24 November, 2009

Searching for Moonlight

How many photos of the moon can you take without getting bored? A bunch; I've been shooting the moon (*cough*) for a couple years, now, and it's still a fun challenge each time I try again.

Next question: How many can you show at once without getting repetitive? It depends. I've got four here, but I think they're sufficiently unique to tell different stories about the world. And to try something different, I'm going to explain how I found each angle, and what I liked about the resulting images.

I was walking to my car Monday evening when I noticed the colorful juxtaposition of light from a yellow parking lot arc-lamp with the white of the moon shining in the dark sky. I was dumbstruck, really. I pulled out my camera and tripod and started shooting.

The above was pretty much a throw-away shot. I had finished shooting, and was just working on getting the framing I wanted for some self-portraits. Even ignoring the circumstances, though, I am floored by how well it came out; it's definitely my favorite of the bunch.

I think what I like most is how the foreground sort of fades to a deep black, where you suddenly find the Moon and Jupiter. I'm not totally sure, really, but it definitely tickles my fancy.

Going back to the beginning of the night, this was one of my first successful images. I started off trying to find a view of the moon through the red-leaved tree (the one to the top-right of this frame), and when that wasn't working, I moved to this tree with the yellow leaves.

One thing I liked about this tree is the foliage — it's dense on the fringes, but the central leaves appear to already have fallen for the winter. I tried to find a composition that emphasized this, and I think what I ended up with works well. The detail in the branches is great, and the location of the moon sort of draws your eyes in that direction, but the arc lamp off to camera-right keeps you from forgetting about the foliage that's still around.

After trying out a couple other things on the yellow tree, I went back to try the first again. Instead of focusing on the red leaves and trying to keep the arc lamp in the frame, this time I shot through the red tree with a long focal length (narrow field of view), and used the red leaves more as supporting elements than as the focus of the image. This worked a lot better.

I like how the combination of shadows and rapid light falloff creates a palette of reds of different hues and darknesses. The near tree pretty much forms a reddish frame, and the moon invites you to look through the frame at the other leaves lurking in the back. The yellow highlights on the branches also create a subtle connection between the yellow tree and the red one.

And back to the... uhh... green? So yes. In situations like the night-time when there's no real white reference, it's hard to figure out what colors should look like. This is doubly applicable when the main light source is clearly not white.

I went back to the "yellow" tree, and my camera happened to shoot something that looks olive-green this time. I sort of like it. And given that arc lamps aren't really known for their color-accuracy and that half-an-hour had passed since the photo above, it's entirely plausible that the light color simply drifted.

The reason I returned was because I wanted a photo of this tree that included Jupiter. To make sure Jupiter didn't disappear, I shot more toward the outside of the tree, and with a longer focal length. With this image, I really enjoy how the colors accompany the geometrical juxtapositions — the thick and thin arcs of the branches are a drab olive-brown; the speckled blobs of leaves are more of a greenish mustard-yellow; and the small, intense areas of light coming from the Moon and from Jupiter are essentially white.

CAUTION: Artiste at work

Well, only sort of. When I was "done" photographing trees, I started playing around with some self-portraits (the beginning of which lead to the first image, above). I like to think that this is what I feel like when I'm shooting at night. I plan things as best I can, close my eyes, cross my fingers, and hit the shutter release. If things work out, fantastic. A lot of times, though, they don't. So I think a bit, change things up, hope that I made an improvement, cross my fingers, and…

You get the point, it's an iterative process, and there are usually a bunch of things that don't work before I find something that does. That challenge is one of the motivations that drive me to keep doing photography — I want to take something that doesn't work and make it work. I want to struggle to capture the world around me in ways that are real, but that you still might not see every day. I want to revel in the discovery of something extraordinary lurking in something ordinary.

As billionaire Warren Buffett offered during a town hall at Columbia University, "Find what turns you on. Find what you have a passion for … I will guarantee, you will do well at whatever turns you on. There's no question about that. Don't let anybody else tell you what to do. You figure out what you are doing."


Last Wednesday, Master Shu Dong Li and five of his students presented a martial arts demonstration at Google. Having only seen a Wushu competition once, many years ago on television, it was a great experience to be able to watch in a more intimate environment, and to not only see but to also hear the practitioners and their weapons.

Here, Sifu Bide "Peter" Fu performs with a chain whip as some Googlers watch in the background. I enjoyed hearing the whirring from the dart at the end of the whip. That said, apart from the acrobatics, I had trouble seeing the skill involved. That's a good thing.

Sifu Fu seemed to handle the chain whip as if he were born with one in his hand. Though the differences would likely become apparent when watching someone more or less experienced, he did a sufficiently good job that what mistakes he made were invisible to me. To borrow a saying from Arthur C. Clarke, "Any sufficiently advanced [technique] is indistinguishable from magic."

Before the demonstrations, each of the students made a number of passes of the performance area, repeatedly demonstrating some form or technique during each pass. Their flexibility and strength were incredible.

In addition to the warmup (pictured), Sifu Ao Li used this position during her Kung fu twin sword routine. According to this site, this is a fundamental Wushu position called Chaotiandeng, "the standing splits balance position."

Sifu Yang Zhang performed a Kung fu sword demonstration. One thing that stood out to me, and which I continued to notice throughout the rest of the demonstrations, were that the different practitioners maintained different facial expressions during their performances, and especially so during performances with rapid movements. Here, Sifu Zhang comes out of a roll.

The Tai Chi demonstrations were easily recognizable by their generally slow pace (though there were often moments with bursts of speed). Sifu Nhu Tran performed a Tai Chi sword routine that I greatly enjoyed. She appeared supremely tranquil, and I was at the same time impressed by her balance and coordination.

Master Li performed twice during the presentation, opening with a beginner-level Tai Chi hand form, and demonstrating an advanced Tai Chi form to conclude the event. What surprised me most about Master Li's advanced form were the body control and power required.

During one technique he demonstrated, shown above, he gracefully but deftly moved to a position where he balanced on one leg, looking downward with his fist in front of his face. He paused in that position for a long moment, and then in a single quick, fluid motion raised his left hand and pounded his fist into it.

The fascinating thing (for me, at least), was that there seemed to be no back-stroke, no stretch reflex. It seemed tantamount to kicking a soccer ball from a standing single-leg starting position, or throwing a football while keeping one's entire torso still.

Thanks for looking. You can find more photos here.

23 November, 2009

A veritable deluge of photos, maybe

It's been awhile, but I'm back, and with good news. I've been coding away over the past week, and the changes I've made to my image viewer (geeqie) have allowed me to get through around 40% of my 6,200 image backlog in a day, that day being Saturday. Hooray!

There's still more coding and more sifting to be done, but it's time to announce a particularly hare-brained scheme of mine: One post a day, on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. At the very least, I have photos of Tai Chi, autocross, the Droid launch concert, and Halloween. From a bit farther back, there's w00tstock 1.0, SF Moma, and maybe a helicopter and some graffiti. It's a lot of stuff, and there's a lot of cool random things stuffed in all the nooks and crannies, but come procrastination or high water I'd like to get it all online. Anyway, bedtime for now, and we'll see how this crazy plan goes.

Quite appropriately,
"It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take Hofstadter's Law into account. —Hofstadter's Law"

15 November, 2009


Good morning :o)

At work, we have a weekly, themed photo contest. The prompt for this past week was "What makes you love living where you do?" I had a number of ideas, but the thing about my apartment that resonates the most with me are the sunrises, light streaming through the curtains; warmth wherever the bright spots land on my skin. Fantastic.

I think the favorite morning I've ever had was back when I lived in Texas, when I was around 12. I woke up to the sounds of birds chirping outside of my window, and to a hint of the sun peeking through the cracks in my window blinds. I rolled out of bed, opened the blinds all the way, and reveled in the warmth that engulfed me at the window.

The sunrises at my apartment aren't quite there, but they're definitely the closest I've gotten since. Cheers.

"...You see you wouldn't ask why the rose that grew from the concrete had damaged petals...we would all celebrate its tenacity; we would all love its will to reach the sun..." —Tupac

11 November, 2009

A Lunchtime Update

Well, technically, lunchtime Monday. Anyway, I'm buried under a mountain of a couple thousand photos, and trying to figure out how to improve my workflow to deal with them. For now, though, here are two I shot right after lunch on Monday.

A couple weeks back, a car passed me while I was starting my nighttime trek home. It sounded great, and I guessed from the tail-lights that it was a Nissan Skyline GT-R.

On Monday, I spotted the above car parked at the Googleplex. What initially caught my attention was the size of the brake rotors — one common attribute of cars that go fast is that they don't skimp on the brakes. This is a Nissan GT-R, which is actually the successor of the Skyline GT-R, and I'm pretty confident that it's the same car that passed me. Yay for solved mysteries.

With the fall foliage, I've also been thinking about the theme "RGB." I think this photo does a good job of capturing it, with a fortuitously-located cloud that actually convinced me to stop to take this photo.

Lastly, on Friday night, I went to the Verizon Droid launch party, at Bimbo's 365 night club in San Francisco. Pictured is the lead singer for Metric, who played and were followed by Silversun Pickups. It was a lot of fun, the music was awesome, and the crowd was really into it as well. A couple photos from the concert are here, and hopefully, I'll get more up soon. Cheers.