Happy Birthday, Karen – Waiting for the Tsunami

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Birthdays are terrific excuses for a party up at Blueblood. In fact, we need no excuse at all. Since there are now facilities for sleeping over, Eunie and I went up on Saturday afternoon for a small party to celebrate Karen Simmons birthday. Since I am still sick as a dog and didn’t feel much like partying hard, I fooled around with my Canon G11 camera to see how far I could stretch it. It proved to be fairly flexible.

For instance, here’s a passable shot taken of the party makers around the picnic table by candle light only:

I think that I shot this at ISO 1600 and it took a 1/4 second exposure. I had to give the “hold still” warning, but the shot did turn out nicely. I should mention that I had the camera mounted on a tripod, as with all of the rest of these shots. I like the shot. It has just the right mood and the lighting is very realistic. Not bad for a camera that sells for a little over US$400.

This shot might fool you, at first. It looks like a poor-quality image from a cell phone. However, if you consider that it was exposed only by the light of a full moon shining through clouds, it takes on a whole new aspect:

I shot it from the balcony overhanging the first floor (second floor for Yanks – the ground floor is called the ground floor by Australians – the next one up is the first floor). Believe it or not, this image was taken at ISO 80 for fifteen seconds. Therefore, it had practically no noise and was more or less perfect as it came from the camera. The long exposure accounts for the glassy water.

Here’s another one take from the beach level: You can clearly see Kar Kar Island  in the distance:

Since the giant earthquake in Chile was on everybody’s mind and we had no idea when or if a giant tsunami would engulf us, the party had a bit of a fatalistic flavour to it. “Wonder when it will get here?” “How big do you reckon it might be?” were popular topics of conversation.

Here is a similar shot taken after we lit the bonfire. You can see the firelight illuminating the sterns of Lying Dog  and Sanguma,  which were, here at about midnight, already beached by the low tide:

I noted a crazy thing which I had never even considered as I was shooting these long exposures. The night sky is not  black as it appears to our eyes. It is just as blue as it is in the day time, but it is very, very dark, so our eyes can’t see it. Below a certain light level, everything is just shades of grey to our eyes, even though colour still remains in the scene. It’s because our colour light receptors drop out of the data stream once the light level is low enough. They just don’t respond.

This shot is amusing, but I reckoned that I could do better:

Though the sparks are interesting (I had Rich Jones poking the fire to make more), the flames were badly overexposed and I lost all the detail.

This one turned out much better:

Moving away from the fire improved the shot. It’s a long exposure, so the flames are blurry, but the image is much more pleasing;

I couldn’t end this without showing you this lovely shot of Jenn Miller taken only by moonlight and the flames of the dwindling bonfire:

It’s not perfect, because it’s very difficult to hold perfectly still for four seconds, but it clicks for me. I’m very happy with it.

The tsunami never arrived. This is just as well, as we had no plans to go anywhere.

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14 Responses to “Happy Birthday, Karen – Waiting for the Tsunami”

  1. Ron Barrons Says:

    Jan – I really like the “interesting” sparks. I’ll be looking for an opportunity to try my luck at the same. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Tris Says:

    Love it Jan- those long exposures are awesome. I’d never considered the blue-sky thing at night- so true! Looks just like daylight. The first bonfire shot is awesome- sure, the fire’s overexposed but the sparks are brilliant. Really love your work man. You do good work with that G11.

  3. MadDog Says:

    Ron, I think that you can really have some fun with that. I think that the secret lies in hiding as much of the bright flames as possible with unburt wood so that you get only the reflection of the fire against the logs and the sparks themsleves. I’m certainly going to try it again. A long exposure is the key to getting the background to come out. You have to get someone to poke the fire to get enough sparks. The stick gets motion-blurred, so it doesn’t show.

    If you get some nice images, please send them along for a guest shoot.

  4. MadDog Says:

    Thanks so much, Tris. I take that as high praise from someone with your skills. It’s amusing to learn to work within the limits of a high-end consumer camera. You’re always up agains that tiny little sensor!

    I’ll soon be making an announcement which will change the whole situation. I think that you’ll be highly amused. I’m waiting until I have a contract in hand to let the cat out of the bag. Finally, somebody noticed me!

    I agree – the blue sky at midnight surprised the heck out of me. Do you suppose there’s enough diffused starlight or is it simply a reflection of the moonlight off of the clouds back into the atmosphere? Weird, eh? Maybe someone will comment and dispell the mystery. I swear, I didn’t do a thing to produce it. It was just there when I opened the files in Photoshop.

  5. Tris Says:

    Jan, what I like about the blue sky shots I think is the clouds and the way it looks like a normal cloudy day. You’ve used a short exposure time (a few seconds I guess)- rather than what I do which is to leave the shutter running for half an hour or so- which blurs the clouds out (if there are any). In this shot (25 minute exposure) I’ve gotten a blue sky and you can see the mountains look as they would in daylight:


    The blue sky thing is exactly what you said in your initial post- it’s exactly the same colour as it is when the sun is in the sky (blue)- only the reduction in the amount of light means that it appears darker. Colour in sky (you don’t need me to tell you this) is all about how photons refract in the atmosphere (based on angle of rays hitting said atmosphere). The moon is basically one giant mirror reflecting the sun’s rays back onto earth while the sun itself is behind the earth, so the actual composition of the light is identical (or near enough) to sunlight, just reduced intensity- i.e. full-spectrum white light. Ergo same colours in the sky- when we leave the shutter running long enough, we effectively end up with daylight equivalent images (with some funky differences)- a fun game.

    Re: starlight- I don’t think diffuse startlight is going to be quite the same as the light our sun gives- it will vary according to the age and chemical composition of the star (young stars- light from bluer end of spectrum, old stars, redder light) and also whether the star is moving towards or away from us (doppler effect and blue/red shift).

    Right, I’m taking my cosmo-nerd cap off now to wish you happy snapping and take more cool night-shots- love ’em! Look forward to your news.

  6. larian Says:

    In the event of flooding I hope you put the Harley on high ground. You could have sent it to australia i would have looked after it. Nothing like a beach, moonlight and Merlot mmmmmuh mmmmmmmm

  7. MadDog Says:

    Sheesh, man! Why didn’t I think of that? Of course, you are right. The moon, being more less reflective of what we see as “white light” is going to act like a very faint sun on a full-moon night. So, If you can hide it behind some clouds so it doesn’t just overwhelm the sensor with photons, and still let some “clear” sky through between the clouds, of course the sky is going to look as blue as it does in the day time, given a long enough exposure. Fifteen seconds is as long as I can get from my G11 and it has no “hold the shutter open until I tell you to close it” option.

    I’ve seen that star-circle shot on your site before – magnificent!

    One thing that I’m going to try out is some “stacking” of exposures. Of course, if anything is moving, it wont’ work, but If I can hook up my camera to a usb cable and computer control it, I could force continual 15 second exposures and then stack as many as I want together to get the same effect . . . I think.

    Have you done any HDR stuff? I’ve tried it and been mostly disappointed. One thing I do want to try is focus stacking. I see there are some cool programs to find the “most focused” areas and choose only them to add to the stack. I’ve seen some shots with fantastic depth of field. Macro stuff being one of my favorites, I really want to try it.

    So many fun things to do – so little time to do them.

  8. MadDog Says:

    Larian, the Harley was as safe as anything would be in Madang, which is on a peninsula, the highest point being maybe 10 meters above mean sea level. I’m sure you would take good care of my Harley if I sent it to you. It would, however, make it a little difficult for me to ride it.

  9. Walt Says:

    The full-moon shots look great! I’ve never seen anything like that before.

  10. MadDog Says:

    Thanks, Walt. I was fairly gobsmacked myself when I started seeing them on the screen. Most took very little work in Photoshop to make them useable. I do notice now a little greenish cast that I need to go back and fix. The Canon G11 just keeps amazing me. So much for so little!

    I got the idea from a friend who used to live in PNG. He’s a terrific photographer and likes to “fiddle” like me. Here’s one of his shots: http://www.flickr.com/photos/morealtitude/2922233589/in/set-72157603387324016/

    His site is worth checking out if you like great photography and thoughtful writing. http://morealtitude.wordpress.com/ He doesn’t update daily (too busy having fun, I suspect), but when he does, it’s always a treat.

    Thanks for reading, Walt.

  11. Tris Says:

    Cheers mate. Exposure stacking is something I’ve not really gotten into- truth be told you’re much more of a digital artist than I am Jan- I develop my negatives but generally, with the exception of some high-contrast/high-saturation versions occasionally, or some b/w conversions, I generally don’t push the visual parameters too much. I’ve never tried HDR. It was a real fad about 3 years ago back in the flickr community, but got completely overdone and most people couldn’t engage with it subtley, and I never got into the software. My brother uses it now though, and to very good effect- he’s much more subtle- you can check out his site here: http://ash.clem.com.au, or his flickr stuff here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ashclements. His website is great- I’d recommend keeping an eye on it as he develops it. He just started it 3 weeks ago off a WordPress template and he puts my formatting to shame!

    I agree- too little time. I’ve been processing my photos from my trip to Tasmania last week. Spent a little time this morning before coming to the office and found myself thinking, ‘you know, I’d really like to be able to do this full-time…’ [and get paid for it]

    As for focus stacking- I’ve never even heard of it! So here I sit at your feet and wait for your enlightenment, master… 🙂

    PS- Thanks for the shout-out above mate…

  12. MadDog Says:

    I tried HDR once and did a post on it at http://www.messersmith.name/wordpress/2008/05/27/a-cool-photography-trick-that-anybody-can-do-hdr/ I was pretty happy with the result, but I didn’t shoot with a tripod, so it wasn’t as nice as it could have been. I agree that most of the HDR stuff now is just fantasy. The original purpose seems to have been forgotten. Besides, we don’t really have display devices that can reproduce the range anyway.

    Your brother’s stuff rocks. I can see that the “EYE” runs in the family.

    Ah, I hate to mention this, but I soon WILL be doing it full time and getting paid for it. I can’t say more about it now, because I don’t have a contract in hand.

    I’m definitely going to try some focus stacking. It’s just too cool to pass up.


  13. Tris Says:

    Man that’s awesome- can’t wait to hear about the contract when it comes through! And, erm, maybe slightly jealous!!! Just a little bit… I’m working on a fair-sized sale at the moment, but I doubt it’ll net me anything too exciting dollar-wise (in fact, truth be told I doubt it’ll even cover the cost of my time spent working on the images…) But mate- congratulations. I look forward to hearing details in due course.

  14. MadDog Says:

    Eunie and I met with a top manager of Moore Printing this morning and I got the job of Managing Editor (that was the title of the previous job holder, so I reckon that’s what title I’ll get) of Niugini Blue and Our Way magazines. Our Way is the in-flight magazine of Airlines PNG, which is a hook-up with Virgin Blue. They understand that I’m also keeping my position with PBT and are agreeable to that, as long as I can produce. Basically, I’ll be editing the two magazines, recruiting authors (hint to you there) and making sure that the stories are of good quality and we have a sufficient quantity of them to put together interesting issues with a broad range of subjects. I’ve already written about twenty articles for the magazines, so they know I can write. Now we have to find out if I can manage. I’ve got until the end of the year to prove myself a wonder-boy. If I can pull that off, I’m sure I’ll get a contract. Either way, it’s a terrific opportunity.