Book Recollection: Within the Frame

It has actually been awhile since I posted a recollection – let’s just do something about that.  Today’s recollection once again comes from the field of photography.  Last year I obtained a book recommended by a photography podcast that Linda and I are regular listeners of.  It was also recommended by Scott Kelby so it had two very good things going for it.  The book at hand is by David duChemin and called Within the Frame: The Journey of Photographic Vision.  It was billed as a book about the art of photography, those things that go beyond the technical aspects of taking a photograph that make your images compelling.  I have definitely had my fill of the science side of photography books as of late, so figured I’d pull this book out for insights on how a professional photographer sees the image, or as the book characterizes it, how the shot is framed.  There were two things that caught my attention immediately.  The first was the fact that the author was Canadian.  Based on a quick skim of the photographs in the book revealed a large number of Middle Eastern and Asian portraits and figured it was due to proximity.  Nope, David is actually a well traveled photographer and to say he has seen the world would be an understatement – and that isn’t just book a flight, walk around the tourist attractions and call it a day.  David truly immerses himself in the culture and tries to capture that in his photography.  Ironically, duChemin means “of the road”.  The second thing that stuck out immediately is he’s primarily a portrait photographer and not that into wildlife.  This is exactly contrary to my preferences so immediately there were concerns as to whether I should invest time in this book.  I consider my free time pretty precious so most of my reading is focused on learning something – but you should know that by now if you’ve looked at many of the recollections on this blog.  After some waffling, a decision was made to proceed and since giving up on a book is pretty rare, figured I was in for the long haul .. good .. or bad.

All in all, it turned out to be a good thing – or rather really good in the beginning and eventually tapering off as he began to hone in on the portrait details.  There were a number of thought provoking concepts scattered throughout the first half of the book.  The one that touched home was the belief that photography is a journey.  This I can relate to.  I’ll probably never get to where I’d like to be with this form of art, but looking back it is pretty easy to tell that there has been significant progress since those younger years of shooting film.  Granted, some of this is due to an improved income which enables better equipment, but there is a definite change in how I compose a shot and there is more interest for me beyond the common postcard shots on our vacations.  To sum it up, my shots are more about what I want to remember from a trip and less what I want to be able to show people where we went.  If there was one sentence in this book that stood out for me, it was definitely in the Afterword by Vincent Versace.  “Most likely there is one image that sent you on the path of photography.”  Wow, that is a tough one.  My early interest in photography was thanks to my brother Ron who would take me out with him to parks and what not to take pictures with the trusty 35mm Nikon – I still remember shooting deer in a park in Rockford and even further back when we were out chasing the moon on country backroads trying to get the perfect angle for a shot (don’t ask).  However when the digital age came I likely embraced that ahead of him when my wife and I would head out to the local wildlife park to shoot the animals.  At some point I came upon the work of Joel Sartore (link here) and Scott Linstead (link here). From that moment on the hook was set.  If I was to answer for Linda she’d probably go with Ansel Adams and me (hehehe, sorry had to get the dig in since she is currently lagging in the awards department – If she reads this, she’ll probably make some crazy excuse for what that isn’t true, but the jury has already rendered their decision!)  Take the time to ask yourself that very same question and see what you come up with.  The look back is well worth the time.

So if there is one aspect that gets some scrutiny, it has to be the impression that you should just travel somewhere and immerse yourself in the culture and come back with great shots.  First of all, depending on what your preferences are you could be carrying more than the locals would see in their lifetime.  Second of all, depending on your heritage, you might not be welcome in certain parts.  This thought made me cringe when he wrote “When seeing and capturing the spirit of a place, nothing can compete with wandering on foot and getting good and lost, Not momentarily lost, but completely and unfindably lost….you have no idea if it will open …. into a narrow alley that is the de-facto red-light district of town.  Clearly David has knowledge, experience and contacts that far exceed most of us and this familiarity allows him greater freedom the other cultures.  However, the thought of walking around in the back alleys and local haunts seems dangerous at best especially carrying stuff that says Nikon or Canon on it.  Hell, even he mentioned he was almost arrested for taking a picture of a Muslim girl.  To his credit, he does recommend using resources like Lonely Planet before you go, but for my comfort we’ll pick safer shoots and keep the danger to just the footing.

It does look like duChemin is an active blogger (http://www.pixelatedimage.com/blog/) so check him out if you want to learn more about him and his art – described as World and Humanitarian Photographer.

Hit the jump to see my takeaways (which were actually more than initially anticipated)

Continue reading Book Recollection: Within the Frame

Book Recollection: Rare

I decided to pinch the Yellow stream for a quick post on a book recollection.  This is mainly due to something that arrived in the mail just a few days ago, but more on that later.  Today’s post is on a book called Rare: Portraits of America’s Endangered Species by Photographer Joel Sartore.  Like the previous book recollection post on Decisive Moments (link here), this photographer’s work is one of my favorites (to be honest, he is probably tops in my list).  As you can guess, he is a photographer for National Geographic and has a focus on bringing awareness to endangered species.  There are wildlife photographers that can capture a shot by getting all the technical details right such as lighting, focus, aperture and shutter speed.  There are also photographers who are able to illicit emotion from the viewer by capturing the mood and feel of a situation.  Without a doubt, Joel is one of the few people who is able to produce a shot with both of those qualities.  As an example, just take a look at the Red Wolf in the cover shot.  The 2 subjects reside at the Great Plains Zoo in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  This proud species is fighting for their survival with only 330 of them left (at time of publication).  As Joel states in his book, their relationship at the top of the predator food chains makes them susceptible to lead poisoning thanks to intolerance.  To be honest, this is not a book you put down feeling good about your place on earth.  Sure, there are some bright spots like the success stories on American Alligator recovery and the banning of DDT in 192 which was responsible for devastating the populations of our proud American symbol, the Bald Eagle as well as the Peregrine Falcon.  Having just come back from Yellowstone, let’s not forget the progress of the Gray Wolf recovery.  But for all those triumphs, there is the losing side of the battle.  This includes the last Dusky Seaside Sparrow whose final resting place is in a jar at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville Florida or the fragile Mississippi Sandhill Crane population of 155 birds residing in Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refugee that was put at great risk by Katrina.

I am not in a position to preach to anyone and I certainly have my biases, but if you get the opportunity, just take a look at this book.  Even if the message doesn’t hit a personal chord, simply enjoy the stunning photographs.  Joel does a nice job of capturing the subject in a black or white setting (intentionally done to illicit more emotion).  The book is organized by population sizes with a description of the plight of that particular animal, insect or plant and in some cases he includes a little background on where and how the shot was taken.  If nothing else, it will push the bar up a little higher on your own photography output.  The book was also published on high quality paper giving it almost a gallery feel that you can put on your coffee table.  If you like his photographs, keep an eye out for his other works.  For starters, his image in the Simply Beautiful Photographs (see recollection here) was quite stunning.

So, back to that mail delivery mentioned at the start.  As a wolf enthusiast, I feel obligated to help in their recovery.  As a member of the National Wolf Foundation based on Ely, Minn), a member of the local Wildlife Prairie Park (who have a very nice wolf pack) and a new member of the Yellowstone National Park Association I like to think in some small way I am helping make a difference.  A few months ago I was made aware of another effort to help my four legged friends.  Will Burrard-Lucas and Rebecca Jackrel (whose photography blog Lind and I actively follow) started a project to document the struggle for survival of Africa’s wolves – you can find more about the project at their website (link here).  They were asking for financial assistance to get the project off the ground and I jumped at the chance.  Since that time, I had slowly forgotten about it as the stress of the holidays began to set in.  Low and behold we received this postcard in the mail.  A handwritten postcard from Rebecca and Will from Ethiopia.  How cool is that!  Needless to say, I am excited to be a part of this and cannot wait to see the shots upon their return.

Hit the jump to see my takeaways from Rare

Continue reading Book Recollection: Rare

Book Recollection: National Audobon Society Guide To Nature Photography

Ever start reading a book and come to the conclusion you might never actually finish it.  That is the exact situation I was in with today’s book recollection post.  Over three months ago I started reading National Audobon Society Guide to Nature Photography written by Tim Fitzharris.  Having perused the pictures in this particular book there was high expectations that the narrative would equal the stunning photos. And by stunning, I mean absolutely beautiful.  Turns out a number of Tim’s photos were actually scanned in from film with the added bonus of over 200 new digital photos (at least I think the new ones were all digital).  For those with access to the book, tops in my list was the image of a Marabou stork and African fish eagle fighting over a flamingo carcass.  That is now my benchmark for any photo session.  Another nice feature was he included the camera details for each of these shots providing some insights into how they were achieved.

As a quick background, this book was published by the National Audobon Society.  Interesting enough, their mission is to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biological diversity.  It was first published in 1990with a revision in 2003.  This particular copy was a second printing 2011.  Supposedly this was updated for the digital age, but there are still missed references to the film days and the digital age has actually evolved a couple of levels since 2003 (for instance a gig card for a day’s shoot is looooong gone).  So what trumped all these great pictures?  The honest truth was the Tim’s writing style.  He deserves every credit he has ever received for his images, but his writing style tends to overplay the profession.   It is hard to identify exactly what it is about the narrative that annoyed me so much and therefore hard to really describe the issue here.  Instead, let me take a quote and let you form your own opinions.

“… No matter the result of your picture-taking efforts, the act itself serves as an example to family members, friends and even the larger community of a philosophy that marries abstraction with the elemental dictums of survival.”

Did you know the perfect line of system code (in Forth of course) eschews the very fiber that separates society from barbarianism and insure that humanity will always demonstrate the higher thought process once attributed only to the deities of religion?  I didn’t think you did .. ha.

You get my drift.  After about 10 pages of that I had to put it down before I witnessed the re-evolution of dinner, making the progression through the 207 pages quite difficult.  Eventually, the last page was turned.  Again, the pictures were quite impressive and there were some takeaways so it was not a waste by any means – although not a great return of tip per time read.  The scary thing is we already purchased a sister book from Tim focused on Landscape Photography.  We’ll just let that sit for awhile.

Hit the jump to see my takeaways.

Continue reading Book Recollection: National Audobon Society Guide To Nature Photography

Time to Print Another U.B. Shirt

Does anyone recall that wonderful day last year when yours truly was gloating about success at the local photography contest.  This major award (ummm, okay, it was just an honorable mention, but can you say F*R*A*G*EE*L*EE ).   This of course was followed soon by a devastating moment in my photographic history when my wife entered her GRluEAckT shot of a bee approaching a sunflower into another (smaller venue) local fair.  The outcome of that was a Best in Show for her efforts.  Although I did pretty well there as well, I had to accept my fate and put on the Umbrella B*tch shirt for the year.  Well, that was one long year folks and it was time to put it all on the line again.  First off was the HOI Fair (the larger venue I scored on the year before).  Sadly, we were both shut out at that event (everybody say “AHHHHHH”).  All was not lost for the Knox County Fair was soon to follow, but I was considered the underdog based on last year’s results.

Last week we headed out to the fair to see how our pictures did.  The fate of Umbrella B*tch was hinging on this event so we were both a little nervous.  Unfortunately for us, an awesome picture of a fox took the Best in Show.  Our hats off to that photographer for a fantastic job.   We definitely do not mind losing to quality (now that out of focus B&W at the HOI… well, that’s a different story).    So now the HOI event was taken out of the decision process and the Best in Show was nixed.  The good news is we ended up doing quite well in a number of categories.  In fact, Linda and I each took two first places.

Linda scored with her Zion (I think that is where it was taken) water silk and her portrait she took at her niece’s wedding reception.  Ironically, she really didn’t think that shot was that great, but I really like the composition and you can’t tell it in this shot, but there is some grain to it that goes well with the period shot.  Apparently the judges agreed with me.  I took first for my winter cardinal shot and a macro shot I took of a praying mantis.  That cardinal shot finally gets some appreciation ( it is probably one of my favorite shots with the red of the bird contrasting nicely with the snow around it).  Linda paid back the favor on the praying mantis.  I was unsure about entering that macro, but Linda really liked it and forced me to enter it – I owe her a thanks.  With each of us getting two first places finishes, that U.B. decision criteria was thrown out too.

Hit the link to read to see how the 2011 U.B. decision process plays out

Continue reading Time to Print Another U.B. Shirt

A View from the Zoo

Greetings from the road to Terre Haute.  Linda and I are on our way back home from our trip to French Lick (chuckle) and thanks to being so far behind on posts this month I have resorted to using our travel time to pump a few blog posts out.  Today we have a special treat and by that I mean a guest photographer.  The first stop on our mini-vacation was to the Indianapolis Zoo.  Linda and I loaded up all of our camera equipment and headed out for a day of mirror slapping.  Later that night, Linda post processed some of her pictures for her peeps on Facebook (sigh).  I must say, she produced some amazing shots and thought I would share them with you.  Let’s start with the big cats.

That cat came out tack sharp with nice detail in the fur.  The tiger also has a look of intent as it stares down a small child with a face painting of a deer… kidding, it was actually watching his mate (below) taking a morning swim.  In truth, I would hate to be a deer that came face to face with that killing machine.  The composition isn’t the only thing that impresses me about this particular shot.  The fact that it even came out at all is a credit to Linda’s photographic abilities.  The tiger was actually behind GLASS at high sun.  One might be able to dismiss this as pure luck (hints of a certain sunflower picture), but then she pulled out this shot.

She also captured the tiger’s mate taking a swim in their pond.  Again, tack sharp (check), captivating expression (check), difficult lighting (check) with the added composition element of reflection (score).  All that is plenty enough but yes, it was taken through the very same glass protecting it from us.  She actually manually focused these shots to compensate for the false glass readings.  My only credit point is I taught her how to take pictures in full manual exposure mode which she is now downplaying as just a refresher from her 35mm Pentax days.  This is probably a good time to point out that it was extremely hot the day we were there which is probably why a cat (notorious for not really liking water) decided to seek relief in the stream.  “How hot was it?… it was so hot, even the cheetahs had their sneakers off and lounging in the weeds.”

Although not through glass, this big cat shot was nicely done as well.  It was actually in mid sentence asking us if we’d be willing to get it a slurpy (antelope flavored) to help cool down.  One of the features at the Indy zoo was to test your speed against a cheetah.  I had heard the programmed announcer (Tony Stewart who helped fund this exhibit) initiating the races which were going off about 3 minutes apart.  I was actually feeling sorry for the poor cheetah having to continually race in blistering heat until I came upon the race site.  It was just an electronic simulation consisting of lights representing the cheetah’s speed above a single lane track for the human to run on.  If those lights were accurate, that cat can move!    The heat was getting to everyone that day and most of the animals were seeking any shelter they could find in their natural pens.  The polar bear below was taking a snooze when we first arrived at the zoo around 9:15am.

Hit the jump to see a few more great pictures of wildlife at the Indy Zoo

Continue reading A View from the Zoo

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

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

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

Precious Metals

Fresh off a four comment post (WOOT!), I figured it was time to get a service/product post out of the way.  That and it was a great opportunity to get the Macro glass back out.  Needless to say, this Macro realm is going to take some time to get adjusted too.  Thinking at this point, it is all about the tripod/monopod and possibly the wireless shutter or at worst case the old stand by shutter timer.  Honestly, easy hobbies bore me and this one looks like it will give me a lifetime of enjoyment.

You are probably wondering why there appears to be metal shavings hanging out on the left.  Could it be some colossal metal sculpture depicting the evolution of life from the moment of conception to the point they put you back in the ground (stare at awhile from bottom up, you’ll get what I mean and it will forever haunt you every time you see this picture)?  Maybe it is some civil war relics dug up during our trip out east a couple of years ago or perhaps simply some metal shavings that ended up costing me some green bills?  I’ll let you ponder that for a couple of minutes if nothing else to let you shake out some bad imagery.  If you picked ‘A’, I have some things I’d like to sell you.  If instead you immediately deduced this was a post about service and therefore selected option ‘C’ then pat yourself on the back.  These shavings are actually fingertip small and cost me about $100.  A number of weeks back, my wife decided to enjoy the whirlpool after a long agility show day.  Once filled, she tried to turn off the water but a small stream of cold water remained.  For the most part I’ve gain some proficiency in the carpentry thing, the brick/cement thing, basic mechanics and even wiring when the need arises.  There are two things I am definitely not good at – one being natural gas and the other being plumbing.  When I originally built my house, everything was electric because I could likely fix anything that went wrong and it didn’t have the threat of blowing up my house (note, since then the genset has been installed crushing my no gas plan).

So now it is late on a Sunday and we are staring at a stream of water destined to drain the well if left unresolved too long.  After some brain things inside my head, it occurred to me that it was not a crisis since I could simply close the shut-offs to the whirlpool and get it addressed before her next use.  This plan was relevant for about 5 minutes until a quick run downstairs brought awareness to the fact there were NO shutoffs on the whirlpool.  Couple that discovery with the fact there is a fully tiled elevated skirting along the two open sides of the whirlpool and you have some major suckage happening.  Last chance was to take off the Delta faucets and see if there was a washer I could temporarily tighten down to at least stop the flow.  Any guesses how that idea panned out…you’re right.  With no other options, I killed the main well shutoff and planned to open it up just long enough for our morning showers while we hunted down someone to fix it.  Lucking out, when we turned the water back on, the faucet was no longer leaking so we left the water on, got a hold of someone recommended by one of the builders we still talk to and tested our patience until that Friday when he could make it over to correct the situation.  I should point out, the job included fixing the leaks and putting in the missing shut off valves in case it ever happened again.  Long story short, the plumber successfully put the shut offs in and then started working on the faucet leaks.  Adding to my limited knowledge of plumbing, Delta now uses a cartridge concept which simply pulls out for easy replacement.  There is a spring that sits on top to engage the cartridge which allows the water to flow or more importantly shuts it off when the handles are turned.  The plumber pulls out the cartridge puts a new one in and has me turn the water back on.  Ack!  water still does not shut off.  Intrigued, the plumber turned the water back off, removed the cartridge and started probing into the faucet base.  Pretty soon he pulls out a few of the metal pieces above.  The odd thing he notices is that they appeared galvanized and thus was unsure of where they would have originated from.  Problem solved, faucet replaced and the water turned back on… not so fast… still leaks… water back off.  The faucet was removed again and sure enough more metal shavings and now the rest of them are in the tube having navigated their way through the rest of the innards.  This second attempt did the trick and the faucet officially works now.

I am still left wondering why those shavings ended up there.  I highly doubt it was luck of the draw from debris that made it in to the piping during the build phase over 3 years ago.  What is more believable is faulty faucet workmanship.  The assumption being the metal shavings were part of the faucet manufacturing process and they simply broke off over time.  I do not have the time to verify if there are galvanized components inside the faucet, but in any case, these little shavings cost me over $100.  That amount of money for the weight of those shavings put it in company with some pretty precious metals, however, it was putting at jeopardy the most precious commodity there is out in the country… WATER 8^)