News and Views from Dave Wilson

Family

A Decade and Counting

by on Oct.04, 2009, under Family

0910-Cameron_10th_Birthday-13

0910-Cameron_10th_Birthday-13, originally uploaded by wilsonloftin.

Our oldest “baby” (second from the right in this picture) turned 10 last Wednesday. It hardly seems any time since I was pushing a stroller around our neighbourhood late at night trying to get our little, colic-suffering bundle of joy to stop screaming and go to sleep. I’m glad to say that most of the screaming these days if of the “scream for joy” variety, thank goodness.

We celebrated on Friday night when a group of his friends came over for a food fight, hot tubbing, marshmallow roasting and many, many hours of video game playing. They had a blast and, thankfully, kept the whipped cream outside and off the carpets.

On Saturday morning, we got together with all the guys in the Cub Scout den and played Blazer Tag, something that was greatly appreciated by Dad as well as the boys. There’s something amazingly therapeutic about racing around a darkened, 3 storey arena blasting people with a lazer gun 🙂

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Camp at Space Center Houston

by on Sep.15, 2009, under Family, Photography

0909-Space_Center_Houston-32

0909-Space_Center_Houston-32, originally uploaded by pack101.

I just realised that I had failed to mention that Cameron and I spent last weekend camping at Space Center Houston with the Cub Scouts of Pack 101. This is an annual event which we missed last year due to the fact that Hurricane Ike blew through the weekend before we were supposed to go but it was worth waiting for since we had a fabulous time.

The boys and their parents (totalling about 160 people, about half of whom came from our pack) were locked into the visitor center after it closed to the public and enjoyed an evening of spaceflight-related science activities before crashing on sleeping backs among the exhibits. The next morning, we all watched an IMAX movie then got an early tour of Johnson Space Center where we got to see Mission Control, the Astronaut Training Facility and the Rocket Park, complete with a Saturn V in its own building.

We had a super time and will definitely go back again next September. In the meantime, here are a few pictures from the weekend. Click on any for a larger version.


Saturn V, Second Stage 0909-Space_Center_Houston-94

0909-Space_Center_Houston-9 0909-Space_Center_Houston-67

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Cameron’s First College Football Game

by on Sep.06, 2009, under Family, Photography

Cameron and I had an exciting outing to the Darrell K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium last night to see the UT Longhorns destroy the Warhawks from University of Louisiana at Monroe in front of a crowd of over 101,000 people (most of whom are shown in this not-too-great panorama of the event).

Unfortunately, UT football games impose restrictions on photographers and they won’t allow you in if you are carrying a telephoto lens. People do get past the checks, though, since the guy behind me at one game had a gadget bag and a 300mm lens on his camera but I’m too chicken to try so the longest glass I had yesterday was 105mm and, as a result. I got no pictures worth talking about. This year too, there is a new rule prohibiting the distribution of any image taken during the game. I figure I’m OK with this panorama since it was taken before the game started 🙂

Despite not being able to get close to the action with the camera, I enjoyed the half of the game we watched and, of course, it was great to see the UT band at half time. Cameron faded in the middle of the second quarter so we headed off after the band had finished its show, leaving the Longhorns to score another 20 or so points in the second half of the game.

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The Whole Gang

by on Jul.06, 2009, under Family, Photography




The Whole Gang

Originally uploaded by wilsonloftin

For the first time in several years, my whole family were together while we spent a week in the English Lake District so we took advantage of the fact and I shot a group containing Dad, all three brothers, their wives and all our kids (plus both the UK dogs). This was taken in the garden of Routen House, the rather excellent and extremely secluded house we were staying in for the week.

This shot also gave me another excuse to play with fill flash. I used a single SB600 on the hotshoe to open up the shadows a bit and add some foreground light and it seems to have worked reasonably well even though it was rather far away and probably somewhat underpowered given the ambient light.

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Good News for Nikki

by on Jun.28, 2009, under Family

I used to think that art photography was an occupation which required the participant to be highly immune to frequent rejection but I had no idea how much worse the publishing industry was until Nikki gave up her last job last August to concentrate on writing full-time. To be a writer, regardless of how good your work is, you must have an enormously thick skin and the ability to continue working despite a barrage of rejection from agents and publishers. J.K. Rowling received rejections from a dozen publishers before finding someone willing to take on the first Harry Potter book and Theodor Geisel had to try more than 20 publishers before getting his first book published (you probably know him better as Dr. Seuss).

With one finished middle grade novel, an almost complete sequel and half a dozen picture books under her belt (not to mention another middle grade fantasy which has been shelved pending rework and a fantasy market which is not saturated post-Potter), Nikki is in the throes of crafting and sending query letters to agents and publishers. Hopefully this weekend’s news will help things along a bit – she has just won the 2009 Writers’ League of Texas Manuscript Competition in the middle grade fiction category! Just back from their annual Agents’ Conference, she has already had several agents from prestigious agencies request her manuscript (yes, the agents asked her for the manuscript rather than responding to a query letter). All fingers are crossed that one of these folks will like the book as much as all the non-agents/non-publishers who have read it so far!

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End of a great trip

by on Jun.25, 2009, under Family

Toronto by Night

Toronto by Night, originally uploaded by David A G Wilson.

The blog has suffered while we’ve been off on holiday. I tried to post ot Flickr and the photoblog on a fairly regular basis (when I had access to the internet) but didn’t post anything significant here at all while we were away. Sorry about that.

To make amends, here’s a photo I took on Tuesday night while in Toronto. We were staying in the rather fabulous (and incredibly reasonably priced) Grand Hotel – definitely consider it if you are traveling to the city – which has a great patio 19 storeys up on the roof. It’s open to guests until midnight so I spent about an hour there waiting for the light to be just right for a dusk skyline shot.

Toronto was a superb place to end our trip. We spent two days there doing tourist things. On Monday, we visited the CN Tower and Royal Ontario Museum (photos here and here). The weather was wonderful and the view from the tower superb. The last time I visited Toronto about 20 years ago, the humidity was sky-high and the visibility horrible so this was a pleasant surprise.

The ROM had changed a great deal since my last visit. It was still a superb museum but it now sports a fabulous modern addition on the Bloor Street side which contrasts rather strikingly with the classical architecture of the old building. The kids loved the dinosaurs and the gems and mineral collection. I loved the fact that, unlike so many other museums I’ve visited, there were no photography restrictions at all.

On Tuesday, we spent the day at Ontario Place, a fairly gently, kid-oriented theme park on the shores of Lake Ontario. We had a great time, especially in the water park section where Drew got to experience a long, raft-ride flume for the first time and really loved it.

The flight back from Toronto yesterday was uneventful except for Cameron managing to lose his Nintendo DS case containing all his games somewhere in Toronto airport. If you happen to be there and see a blue Pokemon case, do let us know.

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Holiday is almost over

by on Jun.20, 2009, under Family, Photography

We just got back to Lanark (and an internet connection) after a week in the English Lake District where my dad had rented a large house for the whole family. We stayed in the somewhat remote Ennerdale valley in a house that was about 6 miles from a main road down single track roads with rather questionable passing places. It was absolutely glorious.

We did a bit of walking with the kids including a lovely trek through the “dark and very expensive forest” (seen in the middle of this shot) to a super waterfall. The best walk, however, was on the trail around Ennerdale Water which Nikki and I did one afternoon after leaving the boys in the care of their aunts and uncles. This was an 8 mile route which started very easily on the near side of the lake but got a lot more challenging on the opposite bank where climbing was involved at various points. The scenery was stunning, though, and it made for a fabulous 3 hours on a lovely sunny day.

Photographically, this has been a great trip. I’ve filled 20GB of memory cards, run out of hard disk space on the laptop and have 1000 or so images of Glasgow, Lanark, the Lanimer Day celebrations and the Lake District to edit when I get back to Austin.

Onward now for 3 days in Toronto before heading home…

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Crown Tavern and St. Kentigern’s Church

by on Jun.05, 2009, under Family

The packing is finally done and we are ready to head off to sunny Lanark tomorrow. 4 flights and, given how much luggage we have, I suspect at least 1 train journey and I should be within range of a decent pint at the Crown Tavern followed by a week of festivities at the annual Lanimer celebrations.

Lanimers stretches back hundreds of years and was originally an annual event to check that unscrupulous landowners bordering the town boundary had not moved any of the marker stones and stolen land from the town. While there are still two major events that involve checking the boundary stones (“The Walking of the Marches” on Monday evening when the townsfolk walk around half the boundary and check those stones, and “The Riding of the Marches” on Wednesday when a large number of riders cover the other half of the boundary), the main event is now the parade on Thursday morning followed by the crowning of the Lanimer Queen at the town cross.

The town will be absolutely mobbed on Thursday (don’t even think about trying to drive through it any time between about 7:30am and 1:00pm) but we have been kindly given passes to an area near the cross that should afford a great view of the procession and crowning ceremony. I’ll be using a lens that’s probably unfashionably large that day, I expect 🙂

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Playing with off-camera flash

by on May.31, 2009, under Family, Photography

Frankie Catches Air

Frankie Catches Air, originally uploaded by David A G Wilson.

I’m definitely way behind the curve when it comes to lighting. Up until now, I’ve considered a flash to be a necessary evil – something to use in a dire emergency or when I’m taking snaps at parties and the like. Over the last few months, however, I’ve been reading David Hobby’s Strobist blog and demolished Joe McNally’s book “The Moment it Clicks” in a single sitting and, inspired by these, have been keen to start using a flash for “serious” photography.

To further this goal, I got out the manual for my Nikon SB-600 to try to figure out how to use some of its advanced modes, notably wireless off-camera triggering and high speed sync (the ability to use the flash when your shutter speed is faster than the usual 1/200th sync speed). With this new information in hand, I headed off for a day of shooting with Miles Bintz at the Walnut Creek BMX track yesterday and this is one of the resulting images.

This proved to be a great experience. I was only using a single flash but the difference it made was incredible. The track is heavily wooded and, with the sun so high in the sky, photos taken without the flash always ended up with the riders’ faces in the shade. By using a flash to the left and below the riders as they jumped, these shadows could be filled in resulting in good light on them. Exposure adjustment also allowed the background to be darkened rather nicely to highlight the rider. I’ve done some arty stuff to this picture but, even with the monochrome background, you can still get a pretty good idea of the effect. No doubt I’ll post a few more (less processed) images from the shoot here over the next week or so.

So what were the main lessons learned yesterday?

  1. To use the high speed sync capabilities offered by the SB-600, you need to ensure that you are not trying to use the on-camera flash for fill. It doesn’t support high speed sync and you find yourself limited to shutter speeds longer than 1/200 or thereabouts. Use it purely as a commander, however, and the SB-600 will sync with all shutter speeds up to 1/4000 (albeit with dramatically reduced guide numbers as the shutter speeds get faster).
  2. You need at least 2 lights to get this right. With a single light on one side of the jumper, you end up with harsh shadows cast by the arm across the body in most shots. Another, slightly less powerful light on the opposite side would help reduce this. Miles was shooting with this arrangement and his lighting looks lot more even.
  3. I thought I would be using my long lens most of the day but ended up getting the best shots (like this one) with the 50mm or even the 10-20mm ultra-wide zoom. The prespective distortion introduced by the ultra-wide results in very dramatic pictures but you take your life in your hands to get them since you end up very close to the bikes as they fly through the air.
  4. The most difficult part of the process once you get the lights positioned is focusing. Most of the time, I stuck to manual focus and prefocused where I thought the bike would be at the apex of the jump. I then fired the shutter when the rider flew through the field of view and chimped the result to check the focal point before refocusing for their next run if necessary.
  5. As an extension of the last point, even the super-fast autofocus on the 70-200mm f2.8 VR can’t track one of these guys as he flies towards you.
  6. Don’t leave your water bottle in the car if you intend spending 4 hours in the sun in the Texas summer.

Yesterday’s experience was enormously positive and I’m left with whole new vistas of flash-enabled photographic opportunity. I’ll definitely go back to the track since I think it would make a great documentary subject in addition to being a fabulous place to get some really dramatic action shots. Maybe I’ve found the photo project I’ve been looking for?

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Butterfly Drinking

by on Apr.02, 2009, under Family, Photography

Butterfly Drinking

Butterfly Drinking, originally uploaded by David A G Wilson.

Our main objective in going to Houston a couple of weekends ago was to visit the museums down there. One of the highlights for me was definitely the outstanding butterfly exhibit in the Houston Museum of Natural Science which is housed in a large, glass structure on one side of the building. The space contains a spectacular waterfall dropping about 40 feet from the roof down the center into a pool. This is surrounded by a large variety of rain forest plants with a huge number of butterflies flitting between them.

I spent an hour or so there (Nikki and the boys left for the gift shop well before me) and played with my Tamron 90mm f2.8 Macro lens. Lighting was a bit tricky but I managed to get several shots I’m very happy with, one of which you can see here.

My hit rate was pretty poor (about 4 to 5%, I reckon) but given how the insects flutter around and the tiny depth of field when you are that close (about 2 to 3 inches away in this case), I guess that’s reasonable. It all comes back to my firmly-rooted belief that to get a few good pictures you have to take a whole lot of bad ones.

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