Rebecca Wilks

Rebecca Wilks; Photographer, Teacher, Yarnellian, Do-Gooder

Monday, January 27, 2014

Chicken Soup From Yarnell #4; The Win-Win

This is the fourth in a periodic series inspired by the  aftermath of the Yarnell Hill Fire.  My husband and I have a second home in Yarnell, and are moved by the cohesiveness of Yarnell and Peeples Valley and the small miracles we witness repeatedly as we rebuild.

Ken Headrick is something of an institution in Yarnell.
Hedrick with the Vermeer Chipper

He retired here from ADOT and has run a business called Yavapai Chipping for 11 years.  His father was also well-loved in town and his recent death was a great loss.

Headrick’s chipper was destroyed in the June 30, 2013 fire, and he was understandably worried about his business.  The very day the evacuation order was lifted and he realized what had happened, he was working with Vermeer Southwest on a way to make another chipper available in Yarnell.  Together they had worked out a lease arrangement which Ken says was “very reasonable,” but there was a complication.  

Yavapai County had arranged to have their grinder sent to Yarnell for the initial clean-up, which made Ken wonder about the demand for his services.  He put off presenting the lease option to the Recovery Group.

After a few weeks, though, both Vermeer Southwest and The Yarnell Hill Recovery Group had been thinking about Headrick.  The dealership wanted to help out more, and the Recovery Group wanted to support this business, which has been consistently invaluable to the community.

Vermeer Southwest donated a chipper which had been previously leased by APS and is nearly identical to the one that was destroyed. The recovery group then gave it to Ken.

Many of us remember the wide smile on the face of this often quiet man when he stood at a community meeting and thanked everyone for his new machine.

The outcome was a win-win.  Ken has his business, the donated machine is operated by someone who understands safety and maintenance concerns, and the community is getting its needs met by a local business.  

Even seven months after the fire, Hedrick says, “There’s plenty of work here.”

Thursday, January 16, 2014

It’s Better to Beg Forgiveness…

…than to ask permission (or, as a friend says, “…to lose the shot.”)

So, I was at Imaging USA (the annual meeting of Professional Photographers of America, PPA) in Phoenix earlier this week.  That’s a story in itself, so I’ll just say that cleverly hidden among the exhibits and lectures addressing portrait and wedding photography (that’s not me, as you know), there was some good stuff from business tips to technique to equipment to post-processing.

The show was at the Phoenix Convention Center, which was redone and expanded in 2008. There are some really cool things about this place, especially the views of downtown.  Monday morning, having arrived really early to beat the traffic, I was moved by predawn color on the Arizona Center Building, behind St. Mary’s Basilica.  The only camera I had was my phone, so I brought a real camera in on Tuesday to try again.

Tuesday, though, the obnoxious fluorescent light tubes were casting a gargantuan glare on the windows.  I was just trying to figure all that out when, a previously Facebook-only friend showed up.  To cut to the chase (you’re welcome), the two of us decided to get into trouble together (cue Judas Priest, “Breaking the Law”).  We set up on first one, then another emergency exit landing, propping open the door.  We did get the shots.

Somehow, before the Convention Center Security officer showed up, my friend evaporated.  I was on my own.  

I don’t have a story of handcuffs and violated civil liberties for you.  Sorry.  The officer was actually very polite, but did mention that the fire inspector was on the floor below and asked that I finish what I was doing before she showed up.  Fair enough.

All of this reminded me of another time I was asked to desist, Christmas(ish), 2009 at a shopping mall near me.  I got this shot before Mall Security ejected me.  The officer was, as I said on Facebook at the time, not too articulate.  He really couldn’t tell me why he had the right to usher me out.  So I educated myself a bit.  There are some great resources available* to explain these legalities and laws do vary buy state, but here are a few important generalities.

Disclaimer; this blog does not constitute legal advice, but you knew that already, didn’t you?

If you are on public ground, you may generally shoot whatever you wish, including private property and children without specific permission.  Exceptions include situations where people have a reasonable expectation of privacy (think shooting through someone’s bathroom window), where there is a safety or security issue, or where photography is expressly not permitted.

Owners of private property, even if it’s open to the public (like the mall in question) can create whatever photography policies they’d like.  They did have the right to prohibit photography, as well as the right to selectively enforce the prohibition with me, but not with the multitude of cell phone photographers making images there every day. 

You may display or sell images that you have a right to shoot.  “Commercial Use,” which is largely about advertising, is a bit more complex, and may require releases for people or property.

*For more information; 

Attorney Bert B Krages II has published a handy PDF which photographers can carry with them, “The Photographer’s Right.”  He has also written a book.

More detailed information is available from the Reporter’sCommittee for Freedom of the Press.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Pro Photo Tip; Creating a Starburst

Joshua Tree National Park, an ideal dry climate for starbursts.
Why would you want to create a starburst?
                The starburst conveys drama and a sense of the miraculous.  It lets you maximize backlight and halo effects, and to see back-light turn to sidelight along the periphery of the image with wide angle lenses.  The star creates a compositional focus, which can be a good thing, though it might make some images too busy. 
Backlight on the cobbles, Acadia National Park

Why does this phenomenon happen?
                The starburst effect results from diffraction of light off the blades of the lens aperture, and is really an artifact that we can turn to our advantage.

Which lens should you use?
                The quality of the star produced is lens-dependent.  I like to use my Canon 16-35mm f2.8 lens.  My Nikon friends suggest the 24mm PCE or 14-24 f2.8.  The best way to determine which lens in your collection performs best is trial and error.  Set up a backyard test and you’ll notice differences not only in crispness of the star, but in the number of rays produced.
A variety of objects can be used to partially obscure the sun.

How is it done?
                Though I’m generally an advocate of using a tripod for landscape photography, there’s an advantage to hand-holding your camera when making starbursts, if you can shoot at a fast enough shutter speed to negate vibration.  The sun moves surprisingly quickly relative to earthbound objects, so shooting with a tripod requires very fast composing, focusing, and metering.  Hand-holding allows you to chase the sun as it moves.

A wide lens, like this 8mm fisheye, can create nice stars without partially obscuring the sun.
    Stop down your lens to at least f16 to maximize the effect, and compose the scene so that the sun is partially obstructed behind something in your composition like a tree, rock, or building.  You can certainly get the effect without doing this, especially with a very wide lens, but the star is likely to be softer.  My preference, as you can see from most of the examples, is for a crisp starburst.
                Your depth of field preview function allows you to see what the star will look like, and you can adjust your composition while holding the DOF preview button and get a reliable idea of what to expect.  To be on the safe side, do this with the viewfinder as (there is some controversy about this) using live view may damage your sensor.  Sensors are expensive.
I’ve found that there is a huge temptation to look into the sun.  Work really hard to resist that.  Retinas are not replaceable at any price.

I tend to get ugly sun-flare spots.  What can I do about that?
                This is particularly important because these spots are difficult to remove in post-processing.  Take off filters and scrupulously clean your front element.  Dust and other imperfections can magnify flare.  You’ll find that there’s a sweet spot between too little and too much visible sun which gives you the beautiful star and minimizes flare, and you can see this reliably using DOF preview and moving the camera.

What about proper exposure?
With this technique, partially obscuring the sun and especially using a wide-angle lens so the bright area comprises a small amount of the composition, evaluative metering will most likely be accurate.  Otherwise some overexposure (1-2 stops) may be used to correct luminosity.  Remember that the sun will always be a spectral highlight, so you should expect your histogram to be clipped on the right.
Fall color looks especially appealing with backlight

Why does the effect behave differently in different situations?
                Mainly, this has to do with atmospheric moisture.  Dry and clear days are best, which is why the technique is used to great advantage here in the desert southwest.  Stars formed at the horizon (sunrise and sunset) can be particularly variable, since the light may be passing through differing combinations of particulates and moisture.

Stars can form around any small, bright light source
What else?
                Any small (relative to the frame), bright source of light can produce a star.  You might want to try this technique with the moon or street lights, for example.

Please let me know how it goes.