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.
I recall seeing a documentary on television a few years ago about Ballet. There was an interview with a famous ballet instructor where she was talking about her students lamenting over their own talent and how to become recognized. It seems all artists struggle with this concept of self worth and evaluating their own talent. In the interview the teacher said that she always tried to teach her students that “You aren’t the judge of how good your art is.”
Art appreciation is highly subjective. Don’t delude yourself with thoughts of inadequacy or supremacy. Let the viewer tell you.
When I look and choose what I consider to be my best photographs I’ve come to the realization that I’m more often wrong about it. Yeah, I know a good photo when I see it, but my emotions won’t make the image more commercially viable nor will they infect the eye of the viewer. The photos that sit at the top of my list may indeed be good photographs, though in a commercial sense, they are not the ones that make the most money or get the most attention in public. My wishful or delusional thinking doesn’t alter reality.
Today’s photograph illustrates my point. A photo taken at The Garden of the Gods, a city park in Colorado Springs. It’s a famous venue, known for it’s scenic rock formations and views of the Rocky Mountains.
I took this photograph a few years ago, mostly as an afterthought. It was nothing special at the time. There are a thousand photos just like it out there, many of which I consider to be better than mine. My thinking was, it would make a good stock photo. I would never hang it on my wall though. It just wasn’t a personal favorite.
Make a good stock photo it did. I uploaded this shot to all of my stock agencies thinking it would earn me a few bucks. Boy was I wrong. It’s one of my most downloaded stock images for 2018. On ShutterStock alone, I’ve sold over 115 copies of this photo this past year. It’s even more popular on other stock agencies. It’s paid for itself many times over. Who would have thunk? Small surprises happen all the time.
Don’t get me wrong though. Often times my best shots sell nicely and I’m quite pleased with that. But the best surprise is that image I take for granted as being “average”, is flocked to for commercial use and ends up being a top seller. I’ve heard famous musicians lament this conundrum many times. Joe Walsh comes to mind. He can’t shake Rocky Mountain Way, a song he claims he never put much effort into nor really cared all that much about. The public eye is a fickle thing it seems.
This photograph has done far better with commercial sales than I would have ever given it credit. It’s been featured on web sites, television, Readers Digest and who the heck knows where else? And the sales keep coming in.
So, don’t think you are always the best judge of your artwork. Other people see your work through their eyes and they attach their emotions to the image and those thoughts will not coincide with your feelings most of the time.
This is why I try to teach my students that the best time to take the photo is when you see it. It may be a second thought or something that you contemplated skipping. It may be worthless. But, if you don’t take it, you won’t have it and you won’t learn nor earn a thing from it.
Always keep an open mind. Your best photos are probably not the ones you think.
I posted my cheap photographer’s gift list last year and it was a big hit. I thought I’d repeat the exercise this year with a whole new group of inexpensive photography related items that would make nice stocking stuffers for the photographer in your life.
Disclaimer: I’m not promoting any particular brand or business with my samples. This information is only a reference as the type of stuff I carry in my kit. As with all things photography related, some of these items may be camera/brand/make/model specific. Do a little research before you spend your money.
1. Battery Holster.
Allows the photographer to keep a spare battery attached to their camera strap.
Here’s a sample on B&H Photo.
2. Replacement Lens Caps. Every photographer misplaces a lens cap from time to time. Help them not stress out by buying a few spares for their kit. Most common sizes are 77mm, 67mm, 52mm, but not all lenses are the same. Sneak a peek at their lenses and look on the back side of their lens caps. The correct size should be stamped into the plastic on the inside of the cap. I’d recommend getting the center pinch style caps, as they are easy to remove with the lens hood attached to the lens. If you’re really cheap, look on eBay. Tons of offerings and very inexpensive.
3. Rocket Blower. These are small rubber air puffers, good for removing dust and hairs from the camera sensor and lenses. No kit is complete with one, or two, or three. Beware, I heard stories of the TSA not liking these things because they look like bombs or something. Don’t let that prevent you from getting one though. All they do is puff air when you squeeze them.
4. Memory Card Holder. I always keep spare memory cards in my camera kit and those cards get scattered around in different pockets and pouches. This is an easy, compact solution for keeping those spare cards handy and identifiable. Here’s a sample on Amazon.
5. Portable 12vdc to 115vac Power Inverter.
I keep this in my vehicles. It will allow the photographer to plug in his/her camera battery charger, iPad, laptop PC and just about any low to medium wattage AC powered device while on the road. I’d look for a device that has a 3 prong outlet and USB charging ports.
6. Quick Release Camera Strap. A spare camera strap is always handy to have. I prefer detachable straps as they allow for more flexibility in the field when working on a tripod or shooting from a fixed position. The detachable straps are quickly removed and reattached and sturdy enough to hold the camera and lens. I never use the manufacturers straps, so one of these could be a decent replacement for the OEM strap and the OEM strap can be used as a spare instead.
7. USB Flash Drives. I always keep a handful of USB Flash Drives in my laptop and camera cases. The larger the capicity, the better. 64 gigabyte drives are inexpensive and come in handy all the time when working with photos. Not all of these flash drives are the same though, some have faster transfer rates so do your research. The higher capacity and faster flash drives are normally more expensive. I prefer the flash drives that have some type of protective cover for the business end of the drive. There are rotating covers, plastic removable covers and retractable covers. The choice is yours.
8. Gray Card for White Balance. I always have a gray card in my kit. It’s small, slides into a sleeve on my camera pack and are a very good accessory that allows the photographer to set a reference white balance when working in any light. One shot of the gray card can be used to do bulk adjustments for white balance when post processing. No photographer should be without one. They also make these as lens attachments but I’ve never tried them. A simple card is all you need.
9. Spare Camera Body Caps. If you want to see a photographer flip out, just watch what happens when they lose a camera body cap. Just like lens caps, once removed from the camera they have a tendency to float around aimlessly. All camera brands are specific so don’t buy a Canon body cap for a Nikon camera. They are cheap and having spares is a very good idea.
10. Replacement Camera Eye Cup. Most higher quality cameras have a rubber eye cup than can be removed or fall off. I’ve learned the hard way that sooner or later my camera’s eyecup is going to fall off and be gone forever. I buy spares for all my cameras and keep spares in my camera bag for peace of mind. You can find third party eye cups very cheap, however, I normally buy the OEM eye cups. They tend to fit better and last longer. Eye cups are normally specific to the brand/model camera, so don’t assume that one size fits all.
Most of these items are under $50 US and easily found on any of the reputable online stores. I recommend Adorama, B&H and Amazon, but you can also find more deals on eBay if you have the inclination.
Don’t ignore your local retailers either as many brick & mortar camera shops carry these types of items. I try to support my local camera shops as much as possible. You may pay a little more at the local stores but you won’t get your package stolen from your front porch and it helps keep them in business too.
I guarantee you that your photographer friend could use one or more of these items.
Are lens profile corrections always necessary? Take a look at the two photos above. You tell me which one looks better.
If you are like me, when I edit a photo I automatically add a lens profile correction to the image when it is imported.
When it comes to post-processing your photos, I don’t think it’s always necessary to correct for the lens and as a matter of fact, sometimes you can improve the image quality by not correcting for lens distortions and vignetting.
What you talking about Gary?
First, I think it’s always a good idea to remove visible chromatic aberrations from the image. You know, those red, blue or green lines on the edges of objects in the photo. Some lenses are better than others when it comes to this; however, all lenses are not the same and some of my lenses introduce no noticeable CA. If CA is not visible, there is really no reason to remove it. When you click that remove CA button, the editing software will shuffle pixels to make it look cleaner. Every time you shuffle pixels in your image, you reduce the effective resolution of the lens. No way around it.
Lens distortions can be obvious in some images. Buildings or objects geometry can be obvious but it can also not be noticeable. You may want those trees to align vertically on the edges of the frame, fair enough. Go ahead and correct it. But, sometimes your image will have no obvious distortion due to the subject matter and content of the composition. Every time you click the correct lens geometry the image is re-sampled and those pixels get shuffled. Every time you reshuffle the pixels in your photograph, you lose resolution. If there is no obvious geometric distortion in your photograph, why shuffle the pixels to correct it? You’ll be hard pressed to see a difference. If you examine your shot up close, that small loss of image clarity can be noticeable though. If you can’t obviously discern a problem with distortion, why correct for it?
How about vignetting/shading? Some lenses will produce a visual drop-off in brightness as you move towards the corners of the frame. There are several things at work here, but vignetting is the most obviously visible artifact. If it bothers you, remove the vignetting. Keep in mind though, further editing to reintroduce that vignetting is going to shuffle pixels. When you shuffle pixels in the image, you lose resolution. No way around it. Plus, adding vignetting back to an image that has been corrected is making two corrections for something just to get back to where you started. Why correct it to begin with? You can manually shade the corners if you like but you don’t need to reshuffle pixels to do it.
I add vignetting to a lot of my images. It draws the eye into the frame. It’s an age-old photographic technique. You really need to decide for yourself if you need it or not, but if you do want it, don’t correct for it. Let the lens do the talking and reduce the number of steps in your workflow.
Read any lens review and they will tell you how easy it is to correct for CA and distortion in post processing.
It’s even easier to not make the corrections, and the visual results can be exactly what you where hoping for to begin with.