Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Breaking News! I have officially moved up and created my own website! This will be my last post here. If you want to follow me to the new website point your browser to:

Up At Dawn Photography

 Hope to see you there! Thanks!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Old Camera's - Part II

I was looking through some of my archived files this morning, when I came across some photos from another of my older digital camera's.  This time, it's the Sony Cybershot DSC F707.

In my early digital photography days, I really wanted this camera.  It was stylish, and had some very nice features for what was technically a Point and Shoot camera.

Some of the features included:
  • 5 megapixels
  • 5x Optical Zoom
  • Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar Lens
  • Hologram AF Laser Focus Assist
  • Hot Shoe

I really liked this camera, and used it quite a bit.  It went with me on vacation photo shoots from San Diego to the Eastern Sierra.  I spent many cold mornings in the Alabama Hills and Mono Lake waiting for the sun to rise with this camera.  

Back to looking at photos.  I opened a few images up and was very pleasantly surprised at the quality of each picture.  Very sharp, with warm nicely saturated color.  The images below are the originals, no Photoshop tweaking at all.  Take a look for yourself:

That F707 was quite a camera.  But being a little short sighted, I got rid of it to trade up to the Canon 300D.  My biggest regret is that I don't have the F707 anymore, if nothing else to than to be displayed with my other camera's on the shelf.  Oh well, I could buy another one!  Yes, if you look online you will still find them used.  And varying in price from about $100 to $200.

Until next time, happy shooting!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Before and After.

I love looking at photos from our vacations.  Sometimes even the goofs will bring back a memory of that day, and even the second that I pushed the shutter to make the image.  Not all images are winners and deserving of posting and some are really good right out of the camera.  For this post, I'd like to talk about one that wasn't so good and what I did with it (other than deleting it).

Here's the before image, taken with my Sony NEX3.  I made this photo at the scenic viewpoint on Hwy 395, coming down from the Conway Summit, looking back to Mono Lake.  It's pretty clear that there are several things wrong with it.  The first and most obvious is how the horizon line is leaning so far to the left it looks like I must have been drunk when I took the shot.  There's also some vignetting in the corners (from my polarizing filter).

For some reason, I still liked the scene and wanted to try a couple of things to take it from blah to not bad.  I opened the image in Photoshop and corrected the horizon.  Then I cropped the image a bit to remove the vignetted corners.  And last but not least, I converted it to black and white.  Here's the after:

This version is much more dramatic.  I love the tones and textures in this image.  Black and white really seems to add some punch to an otherwise lousy snapshot.  With a little post processing in Photoshop, this image went from being on the brink of deletion to being sent out for printing!

The message I suppose would be to revisit your stockpile of photos, and after you are inspired by another image or you learn a new technique, don't be afraid to try it out.  Who knows, you may have a masterpiece sitting on your harddrive just waiting for you to discover it!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Tale of 2 Cameras!

Over the past couple of weeks I've had a chance to get some use out of my Canon 60D and 70-200mm Canon L lens, and my Sony NEX3.  Once again I'm very pleased with both.  Yes, each can have certain limitations, but when used with this in mind they work out quite well.

First up - my Canon 60D with 70-200mm L lens.  The 60D is a great combination of features, speed, and image quality and is my workhorse.  Both of the occasions were outdoors, and with plenty of mid-day sunlight.  My 70-200 L lens is the F4 model.  For it's size it's light, and it will lock on focus very quickly.  Compared to my Tamron 70-200 F2.8 the L lens is much easier to spend a couple of hours with.  If you haven't used a larger lens like the Tamron 70-200 2.8 you'd be surprised at how the weight will begin to fatigue you after a while.  I needed the lighter weight of the Canon L lens to chase around the grand kids that day.

In this image you can see how nicely the background is blurred, but the subject is in focus.  This is an example of a shallow depth of field.  To get this effect I did a couple of things.  First, I used a large aperture (small number), in this case F4.  The further increase the effect, I stood back from my subject and zoomed in to 200mm.  The result is a very shallow depth of field, or in other words, a very limited area both in front of and behind the subject that is in focus.

I really like this shot.  You can see how much fun this kid is having.  And the background is in focus just enough to know that he's on a bike path near the water.

Both of the images above were made with just the available light, no flash.  The sky was slightly overcast otherwise I would have had trouble with deep shadows across faces and very flat contrasty light.  I suppose that if I had carried my flash that day I could have tried to use it for fill, meaning to soften the shadows.  For the portrait, I instead looked for a nice evenly shaded spot and positioned my subject with her back to the brightest part of the sky (it was still somewhat overcast).  I was also careful to make sure there were no streaks of sunlight sneaking in to cause problems.  The only thing I would have used flash for here would have been to add a catch-light to the eyes.

I had an opportunity to go up to our local mountains the other day, and I needed to travel lite.  But, I also wanted good image quality.  My Sony NEX3 met those requirements nicely.  I've talked about it before, but I'll mention a couple of features that I really like again.  Size and quality are first.  The physical size of the camera is perfect (at least for me) when I want to travel lite.  While it's a little larger than most point and shoot camera's, it's small enough for me to take on extended hikes or when I just want something smaller than my larger DSLR.  Second is image quality.  The sensor in this camera is an APS-C, the same size as the one in my DSLR.  The quality of the images are great, and to my eye better than what I could get out of the smaller point and shoot camera.  Here are a few images from my quick trip to the mountains near Lake Arrowhead.

You can see in this photo that I was not making this image during the golden hour.  It was just about mid-day, with the sun almost straight overhead.  But I wanted to take a few pictures so I started looking around.  That's when I noticed how the leaves of this little oak tree were glowing, back lit by that mid-day sunlight.  Such a contrast from the darker greens of the rest of the foliage in shade.  Just to have a little fun, I positioned myself so the sun would peek between the branches of an overhead pine tree.  I kicked the aperture to F16 to create the star burst.

Here is a closer look at the wonderfully back lit oak leaves.  They really pop against the blue sky background.

I liked this scene because of all of the texture, and 2 interesting groups of trees.  With the harsh mid-day sun there was quite a bit of contrast.  I switched the NEX3 to HDR mode, and it quickly took multiple shots and combined them to bring out detail in the shadow and highlights.  I took the in-camera HDR image, and combined it with the original single exposure as metered by the camera.  Using Photomatix I created this image.  Personally, I really like this method because it allows me to make photos all day.  While I could easily have gotten carried away with the HDR, I tried to keep it realistic.  If you decide to try HDR yourself be sure to do what works for you!  If you share your work online, there's bound to be a critic out there that doesn't care for one of your images.  That's ok, to each his own.  Just be sure that you are pleased and don't worry about the critics.

That's it for now!  Happy shooting!

** Thanks again Andy!!

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Doorway

This post will be about something that may seem ordinary, but it's something I've been looking for.  I've seen many interesting photo's of hallways and doorways, and have been wanting to capture one of them for myself for quite awhile.

My wife, 2 little dogs and I, were in the San Diego area last weekend on a short get-a-way trip.  One of those days we chose to drive to Balboa Park.  There are some very unique buildings here, and also the long hallways I been looking for.  As wonderful as the hallways were, there was just one problem, too many people.  On that particular day, there were a lot of other people also enjoying this delightful place.   I was unable to capture the hallway shot I was after, but there was still another option, a doorway!

We came across several open doorways, but had the same problem, too many people.  After walking for a bit, we came across a closed doorway.  And as luck would have it, no people!  I stood back and quickly fired a couple of shots with my Canon 60D and 18-55mm EFS IS Lens.

Here's what the original looked like:

Not bad, not great either.  Here are my settings:
  • Format = RAW
  • ISO = 400
  • Aperture = f/4.5
  • Shutter Speed = 1/15

I thought this shot could be better with a little post processing.  Since I only had the original image, I needed to create 2 others at +1 and -1 stop from the metered exposure.  This is easy to do with the RAW file using Canon's Digital Photo Professional software.  After that I opened all 3 files in Photomatix and created my HDR tonemapped file.  Then, into Photoshop for some final tweaking.

Here's the result:

I like this because it's much closer to what I experienced while looking at this scene.  This version is warm (just like that fantastic day), and the color and texture more pronounced.  To me photography is as much what you feel when you press the shutter and take the shot.  I felt the drama and history of this place, and the warmth of that spring day.

Wrapping up, I'd like to point out a couple of things I would do differently.  First, go earlier or later in the day.  Once I figured out what part of the day has the best light I would be back and ready.  Second, I'd bring a tripod or monopod.  Somehow I got away with hand holding the camera at a very slow shutter speed.  Actually I was very lucky.  This could have easily been blurred by the slightest movement, and ruined.  Having said that, I will be back and better prepared!

In a future post, I'll go into more detail on the process I use to create an image.  Until then,
Happy shooting!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Planes of Fame Airshow

It's that time of year again - the Planes of Fame Airshow in Chino California.  This is a fantastic show, with many different types of WWII Warbirds including the P-51 Mustang, P-38 Lightning, and usually something modern to spice it up a bit like the F4 Phantom.  If you're interested in Warbirds, or aircraft in general and want to mix in some great opportunities for photography this event should be on your go-to list!

The show this year is couple of weeks earlier than usual, which normally wouldn't have been a problem except this year I had another commitment.  On Saturday I was going to be the photographer for a motorcycle event benefiting the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society.  Ok, no big deal.  I'd just readjust my plans and go on Sunday (unfortunately that didn't work out either).  In the meantime, I had discovered that I could access the pre-show practice sessions simply by purchasing an admission ticket to the Planes of Fame Air Museum!  What a great opportunity for access to the planes without the big crowds.

Getting ready for my day at pre-show practice, I had some decisions to make, specifically regarding how much camera gear I should bring.  For something like this, I try to travel light.  There can be a lot of walking around with aircraft on display from one end of the runway to the other.  Here's a list of what I ended up taking with me:
  • Canon 60D
  • Canon 40D
  • Tamron 200-500mm Lens (on long time loan from my friend Walt)
  • Canon 70-200 F4L Lens
  • Canon 18-55 EFS IS Lens
  • Extra batteries
  • Extra memory cards
  • Slinger bag
You may be asking why bring this stuff, and why 2 camera bodies!?  Good questions!  My thoughts were to have the big Tamron 200-500 lens mounted on my 60D, and the 70-200 on my 40D.  That way I could switch between each setup (depending on what was going on) without having to take time to disconnect one lens and switch to another.  While I did find this very convenient, I did end up with a stiff neck and sore back.

How did all of this "stuff" perform?  Another good question!  Overall I'm pleased.  Both my 60D and 40D worked quite well.  Here's how I configured each camera:
  • Shutter Priority
  • 1/160 sec.
  • AI Servo
  • Drive - High Speed Continuous
  • ISO 100
  • White Balance - Daylight
  • Format - Jpeg, Large 60D, RAW 40D
Here are the results:

This is an aerobatic team know as the Horsemen.  What an incredible sight, a P-38 with 2 P-51's!

Here's a P-38 with an F4 Phantom.  In both cases, you have aircraft in the sky that are rare and unique. It was quite a privilege to see them fly!

I did mention that overall I was pleased with my gear, and generally pleased with my photos.  This is the 7th year in a row for me attending airshows in one way or another.  Every year I come away with literally thousands of images.  By and large there are many duds.  There's a reason for this, the slow shutter speed!  The mark of a good Warbird image (especially vintage propeller aircraft) is for the props to be blurred.  To be successful you need to pan and track you target carefully, smoothly, and push the shutter as you continue to pan through the shot.  Easy to explain, not so easy to do!  There's also the excitement factor (some call this Buck fever).  I get very excited when I see these Warbirds in the air, and make mistakes or get busy watching the action overhead and am late on the shutter.  And then there's the equipment.  That big Tamron is slow!  This lens will sometimes miss focus and start hunting.  And this usually happens at the most in-opportune time, leading to out of focus shots.  In contrast my Canon 70-200 L Lens is fantastic!  It would focus very quickly, and I could really grab some quick shots at 6.5 fps with my 40D.

In closing, I'd like to mention again how great a venue the Chino Planes of Fame is, and what a fantastic airshow they put on every year.  Here the link to their website: Planes of Fame
What would I do different next year - bring a chair!  Until next time, happy shooting!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

From Oops to Acceptable!

Are you "that guy"?  The one who comes to family functions with your camera?  In our family it's usually me.  I just can't help it, and I've been at it for quite a while.  If it's you, you've probably heard the same moans and groans that I have.  But, you are also doing the family a great service!  Things change over time, especially kids and grandkids.  You may be capturing those fleeting moments that will never come again, and looking back at your photos most of your family will agree.

I found myself in a family function a couple of weeks ago.  For reasons I can't explain I got out my trusty old Canon 40D and 50mm F2.5 and new Tamron 70-200 f2.8.  All of this gear fit nicely into my Tamrac medium sized slinger bag.  I could have brought my much newer 60D or Sony NEX3, but just wanted to use the 40D that day.

It was fun sitting back and snapping a few frames without having to intrude in the grandkids play or interrupt conversations.  The faster lens that I had with me also allowed some indoor shooting without flash.  This was a great event to welcome back an out of town family member, an addition to the family, and bring four generations together (offering many photos ops)!  As the day wore on, I did end up popping the flash on, and setting it to fill rather than provide all of the illumination.

For this post, I want to share just one of those moments.  To start off, here's how my camera was set up:

  • F/5.6
  • 1/200 second
  • ISO 200
  • Auto white balance
  • Aperture priority
  • RAW
  • Fill flash (to soften any shadows caused by high midday sun).
Here's the original as it came out of the camera:

While it's not bad, it could also be a lot better.  To critique this, I'd have to say that I'm not pleased with the overall composition.  I like my subjects expression, it's not one of those kids mugging for the camera forced smiles.  And her hair is a little wind blown, very natural for a kid at play.

Leaning against a tree seems to work, and there's no look of discomfort here.  I think main problem area is how her hands are cut off.  Unfortunately it looks like she has two long stumps instead of arms.

There's another distracting element, and that's the exposure.  It was the middle of the day, no clouds in sight, and very bring out.  Not really the best time for photos, but sometimes you have no choice.  The background is on the verge of being completely blown out, and there are some hot spots on my subject.

Luckily, I had the camera set for RAW.  Shooting in RAW has it's advantages, and being able to adjust your original exposure by up to 2 stops is definitely one of them.

When I open the file in Photoshop, the 1st thing that happens is Camera Raw starts:
As you can see, there are quite a few adjustments that can be made, including Exposure.  In the next screen shot I made a couple of small tweaks.

You can see by the pointer/arrows where I made my adjustments.  To try and tame some of the bright areas I decreased the exposure by 3/4 of a stop, and increased my blacks by 10.  This seemed to add just enough contrast to the scene without going overboard.

Before opening the image in Photoshop, I'm going to crop it here.  No real reason to do it in Camera Raw rather than Photoshop, it's really your choice.  I did it because I wanted to see how this would look as just a head and shoulders shot, and I like it much better.  

Now that I've finally gotten the image in Photoshop, there's really only one thing I want to do.  I have a filter by Nik Colorefex for portraits called DarkenLighten Center.  Here's what it looks like:

The only adjustment I made using this filter is the placement of center.  For this photo, I put the center right on her nose.  Here's the result:

Personally I like this version much better.  Most of the distracting brightness of the background has been eliminated, and by focusing on a larger head and shoulders shot theres more personality and playfulness jumping out of the image.

For the critics, yes I agree with you, I could have done any number of things differently to make this the perfect image.  But this is what I had to work with and made the best of it.  This shot isn't going on the cover of a magazine or will probably not win any awards, but it makes me happy!  And I'm sure that the rest of the family and some friends will agree that this shot did capture this little girls personality perfectly in that moment in time!

My intent in sharing all of this is to encourage anyone reading to take your camera to family events.  Don't worry about the comments or any complaining.  Without being too much of a pain, grab some shots.   Some will be better than others, but that's ok.  Maybe some of the information above will help you tweak a couple of shots you didn't think worked into something worthy of your scrapbook or online album!

* Thanks to Andy for giving me permission to use this image, I appreciate it!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

More on my new toy!

I'm following up my previous post about my new toy, the Tamron 70-200 F2.8 Lens.  Since purchasing it almost 2 weeks ago, I've been able to take more than 300 shots with it.  Based on this experience I'm going to share some of my thoughts and impressions.

To get this started you need to see what I'm describing.  After I set up a quick backdrop and stand I took a couple of shots of the Tamron 70-200mm F2.8 and the Canon 70-200mm F4L.  Let's start with the Canon.
The 70-200mm F4L and it's telltale white finish look pretty good coupled to my Canon 40D.  This combination is great when there's enough light.  In fact this lens has been used for everything from lions in Africa to the Blue Angles in El Centro California (see my previous post "Finally, Some Action).  The combination begins to reach it's limitations though when faced with lower light situations such as those I encountered at Little League night games.  The lights on the field are just not bight enough to allow action stopping shutter speeds.

Next, my Canon 60D with Tamron 70-200mm F2.8
The 60D is slightly smaller in size than the 40D.  But the Tamron 70-200 F2.8 is larger than the Canon 70-200 F4L.  It's not really that much longer, but it is larger in diameter.  It's also heavier.  The Tamron definately adds some heft that is noticable right away.  For some, fatigue may set it when used for longer periods of time.  One way to counteract this would be to use a tripod or monopod.  Personally, I was able to use this lens for  a couple of hours of non-stop Little League action without too much trouble.

Finally, here are both cameras equipped with 70-200mm's side by side.

Now lets talk about performance!  Under normal lighting conditions, I have to give the nod to the Canon.  It seems to lock on faster, especially when the camera is set to AI Servo (contineous autofocus) and I'm tracking/panning quick moving subjects.  Since this lens is a little bit smaller and lighter there isn't quite the same fatigue factor as it's larger counterpart.

When the light starts to fade is when the Tamron starts to shine.  Having that F2.8 apeture when you need it can be huge.  It could be the difference between getting the shot, and just sitting on the bench watching the action.  Now I won't lie and say that having F2.8 available solved all of my problems.  I still had to kick the ISO up to 1600 to have any chance at a decent shutter speed.  And the other problem is this lens doesn't focus as fast as the Canon.  There were a couple of times that I missed a shot waiting for the lens to catch up.  For my next outing, I'll use another technique to combat this little issue, that being to pick my spot and set the lens to manual focus and have it prefocused and ready.  That way I'll just have to worry about my timing with the shutter button, and not hope that the lens has focused.

To sum this post up, I'm still very pleased with my purchase.  If I had to pick just one of these 70-200's to keep I'd have to give the nod to the Tamron.  Even though it can't focus as fast as the Canon, it's not bad and the picture quality is great (to my eyes).  While you can't go wrong with either lens, you should make your decision based on what you are going to do with it.

Until next time, Happy Shooting!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

New Toy!

After spending some time shooting photo's for my friend's Little League Team, I had a chance to really test the low light capabilities of my equipment.  Specifically I put my Canon 60D and 70-200 F4L lens to work.

During day games this combination worked great.  The lens focuses quickly, and at 5.5 frames per second, I seldom had problems capturing the action.  There was another bonus, the look of the big white lens!  Compared to all of the point-n-shoot camera's in the stands my gear shouted Pro!  Not that I am, this has been a favor to my friend who's a coach for the team, and his son who plays on the team.  The advantage that I had by looking the part was access.  No one had a problem with me being on the field (respectfully along the sidelines).

While shooting day games presented no problems, night games were another story!  At a maximum aperture of F4, I had a heck of a time under the fields lights.  I had to kick my ISO up to 1600 to get a respectful shutter speed, and still had some trouble with action blurred shots.  So, squeezing everything I could out of my equipment, I pushed the ISO up to 3200.  While I was barely able to manage a decent shutter speed, I began to also worry about noise.  When the ISO goes up, so does the potential for noise.  In older camera's less advanced than my 60D, anything over ISO 800 would be so noisy that the images resembled old newspaper photos.  Luckily my 60D with its Digic 4 processor produced very acceptable images at ISO 1600 and 3200.

After downloading my photos to the computer for review and processing I began to think about how to improve my images in low light conditions.  That's when it hit me, get a faster lens!  In this case faster means something with a larger maximum aperture.  What's better than F4?  How about F2.8?  This would be 1 full stop faster than my current F4 lens, and allow faster, hopefully action stopping shutter speeds.  Unfortunately an F2.8 lens can be expensive.  So, the hunt was on and I began researching my options.

My requirements were pretty simple, F2.8 and 70-200mm.  The brands I considered were Canon, Sigma, and Tamron.  First up  - the Canon 70-200 F2.8L IS.  This is an awesome lens with many glowing reviews.  This lens does it all but at a cost, it's the most expensive of the bunch.  I ruled it out because of the price.  If I actually made some money with my Little League photography instead of giving it away I might have thought differently about it.

Second up - the Sigma 70-200mm F2.8 DG, OS.  Again this seemed to be a great lens based on the reviews but still a little more than I wanted to spend.  While approximately $1000 less than the Canon, it was still over $1000.

Third up - the Tamron 70-200mm F2.8.  I was interested in this lens based on favorable reviews and the price point.  At just a little over $700 this lens was beginning to look more and more attractive.  While it lacked the IS/OS of the other 2, it still offered F2.8.

I made my decision, choice number 3, the Tamron 70-200mm!  My order was placed with Adorama, and my new toy arrived 5 days later.  Wow, it was impressive right out of the box.  This lens was larger than my Canon 70-200 F4L, and heavier.  It felt solid in my hand and when connected to my 60D.  The lens comes with a tripod mount that also serves as an additional grip.  I liked it right from the start!

When Saturday came around, I was able to try the lens out, but it was a day game.  Overall I was very pleased with the performance of my 60D with this lens attached.  It focused fairly quickly, and the photos came out very nice.  When shooting at F2.8 the background would melt away into a nice blurry splash of various color.  In other words, the bokeh effect was pleasant, not harsh.

If you are interested in this kind of lens, you can read some reviews here:
Canon 70-200 F4
Canon 70-200mm F2.8L IS
Sigma 70-200mm F2.8 EX, DG, OS
Tamron 70-200 F2.8

It'll be a couple more days before I get a chance to test this lens under the lights.  Hopefully the results will be worth the expense of the lens.  After I get a chance to really use it under the low light conditions, I'll report back!  Until then, happy shooting!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Always Something to Learn (HDR).

There's one thing about photography, and that is there's always something to learn.  If you think you know it all, you're just not trying anything new or different, or you're in a rut.  I've been interested in photography for a long time, and it seems like there's always something new.  Whether it's a new piece of equipment, some new software, or a new post processing technique, there's always something to learn and keep it interesting.

Now I've mentioned in previous posts the technique called HDR (High Dynamic Range).  The process involves the blending of 3 images of varying exposure and ending up with 1 image that not only has detail in the highlights, but in the shadows as well.  It allows the image to be much more real in terms of what the person experienced when they made it.  Your eyes (and brain) can process much more range of light and dark in a scene than your camera can.  That's why when you look at a scene of a beautiful cloudy sky, trees, and a lake, you can see all of it.  Then you take a picture and are disappointed when the sky is blown out an you can't see any of the clouds, and the trees near the lake are so dark there isn't much detail.  This is the perfect time to try HDR.

You can find a lot of information on HDR.  One of the best places to start is Trey Ratcliff's website:
Stuck in Customs

After dabbling in HDR for a little while now, I've been wanting to refine my technique.  But it seemed like I was always ending up with the same type of image, kind of edgy, maybe a little over done, and everyone once in a while I'd really nail one.  In my quest for more information, I found a great resource in an ebook.  I have a Nook Tablet and love to use it for reading so I started to search for photography books in general, and found "Improve Your HDR Photography" by Jim Harmer.  This book is only 138 pages, but gets right to it.  I found some very useful, very specific information on improving my HDR photography, just like the title says.  For less than 10 dollars this little ebook is a real winner.  You can see some of Jim's work here:  Jim Harmer Photography

So, here's what I have after reading the book.  This is a re-do of an image that I wasn't really happy with from the 1st go round with HDR.  Here's the before:

It's ok, but I thought it could be better.  For my re-do I merged these 3 shots with Photomatix:

 Normal exposure.
Underexposed by 1 stop.
Overexposed by 1 stop.

All 3 were opened in Photomatix, blended, and tone-mapped.  After that, it was into Photoshop  for some final adjustments.  

The final product has more realistic colors and tones.  Compared to my 1st attempt, I think this version is more dramatic and true to what I actually experienced that wonderful evening.

That's it, hope you liked this post!  See you next time!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Finally, Some Action!

I finally got a little action, photographically speaking of course!  This post is about my recent visit to El Centro California, winter home of the Blue Angels.  If you haven't seen or heard of the Blue Angels go to this website  - Blue Angels Home Page .  The Blue Angels are the U.S. Navy's Flight Demonstration Squadron, and are amazing to see in person.

Every year, the Blue Angels go to the El Centro Naval Air Field and begin practicing for their busy year of air shows across the country.  And, it just so happens that I have been in the area for the past couple of years and have had a chance to take a few photos of the Blues as they perform.  There's quite a loyal following that sits on the dirt road behind the runways and watches, listens to scanners, and takes video and photos.  Most of their adventures are posted on a great website and forum dedicated to air shows -  Airshow Buzz .

So, there I was, arriving a little late that morning with the Blues already in the air.  We got to our spot on the dirt road and I jumped out and immediately started firing away.  My camera of choice this time was my Canon 60D with 70-200 F4 L Lens.  I do have a 300mm and 500mm lens but opted to stay with the L lens because of its quality optics (and the Blues are usually not that far away).  I set the camera to AI Servo for the focusing, shutter priority, ISO 400.  Shutter priority allows me to set the shutter and the camera adjusts the aperture.  With the speed of the Blues I opted for a fast shutter speed in order to stop the action.

The action overhead was sometimes fast, and usually pretty loud.  Sometimes it seemed like the Blues were everywhere at once, and then nowhere.  I took over 400 shots in a very short amount of time.  Some were great, some ok, and some were total crap.  But that's ok, it happens.  Fortunately I had a 16gb SD card because I had the camera set to take RAW images rather than Jpg's.  I did this intentionally for additional post editing capabilities.

This kind of action will test your abilities.  Can you pan your subject and press the shutter at just the right time to get that perfect shot?  Or, can you adjust your camera on the fly and not miss anything.  Did you bring enough memory cards and batteries.  The good thing is if you missed a shot, its no big deal.  In this case, the Blues would fly again in the afternoon, and you could always try again.  Now if the was a wedding and you missed a shot, well - your screwed, sorry.  So, the message is to know your gear and be able to use it without fiddling around when its show time!  I can't wait till next year!!

Here are some of the shots from that morning:

Until next time - happy shooting!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Old Camera's

It's been a couple of weeks since my last post.  I've had time to think about what to write, and this time I decided to look back, back to some of the camera's I now have on display.

The first is my Pentax ME Super.  I have owned several Pentax 35mm camera's over the years.  The 1st was a K1000.  I didn't really know anything about photography, but I was interested and really wanted a 35mm.  So, I saved some money, and bought the K1000 at JC Penny.

That was a long time ago.  I did my best to learn photography on my own and didn't do a bad job of it.
And during those early days in my photography obsession, I thought I need something a little more advanced than the K1000, so I bought the ME Super.

Here's one of my ME Super's with an autowinder.  I got it mostly for the grip since it was only good for about 2 frames per second.

I really loved this camera.  In fact, I loved it too much.  This ME Super is no longer functional.  I never mistreated it, I just wore it out.

So, now it sits on my shelf, a reminder of where my passion for photography began.

Next up, a medium format Yashica.  This is an interesting camera, and is not an SLR but a TLR (Twin Lens Reflex).  One of the other differences between this type of camera and a 35mm SLR is the type of shutter.  Most 35mm cameras use a Focal Plain Shutter, where the TLR uses a leaf shutter.  The Focal Plain clunks and makes noise, the leaf shutter makes a very small click.  A quiet shutter can be an advantage when needing to be stealthy (such as shooting a wedding).  The other advantage of this type of camera is that it's a medium format, using 120 film vs. 35mm.  The much larger negative has to potential to hold more detail and yield larger prints.

I have owned and used quite a few TLR's.  All 3 of them were Rolleiflex.  A friend of mine has a Yashica similar to the one in the photo.  I never actually used a Yashica.  This one was given to me by another friend.  It's in very good condition and if I wanted to put some 120 film in it, it would still work.

This particular Yashica has a light meter, something of a nice upgrade from the standard versions.  Only my most expensive Rolleiflex had a light meter.

Unfortunately, I don't have any of my old Rollei's.  It was short sighted of me to trade them for another camera, a Bronica.  At the time I was shooting weddings and the Bronica was easier to use, and offered options that the Rollei's just didn't have (like interchangeable lens).

So, I don't have my Rollei's, but I do have this Yashica to remind me of this wonderful style of camera.

One last camera to talk about in this post is what I called, my Precious.  It so happened that I was already using a digital SLR, the Canon 300D (Digital Rebel).  While I really liked this camera, I wanted a smaller digital camera for backup.  Just before we went on our annual Thanksgiving vacation to Bishop and the Eastern Sierra, I bought my Precious, a Canon SD700IS.  This little camera offered some nice features for the money, and decent quality for such a little package.  Besides a panorama function, the image stabilizer was the thing that sold me.

This little camera also saved me.  On this particular vacation, I had the misfortune to have my 300D stop working.  One of the main reason I go to the Eastern Sierra at this time of year is to make photos, and to have my main camera out of commission was a major problem, that is if I didn't have my Precious.  I used that little camera for the rest of my stay, and really loved using it.  Decent quality in a package that I could put in my pocket, I couldn't have asked for more!

My Precious sits on a shelf now.  Another unfortunate victim of being loved and used too much.  I used to take this camera with me on my bike, and dropped it once to often and it finally broke.  While there are much more advanced point and shoot camera's around now, I really miss My Precious.

That's it for now.  Perhaps you'd like to share some of the camera's you've used over the years.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

A Little More HDR!

Seems that I can't get enough HDR.  Personally, I like the look and it doesn't matter if the image is subtle or extreme.  For me, I think it's very creative.  Not everyone likes it, and that's ok too.  To each his own.  There's an argument that it's not real, or that it's not photography.  I think that's just silly.  If you don't like it, don't look!  It's kind of like the tired old argument of which is better, Chevy or Ford?  Does it really matter?  Art is a very subjective and personal thing.  Is photography art?  Depends on who you ask, I say yes!

Getting back to the subject or HDR, I had another opportunity to dabble in it yesterday.  I spent some time with the family at Downtown Disney.  I've never been here before, and wasn't sure what to expect.  So, I took my trusty Sony NEX3 along because of it's small size and big performance.  It was the perfect choice for snapshots of the family and more thoughtful shots of the place.  The other thing is that being so small it doesn't really attract unwanted attention (like my Canon 60D with the big white L lens).  With the NEX3 I could easily move around and quickly grab shots without too much trouble.

For this post, I want to show you what I did with a hotel lobby (I wish I could remember the name).  It was very large, and the light was dim.  Not a great combination.  Yes, I have a flash on the NEX3, but it's tiny, and there's no way it was going to light up this large space.  I could have kicked the ISO up (say from 100 to 1200 or more), but in this case I left it at 200.  ISO is a setting the adjusts your camera's sensitivity to light.  The higher the ISO, the more sensitive the sensor.  In the days of film cameras this was expressed as ASA.  With a higher ISO you can increase your ability to take photos in low light.  The downside of this can be a degraded image.  This is especially true with Point & Shoot cameras with smaller sensors.  The high ISO can lead to noise which lowers the quality of the image.  So, I kept my ISO low to try and get the best quality image I could.

Getting back to the hotel lobby, I decided to take a few shots with HDR in mind.  With the Sony NEX3 I set the camera to HDR mode.  This will cause the camera to take several shots at different exposures, and combine them in the camera.  In addition I took a shot in normal, Aperture Priority (AE) mode.  Here's what I ended up with:

First, the normal AE mode shot:
As you can see, it was pretty dark.  I braced myself against a column to steady the camera since the shutter speed was pretty slow.

Here's the auto HDR shot:

This one is a little better.  You can start to see more detail in the shadows and dark areas, and the color seems to pop just a bit more.  This one is ok, but I think it could be better!

To reach the final product, I combined the 2 images above in Photoshop using a 3rd party plug-in called HDR Efex Pro by Nik.  This process took the best of both images to create something that really started to give the image the sense of magic and drama that I experienced in that lobby.  The final step was to use another filter from Color Efex Pro called Tonal Contrast.  As you may have noticed, I really like this filter.  The image always seems to come out a little edgy and artsy.  Just my observation, but it works for me.  

The final image is very colorful, has some texture and some beautiful light.  Seems a little on the unreal side, or so it is Disney it could be looked at as Magical!  Either way, I like it and hope you do too!  

Since I got into some tech stuff here (ISO), I may need to go a little more into it in a future post.  Thanks for reading!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Black and White

Black and white photography isn't for everyone.  For some, if it's not in color it's just not very good.  Or they may think that it looks old.  I have to admit that I've been interested in black and white photography since the first time I laid eyes on Ansel Adams work.  There's just something about those wonderful, rich tones that can add such a sense of drama to an otherwise ordinary image.  I feel the same way about black and white movies.

Even with all of the special effects of present day film making, the original black and whites just can't be beat.  Examples - King Kong, and The Day the Earth Stood Still.  The originals have such depth, character, and mood.  Due in my opinion to those fantastic tones.  The sense of drama is amazing even without all of the graphic special effects they throw at the movies of today.  I'll take the originals over these re-makes any day.

Back to photography, when I want black and white, I actually shoot the image in color.  Why?  Because it's easy to convert the image to black and white in many different programs.  Unfortunately, if you switch to black and white in your camera and take the shot, it's virtually impossible to convert it to color.  Lets take a look at some examples:

This is an image from Montana De Oro State Park.  This is an amazing place located just south of Morro Bay on the Central Coast of California.  I was walking along the beach watching the cloud formations.  It must have been windy up high as the clouds were moving fast and quickly changing shape.  I took my Canon 60D that morning, and used a polarizing filter on my 18-55mm lens.  While I'm pleased with the original, I couldn't help but think that it would look great in black and white.

Here it is again, this time converted to black and white.  I used Photoshop and applied a red filter to darken the sky and add some contrast to the clouds.  To me, this version is much more dramatic than the original.

Let's look at another one.  Again, this is an ok shot.  There are some interesting clouds and rock formations, and the incoming wave adds a little bit of action.  Same set up as in the previous photo, Canon 60D, 18-55mm lens and a polarizing filter.  A couple of minor differences are a longer shutter speed to try and slightly blur the water, and this was a few hours later in the day.

The black and white version is more dramatic and interesting to me.  I love the contrasting tones and the clouds just seem to come alive.  I used Photoshop again for the conversion, although there are many other programs that will do this such as Photoshop Elements, Picasa, ACDSee, and Gimp.

I'll go into more detail on how I use Photoshop to convert an image from color to black and white in another post.  Thanks for reading!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Best Camera...

You've probably already heard this, but sometimes the best camera is the one you have with you.  Now I won't lie, even though I tell people it isn't about the camera, I do own several (I just love camera's).  But, there are times when I will specifically choose one over another.  And, it may have nothing to do with any of the tech stuff, but rather with the overall size of one vs. another.  Depending on where I'm going and what I have to do to get there, I will choose small and light almost every time.

It wasn't always like this.  Several years ago while visiting the Eastern Sierra, I decided to take a hike above the little town of Big Pine, up to a glacier.  The trail starts at 8000 feet, and goes up up up from there.  In my excitement, I made the mistake of taking a backpack with all of my camera gear, and a very nice but heavy tripod.  Even though it was a cold November day, I worked up quite a sweat on that hike.  It was so unnecessary to take that much gear, especially since I didn't even use half of it.

Moving forward, I think I'm a little smarter about camera and gear choices.  When I'm out riding my bike and want to bring a camera I use a small point and shoot, or my GoPro HD (more about that in another post).  And now when I go on a hike, I take my Sony NEX3.  The NEX3 is smaller than my Canon DSLR's, but has the same size APS-C sensor.  It will shoot both RAW and .jpg, has an image stabilizer, and a very nice screen.  While the NEX3 is larger than most point and shoots, it's still the perfect camera for me when hiking.

During our latest visit to the Moro Bay area we had a chance to go to Montana De Oro, a beautiful State Park just south of Morro Bay.  There is an area that you need to park and walk a bit to get to, but it's worth the effort.  Leaving the parking area, the hike is down a narrow path with high brush on both sides, and it's downhill.  The path is over a mile long before you get to see the rugged cliffs and waves breaking on the rocks below.

Once we reached our destination, I couldn't have been more please with my NEX3.  Sure, it would have been nice to have a large selection of lens and other goodies, but then again I didn't have to lug all of that stuff back up the hill to the car.  

There I am, with my Sony NEX3.  You can see how small it is in my hands.  Fortunately, I can use a high enough ISO to get a shutter speed that will freeze action and reduce blur, and still have a very clean image (meaning low or no noise).  It doesn't hurt to have an image stabilizer either!  Traveling so light allows me to concentrate on the scenery and not the gear.

So, beside sharing how I like to go light on the gear, what else am I driving at?  How about making use of the gear you have, and not being too worried about having the biggest or the best.  I only have 1 lens for my NEX3, an 18-55mm mid range zoom.  So, if I need to get closer to something, I use my feet and walk up to it.  Same thing if I need to get a wider angle, I start walking.  The other thing I do is crop an image to make my subject appear larger.  Now, if you really want to spend money on gear, that's ok too.  As I already mentioned, I have several cameras myself.  Just do it because you like the stuff, not with the misunderstanding that a new camera will make you a better photographer.

The camera is just a tool.  It's the photographers vision that makes a great image.  But, there are many tools to choose from, and as the title of this posts states - the best camera is the one you have with you.  So, choose wisely!

** Photo credits - all of the photos in this post were taken by my lovely wife Aggie!