I’ve just watched a sickening video of the beautiful town of Margaretville being destroyed by Hurricane Irene. Margaretville is in Delaware County, the Western Catskills. I’ve visited there twice and walked through the town with my Canon G11, enjoying photographing the buildings. One of my “signatures” is to photograph a window so that the result is a combination of what’s in the window and what’s being reflected from across the street–two for the price of one, you might say. Anyhow, enough for words at a time lke this; on with the pictures. Below are three of my favorites from my first trip to Margaretville in May of this year.
… is the one you have with you. Years ago when I attended a two-day seminar with renowned photographer John Shaw, he made this comment about tripods, in answer to someone’s query about what were the best tripods–meaning, if you buy some fancy piece of gear that’s so heavy and complicated you’re discouraged from taking it along most of the time, it’s not doing you much good compared to something of more modest proportions that you’d be more motivated to use.
Same thing is true with cameras. Now, don’t get me wrong! I’m not advocating that you go out and sell your DSLRs and buy only a tiny point-and-shoot in the $100 range. But there are times when the DSLR may be impractical to carry around–to your day job, for example–and thus to supplement the larger camera for those times when portability and size are major factors, I encourage you to purchase a compact camera. Again, if you’re reasonably serious about your photography, cheapo will defeat your purpose. I own two Canon Powershot G11s–one as my main street photography machine and one (as described in my last blog) for infrared work. But when I want even more portability than this–i.e., a machine that I can take anywhere, just in case–then my little Canon Powershot S90 is my trusted friend. (I bought it used just around the time its successor, the S95, was coming out.) (The S90 is also great for street work where discretion–all right, relative invisibility–is of the utmost importance, but that’s for aother blog.)
“Anywhere” means a walk around Mill Pond near where I live, but it also means something that travels back and forth to my day job in my briefcase. I work in the beautiful suburban landscape of northern NJ and sometimes the animal life that shows up is interesting–everything from turkey vultures to a young coyote and, recently, a frighteningly enormous raccoon. But aside from the animals, the weather sometimes provides remarkable photo ops. Last week a positively sky-darkening, drenching rainstorm came our way. I turned off my office lights (including the computer screen), closed my office door, and aimed the S90 out the window. Originally it wasn’t my intention to try for blurred abstracts a la William Neill, but inevitably, that happened; the exposure time was so long, it was easy to experiment with moving the camera while the shutter was open.
I’m attaching three results for you to see. One is a straightforward shot of the raindrop patterns on the window (not easy to get the correct focus with a compact, I must say) and the other two were achieved with camera blur. Normally I’m not a great fan of extensive shooting during the monotonous green of late-ish summer, but under these conditions it served me well. It reminded me of my film days (remember film?): “This scene has been brought to you by Fujichrome Velvia.” Hey, it was good enough for Galen Rowell …
What to do when you find yourself either (1) out with your camera in the harsh midday sun, or (2) in other circumstances in which the light will yield unrewarding color images? Recently I purchased another Canon G11 and had it converted to a dedicated infrared camera, and having, on two consecutive days, ended up in each of these situations, opted to use it.
On one hot, bright day around noon I arrived at Buttonwood Farm in Eastern Connecticut. The folks at Buttonwood plant acres and acres of sunflowers, and for one week each July they sell bouquets of the beautiful flowers, T-shirts, and offer hayrides through the sunflower fields, with all proceeds going to the Make-a-Wish Foundation. I intended to return later that evening or early the next morning to do some quality color shooting with my Nikon D90, but meanwhile, here I was, determined to make the most of the bright sunny conditions.
You can’t go wrong with sunflowers. They’re photogenic, they have personality, and they’re generally cooperative. Here are two versions of one infrared picture I took. In both instances I converted the image to normal black and white. Then I converted the one to sepia–I often like doing this either because I’m shooting a “natural” object (such as a flower) or in order to render an “antique” effect–and in the other I used some Photoshop tricks to turn the sky blue. I’d like to know which you prefer. Personally, I find this blue-sky thing, trendy though it may be, somewhat gimmicky. I don’t think it looks all that great and am not sure what purpose it serves except to show the world that you know your way around Photoshop.
In addition to straightforward sunflower images, Buttonwood also affords oportunities to shoot the fields and the various buildings. When you decide to shoot in B&W you often want to think more strongly in terms of lines and shapes, and the shadows, instead of detracting from your picture as they often do in color shots, can be incorporated as an important element in B&W shots.
The following day (after having returned to Buttonwood to get color images in more favorable light) I ended up with a friend at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge in northern Massachusetts. This was my first time in that part of Massachusetts, and having grown up on Long Island in New York I could relate immediately to the marshy scenery in front of us. The problem here was, thunderstorms were brewing and so once again the light wasn’t great for color shots. Once again, out came the infrared camera. Among the shots were the two you see here, before the quickly approaching storm sent us hurrying back to the car. The monochrome emphasizes the shapes of the tree and the lookout tower in the above picture, and the sepia adds a rustic look to the path image. This path leads through the Marsh Trail and I love photographing this sort of path; I have several such images from my many trips to Rhode Island.
Is there anything I might have done differently? On this second day I think I’d have used the Nikon D90 anyway. I could have shot in color and converted the images to straightforward B&W instead of the infrared. Most importantly, I could have got an amazing photo of the Rufous-Sided Towhee that, at the pinnacle of the Marsh Trail, perched literally four feet away from us and, without a worry in the world, serenaded us for several unforgettable moments with its beautiful song.