High Winds

I was running on five hours of sleep when I woke clear headed at 3:00 this morning. My thoughts were full of a non-fiction writing project that seemed to have sprung full bodied from the ether. In truth, it was a subject that should have occurred to me years before. Sometimes an idea has to percolate on low heat for an extended period before it brews up. And sometimes I’m a bit slow on the draw. Years slow, in this case. I sat down and outlined the subject matter, delineating twenty-two chapters with an outline, as I thought about it for a couple hours.

Outside, I could hear the chimes suspended from the overhanging perimeter of the house being flailed by the wind during periodic gusts, the quick, high tinkling of the small east-facing set mixing with the deep baritones of the Gregorian plainsong chimes above the patio on the north. I walked outside to survey the sky periodically and decided to ride the motorcycle to a good vantage point for photography before sunrise rather than take the usual morning walk.

I checked the battery and card of the Nikon D200, referred to the almanac for the official sunrise times, then decided to take the heavier of the two tall tripods because it would be somewhat more stable in the high winds.

When it was time to leave, I packed my equipment into the saddlebags, then rolled the Road Star out to the street. I always start the engine away from the house in the early morning, because it is a bit less disturbing to my sleeping neighbors than if I start it next to the house where the deep throbbing of the big V-Twin engine bounces off the outer walls of the house and garage and reverberates through the neighborhood. That’s my theory, anyway.

The big Quantaray tripod doesn’t fit completely into the saddlebag like my Manfroto, and the top of the bag doesn’t close, so I only take it when maximum stability is called for. The Nikon also seems more stable when mounted on it, which is just a feeling. Completely locked down on the Manfroto, it doesn’t move, but I always have the idea that it is on the edge of doing so. I was taking the Nikon primarily because I hadn’t shot with it much for several months. I bought a Lumix G1 in August and have used it nearly exclusively while my son employed the Nikon’s faster frame rate to capture my grandson’s motocross races.

I rode slowly up to the entrance of Anza Narrows Park and found the two auto entrances blocked by a work truck and an automobile, so I putted by the auto. That kind of blockage and seemingly randomly locked gates is why I take the motorcycle in the pre-dawn darkness. I can always get into the park on the motorcycle, even if I have to ride through the pedestrian/bicycle gate.

Setting my equipment up on a favored knoll, I turned the VR (Vibration Reduction) switch on the lens to the Off position. VR isn’t recommended when using a tripod, because it can actually blur a photo by working against movement that doesn’t exist. I watched the camera during the first couple frames. It seemed that I could see the wind buffeting the rig during the exposures and the slight blur on the LED display seemed to bear that out, so I turned the VR back on to compensate. There was plenty of movement for the the VR to work on.

Still seeing some slight movement of the equipment during gusting, I moved my back to the prevailing wind to shield the camera and held the near tripod leg down. The orange “bottom light” in the first three photos is the glow spilling up from city streetlamps.

I apparently became too used to the Lumix during the last few months. Setting exposure compensation was a slightly mystifying experience for a few frames – until I realized that the Lumix exposure scale is flipped relative to the Nikon’s. Or vice versa. Once I worked through that mental block, it was a good time to be out in the world, shooting.