Route 66, January 2007
Subject descriptions may invoke creative licence.
Day 2: Afternoon in Amboy, California, 27 January 2007. Next Photo >>
Roy's Spaceport, Amboy, California.
I made this with my 5D camera resting on broken glass on the floor. I couldn't see through the finder, so I had to guess and use successive approximation based on what I could see on the LCD. I think I may have dialed down the contrast on my 5D; I forget. I shopped down the bright outside, however the contrast wasn't as great as you'd think since the sunlight on the floor to the right lit up the ceiling.
I forget how weird I looked. If you always shoot from eye-level you'll always get ordinary photos. My camera was on the ground, and I was hunched over trying to peer in the finder unsuccessfully. Karl, another workshop participant, had this to say after he saw the image above:
"I was headed to the van to trade an 18-200mm for my 35-70mm. I remember someone over by the Motel office taking a picture of dirt, or so it seemed. This guy was laying on the ground so close that he had to be doing a macro of an ant or something. When I saw the picture above and the description of how you had to take the shot, I now know it was you down there doing a floor picture. The shot turned out good, but I never would have guessed what you were shooting."
Yes, you'll look weird making good photos. Avoid tripod forests with other photographers. I remember once in 1992 I was rolling around on the ground along the side of a wet street at night in Austria. I was wearing black. Of course the cops stopped to see if I was OK; they thought I was hurt! Why else would someone be rolling around on the street at night? Of course I was fine, we all had a good laugh, and they went along their way. I was using my pocket-sized plastic pocket ultrapod for those time exposures.
A Whole Lot of Nothing, Amboy, California.
There isn't much out in the desert. You go for miles between seeing anything. See the tiny white dot in the middle of the sky? That's the almost-full moon.
I shouldn't have blown out the white buildings. Sorry, I missed that. I usually don't on my Nikons, which have far superior LCDs and histogram displays.
Roy's Spaceport, Amboy, California.
I love how I can use my 14mm lens to stretch things out. It's exactly the opposite effect from a fisheye, which squishes things together at the sides.
I cheated a little here - this building really does tilt up to the right. I used my 14mm lens to exaggerate this. Next Photo >>
Orange, Amboy, California.
Photos of old trucks become slightly less of a cliché when photographed more closely. Next Photo >>
A Truckload of Clichées, Amboy, California.
This old Chevrolet is hauling a truckload of photographic clichées to my gallery pages. I love the orange color as highlighted in the afternoon light. My 14mm lens weirded it out a little, making it more of a cliché. The nude models were busy posing on the other trucks, sorry. Next Photo >>
Miners' Boneyard, Amboy, California.
I'm a sucker for the edge-sucking effects of ultra-wide lenses. This is why the wheel looks pulled to the left, a deliberate part of the composition.
14mm lenses are very difficult to use well. Each half-inch (1cm) change in camera position makes a huge change in the perspective and composition. The tiny peephole of my 5D's viewfinder makes it hard to see the entire composition while shooting, so often I don't use the entire frame as is critical with ultra-wide lenses. It took me several tries to get this to fill the frame. Next Photo >>
Cliché, Amboy, California.
I used my 14mm lens on my full-frame camera to make the hood fly out from the rest of the truck. A 17mm lens (same as a 10-12mm lens on an ordinary Nikon or Canon DSLR) would have had much less of an effect. A normally wide lens would have rendered this as just another cliché with an open hood. Roll your mouse over the image to see it as shot at the widest setting of most normal cameras, a 37mm lens. Next Photo >>
Speeding Locomotive, Amboy, California.
The Canon 70-300 IS works great for panning, and I haven't even read the instructions on how to use it. I used it in IS MODE I, and I suspect that I should have used IS MODE II for panning. I don't know, but I do know this and other panned shots of moving locomotives worked great. Next Photo >>
Sunset, Amboy, California.
Another popular cliché is the static sunset, as seen here over the desert hills. This is nice, but would have been nicer if I caught it with something like a nude model in the foreground. The models were posing elsewhere.
This is nice: I'm pleasantly surprised that there isn't any flare or ghosting in the Canon 70-300mm IS. Other lenses often put ghost images in the lower right, if the disc of the sun is in the upper left. Next Photo >>
Boring Shot of Chemical Plant, Amboy, California.
This is the shot most people make. Most people prefer to zoom in instead of walking closer.
There is great light on the stacks, but a boring gray sky and no dynamics. At this distance the color of the stacks is slightly muted by the atmospheric conditions.
Your feet are the most important equipment next to your brain - use them. Next Photo >>
Chemical Plant, Amboy , California.
These are the same three stacks in the shot above. The only difference was walking up to the stacks and looking up with an ultra-wide lens. Camera settings were the same; exposure was less.
There is stronger color in the stacks because we're not looking through 300 feet of atmosphere.
The sky is much bluer because we're looking up at the blue, and not at the gray of the horizon. The sky is blue at the top of the image, and gray at the bottom. The telephoto shot only saw the gray part of the sky, and the telephoto lens magnifies that small part of the sky to fill the image above.
Instead of a boring static shot, we've added gesture and motion by looking up with an ultra wide angle lens. This is why the bottom of the shot looks horizontally at the bottom of the stacks, and the top looks straight up.
It's not the 14mm lens which gives this perspective. It's the fact that I'm only a couple of feet away from the stacks. Using a 14mm lens and not moving dangerously close would give a crappier image with even smaller stacks.
Position is critical to using ultra wide lenses. You have to force yourself to get dangerously and annoyingly close to your subjects and pay rapt attention to your viewfinder. It is also critical to hold the camera level. It took several tries to get the baseline horizontal. You can fix minor Dutch (crooked horizons) in Photoshop, but you cannot correct point of view if you didn't get close enough. Next Photo >>
View Camera Shot, Chemical Plant, Amboy, California.
This is the shot most view camera users would have gotten. They keep their beds flat and their film vertical so all the vertical lines are parallel. The pipe to the left is bent; it's not camera misalignment.
I shot this, as everything, hand held on my digital camera. We only has 5 minutes of good light - it's already faded in this shot. That's only 300 seconds, total, of good light. I can't set up a tripod that quickly. If I tried, I only would have gotten one shot, not the many different compositions I shot in great light. I'm not showing everything here. Next Photo >>
The Feast at Peggy Sue's, Yermo, California.
Peggy Sue's is a roadside diner built in 1954. It's been expanded since. It's loaded with 1950's entertainment memorabilia, but no old cars. My 14rmm lens makes this room look much larger than it is. The restaurant has many other rooms to compensate for this. Next Photo >>
Peggy Sue's, Yermo, California.