Photographing common objects in public for historical purposes

Will street signs still exist in 100 years? Photographs help remind what the past was like.Photographers often go to great lengths to shoot the most impressive subjects as possible:  a stunning Florida sunset, a beautiful model, nature, etc.  Such subjects make it easy to create a memorable photograph.  However, oridinary scenes and objects should not be overlooked by the modern photographer, for in one hundred years from now, what is modern will appear quaint.  I recall seeing old photographs of a street construction crew.  At the time the photograph would have appeared very ordinary.  To modern eyes, the photos were very interesting to see how construction workers dressed back then, what they brought with them for lunch, what machinery were they using.  

I made the above non-descript street sign shot while teaching a DSLR Photography lesson to just demonstrate how easy it is to create bokeh using a 50mm lens.  Back at home I was halfway to deleting it when I paused and recalled the old construction crew shots.  Maybe in 2111 there will be someone wondering what it was like to cross a street that had actual cars on it.  

In my own personal shooting over the fall I will shoot a series of "ordinary scenes & objects" with the aim of documenting daily life in 2011 in case anyone in the future has the same fondness I have for looking at old photos of such things. 

Can you see it?

Nikon D300 Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D @ f/2 ISO 200 1/320th

This is a little experiment.  You may be wondering why in the world is there a photograph of the back of a restaurant featuring a blue box and a mop handle on this site?  Well, as I was walking with a DSLR photography student this scene immediately caught my eye.  Before reading below, can you see what I found interesting about this subject matter and why I photographed it?  Let me know in the comments if you saw it at first too.

What I saw was a smiling face.  It reminded me of perhaps the only commercial I ever liked in my life, an American Express ad that featured all kinds of inanimate objects that looked like frowning and smiling faces.  To me it was a kind of simple genius.  I also think it would make for a great photography project, if not finding smiles, then something similar to what they did in the ad.

I find it amazing how simply appearing to have a face can anthropomorphize an object.  When I look at that blue box it makes me feel a bit warm inside to see its curvy smile.  Is the mop handle a long nose?

Post links to your photographs of random inanimate object smiles (or frowns) below in the comments.  Here is the commercial:

Rainbow Springs Zoo Haikyo Ruins

Nikon D300 Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 @ f/11 ISO 200 1/4th tripod mounted

A recent trip to Rainbow Springs proved to be very fun, and also very fruitful for photography (waterfall, landscapes).  The most unexpected find of the day was a zoo haikyo.  In our excitement to go swim in the cool waters of the spring and escape the monumental Florida heat, we totally missed the posters at the entrance showing the history or the springs.  Now they exist only as a swimming hole and a gift shop.  However, when the springs first opened in 1934 it was an entertainment complex as well, complete with a monorail and the aforementioned zoo!  All of that closed in 1973.  We saw no trace of a monorail, not that we knew to look for one at a time.  The zoo haikyo was baffling to us as well, since we were just walking through the forest looking for the waterfalls, and all of a sudden cages and iron bars.

Nikon D300 Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 @ f/11 ISO 200 1/4th tripod mountedAt first it was even hard to tell the place was a zoo.  Around a corner a small sign saying this place was a zoo confirmed it.  I do not think many modern zoos construct the cages out of such natural elements like stone as they did in 1934, but then again, not that I frequent zoos as I view them as prisons, but I guess modern zoos have mostly done away with barred cages or confined areas.

Nikon D300 Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 @ f/11 ISO 200 1/5th tripod mountedThankfully these cages will house no more animals, and have not for a long, long time.  So long in fact that tall trees have sprouted right in front of a former viewing area.  As one often wonders with haikyo, why were these structures even left behind?  Could not the stones walls be used for something else?  Perhaps the owners wanted to preserve the historical heritage of the springs.

Nikon D300 Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 @ f/8 ISO 200 1/2 tripod mountedBeyond the regular cages, further into the woods, things got a bit creepy, if not scary.  I of course, having an active imagination, believe in monsters, and if it were not for some companions with me to go in first, I do not know if I would have squeezed through the outer fencing and walls to enter the above dark, dilapidated structure.  The 1/2 second exposure makes things look a good bit brighter than they were, and on top of that mosquitoes and horse flies were swarming around.  I tried to sacrifice my body to get some shots, but I did rush nevertheless.  

Nikon D300 Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 @ f/11 ISO 200 1.6 seconds tripod mountedNow, it is darn useful to explore haikyo when some of your companions are civil engineers!  For example, he told me that the brighter stuff on the ground in the photo above, which kind of looks like light green moss, is actually asbestos!  I really wanted to get a photograph of this, and had to really sacrifice the body as we were swarmed with insects, to get the shot I wanted I had to shorten the tripod to just two feet off the ground, and to expose things the camera need 1.6 seconds, a seeming eternity to hold perfectly still while holding the shutter down and you dare not look down at what is biting your ankles.

Despite all that, it was really fun and definitely a cherry on top of one of my best days back in Florida.  Plus, my civil engineer friend has now caught the haikyo bug and wants to go out exploring more soon.  His wife is also one and has to inspect places deep in the countryside and has found haikyo for us to check out next.  I will wear pants for sure and long sleeves too!

DIY Lightbox Version 1

Where did I get the idea of putting the strobe in the top like that? I already know it was a crazy idea.

Some time ago I read a blog post about making your own lightbox and made a mental note to try it someday.  As such mental notes go they can remain in my mind for a few weeks, or even a few decades before they are actualized.  Fortunately for me Aya does not have such a lag between idea and doing, as well as a penchant for crafts.  So last week I came home one afternoon and Aya said, "tada, a lightbox."  I was impressed and excited to give it a try.  

Somehow I got the idea that the strobe just goes into the top.  Umm, having now done an image search for "DIY lightbox" I realize that it is more important for the sides to be translucent and any opening in the top is optional.  Now I know how to get started on version 2!

No shadows were deleted in this dead-on shot of E.T., who normally resides on my desk.

I had no trouble choosing the first test subject for the DIY lightbox, E.T.!  I already realize that I need to pose these inanimate objects just like I would a human, otherwise the portrait comes out looking flat.  Next time I will photograph E.T. from a slight angle to add depth and a more interesting composition.

Even at f/14, my Nikkor AF-S 105mm VR micro f/2.8G lens' DoF was too shallow to get both of E.T.'s eyes in focus.

I definitely see now how having two light sources on the sides would make for a much better lightbox.  The light really makes E.T.'s right eye sparkle.  Getting both to shine like that would have greatly improved the image, as well as eliminated the shadow behind him to frame right.

Apparently the Sweet Basil was so nervous to be photographed it broke out in a sweat!

Even with just a single strobe above the subject and my D300's on camera flash, almost all shadows were eliminated, which was my first goal with this DIY lightbox experiment.  

I learned a lot from this first try, and DIY lightbox version 2 will be greatly improved with side lighting, a single, long sheet of paper to eliminate that crease right at the base of the subject and maybe a larger box overall.  

If you have made your own DIY lightbox please share the link in the comments below. 

Favorite Five Photographs from 2009

2009 was the year I really got into HDR photography -- Colt Creek State Park in summer

5 - Colt Creek State Park - category: HDR

Not too long ago I did not like HDR photography at all.  Today, I love it and will have an HDR image in a collective retrospective exhibition of historical photographs of Saint Petersburg.  This HDR image of wetlands in Colt Creek State Park is one of my top five favorites of 2009 because I felt this park was an overlooked if not ignored state park.  It is a fairly new state park, only a couple years old.  I could almost feel the lack of photographs taken at this park, which is a shame as the wetlands were expansive and white ibis and other water birds flew in and out of them in flocks.  Someday I will return to this park and camp there in order to photograph it at sunrise.


I photographed my first wedding in 2009 and learned it is not all stuffy formal photos.

4 - The Ring Bearer Makes a Point - category: Wedding

2009 marked my debut as a wedding photographer.  Wedding photography could not be more different than I imagined.  Maybe I have just been lucky, but all the weddings I have photographed have been fun, tension free experiences.  This candid image made in between the formal shots made this list because of the moment it froze and the smiles on their faces.  This is the epitome of my candid style of photography and the types of things I am constantly searching for when photographing a wedding, event or any other gathering of people.


I still feel bad about running over this alligator in my kayak, sorry again dude!

3 - Eye to Eye with an Alligator  - category: Wildlife

This alligator photograph makes this list for a variety of reasons:  the long story behind the shot, my first time to really photograph an alligator, my first time to make any photograph from a kayak, and my first real foray into true wildlife photography.  The long story behind this shot can be read here.  After literally driving by the exit for Myakka River State Park on I-75 160 times, 2009 was the year I finally turned off the highway and got out of my car and into a kayak!  Floating added to the technical challenge of making this photograph, as was having to steady my hands on the camera knowing I was only a few feet away from this sizable alligator in his (her?) natural element, i.e. water.  However, being in the kayak allowed me to get to eye level with this alligator and having the sun to my back allowed me to get this exposure in the harsh Florida sun.  The experience of making this photograph was the only one that has ever made my heart race.  I cannot wait to shoot from a kayak again!


Six years living in Japan allowed me some unique photography opportunities.

2 - Four Come of Age in Vivid Kimonos  - category: Culture/Japan

A friend still living in Japan recently remarked how it is almost cliche to photograph young Japanese girls on Coming of Age Day in their kimonos.  This was not really in my mind last January when I was still living in Japan and fighting the crowds to enter Meiji Jingu Shrine.  However, upon seeing the dozens and dozens of photographers (at least guys with very expensive photo gear) shooting like it was the red carpet at the Oscars, I started to think I am really going to have to dig deep to produce a standout shot, and not just standout from what others are shooting, but to be a shot that standouts to me personally, as ultimately I really only shoot for pleasing myself in these situations.  By not including the girls' heads in the shot, I thought I could put the focus on their kimono, and make an image that years later will make me think, "who were these girls?"  


A true candid portrait, made at pretty much my favorite spot on Earth.

1 - On Treasure Island You Can Meet Your Other Self*  - category: Candid Portrait

I differentiate myself from other photographers in the Tampa Bay area by promoting my candid style.  I do not think I will ever be able to make a photograph that illustrates what a candid portrait means to me more than the one above.  This portrait of a boy placing his palms on the shore, closing his eyes, thinking/imagining, and unknowingly making a reflection of himself is a true candid.  He was off playing by himself while I was a distance away, when I noticed he was making a reflection in the wet sand.  I bent my knees to get near his eye level, steadying my 80-200mm lens in my hands, and that's when he went into this symmetrical stance.  I pushed the shutter and made my favorite photograph of 2009.

*This photograph was critiqued by Scott Bourne himself.

New desk layout & photographs on the wall

An organized desktop for 2010 with more work space and new photographs on the wall.

I do not like to have a messy desk, in fact I cannot stand it.  Finally this afternoon I moved everything off my desktop and only put back a fraction of the stuff.  This gave me a lot of open space on the left to work on when I work off of my Mac (I am left-handed).  I bought the black magazine holder you see in the corner to get Rangefinder and Professional Photographer off the desktop itself.  I put up my new 2010 lighthouse calendar.  Then the finishing touch was hanging some of my haikyo photographs from Japan to give the area a proper photographer's workstation feel.  As you can see I have a good amount of remaining wall space that I will fill up with some Florida prints soon.

Now it's time to get to work!

Yours Truly on the set!

Jason Collin holding a reflector on set in InnisbrookHave I left the still world and moved into motion?  No...not yet at least.  More about the Cush 'N Shade photo gig soon, but for now, let me know how my reflector holding technique is.  

My impression is it's a hard job as the models are annoyed by it, and thus perhaps annoyed at you, and you often have to keep your arms outstretched for semi-long periods of time.  However, if you enjoy shining a bright light into the eyes of people who cannot move, then it's definitely a career choice you should look into.