Thursday, December 31, 2009

Open Mind Discovers Florida Keys Photos

This month I spent a windy, overcast and for us Floridians a chilly week in the Florida Keys enjoying the out of doors and taking a break from pushing pixels around on a computer screen.

No long philosophical essay here on the renewal of creative juices for those in the visual communications business. Nor will I evoke Henry David Thoreau’s Walden Pond to describe the spiritual benefits derived from being out-of-doors.

Just a short note to say I love the outdoors and being alone for a few days with nothing I have to do, and lots of optional creative outlets - photography and sound recording - available should I be moved to leave my campsite reading chair or find ocean kayaking in 30 mile per hour wind no longer relaxing.

You may click on any of these photos to enlarge them.

Without the pressure of having to produce a photograph to a client’s specifications I wandered about Bahia Honda State Park - one of the most beautiful state parks in the country and which has a beach once voted the best in America - struggling to abandon any previous techniques that would box me in to capturing the same old same old photo.

I arrived late in the afternoon and set up my tent in the wind and rain, and it was after “sunset” that I was walking along Sand Spur Beach on a very gray day when I noticed lightening bolts opening up the inside of storm clouds off shore in the Atlantic Ocean. “Thats cool”, I thought, all lit up from inside.

I threw my camera on a tripod, guessed a 30 second time exposure at F 11 might blur the water and if I was lucky I might catch a lightening flash. I was lucky, on the first frame only and created a photo I had not anticipated.

During the day I was looking for a way to make the drab, flat, overcast light interesting and was poking around the dry, sandy scrub land that makes up the interior of the island. I noticed some new bright green Sea Grape leaves, about five inches across, and wondered what they would look like if I lit them with just a light from behind. I placed a flash underneath, blew the light through a white diffusion cloth, and exposed to see the veins and detail thingies inside the leaf. Sorry I’m not a botanist, but I loved finding a new way to discover the complexities of a leaf.

The next evening there was a five minute window at sunset as the sun sliced under the heavy cloud cover and skimmed from the West right along Sand Spur Beach, highlighting the wave ripples as they quietly created patterns that changed several times a second. Here a telephoto lens and fast shutter speed gave me a new insight.

Here's a link to more editorial photography from Florida.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Still Photos Tell Time With Time-Lapse Photography

With some basic experiments in time-lapse photography I’ve been tackling one of the conundrums of multimedia audio slide shows, how do you depict the passage of time with still photographs that do not move.

You may click on photo to see larger.

Below is a 12 second Quick Time movie depicting stars rotating around Polaris - the North Star - in Everglades National Park earlier this year. Or click here for a full size version. A photograph was made every four minutes over 72 minutes, from 12:38 Am to 1: 50 AM, and when assembled to play over 12 seconds, the rotation is really cool.

Slide shows posted to the web have to grab the viewer’s attention and keep it or they will click onto something more interesting, like kittens clapping their paws in time to music on You Tube. Keeping the story’s pace moving and varied is important and can be done in several ways;

  • limit the time each still photo is on screen to under six seconds or so
  • vary the screen time from image to image
  • utilize close up detail photos to balance wide scene setters
  • make sequences of the same portrait setup varying subject size & placement in frame
  • pan across a photo with a “Ken Burns” effect
  • and lastly, utilize time-lapse sequences of still photographs

In the above 22 second Quick Time movie shot on South Beach this Fall at sunrise, 55 photos were captured at five second intervals over just five minutes. A full size version can be seen here. By the way, all three movies attached here are accompanied with natural sound recorded on scene.

Cinematographers have been using time-lapse photography since the early days of movies by capturing each frame of film at a rate much slower than will be played back. A regular feature film is shot at 24 frames a second, and when projected at the same frame rate the motion seems normal to us. Filmed at a much slower rate but played back at 24 fps, the action is sped up. (If shot at a faster frame rate, but played back at 24 fps, we perceive slow motion. ) We’ve all seen time-lapse sequences of flowers blooming, where one frame is shot every hour or so and petals slowly unfold, or a glacier receding from year to year, with one frame per day captured.

Changes across time too subtle for the human eye to detect, such as stars moving in the sky or the sun rising, are slowed down for our study and enjoyment by a slower replay frame rate

From the 47th floor penthouse looking South in August down Miami Beach’s Collins Avenue, the Atlantic Ocean on the left and downtown Miami at upper right, shots were made every 30 seconds or so over 37 minutes for this 21 second Quick Time movie. Full size version available here. I enjoy seeing the clouds slide by, a boat zip up the intra-coastal and post sunset glow settle onto the city.
This sequence with fewer frames included opened the multimedia show I wrote about here.

Time-lapse photography is adding a fun dimension to my multimedia projects by allowing me to show the passage of time. And I'm combining the outdoor and skyline photography I love with my photojournalism and environmental portraiture.

Here's a link to more Miami multimedia photography.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Audio Recording Leads To Pelican Rescue

Sunday I decided a peaceful kayak paddle on Biscayne Bay was a terrific way to enjoy the mild Florida weather and a great opportunity to record quiet ambient sounds, so I grabbed my sound recording gear and Nikon digital point n’ shoot camera and launched just five minutes away from my home. As I left I had no idea I was going to rescue a pelican from certain death nor be cursing the noisy skies above.

You may click on any photo to view larger.

Enjoying the sensation of floating freedom the first few paddle strokes, when my body realized I was not rushing through a metropolis of 2.2 million people, I threaded between a half dozen low mangrove covered islands. In this part of Biscayne Bay, which runs North 35 miles from the Florida Keys and is sandwiched between the Miami Beach barrier island and mainland Miami, I felt as if I was in the wild, yet I was surrounded by urban skyline all around. Sunday I could understood artist Christo’s  fascination with these islands which in 1983  he wrapped in miles of hot pink plastic for his Surrounded Islands art project.

One island is a popular rookery for water birds, allowing osprey, brown pelicans, white ibis, cormorants and even magnificent frigatebirds , which have impressive air filled red pouches and long forked tails, an isolated haven for safe nesting sites. Floating off at a reasonable distance as not to disturb them, I powered up my recorder and shotgun mic to record their raucous clamoring.

I’m not a birder, but I could distinguish the throaty clack-clack-clak of the cormorants and the angry screeching of a great blue heron. And with headphones it sounded like I was deep into a far off wilderness. Well, for about 60 seconds ... off in the distance I heard an airplane, a jet coming closer and louder, finally a roar in my ears. I waited for it to go away, and started recording again. Less than a minute later, another jet.

I quickly realized Miami International Airport was sending flights almost exactly every minute off over Biscayne Bay, and on top of me and the rookery, as the wind was coming inland from the Atlantic Ocean. And soon I picked up the mile off go fast boats, roaring up and down the Intracoastal Waterway , and then a propeller plane pulling a sign that read “I luv u Amy, will you marry me? Omar.”

What the heck, I decided to incorporate the jets into a sound clip, plus some peaceful wind blowing through island palm trees and water lapping on shore, recorded in the 30 seconds of relative silence between jets. It's 1:30 long.

By the time I left the rookery, the wind was blowing with light chop and rain squalls were passing over the bay. I headed for a more southern island, and hugging the shore, I turned a bend and was startled by a pelican less than a paddle length away. He was sitting just above the water on a mangrove branch. I said “hello”, and moved off not wanting to disturb it. But about 100 yards down the island, it struck me that something did not seem right. Pelicans always fly away from large orange kayaks.

I turned around and paddled back, approaching the pelican again and looking closely I could see it was thoroughly tied down with fishing line. I could even see a lead sinker half an inch across.  Carelessly discarded fishing tackle is a major threat to pelicans in Florida, as they can swallow baited hooks or be caught during a cast. In May I photographed Wendy Fox, the Executive Director of the Pelican Harbor Seabird Station for The Chronicle of Philanthropy, and I had seen dozens of injured and recuperating pelicans at their facility just a couple of miles up the bay from this poor fellow.

I knew from watching Wendy teach an intern how to handle pelicans that I did not have the special skills to catch a wild bird with a 10 foot wing span, and I certainly had no veterinary expertise. But this spot was in water about two feet deep so little small boat traffic passed by, and I had to do something. No telling how long it had been trapped, it could be starving to death for all I knew. I paddled over to the mangrove in the choppy water, and the pelican flapped and spun around on it’s fishing line tether. 

I cursed not carrying a knife with me, but I was wearing paddling gloves, so I figured I could at least break the line. With the bird squawking and throwing it’s beak about, I noticed a brass clip holing an 18 inch leader to a large hook caught deep into the center of his back. Bad luck for the bird, good luck for me as it was an easy fix, and the moment the bird felt the tension release, it flapped off into the water under  thick mangroves.

I really didn’t want to capture the bird and paddle it to the Seabird Station, but I had to make sure it wasn’t half dead. I beached the kayak, crawled under the mangroves, shooing the bird into open water, where it flew off. I was relieved to see it seemed vigorous, and hopefully the hook could remain in it’s back without harming him for the rest of his life.

I gladly joined the large club of Florida boaters who have rescued sea birds, and paddled off looking for more sounds to record, wondering if Amy took Omar up on his proposal.

Here's a link to more Miami multimedia photography.