Wednesday, December 11, 2019
It really has been a while since I’ve posted any new pictures here in the blogs. It hasn’t been for lack of working though. Over the past week or so, I have been putting in some long hours getting some presentations ready for a couple of photography clubs that I have scheduled at the beginning of the year. I hate to wait to the last minute to get things ready to go, so I have been using some of the sunny and rainy days that we have had recently to get those presentations together. I’ve also had my Winter Waterfall Workshop which was this past Saturday which was a wonderful experience. I didn’t get any new pictures though which wasn’t the end of the world at all. I knew that I would be busy with the camera the following day doing a portrait shoot. A portrait shoot you ask? Yes, it would appear that I am now in the business of doing portraiture in addition to my other areas of photography. I hate to admit it, but I am kind of enjoying it just a little bit for a change of pace. It is also pushing me to learn a faster form of photography that I haven’t had to worry about previously. I’m not a stranger to portrait work as I dabbled in it about ten years ago. I never felt particularly good about what I was creating, but it seemed to go over fairly well. Anyway, I have learned a lot since then, and I must say…my portrait work has really improved quite a bit.
With Sunday spent working on the portrait session, and Monday spent editing the images, I was pretty worn out from that. Tuesday was back in the office working on another presentation which I am quite excited about giving to the Capital City Camera Club in January. It wasn’t exactly creating new images, but going back and seeing some of the local scenes that I had photographed really got me in the mood to go back out with the camera and slow things down once again. I just needed to figure out what I was going to work on and when. As I was thinking about possible subjects, one came to mind that had been mentioned a few days prior.
Toni and I had been out together going down a road that I travel many times a month, and even used to ride my bike on years ago. I had seen the old steam roller that she tried to tell me about as we passed it. I had looked at it before and had never really been all that impressed with it, but it was interesting. Before I could tell her why I never shot it before, she told me that she thought it would look good with my light painting technique. That kind of stopped me in my thought process. I hadn’t considered that before. Why hadn’t I considered that? I was slipping in my old age. She was absolutely correct, and that technique would effectively minimize my concerns with the composition. I filed that in my mind for later as it was not the time to shoot it that day.
With Wednesday night rolling around and looking at being busy with family commitments over the weekend, I decided to really consider giving the old steam roller a chance. I waited until after dinner just as the sun was setting. I didn’t have to go but about six miles away, so travel time was minimal to say the least. I arrived just after sunset while there was still plenty of light left on the landscape to get a composition set up. Looking at the scene, I had a couple of problems that had to be dealt with. First of all, there was a large street lamp and lit business to one side of the equipment. To the other side was another old piece of equipment that I didn’t want to photograph. Behind the steam roller was a house with a very bright porch light. It seemed that in every direction that I was going to shoot, I was looking at potential obstacles to overcome. Objects were easier to deal with than light, so I started to look for compositions where I could avoid the light sources.
My best chance for that was to shoot from the front right of the steam roller so that I only had a porch light to deal with. I found that by getting low to the ground, I was able to put the light and the associated bright wall of the house behind the back wheel. The other piece of equipment was in the shadows so I wasn’t overly worried about that in the composition. I still had about 20 minutes before the light would be right, so I had plenty of time to set the shot up and get the camera ready. My idea was to focus on the steam roller with a horizontal composition so that I could just concentrate on the light painting as the main subject of the frame. I would let everything else go into shadow and darkness around it. It was a pretty straightforward composition and I knew that the lens of choice would be my 24-70mm lens which is my go to for so many types of photography. I didn’t need any filters for this since light painting really doesn’t benefit from them all that much. I got the camera mounted to the tripod and acratech head and worked on getting the position just right for the exposures later on.
This was going to be harder than I expected. I kept moving up and down, forward and backward, left and right. I adjusted the focal length in and out trying to find the sweet spot for the composition. Everything was too low, or too straight on to the front of the equipment. I was starting to get discouraged about the time that I found that sweet spot where the light and house were just barely covered by the top edge of the back wheel. It was the best that I could do. I fine tuned the composition and dialed in an exposure for a test shot. There was no need for any light painting at this point as the exposure at ISO 100 was just 4 seconds. It would get me a chance to check out the f/8 aperture and depth of field though. I made the exposure and surprisingly enough, it came out very well exposed and had even lighting throughout. I made a couple of small adjustments and let another exposure fly with the intentions of keeping it and possibly doing a monochrome conversion on it since the lighting was so soft on it.
I was liking the composition and started to wait for the sky to darken just enough to give me a little bit of detail above the equipment. As I watched the light change I started to see a problem with the composition that I was committed to. There was going to be a lot of warmth in the scene once I put the flashlight on it and not much in the way of cool colors to balance it out. I started to think about my options while I still had light. I loved the single tree that was towering above the subject and could see that the sky was going to go deep blue soon. I opted to flip the camera onto the side of the L Plate and shoot a vertical image that captured the tree framed by two other trees. The idea was to keep as much of the blue in the scene for some needed color balance in this composition. I did another test shot and actually used the flashlight for the first time. My theory was sound, so I was in good shape with my color image. I just had to wait for the light to drop to the right levels for that deep and rich blue in the sky that was needed.
I started taking exposures that were about a minute in length which provided enough time for me to paint the entire subject with light. The sky was still too bright and the ambient light on the landscape was too much for my vision. I kept running exposures to check my lighting technique to see where I needed to spend my time to get the effect that I was after. I was getting pretty consistent with 90 seconds or so to light the entire subject which was looking like just enough time at f/8 to get the sky to expose right. It was just about time to make the money shot exposure as I could see the sky getting to that point. As I was getting ready to start an exposure I heard a truck start up at the business and headlights came on. He wasn’t moving, but I was wondering if in the next 90 seconds he would be coming my way. I waited for about a minute and there was no movement. I decided to release the shutter and start an exposure.
I made it the full 90 seconds without the truck moving. I checked the exposure and the sky was still just a tad bright for my tastes so I was going to need to do one more exposure as the light levels had dropped even more over that previous two minutes. I checked on the truck which was still sitting there. I had to risk the exposure. I locked the button on my remote release and the camera timed out 2 seconds before opening the shutter. As I started to paint with the flashlight my phone started to ring. I had to let it go to voicemail because I wasn’t able to stop what I was doing. I also heard the truck go into gear. I knew it was going to be a race. I couldn’t hurry my painting as I needed the exposure for the sky to turn out right. I just kept with what I was doing and hoped that the phone call wasn’t important and that the truck wasn’t going to mess up my exposure with the headlights passing by.
I was finishing up at the nose of the roller when the truck was approaching the gate. I was about 10 seconds away from getting headlights in my image. I finished up my painting and returned to the camera. I fumbled with the remote to get it to unlock. I could see that the camera finished the exposure just as the headlights hit me and the roller. I had just made it! As the camera was finishing up the writing so that it could display the image on the LCD I checked to see who called. It was somebody trying to sell me an extended warranty so I was glad I had ignored it. The LCD came to life and I saw the image that I had been wanting.
I had managed to make an exposure of 123 seconds trying to not rush to paint the scene under pressure. I was very lucky that everything had come into place, and when doing long exposures like this, an extra 30 seconds is nothing to worry about. I had the image that I wanted, and the sky was getting darker quickly. As the truck passed me by with the spot lights on me to see what I was doing, I just waived knowing that I was done with my evening. I had gotten the shot that I was here to get. I loaded everything back up in the bag and made the quick trip home. Then it was a matter of importing the twelve images that I had shot from the evening. There wasn’t much there, but I was only expecting one image to really turn out, and if I was lucky, an additional monochrome one for good luck.
I was really pleased to see that both of the images that I was thinking might turn out had done just that. I had two very different images from essentially a few inches apart. They both said something completely different and told their own stories. I couldn’t argue with that at all. I spent a little bit of time editing them, but they were actually both very easy edits. In the end, I was satisfied with both of the images and happy to share them here in the blog.
I’m glad that you got to join me on this spur of the moment adventure. It was nice to get back out with the camera and slow myself down a little bit once again after a fast paced portrait shoot. It was also night to be able to do some more light painting which is always a lot of fun, but a little less fun in 30 degree temperatures. That Maglite is cold in the winter!
Be sure and check out the 2020 workshop schedule and consider joining me to learn a little more about photography in several different arenas.
Until next time….