Thursday, 23 of October of 2014

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Weekly Wrap-Up

Weekly Wrap-Up

It’s Friday again and that means that the end of another busy week in the photography world. This week has seen major gear announcements from Fujifilm and Pentax — among others — as well as plenty of advice just in time for the end of summer. Underwater photography, nature and wildlife photography, and several other fields that are best practiced when the weather is warm have had practitioners penning articles filled with advice to help bring new people into the field.

All of these stories and more were featured on our Twitter feed this week. However, if you’re not following us on Twitter then we’ll recap the highlights for you below!


That’s all for this week, folks! Have a great holiday weekend and we’ll see you again next week!

– da Bird


Red Light Camera Woes

Red Light Camera Woes

Have any of you heard the story about a man who was caught running a red light by a traffic camera? The camera got a photo of his license plate which the police mailed to him along with the ticket. The man responded by mailing back a photo of the money to pay the fine. The police, after having a good chuckle at the man’s antics, mailed him a photo of handcuffs after which he promptly paid the fine. Checking the news today brought that story to mind and it makes a good segue into today’s topic which focuses on a big story in the news is about several places reconsidering red light cameras following a glitch that caused 17,000 tickets to be thrown out in court.

Red light cameras have always been a bit controversial due to their inability to distinguish out-right violations and cases where a violation may have occurred but was done to prevent a greater problem — such as a person making an illegal right-turn or U-turn (after taking care to note the traffic conditions, of course) to get someone in their car to a hospital who was having a heart attack. They are also controversial in light of the fact that many places deliberately shortened the length of time for the yellow light — something that can be extremely dangerous for all drivers — in order to ensnare more drivers and generate more revenue. Lastly, many people object to being policed by machines instead of humans because machines lack the ability to discern whether or not to issue a ticket given the circumstances and because the machine itself can’t be cross-examined in court (the Eight Amendment says that the accused shall have the right to confront his accusers and it’s rather hard to confront a camera).

It seems now, in light of these cameras running amok, that law-enforcement-via-camera may be rolled back to law-enforcement-by-human-beings once more. And, if these simple machines are having problems already, body cameras might also have similar issues — especially given the greater need to store and transmit the video in real time.

What do you think? Have you ever been ticketed by a traffic camera? Do you think the system should be scrapped or could it be fixed? Let us know in the comments below!

– da Bird

Red Light Camera photo by: Derek Jensen


Police and Photography: Pros and Cons

Police and Photography: Pros and Cons

In the wake of several incidents, the most recent being the events in Ferguson, Missouri, there has been much more discussion about requiring police to have and use dashcams and (in some places) portable or wearable digital video cameras in order to have a video and audio record of every encounter they have during the course of their duties. However, there are pros and cons to having this kind of technology and those will need to be taken into consideration during the discussion about whether or not to issue mandatory body-cameras to police officers and what policies to have governing their use and the use of the recordings themselves in court. To kick off this conversation, we’ll list just a few pros and cons below.

Pro – There will be a visual and audible record of every interaction a police officer has while on duty. This will help to determine if the police officer is in the right during an encounter that leads to an arrest or to the use of force. It will also help to determine if the officer was in the wrong or if the force used was excessive. Having this record should help protect all parties.

Con – The Miranda warning states (approximately) that “anything you say can be used against you in a court of law…” There is no current legal presumption that the police must turn over recordings that could incriminate them (the Fifth Amendment applies to police as well) or that could help to exonerate the accused.

Pro – The Supreme Court and many appellate courts have ruled that police do not have an expectation of privacy while in public and on duty. Officer cameras will help to remind the police of this principle and might keep them from harassing photographers or bystanders who are recording an arrest or interaction.

Con – The police might not have an expectation of privacy while on duty but people generally do. In public or in a publicly accessible place, a person might have their image and actions recorded by security cameras or by other individuals but having their conversations recorded can violate privacy laws (this varies by state). Additionally, people do have an expectation of privacy inside their homes and an officer camera would, presumably, be taken on a search which could violate that person’s privacy.

Pro – The video acts as incontrovertible and neutral evidence. Officers should be recording the whole time they are on duty with the presumption being that any missing video would exonerate the suspect.

Con – Taken as a whole, it can be incontrovertible and neutral. However, if only selected segments are shown, the video’s tone can change drastically – for either side. Also, this would require that police always have the video rolling. Over-relying on it can lead to problems down the road for cases where there are legitimate technical issues with the camera or the camera is damaged during an altercation. Finally, storage and transmission becomes a major concern if the cameras are rolling 24/7. Video files can be compressed, yes, but even with compression, they are still large files.

There are, of course, more arguments for and against police wearing body cameras. What do you think? What policies or laws would you draft governing their use and the use of the video generated by them? Let us know in the comments below!

– da Bird

The photo of the officer wearing the ear-mounted camera is from Renee Jones Schneider with the Star Tribune for the article Police body cameras raise questions about privacy rights.


Weekly Wrap-Up

Weekly Wrap-Up

It’s been another busy week in the world of photography. Photojournalists have been out covering stories ranging from the troubles in Ferguson, MO to the Little League World Series and the Stromboli volcano. Sony and Samsung have made headlines as well with their announcements about cameras coming in the near future and Nikon made a huge splash this week with the reveal of their newest camera.

All of these stories and more were featured on our Twitter feed this week. However, if you’re not following us on Twitter then we’ll recap the highlights for you below!

That’s all for this week, folks! Have a great weekend and see you again next week!

– da Bird


Learning the Night Sky

Learning the Night Sky

Since there are so many astronomy-related events coming up in the next few months, I promised you an explanation of how to find out where to see things in the night sky. After spending a lot of time looking through incredibly confusing star charts and making images that were great…but you had to know what you were looking at and roughly where to find it already, I stumbled across these great articles over at Outer Space Universe that do a much better job than the guides I was attempting could have done. So, to learn more about the constellations and where (and how) to find them in the northern night sky, read up on their guides about the summer, fall, winter, and spring constellations.

Now, why is it important to know where the constellations are and how to find them? Well, if you’re ever interested in astrophotography, the constellations are kind of the road signs of the night sky. If you’re trying to take a photo of Jupiter, for example, it will be helpful to know that it might rise in or near Virgo. If you’re going to watch a meteor shower, it might be useful to know that it’s going to be appearing in the same part of the sky as Draco. And, if you’re interested in trying to get a photo using your telescope and DSLR of one of our neighboring galaxies, Triangulum, it helps to know when and where to find it in the night sky. Lastly, the night sky has begun to grow unfamiliar to many of us with the increase of light pollution from cities. Unlike earlier generations, many of us can’t find some of the more common constellations because we never see them. Therefore, it’s nice to give yourself an excuse to get away from the lights of the city and to spend time under the same canopy of stars, finding your way through the different constellations, that have fascinated humanity for countless generations.

And, if all else fails, it’s helpful to know the stars in order to navigate should you ever find yourself appointed captain on a boat without GPS or other helpful navigation tools.

– da Bird


Getting Ready for Fall Photography

Getting Ready for Fall Photography

Even though summer is still in swing and autumn won’t be setting in for over a month, the time has come to start planning any trips you might make to do some special fall photography. In the United States, along the northeastern seaboard, the trees and forests that are native to the region do put on a spectacular show as the seasons move from autumn and into winter. The leaves on the trees go from a verdant green to tawny golden-yellow or bright red before they finally fall to the ground to become compost for the next generation.

If, like many people, you’d like to capture this changing of the seasons, you’ll need to make a few travel plans and set aside some gear to ensure that your trip will be well worth the effort. We have some helpful tips on things you should look into below.

1) Location, location, location — The northeastern states are popular travel destinations for many reasons. Take time to decide where you want to go and to check with local photography groups in the area to see if they have any special trips or specific suggestions about where you should shoot from. Do try to stay a little off the beaten path so drive if you are close enough or rent a car if you must fly in to your destination. Fall is also a great time to explore so don’t be afraid to set up your GPS and just drive around until you find a few good locations to photograph from.

2) Once you’ve decided where, check for the best “when” — Once you know where you’d like to go to do your photography, you’ll want to check the local state and region information on when the color change takes place. Usually you can find this on a state tourism website and there are apps that can help you determine the best time for your trip. The change in colors doesn’t happen all at once so do some research and plan your trip accordingly.

3) Go for soft lighting — Bright, sunny autumn days aren’t the best time for fall photography. You’ll do better to wait for the softer sunlight around the sunrise or set or to find ways to decrease the ambient light such as shooting on days that are somewhat cloudy.

4) Experiment with different ISOs — In order to ensure that you get photos that really bring out the richness of the leaf colors, set your ISO low and consider using matrix metering to help you achieve the look you want with your photos.

5) Get high — In terms of elevation. ;) Try to find a road or path that will let you get above the forest canopy and get a shot of the forest as a whole instead of just a few of the trees.

6) Update your camera kit with lenses and other good accessories — Take some longer lenses such as an 85mm or a 70-200mm lens with you in addition to the normal 35mm wide angle lens you might carry. You may also want to add a good sturdy camera bag conducive for hiking and a tripod to your photography kit if you don’t have them already. Also, a good flash can be helpful if used sparingly and to help highlight shadows or elements closer to the camera.

7) Fog and mist are great — These can lend an air of mystery to your photos. Don’t moan if the forecast calls for them but instead figure out a great way to work them into your photography!

8) Autumn composition is unique — A stream you might have just walked past in the summer will look much more photogenic in the fall with the golden leaves reflected in it. A pile of mushrooms can make a great photo that brings autumn to mind without relying so heavily on coloration. Though autumn is a very transitional season, take the time to do some exploration and experimentation because you won’t be able to come back in a few months and see things quite the same way.

What are some suggestions you have for fall photography? Where are your recommended places to visit? Let us know in the comments below!

– da Bird


Weekly Wrap-Up

Weekly Wrap-Up

Another week has drawn to a close and this week has been full of events. On Monday, Robin Williams passed away at his Marin County home. His passing has dominated the news cycle this week. However, there were also stories about the supermoon with many great photographs taken of this annual lunar event. Nikon announced a new camera — the D810 — and more information about the events and reveals planned for Photokina were announced.

All of these stories and more were covered on our Twitter feed this week. However, if you’re not following us on Twitter then we’ll recap the highlights for you below!


That’s all for this week, folks. Have a great weekend and see you again Monday!

– da Bird


Supermoon and Astronomical Events

Supermoon and Astronomical Events

On Monday night, the moon made its closest approach to Earth for 2014. As the moon was full at the time, this event was called “the Supermoon” and was an opportunity for some great lunar and astrophotography. However, don’t worry if you hear all kinds of doomsday scenarios about a supermoon — instead, read up on what Astronomer Phil Plait has to say about what a supermoon actually is and what it isn’t.

One thing a supermoon is is a great time to get some photos of the moon. Photographing the moon, though, can be a bit of a challenge. Luna, it seems, while being very photogenic, is also very camera-shy. In order to get a good shot of her, you’ll generally want to use a DSLR with at least a 200mm lens (though a 400mm would be better and an 800mm would be perfect if your budget will stretch). If you don’t have a DSLR, there are teleconverters that can help you make it work. You’ll also need to make certain your timing is good and that you’ve noted down when the moon will rise (and possibly when it will set) as well as the phase it will be in (full moons are the best and easiest to capture but waxing or waning can also net wonderful results). Pick a good spot where you can see the moon come up and have it be against or near something in order to get that “the moon is HUGE” effect.

That's no moon, that's a space sta...no, it is a moon. Never mind.Another thing to be careful of is white-balancing. The moon is a very bright object on a very dark background so it is easy to over-expose it. Use a low ISO setting (start at 200), f/11 for the aperture, and 1/125th of a second for the shutter speed and adjust from there as needed or desired for effect. For more advice, check out this great article over at Digital Photo Secrets.

Lastly, taking photos of the moon is one great way to get started in the field of astrophotography. The night sky has fascinated mankind since our earliest days. While taking photos of distant stars, planets, galaxies, and nebula requires some specialized equipment (telescopes, mounts, tripods, etc), there are some events you can capture with just a good DSLR. Sea and Sky has a great calendar of these events but we’ll list a few of the major upcoming ones for you below.

August 18, 2014 — Conjunction of Venus and Jupiter. Look for this near sunrise. The planets will appear near the constellation Cancer in the sky.

August 25, 2014 — New moon. The moon will not be visible in the night sky making this an excellent time to observe more distant phenomena such as galaxies and star clusters.

September 9, 2014 — Full moon. Though it’s not the Supermoon, the full moon is a great time for some lunar photography.

October 4, 2014 — Astronomy Day. This is a day when astronomy experts and enthusiasts reach out to new people and try to share the wonders of astronomy and the night sky with them. Check out your local astronomy groups to see what kind of events they have planned and make a note to check them out. This is also a great time to introduce children to the majestic wonders of the universe that can be viewed through a telescope.

October 8, 2014 — Total lunar eclipse viewable from most of North America, South America, eastern Asia, and Australia.

October 8 – 9, 2014 — Peak of the Draconids Meteor Shower (the event runs from October 6 – 11). The Earth will pass through the part of space containing rubble from the comet 21P Giacobini-Zinner. Though the full moon may make seeing the meteors difficult, it is still worth checking out if you can get away from bright lights and the light pollution common in cities. The meteors will appear mostly in the region of the constellation Draco.

October 22 – 23, 2014 — Peak of the Orionids Meteor Shower (the event runs from October 20 – November 2). The Earth will pas through the part of space containing rubble from the Halley comet. As the moon will be a waning crescent and then a new moon, these meteors should be easier to see than the Draconids. They will appear in the sky mostly in the region of the constellation Orion.

Galaxy M106October 23, 2014 — Partial solar eclipse viewable from most of North and Central America. If you plan to photograph or observe this, please take protective measures such as using aluminum-coated mylar plastic sheets to cover your telescope lens or camera lens (the “Mylar space blankets” are not a suitable replacement!), number 14 arc welders glass, telescope glass filters (sold by astronomy and telescope stores), or pin-hole observation. Do not look directly at the sun without suitable protection (and sunglasses actually worsen the damage since they cause your pupils to dilate to let in more light) and do not point your camera or telescope at the sun without proper protection as you can damage the lenses, optics, and sensors!

November 5 – 6, 2014 — Peak of the Taurids Meteor Shower. Though this is a long-running shower (from September 7 – December 10), it peaks the night of November 5. However, the full moon may make watching the peak difficult. This shower happens when the Earth passes through the part of space containing rubble from Asteroid 2004 TG10 and Comet 2P Encke with most of the meteors appearing near or inside the constellation of Taurus.

November 17 – 18, 2014 — Peak of the Leonids Meteor Shower. Though this is another semi-long running shower (from November 6 – 30), it peaks the night of the 17th and the waning crescent means that observing it will be easier. This shower occurs when the Earth passes through the part of space containing rubble from the comet Tempel-Tuttle and the meteors will appear to be in the vicinity of the constellation Leo.

December 13 – 14, 2014 — Peak of the Geminids Meteor Shower. This is the king of meteor showers. Though it will be occurring during a waxing moon, the Geminids are so bright that the light of the moon should not be a problem. The shower runs from December 7 – 17, peaking the night of the 13th. The meteors will appear in the region of the sky with the constellation Gemini and are from the rubble of the 3200 Phaethon asteroid.

Galaxy M106December 22 – 23, 2014 — Peak of the Ursids Meteor Shower. Though this is a minor shower producing few meteors from the rubble of the comet Tuttle, this year will be one of the best to observe it due to the lack of moonlight during the new moon. The shower runs from December 17 – 25 and will appear mostly in the region of the sky with the constellation Ursa Minor (also known as the Little Dipper).

Astrophotography is probably one of the most scientific and interesting fields to get into. The images you can capture doing astrophotography will put awe into anyone. So, get your camera and gear ready and make sure to take a nap so you can stay up and watch the wonders of the nightsky and capture them for the daywalkers to see!

– da Bird

Photo of the 1999 solar eclipse copyright Luc Viatour.
Photo of the M106 Galaxy copyright Robert Gendler


In Memoriam: Robin Williams

In Memoriam: Robin Williams

As many of you are no doubt aware, Robin Williams, one of America’s best-known and most well-loved comedians and actors, passed away Monday at his home in Marin County, California yesterday. He was 63.

Robin Williams was known for his humor, his ability to make people laugh, and his gentle nature. Even in his most dramatic roles, he brought a depth of talent and humor that could make even the darkest part of the film brighter. Williams never let himself be pigeonholed as “the funny man.” He took on roles like Chris Nielsen in What Dreams May Come, Dr. Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting, John Keating in Dead Poets Society, and Dr. Malcolm Sayer in Awakenings. In each of those films, Williams was able to bring to life a complex, complicated, and sometimes dark character and give them a depth and lightness that transcended a man merely acting a role. And, even when he was playing an irreverent funny-man, such as in Good Morning, Vietnam or Aladdin, he handled the darker twists of the plot with a humanity that helped to make those films such rich and enjoyable experiences.

Williams got his start by playing the alien Mork in Happy Days and his character’s popularity was such that it resulted in a spin off — the well-known (and still one of my personal favorites) show Mork and Mindy. From there, he went on to headline several stand-up comedy acts such as Off The Wall, An Evening with Robin Williams, and Robin Williams: Live at the Met. He went on to star in some of the his most famous roles — several of which have already been listed — and in some roles in films that have a very strong following despite not achieving box-office or critical success. One of these films is my all-time personal favorite Williams film: Bicentennial Man.

If you haven’t seen it, I won’t spoil it for you. The role Williams played in that film was something akin to the “man from Mars” type role he played as Mork. However, the humor in Bicentennial Man was much more poignant and moving. In the scenes between Williams and Australian actor Sam Neill, the emotions are palpable and I think that anyone who doesn’t at least have a hitch in their breath during the final scene with those two actors doesn’t have a heart. There are many other parts in the movie where Williams’ humor and gentle nature bring a smile to the lips and a tear to the eyes which is why, even if it flopped at the box office, I think that Bicentennial Man is one of the best films made in the late twentieth century.

What are some of your favorite Robin Williams roles or moments? And, if you had the chance to meet him, what would you say to him? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

– da Bird


Shark Photography

Shark Photography

Even though the summer is beginning to draw to a close, there is still plenty of time to get some great underwater photography done. While many photographers — especially those who are new to underwater photography — will stick with photographing coral reefs, downed ships, fish, and dolphins, those who are bit more experienced may want to try their hand at a bit of shark photography. If you are an experienced underwater photographer with plenty of SCUBA experience under your belt, then you may find these tips helpful in getting a start in photographing one of the ocean’s most dangerous but fascinating creatures.

Please note: Sharks are dangerous creatures. Even the smallest sharks can easily inflict serious or fatal injuries. Do not attempt this line of photography until you have mastered safer types of underwater photography and until you are very experienced with SCUBA diving. Unlike other wildlife photography where you can be at a safe distance from predators and where humans are somewhat matched against the predators on land, sharks are completely in their element in the water and humans are not. There is no climbing up a tree, throwing a rock, getting into a car or house, or other protective measure you can take to get away from a shark while in the water. So, do not attempt even a caged dive until you have prepared yourself and understand the risks you are undertaking.

1) Safety first — Getting into the water where you know sharks are is dangerous. So, take plenty of time to research the area you’ll be diving in and learning about the specific types of sharks you might encounter there. Talk with local divers and marine biologists to learn about their particular warning signs and how to interact with them. Then, take a local and experienced dive buddy with you to act as your spotter while you do your photography. If possible, have a paramedic unit standing by on the boat or on the shore in case someone is bitten.

Never, under any circumstances, dive alone. Always have a dive buddy.

2) Stay near coral or rocks (if available) and stay away from other divers — If you’re diving with a group, especially for a deep sea dive, then make certain the group knows what you are planning and that you do your photography away from them as many may not be prepared to handle close encounters with the shark kind and instinctive panic can easily turn a photography encounter into a nightmare.

3) Coordinate with the feeder — If you’re going to attract sharks to a specific spot with a feeder, make certain you coordinate the exact drop locations with him and position yourself so that the sharks will be moving away from you after the feeding. You’ll also want to position yourself in a spot that will not give you a bunch of chum-filled images.

4) Sharks are easy to overexpose — With their white underbellies, it’s easy to overexpose your shark shots. So, be careful with your strobes and flashes and aim them higher than you normally would to avoid this.

5) Photography gear to take with you — Sharks are skittish so you’ll want to use a lens that isn’t too wide. A 2-24mm or 17-35mm is a good choice with a 10-17mm fisheye lens can be used with sharks that are accustomed to people or have been domesticated in a preserve and will allow you to get closer (but remember: domesticated is not tamed! They are still wild animals). The fisheye can also be great for shots of schools of sharks. You’ll want to make certain that whatever lenses you’re using are fairly fast and have a maximum aperture of F2.8 to F4.

6) You can’t out-swim a shark even if you’re Michael Phelps — Don’t chase after the sharks to try to photograph them and don’t swim around them to try to get a better angle. Instead, position yourself in the best spot you can and let the sharks come to you.

7) Let sleeping sharks lie — If you’re moving toward a group or sharks or an individual shark who is napping, take it slowly and make no sudden movements. Better to let the shark stay asleep and you get some great shots than to make a lot of sudden movements and noise that might wake the shark up and (at best) result in him moving away or (at worst) you being invited to dinner…as the main course.

8) Be careful with movement — Quick, jerky, sudden movements can startle any wild animal. Make smooth, slow, careful movements. Again, don’t try to swim up to a shark (he might take this as a possible threat and attack) but if a shark swims up to you, depending on the species, you can sometimes gently nudge them away. Speak with someone experienced with the kinds of sharks you’ll be photographing and make certain your dive buddy knows what to do if a shark gets a little too “I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. De Mille” with you.

Sharks are one of nature’s most beautiful predators. In the water, they are the very incarnation of fatal beauty. Fascination with these creatures permeates our culture. And, with proper preparation and respect for just how deadly they can be, photographing them in their natural environment can be a very fun and very rewarding experience. Just take care not to become shark bait yourself!

– da Bird

The first shark image (“Sunset Shark”) is copyright Michael Muller. The second image (“Smiling Shark”) is copyright Todd Bretl.