Thursday, June 23, 2022

 PHOTOGRAPHING FIREWORKS


For my tip this month, I am going to give you all the details upfront, then show you several examples of fireworks. It's easier than you think. And, if you have a good quality DSLR, you don't even need to shoot 'RAW'-- just set your camera for JPEG Large or Fine, and set your picture control on 'Vivid.' Read your camera manual to learn how to select those settings. 

Shooting fireworks is a lot of fun. When you're there, the display, the show, might last for 15, 20, or 30 minutes, but we can "capture" those split seconds of vibrant color, shapes, designs , and excitement to keep and store as forever memories. 

Okay, so now that I have shared my excitement, let me talk about the techniques I use to create my fireworks images. First, shake off the notion that you're going for perfection. No. This is more art than science. Some of the 'works will be outside your viewfinder's view; some will be a little too high; some a little too low; some to the left. That said, my first tip is shoot, shoot, and keep shooting. However, don't be amateurish and just throw spaghetti on the wall, hoping some of it will stick. I am going to show you how to be artistically calculated; as opposed to just random and wishful shooting. 

First, you need a tripod. Sorry, but you will need a good tripod. Not super expensive; just good-- not wobbly. It should extend four-five feet high, or higher, depending on your height. You need one that allows you to quickly adjust from vertical to horizontal, so you can vary your shots during the display. Most displays last from 15-20 minutes or so.  

CAMERA SETTINGS:
Cable Release. I strongly recommend a good, reliable, quick, cable (or remote) release.

Lens
. I recommend a zoom lens so you can be zooming in and out as needed. Obviously, if you are far away from the action, you'll need a stronger focal length. I like to be close to the action, like across a lake. Throughout the evening, I use a range of roughly 18mm to 40mm, with an APS (cropped) sensor, as opposed to a full-frame.

F/Stop. I like to shoot with a range of f/8-f/11. Why? As carefully as I manually focus where     I think the 'works are going to explode, I'm never quite sure, so, that range of f/stop will assure me that everything will be nicely focused. For some of the shots I will share, I kept mine at f/11 throughout the display. F/11 also keeps a lot of the fireworks from being overexposed, i.e., it lets less light in during each burst.

 
Shutter Speed. I always use the BULB setting--that becomes my "shutter speed," as I'll explain later. 


Exposure. Again, the BULB setting also helps me with my "exposure." I will share later what else I do to get my exposures for each fireworks bursts. 


Image Format. Believe it or not, I have always shot all my firework displays in JPEG Large.    I set my Picture Control to VIVID (your camera might have a different designation).   

TECHNIQUE. Now that I have shared the left brain stuff, now let me share what I do once I have all the left brain stuff taken care of. I first wait until the first display--that gives me a hint as to where they have their equipment aimed, knowing that some will be off a little from that point. That is why I use wide focal lengths. I'd rather get a little more space than I need, and then crop my images later, if I need to. I vary my focal lengths, the position of my camera, and switch from horizontal to vertical shots during the evening. 

Now, you might ask, what about that BULB setting? I usually have an opaque piece of material-- a camera manual, folded copy paper, etc. The key point is to take something to use as an improvised "lens cap." I recommend roughly 5"x7" or larger. It needs to cover the lens in-between each fireworks burst, yet flexible enough to remove it quickly when the next burst comes up. Believe it or not, that piece of folded-up paper becomes my "shutter." 

Here is how I use that piece of paper as my "shutter." I place the piece of paper carefully in front of my lens, so it won't receive any light. THEN:
1) I see a beautiful display go up in the sky. I take the paper away from the front of the lens and trigger my cable release at the same time. Right before the display dissipates, I cover the lens again with my hand, BUT I don't let go of the cable release--thus the shutter in the camera is still open, but not receiving any light. I then see another colorful explosion. I take the paper away again, then cover my lens again when that second display begins to dissipate. Then I take my finger off my cable release. I have, in essence, created a double exposure, combining two displays! How fun is that? 
2) I repeat the above process, but this time I do it for three firework displays, just to be different. Now, I've created a triple exposure. I've combined three displays in the same image! 
3) I then repeat the above process, but just do it for one burst/display.

I go back and forth between steps 1-3 bursts, as described above, during the course of the evening, getting one, two, or three firework bursts in my images. It's fun, exciting, and can even be jaw-dropping.

Software fine-tuning. Most folks today call it "post processing." Actually, this process I follow requires only a little fine-tuning. All I do is crop (if necessary), burn, or dodge--darken some areas or lighten some areas of the images and maybe add some contrast.

As Forrest Gump once said, "Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get." 

So, with that, I hope you enjoy seeing samples of my previous fireworks. Have fun!
Most of these examples, unless otherwise designated, are from Estes Park, Colorado.


Estes Park, Colorado


Estes Park, Colorado

Grand Lake, Colorado

                                                                 Breckenridge, Colorado


Estes Park, Colorado

Estes Park, Colorado

Estes Park, Colorado 

Grand Lake, Colorado

Estes Park, Colorado


Branson, Missouri


So, research your nearest fireworks display on the 4th, keep my notes handy and have fun with it! Your friends will ask, "How did you do that?" It will remain our little secret. 

Contact me for my 1-on-1 ZOOM or in-the-field lessons on any photo topic of your choice: 
vegaphotoart@gmail.com   www.elivega.net 


Eli

Thursday, May 12, 2022

ABANDONED BUILDINGS 


Abandoned buildings have captured my imagination since I first got interested in photography. They beg questions. Who lived there? What was their lifestyle? What did they talk about over dinner? Why was it abandoned, forgotten, or left to deteriorate? If the walls could talk, what stories would they tell? 

There is a difference between old buildings and abandoned buildings. There are old buildings that are still being used; then there are old buildings that are vacant. You can tell. They're abandoned. 

Before I photograph any abandoned building, I first study it. If I can, I will walk around it. I do that to get in touch with its essence, history, character, and photographic potential. I spend time waiting for it to "speak" to me. Spending time on this level helps me to get the best image I can of the structure. It helps me to determine which side is its good side; which aspects of it tell the best story.

From a photography and art perspective, I first decide what I am going to photograph--the exterior, the right exterior perspective, which room or rooms, from which angle, wide angle or tight shot, etc. I also determine what exposure will work best for each shot.

So, as you can see, I spend a lot of time studying, analyzing, getting in touch, and feeling the moment before I go "click."

Now, I'm going to share several images of abandoned buildings that grabbed my attention.

I'll start with my most recent one, an image I created just three weeks ago. I was on one of my many day (photo) trips when I came across this old 1920s-looking shack in the woods. It could have easily been a scene from a movie. As I walked up to it, I noticed that several yards behind it was an outhouse--still standing! I got closer to shack and walked around it, trying to find the best angle; the best perspective. I then turned my back to it and walked away, curious to see what it looked liked from a farther distance. To my pleasant surprise, as I walked away, I saw this huge bottle of whiskey. It was empty and sitting on a tree stump. It occurred to me to include the whiskey bottle as part of my composition. 

I took a photo with the bottle on the tree stump. It served as the foreground, with the old shack and outhouse as part of the background. When I opened the image at home and saw it on my computer screen, I thought it would look even more interesting and intriguing if I kept the color on the bottle, but convert everything in the background, and the tree stump, to a black & white image-- a sort of "Then & Now" theme. 

 




I found this near Victor, Colorado. At one time, I bet this was someone's very nice and elaborate living room, judging from the nature theme wallpaper and pronounced fireplace. Somebody got a bit artsy and painted pine trees with a yellow background on the fireplace. You can see a hint of other rooms through the doorway. It was a fairly good size house, for its time.    



This, too, was on the outskirts of Victor, an old mining town. Mining was good for the economy and good for the miners, or at least some miners. Who lived here? Maybe a superintendent at the mine and his family? Very efficient use of space, with a closet under the staircase. Very little is left of what must have been a nice banister that took the residents to the second floor.

The house was in such a weakened state I didn't dare go up to the second floor, for fear of falling through the floor, which happened to me once while photographing on the first floor of an abandoned house! That was scary. Luckily, the solid ground was only two feet below the floor.   



It was around Christmas time when I saw this old house on the prairie. Someone had placed a Christmas bow on the doorway, which added surrealism to the frail structure. Impermanence--someday, this house will not exist. 



This is nothing less than surreal. This house had obviously been abandoned years ago. For some strange reason, there was a vacuum cleaner in front of the house; right by the entrance! It was as if someone had been thinking of doing some spring cleaning, but procrastination set in. The message I heard when I saw this scene was, "It's a little too late for that...."



I would love to get into a time machine and walk into this general store and see local residents buying groceries and sundry items. I found this beauty in far southern Colorado, in the town of San Luis, close to the New Mexico state line. It's the oldest town in Colorado. Early Spanish explorations are evident throughout Colorado--San Luis, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the town of Cortez, Zapata Falls, etc. 

Check out the Coca-Cola sign. The Coca-Cola company has been around since 1886. 



This old house does not exist at all now. I'm glad I photographed it before "progress" took it over. This house stood north of Denver, on 7381 Washington Street. This too must have been an elegant house back in the day. You can see the bay window in the dining room. They left behind the old Victrola in the living room. 



This is one of several images I created of the old then-luxurious Savoy Hotel, Hot Springs, Arkansas, built in 1910. Oh, if the walls could talk.  



And this is the house I grew up in, located about twenty miles west of Lubbock, Texas. Now abandoned. I am its walls, and I will be talking about my life story on Monday, May 23rd, 2022. It will be streamed live via the Garland County Library Facebook page (Hot Springs, Arkansas) at 6:00 pm. (CST). If you miss it, you can find it on Youtube--just search for "Born In A Railroad Boxcar."    

The part of the house to the left of that tree was added by the owner when I was seventeen years old. Prior to that, my parents, me, and my four siblings lived in the other part-- a two-bedroom, one-bath house. Prior to living in this house, we lived in a three-room shotgun house. 





So, go out and search for histories forgotten, in the shape of abandoned buildings. Listen to the walls--they can guide you with your photo-taking. Enjoy.


 

Thursday, April 14, 2022

                                   P
                                     
E
                                       R
                                         SPECTIVE        

Made you look twice, huh? That's what my tip for this month is all about--looking twice, maybe three times in order to see things differently. It's about taking a different perspective before we go "click." 

There is a tendency to see the world; to put our camera to our eye as we are standing up. My suggestion for this month is to take a different perspective; take a different view; see life from other than eye level. 

I covered this topic about a year and a half ago, but it bears repeating. So much of what I see online, and through real-life observations, seems to be taken at eye level. So, let's see what life looks like when we don't.

For decades I have followed this idiom: In order to stand out, either photograph something no one else has, or photograph what others have, but in a different way.  

Here are some examples that will hopefully motivate you to break away from your habits or to get outside your comfort zone.



A simple morning table setting can trick the eye when seen from above. There are several ways of achieving this, but let me share my technique. I increase my ISO in order to get a fast enough shutter speed to hand-hold the camera without introducing hand movement. Obviously, having a lens with vibration reduction helps, but we still need to make sure we don't get any hand movement. In this case, I shot with a 17mm lens, ISO 800, with a shutter speed of 100--well within the limits of hand-holding a 17mm lens. The rule of thumb I use, when shooting without a tripod is: the shutter speed should be equal to, or greater than, the focal length I'm using. In this case, a shutter speed of 100 is definitely greater than 17. 



 
This image of picturesque Telluride, Colorado was taken from the side of a mountain, as thee the gondola went down toward town, almost right over my head. This has been used more than once in magazines because of its unique perspective. Yes, photos taken of Telluride from street level are nice, but this adds context to the town--it tells a story. You can see the context in which the mountain ski town was built. 





I placed the camera and tripod right up against the aspen on the left, looking straight up. I couldn't even see what I was getting. I was just estimating. But, with the lens set at 24mm, I knew I was going to cover a wide enough area. 

Let me share a warning regarding this type of scenario. When you are going to aim your camera toward the sky, as in this scene, assume that the bright sky is going to trick your built-in light meter and it will surely underexpose your image! So, make your adjustments in advance. For this shot, taken at Aperture Priority (f/25), I overexposed the image, prior to getting the shot, by +2 2/3 stops! Yes, that dramatic. As you can see, it worked. So, please be careful with situations like this one. 




License plates and wheels have one thing in common: travel. So, it occurred to me that I just had to include the two together in the same image. However, the perspective and juxtaposition of the bicycle wheel and license plates on a wall, coupled with a lamp and a window, gave me a surreal subject matter to play with. Now, you might be wondering, how is the bicycle wheel so high, in relationship to the window? Well, it was actually firmly and securely locked in atop someone's car. Perspective.




For this image, I'm looking up at part of a locomotive engine, instead of taking the photo straight on where I could see the entire engine. The warning above reads: "Keep off roof." 




Can you tell what you're looking at here? This is inside the Utah State Capitol dome. My tripod was about a foot from the floor aimed straight up. Those lights in a circle and the yellow light in the middle are part of a giant chandelier that hangs from the ceiling. When seen from below, it is totally out of context and thus creates a brain teaser. The brain cannot tell us what we're looking at. 




This might look like it was taken at eye level, but my camera on the tripod was roughly two feet from the ground. I placed it that low in order to pick up the wolf reflection in the small puddle. The wolf is actually part of a mural painted on one of the support beams under a downtown city bridge. Again, not at eye level. 




This is my last example of different perspectives. I was on the ground for this shot. I was capturing, not so much the dancers, but the essence of the dance as I took this shot from an uncomfortable position on the hard walkway during the event.  




So, again, get out of your comfort zone and see life from a different perspective. It will enhance your portfolio, add new tools to your toolbox, and will help you see a different side of life. Enjoy.

I am always available for one-on-one ZOOM lessons. Contact me if you're interested.   

Eli Vega, Photo Artist
  


                

Sunday, March 27, 2022

 LEADING LINES


What in the world are "leading lines?" First, I place them in quotation marks because they aren't really lines, like lines that we draw on a piece of paper. But, what are they? Leading lines are part of the composition of an image. Artists introduce them into their two-dimensional paintings to lead the viewers' eye to either the center of interest or to an important part of the painting. We, photographers, learned that from them.

So, if they're not really lines, what are they? First, I look for them as I stare out at a scene, way before I hit my shutter release button; before I even set up my camera. I study the scene and decide which parts of the grand scene I will include within the four corners of my viewfinder. I look for as many of the seven composition principles I apply to my photography. One of those seven is "leading lines." I introduce any of several elements into my images as leading lines: fences, roads, hiking paths, creeks, rivers, sidewalks, or any element (object) that can serve to lead the viewers' eye to the center of interest (the main subject I'm photographing) or to an important part of the image. 

Now, let me connect the dots for you. The following images all contain lines. Some are more obvious than others, but all serve the same purpose. 


Leading lines can be a small piece of the overall composition, but they play their part in enhancing, adding to, the overall composition. This image of a barn with the mountains and ski slopes as a backdrop is a good example. If you look closely, the fence poles on the lower left-hand side of the image lead to the barn. Again, they can be subtle but they serve their purpose.  



I saw two lines in this scene before I set up my camera. I saw the fence that leads the eye toward the old barn. The other leading line, the dirt road, actually follows the bikers along their ride. 



In this nice autumn scene, I saw the hiking trail and quickly decided I was going to introduce it to lead the viewers' eye quickly into the aspen forest. It's hard for the eyes not to follow the trail into the scene.



The most obvious leading line in this scene were the yellow caution lines on each side of the light rail tracks. They lead to a mysterious part of the scene, which begs questions, especially about the dainty lone figure, alone in a concrete jungle. 




The leading line in this scene is subtle, but I saw it as I studied the composition. In case you're still wondering, I introduced the railing on the stone steps that lead toward the house. 




In this Taos, New Mexico scene, I used the stone wall next to the horno as a leading line. As you can see by now, leading lines can be obvious, somewhat obvious, or very subtle. 




There were two elements in this scene I introduced as leading lines. One of them is the fence in the distance that leads toward the old mill. The other one is the walkway by the pond that leads back toward the area of the mill. Again, subtle, but there. 
 



For this scene, what to introduce as a leading line was obvious--the hiking trail, which leads the eye toward the hiker. 





So, next time you find yourself on a photoshoot, consciously look for leading lines. They can add interest, draw the viewer in, add mystique and wonderment, and definitely enhance your compositions. Have fun with it! 

Contact me if you would like a one-on-one ZOOM lesson on this key and important topic.



  

 

Thursday, February 17, 2022

 CREATING ART FROM NATURE


So, what do I mean by creating art from nature? Well, it's easy to take pretty pictures of pretty things, like scenics, flowers, plants, or trees. However, we need to go beyond just "taking a picture" of what we see. We need to take the time to think about composition, the messages we get, perspective, lighting (amount, color, direction), mood, and even shadows. 

If you study famous paintings, you will notice that many great artists purposefully included dark corners or areas in their paintings. They create interest and intrigue and increase the mood in the painting. When I find that in nature, I like to keep those shadows.

In other words, unless I am shooting with calendars or clients in mind, I think like an artist, not a photographer. 

This first example looks like an abstract painting. I have never seen a sunset like this one. It was above the Flatirons mountains near Boulder, Colorado. This doesn't require much technique--it was there already. It was my canvas in the sky. The key is to grab it before it disappears and to preserve it for posterity.   




This monochromatic image was a result of sub-freezing temperatures in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, on the northern tip of the state. It was so cold that when I took my gloves off, my fingers went numb. Even my thoughts were covered with ice! For these situations, when everything is near-white, you need to over-expose the scene by 1-2 stops, to keep the whites white. 




This is a study in color and composition, more so than the scene itself. I placed my camera just inches from the ground to get this "field mouse" view of autumn colors and shapes.  



The key to creating art in nature is to extract from the big picture. The eyes see too much, and that reality leads us to photograph what the eyes see--too much. When I was on this trail, I was surrounded by mountains. But, it was just the side of this mountain that got my attention. I saw layers of color, and a sprinkling of greens, reds, and whites--all illuminated by late-setting sun rays. Note the shadows. It wasn't the mountain, nor the trees I photographed that afternoon. It was the art they gave me that helped me create this art from nature. 



One of the key ingredients to creating art from nature is Composition: deciding what to include    (and what to exclude) within the four corners of the viewfinder. Once I do that, how do I arrange all the elements in front of me--the driftwood, early summer flowers, the pond, the distant mountains, etc. Note, again, the shadows throughout--they add interest, mystique, and depth. 
 


I can see what inspired Georgia O'Keeffe to move from New York to New Mexico. I saw the same are she did--color, layers, design, form, texture. This scene is close to Ghost Ranch, where she lived out her life--her New Mexico canvas. 


Even the small in nature give me art, like this small orange mushroom. The angle of my camera made the small spring in the background look like a waterfall. Remember, there are no 90-degree angles in nature. It's okay to angle the camera. 



This distorted image looks like a Salvador Dali painting. I used a fast shutter speed to freeze any motion in the water. The light blue areas you see throughout are simply cloud reflections in the lake.



This last example is not for everyone. You have to think "art" to appreciate it. I was leading a field workshop in Rocky Mountain National Park. We were shooting in and around Nymph Lake when I looked to my left and saw this scene that evoked a psychological message for me: "Walking from the dark into the light." The trees in the foreground were in the shadows, and just beyond them was this open meadow receiving bright sunlight. It occurred to me to create an image while moving my camera slowly downward--thus the sense of movement in the image.


 

So, next time you're in the middle of nature, don't just photograph what your eyes see. Think like an artist. Don't look at the tangibles; look for light, shadows, color, design, form, texture, or mood. Then just drop your urge to "get it right" and just let it flow through you. It's there. Let it speak to you.

Have fun. And remember, you can always contact me if you want to learn more about the "Hows."


Sunday, January 23, 2022

 TO TELL THE TRUTH:

WILL THE REAL "EXPOSURE TRIANGLE" PLEASE STAND UP


Let's talk left brain. This month I'm talking about photographic exposure. So that we are all on the same page, let's define "exposure." There are so many ways to address this technical subject. I'll keep it simple. Cameras (the film or sensor) need light to record a picture.

If the camera receives too much light, the picture will be "overexposed;" "washed out;" "look too bright." If the camera doesn't receive enough light, the picture will be "underexposed:' too dark. If the camera receives just the right amount of light, the picture will be "well exposed."--not too bright; not too dark. Bottom line: we're talking about how much light the film or sensor was exposed to light. That's where the term "exposure" comes from.

Now that we know what we're talking about, the next question is: What factors; what variables affect exposure? In other words, what makes a picture come out too dark, just right, or too bright? Let's take a look at those factors. But first, let's remember that nothing the cameras or lenses do is perfect. We will, and should, make necessary adjustments to our "exposures," as needed. I call it fine-tuning. 

This takes us to the Exposure Triangle. Although most articles refer to the  Exposure Triangle, today I will introduce a second one. But, let's start with the one that is most commonly discussed.

If I shoot in Manual Mode, I am "flying solo," i.e. I have to determine what combination of f/stop, shutter speed, and ISO I need to set to give me a properly exposed image. That's quite a task and may require some "guesstimating" on my part until I get it right.  When shooting in that mode, the "Exposure Triangle" looks like this. 

                                                                             


                                                                    
                              

Here are a couple of illustrations shot in Manual Mode. 

                

I shot both images at f/8 and 1/4 shutter speed. For the image on the left, I used an ISO of 200.
It is properly exposed--not too dark not too light. For the image on the right, I doubled the ISO to 400. As you can see, it impacted the exposure; it made it brighter; lighter than the first one. 

The ISO in the Exposure Triangle, however, is not the only factor that can change the exposure. Here is yet another example where I kept the shutter speed the same (1/4) and the ISO the same (200). For this one, I doubled the f/stop, from f/8 to f/16. Notice how underexposed it looks when just that one single factor was changed.

                                                                           



Now let's explore a second Exposure Triangle, one not mentioned much in the literature. It's the 'Triangle' I use for my photography. 


If I shoot in Aperture Priority, rather than Manual Mode, there are still three factors present. When shooting in this mode (Aperture Priority), the three factors are f/stops, shutter speeds, and the (built-in) light meter, or light exposure meter. This Exposure Triangle looks like this.



When shooting with this exposure triangle, in Aperture Priority Mode, I have total control of f/stops, which is my preference. When I change my f/stops, the built-in light meter will "see" that and make adjustments to my shutter speeds. Why? Because it's designed to give me what it thinks is the "correct" exposure. It will decide on its own what the "correct" combination of f/stop and shutter speed should be in order to give me the "correct" exposure. 

As mentioned before, when shooting in Manual Mode, I have three factors to deal with and adjust: f/stops, shutter speeds, and ISO. However, with this exposure triangle, I just have one factor to deal with, which is shutter speeds. For average daytime scenes, I usually don't have to worry about ISO. All I have to do is use the exposure compensation dial on the camera to lighten or darken the image--that's it!  And, if I do need to change the ISO, the exposure remains the same; my images look the same! An example of when I might need to do this is when there's is a strong breeze and the shutter speed has selected for me is too slow to "freeze" my subject. No problem. I just change my ISO from, say, 100 to 200 or 400. Voila! 

Here are three examples of a stationary object, a clock, where all I did is increase the ISO. Two things happened. The shutter speed increased with each change in ISO, but the exposure, the overall look of the image looked relatively the same, i.e., the exposure remained the same. 

Now, you might ask, "But aren't you afraid of also increasing "noise" with each ISO increase? If you asked me that question ten to fifteen years ago, I would have said, "Yes." Today's cameras, however, have improved exponentially in their ability to create great low-noise images at high ISOs, well above 800.  


                                         ISO 100                                               ISO 200       
                     
  
                                         ISO 400                                                 ISO 800        
                        


I like shooting with this exposure triangle at play. I have fewer factors to deal with, which allows me to work faster. And I like working faster because I don't want to miss those one-of-a-kind moments. In photography, timing is everything!  


  

So, I encourage you to experiment on your own. Examine yourself as you shoot in both the 'ISO' Exposure Mode triangle and in the 'Light Meter' Exposure Mode triangle. Then make your own decisions. Experiment with three scenarios. 1) Stagnant subjects where nothing is moving,       
2) Scenarios where wind and motion are problematic, and, 3) Scenarios where changing light is problematic. 

By the way, shooting in Aperture Priority Mode, as opposed to Manual Mode, does not equate to amateur v. professional. 

Have fun with it!!! It doesn't matter how you get there as long as you get there. 

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or if interested in a ZOOM lesson, on any photography topic.