Thursday, September 03, 2009

Summer's last full moon coming up tomorrow

Last Days of the Summer Moon
There's something soft and warm about the moon on a summer night -- must have to do with the atmosphere and humidity in the air. As the days get shorter and nights get colder, the moon remains striking, but there's a coldness and hardness about its beauty, until in midwinter it just makes the night seem colder. Or so it seems. Tomorrow is the last full moon of this summer. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Why would anyone want to put an inexpensive lens that doesn't even zoom on their expensive DSLR? Here's why.

Rediscovering Photography with My Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 Lens
I finally broke down and bought the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 prime lens, and spent some time this afternoon rediscovering photography with it along the lake in Wingra Park. A prime lens is what used to be called a standard lens, the non-zooming lens that used to come with the camera, back before zooms became standard "kit lenses." Prime are faster and sharper than zooms, usually smaller and lighter, and they allow you to create beautiful out-of-focus background effects ("bokeh"). And the f/1.8 lenses are a bargain. This one is Nikon's least expensive lens and is sharper than lenses costing many times as much. Canon and other camera makers have similar offerings

Many younger photographers grew up using nothing but a zoom lens, and so using a fixed focal length prime usually takes a period of adjustment and getting used to zooming with your feet instead of your hand. But I made photographs for years with a 50mm before I ever touched a zoom (because, among other things, most of the early zooms were god-awful or cost a fortune if they weren't).

Over the years, I drifted away from using prime lenses, mostly because the stuff I occasionally shot for work required the flexibility of a zoom. But putting this lens on the camera was like putting on an old shoe. It felt really comfortable and familiar (even though it's closer to shooting with an 85mm on a film camera than a 50mm). It reawakened instincts that had lain dormant for years -- composing carefully, as if it mattered; the footwork dance that somehow puts you in a direct physical relationship with your subject the way a zoom never does; thinking about the basic elements of photography such as aperture, shutter speed and depth of field. Using the depth of field preview. I had a ball.

This photograph doesn't necessarily illustrate anything unique to the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8, although it hints at its legendary sharpness and crisp colors. In fact, it probably says more about the Nikon D90's "Vivid" saturation setting than the lens I shot it with. But it does capture some of the excitement I felt on a sunny afternoon, rediscovering photography by going back to my roots and shooting the way I did a long time ago.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The last Sunday in August felt more like the end of summer than it usually does

Last Sunday in August 2009
The last Sunday of August usually is a week before the Labor Day weekend. It's a kind of reprieve -- a reminder that there's one more week of summer fun left before things really start to shut down. But Labor Day is unusually late this year (last year this was the Labor Day weekend). So Sunday had some of that end-of-summer feeling that usually comes with Labor Day. It was a perfect day, but there was a hint of autumnal darkness in the light. At Wingra Park and elsewhere, people were savoring what they knew could not last much longer.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Ride the Drive: For once everyone on John Nolen Drive was going under the speed limit

For Once Everyone on John Nolen Was Going Under the Speed Limit
It's hard to express just how euphoric it felt to bike freely on a brisk, sunny day on streets normally buzzing with speeding auto traffic, and now not a car in sight. For many Madisonians it was a happy shared vision of a more bicycle-friendly city, all the more precious for its brevity -- six hours Sunday morning and afternoon when a number of major downtown thoroughfares were blocked off to car traffic for the first (hopefully annual) Ride the Drive celebration.

Returning from Ride the Drive on Their Time MachinesThe day was a gala celebration of all things two-wheeled -- not all of them necessarily from this century, or even the last. These riders were apparently returning from the festivities on their time machines when we passed them on the Brittingham Park bike path. Modern dress aside, this is how the path along Brittingham Bay might have looked more than a century ago, during the late Victorian era when these bicycles were in their heyday. (Originally they were simply called "bicycles," but when modern bikes came into use, terms such as penny-farthing, high wheel, high wheeler, and ordinary were used to distinguish these contraptions from the new "safety bicycles.")

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Cycropia's performance at the Orton Park Festival -- mostly it was about enchantment

Saturday Night at Orton Park with Cycropia Aerial Dance
Saturday night the weather flirted with rain once again, but all it could come up with was a bit of misty drizzle now and then -- and a windy chill that felt colder than the mid-fifties, In other words, nothing to worry about, and this time the show could go on. The Cycropia Aerial Dance performance was about beauty and motion and dance. And flying. It was also about Mother Goose, Flamingo and The Little Weightlifter Who Could. Mostly, it was about enchantment. What they were watching.