Saturday, July 31, 2010

August Background

First off, let me pat myself on the back for a full year of desktop backgrounds. I started this last August after the second annual Scott Kelby World Wide Photo Walk. Twelve months later, here we are.

Credit where it is due: I got the idea from David duChemin - though after the first few months I abandoned the idea of a built in month-view calendar.

To celebrate a full year of backgrounds, I've got THREE choices for you this month, all with a common theme - Sunflowers!

Enjoy, and have a great month!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Memory Cards

First off, if you like, The Directory of marketing at Lexar, talking about the advantages of high-speed memory cards. Not the best video in the world - but it gets the point across.

In the olden days, photographers used something called film as a medium to record their photographs. While a few people still do use film, many have moved to digital.

Instead of film, digital photography requires memory cards.
There are a whole host of types and sizes of memory cards - each with its own unique advantages.

The two main types used in digital cameras are Compact Flash (CF) and Secure Digital (SD). Most "pro" or "prosumer" cameras are chambered for CF cards, though some (like the Nikon D300s) can accept both CF and SD.

Consequently, CF cards tend to be expensive. I suppose the theory is that if you can afford to spend $5,000 on a camera, you can probably throw down $10 for a memory card or two.

Interestingly enough, many people don't understand that with memory cards, you really do get what you pay for. The two important aspects of a memory card are its size in gigabytes and its speed, in Mb/s.

I use LEXAR 4gb, 300x cards. That means that each of my memory cards holds 4 gigabytes of photos and that the card has relatively high read/write speeds of 45MB/sec. These cards generally run $75 for 4gb which is just about middle of the line for Compact Flash. If you want the superfast high capacity cards, you can get 32gb 600x cards that read/write at 90MB/sec. Direct from Lexar, that will run you $500 per card. Ouch.

On the other end of the spectrum, you can also get an 8gb CF card for $20 - so why would you ever pay more? It depends on your need for speed! Inexpensive cards are slow. If using a 300x card is like using a water faucet - pouring your photos into your computer, these no-name cards can be likened to dripping molasses. You take a picture and your camera takes forever to load it to the card. At the end of the day, budget at least 10 minutes for your 8gb card to download to your computer. By comparison, a full 300x card takes about two minutes to load via Firewire 800.

low speed, $20 card

Does everyone need high speed expensive cards? No way! If you take pictures one at a time (no motor drive) and you don't mind waiting for your card to download to your computer - by all means go with the cheap option!

I shoot sports. I shoot fast. I find that even my 300x cards bog me down during heavy sports shooting. I'm limited to a 12 frame buffer which takes about two seconds to fill at my highest frame rate. I then wait two seconds, and continue shooting. At the end of the day, I'm on deadline. The faster I get my photos uploaded, the faster the news release or the newspaper or whatever can get published.

Compact Flash are not the only options for high-end cameras though. SD cards are abundant, and cheaper! Micro SD cards, with an adapter, can also be used in many cameras. The big downside of that - SD cards aren't as fast. Even Lexar's high-end SD cards top out at 133x, about 20MB/sec. You can get them in sizes up to 32gb, but the slow read/write time means you won't be capturing action like those using CF cards.

Of course, your memory card isn't the only possible bottleneck at the end of the day - you need a card reader to interface with your computer and the card. It acts as a middleman, and is the biggest cause of slow downloads that I know of. Even the middle-of-the-road memory cards won't perform to their full potential if a slow card reader is being used.

Mac users have two options for card readers. Firewire or USB 2.0. Firewire is faster and consequently more expensive. Most Windows users don't have Firewire ports, so USB 2.0 is your limit. I recommend staying away from the "all in one" or "32 in 1" card readers. They are meant to be convenient, not fast. I use a Lexar Firewire 800 Compact Flash card reader. It only does one card, but it does it expediently. On the other hand, I also bought a $15 all in one card reader from Target (above) that lives in my backpack as a backup. It takes about 5 times longer than my Firewire reader to transfer data from the same card. Again, you get what you pay for, and you're paying for speed.

The most important thing to know is how much you really need speed either at the camera, or on the computer at the end of the shoot. If it isn't a big deal, there's nothing wrong with saving some money on memory cards and buying the cheap stuff. If you like your memory cards fast, reliable, fast and did I say fast - go with 300x or faster on the memory card, and the card reader.

Whew. Long post. Hopefully at least mildly educational though.

Comments/questions are always appreciated!

Self Portrait #6

Pretty sure this is my sixth self portrait of the Summer.

Taken in the rain in my backyard in Boulder.

Sarong + Katana

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

This week in photography II

Here are a few shots I got in the last week.

The deck I worked on for the last 3 days

My little brother's Mazda

I didn't manage to get a self portrait done this week. Shame on me. I'll do at least one this week!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Warning: Nudity

Yup. This post has some nakedness in it. If you can't appreciate the beauty of the human form or you just dont like anything about being naked, you might want to skip this post. I won't be offended, honest.

For those of you who can handle it, by all means continue.

I was contacted by a young lady looking to get some photos done of herself. She apparently found me via Model Mayhem.

After exchanging email and meeting over chai, we decided to do a series of 40 photos with her in various states of undress.

Below are my two top pics from the series, done in two shoots over 4 hours and encompassing a total of 2000 frames.

As usual, click to enlarge.

What do you think?

I'm quite proud of them, and not just because of the subject matter. I told myself for the longest time that I wouldn't shoot nudes because few people can appreciate them, even when tastefully done. When I got the opportunity to do this series, I took it cautiously. Now that I've done it, I'm looking forward to doing more nudes in the future. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Random portrait: VA

I did a shoot with VA, a buddy from high school and a budding graphic designer, a couple weeks back.
I wasn't particularly happy with the results of the shoot, save this picture, which I really like.

VA would have you believe she's a badass, no-nonsense, killing machine. While that may be true most of the time, I was pleased beyond words to get a much more vulnerable, much more subdued moment from her in this photo. 

Careful though - if you bring it up, she might have to kill you!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Self Portrait #5

I think this is my fifth self portrait for the summer - though I may be mistaken.

Shot between midnight and 2am. I had a lovely assistant to press the button for me, as I didn't want to be holding a remote. The lens is my 28mm f/2.8. Manual focus in the dark is tough.

Light is all from a nearby street lamp. I tried to use a strobe and it just didn't work out. Perhaps if I had a bigger, badder strobe... Ah well - the long exposures worked out fairly well

I've already got my next shot in the series planned out - look for it in about a week!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Boulder Community Computers

I finally got around to taking some pictures at Boulder Community Computers (bococo), a non-profit organization that caught my eye in an article in the Daily Camera a few weeks back. I've volunteered there four times this last week, and enjoyed every minute of it.

About Bococo :

Boulder Community Computers (Bococo) is a non-profit that bridges the digital divide and prevents electronic waste in Boulder. We refurbish old computer equipment and allow people to purchase, barter, or earn it through work trade. We also host classes at our shop and in select communities around Boulder.

 I sauntered into the shop at 2232 Pearl St. last Saturday to find about 10 people wandering around, taking apart computers and having a bunch of fun. I was immediately welcomed by several people, including Eric, the guy who runs the place. He has a mohawk, ergo he is awesome.

Photo by Mark Leffingwell for the Daily Camera

The boss has a mohawk and the goal of the organization is to tinker with computers. Pretty much my idea of total awesomeness in a nutshell. 

Anyway, after meeting and greeting the people in the shop, I was immediately put to work ripping apart a computer. Complete disassembly. I worked with a gentleman whose name I dont remember, but who I have seen often around the shop. He taught me how to take out the power supply and the motherboard, neither of which I had ever touched before. I knew how to get rid of the RAM and the hard drive, as well as the various optical drives. The point is - I learned something new within the first five minutes of the build session!
Bridging the age-gap as well as the digital divide, two volunteers teach each other about the inner workings of a Dell computer.

I disassembled computers and sorted parts for the better part of three hours. Lunch was served (very important to keep volunteers fed) and then I wandered around the shop doing whatever I could and trying to stay out of the way of the people doing actual work.

Super-Geeks creating an imaging server or some such fancy device

I came back on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and again on Saturday to be as helpful as I could. In exchange for (so far) 18 hours of service, I was given an Apple G5 tower. They don't get many macs which is good, because the current operation involves stripping the operating system out of all the computers they build, and replacing it with various flavors of linux. Ubuntu, Lubuntu, Kubuntu etc.
Though the Apple OSX is linux-based, they don't try to run Ubuntu on mac hardware.

The guts of the G5 tower for which I traded my time

With my 18 hours, plus Eric who is there full time, plus a few interns, we managed to reorganize the interior of the shop into a much more usable space in under a week. We moved shelves, created workspaces, labeled and sorted parts, and stacked oodles and oodles of computers.

One of the workstations

One of the big goals of the operation is to educate people about computers. Teaching not only how to take one apart or put one together, but also how to use a computer, specifically one using the free Ubuntu operating system. While volunteering, everyone in the shop is dedicated to educating and helping one another. There are super-geeks working alongside the computer illiterate, and everyone has an absolute blast.

It doesn't matter how old you are, how computer savvy you are, or how sociable you are - Boulder Community Computers is more than just a computer shop, it's a free and open community. 

Check them out on Twitter - Facebook - Website

Help spread the word!

Friday, July 16, 2010

You can pick your nose...

I very much enjoyed photographing one of my long-time clients earlier this week. I've had the privilege of watching their two boys grow older, and I look forward to continuing that tradition in the future.

This past photo shoot reminded me very much of what my little brother and I were like, so many years ago. Of course it seems like forever ago to me, though I'm sure my parents remember it like it was yesterday.

Getting them to cooperate for 30 seconds at a time isn't so bad, though getting both to smile was much harder than getting them to frown, which they found highly amusing.

Of course a little friendly pushing and shoving came to noogies which lead to hair pulling and punching...

Eventually, somebody ends up pouting after the stern "Am I going to have to separate you two?" from mom or dad.

In the end though, we did get everyone together for a nice family portrait... 

Though I'm afraid boys will be boys, and Mom is sometimes just along for the ride!

Seriously though, we did manage to get a family portrait without any tongues, nose-picking, or frowning.

I even managed to learn a little about myself during this shoot. I very much enjoyed the whole experience, but I particularly liked photographing the boys. It seems my reluctance to stand in front of people and yell "Say CHEEEEZE!!!!" is still present - mainly because I think it leads to cheesy photographs, rather than something that captures the family spirit. Let's be honest, nothing captures family spirit like noogies, or some wholesome nose-picking.

Lesson one

If I had to pick one thing to tell any photographer - young or old, new or experienced, that I could guarantee would improve the quality of their work - it would be this.

Shoot MORE.

It doesn't matter how many classes you take, how many blogs you read, how much expensive gear you have - if you aren't constantly shooting, you aren't improving.

Not much of an epiphany, but something we all need to hear. Myself included.

I shot this frame in the middle of another shoot at Chautauqua Park. She was tottering around at the edge of my field of view, so I dialed in a new exposure and rapid-fired with my 200mm racked all the way out - like the total creeper I am. Ten seconds later she was back playing with her friends and I was back to the shoot at hand.

Sorry about the Blog Lite this week. I've been relaxing, reading, and volunteering my time away without making any time to shoot.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Extra computer...

So, I've been volunteering large amounts of my time at a local nonprofit called Boulder Community Computers. In exchange for volunteer hours, which I would give anyway, I was able to wrangle myself an Apple G5 computer. 1.6ghz, 1.5gb of RAM, and some mismatched crappy harddrives that I've replaced with 2x 250gb drives.

Unfortunately, its a Power PC. That means no badass applications like Aperture, Photoshop, Bridge, etc will run on it. It doesn't have a clue what to do with them. I'm toying with the idea of using it as a fileserver at my house - throwing down for a couple monster hard drives and using it to store music, movies, etc.

I feel like this kind of machine could probably serve some other use that I haven't thought of - do any of my readers have any suggestions? If you got a computer that didn't run your big, bad applications (and thus couldn't become your workhorse machine) what would you do with it?

Let me be clear - I'm not giving this sucker away. I've earned it fair and square with my (so far) 17 hours of service - and I will continue to volunteer at Boulder Community Computers (bococo) for the rest of the summer because its so darn fun. 

Anyway, your suggestions are appreciated.

I'm going to do a post on BOCOCO in the near future, most likely next week, to showcase what they do and why they do it. Until then, hit up their website, Facebook, twitter, etc! And if you've got a decent computer that you no longer need, consider donating it! If you've got some money or some time that you don't need either, donate those as well! 

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Self Portrait #?

I don't really know what number this self portrait is. Might be four or five.
Still on track to do one every week - though I took a break from it over my two week vacation.

Taken holding my D300 at arm's length - surprisingly difficult!

I've already shot next weeks photo, but I'll wait until next week to post it.

Also, a random recommendation: If you haven't seen the movie "Remember Me," do it. I usually hesitate to recommend movies, especially those starring Robert Pattinson. Remember Me is different and amazingly well done all around. 

Have a great Tuesday!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A friendly reminder...

If you do anything creative involving a computer, make sure you back up your hard drives!

It is not a question of if your hard drive will die, or if your computer will get stolen, or if you will spill that coffee all over your laptop. It is a question of when.

I know a bunch of creative people who have had computers stolen recently. Sure, it sucks to get your stuff ripped off - but it would suck a lot less if you had backups! The real value of the computer isn't the hardware, which can run you a few thousand dollars. The real value is the intellectual property - your photos or music or writing. The stuff you spend hours every day perfecting.

It doesn't matter how careful you are - the technology used in making modern hard drives means that eventually, your drive will cease to function. Even if you don't drop it or drown it or overheat it, one day you're going to boot up your computer and nothing will happen - if you don't have backups, you're going to be screwed.

I'm super paranoid about this - so I have redundant backups like crazy. I go through hard drives faster than nascar drivers go through tires. I currently utilize over 6 TB of storage for my backups. It comes out to about 7 full backups of all my photos. I carry a 16gb flash drive with me around my neck so that even if all my other backups die, I've got my photography portfolios.

At minimum, I suggest you have two backups of your important stuff. Music, photos and documents. Keep one backup next to your computer. Keep the other backup in your office at work, at a friend's house or in a safe deposit box. This way, if your house is subject to a fire or flood - your other backup might survive. Switch out your off-site with your on-site backup every couple weeks, or after a big project.

Hard drives are cheap and they're getting cheaper. I saw a BestBuy ad selling a 1tb external drive for $79 - you can get them even cheaper at places like TigerDirect and Newegg.

Surely your photos, music, documents etc are worth more than $79 to you, right?

Friday, July 9, 2010

This week in photography

I had a really good week of photography. I was up until 2am editing - something I rarely do.

As usual, each frame can be clicked on and enlarged for your viewing pleasure.

I got a few more keepers, but I'm not as proud of them as I am of these - which I think make a fairly well-rounded series. I shot them over the course of seven days.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Camera Bag for everyday use

I'm addicted to camera bags. I admit it. I've gone through quite a few in search of the *perfect* one.

I store all my photo gear in what I believe is the perfect camera bag - but it is huge and weighs 50 lbs fully loaded. I definitely won't be carrying that with me wherever I go. I use the LowePro CompuTrekker AW Plus. Its huge.

When I first started shooting, I carried a camera with me at all times. Recently I've decided to continue doing that. My major problem - my camera is expensive and bulky. I don't want people to rip it off, and it is a PITA to carry around. Sure, the D300 is durable enough to handle everyday use - but it is righteously large.

My solution:

Its more like a man-purse *ahem* satchel than a messenger bag, but it is just large enough to hold the basics

  • D300 w/ grip and 50mm f/.8
  • Leatherman tool
  • Spare headphones (I hate the apple headphones, but they work in a pinch)
  • Glasses case
  • Toothbrush
  • Bandana and Scarf
  • Extra 3" knife
  • Lighter

Also, just in case I leave it somewhere, there is no doubt about who it belongs to

Of course, it holds an iPad perfectly in the back pocket so if I need to show off my portfolios, I can!

I think of this as my "oh sh*t" bag - I've always got it with me and I can live out of it for a few days if necessary - All I really need is a camera and a toothbrush. As soon as my new Lexar cards get here, I will relegate 8gb of old cards to this bag - I'll have 12gb in the bag at all times.

Questions? Comments? Concerns?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Why I quit my day job

Before this summer I had never worked a "real" day job. Since May 24th, I have been employed at a 40 hour/week desk job as a summer intern. I was paid $11/hour, which isn't bad money for a college student. I went in to this job cautiously - I didn't know whether I'd be able to handle sitting in a cubicle all day, five days a week.

It turns out, I'm not bad at it. My work was (most of the time) pretty good. I never had a reprimand of any kind from any of my bosses (everyone is the boss of the intern). I got projects done on time or ahead of time.

The problem was: I didn't enjoy it. Sitting at a computer is one thing - I do that all day anyway. But working in Excel or PowerPoint auditing data or changing animations is not the way I had hoped to spend my summer. What did I think they would have me doing? I had no idea.

completely irrelevant photo...

 I learned a few very important things about myself from this job though.

1) I do NOT have a big problem with authority: I worked well with my team. I don't hate my boss or the other members of the group. In fact, I've grown to like all of them.

2) I need detailed instruction before I begin a project. The less I understand about the end-goal, the worse I am at doing whatever task is set before me.

3) I work well with music

4) The clock is the enemy

This last one is important - whenever I'm doing work on my website, editing photos, or organizing my Vault Photography materials in Excel - the time flies. I'm working because I want to be working. I'm working for me. I know the end-goal and I've figured out how to get there.

When I catch myself looking at the clock every 20 minutes, hating how insufferably slow time travels, I know something is wrong.

Lastly - I'm young! I have essentially no overhead (at least while I'm living with my generous parents over the summer). This is my opportunity to enjoy life without NEEDING to work. I don't NEED to pay my mortgage or feed my kids or any of that stuff!

Essentially, I quit my day job because I don't need the money and I don't enjoy the work.

Very few people out there can quit for either of those reasons - many get stuck in jobs that they despise, but they gotta pay the bills and feed the kiddies, so they suffer through.

In my humble opinion, life is too short. I'm going to take pictures, go  biking and hiking, swim, read, and enjoy my summer. When I graduate college and I'm living on my own and I need to pay rent, I might get a "real" job. It probably won't involve sitting behind a desk though!

Until then, Thanks to Mom and Dad for letting me enjoy my summer burden-free!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Headphones: Altec Lansing

Once in a while I stray from photography to discuss hard drives or headphones or music or whatever strikes my fancy. Today is another one of those days.

In my quest for the perfect pair of sub-$50 earbuds, I came across the MHP216 Muzx earbuds by Altec Lansing. I think I paid $25 for them at Wal Mart.

They look ridiculous. Let me make it clear that the "large brilliant crystal" is NOT why I bought these headphones. I hadn't ever tried anything by Altec and I figured I might as well. I didn't read any reviews or do any research before my purchase - I blindly grabbed from the rack at Wal Mart (which didn't have much in the way of selection).

Turns out that was a mistake.

Here's why.

At first I was fairly pleased with them. After a night of playing randomly through my music to start the burn in, I put them through my completely arbitrary tests; playing a variety of music and determining whether it sounds good or not. They performed about as well as a pair of $25 earbuds could be expected to perform. BUT, after less than 2 months of everyday use, they broke. The glue holding the two pieces of each earpiece together simply fell apart. Kaput.

Looking through Amazon, I found that this has happened to others as well. The sound was pretty good, the isolation was decent, but when construction quality is that terrible - there's just nothing I can do. I won't be buying any cheap Altec Lansing buds in the future. In fact, I've already purchased my replacement pair from Amazon - the "JBuds J3 Micro Atomic In-Ear Earphones." According to user reviews, these do a pretty good job as long as they are burned in first.

If these new Atomic buds can stand my abuse, I'll be sure to do a post on them as well. Of course, if they flop tragically I'll end up doing the same thing.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Canonblogger contest

I dropped a photo into a contest on Flickr last month and didn't expect to see or hear anything about it ever again.

Today whilst checking my email, I found out that I won the contest, and that not one but two Lexar 4gb 300x cards are headed my way!

This is the second contest I have won that Lexar sponsors, and I'm psyched to get my new cards!

For the record, even when I pay for my memory cards, I buy Lexar. Everybody has their own preferences and brand loyalites, but I've never had a Lexar card fail me in any way.

Enough of my talking. Please click through to the Canon blogger website to see the photo I submitted and learn about their contest for July!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

July Background

Welcome to a new month!

Here are your specially resized background options for the month of July! will be updated by midnight tonight.