Photographing Butterflies as well as Dragonflies and Damselflies
Butterflies are a hallmark of summer. They provide color and a bit of drama and spirit to the season. Their arrival encourages me to pick up the camera and see if I can capture a little bit of one of those things that makes summer wonderful.
I am always keeping a lookout for where the butterflies and dragonflies can be found,. Butterflies like certain types of flowers, dragonflies are always where other flying bugs can be found, often along the water, and both prefer to be in the sun. I will note locations where they seem to be present so I can return with my camera. I have three approaches to trying to get those perfect pictures.
Get Close: My preferred method is to use a macro lens and get in close; I try to get within a few feet or less! The challenge is that neither butterflies nor dragonflies are very helpful in allowing me to do this. Both are skittish and frankly can be hard to get close to. And since I find it is difficult in photograph them while in flight I look to find them at rest.
I like to shoot early in the morning – the cooler it is the less active they will be allowing the opportunity to get in a little closer. As the day warms both butterflies and dragonflies go into hyper drive and approaching them can be very difficult. When approaching I move very slow, and I do not allow the sun to cast a shadow across the insects as I move which can cause them to take flight. I position my camera typically by slowly out stretching my arms and watching the monitor on the back of the camera in anticipation of the shot. I will often set the camera to continuous exposure so as long as the shutter is pressed pictures are being taken – this gives me more photos to pick from and raises the odds I will get a good shot before they take flight. This does require that I rely on the camera for autofocus, which for close-up work can be a bit hit and miss.
And I try to remember to not wear a bright shirt (white, red, yellow); dark or muted colors seem to get less notice as I slowly approach the resting insects.
Go Long: If I can’t get in close, either because of the location or the butterflies are just not cooperating I turn to shooting long and go with a long zoom or telephoto and try and focus in on them from afar. A 300mm is the minimum focal length that works since butterflies are pretty small, but the bigger the better. For me shooting long is harder to do and results in fewer good photos but any photos are better then not getting anything. Ideally I would use a tripod unless the light is very good but frankly, I hate hassling with a tripod, which really hinders my mobility which is needed chasing the butterflies.
Visit a Butterfly Garden: And if nothing is working: you are just not finding any cooperative butterflies to photograph or your photos are not meeting you expectations, go to a butterfly garden. Here you will have lots to photograph but better yet, it will help you practice working around butterflies so next time you are out in the garden you will be well prepared to get those great photographs. Some of the photos in my collection were taken at the butterfly garden at Seattle Center.
In Puget Sound there are two places to see and photograph lots of Chihuly’s work, the Chihuly Bridge of Glass and Museum of Glass in Tacoma, and the Garden and Glass in Seattle.
Chihuly’s Garden and Glass is located on the north end of downtown Seattle in the heart of Seattle Center, it sits as the base of the Space Needle and includes the Glasshouse which features eight separate displace spaces, the outdoor Garden, a Theater, the Collections Café, and of course a bookstore and gift shop, and all are must sees. The Collections Café features good food as well as some of Chihuly’s odd collections of many things and some of his art which is all well worth seeing. If you do plan to eat at the Café you should make reservations, it is small and can be busy. Here is the website.
Do be aware that hours and admission costs for the Garden and Glass vary depending on the time of year and it can be closed for special occasions, so before you go check their website, so you won’t be disappointed when you arrive. For photography some key things to know:
• There are no tripods, no monopods, and no use of flash allowed.
• There are restrictions on the reuse of your images so check their FAQ website here for information.
Not being able to use a flash and tripod/monopod will require you to think carefully about your photography since the indoor display areas are very dark (black walls, floors and ceiling) except for the very direct lighting on the actual exhibits. So, expect to use higher ISO and slower shutter speeds as well as larger apertures while handholding your shots (or use the shoulder of a very cooperative friend!). All of the indoor photos featured in the my Chihuly collection were taken at 1/30 second or slower at larger apertures, (F2.8 – f5.6) and at ISOs as high as 3200. You will need a wide-angle lens, a 24mm if you shoot full frame or 16mm for APS shooters. But if you have something wider you will find it useful: some of the display areas and exhibit layouts require a wide view. Outside in the Garden, at night there is little light; long handheld exposures and high ISO are again required.
There is no parking at the Garden and Glass, but there are a lot of places around Seattle Center to park. Check the Seattle Center parking website for more information. You have lots of options depending on how much you want to pay and how far you want to walk. However there are always a lot of activities happening at the Center that can effect parking availability, so plan ahead and check the Center’s events website here. The very best, but expensive option for parking is to use the valet parking at the Space Needle, it literally puts you just feet from the front door of Garden and Glass, but it is only available when the Space Needle restaurant is open so check the Space Needle directions website. A fun alternative, which provides lots more photo opportunities, is to park in downtown Seattle and ride the monorail to Seattle Center.
If you go midweek in the morning you can be there when the crowds are smaller. Otherwise getting clean shots of some of the large exhibits is next to impossible. Or just wait for the tourist season to pass and go in February! The outdoor Garden is actually best viewed both during the day and at night for the lighting, so find an excuse to visit twice!
Since you have read this far, thank you and here is a little secret: Once a year the Garden and Glass features a Through the Lens tour where you and only 20 other photographers have free run of the facility and garden for a full 2 hours for photography. No one else is allowed in and you can even use your tripod! This is a really wonderful opportunity. The yearly dates vary so you need to sign up for their newsletter at their website to be notified.
I will be posting information about visiting the Chihuly Bridge of Glass and Museum of Glass in Tacoma later.
Posting Your Own Photography Website
Wow, three years and counting! Hard to believe but June, 2017, marks the three year anniversary of this website. And three years ago, when this all started, I really didn’t know what I was getting into. I mean, how hard could a website be? I thought it might be fun and I was hopeful two things would happen: First, that by making my photography more public it might compel me to put more thought and effort into what I did. And second, I thought it would be nice to have a forum to share my work and hopefully get some feedback. Did it work? Read on.
In pursuing these hopes I have come to understand the realities, both expected and surprising, of hosting a website: First, there is an obvious, although not unexpected, financial cost to keeping a site up and running which requires funding for both hosting services and to keep the URL registered. A second subtler, and somewhat unexpected but more significant cost is time: Aside from the obvious time needed to first design your website (do not underestimate this!) and then prepare and post photos there is also the regular, and sometimes substantial time needed to get out there and actually take pictures! Combined I have discovered the effort to keep a website up that I am proud to point people to can at times be a bit daunting.
Before the website, my approach to photography was probably best characterized as opportunistic, I would take pictures when opportunities presented themselves; on trips, at events, or when I felt like digging out the camera. Now, with the need to provide regular new content every four weeks, I find that I need to create photography opportunities and then find the time to make them happen. And while this is actually pretty great since it provides the drive and enthusiasm I need to stay actively engaged in photography I am still learning to manage the time needed.
So, If you are thinking about developing, posting, and supporting a photography website here is a few things that I have learned over the last 3 years which you may find helpful:
• Supporting a website with regular fresh content requires a good system for managing your images and related files; how you save and label your files and how you back them up is important. There is tons of advice on file naming and organization on the web, the vast majority of which seems overly complex and way too much work. Find something that works for you and keep it simple or you will never do it.
• There are a lot of website hosting companies out there, all offering different design options, upgrades, cost models, and protection of your images. I have found that my site functionality is constrained by some of my first decisions I made on hosting and design, so do your homework, find a site that you really like and pick a host that will give you the options to build a similar site. Email the hosts with your questions before you commit. Be aware that some hosts have use rights to the images you post to your website – do your research.
• Changing your site design or theme once you have a fairly mature site which contains lots of your uploaded content is a lot of work, regardless of how easy the hosting services make is sound. Again, be thoughtful on where you start so you avoid a potentially enormous amount of time trying to change things later.
• Make sure you use a hosting services that provides a mobile friendly version of your website - nearly half of all web access today is done from a pad or phone and that percent will continue to increase. Be aware some hosts may change extra for this or require an app download by users.
• If you have dreams of making money from your photos know that the capabilities, costs, and services that a website host provides to support selling photos varies widely across hosting services. Consider your needs and options carefully, order fulfillment can be a lot of work, understand how the host supports this, also understand how you go about pricing your work and what cut the host takes. I currently do not sell photos from my site but have chosen a host and site design that can hopefully easily accommodate doing so if I choose to do so in the future. Also be aware if you are going to sell photos you need to be very aware of the photo quality and resolution of posted work depending how large of prints you want to sell.
• And don’t forget that your website is of little value if no one knows it exists or can find it. With websites the old saying “build it and they will come” does not apply! If you want visitors you will need to spend time promoting it. Talk to someone who understands social media and web search engines if you do not and then figure out what tools you are comfortable using and how to use them. And don’t forget to make some cool old school business cards to give people when you talk with them about your site.
Although providing my website, has proven to be a bit more work and more time consuming then anticipated, both of the things that I hoped would happen have:
• After 3 years I have come to love sharing my work. I have developed a small but loyal following, which provides input that is both helpful and humbling. I have not gone viral my any means but it is satisfying that people look forward to my posts and over time I have learned a lot about the types of photography people react to and why.
• And both my approach to photography and the photographs I take have improved, I feel noticeability. I put more time, thought and effort into what I do, I do more of it, and I really enjoy doing it, which, ultimately, justifies the efforts related to the website.
I would encourage anyone who is serious about their photography to develop a website to encourage and showcase their work.
Taking Photographs from a Plane
Two years ago my very first Blog post on this website was about taking photographs from planes. With the posting of a new gallery of photos I have taken the opportunity to update that post.
My gallery The View from Above contains some of my favorite pictures taken while sitting on a plane over the last 2 years. Shooting photos from a plane comes with a lot of potential challenges of which only some you have control of.
First start my making sure you have a window seat that is not blocked by the wing. This requires seating far forward in the plane or all the way in the back (you first class flier have no worries!) Plane windows are actually two separate windows one on the inside and then the actual exterior window. They are often dirty, foggy, scratched, distorted, and even yellow from age making clear sharp pictures often difficult.
So here are my suggestions on some things I have found that help better my odds at getting some useable photos:
• Hope for clear weather, flying though the clouds means no photos.
• Plan ahead and sit on the side of the plane that offers the most likely views of interest - easier said then done since you seldom know what direction you will be taking off or landing from. But based on your general flight path, its worth making a guess. As example, if I am flying from Seattle to Phoenix based on a straight line flight path the Grand Canyon will probably be on the right side of the plane so that is where I will book my seat if I hope to get a few photos of the Canyon – such assumptions are never infallible but can provide some good guidance.
• Don’t sit on the sunny side of the plane, the sun glare on the windows can make taking photos next to impossible – so as an example, if you are flying east during the day, sit on the left (north) side of the plane since the sun will be in the south. If however you are hoping to capture some sunrise or sunset pictures ignore this and hope for a clean, clear window.
• Bring something to clean the window: The small cloths for cleaning eyeglasses work great.
• Plan on using a small camera. Plane seats are tight and the windows are often right at your shoulder or slightly blocked by the seat ahead of you – a small camera is much easier to manage in these tight spaces – a DSLR with a zoom lens can be very challenging.
• Use manual focus – scratches on the plane windows can cause a camera’s auto focus system to try and focus on the window and not the view; just set the focus to infinity.
• Shoot at a larger aperture – if you can adjust the exposure on your camera use your larger apertures like, 2.8, 3.5, etc., this will reduce the focus depth of field and help to minimize the chance of the scratches in the window showing up in the photo.
• Shoot from the center of the window – the closer you get the camera to the windows edge the more distortion you will notice since you are actually shooting through the two separate layers of window.
Night shots can be particularly challenging since cabin lights and reading lights cast a lot of reflections and glare on the inner window. I try to shade the window with my body (hint: wear a black or dark shirt) or you can use a rubber lens hood that can be gently pressed up to the window. Remember the plane is moving fast so slow shutter speeds will guarantee blurred photos so set the ISO high or use the camera’s night/candle light shooting mode– a slightly grainy picture is always better then no picture!
And after I get a keeper shot I typically need to spend some time with postproduction adjustments, which can include contrast, sharpness, brightness and even boosting the color. Planes can fly as high as 40,000 feet which means if you are shooting the ground you are shooting though a lot of atmosphere so pictures can have a lot of haze and can be overly blue from the atmospheric effects and also be dull, flat, and soft from the window. I find that some photographs require pretty aggressive adjustment more then I would typically use with my other photography.
Next time you are flying keep your camera ready and your eye on what is passing below.
Looking for mushrooms has become a bit of an annual tradition for me, when fall comes I head out into the forest to see what I can find.
For photography I find that light is typically my biggest challenge. Even on the sunniest days being deep in a heavily canopied forest, where typically the most mushrooms are, it is usually pretty dark. So, I relay on relatively high ISO and slow shutter speeds. I typically shoot at 1600 to 3200 ISO and it is a rare if I shoot faster then 1/60 of a second and many exposures are much slower, 1/5 of a second is not uncommon so a fast lens helps. A macro lens is also helpful, I most often use a 50mm f2.8 macro attached to a APS sensor camera providing a full frame equivalent focal length of 75mm. I have come to appreciate this focal length as a good compromise between depth of field and angle of view.
Currently I shot almost exclusively with natural light since flash or continuous (LED) lighting seems to produces an unnatural look that I am not real drawn to. Also, I seldom use a tripod since it is difficult to manage in heavy underbrush and it complicates my frequent very low-level shots. To compensate for the slow shutter speeds I will set the camera on the ground or my camera bag depending on the angle I am working with. Under such conditions a camera with a articulating back screen is a must. With the macro the front of the lens is often only inches from the subject so I do not use a lens hood and the depth-of-field is very shallow therefore high f-stops (f8 and above) are typically needed to get any good focus depth, which again results in very slow shutters speeds.. I typically shoot using aperture preferred mode with spot metering, manual focus, and white balance set for shade. I don’t use a cable or remote shutter release since I am usually holding the camera, so I practice very careful shutter release, which at times is a bit hit and miss.
Many mushrooms appear and disappear in just a few days but others can linger for weeks. So, I make several trips into the woods so I don’t miss anything. The look and size of many mushrooms typically changes over time, sometimes dramatically and quickly, which can provide different photo opportunities with the same mushrooms. Here in western Washington mushrooms do appear spring, summer, and fall (and occasionally in winter) but they are far more abundant in the fall once the weather cools and the rains start to fall.
Many mushrooms are small, some incredibly small, so finding and photographing them means getting down on hands and knees to look around – I get plenty dirty and often wet mushroom hunting. Also I don’t forget to look up - some mushrooms actually grow on trees! And be forewarned some mushrooms stink, like really-really bad!
Now that I have done this for a several years I have learned to be patient, take my time, and be observant; once I am dialed into seeing the mushrooms (some are very camouflaged and very easy to overlook) I am often amazed at how many can be found
Naturally Black & White – 2017 Photography Calendar
Another year, and another Photography Calendar. This year I chose a black and white theme centered around nature, and, no surprise, I had a few people that were a bit concerned that I could make it work, but I am very happy with how it came out and the comments are in and the skeptics have been converted! It’s a big beautiful calendar, each photo is 10x13 inches, and the paper is heavy and has a very nice semi gloss finish with crystal clear print quality.
Like in previous years I sent the calendar to Apple Computer for printing which like many publishing companies out there offer printing services for calendars, photo books and the like using your photography. Their service is available if you have a Mac computer and you have either their the older iPhoto or the current Photos applications. Both applications are free and included with a Mac or can be downloaded. Which one is initially installed on a computer is dependent on the version of OS on that computer: Although Photos is the newer of the two applications, both seem to work pretty much the same for publishing based on my experience.
One of the things I like about Apple’s publication process is that you are able to work off-line to create the calendar only needing to go online to download the final design for publication. I find that this makes trying different layout options and placing different photos and formats quick and easy and it does not require your photos to be downloaded to their website for use at any time: When you are done with the calendar design the program creates a high resolution PDF which is what is sent to Apple for printing and which you can review prior to sending.
If you are going to use a online publishing service make sure you understand how the company may or can use your photos if they require them to be downloaded. And although I do like Apple’s approach I do think that the biggest draw backs to their service is that they are more limited with their layout design templates and text options compared to some others and you need to have a Apple computer.
If you want to publish it does help to look around since there are many companies out there which offer similar printing services. So far I have found that the layout and color options offered by Apple’s service have allowed me to achieve the simple, elegant and professional final look I was after for the calendars. And their prices seems competitive when you compare calendar size, paper and printing quality and shipping: Their print and paper quality are exceptional. And as an added bonus they deliver each calendar in a nice portfolio, which is very worthy of gift giving.
Do you really need all that camera equipment?
As mentioned in one of my previous Photo Blog posts I have been giving some thought about what camera equipment I really need. So, as I was packing for my trip to San Antonio recently I realized that I might not have any time for photography, but I knew I needed a camera just in case – something I could tuck into my coat pocket on the off chance I could get out to use it and if so, one that would provide good images.
So, I settled for a Sony a5000, a simple very small interchangeable lens APS sensor camera to which I added a pancake lens - the Sony 20mm f2.8 (which provides a effective/full frame 30mm perspective). Combined they make a very small and light package – but being an entry level camera it comes with a lot of caveats:
• It has few features with very limited ability to customize the controls and functions.
• Neither the lens or camera have image stabilization
• The camera has limited low light (high ISO) functionality
• There is no viewfinder and the camera has limited articulation of the lcd back panel
• And the effective 30mm lens is just that 30mm - period. Kind of a crappy focal length; not really wide enough for wide angle work, and not nearly long enough for just about everything else.
On the positive side:
• No need for a camera bag! Didn’t even take a case.
• Few controls, limited customization, and no zoom means very little fooling with the camera when taking pictures.
• The camera has full easy to use manual control and is small and light and it’s easily pocketed so when out with others it is unobtrusive.
• It’s got a APS sensor, and at 20mp, it is not a terrible compromise and it opens the door for some cropping to compensate for the limited focal length of the lens. As for that lens; on the positive side it is a pretty strong performer for a pancake design, it focuses really close, and has great depth-of-field.
So, why this choice? I didn’t want to pack a bunch of gear I might not use, and if I had any opportunity to take photos I would probably be out with non-photographers and I did not want the camera to be conspicuous and become a distraction – it needed to be very pocketable but I wanted an APS sensor for image quality. And I figured that if I did get a chance to take some photos it would force me to get back to basics, take them quickly, and accept that my photographs were going to be about what I saw and not so much about the equipment to take them.
And as it turned out I did have some opportunities to take photos; evenings after dark when we headed out for dinner, and in the morning. The opportunities were rushed and not conducive to lots of contemplation about what to shoot – I was forced to act quickly and decisively if I saw a photo. As a result some observations:
• Did I need a different/better/more capable camera? No, there were more then enough photography opportunities to take advantage of with the camera I had and it worked just fine once I accepted it limitations.
• Would I have liked to have a different/better/more capable camera? Of course; there were times that I told myself if only I had XYZ then I could have gotten a great shot, but I never regretted missing them, there was plenty of stuff to shoot with the camera I had.
• Am I disappointed in my decision – absolutely not! I had fun, I looked for photos that worked and it forced me to be more creative and more observant. And I really like the photos that I captured, they came out fine – I achieved what I set out to do which was to tell a story of a touristy place that has a rich historical and cultural backdrop. The only thing I am disappointed in is that I did not have more time to take pictures.
• Could I have taken better photos with other gear? Maybe, maybe not, I had very limited time and having more gear may have just slowed me down and I would have covered less ground and got fewer photographs.
Overall I am very happy with the photographs I took, I enjoyed being decisive about what I wanted to photograph without the need to give much thought to the camera or lens and since you are probably wondering, yes, I will absolutely do it again.
So, give it a try, go simple, its actually kind of of fun, but be warned, if you approach this with an open mind it might force you to question why you own so much gear!
For me Northwest forest photography is about finding the details that define the place so I spend a lot of time out walking among the trees. When I go I assume I will get wet and I typically take:
• A macro lens; From a angle-of-view perspective I prefer a 50mm. But it often means getting down and dirty to get the shot.• The new “normal zoom” the indispensible 24-70mm.
• And usually a longer zoom lens, one that covers up to 300mm (although I very seldom find a need for it and often leave it behind).
• And depending on where I am going I will occasionally take an ultra wide angle typically 16mm.
• An LED ring light for the macro – but I virtually never use it. I have not yet warmed to the look of artificially lit macro shots.
• A few spare camera batteries.
• A well worn and comfortable pair of boots, rain/cold weather gear (as appropriate), something to munch on and drink (typically not whiskey although there were times it would have helped!), a phone and ideally a friend – but we all know how difficult it can be to find someone who is willing to aimlessly wander around with you for a day while you take photos! Alternatively I let someone know where I am going and when I will return.
If I am going into more remote off trail areas I also take a backpack well stocked with survival gear – always good to be prepared – just make sure you know how to use it.
What I don’t take:
• A tripod (gasp!) – I don’t like dealing with it and frankly I rarely wish I had it. However, light can be sparse deep in the trees, so expect using large apertures, high ISO and creative camera support (knee, camera bag, stump, etc.)
• A spare/backup camera – there is really nothing I feel I am going to miss shooting that I will lose sleep over – at least it hasn’t happened yet. If I have a camera problem I just view it as an excuse to go out again! However, before I head out I always confirm everything is in working order.
So when I am out I like to find photos that cover three visual perspectives:
• Up close/macro – the detail shots, there are tons of these to be had.
• Human scale – what we see and relate to from our own normal perspective of the world.
• The big view – the wide shots, those environmental views, in a dense forest these can be a bit of a challenge to pull off.
I find that a collection of photos, which covers all three of these zones, helps tell a compelling story of a place. Content wise I am always looking for unique views, interesting contrast, and fresh angles, and I am always looking at the light. I don’t always find a lot of good stuff to photograph but I am always on the hunt and I always come back with at least a few photographs I am glad I took.
Visiting and Photographing Yellowstone
Visiting Yellowstone comes with its challenges, and to get the most out of a visit takes some planning. First; go early in the season or late – May or October. Both times will help you avoid the crushing crowds but be aware that in May and October the snow may fly so be prepared and know that some roads, campgrounds, lodges, and restaurants will be closed. Once there get out early in the day, and stay out late - often these are the best hours to see wildlife and the cooler temps result in lots of steam coming off the formations – great for photos.
The earlier you book your stay the more options you will have for lodging, if you wait until the last minute expect to find only the highest price options available, if at all. The campgrounds fill quickly, so plan way ahead if that is your deal.
Take a long lens (at least 300mm), a substantial wide angle (24mm or wider), a macro, lots of spare batteries and inquire locally about road and trail conditions and most importantly: be prepared to walk and hike a lot – the more you do the more the park will present itself to you and the more you will have the park to yourself. Remember this is very active bear county, both black bear and grizzly, so study up on the needed precautions and again check with the rangers about trail closures and sightings.
Stay at least four days, take thousands of photos (unless you are doing film!), and start planning your return trip because once you are there you are going too realize you need more time to see everything.
While you are there take the time to head south and see the Teton Mountains and Jackson, Wyoming, both are worthy photography destinations on their own. And if you have time drive the road from Bozeman to West Yellowstone (Highway 191) it is very scenic particularly if the weather cooperates and the mountains in the Gallatin Range are visible – and you can fly fish the Gallatin River, where some of the movie The River Runs Through It was filmed! If you fly fish like me, this is a must!
For a very special visit, go to Yellowstone in February, ride the snow cat into Old Faithful from West Yellowstone, stay several days and experience a winter wonderland – but brace for the cold, it was 42F below when we were there! (Their record low was 68F below – which is like seriously cold).
What camera should you take along?
As I was packing for DC and thinking about what photography opportunities I would have and what camera I should take I was reminded of a discussion I had some years back with a fellow photographer, Walt, who has been taking photographs way longer then me. Walt has had a long and successful career in photography, which started with working for newspapers and ended with a gig teaching at a photography school. And in between he did architectural work, weddings, product photography, model shoots, travel photography and much more.
I had mentioned to Walt that when I travel, particularly to big cities on busy schedules, I like to keep it simple. So, often I take no camera bag, no DSLR, no extra lenses to change, no flashes to adjust, and no tripod: Just a small camera, tucked away in a pocket, quick to get to and easy to use. Walt needless to say was, well, a bit appalled – he felt strongly that “if you are serious about photography you need to act like a photographer” and carry all of the appropriate equipment and, in his case, that meant wearing the ever present photographers vest, the pockets full of all things photography.
In his mind being prepared as a professional photographer was necessary because he felt that it opened doors that allowed him to get the shots that otherwise would not be possible. And if he had failed to get those potentially great shots he might regret what he may have missed. Given his past professional career, the era of that career, and the approach to photography that he developed I am absolutely sure that his perspective was right for him. However, I am not comfortable in that role because I think times and attitudes about photography and photographers have changed and my photography motivation is not nearly as ambitious as Walt’s.
Which gets to the heart of deciding what camera to take along. It is often said; “The best camera is the one you have with you”. I would argue that this should be viewed a little differently so read on.
Like me, I am sure you know plenty of people who own serious photography gear but, at times, travel with nothing more then their phone. This is understandable to some degree, phones are easy and convenient to use, new ones can take great photos, and they make sharing photographs effortless, which is, after all, pretty much why everyone take photos today. Compared to any camera (DSLR, mirror less, or even point and shoot) the convenience of using the phone’s camera is obvious and, unlike a “real” camera, you pretty much have to bring your phone with you anyway so it is always available.
So, what camera should you take? I think the answer lies in the response to two questions when you are ready to head out: What are your photography objectives? and What camera do you really need to achieve them? And if you default to something simple, maybe even your phone that’s fine – if on the other hand you think that without a real camera you will not be satisfied and wonder about the photos you could have captured and worry that you will end up saying to yourself “I am going to have to come back here with a better camera”, then take the camera that you will be happy with.
Bottom line: Decide what your photography objectives are before you leave and chose the camera to fulfill them. I am all about great cameras, glass, and all the associated accessories. But I also know that someone who has been weaned on Instagram and Snapchat and just wants to post about their trip is unlikely to consider a “real” camera, any camera, more desirable then their phone. Find the tool that supports your unique needs for photography and just do it well.
As it turned out I decided to take a point and shoot to DC, (a Sony RX100) and am very happy with the photographs I got; it was always with me, in my pocket and out of the way and ready to use. I may not yet be ready to surrender photography to my phone, but perhaps I will give it a try at some point.
I go about creating black & white photographs three ways: The most fundamental is to shot film, old school for sure, but the process provides final images which, for me, seem very authentic and the whole process can be kind of fun. But shooting film and developing the negatives and either printing and developing darkroom prints or scanning the negatives to produce digital prints does take a lot of time, equipment, and knowledge and some of the steps in the process are not forgiving.
So a more preferred, and easier, option is to simply set my digital camera to shoot monochrome images directly, most cameras offer this option. Some also offer other options, such as high contrast or replication of different film types, which can be fun to experiment with. And the third option is to take color digital images and using post processing convert them to black & white by simply removing the color. But the results can be disappointing so I often turn to more robust conversion software, which offers more sophisticated conversion options.
But my preference is still to take black & white images directly; it helps me better understand the core fundamentals of photography – lighting and composition. So, I do go out and frequently shoot digital black & white, and I still occasionally shot and process film (Kodak Tri-X, medium format) just so I don’t forget how much work and frustration (and reward) it provides!
If you have not yet seriously tried monochrome photography, one way to get started is to simply convert some of your existing photos to black & white via post and see what you have. If they don’t look all that great start thinking about how they could have been shot differently to make them stronger images – I look critically at the lighting and the composition and how colors look and interplay with each other when converted.
One of the benefits of shooting with black and white is that it is more forgiving when dealing with poor light quality – be it light with colorcasts or harsh mid-day sun. As long as you keep an eye on composition and the shadows good black and white photos can be taken under many difficult lighting conditions.
I also often experiment with images by making adjustments such as brightness and contrast and doing some dodging and burning. – but there is only so much you can do to salvage a weak image with processing efforts. However, over time this has helped me learn how to more effectively evaluate an image, which in turn helps me to better envision how a scene will look in black & white before I press the shutter - that mystical ability to see in black & white. Am I there, not quite, but some day….
Cold Weather Shooting
The photos in my Frosty portfolio where shot over two days, early in the morning when temperatures ranged in the mid teens Fahrenheit. Although cold, at least for areas along the Puget Sound, I find these types of temperatures are not likely cold enough to generally cause any real problems with most digital camera gear. Generally camera companies say their cameras are designed to operate down to freezing (32 degrees F) but in practice most will work fine into the teens. And some “ruggedized” and professional cameras are often rated as freeze proof which typically means they will work down to at least 0 F. So, if the temps drop into the teens your camera is probably going to be OK. However, I carry lots of spare batteries (cold temps shortens their life) and keep them warm in a deep pocket. Also, I do not try to keep the camera warm. I have found that as I pull it in and out of my coat, the lens repeatedly fogs up, which I find irritating. I have not had any problems leaving the camera out in the freezing temps.
I have however been in much colder temperatures, my record -42 Fahrenheit, which was cold! Happened in Yellowstone in February, and I have been in several situations when the temps have been in the -30s high in the Colorado Rockies in the winter. These low temps have significant impact on camera gear. Basically I have had my camera literally freeze up (nothing works) along with the lens barrel (no focus, no zoom). In addition the batteries quit working.
I have approached dealing with these problems two ways, first, I have kept the camera inside my coat, pull it out to shoot and back it goes. Workable, but, as mentioned above, condensation can be a problem, if it is on the lens you need to wait for it to clear – and I have actually had the condensation freeze and leave a thin coat of ice on the front of the lens – which is a pain but it can lead to some interesting photo effects! My second preferred tact is to place a few chemical hand warmers, in the bottom of the camera bag to keep everything inside just a bit warmer, seems to help and condensation seems to be less of a problem with this approach. And as noted above I bring lots of batteries and keep them warm. Also, go on line and read up about how to warm up the camera when you return to a warm car or house by using a bag, removing the memory card, etc. to avoid condensation problems inside the camera itself.
When the temps drop below zero expect the controls on the camera; the buttons, switches, and nobs to be stiff and less responsive, and expect the LCD screen and electronic viewfinder (if you have one) to be slow to react, and don’t be surprised if you are lucky to get even a 100 photos from a fully charged battery. Lens focusing will become slow and more difficult as will zooming. And, if you choose to change lens while standing in the cold do not be surprised if the sensor in the camera frosts over, which will pretty much put you out of business until it thaws out.
If you go out into the cold temps, remember at below zero frostbite can come on quickly and hypothermia can set in without warning. Dress warm, fuel up, and don’t go alone. On one trip in Colorado my climbing partner suffered frostbite on many of her toes, it was incredibly painful and continues to impact the temperature sensitivity of her toes today, years later.
Bill Legg Photography - Website & Images Copyright 2014-2017