Tagged: photography

Introducing The Glass Frisbee

A Giant Surplus Camera Lens

The faint diesel rumble, pitter-patter of delivery-man-sized feet, and thud of corrugated on concrete?  They could mean only one thing: my order from the Surplus Shed had arrived.  Aflutter, I tore to the front porch, shredded the box like a Kindergartner on Christmas morning, and, out of the scraps, hoisted my new lens towards the heavens!

You know the angelic “ahhhhhhh” chorus sound that plays whenever someone “sees the light” in the movies?  It rose to a crescendo in the background.

Because, like a first kiss, nothing can completely prepare a photographer for his or her initial encounter with a gigantic disc of aluminum and precision-ground optical glass:

A New Lens!

A New Lens!

That’s all 5.3 pounds of it, standing on edge, seven inches across and two inches deep, next to a twelve-ounce soda can and a Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens for the sake of scale.  Oooooh, baby.

Side View

Side View

Owing to its pancake shape – the opposite of the typical long-and-slender lens – it soon became known as the Glass Frisbee.

I bought the Frisbee for its incredible combination of 200mm focal length and f/1.3 aperture, which I’ll use to push the limits of narrow depth of field.  By the laws of physics, once shoehorned onto my large-format 4×5 monorail camera, it’s the optical equivalent of a 50mm f/0.35 lens on a full-frame SLR.  From there, I begin an epic journey into a dreamy portrait-esque frontier, with triple the background blur of any currently-available off-the-shelf photographic system!  All theoretically, at this point, of course.

In the meantime, the Frisbee will help with a handful of other projects.  When I’m feeling Evil, it’ll focus the Death Ray.  My respectable, gentlemanly side shall enjoy a Cyclopean monocle of remarkable refinement.  And, should the situation become particularly funky, as it does from time to time, well, damn yo, the Frisbee’s got it covered.

Accessorize with three feet of decorative gold chain, and the Frisbee transforms into a lens necklace mega-medallion that’d make Flavor Flav proud:

The Flavor Flav-style Lens Necklace

The Flavor Flav-style Lens Necklace

Blingetty blangetty blong, playuh!

To receive updates on future experiments with the Glass Frisbee, please subscribe!

The Lineup: Bay Bridge Diamond

Editor's Note: From time to time, I post the details of an upcoming San Francisco Bay Area celestial lineup. See this post for an introduction and more general information.

Howdy, pardner!  Polish up yer telephoto lens, oil that tripod, and bust out them walkin’ shoes.  ’Cause we’re gonna rope us a lineup!

The "Diamond" Lineup

The "Diamond" Lineup

This week, the coming winter solstice treats us to a classic combination of the northeast-rising full moon with the support struts of the Bay Bridge’s Tower Three (the second-nearest tower to San Francisco).  You can see it both Tuesday and Wednesday, from the Embarcadero sidewalk, between the southern end of Cupid’s Span and the bay, near 37.79145 north, 122.38945 west (click for a map).  Arrive with time to spare before it happens at 4:32pm on Tuesday, or 5:32pm on Wednesday, and once the moon crests the East Bay hills, take a few strides to perfect the alignment with the lowest, diamond-shaped gap at the tower’s base.

Simultaneous with the Tuesday lineup, the sun sets behind Twin Peaks, so the bridge and sky will have much more light on them than my shot above. On Wednesday, the sun has already passed far below the horizon, so everything but the moon will be darker, perhaps significantly. Tuesday’s moon is full and round, and Wednesday’s, waning and ever-so-slightly asymmetrical.

Particulars from my lineup calculator:

"Bay Bridge, Third Tower, Base Diamond Hole"
from "Embarcadero Boulevard Sidewalk, Mission to Harrison"
    moon within 0.0 degrees at Tue 01/Dec/2009 16:32:30 PST
    to landmark: alt 2.3 deg, az 60.4 deg, distance 0.91 km
    to body: alt 2.3 deg, az 60.4 deg
    from lat,lon 37.791506,-122.389516
    sun at 2.3 degrees
    phase 100%

"Bay Bridge, Third Tower, Base Diamond Hole"
from "Embarcadero Boulevard Sidewalk, Mission to Harrison"
    moon within 0.0 degrees at Wed 02/Dec/2009 17:32:10 PST
    to landmark: alt 2.3 deg, az 59.3 deg, distance 0.90 km
    to body: alt 2.3 deg, az 59.3 deg
    from lat,lon 37.791388,-122.389376
    sun at -8.3 degrees
    phase 99%

Use this information however you please, within the terms of the Lineup License.

Good luck and have fun!

Set Your Sights High, Son

Self-Expression And The Transamerica Pyramid

Top And Flop

Top And Flop

We all have our long foul balls in life – the solid hits that power over the fence, but just outside of that yellow post at the edge of right field.  As a photographer, mine have mounded into a motley pile of not-quite-good-enough shots that I periodically revisit to see if I can do better.

For example, consider the pleasant vignette to the right, from August ’06, informally titled Top And Flop.  It melds the clean lines of San Francisco’s Transamerica Pyramid with the rougher textures of a vintage Chinatown hotel sign, tidily evoking the many schisms at the edges of downtown Frisco.  Of skyscrapers to bay windows; bankers amongst bike messengers; conservative versus radical; breeder and gay; the materialistic sterility of today’s financial district, contrasted with the brash, sloppy pleasures of yesteryear’s Barbary Coast; et cetera.

Top and Flop is no home run.  Still, it’s got potential, so I had it up on the screen, under review for content, framing, light, and focus.  Scrolling across the Transamerica building at 100-percent zoom, I noticed something weird - a subtle, strangely-organic blip.  Hmmm.  I leaned closer.  What is that?  Etched upon the dirty concrete of the Pyramid’s windward edge, in Comic-Sans-meets-Script font, 600 feet above street level…

A series of crops of Top And Flop at increasing zoom, photo-enhanced for readability.

A series of crops of Top And Flop at increasing zoom, photo-enhanced for readability.

A tag?!?!  Yes, that’s clearly the letters L-E-O.  Definitely not the biggest or brightest doodle known to civilization.  But, oh, the placement!  Over the time that it lingered – hours, days, weeks, months, years? - it achieved immortality, forever captured in the zoomed-in snapshots of countless tourists.  A work lacking the scale or sophistication of a Banksy, to be sure.  Nevertheless, on its lofty merits alone, a defining moment in graffiti history, destined for the Hall Of Fame, where it might slot directly below the time that Fairey stenciled Andre’s mug on the Capitol Rotunda.

Forty stories up on the window cleaning platform, it probably went down something like this.  A couple of young bucks.  Break time.  Wafting testosterone.  Four minis of Cuervo apiece.  The Dare.  And bam!  Leo was hanging off the corner of the building, power spraying his name into the grime.

The next night, cutting loose on nearby Columbus Avenue, he gestured upwards towards the Transamerica.  Confused, his buddies craned their necks to see, and beaming a Cheshire grin, Leo serenaded them with this little ditty:

Yo sucka yo my name is Lee-oh,
I got mo’ smoove than Captain Eee-Oh,
Up the Pyramid, I holla with my hose,
Don’t try to stop me, I spy the po-po,
Bet you wish you could write like Mee-oh,
Can’t touch this my name is Lee-oh.

Cue the chuckles, fist bumps, and Jägermeister!

But wait a second: let’s not make an ass out of you and mee-oh.  Everyone deserves a fair shake, so take our arrogant punk and flip him 180 degrees.  Up on the platform: dutiful Leo, husband and father-to-be.  Night shift wrapping up.  Ten hours straight of misty monotony.  Vast deficits of sleep, caffeine, and core body temperature.  Desperate yearnings to do something – anything – creative.  Oh, poor, valiant Leo!  Give him five minutes of cathartic self-expression, stat!

Sensing confusion, the dark-horse scenario trots in, braying that we’ve got it all wrong: that our tagger was no Leo at all!  The letters could be an homage to Low Earth Orbit!  The scribblings of an unbalanced August-born astrologer!  A tribute from DiCaprio’s Number One Fan!  The truncated autograph of a Leon with poor planning skills!

As with any great mystery, we’ll never know for sure.  However, the Deities Of Comeuppant Comedy assure me that the Leon Theory is incontrovertibly correct.  Myself, I haven’t decided.

What is certain is that I’ll soon be OCR-ing my entire photography archive, in search of more of these twinkly little gems!

(Hat tip to The Lonely Island for the Lee-oh-Mee-oh rhyme.)

Experiments In Time Lapse

Day and night for the past hundred years, propellerheads worldwide have worked to make technology better and cheaper.  By doing so, they’ve enabled us to engage in pursuits that our forefathers could barely dream of.  To toast our bread with a machine!  To fly cross-country on that wonderful airplane!  To watch moving pictures, plucked from the ether, as they dance on the screens of our new-fangled televisions! 

And with recent improvements to consumer-grade cameras, rejoice!  The night time lapse video is now within our reach!

Golden Gate Bridge, Towers In Fog

Ergo the above video: a time lapse of a low evening cloud deck blowing past San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge.  Created earlier this summer, by shooting 300 or so still photographs, one per second, with Canon DSLR gear, and then assembling them back-to-back, using some inexpensive video production software.

Beyond its atmospheric nature, what I like best about this clip are the subtle details within.  The mist curling around the superstructure and lighting up as the brighter headlights traverse the bridge.  And, check out the floating duck, in the water slightly to the right of bottom center!

Apologies for the silent video - I’m currently in search of suitable audio accompaniment.  If you’ve got any ideas, please contact me.

Stay tuned for more of these, as I’ll be posting details of some of the juiciest ones in the future.

The Lineup: Distant Coit Tower

Editor's Note: From time to time, I post the details of an upcoming San Francisco Bay Area celestial lineup. See this post for an introduction and more general information.

Update: Ooops!  Turns out that the Coit Tower lineup that I describe below will happen as predicted, but the view will be blocked by a tall building atop Nob Hill.  Mea culpa!  As penance, I offer another lineup, this time of the Bay Bridge, on the same evening:

"Bay Bridge, Third Tower, Top" from
    "Embarcadero, Pier Promenade, South Side"
    moon within 0.0 degrees at Fri 04/Sep/2009 20:06:40 PDT
    to landmark: alt 7.3 deg, az 97.9 deg, distance 1.23 km
    to body: alt 7.3 deg, az 97.9 deg
    from lat,lon 37.797063,-122.394316
    sun at -7.2 degrees
    phase 100%

The moon will be a bit high in this one, but you might be able to get a nice silhouette out of it, especially if there are some thin clouds around.   Here, the ”Third Tower” of the bridge is counted from Treasure Island.

Once again, my apologies!  I’ll be sure to scout the next lineup location before I post it!

On the evening of Friday, September 4, 2009, the full moon will rise behind the top of San Francisco’s Coit Tower, as viewed from the western edge of Crissy Field. Specifics from my lineup calculator:

"Coit Tower, Top" from "Crissy Field, Beach Path"
    moon within 0.0 degrees at Fri 04/Sep/2009 19:36:00 PDT
    to landmark: alt 1.5 deg, az 93.3 deg, distance 5.41 km
    to body: alt 1.5 deg, az 93.3 deg
    from lat,lon 37.805195,-122.467110
    sun at -1.2 degrees
    phase 100%

In plain English, the spot is on the main path along the beach (Marine Drive) at the west end of Crissy Field, near the Farallones Marine Sanctuary visitors center. Go to latitude 37.805195 north, longitude 122.467110 west, and at about 7:36 pm, more or less directly to the east, you should see the full moon pass behind the top of Coit Tower.

The full moon rises behind Coit Tower, August 2007.

The full moon rises behind Coit Tower, August 2007.

The sun will have set a few minutes beforehand, but the tower should still be catching lots of ambient light from the west. At this distance, about three and a half miles, the tower, from base to top, should span slightly more than one moon’s width. The view should be similar to the previous shot that I’ve included to the right, except the tower will be a little smaller, and the sky and tower should be brighter.

This is a kinder, gentler variety of lineup - with an arc of spots crossing Crissy Field that will give you a similar view, and lots of room to keep up by scooting your tripod. But to maximize your chances of catching the action, start at the place that I’ve highlighted.

Use this information as you please, subject to the Lineup License Version 1.0.

Good luck, and pray for no fog!