Near misses

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On more than one occasion, I have seriously underestimated the power of the ocean. When near the shoreline, I usually watch the waves for a few minutes trying to establish a pattern as to when the bigger waves are going to hit, but every now and then I still get surprised. Imagine how wet my camera got right after making this photograph at Monument Cove in Acadia National Park.

Windy conditions can cause an unstable tripod, as can wet sand being shaped by the ebb and flow of the tide. The other more likely mistake though involves me leaving the camera in a far from balanced position on a tripod that is just crying out to be kicked accidentally. Several times I have tripped over an extended tripod leg, calling on my cat-like reflexes to dive and save the camera from a nasty spill. Despite several near misses, so far I had been quite lucky.

However, when Sam and I were in Ireland, I dropped my camera… hard. Maybe it was the anticipation of a cold Guinness that had clouded my thoughts as I grabbed my backpack from the rear of the car at the end of the day and swung it over my shoulder. Fully loaded, my camera backpack is fairly heavy, so it takes a pretty good swing to get it on my back properly… that didn’t help, only adding momentum to the fall. Normally before moving my camera bag, I do a 24-point check to make sure everything is in its proper place and that all zippers are zipped correctly… but not this time.

The sound of camera gear hitting concrete is not a sound any photographer wants to hear, so when I heard the crash, a knot immediately materialized in my stomach. I closed my eyes and literally paused for a moment, before turning to see the extent of the damage – and to curse my stupidity. When I finally did turn around, I looked down to see my flash lying in several pieces, a card reader and a cable release were spilled too, but worse still was the sight of my newly purchased 5D MKII with a 17-40mm lens still attached to it sprawled on the hotel sidewalk.

I blindly scooped everything up and didn’t even look at the camera. Along with everything else that fell out, I shoved it into the backpack and you know it… I zipped up correctly this time. All I could think about on the way up to the room was how careless I had been, where it took me a few minutes to pluck up the courage to open the bag and assess the damage. The card reader and the cable release were of course OK, and with some strategically placed duct tape the flash will be fine too.

Now for the camera and lens… I toggled the on/off button to see if there was any life… and there was, phew! I then started spinning the camera and lens in every direction, scouring them both to find the mark of what must have been a significant impact… nothing! I have no idea what part of this combination hit the ground first, but there wasn’t even a scratch. I of course breathed a huge sigh of relief, and feeling like I had just dodged a bullet, vowed to never make a mistake like that again. Just in case… I have been keeping an eye on the performance of both the camera and the lens since, and so far so good… no problems.

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Printed and framed

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I know how expensive it can be to have a photograph custom-framed, so instead of spending big bucks this time, I took the less expensive route and decided to do it myself. Our local AC Moore store recently had large frames on sale, so when I found a 24 x 36 black frame for $30, I couldn’t resist. I bought a large piece of foam core to mount the photograph on and a can of adhesive spray – little did I know what I was getting myself into!

In the photograph above my phone provides some scale as to just how big a 24×36 sized photograph really is…. now all I needed was a wall large enough to handle something like this! I had decided to send this photograph to an online printer where I could choose to have it printed on metallic paper, and the results were fantastic. With tiny flecks of metal actually infused into the process, the metallic paper has a special shine which gives the scene an almost 3D look to it. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the detail rendered by the Canon 5D MKII is very impressive, so when looking at this scene on the wall it almost feels as though you are looking through a window to Acadia!

Being in Acadia on that particular morning and making the photograph as I did was a process in itself, as was processing and preparing it for printing… but nothing prepared me for the next stage… the mounting, framing, and hanging of something like this has its own set of unique challenges. Getting the print to adhere to the foam core smoothly and without wrinkles/bubbles wasn’t easy. Framing the mounted print under the glass without dust getting in the way – again and again and again and again – wasn’t easy. Hanging and leveling a mounted, framed print this size wasn’t easy, and now that it is on display, I wish I had considered the impact of light reflecting off normal glass. Despite my frustrations, I love seeing this photograph printed and framed, though let’s just say that I now have a much better appreciation of the work that a professional framer does, and perhaps next time I will have someone who knows what they are doing take care of it!

The devil is in the detail

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I don’t actually print that many of my photographs, so it never really bothered me that my trusty Canon 20D of the past 5 years or so had a 1.6x crop-sensor and was capable of capturing only 8 megapixels.

On the odd occasion I did decide to print something, I could easily squeeze out a decent traditional sized print, and I have even printed a couple of 20×30 sized images that look quite good… at least I thought so… until now. My Canon 5D Mark II has a 21 MP sensor capable of more advanced processing, and while the number of megapixels might not directly improve my chances of making a good photograph, along with the full frame capabilities, the detail it can capture is quite remarkable.

Images made with this new camera make for some pretty big file sizes – each processed tiff is a whopping 60MB – and the detail within each frame is exceptional. The picture above is a 100% zoomed-in crop from the image below (see the red box)… it is from the RAW unsharpened file, and as you can see, even without any post-processing, the detail in the lighthouse wall is quite impressive.

Good and bad though… everything becomes amplified. If I set up on a steady tripod and nail the focus… if I use mirror lock up and a remote release… an image captured can look incredibly sharp. On the other hand though, with the full frame sensor it doesn’t take much for an image to start looking ever so slightly soft or blurry when issues of steadiness aren’t addressed properly.

When using the 5DMKII I have had to revert to using my older, heavier tripod legs to ensure a greater degree of stability. The smaller, lighter tripod purchased over the summer for portability doesn’t seem to be able to provide a steady enough platform for the new camera, especially in windy conditions or when I make the decision to leave the shutter open for a longer period – I may have to invest in a more solid ball-head too. Depending on the aperture selected, my favorite 17-40mm lens appears to have some issues with “softness” in the corners when shooting wide at 17mm. For someone who has recently become quite enamored by the look of 17mm on a full frame sensor, this isn’t good news.

Having said all that… I am absolutely loving the quality of image produced by this camera. I have ordered a large metallic print (24×36) of a recent photograph to see how well the detail on screen transfers to the printing process – fingers crossed that it looks just as impressive!

 

Shooting wide in Acadia

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Up until recently, the widest I had shot was using my 17-40mm lens on a 1.6x crop sensor camera. Even at this equivalent focal length of about 28mm, I was usually drawn to the impact that can be created by placing elements within the frame that accentuate the wide angle perspective. My new camera has a full frame sensor, so now when I shoot at 17mm, it seems REALLY wide!

Sam doesn’t go back to college until later in the month, but most of his friends have already headed back for the spring semester. Needless to say, he seems to be at a loss for things to do, so I persuaded him to jump in the car with me so we could jet down to Acadia for an impromptu photo expedition. I wanted to try out my new camera, and where better to break it in but my favorite place… Acadia National Park.

I was determined to experiment with this newly acquired wide angle ability, and even though the light wasn’t great, we had a good time exploring the chilly but virtually empty park. Sand Beach is gorgeous at any time of the year, but I especially like it in the winter. More so than any other season, there are signs of how the beach absorbs the power of the ocean, and when visiting in January you might even have it all to yourself. Other than a couple of hardy walkers along the Loop Road, we didn’t see another soul all afternoon as we made our way toward the top of Otter Cliffs. Ice and snow made for treacherous footing that limited our explorations up there, and as the sun set unspectacularly behind a bank of thick clouds we were content to just soak up the solitary scene and enjoy the moment.

I have a feeling it is going to take me a while to get used to the whole wide angle thing without overdoing it and making weird looking photographs. Stray tripod legs sneaked into the corner of a few photographs today, vertical and horizontal lines that were supposed to be straight ended up unusually distorted, and I guess if I am going to go wide then I will need to read up on handling hyperfocal distances so I can maximize my ability to achieve sharper images.

On the plus side… I could actually see the composition in the viewfinder… it was big and bright, as were the menu options on the LCD. Also, I absolutely LOVED being able to experiment with using live view to zoom in on a composition and check for accurate focus, and it sure is nice not to have to spend 20 minutes on the computer when I get back home zapping those darned dust bunnies in every frame! This camera just feels good in my hands, and I am really digging the heavier “thump-click” sound when I press the shutter 🙂

Look what Santa brought me!

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I had been tracking the whereabouts of a special package since it left New York a couple of days ago. When I got up this morning, the UPS web site said my present from Santa was “out for delivery” from the Brewer depot at 5:17am, and that meant it would be at my house sometime in the late afternoon.

It must have looked weird with me peeking out the windows and hanging around the front door from about 5 o’clock on, but I was pretty excited about the impending arrival of the Brown truck.

He usually swings through the neighborhood by 5:30pm at the latest, but not tonight. By six o’clock I was beginning to wonder if I had missed him, or if he just wasn’t going to come. I jumped on the UPS web site, and it still said “out for delivery” from the Brewer depot at 5:17am, so there was still hope.

Then I saw him around the corner, obviously looking for my house but going in the wrong direction. I literally rushed out the door to catch him and can hardly even remember signing for the package. At 6:21pm my new big boy camera arrived 🙂

The Camera As a Tool

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Canon EOS 5D Mark II with 50mm 1.4

I have loved my Canon 20D since the day I bought it back in early 2005… all 8+ megapixels that it offers, along with the tiny LCD screen on the back that my tired old eyes can hardly use, and the annoying affinity it has for gathering dust on its sensor. It has traveled much of the Maine landscape with me in every kind of weather imaginable, it has witnessed and captured the beauty of Yosemite and other parts of California on several memorable trips, and it has even crossed the mighty Atlantic to enjoy my homeland of Ireland. Throw in five years worth of wonderful family memories as Jack and Sam got to know each other, and I feel pretty good about how well this camera has served me. Throughout the years I have also employed several handy and more portable point and shoot digital cameras, all of which are capable of excellent image quality, but methinks it might be time to upgrade my main camera and join the 21st century.

I have always understood that whichever camera I am using is merely a tool… nothing more, and nothing less. Every now and then someone might generously tell me that they like one of my photographs, and every now and then someone will also tell me, “You must have a really nice camera.” I usually just smile and brush their back-handed compliment off as being misinformed but well-intentioned, and even though I know it shouldn’t bother me, truth be told sometimes it just plain irks me. The camera didn’t create the image, I did! I was the one waking at an ungodly hour to enjoy some beautiful light in a stunning location, I was the one determining the technical details of how to best portray a particular scene, and I was the one who deciding what to include and exclude compositionally within the frame. Without getting too corny or philosophical about it, I see it as being exactly the same as a painter choosing a brush, a writer penning his words, or a chef working with fresh ingredients… it is the person using the tool who brings creativity, passion, and experiences to determining the effectiveness of the final outcome, whether that is a painting, a novel, a great meal, or a photograph. And besides… the reason I spend time exploring pretty places isn’t necessarily to make a photograph, but rather it is to engage with my surroundings in a personal way, admiring the awesomeness and beauty of nature, and most importantly, to feed my own soul. Nothing new to this notion I know, but I wanted to say it anyway… it isn’t the camera that matters, but rather the person using the camera.

Having said all of that, I am excited to be upgrading soon to a more modern camera model – one that will provide highly anticipated solutions such as a very welcome self-cleaning mechanism for the sensor, live view on a relatively huge LCD so that I will at least be able to focus accurately, and considerably more resolution that will in turn hopefully lead to better image quality. Oh yes, and then there is HD video… hmmm. I haven’t yet decided between the Canon 5D Mark II and the Canon 7D… but one thing’s for sure, having a nicer camera will almost certainly help me take better pictures 😉