Port Oakland at Night

Wan Hai 505

Wan Hai 505, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

For our second night of shooting in my night photography workshop we left the dark hills and went down to Port Oakland. Oakland is one of the busiest industrial ports on the West coast, and even in the darkness a giant container ship (the Wan Hai 505 shown in this photo) was loading. Moist air and varied light sources combined to create eerie effects, and everyone came back with great photos and a different take on this photographically interesting area.

[Nikon D300, 18-200mm VR zoom lens at 200mm (300mm in 35mm terms), circular polarizer, 15 seconds at f/36 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Posted in Digital Night, Photography

Spirits of the Night

Spirits of the Night

Spirits of the Night, photo by David Joseph-Goteiner.

If you weren’t at the digital night photography workshop I gave over the weekend here in Berkeley and on location in nearby Port Oakland, then you’re like most of the world. This was a workshop attended by a small, select group of hardcore photographers dedicated to the pursuit of extreme darkness, heedless of wind, cold, and danger!

Proof of the talent, fun, and general wackiness of this event: on Friday night, socked in with fog on the top of Wildcat Peak, David, a gifted High School student, turned to painting with light using our flash lights, with the twenty second exposure above one of his results.

Posted in Bemusements, Digital Night, Photography

Gaillardia x grandiflora

Gaillardia x grandiflora

Gaillardia x grandiflora, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

This flower is a Gaillardia x grandiflora ‘Oranges and Lemons’. Gaillardias are native to North America, and are sometimes called Blanket Flowers because of their coloration.

I’m using an eight foot long raised bed in my protected side yard to grow flowers for photography, and this Gaillardia is the first subject. As models go, I think my flowers will prove to be very pretty and cooperative. Another benefit: they don’t seek modeling fees.

I photographed this flower on a black velvet background using diffuse natural sunlight. A previous experiment had convinced me that a single point of focus wouldn’t create an image that was sharp all over the flower. So I made twelve varying exposures at three focus points, and hand layered them together for an HDR and HFR image.

Some related stores: Falling in Love, Red Flowering Dogwood Blossom, Gaillardia, Digital Photograms.

[Nikon D300, 200mm f/4 macro lens (300mm in 35mm terms), 12 captures at shutter speeds from 1/2 of a second to 8 seconds, all at f/32 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Posted in Flowers, Photography, Photoshop Techniques

Angel Island Views

Golden Gate Reflections

Golden Gate Reflections, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

There was a strong wind blowing at my Angel Island campsite, and my tent puffed in and out like a bellows. But a little after midnight, the wind totally cut out and the surface of San Francisco Bay turned as flat and reflective as a sheet of glass. I grabbed my camera and tripod, put on a polarizer, and got a bunch of exposures before the wind picked up again and the glorious reflections vanished.

Some hours later, emerging from my sleeping bag, I saw the rising sun kissing the top of San Francisco’s towers.

[Above: Nikon D300, 18-200mm VR zoom lens at 95mm (142.5mm in 35mm terms), circular polarizer, 30 seconds at f/5.3 and ISO 100, tripod mounted. Below: Nikon D300, 18-200mm VR zoom lens at 26mm (39.5mm in 35mm terms), 2/5 of a second at f/22 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

San Francisco Sunrise

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Posted in Landscape, Photography, San Francisco Area

Great Horned Owl Chicks

Great Horned Owl Chicks

Great Horned Owl Chicks, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

My wonderful Pilates teacher Jennifer Durning told me about the Great Horned Owls in Claremont Canyon, Oakland.

Three Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) chicks sit in a nest about twenty-five feet above a wide path. While I was there, Mom and Dad hovered higher up in nearby trees.

The nest has been there for about a month, and is pretty well-known locally. I climbed up the hillside and spent the afternoon looking straight across at the chicks. In the hours I spent before it got too dark to photograph, there was a real social scene with bird lovers and photographers checking in. Some of these people visited the owls daily.

These “babies” are surprisingly large, perhaps a cat is a good comparison size-wise. As you can see, there’s quite a range of size in the siblings, with the one in front much smaller than the other two. They seemed to interact well with each other, engaging in mutual grooming, and nuzzling each other. They slept for much of the afternoon.

Looking at the antics of the clutch, I could help thinking of my three kids. Owls, humans, what’s the difference?

[Nikon D300, 70-200mm VR zoom lens with 2X telexender at 400mm (600mm in 35mm terms), 1/250 of a second at f/5.6 and ISO 320, tripod mounted.]

Posted in Bemusements, Photography

Star Circles

Star Circles

Star Circles, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Two thousand four hundred seconds, about forty minutes. Actually longer, maybe three thousand five hundred seconds, or close to an hour, when you add in-camera noise reduction.

I have mixed emotions when it comes to exposures that take this long. You don’t get many cracks at getting the exposure right. For one thing, each exposure drains a battery. Conditions change, and the night is only so long. Someone (or something like a car, boat, or plane) might shine a light in the direction of the camera. In the end, the LCD display is unreliable (it overcompensates for lousy exposures), so you can’t judge very well in the field (the exposure histogram gives better information).

So making these captures I feel every inch the heroic photographer in the tradition of the pioneers who made their subjects hold still for hours during an exposure (and then waited days for the wet plates to dry!). Of course, I also feel like a klutz when the exposure doesn’t come out, or the visual concept doesn’t hold up in the actual image.

On a more human element, I am measuring time as it passes. Sometimes I pace, sometimes I stand still. I try sitting or lying down, but the ground is too damp and cold. Each second can seem like eternity. There are thousands of seconds weighing me down.

I’m bundled against the wind and moisture in wool layers, poly piling, down, with a balaclava pulled down over my head. Is this water drop slow torture, or is it sublime as my city sensibility gradually clears, and I observe the night, forced to take the time to see things that are a cipher to most folk.

Other Star Trawler images: Big Dipper; Pole Star; The Long and Short; Star Trawler.

[Nikon D300, 12-24mm zoom lens at 12mm (18mm in 35mm terms), 2,407 seconds (about 40 minutes) at f/13 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Posted in Digital Night, Photography, Point Reyes

Wright Stairs

Wright Stairs

Wright Stairs, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

This is a photo taken looking straight up one of the smaller, back staircases at the Marin Center, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The results are almost abstract: I don’t think one is quite sure what one is looking at. There’s very little Photoshop work here, just a bit of adjustment to compensate for the mixed-color-temperature light environment.

[Nikon D300, 12-24mm zoom lens at 15mm (22.5mm in 35mm terms), 10 seconds at f/22 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Related images: Resistance to Spirals Is Futile, Endless Stair.

Posted in Bemusements, Photography, San Francisco Area

Each Apple Pear

Pear Blossom Special

Pear Blossom Special, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Obviously, I have a fondness for small aperture, fully stopped-down flower macros that use high depth of field to convey sharpness. (I explain the relationship of aperture to depth of field in Chapter 2 of Light & Exposure for Digital Photographers.) For example, take a look at Echinacea Harvest Moon, Rose Study 11, and Lily in a Green Vase.

But sometimes the high-depth-of-field approach won’t work, either for technical reasons or because having the entire photo sharp doesn’t give the desired visual and aesthetic impact. In fact, selective focus can be so attractive that there are special tools you can use, like the Lensbaby, intended for just this purpose.

The apple and pear blossoms in this pair of photos are espaliered along a fence with our western neighbor. These trees have multiple varieties (five in the case of the apple, three for the pear) grafted onto a single trunk, with the varietal branches spread across the fence. It’s an interesting tangent that any apple you are ever likely to eat will have come from grafted stock rather than seed. Apples seeds simply don’t reliably reproduce, so once you get a good eating apple what you do is reproduce it over and over again by grafting, which essentially means genetic cloning.

I do generally believe that a tripod is the photographer’s best friend. But in this case, the blossoms were high up the fence, so I wasn’t going to able to bring a tripod to bear. Besides, there was a steady breeze. So I made the best of it, and hand held these photos using image stabilization at a fast enough shutter speed so that the subject motion wasn’t much of an issue.

The trick here is to get the plane of the camera as parallel as possible to the area of the subject that you care about. Also, you need to press the shutter release at exactly the right instant, because even slight subject (or camera) movement can spoil the focus. But if all the stars line up, selective focus can make for very nice images.

Apple Blossom Special

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[Both photos: Nikon D300, 18-200mm VR zoom lens, 36mm extension tube, +2 diopter close-up filter, ISO 100, hand held with image stabilization enagaged; Apple: 1/250 of a second at f/8, 95mm (142.5mm in 35mm terms); Pear: 1/160 of a second at f/6.3, 82mm (123mm in 35mm terms)]

Related stories: Cherry Blossom Special; Botany of Desire.

Posted in Flowers, Photography

Lupine along the Trail

Lupine along the Trail

Lupine along the Trail, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Coming back from Alamere Falls, I photographed this lupine bush with two exposures, one for the sunset in the background, and one for the foreground which was already deep in twilight darkness. Within the curve of the sky, you can see the far end of the Point Reyes peninsula, silhouetted against the sunset.

Related story: Hike to Alamere Falls.

[Nikon D300, 10.5mm digital fisheye, 1/5 of a second (sunset background) and 3/5 of a second (foreground) at f/22 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Posted in Flowers, Landscape, Photography, Point Reyes

Great Basin Spadefoot

The good people at the Kanab Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management collected this fellow when he was merely a tadpole from a rain puddle in the slickrock. Now this Great Basin Spadefoot Frog lives in a terrarium in the office.

When I visted the BLM following my visit to the Wave, they were nice enough to take the little guy out for me where I photographed him on a hand. He’s a shy one, so I didn’t have too much time. I put my 200mm macro lens on a tripod, and boosted the ISO to 1,000 to use available light.

Posted in Bemusements, Photography

Lake Tenaya at Night

On a memorable evening close to the 2007 summer solstice, I climbed down from the top of Lembert Dome as the sun set. On my way to the Olmsted Point area to photograph star trails over Half Dome, I stopped to photograph the shores of Lake Tenaya by starlight. This was a 3 1/2 minute exposure with the ISO boosted to 640.

The photo below shows the view of Lake Tenaya from more-or-less the same spot in daylight hours.

Besides ambient starlight, you can see a couple of exogenous light sources in this photo: car headlights in the distance on Route 120, and the light trail of a satellite traversing up the right-hand side of the sky.

[24mm in 35mm terms, 210 seconds at f/4 and ISO 640, tripod mounted.]

Lake Tenaya

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Posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography, Yosemite

Nothing could be finer: a diner haiku

Nothing Could Be Finer

Waiting for lunch…

…it finally came:

Fish and Chips

After Lunch

Goodbye fish and chips!

Posted in Bemusements