Tuesday, January 24, 2012


I really didn’t want to go out. DC had been pounded by snow – heavy snow – for a couple of days and the city was completely shut down. I had planned ahead and was firmly ensconced in my well-stocked apartment and as long as the internet and power held out, I really didn’t have any reason to leave. Except. Well, the snow had stopped falling but – since it had been a heavy, wet snow it had that sort of picturesque quality in the way it coated everything – especially in the way it piled up delicately on the branches of the trees. It’s an awesome thing but a quality not normally associated with our dry, windblown Midwestern snows. Even in DC, I knew this would be a transitory phenomenon – as soon as the snow dried out a little, or the wind picked up or the sun came out, the snow would get knocked down and this quality would be lost and the picturesque would turn into yet another dreary winter. So basically, I felt an obligation to go out and shoot. Isn’t that what photographers are supposed to do?

I strapped on my Army Issued insulated boots and threw on a pair of North Face snowboarding pants (purchased years ago for a snowboarding trip which never happened) – I had been lugging them and the boots around for years in the thought that ‘maybe they’d come in handy some day’. Thanks to Snowpocalypse 2010, I’m probably doomed to lug them around for another decade or so. I grabbed my gear and proceeded to stumble my way across DC in knee deep snow. There had been no plowing of any sort so going was slow. I had made it to the Marine Corps Monument, shooting all the way, but clearly any sort of long distance move was out. Still, I was pretty close to the Key Bridge, the C&O Canal and Georgetown. Since I had shot these areas before in other weather, it seemed like a safe bet. And sure enough, it was.
Once again however this shot proves I have no idea what’s popular as this thing took off once I posted it. It seems that there’s a large subset of DC area residents who: 1. Like snow covered shots of Georgetown and 2. Don’t want to take them themselves.

They missed out.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Always Carry Your Camera With You II

Of Gloom and Doom

When I was in Grad School, I always tried to carry a camera with me. Actually, what I really tried to do was to always carry my 5D with me. With spare lenses. Okay, I really wouldn’t carry all that with me all over DC – but to classes? You better believe it. Now, I know this was a matter of some humor to my classmates – ripe for parody no doubt. I mean, Georgetown is a pretty weird place anyway (18 year old undergraduates going to class in suits?) but me showing up to class with my 5D and occasionally even my tripod surely threw a lot of people off.

Well, the photo above is why I did that. Well, okay, if you’ve been reading this blog you know the REAL reason why I hate being caught without a camera. So anyway, I was walking across the Key Bridge en route to another soul sucking class when I saw these fantastic clouds looming over the campus. I didn’t have my tripod this day, but that’s not a huge problem on the Key Bridge – as I’ve done numerous times, one needs only to wedge their camera into a corner of the railing and shoot away. So it was this day.

Now I won’t say that I made a Pulitzer Prize winning image here – but this shot of GU is one my favorite shots that I took during two and a half years in DC.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Getting the Shot VIII

I don’t normally take pictures of people. I sure don’t shoot no portraits. When it comes to people, my interests in photography lean much more towards the interaction – or lack – of them in an environment. But sometimes you just can’t resist.

So there, I was. Sunday in Paris, hiking all over the frackin’ place. For this particular leg, I had hiked up the length of the Canal St. Martin from the Seine all the way to the Place de Stalingrad by way of Gare de L’Est and Gare du Nord. I’m not sure how long this all was but by the time I’d made it up north, my feet were telling me it had been long enough. For my final act of the day, I had planned on walking from Gare du Nord to Place de Stalingrad (a longer hike than I’d have thought – or maybe I was just tired) and then catching the Metro back to my hotel. As it happens, (as it always seems to happen) as I took one last look at my map, I saw something that looked interesting – another canal to the north east of Place de Stalingrad. Huh. Well, that might be kinda cool, let’s check it out. Honetement, the area around the canal actually could have been pretty cool but by the time I dragged myself over there, the light wasn’t great and I was just way too tired to try to find a good angle. I popped some happy snaps just to justify the hike and started to head vers the Metro.

As I got back to the entrance to the plaza, the combination of the sun and the elevated Metro made what I thought would be a compelling composition (turned out I was wrong). To get the shot, I hopped up into a slightly elevated lawn area to get my shots. Now, there were quite a few people out enjoying the afternoon, mostly in small groups, and I really didn’t pay them any mind. As it happened however, I had set up shop next to several Parisian, uh, gentlemen enjoying what was almost certainly not their first bottle of wine of the afternoon, and who knows what else.

They immediately took interest in me and my camera to a degree that I don’t always find healthy and started chatting quite animatedly amongst themselves. My French was nowhere near good enough to keep up, but I did catch something about paparazzi. After talking for a minute or so, one gentleman stood up and asked me to take his photo. I’m always leery when this sort of thing happens. It seems that this is never that simple – it’s always a hook. Invariably money will be demanded or confrontation will ensue (or maybe I just need to stop basing these conclusions on my experiences on the South and West sides of Chicago). At any rate, there didn’t seem to be any good way of begging off, so I lined up my camera and took one of those portrait things I’ve heard so much about.

And that was it. He thanked me – didn’t even ask to see the shot - and sat back down and went back to talking and drinking with his friends. I turned on my heels and made for the Metro. I really didn’t expect anything to come of this photo – I shot hundreds of frames while in Paris and I really just expected to delete this one when I got back to my computer. But a funny thing happened on the way to the recycling bin. I started to play around with in Photoshop: Black and White, crop it down a little and what do you know, a perfectly good (albeit posed) street portrait. Honestly, looking at a photo that I never planned on keeping, a few things start to stand out at me. I don’t like how the column behind the guy intersects his head, I’d have liked to have gotten a tighter crop on his face (although I did want to get that shirt in the frame) and I think I’d like to have blown out the background more – maybe even use my 50mm all the way open. Ultimately, for a photo that I took only get out of a situation: I wish I’d done a better job.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

At the Red Mill

As soon as I had finished shooting off my last HDR bracket the Arc d’Triomphe, I was eager to get moving. While I thought I might have gotten some decent shots, I didn’t fully know exactly what I had. I did know that une grève française had thrown off my planned shoot for that night and that I was wasting a great sunset. What now lieutenant?

I broke out my map (lieutenant) and looked around for something interesting and something nearby. A quick consult of the Metro lines showed that I could probably make it up to Pigalle pretty quickly. I had walked around there earlier in the day and figured that the neighborhood might be, well, interesting at night. Besides, the Moulin Rouge was up there – surely that’s worth a shot or two, right?

Well, the Metro did its job and got me up there quickly or, if not quick enough to catch the rest of the sunset, at least in time to catch the blue hour. I was able to quickly get to the Red Mill, but getting a shot would be a little more challenging – it was a beautiful Paris spring night and the crowds were out. I managed to elbow my way onto an island in the middle of the street but there was no way I could fully set up my tripod in this mess. That actually wasn’t so bad – man cannot live by eye-level shots alone and I thought a low angle shot might work well here. I set my tripod on the ground and ripped off a bracket as calibration.

There were two problems that presented themselves. The first was traffic. I don’t mind light trails in certain shots, but usually I think they’re distracting. Fortunately, if you’re patient, you can usually just time your shots between the stoplights. If your bracket has longer exposures, it might take you a few cycles, but as long as the ambient light isn’t changing too fast - and if you’re patient – you can make it work. The second problem was motion, as it usually – though certainly not always – ruins multiple exposure HDR shots. I didn’t want the windmill arms to show up three different times in the final image, although my initial brackets were shot at larger apertures and therefore quicker shutter speeds which would have caused this effect. But – once those safety shots were out of the way – I was ready to experiment a little more. I set my camera so that my middle exposure was eight seconds (I forget offhand what the f/stop was) and fired off another bracket. I chimped after I was done and saw that I had one frame with the windmill arms having completed a full revolution. I didn’t know if this would work once I started the editing, but it was the effect I was going for.

Having been crouched down in an unusual (and somewhat painful) position to avoid the crowds and the traffic – and having been holding that position for a while to time my shots between the stoplights – I almost fell over when I stood up. I grabbed my tripod and slowly – very slowly – made my way down the Boulevard de Clichy.

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Saturday, January 7, 2012

Catch the Blue Shirt Special

One of the advantages of living relatively close to Paris is that I can plan out photo projects that will span several visits and be relatively confidant that they’ll actually be accomplished in a fairly short timeframe. Now, if you’ve seen my photos, you’ll know that railroads are a particular interest of mine – so what better thing to shoot than the railroad stations of Paris? That’s right – nothing. There is nothing better in Paris than that. I’m glad we agree.

I’ll have one or two others to feature at some point, but today’s photo is courtesy of the Gare de Montparnasse. Now, of the three stations I’ve been to in Paris (so far), I have to say that I liked Montparnasse the least - but I feel like in some ways it should have been my favorite. After all, it is built in a brutal mid-century style that I am usually a huge fan of. But for some reason, it just didn’t fully register with me. Not really sure why but regardless I found myself wandering the station trying to find something to shoot that would capture the sense of place.

Presently, I found myself in this ticketing area and my eye was immediately drawn to the contrast of the yellow kiosks and the grey concrete of the hall. The fact that the arrival-departure sign was prominent in the frame was a bonus. I got into a shooting position but held off since I wanted a relatively clean frame. I knew that I would have some people in the frame but I wanted some sort of balance and certainly didn’t want anyone cut off by the edge of the frame.

As I held my position, the gentleman in the center walked into the frame – perfect I thought, if I can get him in the middle – between and in front of the kiosks but under the sign – that might be what I want. I waited for him to get into the right position, all the time afraid that someone would walk into the frame. Finally, out of the corner of my eye I sensed someone walking into the frame on the left forcing me to shoot. Blue shirt guy wasn’t exactly where I wanted him, but I had no choice and fired off my HDR bracket. That was about the end of my thinking about this shot – I kept going around the station for a little while longer and then decamped to the Boulevard Montparnasse to find a café for some café.

A few weeks later I was back home editing down my Paris photos. The first pass is always tedious as I go through and find the obvious rejects. It’s basically me slouched at my desk, staring at Adobe Bridge and alternating between hitting ‘6’ and the right arrow on the keyboard. Until this bracket sequence came up and I bolted upright in my chair. See, I had known that there were people at those first two kiosks, but that was the extent of my awareness, so focused was I on waiting for blue shirt guy to get where I wanted him. Imagine my surprise when I realized he had friends.

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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Victory Against Time

Wow. That was a lot of HDR and a lot of Paris over the past few entries. Let’s put that behind us in the New Year and make this a new beginning. And by new beginning I mean, let’s take a look at one of my oldest photos, the old North Ave. Milwaukee Road railroad bridge at the north end of Goose Island.

Goose Island Bridge

Okay, so maybe this isn’t that old – I had certainly been shooting film for a while and had even shot several thousand frames digitally before I took this image. But, this shot is from the Winter of ’06 when – inspired by the works of these guys – I decided to finally get serious about photography in general and urban landscape in particular. Driven by memories of passing repeatedly through the area in the late seventies and early eighties and the knowledge of the rapid gentrification of the neighborhood, this part of Lincoln Park was the obvious place to start.

Really, there’s not a lot to say about this photo – it captures exactly the feeling I was going for. My only regrets are technical – I shot this as a jpeg rather than RAW and for some reason, I shot this at 24mm when I know that I owned a 16mm lens. Oh well, minor issues.

Incidentally, while I always meant to go back and get some more images of the bridge – perhaps comforted by the fact that I got THIS image – I never did. Wouldn’t you know it but the city renovated this thing a few years ago. I can’t say I’m crazy about the renovation (new paint and deck) but it’s way better than having it torn down. And, to be fair, the new bridge is an interesting subject in its own right. But that one isn’t MY bridge and this one is. All too often I remark – and I’m not the first to do so – that digital photography came too late…but not this time.