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May 2012 Solar Eclipse

Unless you've been living under a rock the past week, you probably heard about the annular solar eclipse that happened this past Sunday (May 20, 2012). So, like many of the residents in its path, I headed out with my protective glasses and my camera to witness this amazing event.

Annular Solar Eclipse in Irvine, CA on May 20, 2012Click image for larger version

This was the first solar eclipse I'd ever seen, let alone photographed, so I didn't really know what to expect. Photographing it proved to be a bit tough. It was difficult to not get ghost images and reflections of the sun off the filters and elements inside the camera lens. Also, I had to bring the exposure way down since, you know, I'm looking directly into the sun and all. With the exposure way down, the sky turned black, which kind of made it look like a crescent moon. And even with 8 stops of split ND, there was no way to get a correctly exposed foreground element in the shot. So, in order to execute the picture above, I resorted to one of my least-favorite techniques: digital composite (bleh...).

If you're a regular here on my blog, you know how much I hate combining multiple images using Photoshop. I never do it for my more traditional non-eclipse photos - in fact, this was only the second composite image I've ever done - but the above photo was just physically impossible without either digital manipulation or an 11-stop split ND filter. If I'd had that 11-stop split ND filter that doesn't exist, I could have and would have executed this photo in a single frame without any Photoshop.

But, alas, my only option was to photograph the scene at a correct exposure for the foreground, then photograph the eclipse separately at a much darker exposure. I then overlaid the photo of the eclipse on top of the foreground image and faded the transition between the two images from top to bottom much like a split ND would. The sun is still in the correct spot in the frame and is about the correct size, but all-in-all, it took about 15 minutes of work in the computer to create this image.

And as for the close-up shots of the eclipse, I only had 400mm to work with on my lens. 1200mm would have been nice, but whaddya gonna do?

Overall, the eclipse was beautiful, interesting, exciting and fun to see/photograph. I'm already counting down the days to 2017 when we'll get a full solar eclipse!

Annular Solar Eclipse in Irvine, CA on May 20, 2012

Some Sweet Abandoned Buildings

We had some cloud cover coming through Orange County a couple weeks back that have really made some nice sunsets. I went to my usual spot of Quail Hill one day and I considered hitting up the beach, but when I went out on the 21st, I was itching for some new material. I didn't care if it was nature, urban or a mix, I just wanted some new subject matter for a change.

Anyone from Orange County will know how hard this is. You can only shoot the same beaches so many times and battle the track housing for so long before it gets old. Orange County's nice, but it's no Washington state. If I wanted new material, I knew it wasn't going to be anything fantastic if it was within a 50-mile radius. So, I decided to explore.

They recently opened up this hot-air-like balloon that takes people above the future "Great Park" on the former El Toro Marine Base. I'd never been before, but I thought I'd try exploring around there. Well, I'm sure glad I did, because I found some amazing old buildings on this retired Marine Base.†

I drove along an empty road, waiting for some cop or barricade to stop me from going any further, but nothing did. So I kept driving until I got to a deserted building that looked like it used to be some sort of utility building (there were a ton of circuit breakers and pipes and warehouse rooms and stuff). Windows were broken, the asphalt was cracked and overrun by bushes, doors were left open - it looked just so awesome. All the textures and character of this place were screaming to be photographed.†

That afternoon I managed to get some pretty good landscapes of this dilapidated building at sunset. The entire time I was shooting, no one came to kick me out, no one was around, I was completely alone and having a great time. Here are the resultant pictures:

Then I went back a second day to scout around inside the building. This was a little more creepy but just as awesome. The big, cavernous rooms were dark and bare except for some serious spider webs around the doors and a few tumbleweeds. I snapped off a few self-portraits while I was there:

Unfortunately, though, the all-too-bored Irvine PD came and kicked me out on the third visit there. Good thing, too. Us pesky photographers are always getting into trouble, defacing property and putting otherwise unused property to good use.†

The moral to this story: Exploration is a fun and important technique to finding good shots, almost as important as remaining discreet when doing it.

And then the fog rolled in…

We had some major fog on New Year's Eve and on the night of New Year's Day. When it came rolling in on the 31st, I was a little bummed my night was pre-scheduled for partying, but it all worked out because I was able to get some shots the next night.

I basically just drove around Irvine looking for some good subjects. I experimented a little with off-camera flash, but the available light pictures came out much better. I put just a little treatment on most of these pictures - pretty much just vignettes and a little desaturation or saturation.†

†I love what fog does to the light. It creates so much depth.

This is actually a park in Irvine. That little building is a bathroom (I know...it takes away a little bit from the mysticism of it all).

And I had to do a little dramatic self-portrait action. This road runs behind Northwood High, through the hills. There is hardly any development back there yet, mostly avocado groves and wildlands. Shooting there was awesome! I kept hearing coyotes howling from deep in the fog! It was amazing, but a little creepy with the fog and all.†