Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Summer Draws to an End

With schools around the country having either already started up, or beginning within the next few days, summer is at least beginning to draw to an end. As I look back over the past few months and wonder where the summer has gone, this summer, more than any other in recent memory, reminded me of the summers of my youth when every day was clear, sunny, hot, humid, and it never rained.

Some of my earliest childhood memories of summer are of my siblings and I running around the back yard, weaving in and out of a sprinkler. Running around in circles, alternately squealing and laughing and darting towards the ice cold sprays of water, and only at the last minute jumping over the swinging sprinkler arm.

As I got a little older and too cool to hang out with the "little" kids playing in the water, some friends and I would walk to a field and hang out in the shade of a giant willow tree, taking turns sitting in an old tire suspended from a giant low hanging limb with an antique and fraying rope. We'd push each other higher and higher until we were tired of pushing, then we'd just sit and spin and sway in whatever breeze might be available.

©2010 Scott Bulger, All Rights Reserved
ISO 400 ----- 60mm ----- f2.8 ----- 1/80

Once I reached high school age and became too cool to hang out on a tire swing, I'd wait for the weekends and anticipate the arrival of relatives that would come over for a barbecue. I'd stand in the backyard and play catch with my cousin Wayne while the adults sat at the big picnic table and talked and enjoyed a cold beer. We'd listen to the Red Sox play the Yankees on the radio, and everyone would curse Thurman Munson, Craig Nettles, Chris Chambliss, Micky Rivers, Oscar Gamble, Sparky Lyle, and Ron Guidry, and we'd all cheer for Fred Lynn, Jim Rice, Rick Burleson, Carlton Fisk, Rico Petrocelli, Carl Yastrzemski, and Luis Tiant.

Now, I sit on my own porch, enjoying my own cold beer, and smile as I watch my own kids run around in the yard, darting in and out of the sprinkler and laughing hysterically every time they get wet, as if they thought they were going to be able to avoid the streams of water shooting in every direction from the flapping arms of the purple octopus staked into the ground.

I think that next year, I'll put up a tire swing.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Empty Compartment - 9311

©2010 Scott Bulger, All Rights Reserved
ISO 400 ----- 18-200mm @52mm ----- f32 ----- 1/4 sec

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Views at Sunrise

©2010 Scott Bulger, All Rights Reserved
ISO 400 ----- 18-200mm @ 130mm ----- f10 ----- 1/250

Monday, August 16, 2010

"Can we meet in the evening instead?"

When someone wants to go shooting with me, we inevitably get around to setting a time and I suggest the early morning, somewhere around 30 minutes prior to official sunrise. That provokes a response that usually ranges from stunned silence to outright laughter. Once they realize that I'm not joking, they compose themselves and ask "Why so early?"

I launch into my stump speech about the Golden Hour and the properties of the light when it's near to the horizon and passing through all of that extra atmosphere. Once they realize that the suns proximity to the horizon plays a role in my desires, the wheels start turning and they quickly suggest that we meet in the evening, just prior to sunset, instead. I usually decline and try to convince them of the early morning benefits.

Why do I prefer the morning to the evening?

Peace. Being with my camera and watching the world wake up is a very calming and peaceful experience. Everything is fresh and new and springs to life with the dawns first rays of light. The earth is still holding on to the secrets of the dark as overnight frost or dew is still being clung to.

©2010 Scott Bulger, All Rights Reserved

ISO 100 ----- 20mm ----- f5.6 ----- 1/125

It's easier to take your time in the morning as you aren't rushing to beat the dark. When you aren't rushing, you think more clearly and are less likely to make mistakes.

Happy shooting!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Resting - Breaking Down Your Composition

At 5:00 am the mosquitoes are hungry. They've been fluttering around all night with no people to snack on, and with sunrise coming, they know they don't have much time left to feed. They attack like they're invading Normandy; wave after wave, with no end in sight, but if you can withstand the onslaught for an hour, the sun will be up and the bugs will have high tailed it to their day time hiding place, surely in the bowels of hell somewhere.

I park my truck on top of the hill near the gate of the cemetery where I'm going to shoot this morning. The old gnarled trees, the rusted wrought iron fence, and the lichen covered stones are all silhouetted against a dark blue sky. I gather my equipment and press my truck door quietly shut as if I slam it and make too much noise the cerulean blind will go rolling up uncontrollably, dragging the sun with it, and ruining my morning of shooting.

©2010 Scott Bulger, All Rights Reserved
ISO 100 ----- 60mm ----- f2.8 ----- 1/2

Oftentimes, when composing an image, I'll back the focus off of my image to verify my composition.

"What are you talking about Scott?" you ask. "How do you verify your composition by making it OUT of focus?"

The first element of the composition is always the shapes involved and their relationship to each other. The easiest way to assure that you aren't being duped is to eliminate the distractions, and reduce your viewfinder to it's simplest components. Understand the primary shapes involved; cubes, cuboids, spheres, cones, cylinders, and their 2 dimensional counterparts; squares, rectangles, circles, and triangles. Understand how they interact with each other and their place in the frame.

The second element of the composition that you need to understand is the color palette and how it works in your image. If you work in black and white like I do, you also need to understand how those colors that you are seeing are going to translate to black and white.

See what I mean? This is not a trick. The second Red/Green image is simply the first Red/Green image converted to grayscale. If you are shooting film, and don't account for this with the proper filtration at the time of shooting, you are going to be pretty much stuck. If you are shooting digitally, you'll have options, but in order to pre-visualize your image, you are going to need to recognize the issue and determine how you are going to handle it when the time comes.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Cohesion - Don't Let a Little Rain Stop You

It's been an incredibly hot and dry summer here in the northeast. Day after day of 90 degree heat and clear blue skies tick by with regularity. While I personally enjoy the heat, the clear skies don't make for the optimum of shooting conditions. A hazy sky will soften the suns rays and eliminate harsh shadows, puffy white clouds floating across the sky will add interest to a blank slate, and storm clouds hold the promise of rain that can transform a parched landscape from arid to lush.

The principles of cohesion cause like molecules within a substance to be attracted to each other. The way that mercury beads together is the optimum example of this property. Water also exhibits this same attraction. One afternoon, I was sitting in a small town diner having lunch while waiting for an appointment. As I sipped my icy drink, I was looking out the window watching the locals walk by and the wind begin to pick up. The sky darkened and a late afternoon thunderstorm rolled in to town and the rain began to fall. As quickly as it started, the wind subsided and the downpour slowed to a mist. I still had some time to kill, so I paid my check and grabbed my camera bag as I headed for the door. The air outside had cooled significantly, and everything had a temporary sense of newness.

©2010 Scott Bulger, All Rights Reserved
ISO 400 ----- 60mm ----- f3.2 ----- 1/640th

Walking up and down the street, everything looked much different than it had an hour ago. The dust was cleared from the air, and the buildings glistened with moisture as the post-storm sunlight peeked through the breaking clouds. The plants sighed with relief as their roots pulled up their much needed moisture from the newly dampened soil.

Take advantage of these times. Rain will change the way things look and often add some character to your subjects. Don't be afraid of a little rain, and clouds are always welcome. Cloud cover will add hours of usable shooting light to your day, and when time is always a precious commodity, that is a very good thing.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Leaves on a Vine - Using Depth of Field

I love watching plants grow. I like to make a couple trips a day out to my garden and just kind of check things out. I'll lean forward against the fence and observe the progress of the tomatoes, see how the cucumbers are coming, and see if the peppers are turning colors yet. I'm fascinated that all of these plants have sprung forth from these tiny seeds that we stuck in the soil and watered once in a while, avoided stepping on, and occasionally pulled a weed or two to feed to the chickens.

I've got a friend that runs her own sugar house and small farm featuring lots of heritage breed animals and vegetables where I often turn for advice with my forays into the agricultural world. I stopped by her farm this evening to photograph some very rare heritage breed chickens that she has. When the birds had tired of my intrusion, I just walked around the vegetable patches looking at the plants. Ten foot tall sunflowers over here, tomato plants bending under the weight of their fruit over there, and strawberries still producing fruit over there. What really caught my eye next were the bright orange orbs in the pumpkin patch. Big and round and tangerine colored, the pumpkins are ready for harvest weeks earlier than usual. As I walked through the pumpkins and came into the squash area, I was amazed at the new leaves still spiraling out of the vines and their leggy tendrils reaching out for something to grab like Jules Verne's giant octopus in "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea".

©2010 Scott Bulger, All Rights Reserved
ISO 400 ----- 60mm ----- f3.2 ----- 1/90

Each leaf was twisting forth, straining to break the grip of the other leaves, and spread itself out where it could battle for the sunlight that it would need to feed the rest of the plant. The intricate web of veins protruding from the back of the leaves, carrying moisture that the roots had extracted from the earth.

I used a large aperture to give me the shallow depth of field that would separate this group of leaves from the rest of the tangled vines and leaves that were only inches away. This shallow depth of field also provides a three dimensional feel to a very two dimensional thing; a flat computer monitor or a printed image on a piece of substrate.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Five Stones - Courtesy of my Trusty Tripod

7:55 PM. Not exactly prime photo making time up here in the hills of New Hampshire in August. While sunset was officially 7:57 PM tonight, in the forest, surrounded by trees, and between a couple of hills, it's really much darker than you would think for two minutes prior to sunset. This is typically right in the middle of the golden hour, that time of day when the low angle of the sun and the amount of atmosphere that the light has to pass through gives it a beautiful warmth, but along the banks of the Piscataquog River in New Boston (population 5076, 2008), there was no such light this evening.

The most important piece of gear that any photographer should have (after top quality lenses), is a rugged tripod, and while I use my tripod about 99% of the time, this is situation where it really earns it's keep. It takes an un-shootable situation, and gives you the latitude that you need to create the image that you have visualized in your mind.

©2010 Scott Bulger, All Rights Reserved
ISO 400-------f25-------6 seconds-------Polarizing Filter

This shot doesn't get made without the tripod. There's no way to stabilize the camera for that long without one, and the long shutter speed and tiny aperture were mandatory to blur out pieces of debris that were floating by in the current, and to get the proper Depth of Field. The Polarizing Filter was used to eliminate glare, but it also required adding about a stop of exposure. Even under good shooting conditions where you wouldn't normally think about a tripod, the stability that it adds even at faster shutter speeds, will add noticeable sharpness to your images.

Do yourself, and your images, a favor. If you have a tripod, use it. If you don't have a tripod, get one. You won't be sorry.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Main Street BookEnds of Warner

I'd like to thank the very nice people at Main Street BookEnds of Warner for carrying my new book, KHRONIKOS. Main Street BookEnds of Warner is a great local business and the winner of many awards, including:

YANKEE Magazine’s Editors’ Pick-"Must-See Bookstore in New England"

New Hampshire Magazine’s “Best Community Book Store in New Hampshire"

If you live local to central New Hampshire, it's a great place to stop. Check out their web site or take a drive to check it out. If you don't live in New Hampshire, consider shopping locally when possible. Shopping locally keeps local dollars in the local economy far longer than shopping chain stores. In these tough economic times, it's small local businesses that are creating the majority of new jobs. Local businesses are what makes your town special. They are the difference between your Main Street and Generic Street, USA.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Please Try Harder - Portfolio Review

Both of these incidents took place during portfolio reviews during July. The conversations you are about to read are true. The names have been changed to protect the lazy.

Incident #1

(I'm flipping through the portfolio with the photographer sitting next to me.)

Halfway through the portfolio.....

Photographer - "What do you think of this one?" reaching over and pointing at the image in front of me.

Me - (I usually don't comment on anything until I've gone through the entire book, and then will go back and comment on individual images) "It's over-saturated. You pushed it so far that there is no detail at all in this purple area and that yellow area." (These two areas probably accounted for about 5% of the overall area of the photograph.)

Photographer - "Yeah, I know. I was hoping that you wouldn't notice."

OK. So you respect my opinion enough to ask me to review your portfolio, but was hoping that I was legally blind so that I wouldn't notice the two solid colored paint spills on your photograph....

Incident #2

Me - (After finishing reviewing the portfolio) "This is a pretty nice group of images you have here. There are some issues that need addressing though. I think that you've probably over-sharpened a couple of them...."

Photographer - "Numbers 5 and 6?"

Me - "Yes."

Photographer - "I keep meaning to redo those images but just haven't had time."

Do you understand the conundrum here? It's kind of like time travel. If you go back in time, your simple presence would alter the world, and it would effect your life to the point that you'd be a different person in the future and wouldn't end up time traveling back to do whatever it was that you wanted to do. It won't work.

You respect my opinion enough to have me review your portfolio. You knowingly presented me with a seriously flawed images, hoping that I wouldn't notice. If I don't notice, how much weight could you possibly give the rest of my comments, knowing that I didn't see what you were hoping that I wouldn't?

Your portfolio should represent your very best work. Look for reasons to exclude images. If you can't find a reason to keep it out, then go ahead and put it in. If it's not helping your portfolio, it's hurting it. Don't make excuses to add images that shouldn't be in there. Your portfolio is only as strong as it's weakest image.