Dogwood, Sky

Sutter Creek, CA

Dogwood, Sky.  Sutter Creek, California. April 26, 2011. © Copyright 2011 Steven Tze – all rights reserved.

I missed the Dogwood season in Yosemite this year.  They were late to bloom with winter stretching into early summer and I’m pretty sure I missed the turning of the colors with last weekend being peak for most of the trees in Yosemite Valley.

Luckily, down in the foothills, there is at least one road that hugs the local creek and has a few decent Dogwood trees.  I had noticed the trees a few weeks prior and had filed it away in my data bank for future photography.

I’ll be first to admit that photographing Dogwood blooms is harder than I expected.  It’s not at all like photography in your garden.  Dogwood trees are, well, trees.  Constructing a pleasing composition is a challenge.  The trees are usually in a shaded area in relatively dense vegetation.  It takes some maneuvering to isolate either the leaves or flowers.

I might have taken the easy way out and set the Dogwood against the sky.  Not a good photo by any means, but it’ll have to tide me over till next Spring.

EXIF data: Nikon D50, patterned metering mode, 46mm, ISO 200, 1/80 sec, f/5.8


Self-Critique: Upper Yosemite Fall, Moonbow, Reflection

Yosemite Falls at Night

Upper Yosemite Fall, Moonbow, Reflection.  Yosemite Valley, California. April 18, 2011. © Copyright 2011 Steven Tze – all rights reserved.

Sometimes you hear of a phenomenon, then see pictures of it, and then knowing you have to try it out.  This was my reaction when I first of moonbows at Yosemite Falls (and elsewhere when the conditions are just right).  When there is enough snowmelt going over Yosemite Falls (Upper and Lower) causing enough spray mist, enough moonlight (usually 2-3 days before and after a full moon) at the right angle, and no cloud obstructions, you get a moonbow.  This occurred 2-4 consecutive nights a month for 4 months this year.  Actually, I was surprised it occurred in July since they water flow is normally too low by then.  The Texas State University folks have a website that takes the guesswork out of the wondering when Yosemite Falls moonbows occur: >>here<<.

The critique part of this post is fairly simple: focus in advance on the composition you want to shoot and then mark your lens with tape before it gets dark.  Or get some really fast lens (low f-stop lens like f/2.0, f/1.8, f/1.6).  Or hope your lens has infinity focus (symbol: ∞) markings on it to set to.

The data for this photograph shows that this exposure was for 122 seconds, or just over 2 minutes.  That means it is dark out there.  When it’s dark out there, it also means there is a high probability auto-focus (AF) will not work.  That means you’re going to manual focus (MF).  Even then, you might be lucky to make out enough in the viewfinder to focus on anything at all.  A faster lens would allow more in more light for potential AF or allow MF to be a little easier.  If you pre-marked your focus on the lens, you can set the focus for the location you’re at and start snapping away.

Well, I had neither a fast lens, focusing pre-marked, or infinity focus markings.  So without really thinking it through I focused to where I thought infinity focus would be…all the way to where I could turn to focus ring no more.  Oops.  What I realized later was that AF lens allow focus to go beyond infinity as a matter of common sense.  When the lens is auto-focusing, you wouldn’t want the focus ring to hit a hard mechanical stop when focusing on one end of the focus range or the other.

The end result of me focusing improperly is that all of my photographs have soft focus.  This is a lesson I’ve learned from and will try and rectify next year.  And by the way, when looking at the moonbow when it occurs, it looks silvery or grey, not at all like a rainbow in a photograph.  So unless you’re there to take photos, it actually looks very unimpressive to the naked eye.

EXIF data: Nikon D50, patterned metering mode, 18mm, ISO 400, 122 sec, f/4.5

Brick, Wood, Contrast

Bodie, CA

Brick, Wood, Contrast.  Bodie State Historical Park, California. October 16, 2010. © Copyright 2010 Steven Tze – all rights reserved.

A less than usual photograph from Bodie State Historical Park, CA.  We’re all used to the photographs of wood buildings and items left behind inside those buildings, with everything in “arrested decay”.  Much like I do with sweeping landscapes in front of me, I’ll take a few moments to isolate on the smaller details in front of me.  Whether it’s interesting patterns, objects, or details, these are the compositions rarely taken.  When you have a majestic view in front of you, you’re captivated by that and happily shoot to your heart’s content.  Well, unless the location is somewhat difficult to get to, you can rest assured that pretty much everyone with a camera has taken some photograph that’s similar to yours, barring unique light or cloud colors.

So with that in mind, I focused on a building near the Bodie Cemetery that has contrasting exterior wall materials that are each beautiful in their own right.

EXIF data: Nikon D50, patterned metering mode, 18mm, ISO 200, 1/100 sec, f/7.1

Sailboat, Fog, Clouds

Baker Beach, San Francisco

Sailboat, Fog, Clouds.  Baker Beach, San Francisco, California. September 18, 2010. © Copyright 2010 Steven Tze – all rights reserved.

One of the more tranquil beaches in San Francisco is Baker Beach.  It’s not crowded, it’s usually just locals having a quiet stroll, and it’s a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge.  Of course, be warned, the southern most part of the beach is a nudist beach.

We were here one September morning before heading off to a San Francisco Giants game.  Yes, I feel weird typing that since I’ve been a lifelong Los Angeles Dodgers fan, but what do you do when you live up here in Northern California and the tickets are free?  At least it’s a beautiful stadium and I get to pig out on the really good garlic fries.

This beach is on the Pacific Ocean side of the Golden Gate Bridge.  I’m not sure if that has any affect on the sea life, but we did see a dolphin or two leaping out of the water.  I was actually hoping to get a photography of the dolphin when I settled on this shot.

EXIF data: Nikon D50, patterned metering mode, 55mm, ISO 200, 1/160 sec, f/20

Self-Critique: Storm, Barbed Wire Fence, Power Line

Martell, CA

Storm, Barbed Wire Fence, Power Line.  Martell, California. April 20, 2010. © Copyright 2010 Steven Tze – all rights reserved.

The 2nd of 3 photographs that were given creative titles, before I stopped the practice.  Titled “Ungathering Storm” this photograph was taken the same day as “House, Hills, Rain” and is another instance of me having my camera in the car and being able to shoot something on my way home from work.

Again, this was from last year when I started taking photography a little more seriously, but not enough so where I knew exactly what I was doing yet.  Evidence of this?  No tripod, no circular polarizer filter, and for some reason my camera was still set at ISO 800.  At least I was starting to not put the main subject in the middle of the photograph as much and even used the diminishing lines/perspective with the fence.  Of course I didn’t even know that term until my framer commented on it.

One of the bigger flaws was using ISO 800.  In fact, I didn’t even realize this until I export a copy from Adobe Lightroom a few minutes ago.  The rule of thumb for sharp handheld (non-tripod) pictures is to use a shutter speed of 1/focal length.  You might be able to get away with just a slightly slower shutter speed using a IR/VR lens.   Example using this photo: At 20mm, I would need a shutter speed of at least 1/20 sec or faster.  Being that this shot was at 1/40 sec, I could have tried shooting at ISO 400 and 1/20 sec.  While it’s not noticeable at this resolution, there is definitely graininess in the photo, especially in the clouds section when printed up to a size of 16″x12″.

A second flaw is the position of the power pole.  It’s too far off to the right.  In fact, I cropped it to be even more so because there were distracting buildings to the right.  What I should have done was walked over to my right a little and recomposed.

Anyhow, this was entered into local competition last year and took 2nd place in the Landscape category.  Looking back now, I’m a little surprise it did that and I’m starting to be in agreement with my dad.  I had shown him this photo last year after winning 2nd place and being all proud of myself.  He looked at the photo and said, “That?! That won something?  It’s okaaay.”  Thanks dad, I knew I could count of you to tell me the truth and bring me back down to earth and strive to do better!

EXIF data: Nikon D50, patterned metering mode, 20mm, ISO 800, 1/40 sec, f/9

House, Hills, Rain

Sutter Creek, CA

House, Hills, Rain.  Sutter Creek, California. April 20, 2010. © Copyright 2010 Steven Tze – all rights reserved.

Taken just down the block and across the street from the “Oak Tree, Green Grass, Snow” post from yesterday.

Spring and tends to provide the best opportunities for interesting weather, cloud formations, and the like in the area I live at.  Summers are a long drawn out season of cloudless skies and hot weather with occasional thunderheads if you’re willing drive into the mountains.  Fall tends to be best spent in the Eastern Sierras.  Winters are great if you can make it into the mountains.

What caught my eye while driving home from work was how this house stood out from both the hills and the waves of rain approaching it.  Another u-turn to get back to this location and soon I was quickly snapping away just minutes before heavy rain drenched my shooting location.  It’s especially true during months like these that I keep my gear with me wherever I go.  I’ve also had situations where I didn’t have my gear and have had to either forgo taking “that” shot or attempted to go home and come back with no avail.

EXIF data: Nikon D50, patterned metering mode, 150mm, ISO 800, 1/160 sec, f/6.3

Oak Tree, Green Grass, Snow

"Spot of Green"
Jackson, Amador County, CA

Oak Tree, Green Grass, Snow.  Jackson, California. March 31, 2010. © Copyright 2010 Steven Tze – all rights reserved.

Another photograph from the “early days”.  This perfectly shaped oak tree sits in a grazing pasture near the Avio Vineyard in Jackson/Sutter Creek, CA.  With an elevation just a tad under 2,000 feet, it might get the occasional light dusting of snow once or twice a year.  This day was one of those times.  I just like the fact there is this one oak tree in the field with this bright spot of green underneath it.  When printed on metallic photo paper, the colors really pop.

This photograph was only 1 of 3 that I gave a name to before I realized I couldn’t really be all that creative with names for essentially hundreds of photographs in the future.  Also, by giving photos a name, it tends to skew anyone’s thought on it.  You really just want a person looking at your photograph to draw their own thoughts on what’s in front of them.  So nowadays, I list the main elements in the composition and let that be the title.

Of the 3 photographs entered into the 2010 county competition, this was the only one that didn’t receive any awards.  Maybe placing the tree in the perfect center of the composition was not the best idea?

EXIF data: Nikon D50, patterned metering mode, 190mm, ISO 800, 1/320 sec, f/11