Learning My New Camera - Day 20
more flood details, visiting
with an old lake denizen and a pretty puddle
Day 20: March 21, 2006: I told Anna I didn't want to go to the lake today. Instead, said I, "Let's go somewhere where they have some space." What I meant was interior or architectural space. We were going to meet at the hardware store, but I bought what I needed and wandered across the street to a hilly-looking parkish area, where I found both varieties.
Today, I needed to be wide-angle. All 138 shots were taken with my trusty 20mm f/4 manual focus Nikon I bought in the 70s or 80s when it was still sort of miraculous, because it nearly always kept nearly everything in focus and took in a viewing angle of more than 90-degrees. And still was not terribly expensive.
I wanted to explore some space, to expand it instead of contracting it as my 180mm telephoto tends to. The 180's maximum aperture is f/2.8. Comparatively, the 20mm is a slow, old f/4, a whole stop down, and much closer in brightness to the zoom I expect to buy next month.
I wondered yesterday what it would be like to shoot with a lens that slow. I never even noticed it today. Not once. Of course, the sun shone, the sky was bright, and except for one elderly turtle with his snout in deep shade, everything I shot was well-illuminated.
So we went to the lake, anyway. This is from whence I shot most of the shots of the spillway parking lot and its retaining wall's dislocation. I forgot to shoot it yesterday, when it would have made more sense. That's the worrisome bridge just above and beyond this area. The police tape was back up, and nobody was in there when I first passed it by on our walk.
Clearly, however, something had been going on or was about to.
All 138 shots were also exposed using Center-Weighted Average metering mode, and except for a spare few slightly too dark photographs, they're nearly perfect. I've finally found my ideal metering mode. Now, if I can only figure out the still-baffling complexity of the four focusing modes arrayed near the bottom of the back of my new Nikon D200 digital single lens reflex camera.
The DVD I bought tells what they are, lists each and every one, even describes them. But that guy's explanation and the explan on the Nikon Digital Tutor page differ. The guy on the DVD may know his stuff, but the DVD does not take full advantage of video. There's no visual examples of what each mode does or should do.
The tutor has brief examples, but it, too, skips quickly through those four clicks on the circular switch. I'm not sure now, how I'll discover what I need to know, but in the past, if I state the question clearly enough, the answer will present itself. Dr. Land, famous for inventing the Polaroid camera, said as much long ago. He said something to the effect that once we make the question clear, the answers are obvious.
I am and have long been fascinated by repeating patterns. One of my longest series was "Stairs, Chairs and Fences." I like the patterns created by informal use of warning yellow tape and the kick-back white saw horses resting against this barrier. All set against an amazing spring blue Dallas sky. Wow.
This has the feeling of one of my Abstract Realities. With a little kick.
Same fence, this time with the very wide angle lens sticking through so you can still see the links — and the troubled bridge beyond.
These cracks are probably the why behind the Parks Department's quick decision to close down the bridge. Seems like a prudent plan. Meanwhile, the pigeons are having a field day out on our bridge over troubled waters.
Bright fences beyond bright fences, and the tape helps the composition, too. It all seems a little absurd, until you look at where there used to be a meadow, just a few days ago. But what fun to photograph, especially with a wide-angle lens.
You know, I'd got so enamored with that long telephoto I've been hauling around on the front end of my new camera, I wondered whether I could switch gears and change horses in the middle of the raging river and think wide wide wide once again.
I could. The only time, all afternoon long, I ever wished I had some other lens, was when I was with the turtle. Then I wanted a less wide angled lens but nothing like the very telephoto 180. Interesting to me that the transition was so easy, semi-automatic.
One small, not at all bold, piece of indiginous art, appropriately angry — at the gods, the City, the Park Department. Hardly noticeable, unless you're standing there taking pictures. I like impromptu art, and I like this one on this temporary construction. Great restraint.
This, however, is more my kind of art. Real life looking for all the world like real art. Accidental sculpture is as good as any.
A 20mm wide angle lens like this, set at f/22 could, if one were to use the depth of field scale engraved into the barrel of the lens, set it, so everything from 16 inches to infinity would be in focus and sharp.
I was a bit more conservative than that, but even wide open at f/4, anything from 15 feet to forever would be sharp. This is a very forgiving lens — in complete contrast with my once-faithful, now faith-less 35mm f/1.4, which I tried the next day (tomorrow, as I first wrote this page). With that classic lens, I'm lucky to have anything ever in focus. Both are manual focus lenses, which the D200 obliges easily, a sharp departure from previous dSLRs.
We were both shooting today, and we both found it difficult to get good pictures of all the fencing, while keeping in mind and in view just where we were — on the outside of a lot of fences, with a lot of empty space between us and the spillway.
Wide-angle lenses especially tend to expand space. I took several really bland pictures of nearly nothing on the far side with interesting fences close. This, I hope, does not fall into that category.
After weeks of struggling with that damend pattern/color matrix metering mode that Nikon is so (excessively) proud of, I believe I have found my metering mode with center weighted average. Now, if I can slide into an understanding based on successes and failures, of the four-click dial of focus selections, I will feel home free for at least a week and a half.
Scalloped water spilling over the spillway. A lot less now than yesterday or, especially, of two day's ago's deluge, but bright and sparkling, well-shaped and interesting. More than a little abstraction here, and all of it real.
After years of pulling out the trees whose roots hold earth in place, the City put in rocks, which will, perhaps, eventually capture soil and grow up to be hills of dirt instead of just rocks — that's the theory. These rocks have been in place about four years, and neither they nor the other pile on the far side of the spillway — closer to the Old Fish Hatchery — has attracted much dirt yet.
What's happening is that the narrow slice of dirt left along Garland Road and the concentric concrete path just beyond the road is getting narrower by the week (especially these past few days), months and years. I've been attempting to photograph this alarming phenomenon.
But all my pictures either turn out too pretty — the trees above have managed to hang on to enough earth to support them and grow grass. But note the much earlier attempt to hold back the hydraulic forces. That old lake wall must have seemed like such a good idea in its time.
But instead of keeping the water out, it let the stuff slop over the top, sink down, taking soil with it till there was no soil left, and slopping it into the ever-encroaching lake.
Or just ugly. I included the barest tangent of concrete pathway at the left of this dreary photograph. But it's still difficult to see that there's a precipitous drop-off down to the water's edge. And little hope that thinning beachhead will last much longer. I'm giving it months, maybe a couple more dry years, before the so-called retraining wall along Garland Road follows the same named thin veneer of concrete from the spillway down into frothing White Rock Creek.
The abstraction of flood deposited stuff fast-rising water leaves all around the lake to show us feeble humans where the water got to two days ago and probably will again. I'm down on my knees in front of it, composing and focusing carefully — as if a lens with this much depth of field could fail me.
After I shot the above photograph, I got it into my head that the one below was going to be substantially better. What I missed noticing was that the shot above has items of interest in the view beyond the bridge.
Almost all the shots on this page used Aperture Priority, instead of my usual Programed Automatic. I didn't want that all-important aperture adjustment left to chance. I wanted to maximize my depth of field and take my chances with comparatively slow shutter speeds.
Telephoto lenses magnify images and especially magnify any camera motion. Wide-angle lenses do the opposite. They tend to render fine details as well as camera (photographer-induced) motion smaller and less important. Together with the amazingly deep depth of field, today's wide-angle photographs look sharp even when they are not, although in bright sunlight, there's not much to worry about in the depth of field department.
This one doesn't have anything worth looking beyond the lines and Xs for or at. It's nice enough, and I was careful to include bits and pieces of the bridge itself – the rivets lined up at the top and the texture up the angled strut on the right. But it's just not that interesting once you get beyond those miniscule details.
Besides, the sense of space is better on the horizontal version. There's a feeling of place to go and of movement, the vertical neatly misses.
I've attempted several photographs of this tree since I've got my new camera. But I hadn't succeeded till now. This portrait is very much the tree I've come to admire every time I pass its way. Often, it has been obscured by tall feathery looking plants, but now, here in nascent spring, it looks amazing, a twisting slip-knot of shadows bark and smooth limbs.
Shortly thereafter, I took some pictures of a park worker sweeping debris off the path. Then I turned around to complete my lap. But he caught up with me and asked if I'd like "a really good photograph." Sure. He took me to this old lake denizen, who had his head in the shadows near the edge of the lake.
Its shell was baking in the sun, which I knew was probably good for it, because I've photographed them doing that many times over the years I've been photodocumenting my favorite lake. I didn't realize till later that he may not have been able to get over or through the brambles at the lake's edge.
Almost every time I've ever got close to a sunning turtle, that turtle turned tail immediately and took wet refuge. Sometimes dozens of them at a time. This one barely moved at our approach, and I asked if it were still alive. It was, albeit slow.
But when I was there, alone with it in its immediate vicinity, I did not know what, exactly, it might want or need. I just hoped nobody would come along, prod, bother or hurt it.
From the back he looked like something prehistoric. That crenellated tail was amazing, as was all the rest of this fine old turtle.
In the last 30 years I have often identified strongly with turtles. All my life I have been one. I've named several of my cars and light trucks by that name. I called the Volvo I was in my death-defying wreck with, "Tortuga, The White Rhino," and I collect turtles and I think about turtles often.
Three times over the years — in Dallas and in Arkansas, I've stopped in heavy traffic to carry a turtle across the road, where they were headed but making slow and immanently dangerous progress toward. I had the notion of putting this one back into the lake, but I was not at all sure that's what he wanted.
I didn't want to be one of those idiots who thought they knew what other species really needed. In fact, I hadn't a clue.
His carapace was approximately 14 inches long. He probably weighed forty or more pounds. This was an old turtle, so he was big — the biggest home-grown turtle I've ever seen. Note the heavy wrinkling of his neck folds. I got down on my hands and knees and tried to get an adequate photograph of his face, but I did not want to make it uncomfortable — or get bit.
Turtle Creek and White Rock Lake turtles have a reputation for biting if messed with.
I did not pose, push or prod it and left his snout under those cool green plants. His eye seemed to have a big tear in it. When I first saw it, I didn't even know he was alive, but as I watched and talked with him, he slowly extended his head further and further out, maybe to show off his haggard face. Maybe he was posing himself. I was very impressed.
When I got down to his level, I talked with it gently and pet the top of its shell very lightly. He seemed weary, almost ready to give up. He'd been around a long, long time, and the flood may nearly have done it in. I told it I was sure it'd be okay once it got its wind back.
But I was at a complete loss for what to do.
What I eventually did was leave and continue my long lap down to Winfrey Point. Then, after my walk, I invited Anna to come look at something amazing. I thought surely, as tired and slow as that turtle seemed, it would still be right there. But by the time we got back, maybe fifteen minutes later, the turtle was gone.
There had been a guy wandering around over near where the turtle had been, well off the path when we first drove near there, but by the time we did not find the aging turtle, the guy was gone. I wish I could have asked him where the turtle went.
I hope that old turtle is swimming free. I wonder if there are bigger ones out there.
Remember me rambling on about wide angle lenses expanding space? This is an example of that. Note the downtown cityscape just under the tree's left armpit. The tree is dark, yes. But the glitter on the lake is rendered perfectly, they sky is a lovely blue, and the grass is a luscious green. Nice.
I don't even remember why I suddenly changed the f/stop from all the way closed to all the way open, but it doesn't seem to have hurt any. Probably just for the sake of change. I think this is the fastest shutter speed I've used in more than five years.
Coming back, I saw this less-than-inviting vision. Nowhere does it explain why it's closed, and I think it ought to. Anna has a photograph with someone blithely skating along the sidewalk in the upper center of this photograph, after he unceremoniously lifted the police tape at the other end. Not sure what he did when he got to this fence, but I admire his free-flowing spirit — if not his intelligence.
I shot this pole because of all those other times I shot police tapes and had them be out of focus. This time I was nearly certain it would be in focus, and sure enough, it was.
Similarly, I liked the brilliant brightness of all the stuff in this wheelbarrow set agains the peculiarly crunch gray mud of the mudded-over area. I should have angled the shot to have the stuff fill out more space in the photograph. There may be too much mud in this shot, or not enough area covered by the really interesting part of it.
Anna stopped to get the phone number for a house for sale, just off to the right. I perceived this scene as lens-appropriate and I got out and shot it. Glad I did. It's a great shot using all the clarity and sharpness available to me via aperture, shutter speed and iso. I bet I could print this sucker 3 feet tall or more, if I had a bigger printer. This is one smooth photograph.
The real estate agent called back a couple hours later. Five bedrooms and three baths with a lakeside view for only $653,000.
Finally back where I parked, I saw this elegant sight and had to photograph it. It's not the lake, and it's not even very close to the lake. Beyond those trees is the Old Fish Hatchery area. Off to the right and well up and steep hill is the dam. This is just a puddle.
Total images, so far = 2,689
[All shots above taken with the Nikon 20mm f/4 manual focus lens.]