Kickstarter


Digital photography opened the door to millions of new hobbyists who had never considered the craft when there was a need to learn metering, composition, aperture, or shutter speed before you could take a decent photo in the “old” film days.

Today, just like in photography, Kickstarter has given tens of thousands of people a peek into the world of R&D, prototyping, and manufacturing.

What used to be a simple click of the mouse or a visit to a retail location to pick up a new, cool gadget, Kickstarter has allowed these same consumers to get in on the ground floor of a gadget’s introduction to the market.

It is funny to read all the notes and comments that are being left by “investors” who provided seed money for a new project.  Okay, maybe not funny from the consumer perspective, but quite funny from a manufacturer’s or designer’s perspective.

No gadget, car, pillow, deodorant, plastic spoon, or you name it comes to market without the engineering, tooling, and most importantly retooling of molds, dies, etc. that always precedes the final “perfect” item shipping to a store near you.  The only difference is the consumer was never made aware of this timeline until now.

In many cases, the next irritation is already in the design stages when the preceding version is shipping to their distribution points for the very first time. And, no, most companies will not divulge this to their own salespeople. So, don’t bother asking when the next big thing is shipping; the salesperson is usually the last to find out! That is why we now have rumor sites that try to get this data from (likely unethical) vendors, designers, or partners.

I got in on two gadgets that I think will make my photographic life much more fun. There was no actual need for any of these, but there was a “want”.  So, as long as there is no dire need, there is no rush.

This cool gadget, ought to make landscape panoramas a lot easier, but that is all.  Looks like a neat toy to add to the camera bag, but it is not a lifesaver.  I am looking forward to receiving my all-black version sometime next year.  Is there a rush? Heck no, I want it to work. And work well.

What photographer does not have a gazillion camera bags that never get used, all in the name of finding the perfect bag!  Although two come close, this belt is a brilliant idea. The heck with bags, just carry the lens on a mount attached to a belt. How cool. Again, it is not a life changer but a cool gadget. Let’s be patient and get it right before it is shipped. I am sure neither the creator nor I want a $4,000+ lens to drop to the ground.

What are my 2 near-perfect bags?  One is the Kiboko 30L that handles all my gear on a safari or birding trip.  Yep, it will take the 500mm, 300mm, 24-70mm, two camera bodies and much more AND still fit in the overhead of a small regional jet. The other is a small bag that doesn’t weigh a thing and still holds enough for any photo shoot or short trip – plus a 17” Macbook Pro.  It is the ThinkThank Shape Shifter. Both bags have straps for my tripod.

So, just as digital technology has done an incredible job for relatively small camera manufacturers, Kickstarter will do the same for many small companies trying to launch the next big thing. But, unlike using your camera in “P” mode*, getting in on the ground floor of a great idea doesn’t mean all will be easy or smooth sailing! Kickstarter will make many thousands of investors a much better consumer by finally learning the ins and outs of launching a product.

*  The “P” stands for Program. I like to think it stands for Pray your image will be what you intended it to be!

 

Metz 58 AF 1 or 2 review


For  a couple of decades I have been a Metz flash fan.  The consistency of the light produced by the mecablitz is unparalleled.

Unfortunately I never took the plunge from the monstrous flashgun (mecablitz 76 MZ5 digital being the last one) to the more manageable hot shoe mount.

This past weekend I finally got myself a new in the box 58 AF-1 that was already phased out 2-years ago.

I never expected the smaller hot shoe mount to perform the same way as the big gun, but I was very pleasantly surprised by the beautiful and very consistent light.

The secret of both units is their dual reflectors. The large reflector that you can swivel to bounce the light, and a much smaller reflector in the base of the unit.  The latter is the key to incredible portraits or event shots.

I always use a bounce card or more recently the large Rogue FlashBender to soften the light directed on my subject.  The issue that always required some time in post-processing was the weird “raccoon-like”shadows under the eyes caused by the light coming from above.

Metz has had that second reflector on their flash for a couple of decades at least, and when set at its lowest power, provides wonderful and even illumination on the face of my subject(s).

For the past few years I have had a 3/4 CTO filter taped over the secondary reflector to make that direct light a bit warmer than the 5600K of the flash unit.

Doing the same on the small unit works just as good, and makes the faces appear a bit warmer.

The Metz 58 is priced well below the Nikon SB910 (and I presume the Canon equivalent). The only difference between the 1 and 2 is the mounting foot; it is plastic on #1 and metal on #2. Internally the guts are the same.  What is surprising is that the 58 AF-1 is still being sold at close to its original retail price some years after it was replaced by the new 58 AF-2 .

I am now retiring my 76 for the 58.

I always felt like apologizing for the huge camera that really wasn’t.  My Leica M9 and D800E were often a small attachment to this flashgun! Metz manufactures a simple SLA adapter base to allow true TTL operation with just about any camera.

The Metz 58AF-1 and 2 both work through the camera’s TTL and high speed sync systems, and can be switched from full power to 1/64th power (+3 to -3) in 1/3rd stops. I am looking for a few more and will then have completely switched from Nikon light to Metz.

If you are considering a new flash for your camera, I would highly recommend you try out the Metz series of lights. You cannot go wrong.

Reflections


When photographing landscapes or cityscapes our brain tends to quickly eliminate any repeating patterns after a quick glance of  patterns.

A hedge, a hay field, a row Aspens, windows in a skyscraper.  As long as this pattern is of the same color and goes in the same direction, the brain stores the information and allows you to focus on the main subject – usually something that contrasts the “pattern”.

One way to keep the viewer’s attention on the image is by throwing off the brain by having a repeating pattern that does not make sense. My favorite way of doing this is to photograph reflections of the pattern or to pan the camera in the direction of the energy in the image.

Here, Aspens and a clear blue sky are being reflected off a lake.  It was a windy day, so I added a 4-stop ND filter to allow for longer exposure that would neutralize the waves into a “flat” surface.

Although these are “normal” patterns, the eye stops for a moment because the “upside-down” trees. This is not a normal occurrence so the brain needs to process the photo.  You have now captured your audience!

Reflections on North Lake, CA

Reflections of Aspens

 

In this image, I used a small aperture to allow for a 1/30 exposure.  The waves were coming from left to right, and I began by panning in the same direction. While turning at the hip at the moment I had a steady motion, I clicked the shutter.

Try something different!  Sometimes the results will surprise you!

Let it rain (or go dark)


Over fifty photographers stand at the lake’s edge anxiously waiting for sunrise to click the shutter at the precise moment when the early rays fill the sky with the most intense colors that cannot be described by mere words.

Imagine the collective gasp when at first light you notice there will be no magic because it is completely overcast, and actually some sort of moisture in the form of rain begins to fall on your gear.

Out of the fifty or so photographers, 48 begin to pack it in.  Not you.  Why not you?

Well, you are looking at all sides of the scene and notice that the totally overcast sky is actually acting like a giant scrim, softening whatever light there might be.  You stare back to the East and notice there is a bit of pink beginning to show before the sun has risen above the horizon.

A bit of pink lit from one area through a giant diffuser… mmmm.  Just in case, let’s get the camera ready. Shower cap or whatever protective gear you have over the setup, but ready for that moment should it occur.

You shoot some images every couple of minutes to make sure your metering is accurate (or very close to) and you adjust for the additional light.  You are ready, but will nature cooperate?

The suddenly the few pink rays turns into a completely pink sky and voila……

Mono Lake, California

Two minutes later and the color had disappeared.

No luck, well maybe a little bit. A lot more patience and a bit of pre-visualization than luck – that is for certain!

Here is another photo that was carefully composed at least an hour before the right opportunity arose to click the shutter on the Nikon D4. This is a single image, no HDR!

Chihuly exhibit at the Dallas Arboretum with a storm approaching from the northwest.

 My photos can be seen here:  michaelsphotos.net

The tilt – shift lens in landscape photography


Coming from the good old film days of photography and having used large and medium format cameras that allow for plenty of movement of the lens and / or film boards, the tilt – shift lens has been a favorite of mine for many years.

 

By tilting the lens in the direction of the focal plane, you can keep both foreground and background tacksharp while maintaining a relatively wide aperture. 

 

There are several advantages to using these types of lenses, and they are:

  1. The image circle on these lenses is much larger than on an equivalent focal length lens thereby making the image captured much sharper from edge to edge.
  2. By tilting the lens (ever so slightly) towards the focal plane, one can photograph finely focused near to far at a relatively wide aperture allowing for motion stopping of leaves or anything else that moves.
  3. By using the shift function of the lens one can take a panoramic photo of the subject and give a much wider perspective with tons of detail.
  4. By using the shift function one can raise or lower the lens to capture the subject without keystoning (building appears to be falling backwards!)
  5. Due to the mechanical structure, these lenses are manual focus and will require you to slow down, compose, and capture the image as intended. No million images to go through in Lightroom or other software!

Of course there are some disadvantages to using these lenses, but they are of no concern provided you use the lens often and get tons of practice. Standing 6’ tall, I usually do not need to tilt my lens more than 0.50° to get my foreground (near the tripod’s leg) and the background completely sharp.

This is one lens, however, where I would highly recommend you rent the lens before you decide to buy.

Shifting the lens in the various directions a 24mm lens appears more like a 10mm lens – but there will always be more detail in the photo.

Here are a few links to some very useful information on the use of Perspective Control lenses:

Darwin Wiggett’s e-book on Tilt-Shift Lenses

Ken Rockwell on Why Tilt and Shift

Peter Hill on Tilt & Shift Photography

Go out and shoot. Get ready for some of our fabulous tours at Magnum Excursions.

Alliance Airport and Sushi


In case you are heading to the Alliance Airport this weekend, go and try Queens Chinese and Sushi in Haslet just a few miles from the Alliance runway.
The new owner has been a sushi chef since high school and is incredibly artisitc and prepares some incredibly fresh and well portioned sushi and sashimi.

Spicy Tuna Hand Roll

Perfectly spiced tuna in a hand roll.

Duke and his Father

Duke and his Father

Smoked Eel and Salmon Sashimi