Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Photographing Sunsets From The Highway

Somewhere In Arizona

It's a stressful feeling.  You're traveling, you've fallen a bit behind schedule, and you're facing a long road ahead.  There's no time for distractions or unscheduled stops.  You have to keep going no matter what.

On a recent trip to the southwest, I made the eight-hour drive from Death Valley to Grand Canyon in one shot.  Half of the drive was at higher altitudes where elk are prevalent.  Elk can be very hazardous to vehicles - large, slow moving, and practically invisible at night.  I didn't want to be on the road long after dark.

As sunset approached I donned my proverbial blinders and told myself not to pull over.  Ignore those golden skies, those lovely pink and purple clouds.  Pedal to the metal!  We have to stay on schedule.

The light show had almost passed when I spotted bands of pink and red above a solitary peak to the southwest.  "It would make a nice picture," I thought.  Okay, maybe I did have a few minutes to spare after all.

a photograph of a mountain sunset in arizona
Somewhere In Arizona Where I Happened To Be When The Sun Went Down
Copyright © 2012 Daniel R. South

I looked for a place to pull over, but it was difficult to see the roadside in the dimming light.  I spotted a small driveway with a gate for access to some ranch land.  I checked traffic and pulled over carefully onto loose gravel.

I grabbed my camera bag from the floor of the back seat.  The color in the sky was fading, but before I could compose a shot I would need to figure out how to avoid power lines that stretched in both directions.  A fence prevented me from entering the ranch land to walk past them.  Not to mention the possibility of snakes.

To get any kind of shot at all, I would have to shoot up over the power lines.  I attached a telephoto lens to help eliminate the foreground.  I composed and focused quickly on the peak of the mountain.  I grabbed the first shot; the exposure was accurate, but something didn't feel right.

A nagging voice in my head told me to double-check the focus.  Sure enough, it had shifted a bit.  A gust of wind or my own fingers might have moved the lens slightly.  The first shot wasn't sharp.

Mountaintop Detail

I pulled out my trusty reading glasses and refocused carefully on the transition line between mountain and sky.  I was able to squeeze off just four more exposures before the color faded away.  I tossed my gear in the car and pulled out carefully onto the highway.  Whatever was in the bag would have to be good enough.  I couldn't verify sharpness effectively on the LCD screen, but I was cautiously optimistic.  I had the feeling that I get when I nail the shot, and it put me in a good mood for the rest of the drive.

Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Lens: 70-200 f/4L IS

Light happens.  Be ready.  Shoot hard.

Copyright © 2012 Daniel R. South
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Street Portraits - Part I

Photographing People Where And As They Are

We've all had portraits taken by a photographer - yearbook photos, family photos and engagement announcements, as well as official portraits for our businesses and social organizations. These photos are typically taken indoors, either in a studio or in a place where the photographer can control lighting conditions and have access to equipment that's not necessarily portable.

But portraits can be taken anywhere - in people's offices, in their homes, even out in the open. With an understanding of natural light, a decent camera, and a willingness to establish rapport with our subjects, we can capture impromptu portraits in public places.

a photo of Jazz Guitarist Robert Conton in New York
Jazz Guitarist Robert Conton in New York

I photographed jazz guitarist Robert Conton outside of a music store in New York City. Robert had just purchased this beautiful guitar and was playing gorgeous jazz chord progressions as I walked by. - Yes, it really is a good idea to keep your camera with you at all times.  

a photo of a jazz guitarists playing on the street in new york

I asked Robert if I could snap a couple of photos as he played, and he agreed graciously. [I wish that I had thought to capture a bit of video.]  I lowered the lens to the level of his hands and strings to avoid capturing my own reflection in the store window. The low angle gave the images an intimate look. It's as though Robert is playing his music for the viewer.

There are advantages to environmental portraiture that cannot be replicated in a studio setting. We can capture our subjects immediately, as they might not be available at a later time. Secondly, and we can use anything in public view to add context to the image.

I spotted this uniquely dressed young tourist and asked whether she would consider posing for a photo near the Tiffany's sign. I felt that the juxtaposition would accentuate the young lady's sense of fashion and style.  

a photo of a stylish young woman posing in front of tiffany's new york store
Fashion At Tiffany's

Concerned guardians dashed over to the rescue. The girl explained the situation to them in French. I asked again, this time in French, whether the young lady could pose for a photo by the sign. 

The young woman seemed puzzled and asked why I wanted to take her picture. I said that I liked her outfit and her hat. She smiled and agreed to pose. I made two quick exposures and sent the lady and her family off on their sightseeing adventures.

I spotted these workmen as they were taking an afternoon break. They appeared to be union men, electricians possibly, not the kind of guys who are asked to have their picture taken very often. 

I crossed the street, approached them and asked if they'd mind if I took a photo. To my surprise, they were relaxed and receptive to the idea. I asked them not to pose, but to stand as they had been standing before I approached them.

a photo of workmen on break in new york city
Workmen On Break - New York City

I waited for traffic to clear and dashed back across the street. I grabbed a quit shot and gave the guys a thumbs up. I crossed back over and showed them the image. They seemed to be impress and they asked for a URL where they could download the image.

I appreciate the image of the workmen. It captures a genuine blue collar essence, a portrait of men who work hard jobs with pride and a dedication to taking care of their families. You feel as though you could hang out with these fellows and have a fun conversation about the sports, politics, or life in general.

I doubt that I could have captured such a relaxed shot if I hadn't asked for permission in advance. I might have met with some resistance, or at least reluctance. As it turned out, everyone came away from the experience satisfied. Thanks again, guys!

The image that follows is one of my very favorite photographs. This shot was taken at one o'clock in the afternoon in harsh, brutal sunlight. Normally, this would be horrible lighting for portraiture. But notice the amazing glow on the woman's face. When I saw that light, I literally froze in my tracks. I knew that I had to get the shot.

a photo of an attractive young woman reading a book in the sunshine in new york
The Reader

Let's talk about the gorgeous light on young woman's face and upper torso. It's warm and soft, perfect for flattering a beautiful woman's features. The light source could not have been more simple. The pages of the book reflected sunlight upward and filled in areas that would have been dominated by shadow. This reflected light contributed so much to the look of the photograph, and it was free and freely available.

The young lady was suspicious when I approached her. I explained to her that I liked the way that the light was hitting her face. She seemed somewhat annoyed but she let me proceed. I grabbed a couple of shots, thanked her, and left promptly. I'm thankful that she agreed to be photographed, albeit reluctantly, because the result is absolutely magical.

Portraits can be taken anywhere. It's wise to avoid people who look tense, aggravated, or seem to be in a hurry, but in my experience, just about anyone else will be flattered to pose for a photo. I hope that if I see you on the street sometime, you'll let me take your picture. And you can take mine. We'll both walk away with some fun images and an experience to remember.

Light happens.  Be ready.  Shoot hard.

Copyright © 2012 Daniel R. South
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Photographing Occupy Wall Street

The Luxury Of A Cooperating Subject

Want a glimpse into a photographer's dream?  How about a newsworthy and photogenic subject that seeks publicity?

When the Occupy Wall Street movement spent the Autumn of 2011 camping out in Lower Manhattan, I grabbed my camera and headed toward the sound of banging drums.

a photo of a drummer with occupy wall street in new york city

Photographs containing people demand our attention in unique and compelling ways.  Photographers often seek out 'the human element' to add appeal and a sense of scale to their images.

Unfortunately, suspicion of photographers is common and in some cases, well deserved.  Why are you taking my picture and what are you going to do with it?

Typically, I try to get someone's permission before photographing them.  This prevents misunderstandings and gives the person a chance to contribute to the final image.  Cooperation doesn't hinder photographic opportunities; it builds trust and opens doors.

But introductions weren't necessary at Zuccotti Park.  No one there was camera shy.

On the contrary, when someone risks life and limb to promote a message, every camera becomes an ally.

a photograph of an occupy wall street fracking demonstrator in a gas mask

The OWS protestors posed enthusiastically day after day in spite of the chilly air and the formidable police presence assembling just a few feet away.

I admired their commitment, and after a while, I found myself taking some of their messages literally.

a photo of an occupy wall street sign that says your camera is a weapon

a photo of an occupy wall street sign that reads treason and wall street
I did my best to suspend judgment even when the rhetoric seemed a bit over the top.

After all, I wasn't the one who spent freezing nights sleeping in a tent pitched on concrete.

a photo of the occupy wall street encampment at zuccatti park in new york

Passersby converted muscle power into electricity.

a photo of people generating power with bicycles at the occupy wall street encampment

a sign about bicycle power generation at the occupy wall street camp at zuccatti park

Protestors of all shapes and sizes participated in the event.

a photograph of a baby at the occupy wall street encampment in new york

Some stayed for a day or two, while others stuck it out for the long haul.

a photo of an occupy wall street demonstrator in new york

My objective was only to capture a moment in time.  Their moment - and our moment - in an interesting time.

a photo of occupy wall street demonstrators holding signs at zuccatti park in new york

Camera: Canon 5D Mark II
Lenses: 24-105 f/4L IS, 70-200 f/4L IS, 16-35 f/2.8L II

Note: Many of these photographs were taken at high ISO values (800, 1600, and 3200) in order to freeze motion in a limited amount of light.  The technology to capture low-light images with this much detail and without the use of flash has existed for only a few years.  Amazing!

Light happens.  Be ready.  Shoot hard.

Copyright © 2012 Daniel R. South
All Rights Reserved