Back Home Again In Indiana

Hoosier

Click on the Hoosier barn to see more Indiana photos.

It’s been a busy few days here. Summer in Indiana means vacation bible school in most of our communities, and ours is no exception. We were busy each night with suppers and lessons; a tradition I hope I never see the end of. And my very good friend Kendall Reeves afforded me the opportunity to put together some images for a potential client. The photos are of rural Indiana, designed to showcase some of our heritage. I spent a lot of time searching for appropriate images and narrowing down candidates. And what I found is that I really enjoyed seeing again some of what our farm heritage has afforded us with, some of the beauty we enjoy today. So I put some of them in a new gallery to view whenever I need to be reminded that I am fortunate enough to live in a pretty good place – Indiana.

I think I have posted nearly all these photos elsewhere at different times. But I tweaked a few of them from past processing days (and Photoshop versions) to bring them up-to-date. You can view them by clicking here or on the image at the op of this post. And welcome back to Indiana. Again.

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Bloomington Photo Club Orchid Trip: Some Photos

Covered bridge falls

Click on the photo of the covered bridge to see more images.

Saturday we headed off again for Cataract Falls on the way to Hilltop Orchids, a wholesale/retail purveyor of fine orchids. The trip was an outing for the Bloomington Photography Club’s macro focus group. We get together periodically to visit selected locations for friendship and shooting opportunities. I have to admit, this one featured some tough shooting. But it was great practice on close-up photography, and shooting with other members of the club always is fun. We stopped for lunch afterwards at the Upper Cataract Falls area, and the fellowship reminded me of why I so often urge you to seek out a group or club in your area. Other photographers make great companions, and there is a fun factor to what we do that never should be underestimated.

Sue and I left home early that morning and stopped by the falls again. I wanted to shoot the covered bridge on the property, something we missed last week because of the lousy light (our fault; we got there way too late for photos that day). I knew we didn’t have to be in place exactly at sunrise; the sun would be hidden for some time by tall trees to the east. When we got there our timing was pretty good. We were able to catch the sun as it cleared the trees, lighting up the bridge and the falls as it made its way higher and higher. We shot about all we wanted to before it cleared all the trees and became pretty harsh. It’s a pretty location; I liked some of the shots of the water we got. Then it was on to the orchids.

You know, I sort of thought there would be an orchid here and an orchid there (kind of like Old MacDonald’s farm, I guess). There would be orchids of all sizes and descriptions, all standing patiently still for me to photograph them. What we found was table after table filled with orchids that looked pretty much alike. And orchids like their air to circulate freely around them … and seemingly the faster the better. Nothing was standing still; we might as well have been outside in the breeze the way the multiple fans kept the air moving. And the tables only had a few aisles here and there to walk through (the watering was done with tall, long overhead sprinkling wands). So, I tried to learn something more about shooting in difficult conditions – with limited success, I fear. I have posted a few flower pictures to let you know where we were and what we have been up to. None of these flower pics are going to grace the cover of Orchid Weekly anytime soon, however.

Once we finished shooting we headed back to the falls area for a picnic lunch. The day was pleasantly warm and the company was superb. It was a fun outing, the reason I belong to the Bloomington Photography Club. If you don’t have such a group to join in with, give some thought to starting your own, no matter how small to begin with. You’ll be glad you did.

For some of the images I came home with, click here. Or just click on the photo at the top of this post. And thanks for visiting today.

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Photoshop CC 2014: One Cure For Installation Problems (No Automatic Update)

Photoshop 2014 is a new version, not just a regular update.

Adobe rolled out a new version of Creative Cloud yesterday. I’m not sure yet if it is a big deal in terms of processing for me or not. I suspect not, but any improvements will be welcomed since I am paying them a subscription fee each month (improvements or not). But my advice for all of us is to upgrade whenever new software comes out whether you think you will need it or not. That applies to all your programs and all firmware updates for your camera or whatever else you own. The updates are there for a reason; take advantage of them. Now, whether or not the updates are easy to install is a separate question. And it is a question plenty of people gained experience with yesterday, compliments of Adobe.

I opened Photoshop CC today and checked for updates. One was available, so I installed it with no problem or delay. It turns out that was a little, normal one (ACR and support for additional cameras). Then I checked Lightroom, and I updated that one per usual. I didn’t understand why I wasn’t getting the new features in the Photoshop update. It turns out this is a whole new version that you have to download from scratch (version 2014 as it is being called). And I couldn’t get it by just checking Photoshop and looking for updates there. So, I opened my Creative Cloud icon (the one that controls the apps you have in whatever you pay for with your Adobe subscription). And I found it blank, a white screen with no list of my Photoshop or my Bridge or my Lightroom. Great.

I went over to the Adobe site, and it kept leading me to the same page (the one where you downloaded Photoshop). And that led me back to the Creative Cloud screen each time – the white, blank one that I got before. So I looked for advice on the net. The first advice I found was to quit my current Creative Cloud, log out from Adobe, and then start all over. And I did – with the same result. Then I tried deleting my Creative Cloud and re-installing. That got me Error 50 … some esoteric message that seems to be some kiss of death thing. Adobe had some advice on solutions to this problem, but they seemed pretty involved and complicated. I looked on.

Here’s what worked. If you have had the experience I did, try this (it comes from an Adobe help manager). You have to remove a certain file from your Photoshop program and then re-install Creative Cloud). I have a link for you at Adobe (click here for that page); the solution you want is Solution 2. It’s easy to do (in case you are jittery about removing files), and getting rid of this one just clears the way for a new install (which you need). After you remove the file go back to Adobe and sign in with your Adobe ID. Download Creative Cloud; the new one you get will be up-to-date with the new Photoshop CC 2014 available. After you get the Creative Cloud app installed you just update whatever is indicated as in need. Voila! You are up and running with the complete new version of Photoshop.

Then … this is a new version; you are going to be able to migrate any presets you have, but not 3rd party plugins. Darn! But, one of my favorite Englishmen to the rescue! He advised to do something that Adobe says not to do – copy your plugins from the old PS CC to the new PS CC 2014. I know, I know – Adobe is the big dog in town. But Glyn knows his way around Photoshop, and if he advises we can take the easy route – we can take the easy route. I went into PS CC and found Program Files, Adobe, Adobe PS CC, Plugins. Copy them. Then go to the corresponding folder in PS CC 2014 and paste your plugins into the new program. Remember … Adobe says not to do this. But Glyn did and it worked for him. And I did and it worked for me. And it sure is easier and faster than re-installing all your plugins from scratch. If for some reason it doesn’t work for you, what have you lost? And if it works, you really have gained a great deal. Thank you, Glyn!

One final note for the new version – if you make any changes in your preferences in Photoshop you do have to go into the 2014 version and make them all over again. That I can’t help you with (for example, I don’t use point sample with the color picker. I sample with a 5×5 average, so I have to go in and make that change to the new version). Don’t forget those little tasks. The sit back and enjoy your new program!

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A Closeup Look At My Friend RC Concepcion

I have had the privilege of shooting with and spending some time with Kelby Media Guy RC Concepcion. He is a fine photographer and a fine instructor. And he is warm and personable and generous and a great deal of fun to be around. RC is joyful; he truly delights in whatever activity you come up with to shoot or try. His attitude can be infectious, and before you know it the entire group is charged up and excited to be doing whatever it is that is front of you. RC is a pretty good sized guy, but he also is as gentle a person as I have met in a long time. You would enjoy spending time with him.

When we were shooting together it was hard not to get excited about whatever he was excited about. In fact, I asked him if the rest of his family was like he is. And when he replied that they are, my comment was I would love to be there with him and his family on Christmas morning! It must be quite a sight to see them all as excited as he would be! Okay, so my point for the post today ….

I ran across this short little video featuring RC over on the Fuji Rumors site. He began shooting with the X-T1 a while ago, and he is pretty happy with it (as are the rest of us). Fuji announced a new weather-sealed 18-135 lens recently, and RC somehow got his hands on one. So, as is not unusual in Florida, it started raining the other day. And the fun-loving RC that I know was as happy and excited as could be to get out in the rain with the new lens and his X-T1. This video demonstrates better than I can describe RC’s great personality and his love of life. You gotta watch it to see what I mean, but after you do you will appreciate that it just is fun to be around him. Take a look:

See what I mean? I’m not selling Fuji lenses today; I just wanted to showcase what I had seen as RC’s award-winning personality.

If you ever get a chance to shoot with him or take a workshop with him, don’t hesitate. He knows his stuff, and I am sure you will learn a lot. And what I can guarantee you is that you will have a great, fun time. Just check out that smile in the wet and rain of Florida for proof!

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Have You Purchased Your Last Camera? Perfection Versus ‘Good Enough’

X-T1

Is this camera good enough for your needs?

Like probably most serious and pretty serious photographers, I enjoy cameras and related gear. I enjoy looking at them and reading about them and talking about them in addition, of course, to using them in the field. But I noticed well more than a year ago that each time I read about or heard about a new camera or lens that I kept coming back to the same thought: “What I have now suits my needs. It’s good enough for what I do.” And I don’t own all the latest gear, let alone all the stuff that’s been made down through the years. It’s just that what I have (and what my wife owns and uses) is good enough for us; there is no need to continually chase whatever is newest on the market because it promises perfection. What has been echoing in my mind for quite awhile now is that what I have is good enough.

Camera and equipment manufacturers do come up with breakthroughs in technology. We live in a true golden age of photography. But even with the advances you read about in new cameras and new lenses so very frequently, do you find yourself drawn to the new stuff anymore? Or do you regard it with interest, but then compare it to what you currently shoot with and decide what you have is good enough for what you do? For example, I own a Nikon D800. It’s 36 megapixels are more than enough for anything I ever will shoot or try to print (no matter how large). It is a marvel in what it can do (more camera than I still am a photographer). Now Nikon is coming out with what appears to be called the D810 … still 36 megapixels, minor increase in frame rate (and I do mean minor), tiny changes in a few other things. The camera will be the latest and greatest, and it will cost more than the D800 or D800E. And I read about it and consider my D800 and realize what I have is good enough for me. Yes, the new camera may be considered better or more advanced than mine; I just don’t need it because mine is good enough. So, Nikon – if you are trying to entice me into an upgrade, no such luck. I realize the new camera possibly could get me closer to technological perfection. The point they are missing is that I don’t need technological perfection for what I do. What I am getting now is good enough.

Fuji is supposed to be coming out pretty soon with an update to the extremely popular X-T1 (called the X-T1p, we hear). It will have a few new features or a few improvements on the old ones. And the reviewers I follow already are advising current owners not to get excited – the X-T1 is good enough. Fuji just unveiled a new lens, the 18-135. For $900 you get weather sealing and a different focal range in a relatively slow lens. Owners of the 18-55/55-200 combination are, I predict, going to compare what they own with the new offering and conclude that what they already shoot with is good enough. And you can cite example after example of more of the same.

The majority of photos taken and published in the world today are taken with smart phones (publishing includes Facebook and blogs and websites and all the other social media uses). Those phones don’t make museum quality captures like the D800 is capable of. But the point to be made is that those phone owners don’t care – for what they are doing the smart phone is good enough. They don’t want to carry a separate camera and download files and upload files and all that goes with what we do. The camera built into their smart phone is good enough. They aren’t going to go out and buy a new camera anymore … heck, it may take a great deal in the future to get them to buy a new phone because the one they own now can do so much. It’s good enough, even if it isn’t perfect.

I’ve been thinking and feeling this way for some time now. And then yesterday I was reminded of those thoughts by an article by the ever-articulate Thom Hogan over on byThom. He was writing about how people use their iPhones and wondering if that was good enough to really hurt all the camera makers? My thesis is that it already has – the market for little compact and sub-compact cameras has been in trouble for sometime now. You don’t need a separate camera when your phone is good enough (click here for a link to Thom’s article).

The camera manufacturers are in a sense victims of their own competence. I keep advising that until your old camera can’t get you the shot you want to take that you don’t need new equipment. And we have such great gear anymore that there hardly is a shot out there that you can’t get with what you currently own. Now, I’m not great at peering into the future. There always is the chance that there will be an advance so great, so advanced, so thrilling that it will make everything we own obsolete. And at that point we all can consider if it makes what we currently shoot with not good enough. Or cameras can break, be lost, or even stolen. If that happens by all means shop around for the latest and greatest; take advantage of a new opportunity. But in the meantime carefully consider all the new claims and advances and marketing lingo that come our way daily. And ask yourself: “Isn’t my stuff good enough for what I do?” I’m betting the answer most always will be – “Yes.”

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Wednesday Adobe Upgrades: Focus Mask Sneak Peek

There were a whole bunch of us who were upset with Adobe’s move to a subscription-based sales model for Photoshop (and I am willing to bet there still are a lot of us not very happy with the new way of doing business). But, Adobe isn’t going back to the old model on account of us, so we may find it healthier to get on with making images without looking backward (too awful much). And the rumor is that tomorrow will see a bunch of upgrades for Adobe products released all at once, Photoshop included. I haven’t used a lot of new features in my Photoshop CC subscription since I reluctantly signed up, but I have watched a short video of a new feature for tomorrow. And this one looks as if it might be most welcome. It’s called Focus Mask.

The idea is that you will be able to do cutout masks in Photoshop using areas that either are in focus or out of focus. Yes, every product manager chooses images to demo that are perfect for what they want to showcase. And real life use has a way of giving you photos that don’t quite fit the perfect mold – I get that. But even if a new feature works most of the time instead of all the time, or if it gets you almost to where you want to be in a hurry, that can be quite useful and very appreciated. Anyway – to the point …. Watch this short video to see how this new feature can work. And imagine how useful it actually might end up being.

Not bad, eh? There are a lot of third-party programs out there that do a good job of making cutouts. It would be nice to have another one right in Photoshop, one easily and quickly accessed as part of a regular workflow. Come back tomorrow and we will see together whether this rumor is true. And how we like the finished product.

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Indiana’s Upper Cataract Falls: Photos And A Trip

Cataract

Click on the Upper Falls to see some more photos from Cataract State Recreational Area.

Our visit to North Carolina for Bill Fortney’s His Light Grandfather Mountain workshop left us inspired, as well as filled with friendship and fellowship. Shooting waterfalls was a pretty new experience, and it left me looking for water here at home. Last week I shot a smaller waterfall in nearby McCormick’s Creek State Park (click here for that link), and this past Saturday Sue and I took a short trip to Cataract Falls (a state-managed recreational area). Cataract Falls has a lower and an upper waterfall, the upper being Indiana’s largest waterfall and the lower coming in as the runner-up. Neither is gigantic; each has its charms.

We never had visited the area before, so Saturday was sort of a scouting trip. We had other things to do in the morning, so it was near noon when we arrived (catching some lousy light, naturally). But we spent the time exploring how to find our way down the steep (make that ‘sheer’) cliffs surrounding most of the falls area. We took our rubber boots with us, so we were looking for ways to get out into what looked to be a fairly shallow stream downstream from the Upper Falls (forget the lower ones; that is an area for boats and fishermen). It took some effort, but we found our way down to the stream and out into it. We were rewarded with the opportunity for shots that no one ever is going to get from up top. We practiced with lens choices and combinations of f/ stops and graduated neutral density filter settings. And it truly was fun doing the experimenting.

What we did Saturday was of great value, I think, even though the light didn’t give us much of a chance for really good images (full sun, quite harsh). But we are planning another trip back to the falls soon, one calculated to get us there and in place for sunrise. Now, I’m not completely sure what the light will do at that time to the falls themselves. But I figure it just has to be softer than what we had to work with Saturday. The wild card always is Mother Nature and the conditions on any given day (for a great story and lesson about that click here for a post by my good friend and talented photographer Richard Siggins). But by scouting the area and shooting locations Saturday we are putting ourselves in position on any other trip to get the shot we hope for. And putting yourself in a position to get the shot is a big step toward actually getting the shot. Saturday was a worthwhile trip.

And I know you have experienced this for yourself: we had a really fun time Saturday being outdoors with each other. It was a beautiful setting with the roar of the water and the woods we trekked through to get downstream. By the time we toured both of the falls and spent some time just sitting and enjoying the settings, we were quite hungry. The afternoon was topped off with a visit to a local restaurant we never had tried (The Hilltop in Spencer). The food was delicious, my dinner companion marvelous, and the day special. What a blessing we have in God’s creations and our abilities to enjoy it with a camera in hand!

I only have three photos from Saturday that had any promise. I added them to the Grandfather Mountain gallery, thinking of water and waterfalls. Click here to see those three images. But hang on – we are planning a trip back to the falls very shortly … complete with better light and more chances to capture the beauty around us.

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McCormick’s Creek Waterfall: Photos

MC waterfall

Click on the waterfall to see more photos from McCormick’s Creek.

I had forgotten how beautiful Indiana can be. We found North Carolina to be amazingly photographic; it inspired me to look for similar chances to shoot water and waterfalls closer to home. We don’t have too many waterfalls, but nearby McCormick’s Creek State Park has one that is fairly accessible. The main problem is that it is fed by a quite small stream, resulting in a rather tepid water flow over the drop of fifteen feet or so. But recent heavy rains over the past three days solved that problem, and yesterday afternoon I had the chance to hit the park when it wasn’t too crowded. And I was most glad to do so. Indiana has charms of its own.

I shot with the Fuji X-T1 and a Singh Ray variable ND filter. I liked some of the results, and I enjoyed experimenting with f/ stops and grad filter combinations just as much. What’s that old saying? A bad day shooting is better than a good day doing just about anything else? Yesterday was in fact a good day.

Click on this link or the photo at the top of this post to see a few images I was happy with. Now all I need is even more rain and a new pair of waders.

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Learning Lightroom 5: The How’s And The Why’s

If you are a Lightroom user, at any level, today features an hour-long video that will teach you skills or refine the ones you already have. And if you are not a Lightroom user and have been curious about what the program can do, this video will inspire and excite you. I promise.

This video was originally recorded for B&H, part of their education series. They brought in a fine photographer who has a complete and easy-to-understand workflow in Lightroom for processing the photos he captures. And in today’s world you absolutely have to be able to post-process your images competently and efficiently. Lightroom was developed from the ground up years ago by Adobe for photographers (Photoshop actually was first envisioned for graphic designers). It is a program that really works. And this is a video that really works, also.

Set aside some time or some blocks of time to watch the video in its entirety. It is worthwhile (and entertaining).

Now, you know what Lightroom can do. And you know how good your photos are. Get busy and make them even better.

Oh, and an added bonus. My good friend Miles Smith (amazing photographer) advised last night that he found an informative video on using Lightroom to process room interiors. If Miles thinks it is worthwhile, I am quick to take a look. And he was right … pretty good. The producer has a quick commercial for his own products at the beginning, but it doesn’t last vey long. This video complements our first one quite well actually. So, take a look and add to your processing skills. Thanks, Miles.

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Grandfather Mountain Photos: Critiques And Criticisms

Purple hills
Click on the North Carolina foothills to see the critique results.

At Bill’s latest His Light workshop we spent a lot of time on critiques, suggestions designed to possibly improve the selected images. That is a different process from criticism, the tendency we have sometimes to just say, “I don’t like that” or “That’s not a good photo.” Critiques are offered in the spirit of improving one’s images, knowledge and skills. Criticism too often is offered to build up the criticizer while tearing down the photo (or photographer). Critiques can be invaluable in improving our photos and our abilities, in the present and over the long haul. Unwarranted or mean-spirited criticism can retard a photographer’s growth and self-confidence. So how do we tell the two apart? And when should we take suggestions to heart, and when should we let it roll off our backs?

I have a dear friend in Richard Small, a friend who also happens to be an amazingly talented photographer. He has a real talent for finding the picture-in-a-picture, making an image as good as it can be by focusing on the subject and its attributes. He is a very good instructor, having a knack for teaching in a clear and gentle way. He is a treat to spend time with and shoot with. And he has been kind enough on several occasions to offer me advice on images I have posted. His are clear and thoughtful critiques; when Richard speaks, I listen. Yesterday we spoke on the phone and he offered me suggestions on some of the Grandfather Mountain photos I posted Sunday night. Thank you, Richard!

What I did was to think carefully about what he suggested and then try them out on my photos. I gave a lot of thought to critiques and criticisms today and decided to draw some distinctions between the two. All of us should be fortunate enough to be the recipient of thoughtful and well-meaning critiques. All of us need to develop some resistance to unwarranted criticism. A few suggestions are in order.

1. Critiques are designed to build up your skills and make your images better. Criticism often is designed to tear down what you have done. When you hear a comment (or comments) don’t react with what most of us have a tendency to do … reacting immediately and become defensive. Stop for a moment (or two) and consider what was said and try to determine the intent of those comments. Is that person attempting to help you or hurt you? The motive behind the comments usually can be ascertained rather readily.

2. Criticism can hurt. Accept that fact and understand that you are human if you are bothered. But let that be the end of it. Is the commenter an unknown name or number on the internet? Do you even know that person … anything about their experience, talents, abilities to judge images, motive for commenting? There are people out there who spend hours tearing down others on the web. They seem to take pride in being mean, or they derive some sense of power in their comments. If you don’t know anything about the person making comments, don’t pay attention to what they are saying. Place your trust in those people who have your welfare in mind and who have the ability to effectively judge your work.

3. Critiques are designed to improve your skills and your photos. If you spend your resources on instruction instead of chasing new camera equipment (something I strongly recommend), find a workshop that offers critiques as part of the training. If you are learning from an instructor who has the skills you admire and want to master you know that person has the ability to teach you through the comments he or she makes in looking at your photos. That is the time to take those comments to heart, the time to accept even that advice that tells you an image isn’t so great. Find a mentor in your community or in your local camera club that has skills and abilities that you admire. Ask them to review your images periodically. Most photographers are happy to pass on what they know. Find those who you trust and admire and learn from what they say.

4. When you receive advice on improving an image, take it. Re-do the photo; incorporate the suggested changes (if possible); evaluate the results. Do the changes make the photo better, either technically or aesthetically? Do the suggestions fit with your vision of the image? Did it make it something you never intended or something foreign to your style? Listening to the advice and trying it out doesn’t mean giving up your artistic control over the photo. But if the image is improved don’t hesitate to say thanks and incorporate the changes.

5. Learn from critiques, whether the images are yours or those of someone else. Pay attention to all the comments and all the photos in a session; learning isn’t confined to your photos alone. Study all the photos yourself with your own eye. After a while can you see some of the common mistakes we all fall prey to so often? Are there rules and techniques that weave a common thread through many (or most) of the photos? Are there commonalities to the images you find most pleasing or that you are attracted to? Critiques are designed to teach in general as well as be specific to particular images. Take advantage of that.

6. Be tough on yourself. Try to put into practice at home (alone) what you have heard and seen in outside critique sessions. And make no mistake, that can be most difficult. We all have emotional attachments to what we create. The easiest person I have found in life that I can convince of almost anything turns out to be me. Be thoughtful and kind when examining the work of others; be really hard on yourself. Don’t settle when you don’t have to. Don’t beat yourself up for no reason … but do be honest about what is your best work and what isn’t. You owe that to yourself and to those viewing your photos.

Okay, time to show you what I mean. Richard offered a critique yesterday of several of my images. I had an emotional attachment to many of them; I had posted them because I thought I was finished with them. Richard has a great eye, however, and I have learned to trust what he says. So I went back to Photoshop and made some changes based on his suggestions. Click here to see the results. I am not sure I would incorporate each and every suggestion; I can tell, however, that the photos are stronger for taking his advice. And that is the purpose of a critique – improving my work while making me a better photographer. Thank you, Richard!

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His Light Workshop On Grandfather Mountain: Photos

Bill GF

Click on the photo of Bill Fortney to see more images.

We’ve been home for a week now from our His Light Workshop on beautiful Grandfather Mountain in equally beautiful North Carolina. There have been lots of summer chores to catch up with or to get started on, plus I still am recovering from a fall on our third day out. I was slipping (literally!) down a small stream to get a different angle on the waterfall we were shooting when my feet went out from under me where a thin stream of water flowed over the rocks. The good news was that the D800 I was shooting with never hit the rocks; the bad news was that the ribs on my right side did. Ouch! Nothing affected me until a couple of days later when we were preparing to head home. For some reason the soreness and pain kicked in then. Extreme ouch! But we are home and back in the groove, already looking forward to our next His Light get-together.

If you never have visited the Grandfather Mountain area of western North Carolina, give some serous thought to a trip there. You will find water in the form of creeks and streams and waterfalls. There are mountains and hills, winding roads and beautiful scenery. The people are friendly and hospitable to an extreme. And if you go with a group of fellow photographers as friendly and gracious and helpful and talented as our bunch was – well, there is no downside to any such trip. We had a wonderful, rewarding experience with Bill Fortney and Miles Smith and all the other guests. His Light Workshops are a combination of shooting and classroom work and sharing and fellowship that I have yet to find matched anywhere else. Call it the Bill Fortney Experience if you will. And Grandfather Mountain was no exception … any fault you find with some of the images I am posting is strictly and completely due to the skill (or lack thereof) of the photographer.

The mountain itself is about 6,000 feet at its peak. The colors of sunrise and sunset varied according to the weather, of course. We saw brilliant orange colors and delicate blues, with violet tones softening the entire valley below at different times. The wind blows so hard at times that many of the trees only have branches and leaves on the down wind side – windy indeed! We were able to find different weather conditions and subsequent looks as we drove to various levels of the mountain; it was quite a shooting experience. It reminded me a bit at times of the Palouse region of Washington State, standing up on Steptoe Butte and looking down at the valleys below. The waterfalls don’t compare to the Columbia River Valley (where Bill and Jack Graham are at present), but there was water and plenty of opportunities to practice our slow water techniques. And God truly smiled down on us our last evening out when the heavy overcast parted in time to provide us with a fine sunset. We all left with fond memories of North Carolina and of each other. It was a memorable time of meeting new people and making new friends.

I hope you enjoy the photos I selected for the Grandfather Mountain gallery (click here for a link). And I urge you to consider a trip there for yourselves. You won’t be disappointed.

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Depth Of Field To Go: Fujinon OptCal … And A Great Mirrorless Shootout

OptCal

If you are a Fuji shooter, grab this free app.

I am unfailingly amazed at what the internet offers, especially in the world of apps for the iPhone and iPad. In the past couple of days one of those apps that has amazed me is for the Fuji X-T1 (or any of the Fuji cameras). It is simple to input data and simple to read and use the results, the depth of field for any given set of criteria. And it is free! Thank you, BizApps LLC (the developers and sharers of this fine, fine program).

If you ever wonder about what is going to be in focus at any given distance (and aperture), flip open this tiny little program and input the data asked for (in an easy numerical manner). Hit ‘Done’ and the magic happens. There are a lot of times when depth of field is absolutely crucial for that special shot. If you are a Fuji shooter, click here to check out this neat little app … and download it for free. There haven’t been enough reviews gathered yet for it to get a star rating, but I for one am giving it high marks indeed. And, did I mention that it was free?

And speaking of Fuji cameras … I first saw this YouTube video over on Fuji Rumors. It was a quite reputable test of four mirrorless cameras versus the current king of the autofocus world, the $7,000 Nikon D4s. Now, none of these mirrorless cameras comes even sort of close to that price tag. So, unfair test? Quite the contrary! It is going to come as no surprise that the Nikon comes out on tip; what may surprise you is that all the others hold their own. In fact, the reviewer flatout states that these current mirrorless models autofocus as faster or faster than any of their respective price point DLSRs. Wow! And we still are having doubts on whether or not these systems have arrived?

Take a look at this video. Honestly, it is eye-opening.

We have been shooting a lot lately with the Fuji X-T1. And it is deserving of all the praise that has been thrown at it since its introduction. I’m not among those counting down the days for DLSrs … but I no longer count them as automatic Kings of the Hill.

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Indianapolis Zoo International Orangutan Center: Grand, But Not So Much For Photographers

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The new center: great for orangutans, not photographers.

Thursday we took the day off to visit the Indianapolis Zoo, invited to a members-only opening of the new international orangutan center (click here for information about the new exhibit). There is an inherent tension between the zoo (make that, most zoos) and us photographers. We want the best possible viewing points, locations with lots of close-up access to the animals. We want uncluttered backgrounds, sites with decent light. We want a spot pretty much free from constant crowds of other visitors. The zoo wants to provide the best possible environment for the animals; the people are necessary evils in a way. Modern zoos (rightfully) are concerned with protecting rapidly dwindling populations of certain species in the wild; entertaining visitors is a means to that end, not an end in and of itself. Zoos need the support of the public to fund their main mission; the public wants to get up close and personal with what often are viewed as exotic oddities. And then we photographers want it all, including accommodations for us and all our gear. Tough to satisfy everyone.

The Indianapolis Zoo already is earning (deserved) praise for its new efforts to support orangutans, increasingly endangered throughout the world because of loss of habitat. There are six of them being expertly cared for in a new, incredibly modern and ape-centric facility. The zoo’s commitment is the continued safety and care of the entire species. It is easy to understand that my desires as a photographer are pretty far down the list of concerns. And to their credit, zoo directors spent a lot of time and resources designing an exhibit that the general public will find most attractive and entertaining. I just wish that zoo personnel around the country would consult with an established photographic group or club when beginning the initial designing process for new exhibits. We probably could make a few suggestions that might make shooting a much more productive endeavor in the end. And not just to cater to our group.

Sue and I recently shot a couple of days at the (now closed) Ohio State Reformatory. That fascinating place is being run by a foundation these days, one dedicated to the prison’s long-term survival. We shot in the past out in California’s premier ghost town, Bodie. On both occasions we paid for the privilege to shoot with some special access. It was worth it to us and all the other people we were with. Both institutions have figured out that photo tours are a new and lucrative source of precious income. Bodie in particular is going out of its way to encourage and accommodate photographers. I know that most zoos (if not all) are constantly in need of funds. Tapping a new source of income (photographers) would seem to be worth a bit of effort.

But, sadly, that is not the case (thus far) in Indianapolis. The new orang exhibit is filled with reflective tinted glass. By the second day of its opening the glass was covered with smears and fingerprints that were a problem to any shooter. The crowds scoot right up to the windows to see the apes, who often sit right at the glass themselves (on the other side, of course). It is dark inside the exhibit, great for the orangs and the eyes of the visitors, but not so good for shooters. You really need a tripod to capture decent shots (certainly if you are going to wait and wait with camera ready for a decent action shot). Good luck doing that without photographing a crowd of people, all of who have just as much a right to be there in your way as you do to be there at all. And the outside plaza has a huge swath of towering glass, all reflective and all tinted. And as soon as any of the orangs head to that lower level, so do all the crowds. The glass area fills with people, preventing any shot any of us would really like to go home with. The exhibit is a great one, no doubt. Just not for photographic purposes.

I actually am going to ask for a meeting one day this summer from the zoo’s marketing department. I am going to suggest that charging for special-access photo tours might be a new and welcome source of income for them. If they are interested at all, perhaps I can get a look at what they could offer. Getting behind the scenes still might not be very productive if there are no good vantage points for uncluttered shots. But, it’s worth a try and it could be mutually beneficial. We’ll see.

In any event, we support the zoo with our membership. I would urge you to consider doing the same in your city. These institutions are some of the last, best chances many animals on our planet have for their very survival. Sort of puts my complaints about taking photos in perspective, doesn’t it?

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Nikon Support And Repairs: Another Trip For Me

I posted recently that my Nikon D800 experienced a 10-pin connector failure. It was inconvenient, but those things happen from time to time. I was pleasantly surprised to find Nikon’s support and repair section acted quickly to address my concerns, sending me an estimate for the repairs the same day they received my camera. The rep I spoke with on the phone (to approve that estimate) was quite sympathetic, and she promised to put a ‘rush’ designation on my repair so that I would have the camera for an upcoming workshop. Three days later my camera was repaired and shipped back to me … with only one worry that surfaced later (maybe it is just me. Maybe I am a bad luck charm).

I was sent a tracking number when my D800 was shipped out from New York. I checked that number and discovered my camera was on its way to an address in California. Frankly, I wasn’t too concerned. I knew my camera had been sent to and serviced on the East Coast, not California. There must have been an incorrect tracking number assigned to me, I figured. There would be plenty of time to sort that out come (this past) Monday. When that day came I was a bit more alarmed. My tracking number indicated the camera was delivered to that California address … left at the front desk and signed for by Chen. Uh-oh; that didn’t sound good. So early Tuesday I spoke with another Nikon rep, explaining my concern. I still figured it was just an incorrect tracking number – until my rep asked me to wait for a phone call later in the day. She was sending my case on to the service department, since she could not locate my camera during that extended phone call. Double uh-oh; now I wasn’t so sure everything was indeed in order.

All’s well that end’s well, however. I never did receive a phone call from Nikon. But about five in the afternoon the UPS truck pulled up. “Would that plain brown box be from Nikon?” I tentatively asked. “Yes, sir!” came the very welcome reply. My camera was home, safe and sound … even sooner than I had expected it, frankly. The repair was made, the sensor cleaned, the camera given a good once over and general cleaning – and the charge was for less than the original estimate! Thank you, Nikon!

Hiccups aside, Nikon performed well for me. I am quite satisfied with their concern and their timely response to my camera failure. The company has taken some serious flak over its response to quality control problems recently (think the D600-D610 debacle). But individually each person who dealt with me and my case took me most seriously and were of great help. I’ll call them tomorrow and let them know the D800 made it home safely. And add my thanks.

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Zimmerman Wetlands At Stonehead: A Few Photos

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Click on Stonehead to see more images from the Zimmerman Wetlands.

Saturday Sue and I had a great morning. We were guests of Mike Kelley, owner of the house and grounds at Stonehead in beautiful Brown County, Indiana. Mike is a conservationist and photographer and birding expert and a most wonderful host each year to visitors to his unique and historic landmark property (click here for a link to Mike’s story). Stonehead is a Brown County treasure, a signpost to visitors for decades, and Mike is a most gracious owner and caretaker (click here for a link to the Stonehead story). Mike has added to the property by dedicating the wetlands portion of it to noted local artist, Bill Zimmerman. It is a gorgeous property, and it was a most fun morning.

The temperatures were just cool enough to require a coat, but it meant we never were uncomfortable. The sun popped out after we had been there for a bit, but the mostly overcast conditions made for decent shooting. We photographed the tended garden near the house, and then we set out to explore the wetter trails alongside the several ponds. We have had a bit of a wet and cold spring this year; in part because of that we didn’t find anything extraordinary in the wetlands (yet). I came home with a few images I liked, and I have posted them for today. But mainly it was a morning outdoors, spent with friends and nature. That was the memory to come home with.

My real thought for today is how amazingly enjoyable photography is for so many of us. The best images we make are thrilling and rewarding – no doubt about that. But think of all else we are blessed with, even with we don’t come home with a portfolio photo. Friendship and fellowship come to mind first … some of my best friends in the world have come from this pursuit of ours. A new appreciation for the beauty all around us comes to mind next. Be it out in nature or in the studio with a model or simply out walking around for the day, beauty surrounds us. And the locations photography takes us to so often? We live in an amazing country, a diverse country that beckons in every season. That is what I enjoy more and more as time goes on, worrying less and less about what others think of my work or what even I sometimes think about my work. God has blessed us so greatly.

Click here to see a few images from the Zimmerman Wetlands at Stonehead, or you also may click on the photo at the top of the post. And give some thought to shooting Stonehead yourself. You always are welcome.

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