Thursday, December 29, 2011


Well, this seems as good as any photo to finish the year out – although it doesn’t hurt that it might be my favorite photo that I made this year. The story of this one is the intersection of planning and luck – mostly the latter. When checking lighting information for my trip to Paris this last May, I realized that I was in for some luck – the sun would be setting directly down the Champs-Élysées and if I could get on top of the Arc d’Triomphe at that time, I might be able to get some interesting shots of the city.

Of course, it wouldn’t be that easy.

Walking up the Champs-Élysées, I realized I was in for a great day of shooting as the sunset was spectacular (as you can, well, see for yourself). But as I walked up the road, looking at the Arc, I was curious: shouldn’t I be able to see the people on top? Ah well, first time in Paris. What do I know? Well, making my way to the base of the Arc, I was in for some Karmic Irony as my favorite French word was staring me in the face from the ticket office: grève.

Well, now what? I’m burning a great sunset and I’ve got to figure something out. I made a bunch of images of monument from the base – to include the tomb of the Unknown Soldier – and while some were good, I wasn’t really thrilled with what I had. Since I already figured this evening was blown, I decided to experiment. I went back to the other side of the Place Charles de Gaulle and tried to see if I could eliminate all traffic on the street through a combination of long shutter speeds, a circular polarizer and an ND filter. I thought it might make for an interesting shot. As to whether it worked or not, I leave to you to decide:

Paris Sera Toujours Paris 050
Happy New Year Sports Fans. More of the same coming in '12. So you've got that going for you.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Getting the Shot VII

Paris Sera Toujours Paris 049

My last full day in Paris was my day to finally take in some art. The Louvre didn’t really interest me – I didn’t want to stand in lines – and the Musee d’Orsay was closed so that left me with the Pompidou Center. This actually worked out well since I like modern art and I’d thought it was an interesting building ever since I first laid eyes on it in freshman French back in high school. I was traveling light this day since my feet and shoulders had been beaten down over the previous few days – just carrying my point and shoot – but I didn’t think it would be a big deal to not have the heavy gear.

And, to be fair, it wasn’t. The sky was a pretty washed out overcast which would have made it hard to do any sort of outdoor photography anyway and I never really feel that shooting in museums – or at least shooting the art in them – yields anything more than snapshots. Anyway, I had just finished my tour of the galleries and was getting ready to head back outside and knock out a few more chapters from yet another Hemmingway book when I saw this woman standing in front of the window looking – wistfully? thoughtfully? photographically? – out at the Parisian skyline. I grabbed my camera out of my bag and started to quicken my pace to get closer – that camera’s lens maxes out at 60mm – and I was sure she was going to move before I could get into position. It was all I could do not to break out into a run but it seems that I wasn’t the only person who spied this scene. As I got to the shooting point, a women on my right had a step on me and more importantly was right were I wanted to be, one step to my right and squared up on the scene. She had her camera out making basically the same photo and, at the risk the scene might break up, I fired off this shot as a safety shot. It was a good thing I did – within about a second of taking this, the woman turned back to the gallery and moved off.

I put my camera back in my bag, headed outside to the Place Georges Pompidou, cracked open A Moveable Feast, and started to read.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Getting the Shot VI

Paris Sera Toujours Paris 002

So sometimes being a jerk pays off. This was taken on my last night in Paris in the attempt to finally get a decent shot of the Eifel Tower. At a picnic on the Champ de Mars a few days earlier someone had recommended shooting from the Trocadero and since I hadn’t been there yet, it seemed like a good place to check out. Rain had been threating all day and while it never quite materialized, it did produce some pretty nice clouds at dusk. As eager as I was to use those though, I was a little disappointed on getting to the top of the Trocadero. There are basically two levels that you can shoot from – a lower level that would allow me to have my camera up against the railing with nothing in front of it and an upper level directly behind the former. As it happened, the lower level was closed down for some sort of maintenance, forcing me to both shoot from the upper level and having to aim my camera up higher than I would have liked causing the horizon to be lower in the frame (if you look closely, you can see the top of the construction fence at the bottom of the frame).

Anyway, I got there sufficiently early enough that I had my run of area so I was able to set up my tripod exactly on the centerline of the plaza and as far forward as possible. Unfortunately, it was still too light outside, but I started to shoot HDR brackets and wait for the light to change. As it began to get darker, more and more tourists began to fill up the Trocadero to both get photos of the Tower and await the evening light show. I could tell that some people were annoyed that I was set up on the prime shooting location but no one said anything and I knew that if I moved, I’d never get that spot back. When you look at this photo though, it is interesting to note that there are probably a hundred people or more clustered around me as I’m making this shot.

I continued to shoot HDR brackets every few minutes as the light continued to change and even managed to have conversations with an Irish couple that was in town to visit their daughter at University and a French businessman from Toulouse (go Airbus!). By the time I was done, it was pitch black, the crowds were thinning out and I was tired of standing in the same spot for almost three hours. I walked down from the Trocadaro, hiked down the length of the Champ de Mars and caught the Metro back to my hotel.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Lesson Is: Never Try

I’ll have to admit that I’ll probably never understand what makes for a popular photo. Take this one:

Chicago Plate 027

This is the most popular thing I’ve posted on flickr in a while – and yet I think it’s a cliché. As I mention in the description on flickr, this is most likely my last tilt-shift fake - I guess I’ve just grown tired of them (making them at least) and I’m not so sure I’ve ever really been all that good at them to begin with although that’s probably as much a result of not really putting the same effort in to these as I do in my HDR (or even regular) stuff.

Anyway, there’s a story about this photo too, albeit a short one. As it happened, I was riding the Brown Line north and happened to have a window seat with a clean window and so I figured I’d try to get some shots of the City and skyline while shooting straight down the cross streets. As I was shooting from a moving train, there were a lot of misses – in fact I really only hit on two with this being the better of them. Having said that, I think it was a pretty good hit – straight down the street without any cars cut off at the bottom of the frame. Even better was the great location of the cab in the middle. I wasn’t sure how I wanted to process this and was originally just going to process it normally, but the cars in the scene did sort of lend themselves to the tilt shift treatment.

I don’t think I made the wrong choice here (I think it basically works either way) but I guess that’s also why I’m done with the tilt-shift thing – it just feels like a gimmick. Even though I feel like this was well composed, the tilt-shift just doesn’t feel like it depends on proper composition for success.

So enjoy it while you can. You won’t have these to kick around anymore because this, sports fans, is my last tilt-shift fake.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Getting the Shot V

So, this was one of the first photos I took after living in Africa (well, the first time). I had been eager for months to really get some good photo subjects as I really didn’t find Africa all that photogenic (at least not for HDR and certainly not where I was living). On this particular day, I had an appointment in Georgetown but had time to kill before heading to campus. Since it was my first opportunity to ever really explore the city, I figured I’d take advantage. Now, I knew that Georgetown (the neighborhood) was pretty gentrified but I also knew about the C&O canal and was sort of hoping that there might be something interesting to shoot down there.

Which Way to Ohio?

And so I did. Two comments about this photo. The first is the issue of framing. For some reason lost to the mists of time, I only brought my 50mm with me that day. Really have no idea why – I’m almost positive I had some sort of bag or ruck with me and usually have at least one zoom in addition to the fifty. If I had to guess it’s because I planned on doing a lot of shooting in the Metro stations on the way in, but that’s a guess. Anyway, the lens dictated the framing (well, that and the bridge I shot this from) and the square crop seemed to be the way to go. The second comment is that the processing…well, let’s just say that I think I’d do the HDR a little different nowadays.

Ultimately though, the best thing about this photo is that introduced me to what would be one of my favorite vantage points in DC. But I’ll save those photos for another day.