Friday, December 10, 2010

Some fun with maple leaves

Heading out on an errand, I had my Canon G9 with me, and was stopped by these maple leaves stuck to the car by raindrops . . .

. . . from inside they looked like this . . .

. . . and this one was stuck to the windshield. I had to record them before they were scattered on the freeway.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thanksgiving Portraits

I love heading out for a ramble into the hills with a tripod and camera to compose some landscapes. I love the textures and colors of old weathered stuff. I consider that my "serious" photography. Family pictures? Those are mostly snapshots of daily life, get-togethers, and outings. But when I look back into the archives of three and four decades, it turns out the ones that have the most meaning are those of friends and family. So every once in a while I will grab myself by the scruff of the neck and get into the project of portraits, with all of the hassle of gathering up the subject and listening to complaints of how, "I look so bad today, my hair's a mess", etc.

The family Thanksgiving gathering is a great time for that project. Folks are cleaned up and spiffed up. And they really will be appreciative of your efforts. So put down your glass of wine for a bit, and get after it. Here are a couple of tips.

For head-and-shoulders portraits I like a focal length of somewhere between 80 and 200 mm. This produces a nice perspective, and also gives the subject some breathing room. Except for my pop-up for an occasional flash of fill-in, I prefer to use ambient light. This photo of one of my grandaughters was taken by the indirect light of a large window. At 170mm my zoom had a maximum aperture of about f5.6, so even at a film speed of 800 the shutter speed was a slow 1/30 sec. But by bracing my elbows on a piece of furniture, and with the help of image stabilization, the image remained sharp. In post-processing (Lightroom) I probably lightened up the shadow side of her face a bit and added a bit of vignetting.

The soft light of a fall afternoon is also nice to work with. Here, although we are in some open shade, there is enough light from the background to provide a nice bit of glint on the hair, and an overall feeling of warmth. A focal length of about 100mm was used, at an aperture of f8, thus softening the background a bit. Fill in light was provided by the pop-up flash, with it's output adjusted downward by about a stop. I try to keep the fill-in in balance with the background, which cameras do pretty well on their own, or with some exposure adjustment.

So leave the snacks for a bit and get out your camera this Thanksgiving. Then follow through and have some prints made and framed. The chances are you will come up with some photos that will make good Christmas presents, and perhaps cherished images that will be passed through generations.

A couple of final tips - Be aware of ambient lighting character. You are looking for semi-directional light for modeling features which is also fairly soft. Avoid using flash by taking advantage of your camera's ability to get decent results at fairly high ISO values. And before gathering your subjects, take some test shots to get your exposure down. This will save fiddling while your subjects are impatient to get back to the party.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Yucca and Leaf

I saw this leaf perched on the neighbor's yucca as I pulled into our driveway yesterday afternoon. I happened to be carrying my Canon G9 in the car, as well as the idea of seeing potential images close to home in my head. I liked the contrast in colors and textures. To keep it in focus I held the camera parallel to the leaf. It also helps that the small sensor of the G9 has a huge depth of field, so that even at an aperture of f3.2 the leaf as well as a good number of those nice thorns on the yucca were held in focus. I tried several angles, rotating the camera to get the yucca leaf across the diagonal of the frame. Sunlight glare made it difficult to see the LCD, and I had a feeling I was framing too tight. So I backed off a touch, then cropped a bit in Lightroom. Thank goodness for digital, and the freedom to try several angles and variations when you have a subject with possibilities.

In Lightroom I also boosted the contrast a bit with the curves control, and played a bit with the clarity and vibrance sliders. With a different camera I would have used selective focus to isolate the leaf from the background. Because of the G9's depth of field, instead I added a bit of vignetting to make the leaf stand out more dramatically.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Preserve - A Video Essay

I've always been drawn to the photo essay. W. Eugene Smith was a master of them. I think I first was aware of his work from the Life Magazine spread, The Country DoctorThe cool thing about doing a photo essay is that it gives you focus. You have a subject or an idea to build images around. So instead of being restricted to one general image that hopefully tells the tale, you can build the story from a variety off points of view. It's a lot like putting together a slide show. I love the discipline of creating a decent slide show, the ruthless editing, and thinking about a beginning, middle, and end.

As cameras are getting better at incorporating video as well as still capability, now we can start to explore the idea of a video essay. Here's my shot at it, taken with a recently acquired Sanyo Xacti HD 1010 refurb, and edited in Sony Vegas.

The Preserve from Anthony Mindling on Vimeo.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


Fall has been luring me to Plumas County, in the mountains of Northern California, for the past few years. Particularly to Indian Valley, and the settlements of Taylorsville and nearby Genesee. There is a little campground, and the air is crisp and clear after our sweltering California summer. And of course, there is the color. The trees are beautiful, of course, but the challenge for me has been the Indian Rhubarb along the banks of the Feather River. It sprouts from roots lodged between river cobbles in the spring to form huge, green leaves. In the fall they turn delicious colors ranging from yellow and orange through red. I've gotten some OK shots, but I have a vision of a group of plants at their fall peak contrasting with the cool colors of the flowing river. As much as I have slipped and slid around the slick cobbles and boulders, the reality of that vision has eluded me.

So be it. The frustration is soon soothed by the drive around peaceful Indian Valley. Besides the fall color both in the valley and flowing down the mountainsides, there are the 19th century ranch houses, barns, and various collections of weathering farm implements and vehicles that have been retired. It can take me most of a day to make the full circle.

The end of this month I will be heading up there again, hopefully to capture a good cover shot for the nice folks at the Plumas County Visitor's Bureau. You can check out their website for tips on timing and places to visit for good color. For other Northern California fall color opportunities, there is a good article in the San Francisco Chronicle, whose author was astute enough to use one of my photos.

And I think I might take some waders along this time and have another shot at realizing my Indian Rhubarb vision.

Here's a slide show of the Taylorsville and Indian Valley area.

Monday, October 4, 2010

A Nice Small Camera

My current camera for serious photography is a Nikon D300. But not all photography is serious. We want records of events with friends and family, photos to post in albums on photo sharing sites, Facebook, or whatever. Not every image is going to deserve a 16 by 20 print, matting, framing, and precious wall space. A capable small camera as a second option to a DSLR can mean you might create images that otherwise wouldn't have happened, because the big DSLR was at home, but the small camera was in your pocket.

Canon S95

Here is a review of what appears to be the current nearly perfect small camera. What made this piece stand out for me was the question/answer session that made good points as it covered all the arguments that arise when DSLR quality is compared to small camera convenience.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Masking for a Vintage Look

A vintage look with some kind of current touch. That's what it seemed the set of photos I brought back from a show of vintage trailers needed. I'd taken them with the 1958 Exakta 35mm SLR of a couple of posts ago, equipped with a vintage German 24mm wide-angle lens.

It was fun chatting with folks as I walked around, peeking into the trailers from the 50's through the 70's, many with the original wood-paneled interiors that reminded me of the folks 1950's Mainliner that took our family on a memorable cross-country trip in 1956. Not only the old trailers, but also my camera sparked conversation.

The photographs were taken on 100 ISO color negative film, which I scanned, then pulled into Lightroom. After cropping I pumped up the color with the vibrance control, then opened a copy for editing in Photoshop CS4. Back in Lightroom, I made a sepia version that was layered in CS4 over the color version. The next steps were to paint black on the mask to let selected colored areas of the base image to show, added a black border, then saved it back into Lightroom where I did some vignetting and called it done.

More of these photos here

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Looking closer

More than ever, photography is about vision. Angie Seckinger's is unique and inspiring. A photograph that causes me to look at something in a way I hadn't before gets my attention. The work of Angie Seckinger certainly does that. She uses a DSLR with a macro lens wide open to capture delicate details of plants.

As plants go to seed in the fall, it may be time to crawl around in the woods or the backyard and see what we can see. I'm going to see what gear I can cobble together to make this work, and will let you know how it works out.

Image by Angie Seckinger

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Not Just For Display

For the cost - $74 plus $40 shipping from South Africa - I would have been satisfied with a display version of my first "real" camera. But it seems to actually work. I ran a roll of film through it yesterday at a local "Ride and Tie" event and a farmer's market. The "Steampunk" controls seem to set apertures and shutter speeds as they should. The focusing seems right on. It's the photographer that shows the rust - just holding the thing feels odd, and I kept checking the non-existent LCD after taking the first few shots. But then muscle memory from the many rolls I had put through the original Exakta kicked in, and things started clicking.

All dressed up for a "Ride-and-Tie" event

Thursday, September 16, 2010

So Pretty

Awhile back the photography blog, The Online Photographer, had a thread of comments going related to what folks thought was the best looking camera. Mentioned were Leicas, Rolleis, and some of the sleek new digitals. For me, though, and I suspect also for many others, the most beauteous was the first one lusted for, saved for, and purchased with hard-earned money. It was 1958, and our high school camera club advisor was into the first 35mm SLR, the Exakta. I was enthralled with the view through the pentaprism viewfinder of the same image the film saw.

1958 Exakta Varex IIa with 50mm f2.8 Carl Zeiss Tessar and 135mm f3.5 Schneider Tele-Xenar

After a summer of saving mine was shipped from Bern, Switzerland to our local bank, which was holding the funds for it - about $400 of summer earnings. Once it arrived, and I had inspected it and pronounced that it was indeed what I had ordered, the funds were released to the seller. Kind of a 1958 version of Paypal. But much more exciting. Way exciting. The gleam of chrome against black leather and the intricately turned and engraved knobs produced a better thrill than my first car. It served me for well for many years, including a summer in Europe, until it finally succumbed to age and too many dunkings in the snow during ski outings.

Orleans, France, 1961, a Kodachrome taken with the Exakta

That blog and memories led me to eBay, and a seller in South Africa with a fine looking version of the same model that I had traded away many years ago. Today it arrived, with two solid and precise-feeling German lenses. Everything seems to work smoothly, including the nifty depth-of-field indicator on the Schneider 135mm lens, the unique dual knobs for controlling shutter speed (the slow speed knob must be wound up fer each shot!), the pretty little left-hand operating film advance lever, and the funny shutter release, also left-handed, called for by the semi-automatic diaphragm design. I'm as giddy as a high school boy again, and eager to run some film through it. They do still sell it, don't they?

So what gorgeous hunk of photographic machinery first put stars in your eyes?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

B&W and HDR

My photographic roots are deeply entwined in the era of film and black and white. Some consider B&W more artful than color. Without those bright colors to attract the eye to an image, one must look a bit deeper - to form, line, texture, simplification, and other ways to strengthen composition. Learning to see and shoot in black and white can not only help one produce some artful work, but also improve one's color work as well.

So it is good if one can get inspired to delve into the black and white world on occasion. Today I took my black and white vision down to the garage and sought out a particularly, uh, "textured" corner near a window. Windows provide one of my favorite kinds of light especially for black and white - directional, but not too harsh.

Since I have been having some good results lately using HDR techniques for landscapes, I thought I would shoot the garage corner both ways. I used five images captured at one-stop intervals to feed into the Photomatix HDR machine, and also picked one of them to process "straight". The black and white conversion was done the same way for both of the images, using a split-tone process via Lightroom.

Here's the "straight" B&W version

And here is the HDR version

As expected, the HDR technique reaches into the shadows and pulls out the texture there, as well as finding some detail in those reflected highlights. The textures are interesting, but the forms are subdued as a result of the evening out of the light.

The straight version looks more "photographic" to me. In this case that is a good thing. The source of the light is obvious. It reflects from flat surfaces creating bright highlights, peeks through the weave of the basket, then get's sucked into mysterious darkness - negative space - in that dark corner. The shadows enhance the shapes, giving a bit more strength to this hastily composed image.

I will experiment more with HDR techniques in B&W, but especially will work on getting back to my roots and shooting more using my B&W vision.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Image as Metaphor

Actually, this post is really about vision and composition. I generally don't think of photographs in terms of metaphors. Things are what they are. My educational background in engineering and earth sciences has allowed the part of my brain that should light up at the hint of a metaphor shrivel and atrophy. It takes a firm and patient tutor to drag me through a poem.

But I am not so dull as not to at least recognize that there are those superior beings who can make these connections, and for those, the images and words of Diane Varner must be the real deal.

My takeaway from her work is the pleasure at seeing, and being inspired by, such clean images. Didn't some sculptor say, when asked how he works, that he just chips away everything that isn't needed until he is done? The parallel in photography provides one of the best guides to composition - remove from the frame everything that isn't essential.

Diane's work is so clean that it looks easy. Just look carefully at what is in the viewfinder frame, use a longer focal length, get a bit closer, add some selective focus, a step this way or that to get the post out of the background, right? But I think it takes practice.

Just like enriching the images by making those metaphorical connections.

And now that I've thought about it a bit more, couldn't learning to make that metaphor connection, to encourage that little sparking in the head when you make the connection between vision and idea, help us to see image possibilities a bit better? What do you think?

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Photographing people in natural light

Perhaps you are like I am when it comes to photographing people. I'll see an interesting face, and imagine it as a photograph, particularly if the light is interesting also. But I hesitate to approach people with a camera, feeling intrusive. Of course, the fact is that most people are flattered when you take an interest in them. So let's be courageous, genuinely interested in the person, and arm ourselves with some suggestions with an experienced people photographer, Patrick Roddie.

Photographer Patrick Roddie is, according to the interviewer Marc Silber, perhaps the most well-known Burning Man photographer. Although this annual gathering in the Nevada desert is known for demolishing inhibitions, Roddie in the interview provides some universal tips for successful natural light portraits. Here are some of the take-aways I found, perhaps you will find others:

Natural light portrait tips from Patrick Roddie . . .
  • Most important is to keep people at ease by maintaining eye contact. Maintain contact with your eyes while you are talking to them, then raise the camera to make the exposure, lower the camera and continue the eye contact.
  • Don't fuss with the camera, as this will break the contact. Keep the photography setup simple - one lens, one focal length, one mode, if you need to, so that the photography is automatic and does not interfere with the rapport.
  • Without focusing on equipment, be sure to have backups in the event something is broken or your battery runs down. Have an extra body and backup lens available. "Don't get stranded if your one body jams up or your lens drops in a puddle".
  • Be ready. Have a "go to bag" with your basic equipment in it and ready to go. Preparedness begins with the end of the last shoot, when you make your backups, clear out your cards, charge batteries, etc.
  • For good light, go near something bright that reflects light into shadows. But watch the color of the reflected light - "grass is horrible".
  • "I don't create light; I try to find light".
  • On composition - remove anything that is not essential to the photo. Move around and back and forth to get rid of the post or whatever in the background. But if there is a background distraction, keep eye contact and keep shooting to maintain the connection as you move to get it out of the frame.
  • Have an "autopilot" mode that you are totally comfortable with so you don't have to fuss with the camera. It can be Program mode, if necessary, and equipment that you are extremely familiar with, so that you can "just go and do it", and concentrate on what you are seeing as opposed to the camera.

Marc Silber interviews Patrick Roddie about his technique for natural light photographs of people.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Window Light

Here are a couple of my favorite photographs - my brother and his wife with their first child. They are also a good example of the quality of ambient light. I like to use natural light whenever possible for portraits. Diffused windowlight always gets me excited. Directional, yet soft, it wraps around the subject with an easy transition from the highlight to shadow side of the face. The transition can be eased even more with a reflector held by an assistant just out of the frame. Notice that the subject is not in the direct sunlight, and is set off a bit to the side in the diffused light. Taken in Virginia City, Nevada in 1974, using a twin lens 2-1/4 Mamiya C330f with a 55mm lens.

Monday, July 26, 2010

March 7, 2007 Announcing "A Journey Into the Heart of Oaxaca"

In October 2006 my son Eric Mindling of Traditions Mexico organized a family trip that took us from the city of Oaxaca to the highlands of the State of Oaxaca in the far south of Mexico. Eric has been providing these unique backcactus journeys through Traditions Mexico for over ten years. This was my first book published via Blurb, and I am very happy with the quality, from the reproduction of the photographs, to the good quality paper, binding, and dustcover. You can take a look at it here. It looks pretty good on a large monitor, but of course a copy in your hands is so much better!

January 27, 2009 Golden Hour HDR

Squeezing the brightness range of a scene into the limited capability of photography, especially with color slides and now with digital, has always been a problem. The solution has been to make a choice - expose for the shadows and lose detail in the highlights, or expose to hold that detail, but turn the darker areas into black holes. Now the high dynamic range (HDR) technique provides a solution, at least for static subjects.

Here is an early attempt of mine that got me excited about the method. Four exposures were made on a tripod. The aperture was kept constant and the focus set to manual, so that nothing changed except for the amount of exposure which was varied by about one stop between images using the shutter speed.

The four images were then fed into Photomatix, a popular HDR computer program. The result captures the detail in the bright sky, as well as the delicate shadows of the stones and grass in the forground. The photo was taken in the Olmstead area of the Auburn State Recreation Area. These rolling oak woodlands are a favorite haunt, especially in the "golden hours" just after sunrise or before sunset

January 11, 2010 Not a Photography Project

This fun car, a 1974 Triumph TR6, has been waiting for 15 years under a tarp in the garage. Restoration has been planned as a retirement project. In the beginning of 2010 I decided it was too fine a toy to leave there any longer. The pictured task involves removing the wood dash which will be replaced with a nifty new one with a deep satiny finish. Whether anything electrical in the car will work again remains to be seen.

Photography is not forgotten, though. This event must be documented. So I set my Nikon D300 on a tripod and used a remote to fire off five exposures in quick succession. The aperture was fixed at f/11 and the shutter speed varied by one stop between exposures. The five images were then combined in Photomatix to create a high dynamic range image (HDR) image, capturing detail from highlights to shadows.

June 1, 2010 It's official - Traditions Mexico Tours announces Tony's unique photography workshop

Click here for the full hype.

July 23, 2010 The old guy spends a fun day in the new digs spiffing up the old web site . . .

I decided for some reason that the world needed another blog. This initiated the sequencing tasks of adding the selection to the menu, improving the menu system, improving the page header, then the footer, and general housecleaning. By the time I got to the point of adding actual content I was pretty well wrung out. But it was a fun afternoon working in my new office/studio, the air conditioner purring, while outside it was once again over 100 F. The tools are Dreamweaver and Photoshop CS4.