31 August, 2008

Looking Back, and Looking Forward

I sometimes have a bad memory. I mistakenly told a friend that I had shot two professional cycling races in the past. It's actually three. And what I've actually done is shot three road races where there was a sizable field of riders for big-name teams — the difference between a pro rider and a really good non-pro is hard to discern (for me, at least).

Anyway, suffice it to say that I've shot a decent number of bike races, some on the road, others on the dirt and the mud. This is pertinent right now because tomorrow, I'm going to shoot another one. And while there are some photos which will burn brightly in my memory for the foreseeable future (the one above was a 16-second exposure at f/4.0 and ISO800), I always want to improve. I strive to improve. As good as the photos I've taken may be (or may not be, you be the judge :o), I try to work hard to make the next shots some of my best.

With that said, here are some of the best images I shot at each of the aforementioned three races. Tomorrow, I'll see if I can do better.

This was from the first pro race I ever shot, the 2005 Captech Classic. It was held in downtown Richmond, and I went specifically to watch Nicole Freedman, the ever-witty MIT cycling coach, race. Since I shot this, she's moved on from professional racing and is currently working toward improving cycling in Boston.

While this photo came out pretty well, I was surprised by how many of the others didn't. Baby steps, I guess. This was 1/100s at f/5.0.

Photography often involves a good deal of luck. You have to be prepared to jump on it when luck strikes, of course, but not everything is under your control. That said, about a week after the Captech Classic, I somehow managed to line up a volunteer shoot at the Pro Cycling Tour Philadelphia International Classic/Liberty Classic, to be held on July 5th, 2005 up in Pennsylvania (thanks, Bacon). Even better, Nicole was there, and I got to say "hi" again.

The Liberty Classic was the women's race, and there was apparently a crash sometime during the first lap. As always, when there's a crash, people get knicked up. I shot this while practicing panning on a corner of the section of course I was covering. Because all of the riders were hitting this corner pretty hard — it was the last turn before the course's long downhill — it was practically impossible to see what I was shooting. As such, I had no idea I had shot anything interesting until I got a DVD with my photos a few weeks later. Amazing. 1/640s at f/8.0.

The Philadelphia International Classic includes a climb known as the Manayunk Wall. The three riders here were attacking the peloton on the steepest part of the monstrosity, apparently around a 17% grade. Just walking up the thing was dizzying.

Looking back at this photo, it would have been a lot better with some separation between the riders and the crowd in the background. I shot it at 1/250s at f/10.0, though, so the light was clearly challenging. Nonetheless, I like this photo.

Words cannot describe this moment. Actually, that's not true. I meant to say that there are very few words that can describe this moment. Of course, one appropriate phrase might be, "U CAN HAS CHEEZBURGER!" As I noted earlier, luck is often involved in memorable photos, but then again, so is preparation. This was 1/320s at f/10.0.

Fast forward almost exactly 2 years. I had a new lens by then, the 80-200 f/2.8, and I had ridden out ~50mi with some other MIT and Harvard folks to watch the end of the multi-day Fitchburg stage race, in which some of our teammates were competing. Little did I know that this would turn into my first English century, and my first metric double-century. Anyway…

(Judging from the photos I shot) I was concentrating on getting tight portrait-like photos of the cyclists. Fortuitously, the other MIT/Harvard folks were hanging out in the feed zone, which is where lots of interesting stuff often happens. This rider grabbed a bottle of water, and immediately dumped it on herself.

Fortunately, I had my eye on her and nailed this shot at 1/400s and f/5.6. On the flip-side, though, there was an even better shot that I completely botched, where a feed-zone person was tossing water on a racing teammate. Oh well; baby steps.

Whenever I shoot an event, I try to look for and capture details that aren't the main focus of the event, but which add to and help to define it. For the Philadelphia races, those details often dealt with the crowd, which was huge and completely off-the-wall. At the Fitchburg stage race, by contrast, many of the spectators were family members or teammates who had trekked out to support friends and family.

I don't really remember why this pair was out there, but I presume the flag was at least related to the proximity to Independence Day — the race ended on June 30th. Regardless, I caught the moment, and I think it added to my coverage of the stage. I shot this at 1/200s and f/5.6.
After taking an agonizing trip up Wachusett Mountain to watch my teammates finish, and subsequently taking a screaming descent back down, I ended up at the feed zone again, where I managed this shot. The locale was fitting, given just how hungry the Colavita rider on the front looks. He was working like crazy that day — I have photos from at least three different laps where he was pulling. I have no idea how he finished, unfortunately. This was 1/100s at f/5.6.

So, that's it for now. Tomorrow (well, today, by now), I try to best these in ways I'm not sure of quite yet. To finish, a quote from Alex Vinokourov:
"When you go, you can't think of anything else but the effort. You have to attack, give it everything, concentrate; emotions are for after the finish. Courage and guts are what's needed to succeed."

24 August, 2008

Steps Toward Self-Sufficient Photography

I take photos. Sometimes with varying quantities of hair (1/200s, f/10.0, ISO400). As a result I usually want things that will make taking photos easier. Unfortunately, these things cost money, and since this is photography, these things can cost a lot of money.

So, one goal of mine is to make my photography pay for itself. One way to do this is by licensing images through a site such as Photo Shelter. I'll likely pursue this once I get close to the end of picking out photos for my portfolio. That's a decent way off, however.

Another way to make money with photography is to sell prints. At the start, it's foolish to try to beat the economy of scale of online print shops, provided that they can provide prints of sufficiently high quality. And what better way to verify print quality than by getting a few prints done?

So, for now, I'm investigating MPix on the recommendation of Geoff Young of Crushed Red Pepper; primarily because he uses a workflow that's fairly similar to mine.

That said, the rest of this post will consist of anecdotes about a few photos I'm considering getting printed. The twin goals of this experiment will be to see how MPix's print process deals with various types of photos that I take, and to get pretty prints that I can enjoy for myself. Yay!

Now let's start things off with a bang.

This was taken in the middle of the night, somewhere at MIT. It was a lot of fun to watch, and it was considerably warmer and brighter than I expected. Thanks to the magic of automatic exposure calculation and surprisingly good timing with the shutter release, I shot this at 1/800s at f/5.6 and ISO400. And then we all scattered.

At the end of every volume, the staff of The Tech would generally take a trip to our publisher, Charles River Publishing, to see how they turned our PDF proofs into a physical newspaper. We would typically head out around 4:00 am, watch CRP turn out our 8,000-issue run, and then have breakfast at a diner near Belmont. As with most Tech outings, the photogs (including Yours, Truly) brought what cameras they could. This was 1/100s at f/4.0 and ISO800.

Bike polo is a lot of fun, both to watch and to play. On this occasion, though, I was on the sidelines, watching a tournament amongst polo teams of 3. To up the ante, a bunch of folks from New York had come down to Boston to hang out, to have fun, and as became readily apparent, to kick some butt. This guy was a Boston polo regular. 1/1000s at f/5.6.

As I mentioned off-hand in my post from New York, I shot a lot of fire engines at MIT. This is one such beast. It was the middle of December, and I had been shooting snow-related traffic to potentially illustrate an inevitable snow-related story.

When I was done, I got back to the office, someone mentioned a fire alarm at the Media Lab, and I was off again. For reasons of dexterity, I ended up doing most of the shooting with no gloves on — the photos turned out well, but my hands were totally numb by the end of it. Anyway, 1/80s at f/3.5 and 18mm (27mm equiv.)

In addition to the fire engines, I shot a lot of concerts, and improved significantly at shooting them throughout my four years at MIT. One of my favorite groups, both to shoot and to listen to, was the Festival Jazz Ensemble.

Late in the summer of 2007, Jazz great and FJE founder Herb Pomeroy passed away. In his honor, the FJE sponsored a memorial concert, held on Saturday, May 10th, 2008, which featured the FJE, an alumni band, as well as performers from the area who had performed with Pomeroy. Here, Jazz pianist Harvey Diamond stands after playing Ellington's "Don't You Know I Care?" 1/60s at f/2.8 and ISO500.

To conclude, an unattributed quote:
"Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass, it's about learning how to dance in the rain."

21 August, 2008

Things I Puzzle Over: The Identity of a Bike

Well, I'm back from my break in posting, though I'm not sure what sort of posting rate I'll settle in at. I shot this photo at the arrival (in Boston) of a group of cyclists who were riding across the country on fixed-gears to raise awareness of, and to raise money to fund the research of, histiocytosis (see relevant blogs here, here, and here).

As far as hard-core goes, this ride was hard-core. Six of these guys did the following (and all of them did a subset of the following):
  • 3,480 miles, with 135,000 feet of climbing…
  • on fixed gears…
  • with almost daily centuries and a couple double-century days…
  • in a total of 28 days
As they say, Yowza.

As for the photo itself, I'm not quite sure how I snagged it, but I think it came out really well. Settings were 1/160s at f/7.1 and ISO800. I really like how the bike seems to capture some of the rider's personality. Which sort of brings me to what I've been puzzling over. Where does the personality or the identity of a bike reside?

I think of my bikes as very good friends, with whom I have a tremendously odd relationship. I ride the heck out of them, and when they need it, I spend hours taking care of them. I baby them — keeping them indoors year-round and being somewhat obsessive about their safety — so that when the rain and snow come, I can abuse them again.

And part of what I enjoy so much about them is that I've put so much time and effort into them. But another part seems to be some sort of identity, which is weird for the following reason: With a computer, at the very least, I can associate the identity of the machine with the data on it (I never reinstall machines). But with a bike, there is no data. It seems that there's nothing intrinsically part of a bike. Do I enjoy the company of the parts? The whole? And which parts can be exchanged without the whole becoming a completely different bike?

To use a more specific example, my fixed-gear has been through a lot. Since I originally built it, I've replaced both wheels, the chain, the seatpost, the fork, the frame, the headset, the stem, the pedals, and the bottom bracket. For those of you not counting, the only original parts left are the bars, and the crankset. But I still consider it The Fixed-Gear, and I would continue to, even if I replaced the bars and the crankset. And if I were to build another one to replace it, the new bike wouldn't be The Fixed-Gear; it would be something else.

I guess what I attribute the personality to is some sort of loose geneology related to having been part of The Fixed-Gear at some point — once some group of parts has that geneology, it can subsequently pass it along to other parts, and thus the bike as a whole has somewhere for its identity to sit. This conclusion leads to confusion, though. What if I were to use half of The Fixed-Gear's parts for one bike, and half for another bike? Personally, I think I'd consider neither of the two bikes to be the same as the original bike; perhaps they're offspring of some sort… Though if I didn't build that second bike, and had only reused one half of the parts, I'd think differently. Weird.

Anyway, this is puzzling-in-progress, for me. And as some of you may realize, it touches on a couple of the big issues in the philosophy of the mind. To conclude, though, here's a quote attributed to Kevin Allen, and an unrelated photo from Detroit airport (1/400s, f/4.5, ISO640):
Q: What did a Buddhist say to the hot dog vendor?
A: Make me one with everything.

09 August, 2008

What Is This Place?

I shot this while I was in northern California a couple weeks ago, going apartment-hunting. Dad and I were on the highway, and I thought this guy looked sort of interesting, so I took what turned into a reasonable portrait of him. Exposure is 1/500s at f/5.6, and the image is cropped down a bit from 18mm. After I shot this photo, he pulled a standing wheelie, at which point I forgot how to take decent photos.

I'll be moving to California in about a day, though, so I might get another chance. During the move and unpacking stages, I might be too busy freaking out about things to do posts (especially since my machine with photos on it may not be set up). That got me thinking, though. What Is This Place? What are my goals for it, and why and how do I plan on maintaining it?

First and foremost, this is a place to share and to showcase my photography. I love photography, but it's considerably less satisfying if I'm the only one looking at the end product. Shooting for The Tech was one way that I accomplished this goal at MIT, but that's done now, and photos don't really look good on newsprint anyway.

Second, this is somewhere I can practice (and force myself to practice) my communication skills. That I am the sole proprietor of this place means essentially, that I can do whatever I want. In practice, that means that I can create posts with different styles, tones, and levels of seriousness.

And, while adhering to the norms I establish for a single post, I can strive to maintain a certain level of eloquence which, ideally, will help me communicate with you. Certainly, the technical level of some posts will make them difficult to understand, but despite that, each post should, at the very least, impart some baseline understanding of my topic of discussion.

Third, it allows me to think, to remember, and to learn. For some posts, I do a lot of research to make sure the post is informative and coherent. As I've heard multiple times in the past, and as my own experience has borne out, for instance, during 9 years on IRC, one of the best ways to learn is by teaching.

As for remembering, I am an avid collector of quotes. When I see (in text communication) or hear something interesting, funny, or otherwise notable, I try to jot it down. In a manner similar to my experiences looking through photos (see last two paragraphs of Important Aspects of Photography), poring through old quotes often reminds me of the occasions when I first heard the quotes, and of the people involved.

There are likely things I've forgotten, but those are the main things. You get interesting photos; informative, well-written discussion; and hopefully a few memories along the way. I get a showcase for my photography, communication practice, some memories, and usually a few laughs as well. The only other thing I would like is some sort of feedback. Things you want me to discuss? Pictures you want to see? Quotes or quote themes you want to experience? I'd love to hear.

At long last, because I'm sort of a funny guy, here are a funny quote and a funny photo (both of which I helped create :o)
<Aria> Yeah, the strict interpretation of URI disallows UTF-8
<Aria> But it's not a useful restriction
<Aria> And so, IRIs.,
<xsdg> Aria: clearly, the US is the only country that matters, so it's not really an issue
<xsdg> Aria: I mean, do they even _have_ plumbers in other countries?
<oGMo> italy. clearly. that's where mario is from.

08 August, 2008

17 Hours of Street Photography

As mentioned in my previous post, I spent some time in New York City this past Sunday. Seventeen-and-a-half hours, to be specific — I got off the Fung Wah right at 03:00, and barely snuck on the 20:30 return bus. I didn't have a place to stay, and there were surprisingly few places to sit (other than the ground), so I spent most of the time on my feet, with camera in hands. I haven't done a whole lot of street photography, primarily because I'm on the bike all the time, so it was a nice change to my normal way of doing things.

Just a quick note: Since the photos are large enough to really break continuity, this post will be a series of vignettes which will loosely form a story, a journey, a tour through Manhattan. Enjoy.

I shot this image at just about 05:30. I really like it (you will see this theme emerging ;o). After I got off the bus in China Town, I took everything out of my pockets, put on my hoodie, and tried not to look like someone to be taken advantage of. Not really knowing anything about NYC, I walked down Canal Street until I hit Broadway, and then turned right. Fortunately, I had a hunch that there'd be a map in the subway. After figuring out the street numbering scheme, I went back up to street level and walked, and walked, and walked until I was at 46th, which is near where I would be meeting some friends for lunch. After failing to find the restaurant, I wandered around a bit, went down a side-street, and saw this brilliant reflection. 1/15s at f/2.8 and ISO800.

I actually shot this image 20 minutes before the above one, around 05:10. I think this was on Broadway or 6th Avenue, and likely within a few blocks of 34th Street. As I walked from China Town toward 46th, I noticed that folks seemed to just be heading home from various parties. As I kept moving uptown, I noticed that there were more folks in suits, trying to catch cabs; no idea if it was nighttime or morning for them (probably the latter).

This was 1/15s at f/2.8 and ISO1250. For this trip, I used Auto-ISO a lot for the first time. It's a really useful feature, since it let me set the slowest hand-holdable shutter speed for me (1/15s with my 80-200), and then maintain that minimum speed while also keeping my desired exposure (-1.3 stops for most of the early morning).

The thing that really sucks is that it doesn't turn off when you switch to manual exposure. So I'd sometimes up the shutter speed to drop the exposure, and Auto-ISO would kick in and compensate; grr…

Hi! It's me! This is the first one up here so far, but I really like shooting self-portraits, so there'll undoubtedly be more to come. I shot this at 05:35 on 6th avenue, a few blocks uptown of 34th street. Exposure was 1/15s at f/2.8 and ISO900. For you hand-holding doubters out there, this was at 80mm (120mm 35mm-equivalent) with no VR.

Anyway, the walking had caused me to warm up to the point of taking my hoodie off. Also, it was starting to get light out, so I figured I didn't need to look quite as sketchy to stay safe. I was surprised at how many of the cabs were small SUVs. I had been to New York before — my dad grew up there — and the vast majority of the cabs were Crown Vics, interspersed with a few mini vans. Interesting.

I shot this at 06:15, shortly after finding my first rest, just down the street from Engine Company 65. As a quick aside, at The Tech, I think I shot and published more photos of fire engines than any other Tech photographer in recent history.

I'm not sure exactly what I like about this photo, but at least part of it is that it seems to embody so well what I saw of New York during my visit. I'm not sure. I really like it, though. And as I was sitting next to the giant, curved-wedge-shaped building, it was literally staring me in the face. Oh, and by this time, it was starting to get bright enough to pull out my 18-70 and shoot some wider shots. This was 1/15s at f/4.5 and ISO400, at 70mm.

There are some quirky things about New York. Like this door. I think this was on 34th street, between 6th Ave. and Broadway. 06:30. The peculiar thing is that this walkway was basically an enclosed part of the sidewalk (because of construction above), so I'm pretty sure I wasn't trespassing. And there were plenty of vehicles on the road, and I'm pretty sure they weren't trespassing. I guess only authorized people were allowed to take this shortcut, and the rest of us had to walk out of the tunnel 20 feet down and cross the street there? Or maybe there's a tiny closet right there? Who knows?

I really like the colors in this photo, especially the contrasting glow from the small (fluorescents/arc lamps) inside the tunnel, and the bluish daylight outside. Exposure was 1/40s at f/3.5 and ISO200. It would have been awesome to get a photo of someone on the outside of the door, but I was on the move to who-knows-where, and there weren't many folks around, let alone folks who were avoiding the sidewalk. Oh well.

I ran into this bike and one other bike, painted white, at two different corners in what, in hindsight, might have been fairly close locations (though vastly different points on the circuitous route I had walked). They were both in carefully-prepared states of unusability,which had apparently happened before they were painted — no bartape, no brakes, no shifters or cables, no chain…

It's interesting, because I only ran into two of these. And I presume a lot more people die on bikes, what with people getting doored, people riding the wrong way, etc. Neither of the bikes was damaged, so I presume they were meant solely as tributes, and weren't actually involved in the deaths of the people mentioned (David Smith for this bike, and Alvaro Olsen, April 16, 2008, for the other one). Exposure was 1/320s at f/5.6.

Every journey comes to an end, and fortunately, the end of my trip to New York saw the capture of one of my favorite images I've taken this year. 1/5000s at f/4.0 and ISO200, and shot at 23:15. As with many good images, there was a great deal of luck involved — I was on center-weighted metering, and the camera clearly exposed for the evening sky That's not how I would have done it, but man, am I sure glad that's how it happened.

I'm not one to title photos. I've got fairly lofty standards for what sort of name goes with a photo so that it adds to it without being too witty, trite, or just detached. The title for this was obvious, though. It's called "Subway". That's it. I hope you see the same beauty in that name with this photo that I do.

To end this 17 hours of street photography, a quote from Brooks Jensen, the editor of LensWork Magazine:
"The premise of LensWork is that photography is more than mere craft. Photography is, or can be, a way of life."

06 August, 2008

Circus Smirkus

I was off visiting MIT for about a week, and while I was there, I ended up going to a Circus Smirkus show with Nate and some other folks. Put simply, I was floored. Overall, it was a pretty solid, enjoyable show, and there were a couple of acts that really blew me away. The opening photo is from one such act.

One of the challenges shooting at the circus was the constantly-changing ambient light. That, in addition to spots that were almost always on meant that every once in a while, the camera's metering system would get tricked and I'd end up with a badly underexposed image. Thankfully, shooting in RAW means that there's enough data to recover.

So over the past few weeks, I've been slowly digging through my archives in an attempt to put together a portfolio. That whole process isn't going to be helped by intercal (my main workstation) going in a box for its trip across the country, but on the upside, I shot at least one or two photos during the trip (including a sub-trip to NYC) which will likely make it into the portfolio; yay!

The quote this time is for the linguistics fans:
<@spectie> the pronunciation is "eff-why-are-oh-emm"
<@Lycus> spectie: use IPA or X-SAMPA, fascist
<@spectie> /ɛf wi ɑː əʊ ɛm/ And finally, some more photos from Smirkus.