Back Home from Namibia

Well, it has been about 15 days since I have returned from a killer landscape workshop that I led in Namibia. While I was gone, lots of things changed in my photo world. While it is always fun to return to Seattle and discover what little things changed, but man, change was everywhere around me upon my return. The big changes included:

1.  Nik Software is now available for $149.00 for the entire suite. Normally HDR or Viveza would cost this much alone. I use Nik products in just about every image that I process. I would suggest that you get it now, as we have no idea what Google will do with the product line.  You can get this software here.

2.  Nikon released a new, and much needed, 80-400mm Zoom. Still at an f-stop of 4.5-5.6, it sports a much faster focusing system, and Nano-crystal lens coating, making this a great safari lens for those that can’t justify the much more expensive 200-400mm.

3.  Nikon released the D7100, which returns another full stop or two more sensitive than the D7000.  Built as a pro-consumer body, this is a great camera for those interested in a 1.5 crop sensor.

4.  Posterious died with short notice. Posterious, the posting service that I used to post to my blog from the bush, was absorbed by Twitter about a year ago.  With 5 days notice, they folded their doors and left me searching for alternatives to support live blogging from the bush while I’m out on safari.

5.  The Hasselblad H5D series is now shipping to the US. After tons of trouble with the H4D series, this new release is the one that I have been waiting for. Better lens / body connections, new menu systems and weather-proofing make this a solid medium format camera that will last well into the future. I cant wait to get my hands on one.

6.  Last and certainly the least, is the big Adobe announcement for LR5. If the past trend of releases continues to be true, we might see a LR5 release by the end of June or July.  Looking at the LR5 Beta, the big improvements include:

  • Very powerful advance healing bush that allows for non-circular click and drag corrections
  • New Radial Filter for off-center vignetting and elliptical local adjustments
  • Upright in the Lens Corrections to automatically straighten photos and fix perspective
  • Smart Previews supporting off-line editing of photos
  • Grid and guide overlays for library, develop, and tethered captured
  • PNG file support
  • True fullscreen mode
  • Page numbering and layout saving in the Book Module
  • Videos can be included in slideshows
  • Windows HiDPI support
  • New smart collections criteria

I hope to release the final details on the Mountain Gorilla and Massai Mara safari (scheduled for early March), a June trip to Botswana, and Iceland in August, just as soon as I possibly can. If you are on my mailing list, you will receive advance notice of these safaris before they are posted on the web. As usual, space will be limited across all safaris, so start thinking about your desires.

I’ll post a few notes from Namibia before I depart for Tanzania again on the 12th of May, including Martini Madness. Meanwhile, I’m on the road heading to Atlanta to see my youngest daughter graduate with her second Masters. Rumor has it that she will soon be employed with a top notch consulting company in Washington DC.

Cheers and happy photo’ing

Cheetahs On The Edge

Folks often ask me is what my most favorite animal in Africa to photograph. I must share with you that this is a difficult question to answer, as focusing on just one animal is just plan hard given all that we see while on safari. It usually comes down to a choice between the elephants and the cheetahs. Both can pose photographic challenges when trying to obtain ‘The Shot’. Both have a strong sense of family however, I think the cheetahs win out due to their speed and how hard they have to work to survive. A mother can have a litter of up to 6 cubs however, only three (or less) of the 6 will normally make it to maturity. There is something special about an animal that can accelerate from 0 to 62 mph in less than 3 second and sustain a 75 mph burst for up to 1600 feet. Talk about Top (Gun) Cat. Sadly, wildlife experts estimate that less than 12,000 cheetahs remain in the wild today. Sit back and enjoy the video clip below as a film crew caught the cats in action. Using a special high speed camera (Phantom) capable of capturing images at 1200 frames per second, the National Geographic guys captured three of the cats at the Cincinnati Zoo over the course of 3 days.

Cheers and happy photo’ing

Lightroom 4 – about time

I can tell you that I have been a long time user of Lightroom (LR) 3 since it was first released.  Now, we have a seriously improved and massively updated version to play with.  For me this will re-define my workflow from start to finish.  The expanded brush controls are reason enough to jump into the new version.  As if this was not enough, the publishing module AND the price caused me to pause only about 5 milliseconds before I ordered my two copies.

This version is updated across all of the LR3 modules and I would strongly encourage you to spend some time across the ADOBE training sites for highlights of the new program.  Take the jump if these improvements are for you.

Once I return from Africa, I’ll do a fast update on how I used LR4 while on safari as well as a summary of the more serious improvements.

Cheers and happy Lightroom’ing

Me and the D800

Well folks, the long awaited and source of many rumors, the D800 is finally out.  Available with and without the anti-aliasing filter; consumers should start to see these cameras late March or April, depending upon who you are listening to.  No doubt in my mind that this camera, along with the D4 will be a game changer for Nikon, it is not for me.  While the 36 mega-pixel is of some interest to me, let me summarize what is going through my mind in regards to this camera and why I am not going to jump on the bandwagon – at least for a while.

  • I already own a D3x, and at 24.5 mega pixels (mp), and jumping to 36mp is not that much more of a jump when everything is considered.
  • From everything I have read and the photos that I have looked at, it appears to me that the low ISO is no better than the D700 (already own one of those) or the D3.
  • With my current Nikon kit being made up of D3x, D3s, D700, D300, I have been able to standardize on cards, batteries and chargers.  When comparing the D3x and D3s, the menus and controls are nearly identical, thus less mental hoops for my old brain when shooting in the heat of the action.  Furthermore, when on safari, standardization means less equipment to bring (weight can be a challenge), and less equipment involved in creating redundant systems.

For those wanting to grab one, Nikon Rumors reports that production is in full swing.  Referencing a new release from the Malaysia International News Agency, Berma.com, production from the Sendai facility is set to produce 30,000 D800 and 5,000 D4 bodies per month.  This is great news for everyone that has been waiting in the wings for several years for the next generation Nikon.

One question that lingers in my mind:  Will the increase in mega pixels drive the medium format (Hasselblad and Phase One) prices down a bit?

Just my thoughts on the matter…….

Cheers and happy photoing.

Safari Update 1 PLUS Six Building Blocks For Better Image Capturing

With multiple flights and time zone changes, we finally arrived at the Mara Plains Camp.  Within 15 minutes of leaving the Mara Intrepid Air Strip, we were sitting on a male and female cheetah that were seriously into each other .  Although we stayed with them for several hours, we did not get to observe any mating.  The next thing we know, we are watching  a pride of lions tear apart a Wildebeest carcass.  Tomorrow we head deep into the Masaai Mara Plains for a full week of intensive photography. I’ll be trying out several different blogging options in hopes of blogging everyday from the bush. This will be a test and I’ll have to wait until the end of the safari to see what worked versus what didn’t work.

Sitting around the table tonight with John, Brett, and Scott, I briefed everyone on what to expect over the next week and the best way to shoot it typical scenes.   A discussion then unfolded into what I believe is key to making outstanding images. I prefer to think of this as my six foundations for making outstanding images. Once these foundations are in place, you can build on them with composition, display, processing, etc.  For your consideration, here are my thoughts on the basic foundations.

1. PLANNING. No doubt about it, a poorly planned shoot will more than likely return poor images.  Plan your shoot, pack the necessary gear and be prepared. My adage is: “plan your shoot and shoot your plan.”
2. GLASS. Yep, the better your optics the better chance you will have at pulling in a better image. In my opinion, there is no way around it. Simply put, there is a huge difference between a $400 80-200 zoom kit lens and the professional $2700 70-200 f2.8 Nikon pro model. With very noticeable improvements in light gathering, edge to edge sharpness, and resolving power, this is what professional glass is all about. Having said this, good glass on a poor camera will still result in a poor image; think of it as the least common denominator defining your image quality. If you are going to get serious about capturing outstanding images, plan your investment accordingly. If you are only interested in snap shots, then I suggest that the kit lenses would most certainly meet your needs. No doubt, there are some wonderful kit lenses out there so read the reviews and the performance specs.  If you are not using  higher end glass enough to justify the purchase, consider renting from any of a number of lens rental companies.
3. SENSOR/CAMERA. You must know and understand the limits of your camera/sensor. Learn how to master the capabilities and overcome the camera’s limitations. The sensor must be equal to or surpass the quality of your best glass; yes, the two are directly linked. Plan for the future and take into consideration your shooting style. You must also learn how to maintain your sensor – keep it clean.
4. FOCUS. Funny thing about our brain, in all but the rarest occasions, the brain will use focus as the immediate basis to either reject or accept an image as acceptable. So, if the image is out of focus, I consider it a lost leader. By this I mean no software will make it better, so you have to get this part correct.
5. STABILITY. Stability is more than just using a tripod or monopod. For me, stability includes using the correct shutter speed so vibration or motion is not transferred to the sensor and thus to the image. Using a tripod or monopod is also key, so always use one when you can get away with it. Using a tripod makes me slow down just a bit. If I slow down, I usually can think through things just a bit more completely and walk away with a far better image. On this trip we will be shooting from tripods almost exclusively, even when we are shooting from inside the trucks (watch for photos of this setup in the next posting or two).
6. POST PROCESSING. Take time to learn Photoshop, Lightroom, or your choice of editing software. If solid post processing can make a good image look great, just think about what you will end up with if you started with a great image.

As you can see, these foundations are closely linked to one another. In my opinion, focus is the deal breaker – gotta get this one right. Let’s go on safari………
Cheers and happy photo’ing.

Dubai, UAE

TWELVE  hours later from Washington DC, I faced a temperature of 107F on landing.  Dubai, an interesting mix of modern finance, incredible infrastructure, all with a mix of classic Muslim overtones. With Starbucks on just about every block, and often sightings of everything from Pizza Hut to Tony Roma’s, it took no time at all to feel somewhat at home. Staying at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, while en-route to Kenya, I spent most my time doing night photography of the wonderful skyline. With the winds blowing off-shore and the atmosphere full of fine sand particles, the sky was set ablaze with reflections from the artificial lights that adorn the night scape . This later proved to be somewhat of a challenge, as I found myself working vary hard for angles that minimized the reflected light and the impacts of the airborne sand particles.   Armed with my Nikon D3s, optimized for long exposure noise reduction, I hit the beach in hopes of finding just the right spot to photograph the Dubai Icon, Burj Al Arab. The constantly changing lights on the surfaces of the hotel put on a wonderful light show.  The images below are all single shot exposures from different locations along the Jumeirah Beach Road Exposures were taken in manual mode after doing a fast exposure calculation (sometimes my brain really does work). Exposure times ranged from 15 to 45 seconds, all at ISO 400 and f/9. No noise reduction, other than in camera settings, was applied.  Kudos to the new D3s sensor!!! Everytime I turn around, the D3s just keeps surprising me.  More on the Jumeirah Beach Hotel on the next update. Meanwhile, enjoy the light show below.

The Photographers Ephemeris (TPE)

Not very often does one run across an application that makes your life simple when it comes to taking photographs.  In this case TPE  is free, available for Mac, PC, was well as the the iPhone.   While there are many applications for the computer and iPhone which annotate sunrise and sunset for a given location, this little beauty stands apart from the crowd as a true interactive planning tool.  The Photographer’s Ephemeris  can depict  sunrise, sunset, moonrise, and moonset PLUS it will show the actual sun angle at any give hour from any given location, all with the Google Earth / Google Maps in the background. TPE is fairly simple in concept: 1) display a Google Map 2) choose a date 3) calculate and display a bunch of astronomical data.  The tricky part comes from the connection between 1 and 2. Most similar programs and web-sites have you select from a pre-defined list of locations, where, presumably, things such as the relevant time zone are already saved – not much help if you are in the middle of BFE and it is not on the pre-defined list.  I love it as a planning tool and will use it in planning my outdoor shoots.  As an example, the screen shots below indicate the sun angle by the thin yellow line, while the thicker yellow/orange lines indicate sunrise and sunset direction.  Lots of detailed explanations are on the site so give it a look.

Head on over to The Photographer’s Ephemeris and run the tutorials, download the application.  If you like it be sure to come back and toss the author some coins for his efforts.

Cheers and happy photo’ing

Hyperfocal Distance Basics for Landscape Photographers (part I)

Hyperfocal distance is a function of focal length, f-number,  and the circle of confusion (or most correctly, the circle of least confusion).  Simply put, using the hyperfocal distance setting at any given aperture will result in the greatest depth of field (New York Institute of Photography).  At the heart of the hyperfocal equation is a value known as the circle of confusion (CoC).  The CoC is, without a doubt, the most misunderstood and controversial variable among imaging experts.  The basis for the CoC has invoked a debate that has been raging for some 70 plus years and will certainly continue into the future as the purists refine the resolving power of imaging devices.  Boiled down to the most basic level, the CoC is the reciprocal of resolution and is directly related to the sensor size of the digital camera.  The CoC describes the smallest image element that retains identifiable details.  Obviously, this would vary based on the distance from the object in primary focus.

Although I will further explain and provide examples of how to use hyperfocal distance in the next update, if you have an iPod or an iPhone, you are in luck  because there are two good applications to assist you.  Rather than carrying around a number of tables, simply let Mr. Apple do the math for you.  In coming postings, I will review the hyperfocal distance applications as well as demonstrate several applications of hyperfocal focusing and the benefits of such, so come on back for parts II and III.  ‘Til then,

Happy photo’ing

 

Photo of the Week

Namibia Sunrise

May 2009, Nikon D300, 17-55mm f2.8@ 55, ISO 500, f11 at 1/50 sec, -1/2 EV

Metered slightly below the horizon in spot metering mode

 

As sunlight started across the distance mountain range, I hiked up a nearby rock outcroping some 500 feet above the valley floor to get this image.  The clouds were simply spectactular as the moved across the desert sky.  After shooting about 6 frames (I don’t recall even checking the histogram), I put the camera down and just took in the view of the entire valley.  As I watch the rising sunlight dance across the valley floor, I realized just how lucky I was travel to places like this – to see and photograph things  and places that others seldom get a chance to see or even hear about.

Cheers and happy photo’ing

Randy