Zeikos vs. Nikon Grips

If you find yourself shooting in portrait (vertical) orientation a lot, you probably get tired of the awkward pose required to hold the camera:  your right arm and elbow are high in the air and bent over to your forehead.  Beyond a lack of comfort, this isn’t necessarily the best posture for sharp shots, either.  Other than moving to a tripod (which doesn’t work if you’re highly mobile), one solution is getting a battery grip.

There are two big benefits.  First, you can now hold your camera in the standard way in portrait (tall) or landscape (wide) orientation.  Second, the grip contains a second battery that gives you serious battery life – especially useful if you’re shooting a lot of flash.

The downside is the camera makers tend to charge some relatively serious money for them.  The grips for Nikon’s full-frame cameras get progressively more expensive:  $230 for the D610, $370 for the D750 and $439 for the D810.  Even the D7100 grip is $250.  As you might expect, third-party providers have stepped in and offer the same function for less than $100.  The question is “How good are they?”

I’ll start by saying the grip I’m “reviewing” here is an old one, so it is completely possible that improvements have been made for the newer cameras.  However, I doubt the conclusion is any different at all (provided here for those of you already chafing to click close and hit Reddit):  For the money, they are a very good deal and work well enough.  If you use one a lot, you may want to spend the extra bucks on one from the manufacturer.  Read on for details.

I just got a Zeikos grip with the D700 I purchased, so I did a quick comparison (Nikon left, Zeikos right):

LH7_0460 LH7_0464Nothing big to report here. The radius in some of the angles is a little less subtle for the Zeikos (which is consistent in general). The mounting screw for Nikon seems slightly beefier, and has a half a turn more thread or so…

LH7_0467The plastic on the Zeikos is smoother and shinier. The feel of the power button is similar, but the shutter button is smoother/more progressive than the Zeikos, which has a slight but definite “break” for the shutter release. I don’t classify that as a negative outside of the fact that it isn’t consistent with the body – It felt fine when shooting.

LH7_0463The Zeikos feels a little less “full” in my hand. The Nikon grip is rounded out toward the front, and has a cavity for your fingertips (you can see that well in the first shot). This is definitely preferred. The Nikon rubber is slightly grippier as well. The Nikon wheels are slightly rubberized vs. hard plastic for the Zeikos.

LH7_0462Nikon obviously has a rubber bottom area where Zeikos continues with the grip rubber. Probably a wash unless you put your camera down on the bottom routinely. I’m not sure how well the Zeikos grip would hold up if you’re using an L-bracket (probably fine). The tripod mount seems beefier on the Nikon.

LH7_0461More rubber on the Nikon grip on the back, along with the rubberized wheel. I think if you’re using the grip sparingly this isn’t an issue. If you use it a lot in portrait mode, I’m guessing the hard plastic at the thumb might get tiring. The AF-ON button is labeled on the Nikon. The button feel is pretty similar here, though the edges of the Nikon button are smoother and more integrated into the body of the grip. Joystick feel is similar, with the Nikon feeling a little tighter/more refined. The click action for the Zeikos isn’t as defined as the Nikon, which made 1-click zoom less certain. This is the biggest single issue I have with it. Not a killer if you don’t use that a lot (I do).

LH7_0469

Battery trays are nearly identical. Again the Nikon tray seems…beefier…and a little smoother when installing and removing from the body. The shape of the tray handle is a little more elegantly molded for the Nikon, though that is just aesthetic.

Conclusion:  Overall I think the Zeikos grip is fine. If you aren’t using a grip a lot, I think the function-for-value equation is really good. There are a few things that clearly aren’t up to Nikon’s standards, but you’re not paying Nikon prices.  I haven’t seen the Canon equivalents, but I’d guess the conclusion is the same.  If little things bother you, grab one from the manufacturer.  Buying used is often a way to save some money, too.

Advertisements

Sometimes you go back…

I recently went back to Beijing’s very-interesting 798 District.  It is a really eclectic area with a lot of art and…unusual…things to see.  The last time I went I was in a bit of a rush, and wanted to get back to see a few more sights and take a few more photographs.

As it turned out, this visit was even shorter and the time of year meant it got dark much earlier, so I got a lot less opportunity than before.  I took a bunch of touristy shots (I am fine with that kind of thing as long as it is done on purpose), but also tried to get a few creative shots in as well.  As we wandered around, I went by the spot of one of my favorite shots from my previous visit:

8644107570_3488d6ebee_o

I loved the texture, subtle colors and indirect light in this photo when I took it a few years ago

I thought I might try some different things with the scene, somewhat like I do with the tugboat I often photograph in Charleston.  Unfortunately, sometimes you go back…and things aren’t what they used to be:

LCH_1042

I’m sure everything works better now, but it isn’t nearly as interesting as it was.

I guess the lesson is that you can’t count on interesting things enduring – make sure you take the opportunity to capture what you want – think about more than one composition and have as much fun as you can.  The shot might not be there the next time you come back…

Had similar experiences?  Post ’em up! 🙂

What to take when you travel

TTUD60v2ContentsOne of the most common posts I see on the various photography forums is a question that goes something like this “I’m going to <somewhere far away>, what should I bring with me?”

Unfortunately, there isn’t really a single answer to that question.  What photography equipment you should take with you has a lot to do with what you’re planning to shoot, what your style is, how much space you have to travel with your equipment and what you’re comfortable carrying.  If you have a story to share, please feel free to leave it in a comment!

I travel extensively for work and do a fair bit of individual/vacation travel as well.  Personally, I tend to travel heavy – I’m a pretty big guy, and I prefer to have more than less.  That won’t work for everyone, and over time I’ve figured out what I do and don’t use.  I’ll pass on what I bring, and then offer some thoughts on how you might decide what to take when you travel.

Before I talk about what I bring, I wanted to tell you how I bring it.  Since over 80% of my travel is business (especially internationally), I’m almost always sharing space with my gear for work – a laptop (and sometimes more than one), power adapters and other various gear.  Generally my strategy is to carry the key stuff – the body and lenses – and pack the rest in the suitcase with my clothes.  Unless I’m protecting it or I need it while flying I try to put it in the suitcase – batteries, L-brackets, filters, chargers, etc.  For the most part, these things are a lot easier to pack in a suitcase where they’d take up valuable space in your shoulder bag. If that only adds up to the ability to carry one more lens, you’ve still achieved a significant benefit.

I’ve got a pretty nice kit of lenses these days – six total (see In My Bag for the list).  While I can get them all into my Urban Disguise bag, it is a pretty heavy carry.  Before I head out on a trip, I think about what kind of shooting I’ll have the chance to do and what my goals are – higher goals often drive more gear.  Travel photography generally boils down to scenes/candids, landscapes, creative shots and walk-around shots.  The good news is I can usually cover most of that with two or three lenses:

  • Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8:  Great for wide-open landscapes as well as capturing the most of tight interiors like churches and other historic buildings, this lens comes in awfully handy.  Since it has a fixed f/2.8 aperture, it does a nice job in those low-light interiors.  However, because it is a fairly bulky lens and little limited in overall usefulness it is the first lens I drop among my three core travel lenses.  The shot below could only be taken by my 11-16 – I would have had to stand in traffic with my next-widest lens.  It created a pretty dramatic angle, too… (click on the photos to see them larger)
La Madeleine church in Paris.

La Madeleine church in Paris.

  • Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-f/5.6 VRII:   This is the ultimate walk-around lens.  Pretty darn wide and pretty darn long, it offers a lot of flexibility.  A lot of lens-snobs turn their nose up at this lens, but it can be pretty darn sharp and has a moderate carry weight.  It does a nice job at the wide end for landscape shooting and has enough reach to allow you to bring back some texture.  As a variable-aperture zoom, it isn’t a low-light champ, but it pays you back with extensive range and versatility.
Tyn Church in Prague

Tyn Church in Prague

  • Nikon 35mm f/1.8G:  When it comes to creativity, I find it hard to beat my primes.  The ability to use shallow depth-of-field and shoot in low light gives you the ability to create a lot of mood and atmosphere in a shot.  While I’ve used my 85mm to get some good shots, my 35mm f/1.8 has yielded a big chunk of my favorite shots, including the one below (which will look familiar to return visitors), and is almost weightless.
Love locks in Prague

Love locks in Prague

Those are my three key lenses for travel.  When it is just the body, the 18-200 and the 35mm, the kit is reasonably light.  From there I’ll add lenses situationally – the 70-200 if I need reach and ultimate sharpness in low-light, the 85mm if I think I’ll do something portrait-like or a little more reach vs. my 35.

The first lens back in my bag for travel is the 28-75 though – it offers a lot of flexibility as a walk-around lens has has terrific sharpness, contrast and color along with f/2.8 creativity.  Occasionally I’ll substitute it for my 18-200 if I don’t think I’ll need the longer zoom capability.

The other thing you have to think about is whether you’ll need a tripod.  I bring my monopod on travel more than my tripod because of space and weight.  I don’t own a travel tripod (which fold down to a super-small size), and it is fairly heavy and bulky to walk around with, despite which it goes with me about half the time.  My monopod is small and fairly light, and has been really handy in dark interiors but only makes the trip about 1/3 of the time, mainly due to how much my tripod travels.

Sometimes I bring a bit more than I’ll need for a single situation and pack only the things I think I’ll need on a given day, leaving the rest in the hotel room safe.

So here are some questions to ask yourself before you travel:

  1. How much room do have to bring things with you?  You can optimize space by packing bulkier items with your clothes.  You won’t need your charger when you’re walking around anyway.
  2. What kind of shooting are you going to do?  along with “what lenses/filters/other equipment are necessary to get the shots?”  Be realistic here or you’ll wind up with almost everything you own.
  3. How much weight can you carry around for extended periods?  Generally I’ll choose to be a little more tired and sore to get the shots I want, but some don’t have that option.
  4. What else are you going to be doing?  If you’re on vacation and will do some shopping, it is  a good idea to leave some space in the bag for the things you pick up along the way.

The last thing I’ll mention is that sometimes not having the perfect lens means an opportunity to be creative.  If you’re faced with a situation where you think “I really wish I had that other lens”, the next thing should be “How do I create a shot with the equipment I do have?”

Travel photography should be fun and add to the experience.  If you’re frustrated, hurting and tired, you’ll probably remember that more than your shots and it may take you out of the creative zone.  Keep it simple, travel with reasonable comfort and plan ahead a little and you’ll find you like what you come home with more.

How skinny do you travel?  Anything you’ve found hard to live without when on the road?  Please feel free to share any travel stories below.  Thanks!

Updated China and Japan Summer 2012

DSC_4437.jpgDSC_4448.jpgDSC_4512.jpgDSC_4521.jpgDSC_4891.jpgDSC_4946.jpg
DSC_5115.jpgDSC_5133.jpgDSC_5156.jpgDSC_5317.jpgDSC_5510.jpgDSC_5628.jpg
DSC_5636.jpgDSC_5646.jpg

As summer approaches, I’m planning another trip to China and Japan. Since my switch to LightRoom 4 over the holidays, I’ve been watching the Lightroom Channel on YouTube, trying to improve my skills.

I thought it would be fun to see what last Summer’s photos could look like. Here are some my favorites. I realize that I didn’t post many photos from my trip to Europe (that started one week after this work trip), so I’ll go do the same thing for those and post them, too.

Like any photography tool, the better you know it, the more effective you can be – Lightroom is no different, though I have to say I’m getting a slow start with it. Guess I need to spend more time with Kelby! 🙂

Scrapyard Visit

I was driving home from an out-of-town work trip the other day and saw an old boneyard with a bunch of cool, rusty old American cars. I turned around and pulled in to look around, and then remembered I had my camera with me. After talking to the guy running the yard and asking if it was cool for me to take some photos, I had a nice time wandering around, looking for texture.

It was actually a lot harder than I expected. Of all the photos I took, only three came out even close to what I was going for:

8587341272_29ee3930e3_h

Nikon D300s – 35mm f/1.8 @ f/2.5 – 1/40th – ISO 800 – Set for – 1/3 EV

A little thinner on depth-of-field (DOF) than I wanted, but it was pretty dark. Since I was hand-holding and shooting from an awkward angle/position, I had to keep a reasonable shutter speed. Since I thought there would be too much noise if I popped the ISO higher, I went with a wider aperture. In retrospect, a bad choice.  I could have also done myself a favor and not set the exposure for -1/3 EV.  That would have helped, too.

Nikon D300s - 35mm f/1.8 @ f/2.8, 1/8000 - ISO 200

Nikon D300s – 35mm f/1.8 @ f/2.8 – 1/8000 – ISO 200 – Set for -1 EV

Shooting outside in harsh sun, this shot was actually pretty challenging. Even setting the camera for a full stop lower exposure (-1 EV), I still have some blown out spots. The DOF worked better for me here, though, and I’m happier with this shot

Nikon D300s - 35mm f/1.8 @ f/2.8 - 1/3200 - ISO 200 - Set for -1 EV

Nikon D300s – 35mm f/1.8 @ f/2.8 – 1/3200 – ISO 200 – Set for -1 EV

Another shot where I was fighting really harsh sun, I also used the exposure compensation to adjust down a whole stop.  In retrospect, I wish I’d gotten in tighter on the “Special” medallion.  You can faintly see 1957 engraved there, and it would have been a cool shot, and a lot less busy than this one.

A few lessons of the day:

  • Always have your camera with you
  • Don’t forget about the EV/exposure adjustment, but don’t forget when you’ve set it! 🙂
  • Use the screen to zoom in and see if you’re getting what you want.  I usually do it more carefully than I did that day.

Even though I didn’t get all the shots I wanted, I’m so glad I stopped.  It was really cool to see all these old cars, some of which will either be on the road again or help another car get there.  The experience is always good, no matter how the shots turn out!

What kind of problems have YOU had shooting lately?

By the way, if you enjoyed this post, feel free to follow the blog or “Like” the Enthusiast Photographer Facebook page.

Favorite Shots of 2012

Well, I figured since it is mid-March (already!) I should get on my favorite photos of 2012…

It was a pretty busy year, full of travel to some pretty amazing places.  I think the biggest jumps I took with my photography are mostly centered around being more thoughtful and confident with composition as well as knowing my equipment better.  The goal (and I haven’t achieved it yet by any stretch, but we’re getting there….:) ) is to make the camera disappear and concentrate on capturing the image as you want it.  And have fun.

I took a lot of shots last year, and there are many that I’m fond of, so choosing a few was hard.  Clicking on a shot will open a larger version.

Strictly speaking, this and the next shot were some of my last shots of 2011.  But since I sort of lost track of them and they didn't make my 2011 series, I'm cheating and putting them here.

Strictly speaking, this and the next shot were some of my last shots of 2011. But since I sort of lost track of them and they didn’t make my 2011 series, I’m cheating and putting them here.  This is the pineapple fountain in Charleston, SC.

My second visit to this boat produced one of my favorite photos ever.

My second visit to this pilot boat in Charleston Harbor produced one of my favorite photos ever.

Spring found me in Alabama for the 10th edition of my favorite car show.

Spring found me in Alabama for the 10th edition of my favorite car show.

A business trip took me to Beijing, where color always seems to surround you...

A business trip took me to Beijing, where color always seems to surround you…

My favorite drink is done well in Beijing...

My favorite drink, a rye Manhattan, is done well in Beijing…

There is an art district in Beijing called 798 where you can find a lot of off-the-wall art, but the old buildings there offer some nice texture, too...

There is a  district in Beijing called 798 where you can find a lot of off-the-wall art, but the old buildings there offer some nice texture, too…

I liked the mood of this shot, but knowing it was taken in Beijing adds a little incongruity to it as well...

I liked the mood of this shot, but knowing it was taken in Beijing adds a little incongruity to it as well…

This statue was in the 798 art district in Beijing, which was ironic enough.  The billboard on the walls just layered on top...

This statue was in the 798 art district in Beijing, which was ironic enough. The billboard on the walls just layered on top…

They wouldn't let me take my tripod and it was really windy 55 stories above Tokyo, so getting this shot wasn't a picnic.  The view was stunning though, so I made due by holding my camera to a railing on my L-bracket, giving me enough stability to get reasonable sharpness.

They wouldn’t let me take my tripod and it was really windy 55 stories above Tokyo, so getting this shot wasn’t a picnic. The view was stunning though, so I made due by holding my camera to a railing on my L-bracket, giving me enough stability to get reasonable sharpness.

I like this shot, though it doesn't do a great job of showing the scale of the world's largest Buddha.

I like this shot, though it doesn’t do a great job of showing the scale of the world’s largest Buddha, located in the temple city of Kamakura, Japan.

This carved stone monolith was near the Great Buddha of Kamakura.    I thought narrow depth of field helped give it a sense of texture.

This carved stone monolith was near the Great Buddha of Kamakura. I thought narrow depth of field helped give it a sense of texture.

Prague is famous for the Love Locks that decorate fences along the waterway inside the city.  It is a growing trend around the world.  This shot was the feature of my "Touristy Photos" post.  If you're looking for cities filled with amazing things to photograph, this area of Europe is your ticket.

Prague is famous for the Love Locks that decorate fences along the waterway inside the city. It is a growing trend around the world. This shot was the feature of my “Touristy Photos” post. If you’re looking for cities filled with amazing things to photograph, this area of Europe is your ticket.

Budapest is a city filled with history, texture and stunning views...

Budapest is a city filled with history, texture and stunning views…

I wonder how many people walk through the doors of this charge and never look at the detailed and ornate metal castings all around them...

I wonder how many people walk through the doors of the La Madeline church in Paris and never look at the detailed and ornate metal castings all around them…

These shots took me through the end of the Summer, and to be honest by then I was a little worn out!  The rest of the year was also very busy at work and featured much less interesting travel, so I wound up with a sort of involuntary vacation from photography (not to mention this blog…).

So that’s it!  I’m off to a much stronger start in 2013, and I’m really looking forward to warmer weather to get out and have some fun with my camera!  If you’ve got favorite shots from last year posted, paste a link to your blog, flickr or whatever!

Enthusiast Photographer Photowalk – Charleston, SC

Every year I shoot this boat, but I try to do something different.

Every year I shoot this boat, but I try to do something different.

One of my favorite things to do is walk a city at dawn and shoot photographs.  Each February finds me in Charleston, SC, and I make a point to get out and capture some of the rich texture so richly abundant here.

The harbor boat above is one of my favorite subjects.  One could say I should find something different, and next year I probably will, but I always enjoy this shot.  It isn’t the most accessible place to get a good composition, but the boat and the dawn sky are great.

Some advice for photowalks.

  • Look for texture and detail.
  • Scout the area beforehand if you can.  Wandering around the day before can give you an idea of where you want to be and where you want to go, and save valuable time while the light is changing.
  • Check your equipment the night before.  Make sure you have a extra batteries and cards, format your cards and make sure to either reset your camera or go through it to make sure there aren’t any settings that will interfere with your shooting (ISO, custom white balance, etc.).
  • Pack light.  If you’ve been able to scout, you probably have a good idea of what lenses to take, etc.  The bag can get heavy fast…
  • Respect “No Trespassing” signs and private property.  Not only is it polite, but failing to do so might lead to some sticky situations with the police or worse.  There’s always something else to shoot.
  • Trust your eye – if you see something interesting, figure out why it caught your attention and try to strip your shot down to that.  Composition is one of my big struggles, but I always have fun with it.
  • Look for the unexpected places.  While I always like to have the photo of the landmark I took myself, try to get an unconventional perspective/composition, and always look for the things other people are missing.

Here are a few other shots from this morning (fairly quickly edited from JPEGS – I’ll play with the RAW files when I get home…):

LEE_6806 LEE_6859 LEE_6853 LEE_6850 LEE_6842 LEE_6833 LEE_6827

I had a lot of fun, and found some new and interesting places my trusting my instinct to turn a corner and see what was there.  If you’ve got some photowalk photos, post a link in the comment area!  Constructive feedback is always welcome, too!

Touristy Photos

I wanted to briefly share a simple contrast between a “snapshot” and a “photograph”.  So often you hear about people coming back from exotic places with a lot of boring photos that just don’t make anyone happy – they don’t excite the people who look at them and they seem only a vague shadow of something amazing to the person who took the photo hoping to catch a sliver.

I did a lot of traveling around the world recently, and my renewed dedication to photography gave me the chance to see different photographic opportunities than I did just a few years ago.  I wanted to come back with as few snapshots as possible, and I wanted my images to mean something to me as well as make an impression on anyone else who sees them.

My vacation was exactly that – a vacation – so I didn’t want to turn the whole trip into a photography exercise.  However, I wanted to use my understanding of composition, aperture and other mechanics to bring home images that told a story and communicated how I felt when I took the shot.

The best example I have of this from my trip came from Prague.  Along the waterway, there are occasionally fences where lovers place locks for good luck.  The most popular one is very close to the John Lennon wall.  It is a really cool site, but the snapshot I took of it just doesn’t do it justice:

This is what a touristy snapshot looks like. It physically captured the scene, but isn’t visually very interesting and doesn’t really tell a story.  Shot at f/5.6, shutter 1/80.

Standing next to it, this scene is a lot more striking and cool than the above photo.  I really wanted to show off the brilliant colors and the diversity of the locks as well as create a sense of drama for the shot.  Here’s another view of the same scene:

Here the locks are the stars of the show. The composition and narrow depth of field create a much more dramatic perspective, and bring the colors to life. This was shot with the same 35mm lens, but shot at f/1.8 to create the thin zone of focus (focal plane) and composed to create drama and an opportunity for the creamy background (bokeh).  I manually chose the focus point for this shot, and tried several moving left to right down the frame to get the one I ultimately liked the most.

This shot speaks far more strongly to me as a memory of a cool place I visited, and it stands alone as an image, too.  All it took was a few seconds of thought about how best to tell the story of this place, select the best aperture for the job, compose the shot and shoot a few frames.  In this case, the “rule of thirds” applied more to the point of focus than the composition itself.

So often when I’m taking pictures, it is specifically about the pictures.  Whether it is photos of my children at a family event or outings specifically about creating images, my priority is photographs.  On vacation, only slivers of my attention were focused on the photography.  My main goal was to relax and enjoy two wonderful weeks with my wife.  A secondary goal was to bring back images as warm as my memories of the places and the experience.  Getting very comfortable with the hardware, theory and practice allowed me to do just that.

Has photography changed how you take vacation photos?  Did it help you enjoy your vacation more?  Anyone want to share a link to your favorite vacation photo?

Photos from China and Japan

Apologies for the long gap between posts!  I just got back from a business trip that took me to China and Japan, and luckily afforded me the opportunity to spend a bit of time with a photographer buddy taking pictures.  I tend to focus too much on hardware sometimes on Enthusiast Photographer – I hope you enjoy them!  Some of them are kind of touristy, which is fine – I was a tourist!  🙂  I did try to be a little creative, but my main focus was having full command of my camera and having fun.  A D300s looms in my immediate future, and I wanted to be fully comfortable without the nanny “Auto” mode.

So here are a few from my travels.  Comments and feedback are welcome!

Dinner in Beijing

Lights

A Manhattan in Beijing

Woman watches a Fountain Art installation in Beijing

Pipes in the 798 District of Beijing

Impromptu parking garage…

Biker takes a break from the mid-day sun in Beijing

View from the top of the Mori tower in Tokyo

The world’s largest Buddha, located in the temple city of Kamakura, Japan.  This one is an example of where composition and zoom can actually reduce the scale of the subject.  The tourists in the foreground make the Buddha seem much smaller than it is…

A better composition of the world’s largest Buddha.

The world’s largest Buddha, located in the temple city of Kamakura, Japan

A monument near the great Buddha in Kamakura, Japan.

It was a really enjoyable trip, even if it was work!  Even better, my wife and I are heading to Europe for two weeks early next week, so I’ll be a traveling Enthusiast Photographer once again!

By then, all the D600 rumors will probably be sorted out… 😉

As a quick equipment note, this was my first big trip with the all my gear, plus a couple other items – my Timbuk2 Laptop Messenger with the Snoop insert performed well – if anything, it holds too much!  The Gitzo 2531/Sunwayfoto XB-44 performed well, but the setup is really too large to fly with.  I took my new Sirui monopod and the monopod head/clamp setup provided by Sunwayfoto, and these were a great solution.  The head and clamp gave me excellent flexibility with the monopod, and allowed me to shoot in some pretty low light.  Unfortunately, even monopods weren’t allowed on the top from the Mori Tower, so that shot was hand-held.  I’m debating whether I can/should take the tripod to Europe.  I want to find a way to take it, but I’m thinking it is going to be hard to get on the plane, and I’m not taking a suitcase big enough to put it in.  More on that later…

My favorite photographs of 2011

Apologies for a long post, but I thought I’d throw some of my favorite images from 2011 out there along with the lessons they came with. I hope you’ll find it worth your time!
————————————————————————————————————
I’ve tried not to make this blog too much about my own photography, but I took some time today to reflect on my journey this year and how far I’ve come. I got my D90 around Christmas last year, and shortly after that I read the two books that really opened the door to the world of photography for me. I don’t think I can overstate the impact Scott Kelby’s Digital Photography books and Bryan Peterson’s Understanding Exposure had on my ability to understand what my camera was capable of and how I could get out of the “Auto” and scene modes and really take control of what I was doing. It has been really satisfying, and a source of great fun for me in a year when a lot of things weren’t so fun. I doubt they’ll ever see this, but I’m extremely grateful to both of them.

I was finally brave enough to try out a Photoshop tip in Scott’s first book on my favorite photos of 2011, and I was really pleased with the results, so I’ve posted them all here. I’ve added a few comments about each photo, what it meant and what it taught me. I hope they’ll be of some use to you, or at least that you enjoy the image! (The WordPress photo hosting leaves a little to be desired, so clicking on each will link you to the Flickr page.). On to the photographs!
————————————————————————————————————

Harbor Pilot - Charleston, SC - February 2011

This photo was one of a set I took not long after finishing Scott’s books and really having some time to digest them. My mother-in-law lives in Charleston, and I got out before dawn one morning while we were visiting. I had no idea what I was going to shoot or really where I was going, but this boat was one of the first things I shot. It showed me how valuable my tripod really was to getting a shot like this! I was determined to shoot manual, and I must have taken forty photos, with varying shutter speeds and aperture settings. I hadn’t read “Understanding Exposure” yet, but when I did, I was thinking about getting this photo the whole time.
————————————————————————————————————

Battery Park - Charleston, SC - February 2011

Something about this statue and canon eternally facing out to the harbor struck me, and I had to take a picture. What I remember most about taking this photo was that I kept the tripod legs folded – the composition standing up lost the searching feeling this image has, and brought the trees into play. It was an early lesson in thinking about up/down dimensions when composing.
————————————————————————————————————

Cristo Redentor from Sugar Loaf - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - April 2011

I’ve been so lucky to have been a lot of places in the world (mainly on business), but Rio was my first big trip after rediscovering photography. Not a bad place to go! I actually struggled a great deal. Knowing I wasn’t likely to ever return to this iconic place and with tough, hazy conditions, I was a little stressed out about getting the shot. Coming home, I wasn’t immediately happy with many of my photos, but these photos helped show me the value of shooting RAW and learning my editing tools. This image has come a long way from the first time I saw it out of the camera, and I’ll treasure it for my whole life.
————————————————————————————————————

Cristo Redentor - Rio de Janiero, Brazil - April 2011

This photo probably gives you some insight to how difficult the conditions were. It was very hazy and bright. What I finally learned here was that I needed to relax, enjoy the moment and recognize than an Enthusiast Photographer is shooting for fun, not a paycheck. This isn’t a magazine-quality picture, but it means a lot to me. I wasn’t exactly feeling it photography-wise, and I was a little flustered, and I decided that was OK. Things went much better from that moment on!
————————————————————————————————————

Old shed - Cary, NC - May 2011

I liked this view of the shed since it seems like the tree is almost part of the structure, or maybe vice versa 🙂

I’d been driving by this old shed for years, and it suddenly occurred to me it has all the texture and color I look for when I want to take photos. I got out to shoot early one morning to a very disappointing dawn sky, which forced me to change what I’d expected to do that morning. The lesson here is you can’t always predict the weather or conditions, so you have to go with the flow. Instead of a blazing orange sky I have long, wispy green grass, which I think is a great counterpoint to the building.

A couple other notes here. First, this shed isn’t in a remote area – there are lots of developed neighborhoods all around it, and I’m standing in the shoulder of a fairly large road to take the shots. Sometimes you create an illusion with composition, and that is a lot of fun. I composed them to take the newer house off to the right out of the frame and ensured the power lines and other modern elements can’t be seen. Also, this building was boarded up and sealed not long after I took these photos, so it was a very good reminder not to dawdle when you get some inspiration – the chance might not be there tomorrow…
————————————————————————————————————

Flare of Dawn - Carolina Beach, NC - July 2011

I spent every morning of our week at the beach watching the sunrise from the porch with my 9-year-old son. The composition was limited to the porch where I was drinking coffee and talking with him. When I posted these on various forums, I inevitably got comments about the two old posts from the pier that was taken by a hurricane years ago. The suggestions were that the posts are distracting and that I should Photoshop them out. But sometimes photographs serve just to remind you of a special time or place. Those posts are like an old scar on the face of a wizened man, and I’m not taking them out. They remind me of those conversations with my son and the nice old house we stay in every year. In other words, sometimes you just have to listen to yourself. 🙂
————————————————————————————————————

Fountain on Charleston Harbor - Charleston, SC - November 2011

This was one of the images that benefited a great deal from Scott Kelby’s instructions on using the Unsharp Mask tool with Lab Color and the Lightness Channel in Photoshop. Now if it sounds like I know what I’m talking about, don’t be fooled. I’m just parroting what I read in Scott’s book, and true to form, he doesn’t bog you down with a lot of jargon and details, he just tells you how to do it. It was easy and the results are good. Sometimes the “why” can come later, and that isn’t a bad thing.
————————————————————————————————————

Harbor Pilot - Charleston, SC - November 2011

The outing during my November visit to Charleston was a bit of a bust. I was so busy getting out to shoot at dawn that I didn’t have a clear idea of what I was shooting or where I was going. The result was I wound up back where I’d been before. The good news is I got a shot that is a nice example of exposure. My first visit with the boat had much better color, but this time I was more aware of getting the exposure right, and the result is a better and sharper image. The wisdom gained from that day was to have a particular goal in mind every time you go out: shoot for color or texture, unusual shadows, whatever.

Even if you don’t stick to it, no plan up front runs a high risk of an aimless and unproductive outing.
————————————————————————————————————

Heading out - Charleston, SC - November 2011

This is another image that saw great improvement from the “Unsharp Mask” technique, but also a reminder about being ready and aware. I was taking shot after shot of the pilot boat that I completely missed the sounds of this other boat pulling away from the same dock and heading for the rising sun. The focus was pretty soft, but the benefits of the full RAW information and Scott’s Photoshop tip helped recover most of an image I really wanted to capture but wasn’t quite ready for…
————————————————————————————————————

Reach for the Sky - Jordan Lake, NC - December 2011

This was the last frame of my last shoot of 2011, and it is already one of my favorite photos ever. There were several lessons on that shoot, a few of them detailed in my previous post “Deep in the Woods” (net: carry a flashlight and think about darkness when you’re off the beaten path), but there were a couple more lessons I took away from that day.

In my haste to get back to my car before it got really dark, I noticed as I was driving out of the park that the light was still getting better and better. I wavered, but finally pulled over and went looking for a clear place to shoot over the water at the marvelous colors in front of me. The moral here is don’t be afraid to stop and grab a few quick shots. Anyway, as I hurriedly fought my way through the brush and brambles again, the scene above just struck me. I immediately stopped, set up my tripod and started shooting. The branches set against the sky were just so visually interesting that I couldn’t pass them up.

It cost me the opportunity to get the clear shot across the lake, but I’m positive that that shot wouldn’t be nearly as compelling (at least to me) as what I did get, and it reminded me that I have to keep my eyes open even when I’m on the way to the shot I think I want. The unexpected can be more powerful, and while the colors of the photograph I missed would have been really nice, the image itself would have been a little pedestrian. What I got was a lot more fun, and I knew it as soon as I saw it!

I’ll also mention that my new tripod and especially the L-bracket came in very handy here. My spot was on a very uneven set of ground, and I don’t think hanging the camera over in the drop notches of a standard ball head would have been much help to sharpness during the long exposure. The RRS BH-40 and the L-bracket were heroes for this shot!
————————————————————————————————————
I hope these have been useful and enjoyable! Among other things, I’m busy writing up my 2012 Photography Goals and Resolutions. I’ll publish mine soon – what are yours? What were the big lessons of 2011 for you?

Thanks for reading, and please let me know if you have any topics or questions I could use for a blog!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!