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.

DSLR or Mirrorless Part I – A History

Kahoolawe Rain seen from Wailea beach

I love my Nikon D810, as I think I’ve already mentioned in previous posts. There’s plenty of reasons why, but one I never considered was because the inside is so familiar to me. It has that big flappy mirror, and a shutter, along with that big ol’ sensor right where it ought to be. The same spot where the film was stretched between two rollers when I used SLR’s back in the 1900’s. The path of light came through the lens, reflected off the mirror, got bounced around by a pentaprism, and eventually found my eye. Pretty familiar stuff actually. In fact, it’s all I’d ever known until a few years ago. Then, along came the mirrorless revolution.

These cameras had all kinds of names from “next Gen” cameras, to “EVIL” cameras. (Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens if you were wondering). The truth was no one knew what to make of them, or what to call them. The path of light was much simpler. It comes through the lens and falls on the sensor. So how do you see what your taking a picture of? That’s the EV in EVIL. An electronic viewfinder shows you not the actual light, but the sensor’s version of the image created by the light falling on it’s surface.

This was a serious industry disruptor. Dinosaurs like me liked our big flappy mirrors in the DSLRs so we shunned them, and at first it really wasn’t much of a competition anyway. Mirrorless cameras weren’t very good, especially in low light. There were other problems too, like a rolling shutter in the EV that could get you seasick taking action shots, but there were/are serious advantages too; like very high frames per second shooting. After all, there’s no mirror flapping around to slow things down. Another was focus peaking, to highlight any out of focus areas in your image, and a big advantage was a greatly reduced size and bulk factor that came with these cameras. It was starting to become a compelling argument, but for a photographer image quality, in ALL settings, trumps features, and bulk, any day of the week.

So went the early chapters of this book, but times have changed.  Some of these advantages stood the test of time and others did not, but some of these disadvantages have also begun to be addressed and things are looking brighter for the mirrorless revolution.  Part II of this post will discuss my experience with mirrorless (yes, I bought one) and where I think things are going. In the mean time, enjoy this picture of a beautiful sunset on Wailea beach in Maui. For those of us caught in the midst of a cold and snowy winter, it is a reminder of the good warm days soon to come. Any yes, it was taken with a mirrorless camera, not my DSLR.

Until next time…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

Gear or Megapixels vs. Grey Matter

Once upon a time, not too long ago, I got a package delivered to my doorstep, wrapped in brown heavy gauge paper. It wasn’t very big, maybe about a cubic foot in size, but true to the old axiom, good things do come in little packages, and I had been waiting for this one. I could tell from the labels this was what I had been waiting for. I had tracked it’s movement across several states each day knowing it was closer to arriving. I tore into the package with a wholehearted vigor that would put a child on Christmas day to shame. I finally reached the inner golden box emblazoned with the markings Nikon D810. It had finally arrived. After months of craving, and planning, I was finally holding my new camera upgrade. Stepping up from a D90, the 810 was a full frame sensor camera roughly equal in size to the 35mm film I used to shoot in the 80’s and 90’s. It was, at the time, the highest resolution DSLR camera (35megapixels) on the market, anywhere in the world. And…I had my very own copy. Surely, this would make me a better photographer.

A few months, and a few thousand pictures later, I began to realize something.  I was a better photographer, but not because my camera had 35 megapixels.  It was because I had taken several thousand pictures, and was smarter for the effort.  I had always heard the saying that cameras don’t make pictures, people do, and a host of other philosophies that drive the point home that the photographer is way more important than the camera they are using.  I mostly agreed with that point, the heart and emotion of an image come from the human pressing the shutter, not the camera collecting the photons.  A few years ago, a popular video blogger  (DigitalRev) did a series of pieces where he would give world renowned photographers the absolute worst cameras, and force them to use it for a day.  The result was hysterical, especially for a camera geek like me.  But it was also photographic brilliance,  even when the camera was a 25 year old point and shoot, a 2 megapixel antique, or even a child’s toy camera made out of Legos.  The experiment demonstrated the genius of the photographers using the cameras, not the cameras themselves.  Fuel for the old adage that the most important accessory to any camera sits 6-8 inches behind the lens, i.e. the photographer’s brain.

Well, this week was an interesting one for me as my beloved D810 slipped into obsolescence. The Nikon D850 was released on Thursday, and by Friday, the internet was littered with unboxing videos, and in depth reviews of Nikon’s newest gem.  The 850 has 45 megapixels, 8K hi-res time lapse, and a host of other goodies, but I’ll pass. To be sure, the 850 has a host of ergonomic improvements, and features that facilitate the picture making progress, but while things like back-illuminated buttons would be appreciated, their not worth the cost of admission.  Taking the high road doesn’t come easy, but at $3200 USD, it’s a lot easier decision to make.   For now, I’ll keep on going with my D810 and concentrate on the craft more so than the technology, and happily so.

Today’s picture comes from a sunrise in New Mexico, shot during a 2 week back packing excursion I did with my son last summer.  More about that later.  It was taken with a Nikon J5, not my D810.  When your backpacking, you go light and the 14 ounce J5 wins out over the 3 pound D810.

Until next time…all the best!!!

Niagara!

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Today I thought I would offer you an odd angle of Niagara Falls.  So often we see them from above, but this shot is from below.  When my family and I went there this past summer, we shelled out a few bucks to partake in the “Journey Behind the Falls”.  That last bit should be said with a loud bellowing echo type of voice.  All kidding aside, this was an awesome experience and my kids especially loved it.  Even better, the wind was blowing in the opposite direction, so I took my camera out from under the supplied “spray coat”, a glorified piece of Saran Wrap, and got a few pictures.  This one is near the base of the falls looking up.  The right hand portion of the shot is actually looking “behind” the falls where sheets of water endlessly spray out.  It was a vantage point I had not seen before and felt kind of special seeing it this way.  It took a fast shutter to freeze the falls in this manner, so I was glad for the sunny day to make it happen.  Good times!!

As I write this, I’m warming up with a hot cup of tea after a short, but sweet hike through a local park.  The recent coating of snow, and some nice sunrise color were calling, and I couldn’t resist the urge.  Especially after my wife said, “It looks pretty nice out there, why aren’t you out taking pictures?”  She knows I disappear in the morning after the kids get off to school, so off I went.  It’s funny how when you start out on a snow covered trail, there are so many footprints you can’t make any sense of them, but as you hike further on in, the tracks diminish slowly until you’re the only one out there.  It was a welcome Zen moment shared with a few Chickadees and Blue Jays.  I could hear some Phoebes and Woodpeckers but couldn’t put my eyes on them.  All in all, a great morning before I head to work later.  Right now, I’m staring at my camera waiting for it to come back up to room temp so I can check out my results.  I hope to share them with you soon.  Have a great weekend.

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…?

Years and Years

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Hi everyone.  It’s great to see you again.  I thought I would post something in line with the New Year starting today, and I came across this picture which I took on a hike a few months ago.  It was just before sunset, and even though we were underneath some heavy tree cover, the golden light of the sun managed to sneak through and illuminate this felled tree edge on.  It was perfect for seeing all the rings representing the many years it had been growing.  Obviously, the limb was deliberately cut.  I see this often when hiking a few days after a big storm.  This guy probably came out on the loosing end of a heavy wind gust, and came down across the trail.  The park ranger must have cut it up, and left it to the elements.  I’m sure there will be mushrooms all over it next spring.  I tried to count the rings, but found I will need an upgrade on my eyeglass prescription before that happens.  It’s somewhere around 20 or so, I think.  Not exactly a General Sherman Redwood, but no less important in my book.  It had seen a few New Years come and go, sort of like all of us.

For 2016, I want to concentrate on making the work I do count for something.  I want to balance my time properly so work, and leisure activity, each get their fair, and necessary share, of my efforts.  If you like, you can join me in one of my “First 100 Day Plans”.  This year, that is April 9th, because of leap year.  I’ve formulated a few tasks I would like to complete by the 100th day of the year.  Here we go:

  1. Stop drinking Soda…Forever this time
  2. Lose 20 pounds…that’s less than 2 pounds a week
  3. Establish a routine where I hike/photoexplore (my own word) a least 3 times every 2 weeks.
  4. Take this blog to the next level, with more posts and tutorials
  5. Finish reading the Harry Potter series…I’m stuck on Goblet of Fire, and I refuse to watch the movies until I’m done!!

To be fair, I make a separate list for work, but I’m sure you could care less about that, so I’ll leave it out.  What do you say?  April 9th?  Make you own list, and get cracking.  Whatever you choose to do, or not do, have a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year, and I’ll see you back here soon!