Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

 

Brad Hill: Blog: Q1 2007 (Januaryish to Marchish)

Short-winded blatherings on whatever is currently occupying the part of my brain that deals with photography. Updated sorta weekly.

26 March 2007: Good bye D200, Hello D2Xs

Anyone who knows me or has read my Field Gear page knows that I shoot mostly with a Nikon D2X and occasionally with a Nikon D200. I have the D200 for three main reasons: 1) as a competent backup to my D2X; 2) as my primary hiking/walking around camera for general or recreational shooting; and 3) as a quick backup bearing an alternate lens (you know - the "I might need this other lens in a flash and may not have the time to switch" situation). That was true until last Friday when I sold my D200 to a friend (along with the 18-200 mm lens that lived on it) and picked up a new D2Xs.

Why did I do this? It was a combination of a few critical "shortcomings" of the D200 (compared to my D2X) and my take on where Nikon is going with its pro cameras. Please note that I do NOT think the D200 is a sub-standard camera - it is an EXCELLENT camera and GREAT VALUE. The shortcomings that I've identified are largely particular to my shooting style and many users probably couldn't care less about them! My problem is that I owned my D2X (and got used to it) BEFORE I purchased my D200.

Relative D200 Shortcomings (where my D2X beats the D200):

  1. Autofocus. If you examine the camera controls, menu options, and viewfinder information on both the D200 and D2X/D2Xs you could easily conclude that the two cameras have identical autofocus systems. I made this mistake. If you check the specs of the two cameras closely, you'll find that the D200 uses Nikon's "Multi-CAM 1000" autofocus module while the D2X/D2Xs uses the "Multi-CAM 2000" autofocus module. Huh - what's the difference? If you do a little research you'll find that the numbers 1000 and 2000 in the module name represents the "...approximate number of CCD elements in the autofocus system" (from the Nikonians website). Supposedly the D200 system "...will autofocus in low to high light levels and at high speeds" and the D2X system "...will autofocus in very low light levels, and at very high speeds" (both quotes from the Nikonians website). What did I notice in the field? I shoot a lot of images of moving animals, including birds in flight and running mammals (like this Gray Wolf Running). I began noticing that fewer of my shots of birds in flight were sharply focused when I used my D200. So, using my two Portuguese Water Dogs and the same lens (my ultra-fast focusing 70-200 f2.8 VR zoom) I made a group of tests. When I had my dogs running directly at me (at full speed), only about half as many of the D200 shots were in sharp focus compared to the D2X shots (almost all of which were tack sharp). LOTS of D200 shots were "almost" sharp, but not quite! For those who are interested, the D2X/D2Xs's Multi-CAM 2000 autofocus module is shared with the D2HS and the F6 only. The D200's Multi-CAM 1000 system is also found on the D80 (the D40 and D40X use a "lesser" system called the "Multi-CAM 530" system).

  2. Resolution. The D2X/D2Xs has a higher resolution than the D200 by about 2 MP. I made the mistake of listening to the pundits who argue that no one needs more than 10 MP. Sorry, I produce and sell large prints and sell stock images and the higher resolution DOES make a difference! The resolution of the D200 is great for many users, but there's a large group of us out there who need the extra pixels.

  3. Battery Life. The battery life of the D200 is good, and very good if you buy the extra battery pack/vertical grip called the MB-D200. But it doesn't match the battery life of the D2X/D2Xs, especially if you're using the new EN-EL4a battery. But particularly irritating for me was that the D200 and D2X/D2Xs take different batteries and have different rechargers. It's no big deal when you're shooting from a central location (where it's no problem to have two rechargers sitting around plugged in), but it's a royal pain in a field setting and you have to pack two different rechargers around!

Where Nikon is going (and how it affects my D2Xs purchase): I'm convinced that the D3X is NOT right around the corner and that there won't be a replacement for the D2Xs for close to two years. Moreover, I THINK that when it comes the D3X will use a full-sized sensor that gives no "effective magnification" of lenses. I LIKE having my lenses functionally extended in focal length by 50%, so if Nikon goes full-frame I want to have their last high-end DX format pro camera for use when shooting wildlife. And, in another two years my original D2X will be getting long in the tooth and may be getting close to the end of its useful life...

Thus...my D200 is gone and I'm breaking in my new D2Xs!

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

26 March 2007: Lowepro's SlingShot 300 AW - A Pack That Works for Me

I admit it - I'm a camera pack addict. But for a reason...there's no single pack that can meet the needs of every possible field situation - so I have a lot of packs! For years I've wanted a pack that could comfortably carry a moderate amount of gear (like a single pro-sized SLR and 3 or 4 mid-sized lenses and a few key accessories) and allow lightning quick access to the camera. Further, I wanted the pack to be spacious enough to store the camera with a mid-range zoom on it (like Nikon's 70-200 f2.8 VR). I wanted this "dream pack" for use during day hikes where I had a reasonable chance of encountering wildlife.

Early last summer I was shooting in the Great Bear Rainforest of British Columbia when I had the good luck to cross paths with Uwe Mummenhoff, the founder and CEO of Lowepro camera accessories (the leading maker of camera packs). Over dinner one evening I described my dream camera daypack to Uwe. He smiled and simply said "...just wait until late fall - it's coming!"

Fast forward to January 2007 - Lowepro announces the Slingshot 300 AW (AW for All Weather). It's a mid-sized pack with a single sling-style shoulder strap and a good quality and well padded hip belt. And, you guessed it, it carries a pro DSLR body with, just coincidentally, a 70-200 sized lens with room for several other lenses and accessories. Undo the waist band and the pack swings around to allow instant access to your camera! And, it's extremely comfortable to wear, even with consider weight in it (the trick is to adjust it so that there is almost no weight on your shoulder/neck region and all the load is supported by your hips). YES!! I've been using mine for about 3 weeks now and I'm extremely happy with it.

The perfect pack? Nope - the perfect pack is the Holy Grail. But the SlingShot 300 AW does what it was designed to do extremely well. If you're interested, read more about it on Lowepro's website. Thanks, Uwe!

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

19 March 2007: Spring Migration Revving up...Bluebirds, Eagles, Swans and more...

We had a real winter in southeast British Columbia this year, but it ended very abruptly about two weeks ago. And now the spring bird migrants are starting to show up. Tundra Swans are showing up along the Columbia Wetlands in stretches of open (= not frozen) water near Invermere and Canal Flats. Eagle numbers are up dramatically in the last two weeks in many places in the Columbia Valley - Bald Eagles started arriving just the other day. And, over the weekend I began running into singing Red-winged Blackbirds and saw my first Mountain Bluebird of the year! I love spring...it's nature's time to go-nuts and party!

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

19 March 2007: Limited Edition Prints Now Available in Invermere

Interior World in Invermere is now carrying a selection of my Limited Edition Prints. I'm very happy about this - Interior World is a great home-furnishing store that carries a wide array of quality products. So if you're passing through Invermere, stop in at Interior World and check them out - they're the main street running through downtown (full address info on the List of Current Retailers).

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

12 March 2007: My PMA Guesses...A Passing Grade - JUST!

Back on February 25 I made 5 guesses about some products I thought likely to be announced at the Photographic Marketing Association's (PMA) tradeshow. Well...I just barely came up with a passing grade. Canon DID announce a new pro DSLR body (as I predicted). But I also guessed that Nikon would announce their latest pro DSLR - the D3H. I was wrong - they didn't. Ironically, the newly announced Canon Mark III is pretty much the camera I thought Nikon would announce. Lucky Canon shooters! I suppose that this might mean that the D3H will end up being even better than I predicted (and better than the Mark III).

What about my other guesses? Well, Pentax showed the 645 Digital - but kept it enclosed in a glass case and didn't give out final specs, price, or ship date. So it remains to be a big question-mark. To my surprise, Nikon did NOT announce the 400 mm f4 VR lens - or any other new super-telephoto VR lens. Disappointing (for me anyway). And, of course, I got it right that there would be a slew of new point & shoots, many of which fell into the 6-10 megapixel range (but anyone could have guessed that would happen!).

The surprise announcement of the show? For me it was Nikon's announcement of the D40X DSLR - less than four months after the "standard" D40 was announced. Looks like a fabulous entry-level DSLR, which leads me to my next guess - Nikon will sell an absolute bucketload of D40X's. For more info about the camera, check out Phil Askey's preview at Digital Photography Review.

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

5 March 2007: To Teleconvert or Not to Teleconvert...

I've gone on record saying many times (including several times on this website) that I don't like, and rarely use, teleconverters. While I know many photographers - including many successful professionals - use them quite regularly, I've just never had much luck with them and have almost always been disappointed with the results. But perhaps my failures have been because of how I've been using them? Many authors argue that teleconverters should only be used with prime (fixed focal length) lenses and NEVER zooms (for example, see Bjorn Rorslett's review of Nikon teleconverters). And, I do a lot of my shooting, including my previous attempts with teleconverters, with zoom lenses. What would happen if I used a teleconverter with a good prime lens?

So, I decided to force myself to use a teleconverter (a Nikon TC-14E II 1.4x model) for an entire morning of shooting. I matched the teleconverter with a very high-quality telephoto - Nikon's 300 mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S VR - and had a very enjoyable morning playing with birds. The result? Well, I did get a few acceptably sharp images. I did, of course, stop down my aperture to ensure that I was shooting through the best part of this already optically fabulous lens. But, while I'm a little less disappointed with teleconverters than I was before, they DO have an impact on image sharpness, regardless of the quality of the lens you use. A great lens becomes good when paired with a teleconverter, and a good lens becomes something less than good, and a poor lens becomes...you get the picture. Anyway...use them if you like them. I might start carrying one a little more now, but only when I have my best quality prime telephoto lenses with me.

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

2 March 2007: Techniques Section Now Live

The first draft of the Techniques section of this website is now live. I've concentrated on just a few field techniques, a few photographic techniques, and a few Photoshop techniques - it's not intended as a complete "How to Become a Nature Photographer" course. Just a few things that work for me...

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

2 March 2007: Super Fast, Super Sharp Lens En Route - to ME!

So I bit the bullet today and ordered a new lens - Nikon's AFS 200 mm f/2 ED IF G VR. It's looking increasingly unlikely that any of the other products on my "must have" list (Nikon 600 mm f4 VR lens, D3H body, Pentax 645 medium format digital SLR) will ship in 2007 so I decided to allocate a segment of this year's budget to a few other pro quality lenses. Why this lens? I've noticed over the years that about 80% of the time I use my 70-200 mm zoom at 200 mm. Optically this lens is supposed to be without peer (see Bjorn Rorslett's review of this lens) - stunningly sharp and with bokeh (out-of-focus zones) that has been described as "...soft, veiled and delicate as baby's skin." And, I look forward to the extra speed of this lens. Now I just have to find a way to curb my enthusiasm until this gem arrives (up to 8 weeks away!).

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

25 February 2007: Pentax Announces 31 Megapixel Medium Format Digital SLR - sort of...

Today Pentax announced that they were going to exhibit some "future products" at the upcoming PMA tradeshow. One of the products described is the digital version of their medium format 645 SLR. This is about the third time they've announced this camera and with each announcement it's getting better - it's now "tentatively" scheduled to use an "extra-large" sensor (which should mean low noise) that comes in at 31.6 megapixels. Sounds great and I'd LOVE to get my hands on when. But now the big question - are they actually ever going to ship this product? My money says it won't be available until 2008 at the earliest. For more a little more info check out Digital Photography Review.

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

22 February 2007: My PMA Guesses...

The Annual Photographic Marketing Association's (or PMA) annual tradeshow is coming up soon - it's in Las Vegas from March 8 to March 11. This is one of the major events for the photography industry and it's always accompanied by a bunch of product announcements. I was going to wait until next week to publish my list of guesses about what's coming (in products I'm interested in), but it looks like the product announcements are already coming...so here's my list now.

  1. Canon EOS-1D Mark III. Canon will announce this new addition to their pro line of digital SLR's. It will be about 10 megapixels, with a cropped sensor, and very fast - about 10 frames per second. Oops - this is what they just announced - looks like I got this one right...

  2. Nikon D3H. Nikon will follow suit and announce their new high-speed digital SLR - the D3H. It will be about 10-12 megapixels and will also be very fast - about 10-12 frames per second. It will be the last pro SLR that Nikon offers in the DX (cropped sensor) format. Initially it will show slow sales, until they announce the D3X, which will be a full-frame 18+ megapixel camera. Then everyone will realize this is there last chance to get a very high quality and very fast dSLR with a cropped image sensor. I will order my D3H only after I realize that this will actually end up being one great camera for wildlife photography (with its cropped sensor and associated effective image magnification of 1.5x). It will take me a while to realize this.

  3. Nikon 400mm f2.8 VR Lens. Much to my chagrin, Nikon will hold off on producing and announcing the 600mm f4 VR and announce the 400mm f2.8 VR instead. They will sell many more of these than they ever would with the 600, but I'll be disappointed anyway. And, they'll add a LOT of letters to go with the lens - it's full name will be something like: AFS VR Nikkor 400 mm f/2.8 G ED-IF N.

  4. Pentax 645 Digital. Pentax will announce this medium format digital SLR (again). This time it will be announced as being over 24 megapixels (possibly up to 30 megapixels), rather than at the previously announced 18.9 megapixels. This time they may actually end up producing it, but it won't ship until 2008.

  5. Point & Shoots? Everyone will announce a slew of new point & shoot cameras. Almost all will have some form of image stabilization and almost all with offer some automated sensor cleaning mechanism. Most will range between 6 and 10 megapixels. All will be replaced by newer models by this fall.

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

22 February 2007: New Super-fast Canon Pro SLR Announced.

Canon announced their latest addition to their EOS-1D professional SLR's. This one is called the EOS-1D Mark III and features a 10 megapixel (MP) cropped sensor and a 10 frames per second (fps) image capture rate. I'm not a Canon shooter, but this looks like one really nice camera. For more info check out Digital Photography Review. And, I was about to predict that Nikon was about to announce a D3H at about 10 MP and about 10-12 fps. If the D3H does come soon, and if it measures up to, or even exceeds the specs of the the EOS-1D Mark III, my D200 may find itself on on my Gear 4 Sale page real soon!

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

19 February 2007: Economic Boom for the Avian Field Guide Industry?

A landmark genetic study attempting to construct DNA "bar-codes" for all of the birds of North America, and about to be reported in the scientific Journal Molecular Ecology Notes, has come up with a shocking finding. It turns out we've incorrectly classified a lot of species of North American birds. Not only is it looking like we're going to have to split up several single species into two or more "new" species, but we'll also have to lump several other groups of species into a single species. The folks (or companies) who produce all those great bird guides are poised to experience a huge bump in sales. Here's the changes to expect:

To Be Split: The following species stand to be split into two or more new species: Northern Fulmar, Solitary Sandpiper, Western Screech Owl, Warbling Vireo, Mexican Jay, Western Scrub Jay, Mountain Chickadee, Bushtit, Winter Wren, Bewick's Wren, Hermit Thrush, and Curve-billed Thrasher.

To Be Lumped: The following species groups are likely to end up as single species: Snow Goose and Ross's Geese; Black, Mallard, and Mottled Ducks; Blue-winged and Cinnamon Teals; King and Common Eiders; Western and Clark's Grebes; Laughing and Franklin's Gulls; a whack of gulls including Thayer's, Iceland, Lesser Black-backed, Western, Glaucous and Glaucous-winged Gulls (phew...thank god!); Black-billed and Yellow-billed Magpies; American and Northwestern Crows; Townsend and Hermit Warblers; Golden-crowned and White-crowned Sparrows; Dark-eyed and Yellow-eyed Juncos; Snow and McKay's Buntings; Great-tailed and Boat-tailed Grackles; and the Common and Hoary Redpolls.

When are the new field guides coming? Don't hold your breath - the study isn't even published yet. Once published, there will be at least a 2 or 3 year period needed for the scientists at the American Ornithological Union (or AOU) to argue. My guess is that some of these changes will be reflected in field guides about 2012. Mark that date on your calendar!

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

18 February 2007: Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Now Shipping

Adobe's new soup-to-nuts RAW workflow and image management software - Photoshop Lightroom - began shipping today. Almost simultaneously Adobe released the update to its Camera Raw Plug-in (now at version 3.7) which controls the RAW conversion process in its various applications (Lightroom, Photoshop, Bridge). Adobe is offering Photoshop Lightroom at an introductory price of $199 (USD) and is also offering a fully-functional 30-day downloadable trial version of the product (nab it here).

I've had a few hours to "play" with Lightroom 1.0 and here are my initial thoughts about the product:

  1. Aperture Owners - relax. If you're a Mac user and you've invested time and energy into a workflow based on Apple's Aperture - relax, there's no need to drop everything and switch to Lightroom. Aperture and Lightroom offer very similar capabilities, albeit with slightly different approaches. I still prefer Aperture's tools for comparing and culling images better than anything I saw in Lightroom. And Aperture's interface is a whole lot sleeker. I like that Lightroom gives you a tool for adjusting tone curves during the RAW conversion process (which is still missing in Aperture), but Aperture's Levels control does pretty much the same thing and is very well executed.

  2. Windows users - rejoice. Windows users should jump for joy - they now have a complete RAW workflow tool that rivals Aperture (and beats the heck out of any other single tool available for the Windows platform). I expect Adobe will sell a bezillion copies of the Windows version of Lightroom.

  3. Quality of RAW conversions? I monkeyed around with converting about a dozen Nikon RAW files (.nef files). While I've never been a fan of the conversion capabilities of the Adobe Camera Raw plug-in (the "engine" that performs the RAW conversions in Lightroom), I have to admit that the latest version is very, very good. I did side-by-side conversions of RAW files using Lightroom and my favourite RAW converter (Phase One's Capture One Pro) and in all cases the quality of the RAW conversions were ALMOST identical. I still slightly prefer the colour output and sharpening options of C1 Pro, but Phase One had better get around to updating their software fast (Phase One has stated that they'll be releasing a major update to C1 Pro in the first half of 2007)! As a bare minimum Phase One must address speed issues (pokey, pokey, pokey conversions), add ProPhoto RGB support and begin offering support for DNG RAW files (I have lots of other ideas on how to improve the product but, oddly enough, Phase One doesn't call me before they upgrade their product line...).

  4. Other initial impressions... I really, really dislike Lightroom's interface - is there any way it could have been made to look more intimidating? I have never seen so many buttons, toggles, switches, and the like in my life - there's WAY too much visual garbage on that interface!

    I really dislike that I can't export native Nikon RAW (.nef) files from Lightroom's libraries - you can only export TIFF, JPEG, PSD, and DNG files from Lightroom. I may WANT to convert my .nef file to DNG files, but I don't want to be forced to do it. This limitation affects ALL native RAW formats - so Canon users will be unable to export .crw files. Adobe - this is REALLY heavy-handed and this limitation alone would keep me from switching to Lightroom (my apologies in advance if there's a way to do it that I just missed - possibly it's one of those hundreds of buttons I'm trying to ignore).

    I like that Lightroom sees all the metadata associated with the original RAW file, including the keywords and other information stored in associated XMP sidecar files.

    More thoughts on Lightroom to come after I've had a little more time to play with it (I still have 29 days left on my trial before I'm forced to decide if it's worth the purchase price!).

  5. Will I buy it? I don't think so...but I already own Aperture and C1 Pro (and iView Media Pro, and so on, and so on...). Stay tuned....

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

11 February 2007: Wolverine Just Passing Through?

I spent a few late afternoon hours in the last couple of days looking for additional sign of the Wolverine that's been in our area. With no luck. Perhaps the beast was just passing through - they have ENORMOUS home ranges, so it could be I've seen the last of that one. I'm going snowshoeing with a few friends today so maybe we'll scour the same area again. I would REALLY like to see this guy! And I'd like to photograph it even more!

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

4 February 2007: A Day of Tracking a Large Member of the Mink Family

Today was one of those mid-winter gray days with lighting so flat you can't make out any detail on the snow-covered ground. A perfect day for reconnaissance and checking out which fuzzy or feathery creatures may be around. So I strapped on my snowshoes and headed out for a couple of hours with my trusty Portuguese Water Dog companions - Diego and Jose. After about 30 minutes we came across a fresh set of animal tracks that puzzled me. They were reminiscent of American Marten (Martes americana) tracks, but were decidedly too large. I knew they could only be Fisher (Martes pennanti) or Wolverine (Gulo gulo) tracks. We followed the tracks for around an hour - whoever it was was certainly traveling on a chaotic route! We went from tree to open ground to tree to open ground to tree...and so on. I saw no sign that the track maker ever went into a tree. Whenever the snow got softer, the tracks sunk down deeper and it was obvious that whoever made the tracks wasn't light. It was tough going - a light crust covered the snow and the snow beneath was sugary in consistency. With each stride - and even with my oversized snowshoes supporting me - I broke through the crust and sank deep into the snow below. After another twenty minutes or so we gave up.

Come early evening I pulled out my track guides and mammal reference books to see if I could identify the culprit. Turns out the tracks and the animal's behaviour (as shown by the tracks) were a perfect match for a wolverine - in fact the track pattern indicated it was a wolverine using a moderately fast gait. Very cool. No images were captured, but it was an interesting day nevertheless. And both a significant entry into my wildlife database and a lead to follow up on in coming days. Capturing some quality wolverine images is VERY HIGH up on my hit list!

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

29 January 2007: Western Great Lake Gray Wolves No Longer Endangered?

The U.S. Deputy Secretary of the Interior announced today that the western Great Lakes population of Gray Wolves (Canis lupis) was being removed from the federal list of threatened and endangered species. Additionally, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to remove the northern Rocky Mountain population of gray wolves from the list. The Southwest wolf population remains endangered and is not affected by either of these actions. The current and proposed delisting of these populations is the culmination of a successful recovery plan that came about by amazing dedication and hardwork by countless individuals and groups. Good on ya! By the way, removal of the wolves from the list doesn't mean a return to the wanton slaughter that occurred in the not-so-distant past - there are several safeguards to help ensure it continues to thrive, including a mandatory 5-year monitoring period. The US Fish and Wildlife also has the ability to immediately relist a species on an emergency basis, if monitoring or other data show that is necessary. For more info go to the International Wolf Center's website.

In Canada, we're WAY behind in our wolf recovery project. In fact, only our Eastern Wolf (Canis lupis lycaon) has been reduced in numbers low enough to rate a listing of "Special Concern" (i.e., a step or two before being classified as "Threatened" or "Endangered"). Despite the best efforts of many our provincial governments, we just haven't managed to slaughter enough wolves to justify spending millions of dollars to help their recovery! In British Columbia, for instance, the provincial government encourages the opportunistic killing of wolves by: 1) keeping it as the only so-called "fur-bearing" species that can be hunted with NO LICENSE, and 2) having year 'round open seasons on the wolf at elevations below 1100 metres in many management units! Keep it up BC and soon we'll be forced to spend millions of dollars to help the population of survivors recover. Duh....

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

21 January 2007: Some Support for the Great Bear Rainforest

Today the federal government announced they were channelling $30 million of our money to help protect the Great Bear Rainforest on the central and northern BC coast. Apparently the money is dedicated to assist in the transition of the local economies away from non-sustainable resource-extraction activities to more ecologically friendly ones, including ecotourism. A good step. But, industrial-style clear cut logging continues in this area. More must be done if we're to save this globally unique ecosystem.

To find about more about the ecological challenges faced in the Great Bear Rainforest, check out the Raincoast Conservation Society. And, if you really care, find a way to help out.

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

19 January 2007: A Moose in Moose Meadow - Imagine That!

There's a large meadow along the Bow Valley Parkway in Banff National Park that looks like it was designed to match the requirements of the world's pickiest moose - it's PERFECT moose habitat! And - surprise, surprise - it's called Moose Meadow. I've driven slowly by this meadow at LEAST 100 times over the last five years and to date I've seen a grand total of zero moose! But today...not one, not two, but THREE bull moose were in the meadow! It was overcast with heavy snow at the time and two of the three moose were laying down and mostly hidden by thick willows. But the largest bull was standing up and foraging. It was about 100 metres away and there was no way to approach it more closely without disturbing it - so it was "habitat shot" time! I experimented extensively with different shutter speeds - mainly to assess how the shutter speed could be used to most effectively capture the moose in the heavy snowfall. I've had success in the past - like with this Bighorn Lamb - when using moderately slow shutter speeds of about 1/30s to 1/90s. Interestingly, in this case the snow was so heavy, and there was so much of it coming down between the camera and the subject, that slower shutter speeds produced images that could only be described as blurry messes! This time I captured the best images at higher shutter speeds - at 1/320s and higher.

So my "use moderately slow shutter speeds" guideline for photographing wildlife in the rain or snow is in the process of being modified. The next iteration of the guideline will go something like this: "When selecting the best shutter speed to use when photographing wildlife in the rain or snow you must take into account how much precipitation is between you and the subject. If it's moderate to high, you might end up more satisfactory images with higher shutter speeds. If it's very low to low, you are probably better off with slower shutter speeds." Or something like that...

Stealing a phrase from my parents generation - "did the photos turn out?" Well, you won't see them as Limited Edition Prints, but I suspect they'll rear their heads in a seminar or two down the road (and possibly on this website).

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

10 January 2007: Where's my 600 mm F4 VR lens?

A year or so ago a friend directed me to a website hosted somewhere in SE Asia that showed Nikon's SLR product release plans from late 2005 to 2009. I thought that both the site and the release plans were phoney, but as I have watched Nikon release various lenses and digital SLR's I've noticed a strong correlation between the plan and what was actually released. And the website that I snagged the plan from is now password-protected, so maybe there was something to it after all. Anyway, some of the more interesting information pertained to some new super-telephoto lenses that were supposedly in the pipeline. The plan showed three new Vibration Reduction (VR) lenses to be announced in 2006 that were particularly interesting - a 400 mm F2.8, a 500 mm F4, and a 600 mm F4. Anyone browsing the image galleries on this site would realize that I like Nikon VR lenses a lot! My bread-and-butter wildlife lens is the 200 to 400 mm F4 VR zoom (which makes it equivalent to a 300 to 600 mm when used on any of Nikon's current digital SLRs). This lens is destined to go down in history as one of Nikon's best lenses ever - it's simply amazing. But, I want MORE mm's (surprise, surprise)! And, the lens I have locked my sights on is the 600 F4 VR. It will complement my existing array of lens nicely and be a nice bet-hedge in the super telephoto department if Nikon's future professional digital SLR's go to full-frame image sensors (which seems almost unavoidable).

But...it's now 2007 and NONE of these lenses have surfaced yet! Where is my 600 VR? I've even purchased a new camera backpack large enough (Lowepro's Super Trekker AW II) to carry it when mounted on a large SLR body! Nikon - please let us know when it's coming - I have to start planning the heist I'm going to have to pull to pay for this monster!

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

5 January 2007: Give me MORE Pixels!

I love my D2X and I like my D200 a lot. But, I want MORE pixels! I've always been a little intrigued by business strategy and found it fascinating to watch how well (or poorly) the various camera makers adapted to the rapid switch to digital. I've noticed that in recent months the product release rumour mill has gone amazingly quiet. It's been especially noticeable because we've gone through a several year period where Nikon and Canon have been playing product one-up-man-ship with their professional products at an amazing pace. But, it's beginning to seem like the major players have realized that they've taken the small image sensors found in 35 mm style digital SLR's ALMOST as far as they can. So...the big guns seem to be boxed a little bit into a corner - they HAVE to stick to APS or "full-frame" sensors (which mimic the size of a 35 mm piece of film) because that's all the lenses for these cameras will cover AND, because of physical limitations of how many pixels can be packed onto these sensors, there's not a whole lot they can do to increase image resolution. But what I NEED is a 24 to 30 MP digital camera with a low-noise image sensor in a truly portable format (tethered shooting doesn't work for me!) with an array of quality lenses. Where is it going to come from? So...I'm left with a lot of questions, like...

Are either Nikon or Canon going to break out of the box and introduce a new camera format with a larger image sensor and new lenses to match? Is Pentax EVER going to ship their much-hyped medium format 645 digital SLR? They've been talking about it and showing mock-ups at trade shows for almost two years now! They've stated it's going to have an 18 MP sensor, but with Mamiya's ZD sitting at 22 MP I can't believe Pentax will stick at 18 MP (and introduce a product that is functionally obsolete on the first day it hits the shelves). Pentax - if it isn't 24+ MP I'm not interested - and neither will be many others. And I'll be particularly uninterested if Nikon's coming D3X ends up being 18 MP or more (which seems likely). Is anyone else going to step up to the plate and offer a rugged, field-worthy, portable, medium format digital system with enough high-quality lenses to satisfy today's discriminating nature photographers? The next 6 months of product announcements is shaping up to be a fascinating time in determining where digital photography is going. The next major trade show for the photography industry is PMA in early March. Expect some future-shaping announcements.

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

29 December 2006: Happy LightZone Owner

I fell victim to a promotion by Light Crafts today - but I ended up buying LightZone for 20% less than I was expecting to pay, so it's all good. Anyway...I've had enough time to monkey with LightZone now and I'm beginning to get a handle on its capabilities and how it will fit into my chaotic RAW workflow. While it's not a bad RAW converter, I'm not thrilled with how it sharpens RAW files, so it isn't about to dethrone Phase One's C1 Pro as my primary RAW converter. But, I will use it to convert the RAW files of any landscape images I shoot (which is a rare occurrence anyway) - I never sharpen these much (if at all) when converting from RAW to TIFF, anyway. With my wildlife work I'll use it on the 16-bit TIFFs that come out of C1 Pro. And, it will certainly NOT replace Photoshop in my workflow - it will be more of a complement to my existing chest of digital tools. I've now used the tool to re-work some of the images that are on this website (like this image of Rainforest Skies) and definitely got better output when LightZone was part of the workflow.

Managed to spend a little time working with some winter resident songbirds this week. No stunning images resulted, but it felt great to be out in the field and behind the camera again!

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

21 December 2006: Enter the LightZone...

I ran into a reference to LightZone's image-editing software on Rob Galbraith's website today - it purportedly is Zone System-based. Quite intrigued, so I downloaded the full functioning trial from Light Crafts website. LightZone is both a raw converter and an image-editor and I quickly found some things I liked about it, in particular how it focuses your attention on the tonal range of your images. I'm not sure there's much (or anything) new in LightZone that I couldn't do with a little work using Photoshop, but it sure does keep you looking at your images' tonal range. And it provides some tools that make short work of adjustments that you might diddle around with for ages in Photoshop. This product definitely interests me enough to continue to evaluate it for a time while I ponder purchasing it.

And...I'm still fighting a loosing battle to create some time (any time - please!) to get out into the field and do some shooting! Remind me that re-building a home and moving from one province to another are activities incompatible with the goal of finding MORE shooting time (at least on the short term!).

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.



Blog Archive - not so fresh but still very readable and relevant...

2013 - The Whole Shebang
2012 - Almost The Whole Shebang
2011 - The Whole Shebang
2009 - October to December2009 - July to September2009 - April to June
2009 - January to March 2008 - October to December 2008 - July to September
2008 - April to June 2008 - January to March 2007 - October to December
2007 - July to September 2007 - April to June 2007 - January to March