Lazy Boy Photography

Author: David Huffman
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Did you ever get the desire to take a photograph but you just didn’t have the time or the inclination to drive a long ways to take it? Well, that happened to me just over this last weekend.

I have been studying, reading, and talking with friends about photographing hummingbirds for a long time. Arizona Highways Photo Workshops has a specific workshop on this, and it is terrific. I decided to try my hand at it on my own from the comfort of my living room.  That’s why I call this Lazy Boy Photography.  I have hummingbird feeders on my back patio and in my front yard as well. The hummingbirds tend to visit first thing in the morning, and again late afternoon.  I use Nikon equipment, and take advantage of their commander-slave strobe synchronization technology. I set up four strobes in total, one below, another above, and one each on the left and right side of the focus point. You can see this in the attached photograph. I used two different cameras, two different lenses, and three ways to trigger the shutter.
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One camera and lens combination was a Nikon D810 body with a Nikkor 70-200 mm F/4 lens.The other is a Nikon D7100 body with a Nikkor 24-120mm lens.  Overall, I prefer using the D810 for the better image quality and also because it has a larger buffer so I could shoot more photographs more quickly. I tried the Nikon wireless remote utility using an iPad and the remote adapter for that D7100, but the app is just too inconsistent for this use.  On the D810, I used a iUSBport Camera2 to trigger the system remotely with my iPad.  This works better, has a faster reaction time and you can make many camera adjustments from the app. The third way I triggered the set up was with a wired remote, but I soon tired of standing so close to the camera.  For settings, I used high speed flash synch, aperture f/22 for maximum depth of field, ISO 800, and flash distances of about 24 to 30 inches.  You’ll need to experiment.  We take advantage of the high effective shutter speeds of the flash to freeze the wings of these little beauties.

Photographing hummingbirds takes practice and patience. That’s why I decided, on my first attempt, to do it from the convenience of my living room. Over the course of about four hours I ended up getting three or four images that are usable.  This one is from a small part of the frame.  I encourage you to try new subjects and methods, and of course to learn from others, especially from Arizona Highways Photo Workshops, visit www.AHPW.org.

David is a Volunteer Trip Leader, Author and Instructor.  Visit him at www.HuffmanPhotoArt.com.

 

Nikon 300mm Lens Field Test First Impressions

Author: David Huffman

From time to time, we all get the urge to buy a new piece of equipment. We research it, talk to others, and maybe even rent one before we make a purchase decision. I’m no different. As a teenager, when I first got the photography bug from my father, I poured over all the lens data and testing graphs in the back of the photo magazines every month. I could memorize them. That was partly because I had more interest than I did money. Several decades later, now I find that while there is tremendous information available over the Internet, I still want to try it myself before I make a final decision. The abundant testing that most websites perform is very helpful, but at times tends overstate the deficiencies of the lens—the lenses look better than the reports would have you believe.

So, I no longer photograph newspaper pages or test targets, but instead take the lenses out into the field for testing in more real situations. I can’t remember the last time a photograph of a test target or newspaper page won a contest.

This report comes from a walk-around test in my local park of an exciting new lens from Nikon. It has been 15 years since a new version of a 300mm telephoto lens was introduced by Nikon, so the new Nikkor 300mm f/4E PF ED VR lens was something many enthusiasts and professionals have been waiting for.  What makes this new lens so exciting is an innovative optical design that reduces the weight by 50% and the physical size by 30%; this is a completely different lens. Nikon was able to achieve this by using a Phase Fresnel (PF) lens element, which can effectively reduce the need to use complex lens elements for correcting chromatic aberrations and ghosting. (Please note that I received no compensation from Nikon or other manufacturers for this review.) There are a number of new technologies in this lens, and I’ll refer you to the manufacturer’s website or other Internet sources for the full details. What interests me most about this lens, was that I could achieve full frame coverage with a longer telephoto lens, and keep the size and weight lower so I could carry it and use it more often. I use long lenses and although the results with them are very good I find I use them infrequently because they’re just too big to carry. This lens is so small and light, that is comparable to my every day walk-around lenses and short zooms.  The lens is 89mm x 147mm, and weight is 755g.  The picture below shows the new (left) and old lens for comparison.

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Lens handling is excellent and well-balanced on my full frame Nikon bodies D750, D810 and Df–– its weight is distributed evenly across the lens and it does not feel front-heavy like some of the telephoto and super telephoto lenses. Because the lens is so light, you don’t have to lay it on your left hand entirely when hand-holding, so you can completely avoid touching the focus ring.  The photo below shows a close up of the new lens alone.

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I’ll abbreviate this review in the interests of time for your reading.  I decided to test the lens today without a tripod, for the convenience of walking and also because I intend to use it for wildlife which can be more difficult with tripods.  So the waterfowl photos that accompany this blog are hand held.  All photos use the VR—vibration reduction— setting and I was not resting the lens on any type of support.  I had good results at all shutter speeds down to 1/30th second, although the sharpness was more consistent at shutter speeds over 1/250th second.  Focus was fast and accurate, both in single focus and continuous focus modes.  Each of the photos below were cropped somewhat, just as I would for a final image; these are not intended to be contest-winners, just test shots.

The first image is was taken at f/4 and 1/1000th second.  Even taken at a distance of over 150 feet, the depth of field is very shallow, so I’ll have to be careful with focus.  Using smaller apertures can help, but with these longer lenses, depth of field will always be limited.

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The second image was taken at a closer distance of about 35 feet, and you’ll see the sharpness is outstanding, using f/8 and 1/350th second.  But depth of field is still limited.

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Finally, I added a 1.4X teleconverter to the lens for an effective focal length of 420mm, and took this image from a distance of about 25 feet using f/5.6 and 1/1000th second.  Very sharp.

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My practical assessment concludes this lens is “a keeper” and one I’ll enjoy on my next outings and workshops with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.  Join us soon!

David is a Volunteer Trip Leader, instructor and author, find him at www.HuffmanPhotoArt.com.

HDR = High Dynamic Range with One Image?

Author: David Huffman

Yes!  You can create a High Dynamic Range image with only a single exposure.

First, what is High Dynamic Range?  HDR, as it is commonly named, is a method to expand the dynamic range of the image so that more detail is captured in the deepest shadows and in the brightest highlights.  Digital cameras, no matter how good, cannot duplicate the full dynamic range of human vision.  So, using multiple images (in most cases) images are created at a range of exposure from normal to plus  and minus several stops of exposure and then these images are combined into one file image.  This type of image creation requires a steady tripod and many other techniques to assure that the camera is not moved or other adjustments made between exposures.

But what do you do if the subject is moving, yet you want to expand the dynamic range?  I use PhotoMatix HDR software by the company HDR Soft.  I find it easy and quick to use, and I can even expand the dynamic range of a single image.  The two accompanying photographs illustrate this clearly, where the splash of the sea on the rocks was obviously moving quickly, and cannot be captured in three separate exposures with identical precision. So I just use one exposure and the software to create the HDR image.

If you would like to try this, take any single image you like and download the trial version of the software.  You can try it for free, and if you wish to buy it, you can save 15% using the links on my website,www.HuffmanPhotoArt.com.  Visit the SAVE HERE page to get the special discount code.

David Huffman is a Volunteer Trip Leader for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops, Author and Educator.

 

More Than Megapixels

Author: David Huffman

For most of the last 15 years, part of the race for digital imaging among manufacturers, is to emphasize an easy-to-compare metric: Megapixels.  The term refers to the millions of picture elements that make up the image.  As the saying goes:  “the more, the better.”  Not really, and here’s why.

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Technically speaking, there are infinitely more variables present than the pure pixel count of an image sensor that determine quality.  Some of these other variables include the total size of the sensor, the image processing algorithms of the built-in computer and firmware in the camera, the sharpness and other quality characteristics of the lens, and of course the photographer and post-processing techniques.

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The number of megapixels is an easy thing to compare but does not tell the whole story. As we now witness with the megapixel race, anything in the range of 20 or more megapixels will provide much more than adequate quality for almost any image need. What manufacturers have also determined, more recently, is that sensor size is easily as important as the number of megapixels and determining the image quality.  The larger the size of the overall sensor, the higher the quality of the image, and even more importantly, the ability to use higher ISO settings and therefore take pictures in lower light levels with less “noise” or “grain.”  This is why, for those of us obsessed with quality, we use full frame image sensors and high pixel count to achieve the maximum in sharpness and quality at the range of ISOs we preferred to shoot in.

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The pictures that accompany this blog were photographed with a four megapixel compact camera in the year 2004.  I have printed these images to 24 x 36 inches, and they are among the most often sold images in my catalog.

So, for great pictures, it’s More Than Megapixels.

David Huffman is a trip leader for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops, author and educator.

“It’s Hip to Be Square”

Author: David Huffman
All images copyright David Huffman.

Now, c’mon…admit it… you hardly ever even think about shooting in a square format.  Maybe if you use “Instagram” but that’s not really photography (in my book.)

Years ago, in the land of film and processing, I used Hasselblad cameras and twin-lens reflex Mamiyas and the much revered Rollieflex.  They were all square format.  I loved it.

Why?  The square format focuses your attention the subject, not the photograph.  The square format does not emphasize a sweeping horizontal vista or a stretched vertical shape.  It just IS. It stretches your own mind, to think about the image in a square format, especially because your camera probably does not offer that format in its native settings.  So you have to be a little more creative, inventive, and visionary when you compose an image for the square format. It’s actually one additional way that you can stretch your own creativity. The following images were all produced in studio and designed specifically for the square format. Shooting a set of images in square enables you to display them more conveniently as a grouping, and even encourages sales, if you do that sort of thing.
I hope you enjoy the following images and start to think square next time you pick up your camera.   It’s HIP to be SQUARE!
David Huffman is a Volunteer Trip Leader, Author and Educator for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.  Visit David at: www.HuffmanPhotoArt.com

Timing is Everything

Author: David Huffman

© David Huffman

© David Huffman

While traveling in Ireland, we drove thorough many cities and small villages on our search for history, beautiful landscapes and friendly people.  This blog shows two examples of how timing is important, even if your subjects aren’t high-speed sports.Landscapes and timing are legendary.  Often, you’ll find a great scene and realize that the direction of the sunlight, or cloud cover don’t make the most dramatic image.  Many good landscapes are justifiably taken within 30 minutes or so of sunrise or sunset for this reason.

Sometimes, this means scouting a location and returning at another time.  But if your time is limited during travel, you have to use your best creativity to make the most of the scene in front of you.The first photo shows a classical Irish landscape.  What made this one successful was the modulation of the sunlight using movement of the clouds.  I waited until the land was partially covered by clouds and shot several images as the clouds moved.  I think this one is the best of the series.  (Nikon D810, Nikon 24-120mm f/4 lens.)

The second photo is the Castle at Cahir, Ireland.  Although there were many tourists and signs around the castle, I managed to find a location that included foreground, middle ground and framing elements to add interest.  Then, just as I was about to leave, a mother goose and goslings paddled into the frame and I got just one image with all the elements in the right place. (Nikon D810, Nikon 24-120mm f/4 lens.)

© David Huffman

© David Huffman

The key to good landscapes and travel images is to pause before you click and consider the opportunities to improve your original idea.  And keep shooting, even after you think you’ve captured a good image, something might float into the frame for an even more interesting image.

Happy shooting.  If you wish to share ideas and learn more, try an Arizona Photo Highways Photo Workshop, http://www.AHPW.org.  You can see more of my images at http://www.HuffmanPhotoArt.com.

Pinnacle Peak Hike: High Dynamic Range

Author: David Huffman
Photos Copyright David Huffman

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Pinnacle Peak, a part of the McDowell Mountain Preserve in the north of Scottsdale, AZ, is a wonderful hike.  Located only minutes from the main part of Scottsdale, it is easily accessible and fun.  The trail is well-maintained, and you can choose to go the full distance for approximately one hour, or only go part way to the top.  On the way you will likely encounter many other hikers, and exercise-seekers, so if you’re taking pictures prepare for some interruptions.  I don’t let this deter you from a wonderful walk, as you will be getting significant elevation and a terrific view of the entire McDowell Mountain range in Northern Scottsdale around every bend.

On this particular day in late November, I chose to hike the trail because the weather was a little cooler and there were some clouds and overcast in the sky.  It may sound strange, but living in Arizona, plain blue skies all the time can be a little boring.  So the hike this morning caused some interesting landscapes and greater variety and modulation of the sky which I really appreciated.  I knew the contrast range could be quite high, from the bright sun and clouds to the deep shadows of the rocks, so for this particular image I chose to shoot three images at bracketed exposures from plus to minus 2 stops.

I shot the images in raw format, and upon returning home, I combined them using Photomatix Essentials software.  There are many controls in the software, yet it is easy to use. I decided to push the reality just a little bit over the edge, to make this seem a little more interesting. I hope you agree with me that the final image was worth the effort.  (The equipment was Nikon D810 camera, Nikkor 28-300 mm lens, no filter, normal exposure ISO 100, f/8, at 1/250th second, handheld with VR on.)

I encourage you to try new things, including high dynamic range imaging (HDR) to expand your photographic horizons.  You’ll also enjoy learning more at the Arizona Highways Photo Workshops, visit www.AHPW.org.  My website also offers inspiration and instruction, www.HuffmanPhotoArt.com.

Happy shooting!