Birds – up close

I’m not a hard-core bird photographer.  Having said that, I do enjoy the opportunity to make some images that give me a closer look at these remarkable creatures.  A photo’s ability to freeze time is the perfect way to get to know their details.

Horicon marsh is close enough for an easy day trip and right now there are lots of birds up there.  Memorial Day weather was perfect to wander around the trails enjoying the sounds and sights of the flocks of birds making it a temporary home.  Here are a few of the birds I saw.

All images made with 300mm f/2.8 Olympus lens on E-3 digital camera.

Black crowned night heron

Egret with fish

Canada goose and gosling

Sunny nap time

Purple martin

Female red-winged blackbird

Casual Opportunities for Interesting Images #VantagePoint

Vacation or photo safari?  Always a question when traveling and not for an assignment.  Like many outdoor photographers I like to “document” places I visit.  Sometimes it’s just to remember what I saw, sometimes to get some perspectives on a place I plan to come back to for more images.

This image was one of those occasions.  Visited here because it showed up on a tourist guide of the area then found some interesting compositions.  Fortunately I had my tripod and assortment of lenses to use.  One great thing about places you can drive right up to is having all your gear in the car!

Seven Falls, Colorado Springs

What attracted me to this composition was the abrupt change in the water’s flow and the way the wet rocks were reflecting the light in the sky.  I knew this was going to be a B&W image and that I wanted the water to have a nice flow rather than be stopped in time.  The tripod enabled a long exposure and the shorter lens let me put more of the falls in the composition.

So what if I hadn’t carried along all that gear?  Would there be a way to get a similar image?  What about other tourists who have point-and-shoot cameras or their cellphones?  What would they make?  At the time, probably nothing like this.

Friend of mine asked recently about available compact cameras that would give the versatility of a DSLR for dynamic range, depth of field, and varying focal length.  He likes putting something in his travel bag or pocket that will deliver very nice results but not require hauling around lots of gear.  At the time I didn’t have a good recommendation but soon after that I ran across a different type of compact camera.  This one uses multiple lenses and processing software to enable the photographer to capture several versions of a composition and then create the final image with the characteristics desired.  There have been variations on this idea in the past years but it seems the company behind this idea, Light.co, has found the right combination of technologies and design features to meet my friend’s needs.

Photography used to be about skills and technical knowledge, mainly because the tools and processes required those in order to get the final result.  Now the result can be shared in the blink of an eye (no more chemicals and special materials to create a print) and the capture almost with a glance.  Kodak’s original statement was along the lines of, “you push the button, we do the rest” which if you think about it, is how photography is these days.  There’s seemingly no effort required.

Is this a terrible change to a 100+ year human endeavor?  I don’t believe it is.  Now the “technology” of photography can stop being in the way of the creation of photographs.  Today if you don’t like your images you pretty much can’t blame the equipment!  Even the most casual tourist has the chance to create a wonderful experience to share with others – all they have to do is pay attention to what they are seeing.

Computer, well done

You know how we make fun of the accuracy of information found on the web?  Recently I got caught up in a thing that ultimately surprised me while increasing my appreciation for people out there with too much time on their hands.

My Macbook Pro (2008 model) just conked out on me one evening.  One minute it was working, the next – dead.  I tried all the reset procedures I could find online but nothing seemed to give it the urge to recover.  Finally took it to the Genius Bar at the local Apple store and a really nice young lady ran it through some of their diagnostics and offered an answer.  The logic board is probably gone.  That was the bad news; the good news is the hard drive was intact and operating, and she showed me a way to off-load all my data to an external drive without having the logic board actually function.

So, I have my data but a non-operational laptop.  Do I buy a new one (well, a newer refurbished one), get this one fixed (expensive) or just give up having a laptop (my photo processing done in my Mac Pro desktop)?  I decided to browse some sites to see how other people dealt with this quandary.

The consensus seemed to be bake the logic board in an oven.

Yes, the first site where I read that was met with chuckles.  Then it started showing up on other sites, actual Mac sites I respect.  And it seemed several people had performed this culinary/computer operation with success.  And there were a couple of really nice descriptions (with pictures!) of how to disassemble this model Macbook Pro in order to remove the logic board.  Who knew people were taking their laptops apart and bragging about it online?

Really, what did I have to lose?  I’ve always enjoyed seeing what’s inside stuff and it might just fix my problem.

Which it did.  Yes, I now have a recovered Macbook that runs just like it did before.  Crazy, I know, but one explanation seems to make sense.

Laptops go through significant thermal cycles, with the innards getting hot, then cooling down, then getting hot again.  Those little fans you hear running apparently don’t actually move enough air to cool down the insides, just enough to keep it from setting your lap on fire.  As a result of all this thermal cycling (and tossing the laptop around from desk to backpack to countertop, etc.) the solder joints on the chips can get brittle and actually separate.  With this the chips lose connection to important parts of the computer and it just shuts down.  Yeah, that sort of sounds like it makes sense.  But what about the baking thing?

Putting the logic board in an oven for a brief time softens the solder just enough to fill in any cracks interfering with the connection and returns it to a more flexible state.  The key is apparently exposing it to just enough heat to soften the solder and then letting it cool undisturbed so the solder solidifies in place without spreading between connections and causing a short-circuit.

So, it works and I add my happy voice to all those other brave souls who have dismantled their Macbooks and baked the insides.

One caveat mentioned is this fix probably won’t last forever, meaning another baking session or complete breakdown of the board.  Still, I’m getting a little more life out of it and I’ve learned one of those cool internet things – one you simply have to try to believe.

Camera adjustments

Most semi-serious photographers love their gear, love playing with their gear, love talking about their gear.  Usually the trick is to get us to stop talking about it all and show some pictures.

I use a lot of digital equipment but when I’m interested in really controlling the look of the image I get under the hood behind my view camera.  Being able to “disconnect” the plane of the lens from the plane of the film provides opportunities for images that are practically impossible with a regular camera.  Our brain does such a great job of interpreting what we see into the “correct” viewpoint that we’re generally surprised at pictures coming out of a regular camera.  Oddly, it takes a view camera with all its adjustment capability to deliver a photograph that looks “normal.”  The following three images are examples of what I’m talking about.

20161228017

Snap this shot with a regular camera and you’ll get something that might look similar.  Depending on where you stand the corners of the building might be vertical or slightly slanted, the near part of the curved wall at the bottom might be in focus or not, along with the trees in the distance.  It depends on the lens being used, the tripod setup and aperture selected.  For a view camera, making sure all these elements are exactly as desired is simple.  A little front tilt of the lens to “see” the foreground and an aperture stopped down to increase depth of field.

20161227011

This one would be harder for a regular camera.  The sign is about 5 feet from my camera where as the tower is about 50 feet away.  My camera is set up slightly down-hill from the tower and sign.  And the sign and tower are at different perspectives.  To make sure everything is in focus, and that the vertical parts are really vertical while the horizontal parts stay that way required using most of the view camera’s movements.  The lens and film plane are swiveled enough to get the focus for the tower and sign in the same plane, the lens has been lifted higher than the film to keep the perspectives the same while being tilted forward slightly to “see” the path in front of the sign, and the aperture is stopped down to f/64 so that everything is in focus.

20161227008

This was the simplest shot to make.  Level the camera, tilt the body down slightly to “see” the ice triangle in the river, tilt the film plane to vertical to keep the trees straight, and tilt the lens forward enough to put the foreground and distance in the same focus.

Setup and adjustments like this usually take 15-20 minutes per shot – definitely not a candid image.  Staring at the image developing on the glass screen under the hood is worth it, though, as you see how the adjustments render the shot just as you want it and just as your eye sees it.

One of the definitive books on this subject is Ansel Adams’ The Camera, which provides instruction on using the adjustments to get the image you want.  There are other sources out there but Adams writes well and serves up sound advice from years of experience crafting images exactly the way he wanted them.  It’s fun to read, and who knows, might encourage more people to try out a view camera for a different perspective on photography.

Continued to return to basic photography

I was out chasing fall colors a few weeks ago and discovered I’ve spent so little time with my view camera I’d lost any skill with it I’d acquired.  Do I tilt it this way?  Is that really in focus?  Where’s that shutter lever?  Frustrating.  I’ll be surprised if any of those pictures come out worth anything.

Fortunately a colleague of mine recently sent a link to a developing tool for 4×5 sheet film that isn’t expensive or difficult to use.  You can see it here:  https://shop.stearmanpress.com/products/sp-445-compact-4×5-film-processing-system.

What’s great about it is the use is essentially the same as the tank developer I have for 35mm and 120 film.  After loading the film you can do all processing with the lights on!  Granted, it only does 4 sheets at a time but I’m not looking for a production line, just a way to get more skilled with my view camera.

Since I had a few sheets of exposed B&W in the freezer – waiting to accumulate enough to take to the lab – I tried it out.  Shots were from the late winter of 2015 up in Door County, Wisconsin.  Here’s the best of the bunch:

Ephraim, WI from Peninsula State Park

Ephraim, WI from Peninsula State Park

Not a remarkable image but it does show the development system works as advertised.  The tones are even, no spotting or unusual lines on the negative, no gradient of development across the image.  Not bad for less than $100 and ease of use.

What this gives me is the ability to work with my view camera and get quick feedback.  I can make a few images, write down the settings and actions I used, then develop the sheets and see how they turned out.  It is literally the old fashioned way of learning photography.  From this I can be more confident with this camera when the images are truly important.

So what’s the point now that cellphone cameras do such a great job?  Doing it this way pleases me.  It appeals to my interest in learning a skill that results in uncommon outcomes.  Using a view camera makes me more thoughtful about photography, from the initial composition to the final print.  With all the possible movements it gives flexibility in how the image will look, more so than digital cameras.  And it uses film, which has a look to it that is hard to replicate with digital (in my opinion).

It definitely warms my heart to see people out there who are still working to improve the “old” ways of doing things.  One engineer’s frustration has become my tool for education.