Saturday, December 22, 2012

Winter Solstice

Short Days, Distant Sunsets

The idea was simple.  I wanted to photograph these tall ships in the warm glow of the setting sun.  But simple does not necessarily mean easy.

These ships are docked at South Street Seaport in Manhattan.  Across the street to the west is typical Manhattan architecture - skyscrapers. 

For most of the year, the sun descends below the skyscrapers by late afternoon.  The ships are engulfed in dark shadows long before the 'golden hour' arrives.

But there is a glimmer of hope in this shadowy situation.

The sun doesn't set in the same location every day.  During the summer months, it sets into the northwestern sky, and in the winter it sets into the southwest.  Every day, the position of the sunset moves a little closer toward one of these extremes.

Could the moving sunset hold the key to nailing the shot that I wanted?

In a word, yes.  There are a few weeks each year when the sun sets far enough to the south to clear the row of imposing skyscrapers that normally overshadow this marina.  Predictably, this window of opportunity occurs for a few days before and after the Winter Solstice, the day when the sun rises and sets at its extreme southern position. 

a large format fine art photograph of tall ships at south street seaport in new york city
The Fleeting Light of Winter

I had to make several trips to the location.  Again, simple isn't always easy.  On some occasions, thick clouds would move in before the best light appeared.  On other days, the sunlight filtered through a thin, milky layer of haze that muted its color.  It's always cold and frequently windy by the East River in December, and a view camera requires a lot of manual adjustments.

African immigrants sold hats and postcards near where I was shooting.  They watched me with puzzled expressions as I set up and focused the view camera.  Afterward, I would chat with them as I attempted to thaw out my frozen fingers.  I dealt with frustrating conditions on several occasions, but eventually I was rewarded with the light that I had planned so long to capture.

Sadly, everything changes.  I went back a year later to attempt another version of the shot.  The wooden masts of one of the ships had been replaced with ugly metal poles.  Years later, the city built a structure that blocks this view entirely. 

If you want to capture what you envision in your mind's eye, you need to work on it as soon as you can.  It will take time.  It might require planning and scouting, trial and error, frustration and frozen fingers.  So get started, because opportunities do not last.

Everything changes.  And simple definitely does not mean easy.


            Ebony SV45TE

            Nikkor-SW 90mm f/4.5

Wishing you great light and meaningful moments!

Copyright 2012 Daniel R. South
All Rights Reserved

Monday, December 17, 2012

Venezia La Bellissima

Challenging The Senses

As I walked the narrow passageways of Venice and crossed its countless bridges, a disorienting feeling came over me. Everything that I was seeing - every church, boat, bridge, and structure standing before my eyes - could not have been real. The views are incredible.

a photo of the view toward san giorgio maggiore venice
View Toward San Giorgio Maggiore

A city built on water, flooded aggressively by seasonal tides, more visually arresting than anything that the mind can imagine.  How could such a place exist?

a photo of the campanile in st marks square venice
Campanile di San Marco

Fortunately, after a few hours of walking and wading through flood waters, my argumentative mind capitulated. Better to enjoy the wonders before us than question their existence.

a photo of Gondolas Moored Near The Rialto Bridge venice
Gondolas Moored Near The Rialto Bridge

Venice is visually arresting. It's also a veritable maze. Be prepared to spend most of your time feeling slightly lost, even if you're not a first time visitor. Finding your way back to the hotel is part of the adventure.

a photo of the grand canal venice
Grand Canal - Venice

The weathered look of Venice adds to its charm. Think of of all of the people who have visited this grand city over the centuries and all of the great artist and musicians who have called Venice home.

a photo of gondolas at dusk in venice italy
Gondolas At Dusk - Venice

As night falls, the city remains breathtaking. Buona notte, la mia bellissima Venezia! Grazie per tutto! Sogno della nostra prossima avventura insieme. Ciao!

            Nikon D800

            Nikon 24-70 f/2.8G
            Nikon 70-200 f/2.8G VR II

Wishing you great light and meaningful moments!

Copyright 2012 Daniel R. South
All Rights Reserved

Saturday, December 1, 2012

My Time In California

Learning On The Go

I knew very little about cameras when I began to pursue photography seriously and I knew even less about creating good photographs.  I realized that I would need to invest time into practicing my new craft.

Shoot.  Evaluate.  Identify the mistakes and the lucky breaks.  Revise the approach, then go out and shoot again.  And again.

I spent a lot of time with my camera.  I got an 'A' for effort even though the results lingered in the 'C' range for quite a while.  A lot of film ended up in the trash, but lessons were learned with every roll.

Eventually, I had a small epiphany - there's value in visiting a location repeatedly.  One can observe the impact of weather, season, and time of day on the available light.  It's also possible to refine technique using information gathered from previous attempts.

I began to develop a list of 'favorite places' that I would visit with some frequency.  Most of these places were within a couple of hours of home, but I added a more distant destination to the list.  Coastal California.

a photo of the big sur coast from hurricane point
Hurricane Point at First Light

I had visited California in the years B.E.C. (before expensive cameras).  It's a land of breathtaking scenery, and I wanted to capture its magic on film.

a photo of mcway waterfall big sur at sunset
McWay Waterfall at Sunset

My earliest attempts at shooting the coast didn't yield remarkable results, but I learned a great deal about the location and local weather conditions in the process.  I also learned that there's a lot more to capturing a good photograph than just pointing a camera toward something interesting and making a 'correct' exposure.

As I explored the amazing Coastal California, I developed a understanding of light, its color, its quality, and its direction.  I developed a methodology for refining compositions from an initial idea to a finished image.  I experimented with techniques for focusing and stabilizing my cameras.

a photo of the point sur lighthouse at sunrise
Point Sur Under Textured Clouds

Eventually, I learned how to predict the occurrence of certain camera-friendly conditions.

When would the light make its first morning appearance over a particular mountain?

Where do you need to park your car to get a particular vantage point?

It's helpful to know these things, and if you pay attention to your surroundings and take good notes, you can return to the scene at a later date to capture something spectacular.  It pays to know what's going to happen before it actually takes place.

a photo of the golden gate bridge at dusk with traffic trails
Golden Gate Bridge At Dusk

Each excursion to my favorite places - near or far - was time well spent.  Even when the photos didn't turn out well, I was gaining insights that would transform my entire approach to photography. 

            Canon EOS 5D Mark II

            Canon TS-E24 f/3.5L II
            Canon 24-105 f/4L IS

Wishing you great light and meaningful moments!

Copyright 2012 Daniel R. South
All Rights Reserved

Friday, October 26, 2012

Leveraging the Unexpected

When Plans Go Awry - Keep Shooting!

It was a bright, sunny day - I'm not kidding!  Every cable and rivet of the Golden Gate Bridge was in clear view when I parked my car on Conzelman Road.

As I set up the view camera and composed the shot, I saw one very small wisp of mist pass over the water from west to east.  At first I thought that I had imagined it, or perhaps that a piece of dust had adhered to one of my contact lenses.  But more wisps followed and collected into larger patches.

The bay was full of wind surfers, but now they were beginning to disappear from view.  The fog became so thick that I felt concern for their safety.  Would they be able to see well enough to navigate back toward the marinas?  Would they be able to withstand the sudden drop in temperature?

It took about twenty minutes for the bridge to disappear completely.  This photo was taken in the last few minutes of visibility.  Luckily, the fog rolled in as the setting sun cast an orange glow toward the towers of the span.

a large format fine art photograph of the golden gate bridge in fog
Golden Gate Bridge in Incoming Fog - Fuji Velvia 100

The fog eventually reached my position, and the warm sunlight faded into gray, cold darkness.  I packed up my gear into the car, turned on the heater, and headed to town for a warm dinner.

Ebony SV45TE view camera
Schneider 110mm lens
Fujichrome Velvia 100

Wishing you great light and meaningful moments!

Copyright 2012 Daniel R. South
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Zabriskie Point

Panoramic Badlands

Death Valley is a vast and diverse wilderness.  Each section of the park has its own 'look' and unique characteristics.

One of the park's most iconic views is also one of the most accessible.  Zabriskie Point is a short walk from a large paved parking area located about a ten minutes from the popular Furnace Creek resorts.

Face west from Zabriskie Point, you'll look out over Manley's Beacon and a variety of rolling, textured badlands. Beyond the badlands lie the valley floor and the jagged Panamint Mountain Range.

a photo of a Red Glow on the Panamint Mountains from Zabriskie Point at Daybreak
Red Glow on the Panamint Mountains from Zabriskie Point at Daybreak

Zabriskie is very popular, particularly at sunrise.  If you arrive early in the morning, you'll see cameras of all shapes and sizes lined up on the ridge above the badlands.

Don't be shy!  Line up right beside the others.  Take your own shots of these iconic views and then scout around for different perspectives.

a photo of Daybreak Striking Manley's Beacon and the Badlands
Daybreak Strikes Manley's Beacon and the Badlands

Light and weather are never exactly the same from one day to the next.  These changing conditions will help give a unique look to your shots.

a fine art photograph of eroded badlands from zabriskie point
Eroded Formations - Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Point is much more than a single-shot destination.  The badlands wrap around the developed viewing area for at least 270 degrees, and you can hike down into the badlands on established trails if you want to try a different viewpoint. 

a photo of geometric patterns in the badlands at zabriskie point
Geometric Badlands - Zabriskie Point

There's also the possibility of encountering unique conditions and circumstances.  On this day a couple of vans full of children pulled into the parking area.  Some of the boys ran down into the badlands despite the protests of their chaperones.  I had put my camera away and was heading back to the car, but I managed to grab this quick, handheld shot as the children ran back up to the viewing area.

a photo of children running through the badlands at zabriskie point
Boys In The Badlands

An elderly lady walked over to me and asked, "Did those boys ruin your picture?"

I smiled and said, "No, Ma'am.  It's fine."

As she walked away, I thought to myself: "I think they just made my day."

Weather can change the look and mood of any destination.  I took the shot below on a cloudy morning when the badlands themselves looked dull due to a lack of direct sunlight.  It's an interesting contrast to the typical shots taken at this site.

a fine art photograph of zabriskie point at sunrise on a cloudy morning
Cloudy Morning at Zabriskie Point

Finally, it pays to look for unexpected possibilities.  Zabriskie Point is widely known as a sunrise destination, but under the right circumstances, it's possible to capture amazing sunsets here as well.  Here's one of my favorites.

a photo of Zabriskie at Point Sunset in Death Valley National Park
Zabriskie Point Sunset - Death Valley National Park

            Canon EOS 5D Mark II

            Canon 16-35 f/2.8L II
            Canon TS-E24 f/3.5L II
            Canon 24-105 f/4L IS
            Canon 70-200 f/4L IS

Wishing you great light and meaningful moments!

Copyright 2012 Daniel R. South
All Rights Reserved