The View Up Here

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The Sunset That Wasn’t

Posted by Tom Benedict on 09/04/2011

Last weekend instead of going to Hapuna Beach State Park in the afternoon, we took a different turnoff and wound up at the Mauna Kea Beach.  These two beaches are within walking distance of each other, so in a given day they get similar light.  Both beaches are quite lovely.  From an architectural standpoint the main difference between them is that one of them is host to the Mauna Kea Resort and the other hosts the Hapuna Prince Resort.  This time I got the Mauna Kea Resort.

Wind was minimal, but toward sunset a gentle offshore blew in and I was able to launch my kite.  The rig went on, the camera went up, and the photographs were made.

Mauna Kea Resort at Sunset

And that’s about the best I could do.  Unfortunately the settings on the camera weren’t well suited to the light, and every exposure was dark.  This panorama represents the best salvage job I could come up with.  I’m happy with the framing, I like the light on the landscape, but I’m utterly dissatisfied with the exposures I made.  This one was filed under, “Subject to return to in the future.”

Later in the week a co-worker asked if I’d ever flown at Laupahoehoe Point.  I have, as a matter of fact, a total of one time.  Every other time I’ve visited, the wind was coming from the wrong quarter or the conditions just weren’t right.  Some months ago I spent a few hours flying at Laupahoehoe making a series of panoramas.  None were worth posting.  The problem in this case was a mix of deep water, which is quite dark to a camera, combined with white surf, which is bright.  The dynamic range of the scene was beyond what my camera could record.  The resulting photos had blown out highlights on the surf and muddy dark patches for the water.  Again, it was filed under, “Subject to return to in the future.”

In both situations a little more attention to exposure settings would’ve yielded better results.  But in neither case could I get the dynamic range I needed to really make the scene work.  The answer is simple:  Shoot RAW.  Strictly speaking the camera I use, a Canon A650IS, can shoot RAW files using CHDK.  But the CHDK RAW format only provides ten bits per pixel, as opposed to the fourteen bits available in the native Canon RAW format.  I’ve tried CHDK RAW images in order to recover lost highlight and shadow detail, but the information isn’t there.  The real answer is to change cameras and shoot 14-bit RAW.

Over the past year I’ve tried several times to get a Canon T2i for doing KAP and ground photography.  One of our interns at work had one and let me try it out.  The more time I spent researching this camera, the more convinced I became that it’s the direction I want to go with my gear.  But as each attempt was thwarted, the camera took on mythological proportions and my struggle to acquire one became a Sisyphean task.  I almost stopped believing such a thing could happen.

Truth be told I’ve had the resources now to get this camera for over a month.  But my past experiences made me afraid even to try.  The final straw was a pair of comments on the above panorama from two friends and fellow photographers whose work and opinions I respect highly.  In their words, “Almost, Tom, almost…”, “Oh, soooo close!”  That was it.  The waiting was over.

I ordered the camera along with a 32GB Class 10 SDHC card.  It should arrive some time in the next two weeks.  In the process I learned some new things:  Sears sells cameras.  Sears has remarkably competitive prices.  Sears takes Paypal.  (No kidding.)  Sears, who has been in the mail order business longer than most mail order businesses, really has their act together when it comes to making sure the customer is getting what they wanted.  Yes, I ordered my camera from Sears.

Next:  A new KAP rig for the new camera.

– Tom


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