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Photo a Day Challenge: Day 24

Photo a Day Challenge: Day 24 - Hills in Orange County on Ilford Delta 100 filmHills - Santiago Oaks Regional Park, CA
Thursday, September 5, 2013 at 8:39am
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Day 24 of my photo a day challenge and I was out mountain biking again, this time in the morning. I was at my usual stomping ground in Santiago Oaks Regional Park. The temperatures were already soaring. Or maybe it was just the weight of the camera gear. Every minute on the trail feels hotter with a medium format camera in your backpack.

Trudging up the hillside, I kept my eyes open for a good composition. Nothing was really jumping out at me. It was a cloudless morning and the hills were bone dry. I'm not a fan of cloudless days when it comes to photography because it just leaves the sky a boring single tone of color. I need some puffy white clouds in there to break it up! But alas, you gotta do what you can with what you got.

Eventually I found myself in a position where a series of hillsides receded off into the distance in front of me. They looked like layered construction paper cutouts on account of the harsh backlighting. Most of all, the diagonals are what really jumped out at me. Desaturated into black and white, I hoped that these backlit ridges would flatten out into an interesting mosaic of lines and textures. I'd need to work hard to enhance the contrast, though. Without sufficient contrast, the hills would blend together too much. That's why I used a red #23a filter to help lighten the sunlit areas and darken the shadowed areas. I also used a total of 5 stops of split ND filters to darken the sky above.

The best news of it all: my sweaty bike ride proved productive on more level than one!

Read the backstory on this Photo A Day Challenge here. See previous days here.

Photo a Day Challenge: Day 23

Photo a Day Challenge: Day 23 - Palm Trees in Laguna Beach on Ilford Delta 100 filmPalm Trees 1 - Laguna Beach, CA
Wednesday, September 4, 2013 at 5:37pm
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Day 23 of my photo a day challenge brought me to Laguna Beach for a private photography lesson in Orange County with one of my long-time students. It was a beautiful day - classic southern California summer. The offshore breeze cooled my skin to the perfect temperature. I decided to seize the opportunity of being in Laguna Beach for my photo of the day. I brought my gear and showed up early to see what I could find.

Up on a cliff in Heisler Park, I found a great vantage point on these three palm trees perched along the Pacific Coast. These three trees were just too perfect to pass up. They were simple, picturesque, the light was hitting them perfectly, and there were three of them. Everything looks great in threes. And look at them, even their heights are staggered perfectly. It's like these trees were designed to be photographed.

Although the breeze was relatively mild down at my level, the palm tree fronds suspended high in the air seemed to be taking a bit of a pounding. I think the trees would have had a little bit better shape to them if the wind hadn't been so strong - it would have had more of a relaxed, calm, postcard-esque summer day feel rather than an offshore typhoon feel. But oh well. Details, details.

I moved around quite a bit left and right trying to get a hand railing out of the shot and trying to get a good balance between the three trees and the rock in the background. I opted for a Red #23A filter here to help darken the blue sky and water. I knew this would work to create some separation between the sunlit sides of the palm trees and the bright sky and water behind. My exposure was 1/125 at f/14.

And then I tried a similar composition, but horizontal. Because why not? I can't decide which one I like better.

Photo a Day Challenge: Day 23 - Palm Trees and sky on Ilford Delta 100 filmPalm Trees 2 - Laguna Beach, CA
Wednesday, September 4, 2013 at 5:49pm
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Read the backstory on this Photo A Day Challenge here. See previous days here.

Orange County Beaches: Cress Beach at Sunset

Orange County Beaches - Cress Street BeachCress Street Beach at Sunset
Fuji Velvia 50 Film - f/32 at 1 minute
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I complain a lot about Orange County for many reasons, but one thing I can't complain about is its beaches. Orange County beaches are gorgeous. Okay, okay...maybe not compared to the central coast of California. But for how accessible they are, they offer up some pretty great scenery. The only problem with them is the same problem with all of Orange County: crowds. You'll never find yourself all alone on a beach in OC (unless you sneak in to the state park at night).

The crowds make shooting panoramas at Orange County beaches a little tricky. With such an incredibly wide view, it's tough to avoid buildings, people, and foot prints. Compound that with trying to keep sea spray off my filters, sand getting in my bag, a rapidly dropping sun, and I've got myself a recipe for frustration. But luckily, experience is on my side with years of beach shooting behind me. I still sometimes botch a beach shoot now and then, but I'd say my batting average is decent enough.

I made this image on Fuji Velvia 50 film. For those unfamiliar, Fuji Velvia 50 is the gold standard for high-saturation landscape work. The colors are so rich that it can often make the scene look better than real life. It's contrasty and colorful - perfect for a sunset. But it's also a royal pain in the ass to work with. The contrast is so high that your exposure has to be spot on. This ain't no RAW file. If you make an error in your exposure by 2/3 of a stop, you're done.

But that's not what bothers me. What's really tough is how this film behaves at long exposures. It has some serious reciprocity failure issues. Reciprocity failure is a phenomenon where certain exposure times don't result in the expected exposure and color.

For instance, let's say you expose Velvia 50 at f/2.8 at 1/2 second and you get a correct exposure with accurate colors. Well, an equivalent exposure would be f/16 at 15 seconds. So you'd think, I'll just plug in f/16 and 15 seconds and I'll get the same exact exposure as before. That is how it works on digital cameras, after all. But because of reciprocity failure, the film doesn't behave the same way at 15" as it does at 1/2 exposures. Basically, the film doesn't soak up light with the same efficiency and the photo comes out darker than expected. To remedy this issue, you have to add exposure to that 15" shutter in order to compensate for the film's failure to soak up light. There are tables and calculations to help figure out the adjusted exposure time for each film (there's a great iPhone app called "Reciprocity Timer" that I use). For Velvia 50, a calculated exposure time of 15" actually needs a shutter speed of 26"! If your calculated shutter speed was 30", you'd actually need to shoot it at 1 minute!

But it doesn't end there. Aside from the adjustments you must make to the calculated exposure, the colors come out funky too! Anything longer than about 1" will result in color shifts. Velvia 50 happens to shift towards a magenta tone when used at ultra-long exposures. That's why the photo at top exhibits a purplish color cast. For some shooters, this color shift alone would be reason enough to not take the shot. But I'm a little more laid back with these things. I say let the color shift happen. Let it ride and see how it turns out. I think it creates a cool mood here. I'd say the composition is decent, but there are certainly flaws with this shot and a few things I would have done differently. Not one for the wall, but that's alright. They can't all be masterpieces.

Velvia 50 is like that super attractive but ultra-high maintenance girlfriend that you just can't break up with. Velvia 50, I love you, but sometimes you're a real pain in the ass.