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Something Borrowed; Something Blue . . .

Bay Bridge in morning Twilight Copyright  2014  Andy Richards

Bay Bridge in morning Twilight
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

I  am not getting married (my wife will be relieved to know).  And I didn’t borrow anything. I rarely do (my grandpa was a fan of Ben Franklin’s old saying, “neither a borrower nor a lender be …..”, and it made a lifelong impression on me – it seems borrowed things rarely get returned :-) ). But the remainder of the traditional nuptial utterance probably does apply.

The opening image was made during my recent trip to California in October of 2014. The image is very blue. And it’s new. My very first visit to California was to the San Francisco Bay area in October, 2011. Finding San Francisco a photographer’s wonderland, I was especially enchanted by the Bay Bridge. And since I stayed very near it, I visited it on several twilight mornings. In fact, my favorite take-away from that trip was this twilight image of her. So it qualifies as “something old.” The opening image is “new.” Both are “blue.”

San Francisco Bay Bridge  copyright 2011  Andy Richards

San Francisco Bay Bridge copyright 2011 Andy Richards

Of course, it is The Golden Gate Bridge that is the iconic shot of San Francisco. It is magnificently impressive, uniquely colored, and grandiose in its setting. Spanning the “golden gate,” entrance from the Pacific Ocean into San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate can be photographed from all 4 cardinal points of the compass (and gradients in between), from the “reach out and touch it” shots from the Marin Headlands to the Northwest of the span, to the beaches below the bridge with grand landscape in the foreground and background. When I look at my image files, my takes of the Golden Gate Bridge outnumber my takes of the Bay Bridge at least 3 to 1.

Bay Bridge; San Francisco, CA Copyright  2014  Andy Richards

Bay Bridge; San Francisco, CA
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

And still, I come back to the Bay Bridge images (and to the bridge itself) every time. On 2 of three trips I spent 2-3 mornings hanging around the bridge watching and waiting for light and images for several hours. It has a draw that is hard to explain, but easy, in my view, to illustrate in imagery. It isn’t the “knock your socks off” kind of imagery that you see of the Golden Gate. Its more subtle …… but very beautiful, and very stately.  I have photographed one view or another of the Bay Bridge during every trip I have made to the area.

Bay Bridge; San Francisco, CA Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Bay Bridge; San Francisco, CA
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

More or less at the Southern start of the well-known Embarcadero, the Bay Bridge is ever present. At the end of Harrison Street and on the East side of the Embarcadero, at the base of the span, the bridge is looming and intimidating. As you move away, it becomes an element of background in almost every view of the city from (and often toward) the East side. Intrigued by its “anchor” characteristic, I made a number of images in and around the bridge.

Bay Bridge; San Francisco, CA Copyright  2014  Andy Richards

Bay Bridge; San Francisco, CA
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

The “new” image had some significance to me, because I noted with interest in 2013, that the bridge authority strung completely new lighting on the bridge structure. Having noted that, a “re-take” made it on to my bucket list.

Bay Bridge from Yerba Buena Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Bay Bridge from Yerba Buena
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Another California Fall Trip

AT&T Park; San Francisco, CA Copyright  2014  Andy Richards

AT&T Park; San Francisco, CA
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

My first ever visit to California was in October of 2011, when we spent a week in the San Francisco Bay area. I fell in love with the city, and particularly, the two bridges that border it on the Northwest and the Southeast. But everywhere in between, is a photographer’s paradise. There are subjects for landscape shooters and travel and street photographers alike. There is plenty of “fodder,” both in daylight and at night.

Lombard Street; San Francisco, CA Copyright  2014  Andy Richards

Lombard Street; San Francisco, CA
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

In 2013, we were again, very briefly in San Francisco, for 2 days, bookending a 3 day wine-tasting trip with some friends from the Obrien Estate Wine Club in Napa. I didn’t have much chance to shoot on that trip, but did get a grey/cloudy day shot of one of my favorite San Francisco subjects, the Bay Bridge, connecting Oakland and San Francisco.

China Town;  San Francisco Copyright  2014  Andy Richards

China Town; San Francisco
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

So I looked forward to our long weekend trip to San Francisco again this October (2014). We stayed right downtown in SOMA (South of Market Street), and I was, once again, within a 10 minute walk from the Embarcadero and the Bay Bridge, the downtown Financial District, and Chinatown. I am a relatively early riser, and with the 3 hour time differential, was once again, up and on the street before first light, each morning.

City Lights Bookstore San Francisco, CA Copyright  2014  Andy Richards

City Lights Bookstore
San Francisco, CA
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Since my first trip in 2011, I had a few images on my “bucket list.” I had come home satisfied and with some nice images, I left a couple out there. Most notably, I have wanted to photograph the iconic row houses on Alamo Square; “The Painted Ladies.” Even though this is a proverbial “post card” shot, I still wanted to shoot it. I was able to get there on a sunny afternoon, probably too early for the very best light. But with the able assistance of NIK Viveza, I was able to salvage a decent shot of this subject.

Alamo Square Row Houses Copyright  2014  Andy Richards

Alamo Square Row Houses
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Another place I wanted to see and photograph was the famous Lombard Street, the so-called world’s most crooked street. In reality, it is a switchback cobblestone street down a steep hill. One morning, I made the 35 minute walk from my hotel to the base of the street. The last block was an almost vertical climb up a street. Every time I visit San Francisco, I marvel at the steep hillside streets, and wonder what it might be like if there were snow and ice there. As you can see from my image, there really is no conventional photograph from street level, here. I have been told that in order to capture this image, you need to get up into one of the upper stories of the homes lining this street. A friend did get a pretty cool image of tail light trails down this street one evening, however.

Lombard Street; San Francisco, CA Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Lombard Street; San Francisco, CA
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

I also was able to photograph the Palace of Fine Arts, which has some really nice architectural features.

Palace of Fine Arts San Francisco, CA Copyright  2014  Andy Richards

Palace of Fine Arts
San Francisco, CA
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

While walking around on the Embarcadero, I also wandered onto AT & T stadium, home of those “Tiger-tamers,” The San Francisco Giants. It’s an impressive stadium, right on San Francisco Bay.

AT&T Park; San Francisco, CA Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

AT&T Park; San Francisco, CA
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

On our last day, we traveled up to Tomales Bay in Marin County, and out to the Point Reyes Lighthouse, where in the space of about 12 miles, we drove from clear blue skies to totally fogged-in conditions. Unfortunately, there was no clear view of the Light. We finished up the day, though with a nice sunset on cliff above the Point Bonita Light, which guards the opening of the Golden Gate.

Point Bonita Lighthouse Marin Headlands, CA Copyright  2014  Andy Richards

Point Bonita Lighthouse
Marin Headlands, CA
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

My Eclectic Fall Color Shooting Season – Part III

Old Mission Peninsula Grand Traverse County, MI Copyright  2014  Andy Richards

Old Mission Peninsula
Grand Traverse County, MI
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

I grew up in Traverse City, which is the county seat of Grand Traverse County. Grand Traverse County is a geographically unique.  Using the “hand” comparison to the State of Michigan, Traverse City sits near the “little finger,” at the base of a narrow peninsula, which divides Traverse Bay into West Bay and East Bay. These long, narrow, North to South bays are part of Lake Michigan. Parts of Grand Traverse County skirt four different “Lake Michigan shorelines.” There are also many inland lakes in Northern Michigan and Grand Traverse County has its share of them.

Sunrise over East Bay Old Mission Peninsula Grand Traverse County, MI Copyright  2014  Andy Richards

Sunrise over East Bay
Old Mission Peninsula
Grand Traverse County, MI
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

But perhaps the most spectacular part of Grand Traverse County is the “Old Mission Peninsula.” There are 2 primary roads that go out almost to the Northern tip of the peninsula. Peninsula Drive skirts the West side of the peninsula and the Eastern Shore of West Bay. Center Road goes up the middle of the peninsula, mainly on a ridge, which provides views in many places, of either West or East Bay, and in some instances, both.  I photographed the sunrise, from nearly the same spot on Center Road, at nearly the same time, on both the West Bay and the East Bay.

Sunrise over West Bay Old Mission Peninsula Grand Traverse County, MI Copyright  2014  Andy Richards

Sunrise over West Bay
Old Mission Peninsula
Grand Traverse County, MI
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

There are some pretty spectacular views from Center Road; particularly at its highest point near the northernmost part of the peninsula, where Center Road and Peninsula Drive come together. There are points here where you have a panoramic view of both of the bays.

When I was growing up, the primary activity on the peninsula was fruit farming, with a major emphasis on tart cherries. There was a time when this area lead the world in tart cherry production. Traverse City took on the title, “Cherry Capital of the World,” and that has remained a claim even today. For example the Traverse Airport calls itself Cherry Capital Airport. For many reasons, the production of tart cherries is also being done in many other areas today and while there is still a significant cherry production in Grand Traverse County, it is neither the sole, nor largest, producer. Times change and today, the fruit production has been largely replaced by a number of large wineries. I read an article in a national wine publication a year or so back that opined that this area was poised to be the next “Napa.” Time will tell.  But it is certainly an area that has both the climate and the soil conditions for growing grapes for wine.  They have done a nice job with some of the white wines. I have heard in years past that the reds – not so much. But lately, I am being told that they are coming on with the reds. I prefer reds to whites, so bring them on!

Vineyard on Old Mission Peninsula; Grand Traverse County, MI Copyright  2014  Andy Richards

Vineyard on Old Mission Peninsula; Grand Traverse County, MI
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Off of Center Road, there are many turnoffs and secondary roads that bear exploring. As time goes on, perhaps I will return and find more to photograph.

Old Mission Peninsula Grand Traverse County, MI Copyright  2014  Andy Richards

Old Mission Peninsula
Grand Traverse County, MI
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Because of my trip to San Francisco (next week’s topic), I spent some fall foliage “prime time” in California (not known for fall foliage in the same way other parts of the U.S. might be) and my foliage shooting this year was catch as catch can, on a couple of quick weekend trips.  Nonetheless, I thought they were (no pun intended) “fruitful.”  Next year promises at least a short trip to Vermont.  This year, the leaves are off and I will look forward to perhaps some winter scenery shooting.

My Eclectic Fall Color Shooting Season – Part II

 

D.H. Day Barn Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore; Glen Haven, MI Copyright  2014  Andy Richards

D.H. Day Barn
Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore; Glen Haven, MI
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

For most venues in the Northern part of our country, “peak” color and the best shooting for fall foliage usually happens within a window from about the last week of September until the second week of October. Some Western areas (like Alaska) happen sooner than that. But there are a couple spots in the country that, because of their unique micro climate, “happen” later. One of those areas is in Northern Lower Michigan, in 2 counties which are influenced by Lake Michigan; Leelanau and Grand Traverse Counties. So-called “peak” for these counties really should be about October 15. I think it hit dead on this year.

D.H. Day Barn Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore; Glen Haven, MI Copyright  2014  Andy Richards

D.H. Day Barn
Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore; Glen Haven, MI
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

I grew up in Traverse City and lived there from the age of about 6 until my 1975 graduation from High School — and then off and on over a couple years while I was in college.  So there is some irony in the fact that I have never spent any significant time photographing there.  After this weekend, I realize I should probably spend more time exploring the area.  Saturday and Sunday (October 18 and 19) and in my estimation, we were in “peak” to just past peak foliage conditions, with a brisk wind, aiding the “past” characterization. Leelanau is kind of surrounded by Lake Michigan and small bays that are part of that “freshwater ocean.” Traverse City features the unique, “Old Mission Peninsula” which is surrounded by two long, narrow bays that extend well south of the main body of Lake Michigan. They have a tempering influence that insures later color change (they also have a unique climate and soil set that mimics the Napa Valley in California and is, today, becoming the next “Napa” in the winemaking industry. For many years fruit farms were abundant and tart cherries were a huge product of that peninsula. Indeed, during my youth, Traverse City boasted itself – rightfully so — as being “The Cherry Capital of the World”).

Crystal River Glen Arbor, MI Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Crystal River
Glen Arbor, MI
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

On Saturday, October 18, I watched the weather forecast for Traverse City and it promised partly cloudy conditions for Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. “Intel” from some “boots on the ground” in Leelanau County suggested it would be worth my while to drive up. So, at noon, I loaded up for a quick overnight trip. Three things conspired to tempt me to drive for 6 hours for a chance at decent light and foliage, neither of which was certain. First, I always want to try to catch some foliage somewhere. Second, while it is ironic that I grew up in this area, I have never returned there during fall foliage season to shoot. And, finally, I have been itching to field test my new camera equipment.

Old Tractor Port Oneida; Leelanau County, MI Copyright  2014  Andy Richards

Old Tractor
Port Oneida; Leelanau County, MI
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Both days were very windy, and I watched the foliage come down from “peak” in many areas. In my estimation the best time would have been early to mid-week. But there is that pesky day job. Windy conditions may create the biggest challenge to shooting scenery. I would almost rather have rain. Wind means that you have to shoot at faster shutter speeds, or get blurry foreground elements (i.e., leaves, etc.). One option is to try to use that purposely to create blurred elements. But in my experience, blurred foreground elements rarely “work.” In today’s shooting world, we have an advantage. We can bump up the ISO. I did that a couple times on this trip (back in the days of film, that simply wasn’t a luxury).

Barn; Port Oneida; Leelanau County, MI Copyright  2014  Andy Richards

Barn; Port Oneida; Leelanau County, MI
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

On Saturday, and Sunday morning early, sunlight was fleeting and it was frustrating sometimes to see an image and see the sun move off of it before I could get setup. When behind the clouds, things were pretty grey. Later on Sunday, conditions were bright overcast – almost glary. This was not, in my view, ideal, as there was a lot of grey in the sky. But I made what I could of conditions.

National Lakeshore Farmstead; Port Oneida; Leelanau County, MI Copyright  2014  Andy Richards

National Lakeshore Farmstead; Port Oneida; Leelanau County, MI
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

One of the remarkable features of the Eastern shores of Lake Michigan is its sand dunes. They are remarkable enough that they have been designated as part of the U.S. National Park Service’s National Lakeshore system. From about Frankfort, Michigan all the way North to Leland, Michigan is the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. In Glen Haven, Michigan, there is a historical village, including a museum. Just before you arrive in Glen Haven, you pass an old working farm that is now part of the National Lakeshore; D.H. Day Farm. There is a nice old white barn that has been maintained and is in good condition, by the NPS. A couple years back, in the late Spring, I made a “scouting” trip to Glen Haven, and photographed the barn. At the time, I noted that there were some hardwoods in the background and that they might make a nice fall foliage image. So I was very interested in visiting, and shooting the barn again.

D.H. Day Barn Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore; Glen Haven, MI Copyright  2014  Andy Richards

D.H. Day Barn
Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore; Glen Haven, MI
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

A short distance North from Glen Haven is the resort community of Glen Arbor. Nestled between Glen Lake and Lake Michigan, Glen Arbor is a popular Summer resort and even a full time home for many residents. North of Glen Arbor is the Port Oneida Historical Area (again, a part of the U.S. National Park Service). There are some nice old barns and farm/orchards in the area.

Given the limited window of “weather,” and timing, I had only really enough time to do limited exploring of these areas.

Next: Grand Traverse County and the “Old Mission” Peninsula.

My Eclectic Fall Color Shooting Season – Part I

Hiawatha NF Color Sections Michigan U.P. Copyright 2012  Andy Richards

Hiawatha NF Color Sections
Michigan U.P.
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

As often happens this time of year, I have been MIA for a while.  This is a normal travel time for me, and the weekend days I spend “curating” images, posting to websites, and writing blogs are take with travel and often little time to reflect and write.  But it recharges my proverbial batteries and I usually come back with some material to post and write here.  And so, it will be for the next couple weeks.  I took a 4 day trip to the San Francisco Bay area with a number of photographic opportunities.  I have made a couple trips to Northern Michigan to seek and shoot Fall foliage and will have a few images and comments there.  And I have finally had some time behind some of my new gear, and will devote a blog or two to review of the Sony a7R and Sony 70-200 f4 combo and a set of tripod legs from Sirui.

I always look forward to late September with some excitement. No matter what kind of a shooting year I have had up until that time, I know I will have some opportunity for serious photographic endeavor during the next 2-3 weeks. As my blog has illustrated, I always have some kind of travel/photography planned for this time of year, more often than not, a fall-foliage oriented destination like New England, West Virginia, the Michigan Upper Peninsula (the UP), or the West. But not every year. This year, as in 2011, I traveled to California. With its consistent, temperate climate, there is no fall foliage there. But there are nice things to shoot, so that is a consolation.

Barn, Harrison, MI Copyright  2014  Andy Richards

Barn, Harrison, MI
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Even in those years when I travel elsewhere, I try to find some fall foliage imagery wherever I can. This year, I will have just a couple of weekend days to photograph.

"Backyard" Foliage Saginaw, MI Copyright  2014  Andy Richards

“Backyard” Foliage
Saginaw, MI
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Knowing that, on Columbus Day weekend, I headed north from Saginaw early on a Sunday morning, with my best friend, and photographic buddy, Rich, in search of some foliage-oriented subjects. We did not have a plan, just a general area, in which neither of us had ever done any photography. We shot what we found.

Foliage;  Gladwin, MI Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Foliage; Gladwin, MI
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

 

Our first subject was in Gladwin, Michigan, a small berg, just a few miles north of Saginaw. Here, we found a nice red barn with a cluster of red out buildings, backed by some early fall foliage.

Round Bales in Foliage Harrison, MI Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Round Bales in Foliage
Harrison, MI
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Since Mid-Michigan is not really known for its grand-landscape scenery, you have to really work to find images. We did actually find “Podunk,” however – it apparently actually exists J   Next , some images made  in Northern Lower Michigan in an area I have always wanted to explore and photograph.  and — sadly — the last chance for foliage imagery for 2014.

Some Tips for Casual Shooters

The ubiquitous black gondola (shown here with the also common blue cover) is a favorite subject of photographers Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

The ubiquitous black gondola (shown here with the also common blue cover) is a favorite subject of photographers
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

September and October, and particularly during the “fall foliage” season, are prime vacation times. Many love the cool crisp fall air, the relatively less crowded venues, and are often attracted to destinations known for their fall foliage. Elsewhere, fall creates beautiful light and beckons vacationers for many other reasons.

This year looks, from all indicators, to be a year that will yield spectacular foliage as our mixed hardwood forests in the Northern parts of this country turn before dropping their leaves for the winter. With manifold lakes, mountains, rivers and ponds for backdrops and reflections, many travelers will be making memories with their smart phones, tablets, and small travel (“point and shoot”) cameras.

I see hundreds of images on the internet these days most taken with smart phones or tablets. There are just a few “tips” I would offer to perhaps make these images “better” memories.

Make sure the Horizon is Level

This may be the most common issue I see with many of the 100’s of photos posted on line. There are so many of these tilted photos that – If I didn’t know better from scientific proof – would lead me to believe that the world really is flat – and tilted! And not only tilted, but in the majority of cases, tilted to the right! I know from many of my left-leaning friends, there are are a fair number of left leaning shooters out there, but they still lean right when behind the viewfinder. We don’t see the earth tilted right or left with our eyes, but the apparatus we are using to capture the scene – or something in the scene – fools us and the end result is a tilted horizon. I have been shooting with an aid (either a bubble level or a built in level in the viewfinder/screen) for some years now, since my friend, Al Utzig recommended it. I still am amazed when I shoot an image without any aid, thinking the horizon is level and then view it, to see it is not. The level doesn’t lie. Our eyes (and mind) does. It especially shows up with images where there is a well-defined horizon (like those sunset images on your favorite lake, where if you look carefully, you would wonder why the water hasn’t drained out of the lake). J. Don’t let the other objects in the image fool you. They might just be tilted. But the horizon never is.

Think about the Sun

We have all see images – usually of people – where you can hardly see them because they are so dark in the image.

More often than not, these images are made on a perfectly clear, bright, sunny day. But as often, something creates a shadowed area in which the subjects are shrouded. This circumstance is created because of the angle and brightness of the sun. It is why portrait photographers love outdoor conditions that are “bright overcast” rather than bright, clear and sunny. The overcast creates a flat, even lighting, where the bright, clear conditions often create harsh brightness and deep shadows.

The human eye sees these scenes exactly as they are – clear and well-exposed. So why can’t we get it right with the camera? After all, it is a “smart” phone, right? While technology has moved light years in just a few calendar years, we still do not have any optical technology that holds a candle to the human eye, nor computer (yes, digital cams are computers) that matches wits with the human brain. That combination (eye and brain) corrects any lighting problem in a nanosecond, without us realizing it. And it sees a huge range of contrast from very bright to very dark, in great detail. Unfortunately our phones (cameras) are not that good. They “see” a very narrow range from bright to dark, and the computers in them then try to decide which of the tones are the most important to the image. But they just aren’t so “smart.” Unless we give them some direction, they will see a dominant tone in an image and try their best to expose it (more often than not, the brighter tone). And in the process of exposing the brighter tones, they will render darker tones, well – dark. There are a couple of “fixes.”

We could just turn the folks around and have the sun at the shooters back. A couple of problems with that: First, the “scene” we are trying to capture doesn’t lend itself to that. Second, when we do turn them around, they are looking into the bright sunlight and therefore, squinting. And last, the direct sun on them is often creates a harsh effect. So how do we fix the problem without turning them around?

Old San Juan Artisan's Market Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Old San Juan Artisan’s Market
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

There are a couple of “fixes.” The first and often the best, is to turn on your flash. Wait a minute. Flash? In the broad daylight? In bright sunlight? Yep. The flash will “fill” in those areas the computer is telling the camera to render as dark, evening out your image. A second fix is to move in as close as your subject will allow (“telling” the exposure meter built into the camera to measure the light closer to the subject.

Use the “Rule of Thirds”

The rule of thirds is an almost hackneyed rule used by artists and photographers to try to make images more dynamic. Too many otherwise nice images are composed using what I call the “bullseye” effect. The camera has a focus aid (often a square or round bracket in the viewfinder or on the screen), and the default position of that aid is dead center in the frame. So we tend to follow its lead and put our subject dead center in the frame. If the subject is a closeup without any surrounding context, that probably works. But again, the premise here is that you will be out seeing the sights and want to either capture the sight or capture friends and family with a feature of the site as a prop.

The rule of thirds says that a more dynamic composition divided the image into thirds both horizontal and vertically and places important parts of the images at one of the points there the dividing lines intersect. Many cameras now come with a grid that can be activated with lines at the “rule of thirds” point. A useful compositional aid, if you have it. If not, try to imagine your viewing screen or viewfinder divided in thirds in both directions.STONE HOUSE MANASSAS BATTLELFIELD NP MANASSAS, VA 082720100003_tone compressor

For much of the “travel” imagery I see, this is particularly important for the vertical placement of the horizon in an image. With one primary exception, placing the horizon in the middle of your viewfinder is a recipe for a boring image. The primary exception is when you are creating a mirror-image reflection. Even then, be careful not to overuse that.

You have to think about Image Sharpness

In “the olden days” (as I used to say when I was a kid), travelers shot with Kodak Baby Brownie cameras, or Instamatic Cameras. They were “fixed” focus, which meant they used optical formulas which pretty much guaranteed focus in most situations. This mean very short focal length lenses, with relatively small openings (apertures). Only “serious” shooters back then had cameras that were capable of being focused by the user.

Problems with image sharpness are caused by a number of factors. Movement (either your subject or yourself while holding the camera) is one. This is exacerbated as the focal length of the lens increases. Another is the actual optical focusing of the lens. “Fixed” lenses are not common on today’s cameras. Instead, most have some focusing capability. While desirable, this also causes issues from user misunderstanding.

The reason most lenses today are focusable is because of the advent of “autofocus” technology (AF). And, thankfully for those of us with old and poor eyes, AF just keeps getting better and better. But it is still an optical-mechanical technology. Which means it needs some guidance. On smartphones and tablets, there is generally very little user-adjustment. But the guidance is still happening. The software is telling the sensor you are aiming to focus at a particular spot. There is often a green confirmation. You must know where on your screen is telling the lens to focus. Most cameras have a bracket (see above), that will tell you the part of the image you are focusing on. It might not be your subject! But it will focus where it’s told, rendering what appears to be an out of focus image.

The second cause is not understanding the mechanics of your “camera.” If you are shooting with a camera with a very long zoom range and trying to shoot under relatively low lighting conditions, you will likely get blurry results. This is a function of the optics. If your subject is moving, you will likely have the same result. With cell phones the first problem is more likely, as the lenses in these cameras tend to be relatively short.

The above “tips” are just that. They are not “set in cement” rules. And even if they were, all artists know that “rules” are made to be broken. The tips should make general images “better” images and to be kept in mind as rules of thumb while shooting. As the old saying goes, “your mileage may vary.” Don’t be afraid to experiment and to break the rules. But breaking the rules work better when you know them and understand the consequence of breaking them.

Copyright Andy Richards

Copyright Andy Richards

I will be “out for a couple weeks” on travel. Hope to be able to bring some new images back and perhaps something to discuss here. In the meantime, safe travels, have fun, and be safe!

It’s Here (Again)

Boley Lake Babcock State Park, W. VA Copyright 2011 Andy Richards

Boley Lake
Babcock State Park, W. VA
Copyright 2011 Andy Richards

A number of years back, when I first started writing this blog, I think I used the title, “It’s Here!” So I’ll just say “again,” this time and not try to be particularly creative. The last two blogs talked about “that” time of the year, and “teased” this one. Well, it is time and it is here.

Pete's Lake Moon Set Hiawatha NF, Michigan Copyright 2012  Andy Richards

Pete’s Lake Moon Set
Hiawatha NF, Michigan
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

Yesterday afternoon, taking a different route than usual home from work, I looked across one of mid-Michigan’s ubiquitous farm fields, just in time to see some stray sun rays break through the cloud cover and light the treetops of the wooded section in the back of the field. And in those light rays, there were reds and oranges and yellows in several of the trees; the harbinger of things to come.

Miner's Castle; Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Michigan U.P. Copyright  2012  Andy Richards

Miner’s Castle; Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Michigan U.P.
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

The season is early yet here in Saginaw County, but with an unusually cold, wet summer, it will not surprise me if we have an early color season. We have yet to have a true frost, but we have certainly flirted with it a couple times already this month. The days are definitely getting shorter, and the air, cooler and crisper (albeit moister than normal, also). The farmers have begun to harvest their crops. And it is, after all, already the second half of September.

Hiawatha NF Color Sections Michigan U.P. Copyright 2012  Andy Richards

Hiawatha NF Color Sections
Michigan U.P.
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

In years past, I have had the fortune of traveling to some place (away from home, of course) where geographic features create a setting for more spectacular fall color than can be found in our flat, farm fields that go on for miles here. This Fall, I may make a couple trips to Northern lower Michigan. This is not the Upper Peninsula that I have written so glowingly of, but it is an area I have not explored (nor exploited) as much as I would like. I have made scouting trips in the off season and noted probable good photographic setups. But I have not found the way to get there during prime color. This year may be early and I may pull it off.

Craftsbury Common Vermont Copyright 2010  Andy Richards

Craftsbury Common
Vermont
Copyright 2010 Andy Richards

During normal “prime time” I will – as I have noted – be in San Francisco, where the color is local, and of a bit different variety. Still, I have hopes of bringing something back from there, too.

Scenic Overlook; Babcock SP, West Virginia Copyright 2011  Andy Richards

Scenic Overlook; Babcock SP, West Virginia
Copyright 2011 Andy Richards

 

Here’s hoping that those of you who are privileged to travel, find what you are seeking. I wish the best to my friends in Vermont, my friends in Ohio, a special friend from Pennsylvania who I suspect will find his way to West Virginia, and another in Minnesota, who hopefully will make it to the North Shore of Lake Superior in time to catch some color.

Burton Hill Road Barton, Vermont Copyright 2010  Andy Richards

Burton Hill Road
Barton, Vermont
Copyright 2010 Andy Richards

Best to all for a successful and fun Fall Foliage shoot!

Presque Isle River, Porcupine Mountain State Park; Michigan U.P. Copyright 1997  Andy Richards

Presque Isle River, Porcupine Mountain State Park; Michigan U.P.
Copyright 1997 Andy Richards

This is the final of my personal picks, 22 “best of” Fall Foliage images. Perhaps it is fitting that I saved what may be the very best for last — and ironic that it is the oldest of the bunch, shot on film.

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