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Photo a Day Challenge: Day 10

Photo a Day Challenge: Day 10 - Wooden Fence on Ilford Delta 100 Film
Wooden Fence - Irvine, CA
Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 3:35pm
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For day 10 of my Photo a Day Challenge I decided to not go looking for a photo. Instead, I'd get on my bike, go for a ride, and let the photo find me. If there's anything I'd learned thus far from the previous 9 days of this challenge, it's that many of my best photos came from those situations where I wasn't actively searching for something to photograph. So with my Mamiya RZ67 loaded up in my backpack, I set out on the Mountain to Sea Trail near my home. Winding through neighborhoods and along a drainage canal, I kept my eyes peeled for an interesting shot.

This area consists of a lot of groomed trails. When you hear "Mountain to Sea Trail" you're likely picturing a dirt hiking trail. This is different. It's a paved walkway wide enough for a single car to drive down. It's designed for riding bikes, walking, and pushing strollers. The trail connects with other trails that traverse all parts of Irvine. It's excellent for a nice bike ride on a warm summer day.

On this trip, I stumbled upon a section of trail lined by a wooden fence surrounded by overgrown bushes. I have no idea what type of plants these are, but they have a beautiful white tip not unlike a stalk of fuzzy wheat. They dance calmly and sway in the breeze like feathers. But the real reason I stopped here for a photo is because of the light. A low afternoon sun backlit these plants so they appeared to be glowing from within. These glowing white stalks wrapping around the fence, I knew, would make for a great black and white. The contrast was nice and strong and the textures created some character. My exposure came out to f/4.5 at 1/125 using a 3-stop neutral density filter. The reason I needed the filter is because I wanted to use that wide aperture of f/4.5 to blur the background. Since my shutter speed tops out at 1/400 on this camera, I needed the filter to tone down the light a little bit.

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

Photo a Day Challenge: Day 8

Photo a Day Challenge: Day 8 - Commuters Exiting Train on Ilford Delta 100 FilmCommuters Exiting Train - Tustin, CA
Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 6:49pm
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On day 8 of my Photo a Day Challenge I had an itch to photograph some people in a candid daily setting. This would probably fall under the category of "street photography" but since my neck of the woods isn't exactly a bustling metropolis, I opted for the local train station in search of some activity. It was right around rush hour time so I knew there'd be a lot of trains unloading passengers from Los Angeles.

I don't remember exactly when or how I worked out this pre-visualization, but the composition I imagined involved a straight shot of the train door with commuters exiting onto the station platform. I didn't really want any recognizable faces. I planned to shoot from about the neck down.

When I arrived at the station, I saw that the southward track would be ideal on account of the setting sun. The low light from the west would illuminate that flank of the train perfectly. As I tried to nail down my composition, I realized that this shot was going to be very difficult. First off, I'd need a train there at the station so I could dial in which lens to use and where to stand. Since the trains aren't there waiting very long, I wouldn't have much time to do this. And then there was the metering. I utilize a system for manually metering that's quite similar to the Zone System, and it's all done with a handheld light meter. To put it plainly, it's not the quickest metering method, but boy is it precise. And since I only had 4 frames to work with and no immediate image playback, I needed that precision. I did my best metering off a passing train on the opposite side of the tracks, double checking it on various parts of the station platform.

With my settings were dialed in, I claimed a spot sitting on the ground near a railing, pointed my camera where I thought the train door would be, and pre-focused as best I could. The top-down waist-level viewfinder of this camera was perfect for this shot because it allowed me to look down into my camera, not towards the train. From the commuters' point of view, I was just some guy sitting on the ground looking down at his camera. No drawing attention, no taking people out of the moment.

Now it was a waiting game.

I heard a train rumbling down the tracks and I perked up, ready for action. I knew I'd only have 1 or 2 chances for this shot. My camera is a manual frame advance design which means once I trigger the shutter, moving to the next frame takes at least 1 second. The moment could be gone by the time I move to the next image. The train rolled in for a stop, the doors opened, and I steadied my camera. I didn't trigger the shutter as soon as the doors opened. Instead, I observed the activity for a split second until my gut told me "now." Luckily, my instincts were right and the first frame came out exactly as I hoped. Upon reviewing the film, I was thrilled to see that the exposure was spot on, the framing was as I envisioned, and the moment of activity had just the right amount of interest to it. The shadow of the man against the train was a nice bonus.

The exposure settings for the image at top were f/13 at 1/125, no filters. After this successful photo (which wasn't confirmed successful until days later when I developed the film), I fired off 2 more "safety" shots of the train departing - neither of which were phenomenal - and this one image of long shadows streaking across the concrete.

Photo a Day Challenge: Day 8 - Late Light and Shadows on Ilford Delta 100 FilmLate Light & Shadows at the Train Station - Tustin, CA
Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 7:07pm
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Read the backstory on this Photo A Day Challenge here. See previous days here.

Photo a Day Challenge: Day 7

Photo a Day Challenge: Day 7 - Cabazon Dinosaurs on Ilford Delta 100 FilmInconsiderate T-Rex - Cabazon, CA
Monday, August 19, 2013 at 3:42pm
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On the way to Palm Springs from Orange County or LA, you'll see a strange site off the side of the 10 Freeway. Rising above the desert are two huge dinosaurs - a t-rex and an apatosaurus. These are the Cabazon Dinosaurs. They are delightfully kitschy, utterly unusual, and actually somewhat famous. They've been featured in music videos and movies (Pee Wee's Big Adventure anyone?) and, according the website, are seen by over 12 million people each year.

I knew these Cabazon Dinosaurs were where I'd get my shot for day 7 of my photo a day challenge. I mean, come on, how often do you get to photograph life-size dinosaurs?

Rather than seek out the obvious shots, I wanted to focus on the more intimate weirdness of these structures. After spending quite a bit of time circling these dinosaurs in search of the right compositions, I started with a tight shot of the t-rex's leg "stepping over" the fence below it. I actually wanted this composition to look as though I was really just trying to photograph the palm tree and mountains behind it, but then this annoying dinosaur just happened to get in the shot right before I clicked the shutter. Like those bygone times when you'd get a roll of film back from the lab and start flipping through the prints only to find that some clueless out-of-it tourist stepped in front of your lens and ruined your perfect photo of the Golden Gate Bridge.

"Damn clueless dinosaur tourists always getting in to your shots. They don't even speak our language. God I hate dinosaurs!"

I then did a couple of compositions that I felt simply highlighted the randomness of these dinosaurs. I mean, really. Why are there giant dinosaurs out in the middle of the desert? It's not like this area is a hotbed of archeology. Such a non sequitur landmark.

I like this photo of the t-rex looking off in to the distance much more than I'm sure anyone else will. I like to think he's dreaming of bigger things, thinking about what could have been. Maybe he's thinking about going back to school to get his nursing degree or maybe he has big dreams of broadway. Either way, he's clearly a dreamer.

Photo a Day Challenge: Day 7 - Cabazon Dinosaurs on Ilford Delta 100 FilmT-Rex Dreams of Greater Things - Cabazon, CA
Monday, August 19, 2013 at 3:56pm
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Photo a Day Challenge: Day 7 - Cabazon Dinosaurs on Ilford Delta 100 FilmApatosaurus is Not Amused  - Cabazon, CA
Monday, August 19, 2013 at 3:50pm
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Read the backstory on this Photo A Day Challenge here. See previous days here.