Tag Archives: Lighting

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.

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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!

CowParade Austin Calendar – May – Cowcycle

The “May Cow” in my 2012 calendar is the very interesting Cowcycle. The artist who painted Cowcycle is Rebecca Wolfe Spratlin, and she was sponsored by U.S. Money Reserve. Rebecca Wolfe Spratlin also was the artist who created the cow named Cowch – which was sold for a record high $150,000 in the October 2011 auction!

The first time that I saw Cowcycle, it was near dusk, outside the Long Center on July 27th at the CowParade Preview Party.

Cowcycle was certainly different than all of the other cows – if nothing else, it was certainly the tallest of the ~50 cows on display that evening.  Cowcycle really grabbed your attention, and everyone had to stop and study it!

Cowcycle was on display inside the Frost Bank Tower lobby at 401 Congress Avenue here in Austin. That proved to be a problem for Dad and myself who wanted to photograph this excellent work of art.

On Saturday, Sept. 03, 2011 we arrived at the Frost Bank Tower, and photographed the two cows that we outside: Cow Quarium and Remember the Alamoo. (You can see all 72 cows by going up to the black bar under my banner photos, click on Photo Gallery, and then selecting “CowParade Austin – 2011 from the menu.) After we made all of the photos that we wanted of those two cows, we headed inside.

We didn’t get very far.  Just as I got in through the door, the security guard for the front lobby told me that I was not allowed to bring my camera and tripod into the lobby to take any pictures. I calmly explained that we had already spent 3 Saturday mornings hunting down and photographing all of the CowParade Cows that we could find. We really wanted to collect the whole set. He didn’t care, he said that we were not allowed to photograph the bank, and he insisted that we leave. I told him that we didn’t want to photograph the bank, just the two cows that were in the lobby. He didn’t give a hoot – we were simply going to have to leave, and leave now. So, that’s what we did.

I realized that the only photograph that I was going to get of Cowcycle (and Hairy Dear, Play Me a Tune), was going to be through the front window of the bank lobby. I did have my polarizer with me, and put it on, and hoped that it would eliminate enough glare and reflections to make a decent photo. I took 5 or 6 photos, and this was the best that I could get through the lobby window.

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We photographed nearly 2 dozen CowParade cows along Congress Avenue that morning, including 3 inside the Driskill Hotel. No one had refused to let us photograph any of the other cows, and I wasn’t happy about it.

The very next day, Sunday, I went to the CowParade Austin website, and researched who was in charge of what, and I sent an email letter to two people who were on the organization committees. One of the persons was Olga Campos, who used to be a local TV news reporter, but now worked at U.S. Money Reserve – the financial sponsor of many of the cows, including Cowcycle. In that email, I simply told the same story that you just read.

On Monday morning, I received an email from Olga saying “I will try to find out what the security policies are and if there is a way to grant you permission –  for just a brief time – to take the photos you would like. Of course, I make no promises but I will try!”.

It was almost exactly an hour later that I received a second message from Olga saying “I just talked to Ms. Baker, of Txxx Property, which oversees the Lobby of the Frost Bank Tower. She apologizes for what she says was a mis-handling of their security/access policy. Ms. Baker assures me you and your father are more than welcome to come into the Lobby to photograph the Cows during regular Lobby Hours (8 am – noon on Saturday and 7-7 Monday-Friday).”

Bingo!  I immediately sent back a very appreciative response to her. Just as important, I printed out that email and put it in my camera bag – I had a feeling that I might need it the following Saturday.  🙂

Well, the next Saturday rolls around, which was September 10th. Our 2nd stop that morning was the Frost Bank Tower, and we got there at 8:35 AM. Dad followed me through the front door, and there in front of me was that very same security guard. I looked straight at him and said “Good morning sir. Will it be OK to photograph the two cows THIS morning?”. He nodded and said “Sure, come on in.”

We must have been in there for 30 minutes, and he watched everything that we did, but he never said another word to us until he replied to our “good-bye”.  Amazing!

There were only two cows in this bank lobby: Cowcycle, and a hairy beast of a buffalo-cow named “Hairy Dear, Play Me a Tune”. They were both illuminated by fluorescent lighting on one side, and large west-facing windows on the other side. Using the light from the fluorescent lights and my gray card, I set a custom white balance in my camera.

That’s a pretty bad exposure on many different levels!  The amount of light coming in through the windows was pretty well controlled, but the color of the light was nowhere near the same as the fluorescent lights. With the camera’s white balance set to fluorescent, daylight appears to be blue in color. In a mixed lighting situation like this, there’s really not much one can do, short of covering the windows with a colored gel that would turn the color of the daylight to become closer to the color of the indoor lights.

To get the photo that I used on the calendar, I had to get between the window and the cow, and set a custom white balance using the light from the window falling on my gray card. After that, I had to put my back right up against the window, which still had me less than 8 feet away from this 7 foot tall cow. To get the entire cow into the picture, I set my zoom lens to 24mm, and thanked the Photo Gods that I had my full-frame sensor camera.

After getting a good photo of Cowcycle, I moved about 12 feet to me right and got a fairly decent photo of “Hairy Dear, Play Me a Tune”.

That’s one hairy beast of a buffalo-cow!

Well, that’s all that I can tell you about how I got the photo of Cowcycle that ended up as “Miss May” in my CowParade Austin 2012 calendar. I know it was long-winded, and I thank you for reading it!

A Gardening Shot with LED Lights

This week’s Project 52 assignment was to Welcome Spring with A Gardening Shot – with a focus on gardening. Supposedly the client is simply looking for something to catch the eye. They are a small hardware store and the image is for their “Get Ready for Spring” store promotion.

I wanted to bring a LOT of color to my gardening shot. I envisioned a “wall” of flowers behind some hand tools and some colorful seed packets.

So after work, I headed to my local nursery and cruised around looking for the most colorful (and somewhat color coordinated) flowers, hand tools and seed packets that I could find. My total cost was $56, which was well under the client’s budget of $1100.

I knew that I would have to shoot them that evening, as I had chosen the flowers for the way they looked right then, and didn’t want to risk any of them wilting over the next day or two. Although there was still more than 2 hours of daylight remaining, it was very windy, and I wanted the flowers to remain still while I photographed them.

So it was into the garage I went and simply arranged the items pretty much how I had envisioned them onto a folding table. Since I was going all-out for color, I brought out my blue backdrop cloth, instead of my boring gray one. For lighting, it occurred to me that this might be a perfect opportunity to try out the new Fotodiox Pro LED 312AS panels that Kirk Tuck had recommended.

These continuous lights (as opposed to “flash” lights) have a knob to adjust the color of the light being output from 5600K (color of daylight) down to 2300K (color of a tungsten lamp). I set the knob to the 5600K setting, and set the white balance in my camera to 5600K.

Notice the strong magenta color cast in the gray card (by definition, gray is without any color cast).  Something wasn’t right!

In his LED Lighting Book, Kirk had cautioned about the “green spike” in the color spectrum that these LED lights would produce, so I was very careful to perform a custom white balance in the camera. After making that adjustment in the camera, I took this photo, and you can see that the camera completely neutralized the magenta color cast!

Now I admit that I’m not sure why the color cast was magenta, and not green.  I know that the two colors are opposite each other on the color wheel. Kirk had to use “minus green” gels (which are magenta in color) over the face of his LED lights in order to neutralize the “green spike”. I can understand that concept, but I don’t understand why when the light was set to 5600K and the camera white balance was set to 5600K, the resulting initial image had a strong magenta color cast. (At any rate, I have ordered some 1/8, 1/4, 1/2 and Full MinusGreen gels made by Rosco to put over these lights in the future.)

OK, so I can’t explain the science, but I was glad to see that setting a custom white balance in the camera corrected it. Now on to my Project 52 assignment!

This first photo is very much how I had originally envisioned it.

It was certainly colorful, and would catch your eye at the hardware store, but I thought it was “too busy”.  To simplify it, I removed the gloves and the sprinkler head, and moved in a little closer.

That was better (to me), so I knew that my lighting was getting close to its final arrangement and power levels, so I took a photo with my ColorChecker Passport in it. Using this photo later in post processing, using software from X-Rite, I could create a custom “camera calibration” for my camera using these LED lights at this 5600K color setting.

The photo looked better but the angle didn’t seem right, so I got a little lower and took this one, which I liked the best (and it’s the same at the first photo in this post).

And finally, here is my set-up shot, which shows the 3 LED panels that I used.  Note that the top one didn’t have a fabric diffusion panel. It was there to light up the tops of the three colorful flowers in the back. It was positioned close to them, using a boom, and the power was turned way down in relationship to the other two lights.

Let’s Pour a Beer!

This week’s Project52 assignment is called “Let’s Pour a Beer!”.

The specific assignment is: “We are going to pour a beer and catch the ‘head’ coming up“.

I had never tried to photograph anything like this before, so I was pretty uncertain about how to do it. Here is my story of how I got to the photo shown above.

Don Giannatti gave the strong hint that the light needed to be coming from behind the beer, and shining through it.  To start, I placed my empty Cheers beer glass on a piece of clear Plexiglass, which in turn was on top of some white seamless paper that extended up behind the scene.

This was my 11th shot, as I dialed in the position and power of the two strobe lights, and to get the exposure right in the camera. I could see the horizontal line at the back, where the Plexiglass ended. That was something that would just have to be taken care of in Photoshop later.

Time to get a beer out of the refrigerator.

It didn’t take very long for the condensation to form on the outside of the bottle. I hoped that would last a while!

Those of you who know me, know that I rarely drink beer. (I’m a red wine kind of guy.) The choice of beer was entirely Barb’s as a result of me just asking her to pick up a 6-pack at the grocery store, and the only guidance I gave her was “don’t get something too cheap”.

Time to start pouring…

Whoa… Better slow it down!

Hold your breath, and hope it doesn’t spill over – because then I’d have a heck of a mess to clean up.

OK, I got lucky!. No mess to clean up, but I didn’t get the photo that I was hoping to get.  Pour that beer down the sink, but not before I had a big sip. It tasted great for a light beer!

Wash and dry the glass, then get it into position for a second attempt.

This time, let’s start out by filling the glass about 1/3 of the way, and let that settle down for a while.

OK, now start pouring again, but much slower than I did with the 1st bottle. I also tried to get my hand a little lower, and more into the photo.

This is working out much better this time!

I really liked the deep penetration of bubbles under the surface of the beer at this point. In fact, this is the actual photo used at the beginning of this post – but before I did any finish to it in Photoshop.

This photo and the one 2 photos back were edited later in Photoshop to blur the horizontal line where the Plexiglass ended at the back. As a final edit, I cropped the photo to remove some of the extra white space on the left side of the photo – and that is shown as the opening photo to this post.

And I just kept pouring, until the bottle was empty.

And that is the end of my “Pour a Beer” story…. almost.

Here’s a photo of the setup that I used to make this photo.

It took a while to tear down and put away all of my equipment, but once I did, I got a chance to sit down and watch the end of the Baylor vs. Notre Dame women’s basketball National Championship game. I really enjoyed drinking THIS beer while I watched that game, too!

Austin Sunset Sequence

The photo above was taken on 2/3/2009 at 6:43:57 PM.

Here’s the sequence of photos that were taken before and after that photo. I had my tripod set up right next to the Stevie Ray Vaughan statue, and the camera was pointed towards the northeast. These photos were taken with a camera that I no longer have; my trusty old Canon 5D. For all of these photos, the ISO was set to 100, the aperture stayed at f/11, and only the shutter times were varied. Focal length of the 24-105mm zoom lens was set at 40mm.

The official sunset in Austin that particular day was 6:10 PM.

2/3/2009, 5:37:19 PM

2/3/2009, 5:53:47 PM

2/3/2009, 5:59:47 PM

2/3/2009, 6:08:52 PM

Official Sunset is 6:10 PM

2/3/2009, 6:17:13 PM

2/3/2009, 6:23:04 PM

2/3/2009, 6:30:12 PM

2/3/2009, 6:37:27 PM

2/3/2009, 6:42:58 PM

2/3/2009, 6:49:20 PM

2/3/2009, 6:55:17 PM

2/3/2009, 6:59:24 PM

Good night, and I hope you enjoyed the show.  I hope that you will click on the “Leave a Reply” link below and let me know if you like this type of post. Thanks!