First, the rocket launch was a total success. It was my image of the launch that was a failure. The other night Space X launched a Falcon 9 rocket on a resupply mission to the ISS. Night launches not only make great photographs, but they are really cool to watch. You can watch the glow of the rocket engine all of the way into space. Photographing a night launch is very tricky. You only get one shot, literally one image. So if everything doesn’t come together, the photo is a failure. Photographers always like to share our amazing images that were a success. I think it’s also important to talk about the failures.
When you photograph a rocket launch at night, the idea is to use a long exposure. As the rocket climbs into the sky during the exposure, it makes a light trail through the image. It makes a really nice image. Using the cameras bulb mode, when the rocket ignites (trust me, at night, there is no question that the rocket has ignited) you open the shutter. As the rocket rises into the sky, you keep the shutter open until it goes out of sight, approximately 3 minutes. When it works, it’s awesome, when it doesn’t it’s not. This time it didn’t work.
The other part of the image is location, location, location. The rocket launch is really pretty on its own. To make the image even more interesting, I like to add something else. This can be either a silhouette of something interesting or something interesting that is illuminated added into the frame. A reflection would be great as well. For this launch I chose the Exploration Tower in Port Canaveral, Florida. It is several miles south of the launch pad. The tower is a unique structure that was designed to look like a sail. At night the tower is illuminated and stands out really well in the night sky. The tower is also lined up with the launch pad. If you line everything up properly the rocket makes an arc over the top of the tower. I looked up some launch photos from this location, so I knew where the rocket would be in relationship to the building.
The next hurtle is getting the correct exposure. The shutter speed is fixed at the duration of the flight of the rocket, approximately 3 minutes. This makes the aperture very important. Rocket engines at night are very bright. If your aperture is open too far the rocket will overexpose. If your aperture is too small the rocket will be underexposed. Typically I end up at f18, this works most of the time, especially for the rocket with a silhouetted foreground. When you add an illuminated subject this makes things more difficult. A 3 minute exposure will severely overexpose an illuminated subject. To overcome this I used a neutral density filter. After testing different apertures with a 3 minute exposure, I found that f11 and a 4 stop ND filter at ISO 100 exposed the tower properly. The rocket exposure would fall where it may. The important thing was to expose the tower correctly.
So what went wrong? I don’t really know for sure. To get the 3 minute exposure I needed to use the bulb setting. I made many test images that all worked perfectly. I was there with a fellow photographer friend, Chris. We also wanted to photograph the tower before the launch, so we arrived pretty early so we had some time to do that. After my final test shot, I didn’t touch my camera until the launch. We finished up a little early, so quite a bit of time passed between my last test and the launch. We had been talking with another photographer from Orlando. I think maybe something timed out and I was no longer in bulb mode or my remote switch may have timed out, I don’t know. The viewfinder indicated that I was still in bulb mode, but the shutter would open and immediately close. It was very frustrating to say the least. Several colorful words were going through my head. By the time I corrected the situation the rocket was over half way through its flight. At about 8 minutes before the launch, a voice in my head was telling me to do another test photo, I didn’t. If I had, I would have encountered and corrected the problem during the test. I will be doing that in the future. Once I got the shutter to stay open, I left it open for approximately 3 minutes. The rocket was still going so even though I wasn’t going to get the whole light trail. I wanted to see how my image would have looked if everything had gone as planned. The rocket flew right where I wanted it to be and the tower was properly exposed. I will need to try this one again.
I also made a mistake when I was photographing the tower before the launch. It makes me crazy because I have made the same mistake several times in the past. I am not a very technically disciplined photographer. I tend to concentrate more on the subject and composition. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in that and I forget about the technical side of things. Apparently the last time I used my camera I was using ISO 800. I never checked the ISO, I wanted to be using ISO 100. Once again my little voice was asking me, “Roy, why are your shutter speeds so fast?” I should have been smoothing out the water more. I was almost done when I realized what I had done. ISO 800 probably helped the shadow areas. If I would have used ISO 100 I would have been able to control the highlights better and I would have smoothed out the water with a slower shutter speed. I always promise myself that I will remember to check the ISO, and/or remember to return it to ISO 100, but every once in a while I forget. These are some of the things that make photography a challenge.
On our trip to Toronto Canada last spring my wife and I stopped by the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). I saw some photos of the ROM when I was researching our trip. I really liked the geometric architecture, so I definitely wanted to photograph it. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to go inside and take a tour of the museum’s galleries. They have quite an extensive collection.
The original building is a stone Neo-Romanesque style, built in 1910. The modern aluminum expansion called the Crystal, was added nearly 100 years later in 2007. Most of the original building is still visible and the contrast between the two styles is quite dramatic. The public opinion of the new addition was quite dramatic. Like when the glass pyramid was added to the Louvre in Paris, lots of people hated it. I gave these images a dark dramatic look to emphasize all of the drama. Love them or hate them, I enjoyed photographing both the glass pyramid and the Crystal.
I really like all of the angles and geometric shapes of the Crystal. The large glass windows are at the perfect angle to reflect everything going on in the street below. I could have spent hours photographing the changing traffic patterns in the reflections.
Click on an image to see it full size.
I was taking a drive through the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, near Titusville Florida, doing a bit of bird watching. I was seeing lots of birds but nobody was being particularly photogenic today. Even though the birds are not cooperating, it’s always nice to be out and about in the refuge. I was hanging around thinking that I would like to photograph the sunset. That wasn’t looking too promising either. All day the sky had been blue and cloudless. Not typically the best scenario for a great sunset. Sunsets are very unpredictable, you never know exactly what you are going to get. So I stuck it out taking in the sights and sounds of the refuge. About 45 minuets or so before sunset, I headed to the place that I had in mind to photograph. It wasn’t until I setup my camera and looked through the lens that I noticed the clouds. A few long thin windblown clouds had moved in, creating a very dramatic sky. Things were looking up. Now all I needed was a bit of color. As the sun slowly lowered into the horizon, the color filled the sky. I was glad that I stuck around. So along with your camera equipment, a photographer also needs a bit of optimism and perseverance.
Click on a photo to see it full size.
My wife Robbie had been wanting to see Niagara Falls, so we decided to plan a trip there. There are two main options when flying to Niagara Falls. One, you can fly into Buffalo NY. Two, you can fly into Toronto ON. CA. I decided that Toronto would be more interesting than Buffalo. Toronto Pearson International Airport is a fairly large airport. We had some difficulty finding our way from one place to the next. Top tip; “Study and download the terminal map onto your phone.” I’m looking at the map now and even after being there, I would still have trouble navigating. Downtown Toronto is about 15 miles from the airport. When I booked the trip I was able to get inexpensive tickets for the UP Train. The UP Train is a quick and easy way to get into Toronto. It takes you into Toronto Union station. Our hotel was a short one and a half block walk from Union Station. The Strathcona Hotel is a cute boutique hotel in the heart of Toronto. The rooms were a bit on the smallish side, but everything else was great. This is a fantastic location, we were within walking distance of almost every place we wanted to see. Tired, weary, thirsty and hungry from our journey we decided to try the Srath Pub, in the hotel’s lower level. The Pub, as it’s affectionately called, turned out to be pretty nice. Hotel guests as well as locals frequent The Pub. If a group of construction workers stop in after work, it must be a decent place.
Toronto is a very large bustling city, very comparable to New York City. There were people in business suits scurrying from place to place. Loads of horn blowing traffic in a hurry to get where they were going. We found Toronto to be a clean, friendly and very walk-able city. All around you crowds of people are going to their next business meeting or the next spot on their must see list, speaking many different languages. We are not sure, but we don’t think we met anyone actually from Toronto. The waitress from one of the restaurants that we liked was from Ireland. It’s a very international city. There are way too many things to see and do in Toronto. On our four day visit we barley scratched the surface.
One of the things you need to do for sure is take a stroll along Toronto’s waterfront. Toronto is right on the shoreline of Lake Ontario. There are miles of walkways along the lakes shoreline. It’s a very relaxing and scenic way to spend some time.
Toronto is a very artsy city as well. Just about everyplace you look there is some sort of art. It’s a bit hard to see in the photo but these workers are adding an eagle sculpture to the side of this building. You can see the eagles head on the building on the right edge of the photo. His wing is still on a flatbed about to be lifted into place. On our way back the eagle is perched with both wings attached.
There is architecture of all types downtown. I was constantly clicking away at one building or another. Everywhere you looked there were tulips. We found out later that Toronto and Holland have a history together and every year Holland sends thousands of tulips to Toronto. It was very beautiful and we were lucky to be there at the right time.
Longos, what would we have done without Longos! Longos is a great little grocery store. We stopped there several times for supplies. We got some great things for breakfast, lunch and snacks as well as soda and water. We also got some great maple cookies and maple syrup. Empty backpacks are great for transporting supplies back to your hotel. Oh, get the cashier to make a little handle for your 12pk of water, it works great! We found that we adapted pretty well to being big city dwellers. Speaking of backpacks everybody in Toronto has one. You will want to leave a little room in your backpack. Just above Longos on the right is the LCBO. This is where you get your wine and tequila.
Much more to see and do in my next posts on visiting Toronto.
For the past few months I’ve been in somewhat of a creative slump. Sort of a photographer’s block. I didn’t feel creative enough to take photos. The photos I did take didn’t end up looking the way I wanted them to. When I take a photo I get a vision in my mind of how I want it to look. My vision and my camera somehow become one. Lately though, my vision and my camera have been disconnected.
Creativity is like a muscle. You need to exercise it or it will get weak. My creative muscle was getting weak. This is the time of year when we get some nice fog in the mornings. I like taking photos on those foggy mornings. There were a couple foggy mornings that snuck up on me and I missed them all together. There was one I was ready for; I woke up early, and it was nice and foggy. I decided to go across the river to the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge. Big mistake, there was no fog on that side of the river. I took a few photos, but nothing I was real happy with. My creativity and my camera were disconnected still.
I kept my eye on the weather for more fog. The other day there was a chance of fog. I woke up early and looked outside, I didn’t see any fog. I went back to bed, and when I woke again there was fog. I guess I checked too early and the fog hadn’t formed yet. It was too late to get to where I wanted to photograph; I was very discouraged. I expected the next day to be foggy too. I decided to get out early and take some photos, fog or no fog. I needed to exercise my muscle. There was some fog, but it was very spotty. I drove over to the wildlife refuge. The first thing I came across were some black skimmers. They were skimming over the mirror smooth water. The sun was still below the horizon, but I didn’t want to miss the opportunity. I took a few good images, and LOTS of bad ones. As the skimmers moved on I was treated to a beautiful sunrise. I moved back across the river to the marina. I found a few nice images on the way to the marina. Once at the marina I found another one of my favorite subjects: reflections.
All in all, I think I was able to give my creative muscle a decent workout. My creativity is feeling stronger and I hope that my creative slump is waning!
I took a short walk on the beach the other day. I found myself under the Cocoa Beach Pier. As I was walking around watching the waves as they advanced and then retreated over the sand. My eye was drawn to the reflections on the thin layer of water as it slipped back into the ocean. I have always been fascinated with reflections. I liked the way the water flowing back into the ocean was distorting the reflection, giving it an eery feeling.