Nothing on my mind, 28 July 2009


Short post for today, since I’m about to walk out the door and, you know. Have fun. Which, to me, means wandering around the city aimlessly…probably boring to most of y’all, but then again, I don’t much care what you think, anyways. I think what y’all do for fun is stupid, so take that! Okay, seriously, enjoy the photo, because I’ve got nothing else for you today!


This view is one of my favorites in Chicago; the location is, as the photo’s rather boring title indicates, the intersection of Michigan Avenue (N/S) and Wacker Drive (E/W). Just north of this intersection, Michigan Avenue crosses the Chicago River, hence the drawbridge (the extents of the bridge may be identified by the four towers at each corner of the bridge). In the midground, the Wrigley Building is visible on the left (the one with the clock tower), and the Chicago Tribune Building is on the right-hand side (the one with the Gothic “cap” on it – also, there’s a low-rise component next to the tower that says “Chicago Tribune” on it). In the center background, you can just make out the Hancock Tower, with its tapered shape and twin broadcast antennae. And lest you worry that I endangered my life to capture this picture, no worries: while it looks like I’m standing in traffic, there is, in fact, a median in the center of Michigan Avenue south of my perch; in fact, from this point south, Michigan Avenue remains divided by medians for several blocks, so I was (relatively) safe whilst taking this photo.

Photo Information:

Camera: Nikon FM-2 (35mm) SLR
Lens: Nikon Nikkor 28mm f/2.8
Film: Kodak TMax ISO 100
Exposure: FM-2 TTL meter

Photos like this are actually somewhat difficult to properly expose, since the buildings block out much of the sunlight that would otherwise filter down onto the streets. In this case, the bridge and most of the “canyon” between the buildings in the center of the photo were substantially darker than they are in the final image. I had to dodge these areas for quite awhile to bring out what detail I could. Even so, the clock tower on the Wrigley Building also ended up overexposed on the side facing the sun; I suppose this is one of the drawbacks of using an averaging meter, [1] but I’m also not so sure I would’ve done any better using my spotmeter. The differential between the brightly lit portions of the scene and the darker portions is just too great, methinks. Still, I much prefer shooting such photos on bright, sunny days, since they have a tendency to turn out very, very dark on overcast days, which is, of course, not altogether flattering for the resulting photo. Apart from the exposure issues, my only other major concern with this photo was dust; as indicated above, this image is a scan of an actual film negative, [2] so dust factored into the scan to a greater extent than it would with a digital photo. I suspect that my apartment is far more dusty than I think it is, since I don’t notice dust on a day-to-day basis, but there was quite a bit on the negative and scan. Mostly it isn’t too difficult to remove using the clone stamp tool, but one must be careful not to stray too far away from the target location with the clone pattern, otherwise, you might end up with some weird results; even though the sky in this photo looks fairly uniform, I found out (the hard way) on another edit that there are actually a few subtle tonal differences from one part of the sky to another. Silly me. Again, removing the dust isn’t hard, but it is time-consuming, since I had to hunt out each and every little piece [3] and locate an appropriate masking tone to overlay.

Anyways, enjoy. Off to the great outdoors for me. Which, in my case, means breathing in car exhaust and wandering around filthy alleys.


[1]: Most built-in TTL meters are averaging meters, meaning that they take light readings from multiple locations in the intended scene, and composite those values together via computer algorithms to produce an appropriate shutter/aperture combination. In the case of Nikon’s cameras, most of their TTL meters used a so-called 60/40 weighted average, which basically means that the camera’s computer chip paid more attention to the center of the scene than to the periphery. More modern SLRs use what amount to multiple spotmeter readings to get a more accurate sense of light values in a given scene; some of the fancier models from Canon and Nikon (digital, of course) now gather information from upwards of a dozen metering zones – and they do it faster than my slow-ass brain can average together a handful of spotmeter readings. Ain’t technology grand?

[2]: Yes, I know…who uses that crap anymore, right? Well, the obvious answer is, I do.

[3]: Mostly. Depending on how “busy” a scene is, I may not clean up every speck of dust I could; in some cases, the dust “blends in” with the rest of what’s happening, such that it isn’t noticeable. In places where there are relatively solid blocks of a single tone, however, any blemishes are far more apparent, and must be removed. On the other hand, the latter cases are actually not too terribly difficult to address, since there’s usually enough equivalent tone nearby to make it relatively easy to find an appropriate match. Its still time consuming, though.

[*]: And yet, my “short” post ends up being nearly 1,000 words. My brain really must be failing me, at this point.


2 Responses to “Nothing on my mind, 28 July 2009”

  1. The Juicer Says:

    Great post- and methinks you are awfully funny! Enjoyed reading your unplanned 1000 words 🙂
    You really have done a great job of explaining the issues one would face in taking this kind of a pic (I am photographing in NYC).
    And then, you have managed such a great final version of this image! Hardly any blown-out highlights, and I don’t see any detail lost in the shadows. Was there any post-processing needed to reduce highlights or shadows?

    Another challenge I face when clicking tall buildings is getting the perspective right. They begin to fall back or forward in most pics, and frustrate me to no end!

    Enjoy your day out- I completely endorse meandering through streets and alleys:)

    • seeker312 Says:

      Thanks. It took a bit of work to get the photo to where it is now, but this sort of thing is fun, right? Post-processing in this case was a bit more extensive than I had wanted; I improperly developed the negatives, so they were a bit washed out when I got the scans back. Thankfully, it was only around one stop off, so it wasn’t difficult to bring it back, but as mentioned, the real challenge was the high contrast, which led to fairly poor definition in the shadows. I had to dodge a bit along the bridge, and in the shadows between buildings to get most of the detail back, but thankfully (again) the detail was, in fact, there, so I didn’t have to work too hard to bring them out.

      I have noticed that the wideangle lens on my film SLR seems to have less distortion in it than the wideangle lens on my digital camera (which, admittedly, isn’t top-of-the-line); then again, I was shooting with a single-purpose lens (a fixed 28mm), while the lens on my digital camera needs to accommodate a wide zoom range. I suppose the latter has the best lens they could make, given the demands being placed on it. As for the perspective distortion itself, one can minimize this, to some extent, by trying (as best as possible) to point the camera dead-ahead; there will still be some distortion, but not nearly as much as if you were looking up (or down) at your subject. Of course, there are limits to what one can accomplish this way, and some buildings just don’t fit any other way (the Sears Tower comes to mind, but there are also plenty of buildings in NYC that are like that, too). A perspective shift lens could alleviate some of this, but those tend to be expensive; I have also used a plate camera that has rise/fall movements on the front lensboard, and this helps, as well (the shift lenses were, I believe, based on these camera movements). Eventually, though, I just accept that in some shots, I’ll have to put up with curvy buildings that aren’t supposed to be curvy. Its annoying, but there’s a finite extent to which you can alleviate the optical effects inherent in the lens design itself.

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