Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Live United!

United Way March  Brooklyn BridgeOur Meetup.com gang was on the bridge during our recent trip to NYC, ready to head back to Manhattan, when we suddenly found ourselves swimming against a happy tide.

This throng is part of the kickup of this year's NYC United Way campaign.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Constellation Duck

The corner of Harborplace formed by the two main pavilions is a hangout for these dabbling ducks. They're always looking for a handout from us humans, and they're worth it, as they provide a lot of free entertainment.

This one didn't seem bothered by me at all as I took over a dozen photos up close and personal, down on the deck with my Canon A620 - the articulated LCD is great for this sort of thing.

The green in the background is the historic frigate USS Constellation.

By the way, I can't quite figure this duck out. It looks like a female Mallard, but the beak is yellow, rather than orange and black, and I didn't think the females had any green on their heads. If you know from ducks, please enlighten me.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Night Photo - 250 W Pratt

250 W Pratt Baltimore MDHow many times can I photograph the same building? A lot, if it's a good one, like 250 W Pratt. Since it's caddy-corner to my Light Rail stop, I go past it twice a day every workday.

Architecturally speaking, crossing the street each morning as I step off the Light Rail is a nice lift, as the Convention Center is on my right hand and 250 W Pratt on my left. In the photo above, you can see the new pedestrian bridge from the Convention Center crossing Howard Street. Unfortunately, this is Baltimore's new Bridge to Architectural Nowhere, as where it connects to is the architecturally-challenged Hilton Baltimore

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Double-T Diner

If you're a long-time Baltimorean, you remember the original Double-T Diner in Catonsville. Founded by the eponymous Thomas Doxanas and his partner Tony, Double-T always was the place to go for good food, plenty of it, 24 hours a day.

Since 1987, the diners, of which there are now seven in the area, have been owned and operated by John, Tom and Louie Korologos. The food is still great and an excellent value.

This Double-T is in Pasadena, MD, about 20-plus miles south of Baltimore, on the way towards Annapolis.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Your Image Here... On US Postage Stamps!

You can have your own photos printed on just about anything these days - mugs, cakes, beachballs... why not postage stamps?

Why not indeed! In fact you can buy customized stamps with your very own masterpiece. For example, check out these four different implementations available at the US Postal Service website. Just for fun, I plopped one of my favorite photos, Ginkgo Serenity, into the mini-application to see what it would look like - not bad!

You don't have to go through the USPS website - just Google with a phrase like US postage stamps your photo and you'll find lots of companies that are authorized to create customized real US postage for you. Make your own commemorative!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

My Camera History, Part III

Olympus OM-1As I began to use my Leica IIIc alongside my Nikon F during the middle '70's, I started to wonder about a more compact SLR. Here again, my friend Rich Schnabolk, the former Kowa owner, influenced me. Rich had started using an Olympus OM-1, and I was very impressed with how compact it was.

In 1977, I sold my Nikon F and used the proceeds to by my first OM-1 body and 50mm f/1.8 Zuiko lens.

Brunei Boys, 1977Though smaller than any other SLR at the time, the OM-1 was full-featured and even a "system" camera - with a full range of lenses and accessories available. The little camera had a very solid feel, and surprisingly, a brighter and larger-appearing viewfinder than contemporary cameras.

I was very taken with the OM-1, and in short order, bought a second body (black "professional" model, no less!) and a 24mm f/2.8 Zuiko lens.

In October 1977, on a business trip to Brunei for GE, our team stopped on the way over in Hong Kong. One of my collegues, a fellow photographer, joined me in an expedition to the photos shops of Kowloon on a mission to by some equipment. I left Hong Kong with a nifty Zuiko 75-150mm zoom and a power winder. So by this point, I had a nice little outfit of OM-1 equipment to work with - the first time I had anything more than a camera and its normal lens.

Momma Don't Take My Kodachrome Away...

With the Leica, I shot mostly black-and-white film. But with the OM-1's, I went after slides in a big way. Now that I had a range of lenses and two cameras, I felt, I could crop my shots in-camera.

Man with White Beard, Rome 1978In my job at GE in those years, I travelled extensively overseas, and the little OM-1 outfit proved to be a good fit for travelling and travel photography. The kit came with me on trips to Frankfurt, Zurich, Milan, Paris, Jeddah, and of course, Rome.

Because I was in Rome on several occasions for several days each, I eventually accumulated an especially big stack of yellow boxes of Ektachromes and Kodachromes of the Eternal City, shot with the OM-1's. My friend and GE collegue Mike Tzougrakis pointed out on more than one occassion as he stood near me hearing the weeeee-chunk! weeeee-chunk! of my power winder that that sound was music to Kodak's ears.

Alas, my OM-1 period was too short... and not because I necessarily wanted it that way. In December 1978, I came home to my apartment from work one evening, and after about a half-hour, noticed that the venetian blinds on one of the two windows was rattling in the breeze.

Girl Drinks at Fountain, Rome 1978Breeze? In December? Before I even looked at the window, I shot a glance to the corner of the room where I always left my camera bag... and it was gone!

And sure enough, the window leading to the fire escape was open - I wuz robbed! A few minutes later I heard a shout from the apartment upstairs and a commotion in the hall. Whoever had hit my place also hit most everyone on the five floors on that side of the building.

Besides my entire OM-1 ensemble (it was all in that one bag,) the thief also made off with an old Crown Graphic 4x5 press camera and, sad to say, that Dad's Kodak Retina, the camera with which I had learned photography.

But all was not lost. Still sitting in a drawer was my Leica IIIc with its Summicron lens, along with a Weston Master V light meter.

In fact, almost nothing was truly lost - the cameras were all on a rider to my renter's insurance policy. I wasn't very careful with just about anything in those days except my cameras.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Photos from NYC


Photos from our Manhattan Meetup last Saturday.

Woolworth Building NYC Green Spiral Benches - Jacob Javits Federal Building NYC
Woolworth Building Green Spiral Benches
Cyber Cigr Coffee Bar - South Street Seaport NYC Brooklyn Bridge Backlit NYC
Cyber Cigar Coffee Bar - Too Many Good Things in One Place! Brooklyn Bridge Facing East - 9AM
Helen McAllister - South Street Seaport NYC Brooklyn-Bound Taxi - Brooklyn Bridge NYC
Helen McAllister - South Street Seaport Brooklyn-Bound Taxi

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Tech Tuesday: Color Correction - What If You Can't Find Black or White?

In a previous Tech Tuesday post, I showed you how to add a lot of snap to your photos by color-correcting them using the darkest black and whitest white points in your image.

But what happens when you just can't find something that should be a good black or a good white?

Here's an example of such a problem-child photo; it' hard to pick out either a black point or a white point in this image.

One of the problems is that the photo was a little underexposed, so you may not see a good patch of white anywhere - it may look like light gray.

But it turns out that most versions of Photoshop and Photoshop Elements will help you find those black and white points with just a little bit of work.

You need to make sure your Layers palette is showing. If it isn't, click on the Windows menu item and choose Layers. Now click on the little divided circle near the top of the palette to drop down the menu, and select Threshold.

Now you'll see that your photo shows up in very high-contrast black and white, with a Threshold dialog floating above it.

Drag the slider under the histogram all the way to the left, and your photo will go completely white.

Now very slowly, drag the slider back towards the right, and at some point, you'll see some areas of your image reappear as black, as you see in this photo. These areas are the darkest ones in your image. What you need to do is to note where they are - click the Preview checkbox off and on a few times so that you can fix in you mind just what part of the photo you want to set to black.

Now drag the slider all the way to the right, and you'll see the whole photo go black. As before, drag the slider very slowly, but this time to the left, and you'll begin to see some parts of your image appear in white. These are the lightest parts of your photo. Again, use the Preview checkbox to fix in your mind just which part of the photo you want to use as the brightest.

Now that you know the blackest and whitest points in your image, click Cancel on the Threshold dialog, and use press CTL-L to bring up the Levels dialog.

Use the black point and white point eyedroppers to select the darkest and lightest parts of your photo, as you learned a few weeks ago.

What about setting the gray point? Well, in this photo, there was plenty of neutral gray in the cobblestoned surface of the plaza, but that isn't always the case.

Next Tuesday, I'll show you a technique for finding neutral gray.

By the way, all of these cool photoshop techniques - I can't claim credit for them. I learned them by reading books and articles by Scott Kelby. What Scott doesn't know about Photoshop probably isn't worth knowing, and on top of all that, he's a wonderful writer.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Manhattan Meetup

Our meetup.com group had a great trip to Manhattan this past Saturday. Our bus dropped us off on East Broadway, just under the Manhattan Bridge, and from there, we walked to Foley Square, then traversed the Brooklyn Bridge. After some more shooting at South Street Seaport, we subwayed up to West 86th Street and entered Central Park, walking all the way down to Grand Army Plaza.

Catch some of the great photos by our members at our group pool on Flickr.com

Also, click on the image above to check out my latest attempt at panoramas, this one stiched together from five photos to produce a 44MP final result. There's a bit of a glitch right of center - I didn't allow for enough overlap.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Roman Holiday

Girl, Bike, Spanish Steps
I'm on a photo trip to NYC with my Meetup.com group, Shutterbug Excursions, today, so here's an oldie but goodie. This post was first published on my old blog, Imagine There's An Image, on May 14, 2004
More photo archeology last night. This time, I dug much deeper, back down to 1978, and found slides from one of my stays in Rome.

And why was I in Rome? I have the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its policy of anti-Semitism to thank. This may be one of very few instances in the Twentieth Century where a Jew actually benefited from official anti-Semitism.

You see, at the time, I was a project engineer for the Internation Projects Department of General Electric Company. IPD's mission in life was to design and build turnkey powerplants overseas, the idea being that in order to sell GE equipment, you often had to provide the whole ball of wax.

As luck would have it, most of our business those days was in the Arab world, and so this nice Jewish boy got assigned to a number of projects in Saudi Arabia. The problem was, I had trouble getting a visa, because of the Kingdom's policy of discriminating against Jews.

We worked closely with a construction company called Sadelmi in Milan, and during one trip there, our host offered to solve my visa problem by sending me to their office in Rome to let them handle it. So I traveled to Rome a few days later, arriving in the evening. I hit the office early the next morning, and they were expecting me and treated me so nicely. Then they happily told me that it would be a day or two before the visa would be ready.

Huh?, I thought. Damn! I had figured on a few hours turnaround max, and here I was, stuck in Rome for a few days. It took a few seconds for that last thought to sink in... I'm stuck in Rome for a few days, with no work to do, and on the company's money!

To make a long story short, I had a great time seeing the sites over the next few days, then flew back to NYC with my visa. I visited our job site in Saudi Arabia a few weeks later, and my boss had me stop in Rome on the way back to pick up another visa! Same story, only better, this time a three-day Roman Holiday. I got to do this another three or four times over the next two years.

More on my exploits in Saudi Arabia another time. Meanwhile, back to photo archeology.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Happy Mistakes - Digital Style

This article was originally posted on The Lost Blog
on May 10, 2004.

Seeing the Mistake

Since I've been shooting almost all digital for the past year, there have been a few times when I've made what I call a happy mistake. By that, I mean that I mistakenly did something wrong, like moving the camera during exposure, but it came out right, or at least pointed me in a right direction.

Because I was using a digital camera, I was able to see my "mistake" instantly on the LCD screen, and that got me thinking about experimenting some more with the same "mistake."

Grate Expectations No 2In this first photo, Grate Expectations No. 2, I was shooting some colorful autumn leaves on an aluminum grating when I accidentally moved the camera during the exposure. "Hmmmmm... that's interesting!" was my reaction a second later when the swoosh of color showed up on the little display. I took about 30 more exposures, moving my camera this way and that, trying to get different effects. This is one of the two that I think came out well.

The second photo is one I made just recently at BWI airport when I took my Uncle Joe to meet his flight home to Birmingham. With time to spare, and being overgrown kids ourselves, Joe and I headed to the observation lounge, where there were all kinds of aircraft parts and displays. I spotted the backside of one of the displays, black pegboard with light shining through and a jet-black, modernistic trash bin in the lower left corner. I thought the pattern of holes was pretty cool, so I figured I'd try an exposure. The shutter speed indicated 1/15 sec, so I held my breadth and snapped the shutter ... but in another "mistake", I forgot to stop chewing gum. Whoa! the movement of the camera made each row of holes look like a caffeinated cardiogram. I tried a few more shots, and came up with this image, Half-Specs.
I don't think all this would've happened in my pre-digital days. First of all, I wouldn't have seen the "mistake" until days, weeks, or months later. Then there's the effort of having to schlep back to the scene of the accident to try to recreate or improve upon the first shot - all the while, not being sure of what I was producing. And in some case, the original scene would no longer be there - like the colorful autumn leaves on the grating.

Let me know if you've got some "Happy Mistakes" that you're proud of!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

My Camera History, Part Deux

Leica IIIc
After college, I came back to Batimore, where I got my first engineering job, and where I lived for four years, until 1975.

On a day trip to NYC in late summer of 1973, I bought a Leica IIIc at Olden's, along with a Canon Seranar 50mm f/1.8 lens. With 2 or 3 rolls of Plus-X in my pocket, I was suddenly a Leica photographer, in the company of Cartier-Bresson and Eisenstadt. I had parked the car in Hoboken, and after returning there, I sneaked a shot of this gentleman reading his Daily News in the Erie-Lackawanna terminal.

Man on Bench, Erie-Lackawanna Terminal, Hoboken 1973That Leica, when I bought it, was already 33 years old, but it was a thing of beauty. Compared to my Nikon, especially with its heavy and clunky Photomic T finder, it was a featherweight, and a pleasure to carry around. For some reason, compared to an SLR, the rangefinder mechanism and all the fine knurling on the various knobs gave it a feeling of watch-like precision. It may be a guy thing, but I found myself often picking it up at odd times and playing with it - not shooting pictures, just looking through the viewfinder and rangefinder (two separate windows in the old screw-mount Leicas!) and focusing it, and dry-firing it.

L'homme sur Banc, bis - Central Park, NYC 1974The Serenar was a really excellent lens, but I had really wanted a Leica lens so as to be more "authentic." A year after buying the camera, I purchased a near-mint collapsible Summicron 50mm f/2.0. I wasn't disappointed, as this turned out the be the best lens I've ever owned prior to the digital age. Besides its amazing optical performance, it was also a better physical match for the small camera than the heavy Serenar. With the Summicron collapsed, I could slip the whole package into a coat pocket.

Here's another "Man on Bench" shot, taken in New York's Central Park, September 1974, with the Summicron. I was living in pre-Urban Redevelopment downtown Baltimore at the time, which seemed pretty boring to me, so I tried to get up to New York City a few times a year for picture opportunities.

Dog on Shoulder, Madison Avenue 1974And here's one to show that I'm not afraid to get right up close to a subject and look him in the face! Check out the classic mid-'70's painted t-shirt and slightly pre-disco hairdo. This shot taken on Madison Ave in NYC, August 1974.

Like these photos here, most of what I took with the Leica was black & white. After Roger's thorough training and several years of experience developing and printing B&W during college, I wouldn't let anyone else develop or print my negatives. During those first post-college years, my darkroom was a tiny hallway between the bathroom, bedroom, and living room in my one-bedroom apartment. There was a door to each room, so I just closed the ones to the bedroom and living room, set up a table in the hallway for my enlarger and trays, stuffed towels under the closed doors to block out stray light, and I was in business.

Just one more Leica photo for now, this one from the time after I had moved to Manhattan to work for GE....

Montmartre Steps - Rue Foyatier, Paris 1977Rue Foyatier, this oft-photographed stairs, climbs up the Butte Montmartre in Paris, ending near Sacre Couer basillica, the highest point in the city. It was a soggy, overcast day, and I wanted a somber, lonely look. I waited with my Leica IIIc and this solitary lady obliged me by starting the long climb upward. December 23, 1977.

Strangely, when I did a search on Google Images for "Rue Foyatier" back in early 2006, of all the Rue Foyateir photos in cyberspace, this was the first one!

But for some reason, doing the same search today yields no sign of my 1977 photo.
I guess that was my 15 Minutes of Fame.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Imagine: The Case Against John Lennon

Strawberry Fields in Central Park NYC
Just so I don't give you the wrong idea, let me say it up front: I'm a huge fan of the Beatles and of John Lennon in particular.

But this one song, Imagine, bugs me. And it bugs me that many people think of this song when they think of Lennon, despite the fact that he wrote so many other songs, great songs.

It's not the music, which is pretty enough, but the words that bother me. The ideas in those words.

No religion. No countries. Nothing to live or die for. Yeah, we've seen that before. It was called the Soviet Union. We see it now in "Old Europe." And we continue to see it in the politically and socially dysfunctional petty tyrannies of the Middle East.

In an insightful Wall Street Journal opinion piece last June, Bret Stephens expresses former Prisoner of Conscience Natan Sharansky's take on the Imagine concept:

  Mr. Sharansky's argument is that man's quest for identity – for the human and communal particulars that set him apart from others – cannot be separated from his quest for freedom – the universal set of values to which he and everyone else lay an equal claim. He argues that a freedom that "does not include the freedom to be significantly different" is no freedom at all. And he believes that while a politics that expresses itself purely through identity is bound to be tyrannical, a democracy that ignores its own identity – or attempts to suppress the various identities within it – betrays its deepest principles and puts its long-term survival at risk.  

John Lennon and Yoko Ono created conceptual country, Nutopia, a notional nation that was founded on the principles of the song, Imagine.  That was there solution.

But as John himself wrote, "You say you got a real solution, well, we'd all love to see the plan."

Strawberry Fields in Central Park

Ok,  my Grinch-like detour to politics and philosophy is over, now back to photography. I took the photo above this past weekend in the section of New York's Central Park called Strawberry Fields, a tear-shaped, 2.5 acre plot dedicated to John Lennon.

The handsome mosaic is a reproduction (except for the "Imagine" inscription) of one uncovered in Pompeii, a gift of the city of Naples, Italy. A fellow has taken it on himself to arrange flowers in and around the mosaic every day since 1993.

All this combined with people gathered around the mosaic or sitting on the benches that encircle it make for a good photo opportunity.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Tech Tuesday: Architectural Restoration

Why is it that when I take a picture of a tall building, it often looks distorted? Gee, those walls sure looked perpendicular to the ground and parallel to each other when I was standing there! But in the image I come home with, the walls are at all sorts of angles, and the building looks like it's falling over backwards.

Take, for example, the photo here of 160 W. 73rd Street, a lovely Art Deco co-op typical of many of the elegant older apartment buildings on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

I framed the image carefully in my viewfinder, trying to line up the setback on the right edge so that it looked veritcal. Here's what the image looked like right out of my camear in Photoshop Elements 4. Notice how the left side of the building "leans" like a rickety shore shack, rather than the quite solid limestone-and-brick edifice it really is.

So why does this happen? I'll tell you why. When you point the camera straight at a building, the film plane (or for a digital camera, the plane of the sensor) is parallel to the building. This is great, because parallel lines in the building will come out parallel in the photo, and there will be no distortion.

The problem is, if I did that with my photo of 160 W 73rd Street, I would have gotten a lovely picture of the lobby and the awning. Not quite what I wanted. So of course, I tilted my camera upward to include the top of the building.

But now, the film/sensor plane is no longer parallel to the building, and I get perspective projection distortion. How do I correct this? In the realm of 35mm and DSLRs, there are special, usually expensive perspective control lenses that allow you to tilt and shift the lens relative to the film/sensor plane. Here's a good, well-illustrated article by Ken Rockwell that explains this very well.

View cameras (the kind where the photographer focuses on a screen under a dark cloth) usually have camera movements to control perspective distortion and other problems. But we can accomplish our goal of un-distorting our tall buildings using some simple tricks in even the older versions of Photoshop and Photoshop Elements.

Start with the Image menu, and select Transformation, and then Skew. You'll see a dialog like this one. Just click the OK button.

This will bring up the New Layer dialog. While it's good practice to name layers with a meaningful name, we'll be throwing this layer away soon anyway, so just click the OK button and continue to the next step. (Layers are a subject for a whole other post, or really several posts.)

At this point, you'll see a thin box around the entire image. The box also has tiny circles at each of the corners and at the midpoint along each side. You can grab the box at any one of the circles (think of them as "handles") and tug or push your image.

You can see here how I tugged the top left corner of my photo to "un-tilt" the building. I used my calibrated eyeballs to tell me just how much to tug.

There will be times when you'll take a photo of a tall building straight-on, but still tilted up. In that case, both sides of the building may appear to fall away. So can you do this same maneuver with the other side? Sure! As I said, you can push or pull any of the "handles" until your photo looks right to you.

Here is the final photo, after I gave it my 30-second Photoshop 80-20 Rule treatment to color-correct and contrast-sharpen the image.

By the way, in the latest versions of Photoshop, there are other, sometimes easier or better ways to do perspective distortion correction. But if you're like me, you just don't have the big bucks to buy Photoshop CS3. That's why I'm showing these techniques that you can do even with just an old copy of Photoshop Elements 2 (if you search carefully online, you should be able to by a perfectly good, perfectly legal OEM copy of PSE 2 for about twenty bucks.)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Governors Island

Governors Island FerrySandy and I spent a great two days in New York City this weekend, seeing Mama Mia! on Broadway and doing some sightseeing.

I'll have many more photos and, of course, lots to gab about, when I have some more time later this week.

But meanwhile, if you're visiting New York on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday between now and October 12th, be sure to consider a trip to Governors Island, a former military reservation just off the tip of lower Manhattan that's now a great venue for picknicking and sightseeing.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Garage Photo Op...

Columbus Center - BaltimoreYou've heard of garage bands... well, this is a garage photo.

I took it this on a December evening in 2005 from the hi-rise garage where I'd been parking the previous few days. At that time, I was a contractor working at Constellation Energy in downtown Baltimore. Yes, sometimes it pays to be lazy...

I had been taking the Light Rail for the past two months and hoofing it the remaining three-quarters mile back and forth to CE's office, but if I had continued to do that, I wouldn't have seen this spectacular view from the southeast corner of the garage.

I had been treated to this scene on each of the previous few nights leaving the garage, getting a glimpse of the tent-like, sail-like roof on each floor as I spiraled towards the exit. Finally, I couldn't stand it any longer - today I brought the camera and tripod along for the trip.

At 4:45, sunset that early winter day in Baltimore, I left the office to head up to the 3rd floor of the garage, knowing that the best lighting would be arriving soon - the sky dark but not yet black, and the fabric roof lighted from the inside. I set up the tripod, framed my shot, and kept shooting every minute or so, bracketing along the way. This image, which I think was among the best of the lot, was from about one-half hour after sunset.

In the excitement and concentration of the moment, I had neglected to put on my gloves. The 30-degree weather did a job on my fingers, but I didn't really notice until I packed up my gear to head back to the office. Well, it was worth it.

By the way, what we're looking at here is the front of the Columbus Center, which is now the home of University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute. The huge tensioned-fabric roof is the most outstanding feature of the building.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Candler Building

Candler Building - 111 Market Place - Baltimore, MDI get to go to work every day in this handsome 1930's building at 111 Market Place.

Inside, the building was completely renovated years ago; it's a thoroughly modern and very pleasant workspace. The lobby, complete with marble steps and columns, presents visitors and residents with an elegant welcome.

The architects of Candler Building really knew their stuff when it came to classical lines and proportions, fenestration, and so forth. Mind you, I don't really know what I'm talking about when it comes to architecture; my admittedly untutored view of what makes for good architecture is strikingly similar to Justice Potter Stewart's famous take on pornography - "I know it when I see it."

Lately, I've come to realize one way I can tell good architecture from bad is a simple test: if I find that a building is interesting to photograph, it's probably good architecture. If not, it's probably banal. Or worse.

Although in most areas of life I'm a pretty easy-going guy, architecture is an exception.

I think bad public architecture should be a capital offense (I'm looking at you, Hilton Baltimore Hotel!)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Tech Tuesday: Is It Too Much to Ask?

When I bought my Canon Digital Rebel almost five years ago, it came with a "kit lens", an 18-55 mm zoom. That's roughly equivalent to a 28-90 mm zoom on a 35 mm camera - moderate wide-angle to short telephoto.

The Digital Rebel was the first DSLR under $1000 ($999.95, to be exact, when I bought mine at Best Buy,) but now there's lots of competition at even lower price points, and most of these come with an 18-55 mm zoom (or it's four-thirds equivalent.) Nowadays, a zoom in this range is cheap to make, and besides, pretty handy. The wide end of the range is wide enough to be useful, and the telephoto end is great for portraits.

But the long end just isn't long enough for me. So when I take out my DSLR (now a 4th-generation Digital Rebel XSi,) I also schlep along a 70-300 zoom. And it usually turns out that whenever I change lenses, I see a shot that needs the lens I just put in my bag.

What I really want now is a walk-around-all-day lens like the  Sigma AF 18-200mm DC OS . Now that's the 35mm equivalent of a 28-320 mm zoom, and with that kind of range in one lens, I could probably leave my other lenses, and the whole camera bag, for that matter, home. So that's what I'm saving my DSLR pennies for now.

But who wants to carry a DSLR around every day, even with a light and compact zoom like the Sigma? That's why I have my take-along-everywhere-everyday camera, a Canon A620 that I bought in early 2006. The current model in Canon's lineup sells for about $175-200, and it's a good everyday digicam. You can't carry it in your shirt pocket, but it will easily fit in most pants pockets or even a small purse. Me, I just through mine in my take-to-work backpack along with my lunch and a book to read on the Light Rail.

Now what I really want in an everyday digicam is something with the lens range of that Sigma 18-200mm lens. As I said, it would be the 35 mm equivalent of a 28-320mm zoom. But while you can get digicams with 10X or more zoom ratios, they all start at a 35mm or 37mm equivalent, and that's just too narrow for my wide tastes.

So here's what my specs are for my next digicam:

  • Lens with zoom range equivalent to 28-280mm and optical stabilization
  • 8 to 10 Megapixels. More than that doesn't make sense for tiny digicam sensors, and it would just increase noise levels. Besides, I get decent 13x19 prints from my 7MP A620.
  • 2.5" or 3" LCD

Now is that too much to ask?!

The closest thing I've seen so far is the new Canon Powershot SX110 IS - the lens is equivalent to 35-360mm, more than enough on the long end but not nearly wide enough on the other side. Discounted to around $275, it's a very attractive package, but I'm not buying another digicam with such a "normal" wide angle end of the zoom range. I want wide, baby, wide!

Anyone at Canon listening?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Tiny Meetup

Tracy is one of my fellow members of Shutterbug Excursions, a new and very active Meetup.com group. She wanted to go out shooting this past weekend, and looking for company, posted an "anybody want to join me" message on the group's message board.

To bad nobody else but me answered - we had our own unofficial photo meetup on one of the most beautiful days of the year. Being new to the area, Tracy didn't know what might be photogenic, and I suggested that we check out the upper reaches of the Severn River, north of Annapolis.

This turned out to be a good choice - and with the early morning light, we got some fabulous reflections, shadows and colors.

Boatyard Reflections - Severn River (Maryland)
Boatyard Dog Dish
Ben Oaks Marina on Severn River (Maryland)
Ben Oaks on Severn River (Maryland)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Doo, Doo, Doo Lookin' Out My Front Door!

I opened my front door one night and there she was, already having spun a pictorially perfect composition - must have known a photographer lived there.

I just used flash to illuminate spider and web, while leaving the nighttime front yard dark.

In Photoshop, I applied a reverse B&W gradient map (the small gray areas are tree leaves that barely left any shadow detail in the original.)

That's it - no cropping even!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Foggy Morning Gamble

Foggy Serenity Woke up, jumped out of bed... and noticed that it was a very foggy morning. The first thing that went through my mind is, "Be careful driving to work!"

But the next thing was, "How about some foggy morning photos?"

Mystery, solitude, serenity... those were the thoughts running through my mind as I envisioned what kind of photos I thought I would take.

So what next? Take foggy photos in my driveway? OK, what's the shooting location?

As I got ready to leave, I decided to go to a spot that I had photographed before - a small community marina on the Severn River . I would be driving within a half-mile of it on the way to work anyway.Upper Severn Pier

Once I got there and started shooting, I became aware that I didn't know the first thing about shooting in the fog. It was amazing to realize that I had never done it before, or if I did, I have no memory of it.

Once again, here's where digital camera really helps me. I could see from the images on the little LCD display that I was getting something like what I had envisioned. Back home this evening, a little mucking around with Levels in Photoshop helped spread out the very limited brightness range of the scene so that I could get decent prints.

>All in all, I think the foggy morning gamble worked - I do see a little mystery, solitude, and serenity in these images.

Friday, September 5, 2008


I admit it. I'm just not all that good when it comes to photographing people. Lines, shapes, patterns, colors ... boats, buildings, windows, tableuax - that's my thing - I can take my time and compose to my heart's content. Nothing is moving too fast - or at all.

But people are a lot more dynamic than that, and I find it hard to keep up and catch that decisive moment that divides an interesting people-photo from a not-so-interesting one.

Something I've mentioned several times before in this blog is the wonderful photo workshop I took with Karen Gordon Schulman five years ago. Karen taught us about the special qualities of early morning and late afternoon/early evening light, something I've used again and again in my photos since then.

One thing I remember learning about shooting people from Karen is to look for gesture in the image. A body position, a lean, a pointing with the hand.

Well, walking to work one day along the Inner Harbor waterfront, I came upon a scene that I thought would make for a nice image. There was a device with the politically-incorrect name telescoping-boom man-lift. The machine was adjacent to a big glass wall of the National Aquarium, and there was indeed a man, lifted well into the air on the platform at the end of the boom. He was caulking the large window panes making up the wall.

I liked the abstarct feel of the scene, with the big panes forming a Cartesian background for the chevron-like design element of the man-lift boom and it's reflection. The little bit of color in the man-lift and the man himself added a nice touch, I thought. As I watched, I saw the man lean well to the right while reaching out to caulk a window joint...and there was my gesture.

I composed my shot and waited for him to do it again, which he obligingly did.

National Aquarium, Baltimore Posted by Picasa

I don't think this photo is one that will ever sell, but I find it very, very satisfying.

So Karen, thanks again! You've been a great teacher, and what I learned from you keeps coming back to me.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Most of My Pictures Suck...

Ok, now it's safe for me to admit it. That's because Mike Johnston, the estimable photographer and photography writer, revealed the following a few years back:

To be honest, most of my pictures suck. The saving grace of that admission is that most of your pictures suck, too. How could I possibly know such a thing? Because most of everybody's pictures suck, that's how. I've seen Cartier-Bresson's contact sheets, and most of his pictures sucked. One of my teachers said that it was an epiphany for him when he took a class from Garry Winogrand and learned that most of Winogrand's exposures sucked. It's the way it is.
See the entire article, entitled The Magic Bullet, here.

Once I reconciled myself to the fact that most of my pictures suck, and that no matter what I do or what kind of fancy equipment I might use, most of my pictures will still suck, it was rather liberating.

When I'm out for a few hours of shooting, I'm completely happy if I end up with just a few, or even one, good image. In fact, if I end up with no decent photos at all, it doesn't bother me much anymore.

That's because just the act of getting out and doing photography is useful in itself in that I always learn something, even if what I learn is what doesn't work in making a good picture.

So come on now, say it with me, say it loud and say it proud: "My photos suck!"

Or at least 98 percent of them do. Now let's go out see if we can't get that two percent.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

How I Got Started in Photography...

Polaroid Swinger
I was reading Dave Beckerman's blog (aka, The Mother of All Photo Blogs) the other day when I noticed the Photography Articles menu item. One of Dave's articles was called Confessions of a Recovering Camera Addict, sort of his camera history, and it struck a familiar chord with me.

So I thought, why not give my own history of camera addiction?

At age 17, it was a swinger that got me started.

Well, to be precise, it was a Swinger - a gray plastic Polaroid Swinger.

The camera was a very thoughtful high school graduation gift from my father's Cousin Ellen and her husband, the late Harold Siegel. I even remember the date - June 12, 1967 - the sixth day of the Six Day War - my parents had invited some family and friends to dinner in honor of my graduation.

Our genuine fear of a week earlier that something terrible was about to happen to Israel had been replaced by the elation of a complete victory for the Jewish State, and that added to the happiness of the evening.

I hadn't expected this wonderful gift, but I was genuinely delighted with the Swinger. The next day, I loaded up with the roll of film the Siegels had included and became a photographer.

The Swinger took a smaller version of what was then the regular roll film pack for Polaroid cameras. When you looked through the finder, part of what you would see was an indicator that said either "No" or "Yes." If you turned the red collar around the tall white shutter button, assuming that there was enough light for a successful photo, the "No" would eventually morph into "Yes," which meant that you had adjusted the exposure properly.

I realize now that it was what's called an extinction photometer - but a pretty effective exposure assistant nonetheless.

Swinger came with a manual, but you really didn't need it - Polaroid had a jingle-equipped commercial that told you all you need to know about how to use the camera - and the aggressive advertising campaign caused that commercial to also permanently embedded the price in my brain... "it's only nineteen dollars and ninety-five!" Hey, $19.95 was nothing to sneeze at to a 17-year-old in 1967.

The great thing about that little Swinger is that it whet my appetite for being able to do more with photography. I asked my friend Roger, who I knew was an avid amateur photographer - he had a Pentax H1a single-lens reflex, which at the time, seemed to me a magical mystery marvel of technology.

Roger showed me all about shutter speeds, f-stops, and focusing, at which point I dug out of a dusty bureau drawer my Dad's "real" camera, a Kodak Retina 1 (Type 010). Sure enough, there were the shutter speeds, there was the f-stop control, and here was a scale, in meters, for focusing. And by scale, I mean just that - this model of the Retina was a "scale-focuser", which means no rangefinder or other focusing aid - you have to use your calibrated eyeballs. But it had a pretty decent Schneider-Kreuznach 50mm f/3.5 lens, and not having a rangefinder also forced me to learn about hypefocal distance and use of the camera's depth-of-field scale. With Roger's tutelage, I soon was taking "real" photos with this "real" camera. Roger even gave me an old GE DW-48 light meter, and so I was in business.Retina 1 Schneider-Kreuznach Xenar

Roger and his dad had built a nice darkroom in their basement, and during that summer, they often invited me over to use it. The first time I saw one of my photos starting to "come up" in the developer tray under the safelight, I was hooked.

That fall, I started college at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ. I joined the camera club, hung out with other photo enthusiasts, and made good use of the well-equipped darkroom that was available to us. Being a 35-cent, 15-minute ride from Manhattan didn't hurt either, as I was presented with plenty of subject matter.

GE DW-48 Light MeterDuring the school year, I became good friends with my classmate Rich Schnabolk, who was a more advanced photographer than me. Rich actually had an SLR, albeit a Kowa SE, which I used to rib him about. Nevertheless, I wasn't too proud to use the Kowa and Rich was a good enough sport to lend it to me from time to time. And from humble beginnings... that Kowa made me lust after a "real" camera, that is, an SLR.

During the summer of 1968, I worked at a photo store nearby. The owner had just bought a new Nikon F Photomic Tn, and offered me his 3-year-old Nikon F Photomic T at a very cheap price. And suddenly, I was a big-time Nikon photographer!

Nikon F, Photomic T FinderBack at college, I was a yearbook photographer, then photography editor in my junior year. We had bought a Yashica Mat 124 TLR that year, and digging around I found an old Crown Graphic 4x5 press camera that hadn't been used in years. I took both of them home with me during the summer, and I made good use of the TLR as a dog photographer (or, as Mom used to call me, Photographer to the Dogs.

More history when I get around to it....