Equilibrium

"Equilibrium"

Life maintains a fragile balance.  Most of us take this balance for granted, but the result when this changes even a little can be devastating.  A life full of health and optimism can quickly turn to pain and misery with little or no warning.

Kathy’s Mom passed away this past week.  The funeral was Saturday.  Just a few short years ago she was healthy and energetic, walking and exercising regularly, optimistic for a long and happy future.  A series of falls and illnesses were eventually diagnosed as Parkinson’s.  A disease as diverse as those who are afflicted, there is little to be done, save for some medicines whose side effects tend to be as horrible as the illness they are designed to alleviate.  Eventually the inevitable prevailed, and in too short a time she was gone.

A loving wife and caring mother, she left a family who misses her greatly.  Her wit, wisdom and sense of humor inspires us all, and I am grateful that she was even able to find a few redeeming qualities in me.

May 2012 Wallpaper

 

South Beach Marina, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

Here’s something a little different this month.  A simpler and more graphic photograph, the kind of photography I’ve been doing more of lately…seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary.

While this photograph was taken on Hilton Head Island, SC the location isn’t really important.  The photo isn’t about Hilton Head.  What it is about is the combination of red, white and blue in a simple, graphic design that to me represents that feeling I get on a sunny summer day with a great clear blue sky.  That feeling of being on vacation!

Lots going on these days, so while I hope to send off a few more posts before the Big Adventure, it may be a too little hectic.  But you’ll hear from me, don’t worry!

Marion, NC Train Station

Marion Train Station, Marion North Carolina

Kathy & I make frequent trips to Marion, NC to visit our friends at Bruce’s Fabulous Foods on Main Street in Marion.  We stumbled on Bruce’s a few years ago and have been making regular visits ever since.  This past Saturday we made our most recent pilgrimage.

Marion Train Station, Marion North Carolina

I’ve had an ongoing love for train stations and enjoy photographing them.  Not sure exactly why, but I do.  We often plan trips around train stations just to check them out.

This one's for Earl

The station in Marion is one we had visited before, but with a new camera to play with it was time to stop by again!  The light was a little tough and we were hungry, so we didn’t spend a lot of time but I got a few shots.

Fire Alarm
Old building near the Marion Train Station, Marion North Carolina
Growing Like A Weed

More 5D Mark III Fun!

Views of uptown Charlotte from the Seventh Street Station parking garage, Charlotte, North Carolina
Stripes

I’ve gotten a little more time to shoot with the 5D Mark III over the last few days.  Saturday I was teaching a digital point & shoot class for The Light Factory, and part of the class time is spent out actually taking photos.  What a concept – a photography class that actually goes out and takes photos…amazing if I do say so myself!  I cheated a little and took the 5D, with full disclosure to the class, of course.  And after using my G12 in the previous session.

Looking Up, Clouds

I’ve still a little vexed by what I feel is most likely a learning curve in Lightroom…my files seem to be coming in flat and dark, and only after applying a pretty aggressive tone curve adjustment can I get them where I want them.  I thought maybe I  had some kind of Auto Tone turned on, but nothing I see indicates that I do, and even if I did I think the images, if anything, would look lighter instead of darker.  I also saw on a video tutorial something about some automatic highlight suppression that Lightroom is doing, but I haven’t found anything definitive about that.  So for now I’ve got something that works and I’m using it.

Looking Down

I’ve posted this photos a little larger than usual in case anyone wants to do some peeping.  Click on each photo to make them bigger (dare I say “embiggen?”).  They look pretty good, I think.

Frame In Need of a Face
Walking
No Littering
Arrival
Crossed

Silliness…and 5D Mark III Impressions

Sidewalk Closed

I’ve been amused by some of the press reports surrounding the so-called “light leak” issue with the Canon 5D Mark III.  I won’t even link to it here but you can easily Google it if you feel you need the details, but suffice it to say that, while it is admittedly an “issue” it is not exactly a “problem” unless you normally take pictures in the dark with your lens cap on and rely on the LCD backlight while you are metering.  Not something that concerns me, but people have made enough of a ruckus that Canon was forced to issue a press release to state that they were working on a “fix.”  It amazes me that people must actually spend time trying to find these so-called flaws.

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No Waiting

 I’ve had the 5D Mark III for about 2 weeks now, and while a lot of people would have turned over 10,000 images in that amount of time, my schedule has given me barely enough time to become familiar with the camera.  I have managed to come up with some initial impressions and conclusions that I thought might be interesting to share.

My first real experience with the new camera was a little time spent walking around Charlotte on a rainy day, shooting some dreary outside scenes and some dark interiors, stretching the ISO limits a bit.  I was and remain quite impressed with the relatively low noise at the higher ISOs, although in reality I was shooting much higher than I would seriously consider for serious use, mostly just because I could.

Random photo along College Street in Charlotte, North Carolina
Random photo along College Street in Charlotte, North Carolina

My first actual job with the new camera involved shooting a small event at a local restaurant.  I used ISO 3200 because, even though I was using a flash, I wanted the extra shutter speed that the higher ISO gave me.  The photos from that event are very nice and I can confidently say that if I was a wedding or event shooter I wouldn’t hesitate to bump the ISO when I needed the speed.

I took the camera with me over Easter weekend when we visited Shenandoah National Park.  Most of the photos I took on that trip were taken without benefit of a tripod (because I was too lazy to carry it) and those where I used the tripod were taken in very windy conditions or in harsh lighting, which makes it difficult to really evaluate the files.  Add to that a major update to Lightroom, and I have been flummoxed trying to get files to come out to my liking.  I’ve finally turned the corner on that, however, and am much happier now.

Along the trail to Stony Man Mountain summit in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Handling

My first impression of the camera when getting it out of the box was that it has a nice feel.  The surface has almost a “stickiness” to it that makes it comfortable to hold, and the grip areas are shaped just right for my hands.  It feels well balanced with all of my lenses, most especially the 17-40 and the 24-105.  Sticking a 70-200 2.8 or a 100-400 on the front of any body makes it a beast, so there’s not much to say about that.  I have yet to put the 70-200 on it, which is weird since it is my favorite lens.  Soon!  I promise!

The controls are pretty well laid out, although it does have a couple of useless buttons, the “Rate” button and something called the “Creative Photo/Comparative Playback/Direct Print button that can’t be programmed for anything else.  After a little fiddling with some of the custom controls I have managed to get things pretty much where I want it.  I’ve purposely stayed away from the custom controls on the mode dial, figuring that I wanted to get a better feel for the choices before I started trying to come up with “canned” settings.  As I did with some of my other cameras, I’ll probably create a setting for general nature stuff when shooting from a tripod, one for shooting hand-held, and another for shooting action.

I really like the addition of the “My Menu” (remember I’m coming from an original 5D) for commonly used functions like mirror lockup.  I’m still playing around with what I put on there.  It seems pretty useful though, and while navigating the main menu isn’t that hard, it’s nice to be able to recall the frequently used functions easily.

View from Stony Man Mountain summit in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
View from Stony Man Mountain summit in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Focusing

I haven’t had a chance to use the capabilities of this camera shooting action, but for what I’ve done so far the focusing ability of this camera is impressive.  It took a little effort to figure out how to change modes and move the focusing point around, but once I did it’s a piece of cake.  Focusing is fast and accurate, although I’ve found that I have to be very careful with depth of field.  After spending a lot of time using point & shoot or crop-sensor cameras I’m gaining a new appreciation for being careful with depth of field.  It’s easy to get lazy with a tiny sensor camera, and moving to a large sensor makes you pay attention.  On the other hand, getting shallow depth of field when you want it couldn’t be easier.  I’d love to put a fast prime on this baby!

Unnamed cascade along the Rose River in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia

Image Quality

This is the one area where I want to spend some more time, but the impression I have so far is that quality is very good.  The photos I’ve taken that I’m happy with show an amazing amount of detail.  The downside is that the ones that I’m not happy with tend to exaggerate my mistakes!

One area that I feel like I see the most improvement seems to be dynamic range.  I seem to be able to pull a lot of detail out of the shadows and control of highlights seems pretty good.  Some of that may be the improvements in Lightroom, too.  But the results look like the combination will be a good one for what I do.

The thing I haven’t done yet is to make prints from these files, and I am very much looking forward to a chance to do that.  Hopefully I’ll have some time this weekend to waste a little ink and paper.

"7"

Conclusion

So far my only complaint about the camera is that I haven’t had enough time to enjoy it!  In just a few short weeks though I’ll have a nice two-week vacation to Alaska and California, giving me plenty of time and lots of subject matter to finally put this camera to the test, and I’m really looking forward to that.  Hopefully between now and then I’ll be able to make some more photos, work with all of my lenses and settle on the equipment that is going to make the trip.  I change my mind every day (Kathy rolls her eyes) but eventually I’m going to test-pack the bag and see just how much stuff it will hold.

Off The Grid

Rocks and lichen, Hawksbill Mountain in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia - Canon 5D Mark III

Kathy & I spent the Easter weekend in Shenandoah National Park, meeting up with our good friends Bill and Cathy from Ohio.  We stayed at Skyland – which they now call “Skyland Resort,” presumably to appeal to the upscale Washingtonians – that is actually an historic mountain lodge operated for the National Park Service by Aramark.  The rooms are rather rustic, but the restaurant is decent and reasonably priced.  It’s a beautiful location for a weekend or a week, as it is one of only two lodges in the park, and the only one open this time of year.  Big Meadows Lodge is our favorite, but it doesn’t open for the season until May.  There are miles of hiking trails accessible from right at Skyland or within an easy drive.

Kathy & I have stayed at either Skyland or Big Meadows numerous times over the years, and I traveled there with my family when I was a kid.  I have numerous fond memories of the place from all of our visits there.  One of the things we have always liked the most is that once you are in the park you have always been pretty much removed from civilization.  At the lodges there are no room phones, most of the rooms don’t have televisions and until recently the cell phone coverage was non-existent.  Both lodges have managed to add wireless internet in the main buildings, but there is no coverage in the rooms and cabins.  For many this is a huge inconvenience, and I saw a number of people schlepping their iPads and laptops to the dining room at meal time, but it was exactly what I hoped for.  Kathy refers to this as being “off the grid.”  I call it the way to take a vacation!

Spring color along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia - Canon 5D Mark III

I made sure that my iPad had plenty of reading material on it – not a problem since I have managed to accumulate quite a backlog – and spent the entire 5 days in “Airplane Mode.”  I did have my phone with me, so I was able to get my e-mail when I wanted it, but since most of the places we went either didn’t have cellphone coverage or were places I wouldn’t want to be talking on the phone anyway, I just left the phone off until we got back to the room.  I left the laptop at home, figuring that I had plenty of memory cards and knowing that I wouldn’t be taking the time to work on any photos.  I spent some time reading some technical papers on some of the new features of my camera, as well as looking through the manual for things I might have missed.  Interesting stuff, right?  Scoff if you will, but there is sometimes some good information to be found in the manual!

View of Skyland Resort from Stony Man Mountain in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia - 5D Mark III

This wasn’t a photography weekend per se, as it was arranged as a way to meet up with our friends, Shenandoah being about equidistant for both of us.  But being a guy with a new camera there was a fair amount of photography to be done.  I didn’t get up early or stay out until sunset, and for the most part the skies were crystal clear blue and it was very windy, so it was not ideal for the kind of shooting I usually do, but I did manage to put a few shots on the new gear.

When I got the new camera, my first shooting opportunities involved conditions that allowed me to try out the stratospheric ISO capabilities, so for this trip it was nice to slow down into a “normal” ISO range of 100 or 400.  I used the tripod for a few shots but mostly carried the camera and a single lens while we hiked, shooting random nature shots along the trail.  I also carried the X10 for a few shorter hikes, since it is ideal for those times when I don’t want to carry a bunch of gear but want to have a camera with me.

Gnarly tree, Hawksbill Mountain in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia - 5D Mark III

Most of all, the weekend provided me some time to get familiar with some of the basic functions of the camera.  It’s got a new (to me) focusing system and a few new controls to get used to.  It’s actually pretty intuitive, since I am familiar with the Canon menu layout from my previous cameras.  I got used to it pretty quickly and now feel like I am almost to the point where I can use it as intuitively as my older cameras.  While the new 5D has some interesting new features, I tended to stick to the basics, preferring to learn how to use it in “regular camera mode.”  There will eventually be plenty of time for playing around with the in-camera HDR, multiple exposures and picture styles, but for starters I just want to be sure I know how to take pictures with it!

Early spring along the Rapidan Fire Road in the Big Meadows area of Shenandoah National Park, Virginia - Fuji X10

Now that I am back to “reality” I have been working on trying to get up to speed on processing the files in Lightroom 4.  I’m finding that a lighter touch is required in the new process version in general, and while the files from the 5D are very nice, I am trying to figure out how to get the new process version set up to produce files that look the way I want them to look and that I am happy with.  All of my old presets are essentially obsolete, and simply duplicating the settings from the old version end up way too contrasty, oversaturated and – interestingly – too dark.  I’ve been playing around with a custom Tone Curve that, when combined with some other settings, tends to get the files back to where I want them.  I don’t think it’s a matter of the camera underexposing the files as much as it is just that the standard settings are somehow darkening the files, especially in the mid-tones.  I haven’t had a lot of time to search the usual message boards, so I don’t know if this is just me or if it is a common issue.  It’s probably me.

Anyway, I’m back in gear for a few weeks, getting ready for the next big adventure.  By then I expect to have my workflow up to speed with all of the “bugs” worked out of my processing.  I’m teaching a Lightroom class on May 5, so I definitely need to be up to speed on Lightroom 4 by then.  I think a little more work will just about get me there.

Wood grain in a fallen log on Hawksbill Mountain in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia - Canon 5D Mark III

April Wallpaper (Better Late Than Never)

For those of you who I forced to spend a few extra days in March…sorry.  The weekend got away from me and before I knew it, well you know.

One of my favorite sunrise locations at any time of the year is Pounding Mill Overlook, on the Blue Ridge Parkway just south of the junction with US-276 that runs between Brevard and Waynesville.  It’s either hit or miss here, but generally speaking if you aren’t socked in with clouds you’ll get something worth pulling the camera out for.  Fog in the Pink Beds is always a good bet, and a nice golden glow from the rising sun makes for a doubly special sunrise.

Things may be a little quiet here for the next week or so as we head out on our next adventure, but with any luck I’ll come back with some nice shots of the Shenandoah National Park area.  They had a little snow at Big Meadows this morning, so you just never know what you might run in to!

Noise

Uptown Charlotte in Fog - Canon 5D Mark III @ ISO 3200

The world is a noisy place, sometimes. Our workplaces are full of overheard telephone conversations, unattended cell phones, conference calls in “speaker phone voice” from an open cubicle with multiple participants, casual chatter between cube-neighbors. People leave televisions blaring in an empty room that is so loud it hurts my ears, and there’s no one there watching it. We go out for a meal to a restaurant filled with televisions AND loud music in a room with concrete floors and high ceilings that creates “atmosphere.” Actually it creates a headache. Heck, spend a couple of hours on the Blue Ridge Parkway and count the number of loud, noisy cars and motorcycles that roar by in a given period of time. “OUT ENJOYING THE PEACE AND QUIET ON YOUR HARLEY, HUH? WHAT? I CAN’T HEAR YOU OVER MY RADIO.”  Why does a motorcycle even NEED a radio?  HUH?  Nevermind.

Morning Coffee - Canon 5D Mark III @ ISO 6400

Kathy & I seek quiet. We avoid noise whenever possible. We sometimes sit at home in the evenings and the only sound is the clicking of one OF our clocks. Lovely. No television, no music, and hopefully no neighbor’s barking dogs. When I sit at my computer I listen to an acoustic guitar channel on Pandora. Softly. When we think about traveling we think in terms of places we can go to get away from noise, at least man-made noise. Ocean sounds, waterfalls, wind? Those are no problem. We’ve even learned how to find the quiet places on a cruise ship, which is no small feat when sailing with 3 or 4 thousand of our closest friends.

Charlotte Plaza Building Lobby - Canon 5D Mark III @ ISO 25,600 - "Because I Can"

The thing I love about photography is that it takes me to quiet places. Even in the middle of a city, it gets my mind and attention away from the sounds and they become nothing more than background. I shut all that noise out and just think about enjoying my time with my camera. That’s the reason I don’t generally photograph with groups. I have a lot of good friends that are photographers, and while hanging out with a few of them at a time is great fun, much more than that and it’s hard to find the quiet place I look for when I’m with my camera.

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Like these photos?  Maiden voyage of the new machine.  I made them a little larger than usual – click on them to make them bigger.

Different Strokes

No Trespassing

Three conversations over the last several days have gotten me thinking about the things that influence our preferences and perceptions. Bear with me while I elaborate.

Scenario One:

Kathy & I enjoy dining out, and this past Friday and Saturday nights were no exception. Friday night we went to a restaurant we have only been to a couple of times but have really enjoyed, and on Saturday night we went to a restaurant we had never been to before but had wanted to try.

The Friday night restaurant experience was exactly what we expected based on previous visits. The place has more of a sports bar/pub atmosphere and is generally a lot noisier than we prefer, with lots of televisions, this night showing NCAA basketball. Definitely not my idea of the ideal restaurant experience, but it is close to home, the food and service are good and the prices are reasonable, so we are willing to overlook a few less-than-ideal factors.

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Fast forward to Saturday night. The place was a restaurant we had never visited before, but they had good reviews on Yelp and UrbanSpoon, so we figured it was worth a try. The restaurant’s website confirmed that the chef had lots of experience in other restaurants we have previously enjoyed and suggested that his approach mirrored our preferences and we went with an expectation of an excellent and enjoyable meal.

It wasn’t terrible, but a number of missteps left us with a very mixed first impression, to the point where I’m not certain we’ll return. They didn’t have a table ready for us despite having a reservation, the first two bottles of wine I requested were not in stock, despite being on the list, and my steak – one of the “features” for the evening – was tough and undercooked and my vegetables were practically raw. I know from well-proven experience that there are not many places that can do steak to my satisfaction, but I ordered it anyway, and the result proved my rule. On the other hand, Kathy’s dinner was good and she ate every bite.

Wrought Iron Diagonal

Afterward, our discussion centered on how our prior experiences and our own biases influence our first impressions. We have been to some very good restaurants over the years, and while we are certainly not snobbish or opinionated, we generally know what to expect. And I’m not talking just fine dining – we have had excellent meals from casual diners to fancy, high-priced restaurants. Are we spoiled? Perhaps we are, but there are noticeable differences between a good restaurant and an average restaurant regardless of price, and there are enough good restaurants that there is little reason to bother with the average ones.

To be fair to this place, however, I recognize that had I ordered something different I might have had an experience that was 180-degrees opposite from what I had, and I may have been able to overlook the miscues. And had there not been the miscues I might have been more able to overlook a disappointing meal. As it turned out, a lot of little things contributed to a disappointing experience. We concluded that, considering the price and knowing the many other options available, this place would not be high on the list of restaurants to return to.

Exit/Enter Pull

Scenario Two:

During our lunch in Salisbury last weekend, Paul, Earl & I talked about why we write and what we hope to get out of our blogs. We talked about the mutual followers we have and talked a lot about the number of photography blogs we enjoy and how those writers have a similar philosophy and approach to their photography that we have with ours, and how they often commented on our blogs, just as we comment on theirs. I was not too surprised to find that there are a few blogs we don’t especially care for. There is one blog in particular that we mutually dislike (“despise” might not be too strong a word) for a number of reasons, and that discovery led to a rather amusing conversation, as we all felt that this blog was the antithesis of our own blogs and those of our friends. Also interesting was the common observation that most of the people who follow that blog – or at least those who comment on it – had similar philosophies to the writer and were not the type of people we would find commenting on our blogs. It was an interesting discussion.

My take from all that is that people of like minds tend to gravitate toward each other, and the people who take an alternate or opposing viewpoint tend to stick with each other too.

Magnolia House Shadows

Scenario Three:

I spent some time on Sunday afternoon working with a good friend on getting some prints made of his photographs. This person is a long time friend and I admire his photography. His photos have traditionally been very quiet and introspective. But lately his images have taken on more on an “urban decay and chaos” theme, and the difference is fascinating. The particular photographs we were printing were from an old store that he has been photographing. The store is long closed, but the photographs show an interior with lots of clutter and chaos. This friend has had some chaos in his life recently, and it seems that he is expressing this through his photography. I wonder if he realizes it?

Coincidentally that same day a number of other friends had been posting photos on Facebook from several other another outings, and Kathy & I had an interesting discussion about how those photographs often reflected my view of the personality of each photographer. We speculated about how or whether a person’s subject matter reflected their profession, their current emotional state or some wished-for or desired outcome!