Archive for January, 2010

Ever fight with perfection?

Strange elements in pictures are ok sometimes.  Stray elements almost never.  But what if you can’t do anything about a stray element that is in an otherwise decent shot?  Should you leave it or delete it from your hard drive?  Here’s an example of what I mean.

Piscataquog River

This was a grab-shot done from a bridge with a guardrail with a deep snowbank on this side and a huge snowdrift on the other.  Moving that branch was impossible and now that I’ve noticed it, I’ve focused on it and I can’t stop looking at it.  I ignore the whole rest of the scene because of it.  But did I notice it right away or did it take me a few views?  Bah.

I hate stuff like this.  Makes me squiggle-eyed.  I know I should have seen it when I took this, but I didn’t and even if I did, I’m not sure I could have gotten a better angle.  But maybe it’s ok.  Maybe it adds a touch of realism and therefore legitimacy to the image.  If I were a Photoshop expert, no doubt I could get rid of it somehow and have a nice, clean, sanitized image with more cohesiveness.  Maybe I should learn, or maybe I should make peace with perfection and like it the way it is.


Dawn’s Early Light

I’m lazy.  I admit it.  I have a cushy bed.  It’s warm.  Leaving it is hard.

But lately I’ve been doing what serious photographers do – getting up when it’s dark in order to get photographs in that lovely light.  Civil twilight.  Damned if I know why they call it that.*  Pre-dawn is damned uncivilized if you ask me.

It is worth it though.

This one was shot in a conservation area.  It’s a bog and the wooden platform trail snaking in rests directly on the water.  Low-topped shoes not recommended.  The sky was completely unimpressive, but waiting for the sun to crest and kiss the tops of the snow-covered trees was worth it.  This snow came right after a warm fall so the reflection was a bonus.

Ponemah Bog viewing platform

Another morning I felt ambitious and went to a lake I used to live across from.  I hoped the beaver lodge would still be there, but had no idea that we’d still have open water.  Sweet.  Some would have cranked the color on this, but I think the subtle approach is best.

Dawn at the Lodge

I don’t know if I’ll be this diligent come summer when the sunrises are earlier.  For now, driving an hour to the coast is still doable.  If I have my thermos of coffee that is.  This one is from Great Bay, a tidal estuary with more coastline than our actual beach coastline.  Once again the sky was dull as dirt, but the foreground had stuff going on.  I was really pleased with the color reflected in the snowline.

Adams Point dawn

The next time out had promise.  A small-town river scene.  Somehow it didn’t come together.  Compositionally nothing really worked, but once the sun came up I shifted position and got this one.  The colors weren’t strong enough to stand on their own so I did a sepia treatment with added grain in Lightroom.  I think it works.

Exeter sepia sunrise

I really hate it when I miss the good colors.  Walking through the woods I could see the sky get pink and orange and I tried to hurry, but by the time I reached the frozen pond it was all over.  But the clouds persisted and they were so cool, I didn’t feel so bad.  There are other shots without the low horizon included, but they feel adrift and sloppy.  This is the one that works.

Holy Mackerel!

So hopefully I’ll still haul my butt out of bed and be able to witness and hopefully share the glorious light.

* Yes, I do know why they call it civil twilight…I was just being silly.  Doesn’t change the fact that dawn comes too damn early.


Reflections on Death

Now that warm weather and rain has destroyed the lovely snowfall that had accumulated, it’s more difficult to find things to photograph that aren’t made ugly by it.  So I went walkabout in the city with a friend.  Of course I ended up in one of the large cemeteries.

Reflections on Death

The lighting was difficult, but I think it works.  This is the oldest part of the cemetery with graves that date to early 1800.  Not old by New England standards, but they’re still of slate and bear some simple engraving.  That’s part of what I love about grave sites.  The stone work is so lovely.  Here’s one from the mid-1700s from town about 20 miles away.

Sarah aged 9

The morning light was angled perfectly to really show up the carving.  I love the old-style script with Fs that look like elongated S-es.  I wonder why they made them look so similar?  It’s strange, but part of the mystique.

The skull motif was quite popular and went from a more literal depiction to the stylized version on Sarah’s marker.  Here’s another example from a cemetery a few towns away.  This cemetery dates to 1740.

Winged skull

I tried to find this particular design in my guide to early American gravestone carving, but couldn’t find it mentioned specifically.  The wings are very interesting, but I don’t know what they were meant to convey.  Flying to heaven?  Angels?  Death winging the soul to the great beyond?  I have no idea, but it’s used a lot in markers from the 18th century.

As a large part of my photo collection is of grave stones and cemeteries, I’m sure I’ll be posting a Reflections on Death part 2.


I am my own worst critic

How many times have you gone through the day’s images only to come up with a measly few worth a damn?  Even if you’re not a ‘spray and pray’ shooter this happens all the time.  I look at a shot and wonder what the hell I was thinking.  Even if it’s one I deliberated over and really worked at capturing it sometimes just doesn’t translate from three dimensions down to two.  Or is it just me?

A while back, some friends and I went to a popular photo site – a brook with some falls that runs through the woods.  There’s about 400 yards worth of excellent photographic opportunity.  So much so that it’s kind of been done to death.  The place has such easy access that just about every angle has already been shot.  Everyone in our little group has photos of this brook/falls, but it was my first time there, so I knew that I wanted to find something new.

So when I saw a rather unique perspective I was all over it.  Basically I had to get right on the edge of the brook with all three tripod legs on different surfaces with me straddling a slow-moving rivulet trying not to fall in, get wet and destroy my gear. At the same time I was very intent on getting the foreground properly showcased as well as the brook as it wound its way into the forest.  All the while hoping for something different for this location.  A few frames later I was sure I had gotten just that.

Then I saw the results.  Meh I thought to myself and chose several other images to process and showcase on my photo pages.  Several got oohs and ahhs and I was pretty happy with the results.  This image in particular since I really took a lot of care and attention over its composition and exposure.

Downstream

I completely forgot about the other, more perilous, view that I had taken such pains over.

Every time I opened Lightroom and browsed that catalog I kept going back to it though.  Over and over again I’d look through the few shots I took from that strange location on the edge of the stream and try to remember what first arrested my attention.  Should I trust my gut and keep it flagged as a reject or revisit?  Was familiarity breeding contempt or was this shot really as good as I thought it was when I first saw it?  Why was I so determined to get this view even though it was difficult and sort of risky?  Was I over thinking this?

So I put it out there on my photo site and added it to some groups.  Lo and behold people started commenting about what a terrific photo it was.  My mind began to let go of the negativity I amassed toward this picture and slowly I realized it really was a decent shot, maybe even a good one.

Downed tree in Tucker Brook

Why are we so critical of our own work?  Is it deserved or do we think we really are terrible photographers?  Is it socially enforced modesty for the sake of it?  I know sometimes I’m actually of the opinion that I’m a good photographer.  Not adequate, not decent, but *gasp* good.  Competent.  Even capable of greatness when the stars align.  My desire to improve keeps me going, but why am I so hesitant to acknowledge that I do have some talent and an eye?  We as artists need to keep a healthy ego and strive for improvement.  Finding that balance is one hell of a challenge.


Olympus E-30; a user’s review

For the advanced photographer, this camera really shines. I’ve had mine about 6 weeks and every time I use it I love it more.  The ergonomics are great.  For me, a woman with average sized hands with long fingers, this camera handles like a dream.  Sure, it’s hefty, but I rather like that for its steadying effect.  The build is solid and the finish speaks of high quality.  Not toy-like or plasticky.  Exactly what you’d expect in a camera of this caliber, but typical of all Olympus DSLRs regardless of price point.

The E-30 and the dreamy ZD 12-60mm.

Controls for the most basic functions like white balance, ISO, focus mode and depth-of-field preview are easily reached and utilized.  The main method of operation is covered in two knurled selector wheels in front of and behind the shutter release.  They scroll independently of each other to select settings or menu choices and can be highly customized.  This covers a lot of territory which is better covered by professional reviewers, but here’s an example of what I mean; when you’re in Aperture Priority the front one can be assigned to change the aperture and the rear to +/- EV compensation or vice versa.  It means I don’t have to take my eye off the viewfinder to make adjustments.  The viewfinder itself is bright and large covering a 98% view with built in diopter.  Focusing my legacy glass is no longer painful as it was with a 1st-generation DSLR.  Reading info displayed just below the inside view is a breeze, too.

The E-30 sports both a top LCD display and a rear display (Live View and photo review) so there is plenty of real estate for information.  Let’s talk about that rear LCD for a sec – it not only flips out, but also swivels and tilts.  No more squatting down in uncomfortable conditions to jam my eye against the viewfinder.  How often do you have your camera at exactly head height on a tripod?  How many times have you gotten wet and dirty squatting down to take pictures?  Do your knees beg for mercy only an hour into your shoot?  No more!  Whether it’s on a tripod or handheld it makes Live View MUCH more usable (especially with manually focused legacy lenses).  Macro shooters delight.  I’ve even held it over my head to take pictures perfectly composed.  Oh and the electronic spirit level ensures no more tippy horizons.  Joy!    Using the shadow/highlight indicator in playback mode is extremely useful for quickly seeing clipped highs or lows and there are many other information overlays to choose from.

Check out that screen.

The E-30’s 4/3rds sensor is vastly improved over early iterations.  The dynamic range and detail handling are superb.  I routinely shoot up to 800 ISO with excellent results.  Color rendition is typically Olympus; rich and slightly saturated.  Textures are crisp and well rendered.  Noise reduction is good.  The key is correct exposure.  Larger sensor users decry the 4/3rds IQ at high ISO, but they don’t understand that it’s not the sensor’s ability to render as much as it depends on proper exposure.  Underexposures are prone to noise while correct ones aren’t.  It’s less forgiving than a larger sensor and thus takes more skill to get right the first time.  In that respect it acts more like film used to.

In-body Image Stabilization works with system lenses or manual/legacy glass from any manufacturer with an adapter available.  This is especially useful for me since because of the 2x sensor crop factor, most of my OM Zuiko telephotos become super-telephotos on this camera.  Just set the mm length and you’re good to go.  Who needs in-body Image Stabilization anyway, right?

Mostly though, I use this with the Zuiko Digital 12-60mm SWD f2.8-4 zoom lens.  Due to revamped and improved technology in the lens, this is just about the fastest focusing DSLR combination available.  The lens covers a 24mm to 120mm range in the old 35mm format which is perfect for 90% of what many photographers shoot all the time.  As an outdoors/nature photographer it suits me down to the ground.

Strengths –

  • Image quality
  • Electronic spirit level
  • In-body Image Stabilization
  • Flip-out, tilt and swivel LCD
  • Bright viewfinder
  • Ergonomics/build
  • Takes Olympus legacy lenses (with adapter)

The E-30 wearing an OM 35mm f2 manual lens.

Weaknesses –

  • No weather sealing (nice to have, but not a huge weakness for me)
  • Pop-up flash blocked slightly with non-kit zoom lens
  • No SD Card support in addition to CF
  • No video (nice to have, but not a huge weakness for me)

The Bottom Line –

This is my second digital SLR and was very carefully chosen and I’m confident I will use this as my primary camera for many, many years.  It fits my photography style and technique perfectly.  The combination of image quality, usability and features pretty much ensures I won’t outgrow it for ages.


The Art of Seeing

Even after 25 years of semi-serious photography, I’m still learning to see.

Footprints in snow

Softly Stepping

Today I went with a couple friends on a dawn shoot.  Although it’s fun and I enjoy the camaraderie, I don’t know if this is a good thing for my art or not.  Photography has been a solitary pursuit for me and sometimes if I’m not concentrating, I can’t see.

While my two friends were yakking it up, I took this photo.  I almost missed it, too.  This is actually one of two that I took, but as I worked the scene I found this (better) composition.  I really wanted to stay and explore more, but instead I went with my buddies who were anxious to leave – freezing toes may have had something to do with it.  Maybe I’ll go back after the next snowfall and do what I wanted to do with this location.

Anyone can take a picture, but not everyone can make a picture.  Learning to see is an essential part of doing that.  Any photographer who tells you that you can ‘finish’ learning to see is crazy.  It’s an ongoing process.  So many times have I looked over some old work and upon remembering the location wished I had done things differently.  My ability to see is always getting better, but it takes focus, dedication, humility and flexibility.  None of those things comes easily.  Seeing like a photographer is an art unto itself.  It’s a talent that needs honing; care, nurturing and most of all practice.