Archive for April, 2008

Photo pass: Progressive Nation tour

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

I’ve been confirmed for a photo pass to shoot the Progressive Nation tour stop here in DC! That’s Dream Theater, Opeth, Between the Buried and Me, and 3 at DAR Constitution Hall (the biggest concert venue in the District if you discount the Verizon Center, with a capacity of about 3,700) on May 26. These days, I’m only really a fan of Opeth and BTBAM (who are from my hometown of Winston-Salem, NC), but I used to be a huge Dream Theater fan back in my more wide-eyed prog-fan days. So I was really looking forward to this show, and even more so now.

The dreaded red

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

This has probably happened to anyone who’s ever taken a digital camera to a concert at a small, low-budget venue in the hopes of getting some keepsake shots: the lighting is dim and tinted red, the camera doesn’t meter the scene correctly, and the red channel in all the photos ends up being completely blown out with no detail visible or salvageable.

I’ve certainly been befuddled by this situation before. I took some photos of Kahil El’Zabar’s Ethnic Heritage Ensemble a while back, and barely managed to get anything useful thanks to an overabundance of red light that washed out all the detail in the performer’s faces. Since then I’ve learned to deal with this less-than-ideal situation a little better – although, it seems, there isn’t really any way to make very tasty lemonade out of these lemons.

Best I can tell, the way to handle these are to watch your histograms very carefully, adding some underexposure to your exposure compensation as needed. At least my Nikons don’t seem to worry much about overexposing reds, and I sometimes have to underexposure by as much as a full stop to preserve detail. (Though actually, I’ve recently been shooting mostly full manual at concerts, not trusting the meter at all and instead chimping like crazy.) Then, in post-processing, convert to black & white. I choose to do black & white for most of my low-light concert shots; they’re just a lot more visually pleasing to my eye than a wash of red, wherein details (even if present) are hard to resolve.

Hover your mouse over the following images to see the black & white conversions. I like them better than the color versions; do you?

Administrative note

Saturday, April 26th, 2008

I’m still working on the appearance of this blog – apologies if things look funky or broken (the comment boxes, for example).

Trying something new

Saturday, April 26th, 2008

Adams Morgan 9

I’ve always been fascinated by street photography. Like so many other photographers, I was enthralled by Henri Cartier-Bresson’s work and fascinated by the idea of openly photographing strangers in public places, capturing poignant moments in time when most people simply wouldn’t be comfortable pointing a camera. Reading this article about Garry Winogrand only served to pique my interest even more.

The problem is, I’m relatively shy, and generally uncomfortable with the idea of sticking a camera in a stranger’s face. So I never thought I would ever really give street photography a try. But, what the hell, I was in DC’s Adams Morgan bar district on a Friday night, with my camera, and if there’s ever a place with interesting subjects for this kind of thing, that was it. So, while chatting with a friend I had met up with, I fired away.

(The funny thing is, I had a conversation with a total stranger earlier today about this. He saw me shooting some random thing on my way home from work and asked for camera advice, saying he was interested in taking pictures of people – strangers in public places, actually. Just kind of an odd coincidence that I would try my hand at street photography just a few hours after having that completely random conversation.)

Adams Morgan 16

This was a pretty tough introduction, seeing as how I shot almost entirely with a 50/1.8; a wider angle lens would have made things easier. Also, the lighting was challenging to say the least, adding another thing that I needed to think about, as if cracking into a whole new kind of photography wasn’t enough. Still, for a first effort I think I had some reasonable success. Obviously I have a lot to work on if I ever try this again, not least being trying to capture actual interactions instead of single people or people just walking together. Though sometimes solitude in the midst of all these people makes for a neat composition, as in the above photo.

I was fascinated by people’s reactions to my camera. Most people never noticed me, even though I was hiding in plain view – often standing in the middle of a busy sidewalk with the camera up to my face. Of those who did notice, a few mugged for the camera, a few just looked surprised, and most looked completely uninterested. No one seemed the least bit annoyed. In that sense this was a good start. I wouldn’t say I felt comfortable by the end, but I definitely moved in that direction.

Adams Morgan 14

Oh, and also… it was a lot of fun. Here’s the full set of some of my better shots from the evening.

Ideas for a better Auto ISO

Friday, April 25th, 2008

I referenced my annoyance at the D300’s Auto ISO function in a previous post, but Nikon then went and fixed the problem (the fact that minimum shutter speed only goes up to 1/250) in the D3 with their (since recalled) firmware update. I fully expect this fix to come out for the D300 relatively soon, so I’m happy. But someone at Flickr came up with an idea for an even better improvement to the Auto ISO system:

I’d like it better if you could set the minimum shutter speed to be the inverse of the current focal length of the lense. So when I go in tight at 200mm, I wouldn’t want my shutter to be slower than 1/200th, but then when I go wide, it would be great to not have to do anything and the shutter is able to slow a bit so the ISO isn’t cranked.

I think this is a pretty brilliant idea and don’t see any reason it couldn’t be done. It would be great to be able to set minimum shutter speed to a certain multiplier of the focal length – so steady-handed types could use something less than a direct inverse (say, a multiplier of 0.8), while shaky-handed folks also worrying about the increased crop factor of a DX camera could use someting like a 1.5 multiplier. Meaning at a 50mm focal length, the minimum shutter speed would automatically go to 1/80.


Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008

Day 93: Unexpect 04

Just got permission from the manager of the Symphony X & Epica tour to photograph all bands at their May 3 tour stop at Jaxx in Springfield, VA. Jaxx doesn’t have a photo pit, but they discourage SLRs unless you have permission from the band, so now that I have written permission I can be sure I won’t be harassed even when I bring a monster kit. Which I will, because I’ll be renting a 17-55/2.8 zoom specifically for that weekend (for this show and the next day’s show with Earth and Kayo Dot at Rock & Roll Hotel in DC), and using it in conjunction with my 50/1.8.

The next step, of course, is getting similar permission at venues with photo pits – something I probably won’t be able to do without a publication behind me. Well, that’s what building a portfolio is for.

The above photo is from the latest show I shot at Jaxx – Unexpect, a great concert with hideous lighting. I got a few usable shots and the one above, which I love and use for my business cards.

Weather and cameras

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008

Ramsey's Draft 41

I’m not very nice to my cameras. For all that they’re more expensive than everything else I own other than my car, I don’t really baby them at all. I use them, and use them hard. Not combat photographer hard of course, but they get their share of bumps, scrapes, nasty weather, etc.

My old Nikon FGs started acting up after a couple years of this sort of thing, but that may just have been the known electrical problems that many FGs have anyway. My D70 went through its share of rain, fog, sleet (as above), abrupt humidity changes, and so on, and the biggest problem I ever experienced was condensation buildup inside my kit lens that went away after half a day.

Day 112: Wisteria and ivy

I took my D300 out in a pretty steady rain yesterday to get the above shot, and didn’t really think twice about it. I figured if my D70 can handle rain, the better weather sealing on the D300 shouldn’t have any problems. Still, it made me wonder: why doesn’t Nikon put that nifty lens-mount rubber gasket on all of its lenses? Only my 18-70 kit lens, hardly a professional lens, has that extra bit of weather sealing. I don’t know how important it is to have that, but it sure gives me a little extra peace of mind.

I was also thinking about gaskets this past weekend shooting Ultimate on a field space that ended up being very dusty, with lots of grit kicked up and floating around in the air. I’m more concerned about that kind of thing than I am about a little rain, actually.

More action photography

Monday, April 21st, 2008

Day 110: Henlopen 10

There are not all that many shots I’ve taken with the D300 that I couldn’t have gotten with the D70. Most of them involve high ISOs, like concert photography in especially difficult lighting. But while the D300 gives me more control, better image quality if I get everything right, the ability to make larger prints, etc, most of the time I could get the exact same shot with the D70 by paying close attention to all the details.

This weekend, though, shooting more Ultimate Frisbee, I got so many shots I just wouldn’t have caught with the D70. The autofocus systems of the D70 and D300 are like night and day. My best shots, like the one above, were taken of players cutting directly towards the camera, and the D300 autofocus handled these perfectly. I usually held down the AF-ON button to let the camera continually focus on the moving players, waited for the right moment to take the first frame, and then held down the shutter to take 4-5 frames in succession. Usually the first looked exactly how I had envisioned, and the extra framers are gravy. If the autofocus ever failed, it was because it locked on to the “wrong” player, not because it was too slow to follow the action.

This thing is just a joy to use for sports. There was another photog at the tournament shooting with a D2H, and he very candidly expressed his envy over the D300. Every time I do sports photography I understand this a little bit more – this is an amazing machine.

Henlopen 40

Gear aside, I’m just getting better at shooting Ultimate. At first, all I could reliably shoot were high, floaty hucks where it was obvious where the action was going to be. Then, a couple years ago I realized that I should choose a cutter to follow if I wanted to get an exciting shot. I’ve since learned to watch plays develop until I could tell which cutter was about to get this disc, and recognize whether his/her defender could make a play. If so, there would be a photo-worthy moment, and I could quickly frame a shot with the receiver and defender just before the disc went up.

This method still doesn’t get me some of the more jaw-dropping, out-of-nowhere plays like big poach D’s or “there’s no way she/he’s going to get to that” catches, but it certainly has gotten me a pretty impressive “hit rate” in terms of interesting and technically sound photos. The next step is to have all the technical issues down well enough that I can pay full attention to framing and composition. Right now, while I exposure, depth of field, and so on are second nature for me, I’m still paying a bit of attention to the autofocus system since I’m not 100% sure what it will do in certain situations. I’m already getting better at using the full range of my 80-200 zoom (in the past I often just kept it at 200 all the time because I didn’t have any brain cells to spare worrying about zooming, and I missed a lot of shots close to me as a result), so that’s a first step.

Henlopen 27

Full sets from this weekend at Flickr: Medicine Men (my team), and various women’s and coed teams.

The grass is always greener…

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

Evangelista 9

Now that I have a D300, the logical next step for me is to wish I had a D3.

I’m not really serious about that, but I sure could have used a camera that could make usable images at ISO 12800 last night, at a concert I shot at DC’s Velvet Lounge. The show was headlined by Carla Bozulich’s new-ish Evangelista band. As I say at Flickr,

Evangelista is a pretty indescribable avant-indie-rock six-piece (2x guitar, bass, electronics, cello, drums) led by the inimitable Carla Bozulich. They veer between, and often combine, noise and minimalism, with Bozulich’s almost painfully personal and expressive vocals – sung, declaimed, shouted and screamed – leading the charge. Their albums are pretty intense but they’ve got nothing on the live show. My one-word review is, wow.

(My more-than-one-word review will be coming eventually at my music blog over at Ground & Sky. Or pop over to check out DCist’s really nice writeup, with a couple of my photos.)

Photographically, ISO 3200 was barely enough to get a decent shutter speed for some of the more active moments of the show. There were patches of nice lighting on the stage, but for the most part it was dim and tended towards red. And, of course, the spots that the frontwoman inhabited most regularly were not the spots with the nice lighting.

Photographing this show was a challenge that my D70 would have been pretty hard-pressed to meet. As it was, I barely eked a few decent images out of my D300 – I need more practice at this. Also, it would have been really nice to have a fast wide-angle to midrange zoom here, like the Nikon 17-55/2.8 that I’m planning to rent for a couple shows coming up in early March. I was stuck switching off between my 50/1.8 and my old 24/2.0 AIS manual focus, hardly an ideal situation.

Day 107: Evangelista 2

Whining and complaining

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

Talking about how awesome the D300 is is easy. After playing with it for a few days now, I already can think of a few things I wish were better about it (other than stuff like “it’s heavy” or “it’s not a full-frame camera”… duh). None of this should be read as though I’m unhappy with this camera, of course – nothing could be further from the truth. Still, my minor complaints include:

  • Auto ISO: why is the maximum shutter speed only 1/250? I’d like to be able to set 1/500 or even higher for sports photography with a long lens. EDIT: Apparently, the D3 just got a firmware update that fixes this problem, allowing the user to select up to 1/4000. Hopefully the D300 will get a similar fix soon!
  • Menus: the layout is rather clunky. Thom Hogan has covered this pretty well in his review.
  • Remote release: I really miss the days when you could buy a $10 mechanical remote shutter release cable. I really have to pay $55 if I want Nikon’s cable release? Are you kidding?
  • Mirror lock-up: Since I refuse to get scammed for the cable release, I’d like to be able to use MLU and the self-timer at the same time for tripod photography. But no, you can only use one or the other. Why?!
  • Playback: I’d like to be able to see a single full-screen histogram with separate RGB channels. Currently the only options are a small histogram (with all channels combined) crammed onto a screen with other shooting info, or three entirely separate histograms, one for each channel, all crammed on the same screen. In my view, this is a bizarre step back from the playback info options available on the D70 (though the D70 does not have a channel-separated histogram, it at least displays its histogram close to full-screen).
  • GPS: Maybe this is silly, but I wish Nikon had included a built-in GPS receiver. Their support for linking to external GPS units through the PC jack is enormously clunky (and expensive). There are interesting third-party solutions out there that look much more elegant, but they’re also quite expensive. This would be a feature I would really like for hiking, and could make geotagging on Flickr a snap.
  • Battery grip: Not a huge deal, but the shutter release on the battery grip is way more sensitive than the battery grip on the camera body. Kind of weird.

I could probably think of more but that’s what comes to mind. Probably sounds like I’m complaining a lot, but I like to think that my having this many little qualms just means I’m paying attention to what I can and can’t do with this camera. A lot of artists don’t like to talk about their tools (though really, this probably applies much less to photographers, so many of whom tend to be gear nerds like me), but it’s always a good idea to be as familiar with them as possible…