Archive for the ‘camera equipment’ Tag

Single-Image Sunday: Last Light is First Light   19 comments

I’m a photographer who gets way more pumped up about the photography than the camera equipment.  But I do occasionally get jazzed about gear.  When I buy a camera or lens brand new, its first light is something to be celebrated.  I buy used quite a lot, so when I get something that has never seen light enter it, I want to make it special.

I had just arrived in the little town of Pacific City, Oregon.  I was late because of too many little detours along the way.  Having not visited the piece of heaven called the Oregon Coast for a long time, I was very excited.  I missed sunset at Cape Kiwanda, but while searching for a place to camp, I came upon an arm of the Little Nestucca River estuary that looked quite nice in the evening light.  Since I got my kayak, I’m constantly on the lookout for cool places to park and drop it in the water.  It was too late for that, but estuaries are one of my favorite environments (see below), so I stopped.

Though I really couldn’t afford it, I recently bought a new lens.  It is a 21 mm. f/2.8 prime lens made by Carl Zeiss: manual-focus only, all metal construction.  The very last of the day’s light was backlighting some flowers blooming on the bank of the estuary, so I decided this would be first light for my new lens.  The exposure was long at 25 seconds, so the flowers have a little bit of blur from the small breeze.  But the sharpness and color rendition are Zeiss-like for sure!

Estuary of the Little Nestucca, Oregon Coast.  21 mm., 25 sec. @ f/13, ISO 200.

Estuary of the Little Nestucca, Oregon Coast. 21 mm., 25 sec. @ f/13, ISO 200.

ESTUARIES

Estuaries are where rivers meet the sea.  All sorts of interesting things take place in these transition zones.  They’re not just fascinating in a biological sense, but also in a geomorphic and geological sense as well.  Abundant sediment from the river gets strung out by waves and longshore currents into spits and bars, forming embayments.  Sedimentary features of estuaries show the influence of tide, delta and waves, with of all sorts of burrowing life marking the strata.  And so ancient estuaries, while fairly rare, stick out prominently in the ancient rock record.

But it’s the mix of freshwater and marine life that makes modern estuaries so interesting and productive for fishing.  Life is in delicate balance, and because humans like to settle along estuaries, they are under threat worldwide.  With the salt-tolerant grasses and other plants forming shelter, estuaries are nurseries for a huge number of species.   Pollution hits the young especially hard.  Sediment tainted by humans covers oyster beds, killing them.  Overfishing and pollution both reduce crabs and fish dramatically.

I grew up near the shore of the biggest estuary in North America, the Chesapeake Bay.  I remember fishing and crabbing as a kid in the summer.  I can still feel the cool mud squishing between my toes as we walked from crab line to crab line.  For us, a crab line was simply a thick piece of string, one end tied to a stick sunk in the mud and the other tied around an old piece of chicken (which we’d get from the store before they threw them out).

You threw the chicken in the water from shore, let a little time go by, then while one person waited with a long-handled net, the other slowly drew the string into shore.  As soon as you could tell there was a crab (or crabs) dining on the chicken, you scooped them up.

Later that day you steamed the crabs live in a big pot with Bay Seasoning, the live crustaceans making a huge racket.  Newspaper was spread on a picnic table.  Wooden mallets in hand, we would feast on fresh Maryland blue crab!  Sadly, these days crabs can’t be caught by kids along the shore using such simple methods.  And the oyster beds are a tiny fraction of what they once were.

Let’s hope humans can get their act together before these precious ecosystems are rendered sterile.  I would love it if, one day in the near future, young boys and girls could once again tramp down to the bayshore and make memories crabbing and fishing.

Friday Foto Talk: Getting Familiar with your Camera   13 comments

A fading day illuminates colorful skies and the basalt cliffs at Crown Point in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge.

A fading day illuminates colorful skies and the basalt cliffs at Crown Point in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.

This subject is one of those in photography that everybody just assumes is true but many don’t put it into practice with enough rigor.  Getting familiar with your camera and lenses, along with your tripod and other accessories, is key to capturing your best shots.  This is tops on my mind right now since I just bought a new camera.

If you are a novice, or even beyond novice, photographer, I have to say right here that there is only one author that I’ve read who really dives into this subject with some detail.  That is longtime photography teacher Brian Peterson.  His Understanding Photography Field Guide should be required reading.  He does not go deeply into the idea of getting familiar with your camera, since beyond saying you should do it, there’s not much to mention that is not brand dependent.  But he does detail great ways to get familiar with your lenses.  So go read that book and I won’t go into lenses much here.

A quiet dusk evening along the Columbia River.

A quiet dusk evening along the Columbia River.

Nobody would argue that learning how to use a new piece of electronics is important, whether computer or phone or camera.  But I’m going to argue here that most people tend to do the minimum amount of learning when it comes to their camera.  They read the manual (maybe) and then begin using the camera.  They don’t go back to the manual, trying to figure out the best way to set it up.  But this is the best way to make sure you are doing things in the most efficient way.  It’s important to do this early on so you don’t get locked in too much to a less-efficient way of doing things.

Once you go through this somewhat clunky period of feeling out your camera with help from the manual, then you should just shoot shoot shoot.  This is the only way to get to the point where everything is second nature, where you never have to look at your camera to do anything.  Your eyes belong on the scene before you, not on your camera (except for reviewing the image on the LCD when necessary).

 By the way, regarding the plethora of books that come out on each new model of camera: I don’t see them as very useful.  They are basically extended user’s manuals, which you get for free with the camera.  Much of what you’ll learn is what that photographer does with that camera.  So long as you don’t let that influence you too much, there isn’t much harm in reading one.  I prefer reading the user’s manual and developing my own system.

Dusk descends on the Columbia River in Oregon.

Dusk descends on the Columbia River in Oregon.

When you get to the second-nature stage of using your camera, lenses and tripod, you can do things very quickly.  This allows you to take advantage of quick-changing light.  You can switch subjects quickly.  You can get that wide-angle shot PLUS the zoomed in composition.  When photographing people, you can capture quickly changing expressions and body postures, allowing much more natural looking pictures.

Don’t get me wrong.  You’ll still miss plenty of shots.  You will get set up and trip the shutter a few seconds after the golden light fades, you’ll be ready to photograph an animal just as it passes behind some brush, etc, etc.  I’m actually talking about minimizing the missed shots, not adding opportunities.  For that you’ll need to simply get out in front of interesting subjects and shoot more often.

My previous camera (one that is in the shop right now) is a Canon 5D Mark II.  I just bought a new 5D Mark III, and so there is a lot of overlap.  All the shots here were captured with my new camera.  I’m very familiar with my Mark II, so how different could the Mark III be?  Unfortunately it’s not a completely seamless transition.  That’s because it’s difficult to get used to those things that have changed.

One example on my new camera is the different button used to magnify images on the LCD screen.  This is a feature I use all the time, in composing and focusing images using LiveView, and in reviewing images on the LCD for good focus.  The magnify button on the 5D III is in a different place than it is on the 5D II.  Doesn’t sound like such a big deal, but when your fingers are very used to going to a certain place, it requires retraining to make the change.

New camera models will often have wholly redesigned features.  Autofocus is one example on the Canon 5D III.  Inherited from the 7D and 1D model series, there is a brand new autofocus system to learn.  Compared to the 5D II, it is quite complex, with many different possible settings.  Something new to learn for sure.  Expanded capabilities will just remain unused if you don’t learn how to use them.

Thus far I have only shot a few pictures with my new camera, so I’m sorry for not having a lot of images in this post.  I will post more new pictures as I take them.  In fact, I’m going out right after finishing this post!  Now I’d like you to really examine how familiar you are with your camera gear.  Could using it be more intuitive for you?  If so, get out there and shoot!  Perhaps go back and read that manual one more time.   And by the way have fun!  Thanks for reading!

One of the many old pile dikes sticking out into the broad lower Columbia River right at the edge of magic and blue hours.

One of the many old pile dikes sticking out into the broad lower Columbia River right at the edge of magic and blue hours.

Friday Foto Talk: Cameras and Water   6 comments

Metlako Falls in the Eagle Creek Gorge (Oregon), as viewed from above.

Metlako Falls in the Eagle Creek Gorge (Oregon), as viewed from above.

First of all, let me say these pictures may indeed be the last ones my Canon 5D Mark II has captured.  That’s because it took a bad fall and bath.  I had climbed down through the steep brush in Eagle Creek Gorge (Columbia River Gorge in Oregon) trying to find an interesting view of Metlako Falls.  Metlako Falls is one of the tougher waterfalls in Oregon to access and photograph.  I ended up in a spectacular spot, looking down a tumbling stream toward the hidden grotto that the beautiful cascade spills into

The clamp on my tripod head had been a little loose lately.  I’d tightened it but apparently not enough.  I was trying to mount my microphone on the camera to take a video.  In sketchy spots like this, I usually have the camera strap around my neck for safety.  But I had taken it off to get the mic.  The camera was about 7 feet above the creek.

Metlako Falls in the Columbia River Gorge is difficult to access.  Here it's viewed from above.

Metlako Falls in the Columbia River Gorge is difficult to access. Here it’s viewed from above.

You know what happened next.  The camera slipped out of the clamp and fell directly onto a rock then into the creek.  I quickly grabbed it before it went over the edge and frantically dried it off.  But the damage was done.  There is a big dent in the top.  This camera has served me very very well.  It has given me zero problems and captured excellent images for about a year and a half.  I was planning to keep it at least until the next version of the 5D came out (or a new high-resolution full frame Canon).

One more of Metlako Falls, this from a small steep path that leads to this view.

One more of Metlako Falls, this from a small steep path that leads to this view.

Now of course that’s all changed.  Luckily my lens appears to be fine, but the camera is damaged goods, no matter whether it can be repaired or not.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed.  I’m using my backup, a Canon 50D.  It’s a solid DSLR, but it’s a crop-frame.  I’m too much the wide-angle enthusiast to shoot with it on a constant basis.  Also it doesn’t do video and has slightly lower resolution.  So with few financial resources right now I need to somehow get a new camera.  Though I’m curious about the 6D, I’ll probably just go with the 5D Mark III.

The Columbia River Gorge's high cliffs turn gold at sundown, reflected in wetlands formed during spring's high water flow.  This was captured the day before this camera took a fall.

The Columbia River Gorge’s high cliffs turn gold at sundown, reflected in wetlands formed during spring’s high water flow. This was captured the day before my camera took a fall.

Now to the advice.  Shooting in the Pacific Northwest gives one plenty of experience with water.  From plain old rain to splashing creeks and waterfalls, even the humidity, this area tends to be hard on cameras.  My 5D II was not the best sealed of cameras, so I needed to be careful.  I use a towell that sort of has a big pocket built into it.  It is very absorbent.  I found it at Walgreens.  The pocket fits right over the top of the camera, then I can drape it over the lens.  I do this when it is raining lightly or if I have waterfall spray.

You can buy quite expensive rain gear for your camera.  But nothing I’ve tried is very convenient for use in the rain.  I want to get a housing.  I would just love to start shooting underwater pictures at freshwater creeks and wetlands.  Housings are extremely expensive though.

There is one challenge that often goes overlooked when talking about this subject.  When it starts raining you need to quickly transition to camera protection mode.  How do you do this without getting the camera wet?  If you have an umbrella it might help.  But it’s often a stressful scramble when the sky suddenly decides to open up and take a big pee on you and your gear.

A fisherman tries his luck in the lake that sits beneath Crown Point in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge.  This picture was captured with my backup camera the day after the "accident".

A fisherman tries his luck in the lake that sits beneath Crown Point in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge. This picture was captured with my backup camera the day after the “accident”.

I also shoot above rushing water very often.  I have a friend who uses a safety strap that connects the camera to the tripod.  If the head or plate fails, the camera does not fall to the ground or water.  But that still leaves the tripod itself vulnerable.  So I try to always keep the camera strap around my neck near cliffs or over water.  That way if a disaster develops I can save at least the camera/lens and probably the tripod as well.

There is a major Catch 22 here.  Often you want to be out shooting when the weather is “interesting”.  I usually am trying not to shoot in actual rain but just before or after.  I don’t regard grey skies and steady rain as interesting weather!  I think it is the edge of things that you want to target with your camera: the edge of a storm, edge of an ecosystem, edge of the day, edge of a facial expression, etc.

The walls of Oregon's Columbia River Gorge at day's last light.

The walls of Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge at day’s last light.

So my approach is to avoid having my camera out while it’s raining, to wait until the rain lets up before shooting.  And then I cover it with the special towel when I have it out shooting.  I think the electronics in this gear we have will never get along with moisture very well.  Of course if I was independently wealthy, or was somebody famous, sponsored by Canon (yes I’m talking about you Art Wolfe!), I would have a well-sealed Canon 1Dx.  If something happened to it Canon would just send me another.  If I had this $6000+ camera I would not worry about drizzle so much, though full immersion (and salt water) would still be a danger.

The last image below was captured the day after the accident.  I had done a sort of rock climb 100 feet or so up Rooster Rock.  A nearby osprey in her nest was not amused at my presence, and I clung to a precarious spot to get the shot.  I definitely kept the neck strap in place this time.  But I won’t ever stop putting my camera in dangerous spots just because of the possibility of an accident.  That’s just not me.  I know, what about putting myself in danger?  I don’t want to talk about it!

Hope you found this advice helpful.  It’s a mean world (at least for camera gear), so be careful and good luck out there!

A viewpoint gained after a short rock climb partway up Rooster Rock in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge gives a fine view of early evening colors on the river.  Captured with my backup camera the day after the accident.

A viewpoint gained after a short rock climb partway up Rooster Rock in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge gives a fine view of early evening colors on the river. Captured with my backup camera the day after the accident.

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