Thank goodness God doesn’t have a marketing department

Finally, the sun has come back out here in the Valley of the Sun, and I got to spend some quality time playing with my Nikon this morning.  I packed up my gear around 9:30 or so, making sure that I had all the important stuff like my user’s manual in my bag, and headed over to Westgate.  I’d heard that they have a farmers’ market on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month, and I thought that I might be able to get some interesting shots of the vendors’ wares, as well as the fountains at Westgate.

Since I got there fairly early, there were not that many people around, so I was able to take my time and set up my shots at my leisure.  I started out at the main fountains just in front of arena, taking some hand-held shots just to see what the exposures looked like, and then setting up some bracketed exposures for HDR processing later.

It was such a beautiful day!  I played around with different exposures, and pulled out my old polarizing filter that I hadn’t used in years.  It turned the sky such a deep blue, and allowed me to see right through the water in the pools to the gravel at the bottom.  The fountains are computerized to sync up with the music that’s playing, so when I shot the bracketed series, it was impossible to get exactly the same shot on each frame since the water spouts were constantly moving up and down.  But when combined into an HDR image, it seemed to work.  At one point, there was a beautiful rainbow that showed up when the fountains created a mist, and I was able to capture it quite well, I think:

I continued taking pictures around the perimeter of the fountains.  The mid-morning light made some interesting light-and-shadow patterns on the patios of the restaurants on the plaza, especially when combined with the colors of the walls and awnings of the patio bar.  These exposures were such fun to play with in Photomatix–I came up with some shots that are on the abstract side, but the colors make me happy!!

And then, my fun got ruined.  I was approached by a security guard who said, “Can I help you?”

I answered, “No, I don’t think so.”

He said, ” I hate to tell you this, but we can’t allow you to take photographs here on the property.  This is private property, and they have very strict rules about people taking photos.”

I kind of saw this coming, since I was using a tripod, and it certainly wasn’t the security guard’s fault–he was just doing his job.  We had a very cordial conversation, and I explained that I was not a professional photographer, that I wasn’t taking pictures for any type of commercial work, and that I had just purchased the camera right before Christmas and was still trying to learn to use it.

He was very understanding, and provided me with the name and phone number of the person who is in control of the marketing at Westgate.  He told me that I should give her a call to see if she would make an exception to allow me to continue taking photos. So I called her up and left her a voice message, explaining what I was doing.  In about five minutes she called back while I was still talking to the security guard.  We had a short conversation, and she said that it would be okay as long as I didn’t use the photos for commercial purposes.  At this, I handed the phone to the security guard, and she told him the same thing.  So I was free to go about my business.

Except that by that time, the fun was gone.  I knew that if I walked to the other end of the plaza to where the farmers market was being held, that some other security guard would give me the same hassle, and I’d have to repeat the process.  It just wasn’t worth it.  The first security guard told me that I could take pictures of arena (all I had to do was turn around and it was right there), or that I could go out to the pathetic little lake at the north end of the property and shoot pictures.  I did take a few shots at the “lake”, but they weren’t that great…not a particularly scenic view.

Once again, it comes down to the monetary value of an image.  Westgate is a multi-million dollar development that has been stalled due to the downturn in the economy.  You would think that they would welcome people taking photographs and sharing them with as many people as possible in order to drum up some business for the struggling businesses in the area.  The place has real potential, but this kind of micro-management of the “image” is counter-productive, in my opinion.  The place is supposed to be a tourist destination, and tourists take pictures.  And some tourists have good DSLR cameras and like to use tripods to get sharp pictures for their own enjoyment or to share with their friends and families.  Westgate marketers should be taking advantage of all the free publicity, not trying to stifle it!!

What if someday there’s a marketing department for the Grand Canyon?  What if someone decides we need to protect the “image” of the Rocky Mountains or Yellowstone National Park?  What if someone decides that Mount Rushmore can only be photographed with our cellphones and disposable cameras without a permit?  What if God hired a marketing department so that people couldn’t profit from taking photos of the sunrise or the sunset?

I have a lot of friends in marketing….but you guys need to lighten up!!

Chasing the light is not zen-like

I was able to telecommute today, and as I was working from home, I was also keeping an eye on the weather outside my home office window.  From my upstairs room, I could see the sun trying to peek through the dark clouds throughout the day as the wind blew the tree branches back and forth.  At about 4:30 PM, I decided to log off the computer, and I gathered up my camera and tripod and headed toward the west in hopes that there would be a sunset worth capturing.

Today it wasn’t to be.  As I drove west in rush hour traffic, the sun completely disappeared behind the cloud cover, so it was obvious there wasn’t going to be any “glow” in the sunset.  Instead, it began to get dark even quicker, and what little dramatic lighting there had been was just about gone.  I came to a roadblock where Olive Avenue had been closed due to flooding from the past two days’ rain, so I turned around and headed back east.  In the distance I could see the silver dome of the UOP stadium shining against the dark clouds, so I headed in that direction back over to Westgate to see if I could find anything interesting in the area.  As I drove west, I spotted the Zanjero development, and decided there might be just enough light to get a couple of shots. Zanjero is (was) a beautiful development that started construction just as the economy took a dive.  It has never been occupied, but it’s still a beautiful structure, surrounded by dilapidated construction fencing and fields of sagegrass.

I set up the camera on my tripod and took several bracketed series of shots, but I felt rushed the entire time I was there.  I was in such a hurry to catch the light that I overlooked several important things:

  1. I walked away from the car with my camera and tripod, leaving my wallet and keys in my unlocked vehicle sitting on the side of the road.  Granted I wasn’t that far away, but it was far enough that I wasn’t comfortable about it.
  2. I forgot to take my new cable release with me….I left it in my camera bag back in the car.  I was afraid that I would lose the light by the time I walked back to the car to get it, so I just tripped the shutter without it.
  3. I set the camera on aperture-priority, but I didn’t even look at the f-stop that I was using, so the depth of field could have been anything.

I was just in a hurry to get the shots before the light was gone, my car was stolen, or the police arrested me for trespassing on private property.  Overall, it was way more stressful than it should have been, and not at all zen-like.

I was fairly pleased, however, with the shots that I got, considering the light that was available.  Here’s an HDR rendering of one of them that I cropped somewhat:

And here’s one that I took from a little further away:

So, my lesson learned today is that I need to plan my shooting a little better.  Until I’m more proficient with my equipment, I need to plan my shooting sessions a little more in advance, allowing myself plenty of time to set up my equipment so that I can look at the results of each shot.  I need to adjust the settings, and try the shots again and again, so that I can learn how the different settings change the way the image is captured.  I need time to enjoy the experience of taking photos, otherwise this is going to become more of a chore than a pleasure.  Zen is all about being happy and present in the moment.  My goal for tomorrow is to spend at least a couple hours just taking my time and enjoying whatever I shoot.

Indoor Practice Night

My new cable release finally arrived today–and of course, it’s raining cats and dogs outside, so there’s no way I’m going to venture outside to try and setup some long exposures.  Instead, I thought it would be a good night to practice setting up my camera on the tripod quickly and efficiently.  I had never really taken the time to closely examine the tripod and the plate that attaches to the camera, and how all the knobs and latches function.  I usually just fumble around with it until I find something that seems to work. So tonight I took the time to test each knob and latch to make sure I understood how they function.  I made sure I knew which way to put the plate on the camera so that it rests in the tripod’s latching mechanism in the right direction for switching between portrait and landscape mode (something I had screwed up before).  After I set up the camera on the tripod, I attached my new cable release, and then I started looking around for something to use for some test shots.

I decided to use a couple of Southwestern art pieces that we have collected–a Hopi kachina doll carved from cottonwood, and a piece of Navajo pottery.  I set these up on a table under a lamp that’s burning a compact florescent bulb of the “warm” variety.  I used my new cable release to take a series of three bracketed shots at ISO 200, 38mm, F/8 using the aperture priority setting  (no flash).  The shutter speeds were 3 seconds for the normal exposure, .77 seconds for the underexposure (-2.0) and 13 seconds for the overexposure (+2.0).  I then played around with the three shots in Photomatix’s HDR processor, but there really wasn’t a great deal that could be done with them beyond intensifying the colors somewhat.

Anyway, I’ve verified that the cable release works, and I’m more familiar with my tripod now, so I guess I’ve accomplished a little bit tonight.  Tomorrow is supposed to be less cloudy than today, but Thursday is supposed to be positively stormy.  I’m hoping I can get a few outdoor shots tomorrow before the storms blow in.