photography

Checking Out The Sunflowers In My “Flyover State”

One of the nice things about having a Friday off is you get the opportunity to go to a place like Ginter Farms outside of Tonganoxie Kansas to test out some new camera gear.

One of the nice things about having a Friday off is you get the opportunity to go to a place like Grinter Farms outside of Tonganoxie Kansas to test out some new camera gear. 

As far as the eye can see. Well, almost.

Yesterday I took the Olympus Pen-F and the 14-42mm pancake Zoom to Ginter farms with my friend Tim to take some shots of the sunflowers that are open to the public. While the sunflowers were still spectacular, they weren’t nearly as tall as last year due to the weather this season. Late snow followed by an early heat spell and record-breaking rain almost did the crop in this year. 

Fortunately for us, we had 3 to 4-foot tall plants with plenty of blooms, And the crop was just as dense as always. It was the perfect backdrop to test the camera, the new lens, and a couple of trusted lenses I’ve been using for years. 

Each flower was covered with pollinators doing their thing. Shot with the 14-42 Pancake.

The verdict. The camera rocks, the lens is good but not great. I don’t mean the lens is bad, it’s just not as solid as my 12-40 Pro. It’s not as fast, or sharp which is expected since it costs about one-third of the pro lens. With that said though its diminutive size makes it perfect for travel which is why I picked it up in the first place. 

Shot with the 12-40 Pro.

As for the camera, I couldn’t be happier. This tiny body packs in powerhouse performance with the same sensor as the EM1 MKII and the same color engine as well. My only gripe is it’s not weather sealed. (neither is the 14-42mm lens so it really is a minor issue).

Shot with the 12-40 Pro wide open.

If you get a chance to go I highly recommend it. Ginter Farms is just one of the many reasons I tell people Kansas is not a flyover state. Like the Flint Hills, Tall Grass National Preserve, Monument Rocks, Little Jerusalem, Mushroom Rock State Park, Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area, the Oxford Grist Mill, and so much more it’s a perfect drive-through state. I think the next photo adventure in this flyover state will be at Marais des Cygnes Wildlife Area in South East Kansas.

Monument Rocks from an earlier road trip.

I’m Taking a Pen to Spain and Not Writing a Thing with It

A PEN in the hand

In September of 2009, I had the privilege of traveling to South Africa for 14 days to document the making of a short film my friend Tim was working on. My role was to shoot the behind the scenes stills of the crew in action in and around the Motherwell Township near Port Elizabeth.

David making movies at Kwadick. Shot with my trusty Olympus EP-2 about a decade ago.

At the time I had the option of taking my Canon camera, but the idea of hauling a larger APSC camera and the lenses that went with it seemed like a pain in the ass. Actually more like a pain in the back. So I started looking for something smaller with enough features and image quality to take as a replacement. I ended up settling on the Olympus PEN E-P2, the second PEN camera Olympus produced for the new Micro 4/3 system they had jointly pioneered with Panasonic. In retrospect, I probably should have gone with the Panasonic GH1, but the little Pen did a fantastic job.

The E-P2 with the original 14-42mm kit lens

The kit that I took was small, light, and compact. It was great for not standing out and allowing me to disappear as much as possible into the background. (Not an easy feat for a 6-foot 4-inch 225-pound white guy in Motherwell Township)

Let’s fast forward 2 years to the point when my house was broken into. My Canon gear was stolen, but the thieves missed my Olympus PEN and the small arsenal of lenses I had acquired.

With the Canon gone, I decided to stick with Micro 4/3 systems and rather than replacing the Canon gear I picked up the newly released OMD EM-5 and made it my primary camera. I had never bought into the whole Full Frame or nothing attitude, or the idea that Micro 4/3 cameras didn’t take as good a photo, couldn’t produce a shallow depth of field shots, couldn’t produce decent bokeh or any of the other myths.

The EM5 with the outstanding 45mm portrait lens and no batter grip

Over the next few years, I replaced the EM5 with an EM1 adding the battery grip, additional lenses and accessories to build out a decent set of gear for my photo habits. I’m not a pro, I don’t shoot studio shots or weddings. Mostly I take landscape and nature shots around the state that I live in and on my annual trip to Colorado with friends. I also take the EM1 when I travel, but it feels large sometimes and it’s not something that I can stuff in a jacket pocket. That means having to bring my Ona Union Street messenger bag and frankly, I don’t want to carry that much stuff.

This got me to start looking at an additional camera I could use for a trip to France that we took back in April, and for an upcoming trip to Spain in November. Since I have several Olympus Zuiko lenses, I knew I was going to pick up a new Micro 4/3 body which narrowed my choices to just 2 brands – Pansonic, or Olympus. Both are solid choices, but my familiarity with the Olympus menu system and the in-body image stabilization had me leaning to Oly from the start.

The PEN F next to my EM1 with the battery grip attached

To get something that I would call a travel camera I started looking back at the PEN series. Olympus makes a number of Pen models but there was one that I have been smitten with since it came out in 2016. The Olympus PEN F. The camera is gorgeous, it has the same 20-megapixel sensor that the EM1 Mk II has, award-winning 5 axis image stabilization and so much more. It has one of my favorite features of any camera I have ever used – “Live Composite” mode. (I don’t get why no other camera maker hasn’t come up with something similar to this. Especially for mirrorless camera bodies.)

Having settled on a model I began looking for either an excellent+ used body or a reconditioned body from Olympus to keep the costs down. I was fortunate enough to find an Olympus Certified reconditioned body at a much-reduced price and went for it. I didn’t get it in time for France, but I will have it for Spain.

The PEN F sporting the 14-42 pancake zoom compared to the EM1 with the 12-40 Pro. I’d love to take the Pro lens with me, but I don’t want to haul that much glass or carry a camera bag.

I couldn’t be more pleased with this little guy. Diminutive in size but extremely capable and feature-packed. It has most of what the EM1 Mk II has in terms of features, and it has somethings I thought I would never use, but find myself playing with all the time. The Color Profile adjustment on the front Creative dial, the Monochrome setting on the same dial, and the Color Creator. All three of these give you the option to tweak and adjust color balance or create custom profiles that can be assigned to one of the 4 Custom Modes on the top dial of the camera. I have 3 of these set to a specific color or monochrome modes I can call up at any time.

Taken with the EM-1 and the 12-40mm Pro Lens

While it might sound like a gimic it’s not. These are not the same as the goofy “Art Filters” Olympus has on every camera they make. The Art Filters are like built-in retro modes for Instagrammy looks. The ones I mentioned earlier are true color or monochrome modes you build that allow for more creative approaches to the desired look you want. And while these modes shoot in JPEG, you can set the camera up to shoot JPEG + RAW allowing you to have an unaltered image you can edit in post at a later time.

Gem Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park taken with my EM5 and the Zuiko 17mm f/1.8

If you want to know more about the PEN F there are a ton of reviews on this camera. Just Google it and you’ll find plenty to read or watch. The verdict for many is going to be the same, great looking but there are newer and better cameras on the market. This is true but for me, I’d rather have this little guy. Stunning to look at, solid features, excellent output. And it even feels nice in my big hands without needing a grip or a case (although I am considering the Gariz leather half case for it)

For the trip to Spain, I’m taking the PEN F, the Zuiko 14-42mm pancake zoom, my all manual Samyang 12mm, 3 batteries, and a single 128-gigabyte memory card. All of this can fit in jacket pockets making travel lighter and freeing me up from having to carry any kind of bag around if I choose.

Little Jerusalem Chalk Bad Lands

Every year I take an annual trip to Estes Park Colorado with my friends Tim and Bryan. Usually, it’s in May, but we have added a September trip to the mix as well. The point of this road trip is to do some hiking, take photo’s, relax and enjoy, weather permitting. I say that because sometimes Mother Nature decides overcast is all she is going to give us and it doesn’t make for very dramatic images. This year was one of those years. That doesn’t mean that we didn’t try, and actually Tim and Bryan got some pretty decent images in Rocky Mountain National Park. Uninspired by the overcast and not feeling the photo love, I busted out the Moment Macro lens for the iPhone and tried a completely different approach to things with mixed results. The good news is, Kansas showed us the love.

Driving to Estes involves taking I-70 for 9 to 10 hours across the great expanse of Kansas, and while most people think of Kansas as a “fly-over” state, it’s probably because they have never taken the time to venture off the freeway or see the Tallgrass Prairie lush from spring rains. For the last few years, we have broken up the drive by stopping in Oakley and the following morning making an excursion to a couple of landmarks about 30 minutes Southwest of the city and the freeway. Last year it was Monument Rocks. This year we hit the “Little Jerusalem Chalk Bad Lands” which is now a state park and will open to the public in June. I’m glad we did because Mother Nature smiled on us with a brilliant clear spring morning that gave us perfect golden light.

The photos below don’t do the size of this chalk formation justice. The columns rise at least 30 to 40 feet in some areas and Little Jerusalem spreads out over a couple of square miles. We only explored a small section, and I need to go back for some night photography and to get a better feel for how large this place really is. If you have time to make the detour and stop I highly recommend it.

A couple of things to point out. Currently (May 2017) this place is gated and there are No Trespassing signs up. Before June enter at your own risk. If you spend the night in Oakley or arrive at the wrong time of the day, be prepared for an olfactory overload. There are a feed lot and a hog farm right off the main drag and the stink can be pretty overpowering if there is no breeze. It was so bad when we arrived I almost lost my lunch when I got out of the car. The good news is, both Monument rocks and Little Jerusalem are far enough away, you won’t smell it there. You will also want to go in some sort of SUV. The roads to both are dirt and gravel and can be a bit rough. My GTI would have had a hard time negotiating some of them.

All photos were shot in RAW on my Olympus OMD EM-1 with the 12-40mm and processed with Lightroom, Photoshop, and NIK Color FX Pro.

Sometimes You Gotta Get Really Small.

Sometimes when you go for a six mile hike in the mountains, Mother Nature blesses you with perfect light and subject matter for photography. Sometimes she gives you overcast skies, boring vegetation, and no wildlife to speak of. Today was one of those days, so I busted out the Moment macro lens for the iPhone and went small photographing all sorts of tiny objects of nature. Using the Moment macro is tricky. Depth of field is razor thin, and it requires you to move the iPhone in and out from the subject, with a lot of room for trial and error. Also wind will mess with your shots, since it jacks with focus. None the less using it was fun, and added to the walk.












The Indiana Dunes in January.

I’ve been doing some traveling for work over the last couple of weeks, and last week I found myself in New Buffalo Michigan right by the lake. Saturday morning I had some down time so I decided to drive over to Indiana Dunes State park to check it out. I’ve never been, and the overcast skies and fog seemed like it would lend itself to some fairly dramatic photos. In typical fashion… it did and it didn’t. The overcast sky wasn’t quite as dramatic as I expected, and the most interesting visuals came from the textures of the shelf ice right on the lake shore. By the way, did I mention it was freezing? The readout in the rental car said it was 32 degrees, but after 30 minutes my hands were aching from the cold, even though I was wearing heavy gloves. I managed to shoot 20 or so images before deciding to bail. I simply wasn’t dressed for Lake Michigan in January with a nice breeze rolling in off the frigid water.

By the way, did I mention it was freezing? The readout in the rental car said it was 32 degrees, but after 30 minutes my hands were aching from the cold, even though I was wearing heavy gloves. I managed to shoot 20 or so images before deciding to bail. I simply wasn’t dressed for Lake Michigan in January with a nice breeze rolling in off the frigid water.

When I got back to the hotel, I took a look at the results of my little excursion and decided that the decent shots definitely needed post processing so I turned to Photoshop, and Google’s NIK filter collection. If you haven’t grabbed these filters, you should. They’re free, they’re powerful, and you can spend hours playing with the settings and combinations to get some solid results. For my shots, I did a simple two-step process involving a total of four filters.

Pass one, involved NIK Color FX where I added a graduated Neutral Density filter, Detail extractor, Lens Vignette. All applied very slightly to the image. Pass Two, NIK Silver FX for black and white conversion. I used the Modern Presets for High Dynamic Smooth and then dialed everything way down. While the presets are fun, in typical fashion, they are usually cranked up for maximum effect and can seem really fake when used as is.

I did all the post work on the flight back to Kansas City. Everything was processed from RAW files that were shot on my Olympus OMD EM1 with the 12 to 40mm Pro lens in Low ISO mode.

stacked-1

stacked-2

 

My Annual Photo Weekend

Every year I take a five-day trip to Estes park Colorado to hang out with a couple of friends and just relax. The trip consists of staying at my friend’s house (Aspen Grove), hiking in the woods, taking photos, drinking beer, and eating too much red meat over the five days.

The trip is in some ways creative renewal, but mostly it’s just letting everything go, and focusing on having fun and trying to get a few good images while we are out hiking around Rocky Mountain National Park. This year the three of us changed things up a bit and hit the park the first week of October instead of mid-May, and we still got snowed on. The weather wasn’t exactly cooperative, with almost the entire 5 days filled with off and on rain, snow hail, and overcast. It’s all good though. You make do with what you have and just keep shooting.

This is a baker’s dozen of images shot on my Olympus OMD EM1. Not all of the photos were taken in Colorado, and few were taken at Monument Rocks in Western Kansas about 20 miles from Oakley. And yes, every single image has had some form of post processing done to it, The original images were all shot in RAW format and processed in Lightroom and Photoshop using a number of tools and techniques. That is part of the fun.

aspen-trail

aspens-1

big-elk

bryan-on-the-bridge

elk-1

elk-2

millner-lake-1

monument-rocks-1

monument-rocks-2

rocky

sunrise

the-path

the-road

 

Creative Renewal Part 2

Sometimes you just need to get away and clear your head. Take a couple of days and look for inspiration. Get out and enjoy the world by getting back into nature. Early October in the Rocky Mountains can pose some tricky situations when it comes to weather. Yesterday started out sunny and in the lower 50’s in Estes Park, but less than five miles away, a storm was rolling in over the top of Rocky Mountain National Park bringing rain, snow, hail, and high winds. This didn’t stop us though, we decided to go ahead with a hike up to Beirstadt Lake and take the switchbacks down to the valley floor. The hike was relaxing, and not a complete bust, and I did manage to get a couple of decent photos of a few aspens in full fall color while being pelted with pea-sized hail and high winds.

aspen-trail