20100622_Niagara_Falls_006-010.jpg

Niagara Falls from a Hotel Room

Things at work are getting pretty busy again, and I haven’t been anywhere near a camera for a week now. So, I don’t have anything recent to share with you, so I went digging around in my archives and decided to show a series of photos of Niagara Falls.

Barb won a round-trip pair of airline tickets at the Alereon Holiday (Christmas) Party in December of 2008. We had a year to “cash them in”. We couldn’t think of anywhere that we really wanted to go, so we waited, and waited, and waited. Sometime during 2009, Barb’s friend Pam told us about a trip that she and her husband Bill had taken to Niagara Falls. Evidently they had a hotel room with a fantastic view of Niagara Falls.

That sounded like a great photographic opportunity to us, so a week before our airline tickets expired, we made reservations for June 2010 to fly to Buffalo, NY. We made the reservations over 6 months before we wanted to travel. We decided to go the week of June 22nd, 2010 because we knew that the days would have the maximum number of hours of daylight.

We made our reservation for the Niagara Falls Marriot, which is on the Canadian side of the falls in Ontario. We asked for a room on the upper floors, so that we could have a good view of the falls. We were told that we were guaranteed to get a room in the upper 6 floors (of the 23 total).

Zoom ahead in time to June 22nd, 2010. We had flown into Buffalo, rented a car for a week, and drove into Canada. We had not seen the falls, or any of the Great Lakes. Looking at the map showed that we should be very close, but we had not seen any water of any kind before we arrived at the hotel. When we checked in, I asked the clerk where the heck the Niagara Falls were actually located, and she said that they were right out back, and we should see them when we got to our room. So we hauled all of our luggage up to our room and opened the drapes. This is what we saw:

Holy cow! What a sight!

The shot above was taken right after we returned from dinner – right at 6:31 PM. The last photo in this post was taken at 10:03 PM, a span of only 3 and ½ hours.

The first photo to at the top of this post is shown again here. It is a panoramic, that is composed of 5 individual photos stitched together using an older version of Photoshop.

Niagara Falls is composed of two separate waterfalls. In the photos above, the falls on the left are called the American Falls, because the land on both sides of that waterfall is in the United States (in New York state). The falls on the right span across the international boundary with Canada, and are known as Horseshoe Falls, because of its U-shape.

The most significant thing that I want to bring your attention to is that every single photo in this post was taken from the exact same location, and that was from our room, and through a window that I really had to hunt for an acceptably clean spot to photograph through.

Both of the previous photo used my 24-105mm lens, zoomed all the way out to 24mm. I was using my 2 month old Canon 5D Mark II, which is a full-frame sensor camera. The next photo, of Horseshoe Falls, was taken with the lens zoomed to 50mm.

Helpful Hint:  You can always view any photo at a larger size by just clicking on it. You will then need to use your browser’s “Back Button” to return to Gregg’s story.

I switched to my 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, zoomed it to 173mm, and took this photo.

The method that I used to reduce unwanted reflections in the window was developed on the spot. At first I could see the white reflections of the curtains on the right and left sides of the photo, so I pulled them as wide open as they would go (and away from the camera). I did use a hood on the end of each lens. I positioned my tripod as close to the window as possible, but the heater/air-conditioner unit was directly under the window, which complicated that a bit. With my longer 70-200mm lens, I could have let the lens hood actually touch the window, but I did not want the vibrations from the air-conditioner, which were travelling up the window, to be transmitted to the lens, and therefore to the camera. So I left a 0.25 inch (6mm) gap between the lens and the window pane. Lastly, I got a large towel from the bathroom, folded it neatly lengthwise, and draped it over the end of my lens, and bridging the gap between the lens hood and the window pane. That sealed off any extraneous light from coming in from the sides, reflecting off of the glass window, and reducing the contrast in the photo. Lastly, we turned off all of the lights in the hotel room, except for the light in the bathroom, which was a long way behind us. (We needed some light in the room so that we could pour our wine…)

This photo was of the American Falls, using the 70-200mm lens zoomed all the way out to 200mm. This was taken at 6:45 PM, and there was still plenty of daylight, so the shutter was 1/640 of a second and the aperture was f/7.1. Every photo in this blog post was shot in Aperture Priority and had the ISO set to 200.

That photo was using the “longest” lens that I had. I then decided to switch to my “shortest” lens, a 16-35mm f/2.8 II lens. The next photo used that lens zoomed to 22mm, and shows a nice rainbow from the mist of Horseshoe Falls.

Back to the telephoto zoom to get a closer view of that rainbow in the mist.

The little boat just boat in front of American Falls is the Maid of the Mist.

There are actually several of these little boats, but they all seem to share that name. People board the Maid of the Mist on the Canadian side of the river, just past the American Falls. Once on board, they get you up close as they pass by the American Falls, and then take you deep into the mist at the base of Horseshoe Falls. We did take that boat ride a few days later, and I HIGHLY recommend it!

Putting my wide-angle 16-35mm zoom lens back on, I rotated the camera as far to the left as I could, and took this 1 second exposure with the lens zoomed to 19mm. This is our hotel (Marriot) and a few others lined up along this spectacular view.

You can see the reflection of our curtains along the left edge of the photo, but that was the best that I could do at the time….

We drank a glass of wine, relaxed, and waited for the sun to go down.

This next photo was taken at 9:19 PM. Even on the longest day of the year it would have been dark for 30 minutes by now back home in Texas!

The lens was at 19mm and the exposure was a 1.6 second shutter, f/6.3 aperture, and +2/3 stop exposure compensation.

Just 10 minutes later, at 9:29 PM, the sky had quickly turned to twilight. The next photo was taken at that time, with the lens zoomed out to 173mm, but the shutter was now open for 5 seconds.

Less than 2 minutes later, the color of the water seemed to change. What the heck? Using the exact same camera and lens settings, I quickly took this photo.

Within a couple more minutes, the color of the water had changed a couple of more times! It became apparent that this was a man-made phenomenon, but we had no idea how on earth they were doing it.

I was thrilled! I thought my photography was over for the evening, but it was far from over. The scene before us was simply becoming more spectacular with each passing minute!

This next photo was taken at 9:35 PM. The exposure settings were an 8 second shutter, f/6.3 aperture, + 1/3 stop exposure compensation.

Only three minutes later, I took this next photo, but I changed the lens from 35mm to 50mm focal length. I also used all the same exposure settings, except the shutter was now open for 13 seconds.

The change of colors was spectacular to see!  A couple days later, while walking along the river, we saw the large spot lights that they use to illuminate the falls with color. The lights were on the Canadian side, and they shine them across the river to paint the falls with colored light. We never saw the “light beams” cross the river, and I do not see them in these photos right now, either. Very clever!

As it got darker, I had to keep increasing the amount of time that the shutter would stay open. I was now up to 15 seconds.

And at 10:01 PM, I was up to a 20 second exposure.

The longer I kept the shutter open, the more amount of mist would be in the air, scattering the light, and obscuring the beautiful pastel colors of the falls.

This next shot was my last shot of the evening. It was taken at 10:03 PM, and the shutter was open for 25 seconds. It pretty much had to be my last shot, as the camera has a limit of 30 seconds for the shutter speed (in Aperture Priority mode), and the mist was really overtaking the falls.

So there you have it. Yet another sequence of photos, depicting a thin slice of time, where I had my camera with me, and was willing to experiment with it. Niagara Falls is certainly a site to see!

20120718_Ringer_Windows_Taylor_008

Beginning Construction of a Window Factory

This is my story of how I have witnessed the construction of this building to this intermediate state of completion. The photo above was taken yesterday evening, on July 18, 2012. This is the future home of Ringer Windows factory in Taylor, TX.

This might not be terribly interesting to my photography friends, but I still wanted to make this post, as there are several people in my life that this will have meaning to. I will also probably bore many of those people by also describing many of these photos using “photographers techno-babble”. I’m sorry, but this is my blog, and I make the rules.  :-)

Greg Ringer happens to be a very good friend of mine. Here’s a photo of Greg and I, taken on January 4, 2006 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA – just moments after Vince Young and the Texas Longhorns defeated the University of Southern California (USC) Trojans by a score of 41 – 38.

I still get goose bumps thinking about how that game finished!  But, this is not a story about great friends, or about football…

On Saturday morning, March 3rd, Greg and I drove out to Taylor, TX to look at the location for the future home of Ringer Windows. Ringer Windows has run out of room at its current location in Pflugerville, and the city of Taylor gave him some great incentives to build his new factory in their city.

The engineers had already bored some holes into the soil to see what how firm the foundation was. They didn’t have to go down very far to find water.

Before we left, I asked Greg if I could take his photo. Since he was backlit, I did put my Canon 580-EX II flash on top of my Canon 5D Mark II camera, and took this photo of Greg. I did later have to use the Adjustment Brush in Lightroom to add a bit more brightness to him in various amounts to his face, his sweatshirt, and his jeans.

That was the one and only time that I have visited the site with Greg, but I have been back several times by myself (and once with Dad). The next time that I returned was nearly 6 weeks later, on April 14th. They had dug out the area for the building’s foundation where they were going to add back some caliche dirt – a surface deposit that would not expand/contract due to moisture changes like the native soil would.

While I was taking photos from the back of the site, the tractor operator showed up and started leveling the bottom of the pit near the northeast corner of the “building”.

When I returned two weeks later, on April 28th, they had the caliche down and leveled.

Three and a half weeks later, on the evening of May 24th, they were inserting the rebar and plumbing into the caliche foundation, and then covering it all up with a heavy-duty black plastic.

They had also poured concrete into the rebar-enforced support columns, which I believe Greg said would go down about 14 feet (4.25m).

When I returned on Sunday, June 17th, they had already poured the concrete slab, and had it covered with a white plastic to allow it to cure (more slowly than it would if it hadn’t been covered). This image was created from 11 individual photos taken in the portrait orientation and then merged into one huge 21084 x 5478 pixel panoramic image. Here it is in a much reduced 1000 pixel wide version.

Helpful Hint:  You can always view any photo at a larger size by just clicking on it. You will then need to use your browser’s “Back Button” to return to Gregg’s story.

The next time I drove out to Taylor was early in the morning on July 4th. That was the only opportunity that I had to make it out there on that holiday. I had to shoot into the light of the rising sun, but I wanted to be sure to get a couple of photos of the bare steel structure.

The photo above was taken from Carlos Parker Blvd SW, where it rises to cross over the railroad tracks, just south of US Hwy 79. I wasn’t really very far away, and I only had my 70-200mm f/2.8 II lens set to a focal length of 80mm.

I then drove back down to the street in front of the building, and took this photo, which is a panoramic made from 8 photos. The original pano is 18403 x 5553 pixels in size. Here is the 1000 pixel wide version:

Now that takes us to yesterday evening, July 18th. As you can see, the light was MUCH better for photography, and they had the red metal skin up surrounding the front office and showroom area. (This was also from Carlos Parker Blvd SW.)

It was 6:50 PM, and sunset would be in about 80 minutes later. For the shot above, I used my Canon 24-105mm lens, and it was set to 73mm.

As usual, I drove down to the street in front of the building, and took this photo with the lens zoomed wide to 32mm. I cropped off much of the bottom of the photo, as you really don’t need to see that much of the street. (This is the same photo as the one at the top of this blog post.)

I moved a bit closer, and zoomed the lens as wide as it could go, which is 24mm.

Now how the heck am I going to make this partially complete building something interesting to look at in a photo? I didn’t know exactly, but I was going to circle around inside and outside of it – just to see what it looked like from the various perspectives.

I entered the front door, immediately stopped, moved 2 feet to me right, and planted my tripod. People will never see this view of the inside of the building once the interior walls are up, so I thought I would document it.

The photo above is actually an HDR (High Dynamic Range) image, which is created by taking the same picture with four different shutter speed settings and later combining them together using software. I used Photoshop CS6 to merge them and do some initial tweaks, and then finished adjusting it in Lightroom 4.1. It still looks a bit “flat” to me. Maybe that’s partly because there simply wasn’t any color in this scene to start with.

Here is a view from the back right (southwest) corner, looking back toward the office/showroom area.

This is an HDR image that I made from 6 bracketed exposures, and then cropped off the bottom. I did not want to tilt the camera up, as that makes the vertical objects to the side “fall backward” toward the center of the image. Instead, I just kept the camera level, which put a lot of the concrete floor in the bottom of the photo, so I later just cropped it off.

I think the floor has a blue-ish tint to it, as it is simply reflecting that color from the sky.

My 3rd and last HDR photo was taken while looking into the office/showroom area from directly under the peak height of the roof.

That HDR image was made by combining 8 images bracketed one stop apart. That’s a huge dynamic range! The reason was because the sun was poking around the support beam in the upper left corner, which was very bright, and I also wanted to see well into the dark shadowy office area.

The only colorful objects in this photo are seen outside of the front windows. Because everything else is basically devoid of color, there just isn’t that much to make it “come alive”. Be that as it may, I believe that this is a rather faithful reproduction of what I actually saw while I was standing there.

I wanted just a few more photos, and then I needed to go.

Here is the view of the front office/showroom area, as seen from under the covered loading dock area, which is in the left front (northeast) corner of the building. This was a strongly backlit situation, so I did use the Adjustment Brush in Lightroom 4.1 to add 0.8 stop of exposure to the red siding.

After walking out into the “parking lot” a little bit, this is the view of the northeast corner of the building.

At 7:18 PM, less than 30 minutes from when I took the first photo that evening, I took this parting shot before I left.

I wanted to leave this photo for last, as I envision taking a photo from this same angle when the building is complete. I think it will be taken when the sky turns a magical blue, just after sunset. I’ll ask Greg to selectively turn on some of the interior lights, and I’ll have my 4 Einstein stobe units to really make the red siding glow.  I see it in my mind. We’ll all see how it actually turns out a sometime this fall.

20120714_Neighborhood_Walk_043

Plants and Patterns

This morning, I went out for my usual Saturday morning 3 mile walk through my neighborhood, but this time I brought my camera along.

This is only the 2nd time in the 11 years that we’ve lived in this house that I’ve brought my camera with me. I wrote about my first time, in my blog post that I published on June 4th.

On that walk, I took my brand new Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera with the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 lens. Today, I took the same camera, but I brought the Panasonic Leica 25mm ƒ/1.4 DG Summilux lens, with a B+W circular polarizer on the front of it.

Before I left the house, I performed a Custom White Balance to the camera, set the ISO to 200, and put the camera into Aperture Priority Mode. I did not change any of these three settings for the rest of my walk.

I’m going to try something new with this post. I’m going to keep the number of words to a bare minimum, and just present you with the pictures. I’m going to do it “Robin Wong style”, where I’ll add a two or three word “title” underneath each photo, that attempts to give a little insight into either what I saw, or what I was thinking.  If you like this format, (or if you don’t), please leave a comment (or send me an email using the “Contact Gregg” button under the banner at the top of this page) to let me know that.

Enough words. Here are my photos.

Honey Bee

Helpful Hint:  You can always view any photo at a larger size by just clicking on it. You will then need to use your browser’s “Back Button” to return to Gregg’s story.

Clay Pot

Playground Tunnel

Circular Jungle Gym

Stairs and Handrail

Steel Mesh Stairs

Ford Mustang

Gate Hinge

Low Cactus

View @ Halfway

Prickless Prickly Pear Cactus

Cactus Flower Buds

A Red One

Big Grass

For Libby

Red and Orange Flowers

Pink Flowers

Miniature American Flag

Rusty Fire Hydrant

Ivy Ground Cover

Limestone Wall

My Front Door

Maybe someday soon I will get up the nerve to do some real Street Photography in downtown Austin. Plants and patterns are interesting to me, but I would like to include some architecture and some candid people photos, too.

Who knows, I might even get lucky and bump into Kirk Tuck…