Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Reminder of Spring

A Reminder of Spring
Originally uploaded by Webb Sight
Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundiflora)

I was browsing my images files and came across this shot I made this spring in the Fort Worth Botanic Garden. The Springtime morning light was falling perfectly and spectacularly on this blossom.

While this photo is nothing special it brightened this winter day for me and I thought I'd pass it along.

Spring is just 3 months away. Hang in there.

(image: BW10839)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Fall Morning in the Garden

A good friend and photo buddy mentioned going to the Japanese Garden in the Fort Worth Botanic Garden and, boy, am I glad I went. The Japanese maples and the cottonwoods were showing off their colors in one of the best Fall color seasons we've had around here in years.

Thanks Mark.
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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Just Waiting

Shiloh - Quiet Now
Originally uploaded by webbimage
While spending some time back in my boyhood home in Northern Mississippi during the first week of November, I made time to visit Shiloh National Military Park. It had been more than 35 years since my last visit and I wanted to reacquaint myself with the battlefield.

The Fall weather was perfect and the color of the trees added beauty to what is now a serene place to visit. On April 6th and 7th of 1862 it was not so serene. More than 30,000 men were wounded or killed in the battles that took place here. The casualties of the first day alone (23,746) were greater than all the wars America had fought to that time.

This visit to Shiloh is an example of how we are sometimes surprised by beauty as the most incongruous of elements combine to make a striking photograph. In this case, the foliage caught my eye first as I neared the spot. As I got closer, the clean, strong lines of the cannon and the rough texture of the split rail fence provided a stark contrast to the soft beauty of the trees and the clear blue sky.

It was a scene just waiting for me that day.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Sometimes You Have to "Settle"

It had been a long afternoon waiting for the Apache attack helicopter to take off from its public display in Southlake, Texas. I had talked to the pilots and I knew just what shot I wanted. They were going to lift off, hover a bit, give the "thumbs up" and then move off.

It was that "thumbs up" shot I was waiting for and prepared for. I had the polarizer on and adjusted for the angle of the shot so I could cancel the reflections in the canopy that might obscure the pilots. I had the ISO set high enough to allow a good, quick shutter speed with a moderate f/stop to give me the depth of field I wanted, etc.

Well, as we know "the best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry." In this case, there was a malfunction in the helicopter that meant the 5:00 p.m. departure was going to be delayed. When it became 7:00 p.m. and the mechanics still hadn't arrived, I knew it was very likely going to be almost completely dark when the helicopter took off.

I started looking around for another shot and tried to work a bit of the sunset color into the frame. I couldn't get the color on the horizon in the frame (we were in a supermarket parking lot) but as I walked around the aircraft looking for a shot I saw the sunset lighting up the underside of one of the main rotor blades. I thought that glow with a silhouette of the rotor head might just be interesting. Snap! Here's the result. Click on the image for a larger view.

Nope it's not as exciting as shot of a pilot giving me the "thumbs up" as the aircraft flies by but I'll settle for this one. (THIS time.)

Image © 2008 Bill Webb, All Rights Reserved
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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Dawn's Early Light (Serendipity)

Well, I was in my home town of Ashland, MS, and was out early photographing an old house in the dawn light. As I was finishing up with shots of the house and lawn I turned and saw the sunlight striking this decorative well covered with vines and festooned with a small American flag.

Sometimes luck is more important than planning (but not often). And to be honest, had I not planned to be on site for the dawn light I wouldn't have "lucked" into this shot.

For those of you who might have spotted the figurine hidden by some of the vines and part of the flag, please read nothing more than "decoration" into the placement. There is no social or racial statement at work here. The people who own the house do not have any racial prejudices that I have ever witnessed.

Image © 2008 Bill Webb, All Rights Reserved
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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Tripod and Ball Head - Don't Waste Your Money

OK. I bet you're thinking I'm going to tell you not to spend the money on a tripod and head. You're thinking that with all of the Vibration Reduction (VR) technology and the higher ISO it's just not necessary to buy and carry a tripod. WRONG! What I'm going to tell you is to spend MORE money than you probably want to on that tripod.

When I write "Don't waste your money" I mean don't go for something cheap that "will do an OK job." THAT is wasting money. I know this from experience.

Like many people, I went to a discount store, browsed around and bought the typical cheap tripod, usually a video model with pan/tilt for less than a hundred dollars or so and felt like a pro. Now, it DID help steady the camera - as long as I was using small, light lenses and not paying attention to how the wind caused it to shake it a bit. It was better than hand-held but only marginally so.

Then as I got a bit better and more conscientious I thought I needed a better set up and went for a $200 tripod with a built-in ball head and added a $50 quick release. That lasted a while but still wasn't really as steady as it should be.

Another iteration of all of this - now spending maybe another $350 for a reasonably good travel weight/size tripod and head. This was actually working OK until I finally put a 300mm f/2.8 lens on my camera and tried to use that tripod. NO WAY it would hold it up and keep it steady.

So, where are we right now? Let's see - I've spent about $650 or so and still I don't have a tripod that works properly.

It's that $650 I want you not to waste. Here's what I recommend instead. Just go ahead and get the RIGHT tripod, ball-head and quick release up front; before you waste the $650; before you finally come to the conclusion that to do this photography thing right you really DO need that pro-level tripod. Do it right up front. Spend your money wisely instead and you'll never look back.

Here's what I recommend: (2007 prices and models)

  1. Gitzo GT3540LS Carbon Fiber 6X tripod - $650
  2. Really Right Stuff BH-55 LR ball head - $455
  3. Really Right Stuff L-bracket for your particular body - $140
(The L-bracket is not absolutely necessary but once you've used one you'll never be without one on your camera.)

This equipment will hold your camera and heavy lenses rock solid. Yes, it's heavier than a small travel tripod set-up but it's not so heavy that you can't hike with it. I do.

Stop and look around when you are at a spot with other photographers. Look at what the serious guys are using. Notice what looks like a really sturdy tripod. Odds are it will be similar to what I've described in my list. Ask them about what they're using. Get their advice and suggestions. That's what I did and made notes, came home and did my research on the net and selected the gear above.

NOTE: When you've settled on what seems right for you, take some measurements from your eye-level to the floor/ground while you are standing upright. Then measure the height of your camera from its baseplate to viewfinder. Next, look at the specs for the ball-head you've chosen and see how high it is. Add the ball-head height to the height of the camera from its baseplate to the view finder. Then subtract this total measurement from that eye-to-floor measurement you took. This will tell you how high your tripod should be when fully extended so that you don't have to stoop over to use it.

Bottom Line: Don't waste you money on a tripod; rather, spend it wisely on the right equipment. It will last for many years. And when you're ready to get the equipment you need, and if you're in North Texas, head over to Fort Worth Camera where you'll find the right gear, great support and good prices.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Snake River Overlook

Snake River_BW12221
Originally uploaded by webbimage
Grand Teton National Park, WY - Snake River Overlook

When Ansel Adams photographed from here in the 1940's (I think) he didn't have the stand of evergreens blocking his view of the Snake River below. It is still a great photo opportunity spot and next to Oxbow Bend, probably the most popular photo spot in the Tetons. It is a very easy location to get to with a large paved parking area, concrete walkways and a nice stone retaining wall that can provide a few feet of additional elevation.

For a sunset shot get there a hour or so before sunset so you can get a spot up next to (or on top of) the wall. Walk to the right (the North) along the wall from the parking lot to get the best view.

To keep detail in the clouds, this took a cir. polarizer, 2-stop GND and -1.0 ev compensation. Next time I am there I will work on a bracketed set of exposures that I can use with Photomatix Pro and Adobe Photoshop CS3.

This was taken with a Nikon D200 using a Tokina AT-X Pro DX 12-24 mm ultra wide zoom.

Snake River_BW12221

Monday, July 14, 2008

Comin' Out

Comin' Out
Originally uploaded by webbimage
Saturday Night Rodeo at the Stockyards Coliseum in Fort Worth, Texas.

This bronc had a different idea about what was supposed to happen. I like the expressions on everyone in the scene, especially the horse. Due to the skill of the wranglers, neither the horse nor the rider were injured; which is remarkable when you look at how the horse's foreleg is caught between the slats of the chute.

This shot is a good example of how the more expensive f/2.8 lens can get an image when a lesser lens just can't do it. This was taken with a Nikon D200 using a Nikkor 300 mm f2.8 lens, 1/125 @ f/2.8 and ISO 1000. The distance was all the way across the rodeo arena, using available light. No VR on this lens so 1/125 is pretty darn good for a 300 mm lens and no tripod. (I was using a monopod and trying to brace against the railings but it was still not too stable. I pushed everything I could to the max to freeze action as best I could. With a D300 or D3 or D700 I might have been able to push the ISO a bit higher but those weren't around when I took this shot.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

McKittrick Canyon Trail

McKittrick Canyon Trail
Originally uploaded by webbimage
Guadalupe Mountains National Park - If your image of Texas is flat, hot and brown, then just check out how it looks in this canyon in the Fall. Located about 100 miles east of El Paso and about 30 miles south of Carlsbad, NM, this is an area not to be missed.

It was a VERY windy day so I boosted the ISO to allow a small aperture for DOF with a fast enough shutter speed to eliminate the blur caused by the wind blowing things around.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Glenfinnan Monument at Loch Shiel

This is a shot of the Jacobite memorial at Glenfinnan, Scotland on the shore of Loch Shiel. This spot is marked in history as the place the final Jacobite rebellion started from, after the defiant raising of the Royal Standard on August 19th 1745. Prince Charlie managed to inspire the confidence and support of the loyal clansmen and it was here they rallied in support of the Stewart monarchy.

I've posted this as another example of what HDR can do to allow us to render a scene with way too much dynamic range (too wide a range from the darkest to the lightest parts of the scene). HDR lets us combine a bracketed set of exposures into one image that more closely matches what our eyes can see but cameras just can't record.

I've read that our eyes can see a range of about 23 f/stops or exposure values while a camera can record only 6 to 7. The pupils of our eyes adjust to the light level as we gaze across a scene and we see the detail in the shadows and in the highlights. The camera sensor just can't adjust the way it records the scene from pixel to pixel but must pick an average value for the entire sensor to use. HDR processing takes a range of exposures and combines them to allow a wider range of values to be captured. For instance, to record the hills, the sky and clouds would be blown out or to record the clouds properly, the hills and trees would be almost black. HDR takes the best exposed parts of the images and uses them to construct one final image that matches what we see.

5-exposure (2/3 ev step) HDR via Photomatix Pro

Luckenbach, Texas (Pop. 3)

Luckenbach is an almost mythical (and mystical) place not far from Fredericksburg, TX. Made popular in the song by Waylon Jennings.

The chorus sums it up:
Let's go to Luckenbach Texas with Waylon and Willie and the boys
This successful life we're livin' got us fueding like the Hatfield and McCoys
Between Hank Williams pain songs, Newberry's train songs and blue eyes cryin' in the rain
Out in Luckenbach Texas ain't nobody feelin' no pain.

It's worth the trip to the area to visit Luckenbach and spend some time in the store/post office/saloon/etc. The day I was there an impromptu song session started up back in the saloon part of the building. It made for a very enjoyable afternoon.

This photo is a High Dynamic Range (HDR) processed image created by running a 5-shot (2/3 ev step) bracketed set of exposures through Photomatix Pro.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

After the Click - Screen and Print

OK, we've been to the great location, used that gear we bought, weathered the cold and wind waiting for the light to enfold the scene, framed, focused, pressed the shutter release and captured that sunrise shot. Now we want to share the image with friends and possibly clients. How do we best take advantage of the viewing options?

Even if we print some of our photos, most of our images will be viewed on a computer screen; either our own or someone else's via our blog or website or photo-sharing sites like flickr, Webshots, and others. The thing to remember with screen images is that you really don't need all of those 10 or 12 Mega pixels for the image to look great on the screen. Computer screens just don't have the resolution to use all of those pixels so don't waste upload time and storage space for those shots that are going to be viewed on screen.

Use your favorite post-processing program to save the photo at 72 dpi (no more than 150 dpi), with a maximum height of 680 pixels (let the width scale accordingly) and use a JPEG quality of 8 - 10 and the screen image will be sharp while keeping the files size manageable. Even free programs like Picasa2 have the tools to reduce the file size of your photos. Save the reduced size image with a new name so you preserve your original. I usually just append "-scrn" to the original file name so I can locate the original (full-sized) image and the screen image easily.

(A future post will go into how to set up to print. This one is at a much higher level.)

Here's where all of those pixels come into play. Now we need to use 240 to 300 dpi (or pixels) resolution and go for the best we can get.

Do we print at home or send the photos off to a lab or use a local print house? That depends upon how you're going to use the prints. (Confession - I rarely, if ever, print at home.)

Snapshots - For many of us, using WalMart or Costco to print those snapshots we took is the most cost effective way to do it. It may be fun to see them coming off your own printer but it's going to cost you more that way.

Display prints - I find that the commercial print houses do an excellent job. I use Mpix for most of my prints that I mount, mat, frame and sell. They have always done an excellent job; prices are reasonable; packaging is the best anywhere and turn-around time is immediate. There are various papers, including metallic (great for some landscapes) and other products are available. One downside to Mpix is that your stored photos "expire" from their database if not printed regularly. That means yo have to upload the original again before you can order. Minor annoyance but an annoyance , nonetheless.

Another good printer is Costco. Costco's prices are REALLY reasonable for large prints and I can get 11x14's in about an hour after uploading from my computer to their printer at a nearby store. I have been very pleased with their prints and really like that I can download the printer drivers for the exact printer at the store I use and for the type of paper, as well. These factor into the proofing process within Photoshop and make for a better final product.

Proof print - If you are working directly with a professional commercial printer and have a good large format (13x19) printer then it makes sense to make your proof print so that you can show the printer what the images should look like before they do a print run. Most of us don't fit into this category but that's the main instance I see the need for a really good printer of my own.

What are your thoughts?

Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Body or the Lens?

This one is easy to state but difficult to execute.

(FYI - I followed the lens advice from Kevin Brown, a photographer friend of mine, and have not been sorry. See his work at

Put your money in really good, fast lenses. Make them a priority over the camera body. Here are my thoughts on why.

  • A good lens will be fast which means a large aperture (e. g., f/2.8 or larger) so it can gather more light and allow more latitude with shutter speed and/or ISO settings.
  • A good fast, zoom lens will maintain a constant aperture over the entire zoom range. That is a 70-200 mm, f/2.8 zoom will be capable of f/2.8 even at 200mm. A lens that is characterized by an aperture rating of something like f/3.4-f/5.6 means that when it is zoomed to 200 mm its largest aperture will be f/5.6, much slower than the constant aperture of the fast lens.
  • A good lens will be well made and will be durable; lasting for many years (easily 8-10 years). A camera body will be superseded with the newer model in about 18 months but even if you skip a generation you'll still be trading bodies in 3 years.
  • It doesn't matter how many mega-pixels your camera body has, unless the image delivered to those pixels is tack sharp your photo won't be the best it could be. It might be "good enough" but is that what you really want?
  • Ditto on distortion (barrel and/or pin cushion)
OK, now for the "Con" part

  • No one fast lens will cover a REALLY wide zoom range. It is likely that you will need at least three to go from extreme wide angle (12-24 mm), to standard range (24-70 mm) and reasonable telephoto range (70-200 mm)
  • A good lens is expensive. Most fast lenses in the above-mentioned ranges will be in the neighborhood of $1,800 each.
  • These lenses will also be HEAVY.
  • A body with that fast 70-200 mm telephoto will require a more stable (heavier) tripod and a larger capacity (heavier) ball head. The necessary tripod and ball head will set you back about $1,000. I use a Gitzo 3540 LS tripod and Really Right Stuff's largest ball head. (I'll blog about the right tripod/ball head combination in a later posting.)

Some practical notes.

  • This stuff adds up: Body $5,000, Tripod & Head $1,000, 3 fast lenses @ $1,800 each $5,400 - easily $11,000 to $12,000 not counting back packs, strobe, extra batteries, etc.
  • If you are just starting out and can't afford all of this then go for a good body instead of the pro version. That is buy the new Nikon D300 at $1,700 instead of the pro D3 at around $5.000. The image processing engine is the same and many of the capabilities are there. I use the D300 because that allowed me to put the extra $$ into 2 of those fast lenses.
  • Get a lens that will suit what you are doing but be careful NOT to go for the cheapest. A great all-around lens is the Nikon 18-200 VR zoom. It is not a fast lens by the above standards but the VR helps. At around $700 or so it will serve for most things (except macros) that you will want to shoot. Check out lens reviews at Ken Rockwell (good common sense advice) and dpreview (deep technical analyses). I've said before that I LOVE this lens.
  • I haven't bought that fast Nikon super wide angle lens yet. I am using the Tokina 12-24 Pro DX f/4 constant aperture and have had great results.

Bottom Line: In the long run you want to build your equipment around good, fast lenses with the camera body being secondary. Those lenses are going to still be giving great results long after you've traded camera bodies several times. It doesn't matter how expensive or feature-rich the camera body is if you don't get the optimum image to the sensor.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Make That Wind Work For Ya'

OK, I know I said that my next post was going to be about where to put the $$; camera body or lenses but I wanted to get this one posted for memorial Day.

Sometimes we just have to take what Mother nature throws at us. I was out taking shots around dawn on Saturday and it was REALLY windy, as it often is here in North Texas. I wanted a shot of the red, white and blue bunting at the station for the Grapevine Vintage Rail Road but the wind had it whipping something fierce. So, I took advantage of that and set my camera to use rear-curtain-sync flash. The exposure was 1 second at f/20. The long exposure allowed the camera to capture the movement of the bunting and the flash froze the motion at the end of the exposure and added the in-focus portion to the image - visible most easily with the stars.

This shot seems kind of fitting for memorial Day.

Here's another shot using similar technique.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

What Lense(s) Do You REALLY Need?

Disclaimer: Written by a Nikon user from that point of view.

As DSLRs become ever better regarding their noise handling abilities at high ISOs (> 800) and with the proliferation of shake cancelling technology (be it Nikon's VR, Canon's IS, etc.) we can get by (i. e., take good photos) with lenses that a few years ago would not be considered suitable for "pros" to use. Bumping the ISO to 800-1600 or higher is possible (the Nikon noise reduction DOES work superbly well) and the VR can add 2 to 3 stops of margin. Given that, do we NEED to drop the coin required to add a "fast" lens or two or three to our gear?

A typical fast lens with a constant aperture of f/2.8 for example will cost in the near-$2,000 range for something 200 mm and below. Are those lenses really necessary or worth it with the other technology that we have available to us?

As usual, the answer "depends."

I use a Nikon D300 and usually have attached to it Nikon's 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 G ED-IF AF-S VR DX Zoom Nikkor. (OK, the only important part of all of that alphabet soup is the 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 VR part.) This is hands-down the best lens I have ever used from a convenience standpoint. Further, the images are tack sharp and the VR works like magic. It is much lighter than either the fast 28-70 mm, f/2.8 or the 70-200 mm f/2.8 (which, to cover not even quite all of the same zoom range, I would have to carry both).

The beauty of the 18-200 is that I can leave it attached and be sure that I can capture virtually anything that comes up during the day, even without a tripod. This is the ultimate "walking around" lens. Get one.

There are times though when that lens won't do it. Consider the following situation.

I live near Fort Worth, Texas, and I was shooting an indoor rodeo at night down at the Stockyards. I was using an f/2.8 lens with a monopod and was able to shoot, using available light, across the arena. To capture the action I couldn't go too low on shutter speed. Most of the night I was shooting at around 1/80 with ISO was at 800. I was pushing the envelope about every way I could. If I had been using my 18-200 zoomed all the way in the maximum aperture would have been f/5.6 and I would have needed 2 additional stops to capture the shots but the aperture of the 18-200 was maxed out so the only thing left was ISO. The 2 stops would mean that ISO had to go up to 3200 and the noise, even with high ISO NR, could become unmanageable. Without the additional light gathering available with the f/2.8 lens I couldn't have gotten the shots.

That said, we each have to judge for ourselves whether the extra cost of a "pro" lens is a good value.

More to follow on this. Next time I'll discuss where to put the most $$ - lens or body.

Thoughts on Making Photography Your Business

This is harder than I thought it would be. By that I mean, turning a photo hobby into a business.

I knew about the technical side of it all for years. Apertures, shutter speeds, their inter-relationship, ISO/ASA, composing a shot, spot metering, depth of field all were well understood. People liked my photos. I saw photos for sale and knew I could do as well or better. This was just not hard for me.

Satisfying the IRS that I have a photography business wasn't too hard either. These things were necessary: registering with the county/state as a "dba" sole proprietor business entity, setting up a separate bank account for the business, marketing/promoting the business (web site), getting a federal tax ID (so you don't use your SSN), getting a state sales tax permit, becoming a member of a professional organization associated with the business (in my case NANPA) and tracking all expenses and income carefully for tax purposes.

But the real BUSINESS part of it I greatly underestimated.

Setting up a website and deciding what you want to sell and for how much is straightforward but sales are going to be VERY slow that way unless you can get some visibility and pop up on the first page of results on Google or some other search engine.

Making a profitable business out of landscape photography is almost a non-starter. EVERYBODY is a landscape photographer. I read this many times in various magazines and web sites but I thought the power and reach of the web would mean that I could generate a stream of income but it just ain't so. Portrait photography or commercial photography are much more likely to generate income near term.

My hat is off to those landscape photographers who print, mount, mat and sleeve a few hundred images and go to art fairs, set up their tents and sit waiting for sales, hoping to cover expenses and many times having to pack it all up and take it back home. Some are successful. Many are not.

I'm not giving up but I've got to do something different. I'll write about it.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Here I Go

For most of my adult years (I am 60, closing on 61) I have been a fairly early adopter of things technological. I had a Sinclair computer (remember the one with the cassette drive for storage) , bought a TRS-80 for a project at work (telecommunications network element design) had my own Apple-II Plus (with the added RAM to get me to 64 K!!), did a lot of programming in Basic, etc.

That "jump right in" attitude extended into photography when digital cameras came out. When I got out of the workday world I decided to launch a business based on my hobby of photography and set up a website to offer photos.

So I'm not usually afraid to try new things but doing a blog has always been a bit intimidating. More so, I guess, due to the demands of having something worthwhile to say rather than any fear of getting a blog set up and running (it's very easy).

As the description of this blog states, this is to be a collection of thoughts, musings, facts and frustrations associated with my experiences in things photographic. I'll discuss (and invite comment on) cameras, lenses, what works for me and what doesn't, Lightroom, Bridge, Photoshop, Nikon Capture NX, computers and most anything else that we touch in the pursuit of capturing and perfecting digital images.

Come on along but I ask for just a bit of patience as I work this out and hit my stride.