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Rusty Farm Tractor

It has been a while since I have posted an update to this blog. It’s not that I haven’t been taking any pictures it’s more like I’ve been trying to learn how to take better pictures and also to process them in Adobe Lightroom Version 5. I have also been taking some pictures but nothing that I thought was interesting and certainly not worth posting for you to view. I do have some photos that I think are somewhat interesting and I have decided to publish them in this post. The pictures are all of a single subject, a rusting, old abandoned farm tractor.

 

But before talking about the photos, I’d like to talk about my photographic journey. As I mentioned, I’ve been trying to learn how to take better pictures and also how to process them using Adobe Lightroom. In the last several weeks I’ve spent a lot of time viewing videos on YouTube. I have found a large number of videos that do a great job of discussing various technical aspects of photography. I have found these videos to be a great help and they are all free to view. That makes the price excellent!

 

I also decided to take a class on taking pictures at night. The class was conducted by a professional photographer over 3 sessions. On the first evening, after a short lecture that included viewing some great examples of night photography we took our cameras and tripods out into the surrounding neighborhood and starting taking photographs. I learned a great deal and much to my surprise I found that you could take pictures at night at ISO 200 and f/8 along with a few different shutter speeds and the pictures came out great. The second night we met at a nearby park and attempted to take some photographs of the stars, moon and silhouetted buildings. As it turned out, a light fog floated in that evening that somewhat obscured the sky photos but it created some interesting photos of nearby buildings and also the automobile traffic that lit the fog. The last night of the class we went to a retail development that featured reflecting pools, water fountains, a movie theater and a few restaurants, and other establishments, all of which had beautiful colored lights glowing. Some of these pictures came out very nice and a few with colored water fountains came out quite clear and colorful. I posted some of these pictures in October. Needless to say this class was a lot of fun and hopefully I learned enough to become a better nighttime photographer. Time will tell.

 

I have been working with Adobe Lightroom for a couple of months and more or less training myself on its various features. I have learned a great deal but decided there was a lot more that I could learn so I met with a professional photographer for a one-on-one training session on using Lightroom. Denise was a wonderful instructor who shared a great deal of information with me. She even spent additional time talking to me about various ways to fully utilize Lightroom and also how I might want to begin using Adobe Photoshop. I think I learned some additional tips and techniques from Denise that I have incorporated in the photos included in this post.

 

This past summer I was at a park that had an old farmhouse, barn and some farm equipment still in place. I thought it might be interesting to take some photographs; however, I forgot to come back until just a few weeks ago. You can tell by all the fall leaves on the ground that it is not summer. I decided to try and take these photographs from several different perspectives around the tractor. I also wanted to try to fill as much of the frame as I possibly could with the tractor while at the same time allowing for enough of the farm to show through to be recognized. I did some minor editing with Lightroom; however, my sense of style is to use a light touch and not overcook these pictures. Hopefully, I was successful in creating some images that are interesting and worth your time to view. Until the next time, let’s all keep on shooting and improving our photographic skills.

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Night Photography

This month I decided to take a Night Photography class from the Leesburg School of Photography. As I have been trying to improve my photographic skills it seemed that it was time to tackle a new topic. This class was an introductory level course and it was taught by Tom Ramsay, the lead instructor at the school. Tom is a very accomplished photographer and it turns out that he was an excellent instructor! You can learn more about Tom and his photography at:

http://momentwithnature.com/Moment_with_Nature/Welcome.html

The classes consisted of a brief discussion on some topic related to night photography and then we went out to shoot with the new skills that we learned.

In the past when I had tried to photograph anything at night, my photos were of extremely poor quality. I was usually trying to increase my ISO, slow down my shutter speed and open up the aperture. It seemed that was the approach to use in low light situations. Tom taught us that we could take good pictures without resorting to exaggerating these techniques. The pictures that I am posting were all shot at 200 ISO, f8 aperture and a shutter speed of 1/40. Of critical importance was the use of a tripod and I used my new tripod on these occasions with success!

These photos were adjusted in post-processing with Lightroom 5 and all of them were cropped a little. I was very pleased with the results, especially considering my previous failures. Five of the photographs exhibit examples of invisible moving cars with just the headlights and taillights exposed. These were fun pictures to take. I had shot a few others but they were not as good as these. Two of the photos were of a modern water fountain complete with pulsing lights. These were difficult shots and I am very happy with how they turned out. The other two pictures are of a wall and two buildings. These were nice shots with great detail in the surfaces. I finally managed to get pretty good focus even with low light levels.

At this stage, I am feeling like some progress is being made with my photographic skills. I am now a member of the Loudoun Photo Club and hope to compete in some of the contests for novice photographers. In the future, I will post any submissions for your review. You can learn more about the Loudoun Photo Club by clicking this link:

http://www.loudounphotoclub.com/

Invisible car and U-turn

Invisible car and U-turn

Invisible car and Parking Lot

Invisible car and Parking Lot

Invisible car

Invisible car

Invisible car

Invisible car

Invisible car

Invisible car

Stone Wall

Stone Wall

Buildings and Walkway

Buildings and Walkway

Water Fountain at Night

Water Fountain at Night

Water Fountain at Night

Water Fountain at Night

Blog Posts

Blackwater Falls, WV

I recently visited Blackwater Falls State Park in West Virginia with my family for a short vacation. The state of West Virginia is very mountainous. The Appalachian Mountains are an ancient range and due to erosion are not very high. The highest peak is only 4,863 feet (1462m) and since I lived in Colorado with many mountain peaks over 14,000 feet these seemed like high hills and not mountains! West Virginia is a beautiful state and its motto is “Wild and Wonderful” and I can see why.

This post is a slight departure from previous posts because the subject is nature and not street art. Blackwater Falls is a magnificent waterfall on the Blackwater River. I took my first few pictures around 7:00am and it was a cloudy, overcast morning. You can see the mist in the first picture very clearly. I came back later in the afternoon around 6:00pm and it had cleared up to being only partially cloudy. You can see several pictures that are in somewhat brighter light. Interestingly, there was a professional photographer there in the morning also taking pictures. He was kind enough to let me look thru his pictures on his camera’s LCD screen. They were great looking pictures and I almost felt embarrassed when I looked at mine! I had to remember that I am a beginning photographer and there should be a big difference in quality between our photographs. By the way, the river is named Blackwater because of the brown sediment that drains into the river. This material is tannic acid from the runoff of hemlock and red spruce needles. You can clearly see the streams of brown in the water in the pictures of the Falls.

The challenge here was to take pictures in poor lighting. I also decided to try to take a picture where I blurred the water to give it a milky effect. You can see the result in the last two pictures for comparison. I also used Adobe Lightroom 5 for my post processing. I even managed to erase some people and the observation platform they were standing on in several pictures. Try to find the changes. Check the left margin at about the center point on a couple of pictures and you can just make out the edits. I am starting to get more experienced with Lightroom, although there is a ways to go before I can make a more professional looking photograph.

Another area of needed improvement is focus. I noticed when I downloaded these pictures that the images were not in sharp focus all the way through the scene. This is a skill that needs to be developed and I will try to learn more about using hyperfocal distance in the future. I usually was using the big rock in the waterfall for my focus point and that did not work out well as you can see.

During a hike I came across a field of yellow flowers and I saw a bee (or some kind of insect) on one flower. I quickly focused the camera and squeezed off a couple of photos. The one in this post was the best. I managed to focus at about 2 feet from the flower. I used my new tripod from MeFoto on this trip and it is a great addition to my equipment. I hope you enjoy the pictures!

Morning Mist

Morning Mist

Blackwater Falls closeup

Blackwater Falls closeup

Bee on a Flower

Bee on a Flower

Blackwater Falls

Blackwater Falls

Blackwater Falls  f7.1 1/80 sec

Blackwater Falls
f7.1 1/80 sec

Blackwater Falls  f22    1/4 sec

Blackwater Falls
f22 1/4 sec

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Philadelphia Street Art

Philadelphia is an amazing city, it has history, sports, food, culture and great street art. On a recent trip I took the opportunity to walk the streets of the central city and enjoyed the sights and Philly Cheese Steak Hoagies! I also saw some great street art and took some photos and I am sharing seven of the best with you in this post. The day started bright and sunny and then the thunderstorms rolled in and I got soaked. This did change the lighting for some photos and I think a few benefited from the soft lighting right after the rain.

Several of these images were in rather tight spaces, so I had to use the wide angle lens a few times. I am getting used to using Adobe Lightroom 5 and it is improving my photos. There are several photos that exhibited keystoning and Lightroom made great adjustments to eliminate this effect in those photos. I was also able to use the Graduated Adjustment Tool in a few pictures to decrease some brightness in the sky. There is a temptation to overuse Lightroom, so I am trying to limit the adjustments to basically the minimum needed to improve the photo. The tool that is still giving me trouble is the cloning or healing tool when I try to remove something distracting in the photo. One picture in particular did not turn out as well as I wanted, so I guess more practice is needed.

Overall, I am pleased with these photos and it looks like my photographic and post-processing skills are improving. I hope you enjoy these photos and I am looking forward to my next post and hopefully, those pictures will be even better. I am planning on posting pictures from my trip to Blackwater Falls in West Virginia. Nature photography is a departure for me, so lets see how I do on that.

Philadelphia Street Art-5679

Philadelphia Street Art-5683

Philadelphia Street Art-5689

Philadelphia Street Art-5695

Philadelphia Street Art-5697

Philadelphia Street Art-5704

Philadelphia Street Art-5712

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Washington DC Murals

On May 7 I visited Washington DC trying to locate some murals. While on Georgia Avenue near Howard University I caught sight of the first mural on the side of a small grocery store. As I read the information about the mural I learned that it was part of a project of the DC Commission on the Humanities and the Arts.

It was raining and this probably had the effect of making the photographs a little less luminous. I suspect in brighter sunshine these photographs would stand out more. Although the trade-off was very even lightning with no harsh shadows and on balance maybe this was a better day for shooting after all.

All of the murals that I took pictures of were located in primarily African-American neighborhoods. I think more murals are in other locations and I will have to find them on another visit. The following is a list of the pictures and their approximate locations:

Washington DC 2 – Georgia St. and Buchanan
Washington DC 3 – Georgia St. & Webster
Washington DC 5 – Georgia St. and Taylor
Washington DC 7 – 14th St. and U (in an alley)
Washington DC 8 – T St. and 7th
Washington DC 10 – T St. between 7th and 8th
Washington DC 11 – T St. between 7th and 8th
Washington DC 12 – T St. and 4th

If you want to learn more about the DC Commission on the Humanities and the Arts Mural Project you can visit them at http://dcarts.dc.gov/page/muralsdc.

Photographing street murals is a fun project but there are some difficulties in getting a proper position for taking the photos. Sometimes there is not enough room even with a wide angle lens. This is further complicated by the height of the images. In some instances, street traffic restricts where you can stand. That said, this looks like a fun photo project. I have been amazed to learn about some of the many websites that feature mural street art all over the world. Pinterest has been very helpful in showing me many of these beautiful and interesting images.

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Baltimore Street Art

I have been giving some thought to different themes that I could use for my photography. Because I have always lived in cities, I decided that focusing, no pun intended, my photographic efforts on street scenes would be most appropriate. In the world of photography, this is typically called Street Photography.

I spent some time on the web looking at different examples of street photography. Some of the blogs that I have been reviewing also featured street photography by excellent photographers. This started to give me some good background on what street photography looks like and some of the perspectives and other techniques that photographers use to capture this art form.

Recently, my wife and I visited Baltimore Maryland and as we were driving through parts of the city I started to spot fantastic art painted on the sides of buildings. This was not graffiti, it was creative art by street artists capturing the spirit and ethos of urban life as it exists today. This gave me an inspiration to use these examples of street art in my photographic hobby! Most of the artwork that I had the opportunity to photograph was in the following neighborhoods: E. North Avenue, Latrobe Street, and the Coldstream Homestead Montbello community.

In all, I captured 30 different works of art during my journey in Baltimore. As I was looking through the images I had a hard time selecting the ones I want to post in this blog. After a lot of thought, I settled on 10 images that seem to capture the essence of the street art in this community. I hope you enjoy the mélange of photographs that I selected.

One of the areas that is still proving challenging is setting the correct exposure when there’s a bright background such as you find at midday. Several of these photographs clearly show that the highlights of the sky have been blown. Hopefully, as I gain more experience in using my camera I can avoid or at least minimize these blown highlights. One of the key things that I probably need to start doing is taking advantage of shooting during the golden hours of the day. All of the photography books I have read indicate that these are the best times to take photographs. The golden hour lasts for approximately one hour after sunrise and one hour before sunset. Since this blog is intended to document my photographic exploits and development, I hope that these pictures display some improvement in my technique.

I’m looking forward to walking the streets of Washington DC in search of street art. This will be convenient for me since I live in northern Virginia near our nation’s capitol. Please come back to visit the C’est la vie blog to view those pictures near future.

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Dakar, Senegal

I recently traveled to Dakar Senegal for a brief visit. This was my first trip to Western Africa and I was very excited about the possibility of visiting the area where my ancestors probably originated. In particular I was anxious to visit Goree Island; the location of the infamous door of no return and the indoctrination camp for the captured Africans who would soon be slaves in the New World.

The Dakar is located on the most western point of the African continent on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. I visited there during the dry season and it was less than tropical. Senegal is also located to the south of the great Sahara desert and as a consequence it is probably drier than the country’s south of its location. I had an opportunity to travel by car to a neighboring city in Senegal and I noticed along the drive how dry and arid the landscape was.

The city of Dakar is very unique and I thoroughly enjoyed my visit. The population is pretty much evenly divided between Christians and Muslims and interestingly enough everyone seems to get along very well. As a matter-of-fact Senegal is probably one of the most stable countries in Africa. The Republic of Senegal gained its independence from France in 1960 and since that time with very few exceptions the political environment has remained stable. Senegal is not an economic powerhouse by any means. It does however seem to have a fairly large base of Western and Chinese business interests along with local businesses that conduct trade and commerce throughout Africa.

I managed to take the ferry boat a short 20 minute ride to Goree Island. As soon as I landed, a local who called himself “Colonel” offered to be my tour guide for small fee. I agreed and we immediately went off to explore the island. We eventually reached a large pink building and he told me this was the last remaining slave house on the island. This was a building that was used to house and indoctrinate captured Africans for up to 90 days before they sailed on ships to the New World. It is also the location of the infamous door of no return. This was the doorway the captured Africans walked through to embark upon the slave ships for the New World. You can see pictures of the slave

house and the door no return in this post. The colonel told me that at one time there were 25 buildings such as this on Gorée Island.
The next day while I was sitting on the beach in Dakar, I noticed some women fishing along the tidal pools. As I sat there watching them I managed to take several pictures of them fishing. When they finished I walked over to them and asked if I could take a picture of them with their catch. Turns out they were fishing for sea urchins. You can see pictures of them and the sea urchins in this post.

I also managed to take a few pictures of some street scenes, along with a small market in one of Dakar’s neighborhoods. I managed to take quite a few other photos but I decided to limit the number of pictures in this blog post. Generally speaking I was pleased with the photographs that I did take and when I got back home they required minimal post-processing with Adobe Lightroom. My pictures still need a lot of work and now that Spring is here I hope to be out taking more pictures. My immediate goal is to work on improving my compositions. I recently purchased a book on photographic compositions and hopefully I will make some improvements that you can see in the next post.

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Sunrise over Jupiter, FL

A few weeks ago, I was in Jupiter Florida to get away from the snow and cold weather! The sun was warm and I had a great time. Since I had been doing some reading and research on both Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom I decided to take some pictures of the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean. This would give me the opportunity to test my skills as a photographer and an editor of photos.

I learned several important things about this exercise. First, it is important to use a tripod when taking a series of pictures on the same subject. I did not consider that my photos would all have different horizons if I was handholding my camera. Also it is easy to get the horizon line slanted if a tripod is not in use! I also learned that it is important to consider what you are trying to capture and tell a story about. As Steven Covey stated “Begin with the end in mind”. As an example, after I had taken my photos I noticed that I had a nice sequence of photos showing the sunrise, however, I had some gaps in the position of the sun. If I had planned ahead the photos would have shown a better transition between shots. Third, I again learned how important lighting is to a good photograph. I made several mistakes in exposing for the dark ocean and the bright sky. Better luck next time!

When I got home and began the post-processing of my photos I took time to look at Adobe TV to learn more about using Lightroom. I also used the reference guide. Lightroom is great and one of the best things is that the edits are nondestructive. Each time I learned something new, I could simply push the Reset key and start over. This really helped me with the learning because I could experiment without worrying about ruining a photo!

I also used Photoshop Elements v12 to edit some photos for comparison. I have decided that for my purposes Lightroom is the far better tool. I will still try to use Photoshop Elements but not for developing my RAW files. If I can see some benefit, I will probably just purchase the standard version of Photoshop and scrap Photoshop Elements in the future.

I have posted some of my sunrise photographs on the Everyday Photos page. Take a look and think about how you would have taken these photos. I plan to take a series of sunset pictures when the weather warms up. Hopefully, I will use the lessons I learned in this exercise to create much better and more compelling photographs.

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2014 New Year’s Celebration

I decided to try something different for the 2014 New Year’s Celebration because I wanted to focus on my new photography hobby. Old Alexandria, a town in Virginia across the river from Washington, D.C., has a First Night Celebration featuring many venues for the whole family and concludes with a fireworks show over the harbor. I decided to try my hand at taking photos of the fireworks.

The price of tripods seemed to be a little expensive and since I had blown my Christmas budget, I decided to shoot handheld! This was going to be a challenge, so I visited a couple of photography websites and researched shooting fireworks. All of the experts strongly recommended using a tripod. Interestingly,I did read one article that said you should try to brace yourself against something solid if you didn’t have a tripod. That was to be my plan.

When the time came for the fireworks show, I was lucky enough to see a parked pickup truck with a great view of the show. I set my Canon camera to Shutter Priority and 800 ISO and then braced myself against the pickup truck’s bed. I then noticed it was a police pickup truck! Since it was a solid foundation, I thought, what the heck and starting shooting from my new fully braced position. Fortunately, the police must have been busy somewhere else or asleep in the cab because I was not chased away by them.

The pictures came out fairly nice considering my setup and rudimentary skill level. Take a look on the Everyday Photos page and see for yourself. I am looking forward to my next photo outing and hope to improve on the quality of my photographs. Keep shooting!

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Welcome to C’est la vie

This is my first post on C’est la vie, a blog tracking my progress as an amateur photographer.  I hope it is an entertaining visit for you.  I retired from active work several years ago.  As time went by, I got involved in a small business that has been very rewarding psychologically.  In other words I have not made much money with it, but it is fun!

Late last year, I  decided to pick up a new hobby, since my business did not keep me too busy.  I remembered enjoying a photography class I had in college 30 years ago! So I thought photography would be a good hobby.  When I was in college we used primarily black and white film, yes that forgotten photographic medium! After taking a roll of exposures, we then went into a dark room full of trays of chemicals and developed our prints.  Now between college and last year, I did own a couple of point and shoot cameras, so I knew that some significant changes in photography had taken place in the intervening years.

I bought a Canon Rebel T3, a few lenses, camera bag and some other odds and ends.  My wife and I then took an extended trip overseas and I got to use my new camera and accessories.  By the way, who needed to read an instruction manual? I did!  Unfortunately, I merely skimmed thru it before deciding that shooting in Manual Mode was the way to go.  It turned out that using a digital SLR was not quite as easy as I thought.  After a day of touring and shooting, I would review my photos on my tablet and find out that many of them were crap!

Fortunately, I decided to buy a book for my Kindle and went to work reading and studying it at a furious pace.  After a few more days, I finally started to take a few photos that you could look at without getting an upset stomach or the giggles.  What was the problem?  Basically, I didn’t understand how a DSLR light meter worked and I was taking too many pictures in poor lighting situations.  Low light and hard light were my downfall.  Think about it, I was traveling and going to museums, churches and other dark places.  It was the summer, so the outdoor photos were in full sun and afternoon sun at that (why wake up early when traveling?).  I think you can feel my pain by now!

Ok, enough of an introduction to C’est la vie.  I am going to learn how to use this camera and take some great photographs some day.  You can join me as I progress by checking the blog occasionally. Most of the pictures I will post are going to focus (pun intended) on ordinary, everyday things.  No great works of art, after all my theme is C’est la vie.