Monday, November 26, 2012

Setting the mood

Photo ops are all around me (us). Although it can be argued that this isn't the most photogenic time of year (snow is finally sticking to the ground as I write this – YAY! But not enough to plow with my new ATV...) but up to today, just shades of grey and brown prevailed. The thing is, though, you also have to be in the mood and I'm not.

November is almost over and I have only about 300 shutter activations. I didn't go anywhere, but it should have been at least 5x that many. I've just been distracted by business and financial challenges. Without going into a lot of detail, anyone with an online business, who sees a change in their sales pattern, should go check what's going on. Turns out a software glitch at my shopping cart supplier prevented any but existing customers from placing orders and I was essentially down for several weeks before I caught it. There's a lesson here, folks: if something is different, find out why.

As I alluded earlier, I've been spending some time writing. My book is a little stalled (I go to bed dreaming about plot variations but haven't tied into one yet!). Anyone who thinks writing fiction is easy is dead wrong. And you can't start a book with, "It was a dark and stormy night...".

I've also been working on a companion photography guide to the Fall Colours eBook I put out a couple of months ago. "Winter Wonderland" is almost finished, I should be able to get it out this week. Watch for it: about 70 iPad-sized pages on how to take better winter pictures. It's actually written: but I've decided, at Jason Anderson's suggestion, to use Adobe InDesign to publish it. Since I'm an old (very, very old!) Quark Express guy, and there's an historical connection between the programs, the learning curve is somewhat shorter than it normally would be. Learning as I go, though. Trying to figure out how to make hyperlinks show up right now!

Almost a horror story

It could have been. Imagine losing ALL your photo archives. One of my two 2Tb external drives failed. Fortunately it did so 'slowly', so I was able to retrieve everything, but there were some scary moments. I have two 2Tb (and one 1Tb) Western Digital "My Book" external drives. I chose them because (1) I'm a cheap bastard and they were the most economical, and (2) I preferred drives with separate power sources (AC power as opposed to USB power) under the impression that they would be more reliable.

When I did my monthly SyncToy syncing between the drives (the 1Tb is full and retired), there were some signs that everything was not perfect. The "L" drive, the one I kept offsite (more on that in a minute) would sometimes not show up on the computer. I was able to get it back by unplugging and reconnecting the power cord. Hmmm. To make a long story short, I decided not to rely on it and I brought it back to Costco where I had bought it last April.

I know that because, even though I didn't have the bill, they had a record of my purchase and took it back for full credit, no questions asked. IMHO, Costco is a great place to do business. After some discussion with the tech guy at Costco, I decided to change to the WD "Passport" drive which was a few bucks more, but he told me, more rugged. I STILL need to buy a third one, though. Let's see what happens on Boxing Day, and I'd like a 3Tb unit since my 2Tb's are about 65% full.

So one leg of my backup strategy will be changed. Since I don't have a separate place to keep a copy (I work at home, only one physical location), I've kept the "L" drive in a padded bag under the seat of my car. Everyone knows not to subject a hard drive to vibration or movement while it's in operation, but I've come to the realization that it should be babied even when it's not plugged in. So my "L" drive is now going to my mother's apartment in Toronto. I'll continue to mirror the drives once a month, and I also keep copies of my uploaded images and Lightroom catalogues on the internal drive in the computer. And on the laptop.

The message here? If you don't have a well-thought-out and properly implemented backup strategy, you need to. What better time to put it in place than right now?

Early Adoption... good or bad?

Over time, I've avoided being an early adopter of either new hardware or software. Let other people find out about glitches and shortcomings. But you get sucked in...

I've "Early Adopted" three things in the past few months:

  • Lightroom 4. Almost a disaster. It worked sluggishly, AdobĂȘ (I use an accented 'e' when I'm saying mean things about them) didn't acknowledge the problem for a long time and still haven't, although they've fixed it. 
  • Photoshop CS6. Flawless. It did all the things that CS5 did and then some. There's a learning curve especially on the new stuff, but unless you're doing leading edge stuff, you can always do it the old way. My favourite feature? The oil paint filter.
  • Nikon D600. I hope I don't jinx things by speaking too soon, but this was a great move. Yes, there were issues early when AdobĂ© didn't support it in Lightroom or Camera Raw, but versions 4.2, and especially the 4.3 Release Candidate have addressed that. There are so many outstanding features, but the fact that I can bring up a 100% crop and have it look tack sharp onscreen is awesome. 
So should you be an early adopter? No. But on the other hand...

The Tripod story

I'm not going to give you all the details yet, because I'm waiting for one more email from Danny Lenihan, the president and CEO of 3LeggedThing in England, but I wanted to get this timely message out. (1) They have undoubtedly provided the best customer service I've experienced in years, and (2) their product is superb. It's half the price of the equivalent Gitzo, and it has features you wouldn't believe. I'll write another review when I get that email from Danny, clarifying a few points.

Now they've come out with a new generation, first introduced at PhotoKina in September, and I now have one. It's slick. Better than the old one, but that's like saying that a Bentley is better than a  Jaguar (I know, it's really a Ford, but, you know what I'm saying). You can buy the v. 1.1 Brian tripod complete with the AirHed for $329 at B&H until the end of November. That's $120 savings. I think the new generation one will be just shy of $500. Your call, and here's the link

Automatic ISO bracketing

I'm still playing with that feature, which I'm given to understand was made available by Nikon as early as the D200. But it's really useful with a camera like the D600 with which you can jump up to really high ISO numbers and still have acceptable noise levels. I also heard that Canons can't do it.

The trick is to hold a constant aperture and shutter speed, and achieve a 3-shot, 2-stop bracketed series by changing ISO. I don't have good results to report yet (or bad ones) because I haven't shot much for a while.

I'm experimenting but if you want to try it, here's the deal: go to manual so the camera doesn't screw with your aperture/shutter speed. If I can shoot my middle exposure at ISO 1600 or better, I can get the full 2-stop bracket I'm looking for. I'm holding minimum shutter speed at 1/500 for the 400mm lens and at 1/250 for the 70-200mm. Once I see how an HDR renders, I'll report on it here. 

Setting the mood

On to the title subject. I had a sort of funny discussion with Rosa the other day. Follow me here. Rosa is my artist friend and she really knows her stuff. She's a classically trained artist and sees things differently from you and I (OK, well me, anyway). The other day, she talked to me about balancing areas of light and darkness, the same way you would balance colours (yeah, like I really do that. {/sarcasm}). She hates the whole HDR thing, thinks pictures shouldn't be in tack-sharp focus from edge to edge, and holds up her hands in a cropping gesture a lot while looking at my images. She kind of sneers when I use the phrase "Rule of Thirds".

Anyway, the discussion went like this. She said to me that although some of my colleagues shoot technically better than I do (ouch!), she says what I do is capture moods and feelings and they don't. "Maybe they win competitions, but I like your pictures better". 

The funny part of the discussion was that she said to me, "you should shoot early in the morning when the light is better", as if it was a revelation from the Gods. It was as though she had never heard me say that or read any of my teachings! I've had the same kind of breakthrough in motorcycling: after years of riding and teaching, I remember saying and believing it as though a bolt of lightning suddenly came down from the sky, "you have to look where you want to go!". Non-riders won't get it, but one day it's as if something exploded in your head and you finally GROK (look it up) the concept. I don't know if this paragraph makes any sense, maybe you had to be there and hear the nuances, but 'yeah, ok...'.

So speaking of mood, here are a couple of recent images that she liked.

It was kind of a bleak day, but we both were taken by the surreal forest.
She said the light doesn't have to be dramatic all the time. 

I just thought I'd throw in a picture of Rosa I took on the same dull morning. I used the birch trees to frame her and I added just a touch of pop-up flash fill (-1eV, if I recall) to balance the light on her face.

This image is from a couple of days ago. I took the ATV for a ride and tried to beat the sunset to the end of the peninsula, to capture the sky across the lake. It was a bust: I was too late, and the sky wasn't that great, and the landscape was boring. However, there was this boat on a dock and the setting sun gave it a warm glow. I put the 10x ND filter on and shot a 15 second exposure which gave the water a smooth texture. I burned in the background a little to remove distractions, and increased the saturation a few percent.  

I knew I saw something when I shot this a couple of weeks ago, the first frosty morning of the season. The light filtered through the stand of trees in the background and lit up the tuft of reeds and grass. It was after seeing this that Rosa said I should seek out the dawn light. I hope this reproduces well: I'm going to try to print it. 
So kind of moody shots this week. None of them are HDR's, by the way. With fresh snow falling and the Christmas lights up at the Inn across the road, I'll try to do something more upbeat for next week. 

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