Friday, April 26, 2013

The Painted Piano

On Rating One's Own Work

Part of the lure of photography is the surprise factor. Sometimes things work out better than we might expect and sometimes less so.

I spend time each week reviewing, rating, and categorizing my photos. I want to understand what differentiates an outstanding or exceptional image from one that is merely competent. I figure that the more I know about what makes a meaningful image, the higher the probability of capturing more of them in the future.

I came up with the following rating scheme to help identify my best photos, the good ones, the not-so-good ones, and the inevitable turkeys.

No Stars - A flawed or otherwise unimpressive photo. I might keep it in my files for historical purposes only, but I wouldn't show it to my friends.

1 Star (*) - A well-executed photo without discernible flaws, but one that I need to spend time reviewing before deciding whether to publish it. I may have a better version of the photo, but I'm keeping this one as an alternative.

2 Stars (**) - A strong image with definite impact, an image that I would be proud to print or display on my website. This is the level where people start to say "Wow!" when they first see the image.

3 Stars (***) - An outstanding photograph with all of the qualities of a two-star image plus a uniquely impressive or interesting quality that makes it stand out in a collection.

4 Stars (****) - All of the qualities of a three-star image, but with some rare or remarkable quality. For people, it might be that one shot with the perfect expression or a spontaneous gesture that increases the impact of the image.

5 Stars (*****) - A rare gem. An image that captures a very special moment or situation and depicts it splendidly. A photograph that could not be improved in terms of impact.

a photo of a man playing a brightly colored piano in new york city
The Painted Piano

The Painted Piano qualifies as a five-star photo on my scale. It represents a unique and precious moment. I don't see painted pianos on the street every day.  In fact, it happened only this one time. I could walk the streets of the city for the next twenty years and never see anything like this again.

The gentleman playing the piano while wearing his New York Yankees hat and T-shirt had a wonderful expression, his eyes looking off into infinity. The colored paint on the piano adds to the uniqueness of the image, and the light was supportive and had just the right amount of contrast.

This wasn't a technically perfect capture. I had to crop out a pedestrian and a garbage can. (That can happen when you work fast.) Luckily, there was enough frame left over to yield a moving and memorable image.

I'm glad that I decided to take a walk that day. I'm glad that I decided to carry my camera with me. I'm glad that I stopped by to take a picture of the man playing his painted piano.

I'll treasure this image forever. It's one of those nice surprises that exemplify the joy and magic of photography.

Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II

Lens: Canon 24-105 f/4L IS

Wishing you great light and meaningful moments!

Copyright 2013 Daniel R. South
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Romancing The Dunes

Death Valley's Most Recognizable Features

Once you're in Death Valley, a trip to the Mesquite Dunes is as easy or as challenging as you want it to be. A five minute walk from the paved parking area will get you out onto some dunes - dunes full of footprints. Visitors just love to climb on sand dunes!

If you want photos of a pristine, wind-swept wilderness, you'll need to hike farther. Quite a bit farther. Keep in mind that hiking on sand is strenuous, and hiking in Death Valley's heat is extremely dangerous.

My trips to the dunes were logged in the winter months, so I didn't have to deal with snakes or life-threatening temperatures. Even so, hiking out to the footprint-free zone was challenging.

In order to keep sand out of my gear, I mounted lenses to my camera bodies while still at the car. I wanted to minimize lens changes in blowing sand. I filled my jacket pockets with reading glasses, a cable release, a lens cleaning cloth, and other accessories and zipped my backpack tightly.

a photo of the mesquite sand dunes in death valley daniel south photography
Mesquite Dunes at Sunset, Death Valley National Park

This is my favorite photo of the dunes. I like the inclusion of the rugged mountains and the way that peaks line up between mountain and dune. The ripples indicate the presence of wind. I was able to use the small piece of dried vegetation to anchor the foreground.

And no footprints! 

A Word Of Caution

Hiking desert dunes can be dangerous, especially in hot weather. Your body will lose moisture with each exhaled breath. The surface temperature in Death Valley can be eighty degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the air temperature, which is typically over 120F in the summer. Walking on sand is physically strenuous, so you'll tire faster than normal.

It's foolish to even attempt a hike into the dunes in the summer unless you're heading out at dawn and intend to return in less than an hour. Regardless of when you go, take plenty of water, MUCH more than you think you'll actually drink. You'll need it, all of it, and probably more.

Never take chances with extreme weather. Be smart, plan ahead, and assume that no one will come to your aid if something goes wrong. Even if you manage to call for help, it could be hours before anyone arrives. By then, you could be a baked potato.

Please - have fun, take some nice shots, and respect the elements.

Camera: Canon EOS 7D

Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS

Wishing you great light and meaningful moments!

Copyright © 2013 Daniel R. South
All Rights Reserved