52weeks

So I'm back...

Looks like despite my best efforts in trying to avoid New Years Resolutions I've succumb to at least one, working on my photography.  I have been feeling rather stagnant and blasé about my skills and what I'd been doing for awhile now.  Don't get me wrong I can take decent photos.  I just feel like I can and should be better.  Admittedly part of that is my eternal feeling that I always to some extent hate my photography because it's just never good enough.  The larger issue is that I just haven't been focusing on it like I can and should. I then began trying to figure out what and how I should go about trying to improve my photography.  Do I take on a project, if so what kind of project? I mulled this over for the last month or so especially as I put together my annual photography book for Christmas. Each year I put together a photo book of my best photos of The Boy and have it printed at Blurb and then give a copy to each of the grandparents as well as a copy for The Wife and me.  I realized that I take a lot of the same shots over and over and need to expand my repertoire.  There's nothing wrong with having a few tricks up one's sleeve to fall back on.  Again, I was just feeling rather stagnant.

In the end I've decided to take another shot at completing a 52 week photo challenge.  As you can see in my previous post I made it all the way to the end of April.  I should have an easier time this year.  I found this one on a post on Reddit from Dogwood Photography. The challenge this year is totally scheduled out.  This will make it much easier to plan ahead for future shoots.  Plus there's a Facebook Group and a subreddit that I'll be following along in. There's enough structure this time around I should have NO problem keeping up (I hope). What I like about this challenge is that there are 4 themes vision, technical, creative, and wildcard.  You need all those areas to really be able to create great photographs.  Your vision doesn't matter if you don't have the technical skills to execute it and there's no point in having technical skills if you can't use them creatively.  

This week's theme is, as is appropriate for New Years, Look Ahead.  For several days The Boy had been wanting to go to Kubota to "use his camera with color film" to take pictures.  Kubota, for those of you who don't know, is a fantastically beautiful Japanese Garden within walking distance of our house.  It's show up in my photography time and again for very obvious reasons.  Now I couldn't be happier that The Boy both wanted to go AND he wanted to take photos.  Due to crummy weather and work we decided to go as a family on New Years.  I hadn't decided if I was going to do the photo challenge at that point.  I just always take the camera long on those types of adventures.

We had a great time exploring back trails and taking lots of photos. as you can see below.

Once I had gotten back and started editing the photos I finally decided to do the project.  I knew exactly which photo to use.  It was a bit more literal than I like however, I thought it captured the idea of looking forward well. Especially since it was through The Boy's eyes.

Looking forward through The Boy's perspective.

So, we'll see how things go from here.  I hope that I'll grow both technically and creatively with this project.  The photos won't all be great and that's okay since this is a learning exercise, at least that's what I'll tell myself.  I already have a good idea of what I want to do for the color Harmony challenge.  We'll see if it works out or not...

So, it's been a few weeks. Time to catch up.

For week 10, the theme was books.  I had a great idea of visiting the 12 Little Free Libraries in South Seattle and making a collage of the various little libraries.  Unfortunately, work, life, and weather got in the way but I'd like to revisit the idea.  I may shoehorn it into another project or I may just do it and post about it as a bonus.

So, what did I do? The Boy has taken to grabbing random books, reading them, and making up his own stories.  As is usual when he starts doing something cute, I grab the camera.  Sadly, I was not able to get one of him actually reading.  I did get this one:

Look, you can see our laundry basket behind him.

Look, you can see our laundry basket behind him.

I submitted it to the weekly challenge and TOTALLY meant to write about that week's failures. Life got in the way and I got busy with parenting, work, and other familial obligations.

Last week's challenge (week 11) was abstract.  Now this time I was able to take some time and get some fun pictures.  In Seattle,  spring has returned.  The clematis and magnolia is blooming and it actually gets into the mid to upper 60's!  My wife had some lovely daffodils in a vase on our dining room table.  I grabbed my macro extension tubes and my flash and got to work.

II am always amazed at the intricacies of the structure of flower petals.

II am always amazed at the intricacies of the structure of flower petals.

I really liked at this distance the two flowers touching look like giant structures colliding.

I really liked at this distance the two flowers touching look like giant structures colliding.

I love the combination of shadow, light, and yellow in this.

I love the combination of shadow, light, and yellow in this.

These were fine photos.  I really liked a couple of them.  However, They were not abstract enough.  I then wandered outside into our flower garden and took a few more shots.

This was taken in daylight.  It's kind of fun being able to play around with a flash.

This was taken in daylight.  It's kind of fun being able to play around with a flash.

Finally the winner.

The color, the repeating patterns, and the light really make this one work.

The color, the repeating patterns, and the light really make this one work.

Finally we have the current challenge (Week 12) of back-lit photos.  Back-lit photos can be difficult because your main light source is behind your subject.  If you are not careful, you can lose all of the details in the shadows and have blown highlights, which means your photo is both too bright and too dark.  There are several ways around this:  one is to expose for the bright light behind your subject so that the subject is turned into a silhouette, or secondly, use the blown highlights in an artistic way in your photo.

I have one number to demonstrate the challenges I had with getting a back-lit photo I was pleased with.

124

That's right.  I took 124 shots to get to the handful you will see below.

Other than Monday it has been cloudy, grey, and very rainy this week.  I didn't get a chance to do any shooting on Monday.  While the light is nice and soft when it was cloudy out,  I was not going to be able to get the dramatic back-light that I wanted.  I had to make my own.

I got my flash out and set it up behind some lovely flowers my wife had just picked up at the grocery store to do a quick test shoot.  The flash was behind and angled up to the top of the flowers.  I fired off several shots at various angles and adjusted the flash to figure out what might really work.

Hey, this kind of works.

Hey, this kind of works.

Now that my test shoot was over and I was able to get a decent result, my plan was to really ratchet things up.  I wanted to play with both the quality and color of the light., diffuse the flash, and add an orange cast to the light to play with the colors.  

It mostly failed.

The ceiling in our house is actually white.

The ceiling in our house is actually white.

This was my favorite of the bunch.   The light is to the right and behind the flowers just out of the frame.

This was my favorite of the bunch.   The light is to the right and behind the flowers just out of the frame.

After some moaning and complaining about how NOTHING was working to my friend Ylana, she recommended that I simplify my approach.  Since my subject was still life, she suggested I get rid of the flash and just put the flowers in front of the window.

So I did.

Remember kids, when in doubt ask a professional.

Remember kids, when in doubt ask a professional.

At this point I had taken a lot of photos and while there were some nice ones, I didn't LOVE them.  I was going to resign myself to the fact that hey, sometimes a photo is just a photo.  It's important to just learn the technique and that it's not always possible to make great art (also advice from Ylana. Hey Ylana, thanks!).

Then on Thursday,  the sun came out in the afternoon.  By the time I had finished with work, the sun had dipped too low to be able to get the photos of the clematis that I wanted.  I went to our side yard to get some of the Magnolia tree that we have.  Same situation.  I was rather frustrated at this point.  Either way, it was dinnertime and I had to go run to pick it up.  I got down to the car and started it.  I look up and see this huge bright beam of sun perfectly hitting a cherry tree perfectly full of blossoms at the top of the hill we live on.  I turned the car off and raced upstairs to grab the camera.  This is what I got.

Spring in full bloom, light and shadow.

Spring in full bloom, light and shadow.

Layers of color and shadow.

Layers of color and shadow.

I love the way the pink flowers and blue sky look.

I love the way the pink flowers and blue sky look.

The clouds look like they are an extension of the tree in this one.

The clouds look like they are an extension of the tree in this one.

I love the repeating pattern of flowers and branches against the blue sky.

I love the repeating pattern of flowers and branches against the blue sky.

You can see that everywhere is dark except the tree branch.

You can see that everywhere is dark except the tree branch.

That's a lot of pink blossoms and light.

That's a lot of pink blossoms and light.

More layers of color and light.

More layers of color and light.

Darkness everywhere except on the branch.

Darkness everywhere except on the branch.

I took 47 pictures of that tree.

Unlike my previous attempts, I was not taking a lot of shots trying to make something happen that wasn't there but taking a lot of pictures because there was a lot to shoot.  Wide shots to get the full size and scope of the light playing with the petals of the flowers, close up shots to see the intricate details, and shots with the blue sky as the background to play against the pink flowers.

Normally I like to select just a few to share with you.  I had a very hard time doing that.  I was able to get it down to 9. There were just so many photos that I fell in love with.  Never underestimate how much great lighting and a good subject helps in making a good photo.  In a few days,  I would probably be able to distill the photos down to just the very few best ones.  I didn't want to do that this time.  I wanted to share my exuberance with these photos and a big part of that is showing so many of them.

Next week the theme is Conceptual Photography.  So I need to come up with an idea that I want to convey with my photography and then figure out how to shoot it.  Hmm... At least I have some time to ponder...

Back to doing what I like...

Last week I had an assignment that I just did not like at all with the DIY Soft Focus challenge.  This week was different.  This week's challenge is City Lights.  I get to do night photography!

The first challenge this week was the weather.  While Seattle has the reputation of being rainy it rarely rains very hard here outside of a few storms in November.  Normally it's a light mist/sprinkle.  March has been very different.  In the first 5 days of March we exceeded the normal amount of rain for the entire month.  Since none of my photography gear is weather sealed I couldn't go shooting in the rain.  Looking ahead I saw that there would be a break in the rain on Friday.  My plan was after The Boy went to bed I would head out.  I wanted to go to two places.  The first was to go to the corner of Boren and Pine.  It looks down on I5 passing underneath and towards The Convention Center.  The second place I wanted to shoot at was the Bell Street Cruise Terminal located at Pier 66.  You can access it on foot from Elliot Street. The Pedestrian footbridge passes over Alaskan Way with views of the street, downtown Seattle, and Elliot Bay. There's also an outlook that has even better views.

The next challenge was getting the exposures right. Auto exposure in modern DSLR's is fantastic.  The reality of modern cameras is that they are computers that are built with the sole purpose of taking pictures.  There are conditions that make it difficult for the camera to know what you want to do.  Long exposure photos are one of those situations.  DSLRs are able to automatically expose pictures with shutter speeds as slow as 30 seconds.  If you need an exposure of more than 30 seconds then you have to do math.  For an art media there is an awful lot of math involved in Photography.  There's math from how to compose, i.e. The Rule of Thirds and The Golden Rule, to color balance, and finally to exposure

So, how to figure out what the right exposure is? I set the camera to a 30 second exposure. I then set the aperture, how much light is exposed to the sensor; I then cranked up the ISO, how sensitive the sensor is to light, until that the scene was properly exposed.  Once I had that I could then do the math to figure out what the exposure time would be for the ISO that I wanted, in this case 100 the least sensitive for my camera.  I then do a little multiplication and figure out that how many minutes to expose for.  With that all figured out I was ready for Friday night to arrive.

Fortunately the weather on Friday was warm and dry. Before I went out I was checking out Facebook when I came across a post by the Vintage Seattle page. It was shot of downtown Seattle from 1984.

Taken at Rizal Park

Taken at Rizal Park

It was a beautiful shot of Downtown Seattle from Rizal Park on Beacon Hill.  I decided to add this to my list of stops.  It was close by and on the way to the other two. My route for the evening:

So, now that everything was figured out, the battery for the camera was fully charged, and I had warm clothes it was time to go. I got to the park and walked down to the bridge overlooking the freeway.

Overlooking the freeway.

Overlooking the freeway.

It was interesting standing on the bridge.  Despite the fact that it's made out of steel and concrete the thing would vibrate and shake when buses drove by.  The minimum exposure time on my shots were 30 seconds and up to 4 minutes.  If I wanted a sharp picture I had to check for buses before clicking the shutter.

A slightly different angle.

A slightly different angle.

A 239 second exposure.  I love how I caught the airplane in this.

A 239 second exposure.  I love how I caught the airplane in this.

On of my favorite things to do now, long exposure panoramas.  Needless to say, click on the photo for the full experience.

On of my favorite things to do now, long exposure panoramas.  Needless to say, click on the photo for the full experience.

I was happy with what I got and hoped into the car and drove to Boren and Pine.  I got there quickly.  It being a Friday Night and one of the most popular areas to go to bars and nightclubs there was NO PARKING.  I should have thought of that before I took off.  I drove around for over an hour before I finally found a spot.  I was walking up the hill towards my intended location when I came across the Transit Tunnel.  I had to stop and take a few pictures, as you can see why.

You can see the ghosting of the taillights of the bus on the righthand side of the image.

You can see the ghosting of the taillights of the bus on the righthand side of the image.

A few stars came out along with the moon, and a little lens flare

A few stars came out along with the moon, and a little lens flare

Taking photos in public is an interesting experience.  While I was standing with my camera on my tripod most people walked past me as if I wasn't there.  Others look at what I was doing without comment.  Only one person approached me to ask what I was doing. I told him I was taking pictures and offered to show him some of the shots I had.  He took a look at one and liked what he saw.

Unfortunately my photos were suffering from severe lens flare.  I was only able to get one shot that I kind of liked.

Too much flare!

Too much flare!

It was then on to the waterfront. I was really happy shooting here.  I was able to stand on the pedestrian bridge and get this shot.

Not a typical view of Seattle.

Not a typical view of Seattle.

I then moved over to the viewing area over Pier 66.

Skyscrapers, Alaskan Way, and The Wheel.

Skyscrapers, Alaskan Way, and The Wheel.

This time with Century Link Field in the shot.

This time with Century Link Field in the shot.

Another panorama.  Click on the picture to get the whole experience. 

Another panorama.  Click on the picture to get the whole experience. 

Looking towards Harbor Island.

Looking towards Harbor Island.

All told I was out for about 4 hours.  I would say that was rather productive.  When I was a kid I used to fish a lot.  I liked the quiet and slowness of fishing and I was usually in very pretty locations.  I realized as I was waiting for the minutes and seconds to countdown on my pictures that this kind of photography is a lot like fishing.  It was quiet, I was able to take in the view, I was able to reflect, and I even got better results than when I used to fish.

So, which one did I submit this week?  It was tough.  I have several favorites, a good problem to have. I wanted something that shows Seattle yet isn't too cliche and typical.  You can see my post here.

It helps that this is the one my wife likes.

It helps that this is the one my wife likes.

Angles, Darth Vader, and The Library

This week's challenge is angles. "Angles : 90° 180° -- Show us an interesting photograph with an angle."

I had a clear idea of what I wanted to shoot this week, The Seattle Central Library.  It was designed by Rem Koolhaas and is full of very cool windows and angles.

Photo by  DVD R W .  See, lots of cool angles.  How could this go wrong?

Photo by DVD R W.  See, lots of cool angles.  How could this go wrong?

My plan was pretty straightforward.  The weather report said that it was supposed to be sunny later in the week so I would take a little longer lunch on Friday and zip down to the library and take about a half an hour and take several pictures.  I do have a confession to make though.  Despite the fact that I am a proud native of Seattle, I have never actually been in the library.   This would be a great time to correct that.

Before I got to Friday, and my photo shoot at the library, I had a meeting with a potential client on Thursday.  The meeting was located at the north end of the waterfront of downtown Seattle.  I took my camera along because one never knows if there would be something good to shoot.  After the meeting I walked around for a bit.  I took some terrible and boring pictures of the Alaskan Way Viaduct that I will not be sharing.  A few blocks away though I saw what is now known as the 4th and Blanchard Building. It wasn't known as that when it was built in 1979.  It was known as "The Darth Vader Building."  I was, and am, a HUGE fan of all things Star Wars related.  So much so that my parents took me to see The Empire Strikes Back at the very tender age of 4. (As a side note, now that I am the father of a 3 year old what were my parents thinking!?!?!?  Empire is a scary movie!  Darth Vader is one bad dude and to top it off everything goes wrong for the good guys in that movie, it doesn't end on a good note.  How was I not emotionally scared for life after seeing that movie at such a young age?)

Photo by  Joe Mabel .  Look at that thing!  The design still holds up 35 years later.

Photo by Joe Mabel.  Look at that thing!  The design still holds up 35 years later.

So I started walking the few blocks towards the building and started taking pictures.

I like the abstraction of the building and the repeating pattern of the windows.

I like the abstraction of the building and the repeating pattern of the windows.

Windows into infinity

Windows into infinity

I really like how the color of the sky is reflected on all of the glass, along with the trees in this photo.

I really like how the color of the sky is reflected on all of the glass, along with the trees in this photo.

The sharp lines of the building are very cool.

The sharp lines of the building are very cool.

I love the shadow and then the reflection of the other building in this one.

I love the shadow and then the reflection of the other building in this one.

It's amazing what you can get in just a few minutes.  On my way back to the car I was able to capture a few other nice surprises.

Sometimes there are advantages of shooting during the middle of the day.

Sometimes there are advantages of shooting during the middle of the day.

My favorite of the day.

My favorite of the day.

Now, I know what you're thinking.  Those are some nice pictures.  I even really like the one with the trees in it but where are the library pictures you led with?  Fear not, they are next.

As planned I hopped in my car and zipped downtown and grabbed the first parking spot I could across the street from the library.  I just started walking around the library and took shots as I went focusing on the unique angles and details of the building.

It's kind of hard to take a bad picture of the library.

It's kind of hard to take a bad picture of the library.

This thing is made for photographers.

This thing is made for photographers.

I then went inside.  I worked my way all the way up to the top and then worked my way down taking photos as I went.

Looking into one of the corners.

Looking into one of the corners.

Looking out from one of the meeting rooms onto the atrium of the building.  This is also my wife's favorite that I took of the library.

Looking out from one of the meeting rooms onto the atrium of the building.  This is also my wife's favorite that I took of the library.

The combination of the soft acoustic tiles and hard angles is awesome.

The combination of the soft acoustic tiles and hard angles is awesome.

Looking down from the highest point.

Looking down from the highest point.

On my way back down now.  How cool is it that they embedded the Dewey Decimal numbers in the floor like this?

On my way back down now.  How cool is it that they embedded the Dewey Decimal numbers in the floor like this?

Looking up to the top of the atrium.

Looking up to the top of the atrium.

One final look before I left.

One final look before I left.

Both shoots were a lot of fun.  As was the case with my previous challenges I wish I had been able to take more time.  I only had about 20-30 minutes both times this week before I had to get back to work and regular life.  Going forward I will need to figure out how to schedule more time to be able to focus on what kind of image I'm trying to make. I have a feeling though that this is the case with all photographers, not just ones who are trying to cram in a project during their lunch hour.

So, which photo did I choose to submit this week?  My wife's favorite, of course.

Atrium through mesh.

Atrium through mesh.

Next week's challenge is water.  "Water : Fluid, Frozen, Splashing or Soaked?"  I have a few ideas already.  I can take some long exposure photos of the streams and waterfalls at Kubota Gardens or maybe head down to the shore at Lake Washington, I do live like 3 blocks away.

Stay tuned readers for more adventures.

A photo shoot with The Boy that ends up with some surprising results.

While I'm waiting for the weekly challenges to start from Digital Photography school I decided that I should start learning how to use the flash and lighting equipment that I got for Christmas (Thanks Mom and Dad!).  I wasn't sure what I was going to shoot.  At first I thought I would take one of The Boy's giant stuffed animals as my model and just start moving the light around it and vary the intensity of the flash to see what results I got.  Not exciting, though educational.  Life can't always be exciting when learning something new.

During my daily reading of the news and photography related sites I stumbled across Jared Polin's monthly challenge for January.  In it he wants pictures of your bedroom.  I thought, ah hah!  Jonah and I will often rough house and play on the bed in our spare bedroom.  I would set up the lighting equipment and have The Boy jump up and down while I shoot away and make adjustments to the camera and flash.  The Boy LOVES to jump, genius!

I picked up The Boy from daycare and got started setting up the light stand, shoot through umbrella, flash, sync chord, and camera.  I asked The Boy to take off his shoes and start jumping away.  He was having fun, I was having fun.  The lighting rig was set up camera left at about 7 feet or so and pointed downwards.  I wasn't getting the results I wanted, the room was over exposed from what I wanted to achieve.  Despite this issue I was able to get a couple of cute shots.

The Boy jumping with enthusiasm. 

The Boy jumping with enthusiasm. 

The Boy needing a rest after jumping so much.

The Boy needing a rest after jumping so much.

I realized part of my issue.  I still had auto ISO turned on my camera so all of my shots were at ISO 1600.  I wanted the ISO to be at 100!  I corrected my mistake.  I lowered the flash and increased the intensity of the flash from about 1/64 to 1/8.  I wanted some moody lighting to be moving from the lower left to the upper righthand side.  Unfortunately The Boy was done with jumping.

The thing with 3 year olds is that they are curious, very curious.  The Boy wants to know about anything and everything.  He decided that instead of jumping on the bed he wanted to inspect the flash and umbrella. The inspection turned into pressing the buttons and trying to make the flash work.  Things ended up with pretending it was raining and The Boy needing to hang out under the umbrella because "it's raining." I took one shot of him next to the umbrella and liked the result and kept shooting.  I couldn't be happier with the results.

My favorite is at the end with using a blue diffuser on the flash.

Inspecting the 'brella.

Inspecting the 'brella.

Hiding from "the rain."

Hiding from "the rain."

I wanna make it work!

I wanna make it work!

My favorite of the shots I took tonight, and possibly for awhile.

My favorite of the shots I took tonight, and possibly for awhile.

And so it begins...

Welcome to my first post on my blog.  

For 2014 I have decided to attempt a year long photo project to improve my skills.  I thought about doing a 365 project and then quickly realized the error of that thinking.  I have a very active 3 year old at home (what three year old isn't active?) and I like being an active and engaged father, so I don't really have time for a 365 project.  The prospect of taking selfies at 11:59pm just is not appealing. Instead I am going to start on a 52 week project.  Hopefully I will learn much and grow in my skills.  

I will be primarily using weekly photography assignments from www.digital-photography-school.com as my source of inspiration.  I also have a new Diana F+ and a new Yonguo 560II flash that I will be learning how to use over the course of the next year.  I'll have a separate  post for the gear that I have at my disposal.

I figure that I'm more likely to be successful if I put out this little project of mine into the world.  That way I can use peer pressure from anonymous internet users to keep me honest.

We'll see how things go.  I'm very excited to see where this project will take me.