Monday, June 11, 2018

Photography on a Budget: Part II

Well, I have sort of switched main stream from Sony SLT's to Nikon DSLR's. The reason is that I think I get a little better low light performance, and perhaps just a little more image sharpness with the Nikon cameras. On the other hand, it could be just my preference because the images that came from my Sony SLT's were very good. Also, since Sony has made the switch to mirrorless, I am not convinced that they will continue to develop the DSLT line. They say they will but you never know for sure, do you?

I recently added a used Nikon D7200 to my repertoire. I really am done for a while now when it comes to camera purchases, that is short of winning Power-Ball. So, now I have two Nikon ASP-C cameras and one Sony. I kept the A55 and sold the A68. 

I have a lot of Sony glass, and I also have several legacy lenses from Minolta Maxxum which works on the Sony A55. It's a great system and I will continue to use it.

Anyway, the point of this is that I am now really beginning to be comfortable with eBay for both purchasing and selling. I got a really good price on both of the Nikon cameras and they both had low shutter actuation's. This makes me feel comfortable telling you how to do your photography on a budget. Again, if you are independently wealthy or are making your living at photography then buying new is all right. However, if like me, you are an enthusiast then you will definitely get the most bang for your bucks with buying used... that is, carefully buying used. Check out the ads, and look at the photos they show. If you look in depth you can find out a lot about potential problems.

Here are some images that I shot with the D7200

I will continue to share my progress as a photography enthusiast as time goes on. Feel free to share or contact me if you have any questions or comments.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Photography on a budget

Here is a picture of one of my favorite t-shirts. Yes, it is a hollow promise. But it is something that a lot of my fellow photogs can relate too. I want to again make the point that even if you are collecting more cameras than is necessary you can do it on a budget. I am addressing the hobbyist at this point. If you are a pro, making money with your images then that is different. but if not, you don't have to have the newest gear off the shelf to get great images. 

I just purchased a used Nikon D5200. Again, I looked for deals, and found it on eBay. It was well taken care of and only had 3,131 shutter actuation's, so in reality it is almost new. It was the main enthusiast's Nikon of choice in 2013-14. And, it still is a great performer. I got it for a really good price, and I also bought a Tamron 18-200mm VC lens for it. I have that lens for my Sony SLT's and it is sharp and a good all around performer. Especially when shooting landscape or cityscape images. The camera and the refurbished lens was under $400.00 U.S.

So far, I am very pleased with the results. It makes very sharp landscape images, and I think it will be alright with casual, natural light portraiture. I share this to encourage you to get into photography knowing that you can get really good images on a budget. 

Here are some of the images I took with the camera.

This image was taken on a tripod at sundown. It is of the Hernando Desoto Bridge in Memphis TN.

This is a detail shot of the Memphis skyline at the blue hour

This is from a recent trip to the Memphis Zoo.

An elephant statue made of rubber tire treads.

We all love tractor's and heavy equipment

May flowers.

The point of this post is that you can really have a great time taking photos and also get exceptional results even if you are on a budget. I know that photography brings a lot of joy and satisfaction to this old boy.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Landscape Photography Suggestions: Part 3

So you like photographing landscapes... so do I. Do you have to go to Greenland, Machu Picchu, or Patagonia to get great images? Well, everyone likes to travel, and certainly, iconic scenes are great subject matter, but the fact is that you can have a lot of fun and create solid images near where you live. Woodlands, lakes, rivers and parks make great subjects. Especially if you get them in great light, with interesting skies. 

Rural settings offer a wide variety of things to photograph. Farms, and old farm equipment make interesting images. Fields of crops, and farm animals are great subjects also. The point is that the best subject to shoot is the one that is near you, available to you. You do not have to be near mountains or the ocean to get great images.

If you live in the south you need to make sure that you have a large supply of bug repellent. And, it is wise to be on the look out for snakes. For me, there are places that I do not go unless it is colder weather, cold enough to eliminate mosquito's, gnats, ticks, and snakes. 

Above is a photo of Dixon Gardens. Memphis has two great places to see well kept gardens. Across the street from this location is the Memphis Botanic Gardens. They make beautiful landscape images. It is wise to take a tripod with you when photographing flowers as it will assure that you get the sharpest photos.

One thing you will find for sure is that every time you revisit a location, your image will be different. The light, color, and composition will be at the very least slightly different and most of the time dramatically different.

Remember, you do not have to have the latest and greatest camera to make good photos. There is a true statement that goes something like this. The best camera to use is the one you have with you. Quite often these days, it is simply your smart phone. I do not follow this idea enough. A few days ago I was out and saw the most dramatic sky. Instead of stopping and clicking with my cell phone, I told my wife that it was a shame that I did not have my camera with me. See, I broke the rule without really thinking about what I was saying.

I want this blog post to encourage you to get out and shoot and to shoot while your out.

When the sky is not all that interesting, especially during the bright of day, don't include very much sky.

At other times, a dramatic sky can be the subject and focus of your image.

Here is an image that most of the time one would not consider taking a photo unless it was of a picnic or family gathering, however, the early spring foliage and the interesting sky make it click worthy. Here there is a contrast between the tree without leaves and the ones that have more leaves. This is a unique circumstance of spring and can make a very interesting visual experience.

My point in this post is to get you to see that there are interesting shots all around you... most of the time.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Landscape Photography Suggestions: Part 2

If you are interested in landscape photography here are some suggestions that I have followed over the course of my development as a photography enthusiast. Notice, I do not claim to be a professional photographer. I have never made a dime with my cameras to date. I'm not insinuating that it is bad to make money with photography, and perhaps one day I will. Rather, I am letting you know that I am just an addicted photography enthusiast. I use the term addicted because, it seems I have to shoot images. I also believe that variety is the spice of life so I do not exclusively do landscape but a healthy portion of my clicks are landscape. A large part of the time, my landscapes include man made structures.

I add this here because it is a simple composition that includes the forest, and man-made use of the forest. The man made structure draws the eye back into the landscape and thereby gives it more depth than it would otherwise have. Here I used my wide angle lens. It is a Tamron 10-24mm. This shot was made at the wide end, the 10mm end of the lens. Since all of my cameras are crop sensors, ASP-C cameras it is the equivalent of 15mm on a full frame camera. It is always good to have a wide angle lens in your landscape tool kit, but you can also utilize longer lenses as well.

Here is yet another example of using a wide lens and incorporating nature and man-made structures in your landscape. Here, symmetry is the compositional element in this image.

Here is a morning golden hour shot that incorporates the rule of thirds. If you were to construct a grid of this image and divide it into 9 equal rectangles you would find points of interest happening on or near the places where the grid lines intersect. It makes it pleasing to the eye. THE BEST RULE TO FOLLOW HOWEVER IS THIS! IF IT LOOKS BALANCED AND PLEASING TO YOUR EYE IT IS A GOOD COMPOSITION!  It is as simple as that. Always remember that fact as you shoot and edit.

Also, in the above shot, color is an important compositonal element. I like my photos fairly saturated color-wise. Some people do not and just remember that if you like it and it is pleasing to the eye, more people will share that view, and you are never going to impress and please everyone.

Interesting skies: 

The above two pictures were shot in roughly the same spot one day apart. An interesting sky makes all the difference in the world. The low clouds add and interest to the image, and the light snow on the mountains don't hurt either. These were shot a day apart in Cade's Cove at Smoky Mountain National Park. They were shot at different focal lengths but the overall scene is the same. It also proves that every day, even in the same place, a new image, a unique image can be had.

I don't want these posts to get so long that you don't want to take the time to read them so I will stop for now and continue on later.

Look through the posts and find Part 1 if you have not already done so.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Landscape Photography Suggestions: Part 1

This blog post is not exhaustive. It will take several posts to completely cover the topic of landscape photography best practices. Here I want to touch on times of day, settings, and editing. Below I will use examples to illustrate my suggestions.

Landscape photography is very rewarding and one of my favorite subjects. The ideal is to get to the landscape at specific times of the day. The above image is at a time called the golden hour. The golden hour is more than a hour. It is about two hours before sun set and two hours after sun rise. The sun is low in the sky and gives everything a golden glow. So let's look at the above photo straight out of the camera.

The human eye sees a lot more dynamic range than the camera sensor, or should I say shows more. The image to the left is unedited. Notice that it does not have the pop that the upper image has. There is a reason for this. I enhanced the dynamic range in Lightroom CC. I did it by sliding the highlight slider all the way down and the shadow slider all the way up. I also bumped up the whites and the overall exposure a little. Notice that the editing enhanced the detail of the image by a lot.

The take-away is that you should select times of the day when it is more interesting and dynamic than the mainstream of daytime. Usually, when you shoot between the golden hours, the images are not as interesting. That is not to say that I never shoot during the rest of the day. Most definitely I do. If you are traveling, you may not be able to capture an image at an ideal time, and so getting an image of a remarkable scene is better in less than stellar lighting conditions is much better than not getting an image at all.

Moving on to sunset:

Here is an image that is after the golden hour and just before the blue hour. Here again, I have edited it in Lightroom and have lowered the highlights and raised the shadows. Had I not done that, this image would be even more of a silhouette than the above image of the golden hour.

Use a Tripod:

While I also shoot landscapes hand-held, the above image was taken on a tripod. You will get the best results if you use one. It is easy to set the two second timer on your camera, focus the shot and depress the shutter button and it will take the shot two seconds after you have taken your hand off the camera. This makes for a much steadier shot. That is, if the wind is not blowing hard. They you will actually do better hand held as the wind vibrates the camera and could cause it to be softer. My cameras have IBIS which is in body image stabilization. In Sony cameras it is called Steady-Shot. It works well but still using a tripod when possible is always Ideal.

Here is a blue hour landscape:

This requires a tripod as a must if you are to keep your ISO at the lowest setting reducing the noise that will be in the photo. Blue hour shots are often taken in the opposite direction of the setting sun, and after the sun has gone below the horizon. There is still enough light to capture detail, and once again, it requires that you move the highlight slider down and the shadow slider up to get the dynamic range your eye can see.

I am going to wrap this up here and will take it up in a subsequent blog post. As a general matter of course, I shoot landscapes in aperture priority mode. This allows me to choose the aperture I want, the ISO I want, and the camera decides the shutter exposure time. This is why you need the tripod. Especially in the blue hour, with the ISO at 100, and the aperture at f/7.1 and above, the exposure time is going to be longer. It can be up to several seconds. In that case, you need a tripod and NO WIND!

Stay tuned, more to come. If you find this helpful and informative let me know with comments. I love feedback.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Used Camera Buying Guide

Is it really necessary to get the latest and greatest camera on the market? You pick the brand, Nikon, Canon, Sony, or Fujifilm? For the average photography enthusiast, my answer is no! Why not let someone else pay the premium price, while you benefit from their lack of use?  Here is a list of things to look for when selecting used cameras.

  1. Overall appearance: was it kept well with little or no scratches?
  2. Low shutter actuation count: Frequently on eBay they will give you the shutter count. Most shutters are rated for over 150,000 clicks so a shutter count in the low thousands is really good.
  3. It's quality standing when it was new: Was it one of the better cameras of the brand when new?
  4. Sensor size: Was it at least an APS-C sensor (micro 4/3rd's are good also)
  5. Megapixel size: I would say that anything 12mp and over will service you fairly well.
  6. ISO capability: This depends a lot on your use requirements. Photo's taken in good lighting do not require ISO above 200-400 unless you are trying to freeze action. In that case higher ISO could be necessary, but ISO 1600 should be sufficient for most and in good light, most cameras perform well with a little noise.
 With the above guidelines one can make a reasonable choice selecting a used camera and get really good results at an excellent value. I recently bought a Sony A55 with a kit lens for S175.00 U.S. on eBay. It was introduced in 2010. It has a 16.1 mp sensor and a native ISO to 12,800. It is an excellent camera for landscape, cityscapes, and street photography. It also does well with portraits in good lighting. The thing I want to emphasize is that I got an APS-C camera for under $200.00. It had stayed on the shelf of a company and only had 4.700 shutter clicks on it when I got it in the mail. To say the least it was a sweet deal.

In my view, the best place to get used cameras is either on eBay or Amazon. Amazon has a lot of reasonable deals. I have a Sony A3000, and I got an additional body for $139.00 on Amazon. It had slightly over 6,000 clicks. It performed equally well to the one I purchased new.

There are some really great deals out there no matter what brand you prefer. Here is a list of cameras that are very good to use and are also very affordable used:

  • Nikon D5200
  • Nikon D7100
  • Nikon D300s
  • Canon t4i
  • Canon D7
  • Canon 60D
  • Fujifilm XT1
  • Fujifilm X-a1
  • Sony A55
  • Sony A57
  • Sony A77
  • Sony A6000
These are but a few. There are many more to choose from. If you are careful and buy wisely you can get many years out of them. You also can get great deals on full frame cameras if you like. They however run considerably more, but are considerably more expensive to buy new. This article is geared toward the photography enthusiast, rather than the professional. If you are making your living with a camera you want the latest and you want an warranty. However, you can get warranties on eBay or Amazon for your used cameras so that you can get your purchase dollar amount protected.

Taken with the Sony A55

Another from the Sony A55

The Sony A55 & Tamron 10-24mm Lens

Friday, July 28, 2017

The perfect walk about travel lens;

I just recently bought a Tamron 18-200mm f/3.5 - 6.3 for my Sony A68 SLT camera. I had always read and heard that one has to sacrifice sharpness with super zooms. Not so with this one although, 200mm is on the low end of super zooms, but it is still a great range of focal length to have in one lens.

It is great for the zoo. You can get by with just one camera. It allows you to take wide angle candids around the zoo of the people and places, and it allows you to take sharp close-up images of the animals. I cannot believe that I survived this long without it. It has all the benefits of a super-zoom bridge camera plus, the detail of an ASP-C sensor. As the days go by, I frequently leave the house with just the camera, and not my bag as it is not necessary to change out lenses.

For you Nikon and Canon owners, they make the same lens for you. It was only $199.00 US, and I can honestly say that I believe it to be as sharp as my Sony 16-50mm f/2.8 and that is a more than three times the cost lens. It is especially good for situations with good light, but I have made some nice photos with it at sunset and lower light conditions.

I can definitely recommend it to anyone interested in an all in one lens. Especially considering the cost.

Here are some more examples: 

Down on the Farm

In the rain

At Photography Meet-ups


Out in the field

At setting sun

Portraits of Pretty Girls

Distinguished Gentlemen


At the Zoo

It performs really well in most all conditions.