407R over Rosslyn

On the morning of the Marine Corps Marathon I put my camera in a backpack and got on my bike. You really can’t beat biking around a major city on roads have been closed to all vehicular traffic. However, one thing that probably tops it is flying over a major city in a helicopter, which is what my Dad was doing at the time for the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office. After a few hours of pedaling around taking photos I got a call saying they would be resuming their air patrol after refueling, and I gave him my location for a fly-by. I got this shot right as they flew past the Memorial Bridge with the Rosslyn skyline stretching out behind them.

Technical note: unlike the other HDRs here so far, this one was developed from a single RAW file since the helicopter was moving way too fast to get three exposures that would line up properly. The best example of where the tonemapping process brings out detail in this photograph is the Sheriff star underneath the helicopter, which is completely blacked out in the “correctly exposed” original JPEG.

Next week: Dogs and Cats

Afternoon at the Airfield

This private runway has always fascinated me when I pass it on Route 50 in Loudoun County. What freedom, I thought, to have your own airstrip cut out of the woods and available at your convenience. Late one afternoon as I was driving by I decided to stop and take some pictures of the Cessna parked at the end of the field, with Runway 36 stretching off into the distance at the left of the photograph.

While editing this photo I also found a site that has a really interesting overview of the history of this airfield, which you can see here.

Sunrise over Arlington

Is this the start of a new day… or the end of a long night? When it comes to sunrises I’ve always had better luck staying up than getting up, and this was no exception. A Friday night out on the town continued into early Saturday morning playing Wii at a friend’s house, and by time I left the sky was already changing from black to a very dark blue. As I walked home things got steadily brighter until the sky became a fiery orange, and I managed to get up on the roof of our building just in time to see the sun breaking over the horizon.

Technical note: this is my first image here in HDR, and it’s a combination of three exposure at -2, 0, and +2 EV that was then tonemappped in Photomatix. Essentially what this means is that the best parts of each exposure have been combined so that the incredibly bright sun and the incredibly dark foreground are both visible in the same image. It’s a technique that I’m really excited about and will be using quite a bit in the future, so I hope you like it!

Next week: Aviation

Flickr: The First 100

“Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson

Let’s hope that’s true. Around the spring of last year I downloaded Google’s Picasa software and started organizing the various folders of digital pictures on my computer. I soon realized that I had amassed over 10,000 images since getting my first digital camera in late 2003. A few of these I had already uploaded to Flickr, but it wasn’t until I had a system for sorting and tagging my files that I made a conscious effort to get the rest of my decent shots online. As I added more I began to fixate on the round number of 100 pictures; the “best” 1% of my work so far.

Does this mean I think it’s smooth sailing from now on? Hardly. First off, I haven’t even taken anywhere near 10,000 real photographs. Henri wasn’t talking about poorly composed snapshots of my friends at 3AM. Also, while I’d like to think that I’ve improved as a photographer in the past years, the learning process has encouraged me to experiment with different approaches and techniques that sometimes fail miserably. I believe both my best and worst photos are still ahead; hopefully you’ll see some of the former here in this blog.

All the images on my Flickr page were taken with “point and shoot” digital cameras and most of them came from my 3.2 megapixel Pentax, the limitations of which I’ve become acutely aware of when trying to crop images that were only 1600×1200 pixels to begin with. I expect that most of the pictures from now on will have been taken with my D90, and the majority will be in HDR as well. At a rate of two new images per week, I’m hoping to have at least another 100 pictures up by this time next year.

You can check out my full photostream by clicking the Flickr link in the sidebar. Here are some of the ones I like best:

Next up: Releasing my first HDR image into the (digital) wild

Less is More: the iPhone Camera

Before I got an iPhone, I was so excited about the multitude of built-in gadgets that I routinely salivated like Pavlov’s dogs when I saw ads for it on TV. The one feature I was only tepidly anticipating, however, was the camera. Boy was that a mistake. It wasn’t until I read this post by Chase Jarvis that I realized that far from being a mediocre add-on, it’s actually a powerful tool for improving photography skills and taking interesting snapshots. Why, you ask?

  • You have it on you at all times, or at least somewhere nearby. Who knows when something’s going to catch your eye? I can’t lug my Nikon around 24/7.
  • You can share the pics you take instantaneously via Twitter, email, and now SMS text messaging.
  • There’s only one button. ISO, aperture, shutter speed, etc., are all completely out of your hands. Far from being a disadvantage, this is actually its core strength: the iPhone is great for working on composition, because that’s absolutely the only thing you can control. Fill the frame and push the button.

The iPhone is also useful for learning about the basics of post-processing (if you could call it that) through applications like Best Camera, which allows you to apply multiple filters to a photo simultaneously. I used to apply filters and think “that looks cool” without really knowing why, until I later learned to connect the effects I saw to specific changes in contrast, saturation, color temperature, vignetting, and so on. If you have an iPhone I highly recommend you download the Best Camera app and give it a try!

I post some of my iPhone shots in a Facebook gallery that you can view here, as well as on the Best Camera website at this location. Here’s a few of my favorites:

Next up: Flickr and the first 1%