Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Quick Trip To The Tehachapi Loop

I took a drive out in the Tehachapi, California countryside this afternoon. It included lunch at the historic Keene Cafe in the small community of Keene and a quick stop at the famous Tehachapi Loop to see one train go around.

The Tehachapi Mountains are beautiful this time of year. Spring brings green mixed with colorful flowers. The weather is typically perfect (it certainly was today). I brought along my Sigma DP2 Merrill and Samsung NX200 cameras.
Eat Deli Gas - Keene, California
Monochrome BNSF - Tehachapi, California
A Cross Country Train - Tehachapi, California
The title is a play on words. I purposefully placed the dark "cross" telephone pole in front of the white background so that it would stand out.
Swift Freight - Tehachapi, California
I purposefully captured this car so that the word "swift" would be in the photograph.
Poppy Flower Blossoms - Stallion Springs, California

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Last Night's Blood Moon (Some Lessons Learned)

I stayed up just late enough last night to photograph the lunar eclipse and blood moon. It was an interesting show, and I look forward to the next one.

I mounted my Samsung NX200 (with a 50mm-200mm lens attached) to a tripod and pointed it toward the moon. I snapped a few exposures. The one you see below I liked best.
Blood Moon 4/15/2014 - Stallion Springs, California 
A little technical data: ISO 200, f5.6, 4 second exposure, manual focus. Now let me tell you what I did wrong and the (faulty) reasoning why I chose what I did. I wanted to "zoom" by cropping, so I wanted the lowest ISO that I thought I could get away with. The largest aperture on the lens is f5.6 (depth of field was no concern), so I chose that. I figured a four second exposure would be short enough to not show the motion of the moon (well, the Earth, really), but long enough to get a correct exposure. That put my ISO at 200.

Where I went wrong was guessing the exposure length. Four seconds was too long. I needed a two or maybe even one second exposure. I should have used ISO 400 or maybe even ISO 800. I would have had a better photograph if I'd done that. Instead, there is a slight amount of motion and the moon is slightly blurred. You can see just how much movement there was by looking at that star (or planet or whatever it is) just to the right of the moon.

I've had better luck photographing the moon in the past. Nearly one year ago from almost the exact same spot and using the exact same equipment I captured the image below.
Half Moon - Stallion Springs, California
The good news is that I have three more chances to get this right over the next 18 months. The next blood moon will be on October 8, 2014 at about 5:30 am Pacific Standard Time.

Monday, April 14, 2014

I went For A Hike This Morning

I went for a hike this morning in the foothills around Stallion Springs, California (near Tehachapi). I brought along my Sigma DP2 Merrill camera. Below are the photographs that I captured.
Spring Landscape - Stallion Springs, California
Tree & Rock - Stallion Springs, California
Mountain Country Road - Stallion Springs, California
Water Break - Stallion Springs, California
Valley View - Stallion Springs, California
Two Trees - Stallion Springs, California

Saturday, April 12, 2014

5 Tips For Photographing Babies

Over There Is A Better Angle
I'm not a newborn photographer. I don't photograph babies for a living. But I am a photographer and I do have a baby, so I know some about this topic, mostly from trial-and-error.

It can be difficult to know where to begin. The first experience can make one nervous. Babies are so little and fragile, and they certainly don't follow the photographer's commands. It can seem tricky, but it doesn't have to be.

Below are five tips that I've learned for photographing babies:

The Scene
Setting the scene for a baby photo shoot is easy. What I have found is that a plain black or plain white background works best. Some sort of solid black or white cloth, such as a blanket or curtains, does the trick. If you don't have a solid black or white background, then some other solid color is the next best thing. I would avoid prints or patterns because they are often too busy and distracting.

You can certainly try other scenes. A pillow or stuffed animal or basket can be cute. I wouldn't discourage trying something, but I think that the simplicity of the plain black or white background is tough to beat.

The Baby
Sense of Touch
Babies are cute--everything about them. Baby eyes are cute. Baby noses are cute. Baby hands are cute. Baby feet are cute. You get the idea. You don't have to do a lot other than capture that cuteness in order to make successful baby photographs.

I like focusing (no pun intended) on the details. There are so many little things (again, no pun intended) that can be captured. Be sure to photograph the baby close up as well as further away so that you can get all of those cute details.

The Moments
First Bath
You don't have to stage a scene in order to make great baby photographs. Sometimes you need to be a photojournalist. Sometimes you just need to capture the moments.

With babies there is a "first" all of the time. First bottle, first bath, first smile, and on and on and on. These moments are treasures that deserve to be captured.

The Siblings
Sibling photographs are great. There is a connection and wonder that's difficult to explain. These photographs are metaphoric gold.

My experience is that these images need to be natural. They need to unfold by themselves and not be staged (or, at least, be careful not to over stage). The magic is in the moment. This is a time to put on your photojournalist hat and try to catch the decisive moment.

The Lighting
Sleep Silent Child
I really like natural light for baby photographs. A north facing window provides great natural light. Any other window will work as long as the light is diffused with white curtains or an overcast sky. Early morning light (right around sunrise) from an east or south facing window can sometimes be nice, as well as evening light (right around sunset) from a west or south facing window.

If you want to bounce some light you can use front window shades from your car. Or a mirror. I'd avoid using a flash, but if you do use it make sure it is diffused.

No More Pictures, Please
Notice that I mentioned nothing about cameras. What camera you use is unimportant. Photographic vision and creativity are most important.

Also notice that nothing I mentioned is complicated. Photographing babies does not need to be complicated. A baby on a black blanket next to north facing window is a great combination and all you really need. Just relax, have fun and smile at the cuteness that is in front of the lens.

Follow Up Thoughts - Thought of The Day: Nikon D7100 vs Pentax K-30 and Pentax K-5 II

On March 4, 2013 I published a post called Thought of The Day: Nikon D7100 vs Pentax K-30 and Pentax K-5 II. As of this writing, that article is the #1 most read post on the Roesch Photography Blog.

My initial reaction is really? Of all the posts that I've published, this is the one that's most read? I'm surprised, because it is far from the best or most useful. I can't really explain it, other than perhaps there are three DSLRs mentioned in the title.

I used to own a Pentax K-30. It was a good camera and all, but I've moved away from DSLRs in favor of smaller and lighter equipment. I have found that often less is more, and simplicity is better than complexity.

"You'll be happy with your choice whatever that choice is," I concluded. That's a true statement, unless you have G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome), then you'll be unhappy with your choice whatever that choice is.

I briefly mentioned that cameras are not important in that article. Cameras are not important. You can use whatever camera you wish and craft great photographs. That's because photographic vision, creativity and the decisive moment are much more important than choice of camera.

How To Use Contrast To Your Advantage In Photography

Light Contrast
Monochrome Flower - Monterey, California
I was recently asked to explain contrast. How does one use it to create great images?

The perception was that in order to have a contrasty photograph, all that one needed to do was boost contrast in post-processing. Yet that wasn't giving the person the results that he desired.
On A Brighter Day - Tehachapi, California
Contrast is a space in a photograph where light areas and dark areas meet. High contrast is an area where bright white and dark black touch each other.

One can have both bright white and dark black in a photograph, but if those two areas do not meet, you may not have a contrasty photograph. An image can be tonally flat yet encompass the full gray scale.
Morro Wave Crash - Morro Bay, California
The reason contrast is important is because the viewer's eyes will automatically be drawn first to the point of highest contrast in a photograph. Where light and dark touch is what the viewer is going to see first.

Contrast can either work to your advantage or disadvantage. You see, having a contrasty image means nothing if it take's the viewer's eyes somewhere that you do not want them to go. Contrast must be used purposefully to make the viewer see what you want them to see.
Crumbling Commode - Cuddy Valley, California
Let's take a quick look at the photographs here, starting at the top. The reason that Monochrome Flower works is because the white flower has a dark background. The image would not be nearly as strong if the contrast was less. On A Brighter Day is full of contrast. Typically, the eyes are first drawn to the clouds in the sky, then they follow the dark roof to the sun peeking through the crack (sometimes it is the other way around). If not for the shadow behind the splash, Morro Wave Crash would not be nearly as strong. In Crumbling Commode the toilet would have been lost among the junk surrounding it if not for the high contrast. Instead, the viewer is immediately drawn to the bright porcelain that is against the black shadow. I placed the tree in front of the clouds in One Tree so that there would be contrast (I actually had to wait a couple of minutes for the clouds to move into place). In Big Creek Bridge And Coast the contrast of the white surf and the dark foreground lead the viewer to distant bridge.

Using contrast to your advantage in photography means paying attention to where the contrast is prior to capturing an image. You have to look at where contrast exists and decide if it will work to your advantage or disadvantage. If it will be a disadvantage, don't include it in the photograph. If it will be to your advantage, make sure that you are thoughtfully using it.
One Tree - Tehachapi, California
By thoughtfully using contrast I mean that you may have to move closer or further, left or right, up or down, and/or adjust the timing to place the contrast just where you want it to be so that the viewer will be drawn to exactly where you want them to. You have to think about all of this prior to opening the shutter. This is called photographic vision.

As you can see, having a contrasty image doesn't necessarily have anything to do with how much contrast is added in post-processing, but how the photographer uses the light at the scene to get the results that he or she is looking for. In fact, most of these photographs had a very minimal amount of contrast added in post-processing.
Big Creek Bridge And Coast - Big Sur, California

Color Contrast
Jelly Fish - Monterey, California
Color contrast is similar to light contrast except instead of light and dark areas together, it is two colors opposite the color wheel together. Color contrast can be just as effective as light contrast.

Colors that are opposite on the color wheel are blue and orange, red and green and yellow and purple. For colors to contrast with each other the match doesn't have to be precise. Yellow contrasts with dark blue, and pink contrasts with green. This is similar to light contrast in that it doesn't have to be bright white and dark black, but good contrast can occur with shades of gray. 
Farm Sprinkler - Tehachapi, California

Red will pop against green, orange will pop against blue, and yellow will pop against purple. The opposite is true: green will pop against red, blue will pop against orange, and purple will pop against yellow.

Just like with light contrast, color contrast must be thoughtfully used. It can be to your advantage or disadvantage in a photograph. You can grab the attention of the viewer and direct their eyes with it. Just be sure it is where you want their eyes to go and not to some distraction in the background. Be purposeful and thoughtful, and you'll be impressed by the results.
Color Lamp Abstract - Bakersfield, California

Friday, April 11, 2014

Mojave Tropico Movie Set

Mojave Movie Set #1 - Mojave, California
One day while looking for abandoned locations out in the desert near Mojave, California, I stumbled upon a movie set. It seemed interesting, so I stopped to take a closer look.

At first glance it appeared as if it should belong in my abandonment series. But the place was not abandoned. Everything was carefully designed and purposefully placed. It's make believe--a small bit of Hollywood out in the middle of nowhere in the sandy desert.
Mojave Movie Set #2 - Mojave, California
What I learned is that this unusual place is the Mojave Tropico Filming set. I have no idea what movies or commercials may have been filmed there. I also don't know if the buildings were relocated to this site (they certainly look old) or if they were constructed specifically for the purpose of film making.

There was a small fence surrounding the set and several "no trespassing" signs. I was careful not to cross the line. I used a Nokia Lumia 1020 to capture these images.