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.

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.

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.

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! :-)

Cone Inks

About two months ago I got a set of custom ink cartridges and Cone pigment inks for my Epson R2880 printer. I then got busy with the approaching holidays and other projects. Last night I finally got into it and installed my first cartridge.

The system replaces OEM ink, and you have the option of replacing all the existing inks at once (therefore throwing away any unused ink) or replacing the OEM tanks with the Cone tanks one-by-one as they run dry. I bought this system from

The process went okay. I was a little hesitant, but I didn’t run into any serious problems. The resulting prints looked just as good as the ones made from all OEM ink (I did a test using the same photo for consistency). Although that’s a very preliminary assessment and I won’t really know how the Cone inks perform until more of the OEM cartridges are replaced and many more prints are made.

Aside from that, I’ve been doing very little regarding photography. I’m focused on exercise and getting healthy. In the last two months I’ve lost 10 pounds. Recently, in an 8-day stretch, I rode my bike about 30 miles and also ran over 12 miles. For being nearly 50 pounds overweight, I think that’s doing pretty well :-)

I’m also focusing on finishing a LEGO project that I started years ago. It will be a crawler crane – a 1:17 scale model of a Demag CC5800.

One crawler, center support legs, turntable, and superstructure frame are done. But there is much more to do, and I’m going to finish it this year! (sort of a new year’s resolution :-)

The Weather Sucks

Since I’m way down in the south, thankfully I’ve not had to put up with the severe cold that the rest of the US has been dealing with. But it has been significantly colder here lately.

The problem is getting used to it. We go through two big adjustments per year.

The first is transitioning from cool weather in the spring to hot summer temps. Mainly, it’s getting used to constantly sweating while you’re outdoors and wearing as little clothing as is acceptable.

The second is in late fall when you pretty much have to keep a supply of various jackets and sweaters handy, and then adjust your layers to the current conditions.

It was 23 deg. Tuesday morning. This morning it was 60.

You still sweat however. I went for a run on Tuesday afternoon wearing two shirts and a sweater. I was uncomfortable until I warmed up. Then, 6 miles later, I was cold and soaked.

It’s the humidity…. pppfffftttttt.

The photos are Instagram pics from this week.

Welcome 2014

Happy New Year!

I intended to post this yesterday, but this new year isn’t starting out very well. I’m sick and my kids are sick as well.

But another year is upon us and I welcome it.

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Good bye to 2013. The image above is probably my favorite of the past year, and it was taken December 30th. My oldest son, Henry, threw his hands up at the magnificent sunset we witnessed over Lake Buchanan in the Texas hill country.

I’m way behind on posting here. The past few weeks have been hectic. Holiday preparations, parties, pageants, family visits, celebrations, birthdays, and just about everything else all going on all at once. I always love the Christmas and New Years stretch, but it’s always full of events (mostly all good :-) )

So welcome, 2014. I look forward to the year and the photos yet to come.

Electronics Hell

Does it ever seem that when one thing goes wrong in your life, it is quickly accompanied by several others? I feel like I’m in electronics hell right now. So many things have gone wrong in the past week or so.

Let’s start with my 2-month old Android smartphone, a HTC One. It suddenly started to flake out. Apps started crashing. It wouldn’t stay connected to the Internet. Being connected to the data service or WiFi made no difference. I searched all over the ‘net for solutions. I tried everything I could think of. Nothing would work. My last resort was a factory reset, and I’ve just done it. What a pain in the ass! But now it works!

There’s a circuit in my house that’s not properly grounded. This is a 120VAC system. There’s a bit of stray current (1 – 3VAC) coming through the ground. I spent the better part of last weekend trying to troubleshoot it. No luck. I have absolutely no idea what’s wrong. The only sure way of finding out is to rip into the walls to track all of the wiring. So, no solution at this point.

Last night several of our smoke alarms decided to start chirping. I installed 10 new wirelessly-linked alarms about 15 months ago. I guess the QA on the batteries is consistent. They are all failing about the same time! (this isn’t necessarily a big problem – just an annoyance to compound my already annoyed state over stuff that operates on electricity)

My 8-9 year old stereo receiver crapped out. Something on the main board is shorting out. I cleaned it, inspected it, and I think one of the caps has gone out. There’s a bit of white residue around it. Ppppfffftttt….

One of the transformers inside a 12V halogen light fixture in our kitchen went out. Replacement value: about $45.

My battle with extending the WiFi in my house is still on going. I gave up on a WiFi extender after DAYS of trying to get one to work. My latest effort was to add a whole new WiFi router. Nope. Not working. I either need to give up, or spend more hours (or days) trying to fiddle with it. (I’m very much a DIY kinda guy, but in this case, I’m actually considering hiring someone to come make this work)

And finally, ’cause this is a photography blog, my trusty Sony RX100 is goofing up. The large dial around the lens barrel started to malfunction. Strangely enough, I’m not even upset about this. I’ve carried the little camera with me nearly constantly over the last 13 months. I’ve dropped it numerous times, knocked it around quite a bit, and subjected it to all sorts of environments. I’m actually amazed that it still functions (well, except for that dial). I really don’t mind. To me, it’s just the cost of using the camera in the manner that I do.