Monday, July 29, 2013

High Risk - It's all in the Approach

Grand Canyon - 1975
One more from the Grand Canyon. That's a much younger version of me hanging out on the ledge. The drop from the narrow path goes all the way to the bottom of the canyon. The walk along the ledge is risky. One wrong step and it's a quick trip to the bottom.

This is a popular spot for tourist photos. It's actually a short, easy walk from the main trail and, for all the look of danger, it's relatively safe if you approach it from behind the scene. It's a very short walk through that cave. On the other side is a short trail that is wide enough for a truck. So, what looks risky is really no worse than an afternoon stroll in the park.

I suppose I could get all philosophical and talk about how many things are like that in life, risky when approached from the wrong direction. But, it's Monday morning and that would require way to much thinking.  -gs-

Monday, July 22, 2013

Grand Canyon - 1975

Grand Canyon - 1975.
This photo was taken almost 40 years ago. Way over half of my lifetime. Hardly noticed in the lifetime of the canyon. In those decades thousands of tourists have probably stood in the same place and taken the same photo. The weather and time of day may be different, but the photo will be fundamentally the same.

The Grand Canyon is one of the few things in the world that I think you actually need to experience in person. It is hard to grasp the size until you're standing on the edge.

A photographer, Gus Petro, has an interesting and very different approach to convey the size of the canyon. Look here to see how he has merged the vast empty space with the dense cityscape of New York City.


Monday, July 15, 2013

Lunar eclipse? Maybe.

The moon (upper left) looks like it might be in the midst of an eclipse. Then again, it might just be a big blob of dust. I took this photo from the balcony of my apartment in 1974. That was a long time ago and I just don't remember. The year was the only thing written on the frame of the original slide. Too bad I didn't write down the date.


Monday, July 08, 2013

How Sharp Is It?

The Target

This is for the more technically inclined.

If you use your camera equipment long enough you will eventually have a problem.

One of my lenses was producing slightly soft images. This was a lens that had been used for quite a long time with good results on a different camera body. I decided to do some testing before sending the lens in for repair.

Today's digital cameras have much higher resolution than film. Small mismatches between camera body and lenses that were undetectable in the old film days can now be quite evident. 
A portion of the sample report.
To correct these problems the auto-focus system on most recent camera bodies can be fine tuned to match the characteristics of each lens. This is a great feature, but I had never taken advantage of it. My eyes aren't that great and I have a hard time seeing the very small differences between test shots at various fine tuning settings. I must not be the only person with poor eyesight, recently a couple of companies have released software to help with the analysis.

I borrowed a test target and bought a copy of FocusTune from Michael Tapes Design. It's $40. (Free try-before-you-buy demo available.) That may sound like a lot, but sending a lens to the repair shop to be tested would be several times that cost and could take weeks. What's worse, the problem often doesn't surface on the first trip to the shop. If the Focustune software worked well it could be used any number of times. I figured it was low risk and worth the effort to give it a try.

I won't go into the details here, there are several reviews on the Internet (Go ahead, Google Focustune.) To make an already long story short, you take a number of photos of the target at different fine tuning settings, the software analyzes the photos and tells you which setting is best. The software is not difficult to use, but setting up the camera and target requires care. You'll want to use a tripod and make sure that nothing varies among the photos other than the camera's fine tuning setting.

My results were very good. The report is easy to decipher. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the software to anyone that is comfortable with the custom settings on their camera. If you're curious about the software, there is a lot of information available at


Monday, July 01, 2013

How Big is My Yard?

The wide angle view from a couple of feet away.
That's my new tree.  It's been two years since it replaced a much older tree lost to a storm.  While I was taking a photo to record its growth I shot a few extras to demonstrate how focal length can effect perspective.

How big is the yard?  I can make it look spacious or cramped by choosing where I stand and how I set my zoom lens.

Most cameras come with zoom lenses.  For the most part, I think people zoom in or out to help with composition, or just to avoid moving.  The zoom lens doesn't just get you closer or farther from your subject, it also has an effect on perspective.

If you carefully look at the three photos in this post, you'll notice the tree is (almost) the same size in each.  But look at the difference in the photo backgrounds.

The photo featured at the top of the article was taken with the lens zoomed out to its widest setting. (15mm)  That's a very wide setting.  I was standing very close to the tree.  Close enough to reach out and touch it.  The wide angle lens exaggerates distances between objects making the yard look very large and including quite a bit of the neighborhood and sky.

The mid-zoom view from the middle of the street.
In the second photo the lens was adjusted to the middle of the zoom range. (about 50mm)  I had to back up to keep the tree the same size in the frame.  I was standing in the middle of the street.  Luckily, there isn't much traffic in the neighbor hood.  You can see how the background moves forward, making the yard look smaller.

The last photo was taken with the lens zoomed in to its telephoto setting. (About 100mm)  I had to stand on the sidewalk across the street for this photo.  Now we don't even see the whole house, and the yard looks even smaller.

The telephoto view from across the street.
But the tree is the same size in each photo.  The camera doesn't lie, but the photos tell three very different stories.  Controlling the perspective in your photos lets you tell the story your way.  

Here's a link to an entertaining demonstration that shows how choosing your lens setting can dramatically effect the look of people in your photos.

I encourage you to experiment with your zoom lens the next time you take photos.  You'll be surprised at how different your photos look when you pay attention to perspective.