Mesa Verde National Park is probably not the first place anyone thinks of when they think of interesting National Parks. Honestly, I can’t say it’s the first place I think of either. But it is interesting in its own way, and it’s especially interesting if you’re interested in anthropology and how early people dealt with the harsh landscape that is the American Southwest.

In late October of 2016, I went with my family on a road trip adventure across some of the American Southwest. I’ve already written about the Grand Canyon and Durango and the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge railroad. This time I want to talk about Mesa Verde, a rather obscure National Park focused on protecting some of the cultural heritage of the early peoples of the Southwest.

I’ve been to Mesa Verde twice, once in 1997 and once on this trip. Combined, I’ve probably spent less than 6 or 8 hours in the park. However, I have no recollection of even seeing a cliff dwelling, let alone visiting one, so that was something I wanted to rectify as much as possible this time.

Mesa Verde isn’t the biggest, the most impressive, or the most grand of the National Parks; that not its focus. Its focus is to protect archaeological sites of the ancestral Pueblo peoples that lived there more than 700 years ago.. These people survived in this harsh inhospitable area for nearly 700 years, only abandoning it in the late 13th century. Mesa Verde protects almost 5,000 archaeological sites, of which nearly 600 are cliff dwellings.

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Smell is as powerful as any other sense when it comes to triggering and forming memories. Smoke mixed with valve oil and steam from a coal fired stem engine is one of those triggers for me.

In late October of 2016, my family and I embarked on a 14 day road trip adventure around some of the American Southwest. This is the third installment in a series of posts detailing that trip. The first two posts detailing road tripping, driving, and traveling and the Grand Canyon National park can be found through those links.

Our second destination was Durango, Colorado. Home of the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and a close neighbor to Mesa Verde National Park.

 

Why Durango?

Why not?

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I’ve never been one for doing posts about the gear I use. In many ways, I don’t see the point. You’re not me. Your eye, your objectives, your interests, and so on, aren’t the same as mine. The natural consequence of that is that your gear isn’t going to, and probably shouldn’t, be the same as mine either.

However, I was thinking about this the other day, and I realized that what I’ve used over time would prove to be an interesting look into my evolution as a photograpehr. When I realized that, I also realized that I was a little sorry that I haven’t regularly been writing up something about what I use and why. If only so I could go back and look at how my own preferences have changed over time.

So I’m starting here. I’m not going to list every piece of gear I own or go through my camera bag and pull everything out and talk about it. I don’t have a fixed bag of gear; what I’ll have on me at any point changes based on what I’m doing and where I’m doing it. Instead I’ll be talking about what I find I gravitate towards most regularly, and why. That’s where I think the interesting things come from over time anyway.

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As if it was a lighthouse in the dark of night, the brilliant golden glow of the setting sun reflects off the unseen windows of the main dining hall on the North Rim. The building is unseen, buried in 100 foot high firs and pines that line the North Rim some 14 miles away.

It’s hard to talk about something like the Grand Canyon in a meaningful way. For those that get it; those that care; those that are willing to allow themselves to stand quite, humbled in the face of rock and water and air at the precipice, there’s little that really needs to be said.

For others, there are few, if any, words that can convey anything of value. They can come and stand at the precipice, and see only a tick in a box on a bucket list of places that merely visiting for a brief moment is felt sufficient to speak accomplishment.

This is my struggle when it comes to writing about the Grand Canyon. Anything I write seems to me to be either an echo of something already known, or merely noise demanding care or attention over something seen with little value.

In late October of 2016, I went with my family on a 2 week road trip around the American Southwest. This is the second part of my ongoing story. The first article talked a bit about the traveling aspects of the trip: driving and flying. This time I’ll be talking about the Grand Canyon.

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In late October of 2016, my family and I went on a 2 week road trip around the American Southwest. Over 14 days we drove nearly 1,400 miles visiting almost a dozen major points of interest. This is the first post in a serious of posts detailing my experiences in visiting and photographing those locations.

Before I start talking about specific places, I want to talk a bit about my overall objectives with this series and the broader points around travel as it related to this trip.

When I came back from Alaska in 2015, I wrote up a series of posts detailing my experiences — with an eye towards trying to maximize photographic opportunities — on that trip. In many ways, I like that idea if only because it leaves me a record of what I did right and what I thought I could do better given another shot.

I’ve been struggling with trying to do the same for this trip, and I really mean struggling. In 2015, I managed to get my first article up within 2 months of coming back. This time I’ve been banging my head agains the wall trying to write about the experiences for almost 5 months now.

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I was recently reading the comments — I know, I know, I shouldn’t read comments — on Canon Rumors post about Lens Rentals Tear down of Canon’s new EF 70–300 f/4.5–5.6 IS USM II and a poster was lamenting about how Canon is redefining full time manual to mean something other than the focus ring being mechanically connected to the focusing mechanism.

I see arguments like this come up over with some regularity when people talk about focus by wire, or electronic focus, lenses. Presumably, based on the tone of most if not all of these kinds of posts, it’s meant to be a complaint or criticism of electronic focusing lenses. And I just don’t see the point, I guess you could call it, that they’re making.

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Over the last weeks of 2016, I’ve been working on a lot of behind the scenes upgrades to my site here. About half of those change have been behind the scenes tweaks and improvements that make things more efficient. The other half has been a bit of an overhaul of the theme, layout, and front end.

While I could go on to great lengths about the ins and outs of the design change and the code behind the scenes, that’s not really the purpose here. Instead, I want to talk about one specific area, displaying images on a computer, or rather how I’m increasingly finding computers a poor way to display images.

For a while now, my gallery has been somewhat unloved, and I’ve not been especially happy with it’s presentation either. One of my objectives, though I didn’t know it when I started, with this update cycle was to do something about the gallery to make it more appealing to me.

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When the megapixel wars were in full swing, it wasn’t uncommon to find photographers poo-pooing the race to add more pixels. While there certainly is some truth to that point of view, it’s not entirely representative of the pixels situation.

The counter point to the fewer better pixels argument is that more pixels really do capture more detail. Moreover, even if at the pixel level they are noisier, in the resulting images the noise becomes finer grained and as a result less distracting.

The reality is, that so long as the increase in pixels isn’t causing a problem for other needs — for example, you aren’t limited to 3 FPS when you need 10 FPS to do you job — having more pixels makes better images overall.

However, there are a number of places where this does fall apart to some degree. And ultimately this is where the real balance has to be struck between more pixels, better pixels, and marketing numbers that sell the next generation of cameras.

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I don’t generally make a point of posting updates about the goings and comings of content on this site, and in the past I’ve disappeared for months at a time with nary a word. However, this year I’ve been pretty consistently putting up at least something weekly.

That said, since I started Points in Focus, I haven’t been in the sights of a Category 4 hurricane either.

In fact, South Florida as a whole, hasn’t see a significant hurricane in over a decade.

So here’s the deal as far as content goes for October and November.

I already noted in my podcast a couple of weeks ago, that I would be backing off on normal written articles for a while. So that’s pretty much covered. I already had a lot on my plate for the second half of October and pretty much all of November so I wasn’t planning on getting anything significant out over that time period anyway.

On the other hand, I had intended to keep doing my weekly podcast through most of this time. I’ve already recorded and uploaded the podcast for Thursday Oct, 6, 2016. It will publish at it’s expected usual time.

Going forward, however, things depend entirely on the effects of Matthew on South Florida. Right now, by my estimates, the best case scenario I see is that my next podcast will be published on or after November 3rd, 2016. However, depending on the exact situation with Matthew, resumption of content may be considerable further in the future.

I’ll try to keep this post updated if things change significantly in the coming days.

Update 2016-10-14: The good news, for me and my family at least, was that hurricane Matthew passed far enough northeast of us that we didn’t receive anywhere near the winds and weather that I had anticipated, even in the best case. In fact, while we have notoriously unreliable power when there’s any kind of wind involved, we didn’t even lose power here.

That said, while we weathered the storm much better than I had expected, between the mental and physical stress of preparing for Matthew, and the process of moving all the crap we moved inside back outside to where it normally lives, I’ve decided to stick with my previous schedule of posting my next podcast on the 3rd of November.

See y’all in a couple of weeks.

 

For the last year or so I’ve been talking about features I’d love to see implemented in camera gear. This time I want to talk about having a proper continuous modeling light built into a hotshot flash.

Before I get into the meat of my idea, the first question one might ask is simply, what’s my problem with the status quo?

After all, most hotshoe flashes in addition to being a flash, have some form of modeling capability (by strobing the flash tube) along with some form of autofocus assist capability (typically with red or near-IR LEDs). After all they do provide the intended functionality to a large degree.

So what does having an actual LED modeling light enable that having IR autofocus LEDs or strobing the flash tube doesn’t?

I have two main use cases where I think this would be a beneficial idea. First is for people who need to shoot video. Specifically I’m thinking about photojournalists, who are increasingly being asked to get video clips for their publication’s website, but the idea applies elsewhere too. With things as they are now, you ideally need a speed light for stills in a wide range of conditions, and a separate video light of some sort — at least potentially — for video. With my idea, you’d just have your speed light.

The second case where I think it would be useful is in strait up using speed lights as a replacement for studio strobes. Admittedly this is also a personal point for me. I have nothing against studio strobes, I just never went down that path. However, I do a lot of product photography for this site, where I use speed lights in various modifiers (e.g., the Lastolite EzBox Hotshoe).

The thing with studio shooting is that you don’t want ambient light contaminating the colors in the images you make. That means generally you keep the studio dark so the only light comes from the strobes themselves. With speed lights, that also means you don’t have much if any light illuminating the subject matter for focusing and composition.

Okay, so clearly the idea here is that I’d like to see a continuous LED modeling light in a flash. Canon already did something kind of like this in their Speedlite 320 Ex. Well except not really. Yes, they put an LED on the light, but it’s not integrated with the zoom head, so it doesn’t actually model what the flash would do. Moreover, as far as I know it doesn’t track flash power, or have any kind of power adjustment at all.

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