Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Crazy Times

Been too busy to take many pictures lately. Got a new camper - Airstream Argosy (the painted ones). Finally wedged it into our driveway:

The shell has a couple of dents, but seems very watertight - gullywashers last night, and no water to be found inside, despite the dent in the back top.

I hope to get the chance to take some pictures soon. I've been mostly concentrating on nature type stuff, but I'm considering branching out.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Originally uploaded by jstevewhite

So I broke down and bought a Sigma 50-500 zoom lens, known in many circles as "Bigma" because it's a four pound monster of a lens with a vicious zoom and a cult following.

So far it seems the cult following is warranted. I've spent quite a few hours on pixel-peeper.com looking at images from long lenses like this, and the Bigma is head-and-shoulders above other third party offerings, from Sigma and from other vendors. Of course, Pentax doesn't make a lens in this range. The 60-250 f4 is a sweet piece of glass, but not long enough. I have the Tamron 180mm f2.5 and matched 1.4x TC that gets me a ~250mm f4 that's the equal of any zoom, and a 2x TC that makes it a 360mm f5, and still at least comparable to the zoom quality.

I shot fifty or sixty images in as many minutes, of inconsequential stuff like bike horns and swingset swivels, foxtails in the sunlight, and dead leaves. I saw lens shake in many images - 500mm is a LONG lens to stabilize regardless of the system - so I tripodded up, although the image accompanying this post is handheld. Critical focus is important, as the depth of field is very low, even at f11+.

I think this is not a low-light lens for anything that's not stationary. It's a sunlight lens - in the light haze today, I still had to shoot at ISO 800+ to get truly sharp images. No matter - I can't wait to shoot pix of the moon with this lens. It even has an aperture ring, so I can use the non-A teleconverter I have to make it a 1000mm f13 super telephoto! Combining ISO 1600 with some image stacking should net some really detailed images of the craters.

I think I'm going to return the Sigma 1.4x TC, however. It says it's for this lens, but if the zoom is at 50mm, the front element of the TC will impact the rear element of the lens. Not good, IMO. I'll pick up the Pentax 1.7x "Magic TC" instead. It has an autofocus motor inside it and adjusts focus by moving TC elements. This means that even manual focus lenses "snap in" to focus automatically when you get them close.

I can't wait to get out into some real woods and see what kinda bird/animal shots I can come up with using Bigma, though!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Photographic Vision: The Importance of Seeing


The primary creative task that a photographer engages in as he pursues his art is seeing. This may seem like a prosaic observation worthy of a hearty "Well, duh!", but I assure you that seeing isn't as easy as it sounds. Seeing, you see, isn't just looking. We all do that. And every one of us looks at scenes, every day, day in and day out, that would make beautiful photographs, but we don't see them. People frequently don't want to believe that, but it's true, I promise.

Sometimes we do see them, but we're too busy. We're driving to work, or grilling steaks, or arguing with the spouse, or taking out the trash. As we look around in the course of our chosen task, we may suddenly see a photograph, a scene that strikes us, that makes us think "wow, that would make a wonderful photograph!". But we don't have time, and we let the image slip away. It might have been the greatest image we've ever captured - or maybe not - but there's no way to know if we don't press the shutter button.


But there are other things that can get in our way. Selective blindness, for instance. This is a malady that has afflicted me since I was a child. I look at a scene, and I see it the way I want it to look - I capture the image in my mind, and see it there, clear and bright - but my mind edits out the bits I don't like. The images here are from a family picnic. I knew that the combination of kids playing (that's my daughter with some impromptu friends), water spraying, and the intermittent emergence of the sun from behind the clouds would create some excellent photo opportunities, so I strapped on my 50-135mm lens and started shooting. These two images are a couple of the shots from that group. I shot on the order of 100 pix of the various bits of the tiny water park with its splashing, flashing water, and splashing, laughing kids, and out of that plethora of images I found, perhaps, five or six that are worth anything.

Remember "selective blindness"? Above, do you see the red, arcing tube that's spraying water into the scene? That's exactly what it is. In these images, it's all right, as it adds to the composition and provides more water droplets. But in the vast majority of the images I shot, it's an eyesore, an unwelcome intruder that obscures faces, interrupts space, and breaks up compositions. And often it's out of focus, blurry and unattractive. Why is it there? Because I didn't see it. I looked at it, but I didn't see it, not as a photographer.

A photograph isn't random. A well-crafted photograph doesn't need chance or luck to provide its strength. It requires only seeing. Anyone can "get lucky" - like I said, we all look, all the time. If we shoot enough images, we may get lucky, as I did on these, and get a good image despite our lack of seeing. But if we learn to see, there's no limit to what we can do with our cameras. It's seeing that makes a photographer what he or she may be.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Love, 4th of July Style

Fireworks Colalge
Love, 4th of July Style
Originally uploaded by jstevewhite

I had to get out and try my hand at that photographer's coming of age act, shooting fireworks on the 4th of July. Of course I've done it with film, many years ago, in a different life, but I had to take a stab at it with digital. I gotta tell you, shooting with digital is MUCH easier, folks. POP! - check image and histogram; too hot, adjust aperture - POP! rinse and repeat until satisfaction is achieved. Then, sit back with remote release in hand. Wait till you hear the shell launch, count to three, and fire the shutter...

The results are fairly predictable and pedestrian, but I got what I was looking for - saturated colors and sharp streaks that more-or-less capture the feel of a fireworks display. For those interested, I shot these at ISO 200, f11, with about a three second shutter. Shutter speed affects how long the streaks are, and can affect how many shells appear in a shot, but it doesn't materially affect exposure. F16 made the most saturated colors, but the streaks were dim and difficult to see, and at f8, all the streaks were blown out white.

This image is a collage of the ones I liked the best from my approximately sixty-five captures. I cut 'em out with photoshop and pasted 'em into a new black document. Came out ok, I think. although I could spend more time on cutting them out.

Next year I think I'm going to go with a wider lens and try and get some of the crowd in *with* the fireworks, lit by the fireworks. Might have to go to ISO400 or so, I'm thinking, but we'll see. I dunno, there will probably be more fireworks - Maybe I can catch 'em over by the stadium... hrmmm....

Monday, June 29, 2009

KC Sunset

KC Sunset
Originally uploaded by jstevewhite

Many of the most interesting outdoors photographs you've seen in magazines all your life were shot in the hours of dawn +/-1 hr and dusk +/- 1 hr. There are a few reasons for this. For nature photographers, it's a requirement; many - even most - animals are most active during those two time slices. Fortunately, those hours also provide the most interesting light.

That's why, when you watch documentaries about, say, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, you see them rousting the models at 4:00 am and getting them ready to shoot. When the sun lights up the sky from low angles and makes gorgeous clouds and colors, you get the "golden hour"; the whole sky becomes your softbox, and that pink/gold cast that we see periodically is simply magical for images.

So Saturday we had storms around KC, and I've been wanting to catch the city, lit up by the low-angle sunlight, against dark, glowering clouds for some time, so I set out to do so. Left the house at 7:30-ish and drove down to the city, looking for places to shoot from. What I discovered is that most of the clear view locations from where I'd remembered seeing the images I wanted to capture were in the middle of highways or streets. Obviously, in retrospect. What I discovered is that vehicular scouting for locations with a certain view is frustrating and not very productive. I finally got a couple of semi-decent shots - not what I'm looking for, yet , but sorta ok - standing in the middle of Main Street at 30th or so.

Anyway, after I gave up on that particular task because I was having zero luck, I was driving home. I happened to see the shot above, and couldn't resist. The couple on the bridge spoke to me - "Pretty cool, ain't it?" and then went back to watching the sunset. I couldn't resist getting a couple of shots with the couple in-frame. I wish the phone lines hadn't been there, though.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

New Baubles

So I got my old Pentax-M macro sold on ebay, and made a profit on it. I took that money and a little bit more and bought the Samsung Schneider-Kreuznach D-Xenon 100mm Macro for Samsung and Pentax DSLRs - which is a re-badged Pentax D-FA lens. I couldn't wait to try it out.

What I discovered right away is that 1:1 isn't for wimps. If
you're going to work with magnifications that high, you just about have to have a tripod or a flash. So I continued my search for a
ringlight that 1) didn't suck, and 2) didn't cost $450. I got lucky at
one of the few good photography stores in the area - Overland Photo in Overland Park, KS - and picked up an old Lester Dine
ringlight for $40. It's got the Minolta TTL module, but works f
ine in "manual" mode, which gives about f16 @100 ISO. Add a 49-52 step up ring and I was in business.

So I strapped the 100mm Macro onto my K20D, screwed on Lester's ringlight (Wikipedia tells me he invented the ringlight... learn something new every day) and went in search of interesting bugs and other small things.

The most interesting thing I found, I flubbed the exposure on. I'm going to post it here anyway - I'm hoping someone knows what the heck it is. It's so counter to expectations that I'm left baffled and fairly speechless. It flew up and landed on the leaf I was looking at, and at first I thought it was a bit of fluff, but it turned out to be a bug. With fur or something:
What IS it?
What in the world IS that thing? I've seen a lot of funny lookin' critters, but this takes the cake. It's so bizarre that I'm inclined to think it's sick, perhaps a lacewing with a fungal infection or something - which gives me the shudders.

A little more wandering turned up this gorgeous little beetle - he's all metallic and shiny gold, like he was a clockwork insect of some sort. A Steampunk Beetle, maybe. My daughter said it lookes like you can see gears and stuff through his shell:
Twenty-Four Karat

I love shooting macro images. The ringlight works, and makes it possible for me to get handheld images of these guys rather than lugging a tripod everywhere, but I am afraid that I'm going to have to figure out a way to adjust the power of the flash (so I can balance it with daylight) or just use a tripod. I like my hands-free and crazy technique that allows me to chase bugs with abandon, and I hate the idea of giving it up to be tied down to a huge hunk of metal that holds up the camera, but the image is king. If I have to, I will.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sigma DC 18-50mm f2.8 EX Macro vs. Pentax DA* 16-50mm f2.8 ED AL IF SDM

That's a buncha alphabet soup, eh? I just happen to be upgrading from the Sigma to the Pentax, and I thought this might be a good time to do a quick head-to-head test. First things first, though, the significant differences in the lenses. The Pentax is weather resistant, the Sigma is not. The Pentax is SDM, the Sigma is screwdrive (noisier). The Pentax goes two millimeters wider - which wouldn't seem like all that much, but is significant in image framing. The Pentax is enormous by comparison, and heavy. The Sigma focuses closer than the Pentax - although the Pentax focuses closer than I expected, down to about four to six inches.
But what's important to me beyond those things I listed is image quality. Now, I'm not going to stack up a pile of side-by-side images. This is not an exhaustive shootout; just a quick head-to-head between a lens and the one that is replacing it. I'm going to tell you that from my position as occasional measurebator and general curmudgeon, in most applications, the real-life difference is one of personal choice.

With manual flash settings and the same aperture and shutter speed, the Sigma produced consistently darker images, by almost half a stop, all the way from f2.8 to f11. If you're shooting raw, this is well within adjustment range, and I promise if I put the pix up here side by side, some percentage would say the Pentax was overexposing, not the Sigma underexposing. Fair enough.

I am, however, going to provide a couple of images for side-by-side viewing. First the full frame images:

Pretty similar in appearance. The Sigma is a little warmer, maybe the Pentax a little more contrasty. When you go pixel-peeper on it, however, the difference really shows up. The Pentax is crisp and contrasty, but the Sigma goes all soft and dreamy -

Of course that doesn't mean the Sigma is a bad lens. After all, the Pentax lens costs almost twice as much. As I said, through most of the range of test images I shot, the difference was one of taste, no obvious differences in IQ. The Pentax focuses almost completely silently, and much faster and more accurately, but that's to be expected with the SDM motor.

Many people have said - mostly in 2007 - that the Pentax 16-50 has quality control issues. They may have resolved them, or I may have simply gotten a "good one", but I can't find a single flaw.
All in all, I think the Sigma is a good value, a great bang-for-the-buck purchase, but, at least in the instances of the two lenses I received, the Pentax is clearly superior. I'll be selling the Sigma soon. Watch ebay if you're interested!

Friday, June 12, 2009

I just got my Metz 48 AF-1, and was looking for something to test it on. So I stuck a buncha Velcro on it, attached my Lumiquest 8x8inch softbox, pushed the head down to -10 degrees, strapped on the 100mm f4 Macro at maximum (1:2) magnification, and went hunting bugs or other interesting stuff that's tiny.

This lady was flitting back and forth in some vines, and every time I got close, she'd bolt. The fence, then gone, the vine, then gone. I finally saw her settle on this clover, and got down on my knees. She seemed more comfortable - perhaps she assumed that I wasn't going to eat her after all, since I hadn't - and posed for me. I didn't realize she was missing a leg until I was processing the images. She had every reason to be skittish, I guess!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Furry Friend

Furry Friend
Originally uploaded by jstevewhite

A couple of years ago I found a huge brown spider in my bathtub. I photographed it, and examined it carefully. Threw it in a jar and got out the loupe. Sure enough, loxosceles reclusa - the infamous Brown Recluse. It was a female with a body about the maximum size quoted by the various online .edu sites, approximately 3/4" long. Doesn't sound like much, does it? I swear that thing was 3" from toetip to toetip. And those legs aren't skinny, fragile looking legs like a grand daddy long legs has. They're thick and strong, and FAST.

This got me to researching brown recluse spiders. They're exceedingly common in the Midwest. One site I read said, "If you live in Missouri, Kansas, or Arkansas, you've got 'em in your attic or basement or both."

I read that they can live for up to two years in a closed box with no water or food. That's just evil, no matter how you cut it. They don't groom themselves, so residual pesticides are ineffective; you have to spray the poison ON the buggers to kill 'em. Unfortunately, people spray for 'brown recluse', end up killing all the spiders that feed on brown recluse, and end up with an infestation.

That's why this guy is my friend. I've watched these jumping spiders take brown recluse with abandon, running them down and jumping on them. It's a beautiful thing to see. There's a smaller, slightly less hairy version of this individual living on my desk lamp. We're buddies. I keep telling him as long as he eats the brownies, he's good in my book. He just smiles.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Macro Spider Fun

Finally I got a chance to break out the camera and wander around the yard with my macro rig in place. I'm sure I look strange enough to the neighbors - an old fat guy with a big ass camera rooting in the weeds and flower bed taking pictures of stuff so small you can't see it. No matter, it was a fruitful day. I got three or four images I consider "keepers". Here's my favorite - a little spider having a snack in one of my wife's peonies. He was remarkably relaxed for a little while, letting me shoot five or six images of him before he went scuttling down into the flower to finish in peace. Here's another one.

I shot some pictures of some tiny flowers the wife keeps in the garden, and one of them revealed the legs of a white flower spider, so I had to go back and get pictures of her. By then the sky had darkened with clouds, so I had to go with straight flash (instead of the flash/daylight composite above). She's an interesting looking critter, anyway. That flower is less than an inch across; she's maybe half an inch from toetip to toetip. She was very shy, scuttling around to the other side of the flower every time I got too close with my lens. She was probably just upset that I was scaring off her buffet.

Finally, I got a floral image that I was very fond of. It's a close-up of the center of a rose that grows in the garden outside my daughter's room. It's done with daylight and my Vivitar 283, and is extremely sharp at 100% pixel-peeper enlargement. I like the way the shadows fell and the detail visible in the center of the rose. All in all, a day when I can find three or four images that I like is a pretty good day.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

It's Here! The Pentax K7

There are a lot of places you can read all about the K7 - not the least of which is Pentax's Website. I'm not going to do a rundown of the feature list - you can get that everywhere. There are a few things I am very interested in here, and I have some questions...

We got no bump in resolution here. The specs of the sensor seem the same as my 14.6Mpixel K20D. This isn't an extremely disappointing development, as the K20D enlarges just fine, to every size I've tried - 11x17 being the most recent large print. I'm pretty sure it would hold up well at 16x24, too. I am interested in the low light performance of the "redesigned" sensor, however. The K20D does all right, but there's no such thing as performing too well in low light. I might have liked to have seen 20mpixels for more crop-ability, but I'll be happy if they have reduced noise at ISO 3200 to match what the K20D does at 800 or 1600. (At 3200, you'll see some banding in large, dark areas).

The case is the next big story. No more polycarbonate shell - it's magnesium over stainless steel. Can you say rugged? Weather sealed, and noticeably smaller than the K20D, Pentax appears to be returning to the style of the LX - a tank built on a tiny scale. When the Canons and Nikons were growing bigger, the LX was setting the bar for rugged pro gear in a tiny package. Reports say the mirror slap has gotten much quieter. Like Pentax's Limited lenses, this all-metal construction puts the construction quality of the Pentax in a class by itself.

The next feature that I think is important is the speed - specs claim it will put down 40 full resolution jpgs at 5.2 fps - also 14-17 RAW images at the same speed. The K20D isn't anything like that fast. I can't wait to get my hands on that.

Video - can you say 1536x1024@30fps? Holy crap, man! That's some smokin' video. 1280x720, of course. I'm wondering how that would look and sound when combined with audio from my Zoom H2.

There are other things that seem very interesting - dedicated mirror-up mode, the new live-view mode, etc. As I am happy with the K20D, I'm going to sit on my hands a while - perhaps until the first pricedrop from $1299, which should take about three to six months - but I will have one of these things eventually.

Bean Blossoms

Originally uploaded by jstevewhite

I love spring. I love images of flowers - although, oddly enough, I'm less impressed with them in person than in image. In any case, the Daughter brought this green been plant home from school, planted in a small milk carton with the top cut off. It's growing very fast - I need to get it in the ground soon.

I like the colors and the sweeping curves created by the stems and the leaves. I like the lens - in 100% enlargement, you can see a *very tiny* bug inside the bean blossom! I hope it's a good bug, and not a pest.

Fly Away Home

Fly Away Home
Originally uploaded by jstevewhite

I took this picture some time ago in my back yard. The yellow background is my daughter's slide. I believe this was my Pentax-M 100mm f4 Macro lens, handheld. She kept turning her back to me, but this time I got her.

The image is considerably off-color when viewed via Firefox without the color space extension. In Safari, it looks the same way it does in Lightroom - the shell is much more red than it looks in Firefox. I can't say what it looks like in IE, though.

I love shooting bugs - and macro!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Pink on Green - More Floral

Pink on Green
Originally uploaded by jstevewhite

This is a photo from my new Pentax 50-135 f2.8 DA* lens. I love the lens already. It could be a little longer at the long end, I think, but the image quality is exceptional. I wandered around in the yard for a bit, shooting this and that. It's no macro lens - minimum focus is on the order of 3 feet or so - but it still does an admirable job of capturing anything from 1:4 on up.

The colors the lens produces are very contrasty and saturated. It focuses nearly silently, although it doesn't seem any faster than the screw drive lenses I have. The bokeh is usually smooth, although its character changes significantly depending on the type of background. Flare is very well controlled - I shot up through the tree limbs at the sun, got a small starburst and otherwise good contrast near the places the sun poked through.

All in all, I think it's well worth the money you spend on it. If you're shooting Pentax, get one!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Pentax 50-135mm f2.8 DA*

So I finally broke down and went with the Pentax long zoom after spending months agonizing over the choices. In the forums I have read that many people have had focus problems with the Pentax cameras and both the Sigma and Tamron long/fast zooms (70-210 f2.8). I debated the merits of manual focus vs. autofocus. Finally, I found a very good deal on the 50-135, and the Pentax brand won out.

The win is very well deserved. After just a few tens of pictures, I can tell you without any reservation that the lens I have is ridiculously sharp and contrasty. It focuses much more quietly than the 'screw drive' lenses, but certainly not much faster. Its focus is, however, both more accurate and more sure than any other autofocus lens I own. It's also the sharpest zoom lens I own, even approaching the image quality of my Tamron 180 f2.5. It's definitely as sharp as my old Pentax-M 135 f2.8 (which I shall be selling on ebay soon, as a result).

The inset here should give you some idea of the resolution this thing exhibits. It's visually indistinguishable at 2.8, as well - wide open! The corners are slightly less sharp at 2.8, but by f4, I can't see any visible difference between the center and the corner. I'm sure there's a measurable difference, just not an obviously visible one.

The lens isn't very heavy as such lenses go - certainly nothing like its 70-210 brethren in size or weight. It handles well and fast, and on the APSC-sensor'ed Pentax K20D, it's comparable to the 70-210 type lens on a full-frame camera. It's also weather-sealed to match the K10D/K20D, so you can go out in the rain and shoot pix... I'm not that brave, but it brings me some solace in case I get caught out in the rain.

I like the lens so much, I'm thinking about selling off a bunch of other stuff so I can get the 16-50mm f2.8 sister lens to complete the pair.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Originally uploaded by jstevewhite

There's an ant in the very center of this peony. We've got a bunch of 'em (peonies, not ants) in a small, rock circle in the front yard.

Woot! Got my Sigma 18-50mm f2.8 back from repair. Took 'em a month, but they seem to have done a very good job. It's not quite as contrasty as the 24-60 I sold my cousin, but it's pretty sharp and contrasty enough. It's the first lens I've bought that was targeted specifically at APSC sized sensors - I sure hope that the DSLR Pentax is supposed to release soon isn't a full frame unit!

My lens lineup is nearly complete; I'm only missing a good long zoom and a really long telephoto. I'm considering a pair of old Tamron lenses - the 19AH 70-210 f3.5 is a great long zoom, being only half a stop slower than the 2.8, but a fraction of the price and weight. Macro on the 19AH goes down to something like 2.5:1, also.

The other Tamron lens I'm thinking about picking up is the 500 f8 cat. On my APSC sensor-ed K20D, that should behave like a 750mm! I had one for a while for my film cameras, and it was fun, but not flexible enough. I think on the K20D, with the autoISO feature, it can be much more flexible. I'm pretty sure it will work in AV on the K20D, too. I know those lenses are very sharp. I also have the 1.4x SP teleconverter from Tamron - that would make it behave like a ~1200mm f11... bright sun only, but wow, talk about a 'reach out and touch something' lens!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

This is what it looks like when you have an internally contaminated rear group on your brand-spanking-new 18-50mm f2.8 lens. See the flare around the plane? It wasn't even that bright. In pix where, say, an LCD TV appeared in the image, it was blown completely out - haloed like mad, with complete loss of contrast anywhere near the TV screen.

The repair facility for Sigma doesn't stock groups, apparently. I have their assurance I should get it back in two to fourteen days. Way to narrow it down, eh?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

iPhone Experimentation

My brand-spanking-new Sigma 18-50mm f2.8 is away at Sigma getting fixed, and I've been jonesing for it. So yesterday evening I was out in the yard with the daughter, and I snapped a couple of images with the iPhone. This made me think about the whole gear vs talent debate. Is it really the hardware? Are good images actually good images by dint of the proper exposure and sharpness and color reproduction? Or is there some ability, talent, training, or what-have-you that translates into "photographer"?
I know where I stand on this debate; same place I always have. Art is, by definition, opinion. It has always been opinion, and it will always be opinion. There's no chart that discerns Art from more mundane products of human effort, no hard-and-fast yardstick by which we can measure artistic integrity, beauty, or talent. I have always main
tained that if a man says what he does is Art, then I must, in good faith, accept that it is Art. I may then discern only whether or not I appreciate it as art. I can argue that it is bad art, or that it is good art, and I can certainly argue for or against it, but I cannot in any reasonable manner proclaim that it is not art.

Ultimately the things that are judged to be great art by history are those which hold the fancy of society over a great period of time. This is what separates a fad, a fashion, from a great work of art. It's not simply that people like it; it's that people like it beyond its contemporary milieu. If someone is humming "Eleanor Rigby" one hundred years from
now, I think it will be safe to say that The Beatles created great music, not just popular music. If someone regards Jackson Pollock's work with reverence in the year 2100, I will stand corrected.

How does all this relate to the hardware vs. talent debate? Well, it's because these things make it painfully obvious to me that cameras are tools, just as paint brushes and guitars and chisels are. They create nothing without an actor, without a spark, and ultimately their record is not a mere collection ofpixels, but a record of the intent - however whimsical - of the photographer, whether that photographer is Robert Mapplethorpe, Leonard Nimoy, or your old aunt Jeanie. That image is art. Good art, bad art, nonsensical art, ridiculous art - but it is art.

The modern digital camera has certainly democratized photography in a way nothing else has. Now anyone can have their own digital darkroom for a ridiculously small quantity of money, and the cost per shot has plummeted. Thus, almost anyone can produce a few good photographs over time by sheer numbers. The shotgun approach, if you will. Take enough pictures, point that camera at enough things, and a few are bound to be worth noting. This is a good thing, not a bad one. It does have the unfortunate side effect of making many who have created such 'lucky' images believe that it's simply having the right hardware, because they didn't put any effort into the image. Let's face it; you can't accidentally draw a wonderful charcoal rendering of Mt. Rushmore, but it's quite possible for events to conspire in your behavior as you record exactly the right light and composition as you pop off your seven-hundred and twenty-fifth vacation picture.

No matter how you cut it, though, I hold to my mantra, in every aspect of life. If you give a tool, no matter what quality, to someone with talent, the result of its use will be better than that of someone with no talent. Sounds generic, I know, but it is generic. Just for photographers, though: If you give any camera to a talented photographer, and the same camera to your Aunt Jeanie, when the memory card is full, the pictures from the photographer will be visibly better images. Now, better Art? Only time can answer that question.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

One Of Those Days

(c) Copyright 2009, J. Steve White, All rights reservedSo way back in the 80s, my wife and I went to the zoo. We were without child then, but were both animal lovers just the same, so off we went. I took my T90 and canon FD lenses along so I could shoot pictures along the way.

This poor llama had just given up on life, I think, and resigned her(or him?)-self to the amorous advances of the warthog. I thought this was such a clever metaphor I had to shoot it. How often do you see anything actually getting screwed by a warthog?

I came across the slides of this event a few months ago; this is a re-photographed image taken with my K20D and a reversed 50mm f1.4.

I keep thinking about printing it out on tee shirt transfers, or coffee mugs, or something like that on Cafepress or similar. Think it would sell?

Monday, April 6, 2009

Little Pink Flowers

Little Pink Flowers
Originally uploaded by jstevewhite

For some reason, I have always loved taking pictures of flowers. I know I'm not alone - there are lots of such pictures to be found on Flickr. But the common nature of such images hasn't reduced my fascination one bit.

I tried for days to get this image. I know, it seems fairly simple, but the flowers are under the roof on my back porch, in shade, and I had a really hard time getting an exposure that I liked. I either had too little depth of field or too much, too little contrast or none at all, or subdued colors - for some reason, I couldn't capture the intensity of the colors.

Then I got my 100mm Macro (an old Pentax-M lens originally destined, I believe, for a dentist's office) and things came together. I finally got the right balance of contrast and color, and got the right bits in focus (I think). At least this captures fairly closely my internal representation of these little pink flowers.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


Originally uploaded by jstevewhite

Macro photography is probably my favorite type of photography these days. back when I was younger, it was glamor photography, but things change. Anyway, I came across this beetle - he was about 1/4 inch long - and popped off a few caps of him. I didn't even know until I got the image on my iMac that his shell was transparent. I'd have taken more pictures if I had.

This was shot with an old SMC Pentax-M 100 f4 Macro. It's an old lens that was popular with dentists, and it only does half life size. But it's contrasty and sharp and works well on my K20D. Old tech meets new and works really well.

That's one of the main reasons I chose Pentax, rather than Canon (which is what I shot, mostly, in film). I'd always loved the old SMC Pentax lenses - they had an almost Zeiss or Leitz type contrast and saturation - but I couldn't afford an LX, while A1s and even F1s were a couple hundred dollars. But nowadays, I can indulge my old fetish - and I have, with several old Pentax lovelies.

For hand held macro, I use a 'point and shoot' system. I have an ancient Vivitar 283 with the manual adjustment plug, and a Lumiquest on-flash softbox made for event photographers. The softbox nearly hangs over the end of the lens, giving me a very diffuse light source. I run the lens out to (usually) maximum magnification. I set the K20D for "Catch-in-focus" (where it fires the shutter when the sensor detects something is in focus), and I walk up to a test subject until the shutter triggers. I adjust flash power, test again, adjust flash power - then delete all the test images and head out to the garden. By now, I know that anything that's in focus will be properly exposed.

You still have to pick your target's pose properly. Because of the extremely short distances involved, something a little closer to the lens can get significantly more exposure. Also, if you're not shooting in bright - and I mean BRIGHT - sunlight, you can get the "flash look" where the background is pitch black. So if you want to do this hand-held macro work, pick your "stage" carefully.

You can spend (literally) hours walking around your back yard photographing tiny stuff. Give it a shot, it's fun.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Reflections of Mortality

Reflections of Mortality
Originally uploaded by jstevewhite

I hate spiders. A LOT. I hate them the way slugs hate salt. And of all the spiders I'm ever likely to meet, I hate Loxosceles Reclusa the most. They're just evil. You can tell in this picture just how evil they are.

The discovery of a big mother brown in our bathtub led me to cruising the internet looking for information on this beauty. Turns out the only way to be SURE is to count their eyes. I have a couple of images that allow me to do so, and she has six, in just the right places. Anyway, after spending way too much time on sites about spiders that had .edu in the URL, I learned more about browns that I ever wanted to know. Including lovely trivia like, they can live in a sealed box with no food or water for over a year. That's when I decided they're evil.

The sites often question the brown's reputation for producing disgustingly damaging bites, but there was enough waffling that I'm not ready to discount their bite as potentially SUCKING out loud.

This one got stuck in a plastic bowl that I had left under the toilet's shut off valve after replacing it, just in case it dripped. When I came back upstairs and checked for drips a couple days later, I found this scene. Her body is 3/4" long, and the long leg span you see there approaches three inches. Well, it did. I followed this up by flushing her and her dinner down the toilet.

Because I'm so scared of them, I have to take their pictures. It's a compulsion. I'm not sure why, and paging through my photos gives me the willies sometimes. But I kinda liked the way this image turned out, anyway.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Originally uploaded by jstevewhite

I shot this image back in the 80's, when the Missouri Raptor Center ( I think it was the group ) would bring these big, beautiful birds out to the Renaissance festival to show all the wannabe falconers what their birds would have looked like back in the day.

I shot this image on Ektachrome. For you youngsters, that means FILM, and SLIDE FILM, to boot. I love my digital cameras, but there was a certain sense of accomplishment in being able to deliver consistently good exposures on slide film, which was unforgiving, at best.

I shot this with a Canon T90 and a Tamron SP 80-200 2.8. Manual focus, too, and the combo weighed as much as a Buick. I wish I still had that lens; it would work wonderfully on my Pentax K20D.