85mm, in 1.3 crop mode
On our recent trip to Washington DC, I took my new D7100 (of course) and two lenses: Nikon 85mm f/1.8 and Nikon 28mm f/1.8. I have enjoyed both lenses, and decided to carry these two rather than take the Tamron 18-270 that I took on our Europe trip in 2011. There are a couple of reasons I made that decision: the primes are much better optically than the super-zoom; and during a recent portrait session the Tamron decided to not focus at all (it sounded like a gear was slipping). I’ve played with the Tamron since, and it seems to be working, but I trust it less now. While I procrastinate on sending it in for warranty repair, the two primes got to travel.
28mm, using fake miniature enhancement in camera
One thing I noticed during our trip is that I didn’t see any other DSLR camera-owner changing lenses. And DSLRs were thick among the tourists. It occurred to me why that is: changing lenses in the middle of a crowded museum is a pain in the butt. I know. Duh. So although I liked having the improved quality of the primes, I definitely felt the inconvenience of changing lenses. In fact, on day two of our trip, I decided to leave the 85mm in the hotel room so that I could travel light: camera and lens on a black-rapid strap. No camera bag. Nothing extra.
Panda in the distance, 85mm. Not cropped.
On day three, we went to the zoo, and I knew I’d want the extra reach of the 85mm to have any hope of getting a decent picture of an animal. On day four, I carried both lenses again, but used the 28mm almost exclusively.
Even the 28mm wasn’t always wide enough.
Out side of the zoo trip, where the longer reach was definitely needed, I found that I really liked the wider perspective of the 28mm. For the story of our trip, and the photos I wanted to capture, context was important. And the 85mm, although great for portraits and details, doesn’t do much for context.
[Many of these thoughts and images are cross-posted from Facebook.]
My family and I recently took a short trip to Washington, DC, and we had a great time. It all went well, except for my son’s mild cold, and my wife’s more serious cold at the end of the trip.
DC, Day 1
(full set of pics)
While we were on the metro, this gentleman was preaching…. um, something. The words were English, but the syntax was…. different. I asked him if I could take his picture, and his response was “if it will help you.” The situation then changed dramatically when a second odd-ball got right up in this guys face, attempting to debate him. Again, words were English. Meaning was open to interpretation.
Seems everyone has to do something with the monument. Emily poked fun at them all with her completely wrong pose.
And speaking of a completely wrong pose.
This meta is so complex, I’m not quite sure how to categorize it. He’s painting a replica. She’s taking a photo, thereby creating a replica. I’m shooting them all.
DC, Day 2
(full set of pics)
I guess there’s a special place in my heart for street musicians. They’re out there doing what they love, adding a certain bit of artistry to the air, and hoping for a bit of appreciation. Anne and I chatted with this gentleman a bit about his soprano sax. As we walked away, he started playing the opening credits/theme song for Monsters Inc.
At the new MLK memorial (which is gorgeous and amazing), getting fauxto bombed by a park ranger.
We wandered just a little bit through DC’s Chinatown this evening. I’m pretty sure I could spend an entire day shooting in this neighborhood. I love this shot because the roast duck seems to be fighting back to the very end.
DC, Day 3 (at the National Zoo)
(full set of pics)
Seeing in the dark. This wolf was darned near invisible to the naked eye, adjusted to the overcast day. A little bit of spot metering, and some fast glass brought him out of the darkness (for those who care: f/2.2, ISO 800, 1/200s)
While we’ve been in DC, the opportunities for meta-photography have been, quite literally, at every turn. To the pundits who think stand-alone cameras are dying because of the camera phone, I say “Bah”. Of the six visible cameras in this shot, only one is a cell phone.
Because of the constant presence of people taking pictures, I had to limit myself to truly interesting meta photos. Mostly, I was trying to find multiple-meta photos–where I could frame two or more people actively using cameras. This opportunity was just too cute to pass up, since this meercat seemed to be posing for the pic.
As I was talking about some of the photos of the day with my wife, I realized that several of my animal pictures have a distinctly portrait-like quality. For example, I took 24 frames of this golden-lion tamarin. The ONE I pick as the best is this one, where he seems to be addressing the camera directly. With a clean background. And decent light.
Here’s another example of an animal portrait that I made today, but didn’t realize I was doing at the time. The orangutan was sitting only inches from my daughter, seeming to present her with regurgitated food while she ate cotton candy. It really was a cute interaction. I was feverishly attempting to capture the interaction, when he turned his head just a little bit, completely changing how the light struck his face. Snap. I knew I loved it the moment I pressed the shutter release.
DC, Day 4
(full set of pics)
I spent 0 time seeking out multi-meta photos today. Really, I was a little tired of thinking of meta-photography. It has been everywhere. But when this school group walked into the library of congress and all of them (it seemed) lifted their arms up at once to take pictures, I just couldn’t resist.
I really had no idea what I was getting into with the library of congress. I just thought it was a fancy library. Uh, no. Our tour guide mentioned the Paris Opera house’s influence several times, with strong details from Italian renaissance architecture. It was jaw-dropping gorgeous. At. Every. Turn. This photo captures some of the elements that were everywhere. And all the paintings and sculptures had significance.
Up these stairs, you get to see the main reading room from a distance. It is gorgeous, but no photography was allowed. Want the ultimate book-nerd tour? Get a reader identification card from the building next door (from their description, it sounds like it takes just a few minutes) then you get access to go inside the main reading room. Then you can smile at all the tourists and school children as you breath air filtered by angel wings, sit on chairs covered in unicorn fur, and leaf through Guttenberg’s mistress’ private diary, learning how he got the idea to call it a “press”. That would be way better than doing meta-photography in the atrium.
This is the final post in my Backstage @ Chautauqua series, where I describe what I found when I dug a little deeper photographically during our recent vacation at the Chautauqua Institution.
I didn’t say this explicitly in my intro to the project, but this was only partly a project about photography. Photography was the vehicle that I could use to gain trust and access to places that aren’t normally open to the public. Or, at least not normally observed by the public. As such, it was a challenge for my interpersonal skills, and overcoming my own fears. Whether or not I made incredible images was really secondary. Of course, I wanted to make good images, but getting the access and permission to attempt the images really was the primary goal. If great images were really the goal, I would have had to have spent a lot more time on each location, developing a better understanding of the ebb-and-flow of the events and how those could contribute to great images.
What was it like to gain the access that I did?
- As I was nosing around the water facility, the manager saw me and asked nicely what I was doing. When I explained the project, and asked if he would give me a tour, he opened up completely. He spent a good bit of time describing the whole operations, and then suggested I visit the sewage plant.
- After discussing my project with the sewage plant manager (I think) and explaining that I’d met Scott in the water facility, the sewage plant manager seemed to be very concerned that I had (openly, admittedly) also visited the water plant. Then he told me all about the “soft target” status for water and sewage treatment from Homeland Security. He then asked if I was going to post anything on the internet. When I explained that I would like to, he almost shut me down and just about refused to show me anything. But within seconds (I’m not sure what I said or did) he seemed to change his mind, gave me a complete tour, a lesson in chemistry, and an intro course in civil engineering. And told me I couldn’t take a picture just once. Oh, and he also told me how for less than $10 I could (were I so inclined) shut down all of Chautauqua for a season, making a total media nightmare for the Institution. Fortunately he learned through his in-depth interrogation that I wasn’t that kind of person.
- Getting into the top of Miller Bell Tower required just a bit more work. After two visits, I asked Carolyn, the bell-master, who could give me permission to go to the top. I could tell from the dust and dirt on the roped-off stairs that very few people went up. She told me I’d have to talk to Marty, the program director. I went to Marty’s office, introduced myself, and explained my project. The first words out of his mouth were “We normally always say ‘no’ to this kind of request.” He spoke about liabilities and insurance, and the fact that the belfry was completely unprotected. But all the while, he seemed to be open to the possibility, so I offered assurances of being careful, and even being willing to sign a liability waiver. He declined having me do that, but laid out the very reasonable conditions under which I could go up. He told me he would be informing Carolyn of his decision, then asked me wryly, “you aren’t going to shoot anyone from up there, are you?”
- On my first visit to the Athenaeum, I asked to meet with the “kitchen manager”–shows how much I didn’t know, since I didn’t even ask for the chef. It was about 3PM, and I figured they would be busy (ideal for my images). However, the chef was too busy to even come talk to me; I was told to come back another time. For a day or two, I let this get to me. I understood that they would be busy, and had no reason to doubt that as the reason, but I was also worried that it was a subtle way of saying “you aren’t important enough”. But after gaining access to the Bell Tower, my confidence was high, so I decided to give it another shot. This time, I asked to speak with the chef around 1:30PM, right after the lunch rush. I figured this was as good a time as any, and if that wouldn’t work, I would do a better job at asking for a better time. Ross came up to talk with me, was immediately open to the idea of me being in the kitchen, and it just happen to work out that my timing was perfect. He could afford to give me a few minutes, show me around, and let me hover around the fringes of the kitchen. The friendliness and trust and access afforded to me were phenomenal.
- Late in the week, after completing my “stretch” goals of the Athenaeum kitchen and the Bell Tower belfry, I decided to approach the police department. With my well-versed project description delivered, the officer agreed to let me ride with him Friday morning at 9AM. When I showed up at the appointed time, he was busy with a porcupine situation. The dispatcher asked for my phone number, and said the office would call me when he was available. After lunch, I went back to the station to be sure they hadn’t forgotten about me, but ready to be turned away if he was too busy for me. Fortunately my timing was just right–he had to finish some paperwork for about three minutes, then we hopped into his police SUV. While we were touring the grounds, talking about off-season burglaries and what Chautauqua police life was like, he got a call to run to the bank with the treasurers office. The fact that he let me stay in his vehicle while we went to the bank spoke a great deal about the trust he had developed in my in our short time, and it was great to ride along, and take a few pictures.
- Getting into the band tour bus was pretty easy. The bus driver had seen me making the image below, and after chatting with him for a minute or two about life on the road, I asked if I could step onto the bus to take a few pictures. He obliged and was even ready to start the bus so as to turn on the air conditioning for me. I insisted that wasn’t necessary, made a few images, thanked him for his time, and got out of his way
- .Most of the access at The Amp was easy–just walk in and take some pictures. I had contemplated trying to get access to the spot light room way above the seating, but decided against even trying. In fact, the only “no” I got the whole week was from the stage manager at The Amp. We had been watching the Wild Kingdom show, and had been down front talking with the falconer and watching people get pictures with Steven Gros, and I wondered what I might see of their work with the animals back stage. The stage manager was standing by one of the passageways to back stage, and I (holding my camera obviously) asked the manager if I could go back stage. No, because they didn’t want pictures showing the animals in their cages. Fair enough.
Chautauqua really was a great place for this kind of project. And I found that having a “personal photography project” that I could use as a vehicle as part of a discussion really helped to open the doors moreso, I think, than just saying “I’m curious. Could I take a picture?” The sum total is essentially the same, but the fact that I had put some thought into it ahead of time seemed to put people at ease.
This post is a continuation in my Backstage @ Chautauqua series, where I describe what I found when I dug a little deeper photographically during our recent vacation at the Chautauqua Institution.
Guarding no one on a chilly day
I don’t really have much of a theme for this post, and I didn’t set out to make a lot of miscellaneous pictures, but wanted to capture things that most guests don’t see, or don’t pay attention to. Like above–lifeguards at the normally crowded children’s beach with nothing to do.
The public spaces at Chautauqua are usually very nice, but I don’t remember seeing landscapers actually working to maintain the area before. I’m sure they have, but they are people that we as guests tend to ignore.
Someone has got to sweep the debris off the streets.
This moment of juxtaposition really surprised me: our hosts had set the recycling out to be picked up, and this gentleman came along a took a number of aluminum cans, then returned to his multi-million dollar house across the street. Normally people who can afford to spend any time at Chautauqua aren’t seen trash picking. I have no idea why he was doing it (or if, in fact, he’s the owner of said house, or just a renter). No matter the circumstance, I thought this was a moment not seen by many (if any!) at Chautauqua. Very unusual, methinks.
Finally, I wanted to see what Chautauqua looked like from above. Not a big surprise here–closely packed houses separated by blacktop.