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Target-Rich Environments

September 7, 2009

I took the family to the Pennsylvania Rennaisance Faire yesterday. It was the first time for all of us.

The Faire (that’s really how they spell it) was interesting. If you’ve never been, it’s something of a fantasy anachronism of medieval England. You have to overlook some glaring historical inaccuracies if you are to enjoy yourself there. If you can do that, it really is a good time. A large number of hired actors play characters from the time. All of the vendors get in on the act as well. Then there are the visitors.

Of course it’s very much like Disneyland where you have all the staff who is in character plus a kajillion visitors walking around in shorts and t-shirts. But you also get some people who really get into it and wear princess costumes and the like. Well the same is true of the Renaissance Fair, only on perhaps an even more pervasive scale.

So many people seem to like the concept of the Faire, and its accompanying freedom to adopt a new persona, that a fair number of visitors dress up and assume roles as well. You see princesses, fairies, knights, noblemen, gentry, beggars, gypsies, jesters, shepherds, pirates, swashbucklers, gnomes, maidens, damsels, wenches, crones and many other characters you perhaps can’t quite make out except to know that they are characters.

There are organized activities and demonstrations but much of it is really very ad hoc. It’s meant to be a “typical” medieval village in which the villagers all interact naturally with one another. In truth, there is very little that is “natural” about any of it (except perhaps the universal goal of separating you from as much of your money as possible) but visually, it is a very target-rich environment.

I took several hundred photos using two different cameras. It will take me a while to process them but here are two that struck me as nice straight out of the camera.

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New site being tested

September 4, 2009

Halleluiah! Our new site is finally up and in beta testing. It’s been a frustratingly long process. In the end, I think the result will be worth all the hype.

We are trying to be more than just a place for random tips. More than what I’ve seen from most other photography-related web sites. Something akin to our live workshops only better.

The web-based workshops should be more in-depth, provide more details, more examples, tools and reference guides you can keep. They will also have shooting assignments. Not merely a presentation and some quick tips, these will be true online classes designed to help you make the most of this wonderful hobby.

I’m so excited, I wish it were ready to unveil right now!

Under the weather

September 3, 2009

I’ve been sick the past few days. That means I’ve been stuck at home. Still, I’ve tried to be productive. Over the summer I’ve built up a backlog of several hundred photos waiting to be processed. When I wasn’t sleeping, I managed to make a pretty significant dent in some of that.

In the process, I rediscovered some long forgotten gems.

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Pushing through

August 28, 2009

I haven’t blogged much this week because I’ve been working on several other projects.

  • I taught three live photography workshops.
  • I wrote two photography tutorials which will be posted on another site but with links back to my site.
  • I’ve been working on the technical issues with getting the new web site up and running.
  • I’ve been developing new content for the new site so we have something to put on it when it is up.
  • Purchasing several more domain names for future expansion of our site. (We have BIG plans!)

All this on top of everything else that goes on each day.

One of the photography tutorials was a real pain. It was written for a site that had approached me about writing for them. I’ve written several pieces and so far they’ve all been well received. I was asked to write something that absolute beginners could use to become familiar with the fundamentals of photography.

This tutorial was going to be an anchor of sorts for the new site. Whenever users had very basic questions, they would be referred to my tutorial. I jumped at the chance. What great exposure for me!

Well, as it turned out, the tutorial I started writing wasn’t at all what the site’s managers had in mind. They wanted something even more basic than what I was writing. (And what I was writing was pretty basic.) They liked what I was doing enough to commission me to write TWO anchor articles rather than just one. (Bonus for me!)

So I stepped back from the article I’d already started and began working on the one they really wanted. They loved it, posted it almost immediately and it’s been very well recieved. Then it was time to jump back to part two of the series (the original tutorial I started working on first.)

The problem is, I simply couldn’t get my head back into it.

I love well known quotes, though I don’t always remember who said them. One that comes to mind goes something like “A professional is someone who delivers his best even when he doesn’t feel like it.” That has always kind of inspired me and it’s how I try to conduct myself all the time.

So I pushed through and I finished the tutorial today. I the end, I’m satisfied with the result. Now I just have to wait and see if they are.

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Blackbird Forest

August 25, 2009

This weekend a friend contacted me and asked if I’d like to go hiking/shooting in Blackbird Forest. I’d never heard of it before but it’s about midway between my home and his. My friend brought his nine year old son along. He has plans to upgrade his camera body in the next couple of months and begin letting his son use the old one.

Since I already have two bodies, I offered to let his son use one of mine this weekend. Even when I only had one camera, I’ve never been especially shy about letting people use it as long as they handle it properly. My friend thought I was a little nuts. Most people tend to think that.

The boy respected the value of the equipment, took good care of it and really had a great deal of fun taking pictures with us. I’ve seen some of the pictures he took and they only confirm what I’d already observed several times before; kids have an innate sense of artistry. It sometimes needs refinement and they usually need technical skills to fully express it, but it’s almost always there.

Jonathan

Getting used to a whole new camera

August 19, 2009

I’m still working on getting used to my “new” camera. I’m finding that it’s bringing me back to some of my photographic roots. This is a camera that won’t permit laziness. As conditions change, you must be aware of the fact and change the settings accordingly. There is plenty of automation built-in but it’s not the same as most people are probably used to.

I think this review may be especially helpful for those who lust after a truly professional level camera but have never actually held or used one. (I believe that most people think these are exactly like what they’re shooting now only “better”. It’s not really so.)
Let me start with the very first thing I noticed. One of my favorite features on my “old” camera is that you can press a button on the back and up pops an info screen. From there, you can quickly see all the most common settings you are using and change any of them right on the screen. There is no such feature on the new camera. To see what settings you are using, there’s an LCD screen on the top which displays all the settings all the time while the camera is on. That might prove to be a good feature but it’s not yet intuitive.
The lack of an info screen also means that there is no central place you can go to quickly and easily change your settings. This thing has 27 buttons and three dials! (I counted.) Each and every function has its own separate button. That means there is a steep learning curve just to use basic functions. That means a professional level camera is not for you unless you have a very strong understanding of the technical aspects of photography.
There are exactly four shooting modes: Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority and Manual. No portrait, no sunset, no sports… none of the preset scene modes found on more “prosumer” models. This is a true professional camera and it’s assumed that you know your settings cold and can change them in your sleep.
Speaking of which, you also have to know and understand the Kelvin Scale. There are no cute little white balance icons nor preset white balance settings. You set the Kelvin value for your primary light source. Period. If you don’t know the Kelvin Scale and the most common markers for common light sources, you will be lost.
There is no built-in flash. I don’t mind that because I have an external flash but I think a lot of people whose only experience is with the prosumer models just assume that these are basic things available on all cameras.
This camera is large and heavy; much heavier than even my old camera. (Whis was never dainty to begin with.) I really don’t mind that. I like a more substantial camera in my hands. It also has a very comfortable grip for my hand but some may not care for it.
Overall, except for the fact that they share all the same lenses and accessories, I might as well have bought into a completely different system. The functioning and the layout of the controls is almost completely foreign. I’ve shot a good bit with a friend’s camera (of a completely different brand) and I think the control layout and “info” LCD screen on this new camera share more in common with that camera than with my current one.
The new camera does have some really nice additional features not found on my old camera. It has a built-in focus assist light. Not the stupid strobing of the built-in flash (which it doesn’t even have) but I nice red light. It also has an external white balance sensor (in addition to the film plane sensor). It has facility to accept both an infrared and a cable remote. It can also accept wired external flash. (Anyone remember those?) It has a jack to accept a power cord and it has three output jacks, including firewire. Plus the “info” screen LCD can be lit up. So no flashlight when shooting in the dark (assuming you’ve memorized where all 27 buttons are and what they do.)

I think this review may be especially helpful for those who lust after a truly professional level camera but have never actually held or used one. (I believe that most people think these are exactly like what they’re shooting now only “better”. It’s not really so.)

Let me start with the very first thing I noticed. One of my favorite features on my “old” camera is that you can press a button on the back and up pops an info screen. From there, you can quickly see all the most common settings you are using and change any of them right on the screen. There is no such feature on the new camera. To see what settings you are using, there’s an LCD screen on the top which displays all the settings all the time while the camera is on. That might prove to be a good feature for reference but it’s not interactive.

The lack of an interactive info screen means that there is no central place you can go to quickly and easily change your settings. This thing has 27 buttons and three dials! (I counted.) Each and every function has its own separate button. There is a steep learning curve just to use basic functions. That means a professional level camera is not for you unless you have a very strong understanding of the technical aspects of photography.

There are exactly four shooting modes: Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority and Manual. No portrait, no sunset, no sports… none of the preset scene modes found on more “prosumer” models. This is a true professional camera and it’s assumed that you know your settings cold and can change them in your sleep. It also means you are required to monitor and change them all the time. What all those preset scene modes really do is cluster groups of settings together. With one menu or dial selection you are instantly telling the camera how to adjust a dozen or more diffrerent things: white balance, focus range, metering, shutter speed, aperture, ISO, whether or not to use flash, whether or not to use noise reduction, and so on.

Speaking of which, you also have to know and understand the Kelvin Scale. There are no cute little white balance icons nor preset white balance settings (sunny, cloudy, shade, incandescent, etc.) You set the Kelvin value for your primary light source. Period. If you don’t know the Kelvin Scale and the most common markers for common light sources, you will be lost.

There is also no built-in flash. If you want to use flash, bring your own. I don’t mind that because I have an external flash but I think a lot of people whose only experience is with the prosumer models just assume that these are basic things available on all cameras.

This camera is large and heavy; much heavier than even my old camera. (Whis was never dainty to begin with.) I really don’t mind that. I like a more substantial camera in my hands. It also has a very comfortable grip for my hand but some may not care for it.

Overall, except for the fact that they share all the same lenses and accessories, I might as well have bought into a completely different system. The functioning and the layout of the controls is almost completely foreign. I’ve shot a good bit with a friend’s camera (of a completely different brand) and I think the control layout and “info” LCD screen on this new camera share more in common with that camera than with my current one.

The new camera does have some really nice additional features not found on my old camera. It has a built-in focus assist light. Not the stupid strobing of the built-in flash, which it doesn’t even have, but I nice red light. It also has an external white balance sensor in addition to the film plane sensor. It has facility to accept both an infrared and a cable remote. It can also accept wired external flash. (Anyone remember those?) It has a jack to accept a power cord and it has three output jacks, including firewire. Plus the “info” screen LCD can be lit up. So no flashlight when shooting in the dark. Assuming you’ve memorized where all 27 buttons are and what they do.

Remaining Flexible

August 17, 2009

Yesterday I photographed the swimming portion of a triathalon at a local state park. I was in a kayak on the water.

This was to be:

  • My first time photographing, or even watching, a triathalon.
  • My first time photographing from a kayak.
  • My second time ever even being in a kayak.

There were a lot of variables here. That’s why I began scouting the location a month ahead of time. (I wrote about that previously.) I spoke to organizers, volunteers and past participants. I did everything I reasonably could to ensure that I got satisfying photos.

There were some 500 participants. There were so many that they had to send them out in five waves, separated by five minute intervals. The swim course was a full mile long. (Apparently many triathalons have much shorter swim courses.)

In deference to my wife and her concern about the three giant unknowns listed above, I took my “good” camera but did not take any of my “good” lenses. Instead I used an old, manual focus film system lens adapted to my new digital SLR body. It was a decent lens in its day but I can see a difference in image quality. Most importantly, it cost me around $20 on eBay so, if it ended up in the water there would be no great loss. (There was no such readily available alternative to using the camera body but at least I was only risking half a system.)

I had planned to arrive before 6am. The first wave hit the water at 7:45am but I wanted to get some warm-up shots and take a final lay of the land. In reality I arrived about 6:30am, where there were already a couple hundred competitors there. I was already there and making my way through the maze of activity when I was notified that, for logistical reasons, kayaks would have to launch from the boat ramp. On the opposite side of the lake. So I got back in my car and drove around the lake to the boat ramp. Then I had to paddle the kayak back across the lake to where the participants were.

My initial plan was to start on the outside of Turn 1. I would photograph the first wave from their starting positions on the beach and all the way out as they swam directly toward me. I would then paddle along with them toward Turn 2, turning around just in time to get shots of the second wave as they rounded Turn 1. I’d then follow them the rest of the way to Turn 2 and turn around to get the third wave. Eventually, I’d make my way to the final leg of the course and catch the last wave in the home stretch.

None of that happened.

Turn 1 was much too far away for me to get any kind of decent starting shots, even using a 300mm zoom lens. The course was also a lot bigger and longer than I realized. I would spend more time paddling than taking pictures. Finally, shooting back from the outside of Turn 1 would having me shooting almost directly into the sun. Using an older lens with no lens hood. Sun flare would have killed my pictures and looking through the viewfinder would have blinded me.

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I remained flexible and took advantage of the fact that I was on the water and couldn’t shoot warm-ups to quickly scout new angles. I managed to find one nearing the starting line and I pretty much just stayed there until after the last wave launched. Then I quickly paddled to shore and abandoned the kayak. (My wife was there to watch it.) I ran over to the finish line further up the shore and photographed swimmers coming directly toward me on the home stretch.

Lucky for me that the course was so long, I was actually able to get all but the fastest swimmers of the first wave both starting and finishing. So what I got was nothing like what I’d planned despite a great deal of meticulous planning and research. In hindsight, it was even better.