Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias de Valencia

It was a spectacular day today so we walked the 45 minutes along the dry riverbed to go see the City Of Arts And Sciences.

It was like walking on to the set of a sci-fi movie from the 60’s.

City Of Arts And Sciences
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City Of Arts And Sciences

City Of Arts And Sciences

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City Of Arts And Sciences

City Of Arts And Sciences

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City Of Arts And Sciences

I was marvelling at how clean the water was. Then I saw this fellow.

City Of Arts And Sciences
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City Of Arts And Sciences

Very cool space and not overloaded with tourists oddly enough.

Fireworks

There are nightly fireworks displays that occur around 1:30 am each day. We decided to take a nap and get up and go see one.

After waking up we found a nice little Italian restaurant and had dinner with a bottle of one of the local wines. It was quite tasty.

After dinner we headed out to see the fireworks.

A large group of people gathered on one of the bridges that goes over the dry riverbed very near the hotel so we staked out a spot about an hour in advance.

Cynthia wanted photographic evidence that she was actually out after midnight.

Cynthia after dark

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Cynthia after dark

There was a very cool group of drummers getting the crowd worked up

drummers drumming

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drummers drumming

As it turned out, it was a good thing we got there early as the fireworks started abut 20 minutes ahead of schedule.

ohhh, pretty

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ooooh, pretty

Walking back there was a near miss as someone from down in the riverbed was lobbing fireworks up on to the sidewalk from down below. Not just the splody kind. They were like bottle rockets only bigger…and flying randomly. It was actually a bit frightening.

Folklore Parade

The Folklore Parade is an event that shows off the rich cultural heritage of Valencia. Lots of traditional costumes and pageantry.

The parade was supposed to start at 10:30 pm. It ended up starting close to 11:30. The crowds were massive and we ended up staking out a spot where the lighting was not so good but still had a great view of the event.

Only a few shots as processing these images on the MSI Wind is challenging

Ninot Exhibition

A few samples of the ninots from the exhibition. Each one is about the size of a person and is only a small part of the entire fallas, of which there are nearly 300 scattered about the city after the planta which is today.

Cynthia was, as those who know might imagine, quite delighted to find a giraffe ninot…

This gives you an idea of the workmanship that goes into these things.

Hard to imagine that these will all be burned at the end of the festival.

East Side Represent

Houston - East Side

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Houston - East Side

John Nova Lomax invited me to go on one of his Sole Of Houston walks. This time he was hitting the east side. The plan was to just sort of meander out to 75th Street and then head north to Canal and then head back to town. It was VERY interesting. We started about 9:30 am and finished about 4:30 pm. We covered a LOT of ground. You can read the story here: Sole Of Houston: East Side Story — Trains, Tequila, Dogs & Grief. There’s several more of my photos in the posting.

Stop Making All That Racket!

Sapsucker or Woodpecker?

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Sapsucker or Woodpecker?

Sapsucker or Woodpecker?

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Sapsucker or Woodpecker?

I was in my home office this morning and heard this guy outside. He was pecking to beat the band. I believe him to be a sapsucker as spotted previously but I could be mistaken. More likely a Downy Woodpecker which seems more common. He’s very high up in the neighbor’s tree, but the SAL-70300G did a fine job in the bright, early morning sun.

Galveston Oh Galveston

The weather for the last few days has been spectacular. Lows in the 50’s and highs in the 60’s and 70’s. I had Friday off and wanted to take advantage of it so I invited my friend Jim Henkel to head off on a road trip to post-Ike Galveston to have a look around.

The Flagship Hotel

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The Flagship Hotel

Galveston is still very tattered. Lots of debris and devastation but signs of life and reconstruction were plainly visible. I wasn’t all that interested in documenting the destruction, but the sight of the Flagship Hotel was pretty compelling.

The Flagship Hotel

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The Flagship Hotel

The Flagship Hotel

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The Flagship Hotel

We checked out Seawall Blvd and then headed to The Strand (Galveston’s historic district) where they were making preparations for the Galveston Mardi Gras. And by preparations I mean people were busy stocking the storefronts with booze.

We found some lunch and then headed off to catch the ferry over to Bolivar Peninsula to have a look around. That was way more depressing. We took a quick look around and then made our way back to Houston.

The road to recovery is a long one for poor Galveston.

I Got A Basketball Jones

I was commenting to some friends at one of the recent Geek Gatherings how it had been awhile since I’d been to a basketball game. I’m not a huge huge fan, but Cynthia is. I enjoy it well enough but the real joy is watching Cynthia watch the game.

Turns out the person I was talking to was a season ticket holder and he said that he could hook me up sometime as he didn’t go to every game. I didn’t think too much of it until a few weeks later when he contacted me and offered tickets to the Rockets VS. Mavericks game.

The tickets are at the Red and White Wine Bistro, an upscale all you can eat restaurant and wine bar. Food was included with the ticket but you paid for the wine. And the seats are right on the balcony with a great view of the court.

The Toyota Center has a 4 inch limit on lenses so there was no bringing my long zooms. I settled on my 11-18mm with the idea of capturing some wide angle shots like this one:

Rockets VS. Mavericks

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Rockets VS. Mavericks

Click to see the larger version and check out the detail.

And although I know it is getting more and more passe and trite, I took the opportunity to create a fake tilt-shift miniature:

Rockets VS. Mavericks

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Rockets VS. Mavericks

Again, the larger version is much more enjoyable.

The food was excellent, the seats were great and we had a blast! The Rockets even won!

Thanks for the use of your tickets, Alan!

BUG

Bug

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Bug

We went for a walk on Saturday down by the bayou just to get out and get a little excercise. Of course I had the camera in tow. Not a lot of photo opportunities, but Cynthia spotted this guy on a flower no bigger than a pinky fingernail. I’m stiff today from squatting down and trying to hold the camera still as the wind blew my subject to and fro.

It looks very much like a Crane Fly (aka Mosquito Hawk) which we see all the time in and around the house. But this guy is much smaller and has a probiscus rather than mandibles. My guess is he’s either a juvenile Elephant Mosquito or just a plane old male mosquito.

This pic remonds me of the album cover of Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of The Worlds

On a side note, there’s a 30th anniversary tour in the works which (sadly) doesn’t look like it will make it here to the U.S.

This shot was done with a flash from above.

Bug

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Bug

Macro Mothra

Best shot of the day at the Cockrell Butterfly Center was of this moth as I was leaving.

Macro Mothra

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Macro Mothra

Camera: Sony DSLR-A700
Exposure: 0.008 sec (1/125)
Aperture: f/9.0
Focal Length: 100 mm
Exposure: 0.00

There was a little daylight shining right on him so I shot with fill flash which allowed me to take advantage of the natural light for the majority of the illumination.

Check it out when we zoom in a little bit.

Macro Mothra

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Macro Mothra

The detail is phenomenal!

This is a full on, un-resized 100% crop of the original image:

If you are interested in seeing the full sized image in all of it’s 6.2 megabyte, 4272 x 2848 glory you can download it here:
http://www.baldheretic.com/pics/photography/macro/moth.jpg

It’s pretty amazing and worth checking out.

Sony SAL-100M28 – A Modest Review

I’ve always been fascinated by macro photography and it just so happened that I was investigating options for a dedicated macro lens without any real intention on adding one to the arsenal until I fell prone to poor impulse control again.

Eyeball

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Eyeball

Above photo was shot for fun and treated with a little HDR style processing to enhance detail.

In my research I read about the Sony SAL-100F28 along with Minolta AF 100 F2.8 Macro D which is the out of production predecessor to the Sony. And while the Minolta is less expensive than the Sony when you can find a good copy on the secondary market (Ebay, Craigslist, etc), I opted for the updated optics and mechanicals of the Sony along with a warranty.

Don’t get me wrong, the vintage Minolta glass has been widely praised. I even own the legendary Minolta AF 70-210 F4 (Beercan) lens and love it dearly. It’s just a crap shoot sometimes when you buy used technology from the 80’s and I was willing to pay the extra dollars for the Sony. Besides, immediate gratification was in play.

I also considered the Sony SAL-50M28 but decided I needed the 100mm reach over the 50mm to be able to get the shots I envisioned.

A medium sized and lightweight lens, the Sony SAL-100M28 is not cumbersome in the bag or on the camera. Being fast (f/2.8) and a prime lens, it appeals to my fast lens snobbery.

Aside from a few shots taken of Dooley and my own eyeball and such, I hadn’t really had a chance to really take this lens through its paces. Cynthia suggested The Cockrell Butterfly Center as a possible testing ground and having the day off yesterday I decided to make the trek to the HMNS compound to give it a whirl.

It’s worth noting that the Cockrell Butterfly Center is hot. They keep it hot to keep the butterflies alive, which makes sense. Having been there before I dressed comfortably and wore a head scarf and remembering my Hitchhiker’s advice I brought a towel.

The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has a few things to say on the subject of towels…

“A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value – you can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a mini raft down the slow heavy river Moth; wet it for use in hand-to- hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or to avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mindboggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you – daft as a bush, but very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitch hiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have “lost”. What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with.”

Ok, I wasn’t hitching a ride across the galaxy, but I did need to be able to wipe the sweat from my brow as I plunged into the macro-verse. It was a wise choice.

It should also be noted that when changing lenses while dripping sweat you want to be extra careful not to drip into the sensor while the lens is detached. I dodged this bullet with an uncharacteristic display of forethought.

I don’t have a macro flash (yet) so any flash photography was going to be done using the built in flash of my A700. Shooting with a flash allows you to shoot at a slower aperature which increases the depth of field.

Whatchoo lookin at?
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Whatchoo lookin at?

Shooting with a flash does make shooting with auto-focus much easier. But as I have mentioned previously, I prefer to shoot without a flash. This does present its own set of challenges. Faster aperture means shallower depth of field which means it’s harder to gain and maintain the focus of such tiny objects. If you breath (in or out) your subject moves completely out of focus or you focus too much forward or aft of your subject.

Since good macro photography is usually done using manual focus, a tripod or monopod is recommended. I did not bring one on this trip.

I discovered a technique where as I allowed myself to ever so slowly and ever so slightly pull back from the subject as I fired at full on 5 frames per second after achieving focus. The results are very satisfactory.

Red
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Red

Exposure: 0.006 sec (1/160)
Aperture: f/2.8
Focal Length: 100 mm

As you can see, the shallow depth of field givea a rather unique perspective when combined with shooting something so small so closely.

This resulted in a few really interesting shots

Here comes the sun
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Here comes the sun

Exposure: 0.006 sec (1/160)
Aperture: f/2.8
Focal Length: 100 mm
Exposure: -1.65

Whitey
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Whitey

Exposure: 0.006 sec (1/160)
Aperture: f/2.8
Focal Length: 100 mm
Exposure: 0.00

I’ve got a lot to learn and I also need a lot more practice. Holding steady is crucial in this milieu, even with anti-shake technology. The slightest shift can ruin the shot. Still, I like a good challenge and when things go right the results are quite thrilling.

Additional shots in my Macro Gallery.

For a full on technical review of this lens check out this article at photozone.de. Also check out real world reviews in this post at dyxum.com.

Sony SAL-70300G – A Modest Review

I don’t claim to be a photography expert. I am self taught through personal experience and what I have been able to glean from various web resources and other photographers. I choose Sony over CaNikon for various reason which I won’t go into in this post. That being said, I am not a reviewer who cares to detail the technical aspects of the equipment I use in a the formal way you see at sites like Photozone where the reviewer gets into detail about distortion, light fall off, vignetting, chromatic aberrations and so forth. I leave that to the experts. Besides, why duplicate what is already there?

What I like to do is share my own personal experience as a fan of the platform and show real world examples in the hopes that others interested in this platform will benefit.

As I have mentioned before, the Sony SAL-70300G lens comes highly recommended from my fellow Sony/Minolta users and is a quality piece of glass.

I was finally able to take my own personal copy for a real test drive. Mounted on the A700 (even without a vertical grip) it is well balanced and it’s easy to use hand-held for reasonable amounts of time.

I had Tuesday off so I went to The Cockrell Butterfly Center. This was Cynthia’s suggestion as a place to try out the new macro lens but I figured I could also take the SAL-70300G along as well to see how it performed.

Butterfly 1

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Butterfly 1

Click above image for larger version
Exposure: 0.008 sec (1/125)
Aperture: f/5.6
Focal Length: 250mm
On-board flash

I am not a huge fan of shooting with a flash, but as you can see the detail is amazing and the color vivid and true.

Next I wanted to shoot without a flash. Personally, I find the colors and saturation much more appealing in available light and truth be told, I am a high speed elitist when it comes to lenses. I like f/2.8 or faster and the SAL-70300G is only f/4.5-5.6 making it unsuitable for low-light situations.

Butterfly 1

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Butterfly 1

Exposure: 0.017 sec (1/60)
Aperture: f/5.6
Focal Length: 300mm
No Flash

Fully extended to 300mm at 1/60th of a second. BEAUTIFUL! And thank you Sony for the built in image stabilization or your camera bodies. I jokingly refer to myself as Mr. Shaky McShakerson as I don’t have the steadiest of hands and that can be a real problem shooting hand-held at this focal length in less than optimal light.

Fast focus and SSM makes the the lens practically silent.

I have no buyers remorse at all. This lens does what it is designed to do and it does it extremely well. The 70-300mm focal range is a change for me, personally. But it is proving to be a fantastic and fun addition to my lens arsenal. I anticipate I will use this lens quite a lot in my daytime shooting and am even now working out the packing details in my brain for our upcoming trip.

Additional examples are in my Sony 70-300mm G gallery which I will be adding to as time goes on.

A Tale Of Two Lenses – Part II

Part II of our tale pics up where Part I leaves off. Our hero has acquired the much sought after Sony SAL70300G 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 SSM ED G-Series Compact Super Telephoto Zoom Lens and being the careful and thoughtful lens owner who learned a valuable lesson two years ago about such things, procedes to go to the camera store to acquire a UV filter.

You might think I could go the camera store after buying a nice lens and manage to walk out with what I went there for and nothing else. If only that were true.

I love the Camera Exchange. Not because they’re the cheapest or the most convenient or anything pedestrian such as that. I love it because you walk in and you’re surrounded by camera equipment and photographers of all stripes. I also hate it for this very same reason.

While we were standing at the back counter talking to our favorite sales guy, Charlie, the discussion turned to macro photography and macro lenses. It was an innocent enough conversation until I asked Charlie if he happened to have the Sony SAL100M28 100 mm F/2.8 Macro that I could “look at” …

They had one but another customer was looking at it. As it happened he had just decided NOT to buy it so it was immediately available for my inspection.

The odd thing was that Cynthia became very interested in the concept of macro photography. She thought the whole idea was pretty cool and was especially fascinated by this picture of her own eyeball.

The Eye's Mind

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The Eye's Mind

If you click through to the larger image you can actually see her eyelid being reflected in the eyeball. This was just an off the cuff shot with the lens connected to my camera.

Of course any sales person in the world worth his salt knows that half the battle of selling something is just getting it into the hands of the potential buyer. Here I am with a fantastic macro lens connected to my camera so heck, it’s practically mine already. Cynthia’s encouragement and my own lack of willpower and *mumbledy* dollars later, I now own another fine specimen from the Sony lens line-up.

Again, still need to play with it but the initial indications are that this lens is every bit as good as the reviews are saying.

Poor Dooley was my test subject this weekend.

Dooley Macro

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Dooley Macro

A few more samples in this Flickr gallery