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.

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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.

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.

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…

Catch Up Post #5: Austria Trip

The wonders of the internet. Back in good old 1998 I was the web site admin for my college fraternity. Yes, fifteen years ago. I kept it simple, used only 640×480 photographs to allow all browsers and screen resolutions to render the page appropriately and in short order as I needed to cater to 56k modem connections. The web page had a guest book and one of the signers was the Panhellenic President (Each sorority appoints 1-2 people to represent their chapter in a council and she was the president of that council) at a school in a small town in the southern part of Georgia, about 1800 miles away. Being the steward of the web site, I sent an e-mail back for courtesy asking about her town and her unique name. We became pen pals, actually mostly keyboard pals for a couple of years. One year we sent each other Valentine cards as we mutually didn’t have anyone to spend Valentine’s Day with. We also talked to each other on the phone when we could. Back then it was pricy to talk on the phone long distance so we only did so when we could use calling cards or didn’t care about the cost.

Long story short, we both kept in contact and in late 2000 after she graduated from the school in the small Georgia town she got a job good enough to buy me a plane ticket to come visit. It was before 9/11 when people greeting arriving visitors at the airport could greet them at the gate. As soon as I stepped off the plane, I knew. I got hit by the Thunderbolt as they say in The Godfather. We were married only a year after and have been ever since.

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SLT-A99V, 85mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/2.2, ISO 500, 1/100s

So yes, I met my wife on the internet. And yes, I am a lucky man.

This blog is what I do in my sparest of spare time. I hope someone out there is in the same situation I was a couple of years ago and maybe will learn something from one of my mistakes or discoveries. I’ve also made a couple of contacts over the internet and gotten some good advice and criticism from those people. One of those people is Christian who lives in Austria and also shoots using Sony equipment on the A-mount. Christian has posted a few comments to some of the posts I’ve made. He gave me an open invitation to see some of the places he has photographed in Austria. I spent a few months figuring out the logistics and once the pieces started to come together I figured I would accept the invitation and I worked it out to book the travel.

I am pretty excited about the whole thing. Christian has an array of lenses I can try out and a knowledge of the area only a person local to the region would know. I usually gravitate toward tourist attractions which sometimes is cool and sometimes I’m trying to shoot a shot others have shot before or are even concurrently shooting. When I was in Malaysia, I stood in line for a specific spot to mount my tripod to capture the Petronas towers. Everyone before me was using a zoom lens, I was using a 35mm prime but effectively we got the same shot. Theirs may have been a bit wider or maybe in landscape orientation instead of portrait, but we shot the same thing from the same spot. Don’t get me wrong, I hope to see some of the important attractions in that part of Austria, however I am absolutely thrilled to get the advice and guidance from a local. Christian has been a great mentor to me and has given me very constructive criticism of my photography. He notices things I just don’t think about.

I don’t know if it is a difference in culture between how I was raised in Colorado or how I currently live in North Carolina, I am certainly not used to the kindness Christian has shown me and his offers for accommodation. What impresses me the most, other than some of his photographs, is the tact he has used in delivering messages to me when I may not be doing something the right way. When there is a better way to do something; whether it is framing or coloring a photo, or choosing a hotel in Vienna, Christian has figured out a very effective way of delivering the message to me. This is a skill I fail to achieve.

All I know is, I am going to Austria. I actually fly into Germany and I will likely be taking a train to Austria and staying outside of Vienna. I haven’t worked out those logistics yet as some of the web sites won’t let me make reservations more than 90 days in advance, so I have some time to make those plans. I did order the Rosetta Stone German Language software as I hope to be able to effectively ask where the restroom is. I know most Austrians are very well versed in English, I figure I would at least give German the college try in the few months between now and the time I visit.

My biggest worry right is bringing enough memory cards or ensuring I have enough storage to take all the shots I want to take. That is a wonderful place to be, in my humble opinion!

And yes, I am going to hang out and shoot photos with someone I met using the internet.   🙂