The "Post-Photography Hangover"

Ahh, the joy of jet lag.  Having been awake since 4am despite being back in the comfort of my own bed, I couldn't help but think of the photos I captured this week in Istanbul.  The first thing I did last night once we got home (as always) was to download my images to my computer, make further backups & import them to Lightroom.  Typically I then take a few minutes to scroll through my images to see if I captured any portfolio worthy shots.  And what did I see?  Nothing.  Nada.  Crap. How could that be?  My wife and I had just spent a week in one of the most beautiful cities on Earth - a UNESCO World Heritage Site at that - and I'm not happy with my photos?!  Something isn't adding up.  Frustrated, I went downstairs to enjoy a much needed breakfast burrito and thought about my images for a bit.  After clearing a bit of the fog from my jet lag, I realized I was experiencing the dreaded "Post-Photography Hangover".  I've experienced it before, but this time seemed quite accute.  Perhaps it was the fact that I was hungry and had essentially been up for about 24 hours, but I wasn't happy with what I was seeing.  Usually this occurs after a long day of shooting, weddings were typically my worst culprits.  It sometimes took me a few days after the wedding to get the creative excitement back to start the work on my edits and see the images in fresh light.

I'll define this "Hangover" as a loss of creative interpretation or burnout from your own work.  Sometimes even though you may have captured some great images, you just can't see their full potential until you sit on them for a few days.  I remember two particular events, one a wedding and one a day of wandering around the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson, that took me a bit of time to digest.  Once I saw the potential both sets turned out some of my favorite shots yet.  In fact, one of my favorite things to do is to re-visit images I shot months or even years ago.  Sometimes you see potential in images you had previously decided weren't worthy.  It is quite interesting the effect that time can have on the creative process!

So how do you cure the "Post-Photography Hangover"?  Likely no 'cure' exists, but I think the best idea is to give it a few days and clear your head.  Step away from the computer, go for a hike or just do something that clears your mind.  Give it time and you'll see good results.

So after having another quick look through my images from Istanbul this morning, the excitement is growing.  I happened on the image below and it really stood out to me.  It may take a few days or even weeks for me to digest the rest of the images and they may not ultimately produce my best work.  That said, it was a wonderful trip and I think I'll muster at least few good shots.  Now where is my coffee cup?


Which Camera Should I Buy? (Part II)

Last time we covered the basics of camera buying and simple point & shoot options.  This time we'll focus on the high end of my recommendations in this three part series. If you are…wanting the challenge of stepping up to an SLR with interchangeable lenses, feel your old point & shoot just doesn't do it anymore, desire to shoot sports of any kind, want to expand your artistic eye, and don't mind carting around bigger equipment: then it's time for an SLR!  This will be the high end of my recommendations so be prepared for perhaps a little sticker shock.  While I won't recommend the SLR that the guy from Sports Illustrated uses, there are plenty of more entry level priced SLRs that pack a serious punch in both quality and features.  And of course the ability to change lenses pushes your creative senses to new heights!

There is a saying in photography to spend the money on the glass (lens) and not so much on the camera body.  In my opinion it is a very accurate statement.  One of my favorite images I've ever taken came from my 'lowly' Nikon D40X which at the time was an entry level digital SLR.  I had a very nice lens that I had rented which certainly made a huge difference.  See below for my testimony to this belief.

Zebras - Madikwe, South Africa

With that said, you can feel good about buying an SLR camera body on the lower end of the spectrum even if you plan to step up your game down the road.  Whichever camera you choose, you'll be on solid footing as you begin to explore the creative possibilities of owning an SLR.

Nikon D3200

My recommendation?  The Nikon D3200.  This is Nikon's latest entrant in the do-it-all SLR category.  HD video?  No problem!  Low light?  No problem!  Fast shutter speeds?  No problem!  I think you get the point.  At $700 MSRP (lens included) it might be a little bit of sticker shock for the new entrant into higher-end cameras, but believe me that price is worth it.  One of Nikon's perpetual strengths is the quality of the image sensor in their camera bodies, even the lower end cameras as evidenced above in my Zebra image offer excellent output.  The sensor found in most SLRs will make or break the image quality and Nikon simply gets it right.

Most DSLR camera kits come with one or two lenses, often a 18-55mm lens is common.  It gives a good range to start with a decent wide angle option at 18mm and a bit of zoom on the other end at 55mm.  Just enough range and quality to get you started on your adventure and education in photography.

Also consider:

Canon EOS Rebel T2i Sigma SD15 Sony a57 DSLR

Whichever camera you choose, be sure to test it out at your local camera store and ask lots of questions.  Be sure to check back soon for the final part of my 'which camera to buy' series!

Which Camera Should I Buy?

As a photographer, I'm commonly asked "which camera should I buy?".  While flattering that folks believe my retail camera knowledge is at least half way decent, it is not an easy question to answer.  Probably 99% of the time my answer is, "it depends!", since it is nearly always a contextual question.  I like to dig deeper before answering by asking specific questions.  Such as are you wanting to get into photography as an art medium or perhaps new parents wanting to capture your newborn's adventures or how about a mountain biker wanting to capture stellar shots on the local trails? While I could likely write a novel's worth of camera recommendations for all levels of photographers, I'm going to do my best to divide the question into a three part series.  I'll make the disclaimer that I am a Nikon junkie, so while I'll reference some of my own gear & favorites I'll also branch out and give some non-Nikonian recommendations as well.

Before we get started, one very important aspect to consider is how the camera 'feels' to you.  To see what I mean go to your local camera store and actually use the camera you plan on buying.  Intuitive use of features and easy access to menus is very important in overall camera satisfaction.  One of the primary reasons I've been shooting Nikon products is that their SLRs just made sense to me when I started out.  Everything from ergonomics to menus to physical controls on the camera body matters.  So make sure the camera fits with your style and sensibilities!  Then come back and be sure to purchase it from your local store!  So, without further ado…

If you are…not wanting to spend an atrocious amount on a new camera, not interested in advanced picture taking but still want good photos that you can easily share or print: then it's time for a nice point & shoot.  Don't go too cheap here, but rather spend right around the $250-350 mark and you should be fine.  The nice thing about technology and cameras, something that used to to cost $450-600 now costs half the price and takes better pictures.  The evolution is on-going and nowadays you can get some pretty snazzy results from entry level cameras.  Features such as face recognition, HD video, smile detection, in-camera editing, waterproof, easy printing, touch screens and even social sharing are all offered at this price point.  You just have to figure out which functions you really desire.

My primary recommendation at this price point is going to be the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20.

The ZS series from Panasonic has a history of making great images at a great price point.  It incorporates a Leica lens (high quality) and records in HD video for those interested.

I've used this camera in the past myself, and loved it's easy to use controls and features.  Picture quality, auto-focus and zoom were all quite good at this price point.  Other handy features include image stabilization, in-camera editing, continuous frame shooting up to 10fps, and HD video.

Below is a short list of other cameras to consider at this price point and generally in the user-friendly category:

Stay tuned for the next post on the "Which Camera Should I Buy?" series!  We'll focus on SLRs next time which will be the high end of my recommendations.  I'll then wrap up the series with the 'middle of the road' recommendation for those of you not wanting to step up to an SLR just yet.

Seis días, una lente!

The title of this week's post sums it up nicely.  Similar to last week's post, I used one lens for six days on our trip to El Tunco, El Salvador.  As promised, this is a follow up to the actual gear used when traveling light and of course some accompanying pictures from the trip.  My wife and I had a relaxing week of surfing, drinking cheap beer and relaxing on the beach.  And of course, I managed to snap a few photos too! To start, pictured below is an iPhone happy-snap of all my gear I took with me to El Salvador.  It is the same basic setup that I mentioned last week but I'll go a little more in depth about each piece and it's importance.

We'll start from the left half of the picture and work from top to bottom:

Dry Bags (2) - The two bags you see that most of the gear is sitting on are Sea to Summit dry bags.  Absolutely mission critical to keep both water and sand/dirt away from your gear during transport or between shots.  The larger of the two bags holds my camera/lens and the smaller green bag can hold all the other important goodies that shouldn't get wet either.  Don't leave home without them!

Knit Pouch - Call it a ditty bag, pouch, carry-all or what have you; this sucker is useful.  We've picked up several different sizes of these guys during our travels to various Central American countries over the years.  I'll typically keep odds & ends in these bags that shouldn't be in danger of getting wet.  Staying organized is essential when you need quick access to your gear.

Memory Cards - I always carry a bare minimum of two memory cards with me.  This time I actually had three, as you never know what may happen to your cards or how many pics you'll take.  Whether one gets damaged, lost or simply fails - you don't want to be caught without backups.

Spare Battery - Similar to extra memory cards, always keep a fully charged spare with you.  You never know!

Remote Shutter Release - A very handy gadget for working at night or taking long exposures.  Using a remote keeps your shaky hands off the camera during longer exposures to minimize vibrations for extra sharp pictures.  I didn't get around to using the remote this trip, but look for some future posts with 3+ hour long exposures.  Quick tip - you can also use your camera's self-timer to help with camera shake!

Cleaning Apparatus - I've been regularly using a LensPen for quite some time for on-the-go lens/filter cleaning.  Simply put, there isn't a better tool out there for quickly and safely cleaning your lens.  One end of the 'pen' has a retractable soft brush to dust off small particles/dirt first and the other end has a cleaning element which polishes your lens to a perfect shine.  Having a clean lens is an important first step in making great photos, always check your lens before snapping that shutter!

Lens Filters - Pictured next to the LensPen sits my UV filter that is typically attached to the front of any lens at all times.  UV filters are an excellent way to cheaply protect the front of your lens and take a little bit of the haze out of the sky at the same time.  I shoot nearly 100% of the the time with some sort of filter attached to my lens.  Especially when on the move during travels as your lens is always susceptible to damage.  Also pictured are two other filters, a neutral density (ND) filter and polarizer.  ND filters allow less light to come through the lens to aid in using longer shutter speeds during daylight hours.  From making water silky smooth to blurring backgrounds in action shots, ND filters are very useful.  A polarizer does exactly what you probably think.  If you've ever worn polarized sunglasses, it is a similar effect.  Colors are generally more saturated, reflections are reduced and the sky will be darker in your photos.

[working back up to the top of the photo now]

Tripod - Never leave home without at least a small tripod of some sort.  If you haven't experimented with tripods you are missing out.  Stabilizing your shots is worth more than you might imagine.  Your pictures will be far more sharp and crisp, even in daylight hours.

Light Source - A small headlamp or flashlight always comes along too.  My phone will double as flashlight at times to, but having a hands-free way of setting up is quite handy at night.  Also useful for light painting foreground subjects during long night exposures.

Battery Charger - Unfortunately no one has invented perpetually lasting batteries yet, so we're all stuck bringing these guys along still.

Camera + Lens - The venerable do-it-all Nikon D300 SLR has won over photographers world wide.  Including me!  While not a full frame uber mega pixel power house, the trusty D300 gets the job done with little fuss.  When I retire this camera it will be a bittersweet day for sure.  As mentioned last week, I brought along the wide ranging Sigma 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 lens.  In the photos below, you'll see that the wide zoom range of a lens of this type is perfect for traveling.  From acceptably crisp action shots of surfers to wide angle landscapes this lens offers a lot to the photographer who wishes to travel light.  Also, a comfy and trusty camera strap is a must too.  I find the stock straps that come with cameras way to harsh for long walkabouts.  This freebie from SmugMug was a surprising winner!

Backup Device (not pictured since my wife was bogarting the iPad) - And lastly, if you don't want to chance losing your hard-earned shots always bring along some sort of device to backup your memory cards during your down time.  This trip we brought along an Apple iPad with the camera connection kit that enables you to download and backup your photos.  I'm not sure if the newer iPads are any faster, but one thing to note is that it takes quite a long time to download pictures if your cards are anywhere near full.  Other alternatives for on-the-go backup are of course your laptop (which violates my packing light rules!) or even better a digital backup device such as the Wolverine PicPac that you can plug your memory cards directly into.  Such a device is on my short list to add to my gear!

And that's it!  That is my bare minimum gear list when traveling.  Depending on my creative expectations of the trip I'll add more lenses or perhaps a flash but beyond that not much else.  So without further ado, some of my favorite captures from the trip...

brew revolution

playa el tunco