Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Year Photographic Resolutions

Happy New Year


To view the world through the eyes of a child, with awe and wonder at everything you see.
That is how a Photographer should see the world.

 So many people make 'New Year Resolutions'. Some of them are simple and easily obtainable. Others can be quite outrageous and very difficult to achieve. The older I get the wiser I get. Now all my Resolutions are definitely on the 'easy to achieve' end of the spectrum.

This year I have made a few 'Photographic Resolutions'. As a photographer I always want to push myself to do more and do better, to learn something new by trying something I have never tried before. I believe every Photographer should do this, otherwise you photography can become stale, and you may become bored with photography.

So here are my 2014 Photography New Year Resolutions.

1- I just bought a Canon Pixma Pro-100 Printer. Canon was having one heck of a rebate promotion with this printer and I just couldn't pass it up. This year I will learn all there is to know about this printer. I will make 13" x 19" prints to hang on my wall. I will print both Color and B&W images. In other words I plan on spending a lot of money on ink this year for this printer.

2- I will shoot more than I did in 2013 (&2012). In 2011 I did a Project 365. It was fun. I was always thinking, in detail, about what I was going to shoot next. My camera became an extension of my arm, it fit like a glove in my hand, my fingers just naturally knew where all the buttons, dials, and knobs were. And my photography improved considerably throughout the year simply because I was always shooting. I shot more in 2011 than I did in 2012 and 2013 combined. While I don't plan on doing another Project 365 this year I will shoot on a more regular basis.

3- I will take control of my equipment. I used to suffer from GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). I have thinned out some of my equipment, but it is time to really take control. I am not a Camera Collector, I am a Photographer. Any piece of equipment I have that does not get used this year on at least a semi-regular basis is going on Craigslist at the end of the year. If I don't use it then I don't need it. There are also some pieces of equipment that I don't have that I would like to have. And I will think long and hard before buying any piece of new equipment.

4- I will try some new techniques. I have seen a lot of images I really like posted on Flickr, DIYP, Strobist, SLR Lounge, and a number of other photographic sites I frequent. Many of these involve techniques I have never tried (light painting and star trails to name a couple). I will learn some of these new techniques this year.

5- I will do something in my Darkroom. I finally built a Darkroom a couple of years ago. I made a few practice prints shortly after I got it all set up, but I haven't done anything since then. This year I will develop film and make prints. I will move a spare computer and film scanner into the Darkroom so I can scan, process, and upload the film I develop. And I will try to figure out how to expose and develop some 24" x 36" photo paper I have.

6- I will make some sense with my Blog and Website. Currently I post on my Blog every now and then, but in kind of a haphazard fashion. The same with my Website. I do the occasional  update to it, but it needs a major overhaul. I will get my thoughts organized and post regularly on my Blog. And I will get my information organized and get my Website in shape.

7- I will spend some time learning Photoshop and Dreamweaver. My current use of both of these programs barely scratches the surface of their capabilities. While I don't expect to be come a master in either of them, I figure that knowledge is power, and the more I know about these programs the more powerful my images and website will (hopefully) become.

I could easily add a a quite a few more Resolutions to this list, but I want to be able to realistically achieve my New Year Resolutions. I will print out a couple of copies of these Resolutions and post them in a couple of places where I will see them regularly.

As with any New Year Resolution they are achieved by effort and not intent. While good intentions are nice, intentions alone do not achieve anything. Effort and action are required to achieve the desired results. And this sometimes means doing things when you really don't want to. But I have found out that once I take that first step the second one comes easier, and the next one easier yet, and so on. So I will take the first steps required to achieve my 2014 New Year Photographic Resolutions.

Monday, December 30, 2013

It's All About The Lens - Part 2

A lens is a lens is a lens. Period. Though I'm sure I many photographers would not agree with that statement. A lens is simply a piece of equipment you mount to the front of a camera to allow you to focus your subject on to the film or sensor. Any and every lens does just that.

But some photographers will say that this lens is better than that lens. And another lens is better, or worse, than the first two lenses. And it just goes on and on. Equipment Egotism. My lens is better than your lens. Too many photographers have that attitude. And what they don't realize is that it really doesn't matter. At the risk of repeating myself, A lens is a lens is a lens.

So I'm just going to go on a rant here.

A lens is a lens is a lens. Pretty much any lens built in the last 50 years will take excellent pictures. I'll blow my own horn and say check out some of my images on   Mad Artist Photography  or on my Flickr Page. These images were shot with lenses that are 20 to 40 years old. And some of them were shot with what the industry considers to be 'consumer' lenses.

If you take a top of the line lens and a similar consumer lens and shoot the same image using the same camera body, ISO, aperture, shutter speed, and focal length, and then have an 8"x10" of each image printed at the same place, and hang them side by side on a wall, you would be very hard pressed to say that one is better than the other. And if you looked at one today and the other one tomorrow you couldn't tell the difference.

Sure the images may look a little different. That is simply because each lens has its own characteristics. But neither image would look noticeably 'better' than the other. You would be proud to hang either image on your wall.

So enough of the sweating and worrying over whether or not your lens is a 'good' lens or not. Unless you have a major crack or scratch in the glass your lens is a 'good' lens. On the other hand, If you want to go out and buy a more expensive lens because you will be using the added features it has (I will admit, a f/2.8 Zoom is a nice lens to shoot with) then by all means, buy the lens. You will like it.

So either way you go, it's time to go back to the basics. Learning and applying some simple photography basics will make a much greater difference in improving your images than any lens will.

Something as simple as actually using the lens hood that came with the lens to keep extraneous light off the front of the lens, instead of leaving in mounted in the storage position, will make your images clearer and give them better contrast.

I don't care how good the Image Stabilization in your lens is, using a tripod instead of trying to hand hold a 1/15 second shot with a 300mm lens will always give you better results.

And something as simple as keeping your lens glass clean, front and rear, should also be a given.

So before you go out and spend an outrageous amount on a new lens try a few simple basics and see how much your images improve.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

It's All About The Lens - Part 1

So just exactly what does a photographer really need when it comes to lenses? Well, that all depends on what you want to photograph. Obviously more lenses will give you more photographic opportunities. But where does one start when it comes to getting more lenses? And, just as importantly, where does one stop when it comes to getting more lenses?

Most of the time the first lens that many photographers get is the 50mm lens. This is usually because that is the lens that often came as 'standard equipment' when the camera was bought new. And this is a good starting point.

The 'Nifty Fifty' - Canon 50mm f/1.4 S.S.C. FD Lens
The 50mm lens is often referred to as the 'standard' lens. But not always for the above mentioned reason. It is called a 'standard' lens because the perspective a 50mm lens on a 35mm camera body is very close to the same perspective of the human eye. Don't believe me? Then hold your camera up to one eye and focus on something in the distance. Now look at the scene with both eyes open, one looking directly at the scene and one looking at the scene through the camera. You will notice that the two scenes look very close to the same size. So the 50mm lens will view a scene pretty much just as you see it with your eyes. This is a good thing as it allows a new photographer to literally 'shoot what they see'.

But after a shooting with nothing but a 50mm for a while a photographer my want to expand their horizons and add another lens or three to their arsenal. But where to start? There seems to be a million and one different lenses and manufacturers and sizes and apertures and so on and so on until it becomes oh so confusing. So here are a couple of simple suggestions.

The Zoom Route.
You can buy two zoom lenses and easily cover lens lengths from 28mm to 200mm. Many manufacturers make a 'short' and a 'long' zoom that are similarly designed. You could get a 'short' 28-70mm zoom lens and a 'long' 80-200mm zoom lens.These two lenses can easily cover pretty much everything you might want to shoot.

The Prime Route.
Another option is to buy another 'prime' lens or two. A 'prime' lens is simply a fixed-focal length lens. The 50mm lens that came with your camera is an example of a 'prime' lens. When buying another prime lens buy one that will give you a noticeably different perspective than the lens you have now. To me this means, at the minimum, either doubling or halving the length of your current lens. For example: if you have a 50mm lens and want a wide angle lens then get a lens that at least half the length of the 50mm. That means you are looking at something in the 28mm, 24mm or 20mm range. Going the other direction you would be looking at something twice the length of the 50mm, which would be something in the 100mm or 135mm range. A 35mm or an 85mm lens are not that perspective-ly different from the 50mm when compared to a 20mm or a 135mm.

There are a couple of things to consider either way you go. Prime lenses are usually faster (have a larger aperture) than zoom lenses. And they usually have a closer 'close focusing' distance. Two zooms, on the other hand, will give you a greater focal range coverage than two or three prime lenses will. So either way you go it's a trade off.

Adding a lens or two or ten is really a personal choice. Many people shoot with nothing but the standard 50mm lens. A lot of people park a 35-105mm lens on their camera and never take it off. It's all up to you. More lenses translates to a larger camera bag and more weight to lug around.

As for myself I have a number of lenses, both prime and zooms. I also have a couple of different size camera bags. So I will often pick and pack depending on where I am going and what I am shooting. My daily 'walk around bag' has five lenses in it: Canon 17mm f/4, Canon 50mm f/1.4 ssc, Tokina 35-70mm f/2.8, Tokina 80-200mm f/2.8, Tokina 500mm f/8 Mirror. This bag is packed like this at all times, so I can just grab it and go, and have everything from 17mm to 500mm covered regardless of where or what I'm shooting. But if I want to walk around 'light' I will only pack two zooms, a 35-70mm f/3.5-4.5 and a 70-210mm f/4-5.6, in a small holster style bag.

So the simple answer is- Basically it's your choice. Buy whatever lenses you will use.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

To 3D Or Not To 3D

Cross your eyes and see the 3D truck
One of the biggest challenges with photography is that it is Two Dimensional. But our eyes see in Three Dimensions. So over the years there have been a number of different ways to produce or create Three Dimensional images. One of the simplest ways is by using a 3D Camera. It has two lenses and inch or so apart horizontally. It takes two pictures with those lenses at the same time. And when those images are viewed properly the viewer can get a 3D effect.

But what if you don't have a 3D Camera, nor do you want to spend the money to purchase one. But you still want to play around and create some 3D images. Well never fear. It is actually pretty simple. As long as you have a photo-manipulation program that allows you to combine two images into one (ie: Photoshop, GIMP,, etc).

First off you need to take two 'almost' identical images. The images need to be of the same scene, but taken from two different locations. And those locations need to be about an inch or two apart. The simplest way I have found to do this with an SLR is to just use a ball head on a tripod. Simply shoot a vertical image with your camera on the right side of your ball head. Then flip the camera to the left side of your ball head and take another vertical shot of the same scene.

This is where some of the 'challenges' start. You need to (try real hard to) focus on exactly the same place. Just pick something in the middle of the image in the first shot and use that as a reference point for the second shot.

You also need to keep the camera as vertical as possible to each other in both shots. Maybe use an edge of a building as a straight-edge and line up one side of the image frame with it in both images. The closer you can get the orientation of the images when you shoot them the less work you will have to do aligning them in the computer later.

Once you have taken you shots and transferred them to your computer then open both images in your photo-manipulation program. In the example shown here I used Photoshop CS3 (because that is what I happen to have). I won't get into all the details because every program is a little different, but here is a rundown of what I did.

Checking the size of the original images
- Open both original images
- Find the SIZE of the original images (ie: 2400 px wide x 3600 px high)
- Find the DPI of the original images (ie: 180 dpi)
- Create a NEW image that is the same height but twice as wide (ie: 4800px wide x 3600 px high)
- Make sure the NEW image has the same DPI as the original images
- In the new image create at least two LAYERS
- COPY & PASTE one original image into each LAYER
- Move one Image/Layer to the left and the other Image/Layer to the right so the images are side by side
- (I put the right shot image on the left and the left shot image on the right. That way when you cross your eyes for the 3D effect your right eye will be looking at the right-shot image on the left. Did that make sense?)
- Set a couple of HORIZONTAL GUIDE LINES on your screen
Using Horizontal Lines to align the image
- USE MOVE and ROTATE to get the images into as close to the same orientation as possible (You won't be able to line everything up perfectly. After all, the images were shot a couple of inches apart. It's amazing how much difference that really makes when you start trying to line everything up. Just get 'as close as possible').
- CROP as necessary or as desired.
- SAVE as a 'native' file (ie; PSD) so you can go back and edit it later if you want/need to.
- RESIZE as desired
- Load up new filename.JPG for viewing

Slowly start to cross your eyes when viewing the image until you see three images. The center image will be the 3D image. Once you have the center images 'stabilized' with your eyes you can slowly move your hands in front of your eyes, palm towards your face. If you do it right your hands will block the two outside images, leaving only the center, cross-eyed, 3D image.

Have fun.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Impossible Scan

(1) Epson Perfection 1650 Scanner with the film holder
You know the old saying: Where there's a will I want to be in it. I mean: Where there's a will there's a way.

This holds true with pretty much everything. Even when it comes to photography. As photographers we enjoy the challenge of our craft. When someone tells us "You can't do that" our usual response is "I bet I can". And then we do it. We may have to work at it for a bit, but we eventually persevere.

I have an Epson Perfection 1650 Scanner (image 1). It is a great little scanner. Scans photos and printed material just fine. It also has a film holder and scans both 35mm negatives and slides very nicely. But it is not designed to scan Medium Format film. So I guess I can't scan anything I shot with my Bronica ETRSi on my Epson Scanner. Wanna bet?

It took me a bit to figure it out, but in the long run it really wasn't that difficult. Here's what I did.

The original Epson Film Holder is designed to hold either 35mm negatives or 35mm mounted slides. Place the holder one way on the scanner glass and it centers the negatives under the light in the lid. Turn the holder 180° and it centers the slides. Either way the holder is turned it leaves a small space at the top of the holder. I'm guessing this is possibly for some sort of recognition or registration for the scanner itself. So I started by simply tracing one end of the film holder on a piece of paper (image 2). That allows me to line up film with the light in the lid of the scanner.

(2) Cut-out template to align the Medium Format film
Then I dug around in my darkroom and found a couple of pieces of Anti-Newton Ring Glass about 2.5" x 3" used to hold film in an enlarger. I'm guessing you could probably use regular glass. But it would need to be cut small enough to fit in the glass top of the scanner (maybe glass from a a couple of 4"x6" picture frames). I placed one piece of glass on the paper cut-out of the film holder. Centered the film on it. And placed the second piece of glass on top to hold the film flat (image 3). With a larger / longer piece of glass I could align multiple strips of negatives and then Batch Scan three or four at a time.

As when scanning any film remember this: CLEANLINESS IS THE HOLY GRAIL. Clean the glass on the scanner. Clean the glass holding the film. Clean the film. And then clean them all again.

(3) Film aligned and between two pieces of glass
I went into my scanner software and made sure to turn off the Automatic Preview of the scanned film. Auto Mode would automatically outline the film scanned based on the scanner expecting either 35mm negatives or slides. Basically this means that it would automatically 'crop' the Medium Format size image down to 35mm size. When I turned off Automatic Preview then I could manually set the crop size of what I want scanned.

After all that I simply ran the Preview Scan, cropped the area of the film I wanted to scan, and scanned it. I used Zoner Photo Studio to capture the image via the Epson Twain Program. Then I did some tweaking in Zoner (rotate, final crop, levels, etc). The final image is pretty much a straight scan with minimal tweaking.

This works pretty well. Of course it would be a lot simpler to have the images scanned by the lab when I get the film processed. But that can get a bit spendy with Medium Format film. So for now I'll simply save a few bucks and scan my own Medium Format film on a scanner not designed to do it.

Ain't life wonderful?

The Arial Lift Bridge in Duluth, MN

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Bigger Is Better

My Bronica ETRSi ready for some serious action.
In this case Bigger really is Better. And what can be better than shooting 35mm film? Shooting Medium Format film, of course.

Medium Format. Just those words scare some 35mm photographers. I admit, I was scared of, and in awe of, those photographers that shot that unknown medium. The cameras were so much bigger than my little 35mm camera. They looked so much different than my Canon A-1. They talked a numbers game that I didn't understand: 120, 220, 645, 6x6, and the like. And they talked about shooting different formats on the same film. It was so scary and confusing.

Until I bought one.

I'm glad I did. Like anything, once you learn and understand, it is no longer scary. Shooting Medium Format is basically the same as shooting 35mm. Yet it is also different.

For starters the cameras are quite different. They are pretty much a square box, where the average 35mm camera is a rectangular box. And with most 35mm camera you can change the lenses. That's it. But with most Medium Format cameras you can change not only the lenses on front, but the viewfinder on top, the film holder on back, and even add a grip or motor drive to the bottom.

But these are all simply the mechanics of the camera system. They are simple to learn. It is really no different than being a Canon shooter and buying a used Nikon or Minolta at a garage sale. You have to learn a new system. Buttons are in different places, lenses mount differently, and so on. But the Principals Of Photography still remain the same. Shutter Speed is Shutter Speed. Aperture is Aperture. And their relationship to each other hasn't changed. Regardless of what kind of camera you have.

Shooting in Medium Format, however, can be a little different. The biggest thing is that there is no 'Automatic Anything' on most Medium Format cameras. You have to manually set the Aperture and Shutter Speed. But that shouldn't scare a seasoned 35mm photographer. After all, you do that with your 35mm camera, don't you? And just like shooting manually with a 35mm camera, you tend to shoot a little slower in manual mode than in 'Auto' mode. Add to that the fact that Medium Format film is a bit more expensive to buy and process than 35mm film. So you probably won't want to waste film. You will want to take your time and shoot to 'Capture An Image', not just 'take a picture'.

The Medium Format Wedding Photography Myth

Before digital cameras were here the 'professional' wedding photographer shot a wedding with a Medium Format camera. It was said that you couldn't shoot a wedding with a 35mm camera. A 35mm camera didn't 'look' professional, basically because anyone could buy a 35mm camera. They said imagine shooting a wedding with a 35mm camera and one of the wedding guests has the same camera as the photographer. Oh the horrors.

The 'professionals' said you couldn't get the 'quality' enlargements from 35mm that you could from Medium Format.

Well, as film photographers we all know that it isn't the equipment that makes the image. It is the Photographer. We can take very excellent images with our 35mm cameras.  Yes, I will admit, you would want a quality 35mm camera to shoot a wedding. I wouldn't shoot a wedding with a 110 camera, or with a 35mm point'n'shoot camera. But I have shot a number of weddings with a pair of Canon A-1's and some quality Canon prime lenses.

And we all know that the enlargement argument is pointless. Okay, technically you can get better enlargements from a larger piece of film. But the largest enlargement a Bride is going to order is an 16"x20". And you can print an excellent 16"x20" enlargement from professional 35mm film.

And besides, look at what all the 'professional' wedding photographers are using today. The most common 'professional' wedding camera is the Canon 5D MKII. A 35MM CAMERA. It is a rare sight to see a 'professional' wedding photographer shooting with a Medium Format Camera. Oh how times and attitudes have changed.

The Look

My wife and I were walking around the Rose Gardens in Duluth, MN one Saturday last summer. She had her little Sony digital point'n'shoot camera. I had my Bronica ETRSi. This was obviously THE place for wedding photography. That day there were no less than five wedding parties, and their photographers,  wandering around the Gardens. As I walked by a couple of 'professional' wedding photographers one of them politely hollered at me. "Hey, wait a second." So I turned around to see what she wanted. "What kind of camera do you have there?" she asked. I noticed that both of them had a 5D MKII. So I said " I have a professional wedding camera. What do you have?" They were good sports about the ribbing. And we chatted about our cameras for a minute or so while they were waiting for their wedding party to arrive. Then when they left she said "Sure wish I had a camera like that."

Walking around with a Medium Format camera will definitely get you some 'looks'. Many people have never seen one. So they will stop you and ask you about it. And I always take the time to  talk to them about it, because I remember how scared of them I was all those years ago.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Required Reading

I have always said that a photographer should read. It is a great way to learn. Read photography books and magazines. They are great sources of knowledge. And, of course, knowledge is power. The more knowledge a photographer has about their craft the more powerful their photographs will be.

But there need to be a few guidelines here. Simply because there is so much information available today. When ten different photographers tell you ten different ways to photograph a subject how do you decide which one is right? After reading eight reviews comparing this camera to that camera how do you decide which camera is better? You can easily get overwhelmed .

So what to do? It's real simple. Start with the basics.

I don't care if you are a newbie or an old-timer when it comes to photography. There are some basic skills that you NEED to know if you want to consistently produce good images. It doesn't matter what camera you use. These skills apply to every camera ever made.

Light is light. It always has been, always will be. The light from the sun is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Aperture is aperture. Shutter speed is shutter speed. And the relationship between the two is the same regardless of what kind of camera you are using.

And I could go on and on with examples of the Basics Of Photography. But I won't. Suffice it to say that these basics applied to photography when it was invented. And they will apply to photography in the distant future.

So What To Read ?

Here is my recommended reading list.

1- Photographic Seeing - by Andreas Feininger (1973)
2- Light And Lighting In Photography - by Andreas Feininger(1977)
3- Principles Of Composition In Photography - by Andreas Feininger(1972)
 *(the first three may be a little hard to come by, though I have seen them on Amazon.)
4- The Camera - by Ansel Adams (1980)
5- The Negative - by Ansel Adams (1981)
6- The Print - by Ansel Adams (1983)

I will be the first to admit, these are some pretty dry reads. These books read like textbooks, which is pretty much what they are. They are written to teach the reader about the basic principles of photography. But when learning the basics that is probably the best way to learn. These books EXPLAIN. And they do a very good job of explaining. That's important when reading to learn.

What Not To Read

This is a bit difficult to quantify. There are a lot of good photo books available. And there are some not-so-good photo books out there. The not-so-good books are not so good for a number of reasons.

The biggest complaint I have is with the 'Here Is How I Made This Pretty Picture And You Can Do It Too' type of book. The author/photographer tells you about how he/she took a picture, where it was, and what the camera settings were. Sure, it may be a nice image, but you really won't learn much from this type of book. Simply because the author doesn't explain the 'thought process' behind taking the picture.

My other big complaint is with photo magazines. Okay, I will admit they often have some pretty good informative articles. But they really push the new equipment. They subliminally send the message that you can't take a good picture unless you have one of the top of the line cameras and lenses that thay talk about in their magazine.

So All In All

Read. Read. And then read some more. Your local library has a bunch of photography books. Half-Price Books is another good source for photography books at a good price, as are other used book stores. So are Amazon and Ebay.

So get some good reading in soon.