Tower Rock, Full Moon and HDR

Tower Rock full moon 07-22-2013 7300-7302_HDR2Warning: photo geek stuff to follow. If you’d rather just look at pictures of Tower Rock and the Mississippi River under the full moon, click them to make them larger.

I grew up doing Plain Jane photography. All I had to think about  was film type (color or black and white), film speed, shutter speed, aperture and focal length of the lens. Color / black and white was easy: until I got to The Palm Beach Post, all my work photography was black and white.

I almost always used Kodak Tri-X film for everything except available dark photography, where I experimented with all kinds of exotic film and developer combinations to be able to shoot where you could barely see.

Film speed and f/stops determined how much light hit the film. If you wanted to stop action, you’d use a fast shutter speed and a wide lens opening. If you wanted lots of stuff sharp, you’d stop down the lens and be forced to use a slower shutter. It’s all about math.

Lens choices were equally easy: want to get lots of stuff in, use a wide angle; want to shoot something a long way off, grab a telephoto.

Menus have menu menus

My new Nikon D7000 has more menus than a classy restaurant. (If you have a hankering to own one, click on the link and I’ll get a piece of the action from Amazon.) The submenus have submenus, most of which I have never explored. The other night, though, I ventured into the unknown. If I have time, I usually bracket my exposures: in other words, I shoot one at what the camera or I think is right, then I go an interval above and below that exposure in case the camera or I have made a bad first choice. I print or publish the one with the best action, composition, sharpness and/or exposure.

The  problem is that film, paper and sensors don’t have the range of the human eye. We can usually see detail in dark areas and bright areas at the same time. Cameras can’t – or couldn’t.

Enter HDR

Tower Rock 07-22-2013 7378-7380_HDR2There’s magic in those menus. I opted to enter the land of High-Dynamic-Range imaging, better known as HDR. It shoots those same bracketed images, then allows them to be reassembled into one picture. To be honest, I’ve avoided fooling with it because too many people use it to create what we called in school “technically dominated art shots.” Pictures, in other words, where how you did it becomes more important than the content of the photo.

Just because it’s magic doesn’t mean that it’s always GOOD magic. The photo immediately above looks like it could have been shot during the day. It saved too much ambient light. It was taken at 9:40 p.m. when I had to boost the ISO from 200 to 1000. The three exposures for this shot were 13 seconds, 6 seconds and 25 seconds. All were at f/5. I told the camera to overexpose the image by about 4 times because the meter was sensing all the lights from the shore and the reflections of the water and stopping down.

The photo at the top of the page was taken at 9:04 p.m. when I had the ISO set to 200. The exposures were 13 seconds, six seconds and 25 seconds @ f/3.5. I told the camera to overexpose by a factor of 1.33. The colored blur is a barge making its way upstream.

Old ways sometimes better

Tower Rock whirlpool full moon 07-22-2013_7338Because HDR merges photos taken slight intervals apart, sometimes you lose nice detail that is moving. This single frame shows the whirlpool south of Tower Rock starting to form. You can just barely make out the swirl. I zoomed to 55mm and set the ISO to 200. The exposure was 15 seconds @f/4. I overexposed by two stops.

Boat with HDR

Full moon off Tower Rock 07-22-2013 7372-7374_HDR2I’m not overly excited by this HDR shot of a towboat that conveniently paused across from us for some time.

Boat without HDR

Tow off Tower Rock full moon 07-22-2013_7374This is a single frame from the sequence that made up the vertical photo above. I cropped it tighter (just a little bit too tight at the top) and turned it into a horizontal. I find the moon less interesting than the idea of a pilot feeling his way up the Mississippi like pilots have been doing since the days when travelers were first devoured by the demons inhabiting Tower Rock.

Now that I’ve been exposed to HDR, I’ll use it like a torque wrench: something nice to have, but not a tool I grab every day.

Drops of Rain

Rain Art 04-13-1967 16I had four situations on a roll of film: the St. Charles Hotel, the Indpendence traffic jam, the actual assignment (I’ll publish it later) and this random shot of rain drops.

I probably shot the assignment at the airport, then cruised around looking for stuff to burn up the rest of the roll.

There were four frames of the raindrops, but I like this one with a drop making its escape at the bottom the best.

The key to shooting something like this is to shoot so that only the important part of the photo is sharp. I probably used a 105mm or 200mm telephoto set at a wide aperture so there would be very little depth of field – in other words only a little of the frame would be sharp.

Through a screen fuzzily

Rain Art 04-13-1967 18This looks like it was shot though the screen on our side porch. It’s interesting, but not interesting enough that I was going to spend much time spotting out some ugly scratches at the bottom.

Nikon D7000

I got a box in the mail Tuesday with a shiny Nikon D7000 in it. I mentioned that my Nikon D3100 started hiccuping on my way back from Cape in March. I thought it might have gotten a bit sticky from experiencing cold weather. It turned out that a piece had been rattling around for almost a year after I crashed on my bike. It’s been out of service for a couple of weeks and a couple of hundred bucks.

(By the way, if you are interested in buying those cameras, click on the links and I’ll get a piece of the action to help pay for MY camera. Also BTW, the first link to the Nikon D7000 is for a body by itself. If you want the basic Nikkor 18-55mm lens with it, you’d go here.)

It dawned on me that had it crapped out at the beginning of the trip instead of the end, I’d have been in a lot of trouble. That gave me an excuse to buy a second, much improved camera body. That will also mean I don’t have to switch lenses when I use the 55-200mm lens birthday present the boys bought me.

The only thing is that I’ve had it almost 12 hours and I haven’t had the nerve to so much as put the camera strap on it. The operating manual is about as thick as War and Peace and just about as easy to understand as the Russian language version of the book.

I long for the days when I could eyeball the exposure, focus on what was important and change the shutter speeds and f/stops by feel. The camera shouldn’t be smarter than the photographer.

Wow, half a century

First Missourian picture 04-18-63I was talking with the Athens County Historical Society Museum curator Jessica Cyders this morning. She was putting together a bio for an upcoming exhibit and wanted to know when I got into the newspaper business. “April 17 – HEY! That’s today – 1963. I was 16 and didn’t even have my driver’s license when my first picture appeared on the front page of The Missourian.” Today would have been my Dad’s birthday, too. He would have been 96, which puts him on the verge of being old.”