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Blinded By Light

The full frame protagonists are at it again. It’s the same stupid argument. Larger sensor means more TOTAL light gathered therefore lesser noise. Stop the bullshit. Please!!!

In fairness, it’s quite easy to be mislead by this kind of misinformation. If noise is inversely proportional to the amount of gathered light then it makes sense that a larger sensor would result in cleaner photos. Unfortunately, just looking at the total amount gathered light is being very short-sighted. It does not give us the whole picture (no pun intended).

Allow me to explain it again for the nth time. But before that, please read the following articles because they explain this concept in greater detail.

1. https://dtmateojr.wordpress.com/2014/02/28/understand-your-lens-part-3/ — Concentrate on understanding the effect of focal length on light intensity because a lot of people tend to ignore this bit. They are too preoccupied with just the aperture opening maybe because they are more familiar with “fast” lenses without even understanding what “fast” really means.

2. https://dtmateojr.wordpress.com/2014/03/08/debunking-the-myth-of-full-frame-superiority/ — If there is one thing that you’d want to fully understand here, make it the “thought experiment” on dividing a full frame sensor which also explains how shutter curtains work.

3. https://dtmateojr.wordpress.com/2014/06/10/debunking-the-myth-of-full-frame-superiority-part-2/ — This is a good counter-argument to the fact that no two digital sensors are exactly the same even if they are of the same type. A D7000 sensor for example is almost every bit the same as the D800 sensor but because of the improved processing the latter may produce better photos. And so I used film as an example because the same film emulsion will always behave the same way regardless of format (size).

4. https://dtmateojr.wordpress.com/2014/05/19/megapixel-hallucinations/ — Some full frame protagonists insist on comparing ENLARGED APS-C images to full frame equivalents in terms of noise. Of course an enlarged APS-C photo will, for the lack of a better word, enlarge everything including noise. This article debunks that by showing the MATH behind resampling as well as showing samples of real SNR measurements of APS-C and full frame sensors.

5. https://dtmateojr.wordpress.com/2014/04/21/rain-can-teach-us-photography/ — explains what happens in a sensor and why PIXEL size and NOT sensor size matters in greater detail.

6. https://dtmateojr.wordpress.com/2014/05/09/understanding-exposure/ — are for the equivalence clowns who think that they could get away with the bullshit by manipulating ISO. In short, you can’t.

Now if after reading those articles you still need a bigger cluebat then read on…

The biggest mistake that full frame protagonists make is that they equate a sensor to a solar panel. In a solar panel, total light gathered is everything. In a solar panel, every “sensor” contributes to the total energy produced. Of course the bigger the better. Photography though is far from being like a solar panel. Camera sensor pixels are independent of each other. That’s why within an image you will encounter darker parts that are more noisy and blown up parts that have been saturated by light. Each individual pixel receives its own independent number of photons. Pixels can’t share their photons with other pixels. Well sometimes adjacent pixels do “share” photons but this is an undesirable effect called “sensor bloom”. You can see why looking at noise as a result of the total light gathered is wrong. Noise should be examined at the pixel level because this ultimately defines the efficiency of your sensor.

While it is true that a larger sensor gathers more light compared to an APS-C or M43 for the same exposure by virtue of the larger area, this argument is not photographically sound. Photographic exposure is all about LIGHT PER UNIT AREA and not just total light. Saturating a pixel only requires a fixed number of photons. Anything more than that is just wasted light because as soon as a pixel clips then “no data” is presented for processing into an image. An APS-C sensor for example requires half the total amount of light required for a full frame sensor. If you force the same amount of light to both a full frame and APS-C then the latter will oversaturate, i.e. overexpose. It’s like pouring two liters of water into a one liter container. It does not make sense. It is photographically disastrous and plainly stupid. Therefore you get the same noise-free image in an APS-C for half the total amount of light hitting the sensor. Again, you get the same noise-FREE image for HALF the TOTAL amount of light. Again, it’s all about LIGHT PER UNIT AREA and NEVER just total amount of light gathered. It’s all about light intensity.

A smaller area requires lesser incident light. A smaller sensor requires a smaller lens-projected image circle. Smaller image circle is what defines a “crop” sensor or crop lens (e.g. Canon EF vs EFS lenses or Nikon FX vs DX lenses). You crop a full frame image circle just enough to illuminate a smaller sensor. Makes sense?

Unfortunately, there are those that remain blind and they resort to other stupid arguments such as printing at the same size or enlarging a cropped image. Of course a larger sensor is capable of larger prints but this has got nothing to do with light. But let’s be stupid for a minute and assume that a cleaner print is the result of more light gathered during exposure. What happens then if you print at a smaller size? Did you just throw away the light? If not, then where did the light go? If print size has got anything remotely related to light then projecting the same amount of light into a smaller print is like pouring two liters of water into a one liter container so we expect the smaller print to be overexposed, right? But it doesn’t. Because print size has got nothing to do with light and therefore has got nothing to do with noise. The apparent increase in noise when you enlarge a print is NOT the effect of light but the effect of resampling (refer to megapixel hallucination article), i.e. resolution.

In conclusion, total amount of light is just half the truth. The other half is sensor area. Combining both, we get light per unit area otherwise known as photographic exposure. Exposure is what ultimately dictates noise. Smaller area requires lesser light therefore the same exposure results in the same noise profile for different sensor sizes of the same type.

I hope this is the last time I will ever write about this topic. It’s getting long in the tooth and very boring really.

I promise to write a happier article next time. Really. I promise that. 

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N00bism #3

Hello world! This the third post of the N00bism series. I hope that the previous articles made you think about your own approach to photography. As I have mentioned before, this series aims to discuss the common mistakes beginners, and to some extent, even experienced photographers fall into. These are the same issues that I have experienced and/or avoided and have observed in my constant interactions with photographers of different levels of expertise.

Without further ado, let me discuss “premature manual mode”.

I have already written an article about this macho manual mode, or M mode as most photographers call it. It’s ok if you shoot in “M mode only” but puhleeze, don’t brag about it. It’s not rocket science. You do not have to tell the world about it because those who actually know how to use it will find your bragging quite underwhelming or laughable.

Those of you who are just starting with this expensive hobby should avoid using M mode. Trust me. I have been there. Allow me to explain:

Firstly, you bought that very expensive camera for what? It’s expensive because it is intelligent enough to do most of the work for you. You are wasting your money if you do not put it to good use. It has full automatic mode for a reason. Even the most expensive of cameras have auto modes. Auto modes make your life easier so you can concentrate on things that matter.

For newbies, what matters most is making the shot. You can have the most perfectly exposed shot but if your composition sucks then your photo sucks. Period. Why burden yourself with the exposure when you can’t even get your horizon straight? Why fiddle with those buttons when your shot is so hopelessly cluttered? Why shoot in M when you do not even understand exposure in the first place?!!!

Do yourself a favour. Use that green square mode and learn about composition before anything else. If you can’t help touching those buttons then leave your multi-hundred dollar DSLR and use your mobile phone instead. Yes, even if the “image quality” is inferior. A clean, crisp, 36Mp crappy shot is still a crappy shot.

So when should you start using the M mode? If you think that a better exposure will improve a good shot. It follows that you know what a good shot is. It also follows that you know what exposure is. If you can’t get a good shot with your mobile phone, your DSLR won’t help either. Because a good shot does not depend on what camera you use. In fact, more complicated cameras would probably hinder you from making a good shot.

I won’t cover composition here. It’s not something that you learn by reading. Yes, there are pointers like rule of thirds. Google them.

I will skip to the topic of exposure because that’s all this crazy M mode does anyway. Sorry but I won’t even discuss the exposure triangle here. If you do not understand that concept then you should not even be thinking about M mode. There are millions of web articles that discuss it and I won’t bother repeating them.

How do you learn exposure? By understanding light. Understand that during high noon on a very clear day, you will have the greatest intensity of light that you would normally encounter. I said normally because you might want to shoot directly at the sun or capture an exploding atomic bomb. Anything else would just be varying intensities of lower magnitude. This high noon light is often called “sunny f16”. It simply means that the correct exposure for a subject under bright sunlight is f16, 1/ISO for a given ISO sensitivity. For example: f16, 1/100 at ISO 100. We usually “round off” the shutter speed to the nearest “whole stop”, which is 1/125 for the above example. An example of light with lower intensity is when your subject is hiding under a shade to avoid the harsh sunlight. In this instance, light intensity drops by at least 4 stops so your exposure would be f4, 1/125 at ISO 100. Sometimes I give it f2.8 just to be safe.

It’s not enough that you know the different light intensities. You should understand contrast as well. In the above example, if you want the subject in the shade to be properly exposed then everything outside that is lit by the sun will render as white. If you want to properly expose what’s outside then your subject will be barely visible under the shadows. In this example, no amount of screwing around with M mode will help you. The argumentative folks will probably say, yeah shoot at f8 then pull the highlights and push the shadows in Photoshop. Whatever.

You see that it’s not enough that you know shutter speed and aperture and ISO to warrant the use of M mode. Because if you do not undertand light you will end up screwing around with those knobs until your camera’s LCD tells you that you have lined up the exposure slider dead in the center. You are basically wasting your energy following what the camera is telling you. M mode has become the automatic mode for stupid people. M as in moron mode. Shoot in full auto instead.

So beginners, please learn to compose first before confusing your brain even more with M mode. And experts, there’s no need to brag about it especially if you are just lining up the sliders.

N00bism #2

Welcome to the second installment of the N00bism series. This time I will tackle probably one of the most highly debated aspect of digital photography. Note that I am very specific about “digital” here and you will see why in the next few blocks.

The topic I am about to discuss is the use of UV FILTERS.

Let me tell you right now that this is probably the biggest scam in the history of photography. Every sales person would sell an unsuspecting buyer a UV filter together with the entry level DSLR and kit lens. Sometimes they would even make them feel that they just made the greatest bargain by giving them a free UV filter after they sold the last remaining stock of last year’s entry level DSLR model.

Well actually, let me take that back. This is not the scam. The scam is when a buyer is forced to feel that they need the most expensive UV filter to pair with their very expensive lens. Let’s see: you already spent thousands of dollars on that lens so why ruin the image quality by screwing a cheap UV filter?! Doesn’t make any sense, no? So you buy each of your holy trinity of lenses the best UV filter you can find. Now THAT makes a lot of sense.

Or does it?

Back in those days when the word photographer actually meant something — back when people shot with film — a UV filter was part of the arsenal. Film is sensitive to UV light and that actually made the photos look cold and hazy without them. Photographers used UV filters because they do help make the photos look clearer. Not so with digital photography. Digtal cameras are corrected against UV light. Yes, your DSLR has a built-in UV filter. You do not need another UV filter.

But wait, UV filters are meant to protect your lenses!

Ok, so now you know that it’s useless as the accessory it was meant for so let’s discuss this positive side effect of doubling as a lens protector. Does it really protect your lens?

Let’s put this in proper context. What kind of protection do you expect from it? Protection against impact? Please consider the fact that a UV filter is just a very thin piece of glass bound by some metal screw mount attachment. Even a very light knock will scratch or break it because it is what it is: a very thin piece of glass. A serious knock will break the glass AND bend the metal mounting and ruin the thread of your lens’es screw mount. You’d be lucky if you can still unscrew the broken filter from your lens without further ruining your lens. It’s not really much of a protection, no? Use your lens cap and/or hood if you want real protection.

So how does the front element of your lens compare to a UV lens in terms of toughness? Firstly, it is so much thicker so it won’t break that easily. Glass is actually a very tough material. To cut through glass, you need the world’s toughest natural substance: a diamond! In the very unfortunate circumstance that you do break the front element, a UV filter would have not been able to save it either. If you do break the front element, expect that something in your lens’es internals would be broken as well due to the force of impact. The point is, don’t be stupid.

How about minor scratches? Front elements are quite tough buggers. You would think that lens manufacturers would consider fortifying this most exposed part of the lens, yes? And even if you do scratch it, you would have to scratch it very very badly before the effects would even start to show in your photos. I’m serious. If you don’t believe me, then check THIS

What about dust? Doh?! Just clean your lens with a cloth. If dust gets on your lens then surely a UV filter will get dusty too so what’s the deal? Even dust INSIDE your lens won’t affect your photos. I have a few old manual lenses with dusts in them but they still make very good shots.

Allow me to summarize those points: a UV filter does not provide enough protection. Your lens is way tougher than any UV filter. Minor lens blemishes do not affect image quality.

So enough with what a UV filter does NOT do. What does a UV filter do really? Unfortunately, nothing but negative 😦

Firstly, it causes flare. Some have lesser effects than others but when subjected to point light sources, UV filters will cause flare in images. This is especially true when shooting at night with light sources coming from different directions.

Secondly, with UV filters glued to your lens, you can’t attach other filters (that do matter) without causing image degradation. Stack a CPL and/or an ND filter in there and you will have bad vignette.

Thirdly, you are just supporting the scammers by buying expensive UV filters.

And that’s it folks! So now you have another method of detecting n00bs — they are the ones with UV filters on their lenses.

N00bism #1

In the next few blog posts I will try to cover some of the most common newbie mistakes that even a lot of experienced photographers fall into. I expect that not everyone will agree with my observations and opinions but I hope these posts will make you seriously think about what you are doing.

So numero uno (#1) in this list is ULTRA SHALLOW DEPTH OF FIELD.

Most newcomers to DSLR photography have this wild obsession on shallow depth-of- field. It’s quite understandable because point-and-shoot (P&S) cameras have very small sensors such that everything from the foreground to infinity are in focus all the time. They don’t want that anymore. Those everything-is-in-focus shots look very amateurish. They want their subjects to “pop” and look pro. It won’t be long before they learn new terminologies such as “bokeh” and “fast lens”, and start the endless craving for expensive, heavy, wide aperture telephotos.

Those who have the money are the first ones to post portrait shots where only the eyes are in focus, the nose blurry and the ears barely recognizable. Their 85/1.2 lens has made the human subject look like a puppy with ears folded back waiting for a good pat on the head. I mean, come on…why the heck did you even waste your time looking for a “nice location” for the photoshoot when the background in all your shots all look like a big blob of blurry mess?!!! You might as well cut and paste your subject into a pre-made wallpaper image. The conflicting ideas are just too funny: they want a nice location but aim to blur everything except the subject.

Look at how real pros do it. Watch them use the background to complement their subjects. Good backgrounds add context to the image. They shoot at f5.6 or f8 and some even shoot at f16. If they do have to shoot at f2.8 they would normally step all the way back to achieve enough DoF.

And it’s not just with portraiture. Macro n00bs do this as well. The lenses focus very close to their subjects and they shoot at 2.8 such that they can’t even get one eye in focus. Stop down to f16 or f22 for Pete’s sake.

I haven’t stressed this one enough but I have always thought that reliance on ultra shallow DoF is for those who can’t compose a shot.

I’m not saying that portrait shots with nice blurry background don’t look good. They do and that’s why everyone is doing it, n00bs included. Especially if you are an experienced photographer, if most, if not all, of your shots look like this then what’s separating you from all the newbies?

Think about it.

Caffenol

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It’s been a long while since my last post. Let me assure you that I am still making photos. Almost everyday. Of course there’s my usual dawn shoot session every Saturday aside from my side trips during lunch breaks.

My photography has made a bit of a detour from the usual. I have come to realize that to be successful in landscape photography you need to be in various locations at the right time. Sadly, I don’t travel that much anymore. I used to roam around Australia for more than three years and that’s what got me started in this hobby. Now, I’m just confined in (beautiful) Brisvegas where it’s quite a challenge to create landscape photos. I have practically photographed every beach within a 120km radius from the CBD…and then some.

And so I decided to try something different. I want to do street photography, photojournalism, documentary type of thing. Well basically anything that I have not tried before.

The latest of these attempts was developing my own film which is the subject of this post. I’m lucky to have a friend at work who has done this for some time and he showed me how to develop my own film using ordinary household chemicals, namely coffee, vitamin C and washing soda in a process they call Caffenol.

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The whole process is quite easy. Using 350ml of tap water (about 20C) we mixed 6 teaspoons of instant coffee, 3 teaspoons of washing soda and half a teaspoon of vitamin C. We let it settle for a few minutes. Our film was already spooled inside a light tight Patterson developing tank. We poured the solution into the tank and waited for 7 minutes while agitating for 15 seconds every minute. We then poured out the solution from the tank and rinsed the film (still inside the tank) with tap water until the color of coffee was no longer visible. Next step was the fixer. We used an Ilford Rapid Fixer for black and white film. We poured it into the tank and let it do its job for 5 minutes, this time agitating for 10 seconds every minute. Then we rinsed again with tap water — more thoroughly this time. Rinsing was a lot easier since we could now safely take the spool of film out from the developing tank. We then wiped the excess water from film strip and let it dry for about 30 minutes.

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To be honest, I did not expect much from what we did. To my surprise the scans from my Epson V500 flatbed scanner came out quite good. By the way, the film I used here is a Fuji Superia 400. Those who are familiar with this film will know that this emulsion is meant to be processed in C-41 (color negative). Yes, caffenol will result in monochrome with a hint of sepia tone as can be seen from the photos above.

Here are more shots from the same 24-roll Fuji Superia 400 that I took during my lunch break:

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Not bad for a first attempt considering that I spent $15 for my black and white film to be commercially processed (no prints) — which turned out to be muddy. Caffenol is also very easy to do. There is no risk of getting scald by hot (almost boiling) water like those required for C-41 or E6 and you don’t have to be very exact with the developing temperature either. Aside from the fixer, the rest of the chemicals can be purchased from anywhere. Coffee need not be expensive. All you need is instant coffee and they say that the cheaper ones are better.

I can’t wait to do more of this. I just need to finish my roll of Kodak Gold 100 that I have just loaded into my Nikon FM3A. It will take me a while to do that. I tend to be very precise when shooting film. The snaps above were meant for the test roll because I did not expect anything from my first attempt at film developing anyway.

If you want to learn more about the process, please visit http://caffenol.org.

Until then.

Bad Adventures in Photography

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(Byron Bay lighthouse. iPhone shot)

I woke up at 10:30AM already. I was very tired from yesterday’s activity: I had to sing in the church choir and played bass guitar for my new band’s last major gig for the year. After several stressful weeks, today I was determined to spend time for myself.

So we drove to Byron Bay, a good two hours from Brisbane if you stick to the speed limits. I have already checked the weather radar and the forecast showed a clear afternoon in our destination. Brisbane already had a few showers and continued to be gloomy so I was hoping that the weather in Byron Bay would not disappoint.

I was very excited. I brought my landscape camera of choice: the Pentax K5. My Mamiya 645 was also loaded with a fresh roll of Provia 100F and I could not wait to try the 45mm/2.8 lens that I got from Ebay. I even skipped lunch (bad move #1).

When we arrived in Byron Bay, the weather was not perfect but manageable. The wind was a different matter though. It was so strong that sudden gusts could literally throw me off balance. It was only a matter of time before it brought a few rain clouds which made taking photos so much more challenging. My K5 is weathersealed but a single droplet on the lens’es front element is enough to ruin a shot.

I took a few cliche shots of the lighthouse before deciding to head down to the beach (bad move #2). I haven’t tried going through the path that leads from the lighthouse to the beach but I have seen other people walking and even running so I thought it should be an easy trek. Some of them even look a lot more unhealthy than me (not!!!). So down I went with nothing but 3kg of equipment. Not even a bottle of water (bad move #3).

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(The path that leads to the beach. iPhone shot)

I immediately realized that the pathway was a lot steeper than the others that I have experienced because my thighs were shaking with every step. I started blaming my injured right leg; it is still a bit swollen even after a year from when I fractured both bones in basketball. The surgeon did a good job of repairing my leg by inserting a titanium rod inside the bigger bone to put it back in place. I began to think about alternative routes for my way back to the top. Going back via the beach would be the only possible route if climbing was no longer an option. Confident about my decision, I continued the long way down to my intended destination. I clocked my descent so I could double that and get a rough estimate how much time it would take me for the return trip. I wanted to be back before it gets dark.

I did not actually head down to the beach but went to the same spot where I took this shot:

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(The lighthouse is about 100 meters above this location. The beach is further down that path.)

I captured this with a 35mm camera so I wanted to try using the Mamiya knowing that a film that is three times larger should give me better results.

The weather did not cooperate. It started to shower before I could even take my first shot. I carefully wiped the lens with my shirt and fired a few more. The weather was getting worse so I decided to pack up. I was ready to call it a day when my photographer instincts told me not to go home yet. If there is shower and there is sunlight then there should be rainbow somewhere. So I waited, both cameras inside their bags (bad move #4).

My prediction was correct: a rainbow started appearing so I quickly pulled out my K5. It was very tricky to shoot under the rain. I was actually spending more time wiping my lens than shooting. Very annoying indeed. I have given up hope in getting even a mildly decent shot with my smudgy lens. Frustration came in very quickly and I decided enough was enough. So I packed up for real this time.

Sweat mixed with rain plus no decent photo; this has certainly drained the remaining strength I needed for the climb back to the lighthouse. After a dozen or so steps, I could feel my heart pumping wildly and I could hardly breathe. Mind you, I am 5 feet 10 inches at 76kg. Not really somebody that you can call unhealthy. I used to play competitive basketball and volleyball for 15 years. So did my old man who died in a massive heart attack. Cardio problems run in our blood and I am certainly aware of this. I was very careful not to trigger a panic attack just like what happened to me in Canberra a few years ago. I had to call an ambulance after hopelessly trying to hail every incoming vehicle because I thought it was game over for me.

I rested for a bit while thinking about my next move. I remembered the beach access because I have been there before. This is the shot I took from the beach several months ago:

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I immediately called my family who were waiting for me at the top and told them to meet me at the other side near the beach. I gathered myself and went back to where the pathway forked. Then came the surprise: the beach is gone!!! It was all under water!!! I could not see one bit of sand. Gone!

The tide was so high and the wind was so strong it was blowing 6, probably 8-foot waves. I looked for alternative paths. There must be some other routes. I was walking over jagged rocks trying my best not to fall. I knew I should have brought my trekking sandals that have secure straps and not this orthopedic thingy that I have been using to rehab my injured leg. I came to a spot where I could have a look at the other side of the cliff to assess the situation. Waves were smashing against the rocks so I started studying their rhythm patterns. I began counting the intervals between waves so I could estimate my own movement and make sure that I would have enough time should I decide to turn back in case the small gap in the cliff would prove to be impassable. I counted a few seconds between big waves so as soon as a big one hit the cliff I scrambled for it. Leaping over jagged rocks I went but soon realized that the only passage I had was already neck deep under water. I quickly turned around hoping that a big wave won’t engulf me. I called my family again and told them to abort. The tide has cut off my only route to the other side of the cliff.

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(The gaps between these rocks were supposed to be my way to the other side of the cliff but they were already deep under water. That far hill in the background is where I was taking photos.)

I was already hyperventilating. Two stupid ideas: 1) call emergency rescue so they can bring down a helicopter for me or; 2) they would have a bunch of people carry me to the top with a stretcher. That won’t be just stupid, it would be very embarassing!

It’s when humans become hopeless that they start thinking about a Greater Being who can perform miracles. This must have been my punishment for skipping mass today. But hey, I sang in the church choir yesterday and this feels so unfair. I started praying. Three Our Father’s, three Hail Mary’s and countless Glory Be’s.

I gathered myself again, trusting in my muscle’s capacity to recover quickly. In a basketball game, I usually get tired during the first 10 minutes so I normally get substituted. But after another 10 minutes of rest, I could finish the whole game with enough strength left for another half. I climbed about 20 steps before I had to sit down and take another rest. It’s that steep. Did a dozen more then more rest. Every time I rested I was praying: Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, over and over again.

It was still bright enough for me to see clearly. By this time, I have probably recited more prayers than I ever did for the year. Even that stupid rainbow was still there. I took another shot of it with my iPhone. Photographers: they never stop taking photos while they are still breathing.

It was already 6PM and I’m only halfway through the climb. At this rate I’d reach the top just before it gets dark. There was a couple who were kind enough to ask if I was OK. I told them I wasn’t but I asked them anyway how far is it to the lighthouse. They said it’s still a long way and it gets steeper. Thanks for the encouragement.

I kept climbing and resting every few steps. The cameras now seem to weigh a ton. Ansel Adams had a donkey to carry his gear when he was photographing the Sierras. Me, I’m just stupid.

I probably made more than a dozen stops before reaching the top. It was 6:30PM. It took me an hour to climb back to the lighthouse which is now lit with it’s 1000W lamp. I took a few more shots of the lighthouse just to remind me of how crazy this day was. I passed by the water fountain before heading back to the car where my worried family was waiting.

Will I be going back to this location? Of course I will. But I will be more prepared next time.

What have I learned from this crazy adventure?
1. Bring at least a bottle of water.
2. Be mindful of the tides.
3. Exercise!!! If going down is tough, going up is 10 times tougher.
4. Unplanned shots rarely work.
5. Make sure people know where you are going.
6. Wear proper gear.
7. More equipment may result in less photos.
8. Pray. It helps.

You guys take care.

Stop Shooting Flowers

Ok, this post would probably hit some sensitive nerves but whatever. Anyway, I’m just voicing out my opinion based on observation and experience so it’s up to you whether to take it seriously or not.

If you want to develop real photography skills, stop shooting flowers.

That’s not say that flower shots are bad. In fact some of them are really good. Actually, it is very easy to get good flower shots. Anyone can do it that is why they are usually the shots n00bs make during their formative years.

Set your camera to auto mode and get as close to the flower as what your lens allows and trip the shutter. That’s all it takes to photograph a flower. No need for composition really. A flower dead center in the frame will still look nice. All you need to worry about is getting the focus right. Easy.

So if you really want to learn photography, stop shooting flowers. Your shots will suck but that will force you to learn how to improve them.

Let me suggest a starting point:

Do still life photography in the comfort of your house. Use natural light. Positioning your subject next to a large window will give you that nice soft light. You can use white paper as reflectors. In short, you will learn how light interacts with your subject and proper exposure. Don’t just shoot a solitary object. Use multiple objects and arrange them so you will learn the basics of composition. Use different focal lengths. To get a noise-free shot, you probably would need to use a tripod so you can shoot at low ISO and avoid blur caused by camera shake. Later on you can incorporate the use of strobes or flash.

This still life study will prepare you for landscape photography. Why am I not suggesting landscape as a starting point? Because you do not have control of the light. To have a better chance of getting good light means being on location at least 30 minutes before and after sunrise or sunset. Any other time means ugly cold light. Being in the right location at the right time does not guarantee good light though so it is still a hit or miss situation. If you are persistent, mother nature might reward your efforts. Such is the joy of landscape photography.

You may want to do portraiture next. Portraiture has different challenges although it is very similar to still life photography. The biggest hurdle is that your subject can now complain. Everyone wants to look good on camera even if it they have a face that only their mother can love. It means you will need to master the art of photo retouching. You will have to pixel peep like never before. Your friends may ask you to shoot their special events once you start getting the hang of it. Now that is a challenge.

Another area of photography that you may want to try is wildlife. Here you have a subject interacting with its natural environment. Avoid cliche shots of birds because that will bring you back to the same level as flower shots…only difference is that you now require a lens that’s ten times more heavy and more expensive.

Do macro photography when you get bored. It’s no different to flower shots. Just more tedious. The results can be jaw-dropping amazing though. I enjoy looking at macro shots but I’m not really that interested in doing them.

Street photography and photojournalism can quickly become craptography if you do not have the compositional skills. It requires a lot of skill but more importantly, an even greater amount of luck. Things must happen in front of you and you have to be there to capture it. Depending on where you are, extraordinary events may not happen at all. You are better off taking photos of your drunk friends. Now that I have mentioned drunk, street photography is also dangerous in the wrong locations. Be ready to deal with people who are paranoid. Persistence will pay off. The world’s most memorable photos are, afterall, products of photojournalism.

Avoid sports photography when you are just starting. It encourages bad habits. It’s slightly more rewarding than street photography because you can almost guarantee that there is some action happening where you are. If there is a brawl then you get to do photojournalism as well. There is minimal thinking involved in sports photography. It’s more of a hand-eye coordination thing like playing video games. Reaction time is very important. It also relies on how long your lenses are and how fast your camera can flip the shutter curtain. Of course, you would need to anticipate the action but sports photographers just fire a salvo of shots hoping that something magical happens. Highway patrols do the same with their radar guns. I am not making fun of them. I’m just telling the truth. The fact that sports photographers can manage to capture incredible shots is a testament to their persistence. They know that their keeper rate is lower than Joe Blow’s grade in college calculus but they still do it anyway. And that’s dedication. Sports photography is not for everyone especially if you can’t afford the five-figure equipment.

Again, if you want to improve your photography, stop shooting flowers.