The end of the year is always a slow time for photography and even slower time for Internet traffic.
Normally Colorado has seen a bit of snow by the end of December but this year has been fairly dry and cold.
Interestingly, as I write this article on New Year’s Eve, we are actually getting a little snow. The day is still early, so maybe there will be a little accumulation for the last day of the year. We can really use it.
I wish I had some wonderful new stuff to show you, but for now I’ll just reflect on 2018 a bit and think of the adventures I should be having in 2019.
I put a lot of effort into updating my stock portfolio in 2018. It has paid off too. My sales have picked up nicely compared to the year before. My goal was to have 2,000 images in the portfolio by year’s end. I’ve exceeded that number and now have over 2,500 photos in the catalog. The target for 2019 will be to increase that number to 3,000 images. I see no problem reaching that goal. I look at stock as a retirement pension.
I have added a new dimension to my photography kit. Wide field astro-photography. I’ve been spending the last week of the year getting to know and understand my new motorized equatorial drive and I hope to have enough practice in to get a nice sequence of the upcoming total lunar eclipse that is occurring on the evening of January 20th. I have an experienced friend, Carl, who is planning to join me, so maybe I will actually learn something. That should be a fun evening with an old pal. I do like to socialize with other photographers from time to time, usually for a mutual trip or event or local outing. Hope to experience more of that in 2019, now that I won’t be heaping on a normal workload of workshops and such. I like the slower pace to life 2018 brought me.
Writing is a passion so I’ll have lots more to say here on this blog and on my other online venues. I have a half dozen articles that I’ve started but the holiday period slows things down as I’m more lazy and tend to stick to enjoying the family life as Winter settles in.
Health wise, 2018 was pretty good for me. Like most other folks, I’ve been dealing with the typical health issues that start cropping up with getting older. Everything is under control that needs to be under control. I have a few things that continually make their presence felt, the worst of which is having to deal with Psoriatic Arthritis. It’s not a severe situation, yet, but modifications to my lifestyle have resulted. One must accept that I’m on the decline side of life and with that comes the inevitable health problems. I won’t let it stop me from what I want to do though. Enough whining about that.
Next up on my travel schedule should be Sandhill Cranes in Monte Vista, Colorado around mid-March. I made the trip in March of 2018 but it was cut short due to a problem with my vehicle. I managed a few hours of shooting though, but this year I hope to make up for the lost opportunities of 2018.
I may be able to salvage some of the local opportunities, if we do see some snow here locally. The deer and bison at Rocky Mountain Arsenal are there, but I tend to ignore the location if there is no snow on the ground. The deer will be active through February, after which the bucks will begin losing their antlers. C’mon Mother Nature, bring on some snow.
I’ve been giving some thought to heading over to Sandwash Basin to photograph the wild horses in April. I’ll stew on that thought a while longer.
Summer will be active, as I have two group sessions of moose photography scheduled with my Facebook group in late July/early August. I will of course spend the better part of June through September in Northern Colorado as usual. I only get about 4 months out of the year to work up there so I tend to get in chin deep during those months, the remaining 8 months is spent waiting.
I’ll take another Autumn Photography trip in late September or early October, but I’ve made no plans regarding that yet. My friend Jonathan Steele has been joining me for the past few years, and I’m guessing we’ll try to get together again this year.
Life here at home has been good though. Trudy and I have found our retirement groove. We’ve got the house and property in pretty good repair, so I hope to keep the major expenses under control in 2019. Something will come up, that’s what always happens. I just hope it isn’t something that requires tens of thousands of dollars to deal with.
That about sums up where I stand on New Years Eve, 2018.
I’d like to thank all my readers and all of my friends for their support over the past year. I’m hoping to make new friends in 2019.
Keep on keeping on and have a very happy and healthy 2019.
I’ve always had a fascination with night photography.
Most of the photographs I’ve taken of the night skies over the years have been fairly simple. A wide angle, fast aperture lens mounted to a camera, supported by a sturdy tripod. Great for landscape photos, star trails, Milky Way galaxy. But this is a fairly limiting approach.
I broke out my telescopes this winter and was looking at ways to mount a DSLR to them. I quickly discovered that the optical quality and construction of my telescopes, while quite suitable for viewing, did not really equate to high quality photographs.
The basic formula for photographing celestial objects is called the rule of 500, sometimes referred to as the rule of 600. The rule is a mathematics rule that tells you what the maximum exposure time one can use to photograph stars or the moon or other fixed night sky subjects without a visual blur to the stars due to the earth’s rotation. I’ve found the rule of 600 works fairly good with wide angle lenses, and when using a super-telephoto lens I revert to the rule of 500. Simply stated, divide 600 or 500 by the focal length of the lens, and you get the maximum exposure time you should use to prevent the blur. This simple rule works fairly well on a full frame sensor and crop sensor. With the crop sensor camera, you must calculate the effective focal length of the lens by multiplying the crop sensor crop factor by the focal length.
For example. If you wish to photograph the moon with a 500mm lens on a full frame sensor I would use the rule of 500. 500/500 = 1 second exposure time max. The same photograph taken at a 250 mm focal length on a full frame sensor would be 500/250 = 2 second exposure time max.
For a crop sensor camera, lets say a Nikon D7200 (it’s what I have), you multiply the focal length of the lens by the crop factor. In my case with the D7200, the math is 500mm x 1.5 (crop factor), so the effective focal length is now 750 mm, Using the rule of 500, you divide 500/750 = .66 seconds maximum exposure time. The crop factor increases the effective focal length of the lens and consequently reduces the amount of time you can expose without apparent movement of the night sky objects. Simple stuff.
For wide angle photography, one gets a little more exposure time by virtue of the wider focal angle. For example, if I wish to use a 20 mm prime lens on my D7200, I multiply 20 x 1.5 and get an effective focal length of 30mm. Using the rule of 600 (my wide angle rule) I calculate the maximum exposure as 600/30 = 20 seconds. The wider focal angle reduces the relative movement of the stars over time, so you can expose for a longer period of time and/or reduce the ISO, thus making for less noise in the image. There are trade-offs and tricks you lean once you understand the basics of night photography but these are the foundations we start with.
The moon is a sunlit object, so a 1 or 2 second exposure time is more than adequate to get a good exposure at just about any ISO setting. For stars, there is less light so longer exposure times are preferred to capturing more light at the sensor and getting more stars in the photo. This is all beginners stuff and something easily learned.
Milky Way photos are fairly easy if you are in a dark sky area but again, you’re stuck with the calculated time limits if you want sharp images.
But, stars and the moon aren’t the only objects out there in space. There are galaxies, nebula, and other things. Most of which can’t be seen with the naked eye, so a telescope is really required to view them.
The very best telescopes have what are called equatorial drives attached to them. The equatorial drive is essentially a motor driven device that will move the telescope in synchronization with the objects rotating around the earth. If you want to photograph something like the Orion Nebula, or a distant galaxy, which are very dim objects, one must find a way to increase the exposure times on photographs. The equatorial drive provides a stationary view of a moving object, thus the exposure times can be increased dramatically. Light is additive, so longer exposure times means more light gathered and better noise free photographs. Using special software these longer exposure images can be filtered and stacked together using computer software to get really nice results. So I’ve heard.
I’ve never attempted this before, but I do have a few friends who have thrown their efforts at this and I’m convinced that I too can do it if I have the proper equipment.
I’ve heard tales of photographers dropping tens of thousands of dollars into astro-photography equipment. A good quality telescope with equatorial drive can run several thousand dollars all by itself. Start throwing in the different gizmos and doodads and like any expensive hobby, it can become a money pit.
My telescopes don’t have equatorial drives and their optics aren’t very good for quality so what to do?
Well, I have high quality optics in my camera lenses and the best approach for me at the moment would be to take advantage of the gear I do have. I can cover any focal length between 20mm and 750mm, so all I really need is an equatorial drive to wade into the money pit.
My wife was kind enough to give me an equatorial drive as a Christmas gift this year. A gizmo made by a company called iOptron. The gizmo is called the SkyGuide Pro camera mount. Essentially, it’s a single axis equatorial drive that attaches to my photography tripod and camera and once properly aligned to my photographic latitude and true north will provide me with a way to actually track and photograph a space object that moves with the earth’s rotation.
The idea is that it will allow me to increase exposure times and that gives me more light to see things with the camera for longer periods of time.
Couple the equatorial drive with a good selection of high quality lenses on a high quality camera, the sky is the limit so to speak. No, it’s not the Hubble Telescope, but from the images I’ve seen on the internet using the SkyGuide Pro and similar camera equipment to mine, I should be able to get something nice out of it.
Night sky photography is tough in cities and areas with high light pollution. Those city lights and smog and other things in the atmosphere degrade the visibility from the suburbs. Lucky me though, I have a cabin in the mountains of Northern Colorado and the night sky at my cabin is DARK. A perfect place to see stars and such and a perfect excuse for me to spend more time at my cabin.
This coming year is the year I learn astro-photography. Stay tuned in, I’ll report back with my results and experiences as I improve my knowledge and skills.
I suppose this is what old photographers do when they get bored.
I’ve noticed over the years, the tendency of landscape photographers, including myself, to lament the presence of power lines in their composition.
Power lines are just about everywhere one goes. They are a byproduct of human civilization.
As a photographer, sooner or later, you’ll have to make a decision on what to do with them in your scene.
The first choice I see many photographers make is to simply edit them out in post processing. Don’t want no stink’n power lines in my photo. It ruins the essence of nature I’m trying to capture. I’ll change reality and make it look more natural with a little help from Photoshop.
The second choice I often see is changing position to obtain a different field of view, one that doesn’t include the power lines in the scene. This works too, most particularly when a different position provides a better photographic viewpoint.
A more amateurish approach would be to be completely oblivious to the power lines and just take the photo. This is a rather hit and miss approach and often results in a strange combination of composition elements that don’t really capture the true essence of the scene in a pleasing manner. I call these “snapshots”
One of my early photography teachers enlightened me on how to handle them, photographically speaking.
I’ll share the knowledge.
Don’t look at power lines as being a negative. Always start with the assumption that the power lines are part of the scene and try to find the composition that uses them rather than take the approach that they should be removed or avoided. Removing the power lines in post processing or compromising the composition by moving to a less desirable position should always be plan B or C.
The first decision you must make is rather or not the presence of power lines maintains the continuity of the scene. By continuity, I’m talking about the reality of the situation. Why the power lines are there, where they appear, where they go. Are they really creating a distraction or is it some mental hangup you are experiencing that causes you to think they are really a problem.
Make the power lines work for you. Find the continuity of the power lines and the environment that complement the reality of what you are trying to capture. The first choice should be to use them, not lose them.
The Bison photo explains this concept perfectly.
This shot was taken at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal near Denver and the backdrop of the Denver skylines defines how to approach this scene. Anybody who has been to RMA National Wildlife Refuge knows about these massive structures and it can sometimes be quite distracting to find a nice buffalo or deer standing under a great steal structure. It just doesn’t feel natural, so it’s a common practice to ignore the shots that include the power lines.
In the case of this photo though, the power lines aren’t out of place. The photograph conveys the juxtaposition of the natural world with the hand of man. The presence of a majestic bison in a field of tall grass with the Denver skyline in the background. Of course this isn’t what this scene would have looked like 200 years ago. Denver didn’t exist. But this photograph wasn’t taken 200 years ago. The power lines explain the environment and the composition uses them to frame the scene. The power lines also amplify that juxtaposition of man vs nature. The bison is oblivious to the power lines, it’s only the human eye that knows what they are and why they are there.
Use good composition skills and learn to use the environmental elements to your advantage.
Tell the story.
Photography doesn’t have to be a deception. We don’t have to pretend that the human presence in nature is obscene or distracting. The truth is often more interesting than fiction. Reality trumps thought. Embrace the realities of the scene and use it to your advantage.
It’s possible that someday, these power lines will be gone or that civilization creeps into the environment to a greater degree. This photo documents reality as it existed when the photo was taken. Somebody viewing this image fifty years from now may have a different take on what it looked like “then” and what it looks like “now.” It’s a historical representation of the truth. Those real life historical contexts can make this photo far more interesting for a much longer period of time.
We often try to separate humans from nature in photography, but the simple undeniable fact of life on earth is that humans are part of nature and so are the things we build. Give some thought to explaining nature as it exists now.
Learn to love your power lines and you’ll find their presence less bothersome.
With 2018 coming to an end, I suppose it’s okay to reflect on my life this past year.
2018 has been a different year for me professionally and on a personal level, in so much that my wife experienced her first year of retirement from her job as an Engineer with Lockheed and I have retired from taking on active photography clients for jobs and workshops. We’ve entered full-tilt retirement.
Oh, my business still exists, mostly in the form of private photography for art and stock photography. Gone are the days of soliciting business as a photographer. It’s no longer a necessity for my personal growth. As a matter of fact, personal growth has already been achieved throughout my life. 2018 was the year I learned to live life with and for my wife and me. I’ve served my country, I’ve been to college, I’ve had my corporate career, I’ve been a successful photography business owner, my kids are alive and well. My grand-kids are growing up. My best friends are still my best friends.
I have found a new groove with my photography though. More time doing the type of work I enjoy the most. Wildlife, nature and landscape work. I’ve lost the desire to travel the world, I’ve seen a lot of it already and the memories are grand but the new memories are going to be based more on my corner of the solar system. Home here in Littleton is the earth and my place in Red Feathers is the moon. The beauty of this simplicity is that I can orbit either at will and without the stress of having to deal with the distractions of working for somebody else. Simplification and clarity.
Not that there aren’t lessons to still be learned. I think learning never stops, unless you give up on the idea. But what is left to learn seems to me to be more involved with learning to grow old gracefully and peacefully. Removing the stress and mental barriers has found a home in my heart. What comes will come, what is gone is gone.
My year in photography has been a good year by means of photographic output. I’ve found a good niche in Stock Photography, my profits are up 200 percent from 2017. I’m enjoying doing work that I know will continue to provide me with additional income for the rest of my life and to those who survive me. That’s a good thing.
The phone doesn’t ring much these days and when it does ring, it is more likely to be someone wanting me to give them money for something I never once thought about prior to the call.
I’ve forgone the concept of travel photography, been there done that.
I don’t do camera clubs. Been there, done that.
No more weddings to shoot. Been there, done that.
No more corporate events. Been there, done that.
No more property photo projects. Been there, done that.
No more volunteer work. Been there, done that.
No more teaching photography. Been there, done that.
No more angry, ugly, hateful, hurtful people injecting themselves into my life on a daily basis. Been there, done that.
Nope, I think I’ll spend more time in 2019 doing what I’ve found to be enjoyable.
Writing more. I love to write if you haven’t noticed.
Spending time with my family and with my friends.
Spending time at my cabin in the mountains.
Spending time photographing the wild critters and the natural beauty that surrounds me.
I’m a Colorado photographer now. Oh, there will still be road trips to different places but my heart and my soul is in the Rocky Mountains and the life I have here.
My wife and I will finish out this life and endeavor to persevere the remaining obstacles. I think that’s referred to as “going with the flow.”
In the meantime, I’ll still be taking photos and sharing them.
As children we are often asked what we want to be when we grow up.
My ideas have changed over the years. I’ve found the end goal.
I’ve used many different cameras and lenses over the years. My theory was “the right tool for the job”, meaning I really wasn’t interested in the brand I was using but more interested in how well that gear performed for the type of work I was doing.
The first “real camera” I ever purchased was the Canon AE-1 in the late 70’s. The AE-1 is the camera that convinced me about the brand. It was the first mainstream 35mm SLR that had a microprocessor. It was solid and a reliable body with technical innovation and I never forgot my experience using it. Alas, it vanished in 1981 during my discharge from the Navy while having my household goods shipped back to the states from Cuba. I never replaced it.
In the 90’s, I had a Nikon F100 film body and it was a good camera but I knew at the time Canon made nice cameras. I never considered other brands. I sold the F100 and purchased a Canon EOS-3 and that was my personal hobby camera for several years. Being a still somewhat young engineer, the technical aspects of the EOS-3 intrigued me. The eye control focus was a point of major interest to my technical mind.
As I approached my retirement from The Wall Street Journal, I decided that digital photography was the future and I had better get up to speed on things before I jumped in up to my neck. I went through a series of DSLR’s over a period of a few years, just to understand where the market was and where the state of the art was.
My first DSLR was a Canon EOS 350-D/Rebel XT, a consumer grade camera with an 8 megapixel crop sensor and I was quite pleased with how well it worked. I did realize though that the 350D was not going to cut it for professional work, it was too basic and too limiting.
When I retired from The Wall Street Journal in early 2007, I started my own photography business and decided that the best gear for me at the time was Canon. I invested heavily in what I believed to be the “best tools for the job.” The job then, was primarily wedding and event photography along with some corporate portrait work.
In the day I was eventually shooting with the Canon EOS 1Ds MKII and a Canon EOS 5D. I had also added a Canon EOS 30D to the kit as a replacement to the 350D and later a 50D. Along with the Canon bodies, I used a Canon 24-105mm L, 70-200mm L and the 100-400mm L, along side a 20mm, 50mm and 85mm primes. I also had the kit lenses from the day, the 18-55mm and the 28-90mm from the film days with the EOS-3.
I still wanted to know more about Nikon and when the Nikon D300 hit the market, I purchased a kit that included the 18-200 VR along with a few prime lenses. I quickly fell in love with the camera and used it for several years as my main hobby, travel and home camera. The predominant issue at the time was that I was more invested in Canon lenses, so I knew that I’d never be a full blown Nikon shooter at the professional level. I loved the Nikon D300 and kept it for several years but had invested far more money in Canon equipment by decision time. Still, I used the Nikon from time to time in my business but mostly it was relegated to a role as a personal hobby camera.
Life was good.
Fast forward a few years, sometime around 2010, I dumped the Nikon D300 and the Canon 30D and I relied on the 1Ds MK II as my primary business tool. A very sturdy and reliable camera it was. At 16.7 megapixels on a full frame sensor, it was the pinnacle of the DSLR technology at the time but was getting long in the tooth as well. The 1Ds MK III was released but I couldn’t see spending another $7,000 on a camera that was marginally better than what I had. By this time, I was beginning to explore nature and wildlife photography and was using my Canon EOS 5D as my primary camera for landscape work.
Fast forward a few years to around 2014 and I had a working kit consisting of the Canon EOS 7D for wildlife, a Canon EOS 6D for landscapes and studio work and was still hanging on to the now ancient EOS 1Ds MKII. By this time the market realities had shifted. Nikon was now in peak form with their camera bodies after releasing the D800, D810 and the D750 and my Canon gear was beginning to fall behind the curve technically speaking. Add to the equation the heavy use I had inflicted on my gear, the realization that my gear needed to be updated slowly filtered in to my brain. Having a strong foundation in technical performance, I was now itching to update my Canon gear. Business finances being what they are, I’ve never been one to run out and buy something because it is new. I had been shooting with the 1 body and the 7D for many years and most of my business income was derived from those Canon cameras. My Canon lenses were beginning to show their age as well. I had to repair the 24-105 L at one point and my 100-400mm L had been sent in for repairs twice over the years, for the same exact problem. Gear malfunctions were occurring on the job. The repair costs were approaching the original purchase price of the lenses. The release of the new versions of all my main lenses made me realize that I was going to have to sell off some gear and get new stuff.
I increasingly looked at Nikon as being the better choice for the future. Canon seemed to stop progressing somewhere around 2014. Their new bodies were minor upgrades to existing equipment and the technical performance wasn’t keeping up with Nikon by this time.
The precipitating event that convinced me to switch brands came when I was out working one day and took a spill, falling down into some serious rocks with my camera and lens in my hand to break the fall. Well, break things it did. I destroyed the 24-105mm L. I also destroyed my wrist and seriously bruised my ribs. I was laid up for a few months and had to stare at my broken arm and broken lens while I contemplated my future as a photographer.
Contemplate I did and I made the decision to not replace the busted lens, instead making the decision to jump to Nikon. I sold off all my Canon gear and used the money from those sales to finance a new kit of Nikon bodies and lenses. I started with the Nikon D750 and picked up a used D800 along with a fresh set of lenses to meet my business needs.
Fast forward to 2018. I’ve since added a Nikon D810 and D7200 to my kit. I’ve settled on a 24-120mm VR, 70-200mm VR and the 200-500mm VR as my main lens kit, along with a 20mm and 50mm prime and a 18-140mm DX lens for the D7200. I probably didn’t lose a lot of money on the switch, I was able to replicate what I had with Canon for only a couple thousand dollars additional expenditure.
Making the switch to Nikon was a good choice though. My business photography focus (no pun intended) had shifted away from weddings and events and more towards Nature and Wildlife photography, so a lot of the lighting equipment I had accumulated for the Canon kit was no longer needed. Selling that studio stuff helped me reduce the financial impact of the switch.
Today my primary kit is based on the D810, D750 and D7200. I won’t upgrade to the D500 or the D850 any time soon. At least not until something breaks and I can pick either body up used for a bargain. There’s just no need.
The D810 is probably the best camera I’ve ever used. The D750 is probably the 2nd best body I’ve ever used. The D7200 still has the best crop sensor of any camera in its class and though it is obsolete now, it has a low shutter count and has a technical performance that matches the Canon EOS 5D Mk III.
So how is it working out? Nikon vs Canon?
What I’ve discerned is that the Nikon bodies outperform any Canon body I’ve ever used. The image quality is a cut above, even on the now long toothed D750, which Nikon still sells like hot-cakes. The auto-focus on the Canon bodies was always one of the problem points I had with Canon. The 7D had an advanced auto-focus system, but low light performance was weak. It needed good light to get consistent, reliable focus. The 6D produced very nice images, but at 20 megapixels and a crippled auto-focus system, it was simply stuck in 2014. Nikon’s 2014 bodies smoked them in just about every regard.
I like the Canon interface more than the Nikon bodies. Canon’s operational controls are intuitive and their layouts don’t seem to change a lot from camera to camera. Very easy to maintain operational continuity with Canon. But, in comparison to the Nikon bodies, I have seen a lot better results. The Nikons are giving me higher resolution, more detail, less noise, better photographic dynamic range and much fewer missed focus images. Reliability as been 100% The Canon bodies focused very fast but were all over the place. The Nikon bodies with 3D tracking were exactly what I needed for wildlife. I don’t miss shots with the Nikons. With Nikon, the focus is either dead on 99% of the time or completely lost. With Canon bodies, I’d see a lot of variation in critical sharpness using AI continuous tracking and would lose a lot more potentially critically sharp photos. The Nikon hit rate is far better.
In three years since I’ve been on Nikon bodies, I’ve probably taken over 100,000 photos. Nothing has broken, nothing has gone wrong and when I pick up a Nikon camera I’m confident that what ever I aim my camera at, I’ll get a sharp and clean image that will post process much easier than anything I ever saw with a Canon body.
So, despite the constant advice you’ll hear on the internet photography forums, switching brands is not necessarily a bad thing. The investment in glass is of course a big concern but when your lenses are failing and the bodies aren’t keeping up with the state-of-the-art, one has to make decisions that move you into the future and not just “good enough.”
I expect to use this Nikon kit as a my core for several more years. I know there are newer cameras on the market now and the lure of mirrorless is wiggling away in that watery golden sunlight, but nothing I’ve seen tells me that I’m going to do any better at what I do with anything different. Canon and Sony and Pentax and Fuji all make fine cameras, but they aren’t going to give me a better result.
The lesson I suppose is; don’t be afraid to make the switch. I did and I’m in a better place now as a result.
I don’t know about you, but I always do a little research before dropping hundreds or thousands on a new lens. Not all review sites are the same, but between these select few you should be able to get a good idea of what to expect from any given lens you may be thinking of purchasing.
With the holiday season upon us, I thought I’d share a few links where you can find a good variety of lens reviews.
Don’t forget the used lens market either. I’ll cover that subject in a future post. For the time being, here are the web sites where I normally do my lens research.
Optical Limits: Good selection of reviewed lenses with actual test data.
DXOMARK: More focused (no pun intended) on optical quality but very good reference for comparing lenses on different camera bodies.
Imaging Resource: One of my favorite general photography web sites. They do a very nice job of testing and reviewing lenses and other gear. Nice articles too.
LensTip: With over 1,500 lenses reviewed, it’s definitely a place to visit. They have tested many lenses that other review sites seem to have missed.