Friday, August 30, 2013

iPhone drive-by: Benton House

I made a short trip to the Irvington neighborhood on the Eastside of Indianapolis this afternoon to buy a copy of Out Loud, the new book by recently retired Indianapolis Star columnist Dan Carpenter. It's his second compilation of his best columns over the years.

On the return trip from the store, Bookmamas, driving through the snaking roads in the neighborhood south of Washington Street, I came upon Benton House, a destination on Downey Avenue that I'd wanted to check out for several years.  I just wasn't able to make it there ... until today.

Caught again without my usual photo gear, I turned to my iPhone5, and captured the photos you see in this post. The home was built in 1873, as the history page of the provided house link will explain. It was home to Allen R. Benton, twice president of Butler University in the school's years when it was located in Irvington.

The Bentons sold the home in 1907 to the Willis Miller family, who kept it until selling it in 1966 to the Irvington Historic Landmarks Foundation, which avails the building for use as a meeting place for area clubs and for private parties, wedding and retreats. Proceeds from rental fees go toward home's maintenance and future renovation.

The sign attached to the tree in the lead-off photo promotes the 2013 Legacy Irvington Benton House Tour of Homes on Sunday, Sept. 15, from noon to 5 p.m. Tour organizers say the Benton House Tour of Homes is the longest consecutively run home tour in Indianapolis. Since 1974, there have been nearly 200 Irvington homes and buildings showcased on the tour. A paragraph on this tour page at the Benton House website describes some of the homes on this year's tour.

Tickets for the tour are $12 in advance and $15 the day of the tour. Children under 12 years of age are admitted free. Tickets can be purchased at Irvington shops and restaurants, including Central Ace Hardware, Dufour’s restaurant, Black Sheep Gifts, Snips and Bookmamas. On the day of the event, tickets can be purchased at Benton House, 312 S. Downey Ave., Indianapolis, IN 46219.

For more information, call (317) 372-2372 or email

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

iPhone test, Part III: at Slippery Noodle

A third recent opportunity to turn to iPhone5 to photograph also was its most critical test -- low indoor lighting with moving objects, specifically, a couple of blues bands at the Slippery Noodle.

I was there on a night that two out-of-town bands had the stages. In the back was Dicky James and the Blue Flames, a five-piece band from Northwest Indiana, and on the front stage was the Scott Ellison Band from Tulsa, Okla., making what Ellison said was his annual visit to the Slippery Noodle and the sixth of eight stops on the band's "Walking Through the Fire" tour. Ellison was selling tour promotion T-shirts (front is above left) with all the tour stops listed on the back (right). That's Ellison (left) and his trio in the photo leading off the post.

I wouldn't normally want to use a camera phone to shoot live performances because you have no control over the settings; I just wanted to see what (and how) it would do. Examining the image files afterward, the camera shot every picture at f/2.4, at shutter speeds of either 1/15 or 1/20, and at ISOs of 800 or 1600. Phone cameras are a little easier to hold steady than DSLR models because of their lighter weight, so I expected I wouldn't have to worry too much about motion blur at speeds of 1/40 or 1/30. But 1/15 and 1/20? I didn't think so. You be the judge. It did enable a desired blur effect on the drummer's stick in the first photo immediately below.

I found my main gripe with the phone camera in this particular scenario is the face highlight and focus lock mechanism (a feature I'd ordinarily like). Unlike the same feature on more sophisticated cameras -- when you can focus on your subject then hold that focus while recomposing the shot -- the iPhone face highlight won't lock if you hold the focus button while trying to recompose. You'll see in the photos of the Dicky James band, when I wanted to focus on James (who was on the far left side, farthest away from me), the moment I tried to recompose the image to get everyone in the band in the picture, the camera's focus switched to the face closest to me, the harmonic player. While I did want to focus on the harp player for a few shots, it wouldn't let me focus on James for the others.


 Above: First of several shots of Dicky James and the Blue Flames.

Above and below: This was a dual-purpose shot. For one, I wanted to get James in focus during a solo, largely succeeding. But my real effort was to frame a shot to include the person in the balcony in the upper left area of the photo (in a quite dark area). That person was holding a camera to photograph down toward the stage. The gear he/she was using was emitting an electronic flash, and I was hoping to get my shot taken at a point when that person's flash was going off. But my camera couldn't focus and trip the shutter fast enough.

Above: Here was a shot I really did want to get the harp player (right) in focus. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Using iPhone5 for nighttime images

In today's Part II of a three-post series about images that can be taken with a phone camera, I present results of a pretty good test of the iPhone5's capabilities under difficult circumstances -- specifically, after dark. I was pretty pleased with the results.

I was walking along South Street in Indianapolis, between East and Delaware streets in downtown Indianapolis, when I was struck by the array of lighting on the grounds of the Lilly Research Laboratories. I strolled onto the property and just started taking pictures. I took the majority of the photos after dark, on my return trip. Earlier in the evening, at about twilight, I'd passed along the same route and took a few shots facing north to capture the downtown skyscrapers. I'll include those photos here as well.

The pictures you see here are either virtually "as shot," i.e., almost straight from the camera (with some sharpening, zero or very minor cropping, and/or straightening in post-processing). I made copies of many of those files, then boosted shadow detail in those copies. I'll note such instances in the captions. The lead-off photo is one of the examples of minor shadow boosting being added in post-processing.

Above and below: Slightly different distances of the South Street entrance to Lily Research Laboraoties. The shot above was without any boost in shadow detail; the one below reflects some slight shadow boost (and also caught the red spotlight on top of the building in mid-flash).

Above: The interesting parking lot median lighting architecture. No shadow boosting was done with this image. 

Above: The walkway in front of the Lily building, looking east. The midtone boost in this image was done in-camera, before post-processing.

Above: Another shot of the parking lot median lighting system. This image ... unless the previous of the same subject ... does reflect post-processing shadow boost. 

Above and next three below: These shots, taken from different points and perspective along the walkway in front of the Lily building, all reflect in-camera midtone boosts, but nothing else in post-processing except sharpening and straightening. The luminary in the sky below is a waning gibbons moon -- which is a stage very early into the transition from a full to new moon.

Above and next two below: Pre-nighttime shots nooking north and slightly west toward the downtown skyline. The shots above and below are the same image, with the one above reflecting a slight boost in shadow detail in post-processing. The second shot below, also treated with a slight boost in shadow detail, also reflects a crop to remove a much larger chunk of foreground parking lot. It was taken from a point further east to get much more of the Chase Bank building into the frame. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Cataracts Music Festival ... 2 days after

I doubt I'll ever be someone who'll comfortably say that a phone camera will ever replace a DSLR or mirroless digital camera when it comes to quality and sophistication. But I can say I'm getting more and more impressed with the capabilities of the camera feature of my iPhone5.

Today is the first of three consecutive posts in which I present images taken exclusively with my iPhone. Today's post should be the least impressive of the trio; the two others were taken in very low-light conditions, and delivered remarkably well. I'm saving those for last, though.

Today's post is about images I took today, during daylight hours, as I strolled through Garfield Park en route home from dropping off with family some cucumbers I'd grown in one of my gardens. I came upon four background pieces that were used Saturday in the park during the third annual Cararacts Music Festival.

This was the event's first year at Garfield Park, where it was moved because of opposition to staging it again in Fountain Square, where it played out the first two years. At last year's second staging, I was elsewhere in Fountain Square, photographing the inaugural (and, apparently, only running of the Fountain Square Grand Prix cycling competition).

I walked through the park Saturday during the late hours of the festival, and heard at least two of the 40 acts of psych rock, garage rock, hip-hop and punk styles that the event boasts it attracts. Organizers did a great job of cleaning debris from the ground; curiously, they left behind these four pieces, so I decided to photograph them while I had a chance. All I had with me was the iPhone, so that's what I used.

I don't know what a couple of these are supposed to represent; just appreciate the artwork. Leading off the post is a silver triangular tent-like structure whose top 2 feet (see photo below) was separated from the bulk of the tent, as if to allow ventilation. A "Stay Off" sign was still on the backside.

Above: Yes, I was trying to include myself in the reflection ... and was disappointed it wasn't more conspicuous.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Indianapolis Brass Choir closes 2013 summer concert series at Garfield Park

I'm embarrassed to admit it, but until Thursday, it had been five years since I walked the very short distance from my home to Garfield Park in Indianapolis to enjoy any of the free performances that are part of the weekly summer concert series sponsored by IndyParks.

In 2008, I saw and photographed the Philharmonic Orchestra of Indianapolis, a great show conducted by Orcenith Smith, director of the DePauw University Orchestra. I vowed to come back often to experience the various other ensembles that perform in the series. Well, based on what I said in my opening sentence of this post, you know how that resolution fared.

The Indianapolis Brass Choir performed Thursday, the final show in the 2013 series at MacAllister Center for the Performing Arts. This all-volunteer brass ensemble of professionals and serious amateurs presented a delightful and varied program that opened with Irving Berlin's There's No Business Like Show Business and romped through a Top 40 hit, Celebrate (Kool & the Gang), a string of tunes from the Disney production of Pirates of the Caribbean, a medley of Indiana university and college fight songs, an armed forces salute and the closing, God Bless America.

While the show closed the summer series at Garfield Park, it also opened the ensemble's 2013-14 schedule, which has three more dates this year (one each in September, October and November) and four in the first part of the new year, one each in February, March, April and May.

Curiously, there were at least two on-stage common denominators from my visits in 2008 and Thursday -- Charles "Rusty" Briel, a trombonist with both ensembles and also associate conductor of the Brass Choir, and French horn player Suzanne Snyder, also a member of both ensembles.

Briel conducted a few numbers on Thursday's program in lieu of music director and conductor Robert Grechesky, who led the ensemble for the main portion of the program. I came to shoot with two cameras, each equipped with different lenses, both Canon f/2.8L constant lenses (24-70mm and 70-200mm IS), but I ended up using the 70-200mm almost exclusively. It was on a Canon 7D; the shorter lens was on a 30D.

One of the fun aspects of Thursday's shoot was exploiting the pockets of natural, golden spotlight provided by sunbeams filtering through the park trees to the west of the amphitheater's stage. You can see an example in the lead photograph. Notice scattered instances of golden or orange highlights sprinkled within the band. I chased as many of those highlights as possible in closeups before the sun sank too low and shut down that special treat, which probably was annoying to the performers, who had to look right into it while it lasted.

Also in the lead photo, where the ensemble is conducted by Grechesky, notice trombonist Rusty Briel on the far right. He would conduct two numbers in a short while.

An album of all my shots from this shoot can be found at my site at SmugMug.

Above and next five below: Exploiting the natural solar spotlights ...

Above: Grechesky introduced ensemble treasurer Jim Williams (also featured among the two euphonium players in the photo immediately above this) in the "commercial" portion of the program, when Grechesky explained that the performers are not paid for their services, and that donations and contributions are welcome. He said if patrons didn't get a program to refer to the Brass Choir's website, they could speak personally to Williams after the performance.

Above and below: Framing and getting the above image sharp was a challenge, considering the awkward vantage point. I was on the opposite side -- and opposite end -- of the stage when I took this shot of trumpet player Terri Ewigleben. Later in the program, I managed to frame her between two fellow trumpeters from a side vantage point.


Above: I picked three or four images to convert to monochrome, and this was my favorite. 

Above: All photographers have throw-away files, "mistakes." Every once in a while, though, I play with one of my "mistakes" ... and can find something of interest. That's what happened here. This file was overexposed beyond salvaging in its normal form, but I tinkered with the excess ever so slightly, evolving it into a high-contrast impression (OK, to dub it with some dignity, let's call it "fine art!"), converted it to black-and-white, then converted that to sepia ... and I liked what I ended up with. I would understand if you did not.

Above and next two below: Grechesky at the helm.


Above and next two below: Briel at the helm.

Above: A look at a portion of the audience as Briel saw it from the stage.

Above: Before the ensemble launched into the medley of Indiana university and college fight songs, Grechesky invited members of the audience to stand when they heard their school's song. Nobody stood (that I could see) until near the end of the medley, when the IU fight song played and these people stood (and one or two behind them). Grechesky concluded the medley with the fight song for Butler University, where he is director of bands and professor of music in the Jordan College of Fine Arts, and I didn't see anyone stand for that ... but I might have missed a quick up-and-down stand, if there were any. 
Above: Before the show started, this girl played on the concrete platform that bands requiring electric power use for their sound board and technicians.

Above and below: Two views of the amphitheater.