It’s a Small World After All

Today I dropped by my local camera shop to pickup my recently ordered polarizing filter. As if it’s going to help me…..we haven’t seen much of the sun in the past few weeks, which is really okay by me, but makes spending the money on a polarizer seem…well….dumb.

While conducting the transaction at the counter I engage in the usual pleasantries with the now quite familiar staff when a customer points to me and says “Yeah, he was there too.” Suddenly I realize it’s the gentleman with whom I was engaged in brief conversation while at the park the other day, taking pictures of birds.

Small world, eh?

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I Suffer for My Art (and I’m so stupid)

Today I ventured forth into the great outdoors to engage in photography with my lovely new kit. There is a public park not far from where I live that has much in the way of woods, a few small waterfalls and a wide (but very shallow) river. I concede that an overcast and gray day, in the winter, with snow in abundance might not sound like the best time to snap a few pictures. After all, there is little color or contrast to be found, but I knew I needed to get out of the house (with my chores already accomplished) and starting taking pictures of something OTHER than the pets in the house.

My original intent was to head to one waterfall in particular where I thought I might be able to obtain some nice pictures of the falls and stream. As the walkway isn’t exactly close to the falls I thought this would provide a good opportunity to finally break out the 70-200mm f/4 L USM IS lens, which I otherwise hadn’t yet made use.

I arrived at the parking area closest to the falls and found a family in a nearby field snapping away with their cameras. I spoke briefly with the husband (who was using his very recently purchased Canon Rebel) and found they were taking pictures of the lovely red cardinals that were flittering from barren tree to barren tree. I thought this sounded like a great opportunity: this was a great use for the 70-200mm AND the bright red male cardinals would really POP against the dull grays of the trees and the stark white of the snow. I took a number of pictures and really hope that some of them are useful. I think I was still to far away, even with the 70-200mm, but maybe something good will show up. Of course, this post is about suffering and being stupid so let’s have some of that right now!

Yesterday (also known as Saturday) I took my camera to the golf course that lies behind my neighbor’s house across the street from where I live. I thought I might find some nice pictures to be taken there and on the whole I was disappointed. Regardless, I was taking some pictures at a slow shutter speed so in an attempt to mitigate any camera shake (even though the camera was tripod-mounted – those things do shake a bit when you let go of your camera!) I turned on the 2-second timer hoping this would be sufficient time for the camera to stop shaking. Clever thought I. However, I left this setting on when I finished as these were the last photos I took yesterday. Today (better known as Sunday) I had my camera out, my lens attached and was pointing at cardinals, depressing the shutter release half-way to focus and then completing the process by pressing all the way.

Nothing happened. Well, that’s not true. The camera would go “beep, beep, beep….” for about two seconds and then it would take the picture. I knew this wasn’t right, but thought maybe the lens was having some sort of problem focusing. It wasn’t until I had taken maybe six pictures that I finally took a quick look at the camera’s top display and there I saw the 2-second timer function indicated. What a shit-head. I shouldn’t be allowed to have a camera, much less my lovely, lovely 40D.

Well I finished with my friends the birds and made my way over towards the falls. There I found the steps leading up to the top of the falls to be covered in a thick layer of very slippery ice. Nope. Sorry. I’m not interested in falling and breaking my brand new camera, even though I don’t deserve it anyway because I’m stupid. So I return to a part of the stream where there is some action, if you will, with the water splashing over rocks and tumbling through clogs of leaves fallen during last autumn. I shot a small handful of pictures, but was ultimately disappointed as nothing lept out as being particularly ‘arty’, which is for what I was striving today. Discouraged I packed up my gear and trudged back to the car, crunching through the snow with its protective sheet of ice.

As I drove by the falls in my car I could just make out that a large sheet of ice had cascaded over the falls and was creating a great effect. And I didn’t get a single picture of it. I suck. As I continued my drive out of the park I felt more and more stupid for not doing SOMETHING to get the pictures. And then it hit me…..ford the stream! I don’t think it’s really deep at all and it’s mostly clear of ice and snow and I’m wearing waterproof winter boots. Reinvigorated with the notion that I COULD do this I drove back into the park, parked the car and grabbed only the gear I would need: my camera, the tripod and my 17-85mm USM IS lens (I took everything else out of the kit thinking that if I slipped and fell into the water I would mitigate the amount of damage by only hurting the few things I needed). I walked back to where the stream passes under the road and made my descent into the stream.

While the stream moves quickly it is, as I thought, very shallow; only inches in most parts and only deep where water cascades quickly over a rock. While the distance to the first good vantage point was only 100-yards, it was slow going as the rocks were slippery with algae and sometimes ice. There were also fallen trees and other sticky bush-like things that would reach out from shore and snag my shirt or camera bag. It took me almost 15-minutes to get to the first place and another five to my second. But what a manly sight I must have made making my way upstream in my water proof boots, short pants (yes, short pants in 28-degree weather – I’m not right in the head), long-sleeve shirt, hat, gloves and camera equipment. Ansel Adams of Ohio, that’s me!

Feeling emboldened by the success of my fording the stream both up and down stream I opted to venture up the slippery stairs of death to the scenic overlook for the falls. Managing this major feat also yielded what I hope will be some nice pictures. Of course, I won’t get to looking through those until tomorrow or Tuesday. And now I have to contend with RAW images as for the first time ever I shoot in the combined JPEG/RAW option.

Joy and happiness all round, eh?

Digital Photography Is NOT Your Friend

I swear this entire digital photography thing is simply a scam. A scam meant to separate folks from their money and create headaches bordering upon migraines.

Camera body. Software. Lenses. Flashes. Picture formats. Media cards. Tripods. Photo hosting web sites. Blogs about photography. Magazines. Geo-tagging. Pixel density. Full frame versus non-full-frame. Image stabilization (lens- or camera-based). Batteries. Chargers. Filters. And accessory after accessory after accessory after accessory.

Shit.

It has been difficult enough coming to terms with which system to purchase. After all, whatever camera you buy has a direct impact on what lenses, which flash, what accessories, etc. you will undoubtedly accumulate over time. However I now have to consider whether or not to use filters, and then what filters to use, and should I buy the right size for my lens or buy step-up bezels and buy just one filter for that size for use with all my lenses, blah, blah, blah.

And which software do I use to work with RAW images (which I’ve never done before and I confess the idea slightly terrifies me)? There is the software which came with the camera. There is my copy of PhotoShop Elements 6.0, which I haven’t yet installed on the ol’ computer. And how about the program I downloaded for free from PhotoOne (free with the purchase of my SanDisk media card)? Which is the best? Which will most intuitive to use? Which will render the best results with the minimum of fuss?

Should I keep my home-built desktop PC or buy a Mac?

It’s simply not enough that I have to obtain a better and more full understanding of the BASICS of photography, but I also have to be technologically savvy to deal with computers and software. I swear…..it’s almost enough to make me think that my Canon A630 point-and-shoot was more than enough camera for me. It has full manual controls, great battery life and solid (but not great) image quality. If it weren’t for the horrible results that come with the flash, rubbish results at anything above ISO 400 and the sluggish response after pressing the shutter release (a curse of all point-and-shoots) I would leave dSLR behind and enjoy the simple pleasure that comes without thinking and just taking pictures.

But that doesn’t give me anything to bitch and whine about, now does it? 😉

Comments? Already? I must be a superstar!

This particular post is not photography specific, but a chance to say thanks to the two fine folks who left comments on my second blog posting. I really didn’t expect anyone to be reading this for some time and I had anticipated that anyone who did read it would have come across it by accident more than anything else.

I have also learned something about WordPress blog postings: one cannot reply to comments posted to a blog. I guess I’m spoiled by LiveJournal and MySpace, where I other blogs that were simply created so that I could communicate with friends, but not about anything in particular, which is quite the opposite of this site. I had to do a help search and found that about the only thing I can do is to edit the original comment and add my reply. Strange.

I look forward to returning the favor of looking over the sites of those who left me comments, which I already did, but very briefly. Of course, doing such opens up the possibility of seeing really fine work by others, which can either motivate and/or inspire me or simply depress me. I’m interested in seeing which way it goes.

“Buying your first dSLR” or “Analysis Paralysis: A Retrospective”

Okay, first a bit of history. While growing up I was oddly attracted to two things: watches and cameras. I have no idea what was the attraction to either, but both remain quite strong and have been strong threads through the tapestry of my life. Didn’t that sound all artsy-fartsy?! Anyway, By the age of 12 I was rather informed about 35mm SLR film cameras simply by having collected brochures from the various manufacturers whenever I was at a store that carried camera equipment. Just from the brochures I had a basic understanding of f-stops, aperture, shutter speed, depth-of-field, film ASA/ISO numbers and how they interplayed with each other. Mind you, I didn’t have a camera. Hell, my parents didn’t have a 35mm SLR camera, but the usual point-and-shoot things from the likes of Kodak. My favorite camera line at that time was Minolta. I don’t recall why I liked them best, but there you are.

Years later (post moving out of my parents house) I purchased my first 35mm SLR camera; a Minolta. I took a lot of pictures back then, but had neither the money nor inclination to take up creative photography. Regardless I very much enjoyed taking pictures and regularly documented the life and times of myself and my friends. As a matter-of-fact I was typically the only one who ever had a camera handy and as such I’m the only one with a collection of pictures of my ‘crew’ from ‘back in the day’.

This particular camera served me well for many years, but wasn’t perfect. It had been purchased used and the flash unit I owned didn’t work properly with the camera. In 2003 I was asked to take pictures at my sister’s wedding as she and her fiance didn’t want to spend the dough on a professional and preferred to sink the money into a nicer wedding. Sounded reasonable to me and thus I found myself in the market for a new 35mm SLR camera. I ultimately settled upon a Nikon N65, Nikon flash and a Sigma 28-200mm telephoto lens. This was an excellent choice as it was reasonably priced and offered a plethora of standard features for a film-based 35mm SLR camera.

Now you may wonder why I didn’t purchase a digital camera right then and there. Well, if you recall 2003 properly you might find that digital photography was still in its infancy in many ways. It’s absolutely mind-blowing how much progress there has been in the realm of digital photography in just the past two-years, never mind five-years.

Since then I have purchased and still own two compact digital cameras: a Canon A95 and a Canon A630. Both were recommended purchases at ConsumerReports.org and I have been very, very pleased with both. Yes; they both suffer from some of the same problems that plague all compact and subcompact digital cameras. However, I have found each camera to be well built, very functional (i.e. loaded with manual options) and capable of producing very nice photographs for my everyday/around-the-house needs. But about two years ago I decided that both my needs and desires had developed such that I wanted to make the upgrade to the world of dSLR.

I started the process by doing lots of research about both dSLR cameras as well as printers, media cards and software. Each item is very important because each contributes to the overall success of any serious photographic work. After combing through magazines, web sites and anything else I could get my hands upon I decided the Nikon D80 was the choice for me. It was a clear step above the Canon Rebel and Nikon D40 lines, but didn’t quite touch the prosumer level with its subsequently higher starting prices. Unfortunately I was unable to afford the purchase at the time I came to the decision, which was around Christmas 2006. However, I hung in there and waited and by Christmas 2007 I was in a position to make the purchase. However, nothing in the consumer electronics arena stays the same for that long and over those 12-months many things came to pass.

Primarily what came to pass were the Nikon D300 and Nikon D80. I returned to my local camera shop and once again familiarized myself with the Nikon D80, but having read about the Nikon D300 I asked if I could ‘play’ with it. It was love at first touch. It is markedly larger than the Nikon D80, which is a good thing for me. At 6’4″ I’m no average Joe. The D80, while a nicely sized and proportioned camera, is small in my hand. The Nikon D300 was bigger and as such the controls fell more readily to finger. It was a camera I actually had to grip as opposed to the D80, which I overwhelmed. Of course, there were many other things about the Nikon D300 that were attractive: 51-focus points, an absolutely gorgeous 3″ LCD screen, Live View, etc. It represented the immediate future of dSLR cameras, while the D80 represented the past. I HAD to have this camera. However, there was a problem. More specifically there were one-thousand-seven-hundred-ninety-nine problems. As in dollars. The Nikon D80 with a complete package (case, two lenses, extended warranty, media card and some software) cost just over $2,000 including tax.

This was a problem. My lust and my checkbook were locked in mortal battle and I was afriad, yes afraid that lust would win. I worked hard to make the case for the purchase of the Nikon D300 over the D80. What wound up happening is that I suffered from analysis paralysis. If you are not familiar with this expression it basically means you have so much information related to a decision making process that you cannot make a decision. No clear winner comes from your analysis so you go back and re-analyze everything and once again come to no conclusion, and then re-analyze your data, etc., etc., etc. It is a vicious problem and one that I had never experienced before in my life. I have always been good about researching before making a decision, but I was always able to find a winner and run with it. Not this time. D80 or D300. D300 or D80. Less money or more camera. More camera or less money. What was I to do?

I wound up buying a Canon 40D.

I know what you’re thinking. WTF? And I don’t blame you. It was really a very all-of-a-sudden thing. There I was, back at the camera shop and making my salesperson’s life miserable, hemming and hawing over the D80 vs. D300 debacle. I was so despondent I took a step back and noticed the case with Canon cameras and asked the salesperson about the new Canon 40D (which came out at almost the exact same time as the Nikon D300). Why I hadn’t looked at Canon to begin with is a bit strange considering I already owned and had been quite satisfied with my Canon compact digital cameras. Well the answer is fairly simple: I wanted to own a Nikon. It was the manufacturer I had selected as being the better of the two and that was that.

The Canon 40D, surprisingly, felt even better in my hand than the D300. It is very similar in size and weight, but I found that my fingers fell onto the appropriate places even better with the 40D. Sure, it didn’t have the 51-focus points or the stunning LCD screen, but here is what it did have: a price tag of $1,499, including a kit 17-85mm lens. I returned home and began researching the Canon 40D and its system of lenses. While it wasn’t as advanced as the Nikon D300 there wasn’t anything missing from the Canon that the Nikon offered which I couldn’t live without. Or better put: the D300 offered nothing that would make me a better photographer over the Canon 40D.

I returned to the store on 20 December 2007 and purchased the Canon 40D with kit lens. I took it home and it sat on top of our fridge for a week before I would open it. I was suffering from buyers remorse. I WANTED the D300. It looked better in my opinion. It had two more megapixels. It had the beautiful 3″ LDC screen. It had this and that and that and this and it was the one I wanted. Period. Rational discussion was out the window as we were talking lust. I finally took the damn thing out of the box and started taking pictures. It was great. It did what I want. My fingers fell readily into place. It felt good in my hand and responsive to my inputs. While this did nothing to negate my D300 lust it did go a long way to convincing me that I had made the right decision.

The bottom line was dollars and cents. Think of it this way: the D300, the okay 18-200mm lens, decent flash and tax would have set me back over $3,000 and all I would have would be the camera, a single lens (and regardless of the praise some heap upon it, I think its levels of distortion are too high across the entire focal range) and the flash. On the other hand I now own the following: a Canon 40D dSLR, a Canon 580EX II flash unit, a Canon 50mm f/1.8 prime lens, a Canon 17-85mm USM IS lens, a Canon 70-200mm f/4 L USM IS lens, a nice Canon camera bag, a 2GB SanDisk Extreme III media card and a 4GB SanDisk Extreme III media card ALL for about the same price.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t still lust after the Nikon D300, but I’ve come to terms with my decision and believe that it is ultimately the best one I could have made. I have a camera that will serve me quite well (or so I hope) and with the money I saved I was able to buy other necessary equipment. Oh, and the Canon came with software that will allow me to connect the camera to a computer and run the camera from said computer. The Nikon would have required that I pay for that software (an $80 or so purchase).

This was an incredibly difficult decision for me. I suppose that my fiscal situation had a very strong impact upon my decision making process even though I didn’t want to make dollars and cents part of the equation. If better equipment costs more, then you buck up and pay the money for it. But in this case I don’t think the additional cost was going to provide me with that much more and certainly with nothing that will have made me a better photographer. I’m finally happy with my decision and even happier that my bout of analysis paralysis is finally over.

A journey into the world of digital SLR (dSLR) photography……

Back on 20 December 2007 I made something of a major purchase in my life. Monetarily it wasn’t a huge expenditure, but considering where I am in life at this time job-wise (none), fiscal-wise (see previous), etc. it was a major purchase. And it was a purchase that spawned other purchases and will, no doubt, spawn even more purchases into the foreseeable future. In case you hadn’t already figured it out, which I hope you have, I purchased my first digital Single Lens Reflex camera (hereafter called dSRL for the sake of simplicity).

My journey has thus far been rather quiet. I confess that many weeks went into the purchase process and there was much in the way of hand-wringing before I finally made a……well….final decision. The other day I realized that this sort of journey, which not only deals with photography, but with the technology of modern digital photography, might make for an excellent blog. Mind you, the idea seems excellent, but I do not promise that the blog will be such. I will always be direct, honest and convey my thoughts, opinions and such regarding this trip. But let me make clear that I am not, in any way, trying to convey to anyone that my particular opinions expressed about any hardware or software are anything more than my in-expert opinion.

So there it is. A blog about my venture into digital photography with all the hardware, software, techniques, trials and tribulations that will no doubt come from such a new venture. And now I shall close this introductory posting and offer my first posting directly related to this journey: the decision process for making my first dSLR purchase.

Are you excited?