Project Nikon Cozy

Well, Mr. Heat Mizer has decided to turn it up for this Midwest weekend. Hard to complain too much as we have been pretty lucky thanks to the cooling brought on by the nonstop rain. Unfortunately, we are currently heading up to the Quad Cities to run the Bix7 kicking off tomorrow morning (link here). Much rather endure this weather for 7 miles versus the monster 34 a few weeks ago (link here). Was planning on taking it easy anyway and this will just be a constant reminder to do just that. In the meantime, I hate to waste cycles in the car and thought I’d go with something I don’t need to do a lot of research on.

Project Nikon Hauler 2020

Hit the jump to see what surprise awaits behind that door!

Continue reading Project Nikon Cozy

My What Sharp Teeth You Have… I Think

In honor of tonight’s MEGA MILLIONS Lottery drawing I bring you your very own jackpot if you will.  That jackpot being a bonus post for the month!  I know, I know, a cheap replacement for the millions you could have won with the real drawing, but hey, the likelihood of getting this post was a whole lot better than your odds of actually winning that thing anyway.  Truth be told, one of the reasons for the extra post is due to the quality of this particular set of pictures.  One of the professional photographers Linda and I enjoying listening to has a podcast we play on our longer road travels.  In this podcast, Rick Sammon is always fond of saying “One blurry picture is a mistake, a hundred blurry pictures is a style”.  Generally I laugh this off, but in this particular case I’m going with wholehearted truth.  In a slight variation, these images are in the STYLE of high grain hand painted mural.  Here is a perfect example of this.

What do you think, captivating brush strokes, complimentary colors and that “stand back 20 feet” appeal common in many classic paintings in art history.  Any chance you are buying that?  thought so.  Now a little background.  The first time Linda and I visited Yellowstone, we did not get the opportunity to see a single wolf while we were out there.  Part of that is due to not making it out to Lamar Valley which is where these wonderful animals tend to hang out (or rather where they are most often viewed).  This trip out we had a bold goal to leave with at least one sighting and if a miracle occurred, some photos.  On the very first morning we headed out to Lamar Valley with our friends David and Dr. Giselle.  There we were met with lots of people with spotting scopes trained on a far distance cluster of trees on the banks of the river – just below the confluence.  Thanks to a friendly lady from the UK we learned that the Druid Pack had been in a 2 day standoff with an cow elk who had sought safety in the middle of the river.  I cannot give you a good estimate of the distance that was from where we were at on the side of the road, but it was way too far for the Beast to pull in any detail at all.  Some other visitors around us were more than happy to give us a look through their more powerful scopes (quite friendly people out there by the way).  Sure enough, we could see the cow elk’s head and top of it’s back along with a couple of wolves taking random passes along the banks.  I can’t imagine how stressful this was for the participants in the standoff not having eaten in two days in a struggle of life and death.  I do not usually take sides in the natural wildlife food chains but it turns out that a group of ignorant tourists decided they have the right to.  Later in the day, these idiots decided they would walk out near the standoff and have a bite to eat while watching the event.  Well, guess what, both the elk and the wolves freaked out at this intrusion causing the end of the skirmish – the wolves abandoned the hunt and the elk made off.  Now one would say that those people saved an elk, but those of us who understand that predators have to kill to feed themselves and their cubs consider this as even more days without nourishing the pack.  While were making our final scans, a park ranger came by and informed us that this had happened and he was looking for the morons that walked out there… so we’re not the only ones upset about this (the UK lady wanted them banned from the park immediately).

So one of our goals had been met, we actually saw wolves – Yeah!   But the story does not end there.

Hit the jump to read the rest of the goodness and the explanation for the shot above !

Continue reading My What Sharp Teeth You Have… I Think

Project: Tri-Fecta-Pod

So as a precursor to the Yellowstone photo posts, the topic today actually originates from a couple of lessons learned while we were out there.  Linda and I currently shoot with three Nikon bodies, a D70, D90 and a D7000.  This allows us to each have our own bodies with our preferred as keep one additional lens on the third body for convenient switching without having to swap glass in the field.  Well, let’s refine that last statement to “reduce” the amount of times we have to swap glass because we still find ourselves playing musical lenses to take advantages of specific body features.  Now, both our big lenses are configured with collar tripod mounts and we generally keep an Arca Swiss quick release plate on those while out with our carbon fiber travel tripod.  Bodies with the wide glass need the tripod mount directly on the body.  When I purchased our Benro head for the tripod and the same Benro head for the travel tripod I also added an additional release plate giving us a total of three.  You would think this would be enough, but we soon found out in Yellowstone that this is insufficient if you are changing glass across all three bodies.  Inevitably Linda would end up trying to take a wide angle shot on a camera without a mount.  After a few choice words the camera with the mount was located, the plate removed and then added to the desired camera.  This became extremely frustrating and depending on the situation could cause you to completely lose the shot.

The second lesson learned was there are situations where both of us would like to use the tripod at the same time or there were conditions that favor one tripod over another.  Generally we only take one tripod with us, the lighter travel tripod since I’m the one who usually gets to carry it.  Our other one is a SLIK built to withstand a small hurricane.

Now the weight isn’t a big issue since we would just throw the heavy one in the car and only bring it out when we needed it.  The underlying annoyance is they use a different quick release plate system.

Here is a shot of the plates from the top – the part that attaches to the camera:

and now from the side that attaches to the tripod which is the heart of the problem:

We would be spending more time trying to mix and match the plates than capturing the shot.  On the drive back a decision was made to try and solve both of these problems.

First task was to purchase three more Arca Swiss plates.  One was a little longer than the others to provide a better hold for the Beast since the smaller plates only provided for one screw allowing it to shift on the plate if we were not careful.  Problem one SOLVED.

Hit the jump to see how problem two was resolved.

Continue reading Project: Tri-Fecta-Pod

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

She Said Yes! Introducing the BEAST

I hope my blog readers know by now that my wife and I share a photography habit… I mean hobby. Unlike Linda’s dog agility hobby and my addiction to running, this hobby is one we equally enjoy. It also gives us an opportunity to spend quality time together which is difficult in today’s hectic corporate world and what seems like an endless queue of errands and fix-its. It is also one of the few activities I willingly leave the comfort of my bed BEFORE the crack of dawn. Every once in awhile we get the opportunity to upgrade our equipment. This always a stressful event based on the fact that photography can be an expensive hobby and we have specific shooting interests that can, unfortunately, force you into higher dollar items. Lately, Linda has been shooting in low light facilities trying to capture dogs on the agility course. I am always trying to close the distance between my camera and wildlife. In both cases, the telephoto is generally the go-to glass. Up to this point, our workhorse has been the 80-200 f/2.8. This glass is solid and has never failed us, but the lack of VR can result in hand held fuzziness and probably more annoying, the inability to put a teleconverter on it (thanks Nikon) keeps us just out of optimal distance. To be honest, I will always complain that I am just out of optimal distance no matter what lens we have because that’s the wildlife photographer’s creed.

A few weeks back, we decided to pull the trigger on new glass. There were a few options in the zoom category we investigated including upgrading our 80-200 f/2.8 to the newer VR (vibration reduction), going with a superfast prime lens (300,400,500) or bite the bullet and go with a relatively fast longer zoom with VR. Linda wisely pointed out that buying another lens in the range we already have seems pointless (even if it has VR). The fast primes in the 400+ range is wicked expensive and really inhibits composition due to not being able to adjust the distance making it difficult to use for the agility ring. This left us with the longer zoom option. After much debate, sleepless nights and more than a hint of hesitation we pulled the trigger on the Nikon 200-400 VRII f/4 (end to end). The VRII offered some compensation for the uplift in aperture and fit our budget a little better than the house mortgaging below f/4 models. With that decision out of the way, the hunt was on to actually find one. The tsunami in Japan had a big hit in inventories leaving a few older models available and only ONE current model in stock across every photography retailer we could find on the Internet. Long story short, we took an availability premium hit and locked into the new lens.

After a quick inquiry as to the arrival date (since the delivery date was fast approaching without notification), we were informed it was on its way. I do not know if it was a result of the inquiry or in respect to the purchase price, but the glass was upgraded to two-day express. Sure enough, the package arrived as notified. This is when reality set in. Check out the packaging required. (Note, Rizzi was a reluctant participant, but I needed some scale)

Exactly what have we gotten ourselves into. We knew it was going to be larger than our current zoom, but this might be on a whole different level.

Hit the jump to see what was in those boxes.

Continue reading She Said Yes! Introducing the BEAST

Time for a New Umbrella B*tch

əm-ˈbre-lə ˈbich:  The individual responsible for holding a weather protection device over another more skilled photographer while he or she composes the perfect shot while out on a shoot in non-favorable conditions.  This also includes all packing and hauling in/out of equipment.  Sometimes referred to as a flunkie, lackey or assistant.

I should probably give some background to this.  There are times when Linda and I are out in the wild taking some snaps with the trusty Nikons.  Unfortunately, there are times when the weather doesn’t exactly cooperate as planned and we find ourselves in need of shelter.  Of course, we always claim this makes for better lighting and mood in our products, but generally that is just a convenient excuse to justify why two grown people are standing out in pouring rain taking pictures of god knows what.  We were actually out in Maine recently (Acadia to be specific) when this exact situation came up.  It was raining off and on most of the time there so we broke down and headed out with all our equipment in tow.  We found a pretty cool rock beach and decided to see what we could capture.  Sure enough, it started raining meaning one of us has to stand over and protect the camera, tripod, photographer etc. with a large umbrella.   This allows the other person to compose the shots and capture the interesting landscapes while remaining relatively dry.  Like the Bass to Guitar, the Half-back to the Full-back and all other Blues-Rock Bands to the Stones, the less skilled has to give way to the more talented.  With Linda the somewhat better photographer (wait for it) the umbrella role has traditionally fallen to you know who …yep.. ME.  So there I stood on a rocky Maine beach in the pouring down rain while my lovely wife took her own sweet damn time taking what is sure to be  fantastic pictures.   After at least 3 hours she decided every inch of the beach had been sufficiently captured at least twice and it was time to go.  At this point in time, she put the cap on the glass and informed her Umbrella B*tch it was time to pack up.  This I dutifully performed with optimistic hopes of one day having my own flunky… I mean assistant.

Well  now, let’s just jump forward to say… I don’t know… hmmm.. okay, a month ago.  Setting the stage, imagine that Linda and I have entered pictures in the local county fair photography competition.  We have been doing this for a number of years now and really more of just a fun thing to do in order to get free passes to the fair.  I say that mainly to because we have NEVER ever ever ever actually earned a ribbon at any of these events, but pretty cool to see your work on display for everyone to admire.  Already resigned to another shut out, we walked into the display building to check out all the other efforts.  It is really a learning activity as well since you can experience the creativity of others and find interesting perspectives on angles, lighting, coloring etc. you may not have considered in your own works.  After a few minutes we looked over to the winner’s wall and were both shocked.  Turns out one of MY photos was on the wall with a ribbon attached to it.  Did I mention it was “MY” photo… as in a picture “I” took.  A quick scan of the rest of the wall confirmed that this was the only winning picture from our submitted set.  Now I am not one to gloat (who am I kidding, I love to gloat), but it appears there is a changing of the guard so to speak.  Or maybe more accurately, a passing of the torch where in the torch is actually the handle of the UMBRELLA.  I think this might actually turn out to be one great year especially with all the rain we have been having lately and what is sure to become my favorite weekend activity.   Hey, honey, it looks like it’s going to storm, what do you say we go get some lightning pictures?  This is going to be fun (at least until fair time comes around again, but that is a long long long way off).

I should probably make a quick, but funny admission.  The picture that actually won (embedded in the umbrella graphic above) was actually a last minute decision.  We had it hanging on the wall for a year or two and had actually planned to submit another photo instead.  I can’t remember if I ended up not liking the other picture or we miscounted on our tags, but we ended up taking it off the wall and entering it.  Oh well, a win is a win in my book (even if it is only an Honorable Mention which Linda keeps reminding me).

Winged Justice

Apparently my brother has seen fit to have a multi-part post making it very apparent I need to step up my game or be lost in the dust.  To offset this recent charge, I’m reaching into my bag of tricks and pulling out one of my favorite photo sets.  Needless to say, the topic is winged in nature but with a little extra.  Our Nikons get heavy usage whether it be on photo outings with my wife, capturing the sights on vacation, dog shows or just about any event worth reliving in the future … oh, and of course potential blog posts.  Every once in awhile there are some that make it into our favorites collection.  Sometimes we luck out and the photo is stunningly tack sharp.  Other times the tipping point is a unique setting, an interesting composition or a rare sight.   You may not even be able to tell from the picture itself because the special aspect of the photo was the effort involved in capturing it or pure luck of being in the right place at the absolute right time.  I am fond of this set mainly for the latter reasons, with a smattering of interesting composition and rare sight.

For the curious, I was shooting with the Nikon D90 at the extent of a 80-200mm Nikon glass shooting at ISO 1600 in a desperate attempt to freeze flight.  This results in the age old battle of speed versus grain and in this case I opted for the noise.  I need to briefly set this up for you.  Having spent the morning at Menards loading treated lumber for the bridge, I was slightly drained on the drive back home.  About a mile from the house, something caught my eye coming from the upper left.  Turning my head, my eyes locked onto a huge red tailed hawk in a tight dive right towards my truck.  Not sure what was going on, I hit the brakes in time to see the hawk begin to raise up, extend the wings and drop the landing gear.  With claws protruding, the hawk sailed in front of the windshield and dropped with authority in the ditch to my right.  Thankfully, there was no one else on the road at that time because I just sat there stunned with my mouth open relieved I was able to stop the truck in time.  After about 15 seconds, the hawk unfurled the wings and took flight landing in some tall Hedge trees further off into the woods.  At that point the heart sank because I had no way to capture this magnificent bird.  The truck was a mile from the house and loaded down with hundreds of dollars of lumber.  Screw it, some things are just worth taking some risks.  The truck was put in gear and the accelerator floored.  There was a slight scare as I turned into the driveway (slid would probably be a better word), but it was in 4 wheel drive due to the weight and the back wheels brought it back in line.  I flew into the house, grabbed the camera (thankfully had the right glass already on it) and jumped back into the truck and made the return trek – yes, with the wood since the only alternative was to run and I didn’t want to risk the camera.  Having already resigned to the fact the moment was likely already gone, I pulled off the road and started scanning the original bank of trees.  IT WAS STILL THERE! but definitely at a ways out there.  So, the first part of the equation was good, but was the the tipping point aspect still there?  This is rhetorical, of course.

By any chance, did you take a close look at the photo and notice anything intriguing?  The reason it was worth this effort (at least in my opinion) was that the hawk was actually on a specific mission and not just randomly scaring the crap out of motorists.  Nope, this red-tailed hawk was having some lunch.  As it rose up out of the ditch, there was a snake entwined in its talons.

Hopefully the zoomed shot provides a better view of the prey.  It was pretty cool seeing the snake trying to wriggle free, but that hawk was having none of that.  To be honest, I suspected the snake’s head may already be missing and the muscles were just convulsing by the time I made it back.  It would have had a few minutes to much while hunting down the camera.  It noticed my return giving me all of 3 to 4 seconds to get the camera settings the way I wanted before it started taking flight again.

Hit the jump to see the rest of the pictures in this set – unless of course you are squeamish, have a snake phobia or a PETA idiot that thinks the hawks should be nibbling on a stalk of celery instead.

Continue reading Winged Justice