J R learns the D200 - Day 23
Birds and more birds and a quick portrait
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 — they're shape-shifters aloft.
Shooting my trusty-rusty 180mm tele means I can't back up 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.
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, bu the triangular sail had by then sailed away.
All three pelicans are not quite in perfect focus, and they're landing in their own shadows, so they're pretty 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.
Yes. My pelks are still here, calling Dallas home. Almost into April, and they're still 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 winter.
When pelks fish, they swim in long or short lines, often involving a floatilla of 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, such up fishies.
I waited for them to lean back guzzling a big fish, buldging down their long necks, but they didn't gargle back anything, only kept 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 all swimming back toward the bay and away from me, I got the notion that I was probably missing something just around the bend, and there they 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 these crews had that unison thing going today, but it still looked cool on the sparkling lake.
I remember how excited I was when I first shot with the telephoto end of my then-new Sony F707, how the far side of the lake was suddenly accessible to my photographs. With the 180mm lens on my new camera, the other side is just more of the detail availabe — a fascinating possibility.
When I first saw him with it the pole, he was using it as a walking stick. Then he reached it out into the lake's edge to poke at something under my horizon. Then he tried twirling it. Something there is about a stick that sparks the imaginations of small boys. Big boys, too.
I've long wanted to catch a bunch of bikers in their colorful costumes, flaming hats and buldging bodies. 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.
My first portrait attempt with my new camera were of my friend Jim Dolan for some online psychologist referral deal. The resulting photographs are just imperfect enough to remind me I need to work on my 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 to me, but he's such a handsome guy, the sometime film actor and competitive swimmer pulls it off. Less successful is that pink sweater. Although it looks great, all bright and clean and subtly textured, it is bright and not all the portraits were this close, so my CWA (center weighted average) metering mode got fooled by it and tended to under-expose his face, giving him too much tan and requiring post-processing to lighten them both.
I see now, but was oblivious to it then, that the brightness of the sweater competes with the brightness of his visage. I tend to agree with the elderly notion that a portrait subject's clothes should frame their faces, not compete. But he's not an ordinary person, so perhaps the bright pink sweater serves to show that. This is the only in-focus shot that shows off his blue eyes to any degree.
The closest thing to a portrait-worthy lens I have that's fairly easy to focus is my elderly manual-focus 105mm, which used to be a pretty-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, I had to stand so far back, that I tended to lose the feeling of intimacy and photographer-to-subject rapport a good portrayal needs.
I would have been happier with a shorter focal length lens — something in the 30 - 50mm range, which I will be getting in the near future. Auto-focus would help a lot, too, since I was spending so much time trying to focus the manual focus lens (without all the focus aids 35mm film cameras used to employ), I tended to be 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 enough about the him of it.
Worse, it seemed such a strange and strained photo set-up that I ended it before I really got comfortable with my subject, and either of us had time to get caught up in the experience. I never quite got warmed up to the notion.
I only shot 14 frames, and as odd as I felt shooting a portrait after so many years not, just more than a dozen images seems sadly 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 decent portrait and that needed for a conversation wth a friend are so different.
I used to shoot at least one full 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 would have calmed down and relaxed into the strange format of pointing a camera directly into the face of the unprotected soul of the subject long enough that he could release and I could capture it.
These shots show my friend's outer self well enough.
I'm not entirely disappointed at our quick results (not including this one),
but I know I could and should have done better, more depthy portraits.
So, like I keep shooting birds, I should keep accepting opportunities
to hone my portrait skills. I used to be pretty good at it.
Total images expended, so far = 3,031