Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Urban Aurora

I don't usually name my pictures (although it is occasionally tempting) because I prefer to leave them as an image only. If you see stark hard shadows where I imagine the intricate delicacy of light, then the magic is working.
As I said, however, I do go out on a whim sometimes, like now. The name for this picture came unbidden at around 8ish this evening as I focused on an ethereal glow on the horizon. At first, all I could see was a few inexplicable white wisps, but then I blinked a few times, got used to the cool  (and mostly) dark night sky and then dashed downstairs to grab my camera. Luckily it was still there when I got back up, and I was able to capture this -

The Urban Aurora

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sharp Shooter website and facebook page

I was happy to happen upon the Sharp Shooter facebook page a moment ago. It has the teams' best photos and links to the Sharp Shooter show website. On there they have details of the locations and contestant profiles and websites. So I believe those wish-list items have now been ticked off, thank you.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Light-writing my name!

More firework magic - light-writing my name on Diwali. It would have been naive to expect my sparkler-air-writing to be any less unacceptable than my just pen-paper-writing.

If you don't know how to do this - it's quite simple; all you need is a tripod and a camera that has at least the shutter-speed priority function. Set it to 15+ seconds with fairly low ISO sensitivity, start the timer and start writing!

Sharp Shooter Pilot - "Heroes"

So the first episode of Sharp Shooter just finished, and I am impressed. The feature-length pilot introduced the show, setting the stage for the first photography reality show. Somehow they were able to take photography, which is reasonably exciting for those so inclined, and give it a breathtaking spin of excitement and tension. I admit I found it strange that the host, Craig Urbani, spoke the words of photography as if he were describing say, The Amazing Race, or Survivor. It took some getting used to, but the fast paced cinematics, overly enthusiastic lens-flare and tension laden commentary soon grew on me and lent the contest the edge that kept me interested for all one and a half hours.

The contestants, amateur and professional alike, will face photography challenges ranging far outside their strengths and have their talents pushed to the limit in the search of the best shot.  For the pilot episode, the fifteen contestants were split into three teams of five and given photography tasks centred around the theme 'Heroes'. Their assigned names Optical, Aperture and Exposure were a bit cheesy - so be it. They met at a firefighting training ground and were given three sub-themes- Inferno, Vertigo and Backdraft. They had to work as a team of individual photographers, taking their cameras to the middle of firefighting exercises, to find that one moment that best captured their theme and the epitome of a Hero.

I do have a few criticisms about the show, the most significant being the lack of publicity. I happened to see the link on the MNet facebook page to a short article describing the show, and immediately went in search of the fan page for the show. There was none, and still is not. It is as if the producers have no idea of the power of social networking or have chosen to actively forgo this powerful tool. I found the onscreen text to be very short lived and hard to read, and so I missed the artistic preference of each of the contestants. I would also like to see their work before the show, and their entry submissions, so I can judge how well they deal with areas outside their comfort zones.

Once they had their shots, they had half an hour in 'The Lab' (oh, the theatrics) to select what they believed to be their team's best shot to be submitted to the judges  (Jenni Button, Josie Borain and Bryan Traylor. In addition, the team leader would choose one picture from each member to be placed on a collage. In an unwelcome twist (because it introduced uncertainty in rules that weren't yet familiar) the judges decided that the teams had not chosen their best shots and so no one team had lost - they all had. I assume that under normal circumstances, one team would face the loss of a member, whereas here, two people were eliminated. I suppose that counts as a criticism, the rules are fairly straightforward, but were presented in rapid-fire mode which made the twist hard to appreciate.

Their equipment was drool-worthy; each aspiring sharp shooter was given a Nikon D5000 and the promise of more specialised equipment as the tasks demand. That was slightly disappointing, in my opinion, because I pride myself on my point-and-shoot and compact photography and hoped they'd be tested by less than professional equipment. I specifically forfeited the chance to own a DSLR in favour of a camera I could fit in my pocket. It's a choice I often doubt, even regret, but more often I am glad of the portability of my amazing superzoom SX210is.

I suppose I had hoped, but it seems unlikely, that the photographers would be handed point and shoots, or even camera phones and be expected to produce winning shots. A lot of the time it seemed like they weren't using the true power of a DSLR and simply clicking wildly away, caught up in the panic of the moment, trusting in the power of the D5000 to get them that perfect shot. For some, this did not work as was seen in some of the overexposed or badly composed shots. I know from experience that the limits of a point and shoot force one to be more creative or innovative in achieving the desired shot, and there are extensive forums for those who create art with their phones. Perhaps a task like that would prove most challenging for those who desire absolute control and predictability from their camera.

I am glad to see an exciting take on photography, it could have been very, very dry. Lens-flares aside, the cinematography is good, and the format keeps things fresh. I'm surprised that this is a world first, but I guess everything has to start somewhere, so why not here. Perhaps this will take hold, there are certainly enough photographers out there, it seems, who would be keen to take part in it. I know I would love to get stuck into these. I would probably be out of my depth, and I'd have to learn how to use DSLR on the job, but hey, it looks exhilarating.

So as far as first impressions go, this one fared well. My gripes are really minor and I'm stoked for next week.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Sharp Shooter South Africa

On Wednesday, I was pleasantly surprised to see a photographer hunkered down patiently over a patch of flowers outside the Wits Great Hall. I know I am fairly unusual for carrying my camera in my pocket literally at all times, but sometimes I feel like there aren't any photographers around.

It is for this reason that I was ecstatic to hear about Sharp Shooter: South Africa. Tomorrow, MNet will  broadcast the debut episode of a South African first: a photography reality show. The show promises to present an entirely new kind of reality, that seen through the beloved lens. I read up about it here earlier this week, and needless to say, I'm pretty amped to see where it goes:

"In Sharp Shooter, 15 photographers are chosen from all walks of life - from amateurs to professionals, students to housewives. The show reveals how the contestants match their photographic and interpersonal skills across a wide range of photographic disciplines – fashion, abstract, product and destination photography. The cinematic treatment of the show makes it different to anything ever seen before, and takes “reality” to a totally new level."

My photography is purely amateur. At some point, I picked up my first point and shoot, fell in love with the beautiful light and never looked back. I subscribe to a South African photography magazine (Pix) and follow the pictures of my photographer friends, learning from their experiences as well as my own. I am therefore interested to see how more experienced amateur and professional photographers work when given real tasks. I want to see how they interpret a scene, make choices, both in the moment and in the digital dark-room, and express their impression of the world.
It's a strange and exciting idea; I hope they pull it off - it's always nice to see photographers doing their thing.

Sharp Shooter: South Africa airs on MNet at 17:30 tomorrow (Sunday, 7th November)

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Ring of Fire

Diwali firework magic this evening with a giant sparkler. That's me in my luminous red/orange shirt.

Diwali lights

Monday, November 1, 2010

Is it a sun-dog? Is it a parhelic? No, it's a 22° halo!

Between about 9 and 11 this morning, an eerie glowing ring appeared around the sun, and brought Wits (and Joburg) to a halt as they gazed upwards in wonder.

The 22º Halo in the sky over the Wits Physics and Biology buildings.
The physics department was disgorged onto the concourse to stare at the spectacle.
And the dangers of looking into the sun be damned.
'A 22° halo is a circle at 22° around the sun, or occasionally the moon. It forms as sunlight is refracted in hexagonal ice crystals suspended in the atmosphere. As the light beam passes through two sides of the prism, the angle of minimum deviation is almost 22°. This wavelength-dependent variation in refraction causes the inner edge of the circle to be reddish while the outer edge is bluish.'

Apparently, Venus was visible as a tiny red dot passing over the sun during the halo.
I couldn't see it, and a camera can only do so much, so here's a strelitzia passing in front of the sun instead.
Floating in the sky above the Biology and Oppenheimer Life-sciences buildings
Above the Wits Great Hall.
A classic halo shot.
This one gives you a true sense of how large and looming the halo was. Pretty cool to watch people when they first saw it - a moment of shock, a stumble to halt, and then wonder and wasted hours of ruined retinas.

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