Golf, Anyone?

Posted in Sedona on August 28th, 2011 by MadDog
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I’ve been playing lonely guy for the last two weeks and I don’t like it one bit. I’ve come to the conclusion that I am only part human. My orangutan-like arms attest to this conclusion. If the rest of me were more like my cousins, I’d probably get along fine, as they are rather solitary beasts. I, however, am much less happy to be alone. The main problem is that I get bored with nobody to talk to. Well, I’ll get relief in a week. I’ll be off to St. Louis to be with Grace and her daughter and family. Grace is a new grandmother again. I’m gonna take about a million pictures and shoot hours of video.

Which brings me to today’s subject. Golf. No, of course not. I am not a golfer. That’s too bad, actually, since I could stand outside our front door and throw a golf ball onto one of the prettiest golf courses I’ve ever seen, not that I’ve seen very many. Anyway, I’m going to start on the night before and walk you through a photographic expedition from our house to the golf course. You don’t need a back pack. It takes only about one minute, unless you have a camera. Then it takes about a half-hour.

Last night I set up the new Canon 5D Mk II with the EF 40-70mm ƒ4 L USM lens on a tripod outside the front door and shot directly across the street. This was a thirty second exposure with an ISO of 3200, I think. At that ISO reproducing at normal sizes shows no detectable noise. When the width of an image is over 5,600 pixels, noise gets pretty much buried in the mass of dots of color. I spend far less time cleaning up images.

I got lucky in this shot when a car passed by the house. Notice that the shutter was open was long enough to produce perfect little star trails. You’ll have to click to enlarge to see them.

I woke up at 05:30 the next morning and went to the front door to see how smoky it was outside. We have had many fires lately. Much of it is “managed burns”, but it’s just as smoky, no matter the cause of the fire. Here is a site showing current wildfires over one-hundred acres. This morning was about as clear as I have seen and the sun was at a perfect angle to sculpture the famous red rocks. After I crossed the dry wash and made my way to the top of the bank I set up the tripod and grabbed this shot:

This is a different kind of spectacular from the scenes out my front door in Madang, but I can get used to it.

I then made my way back down into the dry wash for a little stroll to the golf course, only about a hundred feet along the path. Along the way I spotted deer tracks:

Unmistakeable, eh?

But how about this?

After checking the area for other tracks and a visit to the World Wide Web for confirmation, I’m convinced that there was a rather large elk wandering around the neighborhood while I was out spying on the house across the street last night. It seems that elk tend to put the hind foot nearly in the same spot as the front foot hit the ground as they walk. This accounts for the distorted shape. The front of the indentation shows the characteristic cloven hoof pattern of an ungulate.

Well, that’s got precious little to do with golf, but I’m getting to that.

At the top of the bank a few feet further on is the perimeter road of the golf course. There are many presumably rich people housed around the course. Once again I find myself a man of very modest means living like a prince. The road is a popular place for a morning constitutional:

Up at the end of the course I got this tripod shot of the scene. I could have done quite nicely without the tripod, but though the gear is capable, my arm is not. That rig is heavy, man. My biceps will soon be bulging again:

In the past I have shot stitched-together panoramas to get landscapes such as this, but with over twenty-one million pixels, all I have to do is crop out the middle. Unless this was blown up bigger than an 8×10 inch sheet, you would never see any pixelation.

Really, there’s not much that this camera can’t do, given the right lens. I wonder what some of the great photographic geniuses of the past would make of the equipment and software we have today. It would be something to see, I’m sure.

The morning light was very soft and warm. The sky was nearly white. I used a circular polarizer filter to darken it as much as possible, but I still had to fake a blue sky in this shot:

I’m afraid it shows, eh? Well, it’s just an interpretation, so I don’t care. It would make a nice post card.

If you like golf.

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A little more play with the Huge Canon 5D Mk II

Posted in Photography Tricks on August 21st, 2011 by MadDog
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Kiddies, if you have little interest in photography other than pictures of the kids or pets, then have a quick peek at the pretty pictures below and move along. You’ll soon be bored. I’ve been playing just a little (took time out to eat, sleep and do some house cleaning) with the new Canon 5D Mk II and the two lenses I purchased. All this fuss with new gear is primarily about my new job. It will likely be a few months  until I get my first assignments. I have to return to Madang to finish up my life there before I can begin in earnest anew here in Sedona. In the meantime, I have my work cut out for me. I have to learn a new camera which is far more complex than anything I’ve ever had before and I need to learn to do production quality HD video from the ground up. I’ve already started on that. I’m afraid that posts for the next few months are going to be pretty geeky. At least you will see some amusing images and learn how an old dog learns fancy new tricks.

I have noted that no matter how good I thought I was, the 5D Mk II has humbled me. I’ve known the basics of photography since I was old enough to point a camera. Since it was my dad’s main interest, he taught me little else. I inherited a Busch Pressman camera and was working with smelly chemicals in the basement by the time I was eleven. The 5D is a whole new ball game. Let me say first that it shoots absolutely stunning images on full, flat-out Automatic. You could not find a camera that will give you a higher percentage of superb shots if you never want to crack open a manual for a nice bedtime read. Just leave the knob set on the little green box, swap lenses around as you please and shoot, shoot shoot. If you have any compositional sense at all you will be shooting National Geographic style shots from day one. And, you will mightily impress your friends. Which leads me to the only reason I can think of for a family album shooter to have one – to impress your friends. You had better hope they know something about photography or they will laugh at you for buying such a huge clunker of a camera. Really, if you never want to print anything bigger than an 8 x 10 print, then buy a good quality super-zoom such as the Canon Canon Power Shot SX30IS for less than $400.

One of the many differences between the two (5D Mk II vs. SX20IS) is the the SX30IS provides many pre-programmed shooting modes which allow a shooter who has taken an afternoon off to discover them to create a wide variety of beautiful images which would have required considerable technical knowledge in times past. The 5D has none of this. It does have a superb Automatic mode, but you have to cook the fancy creative images youself. This requires a fair level of both knowledge of the technical aspects of photography (The Exposure Triangle, etc.) and the complexities of the massive control range of the camera itself.

Come to think of it, there is another good reason to buy a 5D Mk II. If you are serious about making excellent images, for whatever reason, and you want to buy a camera which will keep you happy for say, ten years, then the 5D and a couple of good lenses might be the ticket. You could possibly end up spending a similar amount of money over ten years stepping up from one camera to another and never be as good with any of them as you would be after a few years with the 5D. She would be as dependable and wise (and as amusing) as a good wife. Okay, that’s going too far. You get the idea. Believe me. You will want to name your 5D. Something this precious deserves a moniker. Just promise yourself one thing before you invest. If you lose interest and it ends up gathering dust on a shelf, pass it along to a promising photographer who can’t afford it. Give him or her an offer which can’t be refused. This is a camera which deserves to be used by someone who can learn to make it sing.

Speaking of singing, I wanted to do something a little special for the first image I show from the 5D. Frankly, I could have shot this with my G11, but that’s not the point. This image represents a change of shooting habits. I have seldom been so frightened in my long, wayward and adventurous life as I was when I was crossing over those rocks with a new 5D and two top-notch lenses. If I had my G11 there and I slipped I’d simply toss it to the other bank, pick it up, wipe the mud off and shoot. Not so with the fancy gear. Honestly, if I did not need the capabilities of this rig for my work (the HD video is broadcast-quality) I would never even risk having it. Anyway, back to the image.  I bought a variable density filter which allows me to cut the light down drastically so that I can make long exposures in brightly lighted scenes. In this shot I could hardly see through the filter. Setting the camera appropriately for a twenty second exposure, I got this silky water image at Red Rock Crossing near the house in Oak Creek Village. In order to fancy it up a bit more, I spent a quarter of an hour fooling around with Artistic Filters in Photoshop. I’m going to print this one and hang it on the wall, after asking Grace, of course.

You really have to click to enlarge it to see what’s going on.

Here’s a similar image shot with another lens on full automatic mode:

You really can’t appreciate the quality of this image at the resolution I have to use to make it manageable for the web. The original RAW file was twenty-six megabytes!

I can’t live without macro photography. I’d sooner give up my one beer a day. (Hey, I gave up my one cigar a day habit. Give me a break.) I was concerned that my Canon 17-40 F4.-5.6 L USM lens would not cut the mustard. This is about a 30% crop of the center of a full frame at 40mm focal length:

That was as close as I could get while allowing the auto focus to operate. Someday I might find a used macro lens for the camera, but it can wait a while. This makes me happy. I won’t be blowing up any ants as big as small dogs, but I still have my G11, which is actually a better macro rig.

There is a nice little pub within easy walking distance from our house. It’s called PJ’s Village Pub and Sports Lounge. I went over a couple of nights ago to meet a friend for a little conversation. It was storming beautifully outside. After it was nearly over I went outside an snapped this cute little shot:

It’s had a pleasant massage from Photoshop to correct the colors to what my imagination requires, but otherwise, it’s straight out of the camera.

Earlier, inside PJ’s, I set the 5D on full auto and held it parallel to the mirror on the wall for this tasty image:

This is a 17mm shot. It shows little objectionable distortion common to wide angle images. I’m quite happy with it. Other than the removal of an ugly power outlet under the mirror, this is right out of the camera.

For this last little bit of play, I wanted to test several things at once. First I wanted to see if I could really get five frames per second out of the 5D. I want to try some portraits on burst mode. I find it difficult to get just the right expression when doing portraits. I’m going to try getting all set up, provoking the right mood and then letting fly with about a hundred exposures over maybe twenty seconds. Then I can pick just what I’m after. Next, I wanted to see how good the 64oo ISO setting is. I’ve never been able to shoot this sensitive before. My G11 dies a horrible noisy death over 400 ISO. (The results show that the 5D Mk II is four or five stops better for noise.) Finally, I wanted to gen an idea how well Microsoft Photosynth could stitch together the shots for a 3D walk-around presentation. Here is the result, using our home office as a test subject:

Well, I’m sure that you were fascinated at that. I have more worthy subjects in mind. How about a walk down Oak Creek Canyon, peering into holes and turning over rocks in the stream?

Maybe I had better save that for HD video. My next project is a home-made flying camera rig.

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Arizona Colorfest – The G11’s Last Gasp

Posted in Arizona Images on August 15th, 2011 by MadDog
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I’ve been painfully aware lately that I’ve outgrown my G11. I would still recommend it to any amateur who wants top image quality in a small, weapons-grade package. Truly, they are as tough as nails. I’ve often (possibly too often) said that it’s the only camera I know of which you could wield to bludgeon an assailant unconscious and then take his picture. My G10 was once stolen from me on the street in Madang. When a cop accidentally caught the mugger the felon threw my camera on the pavement hard enough to dent the metal casing. I was amazed that the tough little beast still worked perfectly. Anyway, I’ve gotten a good run from the G series. I’ve had a G9, a G10 and a G11.

However, events in my life are going to require me to present a more professional image, if you will excuse the pun. It’s sad to say that photographers are sometimes judged by their gear. It’s one case in which size does matter. I’ve often been gently scorned when I show up for a shoot with my dinky G11. No matter that the images are great. Most shots do not require anything more sophisicated. My theory was that if I could take 90% of the images I want with a $500 camera, then a $5000 camera to get the last 10% made no sense at all. Well, I’m not about to spend $5000 for a camera, but I certainly need to take a step up.

Today I ordered a Canon 5d Mk II with appropriate lenses and accessories. It’s a lot of camera for the money. I’ve drooled over several of them in camera stores until the clerks take them away for a wipe-down. It’s suitably massive and professional looking and sports a humongous twenty-one megapixel sensor. It has astounding low light level capabilities. The only thing I did not like about it is that it has no inbuilt flash. I suppose that the pros turn their noses down at such niceties. Photographers can be horrible snobs.

So, since my G11 will shortly be retired to the hermitage of the glove box so that I always have a camera in the car, I had a last fling with it at the Grand Canyon a few days ago. My good friends Ian and Liz Dosser happened to be in the USA for extensive holiday travel. I persuaded them to come for a visit to Sedona. I wanted them to meet Grace, but Grace departed two days early for the impending birth of another grandchild, so I’ll be playing Lonely Guy for three weeks until I join her in St. Louis. Ian and Liz and I visited the Grand Canyon on Friday and the Painted Dessert and Petrified forest on Saturday.

Herre’s a shot of the Grand Hole in the Ground:

I was fiddling with the color of the far rim to try to get some of the blue out. I went too far. It looks like a coal strip mine.

This is more the way it actually looks. Here Ian and Liz are standing out on the edge of a rock which hangs right out over the canyon. I reckon it is several hundred feet to the nearest rocks below. When you walk out on this rock you can not help getting a strong feeling of vertigo. When I approached the edge all I could say was, “Whoa!”:

I can sit in the door of a helicopter all day with my feet hanging out in space and enjoy myself immensely. I don’t understand what the difference is. When I get out there close to the edge I freeze up.

There are plenty of safer places to enjoy the view. There were several ravens riding the updrafts near the rim. They seldom needed to flap their wings:

I wish I could do that. I sometimes dream about it.

This is known as the most dangerous beast of the canyon. It’s a Grand Canyon Squirrel (Rock Squirrel) – Spermophilus variegatus:

They bite for the fun of it and carry several nasty diseases. I watched this one run right over a man who was sitting on the ledge. The critter did not even slow down. I can imagine someone being so startled that they might fall off the edge. I wonder if that has ever happened?

Back at home Ian and I drove down to Red Rock Crossing to catch the afternoon wine light reflecting off of Cathedral Rock. It’s a famous photographic location. There were three or four guys there with probably twenty thousand dollars worth of camera gear each. I almost asked Ian if he’d like to help to rob them, but he’s an ex copper. I did not think the idea would go down well with him. Anyway, these guys had Nikons and Pentax gear. I’m a Canon man. These two shots are High Dynamic Range compositions consisting of five frames with exposure running from way dark to way light. It’s the only way you can capture the range of brightnesses in these scenes:

This is going to be a favorite place for shooting. It is only down the street from the house.

Here was the scene down at the crossing itself, where the old road went through Oak Creek:

When I get my new 5D I’m going to try for a “silky water” shot here.

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Seeing Red

Posted in On Tthe Road, Sedona on August 8th, 2011 by MadDog
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Today the subject is pretty much photography, because I’ve got so many other things on my mind that I cannot concentrate on writing. I’ve been trying to gather some images which convey the near-mystical beauty of this part of Arizona. It’s no wonder that Sedona has become a magnet for new age folk. I have to admit that I’m running up against the limitations of my Canon G11. I’m looking for a new camera. It will definitely be a Canon, because I think the brand delivers the biggest bang for the buck in each category.

Anyway, until I get some new gear, I’m still squeezing every bit of lemon juice out of my G11. Here is a High Dynamic Range shot of some red rock:

We’ve had some very blustery weather lately. These late summer storms are referred to locally as monsoons. I find that amusing. A big dust storm is now called a haboob. That term is mildly controversial, considering its origins. The sky has often been dramatic. Here the late afternoon sun strokes the top of one of the huge red rock formations with wine light:

I took that shot from Grace’s car as we were returning from Sedona to Oak Creek Village, a distance of about six miles.

At a family gathering at Red Rock Crossing I snapped this shot of lovely little Tana with a very famous red rock in the background:

Red Rock Crossing has appeared in many western films. You can find a very interesting list of them here.

Did I mention that the weather has been frisky? Here is an image of a huge Cumulonimbus Incus which we drove right through on the way back from a shopping trip to Cottonwood, Arizona:

It seems that Grace’s hobby is power shopping. I find it disconcerting. Shuffling around The Dress Barn for two hours does not thrill me. Next time I’m taking a book.

The weather is presenting me with some radical photo opportunities. Back in Oak Creek Village the late afternoon sun was valiantly drilling its way through the cloud cover:

The next evening presented a different sky from the same location:

Once in a great while I find a scene which makes me very glad that I travel always with my camera. If I had left it at home, I would have missed this seventeen frame panorama of the magnificent display of nature on the highway between West Sedona and Oak Creek Village:

The rainbow is real. I did have to increase the saturation to make it show up better. I’ve uploaded this to my server at 3000 pixels, but the original is over 18000 pixels wide. So, to give you a better view, I created a Microsoft Photosynth Panorama of the scene:

Being critical of my own work, I can see where my camera is letting me down. You can expect only so much from a camera in the less-than-five-hundred dollar price range. Maybe that is going to be fixed soon. It depends on how other things work out.

Life is about to become very interesting . . .

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