Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Bridge, San Francisco Skyline, Morning

Marin Headlands fr Battery Spencer

Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Bridge, San Francisco Skyline, Morning. Marin Headlands, Marin, California. February 28, 2011. © Copyright Steven Tze – all rights reserved.

Yes, this could possibly be the longest title I have for a blog entry and photo.  Very early on in my photographic career, I applied some interpretive names to my photos and they took some thought.  Not anymore.  The names are now as objectively boring (but descriptive!) as possible.  You can only be creative that many times before you start stretching it or become more boring by default.  There are three photos I submitted into competition in July 2010 that do have interpretive names and when I eventually blog about them, I’ll use those names.

So for this day in February my plan was the following: arrive at the Marin Headlands to catch sunrise at the Golden Gate Bridge, spend the rest of the morning and early afternoon shooting at Muir Woods (since it’ll be somewhat shaded from the midday sun), eat, hang out in Sausalito and mark future photo locations for long exposures, then finish the day shooting sunset in the Headlands at Point Bonita Lighthouse and/or the sea stacks at nearby Rodeo Beach.  It was an ambitious itinerary and I should have known something would throw in a monkeywrench to jumble the day.  Due to precautionary measures from weird acceleration issues with my car, I made it to Sausalito part of the schedule, drove through Sausalito, and then drove home.

When you arrive at a location as iconic as the Golden Gate, it’s hard to find a composition that millions of people have not taken already.  But that’s ok.  It’s the same way when I go shoot at Yosemite.  Shooting those iconic shots is one way an amateur photographer can compare their work to much more seasoned professionals.  You can compare technique, composition, lighting, etc.  You can see if your photographs are as pleasing to you as the “same” photos you admire from other photogs.

So in addition to shooting all the shots everyone else has, and I will do that because how can you not, I’ll start looking for close-up compositions of specific elements.  In this case, we’re talking about close-ups of cables, bridge towers.  The second element was figuring out where to place elements in the background such as the towers of the Bay Bridge, the San Francisco skyline (such as the Transamerica Pyramid Building), and the sun.  I tried to center as many architectural elements within the Golden Gates’ lines.

Also, you’ll notice a couple of lens flares in the photograph.  This happens when you shoot into the sun, but it can also happen when the sun is not in the frame but still physically in front of the plane of the lens.  In those cases, a lens hoods greatly reduces the possibility of flares.  Of course, there might be instances where you intentionally want to have flares in your photo!

EXIF data: Nikon D50, patterned metering mode, 55mm, ISO 200, 1/160 sec, f/16

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Self-Critique: Sunlight, Vineyard, Storm Clouds

Rancho Seco, Sacramento County

Sunlight, Vineyard, Storm Clouds. Rancho Seco, Sacramento County, California. May 15, 2011. © Copyright Steven Tze – all rights reserved.

Second post in my self-critique series.  Photograph was taken after a half-day shooting near the Sacramento Delta area.  While driving back home, I passed a wide expanse of vineyards across from the defunct Rancho Seco nuclear power plant.  The sun was shining down on the landscape from the west and storm clouds were in the north.  After seeing the scene and deciding it was worth getting out to shoot, I had to make a quick u-turn and setup for the shot just as light rain began to fall and as the sunlight started creeping behind clouds.

So, what’s wrong with this photo?  Well, I was forced to crop the bottom because it was showing the end of each row of grape vines and it’s rather unsightly.  The inspiration for this shot is the countless photos of Scottish Highlands or vast fields in Washington.  I just couldn’t execute it.

How could this have been fixed?  One would be to move to a higher vantage point.  The vineyard across the road was significantly higher and would have allowed me to show more of the foreground yellow instead of the narrow strip you see here.  Of course, keep in mind, I would have had to make that my first shot location since the sunlight disappeared within 2 minutes of me stepping outside of my car.  Second, while dramatic, the clouds didn’t have enough variation.  It’s very close a sheet of grey.  That’s not something I could have fixed, but merely being at the right place at the right time.

EXIF data: Nikon D50, patterned metering mode, 55mm, ISO 200, 1/25 sec, f/16

Oak Trees, Fog

Hwy 88 near Martell

Oak Trees, Fog. Hwy 88 near Martell, California. January 16, 2011. © Copyright Steven Tze – all rights reserved.

Living in or near the Northern California foothills during the winter, when hitting the mountains or the Eastern Sierra becomes a bit more difficult due to snow and closed mountain passes, is a benefit to be taken advantage of.  As photographers, we learn what the seasons bring.  Of course, sometimes we live in areas that really don’t have any changing seasons.

Anyhow, I had been waiting for the perfect storm of fog photography: a soupy foggy morning and my actually being awake early enough on a weekend morning.  It’s usually the being awake part that sabotages my plans.

This scene is literally across the highway from the “Early Autumn, Scrub Brush, Light Impressions” post.  The area is dotted with scrub oak in grazing pastures, but isolating oaks trees in a pleasing composition either requires finding the perfect position or having the fog help remove the background.

EXIF data: Nikon D50, patterned metering mode, 46mm, ISO 200, 1/40 sec, f/11

Marin Headlands, Golden Gate Bridge

Marin Headlands fr Battery Wallace

Marin Headlands, Golden Gate Bridge. Battery Wallace, Marin, California. February 13, 2011. © Copyright Steven Tze – all rights reserved.

A quick handheld photograph as we jumped out of the car to first check out this view and secondly to check out the campground just off-camera to the left.  We were on our way to the Point Bonita Lighthouse at the very tip of the Marin Headlands when there was an request to, well, look for a bathroom.  Ok, so there were actually 3 reasons why we stopped.

I converted this to a B&W photo because colors were rather monochromatic.  The foreground trees were a dark green, the headlands were a washed out green because it was 1:00pm and the sun was high in the sky, which consequently turn the bay waters into a muted cornflower blue.  (Yes, I just paid homage to “Fight Club” there.)  So what may be a great color photography during another part of the day, didn’t look all that great at midday.

An issue I had with this photo is how the overhanging branch just touches the top of the Headlands.  While I like how the foreground frames the scene, I overlooked that section of the composition.  Maybe some people like it, maybe not.  But I would have liked to have the option of choosing between options at final edit.  I’m pretty sure I was more concern about the placement of the Golden Gate Bridge and the branches at the bottom left  than anything else.

EXIF data: Nikon D50, pattern metering mode, 32mm, ISO 200, 1/30, f/18

Early Autumn, Scrub Brush, Light Impressions

Hwy 88 near Martell, CA

Early Autumn, Scrub Brush, Light Impressions. Hwy 88 near Martell, California. September 27, 2011. © Copyright Steven Tze – all rights reserved.

I attempted a fun little experiment with this photo.  Inspired by some well executed examples of “Impressions of Light” by William Neill, I decided to give it a go myself.  Given nothing but a few sentences of moving your camera up/down, left/right, rinse, and repeat.  You might get something interesting.  I’m sure I could have performed some searches on the web to execute this technique with more success, but where’s the fun there?  Plus, it’s somewhat liberating to not worry about keeping a camera absolutely still for each exposure!

EXIF data: Nikon D7000, spot metering mode, 122mm, ISO 800, 1/13, f/20

I suppose I could try and put together a post like this, but why. This probably says it better than I can. Plus, there’s at least 3 more tips than I could have given.

nomadruss in words and photos

1. Look at photos, lots of them – It’s important to study the work of other photographers, especially those you admire. I look through photos every week. When I find a photo that I like I try to understand what makes that image stand out to me. I ask myself what focal length they used, how did they build depth into the photo, what is it about the background that I like? I find in this process that I’m unconsciously logging away images. Then when I’m in some future scene my brain will draw on those resources to help me create a compelling image of my own.

2. Put in your 10,000 hours – In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers he contends that to become an expert in any field you must first put in 10,000 hours of work. That means, make lots of photos and keep making them. If you…

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Sunrise Tufa, Shaded Tioga Pass Mountains

Mono Lake South Tufa

Sunrise Tufa, Shaded Tioga Pass Area. Mono Lake South Tufa, Lee Vining, California. September 11, 2011. © Copyright Steven Tze – all rights reserved.

Sometimes we head to a photo shoot with ideas of the compositions we’d like to take.  Perhaps even more so when we’re revisting locations.  For me, Mono Lake’s South Tufa is that location. I’ve been there 3 times in the last 11 months.

The original plan was to arrive before sunrise to setup my compositions to include the sunrise light reflected off the clouds and onto the tufa towers.  A couple of problems with that plan.  While the weather report was correct in forecasting partial cloudy skies in the morning and thunderstorms in the afternoon, there were thunderstorms in the area buts just to the north, south, and west of Mono Lake and none towards the east.  Secondly, I was running about 10 minutes late and would have missed the absolute best light even if everything was perfectly in place.

It was fortunate that some light showers did hit the South Tufa area and a beautiful rainbow developed looking slightly southwest allowed for some nice photographs but the hope for beautiful light on the tufa and reflected off the water just didn’t materialize for the dozen or so photographers assembled that morning.

The photograph in this blog entry is an example of what taking a few steps off the beaten path and a little luck can produce.  While nearly every photog there that morning was focused on capturing as many shots of the tufas at the western edge of the South Tufa area, I ended up a mere 25 yards away in a perfectly legal spot snapping away at the rainbow, colorful birds, and incidentally this particular photo that is now my favorite from the first 90 minutes of the shoot.

With a normal sunrise, not only do the tufas get lit up, but the mountain range surrounding Tioga Pass in the background gets lit up as well.  This is one of those rare sights we hope will occur again but may not happen even with another 20 visits.

Almost 3 weeks after I took this photograph, I found myself browsing through Mountain Light Gallery in Bishop and gazed upon Galen Rowell’s Buttermilk Road, Eastern Sierra.  It wasn’t just that the his image was striking, it was the artist statement that was next to it.  Galen mentioned how he had slept in the car on Buttermilk Road and woken up hoping to catch the sunrise hit the mountains.  It didn’t happen.  Clouds surrounded the mountain peaks, shade covering both the background mountains and foreground dirt road.  All that was lit up through a hole in the clouds was a small ridge of rocks he carefully framed in the middle of his photo.  He goes on to say that he had on numerous times after slept in his car on Buttermilk Road hoping to catch this same sight, but to no avail.

So sometimes it doesn’t matter how prepared for a shoot you are, an incredible photo may be waiting for you if you just happen to be in the right place at the right time and you’re lucky enough to be around to trip the shutter.

EXIF data: Nikon D7000, spot metering mode, 28mm, ISO 200, 1/20 sec, f/16