Wednesday, September 30, 2015

How To Research Digital Cameras (And Why None of It Matters)

I've been disappointed with some of my images lately. In each case the scene had harsh light and the dynamic range of the scene exceeded the dynamic range capabilities of the camera. My Nikon D3300 simply wasn't capable of handling it, and so I had blown highlights and/or black shadows devoid of details.

It's not a big deal, really. Viewers don't notice. I pointed it out in several images to my wife and she said, "I don't see what you're talking about." I showed a non-photographer friend and was told, "Who cares--the picture is great!" It's only my ultra-critical eye that notices.

Still, it bothers me. A little, anyway. I've had this camera for a year, and I have the "itch" to buy new gear. Not because I need to--the Nikon D3300 is plenty good and well outperforms its "entry level" title--but because I've got G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome).
Pacific Dudes - Avila Beach, California
I included this photograph, which was captured using a Nikon D3300, to break up the text.
I'm using this opportunity to demonstrate how to research digital cameras. There are some excellent resources on the web that take a lot of the guesswork out of the process. Forget photography forums where someone will say that some camera is amazing, and the next guy will reply that the camera is terrible and call the first guy an idiot. There is so much useless and inaccurate information posted to photography forums, and too many rude users. There's a much better way.

To start, I would head on over to DxOMark. They do scientific tests of digital camera sensors and posts the results in an easy-to-read format. They rank cameras based on color depth ("Portrait"), dynamic range ("Landscape") and high-ISO ("Sports"), as well as overall, which takes into account all three categories.

The great thing about this is that you can view the results based on whichever category you want. Looking for the best high-ISO camera? Click on Sports. Want to know which camera has the largest dynamic range? Click on Landscape. And cameras can be compared side-by-side using the "Compare" feature on the far-right.


When looking at DxOMark's camera database there are a few things to keep in mind. First, they're testing the RAW sensor data and nothing else. Second, they don't test every camera, such as Fuji cameras with X-Trans sensors or Sigma cameras with Foveon sensors, so not every camera is represented. Third, the overall score is based on all three categories, and you might not give all three categories the same weight as DxOMark. Fourth, small differences in score numbers equals unnoticeable differences in image quality--only large differences in scores are noticeable. Fifth, art is not science, so all of their results might be meaningless.

All of that is to say that DxOMark scores should be taken with a grain of salt, but it's a good starting point. You can get an idea of which cameras might meet your needs based on what's important to you in regards to image quality.

After narrowing things down, the next place to go is DPreview to use their Studio Comparison Tool. Select up to four cameras that you want to compare. Choose JPEG or RAW. Select the ISO you want to see. Move the cursor around the image to see a close-up side-by-side-by-side-by-side photograph from each camera. You can examine the differences for yourself.


What you need to keep in mind is that you are viewing an extreme close-up crop of a photograph that was captured in a highly controlled studio environment. This isn't "real world" photography. And no one will be viewing any photograph this closely. This is called pixel peeping. You are looking at the tiny differences in image quality that most viewers would never notice in a photograph.

I looked at four cameras: Nikon D3300, Nikon D7200, Nikon D610 and Nikon D750. Surprisingly, according to DxOMark, the D7200 has the second largest dynamic range of any digital camera. I couldn't tell a difference in dynamic range between the cameras by looking at the images. That's because they all have good dynamic range and also because these are controlled studio shots.

Interestingly, the D3300 and the D610 at low ISO look extraordinarily similar (I would say identical), despite the large price difference between them. Ditto for the D7200 and the D750. It's not until ISO 800 that the full-frame sensors begin to show their advantage. By ISO 3200 the D610 and the D750 have a clear one-stop high-ISO advantage (ISO 3200 on the D3300 and D7200 look almost identical to ISO 6400 on the D610 and D750).
The Old Boron Housing - Boron, California
Another photograph captured with a Nikon D3300.
In other words, the differences in image quality between the Nikon D3300 and the Nikon D750 are small, and it takes a close side-by-side study to really notice. That four-times-higher price difference doesn't get you a whole lot, strictly from an image quality standpoint. This proves that it really doesn't matter what camera you use--photographic vision is what's important. All digital cameras today are great, whether they are labelled "entry level" or "pro" or whatever other name camera companies give them.

If you feel you still need to get a new camera, once you've gone to DxOMark and DPreview and have narrowed your search based on the image quality you want, the next step is to then look at the price and features to see which may be a good fit for you. Perhaps figure out which two or three cameras provide the desired image quality, give you the features you want, and fit within your budget.

Once you've done that, use Google to find reviews of those cameras. Skip the reviews by magazines and the big photography sites--they're usually paid by the camera manufacturers--and find the smaller independent blogs (such as this one) that review gear. You'll get a better hands-on, real world take on each camera. From there, realize that whatever you pick will be a good choice and don't worry so much about it. Let your gut decide! Or, if one camera requires you to buy new lenses and the other doesn't, then the choice is obvious.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

If You Only Have Two Days In Yosemite National Park - Where To Go, What To See, Where To Stay

Tunnel View Monochrome - Yosemite National Park, California
So you want to visit the magnificent Yosemite National Park in California's majestic Sierra Nevada range, but you only have two days. How do you maximize your visit? What should you see and what should you avoid? What's a realistic itinerary? Where should you spend the night?

Yosemite National Park is one of those places you can spend two weeks inside the park and not be close to seeing everything. At almost 1,200 square miles, it's incredibly vast! Many areas require hiking to see. To get to some other areas you'll have to do some significant driving.

Because of the park's proximity to San Fransisco and Los Angeles, it's a common weekend destination. If you don't have a whole week to stay, it's not a big deal. I don't know if there is a better place in America to spend a weekend!

I've made weekend trips to Yosemite National Park a couple of times, so I have some advice to maximize a trip to one of the most beautiful places in the world!

Depends On Where You're Coming From
Water Replenishment - Fish Camp, California
There are basically four ways into the park, and your itinerary will be dictated in part by which route you take. If you're coming from the San Francisco area you'll likely enter Yosemite via California Highway 120. If you're coming from Merced you'll likely drive California Highway 140. If you're coming from the Los Angeles area you'll likely traverse California Highway 41. And if you coming from Las Vegas you'll likely take California Highway 120 from the east side of the Sierra Nevada range.

No matter which way you come you'll want to get an early start. You want to get to the park just as soon as you can, preferably near sunrise, but certainly no later than 10 am. If you arrive too late you're going to miss out on some essential Yosemite experiences.

If you're driving east on Highway 120, there are not a whole lot of stops that I'd make before entering Yosemite Valley. There's a scenic pullout called Rim of The World that you may find worth seeing. If you go just a little past the Big Oak Flat Road turn (which is the road that will take you to Yosemite Valley) you can visit the Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias, which is in interesting stop. You can walk through a giant Sequoia with a hole cut through it, and otherwise see some of the largest and oldest trees in the world.
Sequoia Forest - Yosemite National Park, California
If you're driving east on Highway 140, known as the "all season highway" because it remains open throughout the winter, you'll just want to make your way into Yosemite Valley without stopping. The last time that I drove this highway, because of a landslide that destroyed a section, the road narrowed to one lane and the delays were significant. I'm not sure if it is still that way, but it is something to consider.

If you're driving north on Highway 41 and you have kids, be sure to stop at the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad just outside of the park in Fish Camp. This old narrow-gauge logging line is now a tourist train that takes passengers through some great mountain scenery behind a Shay steam locomotive. Once in the park, the first stop you'll want to make is Mariposa Grove to see the giant Sequoia trees. It's a great place to take a short hike and look up at some of the tallest and oldest trees in the world. After that stop, if you have kids, be sure to visit the Pioneer Village near the Wawona Hotel. If you are running late, all three of these stops can be skipped.

If you're driving west on Highway 120 from the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada range you'll want to stop in Tuolumne Meadows, which is one of the most beautiful sections of the park. There are a couple easy hikes here that offer exceptional sights. There are many pullout vistas with great views along Highway 120. You can also visit the Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias, where you can walk through a giant Sequoia with a hole cut through it, and otherwise see some of the largest and oldest trees in the world.

Yosemite Valley - Day 1:

Bridalveil Falls
Cathedral Rocks & Bridalveil Falls - Yosemite National Park, California
No matter which route you take to get into Yosemite Valley, the first stop once you arrive should be Bridalveil Falls. It can be accessed from Wawona Road or Southside Drive at the west end of the valley. This is where Bridalveil creeks spills over the granite at Cathedral Rocks. The hike to the base of the falls is short, easy and stroller friendly for those with young kids. If it's late-summer or autumn and the falls are dry, you can visit the nearby Fern Springs instead or simply move onto the next stop.

Cathedral Beach
El Capitan Reflection - Yosemite National Park, California
The second stop I recommend is Cathedral Beach, located just east of El Capitan Drive along Southside Drive. This is a great place to view El Capitan and see the Merced River--and perhaps capture El Capitan reflected in the Merced River. The lighting here is great in the morning.

Swinging Bridge
Cathedral Spire Veiled - Yosemite National Park, California
Swinging Bridge near Sentinel Beach is where I'd go next. There is a footbridge that crosses the Merced River, providing a good view of Cathedral Spires and Columbia Rock. There is a restroom here, which is good if you've gotta go, but the scents of sewage makes this stop a stinky one if the winds are blowing wrong.

Curry Village
Glacier Point Infrared - Yosemite National Park, California
Curry Village is an excellent place to spend the afternoon. There's a store and a couple of restaurants should you need food or refreshments. There are many trails to explore. It's a good place to just walk around and discover the sights. There are good views of Half Dome, North Dome, Washington Column, Rainbow Arch, and Glacier Point. The Merced River is nearby and has plenty of shores to explore.

Glacier Point or Tunnel View
Half Dome From Glacier Point - Yosemite National Park, California
If you plan to leave the park via Highway 41, spend sunset at Tunnel View, located off of Wawona Road just before the long tunnel, and go to Glacier Point the next evening. If you plan to leave via another route, save Tunnel View for the next day and head on up to Glacier Point, which is about an hour drive up from the valley floor. Whichever location you choose, you will want to arrive at least 30 minutes before sunset and stay for 15 minutes or so after sunset.

Yosemite Valley - Day 2:

Curry Village
Tree In The Meadow - Yosemite National Park, California
I would start the second day at Curry Village. This is a great place to experience the morning in Yosemite. The meadows transform in the warm morning sun into something special, and it's common to see deer and other wildlife. There are great views of North Dome and Washington Column in the morning light. It's a good time just to walk around and take in where you are.

The Happy Isles
The Happy Isles Trail - Yosemite National Park, California
Next I would hike or bike (bicycles can be rented in Curry Village) to The Happy Isles Trail and stroll through the forest. There is a nature center here and it's also the beginning of the John Muir Trail. If you are feeling particularly adventurous you could explore Vernal Falls or Mirror Lake. 

Yosemite Falls
Upper And Lower Falls - Yosemite National Park, California
Near Yosemite Village you'll find Yosemite Falls, with parking right along Northside Drive. These falls, which are divided into three sections--Upper Yosemite Fall, Middle Cascades and Lower Yosemite Fall--total a 2,425' drop, making this the largest waterfall in North America and one of the largest falls in the world. A short, easy and stroller friendly loop trail takes you to the base of the lower falls. If it's autumn and the falls are dry, you could explore Yosemite Village and The Ahwahnee instead.

Cook's Meadow
Cathedral Spires From Cook's Meadow - Yosemite National Park, California
Located across the street from the Yosemite Falls Trail is Cook's Meadow. There are great views of Half Dome and Cathedral Spires from the meadow, and the Cook's Meadow Loop trail will lead you through it. Some of my favorite Yosemite photographs were captured here.

Valley View 
Valley View - Yosemite National Park, California
One of Ansel Adams favorite spots to photograph was Valley View, which is located off of Northside Drive at the west end of Yosemite Valley. It's a great place to see El Capitan, Cathedral Spires, Bridalveil Falls and the Merced River in the evening light. The parking lot is small and towards sunset space fills up fast.

Glacier Point or Tunnel View
Evening At Tunnel View - Yosemite National Park, California
You'll want to end the second day either at Glacier Point or Tunnel View, whichever you didn't go to the day before. Again, make sure you arrive at least 30 minutes before sunset and stick around for 15 or 20 minutes after the sun dips below the horizon.

Where To Stay
The Ahwahnee - Yosemite National Park, California
Stay the night inside of Yosemite Valley if at all possible. I cannot say enough how much better it is than spending the night outside of the park, which requires an hour drive each way. In Yosemite Valley you can camp, stay in a cabin in Curry Village (which is an excellent option), or stay in one of two hotels run by the park service. It may seem overpriced and spaces fill up fast, but it is definitely worth the extra effort and money. You wake up and you are already where you want to be.

If you choose to stay outside of the park, I recommend finding a hotel in Mariposa. The drive isn't too unreasonable and the accommodations are decent. It's a quaint town with shops and restaurants.

When To Go
Autumn Colors - Yosemite National Park, California
There is no wrong time to visit Yosemite National Park. Each season offers great beauty and has a different feel. Let's take a look at each.

In my opinion, Yosemite is at the pinnacle of beauty in the spring, particularly late spring. The rivers are flowing at maximum height and strength. The landscape is brilliant with fresh green. Wildflowers are beginning to blossom. While snow will have some parts of the park closed at the beginning of spring, by the end of spring everything is open and ready for you to explore. The crowds are small, but growing as you get closer to summer.

Summer is when most people visit Yosemite. That's no surprise as this is prime vacation season. It means that the park is crowded, and Yosemite Valley can get extraordinarily crowded. So much for wilderness seclusion! However, summer offers great weather and the most daylight, allowing you to experience more of the park.

Perhaps the most underrated time to visit Yosemite is in autumn. The water will be at its lowest and it's not uncommon for Bridalveil Falls and Yosemite Falls to dry up completely. The landscape is more dry and brown. However, the park is less crowded and you can catch glimpses of fall colors here and there. The weather is usual great at the beginning of fall, but it will get colder and more wet as winter comes closer.

During the winter Yosemite becomes a much smaller park as much of it becomes difficult to access. Many of the roads close. It's cold. Yet, for those willing to make the trip, Yosemite Valley becomes magical--coated in white snow with clearing fog and winter storms. Winter in Yosemite is for the more adventurous traveler, but the reward is amazing.

Tips
Half Dome Reflection - Yosemite National Park, California
  • Pack a picnic lunch. There are restaurants inside of the park, but if you bring your own food it will save you time and money. Food inside of the park is a bit expensive, lines can be long, and the restaurants may not be convenient to where you're at when you are hungry.
  • Weather changes fast, so be prepared. It may be warm and sunny, but that doesn't mean that in a couple of hours it will still be that way.
  • If you bring food, be aware that bears can smell the food that you leave in your car. If you plan to leave your car unattended for any significant time, you may want to store your food in a bear box.
  • Make sure you book your sleeping accommodations months in advance.
  • Be sure to gas up your car prior to entering the park.
  • Check road conditions before traveling to make sure your planned route is open.
  • Admittance is often free during National Parks Week in April.
  • Bring water, a first-aid kit and a flashlight. It's better to be prepared than to wish you had been prepared.
  • Don't interact with the wildlife. Don't feed the deer. Keep your distance from the animals, no matter how cute they may look.
  • Have a camera ready at all times. Everywhere you turn is a great photographic opportunity.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Get Out of That Creativity Drought - 5 Tips To Grow Your Creativity

Drought - Stallion Springs, California
It's easy to get into a creativity drought. Sometimes you just don't feel like capturing images. It's not uncommon to run out of good ideas.

Creativity is one of the essential elements of photographic vision. And you have to metaphorically water your creativity for it to grow. If not, like a plant that's not getting enough water, your creativity will wither away. If you find yourself in a creativity drought you must actively bring it back to life.

Below are five tips that will help you improve your creativity.

Cultivate Curiosity
Rushing - Carlsbad, California
Kids are naturally creative and imaginative. I'm often amazed and intrigued at the way my three young children see the world around them. It's so much different than how adults look at things.

Children don't know. They haven't been told yet how everything works. They don't know what different rules and laws there are. They haven't been told what they can and cannot do. Because of this, they don't have boxes and limits.

Since there are no boxes or limits, kids are free to explore. The sky is the limit! Anything is possible. Their developing minds are eager to understand. Children are quite curious about it all. That's why they are so full of questions.

It is curiosity that drives creativity. Creativity lives in the unknown. Know-it-alls are not creative because they lack the mysterious.

Arthur Schopenhauer said, "Thus, the task is not so much to see what no one yet has seen, but to think what nobody yet has thought about that which everybody sees." Creative photographers stop for a moment and ask themselves all sorts of questions about the scene in front of them before they capture the photograph. Those that make a successful photograph do so because, while asking questions, they were able to think about the scene in a different way than what everyone else has done before.

You have to cultivate curiosity, and the way to do that is to find the mysterious and question it. Keep questioning it, in fact, until an original thought forms about it. Once you've thought about the scene in a way that "nobody yet has thought about [it]" then you are able to creatively capture it.

It is that inner child you must find--the one that doesn't yet know everything and is eager to explore and understand the world around them. You have to be full of questions.

Lose Yourself
Sunset At Morro Rock - Morro Bay, California
With regards to capturing photographs, Henri-Cartier-Bresson said, "You can't go looking for it; you can't want it, or you won't get it. First you must lose yourself. Then it happens."

How I understand what he was saying is that great scenes often just happen. No matter how badly you want to capture a great scene, it's not usually within your control. You can't control Mother Nature or what other people do. What you can do is immerse yourself into the scene and keep an open mind about what you might find.

Losing yourself means keeping an eye out for photographically-worthy things, even if--especially if--it may not be obvious at first. You cannot be rigid in your approach and you cannot be rigid in what you will capture. Rigidness is not conducive to creativity.

In other words, stay loose. Keep an open mind. Be open to spontaneity. Celebrate unpredictability.

Become Uncomfortable
Mystery Drive - Stallion Springs, California
Comfort is an enemy to creativity. Pablo Picasso said, "If you have five elements available use only four. If you have four elements use three." This principal can be applied to several aspects of photography.

If you own five lenses only ever use four of them. If you own four cameras only ever use three of them. Actually, I'd make those numbers smaller. If you own three lenses only use two of them. If you own two cameras only use one.

The less options you have, the more likely you'll think outside-the-box with the options that you do have. Renown poet Charles Bernstein said, "Art often thrives on limitations."

If there are five compositional elements in a scene use only four. If there are four compositional elements use three. Don't include too much and keep things as simple as possible. "Art lives only on the restraint it imposes on itself, and dies of all others," said Nobel Prize winning author Albert Camus.

Less is more in photography. Don't include too much in your images or in your camera bag. This goes against what society says, but you'll never be satisfied with "more." You will never have enough "more." All "more" does is make you lazy.

This is why almost all of the great innovations are made in garages and basements. Big corporations with seemingly unlimited resources are not able to do what some individual can accomplish on his own in his spare time and with a limited budget. It's the opposite of what one would think, but it is true. Less is indeed more.

The concepts of limitations and less may not sound appealing. Society says that we should have more, not less. Society says that we should free ourselves of limitations. "Embracing the limitation can actually drive creativity," artist Phil Hansen said. "We need to first be limited in order to become limitless."

Throw The Rules Away
A Football Dream - Stallion Springs, California
Photography rules are meant to ensure consistently good results but rarely allow for great results. They were designed for students and amateurs to make a noticeable leap in progress, but they were never meant for long-term use. Photography rules are actually mere guidelines.

Some photography "rules" are the rule of thirds, keep the horizon out of the middle of the frame, the triangle swirly thing, Sunny 16, odd numbers, negative and positive space, histograms, keep the sun behind you--there are tons of others, and new ones are created all of the time. Whenever you hear someone say that you should always do something in photography, that comes from some "rule" that they've learned.

Rules bring formulas, and no creative photograph has ever been made from a formula. There's no one-size-fits-all approach to photography. Each photograph must be approached individually, and what works for one image may not work for another. You have to judge each scene separately, and decide what is best for how you want your photograph to look.

Photograph Your Passion
On A Brighter Day - Tehachapi, California
If you photograph what you are passionate about, you'll give it your all. If you photograph what you love, you'll create your best work.

Imagine trying to hold a conversation with someone about some subject that you don't really care about and that you are not knowledgeable about. Do you think you could make the conversation engaging? But if the conversation is about something you care deeply about and are knowledgeable about, that conversation now has interest.

Photography is a form of communication. When you photograph what you are interested in, you are able to hold an engaging nonverbal conversation with the viewer.

Creativity lives just as much in the heart as it does in the mind. When you feel intensely about a subject you are more likely to move beyond the surface and into something more meaningful.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

September 23, 2015 - First Day of Autumn


Today begins autumn, one of my favorite seasons. The weather cools. Pumpkin flavored products begin appearing. The trees turn colorful shades. Kids are back in school, a grade year older. Everything changes.

There are lots of holidays. Columbus Day. Halloween. Veterans Day. Thanksgiving. It's a great time to celebrate family and blessings.

Fall is such an awesome time of year for photography. A trip to Yosemite National Park last year was incredible. You have the opportunity to photograph fall colors. This season of change provides photographic opportunities that don't exist in other seasons. So take advantage of it! Make sure you are actively using your camera. Don't let it pass you by.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Vintage: My Kids At The Beach - South Carlsbad State Beach, California

Three Kids In The Water - Carlsbad, California
For my son's sixth birthday we took him to Legoland in Carlsbad, California. As part of that trip we went to the beach to let the kids splash and play. I had with me a Nikon D3300 DSLR with a Nikkor 40mm AF-S DX f/2.8G Micro lens attached, so I captured some images of them.

The beach that we found was the South Carlsbad State Beach, and we parked right at the north end of it. A short walk brought us to a sandy shore, with the waves not far away. It wasn't crowded and turned out to be a great spot.

The kids had fun running in and out of the ocean water. The waves were just right for them--not too big. They explored the beach and had a blast! The weather was just about perfect, and if it was slightly warm the cool water balanced it out.

When we were finished the kid's clothes were wet and their feet full of sand. Thankfully we had a change of clothes ready for them.

I made these images look vintage, as if they were captured with film instead of a digital camera. I accomplished this using Alien Skin Exposure 7 software. It was quick and super easy, and the photographs look just as I wanted them to.
Beach Explorers - Carlsbad, California
Ocean Excitement - Carlsbad, California
A Pacific Girl - Carlsbad, California
Rushing - Carlsbad, California
Ocean Jump - Carlsbad, California
Incoming Wave - Carlsbad, California
Rushing In - Carlsbad, California

Saturday, September 19, 2015

News: Pentax Announces Full-Frame DSLR

Rumors have been floating around for a little while, but Ricoh (who owns Pentax) just put up a teaser website for a new full-frame DSLR. The only detail given is that the camera will be released in the spring of 2016.

People have guessed that the camera will contain either a Sony made 36 megapixel sensor (such as the one found in the Sony A7R and Nikon D810) or a Sony made 42 megapixel sensor (such as the one that's found in the Sony A7R II), but Pentax hasn't said anything yet.

Pentax has a few different unique innovations found in their DSLRs with APS-C sized sensors, and it is thought that this camera will also include those. One of those innovations is pixel-shift, where the camera takes three different exposures, but moves the sensor one pixel each time, allowing the full image to be captured in each color channel. This basically creates a faux Foveon effect, but it requires the use of a tripod and a perfectly still scene.

Pentax makes quality products, and it makes sense for them to jump into the full-frame game, since they make both APS-C DSLRs and medium-format DSLRs. They used to make 35mm SLRs.

The thing that's great about Pentax is that any k-mount lens is compatible--you're not stuck with a limited selection. If you don't mind manually focusing, great used prime lenses from the 1970's and 1980's can be had for almost nothing and they work great on that brand-new DSLR.

The challenge for Pentax will be pricing. If they price it the same as Nikon or Sony (or Canon) cameras that are similar, I don't think it will be all that successful. If they were smart they'd come in around $500 less so that the price will entice customers to buy Pentax instead. Or, perhaps, Pentax feels that enough of its existing customer base will "upgrade" to this camera that they can price it however they want.

Be careful to avoid G.A.S. because whatever camera you have is good enough as long as the photographer is good enough. A new camera will never make you a better photographer. Even if this new camera proves to be fantastic, the gap in image quality between it and, say, a four-year-old Pentax K-30 is going to be pretty small. It's difficult nowadays to find gear that's not at least sufficiently good.

Comparing Old & New Photographs

"Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop." --Ansel Adams
That Ansel Adams quote above is a part of the basis of this post. I'm going to compare twelve photographs captured about four years ago with twelve photographs captured over the last year. I saw someone else do something similar, and I thought it would interesting to do it myself.

The older photographs were captured between March of 2011 and February of 2012. I picked one photograph to represent each month. I didn't go January-to-December because it would have taken a little more effort to find the photographs I captured in the first two months of 2011 (they're on the hard drive of a computer that is sitting in a box in a closet). 

I wouldn't say that these twelve are the best twelve images from those months. I was a more prolific photographer some months and less in other months, yet only one photograph from each month is found in this post. Some of these photographs would make my list of "Top 12 Photographs Between March 2011 And February 2012" if I made such a list, but some others wouldn't make the cut.

The newer photographs have been captured over the last twelve months, although most of them were captured since February. I wanted to find comparable images--photographs that looked in some way similar to the older images--so I didn't go month-by-month.

The newer photographs are not necessarily my best photographs captured over the last year--a few of them might be. I didn't include all of the twelve best photographs captured over the last twelve months because I wanted to find photographs that were comparable to the older images.

All of these 24 photographs I considered good at one time. When I saw them I liked them. But time has a way of clarifying what is actually good and what isn't. Some of these photographs--especially many of the older ones--make me cringe. Four years ago I thought highly of them, but now I'm a little embarrassed by them.

The point of this exercise is to look back and see if I've made progress as a photographer. Have I improved? Am I more innovative? Am I more creative? Am I more technically sound? Am I moving forward?

Let's take a look:
Saguaro Sunset - Ehrenburg, Arizona
March 2011.
The Sun Has Set - Stallion Springs, California
July 2015.
The two photographs above, captured about four years and four months apart, are quite similar. They both feature dramatic sunsets with deep red clouds. There is a silhouetted foreground in each image. The saguaro in the top image is perhaps more interesting than the hills in the bottom photograph. The technical image quality of the bottom photograph is significantly superior.

I can see some small flaws in the top image, but overall they are basically the same. Based on these two images, not much has changed in my photography.

Red Saguaro - Goodyear, Arizona
April 2011.
Red Chairs - Cambria, California
March 2015.
I had trouble finding a similar image to Red Saguaro that I've captured over the last year. I decided that I would go with a landscape that featured bold red and lots of sky. The two photographs are similar in that regard. The bottom photograph is superior in pretty much every way. The top photograph would be a good photograph if it had been better executed.

The change in my photographic understanding is obvious. The top photograph is a bit too simple--there is no story or context, although the cactus is interesting in its own right. The bottom photograph uses color contrast effectively and provides some context to the chairs that allows the viewer to imagine what the story might be.

Arizona Hills - Quartzsite, Arizona
May 2011.
Clouds Over Desert Mountains - Glendale, Nevada
May 2015.
These two photographs, captured four years apart, are similar because they feature desert hills and dramatic skies. I don't like how I toned the top image--it's much too red. At the time that I made it I thought the warmer tone fit the scene, but I see now that a little moderation would have gone a long ways. The top photograph is too busy and it's easy to miss what is most interesting in the scene.

The bottom image is stronger because the vision is more refined. It's about tones more than any specific feature. The tones give it a certain feel that's missing in the top photograph.

Fast Freight - Cajon Pass, California
June 2011.
From Darkness To Light - Tehachapi, California
July 2015.
Two different trains in two different mountains--one color and one monochrome. The top photograph works in color because it features color contrast that draws the viewer right into the subject. Interestingly enough, the train was actually moving slow--I used a long exposure to achieve the look.

The reason the bottom image isn't color is because there wasn't any color contrast in it (aside from a little with the blue port-a-potty and the yellow grass, which is not where I wanted the viewer's eyes to be attracted to). I gave it a tilt-shift effect in post-processing to give it a "miniature" look.

I think both photographs are interesting. The top photograph is one of my better ones from that year. The bottom one is a little different for me and might be a trend to watch for.

Man At Shoshone Point - Grand Canyon, Arizona
July 2011.
Pacific Dudes - Avila Beach, California
February 2015.
The top photograph is one of my favorites from 2011, as well. The man adds scale to the scene and an uneasiness--it looks like another step forward and he'd fall off the cliff and into the canyon. His shirt matches the red in the canyon and the warm sun paints his skin the same color as the rocks. However, one criticism is that it is easy to overlook the man as he blends into the busy scene.

The bottom image is a more refined vision of man in a landscape. The main subject isn't hard to spot because the scene is much simpler and the placement within the frame is better. The small wave leads from the left surfer to the pier and the pier adds some context and interest. It's a much stronger image than the top one.

Rainbow Valley Sunset - Goodyear, Arizona
August 2011.
A September Sunset - Stallion Springs, California
September 2014.
This was another photograph that I struggled to find a similar image for. I have one that is similar and stronger, but it was captured more than a year ago. In any event, I did pick an image to compare.

The top photograph would have been much more interesting if I had found a saguaro to place into the composition. There is one in the background if you look closely, but it is much too far away. The bottom photograph relies on the silhouetted oak trees to give it interest. I used the tops of some foreground trees to add subtle depth.

Exit 195B - Phoenix, Arizona
September 2011.
I-15 Travelers - Las Vegas, Nevada
May 215.
I captured the top photograph while driving 60 miles per hour. Literally one hand was on the wheel and the other hand was on the camera. The bottom photograph was also captured from a moving car, but I was the passenger and not the driver.

I like both photographs for different reasons; however, neither one would make any "top" lists. The older image suffers from poor image quality due to gear limitations and poor post-processing techniques. The bottom photograph lacks a punchline. If I had to pick, I'd say that the superior vision of the top photograph supersedes it's image quality shortcomings and it is the better of the two.

666 Coffee - Avondale, Arizona
October 2011
The Best Palm To Buy - Las Vegas, Nevada
May 2015.
The top photograph was captured using a Holga film camera. A light leak caused the frame numbers from the paper wrapped around the 120 film to be exposed onto this frame (which wasn't frame six or nine). Interestingly enough, as I captured this exposure the Starbucks manager came running out of the store yelling for me to stop photographing. At the time Starbucks had a no-photography policy, and I guess he was adamant about it.

The bottom photograph was also photographed using film, but instead of a Holga camera I used a FED. The composition is much superior and the image is better in pretty much every way, yet the top image tells a more interesting story. Sometimes the storytelling aspect of a photograph supersedes the technical aspects.

Moon Over Desert Sunrise - Mojave, California
November 2011.
Pacific Sunset - Morro Bay, California
February 2015.
Moon Over Desert Sunrise is one of my favorite photographs from 2011. It was a long exposure and I didn't have a tripod, so I used the hood of my car and the self-timer instead. The moon's placement in the frame is what makes this photograph interesting. I should have removed the distant town lights in post-processing.

Pacific Sunset is one of my favorite photographs from this year. I think the small detail that makes it interesting are the birds in the distance. Of the two, this is the stronger image.

Train and Truck - Tehachapi, California
December 2011.
We Will Deliver - Rosamond, California
March 2015.
When I captured the bottom photograph, the top image was in my mind. The older photograph was a good concept, but it lacked execution. I can see mistakes in composition, lighting and post-processing.

Those mistakes were in my mind when I captured the bottom photograph. I was more careful and the result is a stronger image. Yet, even the newer image isn't without faults--it's better, but not perfect.

Southern Sierras At Sundown - Bodfish, California
January 2011.
Green Hill, White Mountain - Fruit Heights, Utah
May 2015.
These two photographs feature majestic mountains. The top image is of the Sierra Nevada range in California and the bottom photograph is of the Wasatch range in Utah.

The top photograph has good evening-lit warmth. The unusual tree on the right provides good balance for the mountain peak on the left. The technical image quality isn't great due to gear and post-processing limitations.

What is interesting about the bottom image is the juxtaposition of the lush green lower hill with the snow-dusted peaks. The clouds add interest to the sky. It's definitely the better photograph of the two.

BNSF Covered Hopper - Tehachapi, California
February 2012

Reflecting On Strife - Barstow, California
July 2015.
I like the top image. It looks vintage, which fits the subject well. It seems to have good compositional balance. It was captured with a cell phone, and the technical image quality disadvantages were turned into advantages with careful and extensive post-processing.

The bottom photograph is a good image, too. It's a reflection in a window at the Barstow, California historic Harvey House. I gave it a vintage look in post processing, as well, because it fits the subject. It has tons of repeated lines (vertical and horizontal).

I think the bottom photograph is more creative than the top and I think it tells a better story. The top image has stronger contrast so it grabs you more than the bottom. I'm happy with both photographs, but I like the newer one just a little more.