Push It: Push It Real Good

I want to be a good photographer.  No, actually I want to be a GREAT photographer.  I admit it.  Ever since I bought my first SLR many years ago I have worked hard at teaching myself how to improve my photography skills.  Whether I am shooting an assignment, working on my own, or helping other photographers I do everything I can to create good images.  But, perhaps, I put too much emphasis on HOW to get it good images.  Using good technique and  fundamentals is STILL essential but, rules are meant to be broken and the ability of today’s cameras let you break those rules like never before.

 

Current digital cameras are loaded with capability and potential.  Yes, potential is a significant part of that equation.  The innovations in DSLR’s give every photographer unlimited potential to make images in a variety of scenarios.  I find it ironic that much of the discussion about new cameras revolves around how good they are at the high ISO settings but, we never really push those limits that much – at least I don’t.  My new Nikon D800 is fantastic at ISO 3200 but, time and time again I am on a tripod shooting at ISO 100 to make sure my image is as sharp as possible, with as little noise as possible, and with the best color and contrast possible.  Good technique and fundamentals are VERY necessary but, they are not exclusive to ISO 100 and a tripod!  One thing I love about teaching is how much I learn as well.  From now on I vow to be, on occasion, a total rebel with my camera.

 

 

This past weekend on our workshop in Portland Maine, we had a few occasions to shoot at high ISO’s with NO tripods.  I loved it.  I loved pushing the limits of technology and myself!  One afternoon we walked around the Old Port for a couple of hours and we challenged the class to bring ONE lens and no tripod.  Yup, Bob and I went totally rogue.   With no tripod it was necessary to move your ISO to 400 or 800.  Guess what, people got some great, sharp, colorful images!  Then we ducked into a dahk bah (said in my best Boston accent) and ordered some lunch.  Since it took forever to get some food, I took the opportunity to crank my camera up to ISO 3200 and shoot some portraits in the pub.  I encouraged others to do the same.  In much less time than it took to get our burgers, most of the class was dialing up their ISO’s and shooting snippets of people and things at Gritty’s.  Guess what, people got some great images!  Yup, you heard it here: good, fun, meaningful images can be found at ISO 1600 and above!  Current digital camera’s let us get the shot we want, right NOW!  All three of the images below were taken with my D800 at ISO 3200.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, never abandon good technique, never ignore the fundamentals, and understand how to create the best image possible wherever you may be but, don’t be afraid to push the limits of your camera – you paid for all of that technology so, use it!

 

 

Photograph What You Feel!

Don

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Using Your Lens Sharply!

Near LaGrange, Maine: Found this spot while on vacation last week in Maine.  Taken with my Nikon D800E, Carl Zeiss 25mm Lens at iso 100, f7.1 @ 1//160 sec on a tripod.  Eveything is sharp from the foreground to the trees in the background even though I only used f7.1.

Most folks would think they needed an aperture of f16 or f22.  Not true when focused properly and using a tripod.  I used my depth of field preview button to look through the viewfinder and manually focused the lens to get all in focus. (having a full frame camera really helps when using depth of field preview). I adjusted the lens aperture to f7.1 and tried to get all in focus and it was just right.  Just about Every lens whether it’s a prime lens (single focal length) or a zoom have their sharpest aperture around f5.6, f6.3 or f7.1.  Think bell-curve from your school days where only so many kids get an A and only so many fail and the rest are in the middle so to speak. So don’t always ‘run’ to f16 of f22 for a sharp photo as you may not get what you want due to lens diffraction at such small apertures! Look up hyper-focal distance to see how you can do this too!

Bob Ring (www.nephotoworkshops.com)

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Things You can Learn From A Canon Guy With A Nikon!!!

OK, I’m a Canon guy.  Have been using Canon cameras since I ‘went digital’.  I’ve owned many film cameras over the years from 35mm to medium format to 4×5 view cameras.  Once I went to digital I wanted a medium format digital camera. But the cost was just too prohibitive and besides I was working in Electronics for my career & not as a fashion photog in NY, or something like that, to warrant a digital  medium format system.

So, here we are in 2012 and I just bought a Nikon D800E. My Canon friends are all up in arms and the Nikon folks are saying it’s about time! Why you ask?  Well the early reviews looked great & this camera (being 36Mp) might be the closest thing to medium format that I could get to without getting a 2nd mortgage.

As a new Nikon owner I’d like to share my observations as to how the D800E works for me and how it can help your photography too!  It’s really more about photography than what camera you use.

OK, on my D800E, the first thing I like is the menus.  There’s one called ‘Shooting Menu’. What a great idea.  If what you’re trying to set on your camera has anything to do with ‘shooting’ simply go to this menu and look for it.  Wish my Canon/s  were that easy (1DsIII & 1DIV)!  The Canon’s have their menus in color (Red, blue, yellow, etc)  for shooting, playback & utilities but they don’t feel as intuitive for me I guess.  Beyond that though both camera systems have layers of menus within menus.  If I’m looking for something I want to change I really have to hunt for it.  Both camera systems could use a software redesign if you ask me. I realize that these cameras have just about every setting option available to the user (which is great) but the paths to different settings can be difficult at times.

How does the body feel, and work with,  in the hand?  Well it’s not fair of me to compare the D800E to my 1 series Canon cameras.  But, the D800E feels really good.  My fingers can get right ‘in there’ and grab the camera really well.  The Canon 1 Series cameras are big but they are a pleasure to hold and work with. Having been shooting with Canon for years I’m used to the dial & button layout.  I can hold any Canon up to my eye and I know where the buttons are without having to look for them. And most of them are one touch (good & bad sometimes) and in perfect locations.  I can just about ‘run’ my Canons in the dark. I need to get that way with the new Nikon.   Not sure I’ll get to that with the Nikon. We’ll see.

Let’s get to the real reason why I got the D800E.  Scenics/landscape captures and  BIG images. And with that comes BIG files.  I already have a small hard drive ‘farm’ on my desk so I’m sure I’ll need more drives as these files really are huge.  But you know what that’s OK as long as you plan for it.  The native size of the RAW file out of this camera is 18″x24″.  I love it.  Oops, a few caveats are in order though.  The pixel density of this camera requires a few considerations. My shooting ‘style’ is already fine for using this camera and what I mean by that is I use my tripod about 98% of the time.  This camera just about requires that you do.  However, I also use mirror up now and for extremely sharp images this camera essentially requires that you do that too.  ISO 100 is fine even though this camera has low noise up to fairly high ISO which is a huge plus for stopping those windblown leaves in trees.  The big thing is lenses.  For best performance one needs to have the best. Nikon makes some very sharp & high resolution lenses which work quite well with this camera I’m sure (now have the 105 Micro Nikkor and an 85mm Nikkor and they’re great!).  Since I’m a fan of Carl Zeiss lenses (yup…manual focus) they are perfect for this camera.  I now own four so far: 18mm f3.5, 25mm f2, 35mm f2 and the 50mm f1.4.  The micro contrast and Zeiss ‘look’ is great with this camera. In total that gives me a range from 18mm up to 105m for scenic photography.

Here’s a photo of me holding up a 24″x30″ print of Motif #1 in Rockport, MA.  The detail in the building is fantastic and the two folks on the left are full of detail. This camera and prime lens combo is great for making nice large prints with incredible detail.  Print viewers are supposed to stand back & admire the print from so many feet away.  Does it really happen that way?  Actually, no.  Most folks get right up close to a print to check it out so why not give them the detail to see?  This camera is almost like having a medium format for me.  I thought the pixel ‘race’ was dying but I’m glad that Nikon made this camera and I’m enjoying it!

One thought before wrapping up: why did I get the E version?  What about Moiré? Is it a problem?  The E version of this camera does not have an anti-aliasing filter. For those that don’t know just about all digital cameras have one of these ‘filters’ over their sensor (with a few exceptions). The AA filter basically softens the image so that you won’t get (or to minimize moiré) in your photos.  Fabric and architectural type objects can reveal moiré.  I showed the photo of Motif on purpose as when I was taking that photo I could see moiré on the roof shingles on the camera’s LCD!  Once I loaded my files into Lightroom V4 I didn’t see it.  LR4 includes some moiré settings and it works!  Moiré is not visible in the print either.

Wrapping up.  So for me to effectively use this Nikon D800E and for YOU to get the best results possible with your camera one should utilize certain ‘shooting’ techniques such as:

– Tripod (a strong & sturdy one….no spindly little pencil sz legs for me)

– Mirror up mode with a 2-3 sec delay (with self timer or cable release)

– Lowest ISO you can & still get the image you want (no windblown leaves for me)

– Premium lenses (recommend Nikon primes or lenses like Carl Zeiss)

– Live view with critical focusing

– Use the ‘sweet’ spot aperture-wise of the lens (f5.6 -f7.1) if possible

– Keep an eye on the shutter speed though & try to avoid a slow shutter speed even on a tripod (you can change the ISO)

– Shoot in RAW and at 14Bit

– Fill the frame with your subject (don’t plan to crop later if possible)

These are my recommendations for getting the best possible images with not only the Nikon D800E but for your camera too!  Whether it’s a Canon or a Nikon BEST PRACTICES  will result in great images.

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The Versatility of You

Digital Photography is incredible.  Never before has our potential as photographers been so unlimited.  Today’s cameras are loaded with technology and capable of producing a broad range of results.  All they need is our creativity to make them shine!  We all should strive to be the best photographers we can be; not just the best portrait photographer or sports photographer or wedding photographer.  Your camera is loaded with versatility and you should be as well.

For me, one of the greatest aspects of digital photography is the opportunities it offers.  Pour yourself a cup of coffee, or something a bit stronger if desired, and spend some time studying your camera.   Look it over and learn its buttons and menus.  Understand what YOU need to do to make adjustments in the field.  How do you change your ISO?  Where is your histogram?  Does your camera have bracketing for HDR shooting?  Can you view your images in Black and White?  How do you set focus tracking?  Where do you set file size?   Contemplate what the camera and its technology is capable of.  Then, think about what it can do when combined with your creativity.  It is critical to know your gear but, it is even more essential to realize your aspirations  as a photographer.  The camera is just a tool and, ultimately, it is only as good as you are.  How good do you want to be?   Be aware, be creative, and be versatile.

The latest line of DSLR’s, both pro and consumer grades, give us more versatility than ever.  Seven years ago I bought my first DSLR – the 6 megapixel Nikon D70s.  It was a great consumer grade camera but, struggled at any ISO higher than 400.  I shot scenic’s at ISO 100 and used ISO 400 for sports/low light shooting.  I never went over ISO 400 unless I had to:   very similar to how we worked with film when you think about it.   My new Nikon D800 is a 36 megapixel powerhouse that will transform 35mm digital photography as we know it.  Right now, it gives me once unimaginable potential and versatility.  I welcome  that.
When I was a film shooter and headed to Maine for a weekend, I would typically bring 10 rolls of Fuji Velvia for pretty scenic’s, 10 rolls of 400 speed Fuji Provia for shooting in lower light, and 5 rolls of Kodak Black and White TMAX 400.  Each film had a job to do that was necessary but, costly and, at times, frustrating.  It would never seem to fail that I had half a roll of Velvia still left in my F5 but, now wanted to shoot a portrait in Black and White.  Instead of wasting film, I wasted opportunities.  Now, I dial a button and blow away anything that those films could ever do.  Think about that.  Think about the amazing versatility of that from a technology standpoint.  Now, think about the versatility of that as a photographer.  In a moments notice you can adapt to any situation and capture it with beautiful results.  That is not only very exciting but, it is highly empowering.
All of us should be very excited at the options available to us through technology.   The increasing resolution of today’s camera’s gives us breathtaking detail.  Being able to produce high quality images at ISO’s of 1600, 3200, and 6400 is mind boggling.   I can be in my garden shooting macro shots at ISO 100 and capture fine detail and rich colors.  A short time later, in order to defeat a frustrating breeze,  I can change my ISO to 800 and create a sharp, abstract image with similarly beautiful results. Then, just a few minutes later, change my ISO to 3200 and catch a GREAT portrait of my cat in poor, indoor light.  The power of versatility.   Wow.  No, seriously, Wow!!  
Technology continues to grow at an amazing pace but, to make it effective you must grow as well.  Having the latest, greatest camera does not make you a photographer.  YOU make yourself a photographer.  Push the limits of technology but, push your imagination just as far.  Nurture your creative energy, embrace the versatility of your camera, and harness the power of “you”.   The LCD screen and histogram give immediate feedback on your successes, your failures, and your necessary adjustments but, the best results all come from within.
How Versatile are You?
Don
“Photograph What You Feel”
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Old Friends

I turn to my camera often when I am compelled to be creative and expressive.  My trusty Nikon’s never fail to be a source of great comfort for me.    I feel safe with them, secure with them, and inspired with them.  They are constant companions and familiar “friends” as I explore my world and pursue my love of photography.  The images I make are a part of me.  They too are like old friends but, what happens to the images I DON’T process?

The creative process, for me, is something very personal, spiritual, and meaningful.  Every photo is taken with great purpose but, not every one works as a “final” image.   Too often my expectations exceed the final results but, one characteristic of experience is that I shoot less frames and come away with more “keepers”.  My workflow dictates that I immediately make a folder of my subject, download my images into the folder, and mark the images that I believe are notable.  Once done with those I make another pass through and look for more keepers.  I always find more but, inevitably there are many that never get much of a look, let alone processed.  I keep every image unless there is something excessively wrong with the photo.  Like my cameras, ALL of these images are my friends.  Like real life friends, we need to visit with them and nurture them and learn from them; even our mistakes.  They should not be forgotten.

I feel it is VERY important to go back and review your images at another time.  Almost every time I do this, I find an overlooked gem that now resonates with me.  In our enthusiasm to process what we believe to be good, we hurriedly overlook failed images that we can learn from and still work on.  Our skill set with software does nothing but improve and the software itself becomes more and more powerful.  Re-visiting our images from this year, last year, and years before should become an integral part of our creative process.  The advancements in Lightroom, HDR software, and Nik Software broaden our ability for post production.  Dig deep into your creativity and you WILL find more quality images in your library.   If nothing else, you will reconnect with images, places, and people who have meaning for you.

Go ahead, take the time to say hi to an old friend today; one way or another.

Don

“Photograph What You Feel”

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Only in New England

This past Sunday I was in southern Maine enjoying a fantastic day at the beach. Goose Rocks Beach is a beautiful stretch of white sand and cedar shingled homes just outside of Kennebunkport.  Not far from the beach there is fine dining, shopping, antiquing, and the booming, eclectic city of Portland.  Southern Maine is a worthy destination for a day trip, a weekend getaway, and photography.

 

Early that morning I had set out to shoot sunrise at the quaint seaside village of Cape Porpoise.  The lackluster sunrise yielded very few photos but, as always, I enjoyed watching the little harbor come to life in the early morning light.  Cape Porpoise is a working harbor that features colorful lobster boats, a fishing pier, and a lighthouse.  The area around the harbor was dotted with wild lupine, singing birds, and picturesque scenes.  Like many seaside locations there is always something to see and photograph along the coast of New England.

 

That night I drove three hours north to meet Bob at his family camp on Schoodic Lake.  The lake is a fairly remote area in central Maine that is surrounded by many  thousands of acres of forest.  This is the heart of paper company land, logging roads, wildlife, and farms.  In this part of Maine you are far more likely to see a moose than find any fine dining or eclectic shops.  The people of central Maine are hearty, hard working people that carve out practical lives amid the elements of nature.  Schoodic Lake seems a world away from the comforts of Southern Maine yet, brings its’ own sense of peacefulness with the sound of calling loons and gentle waves.

 

The next morning we were on the road early for Baxter State Park just outside of Millinocket, Maine.  Baxter is true wilderness.  Encompassing over 200,000 acres, the park was created through donations of land by private land owners and one governor, Percival Baxter, with great vision for maintaining a segment of the Great North Woods to be “Forever Wild”.  Within Baxter there are no showers, no flush toilets, no running water, no logging, and no inhabitants other than park officials and wildlife.  Surrounding Baxter is some of the most remote, rugged, wild land in New England.

 

We spent the entire day in and around the park photographing moose, deer, wildflowers, mountains, and the rugged beauty of the Great North Woods.  At one of our last stops I photographed a huge bull moose grazing at the edge of a pond.  He was wild and majestic.  I could not

help but reflect that just a short time before I was photographing lobster boats amid the affluence and comfort of Cape Porpoise and now here I was capturing images of North America’s second largest land mammal in Maine’s remote wilderness.  How lucky I am to live and work in such an amazing, diverse place.

 

Only in New England.

 

DET 2012

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