Self-Assignment: the October Oracle Office Project

Saturday, October 3, 2009 | |

Well, I didn't manage to keep up with the September daily black-and-white theme at, and I've been only an occasional player in their ongoing 2009 daily challenge recently, but I've decided to give myself a daily project for October. I call it the October Oracle Office Project.

The motivation for this project is that my company is moving us from our current location, the Atlanta Financial Center, to a new office location on the first of November. While I've taken quite a few pictures in and around our office over the past two years, I decided to be deliberate about capturing my views of this space during this final month before we move on. Hence, my self-assignment: 31 photos posted to Flickr during the month of October, capturing the exterior, interior, and close-up details of our office space. Who knows, after reading David DuChemin's book, maybe I'll even get brave enough to grab a few co-worker portraits (but don't hold your breath).

You can follow my progress, if you like, at Flickr, in my OOOP set (three pics posted; so far, I'm still on schedule).

My previous captures of the AFC exterior can be found with this tag. I've been less consistent in tagging shots taken inside the office, but here are a few I found:

I noticed that Trevor has a self-assigned theme going for October as well. Let me know if you have an ongoing theme or project running, I love to see it and give it a link from here.


Friday: Flickr Friends/Flickr Fun

Thursday, October 1, 2009 | |

Many of the best blogs have some recurring structure, usually certain types of posts on certain days. And while I don't have enough clout yet to start a guest-blogger Wednesday like Scott Kelby's (or at least I wouldn't get the photo world rock-star talent like he does), for a start, I'm going to declare Fridays to be Flickr Friends/Flickr Fun day, and showcase some of the amazing photographers that I have as contacts on Flickr, and also new/different ways to make the most of what Flickr has to offer.

My first Flickr Friends shout-out has to go to Adam Baker. Out of all my Flickr contacts, I'm most consistently excited to see his new uploads show up in my list. He's a fairly regular contributor (although apparently on a bit of a sabbatical at the moment), and has a consistent style and look (something I definitely don't have... yet...).

It's hard to pick favorites from his stream, as each new photo he comes up with wows me all over again, but here are a few to whet your appetite:

Not all of his shots are flowers, but many are, and they're the ones I'm drawn back to over and over.

In the Flickr Fun category for this week, I just stumbled across Photojojo's Photo Time Capsule. Once you've signed up (requires giving an e-mail address and authorizing their app to access your Flickr account), you'll receive e-mails twice a month with a selection of your Flickr uploads from one year ago. The "sample" edition they sent me when I signed up earlier today contained two of my pics of the North Georgia State Fair from last year:

This was doubly-cool because I'm headed to this year's edition of the fair tonight! What a great reminder to look back at what I shot last year. I should have some State Fair shots to share with you next week, along with news of a new self-assignment I've just started today. Happy shooting!


A new season with the Marching Saints

Friday, September 25, 2009 | |

Band in the Stands [SeptemberChallenge2009]

Another thing that September brings is marching band. My kids are in an amazing homeschool band program, Joyful Noise, and their newest ensemble, the Marching Saints, are now in their third year. I have shot a couple of band outings so far this season, but haven't gotten many processed yet. You can see some shots from past and present seasons with this search of my Flickr stream.

While marching band is usually thought of as a very colorful activity, I'm still processing a black-and-white photo every day (whenever possible) for the September 2009 Challenge. If you've got some time, check out all the amazing submissions with this Flickr search.

That's it for the end of a long, busy Friday.
This is Day 2 of Just Showing Up, and I'll hope to check in with you again tomorrow.

Just Show Up

Thursday, September 24, 2009 | |

Fall Produce

Wow, nearly the end of September. It seems to me that this is the time of year for reminding yourself of the goals you set back on January 1, and saying wow, that was optimistic. I'm not even going to link back to that goal-setting post from the beginning of the year (you can find it if you want, but I hope you won't), it'll be too depressing.

However, I was reminded this morning while perusing my long list of photo-related blogs, that you can't succeed if you don't show up. Lately, I feel like I've been failing to "show up" -- not only here at the blog, but in my photography in general. Call it a slump, or a lack of inspiration, or just the rest of life getting in the way. Plenty of excuses, none of them productive.

Anyhow, that's all water under the bridge. For today, I'm making a new commitment to just show up, every day, with something for the blog and a new photo on flickr. Whenever possible, I'll go with the topic of the day. Here on the blog, get ready for an onslaught of meandering thoughts about workflow, as I try to find some combination of free/cheap software that'll save me from spending big bucks on Adobe Lightroom. Also the return of my "best of the photochallenge" posts, and whatever else I can think of!

Today is September 24th, and this is Day 1 of Just Showing Up.

Today's photo was shot in our small-but-sincere garden with my Pentax K100d Super and old manual 50mm lens. Click the photo to see it larger at Flickr.

Look what the mailman brought

Saturday, September 5, 2009 | |

So, my new best photography friend Jeff Revell ran a little contest on his PhotoWalk Pro blog last week, giving away a copy of his own book, Nikon D5000: From Snapshots to Great Shots, along with volumes 1 and 3 of Scott Kelby's The Digital Photography Book. I was very happy to be chosen as one of the two winners (don't get too excited, Mom, it was just a random drawing, not one of those where they actually judge your photography).

Today, the package arrived...
What the mailman brought

Thanks so much, Jeff, I'm really looking forward to working through these. The timing couldn't be better, because my 14-year-old son has just started taking a photography class, and I know he can learn a ton from these (if I can convince him to read them!). The photo above, of course, is not nearly worthy of the two gentlemen who authored these books (high ISO hand-held in dim light), but I wanted to get this post up quickly.

More posts coming as time allows, including a look back at our big "mountain states" adventure.


Filling The Bag, Part 2: Filters

Tuesday, July 7, 2009 | |

Continuing my summary of the wonderful feedback I have received on What's Missing From My Bag? (see the first follow-up at Filling The Bag, Part 1: Lenses), today we have Part 2: Filters, with more of your wonderful feedback and another of my pre-trip purchases.

I think I got more recommendations on filters than any other single topic, and most of that love was for the ND Grad (or neutral density graduated filter). The ND Grad was recommended in flickr comments from FanciThat and Jer Kunz. On my blog post, Mike Hudson commented:
The graduated ND is pretty useful. You can get around it by shooting two images, one for the sky and one for the foreground, then combining in PS, but it's better to get one shot in-camera. My Singh-Ray ND filter cost $100. Lee makes good ones too. A filter holder would be handy too though you can get by without one.
I totally agree with Mike; I have done blending of two exposures (and also HDR images with between 3 and 9 exposures combined), but in many cases it's really nice to get one shot just right in the camera.

Others suggested just plain ND filters (useful for forcing longer exposure times to blur moving water, etc). I was amazed to discover you can get an ND filter that takes out 10 stops of light (the B+W ND 1000x). Not cheap, though! The helpful proprietor of Wings Camera suggested that sometimes just putting your circular polarizer (CP) filter on will give enough of a slowdown to achieve this effect, and since I already have a CP, I'll definitely give that a try.

Flickr friend the_wolf_brigade wondered if I had considered an IR filter (one which allows only infrared light to pass through). I have seen some strikingly beautiful landscape photos done with IR, so I'll put that on my "someday" list. I'm not actually certain if my K100d Super supports IR well or not, I need to check.

Lastly (hope I haven't missed anything) flickr user grindcrank suggests a macro converter attachment such as the Raynox DCR-250. That is actually a great idea, but my Canon S2IS supports macro work quite well (see some of my macro work here and here), and I'll probably carry it on at least one or two excursions to capture some unique close-up views.

And now for the moment you've all(?) been waiting for: I did, in fact, purchase an ND Grad filter, and at a decent bargain price, too. I found this beauty in a discount bin at the front of the nearest Wolf Camera store:
Cokin G2 A121 ND Grad filter

As you can see from the label on its carrying case, this is a Cokin G2 A121. I paid $8.50 for it, which appears to be less than half of what they're going for on eBay. I should note that the "A" series Cokin filters are the smaller ones (most folks seem to go for the "P" series which are slightly larger). In my case, all my current lenses take either a 52mm or 55mm filter, so I don't need the larger size of the "P" series yet. Note that I have not yet bought the bracket that holds these square filters on the end of your lens, but it works OK to hand-hold it. If I find a bargain price on the bracket sometime, I may pick it up; or I may decide that I don't need it and it's a waste of space in my bag.

So, how well does it work? I'm afraid the jury's still out on that one. As you probably know, the main point of an ND Grad filter is to prevent the sky from blowing out when it's much brighter than the landscape you are attempting to photograph. Here's a quick grab from my front porch yesterday:
ND Grad Comparison

Click through to flickr to see it much larger. This was taken in auto mode, just letting the camera decide how to expose the scene. As you can see on the left (no filter) the yellow of my neighbor's house and the green grass are very dark and colorless, and yet the sky is still mostly blown out. On the right, with the filter in place, the sky is still not great, but the house and yard are fairly well-exposed.

Obviously, if I was trying to get a "keeper" landscape shot, I'd have been in manual mode and would have carefully adjusted the settings to get a much more interesting exposure. I can tell already that I've got some trial-and-error ahead with my ND Grad, but three cheers for digital cameras and LCD chimping.

Thanks again for all your feedback.


Filling The Bag, Part 1: Lenses

Friday, July 3, 2009 | |

Wow, thanks so much to all my photog friends who have given feedback, both on my blog entry and at flickr. You've shared so many good thoughts, I'm gonna milk them for a series of posts, grouped by topic.

The first grouping is something that everybody wants more of in their camera bag: Lenses.

I mentioned that I would like both wider and longer lenses eventually, as well as specialized "fun stuff" such as a fisheye. Here's some of what I heard back from you:

From my pro shooter friend Mike Hudson (visit his blog or website):
A 2X lens converter sounds good, but most (even my $300 Canon 1.4X) will degrade image quality a little, so I usually don't recommend them. Depending on the wildlife you're shooting, you may be able to patiently just walk closer to your subject. When I shot some bears out East last week, I was able to get within twenty feet (ok- these were small bears!). Deer and elk are usually easy to shoot if you move slowly and use your 80-200 zoom. Open the aperture all the way to throw the background out of focus.

From flickr friend the_wolf_brigade, who shoots a lot of film but doesn't hate on digital guys:
Lens wise I'd see if you could borrow the Pentax 10-20mm version. Would be great for forests...uselss for wildlife though.

From flickr-ite robin746, who was also inspired to write a blog post on this topic:
You are missing a lens hood for the 50mm. Though personally I'd want a faster 50 than this, in order to justify taking it along.

All told, not as many comments on lenses as I might have expected. Nobody commented on my desire for a fisheye, possibly because they're somewhat rare (and expensive) and few folks have shot with them.

In any case, I visited Wings Camera, the local used gear shop, this week and couldn't resist the $15 price of a Tamron 2x teleconverter. Here it is by itself and mounted on the K100d Super along with my 80-200mm zoom...
Tamron 2x Teleconverter

At that price, of course, it's all-manual, but then my big zoom is an old manual one anyway, so they match fine. Looks like a more modern teleconverter that transmits auto-focus and -aperture info would run me around $75 on eBay, if I ever get a fancier zoom.

Here's a first attempt at shooting with it, in a grid comparing the range of my 80-200mm zoom both with and without the 2x converter. Not sure how obvious it is at flickr sizes, but in the full images, the 2x shots are much less sharp. No doubt a combination of focus, camera shake (these were hand-held shots) and some image degradation due to the 2x converter itself.
Teleconverter Comparison Grid

Hopefully I'll have some more interesting shots to share soon!