You Didn’t Ask For It, But Your Getting It Anyway!

So last night I stayed up a bit later than I had originally planned because I had become slightly obsessed with the notion of playing with some software and doing something new and different. No. Not ‘new and different’ as in no one had ever done it before, but ‘new and different’ for me. Which means short of anything other than tweaking the pic it would be new and different.

So that I wouldn’t forget the new high I had gotten smokin’ that photo-editing software, I took a quick trip through my posted images on Flickr and looked for a few that I thought might do well with the same trick as I had done the night before. I found a few and check ’em out!

Andy Warhol Gas Pumps

Brilliant Butterfly

I’m actually very, very happy (and proud) of both these images. I think I picked the best pics possible for this treatment. And they are pretty much stock images (I worked from the actual uploaded JPEG files on Flickr) as I only increased the saturation for the butterfly to really make him stand out and left the gas pumps alone.

The funny thing is that while I was looking through my pictures I was thinking about the sorts of issues that I was discussing in my other entry from yesterday. I was considering what would be the impact of my actions with the photo-editing software and trying to ‘see’ it and then decide whether or not I thought it would fly as an image. Drat. I’m on the road to artist, aren’t I? I’ve sold my soul and it’s all over. Oh well.

Also, I gave the simpler b&w only treatment to a picture of the daughter, as seen here:

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and I feel that this one didn’t work. Or didn’t work as well as I had hoped and/or expected. In other words: my vision and output didn’t match. So the question is, “What did I do wrong?” To that end I have placed this picture in a special Set titled Your Assistance Please on my Flickr site. Like a fellow photography enthusiast I know, I opted to create this set for pictures I wish folks to offer some help and/or guidance. So if you have any ideas or thought, please feel free to comment as such as I’m looking for opinions.

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Why Bee Normal?

I know!  Two posts in one day!  Heck.  Two posts within hours of each other!  I confess that the reading I had done that led to my post of earlier this evening left me with the urge to try something with photo editing software.  Up to now I have only used editing software to tweak (as a certain party is so fond of saying) pictures to my satisfaction based upon what I recall of the live scene.  This time I wanted do so something real, if you will, which led to this.

Colour Bee

Sure.  Loads of folks do this.  Loads of folks do this and then post them to their WP blogs and/or Flickr sites.  I know.  It isn’t particularly original, but what the hell do I care?  I wanted to do this.  Almost every time I’ve seen someone do this sort of treatment I have liked it, so why shouldn’t I try this as my first experiment with photo editing software?

Pretty cool, eh?

Seeing The Basics

This evening I was puttering around the Internet looking over a variety of photography-related web sites.  I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, but eventually felt compelled to visit a web site which had been pretty instrumental in helping me during my research phase for the purchase of my first dSLR.

In reading one particular posting by the author I was immediately struck by how photography can be so readily segregated into two primary types:  art and everything else.  Granted, this isn’t the first time the issue of what is photography has come to mind.  Hell, I spent plenty of time considering and discussing the various merits and pitfalls of the terms photograph, image, record, etc. without coming to any real conclusion.  But putting that aside, I think the author went to great pains to illustrate how photography can be art or something else altogether.

He strongly urged a burgeoning photographer to not hang out with other photographers, reading books on photography and scanning the Internet for like-minded photographers, but to look at, read about and hang out with art and artists.  He states “If an image lacks the right fundamentals of composition, light, form and colour, don’t even bother to press the shutter.”  He further states “As a photographer, the hardest part is seeing the fundamentals and then paying enough attention to get them right.”  Strong words.  Strong words indeed.

During the course of reading the article I wasn’t certain what to think or feel.  My feelings and thoughts were all over the place.  Firstly I was rather depressed and thought how absolutely horrible my pictures must be.  But once I got past this bit of self-indulgent self-deprecation, I understood that the author was really only trying to help me realize my possible potential.  Nothing wrong with that I suppose.  But I think the advice only works if the photographer in question (me, in this instance) is looking to create art.

I freely confess that I often take pictures that are simply records of a given moment in time.  The pictures I took of my neighborhood’s luau or of my friends visiting from Florida are perfect examples.  Do I try to frame and compose them?  Yes, but not to any large degree as it is really about capturing the moment and with people and events everything changes moment to moment.  Or when I was out taking pics of the dragonflies at the Cox Arboretum, I worked hard to put the sun in the right place, myself in the correct position and then it was mostly up to Mother Nature and we all know how fickle she can be!  As soon as a dragonfly would alight upon a leaf I had mere seconds (if that long) to get the dragonfly both in focus and framed/composed in a reasonable fashion.  Time was of the essence and in instances like these I don’t think there is a lot of time to consider the artfulness of any given shot.  It’s either SHOOT NOW or never get a picture of a dragonfly.

But upon further reflection of the author’s posting, it seems that the author is inferring a different type of photography.  A type that involves forethought and planning.  The sort that means a reccee of the location, consideration of the lighting options, set-up, etc.  The sort of planning which might be involved for a painter considering an upcoming painting project.  I think this is a markedly different sort of photography than the average every-day photographer is looking to do.  It actually reminded me of another photographer/blogger who discussed how he has in his mind an end result for a given photograph so he shoots the image and then returns home to use his various photo-editing software to then try and create an end product that matches to his original vision.  Wow.  I still have a hard time wrapping my head around this sort of work.  I mean, I could take an image file and manipulate it into something ‘artistic’, but the idea of starting with a vision and then bringing together the process of picture-taking and then editting is simply outside the scope of my abilities.  At this time.  Hell, maybe forever.

But you know what?  You know what I really learned from this?  I learned that I have once again reaffirmed my belief that I’m not in this to create art.  I’m in this because it’s a hobby.  I enjoy taking pictures.  I eschew the editing process.  But I really enjoy getting out the camera and snapping pics.   And often it becomes infectious.  I start out wanting to grab a few shots of the cats or the squirrels and then my eye catches something else and I’m suddently shooting it instead.  It doesn’t mean these diversions meet with success, but they help to expand my mind to different options.  They help me to keep an open mind to this photographic endeavor and I think that is probably more important than anything else.

I’m not certain what to say…..

I have been feeling low the past few days. I haven’t felt up to my usual standards of reasonable health, etc., but I didn’t really know why. Until today. It occurred to me a few hours ago that today is the one year anniversary since I had to say goodbye to my most precious friend and pet, Basil.

Daddy & Basil Bear 2007-02-24 (3)

I confess. He was my favourite. Hands down, no question about it. Basil and I were close. He was my little boy and I was his father. While this is true of all the cats over the years (the father and child relationship), the one I shared with Basil was different. More intense. More direct. More of everything. And while he certainly lived a long and healthy life (he was 19 when it was time to say goodbye) I wasn’t really as prepared for his loss. At least not like I thought I was.

I am rather pragmatic about the whole mess. Death is part of life. There is no escaping this portion of the life cycle. I thought I had made peace with this knowledge and my relationship with Basil. But this isn’t really the case. I’ve pushed his loss so far out of my memory. I refuse to think about it. I sometimes refuse to think about him. Hell, I couldn’t figure out why it was that I no longer wished much to sit in my leather recliner in the t.v. room. Until today. Until today when I was looking over some pictures of him and I, sitting together in our chair.

Basil Bear's favourite place 2007-07-20 (0)

I haven’t had this reaction with the other cats who have gone before him. They too were special, but they weren’t Basil. I miss the shit out of that little furry fellow.

Creativity isn’t necessarily artistry

(Warning: This particular blog isn’t really very photography related other than that I took a picture of the subject at hand, but I’m blogging about it anyway, so sue me.)

Our home in Florida had a pool. It was a nice sized pool (35,000 gallon) and looked very pretty in its soft blue tranquility. Most evenings I would turn on the pool’s light and the entire back deck area would light up in this wonderful soft blue. However, some evenings I wanted something a bit less intense. I wanted something a bit quieter. But I didn’t know what to do. However, one day it just sort of hit me out of nowhere: floating candle holders!

I thought about the idea for a few days and determined that the best material for the floats would be styrofoam. So I went out and purchased a handful of round styrofoam discs, some blue paint and some small, votive type candles. Into the styrofoam I carved out round slots for the candles to sit down into, painted the discs and inserted the candles. I lit the candles and set them in the pool and they were very cool. Each disc had slots for three candles and the four five of these things floating about looked smashing. However, there was one problem. The slightest breeze would push these things around the pool and they would all wind up huddled together at one end of the pool. While I didn’t actually make this addition, it occurred to me that attaching a fishing line with some lead weights would likely keep these floating candelabras in place.

Fast forward a handful of years to June 2007.

I am a member of the Social Committee for our community. Last year we put together a community luau with food, music and games. We discussed our options for decorating the pool area when I mentioned my candle floats that I had made a few years back in Florida. My Social Committee cohorts liked my idea and authorized me to make a bunch for the pool for the party. I considered my options and what I thought might look nice and came up with this:

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Pretty nifty, eh?

It’s really quite simple: a styrofoam disc painted green with a plastic drink cup glued at the center (and a candle glued to the inside of the cup). I then pin four plastic tropical-looking leaves around the centered cup and then lay a plastic lei around the cup. Having learned my lesson in Florida I attach a lead weight via fishing line and an eye hook to the bottom of the disc. I cut the line long enough to position each float individually in the pool (as the pool changes depth), which takes a bit of time, but it gives me an excuse to be in the pool!

Apparently failure IS an option (and other assorted tales)

It’s been a bit since I last posted and in that time I’ve uploaded three separate batches of photos to my Flickr account. I still haven’t really devised a scheme with which I’m particularly happy regarding my work flow, but oddly enough it isn’t the work flow of actually working with the photos of which I’m displeased. Instead it is simply the transference of images from the three different media cards to the computer. Thus far I have been keeping each cards image files in their own separate folders on my hard drive. Why? I don’t know. Maybe just so that I can quickly check any given card to make certain I have actually transferred images to the computer BEFORE I do something goofy like format the card. Anyway. Let’s dive into the various interesting things that have been occurring photography wise, shall we?

Apparently failure is an option. About 10 or so days ago we were enjoying some incredibly nice weather. Cooler than average temperatures and low humidity were ruling both our days and nights. And this particular night I was lounging in the television room of the west wing of the mansion, while a mostly naked Kate Isitt fed me peeled grapes and pressed the buttons on the t.v. remote for me, when I noticed the stark white light of the waxing moon upon the lawn. “Hum,” thought I. “Perhaps a chance to snap a few pics of the moon this evening?” but the pull of the television, the peeled grapes and the mostly naked Ms. Isitt kept me from making my way out of doors.

Another hour or so passed and I again noted the lovely light upon the lawn and could now see the moon hanging in the night sky, high enough that it was above the tall trees to the south of my view. Extending my apologies to Ms. Isitt I made for my camera kit and tripod and headed out into the wilds that are the 1,276 acres upon which my mansion sits. I stumbled about in the dark for a bit before turning my eyes heavenwards to find not only the moon, in all Her glory, but clouds.

Clouds. Fast moving clouds. And plenty of them. “Damn.” thought I. “It was perfectly clear earlier,” but I had elected to stay put and now I was about to pay the price for my laziness. I set up my kit and played with my manual settings until I had found one that I thought would provide a decent result and offer a starting place for making adjustments. Regardless the clouds would have none of it and left me with this sort of mess.

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Or this instead.

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“Clouds be damned!” I mused. “I”m going to stay out here and keep snapping pics until I get something that is remotely useful.” And maybe I did?

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However, before this particular evening (and around the July 4th holiday) we experienced some rather rainy weather. But this rain was prefaced with something we don’t get too often: lightning and thunder. I have enjoyed pictures taken by others of lightning, but have yet to find myself in a position to return the favour. Until now, so to speak. As I could see the flashes of lightning and hear the occasional distant grumble of thunder I thought I should get out and try to capture some of nature’s light show, especially since there wasn’t yet any rain. Unfortunately the 2,413 acres of land upon which my mansion sits is very wooded and not conducive to photographing lightning on the horizon. Clearly I needed to get into the helicopter and have Pilot fly me to a field whereupon I might have a chance to capture some lightning.

I eventually settled upon a field not too far from my mansion and got myself set up. This wasn’t going to be easy though. The lightning wasn’t the sort whereby there is a sudden flash of light zipping across the sky, branching out in all sorts of directions, but what is often referred to as heat lightning. It would come and go so quickly I couldn’t get off a shot that actually captured anything so I turned to pointing the camera into the sky, setting a longish exposure and hoping I caught something. Anything. What I caught was crap as evidenced below.

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And this image is the best of them all. Pitiful. I might have gotten some better shots as time went by, but the arrival of rain sent me and Pilot scurrying to the protection of the helicopter and thus ended my chance to bring to others the same joy they have brought to me.

However, not everything photography-related has been a dismal failure of late. I have managed to pull a few rabbits out of my hat, if you will, and these instances have made my failures feel less-so in retrospect. I have had some great luck with the pets of late. Both the cats and dogs have been more cooperative than usual, but with the dogs it could be simply that they were either asleep or too tired to give me any shit. The one really great situation has been my ability to get a few really super shots of one of the cats, Pumpkin. Pumpkin is, for all intents and purposes, feral. While having lived with us for almost three years he, and his sister Little One, have never properly socialized with we mere mortals. However, Pumpkin was very, very cooperative a few days back and I was able to get a couple of really nice pics of him like this one.

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Over the July 4th holiday we had guests from Florida visiting us in the way of our best friends, George and Caroline, and their daughter, Rowan. We haven’t seen them in about two years (for a variety of reasons, but money being the biggest impediment. well it’s not that money is the impediment, but that the lack thereof is the impediment) and it was truly super to have them about for a week. We enjoyed spending time chatting and otherwise farting around and it gave me a chance to take some pics like this one.

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You, my most cherished readers, may recall how poorly went a recent visit to the Butterfly House at the Cox Arboretum of Dayton, Ohio. Well, while there that first time I noticed how nice the arboretum was and thought to myself that I should return on another day and try to take some pictures of whatever I could find. There were lakes and ponds, so ducks, frogs and dragonflies may have been in order. There were flowers, so bees may have been in order. And who knows what else may have been there that I simply missed on our other adventure to the butterfly house. As such I elected to head back earlier this week (Monday I think) with camera kit in tow (but no tripod).

I arrived in what might be best described as very late afternoon/very early evening such that the shadows were obvious, but not yet pronounced. I had my entire kit (camera body and all four lenses including the very heavy 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM monster) with me as I didn’t know which lens or lenses I might make best use of, but I elected to start with the 100-400mm just in case I came across dragonflies. Funny how it takes a huge and heavy lens to snap a decent pic (at distance) of a very tiny and very light insect. I must say I was not disappointed.

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I will concede the dragonflies were less-than-cooperative as they typically wouldn’t sit still for more than a few seconds, which resulted in a lot of nicely composed, but poorly focused images. Alas, I’m not complaining as this was nirvana! Onwards and upwards though as there were bees to be found all over the park!

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I had more luck with the bees, but they too kept moving quite a bit as bees are wont to do….or so I assume. While taking pics of the bees (and flowers) I was struck by the beauty that can be found in the death-throws of a flower. I have noticed this before (and noted such as well), but was again struck by this bit of information.

Beyond the bees and dragonflies I was lucky enough to grab a very nice shot of a bird and some landscape type shots of the grounds and its lakes/ponds.

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Finally, there has been much in the way of photographs of clouds taken and posted by certain Flickr cohorts of mine. Puffy white clouds. Stormy clouds. Sunrise and sunset clouds. As for me though, not so much. Mostly it has been a matter of not seeing any clouds or cloud formations that seemed photo-worthy. Until recently that is. On my drive back home from the Cox Arboretum Mother Nature saw fit to add a little frosting to the delicious cake that was the arboretum.

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As disappointing were my attempts at lightning pics and the moon stuff, I will confess that this recent trip to the arboretum, our friends visit, and the cooperative tame fauna more than made up for those minor setbacks. For a switch everything felt right and good.

I guess I should start looking over my shoulder now, eh?

On having purchased the Canon EOS 40D

My first real WP blog posting, which you can read here (and you should because if you haven’t you’re likely to contract malaria), went into no small detail about the process through which I went that led me to the rather unexpected purchase of the Canon EOS 40D digital Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera.  It occurred to me today that I hadn’t really said much about the camera since that original posting.  Clearly most of my blogs have been about the actual process of taking pictuers, processing pictures, and most importantly how Mother Nature is bound and determined to piss me off to no end by thwarting so many of my photographic opportunities.  As such I thought this a good moment, some six months into ownership, to write something valuable and prosaic about my lovely, lovely camera.

It’s great!

Okay.  That’s not particularly helpful, but what can I say?  Do I still lust after the Nikon D300?  Yes.  But in all honesty that pagan lust has given way to idle worship.  I’m certain it’s a great camera, but am I disappointed with my 40D?  Not in the slightest.  So what have I learned about my lovely, lovely 40D?

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First, it fits my hand perfectly.  And I mean perfectly.  It fills my palm.  The grip fits snugly inside my cupped fingers.  It’s large enough that all my fingers, including my pinky, actually utilize the grip.  (as an aside this is one place that the D300 did not shine for me – I found some of the controls on the back of the camera were in the way of where my thumb naturally wants to fall)  And with the addition of the battery grip (which also helps with vertical shooting) the camera becomes even more comfortable to use, especially when shooting vertically.  However, I will concede that the 40D (like the D300) are larger cameras and that having a larger hand is….well….handy.  At 6’4″ I have large hands and I find ALL of the smaller entry-level dSLRs (Canon Rebel/400 series, Nikon D-series, etc.) to be too small.  None of the controls fall readily to a finger and my hand simply overwhelms the camera body.  Naturally this isn’t the case for most Americans as they aren’t 6’4″ and I have had more than one salesperson tell me that these smaller entry-level dSLRs are really geared more towards women (think soccer moms) so they need to be smaller for their typically smaller hands.

Second, the battery life has been exceptional.  Far better than I had imagined it would be.  I shoot in both RAW and JPEG and have the camera set to activate the dust removal system upon both start-up and shut-down.  I admit that I do not use the built in flash so I cannot speak to how it may effect battery life, but I have nothing but praise for battery life with this camera.

Third, this may be an odd item to which to offer praise, but I really like the owner’s manual.  It’s clear and concise, which isn’t always the case with owner’s manuals for complicated consumer electronics.  I also appreciate the fact the owner’s manual comes on a CD-ROM and that I can download it as a PDF from the Canon USA web site.  It also comes with a fair bit of Canon software including such so that you can control your new Canon EOS 40D from your computer.  Nikon makes you pay extra for this software so kudos to Canon.

Fourth, like any good camera should, all the really important settings can be changed without resorting to utilizing the menu system.  Instead these settings (white balance, ISO, metering, etc.) can be changed via the selection of one of a handful of buttons on top of the camera and then the movement of one of two dials.  I’m not saying that only my Canon 40D offers up this immediate flexibility, but it’s good to have right there at one’s finger tips as all the buttons and dials can be reached by either a finger or thumb.

Now to be fair and accurate, not everything is sunshine and bunnies with the Canon 40D.  Of course I’m certain no camera is perfect, but it is the constant pursuit of perfection that yields (hopefully) better cameras each year.  To that end I wish my Canon did these things better.

First, the viewfinder should be both larger (offering 100% viewing – just what the camera sensor sees) and brighter.  The Nikon D300 clearly beat the 40D in my opinion when I was switching back and forth between these two excellent cameras.  If I had to pick which was more important to me I’d prefer the brighter viewfinder as I can live with the 95% viewing area that is the current situation for the 40D.  The Nikon’s viewfinder was wonderful.  I felt like I wasn’t really looking through a viewfinder at all.  Canon can and should be doing better here.

Second, and this is going to sound strange, maybe even petty, but why couldn’t the folks at Canon have included a built-in digital version of the viewfinder grid lines?  First, why do I want this?  Simple.  Sometimes one doesn’t notice that they do not have their camera level before the press the shutter release button.  But with grid lines it is so easy to make a quick check of how level is the camera before shooting.  The D300 has this feature, but the camera does cost about $500 more than the 40D.  However, my $250 Canon A630 digital compact camera has the grid line feature for the LCD display.  How can a $250 Canon have this feature, but not the $1,600 (with 17-85 kit lens) Canon dSLR?  I really cannot imagine that it would have cost much of anything to add this feature.  Maybe it’s something that will come along as a firmware upgrade?  I don’t know.  I DO know that it’s a feature I want and have used and expected in this camera.  My only other option (short of returning to the A630 or purchasing a D300) is to purchase the little screens that you can swap in the viewfinder.  A pain and expense that should not be visited upon a modern dSLR owner.  Period.  Are you listening Canon?

Third, while the camera has the requisite buttons for changing the most important settings, they are, in my opinion, too small and too identical to one another.  They lay in a line along the top of the camera, above the LCD status display window.  The Nikon D300 makes these buttons larger, but does nothing else to differentiate them from one another, but at least being larger is a step in the right direction.  I confess that I’m not certain what would be the best way to change the buttons to make them more distinct from one another, but certainly something could be done to rectify this minor ergonomic mistake.

Fourth and finally, I think it would have been nice if more control could have been given to the focus points.  With the 40D you have 13 focus points.  You can select each one individually or select them all and let the camera decide which it thinks are the most relevant focus points to use.  While this is fine under many circumstances it isn’t best for all situations.  I would really like to see the 40D offer the ability to select a specific group of focus points (like the three on the far right) so that one can focus on a general area and not on a specific spot within that general area.  Again, the D300 offers this ability, but it does come with a cost:  more cash.

So what is the bottom line here?  It would be grossly unfair of me to compare and contrast my 40D to any other dSLR in any meaningful way as I haven’t owned or operated any other dSLR.  While I spent an awful lot of time researching and playing around with them it isn’t the same thing as living with one day after day for six months as I have done with my 40D.

So the real question is:  Am I happy with my Canon EOS 40D dSLR?  And the answer is yes.  It is doing everything I want and need and does it with a minimum of fuss.  It can do far more than I have yet asked of it, but I know that with time I will explore the other abilities of the camera and make use of those that I find to my liking and needs.  Of course it’s very likely that I would have been quite happy with a Nikon D300 (but a little lighter in the wallet), but I made my decision and all those original feelings of buyers remorse have disappeared and been replaced by the excitement that comes from taking pictures with a great camera.