Search this website by keyword
Category Archives: Nashville
I admit I have mixed feelings about zoos. Given the choice, I’d much rather see the animal in it’s natural habitat doing the natural animal thing. Having said that, our family has had many enjoyable outings at the Nashville Zoo. We have had a family membership for several years now and have made all the usual mistakes made by most other zoo attendees. “Hey, it’s the third week of June, it’s sunny and 11:00 AM. Let’s go to the zoo!” Yeah, you and everyone else.
1st mistake: Unless you love crowds more than the animals, going at the same time of year as everyone else is going to lead to crowds, lines, and stress. Think of the zoo when most people don’t. Middle Tennessee does have four distinct seasons; but most days, even in winter, the highs are 40 degrees F or better. There are so many more days that are conducive to going to the zoo when you think of it this way (of course if you are in Maine or Siberia, your zoo season may be much more limited).
Also make note of the natural habitat of the creature you wish to see/photograph. If their home range is the tropics, you might do well to visit them during the summer months. If they are limited to the northern hemisphere, a February visit may be more productive for observing them in a more active state.
2nd mistake: Sure, we all seem to be more perky when the sun is out. Unfortunately, the camera does not love harsh sunlight as much as we do. Our eyes can handle significantly more dynamic contrast range, the range of light to dark, than cameras can. On a sunny day the range between the sunlit areas and the shadows is more extreme than on overcast days. Our eyes can compensate, but the camera doesn’t. It may be counter-intuitive, but as a general rule cloudy days are better for photos. So don’t wait for a sunny day to go to the zoo. Besides, some animals may be more accessible on cloudy days (they’re not hiding in the shade).
3rd mistake: Did you ever notice that the “cats” always seem to be laying around doing nothing when you see them at the zoo? Ever stop to think that they might be nocturnal? If you want to catch these species while they still have a little life in them, be there when the doors open and go straight to the cat exhibits. You’ll avoid the crowds and have a chance at catching the critters playing, running around, and being generally “animated”.
So how do I know all this? As much as I’d like to take credit for thinking this all out on my own, some of the information I gleaned from taking a couple of zoo photography courses from the Nashville Zoo emeritus photographer Christian Sperka. But to prove that I have taken my own advice to heart, I took the photo of the Red Panda above this past Sunday (super bowl Sunday). We went just after the zoo opened. On all our previous visits, the pandas had always been just lying about. This time they were up, active, and interesting. When I took this photo, besides us there were only about 8 to 10 people in the entire zoo.
For the techies, this shot was using the following parameters:
- Canon 5D Mark II
- 70-200mm F/4L IS @ 165mm (this is a time I wish I had the f/2.8 version of this lens)
- f/4 @ 1/125 sec (shoot wide open to blur the backgrounds– besides, you’ll need the light, especially since you’ll use a telephoto lens that requires faster shutter speeds)
- ISO 3200 (again, you need the light. and the 5D MkII sensor has pretty low noise at this ISO– you can probably even get away with this setting on Rebels made in the last couple of years)
- Center point focus on AI Servo setting
- White Balance: Shade
- Limited post production in Photoshop Lightroom 4
As promised, I have posted a new Nashville photos gallery on the Gallery page (see link below). Some of these are the result of quick shots with my G11 point-n-shoot. Others came from shoots that I did with my 40D. Several of the 40D shots were as a result of shoots that I have done on my birthday over the last couple of years (it has become a tradition for me to spend the day wandering around downtown just to see what I could come up with). Since my birthday is in January, spending all day wandering around downtown can be a challenge some years. Maybe I should do some place like Miami next year.
We just went to the Chihuly exhibits at the Frist Museum and Cheekwood. The works were pretty impressive in scale, volume and detail. Obviously a massive amount of effort went into these exhibits.
I must say that when I saw the documentary showing how the works were created, I had to rethink my impression of the solo artist involved in a herculean effort. Apparently Chihuly himself doesn’t do the hands-on labor anymore (after he lost vision in one eye). He produces drawings and two-dimensional abstractions using techniques reminiscent of Jackson Pollack. The final works were created by a very talented team of glassblowers interpreting his drawings/paintings. The coordination of the team is entertaining to watch. It’s almost like a band or a team of athletes playing together.
It was also rather fun to watch the people interacting with the artworks. The way the strong light rimmed the edges of the profile of this admirer caught my eye as much as the work itself. Even though you can see little more than the outline of this individual, you can sort of get a feel for the emotion of the interaction.
Happy Labor Day.
I’m working on posting a new Nashville gallery to the website. I’m not quite there yet, but I wanted to give an update anyway. I took the photo above on Fifth Avenue between Church and Union Streets. This Walgreens store, and many other retail outlets on Fifth Avenue at the time, was a site of the sit-ins in 1960 as a result of the Woolworths lunch counter incident. Subsequent to the multiple sit-ins and the resulting violence, then mayor Ben West agreed that lunch counters in Nashville should be desegregated. I have no idea what the point was of the metal silhouettes in the photo. But, although they appeared “white” to me somehow, they seemed oddly representational of the past events.
For some reason the silhouettes have been removed. If someone can provide some insight into their original intent or why they were removed, please leave a comment.
On my birthday, this past January, I took the day off to spend photographing. It was windy and colder than hell (irony), so I bundled up and caught the 7:00 AM train for downtown (Nashville). One subject that I was dying to photograph was the interior of the downtown Presbyterian Church. I hadn’t been inside before, but I had seen a couple of photos of the Egyptian revivalist structure that were intriguing enough to peak my interest.
Although I arrived downtown in time for the good morning light, what I found was a feature-less gray sky that’s great for portraiture– not so great for cityscape shots. So I got all of them out of the way early.
I took the obligatory shots on the Shelby Street pedestrian bridge (I processed it in black and white with the hope that someone might mistake it for art).
Then I followed with a shot of the Nashville skyline that was so cliched I’m surprised there weren’t marks showing where to place your tripod legs. The shot was so dull that I had to jack it up in post production.
This puppy is more over-produced than an old Barry Manilow album.
I proceeded to the Schermerhorn Symphony Center with the hopes of grabbing some sublime shots worthy of any great photographer’s portfolio. I was fairly pleased with a few of them.
It was after spending about an hour there that I noticed the sign stating that photographs of the Center are for personal use only and not to be used for commercial purposes. Great, let’s move on.
So I went to Dunn Bros. to grab a tea (iced, no sugar) where I noticed the Head Honcho of the downtown Presbyterian Church (no, that’s probably not his official clerical title; and yes, I knew him from his picture next to an article he wrote in the local newspaper). I screwed up my courage and asked him if I could be allowed to photograph the interior of the church. He said to just enter from the side door. I entered the church unceremoniously and was directed to the sanctuary by a very pleasant lady who may well have been the true keeper of the domain.
What passed then was about an hour of mostly uninterrupted accessibility to this fascinating interior. I shot it from just about every angle I could imagine using every technique I knew. Then, I let the photos sit in my computer incubating until today (I sometimes have to put a little distance between the shoot and the post production just for the sake of creativity– it’s like making kimchee). This is the first result.
As this is my first pass on this shot, I welcome your comments, good or bad. Actually, I always welcome your comments.
Geek Spoiler Alert: if you want to dedicate the next month or so of your life to figure out all of the steps taken to produce this image, do not read the following technical explanation. Also, if you are not a geek, you probably won’t be interested.
The interior of the church is a high contrast environment that didn’t lend itself well to single exposures. The image above is an HDR (High Dynamic Range) Panorama. Using a tripod, I shot 4 different views at three different exposures. In post production, I merged the three exposures of each view using the batch operation in Photomatix (that way I knew each view was processed using the exact same HDR settings). I stitched together the four resulting HDR images in Photoshop CS4, opened the final stitched image in CS4, copied the background layer, filtered the copied layer in Topaz Adjust and tweaked the Adjust settings to bring out the details a little better. Then, I created a layer mask, filled it with black to eliminate the Topaz adjustments, and used a white foreground brush to bring the adjustments back into the areas of greatest interest– the pulpit area and the two crosses. Finally, I opened the edited image in Photoshop Lightroom 2 and tweaked the general and local exposures, color balance, and selective sharpening.
Whew. Yeah, that was a lot of work just to make the photo proximate what I saw and felt in that place. But I learned a lot in the process.