Much of the inspiration for this post came from a friend who last year went to London for the first time. She made a big deal about the airplanes and hotels, but I was able to help plan a trip that kept everything in budget, supply ideas, from experience, and the whole trip turned out exceptional. She described this trip as once in a lifetime. I disagreed. My thoughts are – if you can save and plan for a trip in 6 months once, you can do it again. Especially for a place that (normally) has a very well connected airport. In the last week, I found out that she is planning another trip to London and the UK, once it is possible again of course.
For most locations, you will get another chance to return. This new chance can even be in the same conditions.
While there are some situations this does not apply to, there will be another fall, there will be another sunset, there will be another full moon. The aurora can be quite unpredictable, but there will be another aurora. Outside of certain once in a lifetime trips, you can get another chance.
Let’s look at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. I’ve been lucky enough to make three trips over the last few years. Let’s look at 3 very different photos, one from each trip.
My most recent trip was only a few months ago, and it was by far the most time I’ve spent in the park. But if you like a place as much as I (and now also my girlfriend) like Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks, you can make it there. I was even able to safely travel, by airplane, during the current trouble with the COVIDs.
The importance of this is so that you can relax and be in the moment, instead of worry that this will be the only time in your life to ever get a shot like this. The next time you get to visit a location, which may be several years later, your photography will have improved.
An example. Sydney Australia, 2002, Olympus D450 (1.3 mpix) vs 2016, Nikon D750 (24 mpix).
As I have a lot of time due to the COVIDs, I wanted to bring back an old type of post – Things I Like/Enjoy.
I know this may not be a strange thing to say, but, I enjoy photo workshops.
This can be broken down into three main reasons: Knowledge, comradery, and difficult places to get to.
I am not a full time photographer. Sure, it sounds like it would be nice to be a full time photographer, traveling the world, meeting up with a network of friends. However, most of us who really enjoy photography are not able to, or do not wish to, make it a full time job. In order to really learn a location and get to know where and when to be in different areas, you generally need to visit a location over and over with multiple visits over many years. This can be a huge time commitment.
This is the first reason I really like photo workshops – they are normally arranged to coincide with things you may not think about. The Milky Way rising in just the right spot and a new moon, the peak of fall colors, the historically best time to see the Northern Lights, a full moon rising above a well known landmark, the arrival of a large flock of birds, etc.
A good workshop leader should also have experience to help you with your camera and ideally post-processing software as well. This is great for someone who is starting out – you will likely walk away from the trip with some amazing images. While you could hire a local guide, this can get expensive and misses out on my second reason for joining a photography workshop.
The second reason is the comradery. This is not something which you can understate. Having a 5-10 day trip with others who really enjoy photography in an amazing area is a great experience. There is also the motivating factor. When I’m out on my own, I may look out the window and decide it is just too early, or there are too many clouds, or some other excuse and skip a sunrise. When I’m with a group, I wouldn’t even think about skipping a sunrise, even if it looks like it will be a bust. While on a photography trip/workshop, I personally have only ever skipped one event, it was a sunrise, my 15th in Hawaii, and we had been out until 3am the previous night. In this case, I didn’t miss anything. Part of this not wanting to skip an activity may also be because you are paying to be there.
The third reason, and this one is my newest to the list, is getting to hard to reach locations. In 2016, I had the good luck to go on a Rafting Trip for Photographers run by Gary Hart, who lives in Sacramento California. While this was very similar to a normal Grand Canyon rafting trip, almost everyone in the group was a photographer. So while the raft behind us had several people trying to see how much alcohol one could consume and not die, our group was always awake in time for breakfast and always had our gear ready to leave before the time we needed to pack up the rafts. We also made some changes to the schedule to try to be in certain locations for certain times of day. Could you get most of this on a normal raft trip? Probably. Would people stay out of your way and not get mud and dirt in the pool where you are photographing? Probably not.
Since this was a charter, we were also allowed to carry more weight. Normal trips limit you to 20lbs of equipment. For this trip, we were allowed to carry 30lbs, which includes cameras, cloths, medicines, etc. The extra 10lbs was definitely needed, since cameras tend to be about 3lbs for the body alone.
My other trip with logistical challenges was in 2017 for a trip to the Scorsbysund Fjords of Eastern Greenland. This trip was organized by the world-renowned Joshua Holko out of Melbourne Australia. For this trip, he not only booked the entire boat, ensuring that no one had to share a cabin with anyone else and that there was always enough space on the zodiacs for everyone to go out on every trip, he also chartered the plane. It also meant that the luggage weight limits were not enforced. Many in the group had ‘carry on’ bags with their own seat.
This trip also had one of the most frightening events I’ve experienced on a photo trip – the collapse of 1 billion cubic feet of ice into icecube sized chunks. There is a video of this, and it will likely be a future post.
For Greenland, the trip simply could not have happened in the way it did without it being a custom charter organized by a photographer. If it were a normal trip, there would have been nearly twice as many people on the boat, and there would have been more people than could fit in both zodiacs at the same time. This means that, for every iceberg cruise, about half of the people would need to stay on the boat.
As the Greenland trip revolved around photography, this also meant that dinnertime could be changed to fit the photography goals. On most trips, dinner happens at a certain time, even if the sunset is amazing.
Over the last 3-4 years, I’ve found the knowledge aspect of a workshop to be a smaller driving force. I’m very comfortable with my camera and software and can generally get what I want out of a scene. Sure, it helps to bounce ideas off of someone else, but that alone may not justify the price of a workshop. It has become easier than ever to find a location and when to be there via other means (search engines and photo sharing sites).
For an excursion-type trips run by a photographer, where the experience is otherwise difficult to have, locations can be fairly difficult to get to, and the logistics would be challenging, these trips are still very valuable for me.
Note: This post was started, but never finished, several years ago and references an event that occurred on January 1, 2017. Due to the lock-down, I have lots of time on my hands. As a result, I’m working on finishing some of the incomplete drafts.
I love fireworks. They always bring a smile to my face and are something that I find really enjoyable to photograph. Over the years, I’ve managed to get a collection of fireworks images that I am really happy with, and I’m always happy to share my go-to settings. They are iso200, f/8.0, 3.0 seconds.
I also have a post on my Instagram where I show my setup for photographing the Space Needle on New Year’s Eve.
Now with that shown, many people may realize that shooting through a glass window will create some really nasty reflections. So, here is what it actually looked like.
While it is certainly a lot less ‘gramable’, it works a lot better to keep the reflections down that would otherwise occur with shooting fireworks through glass. Maybe I’ll write more on this later.
With the background finished, let’s look at some of the results from each of the 3 cameras. When you get your settings just right, you don’t need a lot of changes in Lightroom, aside from whitebalance, crop, rotate.
This was my favorite photo from the night. This was also from my primary angle, shot on a Nikon D750. The reason I like this shot is because it puts you right in the action, while keeping the sense of place. This is easy enough to guess ahead of time because the fireworks show always has rockets launched from the top of the needle. Plus, since I’d seen multiple shows from this same vantage point, I could guess about where show would be and pre-position, pre-focus, and pre-setup the camera. For me, getting the framing so it felt like you were inside of the show really helps to capture the energy of the fireworks. The show is exploding outside of the frame, which makes the viewer feel like they are right in the action.
Another photo I really like from the evening was from my wider angle. Since I’d seen the fireworks displays in previous years, I was able to guess about where the top of the display would be. Normally, you wouldn’t want the top of the fireworks off, and would want to have a bit of breathing room at the top, but in this case, I think it works.
A tip: when shooting really wide, make sure to include more of the sky than you expect to use in the final image. This is because often the image will need to be rotated slightly. Rotating often includes a small crop, and you need to account for this when shooting.
For my third angle, I went with something that was more of an experiment than the others.
Based on the results of a previous year, I tried to really zoom in on one side of the Space Needle to give a new perspective.
Here is the previous year’s image on the left, and the new for 2017 image on the right.
I wanted to experiment with such a tight framing. Since I was also using an older camera and old lens that I rarely use, if the experiment failed, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.
This is a really interesting and unusual way to frame fireworks. But it is really difficult to pull off. The reason this was even possible, is because the launching point doesn’t move. When fireworks are launched from the ground into the sky, it is much more difficult to get these really tight frames. This image also works because the fireworks are exploding close to the launching point, which is also a fairly well-known landmark.
This was one of the last images from my old Sigma lens and one of the last images from my D300. At some point after this photo was taken, but, before I found it after my move, the focus ring has become difficult to turn. It was originally purchased around 2004 and was a surprisingly good example of a Sigma lens from a time when Sigma lenses were very hit or miss.
As another experiment on this post, I’m adding in a gallery of a other photos of the New Years fireworks.
This is a quick post on how I know what stuff is ‘mine’ as quickly as possible.
About 4 years ago, I was on a trip where I anticipated that everyone would have similar items. I wanted to ensure that I could quickly, visually, identify what was mine as fast as possible.
I used brightly colored hot pink Duck Brand Duct Tape.
The pink was used on my tripods and cameras. This can be seen in this photo from the Grand Canyon. May 2016.
And also this image from a sunrise in Australia. Aug 2016.
So why do I do this? The short answer, is so that I can spot my own stuff from far away.
Loch Ard Gorge on the Great Ocean Road, Australia in 2016
Very rarely have I seen anyone else use the same color to mark their things. It was only once, when arriving in Sydney Australia that I saw other people using similar color to identify their items.
On one of my trips, I had some of the same bags as the trip leader, except mine had a large ‘M’ in pink duct tape. At the end of the trip, while we were all somewhat tired and ready for rest, the trip leader, who had the same bag, grabbed my bag off of the bus instead of his own. I simply said ‘Hey Gary, that is mine’, and when seeing the pink duct tape he said ‘Oh wow sorry’ and handed me my bag. It was an honest mistake that was solved quickly by my pink duct tape marking system.
In the rain, rocking the pink duct tape
Since then, I always use the same system to mark my things. I am frequently on trips where people tend to buy the same brands of gear, so an easy way to tell ‘that is mine’ is very, very useful.
While I do not intend to make this a travel blog, I do have a lot of travel tips that I would like to share.
Paper, especially printouts of your reservations, is something I never travel without.
Whenever I am going on a trip, especially a long or international trip, I always carry paper copies of my flight and hotel reservations. These are separated into ‘transportation’ (airplanes, rental cars, trains, etc) and ‘lodging’ (hotels, campgrounds, etc). They are then placed, in order, into a holder with 2 clear pouches on each side.
As the trip progresses, I move the paper – by placing them into another bag or discarding them. For anything with personal information (airplane reservations often have your frequent flyer number, address, e-mail), these I save and shred when I get home.
If the trip is very long, with many transfers, I may print out 2 copies of my flight and place one on the top and one on the bottom of my ‘transportation’ pile.
This is something I have done for years and have even shown to others. While most people think it is a bit silly or over the top at first, once they try the method, they keep using it. I’ve even been told that it is unusually organized for my personality. Thanks, I think.
All of this has saved me a few times. The most recent was a few years ago when I was traveling to New Zealand from Australia. As I was flying in one airline and out on another, immigration didn’t have a record of me leaving the country. Since I had the printout of my departing flight, the situation was resolved very quickly.
Paper print outs can be handy. Mobile devices can have batteries die, or have limited service. You don’t want to be in a situation where you need evidence that you have a connecting flight, and you have a dead battery in your phone.
I am a baseball fan. And at risk of alienating many of the readers, I am a Phillies fan.
I have had the chance to tour the Citizens Bank Park twice. During my most recent trip, I brought my D850, about a week after I’d returned from the Faroe Islands (posts on the Faroe Islands trip will come…. at some point).
During this outing, the tour passed a wall in one of the nicer floors of the stadium. This wall is covered in baseballs.
While this photo is mostly unedited, it is one of the few in focus to show what I was initially thinking about on this photo. I will admit, I do like this perspective. However, I was not happy with any of these photos. Perhaps I will be able to try again soon. Quite often when working the scene, you’ll find hints of things you like, even if you don’t like the final result.
At some point after this photo, my wonderful, beautiful, and amazing girlfriend who totally didn’t write this line started to take some interesting photos of this wall.
I really like this framing. It makes it look like the wall goes on forever, is clear what the subject is, and the images goes left to right. Left to right is the preferred kind of image in parts of the world where we read left to right.
I didn’t edit the previous photo, but you can see that the framing feels different. Right to left vs left to right is very different, at least in the USA.
If you like this second version better, let me know. Maybe I will revisit it and edit this photo to be a ‘keeper’ version.
Anyways, that’s all for this image. Until next time.
I always like to put a technical look into the year before and try to summarize it in the first 3 months of the following year.
The Technical Stuff
In 2019, I created 21,940 photos and about 48 videos. This makes 2019 my 2nd most prolific year, behind #1, 2016 (the year where I went skiing for New Years, visited the Big Sur coast in California, spent 5 days rafting down the Grand Canyon, went to the Olympic Peninsula, and spend a month in Australia and New Zealand). 2019 is the first year where my photos used more than 1 TB.
2019 was defined by 3 large photo events. #1, like 2018, was the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington DC. #2 was a 2-week trip to the Faroe Islands and Norway in August. #3 was a trip over New Years to Banff, AB, Canada. #3 will show up on the 2020 year in review as well.
2019 has some smaller events as well. This included a trip to several historic rail roads in Pennsylvania (Jim Thorpe, Strasburg), several trips to the beach, and a Hot Air Balloon Festival in Lancaster.
Unfortunately, I was unable to visit Longwood Gardens for the Christmas Lights this year. Oh well, maybe in 2020.
In terms of cameras used per year, this is the first year my D850/D800 won. In 2019, I clearly preferred my newest camera over the D750 for 2016-2018. These results surprised me, because I thought they would be closer together. I think there is a reason for this, which is revealed in the next section. For the first time since 2009, my D300 is not on the list. Guess it might be time to get rid of it.
Wait a minute, my most used lens was a 200-500mm? Where did that even come from?
The 200-500mm lens was a new purchase for 2019. It was primarily purchased for the previously mentioned Faroe Islands trip in order to chase puffins. This is also the reason the D850 had more photos in 2019 – the autofocus on the D850 is just better, and puffins are notoriously obnoxious to try to shoot. The majority of those 6471 images are of puffins. The rest are, mostly, me attempting to shoot images of the moon.
My second most used lens was last year’s most used lens, the 24-120 f/4. What can I say, it is a really good lens for when I want to save some weight. The third most used lens was last year’s number 2, the 24-70 f/2.8. Guess I really like this focal range.
Everything else was about in line with the usage in 2018.
The breakdown of Camera:Lens Combination is:
I don’t usually look at these results before writing this post. This actually surprises me. The really surprising part is how little I used the D750 last year.
The Good Stuff – New Stuff
As previously mentioned, in 2019, I aquired the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 lens and a GoPro Hero 7. And yeah, I now own a selfie stick too.
The Good Stuff – Travels
I mentioned this above, but, 2019 was a lot of smaller weekend trips, with a really big trip to the Faroe Islands and another one to Banff.
The Bad Stuff – Gear Repairs
For the first time ever, I had a non-warantee repair on a camera lens. My camera bag, unfortunately, fell out of my car. The 14-24 lens was damaged and needed to be serviced at a Nikon repair center. It was quite expensive, but the service center did a really good job and the insides work like it was new.
The Bad Stuff – Missed Goals for 2019
I was not able to meet my goal of learning how to produce videos better nor generating an income from photography. While I realize it is a poor craftsman who blames his tools, one of the reasons I’ve struggled with video is because my laptop, which is a now-3 year old Lenovo, simply struggles too much to make videos consistently.
For 2020, my plans are this:
1 trip currently being planned – Cherry Blossoms in DC in the March-April timeframe.
Goal: Actually start to make some money, whether it is stock photos or something else.
Goal: Update the blog more often. Learn how to use Gutenberg, which has replaced the old WordPress post editing system.
Goal: Work on learning how to make videos, maybe even launching a YouTube channel.
Stretch Goal: Work with a brand to showcase their gear in amazing locations.
For a Thursday, here is a quick travel tip: When in a new city, always carry the business card of your hotel.
This is a travel trip that I have never seen elsewhere. Everyone who uses this tip always thanks me.
If you have the business card, it has the address where you are staying, and just as importantly, it has the phone number of the front desk. If you are in a place that is new, and doubly so if you are in a place where you cannot speak the language, this is all you need to get to your bed. If there are any questions, the driver can call the front desk. This is also helpful if you do not have a roaming plan.
Better late than never. A look-back at 2018 and the photos I took during that year, from a technical an analytical perspective.
I originally wrote this in February of this year, but never published it. I’ve done light editing, but left the rest as it was.
In the second of my look-back posts, I’m going to try to cover the events of my last year in Photography.
The Technical Stuff
In 2018, I created 15,014 photos and 131 videos. This makes 2018 my 5th most prolific year, behind #4, 2010 (the year I spend 18 days in Hawaii).
Unlike past years, 2018 did not have a single dominant trip. There were 3 events in 2018, the National Cherry Blossom Festival in April, a week long trip to Utah in July, and the local Pennsylvania Christmas Celebrations at Longwood Gardens and Bethlehem in November/December.
For the cameras used per year, I clearly favored my D750 for the 3rd year in a row. But for the second year in a row, the reason is somewhat clear. I use the D750 for star trails/low light situations where only the D850 can come close. Since the D850 is a purchase late in 2018, we’ll have to see what happens in 2019. I still prefer the D750 for my first time exploring an area due to the weight. I frequently combine the D750 with the 24-120 f/4.0 due to the high quality and lower weight.
My lens usage in 2018 wasn’t even close. The 24-120 f/4.0 lens was by far the favorite, accounting for nearly half of the photos taken last year. It really is a solid N-Series lens from Nikon, and it has really become a favorite, all-around, no-compromise lens for when I can only carry a single lense. It is also the cheapest of my N-Series lenses, as it was sold in a kit with my D750.
The other lens I want to call attention to is the 28-105 f/3.5-4.5. This is my oldest lens that I still use. It was the one that Ken Rockwell once called the worst lens Nikon has ever made. I love it. It is far from perfect, but it has a macro mode that produces some great images. These are from a D750 and D300 (itself a 10 year old camera) from 2018.
I have had this lens in constant usage since 2002, when I bought it as a pair to my Nikon N80, a film camera, for my college photography class.
The breakdown of Camera:Lens Combinations is:
While my D850 is more or less a replacement for my D800, in November and December, I did find myself using the D850 in the very low light conditions where I would previously have used my D750. I think the results for 2019 will be interesting.
The Good Stuff – New Stuff
As mentioned above, in 2018, I was finally able to acquire a Nikon D850. Due to the release of the Z-series, this may be my last Digital SLR, but time will tell.
The Good Stuff – Travels
In 2018, I only had 2 trips. The first was a long weekend to Washington DC for the Cherry Blossom Festival, something I hope to do in 2019 as well. The second was a week long trip to Utah for the Milky Way. This trip was somewhat of a bust, but it did result in one of my favorite trips of 2018 and one where I learned a lot about lightning photography. I plan on going back to Utah in 2020 to try again. My trip was with Enlighten Photography ( https://www.zion-photography.com/ ) out of Zion National Park, a company I highly recommend, and a company I will be using in the future.
The Bad Stuff
Knock on wood, there was nothing I would consider the ‘bad stuff’ in 2018. I did get somewhat unlucky in Utah – in that I did not get my target images – but I still got some phenomenal images and the trip was worth doing.
I did not, however, accomplish my 2018 goal of getting great video produced. I also was unable to make progress in making photography a side job.
As of now, my plans for 2019 are this:
2 Trips – Cherry Blossoms in DC in March-April timeframe. Faroe Islands in September timeframe.
My 2019 goals are: Generate income from photography that pays for the trips, and learn how to better produce video because video seems to be important.
My 2019 stretch goals are: Work with a corporate sponsor to showcase their gear at an amazing place. I managed this image, but Eddie Bauer (maker of my jacket, I love this jacket) did not reply – https://www.instagram.com/p/BlZhrP5h3oA/ .