Sunday, February 28, 2016

My Dream Camera

Desert Storm - Rosamond, California
ISO 160, f/4.9, 1/800, 100mm, Sony RX100 II.
Since I have a photography blog I get asked all sorts of photography related questions. One recent question was, "If you invented your dream camera what would it be?"

This is, obviously, a silly question. I'm not an engineer. I know nothing about electronics. I've never invented anything and I'm not likely going to invent a dream camera ever.

However, it did make me think that if I were ever consulted by a camera manufacturer what might I suggest. What would I want in a "dream" camera?

First, it would have to be pocketable. The smaller and lighter the better. That's why I use a Sony RX100 II. Because it's easy to carry around I actually have it with me when I need it. Being in the right place at the right time with a camera is half the battle. I've missed plenty of photographs because I didn't have a camera with me, so I like gear that's no big deal to carry around.

Second, it needs to be versatile. If the lens is fixed it better have a good focal-length range (maybe 18mm-150mm, if that's even possible in such a small package), otherwise it should be able to interchange lenses. It should have great image stabilization. It should be all-around quick. It should have a usable ISO of at least 3200.
Obscured By Sadness - Tehachapi, California
ISO 160, f/2.8, 1/400, 28mm, Sony RX100 II.
Next, the lens (or lenses) needs to be nothing short of fantastic. I should be able to get tack-sharp images with minimal distortions and chromatic aberrations, and have a large maximum aperture.

Also, I'd like to see a stacked sensor like Sigma's Foveon sensor, just without all of the quirks. I understand Canon will be releasing a camera with a stacked sensor soon, so I'm curious if they were able to accomplish this. There should be resolution equivalent to at least 24 megapixels in a bayer sensor. Dynamic range should be darn good.

It should go without saying, but I'll add it here, that the design of the camera should be functional and thoughtful. It seems like every camera has something about the design that leaves you scratching your head. Maybe the designers will get it right on my dream camera.

Finally, the camera should be reasonably priced. I don't want to spend more than a grand if I don't have to.

The perfect camera doesn't exist and will most likely never exist. Every camera has flaws. It's good to look past the problems that your gear has and just use it to the best of your ability. A lot of people chase the "perfect" camera and are constantly buying new gear and are constantly disappointed. Don't be one of those people.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Great Cell Phone Ripoff

The Closed Road - Fish Camp, California
Captured using a Nokia Lumia 1020.
Like a lot of people I do this once-every-other-year ritual of purchasing a discounted cell phone with a two-year contract. I've had my Nokia Lumia 1020 cell phone for two years now, and while it still works, the battery doesn't last as long as it once did and the phone has recently developed some minor quirks. So I figured it was time to think about getting a new one.

To my surprise one can no longer get a discounted cell phone with a two year contract. It's not offered anymore. Either pay full price upfront or pay full price in payments.

I've done this contract thing for the last 12 years. With the exception of the Lumia 1020 (which I paid $100 for), I've always picked a free phone--free with a two-year contract. Before the phone I have now I had a Samsung Galaxy S. Before that it was a Casio "dumb" phone.
Gas Station Sunset - Ehrenburg, Arizona
Captured using a Samsung Galaxy S.
Cell phone companies rip you off. They charge way too much for their services. It's expensive! I've always justified this with the discounted phone. Yes, they're ripping me off, but they gave me a $500 break on my phone. So it's more-or-less a wash, but the cell carriers are still coming out well ahead.

Now they're not offering discounts. Sure, they may have a couple of options that are slightly on sale, but most phones are going to run you between $600 and $900 dollars. Pay it all up front or pay it in small chunks over two years.

It's crazy because the phone companies have been increasing the cost of data by giving you less of it. Unlimited data was once common. Now most people are sharing two or three gigabytes between all of their phones, relying on WiFi to cover the rest.
Pool Chairs & Lake - Goodyear, Arizona
Captured using an old Casio cell phone.

To be fair, Verizon and Sprint are both still offering discounted phones with two-year contracts for existing customers only; however, this will be over before the year is over. Soon everyone will be in the same boat.

What are your choices then? You can shell out big bills for an overpriced phone that will likely have a cracked screen within the first year. Or you can buy a used phone and hope that it will last for more than a few months and that the previous owner didn't put any bad stuff on it. Or you can continue using your old phone until it dies. If you are poor the government will give you a "free" (paid by others) phone, at least here in America.

It's a shame that it has come to this. If it wasn't such a useful tool I'd strongly consider not having a cell phone at all, but that's not really an option. I just hate getting ripped off. I was already getting raked over the coals, and now it's even more so.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Don't Be A Slave To Other People's Opinions

Dry Rose - Tehachapi, California
Why do we worry so much about what other people think about us? Why should I care if you like what I'm doing? Why do a lot of likes or stars or comments on social media make me feel good and the lack of those things make me feel bad?

We often put other people's opinions above our own. I care what they think more than I care what I think. But this is putting our joy and satisfaction at the mercy of others. We are giving our freedom of self-assessment away. We become slaves to other people's opinions.

We all want to be a part of a community. We want reassurance that we are doing a good job. We want to be appreciated and liked and loved. We want to be respected and not thought of as an idiot or fool or novice.

If I look to others for approval I'm chaining myself to them. I'm allowing those people to dictate my creativity. They are controlling my mind and heart.

Take the photograph above, Dry Rose, for example. This dead rose that never got pruned and remained on the bush all winter is a landscape eyesore. Other people might have looked at it and thought it was ugly. Some probably wished that the gardener would just cut it off. But I saw the beauty in the dead flower. If I had listened to other people's opinions I likely wouldn't have captured it.

The background in that photograph is nothing more than a sheet of white printer paper that I handheld behind the flower. Many people would not consider that a good background, but in this image it worked because it needed the simplicity. It's a good idea to disregard what people think will or won't work and follow your own creative instincts instead.

I'm not suggesting that you block everyone out. You should find one or two or three people whose opinions you trust. Listen to those people and carefully consider their advice. Then follow your gut.

Those whose opinions you don't trust, especially the opinions of strangers on the internet, should be completely disregarded. Don't worry if they do or don't like your photography. Don't worry if you have a bunch of followers on social media or not. If you only get a couple of likes or stars or thumbs up on a photograph you shared, don't let that bother you. Don't be upset should a crummy snapshot of yours get more attention than your favorite photograph.

You should be doing this whole photography thing for yourself. This is your opportunity to express your creativity and to nonverbally speak through your images things that you cannot express with spoken or written words. Don't give that away to others, especially to strangers.

Don't be a slave to other people's opinions of you and your photography. Self-assess your own images and decide for yourself if they are any good. Don't worry if anyone "gets it" or if anyone appreciates your art. Do it for you.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

News: Sigma Announces New Cameras - SD Quattro & SD Quattro H

Sigma announced today two new compact interchangeable-lens mirrorless cameras: the SD Quattro and the SD Quattro H.

Both cameras feature a multi-layer Foveon sensor. The SD Quattro has a 29-megapixel APS-C sized sensor and the SD Quattro H has a 45-megapixel APS-H sized sensor. Other than size, the two cameras seem identical. They both use Sigma's SA lens mount.

Sigma has yet to announce when the cameras will be available or how much they'll cost. My guess would be that they'll be available in May and that the SD Quattro will be $1,000 and the SD Quattro H will be $1,500, but those are just guesses.

I used to own a Sigma DP2 Merrill and had a love-hate relationship with it (more love than hate). Sometimes I wish that I still had the camera. It was capable of unbelievably fantastic image quality in the right situations.

I don't imagine too many people abandoning Nikon or Canon or Sony or Fuji and climbing aboard the Sigma line. Not that you couldn't, it just doesn't make a lot of sense. Those with tons of free money to spend might buy it just to say they tried it. Those who already own a Sigma DSLR will be heavily tempted to buy one of these. I'd certainly be interested to see just how far the Foveon technology has come.

News: Nikon Announces New "Digital Lens" Camera Series - DL18-50, DL24-85 & DL24-500

Nikon just announced a new camera series called DL or Digital Lens. This series will have three cameras (DL18-50, DL24-85 and DL24-500), each will include a 1" sensor (presumably a Sony 1" sensor, likely the same sensor found in the Sony RX100 II and Sony RX100 III). The cameras are all fixed-lens compacts, although only two appear to be a pocketable size.

The DL cameras get their name from the equivalent focal length of their fixed lens. The DL18-50 has an (equivalent) 18mm-50mm f/1.8-2.8 lens attached. The DL24-85 has an (equivalent) 24mm-85mm f/1.8-2.8 lens attached. And the DL24-500 has an (equivalent) 24mm-500mm f/2.8-5.6 lens attached. The names make sense, but they're not particularly creative or exciting.

The DL18-50 and the DL24-85 both look a lot like the Sony RX100 II, and it's pretty obvious that these two cameras will directly compete with the RX100 line. The DL24-500 is bigger and will compete in the "superzoom" category, and it's also the only one of the three with a built-in electronic viewfinder.

All three cameras are quick (up to 60 frames per second!), and autofocus is supposed to be robust and fast. All have 4K video capabilities.

I'm a big fan of anything that's smaller and lighter. Sony was able to squeeze some exceptional image quality out of the tiny 1" sensor. It will be interesting to see what kind of image quality Nikon will get out of it. Obviously high-ISO is the weak point, with ISO 1600 the practical limit.

The DL series will be released this coming summer. The DL18-50 will be $850, the DL24-85 will be $650 and the DL24-500 will be $1,000.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Photograph When A Storm Is Approaching Or Clearing

Light Over The Tehachapi Mountains - Tehachapi, California
Many of my favorite photographs were captured when a storm was approaching or clearing. This is when the sky is most dramatic and when the light has the the best opportunity to be extraordinary.

"For me, the most memorable landscape photos almost always have a sky that is full of interest, and most often, that interest comes from clouds," photographer Darwin Wiggett said. "Give me a weather forecast of mixed sun and cloud, and I am in photographic heaven."

Great photography is in part about being at the right place at the right time with photographic vision. That might mean being outdoors with your camera when everyone else is heading indoors. Photographer Richard Steinheimer used to say something to the effect of, "Photography is being in the right place at the right time, and that often means being someplace that other people are not willing to go."

For dramatic skies, you have to be outdoors when others are not. When the storm is building, be sure to grab your camera! When the storm is clearing, be out someplace to capture it! Take advantage of the opportunities nature provides.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Camera Hack: Coffee Sleeve Lens Hood

Three-and-a-half years ago I published a post entitled Easy DIY Lens Hood which took on a life of it's own. It has spread through the "blogosphere" and social media and firmly seated itself as the most popular post on the Roesch Photography Blog.

The truth is that I'm a bit embarrassed by that article. It's not my best work by a long shot. But it is my most popular, and my most profitable (I earn a very small amount of money from the ads on this page).

At the advice of a few different people I've begun making photography-related videos, which I'm uploading to YouTube. I invite you to watch them and to follow my channel. Anyway, my latest video is that Easy DIY Lens Hood article put to video.

The video version is better than the blog post version, in my opinion. You'll find it below. Please take a moment and watch it. Be sure to let me know what you think!

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Getting Yelled At For A Photograph

Trash Mover - Tehachapi, California
This driver was upset that I took his picture.
Have you ever been yelled at for photographing? Ever had someone act aggressively towards you for no other reason than taking a picture?

I have.

The first time was about five years ago. I went to Starbucks to get some coffee. I pulled into the parking lot and, since I had a Holga 120N medium-format film camera with me, I decided to snap a picture before heading in.

Just as I clicked the shutter open I heard a voice, "You can't take pictures here! Put your camera away!" I took the camera down from my face and looked to see a Starbucks employee (perhaps the manager) coming towards me.

"I can't take pictures here?" I asked.

"No! It's against our policy," he replied. "Starbucks does not allow people to take pictures on our property. No photography!"

I wanted to point out that where I was standing was not likely Starbucks property, but the property of the shopping center where Starbucks was leasing space. But I decided to let it go and simply answer, "OK."

With that I left. I didn't buy coffee, and I never again returned to that particular Starbucks.

When I got home I researched Starbucks' position on photography. Turns out that they once had a no-photography policy, but by the time I was confronted by an employee their policy had changed. This person apparently never got the memo.

I got the last laugh, however. Holga's are notorious for their light leaks, and somehow "666" managed to get burned into the image from frame six (or perhaps frame nine, I'm not sure). It was completely unexpected, yet perfectly appropriate for this scene.
666 Coffee - Avondale, Arizona
Starbucks didn't want me to capture this image.
A couple of years ago I stopped to photograph an abandoned house in the Mojave Desert. I got out of the car, camera in hand, and began heading towards the house. The place was obviously abandoned and the house was so dilapidated that nobody could live in it even if they wanted to.

Suddenly a voice came booming from behind me, "Hey! Get out of here! You don't belong here!"

I turned to see someone on the other side of a dirt road behind a fence. I didn't even notice the person when I drove up. I held up my camera and replied, "I'm just here to take pictures."

"Get out of here! I'll call the cops," he yelled back, looking quite angry and waving his arms around. "You don't belong here!"

I didn't stay to find out why he was so angry or if he really was planning to get the authorities involved. I left. No big deal. There are tons of other abandoned places in the desert to photograph.
Broken Gate, Broken Home - Mojave, California
An abandoned home near the abandoned place that I didn't get to photograph.
Last month I had to take a load of trash to the local dump. I had my camera with me. After emptying the bed of my pickup truck I decided to capture an image of this tractor that was pushing the garbage around.

As soon as I made an exposure the driver stopped his tractor and yelled down to me to stop taking photographs. "No pictures!" He looked quite upset.

With a smile, I simply responded, "Sorry!" I got into my truck and left.

I never attempt to anger anyone. I don't go around trying to get people mad at me and what I'm doing. I don't want to encounter aggressive people. But no matter how much one tries to avoid it, it's inevitable that someone will act angrily at one's photography. It's going to happen.

When this happens the first rule is to not exacerbate the situation. Don't engage anger with more anger. Don't push the person any further. Even if you are completely in the right and they are completely in the wrong. Have that argument when heads are cool.

A warm smile and calmly spoken polite words can go a million miles towards diffusing a hot situation. Show that you are friendly and intending no harm.

Finally, don't put "getting the picture" above your own safety or above your humanity. If you don't capture the image you want, that's fine. Let it go. It's not worth the risk. There will be other photographic opportunities. Don't be a jerk, even if the other person is being a jerk to you. Just leave. Get the heck out of there! You don't want to be around someone who is that angry.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

News: Pentax K-1 Full-Frame DSLR

Pentax officially announced the long-rumored K-1 full-frame DSLR. The camera features a 36 megapixel sensor (presumably made by Sony and probably the same sensor found in the Nikon D810). It's weather-sealed. It doesn't have an anti-aliasing filter. The image stabilization is built into the camera. It sounds like a solid "pro" camera.

One interesting feature is called "pixel-shift" that takes multiple exposures, shifting the sensor one pixel between exposures, which captures the full image in each color channel. This is faux Foveon, giving results similar to using multi-layered sensors. Think high-resolution, ultra-sharp images. The drawback is that the camera must be on a tripod and nothing in the scene can move during the exposures. So it's very limited in practical use.

While any k-mount lens can be used on this camera, most modern autofocus k-mount lenses are made for APS-C cameras. You'll have a strong vignette as only the middle of the sensor will get exposed to light. However, Pentax is introducing 12 full-frame lenses to go along with this camera.

The best part of the K-1 is the price: $1,800 for the body. That's significantly cheaper than the Nikon D810 ($3,000) and a little cheaper than the Sony AR7 ($1,900), which are this camera's closest competitors. The K-1 has a couple of features that those cameras lack, so it makes this an intriguing choice.

The Pentax K-1 will be available in April.

Video: How To Take Better Pictures

"How do I take better pictures?" That's a question I frequently get asked. I made a video and posted it to YouTube explaining how to take better pictures. It might not be the advice that the viewer thinks they are looking for, but it is precisely what they need to hear. You'll find the video below.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Snow Days In California

Winter Living - Tehachapi, California
This El NiƱo winter has brought several different snow storms to central California. During December and January a few of these storms dropped cold white fluffy stuff on my local area. And I took a few pictures of it.

These photographs were captured using a Sony RX100 II. It's not a weather-sealed camera, so I had to be careful using it in the snow. A small mistake and the camera's ruined. It's not the best scenario to be in, but I exercised caution and the camera came out unscathed.

I post-processed the images using Alien Skin Exposure X. This is the latest version of Exposure, released a couple of months ago. It's not a lot different than the previous version, but the changes are all positive. 
White Christmas - Tehachapi, California
Frosted Hill - Tehachapi, California
A Dusting of Snow At Dawn - Mojave, California
This was a pre-sunrise exposure captured handheld--no tripod needed.
Snow On Fence - Tehachapi, California
Fence In January - Tehachapi, California
Snow & Wind - Tehachapi, California
Handheld night exposure--gotta love image stabilization!
Cold Wind - Tehachapi, California
At The Summit - Tehachapi, California
Winter Lamps - Tehachapi, California

Monday, February 15, 2016

Video: Introduction To Alien Skin Exposure X

I love using Alien Skin Exposure software to post-process my photographs because it gives me the look that I want quickly, easily and accurately. It saves me tons of time, and is much less frustrating to use than many of the more expensive programs. Here's a video I made that gives a quick introduction to Alien Skin's latest version of Exposure called Exposure X:

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Tournament of Roses Parade 2016 - Pasadena, California

South Pasadena - Pasadena, California
When we moved to California several years ago my wife and I wanted to see in person the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California, but the opportunity eluded us each year. Since we're moving out of state soon, we made an extra effort to get there this year.

The Tournament of Roses, also called the Rose Parade, is one of the largest parades in America. It's on New Years Day in Pasadena and is followed by the Rose Bowl football game. It's watched by hundreds of thousands of people along the parade route and broadcast to millions on national television.

People will camp out overnight to get a good spot along the route. We have three young kids so that wasn't an option. We did a little research and discovered that we could arrive late and still get a decent spot on the east end of the parade route. 
Come To Jesus - Pasadena, California
We arrived in Pasadena right as the parade was starting. We found a parking spot in a neighborhood a few blocks away from the route. We walked to the corner of Colorado Blvd and Sierra Madre Blvd. It was beginning to get crowded.

We found a spot along Sierra Madre across the street from the Vons grocery store. There were three or four rows of people in front of us, but they all had chairs so we could easily see over them. We had a stroller for the youngest and we brought a wagon for the other two kids.

Even though the parade began before we got there, it took about an hour for it to reach where we were. Waiting. That's a difficult thing for little kids to do. There were some unofficial sideshows (if you know what I mean) going on to provide some entertainment. We also brought with us breakfast, so we used this time to eat.
White - Pasadena, California
There were 44 floats and 20 marching bands in the parade. As always, the floats are decorated with flowers, plants, fruits, vegetables--all visible surfaces must be covered with natural materials. They can take up to a year to build. As impressive as the floats are to see on TV, they are much more fantastic to view in person. You can really appreciate the fine details. Disney's float was the best in my opinion.

The marching bands were all great. Some were local and some were from the other side of the world. The largest had 780 members! The kids really appreciated the music.

Perhaps most interesting was the California Highway Patrol's motorcycle cops. The best that I can describe it is the Blue Angles on wheels. They did a number of different stunts and it was quite entertaining.
Cheer Watcher - Pasadena, California
We left after about two hours. The parade wasn't done, but the kids were done, especially the youngest. It was beginning to get warm. Thankfully we dressed in layers. Even though we left early, traffic was still a mess because the parade was already over at the beginning of the route.

I used a Sony RX100 II camera to capture these photographs. The camera's small size and weight made it an excellent tool to photograph this event. The light wasn't great and became progressively worse as the sun got higher. Even so, it is the photographer's job to do his or her best with what's given.

Alien Skin's Exposure 7 had been my software of choice. However, these are some of the very first photographs that I edited using Exposure X, the latest version of Alien Skin's photo editing software. It's quite impressive, yet, not all that much different from the previous version--a few new helpful tools and options, plus it's faster. Most importantly for me, it offers RAW support for my Sony camera (while Exposure 7 doesn't), so that's why I upgraded.
And The Kitchen Sink - Pasadena, California
This was in Stanford's marching band.
Bees & Flowers - Pasadena, California
Mismatch - Pasadena, California
Selfie - Pasadena, California

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Two Years With Nokia Lumia 1020

If you were to ask on a camera forum what gear you need to be a photographer, you'll likely be told that a DSLR is essential. Some will suggest a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, but that's essentially the same thing. What you probably won't find is someone suggesting that you use your cell phone.

I shared a photograph on social media, and someone commented that the image made them want to buy a DSLR. They were using the camera on their cell phone to take pictures, but were dissatisfied with the results. The funny thing is that the photograph I posted was captured with my cell phone. The person obviously didn't realize this.

If your photographs stink, it's not the camera's fault! Any camera in the hands of a skilled photographer is capable of capturing great images. A cell phone is just as legitimate a photographic tool as a DSLR is. So if your photographs aren't good enough, it's not a change in gear that's needed.

I've owned my Nokia Lumia 1020 cell phone for two years now (as of yesterday). It's never been my "primary" camera, but I do always have it with me. The best camera you own is the one that's with you when you need it. Often that's the one in your pocket, the one that's also a phone.

A couple of these photographs have been published in magazines. Some have been sold as stock images. All were captured using my Lumia 1020.

Keep Out The Sun - Tehachapi, California
Boss Hog - Tehachapi, California
Better Days Behind - Tehachapi, California
Oven - Cuddy Valley, California
Crumbling Commode - Cuddy Valley, California
Fame - Mojave, California
Forgotten Folding Chairs - Cuddy Valley, California
Yellow / Blue - Mojave, California
Dips In Pavement - Mojave, California
Old Broken Hinge - Mojave, California
Boarded Up Window - Mojave, California
Blue Chair - Tehachapi, California
Purple Beretta - Tehachapi, California
The Compaq Desert - Mojave, California
A California Home - Stallion Springs, California
The Isolated Stairs - Bakersfield, California
Do Not Block Door - Tehachapi, California
No Parking - Bakersfield, California
Valley View - Yosemite National Park, California
Cummings Valley Sun Rays - Tehachapi, California
Sunset Through The Oak Trees - Stallion Springs, California
Sunset From The Pass - Tehachapi, California
Some Sunset - Stallion Springs, California
An August Sunset - Stallion Springs, California
Stallion Springs Sunset - Stallion Springs, California
Joshua Tree Morning Silhouette - Mojave, California
Highway To Hope - Mojave, California
Trail View - Tehachapi, California
The Yellow Desert - Mojave, California
The Closed Road - Fish Camp, California
Evening Hall - Stallion Springs, California
Skateboarding - Stallion Springs, California
Supervising - Stallion Springs, California

Daffodil Close Up - Stallion Springs, California
Flower Cluster - Stallion Springs, California
White Flower Pedals - Stallion Springs, California
Big Creek Bridge And Coast - Big Sur, California
Rainy Day In The Desert - Rosamond, California
Horse In The Rain - Tehachapi, California
Soledad Mountain - Mojave, California
Soledad Joshua Trees - Mojave, California
This View Never Gets Old - Stallion Springs, California
Columbia Rock - Yosemite National Park, California
Energy - Tehachapi, California
McLane - Rosamond, California
Shawn Miller - Tehachapi, California
Hanging Barbed Wire - Stallion Springs, California
Forgotten Cans - Mojave, California
Knob - Mojave, California
Cassette Player - Tehachapi, California

Abandoned In The Tehachapi Mountains - Tehachapi, California
Shadows of Abandonment - Mojave, California
Ghosts of the Past - Mojave, California
Living Room View - Tehachapi, California
Tire, Abandoned Ranch - Tehachapi, California
Home Love - Cuddy Valley, California
Cactus, House - Mojave, California
Roof - Mojave, California
Broken Wind Farm - Tehachapi, California
Lunch In The Cafeteria - Stallion Springs, California
Metal Bird Abstract - Tehachapi, California
Stealth Flight - Palmdale, California
We Will Deliver - Rosamond, California
The Train Meet - Rosamond, California