Rumblin’ down the track…

Had a little time to hit the road today in search of some new and interesting brackets.  Man, was that fun!  Totally care free, with no particular photographic subject.  Just out and about enjoying the great weather, and keeping my eyes peeled for something cool.  On one of the many back-roads I explored, I happened across this old abandoned rail yard.  Jackpot!!  In an effort to get a little creative, I ended up climbing under one of the freight cars to shoot this shot.  I think the fisheye lens worked well for this one, as I wanted to get an interesting look from below.  While working on this shot  I listened to ‘Mystery Train’, as performed by Junior Wells, and as Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Downbound Train’.  Great tunes!

They don’t swim here anymore…

Today, a little something different.  That is, I’ve decided to infuse a little more creative license into my work (beyond merely HDR), and I’ve decided to address some questions from folks who posed HDR, URBEX and general photography related questions.  So, first, today’s “pretty” picture, and below that, responses to a few questions from you all!!


Reader Questions

Question:  How often do I return to a location and re-shoot it? Or am I always looking for something new?

Answer: Love this question.  Fact is that, while I’ve always got my feelers out for new locations, I really love to return to places I have shot before.  Why?  Because there is just so much to shoot, that I could visit a location for years and never exhaust all the creative possibilities.  I even love return to the same rooms to look at the whole scene in a different way.  For example, I may decide to focus all my attention on a small detail in a room (with a macro lens or a 50mm 1.4), rather than showing you the whole space (usually with my 14-24mm, a 16mm fisheye or my trysty 24mm tilt-shift lens).


Question:  How about a tripod recommendation!

Answer: First, don’t go cheap.  Trust me on this.  I have friends who want to save money on gear, so they cheap out on the tripod.  Don’t do this!  What you want are a very stable set of legs and smooth operating ball head that will support the maximum weight you anticipate using in your photography.  You also don’t want the tripod too big or too heavy to carry; the tripod does you no good if you leave it at home.  Personally, I shoot a Gitzo Traveler Tripod with a Really Right Stuff BH-45 ball head (with a lever release clamp).  Because it is carbon fiber and, therefore, very light, I carry it and use it everywhere, and isn’t that the point.


Question:  What time of day do I usually shoot your urban exploration images?

Answer: If I can have a whole day out shooting, I’ll shoot indoor URBEX from just after sun-up to just around sunset.  That way, I’ve got some ambient light to play with while shooting.  If I’m shooting outdoor URBEX (of the buildings and objects in the open), I will shoot even earlier, and even later.  Of course my preferred time to shoot URBEX (indoors or out), is when the sun is lower in the sky (that is, between sunset and 10am, and between 4 or 5pm and sunset); basically, I’m all about shooting when objects cast longer shadows!


Question:  In regular -2/0/+2 brackets in an URBEX environment, the windows are usually blown out.  What methods to avoid this pre- and post?

Answer: Bottom line is that when shooting indoor URBEX, and faced with a large dynamic range of light (that is, bright outdoors and dark interior), you’re going to have to shoot more brackets.  That usually means shooting a range from -4 to +4 EV, though I can usually get away with -3 to +3 EV range of brackets.  The other thing you can do is to shoot (on a tripod) your -2/0/+2 brackets, and then meter for the light outside the window (if really bright, that could mean you’ll have to underexpose by -5 EV).  Then you can take the four brackets you have (-5, -2, 0, 2) and either send them through Photomatix, or just send the -2/0/+2 brackets through Photomatix, and then mask the window (the -5 EV exposure) into the final image in Photoshop.  Hope that explanation makes sense.


Thanks all for the questions today, and if you need more clarification, let me know!

Remains of the Day

I had actually intended to post another image today, but chose to post-process and upload this one instead, following a great question I received on Twitter today.  The, in short:  When shooting HDR brackets in low light environments, would I rather open the aperture more, or would I rather increase the ISO, if trying to maintain reasonable shutter speeds (read: 30 seconds or faster)? Answer: I’d be far more inclined to open that aperture more. Take today’s photo for example; by the time I shot this, the sun was already down.  So I turned to my trusty Nikkor 50mm f/1.4, dropped my ISO to L1.0 (Nikon speak for ISO 100), set my aperture to f/2.0 (only because I wanted just a wee bit more depth of field than the wide-open setting of f/1.4 would give me, and bracketed away.  I ended up with the fastest exposure being 1/125 sec and the slowest 1/30 sec.  Not bad, and I was off to shoot my next set elsewhere without having to wait several minutes for the bracketing to completer, had I dialed in f/11 or f/16.  The above said, everything also depends on the importance of what you’ve got goin’ on in the background.  In this photograph, the background was not as important as the subject, and I lost nothing by letting it blur out with the larger aperture.  Had I been shooting a scene where I also wanted the background objects to be crisp and clear, I would have closed her down to f/5.6 or f/8 (and raised the ISO to 200) and fired away, and still been done with the brackets in a reasonable time.  Bottom line, for me at least, is I’d rather open the aperture up more, and lose depth of field, than increase the ISO, because I prefer really clean (relatively noise free) RAW brackets to work with when shooting HDR.  Your results may vary! (NOTE: Yes I do shoot the Nikon D700, and yes it handles noise really, really well, but I still choose to shoot my HDR brackets at ISOs no higher than 200 because I don’t like how Photomatix increases noise significantly when working with brackets with high ISOs)..


Everything but the kitchen sink!!

I don’t know about you all, but I have WAY TOO MUCH camera gear! Ask my wife if you don’t believe me!  And, sometimes, I think it really weighs me down, not just in terms of the weight I lug around with me to an URBEX shoot, but also creatively.  Far too often, I often end up with six or seven lenses in the bag, in addition to my Nikon D700 dSLR, though I rarely use more than three lenses on any trip.  So why drag it all along?  Perhaps it’s because, thinking back to my years as a Boy Scout, I’ve always got to be prepared for absolutely anything? Maybe.  Maybe not.  Truth of the matter, though, is that I’ve found myself far more creative on those trips where I take fewer lenses, which I had hoped to do today.

Today was the day I had intended to do just that, but again I took too much.  And, as expected, I really only used two lenses, for the most part: my URBEX workhorses, the Nikkor 24mm f/3.5 PC-E (tilt-shift) and my Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8.  I have to admit, though, that I was glad I brought along my Tamron 90mm f/2.8 SP AF Macro Lens (great lens!), as a came back with a great shot of some tiny morphine ampules (still full) I’ll post in the next few days or so.  I also had my Sigma 50mm 1.4 along, which I mounted once, composed with, but did not shoot, as well as my Nikkor 16mm f/2.8 fisheye (which also did not clear leather today).  Were I to do this again next week, I’d probably  pare down to four lenses, leaving the fisheye and macro lenses at home (but dang they’re so small, it’s easier to just take them anyway!).  Lenses aside, I have some essentials that are always in my Domke F-2 Ruggedwear shooter’s bag when I’m on URBEX these days, including: my Gitzo GT-1541T Traveler 6X Carbon Fiber Tripod, a Really Right Stuff BH-40 LRII ballhead, a Promote Systems Remote Control, an X-Rite ColorChecker Passport, a Surefire G2 LED Flashlight, a Petzyl Tikka XP2 Headlamp, a Leatherman Wave tool, two cell phones, a GPS and chalk (to mark ingress/egress routes in unfamiliar buildings (basements, tunnels, etc.).  And, believe it or not, it ALL (minus tripod and ballhead) fits in the aforementioned Domke F-2!  Sweet!  Like I said, everything but the kitchen sink!  What do you take on URBEX?

Baron Rudolf von Reindeer

In keeping with the Christmas and Holiday Season, you’re likely to see a lot of photographs from me, throughout the month of December, with a Holiday theme, though with my special fotofreqy twist.  And so, today, I give you Baron Rudolf von Reindeer, ’cause if Old St. Nick needs to get around town quickly, and he needs a guide who knows Berlin so he can find my house and those of the many Americans living around here, he can’t do much better than this stalwart ride.  If it’s good enough for German Search and Rescue, it’s darn well good enough for Kris Kringle!!

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