Blast Zone

Mount Saint Helens, WA
Mount Saint Helens, WA
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Proletariat

White Center, WA
White Center, WA

Just for fun, this is what the same spot looks like in Google Street View:

White Center Street ViewSorry, Tattoo & Piercing, you’ve been replaced by Coffee. Also, it looks like Google needs to store high-dynamic range versions of all the Street View imagery and then render it at 8-bits per channel based on the scene being viewed. This would still be a high contrast scene, but at least they could retain some cloud detail. It would be cool if Street View worked more like video games which adjust brightness based on where you are looking (i.e. in a tunnel, indoors vs outdoors, etc.). Get to work, Google!

Speaking of Driving…

Drove to Hozomeen Campground last weekend, which is on Ross Lake just south of the US-Canadian border. There is no access from the south on the US side, so you have to drive into Canada and then 40 miles south on a gravel road to get to the campsite. A beautiful, fun drive, but my tire didn’t enjoy it as much. Luckily, Canadians are kind and they fixed my tire for free. Made it home without any more flat tires.

Well... crap.
Well… crap.

Nighttime Dancing in Seattle

Just for grins, I brought my manual focus 50mm f/1.7 lens out for a walk in Seattle to get some practice manual focusing on my K-7. Manual focusing on a DSLR is a lot harder than on a film camera with a giant viewfinder and focusing aids (on an unrelated note, spending too much time around photographers puts you at high risk of contracting focusing aids. Beware). You can use live view and zoom in on the focal point, but that’s incredibly klunky.  With practice, I got fairly good at focusing using the viewfinder. The K-7 is already on the small side (however its viewfinder is one of the largest for APS-C cameras) for a DSLR and with the tiny 50mm it was just the right size. Doing without the grinding noise from the autofocus motor was nice too. With no pressure to get results, this was a fun combo.

I wandered around while the light was growing dim and I found some fun stuff going down at Westlake Center.  Some kind of dancing club was occupying the space and they even had live music.  I can’t imagine wanting to dance for fun, but taking pictures of it was fun.

The event attracted participants of all ages. Most of them seemed to switch partners after every song.  As someone with antisocial leanings, I felt like an alien observing and documenting the social behavior of another species.

 The event also attracted a homeless man who seemed a bit inebriated. He had a large bandage on his belly and dog tags around his neck. He fed off of the energy of the event and seemed to be enjoying himself.

A few more photos of the dancing:

After the dancing died down and the sun went down further, I explored a little while longer. Below is a picture of one of the Borders stores right before it closed for good.

Walking around with a camera is one of the best ways to connect with a place and best of all, it’s free. To finish off the set, I processed all the photos with a similar “look” and I’m pretty proud of the results. I’ve been shooting a lot lately, but it’s the uploading and blogging that I need to catch up on. I’m not too upset, though. It’s better than being the other way around.

Bite of Seattle

Bite of Seattle is one of my favorite annual festivals in the northwest because it’s all about food. Other festivals have food, but it’s not their main attraction. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate this year, but that had the advantage of keeping the crowds a little thinner. “Thinner” of course referring to the number of people and not their size.  This is a food festival after all. For a change, I decided to post-process all the photos in this set to give them all the same “look.” Nothing extreme, I just tried to give all the photos roughly the same tonality and contrast.

Note the umbrellas in the photo above. I think I’ve forgotten what sunlight looks like.

I’m a sucker for a funny sign. Also for burgers.

I like this photo because of the mix of posing and candidness.

Yes, he was balancing a corn dog on his nose. He was very good at it.

Mmmm pastrami.

Is there anything better than grilled meat?

I don’t know why there weren’t more people playing in the fountain.  We were already getting rained on.

Bird!

Lots of good food this year with smaller lines due to the rain.  Also, I’d like to note that having a weather-resistant camera makes all the difference in this soggy state.

Rattlesnake Ledge

I went hiking recently on the Rattlesnake Mountain trail, which is located next to Rattlesnake Lake and leads up to Rattlesnake Ledge.  As expected, the hike was wet, but I came prepared this time with my weather resistant K-7 and kit-lens.  I was stuck using the kit lens the entire time because the trail was basically in a rain-forest and I was getting soaked.  So soaked, in fact, that my cell phone didn’t make it out alive.  It was 3+ years old, so maybe something else killed it, but it seems like too big a coincidence.

Washington provided me with one of its fine overcast days, which meant fog as I climbed higher up the mountain.  Until I got to the ledge, my view consisted of 3 things: fog, trees, darkness.  I tried hard to overcome the urge to convert all my photos to black and white, which is usually how photographers deal with the constant overcast here.  The Pentax 18-55 kit lens played its part well.  Purple fringing and flare were both well-controlled despite the worst-case conditions for those problems.  Image quality aside, however, I can’t emphasize enough how nice it was to have the piece of mind that comes with using a weather-sealed camera and lens.

This wasn’t my first time hiking in fog or NW rainforest, but it was darker than I remember.  Being stuck with my slow kit-lens without a tripod (mine broke about a month ago) meant that the ISO was in the 800-3200 range for the entire hike.  The only major complaint about the K-7, common to almost every review of it was the “poor” low-light performance.  I assumed correctly that the low-light performance was probably fine and the differences between this camera and its contemporaries would be minimal.  It turns out anything up to ISO1600 looks great and ISO3200 works just fine.  ISO6400 is available on the K-7 as an extended-ISO option, but the results look bad at any size.  Still, usable ISO3200 is a big step up from my A200 which struggled with anything above ISO800.  Here’s an example of an IS3200 shot from the hike:

18-55mm kit lenses aren’t known for their bokeh, but that didn’t stop me from trying.  Details like the one in this picture emphasize just how different hiking in the northwest is compared to hiking in the southwest.

Seriously, everything was dripping.  Everything.

I’m not usually a huge fan of too much digital photo manipulation, but I experimented a little with duo-tone for the following picture.  I think it captures the feeling of the area pretty well, but feel free to disagree or suggest improvements.  It reminds me of the opening scene from Book of Eli…without the cat-killing.

Rattlesnake Ledge itself offered up a spectacular view.  Unfortunately it was cloudy and the view completely disappeared within minutes of my arrival, but I plan to return soon and take another stab at it.  Here are the shots I ended up with:

The ledge was small and crowded with quite a few other hikers.  I took the next photo to show how little view there was once the rest of the clouds rolled in.  Also, I like dogs.

I planned on hiking to a farther point another 2 miles out, but I think I may have taken a wrong turn somewhere.  I read some information about the hike when I got home that warned about most of the signs being misleading or wrong, but that information was too late.  I hiked for quite a while and it was good exercise and it was pretty, but nothing compared to the Rattlesnake Ledge view.  As the elevation increased, the scenery changed a little:

Still dark and foggy, but the trees looked different.  It even snowed on me for a few minutes.  I saw the sun for a little bit as it shined through the trees and I got this final shot.  It’s pretty cliche, but I have a weakness for sun-rays and you don’t have to look at it if you don’t want to.

Overall, it was a fun hike and I’m looking forward to returning to Rattlesnake Ledge when the weather is clearer.

P.S. – Despite the name, I didn’t see a single rattlesnake.  Actually I didn’t see any wildlife whatsoever.  Weird.

Skeleton Alley

On my daily walks from work to the bus stop, I would frequently get a glimpse of the alley between 3rd and 2nd avenues and it looked like a treasure chest of fun photographic opportunities.  For months I was too scared to walk back there and I especially didn’t want to bring my big DSLR.  Then one day I sucked it up and brought my Canon S95 along on a journey to what turned out to be a very interesting place.  There were no people around, but I could see that there was a metal shop of some kind where I could hear people working.  A sweet metal skeleton was perched over the door to the metal shop and the light reflecting from the windows across from it was aimed just right.  Skeletons seemed to be a theme because there was a mural painted over one of the doors depicting skeletons on bicycles.  I hung out and took pictures for a few minutes, but I left when I got the stink-eye from someone poking their head out a door.  I’ve included my favorites from the day in the gallery below.

The barrel distortion on the S90 at the wide-end is pretty bad if you don’t use Canon’s raw converter.  I don’t use it because it’s a terrible piece of software just like all camera manufacturer’s raw converters, so I have to correct the distortion myself on the pictures where it shows up.  Since these were mostly architectural shots, the distortion was distracting so I felt the need to correct it.  Thankfully, Lightroom 3 includes distortion correction tools, so fixing the images was a snap compared to what I had to go through using Lightroom 2 and GIMP.

Washington Sunrise

Washington Sunrise, by Bryan Davidson

Sunsets and sunrises don’t get much respect in the serious photography community, but they sure are popular with everyone else.  Maybe I’m not serious enough (note to self, remove previous post about Darth Vader), but I took a sunrise picture a few days ago and I’m quite proud of it.  I was on my way to work and had my new Pentax K-7 and 35mm Macro Limited.  Oops, wrong focal length.  I attempted a panorama handheld and got what I think is a fantastic result.  Armchair photo critics may tell me that I shouldn’t have included the powerlines on the left side of the picture, but I needed that tree and the powerlines to balance out Mount Rainier and the trees on the right.  As tempting as it was, I didn’t touch the saturation or vibrance sliders.  This is exactly what I saw in real life.

I used the free photo-stitching software that Microsoft provides with their Live Photo Essentials.  For those interested, my workflow went like this:

  1. Import raw DNG files into Lightroom
  2. Export 16-bit tiffs with no corrections
  3. Import tiffs into Photostitch and create panorama
  4. Export panorama at 100% size (~50 megapixels) as a tiff
  5. Import resulting tiff into Lightroom and look for stitching blemishes
  6. Adjust contrast, sharpening and noise reduction
  7. Export as a JPEG

Bored yet?  Be sure to click on the picture for a bigger version.  Don’t worry, it’s not the gigantic 50 megapixel version.  What do you think, are sunrises and sunsets acceptable subjects for serious photographers?

Friday Street Shot

Different Worlds
Different Worlds, by Bryan Davidson

I once again broke some street photography “rules”, but I ended up with this shot that I rather like.  Yes it’s in color (Fujifilm Reala), and yes I shot it with an SLR, but I used a 35mm focal length with manual focus.  That should count for something.  I took this shot at Seattle Center with my Olympus OM-10.  Good camera, good film, who needs digital?

Just a Photo

Singled Out
Singled Out, by Bryan Davidson

I like this photo a lot, but it’s exactly the kind of photo that doesn’t draw attention at thumbnail size on the web.  So here it is at postcard size.  Click on it for monitor-size or wall-size.

Just a note about the “rules” of composition and when to break them blah blah blah.  According to the rules, the four rule-of-thirds points (visualize the intersections on a tic-tac-toe board) are usually a good place to locate subjects within the frame.  In this photo, I followed the rule of thirds with the foreground horizon and the mountains in the background.  Horizontally, I located the tall foreground tree on a “thirds” line, but the true subject of the photo (the dead, brown tree) lies in no-mans land just off-center.  The placement of the large tree on a thirds point leads the eye to an obvious and easily visible focal point which is just close enough to the dead, brown tree so the eye catches that next.  This way, the viewer can think of the dead, brown tree as a discovery rather than having it shoved in his or her eye by placing it dead-center or on a thirds point.  It’s subtle, but it can make the difference between a boring image and a compelling image.  Of course, you may find this one boring anyway.  In that case, you might find it more interesting when you find the hidden bigfoot.  Keep looking…

Distractions

Only
Only, by Bryan Davidson

How often do you use the cloning tool in your image editing software?  If you work for The Economist, I’m guessing you probably won’t be using it much in the future…

While cloning is considered unethical in the world of journalism, it is incredibly common in other areas of photography.  Digital editing has made it simple to remove anything you might find distasteful in a photograph.  Telephone poles, trees, people, pimples, moles, cars, hands, and many more have been mercilessly replaced by a patch of grass or wall or skin.  Good photography often has a clear subject, but the pursuit of simplicity and the removal of distractions seems to be getting a little out of hand lately.  Tons of tutorials exist for cloning things out of photographs and a lot of tutorials even advocate replacing the entire sky!  Of course replacing the sky is usually done to add something interesting rather than remove a distraction, but the bitter aftertaste is the same.  Unfortunately, the internet probably will have to take the brunt of the blame for this one.  When images are shown mostly at postage stamp sizes, they must have a large, clear subject or they won’t even get noticed.  But what about images that you might want to hang on a wall?

To me, especially in a larger image, “distractions” can add interest.  If you are going to be looking at a photo on a wall every day for months or years, wouldn’t you prefer that the photo have something new to offer as time goes on?  Seemingly extraneous details can help fill in the story of a photograph and can reward repeated viewing.  Of course not every photograph benefits from too many extraneous details and there are some things that are truly a distraction.  Real life has distractions.  Seattle is teeming with cables used to power the electric buses.  These get in the way regularly when I’m trying to take photos here.  But sometimes, as in the picture above, they can add to the composition and make for a more powerful image.

Next time you’re out taking pictures and you get annoyed at some distraction that will ruin your photograph, try working with it.  Instead of telling yourself “I’ll fix it in post,” make the distraction a key element of your photo.  Little challenges like that can help you grow and produce more interesting images.  Not to mention you’ll save time on the computer so you can get out and photograph more.

Creativity and the Space Needle

Seattle Under Clouds
Seattle Under Clouds, by Me

I work a couple blocks from the Space Needle and everyone who visits Seattle (including myself, before I moved here) wants to see it so as you can imagine I have a lot of photos of the Space Needle.  In fact, everyone has a lot of photos of the Space Needle.  The challenge is taking a photo that hasn’t been done before.  The Space Needle is actually a good subject for exercising creativity because it’s visible from just about everywhere.  You can even see the it from the pointy building on the far right side of the picture above (Smith Tower).  This means that there are an infinite combination of foregrounds, backgrounds, and angles to include in your Space Needle picture.  If you search Flickr for pictures of the Space Needle, you can identify a few clichés fairly quickly.  However, the vast majority of the pictures are just a straightforward “point the camera at the Space Needle and shoot” kind of picture.  I created a Flickr gallery here that includes 18 pictures of the Space Needle that are unique in some way.  I had to go through over 25 pages of search results to find them.  I was looking for pictures that were creative, but also well executed technically.  I hope you enjoy looking through them.  I would also like to share some of my own pictures of the Space Needle that I feel meet those requirements.

Space Needle Tickets
Space Needle Tickets, by Me
Space Needle Reflected
Space Needle Reflected, by Me
Not so Tall
Not So Tall, by Me
Space Needle
Space Needle, by Me