Thursday, February 28, 2013

My Photography Year In Review - 2012 - Part 2

Part 1

I didn't finish what I started nearly two months ago, which was to show some of my favorite photographs that I captured last year. Sometimes I get busy, or some other "life" stuff happens, and it can be difficult to keep up with this Blog. No one pays me to write this stuff. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy sharing my photography knowledge and insight with others, but it can be difficult sometimes to keep it up.

These images (which are in no particular order) were captured roughly in the middle third of 2012 using a Samsung NX200, Samsung NX210, Pentax K-x, Pentax K-30 and a cell phone camera. Can you tell which are from which camera? Probably not. This is further proof that equipment isn't important.
The Beach After Sunset - San Diego, California
Fireworks Over Mission Bay - San Diego, California
Wet White Pedals - San Diego, California
Slip Through A Tear In The Fabric of the World - Lake Isabella, California
Moon Over Silver Queen Mine - Mojave, California
Hot Kitchen - Goodyear, Arizona
Setting Sun Soldier - Tehachapi, California
Abandoned Boot - Mojave, California
Mojave August Sunrise - Mojave, California
Artificial - Tehachapi, California
Salute To Freedom - Tehachapi, California
Mortar Man - Tehachapi, California
Joshua Tree Leaves At Sunrise - Palmdale, California
What Lies Ahead - Tehachapi, California
Ball Defying Gravity - Hesperia, California
CSX Container, BNSF Train - Bakersfield, California
Morning Creosote - Mojave, California
Reflections of Life - Scottsdale, Arizona
Mojave Morning - Rosamond, California
Step - Tehachapi, California
Gathering Pollen - Tehachapi, California
Trees In The Morning Mountains - Tehachapi, California
Learning Blocks - Bakersfield, California
Tehachapi Mountain Tunnel - Tehachapi, California
Negative Energy - Bakersfield, California
Emu Stare - Mojave, California
Buffalo Horn - Mojave, California


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

DxOMark Tests: Samsung NX200, NX210, NX20

DxOMark.com finally got around to testing the Samsung 20 megapixel sensor found on many of their cameras, including the NX200, NX210 and NX20. The results are pretty much what I would have guessed.
Samsung NX210
With these cameras it is difficult to pay attention to the "overall score" since the sensor's performance is heavily slanted. There is a steep drop off in performance as one goes from low ISO to high ISO. At low ISO, the sensor does really well and gives good results. At high ISO, the sensor does very poor and gives less-than-stellar results.

That's what I've been saying about this sensor for about a year now. These Samsung cameras are "daylight" cameras. In normal light, you can expect image quality that's every bit as good as older full-frame DSLRs. In low light, these cameras are more comparable to point-and-shoot pocket cameras. If you expect to do a lot of low-light photography, you'll want to pass on these cameras. If you mostly photograph in daylight, these Samsung cameras are excellent.

If you are considering one of these Samsung cameras, you must understand how you will be using it and decide from there if you should still buy it.

One interesting note is that Samsung squeezed a little more out of the sensor on the NX20 than the NX200 or NX210. I'm not sure exactly what accounts for this, but my guess is that the software installed on that camera is slightly different, and interprets the RAW data slightly better. In any event, the differences are small and unnoticeable.

DxOMark concludes this way: "...A very good camera; it is good value for money well specified and produces larger image files than anything directly comparable. If you are not worried about shooting in low light, then the color depth and dynamic range will see it produce very high quality images whether you're shooting portraits or landscapes."


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What Makes A Photograph Great

Summer Mow - Tehachapi, California
In order to create great photographs, you must know what makes a photograph great. While great photographs come in all sorts of shapes, colors and themes, there are two common threads found between them.

Photography is a form of non-verbal communication. In order to be successful, one must communicate as clearly and deliberately as possible. If the communication is confusing and unorganized, no one will find the conversation interesting. Only strong communication will captivate an audience.
Sisters - Surprise, Arizona
Great photographs are clear and deliberate. Everything that is unnecessary to the photograph's intended communication is removed by the photographer. If it isn't important to the point of the image, it is not included in the frame.

Photographers who create great images are very careful and thoughtful about their compositions. Like the structure of a sentence, everything is placed in an organized fashion to facilitate the viewer through the image. Photographers will use lines, contrast, shapes, space, focus, and sometimes color to guide the viewer's eyes to where the photographer wants them to go.
Wheat Grass - Tehachapi, California
In other words, great photographs are orchestrated. Like a conductor leading a symphony, the photographer provides clarity to the scene. If the musical instruments in a symphony were each playing their own tune, all you would hear is chaotic noise and no one would want to listen. The conductor guides the musicians through the song in unity to create art. The photographer, through the careful and thoughtful use of his or her camera, guides the viewer through the scene. Instead of chaos that no one wants to view, the great photographer has orchestrated art.

How does the photographer do this? Vision. Photographic vision is a vivid and imaginative conception. It is knowing ahead of time what the final print will look like. It is getting an idea and then making it a reality. Vision is pre-visualizing.
Wood Tear - Tehachapi, California
It all starts with an idea in your mind. This idea may occur seconds before opening the shutter, or hours, days weeks, months or even years. Once you have the idea, you then must figure out how to craft this image in your mind into an actual photographic image. Then you go about capturing the photograph.

A great painter never starts placing paint on canvas without the end in mind. A great pianist never just pushes keys hoping a great song will emerge. Great photographs are never happy accidents.
Steadfast Movement - Tehachapi, California
Without vision there is no great photograph. One must constantly push his or her creativity. One must force themselves to look at each scene differently. One must find the story to be told and figure out how best to tell it.

Each photographer will approach a subject differently. Ask 100 photographers to capture the same subject, and you'll have 100 unique images. However, if any of those 100 images are great, you will find two common threads: strong communication and vision.
Clasped - Tehachapi, California
And it is never about the equipment. Never, ever is some camera or lens or software a prerequisite to crafting a great image. Any camera is capable of capturing a great photograph just as long as the photographer can communicate strongly through his or her images and has vision.

People will say that you need the right kind of Canon or Nikon DSLR, the right prime lenses, the right Photoshop and Lightroom, etc., in order to be successful. That is all nonsense. If you can craft great photographs, you can do so no matter the equipment. Yes, those things might make it somewhat easier to achieve you vision, but they're not required.
Faith In The Sand - San Diego, California


Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Best Cameras For Beginning Photographers

You Are What You Drink - Palmdale, California
Is equipment important to photography?
You think you might be into photography. You think you might want to become a photographer. What should you buy? What cameras should you own?

I asked similar questions about 14 years ago, and the answer now is a lot different than the answers I was given then. Photography has changed so much over that time.

For those interested in photography that are trying to figure out what their "first" camera should be, my recommendation is unorthodox: a cell phone camera. You should start with the camera that you most likely already own and maybe have with you right now. Cell phone cameras are perfectly capable photography tools. Even if you don't own one, I bet you know someone who has an old cell phone sitting in a drawer somewhere unused (and cell phone service is optional).
California Sunset - Stallion Springs, California
Captured using a free cell phone.
More and more professional photographers are turning to their cell phone camera. Why?

-Because the quality is good enough for the internet and prints typically as large as 8"x10" (sometimes smaller, sometimes larger, depending on the cell phone). Most of the time that is all of the quality that one needs.

-Because cell phones are small and lightweight and travel really, really well. You always have it with you, and nobody pays attention to you if you have it out.

-Because sharing is quick and easy. Within a few minutes of capturing an image, people from across the world could be viewing it.

-Because the "style" is the current fad. Thanks to apps like Instagram (and others) that allow you to post-process right on your phone, there is a certain look that one can create with their cell phone images that is in high demand. Yes, cell phone photographs can be profitable.
Adversity - Palmdale, California
Captured using a free cell phone.
But for the beginner, this is the point: all principals of what makes a photograph great apply just as much to cell phones as they do to $10,000 cameras. If you cannot create great photographs using a cell phone you won't be able to with a $3,000 DSLR, either. Learn photography first on the camera you already own before investing a bunch of money in something you don't really need.

Once you are able to create interesting images that speak your voice using your cell phone, then I recommend an old film camera. You can find an unwanted (but perfectly capable) Single Lens Reflex or Rangefinder cameras for very little. You might even know someone with an old film camera collecting dust in a closet. I have three different film cameras that I found for less than $50 each (and each included a lens).

The reason that an old film camera is beneficial is because it forces the photographer to learn the technical aspects of photography. Because modern digital cameras can do everything automatically, few take the time to learn what does what on a camera. And because they don't know, they have less control over the final images that they create. While knowing how a camera technically works will not in itself improve your photography, having complete control over your vision will.
Backyard Feed - Palo Verde, Arizona
Captured using a free 35mm SLR that the previous owner no longer used or wanted.
Another reason film is beneficial is that it forces the photographer to slow down and put more thought into each image. With a DSLR, one can snap hundreds of frames within a few minutes, and each frame costs nothing. With film, there is a cost in the purchasing and development of film. With each frame you have something to lose.

It is beneficial to train yourself to rely on ensuring everything is as you want it rather than relying on quantity. People will snap 100 frames hoping that one will be good. Instead, it is better to slow down and make sure everything is just right prior to opening the shutter. Film cameras help with this lost skill.

This needs to be said before we go any further: it is better to invest in the knowledge of what a good photograph is rather than expensive equipment. Spend your effort learning vision, not reading some stranger's opinion on a message board about what camera is best. That person probably can't create a great image, but they can quote technical data from a controlled sensor test.
Clasped - Tehachapi, California
Does it really matter what camera I used to create this? No.
At some point you will likely (but not necessarily) decide that you want a brand new DSLR. In fact, that is probably why you are reading this to begin with. Hopefully you will take what I wrote above to heart, and, prior to spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars, you will have learned how to create great photographs and to have vision.

"The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it." --Ansel Adams

The skill of the photographer is far more important than the make and model of camera. A great photographer can craft great images even with poor equipment. A poor photographer cannot craft great photographs even with great equipment. It is so much more important to craft great photographs than to own great equipment. Most people have this backwards. Great equipment is never a prerequisite to great images.

As of this writing, the DSLR camera that I recommend to beginning photographers is the Nikon D5200. In my opinion, this camera has the best value (quality vs. price) out there, and you should be able to get five good years of service out of this camera (digital technology goes obsolete much too quickly).
Summer Mow - Tehachapi, California
No one cares what camera, lens, or software was used to create this.
There are many other good cameras out there that would serve just as well. I own a Pentax K-30 and Samsung NX210, and I'm very happy with both. It's actually more difficult these days to purchase a bad camera than a good camera, because there are just so many good cameras. Besides, a good photographer can make do with bad equipment, because equipment is not nearly as important as you probably think.

I should also mention software, since you are probably considering Photoshop. There are excellent alternatives to Photoshop that are free! Start off with one or more of those free photo editing tools, and if you still feel you need Photoshop, by all means make the investment.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Snowy Day In February - Tehachapi, California

A storm system dusted Tehachapi with cold white powder yesterday. I was feeling under the weather, so I did not do a lot of photographing. However, I did walk around the block with my Pentax K-30 in hand and captured these images.
Tree Trunk In Winter - Tehachapi, California
Winter Wood - Tehachapi, California
Three Cold Nuts - Tehachapi, California
Nuts In Snow - Tehachapi, California
Contrast Lines - Tehachapi, California
Snow Tire - Tehachapi, California
Splinters - Tehachapi, California
Cold Eyelet - Tehachapi, California
Three Circles - Tehachapi, California
Abandoned, Forgotten - Tehachapi, California
Bent And Twisted - Tehachapi, California
Steel Snow - Tehachapi, California
Frozen Wood - Tehachapi, California
Spray Snow - Tehachapi, California
Cold Industry - Tehachapi, California
Broken And Forgotten - Tehachapi, California