Wednesday, January 28, 2009


I've recently rediscovered the simple joys of shooting with the Canon 50/1.8 II (thrifty fifty). In a world full of huge, image-stabilized zooms, I'd forgotten how small, light, and fast the 50 was. Slap that sucker on the 5D, and suddenly you've got a surprisingly small, light, full-frame, natural perspective camera for street photography. I even took it with me to a blues bar last weekend, and my mostly sober friend didn't even notice that I was "packing heat" until we were about to leave.

One of the features I like about the 5D is its support for Picture Styles. For street photography, put it in Monochrome, bump up the sharpness, and you can come away with some pretty interesting street scenes. The Monochrome Picture Style also supports electronic filters in yellow, orange, red, and green. You can apply these filters without carrying any addition equipment. If you shoot in raw, like me, you can apply these filters in Digital Photo Professional. If you shoot in color, you can apply similar filters in Photoshop using Channel Mixer adjustment layers.

The 50 is also a great way to focus on composition. Even an experienced photographer can use a refresher in composition. One of the things I remember reading in Annie Leibovitz At Work, was that she could only afford a 50mm lens when she started shooting in the Bay Area in the 60's. Many of her classmates had 35mm lenses, which were looser and allowed them to put more in the frame. She said that the 50 forced her to focus on composition to get the shot. I think she was on to something.

Last Friday the weather here in Baltimore was bearable (about 50 degrees, heh), so I came home early to do some street photography. I was walking along West Pratt Street when I came across this spot next to Camden Pub. I've walked by it more times than I can remember, but I'd just never noticed it before. Generally I steer clear of power lines and telephone poles, but for some reason it just worked this time. Maybe I just wasn't in the right mode without the 50 in hand...

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Goin' to Miami

Tomorrow afternoon I depart for South Beach. Three nights and two shoots worth of gear in just two carry-on bags. I've even got my beach towel and sandals in there.

My bags of choice for this trip are the Think Tank Urban Disguise 60 and the Kelty Basalt. Both of these bags are deceptively small, which is exactly what you want these days with Revenue Control Agents and picky flight attendants lurking about.

Since it's such a short trip, and I have my iPod Touch with me, I won't be lugging a laptop. This not only saves weight, but also opens up the laptop slot for two shirts. If you think a little outside the box about the spaces in your bags, you will be amazed by the amount of stuff you can fit into a couple small bags.

And I'm not just being thrifty by using carry-on bags. Packing light puts you in a more agile mindset. Plans may change, but that's ok because there's no giant albatross to burden the journey. I also don't support the first checked bag fee that many airlines are starting to charge, so I'm trying to minimize their opportunity to implement that fee.

Anyway, as I look at the weather report now, it's 16 degrees here in Baltimore and 65 degrees in Miami Beach. I just can't get there fast enough.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Richard Franiec Custom Grip

The custom grip for my Canon G9 arrived today. It definitely improves the feel of the camera.

The grip itself is heavier than I was expecting, but then again it is a solid piece of metal. The G9 is a very hefty point-and-shoot anyway though, so I wouldn't call this a real problem. It does seem like the all-metal design will suck the heat right out of your fingers in winter. On the flip side, the grip vastly improves handling when wearing gloves; it no longer feels like it's going to slip right out of you hands.

I am impressed with how well it fits the features of the camera's body, right down to a slot along the edge to accommodate the existing rubber strip/grip. The texture of the grip is also less course than I was expecting, but it seems sufficient. I was also a little surprised to discover that the grip is held on with very strong double-sided adhesive tape. I guess I was expecting it to latch on mechanically in some fashion.

In any case, if you're planning to stick with your G9, I recommend this little upgrade.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

AAA's National Park Photography

AAA's National Park Photography is a book that never seemed to get much attention. I have found it quite useful when my time in the park is limited. There have been a few occasions when I was traveling for other business and decided to tack on an extra day to explore a nearby national park. This book shows you where the "hot spots" are so you can prioritize rather than aimlessly wandering through the park (though there's something to be said for aimlessness when time is on your side). It also tells the best times to visit the park, which can be very helpful.

Will you come back with pictures that have been taken before? Of course. Will you take other pictures along the way? Most likely. Will one of them be original? I hope so.

My only gripe with this book is that the binding is somewhat poor, causing pages to fall out. This can be turned around into a bit of an advantage though, because it means you only have to take the pages that concern the park you're planning to visit. Every little bit of weight savings helps when you're packing, and this is no exception.

The bottom line is that this book can be a big time saver and has the tips that most photographers are looking for.

Farewell to JPG Magazine

Yesterday I was sad to read that JPG Magazine is shutting down this month. I always looked forward to each new issue full of colorful, creative, less-is-more photos. Pretty much all the images were available online, but it's not the same as seeing them in print. I got my first issue at the PhotoShelter Photography 2.0 event in New York in 2007.

Similar photography can still be seen on sites like Lomography and Flickr, but it was nice to see it collected into one place in print six times each year.

I was able to snag the last issue off of the shelves today. I'm wondering if there's still another issue in the pipeline that will come out. We'll see.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Sticking with the G9

Somewhat recently, Canon replaced the G9 with (you guessed it) the G10. The G10 does show much improved noise reduction, and a much wider lens. Unfortunately, Canon removed one of my favorite, albeit odd features - time-lapse video mode.

Making your own time-lapse video is non-trivial with most cameras. Having the ability to put time-lapse videos together in the field, on the fly, in-camera is pretty powerful, not to mention fun. I've posted a couple camping videos on YouTube from my trip to Grand Teton and Yellowstone (embedded below) last summer. You can even plug the camera into the TV and play the video back; very entertaining.

The G9 also makes a great backup camera for portraits and landscapes. In the past, I had to lug a 5D and 1D Mark II if I wanted to have a backup body. On top of that, the batteries and charger for the 1D Mark II are huge and heavy. Nowadays I just toss the G9 in with my 5D and I'm off. Of course I won't get pictures as spectacular as I would with the 1D Mark II, but I certainly won't be heart-broken if all I had left was the G9.

The G9 also has an excellent flash sync speed - 1/1000! This beats the pants off of the 5D's pathetic 1/200 sync when it comes to killing the ambient light. If you don't know what on Earth I'm talking about, you owe it to yourself to head over to Strobist. I took the swimwear shot on the left with the G9 and a little SB-28DX (fired remotely via a PocketWizard). The Sun was still about an hour from setting, so the only way to kill all that ambient light was to bump the shutter speed up to 1/1000. This would not have been possible with such a small flash had I been using the 5D.

Not only am I planning to keep the G9, I actually just ordered the custom grip from Richard Franiec. I'll let you know how that goes, but based on the review I read on Luminous Landscape, it's a must-have.