Thursday, August 28, 2014

If There Are Clouds, There Are Photographic Opportunities

Rays of Hope - Stallion Springs, California
I was looking through some of the photographs that I've captured but haven't shared here, and trying to find a common thread that would fit neatly into a post. I wasn't having any luck figuring out what the images have in common until I noticed that they all have clouds in the sky. In fact, clouds are a major element in each of them, except perhaps in the bottom photograph, where it is a bit less prominent (but it is still important to the overall picture).

Every cloud has a silver lining, so they say. In photography, that silver lining is increased interest in the sky. Cloudy skies are great for photography, especially landscapes.
Under The Weather - Tehachapi, California
"For me, the most memorable landscape photos almost always have a sky that is full of interest, and most often, that interest comes from clouds. Give me a weather forecast of mixed sun and cloud, and I am in photographic heaven." --Darwin Wiggett
I really love to photograph on days where there are clouds in the sky. It doesn't matter to me if it is a complete overcast sky or just of few wispy clouds--I can use clouds as photographic opportunities.
A Tehachapi Hill - Tehachapi, California
I live in California, which is known for endless sunshine. Pure blue skies are OK, but I much prefer blue skies and clouds mixed together. Thankfully, Tehachapi, California, which is where I call home, experiences a variety of weather, and clouds are not uncommon.

I used a Sigma DP2 Merrill to capture three of these images and a Nokia Lumia 1020 to capture the other. I won't say which was from the cell phone, but perhaps you can figure it out. Any guesses?
Wind Farm Motion - Mojave, California

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Perilous Journey - Photographs of Roadside Memorials (Part 3)

Reoccurring Nightmare - Lancaster, California
Part 1 Part 2

I was told that the first two parts of this series were a little too high on the drama, so I'm toning it down a bit in this part. Instead of talking about roadway statistics, I'll discuss a little more of the process of the project.

The number one question that I get is, "Where do you find all of those roadside memorials?" I find them on my normal routes that I drive every day. I keep an eye out as I travel to where ever it is that I'm going.

Interestingly, I've passed by some of the memorials hundreds of times and never noticed them. I guess it is easy to overlook something when you are not trying to find it.

There are about six or seven memorials that I've seen that I have no intentions of photographing. This is because they are along freeway right-of-ways. That's just not safe, so they'll have to remain unexposed.

When I find roadside memorials, I try to figure out good ways to express what I feel about them through photographs. Often times that means including automobiles in the photographs. I think doing so adds additional context and drama to the scenes.

I used a Sigma DP2 Merrill to capture these photographs. They were post-processed using Alien Skin Exposure 6 software.
Two White Crosses - Rosamond, California
Steph - Rosamond, California
Margaret - Rosamond, California
The Flag Waves High - Rosamond, California
Nick Wilson - Rosamond, California
Sorrow - Palmdale, California
Dale Detjen - Mojave, California

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Illuminated By The Super Moon - Or, My Last Samsung NX200 Photographs

Night Mystery - Stallion Springs, California
I'm parting ways with my Samsung NX200, which I've had for over two years now. If Samsung didn't charge so much for their prime lenses, I probably would have kept it. I've captured some good photographs with this camera and I'm kind of sad to see it go. But it is time to let it go. In fact, I've already moved on.

The very last time I used the NX200 was during the last "super moon" a few weeks ago. I brought along a 50mm-200mm lens and a tripod. The hope was to capture the rising moon underneath an arching oak tree.
A Haunting Dream - Stallion Springs, California
The weather didn't completely cooperate, as there were some clouds in the eastern sky. The moon wasn't exactly where I was anticipating it, either. Yet neither of those turned out to be bad things. I simply had to change my vision.

The top photograph, Night Mystery, is the image that I was trying to create. The moon is obscured by the moving clouds and the tree trunk. I like the uneasiness of the scene. The bottom photograph, A Haunting Dream, was a happy accident. During the long exposure, my son, who had been playing around while I was photographing, accidentally tripped over one of the tripod legs. I was upset until I saw the exposure.

It was a good last experience with the camera. But time and technology marches on, and it is time that I did, too.

Three Local Tehachapi Parks

Four Ducks In The Lake - Tehachapi, California
I captured these photographs at three different parks in and around Tehachapi, California on three different days. There isn't a whole lot to connect the photographs other than they were all captured at local parks.

I used a Sigma DP2 Merrill camera for these images. They were post processed using Alien Skin Exposure 6 software. I'll also throw in a quick plug for my 10 Things To Do With Kids In Tehachapi article. Enjoy!
Farmer Jon's Tractor - Stallion Springs, California
Sunlit Tree - Tehachapi, California
Willow & Lake - Tehachapi, California
A Joshua Smile - Tehachapi, California
Park Race - Tehachapi, California
Girl & Her Two Horses - Stallion Springs, California
Big White Flower - Stallion Springs, California
Three Ducks In The Lake - Stallion Springs, California

Why The Nikon D3300? Why Not The D3200 or D5300?

I mentioned on Sunday that I purchased a Nikon D3300 DSLR. The most common response I've received is, "Why?" Some have wondered why I would buy the D3300 when the almost identical D3200 can be had for less. Others have wondered why I'd be interested in an entry-level "beginner's" DSLR and not the "better" D5300.

Why did I choose the D3300 over the D3200? Because the D3300 is superior, even if slightly. The biggest difference for me is that Nikon removed the anti-aliasing filter on the D3300. In case you don't know what that filter does, it blurs the image slightly to prevent moire pattern distortion. By removing the filter the camera produces sharper images (just so long as the lens that is attached to the camera is sharp).

It is true that the D3200 can typically be found for less money than the D3300 because it is last year's model. However, I was able to get a great deal on a brand-new D3300 that made it just as inexpensive as the D3200.

Why did I choose the D3300 over the D5300? After all, the D5300 is a better camera, isn't it? In a previous post I briefly compared the D3300, D5300 and D7100. I summarized that comparison by stating the following:
"The way that I see these three cameras is like a car. They are the same make and model car, but different trim levels. The D3300 is the base trim, the D5300 is the nicely equipped mid-level trim, and the D7100 is the well-equipped luxury trim. But they are all the same model and will accomplish the exact same thing. It is a matter of how much you want to spend and how many extras you think you need."
That analogy has some flaws. The D7100 is the previous year's luxury trim and not the current year because there is no luxury trim for the current year. Besides that, the cameras don't necessarily look the same. The sensors are not even the same (and, in fact, the D3200 and the D3300 have different sensors), but based on image quality you would not know that the sensors are different. Blah-blah-blah.

Anyway, it isn't so complicated. The D3300 is a camera that performs much higher than its "entry level" title. I got it for a really good price. That is why.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Budget Lens Options For The Nikon D3300 DSLR

I recently purchased a Nikon D3300 DSLR. I was considering this camera, but after a friend let me use their D3200, I was convinced to get the D3300. It should arrive on Friday.

I bought just the D3300 camera body. I didn't get the kit 18mm-55mm lens. I didn't want it. The sensor on the camera outperforms the kit lens. Also, the D3300 doesn't have an anti-aliasing filter, and the kit lens isn't sharp enough to really take advantage of that. The D3300 is a camera begging to have a good prime lens attached to the front of it.

Now I found the camera for a smoking deal: $375, including tax and shipping. Wow! This is a brand-new in-the-box camera. Not a floor model. Not refurbished. Not used. It's brand spanking new. It pays to shop around and clip coupons.

Soon I'll have a camera without a lens, so I'm trying to decide what lens or lenses to buy to go with it. There are three budget-friendly options available: Nikkor AF-S 35mm f1.8G, Nikkor AF-S 40mm Micro f2.8G, and Nikkor AF-S 50mm f1.8G.

The Nikkor AF-S 35mm f1.8G is a "standard lens" (50mm-equivalent) because of the APS-C crop factor. It is sharp, fast and doesn't have a lot of distortion, vignetting or chromatic aberrations. It retails for $195.

The Nikkor AF-S 40mm Micro f2.8 is a slightly telephoto lens (60mm-equivalent) because of the APS-C crop factor. This is a macro lens that will focus on objects very, very close to the lens front. Macro lenses typically auto-focus slower than non-macro lenses. To help with this Nikon included a switch that speeds up auto-focusing when not being used for macro photography. It is the sharpest of the three lenses mentioned here, has almost no distortion, and doesn't have a lot of vignetting or chromatic aberrations. It retails for $280.

The Nikkor AF-S 50mm f1.8G is a telephoto lens (75mm-equivalent) because of the APS-C crop factor. It is slightly sharper than the 35mm lens but not quite as sharp as the 40mm lens. It is fast, has almost no distortion (although it does have slightly more distortion than the 40mm lens), and doesn't have a lot of vignetting or chromatic aberations. It retails for $220.

My original plan was to buy the 35mm and the 50mm lenses. The 50mm is the better lens of the two (marginally better, as they are both good), but the 35mm is a more practical focal length for day-to-day shooting. Simply based off of past practices, I would use the 35mm lens 75% of the time, and the 50mm lens the other 25%. If I shop around I can get the two for just under $400, including shipping and tax.

As I've thought about this more, I'm really drawn to the 40mm lens. The difference between 50mm-equivalent and 60mm-equivalent is small. In other words, the 40mm lens is pretty much as practical for day-to-day shooting as the 35mm lens. Also, 60mm-equivalent isn't that far off from 75mm-equivalent. Because the 40mm is a macro lens it lends itself well to portraits, making the 50mm lens less necessary. In other words, the 40mm lens seems to fall in a "happy medium" between the 35mm and 50mm choices.

The 40mm lens isn't as fast as the other two lenses, both in aperture and auto-focus speed. But that's not a big deal and I will tell you why.

Regarding the aperture, while the 35mm and 50mm lenses do have a 1.3 f-stop advantage over the 40mm lens, the two lenses also perform their worst below f2.8. In other words, while the 35mm and 50mm lens have larger apertures than f2.8, it is best to avoid using the lenses at those larger apertures because of increased vignetting and chromatic aberrations and loss of sharpness. Also, on the 35mm and 50mm lenses diffraction begins around f11 while on the 40mm lens diffraction begins around f16.

Macro lenses focus much slower than non-macro lenses because they have a much larger range to focus through and because they are geared for more precise focusing. To help with this Nikon included a feature on the 40mm lens that speeds up auto-focusing when not being used for macro photography (it limits the closeness that the camera will attempt to focus). This means that the 40mm lens can auto-focus almost as fast as the other two lenses when you want it to. The 40mm lens is the clear winner when it comes to manual focusing.

If I shop around I can get the 40mm lens for about $250, including shipping and tax. If I get just the 40mm lens, that is almost $150 in savings compared to buying the 35mm and 50mm lenses. Plus, I don't have to carry an extra lens around or worry about dust getting on the sensor when I change lenses. While I'm still debating on what lens or lenses I will purchase, I'm leaning heavily towards the Nikkor AF-S 40mm Micro f2.8.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

My Favorite Abandonment Photographs, Part 3 - Conclusions

On A Brighter Day - Tehachapi, California
It has been interesting looking at my favorite abandonment photographs, in color and monochrome. I have spent some time studying the images to better understand what I do and don't like about them. If I could capture each image over again, would I create them the same or would I make changes? I think most of my photographs could use some improvements, even if the changes were only minor. I'm very proud of a few where I believe I really nailed the shot.

One thing that I realized is that I have a standard method of photographing when I visit abandoned places. It is as if I have a checklist of what photographs to capture. This is all mental and subconscious. The problem with this is that I end up with a bunch of similar images that could be easily placed in four or five categories. There is a mold that I have created, and I think that mold is holding me back from taking this project to the next step.
Abandoned Boles-Aero Trailer - Mojave, California
I also realized what kind of abandonment photographs I like the best. First, I like black-and-white more than color. The extra drama that monochrome provides seems like a good fit for this project. I also noticed that there are two types of images that I prefer: bold and human remnants.

By "bold" I mean punchy, gritty and/or contrasty photographs. These are images that demand your attention simply because of the lighting, composition and post-processing.
Old Coffee Cup - Mojave, California
By "human remnants" I mean photographs that capture what was left behind. These images show that the place had activity and life. People once lived or worked in the old buildings, and now they're gone. For some reason they didn't take everything with them, giving small clues to what once was, but also leaving many unanswered questions.

Even better is when "bold" and "human remnants" are combined into one image. That is quite difficult to create, but I believe these are the types of photographs that I want to create for this project in the months and years ahead.
Peerless - Newberry Springs, California
What I want for this abandonment project is a series of photographs that grab your attention and perhaps even make you feel uneasy. I don't want a bunch of "pretty pictures." Within these images there are supposed to be bold statements and commentary, as well as mystery and uncertainty.

Taking some time off from this project and reflecting on what I've created has been helpful. Asking a whole bunch of questions and being a harsh critic of my own work has indeed been a positive experience. I believe I have a renewed vision moving forward.
The Sound of Silence - Mojave, California
In this post you'll find my 10 favorite abandonment photographs that I've captured. These are examples of the type of images that I want to create in the future. My vision is to create abandonment photographs that are as good as the ones you see here. 

I hope this journey has been as interesting for you as it has for me. Thank you for coming along for the ride. Perhaps this series will inspire you to do something similar with your own photographs.
A Light In The Dark - Tehachapi, California
Copy Machine - Mojave, California
Broken Souls - Newberry Springs, California
Web of Neglect - Mojave, California
VIP - Newberry Springs, California