Saturday, November 13, 2010


Thought I'd try something new here. I've downloaded an app called Elements which allows me to write just about anywhere and anytime.  It syncs text files to my dropbox account. I  can the edit the files on my iPhone, MacBook or PC. Once finished I'll upload the files to the blog along with a photo. If the app keeps writing simple and efficient then I should have no excuses avoiding updates to my blog.

So here's my goal for the coming year - pull out the camera once a week and go on a photo walk. Then sit down and write a paragraph or two and post both to the blog. If I practice both often enough then I hope one or both will get easier. If not easier then at least one or both will get better.

By the way, these first two paragraphs, written with Elements on my iPhone, were fast and easy and the auto correction has been surprisingly accurate.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


I've played with photography most of my life. My Dad (right) let me use his Canon SLR in the 70's when I took photography classes in the 7th and 8th grades. When I graduated from High School they gave me a Canon AE-1 Program as a gift. I used that through the 80's and early 90's until the digital era.

I sold the Canon AE-1 to buy a Canon G2 point and shoot. I regret the decision a little bit today - I wish I still had that old camera but, at the time it made a lot of sense. The G2 cost nearly $400 and I sold all of my Canon camera gear (one body and two lenses) to cover the cost.

I upgraded to a variety of point and shoot cameras until one day in 2009 I realized what I missed most about about SLR's was the shallow depth of field.

2008 to mid 2009 was a time of radical change for me - I traded my Toyota for a Ford, I gave up Microsoft products and bought a Macbook Pro, I chose Aperture over Lightroom and I switched from Canon to Nikon buying a Nikon D90 DSLR.

I don't regret any of those decisions for a second. The Macbook, Aperture and the Nikon all work the same way my brain works. They all fit me like a glove. They think the way I think.

This photo of my Dad was taken with my birthday present - a Speedlight SB600. All those years of messing around with cameras I never owned an external flash. I looked at the more expensive Speedlights - the SB900 and SB800 but, as a flash newb I couldn't justify their price. I looked at eBay for a long time but external flash has become very popular and even 20 year old units are commanding $100 and more. The SB600 has most of the features of it's big brothers but, missing just enough features to keep the price down around $200.

In this photo my dad is playing on the internet with a large window on his left. I loved the light coming in but, the photo without the flash was too dark so I put the SB600 on and turned the flash head to point at the ceiling. I then dialed the flash down until it was just barely visible - just bright enough to fill in the shadows. Dad doesn't like his photo but I think it turned out pretty nice!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

People in Landscapes

I like landscape photos because it's a lot easier to get something like a waterfall to pose for you than people.

I'm not comfortable photographing people but, you know what? I've learned that I like people in my landscape photos.

People add interest a provide a sense of scale.

Now I need to get over the fear factor and do it more often!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Calibrate Your Display Today

I don't think of myself as a photo editor but, I find myself sliding controls around more than I realize.

Most photo software will let you do basic adjusts like warming up a photo that looks too blue. Or maybe cooling down a photo that's too red.

I happily make these sorts of adjustments just before uploading photos to a website but today, I realized it had been almost 6 months since my last calibration.

I use an older Spyder Express  model from Datacolor. It's very easy to use and I've heard good things about their competitors too. No matter which brand or model you buy, you should have one on hand so you can calibrate your display at least four times a year.

When the calibration is complete, the software will show you some photos with a Before and After option. My display was rather cool and blue looking. It was off enough that it made me shudder thinking about all the photos I edited last month.

While I go back and review my photo library you shouldn't wait any longer. It only takes a few minutes. Go calibrate your display today!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Nikon D90 Auto Bracketing

Earlier this year I was on a four day photo workshop learning how to shoot waterfalls.

A lot of the photographers were bracketing their photos and they made it look so easy! They'd press the shutter release and the camera would bang out 3 or more shots in less than a second.

My Nikon D90 wasn't playing so nice. I spent half an hour looking for the bracket option in the camera menu before I found it, a button labeled [BKT], on the left side of the camera next to the lens.

Pressing the button doesn't turn on bracketing but, it does display 0F followed by a number between 0.5 and 2.0. Rotate the back command dial to change 0F (off or 0 frames) to -2F (2 frames under exposed), +2F (2 frames over exposed) or 3F (3 frames, one under, one over and one normally exposed). Rotate back to 0F to turn bracketing off.

Next, while still holding the [BKT] button, rotate the front command dial to change the second numbers from 0.5 to 2.0. This changes the amount of over or under exposure from half a stop to two stops.

Finally, if you want to fire off all the shots with one press of the shutter button - it took me the longest to figure this tip out - change the shutter mode from single shot [S] to high speed [H] or low speed [L] continuous shooting. Sounds pretty simple now but, it took me a couple of months to figure this out :)

What if you want to use the self timer to take all three bracket shots? That's pretty simple too. Go into the menu, locate option c3, Self Timer and change the number of shots to 3. Finally, change the shooting mode dial to display both the timer and the low [L] speed continuous shooting mode. When the shutter is pressed the timer will count down and take all 3 shots.

Neat, huh?!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Scanning Negatives and Slides

I bought a Nikon Coolscan to scan slides like this one from my grandfather's photo collection. That's him about 1955 standing on his rig.

I had 200 slides to scan and it took me about a year. It was fun and I turned the old photos into a book.

Now, I'm looking at my old negatives. I have 2000 images on 35mm color negatives taken between 1985 and 2002.

I've been hearing a lot about a company called ScanCafe. They accept your film, scan it for you and allow you to pick and pay for only the photos you want to keep. However, you have to pick at least 50% of the ones you ship in to them.

How much does it cost? 2000 photos at $.29/each - a special summer price through August 31st - would cost $580 if I keep all 2000 images. If I select 50% then the price drops to $290. By using the code FOCUS at checkout then I get a 20% savings on my order - courtesy of Scott Bourne and the Photofocus podcast - then the price of my order drops to $232. I have to add in shipping so the final cost works out to $.25 per scanned image.

If I scanned an image myself it'd take about an hour from start to final corrected finish. An hour of my time or $.25 per image? Definitely - I'm paying the $.25/each!

I'll let you know in September how it worked out.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Project 365

I just finished my first photography project. It's called Project 365 and the only requirement is that I take at least one photo a day.

I thought this would be a great project to do for two reasons. The first was to learn how to use all the controls on my brand new Digital SLR.

I took about 6500 photos over the past year to get my one a day and you can't press the shutter that many times without figuring out a thing or two about how the camera works. Here's a short list of my favorite lessons:

  • Manual Mode and Manual Focus - I no longer struggle with figuring out how the triangle of settings - Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO - to get a good photo because...
  • Histogram - I learned a lot about the histogram and how to use it. When I started the project I never bothered to look at it. Towards the end of the project I began to realize many of my photos were too dark. Using the histogram I learned to use....
  • Exposure Compensation - The little button on the camera that looks like this [+/-]. If your photo is too dark then you want to increase [+] the exposure. If it's too bright then use [-] exposure compensation. It sure sounds simple to me know but, it's not a button I ever touched when I started.
  • Back Button Focus - I heard about this on a few podcasts and thought I'd give it a try. On my Nikon D90 camera the menu setting is called AF-ON and it causes the AE-L/AF-L button on the back of the camera to become the focus button. Press this button with your thumb to focus on the subject then use your index finger to fire the shutter whenever you're ready to go. Most of the podcasters must use Canon cameras because they leave out one important tip for Nikon users - change the autofocus [AF] mode to AF-C. The AF-A and AF-S settings will lock the shutter unless the camera has determined the subject is in focus. Changing to AF-C will prevent the camera from locking the shutter button allowing you to press the focus with your thumb and let go. Whenever you're ready to take the picture then press the shutter with your index finger. The camera will fire whether it thinks your subject is in focus or not.
  • Tripod - I started the project with a cheap, small and rather flimsy tripod. I took a photo workshop to learn how to take photos of waterfalls. I learned pretty quickly that I needed a strong and sturdy tripod to get those sharp photos.
  • Off-Camera Flash - I don't own an off-camera flash yet but, boy did I learn why I need one. That'll become a future purchase though because I bought a sturdy tripod first!
The second reason I did this Project 365 was to become a better visual artist. My left brain so dominates the right that I struggle to do anything creative and that became the hardest part of doing this project - coming up something new, interesting and/or creative every day of the year. I think I'm a little bit better at the end of the year than I was when I started but, I didn't make any great leaps. Here's a short list of things I learned (or still need to learn) along the way:
  • Zoom In - I used the word zoom but I didn't use a zoom lens during my project so I had to zoom in with my feet by walking closer. Anyway, zoom in to the subject. Focus on what's important in the photograph and get rid of everything else. It rolls so easy off my fingertips as I type it but, it hasn't yet sunk into my photographic brain yet.
  • Negative Space - The subject is the positive space within the photographic frame. Everything else is negative space. I still struggle with this one too. All too often I take a great photo of a subject only to notice later that a branch, telephone pole or some other object is totally distracting. I wasn't paying attention to the negative space.
  • Light - Learning to see light and shadows, textures, warm red light, cold blue light, harsh light, dull, boring light. One more thing on my list of things I still need to learn!
Wow, what a year. At times the project was tough but, worth it. Nothing like forcing yourself to grow whether you want to or not!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Mars Regulus Venus

I love star trail photos and thought I'd try taking a few while at the beach. I brought my camera and tripod and favorite star gazing app for the iPhone but, what I didn't count on was the humidity.  The air is so thick that all I can really see is a handful of the brightest stars.

It takes the camera about 20 minutes to process a photo like this - 10 minutes of actual exposure time plus another 10 minutes reducing the noise - so I have a lot of time to look at what stars I can see and to compare them to the iPhone app trying to figure out what's what.

The first thing I learned is how to find the North Star - Polaris. Polaris sits almost motionless in the night sky and all other stars seem to rotate around it. If you point your camera at Polaris and take a long exposure photograph then Polaris will appear to be the bullseye in the middle of dozens of rings of stars.

To find Polaris first find the Big Dipper. Using the two stars at the bottom of the bowl as guide, trace a line to the next brightest star. This is Polaris and is at the end of the handle of the Little Dipper.

Polaris won't always be the Pole Star because the earth wobbles a bit on it's axis. 12,000 years ago Vega was the pole star.

Anyway, perhaps sometime this fall, when the humidity is low and the stars are bright, I can find Polaris and get a really descent shot of star trails.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Think Tank

This is just a quick post to test the Google Blogger world. I've been trying - and failing - at the Wordpress Blog hosted on my own demain. I'll keep the domain but ditch the host.

Here I am testing links to websites, inserting photos and other website maintenance. So far I like. I might make the switch permanent.

Early in May I went on my first photo workshop - Juan Pons' Wild Nature Tours to photograph the Waterfalls of Western NC. I met a lot of great people and learned a lot about photography and photo gear. Here's the first thing that ended up on my wishlist when I got home! Think Tank StreetWalker