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An aspect of photography I tend to neglect in the colder months is just wandering an area, looking for interesting photos with a simple camera setup. Just a body (a Pentax K-5 for me at the moment) and a manual focus prime (non zoom lens) lens AND using manual mode, meaning I use the camera to meter but I set the aperture and shutter speed not the camera automatically.
In the day of automatic everything why do I do that? It puts me back in control. Cell phones are very capable now days, but you have little control, you can change where you stand and choose when to tap the button. Most point and shoot cameras only give you pseudo control at best, not full control. With this setup everything that is both right and wrong with my photo is my fault. Another reason to do this, is to sharpen my creative eye. Whenever I feel like I am in a creative funk, time for photography is limited, and when I carve out the time I feel... nothing. THAT is the time to go back to basics. By limiting myself to the bare minimum of gear I am forced to work harder and really get engaged. I may not take the best photos but I get stuff that is more interesting to me.
I don't do a good job with my reasoning but if you spend time poking around the net you can find many treatise on why shooting with a prime can be freeing.
Now onto the business, me and my Pentax SMC 28mm f3.5, given to me by my father in law when I bought my first DSLR, he had had it for a long time, and it was in AMAZING shape. The widest aperture is f3.5, so it doesn't let in lots of light, there are faster lenses for sure. What it has going for it is the tactile elements of using it. Well damped and smooth focus ring movement, similar field of view to how I see (This is a tossup between this lens and my 24mm f2.8 lens depending on the day) best of all it is sharp and rewards careful focusing with good images.
Here are the images I shot in about an hour, in order.
I left the aperture wide open for this photo, wanting a little blur to the background. What brought me to this was the expression on the face of this lion. To me he was worried, as well he should be, part of his face is falling off! I really thought of this as a portrait/still life.
Down the alleyway I found this fun combination of elements, first the hand prints, then the realization of the window opening being twice blocked, the mishmash of uses for this building, the wear on the bricks.
This photo was all about the lines, criss crossing and attaching new things to old things.
Even though the aperture is modest, this lens can still produce nice background blurring wide open, Wanting to isolate this eye level piece of razor wire was a simple task, I turned the focus to the closest spot and then moved myself until the element was in focus.
This building is likely to bring my attention nearly every time I go past it now. Where I have ignored it until this point. The front is very nicely figured stone with columns etc... the side is brick, and weathered paint, scarred from other buildings butting up against it. Much more fun than the front.
Did I ever mention that I like old things? Yeah I do, the details make me happy and warm inside. I have to mention that standing in the middle of the street and looking up to take pictures is only a good idea on a DESERTED street, especially when you lose your balance and fall backwards....
It is easy to want to take amazing photos EVERY TIME you pull out your camera. It is much harder to actually take photos that are even semi-decent on a regular basis. Amazing photos are pure blind luck, being in the right place at the right time, and not having a life outside of photography.
Right now I am interested in taking photos that simply interest me. I like patterns with unexpected changes, items in context and out of context. I have been in a funk you see. Winter does that to me, and I am hoping to shake it!
These detail shots interested me. They were all taken with my Pentax K-5 and DFA 100mm lens at my youngest daughters dance studio.
Horseshoe Canyon... this place is on my list of where to go again, considering the number of places I have yet to go in Utah that is saying something. It may not rival Coyote Gulch for sheer splendor and arches to walk under, but it is a beauty!
The approach from the trailhead is flat and easy until you get to the edge... then it gets a little scrambly. Nothing ridiculous, my 13 years older than me brother with a desk job managed it with a few rest breaks. You simply follow the cairns and try to not fall.
This shot is looking up canyon. As you can see the trees were changing color, and the light was pretty dull from the overcast. It was breathtaking no matter what the light was like. I could just sit here and enjoy the view for hours.
When you get done sitting and are ready to go down to the bottom, you get to negotiate this and then a steep sandy bit before you are on the bottom. I really don't know when this was blasted out of the rock, or why. The cables holding the rock pile below in place look quite old, at least as old as me.
One of the first things I noticed once I was down in the streambed, is that it had rained not too long before and left some fabulous textures in the sand. Mother nature throwing a few golden leaves down on top of the ripples distracted me for quite a while...
Tearing myself away from the sand ripples, leaves and mud, I felt it best to press on to the walk through the bottom of the canyon, my brother being a good sport and a photographer as well had been content to explore close by. What a lovely place this is to be on the last weekend in October, we were hiking in t-shirts, the leaves were rustling in the gentle breezes and the colors were fabulous. Cottonwood trees in the desert in autumn are a special treat.
Hiking along the fairly flat bottom of the canyon was pleasant, leaves crunching everything was shades or red, yellow or green. The temperatures were perfect. (Hint: Late October to early November is the BEST time to go to southern Utah.)
I am always awed at the rawness of the area, the beauty that comes from the sheer isolation and ruggedness, the effort to just get there, even with our modern conveniences makes me wonder how the folks that lived here did it. Hope there was more rain.
As the sun peeks under the cloud it transforms the walls and everything becomes dipped in gold. The skeletal remains of a cottonwood that succumbed to the harsh climate, in shadow and skeletal against the glow.
The last rays of light glance off the walls, adding color to the canyon and urgency to the steps of those who wish to not hike in the darkness, as the trail is steep, and likely named "Deadmans Trail" for a reason.
As the light fades the color leaches away, but the memory remains.
Looking back down the trail (such as it is) the longing to stay and cement the awe in your mind grows stronger, not knowing when you will pass this way again.
The last light paints the sky with warmth then fades to dark. The adventure tucked firmly into your brain, you trudge across the cooling sagebrush plain to the trailhead and camp.
Today, this day, at this time, there is no other place you would rather be. No matter the difficulty of the road to get there, the aches and pains of the trail to get back out, you would not trade this day for anything else, anyplace else.
A special thanks goes out to my brother for being willing to take his old body and brand new truck into the wilderness.
Sometimes you just need to get away from the crowds. The riff raff that doesn't have 4wd. Cell phone service! I was dying to get away and carved out the time to go to southern Utah with my brother and visit a spot I had never been too. Horseshoe Canyon, a separate unit of Canyonlands National Park.
If you look up Canyonlands you will see it is a huge park, with three main areas divided by rivers/geology, and this wonderful separate area that was added more recently. There are two ways to get to Horseshoe Canyon, and of course I chose the harder less traveled way. Good thing my brother just bought a new Tacoma!
The road was both better and worse than I expected, any reasonably capable high clearance 4WD can make it in. If you are really really good you could maybe get a Subaru Forester or Outback in, but I would not recommend it. The first part of the road to the Hans Flat Ranger Station is really quite nice. You could get a Corolla there. But as soon as you turn onto Recreation 777 it gets bumpy fast. This photo below is an averagely sketchy part, it doesn't look that bad in the photo but it will jostle your kidneys.
The "road" really doesn't get better once you turn off on the access road to the Deadmans Trail. For the vast majority of it, you are on two tire track through the desert with the grass in the middle scraping on the bottom of your vehicle. There are a few spots where the higher clearance of the Tacoma was truly appreciated. We were in 2WD for all but one or two spots.
We left the Salt Lake Valley about 6:30 and we got to the trailhead at 1:30ish with stopping to take pictures and get breakfast in Price, and gas in Green River. After eating our lunch we headed out. Notice the t-shirt? It was OCTOBER 28TH, and we were hiking in t-shirts. Didn't need my fleece until we were getting back in the truck after sunset. THIS! This is why I go south in the fall! Oh, and yes... that is me... sorry if that scared you! Now the trail report will be a separate post, look for it. This is about getting to the trailhead, camping and getting back out.
I have to say that the gnarliest part of the whole drive was after we got back from the hike just as it got DARK! Then had to drive back up the "road" to find a spot to camp. (FYI: This is a great campsite!) Just over the hill from the campsite is this fab view of the "road" that takes you back to Recreation 777.
We really missed something on the way in. Mainly because we were in a hurry to get to hike and the weather was overcast and it looked like nothing. What we missed were some awesome dunes right off the side of the road that we definitely noticed on the way out. That sky was just perfect and the dunes just asking to be photographed.
Should you choose to follow my route, if your vehicle is capable, you will not regret it.
Be on the lookout for my next post about the hike!
I have long been fascinated by the ability of some folks to take incredibly detailed super close shots. One of the first things I wanted to do when I got my first camera was take macro photos, like REALLY close up macro photos, never really got it figured out in my film days though.
Took me awhile to sorta get it figured out in the digital age... IF I really have. You see, one of the most interesting things about learning about photography is that the more you learn the more you realize what you do not know and that you want to learn how to do.
Keep in mind that I am not a bug chaser like the photographer linked above, I just don't have the patience for that. I like setting up a tripod and using light in my studio. I like to have a lot of control, control is hard to come by in nature where the slightest breeze can move what you are shooting at completely out of focus without the slightest warning.
Anywhoo, what I wanted to do in this little blog post is look at one technical aspect of macro, the lens. There are multiple true macro lenses out there, the good ones are usually fairly expensive. So the beginning photographer tends to look for cheap options, the first is usually a screw on lens that adds magnification to your standard lens. These have varying quality levels depending on what you spend and the cheap ones are just not worth messing with.
The beginners with a little more money to spend will often buy a lens that says "Macro" on the side. These can be standard zooms, my beloved Sigma 17-70 was mine it got reasonably close enough for flowers and such, but at it's best the image was only approximately 1/3 the size of what it was in real life when it was projected on the camera sensor. They can also be Zoom lenses, many 50mm-200mm and 70mm-300mm will say macro on the side but only magnify to half life size at best, and are not all that sharp at times.
Other options include examples you will see below, dedicated macro lenses that can focus close enough to reproduce the object at life size on the sensor (Known as 1:1 magnification) Reversing Rings (This link will take you to my Amazon Affiliate Store) and Extension Tubes (These are really hard to find!). I have all three of these and can combine them in multiple ways.
The first shot here is taken with my Pentax DFA 100mm f2.8 WR Macro lens. It is auto focus, weather sealed and a stellar lens for macro and portraits too. It is, however, not cheap, though it is less expensive now then when I bought mine. This shot is to give you an idea of the size of the object I will be magnifying. This gear from my lawnmower is approximately the size of a silver dollar. (1 and 9/16th inches) I stopped the lens down to f22 to increase the depth of field (more on this later) I also did not clone out the dust on my sensor... sigh...
I then manually turned the focus ring to the closest focusing distance and turned off the AF on my camera. This is an important detail to remember, in macro you are moving the camera and/or the object to correctly focus the image usually Auto Focus is useless in these situations.
I now had to move the camera closer to the gear until the gear was in focus. Many dedicated Macro photographers use macro rails, that have gears and can move the camera at the turn of a knob. I am not one of them, which makes it harder but hardly impossible. You can spend huge amounts of money on this stuff! This photo shows the gear at the maximum magnification the lens is capable of 1:1 meaning that the image on the sensor is the same size as the object is in real life.
But that wasn't enough for me, like the good american I am, I want more. Through past experience I knew that a shorter focal length lens reversed would give me more magnification, so I tried my 24mm f2.8 of a similar vintage. On the extension tubes I simply did not have enough light to see to focus. Even the 50mm with it's larger aperture is tough. I could see NOTHING through the viewfinder with the 24 on. Removing the Extension Tubes but keeping the lens on the reversing ring made it possible to move the gear into the plane of focus but it was tough. That gear is approximately 3/16 of an inch wide at the widest point. That was as close as I could get. It was also a quite long exposure to get enough light, which is a huge limitation in macro photography, getting enough magnification and enough light and enough depth of field.
So... I can get close, big deal. Yeah, but this allows me to get really close to cool things. Like this, one of my favorite things. A US Silver Dollar from 1884.
Notice the difference between this photo and the next? Yeah, making the aperture of the lens larger like above makes for less of the image being in focus, but allows for more light. The top photo had the shutter open for 1/8 of a second. The photo below was a 4 second exposure, more of it is in focus but not all of it. There are limits to how much you can get in focus at that close of focus.
There are techniques for increasing Depth of Field, like those we have tried, stopping the lens down to very small apertures (larger f numbers) but eventually you cannot make the aperture any smaller and you still don't have everything in focus. That is where software comes into play, there is a technique called "Focus Stacking" that makes for a pretty neat trick. Click here for a tutorial. He does a better job than I can. Here is my effort, with out of camera images and the final stacked image.
The opportunity to look at, be near, chase, or simply revel in the presence of hot air balloons is one that I am loath to refuse or decline. Which is how I ended up going to Park City Utah early on a Sunday morning, the one morning of the week when I can usually sleep in, kids in tow and half asleep. It was an absolutely fabulous time, and I am not going to ruin it by getting all technical on you this time. Here is the gallery, & here are a couple photos.
The only advice I will give you for when you go to take photos of balloons is this: Take a jacket, it is usually cool. Take a fairly wide angle lens.
Yesterday morning Sept. 1st, I played hooky from work, but still got up early instead of sleeping in! Crazy right? My intention was to get a few Temple photos, as the sunrise looked promising. Maybe I'd get something I liked. What I got was a fantastic sunrise and some photos I really, really liked.
I quickly edited one photo later in the day, then posted it on our neighborhood residents' page before going to a football game. Here it is:
I received a heartwarming response, overwhelmingly positive and gratifying. One contrary comment stated, "Photoshop, sun comes up on East", This didn't bug me much, since the photo captured my east-facing view. However, the intimation that I used Photoshop to fake the composition, or other chicanery, did bug me. Admittedly, I have done that once or twice, but I own it when I do. Like here:
It is actually a pain in the rear, because you have to digitally cut-out the outline of the building. Not making it look cruddy, fake, etc... is REALLY hard! These two photos literally took HOURS of work in Photoshop to do it, and still look a bit fake (besides the juxtapositions not found in nature).
I created digital art, not photo journalism. If I painted these images, would people complain that they were fake? So, what does it matter?
There are huge online discussions that dissect the use of editing-in elements vs. fixing exposure or color balance. This is a fun article. And there are multitudinous others, should you care to spend time reviewing them. Feel free, just don't bug me about it.
Presumably, the comment author erroneously thought the photo contained a west-facing view of the Oquirrh Mountain Temple, the drama of the sky was digitally created, or elements were combined from more than one natural perspective, commonly referred to as "Photoshopped". Reality is much worse or interesting, depending where you stand on the issue.
For the purpose of this blog post, I am discussing a single photo without digitally added elements (not found in the original photo). I enhanced what was captured by the camera's sensor, to more closely resemble what I saw with my eyes. (Plus, a little artistic emphasis for the sake of drama.) This process is called HDR or High Dynamic Range. I use it often with temples and night scenes, especially when lighting dynamics are difficult to capture in a single file. A digital SLR's sensor cannot capture the full range of a scene, as the eye sees it.
The challenge for photographers, camera companies and photography consumers is that the human eye interprets light much differently than film or digital sensors. The eye can simultaneously see detail in dark and brightly lit areas. This is impossible for a camera. In order to capture the scene I saw, I took five different exposures with different shutter speeds at the same aperture or f-stop. This is called bracketing in photographer terms. Below are the five original exposures from darkest to lightest, each "one stop" different. This means the amount of light allowed into the camera doubles from one exposure to the next. The first -2, second -1, third metered by the camera, fourth +1, and fifth +2.
This one is 2 stops underexposed, retaining detail in the backlit clouds, though pushing the limit a little. Also, I wish to note here that I shoot in RAW format which writes information to the memory card, as it comes off the sensor, with minimal processing by the camera. This allows me the greatest latitude to recover highlights and change the white balance (with significantly of larger files). If you want to know more, click here.
This photo is 1 stop underexposed, starting to loose detail in the clouds, but get more in the foreground.
Exposure as the camera metered it, as a balance of highlights vs. dark detail. If you just pulled out your camera and took a picture, this is likely what you would get.
+2 the sky is getting a lot brighter and multiple areas have gone completely white meaning that there is no detail at all. These areas are what photographers call "blown out". The foreground is starting to get more acceptable. Now I take these five exposures and combine them in a program called Photomatix, which is my favorite for HDR processing. Though Photoshop has an adequate algorithm and software, I prefer Photomatix. After processing I get this:
This is getting closer to what I saw, those pesky clouds have blown out a little bit, but I do have better overall exposure, and some of the added drama I desire. I import this large file which is nearly 100MB into Photoshop to finish cleaning it up; adjusting exposure, straightening (yes, it is a little crooked, darn hands) and correcting perspective. After I am done with my "Photoshopping", here is my finished product:
I guess you could call this "Photoshopped" compared to the one just above. But the differences are slight, compared to the differences between the source images and what came out of Photomatix.
The bottom line, for me, is that what the eye sees and what the camera can capture in a single exposure are vastly different. Unless you are passing your work off as journalistic or an exact rendering of the scene (exactly as captured in camera), then what does it matter if you manipulate things? I am creating art. The focal length of the lens and the aperture affect how a scene is presented, shutter speed can capture a split second or minutes of activity in one exposure. I/we as photographers are manipulating the scene before we even press the shutter button with our choice of equipment, and how we use it to gather data. If I then refine and shape the data a little more in the computer before posting it on Facebook or my website does that make it fake? Or less valuable? The scene is digitally altered from the moment I capture it.
I have had a long fascination with fire, not in a "Set random things on fire!" kind of way, but in a "What an amazing tool and force, that scares me and draws me in close when it is harnessed." kind of way. It is also the stuff of my nightmares. If there is any choice in the matter I would choose to NOT die in a fire, or even live after a serious burn. It just messes with my head.
Maybe that is why I am drawn to hot air balloons. It is all about the fire, contained, forceful and making something beautiful. I just can't get enough of them. Love seeing them in the sky, watching them inflate (I have been reliably informed by a certified "Ballunatic" that it is inflating not "Blowing them up." I guess I can see the reason for that.) watching them gracefully maneuver on the wind. Actually hoping to ride in one over Canyonlands NP for a birthday sometime soon.
I love the photos I make with them too. I will go a long way off my path to look at one. This slideshow is from a local festival that is a regular on our calendar. I have shot it several times, but never got to go to the glow in at night, where they inflate the balloons, and occasionally run the burner to illuminate them. It was a really REALLY cool experience.
My favorite photo is this one: 20s exposure at f14 @ 10mm, most of that time waiting for him to make the burn. I love the movement in the balloon envelope and the fire shooting out the back toward his hand as well as out the front. Just cool!
Anyway, if you ever get to go to a balloon festival, especially if they have a glow-in, definitely go! For the glow-in take a tripod and cable release and a sense of adventure!
I will be the first person to admit that if you tell me one lens is sharper than another that I already have and hand it to me you will likely have to pry it from my cold dead hand. That said, I am enough of a realist to understand that I am not best served by ultimate sharpness when other considerations are factored into the equation.
One very important factor for me is size and weight. The heavier the camera/lens combination the less likely I am to carry it around all the time. My casual/street photography is usually done while commuting, hopping off the train and walking from one stop to the next. For these instances a small, light manual focus prime is my go to lens. In the instance of the photos I took in this post, it was my Pentax SMC 28mm f3.5 lens.
It was given to me by my father-in-law when I got my Pentax K200-D more than 8 years ago. It is not super fast aperture wise, but the colors are excellent, CA hard to provoke, and a joy to use due to how it feels in your hand and on your camera. All metal, perfectly weighted focus ring. It just looks good and handles good, is relatively small and lightweight. Oh and it is pretty darn sharp too. It may not outresolve my DA 16-85 but It is good enough and is much smaller!
I have a fair number of these vintage lenses and while they have their quirks they are unique and deliver just a slightly different look that makes me want to use them more!
These three shots were all stopped down to the f5.6-f11 range where I usually shoot it. In fairly strong morning light. They are all sharp enough for me.
Sometimes a photo is made or broken by the choices of the photographer. If you are trying to take a extreme macro with a cell phone, you likely will not get the results you are looking for. If you are using aDSLR with a dedicated Macro Lens or some other rig like a reversed 50mm maybe you can get the results you want... if you know what you are doing.
Other times it is not just the equipment but the how you choose to use it. Give two photographers the same camera and lens combination at the same place and same time, give them 30 minutes and you will likely get very different images.
Sometimes it is the choice you make once you have the image captured and you are working on it in your digital darkroom. (i.e. Photoshop, or whatever software you use.) Case in point, I sometimes "See" or pre-visualize the final shot when I am taking it, other times I "Discover" the final image when I am massaging it on the computer. This image was more of a "Can I use this lens in this way, or is it not capable of doing this job." moment. I was working the spring flowers on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, UT and using one of my fun older lenses. A Pentax SMC 200mm f2.5 lens from the later 70's/early 80's. Manual focus, manual metering etc... at the closest focus distance the lens can achieve. I got an acceptable shot and then mounted my 100mm macro and went for the easier route.
When it came time to work with the image in post, I found it pleasing but not a "wow" image to my personal sensitivities. I found myself pondering what it would look like in monochrome. Now... B&W is tricky, there are multiple ways to convert it, and each has pluses and minuses. This was my final result, to me... it was a wow. The texture and the tonality work for me.
I'm trying a new blog space. I was filling up my google account alarmingly and I needed to find another place. So... I have decided to try the blogging function at my Zenfolio website.
Here are some recent shots from last Friday. I have been so busy that I haven't had the opportunity to take many photos and I was determined to stop by the temple close to my home on my way to work. The sun was just up, the blossoms were still on, sigh it was heaven!
I swear I leveled this thing, but it doesn't look straight here... Hmmm..... This was two images stitched together, each image was 4 shot brackets blended in Photomatix (HDR software) Just to up the contrast and overall drama.
I like the imagery of the open gate leading to the temple, Welcoming all who are ready to worship herein.
This was also a panorama stitch from multiple HDR images. I REALLY LIKE this one!
Hope this works!