Wind Turbines, Sunset Clouds

Altamont Pass

Wind Turbines, Sunset Clouds. Altamont Pass, California. February 05, 2011. © Copyright 2011 Steven Tze – all rights reserved.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter how much prep time you put into a day of shooting, opportunity and luck play a large part in capturing the best photos of the day.

Having driven through Altamont Pass between the cities of Tracy and Livermore several times previously, I had finally scheduled a day of shoot there.  My usual checklist of tasks days before include printing out satellite images of the area from Google Maps, checking sunrise and sunset times and using TPE (The Photographer’s Ephemeris) to pinpoint those times for specific locations/geography, looking through Flickr for any location highlights from other photogs, and finally marking up my maps with not only spots to shoot at but also the direction to shoot from.

In theory, I should be prepared, right?

Yes and no.  If you’ve never been to a location before, everything I’ve done able is a good starting point.  It helps keep you on a schedule of sorts.  If you’re through most your shooting day and have only hit 2 of 15 shooting locations, you have to the make the decision to either scrap some, most, or all of the remaining spots.  Maybe 1 or 2 of the locations are sunset or evening specific; then those can remain.

More often than not, you ADD locations when you’re out and about shooting.  Out at Altamont Pass on this day, railroad overpasses, turbine reflections off rain puddles, a winery in Livermore, and random alignment of turbines caught my eye and forced me to stop and shoot.

After an aside on those potential ad hoc shots, this photo is NOT one of them!  This specific cluster of turbines, on N Midway Road just south of the defunct and infamous Altamont Speedway, was 1 of 13 I had wanted to shoot and had indicated on my map as both a potential sunrise or sunset area.  I had first passed this cluster midday while on my way to shoot the speedway and passed for a third and final time at sunset when the color in the skies caught my eye.  The shape of the clouds mirrors the blades of the first 3 turbines and reminds me of those winged women statues atop pillars in France.

EXIF data: Nikon D50, patterned metering mode, 45mm, ISO 200, 1/13 sec, f/5.6

Eastern Sierra Fall Colors – Starting Now



Hope Valley

Backlit Aspen Leaves. Sorensen’s Resort, Hope Valley, California. September 29, 2010. © Copyright 2011 Steven Tze – all rights reserved.

This is the time of year when I start planning a trip (or trips) to the Eastern Sierras for the annual fall colors.  Usually the show begins at the end of September and lasts around the middle of October.  Geographical location and elevation are the constants.  Exact timing is not.

The trees begin changing color first near Bishop and work its way up towards Tahoe.  And within a location, higher elevations change color first.

While there are many theories (some more plausible than others) on what initiates the color change, I believe more in the theory that when the first stretch of cold days arrives, the action begins.

Unless you live up in the Eastern Sierras or have the ability to drive to the area every few days, your best bet is to visit the following sites for the latest color information:

At the height of the fall color season, the most well-known spots (North Lake comes to mind) will be crowded, especially during weekends.  From the stories I’ve heard, it’s really a sight to see photogs lugging expensive gear in the pre-dawn hours search for the “perfect” spot they probably scoped out from the previous day or previous trips.  With that in mind, expect to wake up and drive out before the sun rises, shoot until mid-morning on sunny days (or find some shaded areas to shoot), rest/eat/recharge in the middle of the day, and then prepare for the a few more hours of shooting from the late afternoon to early evening.  Maybe some of you will even stay out longer and take long exposures during the night.

Above all else, take in the moment, take in the scenery.  Don’t be so focused on firing off a few hundred shots that you forget to appreciate what’s around you.  Good luck!

EXIF data: Nikon D50, 45mm, ISO 200, 1/800 sec, f/7.1

Old Ferry Pier, Candlestick Point


Candlestick Point

Old Ferry Pier, B&W. Candlestick Point, San Francisco, California. June 12, 2011. © Copyright 2011 Steven Tze– all rights reserved.

While this may seem to be a standard black and white photo, a relatively uncommon filter was used.

I had seen some minimalistic photos on Flickr using a 10-stop Neutral Density (ND) filter.  The advantages of using an ND-110 filter are that even in broad daylight, adding this filter forces you to use long exposure for an otherwise quick exposure shot.  If a properly exposed shot without the filter is 1/50 second, the same exposure time with the filter is now 20 seconds.  Slow cloud movements become streaks across the sky.  Water movement is rendered into a glassy or icy feel. Even busy streets can be made to look almost empty as people and cars tend to not remain still long enough to become a solid image.

What didn’t work in this image is the lack of cloud motion.  It wasn’t something I could control.  In fact, I had hoped for fog but to no avail.

As this was my first attempt at using the ND-110 filter, I had read up on other photographers’ experiences and tips.  The most important is that viewing and auto-focusing are impossible with the filter screwed on the lens.  I needed to first compose, auto-focus, carefully switch my camera to manual focus mode, and then finally screw on the filter as carefully as possible so as not to alter the focus.

By the way, this is one of two piers at Candlestick Point in San Francisco.  Aside from being adjacent to where the 49er’s play their home games, the walking trails and picnic areas are not well maintained.

This photo was entered into the Amador County Fair photography competition this year and received an Honorable Mention in the Amateur – Traditional – any subject – B&W category.  I thought it would have maybe placed as high as 2nd, but it wasn’t to be.

EXIF data: Nikon D50, Manual, 52mm, ISO 200, 20 secs, f/11

Maple Leaf, Travertine Slab, Sunset Light

Getty Museum

Maple Leaf, Travertine Slab, Sunset Light. Getty Museum, Los Angeles, California. September 03, 2011. © Copyright 2011 Steven Tze– all rights reserved.

Since this particular photo is the banner image and we’re approaching the fall foliage season, I should at least provide its background.

This is the type of photos other photographers take and I always wonder if the leaf (or insert your own item – rock, branch, etc.) was discovered as is or placed there.  In this case, I moved the leaf from a previous photo to this location.  There it is, I admitted it!

The trip to the Getty is my first even though I had lived within its immediate vicinity for the first few years of its existence.  Having scouted out possible locations for a half-day shoot while in So Cal, I narrowed down my choices to either the Getty Museum in Malibu or the new Getty Museum in West Los Angeles.  All other locations I had wanted to visit were in the desert and the 100+ degree F weather forecasts would prevent my dad from joining me.  I left the final choice for my parents and it was my mom that chose the new Getty as our destination.

Tip for the thrifty: Normally parking is $15.  On Saturdays after 5:00pm, parking is free and the museum is open until 9:00pm.  Not only are you saving money (to pay for coffee or lattes at the end of your shoot), but you’ll get a chance to catch the golden hour.

EXIF data: Nikon D7000, Manual, 50mm, ISO 125, 1/50 sec, f/5.6

First blog post!

Welcome to the first post of this blog.

The hope is not just to share photography from my ever growing portfolio, but to also share the good and bad of how each picture comes about.  From the blogs I follow, I’ve been inspired by some of the best photographers, but little is ever discussed about the mistakes and failures of a shoot.

I am meticulous (which at times is a detriment) in planning my photography day trips, above average in compositions, fair in my digital workflow, and an amateur when it comes to post-processing.  It has taken me about 18 months to get this far in my photography journey.