Danny Green CD Release Show at Anthology 3/11/09

This must be CD release show season, because I’ve been to quite a few of them lately, and I’m even going to another one tonight. This was my first time at Anthology, though, and it’s a great place to see some live music presented beautifully. This night was Danny Green’s CD release show for his new CD, With you in Mind. The link will open in a new window, put on a track while you see my photos, I’ll let the music speak for itself and won’t interrupt with too many words.

The video screen ensures that every seat is a good seat.

Danny was joined by a roster of 1st call musicians, most of which appear on the album.

Tripp Sprague- Soprano and Tenor Sax, Flute

Peter Sprague- guitar

While beautiful, the Anthology stage is not an easy stage to shoot since the audience is sitting down, and I was trying to stay as inconspicuous as possible. I tried to shoot from the sides, and if I was right in front, I tried to stay low. Security already shut down a videographer, I didn’t want to be next.

Justin Grinnell- Bass

Dylan Savage- Drums

Danny used a melodica on a few dub-inspired tunes, which finally gave
me a chance to shoot him from the front, instead of sitting at the piano, facing away from the audience. The piano placement wasn’t the
best for photos, and I would have liked to come away with some more
nice portraits of him, since it was his night. I did make sure to focus on getting some good shots of him on the big screen.

With the bright stage lights, I could bring out my telephoto lens for some close-ups.

Thanks for letting me shoot your show, Danny! It’s a great CD!

Bird Rock and Windansea at Night 3/13/09

I’m going a little out of order with the posts, but Danny Green’s post is going to be a lot longer than this one, so I wanted to get this one done first, since it’s going to be a bit more technical too.

Last night I met up with Douglas Lee Coon Jr., Sr., and Scott Papek to shoot some night photos. Having three other people around at night helped give me the motivation to shoot in the middle of the night. We met at Bird Rock a little after 11pm..

The tide was quite high, almost splashing up on the rocks at the stairs, so we had to shoot from the balcony. This prevented me from being able to get any rocks in the foreground, so bird rock is basically just a floating island in the ocean in these photos. It would have been possible with the 11-16mm- anyone like this shot enough to buy a print so that I can save up to buy a new lens?

Processing was mostly converting to a tungsten white balance to bring out the colors in the sky and selectively desaturating certain color channels to get a good look. In that shot, I was able to bring out the rocks lurking just beneath the surface of the water.

I think next time, I’ll use my telephoto for some detail work. The blurred interface is really the most interesting part of the shot for me, and I’d like to call some more attention to it.

For those that care about a photo-geek explanation of exposure, noise reduction, and ISO, keep reading. For those that don’t, scroll down the the next photo.

The other guys were using a different technique than I was. While I stuck with a  lower ISO, longer times, and darker shots, they used higher ISOs for shorter exposure times and brighter shots . The downside to this approach is that it required the use of a dark frame to reduce noise. A digital sensor builds up a lot of noise during either a high ISO shot, a very long exposure of greater than several seconds, or especially if both are used in combination. This is the digital equivalent of film grain, and the price you pay for the luxury of increased sensitivity to dim light. Noise is built up by the heat given off by the sensor itself, and is registered as a signal by the sensor. With such low amount of light (signal) making it to the camera  during a night shot, the noise becomes a large percentage of the total signal the sensor reads, and has a lot more time to accumulate during a multiple minute exposure.

This signal is non-image forming information in the shot. Our eyes can tell the difference between signal and noise, but it’s much more difficult for a computer to determine if a certain pixel is 20% brighter than its neighbor because it’s supposed to be, or because that pixel captured some sensor noise during the exposure and it registered as additional light.

That’s where a dark frame comes in.

Let’s say I took a shot that lasted 5 minutes at ISO 1600 in order to get enough exposure to register as a properly exposed image. That shot is going to have a lot of noise in it. Now if I put the lenscap back on the lens and take another shot at the same exposure time and ISO, I’m going to get (hopefully) the same amount and pattern of noise in that shot, but no image. So, the camera knows that any pixels that have any signal at all are picking up noise, and just how noisy each pixel is. It then takes that information and subtracts it from the previous image, thus subtracting the noise. It’s not a perfect process, but it’s as good as can be done without using some noise-reduction software to clean it up. If a camera has an option for long exposure noise reduction, or high ISO noise reduction, this is what the camera does automatically- basically reading the sensor noise without opening the shutter for the amount of time that the shot was for.

By the way, in film, noise is greater in higher ISO films because the silver halide particles are much larger than in a lower ISO film, among other things.  Film exposure is not a linear phenomenon at extremely short or long exposures, but high-intensity and low-intensity reciprocity law failure will have to wait for some other post, which will probably never get written. HIRF and LIRF don’t occur with a digital sensor since it’s constanly reading the signal amount, which is a huge benefit to doing night photography with digital.

The problem is that the 5 minute dark frame makes it impossible to take another shot until it’s all done, so a 5 minute exposure now takes 10 minutes before I can make any focus/ composition adjustments and try again, and that one will take another 10 minutes, and so on. If it’s dark outside, autofocus doesn’t work, and the view in the viewfinder is pitch black so it might take a few tries to see if I’m focused properly, have a straight horizon, and the edges of the frame aren’t cutting off an important feature in the image. This makes night photography an extremely slow process.

Which is why I don’t do it.

By using a wide aperture and a high ISO, I was getting exposures of about 30 seconds which were bright enough to check for focus and composition thanks to the streetlights. Then I brought the ISO down to 200 (the native resolution of the sensor), stopped down, and increased the exposure time. Most of my exposures were around f/8 and 8 minutes. By using a lower ISO, the sensor isn’t as sensitive to noise, and I didn’t have to bother with a dark frame. I’d rather have the shutter open twice as long and blur more waves. Sure, I can’t just pick up my camera and move to another location during the dark frame process, but I had plenty of time to plan my next shot anyway, so that wouldn’t really save me much time anyway.

OK, back to something interesting.

With limited shooting options at Bird Rock, we headed over to the north end of Windansea Beach, and I found some shoreline I’ve never shot before.

The waves were actually coming up within feet of my tripod, it’s almost a shame that the energy and liveliness of the ocean doesn’t come through in these shots since the waves get blurred out.

Light pollution becomes the prominent light source for most city-based night photos. The moon was bright, but covered by clouds, so it barely registered as an exposure, except in the shadows that the streetlamps didn’t reach.

For an example of a test shot at  ISO 1600 shot done for 20 seconds, take a look at the amount of noise present- it’s actually not much after a quick tap of the noise reduction slider in Lightroom.

There’s no longer exposure of that setup since during the next test shot, a big wave crashed against the rock I was standing on and I was about 12 inches away from drenching myself and my camera. I figured that was enough excitement for one night. So now, that’s a self portrait.

O’Brien’s Pub 2/28/09

I had a chance to shoot my favorite bar, O’Brien’s Pub on Convoy street the day before heading to the desert. This place is indeed “The Hoppiest Place on Earth”, and was named one of the top 15 beer bars in the country.

I got there half an hour before they opened, hoping to get it all to myself but some regulars have their own keys, it seems.

This was totally the wrong time of the day to shoot, since daylight was streaming through the windows, but it gave me a chance to try shooting some interiors. At 11mm focal length, you can get a lot of a room into a shot. I don’t really know how to properly position a camera to make the room look good, but it was fun to take a crack at it anyway. A creamy porter for breakfast helped too.

Anza Borrego Desert State Park 3/01/09

I got up around 3am last Sunday to take a day trip to the desert to see the wildflower bloom. The plan was to go with a friend, but she got sick. This was my last day with the 11-16mm lens, so there was no way I was going to miss a chance to get photos of flowers that live for a few weeks in one of the hottest, driest places in the USA.

By 5am, the sun was beginning to light up the sky over Cuyamaca Lake. It’s amazing to this city boy how many stars there are in the sky, and how quiet it is when you don’t live between two highways.

Once in the park, the next thing I saw was a field full of golden animals.

I don’t know why there were so many of them fighting, I guess it’s more dramatic then just having them wandering around, like the elephants.
 

I got the the visitor’s center about two hours before they opened, and it was at that point that I realized that I had no idea where to go to see the flowers. Luckily, there was a birdwatching group about to start a tour around the area. All of them were retirees, no one had a camera, just binoculars. I felt a bit out of place walking with them for a couple hours, but they were pretty friendly and I had more in common with a couple people than I would have thought. I also had a chance to focus on birds for a little while, which I would have never noticed otherwise.

Cacti in morning light are pretty.

Reptiles stay more still before they’ve had a chance to warm up, I had time to change lenses when I found this guy, and he never moved a micron.

But I didn’t come all the way out here to shoot critters, I came here to shoot wildflowers.

Since I don’t have a macro lens, I had to fill the frame by using my telephoto lens cranked out to 250mm. This isn’t ideal since it means I’m shooting at f/5.6, which isn’t good for creamy background blur and also increases the shutter speed, leading to blurrier shots. One thing I noticed was that for every flower in bloom, there were several buds that hadn’t opened yet, which probably means that the peak is actually happening right now, a week later.

Bass clef caterpillar!

The ultra wide angle let me get some interesting points of view.

I was dead tired by 3pm, having been running around for a full 12 hours by then with half that time in the hot sun, and I still had a 2 hour drive home. I decided to leave and head home before sunset, which I now regret. I should have just napped for an hour and kept shooting.. oh well, there’s always next year.

Balboa Park at Night 2/27/09

Still brimming with Energy, I found myself in Balboa Park after midnight on Friday night. I had the main thoroughfare all to myself, except for a couple bicyclists. Luckily, I keep my tripod in the trunk.

Shooting at night is actually pretty exciting. It feels like you’re there at a forbidden time, with the fountain off and no one around.

A quick tungsten setting for white balance turns the ugly orange sodium-halogen lights to an eerie white glow, and the sky to a deep blue.

Swim Party and Writer at the Whistle Stop 2/27/09

Wow, am I already a week behind? Shooting a lot last weekend will do that. I should have posted after I finished processing each set, but instead I just kept processing photos until they were all done.

So, right after Bloodflowers and Hostile Combover at the Casbah, I made my way to the Whistle Stop to see Swim Party and Writer play together (as in both bands at the same time). After driving, finding parking, and gettig in to make it to the front of the stage, I only managed to catch the last 1.5 songs. So, not my best set for good looking photos.

Alex was right in front and center, so I shot him to figure out my exposure settings. Little did I know that he’d be pretty much all I would have time to shoot. He bought me a beer once at the Casbah, so it’s ok.

Right when I was taking out my camera, a girl next to me said something like “Hey, a big camera like that must take good pictures.” To which I replied, “It’s not the camera, it’s the photographer.” I only mention this because usually, the perfect thing to say at a time like that only occurs to me about 5 minutes after the fact. Ordinarily, I would have said something stupid like “Ummm, uh-huh.” So yeah…. for once I was articulate in person.
 

I picked up the split 7″ the bands put out together. They each have one song on a side, and it’s just way too short to really get a feel for either band. I will say that Swim Party is not a Pinback Jr. in any way.

I was just getting warmed up though, so on my way out, I made a wrong turn that ended up putting me right where I needed to be, Balboa Park around 1 am.

Hostile Combover, Bloodflowers at the Casbah 2/27/09

Friday night was a fun, night, starting with going down to the Casbah to catch the first couple bands before heading to the Whistle Stop.

Bloodflowers must have just started when I got there, because there was still the “I’m too cool to stand in front” gap happening, but it only took a couple songs and an invitation from the band to move up so they could see the audience before it was closed..

It’s pretty standard rock and roll, probably a better fit with a band like Scarlet Symphony than the other bands playing this night, which are quite a bit heavier.
 

I decided to try something I’ve never done before, leaving my pictures pretty much as they came out of the camera. It’s a bit scary for me, because this is close to what the Casbah lights actually look like, and I normally feel the need to tweak.

And some fun Ultra-wide portraits, my last weekend with this lens:
 

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I decided to process my Hostile Combover pictures differently too, almost totally in black and white.

These guys make some of the most exciting music in San Diego. Go see them 3 /14 at the Radio Room.

And then go see Ben Johnson front his other band at the Casbah on 3/21. It’s going to be my first time shooting him in The Long and Short of It, and it’s also their CD/Vinyl release show.

Hey, I have almost that same wedding band!

Right after they finished, I had to leave to get to the Whistle Stop. I probably should have just stayed and shot the next two bands, since that would have meant that I would get to hear more than 5 minutes of music, but it didn’t  turn out that way…