Had a great time shooting the Zilker Park Christmas tree, earlier this week. The tree is a tradition on the Austin skyline, built around one of the few remaining moon towers in the city. People flock to spin around under the tree.
I've photographed the tree every year and each time I end up with something completely different. This annual ritual reflects how my photography has been evolving in the previous year. I started out with very literal pictures of the tree in the first year. Moving on to colourful, telephoto abstract compositions the next year. That then changed to zooming and spinning under the tree. The next year I was trying to take pictures of the people themselves, rather than the tree, catching spinning groups of friends and family.
This year I'm heading down something of a blurry, alternative lens path. I built a small lens sleeve that I could mount a star shaped aperture in (from a Lensbaby creative aperture kit). I used this on the end of a normal 50mm prime lens for the shot above. Putting the lens out of focus let the points of light blow out into the shape of the custom aperture. The more out of focus the lens, the bigger the stars. Also the aperture shape gets inverted as it gets focused on the sensor, so if the single point is pointing down, it appears to point up in the final capture.
I worked with various compositions for a while, shooting through the gaps in the trees. Then I had something of a flash of insight and started working compositions that included the natural and artificial trees together. I much prefer the mix of the organic archetype shapes of the tree and the coloured lights. I got really excited by what I was seeing on the sensor as I moved along with this idea and really got engaged in the process - shooting for a couple of hours in the end, just this one bright subject. I realised after the fact that I'd seen something like this before, in Keith Carter's images of Paris and the Eiffel Tower. Amanda made that connection almost immediately when she saw the finished pictures, too.
I also played around with a 500mm mirror lens that I own but almost never use. I wanted to see what the 'bad' doughnut bokeh looked like. I'm amazed how far away you have to be from a 155 ft tree to frame it with a 500mm lens! I was about 4 football field lengths away from the tree and still was only seeing the top in the frame. The doughnut effect is interesting to play with - certainly something to consider for other, smaller, subjects.
I had really got in to the whole flow of things while shooting the tree. Effortless and very engaged at the same time - I love it when the time flies like that and everything seems to come effortlessly. Also good when the results give you a tingle when they come up on the screen too!