Shooting the Moon

Earlier this week we were treated to very clear weather and a full lunar eclipse. Even from Houston, aka light pollution central, the moon was highly visible and quite beautiful.

I shot the moon with a borrowed 400mm lens (f/5.6 max. aperture) and a cheap Tamron 1.4x converter. The combination made for a slow f/8, and I also stopped down one (f/11 effective) in attempts to sharpen things up a bit.

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I used to own a 400mm lens many years ago, and I’d forgotten how difficult it can be to shoot long. Every bit of disturbance around the camera caused a visible vibration in the viewfinder. Using live view at 10x made the issue very apparent. A cold front had blown through, and the winds were making it impossible to get the camera and lens completely stable.

The other issue with eclipses, and I’d experienced this before when shooting one many years ago, is that the moon gets very dark towards totality. A normal full moon in clear skies is nearly as bright as full daylight. But a moon mostly covered in the Earth’s shadow is 5 – 6 stops of light less. That’s really challenging when shooting at f/11 :-)

Random Pics, Random Thoughts

I’ve been posting quite a bit to my Instagram account lately. Below is a sample of the recent photos along with a few random thoughts and info.

Shadows in the Grass, Mar-11

The collection of apps and the workflow I had on my mobile phone that enabled me to post to my blog is out of commission. I’ve had so many issues with my phone over the months and have had to reset it a few times. I’m not sure if all the apps are the reason that the phone keeps bogging down and having a glitch-fest that renders it practially useless, but I’m hesitant to set everything back up as it was before.

Mule Ears, Big Bend N.P., Mar-15

I’m still using the Olympus OM-D E-M5 more than any other camera. I feel that I’m starting to learn what it can do well vs. the areas where it absolutly sucks. The small size and light weight of the Oly kit trumps everything else, so it’s been the right tool for the job lately.

Ladybug on Prairie Buttercup, Mar-21

Of course the other tools that I carry (Sony RX100 and also the camera on my phone) come in handy when needed!

Sandpile Silhouette, Mar-25

One impressive thing about the Micro Four-Thirds (M43 or M4/3 or whatever you want to call it) is the reach you can get with relatively small telephoto lenses. Combined with the EXCELLENT in-body image stabilization of the E-M5, it’s a great tool for wildlife shooting.

Cormorants, Lake Fork, Mar-28

My current longest focal length is 150mm, which translates to about 300mm (35mm “full-frame” equivalent field of view).

I’m looking into getting a longer lens for my kit, perhaps the Oly 75-300mm or the Panasonic 100-300mm. The long end of those lenses works out to about 600mm equivalent.

Sunrise, Lake Fork, Mar-30

The flowers are NOT as good as anticipated. I had high hopes over a month ago when I noticed flowers blooming in mass very early in the season. I think the ice storm we had in early March really hurt things.

Golden Groundsel, George Bush Park, Apr-1

I’ve been exploring through the local parks: Bear Creek Park (Addicks Reservoir) and George Bush Park (Barker Reservoir), visiting my usual spots for wildflowers. They are thin in coverage as compared to previous years. Also, many of the easy-access areas have been mowed by the park services. That doesn’t help at all!

Please consider following my Instagram account! And if you don’t have Instagram, then consider getting an account. It’s free and easy. It’s a fun app to have on your phone and really helps you to engage in and play with photography.

A Recent Backpacking Trip

Overnight backpacking and quality photography, or rather, strapping your necessities to your back and heading off into the wilds while carrying all your favorite image making gear: a quick story of my recent journey into the open desert of the Big Bend.

The plan was to take my 9-year old son on a series of one-night, overnight backpacking trips, and we completed this quest recently. Below are some notes for the main purpose of reminding myself of what I did so that hopefully I learn something when I decide to do this type of trek again :-)

We practiced at a local park just to make sure we were up for the challenge. We stuffed water and weights in our packs and spent a few hours on the trail.

Part 1 was packing and preparing for the actual trip. It was a frustrating affair. Even removing the grip from my Canon 5D3 and taking only two lenses, my camera bag, a large waistpack, weighed in at 10 pounds.

Combined with a 48 pound pack full of the necessities (including, most importantly, A LOT of water and a tripod), this became an issue. I had reduced, trimmed, and omitted as much as possible, but with the safety and well-being of my son paramount in my mind, I had to take what I had to take. 48 pounds was the default load and any further lightening had to be in the camera department.

At the last minute, I decided to leave the Canon gear behind and bring into service my mirrorless kit (which I own for this very reason). The Olympus E-M5 and two lenses packed in a small waistpack came to a package that was 4.5 pounds and about half the size.

This was a hard decision. But 5.5 pounds less load on my back was significant and welcome and, in my mind, worth the compromise.

Part 2 was hauling this stuff in the field. The Oly is frustrating sometimes, and the image quality doesn’t make me happy. But I don’t want to get into that now.

The camera gear, except the tripod, was put into a lightweight Lowepro waistpack. This pack was strapped around the top of my backpack. It was easy to access and provided a nice method of carrying when I wanted to go light and venture away from basecamp. (Plus I was insistent on carrying some form of padded enclosure to keep the body and lenses due to the inevitable hard knocks and rough handling that happen in this type of venture.)

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The tricky bit was attaching the tripod securely while allowing easy access. The method used was easy and convenient provided that my pack was off my back.

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The tripod (just below the head) was attached to the backpack by a clip. The clip was tied to the tripod with a bit of nylon rope. Then one of the legs, slightly extended, was slipped through a loop at the bottom of the backpack.

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The next time I do this sort of thing I probably will insist on taking my Canon gear. This past trip was during a full moon, so I didn’t engage in my typical high-ISO shooting of static star shots. But the next time I will need use of the 5D3′s clean high ISO as well as my fast 24mm prime, i.e. the camera gear will be heavier and the other necessities must be lighter! I will spend more time optimizing the gear as well as swapping out some items for lighter versions.

Stay tuned for scenic photos from the recent trip!

Ice Storm

The strange winter weather just gave us an interesting event. In the early AM hours of last Tuesday, the temps dropped to freezing and it rained all night.

The ground stayed warm enough not to freeze, but everything knee-high and up was coated in ice.

We don’t often have ice like this. The last time we had a similar ice event was nearly 20 years ago.

If only the sun had come out in the morning. Warm light catching on the ice-covered trees would have been pretty amazing. Regardless, the sights were still interesting and memorable.

I hope this does not ruin our wildflower season. The flowers have just started blooming, and now we’ve had freezing weather for two nights in a row as well as quite a bit of rain.

Big Bend Workshop News (Oct. ’14)

It’s on! This event is officially scheduled and accepting students. I have a room block and a conference room booked.

I’ve sent an announcement out to my email list and now have several folks signed up. Please see the workshop details page (click here!) for more information.

I’ve lowered my price a bit and made some slight changes in how the event will operate. The workshop details page has all the information and fine details.

Please contact me if you are interested or have questions. I hope to see you in Big Bend!

Getting Ready for Spring

Can someone please tell me what happened to February? It was January last time I looked. Now it appears to be…. March? Really?

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I’ve been busy at work. Things are happening in the field, and I’ve had to make several trips out of town.

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My Olympus OM-D E-M5 has been the tool of choice for these outings. It’s small and light and is just right for traveling and grabbing snapshots of the action.

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My mind has been re-engaging the old, familiar process and creative act of photography. I’ve been so bogged down with other efforts (mainly work and also my home life) that my head has been everywhere but into photography over the last couple of months.

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Despite the crazy weather being a lot colder than normal, our spring wildflower season is starting early. On a recent trek through George Bush Park, I found several stretches of prairie buttercups along the trail.

The trees are still mostly bare and the long grasses are brown. But the short grasses and small undergrowth are rich, vibrant green. Things are happening fast, and I’m going to be exploring the local parks quite a bit over the next month. Hopefully I won’t have to make any more out of town trips for work!

Being Prepared

A big part of taking successful photos is the combination of the right opportunity and being prepared with the right equipment. I found myself witnessing a spectacular sunrise this morning from my office at work, but I’d left my trusty Sony RX100 in my truck. (I thought about using the camera on my phone, but it is pretty bad at capturing scenes that have a wide dynamic range and intense color.)

I sprinted down four flights of stairs, jogged out to the parking garage, ran up five flights of stairs, retrieved the camera, and then it was just a bit too late.

Just prior to the sun popping over the horizon, the low cloud blanket was glowing intensely with hues of yellow, orange, and pink. The sky was on fire, as they say, but the show did not last long. It all happened in the time it took for me to make my way from my office building out to the multi-story garage.

I then looked for reflections off our glass-clad building (which can be pretty interesting combining geometric patterns and light) but didn’t find a scene I liked. Looking west, away from the sunrise caught reflections in distant buildings.

The lesson learned is simple. Being prepared makes a difference. Interesting scenes tend to not last long and don’t repeat themselves.

The scenes that unfolded before me this morning were not really that spectactular, however it was fun and healthy to engage in a photographic process for just a bit.

Choosing a Lens for Astro/Land-photography

I came across a good article by Ian Norman this morning about selecting a lens for capturing the Milky Way and stars in one, static image. This is exactly the type of photography that I enjoy and practice.

Here is the link:

It’s lengthy and full of technical details. It’s definitely worth reading. Thanks to Ian for putting this out there.

He ultimately concludes that a 24mm f/1.4 lens is optimum on a full frame 35mm sensor. I agree with that.

Ice Day

There’s just a bit of ice collecting outside right now. Way down here in Houston, we rarely get conditions like this.

Schools are cancelled. Some roads and bridges are closed. And I’m sitting in the warmth of my home office frustrated that my employer’s webmail is down.

Folks from up north are laughing at us for being so cautions about the current conditions. But anyone who has driven in Houston with just a bit of inclement weather will understand that you do NOT want to be around other Houston drivers. You can be cautious all you want, but there will still be a certain amount of drivers who still drive like their rear-ends are on fire and the only water is miles away.

I stepped out on my back porch just now to witness the massive, threatening icicles forming on my house. Yep, they are all 1/4 to 1/2 inch in length.

I shot the above photo with my phone. I never thought I’d see out of focus areas like that from a phone camera. But it’s pretty cool and I’m impressed with the technology.

The phone is a HTC One. The camera will shoot at f/2.0 wide open, and it will focus relatively close to objects. The combination will produce a shallow DOF like you see above.

It’s certainly not the best quality image, but it’s impressive nonetheless from a phone! :-)