Ann Arbor

Research Riding on the Mcity Shuttle

I rode in an autonomous vehicle for the first time today! It’s a shuttle that’s part of a research project of our big autonomous vehicle testing center

It was pretty fascinating! Some coworkers of mine and I had been meaning to make it up there since they started doing this last summer but hadn’t gotten around to it yet. It was also closed over the winter. 

20190423_114902.jpg

Here’s the bus stop, with a foreboding warning: 

The key part is, “There are inherent risks of riding in an automated vehicle (including bodily harm and/or death) that cannot be eliminated regardless of the care taken to avoid injuries.” Cool!

20190423_115030(0).jpg

Isn’t she CUTE???? The shuttle is manufactured by a French company, Navya, that opened a small plant in neighboring Saline in conjunction with the Mcity launch.

A student/engineer/otherwise responsible professional is always standing by in case of a malfunction.

A student/engineer/otherwise responsible professional is always standing by in case of a malfunction.

From the above photo, you can get an idea of what it’s like inside. It’s pretty close quarters. There are eight permanent seats and three that fold open to the side. Wearing a seatbelt was heavily encouraged.

Baby is in an autonomous vehicle!!!!! 2spooky!!!!

Baby is in an autonomous vehicle!!!!! 2spooky!!!!

The route is less than a mile long and all on university-owned roads because Ann Arbor hasn’t approved it to operate on city roads as of yet. The man in the preceding photo is an engineer who serves as a backup in case the automation does something funky - as of now, there is always someone monitoring the shuttle’s systems, so it’s not truly autonomous, in that sense. It’s also on an entirely pre-programmed route and requires manual takeover any time it has to deviate from that route. On my trip, there were lawn equipment vehicles blocking the road at one point and the engineer had to take over (using a Nintendo controller!). 

It felt safe. We encountered pedestrians a few times, and each time, it slowed dramatically and beeped loudly at the pedestrian while avoiding them. It felt safer than riding in a vehicle with a human at the wheel, though substantially jerkier (more on that shortly). 

20190423_122821.jpg

But it’s one of those things. There’s a daycare on the loop where the shuttle originally operated, and parents complained enough that the daycare was removed from the route. 

Lastly, it was all a grand old time, but I was really motion sick by the time I got back to work. I don’t think I even realized how off I was until I started going up the stairs into my building and, uh, WHAT IS UP AND DOWN AND SIDEWAYS AND HOW DO STAIRS WORK? And I skinned up my knee. Alas.

Golden hour photography at Barton Dam

Last night, I drove over to Barton Dam in Ann Arbor. The dam is the link between the city’s water supply, Barton Pond, and its residents. It’s a popular spot to take photos, but I’d never been before.

In this photo, what I wanted to do is capture the mist that collects at the bottom of the waterfall into the river. It was tricky! The mist was certainly more pronounced in person, but I did get some of it here. It would’ve been great for the sky to be less cloudy, but c’est la vie.

The water is stunning. It’s loud, shockingly loud…the train tracks are very close by and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to tell if one was passing (a bit more on that later).

The sky in this photo is what makes it. I edit all my photos in Lightroom, and I did so a little more editing than normal in this photo. I applied a graduated burn filter to the upper half of the image in order to regain the integrity of the blue sky that I saw, and I got rid of some tree branches that were invading the view in the upper left-hand corner of the image.

My goal with editing is to never edit past truth. Some photographers pursue a certain aesthetic, and that’s certainly an art of its own. But my philosophy thus far has been to use photography to find unexpected meaning in what we see every day. That might change someday, but it’s how it is for now.

I walked up a set of stairs that had a broken caution tape at the foot of them, assuming (hoping) they had been blocked off for winter but now there there was no ice and snow it was safe. There were other folks in the area who had done the same. Nevertheless, the catwalk that goes over the dam doesn’t feel like the sturdiest bit of equipment ever made. The water is rushing so hard and fast that the metal seems to always be shaking a bit moment to moment.

I had a lot of fun playing with shutter speed, though, and love the movement I was able to capture of the water rushing and subsequently crashing as seen from above.

The train tracks at Barton Nature Area.

The train tracks at Barton Nature Area.

I discovered that if you walk behind the entirety of the dam and reach the other side of the river, there doesn’t seem to be an official way to get back to public property/the rest of the Barton Nature Area. But there were multiple trails crossing the tracks to get over to the rest of Barton anyway.

NB: I DO NOT CONDONE STOPPING AND TAKING PHOTOS IN THE MIDDLE OF RAILROAD TRACKS. But I can’t seem to help myself when the occasion arises, either. I made sure I was looking in both directions every few seconds, but it really probably wasn’t a good idea considering the noise of the dam is so loud in this area too.

While editing, this photo somehow ended up a bit more desaturated than I usually go for, but I ended up really liking it. Something about the wood and steel of the tracks.

I don’t love this photo, but this is just to say LO AND BEHOLD, five minutes after I took the photos on the tracks I did catch the Amtrak zooming by.

I don’t love this photo, but this is just to say LO AND BEHOLD, five minutes after I took the photos on the tracks I did catch the Amtrak zooming by.

As you walk along the main path in the Barton Nature area, you eventually reach another pedestrian bridge. From this bridge, you can see the railroad bridge and the M-14 bridge over the river, which makes for some interesting layering. I didn’t do any editing to this photo at all - pretty rare for me. But I liked pretty much everything about it as soon as I saw it load up in Lightroom.

I turned around and headed back to my car, but as I was starting to drive home I noticed the sunset lighting up the sky in a spectacular fashion, and drove a bit recklessly to try to find a spot to take a photo from. But this is Ann Arbor, and there are trees EVERYWHERE. Trees, ye foul beasts!!

As seen from the parking lot at Wines Elementary School.

As seen from the parking lot at Wines Elementary School.

I ended up in the Forsythe/Wines parking lot and did manage to get those rosy-fingered clouds I had seen from the car. Moments before, the magenta hues were far more pronounced, but I just wasn’t there in time. And moments after I took this photo, the skies were simply dark gray. If you don’t already know how quickly things can change from moment to moment, getting into photography will quickly drive the point home.

I turned away from the sunset and saw this spare quality emanating from the combination of the empty parking lot and empty soccer field. Lonely spaces that are meant to be full hold a certain allure to me as a photographer.

As the weather improves, I can’t wait to spend more time outside with my camera, and to find more local gems to highlight.

A Winter's Eve

I took a trip downtown a few nights ago and walked around with my camera until my fingers went numb. I realized it's been months since I shared anything on this site, and that I should be more active in posting about my creative efforts. So, I've updated my theme, and below I have a few photos I especially liked, and I'll write a bit about what I was thinking as I took the photo/approached it.

44436122780_a7401e5eb1_z

44436122780_a7401e5eb1_z

This photograph was taken through the window of a Starbucks. I'm generally hesitant to photograph people, but as I was peering through windows I couldn't resist -- there's something so intimate about looking in seeing another person's world.

I was drawn to the similar poses of the subjects in the foreground and background, the stabling presence of the table, and the reflections of lights from the street to snap this one.

44436093310_1ea82401fc_k

44436093310_1ea82401fc_k

When I walk by it, this sandwich shop, located in what was once Ann Arbor's red-light district, never seems busy. This time it was closed, and empty. The white lighting inside the Coca-Cola fridge makes a nice contrast with the warm lighting emanating from the back of the shop.

45340211455_df940c9977_k

45340211455_df940c9977_k

It turned out less sharp than I would want, but I was crossing the street, so had to be fast! I just had to get a shot of the lights, the colorful sunset, the cars in motion. Everything is in motion.

45340173255_805d818dfc_k

45340173255_805d818dfc_k

There's a lovely tradition of artists painting on windows during this time of year in town. With a wide aperture, you can get the art, and the rest fades into bokeh. It has a beautiful effect in the evening.

32380999438_68a5edc25d_k

32380999438_68a5edc25d_k

44435971870_99325a2038_k

44435971870_99325a2038_k

Here's another example where I was really taken with the light. The table lamp's light reaches across the painting to its left but not much farther. It reminds me of a fire trying to stay lit. This moment reminded me of an old polaroid. So I shot it.

Trail Review: Matthaei Botanical Gardens

36890842621_e3d6a7a9a5_k.jpg
fleming creek

Despite having lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan, most of my life, I'd never found my way to one of the most well-known and loved natural areas in town until this weekend. Matthaei Botanical Gardens, owned and operated by the University of Michigan, consists of a gorgeous botanical garden and 3.2 miles of trails. Perhaps because it sits on the northeast side of town is one reason I haven't been (west side for life!) but that's certainly no excuse now that I've seen what I've been missing.

I only peeked in at the gardens today; the trails were the focus. As we walked from the parking lot to the trailhead with two other groups of people I worried the trails would have more humans than suitable for the real nature escape we were going for, but as soon as we hit the first marker our paths diverged and we barely saw another soul.

The terrain here is markedly different than I've seen at other Washtenaw County nature areas: usually there's woods with little undergrowth or wetlands, but at Matthaei the trees are spaced further apart and green vegetation surrounds them.

36843466836_96c03bb2a5_k
the blue trail

Trails were either dirt, mowed grass, or wood chip; they were clearly marked but my desire to "get lost in nature" prompted me not to look too carefully at the posted maps and so we did indeed end up a bit lost (though with Fleming Creek never too far away, there's always a way to find your way back).

36196380444_44de225e14_k.jpg
great white egret

Last note: BIRDS! I didn't have my longer range lens with me, but I spotted a Great White Egret (above) and a Great Blue Heron at Willow Pond, next to the parking lot. I definitely will plan to return and see if I can't spot some avian friends.