Coastal Highway and Hearst Castle

The girlfriend and I took a trip down the coastal highway to Hearst Castle. Here are some of the ones I liked from the trip:

I really liked the fog in this one as it wraps around the coast hills

Inside the library in the main building at Hearst Castle, Amazing woodwork and artifacts.

Side of the main portion of the castle.

An elephant seal yelling at us. This is just a half mile down the road from the castle.

And this one is heading home a nice flat stretch that then turns right into hills.

We had a great time and will be going back again in the future.

Black-crowned Night-Heron at Vasona park

During my lunch break the other day I took the new D7100 down to Vasona Park in Los Gatos which is just down the street from my work. Still trying to get used to the new features and button placement but I did get some nice shots of a Black-crowned Night-Heron (didnt know what it was called at the time).

I had never seen one before but loved his red eyes and the tail he has on the back of his neck.

How I started learning digital photography

So you want to learn digital photography but don’t know where to start? I recently went through this and will explain what worked for me. Classes at your local community college, online or camera store are the obvious choices when learning but sometimes you just either don’t have the money or time for them. I have not taken any classes so I can not recommend any. I basically have used three resources to learn everything I know: Books, Forums, and a mentor. Everyone is different and what helped me may not necessarily help you, but hopefully you can grab information from here that will be of use to you.

Books:
In order here are the most important books I found for leaning the basics.
1. Your camera manual – I kid not, this is the most important book. Without your camera manual you can not put to use all the other things you learn. I cant express enough how important it is to know your camera inside and out so you can use it to the best of its abilities. Camera manuals are also typically available for download on the manufactures website, this make very hand reference. Some like Nikon also have apps available with manuals for on the go viewing.
2. Digital Photography 1,2,3 and 4 by Scott Kelby – This set of four books are enjoyable to read and really explained in basic layman terms. They are set up more as text books so you can jump around in them to the area’s you are most interested in, though I do suggest reading through them completely end to end the first time. After that use them as reference books. Think of this series as the jack of all trades master of nothing for information. It will help you figure out what you need to learn more about.
3. Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson – Almost a requirement for those starting out this book explains just how exposure works and how to use it. Even if you think you understand exposure I still think you should pick this one up, it really is that detailed and good for learning. Exposure is the lifeblood of photography and the better you understand it the better off you will be.

Between reading these books and forums I was set on the technical basics but lacked in composition and creativity. I have always been a technical person and never had a creative outlet before, so this was my area of struggle.

Here are some books that helped me with composition and creativity, these ones are in no specific order:
1. Learning to See Creatively by Bryan Peterson
2. The Moment It Clicks by Joe McNally
3. The Photographer’s Eye by Michael Freeman
4. Why Photographs Work by George Barr

Other useful books if you end up using the tools they are written for:
1. The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 Book by Scott Kelby
2. The Adobe Photoshop CS6 Book for Digital Photographers by Scott Kelby

Reading these books will give you an excellent base to work off of and by this point you should know enough to find the answers to your own questions.

Forums:
Books are great for general knowledge, but what happens if you need a little more explanation on something or need some constructive criticism on a photograph you just took? Well that’s where forums come in. There are some great communities out there and you will need to find the one that fits your personality. The one that I found more useful to me was http://www.thephotoforum.com/ which has some really talented and knowledgeable people on it. It has everyone from beginners to working pro’s so you will find a wide variety of experience and types of photographers. The best part is you don’t even have to make posts and ask your questions, almost everything has been asked before if you just search you will surely find the answers. This is great for people who don’t feel comfortable conversing with others over the internet.

Mentoring
I was fortunate enough to find someone who is a working as photographer to check out my work, give me help full tips, show me examples of his and give me constructive feedback in my work. I happened to find my mentor through thephotoforum but you also may want to check out local photography groups and events like photo walks in your area. Your local camera shop may also have information on where you can find people with similar interests. There is a lot to learn from people who have already been there and done that.

If all else fails Google:
Like the title of this section says, if all the books, forums and people you know cant give you the answer there is always Google search. I very rarely have exhausted my resources to get to the point. Most of the time its looking up hardware I am considering purchasing.

My tips to you:

  • Shoot in RAW not JPG: Most DSLR and some higher end Point & Shoot camera’s will have the ability to output picture is RAW format. RAW format pictures are as close to unedited as you can get, the camera doesn’t apply a lot of the special sharpening, color correction or compression that does happen when you shoot JPG. So why would you want this? Because you can do a lot more to edit a RAW file than a JPG. You can editing a RAW files with either the software that came with your camera or other popular software like Photoshop, Lightroom and Aperture. You can also edit normal JPG files too with these software titles but if you open up a RAW file with them you will you have a lot more options. Changing things like white balance, individual color channels, more sharpening option and much more without loosing details in the photo. You can do these things with JPG but you loose detail. There is much more to know about RAW and the above books will go over that.
  • Get a decent RAW editor: The software that came with your camera is decent and great for learning. Eventually though you will want more control and features when editing your RAW files. There are tons of programs on the internet that can do this but the more common ones at the time of writing this are Lightroom 4(MAC/PC). Aperture(MAC) and Corel PaintShop Pro X5(PC). I personally use Lightroom 4 and think it is wonderful. I did though purchase a book to get the most out of it, its listed above in the books section. Most of these programs have trials so download them and see what you think before you buy.
  • Don’t go crazy buying gear: This one was especially hard for me, I love hardware and technology. The instant I learned something was better than what I had I wanted to go out and get it. But you need to resist, if you do this, one you will be very poor and two you will be re-buying replacements constantly. New camera’s, lens’s and software come out monthly and most of the time you don’t NEED the upgrade. Until you absolutely need to upgrade because you are being hindered I suggest you don’t. I have seen some people take wonderful pictures from Point & Shoot or even cell phone camera’s. Most of the time what you need is some more knowledge and not hardware.
  • Get out and take pictures: This is probably the best advice you can get. Go out an use all that information you just read about, see how it works in reality. You wont know how much you have improved or where to improve until you see what you can produce. Practice makes perfect really rings true in photography and with digital it doesn’t cost you anything! So get out there and snap away.

Time to change things up a bit

So its been over a year (14 months actually) since I dove into the world of Photography. What a wild ride learning about exposure, composition and tons of other tidbits of information. I recently purchased some lighting equipment and have been getting into that now too. I am learning photography much faster rate than I originally planned on and really enjoying it. My accelerated learning is due a few things that include forums, books and a very nice gentleman who has been mentoring me over the internet. I will make a more detailed post later on how I figured the basics out so others can grab tips and tricks from it.

I have also learned that the weekly photo thing just isn’t working with my available free time. I have bursts at work where I am much more busy at sometimes compared to others so my available free time is more sporadic and doesn’t work well with the weekly photo task I set for myself. So I m going to rename it to Weekly Photo – Archive and just post to the general category when I have something to share. It was getting to feel a bit forced, some of the pictures I posted I was not as happy with as I think I should be to be posting them.

Now that I am feeling more comfortable with my knowledge I will be writing more about my thoughts, opinion and not just pictures with the settings. Its really funny how this hobby has engulfed all my other ones in time and budget. My car which was my previous hobby that took most of my money has since been put into maintenance mode with no new additions and video game purchases have also significantly dropped. I think this is a good thing as photography is much more rewarding and easily shared with others.

The D3100 I purchased a little over a year ago now has over 10k actuations on it. Its been a solid camera but its time for an upgrade. I am missing features on the D3100 I would like to play with like Flash Commander, time lapse, better low light sensor, more robust focus system, bracketing, in body focus motor and more. Anyone who knows me knows that when I even have the hint of wanting something I research it to death before making a decision. Months ago I started this process and it came down to the D600, but that is A LOT of money for me to spend. The D7000 was so tempting but just wasn’t updated enough on recent technology for me to conciser. I wanted a significant upgrade over my current D3100, not just an upgrade, I want this next camera to last me a good long while and not be outgrown as quickly as the D3100 was.

Then Nikon announced the D7100 and it was exactly what I wanted. It hit the check mark on everything I was looking for including and especially price. At a little over half the cost of the D600 it was an obvious choice. Yes its still a DX sensor vs FX but do I really need a FX sensor? I honestly couldn’t think of a single reason why I NEEDED one, oh sure there was plenty of reasons why I wanted FX but not needed.

The D7100 released on March 14th and I have been reading the reviews and its been nothing but fantastic. The few worries they have are negligible to me. The first being the removal of the low pass filter like the D800E. This is great because its one less filter to unsharpen your pictures, but the filter also prevents the moiré effect. You can read more about moiré here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moir%C3%A9_pattern Nikon believes that with megapixel count and technology advances being what they are, moiré should not be a big problem anymore. Moiré can also be fixed pretty easily in post processing.

The next thing everyone is complaining about and is honestly a hindrance is the small buffer the camera has. Have you ever taking a lot of pictures in succession in burst mode and had to wait for your camera to catch up downloading the files to your memory card? This is because your buffer cache is full and cant write fast enough to your memory card. The people complaining about this are typically sports photographers. The new Auto Focus system in the D7100 has them very interested but the cache is way to small even shooting jpeg for them to catch all the action. But I think they are trying to make the D7100 something it is not. Its not a professional camera, its kind of like a bridge camera between enthusiast and pro DSLR. It has features from both sides and doesn’t quite fit into either category, the D600 also falls into this category.

With all that said the D7100 is on order and should be arriving tomorrow. I am very excited and hope to be able to use it this weekend. The D3100 has already been claimed by my girlfriend who is interested in learning photography. I am going to pass down a lot of the original equipment I purchased to her so she has a nice start. I will add another update once I have time to play with the D7100.

Weekly Photo #32

Took a trip to Alcatraz Island and this is one of the decrepit buildings on it. Lighting is a bit harsh but still very pretty.

Camera Info
Device: Nikon D3100
Lens: 24-70mm f/2.8G
Focal Length: 24mm
Focus Mode: AF-A
AF-Area Mode: Dynamic
VR:
AF Fine Tune:

Exposure
Aperture: f/8
Shutter Speed: 1/4000s
Exposure Mode: Aperture Priority
Exposure Comp.: 0EV
Exposure Tuning:
Metering: Spot
ISO Sensitivity: ISO 800

Weekly Photo #31

This was taken outside my apartment, the tree’s are starting to bloom. This was an interesting one for me, the original picture was a complete failure and I turned it into something reasonable.

The final product

The original

The only program I used was Lightroom 4. In it I toned down all the blue’s and enhanced the pinks and magenta’s as well as exposure, tone, vibrance, contrast and sharpness.

Camera Info
Device: Nikon D3100
Lens: 24-70mm f/2.8G
Focal Length: 60mm
Focus Mode: AF-A
AF-Area Mode: Dynamic
VR:
AF Fine Tune:

Exposure
Aperture: f/8
Shutter Speed: 1/200s
Exposure Mode: Aperture Priority
Exposure Comp.: 0EV
Exposure Tuning:
Metering: Spot
ISO Sensitivity: ISO 400

Weekly Photo #30

Went home to Massachusetts for Christmas and it snow a little, more like a dusting. Found this awesome mushroom topped with snow protecting the ground below it.

Camera Info
Device: Nikon D3100
Lens: 24-70mm f/2.8G
Focal Length: 70mm
Focus Mode: AF-S
AF-Area Mode: Wide Area
VR:
AF Fine Tune:

Exposure
Aperture: f/8
Shutter Speed: 1/320s
Exposure Mode: Aperture Priority
Exposure Comp.: 0EV
Exposure Tuning:
Metering: Spot
ISO Sensitivity: ISO 100

Weekly Photo #29

Taken at Vasona Park in Los Gatos I was testing out the 24-70 2.8 I just purchased. Saw these mushrooms and had a lot of fun playing around with them.

Camera Info
Device: Nikon D3100
Lens: 24-70mm f/2.8G
Focal Length: 48mm
Focus Mode: AF-A
AF-Area Mode: 3D-tracking
VR:
AF Fine Tune:

Exposure
Aperture: f/8
Shutter Speed: 1/500s
Exposure Mode: Aperture Priority
Exposure Comp.: +0.7EV
Exposure Tuning:
Metering: Spot
ISO Sensitivity: ISO 100