Farewell 2013.

So yeah, it is December 31. Tomorrow is 2014. Thinking back initially, I didn’t think much about 2013. But when I went into Lightroom and looked at the photos I took (around 45000), I realized I was fooling myself. 2013 was a pretty awesome year. For this post, however, I will rewind all the way to last week (yes, last week). My wife and I took our kids on a train from Charlotte to New York.  Three kids in the big apple for two days. Complete chaos. The aperture ring on my A99 fell off its track on the second day. Fortunately I got some good shots on the first day. This one is my favorite.

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SLT-A99V, 24mm f/2 SSM ZA @ f/4, ISO 400, 1/320s, EV+0.7

This was my attempt at being clever, about half of the people who see the shot get it, so I probably fell a bit short. The shot is the Freedom Tower, which is erected on the site of the former World Trade Center twin towers.

Another one of my favorites is this shot.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/5, ISO 100, 1/250s

This is straight off the body, I know it could use some straightening and cropping. The main point is Big Bird is sitting in front of the gate of the closed Central Park Zoo with his luggage.

Thirty seconds later, I shot this. I gave the guy a dollar.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/5.6, ISO 100, 1/250s

I returned from New York and in the giant box of mail I got the next day was a brand new 50mm f/1.4 SSM ZA lens! I had hoped to get the lens before I went to New York so I could just bring a single lens. I am glad I didn’t because I wouldn’t have gotten a lot of the shots I got with my 24mm, but I got a good deal and it just didn’t find its way into the mail quick enough. This was the first shot.

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SLT-A99V, 50mm f/1.4 SSM ZA @ f/1.4, ISO 100, 1/160s

I am still in the honeymoon phase, but so far, so great. This lens is so quiet. So fast. It does not disappoint. I needed a good shot of my kids for a frame I built for my in-laws, and the 50mm produced this shot on the first try.

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SLT-A99V, 50mm f/1.4 SSM ZA @ f/4, ISO 200, 1/250s, Flash fired.

I had to go to a drug store and get an instant print for the 8×10 frame and the colors absolutely popped. I haven’t taken this lens off of the body since I got the aperture wheel back on track. Absolutely great things to come from this lens in 2014.

Stars do align…

When I was in elementary school in Colorado Springs, Colorado I was a decent student. Above average. I was a little full of myself, but I was very competitive in class. I wasn’t the most popular kid in class, but for my part I was generally well-liked other than maybe a couple (or few) times I tried a little too hard to get people to like me. But who didn’t back then? There was a girl who was consistently my main competition for the highest scores in class ever since she arrived at our school in second grade. At least I saw it that way. She probably didn’t, nor did she care. She was also perceived as one of the prettiest girls in our class. Her name is Kaylah.

Kaylah and I were in elementary school back in the 80’s and early 90’s. Back then I was among many with the infamous Mullet hair cut. When we finally trimmed our mullets, we left a little bit long in the center called a Rat Tail. A lot of the boys in our class would jockey to sit in front of Kaylah because she would do a highly intricate braid of our rat tails. You were the coolest if Kaylah did her famous braid on your rat tail. Here is a photo of of photos of the 5th grade mullet which eventually became the rat tail (left) and a photo of the 2nd grade mullet I had when Kaylah joined the elementary school.

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I have no clue how to give photo credit here. These were taken in 1989 and 1986 respectively.

Kaylah and I went to different junior high schools, but we went to and graduated from the same high school. Here is a photo of Kaylah from our yearbook when we were freshmen.

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Palmer High School Retrospect 1994 – Volume 65, Page 113

Social networking makes it possible for people to keep in touch without leaving their city. Kaylah and I had been MySpace and later, Facebook friends. I was able to meet her in Washington DC for a beer or two during a business trip because of social networking in 2007 or 2008. I had so many trips to Washington DC at the time, I really don’t remember when it was, I just remember it being after the ten year high school reunion we both didn’t attend. We kept in touch loosely, I’d see her posts with her kids, including daughters who look exactly like I remember Kaylah looking in elementary school. Every once in a while, we’d “like” something the other had posted. And I was definitely happy to see her get married to a guy who looks like Clark Kent for her second marriage.

Fast forward to 2013. For my photography business, I put in a couple of bids for weddings and I hadn’t gotten traction on any of them. The feedback was consistent, I didn’t have any wedding experience. How do you get experience if someone doesn’t give you a shot? I had a cousin getting married, I offered to shoot his wedding and I didn’t get a response. What was I to do?

I did something absolutely crazy over Facebook. I offered to do a wedding for free, throw in a hundred or more dollars of prints in for free, and I paid $30 to boost the post. It reached 7000 people. Then the stars aligned…

Kaylah asked if I was free on November 2nd. Her little sister, Hannah was getting married outside of Durham, North Carolina. Being a couple hours’ drive away, it wasn’t a hassle at all. So I got on the phone with Hannah, and we agreed to have me photograph their wedding. It would be a “win-win” situation as I would get some valuable experience and add to my portfolio, and Hannah and her fiancé Josh would get a break on a photographer at the risk of my inexperience.

I remember Hannah as Kaylah’s little sister. She was two grades behind us, and I remember her having brown hair where Kaylah had light-brown to blonde hair. They were both very pretty girls, you could tell they were sisters but they also looked distinctly different. Here is Hannah’s yearbook photo from her sophomore year (Kaylah and my senior year).

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Palmer High School, Retrospect 1997 – Volume 68, Page 136

So my first wedding shoot was the little sister of a girl I went to elementary school with from second to sixth grade, and graduated high school with… in Colorado Springs. And we’d be outside of Durham, North Carolina. According to Bing Maps, it would be a 1623 mile drive taking approximately 23 hours and 33 minutes from Colorado Springs to the venue. And to add to the stars aligning, we’ve had a late fall in the Carolinas and the fall colors were near peak. Last year at this time, the leaves had all fallen. The venue was Het Landhuis in Pittsboro, NC.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA@ f/4.5, ISO 100, 1/800s

Nothing really prepares you for your first wedding shoot. I looked all over the internet, looked at magazines, I even looked through wedding albums. In preparation, I bought a Minolta Maxxum 5 35mm camera, new in box for very cheap and some rolls of film. I bought ten 35mm disposable box cameras to randomly pass around for wedding guests to shoot with. I upgraded my tripod and head. I bought filters for my lenses. I bought umbrellas and lights. I brought almost every piece of equipment I own. I didn’t bring my Sigma 600mm f/8 mirror or my cheap 2x teleconverter. That’s it. Everything else came with me.

I arrived about four hours early to scout the location. Here is a shot I took where my little girl was playing the part of the bride. I didn’t use this camera/lens combination the rest of the day.

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DSLR-A900, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @f/4, 1/500s, ISO 200

My first lesson was almost immediate. I brought too much equipment. I had to decide what to park and what to take with me. I parked my two biggest lenses, the Minolta 300mm f/4 HS APO G and 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G. No white lenses for this shoot. My daughter carried an A900 with a Minolta 50mm f/2.8 Macro as my backup shooter. I had my A99 and A77, a Maxxum 5, my 85mm f/1.4, 135 STF, 24mm f/2, a Minolta baby beercan (35-75 f/4), and a Lensbaby Composer with Edge 80 optic (80mm f/2.8); I also had my Minolta 3600 HS Flash, all of my backup batteries and a few rolls of film. I hid my new Vanguard carbon fiber tripod and BBH-200 ballhead under a bed in the preparation cabin or in a storage barn. The rest went to my truck. At the end of the day, around 60% of my shots were with my go-to combination, my A99 and 85mm. The combination with the next closest percentage was my A77 and 135 STF at around 20%. A vast majority of the shots were between f/2.8 and f/4.5. I think I would have benefitted from a 70-200 f/2.8.

I sent my daughter to roam around the estate and told her to take as many random photos as possible and I would park her in a certain spot during the ceremony. My first real shooting started out in the cabin where the bride was preparing. Of course, while Hannah is preparing, I would expect a visit from her big sister, Kaylah. What I didn’t expect was a visit by their older sister Susannah, who is a few years older than Kaylah and I, but you’d never know by seeing her. She doesn’t look a day older than her mid 20’s. I had never met Susannah. I got this shot of the three. (Left to right: Susannah, Hannah, Kaylah)

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/3.5, ISO 1600, 1/50s

Being an outside wedding on an estate with cabins and farm houses, I had some backlit situations, and I had to deal with some shadows as well. I couldn’t exactly interfere with the ceremony to say “Excuse me, can you guys move to under the shade?” so I had to work with what I worked with. I tried to get shots atypical of some wedding shots I have seen, some which tell a story.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/4, ISO 100, 1/200s.

This was a second wedding for both Hannah and her fiancé, Josh. The role of the bridesmaids and groomsmen would be fulfilled by Hannah’s son and daughter, and Josh’s daughter. Hannah was walked down the “aisle” or path by her son, Caedon.

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SLT-A99V, 135mm f/2.8 [T/4.5] STF @ f/2.8/T4.5, ISO 100, 1/400s, +1EV

The actual ceremony was performed in some woods about 200 yards away from the cabin, nestled down below ground level. The ceremony area was completely surrounded by woods and their fallen leaves. Walking on the leaves was LOUD. When I realized how loud it was, I decided on two lenses, on two bodies and parked the rest of the equipment behind a tree. I had my A99 and A77 and my 85mm f/1.4 and my 135 STF.

In order to shoot one side of the ceremony and then move behind it, I had to go up a hill and around the edge of the trees, which was probably a 20 foot rise and 100-150 yards of a sprint while missing potential shots. While behind the ceremony I got this shot.

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SLT-A77V, 135mm f/2.8 [T/4.5] STF @ f/2.8/T4.5, ISO 400, 1/320s, +1EV

It was a very unique ceremony, done with some Native American tradition. It was very spiritual. The entrance and exit were done with a chanting drummer performing. The vows were done for the bride and groom to the rest of their family, not just to themselves. There were some symbolic gestures performed ritually in the ceremony. Most of the ceremony the bride and groom were covered by a woven blanket. I certainly wasn’t prepared for that!

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SLT-A77V, 135mm f/2.8 [T/4.5] STF @ f/2.8/T4.5, ISO 100, 1/250s, +1EV

The sun was in the girls’ faces, which was apparent in many of the shots I got. She covered her face with flowers in 90% of the shots I took. Fortunately, they didn’t look at the sun for this shot.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/4, ISO 160, 1/100s, +1EV

Once the ceremony was performed, it was reception time. The sun gave way to rain clouds. I was fairly happy about it before it started raining. This shot was the out of body jpeg.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/2.8, ISO 100, 1/320s

I got a couple from this position, rotated a few degrees to my left and shot some more, a little closer.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/2.8, ISO 100, 1/160s, +0.7EV

And then we moved around toward a small pond. Beforehand, we stopped at this tree.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/3.5, ISO 1250, 1/100s

And we took a few with Hannah and Josh on the bridge over the pond.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/4, ISO 1600, 1/80s

I thought the rain would miss us. I even said “I think the rain is going to miss us.” Boy, I messed that forecast up. Rain hit us hard and fast. We quickly moved to a barn. I was going to have to face my biggest weakness. The flash.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/3.2, ISO 400, 1/250s

Despite the darkness in the barn, I got a few of the “must-have” shots including the cutting of the cake, the first dance, and some family shots. Once the rain stopped we decided to take advantage of the lights outside. Josh told me he wanted this shot and it was just a matter of me not messing it up, and Josh staying still.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/4.5, ISO 400, 2s

And if you thought one person staying still was hard. We attempted two.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/4.5, ISO 400, 2.5s

Between my A99, A77, and A900 I had taken more than 1000 photos. I still haven’t gone through them all. These are the heavy hitters. I still have a few I would like to post-process more. My daughter took almost 300 shots. I took 2 rolls of 35mm film and received 9 of the 10 disposable cameras back. I’ll be interested in seeing how those turn out.

I’ve been pretty long-winded already. I could fill another post with wedding photos. I learned a few lessons. I need to bring less equipment. I need to probably invest in a good 24-70 or 70-200 lens and use one body, rather than moving around with a few primes. I need to not try to get cute with 35mm film. I need to use film to augment digital (I feel a 35mm film-centric post coming soon). I also learned I need to not only make a playbook, but to follow it. I made a playbook and since the ceremony wasn’t traditional, I had to improvise a bit. I totally should have gone back to it once the ceremony was over. I missed a few shots I should have gotten. Fortunately for Hannah and Josh, many of the wedding guests filled in some of those gaps with their phones and I imagine the disposable camera photos will help fill their album with the playbook shots. I spent a lot of time chasing down cell phone photos posted to Facebook for their album. Finally, I need to spend more time shooting with a flash. I had a hard time getting the flash photos right with the weird ceilings of the barn. The few that came out right were beautiful.

Hannah and Josh seem like people who live their life with little to no regrets. Hopefully the risk of having me learn on the job won’t be one of them.

Catch Up Post (Series 2, Number 4): Pretty girls on horses

Hello from 32000 feet! Yeah I am on an airplane from Charlotte headed to Phoenix. Short layover in Phoenix and then I go to Northern California. Busy busy.

Bear with me as I am going to try something new. I don’t have these photos with me anymore, so I am trying to link photos from my website. I am hoping the post looks as good on the web as it does in my editor.

A few weeks ago… Actually more than a month ago now, I had the opportunity to return to the same farm I shot Stephen and Deanna to shoot Deanna and her friend Laura on Galileo and Sylvester. Here is Deanna with Galileo.

SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/1.7, ISO 100, 1/1250s

I learned a valuable lesson much after this shoot. I posted all of the photos, whether I liked them or not but picked a handful for selective editing. Horses usually attract flies. The photos I initially liked  and chose to edit were also the some of the same photos Deanna and Laura liked, except there were a handful Deanna liked where I wouldn’t have given them the time of day. She liked a few straight off the body with no editing. Maybe I need to shoot more shots which need no editing! This shot, however, I did a ton of editing on with no regrets. This is Laura and Sylvester.

SLT-A77V, Minolta 50mm f/2.8 Macro @ f/5, ISO 100, 1/640s

The girls both wore two pretty dresses and I was able to push my equipment to the edge. Vivid colors, fast action, and I had to be quick on the trigger to ensure I got faces when they weren’t concentrating.

SLT-A99V, 135mm f/2.8 [T4.5] STF @ f/2.8, ISO 100, 1/200s

Some action shots I went with a slower shutter speed to get a bit of blur on purpose.

SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/4, ISO 100, 1/320s

Other shots, I tried to burst at the fastest speed the body would allow.

SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/5.6, ISO 100, 1/640s

At the end, however, it was a matter of getting the color right.

SLT-A99v, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/1.7, ISO 100, 1/500s

And those I may have not gotten right, I can always improvise.

SLT-A99V, 135mm f/2.8 [T4.5] STF @ f/2.8, ISO 100, 1/320s

Hello from Austria!

I haven’t posted in a long time. I have been busy. I have been working on the single most important project in my career at my main employer and the project is near-complete. Lame excuse, I know. I have a ton to talk about. And I may catch up sometime today or tomorrow as I have a lot of time on trains and planes coming to me. I have a neat little ride from Vienna to Munich and a flight from Munich to Charlotte via Philadelphia coming to me. Plenty of time to catch up if I am able. Chances are I won’t catch up but I will most certainly try.

Here is a list of topics I can post about:

1. Austria: I’ve been in Austria for a little more than a week now. Not only did I get to see the Alps, I got to see a man playing Mozart on violin accompanied by a pianist playing on a clear Plexiglas piano in an ice cave in the Alps. I also got to see a lot of Vienna and a charming little town outside of Vienna called Stockerau (pronounced something closer to Schtocker-oww). But there’s much more and I need to get this list finished first, so I will finish this point further down in the post (I promise).

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SLT-A99V, 135mm f/2.8[T/4.5] STF, 1/200s, ISO 100, +1EV

2. 135 STF. Remember when I said I wanted a 135 STF but I opted to get the 200mm f/2.8 APO lens instead?  I got a 135 STF. It is worth every penny I paid, even at the heavily discounted price I paid for it. More to come.

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SLT-A99V, 135mm f/2.8[T/4.5] STF, 1/160s, ISO 400

3. Pretty girls and horses. If you’ve read my posts, you know I did a shoot for Deanna and Stephen’s engagement. Deanna asked me to come back and shoot some more horse photos with her and one of her trainers, Laura. It was awesome. I can’t wait to write about it.

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SLT-A77V, Minolta 50mm f/2.8 Macro @ f/5, 1/640s, ISO 100

4. Nokia Lumia 1020. I got this little gem of a phone the other day. It has a 41 Megapixel sensor. I haven’t had it more than 10 days, but I do know this thing rocks. It is the real deal. It has exceeded expectations.

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Nokia Lumia 1020 @ f/2.2, 1/1779s, ISO 100

5. Other. Other stuff has happened. I can talk about it if I have time.

So right now I am in Austria and it is 2:50 in the morning. I have to get up early to catch a train but it is important to me to get this last point out. I will write about my week in Austria but it will probably not do it justice. I have had a wonderful time here. I have been hosted by Christian who I actually met through this blog and his wife Monika, and had the opportunity to meet their daughters Doris and Angela, and Angela’s boyfriend Bernd. Below is a portrait Christian and Monika graciously allowed me to take.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/5, 1/200s, ISO 100

I know the light is horrible for a portrait, but they are standing high atop Vienna and this was a better backdrop than the backlit view.

Christian has been a mentor for my photography for a little while now online, but I really got the opportunity to learn some tricks an technique I wouldn’t have learned without watching and listening to him in person. He has experience with the early A-mount and before. But more importantly, he and his family are some of the the kindest people I have ever met and they were a amazing hosts. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to visit Austria, but I was able to see sights outside the normal tourist stuff. And I got to see plenty of the tourist stuff as well. I don’t know how I’ll ever repay them for their kindness. Hopefully I will figure something out. I know I probably was an awkward guest at times; I understood very little German and I butchered most of the words I tried. I did try to learn words and how to say them. And I will keep trying after I leave.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/1.4, ISO 100, 1/100s

I saw sights I never thought I would see. I saw sights beyond what I imagined I would ever see. I shot photos I have never shot before. I learned how to shoot better wide-angle lens shots. I learned how to shoot better macros. I got to play with a half dozen old Minolta lenses, a few other adapted lenses, Macro tubes, and work with creative shading and reflection. I am excited to apply what I have learned. I can’t thank Christian, or his family enough.

More to come later…

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!

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.