Monday, April 29, 2013

I Moved To Stallion Springs, California

I just moved into a new home over this last weekend. It was a lot of work and my "to-do" list just grew by about five-times.

The new house is in the beautiful mountain-valley community of Stallion Springs, just outside of Tehachapi in central California. Here are a few photographs that I've captured in the area over the last year or so.
Cow Crossing - Stallion Springs, California
Gathering Cherry Pollen #2 - Stallion Springs, California
California Sunset - Stallion Springs, California
Dandelion Sunset - Stallion Springs, California
Pumpkin Painting - Stallion Springs, California
Autumn Blue - Stallion Springs, California
California Poppy - Stallion Springs, California
Water Valve - Stallion Springs, California
Reflecting - Stallion Springs, California
3 - Stallion Springs, California
Willow - Stallion Springs, California
Two Ducks - Stallion Springs, California
Spring Oak - Stallion Springs, California
At The Edge of Tomorrow - Stallion Springs, California

Thursday, April 25, 2013

My New Film Camera - Minolta XG-1 SLR

I got a real good deal on a used SLR yesterday. For $80 I got a fully-functioning (and in good shape) Minolta XG-1 SLR, five quality lenses (including a 500mm), a bunch of filters and other accessories, and a decent tripod. Oh, and an old but fully functioning camera back for it all to neatly fit in. That's a pretty darn good deal!

I love shooting film. Film is still better than digital. Cameras are devolving, and this old relic is better than most digital cameras today. The reason so many (myself included) reach for DSLRs instead of film cameras is that the digital camera is much more convenient. People choose convenience over quality in photography, and this is a trend that has been going on for 100 years.

Vision is what matters most in photography, not cameras or equipment, so who cares? I don't. I'm happy to use my cell phone camera. But there is something about using a film camera in manual mode to create art that just seems more genuine, more organic. Maybe it is just me, because viewers don't care if the image is film or digital. Even so, I will have fun with this new toy.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Favorite Blog Posts

Yesterday I told you what my favorite photography websites are. Today I will tell you what posts from this Blog are my favorites.

Ignore the "Popular Posts" to the right. Those are the most viewed posts, but none of them are the best posts. The best posts on this Blog are often the least viewed. People are only interested in information on equipment, but equipment isn't important. Very few are interested in what truly matters in photography.

My favorite Blog posts (in no particular order) are:

The Artist Photographer 

Photographic Vision - What It Is And How To Get It

Photography Isn't Documenting. Photography Is Interpreting.

What Is Art? Are You A Creator? 

Two Essentials To Becoming A Professional Photographer

Things I Wasn't Taught In Photography School

Camera Envy

The Decisive Moment

Convenience or Quality?

The Adventure of Photography

Your Camera Doesn't Matter, Ever

War Photographs: The Untold Story of Plastic Army Men

Abandonment: George Air Force Base Housing

Photograph Into The Sun

People Want New Cameras

What Makes A Photograph Great

What Is Important In Photography

Tell A Story With Your Photographs

Why Personal Style Is Important In Photography

Albert Einstein On Photography

How To Improve Your Photography In 5 Steps

There are plenty of other good posts, too, if you dig around. If people would worry less about equipment and more about what truly matters in photography, they would see their images significantly improve.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Favorite Photography Websites

There are websites that I frequent to get advice, news, inspiration, etc. There is a wealth of knowledge and information on the internet, but it can be difficult to know where to begin.

These are my favorite photography websites. I don't visit them every day, but I try to check in anywhere from a couple times per week to once a month, depending on the site. It's much cheaper to visit internet sites than to subscribe to magazines, and sometimes the information is better, too. - Great photography, great information. It is better to subscribe to the magazine, but if you are not going to do that, at least visit the website. - Lots of good information and inspiration from a talented photographer. - Not just great photographs, but the stories behind them, as well. - Constantly features interesting photographers that I would not have heard of otherwise. - Opinionated and passionate, love him or hate him. Rockwell makes some excellent points worth understanding, just take what he says with a grain of salt. - Plenty of good information, but I don't always agree with what is said. - A good website for camera news. - The best lighting information available, period. - Good photography information, but I don't always agree with what is said. - Great photographs and great information from a talented photographer.

There are others that I run into from time-to-time, as well. But the ones above are frequented the most. Honestly, if you find a number of websites and blogs to frequent, there is little reason to buy magazines.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Photography Locations - Find The Scene Near You

Two Saguaros - Goodyear, Arizona
This was captured a five minute hike from my home when I lived in Arizona.
I flipped through quite a few Arizona Highways magazines over the weekend. If you've never seen this magazine before, you are really missing out. It has a long tradition of featuring amazing photographs. Ansel Adams regularly contributed to this magazine, and the current regular contributors are all amazing.
Three Ducks - Goodyear, Arizona
This was captured right around the corner from where I used to live.
What struck me was that many of the photographers lived near the subjects that they were photographing (within a few hours drive, anyway). The closer you live to your photography subject, the more familiar you will be with it--you'll have a better idea of how to best capture an image of the subject. You'll also have more opportunities to photograph it, and that will give you a better chance of finding the subject with some amazing light or unique situation.
Inside The Broken - Tehachapi, California
Captured a short distance from my current home.
You can either move closer to whatever it is you love to photograph, or you can find something to photograph that is closer to you. You certainly don't have to travel to some far-off location to capture great images. While it may be great to do so, that is just not practical for most people.
Foggy Mountain Road - Tehachapi, California
This was only a 15 minute drive from my current home.
If it is impractical for you to move, you should look nearby for photography subjects. A lot of times it just takes actively looking and a creative mind to find something interesting. There is so much beauty right under our noses every day if we will just find it.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Thought Of The Day: Ricoh GR

Ricoh just announced the new GR compact fixed lens digital camera. In case you don't recall, Ricoh owns Pentax now. I'm not really sure what this means for Ricoh cameras, but I'm assuming (and I could be wrong) that the 16 megapixel APS-C sized sensor in this camera is the same Sony-made sensor found in the Pentax K-01, K-5, K-5 II, and K-30. If that is true, then this is an excellent sensor, and these guys know how to get the most out of it.

The lens is a fixed 28mm equivalent f2.8. This should be a fantastic lens. Since it is fixed, this camera is limited in its versatility.  

The GR might be a good choice for street photography and capturing the kids around the house, but it certainly isn't an all-around camera. Its closest competitor is the Fuji X100s, which is a pretty highly regarded camera, and probably a better camera than the GR. The Fuji camera costs significantly more, so it will be interesting to see if the price difference is equal to the quality difference. My guess is that, while the Fuji camera is better, the Ricoh camera will be a better value.

If you are in the market for a wide-angle fixed-lens compact camera that produces high-quality images, both cameras are excellent choices.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Photography Lessons From USA Network's The Moment

I really like USA Network's new show The Moment. In each episode someone is given a second chance at achieving their dream career.

The series premier featured an amateur photographer who dreamed of being a sports photographer. She was given two weeks of intense training and then was given an assignment by sports giant ESPN. If they liked her work, they were going to offer her a job.
Ball Defying Gravity - Hesperia, California
My one attempt at sports photography.
I made several observations about photography while watching this show. First, sports photography is really, really challenging. I knew this already, but it was a good reminder. It is more difficult to create a great photograph with a moving subject than a stationary subject. With professional sports, where everything moves so incredibly fast, the difficulty is increased even more so.

Second, photographic vision is key. If you don't have vision you don't have a great photograph. You have to know what you want to create prior to creating it. The person in the show who was attempting to become a sports photographer really lacked vision. She seemed to rely heavily on volume and luck. However, she had a moment of vision and made the photograph happen. That one photograph would change her life, because ESPN loved it and offered her a job.

Third, the Decisive Moment is also key. A fraction of a second can be the difference between a good image and an amazing image. You have to be ready. You have to anticipate.

Fourth, it is good to have good luck. One great photograph seen by the right person can change your life.

Monday, April 15, 2013

How To "Split-Filter" Black And White Photographs Using Paint.NET

Wrecked - Tehachapi, California
I posted yesterday about how to create vintage-looking color photographs using the free photo-editing software Paint.NET. Now I will show you how to make "split-filter" black-and-white images using this same program.

First, the split-filter technique comes from the days of the darkroom. Basically, you expose the photo paper twice, once with a low-contrast filter and once with a high-contrast filter. This way you retain details in the highlights and shadows while having a contrasty image.
Inside The Broken - Tehachapi, California
The digital technique to replicate this is simple, although, admittedly, not quite as good as actually doing this with film in the darkroom. If you use a software other than Paint.NET you may still be able to do this with similar steps. Lets get started.

First, open the image in Paint.NET. Make sure you have the "Layers" window open (click "Windows" at the top and then Layers). Click on "Adjustments" at the top and convert the image to black-and-white or (if you prefer) Sepia. I really like using "Sepia+" but that is a plug-in (you can find all sorts of free plug-ins with a Google search).
Toppled Car - Tehachapi, California
Now duplicate the layer (click "Layers" at the top and then Duplicate Layer, or click the Duplicate Layer icon in the Layers window, or CTRL+SHIFT+D). The new layer should be the top layer, and in this layer reduce the contrast by about five (click "Adjustments" at the top and then Brightness/Contrast, or CTRL+SHIFT+C). Next, change the Opacity of this layer to about 195 (click "Layers" at the top and then Layer Properties, or click the Layer Properties icon in the Layers window, or push F4).

Go to the bottom layer and increase the contrast by about 25. All of these adjustments will be a little different for each image, so season to taste.
Train Wheels - Tehachapi, California
The final step is to combine or flatten the layers (click "Image" at the top and then Flatten, or CTRL+SHIFT+F). If you need to make any other adjustments, this is the time. Be sure to save.

That's it! I told you this was simple.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

You Don't Need Photoshop

You don't need Photoshop. It's expensive. It's bulky. It takes a long time to learn. You simply don't need it.

There are free alternatives to Photoshop. My favorite is Paint.NET. With this software you can do layers and adjust curves. Find some free plugins and the possibilities are almost endless. 95% of photographers will find that Paint.NET can do everything that they need a photo editing software to do.
Roadway - Tehachapi, California
Post-processed using Paint.NET.
GIMP, another free photo editing software, is even more powerful than Paint.NET. Of the 5% that find they need more, 60% of those will discover that GIMP can do everything that they need.
Summer Mow - Tehachapi, California
Post-processed using GIMP.
In reality, only about 2% of photographers need Photoshop. Chances are you are in the 98% that don't.

Another free photo editing software that is surprisingly powerful is Picasa. It is not for everyone, but for those that just need something that is easy-to-use, this is it. I would bet that 50% of photographers would find that Picasa is all that they need.
Pathway To The Soul - Tehachapi, California
Post-processed using Picasa.
There are others, too, if you look around on the internet. And you can use them in combination, as well.

I believe there are two reasons that most photographers buy Photoshop instead of using these free programs. First, most don't know that free alternatives exist. It is mostly by word-of-mouth that Paint.NET and GIMP are discovered. Second, Photoshop and those that sell it have done a great marketing job, convincing people that they need it when they really don't.

How To Make Vintage Color Photographs Using Paint.NET

Train Wreck - Tehachapi, California
I was asked two questions after posting yesterday some images of a train derailment. First, why did I make the color photographs look old or vintage? Second, how did I do it?

There are two reasons that I decided to give the photographs a vintage look: the subject (in this case, railroad cars) looks good in vintage, and (more importantly) the majority of train cars were yellow, and in order to create color contrast with yellow the photographs needed some blue (these images have a blue hue in the shadows).
At - Tehachapi, California
The software I used to give these images a vintage look was Paint.NET, a free alternative to (the expensive) Photoshop. With a little tweaking this could be done with GIMP or Photoshop, too.

Open the image in Paint.NET. Make sure you have the Tools, Layers and Colors windows open (click on "Windows" at the top and select the appropriate window to open).
Yellow Freight Cars - Tehachapi, California
Duplicate the layer (click "Layers" at the top and select Duplicate Layer or click the duplicate layer icon in the Layers window or CTRL+SHIFT+D). Change the new layer, which should be the top layer, to Sepia (click "Adjustments" at the top and then Sepia or CTRL+SHIFT+E). Open the Layer Properties for this layer (click "Layers" at the top then Layer Properties or click the Layer Properties icon in the Layers window or simply push F4). Change the Opacity to about 120 (it can be a little different for each image, "season to taste").

Select the original layer, which should be the bottom layer. Add contrast (click "Adjustments" at the top then Brightness/Contrast or CTRL+SHIFT+C) by increasing the contrast slider to 10 to 20 ("season to taste"). Add color saturation (click "Adjustments" at the top then Hue/Saturation or CTRL+SHIFT+U) by increasing the saturation slider to about 125 (again, "season to taste"). You could adjust the Hue a couple spots right or left while you are here but that is optional and will depend on each image.

While still on the original layer, open the curves adjustment window (click "Adjustments" at the top then click Curves or CTRL+SHIFT+M). Click right underneath where it says "Transfer Map" and select RGB. By "unchecking" and "checking" the boxes at the bottom and moving the lines, adjust the Red, Green and Blue curves to something similar to what you see below (it doesn't have to be exact, and each image may need to be slightly different).
Now return to the top layer (the Sepia layer) and add a new layer (click "Layers" at the top and then Add New Layer or click the Add New Layer icon in the Layers window or CTRL+SHIFT+N). This new (blank) layer should now be the top layer.

Select a magenta color in the Color window (click More in the color window and select a magenta color on the color wheel or use FF00DC or something close to that). Select the Paint Bucket from the Tools window and click anywhere on the blank layer to color it. Go to the Layer Properties for this layer and set Opacity to about 10 (once again, "season to taste").
Southern - Tehachapi, California
The final step is to combine or flatten the layers (click "Image" at the top and then Flatten or CTRL+SHIFT+F). You can now make any additional adjustments to color, brightness, contrast, etc., that may be necessary (hopefully, you won't need to tweak anything at this point, but you might find something isn't perfect). Don't forget to save the image!

And that's it. Pretty simple, huh? Using the layers feature of Paint.NET you can do all sorts of interesting post-processing. I use it to replicate "split filtering" my black-and-white photographs. But that's a post for another day.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Train Derailment in Tehachapi, California

A Union Pacific freight train derailed in Tehachapi, California on Monday, April 8th, 2013. Some 18 empty train cars derailed, and a dozen or so ended up in the creek next to the tracks.

I took my Samsung NX210 out to the tracks and photographed the wreckage. Most of the photographs were converted to black and white because color wasn't important to those images. I gave the color images an "older" look because I thought it fit the theme well.
Wrecked - Tehachapi, California
Inside The Broken - Tehachapi, California
At - Tehachapi, California
Southern - Tehachapi, California
Jack Here - Tehachapi, California
Disconnected Coupler - Tehachapi, California
Train Wreck - Tehachapi, California
Wheel Set - Tehachapi, California
Toppled Car - Tehachapi, California
Yellow Freight Cars - Tehachapi, California
Train Wheels - Tehachapi, California

Friday, April 12, 2013

Ansel Adams Internment Camp Photographs

I have some books of Ansel Adams' photographs, and have seen some exhibits of his images. But I'd never seen this: Ansel Adams' Japanese-American internment camp photographs

Elizabeth VanderMeer has a great little piece at Photography Blogger. It is worth checking out. Another place to go is the Library of Congress website.

Ansel Adams wrote, "Out of the jostling, dusty confusion of the first bleak days in raw barracks they have modulated to a democratic internal society and a praiseworthy personal adjustment to conditions beyond their control. The huge vistas and stern realities of sun and wind and space symbolize the immensity and opportunity of America--perhaps a vital reassurance following the experiences of forced exodus."

By Ansel Adams via Library of Congress

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Artist Photographer

Pathway To The Soul - Tehachapi, California
Why are some photographs art and others are not? Pretty much everyone has a camera and pictures are being snapped everywhere all of the time. If you do a quick Google search of "Grand Canyon" and look under images, literally millions upon millions upon millions of photographs of the Grand Canyon are right at your fingertips. Which ones are art? Are they all art? Are none of them art?

There was a time that the art world rejected photography as a legitimate art form. Ansel Adams and others from his era did a fine job of changing that. But even to this day some within the art community do not believe photography is art. What accounts for this? I think, simply, most photographs are not art, and many photographers are not artists.
My Heart Or My Grave? - Tehachapi, California
There is a difference between the photographer and the artist photographer. It comes down to documenting vs. interpreting. The photographer is interested in documenting (freezing a moment in time) with their camera while the artist photographer is interested in interpreting (non-verbally speaking) with their camera. But it is actually deeper than that.

There is a misconception that a photograph is truthful. Certainly you have heard of "photographic evidence" and that "pictures never lie." But every picture lies, or at least isn't completely truthful. The photographer is biased, choosing how to compose the image (what to include and exclude) and what settings the camera should have. The camera and lens (and film, if applicable) are biased, too, with regard to color, contrast, hue, dynamic range, sharpness, etc., etc.
Wood Tear - Tehachapi, California
A photograph is a tiny moment in time that is taken out of context. As soon as it is captured, it is history--yet it is viewed in the present. Even documentary-style images are not true reality.

I think the reason for the misconception is that photographs look real. There is so much detail contained in an image, it looks like reality. And if it looks like reality, it must be reality, right? But it isn't.
Eye Sea Read - Tehachapi, California
The knowledge that photographs are not reality, but glimpses of obscured reality, is enlightening. Since you cannot capture reality, you have the freedom to make an image whatever you want it to be. You can create your own reality. The key word is create. That is when you go from being a photographer to being an artist photographer.

The artist photographer must have vision in order to be successful. Since there are no boundaries, the artist photographer is free to be creative. Whatever his or her imagination can dream up can be made into a photograph.
You Are What You Drink - Palmdale, California 
The photographer is limited by his or her camera and whatever is by chance in front of it. The artist photographer has the freedom to create, and the limitations are eliminated.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A Photographer's Journey, Update 3

Over the last two weeks I have been working on a personal project called A Photographer's Journey. Put most simply, it is me photographing me photographing (not a typo). But it is much more than that. It is introspective. It is challenging. It is a journey.

Someone asked what equipment I've been using for this project. Equipment isn't important, vision is. But since I was asked, so far, a Pentax K-30 DSLR and a Samsung NX210 compact interchangeable-lens have been the cameras of choice. I have also heavily relied on an old (and broken) tripod. I used a bathroom as a studio.

I have the entire project on Flickr. The best place to follow it and keep up-to-date is to go to my Flickr page and follow the set. 

Here are a couple of recent photographs:
Hiding Behind The Camera - Tehachapi, California
Captured Determination - Tehachapi, California