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Category : equipment

31 Aug 2017

That eclipse has me looking at the sky

It’s been over a week since experiencing the total solar eclipse in Oregon but it is constantly on my mind. I’ve looked at tons of photos taken by other photographers and yet I haven’t finished putting together a composite of the phases. Those tend to all look the same and mine isn’t any different, so I’m not overly motivated.

I’m doing lots of research on the next eclipse that is crossing Chile and Argentina in July 2019. I want to find the perfect spot to view it, although it is tougher than the U.S. eclipse, mainly because I’ve never been there.

Last summer I bought a used telescope thinking I would take it to Oregon for the eclipse. As I learned more about what I wanted to shoot, I decided pretty early on that I wouldn’t take it. It is big, heavy and would take up too much space. I didn’t want to be worrying about moving the telescope around when my job in Oregon was to make sure my clients were getting their needs met.

I didn’t even play with the telescope, it sat on my equipment shelf taking up space. And since space has been on my mind, I decided to see what the the telescope could do. I spent most of the afternoon putting it together and learning how to maneuver it. It is an 8″ reflecting telescope, which is a monster. After I put all the counter weights and the camera I can barely lift it. It has by far the heaviest tripod I’ve ever seen.

The Vermont sky was pretty clear tonight so I practiced on the moon, which is the easiest thing to photograph with a telescope. I was pretty clumsy getting it lined up and making sure the focus was right. It was a struggle but I got a pretty decent moon shot. I need lots more practice but I have a bit of time until the next eclipse.

04 Apr 2017

I don’t understand photographers traveling light

I’m glad I wasn’t lazy and I had my tripod with me as I was walking around in Pienza, Italy, after sunset and came across kids with their electronics.

I just read another “pro” blog saying to leave your DSLR camera and lenses at home when traveling and just take a small mirrorless camera with one lens. If the purpose of your trip is to make great images, then that is the most stupid advice there is.

Let me get this straight:

  • You’re going to a grand location.
  • You may never go there again.
  • You want to make great images.
  • You’ve invested a good deal of money for the trip.
  • You’re spending valuable time on the trip.

So you should use equipment that you wouldn’t use at home to photograph your dog?

Yes, I’d rather travel light, it is much easier. I’d rather take no luggage and have everything given to me when I arrive. But that doesn’t happen in my income range. I always have at least one more case of equipment than anyone else – I want to be ready for the shot.

Now if I were to go on vacation and sit on a beach and do nothing, then I don’t need my real camera gear. But that doesn’t happen for me. Even when I’m not on a exclusively photography trip, I get away at least of a couple of mornings for sunrise light so I can make some decent pictures.

I see people buy these light, flimsy tripods for trips and they would never use the skinny things at home. So why use them when you are someplace special? Oh yea, it is easier. I hosted a workshop in Tuscany last summer and a couple of times when we went into quaint medieval villages I didn’t bother taking my tripod. I shoot nearly everything on a tripod but I was feeling lazy. And it showed. When I got home and looked at my images I couldn’t figure out why some days I didn’t get much in the towns. Then it hit me that I wasn’t using the tripod and it changed the way I shot in the towns. I did snapshots instead of real photos because I was just walking around popping off tourist photos without thinking what I really wanted to say with my photos. I blame that on my laziness.

I’m not going to let “It is easier” be the determining factor on whether I get good images. I hope you don’t either.

03 Dec 2016

Canon’s 11-24mm zoom is an incredible lens

Today I got to play with Canon’s newest wide angle marvel, the EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens. I’m hosting my Meetup groups in Havre de Grace, MD, and we photographed the bald eagles at Conowingo dam this morning. Canon pro rep Tony Kurdzuk brought a bunch of long lenses to use for the eagles but I also asked him to bring me an 11-24mm so I could give it a try.

Well, it is incredible.

It is rectilinear lens, which means you don’t get the crazy distortion you normally get with a lens this wide. In fact, this is the only lens made by anyone that goes to 11mm for a full-frame camera. I have a 15mm fish-eye, but the world becomes warped when I use it, so I rarely do. This lens just doesn’t do that. Like Tony said, you can never have a too wide lens, but this one is close.

The first thing I tried was aiming it directly at the sun during sunset. That is one way to quickly find any flaws in the glass. Most lenses flare like crazy when you aim it at the sun but there is only a slight flare, and it is a nice flare.

Pier under cloudsThen I wanted to see what happened at f/4, which is the constant largest aperture. Nothing but cool. And sharp.

Log in the bayLast I got really close to a log in the water with a long exposure. The color version of this shot is nice but I like the Black & White. There is a silly amount of depth of field here, I’m inches from the log.

The final verdict: I’m sold. I’ll be ordering mine soon.

09 Feb 2016

Vintage cameras from a friend feel right at home

cameraCollectionI don’t know how I got so lucky to have great family and friends.

My wife Robin and I had dinner tonight with our friends Brian Horton and Marilyn Dillon. Marilyn was Robin’s editor back in the day and helped get Robin going in the right direction as a writer. Marilyn continues to be a strong inspiration for both of us.

Brian was a longtime photographer and headed sports photography for the Associated Press. He set up AP’s coverage for major sporting events all over the world, whether it was Super Bowls, Olympics or World Series. You name it Brian had it covered.

I met Brian when both of us were working in Ohio. I was at a small newspaper in southern Ohio and he worked for the AP photo bureau in Columbus. Ronald Reagan was coming to my little town two days before being elected president in 1980. It was a huge deal in town so Brian came down to cover it and then to help us. Those were the days when most newspapers didn’t have color photos and Brian brought one of AP’s new color transmitters so we’d have a color photo on the front page the next day. A few years later I got a photo editor job in New Jersey and Marilyn had just started as the newspaper’s metro editor and Brian was working for the AP in New York City.

Brian and Marilyn have a beautiful home down on the Jersey shore and they’re in what they call a slow process of moving there from their longtime home in Fanwood. Combining two houses into one is never fun and one day when I was at their house I was admiring Brian’s collection of old cameras. Brian offhandedly said I could have them when he got them all packed up. I didn’t think he meant it and forgot about it.

When we went to dinner tonight, Brian said he had a surprise for me in the car. Of course I love surprises so I begged him to tell me what it was. Brian said it was the old cameras. I was elated and pretty shocked. Robin could tell by the look on my face that is was something special but she didn’t really understand the significance of what I was getting.

After dinner Brian pulled a cardboard box out of his car and handed it to me. I looked in his eyes and could tell he was more than a little emotional about passing on the cameras. I was honored that he entrusted them with me and I knew I had the perfect place to display the cameras in my office. So Robin and I ran over there right after dinner, I opened the box and gently pulled out all the cameras that Brian it carefully wrapped in newspaper.

My office is in a building built in 1892 and it has incredible woodwork. There’s an old fireplace at the end of the room with little wood shelves perfect for my new camera collection. I carefully put each camera on the shelves starting with old box and Brownie cameras, a twin lens reflex camera, some Kodak Junior cameras with bellows and finally a couple old 4X5 press cameras.

I’m thrilled to have the cameras part of my new office, they really add to the atmosphere. I will admire them, remember their history and think of Brian every day. It is the perfect home.

11 Nov 2015

Tech tip: Tripod buying guide – How to select the tripod that is right for you

Tripod buying guide – selecting the right tripod for you

Most out-of-focus pictures are due to camera movement, it isn’t because you focused in the wrong place or your subject moved. It is because your camera moved. It doesn’t take much, especially as your use longer telephoto lenses. That is why I shoot over 90% of my photos with my camera on a tripod. I’m a believer that you can’t have a tripod that is too good. A solid tripod is a must in my photography world, a flimsy tripod is a waste of money. I’ve heard people say that any tripod is better than none and I couldn’t disagree more. A flimsy tripod gives you a false sense that you are getting sharp pictures but then you get back to your computer and you see your photos are a little fuzzy. If you’re not using a tripod, hopefully you know the camera could be shaky and you do some things to keep the camera as steady as you can, use image stabilization with your lens and then not be surprised later.

So make sure you have a solid tripod, but first there are some things you need to consider before making a considerable investment.

  • Is the tripod strong enough for your camera and lens?
  • How tall are you?
  • How small does the tripod get?
  • How much does it weigh?
  • Do you shoot much at ground level?
  • Do you want twist or flip leg locks?

(more…)

26 Mar 2015

Simplifying neutral density filters

When you sunlight shining and the water is milky looking, then you can be pretty sure that a neutral density filter was used.

When you see sunlight shining and the water is milky looking, then you can be pretty sure that a neutral density filter was used.

Let’s start with when you need a neutral density filter. A normal ND filter cuts down the amount of light going through the lens. You want to do that when the light is too bright to get a slow shutter speed you want, like when you want moving water to look milky. Or when you want to use a large aperture, like f/2.8 on a sunny day to limit your depth of field. People shooting video frequently use an ND filter so they can shoot at 1/30th shutter speed to get normal looking video.

There are a couple of different ways to accomplish neutral density. One is to use a variable neutral density filter, the other is to use a filter that has a fixed amount of density. The variable is much more expensive and gives you more precise control. The fixed is less expensive but you may want two or three to meet all your needs.

If I want moving water to look milky, I usually like to have a shutter speed of two seconds or longer. So if I am shooting 100 ISO and it is sunny, my exposure will be f/11 at 1/125 sec. So I need eight stops of ND to get down to the two second exposure I want, which is why the only ND I carry is 8X.

OK, I kinda lied. I made my own variable ND filter by using two polarizing filters and reversing one in its frame. I can then stack the two on my lens and vary the amount of light coming through, which is how an official variable ND filter works. But I don’t find that I need to do that very often, my 8X ND covers what I usually want to do.

And there are graduated ND filters where part of the filter is ND and part is clear. These are great when the sun is below the horizon and the foreground is dark and the sky is bright. You can cut down the light in the sky but not the foreground. I have to admit that I don’t use my graduated ND filters much any more since Lightroom does such a great job creating the same effect. But I’d say that it is better to do it with filters than software if you are real fussy. They also make slotted ND filters that cut down the light in the middle, like after sunset when the horizon is bright but the sky and foreground are dark. And there are tinted ND filters, but they are gimmicks to me. If you want your scene to be blue or warm, just do it in the computer.

My suggestion is to start with a 8-10 stop ND. You’ll want to have it available for each of your lenses, you never know if you are going to want it with wide angle or telephoto. So either buy one for each lens or buy one for the largest filter size you have and get step-down rings that let you put the larger filter on the smaller lens.