Driftwood, Aspen Leaf, Granite

West Fork Carson River, Hope Valley, CA

I’m starting to go through the photographs taken in the last month or two from the Eastern Sierras, Mono Lake, and Hope Valley.  On tap today is a composition I found while focusing on the smaller scenes.  After hiking the Fire Trail above Sorensen’s Resort in Hope Valley, I was in limbo as where to look next for Fall Colors.  As it was still mid-afternoon, my guess was that the large stand of aspens towards the west and near Hope Valley Campground and the Hwy 88/89 intersection would still be lit by the harsh mid-day light.  So I took the option of being under a bit more shade and hopping on boulders with my photo gear to the east of Sorensen’s along the Carson River as it moves down the eastern slope and eventually into Nevada.

The colors were not as spectacular as I had hoped and there was still too much sun shining down in most areas.  That’s when I started looking for pools of swirling aspens in the water.  With not much luck finding swirling pools either, I focused on any aspens leaves in the water.  This photograph is one result of these efforts.

I boosted to ISO400 so I could speed up the shutter speed as the leaf was moving with the water action.  Shooting at ISO100 would have resulted in a shutter speed of 1/8 and cause the leaf to be blurry.  Even at the my settings, there is still a little blur to the leaf, but hopefully the overall composition is detracted by that.

EXIF data: Nikon D7000, center weighted avg metering mode, 55mm, ISO 400, 1/30 sec, f/10

Driftwood, Aspen Leaf, Granite.  West Fork Carson River, Hope Valley, California. October 23, 2011. © Copyright Steven Tze – all rights reserved.


Aglianico Grape Leaf, Sunlight

Plymouth, CA

A local winery is holding a photography contest and I read up about it two weeks ago.  Sure, it’s a promotion for the winery and I have nothing against that.  The only stipulation is that all photo entries must be taken on the winery property.  Never one to back away from a challenge, I made time in my schedule to spend a few hours on the property and snap some photographs.  Unfortunately, partly cloudy skies didn’t hold and I spent the final hour shooting in light rain.  While overcast skies and clouds help when shooting flowers, I was really hoping for some sun to pick up the color of the grape leaves in the Fall.  That meant a second 3 hour shooting session the next day.

One of the photographs I shot the second day was this closeup of Aglianico grape leaves.  Even this is a front, well really a sidelit, leaf, it almost appears the backlit because the colors and details are so vivid.  I shot f/8 to that the entire leaf was in focus including some parts that are not exactly on the same focal plane as where I focused.  And f/8 is wide open enough to render the background a pleasing and non-distracting blur.

EXIF data: Nikon D7000, center weighted avg metering mode, 150mm, ISO 100, 1/30 sec, f/8

Aglianico Grape Leaf, Backlight.  Plymouth, California. November 12, 2011. © Copyright Steven Tze – all rights reserved.

YoYo, Lights, Twilight

Amador County Fair

A photo opportunity I take for granted and never fully take advantage of are fairs.  The fair in my county is not quite the throwback to the fairs in the Midwest that I either read about or saw in movies even though we still have baking contest, a huge 4-H presence, and lots of livestock contests.  It’s also not quite the modern fairs of commerce and as-seen-on-tv product booths.

Since I’m usually with a group of people and sometimes with kids, I don’t have the time to take as many photographs are I hope.  In fact, I’m rarely there by the time the sun goes down and that’s really when some of the creative photographs can take shape.

One of the only times I’ve been prepared for nighttime fair photography resulted in the photo in this blog post.  I was still just learning the basics of not only my camera, but starting to use Manual mode.  Without a tripod, this was one of 15 exposures I took of this particular composition, varying the f/stop and shutter speed to get a pleasing look of motion.  At 26mm and 1/25 sec shutter speed, I was at the very edge of what technically a normal person can handhold for sharp pictures.  The rule is shoot fast than the inverse of your focal length assuming no tripod or IS/VR feature on your lens.

EXIF data: Nikon D50, patterned metering mode, 26mm, ISO 200, 1/25 sec, f/5.6

YoYo, Lights, Twilight.  Amador County Fair, Plymouth, California. July 29, 2010. © Copyright Steven Tze – all rights reserved.

Lake Shore, Curve, B&W

Lake Camanche, CA

On one of the few weekend mornings I am awake at a reasonable hour, I see fog outside.  Absent storm clouds, it’s rather thrilling for me to see fog too.  The idea was to drive through the nearby ranches and see what was catching my eye with the final destination being areas around Lake Camanche Reservoir that I had store in my data bank of things to shoot in the future under better conditions.  By the time I arrive in the Lake Camanche area, the fog wasn’t really there and the sun wasn’t about to poke through the clouds.  One particular composition I had in mind was a very hilly and curvy stretch of road that just didn’t seem as great as I had remembered it.

I was left shooting stick trees and a line of distant trees on an finger of land extending into the lake.  Nothing stood out.  One of the last shots of the day was of this perfectly curved shoreline.  While not impressive as sweeping landscapes, sometime it’s a matter of finding something, anything to practice your photography on.

EXIF data: Nikon D50, patterned metering mode, 120mm, ISO 200, 1/160 sec, f/4.8

Lake Shore, Curve, B&W.  Lake Camanche, California. January 28, 2011. © Copyright Steven Tze – all rights reserved.

Magnolias, Sun Star, B&W

Golden Gate Park Botanical Garden, San Francisco, CA

So I’ve had this photograph sitting in my digital files for about 18 months now.  I worked with it several times in Lightroom last year, but couldn’t get an end result I could settle on.  One of the biggest challenges has been to somehow make the background less dominating, especially the sky area at 10 o’clock to the sun star and left flower.  Though the background was mostly shadows and very dark greens, the Magnolia flowers didn’t stand out even though it was backlit.  I finally took a quick look to see how this photo might look in black and white.  There were possibilities.

With a B&W photograph now in mind, I exported to Silver EFex Pro and began playing with the presets and then applying color filters.  The color filters created one effect I was hoping for, pixelating the bright sky in the background and bringing the focus of the photo just a little bit back to the flowers.  While it’s still not a great composition, it’s one I can live with for the time being.

Technically, about the only thing I did right was to shoot wide open (using a low f/stop) and blurring the background.  Again, I had some random ISO 720 setting, for no apparent reason other than I had no idea what I was doing, that introduced more graininess into the photo than necessary.

EXIF data: Nikon D50, patterned metering mode, 22mm, ISO 720, 1/4000 sec, f/3.8

Magnolias, Sun Star, B&W. Golden Gate Park Botanical Garden, San Francisco, California. March 19, 2010. © Copyright Steven Tze – all rights reserved.

Seaside Hill, Ocean, Beach

Pacific Coast Hwy, S of Bixby Creek

Sometimes people ask why it’s so expensive to live in California, especially near the coast.  Scenes like this present a rather compelling argument.  Sure, there are equally opulent areas in the US, but what’s the worst that you’ll like encounter here?  Rain, fog, and the occasional earthquake with fog being the most abundant of the 3.

We had a trip down and back up PCH last summer.  The day’s schedule was to have breakfast (Rosine’s in Monterey), then a 3 hour drive down to San Simeon to take a tour of Hearst Castle, and then a leisurely drive back up to Monterey but stopping often to enjoy the elephant seals, the coast, and the well-known photo spots like McWay Falls, and Bixby and Rocky Creek Bridges.  Bixby Bridge is one that everyone has seen, as long as they watch television and have seen their share of car commercials.  I’ll have to make it a post in the future.

One of the reasons we pulled over was of the “face” in the hills.  Upon pulling over to the side of the road, this beautiful beach scene is in front of us.  Sure, no clouds, the bane of photographers.  The colors of the plant life on the hills and near the beach popped brightly.  But what caught my eye after seeing this photo at home was the meandering creek on the beach.  I suppose every high tide wipes away the creek’s path and a new one forms at low tide.

If you notice the EXIF data, this is another photograph where I inexplicably set the ISO at 800, instead of the default (and preferred) ISO 200 of the Nikon D50.  I’m sure it’s another sign of my still learning to use my dSLR camera on Manual.  Shooting at ISO 200 would have meant a shutter speed of around 1/300 sec with still no problems associated with this being a hand held image.  At a higher ISO, I’ve introduced some noise in the photo as an unnecessary artifact that was removed in post processing.

EXIF data: Nikon D50, patterned metering mode, 26mm, ISO 800, 1/1250 sec, f/10

Seaside Hill, Ocean, Beach.  Pacific Coast Hwy, south of Bixby Creek, California. June 05, 2010. © Copyright Steven Tze – all rights reserved.

Preston Castle, Shadows, Night, B&W

Preston Castle, Ione, CA — B&W

Suspected real life haunted castle in the form of an abandoned youth reform school vacated in the 1960’s.  What better way to use it during Halloween than to convert it to a fake Haunted House?  I fully understand the necessity to leverage the castle’s past by raising lots of funds through this event, and it is a very popular event, to help preserve and restore this great example of Romanesque architecture in the Sierra foothills.  But to set up the interior of the castle with the appropriate props and volunteer actors for these tours, things have to be moved around and cleaned up for the general public.  Well, personally, it’s a bit sacrilege if you ask me.  I mean, one day when it’s finally restored, the old items will be gone and cleaned up anyway, but it doesn’t seem right.  The Preston Castle Foundation run weekend tours of the castle and it would feel inappropriate of me to go on a tour and move around objects.  I would be akin to entering buildings in Bodie and moving furniture around (which I think does happen by state park rangers).

Anyhow, some friends and neighbors did the tour this year and loved it while another friend and I walked the perimeter of the recently defunct Youth Correction Facility in search of the Preston Cemetery, where the remains of 23 wards are said to be buried and potentially haunt the Castle.  And yes, all the paranormal shows have done on-site episodes of the Castle mainly to investigate the spirits of the dead wards and/or the head housekeeper that was found in a locked basement room bludgeoned to death in the 1950’s.  We never did find the exact location of the cemetery as we only knew it was nearby but not on the Castle grounds proper, though some internet sleuthing later has alerted me to the exact location.

As for the photo, the Castle itself is bright red sandstone and even more so when the spotlights shine on it at night.  To me, it’s just too reddish and almost too uniformly bland.  Not wanting to introduce graininess to the photo, I chose to leave my ISO at 100 and just open up my lens to f/4.5 and prolong the shutter to a relatively long 30 seconds.  After working with the color photograph for 10 minutes in post processing and being unsatisfied with the results, I finally moved the file from Lightroom into Silver Efex Pro to create a black and white version.  Converting a color photo to B&W is more than just hitting the automatic B&W button and that’s where Silver EFex Pro provides more control than working exclusively in Lightroom.  I like the B&W version better, but you can see the original color photo version >>>HERE<<<.

EXIF data: Nikon D7000, center weighted avg metering mode, 34mm, ISO 100, 30 sec, f/4.5

Preston Castle, Shadows, Night, B&W.  Ione, California. October 30, 2011. © Copyright Steven Tze – all rights reserved.