Monday, December 31, 2012

Dad on New Year's Eve

I wanted to get a few pictures of my Mom and Dad while they were in town during their California Christmas visit. They were standing in our front lawn when my uncle (my mom's older brother) stopped by to see them. My mom went over to talk to him and, as they chatted at camera right, my dad watched.

I was taking some test shots of my dad. I didn't want him posing or anything like that: I told him I was going to test to make sure my off-camera flash and Pocket Wizards were working together.

This is the first test shot:

Dad on New Year's Eve 

I really shouldn't have bothered with fill-flash: the picture was really, really bad, and I had to do some post-processing to get a halfway decent picture. Sometimes I think my D600 has an overexposure problem in some situations, but I'm betting it's more operator error than anything else.

And on that note: Happy New Year, everyone. Be safe out there, and have fun. And thanks for stopping by and following my blog over the past year. 

(Shot with the Nikon D600 using the 50mm f/1.8 lens; shutter-priority mode, with shutter set to 1/160 second; camera chose f/3.5 at ISO 200; auto white balance; -2.0 flash compensation; normal JPG.) 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Bailey (2010? - 2012)

We put our last rat, Bailey, to sleep this morning. He'd been outwardly healthy until a few days ago, but he started acting "off" and lost much of the use of his back legs. It was time.

We don't know for certain how old he was when we got him: he'd been confiscated, along with a snake, by animal control, and was earmarked as raptor food when Gayle brought him home. He was not the most cuddly of the rats we've had. He kept himself occupied in the two-story cage that he inherited after the last of the previous four rat occupants died.

For most of the time he was with us he had this nasal congestion that we never figured out. Oftentimes he would make these squeaking or barking sounds as he ate, or as he groomed himself. We had read that such sounds are not normal for rats, so we had him checked repeatedly by his vet. But never did he develop any sort of respiratory problems in his lungs. And many, many times it seemed he could choose when and when not to make those sounds, which was very puzzling. One would think that if he was ill he would constantly make those squeaks, but he didn't.

Around dinnertime he always could be found on the second floor, at the corner of his cage nearest the kitchen, either standing tall, or squatting, and taking in any smells from food that he liked in the kitchen. We would often stop what we were doing and go talk to him, then open a cage door so we could take him out and hold him for a few moments before we put him back and we went on with whatever we were doing.

Eventually, we settled into an evening routine of feeding and treating him after I had walked Sadie and Katie around the block. First, I cleaned out all three of his litter pans and filled them with new newspaper. Then if he had soiled the newspapers lining his floor pans I'd replace those with new sheets of paper. (He had a habit of getting in the way when I tried to remove the soiled newspaper, so I would have to gently nudge him away so I could finish.)

Now it was time to prepare his food. I'd grab one large and two small ceramic bowls, and place them on a cutting board. In one small bowl I'd spoon a small dollop of baby food, add 0.15cc of Benadyl, place the bowl in the microwave and heat for 6-7 seconds. Then I opened his cage door and placed it on the second-story floor of his cage, whereupon he ran to the bowl and ate. While he was occupied with that, I'd pour some oatmeal and Cheerios in his second bowl, and gave that to him after making sure all the baby food (and medicine) was gone. Then the large bowl was filled with fruits and veggies, and then into the cage that bowl went.

The routine of cleaning and feeding could be tedious, and at times be a downright chore when I wasn't in the best of moods. But watching him go over his food, grab a piece and begin eating while manipulating the morsel in his little hands was something all of us never got tired of.

Tonight, I looked at his cage with the newspaper-lined pans; the cut sheets of flannel Gayle had placed atop the newspaper so that his failing hind feet would not slip; the cubical tent with the openings that he would peek out of whenever we offered food; the litter pans where he would often stash his food in one of its corners; the big plastic igloos where he would often retreat with a prized chunk of banana. It is too quiet.

My evening routine has now changed; the reality is that I no longer have to spend time cleaning litter pans and preparing bowls of food. I now have a little more free time for myself: I can choose to spend that time on things that I have put aside because I was cleaning and preparing.

I hate this reality.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Inu (2002 - 2012)

"The one best place to bury a good dog is in the heart of his master." -- Ben Hur Lampman


Excuse me, pardon me

I was browsing through pictures I had taken during our 2008 family vacation in the Galapagos when I came across our close encounter with a sea lion pup at Puerto Egas on Isla Santiago. We had been up close with California sea lions before this trip: both Gayle and Rachel had volunteered at a marine mammal care center rehabbing injured or ill marine mammals (sea lions and seals) back to health before releasing them back to the wild, and we all got to photograph the mammals in their pens as they recovered. So being close like this was nothing new to us. But seeing them in their natural environment was quite different from visiting them in a concrete pen.

Anyway, we made a wet landing at Puerto Egas and then walked a trail that led to some of the discarded mining equipment and buildings that still remain from the mining days. We walked over lava beds that were interrupted by stretches of gravelly beach to see pups dozing in the warm equatorial sun:

Everyone loves photographing sea lion pups


When we crossed one lava bed and stepped onto a gravel beach, our naturalist had us pause because there was a sea lion pup just to the left of our group, lying under the shade of lava flow and just a few feet away. The pup then got up and began walking over in our direction:

A sea lion pup approaches our group

But then before it reached it plopped back on the gravel:



We stepped around it so that we wouldn't block its path to the beach. But the pup was in no hurry to leave:


After a few moments it began to move off:


Next to a pool of water it stopped to scratch itself:



When we last saw the pup it was headed towards the beach:


I wonder if this pup is still around.

(Shot with the Nikon D300 using the 18-200mm VR zoom; program mode; auto white balance; normal JPG.)

Thursday, December 20, 2012


Romeo is a galgo español. He was adopted six years ago. I took this in his owner's backyard on a mid-Saturday afternoon when the sky was punctuated by large rafts of clouds. I had him stand in a pool of sunlight, and tried to not overexpose his white face. He stood out from the dark grass in the background, and adding a vignette directs your eyes to his.

Six years ago I had never met nor heard of galgos. But since then I have been fortunate to have met several of them. They are a special breed of dog, and deserve a better fate than that which befalls too many of them after their hunting days are over in Spain.


I converted this into black-and-white to see what I would get:


I'm not sure which version I like better. Maybe it's just as well that I like both.

(Shot with the Nikon D600 with the 50mm f/1.8 lens; aperture-priority, with aperture set at f/4; camera set shutter speed of 1/400 second at ISO 100; auto white balance; shot in RAW, converted to Adobe DNG and imported into Lightroom.)

Friday, December 14, 2012


I was going to write something about photographing Tadeo the galgo last weekend, but words are failing me right now; I have nothing useful to say. So I'll just share a few pictures of him instead:



Tadeo and Romeo

I'll just mention that the first two photos are at ISO 6400: softness in his body fur is due to noise reduction which smudges details. But, to me, it's still scary good over my D300.

(Shot with the Nikon D600 with the 50mm f/1.8 and 70-200mm VR zoom.)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

It's been two months...

...since I last photographed Sadie.


(Shot with the Nikon D600 using the 50mm f/1.8 lens; aperture-priority, with aperture set to f/4; camera chose 1/50 second at ISO 320; auto white balance; center-weighted metered; converted to black-and-white using Lightroom; normal JPG.) 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Before and After #2: Ava

I haven't done this in several months, but I thought I'd share another before-and-after shot. This picture of Ava shows her standing on the driveway that leads up to the Richardson house atop Marye's Heights in Fredericksburg, VA.

It's overexposed to a great degree, so I backed off the exposure overall by about a half stop. The sunlit side on the right side of her neck and chest were overexposed as well, so I used an adjustment brush to burn in those areas, but not too much. Adding a vignette darkened her ears too much, so I dodged her ears with another adjustment brush (it's hard to make out since it's such a small area in the picture). Last of all, I cloned out her red leash and its shadow, which wasn't hard to do but it was time-consuming.

And I encountered the memory problem that other Lightroom users have run into when placing more than 10 cloned spots on one picture:. I had to exit out of Lightroom to free up memory. It's somewhat annoying, and I've read it hasn't been fixed in Lightroom 4 yet, either.

Note also that I'm working with an Adobe DNG file: I had to convert it from a Nikon NEF raw file to Adobe DNG because Lightroom 3.6 (the version I use) doesn't support D600 RAW files and never will. (I also didn't want to install Nikon's own software because that would add another step in my workflow.)  Adobe stopped supporting my version months ago, so I have no choice but to upgrade to LR 4 (and Windows 7). Which brings up the problem of software companies always playing catch-up when new cameras are introduced with their particular RAW files if that's what you like to shoot. If I had shot JPEG, no problem.

Shooting the moon

A friend of mine asked me to write about a few moon photos that appear in one of my Dewey Beach galleries. I'll toss in a couple photos from another gallery and talk a little about them, too. But just know that I have little experience when it comes to photographing the moon.

When I do photograph it oftentimes it's because I want to see how the camera handles the lighting and exposure, and less about being artistic.

Soon after I arrived at Dewey Beach on Thursday evening, another friend there pointed out the moon rising out of the ocean with a few ships crossing on the horizon. So I went out to one of the balconies that faced the beach, set the camera to aperture-priority, the aperture to f/2.8, put a focus point on the moonlit water (because your autofocus needs an edge to focus on), placed the camera on a railing, and fired one shot. This is that first attempt:


Not bad considering it used a shutter speed of 1/8 second at ISO 6400 (as I've said before in an earlier post I'd never consciously use an ISO value that high on my D300). (It looks worse viewed full-size!) I used the default matrix meter setting, which tries to determine what your subject is and, based on that, calculates what the exposure should be. Note the moon (which was nearly full) is way overexposed. In a perfect world, I'd have the camera mounted on a tripod, a cable release to trip the shutter to minimize camera shake, and an viewfinder cover to prevent light from entering the camera through the eyepiece.

As I mentioned above, that picture used aperture-priority exposure mode, mostly because since the subjects in the picture (beach, clouds, ocean, moon) are pretty close to infinity away from me, so I can get away with using a large aperture (f/2.8) to keep the exposure time from getting too long. If you wanted to make it easy, just set your camera to "P" (Program) mode and let the camera figure out the shutter speed and aperture.

On my second try, the moon rose further out from behind the high clouds and became brighter, so the camera picked a shorter shutter speed (1/20 second) while the aperture and the ISO remained the same:


Note that the moonlit water is darker, as is the sky between the horizon and the moon. The moon is still way overexposed but not quite the blob in the first picture.

For the third try, the moon was nearly unobscured by clouds, so the camera shortened the exposure time even more: 1/25 second. Again, the aperture and ISO remained the same:


Just a little bit darker, but now note that the moon looks more like a sphere. This tells you that, if you wanted to photograph the moon only, you'd have to choose a much faster shutter speed to expose it properly than what I used here. But if you intended to include the beach and ocean, all of that would appear darker. Maybe that wasn't your intent.

As a matter of habit I preview the images in the display and adjust my settings accordingly.

Want to see what happens when I let the camera choose everything? I got this:


The camera chose 1/13 second at f/1.8 (wide open on the 50mm lens I was using) at ISO 6400 with -2/3 exposure compensation. Looks okay, but ultimately I had to ask myself: is this the picture I wanted and saw in my mind.

Here's another picture I took of a moonlit scene (this was taken at Academy Bay, Puerto Ayora, Isla Santa Cruz, Galapagos) because I wanted to see what I'd get:


This was in Program mode and matrix-metered using the 18-200mm zoom lens: 1/2 second at f/3.5 at ISO 1000 on our boat, Flamingo I, on which we spent eight days exploring the Galapagos. Again, it looks better this size than full-size.

One last thing: here's what you can get if you spot-meter the moon with a focus point:

Full moon

In the D600 the spot meter measures the light within a 4mm circle centered on whatever focus point you're using. If I had used matrix-metering here I'm faily sure that the moon would be somewhat overexposed because it would measure the moon's light as well as the area surrounding it. So instead I put a focus point on the moon and opted to spot-meter it, knowing that I would get a faster shutter speed because the spot meter would measure just the moon's light. As a result, the moon is more properly exposed here. (And it did help that I used my Nikon 300mm f/4 telephoto to get a bigger image.)

The next time you get a chance to photograph the moonlit landscape or seascape, just try and take a few pictures and see what you get. Preview your images and adjust accordingly. Have fun!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Remembrance is a powerful thing

On Sunday at Greyhounds Rock the Tripawds founders, Jim Nelson and René Agredano, had a tribute leash on their table in the vendor area. And attached to this leash were ribbons of all colors -- some with a little angel ornament. And on each ribbon is a name of a dog that lives with cancer, or that has been claimed by it.

The Tripawds Tribute Leash Project

We added a ribbon each for Alex and Nikki as a tribute, and to let them know that we have not forgotten them. I remembered, and for a few minutes I could not see.

We added Alex and Nikki's name to the leash

During Jim and René's lecture later that morning, I could not help but capture a moment when Jim had to pause and remember as he was describing a picture of Jerry, their German Shepherd, taking one of his last rides before the end.

Jim pauses with Jerry's picture taken during one of his last rides

Remembrance is a powerful thing.

(Here's a link to the PBS Nature documentary's segment of Jim, René, and Jerry's diagnosis. And this is a link to the entire Nature episode.)