Thursday, October 29, 2009

Quincy Smelter: Compressor Wheel

A large spoked wheel with curly painted details, in black and white
An old compressor wheel in the Quincy Smelter

This is part of my series of photos from my Quincy Smelter photo tour. This shot came from a machine room which was in surprisingly good shape. Two large engines -- probably compressors -- were still fully installed in this room, and the roof was even intact. The thing which most amazed me about these machines were the details. Despite being huge mechanical beasts, someone had taken the time to stencil these lovely details on the spokes of the wheels. Many of the fittings on the machines also had similar details. The details served no function, of course, but they are something you wouldn't find on most modern machinery.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Fall on the Quincy Tram

A bright fall color scene with a rail line leading down a hillside, towards the Portage Lake Lift Bridge.
The New Quincy & Torch Lake Railroad

This beautiful fall scene comes to you from the top of Quincy Hill. The rail line here is the new Quincy & Torch Lake Railroad, which runs a tourist tram down to an old mine entrance. The old Q&TL RR ran along the crest of Quincy Hill, running mine rock down from the mine to the Quincy Mill and bringing coal back up.

The bridge here is the Portage Lake Lift Bridge, a major local landmark which looks extra pretty in blue. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Quincy Stars - Take #2

Circular star trails with the Quincy Number 2 shaft house in the center.
Another shot at star trails at the Quincy Mine.

After my first try at star trails over the Quincy Mine, I learned many things about taking long nighttime exposures of the sky. Last Saturday, I headed back up to Quincy to put those lessons into action. In this post, I'll analyze the results, figure out what worked, what didn't, and list some more lessons learned.

Technical Details: This photo was made by "stacking" 144 separate exposures, each taken with these parameters:
  • Focal length: 10mm, on my shiny new Nikon 10-24mm
  • Shutter speed: 30 seconds
  • Aperture: f/3.5 (which was the maximum aperture available)
  • ISO: 400
I took the photos using gphoto2 (installation and details), a PTP camera controller program, installed on my MacBook Pro. The laptop controlled the camera via a USB connection. I used the gphoto2 command:
    gphoto2 --capture-image-and-download -I 34
This instructs the camera to take a photo every 34 seconds. Why 34 seconds? Interestingly, this is actually the ideal spot for my computer and camera combination to take photos at the correct rate. There is a bit of a delay when the computer instructs the camera to take the first photo. After that, gphoto2 keeps track of how far behind schedule it is -- and tries to catch up. The result is that the computer instructs the camera to take a photo after about a 1 second delay, just enough to let the sensor cool down.

Improvements and Problems: The purpose of trying this same photo shoot again was to learn from my mistakes last time. Here's a rundown of what I like and dislike about this photo.
  • Batteries and time:In many ways, this photo shoot (and the resulting star trails photo) came out much better than the last try. The major change is that my batteries -- both camera and laptop -- were fully charged. This allowed me to get much more than the mere 20 minutes of exposures which I had last time. This time, I got around 72 minutes, leading to much longer star trails.
  • gphoto Timing: Also, as mentioned above, I significantly improved the timing of the image-taking. In my previous attempt, the camera eventually got out of control (perhaps because of a "backlog" of "take a photo now!" commands), and kept taking photos without the computer being able to download them. The result was "stutters" in the star trails, as I had to reset the camera.
  • Composition and star trails: The main thing I don't like in this photo is the angle. While the shaft-rockhouse is quite dramatic, the stars are moving in circles -- much less interesting than the big ovals in the original photo. In addition, the wider angle of the star trails in the original emphasized the movement of the stars and made them appear longer.
  • Inability to take more than 30 second exposures: I still haven't found a way to both control my camera via my laptop, and take photos longer than 30 seconds. No camera control software -- whether gphoto2, Nikon Camera Control Pro, or any others -- will let me operate the camera in "bulb" mode, which allows exposures longer than 30 seconds. The result is that I have to shoot at a very wide aperture (f/3.5) which reduces depth of field, and ISO 400 which adds a lot of noise. Anyone knowing of a reasonably cheap way to take time-lapse photos with a shutter speed of longer than 30 seconds, please let me know!
  • Colors and clouds: Finally, I don't like the colors as much in this photo: the moon was new, resulting in no reflections on the shafthouse and less light in the sky. As a result, the colors of the shaft house were mostly reflections of cars and streetlights, which resulted in much less pleasing colors. In addition, clouds running through the sky resulted in brown smears in the stacked photo -- be careful to find a truly clear night!

Lessons Learned: Here's a big summary for the aspiring star-trail photographer:
  • In gphoto2, use an interval slightly longer than your exposure. This lets the camera keep up with the computer's commands, and also lets the sensor cool (avoiding weird "purple clouds" in photos.

  • Charge your batteries! ... duh.

  • Use Incandescent white balance. Unless you feel like processing 100+ RAW files, you'll need to choose a good white balance ahead of time. Incandescent white balance makes the sky appear bluer and more natural.

  • Shoot when the moon is moderately full. This helps highlight objects in the photo and adds more light in the sky, helping get more natural photos with better light balance.

  • Get there early, set up, and focus. Another big problem was that I waited until the sun was mostly down to set up my rig. As a result, focusing was difficult (and sharpness wasn't helped by the large aperture). I also had a hard time composing properly, since the viewfinder was much too dark to see through. Get to your location early, set up your equipment, focus and compose. Then set everything to manual mode and leave it until you're ready to start.

If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Featured on Shutter Photo!

Good news, everyone! My photos of the mining ruins in the Copper Country were recently featured on D. Travis North's excellent photography blog, Shutter Photo. The article features not only photos, but also some analysis of industrial photography and ruin hunting in general. Check it out and be sure to browse through the other articles while you're there!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Road to the Sky

Looking straight down a wet road with a wide angle.
US-41 south of Houghton, after a rain.

Have I mentioned lately that I love my ultrawide lens? It makes lines go zoooooom -- especially nice straight lines like the fresh highway south of Houghton. I grabbed this photo between zooming cars, on my way south to Madison last weekend.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Quincy Smelter: Rooms in Rooms

A black and white composition of a small machine room within a large room, surrounded by debris.
A room inside a room inside the Quincy Smelter.

On October 3rd, I had an amazing opportunity to go inside the Quincy Smelter and take photos.

The Quincy Smelter is an old copper refining operation on the shores of the Portage, just down the hill from Ripley. It was opened in 1898 by the Quincy Mine, and operated for 70 years until it closed in the late 1960s. Time has not been kind to the smelter, and most of the roofs have caved in from time and weather. The result is that the insides of the buildings are falling apart at an ever increasing rate.

The Quincy Smelter Association, along with the Quincy Mine Hoist Association and the Keweenaw National Historical Park, sponsored tours of the smelter, including special photographic tour. I had an opportunity to see inside almost all of the buildings, photograph them, and take my time enjoying the sights. This is the first of a series of the best photos -- look forward to more in the future!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Canyon Falls Ferns

A green diagonal slash of ferns growing on a ledge between brown and grey rocks.
Ferns and rocks, rocks and ferns.

This photo comes to you from Canyon Falls, a lovely waterfall near Baraga. The waterfall, as its name implies, falls into a deep canyon with sheer sides. Well, they aren't quite perfectly sheer -- there are small ledges, and somehow ferns and even small trees have managed to take hold.

The thing that really caught my eye here are the different colors of rocks: orangish-brown above, and grey-black below. Is this an interface between different types of rocks? I suspect it is, since waterfalls like to form where something changes, geologically.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Sunrise Lake

A foggy lake at sunrise.
Starrett Lake at sunrise.

Sarah and I enjoy camping, and it just so happens that some prime camping territory lies right between our respective homes. The Northern Highland State Forest in northwestern Wisconsin is a beautiful place, filled with lakes and campgrounds. Over Labor Day, we camped at Starrett Lake, hanging our hammocks right next to the lake. I woke up early one morning, and this is what I saw. I can't wait to go back!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Birch and Ice

Reflections in the Redridge Reservoir

This photo comes from a trip which Kyle and I took last spring, during the big melt. This photo comes from the reservoir behind the Redridge Steel Dam (more info), where birches reflect in the almost-melted lake.