out shooting solo and there is no one else around to be our model. In these situations, a self-portrait can be the answer.

It’s really easy to accomplish a self-portrait without a lot of expensive equipment. Set up the camera on a tripod, rock or some other stationary object. Compose the shot, and determine where you would like to be in the scene. Set the self-timer for length of time you need to get into position and look natural. Press the shutter release, move to your pre-determined spot then relax. The shutter will click, and there you have a photo with a person in it.

When most folks view photos or paintings which include the human element, they often imagine themselves or someone they know being in that scene. This added feature can make for a more successful image. Worth a shot or two.


IN THE FIELD: Lake McDonald

February 8, 2012 31 comments

On our last trip to Montana, we spent several days in Glacier National Park touring, hiking and horseback riding. On our last day there, we went on a half-day horseback ride in the pristine wilderness. The trails were not too difficult, although we did travel up and down some rather steep slopes and traversed a few mountain streams. No other horseback riders or hikers were seen the whole time we were on the trails.

The last few hours of our visit were spent resting on some benches near the main lodge until our weak-in-the legs feelings subsided.

A young couple and their dog approached us to say hello and ask us a few things about the park. I guess judging by the photo equipment and the clothes we were wearing, we looked like we had been there often. The nine month old puppy they had with them was more like a full grown dog. And a big dog at that.

I can’t remember what it’s name was…something like Lakota. He was a friendly fella and we marveled at how soft his fur was. The pup was quite fond of my wife and licked her face as if he had known her all his life. At first we thought he was some kind of sled dog such as a Husky or a Malamute. Turns out, he has a full blooded wolf.

The couple explained that his mother was found injured and pregnant in Maryland, expecting to give birth in a few days. The woman who found the female wolf was a vet, and nursed the expectant mother back to health. The pup we met was one of her offspring. The couple told us they were on their way to Alaska to habituate the wolf to a more wild and natural surrounding. After chatting for about a half an hour, we all parted ways.

My wife and I then headed down to the shores of Lake McDonald to do a little more exploring since our legs were now feeling close to normal. We found pieces of driftwood, wild flowers and polished stones on the lakeshore that made for interesting photo subjects. When the light was getting too dim for photos of land based items, we found a gravel beach to sit and watch the sunset. It was a great ending to a great day.