Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Our Lady Of The Lake University

Click on photos to enlarge
Three views of the Church at OLLU.

Unfortunately it was locked, because I've been told it is the most ornate church in the city.

I think a return visit is needed for the inside, and earlier in the day for better light on the outside.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Band Photos

Getting decent photos in a dark nightclub is a royal pain in the butt.
Despite how bright the stage lights may look, they really aren't.
They're just bright compared to the darkness in the rest of the place.
And when you move from a singer under yellow to a drummer under blue, expect to lose 3 stops of light.
Camera response is dead slow due to autofocus trying to get a lock in the dimness.
Then add the many musicians who don't like them shining in their eyes and you have a recipe for disaster.
High iso is the rule, and you better have a fast lens.
I'm usually at iso400 (iso800 is worthless on my camera) and F2-F2.8 and 1/30th of a second or even longer--great training for steadier handheld work.

This past Thursday we were at a club with plenty of bright lights, but unfortunately they were flashing and changing colors at an extremely high rate, so getting a good photo was as much luck as skill.
I shot more photos in a single session than ever before in my life. Good thing I bought a much bigger memory stick recently!

My tripod came in handy, too.
A club employee was also shooting, using an inexpensive (short) tripod, and I imagine his photos have more double-chin action than mine, since many of the photos I shot were done with me standing on a chair and the camera held high over my head.

The shot above is of Manny, our lead singer. (He's awesome)
This post is mainly about publicizing my photoblog about the band String Theory.
You can see the rest of Thursday's photos here, and to keep up to date you can always click on the "My Band Photos" link below and to the right.

(Why don't I use flash if I need more light? Believe me, flash photos of a band onstage are less than worthless unless the strobe is far off-camera and gelled for color or snooted, and I'm not quite equipped for that yet, but thanks for asking)

Friday, January 26, 2007

The Birds

As always, click on the thumbnail to see the full-size image
Another in my series of photos of the strange overpopulation of birds in the Medical Center area.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Helotes Mulch Pile

In a little town just NW of San Antonio called Helotes (corn) some guy with a business involving compost and mulch and dirt (sorry, I don't know the specifics or really care) accumulated a giganting pile of the stuff.
Really huge.
Pictures can't convey how big this pile is without something to provide scale.
Not a mountain, but certainly bigger than a foothill.
At first, the town and state were worried about the safety of the thing, but an "expert" they hired said that because it's 80% dirt, it was impossible for it to burn.
It's been burning since mid-December.

At first, the owner and other interested parties argued about who was going to put the fire out, if it was even possible, who would pay for it, how it could be done, etc.
After the smoke aggravated everyone nearby, including a school, the Texas Commission On Environmental Quality took over, and hired contractors to put out the fire under their direction.

First they built a berm around the pile, seen above at the bottom, to catch and re-use the water sprayed on the fire. Then they started pulling the pile apart and hosing it down.
After over three million gallons of water, it was discovered that wells half a mile away were becoming contaminated by the dirty sooty water.
This means the nastiness can make it into our aquifer, the sole supply of clean water for 1.5 million people.

So now everything is on hold while a new plan is formulated.
Good luck, dummies.
I recommend getting Christo to cover it with an giant red tarp.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Ice Storm

(Click on the photos to enlarge)
It's all over, but what a fun ride it was while it lasted!
The "Arctic Blast 2007" as our TV stations and newspaper called it was just a taste of what the rest of the country (and world) deal with every winter.
For San Antonians who usually only see such sights for a single night every fourth winter, this 3-day festival of freezing temps and precipitation ranged from magical to nightmare, depending on whether or not they had electricity and/or managed to avoid skidding their car into a wall.

The last time we had snow or ice, the photos I saw online were 90% snapshots of people's cars covered with the stuff.
Not very imaginative, but then again I went the same route because my car was one of the first things to grow icicles.
These first two were of little 'cicles hanging between my rear spoiler and trunk lid.
For the 2nd one I got in close for some mood lighting.

Being a night-photo freak, I nearly froze my fingertips off getting this shot. Balancing flash with ambient light while waiting for the perfect drip takes time, and I wear those gloves with exposed digits so I can push camera buttons.

After deciding I wanted to see more of what's inside an icicle, it wasn't hard to decide to break one off and bring it inside.
Upside-down in a tall shotglass with some creative lighting solutions, I got what I wanted before too much meltage.

The snow we were promised never made it to our sheltered suburban valley, but everything was covered in pretty ice for a few days.
I think my baby trees lived through it, and no large sections of our old trees fell, so it was a fun little winter adventure without any permanent damage.
Good Times.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

More Leftovers

This is Sterling, who belongs to my dear old friends Mike and Amie.
He's a remarkable calm cat, which makes him a good model.
Repeated flashes as I tried to balance the exposure between indoor and outdoor light levels didn't faze him a bit.
The shade of his fur also allows for a perfect exposure that shows fine detail well.

San Fernando Cathedral.
For some reason, I only get crazy-looking lens flare at night when shooting churches, and it always follows the same pattern, as also seen here.
A message?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

SouthTexas Icicles

Not a familiar sight in these parts.
Still waiting for some snow.
Highways and bridges and schools are closed.
What's commonplace in winter up north causes hysteria here, but don't laugh at us lest you tempt the Weather Gods and learn a thing or two about how truly hot summertime can be.

Monday, January 15, 2007

"Waiting To Cross Over" Loose Ends

(More unused stuff from 2006--Click To Enlarge)
With the flood of honors and contest wins/losses coming in for my photo "Waiting To Cross Over" I got distracted enough to forget about posting the rest of the story.

There were three trains in rapid succession that night, and my shooting partner that day--C. Moore--and I were experimenting like crazy. Neither of us had ever tried shooting moving trains in the dark before, so there were lots of failures to go with our successes.
The photo above was close to what I intended, but not completely since my goal was to catch the blinking crossing arm in it's full travel from vertical to horizontal.
The shutter speed I picked was long enough; I just hit the button a few seconds too soon. While it isn't too bad it's not what I wanted, either.

This is what the loaded SATX cars look like when they aren't blurred in a long exposure. The Wyoming coal inside them is what's producing the electricity I'm using to power my computer right now. At least three such trains of 140-ish cars each (a train that's well over a mile long) pass through town each week headed for the powerplants southeast of here.

After taking the flash photo above, I composed the next shot and did a test exposure.
Everything looked good color and brightness-wise, so as the end of the train approached I waited for a bit and then started what was the last 8-second capture possible.
After the shutter had been open for a moment, the mysterious stranger walked right in front of my camera and asked me what time it was, then wandered away a few steps to wait for the train to pass so he could cross over.
I was furious at the time, but once I saw what he had done for the resulting image all was forgiven.

See the original post and photo here.
An important update is here.

Out of all the excitement this picture generated, the only tangible "prize" is that I finally get spam in my email every day, traced directly to becoming a daily winner at Steve's Digicams' photo contest.
He needs to do a little coding or hiding of the winner's email address from spambots, like replacing the @ with 'at'.
Seriously, I never understood why people complained about spam so much since I had never gotten more that a handful in all the years I have been online. Now I get it.

Of course, all of the kind comments and praise the photo has received is prize enough for me. Of the 18,000+ photos I have taken it's my most popular by far, and that it happened right on the 2-Year Anniversary of getting my camera--when I really wanted to capture something special to mark the occasion--makes it all the sweeter.

So that's the rest of the story.
I also want to mention that I seem to have passed the 300-Posts mark sometime recently, so a big Thank You to all of my visitors for hanging in there with me as I learn to take better pictures and write better stories.
Y'all are very kind, and I really do think about each and every one of you when I venture out with my Sony F717 looking for things you might be interested in seeing.

Friday, January 12, 2007

More 2006 Leftovers

This was taken in the middle of last summer, when the drought was at it's worst.

My friend's weimaraner, Caesar, came to stay with me in November. He's over 100lbs and 6 feet tall on his hind legs, smart, funny--a really great dog. On our walks, people coming the other way would cross the street out of fear, or maybe respect.
One day I got out of the shower and noticed a guilty look on Caesar's face. And some orange powder. He had gotten a bag of Cheetos™ off the counter and eaten them.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

2006 In Review?

No, not exactly.
While many bloggers like to re-run their favorites from the previous year, and that's a really good idea, instead I'm going to post some photos that didn't make the grade but which represent stories worth telling.
Anything to be different.

This flower is less than an inch across.
(Gotta love the F717's macro abilities--click on it to see what I mean)
Someone gave us an unidentified cutting last summer, and it grew fast and strong.
It would only bloom for a day, once in October and this one in November, so catching this flower on a pretty day was lucky.

On the wall of a building at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center is this giant veladora or religious candle.
There was some controversy surrounding it, seeing as how people at the center were being laid-off while the huge art cost over $100,000.
I still haven't gotten what I consider a good photo of it because it's not in a neighborhood that I feel very safe entering so I rushed through the shoot while looking over my shoulder.
The other buildings are pretty cool, too, so it's a goal for 2007.

More almost-ran photos next time.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Three Things

(Click to enlarge as always)
From the left, we have my new(ish) cellphone.
It's an LG VX8300 and I feel safe recommending this model, especially over those fad phones like Chocolate™. It's got a solid feel and has more features than I'll ever use.
Because the LG is a speakerphone the ringer is loud enough to be heard in a bar.
In fact there's a speaker on each side of the pivot point that are actually stereo.
Mainly I got it for the 1.3 megapixel camera that has pretty much every feature you would find on a point and shoot digital camera 5 years ago except for optical zoom.
Who else makes a phone-camera with white balance choices and 1280x960 resolution?
Comes in handy more than I thought it would, providing plenty of content for one of my other photoblogs.

In the middle we have the new flashlight.
3 LEDs, 3 AAA batteries, tons of lumens.
Still haven't used it at work so the jury's still out, but it's my go-to flashlight right now.
It's a little too fat to slip into my back pocket the way a MiniMag™ does so on Saturday the testing begins.

On the right we have Sylvia's new SanDisk Sansa™ e250 2GB mp3 player which supports photos and videos.
This is the best alternative to iPods and especially the fatally-flawed Zune, or so I have read.
Here comes the fun part, where I get to tell how we discovered a half-hour after leaving the store that the minimum system requirements for a Sansa are Windows XP and Windows Media Player 10.

I still run Win98se.
My media player is probably version negative 2.
Not good.

After Googling for hours and hours and hours and finding exactly one useful thread hiding in an anti-iPod message board inhabited by an "expert" and a guinea pig who got his Sansa to work with Win98se, the fun began.
Short story is that after two system crashes and 4 days of running the nightmare through my head, I got it to work with a badly out of date operating system.
No pictures or video can be transferred this way, but getting mp3s onto it was the main focus and I won that battle. Not unlike the story of David and Goliath except with Keith vs Bill Gates, which is oh so much goofier.
The first song converted to mp3 and transferred to the Sansa was from my Physical Graffiti(sic) CDs.
Kashmir by Led Zeppelin.

Under the three things is a cigar box that I bought for $2(empty) knowing it might come in handy as a prop someday. I plan to put a print inside the top lid and use it as a flip-up picture frame with storage space.

The scene was lit using a diffused 85w Natural bulb for highlights and the FVL-F1000 flash I was recently given bounced off the wall just over my setup's black backdrop.
Photoshopping was much, much less than most of my pictures get.

Data was recorded on a new Sony 512MB Memory Stick Pro™ card that is faster at both recording and formatting compared to the non-Pro sticks I have been using. This new addition quadruples the number of images I can record before changing to another, and nearly triples my total memory space.

After review I suppose the title of this post should be 'Six Things'.

Here's the exact setup for the photo above, minus the phone which was used to take this snapshot.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

I See In Infrared

I have started exploring the world of IR photography. My camera already has an IR filter that can swing away from in front of the sensor for doing night-vision work or for composing and focusing in total darkness while taking regular flash photos. I have done this with deer in my yard, and it works.
All digital cameras have an IR-blocking filter, but only a rare few can remove it with the flick of a switch. (You can also have your camera modified.)
By adding a screw-on filter in front of the lens that blocks visible light, you can shoot pictures in the daytime that capture the infrared spectrum, which gives you greenish tinted but almost black and white results that have a few changes.
Vegetation registers in a range that is much brighter than it would look in a normal B&W picture, for example.

It's an interesting 'look' that's full of surprises.
IR has become popular enough that I've even seen some framed art prints for sale in mainstream stores like Target™ that were made this way.

These were from my first infrared tests, and I liked them well enough to post 'em here.
You'll be seeing more stuff like this, but hopefully better as I gain experience both in selecting suitable subjects and with the Photoshopping associated with monochrome and tinted and false-color images.

For much better examples please visit my friend Bruce's photoblog, Enlightenment & Compositions.
He's always got something new in both IR and color.
In fact, now's a good time to visit because his main page still has some of his favorites from 2006, and of course you should look through his archives, too.
He hooked me up with the filter that got me started in IR, so Thanks Again, Bruce!