Book Recollection: Simply Beautiful Photographs

May appears to be the month of photography books based on the last two book recollections and (wait for it…) this post as well.  However, unlike the previous two, today’s offering is less on food for the left side of  brain and more on providing inspiration for the right hemisphere.  What better way to do that then to review the creative work of National Geographic, the premier photography body that has been wowing us since it was founded in 1888.  By the way, I had no idea that National Geographic is one of the world’s largest nonprofit scientific and educational organizations.  It was also founded to increase and diffuse geographic knowledge.  There, come for the witty banter and leave with real knowledge, it’s like going to see Piranha 3D and learning that outboard motors can be used to fend off prehistoric flesh eating fish.  Speaking of photography (and my friends say my segues suck), Annie Griffiths brings us Simply Beautiful Photographs.  This book is a collection of images from the National Geographic Image Collection  (holding images back to the 1800s by the way), that fits Annie’s 6 key photographic components – Light, Composition, Moment, Time, Pallet and Wonder).  Annie takes us through each of these areas and provides an eloquent introduction into the nuances of the area proceeded by numerous examples of photographs that visually demonstrates that chapter’s topic.  In fact, so many images that this book tops in at 1.5 inches thick which sadly again doesn’t put a dent into the reading pile because… yeah, another gift for Linda (I was expecting Rapture to save me from my reading commitment, but apparently I’ve been a bad boy or just maybe that predictor was bat shit crazy).  Speaking of crazy, how about the crazy pictures in this collection (I try, I really really do).

As I was going through this collection, I tried to look at each picture individually and assess their impact on me.  At first I was keeping two sets of markers, one for images that had a positive effect on me and ones that I thought were total crap (per my wife’s favorite saying).  After awhile I decided that I was not qualified to make the call on what was a bad picture so from that point forward just focused on the shots that impressed me.  By my definition, this was an image that caught my attention through an interesting visual, a creative composition or success in conditions I know that are difficult to photograph based on my less than stellar attempts.  After reaching the back cover, I had marked 29 Wildlife and 17 Landscape images that I thought stood out among the rest.  I also marked 6 images that I had put in the “you’re kidding” category (might have been more, but again, stopped that marking).  I decided to challenge myself and select my top five Wildlife and top five Landscape images.  This turned out to be an extremely difficult task and made me appreciate what judges must go through for photography competitions.  After the second pass I was down to 31 images with 19 left after a third pass.  I probably spent another hour getting down to 10.

Hit the jump to see my top five list of Wildlife shots and the top five Landscape images

Continue reading Book Recollection: Simply Beautiful Photographs

A Double Helping

Linda: “Hey, I thought your little ego stroking blog was suppose to have trivial little observations on it with some meaningless babble about how it almost brought you to tears or something?”

Me: “Yep”

Linda: “Well, it looks like all you’ve been doing is barfing up photography related crap post after post”

Me: “uh, Sorry!”

Linda: “Don’t be sorry, get off your slacker butt and give the 3 people who actually read this drivel what they want”

Me: “K”

Well, that was awkward, but as always, she’s right.  I had to dust off my little blog idea notepad and fire up Photoshop to work on the required accompanying image.  Oh, for the record, I don’t cry … just wanted to get that out there for the record.  So today’s intriguing observation actually occurred a number of months back in the Menard’s parking lot.  Linda and I had done a little shopping and had made it back to the truck.  Okay, it is impossible for me to do a “little” shopping at Menards thanks to it being like a giant candy store for me.  Anyway, I had backed out of the parking spot and was proceeding up the aisle when we came upon an elderly man pushing a lumber cart with two full size plywood sheets on top.  Based on the brief time it took to pass him, it became apparent that he was struggling with the load trying to balance the weight of the plywood while negotiating the upward slant of the parking lot.  This scene actually hit a special chord with me.  Since owning our first home, I have been purchasing plywood, drywall and pressboard to complete one project after another.  Probably 90% of the time I am alone when the materials are bought and eventually hauled out to the truck.  I wouldn’t consider myself the strongest person out there, but I work hard to stay in some form of shape (thanks to a commitment in college to never become a stereotype of my geek profession).  Regardless of my bench strength, it is always a struggle to get those 4×8 sheets into the truck alone.  Add wind to that equation and you have plenty of fodder for a funniest home video show.  Not once has anyone offered to provide any assistance in this effort.  This doesn’t bother me on the receiving end, but I’ve always recognized this lumber battle and make it a point to offer my assistance to anyone in a similar situation (especially if it is WINDY!)

If I struggle with this type of material, clearly this individual was going to have similar issues.  After making my way past the guy, I pulled into an empty parking space and jumped out to lend a hand.  As soon as I got out of my truck and headed towards the man, another guy in the exact same truck (both in color and model) pulls into the empty space next to mine and gives me a nod of confirmation.  He had seen the scene and made the exact same decision.  By the time we had made it back to the old guy he had reached his vehicle which turned out to be a U-Haul truck.  The other guy asked him if he wanted the wood in the rental truck (mainly to confirm that we had the right vehicle).  The old guy was a little surprised and hesitantly said yes.  The other guy opened the truck up and jumped in while I grabbed the plywood and tossed it up to him.  The old guy thanked us for our help (still had a look of surprise on his face) as we put the cart back in the corral and headed back to our trucks.

It was an interesting coincidence that two people in the exact same vehicle saw the exact same scene and made the exact same decision to help someone out.  However, what really held my thought was how this situation even came to be in the first place.  I can understand nobody witnessing the guy getting the plywood onto the cart based on my experience that there is never anyone in Menards when you need help with something.  If one of the other employees had not assessed this situation, clearly the cashier could have sized up the customer and called in some help.  Apparently not the case!  In summary, it felt good on the soul to help my fellow man, but left a sour taste in my mouth due to the lack of customer attention from one of my favorite stores.   The good news of all this is my Rapture quotient should have gained a few points to the better… of course, that really doesn’t mean much anymore does it (ha)

Book Recollection: Understanding Exposure 3rd Edition

The timing of this particular recollection should not be much of surprise based on the previous foreshadowing. Yes, it’s another photography book by Bryan Peterson called Understanding Exposure.  As before, this book was actually purchased for Linda and sadly, does not count against the paper buildup.  That downside does not eclipse the benefit of this read.  Like the Understanding Shutter Speed offering, Bryan has an incredible way of presenting a technical topic in an understandable manner.  Per the title, this book was focused on the classic triad of Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO which together deliver an exposure (this would be the good kind, not the perv in the raincoat type).  If you recall, one of the legs of that triad (Shutter Speed) was actually the topic of the first book I read.  To make that book more effective, I recommend reading this first since the shutter book often refers to the “correct exposure” which is thoroughly explained in today’s subject.  As with the Shutter book, this one is full of examples complete with detailed camera settings (again with Nikon so a double bonus for us!).

After reading this book I can safely say I’m pretty much done with the programmable modes on the camera.  I think I can correctly mimic all of those settings plus gain more creative control through the manual mode.  This may take a few minutes more getting the triad correct than the A and S modes, but the satisfaction of being completely responsible for the results of the photo is kind of exciting.  There were a ton of valuable takeaways from this read.  If I had to focus in on just a couple, I would have to go with the different sky meterings to get proper exposure for sunsets, skylines and, surprisingly enough, waterfalls in the woods (the latter being a common theme in our own photo shoots).  The other important tidbit was the focus points for the small apertures (i.e. f/22).  The larger the aperture number (technically the smallest amount based on being inverted) the larger the focus depth is.   Knowing to focus 1/3rd into the scene to maximize depth will come in handy out in the field.  Our photo output has already improved significantly and Linda was able to take some excellent shots at her latest indoor Agility show which is traditionally a tough environment given the low lighting and movement of the dogs.  Apparently others thought the shots were darn good as well based on the number of orders she got for her photo collages.   For those of you into photography, at least take a glance at this  book and admire Bryan’s  awesome shots of tree silhouetted in the sun (pg 26 and 118) and the very nice shot of a Caterpillar Track Type Tractor (pg 124 – possibly a D11) moving coal (of course, I may be a little biased on that shot due to the fine choice of equipment).  Oh, and there is a great  shot of purple flowers fill flashed against the dark cloudy Chicago skyline on page 169.  If there is one room for improvement, I’d suggest giving an outro for the book.  It literally talks about a flash mode (Rear Curtain Sync) and simply ends.  No summary, not words of encouragement no hope you enjoyed, just the final sentence on the sync topic and he’s out of there.  I remember turning past the index and even checking the binding to see if some pages were left out.  It’s as if a topic for another book popped into his head and he wanted to get this one out of the way as soon as possible in order to start on that new concept.  This is just a minor nuisance and the little nuggets gleamed from this read far outweigh this quirk (although that last impression has stayed with me).  Needless to say, this book is a keeper and based on the last two books from Bryan, I’m in the hunt for more offerings from him.

Hit the jump to see read those nuggets!

Continue reading Book Recollection: Understanding Exposure 3rd Edition

When Man and Nature Collide

looking back, I have probably shot at least a thousand birds over my life.  Luckily for my winged friends (with the exception of two) these shots have all been with a shutter release and not with projectiles.  However, I must confess that indirectly I have shortened the life of a few.  Call me a softie, but this always saddens me a little when I think about how much pleasure I get from watching them gather around my feeders.  The irony of it all is that the feeders are often the catalyst for their accidental demise.  To fully experience living in the country, we architected our house to provide nice views into the surrounding woods.  This translated into a large amount of glass, the evil nemesis of all Aves.  Every once in awhile we hear a loud bang in the living room.  Being familiar with the common cause of this startling noise, I reluctantly head towards the windows.  Inevitably, this is the typical scene:

A perfectly good bird cut down by the magic of sand and a small cavity for brain matter.  Actually, I’ve seen humans walk into glass doors as well, so not sure how much the brain size plays into this particular situation.  By a general rule of thumb, the survival rate is directly proportional to the volume of the impact.  Through extensive trial and error, I’ve been able to improve this rate at least a little bit.  The success is dependent on how quick you can come to the aid of the injured bird.   Upon impact, the bird often loses consciousness and drops backwards onto the porch – the reasoning behind this still needs further research.  If the bird doesn’t snap it’s neck, it will show signs of convulsions both with fluttering wings and spastic feet.  This is exactly the state I found the bird pictured above (note I had the camera in my hand already taking pictures of some other subjects).  If you can get to the bird in this state, you must immediately flip it back over on its feet/belly.  If you leave it upside down, it will die every time (my apologies to all the failed experiments before this was figured out).  Kind of reminds me of my mode of operation with my drunk friends in college, but let’s stay on topic.

Hit the jump for some good news!

Continue reading When Man and Nature Collide

A Surprise Thrashing

Since the moment we started building our house in the woods, I’ve been busy taking photos of all the birds that drop by from time to time.  After awhile the diversity of species begins to fade as the same bird types tend to inhabit the same area year after year.  Some become so familiar that their tiny imperfections allow you to actually give them names.  Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy taking their pictures – if nothing else, the light settings and perch choices are always unique so there is always a challenge.  The main point of mentioning this is it makes new arrivals a big deal around here.  As soon as I spot a new bird type, I scramble for the camera in the hopes of getting a least some sort of picture to capture the moment (and to have proof for adding another check to my watch list).   As you can probably guess, I spotted a new bird to the homestead a few days ago.  Luckily, I was able to get a few shots.  As with all my pictures, the full versions can be seen on our Photography site at If you go there, you can view them at any size you want up to the original size (note, I always use medium for images in this blog).

So, after dinner I looked out and noticed a strange bird a ways out from the house.  Immediately thinking this might be a new find, I grabbed the closest camera (D7000) and headed out to the porch in hopes of snapping a few shots.  Our Beast was not currently on this particular camera having stored it away after our last photo shoot.  Luckily, the 80-200 glass was attached giving me some reach into the yard.

I was fighting the light going down as well trying to steady myself while hand holding the camera – must have been all the excitement of the chance to capture a new bird.  On full manual, I had to bump the ISO up to 800 for most of the shots in order to get the shutter speed I needed to help compensate for my shaky hands.  The shot above is a full shot giving you some perspective of the distance I was dealing with (this was at full 200mm I believe).  As you learn pretty quick taking bird pictures, any distance at all causes that bird to appear pretty small.  However, with the power of crop, we can take you a little closer in.

Hit the jump to see a lot more (and better) pictures of my feathered friend.

Continue reading A Surprise Thrashing

Book Recollection: Understanding Shutter Speed

It’s another month and it would have been another 1/2 inch off the read pile.  That is, if the book featured in this post was actually on that stack.  I actually picked up this particular book for my wife as a gift for some very special occasion … admittedly, I’ve since forgotten what that occasion was (oops).  But hey, it’s the thought that counts and nothing says I care more than a present that we can BOTH get some value out of.  In case the light is dim in your reading area, we enjoy a little hobby called photography.  This hobby is interesting in the since it always seems like there is more to learn, more creative things to explore and a constant reminder after every photo shoot how easy it is to blow an exposure.  Fortunately, there are a lot of experts in this field that are willing to share their tips and tricks.  While at the bookstore looking for gifts for Linda (and no, I still cannot remember the occasion), I noticed two books by Bryan Peterson that looked promising.  One of those books was Understanding Shutter Speed: Creative Action and Low-Light Photography Beyond 1/125 Second.  Consider the other as a foreshadowing.  Two things immediately popped out in this book.  First, it covered a key subject in our photography interest, motion stopping.  Linda likes to photograph agility dogs in action and I like to capture birds in flight, both of which generally require at least 1/500th second or faster to freeze the subject in the frame.  The other appealing aspect was the author primarily used Nikons and took the time provide camera settings for each of the numerous example pictures.

Linda had some other reading material stacked up so I took the liberty to read the book first.  You know, in case the book sucked I could save her from wasting valuable time – wow, the gift comes in so many facets.  After reading the first few pages I was hooked.  Bryan has the ability to take a technical subject and make it both entertaining and understandable.  If only he wrote Calculus books when I was in school!  This book is loaded with example pictures that drive home the main points of every chapter along with the zoom setting and triad configurations (the triad being the interrelationships of ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture).  Thanks to this book I now have the confidence to progress from the programmed settings (A/S modes) to full Manual giving me full control of the photography experience.  It will take a long time to get used to this much control, but the last couple of outings have produced some very nice shots (and some equally crappy shots, but no one said this hobby was easy).

If I had take some points off from this work, I would have to ding it for the chapters on shutter painting.  This is more from a personal perspective, since imposed motion on a subject doesn’t really appeal to me much.  Now panning a moving subject can produce some pretty cool effects by slowing down the shutter speed and moving the lens in the same direction as the subject is moving.  This will produce an image where the subject is still, but the background is blurred providing a classic motion sensation.  Contrast that with the other painting modes described by Bryan that includes taking a picture (again with a slow shutter speed) and moving the camera up, down, diagonal etc. causing a finger painting effect.  Some people may enjoy these more than Linda and I, but we prefer the more classic photography techniques.  For example, if you happen to see this book, take a gander at the incredible light house picture complete with light beaming through the fog or the long shutter shot of a statue with a lighted Ferris wheel in motion behind it.  Those two pictures were alone worth the price of admission.

In summary, this was a fantastic book and highly recommended for any photo enthusiasts library.  Bryan did an an excellent job of presenting shutter control concepts and encouraging us to keep striving to get better.  Now we just need to put this new knowledge in practice!  Oh, and a note to the author… including a picture of your wife in a bikini is just showing off.

Hit the jump for my takeaways

Continue reading Book Recollection: Understanding Shutter Speed