23 April 2014

#GlobalSelfie (and how to use Fill Flash)

I think this is a cool NASA project, #GlobalSelfie. I decided I was going to go a step further and make a self portrait. What, you may ask is the difference between a selfie and a self portrait? In my mind, a selfie is a moment in time, a glimpse of someone. Nothing special, just a blip. A self portrait means a bit more, I think. To me, it's intended to show a person in their environment, perhaps tell something about that person (even when that person - me - generally hates to have their picture taken).

Yesterday, the official Earth Day, was cloudy and spitting rain when I got off work, so I ditched. I had in my mind what I wanted to do, and decent light and no rain was necessary. Today was perfect, and because I had to be into work at 6:30AM, I was getting off way early. Late afternoon light - perfect. I headed for one of my favorite spots in Richmond - James River Park at Pony Pasture. Here's the result.
Here's how I took it:

This is along the James River. I am facing more or less eastward with the sun coming over my right shoulder. I used a Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L set to 27mm, and Aperture Priority with the f/stop set to f/22. I let the camera choose the rest: the shutter speed was 1/50, ISO 400. I used a circular polarizing filter to bring out the blue in the sky and add contrast to the clouds, as well as take some of the glare off the water in the river (which was roaring along at about 6.3 feet - a couple of feet above normal pool of about 4 feet). The interesting part about this photo is that I can be seen! That was accomplished by using fill flash. I knew the camera would try to meter for the large amount of bright sky. And if I metered for me, the sky would be blown out with no pretty blue and puffy white clouds. I put my Speedlite 430EX on the 6D and turned it on. On modern cameras with a newer flash, that has a TTL or ETTL mode (meaning Through The Lens exposure metering), the camera will fire the flash and expose the scene properly by measuring what comes back to it. It's a good way to bring out a subject when lighting is not ideal, or you want nice backlight which generally flatters subjects of portraits.

Here's a few pictures for comparison.
 (above) Just a normal shot. See how dark I am? 27mm, f/18, 1/60, ISO 400. Because of the brightness of the son on my head, shoulder and butt, even the sky is a bit bright.

 (above) This time, things stayed almost the same with 27mm focal length, f/18, 1/60, ISO 1000. Wait a minute! ISO 1000? Why? Because I set Exposure Compensation (often called Exposure Bias when you look at EXIF data) to +1.3 stops. Doubling the ISO to 800 is 1 stop, another 200 is about .3 stop. This causes the camera to brighten (or darken if you wish) the picture by however much + or - EC you dial in. This brought out a little more of my face, and helped maintain the blueness in the sky. 
(above) Now I've added the fill flash. Note that the sky and water are nearly perfect, and I can be seen! For some reason I closed the aperture 1/3 stop to f/20 (all these high f/stops mean deep depth of field, from just in front of the camera out to infinity - I manually focused just before infinity ∞). Shutter speed was 1/60, ISO 400 (no EC this time), at 24mm with Flash. PERFECT!!!

Side note: All the pictures with me in them were taken with an infrared remote trigger. It sure beat scrambling over the rocks between the camera and the boulder

Even many less expensive DSLRs and some point-and-shoot cameras can do fill flash. On the DSLRs with a pop-up flash, pop it up and it usually functions as a fill flash, firing when you take a picture and metering the return to properly expose the scene. On the point-and-shoots, get out the book (ARGH, READING?!?!?!) and see if there is a "forced flash" or "fill flash" setting that you can turn on. Oh, and you can use it to just make a picture better when you take it.
(above)  f/22, 1/80, ISO-800 (+1 stop EC, trying to bring out the trees bark patterns), focal length 42mm
(above) f/22, 1/40, ISO-400 (interesting that the camera, with +1 EC lowered the shutter speed, and the ISO because of the flash), focal length 40mm, flash

OK, this got long, but here's two I took just because they were pretty.

And if you'd like to see EXACTLY where these pictures were taken, and you have GoogleEarth, download this JamesRiverPark_GlobalSelfie.kmz file and choose "Open with Google Earth".

18 April 2014

Cavers and VAR! A Great Weekend!!!

What a WONDERFUL weekend!!! 230-odd cavers gathered at the RASS Field Station for the Spring VAR meeting.
We'll start out with the "leaving selfie"
I made some new friends, renewed old ones, and had an absolutely great time. Since I signed up to work at Registration on Friday and Saturday, I hung around the Field Station, but that's OK, it was really a lot of fun!
The empty field on Thursday afternoon when I arrived. See the moon?
Here it is a little later. We're talking about 5:30PM here.
The bat symbol is an unofficial but universal symbol for cavers.
You'll see them most often on car bumpers. We can easily tell that
someone is a caver by this sign. And RASS now has a flag! Salute, all you cavers!
This was the Registration tent before the crowds hit. I was too busy playing
traffic troll (the gate traffic director) to get any pics!
Many cavers decorate their cars with multiple stickers
proclaiming their affiliation with the caving community.
The field started to fill up. There's also the "back forty" (more like 10 more acres,
this is close to 16 out here) that held campers.
No rubbish! It's nice to be able to work and drink! I started in on the beer about noon Friday!
A front blew through and after some sprinkles, the sky was rather pretty.
This is my man cave in the back of my Xterra. It got cold at night, that fluffy down
sleeping bag came in handy!
Easy-peasy breakfast. Pre-cook some bacon. Throw it in a freezer-grade Zip-Loc® bag, then crack a few eggs
into the bag. You can add cheese, spices, just about anything you put in an omelet. Then dunk it in a pot
of boiling water for a no-clean-up meal that can be eaten out of the bag!
I hung around the campground on Saturday, and the primary activity there was a vertical workshop. In caving, this is called Single Rope Technique (SRT). This is where cavers learn and hone their skills on caving ropes, used to rappel into and climb out of vertical caves. Rigged in trees, there are pulleys and devices to lower someone who is having problems.
A rappel rack allows a rope to be locked off for climbing
and released to lower someone.
Some of the skills that were being practiced were "single rope pick-offs" where a caver who becomes incapacitated on rope is rescued by another caver who "picks them off" the rope and takes them to the bottom until a better rescue can be mounted. 

(simulation only!)
Being kicked in the chin is better than dying!
Dénes (DAY-nesh) is having way too much fun hanging around
waiting to be rescued!
This is an example of a carabiner that you DON'T want to use again!
Inner Mountain Outfitters came up from Georgia to supply us with any
caving gear and fashions you could want. Please visit their website for any
camping/caving/rescue needs you may have!

This is the company I worked for (on the side, going to caving events) until
the founder sold it a few years ago so he could actually retire!
We now interrupt our regular programming for a SELFIE! YES! I was there!
We feed everyone dinner on Saturday night! Here's the set up for cooking 50 pounds of spaghetti!
The start of the sauce!
35 more cans to open, and there sits the peanut gallery with the
chief cook (Billy) on the far right!
He did get into gear, though, and made 30 gallons of sauce.
With meat. And another 5 gallons of vegetarian!
LOTS of bread. And see all those Red Solo Cups? Oh yeah, BEER!!!!
We also laid the fire for later on.
It's a little excessive. See below!
People actually do go CAVING at VAR! (Stolen pictures)
Christopher, a young man (15yo) with Down Syndrome, plays Frisbee
with some other cavers while waiting for dinner. Chris and his 3
brothers and sisters and parents, went to Island Ford Cave and had a blast!
When they get back...DINNER IS SERVED!

Painting with GARLIC BUTTER! My favorite artwork!
There was spontaneous entertainment!
Followed by a presentation...really interesting topic - anthropological significance of caves by Mayans in the Yucatan.
The intro to Kristen.
Kristen, in native dress. Neat presentation, I learned a lot. I always enjoy that!
 After the presentation, we had a FIRE!
This is how you melt marshmallows when faced with a CONFLAGRATION!
Sunday morning was the VAR Business meeting. BOOORRRRRING!!!
The rest is anti-climatic.

And yeah, I made it back home in one piece, lest I not be writing this! Here is the AFTER SELFIE!
Gotta love that wind-blown sweaty hair look! 120-odd miles with the windows down, the radio off, just
cogitating about my life as I drove home. It was a wonderful weekend in all respects.