Friday, May 25, 2012

"Photo of the Day"--That's a Pretty Cool Award!

I was flattered earlier this week when one of my photos was selected by the Huntington Library as their Photo of the Day!

This sort of recognition is more valuable to me than money.  Well, ok, maybe that's overstating it...  It's more valuable to me IN THE LONG RUN than the short joy of being paid...that's what I meant to say.

Most people are motivated by knowing that they're contributing something of value or working towards an honorable objective, and then being recognized for that effort.  It's a basic of human nature, and understanding that is one of the more powerful advantages that one can have when working with people in any endeavor.

Just a short note today...just wanted to brag.

You can see the photo, as well as my other Huntington Library shots HERE on my website gallery.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Don't Underestimate the Importance of Technique

It helps to have top-of-the-line gear, but if you don’t know how to use it, it won’t matter.  I learned this valuable lesson recently after admiring images of hummingbirds that a friend of mine had taken.  I went out to shoot some of my own, and the results were well below my expectations, and didn’t come close to the quality of my friend’s shots.

Clearly it was because my lens was no good, right?  It couldn’t be me, it had to be the equipment.  After taking my lens to the Nikon Service Center, I got back the embarrassing report two weeks later that there was nothing wrong with my lens…really?  So, I started doing some research and found other users on the web who had the same lens that I did.  Some of these users had the sort of incredible shots that I was after.  What was their secret?

I contacted several of them to see if they would share.  They responded with the various setting that they used on their cameras when making their bird-shots.  They were using the continuous focus mode (AF-C on Nikon), and also the Single Focus Point.  They were also using f/8.0-11.0 which is the sweet-spot for most lenses in terms of sharpness.  A fast shutter speed along with shooting in “burst” mode completed the picture. These were settings that I was familiar with, but in no way understood how important they were to the particular challenge of telephoto photography of birds.  I couldn’t wait to get back out there and try what I had learned.  Guess what...the results were significantly improved.

Still, there was a gap between my images and those of my friend’s.  That’s when I turned back to my lens and compared it to the lens my friend was using.  Hers was a top-of-the-line lens.  Mine was mid-level.  More research revealed that people with my lens were upgrading to better telephoto lens.  Further research narrowed my interests down to a couple of lenses.  Ultimately I settled on a Sigma 150-500mm APO HSM.  Wow!

With my new found techniques in place, and with a new lens on the front of my camera, I was ready to go out and see what I could find…  The above image was one of several that I captured on my first test-drive.  I’ve pretty satisfied that I’m on the right track again.  To summarize, you need good equipment, but don’t underestimate the importance of proper technique!

If you have any comments or questions, drop me a note at  You can see more of my hummingbird shots on my website gallery at

(Metadata:  1/2000 sec at f/8.0 and ISO 1000, 250mm focal length on a 150-500mm Sigma lens)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

What's Your Point (of View)?

 A good friend of mine is in an apparent competition with me...who can buy the most lenses?  Actually, we're both quite active and enthusiastic photographers who appreciate having "good glass", and that appreciation has led to our collaboration of research as we research and invest in our increasing collection of optics.  Invariably, the question comes up though...why are there so many different lenses, and aren't there just a couple of lenses that we could get that would do everything?  Do we really need all these different lenses??

Those are rhetorical questions of course, and the answer is fairly obvious if you think about photography and the nearly unlimited range of image creation styles and possibilities... There is macro, landscape, still life, portraiture, birding, photojournalism, nature, documentary...etc, and each of these is dramatically different from the others in terms of the optical properties needed to maximize their effect or impact. The question would be similar to painter wondering why they don't make just one kind of paint (watercolor, oil, etc...) or one kind or size of paper to put it on.

My friend was commenting on a photographer's presentation he attended this week at his photography club.  She apparently had mentioned that her 17-85mm lens was perfect for her work.  I suspect that her skills and portfolio cover a much broader range of styles than what she was presenting, but the point was interesting...for that particular style of work, that lens was all she needed.  Much like a photographer that works in a studio taking portrait, it would not be uncommon to hear them talk about the a single lens as their "go-to" lens of choice for portraiture.

So you probably see where I'm going... Different lenses allow you to work across a wider range of photographic interests.  And unless you're wanting or trying to specialize in a specific or narrow creative endeavor, you will find that having more lenses opens new doors of possibility for creativity and expression.

I'm looking right now to add a 150-500mm telephoto lens to my arsenal.  I currently have a 70-300 but have been wanting more reach.  I've been wanting this in the context of some wildlife and bird photography.  It would be easy to think that a 150-500 is the right lens to have if you want to get closeups of birds or wild animals. And while that might be true, it certainly is not the ONLY use of a long telephoto--and far from it.

As part of my research on this particular lens, I reviewed set of images on Flickr that were taken exclusively with an extended telephoto lens.  And you know what?  There were no where near as many animal close up images as I expected (or was initially hoping to see).  What impressed me was how many images there were where it was not immediately obvious that telephoto was even used. And by that I mean, there were images where the advantage of telephoto was evident, but it wasn't to give you the pimple-view of a subject. The telephoto lense was used to compress distance or to bring out-of-reach subject into a reasonably composed frame without extreme cropping and image loss.  There were shots of a cluster of buildings up against a backdrop of mountains--amazing because it looked like these structures were right at the base of these giant mountains.   Using the telephoto lens provided a different point of view.

And that's really the bottom line...different lenses allow you to provide a different point of view.  You can shoot a flower with a wide angle lens, a macro lens, a "normal" lens, or even a telephoto lens--each can be an excellent and inspiring image, but each will have a different point of view.

If you have questions or comments, email me at  You can also view my image portfolio at

(Metadata for this image is 1/250 sec @ f/4.0 and ISO 80, focal length 33mm)

Friday, May 4, 2012

Spring Has Sprung--POW!!

Our weather this weekend in Southern California has once again returned to that marvelous combination of morning marine layer followed by late morning sunshine and then capped off with brilliantly bright and warm afternoons. 

What a perfect day to be anywhere, doing anything--as long as it was outside.  For me, it was a short trip...right out to the backyard, where once again I could marvel at the beauty and variety of the flowers in our garden.  I don't plant them, and I don't know their names, but I do know how to photograph them!

Today I was going after close-ups and was using a set of extension tubes.  An extension tube is basically a hollow ring that goes between the camera body and the lens--pushing the optics further away from the focal plane to increase the magnification.

This is just one of many shots taken today, and if you're interested, you can view all my flower images by visiting

(Metadata:  1/350 sec at f/8.0 and ISO 200, shot at 105mm with Kenko Uniplus 25 extension tubes)