I’m not good at posting regularly

The title says it all. I’m terrible at it. I am at a crossroads in my internal motivation, trying to dedicate more energy to what I enjoy doing and it is a constant struggle to find a balance. That being said, I was able to get this post started, and it should lead to a finish.

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 300mm f/4 HS APO G@ f/4.5, ISO 500, 1/320s

My last post was a good part of three months ago. I posted about the anniversary of my first dive into serious photography. It was right before a trip to Colorado in January 2011. My first return with equipment I want to have with me is going to be later this week.

Playing with an A7

Where to get started? I was in the Pacific Northwest for a few days earlier this month and I was fortunate enough to meet with Ron Martinsen and he let me borrow an A7 for a few days and I allowed him to borrow my 50mm f/1.4 SSM ZA lens to test out the LA-EA4 adapter for his blog. I was flabbergasted at the opportunity. Here is the guest post I made on his blog.  The weather was dumpy and my schedule was dumpier, I even resorted to some testing on random objects, like a marker on the hotel bed spread in low light.

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ILCE-7, 35mm f/2.8 ZE @ f/2.8, ISO 1600, 1/50s

The A7 is definitely a cool little camera. I’m still trying to figure out where the future of the A-mount is going and where I will fit into that equation. If I were to go to the E-mount, I’d have to go all-in and I just don’t see that happening any time soon.

Spring is Here!

It is well-documented, I am a Spring junkie. I have peach, pear, and apple trees, daffodils, tulips, azaleas, holly bushes, and a bunch of random other junk growing in my yard. I have a couple families of cardinals, a new family of blue jays, as well as a nest of owls and hawks close by. I planted some roses, primrose, and a few other things which should make for some good subjects. The first sign of Spring this year was these Columbine flowers which grow in a random spot in my front yard.

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SLT-A99V, 135mm f/2.8[T4.5] @ T4.5, ISO 400, 1/160s

The daffodils came out in full force a week later.

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 50mm f/2.8 Macro @ f/6.3, ISO 800, 1/60s

And I spent the bulk of a later weekend putting in roses. I can’t wait to see how those turn out.

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/4.5, ISO 125, 1/250s

Random Final Thought

I have plenty more to talk about, yet more work and reality to deal with, so I hope to find some more time. I will leave you with this thought. I’m usually the person taking the photographs and rarely am I in them. I revisited my collection of photos from Austria which included Christian’s photos and found a few taken of me, by Christian, which I particularly like. At time I was a bit weirded out by the thought of my photo being taken, but now I truly appreciate it, especially those I didn’t know he was taking.

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SLT-A57, Minolta 24mm f/2.8 @ f/7.1, ISO 100, 1/800s – Photo by Christian of optiphot.com

I still haven’t figured out how to express the Austria trip in words. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to do so.

Catch Up Post (Series 2, Number 5, Part 2: My trip to Austria: Lessons)

OK, as promised a while back, almost two months ago, more Austria. Probably my biggest weakness as a human being (other than being months late with my posts) is my ability to accept help and criticism, and seek advice. In going to Austria, I faced this weakness in learning from Christian and every time I resisted I was taken to school. I learned a lot more than the lessons I will list below, these are probably the no-brainers.

I had two bodies (A77/A99) and one to four lenses (24/2, 50/2.8, 85/1.4, 135/2.8 STF) with me at most times and my Lumia 1020. One day I got sick of carrying all of the weight and against Christian’s advice I brought only the A99 and 135 STF one day and regretted the decision all day.

Lesson #1: Bring something wide. Just do it. Wide angle shots aren’t always about fitting everything in.

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SLT-A99V, 24mm f/2 SSM ZA @ f/2, ISO 100, 1/160s

This is a 100% off the body jpg from a lake at a magical place called Styria. I was using manual focus wide open and peaking on the tree growing on the stump.

Christian shoots with an A57 and an array of various lenses. I’d venture to say 50% of his shots were between 14mm and 28mm regardless of lens. He has a couple of wide angle techniques I hadn’t tried before. I have a feeling I’ll be including the techniques in my bag of tricks from now on. I’d also say he shoots ISO 200 about half the time or more. I normally use Auto ISO on my A99 at 100-800 or 100-1600 but I found 200 to a good place for consistent quality in following Christian’s advice one day.

Lesson #2: ISO 200 is a good place to be.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/1.4, ISO 200, 1/5000s

This was shot in Vienna on my last full day. I felt like I needed a “redo” of some of the spots after not bringing the right equipment.

I have attempted Macro shots before but I typically tried to ensure the sunlight was present to raise my shutter speed. Christian would rush to give me some shade, which made no sense to me at the time. Now it makes perfect sense. He also showed me a technique for handheld macro in manual. Put the body in rapid fire mode and move outward.

Lessons #3 & 4: Sunlight doesn’t always make sense for Macro. Use a Continuous Shooting mode to shoot Macro handheld.

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SLT-A77V, Minolta 50mm f/2.8 Macro @ f/6.3, ISO 100, 1/250s

This is a flower in Christian’s front yard. He shaded the shot for me using a car windshield shade.

I’ve never used Macro tubes. Christian had a neat little set of tubes. Amazing results with my existing lenses. It was amazing to see how those worked. The 85mm f/1.4 ZA lens was really good to work with in that situation. The Minolta 200mm f/2.8 APO G was OK.

Lesson #5: Macro tubes are effective and not expensive.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/6.3 (with Kenko Macro tubes), ISO 500, 1/100s

Another flower in Christian’s front yard. I almost fell backward after this shot, the bee was huge in the viewfinder.

These are 5 of many lessons I learned in Austria. I will have one more Austria post to wrap these up but I have some other catching up to do…

Mark of Excellence

I know I still owe you all some Austria posts. I’ve been on the road without access to the files to post. I am back now so I should have something this week. I have other news…

I didn’t have a single entry win the I-Shot-It 200 competition. Lesson learned. I need to submit better work. A consolation prize appeared in my inbox today. I received the I-Shot-It Mark of Excellence for the Week 34 free competition.

This is for a composition of five photos I took in Styria, Austria. My mentor, Christian graciously gave me a tour of Austria and took me to this lake and we parked alongside a side road and walked 200 meters (or so Winking smile ) in the rain to this spot.

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SLT-A99V, 24mm f/2 SSM ZA

This photo was post-processed using Lightroom 5 and HDR Efex Pro 2. 

Catch Up Post (Series 2, Number 5, Part 1: My trip to Austria: en route)

And finally, almost a month later, I am posting about Austria. I don’t get a lot of page views. I have a relatively small audience. In the past few months I have gotten the most page views from Austria and the country with the second most views, USA, isn’t even close.

Anyone who has read my blog or who may know me knows I am relatively new to what I call “serious photography”. Sure, I have been taking photos for a while, but I have been paying attention to metrics like white balance, aperture, ISO, shutter speed, and so on since early 2011. I have never taken a class, but I am a student of the game and I know I am not perfect. Through this blog I have been contacted by people on five continents, but my principal poster is also my biggest mentor, Christian in Austria. This trip gave me the opportunity to meet him and his family, try out some of his equipment, and learn. Boy, did I learn! Christian and his family were very accommodating during my visit and they ensured I got to experience as much of Austria as I could, and sites which were not typical tourist destinations.

I am going to break this post into a couple as I took nearly 4000 photos while I was in Europe. I actually flew in to Munich, Germany as my flight options were better and shorter, and it is relatively inexpensive to take a train to Vienna from Munich. I spent a few hours in Munich on my way in and had an overnight stay on my way back. Otherwise I got to see a ton of Austria.

Munich

I arrived in Munich about 4 hours before my train to Vienna was to depart, so I went to the central train station and found something I was absolutely thrilled about. Luggage lockers. For one euro I got to ditch my suitcase for a couple hours and walk around. I got a ton of shots.

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SLT-A99V, 24mm f/2 ZA @ f/5.6, ISO 100, 1/80s, EV+0.7

Needless to say, I took a right at this sign. Here is a building in Munich about a kilometer from the central train station.

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SLT-A99V, 24mm f/2 ZA @ f/5.6, ISO 100, 1/640s, EV+0.7

As you can see, I was blessed with beautiful weather. In fact, it rained only during the night while I was in Europe. Here is another building in Munich.

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SLT-A99V, 24mm f/2 ZA @ f/2, ISO 100, 1/2500s

I had received my Lumia 1020 a couple days prior so I made a point to put it through its paces during the trip as well.

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Nokia Lumia 1020 (~28mm f2.2), ISO 100, 1/1186s

The central train station in Munich was very lively, with many different shops, a couple grocery stores, at least a dozen restaurants and more. I can tell you one thing: I didn’t shop at this place.

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SLT-A99V, 24mm f/2 ZA @ f/4, ISO 400, 1/200s

Eventually I got to my train. This bad boy topped out at around 230 km/h and the Munich-Vienna trip took about four hours, with about a half dozen stops along the way.

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SLT-A99V, 24mm f/2 ZA @ f/3.2, ISO 400, 1/200s

Along the way I used the Lumia 1020 to get a couple shots of the landscape.

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Nokia Lumia 1020 (~28mm f2.2), ISO 125, 1/500s

Not bad through a dirty train window, going 230 kph. More to come later in Part II (and likely more) of this one-month overdue “catch-up” post.

Catch Up Post #4: NIK Suite

When it comes to post-processing I always start with Lightroom 4, and I have my workflow. I import, apply the Camera Standard color profile to everything I import, and then I start tagging the ones I want to work on and export out. I’ve always wanted to see where Lightroom was perceived to fall short and one area where I figure there would be some improvement would be in Black and White post-processing. I had heard great things about NIK Software’s Silver Efex Pro but I wasn’t ready to spend $200 for what would amount to be a Lightroom Plugin for what I use it for. 

And then Google acquired NIK Software. And I knew that was my sign I wouldn’t be purchasing Silver Efex Pro.

Let me tell you right now. I HATE Google. I despise Google. I haven’t used Google in nearly eight years. I use Bing, which is really the same engine in Yahoo, or I use Ask.com, but I would say in the past eight years I used Bing or its predecessor Live.com 99% of the time. It was a learning curve at first, but now I am an expert search engine user. It doesn’t hurt Bing has gotten much better.

Why do I hate Google? I’ll tell you why. All of it goes back to April 2005 which would reassure me it really has been eight years. And really it started the day before April 2005. March 31. I was just accepted for a transition internally within my company to a different and better position. One of my co-workers congratulated me on my acceptance and told me he was interested in seeing my résumé so he could craft his to be advantageous for submission for a similar position. I was walking around with an inflated ego at the time so I gladly gave him a copy. The next day was April 1. April Fools Day. And my co-worker decided to post my résumé to every big job website on the planet. With my real address, my real e-mail address, and my real home phone number. He informed the logic within those sites I was willing to take a massive decrease in salary compared to what I was earning at the time and I was willing to relocate, take contract work… Everything which a desperate person with good qualifications would want. I came home on April 1, not knowing this had happened to a full 20 messages on my home answering machine and 26 unique numbers on my caller ID.

Needless to say, my life was a bit busy those next few days, and that wasn’t because my 3 and 1 year old were both still in diapers. I had to change my phone numbers, my e-mail address, and I had to get all of the job websites to remove the résumés which wasn’t enough as most of the big search engines also have cached information and headhunters utilize this when they’re really desperate to fill a spot. Live.com, Yahoo, Ask.com, they all took my résumés out of their cache as soon as I asked. Google didn’t answer my calls. Google didn’t answer my e-mails. Headhunters still sent me mail, they were persistent enough to call my new unlisted and unpublished number. For weeks I got a call every day on average. Some days I’d get a break. Some days I’d get three calls. It took me hiring a lawyer to get Google to remove the résumés from their cache. A bit before then I had made the decision never to use Google again.

So fast forward seven years and a bunch of months later. Google acquired NIK Software earlier in the year. Then they pull a nasty trick and put the whole NIK Suite on sale. The NIK Suite (HDR Efex Pro 2, Color Efex Pro 4, Silver Efex Pro 2, Viveza 2, Sharpener Pro 3, Dfine 2) was made available at $149.99 base, where there a million coupons online to drive the price down even further.

It took me a couple of days but I figured I was ripping them off at the price I bought the whole suite at compared to the price I almost bought just Silver Efex for, so my justification was made.

…And I have to admit, I like what I see so far.

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/4, ISO 400, 1/250s, +1EV
Post-Processed on the left with Lightroom, exported into Color Efex Pro 4 to produce the result on the right.

The layout of the tools are simple. Most of the tools have suggested filter settings and then you can tweak those how you see fit.

One of these days I’ll post a walkthrough but since I am hoping to post seven times today I want to just show some results. Here is Matt and Ashley redone using Silver Efex 2:

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/4, ISO 400, 1/80s
Post-Processed on the left with Lightroom, exported into Silver Efex Pro 2 to produce the result on the right.

One program I am having fun playing with is HDR Efex 2. I feel like I haven’t touched the surface of what I can do yet, but it is fun making ordinary landscapes look like Rockwell paintings. Here is my house with the “Structured 1” filter applied. No other changes.

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SLT-A99V, 24mm f/2 SSM ZA @ f/4, ISO 400, 1/1000s
Post-Processed on top with Lightroom, exported into HDR Efex Pro 2 to produce the result on bottom.

I haven’t done all of everything I can do quite yet. But prospects are up there. My first instinct was to go into my vast library of photos and redo all of them. And I did redo some… There’s more to talk about here but I also hope to post seven times today.

Tricksy Cardinalses! And other news…

One of my photography goals for 2013 is to get a photograph of a cardinal which fills a sufficient amount of the frame. This is quite a challenge as they bolt as soon as they suspect something and I have a lot of somethings; kids, a dog, cats, squirrels, and my clumsiness. Once the weather gets a little better I will be able to hide a little more, right now I am constrained to the back door window and my kitchen window, which adds another layer of potentially dirty glass in the way. This shot comprises about 1/12 of the total frame.

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/4, ISO 200, 1/80s

As does this shot.

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

And then one of my cats walked up to the door and made a noise and this guy was gone…

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

I’ve had a little bit of luck behind closed doors, but I feel like I can do better and get closer.

I am home briefly from Seattle, Washington and I have to return next week. Last week I had the privilege of visiting Ron Martinsen of ronmartblog.com and shoot his book case with the A77, A900, and A99 – sort of. I didn’t get what I thought from the A900. I put the A900 in Mirror Lock-up and I guess Nikons wait a bit and then take the shot after the shutter button is pressed. Not the A900. It just puts the mirror back if you don’t press the shutter button again. So I got dozens of samples from the A99 and A77 with my 85mm f/1.4 ZA lens and only three from the A900, two of which were test frames. Not all was lost, however as I did get the A77 and A99 shots AND as a bonus I shot a set with the A99 with the Minolta 200mm f/2.8 High Speed APO G lens. So I will be able to compare the A99 and A77 short term as well as the 85mm and 200mm lenses. As you can see, I also got some shots of the Seattle skyline and Mount Rainier on the one day the weather cooperated. I also shot with a circular polarizer on my 85mm lens.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/4, ISO 200, 1/500s

I had one huge issue with trying to get shots from this side of downtown Seattle. There weren’t many places without power lines in the way without trespassing. I had to shoot over a fence in a driveway to get these. Here is one with my A77.

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SLT-A77V, 24mm f/2 ZA @ f/7.1, ISO 100, 1/200s.

I’m back there next week. Hopefully I get the chance to re-shoot the book case with the A900 but if I don’t, at least I got what I got.

A little news and upcoming posts…

My last few days have been very busy. I found out I am back on the road next week. I am going to the Puget Sound area near Seattle, Washington. It will be my first solo trip since getting the A99 and A900 and my first trip with the Minolta 200mm f/2.8 High Speed APO G lens. Here is one of my favorite shots from a previous trip to the area:

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SLT-A77V, DT 35mm f/1.8 SAM@ f.8, ISO 100, 30s

When I am on the road I am usually excused from my normal life to a certain extent. I don’t have to do the dishes or take out the garbage. My poor wife and kids have to pick up the slack while I am away. This also affords me the time to shoot and experiment with my camera equipment. This is a shot I took while preparing an A100 to be sent to my grandmother:

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DSLR-A100, DT 18-70mm f/3.5-5.6 @f/8, ISO 400, 1/2000s

I plan on doing an all-up review of the Minolta 200mm lens once I can get some shooting time on my A77 with it and I also want to get one final A99-A900-A77 post finished and this trip may afford me the time to shoot to complete one of those two posts. And hopefully I will be able to get some shots of something other than Downtown Seattle.

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SLT-A77V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA@ f/6.3, ISO 50, 1/800s

And hopefully the sky will be clear enough to get a shot of Mount Rainier from the city, and not from an airplane like this shot.

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SLT-A77V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/8, ISO 100, 1/800s