J R learns the D200 - Day 23
Portraits of Birds, The Lake and People
Tuesday, March 28, 2006: Remember last (the first) time I photographed pigeons courting? This time I shot with more confidence and better results. Note the sharp focus overall, that bright, beady red eye, the sharp feet and toes — and puffy neck ruffle.
May be the best grackle photo I've taken. Everything but the tail is sharp. Great eye, beak and sharp little grasping feet. Nice pose. I'm still hoping to catch one sharp in the air — up there, they're shape-shifters.
Shooting my trusty-rusty 180mm tele means I can't back up (standing on the pier) or pull back the zoom to get more than one close bird at a time. Both the Mr. and the Mrs. here had their noses in their feathers, but all I could focus on was one, so here she is. She really is the more attractive of the two — less color, but more style. Feather sharp, floating.
Another duck couple coming in for three-point landings. I was surprised that the 180 that usually doesn't like to focus fast or when pointed near sky grabbed these guys and stayed on them as they descended nearer the surface. Great form, and note the blue-black and white striped wing similarities between male and female, left and right.
The usual suspects in line-up with triangular sail boat in near background and dull buildings along Central Expressway in far back backgrounds. I've been watching the wildlife along these logs well out into Sunset Bay for years, but this is the first time it has been the feature of a photograph. Mostly because the Sony only reached out to a 200mm film equivalency, and this one is 270mm equiv.
The cormorants usually share the perch with a big bunch of pelicans, as they did later in this shoot, but the triangular sail had by then sailed away.
The third pelican from the left is not quite in perfect focus, and they're all landing in their own shadows, so they're dark where they should be bright white. Still, a spectacular vision, with all those wings nearly straight up. Note the large, translucent pouched beaks in the lead pair. I'm not sure what that means, they're all three young breeding males.
Yes. My pelks are still here, calling Dallas home. Almost into April, and they're still preening, playing in the sky and floating around fishing. Or at least some of them are. I only saw about a dozen of the big birds today. Anna counted more than a hundred in Sunset Bay a couple months ago, deeper in the cold of winter.
When pelks fish, they swim in long or short lines, often involving a floatilla with other species, like the comorant here, flushing fish toward the shallows, where there's a gobble fest. It's almost as if they're doing it in close-order drill, like an Ester Williams production, fold wings back, dunk noses into the drink, suck up fishies.
I waited for them to lean back guzzling bigger fish, buldging down their long necks, but they didn't gargle back anything, only kept rhythmically nosing into the water.
They must have been catching something unvisible to prying photographers...
Not just so much in unison are they Ester Williams like. Dig the fabulous feather outfit and swept-back feather-doos. One of the great things about shooting 10.3 megapixel images is how little detail is lost when enlarging tiny portions of the frame.
I've shot that fool skyline from nearly every other view around the lake where you could still see it, but this may be the first from this side of Sunset Bay. The 180 brings it so much closer, uniting this with that sides so clearly.
About the time the pelks were swimming back toward the bay away from me, I got the notion that I was missing something just around the bend, and there these (below) were. Two rowing crews and the row yeller standing up in his motorboat.
Motorboats are allowed on the lake, but only up to a certain horse-power. These guys are all legal. Neither of the crews had that unison thing going today, but it still looked cool out on the sparkling lake.
I remember how excited I was five years ago when I first shot with the telephoto end of my then-new Sony F707 — how the far side of the lake was suddenly accessible. With the 180mm lens on my new camera, the other side is just more of the detail availabe — a fascinating possibility, I'm just learning to include in my lake photographs, adding depth and meaning.
When I first saw him with the pole, he was using it as a too-tall walking stick. Then he reached it out into the lake's edge to poke at something over my horizon. Then he tried twirling it. Something there is about a stick that sparks boys' imaginations.
I've long hoped to catch a bunch of bikers in their colorful costumes and flaming hats charging at me. I'd deciced a few minutes before this chance shot that the one thing I didn't need any more of was bike shots. Then these guys rode into my tele view.
Gnarly trees fullfil both my abstract and my realist goals.
[All shots above taken with the Nikon 180mm 2.8 AF lens.]
[All shots below taken with the Nikon 105mm 2.5 manual focus lens.]
My first human portrait attempt with my new camera were of my friend Jim Dolan for some online psychologist referral site. The resulting photographs are imperfect enough to remind me I need to work on portraits.
Jim Dolan 1/250 @ f/4 iso250 FF HH CWA
At first, Jim favored the not-look-at-the-camera look, which seemed remote, but he's such a handsome guy, the sometime film actor and competitive swimmer pulls it off. Less successful is his pink sweater. It looks great, all bright and clean and subtly textured, but it is bright and not all the portraits were this head-and-shoulders, so my CWA (center weighted average) metering mode got fooled by it and tended to under-expose the rest of him, making him too dark, requiring post-processing to lighten both.
I see now, but was oblivious then, that the sweater's brightness competes with the lightness of his visage. I tend to agree with the elderly notion that a portrait subject's clothes should frame their faces. But he's not an ordinary person, so perhaps the bright pink sweater shows that. This is the only in-focus shot that shows off his blue eyes.
The closest thing to a portrait-worthy lens I have is my elderly manual-focus 105mm, which used to be a good portrait lens — if a tad long — when I shot 35mm film. Now that it's effectively the equivalent of one-and-a-half times that because of the smaller "film" size, I had to stand so far back that I lost the feeling of intimacy and photographer-to-subject rapport good portrayals need.
I would have been happier with a shorter focal length lens — something in the 30 - 50mm range, which I will be getting soon. Auto-focus would help a lot, too, since I was spending too much time attempting to focus — too caught up in the mechanics and too little caught up in the humanity.
Worried too much about my end of the image and not nearly about the him of it.
Worse, it seemed such a strange photo set-up that I ended it before we got comfortable, and either of us had time to get caught up in the experience. I never quite got warmed up to the notion.
I shot 14 frames, and as odd as I felt shooting a portrait after so many years not, just more than a dozen images seems too few. Perhaps I should have continued shooting while we had one of our free-flowing conversations inside, more informal, more revealing. But the mind-sets needed for shooting a portrait and that needed for a conversation wth an old friend are so different.
I used to shoot at least one roll of 36 shots, more likely two or three (108+ frames) of any portrait attempt. The first roll was almost always a wash. It wasn't until I'd reloaded once, maybe twice that I and my subject could relax into the strange format of pointing a camera directly into the face of an unprotected soul long enough for he to release and me to capture the spirit.
These shots show my friend's outer self well enough.
I'm not entirely disappointed at our quick results (I didn't send them this
one), but I know I could have done better, more depthy portraits.
So, like I keep shooting birds, I'll continue finding opportunities
to hone my portrait skills. I used to be pretty good at it.
Total images expended, so far = 3,031