Thursday, January 29, 2009

Back when I had to make my own stormy weather when it didn't rain in Madison

Back When I Had to Make My Own Stormy Weather If It Didn't Rain
Enough about ice and snow and subzero windchills. This is a story about rain, or the absence of it. This is an old photo of mine, which I keep on the wall as a nostalgic reminder of the old days before desktop publishing and Photoshop, back when if you wanted a special effect you had to do it yourself the analog way.

I was editing an association magazine and had planned a cover shot of a jetliner landing in stormy weather, something about "stormy weather for the airline industry." I figured I'd stand in a field at the end of the Dane County Regional Airport runway under an umbrella the next time it rained and bang away with a telephoto lens and shoot pictures of planes landing in the rain until I got what I wanted. Maybe there would be dramatic clouds half visible through the driving rain. I overlooked the risk of lightning and the question of whether anything would even be landing in a real storm. Mere details.

The trouble was, it didn't rain. We had an endless succession of sunny days instead. Days went by. I was running out of time and my deadline was fast approaching. The best I could do was venture out on a partly cloudy day in hopes of catching a cloud or two in the background. Some "storm." Any rain would have to be provided by me.

In the end, I did go out to the end of the runway. In addition to my camera I took a pane of window glass, a jar of Vaseline and a large sprinkling can. I shot through the pane of glass, smeared with Vaseline and liberally watered with a sprinkling can. I spent hours out there, shot dozens of photos of planes coming in. None of them worked out except one -- usually there was too much sunlight shining on the puffy white clouds in the sky. But for this one photo, it all came together.

And by the magic of special effects, I sometimes find myself looking at the photo and seeing it as something I actually observed with my own eyes, the artifice that went into it momentarily forgotten -- like a liar who starts to believe his lies.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Newspaper reader's winter dilemma

Newspaper Reader's Winter Dilemma
Most days the newspaper will be partially buried in the snow. Some days you'll get lucky and it will land on top of the snow. And some days it will be snowing and only a vague outline, at best, will signal the paper's presence. You know you have to go get it, but it's cold and you decide to read a bit of it online. Then you read some more. Then you check out some favorite blogs and other sources. By the time you finally pick up the physical paper, you've already read everything you want to read, and you wonder -- not for the first time -- why you are still subscribing.

Orion, the Hunter, striding across the sky on a winter night in Madison

Orion the Hunter Striding Across the Sky on a Winter Night
I've always loved the way the constellation Orion, the Hunter, strides across the night sky in winter. The fuzzy patch in the middle of Orion's sword is the great Orion Nebula, and I still remember the thrill of viewing it in a 3-inch reflector when I was a kid -- a tiny (in my telescope), pale patch of gas glowing serenely deep in interstellar space. I tried to capture some of it's magic last night, setting up my tripod between streetlights in Arbor Drive.

It was very cold, and that seems to have frozen my brain. Although I shot from a tripod, I made a bad exposure decision, but I prefer to call it a learning experience. I wanted to keep the stars as points and avoid star trails, so I erred in the direction of caution, using much too fast a shutter speed (1 sec.), forcing too high an ISO (3200), thus the unnecessary noise. I should have done some reading first, or looked at the EXIF data on some other Flickr photos. Next time (although I'm not going out again until we have a clear night that's also warm)...

For what it's worth, best viewed Large.