Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Huron Building

Alas for the poor Huron Building. For decades it was an integral part of the modest Kansas City Kansas downtown skyline. It was the sort of building that might have housed the offices of tough-as-nails private detectives from old noir movies (though I suspect the reality was less romantic).

The building was torn down in 1998. I managed to get a few shots before the walls came down. When I was there, the windows were already gone. That made the building’s proud “completely air conditioned” proclamation poignant, as at one time the claim would have made it seem more desirable office space but at death it merely evoked the wind blowing through the empty spaces.

For what it’s worth, these photos were among the first I ever shot and developed on my own. Though I’d been taking pictures for years, I’d always sent them out for processing rather than venturing into a darkroom myself.

Photography lesson: note the differences in the sky between the two photos. Consider what a visible, detailed sky does for the foreground building.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Water towers

Almost literally as the last seconds of the spring semester waned away, I finished a photo project I’d been pursuing off and on since January. I’ve been scanning in all the negatives from back in the day when I (and everyone else, for that matter) used to shoot on film rather with digital equipment. Turned out the notebook full of contact sheets and negs contained more than 1400 photos!

So now and again in this blog I’ll post some of this “old school” work. You’ll be able to spot them swiftly because the photos won’t be captioned (as the film gives me no data about settings or lenses or even what camera I was using).

This week’s entry features the famous hot and cold water towers from Pratt, Kansas, which fooled me for some time when I was a kid. One thing I’ve noticed about the neg scans is that many of them are coated with dust specks and scratches that aren’t visible just looking at the strips but show up dramatically when they’re scanned. Fortunately, Photoshop’s spot healing brush makes short work of most such blemishes (compare the uncorrected shot below).

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


Nikon D7000, 300mm (75-300), 1/80, f/11, ISO 200, cropped

Every spring the bumblebees return to the tree in our front yard. And every year I shoot some pictures of them (assuming I catch them during the brief day or two when they’re here).

This year I used a 75-300mm zoom with macro focus to get in way closer than I’d actually care to with a shorter lens. While the bees are working, the whole tree hums with their busy buzzing. I don’t care to find out what would happen if I upset them by trespassing on their space.

At this focal length, shooting conditions are fairly unforgiving. The field depth is paper thin, so only the bee is in clear focus. Thanks to the bright sunlight, I was able to close the aperture down a bit and thus widen the field a little. However, I needed to keep the ISO low so I could “blow up” the images without making them look grainy.

With so many factors in play, many of the photos in the set ended up with technical problems of one kind or another. Still, all I need for a blog entry is one good one.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


Nikon D7000, 500mm (Sigma 150-500), 1/100, f/6.3, ISO 1600, cropped and retouched

I knew we had orioles in our area, but this was the first time I ever actually saw one. So I had to take a picture.

On the plus side, I used the Sigma 150-500mm zoom to get in close. The light wasn’t the best, but cranking the ISO up to 1600 got a good exposure without slowing the shutter down too far.

Still, the shot faced challenges. In order to avoid spooking the subject, I shot the picture from inside my front door. That placed two panes of not-recently-cleaned glass between the bird and me. It didn’t mess the photo up (other than making it a little murky, easily corrected in Photoshop), but I did have to switch to manual focus, which resulted in a not-completely-perfect shot.

Here’s the unedited image:

Nikon D7000, 500mm (Sigma 150-500), 1/100, f/6.3, ISO 1600

While we’re playing around with this photo, let’s also delve deeper into shot composition. The uncropped photo leaves me with a lot of space around the bird. As originally shot, the composition isn’t especially interesting. But I’ve got plenty of room to play around with it in the editing stage.

The crop in the shot at the top is designed to place the visual emphasis on the oriole. It’s the sort of thing you’d expect to see in a birdwatching guide. But what if I cropped it differently?

Try this:

Nikon D7000, 500mm (Sigma 150-500), 1/100, f/6.3, ISO 1600, cropped and retouched

Or this:

Nikon D7000, 500mm (Sigma 150-500), 1/100, f/6.3, ISO 1600, cropped and retouched

How do the different compositions change how you react to the photos? How do they look different? How do they feel different? How does your eye move through them?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Devil’s Tower

This isn’t exactly a recent photo, but it came up recently during a Saturday seminar I taught for the college. The shots I took at Devil’s Tower in 2011 turned out to be relevant for two reasons.

First, two of the students were preparing for a trip to South Dakota, so I spent some time talking about my experiences shooting in the Badlands and the Black Hills. I also mentioned our excursions into Wyoming and Montana, including the day I shot this picture.

Second, it demonstrates the concept of digital zoom. As originally shot, the focal length was quite short (zoomed out, giving me a wider field of view). This worked well when I was trying to capture the whole tower. But if and when I go back again, I’m taking a newer camera and a telephoto lens as well.

Let’s look closer to see why:

Those tiny specks you can see here and there on the cliff face are climbers. Let me point them out:

Those are the ones I’m sure of. I may have missed a climber or two.

The overall effect gives you a great sense of just how big the thing really is. But it would have been nice to have an image in which the people look like something other than cupcake sprinkles. For that I would have needed a higher focal length (zooming in for more detail) or a higher resolution (so I could “blow up” the parts with the people).