Is May over yet? Almost?

May is always the busiest month for me. The races in Charlotte, the fiscal year ending at work, the kids’ activities all coming to an end as well as their school years, and other factors contribute to the turbulence in May. Last Saturday I got up early to go shoot a newly-engaged couple at a farm in Rock Hill, SC.

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/4, ISO 100, 1/1250s

Stephen and Deanna chose a beautiful setting and it was easy for me to shoot. I had to drop ISO down to be able to get the apertures I like. Afterward, Deanna wanted some shots with her horse, Galileo, but she went a step further and rode him bareback in a beautiful purple dress and barefoot!

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/4, ISO 100, 1/800s

Afterward, I had to blitz back to pick up my youngest boy and take him to the NASCAR Nationwide Series Dollar General 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Taking a three year old to the track is no easy task but I was able to fire off a few shots with my A77.

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SLT-A77V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/4, ISO 100, 1/800s

The next day I took both of my sons to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca Cola 600. I got a lot more shots. Here is one of the flyovers…

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SLT-A77V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/5, ISO 100, 1/1250s

During the race I didn’t get as many shots as I would have liked but I did get an odd shot, I was trying to shoot the orange moon over the world’s largest HDTV and this accident was occurring exactly when I was shooting.

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/4, ISO 200, 1/250s, –1EV

I also shot a variation of this shot several times, with this one being one of the best.

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/4, ISO 1600, 1/160s

For some reason I like to shoot the cars lined up for a restart with the pace car peeling off to the pit area. This shot also shows a very populated part of the stands and helps show how tall the 24 degree banking in turn 4 is  compared to the flat area where the Dollar General sign is.

June starts this weekend and I hope to get a chance to test out a couple of old lenses I picked up a week or two ago. I picked up a T-mount 135mm f/2.8 lens and a M42 Mount 55mm f/1.4 lens and other than a couple of test shots, I haven’t gotten a chance to shoot them yet. My first impression is how small the lenses are without electronics. The 135mm f/2.8 lens would fit inside my 85mm f/1.4 ZA lens with room to spare. The 55mm f/1.4 lens would easily fit inside my Minolta 50mm /2.8 Macro fully compacted.

I am also looking at a fairly epic travel schedule coming soon. I am definitely going to Austria via Germany in late July, but another international trip or two may be in my future for work. All I need is for some ink to dry.

Busy Busy Busy!!!

May is always the busiest month. The first real weekend, we had Mother’s Day which is a 2-weekend deal for my family as one year we were at the beach and didn’t send out cards and I got a crazy idea to draw “Happy Mother’s Day” out in the sand, and make it different for all of the applicable mothers, grandmothers, and aunts in our families and take a photo with my infants as they were back then. We have done something similar ever since. I did the same type of thing last year with posterboard and got this gem for my virtual blooper reel.

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SLT-A77V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/6.3, ISO 200, 1/250s

This year I decided to print cards and I tried to set all three of my kids up for success by not forcing them to look at the camera. Here is one of the shots used.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA  @ f/4, ISO 500, 1/160s

The cards turned out too dark for my tastes. But at least I was able to test on people who wouldn’t nitpick and now I know.

For Mother’s Day we went for a drive and had a picnic and visited two different waterfalls in North Carolina. I got some waterfall photos but my goal was to get one shot of my wife with each of the kids. Here is the easiest one, with zero post-processing needed. Straight off the body. I could have done some touch up, but I figured I would leave it alone.

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SLT-A99V, 24mm f/2 SSM ZA @ f/4, ISO 100, 1/200s

May is especially busy in the Charlotte area. Kids are wrapping up school and associated activities and NASCAR is in town for two full weeks bringing in about a hundred thousand extra people to visit or support all of the hoopla. Last weekend was the NASCAR All Star Race, and the night before they had the Truck Race and the All Star Qualifying, which was different this year as they did not have a Pit Entrance speed limit and some drivers didn’t accurately account for the difference between entering the pits at 150 mph and the usual 55 mph and you had some driver error…

 

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G + Sakar 2x Teleconverter @ f/8 (400mm f/8), ISO 320, 1/500s

I was able to attend as I got free access to the Speedway club. I would have taken more shots had I not been behind glass. I actually wanted to practice a little more with a generic Sakar teleconverter I picked up very cheap with some panning, however the windows of the club didn’t allow for much in terms of shots without a bit of reflection evident. I have no clue what apparition haunted the back of the 29 truck on this shot but I was pretty happy with my practice since it was only 1/60s…

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G + Sakar 2x Teleconverter @ f/7.1 (400mm f/7.1), ISO 1600, 1/60s

I usually attempt to make the All Star Race but I had something a little more important on my calendar, my daughter’s ballet recital. And let me tell you. The light in the auditorium absolutely sucked. It was horrible, and there was a giant overhead projector with a powerpoint-driven background set which made things worse as the dancers were given whatever color cast the projector gave. I did manage to capture a couple shots I liked.

DSC00245-Edit SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/3.5, ISO 1600, 1/200s

I got a shot or two of my little girl, here is one of my favorites.

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I was quite pleased by how the A99 and the Minolta 200mm lens performed at ISO 1600, which is where I pegged the ISO for the most part, save for some shots I took at ISO 3200 which weren’t too bad.

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/2.8, ISO 1600, 1/250s

After all was said and done, and after a costume change, I took some portraits of my little girl. Here is one of them.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA@ f/2.2, ISO 1600, 1/50s

This week I am going to the NASCAR Hall of Fame induction voting, which is a good opportunity to talk to the voters, like Richard Petty. I’m also going to the Coca Cola 600. My attendance at the 600 will be my greatest triumph or my greatest failure. I’m taking my 3 year old to his first outdoor major series race. My seats are covered, and I’m bringing plenty of ear protection and activities for him to stay busy if the race doesn’t pull him in. I’ll also have his big brother to help, so I may get a shot or two.

While all of this is happening I also went through another round of equipment binge. I do this about every six months. I buy a couple of lenses, try them out, sell what I don’t use. It is a really bad habit. This round I got manual focus lenses with T-mounts or M42 mounts and adapters. I picked up a 55/1.4 and a 135/2.8, which should both arrive any day. I also got a very inexpensive, yet very well taken care of Sakar 2x teleconverter, which I tested out and the jury is still out, though it vignettes at any aperture on the A99. I can’t complain for the price I paid. If I sell it, I’ll profit from it.

But before all of this, I picked up what may now be my sharpest lens. The Minolta 50mm f/2.8 Macro, first edition. It is very sharp from what I have seen if the depth of focus allows. I’ve tried hard to use the lens in manual at the 1-1 setting and the subject almost touches the filter. Here is an attempt at 1-1 reproduction. Zero post-processing.

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 50mm f/2.8 Macro  @ f/4.5, ISO 400, 1/200s

I haven’t come close to a verdict on this lens other than it reproduces color beautifully and it is razor sharp.

As busy as May usually is, it is a great time to have a nice camera. I really enjoy putting my equipment to good use, especially in challenging situations. We’ll see how the 600 goes if I can free up from attending to my kids to fire a few shots. Until then… Have a great Memorial Day weekend!!

P.S. I looked at this site’s statistics and my viewership in Austria is three times more than it was in the United States over the last 30 days. Either I am popular in Austria, or I’m triggering a lot of search engines with the keywords. Either way I am looking forward to visiting at the end of July!

Hidden Talents and Forgotten Secrets

I have what I like to call a “hidden” talent. It is not a particularly useful talent, though it is amusing to anyone who witnesses it or is the beneficiary.

What is my hidden talent? I can easily spot four and sometimes five leaf clovers among their three leaved counterparts. I’ve stopped my riding lawnmower to not mow a four-leaf clover I saw 10 feet in front of me. There are (at least) five in this photo.

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SLT-A77V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/4.5, ISO 100, 1/200s.

This talent is not something I am proud of when I think long and hard about it. It took me a year to rid my front yard of clover. My back yard, however, is a clover haven. Clover is evil. And I really am not sure it is a talent more than the odds are in my favor and statistically I am average. Who knows. I do entertain my wife and kids and family friends though.

Clover, in itself really isn’t interesting to photograph, to me. It is really cluttered, especially in patches and is too close to the dirt to really get any good shots taking advantage of shallow depths of field unless I’m actually planting my camera on the ground to shoot level. The mathematician in me sometimes likes to play the “one of these things is not like the other” game, other than that, photographing clover to me is basically like trying to prove I found yet another four leaf clover. I once investigated means for preserving and selling them on eBay. I find them constantly.

Of course, the reaction I have from finding a five-leaf clover is premature and I wind up doing the impatient thing and picking it. I have yet to photograph a 5 leaf clover while still attached to the ground.

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I was doing something in my workshop room the other day when I went into a cabinet I hadn’t opened in a while and I had forgotten the contents. Well over a year ago I was on the road and bored and I was perusing random stores and I came across a pawn shop and it had a Lensbaby Control Freak for the Sony Mount and they were asking next to nothing for it. I bought it and tried it out. I really didn’t “get” it, other than it could move around in odd directions. I figured I would reconcile the package by purchasing replacement aperture discs and I could sell it at a nice profit if I couldn’t figure it out. Then I came across the pinhole optic on sale a couple weeks later and I figured I would try it out. All I know is I had more sensor and mirror dust than I could possibly imagine as it is something ridiculous like f/117. None of it visible, but at f/117 the dust was there. Not good for someone who can be obsessive about sensor or mirror dust. So I put the thing in the cabinet.

Fast forward to about 3 days ago, I come across this little contraption and I figure I would give it another shot. I know more about photography, I can try it out.

Spring came late this year, and we got pounded by rain, which stripped all of my flowers’ petals, so I really didn’t get the photographic Spring I had in the past. My subjects were gone. I tried it out on the Japanese maples.

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SLT-A99V, Lensbaby Control Freak Standard Optic @ f/2, ISO 100, 1/800s

Nothing bad, nothing out of the ordinary either. I stopped the thing down, played around with angles and focus distances.

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SLT-A99V, Lensbaby Control Freak Standard Optic @ f/5.6, ISO 50, 1/13s

Again, nothing spectacular, other than the colors. I start walking around looking for subjects and I come across a clover patch and I instantly see two 4 leaf clovers next to each other.

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SLT-A99V, Lensbaby Control Freak Standard Optic @ f/4, ISO 100, 1/25s

The one on the left was about a half inch lower than the one on the right but I played around with the angles to make them appear around the same height. I walked a couple yards and came across another.

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SLT-A99V, Lensbaby Control Freak Standard Optic @ f/2.8, ISO 100, 1/20s

OK, a little better, but I still see some fluff I don’t like, and I am a little off-center. I tried a couple of other things with the next one I found A little less steep in angle, but closer.

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SLT-A99V, Lensbaby Control Freak Standard Optic @ f/4, ISO 100, 1/25s

In all I got at least 10 unique clovers in about 15 minutes. This one ended up being my favorite of the bunch.

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SLT-A99V, Lensbaby Control Freak Standard Optic @ f/2, ISO 100, 1/20s

And I did some creative post-processing to produce this result. I also had much more aggressive of a lens tilt.

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SLT-A99V, Lensbaby Control Freak Standard Optic @ f/2.8, ISO 50, 1/25s

I have a feeling I may not get rid of this thing after all.

Out of the comfort zone

I’ve had a couple of things which have had me step very far out of my photographic comfort zone lately. First is starting a new business and looking for clients. The more I look for work, the more I find I really don’t have much to show for the work I have done so far worth showing where my wife or kids aren’t involved. I find myself searching for photos without my wife or kids and trying to post-process them to post as examples and I am more of a candid shooter than anything else, so it makes it difficult to sell portraits. I’ve also been guilty of shooting wide-open or close to wide-open at near minimum lengths so I have a ton of faces, not many bodies and not much depth of field. So I have a ton of these:

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/4, ISO 250, 1/800s

Another thing I am realizing is I haven’t touched the surface of what I can do with post-processing and the NIK Suite is making it much harder to realize when something is good enough. I’ll like what I see after running something through HDR Efex or Color Efex but then I want to see what Silver Efex would do to the original or the post-processed copy. I have made 4-5 copies of a photo to figure out which one I liked most. Here is an example, first with the original:

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/4, ISO 200, 1/250s

And then I ran it through Silver Efex:

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And then ran it through HDR Efex, and didn’t like the results:

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So I ran it through HDR Efex first and then Silver Efex:

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And finally I cut my losses and went back to the original with some slight modifications in Silver Efex:

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Which doesn’t look much different than the first iteration through Silver Efex.

The third thing making things more difficult is I am evaluating Portrait Professional 11. Let me tell you something, this thing can be really cool. It basically uses a face mapping and will do all the smoothing and sharpening and everything for you, but you have to be careful or you’ll end up with an alien. Here is a crop from an original, the subject (my wife) is about 20 meters away:

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/4, ISO 125, 1/250s

Here is an attempt of editing done with Lightroom/Color Efex, I needed to do a little more work, but I figured I would stop at 15 minutes:

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This is an example of the interface of Portrait Professional 11. The first “suggestion” really isn’t too far from better than what I came up with in Lightroom/Color Efex.

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I played with the sliders a bit and this is what I came up with:

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Not too bad. A combination of the post-processors may be out of control. I need to figure out which one does what best.

One thing I need to be careful about with Portrait Professional 11 is going too far. Here is an example:

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Yeah, it is a powerful tool but it can be used to create aliens if you don’t watch out. I’ll spare my wife the embarrassment.

The final factor causing me to be out of my comfort zone is an impending deadline. I was published in an annual coffee table book my employer puts out for charity and the perfectionist I sometimes strive to be didn’t want to submit anything less than perfect. I tried a few different things, got out and shot some different stuff. And the only thing I submitted was the horse above and a couple of shots I get every other day. Here are some of the shots I got before I came to the conclusion I did.

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SLT-A99V, 24mm f/2 SSM ZA @ f/8, ISO 50, 1.3s, +4 ND Filter + Polarizer
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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/5.6, ISO 50, 1/5s, +4 ND Filter

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SLT-A99V, 24mm f/2 SSM ZA @ f/5.6, ISO 50, 1s, +4 ND Filter

Not bad, not great, none of them I liked enough to submit. If I get accepted we’ll find out which one made the cut.