Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Nikon Standard Bag II Review

I just bought myself a new day-to-day bag for my kit, as the old one is wearing out.  A little research showed that there seems to be a bit of a gap in the market between the 'one body - one lens' type bags and the full blown backpacks that will take pretty much all your kit.  I have one of those already, but I tend to cram so much in that it gets a bit on the weighty side.  So I was looking for a bag that would take a body, 2 or 3 lenses, speedlight, and have a few pockets for bits and bobs.  There are a few 'fashionable' bags that may have done the trick, but I really wanted function over fashion.  I found the Nikon Standard Bag II which looked like it would fit my needs, and went for it.

The internal measurements, as specified, are 300mm x 180mm x 130mm (W x H x D), but what does this mean in terms of kit that'll fit?

Admittedly, my D3000 body is quite compact if compared with something like a D4, but the way I have arranged the bag is thus... divided roughly into thirds across its width.  On the left, the D3000 will lay on its back with any of my 3 lenses already fitted (the longest of these being the 55-200 f/4-5.6 - attached in the picture) and the lid will still close easily.  In the middle section, I created 2 small pockets with the velcro dividers (plenty of those provided), in which both my remaining lenses (18-55 f/3.5-5.6 and 50mm f/1.8 AF) will fit, with easily enough headroom to put my extension tubes in a neoprene sleeve (actually a stubby holder) across the top of them (not shown).  In the rightmost section, I created three slots from front to back, which hold one speedlight, the charger for the camera battery, and my little P&S camera with its charger too.

The lid contains a zipped net/mesh pocket, in which I have the camera remote, a spare memory card,and a lens cloth stashed away.

Pockets on either end of the bag are an ideal size for either a couple of filters each, or in my case, I have put a pair of Cactus v5 radio triggers in them (one in each end).  These pockets have velcro secured flaps, rather than zips.

There is a full width zipped pocket across the front, which has another zipped net/mesh pocket inside the front flap, and various open pockets sewn into the back (i.e. the body of the bag itself).  Two of those pockets are again nicely sized for single filters, but the rest look like they were designed for pens.  I seldom carry a pen in my camera case, in case it breaks and everything gets covered in gooey biro ink - so these pockets aren't much use to me just yet - I may think of a use for them though.

As if that weren't enough pockets, finally, there is another pocket across the back of the bag, though this is only really any good for slipping in a couple of sheets of paper or something very flat and flexible (I could fit, but wouldn't trust my iPhone in it for example).  It may become more practical as the bag loosens up but at the moment it is pretty tight once you get any amount of kit in the main body of the bag.

The lid fastens over the top and is secured by a couple of clips.  The overlap is sufficient that light rain and wind-borne dust would probably be kept out, but I don't think the bag is intended to be fully 'weather-proof'.  There is a comfortable handle (2 canvas type handle straps that are held together by a padded handle), as well as the usual detachable shoulder strap with a sliding padded section.

My only disappointment so far is that the bag has a couple of straps supposedly intended to sling your tripod off the bottom front.  These straps don't have any quick release clips, so anything you attach has to slide through them, and they are pretty short.  They are certainly too short to go around even my fairly modest Slik F740, so I am wondering just what kind of tripod they were designed to cater for.

Maybe, they are meant for an umbrella (and I don't mean the kind you'd use on a studio strobe).

So - I've managed to cram quite a lot of kit into my new bag... camera with all my lenses, my extension tubes, and a speedlight complete with radio triggers.  This should give me plenty of options to try out different things while out on photowalks now, and still keep things tidy - as long as it isn't too heavy.

Till next time
Happy Snappin'

Monday, May 6, 2013

Evening Exposure

Over the long weekend just past, Karen and I went to Dubbo, and stayed overnight at a wonderful place called Pericoe Retreat just outside of town.  It was a lovely location with 25 acres of property for me to wander around and photograph.  It was a glorious sunset, and just as I was returning to the house, they had turned on all the outside lights, and there was a beautiful deep blue sky above.  I couldn't resist the contrast of the orangey lights against the deep blue, so set about getting a photo.

As you might guess - there seemed to be no exposure setting that would capture full range from the lights shining on the building and grass, to the deep blue of the sky, so I took a number of shots exposed specifically for the sky, the building, and then the foreground grass, with a view to getting the best of each in PS later on.

Once home again, and with access to my PC, I chose the 3 shots that were best suited for each of the three areas, and opened them all in Photoshop, and then copied all three into a new image as separate layers.  I organised the layers in order from lightest to darkest, with darkest on the top.

Despite having the camera mounted on a tripod, the photos still didn't line up quite, so the first task was to auto-align the three layers, and then crop the result to the area covered by all three.

Next, I added a layer mask to each of the top two layers, then I took a fairly large and soft edged brush (set at 100% opacity), and with the top layer's layer mask selected, started painting black - effectively erasing part of the image to reveal the layer below.  Starting at the bottom of the image, I 'erased' all the grass and house from that layer - leaving only the deep blue sky.
Next, I selected the middle layer's layer mask,and did the same, but this time erasing only the grass.  This left me with the three main bands of exposed image - the grass from the bottom lightest layer, the house from the middle layer, and the sky from the darkest layer.

I did some further refinements and tweaking (which are not shown in the masks above).  The roof and surrounding trees were still a bit dark on both the top and the middle layer, so I masked them out and let the bottom layer show through there as well as the grass.  I also did a bit of repair work on the grass, to hide some doggy toys, and a couple of drought affected areas.  As a final touch, I found that the Pericoe Retreat logo on their website was a convenient PNG image with transparent background, so I 'borrowed' that, and placed it on the image, just to give it a little 'branding'.

If you ever fancy a visit to the Great Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo, you might consider staying at Pericoe Retreat yourselves - there are lovely photos to be had, and the Lamb Roast Dinner was to die for!!!  Tell them Graham sent you :D

BTW - I sent them a copy of the finished image, so take a quick squint at the screen saver on the PC in their reception, and see if they used it.

Keep those shutters snappin'

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Made in China

I've just returned from a business trip to China, where I was lucky enough to spend a weekend out with my boss - who is also a keen photographer.  This meant that he was very patient and understanding when I wanted to stop and take photos of things from a dozen different angles, experimenting with flash or natural light, or long exposures on the tripod. It also meant that he (having lived in China for 8 years or so) was able to take me to some interesting locations.

I stayed in Suzhou, which is an old walled city (about 2 hours inland from Shanghai), that also has a lot of canals - it is known as 'The Venice of the East'.  Beyond the city walls, the Suzhou Industrial Park has grown and expanded in the last 10 years, bringing business (and about 10 million people) to the area.

It is a place of huge contrasts, with the old city and the new commercial area with ultra modern buildings, as well as the wealthy and the poor, and the traditional ways of living sitting right next to vast arrays of apartment blocks.
Here are a few pictures of a traditional fisherman I found, in one of the canals around the old city, using cormorants to catch his fish. This way of fishing has been around for many hundreds of years, but it was interesting to see it still happening today, against a backdrop of elevated concrete roadways threading between towering apartment blocks (very carefully and tastefully excluded, so as not to spoil the ambiance of the pictures ;-D ).

The cormorants wear tight collars that prevent them from swallowing any fish they catch, and the fisherman then scoops them out of the water, retrieves the fish from their throat, and sends them back out for more.  At the end of the day, I guess the birds are fed, in order to keep them happy in their work.

I'll post some more from China soon, but until then...
Happy Snappin'

Thursday, January 24, 2013

When enough is more than enough

There are times when we need to just step back and re-assess what we are trying to achieve.  We often get bogged down in a 'rut' of sorts, and fall back on using the same tools and methods to address every problem, where a change in approach may result in an equally acceptable (or even superior) outcome for less effort.

I had one of these moments the other evening.  It was my niece's birthday and so we were all at her house to sing Happy Birthday and eat cake, and of course, I was there with camera to take photos of her blowing out the candles and so on... Most times now, I can balance the flash with ambient light by using a longish exposure so that the candle flame still shows, but that wasn't my problem...

Our new grandson Will was there, as was an Auntie that hadn't met him yet, so of course, she wanted to have cuddles with him.  When she saw me with the camera out ready to take 'cake' pictures, she said "take one of me with Will...".  Now being only 3 weeks old, I wanted to avoid using the flash, but light in the room was dim, and provided by very directional downlights.

If I had time to consider and set up the picture, I would have moved her around the room to find the best ambient light, and probably used some extra lighting and reflectors to get rid of the harsh shadows from the downlights.  But this was supposed to be an impromptu 'quickie' - that turned into an embarrassing nightmare.

After just turning the flash off (but with shutter speed of 1/30 already locked in ready for the candles on the cake), shot 1 produced a very underexposed image at f/5.6 - the max aperture of the kit lens I was using.  For shot 2 I tried in P mode, and got an exposure that was 1/2 second and impossible to handhold.  For shot 3 I tried increasing the ISO to 800 which is about as far as I can push it in low light on my D3000 without getting annoying noise.  The shutter speed came down but not really enough, and I still had really harsh shadows from the downlights on Aunties face.

After three failed attempts (and time spent chimping and changing settings each time) the 'moment' was pretty much gone.  It was turning into a situation that I needed more time to assess and solve, but Auntie was getting bored, I was getting frustrated, and my niece wanted to eat her birthday cake...  Will was fast asleep and couldn't have cared less, but I had to do something quick to retrieve the situation.

After a moment's panicked thought, I reached in my pocket, and whipped out my iPhone.  A couple of finger swipes and 5 seconds later, I had a relatively good picture that looked fine on the phone's screen, and was really all she wanted in the first place.  She didn't want poster sized glossy prints made, or even to display the picture on her 5 foot wide HDTV screen - she just wanted something for the 3.5" mobile backlit photo album from Apple, that everyone seems to carry these days - me included (he admits reluctantly).  In these situations, a mobile phone camera with all it's built in point and shoot logic, may be all you need.

Today's lesson learned?  You don't always need perfection - sometimes 'OK' is good enough.  The Pareto Principle (more commonly known as the 80/20 rule) says something like this - you can achieve 80% of an outcome with 20% effort, but then it takes the other 80% effort to get that final 20% of the outcome.  Sometimes - the 80% is all you really need in the first place.  So don't knock yourself out striving for perfection in every photo - admirable though that goal is, your sanity will surely suffer!

Until next time
Happy iSnappin'


Sunday, January 13, 2013

Happy New Year, and welcome Will (also PP - Example 4 : Glamour Glow)

Happy New Year everyone!  I hope Santa was kind to you over Christmas - he was to me.  I got a whole bunch of lighting stuff, including a Yongnuo 565EX flash and another Cactus v5 unit to trigger it, a 60cm softbox, a snoot with grids that can fit on one of the flashes, a couple of light stands, a couple of flash brackets, a flash bracket on a huge bulldog clip, and a whole bunch of grips for holding up backdrops, reflectors, etc.  I am looking forward to doing some product and portrait photography using all my new gear, and my New Year's Resolution is to try and build the confidence to do some 'proper' portrait work - we'll see how that goes ;-)

The other thing I got - 3 days after Christmas - was a grandson to take photos of.  He came along a month early and caught us all on the hop, but now he is 2 weeks old and life is beginning to settle down again (though his parents probably think differently).  Here is a picture of William (Will) Smith aged 2 weeks.

I've given this shot a bit of PP, which I'll describe for you (this is a photography blog, after all).  The first thing I did was to do a little colour correction, lightened it a little, etc., and then desaturated it to monochrome (why bother with the colour corrections first?  Well, it does actually make a difference, believe it or not.  It isn't really something I can easily explain, but try it and you'll see what I mean.)  Once desaturated, I played with the lighting again a bit more, and then did a little 'glamour' trick I learned... duplicate the layer, and then apply a fairly substantial Gaussian Blur to the top layer - I used 25 pixels radius.  Then reduce the opacity on the top layer to let the sharp layer below begin to partially show through - I reduced mine down to about 30%.  This gives the image a nice soft 'glow' without it looking out of focus. Finally, I applied a layer mask to the top layer and painted black on the eye to let the catchlights shine through sharply, without any of the Gaussian Blur applied.

I have been charged to do a picture of Will every month for the first year, to go in one of those special photo frames that has a slot for each month.  At the moment, Will couldn't care less about me snapping away all the time, but I think it's already wearing thin with Mum & Dad, so it may be a challenge to get access to him every month for his official portrait - we'll see.

I've also started putting pictures into Project Flickr again this year (running for its third year now?)  The first theme of the year was Happiness - which seemed quite appropriate given that we had a new addition to the family, and it prompted me to start it up again.  Next week's theme is Body Parts, and I had been planning to try and get a few shots of Will's tiny feet and hands - so they could be appropriate entries (once again - if I get the opportunity...)  I know that I won't last the whole year at Project Flickr - I have a few busy periods this year where I know hobby time will have to take a back seat for a while, as well as a spell over in China where internet access is severely restricted, and many 'social' sites like flickr and facebook, are forbidden or censored.  Having said that, I am looking forward to going back to China again, as I will have 3 days to myself while I am there, to wander around with my camera, and see what I can photograph.

OK - well that's my news for now.  Over the coming months, I am sure that Will will probably be featuring from time to time, and I'll also post some of my experiments with all my new lighting gear - which I am really looking forward to playing with.  Post a reply below telling what pressies Santa brought for you, and if you made any New Year Resolutions  - especially photographic ones.  I'd love to hear from you.

Until the next time
Happy Snappin'