Monthly Archives: June 2007

Twilight Turns to Night

Looking south from Arch Rock the twilight turned to night. Individual stars turned to the star-filled night sky and banks of fog shifted in the night wind. Down below, big rollers crashed on end of their journey across the Pacific. The remaining ambient light from the sunset over Point Reyes slowly faded.

Besides the stars, the predominant light source was now the city glow from distant San Francisco, coming around the massive cliffs of Point Reyes and the distant Marin Headlands. This eerie city light played at dancing with the swiftly moving banks of clouds.

I made this exposure for 300 seconds (five minutes) with the camera wide open (ISO 100, f/4, 12mm). Then I packed up my tripod and camera kit, taking care in the dark not to forget anything.

I picked my way carefully off my high platform, and headed back through the darkness of a forest passage to my car waiting on the other side of the coastal hills. Most of the time, I can see pretty well at night once I let my eyes adjust. But the Bear Valley trail runs deep in a valley under dense cover. Although it is a wide path, I didn’t fancy stepping into blackness, so I walked back by headlamp.

Once more it was drive drive drive back to a sleeping house and bed at half way to morning.

Posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography, Point Reyes

Renegade Remaining Photons

I left home after dinner. It took me a bit more than an hour to drive to the parking lot at Bear Valley (this is also the Point Reyes visitor center).

The sun had just set and the clouds were decorated with red and gold as I laced on my hiking boots. Pretty soon the trail to Arch Rock became a tunnel through a different universe. I saw luminous eyes in the darkness, big bouncy rabbits, and exotic deer. I heard falling water almost all the way, some dripping in rhythmic patterns.

At about four miles, I came out of the dark tunnel into a great valley. My trail met the coastal trail, and the valley opened to the sea.

There was enough light left, barely, to find my way onto a high perch. The forest had been still other than the sounds of animals and the noise from brooks, but here high above the Pacific Ocean, the wind blew and big breakers crashed to the shore.

To the north, I could see the last light of sunset and the curve of Point Reyes.

South from Arch Rock, the cliffs picked up some left-over light radiation from the sunset, while stars peeked through the clouds. Hard by the cliff edge, with my tripod holding fast in the wind, I exposed this image at ten seconds (ISO 100, f/14, 13mm lens), fast enough so that some wave action was apparent but slow enough to capture the renegade remaining photons.

Posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography, Point Reyes

Night Shore

This is a 180 second time exposure from Arch Rock in Point Reyes looking northwest up the coast towards Limantour, Drakes Bay, and the Point Reyes lighthouse.

You can see Venus bright in the sky, the trail of an airplane meandering across the sky, and many stars. Although the waves were crashing below where I was standing with my camera and tripod, and there was quite a wind (blowing the clouds seen in this image), for some reason the long exposure flattened the ocean. I think if you look carefully you can even see reflected stars.

To learn more about night photography, check out Digital Darkness and On Night Photography.

Posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography, Point Reyes

White California Poppy

I’m used to thinking of the California poppy as a wonderful red-and-orange ragamuffin that grows along our roads almost like a weed. The red version is a great flower to photograph, for example Wind and California Poppy Quartet. But how nice to also have a white California poppy, Eschscholzia californica ‘Alba’, in my garden.

On Saturday morning I photographed this bud at f/40 with my telephoto 200mm macro lens to create focus on the water drop near the stem of the flower and a nice bokeh background effect. Inside the house, the kids were running wild, and I was glad to be out in the peace of my garden photographing flowers in my pajamas, a cup of coffee on its way.

Posted in Flowers, Photography, Water Drops

Will You Be My Lensbaby?

What has a flexible rubberized tube, like a short version of the hose you find on a vacuum cleaner, and a piece of optical glass at the end? Why, my Lensbaby, of course: a specialized interchangeable lens that fits Nikons, Canons, and other dSLRs. The point of this somewhat bizarre but dearly beloved piece of photo gear? To allow a photographer to control the portion of a photo that is in focus. Lensbaby adherents call this in-focus area the “sweet spot.” Another way to put this: a Lensbaby is an SLR camera lens that allows selective focus with one area of a photo (the sweet spot) in sharp focus surrounded by gradually increasing blur.

Peony Landscape 1

View this photograph larger. Read more about this image made with a Lensbaby.

Lensbabies come in three varieties: the original Lensbaby, Lensbaby 2.0, and the recent addition to the Lensbaby family, the Lensbaby 3G. The original Lensbaby and the Lensbaby 2.0 are pretty much the same conceptually, although the Lensbaby 2.0 is “brighter, sharper, and faster” as well as more expensive than the original Lensbaby. The Lensbaby 2.0 has a better piece of optical glass on the end, stops down to f/2.o rather than the f/2.8 offered by the older version, and costs $150 versus $96 at retail.

As you can easily see in the pictures below, the Lensbaby 3G (it retails for $270) is an altogether more elaborate affair than either of the classic Lensbaby models.

Original Lensbaby
Lensbaby 2.0
Lensbaby 3G

Whichever Lensbaby you use, don’t expect electronic communication with your camera. You focus by positioning the camera with Lensbaby attached where you want it, and by pushing and pulling the vacuum hose part of the Lensbaby. This sounds a little wild, but actually focusing the Lensbaby works pretty well. (Note: the Lensbaby 3G also has a collar you turn for fine focusing.)

You set the diaphragm of the lens (this is the lens opening, also called the f/stop) by placing a magnetic metal disk with a round opening in the front of the lens. Lensbaby calls these aperture thingees “levitating aperture disks,” and a complete set of these comes with each Lensbaby, along with a handy-dandy levitating aperture disk holder attached to a tool for removing the disks from the lens.

For the most part, you make exposures in manual mode based on trial and error, although with some cameras (such as the Nikon dSLRs) aperture-preferred metering does work.

Once you own a Lensbaby, you may be struck by the need to dress your Lensbaby up. You’ll be glad to learn that there are a full line of accessories for your Lensbaby, including close-up filters and “creative” aperture disks (these last are disks like hearts and stars, and even blank disk slugs that let you cut your own shapes). The ability to capture close-ups with the Lensbaby adds a very important facility to this lens.

It was great to be able to control the sweet spot of focus with the Lensbaby 2.0, but one significant drawback was that this usually meant positioning the bellows tube of the lens by hand. There was no way to lock it in place. This was a significant limitation, because it meant that long exposures were out of the question. In addition, if you had pulled or pushed the Lensbaby tube, you couldn’t expect to repeat what you had done exactly making bracketing and controlled exposures difficult. The Lensbaby 3G overcomes these obstacles, although it also introduces a degree of complexity into the Lensbaby universe.

With the 3G, in addition to the tube, lens, and place for aperture discs, the 3G sports a mechanism for locking the Lensbaby down, focusing posts, and a barrel focusing ring. You squeeze release pins together to unlock the 3G, and you use the focusing post knobs to fine-tune the positioning of the “sweet spot.” See Not Your Father’s Lensbaby for more details on using the 3G.

Lensbabies have been used for every conceivable type of photography, from romantic wedding shots, to creative product and fashion work, and for stunning flower macros. So why should you try out a Lensbaby? I’m a great believer in a new lens as a way to jump start new ways to see, and certainly the Lensbaby is new. It’s easy to use, will give you a different view of the world, and its distinctive simplicity will give a boost to your creativity.


View this photo larger. Read more about this image made with a Lensbaby.

For more information about Lensbaby: Lensbabies website; Not Your Father’s Lensbaby; Lens Baby Burning Flowers Bright; Working That Lensbaby Macro.

Posted in Lensbaby, Photography

Hummingbird Tongue

The kids were all dropped off at school. It was Monday morning. Phyllis and I were sitting in our kitchen with pads of legal paper planning our work schedule for the week. I looked up and saw this hummingbird in the camellia trees just outside our kitchen windows.

The hummingbird seemed to be sticking around, so I ran and got my camera with my 70-200mm Nikon VR lens. I added a telextender between the camera and the lens for a focal length of 400mm (600mm in 35mm equivalent terms).

It was a little preposterous to hand hold this enormous affair at 1/80 of a second, but I did (the version here is cropped in even a bit closer). No doubt, the image stabilization baked into the lens helped me out.

To really see the hummingbird tongue, check out the image larger.

After this exposure, Mr. Humminbird flicked his tongue out at me one last time, then flew away.

You may be interested to know that hummingbirds don’t suck nectar as if their tongue were a straw. They lap flower nectar up repeatedly, by flicking their long tongues in and out. This is sort of dog action, and not at all straw like, and falls under the category of things I never would have known without a live hummingbird and a telephoto lens.

Posted in Bemusements, Photography

Dream Path

In the full night, with fog whistling through the Eucalyptus grove, I exposed for eighty seconds. It seemed to me like a path merging into a dream.

Posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography

Eucalyptus Grove in the Fog

We’ve been living under a cloud cover in the San Francisco Bay area for the last week, sometimes high clouds, sometimes low fog, sometimes bright, sometimes not, but always grey. Since the weather around here is generally wonderful, I’ve no right to complain. But it does make night photography kind of questionable.

Yesterday Mark was over in East Bay on business, and I thought it would be nice to show him Wildcat Peak in Tilden Park, since we’ve done so much walking around the Marin Headlands in his “back yard.”

After dinner, we set off from Inspiration Point. Normally, there’s a panoramic view from Wildcat of the Golden Gate, San Pablo Bay, Mount Diablo, Tamalpais, and more. But last night everything was socked in with a thick wall of fog. It was chilly, in the low forties, and a stiff wind blew. We didn’t linger on the summit.

Coming down from Wildcat Peak past the Memorial Grove, I stopped along Nimitz Way in the Eucalyptus grove. The trees were creaking and groaning in the wind. In the background, there was a bright white light, possibly the moon coming through the clouds.

Using my 12-24mm wide-angle lens, I placed my camera on my tripod and exposed this image for 80 seconds. Long enough to capture the trees in the dim light, and to let the moving branches turn kind of “liquid” as they moved in the foggy time exposure.

Posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography, San Francisco Area

Tennessee Valley by Moonlight

This is a 210 second exposure of the grasses along Tennessee Valley by moon and star light (with a little ambient light from Marin cities shown in the sky to the right).

Related stories: Star Light Star Bright; Tennessee Valley at Night.

Posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography