Old Glass

Some nights, when sleep seems like a bad idea, I drift through ebay looking at old camera lenses, mostly for educational purposes. There was a time in the 1970’s, for instance, where computerized lens design and super-high-tech coatings for the glass became common. Many very good lenses were created, only to be quickly outmoded by the autofocus revolution.

When Canon embraced autofocus, they took the opportunity to redesign their mount, making the hole bigger and farther from the film/sensor. This provided tangible benefits for super-high-performance lenses, but it meant that none of the pre-autofocus lenses were compatible with the new cameras at all.

With a few exceptions that don’t apply to everyday photographers, you can’t shoot old Canon glass on a new Canon body.

Nikon, meanwhile, kept the geometry of its older cameras so that old lenses would still work. Funny thing, though. According to the sources I read late last night, they way Nikon does light metering when one of those old lenses is attached really isn’t very good.

The sweet spot: Old Nikon lenses on a modern Canon body. The adapter costs only a few bucks and you can get a great lens for a song (though it’s a costlier song now that people are catching on). Apparently Tim Burton shot a whole movie (one even I had heard of) that way, with a variety of older Nikon lenses on Canon 1Ds. That has to make the brand snobs squirm a bit.

That Nikkor 50mm f1.2 AiS.C is looking pretty nice right now. Someday…

Call Me Badass

The other day I looked in the mirror after I had been driving. I was still wearing my hat and shades, and I had to laugh. With my too-long-untrimmed beard I looked like, well, not me.

Yeah, not so much a mild-mannered geek as a stereotype from from central casting to be in the background for a scene in a “rough” bar. (Which, in fact, I was once paid to be.)

There are other shots in the batch that don’t make it obvious I was using shoot-through umbrellas (you can see them pretty clearly in the glasses), but I chose these based on different treatments of the light, and for my expressions. It’s a slow process when you have to stop and go behind the camera to see how a shot worked, then getting back in front and duplicating your head angle but altered just a smidge. So getting the reflections under control never really happened.

By the way, the background for those shots is a sneak peek at the shoot I’ll be doing with Harlean (who is a fiction) this afternoon. A shaky phone-camera look behind the scenes:

The set for today's shoot.

The set for today’s shoot.

Pet Photography

Today I pulled out the magic portrait lens and pointed it at the newest member of the family. See, I’m not just going to bombard the Internet with stories about my pet and a glut of pictures only I can appreciate, I’m going to bless the Web with wacky anecdotes of my four-legged friend and share with you my artistic imagery. You see how completely different that is?

Joking aside, I did try to capture a feeling of just who this dog is, and I think to a certain extent I was successful. Of course, you are the final judge of that.

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Cactus Flowers

The light was a little funny yesterday. Even with the sun high in the sky, there was a reddish quality to the light, as the sunlight was filtered through the smoke of the nearby wildfire. I went out back so see if I could get a good shot of the smoke to the east or to the west.

Side fact: to face the new fire to the east of here, an elite team parachuted in. Once on the ground, the decision was easy: get the hell out of there. Last I read, exactly zero people were fighting that fire. Just too dangerous.

Anyway, I failed to get any interesting smoke shots. But I did notice that some of the prickly pear was in bloom. When you’re a dude trying to get better at what he does, you take pictures of stuff like that. In fact you lie in the dirt and try not to roll over into cactus to practice the shot.

Here’s what I got (click to biggerize):

FR5A1903

cactus flower 2

cactus flower 1

cactus flower 4

The last one there, I had another shot that technically, by the numbers, was better-composed. But I like this one more. So there. I was throwing my aperture all over the place, trying to get the out-of-focus parts to be properly out of focus, and I got a wide range of results. But in the end, I got home covered in dirt, with a couple of nice pics on the chip.

And that’s what it’s all about.

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How to be a Good Photographer

1. Buy a camera
2. Take pictures
3. Delete 95% of the pictures you take.

The top photogs delete 98%. Maybe 99. That’s how good they are.

Fun With Lights

There’s a big ho-down comin’ at work, and my boss was asked to come up with a list of pending accomplishments for her team, accompanied by pictures. So, I needed a picture of me writing, to accompany the announcement that I will soon be finishing Munchies, my long-anticipated novel. Anticipated by me, anyway.

Now, all that was required was a simple picture of me at the computer. But in my head this portrait quickly grew to include dramatic lighting that somehow gave a Munchies-like feel to the picture. That meant color gels, splashes on the walls, and dramatic light on the face, preferably from the glow of the screen.

It was also fun being the talent for once, while my sweetie gave direction from behind the camera.

In the end three of the lighting setups were moderately successful; I have picked out representatives from each of those to show below. The pictures are unaltered except for some cropping; color and exposure are straight off the camera.

For all these setups there’s a tight-beam green-gelled strobe is directly behind my head. In the first two another strobe is splashing light against the wall behind me. I’m thinking it would have been cool to make it a strong primary color, just so see how it looked, but I didn’t do that.

The second and third pictures have only the computer’s LCD screen lighting my face. This required very long shutter times to capture enough light. (The light from the strobes is a fixed quantity no matter how long the shutter is open, so you use exposure time to adjust the mix between flash and ambient light.) Quite a few almost-awesome shots were lost because I wasn’t holding still enough.

Anyway, here are some samples from the shoot. As always, you can click to biggerize them. All the shots were taken with my 85mm lens at very wide apertures to keep exposure times from getting totally ridiculous.

Two strobes and overhead halogens

Two strobes and overhead halogens

Two strobes and screen light

Two strobes and screen light

One strobe and screen light

One strobe and screen light

Not appearing in this list are shots where the green light was behind to my left, where it shone on my face a bit. An interesting effect, but it didn’t really work out this time.

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A Couple of Nature Shots

It is spring here in my little slice of heaven, and recently I’ve pointed my camera at flowers and stuff. Here is a shot or three of the results. There are things I’d like to change in each, but it’s a lazy Saturday and putting up pictures on a blog is easier than many of the other things I’m supposed to be getting done. For whatever reason, these look a lot better when you click on them to biggerize.

I forget what this flower is called, but it's nice.

I forget what this flower is called, but it’s nice.

I’m tempted to monkey with this photo more to make the flower pop better, but that’s really not how this plant rolls. It’s not a popper. I wish I’d stopped down a bit more to get the fungus on the log a little more in focus.

Apparently these are very bad to eat.

Apparently these are very bad to eat.

I really like this one, except for one frustration: the one point in the entire picture that the eye is first drawn, the little bit of grot on the mushroom cap, is just the tiniest bit out of focus (105mm lens very close to the mushroom means very shallow depth of field even at f/4). It’s hard to get the focus just right when you’re holding the camera at arm’s length. The focus is close enough that my eyes try to adjust, which of course doesn’t work and merely annoys them. Still and all, I’m pretty happy with it.

Not sure the tree, either.

Not sure the tree, either.

This is a cropped section of a set of pics I took this afternoon to feed a larger episode about photo composition, depth of focus, and bokeh (and when bokeh isn’t all it’s cracked up to be). That’s the episode I should be working on right now. There are a couple of nice bright-pink-on-deep-blue-sky shots in the batch I look forward to sharing.