Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 in review (colour)

With 2010 drawing to a close rather quickly I still needed to post my 5 favourite colour shots of 2010.
I'm wishing you all the very very VERY best for 2011!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Canadian banks are thieves

Remember this post from a few days ago? Well I am NOT a happy camper anymore. Let me tell you what happened exactly.
When I bought my camera from 'ProDigital2000' on Ebay I noticed that they list their prices in US $. But – here is the kicker – the seller is located in Ontario, Canada. Where's our National Pride now, eh?! When I addressed this issue with the seller they replied they list their prices in US $ 'to get more exposure on Ebay'. At first I did not see a problem. With the CAD $ at par with the US $ their should not be a problem. Except for the fact that Canadian Banks (and North American Banks in general) are crooked gangsters.
First they don't give you the exchange rate you should get. No Sir! They add a couple of numbers past the comma, 'to cover their costs'. And second, they charge me 2.5% extra on the total amount because I am a Canadian who is paying something to someone in US $ on a Canadian Visa card. And that someone IS Canadian. So excuse me for saying this but you are charging me TWICE for the same cost?! That is absurd!
So instead of doing a nice deal, I ended up paying about 135 CAD $ too much! After all that research, THAT hurts! Plus I am really disappointed in my bank (CIBC Imperial by the way) and their rates. But in the end I think it was not curtious of the seller to not give me an option to buy in CAD. Will be continued.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

I need to stop thinking

Holy smokes.... I need to stop thinking for a minute or two. My brain is fried.
What is happening I hear you ask. Well it all started a couple of days ago when I showed my wife a solargraphy picture. You can see an example here. Sarah thought it would be a great idea to do so we can finally hang something behind our bed. I always wanted some contemporary art but I wanted to do something myself. Since I am no painter (O God don't arm me with a paintbrush) this solargraphy stuff is so low tech that even I can pull it off.
Being the researcher that I am I started thinking about pinhole camera's. And how to build them. It's pretty easy. After a lot of debating I will make 2 kinds of pinhole camera's. One 'regular' looking one – all though I will raise the pinhole above the middle of the camera (rise and fall remember, I want to show more sky than ground without distorting the trees or buildings) and one 'anamorphic' camera (or parallel cylinder camera). Each has it's own pros and cons. After some calculations (thanks to this website) I came up with this.

Regular pinhole camera
This camera gives you a nice wide angle view of your scene. Raising the pinhole rather than angling the camera upwards means that you 're keeping all your vertical lines vertical. It's technical camera 101 really but on a low tech basis.
I think I will make one with the pinhole in the middle as well and angle it towards the sky just as an alternative to this one.

Anamorphic pinhole camera
This type gives you a 360° field of view but is unable to 'see' the ground our the zenith. Makes really cool distorted photographs.

So I think over the weekend I will make maybe 5-6 camera's and start thinking about where to hang them. There is a lot of luck involved in this type of photography. You let those camera's hang in the elements for a few months and see what you come up with. It will be a surprise. But that is the fun part of it. I'll keep you updated.

Monday, December 27, 2010

2010 in review (black and white)

Every year Jim Goldstein does this thing on his blog where everybody can send in his/her favourite shots of the year (taken by themselves of course). That got me thinking.
Reflecting back on this year, I think I was able to witness a bunch of very nice scenes. 2010 was the year that I took photography a that little bit more serious. Putting in that little bit of extra effort to get my behind out of the house and plan shoots and go somewhere.
Here is a selection of my 5 favourite black and white photos I took during this year.

This has to be my favourite shot of 2010. It was shot at Ghost Lake in Alberta. I was just sitting there after work, relaxing at the side of this lake. Peacefully listening to the sound of the waves. I love how this scene draws your eye in.

Taken in Jasper. It's the bottom of the Athabasca River. I like how this shot turned out in black and white. I love the amount of detail in the sand and the log and how your eye flows through the scene.

A lone tree close to Cochrane. A summer storm had just blew by and the sun was fighting to poke through the clouds. It was still very breezy. But I loved the way the sun back lit this tree. I am very happy with this black and white conversion.

One of those shots that just happened. I was on the computer and I looked outside to see these amazing puffy clouds. I opened the window and fired up two shots with a polarizer. And this was the result. I simply love this sky!

This is my most peaceful image of the year. Taken at the Grassi Lakes.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Camper

Merry Christmas to me! Yes indeed. Yesterday I finally went ahead and purchased – the long overdue – Canon 5DmkII upgrade. I simply could not wait any longer. Needless to say, I am pretty stoked to get my hands on it.
Half a year ago I started my research for a new camera. Initially because we needed a new camera at work (I am a graphic designer/photographer for a design agency which does a lot of work for Coca-Cola, Kraft, Old Dutch and The Calgary Stampede). But it was really an excuse to get myself the camera I wanted, at work. So we ended up with the – surprise, surprise – Canon 5DmkII and the 24-105mm ƒ4L. After a couple of test runs in the outdoors I was sure I wanted one for myself.
So 2 weeks ago, my search began. Who could offer me the best price for what I wanted?

Living near Calgary my first instinct was to look at The Camera Store. I knew in the past they had had a couple of kits in stock. But lately it's been a gong show. I think they had one or two bodies in stock a month ago and since then, nothing. So my search continued. At first I was reluctant to shop elsewhere. But after reading Dan Jurak's post about what he had encountered with The Camera Store, I felt ok about shopping somewhere else.

Second stop was Vistek. I really don't like Vistek. They where about $100 more expensive than The Camera Store. But I was sure, Vistek would be one of those companies that would offer sales during boxing day week. And sure enough they slashed prices – on the Rebel, 7D, Nikon's – but not really on the 5DmkII. Nope they price stayed constant at $100 more than The Camera Store. But I could 'Save $200'. Yeah right. Maybe these little flags work on the unprepared customer but not on me.
I looked at Black's (another company). Same price. It is like everybody around town is looking at one player and are matching their prices to whatever The Camera Store is setting them at. And I mean to the cent. What a load of BS.

Thanks to a reader on Dan's blog I came across CanadaCamera. OK we where getting closer. The 5DmkII was advertised for $9 cheaper than The Camera Store. Hmmm ok.... and after doing a 'dry run' on the ordering I found out that Shipping and Handling was $0. This could not be true! Free? In my book Free does not exist anymore. After some research I found a shipping page on their website that told me I should pay $16 or something for the shipping of the camera. Now their system said $0... So I wrote them an email. And sure enough, it was a 'bug' in their system. Maybe I could have negotiated free shipping but I didn't feel like it. My trust in them was gone.

Dan Jurak (if you don't know this by now, he is an awesome guy) had pointed me towards an eBay seller he has had great success with over the last years. The seller is called 'ProDigital2000' and his price on the 5DmkII was sharp (about $50 cheaper then everybody else). And real free shipping! After a little email the seller confirmed that shipment to Alberta was indeed free and last night I went ahead and ordered it. eBay wins again.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Lunar Eclipse 21 Dec, 2010

I was all set for the hyped winter solstice lunar eclipse last night. I borrowed a telephoto lens (Canon EF 70-200mm ƒ/4L USM) and had setup my camera and tripod in the garage (without battery) so it could acclimatize for the -18˚C night it was going to get into.
The plan was that I was going to photograph the eclipse out of the luxury of my driveway/garage. Alarm clock was set, iPhone loaded with a bunch of alarms (start, max and end totality) and the battery was fully loaded and ready to go.

Coming outside at 12.15am it did not look good. First of all I had locked myself out of the house (the genius that I am) so I had to wake up my girl (who was laughing about it, thank god) just to get my car keys. Why? Because the one big cloud that was in the sky was over my community. Darn! I had to move. And move quickly.

I decide to drive south. And ended up 15min from my house on a road called Springbank Road. It was cold though. -18˚C but -26˚C if you calculate temperature with the windchill. Let me tell you, that's cold. Thankfully I have some serious winter clothing.

I caught the whole maximum of the eclipse, just like I planned to do (all though it was a bit of a scramble). And my battery died just when totality had ended. Perfect!

Monday, December 20, 2010

I'm in the market for a new camera

Yeps that is right. I have done a ton of research over the past months to figure out what I think is important for me when I buy a new camera.
I am not going to bore you with all the details but at the end of the day it will be a Canon 5D Mark II. 21 mega pixels sounds like heaven to a landscape photographer. If I could I would go medium or large format. But I don't have the cash to do that. I am still figuring out what lens to buy though.

A couple of options I am looking at are:
- Canon EF 24-105mm ƒ/4 L IS USM: Superb all round lens. I am used to photographing exclusively with wide angles. I don't own anything else. Once in a while I would have loved to have a longer lens though. This 'kit lens' sounds like the best option. I can always go wider in the near future and buy ...
- Canon EF 17-40mm ƒ/4 L USM: Superb wide angle used by a lot of landscape photographers. This would be more what I am used to today.
- Canon TS-E 24mm ƒ/3.5 L II: I would love to own a Tilt Shift. Basically because of how you can alter your plane of focus. I am not interested in doing those lame miniature looking landscapes. But I want to control DOF. This lens will be bought in the future (I am going to set aside my bonuses from work for this lens).
- Canon EF 16-35mm ƒ/2.8 L II USM, Canon EF 24mm ƒ/1.4 L USM prime or Canon EF 14mm ƒ/2.8 L II USM prime (rising in price). These are all wonderful lenses. One more expensive than the other. Primes will always be sharper than zooms. But of course lack the versatility.

I want to share this little video with you too. This is high speed footage of a Canon 5D (Mark I) at full burst. Look at all those vibrations. It's crazy. Some stuff I was surprised to see in this little clip were these:
- When the iris closes it is not completely round (more oval shaped), and not really centered.
- Mirror bounces all over the place. Crazy!
- The time in between the mirror is open and the leafs of the shutter open is long. But then again this whole sequence is over in 1/4000 of a second.

Technology like this amazes me!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

What makes a good B&W conversion

What makes a good B&W conversion? Good question. B&W photography is a lot more different than colour photography. If you take the colour out of a photograph other elements become more important and will need more attention to create an interesting B&W photo. B&W photography revolves around contrasts. And by contrasts I mean contrasts in light, textures, shapes etc. 

Let's take this shot for example. 
I've already made all the necessary colour adjustments to this photo. So this is not a straight out of the camera shot.

When I took this shot in early winter last year I knew I would have a nice image to do a B&W conversion on. Now why did I know this? First the light. I had pretty good side light on the clouds and the mountains and I was in shadow. That already makes a nice contrast. Look at the foreground, lot's of texture there: ice flowers, the grass. And the lake was perfectly calm so I had a nice reflection. I used a polariser to get the darkest blue sky as possible. Blue makes a nice black when you use the red filter preset in your black and white conversions. So after conversion we got something like this.

OK that looks pretty good! Just because we had a good original to start from. 
Learning to see in B&W though has to be the hardest part of B&W photography. Understanding colours and tonal contrast and how they translate into B&W. But also a mayor factor is knowing how light works. And how to add drama to a shot.
Coming from a wet darkroom background where dodging and burning, chemicals and what kind of paper you used where are tools to add contrast to a picture. Nowadays in Photoshop I feel like I have even more control over my images than in the past. Especially since I've discovered luminosity masks – thanks to Tony Kuyper's website – I've reintroduced the dodging and burning techniques I once used inside the darkroom into my digital work flow.

This dodging and burning process is something that is very personal. I like dark tones. And I like to emphasise  certain parts of a landscape by making them lighter. That adds more drama to your shot. It takes practice and I am not saying that I have mastered it yet. But the above image can look like something like this.

'I reworked the light' to add more drama. Look at the mountains, the tree line to the left and the clearing on the right. Of course the grass in the front needed just that little extra too to balance things out. I love creating photo's like this. And makes much more interesting shots than a straight conversion. This is where the artist in you comes out. This is of course nothing new. Ansel Adams was the master of all of this.
Happy dodging and burning!

Friday, December 10, 2010

5 tools I use before I take a shot

I thought for my first serious post on my brand new blog, I thought I let you see inside my previsualisation and planning process. So here goes. Before I plan to go out to do a shoot, I do research. And lots of it. I draw some sort of battle plan up in my head. Most of the time I have a Plan A and a plan B, just in case something goes wrong. And I like to be well in advance. If I am shooting a sunrise or sunset I am on location about 90 minutes early.

1. Google Maps

The biggest tool I use is of course Google Maps. I think every photographer uses this tool at some point in their process. Personally I love to use the terrain feature. It really makes life a little simpler. If you can read topo maps, you're golden. I sometimes even use Street View. That way for example  I found that famous little pond called 'The Glory Hole' in Jasper. Without Street View I would have had to guess and drive a lot of unnecessary kilometers. Now I knew where to go, how far it was and how long it was going to take me to get there.

2. Google Earth

Next thing I do (once I picked a location) I go to Google Earth. In Google Earth I go directly to the 3D view. That way I can kind of already make a – what I call – a 'mental framing'. I know what I can expect. How high the mountains will be. How much they will fill the view. I also am a fan of the 'sunlight' feature. That gives me a good impression of how the mountain peaks are going to be illuminated during the golden hours of the day.

3. Sunrise & Sunset iPhone app

Knowing all what I know now. I check sunrise and sunset times with a free iPhone app called 'Sunrise & Sunset'. It is a no nonsense and straightforward app. It tells you, you guessed it, the times the sun comes up and goes down. Pretty easy. And then I start calculating.

4. Lighttrac iPhone app

For locations where I don't know my way by heart I use this tool to try and visualise where the sun will rise or set. This app not only gives you times of sunrise and sunset, but also angular degrees where the sun will pop over or under the horizon. Of course you'll have to make some notes. But it can be very useful if you want to incorporate a very specific landscape feature in your photograph.

5. Compass and maps

Once in the field I use a very simple compass and my notes described in #4. Most of the times I have a collection of maps and road books lying around in the car. You always run out of 3G coverage when you need it the most.

That is it really!
In my opinion these are the basic research tools a photographer can use to try and simplify the previsualisation and planning process. Sure it is always up to mother nature to put on a good show (yes you will need to check the weather too). But this way I think you will come a little bit better prepared.
Go and visualise! And have fun doing it.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Welcome all!

Waw, I have started a blog about photography.
You know with all those social media channels now a days – and being on Facebook, Twitter and Flickr already – I felt it was time to start a blog too.

So what is this blog going to be all about? Well first and foremost I am going to talk about photography. Landscape photography in particular. I love shooting landscapes. They give me a sense of calm nothing else gives me. I guess it is the perfect way to escape everyday boredom for me. I am going to show you behind the scene iPhone pics of what I was doing when I was shooting a certain landscape. And I am planning on talking about techniques I use in certain shots.

So come back often. I hope I can update this blog once every couple of days or so. But fingers crossed on that.