The Freer/Sackler Museums of Asian Art are a hidden jewel in the Smithsonian complex on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Yearly visitors at the Freer/Sackler number about a half of a million compared to the neighboring Air and Space Museum that exceeds 6.7 million visitors a year.
Several recent announcements from the museum are worth mentioning in this blog.
Huangshan Anhui Lois Conner
Mirror of Human Nature: The Photograph 1878 Toyohara Kunichika
The Freer/Sackler are the first Smithsonian museums to scan their entire collection (40,000 items) and place it on line in high resolution. The link is called Open F|S and it is the result of a massive staff effort to photograph and create digital records for all Freer|Sackler objects. It took over 6,000 staff hours in 2014 alone and resulted in over 10 terabytes of data. The program began in 1998.
All objects in the collection are digitally photographed and metadata is included in the search results. Unfortunately, all three-dimensional objects are reduced to a two-dimensional view. For instance there are 7,591 vessels, all photographed from one angle.
Why couldn’t the Smithsonian use a simple technique such as QuickTime VR? (Use your mouse or finger to spin the camera.) The Smithsonian produced “Cosmic Buddha” at the Freer using Autodesk 3D imaging , but where did this technique go?
On their website, the Museum says it hopes to create new features—such as 360-degree images and 3D models of every three-dimensional artwork—over the next few years, but times-a-wasting. As the public becomes more sophisticated and demands a “movie” of each object showing it in it’s entirety, they will have to trot out all the 3D objects in the near future and do it over again.
Flower Series Bahman Jalali
Of course this is not applicable with two-dimensional photography and art. The collection contains historic photographs of Asia. Shown here are a few of the more interesting images. If the artist is still alive, hi res images can’t be downloaded. Several photographers have work shown in low res and are dead, notably Raghubir Singh (1942-1999), so the collection needs to be updated.
For non-commercial purposes you can download any image in the collection and do whatever you want to do with it. The website even suggests that if you want to cut the images up and make shower curtains out of them, the Smithsonian is not only open to this, but wants a photograph of your “creation” sent to their website.
Sir Pratap Singh of Idar 1900-1920
Fortunately we will have this online collection at our disposal, as in January 2016 the Freer/Sackler will close for a complete building renovation and will not open again until the summer of 2017.
So why a post about the Freer/Sackler Museums in my photography blog?
How are your images archived? Are they in folders or projects in a application like Adobe Lightroom? What kind of meta data is included?
Not to belittle the photographic mission of the Freer/Sackler, but to record still images of 40,000 items with the same lighting setup was a small part of the project. Researching and adding the metadata (descriptive information) to the photographs was the most time-consuming effort.
I once was sent a booklet of original albumen prints with funny captions written across each image by Peter Spang, curator of the Historic Deerfield Museum. When I expressed surprise at using the originals in such a way, Peter said, “We don’t know who took them or who the subject is, so they are worthless.”
Steve McCurry and the National Geographic went on an exhaustive search to find the famous “Afghan Girl” 20 years later. As I said to Steve, if he had taken better caption information, the search would have been much shorter!
Recently I saw the photographic exhibit “OBJECT:PHOTO at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. It is essentially the Thomas Walther Collection, a selection of 341 ”modern” photographs by 148 artists made from 1909–1949.
The prospectus says that the collection “represents the innovative vision of the 1920s and ’30s, a transformative period of modern photography and the foundation of our photo-based world.”
As presented by MOMA, it is much more.
Lore Feininger “Erich Solomon” 1929
In 2010, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation gave the Museum a grant to encourage deep scholarly study of the Walther Collection and to support publication of the results.
The MOMA coined the study “The Project” and spent several years developing new ways to relate to a collection of photographs. This exhibit is not a leisurely stroll through rooms of prints with arrogant captions written by the curator.
From the website: “Creating new standards for the consideration of photographs as original objects and of photography as an art form of unusually rich historical dimensions, the project affords both experts and those less familiar with its history new avenues for the appreciation of the medium.”
This is a turn-about from 1960, where as an example, in the United Kingdom photography was not recognized as a fine art. Dr. S.D. Jouhar said, when he formed the Photographic Fine Art Association at that time – “At the moment photography is not generally recognized as anything more than a craft.”.
The Thomas Walther collection consists of 347 photographs. Each photo contributes to an appreciation of the excitement that these 148 artists must have felt at the time. Loring Knoblauch at the Collector Daily (a great reference to locations and information on all current major photography exhibits) has this to say about the images in OBJECT:PHOTOGRAPHY:
Herbert Bayer – “Humanly Impossible” 1932
“For those enamored with the burst of innovation we have recently seen with the digital revolution, the 1920s and 1930s were an equally exciting and disruptive time for photography. Those years saw the introduction of the hand held camera (and the flexibility it offered), the broadening of photojournalism (and the magazines that featured it), the growth of filmmaking, and the expansion of the avant garde. It was a time of intense experimentation both in Europe and America, with new technical developments quickly opening up new areas of artistic exploration and new visual vocabularies. Photographers from across the globe were connecting and cross pollinating in exhibitions, publications, and face to face meetings, taking advantage of their new found freedoms.”
Although the visceral quality of the images is the real way to see the art (why they are displayed in museums), many of you will not make it to the MOMA for this exhibit. However, all photographs are available on the OBJECT:PHOTO website. And there one can experience the Mellon Foundation study in many ways.
On the site there is a collection of essays on aspects of the exhibit, there is a section on Mapping the Photographs, on Comparing the Photographs, on Connecting the Artists and on Mapping the Artist’s Lives. All organized to enrich one’s appreciation of the Thomas Walther collection.
Mapping Artist Bernice Abbott
Here is a visualization mapping Bernice Abbott’s life to other artists. The website says,” This visualization illustrates the artists’ relationships with the various meeting points — influential exhibitions, publications, schools, studios, and industrial and cultural centers — that linked them in this era.”
So who is Thomas Walther? MOMA provides little information. I found a piece by Vince Aletti in the NYC Village Voice where he interviewed Walther.
“Walther, heir to a German machine-tool manufacturing fortune, is publicity-shy and evasive about the extent of his larger collection—he estimates its number at “somewhere between 1000 and 2000 pictures.
For now, the place he’s found is New York. Walther still describes himself as a Berliner, but he’s lived here since the early ’80s—he’s currently in a Soho loft—and feels at home the way he no longer does in Europe.
…he regularly adds rarities to what he calls his “core collection”—including a sublime, mid-19th-century daguerreotype of clouds by Southworth and Hawes that he snapped up at Sotheby’s last spring (1999) for $354,500…Speaking of his core collection, he says, “I was attracted to peculiar emanations of the human spirit,”
Thank you, Thomas for making your wonderful collection available to us.
My interpretation of museum print. George Hoyningen-Huene – “Henri Cartier Bresson” 1935
When Twitter first appeared, I felt like many others that I did not need to know how someone I was following was enjoying breakfast. But my views have changed.
Now, I tweet almost daily, and each tweet has an image attached. What these tweets have become is a visual diary of images that are special to me and I want to publish. Publishing is the key here.
On this page, I have included only pictures from tweets from the last month. I have published 18 others during the month, but the images selected here show the variety of my subject matter.
Dali Museum, Tampa
Just Ducky, Orlando
In my career, photography was a way to share experiences with an audience, and publishing in National Geographic magazine guaranteed millions of viewers worldwide.
In the global, networked community of today, the Internet is a nascent communications tool, which provides expanding opportunities for us to share information and experiences. We have the opportunity to re-define how stories are communicated or published; hence, the visual diary.
There are many ways to use social media to publish. Facebook, blogs, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, and Vine are some of the current opportunities. As a photographer, I need to use those that feature photography as an integral part of the published piece.
Hotel, Both Tweet and Instagram
Sailing, Tampa Bay
Valentine Duck, Orlando
Following is how I determine the best way to communicate my work.
Twitter. As explained above, this is for daily photography, some of it quite pedestrian, but I try to make it interesting. Many but not all of my tweets are taken with my smart phone. The captions need to be succinct, which is a good thing. I use many hashtags that increase the distribution of the tweet.
Instagram. I publish some of my better images here, usually timing them with specific events. As a member of The Photo Society, my Instagrams have over a million followers, and more than 15,000 likes (not looks, likes!). The qualities of the images on this site are exceptional, and I try to have comparable pictures up as Instagrams. Sometimes I also publish them tweets.
Oil Slick with Contrails
Shovel for Dollars
I use Facebook to let people know what I am up to. My tweets are automatically republished there, and because of this, I post often.
My YouTube channel is filled with themed slideshows of images from around the world – Patagonia. Venice, Peru, Tanzania – as well as workshops where student work is featured.
I have a monthly newsletter where I explore photographic subjects of interest. You can sign up for it on this page.
My blog (you are reading one) about many things, from instructional tutorials to items such as photographic exhibits that I have recently seen.
Car Hood Tweet/Instagram
Gulls on Ice
White Horse, White Snow
I have turned Twitter into my daily visual diary, I find that it keeps me alert to the world around me, and through my images I try to make sense of it all.
Recently, I tested a Panasonic LUMIX Gh4 with two important features that affect how still photographers will be capturing images in the near future. Firmware now offered by Panasonic for the Gh4 makes it possible when shooting 4k video to set any shutter speed for each video frame.
The LUMIX Gh4 also is a WIFI hub and the Jpg images taken by the camera can be transferred to a smart phone immediately for distribution.
I put together a two and a half minute video that graphically shows how it all works. It can be found here.
8.5Mb Still at 1/1000 sec.
I took the LUMIX Gh4 to Disney World where, as an experiment, I shot only 4k video. I selected a number of frames that I extracted as stills for illustrations in my monthly newsletter. Sign up on this page. I have included several other successful images below.
1/400 of a second, ISO 200
1/400 of a second, ISO 400
1/400 of a second ISO 200
1/400 of a second, ISO 200
1/30 of a second, ISO 800
Get my monthly newsletter by signing up on the right hand side of this page.
On Martin Luther King Day, I posted this Instagram with the following caption”
MLK Monument Washington, DC
“Monument in Washington DC. An awe-inspiring statue of an extraordinary man. He was killed before the current wave of terrorism, but through his words his legacy lives on — and addresses the recent atrocities in France #jesuisCharlie. We still hear his voice promoting justice and #love for all mankind. Two quotes from him come to mind: ‘We must live together as brothers or perish together as fools’ and ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice’. Please heed his wisdom!
Of course the Instagram was published worldwide – many followers are outside of insular America. I received over 15,400 “likes” and 144 comments, thirty or so from the same three people.
Most impressive in this publishing venture was the dialog that the caption generated. Some were profane, some silly, but many debated views on freedom, racism, religion, etc. We should take note that many rational people see things in a different light.
Excerpts follow, with the actual Instagram monikers obscured for privacy reasons.
Awesome statue !!… people still live by his words !! CO
When people insult black people, it’s racism, when people fight the rights of the opposite gender, it’s sexism, but when people insult Muslims and its founder, it’s freedom of speech. To hell with every supporter of JeSuisCharlie. MD
Do you really think that the world is better off with those cartoonists dead? You think they were bad people for making jokes? You can’t be serious. Just because someone believes something strongly doesn’t mean that it is free from criticism. Freedom of religion is very important. But freedom of religion is a part of having freedom of ideas, and freedom of ideas will always include tolerating any criticism of any given idea. MR
MLK Jr. would have been disgusted by the violence committed, but he would have also been even more horrified by the consistent and systematic marginalization of Arabs in the present social, political and economic context. It is disingenuous and disrespectful to use his legacy in this way. PW
Those cartoonists died horribly but their deaths are nowhere near the injustice inflicted upon the poor and mistreated minorities the world over. Please choose your comparisons wisely. HM
Don’t think because you have that wrap on your head it makes you an expert on Muslims, black American history, especially X. I will school your ass anytime you want to come to Morehouse College and have a REAL debate with REAL black men. SGJ
Real black men, college? Debate? Dude you sound angry, take a chill pill….I suggest that you watch Selma. I recommend this movie to all young disenfranchised angry Muslim men to go see it and learn how to achieve success amid hopelessness. Many good lessons to learn from this movie. HM
Until your race starts fighting the racist ideas that your people have, and stop focusing on black’s resentment to the was they’ve been treated in the past and currently, we will always hate you deep down. SJG
Bro you can get your point across without insults. You might have knowledge but no one’s gonna listen if you dish out whatever you don’t like. AK92
…hate creates violence, the extent of the hate determines the headlines not the victims then revenge is created the vicious cycle begins, again. We have had and still do (have) individuals worldwide who go beyond just thinking but also do for freedom, injustice and inequalities, all should be praised… SH
MLK and Malcolm X put their lives on the line for what they believed. Anyone can talk a good game, which one of you would die for yours? MP230
King, Gandhi and Mandela…I salute you!! Cheers on #mlkday!! ASH
So sad that such a wonderful post was soiled by such hatred. This monument is truly amazing and I appreciate the posting as a reminder to us that hatred is not the way. SK49
I don’t agree that my post was “soiled”. I think it started a discussion.
Recently I looked back at the archive of blogs that I posted in 2014. Although there were a couple of outliers, most blogs fit into specific photographic themes. Please click on the links to revisit these blogs.
Objects in Disguise
White Mountains Sunset
In the month of July I concentrated on tutorials on photographing things above the earth’s surface staring with fireworks just before the Fourth and followed up with the moon (a super moon in July), the sun and a rather complicated blog on star photography. Much fun and hopefully helpful. Photojournalists As I consider myself one, photojournalists that literally put their life on the line enamor me. These blogs on Tyler Hicks (January) and Bob Edelman and his civil rights coverage (April) attempted to explore their vision and their bravery while photographing difficult subjects.
Thoughts for Photojournalists These blogs explored methods and suggestions for budding photojournalists and included one on finding locals to help you (October), and returning to a location that one senses will make good images (Also in October).
Technological Advances in Photography 2014 saw new innovations on many fronts, from new cameras (July) to new software solutions by Getty Images (March). I also highlighted what social media is doing with our previously private information (February), and talked about good digital practices by backing up (January) and the value of having a tablet (February).
Cloud Gate Sculpture
I have personally entered a number of shows and exhibits and with a blog tried to impart some knowledge about how they are organized in May, but also highlighted exhibits in Mexico that show differences in approach with photography (March).
This Fragile Earth Two blogs covered the international land grab (November), and how the Bureau of Land Management in the US is trying to mitigate the hordes of visitors that descend on sensitive areas (January). These blogs bookended 2014.
“The Second Wave”, Arizona
I hope you enjoyed these ruminations and find that my future blogs in 2015 are of value. Before I put one up, I think about the photographic community at large, and try to decide if the blog may be of interest to them.
If you enjoy the site and find something of interest, please let me know.
A small bit of history to tether the current phenomena of land acquisition around the world.
Indian Reservation Map
In 1803, the United States bought what became known as the Louisiana Purchase from France. It consisted of 530,000,000 acres of land bought for about $15 million dollars (about 42 cents an acre in today’s dollars.). Although France reaped this income, the approximately 600,000 Native Americans, whose ancestors had lived on these lands for thousands of years, got nothing. Soon, their numbers would decline with the onslaught of European diseases.
Manifest Destiny (the belief that settlers were destined to expand across the country) put more pressure on the native population. Between 1800 and 1875 the US government sold off 400 million acres of Native American land (that had been “re-given” to them). See the map by Sam B. Hilliard of LSU here.
Much of this was accelerated by the Dawes Act of 1857 that created “checkerboards” of land allotted to the Native Americans. The act was created by reformers to achieve the primary goal of the breaking up of tribes as a social unit and opening the remainder of the land to white settlers for profit.
Indian Lands for Sale
The checkerboards were 640-acre plots of Native American land interspersed with 640-acre plots of US government land. Finally, the US government sequestered the remaining Native Americans on reservations.
Different Perspectives Regarding Land
Land is an economic commodity. The major reasons for ownership are access and worth. While this concept is accepted by administrators and economists, much is an antithesis to the beliefs of indigenous people. For them, land rights are important for many reasons including ancestral inheritance, spiritual development and social status. Being sacred, the bounty of their lands is given to them by their gods. Losing their lands causes a loss of identity for indigenous people, affecting their worldviews and belief systems – a loss of contact with Mother Earth.
“Public lands” are administrated by sovereign states. They are designated as national parks, reserves, national forests, wilderness areas, domains of the king, etc. All have definitions and legal status, which can change depending on the political climate and needs of the state. Pressure is applied if the economic value of the land outstrips its designated value.
Today, we are witnessing major land grabs throughout the world. These include acquisitions and encroachment in national parks, ancestral lands, farmland and wilderness areas. The purpose of this blog is to highlight some of the more egregious violations occurring in areas where there are historically indigenous populations.
• Big Hunting Authorities in Tanzania have ordered the eviction of 40,000 Maasai people so their ancestral home can be turned into a hunting ground for Middle Eastern royals. A 1,500sq/km ‘wildlife corridor’ around Loliondo, next to the Serengeti national park, will be handed over to a commercial hunting and safari company based in the United Arab Emirates.
Activists have accused the government of reneging on a promise after it last year said it had backed down on the plans following intense global public opposition. Go here to connect with an organization that was opposed last year and may be currently involved. It’s possible that in 2014 they have given up.
Unlike last year, the government is offering compensation of 1 billion shillings ($460,000), not to be paid directly but to be channeled into socio-economic development projects. The Maasai have dismissed the offer. See a longer story on this issue in The Guardian.
“I feel betrayed,” said Samwel Nangiria, co-coordinator of the local Ngonett civil society group. “One billion is very little and you cannot compare that with land. It’s inherited. Their mothers and grandmothers are buried in that land. There’s nothing you can compare with it.
• Big Agriculture Ethiopian authorities since 2010 have embarked on a plan known as “villagization” to move some 45,000 households. The plan takes scattered families and consolidates them into fewer settlements. It is sold as a scheme for better schools, clinics, cleaner water, and, authorities say, more democracy.
Yet simultaneously Ethiopia is trying to lease up to 42 percent of Gambella – a state the size of the Netherlands – for agricultural investors. India’s Karutui Global Ltd and Saudi Star are the most prominent. Both have started huge farms for export of rice and other crops. Saudi Star is owned by Ethiopian-born Saudi billionaire Mohamed al-Amoudi and is the nation’s largest single investor. See a story on this issue in the Christian Science Monitor.
Distorted world map according to the relative amount of land grabs on each country. The rescaling in this map is in proportion to the amount of land acquired by foreign investors after 2006. See the original map here.
• Big Oil In 2013 Ecuador’s President Correa announced an end to the moratorium on oil drilling in the Yasuni National Park, opening it – and lands inhabited by Huaorani (the indigenous population) – to oil drilling once again. The stage is set for an oil invasion by companies from China, Brazil, Argentina and the USA in conjunction with the state oil company Petroamazonas. US company Halliburton has signed long-term contracts to construct roads and camps, recover oil from existing wells and discover new reserves. Oil production is planned to commence in 2016. Most of the oil is destined for the U.S. (previous oil reserves discovered on Huaorani land were estimated to be worth $1.5 billion – enough to keep cars rolling in the U.S. for 13 days).
Twenty years ago Christopher Walker, Gordon Durnin and Tony Avirgan were filmmakers and told the story of the fight against Big Oil in the Amazon basin of Ecuador. Filmed over three years, it covered the fight by the Huaorani people to remove the oil companies from their lands and preserve the Yasuni Park – one of the most biologically diverse regions of the world. The resultant film, TRINKETS & BEADS won many major prizes worldwide, highlighting the Huaorani’s struggle around the world.
They are now engaged in a sequel to TRINKETS and BEADS and are soliciting donations here.
Martin Carbonell, a spokesman for the Yasunidos, (a collection of groups fighting the plan to exploit oil in Yasuni) said: “It’s very worrying what has happened. It is the end of the facade of democracy in Ecuador. Since the beginning of the process we have been subject to physical and verbal attacks, so this was not unexpected.”
These are just a few instances of worldwide pressure on indigenous locales.
When takeovers of public lands occurs, the indigenous people of the area for the most part are not informed of what is about to happen, and ill-equipped to fight it. Internet transparency helps identify these land grabs that are fueled by state corruption, avaricious individuals and companies with their own economic agendas, but rarely has had an affect on the final outcome. The details of the land deals – made among high-ranking government officials with little consultation of local people – are often nebulous. And in many cases, land that officials have said was “unused” was actually managed in traditional ways.
After the decimation of the Native Americans, the famous Oglala Lakota Red Cloud now an old man on a reservation said: “They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept but one; they promised to take our land, and they took it.”
The percentage of the Native American population in the US is now .08 percent.
If you personally feel as I do that indigenous populations are underrepresented, please donate to one of the causes cited above, or when learning about similar indignations, find out how you can help.
I was going to call this blog “Waiting It Out”, but the term that Chris Johns, the Editor of the National Geographic and a photographer uses is “circling back”.
What Chris means by this is that the perfect time to capture the subject in front of you may not be now. It may happen in a few minutes, a few hours, days or never. The important thing is to have faith that this particular subject will make a fine photograph, because it speaks to you as being something of importance.
One and a Half Hours
15 Min. Later
This does not mean the subject is “newsworthy”, an amazing scene, or a fantastic event. It just speaks to you. This gives it importance. And if it is really important, are you ready to walk away because the light isn’t right, the subjects aren’t in place or you need to be someplace else?
Fred Maroon, a fine Washington, DC photographer said, “There is always another plane”. It is a good way of saying that many great images take patience to make them.
During all of my workshops I spend some time talking about managing one’s photographic expectations. If you are with a non-photographer or on a tour or heavily scheduled, you have little opportunity to hang back and wait.
And it can be tiresome waiting at a particular location for hours – especially with wildlife, as the moment you were waiting for generally happens very quickly and you cannot stay focused (pun intended) for long time periods. Frans Lanting, a terrific wildlife photographer was once asked how he stays focused to make those wonderful shots. His answer? “Ninety five percent of the time I miss it!”
To keep fresh, do as Chris Johns says and circle back. Leave that location for a bit and then come back to it. But remember to return, as perseverance pays. An article was once done or several of the photographers at National Geographic and after the author interviewed us she entitled the article “A Terrifying Dedication.”
Throughout this blog I have posted a number of images with captions that indicate the “wait times” necessary to capture the image.
Join me for a domestic or international workshop where there is a continuing conversation on subjects like this.
Many times when we are traveling we are in someone else’s control. This can be a good thing, as when we are on a vacation we are not interested in dealing with the minutia of our trip. On the other hand, if a tour is “prepackaged”, chances for unique photography are diminished.
Here is my take on packages. You pay an extra 15 to 20 % to have a company put together a tour for you. Normally, on this tour you will be with others that you do not know (sometimes, in the case of cruise ships, thousands that you do not know).
The tour operators set an “all inclusive” agenda and include the major sites, but usually this means that you will be informed of where you will stay, when to get up, when the transportation leaves the hotel, when the transportation leaves the attraction, etc. You could customize the trip with the tour operators, but the cost may be prohibitive, as they are able to get “group rates” with larger numbers of tourists following the same itinerary. A guided tour is usually homogenized and abbreviated to fit what the tour operator feels is best for their clients, with little input from the client.
Many people think that Bed and Breakfasts are sub-par to hotels. Au contraire! They will help integrate you into the general community at the locale where you are staying. The proprietors will give you tips on places to eat, what cultural events are taking place, etc. Best of all, if you want them to, they will engage you at breakfast or in the evening to discuss history and local politics, problems in their country and the perceived differences between their county and yours. The conversation will also help break down the stereotypes that you may have about their city/country. Invigorating!
Look for Local Connections
“My daughter is in the Peace Corps in Bangwanaland, and loves it!” This comes from an acquaintance of yours. So, what is her email address? Would she mind if you contacted her about local conditions/customs? Does she know a local guide and/or a great place to stay?
A friend says, “I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro two years ago”. You say, I am going in October. Can I have lunch with you and find out some of the “dos and don’ts”? Perhaps you can stay with a friend that they know. Implicit in your request can be the possibility that they can stay with you while visiting your town.
Following are several illustrations of how a local helped me in my quest for unique subject matter to photograph.
All Night Tango Dancing
We arrived at our Bed and Breakfast in Buenos Aires and during the course of the conversation with our host, we asked about a particular café that featured tango dancing. He said that he knew of the place, but it was a bit touristy. “Tonight, I am going to a community center where I am learning how to dance the milonga, and they also teach tango. Why don’t you ride the local bus with me and take a class? A tango band arrives at 11:00 PM and we dance until 4:00AM” Of course it was marvelous.
Suck ‘Em Up Lava Tube
I was on assignment in Hawaii and I needed to photograph a lava tube that entered the water. Ancient Hawaiians used these caves for rituals and burials. Where could I find a tube that had a somewhat restricted entrance but had plenty of light? My local contact said that I should check out the “Suck ‘Em Up” lava tube. Hmmm..Why do they call it that? Come to find out that if you are too close to the surface in a particular area of the tube, you get sucked out through the blowhole at the top! A fine image, but you had to know where to go.
Lion Cubs in the Serengeti
On a recent Photo Safari, we were watching a lioness and her cubs for nearly an hour. She started to lick them, one at a time. The guide from Duma Explorer, Wilson Shange, said that because of that behavior, she was either going to take them down to the river, or bring them over to lie in the shade of our truck. Within two minutes, she got up and took them to the river.
Blue Whale Blowing
We were searching for blue whales in the Loreto Bay in Baja, Mexico. After some time, we found a male and moved near him, only to watch him sound. The boatman/guide immediately set his watch for 10 minutes. He then moved our small panga into the general area where he thought the whale would surface and killed the boat engine. After 9 and half minutes from when he set his watch, he started the engine. At the ten-minute mark, the whale surfaced nearby and we raced to the location for several minutes of photography until the whale sounded. The guide set his watch for 10 minutes, and we moved to where he thought the whale would surface.
Sunrise in Patagonia
In Patagonia, we were on the last day of the famous “W” hike in Torres del Paine National Park. The hutmaster said that we needed to get up at 4:30AM and he would have a cold breakfast set for us. Then we needed to climb about 2,500 feet to arrive at a viewpoint overlooking the mountain and a glacial pool. At 6:05 AM we completed the climb and five minutes later were rewarded with a spectacular sunrise.
Many tourists who are succumbing to a package tour, or do not engage the locals are not able to capture images that are not hidden, but local knowledge is necessary for a stranger to find them.
Engage the population to enhance your travel photography experiences.
Star photography has been a long-time enigma for photographers, and it still is for cinema-photographers. We can easily see a wonderful array of millions of celestial objects on clear nights,but photographing them has been difficult as they are pinpricks of light in a black sky and they are moving, so long time exposures are necessary.
There are four ways to shoot the stars, two have been around for a long time, and two are now possible with digital photography. They are: star trails; “one shot” star images; time-lapse photography and star tracking. I will address each technique, but there are a few consonants that are applicable to all four.
1. Altitude. It is not by chance that the major observatories of the world are at high altitudes. If you are at 10,000 feet, the atmosphere is less dense. The air is not “thinner”, but having less density in the atmosphere means that you can “see through it” better. Less humidity also helps, as there are fewer water particles to shoot through. This is why the desert areas of the American Southwest are favorite places for night sky photographers – 8,000 feet above sea level, clear and dry.
2. Light Pollution. More and more locations have extraneous light that “pollutes” the dark night sky and in turn “pollutes” your images. The atmosphere near cities literally glows on the horizon. The International Dark-Sky Association is fighting to preserve the night, but with more of us on earth it is an uphill battle. In addition, the airplanes flying though your frame near a city will not help to produce a “clean” image. To find the best locations for your photo of the stars, see Jonathan Tomshine’s Dark Sky Finder. The moon will also affect your star images. The best star photography is done on a moonless, cloudless, still night.
3. Tripod. It may seem obvious, but a sturdy tripod is necessary. Set up the shot when there is still light, then come back to your tripod hours later with a headlamp or flashlight. Make sure the tripod is in a secure place, or your gear may walk.
Now for the four methods of taking star photographs.
Star Trails in Maine
Star Trails. These consist of concentric circles around the North Star (Polaris). They are almost always done with wide-angle lenses that capture the maximum amount of sky. Prepare your camera for this type of photograph by going into the camera’s menu and turning off the LCD (saves battery power) and if you are NOT going to “stack” the final photograph (more on this later) turn the “high ISO noise reduction” feature on. Locate your eyepiece shutter. In some cases there is a manual one on your camera strap. If you do not have a remote release for the shutter, set the shutter release to a 2 second delay to eliminate shake. Set the shutter speed on “Bulb”. And make sure your camera battery is fully charged. To take an image similar to David Harp’s Maine Coast photograph, locate Polaris and place it in your frame. If you want a terrestrial object in the foreground, make sure it is far enough away from the lens so that your focus will be on “infinity” regardless of the f-stop. Sharp tree leaves (as in David’s picture) are only accomplished on a calm night. Set the ISO on 400 and the aperture wide open (i.e. f2.8). Block the eyepiece and then open the shutter and leave it open for 30 seconds or so. Review the resultant image. Some stars will obviously leave a brighter trail than others. Look for the dimmer stars, as you want many tracks in this type of photograph. Make adjustments in the ISO and try another. If it is to your liking and you want longer tracks, decrease the ISO and lengthen the exposure. Some photographers want longer tracks but not the long exposures that produce “noise” in their pictures. They take many shorter exposures (with the noise reduction camera software turned off) and then “stack” the images in Adobe After Effects or Photoshop.
The Chess Queen and the Milky Way
One Shot. Higher ISOs on today’s digital cameras (Sony’s A7 has an ISO of 409600!) allow photographers to capture the night sky with very little movement in the stars. The more sophisticated cameras combine high ISOs with noise reduction to produce “grain-free” pictures The camera preparations are the same as for photographing Star Trails. Here is how to make an image similar to the one of the Chess Queen and the Milky Way. It is almost imperative that the one shot star picture has a foreground subject. You can find one in the daylight, but the very best of this kind of image has the Milky Way in it, as this part of the night sky is very arresting in a “one shot”. The Milky Way is a look at the edge of our galaxy, where many, many stars are “stacked”. You need to see it to position it in the frame. Lighting terrestrial objects can be a challenge, especially if they are a distance from the camera. Also, very little light is needed to expose these objects, as your ISO and exposure will be set for the stars. For the Chess Queen, a flashlight with 3 layers of tissue over the light was used, and the formation was “painted” for only a part of the entire exposure. Set your camera to 3200 or 6400 ISO with the aperture on your camera wide open. Take a 20 second time exposure painting the foreground. Sophisticated cameras will spend another 10 seconds or so to process out the noise. Check out the resultant picture. Too much light on the foreground object? Not enough stars? Adjust the length of the exposure, but try not to go beyond thirty seconds or you will get noticeable star movement.
Time Lapse Skies. Video has a difficult time with stars, because to capture motion the video cameras expose 30 frames a second. Eventually the ISOs and software will allow it, but for now time lapse is the way to go. I won’t spend much time on the technique in this blog, but with high-end digital 35mm cameras, tracking devices and post processing, a compelling moving video can be made. Dustin Ferrell has been a pioneer in this technology and he has shared his expertise in a web tutorial. The second part of the tutorial is a technical treatise on post processing the images, but the first part displays his results and they are spellbinding and worth watching.
Jacob Ber’s Andromeda
Piggybacking on a Telescope. You can make a photograph by shooting through a telescope, but perhaps you are an astronomer creating an image rather than a photographer with a camera. More sophisticated telescopes use motors and computers to track celestial objects. If you already have a telescope on an equatorial mounting and you know how to correctly polar align the mount, you can let the camera and lens ride piggyback on top of the telescope and shoot longer-exposure wide-field photos. An equatorial mounting has one axis-aligned parallel to the axis of rotation of the Earth and is called the polar axis. The other axis is called the declination axis. This axis allows movement of the scope at right angles to the polar axis. Movements in these two axes together permit aiming the scope at any part of the sky. Once an object is found, both axes are locked down, and just the polar axis turns to track the object. Got it? If you are REALLY interested go here. As primarily a still photographer, perhaps you can find an astronomer and ask him politely to piggyback your camera on his telescope. The photos of outer space are fascinating! NASA has a website that features an “Image of the Day” gallery. On July 30, a high school student, Jacob Bers, took the Image of the Day -Andromeda, a “nearby” galaxy. It has hundreds of billions of stars. OK. Enough of having our minds boggled.
Experiment. A few nights ago, there was a moonless, still, clear night behind my house. I face 500+ acres of open space with no lights, so I set up to shoot the stars over an island. To my chagrin, when I went out in the middle of the night to photograph, clouds had moved in. Since I was already set to shoot, I went ahead. To my surprise, the island and clouds were illuminated by a distant marina (by the long exposure), but you can still see the stars!
Stars and clouds over the island
I hope this blog will help you when you see the starry night and say, “I wonder how I can photograph this?’
Want to tap the expertise of a National Geographic photographer? Consider joining me on my upcoming workshop in the Serengeti. The cost has been reduced for last minute sign ups.