Sunday, June 2, 2019

Memorial Day On The Peninsula

1/250, F 13.0, ISO 200, on camera flash
Planting The  Flags: Every Memorial Day weekend, peninsula scout troops come to plant thousands of small flags at the nearly 140,000 graves in the Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno. In years past, the volunteers were nearly always young Boy Scouts. This year, I thought that  I would submit two images: The first would be one with a young Girl Scout planting a flag at the base of a tombstone, while the second would show a more traditional Memorial Day scene.

There was one major problem with this image of the young girl scout: There is no visual clue as to why she was placing the flag in this particular spot. I had included the headstone in some earlier attempts, but after examining the images, I saw that the edges of the polished marble were overexposed beyond correction, which is why I decided to frame the image without it. I might have avoided this by rotating the flash head slightly to camera left, effectively feathering the light away from the headstone. Hindsight is always 50/50, and I'll try to remember this trick when a similar situation is presented.

I will go on record as having spoken with both this young scout and her mother, a violation of the "Thou Shalt Not Interact With Your Subject" commandment that must be strictly followed in cases of unbiased, objective photo documentation. However, a photo like this isn't in the "must publish for the public welfare" category, and with today's emphasis on individual privacy, it is reassuring that my subjects know who I am and what I intend to use the photo for. The San Mateo Daily Journal has a sterling reputation on the peninsula, and after introducing myself, nearly all of my subjects have been extremely cooperative. Since the instructions I gave to my young subject were confined to having her face me and work slowly, the photo is a "managed candid", a depiction of something that really happened. Looking back, the nearly universal subject identification seen in most newspapers may be a way of implying consent to being photographed, and evidence that contact between photographer and subject was probably made.

1/1700 second, F 5.6, ISO 400, no supplementary flash
This second image would be a more conventional image, one that would address the patriotic aspect of the event. The essential visual elements are the bag piper in the foreground and the flags in the background. This was obviously a low-angle shot, a necessity if the flags were to be properly aligned with the piper's head. I made nearly a dozen shots, each one trying to capture the exact moment when the flags were carried aloft by the intermittent wind. I selected this image because it had a little bit of sky to separate the piper's head from the American flag.

Nikon D700 full-framed body, lens focal length 360 mm. Exposure: 1/250 second, F 5.6, ISO 800.  Not submitted.
My Newest Nikkor Lens: In addition to my Fuji kit, I carried a third camera, a Nikon D700 with my new 200-500 mm F 5.6 Nikkor zoom lens. Up until then, I carried a Sigma variable aperture zoom lens which performed reasonably well. This Nikkor received stellar reviews for a lens in its price range,  and was also subject to a Nikon rebate at the time of purchase. It proved heavier and bulkier than the Sigma, but everything about its performance was a definite step up. Did I mention that it is heavy? Very heavy?

This sharpness of this tight crop surprised me, especially with the relatively long exposure of 1/250 second. The NIkkor's Vibration Reduction feature definitely helped, and I'm sure that if I boosted the ISO to 1600 and used a shorter exposure time, the sharpness would have improved. Perhaps that old Sigma lowered my sharpness expectations for long telephoto zoom lenses. At any rate, any doubts I might have had about this purchase disappeared right then and there.

Meanwhile, In Hillsborough: I found out that city of Hillsborough has an annual Memorial Day Parade, and decided to add this event to my weekend agenda.  For the most part, it was a small town parade with an excess of politicians riding in luxurious vintage cars. Between the politicians and the marching bands, the crowd was introduced to a procession of veterans. Captain Jackson Schultz, a veteran of WWII, Korea, and Viet Nam, led the way. In his dress uniform, he was the most colorful veteran, and when I called, "Captain, could you look this way?" he happily obliged.

I was pleased that the paper ran both of these images. It made for an interesting juxtaposition between the young and the old, along with remembrance and recognition.

Between the Saturday flag planting in San Bruno and the Monday parade in Hillsborough, it was an interesting weekend.  I carried the two big Fuji zooms and two backup flashes for both assignments, along with the flash controllers to do some off camera lighting if time permitted. But when it came time to make THE exposure, it was a hot-shoe mounted flash, set to manual, that secured the image.