Rainy Day Off Experimentation

Well, today is my day off and its pouring rain outside.  So, I thought I’d put on Spotify, and goof around in Photoshop for a while.  This is another image of Oak Leaves which are just starting to shoot.  I photographed them with my 105 Macro mounted on a tripod, and I put a white sheet of paper behind for a clear background.  I posted a high key shot the other day, and for today, I thought I would try an over the top effect complete with a texture.  I love textures, but have not really been pleased with my past results.  Todays attempt seems a bit more to my liking.  Interestingly enough, it is also my most blatant use of a texture and I like it more than when I try to be more subtle.  Who would have guessed.  I guess it just goes to show you a little experimentation yields some interesting results.  Have a great day and all the best to you!!

Spring Leaves

I’m so happy that Spring is finally arriving here in the Northeast. March was our snowiest month of the Winter, and April was no bargain either. Finally however, May has brought Spring like weather. Even though today’s high was a meager 48F and the house’s heat actually kicked on a few times today, Spring is here…this is how I know.

Earlier this week, I made my first journey to the yard and began the dreaded spring clean up. Dead leaves that fell after I was done raking for the season, a host of limbs and branches and all sorts of entropy laden factors made my yard a serious mess. But any trip to my yard usually provides and opportunity for photographic inspiration as well, and so we have today’s picture.

While out raking, mowing and blowing, I couldn’t help but notice the tiny leaves that had emerged from their buds in the last few days. Their colors and details were so beautiful. Like mini, concentrated versions of their full grown selves, they took on a unique quality. I knew I had to capture them somehow. So, when I was finally done with my real work, I ran into the house, and grabbed my camera and Macro lens. I also got a clip board and taped some plain white paper to it to use as a background. I’d seen this done with flowers and though I’d give it a try with these tiny leaves. Well, despite all the peril inherent in Macro photography, my consistent banging of the background into the stem as I fired the shutter, and the wind, I managed a few shots I am pleased to say are keepers. Here’s one of those shots today for you to see. I hope you like it and Happy Spring to those of you in the northern hemisphere. All the best!!

DSLR vs Mirrorless Part II: My Experience

When mirrorless cameras came out there were some photographers who jumped right on board and sang it’s praises incessantly.  To be honest, I wasn’t too thrilled.  I don’t know why exactly.  I guess it was because I didn’t like people dissing my beloved DSLR, and the thought of “upgrading” was not one I was very fond of.  I’m not stubborn, but change was not in my wheel house this time around; especially with some of the notable short comings with the early models that I mentioned in part one of this blog.

Then something happened.  I had committed to a two week hike with my son as part of a Boy Scout experience at a place called Philmont.  It promised a two week trek through the back woods of New Mexico, waking with the rising sun, hiking several miles over mountains and through canyons to the next camp site; day after day for two weeks.  A total of 89 miles, 2 summits, and a host of other cool stuff (like a fossilized T-Rex track).  All stuff photographers drool to be a part of.  The only problem is you take everything you need for those two weeks and carry it on your back.  While tents, rain gear, and sleeping bags are part of the necessary equipment, 10 pounds worth of camera gear is highly discouraged. It was time to shop for another camera.

I poured over the potential alternatives and mirrorless kept coming up as the natural answer. I wanted the ability to shoot RAW, a fully manual camera so I could choose, ISO, shutter speed and f stop, and interchangeable lenses in a small, lightweight form.  That eliminated DSLRs and most point and shoots.  Either too heavy or not functional enough.  I scoured reviews of all the usual suspects and settled on a Nikon J5.  In short, it had all the functionality of a DSLR, and the whole thing including camera, lens and battery weighed less than the walk around lens I attach to my D810.  I wasn’t cheap but I got one.

Overall, I had a great experience with the camera.  It was super convenient to keep out at all times, held in place by a carabineer that I could undo in less than 2 seconds to grab a shot when I wanted.  I took close to 1000 pictures and went through  2 and 1/2 batteries in the process.  Not bad.  My pictures looked great, and I can honestly say there is no way I would have taken so many pictures with my DSLR because it would have been stowed most of the time.   Many of the advantages of mirrorless besides weight and size were also appreciated.  Such as super fast focus, high frame rate, and an articulating screen, something more DSLRs are starting to have, but not at the time of this hike.  My biggest complaint was the low light performance which left me hoping for more.  At the end of the day however, I was pleased with my choice and still use the camera today when I’m doing stuff with the family, and don’t want to be weighed down by my big D810.

I have one more post to do on this and I promise to get it out soon.  I just want to talk about the current state of mirrorless and where I think this is all going.  I’ll also discuss why mirrorless isn’t necessarily lightweight or compact anymore.  In the mean time, I’ve included another shot with my mirrorless  J5 that I took while on my Philmont hike.  This is the Maxwell trail camp at Sunset.  I hope you enjoy it.  Until then…All the Best.

Is it Good?

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We’ve all been there.  The moment we complete our work, and we take a step back to take it in.  Then comes the question.

Is it Good?

I think as artists we all try to determine if our labors have earned our approval.  But I submit that all too often we are determining the answer to this question from the wrong point of view, and the question we are asking ourselves is a lie.  That is, that all too often we are really asking, “Will anyone else think it’s good?”  And in that we have the true rub.  We are judging our own work through the eyes of others, and trying to determine if we will win their approval.  Let me just start by saying, that while I am guilty of this, as we all are to some degree, I have begun to realize the answer to whether or not I have obtained everyone’s artistic approval of my work, is becoming less important to me.

As artists, we all seek approval from others, but I submit to you, that we must each have an inner satisfaction to our efforts as a fundamental necessity of our pursuits.  This applies across the artistic spectrum, from writing, to painting, to sculpture and yes, photography.  Art needs to be free, and an expression of what we each choose to express, not what we think others want expressed.  This is a step that requires great courage and vulnerability, but in the end, having the approval of others without feeling fulfilled ourselves, leads to empty success.  There are countless expressions for compromised art, from adverse influence to just plain selling out.  Sometimes you need to pay the bills, but when we pursue art on our own terms we find it’s purest expression.

Satisfaction in our own work, on our own terms, does not come easily at first.  We long for acceptance, but as we grow more confident of our abilities, that sense of fulfillment in our achievement comes more easily.  I have begun to find this happy place with my photography, and it has elevated my pursuit of this hobby.  It comes with practice, successes, and many failures, but the road is fun to look back on, if only for a moment, until I cast my gaze forward again.  Because as anyone can tell you, there is no room for comfort in art either.  Comfort leads to stagnation, and a lack of growth…but that’s a story for another day.  Enjoy my shot of a walk in the woods, on a sunny day.  I am pleased with the picture, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say, I hope you like it!!

Until next time…all the best…John

Composition or What’s Your Story

DSC_6453-Edit-EditComposition is such a conundrum. It is clearly the heart and soul of photography. For all the anguish we spend learning the exposure triangle and how to apply it, for all the obsession about proper focus and depth of field. At the end of the day, none of the above matters if what we’ve pointed our camera at doesn’t stir us in some way. As artists, we seek an emotional response from those who view our work, and that simply won’t happen if the picture sucks.

This is tough because as photographers we’re forced to deal with what we get from the scene. It’s up to us to somehow make the viewer of the image not only see, but more importantly feel, what we are experiencing as we take the picture.

This is where I sometimes have trouble with some of the time honored dogma of photography. I’m supposed to be telling a story with the image. Sometimes a picture screams its 1000 words, and other times, I couldn’t come up with a decent paragraph. Do I really need to tell a story? Isn’t it sufficient that I capture a beautiful image? As the sun rises above the clouds on a nondescript grassy hill, and it illuminates the fog on a rolling field with a brilliant golden light. Is that picture really telling a story? I use all my composition rules that I’ve learned to place the peaking sun on one of the “high energy” points of the image, and perhaps a fence leads me into and through the image, but what’s the story? Perhaps you could go on about how the old sun rises above the sloping hill as it has done for eons, illuminating….an on and on. Please excuse me if I admit, that to me, that’s all just artsy fluff. It’s a beautiful picture taken at the perfect moment of the day. End of story. 500px is rife with golden hour shots taken in mountains all over the world. Each is a little bit different, but if they are telling a story, it’s a pretty common one. In these cases I submit that the photographer is paying homage to the beauty of the scene, and the story, if there is one, is an afterthought.

Please don’t take this to mean that I don’t believe that proper care and consideration of the moment are necessary to create a great image. Or, that taking an image without considering its story diminishes all the wonders possible from a great photograph, but sometimes the visceral pursuit overcomes the cerebral one. Personally, I have no problem with that. Especially, if the person gets that look on their face all us photographers know, when someone looking at our image is hit with it as though it were a left hook from a prize fighter, and they simply say, “Wow, that’s beautiful.” It’s a satisfying feeling that screams mission accomplished.

I hope you like today’s image.  This is a horse stable near my home.  I consider myself lucky to live near such a rich photographic subject as I have taken many pictures in and around this place.  I just wish the horses had been up and walking around already on this particular morning.  Have a great day.  Go out there and make a great picture.

All the Best…John

Cormorants Everywhere!!

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Howdy everyone!  I hope you all had a nice start to the work week.  Mondays can be so blah after the weekend.  Especially after a busy one. Sometimes you need a day off from the weekend!!  That was sort of where I was at when my alarm went off this morning.

Anyway,  I thought I would post a picture of some cormorants today.  These guys were enjoying a sunny rock a little downstream from the base of Niagara Falls.  They seemed to be just hanging out, and had no special concerns for the time being. Cormorants are the best fishers on the planet, and they really seemed to like this rock.  If I were fishing in this area, I’d probably take a lesson from these birds and throw my line in right by this rock.  You can see the power of the current as it flows past the rock.  At different times, one or more of them would spread their wings to dry out a bit.  I must have taken half a dozen pictures trying to get one doing this in a way that looked dramatic.  This is the best result of that effort.  This was one of those times that I wished I had my 300mm lens available to me, but it was in the hotel room.  I know…that was a great place for it now wasn’t it?  I hate when I get lazy with my gear and try to travel light instead.  The result is usually a frustrating situation like this.  Sometimes I’ll wish it was like Star Trek, and I could just “beam” back to my gear, and get the stuff I needed.  Of course, this type of thinking does me no good.  It’s at times like this that I’m glad I have 36 megapixels to work with.  I probably cropped 30 of them away to get this composition.  That means that aside from a 5 by 7, this image is at it’s fullest size.

Next time, and yes, there will be a next time, I will take all my gear.  These are majestic birds, and they deserve the full potential of what my 300mm lens can do. You live and you learn.  A good lesson not only for photography, but for just about anything else too.  It’s better to have it, and not need it, than need it, and not have it.  Take care and have a great week.

Dreamy Waterfall

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Well, it’s time for a little experimentation.  I have been fooling around with photoshop a little bit trying to create a “dreamscape” type of shot.  You might notice that some areas of this picture are kind of blurry, and some are in relatively crisp focus.  It’s an effect I’ve seen out there and I really like it.  Some would call it a painterly effect, but I don’t really think that’s what I’m going for.  I’m sure that if you asked 10 photographers how they achieve their unique effect, you’d get 11 different answers.  Mine involves Gaussian blur in one layer and a high pass filter effect for ultra crispness in another layer.  Then I used a layer mask to paint blurriness in.  I used a reduced flow brush to put more blur in some areas than others and believe me, lots and lots of use of the history tool to erase all kinds of mistakes.  Overall, I’m pretty ok with the end result, but I reserve the right to work a little more on the technique.  I’ve heard of photographers taking two different pictures to create this same effect.  Each picture set at a different aperture for a different depth of field, or two completely differently focused images.  This might be a great idea, however, I had no idea I was going to try that with this image when I took it; so I only had the one image to work with.  I’ve also heard of people using textures to achieve this effect.  Like I said, 10 photographers, 11 answers.  If you’ve ever tried this sort of thing let me know.  That is if you don’t mind sharing your secret sauce.

A quick note about this picture.  It is, of course, of a waterfall.  As I’ve said before, waterfalls are one of my favorite subjects.  I took this image at Rickets Glen State Park, which is a short drive from my home.  I’ve posted waterfall shots from this place before, and I have plenty more to share. There are a few dozen of them in the park.  It was late afternoon, and a really hot day.  Some friends of ours from the UK were with us, and we happily obliged them in a quick nature hike along a cool stream.  Later that evening, we roasted marshmallows and made them speak with American accents!!  It was awesome and hysterical!!!  Almost as funny as our British accents, that is!!

Cat Tails in Monochrome

DSC_1426-EditToday, I thought I would post a picture of some beautiful cat tails that I stumbled upon in the early spring last year.  The late afternoon sun was hitting them just right with a beautiful golden light.  I’m not sure what made me try to convert the image to black and white, but when I did…Wow did it pop!!  All the areas where the sun was hitting the reeds was suddenly in sharp contrast to the underbrush and surrounding trees.  If you’ve never heard of the term “happy accident” here might be a great example of one that really made my day.

I’ve read several books on black and white, aka Monochrome, and almost every one of them talks about “seeing” in black and white.  It’s a painful admission to make, but I must admit, I do not see in black and white.  I’ve read all that stuff about studying form, and recognizing contrast within a scene, and I guess it’s just one of those gifts that some people have, and others, like me, read about.  I often take a picture with the desire to convert it later, only to find when I do, that it simply doesn’t work.  Some, like the picture above, really take me by surprise.  I have long admired the work of Ansel Adams, he is a hero to me.  His calendar adorns a wall in my office every year.  His ability to use previsualization of a scene, and then to capture it using the zone system as an exposure guide, is a talent that borders on clairvoyance.   It is a skill I have chased for more years than I am willing to admit to.  I have not gotten there yet, but I will not give up the chase.  Even if it takes the rest of my life.  Of course, for me, this is a hobby, so in some ways that is a wonderful prospect to consider.

All the best,  and Happy Valentines Day!!

Frozen Cat Tails

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The pond near my home, which has been a constant source of inspiration to me for over 20 years now, never ceases to amaze me.  Every season, and every weather condition, presents to me a photographic composition just begging to be immortalized on film.  Or, on an SD memory card anyway.   The ice on the pond can be pretty thick in winter, and I’ve seen a few hearty souls out there ice fishing in weather I would never consider venturing out in.  I guess this says something for the lure of fishing for some, and the lure of photography for me.  Never question the commitment of a fisherman.  These few cat tails, which withstood the harsh winter of last year, still held some semblance of their former summertime selves in early spring.  The shoreline of the pond is rife with them during the summer.  So much so they dictate where the fair weather fishermen, such as myself, can stand.  In the winter time however, they have all to do to remain upright.  I can assure you though, just a few short months after this picture was taken, they were back again, laughing at the fishermen who cursed them.

I apologize for the lack of posts lately, but I have a trick neck.  Medically, its called a herniated or bulging disk at C2 and C3.  I call it a painful waste of my time.  I  went through a few months of physical therapy last year, and it was nothing short of miraculous.  It reversed the numbness and tingling in my fingers, all my arm pain, and restored mobility to my neck.  Then last week, while getting into bed and pulling the covers up over me, I popped something, and its all back.  Fortunately, nowhere near the degree to where it once was, and my exercises from PT are making for a quick reversal of symptoms this time.  However, looking at a computer screen was just not in the cards for a few days.  It will be chin tucks and ibuprofen for me for a few more weeks I fear, but at least I know what to do this time.  I also haven’t taken a picture for almost a whole week.  Perish the thought!!  It’s good to be up and around again, so hopefully, I’ll get back on schedule.  All the best to you, and I’ll see ya soon!!

Finally…RIP, David Bowie!!  Thank you for the volume of music you have inspired me with over the last 40 plus years of my life.  This is a true story.  Once, back in the 90’s, a copy of ChangesBowie somehow got stuck in the single disk, CD player of my 1992 Honda Prelude.   I consider that such a great album, it was nearly a year before I finally decided to get it fixed.

Snow Pines and Winter

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What was that old cliché?  Be careful what you ask for?  Everyone around me has been complaining and asking, “Where’s winter?”  Well…we found it.  Or, it has found us.  I may have mentioned that where I live, Christmas eve was nearly the same temperature as it was on July 4th.  We had a high of 68F (20C) on December 24th and a high of 69F (20.5C) on July Forth, but that has all changed.  Last night’s low was 5F (-14C).  That’s quite a change, and it came with a little bit of snow too.  Now everyone is complaining that it’s too cold.  Oh well, such is life. It reminds me of another old cliché…you can’t please everyone.

This shot is actually from last winter while I was out walking near my home.  It was a fun walk as I recall, with a little bit of snow crunching under my feet as I went along.  A light snow had fallen, and the wind was absent, so the snow still lie where it had fallen.  There was just a little snow on the branches of this pine tree, and I thought it made a great picture.  So, I did my best to capture the moment.  For my efforts, this was one of my favorite shots of the day, and I actually used it as the wall paper on my desktop for a while.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Speaking of wall papers and computers.  My old PC is showing signs of heading off to the great silicon valley in the sky, and I’ve been toying with going to the dark side. Yes, I’m thinking of getting a Mac.  There I said it.  I was in one of those notorious big box retailers over the weekend looking at those  gorgeous 5K retina displays. I actually went to my own website to see what it would look like  That felt weird, but I have to say, I was impressed.  (With the monitor not the website, well maybe a little with the website but anyway…) I kept my site up on the screen as I left.  Was that a bad thing?  Some gratuitous self promotion?  If you have an opinion (on the computers), I’d love to hear from you.  Have a great day.  Is it only Tuesday…?