I set this up to auto-post on 9/1 and hopefully it will work!
This is one of my favorite photographs from a visit to the northern Outer Banks back in 2009, and I thought it might make a nice intro to fall. The nice clear sky hints at the return of autumn while retaining just a hint of summer’s warmth. I had walked around this building earlier in the day and loved the windows. The possibility of a reflection of the sunset in those windows at dusk were what brought me back.
The building is known as The Whalehead Club and is located at Currituck Heritage Park near Corolla, North Carolina. It is the restored private residence of northern industrialist and conservationist, Edward C. Knight Jr. and now houses the Whalehead Club Historic House Museum.
Several weekends ago, Kathy & I were having an interesting discussion about why someone should or should not shoot in Program or Auto mode on their camera instead of using one of the “serious” modes such as Manual, Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority, and what might be right or wrong with that. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that, actually.
Kathy knows more about the workings of a camera than a lot of people I know who have spent much more time in photography. But she also knows that trying to remember all those things can sometimes take the fun out of just going out and making photographs. So she asked me, and we talked about, “what’s wrong with just shooting JPEGs in Program Mode?” What’s wrong, indeed? Kathy & I were talking more in terms of the camera, in many cases, being smarter than we are. And to a certain extent, she makes a very, very good point.
My very first SLR was a Konica TC that I bought back in the late 70s, and while it had a meter, it was Manual everything, so when I set the aperture, a little needle would tell me whether my shutter speed was high or low, so I adjusted until I had it where I wanted it. And I learned about things like exposure compensation the hard way, after I got the film back and tried to remember what I did! But because I first learned photography with a camera that only had manual controls, it’s pretty easy for me to think in terms of aperture or shutter speed on the fly – I have “Program Mode” in my head!
I put the Konica away sometime in the 80s then shot for years with a number of different point & shoot cameras while the kids were growing up. This worked fine until I decided to get back into photography more seriously and bought a Nikon N70 around 2000. It had auto-focus and auto-metering! But I mostly shot it in Manual and Aperture Priority because that’s what I was used to. I would venture to guess that most people buying that camera, however, probably shot it in Auto mode.
Shortly after buying the Nikon, someone suggested that I needed to buy a medium format camera, so I went out and bought a Mamiya 7 rangefinder and a 65mm lens. Soon after I added a 50mm lens and a 150mm lens. That camera was manual everything with a funky little meter that, once you learned how to use it, worked pretty well. Again, I was perfectly comfortable with the manual exposure controls and manual focus, because that is how I learned. I eventually ended up trading all that Mamiya film stuff in toward a Canon 5D. And I’ve wished for that Mamiya 7 back until recently, when I got my 5D Mark III. That is the first camera I can say is better than the Mamiya 7, but that’s a story for another post.
In a recent post on his blog, Paul Lester talks more about how people are perfectly satisfied with photos they are taking with their phones. No controls, no exposure compensation, no thought, just point and shoot. Paul recently met and talked with photographer and teacher Ibarionex Perello who told him that he no longer teaches aperture in his classes, because no one wants to know about it. Students can’t be bothered learning about depth of field or the effect of aperture on shutter speed. They just want to take pictures. I’m sure some of them will eventually drift into the World of Manual as they explore various creative options, but most of these students will be perfectly happy using their cameras in Program mode, and if they want to get creative with their photos, they can always do that later with software.
Along this line, some of the commentary surrounding the recent Canon EOS-M camera has fascinated me. Like the Nikon mirrorless cameras, they are designed to shoot primarily in Program or one of the various “custom” or “scene” modes. While they do have the ability to shoot in a manual or semi-auto mode, those controls are menu-based instead of accessed simply by turning a dial or two. This has fostered some real debate. Hardly anyone has actually touched one of these cameras yet, let alone shot a few photos with one, but immediately the analysis and commentary began. People started using words like (and you can find them easily) “crippled,” “mundane, run-of-the-mill, off-the-shelf-with-spare-parts,” “uninspired,” No EFing Viewfinder!!! Well that is a deal-breaker for me.” Every camera that is introduced inspires its share of forum jockeys who are too busy making excuses about every camera that comes out that they never get around to actually taking photographs. Give me a break!
Do you honestly think that a company with the research and marketing budget that Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Olympus, Sony and others have is going to bring out a brand-new camera that is such an immediate failure that no one will want it? Probably not. It’s just that so many of these photographer wannabes think that no one else in the world could possibly want to shoot in Program Mode. In truth, I think these cameras are aimed squarely at a very clearly-defined market. It just ain’t us, sorry. Canon will probably sell millions of those cameras. And that will fund the next 5D megacamera that I’ll want!
There is absolutely no reason that a person with a basic level of interest in photography has to shoot in anything but Program to be serious about their photography. Granted, for a lot of us more serious folks, the ability to control exposure and depth of field is critical. But we often forget how long it took us to get to the point where we were comfortable with manual controls. I shot in Manual for years before I really learned how to control background blur or balance exposure between a bright sky and a dark foreground. But today, some cameras can figure that out for you, and for all the money we pay for our equipment, we might do well to just let it!
So anyway, someone who is starting out and just wants to let their camera take pictures will do perfectly well over 98% of the time. And if they shoot JPEGs and learn how to properly expose their shots they won’t need to work on their photos in software. What a deal! I know a number of successful commercial photographers who shoot everything in JPEG and beat the snot out of a lot of people who shoot RAW. Granted they are probably using manual controls and are sometimes using studio lighting, but if you know what you are doing, it’s no different than shooting slide film. Remember that?
In many ways, photography is like riding a bike. We don’t start off riding the fanciest machine that a Tour de France participant would ride. As kids we start off with a single-speed bike with training wheels. As adults getting back into cycling we might dust off the old “10-speed” and ride it around for a while. Eventually we will decide that we could be more comfortable, ride faster or generally be happier with something newer, lighter or more advanced. If we get really serious we buy the shoes, the jersey and the spandex shorts so we really look the part.
The same holds true for photography. Those starting out will use their phones, their point & shoot cameras or their SLRs – all in “P” mode. And for most people that’s as far as they’re going to get. A few of them will start experimenting with things like depth of field and shutter speed and realize that the camera they are using might not suit their needs. At that point they might move up to something with more manual controls, or they might just make do with the camera they have.
Kathy understands a lot of the mechanics of photography, but wants to spend more of her time looking at the scene in front of her and pondering composition and expression and less of it on figuring out the right f-stop. And I support that. If she gets turned off now by all of the technical stuff and gives up the camera entirely, than how is that success? If she can enjoy what she is doing now, and later gets to the point where she wants to do more with the controls, I think that is perfectly fine. And if she never moves beyond the “P” setting but enjoys her photos, that is perfectly fine and I support it! There are many ways to do this photography thing, and very few of them are wrong!
This year has truly exemplified the term “roller coaster ride.” Kathy’s Dad died last week after an extended illness. Her Mom died in May. They had both been ailing for quite some time before they moved to an assisted living facility in April of this year. In between we managed to squeeze in a trip to the beach, several weekends to the mountains, including a great weekend with friends at Shenandoah National Park in April. Then her Mom died in May, later in the month we took a wonderful vacation to Alaska and California, and since then we managed to sneak in a few weekends away, but in general the last several months were consumed with taking care of Kathy’s Dad.
It’s been a tough year.
Kathy & I love to travel, obviously. And we often use our travel as a way to escape – both mentally and physically – from our everyday realities. The last 6 months or more have been emotionally and physically draining, and we feel fortunate to have been able to intersperse the grief and sadness with some well-timed getaways.
It’s surprising how the body and mind can take on additional burden without us realizing it, until such time as the burden is lifted from us and we realize how much we had been carrying. We are starting to feel that lifting now, and it may take a while longer before we fully appreciate it.
We were talking with friends this past week and one of them mentioned that we would be “trying to find our new normal.” That comment hit home for both of us, and we have talked about it a lot over the last few days. I really like the concept of “a new normal,” as if feels like what is happening to us now (I say ‘us,’ but of course Kathy has been carrying the burden, and I have been supporting her as much as I can).
It’s a huge change, to go from caring for two people who have loved you for your entire life to having them gone completely in a few short months. I went through it myself years ago and it still comes back and smacks me in the head when I least expect it. And I suspect it will continue to do so for a long while to come.
The attraction of this “new normal” idea is that it presents one of those rare times when we have at least a little bit of influence about what that “normal” looks like. Will it mean big changes for us? Probably not. But I know that losing both of my parents at an early age – my Mom was 53 when she died, my Dad was 54 – has had a profound influence on how I have looked, and how I continue to look, at my own life as I approach (and hopefully pass) those ages. Let’s just say that I’m hoping for a heck of a birthday party for July 2013!
The concept of “a new normal” is very appropriate to me, because it aptly describes the adjustment process that inevitably takes place when a major change occurs in our lives. Many of these changes are very subtle, such as not having to remember to make a phone call, or not having to plan our route so we come home via Statesville. Some of them are pretty major, as in the fact that having someone living close by and being primarily responsible for their care was one of the major influences to us in terms of staying in the area. Does that mean we’re going to sell the house and move to Alaska? Not today, but when we do decide it’s time to sell the house – which is the only “physical” thing keeping us here – who knows? The kids are here, and our jobs (for as long as we want them or as long as our employers want us) are here. But fewer ties mean more possibilities. And that is what “new normal” means for me right now. What will it mean in a few months or a few years? Time will tell, but I’m looking forward to figuring it out.
We had already planned a trip to the beach over Labor Day weekend, but we had an opportunity to extend that into a full week. I think a week of sand, sun and ocean will do us good. Some quiet time to think and talk, a nice beach for long walks, and a number of good restaurants where they treat us like locals. It is one of our favorite places to visit, and a good place to start getting in touch with our new normal. Indeed.
I mentioned in several earlier posts that I had just about run out of hard drive space, and that coincidentally one of my three drives – the one that had been my main working hard drive for three years – had been acting weird and giving my trouble. I switched over to one of my backup drives, relegated the old main drive to temporary backup status, and ordered new hard drives. Exciting, huh? Non-photographers can probably stop here…this is as good as it gets!
This past Monday I took delivery of three new 2 Terabyte Western Digital My Book Studio external hard drives to replace the 1 Terabyte drives I had been using. It wasn’t a hard job, in fact it was remarkably easy. But given that those drives contain all my photos from the last 8 plus years, I wanted to shut down Lightroom and stop processing photos until I was finished. The third drive finished copying sometime this morning. It took about 15 hours to copy the data from the old drive to each new drive, but now I have three identical copies, one that stays connected to my computer, one that lives in a cabinet in my home office, and another that lives offsite at my work office. I then use SuperDuper! to run incremental backups on a regular basis. I did a backup on each of the new drives just for fun, and each one took 30 seconds. But of course nothing had changed, so that was what I expected. No problemo.
Acquainting Lightroom with the new drive couldn’t have been simpler. I opened up Lightroom, pointed it to the new main drive, and in seconds it was synched. Piece-o cake-o! Back in business and ready for a few more years worth of photos. Hopefully another 3 or so years, but it’s hard to say. These files are getting rather large!
I finally got a chance to spend some time at the computer today and decided to work with some of my fireworks photos from July 4th. I knew when I took the photos that I would be making some composites in Photoshop. These were all taken handheld with the 5D Mark III and the 40MM 2.8 pancake lens, f4 at ISO 3200. My shutter speeds ranged from 1/5 to 1/50 of a second.
All the photos had some initial processing in Lightroom, including a little sharpening and noise reduction, then were composited in Photoshop. Once I brought the composited file back into Lightroom I added a little more punch in contrast, vibrance and saturation.
There’s no question that these are more than a bit over-the-top from the standpoint of reality, but that’s what artistic license is all about. This is what I saw and this is what I felt, so here it is!
This was the first time I had used Photoshop on any 5D Mark III files, and I must say that I seriously challenged the capabilities of my 5 year old iMac. Each file is around 1 GB, and I had some serious beachball action (it’s a Mac thing) going from time to time. If I do much more of that I’m going to need to look at upgrading the computer hardware a little sooner than I planned.
Kathy & I had been trying to find a weekend to head to Waynesville, NC – our favorite little town in the NC mountains – since March. With the exception of our Alaska and California adventure, things just haven’t been very conducive to getting away for the last several months. We finally had our chance this past weekend and took advantage.
As luck would have it we didn’t get a lot of relief from the high temperatures, as Waynesville – while about 10 degrees cooler than Charlotte – was still unseasonably hot, to the point where most of the HVAC systems were doing their best to keep up. Most of them were up to the task, a few were not.
We wisely headed out early and got our in-town sightseeing done early. In the heat of the afternoon we headed up to the Blue Ridge Parkway for a few hours, and while it was 97 in town, it was an unusually warm but relatively cool 84 at Waterrock Knob, an overlook and visitor center at 5,820 feet. After a stop for ice cream it was back to town for a nice dinner and some rest in our thankfully-air-conditioned room.
Sunday was spent getting back to reality, and after a stop in Statesville here we are. A couple of work days with a holiday sandwiched in, and before we know it we’ll have another weekend!
No serious photography this trip, but I had a camera with me at just about all times!
This vacation was our first visit to California, so naturally our visit to California’s Wine Country was our first visit there as well. It was something we had been planning for a long, long time and as we sailed back to San Francisco from Alaska we were very anxious to get the next step of our vacation started!
Once we disembarked our cruise ship in San Francisco on Wednesday morning our first order of business was to get a taxi to the airport to pick up our rental car. This was sort of bass-ackwards as the airport was the opposite direction from where we wanted to go, but that turned out to be the cheapest place to rent a car. Plus we wanted to be able to drop the car off at the airport on our return as it was much more convenient. After an exciting ride with a Greek cab driver (You like my driving, no?”) we made it safely to the airport and navigated the rail system to the rental car desk. Soon we had our car and were back on the road.
We had Wednesday afternoon, all day Thursday, Friday and Saturday for our adventure, so we wanted to make the most of it. Our first order of business after crossing the Golden Gate Bridge was to locate Highway 1 and head toward the coast. Our intention was to stop at Muir Woods National Monument, but for some reason the place was packed – on a Wednesday! The main parking lot was full, the over flow parking was full, and the overflow for the overflow parking was full and people were parking on the road. We decided to drive on, and people were parked along the road for nearly a mile from the entrance. We hadn’t done any research ahead of time, so maybe the place is always that crowded. I’d sure hate to go there on a weekend if it is even busier. Amazing! We’ll have to do that another time.
After a brief stop at the Muir Beach overlook to get a view of the Pacific Ocean from the land side, we headed on North along Highway 1. What a view! Nothing like we get along the East Coast, that’s for sure. We stopped at a little restaurant in the town of Stinson Beach for lunch, then headed inland toward Santa Rosa, where our hotel was located.
We knew that with nearly 4 days, we would have plenty of time but we also knew that we had a lot to see. We also decided that we didn’t want to have a “death march” through wine country, although how hard is drinking wine, right? Seriously though, this was less about seeing how many wineries we could visit or how much wine we could drink and more about seeing the countryside, exploring side roads and having plenty of time to enjoy our time there.
We had started planning our visit several months in advance, and with the invaluable advice and assistance of our good friend Jon Dressler of Dressler’s Restaurants in Charlotte, we had arranged private tours of 4 wineries. Two of our tours were on Thursday and two were on Friday, with one tour each morning and one tour each afternoon. We purposely left Saturday completely open in order to see what else we wanted to do. As it turned out we used Saturday to visit Napa, as none of the wineries we visited were located there. We had an 11:00 flight on Sunday, so that day would be spent solely on travel.
We used the four scheduled tours as the framework for our visit, and I think it worked out very well. We got an early start each day in order to have as much “piddle time” as possible with plenty of time to get to our first destination. We left time between tours for lunch, with plenty of time to drive to our afternoon destination. Our standard practice after the second tour of the day was to head back to our hotel, make a dinner reservation on Open Table, then take a nap. Like I said, no Death Marches for us!
Three things stand out to me from our visit:
(1) Distinctive geography – we always hear about the differences in climate, soil and terrain and how those differences affect the grapes and ultimately the taste of the wine. It’s one thing to hear, but to actually the area is to appreciate the descriptions. When someone describes a wine as coming from grapes “planted on a steep mountainside at 2500 feet” or coming from “the sandy and rocky soil of the Carneros Valley, it really drives home the distinctions that each area has to offer.
(2) Each winery has its own very distinctive character, from the style of the building, the layout of the winemaking area to the design of the bottles and labels. What I love about this is that it really allows us to enjoy the wine as a unique statement of everything that goes into the product. Each bottle is a representative of the winery, since every decision about every ingredient and every step of the process has some kind of an impact on the final result. Just like photography, everyone starts with the same basic set of tools but ends up with their unique expression of those tools.
(3) Thirdly and perhaps most importantly, is the amount of passion that people have for their business, from the winemakers to the tasting room people to the staff in the restaurants we visited. The people we encountered were visibly passionate about their work, and that passion is contagious. This made visiting the wineries, dining at the restaurants, and generally visiting the area a very pleasurable experience.
I’m going to have more to say about our experience in future posts, but the time since we’ve returned has slipped by in a hurry. I wanted to get this post wrapped up so I can “put a bow” on the overview and get back to some specific commentary about other parts of our vacation. Hopefully this collection of photos will provide a bit of a sampler of the 4 days we spent in wine country.
Our day in Glacier Bay was my single best day, photographically, in a long, long time. I don’t know if that is a result of the place being so photogenic, or the fact that I was prepared for my time there, with my only goal for the day to make photographs. It’s probably a combination of the two, since Glacier Bay is certainly an amazing place and I found it quite inspirational on my first visit several years ago. I have to imagine that what I experienced was a confluence of my own openness to the place and the renewed inspiration I felt from being there.
The Tourist Approach would be to slap a wide angle lens on the camera and shoot the huge expanse of icebergs, blue water and glaciers. But what I was feeling was more intimate, although even with a 400mm lens, the actual slice of landscape I captured was still quite large. The scale of the place never ceases to amaze me.
One of the most striking things about being in Glacier Bay aboard a cruise ship is how quiet everything becomes. They mercifully turn off the sound on the outdoor “Movies Under The Stars” entertainment system (it’s just a big television), the ship slows to maneuvering speed, and except for a few comments from the onboard naturalist, the place is silent. And I crave silent. Silent makes me happy.
Only one ship at a time is allowed in each area of the park, which is huge (3.3 million acres!) with several “inlets,” so the captain is able to essentially stop the in front of the glaciers, and when the ship moves from one place to another it does so slowly, barely creating a wake. The slower movement of the ship makes using a tripod very easy, both for composition and for holding the camera still. People ask me why I use a tripod on a moving ship, but it really does make a difference. Other than a couple of videographers, mine was the only tripod I saw on board the entire cruise.
I scouted ahead of time and found a great spot on the aft of the ship that had good, unobstructed views, access to both sides of the ship and had enough room to get out of the way. You would think that, with 2000 people on a ship in a place like Glacier Bay it would be crowded, but except for the time in front of the major glaciers and the times when they were giving away free hot chocolate on deck (there are always crowds around Free Food) I had the place pretty much to myself. Most of the people hung out in the center of the ship, closer to the pools, the restrooms and the bars. Silly me, the bars!
The onboard naturalist told us that one of her most frequently asked questions was, “what’s the best side of the ship to be on to see wildlife?” To which she replies, “the OUTSIDE!” She also stated that wildlife watching involved a lot of wildlife “waiting.” But amazingly, most people didn’t like the idea of waiting. I saw dozens of seals, sea lions, dolphins, porpoises and whales, and often I was the only person around to see them. Once in a while someone would walk by, see all my gear and ask me if I had seen any whales. When I replied that I had, they looked at me like they thought I was lying. Most of them were too far away to take photos of them, but they were still fun to watch through my binoculars.
Even on a ship large enough to hold 2000 passengers – small by modern cruise ship standards – I was struck by the enormous scale of the landscape and how small I felt within it, the ability for it to remain relatively undisturbed and how quiet it was.
My personal favorite photos from the day are the abstracts. They really speak to the quiet and calm I felt that day. I seem to have a thing for moving water, and some of the patterns are simply spectactular. I’m thrilled that the photos reflect them so well. I also enjoyed finding patterns in the glaciers and on the mountainsides along our route. Again, the relatively slow speed made for some pretty easy composition, although I did find that I had to “lead” the scene just a bit in places. All I did there was to keep the panning knob within easy reach, so that once I had the composition framed up and level, I could just pan the camera just a bit as needed.
One of the funny things about being an obviously serious photographer on a cruise ship is that people always ask me to take their pictures. I always oblige, although Kathy often handles that task so I can keep making my own pictures. What was really funny was that I think every one of the ship’s photographers took our picture at some point during the day. They knew we would understand that they had a count to make and almost looked like they wanted to apologize for it. We didn’t buy any of their photos but it was interesting to see the difference in composition and framing between the different photographers. Good photos, reluctant subjects!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Like these photos? Maiden voyage of the new machine. I made them a little larger than usual – click on them to make them bigger.