Windows For the Soul - Photography

Lowepro Flipside Sport 15L AW review (update): a small big backpack

Almost two years ago I wrote posted my opinion on the Lowepro Flipside 15L AW and I added a few photos of the backpack fully loaded to show just how much gear one could put in it. Later, I updated the post by adding a few more photos of the bag with different gear in it. Now, after more than two years using this backpack, on a truly daily basis, it is time to update those thoughts based on the experience of toting it around, fully stuffed with whichever cameras and lenses I was using at the time.

This is a great bag! After all this time I could not find a single negative comment to add to the complaint that I made on day one: the backpack lacks a couple of decent small exterior pockets. I have never used the water bladder compartment on the side to carry water. Therefore, it has always been used as an useful pocket for keys, phone, wallet, etc. However, the shape of the zipper is quite inconvenient to close and, when the bag is full and the compartment crowded, I fear that the fabric may get ripped near the stitches holding the zipper. So, I always end up not closing the zipper totally. As I already knew that the bag lacked pockets when I bought it, I was by no means disappointed with this.
The bag is extremely light, yet very tough and resistant. Mine has been tossed around time and again, used fully loaded and it is absolutely fine. Even though I have always crammed as much gear into it as I could, it has proved to be extremely resistant. It has taken some occasional drizzles without need to make use of its rain covers and still keeping any rain drops or humidity away from my gear. In fact, I have only used the rain cover on a handful of occasions. As I said, the backpack lacks small pockets and in the inner zipped pocket I can only squeeze a few papers. However, I have started using the side of the bag, between the external wall of the bag and the camera gear insert (the arrow in the photo), to squeeze small occasional accessories, as long as they are relatively flat.

So, if the bag is so great why am I considering buying another one? Well, as we know, bags and backpacks, for some of us, are pretty much like shoes and purses for women: you can never have too many because they all serve different purposes and there is always a different bag for a different occasion. Ok, that is probably a bit of an overstatement. However, the truth is that our needs in terms of bags evolve with our gear. Throughout the past couple of years, my basic kit has changed frequently. Despite the fact that I have managed to keep it within the packable limits that my Lowepro Flipside Sport 15L AW allows, I now have a couple of lenses that are often left behind and I frequently leave home without a speedlight. At the moment, I usually carry the following gear in the backpack (see photo below):

- Nikon D600
- Nikon D3S
- Nikon AF-S 300mm f4 ED-IF
- Nikon TC-14E ii
- Nikon AF-S 85mm f1.8 G w/ reversed hood
- Nikon AF-S 28mm f1.8 G w/ reversed hood
- Nikon AF-S VR Micro105mm f/2.8G IF-ED w/ reversed hood
- Nikon Nikkor AI-S 200mm f4
- A hoodman loupe
- A blower
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This is quite a load for such a compact backpack and, if I leave the 200mm f4 home, I can still put my iPad on top this gear. However, I cannot put the same equipment in the bag if I attach the 300mm and the TC-14Eii to the D3S, instead of attaching it to the D600. This can be a pain sometimes, because I would often prefer having the long lens on the D3S and using the others on the D600. So, I end up having to switch the combos before using the cameras and before stowing them back in bag. Moreover, I occasionally need to carry a Nikon AF 80-200mm f2.8 D ED as well as the 300mm f4. I used to be able to carry these two lenses, with the 85mm f1.8 and two bodies when I had a Nikon D700 instead of the D3S. Unfortunately, with the D3S this is no longer possible.

So…this has been an extremely useful backpack, day in day out, allowing me to carry my essencial kit in a small and rather discrete bag. But it is time to look elsewhere for some added capacity. I already own a Lowepro Vertex 200 AW. A great backpack as well, but a bit cumbersome for a daily use. I need something pretty much like the Lowepro Flipside Sport 15L AW but a tad bigger. I guess I need….a Lowepro Flipside Sport 20L AW. This is just the bag that I am sure that it will suit my needs and I already know its pros and cons so that there will be no surprises. There is just one small detail: they sell it in Light Blue and in Orange and whilst the latter is a bit too loud for me, the former costs almost twice as much. Go figure that!


Helios 44M 58mm f/2 M42: is a 20€ lens a waste of money?

Is spending 20€ on an old lens a waste of money? This is a question that I had to consider before buying a crappy old Helios 44M 58mm f/2 M42 (8 Blade version) and one that I still struggle to answer. Fortunately, 20€ is not worth much thought and it does not demand a proper and definitive answer. I took some time off for a couple of afternoons in the countryside, hoping to find some late summer butterflies. I carried my usual gear but I decided to also toss my extension tubes and my old Helios 44M 58mm in my backpack. There were hardly any butterflies to be seen but dragonflies and damselflies did not miss the call, so to speak.
This lens is said to afford exquisite swirling backgrounds and several examples can be found on Flickr. This alone would make those 20€ a ridiculous bargain but my experience, most likely due to my clumsiness, can only confirm that results with this lens are rather a hit-and-miss affair, and, even with a lot of effort and thoughtful management of settings, distance to subject, distance from subject to background and light conditions, I would dare say that this lens is, to be gentle, extremely unpredictable. Too often I am left with the feeling that a pleasing result is rather a matter of luck. Be that as it may, the fact is that, if I put in an extra effort, I sometimes come away with a few photos that I actually like. However, I can't help thinking that it is a lack of image quality that produces those results.
In the first three of photos below, I coupled the Helios 44M 58mm f/2 M42 with a Nikon D600.
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Nikon D600, Helios 44M 58mm f/2 M42 (8 Blade version), ISO 400, 1/160, f/2.

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Nikon D600, Helios 44M 58mm f/2 M42 (8 Blade version), ISO 640, 1/160, f/2.

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Nikon D600, Helios 44M 58mm f/2 M42 (8 Blade version), ISO 640, 1/160, f/2.

Experimenting with this lens in the macro photography genre, I coupled it with an extension tube. However, the blurred background was by no means extraordinary and the best I could get was the shot below, taking advantage of the dark background to hide the quite hideous out of focus background and the rather large maximum aperture to obtain a paper thin depth of field, highlighting the creature's eyes. However, as it is usual in my case, manually focusing was a real PITA even using the live view mode on the D600. I think I ought to pay a visit to my ophthalmologist one of these days.

Coming back to my initial question, is this 20€ old lens a waste of money? I am yet to figure it out…
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Nikon D600, Helios 44M 58mm f/2 M42 (8 Blade version), ISO 640, 1/160, f/2.

Looking back at a summer of odonatas photographed with different setups

This year, we had an odd summer around here. It seems to have been short on butterflies, with a particularly short number of zebra butterfly (Iphiclides feisthamelii) sightings and without a single monarch butterfly (danaus plexippus) to report. I believe that these last ones are quite uncommon on these latitudes, but I was starting to get used to seeing at least one every year. I do suppose that there is some sort of explanation for this, but I must confess I find it quite puzzling and a sign that I must try to learn more about these wonderful creatures. In September, unlike in previous years, I only saw a single praying mantis. On the other hand, this seems to have been a good year for Odonata - dragonflies and damselflies. Throughout the summer, I had plenty of opportunities to photograph these peculiar flying warriors and, as I have also made some buying and selling of gear in this period, I had the opportunity to shoot these creatures using different gear setups.

This is the first of two posts with dragonflies and damselflies as subjects. In this first one, I will look at a few photos captured with different lenses and cameras; on the second one, I will be posting some shots taken with an old 20€ crappy lens, the Helios 44M 58mm f/2 M42 (the 8 blade version).

In this first set of photos different lenses were used with two cameras. In the first pair of shots the Nikon Micro AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G was used with two different cameras: the D600 and the D700. I suppose that there is no argument as to which camera is the most capable of the two, as far as image quality is concerned. However, I really fancy the way that the D700 renders colours and I often tend to grab it first as my go to camera for every occasion just due to how much I like its handling.

Manually focusing this first backlit damselfly through the grass was a tricky task. Blurring the leaves in the foreground added this sort of dreamy look to the photo but called for manual focusing with the Micro 105mm.
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Nikon D700, Nikon Micro AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G, ISO 320, 1/160, f/4.

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Nikon D600, Nikon Micro AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G, ISO 1400, 1/3200, f/8.


For a different photo of the same dragonfly I used a manual focus Nikon 200mm f/4 AI-S, with a 20mm Kenko extension tube, on the D700. In the first shot I was expecting the dragonfly to move, hence the high shutter speed and, consequently, the cranked up ISO. This second photo was taken from the opposite side
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Nikon D700, Nikon 200mm f/4 AI, ISO 400, 1/640, f/8, w/ extension tube.

The next set of photos demonstrate how a slight difference in the perspective can radically change the outcome. In the first shot, again with the Nikon Micro AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G on the D600, shooting a slightly backlit dragonfly from a lower stance, exposing for the sky and with a higher f-stop number to ensure some depth-of-field produced a photo that captures just enough of the creature's environment whilst maintaining the focus on the odonata.
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Nikon D600, Nikon Micro AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G, ISO 200, 1/1600, f/11.

The next three photos also highlight the relevance of perspective by changing it whilst maintaining the subject and the pair camera/lens used. Changing the perspective achieves rather different photos of the same subject.
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Nikon D600, Nikon Micro AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G, ISO 100, 1/1400, f/4.5.

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Nikon D600, Nikon Micro AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G, ISO 100, 1/400, f/5.

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Nikon D600, Nikon Micro AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G, ISO 100, 1/400, f/5.

This combination of the D600 and the Micro 105mm is one of my favourite setups when I want to capture detail and strong colours on a photo. Furthermore, it is a very reliable combination in the sense that, given suitable conditions, it delivers consistent results with several photos that are hard to choose from. More often than not, though, I end up focusing manually by pre-focusing and adjusting my distance to the subject. As the lens tends to be a bit "nervous", on a windy day one can easily lose the focus on the odonata swinging in the wind and end up focusing on the background. Manually focusing is a way to avoid the nerve wrecking slow focus speed of the lens all the way from the distant background back to the creature. This amazing odonata below, however, was extremely cooperative, probably due to the fact that it was quite late in the day, already into the so-called golden hour, and there was hardly any wind.
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Nikon D600, Nikon Micro AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G, ISO 400, 1/500, f/4.

Finally, two more photos, shot using two lenses that one would not immediately think of for this type of photography. Like I said, sometimes, when the settings do not vary much, when the objects available are far from being out of the ordinary, the challenge is in trying to make the best of what one gets and in doing it by experimenting with the gear available. In the first shot, a rather boring "portrait" of a dragonfly, I tried to take advantage of the shadows and the highlights on the foliage in the background to achieve a dreamy effect.
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Nikon D600, Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8 G, ISO 560, 1/3000, f/6.7, w/ extension tube.

I have been using a Nikon AF-S 300mm f/4D IF-ED a lot, lately, and I really like this lens. It has become my go to lens for those shots when there is some distance to the subject and a fast focusing lens is needed, such as nature photography (bird photography, basically) and pet action photography. However, it has also proved to be useful for smaller creatures whenever I intend to capture some of the environment surrounding the creature, as it was the case in this final photo of this post. Soon, I will be posting my some of my attempts to photograph dragonflies with a Helios 44M 58mm f/2 M42 (8 Blade version), an ancient lens that costed me less than a light meal.
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Nikon D700, Nikon AF-S 300mm f/4D IF-ED, ISO 1400, 1/1250, f/6.3.

When field rats and lab rats meet

Too often the academia and practitioners fail to cooperate with a view to achieving a common goal: building knowledge. We, the academia, often disregard practical experience as we arrogantly look down from the top of our temples of knowledge, which are too often little more than a shrine to our pride and vanity, a mask for our ignorance. We, the practitioners, often have nothing but scorn for the "academics" and we tag them with all sorts of pet-names. More often than not, there is a bit of reason on both sides but both sides also fail to step forward and cross the boundaries of prejudice. This story is worthy of attention in the sense that it is a token of how stretching out a hand to the other side can lead to mutual benefits. Too often scientist fail to step out of their labs or their computer desks and venture into the field. Too often those on the field refuse to let the scientists come to their turf, refuse their advice or their insights, moved by their on insecurity or some other reason. Here, an experienced photographer shared his sensational finding with the academics and this openness cannot be excessively praised. Kudos to both sides.

Check out Gonçalo Rosa's blog for some of his remarkable work.

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Waiting for that light

A few weeks ago, I took a few hours late in the afternoon to go for a walk on the countryside. I took my teenage daughter along, with her own camera. Yes, spreading the gospel, so to speak. There were no interesting sightings worthy of a photograph, apart from this fellow with its extremely discreet camo (Euplectes afer, Yellow-crowned bishop), toing and froing above a stretch of reed. Clearly, there was a nest nearby. We managed to take a few shots of the busy creature but as I was testing a TC-200 on my 80-200mm f/2.8 in rather dim light, on a windy day and with no tripod, the outcome was far from acceptable. I decided that I would be back as soon as I had a chance.
A couple of weeks later, I returned alone. I had my tripod with me, there was a bit of wind but it was no gale. I had plenty of time because the girl that is a treat for mosquitoes at that time of the day stayed home.

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Nikon D7100, Nikon 80-200 mm f/2.8 @200 mm, Nikon TC-200, ISO 400, 1/1250, f/God-Only-Knows, Tripod.

On a first sighting, I managed to take a few photos, but the wind was still a bit too strong. I noticed that I would have the sun behind my back at sunset, so I decided to return a couple of hours later, and so I did. However, when I returned, the busy bird seemed to have vanished and I had to wait over an hour for him to show up again. Apart from the fact that I was standing, I did not mind an extra hour of peacefulness on the countryside. I am just a bloke with a camera taking a few photos on my scarce spare time but for me waiting a couple of hours for a bird is by no means boring because there is always something else to photograph as I wait. However, even though I know that those who do this professionally frequently have to wait much longer than that, I could see myself doing this for a living. Moving on... lest I should need to get therapy... Considering that I was using a Nikon TC-200 on my 80-200 f/2.8 and, consequently, using manual focus, with doubtful exposure readings on the D600, considering that it was on a windy day, that I had no VR and was using a shaky tripod head, it could be worse...I hope. Well, who cares, at least I could finally enjoy a quiet afternoon away from my desktop.
The second photo and the third one were taken almost 3 hours after the first shot. On the first one, I used the DX camera for the extra reach, on the other two I used the FX so that I could crank up the ISO to cope with the fading light. I know which photo(s) I prefer...

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Nikon D600, Nikon 80-200 mm f/2.8 @200 mm, Nikon TC-200, ISO 1600, 1/1000, f/God-Only-Knows, Tripod.

Butterfly season with different cameras

I know that we all see the photos first and only then, if ever, go on to reading the post. However, just this once, try to read first and check out the photos in the end because it’s quiz time.

Another year has passed, speeding into oblivion, and here comes butterfly season. I like shooting butterflies, but I like it more for the effort that I have to put into it than for the results. One could be led to believe that photographing butterflies is easy. I guess it probably is, but not around here. Even in the hottest summer days, mornings tend to be too cold until the sun is high in the sky, but as soon as the heat comes in so does the wind. For those who believe that shooting butterflies is easy, try doing it on a windy day. Yet, occasionally, I get lucky. I came across a seemingly uninteresting small meadow on a field, not too far from my house, that was populated with small butterflies of different species. On my way back home, I took 30 minutes off on a few different days. On two of those days, the wind called for increased shutter speed, but when the breeze was gentle the butterflies were not too active. This was also due, I imagine, to the fact that it was quite early in the morning and it was probably too cold for them. I had a chance to try different compositions and different settings; to work the DOF that can be a bit tricky with small creatures with such a peculiar shape; or to avoid the nasty backgrounds on a natural environment. As I said, it is more about the effort than about the result because, in the end, photos of butterflies seldom have anything interesting about them other than the creature itself. And when they do, more often than not I am left with the sensation that they have been “engineered” to obtain a perfect scenario, with ideal conditions.

Three different days, at roughly the same time of the day, with three different cameras (D600, D7100 and D700) and the same lens (Micro AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G). When I am out looking for small creatures there are occasions when the crop factor of the DX camera is welcome. However, I do not fancy extreme macro shots, particularly when it comes to butterflies, as I rather prefer to include a glimpse of their environment. So, I tend to use the FX cameras for this sort of shot, unless the butterflies avoid my presence and I need increased reach. I have added the D700 to my kit bag only recently. I had been curious to give it a try for quite some time and finally I came across the opportunity to grab one. I am not disappointed. In fact, after only a couple of weeks using it, I end up picking it up most of the time. I just love its handling and I really like its results. For some reason, I can see myself using it more than the D600 (or the D7100, a great camera that, in the meantime, I have sold ) for portraits, landscape and whenever I want to capture a certain light or ambient. There is just something about it that I guess it has earned it its iconic status. To be honest, right now I can hardly keep my hands off the D700.

Ok, it’s quiz time: I know it is not easy, or it does not make much sense trying to compare them, because the subjects, the settings and the conditions are different but try to look at the three photos below without reading the settings caption and guess which photo was taken with the D700.

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Nikon D600, Nikon Micro AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G, ISO 220, 1/2500, f/4.0, SB-28.

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Nikon D700, Nikon Micro AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G, ISO 200, 1/250, f/10, SB-28.

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Nikon D7100, Nikon Micro AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G, ISO 200, 1/200, f/11, SB-28.

When the light sucks, focus on the action.

Great! My first take at shooting this sport and the light is absolutely crappy. Dark, yellowish light that makes people look like they have a strange tan on them. Really, really hard to get proper white balance, specially without my colour checker. Well, I cannot say that I was surprised, I mean, I had been there before and I knew what I was going to find there. So, why would one go to such a place with such lousy light conditions? Well, I have been to one too many rhythmic gymnastics events and I must confess I am a bit fed up with shooting the same gymnasts, the same routines and from the same point of view, up from the stands, that is. Don’t get me wrong, those girls do amazing stuff, but after a whole season it gets a bit boring photographing the same stuff. This would be an opportunity to have a crack at shooting a different sort of action and from a closer point of view. Looking at the results I have to wonder whether these shots are decent enough. Most of the time I had to crank my ISO up to 5000 and even though the D600 is a great little camera for these high ISO shots, I cannot say that I am thrilled with the results. However, there is a handful of shots that I like for the fact that I think that they captured the essence of the sport, the action and the commitment of those kids. Truly amazing stuff is what they do and I can only hope that these photos can convey my amazement.
Note to self: check my wallet for some pocket change to get a D3S and a 200mm f/2...

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Nikon D600, Nikon 80-200 mm f/2.8 @170 mm, ISO 5000, 1/500, f/2.8





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Nikon D600, Nikon 80-200 mm f/2.8 @200 mm, ISO 5000, 1/640, f/2.8



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Nikon D600, Nikon 80-200 mm f/2.8 @125 mm, ISO 5000, 1/640, f/2.8.




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Nikon D600, Nikon 80-200 mm f/2.8 @125 mm, ISO 5000, 1/640, f/2.8.



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Nikon D600, Nikon 80-200 mm f/2.8 @155 mm, ISO 5000, 1/640, f/2.8.


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Nikon D600, Nikon 80-200 mm f/2.8 @135 mm, ISO 5000, 1/800, f/2.8.


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Nikon D600, Nikon 80-200 mm f/2.8 @155 mm, ISO 5000, 1/800, f/2.8.



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Nikon D600, Nikon 80-200 mm f/2.8 @112 mm, ISO 5000, 1/800, f/2.8




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Nikon D600, Nikon 80-200 mm f/2.8 @185 mm, ISO 5000, 1/500, f/2.8

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Nikon D600, Nikon 80-200 mm f/2.8 @200 mm, ISO 5000, 1/640, f/2.8

What can I photograph when the lions don't show up?

As much as I would love that, there are no lions, zebras, leopards, wildebeests, etc., around here. Although there is, I imagine, a good number of different species that could surely be worthy of a photo, they just don’t cross my way when I am running all my daily errands, which is pretty much all I do most of my day. Either that or seat at my desk, stuck on my desktop, trying to do what pays the bills. They call it working. Anyway, as I was saying, I lack the usual interesting subjects for a shot that is worthy of more than 2 seconds of attention. Of course, I lack much more than just that, but I’d rather not go into that because it’s easier to complain about what is beyond my power to change. So (I keep digressing, I know), what could possibly make the difference between a photo of a simple horse on a field, or what a friend of mine would call a “Frére Jacques” (sorry for the private joke) kind of photo, and a decent shot? On my way to the car wash, late in the afternoon on a sunny day about to turn into a stormy one, I was keeping an eye on the sunset when I looked inland and saw the sky with these strong colours, threatening to drop a shower on my head pretty soon. And yet, in front of me all I had was a busy rush hour avenue packed with cars entering a roundabout. Not the prettiest sight. To the left, I spotted this horse in the middle of a field, about fifty meters from the road and I found my subject. I wasn’t wearing the best shoes to walk into the knee-high grass but... who cares? The horse was facing westward, barely lit by what was left of the sunset light. I dialled the compensation down a bit and managed to take a couple of shots just before the horse’s ears showed that my presence wasn’t welcome and my model turned away to as far as the rope allowed. I had to leave, because my car was supposed to be ready and I had just 5 minutes to pick it up. Or so I thought, because I had to wait almost an hour more, instead of taking some more photos elsewhere. Typical...
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Nikon D7100, Nikon 80-200 mm f/2.8 @80 mm, ISO 640, 1/320, f/6.3, -2/3EV.

In need of a telephoto lens... or not.

I hesitated considerably before posting these photos. I mean, I always do, maybe too much... or maybe not enough. This time, though, I had a further reason to question whether I should do it or not. However, this set of photos is a good illustration of a couple of things I feel that are worthy of a few lines. I hope I am not too wrong. The past few weeks, everyday, with an amazing punctuality just before sunset, flocks of cormorants fly over my house, coming from the seaside, flying inland for the night. I had this photo in my mind of one of those flocks (ranging from only two birds to well over twenty) flying in from the sunset from an almost horizontal perspective. How could I do that if they were flying rather high above my head? Well, by climbing onto the roof of my house, of course. With that in mind, I waited for a day with some rain-threatening clouds, but sunny enough to ensure a colourful late afternoon sky. I got lucky with the weather and I was not disappointed with the light conditions. However, when I showed these photos to two very different people, they had quite distinct reactions. The first one, who I usually consider, more or less as a joke, the acid test for my photography, seemed to be quite pleased with the result. I guess it was the colourful sky that got her sympathy. The second one, a friend who, in my opinion (for what it is worth), is a great nature photographer, was kind enough not to trash them bluntly. Kindly, he just said: ”your 80-200 mm lens is short, isn´t it?” I guess he is right, the lens is short because I had to crop some of the photos a bit and still the birds are little more than tiny spots in the sky. I suppose his precious feedback alone should be enough to keep me from posting them and to understand that the photos are, to put it mildly, plain boring. Yet, every single one of these shots is much closer to what I wanted to do than they would be if I had used a longer lens. True, I would have been able to get closer to the cormorants, but I would have lost too much diversity in the sky and it was the sky with the birds that I wanted to capture rather than the other way around. So, this just goes to show a couple of things: first, you should not trust the approval of your most ferocious critic; secondly, if you really want to find opportunities to use your gear, all you have to do is to open your eyes and.... climb to the roof top of your house; finally, sometimes having the gear that one could think that it would be the most suitable for the situation may keep you from taking the photo that you have imagined. The problem is when the photo that you have imagine is a cr*ppy one, as it seems to be the case. Be that as it may, I am still mad at Santa for forgetting that 500 mm that was on my Christmas wish list.

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Nikon D7100, Nikon 80-200 mm f/2.8 @200 mm, ISO 900, 1/200, f/7.1.

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Nikon D7100, Nikon 80-200 mm f/2.8 @200 mm, ISO 640, 1/250, f/7.1.

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Nikon D7100, Nikon 80-200 mm f/2.8 @200 mm, ISO 280, 1/320, f/10.

When the threads of time get tangled up

We have all heard too many times the expression “the decisive moment”, but forgive me for bringing up my own preference for “decisive moments”. When coincidence creates a scene that is somewhat unexpected, awkward, ironic, or even somewhat nonsense, if I happen to have my camera with me and my frequent clumsiness does not stand between me and the photo I wish to take, I’m a happy camper. In such cases, I can even be less frustrated if I can spot potential technical flaws on the shots taken. I don’t really care too much, as long as I feel that I have managed to freeze that moment when the threads of time got tangled up.
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Nikon D300, Nikon 80-200 mm f/2.8 @200 mm, ISO 500, 1/500, f/5.

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Nikon D300, Nikon 80-200 mm f/2.8 @80 mm, ISO 400, 1/800, f/9.

Spiritual cleansing

Landscape Photography by Jack Dykinga.... or the definition of quality time: about 5 minutes standing before one of Dykinga's landscapes - I mean, being actually there - with Roger Water's "5:06AM (Every Strangers Eyes)" loud on your headphones. Spiritual cleansing.


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Link: Grand Canyon National Park by Jack Dykinga

It's Praying Mantis season

Every September it’s Mantis season in my backyard. These are little mean ugly creatures, one would think. However, once you start “hanging out” with them, you come to a point that you are always expecting them to break the silence and talk to you. That’s just how expressive they can be, at least to my eyes. Those big inquisitive eyes can have all sorts of expressions it would seem. Here are some examples and I will let you decide what each expression means.
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Nikon D600, Nikon 105 mm f/2.8, ISO 200, 1/160, f/13.

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Nikon D600, Nikon 105 mm f/2.8, ISO 200, 1/400, f/13.

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Nikon D600, Nikon 105 mm f/2.8, ISO 320, 1/400, f/14.

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Nikon D600, Nikon 105 mm f/2.8, ISO 200, 1/640, f/8.

Lowepro Flipside Sport 15L AW (UPDATE)

The previous post on the Lowepro Flipside Sport 15L AW has been updated and I have now included two photos that demonstrate how this small backpack can effectively carry two DSLR bodies, four lenses, an iPad and a few more bits and bobs.

Shooting between appointments

Most of the best opportunities I get to make use of my camera do not arise when I expect them to. Often times, I get the chance to take a little time off and go for a walk but I end up deleting every single picture I took and I return home with a blank SD card on my camera. A couple of weeks ago, I had been having a bit of a hard time trying to find one of these butterflies standing still before my lens long enough for me to photograph it and I always ended up watching them flying by in windy days or waltzing over the fields, not stopping long enough for me to get closer. Between two work-related appointments, I saw a couple of these on a roadside field flying between flowers. With a quick glance at my watch, I realised that I had 15 minutes to spare. I just grabbed my camera, already with the macro lens on, switched into my “all-road” shoes (I always keep them in the boot of my car) and off I went into the field to indulged with a 15 minute break following this beauty as it floated around from flower to flower. It was high noon, though, and the sun was burning hot. The light was harsh, the background wasn’t as pleasant as I would have liked it to be, so this meant using a larger aperture than the close distance would have recommended, just to through that background out of focus. With a little effort I managed to have just enough depth of field to keep the butterfly sharp (the Micro 105mm f/2.8 is truly superb), but from the settings one can tell just how harsh the light was. I managed to take a few of these and I was quite happy with the result. Shame, though, I still wasn’t able to take a single shot of it with its wings spread open. From what I have seen this kind of butterfly always keeps its wings closed together when it is not flying. This is just another exemple of the reason why I always get my gear out.

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Nikon D600, Nikon 105 mm f/2.8, ISO 200, 1/1600, f/5.6.

To publish or not to publish...

Time and again, whenever I drove by this spot, I told myself I had to go there with a little time to spare. I drive by this stork nest on a weekly basis, but always an hour too soon and always with the lot on board. However, pulling over to the side road and telling them “give an hour” is obviously not an option. This is a good example why photography is not a suitable hobby for those who are not selfish enough to systematically abandon the spouse (avoiding gender distinction...) and the offspring, to indulge in a few hours of fiddling around with settings, of composition adjusting, and so on. Finally, I managed to take a little time to go to that stork nest to try to photograph it at “that” time of the day. The task, however, proved to be a bit harder than I expected. The nest is on top of what is left of an old tree and it has been there for years. Unfortunately, this year someone decided, for whatever reason, that the log had to be shortened to almost half of its length. Consequently, the nest is now only about five meters above the road level, right there by the road side and as soon as I get closer the adult storks fly away and only come back when I leave. So, this called for a stealth approach. Hiding behind some bushes on the other side of the road, I managed to find an opening on those bushes that allowed me to be within reach of the nest. The angle was not the best, but it was good enough.

This photo reminds me that a couple of days ago I was discussing with a friend why do people publish photos that are subpar. I suppose that different reasons can explain this and that how and where they choose to publish may also hint at their motivation. Personally, though, I believe that this can be explained by two fundamental reasons: the first reason is the fact that they just don’t know any better; the second is the fact that that subpar work is all they have. Yes, guilty as charged and this photo is a good example. Yes, there are quite a few details on this photo that should lead no a “do not publish” label on it, methinks. However, although I can tell that, I am sure that an experienced photographer would easily spot a whole bunch of details that should award it a “trash it” label (If only I would receive an email from that photographer... ). On the other hand, this photo was taken after a couple of very busy weeks, with little time left for photography. So, after such a painfully long period of time, being able to take the time to finally go to that spot and the great feeling of just being there and doing it can probably cloud my judgment. In my defense, I can only say that, by publishing this subpar stuff, I do not seek meaningless taps on my back. If I wanted that, I would be publishing on Facebook, where so many people scratch each others backs with unfelt compliments on their photos. So, if you have reasons to trash my photos, please, do drop me a line and you will get a big “thank you” from me!

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Nikon D600, Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 @135mm, ISO 360, 1/1000, f/10.

Jurassic Park

This poor fellow has seen better days. Although spring is here and the odd sunny spells allow some sunbathing, relentless showers and temperature drops give this lizard a hard time. He has been returning to this wall for the past few days whenever there is a sunny break between the rain. I do not know much about these animals but this one seems to be going through a rough time. It tolerates my presence just a few centimetres away for some time, as long as I do not make sudden movements. Of course, this means that I have some time to photograph it. It is not an easy task, though, as the extremely short distance means that my DOF is minimal, even if I use smaller apertures and I must bear in mind that it can decide to move any time.

On the first of these two shots, I thought that a lower angle, shooting from below the edge of the wall, would give it a strange look as if it was some giant creature. To do this, however, the lizard would be strongly backlit by the sun shining through the grey clouds. Using an off-camera diffused speedlight, powered down and flashing upwards, I could underexpose the lizard to avoid blowing up the highlights in the sky. The result could be a lot better, I know, but I was happy to be able to balance the manual flash with the ambient light, preserving the sky whilst correctly exposing the lizard.
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Nikon D600, Nikon 105 mm f/2.8, ISO 1600, 1/160, f/36, SB-28 off-camera, Triggers, diffuser.


On the second photo I struggled to achieve enough DOF to avoid having most of the lizard’s head out of focus. The extremely short distance forced me to use a smaller aperture but I wanted to keep the background totally out of focus, to avoid having the neighbours’ fence and the fields behind my house visible on the shot. This is the only angle that keeps the green background instead of having walls on the shot, but this aperture seems to have been enough for my purposes. I would have liked to have diffused the light a bit to avoid those highlights on the lizard’s side, but I feared that I could scare the lizard (he was rather more active at the time, hence the shutter speed a little higher) and I would have blocked the reflex of the sky on its eye. The aperture and speed settings meant that I had to bump up the ISO a little, but that is something that using the D600 I am quite comfortable with, even at higher ISO settings. Great camera and after about 2500 shutter releases there is still no debris on my sensor. Knock on wood....

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Nikon D600, Nikon 105 mm f/2.8, ISO 1250, 1/320, f/14.

Light-painting a butterfly

This butterfly was ready to spend the night on this brick on my backyard. The night was chilly with the occasional showers and things were not looking bright for the little creature. In daylight, the odds were that the butterfly would not hold still long enough for a decent shot, so I took this one-off opportunity to take a few shots, experimenting with the light and with different settings for different depths of field. I also tried a couple of focus-stacking shots, but the results were not pleasing due to the variability of light on each shot, because I was lighting the butterfly with a simple pocket maglight. On this one, I used a 6 sec. exposure and the pocket maglight to light paint the butterfly, circling it.
The brick is old and dirty, but it was the butterfly’s choice, not mine.
By the way, any spots on the Nikon D600’s sensor? Well, not on the pitch-dark night... but I keep my fingers crossed, just in case.

PS - No animals were hurt to take this shot Happy

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Nikon D600, Nikon 105 mm f/2.8, ISO 1600, 6.0 sec., f/45, light painted with a flashlight, Tripod.

Focus stacking a grasshopper

On my last post I described my ordeal trying to do a focus stacking shot of a snail. That attempt ended up with the photographer throwing in the sponge and settling for a single focus point shot. A couple of days later, I met this grasshopper lazying in the sun, on a white towel that was on my balcony. I grabbed my camera and tripod and prepared to try to take a few shots to make a focus stack of its ugly mug. Given the fact that the grasshopper was so exposed and vulnerable and with a fresh memory of my bout (so to speak) with the snail a few days before, I was expecting it to be nervous with my presence rendering my attempt to focus stack the little creature a failure. To my surprise, it was quite tolerant to my presence. It kept that sort of stare-down that anticipates a clash between two UFC fighters but it did not flee the set. Indifferent to its stare down (with those funny goggles it is hard to be taken seriously) I managed to take quite a few photos and to try a couple of different compositions, choosing a lower perspective to avoid part of the background, leaving only a strip of green and sky. Despite the fact that I managed to take 10 photos from the same perspective but with different focus points, I ended up using only 3 photos for the stacking. This choice was due to the fact that, although I had quite a few different focus points, there were some out-of-focus spots within the focused area, mainly in the foreground, that were quite distracting and spoiled the effect. Therefore, I chose to focus only the grasshopper but to cover as much of it as possible. When I was just about to take a few more shots, but trying to diffuse the harsh direct sun light with a white t-shirt (the first diffusor I could grab), the grasshopper got fed up with my attention and flew away. What is the outcome of this rendezvous? A focus stacking photo of a grasshopper and the conclusion that it is easier to do a focus stacking of a grasshopper than of a snail. Who would have thought that?

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Nikon D7000, Nikon 105 mm f/2.8, ISO 250, 1/400, f/9.0, (-1/3 EV), focus stacking of 3 shots, Tripod.

Focus stacking a snail: how hard can that be?

I was hoping to have the little crawler’s cooperation for this shot. It was meant to be a macro shot using focus stacking. The day before I had found an equally tiny one that was quite still on a flower, probably eating. It was still but only until I gave it a couple of speedlight flashes and it started moving. So much for the focus stacking... This time round, I decided not to use the speedlight, lest the little guy went berserk like the one the day before. This proved to be a bit of a challenge, though. It was a rather cloudy morning, with the odd rain showers and too much wind for proper nature macro photography. With the flower pot on a cosier corner of the backyard, there was a little less wind, so there was some hope that I could focus properly. Unfortunately, the little snail had a plan of its own and decided that it was time to move.
Definitely, this is not the best subject for focus stacking. Forgetting the focus stacking I would just settle for a normal close-up but whoever says that these guys move slowly has never tried to photograph them on the move, in poor light. There were a couple of conditions to juggle besides the poor light: a nasty wall behind the flower pot that I wanted totally blurred and to avoid as much as possible as a background; some ugly damaged leaves on the plant that needed to be dealt with; the speed had to be such that I could keep the focus on the moving snail with the flimsy depth of field I had; the aperture could not be too wide or I would have no depth of field at all; I had to crank up the ISO to be able to have enough shutter speed whilst having just enough depth of field but also enough blur. The Nikon D7000 can deal with ISO as high as1000/1250 without significant noise and with ISO1000 I managed to cope with the conditions I had. The hardest part was chasing such a restless little thing around the flower with the camera stuck on the tripod.

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Nikon D7000, Nikon 105 mm f/2.8, ISO 1000, 1/100, f/7.1, Tripod.

The waiting

Apart from photographing my own family, I am not really into portrait photography. It’s not that I don’t like it, but I suppose portrait photography is not for everybody. Some people feel uncomfortable when they are being photographed and I would dare say that most of us do. But then there are those who feel uncomfortable when they are photographing others. Yes, that’s me, go figure... Anyway, this is just another example that if I always have my camera with me I avoid regretting leaving it home and the common excuse to sell one’s gear: lack of use.
I had just had my sunday lunch and was messing around with the camera as usual, when I saw this photograph in my mind, and I saw it in black & white, of an old man staring at the TV set in standby mode... and I don’t mean the TV. Petrified enough for me to be able to take the shot at a low speed, hand-held ... well, not really hand-held, because I laid the camera on the table. Personally, but maybe it’s just me, I look at this photo and a word comes to mind: respect. Is that not what we feel when we see photos of old people? And when we see photos of children, don’t we all see innocence? And so many other stereotypes. Maybe this is why I have some mixed feelings for portrait photography: it usually only captures the person’s good side. Who knows what wickedness hides behind a face?... Still, I will not be posting this in the “No excuses” category, but rather start a new category for my posts: “Us” and who knows... maybe I will come up with a portrait once in a while.

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Nikon D90, Nikon 55-200mm f/4.0-5.6 @165mm, ISO 400, 1/3, f/8.0.