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Photo a Day Challenge: Day 30

Photo a Day Challenge: Day 30 - Park at Night on Ilford Delta 100 filmPark at Night - Irvine, CA
Wednesday, September 11, 2013 at 7:55pm
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Well, I finally made it to the 30th and final day of my photo a day challenge. I again found myself out at night to make my exposures, this time at a neighborhood park near where I grew up. The real reason I chose to visit this park to take photos is because there is a beautiful Gratitude and Honor Memorial set up there for the fallen heroes of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. And seeing as how the date on this night was September 11th, I thought it would be fitting to photograph the memorial.

Here is a shot of just one section of one of the panels on this memorial. There are  20 panels in all - each one filled with names of soldiers killed in combat. As of this writing there are 6,714 names engraved in the Northwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial (per www.northwoodmemorial.com). If you carefully review the names in the photo below, it's chilling to note some of the ages of these soldiers.

Photo a Day Challenge: Day 30 - Northwood Park Military Memorial on Ilford Delta 100 filmWar Memorial - Irvine, CA
Wednesday, September 11, 2013 at 7:26pm
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The panels are glossy, so it was difficult to avoid reflections clouding the names. I first tried to get my own reflection out of the frame, but then I decided to let my outline show in the composition. I felt that my silhouette might serve as a reminder that these names aren't simply names on a plaque but names that represent real flesh-and-blood people fallen in the line of duty.

If you're in the area, I strongly recommend visiting this memorial.

After taking this photo of the memorial, I decided to venture around the park in search of other shots to finish off my final roll of film. I eventually found my way to the back of the park where I fixed my camera on a tree and lamppost with an interesting backdrop of silhouetted rooflines. Much like the photo from yesterday's blog entry, I think this shot of the lamppost is going to speak much more to me than anyone else. As I continue to mature in my photography, I'm realizing that more than capturing moments or subjects, I really want to capture "vibes" and emotions - those deeply-ingrained feelings that can't be articulated in words. This image of the lamppost and tree, I feel, captures a "vibe" that I can't articulate. I don't know if you'll get that same vibe from it, but that's what I like about it.

This 30-day photo a day challenge has been a huge growing experience for me. It helped me discover new approaches to photography and how to find photos in situations and subjects I wouldn't have otherwise thought to photograph. It helped me reach a point where I know now what to do next. I have project ideas sprouting up in my head left and right. The creative juices are flowing and I know where to go from here. This challenge certainly served its purpose.

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

Photo a Day Challenge: Day 29

Photo a Day Challenge: Day 29 - Streetlight on Ilford Delta 100 filmStreetlight - Irvine, CA
Tuesday, September 10, 2013 at 10:13pm
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There is a recently-built road in the hills behind my old high school here in Irvine. This road will soon be lined by tract housing, but as of now, it's empty. I love it here. Without any buildings in the way, you get a great high-up view of the city below and the whole stretch of asphalt feels quiet and secluded. I especially love visiting this road at night. With nothing but the streetlights lining the road to illuminate the dark, you can really feel like you're out in the middle of nowhere.

For day 29 of my photo a day challenge, I decided to visit this deserted road to make my photograph. I had a pre-visualized composition in mind of just a single streetlight rising up the center of the frame with a completely black background. One of my favorite things in the world is the way artificial lighting in a nighttime settings simultaneous creates some of the harshest contrast and some of the softest tonal gradations you'll find anywhere. And the resulting simple shadows look awesome on black and white film.

With my Mamiya RZ67 loaded up with Ilford Delta 100 film, I found a streetlight on a relatively level stretch of the road, set up my tripod directly across from it, and metered my exposure at 1/4 of a second at f/4. I chose a relatively wide aperture because there was no need for a big depth of field here. My subjects were all lined up on the same plane, all about equidistant from me, and the background had no detail to it in the darkness. This wide aperture allowed me to use a decently quick shutter speed in this dim lighting. Still had to use a tripod, though. The way I arrived at exactly f/4 is because of the way it rendered the light itself. See, small apertures turn pinpoints of light into stars. The smaller the aperture, the more pronounce the star. Here, I wanted some faint light rays "shooting" out from the light, but I didn't want a full-fledged multi-pointed star. With the help of my depth of field preview button, I found that f/4 gave just the right amount of starburst.

Strangely enough, this is one of my favorite photos from the entire photo a day challenge. It may not mean much to the average viewer, but it means something to me.

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

Joshua Tree National Park

Back on the 29th of March, I met a student out in Joshua Tree National Park for some 1-on-1 tutoring (Hey, Kim!). The hope was to capture some wildflower photographs but the bloom wasn't quite out just yet. There were some Desert Dandelions blooming along the side of the road, but nothing amazing. So instead, I led us out to Arch Rock and then the Cholla Cactus Gardens for some shots.

I wasn't jiving too well at Arch Rock, so I didn't bring anything home from it. The light was no good and I felt like I already got the best angles of it in a previous trip (you can see one of those shots here). But the Cholla Cactus Gardens turned out to be much more fun. I started out trying to capture the sheer denseness and expansiveness of this amazing wild garden by using my Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS to zoom into the landscape and get some pictures that highlighted the texture, shape, form and patterns of these cacti. I positioned myself so the sun would act as backlighting, giving the cacti a nice halo.

Then I put on my Canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens to capture some more intimate, abstract views of these "Teddy Bear" cacti.

Then, when sunset rolled around, I switched to my wide-angle Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L and started working some more classic landscapes.


Click for a larger version of this panoramic

As I was doing some of these shots with my camera pointing southwest, I happened to glance over my shoulder towards the east to see the most stunning view of the full moon rising over the Colorado Desert. So, in a mad dash to beat the moon before it rose too high above the horizon, I called out to Kim to point her camera towards the moonrise, I switched out my lenses, framed up a quick composition and started firing away. The lesson here is never forget to look around when you're out in the field - sometimes the best shot is behind your back.

On our way out of the park, the full moon was shining so much light on the landscape that I just didn't feel right not stopping to get some nighttime shots. The following were taken at night under moonlight. You can see the constellation Orion if you look closely. The following shot was illuminated by nothing more than moonlight.

In this last shot, the rock formation in the background was illuminated solely by moonlight, but I "painted" the Joshua Tree in the foreground with a few sweeps of my LED headlamp throughout the 20-second exposure. I think it turned out quite well if I may say so myself!

Well there you have it. I hope you enjoy the pictures - I know it's a lot this time, but I just couldn't leave any more out! All in all, the trip was a blast and it was great taking my very talented student, Kim, out there to teach her a thing or two about shooting in this great park! Until next time...