My Reading List for 2019

This week I thought I would share my current 2019 reading list as it relates to my photography. The books fall into basically three categories: technique & technology, creative inspiration, and spiritual insight. My photography is at its best when I am fully able to tap these three areas.

Spiritual Insight

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First up is Sacred Depths of Nature, by Ursula Goodenough. It is first on the list as I just finished it, so I’m counting it on my 2019 list. As some of you know I was raised in Episcopal tradition and was quite active in the church in my youth and again when I had children. More importantly, throughout my life I have been a deeply spiritual person. My spiritual strength has been drawn from my time in nature. Weather it is walking the trails of a local park at dawn, or lying under a blanket of stars on a glacial moraine in the in Olympic National Park, my soul is fed and healed when I am immersed in the natural world. I am also a person of science. I have a thirst to understand our universe and our place in it. Some say that religion and science are at odds. I see it differently. Science is our never ending pursuit to understand the mechanisms and composition of our universe. Religion and more broadly spirituality, is the pursuit of understanding of that which is not measurable, that which transcends the physical universe.

Ursula Goodenough’s Sacred Depths of Nature is an important contribution to the dialog between science and religion. The book begins with the origins of the Earth and life, and then progresses through the evolution of life from single-cell to multi-cellular life forms. Successive chapters explore awareness, emotion, sex and sexuality, and ultimately death. At the end of each chapter she offers up a religious response to the topic, most often drawing from Judeo-Christian traditions. She includes reflections from other traditions as well. I found it to be an enjoyable and insightful read. Dr. Goodenough is a cellular biologist with a PhD in biology from Harvard. As I read the book, it was clear that the author’s was most familiar with the inter-workings of cells, yet her writing style is quite accessible, even for non-scientists. If you are trying to rationalize religion and science, I encourage you to give Sacred Depths of Nature a read.

Creative Inspiration

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I have a couple on tap in the creative inspiration category. I received a thoughtful Christmas gift of Around the World in 80 Trees, by Jonathan Drori. The book takes the reader on a journey around the world through a series of short essays. Each essay introduces the reader to a tree that is representative of a country. The journey begins in the UK with the London Plane, Platanus × acerifolia. The essays are quick and easy reads that provide a rich description of the tree. With the image of the subject clear in the reader’s mind, Drori explores the relationship of it with humans, from early civilization to present day. I have enjoyed learning about a few trees each night before turning out the light. I have made it from Europe to Africa with three quarters of the world yet to explore.

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Based on a recommendation from Cole Thompson, I picked up a copy of Ayn Rand’s, The Fountainhead. Cole referenced this book as a source of inspiration in his personal journey to find and express his creative vision. The Fountainhead centers around an architect, Howard Roark, a creator with a very unique vision which threatens conventional thinking. One Cole’s favorite Roark quotes is, “A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others.”  This idea resonated with me as well. I have avoided photo competitions and it was through a conference session with Cole Thompson where I first truly understood why. As I continue on my journey to find and express my vision, I hope to find inspiration from Howard Roark as well.

Technique & Technology

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One of my 2018 goals that has pushed into 2019 is to earn my FAA Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate (aka drone pilot license). To aid me in the learning and test prep process I have acquired, several texts including: ASA Remote Pilot Test Prep 2019, FAA Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge, and FAA Remote Pilot – Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Study Guide. To earn a remote pilot certificate involves taking an FAA exam on aeronautical knowledge. The test covers airspace classification, drone regulations, and reading aeronautical charts. Wish me luck…

I’m sure other books will find their way to my night stand or onto my tablet this year, but this feels like a good start.

 

 

 

First Impressions: Nikon Z7 and NIKKOR AF-S 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR Lens

© 2018 Nikon Inc.

Last month while attending the Nature Visions Photo Expo I had the opportunity to get my hands on the new Nikon Z7, full-frame mirrorless camera and the new AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR lens. This is not a rigorous review, merely my impressions of Nikon’s latest pieces of kit.

© 2018 Nikon Inc.

© 2018 Nikon Inc.

Coming from a D750, the Z7 is noticeably smaller and lighter. Both beneficial for landscape photography. However, it did not immediately feel at home in my hand, as some other reviewers have said. The AF On button and Multi-Selector are positioned differently and my thumb had to search to find them. The multi-selector in particular was hard to reach while shooting. The Sub-selector (joystick) can be used to move the AF point, but my hands are used to the multi-selector. With some practice, I’m sure it would become more natural. The electronic viewfinder was as brilliant as promised. So bright and clear you don’t even notice that it’s a display, aside from the wealth of information that is available without taking your eye away from the viewfinder.

© 2018 Nikon Inc.

© 2018 Nikon Inc.

The overall build quality is excellent and very much Nikon. The AF system was fast and accurate in my tests on the expo floor. The AF system has some trouble with small subjects on low contrast backgrounds, but I was clearly pushing to find its limits, with the AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF mounted with the F-mount adapter and shooting indoors.

The 500mm PF lens is pretty remarkable. It is light for a super-telephoto (only 3.2 lbs according to Nikon) and compact as well at just over 9 inches (without F-mount adapter for Z bodies). I could easily hand-hold this lens in the field for hours. The AF was fast and accurate, despite sub-par indoor lighting. I did find the limit of the Z7 + 500 PF combo, as noted above on small targets with low contrast backgrounds, but in real world use, it would likely perform well. The use of the Fresnel lens has enabled a lens with a long reach without the penalty of excessive weight. You do have to watch you light levels and there for ISO because at wide open, it just f/5.6. The extra stop of an f/4 lens would definitely be appreciated, but the light weight of this lens might get you places you would want to carry the 6.8 lbs f/4 500mm.

Relative to its bigger f/4 brother, the 500mm PF is also lighter on your wallet, around a third of the price.

CONCLUSION

I am not ready to make the leap to the Z7, but I would might Santa leaving a AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR under my tree. I also had a chance to get a quick hinds-on look at the D850 while at the show, and it is all they say it is, and yes, I want one.





Be Ready to Take Advantage of the Weather

 
EXIF: Nikkor 18-140mm (18mm) ISO 100 1/6 sec @ f 8

EXIF: Nikkor 18-140mm (18mm) ISO 100 1/6 sec @ f 8

As a part-time landscape photographer I have to work my photography in when I can between family and work obligations.  One way I to achieve this is to to have my camera bag ready to go when an opportunity presents itself (more on that another time).  One such opportunity came along recently.  An abrupt change in weather caused widespread dense fog across central North Carolina.  It was a school morning and I needed to drive my son to school.  I grabbed my gear and out the door we went.  After dropping my son, I stopped by a local park on my way home and found what felt like a never ending series of subjects and compositions.  Fog is an amazing aid to a photographer.  It removes potentially busy and cluttered backgrounds and enables you to isolate your subject easily.  Fog brings a wonderful mood to images and it extends the potential shooting time well past the golden hour with it soft defuse light, allowing you to shoot as long as the fog lasts.  On this day, I had to wrap long before I had exhausted all potential subjects. Work appointments and projects demanded my attention.  Never the less, I got a solid hour of shooting in and came away with more than a couple keeper.

EXIF: Nikkor 18-140mm (26mm) ISO 100 1/13 sec @ f 8

EXIF: Nikkor 18-140mm (26mm) ISO 100 1/13 sec @ f 8

When shooting in fog there are a few things to keep in mind to help maximize your chance of a successful image.  First, Use The Fog to isolate your subject and remove distractions. On the practical side, be sure to bring your tripod.  As you can see from the EXIF data on the images above, given the low light level you will be shooting at slow shutter speeds and a stable platform is crucial.  Next make sure you have a few microfiber lens clothes with you and perhaps a small towel.  Your lens and camera will will get some water droplets on it, no matter how careful you are.  Setting your camera up properly is the next important step.  Keep your ISO as low as possible to minimize noise.  In terms of focus and exposure, stick with manual.  You can use AF to get initial focus, assuming your subject is relatively close, but the fog can raise havoc with your camera's AF system, causing it to search endlessly for focus.  So, switch off AF and as always, switch off VR when using a tripod. 

Histogram exposed to the right to achieve my desired affect

Histogram exposed to the right to achieve my desired affect

Histogram of image at the exposure the camera chose on aperture priority

Histogram of image at the exposure the camera chose on aperture priority

To get the exposure right, use the histogram on your camera.  Don't be afraid to "expose to the right" and capture an image that looks overexposed on the camera back preview.  If your histogram does not clip the highlights, you can brings them down in post (I use Lightroom) and by shifting your exposure to the right, you pick up the ability to really bring out shadow detail that might otherwise be lost.  Shooting in aperture priority without exposure compensation will result in images that are under exposed.  The histograms above illustrate this for the boardwalk image at the top of this post.  

Lastly, enjoy the peace and solitude that comes from being in a natural area in the fog.  Get out an shoot the next time the fog rolls in, even if it is just in your backyard or local park.