Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Serendipity, popcorn salt, 'The Tree'
... and other to-die-for silhouettes

Last night, photography serendipity fell into my path a second time in recent weeks, and I owe it to popcorn salt. Well, sort of. Here's the story:

There are a lot of people who make a practice to have a camera with them at all times, because fleeting photo situations can present themselves at any time. You have a shot to record those moments in pictures if you have a camera with you, but they're gone forever if you don't. I had a camera with me (Canon PowerShot G12) the evening of Jan. 30, when I returned from attending a concert at the newly opened Palladium in Carmel, Ind. As I neared home, I noticed some amazing contrail patterns in the sky, and I grabbed shots that I probably would have missed for lack of time to run home and get a camera.

That was on my mind as I started a walk to a grocery store last night. That I had a chance to do a walk at all was very unusual for a Tuesday evening: I usually am at work during the week, but this week, I happened to be off. I took the walk primarily to stretch my legs and enjoy fresh air, but I figured I might as well use the opportunity to stop at a store and buy some popcorn salt I've been wanting to get for some time. I'd gotten about 20 yards out the door of my house when I remembered that I hadn't packed my camera. I'd bought the G12 three months ago, and this situation was one of the reasons why -- to have a quality compact to grab quickly and pack comfortably for possible spur-of-the-moment shots. So, I walked back to the house and got the G12, and went on my walk.

It was on the return trip that I decided to stop, first, at the relatively new Bean Creek bridge in Garfield Park in Indianapolis, and work with some shots of reflections in the water and of the linear patterns on the bridge fencing and baseboard.

Finished with that, I resumed the walk home along the main pedestrian path that lies on the east side of the MacAllister Center for Performing Arts. As I passed the amphitheater, I looked to the right, the west, and that's when I first saw the silhouette and sky color spectacles you see represented in the images in this post. The first captures of the western horizon I grabbed by positioning the G12 at the top of the amphitheater's iron-wrought perimeter fencing. Then I squatted as low as I could get, slipping the G12 through a fence opening and angling the built-in lens upward. With most cameras, this position would have made it impossible to accurately compose and frame because there would be no way to view the scene with the camera inside the fencing -- unless a photographer elected to do it blindly. But the G12 has an articulated LCD panel -- one that can bend and tilt at any horizontal angle -- so tilt it I did. With the camera almost at ground level and pointed upward, I could easily compose the shots I wanted. For much of the shooting from this vantage point, I struggled to avoid including the amphitheater stage in the frames. Then I had a change of thinking on that. I decided to integrate a portion of the stage overhang into a frame, and I've included that one in this post.

When I finished there, I scurried around the amphitheater's south perimeter fencing to get on the west side of the amphitheater, where I grabbed my next series of shots. From here, I no longer had the structure or the fencing to work around. I even lay on the ground, trying for dramatic upward angles. The G12's built-in wide-angle lens was an added tool for that this evening.

When I finished there, I thought I was done. I resumed the return-walk home. As I approached Pagoda Drive to cross, still buzzed by the neat silhouettes I'd already gotten, I looked west to check for vehicular traffic, and that's when I noticed "the tree" at the far southwest corner of the park, the one you see at the top of this post. My heart raced. I allowed an oncoming car and RV to pass safely before crossing the pavement and scooting closer to "The Tree."

When I finished there, I thought I was done for the night (wait, I just said that, right?). What more could there possibly be? Well, how often do you get a chance to grab a shot of a full moon over your own house? Yup. I did. Unfortunately, the moon was drifting through a lot of cloud thickets, so I had to wait a bit. But I did finally get it.

Oh yes, and there's still more. Tuesday night marked the first time I turned to Lightroom (version 3) to handle my primary post-processing work. Normally, I've used Photoshop (Elements 7). I was never comfortable using Photoshop's burn and dodge tool, and therefore never dabbled with it. Tonight, however, thanks to a Lightroom walk-through demo last week by photo club member Dave Wensits, I felt equipped enough to give Lightroom a try. I managed to recall most of what Dave showed me of the primary editing tricks, including the dodge and burn brush. Thanks to that, I was able to do justice to the detail you see in the cloudscapes in this post.

One thing I did not remember, however, was how to apply editing tweaks on one image in Lightroom to all the "like" images in the batch. Editing RAW or DNG files in Photoshop, it's easy to do -- you simply highlight the images you want to include with "like" editing tweaks before you do them, and poof ... it's done. Doesn't work the same in Lightroom, although I'm sure there's a way to do it. Consequently, I had to edit each image individually last night.

Back to the images ... The monochrome conversions of some of these color images are quite striking. I'll post those either tomorrow or Thursday. I'll also post the Bean Creek shots in a future post.

To see a complete gallery of images from this shoot, follow this link.

Above and below: The G12 offers a built-in high-dynamic range (HDR) feature that grabs three pictures of the same scene, each with different exposure values, then in a matter of 5 seconds after the third and final image is captured, melds highlight detail in the images to form one, detail-optimized JPEG (you can't use the feature in RAW format). Not having a tripod with me (camera stability is a key element when a shooter employs multi-shot HDR photography), I rested the camera on top of the fencing (though I still had to hold onto it) -- then held my breath to grab these shots using the HDR feature. The benefits? Notice the smooth, beautiful sky blues and the golden brushes in the cloud detail closest to the horizon.

Above: The first of several shots where the camera is nearly touching the ground. For this one, I decided to include the front overhang of the MacAllister Center for the Performing Arts (right). You can almost make out the amphitheater seats in the foreground.

Above and below: The camera again is nearly touching the ground here. The two compositions vary to include more trees (above) ... and more sky detail (below).

Above: A somewhat normal shot from this position, in that you see the full extension of the trees. In the foreground, you can make out the seats in the amphitheater.

Above and below: Shooting while prone on the ground. The portrait (vertical) shot above adds a deliberate tilt for creative effective. Not sure it works, but ... I wanted to give it a try. 

Above: A portrait orientation of "The Tree" shot with the sun immediately behind the tree.

Above: A portrait orientation of "The Tree" shot, with the sun positioned slightly left.

Above: Composing "The Tree" shot with the sun positioned to the right.


  1. this is a perfect shot! What tree is this? is this during the fall season?

  2. Not sure, Flower. I've gone back a few times, but never really to ascertain its type. I'll try to do that the next time I'm in the vicinity.