The photographic explorations of a former film student.

Archive for June, 2011

50mm Project

I had no assigned topic this week. I more or less tried out a lens that I’ve had for around two years and never really used. Summer of 2009, I was in the South doing an academic internship on an independent film. A group of us were out at a local secondhand store when one of my friends found an old 50mm Nikon lens. It was cheap and appeared to be in good shape, so it came with me. I tried it out just enough to know that it works, but since then, it’s been confined to the depths of my camera bag (except for being featured in my post on imagination). Not this week. Little lens, your time has come.

The goal was to work with one focal length only, as I fear the zoom lens is robbing me of some sort of discipline. The real challenge was focusing a wider prime. Yes, technically the 50mm is longer than a normal lens on my DSLR, but I like the 70-100mm range, so it is wider than my comfort zone. For years, I’ve been zooming in and focusing with SLRs and using magnifiers on large format. Not to mention that it’s obvious when I’m off on the macro.  Fortunately, I met with some success this week.

First of all, I paid a visit to my old faithful test subject: the snowball bush. Admittedly a bit green right now. Really, the 50mm is a bit wide for this subject. It only focuses so close, forcing me to move back.

 

 

I moved on to some trees with interesting features, such as this “eye” of sorts, for more focusing practice. Success. Autofocus and zoom lenses haven’t completely ruined me.

 

 

 

Lastly, I focused on my sister’s car. It has some styling details I find attractive. Unfortunately, the paint isn’t so good, forcing me to give the car a Photoshop makeover. My sister was glad that I was painting her car, even if it was only in Photoshop.

 

 

Since I could use to spend more time with this lens, I may do a part 2 to this post, but not right away.

 

Next Week: Time

There are so many directions I could go with this. My hope is to use timepieces and objects around them to say something else about time other than, oh, half past seven.

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Small Town Festival

Last week, I returned to the town of Polo, which I did a post on two weeks ago. This week, the quaint downtown was invaded by a carnival. The reason? Like so many small towns in the area, Polo has an annual festival. Such festivals include rides, food, and often a parade. Polo’s even features fireworks, which is one reason my sister and found ourselves in the town last week, other than visiting family. Photographing fireworks can be difficult, especially considering that the Polo show was no more than half an hour this year due to the financial strain everyone is facing. Getting a clean shot can also be tough because of houses, trees, telephone wires, and crowds. Polo may not be big, but the town generally puts on a good show, so people from surrounding communities often show up for the event.

Photographing fireworks is tricky business. A tripod is mandatory for serious work. My first attempt at firework photography was in highschool, and I used film. Not very many shots and no ability to see what the previous shots looked like. However, I did have one or two OK shots. Since then, I’ve shot digital. The first step is to make sure you have a fresh memory card in your camera and another one easily available. Shoot a lot. You never know what it’s going to end up looking like. Why? To capture any spread of fireworks, you need to press the shutter release before the shells blow. I set my shutter on bulb, my ISO on 200 or so, and adjust the f/stop for exposure (using at least f/16). Timing comes with experience and some guesswork, but a rule of thumb is to expose from launch till the blasts disappear. This is not always practical, especially during the finally when there is non-stop launching and photographic visual chaos. Generally, I focus and frame on the first blast, but I may decide I need to move the entire tripod. Also, you may need to change framing frequently during the show. Since the Polo fireworks presented a range of heights and there were some vehicles and trees I had to shoot over, I had to change framing frequently. Since it was a short show, I only took around 70 shots. Here are some of my favorites:

The fireworks are the kickoff for the weekend festival. Next morning, I headed downtown to get some shots of the carnival warming up  for its first afternoon of operation. The same downtown block I’d photographed just weeks before was now in party mode and ready for the fun to begin. It just needed a few more people. And they’d be there.

Long shot of the downtown. Notice the old bank and other buildings from two weeks ago.

Warming up the graviton stationed in front of the old bank.

Next Week: 50mm Project I’m giving myself a challenge: shoot all the photos for next week’s post using an old, manual focus prime lens. It can only be good for me. The lens is a bit wider than I’m used shooting at, but it wouldn’t hurt me to limit myself to just a tad longer than a normal lens.


Exploring a State Park

Last week, I went out to explore a nearby state park. It’s much larger than the forest preserve I normally go to, so I wasn’t able to cover all of it. On the bright side, there’s more for another day. For the most part, it was your typical midwestern trees with the occasional flower, bug, or fungus. There is an unusually large piece of fungus decorated with tree leaves and seeds.

This dead tree had a particularly curvy shape. It was irresistible. It also had to be a black and white.

A river runs the length of the park and provides a nice scenic view, as well as a habitat for birds and other animals. Other animals like the mosquitos that had me for a late breakfast. I left my repellent at home thinking mosquito season hadn’t started yet. Bad idea.

Walking along one of the trails, I suddenly came upon this enclave of pine trees. A small group of conifers is surrounded by their deciduous cousins, making the spot out-of-place. If you look closely enough at the top of the cut off tree, you can see people’s names written on it. Such unnatural graffiti broke the otherworldly spell otherwise surrounding me.

Bark is also missing on some of the intact pines.

Likewise, the bottom of this tree is bare. Something is afoot.

Sometimes, one of the most interesting things about a preserve is how things just come down. How they sit and weather and age unmoved by humanity.

It was supposed to rain all afternoon, and it looked like it was going to haul off and drop several inches, so I began my trek back to the car. On the way back, I saw signs saying “No alcohol allowed in the park” and evidence that the signs were ignored. Naughty, naughty. But the bottle cap was pretty, and I have this weird artist thing about taking pictures of metal objects against pavement surrounded by natural objects. I try not to do it too often, mostly because it doesn’t make sense to me.

I plan to revisit the park someday when the weather is better and I have more time. I also plan to bring my bug spray. However, this wasn’t a bad first expedition. It’s always good for me to get out in the woods for a good long walk, even if it is mosquito season.

Next Week: Fireworks or Small Town Festival

Since the fireworks are part of the festival, I might post a little bit of both. We’ll see how it goes.


Polo: Another Small Town

I spent Memorial Day with my relatives in the small town of Polo. Since it was such a nice day, I decided to go downtown and shoot. I wanted to reaquaint myself with the place I’d often visited as a child and look at it through new eyes. Downtown Polo is, oh say, about a two block area of old stores all connected to each other. Some were kept up over the ages, others were not. My relatives don’t see anything particularly interesting about the town or all that old stuff, but I do. So I left the house, weirdo with a camera, and went exploring.

Sadly, a good chunk of the buildings on one side of the street is hanging in rags. It was difficult to discern if this one spot in particular even had a back wall. I felt somewhat crushed seeing it more dilapidated than I remembered.

At one corner stood the considerably more intact old bank. I only know it was the bank because it is labeled as such. Otherwise, I would assume that the handsome grey building across the street had always been the bank.

I had to admire the detail in the buildings. The way people built things back in the day was so much more ornate. Not at all like many of the plain square structures put up today.

On the other side of the street, I found this amazing doorknob. Seriously, have you ever seen such a beautiful exterior doorknob?

Buildings on the other side of the street seemed to be better kept up as a whole. This one is particularly nicely kept up or restored. I’m not sure which.

Unfortunately, a large and beautiful old school building just outside the downtown is not. I’m told the building was designed by a noted architect. My relatives can remember going to school here and can still point out their classrooms. They convey a great sense of sorrow about the state of this building. I’ve often wondered what could be done with it. The town has more modern and efficient school buildings, so they don’t need it for that purpose. Economically, a business big enough for the building wouldn’t survive in a small town. I’ve wondered if it could be turned into some sort of housing like they do with old factories in the Southeast, but the area around Polo probably wouldn’t support that economically either. It’s just not big enough. It’s amazing what’s hidden away in some corners of the state, and sad that those things aren’t living up to their potential.

Just how big is Polo? My father once speculated it would be impossible to get lost in Polo because it’s so small. In many ways, that’s comforting. I’ve always felt safe in that town. Surprisingly, there are even smaller towns. One of my college friends came from such a town not so far from Polo. I asked how she knew Polo was bigger. She responded that Polo had a restaurant that wasn’t a bar. Strange qualification, but as far as I can find, it’s still true.

 

For me, Polo is a very American sort of small town. It’s a familiar yet different place where I come to be with my relatives. I hope to be seeing more of it this summer.

 

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Next Week: Time or The Woods

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