Points in Focus Photography

The fourth of July, Independence day in the USA. The one time per year I get to photograph serious firework displays with out having to travel out of my way or fight crowds. The only disadvantage, there’s never a foreground to speak up, which makes the images a lot less interesting.

However, it does have it’s advantages in a more abstract sense. With out foregrounds to worry about I can concentrate on composing abstract firework streaks.

Fireworks (photoillistration)
Fireworks – Show Camera – Photoillistration

As always preparation is key, and I have my camera’s setup and on their tripods long before the show even starts. My exposure is dialed in (manual mode), the lenses are focused to infinity and the AF/MF switches are set to manual, film speed is set, new CF cards are loaded and formatted, cable releases attached, etc.. Further I have a good idea of where I may want to place my camera or cameras before it gets completely dark. I tend to shoot two cameras, a Show camera and my primary camera. My show camera shoots continuously though the show, providing an overview of everything that happened. My primary camera, has me at the helm trying to intelligently compose images, or at least try not to make mess of things.

Independence Day Fireworks
Fireworks – Show Camera

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It’s that time of year again, the Northern Mockingbirds that nested a month or two ago are now in the “mommy feed me” stage.

A juvenile Northern Mockingbird (perched in front) has a berry in it’s mouth while one of its attentive parents (perched behind) stands ready with another.

Unfortunately for me this one has been sitting outside of my window but not somewhere I could be photographed all day, peeping continuously.

Juvinile Northern Mockingbird Begs for Food
An adult northern mockingbird feeds its young a berry.

Professionals and serious amateur photographers alike know that lens hoods are an important part of the lens. A properly designed lens hood shades the lens’s front element or protective filters, from stray non-image producing light. The stray light can bounce around inside the lens and reduce contrast as well as create flare (if sufficiently close to the lens’s field of view).

Lens hoods help to minimize those effects, but they have to be designed for the lens’s field of view. However currently many photographers are using smaller crop sensors with lenses with lens hoods designed for 135 format film. For example, the Canon EF 28-135 f/3.5-5.6 IS USM that comes as part of one of the Canon 50D kits, was designed to be used with a camera with a 35mm film size frame. As such the lens hood is designed to shade the field of view of a 28mm lens when there is a 35mm frame behind it. But on the 50D, the lens at 28mm has a much narrower field of view, in fact it’s equivalent to a 45mm lens on a full frame camera. In this case you can shade more of the lens with out vignetting showing in the image.

Anyway in the link below, David Burren has put together a table of possible alternate lens hoods for use on EF lenses when used on APS-C (1.6 crop) and APS-H (1.3 crop) Canon bodies. Keep in mind, not all lenses can be adapted, so if your lens isn’t in the list, it’s quite possible there isn’t an alternative hood available for it. Also note, EF-S lenses and lenses designed for crop format digital bodies (like Sigma’s DC line) have lens hoods designed to shade the lens as much as possible on a crop format body.

David Burren Photography: Alternate Canon lens hoods

It’s been the dream of serious digital photographers for a long time now, a small digital system with interchangeable lenses, near SLR image quality and a pocketable design.

The first real attempt at a “pro P&S” could be the Sigma DP1. Its large SLR sized (1.7x crop) sensor produced amazing images behind the fixed 16.6mm f/4 (28mm equivalent) lens. Sigma continued the DP series with the DP2, taking the same sensor and placing it behind a 24.2mm f/2.8 (41mm equivalent) fixed lens. But neither quite answered the call for a interchangeable lens pro level P&S.

Until now.

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If there’s one thing I’ve learned today, it’s that auto focus alignment tests are not for the faint of heart. Better yet, as I’m slowly becoming convinced, anyone. I certainly wouldn’t recommend even bothering unless you are almost certain that your lens is consistently misfocusing with significant repeatability.

I spent the better part of today working with a fellow photographer testing and adjusting the auto focus on both my EOS 1D and his Nikon D700. We were using the target from here. Our initial objective was to determine how viable testing and adjusting was using a simple target or whether a lens-align should be purchased. Suffice to say, our results were mixed and raised several questions about the overall accuracy and repeatability of these tests.

We started our tests using the 25% target as suggested, with mixed results. I have since repeated the tests with the 10% and 5% targets to insure that I was actually focusing where I was suppose to and not accidentally  locking on to the faint gray markings. We also worked as carefully as possible to align the camera to the target so the reading would be as accurate as possible. For starters, this is easier said than done.

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House of Refuge at Dawn
House of Refuge at Dawn

I was going though my reading list in Google reader and realized that Moose Peterson, is probably the most prolific poster of imagery of all the people I follow, not to mention he’s posting something like 2 or 3 times a day. Of course if you ask me, he’s lucky living somewhere with more accessible shooting locations.

I on the other hand, am trying to get out and shoot more, especially when the light is good, i.e. sunrise and sunset. Only so far it seems like a much harder thing for me to address living in south Florida. Most of the coast line is rather boring sandy beaches, and most of the interior locations are either parks that are closed for dawn and dusk or a long drive to get there.

In the name of getting out and shooting more sunrises and the like, I made the long drive up to Stuart, FL and Hutchinson Island to shoot the historic House of Refuge, the last one in the state of Florida and the oldest building in Martin county.

House of Refuge and Rocks at Dawn
House of Refuge and Rocks at Dawn

I’m not usually big on photographing gators, most of the time they just lie there in front of the worst possible background you can imagine. Sometimes you get lucky though. The water levels in Lettuce lake in the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary have dropped so much that at this point there’s only a few very small pools, the one this gator was in wasn’t much bigger than the gator itself.

An American Alligator in small gator hole with head raised just prior to snapping a warning bite, photographed at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.
Before the Bite

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The trip wasn’t only shooting pelicans, and while the population of shorebirds I’ve been shooting on the past couple of trips wasn’t there, there were birds.

A Semipalmated Sandpiper stands just at the edge of the surf on a beach on Sanibel Island on Florida's gulf coast.
Semipalmated Sandpiper

One of the few peeps (small sandpipers) I saw, I think all told I only saw a handful on the beach all day.

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Wildlife photographer Moose Peterson posted an entry on his blog regarding a question he is apparently asked with some regularity “which is better, FX or DX, for wildlife photography”. I think the most appropriate and telling comment though is his closing sentence, “Oh yeah, photo taken with FX or DX? Does it matter?” I think the answer is clearly no.

The thing that I think needs to be stressed, and that in my experience most people loose sight of, is that a camera is a tool. It’s a like a saw, hammer or paint brush, though considerably more complicated than any of those. Certainly, people will have preferences to which brand, platform or format; but ultimately, it’s a tool to arrive at a creative end and this is something that shouldn’t be forgotten.

This brings us back to FX and DX question. There are certainly advantages and disadvantages to either format. The biggest advantage crop formats offer, to me, is ability to use shorter lighter less expensive lenses for the same reach (a 400mm lens instead of a 600mm for instance). On the other hand, there are disadvantages, the smaller denser sensors tend to fare worse in lower light levels and demand the higher quality lenses to get optimal results.

As I was writing this, I started to consider the depth of field differences and whether they were an advantage or not. Crop formats have more depth of field for the same composition than a full frame variant, keeping equivalent focal lengths the same. In other words, shooting a bird on a perch from the same distance using a 400mm lens on a DX body and a 600mm lens on an FX body, the DX body will have deeper depth of field at the same aperture. When I first started writing this, I assumed depth of field would be both an advantage and disadvantage. An advantage because you could shoot at wider aperture and have the same depth of field as a full frame body thus use lower ISOs or higher shutter speeds; a disadvantage when you wanted to have narrow depth of field to isolate a subject.

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Sanibel Pelicans

One of the nice things I find about the Sanibel beaches is that you almost always have large easy to track targets moving along the beach continuously. Those targets, are Brown Pelicans, and I find them to be quite nice in many ways. They are fairly predictable in their flight patterns, and are very clear about their intentions when they are going to dive. They are also large and not super fast, making them easy to track with just about any auto focus system, as well as giving frame filling images with moderately long glass.

A Brown Pelican flys directly towards the camera while searching for prey in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Sanibel Island on Florida's gulf coast.
If I was a fish, this would probably be quite. well terminal.

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