Friday, December 16, 2011

Thought Of The Day: A Study Of Three Photographs

I took these three photographs early yesterday morning within a four minute period. I was traveling through Lancaster, California and noticed the beautiful sunrise. Because I had a camera with me, I was able to capture the beautiful scene.

I did not bring a tripod because it's a pain to lug around (even though the one I own is small and light-weight). Most modern cameras have good anti-shake, which allows the photographer the use of a slower shutter speed when handheld, and most modern digital cameras do a good job of minimizing the "noise" at higher ISOs. Also, you can place the camera on a sturdy flat surface and use the camera's self-timer and get the same results as if you used a tripod. In other words, tripods are not necessary most of the time.

However, I could have used a tripod for these photographs. I would have preferred a lower ISO--in fact, I really had to push the capabilities of the camera to even "get away with" the ISO that I used--and I would have preferred a smaller aperture to increase the depth-of-field. However, there were no sturdy flat surfaces in the area.
Railroad Signal At Sunrise - Lancaster, California
Taken on 12/15/2011 at 6:23 am.
Shutter 1/15 (handheld!), f6.3, ISO 1600, Pentax K-x, 55mm.
The above photograph captures the deep red, the orange, and the dark blue of the sunrise. There are millions and millions of sunrise and sunset photographs out there, and it takes a particularly amazing sunrise or sunset to create a great photograph. If the sunrise you photographed is average, the viewer of the photograph will see that and quickly move on. Particularly amazing sunrises occur only every so often (usually a few times a month, depending on your location and time of the year), but since you never know when they will happen, you have to be awake and prepared.

I wasn't completely prepared, because I didn't have a tripod.

The railroad signal reminds me of a saguaro cactus, which aren't found anywhere near Lancaster, and I find the shape interesting. I placed it on the left-half of the photograph because I wanted to minimize the signal overlapping the clouds (which would have created a distraction). Also, the clouds are higher in the sky on the right-half, and provides a little balance. However, the signal points more to the left than the right, and that causes a bit of uneasiness.

Because of the digital-noise, due to using ISO 1600, and because of the small depth-of-field (I would have preferred f11, give or take an f-stop), this photograph would look best as a 5" x 7" print, and it is cropped to that shape. At that size it would be difficult to tell the downsides of the image. The larger the print, the more obvious the noise and depth-of-field become. By cropping a little off the top and (especially) bottom, I could make an 8" x 10" print, or by cropping a little off the left and right sides, I could make an 8" x 12" print. However, at that size, I would want to display the image in such a way that viewers would be no closer than three feet from the print. The further away the viewer is, the less able he or she is of closely examining the photograph and the less likely he or she will notice the flaws.

Rails and Signal - Lancaster, California
Taken on 12/15/2011 at 6:25 am.
Shutter 1/10 (handheld!!), f6.3, ISO 1600, Pentax K-x, 28mm.

The above photograph has the same issues with noise and depth-of-field as the previous one. It's cropped to a different shape, though, and would require custom printing, matting and (maybe) framing. That means it will likely never be printed, but if it were printed, I would likely make it a 3" x 5" print. If it were to be viewed from a distance of at least three feet, I could go as large as a 6" x 10" print.

The railroad tracks guide the viewer from the bottom left to the middle-right. Why? Because the bottom-left has the highest contrast, so the viewer's eyes get drawn there. The distant lights act like a line to move the viewer to the railroad signal, and then the viewer explores the sunrise sky.

The reason the land seems slanted is because I used a wide-angle lens, which distorts straight lines (especially at the edges of the photograph). I wanted the signal to be straight, and that made everything else slanted (increasingly so at the left).

The land at he middle-left of the image has some details. I should have burned that area in during post-processing so that the details would show more (but that takes time, and, especially during the holiday season, I don't have all that much time to be sitting in front of a computer messing around with images). If I had used negative film (instead of digital capture), I would have had a larger dynamic range, and there would have been better details in that dark area.

Lights On Ice - Lancaster, California
Taken on 12/15/2011 at 6:21 am.
Shutter 1/10 (handheld!!), f6.3, ISO 3200, Pentax K-x, 80mm.
The above photograph shows the headlights of a passing car reflected on a frozen puddle of water. I would never have seen this image if I had not stopped to photograph the sunrise. It shows that, while you are photographing one thing, you should keep a lookout for other things worthy of your camera's attention.

In the case of this photograph, the high-ISO (3200!) and shallow depth-of-field actually help make the image stronger, giving a more "moody" feel. It is a very contrasty photograph. If not for the rock illuminated in the middle of the image, it would have been somewhat uninteresting (the rock acts as a punchline). Also, there is some play between positive space and negative space that adds interest.

I converted the image to black-and-white because color was not an essential element to the photograph. Black-and-white has more of a fine-art and emotional feel than color, so if color is not important to a photograph, it should be black-and-white. I also toned the image (slightly, anyway) by adjusting the color curves in post-processing.
This photograph would look best as an 8" x 12" print, and it is shaped for that. It could be printed larger, but I think the noise and shallow depth-of-field would become less of an asset and more of a liability. It could also be a 4" x 6" print, although I'm not sure why I would ever want it that small.

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