Friday, November 27, 2009

Black Friday

I actually hate this term as it applies to the Christmas Holiday shopping season. It is a time for joy and feeling good about the gifts we are going to give to the one’s we love. I am not sure but I believe it was a name tagged to the day by the retail working staff. My reasoning is that on this day they know they are going to have to face the charge of the herds that are about to come crashing through the doors seeking those Christmas gift specials this day after Thanksgiving. I am sure the retail owners don’t consider it a black day when the cash registers begin to jingle in these less than stellar economic times.

Needless to say that my newspaper from now until the very day of Christmas will be chock full of ads and glossy inserts attempting to lure customers to their stores. I admit to perusing through them to see what tickles my interest. One of the things I look at in most of the flyers is the technology areas for computers and digital cameras. I think I have spent my camera equipment budget for the next couple of years but I am thinking that there may be many out there that are contemplating the purchase of a digital camera for that special someone and have no clue to what to buy. So, I thought I should share a bit of my knowledge to assist anyone that might want to make a digital camera purchase.

The first thing to look at is who the digital camera is intended for. Is it an adult with little photographic knowledge or is it someone that has had cameras in the past and is familiar with using SLR (Single Lens Reflex) film cameras? We will discuss youngsters in a bit. First for the less experienced photographer you may want to select a point and shoot camera. I know it may sound like something that is equivalent to my first Christmas camera which was a Kodak Brownie but they have a lot more versatility than the Brownie had. First off these cameras can capture far many more shots than the 12 shots on a roll of film. We will discuss some of the considerations to make a purchasing decision.

Price – Digital Point and Shoot Cameras can range in price from sub a hundred dollars up to around 500 dollars. The price is a rough indicator of capability but possibly some of the extra features may never be used. So once you determined what your maximum budget is you can start a comparison of the other feature that the cameras in that price rage have.

Pixels – this is the number that is touted and bantered about the most. Cameras today are in the range of 8, 10 or 12 mega pixels but what does that really mean? First off a pixel is a picture element that carries color information and can be thought of being spaced on a grid on the digital camera’s sensor. The sensor is what takes the place of film in a digital camera. So generally speaking the more pixels you the more points of the image are captured giving a better image quality.

Zoom – you may see the term digital zoom but if you wish to be able to zoom in on objects I think it is best to consider a camera with optical zoom. So what is the difference between digital and optical zoom? Digital zoom is using a digital technique to expand the image over a number of pixels which results in a lower resolution photo which can appear somewhat out of focus depending on the subject and the zoom factor that was used. Optical zoom is using a lens to make the zoom which leaves the camera with the same pixel resolution no matter what the zoom factor is. You may see numbers like 8X, 10X or 12X but what does that mean? Consider it to be a magnification factor. So a subject at 24 feet can be brought to appear like it is 3 feet away when using 8X Zoom of 2 feet away while using 12X zoom. My suggestion is to look at cameras with optical zoom capability.

Modes – These are preset modes mainly for scene selection between landscape, portrait or macro (close-ups). Primarily it is dealing with the distance from the subject and where the center of focus is to be. You may want to view the camera’s manual to see what these distances are. For macro mode it will usually state the closest distance the face of the camera lens can be from the subject you are photographing.

Other features – Some of the other features you may see listed are Red Eye Reduction, Vibration Reduction (VR) and White Balance (WB) adjustment. Red eye reduction removes the red from the eyes of your subjects while doing flash photography. The effect is caused by the light from the flash being reflected back from the back of the eyes where the blood vessels are located. Vibration reduction is trying to eliminate the slight changes in camera movement while the shutter is being activated. It attempts to eliminate the blur that can be caused by that action. Normal White Balance is equivalent to pure white light under a bright sun. However, different light conditions particularly indoors can cause photos to have a color cast. For instance while photographing under incandescent light photos can appear to have an over all yellowish appearance while fluorescent lights may add a greenish look to your photos. The WB adjustment can compensate for these types of artificial light to make the photo look clear and crisp as if it were photographed in the outdoors bright sunlight.

Magnetic media or “digital film” – Most new cameras do not come with a memory card and it will be an extra item that needs to be purchased. Verify the size and type of memory card the camera is able to use. If a camera has a maximum memory size of 4 GB (gigabyte) then buying an 8 GB card will not work and if it did you would only be able to take photos that fit on a 4 GB card so there will be a lot of wasted space and dollars since the bigger the card the more it costs.

Batteries – Most of the higher end point and shoot digital cameras come with a rechargeable battery. Before purchase you must verify the type of battery that is to be used in the camera if it is not supplied with the camera. They can be anything from AAA to AA or some other battery style that is not as common. If the camera that you are purchasing uses these types of batteries you may want to buy them in quantity if you plan to do a lot of photo taking.

Brand – There are a lot of fine photography equipment manufacturers that make these types of cameras. However, there is a wide variety of these cameras which may work well but are off brand and sell for less. The question to ask is how long is this camera to be used? If but for a short period then Brand does not make that great of a difference as long as there is a decent warranty. However, if the camera is to be in service for a number of years then you may want to consider one of the main brand names for cameras since they more than likely have the longevity and will be able to provide service and support well into the future.

I think these considerations should be a good starting point. However, do not be afraid to ask questions and if the sales clerk cannot provide adequate answers I would suggest checking the support links on the manufacturer’s website.

We said we would get back to the youngsters and we are. The whole key is that within that group a couple of years could make a huge difference. I would not buy a serious camera for anyone under the age of 10. I know there are always exceptions so this is just a suggestion. Usually youngsters are marketed heavily with name recognition of characters that are on children’s TV shows. This also goes for cameras. However, although prices seem to be in the price range of ordinary cameras I find that these children digital cameras are really over valued for their meager capabilities. You can find plenty of “no name” camera brands with similar capability at the fraction of the price for these types of cameras. If a child is serious about photography then I would buy one of the low cost cameras that they will be able to grow with in the near term.

Finally, getting to that experienced photographer that you would like to buy a DSLR for. My recommendation is only purchase a camera that you know they were absolutely lusting over. If you do not feel positive about the type, brand etc do not make the purchase. Experienced photographers generally have an idea of what they want. So to eliminate that look of “oh no” when they open the present I would recommend to either give them a gift card to their favorite camera store or a check to cover the purchase price. If you have an idea of the camera they may want you could get a brochure at the camera shop and include it in with the card.

I hope the information has added some insight in making a wise and informed camera purchase and Happy Holidays.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Just because ….

I always seek out things of beauty to photograph. At times it could be an expansive landscape or something as small as the colored swirls on the outside of a periwinkle shell. But at times photography must be used to photograph the uglier side of life. The photographer attempts to send a message with a visual representation of what they are viewing and feeling. Unfortunately, these photos mostly record the uglier side of humankind. One does not have to seek too hard to see photos of the Holocaust, the events of 9/11 and many more. The photos on today’s commentary are not that profound but yet I hope to send a message with them.

Maine is a state that prides itself with the natural beauty they have been blessed with. They try hard to safeguard and develop it not only for state residents but for the tourism trade as well. Some of the work is being done with public funds while others are being funded privately. Those groups using private funds are dependent upon donations and membership fees to help supply the funds required to continue their work of preservation, development as well as education. One such organization I am familiar with is Island Heritage Trust ( that has worked on preservation projects on Deer Isle in Maine. I have enjoyed walking the spaces they have preserved and attempt to safeguard for future generations. They also attempt to educate visitors about how previous generations have lived, worked and supported their families on the rugged yet beautiful Maine coast.

One of the Island Heritage Trust properties I visit from time to time throughout the year is the Old Settlement Quarry. Deer Isle was famous for its pink grain granite in those days it was a highly sought construction material. It slowly was replaced by concrete and the quarry business had lost its economic value. New England is full of deserted quarries as a sign of how economic times can change and along with it the landscape of a community as well. Such it was for the Deer Isle communities too.

The Island Heritage Trust had acquired the Old Settlement Quarry and had added improvements to accommodate visitors to that particular site there is a rustic shelter that visitors pass through as they walk from the parking lot to the trail that leads to the top of the quarry. It contained signage describing the property and the trails that can be walked along with some educational information about the operation of the quarry and how it was formed.

On my last visit I was dismayed on why someone would want to vandalize that particular shelter. From the photos you can see the deliberate attempt to obscure the signage to the point it was totally unusable. This goes beyond the usual “Kilroy was here” type of vandalism where for some reason some find it necessary to spray paint their names on properties that they do not own. I am of the school of thought that believes when you visit such places you should leave no trace behind. That idea includes removing anything and everything you had brought with you on your visit.

My thought on this particular act of vandalism is that someone was attempting to send a message as an affront to those that are working to save and preserve lands and provide public access for all to enjoy. These organizations do not have “deep pockets” and every cent is needed and spent wisely to carry on the work they do. Much is accomplished with free labor provided by volunteers. I just hope some day in the future the perpetrators of this act of vandalism will feel some remorse and offer both monetary compensation as well as offer to help by volunteering on some of the projects that the group works on throughout the year.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Getting out there

I have been doing some form of photography over a number of years. My first experiences were in film photography and somewhat limited by the number of exposures on a roll of film. So due to this fact, I had been very selective with my photography. It was pretty well limited to the recording of special events such as birthdays, anniversaries, family gatherings, etc. With the transition to digital photography I have experienced a creative liberation which allows me to test and experiment in ways I would never had attempted while shooting with film. Even with this new creative freedom, I limited myself to photographing landscapes and assorted flora and fauna. There were environments that I would feel very subconscious about and uncomfortable in just shooting photos like crazy fearing I would be dubbed “that weirdo with the camera”.

I began to look for local camera clubs but they all seemed to meet on weekday evenings and working a job with off shift hours just does not allow for joining any of those groups. I had weekends available but no clubs seemed to meet during those times. This all began to change on the day I purchased my Nikon D300 at Hunt’s Photo in Melrose Massachusetts. While I was having the camera demonstrated and getting the feel of it, a lady came to the counter also looking to purchase a D300. The salesman began to show both of us the qualities and features of the camera and we conversed some while in the sales process. We both ended up purchasing a camera and she asked if I were to attend NECCC that was coming up very shortly. I had to ask “what is NECCC?” She went on to explain that it was the New England Camera Club Council that holds a large photographic weekend with workshops and model shoots held at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst Massachusetts.

When I got home with my new camera I logged on to my computer and performed a search on “NECCC” and got hits which directed me to the website for the council. I registered for the event including all three days (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) and informed my place of work I was taking a vacation day on that Friday. I am glad I did what was suggested to me by the lady at the counter. I have now attended two NECCC weekends but it being only an annual event it left a lot of in between downtime without getting out there to shoot with other photographers.

During the winter months of 2008/2009 I was introduced to a website called Meetup. It is a site where you can find groups of people with almost any and all interests to meet up with in an organized setting. I searched for local photographic groups and settled on one to start with. In April 2009 I journeyed out with them on my first group photo shoot and enjoyed it very much. The group was friendly, helpful and I felt comfortable and I fit right in with folks who had similar ambitions of photographing everything and anything at whim. Since then I have joined other Meetup Photo groups each with a varying slant on the photography they work with. Joining the different groups allowed me to move my photography into other areas I may never had explored on my own. I have done themed model photo shoots with natural and studio lighting and hope to try and expand on my photographic experience while growing an ever expanding portfolio of photographs. I even had joined a Meetup group that is dedicated to film photography and I will be attending their first meet up later this month. So due to the Meetup groups I found my photography has come full circle from film to digital and a return to film. However, I think there is room for both film and digital going forward with my photographic endeavors.

The point of this post is about getting out there and doing it. It really matters not what your interest lies in but you need to go out and practice it. There is something to the synergy of a like minded group of individuals with the same interest that you have. It will force you out of your comfort zone and cause you to progress to new heights in either photography or what else your interest may be. So, just get out there and do it. Find a group with similar interests or if you are more comfortable going it alone that that is OK too but the idea is to get out there and just do it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Honoring all those that have served

November 11th is the day to remember all those that served and sacrificed to safeguard our country. They truly deserve the gratitude of all in this nation, for with their service they have secured the liberties we exercise and enjoy each day. Many we do not know personally but let them now they are not forgotten or appreciated for their efforts in keeping us safe. My hat is off to all veterans, past, present, living and those that have preceded us for being there at the time their country needed their service.

Photography has been used since its discovery to record many historical events as they had occurred. It has been there in times of celebration and joy as well as times of great sadness, grief and loss. It is the record of mankind in every day life and sometimes the photos are not of the “pretty” variety.

Quoting Leonardo Da Vinci, “Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen”. I think if you substitute imagery for painting in this quote you can relate this to not only painting but also include photography. The idea of “picture” making is to tell the story of an event as it happens. If the photographer can elicit emotions and feeling in the viewer of their photo then they too have created “poetry”. I know there are many photos I have seen and wished I have not because of the feelings they cause to stir within me. They are the ones that show the lack of humanity of those that had perpetrated crimes against humanity and their fellow inhabitants of this planet. But then again, I have seen photos that give hope and joy and cause me to wonder if it is ever possible that all men could ever live in peace one day.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Catching the light

The idea of catching light to me is a metaphor relating to the photographing of something we are seeing visually. It is evident to make a photograph requires the use of some form of camera and a light sensitive medium such as film to capture the light we are seeing with a photograph. Since you never know when an image you wish to capture would appear means that you need to have a camera with you at all times. For most cell telephone users this is not an issue since camera capable cell phones came onto the market. Although somewhat limited these cell phone cameras do a reasonable job in most cases. I attempt to have one of my cameras with me at all times whenever I leave the house. I pack my older Nikon 8700 camera in my attaché case that I take to work. It is an 8 mega pixel camera with eight time optical zoom so it is fairly capable for most instances. It also has a pop flash unit allowing photographing in low light situations.

The end of last month I attended Scott Kelby’s seminar, Adobe Photoshop for Digital Photographer’s in Boston Massachusetts. Having a collection of various cameras I decided to take along my Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi. The majority of my cameras are Nikon but I do have this Canon as well as an Olympus point and shoot camera along with an assortment of off brand cameras plus a collection of film cameras. I like having a variety of cameras to work with but I chose the Canon DSLR since is a 10 mega pixel camera with some flexibility with an 18 to 55 mm lens which is convenient in an inner city environment.

It was a beautiful autumn day and at the end of the day as I left the Boston Convention Center where the workshop was held it was nearing sunset and I decided to see what I could do with a Cityscape Sunset. The following photo was taken on that day as I walked to the local T stop at South Station.

I waited till the sun ducked behind the buildings in the distance and there was a few high clouds which helped reflect the sunset hues.
The Photo on the right was taken facing directly west into the sunset.

The lesson of this post is that to take advantage of whatever photographic opportunity that may come your way is to have your camera at the ready at all times. When photographers say they got a "lucky shot" what they really mean is that the photo composition presented itself and being prepared they were able to make the photo.

It has been my personal experience that I have missed out on many occasion for a photo op because I did not have a camera with me. Now I try to make sure that is not the case. However, I pretty much have my cell phone with me at all times and have taken some photos with it but I prefer one of my cameras to be with me at all times because of their flexibility and increased capabilities. Be prepared and you will never be sorry. One day you too may be able to boast of that great "lucky shot" you managed to capture.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Capturing Light

Photography is the capturing of light that is focused by the camera lens onto a light sensitive medium. In the early days of photography the medium consisted of coated glass plate. Later, light sensitive film had been developed and was used for many decades in cameras of all sizes and formats. In the last decade the development of digital “film” cameras has overtaken conventional film cameras in the market place. A digital camera uses a light sensitive sensor to take small points of light and store them digitally (a string of ones and zeroes) on to a memory card. These points of light are referred to as pixels (a techno term for picture element). Each pixel records the intensity of the colors of Red, Green and Blue commonly referred to as RGB from that point of light. The RGB value is stored on a memory card in the camera and can later be transferred to a computer for editing and printing.

In the days of film the light sensitivity was an ISO value (International Organization for Standardization) and had a numeric value of 25, 100, 200, 400 etc. The lower the value the finer the grain of the film but it had a lower sensitivity to light. So there is a compromise to be had between how sharp you wanted the photo to be and how much light you had to capture the image with. Digital cameras have the same ability but with the same inherent effect of getting a grainer photo when shooting at high ISO values. Of course, with digital film processing there is a certain amount of editing that can compensate for some of these effects, but it is a good photographic practice to attempt to capture the best image you can within the camera and minimize the amount of post-processing that may be required.

Digital cameras are usually advertised by the amount of pixels they can capture, e.g. 10 or 12 mega pixels (mega = 1 million). So, a 12 mega pixel format may be 4000 pixels wide by 3000 pixels high. If you are printing at 300 dots per inch and each pixel was a dot then you could print a high resolution photo of approximately 13.3 inches by 10 inches. Do not confuse pixel quantity to the quality of a camera. While it is true that high quality cameras do have a larger amount of pixels they can use to capture a photo, it is not the only factor to consider when determining a camera’s quality. Many other factors are involved, such as the sensitivity of the photo sensor, the overall size of the photo sensor and lens quality. When it comes to lenses, look for the optical zoom factor. The greater the number the closer the lens can bring the image to the camera’s photo sensor yielding a higher resolution photo over using digital zoom within the camera.

Whatever camera you choose to use, the idea behind photography is capturing the essence of a scene, object or person at a particular point in time, environment and circumstance. So, in reality you are capturing the light either emitted or radiated at the fraction of a second that it takes to open and close the shutter on the camera. To me, there is a spiritual quality of doing that, for that fraction is gone for all of eternity except for what you were able to capture within your camera. In the early days of the west when photographers such as Remington, Curtis and others ventured out to photograph the places and inhabitants of that unknown region there was reluctance among the American Indians to be photographed. They feared that the photographer was taking their soul while photographing them. Perhaps, they were not wrong, a good photograph captures the essence of a being and being spiritual beings does capture a bit of our souls at that precise moment in the overall continuum of time.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Fall has come to New England

This is a view of the White Mountains from Artist's Bluff located in Franconia Notch State Park, New Hampshire. Early snow can be seen on the peaks of the higher elevations while the lower slopes still have the reds, yellows and blazes of bright orange. Many of the trees had begun to drop their leaves but there was still many that were displaying their fall plumage. It was a wonderful fall day weather wise and we New Englanders know to enjoy the day while you can for the weather can change fairly rapidly.

I took my Nikon D300 with 18 -135 mm telephoto lens but forgot to take a spare battery with me. Naturally on the climb up the trail to Artist's Bluff there were lots of photos to be had. As I neared the peak I noticed that my battery level was quite low and hoped it would last for a few shots from the bluff. Fortunately, it did continue have enough charge to allow photos at the top and continued to keep the camera operational on the trip down the trail allowing for more shots to be taken. I took a lot of shots on that one battery with a single charge. The D300 is really a low drain camera and thankfully so since I would not have been able to take the photo that is displayed in this post.

It was not just my spare battery that I forgot. After I was quite a way up the trail I realized I left my cell phone back in the car. Hiking alone without anyone knowing where you are located without a cell phone can turn into a bad scene pretty rapidly if you should trip and injure yourself. In hindsight, if I were to do this alone once again, I would make sure I had a survival kit of sorts in case of a mishap. Sometimes the exuberance of being out in nature eager to take photographs of her grand beauty can cause one to not be properly prepared. I was fortunate that day but I promised myself I would not do that again if I were not somewhat better prepared than I had been on this hike.