Category Archives: Photography

Gear 05.28.14

DSC_0031I thought I’d take a little time to write a bit about what I see as the nuts and bolts of photography- in the world of photography, the actual physical equipment that is used to create images. By physical equipment, I mean everything prior to the darkroom, usb cable or software.

Previously, , I had alluded to how Cokin filters had altered the face of photography when they first were introduced. I think I purchased my Cokin filters sometime in the very early Eighties, and recall angry letters to the editor to the likes of Popular Photography predicting the end of photography as we knew it and how Ansel Adams was turning in his grave (these are not verbatim memories, but the anti-Cokin crowd of the day was full of vitriol ).

Amazingly, the only gear that I have from that period that is viable  today is my tabletop tripod (which I have yet to locate, because it is in my…), camera bag, and my collection of Cokin filters (including the holder, adapter and lens shade.)  My much larger investment in 35mm camera bodies and lenses is pretty much worthless.

Be that as it may, I want to talk a bit about DSLR gear, and getting started in DSLR photography.

This blog originally started out a few days ago, but Meerkat’s coming of mileage grabbed the spotlight at that time, so now I’m getting back  to the topic of photographic hardware- specifically, DSLR (DSLR= digital single lens reflex) photography.

Our daughter and son-in-law  visited briefly this weekend (Amanda and Mike).  We had a fun (albeit brief) visit, and I got to show Amanda my camera. She immediately grabbed it, and after an abbreviated crash course (instruction), she was off snapping photos. After all of the excitement of taking pictures, we settled down to actually talking about equipment and technique. I showed her the Cokin filters, and I think she looked through each one (I have eleven).  She was puzzled by a few of the gradient filters, and I explained how they could perk up a pale sky or uninspired waterscape.  She also expressed some frustration at, after composing a shot, being unable to snap it-the camera was set to full auto- sort of like having a photo nanny!

“Don’t shoot that, sonny,” the photo nanny says, “your depth of field is way too shallow, you’re about one f-stop short of prefect lighting, and zoom lenses are for cowards! Besides, you’re not using a Hasselblad. Sheesh, you don’t even have Zeiss glass”

I don’t like photo nanny… and I just created her!

I told Amanda about the viewfinder, and how it had changed from 35mm days. She was curious, so I pulled out my Minolta X 700, and first showed her the 35-70 w/macro lens. She looked at the back of the body, and gave the back (where the end flap of the box of film goes) a poke. Then, she looked through the viewfinder, and was amused that she had to actually not only zoom manually, but focus as well!  Then, I pulled out f5.6 250mm catadioptric lens. I showed her how the mirrors worked, and explained why it was so slow. The highpoint of that discussion was unscrewing the +0 neutral density filter and putting in the grey filter, which stepped it down to f11. That was enough excitent for one day, so I put everything away.  Actually, I think it was getting close to dinner, so I put everything away, and the rest of the evening was consumed by dinner and a movie.

All in all, a pretty nice weekend.

Until next time, I am hochspeyer, one f-stop short of a six pack.




Meerkat turns 1,000!

I’ve been waiting for this day since early April, when we first brought our Meerkat home. Meerkat, of course, is our Subaru Outback. I think every Subaru in the United States is born in Indiana, and our Meerkat is no exception.  Vehicles traditionally are thought of as female, so I suppose “she” is the appropriate pronoun.  Our adoption agent was Sandy Jackson, and the adoption agency was Grand Subaru.  Sandy actually had to get the car from another dealer in Indiana, so when we took Meerkat home, she already had ~250 miles (400km) on the odometer.

I can’t speak for other manufacturers, but Subaru specifies a break-in period… and that’s why I’m celebrating today. The break-in for our car is 1,000 miles (1,600km), and coming home from work I hit it today!

DSC_0014As I approached my milestone of mileage, I decided that a song would be in order. One of the really cool features of our Outback is the versatile sound system. The head unit has two AM settings, three FM settings, and three SiriusXM settings, with each of these having six presets, for a total of forty-eight presets. It also plays CDs, has a 3.5mm (headphone jack) input, a USB port and Bluetooth. The USB port has a 64Mb flashdrive right now, containing ~45GB of music.

I finally settled on Boston’s “More Than A Feeling”.

It was 0810 (GMT -6). It was a beautiful Spring morning, with just the right amount of sunshine. The car turned over 1,000 just about the time I was passing a county mounty who was taking pictures. Remember the counry song “Convoy” recorded by C.W.McCall? The citizen’s band (C.B.) craze of the 70’s was pretty much single-handedly created by that song- in C.B. lingo, a “county mounty” is a county sheriff’s police car, and “taking pictures” means they’re using radar to catch speeders.


So, Meerkat hit 1,000 miles today (better hurry up and grab a slice, that virtual cake won’t last forever!) In practical terms, we can now take Meerkat out on the open road!

That’s all of the news that’s fit to print for now- I need a nap. I wanted to share this little bit of everyday joy before the details faded.

Before I forget- a quick note about today’s photos. The first one is of Meerkat (of course) patiently waiting for me to snap a few frames. The second is me in the de rigeur photographer’s pose, shot against the driver’s side rear door window.

When you’re done here, if you like you’ve read and seen, take a look at some blogs that I follow: Ed Mooney’s very cool blog and Mary Widdicks’ hilarious blog-


Fly low, keep your powder dry, and always remember to keep Ridin’ the Storm out!



Late Sunday on an abandoned spur 05.18.14



                                                                                                                                                                                                Blog title note for readers outside the United States: although I make every effort to include metric equivalents in my writing, my dates are always expressed as MM.DD.YY.

Lots of sunshine this past Sunday. Jennifer and I had just returned from the gym, and dinner was at least an hour away. It had been a sunny day, and its setting phase was bright and deep. I said I was going to go over to some railroad tracks near the house and take some pictures. Jennifer suggested I take Mr. T along for company… and that some fresh air would be good for him. He said yes, so I grabbed my Nikon and we piled into Meerkat, our Subaru Outback, and were off for an adventure.

Mr. T is our youngest son, and he is also my neighbor in the Secret Underground Lair. And even though he really does have a name, his blog pseudonym will forever be Mr. T, as that is how he was first introduced.

In five minutes, we were at the site of our shoot.

As we walked across the street, and as I looked around, I was struck with the realization that we had lived in this area since ~1993, and I did not know this line was abandoned. I pointed out that there was not a hint of shine on these rails to indicate and recent usage; the ties (sleepers) were mostly rotting and in some areas the tracks were barely visible under gravel. In a nutshell, a fantastic place to shoot.

We walked probably a quarter of a mile (~500m); so much of the track had been pulled up and actually stacked on the side of the right of way. I was composing a shot of some track that had been stacked four high, and suddenly realized that the piece at the top was actually a set of parallel tracks that had been cut (possibly by a saw, as I saw none of the characteristic markings of a blow torch). They were all stacked neatly, as if  some giant child had stacked them up, intending on completing his railroad layout tomorrow. Unfortunately for our hypothetical giant child, it seems tomorrow never came. There were three or four neatly stacked groups of rail, all with their ties still attached. In Another place was a large stack of ties- probably close to fifty, if not more… I can imagine a gardener reading about these massive hunks of wood, free for the taking… if only the location were known!

As with my previous photographic outing, I simply had an experience that was beyond words. I shot eighty frames that Sunday, and would have shot more were it not for the untimely demise of my battery.

Mr. T and I returned to Meerkat, and we gloriously drove off into the sun… er, can’t say that. We drove off in a generally northeasterly direction.

Until next time… I am hochspeyer- one f-stop short of a six pack.

*Don’t forget to visit my data analysis blog…it’s more fun than it sounds like…

Happy happy, joy joy

Remember the Nicktoons cartoon “The Ren & Stimpy Show”? I do. I was not a fan of the show in any way, but the episode with the “Happy Happy, Joy Joy” song somehow has stuck with me. I’ve only seen this episode a few times, but I consider it the high water mark of the series. So, what does this have to do with a photography blog? Ren and Stimpy ran from 1991-1996. As I mentioned, I was not a fan of the show; I did not even like the style of the cartoon. To summarize, from my viewpoint: Ren was an idiot, and Stimpy was just plain stupid (to quote Ren, “Stimpy, you IDIOT!!!) There are a number of cartoons that have been produced with a pair of characters that take on the world. The earliest I can site is the interesting pair of pairs found in “The Flintstones”- Fred and Barney, and Betty and Wilma. Later, there was the antagonistic pairs of Rocky and Bullwinkle versus Boris and Natasha. There was Pinky and The Brain. My favorite cartoon pairs were Pinky and the Brain, and the Angry Beavers”  Daggett and Norbert.

One day, Ren was feeling down. Stimpy built a “happy” machine, and Stimpy “made” Ren happy… they spent much of the episode (as I recall) singing, “Happy, happy, joy, joy”. Happy is easy; joy- not so much. Happy is a good thing, and can be quite uplifting. But I think happy is often more knee-jerk than anything,

Joy, on the other hand, is tougher to define, and seems to be harder to latch on to these days. It is dichotomous; one does not have to be be happy to be joyous, but chances are, if one is filled with joy, the happy may follow. A few days ago (Tuesday or Wednesday… I’m really not sure) I told Jenifer that I planned to take my camera to work on Friday. Her approval consisted of, “Watch out for trains.” When I registered my camera on the Nikon website, I checked the “Other” box in the interests area, and wrote in “Railroad/Industrial”. I got off work around 0730 and was home before 0900. In that time I shot nearly eighty frames… I love digital! In honesty, I’m wondering if we would even know Ansel Adams name if he had digital available to him.

The point of this particular blog entry is this: the morning was beautiful, and so was my mood. The weather service on my phone said the local conditions were mostly cloudy, but my observation was that it was partly cloudy at worst. As I warmed Meerkat up (Meerkat is our Subaru Outback), I planned out my stops; I had one or two locations in mind. Of the two, only one was visited, but three others ended up being added.

I was out for barely an hour, and in that time shot almost seventy frames. That hour was pure joy, and I am thankful for it.

DSC_0023 DSC_0022



Christmas… in May

20130809_084556[1] Schwarz is unconcerned.

Today is Friday the 26th of May, 2014. This past Sunday, I had cut the grass and it was in the 80’s (Fahrenheit, high 20’s Celsius); it snowed this morning. Jennifer and I had planned on visiting the library, and in a dusty corner of my mind a scheme had been fermenting. Well, to be honest, it was more of an opportunity to make a little sidetrip. As Jennifer put the final touches on gathering up library materials and double-checking her shopping list, I headed down to the Secret Underground Lair to grab my old Cokin filter holder. It’s the standard, garden variety “A” style that I purchased when I was shooting 35mm.

I mentioned my desire to hit the camera store across the street from the library, and Jennifer agreed. I asked if she’d like to come with, and she said yes, “so you don’t spend any money'” to which I replied, “you mean so I don’t spend too much money”. I had no intention of spending much money at all, and we ended up spending $5.42.

The lady in the store was very nice- she asked if she could help me find anything. I said yes, but I’d like to take a look around first.  She, of course, was fine with that; she went back to her Eric Clapton concert, and we browsed the narrow aisle. This was a classic, Main Street small business: if you don’t see it, they don’t have it. It’s also the sort of business in which the proprietor knows every piece of their stock, and where it might be found.

I only browsed for a few minutes, casting an appreciative eye on both the shiny and the dusty, and then it was back to the lady. “Do you carry Cokin,” I asked.

She said that she did, so I pulled out my filter holder and told her I needed a 52mm adapter ring. She went to a brown cardboard box which had its flaps amputated quite obviously by a boxcutter with only a small thought towards neatness. After only a few moments, she produced a ring and handed it to me. I inspected it. The black paint on the threads was hardly worn, and the paint where the ring mad contact with the holder was unscathed and shiny- in a photographic equipment type of black shiny. Best of all, the front of the ring bore the markings “52mm Ø France”. Genuine Cokin. I was happy. I asked how much.

“Let me check.” I’m guessing she had the item on consignment- she said. “How about $4.95?” I said that sounded fair, and Jennifer paid her.

Poker face. Poker face. Poker face. I learned this some time ago… I haven’t seen these anywhere for less than ten dollars, and I told Jennifer that on the way to the library.

The best part of the deal, though, is this: both of my Nikon lenses are threaded for 52mm filters, so I suddenly have a small stable of around a dozen filters that I can use with both of my lenses.

As cats are alleged to say, “I haz teh happyz.”









The blog incubator



I work at night, and my hours are somewhat flexible. At the beginning of the week, I try to get in earlier- say, 2000 or so. Depending upon my department’s workload, it is not uncommon for me to put in some overtime. When this happens, I will come in later on the next day. Unfortunately, this tends to be something of a vicious cycle with a long night leading to a later bedtime and a later start. I haven’t had any overtime thus far this week, but my sleep has been iffy at best. Today typifies the week (and its only Thursday!)

I got in this morning a little after 0630, put my plastic containers and utensils from lunch in the sink and gave them a quick rinse. I then greeted Tinka (our calico furbaby) with a smile and a gentle pet or two. She responded with an outpouring of indifference, Emotionally bouyed, I hopped into bed and started to drift off around 0700.Thirty minutes later, Jennifer’s alarm went off. My wife shut the alarm off, and I drifted back to sleep.

We live under a takeoff pattern just a few miles from Chicago’s O’Hare airport- since it was a pleasantly cool morning, my wife had left the window open. At 1030, I was awakened by an aircraft of some sort. I don’t know what sort of aircraft it was, but I do know it was loud. Think a steampunk coal-fired boiler flying Formula One car. Loud. Loud. Loud. I got a drink of water, went back to bed, tossed and turned for forty-five minutes, and gave up on sleep. Lack of sleep, though, is often an idea incubator. For example, during this morning’s edition of stating at the ceiling, staring at the walls, and then staring at the ceiling and staring at the ceiling again, I solved a data problem for a new table in my database, and came up with an idea for a blog entry on my other blog.

Now, Schwarz, our other cat (a sable/black Bombay) is behind me in the cat’s bunk bed. Snoring.

In my previous post I had noted a big storm was passing through. I think its rained every day this week, and on Wednesday morning it was light when I got home. I looked at the hood of our car and saw the beaded water, which seemed to be a photo op! I hurried in, dropped my things off and went down to the Secret Underground Lair, which is the current home of the Nikon. I affixed the short telephoto, powered the camera up and went outside. I quickly composed the shot in the viewfinder, depressed the shutter release, and…


However, I remained calm. Grace under pressure and all of that other rot. I looked at the business end of the camera- the lens was fogged. I carefully wiped it off, recomposed the shot, and this time it worked. I had to repeat the procedure another six times.

I like the results; I suppose they’re probably not more than snapshots. My  coworker Anna and I were talking about composition last night, and she said that composition is so hard for her. I told her that the key to photography- especially at her level and mine- is to keep on taking pictures. Lots of them- after all, past the initial investment, digital is free.

Until next time… I am hochspeyer- One f-stop short of a six pack.

*Don’t forget to visit my data analysis blog…it’s more fun than it sounds like…




“Rain” is probably one of the most underrated of George Harrison’s songs- this is my title because we had something of a downpour… more like a deluge, actually, on Monday the 12th. These meteorological events are uncanny in their knack for occurring when photography or videography is a challenge, to say the least. (WordPress gave me a red squiggly line under “videography”, but “videography” has at least ten pages of hits on Google, so it MUST be a real word).


These photos don’t really tell the story of the storm; the last one, though, does offer a bit of insight: water never pools up at our front stoop like that.

I shot a bit of video with my Nikon D3200 as well. As the storm was raging outside, I was desperately searching the internet on how to get the camera into video mode! In the time it too to find the answer, I could have down went to the Secret Underground Lair (SUL), grabbed the digital version from my camera bag, found the answer and been out shooting!

So, to match the photos, I have some fairly unimpressive video. To be fair to myself, though, I consider it to be training.

Speaking of training, I’m not sure if anyone else out there reading this shares in my journey of starting out with a 35mm SLR, taking a break, and then starting afresh with a DSLR. To be honest, there’s a bit of a learning curve.

I want to share one other salient, odd, interesting (pick an adjective, already!) point: does anyone use “old” technology in photography?

Prior to digital, prior to Adobe, there was Cokin. At the time (ca. 1978), Cokin introduced a line of filters which were brilliant by any standard. These square filters would fit any number of lenses- all a photographer had to do to add a filter to the stable was to have the appropriate adapter ring (which corresponded to the filter diameter of the lens.

Back in my 35mm days, I had purchased several Cokin filters. A search this past week discovered twelve of them- everything I need to get going except for one crucial item: a 52mm adapter ring! Jennifer (my wife) found the filters- we have yet to find my old camera bag, which may have a few additional adapter rings and my tabletop tripod.

One other piece of news- I am going to try to make Friday my “Photography Friday”.  I work in what is considered to be one of the largest industrial parks in the United States.  The extreme upside to this as a photographer is the vast array of industrial and railroad subjects which are available on any given Saturday morning, and I hope to be able to capture and share some of them here.

Until next time… I am hochspeyer- One f-stop short of a six pack.

*Don’t forget to visit my data analysis blog…it’s more fun than it sounds like…