Archive for the ‘Photography’ Category
In terms of photography I had a great year, probably my favourite year of photography to date. It started off with a picturesque New Year’s Day snowfall shoot while I was in the UK. The Olympics followed along soon after, with the once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunities it provided. Later in the year I was featured on the Flickr blog for one of my Abbotsford Airshow shots. The Canadian F1GP was amazing and Oktoberfest in Leavenworth was surprisingly photogenic! In addition to the travel, I finally picked up an external flash and started experimenting.
It’s interesting looking at Flickr stats. Some of my favourite shots have the lowest number of views. The Lancaster bomber shot that was on the Flickr blog is interesting for its subject matter, but to me it’s one of the less visually interesting pictures in that set. My favourite picture of the year only has 78 views, and one of my other favourites only 28! And despite some pretty cool (in my opinion) F1 action shots, one of the most popular pictures in that set is of the grid girls
Sadly I expect 2011 to be a lot more subdued. I don’t have much spare cash for travelling, and I’m going to be extremely busy at work for much of the year. I’ll have to keep it up as best I can in the time I have, and try to come up with ideas that I can act on locally, without requiring travel or an event to provide me with interesting subjects.
So happy New Year everyone, and I’ll leave you with my favourite picture I took during 2010. It’s not perfect – I could edit more detail into the flames from some bracketed shots – but I like it best and that’s the only criteria I’m judging on
Last weekend saw the holding of the annual Abbotsford Airshow. It’s my one-and-only opportunity for airshow photography these days, and luckily sunshine was predicted for the first time since I’ve been going. Yep, for the last four or five years it’s been heavily overcast every time we attended. We actually had the opposite problem this year; there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, the temperature got up to 33C, and with no shade it was a bit uncomfortable.
The unrelenting sun made photography difficult too. The crowdline faces south at Abbotsford, so you’re shooting into the sun all day. That has several unfortunate side-effects:
– The light is coming from above and behind the aircraft, so they can look flat in photographs.
– And the most difficult to deal with, the available light can change by over 2 stops as you pan the camera to catch all of a pass. The aircraft are constantly changing the direction in which they make their passes and it’s very challenging to adjust the camera as you follow them and fire away. I ended up using shutter-priority mode rather than my usual manual, though I don’t think it really made it easier as I still had to continually change the exposure compensation. I got some decent shots of the flying acts, but I think some of my favourites this year were of the statics.
Still, they always put on an impressive show at Abbotsford, and the day passed quickly even in the wilting heat. The highlight for me was the Lancaster bomber, one of only two flying in the world. It went up near the end of the day and it was great to see it in the air, but they’re obviously pretty careful with it and it only made three or four passes, none of which were especially dramatic (no photo pass for instance, where the plane flies an arc while banked toward the crowd, which makes for a more interesting shot than the usual profile angle). The announcers made some references to mechanical problems while it was taxiing out (without tying them to the Lancaster specifically, describing them as “some mechanical issues on the ramp” or something vague), so I wonder if that had anything to do with it. I’ve seen B-17 displays where they throw the plane around a lot more so I don’t think the age of the plane is the only factor. Anyway enough complaining, it was awesome just to see it flying and I’m grateful they made the effort. I’d love to see it visit again!
Other highlights included the WW2-era Corsair, one of my favourite warbirds (not as all-out-awesome as the P-38 though, which I’d love to see again – last time was 2002 or 2003 in Texas); an F8F Bearcat; the F-15E and F/A-18F which are always great; the Thunderbirds and of course the Snowbirds (which I sadly missed as we had to leave). There were a few no-shows which was disappointing; neither of the helicopters scheduled to perform showed up, and neither did the B-25, Hurricane or Sea Fury which had been mentioned on the website (though I just checked again and the fighters aren’t there anymore, so maybe they cancelled ahead of time).
One interesting thing that happened was after the combat demo with ground forces and two CF-18s. The combination of the heat, the pyro effects and the turbulence left by the aircraft led to an actual twister forming out on the airfield. It was at least a hundred feet high or more and maybe a meter across at the ground, and was pretty impressive. I was fiddling with the camera and wasn’t quite ready to take a picture when it appeared (of course!) but I managed to get this one as it lifted off. I’ve deliberately gone a bit further enhancing the colour than I would ordinarily to make it more visible. Really a cool and unique event.
Overall Abbotsford was a good time, though I’ve seen some of the same acts over and over now and I’m really wanting to visit a different airshow. Still haven’t seen an F-22 display, and I really miss the shows we used to go to in Texas with some amazing lighting (Wings over Houston and the Central Texas shows in particular, where you shoot with the sun behind you). Maybe next year!
Wow, I’m doing a remarkably bad job of this blogging thing. One post in two months makes it look like either nothing is happening, or I’m incredibly lazy. It’s definitely not the former; let’s see what’s happened in June and July:
– Visited Montreal for the first time, for the Canadian F1GP, which was a fantastic trip. Had some amazing food, walked around an beautiful new city, and of course watched the race and all the super-entertaining support events. An old man tried rather transparently to steal my camera through trickery, but it was done so badly that I didn’t really begrudge him the attempt. Best of all, I got some pictures that made me very pleased (you can see them on Flickr here). Not sure why taking a photo that doubtless hundreds of other people are taking makes me happier than almost anything else, but it does, so there you go.
– A vacation in Disneyworld and Universal in Orlando. I love theme parks in summer. We’ve been to DW quite a few times before so while we had a really good time on this trip, it wasn’t quite as magical as previous trips here (maybe I should have taken an iPad). I also deliberately de-emphasized photography over travelling light and just concentrating on having a good time. I think this worked pretty well, and I still ended up with some shots I liked. Haven’t actually worked anything up for public consumption or anything yet, due to the laziness mentioned above.
– Work held their annual summer day out, at Playland in Vancouver. The weather was spectacular and I was pretty weary of theme parks at this point so I just took the camera and avoided the rides (still making time of course for the holy “mini” duo – mini-golf and mini-donuts). I put a handful of shots on Flickr.
– Been BBQ’ing like crazy with the exceptional stretch of good weather; lots of burgers and brats, grilled asparagus and potatoes and so on. Haven’t done anything new in a while though. We made a sundried-tomato-pesto-stuffed pork tenderloin that was really good, but just a derivative of the olive-stuffed one I’ve been making. I need some new ideas!
– I’ve been obsessed with Minecraft for a couple of weeks now. It’s a wonderful sandbox where you can mine and build anything you like (as long as you like square blocks that is). It’s amazing how pure it is in its design, and is updated constantly. Everyone who plays games should at least try it out.
Basically all of my photography up until now has been with ambient light; that just means using whatever light you happen to have in a scene without introducing or controlling any yourself. It’s bugged me for a while that I don’t have any experience with flashes so I decided recently to try to educate myself.
The online bible for this stuff is a website called Strobist, run by an (ex?) newspaper photographer called David Hobby. It advocates off-camera flash as the most creative and effective way to light many setups, and has so much information on the site that it will blow your mind. It’s well-organized too, and if you’re starting out just read his “Lighting 101” followed by “Lighting 102” and the “on assignment” section. Even if you know nothing about lighting, like me, you’ll learn quickly almost despite yourself!
Here’s the equipment I bought to get started:
Canon 430EX II flash – you can get by with a manual flash but I wanted something general-purpose for non-strobist stuff too.
Westcott white satin shoot-through umbrella – you use this to diffuse and soften the light from your flash.
Manfrotto Lite-tite umbrella adaptor – necessary to mount the umbrella.
Stroboframe mounting shoe – The Manfrotto umbrella adaptor needs this to be able to mount the flash to the top.
One thing I forgot to get was a collection of gels (coloured covers for your flash head that help your colour-match the ambient light or to create effects). Also, I was able to skip any wireless or wired remote flash triggering devices as the 7D I’m using has a built-in remote flash trigger (it works as an ST-E2 which is the Canon wireless [preflash] triggering system).
Today I set things up and carried out some experiments. To prepare I bought some stuff from the local Michael’s, which is a craft store here in Canada (I’m pretty sure they’re in the USA too). I got a foam core board for $5, which I planned to use as a base as well as a reflector for fill light. I also got a couple of rolls of paper, the one I ended up using today was a roll of banner paper that cost $15 for 30″ x 75′, which I thought was more than reasonable. I was worried it might be too thin but it worked great. Here’s what my setup looked like:
The camera went on the tripod to the left, I’d removed it when taking this photo. I moved the lightstand around during the shoot to try out different angles. Notice the foam core on the left of the chair which I used as fill (the light from the flash bounces off it and reflects back onto the subject). Note also the super-nerdy Canon mode dial decal on the Macbook that I was testing out tethered shooting with My first subjects were my older SLRs, the 10D and the 40D. here’s my favourite shot from the day:
It came out pretty nicely I thought! Getting the right exposure was a bit trial-and-error but I’m sure I’ll refine that as I get more experience. Who knows where I’ll go next with this, but I’m looking forward to trying more shots and getting better at this area of photography that’s new and fresh for me.
Edit 03/14/10 – Added more places; one I came up with and the others as suggested in the comments, thanks!
Justin made a great comment on my last post along the lines of “we need to keep taking photos now that the Olympics are over”. In the spirit of that I’m making a list here of great places around Vancouver to take pictures.
The downtown core – Lots of cool stuff here of course. The Paralympics are on now so there’s still some related stuff on display. I’ve always wanted to do a series of shots of Vancouver’s back alleys, they’re so impressively seedy and grim. More sunrise/sunset stuff would be cool. I’d LOVE to be able to get up high and take some shots – we got onto the roof of our building at work once for a team photo, 23 stories up, and I didn’t have my camera. Are there any other public viewing platforms around Vancouver? There’s the Harbour Centre restaurant but you’re shooting through glass.
Stanley Park – I’ve never really done a good photoshoot around here. The lighting is frequently challenging with the typical high dynamic range of woodland environments. An overcast day might mitigate that. Shots of the Lion’s Gate Bridge from the seawall and Prospect Point would be cool.
George C Reifel Bird Sanctuary – Been here a few times but not since I got my 100-400. When it’s not raining this is a spectacular place for birding and other wildlife photography. The setting by the ocean is nice too.
Horseshoe Bay – Been a while since I drove out here. When the weather is good it’s a beautiful place. I need to find some good places to shoot from up on the mountainsides overlooking the village and bay, to get away from the typical tourist-style shots of the docks and ferries.
Barnet Marine Park – Went here a few times last year, it’s a wonderful place along the Burrard Inlet in between Burnaby and Port Moody. Some really great opportunities for the North Shore mountains, some birding, boats etc. Probably spectacular at sunset with the light on the mountains.
Burnaby Mountain and SFU – Burnaby Mountain is a great place to shoot, with sweeping views of the inlet and mountains. SFU has some awesome architecture that’s been in tons of movies and TV shows, and I’ve never taken a walk around it.
Buntzen Lake – Scenic lake with some hiking trails. Been here a few times. It’s most interesting when you get some fog on the lake in the autumn.
Iona Beach Park and the airport – Iona is a really cool place right by the airport. Lots of people don’t seem to know it exists, so here’s a good link to help you get a sense of it. There’s a 2-mile-long breakwater extending out into the ocean that you can walk along and get right under the flightpath from one of the main runways. In addition the marshes to the north are full of birds (different ones at different times of the year), dragonflies, flowers and water scenes. I love this place.
Deep Cove – Picturesque little village right on the inlet, on the North Shore. Been here lots of times but haven’t taken too many memorable pictures yet. Gets very busy when the weather is good.
Lonsdale Quay – Probably the best place on the North Shore to take shots of downtown. Need to get out here one evening to get some better skyline shots; the ones I took before the Olympics aren’t bad but they don’t stand up to high-res use for a 3-monitor wallpaper like I want I should make a panorama with the 100-400.
Steveston and White Rock – Both of these places are nice little seaside towns, like Deep Cove but larger.
Whistler – A bit further afield, but Whistler is just PACKED with photo opportunities. Louise and I spent a day here in late summer 2008 and I got some of my favourite shots of the year in just that time. Within a couple of hours you can go from amazing coastlines to glacial streams through forests to epic mountaintop views. Have to do it again this year.
Queen Elizabeth Park and the Bloedel Conservatory – Shouldn’t leave it too long to visit here again as the Conservatory is under threat of closure. I hope it doesn’t happen Great views of downtown if the foliage isn’t too overgrown too.
Alouette and Stave Lakes
That’s the start of my list; I’ll add to it as I think of more. Please comment if you know of anywhere worth a visit that I’ve missed – I’m sure there are tons of places!
I’ve been going back and forth lately on my future direction for photography, and I’m finding it almost impossible to come to a decision. I decided to put some of my thoughts down in black and white to see if it helps.
The question: Crop, or Full-Frame?
That’s it in a nutshell. After the explosion of photographic joy that was the Olympics in Vancouver I’ve been thinking about some new equipment. However there are three ways I could go:
Option 1) Upgrade to a 5D Mark II with the 24-105 lens, selling the 40D, 28-135 and 10-22;
Option 2) Upgrade to a 7D/15-85 kit, selling the 40D and the 28-135 lens to absorb some of the cost;
Option 3) Stick with my 40D, add a new lens.
Option 1: Upgrade to a 5D Mark II
The 5DmkII is a full-frame camera, meaning that I’d have to sell my favourite lens (the Canon 10-22) as it doesn’t fit. Well, there are various hacks you can do to get some partial use out of it but I’m not interested in doing that! I’d start off with the 24-105L, which is equivalent to a 15-65 or so on a crop body, so I wouldn’t completely lose the wide end. Picture quality would of course be stellar, and for the vast majority of my photography in the last couple of years, the 5D is perfect – my output is dominated by landscapes, portraits and the like. In addition, most of the pictures I took during the Olympics were sunrise/twilight/night shots at high ISO (1600 on the 40D) and the ability to go with longer exposures and have a much cleaner output is very attractive.
However the autofocus system is outdated and the continuous shooting speed is low, and I’d lose a significant amount of pixel coverage with the 100-400 for telephotos. When I lived in Texas I was starting to get somewhere with my airshow photography and it was the primary reason I bought an SLR in the first place, but the 5D is definitely not the right camera for that. I could always keep the 40D but the best plan would be to sell it to recover some of the cost. I can only go to one airshow per year while living in Vancouver anyway and it’s not even (photographically) that great though.
I’d love the image quality, low-light capabilities, and awesome full-frame camera system (viewfinder, weather-sealing) but can I live with the fact that it’s just not a general-purpose piece of equipment, and there would be some things I just wouldn’t use it for?
Option 2: Upgrade to a 7D
The 7D is another crop camera. It’s effectively brand-new and probably won’t be replaced or superseded within a couple of years (by Canon, anyway!), whereas the 5D is likely to be replaced in that timeframe. It has a brand-new autofocus system, although that does seem to be a cause for some concern in various forums. I could use my current 10-22 lens for wide-angle, and keep the reach I’m used to with the 100-400. I could use it for bird and airshow shots, and it’d work for landscapes and portraits too, though not at as high a level of quality.
However, there’s bound to be a full-frame camera one day that’s affordable and would be as general-purpose in terms of continuous shooting and autofocus as the 7D, but by investing further into APS-C I’d be making it more difficult to make the switch. Right now I only have one EF-S lens to get rid of… what will it be like after a couple more years? And finally, the lower maximum ISO setting and noise levels at low (and even normal) ISOs are a worry.
Option 3: Keep the 40D, get a new lens
When someone posts to photography forums looking for advice on what to spend their money on, they’re often advised to “buy more or better glass; a good lens lasts forever but bodies will be upgraded constantly”. This is clearly good advice. Clearly however people need to upgrade their cameras at some point otherwise we’d all still be using 10Ds from 2003.
But let’s say I stay strong for now and keep my 40D; what, then, do I buy? The 15-85, an excellent lens with a more useful range than either my 10-22 or my 28-135, but it’s an EF-S which would be further cementing me to the crop line of cameras. Or something like a 24-105, which is a great focal range for full-frame but not so good for crop? One hole in my current lineup is a good macro lens. The 100L IS 2.8 is a great lens but at over $1000 CAD it’s not cheap. Cheaper alternatives exist but they lack IS or are, again, EF-S.
So, there’s my dilemma. I don’t have to do anything right away, of course. My unstated option 4 is to do nothing. But if YOU were in this situation (and you actually read this far!), what would you do, and why? Let’s say for the sake of argument that cost isn’t a factor. I’d appreciate some input!
Hard to believe the Olympics are almost over already. It’s been an absolute blast having them in town; having so much to see re-awakened my interest in photography and I’ve probably had more fun taking pictures in the last couple of weeks than any other time I can remember. It’s been a real privilege to live in Vancouver during the Games. It’s a shame that the weather is so bad for the last few days here, otherwise I’d be out there now taking more! Here’s a round-up of my favourite sights.
The street scene
The downtown core has been absolute madness during the Games, but always good-natured and civilized madness which makes it a pleasure to walk around taking everything in and of course taking pictures! Along with the crowds, we’ve had attractions like the zipline across Robson Street, street hockey games on Granville, art installations and all kinds of attention-grabbing stuff. Had some great walks with friends at lunchtimes just taking it all in. Here’s a small selection (all pics link to their Flickr page).
The hockey photo is interesting to me; by pretty much all objective measures it’s not a good photo, but it captures something I’m not likely to see again with a lot of apparent motion, and I find myself liking it a lot.
The Russian tall ship Krusenstern
I took the seabus over to North Vancouver earlier this week to make sure I had a look at the Krusenstern. It’s an IMMENSE ship, as different from the tall ship that my workmates and I sailed on last year as a cruise ship is from the seabus. The light wasn’t too good for some of the pictures I had in mind, but I got one or two interesting shots.
Kruzenstern.net – The official Krusenstern site.
The Olympic flame at sunrise
I got up at 5am one morning to take pictures of the Olympic flame and the cauldron at sunrise. Justin met me down there and we both got some great shots, then took a slow walk back to work getting some more pictures along the way. Great fun and I got some of my personal favourite shots from this one walkabout.
This shot was taken with my Canon 28-135 lens with a polarizer attached. We ran the gamut on settings here; I’ve got shots at 1/1600 to get detail in the flame, and other shots at 1/20 to get the sky and background looking good. The polarizer really brought colour out in this scene, and I like the end result a lot.
Here’s one last comparison picture demonstrating how much busier the Robson Square area got during the Games! The first shot was taken one lunchtime about 10 days or so before the Olympics opened, and the second was when the Games were in full swing, at the same time of day. So long Olympics, I doubt I’ll ever see a party again like the one you gave us!
It’s possible that you haven’t heard about this, but Vancouver is the host city for the 2010 Winter Olympics. I suppose that could be news to you if you lived anywhere else anyway, but here in Vancouver it’s been wall-to-wall Olympic hype for months now.
I had a quick spin around town with Justin last week (I added some photos to my Flickr Olympics set), and even since then there’s lots more to see there now that construction is coming to an end on all the pavilions, art displays and event locations. One thing I really wanted though was to get some good shots of the rings floating in Coal Harbour. Somehow I missed the fact that they’ve been there since November!
I wanted to take shots of the rings from North Vancouver to get the city in the background. The first location I tried was Harbourside Place, which is a small street right on the water between some commercial docks, with what should be a great view of the rings. Unfortunately, there are a handful of barges moored right off the shore which effectively block the view. There’s nowhere around to get any elevation either so I reluctantly packed up and drove down to Lonsdale Quay.
Lonsdale Quay has a 3-story viewing tower on the left side, so when we arrived around 4.30pm I climbed that, set up shop, and waited for the rings to light. And waited, and waited… So nobody thought to mention this to me but the rings don’t light up right at sunset. In fact they didn’t come on until 5.51pm by my watch (official sunset was 5.16pm). I was going to give it until 6pm and then give up so thank god they came on when they did!
I’d been taking pictures of the city, seagulls, the water etc with various short lenses for over an hour, and hadn’t really noted how my ISO was ticking up and my shutter speeds were ticking down until the rings finally illuminated. At this point it became obvious very quickly that trying to handhold a 400mm lens with shutter speeds of 1/6 of a second or lower at ISO 800 was not going to work. I had my tripod with me but had to fetch it from the car, and in doing so I lost pretty much the last of the blue-sky twilight I’d been hoping to catch. And then I’d been taking pictures for about 5 minutes before realizing that I’d left the image stabilizer on while the camera was on the tripod (which basically guarantees soft shots). Now you see why I don’t do this for a living
I was also disappointed by a couple of other things. First, the rings themselves were lit up a yellowish-white, almost the same colour as the city behind them. In other pictures I’ve seen, they’re multi-coloured, or green, or red. Maybe they’re saving the cool displays for the games themselves? And second, they’re not exactly face-on to Lonsdale. They point more directly north than the north-east they’d need to face for a good head-on shot. So if I do go back to North Van for more shots, I’ll try to find somewhere else to shoot from.
Still, despite all the disasters I managed to get a few decent shots. Click on the thumbnails for much bigger versions.
There’ll be lots more to take pictures of in the upcoming weeks, I’m really excited. I’m somewhat worried about my commute into work over the games, but hopefully I’ll get some good shots to make up for it. Inconvenience is a passing thing but great pictures will be around forever!
I’ll leave you with this shot of the city that I liked from last night, with searchlight beams from the Robson St ice rink light show nicely visible.
After a couple of years of vacillating I finally got an iPhone. It was the stupid cost of voice+data plans in Canada that made me hold off but I managed to get something reasonable (not great, but reasonable) from Bell and jumped in.
I looked for decent wallpaper and found lots. It’s more fun to make your own though. It’s a nice standard resolution, albeit vertical rather than widescreen, but it’s an aspect ratio that many portrait-oriented photos are already using so that’s handy. Ideally you want a picture that’s got some dead space top and bottom too, to avoid clashing with the clock up top and the “slide to unlock” down below.
I noticed that increasing the saturation is necessary when comparing the iPhone to my computer monitor, so if the images below look a little bit excessive don’t worry, they look good on the device!
All the pics are mine, most are on my Flickr account if you want to see them bigger or uncropped.
Not just a vacation from blogging, a real vacation! Louise and I went to Hawaii (14 days in Oahu and Kauai) and had a wonderful time. I’ve put some photos online at Flickr.
I found a new delicious type of food while we were over there – poke (pronounced “poke-eh” or “pokey”). It’s marinated raw or rare seafood, usually mixed with spices, soy, vegetables or other seafood. My first and favourite version was the ahi poke rolls we had at Duke’s in Waikiki. I found a picture of them on Flickr here, but that’s from Duke’s Malibu and I remember ours looking better (less drenched in sauce). Whatever, they’re raw ahi (yellowfin tuna) and Maui onion, wrapped in rice paper and fried, served in some kind of vinaigrette with wasabi rice. Damn good. We also tried some more traditional poke, with soy-marinated ahi served over lettuce, and tako (octopus) poke mixed with cabbage.
Can you believe I didn’t eat seafood at all as recently as a couple of years ago? Now I love sushi and most white fish (halibut, cod, basa, mahi-mahi, snapper…). Still not into salmon or tuna so much though. And no sign of poke in Vancouver; sadly, apart from the Duke’s chain of restaurants it doesn’t seem to have made its way outside of Hawaii yet.
I’ll be back soon, there’s tons of stuff I want to blog about, from continuing the airshow series, to a new recipe, new PC stuff, and maybe more Hawaii.