Thursday, December 31, 2015

Sunset Over Point Sur

The Race For Peak Light

A friend suggested that the Earth Color Magic blog shouldn't wrap up its year with a black and white photo. I realized that he had a point. So here, for my color appreciating friends, is one last entry for what has been a fulfilling and enjoyable 2015.

People sometimes find this hard to believe, but landscape photography is a fast paced activity. Subjects like mountains and coastlines don't move around, but the light and the atmosphere change constantly. It's not unusual to have to work fast to get the shots that you want.

The best color of a sunset, for instance, rarely lasts for more than a couple of minutes. In order to capture peak moments, the photographer needs to interpret changing conditions, get his gear into position, compose, focus, and execute the exposure quickly and accurately.

a photo of a lighthouse at sunset at big sur california
Sunset Over the Lighthouse at Point Sur

I was photographing a line of trees about a mile from the lighthouse when I realized that a terrific sunset was about to reveal itself. I grabbed my gear, jumped in the car, and drove up the road for a more promising shooting location - being mindful of traffic, of course!

The Lighthouse at Point Sur is one of my favorite West Coast subjects. It sits atop a massive rock that juts out into the relentless surf of the Pacific Ocean.

I set up the camera again in a spot where I could silhouette the lighthouse against the most colorful part of the sky. I pulled out a couple of my best lenses and raced to get as many shots as I could. 

This was one of my favorites. It reminds me of the great fun that I have had over the years chasing fantastic light along this magical stretch of the California coastline. 

Camera:    Nikon D810

Lens:        Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED

Wishing you great light and meaningful moments!

Copyright 2015 Daniel R. South
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Pacific Dream

Tales From Monochromatic Oceans

a photo in black and white of waves and rocks in the pacific ocean
Pacific Dream - Tales from Monochromatic Oceans

Camera:    Nikon D810

Lens:        Nikon AF-S Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR

Wishing you great light and meaningful moments!

Copyright 2015 Daniel R. South
All Rights Reserved

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Color of Night

Grand Church

a photo of a catholic church in new york taken at night
Grand Church - New York City

Camera:    Nikon D810

Lens:        Nikon PC-E Nikkor 24mm f/3.5D ED

Wishing you great light and meaningful moments!

Copyright 2015 Daniel R. South
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Across The Street

Creative Perspectives

Photographers use a variety of terms to describe their lenses, and those terms are sometimes confusing.

Most people understand that a wide-angle lens can be used to "fit" a large space or object into the frame. But wide-angle lenses can have a profound effect on the appearance of small objects as well. 

Move in close to a small object with a wide-angle lens, and its size will be magnified with respect to the objects behind it. This effect is known as perspective distortion. 

a photo of the vietnam veterans memorial in new york city by daniel south
Perspective Distortion - Wide-Angle Lens (24mm) - Near Objects Appear Larger

We can use perspective distortion creatively, but it requires the photographer to exercise caution in some cases. If you photograph someone's face with a wide-angle lens, for instance, their nose will look huge. 

Factoid: The mirrors on the side of your car are effectively wide-angle lenses. This is why they come with the disclaimer that "objects may be closer than they appear."

On the other side of the spectrum, we have telephoto lenses. Using a telephoto lens, we can fill the frame with a distant subject, effectively isolating it from neighboring objects that might cause distraction in the composition. 

Some people mistakenly refer to telephoto lenses as "zoom" lenses, i.e. lenses that let them  "zoom in" on the distant subject. Some lenses do feature both "zoom" and telephoto capabilities.

The important distinction is that zoom lenses can vary their focal length continuously. The photographer can zoom from wide-angle to telephoto, or from short telephoto to long telephoto. 

But many telephoto lenses - especially those used by professionals (at sporting events, for instance) - have no zoom capability. They are built to provide a single telephoto perspective. They still magnify and isolate distant subjects, but the magnification is not variable.

a photo of the statue of prometheus at rockefeller center by daniel south
Distant Subject Isolated With A Telephoto Lens (183mm)

Between the expansive distortion of wide-angle lenses and the isolating compression of telephoto sits an unassuming and poorly understood lens called the "normal" lens.

Normal lenses are so named because they produce the "normal" perspective of the human eye.

This description confused me when I began to study photography. Human beings see a wide angle of view, much wider than somewhat cropped angle of view of the normal lens. But "normal perspective" doesn't describe angle of view. I describes the relationship of near to far objects.

The flower photo above demonstrates the perspective distortion of wide-angle lenses. Notice how small the next flower pot looks (right side of the photo) compared to the frame-filling size of the flowers that are directly in front of the camera.

When we take a photo with a normal lens, distant objects aren't miniaturized so dramatically. The natural perspective of our eyes is maintained.

Across The Street - The Perspective of the Normal Lens

In the photo of two motor scooters parked across the street from one other, the red scooter is about as far away as the second flower pot in the wide-angle flower photo. Notice that it's size is not reduced to the same degree. 

(The only distortion that we notice is the blurring of the distant cycle, a creative option chosen at the time of exposure. With a different aperture setting or focus stacking, both scooters could easily have been rendered in focus.)

Some photographers avoid the normal lens. They prefer the drama of wide-angle lenses or the isolating compression of telephoto lenses. The normal lens is popular in documentary photography where realistic perspectives are valued, as well as in fine art photography, where shooters look for expressive ways of rendering their subjects. 

Images captured with a normal lens stand out in part because of the LACK of a dramatic perspective. With a normal lens, photographs have the option to frame their subjects in a clear, unadorned way that communicates directly and simply without reliance on special effects.

Cameras:    Canon EOS 5D Mark II, Nikon D810
Lenses:       Various

Wishing you great light and meaningful moments!

Copyright 2015 Daniel R. South
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Autumn Flowers

Before The Frost

We tend to think of Spring as the season for flowers, but some plants display brilliant color well into autumn.

Autumn Flowers

Focus stacking was applied to extend depth of field and show more of the flowers in focus.

Camera:    Nikon D810
Lens:        Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II

Wishing you great light and meaningful moments!

Copyright 2015 Daniel R. South
All Rights Reserved

Friday, October 2, 2015

Are You Serious?

Finding Words to Explain the Inexplicable

Someone asked me today whether I was a serious photographer. 

Well, he didn't exactly ask. He presented me with an observation. 

"I feel that you're more serious about your music than you are about your photography.

I was at a loss for words. How do you respond to something like that? 

I've devoted a great deal of time and effort to both my music and my photography. I can't say that I prefer one over the other. They're both integral parts of my life, parallel channels of creative expression. 

But the observation caught me by surprise, and I struggled to put my thoughts into words. In particular, I found myself wrestling with the meaning of the word "serious."

a photo of a truck and filling station in the bodie ghost town
Truck and Filling Station - Bodie, California

Serious can mean consequential

"A serious accident left three people in serious condition."

I don't drag my camera into war zones or violent protests. I don't document crime scenes or ecological disasters. No one is going to be liberated from prison based on one of my photos.

I focus primarily on aesthetics. My photographs are designed to be enjoyable. They may be beautiful, memorable, or humorous, but they're not consequential.

Serious can also mean influential.

"Gustav is a serious artist. His work is taken seriously by serious collectors because it communicates serious themes."

My work isn't well-known or highly-regarded, and even if it were, I wouldn't recommend imitating it. Artists need to learn to trust their own instincts and tastes and vision, and they need to learn this early in the game. So seriously (ahem), I believe that we can neglect this meaning of the word.  

a photo of a Crescent Moon Setting Over a Bristlecone Pine
Crescent Moon Setting Over Bristlecone Pine

I'll tell you what I do take seriously. I'm serious about producing photographs in a variety of conditions. I've worked hard to develop skills that enable me to capture photographs at a certain level of technical and aesthetic quality. Every year, I push myself to learn a bit more, because there's always more to learn. 

And because you can get better if you continue to work at it. 

And because when the moment presents itself, I want to nail the shot. I don't want to come up empty because I was unprepared to make the most of the situation.

That's where I'm serious - in my photography, in my music, and in other pursuits. I'm serious about being able to turn what I have imagined into reality. You can't do that without putting in some serious time and effort.

I finally told my friend that I don't know whether to think of myself as serious or not. I just make photographs. I just put time into building my portfolio and developing my skills as I go along.

And here's one more important thought. Never take yourself too seriously. You need to keep growing. You need to keep working hard. The minute that you start thinking of yourself as a success, you'll be tempted to slow down and coast on your past glories. 

Don't let that happen.

Stay humble. Stay hungry. Stay focused. Stay driven. Because that's what it means to be serious.

Camera:    Nikon D800
Lens:        Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED

Wishing you great light and meaningful moments!

Copyright 2015 Daniel R. South
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Along The Road

Unexpected Opportunities

National parks, thriving cities, architectural marvels. We love to visit these visually remarkable places. They offer extensive photographic opportunities. If we travel to Grand Canyon or Yosemite, Paris or San Francisco, Alaska or the Serengeti, we expect to come home with a gallery of amazing images.

But we live on a big, beautiful planet. Celebrated destinations don't hold a monopoly on scenic wonders. 

Breathtaking vistas are everywhere. We might notice something extraordinary when we're simply driving down the road.  

a photo of wildflowers in the sierra nevada mountains california
Along The Road - Eastern Sierra Region

When we see a beautiful view as we drive along the road, it's natural to want to pull over and take a photo. Just be careful. Safety is always the first priority. No photograph is worth risking serious injury. 

Never put yourself or your family in danger by diverting attention from your driving, or by parking in or shooting from a dangerous location.

But when it is feasible to stop your car safely, to park it in a location where other drivers aren't likely to collide with it, and to operate your camera safely away from hazards such as traffic and cliffs, you might just capture a roadside vista to remember.

Your "along the road" photos offer two distinct advantages over the oft-photographed view of big cities and national parks. 

Firstly, your photos will be more distinctive and personal. Rather than photographing the same scenes that everyone else has snapped (and published), you are creating a portfolio that reflects your own personality and tastes.

Secondly, you stand a better chance of optimizing the quality of light. Keep watching. When the light hints that it might take on a magical quality, you can shoot in that moment, in the place where you are, rather than racing to some pre-decided destination.

Will the photos work out every time? No, of course not. Some locations might be obscured by power lines or other features that you can't control. Or when the light looks interesting, you might find yourself in a place where it's too dangerous to park. 

Don't worry about missed opportunities. There are lots of frustrating days in the life of a photographer. The important thing is to keep yourself open to possibilities no matter where you are. Over time, you'll get better at recognizing those opportunities, at capturing the magic wherever you happen to be.

Camera:    Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Lens:        Canon TS-E24mm f/3.5L II 

Wishing you great light and meaningful moments!

Copyright 2015 Daniel R. South
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Creative License in Black and White

Fact or Fiction

Black and White photography imposes successive distortions on the natural world. First, we compress three dimensions into two. Then we convert all of the colors into shades of gray.

This photograph utilizes a third level of distortion, the compression of time. I left the camera's shutter open for several seconds in order to render the moving water in a dreamlike blur.

a photo in black and white of ocean waves passing over rocks

It's tempting to think of photographs as accurate depictions of what was visible at a given place and time. We rely on photographs to document important events and occasions. Most people wouldn't think of traveling without a camera and snapping happy memories along the way.

But cameras can alter the appearance of reality in extreme ways. The water that I photographed wasn't gray. The water was blue, and the weather was clear and pleasant. My eyes didn't see a misty blur. Rather, I saw a succession of individual waves. What you see in this photograph looks very different than what I saw while I was standing there creating it.

Photographs aren't always documentaries. Sometimes they are works of fiction. Photographers use the tools of their craft to create moods, imply drama, and inspire an emotional response. 

I could have created a photograph of blue water with well-defined waves, and I'm sure that it would have been appealing. But I wanted to express something different with this photograph, a sense of mystery and adventure. I hope that you'll enjoy this experiment in creative license.

Camera:    Nikon D810

Lens:        Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II

Wishing you great light and meaningful moments!

Copyright 2015 Daniel R. South
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Misty Pacific Sunrise

Photography And The Folly Of Expectation

It was a dull, gray, misty morning. I was thinking that I should have stayed in bed. And then this happened.

a photo of the misty big sur coast at sunrise
Misty Sunrise - Big Sur Coast

Camera:    Nikon D810
Lens:        Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED

Wishing you great light and meaningful moments!

Copyright 2015 Daniel R. South
All Rights Reserved

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Mermaid Dress

Making A Statement

Wow! What an outfit! 

It must have been difficult to walk in that fancy dress.

a photo of a lady in a mermaid dress in new york city
Mermaid Dress

I like the expressions on the faces of the people crossing the street.

Do you suppose that this lady realized that her dress would be dirty by the time that she arrived at the event?

Perhaps no one will notice. They'll all be hypnotized by the headpiece.

Camera:    Nikon D800E
Lens:        Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II

Wishing you great light and meaningful moments!

Copyright 2015 Daniel R. South
All Rights Reserved

Saturday, April 11, 2015

My Favorite Sunrise

Magic On The San Mateo Coast

I have been photographing the Pigeon Point Lighthouse for many years. It's a magnificent structure, tall, well-maintained, and painted in bold white. It's brilliantly situated, towering over an unspoiled coastline of wildflowers, dark sand, and jagged rocks. 

a photo of the lighthouse at pigeon point california at sunrise
Pigeon Point Sunrise

But the most fascinating feature of the San Mateo coast is the light that shows up here at certain times of the year and certain times of the day. Granted, I've been here when the light wasn't particularly appealing. We can't expect magic to happen all the time; otherwise, it wouldn't seem like magic.

But on days when that very special light reveals itself, it's breathtaking. And it can make for a pretty nice photograph if you happen to be standing around with a camera in your hands.

This is my favorite sunrise photo of all time. Thank you, Pigeon Point! Thank you, San Mateo Coast!

Camera:    Nikon D810

Lens:        Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED

Wishing you great light and meaningful moments!

Copyright 2015 Daniel R. South
All Rights Reserved