Sunday, December 30, 2012

Photo of the Day

Black-capped chickadee

There are a few more in the set, although nothing that stands out.

The frost was amazing on Friday morning when I was walking to work. Very thick and plastered on everything. But it was too dark to take any photos of it. And too dark by the time I walked home. (On the positive side, at least the days are getting longer now.)

The sun was shining Saturday, but by the time I got out to see if there was any frost left it had clouded over. It was warmer (up to -10c) so the frost had disappeared where it had been in the sun, but in the shade there was still some left. However, I wasn't very satisfied with my attempts to capture it - hard to take photos of white on white with flat light.

But someone had put a bird feeder beside the trail and there were a group of chickadees flitting in and out. They were quite skittish and I had to stand there for a while and shoot whenever one landed momentarily. I used the continuous shooting mode to have a chance of catching a good position and focus. Again, it wasn't the best light but this shot (out of 60) turned out not bad.

My mother was fond of chickadees. They are cute birds. I always smile when I hear their distinctive "swee-tie" and "chick-a-dee-dee-dee" calls.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Books from Christmas

I try to avoid getting "stuff" for Christmas, but books are my weakness. Mostly I buy ebooks rather than dead trees, but I make an exception for books with lots of photos. Here are the ones I got this Christmas:

National Geographic Guide to State Parks of the United States
I also have the National Parks guide in this series. They're good for armchair browsing, planning a trip, or getting ideas for what to visit in an area. Aside from all it's other flaws, the USA is gifted with a wonderful array of landscapes and nature. Another one that I might pick up is their Guide to Scenic Highways and Byways.
Unexpected: 30 Years of Patagonia Catalog Photography
I've always loved the photography in the Patagonia catalogs so it's great to have a collection of them. It won the award for best mountain images book at last year's Banff Mountain Book Festival. There are also some great essays mixed in. (Too bad the photograph by Rob Owens of Murray Hainer and I in Tibet that was in one of the catalogs didn't make it into the book. )

Fred Beckey's 100 Favorite North American Climbs
At 89 years old Fred Beckey is a climbing legend and one of my heroes. Many years ago I was climbing at Skaha (near Penticton in BC) with Ian Marsh. Standing in the parking lot, he said "I think Fred Beckey is here! (Fred was already legendary, even back then.) I was skeptical and asked how he could possibly know that. He pointed to a beat up wreck of a car and said "I recognize his car." And the reason he recognized the car was because there had been a picture in a Patagonia catalog. (Back in those days we studied those catalogs religiously.)

The Responsible Company: What We've Learned From Patagonia's First 40 Years
Yvon Chouinard is another hero of mine, for his climbing and for his business and environmental work. I just started reading this, so I can't give much of a review yet but I really liked his previous book Let My People Go Surfing. (What is the Saskatchewan equivalent? Let my people go tobogganing?) We saw him in person at the Banff Mountain Festival when he launched the 1% for the Planet initiative. (I got this one as an ebook.)

Thanks to my family for the great gifts!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Cold Christmas

Despite the cold I decided to get out for a little "fresh" air late in the afternoon on Christmas day. I took my camera and managed to take a few photos. I would have taken more but -25c is a different story than the -10c last time. The sun on the frost was beautiful. And I loved the contrast of the warm evening colors against the cold blue of the snow and ice.

click to view photos

I hope everyone had a good Christmas and stayed warm!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Photographic Confessions


I have a confession to make - I'm not a very "serious" photographer. Don't get me wrong, I love my photography and at times I take it quite seriously. But I don't do most of the things that "serious" photographers do, and tell you you have to do.

A photographer friend recently asked what settings I'd used for one of my winter shots. I had to admit I didn't know, I just shot it on automatic. Honestly, I take virtually all of my photographs on automatic. Most of the time I treat my DSLR like a big point and shoot camera. I don't think it's anything to be ashamed of - automatic is pretty darn good these days.

If you read photography books (as I do) they'll tell you that you have to override the exposure when taking pictures of snow and ice. I didn't, and I think they turned out ok.

They'll tell you you should carry around and use a tripod, preferably a big heavy one. I do own a tripod, but I rarely use it.

They'll tell you you should use polarizing filters and neutral density filters, and graduated filters. I don't. I bought a polarizing filter but I never seem to have it when I need it. Or else I have it, but I forget to use it.

Just to be clear, I'm not saying this advice is wrong. I'm just saying you don't need to interpret it as "you must do this", instead you can take it as "if you want the very best possible results, then you should do this".

I almost never use manual focus, even when I know auto-focus will have problems. Honestly, I don't think my aging eyes are going to do any better than the camera. I do find it quite useful to set the focus to the center point and press the shutter halfway to focus on a particular part of the scene.

If I think camera shake or focus may be a problem, I take multiple shots to have a better chance of getting one that works.

handheld at 1/5 of a second (!)

I have a single 18 to 250 zoom lens. It's slow and because of the large range and relatively small size, it isn't the highest quality. If I was serious I'd have a whole range of expensive fast lenses that I'd have to carry around and switch back and forth. And then because I was switching lenses I'd have to worry about cleaning the sensor. Sorry, not for me.

It's not that I don't know enough to be "serious". I grew up with manual cameras. My father was a "serious" photographer. He used multiple cameras and lenses and tripods and lights and filters and manual exposures and all the serious stuff. I used to help him set up and take down and work in the darkroom. I enjoyed helping him, but it was never my thing.

I do photography to exercise the other half of my brain, to be a little artistic (or at least aesthetic) for a change. I spend all day being logical and analytical, the last thing I want to do is spend my photography time calculating exposures.

You'll hear serious photographers say they want to spend the time to get it right in the first place, rather than adjust it later on their computer. Personally, I'd rather shoot from the hip, and fix minor issues later.  I want to enjoy what I'm photographing, not be focused on technical issues.

One thing that really helps, if you're going to shoot from the hip like I do, is to shoot RAW. This gives you a lot more leeway to adjust the photos on your computer. That means you need a camera that will let you shoot RAW. Most consumer level point and shoot cameras don't.

RAW isn't anything complicated, it just means that the camera records the image without a lot of processing. That means you need to do some processing afterwards, with a program like Lightroom or Aperture. (the modern day equivalent of having your own darkroom) On the other hand a camera that records JPEG's (like most consumer cameras) processes the images into "final" form within the camera. Because the JPEG images have already been processed you have much less ability to adjust the afterwards.

I accept that by not being "serious" I'm sacrificing a certain amount of quality in my photographs. But I'm not trying to sell them or make a living from them. As long as they please me, and hopefully a few of you, then I'm happy.

Of course, that doesn't stop me from being jealous of the results of serious photographers. I look at their super amazing images and I want to cry with jealousy because I know I'll  never be that good. But then I remind myself that what matters is that I enjoy my photography.

I hear people say they want to "learn" photography, by which they usually mean "serious" stuff like shutter speed and aperture. There's nothing wrong with knowing that stuff. But really, if you want to learn photography, my recommendation is to take photographs, lots of them, and enjoy doing it.

the plant in my office, taken sitting at my desk

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Winter Photo Walk

Saturday afternoon the sun was shining gloriously so I decided to walk to work (more for the walk than the work) and take my camera in case I saw anything worth photographing.

Two hours later (on a 20 minute walk) I arrived at work, somewhat chilled, having taken over 400 photos. Obviously, I found a few things to photograph :-) Considering I've done this walk countless times it's amazing that I found that much of interest. That's one of the things I like about photography - it helps you look and see.

I've been taking about 6000 photos a year so 400 is quite a few. It's not all that long ago that I would have been shooting film. I might have shot a roll (36) or two if I was extravagant. And then taken them for processing, and waited to see what I got, and had very limited options for tweaking them. The ease of digital makes a huge difference. I doubt I'd be doing anywhere near as much photography if it was still on film.

Thankfully it was only about -10c, not that cold (for Saskatchewan winter) and I'd taken some light gloves to wear while operating the camera. Although if I'd known I was going to stand around that much I would have put on long underwear!

400 photos took me about 4 hours to go through and tweak. I'm not big on black and white - I love color too much, but I did convert a few. My rule of thumb is not to show more than one in ten of the photographs I take. I thought that would be easy this time (because I shot a lot of similar ones), but it took some culling to get it down to 41 photos. That's still a lot, my apologies for inflicting so many on you. Some day I'll learn to be more ruthless.

I stopped for coffee on the way home and the sun was going down by the time I was finished. I put the camera away in my pack but I had to pull it out again - I can't resist the colors of sunrise and sunset.

click to view photos

I recently traded my three year old Pentax K7 for the new K5 II and I haven't had a chance to do much with it, so I was happy to take it for a spin. Physically it's pretty much identical, but it has an improved sensor (the same as the Nikon D7000) and an improved auto-focus system, giving it better low light capabilities. (Plus all the improvements that were made in the K5.) Some of the sunset photos were at 6400 ISO yet the noise was easily cleaned up by Lightroom. That's a lot better than the K7 would have done.  In theory it'll go to 51,200 ISO, which is amazing, even if the results are noisy. Pentax is known for their good ergonomics, and I would agree, but I wish the LiveView button was somewhere different. I often hit it by mistake when changing the focus selector, or even with my cheek when shooting. For me, the other big advantage to this series is that they are weather sealed and cold resistant. It's also one of the smallest DSLR's which is an advantage for travel and hiking.