Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

I came up with this neat little memory/visual trick to let me know at a glance the charge state of my NiMh batteries. It’s really simple. If your batteries are fresh from the charger, orient all the positive ends in the same direction when you store them. If your batteries have been used, simply flip one of the batteries (I charge in units of four) around so that three will show the positive ends, and the fourth will be, of course, negative and the indicator of your batteries’ condition. The photo below illustrates what a set ready for recharge looks like. 


If the batteries arent all showing the same pole, its time for a recharge!

If the batteries aren't all showing the same pole, it's time for a recharge!

 One more battery-related tip…look for the new low-discharge NiMh batteries. Instead of draining 1% of their power per DAY, these babies will lose 1% of their juice over a MONTH! That means you can toss ’em into your camera bag and be confident that they’ll be ready to work six months from now. They cost a bit more but, for my money, they’re worth it.

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The one thing …

What’s the one thing that separates the successful photographer from the rest of the camera-toting crowd? The willingness to learn from their mistakes. This means, of course, pushing that envelope and trying new things that will cause those mistakes in the first place!

Get out there and try something new today. Haven’t used a flash or, shudder, multiple flashes? Been afraid of the dark and haven’t experienced the thrill of time exposures? How about HDR? Go out there and be brave. We all make mistakes. Make yours and move forward.

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Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting my tips for building a killer photo portfolio. If you haven’t already figured it out, having a portfolio of your work handy (and online) is the best way to get work. After all, no editor in his right mind is willing to hire a photographer without first seeing examples!

One of the first decisions you’ll have to make is what sort of work are you trying to attract? Will you present a portfolio of photojournalism, portraits, sports action or an overall selection of your best work in all genres? There’s no reason why you can’t have one of each portfolio edited and ready to go!

First, gather your work and give every photo a hard, critical viewing. This is where another set of eyes comes in handy. In fact, I recommend that you get input from other photographers or, better yet, a picture editor as you determine which photos will make the “cut.” This is where you’ll lose some of your favorites…trust me.

How many photos to choose? Don’t have any set number in mind. I’d rather see a portfolio of ten killer images than forty so-so photos. Choose your photos with an eye toward showing off your creativity, technique, versatility and mastery of photography.

More to come….

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Having all the photo gear in the world won’t get that once-in-a-lifetime photo. It will help, but luck and planning will play a bigger part in whether you succeed or fail in getting “the shot”. Plan well and you’ll be ready when luck happens.

A great example of “planning for luck” happened during a recent vacation. I was staying at a state park adjacent to the Potomac River. Bald eagles were seen nearby. My self-assignment was to get photos of them feeding on the fish in the river.

I needed to come up with a plan.

I knew I’d need a long telephoto lens. I decided to use the loaner Canon 400mm f/4 DO lens I brought along as well as a 1.4X teleconverter. That would give me the equivalent of a 560mm lens on my Canon 5D DSLR. Knowing eagles fly high and far away from people, I hoped that would be enough.

I also needed to find where the eagles were active…and at what time of day. When shooting wildlife, it’s helpful to know their habits (day feeder vs. night feeder, etc.) and, of course, where they hang out. This can be the hardest part of the plan, especially if you don’t know the area. With binoculars in hand, I started watching the eagles. After a couple days, I had a good idea of where they caught fish as well as the location of their nesting area. I also noticed they were more active in the early morning hours.

With all that in mind, I decided to stake out a spot near their nests and wait for luck to happen. In getting ready for action, I set my camera to a high shutter speed (since I wanted to be able to react to birds from all directions, I left my tripod in the car and trusted a high shutter speed and image stabilization to keep things sharp). I chose 1/1250th of a second.

I also set the camera to manual and adjusted the exposure and color balance to match the morning light. I used manual metering because I figured I’d probably be shooting the birds against sky, woods and water and I didn’t want exposure errors caused by shooting against a bright sky or reflected water to ruin my shots. I also set the camera to RAW format to give me more flexibility in post-processing and set the autofocus to servo mode to better follow the birds. Manual focus is so…20th century!

So, with camera in hand, I waited. And waited. The morning light was glorious and there was a lot of activity on the river. I was afraid this activity would keep the eagles away and, as I was preparing to leave to find another location, a young male flew overhead. I tracked him for a couple minutes as he circled the river (he had spotted a fish) and, since I had everything ready, was set for what happened next!

lucky catch

I love it when planning and luck play nice together!

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Keep this in mind when shopping for memory cards. The brand doesn’t affect the quality of the images captured to the card. The brand of the card, however, can make a difference in the speed at which images are captured to and downloaded from the card. Not having the time or inclination to do speed tests on every memory card out there, Rob Galbraith, noted digital photo guru and acquaintance of mine, has done the work for all of us. Check out his website for a comparison chart of the various cards on the market and see where your card ranks.

I personally use Sandisk Ultras in my camera but also have a couple Ridata cards in my bag that have served me well. I also have a half dozen Lexar cards that have let me down. Like most things in life, you find a brand you trust and like and stick with it. Sure, some cards are better (read FASTER) than other cards. But it’s a difference of microseconds!

Like I’ve said before, it’s the photographer that makes the difference, not the gear. Stop worrying about the speed of your cards and start shooting!

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I had mentioned in an earlier post (June 16, 2008 ) the growing trend of photo contests stealing the rights to your work.  The latest culprit in this despicable practice is none other than the venerable Smithsonian Institution and its annual photo contest. Take a look at this paragraph buried in their contest rules:

By entering the contest, entrants grant Smithsonian Institution a royalty-free, world-wide, perpetual, non-exclusive license to display, distribute, reproduce, and create derivative works of the entries, in whole or in part, in any media now existing or subsequently developed, for any Smithsonian Institution purpose, including, but not limited to advertising and promotion of the magazine and its Web site, exhibition, and commercial products, including but not limited to Smithsonian Institution publications. Photographs may appear on the Smithsonian Journeys Web site as well as in Journeys publications. Any photograph reproduced will include a photographer credit.  The Smithsonian Institution will not be required to pay any additional consideration or seek any additional approval in connection with such uses.

Ouch! Keep in mind that every ENTRY is subject to this, not just the winners! Steer clear of this contest! If you’re craving recognition for your work, do yourself a favor and start a Flickr account. Lots more people will see your work and you’ll get plenty compliments and feedback — without losing the rights to your images. 

You’d think they’d know better…

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I conducted my first “photo walk” last weekend at a local air show. I met with several local amateur photogs and shared my knowledge and love of photography with them. I was particularly taken aback by a comment from a photographer about how she “could never take photos as good as mine” because she was using a non-DSLR, point-and-shoot camera.

P-51D Mustang

This casual comment started a lively discussion about how the person and not the camera is the most important ingredient to great photography.  Sure, a multi-thousand dollar camera will allow you to have greater control over your photography, but without an eye for lighting, form and composition, it’s just an expensive necklace.

What to do? Adapt your photography to the gear you have in hand now. For example, point-and-shoot cameras are good for portraits and landscapes. DSLRs will allow more lens choices (at a price) and faster captures —  allowing better sports photography. Master the gear you’ve got, don’t set it aside because it’s not “good enough.” Explore all possibilities and potential of your current camera….and keep shooting.

B-17G Wright Cyclone

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