Friday, September 28, 2018

Is there a mountain in Vancouver?

Who knew there was a mountain in the middle of Vancouver?

What kind of sorcery is this, that a mountain - a volcano in fact - would rise out of the center of Vancouver, British Columbia?  There are a few hills there, some of them, like the Queen Elizabeth Gardens, are modestly impressive.  None of them, however, are that impressive.   What is going on.

The first thought that may come to mind is that the image has been altered - Photoshoped as it were, a vagrant added merely for effect.  Not so, no significant alterations were made, other than the normal post shot processing that takes place to convert a raw file into a usable image.   Why is it then, that the tallest building there seems only slightly shorter than the behemoth in the background?  If it is a mountain, with snow capped features and glaciers grinding down the flanks, why is it not larger.

The answer is three fold.  The mountain in the background is Mount Baker, and it happens to be about 105 km or so southeast of Vancouver as the crow flies.  That's approximately 65 miles.  While Vancouver starts out at sea level, the dormant volcano peaks out at 3286 meters, or 10,781 feet above that same starting point.  The reason it is so large in the background is because I was shooting with a very long telephoto lens at the time and caused an effect associated with telephoto lenses called compression.

Compression happens when perspective is altered through the use of a lens with a focal length longer than 50 mm (as defined by a regular full frame DSLR or  an SLR film camera),  The longer the focal length, the greater the compression.  The nature of the effect is to bring things in the background up so that they seem closer than what they do to the eye.  Normally Mount Baker appears as a blip in Vancouver's skyline.

The second reason has to do with the curvature of the earth.  The farther something is away from us, in any direction, the less of it you will see because it becomes hidden by the curving earth.  At 105 km away, approximately 800 m of the total height of Mount Baker is hidden.  Now that is only about 25% of the total distance, but if it were on a totally flat (ie. not curved) plain it would be that much higher to the eye. 

Finally there is the angle of inclination.  Trigonometry tells us that at any given angle, the farther the run is (along the x axis) the greater the rise will be (along the y axis).  As we get closer to the city, the building will rise in height relative to the mountain; conversely it will shrink as we get further away.  At some point, with the right position, the top of the building would converge exactly with the top of our extinct volcano.  That would mean moving northeast to line the two up.

From the perspective of someone wanting to get an interesting photograph however, I like how the mountain frames the background and how the city's skyline is offset by it.  The cargo ship in the foreground is a nice touch.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

In need of repair - Old cannery at Birch Bay, Washington

In need of repair - an old fishing boat at a historic cannery.
What makes one photo work while another doesn't quite hit the mark?  If you shoot twenty pictures of a scene from various points of view, why are some better than others?  These are important questions when capturing and reviewing images.  It turns out there are a myriad of reasons.

I have a dozen shots of this life size diorama, each one sharing the same elements.  The boat, the building, the sky, the land, and a bit of the sea.  Yet it was this one in particular that stood out.  I have a 16x20 inch print matted and framed in my foyer that always catches the visitors' eyes.

Any photo will tell a story.  The vignette here is of someone's boat; having endured years of service it was finally cast aground after some final catastrophe.  Yet it brought the fishermen home, faithful in its endeavor to reunite them with their families.  Although it would never float again, it wasn't broken down, hauled away, or burnt because it still held some meaning for those who knew about her legacy.  After all, if they survived, why shouldn't she?

The story though is only part of the picture (excuse the pun).  The image itself stands on its own.  There are several components of which makes it work.  An important aspect is the relationship between the foreground and background.  Each plays a key role in conveying their visual sentiments.  Proportions are immensely influential with over or under sized aspects making or breaking the scene.  The vessel, the subject of the vignette, has character in its own right; it lies along the bottom third of the image with a range of details and shades to be visually pleasing.  The background gives context to the foreground.  The strong lines both vertically and horizontally grabbing attention, but not too much or too little.

I think it is the roof and its shadow that really effect appeal though, with their lines pointing to some unseen convergence with the direction of the beleaguered boat.  The blue sky frames the scene in, with the grass and building itself completing the effect.  But, really, at the end, I just like the shot.  Maybe that is all it comes down to.