A Tilt-shift View of Eureka Springs

I have written a couple of posts about using my tilt-shift lens set up recently. I wrote about using the technique to give motion and focus to a country road, and used it to take some portraits of an old friend. I thought I would do a post how tilt-shift is typically used. The tilt-shift lens can be angled so that it is not parallel to your camera’s sensor – this gives you a slice of focus and changes the perspective of your shot slightly. It is mostly used to give a feel of miniaturized cityscapes. I don’t live in a city so I went to a scenic overlook in town. It’s a tree covered area that is about midway between the bottom of the hollow that is Main Street and the top of the ridge where the Crescent Hotel sits. Shooting through trees makes it tougher than the shots you typically see – classic tilt-shift is shot from high above and focuses on the tiny details below. It’s all manual – you tilt then focus by hand. You can set the shutter speed and ISO in camera, but the rest is all done by the photographer.

Here’s a little tour of the city I call home at just past the peak colors of autumn – Eureka Springs, Arkansas, one of America’s favorite SMALL towns. All of these shots were taken from the East Mountain Overlook, facing west.

So what do you think of tilt-shift photography – is it interesting or does it make you dizzy?

Chasing the Sunset

I love a colorful sunset. I live about 15 miles west of my place of employment. It’s a winding country drive. On a few special evenings a year I spot some color and chase it down as I drive westward towards home.

Standard Time sure limits my opportunities though. Late last week – on October 31st – I got the chance to capture the last sunset of October. It will likely be the last one I catch on my drive home until spring.

I shot these with my fast 50 portrait lens. I end to close down the aperture a bit shooting sunsets – I am not looking for blur or bokeh. I want color. These were all shot between f4-f6.3. Shutter speeds are slowed down a bit for detail around 1/60 sec – ISO at 200 except for the shot of the Crescent – it was at 800 because I was losing light fast.

Country Roads – a Tilt-shift View of Autumn in the Ozarks

My bird lens is on the fritz, 9 days at Olympus for repairs and counting. Arrrrgh! Peak fall color hit about 10 days ago so I have not been able to get my leaf shots – it’s something I look forward to all year. The last two weeks have been rainy off and on so shooting days are few and far between anyway. Last weekend a kind of panic hit me – shoot now or miss the whole season. I started by taking a couple of snaps on local roads with my portrait lens – not my favorite for these kinds of shots – but serviceable.

Shooting down roads has always been a mixed bag for me. I tend to shoot things that I can isolate like birds or leaves or objects. A scene can take me in, but capturing it effectively can often elude me. I had been playing around with a tilt-shift set up and wondered if I could use it to look into the distance on these country roads – to use it in a way that would help the viewer to get a better sense of what I feel when I am driving down one of these roads – crisp air, crunching swirling leaves, filtered sunlight. Can I take a photo that makes you feel these things?

I know I have explained this before, but just in case – a tilt-shift lens lets you move the lens at an angle so that the plane of focus is not parallel to the camera’s sensor – it gives you a “slice of focus” and lets you hone in on certain objects that you want to highlight. It is often used to distort an image to give it the feel of miniaturization.

Shooting gear that you are not completely comfortable with is often a good thing – it gives you a new perspective – it pushes you to try new things. Sometimes the distortion is unsettling, sometimes it’s almost painterly. For me, many of these shots give a better sense of the feel of the roads in the autumn.

These shots were all taken in the last few days, some from the same locations as the earlier shots.

OK – so no skyward leaves or birds amidst the color for me this year. Not having my favorite lens should limit me – but instead it’s forcing me outside of my happy place – and that’s a good thing.

An Old Friend and a Camera Lens

I recently saw an impressive tilt-shift image posted by a friend on Facebook. It was a long shot of the autumn color here in the Ozarks. It made me think about my neglected tilt-shift set up. Languishing in the old camera bag, I hadn’t touched it in over a year. Frankly, it intimidated me. I used it a couple of times and got 2-3 images that I liked – but it took more work. It was less intuitive. Getting good color was not as easy since the set-up only works in manual – you can set your shutter speed and ISO – but the rest is all you. I wrote briefly about using it ages ago in one of my early posts, and I got one shot from that afternoon that I regularly sell prints of.

This is an image I took last year with the tilt-shift lens at a local lake. The tilt lets me focus on a small portion of the image and lets the rest blur. It takes a boring angled shot of a dock and makes it pretty interesting to investigate visually.

This is an image I took last year with the tilt-shift lens at a local lake. The tilt lets me focus on a small portion of the image and lets the rest blur. It takes a boring angled shot of a dock and makes it pretty interesting to investigate visually.

Here’s how tilt-shift works – the lens is offset at an angle from the sensor – so your plane of focus is not parallel. That angle lets you selectively focus on a single portion of the image and lets the rest blur. If you have seen images of city shots where the people and cars look like dioramas – those images are tilt shift. That plane of focus shifts the perspective creating the illusion that things are smaller than they really are in proportion to the overall image. The gear it takes to do this is pretty cool. It kind of looks like a mix between Frankenstein and Steampunk –

This is my tilt-shift set up - note the aperture ring in the center - its a coated metal disc held in place by magnets. To change the aperture you change out the ring. f22 is like a pinhole. f1.4 is no ring at all.

This is my tilt-shift set up – note the aperture ring in the center – its a coated metal disc held in place by magnets. To change the aperture you change out the ring. f22 is like a pinhole. f1.4 is no ring at all.

A side view of the tilt-shift set up on my tripod. Each of the threaded rods help you to fine tune the shift. For the shots in this post I went with a more casual approach - point, focus, shoot, try again.

A side view of the tilt-shift set up on my tripod. Each of the threaded rods help you to fine tune the shift. For the shots in this post I went with a more casual approach – point, focus, shoot, try again.

You compress the outer ring towards the camera body at an angle until you see something that you think is interesting. Once you get a sense of the image you lock that ring and then you can focus using a slide on the ring. I find that it works best to find a sweet spot and then look for things to focus on within your field of vision. At this point it becomes more intuitive.

I’ve been shooting some landscapes this way and will probably write a post about them soon, but last night on my way home from work I had a chance meeting on my road – an old friend approached me as I was checking my mail box. All of the shots that follow were taken shortly after sunset. I removed the aperture ring altogether to let in as much light as possible.

My road at sunset - by choosing that one spot of brighter color in the distance to bring into focus, I make your eye look down the road and into the photo.

My road at sunset – by choosing that one spot of brighter color in the distance to bring into focus, I make your eye look down the road and into the photo.

Ben is a wonderful old friend. Every time I see him at the mail box I roll down the window and say hi. At first he was much more interested in some petting than in being the subject of a blog post, but he rolled with it. The wonderful thing about tilt-shift is that it lets you look at something you see all the time and see it with new eyes – a fresh perspective.As I shot I thought about his noble look, his curious and kind eyes, his friendly posture. It’s always good to look at an old friend with new eyes.

Requiem for Fall

The color here in the Ozarks is almost completely gone. Sometimes you’ll find a dogwood deep in a hollow – but the show is essentially over. Here are the last of the stragglers and my attempt to find something interesting or beautiful without a lot of color.

This hickory was one of the last holdouts. More leaves up than down.

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Today even these are on the ground.

Some maples hung on in spite of the recent wind and rains, sometimes the sky was visible right through them.

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Today the maples have all joined the oaks on the forest floor.

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A crunchy carpet of tans and golds a foot thick in spots is all that remains.

Driving west I saw this field full of something fluffy. The sunlight and wind made it dance.

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The puffs were actually quite delicate – like dandelion seeds. Even so they hung on in the wind.

On my way back to town I stopped by to see this old friend – fully exposed amidst its now barren trees. It makes me think of that transition from Fall to Winter.

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It’s just holding on to what little color it has left.

Fall is fleeting and I miss it already.

Ginkgo Stinko

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I was born with no sense of smell. None, nada, zilch. If someone is using a solvent like acetone or something, I can taste something in the back of my throat – but that taste is the same as someone spraying Fabreeze or perfume. If I walk into a restaurant or even into a house where someone is cooking, I cannot identify what kind of food they are making, I just get a sense of moisture in the air. Italian, pot roast, Mexican, Thanksgiving dinner – all the same.

Bath and Body Works is a mystery to me, so is Yankee Candle. I make my choices by the colors of the products – will it look good in my home? Friends are always putting things under my nose and saying how good they smell. I don’t want to make them feel bad so I just sniff away getting nothing from the experience except that there was some sort of sharing going on. That’s thoughtful and I appreciate it.

If I were picking a sense to lose, it would be smell. I hear people talk about bad smells more than good ones. It seems smell can really set people off. I hear complaints about body odor, chemicals, the chicken plant down the road. I am happily oblivious.

Sometimes I get to find the beauty in something that stinks, like the ginkgo tree.

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Last month I read a post by Mrs. Fringe about autumn in New York City. She talked about the fruit dropped from this stunning tree in terms of it’s vomit-like aroma.

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Here in Eureka Springs the ginkgo is one of the last trees to show off it’s color. We have several located downtown right near the post office. For years I have headed there late in October to take in the glorious color of the last of the fall.

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Every year I see scads of photogs milling around the fading maples on the other side of the street. I seem to be the only one who loves this tree.

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I heard a friend mention the annoying fruit – there is sooooo much of it on the ground in the late fall and they are not pretty. Apparently this friend didn’t see the need to mention that the fruit stinks. My friends always forget that I cannot smell anything.

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So every year I wander through that fruit without worry, with no clue that I am crushing fruit that smells to high heaven underneath my shoes.

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This year I took a friend with me to shoot this wonder. As I stood in the grass shooting upwards I heard her exclaim, “That smell, there is dog crap somewhere nearby, and lots of it!” You see I had forgotten all about that informative blog by Mrs. Fringe and was once again blissfully unaware of the stink I was in.

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I kind of like my fragrance free world.

Falling Fast – the End of the Show

Last Saturday I revisited some of my favorite spots I shot this fall, it was a glorious sunny day and I was taking a friend on the tour so she could capture the fleeting color. Sadly the decline was in full swing. Today, a week later these spots are almost bare. As in the beginning of the transition, I spend my time seeking color, rather than being surrounded by it.

 

Sweet Spring
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Peak color.
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Last gasp.

 

Down Magnetic Hollow
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Explosion of color.
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Fading glory.

 

Up Magnetic Hollow
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Layers in the light.
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Light passing through.

 

Don’t get me wrong, the woods are still gorgeous, but the color is literally blowing away. Down in the hollows there are still rich pockets of color.
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Fuller Street.
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Maple splendor.
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Determined Dogwood.

 

The transfer is happening from sky to earth.
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The carpeting on these Ozark hills is no longer green.

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Rich layers of carmels, tans, and browns cover it all. The thick layers also add a sweet sound to the movement in the woods.

 

The lesson of fall is to seize the day, enjoy the color, live in this moment. It’ll be gone before you know it.