Thursday, December 20, 2012

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Angel Statue - In Memory of Our Neighbor

This time of year can be a mixed bag for some.  For most, it is a time of great celebration and joy.  Exchanging gifts, family get together's, music, singing, laughing.

For some it can be a time of great sorrow, especially if they are mourning the passing of a beloved family member.

Not too long ago, we found out that our neighbor had suffered from a stroke in her home and later went home to God.  My wife had known her longer than I - almost 12 years.
We have 3 dogs and they can be very vocal at times, but she never complained.  She was the sort that knew your schedule and looked after our house and let you know if someone was snooping about, and we would reciprocate.

She was always willing to talk with you anytime about anything.

She took special pride in her yard.  She had hired a lawn service to care for it professionally and she would be out almost every morning tending to her flowers or creating some yard art.

I remember one day a few years ago, I had approached her and asked if she minded if took some pictures of her creation.  You see, she absolutely loved angels and her yard contained more than a couple statues throughout.

I took this picture.

I had the picture printed and I gave it to her.  She started crying.  I asked her what was wrong and she just replied, "I'm just so glad that someone else sees the beauty that I do when I look at my yard.  Not everyone appreciates it."  I just told her that my wife and I do and to keep up the good work.

  A few days after her stroke, my wife spoke with our neighbors daughter.  The subject came up about the angel picture.  It turns out that the image was one of her favorite pictures.  She had written on the back of it - "I will treasure this picture for the rest of my life".
Her daughter took it to the hospital and put it at her mom's bedside.  She plans on keeping it in memory of her mother.

I can't explain the feelings that I had when I heard that.  There are so many things that we do for people that, at the time, seem so small or relatively trivial...but can affect them more than we realize.

I can honestly say that all the hard work in photography was worth it for just that one moment, when you realize that what you've captured and shared touches someone.  I don't care if I NEVER create another image.   I know that I have made a positive influence through my work to someone. I did something that made someone feel better about themselves, their lives and through my appreciation of what she had done with her yard....she paid me the ultimate compliment.

I just ask that every time you walk past a stone angel statue, reflect on ways that you can use your skills to positively influence others and make the world a better place.  Even the smallest gesture can mean more than you think.   Pay it forward.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Travel Photography - What To Take.

Traveling can be a great opportunity to get some fantastic images.  It's always an exciting proposition to see something you have never seen before and be able to get an image to remind you of that trip.

Like most of you, I do not get to travel a lot for just photography's sake.  Most of my travels, I am blessed with going on holiday with my family.

One of the most important things that I want to say before we get into a gear/technique discussion is this.  If you are going on your vacation with family - make sure to make the trip about family and relaxation first.  I learned the hard way that a trip can go off kilter if you get obsessed or overly concerned about getting an image over having fun with your family.

To that end - I try and travel as light as possible.  In recent trips, I've gotten my gear down to the following:

Nikon D50
Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8
Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6
Nikon SB-26 Speedlight
Lumiquest SBIII/Quick Straps
Extra En-El3 battery
two sets of rechargeable AA batteries for the flash
nikon/AA battery charger


Since my Nikon D50 is getting close to the end of it's life, I've picked up the Fuji X-E1 to replace it.  With that kit, I've got the 35mm f/1.4 and I'll most likely get the Fuji 55-200mm when it is released and sell off the Nikon 55-200mm.  That will be my new travel kit.

Given that you don't have a whole battery of lights, lenses, filters and sometimes time to get the shots that you want, I'd like to share with you the techniques I think are essential to have in your arsenal.

1.  Understand how/why to use push/pull processing in digital.
Dynamic range can be an issue and without a grad neutral density filter, getting some shots can be very difficult.  If you only have time to get one shots, use this technique to best suit your situation.

2.  Bracketing
Again, dynamic range being an issue.  At a minimum get three shots that are +-2stops.  You can then either use an HDR technique or a layer merge technique in Photoshop to keep your image within tolerance.

3.  Panorama
Practice shooting for manually stitching images together, especially if your camera does not have a built in Panorama mode.  Even if it does, you might want learn it anyway.  Panorama shots are great for showing a large area.  Stitching a few images together might also be helpful if you are working with a prime lens and it happens to be too tight to get the whole image into view in one shot.  Taking two or three images, overlapping the frames by roughly 20% should get you where you need to be.

4.  Know the Hand Holding Rule
This helps to eliminate camera shake due to hand holding the camera at slow shutter speeds.
You want to keep the shutter speed at a reciprocal of the focal length.  In basic terms, this means that if you are shooting a zoom lens at 50mm, make sure that your shutter speed is no slower than 1/50th of a second.  You can increase your ISO sensitivity or open up your aperture to achieve this(sometimes both).

Below, lets look at some of the images I was able to get while on vacation with just those pieces of kit and some photography techniques.  Enjoy!

3 bracketed images merged into one.  This prevented the window from blowing out completely.

Exposed for the sky/sun and brought the cemetery back into view using the push/pull technique.

7 images were stitched together to get this panorama of San Diego.

Monday, December 3, 2012

My Review Of The Fuji X-E1

I was fortunate enough to have gotten to my local retailer a few weekends ago and they had the Fuji X-E1 body in stock.  They did not have the 18-55mm kit lens, but I really wanted the 35mm f/1.4 anyway. 
I'm sure the kit lens will be great but I've recently gotten a great appreciation for fast prime lenses.
Fuji X-E1, Fujinon 35mm f/1.4R
1/3800, f/2.8, ISO 800, 1:1 In-Camera B&W+G
For those who love specs and want to see images of the camera and lenses - check all you can digest at Fuji's Official Site.

First impressions.  

I was really surprised how light the camera and lens are compared to my DSLRs, but the whole kit feels solid.  It is also pretty quiet as compared to a professional single lens reflex camera, but no where near as quiet as the X100 or the X10, which have leaf shutters.

The auto focus was not as fast as a DSLR, but it was very responsive and quick enough for its intended purpose(I'm using it as an "always with me" camera for shooting family and street stuff....although I did use it as a supplemental camera on a few jobs and used in the right way produced great files)
Fuji X-E1, Fujinon 35mm f/1.4R
1/50 f/4, ISO 320, 1:1 In-Camera B&W+G
I really liked being able to use the aperture ring on the lens.  I do wish that the click stops on the aperture ring were a little more stiff, as I did find myself bumping the aperture around at times just holding the camera. I just have to get used to it.

Coming from the X10, I like having 7 custom settings banks.  Right now I only have three setup.  I wish that Fuji would have made the custom banks like they did on the X10, where it keeps the crop ratio as part of the settings.
Fuji X-E1, Fujinon 35mm f/1.4R
1/50, f/2, ISO 1600, 1:1 In-Camera B&W+G
Another odd thing is that you have to go into the regular menu to setup the custom banks.  You cannot do it through the Q menu.  I was hoping that it would be like the X10, and you can set it from wherever you are.  Not bad, just something different to get used to.

It will also take some getting used to having to press the AF button in order top move a focus point. I'd rather press a function button to access the macro mode and have the four cross buttons be for changing the focus point.  I am going to write to Fuji and see if this is something that can be changed via firmware (like they are going to listen to a nobody like me!  Lol).

Like you've heard from just about everyone else, this is a great camera to shoot with.  It reminds me of the old film camera ergonomics, but with all the benefits of digital.  Just using it is fun. 
I've not shot a lot with it, but it will definitely be my new take everywhere camera.  I took it top the park and it never once got in my way.  It just took great pictures, with great clarity and nicely saturated colors.  What you would expect from Fuji.  There is just something about it that makes capturing images fun, I cannot put my finger on it yet.  I've not had this kind of feeling since I purchased my first DSLR, the Nikon D50.
When I think about what I like, the following come to mind.
  • The feel of the shutter button and the solidness of the power switch.
  • The sound of the shutter mechanism when you take an image.
  • The solid feel/construction of the body and lens.
  • The look of the JPEG images straight out of camera is amazing.  I've found that I need very little post processing on them.
  • The B&W mode allows me to tweak it the way I want - and I can get 95% of what I need in camera.

The lens hood was a bit of a disappointment. It seems like it does not attach to the lens solid and the rubber cap wants to come off just getting the camera out of the bag. Not a deal breaker, just something to keep in mind.
Fuji X-E1, Fujinon 35mm f/1.4R
1/350, f/8, ISO 200, 1:1 VELVIA Large 3:2
The EVF works great.  It is interesting to have an exposure responsive display.  It definitely makes composing and adjusting settings easier.  I did notice it get a little grainy in the shadows at times, but this is me just being critical for this reviews sake.  It is nothing that would effect your decision making as far as exposure goes.    Just keep in mind thought that it does appear that the EVF is not always accurate.  By this I mean it seems like the X-E1 will sacrifice accuracy of exposure to make sure that you have a visible view of the subject in the finder.
In those situations, I like having the live histogram in the viewfinder.

For those interested(and there seems to be a lot of interest in this next subject on the forums), here are the settings I have setup for my X-E1 right now:
  • C1
    -- Film Simulation: VELVIA
    -- Size and Crop:  Large & 3:2
    -- Sharpness:  +1
    -- ISO: 200
    -- Everything else is default
  • C2
    -- Film Simulation: B&W +G(in camera green filter)
    -- Size and Crop:  Large & 1:1
    -- Sharpness: +1
    -- Shadow:  +2
    -- Highlight: +2
    -- ISO: 200

Overall I'm just very happy with what Fuji had churned out with the X-E1.  It makes shooting a fun experience.