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Black, red and notes

So, I’m on the jury for this rock contest (I’m the not.musician person on it) and last night I brought my camera too and had a little fun with. I basically had little to no idea about what I was doing because it was the first time shooting this kind of event: I took a couple of pics using the built-in flash, then I cranked up the ISO up to 1600 (sadly the max my aging 350D goes), fixed the aperture at 2.8 and went for it. As a lens I used the 60mm macro, which is the fastest one in my kit and of course I kept wishing I had something faster. And a bit shorter too, especially when the local bands where performing and there was no way to take the full stage in with all the people pressing toward it. Anyway, these are some of the results of the night. White balance was kinda of a pain, I went through adjusting it in DPP but then I realized that stuff actually glowed with the colors of the lights (lots of reds and yellows). Why should I adjust it, if that’s what they looked like? So, I did and didn’t. It’s a thing.

First, equipment:

Then, those who use it:

Finally an…experiment:

Light pollution, you say?

You know how they tell you about the terrible light pollution that denies the stars to the modern human and all you think about is how crappy half of the street lamps in your town are? Well, no more. Either the Universe has dramatically accelerated its expansion and we’re way closer to the Big Freeze, or light pollution is really stealing our stars.

Last night, after about a week waiting for a clear sky, I set up to shoot the stars from my balcony. It was a bust. Oh, I did learn a few things, one being there’s way too much bleeding light coming from street lamps and houses, to get enough stars to appear in a pleasing way. Also, I did manage to experiment a lot with exposures and full manual controls and I have a clearer idea on how to get pointy stars or trailing stars. I wasn’t expecting to get good or even decent pictures the first time around, but the lack of stars showing up or how dimmed most of them looked even with very long exposures (tried everything from mere seconds to over an hour) was disappointing. So, I have a lot of reading and a lot of practice ahead of me, but the latter will wait until the first weekend in the country where hopefully the sky will be more vivid.

Resetting the cuteness scale

So here’s shamelessly stealing a Buffy line once again, but it seems appropriate: not only this little guy resembles Miss Kitty Fantastico in appearance, but the cuteness of him and his brothers and sisters really is off the scale. This is what a kitty looks like at 3 days old:

No idea what to name them yet, but I’m leaning toward Echo, Sierra, Victor, November and Tango. Or possibly Topher. Here’s an unconventional (?) shot of the mom:

I have to say I think all this black in the pictures led to some interesting results, even though shooting such dark subjects was a bit of a pain.

Fun in the country

So I spent most of Easter day in the countryside, hunting for bugs and exploring the advantages of using a tripod. I think my favorite and I guess also the best result of the day was this butterfly, incidentally the first butterfly ever I've managed to shoot. This was handheld, with the 70-200 at 200mm, 1/1000 f5:
Then there was this tiny, tiny and frankly adorable snail, I’m guessing a very young one rather than a small kind. Not that it matters. I pp this a bit to bring out the greenness. Shot with the 60mm on the tripod, 1/25, f13:

By this point I was experiencing first hand some of the basics how-tos and books usually cover about macro photography. First of all: bugs are twitchy. They don’t especially like to have their picture taken. This is where a longer macro lens (or longer lens anyway) would be a better choice. But the only other (sort of) macro lens I own is my old Tamron 70-300 that can double as a 180-300 macro lens. It’s not really true macro and can’t compete in any way, shape or alternate reality with the sharpness and the optical quality of the Canon 60mm. So for the time being, I’ll settle to upset bugs and lose some pictures in the process. A longer macro lens to hunt insects is quite far down of my shopping list at the moment. Speaking of bugs, I have no idea what this one is, but it’s not of the twitchy variety and calmly sat on this daisy (if it’s a daisy, I’m not too clear on that), allowing me to try out different settings. First, a relative small aperture (f11 1/125):
Next, the same picture but wide open (f2.8 1/2000):

I’m not sure which one I like best. Maybe the third one I didn’t shoot, with an aperture in between these two (f5 maybe?).

Moving on: for the first time in a long time I missed the vari-angle lcd of my beloved Powershot S1. Live view surely would have helped while the cam was on the tripod but I really, really hope Canon (and the other makers too, but I shoot Canon, so that’s what I care more about) will add a vari-angle screen to its future DSLRs as well.
 
Among the reasons to use a tripod for this kind of photography that I’ve found spot-on: the ability to use the lowest ISO setting without worrying too much about blurred pictures due to slow shutter speed. Well, unless it’s really dark and/or really windy. Manual focus can really make a difference: too bad I suck at it. I blame the small viewfinder of the 350D. And my less than 20/20 eyesight. And my glasses. Plenty of scapegoats, I like it!
 
Other random observations: using a tripod can be really slow work, though it’s possible the 3way head isn’t the best for macros. The iPod Touch can be really useful to take notes. And something must really be seriously wrong with the environment because there were much fewer bugs around than I thought there would be. Maybe it’s still too early in the spring. Or maybe it’s because this time I went actively looking for them instead of trying to avoid and running from them.

So, this thing can embed videos?

Just for the heck of it, since I'd never done it before (and probably will never do it again), here's 30 seconds (or possibly 45) of the new kittens, born just last Friday. Shot with a photocam, not a videocam, and then converted to a more reasonable size with a nifty little app I used to make vidz for the iPod.

video

What's in a tripod?

 
So today the courier came and went and left the newest addition to my gear: a Manfrotto tripod, specifically the 728b model. The model in question has just been discontinued by Manfrotto, who has launched a brand new line of lightweight, multipurpose tripods geared toward entry level dsrl users (people like me, in short).
 
Why didn't I get the newest model, then? Well, the 728b doesn't look noticeably different, same type of build, same material (aluminum), same unremovable head (it's a 3way head). It's slightly heavier (but the max load is exactly the same) but about 20 cm taller at its full height. I can comfortably place the camera to my eye-level without having to spread the tripod to its full height. Which I think should translate to better stability in those conditions.
 
Hopefully tonight the weather will be nice enough for me to start dabbling into shooting the night-sky. Rebuilding my homemade light-box for some indoor macro fun comes next.

Star Trek XI

Yup, I'm a big nerd. What else is new?

I've been catching up to The Big Bang Theory this week and it strikes me how much I get and actually have in common with Sheldon. Aside from the fact that he's a brilliant physicist and I am... neither.

But I share many of his idiosyncrasies (now that's disturbing) and even though a napkin stained and signed by Leonard Nimoy wouldn't render me speechless with geeky joy, I can see myself dressing up as a Starfleet officer at a Reinassance fair pretending to investigate some primitive alien planet. I would quickly don a period costume, though, hiding my Starfleet uniform and combadge under it: I mean, I wouldn't want to violate the Prime Directive, you know.
 
I do spend a few minutes choosing the best possible seat in a theater (but not for the acoustics: my goal is a perfect, centered view of the screen/stage and comfortable leg room), can be awfully particular about my food if I don't check myself and consider staying home reading, watching tv, playing videogames or just goofing on the 'net a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend a Friday night. Or any other night, for that matter.
 
The show, btw, is really hilarious and totally worth watching, any day or night of the week. Besides, people breaking up because one supports String theory and the other Loop quantum gravity? On TV? Check those quantum signatures, we may have switched to a parallel universe.