Gloomy Nights, and an Invaluable Guide

The last couple of nights have been uneventful. I didn't check the weather last night, and when I got out to the Pali Lookout it was just too cloudy for any amount of light. I couldn't even shoot star trails! I was so disappointed because I stayed up late in the night just for this. Not a minute after I got out of the car, the clouds began to let loose a downpour. I decided to forego the horrendous shooting conditions and wait until tonight. Well, as luck would have it, the weather wasn't much better tonight. No rain down in my neighborhood, but if it's cloudy here it's raining on the mountains. At least I was smart enough to check the weather before I went out!

Okay, on a lighter note...

I have drawn immense inspiration and have learned a great deal from The Complete Guide to Night and Low-Light Photography, a book that really gets into the basics of night exposure, gives lots of great examples, and really is a valuable asset to a photographer of any level. I bring it up because over the last few nights of shooting I have really been referencing this book frequently. I just want to point it out for anyone who's looking for a good night photography book.

Not just an image recorder, but a conversation piece too!

Yesterday morning after taking some pre-dawn pictures, I decided to go down to Waikiki Beach and do some sunrise shots there. There is a bridge that passes over the Ala Wai Canal, and as I drove over this bridge the view was beautiful. I pulled over at the nearest street and set up there on the side of the bridge.

I fired off a few shots before a guy walked past me, turned around, and introduced himself. He asked me about my shooting--if I did it often, what I liked doing, and then he started talking about how great of a scene we were at. I agreed, watching the deep red morning sun rays disappearing and thinking to myself that I wished he'd keep moving so I could get back to shooting.

It was then that I realized, how selfish of me! So what if I missed it? There's always tomorrow. So this guy and I talked for another 45 minutes or so. Turns out he's in the Army. We chatted about random military stuff and world events, and I enjoyed his company. It's a nice change from feeling completely alone and vulnerable on a pitch black night at 3am, something I've been doing frequently the past few days. (See my last couple of posts and you'll understand why.)

In the meantime, there were several people crossing the bridge who in passing commented on the nice camera rig I had. There was one guy who said, "I bet you get some pretty nice shots with that thing!" Well, yes, I can get good shots with just about any camera. As he rode off I thought to myself that I wouldn't look at a Picasso and say, "I bet he had really great brushes."

I was approached by one man on a bicycle who seemed to be in an intense hurry. He asked if I lived around here, and if I had a card or a phone number. What a day to not pack my business cards! As I was writing down my phone number for him, he showed me a photo of the kinds of photographs he would need done. Some basic commercial product shots. Okay, cool, I thought, I just landed a job standing here on a bridge. I have yet to hear back from him, so I'll see what comes of that. But I definitely have my business cards in my gear bag now!

I made an important observation this morning. First, a camera in public seems to be less intimidating than I thought. I have shyed away from photographing the general public because I let myself believe that everyone hates having some guy walking up and shoving a camera in their face. (Sure, the world has its share of perverts, so it's understandable that people would be cautious. That's why I absolutely do not photograph children whose parents I don't know or have permission from.) I don't think that's the case at all, though; a lot of people I saw yesterday morning were intrigued by the camera and, had I asked them, probably would have let me shoot them. Sometimes I'm squeamish about asking people, especially those who "no-speaka-Engrish." Maybe I should just try asking more people. Try handing out business cards before I shoot. I really want to include people in my images, and I guess that's the only route: go for it.

Back to my point of this post: Cameras are conversation pieces. And in a market where word of mouth is invaluable, I feel good that I made a few friends (and a possible client) yesterday.

Do you shoot a lot of people images? How do you approach someone in public for a shot? Let me know!

Painting With Light

I came across a very unique photographer last night-- -- and this guy's work is just amazing. He only shoots under the full moon, and while taking long exposures of around five minutes, he walks around and paints the scene with various colored lights and strobes. The images are just stunning!

So, naturally, I was inspired to try and do the same. I went out to the Nu'uanu Pali Lookout, a popular tourist spot by day, at about 4am this morning to try my hand at painting with light. Now, some of you may know that when shooting long exposures, it's perfectly fine to walk through the scene as long as you keep moving, and your figure won't show up in the shot. However, when you're firing off a hand-held flash, it most certainly will include some part of you in the shot. For example, if you fire a flash into the background while standing between it and the camera, your silhouette will show up. Also, firing toward the camera will result in a bright spot in the shot.

I found out that this dilemma makes for a particularly difficult shot!

The camera settings for this shot were 300sec @ f8, 20mm, ISO100 on a Canon 20D. I fired off my flash (a Canon Speedlite 430EX) around ten times. The colors were achieved by using 5"x6" plastic filter sheets that came with a cheap strobe light I bought at a novelty store.

You can see me at several points in the image, stating the obvious that I should probably practice this a little more! However, the background exposure came out just right and the flash lit up everything nicely even at ISO100. I think I may want to use ½ power flash or even ¼ power next time to get more even lighting and not light up my body as much. You can also see on the lookout sign where I used a handheld white LED flashlight to trace the lettering, and I think the light was a little too powerful. Having said all that, I present my first attempt at night painting:

My second attempt was not as detailed as this shot, but I managed to keep myself far enough away from the subject to crop out. I metered on the sky for the exposure and fired one flash on each side of the lamp.

So, what do you think? Have you done this before? Let me know how I can do it better next time! I have to say this was a particularly fun project to try, and I plan on shooting more shots like these in the future.

This morning's lessons

First, let me summarize my goals for this week:

  • Fine-tune my metering & exposure skills and techniques.
  • Night photography, night shots, and more night shooting. Practice long exposures.

Last night, after perusing various forums and sites on astrophotography, I decided to try it myself. Result: I learned something. I won't say I failed even though I didn't get a single decent image, but I found several ways how not to shoot constellations. Observe how not to shoot:

I suppose I need a slightly faster ISO. My aperture was wide open. Also, I don't think the sunlight had the effect I was looking for...too wide of a tonal range to capture.

Camera metering has always been a nebulous subject for me. I know the basics, like overexposing for brighter objects and underexposing for darker objects since a camera meter "sees" 18% gray. Understood. I have a habit of going too far though, I think. This image is one of many that came out completely underexposed:

Now, the sky is exposed just as I wanted it to be, but the ground is far too dark. Boosting the levels will get it close, but not without sacrificing image quality:

The problem is that I'm trying to shoot a tonal range too wide for my digital camera's sensor. Maybe showing up earlier when the light was still faint would have been the optimal choice. I could have opted for a longer exposure, but I liked the sky how it is in the first image.

Even after the sun came up I ran into problems.

So what's the nugget of knowledge I take from this, you ask?

Neutral density filters are a must during sunrise/sunset shots when I'm shooting for this kind of image. From now on I will shoot with a strong (at least 2 stops) neutral density filter before the sun comes up, and a circular polarizer afterwards.


Hello friends,

At the moment I am at a self-realization: I am an amateur photographer, and I want to be a pro.

I have sold many prints, mostly locally; but I am not a professional yet.

Thus begins my journey--and this account of my endeavors--to become a professional photographer. Please join me and follow along as I grow in my experience of photography.