Autumn Arrives

By Roger (5 November 2017)

Autumn has arrived, with all its color and cooler temperatures. I hope you're getting out there and exercising your shutter finger. Although you can't tell from the blog, I've been out there every weekend.

Bacon Hollow Overlook, Shenandoah National Park

I had plans for this weekend, but the weather was rainy, so I called an audible and stopped by the Nature Visions Photo Expo (link). It's held locally, in Manassas, so I was able to make a last minute decision to drop in. Matt Kloskowski was the keynote speaker. He was one of the original Photoshop Guys, and I've been lucky enough to join a couple of photo trips with Matt. He's a great instructor and all-around nice guy. His current blog is here.

Although this conference is much smaller than many, I always enjoy meeting with some of my local photo buddies. There is no cost to walk through, and the photos on display, from half a dozen local photo clubs, are always a pleasure to browse through. I talked to several vendors about a new camera but managed to escape with my wallet intact.

This is also the conference in which the Raptor Conservancy brings several of their rescued raptors for display. You have the chance to photograph them, very close, for a small contribution. The birds are placed on a tree branch, with a small stand of trees behind them, giving them a more natural look.

From an earlier raptor shoot, at Nature Visions Photo Expo

We don't talk much about gear on this blog, but while I was there, I spent some time with Paul English, from Photo Gear Designs (link). They have a special tool for my bird photography friends, the External Sight Mount (ESM-1) Tracker. It is an inexpensive tool that fits into the camera's hot shoe and is used for tracking fast-moving subjects, like flying birds, when you have a long telephoto lens mounted. When you calibrate the ESM-1 to your lens, you can track the subject using the reticle, instead of the viewfinder. I tried their demonstration set-up and found it highly effective. Although I am not a bird photographer, I could immediately see the value for this sight for some other hard to track subjects, like racing. If you buy one, tell them, “Roger sent me.”

The ESM-1

Last weekend, we had better weather, so I made the short trip to Skyline Drive, in the Shenandoah National Park. My goal was to get some fall color, with a gorgeous sunrise. The park is only 50 miles from our current house, but I hadn't been on Skyline Drive since I was a teenager. (My only excuse – albeit a weak one – is that I prefer to photograph people over things.) The color was a little muted because of the dry conditions, and the sunrise was a bust. It happens.

At the Loft Mountain Overlook, just a little after sunrise, I found this tree being lit by the warm early light, just as the sun was clearing the mountains on it's way into a clear sky. You can see the effect of the warm sunrise light on the on foliage. This lovely light is why landscape photographers are always up for sunrise; you get a similar light at sunset. The quality of the light can have a major impact on your final image.

Loft Mountain Overlook

Loft Mountain Overlook

With the sun being too high in the sky for great light, I took the trail to Dark Hollows Falls to try some long exposure water shots. The waterfall was pretty disappointing because of the dry conditions; it'll look much nicer in the spring with more water rushing down. There was, however, a bonus for those with a fitness tracker. According to mine, there were 39 flights of steps back up to my vehicle, along the rough trail. So, there's that.

Step carefully on this trail

In a significantly less exerting event, Mark and I led our eighth Worldwide Photowalk, in Manassas. We had a group of two dozen photographers ambling through the Old Town Manassas area. Our animated group walked through the farmer's market and Old Town Jubilee along our route. Many of us met for a post-walk lunch at CJ Finz, near our start point. The weather was almost as pleasant as the company. Thanks to all who attended.

Our 2017 Worldwide Photowalk group

There are so many new things to discuss as the photography world continues to evolve. The new Photoshop and Lightroom have created some interesting new capabilities and have generated lots of heated discussions. The other photo post-processing companies haven't taken a break, either. These and other topics will have to wait for another blog.

Searching for Treasure

By Roger (23 August 2017)

I just got back from a long weekend of treasure hunting. (How often have you heard that, right?) Before you ask, no, we didn’t find the boat, but we did dig up some period-correct artifacts.

Amelia Research and Recovery (link) asked me to come down to Florida and make some new photos for their website and museum. They are based out of Fernadina Beach. The main quest for the weekend was to find the San Miguel, a Spanish treasure boat that sank in a storm, back in 1715. You can read about the treasure fleet on their website.

I’m a shareholder in the company, and they frequently invite shareholders to assist in different company tasks to keep costs at a minimum. It seems searching for treasure is an expensive endeavor.

We toured the company’s new museum before getting under way. There are lots of period-correct artifacts that have been found in this area: coins; emeralds; silver and gold ingots; and a jeweler’s furnace that would likely be on a vessel such as the San Miguel. Nothing yet, however, that can be positively tied to the ship. And they haven’t found the wreckage of the ship and, most importantly,  its main cargo hold. After the museum tour, we discovered a nice rum bar, next door. Just one more perk of the museum tour.

Through the weekend, we stayed on the Polly L, which was built especially for this kind of work. It isn’t the prettiest boat I’ve ever been on, but the accommodations are better than you might suspect, and the food was even better. The boat is a 73’, flat-bottomed vessel, with three legs that extend down to the ocean floor. The boat is lifted out of the water, providing a stable platform for the divers and holds its position at the search site.

The Polly L, on a search site.

The basics of the search are to scan the ocean floor, with a magnetometer, and map the hits. Then, the Polly L goes to the spots; puts down her feet; blows a huge hole in the sand; and the divers go into the hole, with metal detectors. They keep searching an area until they find what set off the magnetometer. It’s frequently just modern trash, like pipes. Then, it’s time to move to the next spot and start again.

Recovering the marker buoy before lowering the fans

The divers move pretty quickly, so we would explore several hits each day. Each time, the skiff would go to the coordinates of the mag hit and drop a buoy. The process of maneuvering the Polly L into a precise location for the divers was interesting. The crew put the fans over the mark and ran them for 20 minutes or so, to move the sand that was covering the hit. Then, they'd dive into the hole with metal detectors.

Dive Station

Gary returning from a dive.

As for the photography end of the long weekend, there are many things to consider when you take your camera gear out joy riding on the water. The ocean environment is very hostile to electronics and nice lenses. Although we drove down to Florida, I didn’t want to bring too much gear. The gear gets to the boat, via a small skiff, so there is a splash danger before you even hit the deck of the Polly L. I have a dry bag large enough to hold my medium camera bag, so I had that covered. I took a GoPro (small and waterproof), my backup D500, and a few lenses.

Some of the crew arriving

I didn’t count on the air conditioner being so good in the cabins (although, I was really grateful it was). The temperature difference of the cabin and outside caused the lenses to fog. I found a secure and covered place to leave my main gear outside, so it was always ready to shoot. Other than the hassle of waiting for your lenses to de-fog, you don't want the camera to be constantly going through cycles of condensation formation and clearing. Nikon has already made too many dollars on my camera repairs. Next time, I’ll have a better setup to keep the gear at the proper temperature and protect it from the humidity of the ocean.

We ran the skiff around the Polly L to make photos underway and, again, once we got to the dive locations. They had a generalized shot list for me, and we improvised from it all weekend. I had full run of the boat and spent much of the day climbing ladders and trying to get some different photos for them.

Our archeologist laid out some of the artifacts from a previous dive that were already tagged and recorded. They are kept in water until he can begin the clean up work in the work area of the museum. The items can be hard to distinguish when they're encrusted with centuries of underwater creatures. As I said, we found some additional artifacts while we were out on the search sites, but they were more of the same – pins and brackets of an old wooden-hulled vessel. They match the time period that the San Miguel went down, but there is nothing to categorically prove they're from the boat.

Artifacts ready to go to the archeologist's workshop for cleaning

Encrusted hull pin from the Colonial Period

I used the GoPro for some video segments and gave it to a diver for some underwater shots. The visibility where they’re diving is next to zero, but that still made for an interesting video clips. We made videos of the Polly L positioning the fans; going up and down on its legs; etc. Now, I just have to edit them all together.

One of the many surprises for me was just how much fun the trip was. I’ve been around boats my whole life as a Navy brat, and my brother is a licensed captain. However, even though I’ve got my own small set of sea stories, this experience was different. I almost felt like Jacques Cousteau, out exploring (except I’m not an oceanographer; wasn’t diving; and can’t speak French, but other than that…).

It was really interesting to be out looking for a ship that you know is out there, somewhere, now buried under the sand, and filled with precious stones, silver, and gold. It was like something you have watched on the History or Discover channel, only you’re a part of the episode. It kinda got to me and made the experience special and fun. I’m looking forward to the next visit.

The Polly L passing Fort Clinch, a Civil War site

Hey, don't forget! It's time, again, for the Kelby Worldwide Photowalk. This year I've signed up to lead (my eighth year!) a walk in Old Town Manassas. The photowalk is free, but you must register (here) to get in on all the fun. The photowalk is on Saturday, October 7th. We'll meet at the Manassas Amtrak Station, at 9 a.m. Hope to see you there.

Metadata Mining

By Roger (13 August 2017)

Sorry to admit how long I've been absent from the blog (tl;dr: I had too many distractions). Let's get back to it, shall we?

Way back in 2013, I did a very basic blog about what photographic metadata is and how you can use it for understanding some of the technical parts of your photography (link). Over the years, we've written about other ways to use the metadata, especially through the use of keywords you add to your personal metadata pool. Today, I'm mining my metadata to find new insights into the photographs I'm making.

Most photographers use their metadata when they are trying to answer technical questions. Things like, which lens do I use most often; how many of my photos are lit with a flash; or how many iPhone photos have I saved. This data is available to you without any effort on your part. The camera automatically records the basic camera information, and it is captured by whatever digital asset manager (DAM) you use to import your photos.

Metadata from camera: Nikon D4, 200-500 zoom lens, f5.6, 1/1600, ISO 320

You can add metadata to your photographs by entering additional photographic details, such as keywords, locations, rating systems, titles, and descriptions. Mark and I strongly recommend this process to add depth to your metadata. Our strategies are slightly different, but we, both, use our metadata for insights into our photography.

You can, however, use your metadata for less technical information as you get more serious about pursuing your muse. This is the point where we get all introspective and do some navel staring to discover where we are on our photographic journey.

I’m making light of it, but you can use metadata searches to discover things about your photography you may not have considered before. It can give you hints to your photographic strengths and weaknesses or point you in new directions to experiment.

First, I'm going assume you enter the additional metadata, mentioned above, into your DAM. This step should be obvious, but, too often, photographers don't take the time for this. If you're one of those people, you're limiting the value of insights you can derive from your metadata, and you'll be unable to try this kind of exercise.

Here's a quick example of how you can use the locational information, for those of us who love to travel. I geo-tag all my images, including all my old, scanned photos from film. When I go into the Map module of Lightroom, I can see all the bubbles showing me locations where I have made photos. As someone who regularly looks for new destinations, the results from this search help direct me to new places.

I went to Maine, a few weeks ago, for just this reason. I hadn't been there since I was 18. The east coast of the US is easy for me, since Virginia is so centrally located, but my map shows me that it's time to head to some more of the western states in the near future. I've been to all 50 US states, but don't have photos from every state. My map of the earth shows me I still need to get to Africa and Antarctica, so I can say I've visited all the continents.

Photo locations from my main database

Let's look at something a tiny bit deeper. While I was in Maine, I was up for every sunrise. Most of them were too plain for my taste – meaning the skies were clear, so there wasn't as much color as I wanted. But one morning, we had spectacular clouds and color, with rays of light beaming through. While I was adding my keywords and doing some initial culling of the photos, my mind drifted off to another sunrise I really enjoyed, from a past photo session. I did a quick search of my keyword “sunrise/sunset” and found I have a little more than 2,200 photos of sunrises/sunsets, and 1,856 of them also have some sort of water in them.

Sunrise in Lincolnville, Maine

I had no idea the vast majority of my sunrise photos had a water element. It makes sense because I like reflections, and I've been around the water most of my life. Now, this isn't life-altering information, but the search showed me something I hadn't realized. Once you have the information, it's up to you what, if anything, you want to do about it.

If you're a new photographer, you're probably making photos of every topic in front of your lens. Great! Keep shooting and learning. However, some will be trying to get beyond snapshots and do some “serious” photography. They've heard they need to specialize in a genre or figure out their “style,” and they aren’t quite sure how to narrow down all the specifics. Look at your data.

Do a sort with your highest rated photos. What do you see? If you look at your best 100 images, and 98 of them are landscapes, you have some new information. It sounds to me like your strongest work is in landscapes. If you think your favorite genre is newborn photography, you need to look closer at the problem. Why aren’t babies represented in your best photos?

I'm not a big proponent for limiting yourself to just a few genres, but it can help simplify your message if you're looking for customers or want to keep your social media focused. On my Instagram account (follow me at @roger_dallman) I alternate between travel and people photographs because those are my strongest genres. Keep in mind that almost every big-time professional photographer shoots lots of different genres, even while they specialize in certain genres for their profession. You don’t have to limit yourself to primarily one or two types of photography; this is supposed to be fun.

I prefer people, but I wouldn't pass up a shot like this one.

There are many ways you can play with your metadata to discover information about your photography habits and trends. You'll get more useful insights if you have fully populated your metadata fields, both from the automatic data imported from your camera and amplifying information you add after import into your DAM of choice. So, next time you wake up in the middle of the night and have some free time, go in and see what your photography is telling you.

 

It's time, again, for the Kelby Worldwide Photowalk. This year I've signed up to lead (my eighth year!) a walk in Old Town Manassas. The photowalk is free, but you must register (here) to get in on all the fun. The photowalk is on Saturday, October 7th. We'll meet at the Manassas Amtrak Station, at 9 a.m. Hope to see you there.

Last year's photowalk crew, in Shepherdstown, WV

Arlington Revisited

By Mark

It has been a bit, since we have written.  Unfortunately, it is proposal season again and real life interferes with our photography work.  As both of us are military retirees, we take the honor of supporting veterans funerals very seriously.  We went down last month to Arlington, to photograph a family friend of Roger’s internment of their father, a Vietnam era F-4 flyer. 

The Army’s “Old Guard” 3rd Infantry Division is most well known for their role as the keepers of the Tomb of the Unknowns, and the funeral caisson mounted troops.   Less well known is that each service maintains an honor guard who support the services for their members. 

These young men and women demonstrate honor, dignity and respect for each family and they do this, multiple times per day.  

These services go on in regardless of the weather.  Our day was overcast, damp and breezy, but the day before was pouring rain and just miserable.  Yet, the Marines were there laying Senator John Glenn to rest.  You can see the rain pouring off the Commandant of the Marine Corps’ cover in this photo by Rachel Larue.

(C) Rachel Larue

(C) Rachel Larue

There is something that grabs you when you hear the three volleys from the 21-gun salute.

The sun managed to come out and touch the colors at the right time.

I won’t pretend that the sailors march with the same precision as the Army and Marines, but there aren’t too many parade grounds at sea. 

This is Armed Forces Day weekend and next week is Memorial Day.  Take a moment to think of those who are serving, those who have, and those who never came back.