Weekly Column: A Cheap Lens Gets it Done

I may have been ambitious with the idea of a weekly column. I’m going to resort to blogging when I can and hope I’m somewhat consistent. I’m back from a killer tour in the amazing Lofoten Islands of Norway. Of course, when photographing Aurora you chase clear skies, so we ended up in Sweden for the last night and it was well worth the insane drive! Last time I photographed the Aurora I used the Canon 24mm f/1.4L II, an excellent fast prime that was ideal for the Aurora. Keeping the lens wide open at f/1.4 allowed for relatively fast shutter speeds at night. The only limitation of the lens is not being able to go wider. When the Aurora really kicks off and a corona is directly overhead, you often want to be as wide as possible. Nikon shooters are blessed with the incredible Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G, which provides the perfect focal range for Nikon shooters. The brand new Canon 11-24mm f/4L  is an exciting lens, but with a slow aperture of f/4 it’s not ideal for night photography. You really don’t want to be any slower than f/2.8. The Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II is a viable lens for night photography, but it’s a poor performer all around. I replaced my copy with the superior Canon 16-35mm f/4L IS. But, of course, I lost a stop so it’s not ideal for night photography either. Canon does make a 14mm f/2.8L II prime lens, but at a cost of $2249 that’s not something I was interested in purchasing. It’s time to present the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8. At a cost of $372.99 it is a mere fraction of the competition. During my last workshop to Zion National Park, we had a night photography session. One of my clients was using the Rokinon 14mm and it was outperforming the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II. That was it for me, time to test this puppy out in Arctic Scandinavia and see what it can do. One of the limitations of the lens is that it’s manual focus only. For night photography that’s perfect, as you want to be manual focusing. You do not control the aperture on the camera but on the lens itself. No problem, set it at f/2.8 at night and forget it. And finally, focusing to infinity was a snap as the focus ring stops at infinity. I tested the lens and that is where true infinity is on my copy. If I lost my focus for any reason, all I had to do was snap the focus to infinity.

So how did it perform? Fantastic. I was very pleased with the performance, especially at its incredible price point. See for yourself!

"The Dragon"

“The Dragon”

 

"Arctic Sky"

“Arctic Sky”

 

"Road to Aurora"

“Road to Aurora”

 

TV recommendation of the week: Friday Night Lights. A drama about family first and foremost. Top 10 show of all time for me.


New lynda.com course, Landscape Photography: Washington’s Olympic National Park

I’m proud to announce the release of my latest lynda.com course, Landscape Photography: Washington’s Olympic National Park. We worked extremely hard and produced a course that contains over two hours of content! Loads of techniques on photographing in the forest and on the coast are included from spectacular regions in the Park, such as the Sol Duc Valley, Hoh Rainforest and Second Beach. Give it a look if you get the chance.

See it here:

Landscape Photography: Washington’s Olympic National Park

Get 10 days of free unlimited access to lynda.com.

"Essence of the Hoh"

“Essence of the Hoh”

 


Weekly Column: Olympus Innovates

Here it is, my makeup column for last week. While Canon appeared to have floundered their opportunity to win the landscape crowd back from Nikon, Olympus did something fascinating. They introduced a high megapixel mode in their latest camera body, the OMD EM5 Mark II, that can create 64MP RAW files! In early tests of just the 40MP jpeg file, it is beating the Nikon D810 and competing with the amazing medium format camera, the Pentax 645Z. To be able to create a high res image from a camera weighing a mere 14.4 ounces compared to the 31.04 ounces of the Nikon D810 is a huge feat. Once you add the weight of the lenses, the entire Olympus micro four thirds system is a fraction of the weight of a full-frame setup. There are caveats of course. The camera must be mounted on a tripod. It’s pretty entertaining reading about Olympus shooters saying that this is a deal breaker. For a street shooter, absolutely. But for a landscape shooter, the tripod is an extension of the camera and it’s hard to imagine shooting without one! So for me and other landscape shooters, no big deal. Now let’s get to the real issue. There can be zero movement in the scene itself for a minimum of 1 second. WOW. That eliminates so much of what’s possible. No water, no clouds, no grass blowing in the wind. This is a killer for so many and the reason why this new high res mode is not going to be a huge success. But… there are situations where complete stillness is possible. And for many of the subjects I like to shoot, that’s exactly the situation I face. In addition, I’m tackling a new project this year that includes entirely static subjects. So I preordered the camera and will give it a go and report back on my blog and in Edition III of my gear book due in the fall.

My TV recommendation of the week is Game of Thrones. It may not be the best show on TV, but it is definitely my favorite. No show carries as much hype. The anticipation of season 5 is at its boiling point. April 12th! If you’re not already caught up, get there! Trust me, if you could invest in only one show currently running on TV, this is it!

Yellowstone National Park ISO 800, f/8, 1/125 sec.

“Braving the Elements” Yellowstone National Park ISO 800, f/8, 1/125 sec.


Weekly Column: Canon’s Confusion

A lot has happened since my last post. I apologize for missing last week, I will be sure to get two posts in this week to make up for it. I’m back from an incredible trip to Yellowstone with truly fantastic people. A big thanks to all those who were involved! I wanted to discuss Canon’s big camera announcement of two new DSLRs, the Canon 5DS and 5DS R.

First off, the Nikon D800 came out in March of 2012. The new Canon DSLRs are coming in June of 2015. That’s more than 3 years we have waited for a competitive product from Canon. Common sense led us to believe that Canon was not going to release a product until they could surpass the fantastic Sony sensor found in the Nikon D800. Surely over 3 years of waiting would yield impressive results. One of the simplest lessons learned was the confusion between the Nikon D800 and D800E. Nikon needed only one model, the D800E. They have simplified the line with the Nikon D810. Canon apparently wants to repeat the same mistake. Not a big deal though, as there is small minority who are concerned with moire, so it’s nice they have an option.

Next up is price. As of today’s date, The Nikon D810 is available for $2996.95 from B&H Photo. The Canon 5DS R is $3899. It’s nearly $1000 more expensive. If you are going to be priced considerably higher than your competitor, the product you produce better be superior in the majority of comparisons.

Let’s get right to the megapixel war. The 5DS R is 50.6MP and the Nikon D810 is 36.3MP. Cleary the Canon has a nice lead in terms of resolution. The debate as to whether we need that much resolution is an important one, but we surely can all agree that no matter the amount or resolution, your sensor must produce clean files with low noise and as much dynamic range as possible. How quickly I’ve abandoned talk of megapixels to discuss the things us landscape photographers want Canon to fix beyond all else. There are 3 issues we have with Canon sensors that you don’t see in Sony sensors. The first – banding in the shadows. Inexcusable and image breaking at times. The second – noise in the sky even at base ISOs. This has never plagued me personally, but I know peers who have switched to Nikon because of it. The third, and most importantly, improved dynamic range. The dynamic range of the Canon sensor is approximately 2 stops worse than Sony’s sensor. There was a time when it was impressive, but not anymore. Technology has advanced and expectations have changed. According to Canon, you should expect to find the dynamic range in the new models to be about the same as the Mark III. This is what killed Canon for landscape shooters. Look no further. Dynamic range is the ticket. And apparently, they either don’t know the importance of it and didn’t address it, or they don’t have the technology to advance it. My guess is that Sony is simply superior in sensor design and years beyond where Canon resides currently.

The question is not whether or not we need 50.6 megapixels, the question is whether or not Canon can improve the performance of their sensors to compete with Sony (Sony makes the sensors for nearly all camera manufactures). Time is running out. More and more Canon shooters are leaving. When the 5DS R comes into the market (around June) hopefully we will have our definitive answer. In the meantime, I went from a definite preorder to a wait and see based on the early impressions. I will keep shooting my Canon 6D and wait for reviews of the final production unit of the 5DS R. At the same time, the next Sony sensor is right around the corner and I will be eager to see what advancements it brings to the table.

While I didn’t purchase the 5DS R this week, there was another camera that caught my eye and did get preordered, the Olympus E-M5 Mark II. More on that in the next post!

My TV recommendation this week is The Walking Dead. The ultimate hit or miss show. Season 1 was fun and campy. Season 2 was awful. Season 3 picked back up again. It’s a roller coaster ride, but in the end it’s worth it due to strong characters and an occasional phenomenal episode. The first half of the current season was very strong, but the midseason premier this week was terrible. And so it goes, that’s The Walking Dead for you!

"Alone" - Yellowstone National Park. ISO 200, f/11, 1/500 sec.

“Alone” – Yellowstone National Park. ISO 200, f/11, 1/500 sec.


Weekly Column: Teamwork

This week’s column is not so much photo related, although I do like to equate teamwork in sports to group dynamics in workshops. I spent many years coaching basketball, which went a long way in developing my abilities to lead and teach photography workshops. We are witnessing a fascinating evolution in the NBA; the transition of an individual sport to a team sport. We lived through Michael Jordan and his 6 rings, and most recently, Lebron James and his 4 straight trips to the finals with 2 rings to show for it. Jordan was the best player of his generation and Lebron is the best player in the game today. It’s amazing to have a sport where one individual can have such a huge impact on the game, even though they share the court with 9 other players. We rarely see it in the NFL where it’s diluted further for a total of 22 players on the field. It’s clear the NFL is a team sport, but the NBA has been less so recently. How much impact does one player have in the NBA? Look no further than this year’s Miami Heat team without Lebron James. The are 20-25 and completely irrelevant. During last year’s playoffs we saw a shift. The San Antonio Spurs, lead by their head coach, Popovich, dismantled the Lebron lead Heat through the use of incredible ball movement, team defense, three-point shooting, depth, and making every player on the floor a threat. You never could predict where the scoring would come from. It was mesmerizing to see and there was no answer from the Heat. The Heat was a team built around an individual and it clearly didn’t possess the talent or coaching to compete with this new brand of team basketball.

Fast forward to this year and we are witnessing two protegés of Popovich, Mike Budenholzer in Atlanta, and Steve Kerr in Golden State, use that same style to take commanding leads in their respective conferences. The Atlanta Hawks, a little known team with modest predictions, has reeled off 17 straight wins and looks unstoppable. And yet, they don’t have a single player on the roster who would qualify to be considered a top 12 – 15 player in the NBA. In a recent matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder, they had to face the 2nd best player in the NBA, Kevin Durant, and Russell Westbrook, who is ranked somewhere between 3 – 6, depending on who you ask. How could anyone stack up against such a two-headed monster as the Thunder? Scott Brooks, the head coach for the Thunder, doesn’t run a teamwork style offense. He believes in allowing his star players to play one on one basketball. Just take turns and try to get the best shot they can. It’s excruciating to watch and is a large part of the reason the Thunder have been unable to win a championship. History will look back on the Thunder and always wonder how on Earth did a team with the superstars, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden (traded to the Rockets for virtually nothing and having an MVP season), not win a championship? I think the answer comes down to Popovich. He has pioneered a new way to play the game and the results speak for themselves.

If we end up with a Warriors vs. Hawks finals, everybody wins. It’s time to stop being selfish when it comes to team sports. Everybody on the team has a role, and if you embrace each individual’s strengths, the team as a whole benefits greatly. It also emphasizes how truly important coaching is, and that even an under the radar team like the Atlanta Hawks, can make a big splash.

One last NBA tidbit, as we approach the Super Bowl, deflate gate has received way more attention than necessary. It overshadowed the incredible feat of Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors, scoring 37 points in a quarter. That has never been done before, ever. If you haven’t seen the highlights, watch it here.

I’m off to Yellowstone for a workshop. Look for a report next week!

My TV recommendation this week is Banshee. Very few people know about Banshee, but for those that are fans, it’s one hell of a ride. It is incredibly violent, graphic, and sexual, but underneath it all is a compelling story with great characters. It reminds me of Spartacus. When Spartacus season 1 aired, it was a bit of a 300 clone. But they soon realized how incredible Andy Whitfield was as Spartacus, and the show become about characters. Banshee season 3 started up recently and the first two episodes didn’t completely grab me. And then episode 3 aired last week and became the best episode of television I have seen in a long while.

That’s it for now, GO HAWKS!

A panorama of Seattle at twilight. GO HAWKS!

A panorama of Seattle at twilight. GO HAWKS!


Weekly Column: Take Pride in Your Website

There are so many different social media outlets for sharing images. I’ve made my disdain for social media abundantly clear in previous posts, yet I still participate in a limited capacity. When I discover a photographer, whether online, word of mouth, or meeting them in person, I always go straight to their website to see their work. I never consider social media as an outlet to share their vision. I would never go to a flickr page or 500px page to see what someone is all about. Social media has different purposes for different people. If you look at the top images of 500px lately, they have become mostly advertisements. And I think that’s a good thing. It’s a struggle to get the word out on the services you provide, what better way than to make an image go to the front page of 500px and share it there? There’s a formula to get on the front page that involves some serious over the top processing. That may or may not be the artist’s vision, but I would never begrudge a photographer from “gaming the system” to get more exposure in order to advertise their services. And in large part, that’s all social media is to me; a place to advertise one’s work. I met a photographer recently who was anxious to get better and explore the iconic landscapes of the US. He had never heard of me or most of my peers. He then asked if I was on Instragram. I told him I was but rarely ever posted. I then asked him about a few of my friends that are all-stars in the Instagram world and he treated them like celebrities. Again, there are so many different social media outlets that you never truly have an idea how a potential client or fan will find your work.

Which brings me around to my point. Your website is holy. It is your online gallery. Even if you own a gallery somewhere in the world, there will always be a limited number of people who will ever get the chance to visit it. Your online gallery has no limits. The images you share on your gallery should represent who you are as an artist. You don’t have to push the numbers in order to get views. You just have to share yourself as an artist. In my perfect online world that’s all we would have, our own websites representing who we are. Of course, how would you know which sites to check out? And that’s why we have the social media blitz that exists today.

Websites have become incredibly simple and cheap to create. This is all very recent and it’s something you should absolutely take advantage of. When I started my Smugmug site I had to learn bits of CSS, HTML and Javascript. Now it’s just click and drag. Smugmug is a great place to start, as is Squarspace. You can have a site up and running in a day. It’s seriously gotten that easy. If you have the budget and not the time, there are some excellent website developers who will make you a custom site. This is an excellent option if you have the budget, as it increases your opportunity for your site to stand out from the pack.

I’m not saying stop sharing your images on social media. I get the appeal for many. And in some cases, like mine, it makes sense for business. But when someone asks where they can go to see your best work, I hope it’s too your website which is shielded from the noise on the web.

In sports news I am recovering from the Seahawks miracle win on Sunday. I was lucky enough to be there in person and it was an unreal experience. I, unfortunately, won’t have the opportunity to go back to the Super Bowl this year as I will be leading a workshop in Yellowstone, but it was an incredible moment to witness the NFC Championship game. GO HAWKS!

My TV recommendation this week is Justified. It returns this week for its final season. It’s one of the best shows on TV and is consistently solid throughout its first 5 seasons. Let’s hope season 6 finishes strong! I will miss Raylan Givens.

"Reds" - Nova Scotia  Fuji X-T1, XF 55-200mm, ISO 640, f/11, 1/25 sec.

“Reds” – Nova Scotia
Fuji X-T1, XF 55-200mm, ISO 640, f/11, 1/25 sec.

 

 


Showing Scale in Iceland

Iceland is a country full of wonder. Of all the splendid locations in Iceland, my favorite without a doubt is the highlands of Landmannalaugar. Colorful mountains as far as the eye can see. Patches of snow create a pattern amongst the blues, red, greens, and every brown and yellow tone you can imagine. An interesting aspect of the highlands and most of Iceland is the lack of trees. Moss is about the only thing you will find growing on the highlands of Landmannalaugar. This presents us with an interesting opportunity to use people in our landscapes in order to show scale. The mountains are photogenic on their own to be clear, but adding a hiker gives that extra element of scale, turning a pretty scene into a jaw-dropping scene. Let’s take a look at some examples, starting with “The Hiker”.

The Hiker

The hiker on the ridge is entering this endless wilderness. The light in the image highlights the subject and we see the journey ahead. Imagine this image without the hiker, void of the story and sense of wonder.

The Legend

In this example, we see a hiker paused to take in the epic view, just as the viewer of the image is doing. A connection is made with the attempt to bring the viewer closer into the scene by putting you, the viewer, on the ridge itself. The title of this image is based on a client and friend of mine who is on that ridge. “The Legend” is his nickname and it seemed a fitting title here.

Almost Home

It can be difficult to view these images small on the web. Imagine being able to view them printed large? In this example, titled “Almost Home”, we see a hiker on the lower right about to make their final descent into camp. They came, they saw, they conquered. The journey is almost done.

Laugavegur Trail

In this final example, “Laugavegur Trail”, we see a hiker on the most famous trail in Iceland. Having experienced the hike myself, this image brings back fond memories. Every time I view this image it puts a smile on my face.

As a landscape photographer I’m not one to photograph people, pretty much ever. I have zero interest in it. But as you can see here, sometimes it can actually improve your landscape imagery, and that is something I’m always striving for. I encourage you to give it a go when the situation arises.


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