Digital Dave's Ruminations

This is the place...

...where Digital Dave occasionally shares his thoughts on China, Photography, and other various and random subject-matter.

My three most recent posts will always appear on this page (unless you've arrived here via a direct link to a specific article). Use the archive links on the right sidebar to access previous posts. Most images on this blog can be clicked-on to view them in a larger size.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Ollie moves into his new home

When Oliver is determined to do something, just get out of his way. In the following sequence of photos, we see that Ollie has decided that he would look better in this trash can container than the trash can, itself. So he systematically and methodically removed the garbage can, sized-up the container, and moved in for a spell. Who was I to argue?

Move over, Oscar the Grouch...

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The larger versions of these photos in my galleries can be viewed by clicking on any of them.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Keep your eye on the puck...

How does one successfully photograph a fast-moving sport like hockey?

By keeping your eye on the puck, just like the player in the below photos is doing. (Of course it's not that simple, but it's still good advice!)

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I've been sporadically photographing my friend's amateur hockey team over the past few years and It's an ongoing challenge for me to come up with well-composed images that convey the essence of the game. It had been just over a year since I last photographed the team and I realized right out of the gate on this latest shoot that my rhythm was off. Hockey is a continual blur of motion, maybe the fastest-moving major sport out there, and a year away from even watching the game was not helpful in terms of my ability to anticipate the action. Muscle-memory eventually kicked in, however, and by the latter half of the second period I felt like I was starting to get dialed in.

Click to view larger image     Hockey: the Gentleman's Sport

I brought a fairly large arsenal of gear with me to this game, intending to do a little experimentation. In addition to the bread-and-butter D3 with the 70-200 f/2.8 mounted to it, and the D700 with the 24-70 f/2.8 for wide shots, I also brought along the D300 and the 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 to see how that combo would do for capturing action at the far end of the ice.

At these games my shooting position is at the outside end of the players bench (which is really the only place to shoot with an unimpeded view in the Oakland, CA, ice arena where these games are played) so the action at the far end of the ice relative to my position is a bit challenging for a maximum 200mm focal-length on a full-frame camera. The 70-300 zoomed to 300mm on the 1.5x crop-factor D300 gives me the full-frame equivalent of 450mm, of course, but with the penalty of a maximum aperture at that focal length of f/5.6 - a dubious proposition under the marginal lighting in the arena.

I'm wondering if maybe the ref's got an issue with this guy...

Also an impediment to shooting indoor sports with the 70-300 on the D300 is the fact that ISO 1600 is as high a sensitivity as I'm willing to use on that camera, whereas ISO 3200 is a setting that I routinely use on the D3/D700. In fact, for this shoot I had auto-ISO set on the D3/D700 with the maximum ISO set to 3200 and the minimum shutter-speed set to 1/640 of a second. Those settings gave me a shutter-speed of 1/500 of a second for virtually every shot and ISO sensitivities that ranged from 1200 to 3200. With the same settings on the D300, but with the maximum ISO set to 1600, I simply got too many shots with a shutter-speed of less than 1/250 of a second (often as low as 1/125 of a second), which is not quite enough for fast moving subjects.

In the end, however, it was none of the aforementioned issues that caused me to come to the conclusion that I'd leave at least the 70-300 home the next time. The bottom line is that, optically, the 70-300 just doesn't hold a candle to the 70-200. I did get plenty of useable images from the D300/70-300 combo, but when compared against the output from the D3/D700 with the 70-200, which was far sharper, had way more contrast, and exhibited much better clarity and acutance, I determined that it would just make more sense to work with less reach but better image quality and crop if and when necessary. The twelve million pixels of the D3/D700 has proven to be of high enough quantity and quality to do so.

Click to view larger imageA very heavily cropped image made with the D3 and the 70-200 f/2.8

As far as photographic composition is concerned, hockey presents its own unique set of problems, mostly related to the geometry of the composition but also related to such logistical matters as players skating in front of the camera and blocking the line-of-sight to your subject at the exact moment you're about to capture your "money shot" (though that particular issue is specific to the fact that I'm shooting from the bench and not from an elevated position in the arena, which is often the preferred location for photographing hockey). Both of the aforementioned issues are usually solved with some judicious cropping.

The biggest challenge presented by hockey for the photographer is, of course, just being able to follow and, optimally, anticipate, the action. Naturally, the more I watch and photograph the game, the better I get at knowing where and when to point my camera. It also helps to have a few preconceived ideas as to what type of photos you'd like to end up with (i.e., a shot on goal and its aftermath, a skater racing to the puck, a brutal cross-check, etc.) It's also important to remember that photos of the action itself isn't the only way to tell the story. Sometimes a portrait of a player coming off the ice or sitting on the bench watching his teammates conveys more about what's going on in the game than anything else.

There's more than one way to tell the story:Click to view larger image

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Of course, none of what I've talked about so far matters very much if focus on the intended subject can't be consistently attained and tracked, so optimizing the auto-focus settings on my cameras to the particular demands of shooting hockey is imperative. After experimenting at these hockey games over the years with virtually all of the myriad AF settings available on the pro Nikons, I'm satisfied that 9-point Dynamic AF is the way to go for hockey. That setting attains focus almost instantly and tracks the subject perfectly without ever jumping to another player wearing the same color uniform or inadvertently  picking up focus on an element in the background. This recent shoot was the first time that I did not end up with even one mis-focused image out  of a total of well over six hundred that I took. That has never happened before!

Click to view larger image     Keeping focus on the intended subject with 9-Pt. Dynamic AF

View the entire gallery of photos of this shoot here.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Ollie returns to the Berkeley Marina Playground

Now that Daylight Savings Time has returned and we get that all-important extra hour of light at the end of the day, Oliver & I are finally heading back to our favorite playground at the Berkeley Marina. We spent time there almost every day last summer and we're looking forward to having lots more fun there in 2009!

On our first visit back to the playground this year we were lucky to run into a friend that Oliver met there last summer, Alicia, who is just a few months younger than Ollie, and her mom. A great start to playground season!

Here are some highlights of our playground adventure. As usual, you can click on any image to view the larger version in my galleries.

Oliver can barely contain his glee when he realizes where we are:Click to view larger image

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Ollie at the helm:Click to view larger image

Oliver thinks it's a fine idea to dump a little sand on his new playmate's shoes:Click to view larger image

Ollie basks in the golden glow of an early March evening.Click to view larger image

Ollie has graduated to the "Big Boys" swings:Click to view larger image

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Who is this Berkeley Hippie kid? Click to view larger image

Oliver inspects a random baby:Click to view larger image

Spending time at the playground can be very exhausting work:Click to view larger image

Communing with the Berkeley shoreline:Click to view larger image

Oliver runs around with his friend Alicia and her mom:Click to view larger image

Ollie demonstrates his jumping skills for Alicia:Click to view larger image

Ollie makes his way up the dock so he can give his friend Alicia a nice hug:Click to view larger image

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A day at the park is incomplete without running through some puddles:Click to view larger image

Ollie 'hangs-ten' with his new girlfriend:Click to view larger image

Ma & Pa Kettle:Click to view larger image

The rest of the photos from this batch can be viewed in my galleries starting on this page.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Oliver pays a visit to his friend Eric's shop.

Just another typical day in Ollie's World...

Ollie frolics with Christine:Click to view larger image

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Oliver plays peek-a-boo with a random passerby:Click to view larger image

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Eric shows Ollie anudder way of looking at things...Click to view larger image

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Oliver gets to sit in the boss's chair:Click to view larger image

There's a few more beginning on this page in my galleries.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Would somebody please explain...

...why the auto white-balance functionality of my $299 iPhone's built-in camera works dramatically better under mixed artificial lighting than my $3000 Nikon D700 or my $5000 Nikon D3?


As you might expect of a $300 camera phone, there is no way to set the white balance - it relies on an automatic white-balance algorithm to set a white-balance that is appropriate for the lighting in the scene.

We all know that using the auto white-balance setting on our expensive DSLRs is a crapshoot at best - especially under mixed and artificial lighting. We virtually always end up with an image that is tinted and needs to be color-corrected in a photo-editing program. So we set our white-balance control to a preset that (hopefully) corresponds to the lighting in the room, or we take a reading of the lighting that we apply as a white-balance setting which usually gets us in the ballpark. Some degree of adjustment is still often necessary in post-processing.

Now, look at the photo below. It was shot with my new iPhone in a Berkeley restaurant that I frequent and where I've taken literally thousands of photographs with my pro DSLRs. The lighting in this restaurant is a nasty combination of tungsten and fluorescent lighting of various and sundry color temperatures.

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While this image does have a very slight, almost imperceptible tendency toward yellow, it is way more dialed-in than anything my Nikons would come up with. The skin-tone is pretty much spot-on, which is always the goal when setting the white-balance for a photo with people in it. Why can't my Nikons do this? What does Apple know that Nikon/Canon/Pentax/Olympus, et al., doesn't?

Maybe at some point I'll post an A to B comparison of a Nikon and an iPhone photograph of the same subject taken under the same lighting to better demonstrate the stark difference between the two auto white-balance algorithms. For now, suffice it to say the difference is substantial.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A few more from the 1.4

Here's a couple of portraits taken with the new AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G that perhaps will give you a better sense of how this lens does when shot wide-open than the example images I used in my earlier post comparing it with Nikon's  previous iteration of the 50mm f/1.4. These examples clearly demonstrate the improvements in the optical performance of this lens over the older version. Note the lack of any perceptible light-falloff at the edges and the  sharpness and detail of the in-focus areas of the images. (Bear in mind that at f/1.4, the depth-of-field is quite narrow. Focus was on the subject's eye.) Also note the reasonably clean bokeh (background-blur). It's not especially wonderful, but it's much more pleasing than what you'd have gotten with the older AF-D 50mm lens, which had a sort of mottled appearance.

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Not bad for a lens shot at its widest aperture, where its optical deficiencies are usually most apparent.

Both of the above images were shot with the 50mm on the D700 @ f/1.4 with a shutter-speed of 1/125 of a second. ISO sensitivity was 3200. The auto-focus module on the D700 was set to 51-point 3D in continuous-focus mode. The focus-point was selected manually and placed on the subject's eye. The AF- module kept focus on the eye as I moved the camera slightly to recompose. 

Per usual, you can click on the photos above to view the larger images in my galleries.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Ollie Checks-In with Uncle Dan McGonagle

It's been awhile since Dan has seen Oliver in a context other than sound asleep in the baby seat in the back of my car; a good year or so, in fact. Tonight, when we picked Dan up at the airport, it looked like Ollie would stay true to form and snooze away his opportunity to hang out with Dan. But, lo and behold, he woke up when we arrived at Dan's apartment, so we went upstairs to socialize for a bit.

Oliver immediately impressed Dan by turning on my new iPhone and tuning into a video of Thomas the Tank Engine on You Tube. No Luddite is our Ollie.

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After spending the next hour or so rearranging Dan's apartment, Ollie settled in with Dan's "dee dee" (better known as a guitar to most of the rest of the world) for a spell.

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Having grown tired of rocking out, Oliver decided it would be a good idea to eat one of Dan's DAT tapes that he found while rummaging around the apartment. DATs are old-school, after all, and Oliver apparently felt that he needed to nudge Dan forward a bit in the technological realm.

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Finally, Oliver encouraged Uncle Dan to engage in a few rounds of bounce the baby before retiring for the evening..

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A wonderful time was had by all (and very little damage was inflicted on Dan's apartment).