General Tips & Techniques

Corky Vodka Shots and Camera Movement

There is always much blab and jabber of getting the mostest-sharpest image you can possibly get out of your camera. And there is certainly a time for that.

But, there are also circumstances when you might NOT want that sharpness. In fact, maybe you want to go to the opposite extreme and throw in a whole lot of movement and blur–on purpose.

I do have one previous blog post on this subject in which I talk about this very thing: Deliberate Blur, June 1, 2014. You might want to check that out, too.

The idea of deliberately moving the camera for a special effect occurred to me once again whilst we dined at a small place in Barcelona called Café-Bar Restaurante Reñé at Carrer del Consell de Cent, 362. It used to be a very well-known and tasty pastry shop years ago (starting in 1910) and they have thankfully retained the wonderful, 1920s-era, wooden-marble facade and interior imported from Cuba. A beautimous place, for sure. 

What caught my photographer’s eyeball was the neatly arranged and nicely illuminated rack of Corky-brand vodka flavors on one wall (and, yes, someone actually drinks this stuff). It was just begging for some creative experimentation. So, this is where I went with it…(all shot with the Sony RX100iv).

First, you could try your standard well-focused shot, maybe bumping up the ISO to give you an adequate shutter speed to compensate for the fairly dim indoor lighting. Instead of shooting the subject straight on and symmetrical, though, I chose to aim at an angle to add at least a little dynamism to the picture. And I started things off at the bottom left with a bottle that appears to be out-of-place. The colors were obviously very attractive and, for me, the major element of the composition:

Corky Vodka Shots, #4. Café-Bar Restaurante Reñé, Barcelona, 2017
Corky Vodka Shots, #4. Café-Bar Restaurante Reñé, Barcelona, 2017 (1/30th sec, F7.1, ISO1600)

 

Next, maybe you could try keeping the angle idea but doing some small, sharp, rotating movements just as you snap the shutter:

Corky Vodka Shots, #5. Café-Bar Restaurante Reñé, Barcelona, 2017
Corky Vodka Shots, #5. Café-Bar Restaurante Reñé, Barcelona, 2017 (1/8th sec, F4.5, ISO100)

 

In this one, I tried to center the camera on one particular bottle and then rotate the camera around that chosen center point as I snapped:

Corky Vodka Shots, #6. Café-Bar Restaurante Reñé, Barcelona, 2017
Corky Vodka Shots, #6. Café-Bar Restaurante Reñé, Barcelona, 2017 (1/8th sec, F4.5, ISO100)

 

If you do the same thing as in the previous example, but twist the camera around at a faster rate, this is what you might get. Experimentation and multiple “takes” with various movements and shutter speeds is the key:

Corky Vodka Shots, #2. Café-Bar Restaurante Reñé, Barcelona, 2017
Corky Vodka Shots, #2. Café-Bar Restaurante Reñé, Barcelona, 2017 (1/2 sec, F7.1, ISO125)

 

A straight vertical motion might render like this. You’ll see this technique used by some photographers when shooting trees or flowers to create sort of a ghost-like effect:

Corky Vodka Shots, #7. Café-Bar Restaurante Reñé, Barcelona, 2017
Corky Vodka Shots, #7. Café-Bar Restaurante Reñé, Barcelona, 2017 (1/8th sec, F4.5, ISO100)

 

I could have spent a good half-hour playing with the myriad possibilities, but the patrons probably would not have enjoyed the gringo with the camera lurking around their tables for so long. So, I called it quits after maybe a dozen images or so, a selection of which you see here.

Postscript: I wonder…if you have consumed a large quantity of these flavored vodka shots then perhaps all the blurry photographs I have posted here will actually be in focus, sharp as a tack??? (Except the very first one, which will actually look blurry to the alcohol-affected brain.)

On The Road (Again)

Just Another Urban Sculpture (The Horse Before the Cart). Barcelona, Catalunya, 2017
Just Another Urban Sculpture (The Horse Before the Cart). Barcelona, Catalunya, 2017

 

For us, back to Barcelona…for Sal Paradise, it was back and forth across the United States and into Mexico.

The beat goes on. Can you dig it?

IMHO, here is the best single sentence from Jack Kerouac’s, On The Road:

“And for just a moment I had reached the point of ecstasy that I always wanted to reach, which was a complete step across chronological time into timeless shadows, and wonderment in the bleakness of the mortal realm, and the sensation of death kicking at my heels to move on, with a phantom dogging its own heels, and myself hurrying to a plank where all the angels dove off and flew into the holy void of uncreated emptiness, the potent and inconceivable radiances shining in bright Mind Esence, innumerable lotus-lands falling open in the magic mothswarm of heaven.” (Part 2, Chapter 10)

In response, I would quote:

“You said a mouthful, Doc.” –Seldom Seen Smith, The Monkey Wrench Gang, (Edward Abbey, 1975)

A Cozumel Seascape, Before and After

I thought this would be interesting to some folks. Especially those who have yet to plunge into the wide and wacky world of post-processing their images.

What comes out of the camera is really just the first step in photography, as you will see in my example.

Caveat: If you are just shooting JPEGs and you have your menu selections dialed in on your camera, it is possible to get good images straight out o’ the camera without doing any further work. For example, setting your White Balance to, say, “Warm” instead of “Auto” will generally give things a warmer look. You may also have something like a “Creative Style” setting in which you can select, say, “Vivid” which will enhance contrast and saturation.

The problem is, you don’t have any control over the process as it is all done automatically in the camera. To ALL your photos.

Recommendation: Shoot RAW and do your own post-processing if you really want to tweak a photograph to your personal taste.

To wit:

Here is an example of what my raw file looked like straight out of the camera with no manipulation. And here I must insert an important comment on exposure: I have my LCD display set to show me the histogram (which is based on your JPEG picture selections, by the way). When I look at the LCD, I check two things…first, basic composition. But, more importantly, I look at the histogram to make sure I haven’t totally blown important highlights and, ideally, the shadows aren’t smashed against the left wall either.

In this case, the darker tones in the histogram were just a hair’s width off of the left wall. On the right, I did have a tiny collection of highlights climbing the right wall–but only that area you see around the Sun and the Sun’s disc, which I thought was fine:

El Mirador, #15 (Original file). Cozumel, Mexico, 2017
El Mirador, #15 (Original file). Cozumel, Mexico, 2017

 

Pretty blah, eh? Now, if you had selected some fired up JPEG camera settings in your machine (mine are set at neutral) you might get a JPEG to come out a bit better, but this is difficult light. Note the dark shadows. Other problems…note the lack of contrast and the very minimal saturation of colors. And, yes, there is the slightly crooked horizon and the trash in the algae beds.

This, of course, is not what I was “seeing” in my mind’s hairy eyeball, so I took it into Lightroom, then Photoshop, for various adjustments…to make it match my “personal vision” as they say.

Here is the result:

El Mirador, #15. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017
El Mirador, #15. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017

 

What did I do? In brief…

–Some basic sharpening, and I clicked on the boxes to improve chromatic aberration and to make the standard lens corrections

–Used the Shadows slider to bring out detail in the dark areas of the foreground

–Straightened the horizon

–Cloned out the trash and the many dust spots from my dirty sensor

–Added a bit of contrast and saturation

–Ran it through one of my Tonal Contrast filters from Google Color Efex Pro

–Did a slight bit of burning and dodging here and there

That is a very condensed summary of what I did–all in about 15 minutes–to make the picture look much better.

Finally, know that I don’t particularly like post-processing and don’t consider myself very good at it. A true Photoshop guru would say my methods are sloppy and incomplete–in fact, they are just plain awful.

Point being, if I can do this, so can you. (And, yes, I plan on constantly improving my skills as time goes on!)

Color Seascapes: Cozumel, Mexico

El Mirador, #18. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017
El Mirador, #18. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017

 

Sorry about the lack of posts of late. We have been spending a lot of our emotional capitol recently and decided to drop off of the grid and out of the social media gerbil mill for ten days or so.

It was refreshing.

Enthused by a new environment, I did hoist my sleepy fanny perpendicular on nearly every morning in search of interesting sunrise sites, the above being one: El Mirador on the windy (Caribbean) side of the isle.

Some photography tips for this and other spots on Cozumel:

–First and foremost, the east area of the island, which I found most interesting, is theoretically off-limits before 6a.m. and after 7p.m., which will be a problem during certain times of the year for a photographer looking for good light. In the dark wee hours, you may run in to some reflectors stretched across the road next to a smallish warning sign that states the hours of access. (The sign actually says you can’t go into the southern and eastern areas between 6a.m. and 7p.m., but that is clearly a mistake.) It is easy enough to drive

Check Point. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017
Check Point. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017

around the reflectors–they were unmanned when I encountered them–and continue on your way, but you could be taking a risk. The reason for the restriction (according to three different locals we asked) was that contraband and drug shipment activities were at one time an unpleasant reality in the relatively unpopulated areas (not so much now, apparently) and the local authorities didn’t want tourists inadvertently walking into some sort of Breaking Bad business transaction on one of the desolate beaches. I am not sure what the police would do if they found you and your tripod there outside of the posted hours but an educated guess would be that it would likely involve a fine. In my case, typically passing the check point at 5:40a.m. and arriving at my chosen photo op spots by 6a.m., I saw absolutely no one. YMMV!

–You will need a rental car (or scooter) to get out east and back during the “golden hours” of sunrise/sunset. We rented a car and had no close calls with other vehicles, people, iguanas, or crocodiles, although you have to be very alert when driving anywhere near San Miguel–motorcycles and scooters, like buzzing locusts, are everywhere. Note on car rental: The initial price will look very, very cheap. You’ll need to add on all the different required insurance policies, so you’ll likely end up paying $300.00 or even more for a week with a small economy car. It is worth it, though, if you need the photographic flexibility.

–Remember all the usual salt water/beach precautions: Be careful about sand and salt spray getting in and on your equipment. Bring cloths to clean things up and for wiping off lenses. Many folks will use a clear filter to protect their lenses in these conditions. Take great care when changing lenses–reminder: the east side is the windy side.

–The rock around El Mirador and on the southeastern side of the island is SHARPLY sculptured limestone. If you fall on it, you could stab yourself to death, poke an eye out, bust a kneecap…or, at the very least, come up very scraped, bloodied, and humbled. So, wear some good shoes–and watch your step.

–Be ready to fill a memory card or two as you experiment with different wave combinations and shutter speeds. I tried everything from longer 30-second exposures with my 9-stop ND filter, to exposures short enough to freeze the water motion. I tended to prefer the 2-second to 1/8 of a second range because of the wonderful water effects this would often create. (The above image was shot at 1/4 second and f/22. Yeah, yeah, I know…diffraction and all. It does indeed have a negative effect on sharpness but I’m OK with it.)

–Expect to do a fair amount of cloning in post-processing due to the amount of trash that collects along tide line on top of the algae. Or, alternatively, you could just fill up a few bags with trash before you shoot.

–Other spots to consider: the tide pools at Chen Rio at Kilometer 44, and the interesting blow holes at Kilometer 32. El Mirador is at about Kilometer 34.

–In a future post, I’ll show one or two before and after post-processing comparisons using my raw files. You will see that I did a fair amount of lifting of shadows and dropping of highlights, cloning out of trash and water droplets, contrast and saturation increases, horizon straightening, and so on…to turn the images into what I saw on that morning!

Here are some examples of what I came up with on the different mornings I shot along the east coast…

First, here is an example pre-sunrise image. Sometimes there is very nice light, with more subtle colors, before sunrise, so plan accordingly. I liked arriving just as first light was approaching. This gave me time to play with longer shutter speeds (8 seconds in this case) as well as scope out the area:

El Mirador, #1. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017
El Mirador, #1. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017

 

Here is another pre-sunrise photograph taken on a different morning, this time with Venus above and also reflected in the foreground pool. I only saw the planet’s reflection later, during post. If I had noticed at the time, I would have moved slightly right so as to put the reflection just slightly to the right in the water. This was a 20-second exposure and the naked eye saw much less light than what you see here:

El Mirador, #30. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017
El Mirador, #30. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017

 

As the Sun comes up, your shutter speed will have to get shorter (unless you use filters), but this is a nice opportunity to try to catch waves in flagrante delicto, as in the following three examples–two into the sun, and one away. In the last, a half Moon happened to position itself nicely in the blue between the high clouds:

El Mirador, #7. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017
El Mirador, #7. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017

 

El Mirador, #40. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017
El Mirador, #40. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017

 

El Mirador, #42. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017
El Mirador, #42. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017

 

Another option for a completely different mood and look is to throw on a 9-stop filter and go for a long exposure–30 seconds at f/11 in this case. These filters are so dark you have to frame and focus first, then put the filter on for the shot:

Chen Rio, #5. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017
Chen Rio, #5. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017

 

The opposite extreme is to stop at least some of the water motion. Here, at the blow holes at Kilometer 32, I used 1/200 and f/11 with full morning sun. I wasn’t quite successful in capturing the partial rainbow that would fleetingly appear through the mist (sorta seen below the Moon):

Blow Holes, #2. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017
Blow Holes, #2. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017

 

Finally, if you are stuck at “home” maybe try shooting the pier right next to your hotel as I did here. The near full Moon helped by adding a nice center-o’-interest with an anchored boat and dock light on the left as secondary tidbits. This was a 25-second exposure at f/22 but done sans filters as it was still quite dark out (well, with moonlight). The slow shutter smoothed out the sea (and blurred a few clouds) and the small aperture helped bring out the star effect on the Moon and the pier lights:

Moon Over the Pier. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017
Moon Over the Pier. Cozumel, Mexico, 2017

Level Your Horizon!!!???

Hmmm, which image do you think is correct?

They do have high winds in the Andes…and they have lots of monstrous landslides due to heavy erosion and high seismic activity.

So, which might be the explanation here?

Example A:

Slip Slidin Away. Los Penitentes, Mendoza, Argentina, 2017
Slip Slidin Away. Los Penitentes, Mendoza, Argentina, 2017

 

Or, Example B:

Slip Slidin Away, #2. Los Penitentes, Mendoza, Argentina, 2017
Blown Away. Los Penitentes, Mendoza, Argentina, 2017

 

Yes, I know that we have little bubble levels in our cameras and tripod heads, but…with single images, I tend to compose based on what I see in the viewfinder rather than whatever the real horizon might be. This can be especially funky in places where the landscape slopes up or downhill across your intended photograph (like our Front Range, for example).

Solution? Try a multitude of compositions with various horizon tilts and see what they look like later on your big screen at home. The LCD may be too tiny to be helpful in this circumstance.

Another idea is to leave extra space around your composition in case you need to tilt it a bit one way or t’other–this way you have room to tilt and crop.

Caveat: If you want to stitch together some images for a panorama, or you are an architectural photographer, then a bubble level might indeed be very useful for you.

In Search of the Very Best Lens

Madonna Altar in the Alley. Boulder, Colorado, 2016
Madonna Altar in the Alley. Boulder, Colorado, 2016

 

How many of you have used results from Modulation Transfer Function (MTF) charts to pick a new lens?

Come on. Fess up. We ALL have, right?

The big question is: Does any of that really matter?

The answer: It depends…and it doesn’t matter nearly as much as you think it might.

[For example…in the case of the above street image it is the content, rather than sharpness, that is key to its success (or lack thereof), so MTF charts are irreverently irrelevant. In fact, the photo is an iPhone shot–top quality lens there, eh!?]

For a really great, informative, and fun-to-peruse article on this very topic, I refer you enthusiastically to Things You Didn’t Want to Know About Zoom Lenses by the lens expert Roger Cicala of the fairly famous Lensrentals.com website.

Cisco, Utah (Reprise)

I have visited this unusual spot several times over the years. (See previous posts, HERE and HERE, for example.)

Unfortunately, dickheads with no moral compass (not unlike our fine President) have taken to vandalizing the place, spraying ever more graffiti around and hauling off pieces of the town for scrap (like the gas pumps at the old gas station, for example–gone).

If you visit, as it implores in one of the images below: “Take nothing but pictures. Be respectful for fuck’s sake.”

Some key points:

  1. Yes, the final scene of the cult film Vanishing Point was filmed here, as well as at least one scene in the classic film Thelma and Louise. I have been told Don’t Come Knocking also used Cisco as a set. So, bow down low here and pay homage to Kowalski et al.
  2. Yes, there ARE people living here.
  3. They are armed.
  4. They have dogs (and cats).

Just be friendly and respectful and you’ll be fine. Be a dick and you might get shot.

And be especially nice to the friendly tail-less cat and Cairo (KAY-row), the dog.

Perhaps, someday, parts of this town will be preserved and even restored for posterity. (Progress in this direction has started already as it looks like the old mail room HAS been fixed up and painted! Eileen’s doing?)

In the following photo essay I was working with mid-day winter light. This is usually not ideal, but the clouds were acceptable and, when intending to convert to black and white, this kind of light can still work. I also felt like the contrails added to the mood of the place–overflights miles away, high above, and ignorant of and oblivious to the trials and defibrillations of this obscure virtual ghost town.

[Added NOTE: I just found an excellent five-minute YouTube video (thanks, “speeta”!) that alternates back and forth between actual 1971 movie footage and those exact same locations in Cisco as they appeared in June of 2015. To view it, go to this link:  Vanishing Point Location Cisco, Utah.]

 

Here is the main altar to Kowalski, the tragic protagonist of the film, Vanishing Point. Is that him nailed to the wall by the door? Someone has added “The Directive” over the past year. Just what does that mean? This is what remains of Ethel’s Cafe and Shell Station. At about 3:30 in speeta’s video mentioned above, you can see what the cafe and Shell station looked like in the 1971 film. In one scene, two bulldozer’s are brought in to stop Kowalski in his Dodge Challenger and were parked on the road within a hundred yards of here (not the same place as the final, fiery, scene):

Cisco, #2. Somewhere in Utah, 2017
Cisco, #2. Somewhere in Utah, 2017

 

Another gas station with its once hopeful mural, now a bit more run down and missing the old gas pumps which used to be on the left as well as out in front to the right:

Cisco, #5. Somewhere in Utah, 2017
Cisco, #5. Somewhere in Utah, 2017

 

Please, follow the very explicit instructions:

Cisco, #7. Somewhere in Utah, 2017
Cisco, #7. Somewhere in Utah, 2017

 

For 15 or so more images of Cisco… Click HERE!