May 032014
At the museum, from above…And opinions

I posted this picture (taken from the blog posting that precedes this one) on an online forum — mostly to give the members a look at what a couple of new lenses could to.  More of a semi-technical posting than an art statement.


Click Image to Enlarge

Of course this invites comments on the aesthetics from both the well-intentioned and the clueless alike…Which is why I rarely post photos on forums.

I got this one: “I like the perspective on the 4th indoor shot, but I would tighten it up quite a lot. I’d crop away everything except mom, baby and the girder. I wouldn’t crop much from the bottom, don’t want to lose any of the stroller’s shadow. The round things at the ends of the girder would go though, as would the shadow coming in from the top.”

A follow-up post from the same person was a backtrack that decided not to backtrack:  “I didn’t say you had to tighten up the shot, I said ‘I would tighten up the shot.’ I just don’t see how the extra elements add anything to the sense of time or place. For me, the photograph is all about the baby and the mother. Everything else is a distraction.”  His would look something like this:


Click Image to Enlarge

And from a very superficial point of view he is correct:  It is about the woman and the baby.  But his framing leaves us with little else, and certainly not a hint of context.  To me, it ends up almost as a gimmick shot.

His concerns about not showing a “sense of time or place” should really be about his suggested cropping.  In my wider cropping you get a sense that this is probably a large public space.  His gives you non of that.  The sense of time is not absolute, but subjective or relative.  In the context of that larger public space, the connection between the woman and the child is even more apparent — a personal moment in the larger world.

The girder has an interesting look, but in his cropping it becomes a visual barrier:  There is nothing beyond.  There are some interesting shadows, but nothing that provides any context to the venue.  The girder constrains rather than expands.  Pretty much “Here it is”.  In the tradition of faux photojournalism.


I like the looser cropping of my original post.  For me, it works for two groups of viewers.

  1. For people familiar with the venue (granted, far less than 1% of the viewers), it illustrates the space.  You know what the shadows represent, at least in a general way.  And you also know how precious these moments are at a busy museum…In a minute or two, thirty people can be standing at this very spot.
  2. For those just looking at the photo afresh, there is a little more mystery.  Leaving the angle on the girder (to the left) gives the viewer a “way out”.  With the area left above the girder, the girder is no longer a visual barrier, but begins to define the “beyond”.  All of the area surrounding the woman and the baby becomes potential subject for speculation.


I often come across situations where I want to acknowledge people in my photos, but don’t want the viewer dwelling on the details.  There is room for debate on whether this is an effective approach, but it does reduce the emphasis on individual people — a sort of ephemeral objectification of the humans.

Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

The Louvre

The Louvre



But one last note on cropping the original image…Perhaps I could have cropped out a wee bit of the distracting stuff along the right edge…

Click Image to Enlarge

Click Image to Enlarge

Sep 142013

Three photographs this time.

Getting ready for a week in London next month and I happened be looking at some pictures from a trip in November, 2000.

These are panoramics shot with a Horizon 202 — a Russian film camera with a swing lens.  The film is loaded over a curved film “plane” inside, and when you press the shutter button, the lens rotates in a 120 degree arc.  I wish they made a digital camera that did something like this.

The workflow was similar to shooting with film cameras at that time:  Develop the negatives; cut them into strips and scan them (the Horizon frame is 24 x 60mm instead of the normal 24 x 36mm), remove the dust spots in PhotoShop, then adjust as per normal practice (noise, curves, color balance, brightness/contrast, sharpening, etc.).  Typically I would shoot Fuji Press (ISO 800) film and used a snap in neutral density filter when outside.  This also allowed me to shoot interior scenes — without the ND filter.

I went back and touched up the photos following a little bit before posting them here.

Inside a London Eye Capsule

A typical dreary end-of-November day, but still a nice flight.  The kid was aware that something was happening, because he could see the lens moving.

In a London Eye capsule -- flying over the Thames (click to enlarge)

In a London Eye capsule — flying over the Thames (click to enlarge)

Iconic London Buses

In the Transport Museum, arranged the “old” way.  At that time, the museum was set up to exhibit.  In this area, you could see five buses arrayed in a fan.  Now the museum is set up for activities.  I guess that’s better for kids, but not as good for history buffs.  The gift store, however, remains one of the better ones, and being at Covent Garden, is easy to find and may be on your itinerary anyway.

London Buses.  (click to enlarge)

London Buses (click to enlarge)

The London Eye from Underneath

A view from under the support legs of the Eye.  The two legs cantilever out over the Thames, so when you look straight down from your capsule, you’re over the water.

Underneath the Eye (click to enlarge)

Underneath the Eye (click to enlarge)

I plan on visiting both of these sites…No idea what those pictures will be like.


The London Eye
The London Transport Museum
Wikipedia: Horizon Camera

Dec 302012
Dawn — Somewhere Out West…

Airplane window shots are problematic.  You’re typically shooting through three layers of glass and plastic.  Some of those surfaces are probably dirty.  Most of the surfaces are reflecting the other surfaces — and also whatever is in the airplane cabin, including your camera.

But there you are above dawn just breaking “somewhere out west”.  A full moon.  You have to give it a try.

Somewhere Out West -- Dawn from the air.

Somewhere Out West — Dawn from the air.

I shot this with a Panasonic DMC-TS3 which, thoughfully, has an “Aerial Photo” scene mode.  Holding the camera upside down for some shots to position the lens.  The real work is in post processing.  Noise reduction with Noiseware.  Curves, contrast and brightness in Photoshop.  Graduated ND filter effect with NIK Color Efex Pro.  Color balance back in PhotoShop.  A sharpness pass with NIK Sharpener Pro.  Final “save for web” in PhotoShop.  The two control points were the moon (keep it from turning into a solid white orb) and the terrain faces near the front edges of the engine nacelles (keep the details and sharpness of line).

P.S. Another reason, on coast-to-coast daylight flights, for picking a window on the right side westbound and on the left side eastbound.

Feb 122012

One from the Northcoast (Redwood Coast) of California

A friend just made a trip through this area, and that gave me an excuse to look around the archives a little…

This picture was taken in December, 2004 along US 101 between Eureka and Crescent City — just south of Wilson Creek.

Near Wilson Creek, along US 101

This was shot on color film with a Voigtlander rangefinder and scanned.  The color image was very flat so I used Nik Software Silver Efex Pro to render the image in B&W simulating Fuji Neopan 1600 film with a green filter.

Jan 082012

What is it?

Yesterday I stepped out of my car in a parking lot…

…And shot it with my Blackberry.  Should have had a real camera along.  This is the white line between parking spaces, painted with leaves left lying.

Post processing in PhotoShop with Nik Software’s Sharpener 3.0.  The next step was to use a PhotoShop watercolor effect.  I don’t use the “Artistic” filters that often, but the image quality with a smart phone often leaves much to be desired.

Dec 302011
Musée d’Orsay, October 2009

One of several big clocks at the Orsay (a former train station), this one is over the entrance.

Clock at Musée d’Orsay

I rediscovered this picture while looking back in my files for images relating to the Orsay’s new photo policy.  This was shot in 2009.  The museum now believes that allowing normal people to produce images like this is too disruptive, probably not dignified, and ultimately harms the museum.

The camera was a Leica M8, and the lens was the incredibly sharp Zeiss 25mm f/2.8.  Shot at ISO 320 and 1/45 second exposure.

Dec 112011

Lincoln Memorial, May 2008

I stumbled across this picture while working on another project.

Not traditional composition and framing, which is why I like it.


It was shot with a Leica M8 and a Voigtlander 90mm lens.  The image is very low key, with no startling whites or deep blacks.  Typical for an M8 image, the DNG (RAW) file required very little post processing.

Nov 122011

A Favorite Spot for Shooting

I go out to the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum near Dulles Airport to test new cameras and lenses.  It is a challenging venue, and if things go wrong, they go wrong in a very noticeable way.   From the overhead walkway, this particular location always draws me.

Vantage Point

I like the open space, gray concrete, shadows, the pieces of “museum stuff”, and seeing what people are doing.

The camera being tested is the Fujifilm X10 — which hit the dealer shelves on Tuesday.  This shot was made as an EXR JPEG (EXR’s SN mode, for you Fuji geeks) with only a little bit of Noise Ninja in post-processing.  Everything else was done in the camera: 1/35 sec., f/2.5, ISO 640.  EXR makes all the selections once you decide which of three modes you will use.

The intelligence in cameras is getting a bit scary…The X10 produced a very nice image with almost no input from me.

Sep 062011

Earlier from Philadelphia…

The previous posting has pictures from a recent trip to Philadelphia.  That reminded me of a shot taken in 2004 (I believe) early one morning from a hotel room window…Hand-held, pressed against the window for steadiness

I’m not sure how good a picture it really is, but I’ve always liked the “atmospherics”.  This how it feels to be in a strange room in a strange city early in the morning.

Early Morning in Philadelphia

This was shot with a Leica M6, using a 35mm f/2.5 Cosina/Voigtlander lens on Ilford chromogenic B&W film and scanned.

Aug 142011

It’s been a while…

I’ve got a new camera — a Fujifilm X100.  This is a bit of throwback, since it emulates the classic 35mm, fixed lens rangefinder cameras of the 60s, 70s, and 80s.  In practice, I think that the X100 will be both a complement to my Leica digital rangefinder camera, and a good camera to carry as the camera — when I don’t want all the other stuff.

With bad weather threatening today, I decided to take Metro down the the Phillips Collection.  I really haven’t taken the X100 out on enough trips so…

This first shot deals with my fascinations with motion and with mass transit.

West Falls Church Metro Station

Fujifilm X100, ISO 800, 1/6 sec, f/16

The gauze effect of the special shades at the Phillips Collection — looking onto the Hunter Courtyard.

Through a Window at the Phillips Collection

Fujifilm X100, ISO 400, 1/50 sec, f/5.6

And heading home on Metro, during a wait at one of the stations.

Metro Trains Halted in Station

Fujifilm X100, ISO 800, 1/9 sec, f/4.0

Jun 192011

Action or Story?

Sometimes you get lucky enough to have two or more frames to choose from.  Or maybe that’s not lucky.  In this case, the first picture is mostly about the the action, while the second tells more of the story.  (The metadata embedded in the file shows that they are taken less than a second apart.)  To even be faced with a choice is a bit of luck, but as Woody Allen said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”

I like the story shot.  Shorter on action, it shows the two key players as they realize the outcome of the play.

Observation:  It would be very rare to see a shot as wide as the second one in an American newspaper.  To make the players large enough, this would need to be close to a half page wide.  American papers just don’t allow that kind of real estate for soccer — especially women’s soccer.  But you do see more shots like that in the European press.



This last shot is another example of Woody Allen’s observation on success.

May 152011
My Ride (Retro/Industrial)

Just a little photo-diversion…Checking out a new camera (Fujifilm X100) with the scooter in the lower level of the Metro garage.

Piaggio MP3 500 (Shot with Fujifilm X100)

This started out as a normal color image, but was rendered in B&W in Photoshop using Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro.  The fill flash also lit up the reflective rim tape and speed tape.

Feb 222011

Funny how conversations go — and what comes out of them.

Jim Hamilton runs an online key duplication service for motorcycles and scooters.  Last week he called my cell phone to confirm my shipping address and missed me (I was underground on Metro).  I called back from the Vienna station and missed him.  Later, he caught me at home.  After a couple of minutes of business, we spent some time just talking.  When the topic of locksmiths came up, I remembered this photo that has been hanging around wherever I live for years and years.

Key Man

This was shot in 1972 or 1973.  The gentleman in the picture ran a locksmith/key shop on San Carlos Street, probably between 3rd and 4th Streets.  The shop was, quite literally, in a stairwell.  Thousands of keys hanging on little hooks in front of little paper tags — stretching up those stairs.  You did your business from the sidewalk, and could only see all the way up if you kinda hunkered down and peered into the dimness.

My first encounter was when I was looking for a duplicate key for a Fiat 1100 sedan.  The locksmith walked up several steps, looked a bit, and came back with my blank.

This was a few blocks from San Jose State University where I majored in Photojournalism.  There was a great deli nearby, and also real magazine “rack”, actually a store — the kind with magazines and newspapers from all over the world.

Later I went back to shoot a few pictures.  The camera was probably a Pentax Spotmatic 35mm SLR.  The lens was a Vivitar 28mm f/2.5 — an incredibly sharp lens.  The film was undoubtedly Kodak Tri-X.  The back of the photo mount is labeled “Environmental Portrait”.

Jul 282010

This isn’t my shoe.  It was just sitting there.  Honest.

Tuesday morning — sitting on one of those granite Metro benches as I changed trains at Crystal City.

So I grabbed a shot with my phone in the two minutes before my train came.

I had to rest the camera on the bench because it is dark in there and flash would have been totally inappropriate.  The picture is still pretty cruddy.  So as much as I dislike doing it, I “rescued” the shot with PhotoShop’s Dry Brush — and the result probably says as much as an image more precisely captured and rendered.

I’m sure there is a story behind the shoe, but I don’t know if it would be at all interesting.

Jul 052010

Speakers’ Corner, London

A man trying to make a point, and a cyclist flashing by.  A bit metaphoric perhaps?

Speakers’ Corner is a London institution.  Every Sunday, in the north-east corner of Hyde Park near the Marble Arch, folks (guys mostly) attempt to persuade both the passersby and the intentional “attendees”.  As an institution, Speakers’ Corner is protected by a series of codes and case law.  It is virtually woven into the fabric of British political ethos.

Over the years from the mid-nineteenth century through the early twentieth, the topics of discussion were often political.  Intense debate from the likes of Lenin, Marx, and George Orwell.  And from time-to-time political or social topics do still manage to surface on a Sunday afternoon.

But today, most of the speakers are religious.  Religious discussion is fine, but when you get someone who is prepared to spend a couple of hours on a footstool or stepladder, dialogue is not their intent.  Most religious speakers are not looking for consensus or compromise.  They are looking for people who are in total – or near total – agreement.  And they are boring.  And that’s a shame.

Looking at Speakers’ Corner in the context of this century, it would be easy to believe that it has lost some of its “magic” — a bit past its prime.  But from another point of view, Speakers’ Corner is an institution where perhaps the greatest value lies in its potential.  Suffering countless boring religious zealots year in and year out, Speakers’ Corner is prepared to flower at a moment’s notice – a social and political safety valve.

I guess I can suffer the zealots.  They’re keeping the lights on.

Jun 132010

When Equipment Drives the Results

Sports photography is one of those areas of the craft where the equipment really does make a difference.  (If you think you’ll get results from the kids’ soccer match like those shown in the Canon TV commercials without spending from $1,800 to $6,000 for each lens — you’re living in Fantasyland.)

I typically shoot soccer sitting on a folding stool.  One Nikon D300 on a monopod has a 300mm f/2.8 lens (often with 1.4x converter).  A second D300 mounts a 70-200 f/2.8 lens which, with a converter, weighs just under 7 pounds.  I shoot long shots with the 300, and when the action gets closer, I lean the monopod against my left leg, and reach down to my right and swing up the camera with the zoom (the 6 1/2 pound curl).

The problem with the original Nikon 70-200 is that the contacts (for camera-lens communication) tend to oxidize.  When this happens, the lens won’t auto-focus.  Some at Nikon, even after eight years, don’t readily acknowledge the problem, though it has been widely discussed online — especially among sports photographers.  The consensus solution is to use Caig DeoxIT to clean and protect the contacts on the lens and the internal connections.  Despite Nikon’s reluctance to accept the problem, the proof to many is that the DeoxIT works.  But you do need to clean the lens contacts regularly.  And I didn’t.

So for Saturday’s Majestics match the 70-200 fired about six shots — and stopped focusing.  Nothing I could do in the field helped.  So I was down to just the 300mm lens.

The team's first goal of the season.

The question is my mind is whether or not I would have made these shots if I had been switching back and forth between the two cameras.  The advantage is that with only one camera and lens, you just track the action all the time.  However, sitting just behind the goal line and near the corner, a lot of action is just too close, and the framing is difficult — and too tight.  On the other hand, there is no time lost switching between cameras.

The aesthetic and creative contradiction:  Shooting with just one lens simultaneously restricts and releases you.

May 292010

Women’s Soccer…

Today I shoot the home opener for the Northern Virginia Majestics.  They are an amateur team which is primarily made up of collegiate players — though occasionally foreign players are on the roster.

This shot is from last year (Majestics in blue)…

You can learn more about the Majestics through their web site.  All the game shots on their site are mine — I’ve been shooting the team since 2003.

Technical:  The photo was taken with a Nikon D300 camera and Nikkor 300mm f/2.8 lens with 1.4x converter, using a monopod.  1/4000 | f/4.5 | ISO 800 | Aperture Priority with Matrix Metering | Auto White Balance.

May 162010

(Actually, about eight pictures.)

Here is a little background on the photos in my slideshow “Dawn” which ran on World Hum

Capturing dawn presents some technical problems – photographic and geographic.  A “dawn” picture may be taken before the sun comes up, or after.  But somehow it has to meet our expectations of what dawn looks like.

One of the difficulties is figuring out where the sun will be coming up.  NOAA has a great web site that lets you calculate matters solar.  One thing you can do is calculate the azimuth of the sun (the point at or above the horizon, expressed as an angle, measured clockwise from north) observed from any particular point (e.g. If I’m standing at the corner of the Metro parking garage at sunrise, which direction will I face to see the sun as it rises, or an hour later, etc.).  Operationalize this information a couple of different ways:  (1) With a decent handheld compass, you can line up your camera in advance to capture the rising sun; or (2) by using Google maps, you can identity landmarks that can be used to align the shot.

Here is info on the pictures.  You can copy and paste the latitude and longitude into Google Maps to see some of my shooting positions:

Opening picture: I was looking for a general shot and figured that shooting across the water would be good.  I went to Google Maps and looked for a location down the Potomac from Washington, DC that would give me clear shot.  I picked the Virginia shore looking towards Fort Washington, MD.  The very faint light-colored vertical object near the water under the sun is the Fort Washington Light.  I selected a shooting position just off the bike path to Mt. Vernon using the NOAA site.  (38.711318, -77.051588) (Nikon D300 on tripod with Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8 lens; 1/250 @ f/8, ISO 800, 19mm.)

Philadelphia: This is one of those shots that makes you glad you remembered to take your camera along.  I was on a business trip and looked out the window early in the morning.  (Voigtlander Bessa rangefinder film camera, handheld with Voigtlander 35mm f/2.5 lens.)

Commute: I tried this shot the week before from the top deck of the Metro parking garage in Vienna — but the sun was a little too far to the right (over that clump of trees).  I went to the NOAA site and found out that the following weekend was probably my only chance from that location until autumn.  On shooting morning I set up the tripod and made shots over a period of time.  I collapsed the tripod and had put it in the car when I looked back, and saw this.  No time for a tripod, but I used a stabilized lens.  (38.878309, -77.272347 ) (Nikon D300 handheld with Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens – stabilization on; 1/125 @ f/4, ISO 400, 102mm.)

Dulles: This shot happened in the opposite way from the commuting picture.  The selected frame is one of a few shots I made checking the camera setup — before the sun actually came up.  Shooting as the sun rose, the terminal “paled” out and lost that glow.  (BTW:  I emailed the airport authority media relations office ahead of time to advise them what I would be shooting.  They only asked that I call police operations when I showed up.  The police were very pleasant when I called them.)  (38.953767, -77.451961) (Nikon D300 on tripod with Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8 lens; 1/10 @ f/4, ISO 200, 32mm)

Car: I knew that I should have a road shot, so I rigged the Benbo tripod in the car.  I checked the map and saw some straight east-west stretches of Highway 7 west of Leesburg, VA.  As I drove west, I was checking my mirrors and saw that the time was right.  I made four laps back and forth between two overpasses.  A shot from earlier that morning is also posted on this blog.  (39.144473, -77.68791 to 39.143808, -77.655573) (Nikon D300 on Benbo tripod with Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 lens; 1/320 sec @ f/5.6, ISO 800, 11mm.)

Krakow:  I discovered how nice it is to walk around Krakow early in the morning on the last day of my first trip there.  For these pictures I had another project in mind that didn’t really pan out, but the sequence of four worked out fine for this slideshow.  The first three frames show for a little less than one second each in the slideshow.  (50.062472, 19.936835) (Olympus E-1 on tripod with Zuiko 11-22mm f/3.5 lens; 1 sec @ f/8, ISO 100, 11mm.)

Zoo:  The National Zoo in Washington DC is open around the clock.  In the summer you can beat the crowds and beat the heat by showing up really early – and also find parking in their lots.  This shot just happened.  (Nikon F100, film, on monopod with Tokina 300mm f/2.8 lens

Airplane: This is the source photo for my blog banner and is discussed in an earlier blog entry.  From a technical perspective, this is an almost hopeless picture.  The one I used in the slideshow hasn’t been fixed up in PhotoShop like the blog banner version.  (Minox EC camera, film, handheld.)

Apr 292010

Lunch — Marble Arch

Lunch at the Pret A Manger, Marble Arch, London

Hmmm.  Another food shot.

This is from the Fall of 2002.   Shot with a Cosina/Voigtlander Bessa rangefinder camera using chromogenic black and white film.  I forget which lens I was using — likely a 15mm.

Sitting there, munching my lunch, and watching the world pass by…

Apr 102010

Dusk in Krakow

The Vistula (Wisła) seen from Krakow's Wawel at Dusk

On a day where our thoughts may be turned to Poland’s tragedy, I wanted to offer up a image that expresses some sense of the nation’s endurance.

The Vistula runs from the Carpathian Mountains in the south of Poland, past Krakow, over the plains, through Warsaw, and eventually into the Baltic near Gdansk.  That watershed covers a great deal of Polish history and culture.

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