Monday, July 9, 2012

Our Shangri-La

Friday night I was out shooting some b-roll video footage on Freedom Parkway for a client and took this still while I was at it. It's a cliche spot to shoot here in Atlanta, kinda like Oakland Cemetery or the Krog Street Tunnel,  but it's still one of the best views of the Atlanta skyline in town. Amazingly, after almost eleven years of living in Atlanta I had yet to really do this shot until Friday. It didn't come out too bad considering I just picked a random night to go up there and shoot the video of it. So much about how landscape and cityscape shots turn out has to do with when you shoot them, and not just how you shoot them. While waiting I took the following shot with my iPhone:

                 Click on Images To View Larger:

Shot and processed with a iPhone 4

While waiting I met and got to talking to a amateur photographer that was there shooting the same thing I was. Once the light got right I couldn't help but noticing what he was getting on the back of his camera. I quickly offered a couple of suggestions that would make a huge difference in what he was getting -- primarily being the concept of using your white balance settings to your advantage while shooting a city skyline at dusk. He was shooting with his camera white balance set to daylight  (5500K) and was overexposing the shot by about a stop based on what I saw on the back of his camera, both giving him less than optimal color.  I suggested that he switch over his white balance to tungsten to make the street lights more color balanced, and the already blue sky you get at dusk even bluer -- and giving the shot less exposure through his aperture serves a few purposes: It makes the colors pop more, it gives the street lights the star look without having to use a cheesy star filter that overdoes that look, and it forces you to use a slower shutter speed, allowing you to catch the light trails from the cars better -- which is the look he was going for. Add in using your slowest possible ISO setting combined with your smallest aperture setting (highest f number f22 f64 etc) and it forces you to use the slowest shutter speed possible without using a neutral density filter on your lens. Put the camera on a tripod and use either a cable release or the self timer while you're shooting and it's pretty easy to capture something like what I've posted below. The dude seemed very appreciative of my help -- it was kinda like I saw him just light up when I showed him this -- to me that made the whole experience worth it, regardless of what I ended up with film footage wise. Showing other people how to take cool photos can be cooler than than taking cool photos yourself.

I actually got there and set up maybe an hour before I shot this frame -- it took me just sitting and waiting for the light to get right. This is a 15 second exposure at f22. ISO 100. 

On a more personal level, I love city skyline views like this, but don't take the time often enough to stop and just enjoy them, even though I have a great one within walking distance of my place. On the flip side of this, I appreciate how beautiful some places are around where I'm from in North Florida more now due to having moved away and not being around them as often, but when I lived there I hardly ever gave them a second thought. I read a written statement from another Atlanta based photographer just the other day that talked about how it sometimes takes seeing places like this in a travel brochure or on a gallery wall to really appreciate their beauty -- to give them that idealized shangri-la type vibe. You can put yourself in them mentally and really enjoy them through a well done photo, but when you actually physically get there, you're so caught up with life or what you "must" do while there that you can't really enjoy them. I couldn't agree with her more. Beauty is around you all the time -- it's in the people and places around you -- it's just a matter of opening up your eyes -- seeing it -- and appreciating it.

Edit: Title credit for this post goes to Mark Knopfler -- great song:

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