Welcome to (The Occasional) Photo Tip of the Day! Please also visit my main site jeffwignall.com. Text and photographs Copyright 2014 Jeff Wignall.

"Look deep into nature, and you will understand everything better."


Albert Einstein

Friday, July 29, 2011

Favorite Photos & Places: United House Wrecking

If you're in the Connecticut area and you've never been to United House Wrecking in Stamford, it's worth taking a ride over. I'm a sucker for all things strange and outlandish and that's exactly what this place features--in great quantity. It's a kind of combination of architectural salvage house and antiques gallery and while these days it seems to feature a lot more repro stuff (and less salvage) than it did when I first went there (probably 30 years ago), it's still got a ton of fascinating stuff.

There are, according to their website, more than 2.5 acres of displays (indoors and out) and it's very easy to spend an entire afternoon there just wandering around and you'll find yourself smiling a lot! You'll also find yourself poking your companions and saying, "Wow, look at that, how cool!" Of course, most of the stuff is on the pricey side (how about a pair of Chinese Foo dogs for $40,000?), but there is affordable stuff, too. And these days who cares if you can afford to buy--the place is free to explore and the staff is friendly and what could be more fun on a nice summer day than to wander through acres of weird stuff? Definitely bring your camera, I spent more than two hours on my last visit just shooting snaps in the outdoor display area. Oh, and if you happen to buy those Foo dogs, give me a call, it would be the highlight of my summer to see someone drop forty grand on a garden decoration. I'll put them in my van and help you get them home.

My latest book The NEW Joy of Digital Photography (Lark Photography Book) is full of great tips and hundreds of pretty photos and I hope you'll check it out the next time your in Barnes & Noble. And tell your friends about this blog!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Favorite Photos & Places: Caramoor

The Caramoor Center for Music and Arts in Katonah, New York bills itself as a "magical" place and for me it has always been that. A former estate, Caramoor combines a very interesting house museum (a sort of Italian country estate full to the brim with antiques), a very large and impressive outdoor music venue and a gathering of small but intensely mystical gardens. The gardens consist of a small sunken formal garden (very nicely kept), a collection of man-made features (like the stairs to a sweet little overlook, above) and some nice wooded paths that trace the perimeter of the property.

I've always loved house museums and formal gardens and while it's nice to take the tours and hear about the history of a place, the thing that I like about Caramoor is that, even when it's not formally open or there's no concert event, you can still stroll the grounds and spend quiet time in the garden. I shot the photo here on a day like that and I don't think that there were more than a handful of other people there. I had a lot of time to look for pretty shots, consider my compositions slowly and just wait for nice lighting. As I was shooting that day I was thinking what a nice place it would be to teach a workshop for an afternoon.

Camoor is about a half hour or so into Westchester from Ridgefield, Connecticut and there is a very popular summer music series going on right now. So, if you're looking for a nice place to spend an afternoon and evening, check out their concert schedule. Tickets for musical events (under a tent) start at under $20 and even the best seats are less than $50 for most shows, so this is not like spending hundreds of dollars for a typical outdoor show (and who has $250 for a concert ticket these days?). They sell food on the grounds, the parking is easy and you can arrive early and enjoy the gardens--it's a nice place!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Favorite Photos & Places: Flamingo Gardens

I haven't been posting much lately largely because I've had a lot of other issues in my life to deal with and I spent a lot of June getting my veggie garden into the ground. It's too hot in my office (no a/c and it's 90 out!) to write long postings, but I thought that for the next few days or weeks, I'd just post some of my favorite photos and places--in case you're looking for some good vacation destinations and/or photo ideas. Travel (particularly by air) has gotten way too expensive and too annoying for me lately (and I used to love to fly as often as I could), but hopefully that will change and so I still daydream about trips I'd like to make to new places and favorite places I'd like to revisit. OK, let's begin...

This photo of a white ibis was shot at Flamingo Gardens in Davie, Florida, which is a little south and west of Fort Lauderdale. There are about 60 acres of very pleasant gardens and wildlife areas--including a beautiful flock of Caribbean flamingos that you can easily photograph in close-up or as a flock as they gather near the edges of a wildlife pond. I spent a day there photographing and had a terrific time. Yes, it's hot in Fort Lauderdale this time of year, but hey, it's hot here in Connecticut too (see above paragraph!) and this is the cheapest time of year to visit Florida. And there are enough beaches in the area to keep you busy and cool for a week, easily.

By the way, I shot this with a 400mm lens on a Nikon D70 body a few years ago and so with the 1.5x cropping factor the focal length was actually about 600mm. But this ibis, about the size of a seagull, was on the opposite side of the pond. He came much closer to me many times and I could have easily shot it with a shorter lens. By the way, these ibis are wild and can up and fly away whenever they like--their wings are not clipped--but the environment is so nice, hey, why leave a good thing! I'll try to find a cooler place for the next posting.

My latest book The NEW Joy of Digital Photography (Lark Photography Book)has more than 300 of my photos and lots of ideas for photos and places and I hope you'll consider buying it.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Hey, it's Fireworks Time Again!

(The following is a slightly updated posting that originally appeared on this blog last summer. I'll publish some more fireworks shots and ideas over the next several days.)

Like everyone, I love going to fireworks displays and the bigger the event (and the longer they last), the better. I turn into an instant five year old at the local Fourth of July fireworks and "ooh" and "ahh" at every burst and I'm crushed when they end. I really get a kick out of photographing them, too--though, as usual, I let myself get distracted by photography and shoot far more pictures than I should. In the past few years though I've tried to maintain a balance--half my time shooting, half my time just watching.

There are actually two (at least) different techniques that work for photographing fireworks: in one method you use long time exposures and a tripod and keep the shutter open; in the other you just shoot individual bursts with a handheld camera. I'll cover the former method today and the other tomorrow. Either works fine, but the one I'm going to write about tomorrow is probably simpler and doesn't require a tripod.

Using a tripod and shooting long exposures is the more traditional method of photographing fireworks, I think, and it's the best technique to use if you're trying to include a foreground (as in the shot of New London harbor show here) or when you simply want to fill the shot with lots of different light patterns. It's important to use long exposures and a tripod when the foreground is important because you need time for the darker areas to record. Here’s the basic procedure:

With your camera mounted on a tripod (and I tend to use a relatively wide-angle lens of about 20-28mm in 35mm terms), aim you camera at either the sky (if all you want are the fireworks themselves) or a scene in which the fireworks will play a part. To capture the shot of the harbor, for example, I arrived fairly early and managed to get a shot near the front of the wharf so that I could get the boats and water in the foreground. And at popular events, trust me, getting there early is half of the game.

Once you have a good vantage point staked out, set your camera's exposure mode to manual exposure and set the shutter speed to "B" (which stands for "bulb" so that you can make long time exposures. Set the f/stop to a moderately small aperture (f/8 or smaller on a DSLR). I tend also to set a relatively low ISO speed of around 100 or 200 just to keep the very bright explosions from washing out. You will have to experiment with exposures (checking the LCD) as the night progresses.

To make the actual exposure, use a locking cable release (most digital camera makers offer an electronic cable release that has a locking capability) or a cordless remote to fire the shutter. In terms of composition, you pretty much have to wait for the first bursts to hit the sky to decide how to include both sky and foreground because you never know how high the displays are going to go. I often blow the first few shots because I'm still trying to figure out where the fireworks are going to "land" in the sky and often have to reposition the camera a few times to the exact foreground that I want. Don’t panic though if you think you’ve mis-framed the scene, just write-off the first few frames and make your corrections.

Once you think you've captured an interesting assortment of bursts, close the shutter. At this point I usually check the LCD carefully to see how close I am with both exposure and framing and make whatever adjustments are needed. If the fireworks appear to be overexposing (washing out), either use a smaller f/stop or a shorter shutter speed—or both. If the shots are too dark (usually a good thing because you can brighten dark shots a bit in editing, but it's impossible to bring back detail that isn't there), then open the lens slightly or increase exposure time.

Another trick you can use is to place a piece of black cardboard (or a lens cap if you're careful not to jiggle the camera) over the lens between bursts. I find that if the sky is dark enough, that’s not always necessary. Again though, experiment, check your LCD (the picture, not the histogram which is a complete waste of time in this situation because you ARE going to get highlight spikes regardless) and bracket the exposure factors a bit. There is a lot of exposure latitude here provided you're not overexposing. Don't overexpose!

Next we will look at a simpler, handheld method of photographing fireworks.