Sunday, December 13, 2015

Accidental Geminid Fireball Photo?

Accidental Geminid Fireball Photo?

Tonight is the peak of the annual Geminid meteor shower. Did I accidentally get a photo of one of the early evening "earthgrazers"? (They're called that because they come in on more of a horizontal path, and with more atmosphere to fly through, are often longer and brighter.)

I might have. I was coasting to a stop at the light on a rainy evening in Madison, heading west at Mineral Point and Midvale  to capture the lights and reflections just after sunset. No cars around me so I clicked off three virtually identical shots with my iPhone. These are the last two in the sequence, taken within a fraction of a second of each other. The one on the right has a light streak in the upper left; the one on the left does not.

The streak could be a jet contrail if the sky were clear, but it's not, because there was a heavy overcast. It might be a light reflection on the windshield, but that seems unlikely since there's no reflection in the almost identical photo taken an instant before.

That's why I wonder whether it's a very bright fireball visible through the clouds, especially as it looks like one, getting brighter the further it goes. No way of knowing for sure, but I like to think it's a Geminid.

The weird thing is that, while driving I didn't notice anything. My attention was on the road and the upcoming intersection. Only noticed it when reviewing the photos.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Cass Gilbert Arch

Cass Gilbert Arch

Today is the 156th birthday of architect Cass Gilbert, who designed this arch in downtown Madison, which used to be the entrance to my old high school, Madison Central. Gilbert is better known as the architect of the US Supreme Court building. Today we're more into historic preservation and would probably have preserved and repurposed the building (which had an auditorium with great acoustics) rather than tearing it down, especially since all that has ever been built on the site is a low-density parking lot. But back in the eighties the building was just seen as old and outmoded and down it went. (I did salvage a small piece of blackboard from the rubble).

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Orion Rising

Orion Rising

Over Wingra Park, Madison. The stately hunter who dominates the winter sky. It's been one of my favorite constellations since I saw the Orion Nebula through my modest little reflector telescope when I was a kid (it's the second object from the bottom of Orion's sword).

Thursday, October 29, 2015



Remember when VW was known for cool cars instead of deceptively dirty diesels?

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Watching the Eclipse on Observatory Hill

Watching the Eclipse on Observatory Hill

When we went to Observatory Hill on the UW Madison campus to photograph the eclipse next to Washburn Observatory, I didn't expect many people. But there were lots of small groups huddled in the dark. There were even some kids dancing in the street. There's something about an eclipse that draws people together.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The New, Improved Philosophers' Grove

The New, Improved Philosophers' Grove

Really, Mayor Soglin?

New Solution for Homelessness in Madison: Get Rid of Public Art

New Cure for Homelessness in Madison: Get Rid of Public Art

Madison likes to position itself as a "world class city" when it's trying to lure conventions to town. But when it comes to the homeless, we revert to being the small town we really are. Sad and stupid things happen. Things like this.

This is so sad and stupid -- I watched city workers removing some of the Philosophers' Grove stones at the head of State Street. They were designed as a pleasant place to sit in the shade without having to buy anything, but apparently they attracted the wrong sorts of people. Very shortsighted and counterproductive.

But Clouds Got in My Way

But Clouds Got in My Way

I carefully set up the tripod to provide a nice leafy frame for any Perseid meteors my camera might catch last night, but clouds got in my way. Despite my success the night before, I didn't capture a single meteor at the Perseid peak last night --on account of clouds, mist, or the camera not being aimed in the right direction at the right instant. (This was taken about 3:00am facing west.) Earlier, we saw quite a few with the naked eye. One of mine had a long tail that streaked across about a third of the sky.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Watching the Perseids by Candlelight


We watched the Perseids by candlelight on the deck tonight -- not something the experts would recommend, since it doesn't do much for your dark adaptation. You'll only see the brighter meteors. But that was fine. We saw more than we usually do, and being outside in the dark with the candles flickering was lovely -- almost like sitting around a campfire. What did my camera see? It's still shooting, so I'll see in the morning. Good night.

Early Riser

Early Riser

I'm not the early riser -- the Perseid meteor was. I was fast asleep when this image was captured. The annual Perseid meteor shower peaks tonight in the early morning hours, with as many as 100 per hour, but it looks as if it might be partly cloudy at the peak, so I set up my camera last night.

I've experienced some spectacular sightings over the years, but they all exist only in memory, in my mind's eye. I've seen some beauties, but I haven't photographed them. There are many different ways to photograph meteors, but ideally they require finding a really dark sky far from the city, a lot of patience, equipment that's a little more capable than mine, and a willingness to lose some sleep. I've tried a few things over the years but never captured a meteor. Until last night.

This year I decided to keep it simple. I didn't leave the city, and decided to work with what I have -- beginning with my Nikon Coolpix P7100. It has a nice feature for a compact -- a simple intervalometer, or timer to click off shots automatically (also nice for time-lapse movies). Our backyard and deck are fairly dark for the city, so I set the camera up on the deck and went to bed.

Some notes: Exposure was ISO 800 8 sec. at f/2.8 with zoom at 28 mm. This was the longest shutter speed and highest ISO the intervalometer would let me use. And I could only shoot at 1 minute intervals, so -- in effect -- my shutter was open only about 12% of the time. Still, at the peak in the early morning hours, this should give me a reasonable chance of capturing one or more. If you want to try this at home, remember to turn off your LCD -- it uses far more battery than shooting, and battery life is what will limit your shooting. Also, be sure to turn off vibration reduction, which should only be used handheld.

In the midst of all this, did I actually see any meteors myself? Yes, one very faint, underwhelming streak high in the sky a little after midnight while I was setting up. I'm glad the camera did better.

Stalking the Elusive trophy Sunflower

Stalking the Elusive Trophy Sunflower

Pope Farms Conservancy, Middleton, WI.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Pilgrims with Cameras

Pilgrims with Cameras

I don't know how the pilgrims in the Canterbury Tales managed without cameras and smartphones. I guess that's why they told so many stories.

Whenever we make our pilgrimages to well-known sightseeing locations, no matter how often they've been photographed, it seems they're not real until we've taken a picture. Almost everyone at the Pope Farms peak sunflower display the other day was taking pictures, either with heavy duty gear or with smartphones. You had to be careful not to trip over the tripods. (Yes, I was a pilgrim with a camera too.)

Monday, August 10, 2015

The black and white vs. color quandary

The Black and White vs. Color Quandary
It was a magical moment. Twilight was falling, the lake was as still as a mirror, the women doing yoga on their paddle boards were serenely quiet, and Lake Wingra was bathed in muted pastels, with a layer of ground fog in the distance. I snapped the shutter.

Then my problems began. I was shooting for a mood of calm serenity, but what best expressed it -- black and white, or color? Usually when I take a photo I know pretty clearly which will best portray the subject -- color if the color is an integral part of the image, black and white if things like form, line and/or concept seem more important. This time I really wasn't sure.

Paddleboard Yoga

On the one hand, the muted pastels are lovely and seem to support the mood of serenity. On the other hand, the colors would be just as pretty if the women weren't in the picture. I worried that it might be dismissed as just another pretty picture of the lake at twilight.

The black and white seems to focus more on the meditating women and the repetition of the forms of the paddle boards. To my eye, it communicates serenity without the distraction of the pretty pastels. But compared to the color version, it seems a bit somber (though I'd be happy with it if I hadn't seen the color image -- not an issue with film, where you make the decision to shoot black and white before taking the picture).

I still can't make up my mind. What do you think? Which do you like the most? Why?

Monday, June 15, 2015

Finally! Perspective Control Right on My iPhone

Finally! Perspective Control Right on My iPhone

 Here's a photo I shot with my iPhone in Wisconsin Dells last month from a moving car. It used to be that if I wanted to do something like making the ramp and the telephone pole truly vertical, without converging lines, I would have to export to Photoshop -- and it usually wasn't worth it. Now i can do it on my iPhone (right), thanks to an app called Perspective Correct. (It can also be used live, while shooting.) And it's very easy and intuitive to use.

Perspective control is most often used for architectural photography, and pros normally use either a view camera with a lens that shifts or an expensive perspective control lens that can run many thousands of dollars. Software, whether Photoshop or an iPhone app, can mimic the same effect at much less expense. (The drawback is that perspective control in software creates artifacts that show up in big prints; it also involves drastic cropping.)

But if you're shooting for the web or not making gigantic prints, this software tool is a valuable resource. It can make a snapshot pop and look like something shot on a view camera, because the perspective is so unusual. It can make your travel shots of buildings look more professional. And, if your makeup, like mine, includes a bit of OCD, it's just plain fun to play with.

Now my digital-darkroom-in-a-phone is just about complete.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Medium Is the Message

The Medium Is the Message

A recent study by two economists for the International Monetary Fund connected the decline in union membership in advanced economies to the overall rise of income inequality. It is not just pushing down the wages of the working class, they wrote; it is also increasing the incomes of the wealthiest 10 percent.-- "Fate of the Union," New York Times Magazine, 6/14/15

Flip the cover of today's NYT magazine and you're in another world -- a 4-page advertising section showing glowing images of another high-rise aerie for the super rich in Manhattan. The juxtaposition seems to underscore the relationship between the decline of union membership and the rise of the super rich. (It's also a reminder of the kind of advertising that helps pay the bills at the Times.)

The story consists of a probing look at Scott Walker's track record of lies and backstabbing broken promises in passing Act 10 and the right to work legislation that followed it. And it details Walker's horrible jobs record and the fact that "Wisconsin is now among the top 10 states people move out of."

But the photos and graphic design seem to convey a different message, suggesting that unions are an obsolete part of a distant past that's irrelevant, not up to the challenges of a modern high-tech economy.

You could say the black and white images with their deep, noirish shadows have a gritty, photojournalistic look. But it's also a dated look, quite different from the color images we've come to know from recent Capitol protests, which show contemporary people -- friends, neighbors and coworkers -- clearly engaged with today's problems and politics.

The distancing effect is deliberate.The cover image could be from the labor disputes of the 1930s, As photography director Kathy Ryan puts it, "Philip Montgomery's stark photograph of pro-union protestors outside the Senate hearing room in Madison, Wis.,in February evokes labor protests of the past. The echo of earlier demonstrations is amplified by the cinematic lighting and shadows resulting from the use on an off-camera flash."

Reporter Dan Kaufman digs into the lives and struggles of the union members he talks to, but the photography seems to have a different focus. By visually associating them with the distant past, they suggest unions are so yesterday,  increasingly irrelevant in a high-tech world run by billionaires from their high-rise hideaways. And since people tend to glance at pictures more than they read long articles, this may be the message that lingers.

It's another example of how the New York Times represents a kind of concerned liberalism that's deeply uneasy about real populism.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Letting the Product Speak for Itself

Letting the Product Speak for Itself
Apple's iPhone marketing seemed to lose its way after Steve Jobs was gone, resorting to generic lifestyle advertising that could as well have been for any smartphone. With this ad campaign -- in both TV and print media -- they seem back on track. They're letting the product speak for itself by demonstrating in glossy print ads and TV clips one of the most distinctive features of the iPhone -- its amazing camera, the camera that made serious cell phone photography something more than an oxymoron. It also gave rise to a wide range of post processing apps for the phone. And it inspired a host of Android-based competitors.

For my money, it's still the best overall -- partly because it has avoided the mindless, counterproductive pixel race of its competitors. Apple's 8mp sensor hit a sweet spot for cell phone sensors.

Because I worked in print media for a long time, one of my tests of a good camera has always been, will it produce an image suitable for full-page magazine publication? The new ads clearly demonstrate that it does.

I naturally shoot mostly in the medium-wide to normal lens range, so the iPhone 5s usually meets my needs perfectly. Ideally, I'd like my camera to be unobtrusive with a quiet or even silent shutter (I can completely turn off the shutter sound of the iPhone).

For all these reasons and more, the iPhone is usually my camera of choice these days. And I'm grateful that Steve Jobs was such a lover of photography that he was determined to put a quality camera in his new phone.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Three Bright Planets Over Wingra Park

Three Bright Planets Over Wingra Park

More experimental handheld iPhonastrophotography: Saturn on the left, Jupiter in the middle and Venus on the right. They were too far apart to capture all of them in one photo, so I took two. Original images on the phone were almost totally black. I brought them up in post processing as much as I could, and if you can ignore the noise, this looks pretty much the way it did to the naked eye.

Even so, they would probably have looked better with the D90 on a tripod. But there's something about the iPhone that just tempts you to leave tripod and camera behind and see what you can do without them.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Moon Over Lake Wingra

I like to take pictures with the iPhone when there's theoretically not enough light. When I snapped this in Wingra Park tonight, the screen showed just a small dot of light and everything else was black. I had to guestimate to frame it. But with some aggressive post-processing on the phone in Snapseed (equivalent to "pushing" film development in the old days), a grainy moody image appears. I like the effect, and it seems magical to make something out of nothing.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Thursday, May 21, 2015

What Should Be Done About the Mural That Time Forgot?

What Should Be Done About The Mural That Time Forgot? Artist Richard Haas who painted this mural in 1985 is doing a talk and Q&A tonight at Monona Terrace at a benefit for the UW Foundation. Later this year the Chazen will have a retrospective of his work.

In 1985, this was one of Madison's most expensive and controversial works of public art. Critics said, among other things, that if and when the Monona Terrace were ever built, it would cover up the mural. Ten years later it was, and it did. I wrote this blog post about the work's history and how poignant it was that it had had been effectively entombed.

What, if anything, do you think should be done about it? There have been suggestions to improve the lighting to make the mural more visible. Personally, I think drive-by viewing at 45mph isn far from ideal and not very safe. What about a permanent exhibit at the Monona Terrace showcasing the art and the site as they originally appeared. After all, it's part of the history of Monona Terrace.