Happy New Year!

in General by on December 31st, 2007

As 2007 ends, I wanted to wish a Happy New Year to all of my loyal readers – thanks for stopping by and reading from time to time.

I hope 2008 brings you success in all that you do, both in your personal and professional lives….

I’m currently in Japan, with my new D300 and 24-70mm, returning to the Netherlands in a couple of days. And I promise one of my resolutions for 2008 is to write more blog posts!

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Digital Printing online – a recommendation

in General by on August 16th, 2007

Leopard in a tree…..
Originally uploaded by DigitalHeMan

For reasons of space and running costs, I have never had reason to purchase a colour photo printer for home use. Although having my own printer would give me a lot more flexibility in to what I printed and when, I feel the cost per print is not much different to various online services.

So over time I have tried out a number of online photo services in the Netherlands, but have now finally found one company that, after a number of positive experiences, am going to stick with.

The company, ProFotoNet, a division of FotoSystems in Gouda, has a very simple to use website. It is possible to either download some software (for Windows) or use their online tool (for Mac users) to upload the pictures to their server.

Previously, Mac users were a bit limited to the browsers they could use to upload their pictures, but with the latest version of the online software I have successfully uploaded with both Mozilla variants (Flock) and Safari.

The quality of the images is stunning – they print everything on Kodak Endura paper, and I choose the Endura Metallica finish, which has a layer of silver in the paper to give certain colours a metallic look when held to the light. One of the reasons that the colours are so good, and can accurately represent the image as it is on the screen, is that ProFotoNet provides icc calibration profiles, to which the images can be converted before they are uploaded. But also without these profiles, providing the images are uploaded in either AdobeRGB or sRGB, they will do the conversion for you.

The best thing about the service is the price – a 10x15cm print is only 0,32€, a 20×30 print on Endura Metallic is 2,99€, and a 30x45cm print comes in at 7,50€. Admittedly this is a bit more expensive than somewhere like the Hema, but this is a pro service, and delivers pro results.

A couple of other things worth mentioning – firstly the speed: recently I placed an order at 10pm on Sunday evening, and received the order Tuesday morning by 10am. This is normal for ProFotoNet, I think they mention on their website that if images are uploaded by 3pm, they will normally be shipped out the same day. Also the payment is very easy – the prints are made on credit, and an invoice is sent along with he prints, with the request to make payment within 14 days.

As I said, I have used a number of services in the Netherlands, but this one by far gives superior quality at reasonable prices……

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Gear to pack on a safari

in General, Technique, Travel by on June 14th, 2007

Cheetah
Originally uploaded by DigitalHeMan

I recently came back from a photo safari at Tshukudu Lodge in Hoedspruit, South Africa, organised by FotoCampus. In the first of a series of articles about the safari, I thought I would write about the photo gear that I took with me, what was useful, and what was not so useful…..

Due to the current luggage restrictions on airlines, it was necessary to be a little bit careful with what I carried with me. So I decided to purchase a Think Tank Airport International roller case to take my hand luggage on the plane with me. I figured that since my hand luggage would be weighing around 16-18kg, anything I could do to make it look lighter would help. And since rolling 16kg around on wheels looks a lot more effortless than carrying it on your back, that helped my decision…..

So then I was left with the decision of what to take with me on the plane, and what to have in my hold luggage. Obvioulsy my main lenses and camera bodies would stay with me, and I opted to put all chargers, cleaning equipment, batteries, monopod etc in the hold. This way I figured that if my hold luggage were to get lost or delayed, at least I would still be able to shoot, and there would be enough other people there who I could borrow chargers from if necessary.

I packed the following gear:

2x D200 bodies, both fitted with MB-D200 battery grips – I think the battery grip on the D200 makes handling so much better, and makes it a lot easier to take photos in portrait format. Definitely a worth €175 upgrade

200-400mm F/4G VR lens – this was almost permanently attached to one of the D200 bodies, and was used for around 45% of the shots

70-200mm F/2.8G VR lens – this was attached to the second D200 and was also used for around 45% of the shots

The above two lenses are, in my opinion, invaluable on a safari, since they give a good coverage of the range you will likely to be shooting at. 200-400 is especially useful for birding shots, but it is important to support the lens well. Since there was no space in the safari vehicle for a tripod (in fact I didn’t take one with me) I had the choice between using a bean bag, or a monopod. I filled the beanbag with around 4kg of sugar beans, and found this to be a perfect solution. The roll bars on the vehicle made a good support, either sitting or standing, and by putting the bean bag on top, I found I could rest the 200-400 lens on the bag and get sharp shots.

The 70-200 can be used hand held, and at a stretch can be fitted with a TC-17e to give a reasonable alternative to the 200-400.

17-55mm F/2.8G lens – Used for some landscape shots, and when I had the opportunity to get closer to some of the animals (jn Tshukudu they have some animals as part of breeding programmes, and it is normally possible to get fairly close to them, albeit with a fence in between. Also good for ‘atmosphere’ shots of other participants, and for when the elephants charge the vehicle…..

10.5mm F/2.8G fisheye lens – Used a couple of times, but could have been left at home, not really a safari lens. However, due to it’s small size, it doesn’t cost any space to take it with, so it invariably finds it’s way into my bag. Used for a couple of landscape shots.

12-24mm F/4G lens, 85mm F/1.4D lens – Didn’t use either of these lenses, next time I will leave them at home….

TC-14e and TC-17e teleconverters – I really expected that I would use my converters, but didn’t take a single shot with them. Wouldn’t leave them at home, as they are always useful as a last resort…..

SB-800 flash – Used more than I expected to provide fill to darker subjects, or for freezing the movement of some subjects. I used this in conjunction with the Nikon SD-8a battery pack, which supplements the in flash battery power with 6 additional cells, and found this to provide a welcome improvement to flash recycling times.

Monopod – as mentioned earlier, good camera support is vital, and I used my Gitzo 1578L for this

Bean Bag – I took a bean bag that I had purchased for €10 locally, and then filled it with beans once I arrived. Mine is around 25×20 cm, and I found this to be just the right size. If you make your own, you will probably find using a zip to close it works considerably better than velcro or other fastners.

Cleaning kit – My sensor actually remained relatively clean, but I took my Eclipse fluid and sensor swabs with me just in case. I also took a microfiber lens cloth, and a rocket blower to clean the gear at the end of each day

Photo vest – A good photo vest with a number of pockets is useful. Each drive I carried my cameras in my hand, and put all the other accessories, lenses, and flash in the photo vest. There isn’t really space to take a camera bag in the vehicle, so best to avoid taking one

Memory – I had 4x 4Gig cards with me, and this was more than enough for my two bodies. At the end of each drive I would copy the contents of the cards to two external 120Gig drives, via my MacBook Pro.

Batteries – I took seven EN-EL3e batteries with me, but found I didn’t use more than four in a day shooting…..

All in all, the equipment worked fine, and I was happy with the results that I achieved. I had a couple of issues with the D200 bodies and blinking battery syndrome, but was solved by switching lenses between bodies, and the wheel fell off the Think Tank. However when I returned, Think Tank were very apologetic and are sending me a replacement wheel kit. The problem shouldn’t have occurred in the first place, but at least it was rectified through good customer service.

So did I forget anything? I think the gear I took covered pretty much all of the photo opportunities that I had. However I think taking a polarising filter would have been useful, as this would allow for better saturation in some photos. A tripod would have also been useful for some long exposure/night time opportunities, however it’s use would have not been possible during the day drives, and would have been a hassle to transport through the airport (and the extra weight would have definitely ended up in having to pay for excess baggage….)

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Queen for a day

in General by on April 30th, 2007

Queen for a day
Originally uploaded by DigitalHeMan.

Today (30th April) was Queen’s Day. This is when the Dutch spend the day outside celebrating the (former) queen’s birthday. This year we were blessed with good weather, so around 500000 people gathered in Amsterdam.

The day traditionally starts with the vrijmarkt, which is where anyone can set up a stand and sell whatever they feel like getting rid of. My friends Vincent and Tamara were there too, with Vincent professionally dealing with his customers and selling all sorts of quality items. Highlights included back issues of National Geographic circa 1994, a purple elephant with a leg missing, and a toy train….

Vincent at Vrijmarkt

After the vrijmarkt I went for a wander in the center and in the Jordaan, in search of photos, but was suprised how empty parts of the Jordaan were (and how unphotogenic the center was), so didn’t come away with any shots. However on the way back to my bike, passed by the gay QDay festival on the Amstel, which as always was a great excuse for people to dress up as Queens for a Day….. came across many people dressed as Queen Beatrix, and others clothed as Dancing Girls/Guys….

Queen for a day

Photographically, I decided to stick with a single prime for the day, and went with the 10,5mm Fisheye. When used close up this gives powerful images, and also includes a lot of the background to add to the atmosphere of the image. The images shot here were taken using fill in flash, since I find the fisheye accentuates areas in the shade, so a nice pop of flash does wonders…..

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Spring time

in General by on April 9th, 2007

Muscari
Originally uploaded by DigitalHeMan.

So, Easter has been and gone, but in Holland the last weeks signalled a change in the weather and we are now experiencing bright spring days, just the right weather for flowers to spring into bloom. Of course the Netherlands is well known for having the right weather for cultivating flower blooms, and the world famous tourist attraction, Keukenhof, is only testament to that, attracting thousands of tourists every day.

One of our friends gave us a muscari plant recently, and it also burst into bloom this weekend. Whilst it hasn’t produced the deep blue blooms that are often associated with this particular flower, it nevertheless has given me a perfect subject to play around with my camera, and some of the results can be seen in my flickr photostream.

I am lucky to have managed to obtain a good secondhand copy of the Nikon 70-180mm F/4.5-5.6 Micro zoom before they either disappear from the face of the earth, or begin to command insane prices on ebay (Nikon recently discontinued this, their only Micro zoom, leaving only fixed focal length macros in their collection) and the flexibility of the zoom makes this an ideal lens for flower photography, and allows the photographer to get in much closer than just a bloom or a petal.

There are a number of choices to make with macro photography. Firstly the light source – should it be artificial, or available light? When shooting in the great outdoors, the subject and it’s surroundings often dictate this, since any subject movement close up is greatly amplified, and needs a high shutter speed in order to freeze it, which is not always possible, so flash gives a number of advantages.

When using flash for macro, a close up flash kit such as the Nikon SB-R1(C1) is ideal. The top shot accompanying this blog was taken with the SB-R1, and two SB-R200 light sources either side of the lens. Due to the size of the muscari blooms, I was also shooting with the PK-13 (27,5mm) extension tube, and the Nikon 6T close up lens, and I wanted to get the in focus blooms to stand out a bit from the background. Now one of the nice things with the SB-R1 kit is that light fall off is pretty quick, so you end up with a nice black background, but in this case it wasn’t happening initially, as the ambient light was too high, so I stepped the shutter speed up to 1/250s to aid the separation. (this also works inversely – by using slow shutter sync you can also balance the ambient light to give the background detail as well)

However, such a close up flash kit isn’t always necessary. Today I was at Keukenhof, where wielding the Sb-R1 around would have been impractical, so instead I worked with the SB-800, but took it off camera and used the SC-17 connecting cable so that I could control where the light was falling on the subject. Works just as well, and with Nikon’s advanced TTL flash, exposures were spot on.

Muscari

The second shot was taken with ambient light. This required a longer exposure to balance the exposure, and I ended up shooting at 1/3s. This gave the nice effect that the background (a white wall) was also exposed well, and I felt this gave the photo a dreamy quality. Of course outside this shot wouldn’t have been possible, as even the slightest breeze would have left the picture unsharp, but there is nothing wrong with shooting specimens in a controlled environment inside (assuming of course you haven’t taken the flowers from the wild with the sole intention of photographing them 😉

Another choice to be made with macro photography is the aperture to be used. This will have a dramatic effect on how much of the picture will end up being in focus, since the depth of field in macro photography is greatly reduced. Take for example the two shots accompagnying this blog – the first was shot at f/16, leaving a fair amount of the bloom in focus, whereas the second one was shot at f/5.6, leaving very few of the blooms sharp. In my experience, the more ‘artistic’ shots will use a lower aperture, whereas the ‘documentary’ shots will be shot at higher apertures.

In the age of digital SLR photography, shooting higher apertures brings its own challenges in the form of dust bunnies. It is an unfortunate fact that sensors do collect dust over time, due to their static charge, and regardless of how carefully lenses are changed, dust will end up on the sensor. You can check for dust on your sensor by shooting a white wall at f/16 or higher, and you will probably be suprised by the results. During ‘normal’ photography, you are less likely to notice the dust since (at least in my case) you don’t use the higher apertures so often, but since macro photography means you are more likely to, this either means cleaning the sensor before a macro session, or using spot removal in Photoshop or Lightroom to try and remove the spots in post processing.

Needless to say, the use of a sturdy tripod and a cable release are imperative in order to get sharp results, but I’ll leave that for another day…….

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