Wednesday, 16 of April of 2014

Archives from month » October, 2013

From Above the Sky

From Above the Sky

Photos of the night sky, of the distant planets, stars, galaxies, and nebulae are things that continually fascinate and inspire awe in everyone who looks at them. The beauty and majesty of the universe at large is something that speaks very deeply to everyone. That’s why the Hubble telescope has part of its time dedicated to doing nothing but taking awe-inspiring photographs. No research (well, not as a primary objective), just truly awesome photos of our neighbors in the universe. It’s also why, when the Hubble telescope experienced problems early on, people all over the US and all over the world were ready to pitch in if needed to keep the mission going. And, even after all these years, funding for things like Hubble, Cassini, Spritzer, and the Webb telescopes and satellites are issues that the public gets very passionate about. These machines act as our eyes and gaze out across the cosmos in a way that many of us which we could do ourselves.

This is also why astrophotography is such a popular and growing hobby. It’s also why things like eclipses, transits, the supermoon, and comets often make headlines whenever they are scheduled to appear. Back during the last annular eclipse, it was difficult to find a place that wasn’t talking about it. We’re fascinated with the sky and with space.

The ground beneath our feet is spinning at a thousand miles an hour. The entire planet is hurtling around the sun at sixty seven thousand miles an hour. And I can feel it. We're falling through space, you and me, clinging to the skin of this tiny little world. And, if we let go...But there is another aspect to astrophotography that we often forget about. We get so caught up in looking up and away that we rarely take the time to look down upon our own planet and its strangely beautiful, haunting atmospheric dance. Yes, we all know about the auroras. Few of us have ever gotten the chance to see them but we know about them. We have all seen the moon go through its different stages and many of us have seen comets, meteors, and even mistaken planets for stars. However, only a very privileged few get to gaze down upon the Earth and see our world from above the sky. The closest most of us will ever come to it is looking out of the windows of an airplane and even that is far closer to having our feet upon terra firma than it is to floating in orbit.

From above the sky, astronauts and scientists aboard the ISS can look down and see the bend of the Earth. They watch as the planet seems to move impossibly fast under them. They get to see the auroras from a perspective that few will ever share. They can watch as the clouds form, dance, dwindle, and disappear. Storm fronts are just blurs of white wisps punctuated by flashing lights to their eyes.

The sky has always fascinated us. Little wonder that so many of our stories deal with those who live on the other side of the sky and that one of the most famous paintings of all time has the night sky as its primary subject. And, now that we can project ourselves up into orbit, it’s no wonder that those of us who get to go up there take cameras so that they can share the view from the other side of the sky with the rest of humanity. They even use the same kind of cameras as we would — NASA favors the Canon 5D Mark III for use during extra-vehicular activities and for photography within the ISS.

– da Bird


Who are you going to believe?

Who are you going to believe?

Me or your lying eyes?

I’m sure that most everyone has heard that particular line and I’m sure that most of us would believe our own “lying eyes” over some slick-talking conman trying to scam us. However, is that always wise? Is seeing always believing? Oddly enough, someone who has a deft hand at design and a working knowledge of the limitations in human vision and the brain can, quite easily, trick us into seeing all kinds of things that are not real. Richard Wiseman, a UK psychologist, came up with a great video to demonstrate just how easy it is to trick people into seeing things differently than they really are. I should warn you not to watch this video if you’re drinking or eating unless you want to explain the mess to your colleagues.


Pretty cool, isn’t it? Imagine what kind of things you could do as a photographer if you had the same level of understanding how to trick the eyes as Wiseman does. Think of things you could do to enhance your studio settings and backgrounds if you’re a portrait photographer. Or, if you wanted to recreate a historical (or even a fictional) event, if you knew how to use these little short circuits, you could make it so much easier to create a photo that would make people think you had captured the action exactly as it happened. With some of these tricks, you could make everyone in a group photo appear to be the same height. There’s no end to creative ways a skilled photographer could make use of these illusions.

If you doubt that, just look at how these cameramen and photographers made use of these very things for a Honda commercial.


The last bit where the car appears to be “floating” and then drives off is my particular favorite. Did you notice how they used mirrors with grooves cut in them to keep you from seeing the car’s real reflection (behind the mirror) and to focus your attention on the false shadow in front of the mirror?

If you’re curious about how these sets and illusions were constructed, lucky for us the good people at Honda don’t mind showing us how they use optical illusions and misdirection to make us all wonder about what it is we’re seeing and if we really can trust our lying eyes.


What are some optical illusions you’d like to integrate in your photography this winter when you’re confined indoors and have time to experiment? Let us know in the comments below!

– da Bird


Weekly Wrap-Up

Weekly Wrap-Up

It’s Friday again and it’s a cold one this week. Temperatures are dropping quickly now that autumn is half-over. That means it’s time to start looking at new photography methods and to start working on your holiday gift list for all of the new cameras and photography gear coming out in advance of the holiday season. To that end, reviewers, techs, and photographers have been testing out the latest kits and weighing in with their thoughts around the web. They are also giving plenty of helpful advice on winter photography, lighting, and on weatherizing your gear so that it can make it through that snow storm that you want to capture to show off to people who live in tropical climes.

All of these stories and more were covered on our Twitter feed this week. However, if you’re not following us on Twitter, then we’ll recap the highlights for you below!


That’s all for this week, folks! Have a great weekend and see you again on Monday!

– da Bird


Giant Sun Mirrors

Giant Sun Mirrors

InFocus has a great photoessay today focused on the Norwegian town of Rjukan and Viganella in Italy. You wouldn’t think, at first, that these two towns had much in common but, in fact, they do. It turns out that both of them are located in deep valleys and suffer from a lack of direct sunlight for several months out of the year. To combat this, the towns built giant mirrors in the mountains around them to focus the sun’s light down on them.

What surprises me is how long it took them to decide to do this. People do not do well when they go without sunlight for a long period of time — even if it’s just direct sunlight they’re missing. It can make some people depressed, fatigued, or stressed out not to get a little bit of sun almost every day. It also does strange things to plants who rely on the sun as one of their major energy sources. Still, it’s kind of cool that two towns finally decided to build mirrors to bounce sunlight back down on them during the months when they would get no real sunlight.

It also makes you wonder a bit about how these towns must look during those months of nearly perpetual twilight. If you were fond of that time of day for photography, then these would be ideal locations for you to visit because you’d never have to stress out over not having enough time to get your work done (except, of course, right at actual sun-going-down twilight). And, I find myself asking why they only have a few mirrors up focused on one particular spot. Wouldn’t it be better to have a lot more mirrors so that the entire town could get more light? Or is there some kind of physical issue with that (I get that it would probably cost a lot of money).

Engineering. It can even make living in a valley more tolerable.

– da Bird


Iconic Photos: JFK November 22, 1963: A Bystander’s View of History

Iconic Photos: JFK November 22, 1963: A Bystander’s View of History

Some of the most famous images from the twentieth century were taken on a single day in Dallas, Texas. Those would be the images of JFK’s last day and the images taken in the aftermath of his assassination. We all recognize them even if some of us weren’t born yet. There’s the photo of Vice President Johnson being sworn in as President on the plane. There are the images of Jack Ruby killing Lee Harvey Oswald. The photos of Kennedy getting off Air Force One that morning at Love Field. All of these images have achieved iconic status in that just about everyone has seen them regardless of what country they live in or how old they are.

The Kennedy assassination was probably one of the most well-photographed events in the twentieth century. It occurred at a time when the average American could easily afford to engage in photography and when early adopters, such as Abraham Zapruder had started getting video cameras. And, President Kennedy was, at the time, one of the most photogenic politicians. So, it is little surprise that so many people had cameras with them as Kennedy made his way through Dallas. However, what is remarkable is how many iconic photos were generated in just a 24 hour period. In a country that was just seeing its allies and enemies rise out of the rubble of World War II and had its own troubles in dealing with Cold War enemies in Cuba and Russia, there were plenty of things to photograph and plenty of reasons to want to preserve those memories. The failed Bay of Pigs invasion and the tension of the Cuban Missile crisis brought home to everyone just how close the world stood to disaster and that, in the future, the tattered photographs of day-to-day life might be the only thing to give descendants a hint of how people lived before the nuclear conflagration. So, photography was a thriving hobby industry in those days and the First Family were considered to be quiet photogenic, even by their opponents.

Now that it has been fifty years since the Kennedy assassination, the International Center for Photography is holding an exhibit centered around the photos taken by bystanders along the parade route on November 22, 1963. If you have never had the chance to see some of these famous images in their original settings and conditions, then you should head over to this exhibit and check it out before it ends in January. Just try not to fall headlong into any conspiracies while you’re visiting.

– da Bird


Weekly Wrap-Up

Weekly Wrap-Up

Ah. It’s Friday again. That means it’s time for another one of our weekly wrap-ups. Every week is filled with plenty of photography action but this week, the focus was primarily on new cameras that are expected to roll out just in time for the holiday season. Nikon, Canon, Sony, and Fujifilm all have some great new additions to their line-ups. With the megapixel wars (hopefully) drawing to a conclusion, lately it’s all about share-ability and connectedness in new cameras. Built-in WiFi, easy access to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr — those are the things that the manufacturers are slogging it out over now.

However, it’s not all new cameras and new designs. Plenty of experienced photographers have been weighing in on new techniques and tips for their less-experienced peers. Photojournalists are working hard to capture the transitory season and all of the various harvest festivals taking place across the world this fall. All of these things and more were mentioned in our Twitter feed this week. However, if you’re not following us on Twitter then we’ll recap the highlights for you below!


That’s all for this week, folks. Have a great weekend and see you again Monday!

– da Bird


A Few Tips for Leaf-Falling Photography

A Few Tips for Leaf-Falling Photography

The leaf-falling part of autumn is here and will soon be gone (honestly, some trees go from bright green to bare in 48 hours while others take a month to lose their leaves) which means that if you were wanting to capture the “changing of the colors” with your camera, you really need to get out and get it done soon before all the trees are bare and you’re getting ready to break out your snow shovel and put up your rake. Still, there are a few things you should consider before you start snapping photos willy-nilly.

1) Beware of the sky. Autumn is a funny season in a lot of places. It can be clear and sunny with bright blue skies one hour and then grey and dreary the next. If you’re going out to get some fall color photography done, make certain you take a camera that does well in a very wide range of lighting settings and has fairly good white balancing.

2) Panoramic shots can be great…if you don’t lose the forest for the trees. During the summer months, it’s pretty much a given that a tree is going to look like any other tree. Yes, yes, you can tell the difference between a maple and a pine. But, other than that, leaves will be green during the summer whether they’re leaves on a willow, oak, or birch tree. In the fall, however, every tree acts differently. Some will have their leaves turn yellow. Some will have their leaves turn red. Some will have their leaves turn orange. So, make certain that you can see the leaves of the trees and not just the trunks.

3) Don’t mess with the wildlife. Autumn is the time of year that many species start stockpiling food to help them survive the winter months. Some animals will be gorging themselves to get ready for the long months of hibernation. Yes, it might bother you to watch one animal eat another. But don’t get involved. Let Nature take care of this for you. And don’t start feeding wild animals either. Doing so will get them desensitized to people and could lead to future travelers being attacked.

4) Leaf piles, children, and dogs = awesome. Yes, it might mean that you’re going to be raking the yard twice or more but if you can get some nice-sized leaf piles built up (and especially if your lawn is still mostly green this time of year), you just need to sit back and wait for your children (or the children in the neighborhood) to discover your leaf piles. Kids do seem to have some kind of mystical sixth sense about these things so you may not be waiting long. Sit back and let them have fun undoing your hard yard work while you get some great action shots.

5) Seriously, don’t mess with the wildlife. Not only is it a bad idea to get between a bear and his dinner, you will still need to be careful of plants that are noted for being somewhat nefarious. Leaves of three? Leave it be. Unless, of course, you like wearing calamine lotion and itching for a week (or more). And, if you’re going out camping, please take a few moments to ensure that you’re not about to throw poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac on the fire. Trust me, that’s one ER trip that you don’t want to be part of.

6) Halloween decorations are great photography chances as well. This is the one time of year when it’s acceptable to take long hayrides, to wander through hay mazes, and to have spooky things up and all over your yard and house. The rest of the year, if you do this, people think you’re strange. So, take advantage of it while you can. Get lots of photos of Halloween decorations. Enjoy photographs around a bonfire after a hayride. Get lost all day in a maze in a cornfield. Just take your camera and lenses with you to get any memorable shots!

7) Really, don’t interfere with the animals. Seriously. If we need to go through this again, maybe outdoor photography is too dangerous for you and you should take up sewing instead.

– da Bird


My Newest Favorite Photographer

My Newest Favorite Photographer

I don’t remember how exactly I stumbled across this guy but he has very quickly become my new favorite photographer. He has the same kind of obsession with places that have been abandoned that I have. Brandon Davis has several really great photo sets from abandoned railway stations, abandoned hotels, abandoned churches, schools, factories, and amusement parks.

The last has got to be my favorite collection so far. It’s from Chippewa Lake Park in Ohio which closed down in 1978 — one century after it had been opened. If you manage to get there today, you can see that most of the rides are still more or less intact though they are covered with foliage and plants. Slender trees have begun to thread their way through the roller coasters and the Ferris wheel. A few rides have been dismantled and many of the buildings have crumbled or been lost to fire. However, if you’re patient and don’t mind the wilderness aspect of it, you can get a good look at many of the rides. Though you’d have to be crazy to try to get on any of the rides today, the park was kept in fairly good conditions up until the late 1990s and several of the rides remained useable up to that point. Nowadays, obviously, you wouldn’t want to try since the neglected grounds of this abandoned park means that no maintenance has been performed on the rides in thirty-five years. The wood railings are rotting away, slime and mold have made significant headway in laying claim to their share of this park, and the metal is pitted and rusted. Even getting on the tracks or on a part of the ride close to the ground would probably be a bad idea — worse if you haven’t had your tetanus shot updated lately.

Seeing scenes like this one always makes me a little giddy and a little unnerved. It’s clear that for a century, people visited this amusement park and had a good time. Now, in less than half that time, nature has almost completely reclaimed that land. I wonder, if by some miracle, the Ferris wheel stayed up, what some explorer walking through the forest would think if he stumbled upon it in five hundred years. We might think our marks will last forever on this planet but really, Nature can take the worst we dish out and still come back strong.

What kind of abandoned places lurk off in the forests near where you are? Have you ever photographed them? Let us know in the comments below!

– da Bird


Weekly Wrap-Up

Weekly Wrap-Up

Another Friday marks the end of another busy week in the world of photography. Fall is winding down — the trees are dropping their colorful leaves — but there are still plenty of things that new photographers can do to improve their techniques and plenty of seasoned pros ready to offer them advice on the next steps in their photography journeys. Photojournalists have been out catching the last parts of the iconic part of “fall” — the leaves falling. They’ve also been having fun attending Oktoberfest celebrations and other fall festivals. Nikon and Canon have a few new cameras coming out that they’ve put in the hands of testers who have weighed on what they think about these offerings.

All of these stories and more were mentioned in our Twitter feed this week. However, if you’re not following us on Twitter then we’ll recap the highlights for you below!


That’s all for this week, folks. Have a great weekend and see you again next week!

– da Bird


Major Photography Events for Late 2013

Major Photography Events for Late 2013

2013 is drawing to a close as we enter the final quarter of the year. There are many photographic events coming up: mainstays like the changing tree colors of autumn, football games, hayrides, bonfires, and the major holidays (Halloween, Thanksgiving, and then Christmas) are all things that most people plan to photograph each year. However, this year, there are a couple more photographic events that you should add to your calendar.

The first is the Orionid meteor shower. In August, Earth passed through the region of space where meteors were waiting for the Leonid shower. Well, at the end of October, the planet will pass through another meteor-rich area and anyone with a good camera (we recommend the Sony Alpha SLT-A58K) should be able to get some great shots of the meteor shower as well as other notable astronomical features (like the Milky Way, if you’re in the right part of the world. The Aurora Borealis is also a great thing to photograph but you’ve got to be fairly far north to see it).

Another major event is coming up in December. The Comet ISON will pass by the Earth on its way to the edge of the solar system. It should be easily visible with the naked eye from just about everywhere on Earth. The last major comet I can remember seeing myself was the Hale-Bob comet back in the 1990s and that was pretty nice to look at.

There are also a few astronomical events that will never happen but, if they were to happen in a manner that didn’t spell the end for all life on Earth, they’d be pretty cool to photograph. These include the Super Moon, Mars appearing the same size as the Moon (though here’s what it would look like if it did), and Planet X cruising through. Meteor showers and comets, though, are reason enough to invest in a nice camera that can capture them. After all, comets take forever to make their circuit of the Solar System and meteor showers are just awesome no matter how you slice it.

– da Bird