Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Samsung Galaxy S7 - A Photographers Perspective

Greetings folks!
It's been quite awhile hasn't it. I admit, I have neglected my photoblog some and in later posts I will touch on why that has happened.

Today though I want to talk about something I never really thought I'd be talking about. Let's face it. Cell phones and cameras have both a stigmata and a stereotype about them. The whole "look mom, a hipster!" is one of those, the other is that the photos coming out of them generally as a rule of thumb are worse quality than a compact point and shoot camera. The latter I generally agree with.

I dropped a wad of cash on my phone. In all honesty, it's rather amazing how much these devices can and do cost. I'm prepaid so it was 100% out of pocket but I waited for a long time, a few years, for something like the Samsung Galaxy S7 to arrive on the scene. I knew it was just a matter of time until it did and I wanted something which would add to my arsenal of camera gear. Something which really would work and something that had the features I really wanted. One of the biggies of course was the ability to shoot RAW. The S7 does that in the form of DNG.

This past summer, myself and someone who I hold very near and dear to me, did a 7,800 mile photography trip that covered 4 states and hit several national parks. I had just received my S7 weeks before leaving for my trip and it was a great opportunity to really give the S7 a workout.

"Evening At Dead Horse Point" 

The one thing I noticed right away about the Samsung Galaxy S7 was how sharp the RAW files were. This honestly caught me off guard because I was not expecting that. The amount of detail pulled in from the camera is truly stunning and in some ways actually rivals that of my Sony A77. Not only that but the images are sharp all the way through. The only thing I have found is that in super high contrast situations, especially those involving trees, there does tend to be some colored noise at times which is easily adjusted inside Nik's Dfine 2 which I use for noise reduction. Or a simply mask inside Photoshop using an adjustment layer of hue/saturation works as well. That doesn't happen often but it is there once in a blue moon.

"A Bed Of Wildflowers"-- Kebler Pass outside Crested Butte, Colorado.

I started processing my photos inside Lightroom & Photoshop which is my regular apps for my workflow. Considering that the images are only 12MP, things flew by. That is one thing I enjoyed, it's fast and easy. I also have bought a cheap little tripod to help me steady the camera but I mostly wanted it for video which the S7 does wonderfully. The focus points while in "Pro Mode" are rather incredible and remind me a lot of my DSLR.

"Rolling Thunder" - Arches National Park, Utah

So what are my thoughts on it all?
Well, in all honesty I do believe that the time has come and is here now to where our phones no longer take really bad photos but are a legitimate camera in its own right. Does it have limitations? Sure it does, I wouldn't try taking wildlife photos with it or astro shots but in terms of landscapes? Yeah, it certainly serves its purpose and does so that left me pretty darn floored. It used to be that cell phone shots needed all these "Instagram-esque" filters applied to them just to make them look half way decent. I can say that with the S7 that is no longer the case. In fact, it is now my second camera and I find myself being just as serious behind the lens of it as I am with my regular gear. That my friends says a lot.

If you're honestly thinking of ways to step outside the box and add to your arsenal as a photographer, then I have to say go give the S7 a good look. It's a very solid investment and one which will only put a smile on your face.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Do you shoot Sony cameras? Here's the biggest unknown tip ever.

  This autumn I spent some time down in the West Elk mountains of Colorado. All I can say is is a very huge "wow". If you've never been there you really need to put it on the "must do" list. An amazing place that really is a photographers heaven. Like any other photographer, I was both anxious and excited to get home and begin processing my photographs. So when I did I was rather startled by what I found.

  I shoot Sony cameras. Right now that consists of a Sony A77 and a Sony A550 as my backup camera. There's a few things inside Sony cameras which sets them apart from others; most notably is what is called "DRO", basically it stands for "Dynamic Range Optimization". It is basically leased technology from a company named Apical  and Nikon uses their technology as well, the difference however is that Nikon, unlike Sony, didn't provide them a "chip" which from my understanding basically fine tunes things. Now I know, this is really in the weeds stuff here but hang with me. 

  Now I imagine most photographers workflow these days consists of basically this;

*Download photos to computer
*Open Lightroom
*Import photos
*Maybe touch up in Photoshop

That "open in Lightroom" thing though got me. It got me good. When I did this, I noticed right away a complete loss of color and luminescence. I've always noticed it before but it was really never that big of a deal. However for these photos it was. Gone was the "shimmering effect" the Aspen once had and how they glowed. Lightroom was essentially zeroing out every single thing as far as settings went with my RAW files. Flat out, it wasn't reading the information embedded into the RAW files as far as creative styles go or anything as far as DRO went. What I would see on my cameras LCD would look very different than what I saw when I imported them into Lightroom. No, I don't shoot RAW+JPEG, only RAW. I couldn't figure out why this happening so I went digging.  I found a few threads here and here over on dpreview and flickr which touched on this happening but not a whole lot and then I saw someone mention "Sony IDC". A light bulb went off. 

  Like most photographers, the software that comes with our cameras we sort of consider "just there". In fact, I would think most never even bother to install the stuff. After all, we have the latest and greatest software from Adobe. Who needs factory junk which hardly has anything included in it, right? Right., not right, in fact....very wrong. I opened up Sony IDC just to see what would happen, expecting nothing at all and just the same thing really. Boring software and no real fine tuning tools. Boy, did I get a shock. Right away I noticed a huge difference. We're talking massive. Everything that was recorded from the time of capture in my camera was retained in full. Everything. All the luminosity was there, the fine detail with the DRO, the shimmering of the Aspen and their colors when I saw them. All there. All retained. Needless to say I was rather elated and excited.

Click for larger size

Click for larger size

  Since finding this out I have redone my workflow entirely and now use Lightroom as a more of "in the weeds" app that my go to app for editing. My workflow used to look like this;

*Import photos into Lightroom
*Process in Lightroom
*Export out as a 16 bit TIFF
*Final editing in Photoshop

  My workflow now looks like this;

*Import RAW files into Sony IDC
*Fine tune exposure, DRO, camera settings
*Save RAW file & export out as 16 bit TIFF
*Open in Photoshop to edit, save TIFF file
*Open TIFF file in Lightroom and do in the weeds editing and keywording

  It sounds like it would take more time doesn't it but in reality it has allowed me to really cut down on the time to edit photos. I no longer have to mess around with trying to get back color from color shifting or retaining DRO which was basically futile. That being said.....

Not without caveats.

  There are some caveats when it comes to editing in Sony IDC and one has presented a real problem which I'll explain. There is a work around for this but it is kind of intensive and unless you know some things inside Photoshop (Lightroom is incapable of helping here) you may have some problems. It's times like this sites like YouTube come in very handy with video tutorials.

  Sony IDC has issues when it comes to 16 bit TIFF files and I haven't quite figured out why. It may be in the way the files are written themselves and I really need to contact Sony about this and thus far I have never heard this mentioned anywhere. Basically, when you export out a RAW files as a 16 bit TIFF, dithering can occur in skies. It's rather odd considering this shouldn't be happening at all and is basically 8 bit behavior and what you would find with JPEG images and as far as I'm able to tell, it only seems to happen in skies.

The work around. 

  I don't worry about how the skies look inside Sony IDC. Instead, what I do is now process the skies inside Lightroom. Things like DRO and camera settings don't matter much when dealing with a sky. I then export out that image from Lightroom to a 16 bit TIFF file. Inside Photoshop I use layer masking to bring that sky from Lightroom on to the other photo that was processed inside Sony IDC. Problem solved. This allows me to get the exact image I am looking for without the massive loss in quality due to dithering. Intensive? Perhaps. It doesn't take a lot of time however and I believe it's very much worth it. If you aren't familiar with how to use layer masks, simply Google or YouTube it. It's extremely easy and one of the most powerful editing tools in post work. One you use them, you'll always use them.

  The screen shot below is a really drastic illustration of what I am talking about. I was frustrated and was fighting with retaining DRO and adjusting the color shift inside Lightroom. I tried and failed to replicate what I saw in camera. As you can see, the oranges in the Aspen trees is basically toast, gone, as is the dynamic range from DRO which was recorded inside the RAW file from the time of capture. I opened it up in Sony IDC and there it was....all retained. The finished photograph is done using my workflow above (not the layer masking part of course as there is no sky).

Click for larger size

 Click for larger image
click for larger size

  In closing, those of you who shoot Sony may want to take a minute and take a look at your RAW files inside Sony IDC. It's a pretty huge difference and one that I think will probably surprise you.
It's worth the 5 minutes for sure. Be sure to check out my website and my facebook page  to keep up with my adventures behind the camera.


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Ramblings from a photographic junkie

I am gearing up for Fall and it has been far too long since I wrote anything on my blog. In all honesty I just have been so busy with everything that I haven't had the time. A lot of stuff has suffered like social networks, photo sites like flickr, 500px, deviantART, etc. BUT (yes that's a big BUT) there's a good reason for that too....I have been spending my time wisely with getting out as much as I possibly can with my camera. The result? Doing what I love to do like no tomorrow. I also had a lot of downtime shortly after January 1st due to a massive surgery that kept me in the hospital nearly a month, from which I am still recovering. Only until very recently have I been medically cleared to go to the mountains.

It's kind of funny however. You tend to really start to notice your immediate surroundings a lot more when you shoot close to home. Luckily I live in an area where I have endless amounts of photographic subject matter like state parks, national refuge's, amazing city parks, all of which have kept me incredibly busy.


I recently came across another photographers photo blog (wish I could remember who and I didn't bookmark it...doh!) where he basically explained "how to suck at photography". It was a very interesting read and I didn't agree with it all but it did make me think. One of the things he mentioned is paying too much attention to social media and basing your own self worth as a photographer on how well an image does, how many "retweets", "shares" and "likes" something gets. It's a very valid and good point and many times I have personally witnessed photographers basically give up because they don't get the attention they want, seek, or in some cases deserve on social media sites like twitter, G+, facebook and the host of others.

Let me throw you a bone. If this was 2005 what would you do? better yet, if this was 1998 what would you do? Before the entire world was online, before facebook, before twitter, before flickr. What would you do? We often see things in a negative light from the get go and that is one of the problems. A change of vision is in order and a change in how we perceive things is in order.

When I was recovering from my surgery I rekindled an old flame and I began to remember why I love the internet when it comes to photography. That fame was the love for seeking knowledge when it comes to photography as an artistic medium. The study of a picture, the ability to get lost in an image and admiring for what it is, a piece of art. Not how many comments, favs, likes, share it has but rather the inquisitive nature of how the photographer took the shot, why he clicked the shutter at that very moment, how he composed and framed it and how it was processed.

In a way, many of us have become cynics when it comes to photography on the internet and other photographers. We really have. You look around and you see a lot of posts posted by photographers which are subtle but very snarky. We've lost our vision and creativity due to over consumption of photography on the internet and we've changed our point of view from a learning process to one which sees every other photographer not as a friend but as a foe and a competitive enemy. It is hard to move forward when you have that monkey on your back. It's even harder when you stop learning and instead begin concentrating on how many page views and favs something has.

Create. Learn. Explore. Envision. Most of all, click the shutter not for someone else or for social media recognition but YOU. The roots are calling, it's time we get back to them and rekindle our love affair of what brought us all here to begin with!

Here's a selection of recent work, as always prints are available, please inquire.

 Skies Of Eden

 The Beauty Of The Morning

 Summer In The Garden

 August Dusk

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Major schedule changes for the annual Fall photo meetup

After much thinking and much talking with others, I need to make changes to the annual Fall photography meetup. Many of these changes are big switches from the original schedule which should now be completely disregarded. As many of you know, Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park were hit very hard by the recent flooding we have had here in Colorado. As such, access to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park has been severely limited due to the usual highways, HWY 34 and HWY 36 being all but destroyed. The only way to access Estes Park is to come in from the west side and go over Trail Ridge Road which can close at any time due to weather this time of the year or take 6th Avenue west to HWY 119 out of Blackhawk, to HWY 72 to HWY 7 which leads into Estes Park. I have mapped out the specific routing for getting there via Google maps

I am going to cancel the second week all together, sadly. Right now it appears that our Government will be shutting down which would in effect close Rocky Mountain National Park all together during that time. I am also cancelling Saturday the 28th of September as it is a free day in the park and with much of the park & its roads closed due to flooding, it will an absolute zoo and very bumper to bumper. Not an ideal situation. All alerts, conditions and closing, along with openings for Rocky Mountain National park can be found here

New Schedule-Where, when, times; 

Sunday September 29th 6:30am
We will meet in the parking lot of the Beaver Meadows Visitors Center inside Rocky Mountain National park at 6:30am. This is the west side entrance in Estes Park. See map here It is where mark "B" is located. Please, don't be late as we will need to leave quickly to get in position to photograph the sunrise over Longs Peak. Afterwards we will look for Elk to photograph along with other wildlife within the park. Please be advised that all trails on the Estes Park side of Rocky Mountain National Park are currently closed. I will be in a silver Dodge caravan with a black and white dog. So keep an eye out! I will have my tripod out behind the car so I am easily recognized.

If you plan to stay overnight in Estes Park or have made previous reservations, I would call as soon as you can to check and see if those are indeed still good. Many hotels and motels have closed due to the flooding.
I hope to see some of you out there! Just allow yourself enough time if you are coming from Denver as it is longer to get there. 3am may seem to early to leave but I can promise you, in the end you will glad you did!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Announcing the 2013 Fall in Rocky Mountain National Park meetup!

Well, it is hard to believe that Fall is almost here and with that comes our annual meetup in Colorado's beautiful Rocky Mountain National Park! This is something I put together on a yearly basis and everyone is welcome regardless to what you shoot and there is no cost involved to join us all. It's always proven to be a wonderful time and we have always had a lot of fun. It is also a very relaxing type of atmosphere, lots of fun with the ability to also learn from your fellow photographers too. More or less, it's just a time to unwind and enjoy Fall in a way which you may have not before if you haven't joined us in the past.

Last year we witnessed many amazing things, from a spectacular sunrise along the shores of Lake Estes overlooking the famous Stanley Hotel, to seeing and photographing bull Elk crossing the lake to working on more intimate nature scenes with macro photography in Moraine Valley. The sound of Elk bugling fills the air early in the morning and it makes for a magical experience. Get ready to see, hear and photograph things like you never have before!

The dates;

Week 1---Saturday  Sept. 28 & Sunday Sept. 29
Week 2---Saturday Oct. 5 & Sunday Oct 6th

Place & Time;

We will meet at 6:30 am on the shores of Lake Estes in Estes Park, Colorado. GPS coordinates are 40.376418,-105.503399 roughly. A map can be found here through Google Maps  Don't be late and allow yourself enough time to get there, we wouldn't want you to miss anything after all. It is very easy to get to and I will be there early with my tripod set up, just look for a tripod on the shoreline pointing east along with a silver Caravan. From here, we will shoot the sunrise and then move on to Rocky Mountain National Park to photograph the Elk rut in the morning light of Golden Hour. You are of course also free to do your own thing too, naturally!

What To Bring;

*A change of clothes. Dress warm for the mornings but also bring a change of clothes for the warm temps mid day. Temps swing wildly this time of the year and going from 20 degrees to 70 is commonplace. That means gloves people! I can't stress this enough.

* Food & drinks. There aren't many places in the park to get a drink so be sure to stock up on bottled water and the like which also helps with the altitude. Same can be said as far as food goes.

*Lenses. Generally you will want something in the 300mm range at minimum to be able to photograph the Elk. Though we have been known to lend out a few lenses while on location to fellow photographers who don't have that focal length depending on what system you shoot.

*Money for entrance into Rocky Mountain National Park. Be aware that Saturday, Sept. 28th is a FREE day into the park. As such, no admission is charged however that also means that the park becomes very crowded by late morning. Fees are $20 per car and is good for a full week. More about the fees and annual passes can be found on the website of RMNP here


I highly suggest inquiring about reservations as soon as possible if you plan to stay over night. 

*KOA Estes Park.  Several people have stayed here in the past and have had good experiences. They offer quite a variety as far as lodging goes including cabins with showers. The rates are quite affordable.

*RMNP Campgrounds Many are first come, first served this time of the year and don't take reservations.

*Saddle & Surrey Motel. One of Estes Parks best kept secrets.

*Comfort Inn Estes Park has very high reviews with competive rates.

Bring on Fall in the Rocky Mountains!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Staying Down Low

It's been a crazy summer and it's hard to believe that Fall is just around the corner. My camera, a Sony A550 gave up the ghost while on a photoshoot outside of Breckenridge. The circuitry went adios and it is now sitting at the Sony repair headquarters in TX waiting to be fixed. Shortly before that happened, just weeks, I got incredibly ill with a very serious skin infection which lead me to being hospitalized for almost a week. I was in a bad, bad world I tell ya. Needless to say I have an incredible amount of medical bills  which I need to pay and my camera being repaired? Well...I wasn't sure what i was going to do. I decided to try and drum up print sales through my site on deviantART  and it's actually been going pretty good. I also have a nice enough friend who let me borrow his brand new, basically still in the box, Sony a65 for a few weeks that I could shoot and try to make some cash with my images. I owe him let me tell you!

Anyways, this year I have stayed down low. Most photographers when they visit Colorado, or are from here, tend to go to the mountains but I did this rather intentionally. I wanted to be able to focus on Colorado locally and concentrate on my state, county and city parks and wilderness areas. I have found many new areas to photograph, met some wonderful fellow photographers who I now call friends and have seen some great wildlife.

Wildlife though was another reason. I wanted to better myself as photographing animals. I spent a lot of time watching, observing, learning and being patient. Not taking a million photos but just a few. I intentionally limited myself to try and get the shot that I wanted right away. Some times I was successful, sometimes not. However, I taught myself and I learned a great deal. It's proved a very valuable lesson.

I guess in 6 weeks time we'll see how much I learned when I head up to Rocky Mountain National Park to photograph the annual Elk rut. I'm excited and I think this year I will see things like I never have before with putting what I learned to maximum use.

Onwards and upwards!
A white-tailed deer fawn as seen in the grassland of Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife refuge in Colorado. 

The landscape of Red Rocks Park shows off it's prehistoric beauty as the soft light dances across the land and the colors of sunrise paint the sky a brilliant shade of pink and blue

A Red-tailed hawk keeps a watch out against a blue sky in Colorado. Such stunning birds with an incredible magnificence about them.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR-A Little Known Jewel

This year I haven't been up in the mountains a single time. I know most people will probably think "What! Are you insane! You live in Colorado!" but in reality it has been by choice. In January this year I discovered Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge & their recently opened auto tour. Located in Commerce City, Colorado (a suburb of Denver) it is a huge area which could almost be a national park, a former superfund site which was once a weapons & munitions manufacturing facility, much of the area is still closed and deemed to contaminated for humans. However, it is beaming with wildlife in a way which I have never seen anywhere else. Now a USFWS refuge, wildlife here rules to roost and has taken over since the days of the past when it once produced chemical weapons.

Bison, Eagles, hawks, songbirds of all kinds, deer in both white-tailed and mule variations and more Coyotes than I ever seen in one place. Honestly, it's never a question if you will be able to photograph something but how much. For wildlife photographers this place is absolute heaven but there is something here for landscape shooters as well. It offers a unique landscape which one usually doesn't think of when they think "Colorado", more of a forest meets prairie feel which can offer up some great images backed up by several lakes. If you are willing to take the time and really explore the environment here, you will find that there is an absolute ton of things to photograph and that is why I have been keeping to the low land so far this year.

It's really an interesting place and one hardly anybody knows about. In fact much of the time I am here I pretty much have the entire place to myself. Even on the weekend mornings, there's hardly anybody here and those who are seem to be a hand full of other photographers or fishermen. I guess that is also another reason why I like it, it is utterly quiet here, only the sounds of the Coyote's singing at dawn. It's hard to believe that Denver is only minutes away yet you hear nothing, no traffic, no hustle and bustle....just peace. It's also free to get in but the hours I have to say are a tad on the wonky side, 6am-6pm which I am not fond of as it basically kills being able to photograph both sunrise & sunset here during summer. I really wish that they would re-examine that and keep it open 24-7 just as National Parks are.

For more information on this fantastic location, please visit the website of Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge or checkout their facebook page  and while you are there, be sure to look for my work as they feature my photography quite often. So the next time you are in Denver or just passing through, I highly suggest making this place a "must see" destination! You won't regret it!