Yes, It’s Okay To Play!

When I was in school, the great sage advice was to find a job/career where you can do what you love.  That way you’re not working but having fun.  It sounds good, but jobs like that are very hard to find.  I did try.  The mattress companies told me that they weren’t looking for testers!

I have worked at jobs that I really enjoyed.  Somehow, those are the jobs that were transitory.  If you’ve been following my posts, you know that I am currently working at being a photographer.  Yes, I love photography, and have since I was a kid.  I don’t have delusions that I will be the next great photographer.  I do think that I can bring some joy to others with my images and would like to make that self supporting.

I recently started working freelance doing real estate photography.  You know those shots that are now standard whenever a home is for sale.  I’ll be honest, this is not they type of photography I aspire to.  It is photography, I do get paid for taking pictures and learn some new tricks and techniques.

One of the requirements for doing the real estate work is that I need to shoot with a 10mm lens.  If you’re not seriously into photography, 10mm is an extreme wide angle lens and can be prone to distortions.  I ordered the new lens (Tamron 10-24) and it came very quickly.  I’ve been shooting through the same camera long enough that it didn’t take any time to put everything together and have the lens ready to go.

I decided that before doing any real estate work I should take the new lens out for a spin.  To put it another way, go out and play for the afternoon.  I didn’t have any specifics in mind.  I just packed up the camera, etc. and went to one of our local towns where I haven’t done much shooting.  This was to be a walking adventure so I left the tripod at home.

When I go out shooting, I’m not constantly checking my images in the camera.  Yes I do check the built in histogram periodically to be sure I’m getting good exposure.  On this little outing, I spent more time checking images to see how the lens worked.  The widest lens that I had used was 28mm, so I figured how much of a difference can 18mm make?  An amazing difference.  I’m used to the idea that if I’m shooting and there is a pole or some other “truly meaningful” thing to the left or right, no problem.  The Tamron has a 109 degree angle of view.  That’s pretty close to anything in front of the camera, so I had to adjust how i position myself relative to the subject.  The other thing I noticed immediately is the distortion.   I’m used to my Nikon lenses that are very accurate in terms of WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get).

image looking down a street with converging buildings
Tunnel view

I’ve always wondered how to achieve this effect.  After taking some shots elsewhere, I came to this pedestrian plaza and took a few shots from one knee.  I really like how the pavement and buildings all seem to converge to the back/center of the image.  I do so love the law of unintended consequences!

As kids, the reason that we play is because we have fun.  Of course, while doing that we learn all kinds of things.  Clearly I was getting the maximum benefit of my play.

I continued walking.  I soon came on the county courthouse.  The original building is one of those great classic court buildings.  Again, I was amazed at how close I had to get to the building to only get what I wanted into the image.

Courthouse straight on view
Courthouse straight on view

On this image, I did use Photoshop to take out the distortion.  I’m totally amazed at how much is in the image.  In another few weeks the trees will be in full bloom making a shot like this impossible.  I was fortunate that it was a fairly sunny day so I got the nice blue sky and some interesting clouds.  I suspect that the lens had something to do with the clouds appearing to be focused around the top of the courthouse.  With my Nikon 28-300 lens a shot like this would have needed two or three exposures stitched together as a pano.

There is the obligatory artillery piece outside the courthouse, just off to the right of this image.  Feeling emboldened by the early results, I decided to go to the corner to take a three quarters shot.

Courthouse three quarters view
Courthouse three quarters view

Okay, I admit it, I need some more practice straightening some of the distortion.  I still like the result.  There is so much captured in this image, I’m amazed at what this lens can do.

I’ll spare you the step by step descriptions.  Eventually I found myself at the railroad station.  I took some shots as I went up to the platform.  What I really wanted to play with was the long view down the tracks.  My earlier shots had me thinking that I could get some really interesting shots.

color image on the railroad platform
Looking west on the railroad platform

Needless to say, I wasn’t disappointed.  The building rooflines, the tracks and yellow warning strips provide some great leading lines.  I didn’t do much with the distortion on these images.  Having taken the shots under the station roof facing west, I went to the other end of the platform to take some shots looking east.

Black and white on the railroad platform
Looking east on the railroad platform

Once again I got some really “neat” effects.  The light poles start to create that leading line into the station.  If you look carefully, you can see a very full parking lot off to the right and of course the tacks going off into infinity.

I wish I could spend more time playing and getting these results.  To be honest, there were also a lot of images that did not come out nearly as well as the ones above.  That’s the thing about playing, sometimes you win and sometimes you don’t.  The real fun is in the trying and learning.  My advice to you, go out and play, it’s fun and can be very rewarding!

More on What Do You See

In this post, I want to talk about seeing one thing, light!  Like it or not, photography is about light more than anything else.  If you doubt that, try taking a picture in a totally dark room, what do you get…total black aka nothing.  I’m going to touch on a number of aspects of light.  Each of these topics can cover volumes, so if anything I mention piques your curiosity, please do your own follow up research.

The first thing to understand about light is that our eyes are much better at perceiving and interpreting it than any of our cameras.  Yes the cameras are getting better, but they still have a long way to go.  To use a little techno speech, our eyes are analog devices, that is they see light along a continuous spectrum that we think of as visible light.  Our digital cameras need to break colors down into numbers.  The camera has three color sensors.  Each pixel registers a certain amount of red, blue and green.  Each of these is translated into a number from 0 to 255.  (Yes I know 16 bit goes up to 65,000)  When all three have a value of zero you get white, when they are all 255 you get black.  When all three have the same value other than 0 or 255, you get shades of gray.  It is the blending of the three values that produce all the colors your camera captures.

What’s your angle: Where is your light source?  For simplicity, let’s consider just the free one, the sun.  The angle of the sun to the horizon is hugely important.  There are photographers who will only shoot outdoors when the sun is close to the horizon.  The hour or so before the sun rises and after it sets are known as blue light.  The hour starting when the sun rises and ending when it sets are golden light.  These produce some incredible images, strictly because the angle of the light interacts with elements in the atmosphere to create these wonderful colors.  The following image is an example of golden light at sunset.


You can see all the beautiful colors in the sky which make shooting in this light so special.  Notice, that without filters or blending exposures, the capture of the great light in the sky causes most of the rest of the image to be under exposed!  You can’t see much detail on the couple on the beach, but in this case, I don’t think you need to.  The message or sentiment is clearly there.

The opposite of this light is the bright of day.  Whether shooting around noon when the sun is pretty much overhead or earlier/later with the sun in full view creates some very different light.  In this light, it is easy for colors to wash out and the image to be high contrast.  The farther from noon one gets in this light, the more you start to see shadows.  Shooting in this light can be tricky.  You need to understand what it is you are likely to get and work accordingly.  Shots in this light often convert well to black and white.

Following are two versions of the same shot.  It was taken mid afternoon on a clear bright day.  I had to do a bunch of post processing to offset the bright sunshine.  Interestingly, there’s been some discussion among my colleagues and friends as to whether the shot works better with or without the three people walking in the surf.


Here’s the same shot converted into Black and White.  To me, while I know that these two are the same shot, they strike me as two completely different images conveying different messages and meanings.


Well, I’ve once again gone on and on.  There’s still plenty to talk about on the subject of light and a few other things about seeing like the camera.  I may start interspersing these with some other topics in the weeks ahead.  As always, I’d love to get your comments and feedback on this or any of my postings.