Thursday, December 23, 2010

Out of the mouth of babes

Although my kids are not babies anymore, every once in a while they say or do something that reminds me of that old expression "Out of the mouth of babes....", referring to the innocent way in which kids think and it goes straight from their brain to their mouth.  :-)

My daughter asked me a funny question the other day.  She said, "Daddy, if we have our home alarm turned on at night time, how will Santa get in the house to deliver our presents"?  I laughed so hard when she asked that, because from a child's point of view it's a very logical question!

Then she exclaimed, "I know!!!!  We'll use the motion sensors on our alarm to catch Santa!".  She may have been onto something there (parents know what I mean), so I told her that we would leave it off on Christmas Eve so we don't have any problems.  :-)

Along those lines, I was cleaning up the house today getting it ready for Christmas and I noticed a note that she hung on her stocking.  She was telling Santa, "Thank you for all of my presents.  Put the smallest present in here." with an arrow pointing to a small stocking that she pinned to her larger stocking.  I thought that was very cute, and it fits right in the mood of the holidays as the kids get so excited for Christmas morning to open their presents and enjoy the excitement of Christmas day.

Every once in a while, parents (including me) get a little hung up on the fact that kids don't listen all the time (sometimes not at all!).  Maybe they don't do their chores when they need to, they don't want to do their homework, they argue about going to bed "too early", etc.  It can be frustrating to deal with these same topics every day, and we wonder why they can't just figure out that these things need to be done, and there's no way out of doing them.... 

When I sometimes get frustrated by these little things in life, it's the moments like the discussion I had above with my daughter and finding this little note to Santa that reset my brain and my disposition and remind me that they're only kids and we need to let them be kids.  The chores and other things in life can sometimes wait for another day and we need to just let things be and enjoy the moments...

Have a great holiday season and a Happy New Year!  Enjoy the moments...

Monday, December 20, 2010

Inspiration! "Within The Frame" by David duChemin

I have a lot of photography books.  I enjoy reading the thoughts and techniques of the photographers whose work I like.  Not only do I learn many things, but I also get a chance to live vicariously through them and see some of the places and sights that I probably won't have time (or money) to see in my lifetime.

Some of the books are great and I refer to them often to re-read key sections until they sink into my brain and I can make the concepts my own and put them to work for me in my own photography.  Others are not so good, and get placed on an upper shelf and are rarely touched again.

I'm reading an excellent book right now called "Within The Frame" by David duChemin.  If you're looking for a last minute holiday gift to tuck under the tree for your favorite photographer, then this is the book to get.

This is not a technical book about photography or technique, per se'.  It's about the journey to finding your own photographic vision and achieving the kind of photography that you most enjoy.

Surely, this is a lofty goal for any book.  Finding your photographic vision is an intensely personal journey that every enthusiastic photographer takes.  How can a book help with this?

Stay with me for a few minutes on this topic..... 

I'll tell you where many books of this nature fail.  They use too many words.  It's as simple as that.  I've read books that, although they're good, are written by an author that takes forty sentences to complete one key thought.  So what happens?  Your brain gets totally lost in all the written words on the page and the concept that you're reading about floats right by without sinking in.

This is not the case with "Within The Frame".  David duChemin writes with a down to earth style and states his key thoughts very succinctly.  This makes the book easy to digest.  He then uses supporting text and images to drive home his points. I use the word "supporting" intentionally.  There's plenty to read in the book, but the key thoughts in each section of the book can be lifted out quite easily.  Those points make you think about how you can apply the book to your photography, and that is precisely what a book of this type should achieve.  It should make you think, not try to ram ideas down your throat.

David speaks early on in this book about some key thoughts:
  1. Passionate photography (duChemin says his goal for his image making is "Passionate stories told passionately").
  2. Chasing your vision and telling your stories as clearly and passionately as possible with compelling photography.
  3. Shooting what moves you.
  4. Making the viewer of your photos care.
Having read this book, I totally understand where he's coming from.  My brain is flooding with ideas about how to implement David's key messages in my photography.  It's a completely successful book.  Well worth reading...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

"Image of the Year"? Huh?

I always try to avoid being unnecessarily overly critical of the photography of other people.  Everyone has their vision and who am I to criticize someones art, right?  If they ask me for my opinion I certainly provide it without hesitation, and I've had many great and interesting discussions this way and I've learned a lot about myself and my photography along the way.

What I'm being critical of here is American Photo magazine.  They recently published their list of "2010 Images of the Year".  The image at this link of the blue house was actually selected as an 'Image of the Year'.

Seriously? 

For the life of me, I can't find one single redeeming quality in this photo.  Thinking that I might be off base and with my curiosity of other people's opinions now piqued, I've showed this photo to many people and they all said the exact same thing, "What's it supposed to be?  It's a terrible picture".

I don't know why this annoys me so much, but a blog is about expressing your opinions, so I guess I'm just doing that here.  I read American Photo magazine and they always strive to publish high quality content and photos.  With so much great photography out there and the thousands of photos that must have been considered in this competition, I guess it just irks me that a photo of the side of the house with a satellite dish and some telephone wires is lauded as an 'Image of the Year'.  I can't imagine people sitting around a table saying "That's a great shot....It's an image of the year"!

Come on American Photo.  Please filter this stuff out and keep your content at the high quality level that it has been in the past...

Monday, December 13, 2010

Photo Carousel #7: "Milkweed In Cold Sunset"


Here's a nice shot taken at the Mohonk Preserve in New York when I was coming to the end of a great day of hiking with my daughter.  This is my seventh Photo Carousel entry.

I'm getting more comfortable executing these types of classic shots.  I used to struggle to find nice compositions like this with the right lighting elements, etc, but all of my practice is starting to pay off nicely because I'm "seeing" these scenes more easily these days.

As we came to the end of our hike, the sun was setting fast and we were almost back to the car. The temperature was dropping quickly through the mid 40's and into the 30's in what seemed like just a few minutes.  When we rounded the last turn in our trail and came to this open field, the sun was just finishing cutting across it with a great golden color.  The photographer's classic "golden light"...

My daughter (8 years old) is just learning to take photographs and I showed her how to get behind these milkweed to let the sun shine through them to make a nice effect. Her response was "Cool, that looks much better.  Thanks Dad!".  She went to take some photos of some other plants nearby that she liked and I stuck with these to try to get my shot....

From the creative and technical perspective, a number of things came together nicely here that I wanted to mention as a learning experience...

I composed the shot that I wanted with the two primary large fluffy weeds positioned near two intersecting "Rule of Thirds" lines.  Not right on them because I wanted to keep certain things out of the frame, but close enough.  Dividing up the frame in my mind in various ways and placing elements where I want them was the single biggest thing that I did years ago to improve my photography.

Interestingly, I originally framed this shot to cut out the two smaller weeds in the bottom left corner, but then I realized that their shapes echoed the two larger ones and I thought that was cool so I put them back in.

With the composition and the light in place, I was ready to shoot but something was still missing.  Warmth.  This scene needed some warmth.  I decided to wait for the setting sun to enter the top of the frame.  I knew that the small aperture I was using on my Canon S95 would get me some nice streaks of golden light across the frame. Patience paid off, and it worked perfectly!  I fired off a few quick shots at various zooms on this same scene just as the sun came into the frame and this is the one that I liked the best.

The scene is -2/3 stop underexposed to make the colors a little more rich.  A straight metering of the overall scene would have overexposed it due to the mostly darker field I was shooting, so I dialed in some negative exposure compensation.  Any time you want to make the colors in a scene like this a little more rich, just dial in -1/3 or -2/3 exposure compensation if the scene can take it without ruining the mood.

About one minute later the golden light completely ended as the sun ducked behind the hill. We were left out in the cold gray light of the rapidly approaching darkness to finish our walk to the car. 

We completed the day with a nice post-hike dinner in the town of New Paltz, NY at the Gilded Otter Brewery.  Another great day out with my family, during which I was able to snag some nice photos...

Monday, December 6, 2010

I feel like Charlie Brown!

In the classic cartoon "A Charlie Brown Christmas" that airs on TV every holiday season, we find the main character Charlie Brown fighting his way through the over-commercialization of Christmas to find the real root of the holiday season.  Thankfully he does, and the story ends on a pleasant note that expresses the true meaning of the holidays...

I feel a little bit like Charlie Brown these days.

This is the first year that the commercialization of Christmas has completely pounded me over the head until I can't take it anymore.  Black Friday, Cyber Monday, twenty-five emails a day with announcements of new sales, exchanging Christmas shopping hint lists, Christmas decorations in the stores in the first week of September!  Argggggh!  I've had enough!!!  I want a simpler, less complicated, less shopping-oriented Christmas.

The kids having fun with a glowing string of lights...
This is the reason why my wife and I are going to continue to intentionally try to turn the holidays back in time at our house this year and in the future.  We like to get back to what the spirit of Christmas is truly about...family, memories, and the simple joys of the season.

We've always had a few nice Christmas traditions that we carry on in our house.  Some of them include things like:
  1. Decorating the house a few items per day for the first week of December to surprise the kids with a new treat every day when they come home from school.  They run around the house looking for what's new.  :-)
  2. Putting out photos from our past Christmas holidays to enjoy the memories and swap funny stories. 
  3. Visiting New York City to see the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, the decorated store windows, and a dinner at Ted's Montana Grill.  
  4. Hiking into the woods to put some Christmas decorations on "our" same pine tree every year to see if they survive the winter (we then go back in the spring to take them off).  
  5. Making some of our own Christmas decorations.
  6. Baking Christmas cookies.
  7. Turning out all the lights to watch The Grinch, Rudolph, and The Polar Express (which, if you haven't seen it, is a fantastic Christmas movie that should be in everyone's collection).
I hope you have (and keep!) your Christmas traditions too.  Every family has them, but sometimes they get pushed aside in the hustle and bustle of the shopping season and this is what I'm trying to reverse.  I don't want the holidays to rush by in a fury of sales and then be over before I have a chance to enjoy them. 

So, in the spirit of getting back to more easy-going holidays, here are some thoughts for the future that I plan to do:
  1. Find a traditional Christmas event in a town near my house and go to it (tree lighting ceremony in the town square, etc).  They're out there, but sometimes they're not easy to find around where I live.  I like what many other countries in other parts of the world do in this regard.   In Germany (for example), many of the towns of significant size that have a Marktplatz (town square) have a traditional Christmas market to ring in the season with crafts, foods, wines, hot drinks, singing, a giant town tree, etc.  This link to some photos of the German Christmas Markets shows exactly what I'm talking about.
  2. I will not exchange Christmas lists with anyone.  If I know them well enough (and vise versa), I should be able to buy them a gift without being told what it is, where to get it, and how much to pay.
  3. I will log into every online store where I shop and change my account to use an alternate email address.  This way my primary email account won't get pounded with emails at the holidays, which forces me to sort through all of this shopping junk to find the real emails that I want to read.  I can then go check my "Christmas email account" when I want to, not when the stores want me to.  This will go a long way in improving my psyche because I can just "turn off" the constant sales stuff.
  4. I will not shop in any store that puts out Christmas decorations in September!!!
  5. I will share these thoughts with anyone who will listen to me in the hope that the spirit catches on!
I hope that everyone reading this post enjoys their holiday season and finds some peace in these fast paced times...Enjoy your family, enjoy your memories, and skip that sale at the store so you can sit by the fire and relax a little bit longer.  Happy holidays!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Topaz Labs - InFocus (Refine Detail, Restore Clarity)

Here is a link to a new tool from Topaz Labs called "InFocus".

Topaz has a good reputation for its Photoshop plug-ins, so I thought I would post this here and you can try InFocus for yourself using their free trial offer to see if it lives up to its hype.

As the Topaz web site explains, fixing blurry photos is an extremely difficult computational process.  There are so many factors that contribute to the possible causes for a blurry image that no one company has come up with a solution other than merely sharpening edges in the photo and hoping for the best results.  From what I've tried of these tools, they haven't been worth the money.  A blurry photo has always remained a blurry photo....

With this new plug-in, Topaz claims to be the first company to tackle the difficulties around fixing blurry images.  If this plug-in truly works, it could be a lifesaver for an image that was otherwise ruined or heavily compromised due to accidental blur regardless of the source of the blur.

I'm a bit skeptical, so I'll try it for myself to test it out.  But if it works, it could be a great tool to have in your photo processing arsenal for when a problem image comes up that you want to rescue.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Color management - A marriage between your monitor and your printer

And 'huey PRO' is the priest!  :-)

If you do a lot of high quality photo printing at home, you're well aware that printer ink costs a small fortune.  Over the life of a printer, the cost of printer ink adds up to many times what you spent on the printer in the first place.  To replace all eight ink cartridges in my Canon Pro 9000 Mark II printer costs me $85 each time!  Yes, $85 each time!

So logic would follow that you want to get your photos out of your printer with the correct colors the first time so that you don't waste money re-printing photos that you've had to correct to get them to look right when printed.

Unfortunately, this is not as easy as it sounds.  I talk to people constantly who say to me, "My printer stinks....It never prints my pictures with the same colors as what I have on my screen".  Some of these people are using printers that cost $300 or more.  Trust me, the printers don't stink.

My answer to them is that 8 or 9 times out of 10, it's because the person is editing their photos on a computer monitor that isn't properly calibrated, or isn't calibrated at all.  They are then sending photos with dubious colors in them to a printer and expecting that their printed pictures come out "right".

The response I hear back is:  "I took my monitor out of the box from the factory, why isn't it calibrated properly from the factory"?  The answer is:  It just isn't.....and there are a variety of reasons why.

On top of not being calibrated properly from the factory, your perception of the colors on your monitor changes as the lighting changes is in your room throughout the day.  Sun pouring in the windows at one time, compact fluorescent or tungsten bulbs at night, etc.  Lighting is very dynamic.

So how does a person level the playing field when there's all this to consider to get proper colors?

Answer:  Calibrate your monitor so that you're displaying and editing colors based on a standard and accurate color calibration, and adjust the monitor throughout the day for changing light.

Sound hard?  It's not.  It's actually easy!  Simply purchase and install the huey PRO device from Pantone and away you go.  It really is that easy.  Go to the link above to see what Huey can do for you.

Once you install the software and plug in the device, it will step you through the process of calibrating your monitor.  It takes about five minutes.  Once done, the custom calibration is loaded automatically every time you boot up your computer.

What's even better is that you can set Huey to automatically monitor the light in your room and adjust the monitor settings based on what it's seeing throughout the day so that you're seeing accurate colors all the time.  Perfect!

After doing this with the initial version of Huey that came out years ago, my prints out of my printer are much closer to what I see on the screen because my monitor is displaying standardized colors and my printer is printing standardized colors.  No more was I saying, "Damn...it's still not right" and going back for another round of corrections and printing.  The prints I make after using Huey are very accurate.

Using Huey should get you much closer to your goals of accurate printing and I think you'll be pleased by using this device.  However, on top of using Huey to achieve proper monitor calibration there are other things that you can do to ensure even better color matching between your monitor and your printer.  You could inadvertently be doing some things wrong that you're not even aware of... 

Some of things to watch out for that could be causing color match problems from monitor to printer include the following:
  1. Make sure you're specifying the proper kind of paper that you're printing to in the printer dialog box for your printer.
  2. Make sure that you're having either Photoshop OR the printer managing color when you print, not both.  If you use them both to simultaneously manage color when printing then your colors will be far out of whack.  You have to explicitly turn one on and one off and then they should stay that way as your defaults.
  3. Make sure you're editing and printing in the same color space.
  4. Make sure that your printer head isn't clogged (it will be very obvious if it is).
  5. If possible, get a printer profile for the paper that you're printing to, and use it.  These can often be found on the paper manufacturer's web site.
My hints above are just the tip of the iceberg.  Sophisticated color management is the topic of many books and web sites, and I don't intend to echo those writings here.  Simply Google "printer color management" and you'll see many of the issues that people face and their solutions.

My point with this post is that there's a simple way to get much more accurate prints the first time without struggling, and that's to use huey PRO to calibrate your monitor.  If you have further issues after that then a little digging within Photoshop help, Google, and/or your printer manufacturer's web site should get you the rest of the way there.

I should note that there are significantly more sophisticated monitor calibration devices out there other than huey PRO, but they also cost a lot more.  My thought is that huey PRO is probably all that most advanced amateur photographers really need to get their color management and printing on track.

Enjoy making better prints!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Inflation!

Inflation!
I couldn't help but laugh at this photo from 2009 that I took in New York City.  I found it when I was going back through my archives looking for something this weekend. 

I remember when it only used to cost 25 cents to light a candle in St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City when I was a kid.  Now it costs two dollars!  Yikes!

Inflation hits everywhere!  :-)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The genius of editing photos (even JPEG's!) in Adobe Camera Raw

If you own one of the versions of Photoshop CS then you also own Adobe Camera Raw, which is Adobe's editor for photos shot in Raw format.  Did you know that you can edit other photo formats (i.e., TIFF, JPEG) in Camera Raw as well?  I've known this for a long time, but I only recently spent the time to seriously try it out. 

I'm here to say that using Camera Raw for quick (yet sophisticated!) corrections to your photos is fantastic.  Significantly complicated photo editing jobs will still be done easier in Photoshop, but for most touch-up editing Camera Raw is great.

First thing, if you're considering trying this then buy this book:  "Real World Camera Raw with Adobe Photoshop CS4" (or the newer version if you have CS5).  It's a terrific book that walks you through everything you need to know about Camera Raw and how to get the most out of it with photo examples and easily understandable text.  It's a must read for editing photos in Camera Raw.

The premise of my post here is to get the point across that making certain types of adjustments in Photoshop can be a chore, especially when dealing with layers, layer masks, etc.  Quite simply, this is because Photoshop is more than just a photo editor...it's also a graphic design tool....which means there are a lot of options and tools in there for graphic design that clutter up the interface and functionality when you want to perform photography tasks.

Software companies like Adobe and Apple realize this, which is precisely what gave birth to photo-centric editing software like Adobe Lightroom and Apple Aperture.  These are sophisticated pieces of software geared toward editing photos and only editing photos.  The tools you need are presented in an easy to use way that supports a streamlined workflow.

What a lot of people don't realize about Camera Raw is that the processing engine and tools in it largely form the basis of the editing capabilities in Adobe Lightroom.  Knowing this, you can now realize that you have a great photo editing tool at your fingertips in Camera Raw that you probably don't use often because everyone focuses so much on Photoshop.

To get a JPEG photo opened in Camera Raw on Photoshop for Windows, go into File, Open As.  Then go to the folder path and find the image you want to open.  Click it, select "Camera Raw" in the open as dialog box below, and click 'Open'.  Your image should open in Camera Raw.

Or, if you want to automatically open all JPEG's in Camera Raw (which I've just configured my Photoshop CS4 to do), then just follow the three easy steps at this link.

This post is not meant to be a "how to edit your photo in Camera Raw" article.  That's what the book above is for and I certainly can't duplicate the book in this post.  But as you can see from looking within the Camera Raw editing window that you opened, you have a large set of photo-centric tools located on the right side of the screen that are very powerful and effective.

On the top of the editing window you can see two tools called "Targeted Adjustment Tool" and "Adjustment Brush".  The usefulness and power of just these two tools alone are worth editing your photos in Camera Raw, but when you also consider some of the other tools like Parametric Curves, Vibrance, Graduated Filter, and Clarity.....using Camera Raw to touch up your photos becomes a no-brainer.  In particular, the way the Adjustment Brush automatically creates layers with pins to identify them is terrific!  You can literally paint your corrections onto your photo and modify them at any time.  Brilliant!  All of these features are also available in Lightroom.

As I said above, if you need to do really complex photo fixes (like complicated photo retouching), then Photoshop is still the way to go.  But for most edits to your photos, I would bet that you can do them easier and with higher quality in Camera Raw than you can in Photoshop.

Try it!  You might never go back!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Some gerbils, a Canon 7D....and a photo shoot?!

Cheerio (left) and Charley (right)
Well, maybe not exactly a photo shoot.  More like my morning coffee with the boys hopping around the couch to have their fun for the day!  Only the 7D and me with two cups of coffee can keep up with them!

I've been trying to grab a few more photos of the little guys recently.  I was pretty busy in October and November (and I was also sick for a few weeks), so I wasn't taking a lot of photos.  I decided to try and get some nice pictures of them a few weeks ago.

Both of them are doing well.  Their personalities have now fully exposed themselves since they're getting a little older.  Charley has remained reserved and cautious, but still very curious.  Cheerio went from being fairly normal to being pretty nutty.  In fact, he's almost like two different gerbils.  During the day he's his normal bouncy, energetic, overly curious self.   But it's the weirdest thing....When the sun goes down, he turns into a total nut!  When we take the lid off the cage at night he jumps right onto the edge of the tank and waits to be taken out.  When he's out, he's very jumpy and overly energetic, almost to the point where we've had to stop taking him out at night because he's too hyper and we don't want to have an accident.  We'll see how this develops over the next few months.  Maybe he'll settle down...

Cheerio
Speaking of accidents...I have quite the story to share here.  Back in October, Charley got a broken tooth and a cold.  Seeing that the cold wasn't going away and he wasn't eating normally because of his tooth (and was losing weight quickly), I decided to take him to the vet.  I wasn't quite sure what else to do about it because he wasn't getting better and I certainly didn't want the little guy to die.

When I brought him in to be checked, the vet who I met with gave me medicine for his cold (which has long since cleared up) and a pain killer so he wouldn't feel pain when he tried to eat while his tooth grows back.  Thankfully, the tooth has indeed grown back.

I was satisfied with this portion of my visit to the vet because the issues of the cold and the tooth were resolved and treated properly.  However, something much more significant occurred that was very strange.

When Charley was brought back out to the front of the office after his examination, I noticed that he had a very bad limp on his left rear leg and he wasn’t stepping on his foot at all.  It’s important to note that he was showing absolutely no signs of pain or limping prior to me bringing him into the vet.  In fact, before I left the house to go there, he was running vigorously on his exercise wheel and he was being handled and walking with no limp.

Charley
When I questioned the vet about why he was suddenly limping after his examination, she said to me that occasionally gerbils and other small animals could have a pre-existing broken bone in their body from a fall and they hide the pain from it.  She said the act of a vet then handling this animal would irritate the injury to the point that the animal would be in severe pain and would then begin to limp.

This sounded odd to me, so I questioned the vet on this and said that it sounded completely absurd to me that an animal could have a broken bone and be running on a wheel and being handled daily without showing any signs of pain or injury whatsoever.  He’s out of his cage playing an average of an hour every day and showed no signs of a problem.  She insisted that it must be a pre-existing break, and since I felt horrible for this little animal, I told her to go ahead with the x-ray that she was suggesting just to confirm a break.

Cheerio (a Giants fan!)
After the x-ray, the vet came out and told me that Charley did indeed have a broken leg.  Still finding these circumstances unbelievable, I told her to go ahead and splint it up because the poor little guy was now limping terribly.

Shortly after this all happened, I spoke with two other vets and received feedback from many gerbil breeders who all said that it’s extremely unlikely that Charley had a pre-existing broken bone and was showing no signs of pain or injury at all.  In fact, when I told one of them that he was running on a wheel shortly before this disaster, he said it seemed extremely strange to him that Charley would be able to do that with a broken leg.

To make a long story somewhat shorter, I had a discussion with the vet and told her that I brought a gerbil with no leg pain and no leg injury into her office and I left with a huge bill and an animal with a broken leg.  I can’t say what happened in the examination room that might have caused this, but something happened.

The vet denied any wrong doing and stuck with her original response that he had a broken leg when he came in.  I was pretty angry at this point and asked for my money back for the portion of my bill related to the broken leg.  There was no way she was going to give it to me because that would be admitting guilt.  She did, however, offer to waive her fees if I wanted to bring him back in three weeks to see how he was doing.  Yeah, I'll go back there (he says sarcastically).....

Charley, about to get pounced by his brother!
The moral of the story for pet owners:  Find a vet who will let you go back into the examination room with your animal when you bring them in.  This vet had a policy that the owner could not come into the back during the exam.  I will never do that again, because had I been there, I probably would have seen what happened to Charley.

To end the story on a positive note....Most people I spoke with said that Charley didn't need the splint that the doctor put on (which is good, because he chewed it off anyway) and that his leg would heal fine on its own in a few weeks and he would lead a pain free normal life.  That's exactly what happened.  He's walking perfectly and showing no signs of pain at all.

Cheerio (notice his smile for the picture!)
So it was a pretty traumatic few weeks for my daughter's little gerbil, but she's happy that he's better now and back to his old self.  All's well that ends well....

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Photo Carousel #6: "Azure Moonrise"

"Azure Moonrise"
It was a great moonrise here in New York last night.  Cool, crisp, clean air and a full moon.  This is my sixth Photo Carousel entry.

I've taken various pictures of the moon over the years that have come out nice enough to wet my appetite to try astrophotography, but there's such a huge investment in equipment required to do it that I never get around to actually committing to it.  There are many other financial priorities around my house.....like eating! Maybe some day.... 

In the mean time, if you want to see some great deep space photos by a guy named Howard Cox, check out this link to some of his photos on the photo.net web site.

This type of moon shot is simple from a technical perspective.  Here are some tips:
  1. Always shoot in the time between sunset and total darkness so that you pick up the remaining blue in the sky.  A moon picture with a totally black sky is boring....unless of course that's what you're intentionally trying to do for some other reason.
  2. Expose for the moon.  You don't want it to be too dark or too light in your finished photo because it's your subject.  Let the exposure for everything else fall wherever it does, but get the moon exposed properly.
  3. Use a long focal length.  This was shot on my Canon 7D with the equivalent of about 385mm on a 35mm body.  
  4. Use a tripod.  If you're using image stabilized lenses, shut off the IS feature when you're using a tripod.
  5. Use a remote release or your camera's timer to trip the shutter to minimize camera vibration. 
  6. Use a shutter speed of around 1/200 (to prevent motion blur in the moon) and aperture of at least f/8 (to maximize image quality) and also ensure that you have enough depth of field to keep your foreground elements in focus.
  7. Use a foreground element (and keep it in focus!) to add more interest to your photo.
  8. Shoot in Raw format if your camera supports it.  It will provide you with the highest image quality.
For this composition, I used the arc of the tree branches to keep the viewer's eye from leaving the frame and also to create a little spot to put the moon in.  I chose this composition based on the simple rule-of-thirds principle because it suited this photo just fine.  This setup clearly places the moon as the center of attention. 

Try some moon shots...you'll get a kick out of it.  If you do the above steps properly and you're shooting with high quality equipment (and a lens of at least 400mm), you can actually view your photos quite large on your computer monitor and see a lot of detail on the moon's surface.  My kids were blown away when I showed them the detail on the moon's surface in one of my enlarged photos.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Why are my glasses coming out of the dishwasher with a white film on them???

This definitely falls into the "Random thoughts" section of my blog, but I figured I would post it here because I'm sure many people are wondering the same thing...

Recently my wife and I noticed that all of our glasses are coming out of the dishwasher with a white residue on them.  You can wipe it...it doesn't come off.  You can re-wash dishes...it doesn't come off.

This residue started appearing all of a sudden.  I checked the dishwasher for clogs, and there were none.  I checked that water was spraying properly during the wash and rinse cycles.  It was.  What the hell???

I started to think it had something to do with our well water because we had a bad drought in New York this summer and I thought maybe it changed the chemistry of the water or something.  I was just about to call in the well company to test it (at great expense!) when I saw the reason for this situation on the news.

All dishwasher detergent manufacturers in the U.S. were required to remove phosphates from their detergents in July, 2010 (which is right around when our problem showed up).  You can read about it on this link at the Cascade web site

I checked this out and learned that the absence of phosphates in the dishwasher detergent is what's causing the white clouding on the glasses.  I don't yet know what can be done about it to get (and keep!) the white film off the glasses, but at least I know it's not a problem with the water or the dishwasher.

Good luck with this one!  I think we'll have to wait until the manufacturers come up with some equivalent natural ingredient to phosphates to get the dishes to come out without this film.

Moral of the story:  Don't call a repairman.  Your dishwasher is not broken...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Photo Carousel #5: "Molten Sunset"

"Molten Sunset"
This is the fifth entry in my Photo Carousel series.  I call it "Molten Sunset" because it looks to me like someone dumped out a bucket of sunlight in the center of the frame and it's spreading across the sky.

This was one of the most impressive sunsets that I've seen in quite some time.  The pictures that I took in the other direction behind me were even more impressive from a color perspective, but this shot had the dramatic clouds in it so this is the one I chose to post.

I had just finished hiking to the top of a local mountain with my daughter and everything started to slowly glow yellow and orange.  The glow was unusually intense in both its brightness and the depth of color.  Seeing the low and diverse clouds, I knew that we might be in for something special.

My goals for this photo were simple:
  1. Emphasize the clouds, especially the burning center section and the wispy one in the upper left corner.
  2. Get the photo composed and exposed correctly in the camera to minimize any degrading effects of post-processing later.  I knew this shot would push the sensor in the Canon S95 hard.
From a compositional perspective, I didn't want to let the distant mountain range go to total black at the bottom of the frame but I had no choice.  To me, this was an acceptable compromise in order to get the clouds exposed properly.  I composed the burning sun area a little off center to make the photo more interesting.

From the technical side, I used evaluative metering and bracketed the exposure at -1/3, metered, and +1/3 and picked the best shot.  I took many different scenes of this sunset and the -1/3 shots were always the best because the colors were more saturated.  White balance was set to 'Cloudy'.

I consider this image a nice success because (in my humble opinion) I satisfied my two goals above and walked away with a nice keeper.  At the same time, I enjoyed the time with my daughter as we shared these moments together watching a sunset that was memorable to me even after all of them that I've seen, and for her it was probably her first truly amazing sunset.

Monday, November 15, 2010

How will Canon answer....and when?

A thought of the day...

Competition is a good thing.  In business, in sports, etc, it drives innovation and performance.

This being said, I hope Canon has some tricks up their sleeves...and soon...or they're going to get clobbered, again.

The first time they got clobbered was back in 2007/2008 with the release of the Nikon D3, D700, and D300 in close timing with each other.  This came after Canon led the DSLR revolution for almost ten years.  If Canon knew this onslaught from Nikon was coming then they didn't show it because they really had no match for these new cameras from Nikon.  The good thing was that at least partially out of that competition eventually the Canon 7D was born, which I believe was Canon's first truly innovative camera in quite some time.

Now we have the release of the Nikon D7000 and the Sony Alpha A33 and A55, all of which have full time auto focus during video shooting, a major shortcoming of all the current Canon DSLR's that offer high definition video as an option.  Other manufacturers will certainly follow this full time auto focus trend (if they too can figure out a unique way to do it), and Canon better be one of them.

Having shot video on a Canon 7D DSLR for some time now, I have to say that the lack of auto focus during video shooting is a big operational burden that limits the use of the Canon DSLR video technology for the average photographer.  I really didn't think that not having video auto focus would be that big of a deal in actual casual use, but it absolutely is a big deal.

I've seen people come up with follow-focus devices to handle focusing, but let's be realistic....the average person is never going to get and use one of these devices for vacation, travel, and family video clips.  Auto focus is a practical and real need for casual DSLR video shooters.

The new 60D was an opportunity for Canon to introduce this technology in their camera line and they didn't do it, so clearly they don't have it ready yet.  Will the eventual 8D or 5D MkIII have it?  Who knows...but for their own good and the good of Canon shooters everywhere, this video shooting advancement by Nikon and Sony cannot go unanswered.  We want full time video auto focus!

Which brings me to my point.....Canon knows all of this.  They used to be the leader with these types of things and now they're becoming a follower.  Who would have thought that Sony, which has hardly been an innovator of late with anything in their electronics lineup, would be the one to get full time video auto focus out there first in this class of camera.  Wasn't it Sony that completely missed the portable digital music craze and still aren't in on it?!  A market, which by the way, they invented with the original analog Walkman!  They've fallen behind in TV technology, hand held gaming, etc.  And here they are besting Canon in an area like this?

What's going on here Canon.....Give us what we want and need!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Canon S95 - It's a miracle!

UPDATE on 9/19/2011:  Since I originally wrote the post below, Canon has now announced the successor to the venerable S95, which is called the S100.  You can read about it at this link.  From what I've read so far about the S100, everything that I wrote about the S95 below is still accurate, except the S100 is better in many regards.

Original post:

OK, maybe not a miracle, but this is one darn good camera!  Read on below to see why...

There are many reviews of the S95 on the internet, so it's not my goal to provide detailed technical analysis of image quality at 100% viewing or an exhaustive feature breakdown of the camera.  All of that information about the S95 is already available at the great links/reviews that I've added at the bottom of this post so there's no need to repeat it here.  I'm all about efficiency!  :-)

My goal here is to present some real-world feedback on how this camera works, how the images look, and why it's such a great pocket camera.

Background 

I primarily shoot with a Canon 7D and a variety of lenses.  The 7D is a big camera, and there are certainly times when I can't (or don't want to) lug my SLR rig around with me and that's when a good pocket camera is an essential thing to have.

My problem is that not shooting with my 7D has always been a disappointment for me because my old pocket camera simply doesn't have anywhere near the image quality of the 7D.  So when I would go out shooting with my old pocket camera, I always regretted it.  Therefore...   

I've been in the market for a new pocket camera for a long time.  I've been shooting with a Canon SD850 for several years, but the photo quality just isn't 't good enough for me (especially in low light), so I've been on the hunt looking at all of the current options available in this very rapidly changing (and improving!) segment of the camera market.

What I Wanted

Camera manufacturers have taken many divergent paths trying to satisfy the different needs of the compact camera market.  Many people want many different things out of small cameras.  We have true pocket cameras, Micro 4/3 cameras, large compact cameras (Canon G12, Nikon P7000, etc), and so on.  

What was most important to me in my shopping for a new pocket camera were the following:
  1. Very high image quality.  I wouldn't accept the poor low light and poor high ISO images from the old pocket cameras...

  2. Small size.  I wanted a true pocket camera, meaning one that I can easily slide into a shirt or pants pocket without me having to rip the seams on my pants to do it!

  3. Manual control and good user design.  I have to be able to take control of the camera when I want to and it has to be easy to do it.  This is something from the SLR-world that I wouldn't be willing to completely give up when using a pocket camera.
Everything else on top of these three main goals is icing on the cake, but these three were must-haves.

After doing exhaustive research about possible cameras, my decision seemed to be quickly coming down to the Canon S95 and the Panasonic LX5.  The older Canon S90 and Panasonic LX3 were direct competitors as well.

Both of these cameras are supposed to be fairly close in image quality, so I immediately kicked the LX5 off my list because of its slightly larger size.  It's just a little too big to slide into a pants or shirt pocket and as I mentioned above this is one of my key criteria, so the LX5 was out.  That satisfied the goal of small size.

I went to the store and shot some test images with the S95 at all ISO's and started to review them.  I was very pleasantly surprised.  The quality of the images looked great, and the noise levels at higher ISO's were low, especially in low light if properly exposed, and especially compared to my old Canon pocket camera from three years ago.  Seeing this, the goal of very high image quality was satisfied.

Then I started pressing buttons and finding my way around the most important and often used features of the camera.  This is where the S95 truly shines.  This camera is EXTREMELY well designed and easy to use.  Along with the standard "My Menu" option now available on most Canon cameras, the user has several ways to change the user interface to work more effectively and efficiently for them.  It's easy to get to and use the features that you need most often.

Most important and unique to the S95 is the control ring around the lens.  This ring can be set up to control a variety of functions within each shooting mode and this goes a long way toward making the control of the S95 a little bit more SLR-like.  You don't realize the true usability of this little ring until you try it.  Having it there keeps me out of the menu system for basic changes in any of the shooting modes because I can adjust key camera parameters with a spin of the ring.  Combining this with the control ring on the back of the S95 gives the camera a mini SLR-like feel.  Spin this, spin that, the adjustments are made.  No need to dive into menus for basic adjustments.  Fantastic!

The S95 has a mode dial on top that has all of the typical SLR shooting modes (Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Program, Auto, Manual, one Custom mode, etc).  This was key for me.  I need to have the capability to manually control the camera because in certain situations (e.g., tricky or difficult lighting) I want to make the decisions about what the camera is doing to have better control over the creative aspects of my photography....I don't want the camera to do it.  Having all of these controls at my fingertips (and relatively easy to use considering the small size of this camera) satisfied the goal of manual control and good user design.

Beyond me mentioning these key control aspects of the S95, if you want to get a true understanding of all the useful features that truly make it a pleasure to use, I recommend downloading the manual from this link and reading it.  It clearly outlines every feature of the S95 better than I can do (i.e., Hybrid Image Stabilization, Auto Exposure Bracketing, Focusing modes, High def movies, stereo sound, shooting in Raw, etc).  There is no reason for me to re-state it all here.  Read it from the source....Canon.

What's Not Right

Of course, no camera is perfect.  As much as I like the S95, there are three minor things that I want to mention here but they're ultimately not big issues.
  1. Battery life seems short.  It's probably best to get a spare battery to carry with you if you're going to be out all day doing a lot of shooting.  This isn't a big deal since a spare NB-6L battery is only about $25.

  2. I don't like where Canon put the hook loop for the neck/wrist strap on the S95.  They put one strap hook loop on each corner of the top of the camera.  The problem is that this puts the strap in your way a little bit if you're making certain adjustments while shooting.  This is not the biggest deal in the world because you quickly get the hang of keeping it out of your way, but I don't see why Canon didn't just leave the strap hook on the side of the camera body like they do with their SD line of compacts.  This would keep the strap out of your way completely.

  3. The control ring on the back of the camera turns much too easily.  It should have a more definitive and resistant 'click' to it to avoid accidentally changing your exposure compensation setting when the camera is left turned on and hanging around your neck.  This is probably the most significant of these three flaws listed here because this has the potential to impact your photos if you don't happen to notice that you've changed your settings accidentally.

    UPDATE on 11/13/10:  After I posted this #3 comment the other day, I happened to be back in BestBuy shopping for something else today.  I tried the control rings on the back of some Nikon and Olympus pocket cameras and they all do this same thing.  They're all much too easy to change by accident, so it's not just the Canon S95 that has this issue.  All of the manufacturers need to make their back control rings a little more resistant to accidental turning...   

In Summary 

There's no doubt about the fact that the price of the S95 is high for a pocket camera, but high end compacts from all the manufacturers are pricey.  At the end of the day the reality of the situation is that if you want the highest quality images possible in a truly pocketable camera, then you have to pay to play and the manufacturers know it.  This being said, in my opinion the S95 is the camera to get for the purposes that I've outlined above. 

It's important to close this review echoing a comment that I made above.  I have never been a true fan of pocket cameras.  Using pocket cameras has traditionally involved too much sacrifice in the area of image quality for me to consider them as a serious option to my SLR.  This is not the case with the Canon S95.  This is a pocket camera that I'm comfortable recommending to anyone who wants a small camera with great image quality. 

Is the S95 a replacement for the high image quality and performance that you'll get with a Canon 7D or any other DSLR?  No, and it's not meant to be.  It's meant to be a great compact camera, and in the end that's what it is.  The S95 meets my three criteria of high image quality, it can easily fit into a pocket, and it offers the right amount of manual control and good user design.  What more could I ask for?!  It was time to buy!

Here are some links to some other great reviews and information on the Canon S95.  I'm posting them here because they quite frankly go into more detail than I do and they're all worthy of a read:
  1. Canon USA S95 site
  2. Canon Professional Network S95 information 
  3. DPReview overview of the S95 
  4. DPReview comparison review of S95, Panasonic LX5, and Nikon P7000
  5. InfoSync World S95 review 
  6. The Online Photographer S95 review
  7. Imaging Resource S95 review
  8. The Photography Blog S95 review
  9. Ken Rockwell Canon S95 review

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Joe McNally - Mistakes!

I just read a funny post on Joe McNally's blog called "Mistakes".  I'm sure at one time or another many of us have done or felt these things.  Joe's comments on them are humorous.

What really rung true for me in his post is something that I will be focusing on here in my blog in my Pathways series, which is improving your technical and creative skills to get better shots straight out of your camera so you can spend less time screwing around in photo editing software.

Specifically, one thing Joe said was, "Get it right in the camera, don’t say I’ll fix that later. Photoshop is not an emergency room for grievously wounded pictures. Work hard in the field to master the camera, the lens and the techniques of shooting. Unless you like being a mushroom, sitting in your dark basement in front of a glowing screen for hours on end, trying to take the exposure from frame 101, the composition from frame 209, the expression from frame 333, and also eliminate the tree branch growing out of the bride’s elaborate hairdo that she spent a lot of money on. If it looks like a problem, it is. In other words, if you see something in your lcd that is bothersome, it won’t go away, it will just become more bothersome when you look at it on your home computer". 

The other key thought of Joe's which I echoed here in my post called "Close to Home" is:  "Don’t think all the good pictures in the world live in Bali, or Antarctica. There are good pictures right under your nose. Shoot what and who you love. And shoot that which is easily accessible to you. If you constantly think you have to climb mountains or jump out of airplanes to get good pictures, it will become an impossible chore to pick up your camera".

Get out and shoot....whatever you like....and learn how to do it right so that you can enjoy photography more and end up working on your photos less.  Enjoy! 

Monday, November 1, 2010

Close To Home

In this post from this blog a while back and this post that I put up here about local photography, I mentioned that I occasionally get stuck in a creativity rut when shooting locally.  Then I stumble across some great subject matter that pulls me out of it and I again appreciate the photo opportunities that are right in my own area.

It's easy to think that the grass is always greener for the photographers who are lucky enough to have easy daily access to really great photo opportunities like the National Parks, spectacular cities and coastlines, etc.  I don't have easy access to those things without traveling a bit.  But you know what?  Sometimes you just have to make the best of what you have and free your shooting eye to seeing the possibilities all around your own area.

Nothing has said this better recently than this great little eBook that I just read called "Close To Home:  Finding Great Photographs In Your Own Backyard".  The eBook is only $5 in PDF format and it's filled with really compelling and motivational viewpoints from the author (Stuart Sipahigil) about finding inspiration and shooting in your home town .  In addition to that, the book is filled with Stuart's great looking full color photos.

This book is worth the price just to set your head straight when approaching shooting in your local area.  The great pictures and personal insight from Stuart are the icing on the cake.  Highly recommended!

And while you're at it, you might want to check out the other small and very reasonably priced eBooks from Craft & Vision.  I think they're all $5 each, and if Stuart's book is any indication of the quality, then they're probably all good.  Enjoy!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Getting the most from Speedlites

Flash photography is my nemesis.  Or, I should say "good" flash photography is my nemesis.  I have a feeling many people feel the same way.

I've read many books and articles on it and I've definitely improved my flash photography over the years by leaps and bounds, but I'm still not quite there on a consistent basis.

To date, this link to an older post of mine lists the resources that I've been using to learn and improve.  I can now add this great book by Joe McNally called "Hot Shoe Diaries" to that list.  It's a great read filled with practical and effective real world advice.

Today I stumbled across this link on the Canon Professional Network web site that is the beginning of a multi-part series called "Getting the most from Speedlites".  Part 1 and 2 came out fairly close together, so if you decide to start reading this series then keep an eye open for the following installments.

Although this Canon series is not covering topics that are vastly different than those addressed by Joe McNally and Neil van Niekerk (two of the best in the flash photography world), it covers the topics from a slightly different angle.  For me, sometimes reading similar subject matter from different viewpoints eventually helps me find a way to make the material "click" in my head so that I can put it to good use.  I don't know....for some reason I occasionally need multiple reads of the same topic to completely understand and absorb it.

I hope you find these articles and books helpful.  Without reading them, I would still be wandering aimlessly in a world of bright flashing light!  :-)

Friday, October 29, 2010

X Marks The Spot

Here's a link to a helpful article in the current issue of Outdoor Photographer magazine about using technology to get you to a desired photography location at the right time of day to have a better chance at getting the lighting results that you want.  This was a great article for me to read, because quite frankly I didn't know that these tools did all of the things that they do (and that they do it so well).

I immediately downloaded the latest versions of Google Earth and The Photographer’s Ephemeris, plugged in a few locations and times of day that I was interested in testing out, and I was instantly able to see in a visual way what the lighting and shadow angles would be at those times of day, on those days, in those locations.  I was particularly blown away by the Google Earth 'Sun' button that simulates the path of the sunlight (and its shadows!) throughout a given day at a given location.

So what does this mean for planning a shoot?  It means everything!

Sometimes photography is about casually walking around and grabbing whatever serendipitous pictures you can find, and that's fine when that's what your goal is.  But other times it's a very planned activity when you're on the hunt for a specific shot, in specific light, etc.

I can't tell you how many times I've driven or hiked to a given location with the intent of photographing something with the sun shining on it (or not shining on it), trying for a specific angle of lighting, etc, only to have my efforts ruined by getting there and seeing that I just missed getting the right light because of bad timing.

These tools allow you to plug in locations, dates, and times to see simulated lighting AND shadow paths!  I can then say, "OK...For this location, to get the sun shining on that hillside, I need to be there by 3:00 at the latest or the sun will be past the hill".  This is awesome insight to have when planning a photo excursion!

When planning a shoot from now on, no more will I have to say "I just missed my light and wasted my time!".  I can now plan to be there when the light is where I want it, and it's only the quality of the light that I'll have to worry about...but that's up to Mother Nature.

Try these two great tools!  You'll really like them!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Photo Carousel #4: "Artist"

"Artist"
This is the next installment in my Photo Carousel series.  I don't know what it is about this picture, but I really like it and wanted to post it here.

I've always been fascinated watching painters and sketch artists work.  It's amazing to me the way they draw a line, smudge it with their finger to make it softer (such as around the girl's cheeks, chin, and chest), outline edges in such a meaningful way, and breathe life into their pictures until they're done and you stand back and say "Wow!".

I was at an Oktoberfest celebration near my house recently and I saw this artist drawing this couple.  He was drawing them one at a time on the same sheet of paper and he didn't show it to both of them until he was done.  They loved it!

While I was standing there, I became intrigued with trying to capture him doing his work.  I had an idea for a great long exposure shot that would have showed his hands moving around the page while the rest of the picture was steady and sharp, but I didn't have a tripod with me.  So my next best idea was to show just his hands and the paper.  I thought this conveyed a slight sense of mystery to my photo because you know someone else is sitting there posing for him but you can't see them in my photo.

I wanted his hands and the all important pencil completely in the photo, but right at the edge of the frame to keep the viewer's attention inside the picture.

The main lesson I got from this photo was:  Keep your eyes open when you're walking around at special events!  Here I was drinking a beer and walking right by this cool scene and I almost didn't give it a second glance.  There are so many interesting opportunities like this if you just keep your eyes open.

From a technical perspective, this shot was simple.  I knew the camera would slightly under expose when it metered the mostly white scene, so I added +1/3 stop of exposure compensation to keep it bright.  I then had to further increase the exposure slightly more in Photoshop because it still came out a little underexposed.  I left the color balance the same because I like the glow of the tungsten light bulb that the artist was working under.  I thought it added some warmth to the otherwise mostly white feeling.

All in all, it's a shot that I like and it's another compositional and technical learning experience.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Photo Carousel #3: "Layers"

"Layers"
This is the third entry in my Photo Carousel series.  The autumn colors near me haven't been that great this year, so instead of looking up for compositions, I looked down.  That's how "Layers" came to life.  I shot these leaves as they were....I did not move them.  That's important to note for my explanation of how/why I took this photo below.

This photo is somewhat of a cliche.  We've all probably seen too many leaf pictures to count and the leaves may have been prettier than these.  But my Photo Carousel series is not necessarily about always presenting startlingly original or perfect images.  It's about presenting nice images AND explaining the thought process behind them to communicate and exchange ideas about composition, light, etc.

My goal for this image was to present layers of leaves in a way that would cause the viewer's eye to wander around the frame looking on top of and under the leaves to see what's there.  I think it succeeds in that goal because of three things:  careful composition, lighting, and exposure.

I positioned the two orange leaves and the opposing brown leaf carefully in the frame to counteract each other and set the overall tone for the image.  They also act like covers to the leaves under them and set the premise of what I was trying to do.  The brown leaf is in that location for a reason.  If you look carefully under the big brown leaf in the darker hole, there's just enough light under there to see more leaves.  That keeps the viewer's eye right in there looking around.  Same thing with the big orange leaf on the right.  I had to get the camera just low enough to get that effect while still being able to get the hand held depth of field that I wanted.  I could not stop the lens down to f/11 or further because I didn't have a tripod.  This kind of intentional composition and perspective control gives the image some depth, instead of just shooting a single leaf on a rock, for example.

These leaves were coming in and out of shadow from the clouds above, so I waited until some sun hit them from the side to light them up.  Careful metering let them go right to the edge of their luminosity without over exposing anything.  I dialed in +1/3 exposure compensation because the scene was so bright that I knew the camera would try to under expose it.  It was shot with 'Daylight' white balance to keep the colors more true.  If this was shot in 'Auto' white balance, the colors would probably have been considerably more bland and neutralized by the camera.

All the time I was taking this picture, my daughter who I was hiking with was saying, "Dad....Come on!  Let's go!".  I told her to be patient for a minute and I would show her why later.

When I opened up the picture large on my wide screen computer monitor, she smiled and said, "Wow!  That's neat!".  When I showed her the leaves hidden under the brown and orange leaves, she said "That's cool, I never would have noticed that when I saw you taking this".

And I guess that's the point of this picture.  To look around a little bit and notice things that you wouldn't ordinarily give a second glance to.  And then perhaps spend some time with your camera thinking about how to use composition, light, and exposure to make a photo that, although it might be a little bit cliche because of the subject matter, also has some hidden elements that can bring about a smile when people discover them.  And don't worry about getting your pants dirty when you get down on the ground!  :-)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Creativity in the Photoshop Darkroom

I've always enjoyed the writing of Harold Davis on the photo.net web site.  He has interesting insight and opinions about the creative process of photography and that of post-processing in Photoshop to achieve his creative results.

In addition to this series of articles a while back on the photo.net web site about becoming a more creative photographer, he has recently been posting another series of articles called "Creativity in the Photoshop Darkroom" located at this link.

If you're interested in the options and techniques for how to tweak your photos to the next level in Photoshop, these articles are for you.  Davis sometimes takes his photos further than I personally would, but regardless of that I think that most people can probably learn a great deal just from reading about his thought process and techniques.  You can take away from these articles whatever works for you.  Enjoy!

Friday, October 15, 2010

PhotographyBB web site

I stumbled across this link for a nice web site called PhotographyBB.com.  The reason I like this site is because it consolidates its focus in four areas:  photography tips, post processing, photo assignments, and the PhotographyBB Online Magazine.

In particular, the reason I'm posting this here is because of their Online Magazine.  It's a nice publication and each current issue (and all of the back issues) can be downloaded in PDF format for free.  I've read several issues of the magazine already and it's well put together and definitely worth a read for its variety of content.  And you can't beat free!  Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Rush: One step at a time

Here is a link to a great long video interview with one of my favorite bands, Rush.

In this interview with John Roberts from CNN, the band covers a huge range of topics from their 42 years together.  Damn!  Has it been that long??!!

They speak about their current tour, upcoming album, history together, likes, dislikes, charities, how they've survived in the music business this long, songwriting, fame, traveling, hobbies, etc.  It's one of the most thorough interviews I've seen with Rush in a long time, and if you're a fan, it's worth sitting through to get some more insight into the band and their music.  Enjoy!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Charley and Cheerio - An October update

Cheerio (at left, with the white racing stripe on his nose) and Charley (below) have settled into their new home nicely.  They're now three months old and seem to be growing quickly.  I should have measured them when we got them, but I would guess that they've grown 1/2 inch since we got them.  We've had them for about a month and handle them a lot each day, and I think that has paid off in the fact that they're used to us now.

By the way, no, I'm not squeezing them in these photos to hold them still.  Don't worry.  Our little guys like to be carried around secure in the palm of our hands while they stick their head out the "window" to see where they're going. 

They know me the best at this point because I handle them the most each day and also assist the kids with getting them in and out of the cage.  I've explained to the kids the importance for this first month or two of not putting their hands in the cage, getting impatient when trying to pick them up, and chasing the gerbils around the cage.  This is the equivalent of invading their home, and they'll NEVER get friendly and tame that way.  The kids understand, and for the most part have been patient with the process of familiarizing themselves with the gerbils.

We had one set back two weeks ago when I think we handled them a little too much over the course of two days in particular when it was raining one weekend and we were inside spending a lot of time with them.  They then seemed to go backward in their comfort level with us and hid in the cage when we came in the next day or two.  We took it easy for a few days after that, hit the reset button with how we handle them, and everything is fine now.

At this point in time, they always come out to investigate when we put our hands in the cage.  This is good.  They sniff us, hop on and off our hands, come back and sniff us more, etc.  No objections to us.  At night, Cheerio is particularly adventurous and will readily run up your arm to your shoulder to say hi and get out of the cage for a visit.  Or, if you just leave the lid off the cage then he climbs on top of his nest box and hops up to sit on the edge and waits patiently for you to pick him up.  He never does this during the day though.  Only at night.  Interesting...

Charley is much more reserved than Cheerio.  For example, I think it will be quite a while (if ever) before Charley is bold enough to walk up our arms to get out of the cage.   He'll certainly never jump up on the edge and sit their waiting like Cheerio.  It's just not his deal.  You kind of have to put both hands into the cage, cup Charley, and take him out that way.  Cheerio is bold and adventurous.  Charley is more cautious and reserved.  Two different gerbils, two different personalities....

Watching the two of them play together outside of the cage is very funny and it's a good "zen" thing to enjoy after a busy day.  They run all around the bathroom floor with the door closed, wrestle with each other, eat out of your hands, etc.  Today I had them on the floor and they kept coming over to check me out.  I would play wrestle with them, ruffle up their fur, etc.  Very gently so they know that I'm not trying to hurt them.  They would run away for a second and then come back to my hands for more "wrestling" with me.  They seem to like it because when I stop they just sit there looking at my hands like they're waiting for more.  Funny...

They're both steady and confident enough to ride around the house on my shoulder if I move gently.  Of course I keep my hands ready if they decide to slide down the front of my shirt for a more steady ride on my hands.  I don't let the kids do this (yet) though.  The kids still sometimes move too quickly or make sudden movements, and we don't want the gerbils to jump off.

I switched to using a standard 8" wire mesh wheel today that can be purchased at any pet store.  I had originally purchased a solid surface wheel, but our gerbils designated their wheel as one of their bathroom spots.  Needless to say that I didn't think it was too sanitary to pee on their wheel and then run on it.  This resulted in pee spinning all over the wheel and them, so out that went.  If they pee on this wheel it will drop straight through to the bottom of the cage and no harm is done to anyone.

So, that's the latest update on the boys....More to come in the future!
 

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Trump for President!

I knew this would happen eventually because Donald Trump has been appearing on a lot of political TV shows in the U.S. recently.  CNN.  MSNBC.  You name it, he's on the air.

Check out this interview with Donald Trump about running for President in 2012.

Say what you will about Donald Trump and whether or not you like him, but his blunt talk about the economy, war, oil, and some of the things the U.S. is doing is great to hear!

He talks specifically about other countries who have said repeatedly that the U.S. leadership is a complete joke and what they're able to get away with when negotiating with the U.S. is unbelievable.  We are viewed as weak in the eyes of the world, and I don't think this is a big secret...We've dug ourselves a huge hole over the past fifteen years.

Listen to the logic he uses about the wars in Kuwait and Iraq.  It makes perfect sense.  Listen to what he says about one of the greatest cities in the world, New York City, and how our infrastructure is completely crumbling while we spend money and time to rebuild other countries.  Listen to him ask:  Why didn't Kuwait pay us back for saving their country?  He's right!  Why didn't Kuwait pay us back for going in there, liberating their country from Iraq, and handing it back to them???  They could surely afford it!  Pay us with money.  Pay us with oil.  Whatever, just give us something for the billions that we spent over there!

All of it is true.  Keep an eye on this one.  Trump could rock Washington and perhaps put this country back on the right track.

Like I said, love him or hate him, a lot of what he says makes perfect sense and nobody else in the political arena is willing to say the things that he does.  I'm curious as to whether or not he could turn it into action, or if he would immediately alienate so many people that he would get nothing done as President.
 

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Guerrilla Travel Photographer

I ran across these two posts today on the Digital Photography School web site and I got a good chuckle out of them because much of it is true for all of us guerrilla photographers out there.

There's enough good info in these posts to be helpful to all those moms, dads, boyfriends, girlfriends, etc, out there who are trying to grab pictures while their families or significant other are saying "Come on, let's go already"!

Actually, the comments at the bottom of the posts from the other readers offer even more good advice.