Photography, in its purist form, is an art whose purpose is to identify and communicate a feeling or experience. There is no better experience than capturing the impossible image or creating an image
with a unique point of view. The photographic experience includes the entire photographic process
starting with the planning and preparing, the actual photographing, selecting the best images,
post-processing those images, and final presentation.
|How Many Shots is Too Many|
Shooting style is a real thing. On blogs, I love to read comments from other photographers about how they
"get it right" in the camera, every time. On an average day of shooting, they may take 30 images. Me?
I just went to the U.S. Open of Surfing and shot 8,000 in about 6 hours spread over 3 days. But,
that's sports, how about landscape? Last March, I visited Alaska to photograph eagles and take some
landscape images. 7,500 shots later I was happy as a clam. Even on a pure landscape trip (there's
usually wildlife), after exposure and focus bracketing, a single post processed image can add up to
9 overlapping shots of the same landscape. This doesn't' happen too often, but it does happen.
So back to my original question, how many shots is too many. Before digital, I remember schlepping
around boxes of film and getting them processed at Costco. It was a real inconvenience and the lab guys
at Costco knew me by name. Obviously, during the good old film days, every extra box of film felt
like 36 images too many. Then came the digital era and shooting at will was constrained by battery life,
memory card capacity, and hard drive capacity on my computer at home. Jump to today, and all those constraints seem to have disappeared. My Nikon D850 can handle thousands of large, 46 MP JPEG files
seemingly instantly on a single 256 GB XQD card. At the end of the day, less than 1/4 of the power has been
drained from the additional battery grip. This is a miracle compared to just a few years ago.
The answer? With today's technology, take as many shots as necessary to achieve the desired outcome.
Last August I was shooting a light house in Acadia Natl Park with a bunch of other people crammed on
the rocks below lighthouse. One person was taking hundreds of still images of exactly the same scene.
What was he thinking? I figured out that instead of taking one 30 second image for a slow motion,
smoothing effect, he have been taking 30, 1-second images that can then be easily stacked in
Photoshop. This techniques also allows you to control the smoothing in post processing by adding
or deleting images from the stack. How awesome is that!
So basically, the number of shots doesn't matter any more and I'm not afraid to admit in front of
a bunch of technical photography buffs that I take a lot of images. I'll even take repeat images
of the same landscape at different times for insurance. I've spent a lot of money going on a
photography trip and I'm certainly not going to take the chance of not getting the shot if I can help it.
It doesn't cost me anything unless I don't get the shot I envisioned.
|IS IT A PHOTO?|
I tend to shoot and post groups of related photos, especially in the "Locations" section. Are they photos,
images, or what? I don't know if I'm telling a story to the viewer but I am definitely shooting images that
will bring back memories of the trip a couple decades from now. I remember shooting a lot of images
in Soviet Leningrad and Moscow in the late 60's with an ancient Contax 3A. Unfortunately, I had no plan
and many of the images are just arbitrary without any plan resulting in scattered memories and
a disjointed story. All the images were destroyed in a subsequent flood.
The groups of images are arranged sequentially, divided by day and location. I generally include a
map of the locations visited for cross reference. I also shoot an assortment of images in stages including
snaps, pictures, photos, images, and art (painterly).
A SNAP (Stage 1) is exactly what it sounds like. It's usually taken with an iPhone and shows the location
where I'm shooting. It's included in a group of images for reference. Smart phone images are getting
pretty good. Why snaps? Several years ago I went to Yosemite, and because of lousy weather, I took a
bunch of macros and creative shots. I was unable to shoot any iconic images and when I got back
home, I had no images that even indicated I had been in Yosemite. Oops.
After establishing a location snap, I'll get a little more serious and begin to take some PICTURES (Stage 2)
that capture the location and explore my surroundings. I have no problem wasting mega pixels on
shots that may have some potential. They can always be deleted later during the selection process.
By this time, I should be getting motivated to take some real PHOTOS (Stage 3) using a tripod and filters.
I become much more determined about composition exposure. I don't always get to this stage
and will move on if things aren't working out. Sometimes, I'll just put my equipment down, and walk
around and look at my surroundings for several minutes. It kind of refreshes your batteries and
maybe I'll see something that makes me motivated again.
Once you find a potential composition you really like, this is the best part of photography and the
photographer has the potential opportunity of creating actual ART (Stage 4). This stage
is not easy to get too. Conditions and your attitude have to be just right. Now's the time
to really focus on the composition. It's always best to shoot the location, and when done, start all over
again. I'll even take "insurance" shots at slightly different angles and focal lengths. Depending on
lighting conditions, exposure bracketing might be advisable.
After taking, selecting, and post processing, there's bound to be images you thought would be great but
aren't, and images that, after a little post processing are much better than expected. I like these
surprises and its one of the rewards of photography.
|POINT OF REFERENCE|
I've been posting images to my website for 2 decades and it's interesting to note how my personal
preference in brightness, sharpness, and contrast in an image, has changed in time. (I'll leave composition
and subject matter for another discussion.) I noticed that in the last year or two, I actually prefer images
that are truer to the brightness, sharpness, and contrast levels of traditional film photography. I guess I got caught up in the trend for HDR, and although I seldom used HDR, it did have an influence in my post
processing work flow and final appearance of an image. Unfortunately, HDR images (or over enhanced
images) are all around us. Now I go out of my way to back off the influence of HDR. My goal is to
present an image that is as close to what I think I saw as possible. Unfortunately, the mind also does
wonderful things enhancing an image as seen by your eyes.
F8 and be there.
Prepare to be lucky.
Beautiful is not always photogenic.
Always take an insurance shot.
After shooting a subject, shoot it again
|THE CASE FOR SELLING ALL MY OLDER EQUIPMENT|
There comes a time when you just have to give up on some of your older equipment that's clogging
up your camera closet. Some of these cameras are truly wonderful and mechanical perfection and I've
been able to take a bunch of great pictures with them. I am already collecting an Contax IIIa plus lenses
and a Nikon F with a nice set of Nippon Kogaku lenses so unloading my early digital camera bodies is
not as big of a deal. The purpose of this post is to convince myself to unload them at a huge loss
but without a lot of effort. I just don't have the time to list them individually on eBay.
- Are the cameras collectible or is there a bazillion of them on the market?
- Is the pixel count of the sensor 24 MP or greater? Smart phones can be 12MP plus.
- Is the sensor 3rd generation or later? Earlier generations blow out whites really easily.
- Post processing? From my experience, the D850 just produces a better image, raw or jpg.
- How abort repairs and parts availability? Parts may no longer be available or service economic.
- Features? No doubt that the latest cameras have a lot of new technology and feature.
- Old memory cards and readers are a pain.
- Old batteries and chargers are a pain.
- Freeing up a lot of space for new stuff.
These are some of the criteria I recently used to unload a bunch of old, but treasured camera gear. I will
miss the gear but I doubt I would have ever used it again.
|08/28/18||NIKON Z7 MIRRORLESS|
Nikon just announced a new mirrorless camera and lens mount to supplement their line of DSLRs with their
40 year old F mount. If you're not a serious camera enthusiast, this will be extraordinarily boring. Otherwise,
I've never seen so much whining and complaining about a new camera introduction in my life. You can
look it up yourself on any photo blog or YouTube site, but in short, the biggest complaints are about the
single card slot, shallow buffer, tricky auto focus, and cheap-looking expensive lenses.
My take on the situation is quite a bit different. Remember, few people have used or tested the
camera. I am looking to supplement my "kit" with a lightweight and compact body with an UWA
lens for big-sky landscapes which will supplement my D850 for compressed landscapes and wildlife.
Many are comparing the new Nikon to Sony's best. My contention is that it doesn't have to be better
than Sony, only better than a DSLR:
- You can see your FINAL IMAGE in the view finder before you even take the picture.
- No more need to micro adjust or CALIBRATE my current Nikon bodies & lenses.
- You can see the HISTOGRAM in the view finder.
- You can use FOCUS PEAKING in the viewfinder for really critical eye focus.
- I get to keep using my 30+ Nikon mount lenses without quality degradation.
- With adapters, I can use my Sony A-mount, electronic-less lenses on the Z7 body with
functioning IBIS and Aperture mode.
The Z7 has the same or better sensor than the D850 so this makes a perfect pairing. My conclusion:
The Z7 is not an action camera with shallow buffer and auto focus issues;
I'll just continue using my D850 for that.
For over 40 years, I've used "Aperture priority" where I set the aperture and ISO and the camera sets the
shutter speed. This is pretty important since the the F-stop is critical in determining the ultimate
"look" of the image. You just have to make sure the ISO is set high enough so that the image is
blurred by either yourself or the subject. In most lighting situations, this is not an issue.
However, where lighting conditions are changing rapidly, you have to keep changing the ISO to make
sure your image isn't blurred. Good examples of situations where constantly changing the ISO, due to
rapidly changing lighting conditions, are surfing and football photography. You want the lowest ISO
possible for quality but not low enough to cause blurring.
I recently read an article where the author was using something called "Auto-ISO" where you select the
aperture and shutter speed and the camera selects the ISO. Nice concept. If you're worried about the
camera selecting an ISO that is too high, your image wouldn't come out anyway based on the assumption,
that for sports, you are already using the lowest shutter speed necessary to capture the action without blur,
and a wide aperture to blur the background. After that, you've just got the wrong equipment, either
a body with too low ISO resolution, a lens that is too slow, or both. I shoot junior college football
in high school stadium so I can blame it on poor lighting, which it is.
Since my most recent full frame body supports auto-ISO, I decided to give it a try. The camera manual is
totally incomprehensible on the subject and a few YouTube videos didn't cover the particular camera model
I was using. I posted a few questions about setting up Auto-ISO on photo blogs but got almost no response
and the response I did get was more of criticism of me instead of an answer to my question.
Eventually, I figured how to setup Auto-ISO. It's confusing and not intuitive because you have to put the
body in manual metering mode as part of the process of setting up Auto-ISO. Huh?
1. Go into your camera body SHOOTING MENU, find "ISO Sensitively Setting" and turn it ON. Forget all
the other options. They just confused me.
2. Press the MODE BUTTON (top upper left) and turn COMMAND DIAL (top rear right) to MANUAL.
3. Set the F-stop to F8 or less.
4. Set the shutter speed to 1,250, and you're ready to shoot daytime football.
The camera body will select the lowest ISO necessary to capture the image using the settings you entered. Regardless of clouds during the day and poor lighting at night, this is a great feature.
My experience so far has been so positive, I've begun leaving my cameras settings on Auto-ISO all of the time.
|05/30/18||LANDSCAPE WORKSHOP - WHO'S THE JERK|
One of my favorite observations is, that when on a photo shoot with a group, if at the end of a week, you
don't know who the jerk is, then it's probably you. It wasn't till my last trip to New Zealand that I truly understood what this truly meant.
Jerk doesn't necessarily mean obnoxious but just someone who shoots differently and might be out-of-step
with the rest of the group. When a serious amateur photographer spends thousands of dollars to fly half
way around the world to shoot landscapes, they're probably pretty knowledgeable and deliberate. They
spend an inordinate amount of time "working" a single landscape. Me, not so much. I carry 3 cameras
with 3 lenses and am ready to shoot almost any type of image with a few seconds notice. I shoot relatively
fast, and often. This just simply isn't the way most landscape photographers work.
While the rest of the group is hunched over their cameras, after cleaning the front of their lens for the
umpteenth time, and waiting for just the perfect light and composition, I've already taken the shot and am
off to shooting macros, wildlife, and anything else I can find. Now, can you guess who the jerk is?
My rationale is this. First I'm attention deficit but I just spent thousands of dollars and traveled half way
around the world to shoot in a "target rich" environment and I only have 7 days to do it. You bet I'm going
to try to capture just about every photo opportunity that I can. From the big picture (pun) point of view,
I am also trying to create a story (travel blog) to help me remember the trip many years into the future.
Just a bunch of beautiful, but random landscape images doesn't cut it for me. Wow, I'm really the jerk.
To get a better idea of what I mean by "target rich" environment, please visit my New Zealand page.
Every once in a while I get a little philosophical and ask my self "why do I take pictures?". There are all kinds
of answers but my main motivation is to capture something in a new light that can't be captured in another medium like a video camera or smart phone.
It's hard to define but I refer to it as peak surfing action, peak football action, even peak winter of peak autumn.
I even refer to my figure photography as peak beauty. I try to capture an instance in time that shows
something you couldn't see or appreciate as life moves forward around you. Yes you'll see it but it isn't
frozen in time for you to ponder and appreciate.
Some of us use a high quality protective filter on our lenses. My question is how much image degradation is there if I place a high quality ND filter or polarizing filter over my protective filter. I've heard that the loss in sharpness may not be really noticeable with high quality filters, even at magnification. (PS, if I posted this on a blog, my comment would be destroyed. I just need some honest facts.)
I have proposed the question below to a knowledgeable person who runs a camera equipment rental business. Can't wait for an accurate, fact based, answer.
I finally got an answer and it basically was for best quality, use as little glass as possible in front of your lens.
Not really the answer I was looking for since that company had tested stacking lots of filters in front of a lens. I was hoping for maybe some actual statistics. Oh well, maybe some day some technically oriented photographer will actually do some real testing of 2 filters on a lens and the resultant quality degradation.
|11/15/17||12 BIT Versus 14 BIT|
I recently made the following post concerning Nikon D850 file size on a photography blog:
"My NEF files are only running 50-60mb each. They aren't 14 bit though. I understand that it is difficult to
tell the difference between 12 bit and 14 bit so why use the extra space."
While a number of posters agreed that they couldn't tell the difference either, a follow-up post stated:
"Because very difficult is not impossible."
This last comment got numerous thumbs-up supported by other photographers claiming that 14 bit is vastly
superior to 12 bit. It didn't matter that you couldn't see the difference under any condition, even
with a billboard sized print. There are a lot of photographers that simply seek and demand nothing but perfection, not at the creative level, but at the pixel level.
I have no problem with all kinds of photographers expressing their interests on photography, it's
refreshing, but I was surprised how absolutely adamant the "pixel peepers" were about their point of
view on this issue.
I'm a practical photographer and understand that there are trade-offs. Shooting at
12 bit affords me the same practical quality of 14 bit but produces 30% smaller files that are much more manageable on my computer and also frees up capacity in the buffer and on the memory cards in my camera.
You have to be a real photo geek to appreciate this commentary. Only photographers that use filters
in the field know what a "pain in the A...." it is to change filters, especially installing graduated
neutral density filters. I really feel like a klutz. It's not so difficult in your home under calm conditions
but out in the field with the wind and the elements, just the simple task of unscrewing a filter, putting it
in a safe place, and screwing in another filter is way more difficult.
So I got to thinking about how to solve the problem by using slip-on filter holders. After some searching
it doesn't appear that anything like this existed but I was wrong. I did come across some filter and lens
adapters called XUME that use magnetism to hold a filter on the front of your lens without needing to
be screwed in. Although my current lenses have different filter sizes, I chose the 72mm because it fits
my 17-70 macro lens which is actually my most used lens and covers a nice range for handling a
number of situations.
I ordered a 72mm lens adapter and 4 matching filter adapters. The filters I plan to use are a
circular polarizer, a 6X grad, and graduated neutral density filter holder. I also have a high quality
protection filter on the lens that I may not remove before putting on any of the other filters.
I just received the adapters and they work great. The magnetism is just about right, even on the GND
holder. Now it takes a split second to remove a filter and install another filter. No fumbling, no dropping,
and no reason not to use a different filter. They just pop on and off.
I get irritated pretty easily when changing filters and with the XUME adapters, changing filters is
no longer a source of irritation. Yeh!
|07/22/17||Photo Manipulation - (In response to a focus-stacked image presented on the web)|
Modifying a scene by adding and subtracting elements in post processing is real manipulation.
Manipulating the camera and lens (focus stacking included) to capture an unaltered scene
is not manipulation.
Ansel Adams used camera tilt and shift, black and white film, and dodging and burning in post
processing to enhance scenes inside and outside his camera. If the image presented is not
considered a real photograph, then so is all of Ansel Adams work.
|06/01/17||Hierarchy of Digital Capture Aesthetics|
PICTURE -----> PHOTO -----> IMAGE -----> ART
----- > ILLUSTRATION
This is the simplest of digital captures and is made for social media, documentation, and other capture
the moment imagery. I use a cropped frame camera with 17-70 macro lens for this purpose. I also use
my iPhone for this purpose.
The next step up is the digital capture that looks a little more polished, a little more thought out, and a
little more substantiative. Professionals typically dominate this segment of the hierarchy.
This digital capture, while professional quality, introduces "meaning" into the equation. They are still recognized as a digital captures but are more sophisticated.
The viewer looks at a digital capture to understand its purpose and meaning but doesn't for one second
think that it is a digital capture. It is a pure form of communication.
This is represented by a highly manipulated digital capture and really is the result of the imagination of the
artist and technically beyond the limits of a digital capture.
|04/01/17||Do More Elements in a Lens Equal Better Optical Quality|
I stepped in a rattle snake pit on this one. I recently made a casual comment on a Nikon Rumors Forum that
the new Sigma 100-400 C had enough lens elements to make it a decent lens. One response I got was:
"hahahahahhahah. you sir have no idea what you're talking about. you haven't got any type of better than low end glass if you just said that.. you don't even know how it works, you haven't looked into it and haven't done any research so how about go and do some instead of STATING FACTS that aren't true?"
Ouch. So, here is some research on my lenses. Below is a list of telephoto zoom lenses that I do own:
(elements / groups)
Nikon 200-400 24 / 17 (outstanding lens)
Nikon 80-400 20 / 12
Sigma 300-800 18 / 16
Sigma 150-600 S 24 / 16 (outstanding lens)
Sigma 120-300 S 23 / 18 (outstanding lens)
Sigma 100-400 C 21 / 15
Tamron 150-600 G2 21 / 13
Notice that the Sigma 100-400 has 21 elements. It does have more elements than the lesser lenses but
not quite as many as my my best lenses which have 23+ elements. My other very good lenses have less.
I actually don't believe I have any bad lenses with which I cannot produce decent results. I have had some
unsatisfactory lenses in the past but they have all been sold. I stick by my original belief that more elements equals better optical quality. "Them's fightin' words."
|02/27/17||Shooting My Life or Shooting My Vision|
I was reading a blog about the future of the camera business and it sure looks like the iPhone business is eating the lunch of the photography business. First, sales of point-and-shoot cameras collapsed and now mirrorless sales cannot rescue the rapid drop of DSLR sales. What is going on. Are people not interested
in photography as a hobby anymore.
One response in the blog was very insightful. The average person is more interested in "shooting their life" and that is where iPhones are superior. Think selfies and social media. I immediately thought to myself,
but I don't shoot my life. That's not my style so what am I shooting. I came to the realization that I am shooting my vision. Not images of me but of images of what I see and imagine. I think these images are worthy of finding, capturing, interpreting in post processing, and presenting on my website.
I always thought that if DSLRS could be more like iPhones, their collapse in sales might be delayed.
Older people that used DSLRs to capture their lives are now realizing that the DSLR is just the wrong tool
to use. Once they figure out how useful that the iPhone is, they're not coming back to DSLRs. They're just
to big, too heavy, too complicated, limited in their software capabilities, and just don't have the communication ability of an iPhone. Younger people never use a DSLR to begin with.
There is the possibility that some iPhone users would move up to the next level of photography and
would eventually upgrade to a DSLR. The problem is that once they make the decision to do this,
especially younger people, the technology of iPhones has just kept getting better to meet their needs that
they end up buying the next model of iPhone and not buying a DSLR. Even as an old fart, I can also see
the photographic advantages of iPhones and am ready to upgrade from an iPhone 6 to a 7+ because of the advantages it offers instead of buying the next DSLR upgrade. Shameful.
|02/08/17||Fixing the Image versus Fixing the Capture|
A lot of serious amateur photographers spend a lot time "photo shopping" images in post processing.
The common belief is that the image is being manipulated. There are some pretty heated conversations about how much is too much on photo blogs. While I've spent a lot of time photographing scenics and I
do a lot of post processing, there are a lot of first class images out there with colors I've never seen in
nature. To me, that's just too far.
I just had a revelation that there is a difference between fixing an "image" and fixing a "capture" and
I've always believed that I was fixing the "image". Now I have realized that I was fixing the capture.
Whether the camera is set to capture a JPEG file or a RAW file, each type of file has its own built-in presets. Most photographers already know the need to set the white-balance correctly if you are shooting for
JPEG files. Getting the white balance correct is critical.
What most photographers don't understand is that RAW files also have their own pre-sets programmed
by the engineers that not only designed the sensor but also the chip that writes the RAW files to the
memory card. I don't want to get technical, but the design of a particular chip for red, green, and blue
colors is a whole different ballgame. Just like in the old days when Fuji Reala film had its own personality,
so do sensor chips. And no, RAW capture is not a neutral capture like you have been taught to believe.
So now I have a real rationale for post processing an image. I'm fixing the "capture" (not the image) so
I can now support my regimen of post processing techniques on almost every image without guilt.
I was responding to a photography post last week regarding auto-ISO and one of the comments stated that only lazy photographers use auto-ISO. Interesting comment because I consider myself kind of lazy. I really prefer to call it efficient. I simply don't do all the technical stuff that some photographers do. Not only does it take the creativity aspect out of photography but it distracts me from focusing on composition and the intended meaning and purpose of the image. These elements are what I feel are the most important elements of my photography.
More precisely, before I shoot, I set the ISO to 200, the aperture to F8, and make sure that dynamic metering, aperture priority, and auto focus are turned on. Now I'm ready to go and I will more than likely change the ISO and the F-stop in the field depending on the lighting and situation.
I also never change lenses in the field. Changing lenses slows me down, could cause dust on the sensor, and could result in a dropped lens or some other unanticipated problem. I'm also really lazy. Instead, I pair lenses with bodies that I feel, from experience, produce the best results. When I'm in the field, I simple pull the combo out of my backpack that is the best combo tool to capture the image.
For scenics that would be the D810 with 24-105 Art, for birds the 150-600 G2, for close-ups the D7200 with 17-70 Macro C, and for tight scenics and architecture the D750 with 12-24 Art. These are only some of the combos that I use and I will match and switch out my backpack depending on what types of images I anticipate in advance. I've been wrong in the past and weight is a consideration, especially when traveling.
|08/21/16||"Making" the Image|
There a many images around us, we just don't see most of them. The first step in nature photography
is to find the image. When someone says you have a good "eye", this is what they mean, you can find
the image. This is one of the advantages of going on a trip and shooting with a bunch of other
photographers. When reviewing other photographers images at the end of the day, there are always
those images that someone took and you think to yourself, how did they find that image. It happens.
When I go on trips where the weather is lousy or the sun and sky are not cooperating, this is another opportunity to test your ability to see. Whether you switch your focus from scenics without sky or macro photography, it's up to you to get the image. There are photographic opportunities, you just have to find them. They may not be the image you intended to get when you planned the trip, but you might be
pleasantly surprised at the results if you maintain a good attitude and that's often the real challenge.
With experience and practice, you can even envision a preliminarily bland looking image and what it
would look like after post processing. Sometimes a scenic might look bland but after working the
composition and exposure and then working the crop and saturation in post processing, the final
image might look acceptable, especially if you are just documenting your trip and the image is useful
for reference when telling a story. Digitally equipment today offers more photographic tools than ever
before, it's just a matter of knowing when and how to use them.
|08/20/16||Who Do I Shoot For|
The simple answer is that I shoot for myself. I am fortunate to have the financial means (within limits), the time, and the enthusiasm to shoot at a number of go-to locations in SoCal and sometimes even venture
out of my comfort zone and shoot in another country. In the another country category, I have plenty of
room to improve and lots of potential opportunity.
When I shoot, I don't necessarily follow all the conventions of what is considered the gold standard in
current nature photography. My composition is more akin to 19th century painting than the photographic
rule of thirds. I like simple compositions but I also like complicated ones that make the viewer actually
look at the image and try to figure out what is going on. There is a very fine line between a complex composition and an image that is just garbage. I simply can't get enough of the images from early
My colors are not jacked with hues that don't exist in nature, at least as far as I can see. I do intensify
colors but only to the point to where I thought that is what I saw on location. I must admit that the latest
3rd generation camera sensors are achieving color accuracy that is a lot closer to shat I saw. Even the
best cameras of several years ago don't compare to the color improvements of the latest cameras.
There have also been major improvements in lens characteristics for clarity and micro contrast. I'm not
sure these terms even existed relative to phototropic capture 5 years ago. It doesn't matter to me if
these are important factors to the viewer but they sure are to me. I seem to get great personal satisfaction producing images of almost 3D-like clarity without entering into the realm of 3D. It just seems to add
a bit of reality to an image.
Unfortunately, it's easy to get caught up in camera clubs and peer review. However, why would I even
think about peer review. I'm not shooting for other photographers and I really don't care what they think;
I have to keep reminding myself of this. I shoot for myself and perhaps individuals who appreciate art,
at least I try to produce art. Current photographic trends are so stereotyped, that sometimes I don't think
of current photographic trends as artistic. Yes, there are some awesome photographic captures but these
are not the art I am attempting to emulate.
|08/06/16||Got the Shot|
Getting the shot is the primary objective of photography and many photographers will go to great
lengths to get the shot. I see no shortage of images taken with remote cameras, cameras on
drones, and other high tech stuff. There is some amazing photography captured using
modern technology. Even today's DSLR's do most of the exposure work for you which lets the
photographer focus (pun) on composition, even if you are beginner.
On the other had, in the good old days, the photographer had to spend considerable attention getting
the exposure and focus correct, and ended up missing the shot. Been there, done that. We are very
lucky to live in an age where all the technical issues and impediments to successful photography
can be easily overcome using a modern DSLR.
Now to my main point. I was just reading a photography magazine where they were displaying some
imagery taken remotely from the air. Good stuff, but I began to wonder what kind of personal
experience was achieved by the photographer. Yes, the photographer was technically proficient, but
did the photographer have any personal connection to the final image. For some photographers, the experience is the connection with the technology that made the great image.
For me, the personal experience of capturing the image is right up there with getting the shot. I like to
look at an image and remember the circumstance and the emotional connection that was made while
making the shot. This applies mostly to my "location" images, and, in particular, some specific
experiences discussed under "Out-of-Body Experience" in the section below. Some events are so
awe-inspiring, that I don't even need to get the shot because the image and the experience is
vividly etched in my mind forever.
Well, not quite an out-of-body experience but consciously close to it. Life presents a person a lot
of experiences over a lifetime but you have to be open to them and recognize and appreciate them
for whatever they are.
As an amateur photographer, I've traveled to some really great places like Yellowstone, Iceland, and Patagonia and captured some images that I really liked. These are great experiences but the experience
I'm talking about is the momentary flash of shock and awe from witnessing a view so stunning that you are literally paralyzed with amazement. These experiences are beyond photography and etch themselves in
your mind so vividly that no photograph could ever come close to replicating them.
1) Lamar Valley - Yellowstone NP - fall - middle of day - snow falling - wild animals everywhere.
2) Mt. Basin - Bishop CA - fall - snow capped mountains - mountains lit up with early morning colors.
3) Mono Lake - Eastern Sierra CA - very early morning, 30 degrees F - flat, slight wind - no one in site.
4) Cooks Meadow - Yosemite NP - sunrise - lit up valley floor - wet - everything was like golden crystals.
5) Descanso Gardens CA - Camellia Garden - winter - massive blooms on plants, on ground, overhead -
early morning sun shining through with defined sun rays crossing and intersecting everywhere.
All of the above experiences have something in common, there was not another person around as
far as I could see. These are generally fleeting moments rarely seen by most humans and it is a
special privilege to have witnessed them.
While the chart below looks more like an equipment list, it's really supposed to be about the functional use of equipment. At the very basic, you can't take a picture if you don't have a camera and that is where the Smart Phone excels. I don't know about you, but mine is on me all the time. That's why it is at the top of the list.
|Combos: Opinion vs. Expectation|
Most experienced photographers will carry a primary and backup body with an assortment of lenses. I do it a little differently. I carry 4 bodies attached to 4 lenses in my back pack and never change lenses in the field. This greatly reduces the possibility of dust on the camera sensor. It also makes it easy to reach in my backpack and pick a body-lens combination that fits the situation. I'm also quite lazy and hate changing lenses, especially in the field. However, the main reason I do this is that certain combos just work better than others. DXO is the only equipment reviewer that actually tests lens on specific bodies. It does make a difference, an important difference.
The purpose of this commentary is not to show test results of different combinations, but just give an opinion on the different combinations I have used over the years relative to my expectation. Once I discover a successful combo, I tend to stick with it. The selection of combos below is a little skewed since these are the combos I use on a regular basis.
|03/27/16||The Images Are Real|
The images on this site are real but enhanced digitally in post processing to capture the experience and what I believe I saw when I captured the image. Photography is not painting. For an image to remain a photograph, I cannot render or illustrate a scene differently than what it really is. The camera is not a perfect instrument, and the sensor itself interprets an image based on it's own programming. It may not just be mine.
I might have a little latitude in interpreting a scene and that's what lenses, filters, and technique are for. I do use high shutter speeds to freeze motion and a neutral density filter to smooth moving water and clouds. I use the term "experience" as my license to enhance an image to more closely represent what I think I saw and felt while capturing the image.
The simple explanation is that I do not add or remove elements from an image but I do compose and crop an image. I do not add or remove colors form an image but I do enhance the color, convert images to monochrome, and blend colors (but this should be obvious without explanation). I do dodge and burn images but so did Ansel Adams. So as you are viewing the images, they are real, unless I say they are digital, meaning that I've applied some sort of computer filter and they are therefore not real according to my own definition.
|06/26/11||Seeing Better -|
I generally shoot at least once a week on Sunday mornings and I choose the location based on what I think what I'm going to see. For example, in June I would expect to see sunflowers at Descanso Gardens in La Canada, California. I don't know if I'll actually see sunflowers in the condition I'm anticipating but I'll give it a try anyway. Even in formal gardens, nothing is the same from year to year. You have to keep your mind and eyes open to seeing things you had not previously anticipated. The images are there, you just have to find them. The photographer that sees better, is therefore going to capture more interesting images, along with a bunch of bad ones too.
Seeing better takes work and the proper attitude. If I'm in a hurry, I'll seldom find that extra special image. Slow down and let your eyes and mind work together. This is not a situation where you can consciously force an image. It take practice and sometimes absolutely nothing will work. The other times, it's magical.
|06/26/11||Shooting Style -|
|I just got back from a model shoot where the objective was to create a scene in a studio with a model that tells a story. This requires preplanning and a very conscious effort. At first, I was kind of confused because this is not my shooting style but I couldn't articulate why nothing made sense. In fact, I felt very disconnected to the process. I did buck-up and request a master photographer to guide me through his process of creating an image in the style aforementioned. It was a wonderful experience but definitely not my style. I just felt that his results were more preconceived theatrics and and did not delve into the personal and emotional realm of the model as a human being.|
Phasing In -
Phasing in is definitely the opposite of phasing out. It's like your mind going into turbo drive. In an automobile, the engine develops horse power you didn't know you had. With your camera and subject, whether it be a flower or nude model, your eyes and mind combine to see potential images you would never see under normal conditions. You are able to explore the subject at a higher level of visualization. This is undoubtedly one of the most exciting aspects of photography.
At first, I thought I was just being "lucky" and capturing images of a subject that were definitely more photogenic than I had originally envisioned. But after being able to recreate the condition and repetitively generate a similar experience of different subjects at different times, I no longer believe it is just luck. This state-of-mind does require incredible concentration on the subject whether or not a I had a preconceived image in mind.
Apparent Sharpness -
Maybe it is just me but when I look at an image, I don't want the lack of apparent sharpness to detract from the image. It is perfectly acceptable for areas of the image to be blurry or even the entire image, but that lack of sharpness has to contribute to the meaning and purpose of the image.
There actually a lot more to apparent sharpness than just just sharp pixels. Apparent sharpness can be broken down, in order of importance, as follows:
1. Dynamic range
2. Edge definition or contrast
3. Color including hue & saturation
4. Individual pixels.
It's interesting that "individual pixels" is the least important attribute to the Apparent sharpness of an image.
What you see may not be what you get -
I remember shooting with a brownie camera back in the 50s. I remember the disappointment of getting the images back from the local drug store and they didn't look anything like what I had seen when I took the photo. That's what this site is all about. Things have gotten a little more complicated with the introduction of digital cameras and processes associated with them. For example:
1. Visually, you arrive at Yosemite and you are awestruck. I have to take a picture.
2. You look thru the viewfinder of your camera and it's equally impressive.
3. After taking the picture, you look at the LCD and are truly impressed.
4. Download images to computer and view on monitor. Some look OK.
5. You post process the best and then print them. Ugh. what was I thinking.
It's amazing that we still have the same problem today that we had in the 50s'. It's just a longer process with more stages where something can go wrong, and usually does.
Deliberate vs. Spontaneous -
|I admire photographers that seem to know what they want and then take the necessary steps to achieve that goal. I have never had the ability to look that far in advance to precisely prepare for a photo shoot. Instead, I select equipment that I think might be helpful, and then wing it. Given a situation, I shoot a lot of images changing positions, lenses, and style and hope to sort it out on the computer. I suspect that the best photographers in years past would be in shock. Hey, as equipment capabilities have changed, shooting style can change also.|
Experience Process -
- Trip Planning
- Trip prep- equipment
- On Location - subject...lighting...composition
- Image organization
- Image Post Processing
- Image Display
What I Saw -
|When I was younger I would photograph a scene, and when I got my photos back, they just didn't seem to convey what I remembered seeing. Could my mind have enhanced the image from the time I pressed the shutter release until the time I printed the image? Of course, but at least with digital, it's possible to post-process the pixels into an image that more closely resembles the image I thought I originally saw.|
Shoot it Again -
I always go to a location with a sense of purpose. I may not know in advance the best subject for the day, but whatever it is, I'll photographic it. A couple ways to greatly improve results are:
1) Once you capture the image, shoot it again.
2) When your ready to leave, shoot it again.
Get into it -
Shooting a subject can often absorb practically all of my mental focus. I was recently photographing butterflies at Wild Animal Park in San Diego. When I began, there were only a couple other persons in the green house. An hour later when I was preparing to leave, I realized that the green house was absolutely packed with people. Yea, I kind of knew there were a lot of people in the green house while shooting but I was so focused on the butterflies I really didn't have an appreciation of how packed it really was. I couldn't get to the exit fast enough.
It may also take a little while for me to transition from "logical" mode to "intuitive" mode but this is a critical part of being creative.
Beautiful Locations -
|There are beautiful locations that just yield beautiful images. However, I really have an appreciation for beautiful images of not-so-beautiful locations. It's the more personal interpretation of less than perfect location that really stands out in my mind. They're also a much greater challenge to capture but you often get something better than you saw. Now that's an experience worth remembering.|
Remembering Film -
|During the days when film was dominant I'm the kind of person that was always less than excited by the images processed by the local lab. Photoshop (and other imaging programs) give the capability back to the photographer to recreate the image on paper that was experienced in real life.|
Often times, when shooting at a location, what other people say to you can help enlighten the experience. For example, while I was leaving a location, an older couple asked me "did you get what you came for?" I looked back and responded "I'm an opportunist". By their reaction, they knew exactly what I meant. "That's even better." A few minutes later as I walked towards the parking lot, two persons laden with movie gear looked at me and one of them said "Done?". My immediate reactions was "Yea.". I kept walking and thought to myself, yea, done for the day but that's all; I'm really never done.
These two comments brought to mind a situation that occurred to me several years ago when I was just beginning to take photography seriously. I was photographing the patterns in some grasses in San Diego when I heard a young child say to his dad "Look dad' he's taking a picture of nothing". Think about it; children never lie?
Goal vs. Process
Working in a corporate environment, I tend to differentiate between the goal of photography and the process of photography. Both are part of the experience of photography. From capturing hard to photograph wildlife or capturing the beauty of an exquisite flower and relaying that beauty to others represents the goal. Preparing for the trip, selecting the appropriate equipment, finding and selecting the subject matter, composing, and digitizing the image is the process.
Personally, successfully reaching the goal yields a short term euphoria while the process, especially the trip itself, produced a longer term and more memorable satisfaction. Either way, both are part of the photography experience.
For scenic photography, one should thoroughly research the location via written media, the internet, fellow photographers, are actual visits if possible. Time of year, weather conditions, events are all important criteria.
Imagine the first time you stepped out of your vehicle to witness the vast expanse of Yellowstone or Yosemite. The imagery and possibilities seem boundless; capturing this reality is not nearly as easy. Photography provides a great excuse and opportunity to visit other places and expand your ability to visualize nature and people.
For wildlife photography, being prepared to take a photograph of an alert and fleeting subject may be critical to success. One second may make the difference between successfully capturing the subject on film or failure. With untamed wildlife, it is not often that the photographer sees the subject first.
I will generally carry an F100 with 80-400 VR, strapped around my neck, ready to shoot. My default settings for the F100 are VR ON, dynamic auto focus ON, focus limit OFF, aperture priority at F 7.1, and ISO 400 film at 320. I will generally shoot first and think later. If the subject remains visible, I will try to improve on the composition and the exposure. The first exposure of a sequence is my insurance shot. As I move closer, I will take additional exposures. If possible, I will repeat this process two or three times.
Some of my most successful photos have resulted from standing in a location for an extended period of time and the animals literally walked within shooting distance. If an animal does not perceive a threat, it will be easier to capture on film. The VR lens demonstrates its usefulness since there is no better way to scare off wildlife than with a tripod.
I also carry and N90 with 17-35 in a shoulder bag. In order for this lens to be an effective wildlife lens, you'd probably have to be at the zoo.
|Efficiency is an aspect of nature photography that is seldom discussed. Professionals on assignment can wait for hours for the perfect opportunity. Amateur photographers, with limited time, don't have this luxury and must maximize their picture taking opportunities. For example, I recently spent 4 days in Yosemite. I went with a group of other photographers who had been photographing Yosemite for many years. Attending an organized photography session may be a few hundred dollars more expensive but those photographers knew exactly where to go and when. On your first visit to a location, this is a productive way to go. You can always go your own way on subsequent trips to that location.|
The pure Experience
Ultimately, the photo experience may not even include taking a single photograph. This may sound contrary to the objective photography but sometimes the situation is just so enlightening, its more appropriate to just enjoy the pure experience rather than interrupt the experience setting up equipment and concentrating on exposure and all of the other procedures involved in capturing an image on film.
This experience occurred in the middle of winter after 2 days of rain in the chaparral of La Canada. The oak forest was pristine and the air unusually crisp and clear. Just outstanding. Actually, if there was a subject that I wanted to capture on film, I don't think I could duplicate the experience. Instead, I was content to enjoy the hike and never regretted not taking a single exposure. This does not happen very often since I am naturally very production oriented. (12/22/02)
|Photography is the excitement of capturing a moment in time or a slice of beauty.|