Monday, June 17, 2019

Golden Ears- Foreground detail with background vistas.

The rule of thirds on a perfect evening.
Most of my landscape photos are done using a wide-angle lens of some form.  Relative to a full frame digital camera, a 35 mm focal length is very mild while a 15 mm is often far too wide.  Remember, this is relative to a full frame camera, so an APS crop-sensor camera would use 23 mm and 10 mm respectively.  I tend to use values between 20 to 30 mm relative, but much of that really depends on what exactly is being photographed.

The above shot is a good example.  I was using an APS-C sensor camera with a 53 mm focal length, which works out to about 80 mm relative.  It is a far cry from the values previously cited, but I wanted to capture the details in the post while not diminishing the beauty of the background.  That is why using a wide angle for landscapes doesn't always work well.  If I used a 40 mm lens (relative) and got the fence post the same size as above, the mountains in the background would only be half as big.  The shot would be completely different.  At 28 mm, the mountains would be about a third of the size.

When shooting landscapes, I often have my 20-35 mm lens on my full frame camera, but keep my 28-300 around just in case I need to zoom in a bit.  The ultra wide-angle lens works most of the time, but not always.  A standard kit lens (18-55 mm or 28-80 relative) will do quite a lot for you.  If you are looking for a good ultra wide-angle lens, there are many third-party manufacturers out there which produce zooms like 10-20 mm, 11-18 mm, or even an 8-16 mm for reasonable prices.  Go to this website if you want to see what is available.

A big reason I use the wide and ultrawide angle focal lengths is because of the great depth of field they give you.  Lower focal lengths give you more depth of field at any given aperture.  I usually also choose a higher f/number such as f/11 or f/16 and am careful about my point of focus to get as much in focus as possible.  The above shot was done at f/13 and my point of focus would have been somewhere behind the fence post.  The beautiful thing about digital cameras is the fact you can check your shot afterward and tinker with the various settings as desire or necessity dictate.

Go somewhere local with attractive scenery and play with foreground and background relationships.  Try different focal lengths, keep apertures relative small and check your shots afterward for quality and focus.  Remember the rule of thirds; don't let the foreground overwhelm the background or be overwhelmed by the background.  Zooming in and out and changing your position will go a long way towards allowing you to find the right balance.  Most importantly though, have fun.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Maple Ridge Dikes

A family of cyclists enjoying time together on Maple Ridge Dikes.
My daughter once told me she had to write a 1000 word essay.  I asked her why not submit a picture instead.  We know where this idea comes from, the adage is familiar to us all, but the sentiment it carries is true.  Pictures carry visual information far better than words and can do so in considerably less time.

A photograph should convey information, and a good photograph should do it convincingly or with strong aesthetic qualities.  National Geographic is famous for its photos because they often achieve one or both simultaneously.  Few of my images would fall into that category.  I do aspire to capture such photos though, and I occasionally succeed.

I like the above photo because it tells a story.  I do not know the people involved; in fact, I don't even recall ever seeing them.  The number of bikes (2 large and three smaller) and their proximity suggest a family.  The fact they have been abandoned connotates a care-free disposition and that they are nearby exploring what the area has to offer.  It is not too difficult to come to that conclusion.

I also like how the elements of the photo relate to one another.  The rule of thirds, the use of lines drawing the eye, the familiar background with Thornhill's silhouette establishing the location, and even the bikes' shadows pointing towards the family's likely location all add to its appeal.  The thing I like most about it though is that it represents one of the great features offered by our area and reminds me of the many occasions I have partaken of its revitalizing essence.  I could look at this photo forty years from now and be brought back home in my mind immediately.  Perhaps it is not a great shot, but I love it for those reasons.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Motor home away from home. The saga (part II)

Why I go camping:  It takes me to places where the photos are.
Continued from yesterday's blog.

Now that I was out of 3/4 inch oak, I had a new (and better?) idea.  I would use veneer oak plywood.  In case you are not familiar with it, veneer is a thin slice of wood, peeled off a tree as it is turned.  This veneer happens to be 1/16th of an inch thick.  I cut it to the right size (6x9 inches this time) and went through the rounding and sanding process.  Since my scroll saw was sans blades, I decided to go with the reciprocating saw again, only more carefully than before.

Unfortunately, the properties of the oak did not change, in spite of the thinner material, and it flew apart in two separate pieces.  I glued it back together.  It was time to turn in, a euphemism for throwing my hands up in the air and grieving my series of disastrous efforts.

The next day I was looking at my gluing job and an even better idea came to mind.  I didn't need a frame for it, I could mount it in front of the gaping hole in my dash, which would act as a cooling and venting area.  Too bad this idea hadn't come to mind earlier.  It turns out the oak wood previously discarded was perfect for this new vision.  I sanded the piece, drilled holes, and mounted it just below the void.  The monitor fit upon it perfectly.  Success was mine, nothing could stop me now.

I consider myself modestly handy with wiring.  I have installed quite a few car stereos over the years; this would not be too different.  Although the device has a plethora of wires emitting from its base, the only ones I needed to worry about was the red and black ones.  Now, this sounds simpler than it really was because it took me a great deal of reading the manual and playing with a battery and hookups before I came to that conclusion.  However, it was now very straight forward.  My confidence bolstered, I saw fit to actually hook it all up.

Solderless connections in hand with wire strippers, plyers, and electrician's tape, I used the power supply from the old unit.  I even had a voltmeter handy to be sure positive and negative lines were as I surmized.  Correct lines joined, connectors connected, and even the old camera feeds repurposed to carry voltage to the new cameras.  It was brilliant, OK, it was fine, but I felt good.  Now I had to power it all on.

I turned on the chassis power supply and the unit started beeping in an uncharacteristic manner.  Clearly, it was getting power, but somewhere I muffed up.  I pulled it all apart, that old feeling that things were not going to go my way was regaining its grip on me, and checked all the voltages again.  No, I had done it right.  I determined (again after a few "breaks" and much soul searching) that the culprit lay in the kind of voltage being supplied.  I don't have an oscilloscope, but there must be something odd about the nature of this source.  Maybe AC, maybe square waves - who knows - but I needed a new power source.

My neighbour (thanks Clint) suggested I pull power off the cigarette lighter.  An excellent idea.  And so I pulled it out and redid all my connections again.  A large pile of spent blue solderless connectors was growing as my various attempts were consecutively being thwarted.  However, this must work.  So, once again I hooked everything up, using the new power source, and did all my connections as before.  Cut, strip, merge, twist, connect, repeat.  Done.  Finally.  Finished.  Complete.  Success.  So I powered it all on.  NOTHING.

Maybe the line was switched through the ignition.  No, that wasn't it.  Maybe the engine had to actually be running.  No.  Voltmeter out and guess what.  The cigarette lighter circuit was dead.  I trailed the wire back, took apart the fuse panel, prayed and covered myself with ashes (an exaggeration, but you get the idea).  I would have fasted for a month if that helped, but there was no making this thing fly.  Now I had a problem.  Where was I going to get a power source?

I decided to use an empty slot on the fuse panel.  I went to Lordco and bought, for a measly $17, the necessary wire and fuse holder to make it work.  I ran the wire through the rig and came up underneath the dash.  I used a ground wire from earlier and the voltage checked out.  Taking it apart and reconnecting it, the blue wasted connectors now threatening to bury me, I completed the job once again.  Power on - wait for it - success!

I hooked up a camera to the rear feed and it worked too.  Amazing!  On one attempt.  At this juncture, I did not even think that possible.  No blood, no agonizing, no pain.  At last, I was done - well, for the moment.  You see, I now have to drill holes in the back of my RV, hook up the connectors through them, waterproof the access points, somehow get those wires to the power supply back there, tie them together with more blue connectors, and hope it all works.  What could go wrong?

Friday, May 24, 2019

Motor home away from home. The Saga (Part I).

A trial before hitting the trail.
It was time.  The backup camera in the rig bestowed to us by my dad was in need of replacing.  I was available as I have just recently retired, and I felt up to the challenge.  So, I got onto Amazon and ordered a 7" monitor which operates up to four cameras - I ordered three.  They came quickly as we are Prime members and I began what was to be the ordeal of a lifetime.

The first problem was to remove the old camera and monitor.  Easy enough, I thought, but that proved not to be the case.  The camera had no attachment mechanism other than the sealant on the outside, and it was not visible on the inside.  I opened a panel hidden inside a top cabinet and found the access port.  It was small and the distance between that wall and the camera on the outside wall was at least 12 inches.  No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't quite reach it.

After some uncertainty, I decided to use a reciprocal saw and cut out a larger access port.  Now I could get a light in there and get my tools in to remove the hardware.  I had earlier cut the sealant around the housing and it came free, although, in complete disclosure, I was guessing that this was the right thing to do.  I detached the wire from the camera and put it aside; I would later use it to power my new ones.

Now I had to remove the monitor.  The small screen monitor was a CRT device; it was mounted in my dash near the steering wheel.  I pulled open a few access ports and lay on my back with my head stuck upwards at an awkward angle trying to see how to pull this tiny behemoth out.  There - two screws that I can see.  Another pair on the other side probably.  I managed to get my hands in, every joint bending at some angle which it was not designed to function at.  I have to give praise here to the mechanics of the land, whose hands (no doubt larger than mine), have to go through such exercises every day.  I did not know being a contortionist was a requirement of the position.

With the four bolts removed I then turned my attention to pulling the device out from its snug nest.  To say that it was a tight fit would be underemphasizing the truth.  It was as if the Hulk was holding it in place.  I don't know why they bothered with bolts; this thing wasn't going to budge.  I pulled, pushed, levered, wobbled, and pried to no avail.  After further inspection, I discovered rubber rings inserted in the unit's sides.  Their removal facilitated success.

A break was needed to linger on the small triumph achieved; that and I was physically exhausted from the ordeal.  Then I was onto the next part - mounting the new screen.  This was going to be a breeze, although I was beginning to have misgivings about what I had gotten myself into.  Nothing was simple to this point.  The monitor itself was awesome; I powered it up directly to a battery and found it worked as advertised.  I also powered a camera and yes, it did work wirelessly.  Synching the devices was easy.

The trouble began right after placing the new display in front of the gaping hole now in my dash.  Exactly how was I going to mount it?  I noticed it fit within the void well, and decided I would use a 6x9 inch oak board as a frame.  Oak made sense because of the RV's interior decor, and I had removed an oak table earlier with the same stain colour.  I cut it out using a band saw then used a sander to finish the edges, complete with rounded corners.  I marked the outside shape on the back of the board and took it over to a scroll saw where I would, with great precision, extract the extraneous material.

Did you know that 3/4 inch solid oak is very hard?  I drilled a hole to get the blade in so I could cut out the center and discovered that the thin blades were not up to the assigned challenge. I destroyed three of them before admitting defeat.  It was time to fire up my reciprocating saw again.  It would not be thwarted.  Indeed, it did cut through the board with ease, although it took a lot of force to make it work.

Did you know that 3/4 inch solid oak is very brittle?  It cracks easily and the violent undulations tore my almost complete project in two.  Frustrated, but not beaten, I revisited the project by starting on a new piece.  Cut, sand, drill, saw the middle, and all ready to go.  Except that I cut it 6x8 instead of 6x9, so it was too small.  Rats; there is enough wood left to give it one more try.

Now, you would think that an almost 60 year old math teacher could use a measuring tape properly, but you would be wrong.  I managed to cut my last bit of wood into another 6x8 section.  OK, now my sense of humour was taking a beating.  I was done for the day and needed a good long break to reset my attitude and revitalize my sagging spirits.

Part II tomorrow.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Hayward Lake - Using HDR

Bracketed photographs merged using Photomatix HDR software
HDR stands for high dynamic range.  It is a method of getting more latitude out of a scene than would otherwise be possible using conventional techniques.

A digital sensor has about 8 stops of latitude when shooting jpegs.  This means that the light coming from a dark area and the light coming from a bright area can be no more than 256 times brighter or darker than the other before details become lost.  Anything darker than this level of shadow appears black and anything whiter than this level of highlight is perfectly white.  Essentially what this means is that, in a high contrast scene, dark areas would be black with no details and bright areas would be white with no details.

If you shoot in raw mode, you can get around 12 stops of latitude, which gives a difference of over four thousand times between extreme dark and light where details can be distinguished.  This is much better for shooting in high contrast situations, and one of the main reasons why most advanced photographers opt for this capture mode.

If you need more latitude than this, or if you want to play with the range of highlights and shadows in a different manner than what a normal jpeg or ram image will allow, there is HDR.  I want to point out that many cameras come with an HDR feature, or you can use a program like Photoshop that has HDR ability.  My experience has shown both of these avenues generate less than great images in general.  I use a program created by Photomatix which allows me to produce an HDR image from multiple bracketed files or even from a single raw image.

The process is easy.  Shoot a number of images of your scene with your camera on a tripod.  Bracket (take several pictures with each one being overexposed, properly exposed, or underexposed) widely; I often do seven photos with exposure compensation values set to +3, +2, +1, 0, -1, -2, and -3.  I combine the images together into a single picture using the software and then make adjustments as necessary to obtain the effect I want.

You can also use only a single raw image.  Shoot the image the way you normally would then, in Photoshop, enter the raw processor and save the image several times, each time altering the exposure value of the program.  Again I will use 5 to 7 variations.  Plug them into the HDR software and off you go.  The advantage of using a single file to create an HDR photograph instead of many is that everything is in exactly the same place.  People, cars, wind blown flowers, and so or are each in the same position for every shot.  You will not likely be so lucky with a bracketed set.

It takes a modest amount of time and, if you take multiple photos, a large amount of memory, to do this.  If you are planning to make many HDR pics, bring extra batteries and memory cards because you will use up the existing ones quickly.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Where's Bear?

Can you find Bear in this picture?
I have a collection of stuffies.  Mind you, this is not an admission of guilt or shame, it is just a fact.  I can utter those six incriminating words with impunity because I have a daughter, who at one time, had more stuffies than a shark has teeth.  As she grew up the population was culled to the point where she can count the number using only one hand.  Many of those furry inanimate organisms found new homes through garage sales, donations, or a conveniently located "dust bin", as the British call it.  I happened to procure the odd one for memory's sake.

Not that I obtained all my furry friends this way.  Admittedly I have purchased some for my own purposes.  Some of the pack, those that were more photogenic, have appeared in images I have created to fulfill some benevolent aspiration.  I use them in stories, photo assignments, fulfilling ambitions in a moment of silliness, demonstrating some photography principle, and in "Find the _____" shots, as the above picture illustrates.  I cannot say that my relationship runs deeper than that with them, although some may venture to offer an alternative hypothesis.  For the record, they all live in the same room where I keep my snake, which happens to be real and eats mice on a regular basis.

Consider this an idea for people who want to get kids involved with photography.  Have them take a stuffy and hide it somewhere in an area and photograph it in such a way that one would have to search for it in the picture to find it.  They will not get the technique right away but, with a little encouragement, will eventually develop a sound methodology.  Consider making the following suggestions:

1.  Do not put the subject in the center each time, although an occasional basis is fine.  This helps them work with the idea of composition.
2.  Find new places to put the stuffie, not using the same location each time.  This also helps them work with variables such as lighting and different exposure settings.
3.  Keep the critter small enough in the picture to make you search but not so small that it is impossible to find it.  The physical size is not that important, although a small stuffie will mean using a smaller area to search in.  A toy the size of an orange can be adequately hidden in an area the size of a table top, while a large toy the size of your head will need the space of a whole room.  This helps with creativity and planning concepts.
4.  If you go somewhere - mall, vacation, grandma's, outdoors - have them bring their subject and help them negotiate the complexities of that environment.  Get them to ask for permission, to be on the lookout for a special place, and so on.
5.  After they have made a collection of shots, say 10, present their work for the family to enjoy.  Each child could have their own set of pictures.  Give positive comments and encourage them to improve.

The great thing about this is that adults can do this too.  I know, because I do!

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Why camping is wonderful.

A family camping - let the good times roll.
The best thing about camping is that it brings people together.  The nature of your shelter doesn't really matter.  Although nice weather is preferred, it is amazing what fun you can have when it is wet, cold, or even both.  With homework and household chores being forgotten, there is time to engage in other activities.  And there is nothing like exploring a new area together where the adventures are a shared pleasure.

Outdoor living encourages even the pickiest eaters to clean up their plates.  An afternoon of frolicking will whip up anyone's appetite.  A young person who may reject certain foods at home is much more likely to ravenously consume them when camping.  Besides, stores are typically limited and the nearest fast foodery is typically a few hours drive away.  Going hungry when there is so much to experience is just not an option. 

Then there is the typical freedom from homework and household chores.  No piano to practice, no baths to take, and no bedroom to keep clean.  There is just so much time to do other things, like go on social media - wait - what do you mean there is no internet?  OH NO!  There is also no power, no electronics, no giant TV screen.  What are we going to do?

Isn't it wonderful how camping allows a family to spend time together?  Board and card games mean face time - in the real way.  Hiking, swimming, bike riding, and campfires, all with the family, together, in one place.  Connecting and reconnecting.  Memories of good times and unusual events. 

Another advantage is the relatively low cost.  Compared to a trip to Disneyland or Mexico, camping is a bargain.  A tent and some sleeping bags represent the main capital expenses.  Camping fees can be pricey, but there are also many places where the cost is low or altogether absent.  Of course, you can go in style with an RV of some sort, but the expense is prohibitive for many.  A used tent trailer may be just the ticket for those who want to sleep off the ground and want shelter that is a little more substantive than a tent.

I like the image I chose for this blog.  It tells a story about a family who has just spent a tremendous amount of time together doing wonderful things.  Their absence from the shot is also suggestive of their current status - busy doing something - together.  That's the beauty of camping.

 I have camped in lean-tos, tents, among the stars, tent trailers, travel trailers, and motor homes.