Just So Much….

Damn if things haven’t been exciting lately. Well…. photography wise they have been exciting. Around the house has been much less so, what with the death of the compressor for the HVAC system. Say goodbye to USD3,224!

Shit.

Oh well…. at least it didn’t die during the depths of winter or middle of summer, right?! Bright side…. gotta look on the bright side.

(sigh)

But what about photography, eh? “Exciting stuff?” you say. Hell yeah! I barely have enough time to get through any of it, but here we go….

Just enjoyed the fifth of ten online & free photography classes via http://www.creativelive.com. In hindsight I will confess that the first four classes really felt more like ones oriented towards helping someone trying to decide what dSLR camera to purchase (four-thirds, APS, full-frame, etc.). They were informative, but really didn’t cover the things for which I was hoping. That isn’t to say I didn’t learn things. Nope. I clearly did. Those first courses helped reiterate things I knew and had right; further explained things I knew, but didn’t understand fully; and introduced me to information I hadn’t yet seen or read elsewhere. But in the end I believe (and hope) that it is the upcoming courses that will really provide me with more information, which I hope to use in the field. (Update: After reviewing this post-uploading I realized I didn’t say things quite the way I meant. The first four classes were very informative about modern digital SLRs and how to use them (and lenses). I think it felt more like review for me because most of what was covered was already known to me. I still say the classes would be very, very helpful to anyone looking to get into modern dSLR photography, but I’m afraid I made it sound like the courses weren’t as useful as they could have been. Truth is they were useful, but I’m not quite a newbie and these courses were intended for such. This latest course on Exposure was much more informative and handy and as such I anticipate future courses to also be such and less review-like.)

For some time I have coveted a strobist lighting setup so that I could branch out into lighting. I preferred the strobist route if only because you can go strobist both indoors and outdoors, and I had plans for some outdoor portrait/model type work. Alas, that route was simply too expensive for me on my own or for my benefactor. So what does one do when they money isn’t there? Well, you go cheap and take what you can get!

Lights!

My benefactor was able to spring for a basic studio flash kit (USD500) to help me get started and while this kills off the versatility of shooting outdoors it DOES give me the opportunity to: (1) learn about lighting, (2) do some nice model/portraiture work, and (3) do a better job lighting-wise than I have been able to do thus far. The nice thing about this particular kit is that not only does it come with lights, umbellas, etc., but a bonus set of soft boxes and mounting brackets. Now I have four soft boxes…… which means I need to figure out what to do with them all! And that’s a good thing….. I like learning new stuff.

Next up to bat is a quick mention regarding some auto racing shots I took two weekends ago. Actually…. they weren’t really racing as it was one of those test and tune events, which is really neither here nor there. Cars. On the track. Going round quickly. But I’m going to save my thoughts and reactions to this event for another distinct post so you will just have to wait for a bit.

Now a quick change of gears to the Apple iPhone. One of which I own. Lovely device. And one of the bigger markets of apps is the photography arena. Many apps in the App Store are geared towards editing and/or processing your shots. But of late I’ve discovered that there are a number of utility-type apps, which are meant to help photographers with the process of creating shots. One area that concerns me in particular is depth of field.

I shoot almost exclusively in Aperture Priority mode. For me controlling the depth of field is a more important aspect of the way I prefer to shoot and how I like my images to come out. It’s what I like, so it’s what I do. However, depth of field is kind-of a hit or miss issue in photography. For any given aperture setting, millimeter focal setting and distance to subject one can change the depth of field in an image, but knowing what will and won’t be in focus is often a guess.

Sure, there is the depth of field preview button on our cameras, but I always found them to be relatively useless. And one can, of course, review the taken image via the LCD screen to see what is and isn’t in focus, but why guess and check afterwards when you can know in advance? Why indeed!

DoF Master (iPhone App)

Meet the DoFMaster app for the iPhone. It is one of about eight I reviewed in the App Store and selected it based upon favourable reviews and it’s simple nature. I confess to better liking the UI of another app, but I’ll try this one for a while and see how it works. If I’m disappointed I’m only out the price of a candy bar, so what the hell. I’ll report back later on my experiences with this app.

And finally, my dear readers, I had an unusual experience a few months back when my Canon 40D was displaying an icon I had never seen before in the LCD panel atop the camera. Confused and without my user’s guide I consulted the Internet via my cell phone and found a PDF version of the user’s guide, which I bookmarked and browsed in an attempt to solve the mystery of the icon. Jump forward to yesterday when I again had need of the user’s guide, but couldn’t find such here at the house. (Why it wasn’t where it should have been is a bit of a mystery as I’m usually very good ’bout these things)

“No prob,” think I as I still have the PDF site bookmarked in my cell phone and to the iPhone I go. Pull up the site, which even on the Wi-Fi takes a few seconds and then begin scrolling through the document. Scrolling ever so slowly. Painfully slowly. Especially slowly seeing how the page I need is nearer the end of the manual.

Damn irritating to be frank, which is sort-of funny considering how amazing this whole experience really is when you think about it.

Anyway…. I quickly realize that the secret to getting through this PDF document is to have it stored on my iPhone as a PDF and view it in a PDF viewing app. A few minutes later I have found and downloaded the free GoodReader Lite by Good.iWare. While free it is limited to five PDF documents, but who am I kidding? That’s just fine by me! Say hello to the reader…

GoodReader (Lite)

I follow the directions within the app to pull the relevant PDF file from the Internet and attach it to the app. Now I’m cooking….. The app provides all the sorts of benefits of a PDF reader that simply didn’t exist when viewing the PDF in Safari. I can turn pages one by one. I can rapidly scroll through the document. I can view in portrait or landscape mode. It really is quite amazing. And for free!

Seeing how I always have my cell phone with me I now always have my camera’s user’s guide with me. Sure, I don’t need it often, but I’m not out anything to have it on-hand 24/7/365. Amazing…. really amazing. If you own a camera AND a phone which can save & view PDFs then this is a brilliant way to have important information at your fingertips at a moments notice.

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Perchance to dream…

It happened again. I experienced a photography-related dream.

And no doubt the overall weirdness of the dream could be directly related to the rather powerful drug I took yesterday, which is for migraine headaches. Not that I get migraines any longer… I used to… but not in some time.

Nope.

Instead I take it for when I am struck down by a particularly horrible sinus headache. The sort so intense I feel nauseous, like I’m going to hurl, cannot eat and every movement of my head sends waves of pain through my body. The surgery I had two years ago has gone far to greatly diminish the number of attacks each year, but now they simply appear to be more intense each time. Joy. But somehow I have gotten off track here…. must have something to do with reading this guy’s blog.

😉

So…. dreaming. I don’t recall any dreams from the past 24-hours, but this one. I’m driving along some roadway when I’m struck by the awesome grandeur of the sun setting between these two buildings. The buildings, which are close together, create a wonderful frame for the intense orange orb hanging quite low in the sky. There were some power lines criss-crossing the sun, but they only seemed to add to the photographic quality of the moment.

I remember ‘thinking’ in the dream “I don’t have time to get out the dSLR. The sun is setting too fast and I need to get this image NOW!” As such, I pull off the road and rush to get out of my car with camera phone in hand. Moving into position so that the gap between the buildings is nicely centered in my cell phone’s screen I press the shutter release button.

“Click” goes the phone.

And I get something not unlike this…

“Ummmm,” I think to myself inside the dream. “That’s not what I was photographing.” Confused, but determined, I re-shoot the setting sun and wind up with a picture of, and I’m not kidding, a parrot sitting on a branch in what appears to be a lush and tropical rain forest.

“What the fuck?” races through my dream mind and with ever greater determination I re-compose the shot, press the shutter release and wind up with a picture of a boat. And not just any boat, but a canal boat of which I have seen plenty of late via a fellow Flickr-ites photostream.

Now, in this dream, I’m stomping my feet and cursing Bog and all the heavens for the injustice being done unto me, while the gorgeous, bright orange orb of the sun sinks below the horizon leaving just the two buildings and power lines glowing in the light of dusk.

It Felt….. It Felt Good. Damn Good!

This morning while enjoying breakfast with my wife I suddenly thought “Holy shit! It has rained like crazy over the past two days. I wonder if the water fall at Charleston Falls Preserve is doing anything interesting?” Between loads of melting snow and over 2-inches of rain it occurred to me that the normally ‘dull’ waterfall might actually be a ‘real’ waterfall.

See… normally it looks like this (please forgive the rather heavy-handed post-processing effects):


(photo courtesy of my iPhone)

It is a pretty place, but not much of a waterfall to be frank. But what about after some serious rain? Well let’s just say it got a lot better!


(photo courtesy of my iPhone)

Now isn’t that better?

But the issue of the waterfall isn’t the real thrust of this posting. Nope. Instead, I guess this posting is, in a way, an extension of my last post regarding my attempt to get back into this photography game. Today’s adventure was a pleasure. A real pleasure.

My original intent was just to run out to Charleston Falls Preserve, see if the waterfall was more interesting photographically speaking, and if so snap some pics and come home to watch the inaugural Formula 1 race from Bahrain. As the above picture shows the waterfall was far more interesting than it has ever been before during any of my visits.

And so I puttered about snapping pictures from this position and that place and eventually found myself satisfied. Satisfied that I had done both what I wanted and needed (“need” being the need to get out and take some pictures again). But as I packed up my kit I thought “You know… I wonder if there are any other photographic treats in the park today?” After all it was perfect shooting weather in so many ways: 41-degrees Fahrenheit (5-degrees C), lightly misting, quite grey and overcast (soft, diffuse light with no shadows) and everything covered in water such that colours looked rich and dark. And so I took off on the trails in search of other valuable targets.

Now… I do not have any of the pictures from this excursion yet available as I haven’t yet gone through them. I’ve been busy since I got home. Sorry. But the tale is just as important in this instance because it was the simple act of getting out and enjoying myself that, in a manner, recharged my batteries for this hobby.

While out there I managed to nab a handful of pictures related to my first shooting assignment for my photography class and I spent about 30-minutes stalking a small herd of deer I chanced upon. Granted, the end result was a meager one photo for all the time I devoted, but let me tell you…. it was EXCITING!! Moving slowly and carefully with camera in hand I tracked them from the trail while they made their way through the woods, eventually leading me to a tall grass prairie where I managed my one picture. But the great thing is now that I know there are deer there AND I know a place where they congregate I can return one day (hopefully soon) and play the game of sit & wait in hopes of nabbing some additional pictures. (keep in mind I only got the one picture because I didn’t have my camera out and in hand when I chanced upon them – they were unexpected as I had never seen deer there before)

Of course, any great day must have its less-than-stellar moments, which for me was when I tried to snap some pics of the quite large vultures gliding in the grey skies above me. For whatever reason…. probably a brain fart or a bit of senility creeping in…. I turned my 70-200mm zoom lens to 70mm and began shooting wildly into the mid-March air. Wondering why the damn birds looked so far away in the viewfinder I put down the camera and took a quick glance at my settings where I discovered my 70mm boo-boo.

However, this very minor mistake is not going to ruin my otherwise perfect afternoon! Three hours of glorious hiking, stalking and photography more than compensate me for such stupidity.

It Was So Still

This isn’t exactly photography-oriented so please forgive me in advance.

This afternoon I made my usual trek to the small wood near my home so that I could feed the cats at the feral colony. My task is usually quite easy to accomplish, but the heavy and wet snow we had over the weekend has made this usually simple task far more difficult. Yet… it’s also made it far more marvelous.

Growing up in Florida I never saw scenes such as this:

And even though I have now lived in more northern climes for some years I have never experienced such a snow while living so close to woods. And my experience in them is quite strange to this man raised on sea, sand and surf.

The wet and heavy snow of the weekend has bent tree and branch towards the ground in the most inconceivable manner. The trails I usually would follow were missing from view and some feeding stations completely hidden between the snow and the bent-over vegetation. But my fascination with this other-worldly situation turned to quiet wonder and passion today.

Today I was less worried about finding all the cats and their bowls and instead became focused upon the incredible silence that I had not previously noticed.

The snow covered trees acted upon my voice like a shroud, deadening my voice and keeping my words so close to me as to be almost frightening. The voice that normally carried through the wood when calling the ferals to lunch now just died. Right there. Next to me.

And in this incredible hush I could only hear the occasional sound of snow falling from higher limbs as today’s sun reached out with it’s long rays and brought some warmth to the higher up branches.

Just my breathing. Just the snow falling. Just quiet. Just nature. It was incredibly humbling.

Stay on target…..stay on target…

I really cannot figure out if this is a step forward or backward….or neutral. I purchased a dSLR because I was unsatisfied with my digital point-n-shoots capabilities (especially its slowness at snapping the shot). And I took my dSLR and snapped and snapped and snapped and uploaded to Flickr and uploaded to Flickr and uploaded to Flickr.

And then came the drought.

Not feeling inspired. Not feeling creative. Not feeling much of anything (and I’m not just talking photography here). And so the dSLR sat. Being used sometimes, but never getting round to going through my images, editing, deleting, posting, etc.

Weird.

But then comes along my iPhone and suddenly I’m snapping pics every day. Of anything. Of everything. And I’m loving it. “It” being photography. But this is really over the top:

I didn’t actually snap this picture. Yes; the iPhone did, but I didn’t.

See…. a number of weeks back my daughter (who also has an iPhone) and I purchased an app titled Gunman which uses augmented reality (the iPhone’s camera) to turn your iPhone into a first-person shooting game. But what I didn’t know was that in certain modes of play the game will temporarily record the shots that are “hits” and at the end of the game allow you the option to save them to your iPhone’s Camera Roll.

And this I did of one of the shots.

So now not only can I actually shoot pictures, but I can snap pictures while shooting. I think I’m in over my head…

Ohhh iPhone…How I Love Thee

Anyone who has read my various postings already knows I’m not right in the head. I’m “special” as my colleagues across the pond might say. I have a variety of hang-ups about photography, my abilities as related to photography, and in particular of the creative process that can be explored via software.

So why is it I love my iPhone and its camera?

Let’s be honest: as a camera it is mediocre at best. Granted, the 3GS model does bring larger sized images than did the 3G model, but I’m not certain there was any appreciable increase in the quality of the images. I could list all the flaws in the camera built in to this device, but what would be the point? Describing it as “mediocre” probably sums it up well enough.

Yet I find it completely irrelevant. I love using it. I love snapping pictures anytime and anywhere. This does not come as a surprise as I have often noted how much more I love being actually behind the camera as opposed to in front of the computer monitor, labouring with the process of editing, etc. And so I snap, and snap and snap every single day. Some I simply share via e-mail with family and/or friends, while other images are simply for my enjoyment.

But I have also found a strong and pleasant feeling that comes with playing around with my images via the numerous photo editing apps I have downloaded and installed on my iPhone. At this moment in time I have five different apps, each of which is solely dedicated to editing the images I take with my iPhone. I actually have a few other image-related apps, but they aren’t related to actually editing images.

Anyway….

I enjoy messing around with these apps in ways I have yet to be excited by the likes of Photoshop Elements. And I find this weird. Elements is such a powerful piece of software with the capabilities and abilities to do so many things, yet I have not embraced them. No doubt this is due, in no small part, to my lack of creativity. When I see my images I do not ‘see’ what I might do with them other than to correct exposure, add some contrast, etc.

Yet, I look quite forward to massaging my iPhone images through any of the various apps I have installed, preferring Photogene and Best Camera the most thus far. Why? Maybe it’s because I can do this…

I have been pondering this question for the past few weeks after I noticed how much I enjoyed working with my images on my phone. About the only reason I can offer is that these apps are really pretty basic and don’t actually require me to be creative, but instead to simply be satisfied with the results.

Most of the apps installed offer preset effects which are applied to your image. Best Camera ups the ante by allowing the user to layer more than one effect, which I’ve made use of one more than one occasion. Perhaps it is this simplicity, this “Don’t worry your head about it Forkie….we’ll suss it all for ya,” that I like, prefer and need?

Whatever is the reasoning, the opening splash screen for the Best Camera app states “The Best Camera Is the One That’s With You,” and they are spot on. I may love my 40D and Rebel XTi (400D), and I may lust for the Canon 7D, but I’ll be damned if my iPhone really isn’t the best camera sometimes…because it’s always with me in ways the others cannot.

Really? Has It Been A Month?

Where does the time go, eh?

But I guess it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that I haven’t been posting to this blog about photography when I haven’t really been taking pictures. But that isn’t completely true. I actually have a pretty large catalogue of unprocessed/edited photos sitting on my computer. I have the intent to boot-up the machine and sit down and go through them all, etc., but I just don’t seem to make it to the chair. I wish I understood why the trepidation. But for now I refuse to get too worked up about it. I figure that like many of my creative moments in life it will come to me when it comes to me and there is no point in pushing it upon myself.

That or I’m simply a lazy sod.

I think I’ll go with lazy sod.

But all this laziness doesn’t mean I haven’t been something of a shutter bug. Please note:

Charleston Falls

I have found myself making no small use of my somewhat recently acquired iPhone and its camera. My previous mobile blowers also had cameras, but neither (the Motorola RAZR and Palm Centro) were of any particular use for taking pictures that one might wish to share in a forum such as the Internet. But the iPhone does a pretty reasonable job all things considered. And there is a wealth of iPhone apps dedicated to photo editing and I have downloaded a fistful and make good use of each on almost a daily basis. The above picture was captured with the iPhone while I was hiking and then edited using an app named Camera Bag.

A worthwhile moment to mention here, on WordPress, is that I both entered a local photography contest and walked away with second place within the category I entered. I haven’t entered an actual contest until this one popped up so I’m quite surprised and excited that I actually won something! The contest was via Woodland Cemetery in Dayton and winners were announced last weekend on the 11th. I had entered this picture:

Winning Picture

It is actually a Photoshop Elements processed picture I took back in February (I think). It’s one of the first pictures I ever fiddled with in Elements, but oddly enough and as much as I liked it, I never posted it to Flickr. Probably part of being a lazy sod, you know? But still….second place. Awesome.

Here is a picture of me, looking rather rumbled and weird, next to my winning entry:
Contest Winner

After the winners were announced it became known to me that the cemetery was offering one of those walk-about type things where a guided tour is provided of some of the more important or interesting characters buried within the cemetery. At each of the graves of said folks there is an actor/actress who talks about the person as if they were the dearly deceased. Since I was already there I opted to stick around and take the tour, which lasted about two hours. During this time I snapped some pics with my handy Canon Rebel/400, but also clicked away here and there with the iPhone, thus obtaining this picture:

Cemetery Walk

It is actually a crop of the original (I removed the others on the tour) and I know…I know…he really should be in the left of the picture for a better sense of balance, but this was all done on the fly and from within the crowd of folks. The wasn’t a whole lot of time for getting the best angle, etc. so I’m lucky to have what I have. I made use of the iPhone app Photogene to perform the crop and conversion to something akin to sepia. I’m pleased enough with the results considering all things.

Lastly, the other day I was going through some pictures my cousin had uploaded to Facebook of a day trip she and her son took to some park near where they live. Some of the pictures were taken around the shoreline of a small lake and included lily pads. Lily pads always remind me of Monet, which always reminds me of the work of Impressionists. Wheels slowing clicking I emailed my cousin and asked for a full-sized copy of a particular picture, which included my nephew on a dock, laying, while playing with some of the lily pads in the water. Opened in Photoshop Elements (cuz I don’t have the grown-up version of Photoshop) I played around with it all morning to create an Impressionistic version of the image with the end result being thus:

Noel Upload

I actually created two versions and I still haven’t decided which one I prefer, but it was a somewhat fun way to spend a few hours this morning. I say “somewhat fun” because I really didn’t obtain quite the result for which I was looking. Both versions are close, but not quite there and I eventually grew both tired and a bit aggravated as my hoped-for results were alluding me. This might explain why I don’t particularly care to do this sort of photo editing, you know?