About jachamp

Yes I'm a geek and a photographer. So please send me ideas for things you'd like to see me cover, explain, or simply talk about.

Bluebonnets of the old West




Bluebonnets in a field

Originally uploaded by jachamp

Here we are with another April and another wildflower season. This is turning out to be a great season with lots of heavy pockets of bluebonnets and these purple things (sorry…not big on names) all over the place.

If you live in S. Central Texas, you probably cannot drive ten minutes without finding a pocket but as a person who loves looking at these things and photographing them…can I ask you for one favor?

Please do not trample the flowers. I am running into large patches where I see up to 1/3 of the flowers schmushed down by whole families who get into the patch trying to take their picture. I know…you want to get the perfect shot of your family but when you do that no one else gets to enjoy them too.

Second…respect other people’s property. When shooting photographs of flower patches, please respect the property that they are located on. Do not get photographs of someone’s house or personal possessions.

If someone, like the homeowner who has this display, has taken the time and care to maintain such a wonderful scene…you should respect their property rights while sharing this beauty with others.

Are you finding flowers?

Honeybee atop a bluebonnet
Bee atop bluebonnet found in local park

The flowers are out and it’s time to gas up and head to some quiet country road with your trusty camera and shoot some shots.

Please remember your common sense…never stop in a dark and isolated place. One reason is that you may get really bad shots there and you also run a greater risk for something bad happening to you.
But please use the side roads and stay off of the roadway and make sure you keep yours eyes open. Do not let yourself get caught up in the moment, and lose track of where you are.
Take your time, take as many shots as you want but do not take any of these flowers with you. Remember, under Texas law, certain plants are protected and taking one or two is considered a criminal offense.
Also, I can’t state this enough, please check the ground thoroughly before placing a child down in a flower patch. Ants and other bugs love flowers too.
Finally…send me your best shots and tell us what you did and used to get this shot. Some of the best things in photography are the stories in how you got that perfect shot.

Wild Flowers are popping up

Wildflowers are blooming-Sandia Cemetary

Wildflowers blooming in the cemetary in Sandia, TX

It’s time to prepare your cameras and your bug spray and venture out to your nearest patch of wildflowers. Here are some basic tips for finding and shooting those winning flower pictures.

1)Finding the right patch is easy. TxDOT actually does something right by publishing a list of where the best wildflower patches can be found. There may be more and you may want to do a Google search on Texas Wildflowers and find the list. This season is expected to be one of the best ever and it’s a good chance for you to take those cameras that you got at Christmas and go get some experience. Here is a link to the Texas Department of Transportation list

2) Take your children but please LOOK AT THE GROUND before you put them down. It’s borderline cruelty to drop small children on top of ant hills and ask them to hold still while you take their photograph.

3) Frame your shots. Do not just point your camera at the field and get the whole field alone. If you feel like that is a great photo, certainly take it.  But in addition to that shot, you should walk around look for exceptional shots or flowers with brilliant color.  and then follow the basic rules of thirds in taking your shot.

4) Add something different to the shot to break up  the floral scene. Notice the cemetary shot that I have posted with this. It uses a grave marker as a piece to break up the scene and to also give the viewer some idea of the relationships between  the flowers, the graves, and the cemetary.  You might use your dog, your child, an old broken down tractor, or something else all-together.

5) Do not simply take the photo and upload it. Bring it home and spend some time with it on a computer. Adjust the lighting, play with the settings. Every camera comes with basic software to do the most basic editing functions. Please do not take this to mean to go out, buy a $1,000 overpriced copy of Adobe Photoshop.  There are are many free image editing solutions that go beyond the basic features of the software that came with your camera. Google search them or try a search on Download.com but be careful. Malware takes on many forms and you should only download from sites you trust or that come recommended. If you have questions about software packages, feel free to ask me or check out DPReview.com, About.com, Photoshop.com or any other photocentric site.

6) Have fun. This should be enjoyable and not a hassle. If you find yourself struggling or inconvenienced by taking the time to take these shots, perhaps this is not for you.

Happy shooting!

How do you photograph falling snow?

Snow in downtown San Antonio

Snow in downtown San Antonio

So this week I learned a new lesson on how NOT to shoot photographs of falling snow. I took one shot and realized that I needed to crank up the speed of my D40. So I cranked up the ISO instead and still had no luck. So what I have discovered is that I was on the right path but you should try using flash and shooting against a dark background as much as possible. In the end it is smarter to crank your shutter speed as fast that it will go. Then, in Photoshop, GIMP, Lightroom, or Appature open the image and crank up the contrast. I tried those thing and prepped this image in Lightroom and you be the judge. Drop me a line if you have better ideas on how to get the snow to look less like heavy rain.

Did you get a new DSLR for the holidays?

You knew it would happen. You got the camera you wanted and it’s a beginner and maybe the lens(es) that come with it are not exactly what you were hoping for but believe me, they will work well while you learn.

The first thing you need to do now is find a challenge for yourself on that camera. Go out and use it and shoot images of something. Kids playing in the park, deer eating your neighbors’ flowers, maybe even hit the local sporting facilities and shoot photos of athletes doing their thing.

Just use the camera.

The next thing you should do is learn the main rules of good photography and composition that you can get from here:  http://www.picturecorrect.com/tips/photography-the-rules-of-composition/

It’s important to learn how to take photographs well. It gets boring seeing the same setup on every single photo. First rule…do not center every photograph and go on and get close to where the action is. Headroom is one thing but footroom and composition is very important.

Let’s talk about another area of focus…tools. Right now the only tool you need is you. You are equipped with everything you need to take good photographs. You do not need to buy a $200 tripod nor a $10,000 lens nor a $1000 flash. Step back…buy those things only when you need them and if you’ll use them more than once.

If you’re only going to use the camera component once or twice, consider renting. What? You can rent lenses, flashes, and tripods? Yes…and you can even rent another camera.

Just do a Google search for camera rental and check out the vendors. You can also check in your community. Stores like Camera Exchange in San Antonio, rent equipment and should you decide to buy it, they apply some of your rental fees to your purchase.

Next time…I’ll update you on when you can go wildflower hunting and where you can get the best clusters. Hint: you will need to get in a car and drive. Sorry…your backyard isn’t going to cut it unless you live on a farm.

Crab Spider for Thanksgiving




DSC_0023

Originally uploaded by jachamp

This shot was taken with my Nikon D40 using my Tamron 70-300mm in macro mode. It tooks many shots to get this right as this web was floating in the breeze. Add to that the fact that I didn’t have my tripod, and you have this soft focus shot that has some wonderful shots around the edges of this crab spider. This shot was one of many I took Thanksgiving afternoon and made for a good dessert treat (and no…I didn’t eat him).

Nikon’s latest camera…yes I’ll accept donations

Recently Nikon annouced it’s newest product, the Nikon D3S. This is a camera for professional photographers and those who have money to spend on camera equipment. The D3S does something that the D3X and other D3 models have never done, shoot video at 720p at 24 fps. While that is not the 1080p at 30 fps that we’ve come to love in our video, it is a marked stepped up from nothing.

Now the D3S is more of a minor upgrade than a new model. Nikon has beefed up some things and refined others.

For instance, the new key part of this camera is its ability to manipulate the ISO settings. For the amateur, the ISO setting determines how long the shutter stays open and how much light is allowed to come into the auto-focus sensor. In this case, it can use a short 100 ISO or a lengthy and an amazing 102,400 ISO. Yes…you read right. I’d love to see how grainy those shots come out looking. And unless you are using still life, shots at that speed will blur dramatically. Even the light movement of a flower from an overhead ceiling fan will make an image almost unuseable.

Now this camera can shoot up to 11 frames per second , although Nikon’s data indicates it will only shoot 9FPS, with a buffer that will allow you to shoot a hundred shots or more continuously and store them on its spacious dual Compact Flash card slots. The cards can be setup for overflow, copying, or you can shoot RAW on one card and JPEG on another. So long as you don’t confuse which card has what when you are post-processing I’ll assume the headaches would be minimal from this.

This camera does autofocus by color tracking or you can fine tune it. One of the things about a camera of this magnitude is the control the photographer has over it. You can pretty much adjust anything to your liking or to fit your shooting situation.

So if you are interested in plunking down your debit card for this little bad boy, be prepared to shell out close to $5,200 and that’s for the body only. It uses Nikon AF-S lenses so if you are upgrading from another Nikon camera, the lens support should be smooth.

Nikon says on their site that these cameras will be available in November so it gives you time to stop paying your bills in order to come up with the cash you’ll need for this.

And yes…you can mail me donations and I’lll put them to good use in buying the older D3X. Why? Because it should come down in price now that  the newer version is out.

Online Photo Storage solutions–use them or else

 jackrabbits-5
I had this talk with the students both in my hardware and in my networking classes this week and feel it’s an important enough thing to warrant its own post. I have a student, who had an issue with his hard drive, for those technically saavy amongst you, his hard drive lost its partition table and hence all of the contents of that drive. For the uninitiated let me explain; the partition table is like a giant database that gives the operating system a map of where things are. So when the system loses this map, it loses everything and all you can do is reinstall Windows, Linux, or whatever operating system that you use and start all over.

You can see how easy it is to lose everything…all those special moments and all those memories…gone.

So let’s talk about backups…the hard part is choosing a service. There are many free services available to help you store your images online. What you are looking for is a service that is reliable, does not change your image sizes (and there are many that do), provides you plenty of free space online and makes it easy for you to upload and access your content.

For simplicity’s sake, I will put these in a list for you:

Windows Live SkyDrive–This is probably the largest online storage site that you can find for free. If you use Windows and Internet Explorer (and that’s most of you), this is real simple. You simply sign up and begin using this. You get 25GB of storage on their servers to use as you see fit.

Windows Live Photo is another free service from Microsoft. The Skydrive is designed for your documents and photos while Photos Live is a cross between social networking and photo storage.  You get the same 25GB that is in your SkyDrive account. This is simply branded under a different name.

Flickr is a free service from Yahoo. Your access is limited and you need to check their site as the terms may change. http://www.flickr.com/help/limits/#28 will explain the details. (Please note–I have an upgraded account with Flickr and it works well for my purposes).

Photobucket is pretty much a mirror image of Flickr. They allow you to store up to 5,000 images on their site for free.

Imageshack is another free service that I am not that familiar with. I know they provide you with URL’s to your images much like Flickr and Photobucket so that you can embed them in webpages, emails, or online posts. They also have some limitations.

Photoshop.com is the site I reviewed in my last post. In addition to giving you editting tools, it also provides you with 2GB of free space and 20 GB will cost you $20/year. Now most sites give you access to some sort of photo editting software. Flickr provides you with access to online editor Picnik and  Microsoft’s Live tools give you access to a Microsoft’s Live Photo Gallery.

Picasa  is the free image hosting service from Google. Picasa lets you store up to 1GB of web albums on their servers. Now this is the smallest I’ve seen however, if you use Firefox and have a Gmail account, you can download a plugin which will allow you to use the 8GB of email space Google has given you for file storage. There are some limited editting tools which will suffice for most purposes.

Now the one thing to remember is that if you are uploading very large files (the Canon Mark V raw file is about 77MB in size) these sites may alter them and convert them to JPG or it may simply shrink them in size. Flickr’s free service restricts the image size that you or your users can download and others may do the same. Your mileage may vary.

But remember that even if you lost you original version of that special pic, any sized backup is better than nothing. I am writing this in the hopes of encouraging you to save your history and to save artifacts for those who will follow us; our children, grandchildren, great-great-great grandchildren plus who knows which descendant of ours will be famous one day and a cousin can point to an old photo and say “See? we are too related!”

Next time…we’ll talk about pay image hosting sites.