Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Why I Don't Watermark My Photographs

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that a photograph of mine was stolen. The image was used in an advertisement in a local newspaper. Just yesterday that issue was settled, and I received restitution.

Several friends and family members asked why I don't watermark my photographs to help prevent things like this from happening. Even they guy who stole my photograph said that a watermark might have prevented him from using it without permission (actually, he was trying to say that it was my fault that he stole my picture).
Red Field, Green Field - Tehachapi, California
This photograph was used in an advertisement without my permission.
So why don't I watermark my photographs?

1) Watermarks are a distraction to the photograph. Can you imagine a great painting with "Copyright 2014" written in bold letters across it? Or a great song with the words "This song cannot be used without permission" spoken right in the middle? That would be silly.

My photographs are my art. Watermarks take your attention away from that art. I want you to see my art and not be distracted by a copyright notice. Watermarks ruin the experience for the viewer.

2) Watermarks don't stop anyone from illegally using your photographs. Unless it is plastered in big letters right across the center, watermarks are easily cropped out or clone-stamped out. It is not all that difficult to remove watermarks from photographs, and there is free software that can help one do it. If someone is going to steal a photograph, they're going to do it whether or watermark is on it or not.

3) Watermarks make no difference to the law. The law does not change with the addition of a watermark. I own the copyright to my photographs simply because I created them. It matters not if I place a copyright notice on the image or not. It is illegal to use my photographs without my permission, period.

4) Bottom-feeders don't pay attention to the law. They don't care if they are breaking the law or not. They could care less about copyrights. They don't give one thought to the creator. They think about themselves only. Watermarks mean nothing to them.
The Beach After Sunset - San Diego, California
A company contacted me for permission to use this photograph and paid me money.
 5) Most people and businesses do indeed care about copyrights and the law, and will go about things the right way. The majority of businesses are honest and ethical, and if they want to use my photographs they'll contact me and get permission first. Watermarks do not make any difference to them, because they're already following the law and doing things the right way.

6) Watermarking photographs takes time. I already spend too much time post-processing my images, and I don't want to spend any more time in front of a computer than I have to. I'd much rather spend that time with my family or out photographing.

7) If I were to watermark my photographs, I would have to create two versions of each image: one with the watermark and one without. Doubling the digital storage necessary for my photography costs real money and complicates the filing system.

To put this simply, watermarking photographs takes time and money, accomplishes nothing, and makes one's photographs look worse. That's why I don't watermark my images.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Abandonment: Rock-A-Hoola Waterpark (Lake Dolores) - Newberry Springs, California

Waterpark - Newberry Springs, California
The Rock-A-Hoola Waterpark (which also operated under the names Lake Dolores, Lake Dolores Waterpark and Discovery Waterpark) opened in 1962 in the Mojave Desert just east of Barstow in the tiny town of Newberry Springs. The origins of the park can be traced back to the 1950's when a man named Bob Myers made a small lake from natural springs for his family to enjoy. Before long he opened a campground on the lake, and then began adding attractions.

Some credit this waterpark as the first modern waterpark in America. I couldn't find anything to corroborate that, but it certainly was one of the first. 
Mems Poe - Newberry Springs, California
In 1999 an employee used one of the water slides after the park had closed, but the catch pool didn't have enough water in it. The employee became a paraplegic, and was awarded a large settlement. That was the beginning of the end of this park.

Rock-A-Hoola closed in 2000. It reopened under new ownership in 2002, but closed for good in 2004. The park has been sitting empty in the desert ever since. It has been sold piecemeal to other waterparks, with about half of the slides going to a waterpark in Canada.
The Future Is Blight - Newberry Springs, California
This abandoned waterpark is incredibly interesting. The buildings look both retro and modern at the same time. This is due to the different themes the park had over the decades that it was open. Some structures are in good condition, others are beginning to fall apart. Vandals have found their way through most of the park, but a few places seem basically untouched.

In 2013, Trustocorp, "a New York based guerrilla art group dedicated to highlighting the hypocrisy and hilarity of human behavior," made their mark on Rock-A-Hoola. Lots of other "artists" have spray painted on the buildings, as well.
Rock-A-Hoola - Newberry Springs, California
The waterpark is haunting and fascinating at the same time. It is easy to imagine what the place was like in its heyday. It is easy to envision all sorts of activity and life. That imagination stands in stark contrast to what is left behind, decaying in the harsh desert.

I trekked across the desert about two weeks ago to photograph Rock-A-Hoola. The place is fenced off and there are some no-trespassing signs, but access is easy and nobody was there to chase me off. I captured the photographs you see here using a Sigma DP2 Merrill camera.
Fear - Newberry Springs, California
Andrea's Room - Newberry Springs, California
Broken Souls - Newberry Springs, California
In Need of Maintenance - Newberry Springs, California
The Kitchen Sink - Newberry Springs, California
Peerless - Newberry Springs, California
VIP - Newberry Springs, California
Tubes In A Row - Newberry Springs, California
Raco Outlets - Newberry Springs, California
The Maintenance Building - Newberry Springs, California
In Thru The Out Door - Newberry Springs, California
Delicious - Newberry Springs, California
Broken Old Sign - Newberry Springs, California
KCIS - Newberry Springs, California
Shoot Me - Newberry Springs, California
Hall Loves You - Newberry Springs, California
Are - Newberry Springs, California
Kid Slide - Newberry Springs, California
Orange Slide - Newberry Springs, California
Lazy River - Newberry Springs, California
Chair For Relaxing - Newberry Springs, California
Stairs To Slide Out of Service - Newberry Springs, California
Open Door Palm - Newberry Springs, California
Lazy River Bend - Newberry Springs, California
I found this promotional video for Rock-A-Hoola on YouTube that shows what the park was like at its pinnacle. The contrast between the then and now is stark.

Friday, July 25, 2014

A Day In Bakersfield (Or, It Doesn't Matter What Camera You Have)

No Parking - Bakersfield, California
About a week-and-a-half ago I found myself in Bakersfield, California with some time to kill and a camera in my hand. I actually had two cameras: a Sigma DP2 Merrill and my cell phone, a Nokia Lumia 1020.

It was a hot, humid, overcast day. Summer monsoon weather. It was a terrible day to be outdoors, yet the lighting was interesting for photography.  
Tree On A Grass Hill
I captured the images you see here with the two cameras that I had. I won't mention until the very bottom which photographs are from which camera. Does it matter? Not really. But I bet you cannot tell just by looking at them.

The difference is that one camera cost me $100 and the other over $700. Oh, and the $100 camera doubles as a smart phone. The point is this: do not worry about what camera you do or do not own, just use to the best of your ability the one that you have with you.
Summer Butterfly - Bakersfield, California
Stadium Seating - Bakersfield, California
Wishing Fountain - Bakersfield, California
Dry River & Sky Full of Promise - Bakersfield, California
Handicap Seating - Bakersfield, California
Bee In A White Rose - Bakersfield, California
California Weed - Bakersfield, California
Industrial Reflection - Bakersfield, California
A Little Birdie Said To Keep It Simple - Bakersfield, California
A triple exposure. I captured this inside a Target store.
5K Adventure - Bakersfield, California
So which photographs do you think came from the Lumia 1020 and which do you think came from the DP2 Merrill? No Parking, Summer Butterfly, Bee In A White Rose and A Little Birdie Said To Keep It Simple were all captured using my cell phone. The other photographs were captured with the Sigma camera.

Are the photographs better that were captured using the $700 camera? No, they're all about the same. Did you find it difficult to tell which images came from which cameras? Well, that is because photographic vision matters most in photography. Cameras are not all that important.

The photographer determines the outcome of an image, not the camera. That is why I can use any number of different cameras and lenses and even film and digital, and in the end my photographs look like they were all captured by me.

Take Your Camera With You - Moessner Farms Fruit Stand Visit

Beets - Tehachapi, California
In the countryside around Tehachapi, California one can find little places that sell fresh fruit and vegetables. Some of these places are nothing more than a table with strawberries. Some of them are small structures with some variety. Other places are "you-pick" fields and orchards.

I recently visited one such stand, owned by Moessner Farms, and I brought my Sigma DP2 Merrill camera with me. You should always carry a camera around with you because you just don't know when a photographic opportunity will arise.
Mango - Stallion Springs, California
We purchased some fresh produce. At the same time I captured some images. The photographs you see here are the results. 

If you find yourself in the mountain countryside near the small central California town of Tehachapi, be sure to visit one or more of these fruit stands. Also make sure that you bring a camera along, too.
Wall Art - Tehachapi, California
Fruit Stand Flag - Tehachapi, California

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Review: Nikon D3200 DSLR (Entry Level Or Inexpensive Pro Camera?)

I was recently able to borrow a brand-new Nikon D3200 DSLR from a friend. By brand-new, I mean that the date and time had yet to be set and only a few frames had been exposed. I wanted to get my hands on a D3200 because I'm interested in the D3300, and the only significant difference between the two cameras is that the former has an anti-aliasing filter and the latter does not.

The camera had the kit 18mm-55mm lens attached. I failed to grab the instruction manual, figuring that I'd be able to easily figure everything out.
It's A Long Ways Down - Stallion Springs, California
Usually when I write camera reviews, I've used the camera for at least a couple of weeks. This allows me to understand pretty well the good and bad points. No camera is perfect--they all have limitations of some sort. It is important to understand what a camera does well and what it doesn't do well so you know if it is a good match for what you're trying to photographically accomplish.

With the D3200, I was only able to use the camera for a few hours. I did my best to put the camera to the test while I had it, and I believe that I was able to draw some conclusions even after limited use.
Goldie - Stallion Springs, California
One question that I wanted to answer about the D3200 is whether or not it could be used as a serious camera. The 24 megapixel APS-C sized sensor provides more than enough resolution for most photographers, allowing for large prints or steep cropping. But is the camera too entry-level to be taken seriously?

I mentioned that I didn't take the instruction manual with me when I borrowed the camera. This turned out to be a mistake because for about an hour I couldn't figure out how to make basic adjustments to ISO, white-balance, auto-focus and metering. Finally I figured out the button that I needed to push to activate the menu to make those changes. In my opinion there are too many steps to make common adjustments. It is obvious that Nikon figured most D3200 users would use the camera in full auto made.
A Thistle Blossom - Stallion Springs, California
Once you know how to make all the necessary adjustments, you get used to the interface and the process to make changes. Even though it took more button presses than I'd prefer, making adjustments came naturally by the time I had to return the camera.

The D3200 has an 11-point auto-focus system, which may be the biggest drawback of this camera. However, I did not experience any problems with it. The camera focused where I wanted it to each time. In low-light/low-contrast situations the camera had a tendency to "fish" for a second or two before locking focus. Manual focus worked like it is supposed to, although as best as I can tell there is no "focus peaking" feature.
Epoch - Stallion Springs, California
This camera has 24 megapixels, which is about the maximum you'll find on an APS-C sized sensor, providing resolution more in line with full-frame cameras. However, putting that many "pixels" on an APS-C sized sensor typically has drawbacks, especially relating to dynamic range and high-ISO capabilities. Studying the photographs that I captured I believe the camera was sufficient in both of those categories.

According to DxOMark, who tests camera sensors, the D3200 has a similar color depth to the Hasselblad H3DII 39 and the Phase One P45 Plus, both medium-format cameras that are much higher in cost than the D3200. The dynamic range is nearly identical to the Nikon D4s and the Leica M Typ 240, both full-frame cameras that are much higher in cost. And the high-ISO capabilities are similar to the Phase One P65 Plus and better than the Canon EOS 1D Mark III, both (again) much more expensive than the D3200.  
Imminent Change - Stallion Springs, California
The reason that I point out those DxOMark findings is that it illustrates the image quality capabilities of the camera. Most serious photographers would be pleased with the results produced by the D3200. I was quite satisfied with the image quality. It most certainly outperforms its "entry level" title.

I want to briefly comment on this camera and high-ISO. I didn't get to play around with high-ISO nearly as much as I would have liked, but with what I did do, I was satisfied with the results all the way up to ISO 800 in JPEG format and ISO 1600 in RAW. Above that, ISO 3200 and 6400 seemed passable in the right situations, but only in RAW format where you have control over noise-reduction.
Summer Storm Ascension - Stallion Springs, California
Speaking of JPEG vs. RAW, the D3200 creates very nice looking JPEGs in-camera. They do require a boost in contrast and other post-processing tweaks, but the files are overall very good. There really isn't a big need to use RAW with this camera other than for perhaps critical, fast-changing work (such as a wedding) and high-ISO.

The D3200 has good speed. Start up time is almost instantaneous. Focus is fast, and the camera is capable of up to four frames-per-second. Files are written to the card almost as quickly as they're captured.
Thistle Bloom - Stallion Springs, California
For those concerned with ergonomics and size-and-weight, the camera fit good in my hand and was not a chore to carry around. I used it for a few hours straight almost without stopping--I even took it on a short hike--and it did not bother me. Overall it is small and well designed.

The D3200 comes with a pop-up flash attached to the top. I used it as a fill-flash a few times, and it worked as one would expect it to work. If you think that you may use a flash regularly, I would purchase a good external flash.
California Mountains, Summer of '83 - Stallion Springs, California
The viewfinder on the D3200 looks pretty good and bright for a pentamirror. It has 95% coverage, which is good. I personally prefer pentaprism viewfinders with 100% coverage, but that typically adds at least a couple hundred dollars to the cost of a camera. This pentamirror seems like a good compromise, keeping the camera cost down without much degradation to the viewfinder experience.

The meter on the D3200 was spot-on almost every time. Occasionally in bright light the camera needed -0.3 exposure compensation, but that is no big deal because exposure compensation is a simple task.
Obscure Glimpse - Stallion Springs, California
Auto-white-balance on the D3200 was spot-on almost every time, as well. I played around with mixed lighting situations and had a hard time throwing the camera off.

The D3200 has built-in auto-distortion-correction. What this does is straighten out warped lines from lens distortion, particularly from wide-angle lenses. While not perfect, it actually works pretty well. This feature can either be turned off or on, and, unless you purposefully want lens distortion, it should be kept on.
Ascending Storm Over The Central Valley - Stallion Springs, California
While I didn't have a chance to use these features, I was happy to see that the camera has infrared sensors for remote shutter release, 1080P high-definition video, auto-ISO where you can set the parameters, and tracking auto-focus. Because I didn't use any of those features, I cannot attest to the effectiveness of them, but it is good that they're available.

The camera had Nikon's kit 18mm-55mm lens attached. There is no such thing as a great kit lens, but Nikon's kit lens is one of the better kit lenses out there. The lens is sufficient for many people, however, I think that to get the most out of the 24 megapixel sensor one would want to get a better lens.
Basketball Hoop - Stallion Springs, California
A couple of budget lens options for the D3200 are the Nikkor 35mm AF-S f1.8 G, which retails for just under $200, and the Nikkor 50mm AF-S f1.8 G, which retails for just over $200. Both are well-regarded, sharp lenses that won't break the bank. Be aware that the D3200 does not have an auto-focus drive, so lenses without a built-in motor won't auto-focus on this camera. 

The Nikon D3200 can be found for under $400 for just the body or under $500 with the kit lens. That's an excellent price for a DSLR that delivers so much.
Boy Glancing Down - Stallion Springs, California
Is the D3200 perfect? No. Are there better cameras out there? Absolutely. But for the budget-minded photographer who does not want to drop thousands on a new camera, this is probably the best choice available. This is a value camera that can please new and old photographers alike.

I captured all of the photographs in this article using the Nikon D3200, with the exception of the top image, which was captured using a Sigma DP2 Merrill. The photographs were post-processed using Alien Skin Exposure 6.