Category Archives: Random Thoughts

Gear Talk

Sunset at sea aboard Celebrity Equinox – G12, ISO 800

A recent commenter on a blog I follow regularly stated in reply to a post – about image processing and showing examples – that  “Figure 6 on my calibrated quad-core iMac is stunning!”  OK, so we’re all impressed and everything that you have a “calibrated quad-core iMac” but why is that important to your comment?

Darkroom Time

Windmill ruin, St. Nicholas Abbey, Barbados        
The other night I was working at my computer and heard my phone ringing.  I was in my office and my phone was in the kitchen, I was in the middle of a project and didn’t want to be interrupted so I ignored the call and let it go to voicemail.  I do that a lot, not to be rude, but because I believe strongly that managing interruptions is an important part of being productive.  I’ll close my e-mail and my browser when I’m trying to concentrate.  And if I’m in a meeting, having a face-to-face conversation or having dinner, the phone doesn’t have a chance.

A couple of nights later I was teaching my Lightroom class at The Light Factory in a room that is right next door to their darkroom.  As my class was wrapping up I had to take a projector into the classroom where the darkroom is located and struck up a short conversation with the instructor there, trading good-natured barbs about “film – what’s that?” and “Lightroom – what’s that?”  I found it fascinating that we were both teaching classes about photography, but using completely different processes.

Later on I recalled both of the above events and I happened to think, “you wouldn’t have answered a cell phone in the darkroom, would you have?”  It helped me reconcile the idea of not answering the phone while I am in my own “darkroom.”  I’ve never worked in a darkroom so I can’t speak from experience, but I’ve read articles about photographers spending hours and hours in the darkroom, working on prints until they get them just right.  The ability to work uninterrupted just isn’t part of our vocabulary these days, and I think our creativity suffers for it.  Sometimes we all need to be able to – literally or figuratively – close the door, sit quietly in the dark and do our work, whatever kind of work it might be, without being interrupted by things that we can attend to later.

So, if sometime you call me and end up hearing my voicemail, remember that I might be “in my darkroom” and I’ll call you back when I’m done.

Marketing and camera choices

In my last post I talked about people’s fascination with equipment and mentioned that marketing plays a large role in what kind of cameras people buy.  I just returned from a 10-day cruise in the Caribbean (talk about good timing!) and one of the many observations I made during this trip was that it seems like the DSLR has really increased market share over past year or two, at least within the subset of people who travel where and how I do.  I don’t think I have seen such a large percentage of big cameras on a cruise before.  There were a lot of lower-priced models, but I spotted at least one 7D, a couple of D90s and more than a handful of “L” or “EX” lenses.  Me?  I took along my trusty G12 with my G9 as a backup.  Never even pulled the G9 out of the bag.

People often ask me for advice about buying a camera.  I tell most people that a good point & shoot will meet the needs of most people from a photographic standpoint, but I also understand that some people believe that they “need” an SLR for reasons other than image quality.  There is after all a certain “cool factor” to carrying an SLR and a big lens.  I don’t try to steer them either way, but if it becomes clear that they are really looking for me to affirm their desire for an SLR I’m happy to do so, although I point out that they are getting more camera than they need.

I’ve been exploring the idea of shooting “serious” photography with my point & shoot camera and find that it works very well.  I’m having a blast with my G12 and am starting to feel like these little cameras are way underappreciated.  I hope to make this idea the subject of a regular series of posts over the coming year.

I bought an iPad

Yeah, whatever.  More on that later.  This isn’t an article about the iPad.  It’s about gear, and my fascination with people’s fixation on it. As often happens, this post was inspired by three recent conversations.  One I just observed and two I was actually involved in.

There was recently an exchange on the CNPA forums with several posters discussing the relative merits of the Whiz-Bang 400 and whether it was worth the upgrade from the Whiz-Bang 300 that one of the posters is currently using.  As to be expected the owners of the Whiz-Bang 400 and the even “better” Whiz-Bang 860 chimed in with their support for the “better” camera.  The discussion ended with speculation about whether the Whiz-Bang 400 was due to be replaced in 2011, even mentioning that it was “interesting to speculate on the replacement of this fine camera” and that “I’ve already convinced myself that I need to be ready to jump when the replacement is announced.”  Score one for the marketing people!

The second conversation was with a fellow photographer while standing on an observation platform at Chincoteague Island NWR while waiting for the snow geese to do something interesting (they didn’t).  This guy, not a CNPA member and not anyone I know, was standing there with a huge something or other camera and lens combination.  I was standing above him on this two-level platform where he couldn’t see my cameras so he had to ask what cameras I had.  I told him that I had a 5D and a 40D, to which he replied “Mark II?”  When I said “no, the original 5D” he immediately became disinterested in any further conversation with me, as though anyone using gear as antiquated as mine couldn’t possibly have anything meaningful to contribute to a conversation.  As expected he packed up and left as soon as the sun went down, while the sensible among us knowingly waited while the sky lit up in one of the nicest sunsets I’ve seen in a while.  No camera is going to take a good photograph when it’s in the trunk.

Lastly, I had a nice little conversation going on Facebook with a couple of friends – both of whom happen to own Nikon cameras and one of whom I knew had asked Santa for a Canon G12 – that turned into a Canon vs. Nikon (friendly) exchange when I commented on my friend’s reference to his camera as “the best camera made” by asking “so you got the G12.”  It was just a good-natured friendly exchange but shows that even among friends gear choice sometimes matters.  I think we’re still friends!

Anyone who knows me knows that I tend to have a little bit of a rebellious streak.  Really.  And when it comes to photo gear I’m convinced that even the relics I shoot with are still better at taking pictures than I am.  When it comes to brands I say that the only meaningful difference between them is the file name, and everything else is marketing.  I’m also convinced that buying 1-generation-removed used cameras is a great way to get a great deal on a great camera.  It’s guys like Mr. Can’t-Wait-For-The-Whiz-Bang-500 that I like to buy my cameras from!

The time I seriously consider buying a new camera is when it doesn’t do what I need it to do or when something else does what I need it to do a lot better than what I have.  That’s why I bought the G12.  It’s a significant improvement over my G9 in just about every instance.  I still use the G9 but know its strengths and keep it out of situations where it isn’t at its best.  I’ve still got a 20D in my bag, and if I needed to use a third camera body I wouldn’t hesitate to pull it out.  It’s even got a 6GB Micro-drive in the card slot!  The camera works as good as it did the day I brought it home.  As does the Micro-drive.  If the camera you are currently using is a “fine camera” I don’t understand why you would be salivating over the rumored replacement that might or might not come next year.  Put down the Internet and go take some pictures!

I think it’s wonderful that newer cameras can take pictures practically in the dark.  It literally opens up more possibilities that we never could have imagined just a few years ago.  But just because a photograph was taken with a certain camera or at a certain ISO or in the dark doesn’t make a difference if it isn’t an interesting photograph.  So that part of the rules hasn’t changed.  Newer cameras take bigger files than the older ones.  But if all you’re going to do is post photos on Flickr or Facebook why do you need a 20 megapixel camera?  If you have clients demanding and willing to pay for huge prints then that makes good sense.  There are very few things I’m likely to do with my photographs that a 10 or 12 megapixel file won’t work for.

I always reaffirm that I am OK with whatever way a person chooses to enjoy photography.  If a person loves to collect gear and have the most recent version of everything I think that’s great.  If a person feels that a certain camera brand is important then that’s a good reason to own it.  Some people love to use software, and I support that.  I am a firm believer in everyone getting to do things their own way.  I like to talk about my preferences not to convince others to think like I do, but to share my thoughts for those who are interested.  Hopefully my photographs are more interesting than my thoughts!

It does concern me that it’s easy for people to get hung up on The Next Great Thing.  I’m afraid that too often worrying about the right tool keeps people from just using the one they’ve got.  A carpenter doesn’t sit around worrying whether to buy a new hammer or not.  A new one won’t make the nail go in any straighter than an old one.  But if he needs to drive a screw he buys a screwdriver.  Some things matter, like making sure your saw blade is sharp.  But that’s about maintenance, not whether something is new or not.  Take care of the tools you have, use them for their intended purpose and replace them when they stop doing what they were meant to do.  Or when something comes along that is so much better that you just can’t help it.  In the mean time get out there and use what you have!

Oh, yeah.  About that other thing.  I bought an iPad.  I hope to be able to read books and magazines on it.  I’ve wanted one since they came out, but it took me a long time to convince myself that it was time to buy one.  I bought a used (refurbished) one, probably just a few months before the next generation comes out.  But I got a good deal on it and I think it will be just the right tool for the job.  Sound familiar?

A New Year

I saw a Facebook post yesterday that asked “As 2010 comes to an end, will you reflect or will you reset?”  My thought is that the clock and the calendar continue to move forward, and so should we.
What better way to start the year than with a beautiful sunrise?  Chincoteague, VA in November 2010.

Watch What You Say

I really don’t like ticking people off and risking friendships so I’m not going to identify the source, but I just read a blog post that stated – quite authoritatively and unequivocally – that “you are wasting your time photographing landscapes in the middle of the day under direct sunlight.”  Wow, those are strong words.  The writer goes on to say that “no matter how dramatic the subject matter is, the pictures will never be successful.”  Really?  Never?  As in not ever?  To the writer’s credit he goes on to name several exceptions, but I’m inclined to take exception myself. I agree that it’s easier to take good photographs in the morning and afternoon, but it is certainly not impossible to make good photographs in the middle of the day.  It just depends on how creative you are and how hard you want to work.  I think the writer does photography and photographers a huge injustice to make such a claim.

November Wallpaper Calendar

I’m sure it’s just me (it usually is) but there is something weird about kids going around and trick-or-treating while they text on their cell phones.  Seems like if you are old enough to have a cell phone you shouldn’t be out begging for candy.  Like I said, probably just me….

Let’s kick November off with another waterfall image.  On our recent club outing to Brevard someone mentioned that they thought it was interesting that there could be 20 photographers standing in front of a waterfall and I would be the only one with my lens pointing away from the waterfall. Well, not always.  In this case I was pointed at the waterfall, but at a really small part of it.

This is a detail from Looking Glass Falls in Pisgah National Forest near Brevard, NC.  Not too many people get this shot, most of them don’t even see it.  But sometimes I do actually shoot waterfalls!

Fancy Colours

(Reference to an old Chicago tune)

I spent last week in the NC mountains photographing in fall color.  On several occasions people mentioned that they thought that “the colors are lousy this year” or “this fall is one of the worst I’ve seen.”  I even heard someone say something like “this fall sucks.”  While I admit that there were places where you might have to isolate the colors a bit, I didn’t think it was all that bad.  As I review my images on the computer this week I’m not all that disappointed with the color.  Could it be that we have gotten so used to looking at our images through Viveza-colored glasses that we can’t appreciate reality when we see it?  Just a thought.

October 2010 Calendar

My, how time flies!  October already, the busiest time of the year for nature photographers.  Kathy & I have a big month coming up, although we won’t be running around quite as much this year as we have in years past.  One big week starting with a CNPA outing in Brevard and ending with Kevin Adams’ Fall Photo Tour, plus a few random day trips thrown in, will be a great time and should make for some productive photography.

Fall can be so easy that it ends up being hard.  When the color starts to show it can be tempting to just point and shoot.  The trouble with that is that it’s hard to go beyond the obvious.  And that is really going to be my focus this year – to go beyond the obvious.  I intend to photograph mindfully and intentionally, seeing lines, patterns colors and relationships.  We’ll see how how I did a month from now.

I liked the photo from my last post so much I’ve decided to make it the October wallpaper calendar.  It’s a little bit different look at Hooker Falls in Dupont State Forest.  This photo illustrates what I mean by “beyond the obvious” and is the kind of photograph I hope to make a lot more of.

I hope you enjoy this month’s calendar, and hope you all have an excellent October.  See you somewhere along the way!

A Glint in the Eye

This past weekend I attended a presentation by noted nature and wildlife photographer Bill Lea. During Bill’s presentation he showed a number of excellent wildlife images – bear, deer, fox, wolf and more. At one point he made the statement that a successful animal photograph should always include a “glint” in the animal’s eye. I agree completely, but to take it a step further, I feel that a successful photograph of any kind is one that puts a glint in the photographer’s eye.