Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Visiting The California Science Center With Young Kids

Triangles, Lines, Squares & Circle - Los Angeles, California
The California Science Center, located in Exposition Park near downtown Los Angeles, is a free museum. That's right, free. Well, not entirely free, but we'll get to that later.

I recently visited the California Science Center with my family, including three children all under the age of seven. Would this place keep us entertained? Would little ones actually learn something?
Pianist - Los Angeles, California
We were greeted by a modern structure. From the outside the place looks interesting. On one side is an IMAX theater, on the other the California Science Center, and in the middle is a covered courtyard with  some modern art that appears to be based on outer space.

We didn't visit the IMAX theater. They have several different movie options (all documentaries), but we didn't come to see a movie. Ticket prices are about the same as any other movie theater. 
Two At A Window - Los Angeles, California
Inside the museum are a bunch of different exhibits on three different floors. The permanent exhibits are free, the traveling exhibits (plus a few other things) cost money. The traveling exhibit Pompeii was there for our visit, but the arm-and-leg price tag convinced us not to see it.

One of the permanent exhibits that we spent a lot of time in was Ecosystems. This exhibit is subdivided into eight "zones" that explain the different ecosystems found on Earth. Within this area is the Family Discovery Room that is for children seven-years-old and younger. There is also a large fish tank, and at certain times of the day you can watch scuba divers feed the different fish.
On Mars - Los Angeles, California
Honestly, I think we could have spent most of the day in Ecosystems. The kids had a blast and learned a lot. There are plenty of hands-on learning opportunities. Some favorites were Extreme Zone, River Zone and the fish tank.

Another exhibit that we spent some time in was Creative World. There are five areas within this exhibit: Communication, Structures, Transportation, Tech Lab and Discovery Room (another seven-years-old-and-younger area). While I think my kids were a little young for some things in Creative World, there were enough age appropriate activities and displays to keep them entertained. 
Learning At The Science Center - Los Angeles, California
A highlight for my five-year-old son was all of the rockets, satellites and other space objects on display. Most of these are not hands-on, but he loved them anyway.

The space shuttle Endeavour is on display in a separate structure that is accessed through the museum. It sometimes costs money and it is sometimes free. It was free on our visit. This exhibit underwhelmed me, and I felt it could have been a lot better (I think it is a work in progress). However, my son said it was his favorite part of the trip.
Cactus Hotel - Los Angeles, California
There are plenty of other things to do and see in the California Science Center, and we didn't get to them all. We spent several hours there and only went through about half of the museum. This could be an all-day adventure.

If you should make it an all-day trip, there is a cafeteria with some different food and beverage options. All are overpriced, of course, but it is good to have refreshments available. 
Hands On Learning - Los Angeles, California
At the top of this post I asked, "Would this place keep us entertained?" The answer is a resounding yes. Even after several hours my kids did not want to leave. They were disappointed that it was time to go. Several days after our visit my six-year-old daughter wanted to know when we'd go back.

I also asked, "Would little ones actually learn something?" Surprisingly, yes. On the way home my kids were pointing things out, telling us why things were they way they were. They actually absorbed quite a bit.
Building Corner - Los Angeles, California
The California Science Center is free, but don't expect the trip to be free. Parking is not free ($10 per car, I think). The IMAX theater isn't free. Some exhibits and activities are not free. The food certainly isn't free. I'm not complaining. I'm simply suggesting that you should be prepared to spend some money.

If you find yourself in the Los Angeles area, the Science Center is a great place to both entertain and educate children. This is can be an inexpensive stop, yet one that the kids will be talking about for days.
Three At A Window - Los Angeles, California
All of these photographs were captured using a Nikon D3300 DSLR. I post-processed them using Alien Skin Exposure 6 software.

Friday, October 17, 2014

How To Capture Unique Photographs of Iconic Locations

It's the big question whenever I travel to well known, highly photographed locations: how do I capture something unique? If there are millions of look-alike images, how do I break that mold?

Rock Behind Ice Plant - Morro Bay, CA
I mentioned in my last post that I'm heading to Yosemite National Park this weekend. I've never been, and I'm really looking forward to it. What I don't want to do is make a bunch of exposures that look like everyone else's.

A place like Yosemite has been photographed millions and millions of times. Not only do tens of thousands of people snap photos of the park each year, but there are people who basically dedicate their lives to photographing the place. How do I over this weekend create something different than what has already been done?

Capturing unique photographs of iconic locations requires photographic vision. This is a prerequisite. It is not possible with it.

I define photographic vision as a vivid and imaginative conception. Essentially, it is both creativity and previsualization rolled into one. Put more simply, it is adding a bit of yourself to your photographs. There is only one unique you, with your own perspective and approach. By tapping into that you can create images that are different than those captured by others.

One tip is to find less travelled, less viewed angles. Several years ago when I visited the Grand Canyon I hiked to Shoshone Point before dawn to catch the sunrise. It was summer and the park was crowded, yet nobody else was there. No one made that hike. Another example is Morro Bay. I found a lesser known beach entry that provided an uncommon view of Morro Rock.

Sunrise Over Vishnu Temple - Grand Canyon, AZ
Similarly, photographing at times when others aren't around is another idea. This might be at night. This might be in the off season. Times when other photographers are not capturing the scene are great opportunities for you to be doing so.

Finally, one can use unusual equipment to capture unique photographs. If everyone else is using a wide-angle lens, pull out a telephoto lens. If everyone is using a telephoto, attach a wide-angle to your camera. Perhaps use something really unusual like a Holga camera. If you are doing something different, your photographs will be different.

The impossible prospect of capturing unique photographs of iconic locations isn't quite as daunting as it at first seems. Yes, it is difficult, and requires the photographer to do his or her absolute best. But it is far from an impossible proposition.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Upcoming Autumn Yosemite Trip

I've never been to Yosemite National Park. I've lived in California off-and-on throughout my life (roughly 11 years total) and I've never been to Yosemite, one of the most beautiful places in the world. I know, it is a shame!

But that changes this coming weekend.

This will be a quick trip to Yosemite National Park. I'll be staying one night in Mariposa. That gives me two days at the park, but not really. On day one I'll have to drive five hours from my home to get to Yosemite Valley, and on day two I'll have the same five hour drive home. On top of that I have plans early on the first day that won't let me get going until late morning.

I think that I've made some good plans to make the most of the time that I do have in the park. My wife used to work in Yosemite when she was younger, so she has a lot of information and experience to help with planning. I've also done some other research and found great advice on the web. I feel well prepared to maximize the experience.

We should arrive in time on the first day to catch the park in the last two hours of sunlight. My plan is to stop at Glacier Point on the way in, and then get to the valley before sunset. Two stops I hope to have time for are Cathedral Beach and Valley View, but I may find myself with only enough time for one stop. Bridalveil Falls is another potential stop if we happen arrive early. An alternative option, should we find ourselves running late and with just enough time for sunset, is to skip Glacier Point on day one and add it to the end of day two.

After sundown we'll head to Mariposa to eat and sleep.

The next morning I plan to get up early and head into the park to catch the sunrise. The first stop will be Cook's Meadow and then I'll head back to Cathedral Beach or stop at El Capitan Bridge (I haven't decided yet). Then I'll return to the hotel for breakfast and to get my family.

I want to keep most of the day two activities low-key because I have three young children. This trip is just as much for them as it is for me and my photography. On our way into the park we might stop at Fern Springs and Bridalveil Falls (if we missed it the day before). It probably will be one or the other, depending on the time. After that the plan is to spend the remainder of the morning and the entire afternoon near the visitors center, going through the museum and doing the touristy stuff. We will pack a picnic lunch.

If there happens to be water in Mirror Lake (which I doubt) we may hike there. If there happens to be water flowing down Yosemite Falls (which I doubt) we may hike to the lower falls.

Sentinal Bridge and Swinging Bridge are two potential stops in the late-afternoon or early evening. The final planned stop is Tunnel View, catching it in the evening light on our way out of the park.

It's fine if I can't get to everything. I know that I'm not really giving this trip the time that it deserves. But I wanted to make sure that I made it to Yosemite with autumn in full swing.

I plan to return in late spring, perhaps sometime in May. I've heard that Yosemite is amazing right after the winter snow melts away.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Cleaning Out The Notebook (5 Photographs)

Dry - Stallion Springs, California
ISO 100, f10, 1/160, 40mm.
In this post are five photographs that I recently captured using my Nikon D3300 DSLR. Typically there is something in a post to tie the images together. This post is a little different because these photographs are unrelated. What I've decided to do is talk about each image.

Dry at the top was captured while I was out on a walk with my kids. It was just something that I found in my neighborhood. Right now all the grass and brush are brown and dead. At one time this was a pretty wildflower. Now it is lifeless, and I found that to be photographically interesting.
Barbed Wire & Three Staples - Stallion Springs, California
ISO 140, f13, 1/125, 40mm.
The above photograph, Barbed Wire & Three Staples, was captured while on that same walk as the top image. Three is a good number in photography, and this image has three twice (the staples and the boards). I converted it to monochrome because color wasn't important to it.
Thread Lines - Stallion Springs, California
ISO 280, f13, 1/125, 40mm
I liked the repeated thread-like pattern on the two objects in Thread Lines. That and contrast are the only things that make the image interesting. I converted it to monochrome because color wasn't important to the photograph.
Bolt End - Tehachapi, California
ISO 220, f10, 1/125, 40mm.
Bolt End was captured at a local park. I found the scene on a swing set while giving one of my kids a push. I had a camera with me, so I was able to create this image. Interestingly, this was my first attempt at macro with my new Nikkor AF-S 40mm f2.8G Micro lens. Again, it was converted to black-and-white because color wasn't important. 
Electric Dawn - Mojave, California
ISO 900, f4.5, 1/125, 55mm.
I captured Electric Dawn early one morning while driving through the Mojave Desert. It was about 20 minutes before sunrise, and the colors were great. I pulled over and captured the above image without even getting out of the car.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Photographing At The Bench - Stallion Springs, California

Light Rays - Stallion Springs, California
There is a great and somewhat secret photography location in my neighborhood not too far down the road from my house. It is called "the bench" and the view is of the southern end of California's Central Valley from about 4,000' above.

This place is found down a fairly nondescript dead-end road. Near the end of the road is a little dirt pullout big enough for probably two cars, perhaps three cars if they're small. A small dirt trail takes you forty or fifty steps to the bench (which is literally a wood bench).

The view from the bench is spectacular. Easily visible are parts of the historic Tejon Ranch. Central California farming and orange groves can be seen. If you know where to look you can spot The Grapevine off in the distance. On the other side of the valley are mountains.

All of the photographs in this post I captured at the bench. I used different cameras, including a Sigma DP2 Merrill, Nikon D3200, Nikon D3300 and Nokia Lumia 1020. Does it matter which came from which? No. Can you tell? Probably not. Vision matters, equipment does not.
Gold Above The Valley - Stallion Springs, California
It's A Long Ways Down - Stallion Springs, California
Down Below - Stallion Springs, California
Central Valley Vista Monochrome - Stallion Springs, California
Tejon View - Stallion Springs, California
Hill Valley - Stallion Springs, California
Rays Over The Valley - Stallion Springs, California
This View Never Gets Old - Stallion Springs, California
Ascending Storm Over The Central Valley - Stallion Springs, California
Evening Light Over Central Valley - Stallion Springs, California
Central Valley Vista - Stallion Springs, California
Purple Hills - Stallion Springs, California
Mountain Oaks - Stallion Springs, California
Hazy Sunset - Stallion Springs, California

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Making of A Photograph - Purple Thistle Blossom Macro

I've received many positive comments on my Purple Thistle Blossom Macro photograph. I thought that this morning I should explain a little more about that image.

The photograph was captured in my front yard. This proves that you don't have to go far to photograph. There are tons of photographic opportunities in your house and neighborhood.

This photograph wasn't necessarily planned. The thistle seemed to appear overnight, and right away it blossomed. It was in an unusual spot, too.

I noticed the bloomed thistle while I was on my way out to town. I thought that it might be worth photographing, but I didn't do anything about it. After returning home I decided that I needed to take a moment out of my day to capture it. So I grabbed my Nikon D3300 and a 40mm macro lens.

The background was busy and terrible. Simply blurring it with a shallow depth-of-field would not have been enough. A distracting background is distracting whether it is in focus or not.

I grabbed a piece of black (more like dark grey) construction paper and enlisted the help of my daughter. I had her hold the paper about one foot away from the thistle. This was close enough that the paper filled the background, but far enough away that the thistle didn't cast a shadow on the paper.

It was mid-day, with the sun just a little lower than directly above. This might seem like less-than-ideal lighting, but actually the lighting was great. You see, the closer the end of the lens is to the subject, the more narrow the depth of field will be. I needed lots of light to increase the depth of field.
Purple Thistle Blossom - Stallion Springs, California
ISO 110, f11, 1/125
As you can see above, my first attempt was not a resounding success. I was too far away. The composition was a bit awkward. I needed to refine my vision.

I had to understand what it was about the thistle that made me want to photograph it in order to effectively capture it. What immediately stood out to me was the blossom itself. It was bright and colorful, with fragile white pollen on the long purple stems.
Purple Thistle Blossom Macro - Stallion Springs, California
ISO 160, f14, 1/125
I moved in closer so that the point would be immediately obvious. Because I moved in closer I made an adjustment to the aperture. I tilted the camera slightly to make the composition more interesting.

Using Alien Skin Exposure 6 software, I made the image look like it had been captured using Kodachrome 25 film. I wasn't completely satisfied with the look, so I made some small adjustments to the light curve and added color saturation. I'm quite satisfied with the final result.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Delete Bad Photographs - Actually, Delete All Photographs That Are Not Good

On A Brighter Day - Tehachapi, California
Something I've struggled with in the digital age of photography is letting go of bad photographs. Often I'm not critical enough of my own work.

This wasn't the case when I made my own black-and-white prints. Because there was a significant time that had to be invested into each print (sometimes hours--the longest was 12 hours for one print), that it was easy to skip all of the frames except for the very best. There was also a real cost--photographic paper wasn't exactly cheap. You didn't want to spend time and money on something that wasn't good.

It's not that my photography was better then, because it most certainly was not. I was simply better at self-editing. I was better at letting go of the lesser images.
Peerless - Newberry Springs, California
What changed? With digital photography, the main cost is paid when you purchase your gear. Once you have a camera, there is no cost per frame exposed. Once you have post-processing software, there is no cost per photograph edited. It's all paid up front. And while it isn't uncommon to spend 30 minutes or so editing a photograph, most images don't require any more than five minutes of post-processing to be complete.

Since the time and financial investment is tiny (once the initial investment is made), those motivations to skip lesser images are gone. So I find myself editing mediocre photographs.

Why? I put time and thought into capturing photographs. I think there is a connection to the frames, and it is tough to see that wasted. It is tough to think that the frame was a failure, and part of that is the idea that I failed as a photographer.
Copy Machine - Mojave, California
I don't want to think that my efforts were wasted. I don't want to think that I failed. It is easier to think that the image is good enough, even if deep down I know it is not.

There are consequences to this, however. First, there are people who only see my mediocre photographs. Either here on the Roesch Photography Blog or on social media (such as Flickr), some people will never see my best work. And when they think of me as a photographer, they think of those so-so images that I just couldn't let go of. Second, even though the time invested in post-processing a lesser photograph is small, over time five minutes here and five minutes there adds up to hours and hours. Eventually I've wasted a whole bunch of time editing a bunch of images that were just not that good. Time is important to me, and I hate to throw it away on throwaway photographs.

So how do I break out of this? How do I let go of mediocre photographs?
The Sound of Silence - Mojave, California
It all comes down to editing--deleting, really. I have to look more critically at my work and if it doesn't immediately stand out as good, it needs to go into the trash folder.

I have found that the longer I wait to post-process photographs after they've been captured, the easier it is for me to let go of them. I delete far more exposures when it has been a few weeks since they were captured compared to when I post-process right away. Time seems to give clarity and also seems to weaken the connection. So I'm making an effort to wait at least a couple of weeks before I edit.

Another thing that I just started to do is, as I consider if a frame is worth keeping, I ask myself if the image is one that I want people to remember me by. Perhaps it will be the only photograph of mine that someone will ever see. This helps me to delete some lesser images that I might otherwise have kept.

The less time that I waste post-processing photographs that are not good, the more time I have to do other (more important) things. This may be spending time with family, doing other projects, or out capturing photographs. The fewer mediocre images that I show, the better the chances are that my better photographs will be seen.