Saturday, March 27, 2010

Serendipity and the search for the perfect LA skyline

For some months now, my friends and I have been looking for the perfect place to take pictures of the LA skyline. I often see beautiful, unobstructed shots — when I'm driving on the freeway. Last week, we decided to take a photo field trip to Chinatown in downtown LA. Instead of taking the freeway, we drove surface streets, and, where we least expected it, we saw this great view of LA from the far side of the Los Angeles River.

The hazy morning sky made the skyline less than perfect, but it was good practice. (Fortunately, so-so pictures can always be made more fun in post-processing.)
LA skylineThe LA skyline

LA City HallLA City Hall (taken later in the morning from Olvera Street)

The second serendipitous part of the morning is that this view of the skyline occurred in the middle of several train tracks. I love everything about trains: the engines, the tracks, all the graffiti on the trains...
TrainA train passed through unexpectedly. I wasn't ready for the first engine. This engine is actually at the end of the train.

LA skyline and trainMy challenge was, could I catch the skyline (in focus) in the gaps between the cars? Out of 10 or so attempts, I caught one shot I was happy with.

Next, we turned our attention to our immediate surroundings. This is where the haze in the air came in handy, providing the perfect atmosphere for the standing trains.
TrainsI didn't notice the two men standing next to the train until I got home.

TrainsI like the glow of the train traffic lights in the distance.

LA skylineI liked how this sign stood out in front of the blurred skyline.

And of course, the graffiti...
Train graffiti

Train graffiti

What did I learn?
  • Sometimes you just get lucky. I didn't anticipate finding this location, or having a train pass through while we stood there.
  • Sometimes you don't get lucky. The hazy sky wasn't very appealing. I'll have to go back to this location on a clear future morning.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Baseball, kids, and black and white

IMG_1806At bat
Today I went to the park in search of feet. ("Feet" are the theme of the week for Downey Daily Photo.) And I discovered feet galore, mostly very small feet attached to very cute 5-year-olds learning to play baseball.

Kids at this age are great fun to watch. They're able and willing — and they have the attention span of a gnat. The parents were equally fun to watch. There were no temper tantrums, no yelling, just lots of laughter as the kids hit the ball and forgot to run, or danced and twirled in the outfield.

It wasn't until I got home and started reviewing my pictures that I noticed that the bright green grass and all the other colors and clothes were pretty distracting. So I changed most of the pictures from color to black and white.

For example,consider this before-and-after pair of pictures.
IMG_1814 copyColor version
IMG_1814Same picture, in black-and-white

As fun as her pink helmet is, I find it very distracting. My eye is drawn to the helmet first, and her face last. I like the black-and-white version better. What do you think?

So once I started converting, I didn't stop.
IMG_1843This youngster swung, hit, and watched. And forgot to run to first base.

IMG_1825Is the goal to get the ball — or to get the runner out? These three boys just wanted the ball. At one point, I wondered how any team ever managed to get three outs.

IMG_1813Is he bored or patient?

IMG_1807Finally, some action!

IMG_1839A swing and a miss!

IMG_1836Nice swing.

IMG_1830Chit chat at first base? Or is she covering her ears and singing, "I can't hear you"?

IMG_1831"I say he's out!"

IMG_1805One of the exceptions to the black-and-white format? Grass stains.

Over in the big kid's section, I liked this image of the boy on the bench. Rookie mistake: I didn't even notice that someone else walked into the frame until I got home.

IMG_1846On the bench

What did I learn?
  • As much as I like intense color in my pictures, sometimes I prefer the simplicity of black and white.
  • Don't forget to check the rest of the frame before pressing the shutter release. (Some lessons have to be learned over and over again.)

Friday, March 5, 2010

Why do I take pictures?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why I take pictures, and I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two reasons.

First, like most people I take pictures to record my memories of people and events. I’ve done this since my first pocket camera on my first trip to Europe. The desire to preserve my stories is why I have so many shelves of photo albums, detailing my daughter’s life and nearly every trip I’ve ever taken.

The following pictures tell the story of an event during Erinna's high school graduation trip to Cancun. On a day trip to the ruins at Chichen-Itza, we stopped for a swim in a nearby giant sinkhole.
Sinkhole near Chichen-Itza
The sinkhole was gorgeous and deep. People were lined up to dive off the perch at one side, and Erinna joined them.

Diving at a sink hole
Erinna did a beautiful dive — that tipped slightly as she neared the water.

The result? Huge bruises on the backs of both legs.

The second reason is a little more complex. I take pictures because, for me, taking a picture completes my enjoyment. C. S. Lewis wrote in "Reflections on the Psalms," “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation." This is how I feel about photography — it is the consummation of my experience.

Lewis further says, “…just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: ‘Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious?’” This too is a part of my photography — “See? Isn’t it beautiful?” By "it," I mean the subject in the picture, not the picture itself. The picture is the means for me to share something that I find awesome, beautiful, or simply intriguing.

My cat Prune

The green green eyes of my cat Prune.

Sunlight in the redwoods

The sunlight filtering through the trees in the California redwoods.

The bell tower in Split, Croatia

The bells ringing in the bell tower in Split, Croatia.

What did I learn?
  • The best photographers can combine both of these goals in their picture-taking. I'm not there yet.
  • Each time I take a picture, I need to be aware of what goal I'm trying to achieve. Not doing so often causes me to miss achieving either goal. Focusing on one goal greatly increases my chances for success.