Monthly Archives: August 2009

August 31, 2009 – Green Bottle Fly

Green Bottle Fly

Green Bottle Fly

Monday, August 31, 2009

Okay, I’ll admit, this is getting a bit ridiculous. Ever since I posted that bee and flower a few weeks ago, I’ve sort of gone off the deep end with this macro obsession. (Well, to be fair, it was always there, it’s just been latent until recently, when I realized I could satisfy my unhealthy urges without shelling out too much cash.)

First, it was busting out my old lens, then it was the Hoya macro kit.  Now, I’ve moved on to a reverse-mount attachment, and oh my god, it’s incredible.

This little device is just a metal ring that attaches to the front of your lens like a filter. Then, you pop off your lens, and literally just attach it to the camera backwards. As in, what was once the butt-end of the lens, the private parts that were once only visible to the camera’s sensor, is now exposed for the whole world to see. And the magnification that gets you is, for lack of a better word, ludicrous. I’ve just been using the simple, basic, cheap 18-55 mm kit lens that came with the camera. And at the 18mm end, it’s too close in to even work with. Fantastic! (Since it’s on there backwards, everything is reversed, so whereas normally lower numbers mean more wide-angle, here it means you’re closer in.) This photo was much closer to the 55 end of the lens, and it’s still pretty close in, as you can see. The drawback is of course that your depth of field is, quite literally, microscopic. You can see for yourself how narrow that band of in-focus-ness is on the leaf. That’s probably where the difference between a 13 dollar attachment on a free lens and a $1400 macro-specific beast lies. Or maybe not. Until I drop that 1400 bucks (probably next week at this rate), I won’t know for sure. It’s really tough to use, for a couple reasons. First of all, I tend to sway back and forth when I’m taking a picture. If I’m shooting a mountain, not a problem. But if you only have a millimeter or two of focus to play with, an inch or two in either direction obviously kills the shot. Second, if you’re looking a flower or something, the slightest gasp of wind sends your subject on a wild roller coaster ride in and out of the frame. Patience is an absolute necessity, it can get pretty frustrating. A tripod definitely helps, or at the very least something to steady the camera against. (Like a gorilla pod! – that’s what I used for these shots.)

Now, I’ve just got to figure out the whole lighting situation. This shot was taken with natural light, because it was bright and sunny. Any other conditions (the day before I was trying to work with late-afternoon light with only limited success) and you’ve got to jack the ISO up to 1600 minimum to even START getting results. I’ll let you all know what I figure out when I figure that one out. Maybe tomorrow I’ll post another super-ridiculous-macro shot, sans insect. We’ll see how I feel.)

Enjoy your Monday!

Notes: Canon EOS Rebel T1i, reverse-mounted 18-55 mm kit lens.  1/200s, ISO 200.

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August 28, 2009 – Cascade Pass

Cascade Pass, North Cascades National Park

Cascade Pass, North Cascades National Park

Friday, August 28, 2009

Hey everyone, happy Friday! Today’s picture is from near Cascade Pass, in North Cascades National Park. The trail to Cascade Pass is one of the most popular in the state, mostly because the views are absolutely incredible and it’s not too hard to get there. (Up to the pass is only 1800 vertical feet.) I was backpacking there earlier this summer with Mark and his buddy John. Good times, although while we were on the trail we got nailed with a thunderstorm that dropped so much water that it washed out the road up to the trailhead (which is why the road is currently closed for repair), but this isn’t the time or the place for that story.

Normally I use Picasa (from Google) for all of my image editing. It’s free, it’s fast, and it’s very powerful. It’s not Photoshop, for sure, but in many ways that’s good for me. Picasa tends to be just powerful enough to let me do what needs to be done, without giving me so many options that I get lost in the woods and waste an hour on each picture. It’s great. But it’s got its shortcomings. For instance: using the Sharpen tool in Picasa really sucks. It makes your image look nasty. Well, only sometimes, but often enough that it’s annoying. They’ve fixed that in newer versions, but new version of the tool is as slow as … fill in your favorite colorful analogy here.

Enter Picnik. Picnik is an online flash-based photo editor. I had heard of them awhile ago, but today they came to Redfin to give a talk about site design, and that reminded me that I had been meaning to check them out. So, I did. I found this image lying around on my hard drive at work, so I uploaded it and did some work. Picnik is actually much more full-featured than Picasa, but all of the things I was afraid of when I heard “flash-based online photo editor” turned out to not be an issue at all. It’s extremely fast and responsive, and the sharpen tool works great! Sure, it’s still not Photoshop, but again, at least in my opinion, that’s still a good thing. There’s still a couple things I can do in Picasa that I can’t do in Picnik (well, okay, one thing: Graduated Tint. I *love* that tool), but at least for those cases where Picasa’s sharpen tool makes me cry, I now know that I can fall back to Picnik.

(Well, actually, that’s not quite true. It doesn’t work on my home machine. Which is 64-bit linux. But that’s not Picnik’s fault. **NOTHING** works on 64-bit linux the way it should.)

So, give it a shot! Or don’t. Either way, have a great weekend.


Notes: Canon EOS Rebel T1i, Tamron 28-300 mm lens.  1/200s, f/16.0, ISO 400.  Focal length: 28mm.

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August 27, 2009 – Seattle Skyline

Seattle skyline, from Kerry Park

Seattle skyline, from Kerry Park

Thursday, August 27, 2009

This is, of course, Seattle. This is the view from Kerry Park, which is on the southern slope of Queen Anne Hill. It’s the place you go to get this stereotypical Seattle view, with the Space Needle and downtown (which aren’t really that close to each other) and all that.

Earlier in the day that this picture comes from, I had gotten a new tripod in the mail. I had ordered the cheapest, lightest tripod I could find, with the idea that I could take it backpacking, and use it to take pictures at twilight or very early in the morning, when there’s otherwise not enough light to take hand-held pictures. It definitely fulfilled both of those requirements. Unfortunately, the old adage that you get what you pay for definitely held true. The thing was really flimsy. Definitely usable for the purpose, but I can see why you’d want to spend more than 20 bucks on one. As long as the shutter speed was less than a couple seconds, it usually came out okay. But any longer than that, and even the tiny little breezes that blow by would shake the camera enough that the end result would be a bit blurry. (In fact, if you look closely enough, you can see some of that going on here.)

Kerry Park is a great spot to take pictures though. Every time I’ve been there, there’s been at least 5 or 6 other folks out with cameras and tripods. But if you wait long enough, the rest of them go home. Actually, it was really fascinating when I was there this time. I got there very late in the afternoon, about an hour before sunset proper. There were probably 5 or 6 distinct phases that the view went through, as the amount of natural light changes and the artificial lights start to become visible. To the human eye, waiting 20 minutes doesn’t seem to make a drastic difference, but you can tell it really does when you have to change from shutter speeds of half a second or so to shutter speeds of 20 or 30 seconds. Fun stuff. If you’ve got the right tripod. :)


Notes: Canon EOS Rebel XT, Tamron 28-300 mm VC lens.  8.0 seconds, f/8.0, ISO 100. Focal length: 55mm.

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August 25, 2009 – Insect and Flower

Insect and Flower

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Several weeks ago, when I posted an image of a bee flying over a bunch of poppies, I mentioned that bees and flowers might just become my new obsession. So, to give just a bit more evidence of that, here’s another picture of a bee (well, some kind of insect anyway) and a flower.

This one was taken on the same hike to Shi Shi Beach as yesterday’s picture. I had two new toys that day; the first was the wide angle lens that I talked about in more depth than really necessary yesterday, and the other was a macro kit that I picked up for 60 bucks or so. (They have cheaper ones, but this was supposedly a good one.)

Now, before I go into that any more, here’s a link to it on Amazon, so that you know what I’m talking about. And yes, I set up an affiliate account, so if you want to buy one, please use this link first, because then I get a 4% kickback, which is only 96% away from being totally sweet. These things screw on to the front of your lens like a filter, so MAKE SURE YOU BUY THE RIGHT SIZE!! I didn’t see a size on the product page, but I didn’t look that closely.
Hoya Macro Kit on Amazon

So, what is it exactly? It’s a set of three little filter things that you can screw on to your lens either one at a time or stacked. Each one is basically a magnifying glass of a specific strength. So it both magnifies the image you see through the lens as well as allowing you to focus much closer to the lens. Basically, it lets you get super macro closeups. As with any macro shot, the depth of field you’ll get is microscopic, although my impression was it’s even more drastic with these filters. Also, at least in my opinion, as you move away from the focal point, it doesn’t really degrade nicely. It gets kind of foggy looking and weird. Again, maybe that’s just me. Also, another interesting thing I noticed is, as you move the magnifying filter further away from the sensor, the image gets very very foggy. So if you have a really long telephoto (like the one I usually use for macro shots), at the long end it’s basically worthless. If you have a shorter lens (like my 28-300, or a prime), it looks great. I realize I’m not doing a great job of describing this stuff, it’s one of those things you just have to play around with to get a feel for. And since they’re so CHEAP (you can pick them up for 25 bucks or so!) there’s *absolutely no reason* not to.

My next experiment, which will be getting here in a day or two, is a reverse-mount attachment. Basically, it attaches to the front of your lens like a filter, but it then allows you to attach the lens to your camera backwards. Sounds really weird, right? But it works! (I think.) I was playing around a bit last night with just holding the lens to the camera body backwards, and I was shocked by how close in I could get. I was using my kit lens, which is an 18-55, and it was pretty cool. (Everything about it is backwards: the more telephoto your lens is, the further out you’ll be. So to get the CLOSEST in, use your most wide-angle lens. Weird, right?) I’ll let you all know how that goes. Those things cost about 12 bucks. Here’s one on Amazon:
Reverse lens mount on Amazon

In other news, this picture is actually the 1000th picture in Rate Dave’s Photos! I know, right?! Go click on that link and show it some love!

Notes:  Canon EOS Rebel T1i, Tamron 28-300 mm lens with Hoya Macro Kit.  1/500s, f/8.0, ISO 400.  Focal length: 300mm.

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August 24, 2009 – Shi Shi Beach

Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park

Monday, August 24, 2009

Oh wide-angle lens, where have you been my whole life???

It’s come to my attention several times over the past month or two that I’m perhaps limiting myself a bit by not having a wide angle lens. That I may be missing out on the opportunity to get some great shots without one. In fact, not only do I not have a wide angle lens, the lens I use almost exclusively is a 28-300, so I start even further in than a “regular” lens would. (And by that I mean an 18-55 mm kit lens.) So, when I saw Eric’s pics from Banff, Glacier, Waterton, and Yoho national parks (linked to them on Friday), and I asked him what lens he used for some of the shots, and he told me he used a Canon wide-angle (10-22), that was the last straw.

Okay, I should take a step back. I’m throwing a lot of numbers out there, which probably don’t mean much to most people. In fact, the numbers, taken out of context, truly don’t mean anything at all. An 18-55 mm lens on one camera can be entirely different from an 18-55 mm lens on another. Basically, those numbers are representing how much zoom you’ve got. As in, when you’re fully zoomed out, you’re at the 18mm end of the lens, and when you’re zoomed in, you’re at the 55 mm lens. The bigger the number, the further zoomed in you are. Keeping up with me so far? Good.

So, these numbers that I’m using are all for a reduced-size sensor like those found in just about any entry-level digital SLR (which is what I have.) If you have a “full-frame sensor” in your camera (meaning a sensor that’s the size of a 35mm negative) an 18mm lens will be quite a bit different (zoomed out more) than on my camera. So that’s what I mean when I say it’s all relative. If you know what 18mm and 55 mm mean on your camera, then you can at least visualize what 300mm or 10mm would look like. But if you don’t have that baseline context, they’re just numbers.

So, to give you a little bit of context, 18mm on a standard entry level SLR (which is what the kit lenses, at least for Canon, start with – they’re 18-55 mm lenses, right?), when zoomed all the way out, looks basically like what you get from a point-and-shoot that’s all the way zoomed out. Point and shoots usually talk about their zoom in terms of “3x” or “4x”, which is a completely different measure entirely, but as you would expect, 4x means it zooms in more than 3x. But, the key takeaway here is that 18mm is kind of a “normal” amount of zoom, then you move from there. So, the lens I use a lot, being a 28-300, would be like having your point and shoot be permanently zoomed in a little bit with no way of zooming it back out. But then it has the capability of zooming WAY in from there. It’s really flexible, as long as you’re not taking pictures of stuff right in front of you. (Except for macro stuff, but let’s not go into that here.) So I’ve realized that even stepping back to 18mm would allow me to get some shots that I haven’t been able to in awhile. Or, if I’m willing to shell out some cash, I can get a lens that specializes in getting even wider, like Eric’s 10-22mm.

Using a wide-angle lens is just something you have to experience. It’s impossible to describe the feeling accurately using words alone. I never believed it until this weekend when I used one for the first time. I was shocked. I was blown away. I couldn’t believe that it had taken me this long to try using one. And now I’m hooked. I’m fully, hopelessly, obsessively hooked. I can never go back to my life before Friday. Ever again. It was that powerful of an experience. When I put the viewfinder up to my eye, it’s like I can physically feel something reaching out from my gut and pulling everything in to the frame. It’s weird. And wonderful.

So, what happened on Friday? Well, I had this trip planned to Neah Bay for the weekend, and I knew I wanted to try out a wide angle lens. I went to my favorite camera shop (Glazer’s, in Seattle), and asked them about 4 lenses I was looking at. They unanimously recommended one in particular (I won’t tell you which one until I can get my hands on one, because they’re very rare and very backordered, so I don’t want to manufacture competition with myself), but unfortunately they were sold out. BUT, they DID have a Canon 10-22 in their rental shop, so that would solve my immediate need. (It costs 20 bucks to rent a lens for a weekend, not a bad deal!) So I rented the lens, and took it with me. And the rest was history.

Now that I’ve had to return that lens to the shop, I feel like a piece of my heart was wrenched out of my chest. And the only way to fill it is to buy one of my own. I’m digging online right now, we’ll see what I can find.

Anyway, on to the picture. This is Shi Shi Beach. It’s just inside the boundary of Olympic National Park, at the extreme northwestern corner of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. The closest town is Neah Bay, which is on the Makah reservation. The reservation itself encompasses Cape Flattery, which is the most northwesterly point in the continental US, and Shi Shi Beach is a few miles south from there. The trailhead is on reservation land, but enters the national park just before you get to the beach. the weather out there is crazy – it was sunny all day except for the hour or so I was on the beach. Then as I climbed back up to the ridge, the sun came out again. Ugh. Oh well, the pictures turned out fine.

So, go ahead and enjoy it. But it won’t be the last picture you’ll see from this hike, and it *certainly* won’t be the last picture you’ll see from a wide-angle lens.


Notes: Canon EOS Rebel T1i, Canon 10-22 mm lens. 1/200s, f/7.1, ISO 100. Focal length: 17mm.

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