The Digital Photo Guy

Score! Sky Rock & 13 Moons Petroglyphs

by on May.29, 2014, under Articles, Composition, Monday Morning Tips

I Found Both Sky Rock and 13 Moons

I’ve been in Bishop, CA for about 2 weeks for Mules Days (more on that later) and to try to find Sky Rock. In the process, I had hoped to find other interesting sites/subjects for future photo expeditions in the Eastern Sierra. Some days, Lady Luck just showers you with her kindness!

Sky Rock is one of the few upward facing large Native American petroglyphs (petroglyphs are carved into stone while pictographs are painted onto stone.) It’s location, while not secret, is guarded by the locals who don’t want to see more artifacts stolen or vandalized. Several years ago, huge pieces were actually sawn out and stolen. The feds recovered the petroglyphs but damage to the original sites has been irreparable.

After studying many, many photos of Sky Rock and triangulating known landmarks visible in the photos, I narrowed down the search to an area about 300 square meters. I figured it would take 2-3 days of clambering over boulders the size of my RV to find it but Lady Luck smiled upon me. It took longer to drive to the area in my 4WD Tracker than to find it. After parking the Tracker, I flipped a coin and headed off in an arbitrary direction. Hauling my butt up a huge boulder, I saw Sky Rock within 30 minutes. Of course, finding it and getting to it are two different things. Once I got to it, I couldn’t climb up the 10 foot, 70 degree rock face. Actually, I could have but the price of failure was quite high so I made the strategic decision to retreat to Bishop in search of some climbing advice.

Ty at Eastside Sports in Bishop was a fountain of knowledge, delivered in a low-key, easygoing manner. He answered all my newbie questions about rock climbing without laughing for asking, “Are ropes marked so I know which way is UP?” or “After I climb up, do I always have to climb DOWN?” I walked out with a pair of Five.Ten approach shoes recommended by Ty. If you’re ever contemplating rock climbing, get the right shoes! The shoes recommended by Ty made me feel like I had monkey feet. They gripped the rock surface and gave me extra confidence.

SkyRock-101 (2)    SkyRock-102 (2)    SkyRock-105    SkyRock-106    SkyRock-103    SkyRock-104

The first 2 images are HDR of Sky Rock with Mt Tom (I think) in the background. Both were made with a Canon 5D MkII and 17-40/4L on a Gitzo 1228 tripod and Cullmann ballhead. The first is my favorite. The only thing I couldn’t control was the weather so I had to make do with thin, wispy clouds. I hope to return in the fall when there should be a better chance for storm clouds and dramatic lighting.

The 3rd photo is 13 Moons. I hadn’t spent as much time researching 13 Moons and didn’t have much hope of finding it but read a tip on one site that proved to be just what I needed. After finding Sky Rock, I was able to quickly find 13 Moons (after wasting 30 minutes looking in the wrong direction!) By this time, I was worn out so I hiked out to 13 Moons with only my Canon EOS-M. This is the only photo that came close to not being a snapshot.

The 4th photo is what I call Redneck Rock ‘Riting. It’s near 13 Moons and, on a quick glance, might be mistaken for more petroglyphs. However, close inspection shows the center of each mark is blackened with gun powder burns where some yahoo shot a pattern into the rock. This sort of thing makes me a strong believer in forced sterilization and capital punishment for idiots.

The 5th photo shows the price of failure in rock climbing. It’s only about 6 feet down but falling would probably break a few bones and death wouldn’t be out of the question. I hope to have more dramatic photos next year when I visit Toroweap after taking climbing lessons. I want to hang over the edge of a 3500 ft drop into the Grand Canyon to make photos with a different sight line.

The last photo is Mary climbing up through a hole between 3 rocks. She said she used muscles she had forgotten she had! This was on the way back from Sky Rock to our Tracker when we zigged where we should have zagged. The area is NOT for the directionally challenged.

Bishop Mule Days

This was a blast! I found mules, donkeys and burros to be much more intelligent and interesting than horses. The best explanation I got was that horses are like dogs, they can be trained to do just about anything but mules are like cats, they want to know what’s in it for them! All the photos I made were pretty much snapshots so they haven’t yet been processed. If I find any that have merit, I’ll post it in the future.

Cerro Gordo Ghost Town

Located about 75 miles south of Bishop, Cerro Gordo is an old silver mining town at 8000 feet after a 7 mile, 4WD road. There weren’t many interesting shots this time of year but I hope to return in late November when the caretaker says first snow usually occurs. Anyone who wants to join me, you know the drill.

All in all, it’s been a terrific trip so far. BTW, I also learned a new word from the ranger at the Bishop station. He said they avoid giving out too much info about the location of petroglyphs and other cultural artifacts to “chippies” because of the damage and littering they cause. I, of course, asked, “What the heck are chippies.” He replied, “Children of hippies.” Seems they think it’s cool to commune with nature as long as they can do it their way with bottles of sports drink, boxes of energy bars (granola, of course) and lots of “good stuff” to smoke, carelessly discarding matches along the way.

Wickenburg Photo Group Model Shoot

FYI, I have a model signed up to pose for us on Saturday, July 19 from 9AM to noon at the Wickenburg Art Center. We’re going for a rockabilly style (if you don’t know what that is, this may not be your thing) and cost is $20 per photographer, 6 ‘togs max. Send me an e-mail if you want to attend.

West of Center Presentation

Assuming my submissions are accepted, I’ll present a 3 hour lecture at the Desert Caballeros Western Museum on Saturday, August 9 from 1PM to 4PM. My topic this year will be “Compositional Style.” This presentation diverges from the usual “Rule of Thirds,” “Golden Mean” and other composition “rules.” In fact, I’ll start with the premise that composition has no rules. I’ll show how my own style evolved and how you can define your own style by noting what influences your photos. Hope to see you there.

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More Bisbee, AZ

by on Apr.27, 2014, under Articles, Lightroom, Monday Morning Tips, Photo Editing

Bisbee, AZ, a Cool, Hippie-Dippie Town

In January, I posted about Bisbee after my first trip to this cool, quirky town in SE Arizona. We recently went back to meet birder friends in Sierra Vista, AZ. Previously, I only thought of SV as home to Fort Huachuca (Wa-choo-ka) which, back in the early 1900s, was headquarters to the famed Buffalo Soldiers. Today, it’s HQ to the US Army Network Enterprise Technology Command, aka NETCOM. I’m guessing Buffalo Soldiers are rolling over in their graves knowing that their warrior history is being diluted by Geeks In Fatigues!

Birding isn’t my thing so I took the opportunity to drive to Bisbee two days in a row to photograph this fun, weird, interesting, unique hippie-dippie town. Here are some of my favorites. This time, I refrained from slathering on too much Topaz Labs effects and tried to let the photos speak for themselves. Can you identify the two photos that fell victim to Topaz Labs Adjust?

Bisbee-102   Bisbee-101   Bisbee-103   Bisbee-105   Bisbee-106   Bisbee-107   Bisbee-108   Bisbee-109   Bisbee-110   Bisbee-111   Bisbee-104   Bisbee-112

The Bisbee 1000 referenced in the 3rd photo from the end is a crazy race held in October. Contestants run up 1034 steps at 9 different venues around town. It’s a serious cardio workout but to make it even more interesting about 12 years ago, they added the Iceman Challenge. Replicating the ice delivery man of yore, contestants race up 155 steps carrying a 10 lbs block of ice with antique ice tongs.

All photos were made with either a Canon 5D Mk II and 24-105/4L or Canon EOS-M with 22/2.0 (I’m really beginning to love this camera.) I used my lightweight Gitzo 1228 with a Cullman ballhead for most photos. On the first day, the sky was overcast and the light was beautiful. The 2nd day was the exact opposite with bright, harsh light. All photos were processed in LR4 with most simply being cropped, levels, sat/contrast and sharpening. Two photos were further processed in Topaz Labs Adjust 5.

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Hula Hoops & Hot Ladies at the Garden

by on Apr.07, 2014, under gear, Lightroom, Monday Morning Tips, Photo Editing, Photoshop CS2/4

Night Shoot of the Challenging Variety

Yes, the four co-founders of Heady Hoop Tribe (HHT) are attractive young ladies and all are very talented but those aren’t the only reasons they’re hot. After 30 minute sets of dancing, prancing, jumping and cavorting with a variety of LED props, they’re literally HOT as in working up a sweat and panting like a race horse. At my age, it was the only way I was going to have a young, good looking woman sweating and panting next to me! It was fun to shoot subjects far removed from my usual fare of birds, critters, landscapes and old rusty stuff.

HeadyHoop_web-119   HeadyHoop_web-117   HeadyHoop_web-106   HeadyHoop_web-116   HeadyHoop_web-107   HeadyHoop_web-110

A friend in the Wickenburg Photography Group invited me to be 2nd shooter for this gig which included free admission to the Phoenix Botanical Garden Chihuly Exhibit. The women were great to work with and took direction well. It was fun to work with young people again. The most challenging aspect was getting the exposure right without including bystanders in the background.

I didn’t know much about the assignment until we got to the Desert Botanical Garden. It turned out the performers were among the crowd, a’la street performers. In such situations, if you give the crowd an inch, they’ll fill it two and three deep with spectators. I went with my 5D MkII and 50/1.4 so I could get in close. I wished I had brought my 17-40/f4 but you know what wishing gets you! To avoid shadows across the neck and below the chin, I handheld my flash low on an off-camera shoe cord (OCSC) to throw the light upwards. That also guaranteed no red-eye issues. Focus concerned me but I ran the numbers through a Depth of Field Calculator and felt comfortable with DOF at 6 to 10 feet. I culled about 33% OOF (out of focus) on my first review but I was happy with the results. With shutter speeds ranging from 0.4 to 0.6 seconds, the camera was on my small Gitzo 1228 tripod but I also experimented with handholding. In those photos, the stationary background lights are blurred. The trick was using a long enough shutter speed to capture lots of action without completely blowing out the LEDs. The flash was strictly to freeze the performer.

I set my Canon 550EX to Manual Mode and dialed in between 1/8 to 1/4 power depending on the distance to the subject. There was a certain amount of “By guess & by golly” to dial in the proper power but, after the first 30 minute set, I felt pretty comfortable making adjustments “on the fly.” By midnight the troupe had performed 4 sets with 30-minute breaks between each set. In the future, I’ll use my cheap inexpensive LumoPro LP120 ($130, no longer available) because mechanical switches are much easier to adjust and re-adjust “on-the-fly.” The eagle-eyed will notice the flash cast harsh shadows but, I hope, judicious cropping and dodge/burn minimized them.

All photos were processed through LR4 but beyond Straighten/Crop, Levels/Saturation and minor Dodge/Burn, all these photos are pretty much SOOC (straight out of camera.) I ended up with about 24 keepers out of 167 frames, a 14% keeper rate so I can’t complain. Here are some more

HeadyHoop_web-118   HeadyHoop_web-114   HeadyHoop_web-113   HeadyHoop_web-102   HeadyHoop_web-120   HeadyHoop_web-109

Next time, I’ll post an article about the headshots WPG (Wickenburg Photography Group) did for the local police and fire departments. I’ll cover gear, set-up, posing and post-processing.

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Fire! and a Bunch of Dead Bodies

by on Mar.18, 2014, under Lightroom, Monday Morning Tips, Photo Editing

Fire!

OK, so the fire was a controlled burn training exercise but it was still fun to get in close and play PJ (photojournalist.) The original destination was the Old Miners’ Cemetery in Jerome, AZ, a hippy-dippy artists’ colony in a historic  mountain-top mining community. Jerome, like Bisbee, AZ, is a mining town that has successfully reinvented itself after the mines were tapped out and closed in the early 1950s. Today, Jerome is a cool little town filled with artists’ galleries, restaurants, coffee shops and tourism money. It’s a great example of a town that moved into the future rather than dry up and die like so many small towns that cling to a forgotten and, ultimately, insignificant, past.

OK, pontificating over, on to the the photos. I saw the black smoke from the Old Miners’ Cemetery and immediately knew it was a structure fire. In old mining towns like Jerome, fire is an ever present danger so I knew the local FD would pull out all stops. I hustled over there only to discover it was a training event. Still, I was able to get in close for some great PJ shots. In fact, I was so close that when the wind suddenly shifted, hot cinders rained down on me burning my shutter finger.

Jerome-103   Jerome-104   Jerome-105

Jerome-106   Jerome-101

The first shot is just as I got there. I was using my Canon 5D Mark II with the 24-105/4L for landscapes at the cemetery and didn’t have time to swap out for my Canon 7D so I went with what I had ready. The moral of the story is, “Don’t over think the scene, just start shooting.” This was when the fire was at its tallest and wildest. After I got several keepers “in the can” (does anyone still say that?) I moved positions to get the old mine head in the frame (2nd shot) to make it look like a mine fire. As I was taking the shot of the bearded FF (#3) I noticed the second hose handler was a woman. I know there are female FF but this was the first time I had photographed one in action. The only way I could tell she was female was when her ponytail flipped out from under her helmet. On the last two photos, I briefly considered moving in front of the FF to get their faces but discretion won out. Getting old certainly takes a toll on my spontaneous stupidity!

Jerome, AZ Old Miners’ Cemetery

The real reason for being in Jerome was to photograph the Old Miners’ Cemetery. This is an old, semi-cared for cemetery that seems to have been last used around 1916. The rest of the group met up at 7:30AM but I wanted to catch the first light so I got there at 6:30AM. There’s a reason they call it the “Golden Hour.” Unfortunately, it was a typical clear Arizona day so the “Golden Hour” only lasted about 15 minutes. The cemetery scenes were perfect for BW conversions. I started out using Topaz Labs B&W Effects but found I could get faster and better results by first converting in LR4 and adding the finishing touches with TL B&W Effects.

Jerome-201   Jerome-204   Jerome-203   Jerome-202

In the first image, I used the Transparency slider in BWE (B&W Effects) to bring back a hint of the underlying colors. To do this, you have to do the whole conversion in BWE because, obviously, if it had been converted in LR4, there wouldn’t be any underlying color to bring back. The remaining three were converted in LR4 and tweaked in BWE. I don’t recall the exact steps but I usually started with one of Topaz Labs presets.

All photos were made with a Canon 5D MkII and 24-105/4L on my Gitzo 3530LS with a Markins ballhead. Now, I know some of you will automatically wrinkle your nose at the thought of lugging around a tripod but, trust me, there’s no way you’re going to be making good photos at Oh-Dark-Thirty without something to steady the camera.

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It’s A Beautiful Morning!

by on Feb.09, 2014, under Articles, gear, Lightroom, Meetup, Monday Morning Tips, Photo Editing

Junkyard Shoot

Yesterday, Saturday, Feb 8, I joined 20 other ‘togs from the Prescott Photography Club for a shoot at Reed’s Farm, a huge junkyard in Wittmann, AZ. The weather was beautiful and the junkyard was a target-rich environment. Not only did I meet a bunch of fun people but I also got a chance to put my new Canon EOS-M mirrorless through it’s paces. Later that evening, I got to hear Hal Linden (aka, Barney Miller) at a “Conversation with the Artist” event of the Del Webb Center in Wickenburg. All in all, it was a great day. Here are some photos from the junkyard as well as my review of the EOS-M.

Take a lot of water, it is the desert!   Loose nut in the junkyard   Pick up sticks   Last man standing   Contrast in colors   Arizona jackstands   Red   New life in an old car   Best buds soaking up some rays   I think I found the problem...   I told you not to use leaded gas!   One of these things is not the same as the others!   Hate it when I miss a shift.   Need some "drive"?

I used a combination of Lightroom 4, Topaz Labs Adjust 5 and Photomatix HDR software to process the above photos. Can you identify the 3 that are nearly straight-out-of-camera (SOOC) from the Canon EOS-M? If you have any questions about post-processing, post them here.

Canon EOS-M Mini-Review

I finally broke down and sprang for a mirrorless camera. For those who don’t pay attention to this stuff, a digital SLR (dSLR) has a mirror and pentaprism to project the image coming through the lens to the viewfinder in the correct orientation. As the shutter is released, the mirror springs (reflexes) out of the way and allows the image through to the sensor. Of course, by that definition, P&S cameras are also mirrorless but what sets them apart from mirrorless cameras are several critically important differences. First, mirrorless cameras have interchangeable lenses. On the Canon EOS-M, using an adapter, I can attach any of my current lenses to the M. HERE (8th image down) is a cool shot of an M on a SIGMonster and the next photo shows it on a Canon 800/5.6. More importantly, mirrorless cameras use much larger sensors. The M uses an APS-C sensor, probably the same one found on the latest batch of Canon Digital Rebels. The image quality is outstanding. P&S use tiny sensors that result in tiny photosites (light collecting buckets) which produce noisy (grainy) images. Finally, the M incorporates a Canon DIGIC 5 processor, the “brains” of the camera. This is Canon’s latest and greatest and is instrumental in producing that outstanding Canon image quality.

I was totally prepared to hate the M and send it back to B&H. Surprisingly, the M fits my hand and feels like a “real” camera.” Even my wife’s Canon G11 has always felt a bit cramped but not the M. The 22mm (35mm equivalent) kit lens is outstanding and the images are clear, crisp and fully detailed. When I receive the Fotodiox adapter, I plan to test my Sigma 10-20 (16-32 equivalent) as well as the 50/1.4 (80mm equiv) and 85/1.8 (136mm equiv.) I’ll post photos at that time.

All the negative press about slow focus on the M has been pretty much put to rest with the new firmware. Because the slow AF issues caused M sales to crash and burn at introduction, it’s now available for under $400 (I got mine for $379.) If you’re a “latest & greatest” type, the new Canon EOS-M2 has been announced and should be available in 3-6 months.

That’s not to say the M isn’t without compromises. The lack of a viewfinder is annoying in bright light. I’m sure there are aftermarket LCD hood, a’la Hoodman, but I’m too cheap for that. I’ll probably fashion something out of an index card. The LCD-based controls take a bit of getting used to but, surprisingly, I found it was very easy to manipulate after an hour or two with the camera. I really, really wish Canon had incorporated an articulating LCD. In the above photos, numbers 1 (crane), 4 (hubcaps) and 10 (steering wheel) are from the Canon EOS-M and, are, for the most part, SOOC. As always, all Comments are welcome.

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