Friday, November 29, 2013

Chernobyl & Pripyat

I found a set on Flickr by СмdяСояd of photographs of Chernobyl and the abandoned city of Pripyat. You probably are familiar with the story, you know, the nuclear disaster and all. The photographs are absolutely fascinating!
Pripyat Sign by СмdяСояd
If there is one place in the world that I could go to and photograph, this would be it. I love photographing abandoned places, and this might be the Holy Grail of abandonment. I'll probably never get the chance to go, but it's almost Christmas and miracles do happen.

Anyway, check out СмdяСояd's set on Flickr. His work is worth viewing.

Thought Of The Day: Pentax K-3 DxOMark Tested (Pentax K-3 or Sony SLT A77 or Nikon D7100?)

I've been hesitant to write this post. I don't really like writing about equipment, especially equipment that I don't own. However, people ask for these types of posts and they are always popular, so here I go.

DxOMark tested the Pentax K-3, and it scored really well, yet perhaps at the same time it was a bit disappointing. Pentax moved on from the Sony 16 megapixel sensor that they've been using for a while now, and with the K-3 began to use Sony's 24 megapixel sensor that is found in several Sony and Nikon models.

The K-3 scored really well, and it is one of the top DSLRs with an APS-C sized sensor. But I (and some others) expected it to be the top #1 DSLR with an APS-C sized sensor on DxOMark's list. That is because Pentax has a reputation of squeezing just slightly more out of the sensor than Sony or Nikon can. Instead, the K-3 fell right in the middle, just ahead of the Sony SLT A77 and just behind the D7100.

Does it matter if the K-3 isn't number one? No, not really. Is there a difference in image quality between the A77, D7100 and the K-3? No, nothing that is noticeable without close studies of test charts. So who cares? I don't. Besides, DxOMark scores don't mean a whole lot, anyway.

The fact is this: the Pentax K-3 is a fine camera, but it is no better or worse than similar cameras offered by the competition. If you are looking for a quality DSLR with an APS-C sized sensor, this might be the camera for you. And the Nikon D7100 might be the camera for you. And the Sony SLT A77 might be the camera for you.

If you are trying to decide, perhaps consider lens choices and prices and let that be your guide.

In any event, cameras are not important, photographic vision is. Creativity trumps equipment every time.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Abandonment: Boron Air Force Station/Boron Federal Prison - Boron, California (Part 5)

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4
Abandoned Furniture, Abandoned Building - Boron, California
When I got into my car to leave, I felt satisfied that I'd successfully explored and captured the old base and prison. Despite empty buildings, enough remains to give an idea of what once was. No doubt, this is a fascinating place.

The only camera that I brought along with me was a Sigma DP2 Merrill, which is a great little camera, but it has one major flaw: battery life. After a couple hours and about two hundred exposures, I had almost no juice left. It was time to go home.
Boron Air Force Housing - Boron, California
On my way out, just on the outskirts of the facility, at the end of a short dirt road, is a lone one-story structure. I decided to check it out. It turns out that this was a waste water treatment plant. I had just enough battery life to grab a few more images before the last battery died completely.

I ended up with almost 225 exposures, which would become the final 51 images found in this series. That's roughly a 25% success rate, which is pretty darn good. Despite that, I feel like I left some good photographs behind. I'll need to make a trip back sometime in the future. 
Dark Restroom - Boron, California
Unwanted Playpen - Boron, California
Benches - Boron, California
Xs - Boron, California
Broken And Burnt Window - Boron, California
Your Visiting Area - Boron, California
Out of Bounds - Boron, California
Please Do Not Use - Boron, California
Boron Base - Boron, California

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

How To Take Pictures Of Yourself (Self Portraits)

An Unknown Dream - Oxnard, California
Last year I posted How To Photograph Your Family With Yourself In The Pictures. It has some useful tips if you are trying to do family portraits yourself. I realized, however, that many readers of this Blog are single and do not have a spouse and kids. They may want to create holiday cards or send portraits to family, but they don't want to hire a photographer if they can do it themselves.

I have a project (which is currently on hold) called A photographer's Journey and for this project I've created many self portraits. I have some experience with this that might be useful to you.
Captured Determination - Tehachapi, California
First, with any photograph, you need vision. You need to know exactly what you want to create before you set out to create it. You must pre-visualize the end results before opening the camera's shutter.

Second, you need a tripod. It doesn't have to be expensive, I've paid less than $30 for a sufficient one. If you don't own one, you can get away with using a flat sturdy surface.
The Forgotten - Tehachapi, California
For a studio look, such as Captured Determination above, I set up an easy bathroom "studio" by placing a solid color shirt (in this case, black) behind me and using the lights above the mirror for the lighting. Black or white shirts seem to work best (not colored and certainly not multicolored shirts), and you'll need to adjust the exposure because it will throw off the meter a little.

The camera's self-timer is a useful tool. You'll have to compose the image imagining where you'll be, set the self-timer and run. Some cameras allow you to adjust the length of the timer, which can be helpful.
Pathway To The Soul - Tehachapi, California
If you have a remote for your camera, you may find using that tool is more efficient than using the self-timer. Some cameras (such as the Samsung NX210) will allow you to control the camera through an app on your phone.

My favorite way to make self portraits is using an interval timer. Not all cameras have this mode, but if yours does I recommend using this method. The way it works is that you set the total number of exposures and the time in between exposures. You'll get a bunch of duds, but you are also more likely to capture a natural-looking photograph. 
Brownie Target Six-20 - Stallion Springs, California
Whatever you think the aperture should be, increase it by one stop so that you have a good depth-of-field. It is easy to end up with the just the wrong part of the image slightly out of focus. Don't be afraid to manually focus.

If it's a low-light situation, ensure that the aperture and ISO will allow for a shutter speed that is fast enough that you won't be blurred. That is, unless you want to be blurred.
Staying Focused - Tehachapi, California
There is no one that says a self portrait must be a certain way. You can make a self portrait look any way you want. Be creative! Do something completely different. Don't be afraid to try something unusual. Don't be afraid to experiment.

One thing you might find fun to try is multiple exposures. Some cameras (such as the Pentax K-30) will allow you to do this in-camera, no additional software required. If your camera doesn't have this feature, it is not too difficult to do in post-processing using layers.
Me Two - Stallion Springs, California
One thing is for sure with self portraits and that is you'll have a lot of exposures that just aren't good. It takes time and practice. It takes trial and error. Keep at it and try not to get frustrated. You'll eventually get that photograph you're hoping for.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Abandonment: Boron Air Force Station/Boron Federal Prison - Boron, California (Part 4)

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 5
Boron Air Force Station - Boron, California
I spent almost two hours exploring and photographing the lower part of the old Boron Air Force Station. One of the structures that had been a part of the Boron Federal Prison experienced a pretty bad fire, and a large section of that building was completely destroyed.

After a while I jumped in my car and headed to an upper area of the old base and prison. There are a bunch of buildings that sit at the top of a hill. I'm not sure what the Air Force used the buildings for, but the prison used them as work stations. The prisoners built parts for government vehicles in the old structures.
Closed, Yet Open - Boron, California
One area not quite at the top of the hill was made level and it appears as though it was heliport. A couple of buildings look like they may have been small hangers.

Where the majority of structures are on the hill is also where the Federal Aviation Administration's radar site is located. It is fenced and "no trespassing" signs are posted frequently. I wouldn't be surprised if there are security cameras and that this section is monitored. It is the only part of the old facility that is actively used.
Unused Outlet - Boron, California
Set alone on the hill is an old chapel. A mural that was behind the pulpit is a reminder of what life used to be here. When this was a military base, families would fill the pews for Sunday service. Later, prisoners would find forgiveness and redemption.

All of these images were captured using a Sigma DP2 Merrill camera. They are in no particular order.
D Power - Boron, California
Chapel Mural - Boron, California
Wall Fan - Boron, California
Unicor - Boron, California
Burnt Building - Boron, California
What The Fire Left - Boron, California
Burnt Hallway - Boron, California

Monday, November 25, 2013

Know Your Photography Laws!

I had a minor incident today that reminded me of something important. You need to know what the law says is legal and illegal regarding your photography.

This morning I was told that I was doing something illegal (not by law enforcement, just by a person). This was not photography related, just so you know that upfront here. I said (basically), "What are you talking about?" This person then pointed me to a blog that talked about a somewhat obscure federal law that was passed in 2011.

The blog didn't give specifics about the law, but gave opinion about the law. It was the writer's interpretation of the meaning of the law. I pointed out to the person that the blog was an opinion piece and that I'd need to research what the law actually says. The person then pointed me to the federal government's webpage regarding the law.

The federal government's webpage gave a brief synopsis of the law, but one had to dig much deeper into the site to find the actual 24-page law, which is found within CFR 16. I read all of it and some of it twice. I discovered that what I was doing was not actually illegal. The law didn't apply to me. It applied to manufacturers and distributors and some different industries, but it didn't apply to me because I'm none of those things. Individuals are not regulated by this law.

What I discovered is that the blogger was plain wrong about the law and the synopsis on the webpage wasn't detailed enough to be useful to me. The person, who claimed to be "well versed" on the law, hadn't actually read it and certainly didn't understand it.

The lesson here is that you cannot just read what someone says about laws or synopsis of laws, you must read the laws themselves. You cannot trust what others say, because they may not be right. You need to read the laws for yourself.

As a photographer the laws are a bit muddy. Sometimes it is difficult to know what is legal or illegal, and what your rights are. It can be difficult to even find the laws in the first place. Below are some links that may be helpful.

Photographer's Rights Flyer

Photographer's Guide To Privacy


ACLU articles: "Know Your Rights" and "You Have Every Right To Photograph That Cop" 

Permits on Federal and California property

Photo Attorney Blog

PhotoSecrets - Law

Friday, November 22, 2013

Abandonment: Boron Air Force Station/Boron Federal Prison - Boron, California (Part 3)

Part 1 Part 2 Part 4 Part 5
Residential Power Outage - Boron, California
After exploring the old base housing, I made my way back to the prison area. Besides the airmen dorms that were converted to prison rooms, there are a number of other structures that were used by the prisoners. One may have been a dining hall. Another may have been a warehouse. Another was for visitors.

The Boron Federal Prison was a minimum security place, and it doesn't appear as if life was too hard. About 500 male inmates were kept there, and they assembled parts for government vehicles. Click here to view an L.A. Times article about the prison published in 1986.
Housing View - Boron, California
Small reminders give a glimpse to the way life was. If you were sentenced to a term behind bars, you were very fortunate if you were assigned to Boron. There were a bunch of televisions, plenty of recreation, and even limited access off the facility.

For those that served in the military at Boron, it probably felt like being on Mars. This is a remote location, and was even more remote 40 years ago when the not-too-far-away cities of Victorville and Lancaster were much, much smaller. California City, which is nearby and has some amenities, was practically non-existent. This base must have seemed as remote as remote can get. 
Residential Arch - Boron, California
Those that did live on Boron Air Force Station were rewarded with tremendous views. The base is located on a hill, and one can see for many miles across the Mojave Desert. And if one doesn't mind car travel, there's recreation within a couple hours in any direction.

I used a Sigma DP2 Merrill camera to capture these images last week when I visited the Boron Air Force Station/Boron Federal Prison.
Yellow And Blue Gas Line - Boron, California
P-10 - Boron, California
Tree, Fallen - Boron, California
Broken Toilet - Boron, California
The Red Box - Boron, California
Birdi - Boron, California
Fallen Electric Pole - Boron, California

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Photographs Of The Sun

A Light In The Dark - Tehachapi, California
When I first began photography, I received all sorts of advice regarding how to take pictures. I was told about photography rules. The rule of thirds. Sunny 16. Keep the sun behind you. Many others, as well.

Photography rules allow the novice to get acceptable results. That's what they are there for. For the advanced photographer, photography rules should be disregarded. That is advice I had to learn on my own. I wish someone had told me that instead of the all these dumb rules.
Sunrise At Cadillac Ranch - Amarillo, Texas
I was told that I should keep the sun behind me. Perhaps not directly behind me, but at least behind and at an angle. Avoid pointing the camera directly at the sun. That advice did more harm than good.

While looking back at some of my photographs, which is something that I've done quite a bit of over the last year, I noticed that I've included the sun in a number of different images. The sun became a part of the subject and the point of the photographs. Those who gave me the bad advice would be shocked!
Setting Sun Soldier - Tehachapi, California
A bunch of different cameras were used to create these photographs, including a Pentax K-30, a Samsung NX200, a Samsung NX210, a Sigma DP2 Merrill, and others, such as a cell phone. It does not matter which are from which. I bet you cannot tell.

These images are in no particular order. I captured them over the last four years, although the majority are from the last two years.
Sunrise Over Vishnu Temple - Grand Canyon, Arizona
Three Green Leaves - Tehachapi, California
Look Up - Mojave, California
Four Windmills And Train - Tehachapi, California
Wheat Grass - Tehachapi, California
Sunset Oaks - Stallion Springs, California
Window And Wall - Mojave, California
Green Soldier - Tehachapi, California
Cameron Road - Tehachapi, California
Mojave Sunrise - Mojave, California
Willow - Stallion Springs, California
Summer Dream - Redlands, California
Glass Peaks - Victorville, California
Family At Sunset - Goodyear, Arizona
Bent Nail - Mojave, California
West - Tehachapi, California
Through The Rafters - Lancaster, California
The Joshua Tree Sunrise - Rosamond, California
Setting Sun On The Forgotten - Victorville, California
Four Old Fence Posts - Tehachapi, California
Evening Childhood - Tehachapi, California
Eyeglass Sunset - Tehachapi, California
On A Brighter Day - Tehachapi, California
Broken Home At Sunrise - Mojave, California
Ocean Sunset - Desert Center, California
Back Lit Tree In Autumn - Stallion Springs, California
At The Edge of Tomorrow - Stallion Springs, California
Desert Bush Sunrise - Rosamond, California
Golden Field - Tehachapi, California
Light From Above - Rosamond, California
Dandelion Sunset - Stallion Springs, California
Large Leaf - San Diego, California
Morning Light Fight - Tehachapi, California
Flight To The Sun - Phoenix, Arizona
Gas Station Sunset - Ehrenburg, Arizona
Melon Vine - Lake Isabella, California
Tracks To Sundown - Tehachapi, California
Morning Creosote - Mojave, California
Memories of a Sunny Day - Mojave, California
Morning Sun Over The Mojave Desert - Rosamond, California