Thursday, June 11, 2009

SoFoBoMo Competition

(Click on the thumbnail for the bigger, better version)

Okay, that title is a cheap shot. We all know that SoFoBoMo is not a competition. I confess that sometimes, I simply search for titles and, with a little wiggle room, this one does make a thimbleful of sense.

For a time, I thought I would finish my SoFoBoMo project way ahead of schedule (I started May 30th), but I am not so certain of that anymore. For one thing, I wasted some time foolishly clinging to expectations and slowed my progress. On a couple of occasions, I had been spoiled to especially nice light while I was on Oak Canyon Trail, then for several days now we have had cold, gray weather. That, along with all the other distractions during the past week, meant I have not added much to the stack of pictures worth considering. I woke up this morning cured of my blindness and resolved to embrace whatever nature offers.

Another of the blocks that I have put in my path is competing photography projects. I find at least two other projects equally compelling, and I spend some time repeating to myself, “Focus. Focus.” I have to resist the part of me that wants to bounce about aimlessly from one thing to another, constantly starting something new, yet finishing nothing.

Note: The young fellow above was close enough to call for a 73mm setting on my lens.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Team Sorting and Camera Testing

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Yesterday included another brief period of further exploration with the 50D. The BVS Buckaroos have team sorting events (riders working with calves) at the Equestrian Center on Tuesday afternoons, and we had never yet gotten our schedule arranged to take advantage of the event. We finally pushed everything aside and did it. I figured the action would be an excellent test for new equipment.

Big Bertha was not invited. For the first time, in my brief history of being a camera owner, I had purchased a battery grip and I am trying to adjust to the new weight. Big Bertha would have put me over my limit. Instead I opted to use the 70-200mmL f/4. After all, I reasoned there would be plenty of light at 5:00 PM. Furthermore, with the type of action I would be seeing, I wasn’t much interested in trying to shoot at f/2.8.

Due to the high fence, I was not able to photograph the activities in the pens and you can not poke your head through the corral rails to get a shot since you would become a distraction to the calves and create an unfair hurdle for the team doing the sorting. (Sorting calves is not quite as challenging as herding cats—remember that terrific commercial a while back?—but it is not a sport for wimps, or riders with poorly trained horses.) I was a little disappointed about that, but enjoyed very much watching the teams work. There are some outstanding riders in our tiny community.

Because I was intent on some testing, I focused on riders warming up and schooling their mounts in the large holding corral. Specifically, I got some pictures of a friend’s daughter. This young woman is a top-notch rider and has won numerous championships in youth rodeo events. (I hope I haven’t used any terminology here in that description that is off the mark. I don’t know much about that competition.) I do know she looks as though she were born riding and it was a joy to watch her school this mare.

Technical notes:

(Basic processing and cropping in ACR (CS3)—along with some pesky straigthening, drat).

One of my motivations for buying the 50D was the additional 5 megapixels. While I had never bought into the megapixel race (most of the time I forget how many megapixels my camera has—it's that insignificant to me), a great deal of recent reading has gradually changed some of my thinking. I read more and more action photographers talking about getting the shot and framing later. That switch originally producing a little dissonance in my poor limited brain, but I am discovering the wisdom of the expert advice. I have worked hard for some time now to frame in the camera rather than waiting to do that job in Photoshop. However, that often meant that with things happening very fast, my new awareness of framing produced decent framing or a clean shot one at the expense of the other. When shooting fast action lately, I am getting a much better ratio of keepers (technically speaking), by incorporating advice from action photographers. It doesn't mean I abandon all concern for framing. But, it takes a firm backseat to focus and holding the camera more steady. With AI Servo, my main priority is keeping that focus point on the animal. Framing after the fact means throwing away megapixels and now I have more to spare. A win, after all.

For me, the jury is out on the battery grip. It will take time to adjust to the completely different shape of my camera. I don’t have tiny hands, but at 5’3” they aren’t exactly big.

I had not used the shutter button to lock focus for a couple of years at least. Now, since the battery grip does not have a dedicated focus button, I shifted that function to the AE button. Although it is a tiny shift to the right on the camera body, yesterday it felt like a mile. My thumb knew exactly where that button was and does a bit of searching now.

I wouldn’t go out on a limb at this early stage, but my first impression is that along with the new sensor the AI Servo function is more reliable. (I am keenly aware that this could be nothing more than a new infatuation blinding me to facts.) Time will tell.

The weight of the 200mm zoom lens along with the battery grip and standing on tiptoe to get over a corral rail for a clear shot wasn’t exactly a joy. Still, I was glad I did it and look forward to another session.

By the way, I know I have a nasty tendency to tilt my frame to one side or another, and the bizarre physical contortions required yesterday amplified that problem. I find myself thinking about a grid. Any thoughts about that, anyone?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Simple Gear Lust?

(Click on the thumbnail for the bigger, better version)

(I have added a temporary gallery for some
test shots that I will leave up for a few weeks
while I am posting a few test shots.)

For the last couple of months, I have bounced from one new undertaking to another without any real lulls. Nothing much has changed. To add to the list of commitments, I had found myself thinking more and more, lately about buying a 50D. Since I am doing more action photography (and more often in low light) with my 40D, I couldn’t stop thinking about the advantages of the latest in that line of Canon cameras. I was sorely tempted by the 5D and wish I had money for both, but the frames per second is a big issue for the action stuff, so that settled the issue. Yesterday afternoon, the brand new 50D arrived.

Because I am not a champion pixel peeper (nor do I aspire to be one), I had qualms about posting the test shot and my comments. Phil Askew or Ken Rockwell I am not. I am just an enthusiastic newcomer to photography offering my personal opinion on a piece of equipment. I would love to hear feedback, but please remember that I never claimed to be an expert.

Perhaps I am too easily pleased, but my cursory testing squeezed into the few minutes that I could devote to it so far, left me feeling extremely optimistic about my purchase. It appears that this will be an enormous help in keeping that shutter speed where I need it, even when shooting wildlife mostly seen in the evening. Almost as a bonus, I had been reading that the new LCD monitor is a major improvement, but I wasn’t prepared for just how much better it is.

The photo above was taken in my closet with no overhead light and with only what light filtered in from the bathroom window. My settings were f/4, 1/20 and ISO 2000. I did only a little noise reduction in ACR and basics such as tweaking settings for white and black points, then basic sharpening of mid-tones in Photoshop, but not much more than that. The handling of noise seems to be quite an improvement over the 40D.

Why even take this weird shot? Well, a lady never knows when she might need to take pictures in her closet, right? Actually, I was just a little eager to start testing and was a desperate for subjects in a dark area with unbroken surfaces such as that wall to more fairly test the noise issue. As I said, maybe I am too easily pleased, but I like the difference I see, so far. The nasty noise that is there could be cleaned up quite a bit more and in a large open space it is even less tricky to work on noise. While I am not planning to use ISO 2000 on a regular basis, this gives me hope that 1000 and even 1200 may be usable.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Elk on Deer Trail

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We will see if this finally works. Blogger has been broken all day as far as I can tell. No fun at at. Hiss. Boo.

The weekend was fun, busy, rewarding, and exhausting. Friday night, I was at the gallery with another show, meeting new people and having a wonderful time. Those of you who admired the sample piece included in the May 27 post may be interested to know that she was a favorite. One print sold and I had a few inquiries about the possibility of additional copies. Saturday we attended another, unrelated event, and Sunday I was finally able to devote my full attention to entertaining my sister-in-law who was here for the weekend visiting from Tuscon. I thought she might enjoy seeing the view from one of the ridges and chose Deer Trail Drive for a short exploration. The view was lovely, but the most fun came from not one, but two, sightings of elk. One of the most fascinating things about the experience was the way the animals mostly ignored us as we sat there in the car oohing and ahhing (while I snapped pictures, of course.) They were busy eating and they only periodically took a moment to check on us. I think I will be seeing more of Deer Trail Drive.