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A Corona by Moonlight

Moonlight Corona
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, canon 17-40mm f/4 l, 22mm, iso 1000, f/9, 13 sec)

Something a wee bit different today.

A few weeks ago I was in Florida shooting a wedding and wanted to capture some lightning over the ocean while I was there. It didn’t happen…but this little decaying storm was perfectly silhouetted against the late night moon…it was beautiful.

And I was also wishing for an ice cold Corona for some reason.

A chair at the dog track

A chair at the black canyon dog track

(Click to see the photo larger, almost like you’re sitting in that chair)

I don’t know when the last time was that I posted an image from the dog track visit we did in the final week of December, but believe it or not, I still have a few shots left to show eventually! If you’ve missed any of the series or would like to look back, click here for the “dog track” tag.

This chair of course was just sitting there waiting to be photographed. I’m sure at some point it was moved out to this spot to either be sat on or to be a prop for someone else’s photography. I think it’s way interesting at a place like this to wonder a bit about why things are where they are. One of my buddies with me on this trip kept pointing out objects that were different from the time he was there before. In fact, a giant ticket booth was sitting in the middle of the main building, definitely a new thing. Who dragged that booth into here? The owner looking to dump stuff? A photographer wanting something interesting for a backdrop?

Anyways, I”ll always remember back fondly on the three hours or so we were here. A great experience.

Tonight a bunch of us are descending upon Tempe for a little photowalking action, so I’m looking forward to that! Haven’t been down there for awhile and while the forecast calls for the opposite, I’m praying for clouds over the lake to help us with some great sunset photos. If you are interested in going, let me know!

Have a nice weekend!

(exif: canon rebel xsi, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, iso 100, f/5)

 

Swingers

There were two ways I could have gone with this image. One was the “or die” you see on the wall…but the other seemed to click the moment I saw this scene and thus it’s this week’s Movie Title Wednesday.

Swingers is my number one…yes, numero uno, all-time favorite movie. It’s hard to explain why, but to me this is one of the best guy movies ever made. First off you have Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn and Ron Livingston, all young before anyone knew who they were. Second you have Las Vegas, you have cool cars, awesome big band music, gangster references to Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, Wayne Gretsky bleeding, guns, bears with claws and “This place is dead anyways.”

I can’t even mention all the lines I love in the movie.

“Mikey’s the big winner, Mikey wins!”

“Vegas baby…Vegas.”

“You’re so money.”

“Is he cute Mikey? Is he brown?”

“Hey! What’re you kicking me for? You want me to ask? All right, I’ll ask! Ma’am, where do the high school girls hang out in this town?”

And the one that inspired me to use the flick for this image in the first place:

“You always doubledown on eleven.”

This photo is another one from the dog track north of Phoenix. You can clearly see two number “11” seats in the picture. So not only do you always doubledown on eleven, but this photo has TWO elevens! And to top it off, all the chairs kind of “swing” up and down right?

It’s total kismet. I mean…yeah, I could have saved the movie title for an awesome picture of Las Vegas that I will undoubtedly get this spring when I find myself up there a lot, but I had to use it now. I dug how the row of chairs had dead weeds around it and broken seats laying everywhere.

Oh and I still have quite a few shots left from the dog track that I haven’t even processed yet. Ugh!

Swingers is wonderfully written, completely hilarious and ultimately a cult classic. It’s about your buddies, girlfriend problems and Martin Scorsese. It played at the Valley Art Theater in Tempe for about a year straight because every week, people still came out to see it. I beg you, if you haven’t experienced it, go rent it this weekend, sit back with a beer and try not to cringe at the voice mail scene.

Sitting pretty

Dog Track Black Canyon City Arizona

We go back to the dog track from our December trip up to Black Canyon City (you can see all photos in the series here).

Again…one of my favorite things about the time we spent at this amazing, decayed and lost building…was the afternoon light. They aren’t solid, or in your face, but you can kind of see the shadows streaking from right to th left across the old, broken floor. In the foreground you can make out some square tiles that still remain intact, but most of them have fallen apart. In fact, you could hear cracking as you walked across the room where tiles broke solely from our footsteps.

I shot the image from a good 40-50 feet away I believe, using the 50mm to focus right on the chair off in the distance. I don’t think it takes much explanation to figure out why I loved this scene. Isolation is a key element in my compositions, be it urbex or storm chasing. Not always of course, but there is something beautiful about a singular object that is either different or somehow stands out from its surroundings.

(exif: canon rebel xsi, canon 50mm 1.4, f/2.2, iso100)

The Notebook

Chair and Notebook from the Dog Track

I could have gone with another movie here guys, but I didn’t think anything else worked as well as The Notebook. Sure…Shattered Glass starring Hayden Christiansen is probably more manly…but truthfully? I think Christiansen is actually a bit more girly than a girly movie.

I’ve been married for almost 13 years. My wife is from a family of criers. Before we ever got hitched, I remember sitting in a theater watching one of the biggest sob fests of all-time, My Life (Michael Keaton, Nicole Kidman) with my wife, her parents, her sister and her sister’s husband. I looked down the aisle during the movie and they all had tears down their faces. I was like…really?

Flash forward to now and I’m officially part of the family because I get choked up at everything. Having a daughter has even made it worse. Too many father/daughter moments in TV/movies just totally ruin me now.

The Notebook was a great film and an amazing story…one that hits close to home with  my now deceased grandfather who suffered from Alzheimer’s. I wasn’t super close to him, but I remember always reminding him of my name when I saw him those final years. And I’m sure my grandma went through more than anyone knows.

With no real way to segue from that, the movie title is also a main subject of the photo above, one of my favorites from the dog track. This photo was kind of like The Notebook for me…it almost made me cry. Ha! Okay, not really, but when I took it, I showed it to buddies Rick and Scott and told them “This is probably the best photo I’ll take the entire time we’re here.” And I meant it. And I still feel that way.

As photographers, we can take a picture, look at it and feel like we totally nailed it. Best.Photo.I.Have.Ever.Taken. But I’ve had a number of occasions where a photo of mine that I felt was my best work just didn’t get received the way I thought it would. We have all probably dealt with that because it’s hard to be  completely objective when it comes to our own stuff.

I love this scene from top to bottom. The chair amidst shattered glass with a notebook sitting on it. An open doorway letting in an intense amount of light from the setting sun. Rich shadows. This was one of the first shots I processed from the dog track but it took me this long to post it to the blog. I was almost fearful of putting it out there and getting hit with the stark reality that it’s just not as good as I think it is.

But that’s photography really isn’t it? I mean, not all of it…but we want our photos to be seen by people and when you do that, you are welcoming in all comments and critiques…good, bad, indifferent. And that’s just part of being what we are. And the truth is…the more I shoot, the less I care about what people think because this is WHO I am…this is my style…and I’m confident in it and proud of it.

Now excuse me, I’m sure my buddy Bob Lussier is going to ask me for my man card at any moment, but the joke’s on him…I gave that thing away a looooong time ago.

Inside Out

Dog Track Black Canyon City Chairs

After wandering around the dog track for an hour or so, I ended up coming back to the rows of seats with a new perspective and a new lens on my camera. As I’m prone to do, I started with the 17-35mm because I wanted to capture the vastness and enormity of the place. But later I realized I was missing out on the subtle nuances everywhere you looked.

One of them was the weirdness of standing inside a building but still feeling like you were outside. All the giant windows were broken, bushes were growing inside and occasionally a breeze would float through. The panes of glass would wobble from the wind…a few ropes hanging from the ceiling would swing…you get the idea.

My goal here was to use the 50mm 1.4 to focus on a small area of the row of chairs, but still capture the way the windows beyond led right to the desert outside. Probably my favorite element of this shot is the low angle of the sun and the way it highlights the top portion of the chairs. Now I know I haven’t explored tons of these urbex locations, but I can’t stress enough the importance of natural light in places like this.

I think this is one of my favorite images from the trip. And while I don’t tend to talk about the processing as much these days, I just want to point out how great HDR is for situations like this. You get to see the clouds in the distance despite maintaining the light and shadows on the chairs. It wouldn’t be as easy to get all of this in a single shot without possibly a few filters and even then you may do exposure blending in Photoshop.

And despite some of my urbex shots where I take liberty with the processing and stylizing…this one has to be as close to how I remember it in person as any HDR shot I’ve done.

The missing leg

There is something magical about natural light. I’m still so young in photography, especially portraits, so sometimes using light is a challenge. But I know it’s something that can add an element to your photos that you can’t get otherwise. One guy who kind of inspired me a bit with the above photo and others I took on this day is Jacques Gude…who runs a blog called “Exposed by the Light.” When it comes to urban exploration, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better photographer who knows how to use light in these kinds of environments.

The idea of getting some of this light out at the dog track north of town was why I was kind of pushy about heading out there in the afternoon…because I knew which way the main windows faced.

I used the 50mm 1.4 on this shot, something I’m doing a lot more of lately. A lot. I love being able to setup on a tripod, click into live view, frame the shot and then play with the manual focus to see where I want my focal point to be and what kind of depth of field I’m getting.

Speaking of chairs…my  buddy Rick who was out there shooting with us posted his own chair shot today, one that I actually also photographed from the opposite angle. That image will drop at a later date. I love Rick’s image, he creates an awesome focal point on the chair itself, making it the center of the image where your eyes immediately get drawn to.

Also, I’ve gotten an amazing amount of comments and positive feedback on my “Window to the End of the World” photo from earlier this week. Thank you all so much for that, it’s been amazing. My buddy Scott Wood, who was also out there shooting with us, snagged a photo of me taking that Window image! It’s a great image, and kind of fun to see yourself in action, so check it out when you get a chance!

Watchmen

This week’s Movie Title Wednesday was one I really didn’t need to consult the wife on for what film to use. Although…I was still a taaaaad bit nervous. Kidding. Sort of.

Watchmen…which is foremost a graphic novel turned movie, for you younger people. Although I say that tongue-in-cheek because I really didn’t pickup comic books until around 2-3 years ago. The first thing I read though was the Watchmen graphic novel. Long, full of story, violence and awesomeness. There was even a story within a story. I was hooked on comics from that point on and still get them each week from Heavy Ink, an online comic book store.

The movie though was almost as good. It’s hard for a film to copy a book as precise as Watchmen even with a few minor adjustments. Lord of the Rings was kind of the same…minor changes, but it kept the essence of the story and the plot. I loved the film, thought it not only followed the story, but also the feel of the art, the characters and the music. Brilliant job by Zack Snyder.

This image is another one taken from the dog track north of Phoenix. This room is off from the main building and was full of mostly chairs and squishy carpeting that had a lot of bird crap on it. A LOT. Was slightly concerned that the “squishy” was entirely birdy droppings, but I tried not to think about it.

I don’t always talk about my processing habits, but this year things have changed a bit for me when it comes to my HDR images. I’m embracing shadows a lot more than I used to, which is sometimes contrary to what HDR is all about. The goal of HDR is to capture the entire dynamic range of a scene so you can see everything, even the darkest corners. I’m kind of over that. At least, on some images. Like my sunset photo from yesterday…the chairs are fairly dark and you don’t see much detail other than the highlights from the sun. Or my Four Peaks snow shot last week…I purposely kept the cactus darker than I would have done in the past because in reality, that was the scene.

So this image has some darker areas where you really can’t see inside the shadows and I love it. And I honestly am kind of excited about where this change is leading me, especially with other photos I’ve processed this week.

Window to the End of the World

Black Canyon City Abandoned Dog Track Sunset

This is the first of many, many images from the abandoned dog track north of Phoenix near Black Canyon City. I made the trek up there with my good AZ photog buddies Rick Young and Scott Wood. The place hasn’t been used as a dog track since 1982 and after that it was a swap meet until closed a few years later. Now it sits there waiting for explorers to venture inside in search of hidden treasures…which for us are photographs.

There was talk that we’d go in the morning, but I pushed for the late afternoon hours, having told Rick that the seats and windows face West/Southwest, so the light coming in will be amazing while we’re there and maybe we’ll get a sunset out of it. Of course, I’d never been there really, only saw it from the road once. This was Rick’s second time.

Well, he doubted me, saying the mountains were too close for a good sunset, but we decided to get out there around 3pm anyways and spent a couple of hours wandering the place until the sun finally did set and gave us one of the most magnificent shows in awhile. Rick called out to me from across the bleachers area, “See Mike, told you the sunset would suck.

But even if the show was good, there was nothing like sitting in those old chairs, in eerie quiet, watching this amazing sunset framed by huge windows which themselves were framed with whatever remaining glass they had left. I can’t even describe the feeling…part of me wanted to just sit there and watch, and the other (more commanding) part scrambled around to find the perfect way to compose the shot.

I’m thrilled and excited to bring you more images from that trip…it was an amazing place of course, but also the very first true indoor urban exploration for me and I relished every moment.