Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Scott Kelby, That Nikon Guy, and Frozen Butt (part 2)

     Boy, was it cold!  It was my practice to prepare everything I need, photography wise, in my bag.  Usually, I try to dump as much as I can in my bag (including clothes) but this time, since I thought I'd be walking around a lot, and a huge and fully stuffed bag might get me into trouble with accommodation (some lockers are not big enough), I thought of keeping it as light as possible.  And that means, I didn't bring extra shirts, extra socks, extra towels, and toiletries.  Where which, I forgot to bring gloves and a hat.  Boy, was it really cold!
Note:  Every image posted in this particular blog was taken from RAW, small increase of contrast, then converted to Jpeg.  Sorry for the quality.

     It's the missing gloves that got me into a lot of pain.  As I walk around carrying the tripod, I had to switch hands every minute to warm the other in my pocket.  This is where I also learned the use of a tripod's "leg warmers."  I never realized how the tripod could be painfully cold to the touch when exposed to such weather.  It was so cold that I find it really hard to make minor adjustments.  My goodness, I was really unprepared.  I kept telling myself, "Whatever it takes..." but I wondered how long could that mindset last.

     As I mentioned a lot, Scott Kelby's lecture is stuck in my brain.  So I walked around this over-pass repeatedly, looking for a frame I could test shoot.  The structure in itself is appealing.  But the surroundings and a lot of clutter makes this architecture a bit hard to photograph.  At least, to me.  Snow was also a bit fresh and it seems only a few people walked around here.  I had to be a bit careful where I walk 'cause I didn't want to disturb the snow.  I wouldn't want so many footsteps marked as I know it could be distracting to the overall scene.

Test 1
At this angle, I was trying to highlight the curved posts as those were (in my opinion) the strongest shapes in the scene.  But I also want to show that this was an overpass.  My problem was there was too much clutter that I can't fix.  The gas station doesn't really add appeal and while the buildings behind could give context, the lights are a bit too much.

Test 2
Now at a different angle.  Since it's those posts that I really want to feature, I found that two sides of this over-pass have two posts closer to each other (so it's not a circular shape after all but an oval shape).    I see a bit more potential here.  Although the street lights at the background are still a bit much, at a higher perspective, I think I could make it work.

Test 3
Still obsessed with these sexy curves, I thought of focusing on a small part of the over-pass while still showing what it is.  I was quite disappointed with this test shot as there's just too much around again.  And that cross wasted a lot of my time!  Since it's a bit prominent I tried to make it work with the shot.  But with the wide lens I'm using, the cross got too small to stand out, it became a nuisance.  And although I wanted to incorporate light trails from the street below, I think it simply won't work here.
     The shot above gave me a nice surprise though.  The color of the snow and the rails looked really nice.  I was worried about the snow to be honest.  As it's purely white, it could look really flat in the picture.  But in this case, thanks to the artificial lights around me, it looks pretty well.

     I realized I got stuck in this scene and kept taking repeated shots of the same subjects and frames.  Luckily, a drunk passed by and made me a bit nervous so I hurried downstairs to avoid him.  At this moment, I again remembered Scott's lecture.  And since not a lot of my test shots seem to wow me, I might as well try to take some pictures from a distance.  There was one shot I imagined would have been awesome, though: An overhead shot.  But unless I could manage to get on top of a building, and at a good angle, I don't think I could produce it.  So I settled for something a bit more plausible.

     "Can't go above it?  Then go below it!"  I chuckled as I crossed the street.  I was a bit nervous and had to move fast as there still are some people passing by at this time.  Jay-walking alone attracts attention and much more by staying in the middle taking pictures.

Test 4
The problem is how limited my lens was (18-55mm).  Even at its widest, I couldn't fit much of the subject on frame without so much compromise.  Stepping further would tighten the oval shape too much, while there's these orange, rubber, stumps that while keeping me safe from the vehicles passing by, are just plain ugly to be included in the shot.  And don't get me started with the snow.

Test 5
Be that as it may the shot would not be complete without good light trails.  I waited until cars and trucks and buses will come towards my direction (instead of across) to make some decent light trails.  I just thought that it would make better dynamics than just a simple line of light trails across the horizon.  Although, in this image, not really the direction I wanted.  It would have been better if the car coming from behind me (red light trails on the right) went to the left.  Or another car would have come behind me and went straight across.
     At this moment, I immediately stopped and went back to the side.  I got scared of taking too much attention.  Even the drivers passing by had to slow down to check out what I was doing (the locals are always curious), which is a bad thing.  They could call the police and I'm done for.  But what made me panic the most was the very noticeable tilt.  As I hit the 2 sec timer, the camera drooped a bit.  Admittedly, my tripod and ballhead are nothing but cheapos.  But I didn't really think it would give me this much trouble.  But perhaps it's the cold.  This was my first time shooting outside under this temperature, after all.

Test 6
Again, instead of showing the entire architecture, I thought of showing just a small part of it.  Focusing on just one post and light trails, I thought the underside of the over-pass makes a nice shape and perspective.  It didn't come out as well as I thought.
     I tried a couple more versions of the image above (Test 6).  I shot on different orientations, distance, and height.  But I couldn't get the impact I wanted.  I got really bothered by the ballhead's random tilting.  It takes way more than normal twisting to lock it and keep it in place.  Along with the cold and this sudden twisting requirement, it takes some pain on my fingers to do this.  Which made me reconsider buying a real ballhead next time.

     But I wasn't about to give up just yet.  I still haven't found the one frame I'd be happy with.  And I'm also worried that the blue hour seems absent.  It was already 6 am. and I don't see a tinge of blue light.  I was afraid the sun would rise without warning.  So I decided to climb up the over-pass one more time.

Test 7
Test 3 got me quire frustrated.  That stupid cross and that stupid duck bothered me a lot.  So thought of taking a shot of the post in front of it.  At first, it was just an empty scene but I liked it.  It would only be a question of how to work with the moon, and somehow make the photo look less cold.  It felt empty.  So I tried to see if a human element... which I have none to throw in front of the camera, but myself... can fill the gap.  I think it did.
     Along with the ballhead, my gear was giving me another trouble.  Something I never really experienced before.  I was trying to get a really low perspective but I could not place the camera itself on the ground.  So I set the tripod to its lowest (3rd position) and took a shot.  I was puzzled by the camera shake on the photo but I thought it was just the vibration of the over-pass caused by the passing cars.  I took another shot and the camera shake was horrible.  It wasn't windy that time but I think it was the tripod after all.  So I set it on 2nd position.  The camera is not low enough to my liking but it's still low.  Again, I see camera shake.  No passing cars, no wind, the ballhead was locked painfully tight, yet the photo was really blurred.  I was too upset that I deleted the images on camera.  And when I set the tripod back to its first position, everything was alright.  I do remember Thom Hogan talking about not splaying the tripod too wide.  It's called a "support system" after all.  This is when I thought, "Now I see there really is a difference between premium gear."

     I know I have another option if I wanted to shoot really low.  Reverse the center pole.  But again, with the cold, the tripod are just too cold to the touch that it hurts my hands to adjust them.  So I moved on.

Test 8
In every 4 corners of this over-pass, there's an elevator.  And in every elevator, there's a duck... a swan... a pelican... whatever.  But it kept catching my eyes whenever I take a look at my preview screen (it's not so visible through my naked eye) and it bothered me a lot.  That's why I see it as a duck.  One of the most annoying birds.
     I kept going round and around this over-pass and took a couple more pictures but of the same thing.  To me, I think I found the frame that I want.  It's just a matter of waiting for the blue hour.  Except that I'm already tired, cold, hungry, and sleepy.  It's past 6 am. and I'm losing hope to see dark blue sky.  Maybe it's not gonna happen.

Continued on the next blog.

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