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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.

Photo a Day Challenge: Day 6

Photo a Day Challenge: Day 6 - Girl in Hallway on Ilford Delta 100 FilmWoman Walking in Hallway - Palm Springs, CA
Sunday, August 18, 2013 at 9:13pm
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Oh man. Day 6 of my photo a day challenge was a frustrating one. My lovely lady and I had driven out to Palm Springs for a short getaway in the desert, and on this first day I'd made a couple of unsuccessful attempts to find my photo. First I drove around town desperately trying to get a better view of the nearby mountains and the dramatic clouds rising above. Buildings, buildings, power lines, buildings...I couldn't get a clear shot. So that was a wasted 30 minutes that I could have spent with my girlfriend instead. I came back to the hotel room frustrated.

But I wasn't ready to give up yet.

So a little bit later, I grabbed my camera again and started walking around the hotel. I was looking for reflections in the water feature surrounding the building, pattens in the building itself, interesting sparkles in a sprinkler. But nothing was working. I was trying to force a photo in an area and at a time when nothing was working. I was determined to not return to the hotel room until I could check that box on my agenda for "take a photo." But after another wasted half hour, I returned to the room in shame.

My brain was telling me to call it quits. "It's really not that big of a deal if you miss one day," my brain said. "It's not like you're getting paid to do this photo a day challenge anyway."

"Nay!" I protested. I wasn't about to fail at this challenge only 6 days in! I would make this work!

Then an idea hit me. My lady and I were getting ready to walk down to the bar for some drinks. I imagined walking behind her down the narrow hallways. I thought about the doors and carpet streaking past all around her. This was it. This was the composition I'd been looking for.

I knew it'd be a little tricky because I'd have to use a slow shutter to get the streak in the foreword motion. I'd have to walk behind her at just the right pace, taking light steps so as to avoid up-and-down vibrations. Plus, I wasn't sure exactly what shutter speed would be just right. Too slow and my subject would blur too much. Too fast and the motion wouldn't be obvious enough. Luckily, the design of my camera made this job a little easier than it would be with a DSLR or some other eye-level viewfinder camera. See, my medium format camera has a waist-level viewfinder. That means I look down into my camera held at or around waist level to compose my shots, rather than pulling it up to my eye like a DSLR. With my camera held down low coupled with its heft, I was able to keep the camera pretty steady as I walked.

I used a shutter speed of 1/8 of a second at f/4.5. I also opted for my wide angle lens to help exaggerate the motion. No filters were used.

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

New Work: Aliso/Woods Canyons in Fog

We had a stretch of foggy mornings here in Orange County back in November. Dense fog makes for great photos in the right environment and it's one of the few things that will get me out of bed before sunrise. I'd been exploring the Aliso and Woods Canyons Wilderness Park on my mountain bike quite a bit over the previous couple months and had scouted out a couple areas that would be perfect to take advantage of the fog.

Fence in fog - Aliso & Woods Canyons Wilderness Park, Orange County, CAMamiya RZ67 with 50mm f/4.5 lens
Fuji Provia 100F, 1/2 second at f/16 - Lee 2-stop split ND
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When shooting foggy landscapes, you need subjects receding off into the distance. See, the only thing that makes fog look like fog in a 2-dimensional photo is that there are subjects in the background areas that appear more faded than the near subjects. If you have a rock right in front of you, a tree 50 yards away, and a hill 500 yards away, you're golden. The near rock will be un-occluded by the fog and will thus appear relatively crisp. The tree in the middle ground will be slightly faded due to the dispersion of light caused by the fog, and the hill in the back will be very soft and muted. All this equates to fog in the resulting shot. The more you have of these layers, the better.

But if instead you have a simpler scene of a barn 50 yards away surrounded by trees that are just 60 yards away, then the sense of fogginess gets lost. Everything will be about equally muted by the fog and, thus, the photo will look flat. There won't be that sense of depth and layering created by having subjects at varying distances from the camera.

Knowing this, I envisioned a photo in Aliso/Woods Canyons that would utilize a dilapidated gate from an old corral in the foreground, the fence receding into the mid-ground, and several layers of hillsides into the background. All these subjects at varying distances would give me my "fog look."

I decided to use my medium format Mamiya RZ67 for this photo - partly because I just wanted to try out this new camera, but I also wanted to capture the minute details in this scene with better resolution than 35mm. I could have captured maximum resolution with my large format 4x5, but I knew the fog would dissipate quickly, so I wanted something a bit quicker to set up.

Mamiya RZ67 with 50mm f/4.5 LensMamiya RZ67 with 50mm f/4.5 lens
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With my Mamiya packed up in my backpack along with my 35mm camera loaded with B&W film (those pictures coming soon), I set off on my mountain bike to my planned spot. Between the medium format camera, 35mm camera, accessories, and tripod, my pack was pretty heavy. Carrying this much weight while on a mountain bike can be a little tricky, but I'm getting more and more comfortable with it - and it sure trumps walking in terms of speed and effort.

It was a beautiful morning. I saw half a dozen coyotes deep in the fog like ghosts watching me through the haze. It was calm, cold, and quiet. Mornings like these remind me to go riding at sunrise more often.

At my desired spot, I worked out a composition as the light intensified. Using my handheld spot meter, I calculated an exposure of 1/2 second at f/16 using Provia 100F film. I knew the photo would come out quite blue due to the blue light of early morning and the further bluing caused by the moisture in the air. I could have warmed it up a bit with my 81C warming filter, but I decided to let the blue color ride, banking on the fact that it would create an appropriate mood to match the fog. I also used a Lee 2-stop hard-edge split ND to hold back light in the background.

After firing 2 more identical exposures, I ventured off on to another trail in search of a different composition. I eventually found myself in a small meadow of golden grass where orb spider webs dripping with dew dotted the meadow, picking up the backlighting from the morning sun like chandeliers.

With my Mamiya and 50mm wide-angle lens (equivalent to roughly 24mm in 35mm format), I tried a vertical and horizontal of a particularly beautiful web. Both utilized backlighting to highlight the dew, but the horizontal framing ultimately won out. I chose an aperture of f/8 to blur the background a bit so as to draw more attention to the web, which brought my shutter speed to 1/30. A Lee 3-stop hard-edge split ND held back light in the bright background. I could have used 5-stops of split ND to prevent the background from blowing out, but I wanted to keep it bright to give a better sense of the bright morning sun breaking through the fog.

Dew on Spider web in Aliso & Woods Canyons Wilderness Park, Orange County, CAMamiya RZ67 with 50mm f/4.5 lens
Fuji Provia 100F, 1/30 second at f/8 - Lee 3-stop split ND
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With one roll of medium format film exposed and another roll of 35mm black and white completed, I rode my way back uphill to the car and treated myself to some McDonald's breakfast on the way home. Good times.