Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Changes

A lot can change in our lives, sometimes the pace is slow and others it is much faster. Whichever pace it takes, the end result is inevitable; change will happen.

In the months since my last post, a lot of changes have either happened or are still in the process of happening. The biggest, and still ongoing change in my life is that I no longer work for the University of Oklahoma. Also within the next couple of weeks, I will no longer be living in Oklahoma. Instead I will be living in North Carolina. So, among other things, this will give me a whole new realm to explore photographically.

Photo wise, I did take a trip to South Dakota a couple of months ago and spent 10 days camping. And wow, this was an eventful trip and not for all the right reasons. Before we got very far into South Dakota, from Nabraska, we ran into a nasty hailstorm. Up to golf-ball size hail and so heavy it was a "whiteout" and we had to pull to the side of the highway. Suffice to say, the truck hood and roof was pretty badly dented; whereas our camping trailer was heavily pockmarked and had a roof vent smashed in (letting in the hail and rain). So the first order of business afer we got to the campsite was find someone to repair the vent to keep any further weather out. If that wasn't enough of a hassle, during the drive there I had noticed some noises coming from the driver's side front wheel; suspecting the wheel bearing being worn. Picked out a local mechanic (close to the campsite) and booked it in for repairs. Then on the day of the repairs and while driving there, the brakes failed and emptied the contents of the fluid reservoir all over the road. Luckily for me the mechanic (Wicked Wrenches in Rapid City, SD) was able to arrange a tow truck to get me to the shop. A couple of days later, and after a new wheel bearing and all new front brakes, I had my truck back and could start to explore the area.

The two main locations we wanted to check out was Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse. Both iconic rock carvings, on vastly different scales; Crazy Horse being the larger carving. It's also not that easy to take images other than the classic views of these locations. Not unless you have time an opportunity to make multiple visits, at different times, in different weather and different seasons. Unfortunately, I didn't really have a lot of flexibility due to losing so much time with truck issues. So I stuck with the "tourist" frame of mind and went for it!

Mount Rushmore was pretty impressive, and the iconic figures quickly pop into view as you approach. And as you enter the main path towards the monument, they stay in your view as it's perfectly straight and centered on the monument.


Once you reach the other end of the path the monument is pretty dominant, although the visitor's center is very informative and well worth a visit, providing the history and backstory to the site.


However, for me the lady performing the "hoop dance" was a captivating sight to watch and was an unexpected bonus; and one I was glad to have a fairly high FPS capability.


Now, using  slower shutter speed could have given a completely different view as blur would be introduced but I chose to stay fairly fast to capture more detail.

Then the next day we visited Crazy Horse. The difference in scale is pretty impressive and I can see why the locals recommend visiting Mt. Rushmore first. And Crazy Horse is all the more impressive in that is is entirely funded by donations and the profits of the on-site shops. Unfortunately you cannot get as close to the monument as you can with Mt. Rushmore (unless you wish to pay for a special tour) so a long lens is an essential to get a close view; or you can switch to a wide angle lens and photograph the scale model of what the finished carving will look like.


Not that you can't get a good view of the monument but I certainly hit the limit of my available zoom range when shooting from the visitor center area.


My personal recommendation is to hop on one of the tour buses that will take you closer, as well as give you some further insight into the history of the area.


And yes, I know I could have zoomed in a lot closer here, but I really like the context of the image and the sense of scale that you can't really convey from a zoomed in shot. Also while here, take the time to explore the visitor complex as there is a lot to see. There is a lot of fascinating indigenous art and crafts as well as earlier work of the sculptor. Among the sights I found this wonderful, life-size Kachina doll.


All in all, south Dakota is a great place to visit. My only regret is that I didn't have more time to explore and to visit these sights ant different times of the day to maximize lighting options. Suffice to say, when the opportunity to revisit comes, I'll be heading back.

And now I need to get back to packing in preparation of our move to North Carolina; I've put it off long enough to get this post put together but really need to get back to it.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Nothing stays the same

While I may have played around with video cameras in the past, I have always been strict that my working camera was photos only. The trend of having cameras that can shoot photos and video struck me as a compromise; where both "sides" were not optimal.

But as time has passed, I am understanding the appeal more and more. There are times when a still image can't convey the scene to it's maximum and being able to quickly switch over to video would be very advantageous.

Now, as regular readers will know, I currently shoot with a rather aged Nikon DSLR. One that does not have video. I do however have a little pocket sized Sony that does have video on it. Which is all well and good but the image quality is not really there for publishing and/printing. It only shoots in JPG and to me, "overcooks" the image processing. Anyway, I would rather have everything in the one body to keep a consistent look and feel. Plus, the lack of switching between cameras means less to carry, which my shoulders would be very appreciative of.

Of course, this will nescesitate upgrading my primary camera. Which is financially out of reach at the moment, but it does give me a chance to decide on what upgrade path to take. I am currently shooting a DX format camera and am wanting to go "full frame" so whichever route I take will eventually mean all new lenses too. So I am also considering switching brands! (shocked face)

Ever since I really got into photography, and reading photo magazines, I dreamt of owning Nikon gear. And for the last 10 years of so I have. Yet today I am not sure if I want to keep on going down that route. Currently there is only one Nikon body I feel would meet my needs; and even it is starting to age, with no signs of a refresh or redesign. That and the fact Nikon no longer seems to be innovating, plus a slew of quality control issues with several bodies makes me feel like looking elsewhere.

Now I can hear some of you saying go Canon. And while they are good cameras, plus currently​ the number 1 brand with professionals, they are also not really innovating. And yes, I did consider switching to Canon but ultimately decided against it.

In fact, my current train of thought is a little more radical. I'm looking at going "mirrorless" and switching to Sony. The a7 II (a7R II or a7 II) bodies from Sony are looking really interesting and with the latest firmware, they have overcome a lot of the initial issues. And with the release of their new a9 body, they are seriously becoming a contender in the professional arena. Also, they are continuing to expand their lens collection; they already have the the three lenses I would be wanting, covering 16mm through 200mm. And on top of that, the overall costs would be pretty similar to what I would be looking at by sticking with Nikon or switching​ to Canon.

There is also one other reason I'm looking at Sony. They have a great app for my phone and tablet that provides full remote control of their cameras. No more having to purchase or carry separate remote controls is a nice prospect. It also means, if I shoot in JPG format, I can transfer images straight out of the camera and post to Instagram. A interesting proposition to traveling light and not having to pull out my laptop to download, edit and then in turn transfer the images to my phone so that I can share them.

Anyway, this is all a "pipedream" at the moment until I can gather the funds to upgrade. Who knows, Nikon may surprise me and tempt me to stay. Only time will tell.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Back to basics

I've been undertaking a lot of introspection lately and revisiting where it all began for me and photography. At times the acquisition of new gear and the pursuit of new styles, techniques and attempts to specialize can distance you from your true, creative spark.

Without belaboring the point, I have been deconstructing my work and working to retrain my creative eye. Examining pattern, color, texture, as well as tone and contrast of black and white images. I'm also not setting any particular genre to what I photograph as I want to not set any artificial restrictions on myself.

Now I know that this is not necessarily going to producing many spectacular images or much to share here or on my website but that's not my intention anyway. This is something that should lead to new work, mainly projects for myself to build my portfolio and website.

The first couple of images in all this came by way of my macro lens. Both were images taken in natural light and utilizing long exposures to achieve the needed depth of field. The first of these is of a maple tree seed where I wanted to capture the texture and subtle coloring.

maple seed


The second image was more for color and shape and to add an extra challenge to the natural light long exposure is that this was a honeysuckle flower outdoors. Took several attempts before the wind was still enough to not affect the image.

honeysuckle flower

And then on a more mundane level, I finally completed setting up SEO on my new website. It was something I kept telling myself I needed to do but kept putting off. Well, I can now report back that it is complete. I even went as far as setting up website analytics so I can see how well it is doing and if I need to fine tune anything.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Changes....complete, or almost.

It's done! My newly created, newly redesigned website is live and hosted by Wix.com; no more trying to make do with a GoDaddy website.

The differences in building a website with each host is like night and day. While I always struggled to make things look good on GoDaddy, Wix made everything simple and easy to do. They even automatically created a mobile version of my site. Now, admittedly I don't have everything complete; images need captioning, SEO needs setting up, and likely several other different little tweaks will get made; but the main thing is the site is now live and much improved.

One other thing that I am pondering is how best to proceed with this blog. Currently it is still being hosted on Blogger and is "mirrored" on my website via the use of a Blogger app. But the thing is, the app doesn't look that great. If I can't give it a more polished look I may look into setting up my custom domain in the Blogger settings and hosting the blog from my website.

Whatever I choose to do next, I hope you stay tuned and join me as I push forward with my new and improved web presence. I also have plans to offer a storefront to allow the easy purchase of prints. The future is definitely looking better, in many ways.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Change, change, change

I can never make my mind up as to whether change is a good or bad thing. This is not helped any by there seeming to be so many (albeit small) changes I've needed to address lately.

Chief among them is that I have recently overhauled my image editing processes. This has been a somewhat, drawn out process but I'm glad to move on from doing everything in Lightroom. I'd have to say a big contributor to this has been my acquisition of the Nik Collection; and my getting around to fully exploring it. Now instead of making a lot of edits directly in Lightroom, I am using Dfine for noise reduction and Sharpening Pro (output) for final sharpening. These two tools are miles ahead of the adjustments within Lightroom and the resulting images are much improved. And on the subject of Lightroom; it has a weird habit of skewing the colors when importing NEF RAW files from my cameras. Testing out the different Camera Calibration settings certainly pays off and using the Camera Standard setting gives my more vibrant (and red) reds. No more orange tinted reds!

Oh, and while on the subject of the Nik Collection, I have to mention Silver Efex Pro! I am loving the B/W conversions I can do with the software. I've even created my own custom preset so I can quickly replicate the look across any image. In my opinion it is the best B/W convertor available.

The other big change is concerning my online presence, as GoDaddy has completely changed their website building software and "obsoleted" my website. Now I know that I need to redesign and update my website but I do not like their new software, which is clunky and not the most intuitive. Of course, I already have a sore spot where they're concerned and their poor Mac support; hence why this blog is no longer hosted on their domain. So, I'm now looking into alternate hosts and platforms to start fresh and bring my website and blog back together. I'm also no longer considering a free solution as, unsurprisingly, you do get what you pay for.

I can't really talk about image editing and workflow changes without providing some samples, so here are a couple of images from my recent trip to Pikes Peak in Colorado. Regular visitors to my blog will recognize them, as I did post the color image previously; albeit with my "old" image editing workflow settings. Hopefully you can see the changes in the finished image.

train in color

And here 's the same image after running it through Silver Efex Pro and my custom preset.

train in b/w

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Traveling more

While 2016 has been a year of change for most people, for me it has provided me the opportunities to travel more. Regular readers will already know of my recent vehicle change to a Ford F150, which with our 16ft travel trailer, has provided a home base for several camping trips.

June saw us camping for a few days at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area in Oklahoma.  And while I did not take a lot of photographs, I did enjoy the chance to escape the "rat race" and watch the sunsets over the lake while walking my dogs.
Sunset

August saw us off to Colorado Springs for a long weekend; primarily to visit the Tiny House Jamboree. But it also provided an opportunity to visit the popular attraction of Pikes Peak. The views while driving up (and down) Pikes Peak were amazing and the summit provided some great views . While here I did take a 360 panorama but for some still unknown (to me) reason, I have not been able (yet) to process it successfully and get all the elements to align correctly.
Train

Train

View

December saw us off to spend a long weekend at Beavers Bend near Broken Bow, OK. It was a great change of pace to spend not only my birthday, but also the new year away from the "rat race". And while it may not have been the most photogenic of locations, I still enjoyed wandering around, either walking my dogs, or carrying my camera to see what I could find. Was also great to experience a selection of different visitors to our camp site: crows, squirrels, woodpeckers, raccoons. And to also spot some deer in the distance while hiking one of the trails; although Jax thought he was up to the task of hunting down a full grown deer! And while he wasn't able to go off in pursuit, he did manage to scare them off with his "battle cry".
Woodpecker

Reflection

Reflection

Crow

Squirrel
Hole
Fungus

Stump

Tree

I still need to work more on balancing my personal time and my photography time. Currently I'm still not spending as much time with my camera and photography as I would like but 2017 should see a resurgence of my work, as I make a greater effort to shake off my creative blocks and my technology burn out. Hopefully I can also shake off the carpal tunnel issues I've been suffering lately too.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Some things change; other things stay the same

There have been a lot of changes (and some not so much) since my last blog post; however long ago it was.

First and foremost (as it's the largest change in size) I traded in my Subaru for a Ford F150 pick-up truck.  This is primarily to provide us with a decent tow vehicle for our camping trailer; which enabled us to spend a week in Colorado (near Colorado Springs) and provided me an opportunity to visit Pikes Peak and the spectacular views from the summit.

It also provided me with a great photo platform for a visit to the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, here in Oklahoma. To me this is a wonderful location to escape the "noise" of civilization and unwind. When there's no vehicles driving down the gravel roads, all you hear is the sound of nature, mainly just the wind. You might be wondering just what I meant about the truck being a great photo platform; well that has to do with the local inhabitants of the prairie preserve, the bison heard. Jumping in the truck bed gives a great elevated vantage point that also prevents any errant bison from getting too close to me; a great safety feature.


The above is a 180 panorama I took from a scenic outlook spot with a 35mm lens (50mm effective). And I have to say that the rolling hills so remind me of parts of Dartmoor National Park in England, which is an all time favorite location of mine, that I grew up visiting as often as i could. Colorado helped to provide me a renewed taste of rocky and elevated terrain, something that's pretty lacking in Oklahoma. And I certainly intend to start traveling more to interesting locations.

Okay, back to the bison. For my photos of them I broke out an old Nikkor 300mm manual focus lens I have. And here lies a few discoveries: 1. I'm seriously out of practice using a manual focus lens, especially on moving targets and 2. the manual focus system on the Nikon D2X is not that great for moving targets. It uses a range-finder style indicator to show when you are in focus but the focus target is in the center of the viewfinder, so focusing and then recomposing provides plenty of time for the subject to move; I so miss the split focus indicator on my old manual focus cameras, so much easier to use and didn't require you to "centrally focus". Anyway, it unfortunately meant, as I found out later, that most of my photos are a little soft on focus, or off by a lot.


Now for the things that haven't changed. I'm still spending 8 hours a day in front of a computer for my "other job" and have lost my desire to spend long periods in front of a computer when I am away from the office. Unfortunately that has seriously effected my photography as, shooting digital photos, you have to do everything on a computer. Suffering from technology burnout is not conducive to being a photographer. Maybe I need to step away from digital and go back to film for a while, and have the photo lab do all the work for me. That way all I would need to do is any additional editing and sorting.

Whatever I decide to do, something will need to change so I stand a chance to recover my passion and drive for photography.