Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Unusual Clouds

Here are some photos, again from last June. As I left the house on this particular evening to go out to take pictures, I was stunned by this cloud formation. Before I even got in my car to head to the destination of choice, I had to start taking pictures. And, as I was driving along, I just had to stop several times along the way to take more pictures.

I really loved the clear blue sky above, the light fluffy cloud on top, the dark menacing cloud below, and the bright sun's rays. This first shot was taken from right in front of my house.

This second shot was taken just around the corner from my house.

The next two shots were taken just a short distance further along.

Finally, I arrived at my desired destination. The following shot shows what I saw when I looked back to the west.

Now, here is the really good news -- the above shots were just the beginning of a really great evening. To see more of these unusual cloud shots from the beginning of this evening, check out the web album at Unusual Cloud Formations. I'll write about more of the pictures from this special evening in a later post.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Cactus and Contrails

I'm still working on getting the June '08 photos uploaded to my Picasa web album. It takes a lot of time to go through all the pictures in the collection, select the ones to upload, and process them to add my watermark. The actual act of uploading is the quickest, simplest step of them all. Google's Picasa makes that step extremely easy.

I haven't been out to take any new photos for a couple of days, which usually gives me a little more time to play catch-up. So, here are a few of the photos I've recently uploaded. The first shot here is a rather simple sunset, but I think that the multiple cactus make it interesting.

Two days later, the sunset started out like shown below. I like shots that show the sun as a big round ball, especially when a portion of it is hidden. If you take a close look at this shot, you can see something else that intrigues me - the bushes in the foreground directly below the sun are softly glowing against the mountains in the background. It amazes me that sometimes, even though all the rest of the foreground looks completely black, that plants that are within a very close distance from the ball of the sun, show up quite clearly.

Actually, when I get almost all of my sunset photos onto my computer and examine them, I find that if I increase the brightness of the entire picture, I can see the details in the foreground. So, the camera is actually capturing more details than shown up in the normal picture. Of course, when I brighten the entire picture like that, then the sky and the sun look way too bright. So, I typically leave the pictures darker. After all, I like the silhouette look.

And, here is a shot a little bit later after the sun had gone down. Yup. Those are contrails, which I find rather fascinating when they are glowing with the sun shining on them. My question is, "Where are all those planes going, anyway???"

These last two shots were taken by the side of the road on my way back home yet a couple of days later. The camera that I had with me on this day was the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ75. This camera has always taken great photos, has a 6x optical zoom, is very convenient to keep in my briefcase.

The only down side to this camera, and those like it, have to do with looking into, at, or toward the sun!! The only viewfinder on point-and-shoot cameras like this is the LCD display on the back of the camera. When you hold a camera like this between you and the sun, you find yourself squiting so much that it is very difficult to see any details on the LCD.

On the other hand, the Fujifilm camera that I always carry with me now is quite a bit larger, but, in addition to the LCD on the back of the camera, it has a small LCD built into the viewfinder, that acts like the viewfinder on an SLR camera, except that you are not actually looking through the lens, but only at the LCD inside the camera. Holding the camera up to your face in this way, blocks out the sun, and allows all the detail to be seen in the viewfinder.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Sometimes a Surprise

Here are some more shots from last June. The night started off with out a lot of clouds in the sky. I've said it before, but, I'll say agan that I like the sun when it is peeking out from behind a cloud like this.

After taking the above shot, I went on up the highway about a mile to a place with some cactus up on the side of a hill. By this time, the sun was nearly down. At this point, the clouds look pretty much the same as they did earlier.

But, this was one of those nights where the clouds surprised me. Two things began to take shape. One, the upper bank of clouds took on an eerie glow. And, two, the lower bank of clouds, that I really didn't even now was there, began to show some streaks.

Here is a closer look at the lower bank of clouds. They took on a wonderful golden glow.

This next shot is a wider view again, and shows the very unique glow in the upper bank.

And, next is what the sky looked like after the sun was long gone. I love the soft change in the colors from orange into purple.

Finally, here is a shot from three nights later. Again, not a lot of clouds. I just found a spot between some bushes to add some foreground interest. I like the wispy look of the clouds. I think it looks like the sun is behind some of the clouds, and in front of some of the others. Of course, that's not too likely!!

To see more of these shots, visit the June album.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Sundown at Church (and Palm Trees)

It's likely that I'm getting carried away with today's posting. I've been a little too busy lately, and so it's been a while since I last made a post. And here are a few (probably too many) shots from last Thursday night.

I had to be at Church that night for a meeting that was going to start at 7pm. And, wouldn't you know it -- the sun was going to go down at about 6:57!! What a (wonderful!!) coincidence.

I was actually going to grab a bite to eat and do a little shopping on my way to Church. But, when I noticed the sky, I bypassed that and made a mad dash straight to Church. I've been trying to get some great sunset shots around our Church for a long time now. But, to do that, you need to be there when the sun is going down. (Well, duh!) I now live about 40 miles from our Church, so being there at sundown is usually a little inconvenient. And, on those nights when I've needed to be there, we haven't had any really good sunsets. Until last Thursday.

We have several very tall palm trees around our Church property. And, palm trees make great silhouettes.

Here is what the buildings and trees look like. This shot is looking North-East, so the sun is behind me. This only shows some of the palm trees -- there are lots more around.

I parked my car and walked around the property at least five times. Every time around, the sun and clouds looked different, and so I took lots of pictures. In the following shots, I really like the look of the the bright spot being right behind the cross. It gives these shots a rather antique look.

And I kept walking around. And, I really love the palm trees.

Here is kind of a soft shot, with the bright spot of the sun out of the picture.

And then, here is a shot repositioning my self to place the sun so that it is shining through the bell tower. I really like the radials that the Fujifilm camera makes in these cases.

And again at a slightly wider angle ...

Here I am back around the front of the Church again. I think that due to the way the buildings face, sunrise pictures would look best. But, let's see, that would mean that I would have to get there before the sun comes up. And, remember that I live about an hour away. And the sun is now coming up at about 6am. And, if I left the house at 5am, I really wouldn't have much of an idea of what the sky was going to look like because it is still quite dark. Not to mention the fact that I'm still in bed at 5am. Oh well, I think that sunsets will just have to do. OK, maybe some day???

Back around the rear of the buildings again, and the sun is behind a cloud, shining out both from the top of the cloud and the bottom. Notice the birds in flight?

And, again the palm trees. Notice the cross?

Here is a rather simple shot that I really like, showing the cross against the pink clouds. Simple, but nice. This is taken from the rear of the Church, but, if I didn't tell you that, you probably would never know, even if you were a regular attender at our Church.

Here is a shot that took me by surprise. On another trip around the property, I came around front and noticed that the sunset was being reflected by the windows above the main entrance. No, that is not light coming from inside the Church, but from outside. Now, we may like to the think the the Light lives within the Church walls. But in reality, the Light comes from above, and actually lives within God's people!!

And one final shot from the rear. The sun has gone down, and there is a completely different look to the sky.

I'd like to think that these shots bring a little more praise and glory to God, the one who made it all. And, putting one of His houses of Worship into the pictures, just seems to add something.

By the way, if you would like to see all of the pictures from this night, please come and visit my web album at Sunset At CCN

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Amazing Polarizing Filter

I've made a discovery! Well, OK, somebody else made the discovery - I'm just a slow learner. Years ago, when I was actively using my 35 mm SLR film camera, I had a collection of lenses, and for each of them I purchased a protective filter - usually just a UV filter. The main purpose of keeping these filters on the lenses was to keep the lenses from getting scratched. After all, it'd be a lot less expensive to replace a filter, than to buy a whole new lens!

For my new Canon DSLR, I have only a single lens, and I really didn't want to see it getting scratched. So, I bought a pair of filters; one a UV filter, and the other a circular polarizer. I always keep one of these on the lens at all times. But, to be honest with you, I hadn't been able to see these filters make any difference in the pictures. That is until now.

Yes, of course, I'd read about the use of these filters, and how they are supposed to help landscape photos look better. I tried them, but couldn't see the difference.

The other night, I put the polarizer filter back on. I tried looking West toward the sunset (my usual subject) and rotated the filter, but again, couldn't see any difference. I tried looking in the opposite direction from the sun (East), but, again, no difference. Just for the heck of it, I tried looking North and South. And, there it was!

At sunrise or sunset, when looking perpendicular to the direction of the sunlight, rotating the polarizing filter makes the brightness of the sky change drastically, without having much affect on the brightness of other things, like clouds and cactus.

The following two shots were taken just a few seconds apart. I'm facing North in these shots. I had the camera on a tripod so as to not move it between the pictures. In the first shot, I rotated the polarizing filter to make the sky look as bright as popssible. I also adjusted the the exposure time so the exposure would be taken at about - 1/3 EV. In the second shot, I quickly rotated the polarizer to make the sky look as dark as possible, and re-adjusted the exposure time to again take the shot at about -1/3 EV.

Take a look at the two shots. Notice how in the first shot, the clouds look dark gray against the bright sky, and in the second the clouds look white against the dark sky? Although it doesn't show up very well in these two minature pictures, the desert forground shows up much better, too, in the second shot.

Alright, on to tonights sunset. When I first went out to start taking pictures, the following shot shows what I saw when looking East -- storm clouds in the desert.

And the following shows what was happening in the West.

After a while, the sun broke through an opening in the clouds. The next shot was taken with the Fujifilm camera. Note the radials out from the sun. I like them.

The next shot was taken right after the previous one was, but was taken with the Canon. Notice that the radials are absent. I don't have a good answer as to why this is, but I just remember the fact when I'm shooting. If I want to see the radials, I shoot with the Fujifilm camera. If I don't, I shoot with the Canon.

And finally, a few minutes later, here is what happened when the sun went down a little lower, below the bank of clouds.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Sundown at the Mining Camp Restaurant

I've got a lot of pictures to talk about tonight. But, first, I have an urgent question -- Does anybody know what this railroad building is (or used to be)? I've been driving by it for the last couple of years, and ever since I began taking sunset photos, I've been meaning to stop and shoot some pictures of this thing. I thought that it might be an interesting subject. But, you know how it goes -- when you are driving down the road, there is always somewhere more important that you need to be.

However, on this given night, when I was driving by, it was getting near sundown, so I finally forced myself to pullover and investigate. The more I looked at it, the more puzzled I became. I'd guess that it is about 25 to 30 feet in diameter, and about 30 or more feet tall. It has a doorway and a couple of windows. The windows have bars in them. Whatever used to installed in the middle of the floor is long gone.

There are apparently two chambers, one above the other. When I stood inside the lower chamber and looked at the roof, I could see that it is about at the halfway-up point. You can see a ring around the outside of the building where the division is located. What I found to be the strangest is that the roof of the lower chamber is domed. Unfortunately, I couldn't get to the upper chamber to see what it contained.

Ok, what is this thing?

This next shot shows the doorway, and to the right you can see one of the windows.

OK, enough of that. Now, on to the the Mining Camp Restaurant. This is a very famous destination here in the Phoenix area. It is nestled in the foothills of the Superstition Mountains. Since I moved to the Phoenix valley in 1967, and heard about this restaurant ever since I arrived, I just figured that it had always existed! Ha! The restaurant opened in 1961.

The strange thing is that it's now 42 years later, and I still had never been there. I'd always heard great things about the food and atmosphere, and always wanted to go, but just never seemed to make it. It's kind of like living in New York City but never having seen the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty, or living in Arizona and never having seen the Grand Canyon. (Just kidding, of course I've seen the Grand Canyon. I've even hiked to the bottom of it a couple of times.)

My wife, Paula, and I decided that it was time to have dinner with Dave & Ann, friends of ours that we hadn't seen in a while. It just so happens that they were planning on spending a few nights in Apache Junction, which is located sort of at the mid-point between the places where be live. So, we thought we would eat in Apache Junction. But, where?? Well, of course, where else but the Mining Camp Restaurant. And, it's funny how dinner time happens somewhere near the time that the sun goes down.

After we had finished eating, and the girls continued talking about family, etc., Dave and I excused ourselves and escaped outside just before sunset. Dave has done a lot of professional photography and sold a lot of his pictures. Imagine this, though -- I was the only one to bring a camera. (I almost never go anywhere without my camera.) So, as Dave and I were talking, and he was giving me some very useful hints, I started taking pictures.

These first two shots show what meets you right outside the restaurant's entrance. Notice the Superstition Mountains in the immediate background?

And, here is to show you that we all observe the world around us differently. Dave asked if I would mind if he took a couple of shots with my camera. Here are a couple of the shot that he took. Notice that while I was looking at buildings, mountains, and eventually the setting sun, Dave focused in on something completely different -- something that I hadn't even seen!!

Take a look at the wagon wheels. There is something about wheels these that caught Dave's interest.

And here is probably the best shot of the whole night. There is some real artistic flare in this shot!! I just love it. Thanks, Dave!!

About this time, I looked up and saw the following. I usually keep track of the sun's and the moon's rise and set times. I knew that a near-full moon was going to be rising on this night, but in the excitement, had completely forgotten. So, I grabbed the camera and shot some moon shots. (Does that make sense?)

Yep, that's the moon rising right over the Superstition Mountains.

But, then of course, the sun was going down, and I was obligated to take some sunset pictures. Here is a view through a cactus.

And here is a view over the mountains to the west.

By the way, you can learn more about this famous restaurant at their web site at:

Monday, April 6, 2009

Experiment With a Cell Phone Camera

Last night - no clouds - just orange! But, even then, I'm usually so intently focused on taking my sunset pictures, running around looking for the perfect composition, and racing the clock - since the whole thing really only lasts a few minutes - that I don't think of anything else.

I've been wondering just what I'd do if the sun was going down and I didn't have a camera with me. But, then it dawned on me that I always have my cell phone with me. I've been wanting to see how good a job my cell phone could do with a sunset, but, like I said, I'm usually too busy trying to take good pictures, to spend some of the available time taking shots with just a cell phone.

I have a new cell phone, a Motorola Hint, that has a 2-M pixel camera built in. It can take some very nice pictures of normal stuff, but I hadn't yet tried aiming it at the sun. So, since last night was just another one of those plain orange things, I'd decided to give it a go.

This first shot is how things looked with the Fujifilm camera (well, of course I had it with me - I always do!!). Like I said, it was just another plain orange sunset ...

Now, here is the same thing taken with the Hint. I notice several differences; The sky is more blue. The sky is brighter. The sun is a brighter spot.

More blue - because the phone camera's white balance was set to 'auto.' When I am shooting sunsets with my normal cameras, I set their white balance settings to 'sunset' or 'shade,' which enhances the reds. Therefore, the Fujifilm camera makes the sky look more purple, and the Hint makes it more blue.

Brighter - I'm just guessing here, that there are two things working here. One, the metering in the phone camera is full averaging, which, when shooting a very bright spot, like the sun (!!), causes the the bright spot to be overexposed, and the rest of the shot to be brighter. And two, perhaps the phone camera simply can't shoot fast enough to handle shooting the sun!

And that gets us to this morning. When I got up I looked out and saw clouds!!! So, I grabbed the Canon and went running. Here a couple of these shots.