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More “Playing”

Canal, Venice
Copyright Andy Richards 2013

I “discovered” the “oil painting” look primarily by accident. I was post-processing images from my first visit to Venice back in 2013 and while working on this canal image, was using NIK’s ColorEfx Pro plug-in to Photoshop to “enhance” color.  There is a filter in that program called “Detail Extractor,” which my friend and talented photographer and Photoshop user, Al Utzig, had once recommended I try.  As I played with this filter, I saw the effect, here, which reminded my of an oil painting – especially the buildings in the background.  But as I played around with it, I was not able to reproduce that effect over the entire image.  That was o.k.  I rather liked the kind of “hybrid” nature of the image.  Enough so that it is printed quite large, framed in gold, and hanging in our Florida Living Room.

The lesson here is to take advantage of the fact that some people much smarter and more talented than I am have already done the heavy lifting

This experience intrigued me enough that I have played around a couple times with other images, and set them aside, for a time when I had more time and interest in “working” them. Over the holidays, I have been spending a little more time working with the idea of making some of my photographs into “paintings.”  My blog a couple weeks back was my “freshman” foray into this area.  This image was made using the NIK Color Efex Pro Plugin’s “Detail Extractor.”  Those who saw it a couple weeks ago may have read my friend, Al Utzig’s comments and note that I took his suggestion and removed the “halo” that was present between the mountain tops and sky.  While I rather like this image, it was not the “look” I was seeking.  There is too much luminance and saturated color, especially in the umbrellas in the foreground and the people in the image.  Too “photo-realistic.”

Amalfi Coast
NIK Color Efx
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Photoshop already has many features that allow painting and filters that add different “looks” and textures to images.  But I have never found them easy, or intuitive to use.  There is, for example, an “oil paint” filter that has been in Photoshop for some years now.  I thought that it would convert a photographic image into at least a basic oil-on-canvas look (something like the conversion to B&W that can be done).  I expected work would have to be done to make it look like I wanted, but at least a basic start.  That was not my experience.  Try as I might, I could not make the filter look like my vision of a painting, though the one here came closer, only after I really worked it with some layers, and added a texture layer, to at least give it a canvas look.

I did what I always do.  I bought a book :-).  While that was interesting and entertaining, it was still not really helpful for “hands-on” tinkering.  Indeed, many of the example projects in the book did not work the way they were “supposed” to in the book.  But one think I did pick up was that most of the stuff that was getting closer to the look I wanted, was made first, by using another software program; Corel Painter.  As I looked at more and more examples, I saw that others were using this software and that it was really designed with tools for doing some of the things I wanted to do.  So maybe the lesson here (I learned it with NIK some years back) is to take advantage of the fact that some people much smarter and more talented than I am have already done the heavy lifting.  I looked at Painter 2018, but the $450 (discounted!) price tag was more than I wanted to jump into.  But I did find Painter Essentials (for those who, like me, early on looked for an affordable alternative to Photoshop – this was before Lightroom – and started with Photoshop Elements, I think this is a comparable choice).  I am using the free trial right now, but think I will purchase it and the $29.00 tag is more palatable – at least to a beginner.  Will I jump to the “pro” program?  We will see where this goes (probably not).

Amalfi Coast, Italy
Corel Painter Essentials
Copyright, Andy Richards 2017

Using the “auto-paint” feature on the Amalfi Coast image, I immediately started to see results more like I had imagined.  I have a lot to learn about this fairly simple program.  One of the things it does in its default mode is to add edge effects, like the image here.  I tried a couple different “paints” and ultimately, was drawn to this one (“colored pencil”).  But it still wasn’t the final look I wanted.  So I used this image as a layer on my original photograph, and blended it into the photograph.  After playing with some adjustment layers to work with the sky, clean up some color and saturation issues, and to add some blur to the final result, this is the composite I came up with.  It has a few “issues,” but it is much more what my “mind’s-eye” saw as a painting of this scene.  This is new for me.  There are probably many of you out there who have this down far better than I do.  I would be happy to hear from you.

Amalfi Coast, Italy
Composite
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

I will be back at this 🙂

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Key West

Key West Harbor Key West, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Key West Harbor
Key West, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

I have a travel “bucket list,” (of sorts).  One of the places on that bucket list has been the Florida Keys, and particularly, Key West.  In January, we traveled to Key West for a long weekend.   As can happen, it turned out to be a bit of an adventure.

Sunrise; Ft. Myers Beach, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Sunrise; Ft. Myers Beach, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

From Fort Myers Beach, you can take a Ferry (The Key West Express) which will land you in Key West in about 4 hours.  I have always thought of Key West as being south of Miami.  It is more accurate to say it is southwest of Miami, and it is really further west than south (sounds like the beginning of a Jimmy Buffet song).  And it is actually straight south from Ft. Myers Beach, so the ferry ride is a pretty straight shot right down the gulf.  From Ft. Myer’s the drive is substantially longer and were were interested in getting there and back as quickly as possible.  Personally, I don’t mind driving — especially when it is to new places. But my traveling companions; well, not so much.  “Be careful what you wish for,” it turns out, applied here.  More on that later.

Fort Myers Beach Fort Myers FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Fort Myers Beach
Fort Myers FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

The Ferry pulled away from the dock early in the morning, and we were aboard to see the sun rise over Ft. Myers Beach.  As we left the harbor, we were able to see some of the popular “beach” hangouts from the deck of the ship in early morning light.

Fort Myers Beach Fort Myers, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Fort Myers Beach
Fort Myers, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

As promised, just under 4 hours later, we landed at the Key West Harbor terminal, where the main boating activity, including cruise ships, fishing boats, ferries and pleasure craft, occurs.    A short jaunt from the ferry terminal, Key West’s main tourist attraction, Duval Street, begins just southeast of Mallory Square, on the harbor.  While the island itself is oriented primarily west to east, most of the streets run diagonal from either the Northwest to Southeast, or North East to Southwest.

Sloppy Joe's Bar Key West, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Sloppy Joe’s Bar
Key West, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

As soon as you set foot onto Duval Street, you are confronted with bars and restaurants and shops.  While there are a number of “tourist” and “family” activities available, the main event (for adults anyway — in it definitely is an “adult” kind of place) seems to be the bar/restaurant scene.  We visited several bars while there, including the famous Sloppy Joe’s.  We were interested to see the substantial influence from the military — particularly the Navy.  Since my father-in-law was a career Naval Officer, we enjoyed seeing some of the paraphernalia left by military personnel over the years.

Sloppy Joe's Bar Key West, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Sloppy Joe’s Bar
Key West, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

It was also fun to visit a restaurant and learn a bit about Key West history.  Blue Heaven was such a place with a singular history of  cockfighting (100 years ago), gambling, and Friday night boxing matches purported refereed by Hemingway himself.

Blue Heaven Key West, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Blue Heaven
Key West, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Notwithstanding its “quirky nature, one of the draws it its very unique, partially covered, outdoor area.  In Key West, it is a restaurant/bar of some repute, with live music and good food.

Blue Heaven Key West, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Blue Heaven
Key West, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Our B&B was at the southeastern end of Duval Street, near the furthest south beach in the U.S.  Not surprisingly, there is also a resort next door, aptly named, “The Southernmost Beach Resort.”  After our arrival in Key West, we first took our luggage to the B&B and found a restaurant (equally aptly named), in the resort:  The Southernmost Beach Cafe.

Southernmost Beach Resort Key West, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Southernmost Beach Resort
Key West, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Southernmost Beach Resort Key West, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Southernmost Beach Resort
Key West, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

A stroll down the approximately 1 mile long Duval Street from the B&B back to Mallory Square, gave us a bit of the “lay of the land” and a precursor of the chaotic night life that Duval Street is known for.  Among other famous figures, Key West was a favorite haunt of Hemingway and of President Truman (both of whom had substantial homes on this island).  But for me the personal favorite “famous” person is Jimmy Buffet.  :-).   So I couldn’t walk by the original Margaritaville without stopping (and I couldn’t walk out with out buying a T-shirt) :-).

The Original "Margaritaville" Key West, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

The Original “Margaritaville”
Key West, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

I recently noted here that the Florida Gulf is known for its sunsets.  Key West is certainly no exception.  We sat at an outdoor bar listening to a local live band in Mallory Square at the end of our first day and watched the sun set as “our” Key West Express departed with its passengers for Fort Myers Beach.  We thought we would be on that same boat 2 days hence.

Sunset, Key West, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Sunset, Key West, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

I neglected to say, the occasion of our visit to Key West was a birthday present from my wife.  For the actual birthday, she found, and booked a restaurant on the water, called Louie’s Backyard.  For anyone visiting Key West and looking for a nicer restaurant with wonderful food in a great venue, I highly recommend Louie’s Backyard.  As we sipped a Martini and watched the sunset, I captured this image with my wife’s smartphone, of an adjacent pier which must have been yet another bar or restaurant.  Not too shabby a birthday night.  Certainly one to remember.

Sunset from Louie's Backyard Key West, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Sunset from Louie’s Backyard
Key West, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Also, all good things must come to an end.  Sometimes abruptly.  I had carried a cigar around in my shirt pocket for two days, waiting for the right opportunity to enjoy it.  It turned out to be after we returned from the restaurant and up on the 2nd floor balcony of our B&B.  And as I sat there enjoying the night time activity and pleasant weather, and wondering what we would do the next day, my wife received a text from Key West Express.   Due to predicted, near-40mph wind gusts and thunderstorms over the gulf, they would not be there to pick us up at our appointed time at 5:00 p.m. the following day.  I am fond of saying that if things don’t work out as planned, it is always important to have a “plan B.”  When asked what “plan B” is, I usually say that the reason it is “plan B” is because I have no idea what it is. :-).  It is another way of saying sometimes you just need to roll with the punches.  We (actually my wife and brother in law, as I sat back and watched them in action) rented a car on line and the next morning we left the B&B at 8:00 and picked up a rental car at the Key West airport.  So, I did get my chance to drive through the keys!  It was a very long day, but an enjoyable weekend.

 

 

Florida Gulf Sunset

Crystal Beach Pier Crystal Beach, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Crystal Beach Pier
Crystal Beach, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

My friends and some readers here know that I have two homes now; one here in Michigan and one in Florida.  The Florida home is in western Florida on what is known as “the Gulf side.”  We are in the Tampa Bay region and between the Gulf of Mexico, Tampa Bay, and Clearwater Harbor, water is everywhere.

Water is often conducive to sunrise and sunset photography

Water is often conducive to sunrise and sunset photography.  And the Florida Gulf is renowned for its spectacular, colorful sunsets.  So it is interesting; almost surprising to me that though I live no more than 10 minutes from the gulf, I have made very few sunset images.

Part of the reason is that I haven’t made the opportunity.  My trips to Florida are usually short, and often centered around the holidays, and spending time with family and friends.  Unless one of them is as enthusiastic about photography for its own sake, it is more difficult to fit a dedicated photography outing in (even a short one).  I have noted here before, that the best light conditions for late day photography often fall at the same time people make plans for dinner, or other evening activities.

Crystal Beach Crystal Beach, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Crystal Beach
Crystal Beach, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

The other reason is more personal, and perhaps, esoteric.  Back in “the day” (in context, when we shot with film and mechanical cameras), getting a successful sunset (or sunrise) shot required some knowledge of the science of exposure, a decent camera, and a tripod.  It really took a more or less “dedicated” outing to do.  So there were fewer of them out there (in print and later, on the internet).  Consequently, almost any well exposed sunset shot with some color in the sky was new, different, and to many, interesting.

The other reason is more personal, and perhaps, esoteric

Technology has changed that.  Particularly in the last 10 years, digital cameras, and especially the cameras built into cellular phones, have become increasingly impressive at rendering all kinds of scenes in all kinds of light conditions.  Today, we get 100’s of posted sunsets each day on Facebook, Google, Instagram, and the like.  And they are often technically pretty well exposed, even in instances where the shooter really doesn’t know anything about the science of photography.  This doesn’t necessarily mean they are “good” images though. (although I will concede that at some level, “good” is very subjective).  Part of human nature (mine at least) means that this glut of “sunset” photos make them less interesting, and it takes something more to not only capture my interest, but make the image worth making.

Crystal Beach Pier Crystal Beach, FL Copyright 2017 Andy Richards

Crystal Beach Pier
Crystal Beach, FL
Copyright 2017 Andy Richards

During the “Christmas” holidays (roughly late December through early January), I was in Florida for a more extended period and I did make some time to do some scouting and then eventually, shooting.  I try to get in a 15-20 mile bike ride every other day or so, and the Pinellas County Rail Trail is very close to our home and basically skirts the gulf from Clearwater to Tarpon Springs.  I ride it most of the time, and have taken a few detours down to the water, in exploration of possible photo ops.  One of the really nice places I found was a very small community sandwiched between Palm Harbor and Tarpon Springs, called Crystal Beach.  There is a nice little park, a small beach, and a community pier.  So Crystal Beach became a destination for some sunset shooting.crystal_beach_pier_4_2017

My own criteria for sunset shots is different from many of the shots I commonly see (mostly on Facebook).  To me, for interest, there needs to be something more than water, sky and sun (or light) in the shot most of the time.  I emphasize “most” of the time, because I think there are occasions when the sky alone (or the water reflection) may be the true subject and any other objects in the photo may detract from this.  But not most of the time.  This really isn’t different from general “photography 101.”  A good photograph needs a good subject, and good placement (or exclusion) of other elements in the photo to enhance the view of the subject.  A couple of basic things I like to remember as I set up and compose are to be sure the horizon is level (probably the number one “cell-phone” shot issue I observe), and that the horizon (most of the time 🙂 ), is not dead center in the image.  Aside from that, I look for something that will give the image perspective (and, to me “interest”).  Sometimes you just feel the urge to do a “gimmicky” shot, too.  While in Key West a couple weeks ago, we celebrated my 60th birthday at a nice restaurant with a deck overlooking the ocean, noted for sunsets.  I didn’t have my camera at the time so a cell phone shot would have to do, as I saw this image developing.  There was no other place I could get to to shoot the orange ball as it dropped, so I framed it in the pier next to us.

Louie's Backyard Key West, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Louie’s Backyard
Key West, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

My one other dedicated sunset photo outing was in early 2016, to Honeymoon Island, again, close to home and a “favorite” spot for viewing the sunset over the gulf.  The silhouetted couple was a stroke of luck, but it definitely make the image unique and in my view, certainly more interesting than that spectacular colored sky alone.

Honeymoon State Park Dunedin, FL Copyright 2015 Andy Richards

Honeymoon State Park
Dunedin, FL
Copyright 2015 Andy Richards

The opening shot of the Crystal Beach Pier is an example of my thought process.  The golden sunset has a “wow” factor all of its own.  The sunset shot of Newport, Rhode Island is similar in that I don’t know that I could have duplicated that beautiful orange color ever again.  But without the sailboat, it would just be a ho-hum (colorful, perhaps, but still ho-hum) image.  AT Crystal Beach there were 20-30 people who arrived shortly before sunset, just to observe this phenomena, which is a frequent occurrence (thought always somewhat unique).  To the observer, the sunset is the rai·son d’ê·tre.  So we come for that and we watch it and often, we capture it with camera or phone.  But our subconscious puts that sunset into perspective; something the photograph often does not.  Our peripheral vision sees the pier, the ground, the plants, and that the horizon is “out there” (and level).

Narragansett Bay Newport, RI Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Narragansett Bay
Newport, RI
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

There are many spots I have scouted and many I haven’t even discovered yet.  So there will be more Florida sunset shooting in my future.

Mediterranean Reprise

Ponte Vecchio Florence, Italy Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Ponte Vecchio
Florence, Italy
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Followers may have noted that I have not been posting lately.  To my own surprise, my most recent post was in March.  I seems hardly possible that 2 months have passed, but they have been 2 of the most action-filled months in my recent years.  Life has a way of taking twists and turns.  I have mentioned here that about 3 years ago, we purchased a home in Clearwater, Florida, which will be our retirement home eventually.  There is still lots more to explore and do in Florida and much of it will probably have to wait until I am permanently down there, which is not yet :-).

Trevi Fountain Rome, Italy Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Trevi Fountain
Rome, Italy
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

I thought I would follow the travels of my friends, and feature some of my “off the beaten” path images of those iconic places

But it was time for another “phase” in the process.  For 3 years now, I have been living essentially by myself (my wife and our dog spend 90% of their time — blissfully — in our Florida home) in a near 3000 square foot home here in Michigan.  It was time for me to move on from there, and so we put several months of effort and a few dollars into modernizing the home we lived in for 24 years and put it on the market.  I keep saying I should have bought a lottery ticket at the same time.  It sold in a weekNeedless to say, I wasn’t ready, and I have spent much of my missing-in-action time (essentially every non-working minute), cleaning and packing up 30 + years worth of accumulated …. we’ll call them “things” :-).  Some serious down-sizing was also in the mix.

The ubiquitous black gondola (shown here with the also common blue cover) is a favorite subject of photographers Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

The ubiquitous black gondola (shown here with the also common blue cover) is a favorite subject of photographers
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Now I am moved into a much smaller 2 bedroom rental condominium with no maintenance duties and just right size for me.  I have high hopes this summer of golf, biking, running and photography (oh, and that pesky career thing, too :-)).

VENICE_STREETS Venice, Italy 091220130039

Streets of Venice Copyright Andy Richards 2013

As I follow Facebook, I am struck by that fact that at least 3 of my friends and acquaintances are or have recently traveled to Mediterranean Europe.  As readers here know, I have been on two cruises there.  I must like it, because we just booked another one for 2017, with the same friends who traveled with us last time (they must like it too 🙂 ).GRAND_CANAL Venice Italy 091120130109

 

I must like the Mediterranean.  I have been on 2 cruises there and now have booked another in 2017

It has been fun to see so many images that I captured myself, of places we visited.  But one thing that seems to be consistent is that the images are of well-known primary places all visitors go to see.  It is pretty likely that the tour guides follow pretty much the same menu.  I have a couple mentors who have encouraged me over the years to look to see things other than the icons, and to “see” things happening around me with my camera.  Moving to the “small” camera for my travel has no-doubt fostered this approach.  So, I thought I would follow the travels of my friends, and feature some of my “off the beaten” path images of those iconic places.

Streets of Venice copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Streets of Venice
copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Venice is my (so far) favorite place in Mediterranean Europe.  For a photographer:  “eye-candy” everywhere you look.  20 years ago, I would have burned up all my film in Venice during our 4 day pre-cruise visit!  I’ll just re-post a few here.

Grand Canal at Night, Venice, Italy copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Grand Canal at Night, Venice, Italy
copyright 2013 Andy Richards

We have been to Athens 2 times and are destined for a third.  There is so much European history to photograph there.  Perhaps my best effort there is this image of these young military men, on flag raising detail at the Parthenon.

Flag Detail The Acropolis Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Flag Detail
The Acropolis
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

In Rome, there are so many iconic images, including the Trevi Fountain, The Coliseum, The Vatican, The Pantheon and on and on.  One place everyone visits is the Spanish Steps, and I — like every other tourist, took my share of images on and around the steps.  The image here is looking back from a Roman street, with the normal activity of the local businesses, on the inevitable commercialization cropping up around this awesome example of classic architecture.

Roman Street Spanish Steps in Background Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Roman Street
Spanish Steps in Background
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

My favorite image from both my trips to Rome is this somewhat “reflective” image on a quiet Roman Street.

City Center Rome, Italy Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

City Center
Rome, Italy
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

When I think of Tuscany, I think of wine country, Florence and Pisa.  In Pisa, the “Leaning Tower” is obviously the attraction.  But the walled city and the other buildings are pretty impressive architecture, too.  Of course, you have to get that silly image of your companion “holding up the tower” too :-).  My  unique “takeaway” from Pisa was this detail shot of the marble.

Pisa, Italy Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Pisa, Italy
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Florence is all about the grand shot from up on the high plaza of the entire city, and shots in and around the famous bridge passageway.  I got those, too.  But I was intrigued by Mussolini’s speaking balcony perhaps more than anything else in this city.

Mussolini's Balcony Palazzo Vechio Florence, Italy Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Mussolini’s Balcony
Palazzo Vechio
Florence, Italy
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Provence is about wine and romance.  My images there hopefully address that.

Aix-en-Provence, France Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Aix-en-Provence, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Chateau la Dorgonne Provence, France Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Chateau la Dorgonne
Provence, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Lots of cruises end in Barcelona.  We started there.  The city of Gaudi has pretty much unlimited photo opportunities for the creative.  Here are a couple of my favorites.

Palau De Musica Barcelona, Spain Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Palau De Musica Barcelona, Spain
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Palau De Musica Barcelona, Spain Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Palau De Musica Barcelona, Spain
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Barcelona, Spain Sony RX100iv Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Barcelona, Spain
Sony RX100iv
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

I will be doing my research soon for the next trip to this region in September, 2017.  Hope you enjoyed some of these re-treads.  Hopefully, I can get back to my regular weekly posting, now that life is returning to a normal routine.  Best regards and as always, thanks for reading.

Photoshop is Not Evil!

I don’t rant much here.  But, it’s my blog, and I’ll rant if I want to.  🙂

I  just recently read something on Facebook that struck a raw nerve. It was titled “The best 100 photographs ever taken without Photoshop.” NEWS FLASH:  You don’t “take” photos with Photoshop. For most of us, Photoshop is nothing more than a post-processing development tool for our images.  And by “Photoshop,” most of these inane commentaries really mean post-processing software (so, Lightroom, PhaseOne, OnOne, Nik, “The GIMP” and others, you are all in the same basket).  When I say “Photoshop” in this article, lets agree that I mean post-processing software.

NEWS FLASH:  You Don’t take photos with Photoshop

The silly title of this Facebook post is like saying, back in the days of film, “the 100 best prints made without a darkroom.”

There isn’t any doubt that post-processing software can be used in an abusive way – as could the old wet darkroom. But am I the only one that is tired of the shrill howls of the would-be “purists” who cry foul any time anyone uses Photoshop to in any way change the image that came straight out of the camera? Did we pass a law in the U.S. that forbids changing or “working” images out of the camera? And is there some new moral “standard” (set, of course, by the shrill criers) for what is “natural?”

Photoshop is not some evil software that has overtaken the photographic world and destroyed all good photography.  C’mon, folks. Lighten up. My imagery (even my nature imagery) is predominantly artistic. I have yet to shoot new footage, evidence photography or something purporting to be an exact replication of what “was.” And, I submit, even those endeavors are probably less “accurate” than supposed.

No matter what we do, there are factors in photography that distort reality

And it is a matter of digital “science” that in most cases, the images render by the in-camera computer needs at least some post processing to make an image presentable.  And that processing can be done without altering the so-called integrity of the image.  But what if I go further with my artistic image?  Why is there so much angst about this from so many people?

I’ll trust the viewer to make her own conclusions about believability

No matter what we do, there are factors in photography that distort reality.  At a bare minimum, perspective and lens focal length are significant factors. But unless I am submitting my photograph as evidence in the courtroom, or as support of a news article, who really cares? If a shot is “believable,” it is worthy. And I’ll trust the viewer to make her own conclusions about believability.

One Year with Sony; It only gets Better!

Sony NEX-6; Sony-Zeiss 24mm f1.8 lens

Sony NEX-6; Sony-Zeiss 24mm f1.8 lens

One of my buddies, a Nikon shooter forever, asked yesterday if after a year, I was happy with my switchover to Sony’s mirrorless systems. My previous answer to that question has been equivocal. Today, it is an unequivocal “yes.” Today, I will muse a bit about changing systems and on my amazement at how far Sony has gone – so fast.

there has been an internal change in mental approach to my photography

I think for the reader, a related question, is whether you should consider switching systems at all. For me, in addition to some of the “mechanical” aspects of the system, there has been an internal change (however subtle) in mental approach to my photography. I don’t think this is a “brand” issue. One of my “mentors” has said to me that my change to the use of “small cameras” has changed my approach to photography. I guess that could have happened with any brand of smaller camera. And, I think my place in life right now has changed things. More travel which is not dedicated solely to photography has made me adapt my gear and shooting styles.

The biggest factor in gear choice is always going to be external factors like travel considerations, the type of photography you mostly do, and want to do in the future. There are other factors, too. What is your “level” of photography? I know a lot of people who just want to carry a camera around and take “nice pictures.” I will suggest a new Sony cam that I think is ideal for those folks who want a “higher end,” fine piece of equipment without the hassle of “gear,” below.

Original Columbia Restaurant; Ybor City; Tampa, FL Sony a7; Sony-Zeiss 24-70 f4 Copyright 2015 Andy Richards

Original Columbia Restaurant; Ybor City; Tampa, FL
Sony a7; Sony-Zeiss 24-70 f4
Copyright 2015 Andy Richards

I also think it is important to consider where you are coming from. If you already own a system, the considerations are very different, in my view, than if you are just coming into either photography or digital photography. In the latter case I wouldn’t hesitate for a nanosecond to recommend the Sony system (more on that in a minute). If you already own a good system, then something other than a yearning for the newest needs to drive the shift, in my view; especially if money is an issue. In my unfortunate experience, it is very rare for equipment to hold its value (with the possible exception of some very high-end glass, like Leica). Thus, a shift is going to mean taking a “loss” on your gear (especially if, like me, you always babied and maintained it). It means that for a true “lateral” move, you will probably be “out-of-pocket.”

The biggest factor in gear choice is always going to be external factors like travel considerations and the type of photography you do

Having said all that, I continue to be impressed with the vision of Sony’s photographic division. They started out modestly enough, with their NEX series, APS sized mirrorless cameras. The first were more or less “point and shoot” cameras that were adapted with the mirrorless system to interchange lenses. Others, including the Nikon 1 series (which never seemed to catch on, in spite of Ashton Kutcher’s commercials), Olympus, with its micro 4/3 sensors, and Fuji, which also incorporated the APS sized sensor. The Nikon mirrorless experiment has been nothing but disappointing for me. I could never warm up to them. Sensor size was really too small for a “serious” camera in my view. There was never a really sexy lens array offered. And for their price, they were always simply a non-starter for me. I used to carry a Canon G-series point and shoot as my preferred “small camera.” I have always been curious about why Canon has not jumped into the mirrorless system.

The Olympus cameras are mechanically very sexy, very retro in look and feel, and very well made.   They are a nice small size, but feel good in the hand. And Oly’s Zuiko glass was always known to be really good quality. But the 4/3 sensor is – in my opinion – just not quite big enough to produce the image quality I look for.

Point Bonita Lighthouse Marin Headlands, CA Copyright  2014  Andy Richards Sony a7R; Sony 70-200 f4

Point Bonita Lighthouse
Marin Headlands, CA
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards
Sony a7R; Sony 70-200 f4

The one “contender” in my mind, seems to be the Fuji mirrorless system. They, like Sony, use the APS sized sensor. Their current offering is 16mp. The Fujinon glass, again, has a reputation for being very high quality. In the early days of mirrorless, the Fuji was slightly more expensive.

When I bought my first Sony mirrorless camera – the NEX-6 – its sensor was essentially the exact same sensor as my Nikon D7000. For those who owned or tested the D7000, it was a very impressive sensor, with high image quality, even in low light shooting situations. So I knew I could expect good image quality from the NEX sensor.

I continue to be impressed with the vision of Sony’s photographic division

But the NEX series was only the beginning for Sony. Shortly afterward, Sony took a very aggressive marketing path and announced and then released the a7 / a7R full frame mirrorless bodies. They really haven’t looked back. Within months, they released the a7S (made for low light and video shooters), and more recently the second-generation, a7II and a7RII.

Alamo Square Row Houses Copyright  2014  Andy Richards Sony a7R; Sony-Zeiss 24-70 f4

Alamo Square Row Houses
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards
Sony a7R; Sony-Zeiss 24-70 f4

The a7RII is clearly aimed directly at the top end DSLR market. And, at a price point slightly lower than Canon’s top DSLR and a lot lower than Nikon’s, they have made a big impression. The a7RII retails at about $3,200. The Canon 5DS is $3,600. As I write this, I am not sure there is a comparable Nikon to the a7RII. The 16mp Nikon D4S is $6,000 and the 36mp D810, $3,000. The a7RII has “in body image stabilization” (IBIS), no low-pass filter on its 42mp full frame sensor, and 399 point “phase-detect” auto-focus capability. And, they have fixed the “shutter shock” issue which plagued the first generation a7R with an electronic first curtain shutter. There are, of course, a number of other features.

And, the icing on the cake is the growing availability of Carl Zeiss lenses. Sony, on its own, cannot (currently) compete, in my view with Nikkor and Canon glass; or for that matter, Olympus or Fuji glass. But in partnership with Zeiss, they seem to have made some estimable glass. And even better, Zeiss – on it’s own – now offers some very nice glass specifically for the Sony full frame mirrorless cameras. All of this in a smaller body makes it really the closest thing out there to the “every man’s everything” camera.

For a true “lateral” switch, you are probably going to be “out-of-pocket”

I don’t think most of us need all the bells and whistles on the a7RII. Would I love to own one? You bet. But it is not in my near future at $3,000, considering that I already own the a7 and am perfectly happy with it. And the upside to that is that the a7 is now selling for $1,100, which means it is in the reachable range for many aspirational owners.

For a new shooter, I am not sure why you wouldn’t look at one of the several offerings from Sony. I don’t see any reason today for the bulk and size required by the reflex mirror system in cameras, given the place mirrorless technology has taken – lead by Sony, in my view.

Light and color make this gondola image the quintessential rendering of "Venice" in my view Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Light and color make this gondola image the quintessential rendering of “Venice” in my view
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

For the more casual shooter (it may become my own substitute for the NEX-6 I still carry and use), I think Sony has hit a grand slam home run with the newest version of its venerable point and shoot RX100, the RX100 IV. This “enthusiast” camera (read: expensive, but feature-laden), is pretty impressive. It has a Carl Zeiss f1.8-2.8 variable aperture 24-70 (35mm – equivalent) lens, a newly designed, 1” size “stacked” backlit sensor, which is capable of 20mp, raw capture. All of this is packed into a very sweet little compact body that is a very pocketable, 4”x2”x2.” There is a large, articulating LCD screen on the back along with a pop-up electronic viewfinder. As I think about all of this, it occurs to me. My “walking around” rig right now is either my NEX-6 with a “kit” zoom, or my a7 with the Carl Zeiss 24-70 f4 zoom. Maybe the smart move is to get rid of the 24-70 in favor of faster, fixed lenses for the a7, and pick up this nice little P&S for a travel camera.  There is a similiar, less expensive RX100 model, which still has a Carl Zeiss lens (slower), but it just doesn’t have the pzazz of the IV.

I think Sony has hit a grand slam home run with the newest version of its venerable point and shoot RX100, the RX100 IV

Watching technology get smaller and smarter, it is pretty hard to imagine what is in the future for us as photographers.

The 7-Year Itch?

A solid support is crucial to sharpness and detail in this early morning light image

A solid support is crucial to sharpness and detail in this early morning light image

There is an old thought about relationships known as the “seven-year-itch” (something about getting an itch to try something new in the 7th year, which ultimately in most cases, terminates the former relationship). Before anyone gets alarmed, I have been happily married for 30 plus years now – that 7-year thing is well behind us. 🙂

Craftsbury Common, Craftsbury, Vermont Copyright 2010  Andy Richards

Craftsbury Common, Craftsbury, Vermont
Copyright 2010 Andy Richards

But, just trying to come up with a clever title for this blog, it came to mind. Next month, I will have been writing this blog for 7 years. So this coming year could be the year I decide it’s over and move on. Given my history, I probably won’t. Besides, I really enjoy writing this thing (the opening image is my very first posted image here).

Stone House; Manassas Virginia Copyright  Andy Richards  2010

Stone House; Manassas Virginia
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

I really enjoy writing this thing

In the winter of 2008, I began a series of “tutorial” e-mails to one of my sisters who had taken up DSLR photography. I was trying to explain the technical aspects of exposure, depth of field, etc. to her in steps. About the same time, a friend from Vermont began to ask questions about her point and shoot camera, and shortly, she acquired her own DSLR.

Glade Creek Gristmill; Babcock SP, West Virginia  copyright 2011  Andy Richards

Glade Creek Gristmill; Babcock SP, West Virginia copyright 2011 Andy Richards

Between the two of them, and some others, I spent a fair amount of time writing and editing and responding to questions and clarifying, and it dawned on me that maybe I should save these “writings” (mainly so I wouldn’t have to re-create them later). About that same time, I hired a company to create a photography website for me to showcase my own images. The idea of a blog seemed a natural follow-up and since everybody was doing it, and there was no cost to set it up, I decided to give it a whirl.

Bernard Maine copyright  Andy Richards 2009

Bernard Maine
copyright Andy Richards 2009

I started the blog as a Google Blogger site, but migrated to WordPress a few months later, as WordPress seemed to offer both a more pleasing theme and more versatility for photographic blogging. Since moving to WordPress, the blog has had more than 50,000 views, and currently has 50 followers – not exactly “viral,” but nonetheless very heartening.

Texas State Capitol, Austin, TX Copyright Andy Richards  2010

Texas State Capitol, Austin, TX
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

not exactly “viral,” but nonetheless very heartening

Over time, the blog has gradually evolved from my “tutorial” writings (there is only so much of that, and mine were specifically “conversational,” and certainly not intended to compete with the myriad of books and website offerings by the professionals out there), to more of a combination of a travel images blog and the occasional philosophical or political musing, with the stray tutorial thrown it. I have also spent some time reviewing equipment – primarily that which I have owned or used.

Ketchikan, Alaska Copyright  Andy Richards  2010

Ketchikan, Alaska
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

Perusing my “offerings” from the beginning, I was amazed to see the territory covered. Since the first writing, I have traveled and photographed fairly extensively in the United States, including (in addition to my home state of Michigan – upper and lower peninsulas and my new “home” away from home state of Florida) Texas, Alaska, San Francisco and Northern California; Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks from Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Virginia, West Virginia; New Mexico; Minnesota; Acadia National Park and surrounds in Maine and Vermont.

Split Rock Light; North Shore, Lake Superior, MN Copyright Andy Richards  2010

Split Rock Light; North Shore, Lake Superior, MN
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

It has gotten harder to do this

I have Traveled out of the country to Canada, Ireland, Italy, Turkey and Greece, as well as 3 trips to the Caribbean. In 2015, we will travel to Japan, the Mediterranean again; and I will go to Vermont again in the fall. So hopefully, there are many more images to come. In some of the places that I have visited multiple times, the challenge will be doing something unique.

Chili Ristra, New Mexico   copyright 2008  Andy Richards

Chili Ristra, New Mexico copyright 2008 Andy Richards

There have been some milestones over the 7 years. In March of 2010, I bid a bittersweet goodbye to my best buddy and fellow shooter and traveler, Rich, whose career took a sharp left turn, as he moved away from Michigan. While we knew we would try to stay in touch, it was not certain that we would. Over the following year, we did. Then, to my great delight, his career took yet another turn and he moved back here to Michigan. We will live to shoot another day!

San Francisco Night Skyline  copyright 2011  Andy Richards

San Francisco Night Skyline copyright 2011 Andy Richards

As I looked for images that seemed to make an impression on me from the places I visited, it ocurrs to me that 2010 was a huge travel and photography year for me in the U.S.

Copyright 2012  Andy Richards

Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

the challenge will be doing something unique

I cannot even count how many times I have mentioned the word “Nikon” in my blog. I have been a loyal Nikon user for thirty plus years. As my more recent blogs have noted, I have completely moved to another name and system in the past few months. I still think Nikon makes top quality DSLR bodies and lenses. But they haven’t moved toward the mirrorless system in a way that fits my thinking.

City Center Rome, Italy Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

City Center
Rome, Italy
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

On a couple occasions, I mentioned New Year’s resolutions in my late December posts. In one case, in 2011, I noted that I don’t make them (because I don’t keep them). In 2012 I made one (and didn’t keep it).

Oxbow Bend; Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming Copyright 2012  Andy Richards

Oxbow Bend; Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

It has gotten harder to do this. I still enjoy it, but inspiration for subjects or topics are tougher to come by.  For those who have read, followed and commented over the past 7 years, I am very grateful. I will be traveling again in the next couple weeks, and so may not be consistent with my weekly input. I guess it is one of the nice things about the nature of a personal blog. I can post when I want to.  🙂

The quintessential symbol of Venice is, of course, the Gondola Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

The quintessential symbol of Venice is, of course, the Gondola
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Until next time ……….