Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Rocks in my eyes

I love textures: fabric, bark, the surfaces of leaves, skin. Texture is everywhere in nature. As an undergraduate student in geology I was trained to identify rocks and minerals partly by their texture. Is it smooth, sandy, crystalline, fractured in a particular way? Geologists get many chances to examine rocks closely.

Sometimes my photography mimics my geology field work. I'm drawn to the textures and surfaces of exposed rocks and the way light plays over them; it spans two of my areas of interest. It accounts for much of the time I spend at Great Falls, Maryland, one of my favorite locations. There are miles of trails through exposed metamorphic rocks, which are not always easy to find in our verdant eastern woodlands.

It's ironic that in the midst of this lush spring, the shots I liked best from my latest trip to Great Falls are of rocks. I even rendered them in black and white, which has been diverting me recently. It seemed to enhance the textures and shadows, whereas the color versions looked a bit ho-hum. The first image is a vertical rock face shadowed by overhead branches. The geologist sees a hint of conchoidal fracture, typical of hard fine-grained rock, and at least two cleavage directions. The biologist would, I suppose, see the splotchy lichens. The second image shows an arrowhead-shaped void partly filled with fine sand and shell fragments. Fractures and much erosion formed the void into a pleasing shape. At the top of the void is a quartz vein that may have contributed to the fracture. Puffy lichen clouds fill the stone sky above it. I was tempted to title it Time's Arrow, as a nod to the geological notion of time, but I don't much go for interpretive names.

Rockface and Shadow

Sand-filled Rock Void

The details:  (Rockface) Pentax K-5 handheld 1/160 sec. at f/9, ISO 800, 36mm (smc Pentax-DA* 16-50mm F2.8 ED AL [IF] SDM)

(Sand-filled Void) Pentax K-5 handheld 1/80 sec. at f/9, ISO 800, 50mm (smc Pentax-DA* 16-50mm F2.8 ED AL [IF] SDM)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


I went no farther than the driveway garden this morning. The peonies are bursting with pink ruffled exuberance. This is the morning we pined for in March when winter seemed endless. It's hard not to love life when it blooms so.

Peony, May 2014
The details: Pentax K-5 handheld 1/800 sec. at f/5, ISO 800, 45mm (smc Pentax-DA* 16-50mm F2.8 ED AL [IF] SDM)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Screen Saver

Way back in the early days of personal computing, when the lumbering cathode-ray tube display ruled the desktop, a small and nimble type of program evolved. It was called a screen saver, and its function was to prevent an image from staying in one place on the screen for a long time. This was necessary because the CRT phosphors could be damaged by such over-exposure, leading to a permanent "burning-in" of the image. A screen saver would come on after a few minutes of PC inactivity, turning off the screen or, more entertainingly, filling it with moving images.  Flying Toasters was perhaps the best-known but there were scads of others.

Technology marches on as it is wont to do. CRTs are all but extinct, and screen savers no longer crawl endlessly across our displays. But still I think of images that are displayed when a computer isn't active as screen savers (not "Desktop Background" as Microsoft puts it). This came up because I recently bought a lightweight laptop, the Aspire S7, for backing up photo files when travelling. It weighs in at a dainty 2.3 pounds and fits easily into the laptop slot in my camera bag. After loading Lightroom and upgrading to Windows 8.1, it still has about 72 GB free on its SSD, which is sufficient to back up photos on any trip I'm likely to take. It also has a microSD slot, in case I get ridiculously profligate. It replaces my ancient but trustworthy Toshiba Satellite that runs the unsupported, unspeakable Windows XP. RIP, Satellite. You too, XP, I suppose.

Shunning the smartphone-like touch screen of Win 8.1, I opted for the more conventional desktop. Naturally I needed to choose a screen saver image. What better excuse to rummage through my catalog? I returned as I so often do to one of my favorite locations, the Lewes Rehoboth Canal in Delaware. This was one of many images made early on a September morning (cropped to the Aspire's 16 by 9 aspect ratio).

Lewes Rehoboth Canal, September 2012
The details: Pentax K-5 on tripod 1/250 sec. at f/8, ISO 200, 50mm(smc Pentax-DA* 16-50mm F2.8 ED AL [IF] SDM).

The Last of Winter

The title of this blog is a hopeful one; I resisted ending with a question mark. It's hard to imagine getting another storm like this in March in our part of the country. The spring equinox is but 17 days away.

There are still a few hours before it clears and we must shovel. Nothing better to do than to put on the long lens and shoot into the storm. We're fortunate to have lots of trees around our home: they are always willing subjects. In my imagination, even they are tiring of this long, cold winter. In fact, buds are appearing, raising hopes of warmth to come.

I confess to shooting from the windows instead of donning winter gear and going outside. I confess to shooting in my pajamas. My excuse is, 'tis better to shoot imperfectly than not to shoot at all. Spring approaches and my excuses will melt away, but not quite yet.

Tree and Snow, March 2014

The details: Pentax K-5, tripod-mounted, 1/3200 sec. at f/4.5, ISO 1600, 85 mm (Sigma 70-300mm F4-5.6 DG MACRO)

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Off-topic: portraits

I saw a good posting by Ryan Pendleton on DPS: How Self-Portraiture Makes You a Better Photographer. He convinced me to sit down and try a session with myself. I hung a dark blanket on a basement wall, unscrewed some light bulbs, pushed the ISO up to 1600 and used the self-timer to take about a dozen shots.

My biggest revelation: when I think I'm smiling, I'm not. I had to really crank up the grin to get something that wasn't morose. Mothers probably hold their children's hands a little tighter when I go by. But that made me think how important it must be to get a subject comfortable for a portrait, in case they have the same proclivity.

The technical parts were interesting, too. I needed to turn my head more than I expected to get an angle I liked; it felt a bit unnatural. And getting the focus correct, using available light in my dark basement, took some trial-and-error.

Post processing was pretty easy. I prefer black and white portraits, so I just desaturated and set the contrast where I wanted it. I tried a few of Lightroom's presets but in the end didn't use them. I also tried dialing in some "grain" but at ISO 1600 it wasn't needed. Went with a square crop, just because.

All in all, a useful exercise. Thanks to Ryan for the advice.

Dean Wight, by Dean Wight

The details: Pentax K-5, tripod-mounted, 1/5 sec. at f/7.1, ISO 1600, 50 mm (smc Pentax DA* 16-50mm F2.8 ED AL [IF] SDM)