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    November 2019
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An American (or four) in Paris

(Left-Clicking on an image opens it in a new window, bigger and with better resolution)

Eiffel Tower
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Ah, Paris! It conjures that accordian music and a bustling city (with some Gershwin in the background). And food. It was all there. Our next port of call, LeHavre, was just a short ride accross the English Channel. We arose and left the train early, for another train ride – this one 2 hours.

Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

This cruise, as I have noted previously, was rather unusual for us in that the ship docked overnight in 3 of our ports of call (Dublin, Cobh, and LeHavre). In our experience this usually happens, if at all, in only one port. In this case, not only did the ship dock overnight, but it did not depart LeHavre until midnight of the second day (technically you might even say it docked for two nights). We took full advantage of this time, booking an overnight stay in a Paris Hotel, and we had most of two very full days in Paris.

Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

I have learned from travel in other countries, that shooting from a moving train is essentially impossible, and I have really given up trying. So all I could do was enjoy the French countryside as we headed toward Paris.  And the bulk of the trip was countryside, with many small, and very well-kept farms. I wanted to stop the train a number of times and just get off and shoot. Maybe someday.

Paris, France

Much like our London experience, less than 2 days is really not long enough to see Paris. There is just too much. Several days would be easy to fill.

The Louvre
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

But we were a little better organized, here, with pre-purchased tickets to the top of the Eiffel Tower, a walking tour around the Notre Dame Cathedral and neighborhood, and plans to use two forms of public transportation which really worked well for us – the “Hop on – Hop off bus and boats.”  While we again only scratched the surface, I think we were able to see the main points of interest we had, including the Cathedral, the Louvre (outside only), the Eiffel Tower, Champs-‘Elysees and the Arc de Triomphe.

Arc de Triomphe
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

The Eiffel Tower is probably the central icon of Paris, and it is one of those landmarks that is rarely out of sight, wherever in Paris you might be

I overdid the Eiffel Tower. I don’t know how many images of it I made, but I know more than I really needed to.  We saw it from the river, from the tour bus, and from various points on the ground. And I shot it. I shot it at night and I shot it again during the daytime. The Eiffel Tower is probably the central icon of Paris, and it is one of those landmarks that is rarely out of sight, wherever in Paris you might be. So I had lots of opportunities. We knew we would be on the grounds of the tower the first evening – we were up on the top for the sunset – an unforgettable experience. But I had also done some research on vantage points to shoot it from. One of the best turned out to be Place du Trocadero, a plaza directly across the Seine from the tower.

Eiffel Tower
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

From the grounds, it was difficult to shoot. The same dynamics as I mentioned in London were at play here. It is a massive structure, and perspective is just impossible up so close. But there were still some interesting and perhaps dramatic images here, especially at night.

Eiffel Tower
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

As we left the grounds the evening we were there, I saw a nice reflection opportunity. In another life (or on another trip), I would like to go back with a tripod and better equipment and explore this a bit. But I was happy enough for handheld, point-and-shoot results in this case.

Eiffel Tower
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

The next day, I shot the tower again; this time from the Seine. There are more, but these are probably enough for now 🙂

Eiffel Tower
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Eiffel Tower
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Next to the Eiffel Tower, the one thing I wanted to see most was the famed Cathedral Notre-Dame de-Paris, with its gothic architecture and 850 year plus, majestic wooden spires and roofline.

Catheral Notre Dame de_Paris
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

The news of the fire on April 15th (just short weeks before our visit), destroying much of the old wooden infrastructure, including spire and rooflines that were made from wood timber construction, was heartbreaking to viewers around the world. I had been looking forward to seeing the inside and grounds. We were fortunate to get some good views from the exterior, but the interior is not accessible to the public at this point, and a large, opaque construction fence surrounds the entire grounds, so that only views from farther away are possible. I hope to return someday, and see the entire thing.

Catheral Notre Dame de_Paris
Under Reconstruction
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

What you can see of it It is still magnificent.

Catheral Notre Dame de_Paris
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

We met our walking tour guide at a small cafe in the neighborhood of the Cathedral. These tours are free (you can find them and similar tours in most cities). They are usually given by locally attending students, or members of local art, history or acting programs. Our experience has been that our – normally youthful – guides are enthusiastic, fun and very knowledgable of their subject. The normal treatment is to give them a gratuity, usually what you think appropriate. We have tried to be generous over the years, knowing they are usually young students and truly appreciating the value we get from the. I highly recommend that you seek these types of tours out and partake. We have never been disappointed.

Cafe Odette
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

The Cathedral is on an island in the middle of The Seine. The cafe was on the mainland, on the south side of the river, known as “The Left Bank,” and directly across the main street is the Saint Severin Roman Catholic Church. Originally built in the 11th Century, the church is one of (if not the) oldest churches in Paris.

Saint Severin Church
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Saint Severin Church
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Originally built as a smaller church, in the Romanesque style, it was enlarged years later, and today had Romanesque and Goth styles combined. The interior, much of it believed to be authentic original construction, includes impressive arches and stained glass.

Saint Severin Church
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Saint Severin Church
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

After spending a few minutes in Saint Severin, we walked across the bridge to the front of Notre Dame. We learned that the Cathedral is not only a church. It is a neighborhood and much of the surroundings made up that neighborhood.

Catheral Notre Dame de_Paris
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

The quiet little street in the image here could really be a quiet back street in almost any city in the world. But it happens to be in the famous Notre Dame neighborhood.

Notre Dame Cathedral Neighborhood
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

After our tour, we boarded one of the “Hop on – Hop off” bateaus (boats) for a cruise up and down the Seine. Making images off a moving boat is only slightly less challenging than from a moving train or vehicle. Nonetheless, you do have a bit more mobility, and I was able to make a few “keeper” images.

Paris from The Seine
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Paris from The Seine
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Île de la Cité
(Notre Dame) from The Seine
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

The Louvre
from The Seine
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

The two days went by fast, and we were soon enough, boarding the train for the ride back to LeHavre and departure for Bruges. But there will be many memories of Paris, and anticipation of another visit in the not too distant future. One of the best memories will be being at the top of the world on the Eiffel Tower and seeing the sunset over that same Place du Trocadero that we had photographed the tower from earlier that afternoon.

Sunset over Paris
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019



Cruising “The British Isles” – 2019

Eiffel Tower
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Our recent Celebrity Cruise was entitled “The British Isles.” So why did I lead with the Eiffel Tower? The cruise “title” is mostly accurate. One would generally think of England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and perhaps a couple smaller islands as the British Isles. Our cruise included ports of call in LaHavre, France, Bruges, Belgium, and Amsterdam, Netherlands. But who is complaining? 🙂 . As I often do, I made several hundred images over a 2 1/2 week period. In coming weeks, I will give a more detailed accounting of each of the many new places we visited. Today, I wanted to give just an overview of what a huge territory, and vast subjects we covered.

Dublin Port
Dublin, Ireland
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

I have mentioned a few times here, that my wife and I like to cruise. When we can find like minded companions, that just makes it all the more fun. There were 4 of us this time, and I am pretty sure I can vouch that we all enjoyed our time in Europe. When we go to a new destination, we like to arrive in the departing port city a few days ahead, to explore, enjoy, and get to know the city. Though my wife and I had been to Dublin before, we found many new things to see and do during  our 4 days there.

Bushmills, Northern Ireland
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

When we were in Ireland back in 2014, we made a very brief trip into Northern Ireland, to see the Church where King Brian Boru was buried. This time we had a full (very full) day from our port of call in Belfast. Our driver and guide, Mark, was as good as we have ever had, and he had some surprises in store for us. As an “outdoor” photographer, I love a pretty scenic image. Northern Ireland did not disappoint. Indeed, as I have been processing images, it is “sneaking up on me,” that Northern Ireland may have been my favorite stop of this trip. I would definitely return and explore further, if given the opportunity.

Liverpool, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

The following day, we arrived in Liverpool, England, across the Irish Sea. We were scheduled for a Beatles Tour (what else would one do in Liverpool? – well; stay tuned, it turns out: a lot). For my Michigan friends, my quick research lead me to (wrongfully) conclude that Liverpool would be like Flint (maybe we need to organize a Grand Funk Railroad tour in Flint?) :-). Look for my upcoming post on Liverpool. It was eye-opening for me.

Cobh, Ireland
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Next, we were back across the Irish Sea, and in the south of Ireland, at the tiny, but beautiful little port of Cobh. Cobh possibly rivals Northern Ireland in my view, for photographic potential. I made some nice images there, though at least one of them was one of those (perhaps hackneyed) “must do” shots that has already been done thousands of times. Known locally as “The Deck of Cards,” maybe I was able to make a unique “take” on the famous row of houses with the cathedral in the background. I will let you be the judge: again, in the weeks ahead. We overnighted in Cobh, and spent a day there, and a day touring Blarney Castle (site of the famed, “Blarney Stone”), and Cork City.

St. Pancras Train Station
London, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

By then, we had spent most of 8 days on our feet. Blessedly, the following day was an “at sea” day. It allowed for some much needed “R&R.” After our day of rest, we arrived in the British port of Dover. For reasons I will expound on when I get to Dover and London, a few weeks out, I might have planned this stop a little differently. But we took the train to London and had a day-long “Black Taxi” tour of London.

Champs – E’lysees
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Our next port of call was LeHavre, France. We again overnighted there (this was unprecedented for my wife and me – two full overnight stops). We took advantage of an early arrival and a late departure 2 days later, and again rode the train to Paris, where we stayed overnight. A huge city, we spent 2 very full days there. That barely scratches the surface, but we saw a lot during our time there and I thought it was not only very worthwhile, but one of the highlights of the cruise. I will note in upcoming blogs, that both London and Paris really need multiple-day visits to do them justice. Unless a cruise ends or originates there, it probably they don’t really lend themselves to cruising.

Bruges, Belgium
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Again, not really the “British Isles,” we ended our cruise with stops in Bruges, and Amsterdam. Known for its beer and chocolate, I sampled a little of both in Bruges. It is an impressive, historical, and very small city, which was well worth the visit. In Amsterdam, we rode the canals, did the obligatory walk through the “red light” and “cannabis” districts, and generally saw some impressive sites. Amsterdam is, again, a massive city. We only got a little taste of the more touristic (as they say in Europe) parts of the city.

Amsterdam, Netherlands
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

In the end, we were exhausted, but the trip served up many new places, and added to our list of places to explore in more detail in the years to come. The only “gear” I carried was the Sony small camera (RX100iv) and my small tripod (which did not see any use). On cruises, it is rare to be on location in early morning, late afternoon, or at night. The only possible “night” shot might have been the Eiffel Tower, but the timing and place were just wrong. If I were to make a longer stay, land based trip, I might rethink the gear. I love the lightness and portability of the small camera. But I find myself missing the versatility of the DSLR on some occasions. The coming weeks will cover each of the above – with images – in more detail.

Part V; Fundamental Changes

As I write this, it is amazing to me that I have been shooting with my current Sony system now for 10 years! It seems like only yesterday that I made the momentous complete switch to a new system and brand.

Fundamental Changes – 2007 to Today

Cameras.        During the foregoing time period, I owned a handful of small, “Point & Shoot” digital cameras. At first, it was the only affordable alternative, and for some of our personal use (travel, family events, etc.) was convenient to be able to shoot digitally, and then upload, send, and post images. We started with a Canon < 2megapixel model we ordered on QVC. It didn’t have a viewfinder and I always found that awkward. We used it some, but it wasn’t my personal cup of tea. Not sure what ever happened to it.

Nikon Coolpix 5000

  • Nikon Coolpix E5000.  In 2001, I purchased a Nikon model that was more suited to my liking, the Nikon Coolpix E5000. With a 5 megapixel sensor, a 28-85mm equivalent lens, a viewfinder, and raw capability, I was able to do a lot of what I was trying to do with digital capture. And, as you can see from the image although it was smaller than an SLR body, it was substantial, and had somewhat familiar controls for a Nikon SLR-user. All non-DSLR digital cameras back then had an unfortunate “lag” from the time you depressed the shutter and the actual capture. This was frustrating, though I did learn to capture action by using the burst mode and starting before I thought it would happen and continuing until after. With a very small sensor, there were also some limits to the image quality, and significant noise in low light conditions or high ISO images. I traded this one in when I bought the D100 DSLR.
  • Canon G12.  During the time I was shooting DSLR equipment, I wanted a small camera for convenience, daily carry, and travel. But I was only interested in one that would meet certain demanding standards: namely, high image quality files and raw capture/save capability. My research indicated that in the point and shoot line, the one camera that continued to stand out was the Canon G series. In 2012, I purchased a 10 megapixel G12, and shot that for a number of years. But as the DSLR lineup – and my personal ability to own them – got better, the point and shoot cameras were relegated to only occasional use. What they did have was the convenience of small size. The G-series were truly pocketable cameras. And that, we will see, drove my next phase of gear in a huge way.Both the Coolpix and the G12 had electronic viewfinders. Unlike the old 35mm viewfinder cameras that folks like Alfred Steiglitz made famous, the electronic viewfinders were electronically “linked” to the lens, so that it mimicked the look of an SLR “through-the-lens” viewfinder. Sort of. The were grainy, black-and white-ish, and not really a great representation of the scene. But the still beat – in my view – the LCD screens on the backs of consumer point and shoot cameras (a feature that these days comes on all cameras, including DSLRs). They weren’t great and they didn’t give the user experience the DSLR did. But technology marches on.

Canon G12

  • Sony NEX-6 – The Segue.     By 2013, we had begun to do a fair amount of travel. When it was a “dedicated” photo trip, lugging a bunch of gear seemed to be part of the mystique of the experience. And other items were held to the minimum necessary. It was a given that we would be checking bags. Most often those trips were with my buddy, Rich and involved just the two of us and our gear.

    Sony NEX-6

But my wife and I had also begun to take more extended trips, including some cruises, and some trips to faraway places. Sometimes it would be just us, and other times, we would join friends and/or family. Lugging photographic equipment (and even finding time to shoot in the best light) became a challenge. And even when we did travel, lugging the DSLR body and zoom lens around started to become a bit of drudgery. And because I was with a group and traveling more socially, so to speak, the shooting was less planned, the excursions less photography dedicated, and the time to focus on shooting curtailed. So I started thinking about alternatives. I needed something small, portable and relatively non-intrusive, while at the same time, rendering the image quality and giving me the setup flexibility I was used to.

I “met” pro shooter Ray Laskowitz years back on the old Nikon Professional Message board sponsored at AOL. Ray was always generous with advice, very knowledgeable about his craft and the equipment surrounding it, and very factual in his approach. We remained friends over the years, long after the AOL boards became nostalgic history. We e-mailed from time to time, and I was expressing my thinking about a “lighter” travel rig. I had “stumbled” upon the Sony NEX “mirrorless” interchangeable lens cameras, and in particular the NEX-6 and 7 models. When I raised that with Ray, he told me had had been shooting with a couple of the NEX-7 models for some time and was very impressed. He encouraged me – for numerous reasons – to give the “small camera” a try. At the time, I owned Nikon’s estimable D7000 (arguably the best and most popular APS DSLR they ever made). The image quality, even in low light situations was excellent. The APS sensor in the NEX-6 was said to be the very same sensor as the D7000 sensor (or very close). So I traded the D7000 in for a used NEX. That camera was my first introduction to mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras; and to Sony. I was dually (see what I did there?) impressed. In fact, I can say it is one of the few cameras I have owned, that I truly regret not keeping. It sold me on Sony and what they were doing in the photographic world.

Japanese Maple Leaves
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

The NEX-6 generally sold as a kit with a Sony 15-50mm f3.5/5.6 zoom lens. It was frequently discounted by writers and critiques as not a very good quality lens. I found it to be of very good quality and very versatile. And it was small! The entire rig was reminiscent of the old viewfinder cameras. Two other things got me excited about my new find. First, the new electronic viewfinders were (are) amazing. They are full color, and it is virtually indistinguishable from looking through the through-the-lens prism viewfinders I had grown so used to. And, because they were fully electronic, they could be programmed to work in what we might call “real time.” As you change the exposure solution (shutter speed or aperture) the viewfinder can actually darken and lighten, simulating what the exposure might really look like. I have now grown so accustomed to these electronic viewfinders, that when I pick up a DSLR, it often confuses me as I make changes and nothing seems to happen. The second think was that Sony entered into a partnership with the acclaimed Zeiss Optical Company. This meant that they were manufacturing lenses with Zeiss specs, under Zeiss supervision, and also that Zeiss was manufacturing lenses that were designed to mount on Sony Cameras. The 24mm f2.8 Zeiss lens I shot on this camera had the most amazing bokeh of any lens I have ever owned. The Japanese Maple was in my front yard and I took this image with the NEX-6 – Zeiss 24mm combo shortly after rain one morning. The daylilies were also shot in my front yard with this combo. Keep in mind that on the APS sensor, the 24mm appears more like a 35mm in terms of 35mm film/sensor size.

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

  • Sony A7 ILCE.  I probably should have been satisfied with the NEX-6. But I was hung up on the thought that I “needed” so-called “full frame.” So I shot with my Nikon D800 for a while as my primary camera. Having the pro Nikkor lenses was also partly a motivator. But I remember doing some side-by-side comparison shots at one point and not being able to say the Nikkor pro lens was any better than the Zeiss. I may have had my own bias by then, but I preferred the Zeiss look. But wanting the “full frame” for image quality, I waited until Sony introduced the first “full frame” mirrorless camera, the A7. I took a leap of faith, and traded my entire bag of Nikon gear in for the A7, the Sony-Zeiss 24-70 f4 zoom, and the Sony 70-200 f4 zoom. The entire setup is smaller and lighter. In 20/20 hindsight, I gave up an awful lot in those two stops of aperture – not so much in versatility – but in the loss of the really nice blurred backgrounds the wider apertures provide. And in 20/20 hindsight, I was also amazed at just what great bokeh a quite wide angle lens on a much smaller sensor size produced in the APS-matched 24mm Zeiss. Those extra stops of aperture on the wide end are truly enviable. I have never been able to reproduce that with my current gear (even with a 50mm 1.8 Sony lens on the A7 – its just not Zeiss optics). I am not saying I regretted the change. I did like the smaller, lighter setup, and the A7 (now a pretty old model) is a quality piece of equipment.But my buddy, Rich, a couple years later, asked about making the same switch and I told him for our shooting styles, I wouldn’t do it again. He had an identical setup to mine at that point (a D800, the same two pro Nikkor lenses, as well as my old Tokina ATX-AF 300 f2.8 and a nice Sigma 24-70 zoom).  This reflection was particularly in light of another shooting change I made shortly after buying the A7.

Sony A7

Over time, I have come to feel that in today’s world, with my presentation needs, I really didn’t need “full frame.” And, at the same time, the quality of every part of digital technology continues to improve. But APS would have been fine, and if I could turn back time, I would have kept the NEX-6 and concentrated on lenses.

Sony RX100-iv

  • Sony RX100.    I carried the A7, with the Sony-Zeiss 24-70 on the next 2 or 3 major trips we took. It packs nicely as the footprint is substantially smaller than the D800 and Nikkor 24-70. It is also much lighter. But not enough that it still seemed like an anchor much of the time. I started looking at the point and shoot cameras again. And they had come a long way. by 2015, Sony was, into its 4th iteration of its RX100 camera. Measuring 4″ x 2.25″ x 1.75,” it is a truly pocketable camera. It extreme quality build gives it some heft, but it is still a far cry from the bigger cameras. It sports a Zeiss f1.8-2.8 lens with optical image stabilization and a 24-70 35mm equivalent zoom. The smallish sensor was newly designed to improve the size of the exposure surface and reduce noise. It is fully capable of raw capture, as well as pretty much everything the A7 can do.  So, 24-70. Zeiss. Raw. Less than half the size body and miniscule lens. See where I am going with this?Of course, image quality would be the biggest test. Again, I sought Ray Laskowitz’s advice. Again, perhaps not coincidentally, he laughingly told me how he had just come home the day before to find a box for him holding the RX100. He had no hesitancy about the quality issues – so of course, I bought one. And never looked back. I have an Epson inkjet professional printer capable of making gorgeous 13″ x 19″ prints (longer in landscape with roll paper). I took a similar flower image to one above, and printed it on my inkjet, side by side with a print made from an A7 “full frame” file. I couldn’t see the difference. In a few weeks, I would be making the trip of a lifetime; to Japan for my son’s wedding. We spent 3 days in Kyoto and the balance in Tokyo, and I took just the RX100 and a small tripod. During the entire week I can think of only one instance where I wish I had my longer lens. The image quality on this little camera is amazing. On family travel, I haven’t carried any other camera since, and that includes a couple trips to Europe.I am not ready to fully give up the bigger gear, and still carry and use it on dedicated photo outings. So, you will see here and on my SmugMug site, that my primary camera is the A7, with the RX100 as my backup/travel camera. It has made my luggage needs much smaller and lighter. And, if the economics supported it, I wouldn’t hesitate to move to the NEX-6 or equivalent, along with some of the lenses, as my primary camera. My buddy, Rich did exactly that last year.

Lenses.  Lenses and size drove my current equipment lineup.  Though I have had the good fortune to have a couple really nice lenses in the lineup over the years, until I finally moved up to the Nikkor “pro” zooms, lenses had always been a bit of a compromise in my bag. The closest I came was probably the Tokina 300mm f2.8, which was arguably as good as the Nikkor equivalent. Piece for piece, high quality optics are the most expensive component of the system. And the larger the medium, the more costly it is to produce high quality optics with wide apertures. It is more difficult and expensive to produce a 35mm lens than the equivalent Point & Shoot size or even the equivalent APS size.

That all changed with the NEX-6. I had read and heard about two legendary optics: Leica and Zeiss. I wasn’t necessarily a believer. But I was able to purchase the 24mm Zeiss lens used for a pretty good price and after some research, wanted to give it a try. Even on the smaller sensor, it is/was amazing. I can say without a doubt that it was my favorite of any lens I have ever owned. It got lots of use, along with the 15-50 “kit” lens. Sadly, I no longer have it.

Sigma made a couple lenses for the Sony E-mount (the NEX mounting system) that were really inexpensive and some of the sharpest lenses ever made. At one time, B&H had a BOGO deal on the two of them – a 30mm f2.8 and a 19mm f2.8 and I picked them both up for $199. Needless to say, I had some fun shooting with the NEX-6 lens combinations.

When I bought the A7, I traded the Nikkor gear. I matched up as close as I could at that time, with the Sony-Zeiss 24-70 and the Sony 70-200. In terms of build quality, They are both as nice as any Nikon I ever owned. They both AF quickly and quietly. They are marginally smaller than the Nikkors. But they are also 2 stops slower which helps account for the size. As small and compact as the A7 body seems, the good lenses are all disappointingly large and heavy. For working photography, I have liked them fine and believe they render good, sharp images.

One of the “draws” of the Sony camera was the fact that Zeiss has a continued comittment to make their own proprietary lenses in the Sony mount (E for APS and EE for “full frame). There are a couple Zeiss lenses out there that I might like to own some day. But I just paid off all my mortgages and car loans, and am not sure I want to mortgage the house. As was historically the case, the Zeiss lenses are expensive! Time will tell.

I did purchase – more recently – two lenses. Each had a specific purpose. The first was a Rokinon 14mm f2.8 lens. It is fully mechanical and was purchased primarily to engage in some night time photography – particularly of stars and the Milky Way. I have not really dedicated the time and effort to that yet, but it is on my “to do” list.

The second, was the Sony 50mm f1.8 lens. That was done specifically to try to achieve some of the bokeh effect I had been able to create with some of my prior gear. Again that one needs some sorting out and use. Stay tuned on that one.

Medium.  This is an area where nothing really changed. Digital is obviously here to stay, and the change will come in capture technology and quality. Today, we are seeing iPhone images that probably weren’t possible with my D100. That is technology. That is good, in my view.

Doodads. The same factors that influence my gear changes effected this area. I happily shot with the Induro Carbon Fiber tripod for a few years. It was very rigid, light, and easy to use. My body height needed that length it offered. But it was really a bit of a travel hassle. Even in my checked bag, It would only fit with the head removed (not a huge deal). But for the type of travel I was becoming accustomed to, it was just too bulky. And with the RX100, it was massive overkill. With a smaller camera, in general, I was able to get by with a smaller tripod. And there were times and places I just could not go with the big legs.

Around 2010 – 2011, I began searching for a very small tripod that I could use in a pinch on any of my equipment. I ultimately found a carbon fiber legset with a very small ball head and a reasonable price tag. For a short time, I used an aluminum tripod from a company (owned by Induro) called MeFoto. It was – ironically – slightly larger than the carbon fiber model I now have – and not quite firm enough to do the job. I ultimately gave this to my daughter.  The model I purchased is the Sirui T-025. It is perfect for the RX100, and I have used it on a rig as big as my Nikon D700 full DSLR with a fairly heavy 28-300 lens, to shoot the San Francisco skyline on a windy night on Alcatraz (sounds like a song). The link is to my 2012 blog describing this great little tool. The folded length of this little ultralight gem is under 12 inches. Of course it is not going to extend up to my full 6’1″ of height. Life has its compromises. 🙂

Years back my decision was Bogen vs. Gitzo. Today there are 100’s of brands of carbon fiber tripods available and many of them are quality-built at reasonable prices. I was impress with the build and price point of the Sirui equipment, and so, in 2014, purchased a larger Sirui to replace the Induro. I was looking for a smaller folded size and was able to move to a slighlty smaller and lighter build model, because of the size and weight of equipment I was supporting. Many of these new tripod have a design in which the legs fold back over the main part of the tripod, making their folded height smaller. My regular tripod is the Sirui M3204X. There are 4 leg sections, which does compromise the stiffness a bit (though I often only use part of the lowest section). But it also makes for a shorter folded length. With the same folding design as my smaller model, this one is under 21 inches (with the ballhead attached). I changed my head recently, which may require removal for packing, but the 21 inch tripod legs will actually fit in a carry on bag (though I am not necessarily likely to do that). If you can sense a pattern here, I am trying to go smaller whenever possible.

Bogen Tripod with 3-way head

My first Bogen tripod had a 3-way adjusting head on it. Until ballheads became popular, that was the common configuration. That head itself weighed more than my bigger Sirui tripod. With long handles for adjustment, it was cumbersome, and of course it sported that clunky Bogen quick-release setup. The primary reason I moved to ball heads was to acquire the dovetail quick release system. But I always missed the 3 way head. For my kind of shooting, when I am using a tripod, I am almost always shooting stills. I usually have plenty of time to make adjustments. The ballheads have two drawbacks that annoyed and occasionally frustrated me. First, any vertical and horizontal adjustments were made completely by hand. There is no indexing mechanism and it can be difficult to make very small adjustments. Second, unless it was a fairly large and very well constructed head, ballheads are susceptible to “ball drop.” In the best case, it meant you would work hard to get your composition, tighten it down, and it would still move a fraction – especially with a heavy lens. In the worst case, if you didn’t get it tightened down, the entire lens could slam down against a leg (of course, possible with a 3 way also – but less likely in my experience).

Ball Head with Arca Swiss type QR

Three way heads are much more positive. This is especially true with geared heads. I have always coveted a geared head. But until very recently there were two alternatives. One was ungodly expensive (Arca Swiss manufactured – $1,100 to 1,500), or Manfrotto (Bogen) with its quirky QR mechanism. The only way I could see around that was to “Rube Goldberg” a dovetail mount on a Manfrotto, and I wasn’t really ready to try that. Too bad, because the Manfrotto Jr. model looks very well built and comes quite reasonable (the Manfrotto is about #450.00 and the Jr. about $200). I find it surprising that it took this long to see an Arca Swiss mount geared head come on the market. But over that last year or so the Benro company (same parent company as Induro/MeFoto), finally release a very nice, cast magnesium, dovetail mount 3-way geared head at a $200 price point. Of course, I now have one :-).

Benro Arca-Swiss compatible 3-way tripod head

Finally, in the past couple years, I have been fiddling with electronics (Flash/controllers/remote controllers)


Part III; Updating

Updating – 1996 – 2000

The camera gear did not come out again until in maybe 1996. Wow. A lot had changed in the industry between 1981 and 1996.

Cameras.        Camera bodies had all pretty much gone to electronics. “Auto-focus” was now common in cameras (though not near as good as it is today), as was “auto-exposure.” Almost every camera now had winding motors built in (formerly an add-on accessory). The light metering had become much more sophisticated (Nikon called theirs, “matrix” metering), and relied on an electronic “bank” of memorized lighting conditions to compare to the scene being metered. Fortunately, they all retained the more traditional spot and averaging that the earlier “match-needle” camera systems had. And fortunately, they all retained the option to operate them the old-fashioned way – manually. Shutter speeds had increased, along with the motor-winding capabilities. And viewfinders had become brighter and easier to focus with in many instances. So of course, I wanted to change my gear up. J

I carted my bag of gear, and traded it all in for my first modern body; a Nikon N6006. Of course, when I say “trade,” we all know that means I got a few pennies toward the purchase cost of the new gear. 🙂

Nikon N6006

  • Nikon N6006. First produced in 1991, the N6006 (known outside the U.S., as the F-601) was actually a remarkable body, with some electronic innovations that made it closer to the “pro” side. It was much like the later, very popular digital D70, in the lineup of consumer cameras that really approached the professional models in capability. In 1988, Nikon released the N8008 (F-901), which was its “prosumer” copy, offering an “almost” experience of the flagship F4 professional body. The N6006 was a slightly lesser model, featuring slower maximum shutter speeds, auto-focus, etc. I was new to AF, and my shooting needs did not push me toward fast shutter speeds, and the 8008 was outside my budget.

I have remarked here before, that the development and marketing of consumer level cameras often drives some of the best new technology. The 6006 was no exception and it had electronic flash features that were more advanced that some of the “higher” models; not that I necessarily appreciated that yet.

Nikon N90s

  • Nikon N90s.    As I became more involved in shooting, I also began to experience symptoms of a disease, the Nikon variation of which is known as, NAS (Nikon Acquisition Syndrome) J. Nikon’s “flagship” pro film cameras have always been designated with an F- followed by a single digit numeral. Beginning with the original Nikon “F” SLR in 1959, the flagship models progressed from the F1 through the F6 in 2004; the last of the film-based line (on the succeeding digital bodies, the designation became “D” with a numeral following). These “pro-line” cameras really had the best of everything. They also very often had features that hobbyist shooters like me did not really need, and the price point was unattainable by us mere mortals. They were designed for heavy use, with faster shutter speeds and other amenities, for professionals who relied on them for daily use.

To cater to those of us who wanted “more,” but couldn’t really justify the expenditure, camera manufacturers made a line which was a step below the pro cameras, but still half the price or better (the F4 was about $2,000 at the time and the F5 introduced a couple years later, was $2,300). In 1992, the Nikon viariant was the N90, and in 1994, its “updated” N90s. The N90s was just over $1000 new. I found a very clean, used copy for a pretty good deal. These cameras became known as “pro-sumer” models. At the time, the N90s was the leading Nikon prosumer body and was a very nice piece of equipment.

One very new (to me) phenomena that was coming into its own in camera technology was “auto-focus.” In the early 1980’s “AF” was introduced in the higher end market. Nikon released the F3AF in 1983, but it wasn’t a stellar item. The technology was – at first – built into the camera bodies, which meant changing components of the lens mount for interchangeable lens cameras. It also meant that the mounts on each lens had to be changed or modified. The coupling involved light metering, f-stop selection, AF motor, and also the size and distance to the film plane. And that’s just my oversimplified explanation.

Nikon remained, until just recently when they finally released a “mirrorless interchangeable lens (“MILS”) camera, dedicated to keeping the fundamental design of their lens mount so that all prior lenses would remain compatible with the camera. Others, notably Canon and Minolta, were not so shy about complete changes. This allowed them to advance the AF technology and their AF was simply better than Nikons. And because of that they – especially Canon – eventually became the favorite of pro’s – especially in the wildlife and sports arena, where the AF was becoming more and more popular.

Like many “seasoned” shooters, I wondered what the hubbub about AF was at first. But it was remarkably good and accurate on the N6006 and even better on the N90s, and I grew to rely on it. In the field and at the ballpark, I began to see the “white” lenses (Canon primarily) dominate and it seemed like Nikon forever lagged behind in its AF. I was even seriously contemplated switching to Canon gear during this time period. I had some conversations with a noted professional and Canon shooter, and he discouraged me, pointing out two “truisms.” First, you are most likely going to “take a bath” financially when switching. That alone, held me back from making any rash moves. But his second truism proved to be a pretty good piece of advice.

Nikon F100

  • Nikon F100.    I was in and out of my local camera shop, “kicking tires,” looking at a Canon EOS body the would have been a step backward from my N90s – buildwise – but incorporated Canon’s newest eye-focus technology (which, as far as I can tell, never really caught fire). On day, The guy behind the counter that knew me from my frequent trips, handed the new F100 Nikon body and I played with it for a few minutes. He let me go get a couple of my own lenses and mount them on it and play with it. The AF was lightning fast, accurate and silent. I ended up buying it, and it was probably the best overall Nikon body I ever owned. For the next 2 years, I carried both the F100 and the N90s bodies around. Not too shabby.

    Nikon F2

  • Nikon F2.        I did take one nostalgic turn for a couple years. There was a local camera repair guy in the small community where my commuter office was. I used to stop in there and he had a selection of older lenses, cameras, etc., mostly Nikon. He sold me a nice all black, Nikon F2 camera for around $100. It was the only “flagship” pro camera body I have ever owned. It was built like a bank vault. All manual (the only “technology” was the match-needle light meter), it was just fun to use. I carried it as a backup/second camera for a few years (in the film days, I often would carry two bodies loaded with different films and often with different lenses mounted).

Lenses.            My N6006 “kit” came with a 35-80mm nikkor f4.8 – 5.6 lens. It was just “o.k.” And, I wanted something with more reach. In those days, Ritz Camera was a chain that had stores in every mall. Ritz was really the only camera shop in our town at the time, and I frequented it. They had an inexpensive (+\- $200, 70-300 zoom lens under their own brand – Quantaray. The lenses were actually manufactured by Sigma, who make some pretty good optics. The optical quality of this lens was very good, but the build quality was terrible. I went through two of them, both due to stripped gears in the AF mechanism. I finally moved to a used Tokina (another estimable third party lens manufacturer) push-pull zoom I picked up in a camera shop during my travels. It is a shame, because the Quantaray was small, light and very sharp with good color. That Tokina never really met my expectations. Shortly afterward, I traded for a Tokina ATF 80-400 lens. I used that lens for a couple years, and shot a lot of images for it. I never really thought it reached the critical sharpness threshold that would satisfy me though (largely a function of the substantial range and zoom lens construction of the time). Although it was a much better lens all-around than the prior Tokina, I was really using it more for a “long” lens, and I eventually purchased the Tokina 300mm f2.8. That lens was all metal construction, and very difficult to distinguish from its “big brother,” the Nikkor 300mm f2.8 – except that it was half the price. During my “bird/wildlife” phase I lugged that lens around. It was very heavy, and required a sturdy tripod. In those days, I was also carrying a Bogen aluminum tripod heavy enough to handle this large lens. Lugging them very far got very old, very fast.

Nikkor 60mm “Micro”

In the meantime, I had purchased another very inexpensive Quantaray 50mm macro lens. It turned out to have some significant optical issues and I “traded” it in for a very expensive Nikkor 60mm f2.8 micro. It was my first experience with “pro” Nikkor lenses (except for the 50mm lenses that came with camera kits).

For much of this time period, I shot mostly with the Tokina 80-400, the Nikkor 60mm micro, and a Nikkor 28mm f2.8.

Kodachrome 25


Medium.         In this era, the change was huge. The last time I had used the cameras, I had used my K-25 without much thought. In the ensuing years, film technology moved ahead by leaps and bounds. Not only did the color get better, but the ability to preserve fine, grainless (a relative term) detail with higher ISO ratings continued to progress. And to my surprise, the nature photographer’s go-to was no longer Kodachrome. Indeed for many, Kodachrome was an anachronism. The new rage was a film by Fujifilm, called Velvia (sounded like cheese to me). Velvia was unlike any predecessor, with a rich and vibrant color to it is really no wonder that it became the nature photographer’s film of choice. I shot many rolls of it, essentially moving away from my beloved Kodachrome from that point on. Velvia became my – albeit temporary – new Kodachrome. At ISO 50, it offered a stop more, and a very saturated and very contrasty color palate, which seemed dramatic. Indeed, some would say (and at times I agreed); too saturated, too contrasty, and too dramatic. It also tended to really punch up the yellows and greens. Fuji eventually offered some alternatives that were nice (especially Sensia, Sensia II, and Provia, which not only offered a “more natural” color palate, but Provia came in ISO 400 version, which was the fasted slide film available), but by then I had leaned back toward Kodak.

Fuji Velvia

During this period, there were many new offerings each year for a while, particularly from Kodak trying to “catch up” to the Velvia onslaught. Kodak kind of revived its Ektachrome offerings (they actually continually increased their Ektachrome offerings over the years, but they really seemed to cater to a very specialized audience). In 1996, they introduced E100S (“saturated”) and E100SW (“saturated warm”). I shot many rolls of them, and really liked the more “natural,” subdued color rendering they gave for many of my landscape and wildlife shots. I still shot some Velvia, but it became more for “arty” flower images and dramatic light landscapes. The E100 films were great because they offered yet another stop of exposure, and still retained a very fine, grainless look. Fuji followed suit with some new more “neutral” offerings in higher ISO ranges, including Sensia and Sensia II. A perusal of my archives shows a fair amount of Sensia II images. Two years later, E200 came out and was welcomed especially by wildlife shooters who worked in early and late day periods. In 1999, still chasing the legend of Velvia, Kodak released E100VS, and also Elitechrome. They never really caught on – for me at least. I was pretty satisfied – mostly with the E100 films. For about a 15-year period, film developments were a wonderful boon to photographers. And then in 2012 – the digital revolution having taken full hold – Kodak ceased production of its color slide films!

Fuji Sensia II 100

Doodads.  As I mentioned above, Nikon has absolutely lead the market in electronic flash synchronization with its camera bodies. It is “smarter” than I am. I shortly acquired a smallish, Nikon dedicated flash unit and had perhaps the best and easiest lighting experience ever with this. When I later switched to the Sony system, this was (and continues to be) one of my regrets.

Unfortunately, a tripod is one photographic accessory which photographers often skimp on, or skip altogether

A quality tripod is the other area in which I became “educated.” Unfortunately, a tripod is one photographic accessory which photographers often skimp on, or skip altogether. I get it. Photography is an expensive hobby and with a limited budget, there are priorities. Cameras and lenses are usually the highest priority. But with longer lenses, shooting in more challenging conditions, a sturdy, reliable camera support is an absolutely fundamental essential. I learned this, particularly as my telephoto images suffered as a result of flimsy support. I had carried an aluminum Velbon tripod from Ritz Camera around for years – and rarely used it. Once I began to, though, its shortcomings became readily apparent. I moved up to a used Bogen tripod. Ironically, I just sold the Bogen tripod about a month ago, though I had not used it for many years. It seems like used tripods were always plentiful. These days, the older aluminum models – mostly from Manfrotto-Bogen – are not only plentiful, but reasonably affordable. I sold mine, with a 3-way head, for about $50.00. I might have paid $35.00 for the Velbon tripod all those years ago. Again, a pocketful for a poor college student. And that’s about what it was worth. A decent Bogen with a 3-way head was probably in the $200 range. Tripods are not very sexy. It did not seem like a bargain. But there are so many reasons to have a good tripod. If you browse the blog, you will see numerous references to, and blogs about tripods and their merits. Like so many photographers, I have overspent on the numerous tripods I have owned over the years. Probably a 20-20 hindsight thing, but should have just bought the higher cost, higher end setup in the beginning 🙂

Bogen Tripod and QR System

Preferred Post – Processing Software?

Crystal Beach Twilight
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

Recently, I have been trying to branch out and explore some new, or at least rarely visited, territory.  For me, this usually involves reading:  both on the internet and books on particular topics.  In the past months, I have read about B&W, painting images and converting photographic images, flash photography, and more recently, night photography.

Almost everything I read has at least a short section on post-processing.  Because our world has become digital, it is, at the very least a “necessary evil.”  But some of us find it to be a huge positive to our photography, and even enjoy playing around with it.

I would appreciate if readers would respond here and let me know what their “go-to” software for image editing is, and why?

What I see in virtually every text and article though, is the inevitable reference to either Adobe Light Room, Photoshop (which has become a generic reference in many cases to all things digitally manipulated), or both.  It is understandable that Photoshop was the original image editing program, but over the many years since it was first introduced, there have certainly been a number of other programs designed with photographic image-editing in mind.  I have recently experimented with some of these offerings, including, most notably, On1‘s all-in-one, stand-alone, photo-editing software competitor to Photoshop (though I have not used any of them enough to have any judgment about them, there is an impressive lineup, including Capture One, Corel, DxO, ACDsee, and numerous others (interestingly, they all compare themselves against the Adobe “benchmarks” – Photoshop and Light Room – and often mention that you can work in and out of the Adobe programs, “seemlessly.” I gave On1 a pretty thorough test drive over a couple weeks.  Ultimately, I could not get the software to play well with my HP Desktop or my Microsoft Surface 3 and they graciously refunded my purchase.  It was an impressive program at what appears to be a lower price point than Photoshop.  I am currently subscribed to the Adobe Cloud solution; Photoshop CC and Lightroom Classic CC and whether the price point is actually significantly lower may well depend on how often these stand-alone programs need to be updated and at what cost.

In a recent post, I spoke about keeping up with the newest iteration of Photoshop, and concluded that it would remain my “go-to” software for all phases of image editing, for the time being.  The books all seem to suggest that most photographers are either using Light Room, Photoshop, or both.  The then go on and say that the image-editing process is pretty much the same.

Having come from earlier versions of Photoshop that predate Light Room, I never embraced its image-editing capabilities.  Early on, I felt that it still had too much missing from my workflow, and the Photoshop Adobe Raw Converter (ACR), now essentially the same conversion “engine” in both Light Room and ACR, seemed more capable in its early days.  By the time Light Room “caught up” to Photoshop, I was thoroughly entrenched.  I appreciate that Light Room was really developed specifically for photographers, and many who came to digital image-editing later than I did, probably started with Light Room.  There is little doubt in my mind that it is an easier learning curve, and its design is perhaps more logical to photographers.  But that is a little like saying that the metric system is a little more logical than the “English” system to a 62-year-old who has used the latter system all his life.  🙂  I am sure it is more logical.  But that doesn’t make changing my thinking to it a breeze.  So I pretty much stay with Photoshop (and use Light Room as an expensive cataloging tool).  That may change.  But for now, it still does a few things that Light Room doesn’t.  And Lightroom integrates well with it.

The point of this rambling blog is really to try to satisfy my own curiosity.  I would appreciate if readers would respond and let me know what their “go-to” software for image editing is, and why?

Oh, and by the way, I haven’t lost all interest in the “doing” phase of photography.  Not much shooting lately, but a little:  mostly experimentation.  The image here was taken a couple nights ago near my Florida home.  We often have spectacular sunsets here on the gulf.  But this night it was more subdued.  I made this image after sunset during twilight, and used my newest toy, a remote flash trigger, to walk over near the vegetation in the foreground and light it up with the flash.  I am a long way down on the learning curve for using lighting with my Sony system.  Nikon made it so easy.

Now, Fall rapidly approaches, and I suspect the excitement to get out will build.

“Going Straight”

Tilted Horizon

In my early days of blogging, I posted a series on “fundamentals” for photographers.  I don’t fancy myself a pro, or necessarily a qualified teacher.  I don’t have “credentials.”  I am self-taught, with a small amount of formal training, and many generous and talented friends.  However, I have helped some friends and family get their arms around the basics of photography, to advance beyond so-called “point and shoot.”  In fact, the genesis of my blogging here was reducing a few long-winded e-mail messages to writings that I thought could help others who have struggled as I did.

The internet and high quality smart phones have made everyone a “photographer” these days

That was a long time ago.  I have moved away from the “tips and tutorials” thing and leave that to other writers and bloggers out there, many of whom are much better qualified than I.  If you want to see my simple-minded approach to teaching, you can see my series here.  But every once in a while, my observations on-line give the urge to pontificate.  The internet and high quality smart phones have made everyone a “photographer” these days.  The technology in both IOS and Android (and others) phones today is impressive, with good lenses, good resolution, and many apps designed to assist that process.

But technical quality doesn’t guarantee a good photograph.  There is still a basic skill set required.  While technology has made good exposure (with sophisticated metering capability), and sharper images (with image-stabilization technology and ever sharper lenses) possible, there are a couple things that still require a different “built-in” but sometimes not effectively mobilized technology – the brain.  Being as guilty as the next guy, I find that in my own case, failure to take advantage of this marvelous technology (the brain) is often borne of laziness, or lack of observation of my surroundings (both during and after the image has been made, during post-processing).  While I have tried to avoid this problem, I am sure you can find an example or two of what I am going to criticize, in my “online” presence. 😦

Technical quality doesn’t guarantee a good photograph

I thought about doing a “Top 10″ things we fail to do.”  But wouldn’t be what I honestly think.  I pointedly avoid the left and right leaning political points of view here.  But there is one case in which I have to admit that I abhor leanings in both directions.  There is really one primary one that I see time and again (and when I – or someone else – catch it in my own work, I am always disconcerted).  That one thing is the left-leaning or right-leaning horizon.  I see it so often on Facebook that it has become “fingernails on a blackboard” for me.  It is the single most prominent fault (at least in my observation) of the 1000’s of posted images on the internet.  And here’s the thing:  It is fixable!  It is fixable before and after the shot (though it is always better in my mind to try to “fix” it during the shooting process).

And here’s the thing; It is fixable!

Starting Out “Straight”

One type of Hotshoe Bubble Level

Before we make the image, we have several aids available to us.  Perhaps the best (but not always feasible) one is to use a fixed camera stand (tripod) and install a bubble level on the camera hotshoe (of course, your smartphone doesn’t have a hotshoe 🙂  – more on that one later).  Before a couple of my colleagues persuaded me to use a level, I thought my own eye was pretty good at judging that.  The level proved otherwise (note, however, that not all levels are created equal.  It is worth buying one from a good source and then testing it to be sure it is accurate – I used a carpenter’s level to test mine).

Where is that thing on my smartphone?

Of course, it is not always feasible (or convenient) to shoot from a tripod.  And some of those to whom I am preaching here, don’t shoot with a dedicated camera, but use their smartphone.  In most modern cameras, the software options include an on-screen (or in-viewfinder) graphic level.  These are great tools (of course, they need to be checked and calibrated for accuracy, and there is some anecdotal commentary online that they are not always completely accurate – and there is an answer to that below).  Where is that thing on my smartphone?  To the best of my knowledge, neither the top Android (I use Samsung) and IOS phones do not have that as a built-in option.  But there are several free apps that will add that feature.  I am test-driving one called “Camera Level” that seems very much like the in-camera built-in level in my Sony cameras.  It automatically loads into your smartphone’s camera (after appropriate “registration/permission”).

One of many different variations of a built-in “electronic” level

Most software now also offers a “grid” pattern on the screen or in the viewfinder.  While I find this can be a help, your eye will still fool you.  The level won’t.  I do not think there is any good reason not to use this technology regularly.

Rehabilitation is Available

When “curating” my images after a shoot, there is little doubt that even when using these tools, I still have occasions where the image is tilting.  Fortunately, there is help for this in post-processing.  Today, virtually every post-processing software application has an automated “straighten” feature.  But even in the day when that wasn’t part of the software features, there was always a way to accomplish this.  I primarily use Photoshop and it was easy to create a straight line (using an available “grid” overlay, or a “guide”) and then rotate the image so that the horizon was straight.  And because it is possible that the level methods described above are not always accurate, it ought to always be part of your process to make sure that things are level that should be level.  Our eye will fool us from behind the lens.  But the image won’t and it will be one of the first things the astute viewer will notice.  I often quip, when seeing that ubiquitous sunset over water, “I wonder why the water doesn’t just drain out of that picture?” 🙂

There are some drawbacks to the post-processing “fix.”  It very often may require you to crop out important parts of an image, in order to straighten it (Photoshop’s impressive “content-aware” cropping can in many cases repair that problem).  It is also true that there is not always a “horizon” to reference from.  It can then become more challenging.  Straight lines that “should” be horizontal or vertical can be used, but you have to take into consideration perspective distortion created by lenses now.  But careful analysis of the photo should tell you which lines “should” be horizontal or vertical – or at least if you have to make a choice, which are aesthetically preferable.

Have a great day, be careful out there, and watch those horizons.

“I wonder why the water doesn’t just drain out of that picture?” 🙂


Here We Go Again (It’s Fall!)

Second Edition!

Here we go again.  It’s fall foliage photography season.  Are you ready?

Reflections; Cascade River, Minnesota

Over the nearly 10 years since I started blogging here, I must have blogged about fall color and foliage a dozen times.  Maybe More. Not surprisingly, it remains a favorite subject for me.  For some who are fortunate enough to have great foliage photo-ops in their backyard, what I will say here may not apply. But for perhaps the vast majority of us, these opportunities often come only after travel to a more aesthetically accommodating venue.

Somesville Town Hall and Bridge
Somesville, Maine
Copyright Andy Richards 2009

I have traveled to New England (prominently: Vermont), the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Maine, Minnesota, West Virginia, Virginia and New Mexico, in various years, to photograph fall color. Vermont has long been a love of mine, and I have made numerous trips there; enough to prompt me to take my first foray into “publishing” with the first edition of “Photographing Vermont’s Fall Foliage” in 2012.

As the previous blog notes, I am very happy to announce the 2nd Edition of this book, with updates and substantial additional locations (the first edition is no longer available, as the sellers required that it be removed from circulation in order to sell subsequent editions). The New Edition is currently available on Amazon, Apple, in the iBookstore, and Kobo.

Maple Leaf
Stowe, Vermont
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Many of the persons I communicate with at this time of the year are primarily leaf peepers with cameras. For those folks, go and enjoy! For serious photographers, I want to make a few observations, based on my own travel experience.

Miner’s Castle; Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Michigan U.P.
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

Preparation is Key

Mental preparation is the most important piece of this. Just because it is fall foliage season, doesn’t mean the rules for good photography change :-). It is important to be thoroughly familiar with the gear you will be using, as the “window” for a great image is often very short, and you may only have one chance to visit the location. In 2010, prior to my planned week-long trip to Vermont, I hit a milestone of sorts, in my own photography.  I had always planned my locations and tried to find as much “intel” about a location as I could.  But this time, I focused less on those details, and instead gave some contemplative thought to what I wanted to present visually, emotionally, and artistically.  I think this contributed to one of my most successful trips.

Hiawatha NF Color Sections
Michigan U.P.
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

What you can take on a trip is also always a consideration. When I shoot near home, or somewhere I can drive to, the photographic gear I will take is generally only limited by what I own (and can afford).  When flying, you really have to consider weight, and bulk. Most of us do not feel comfortable checking a bag with photo gear in it for a number of reasons. So what can you carry on, along with your other needs?  One of the miracles of modern technology is the ability to make great images with a lighter, simpler gearset.  For “casual” travel (I define that as any travel I do that is not specifically and solely dedicated to photography), I now carry a very small, packable carbon fiber tripod and the RXSony 100 iv (a point & shoot sized camera, with some professional credentials).  Even when I go on a dedicated photo shoot, the camera, lenses and tripod are much small and lighter than in the past.

Glade Creek Gristmill
Babcock State Park, WV
Copyright 2011 Andy Richards

A better question might be “what lens will you use?”

Photographic gear is a subject that is often over-thought, in my opinion.  Cameras, lenses, filters, and accessories are — for sure — tools that are necessary to the making of an image.  And there is no doubt that higher quality tools can render a technically better result.  If that is what you seek.  I have already read, several times recently, the question:  “what is the best lens for foliage photography?”  I don’t think there is a “correct” answer to that question.  A better question might be “what lens will you use?”

Tahquamenon Falls
Michigan Upper Peninsula
Copyright 2004 Andy Richards

However, that there are other considerations that will have a more direct bearing on the successful image.  Understanding light, and composition will have much more effect on imagery, in my view, than any other factor.  This assumes, of course, that you already have a solid grounding on exposure principles, how to focus the camera, and considerations of aperture and depth of field.  This relates directly back to the first point:  preparation.  If you do not come to your subject in the best light, it will be difficult to make a really great image.  More often than not, this means early and late (or–think:  during breakfast and supper :-)).  Much of my more recent travel has centered around other activities, such as family time, tours, etc.  While I do make images, it is often apparent that they were not take in the “best” light, and I frequently lament that it would be nice to be at a location either very early or in the late afternoon/early evening.  If your trip is photography-focused, you will need to be mentally prepared to be on site at times that may be inconvenient to others you travel with.  When I have made my fall foliage trips, the majority of them have either been alone, or with other, equally serious, photographers.

Santa Fe Ski Basin
Santa Fe, NM
Copyright 2008 Andy Richards

Don’t forget the “other” gear you may need.  Most fall foliage locations have the potential for very warm weather, rain, and even freezing temperatures (especially at sunrise).  Hat, gloves, sunscreen, and adaptable clothing is important.

Fall Color Reflection
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

Most important of all, though is to have fun and enjoy the process as much as the result!  Best to all of out out there and good shooting!

Burton Hill Road
Barton, Vermont
Copyright 2010 Andy Richards