Sunny, 22 Degrees, Northwest Wind 5 – 10 mph.
I watched the sun rise slowly from the comfort of my bed this morning. My wife Lisa is off most Fridays so I stay in bed a little later and enjoy the warmth of her body against mine. The sky slowly changed from a dusky gray blue with touches of purple and magenta on the puffy clouds to a more saturated blue with orange clouds and finally to a light cerulean blue with white clouds tinged with orange and yellow.
I lay there thinking that I should be photographing this beautiful sunrise, but it was already too late to capture it so I stayed in bed and made vague promises to get up earlier in the future. The temperatures remain cold. With the persistent Northwest wind, cold air comes down from Canada, keeping us in the freezer. It won’t warm up until the wind clocks around to the South and Southwest.
I’m getting really excited about the approach of spring. It is still cold, but nature is moving now and it’s only a matter of time before the temperatures moderate and leaves starting bursting forth everywhere. Yesterday, when I was walking Jamie later in the day, I came across a tree branch that had been broken by the heavy snow earlier this month. On the end of every single twig, there was an inch or so of new growth with three little buds on it. You can see this is growth that has happened this year by the color of the bark on these little twigs. It’s distinctly different from the rest of the branch.
It amazes me that there is new growth on the trees even when the temperatures have been consistently below freezing at night and only slightly above during the day. I absolutely love seeing these things that I suspect most people have no idea about. Any artist, but perhaps especially a photographer, will notice these things; especially if they are involved artistically with nature and probably even if they are not.
From here until the end of April, there’s going to be a headlong rush toward spring. I don’t want to miss any of it. I want to photograph the forest as the delicate new leaves emerge. It’s such a subtle and beautiful change. Given the long periods of relatively unchanging summer and winter, the bursting forth of spring is a precious time for everyone here, but especially for me and this project.
It is almost impossible to overstate the power and importance of spring to us northerners. It’s important to everyone, but in warm climates it can’t possibly have the power that it has for us. After a long harsh winter with little light and very little color, all of a sudden we are freed to go outside in comfort and drink in the delicate softness of spring. All that tender green and mild, moist spring air is a huge pleasure and relief for us.
I am anticipating that I’m going to be doing a lot of photography during this period. I am already planning to go to some other places nearby that have a different character from the woods I walk every day. That will mean more than one photography session a day but, as I said, I don’t want to miss any part of this transition. And I may actually get my butt out of bed early more or stay out later in the evening in order to capture the delicacy of the season in the soft light of early and late in the day.
I’m really excited about delving deeply into nature again. I’m also very pleased that this project has awakened my old passion for photography. Before I began this I had barely touched a camera for years. I even found it a little challenging to get myself to pull out my camera gear and start shooting again. Now, I can’t wait.
With the blue sky and sunshine, I decided not to shoot any more overhead branches today. I don’t like the darkness of the blue background or the sunlight on the high branches. I’ll wait for a cloudier day. I decided to shoot more tree bark today. I looked more closely at my earlier bark photos and could see that my Canon, with its full frame sensor shoots with such shallow depth of field that too much of the bark is blurred. I don’t mind a little blur at the periphery, but the Canon does much more than that, even at fairly small apertures.
The pictures I took with the Sony, on the other hand, have much more depth of field. This is the result of the crop factor of the smaller sensor. The image circle of the lens falls far outside the sensor on these cameras so you’re really only seeing the center of the full image. This is what causes the multiplier on their lenses. A 50mm lens on this Sony becomes a 75mm equivalent and it retains much more depth of field. This can be a negative with these cameras, but in this case it’s a real advantage for me.
So, I took the Sony NEX 7 and a 50mm prime lens that should be sharper than the zooms I have. This limited what I could do, but I only had bark in mind. This small camera is very hard to hold steadily when shooting freehand, as I did again today. I just didn’t want to mess with a tripod when I knew I would be making a lot of moves up and down the trunks and making small changes to framing. Having to move a tripod every time I did that would be a pain in the neck and I was sure I would get fewer and less well framed shots as a result.
To compensate for the likely likelihood of motion blur due to the small camera and marginal shutter speeds, I used a technique I’ve used before. Instead of taking a single shot and hoping it was sharp, I set the camera up to refocus continuously and pressed and held the shutter down for three frames of each composition. In this way, I am not pressing the shutter for each frame, a major source of camera movement. The camera re-focuses for each frame, so if my body moves between frames, the camera re-adjusts. The hope is that one of the three frames will be sharp.
It’s shocking how much movement there is when you’re standing up and shooting something up close like this. I’m no more than a foot from the subject, so any movement translates to big movements in the frame. I was sometimes standing, sometimes crouching, sometimes standing with my feet wide apart to lower my viewpoint. In every case, I seemed to wobble and drift from side to side a lot. I hope the camera was able to freeze that motion. We will see when I look at the photos.
I’m developing more affection for this little camera the more I use it. The first time I used it, I dismissed it entirely as a useless camera. The viewfinder seemed so poor to me that I felt I could not use it for serious photography. But it’s really hard to resist the tiny size of this camera. It’s a nice little piece of hardware and it hangs at my side with no weight or bulk at all. I am learning to deal with the viewfinder better, though it’s still not great. You must center your eye perfectly in the tiny viewfinder opening to get a decent quality image.
I’m actually considering buying another lens for the camera, a lighter weight longer focal length zoom. I have a decent quality all in one zoom, but the thing is huge and heavy. It’s probably a much better lens than the one I’m looking at, but it weighs almost twice as much and is longer and larger in diameter. With the tiny size of the camera body, a big heavy lens just feels wrong.