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Friday, May 20, 2016

10 Places I'd Photograph (If Money Were No Obstacle).

There are many places that a photographer would like to photograph, but for me, if money were no obstacle, I’ve managed to narrow down the top ten locations that I would like to go to in order to photograph subjects. Since my main photographic interests lie in landscapes and wildlife; the interesting subjects and landscape features of each of these locations provides a reason for me to pick up my camera and take a journey to a place which would have been on my bucket-list to go to and most definitely will be on my list of places to go…if I win the lottery.

1. Iceland:a land shaped by plate tectonics; it is dotted by volcanoes, waterfalls, glaciers, ice caverns and geothermic geysers; all of which contribute to a surreal landscape that makes it a beautiful region to photograph. There is something about Iceland’s geography that contributes to lenticular cloud formation; a surreal atmospheric phenomenon which makes clouds appear to be shaped like an alien spacecraft. Puffins also frequent this island. There are Icelandic reindeer and arctic fox to be photographed. I’ve often marvelled at the photos that other photographers who have been lucky enough to visit this enchanting country and would love to be able to go visit this place myself.

2. Sierra de Culebra, Spain: this place offers an opportunity in Northwest Zamora to view the Iberian wolf in the wild. Not to mention; the area also with it’s rocky terrain offers plenty of opportunity for landscape photography. I’ve always been interested in the lupine species; wanting to go out into the wilds in Canada to photograph wolves, but the Iberian wolf, a subspecies of the grey wolf, inhabits the forests and plains of Northern Portugal and NorthWestern Spain; and all in all a fascinating species to photograph.

3. Woraksan National Park, South Korea:With the various monuments, mountains and waterfalls in this park, the landscape photographer will have an absolute field-day there…and I have a weakness for mountains and waterfalls.

4. Shaanxi Province, China:Foping Nature Reserve: one word: Pandas! ‘nuff said.

5. The Scottish Highlands: the Scottish Highlands are dotted with castles from Scotland’s feudal ages and the opportunity to get in some landscapes with castles in them as well as other landscape photos. Eilean Donan castle is one place that ranks high on my list of photographs that I want to put into my portfolio.

6. Japan: There are four locations that I want to photograph in Japan. Man-made structures are not so much of interest to me, however, I figure that I would like to photograph some, like Kyoto’s Buddhist temples. But for me, it’s the different wildlife that is located in Japan. The Snow Monkeys of Nagano Prefecture which absolutely love the onsen (hot springs). The Deer at Nara Park, the red foxes of Zao Fox Village in Miyagi Prefecture and the Wild Horses of Yonaguni-Jima. Japan will more than likely be a heritage trip for me, as my family comes from Kyoto.

7. Snowdonia, Wales:This mountainous region of Wales is usually one of the most beautiful especially when capped with snow. There’s mountains, rivers, lakes and forests. And occasionally if you venture into the area bordering the RAF LFAs (low flying areas) you might see a Eurofighter Typhoon come screaming down the Mach Loop. Which is nice because as a wildlife photographer, I occasionally like photographing big loud metal birds.

8. Saskatchewan and Alberta: (Summer): During the summer in Alberta and Saskatchewan there are burrowing owls; their quaint little behavior of tilting their heads at onlookers has always captured my attention and I’ve always wanted to capture them on image. Their anthropomorphic behavior such as making faces at their fellow owls makes them absolutely hilarious to watch. But since their habitat is in roughly the same area as those of rattlesnakes, I’d rather be wearing snake-bite resistant pants and snake-bite proof walking shoes when I go.

Saskatchewan and Alberta: (Winter): Snowy Owls tend to make more common appearances in Alberta and Saskatchewan during the winter. Ever since Harry Potter came out, everybody and their kids have held a fascination with Hagrid the Owl (now…note that I haven’t read that tripe; sorry, J.K. Rowling, it never interested me. Maybe I was just too old when the novels came out). But snowy owls have held more of a fascination with me due to their beautiful white plumage and their mesmerizing yellow eyes and like the burrowing owls, they have a captivating personality and thus I would love to get snowy owls into my portfolio of images.

…and last but not least…

Antarctica: If money were no obstacle…I would definitely do a trip to the bottom of the earth…to photograph Antarctica’s penguins as well as the beautiful barely touched landscapes of the Antarctic continent. It would probably mean taking a flight to Ushauia, Argentina, from Buenos Aires and taking a tour with Nat Geo’s Penguin Tours.

This by no means comprises all the places that I would like to visit, if we were so lucky enough to have the financial resources to do so, but it does give you an idea of what I’d like to photograph. So what’s YOUR list?

Friday, May 13, 2016

18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 Version I? Any Good?

You have been looking at the 18-55mm, yeah, they have one now with VR (vibration reduction) but you've been told by someone that "Aw, kit lenses aren't any good. You need to buy yourself that Canisony 16-24 f/4 with the gold-red ring around it. That's the ticket. You'll get wayyy better pictures that way." I seem to recall Iceman from Top Gun coughing something into his hand that sounded something like "full-kit". Really, that's how I heard it; plus what I actually heard isn't printable in this blog.

But the question is: Can you get good photos with the 18-55mm. Now I have the VR-less 18-55mm V1. And it's performed just fine for me. Yes, a more expensive lens has better glass, but better glass will not help to create better pictures if you're just starting out. I used my kit lens which I got with the Nikon D50 ten years ago to learn the basics of composition and exposure. And can a kit lens produce an image just as well as a more expensive fixed aperture lens? In the hands of a knowledgeable photographer, yes. Because ultimately it is the knowledge that you learn during the course of your photography education that will allow you to use any lens that you put onto your camera to its best potential.

As a matter of fact, I went out walking today with my Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens and photographed these images.

So? Is it the lens or is it the photographer? The kit lens is a starting point from which you utilize the kit lens to progress in photography knowledge. It is an entry point into creating images and like all entry-level kit lenses, it's not the quality of the kit lens that dictates the quality of the image, but what you can create with it. It is the doorway to how you see the world. Learn to use it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Why Post-Processing Is Important

You've often wondered how photographers come up with such eye-catching photos; the colors are intense and the scene just pops with dynamic vibrance.

Yet you wonder why, when you upload your shot you took that you thought was awesome; your photographs look flat, compared to the images that other landscape photographers create.

No, it's not the fault of your camera. The image that comes out of your camera can only be perfected to a certain point. You can get the exposure right, you can get the composition (the way you see the image) in camera but everything else has to come from what's termed as Post. From there the camera produces a digital negative. This is known as your RAW file or if you shoot a Nikon, it is called an NEF file. That's the extension that is on your camera image file (for example DSC_0591.NEF). This NEF or RAW file captures all the dynamic light in the image, but it leaves the image flat so that you can go into an editing program such as Adobe Lightroom in order to do the post-processing/editing to create a final image; essentially create the image that you see in your mind's eye. That's right, in the film days, this was known as taking the image to the dark-room. We in this age use the computer as a digital darkroom.

Make no mistake, post-processing will not correct the problems associated with exposure or bad composition. Those two key things are the things that you have to get "right in camera." The more correct terminology is to "get it correct in camera."

In a later blogpost I will go through the steps that I use to post-process my images before I post them onto social media sites such as Facebook, Google+ or Instagram. I also will show the work I put into an image before I put it into an image portfolio site such as 500px.

But here is a before and after shot of an image that I have edited.

What originally comes out of your camera if you have the exposure and composition right is this...barring the limitations of your lens you have on your camera.

After Post-Processing/Noise reduction - Shooting in ISO 1250 on a D300s produces a lot of image noise.

The image now has a lot more punch and has more dynamic range of color. And shooting at ISO 1250 automatically means that you do have to do post in order to have a usable image. And in order to be able to shoot at the high shutter speeds necessary to capture a hummingbird in mid-hover, the way I pictured it, I had to shoot at that ISO. Also the image has been cropped to an 8x10 to get rid of certain artifacts in the image that result from the limitations of not having the time to compose the image to the way that I wanted it entirely due to the subject matter. And because I'm currently limited to Nikon View; I do not have a healing tool to be able to get rid of artifacts such as dust-motes on the sensor. I will eventually have to get my D300s into Nikon to get the sensor cleaned (yeah, I'm too chicken to do it myself for fear of damaging the sensor).

Photographers tend to be a touchy lot and love to say things like "I get things right in camera"...but do they really? Even from film days, they were in the dark-room applying their own personal touch. So if photographers back in the 35mm and 4x5 format days were still having to use a darkroom to perfect their images, what makes them think that digital is any different?

Friday, May 6, 2016

Tiffen Vs. Hoya Polarizers (Circ and Regular) Head-to-head.

I’ve always wanted to do a head to head comparison of Hoya and Tiffen to see exactly how well they perform. I’ve never really liked my Tiffen, whether it’s green casts on cloudy days or the blues not being as intense as I want them to be. So I’m going to put the three polarizers (my 62mm Hoya polarizer, my wife’s 62mm Hoya circular polarizer and my Tiffen circular polarizer) to the test and see just how close or far they are from each other. It’s a nice sunny day today and I am sure that I can get some intense blues with them.

The first up is the Tiffen Circular Polarizer; 1. With the white background test, you can see that it filters out to complete black which is what a polarizer is supposed to do. That’s a promising start. You should not be able to see anything on your computer screen through the polarizer if the polarizer is doing its job as advertised, because what it does is that it blocks out all polarized light reflected or emitted. The sky is an deep blue, however, you will see that in comparison to Hoya, the blue is not as intense (despite the introduction of the fingers reflecting in the background; but that has no effect on what is produced from the other end of the lens)

2. I opted to do a Hoya 62mm circular polarizer test as my wife owns one. This polarizer also when subjected to the white background test also comes up as not emitting any polarized light. And when you see the sky photographed through this polarizer it is an intense blue; a deeper blue than the Tiffen.

3. And this is my regular Hoya 62mm which I used to use on my entry level Nikkor AF 70-300mm G. This (if you will excuse my fingers)

When it comes down to a straight shootout between all three exposed at centered meter; Hoya beats Tiffen in intensity hands down. The first picture is one that is completely unfiltered - bare lens, no polarizer

Tiffen 67mm (exposed for center-meter) (in order for me to even come close to matching the Hoya texture, I had to increase shutterspeed to underexpose the image and that would have to be done for each and every photo ever taken.)
Tiffen underexposed (by increasing shutterspeed)

Hoya Circular Polarizer 62mm

Hoya Regular Polarizer (used with film cameras usually)

All in all, the Hoya cuts out more light during the White Background Test (pitchblack as opposed to somewhat black which means that it cuts out the majority of the polarized light) and it tends to do a deeper more intense blue than the Tiffen; which marks it as the winner in my books. I tend to prefer the intensely deep blue of the Hoya, than the somewhat blue of the Tiffen as it makes for a more striking sky.

Now polarizers and their resultant effects are subject to personal opinion. Some may not like an intense blue whereas other will prefer the Hoya. I tend to lean towards the latter. The only advice that I can give, is to learn how to use the polarizer to its best effect. You will get the best effect by utilizing it at a 90 degree angle away from the sun. If the sun is to your side, you will get the best results from a polarizer.

The only recommendation that I can give, is do not skimp when it comes to buying a cheap polarizer filter. The cheap ones that are made aren’t worth the money and don’t do anything for you in terms of filtering out. The decent polarizers range from $65.00 up and stick with either Hoya or Tiffen depending on your preference. If it’s possible to test one out before buying, do so.

…and I personally will be buying myself a 67mm Hoya Pro-1 circular polarizer as soon as I possibly can.

Edit: May, 5, 2016: I will be trying a Kenko brand 67mm - from what I've been told Kenko and Hoya were made by the same factory, with the only difference being labeling - We'll see...

Here are some of my shots with the Tiffen 67mm on a sky with clouds and seeing how much definition I can get with the clouds thanks to the polarizer.

Tiffen 67mm at 18mm
Hoya Circular Polarizer at 70mm
Hoya Linear (regular) polarizer at 70mm

I had to shoot the 62mm Hoya polarizers at 70mm since I can only shoot them on a 70-300mm G without throwing on a 52mm step-up ring to shoot it on the 18-55mm lens.

So in order to keep the photos similar, I opted to shoot the clouds with an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 with the two Hoyas.

Hoya Circular Polarizer with 52-62mm step-up ring at 18mm.
Hoya Linear Polarizer with 52-62mm step-up ring at 18mm.

The color definition may be muted on the 18-55mm but I kind of figure that it's not the fault of the Hoya filter as it is more with the Nikon 18-55mm in terms of glass. But make no mistake, the 18-55mm (iteration 1 is no slouch of a lens; even though it is a kit lens - it will take great pictures provided you correctly handle the lens).

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

First Commercial Flight Airbus A380 to YVR - British Airways

On May 1st, 2016, British Airways started flying their Airbus A380 super-jumbo into YVR (Vancouver International Airport). Unfortunately, I was unable to be down at the airport to greet this enormous aircraft personally as the condition of my car is less than optimal (battery has a parasitic energy bleed and is sufficiently dead enough that if I were to drive it, it could potentially damage the engine; also doesn't help that the rad is toast and the engine overheats.)

So even though I was unable to make it down to the south terminal of YVR to see the Airbus fly in for its inaugural flight, I still managed to catch the bird in the air before anyone else: How? Because I sat out in my backyard and waited for the Airbus to fly overhead. The Airbus A380 is only scheduled during the summer however, with winter months, I presume being covered by the TripleSeven or the 747-400 (a rather higher gas mileage expenditure) but that will remain to be seen. But hopefully, I will be able to get down to YVR Airport South Terminal and be able to see the aircraft do its thing.

Why I'm Not Going To Get The D500.

Yeah, I titled this “Why I’m Not Going To Get The D500”…weird for this gear-head, huh?

Nikon has finally put out the true D300s successor…and really, I should be chomping at the bit to try and get my hands on one. And yeah, normally, I would be…but I’m not.

First of all:

1. Money Factor: Unless you got the simoleons (insert SimCity credit here) to play the Gear Game (not to be confused with Game Gear (a gamer’s website); you gotta be satisfied with previous generation gear. Otherwise, you’d be upgrading every single time that the camera company put out a new camera.

2. New Gear Growing Pains: Every time a camera comes out there are growing pains. Things don’t work right or there is some technical problem that requires a firmware fix or a recall. It takes about a year for bugs to be worked out of the camera system. If you really need a camera that badly; then go for it, but most wait to upgrade until they’re sure the camera works as advertised.

I have a D300s, bought in 2010 and six years later, it still has only 33,000 actuations of the shutter. That’s low usage for a D300s which is rated for 150,000 shutter actuations. And I use it often. When I shoot a minor hockey game, I can usually get almost 600 shots per game when I shoot and usually that’s at Continuous High (CH on the dial) and even so, my shutter actuation count is only at 33,000 and that’s in six years of relatively constant use. But that is usually due to the fact that the D300s, is considered a professional DX camera. The shutters are made to take the abuse. Consumer grade cameras average around 50-60,000 actuations. And rarely does a shutter fail. In fact, I’m so confident of that fact that for my second camera, I’m trying to find a used D300s with around the same number of actuations as well as a D700 FX (full-frame), since my pocketbook isn’t going to allow me to grab a D500. I don’t have a spare three grand lying around the house.

3. Camera Compatibility.: The Nikon D300s and Nikon D700 have the same battery, the EN-EL3e. I can take a carry bag of charged spare batteries and fit them to either one and be able to use them in a pinch. The same battery offers convenience. Whereas if I bought the D500. I’d have to buy a whole new set of batteries (it takes the EN-EL15) and frustratingly have to bring two different chargers with me every where I go (especially annoying when you have to go on a trip somewhere). Whereas I can toss in my MH-18a battery charger with both the D300s DX and D700 FX and I’m good to go. And THAT is critical when you’re short on cash to deal with equipment.

Sure, it’s all good feels when you have a brand-new D500 strapped to your neck and you’re walking around getting all the jealous looks from people who have older equipment, but the simple fact of the matter is that for a working photographer, gear simplicity is the key and battery compatibility between DX and FX cameras is a critical factor in reduced weight in the camera bag (after all, the more space you have in your camera bag, the more lenses you can cram in: choices - either one helps you, but the lens helps you get the image. I'd rather cram three more batteries and a lens in the extra space that it takes to have a second charger for a second camera). If I were to get a D500, I would have to get myself a Nikon D810 FX to get the same battery compatibility and if I don’t have an extra three grand lying around the house, where do you think I have an extra four and a half grand on top of that…plus battery costs?

So in summation. There are really only three key reasons why I’m not getting the D500 right now. Financially, it doesn’t make sense for me; as a working photographer, to upgrade at this point in time. Where as for half the cost of a new D500, I can pick up a second D300s body and a D700 body and still be able to do what I need to do as a photographer. Probably a lot farther down the road, I will be making the jump to DXXX-DX and DXXX-FX purchase, but that won’t be now or in the near future.