Usually in late December the cold is here to stay, and the streets of downtown Asheville are devoid of the street musicians I love to listen to and photograph. But El Nino has given us some uncommonly spring-like weather so far this winter, and some of the local "buskers" were out performing Sunday afternoon.
My new little Lumix proved a near perfect tool for this kind of photography. Small and unobtrusive, it renders me nearly invisible in a crowd. I always felt so obvious with the big, black DSLR. The long zoom of the Lumix makes it easy to get the tight shots I like of individual performers, no matter how far back I have to stand. Clean files at ISO 400 or 800 keep me shooting as the winter sun stays lower in the sky. Here's a few from Sunday afternoon. (Click on photos to enlarge.)
I took an early morning stroll around downtown Asheville yesterday to further test out my new Lumix digicam. Last week on a short hike in Pisgah National Forest, I was impressed with how clean the photos were at ISO 400. This week, I shot strictly in Program mode at ISO 800. I was expecting to see more digital noise, especially in the shadow areas, but like last week, they were very clean! At high magnification on my computer screen (200% +) I could see some evidence of the camera's noise cancelling software at work. I wouldn't make poster size prints from these ISO 800 photos, but 8x10s would look fine. This exercise really increased my confidence in this camera, especially for street photography.
And what a pleasure it was not to have that big DSLR slung over my shoulder! I felt so much freer carrying a camera that fits comfortably in my hand. My shirt pocket is now my camera bag. I shot more, and I enjoyed my walk much more without that boat anchor tugging on my shoulder. (Click on photos to enlarge.)
Wow, it's hard to believe that it's been two months since I've posted anything to this blog! During the fall months, I posted some photos on Facebook, but I didn't feel motivated to post here. I guess I've been in the doldrums photographically for the past few months. However, I think that's about to change.
1977, comedian Steve Martin told America, "Let's Get Small"
when he released a comedy album by the same title. In 2015 I'm taking
his advice by relegating my DSLR cameras to second string, and going
back to where I started with digital photography, with a small sensor
first digital camera was a 2002 Canon Powershot G3. I bought mine in
2003 for a great price at the
end of its production run, just as its successor, the G5 was being
It was a great
camera, far exceeding my film-biased expectations. With that camera,
with its mere 4 megapixels and 2002 technology under the hood, I was
able to produce some absolutely gorgeous 11x14 prints, a couple of
which still hang in my living room today.
however, I discovered that starting out with only 4mp made cropping
a very iffy proposition. Cropping a little too much left me with a file too small to do much
with. I also began to be dissatisfied with a zoom lens that was only
140mm on the long end. I'm a telephoto man, and that just wasn't
enough reach for the kind of photos I wanted to make. I began to look
at bigger (and more expensive) cameras.
the time, I had dreams of being a semi-professional location
photographer, and also trying to sell some of my scenic photography
as “fine art”. Rolling up to a portrait session with a little
digicam will not inspire confidence in your clients, so I decided a
big, black DSLR was called for. I finally decided on the Olympus
E-500, which could be bought as a 2 zoom lens-kit at the time. It had
8 mp which allowed me to crop with more confidence, and the longest
zoom lens went to 300mm, giving me the kind of longer reach I
wanted. Problem solved, for the moment anyway.
for the last 10 years I've been toting around various combinations of
big, black camera, and big, black lens. With a full time job and
other obligations, I never had the time to market myself properly as
a portrait photographer. The rise of the “Mom Photographer” with
a Canon Rebel and plenty of time on her hands to shoot during the
week did me in. I wasn't willing to sell all the files from a sitting on a CD so the customer can make their own prints at Walmart as seems to be the trend today. The sale of scenic photographs never panned out
either. Our area is super saturated with Ansel Adams wannabes, all
shooting the same barns, waterfalls, and sunsets. It's very difficult
to distinguish yourself in such a crowded market unless you really
have Ansel Adams talent. I don't.
friends got me interested in backpacking a couple of years ago. A
seemingly excellent opportunity to to bag some good outdoor photos,
but carrying a BIG camera along with all the other gear just didn't
seem practical. Mountain biking also provided other opportunities
for outdoor photos, but carrying the big camera was a hindrance there
too. Finally, I've become more interested in street photography in
recent years, and the big camera/big lens combo attracts too much attention when going
for candid street photos. Now
that I've decided to go back to shooting strictly for my own
enjoyment, the allure of the big DSLR is gone for me. I
needed a smaller camera!
demands for a replacement were demanding, and unattainable just a few
years ago. I print less that 1% of my photos, but I want to be able
to print quality 11x14s if desired. I wanted a zoom lens with a range
of at least 28-400mm. That would cover 99% of what I like to shoot. I
also demanded an electronic viewfinder. Trying to compose on a LCD on
sunny days is a fool's errand as I've discovered on other digicams and
Finally, I wanted all that in a package that was truly pocket size.
Not a large coat pocket, a shirt pocket. Was such a thing available
at a price I could afford?
search finally came down to the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS50 and the Sony
DSC-HX90V. (Why do cameras need such long, complicated names?) Both
had almost identical specs. These two cameras were obviously designed
to compete with one another. The Lumix has a viewfinder that is built
into the body, with a sensor that turns it on automatically when you
put the camera to your face. The
has a viewfinder that pops up out of the top of the camera. That
design seems like something else to break to me. I also liked that the Lumix has a Leica lens on it. The deciding factor,
however, was price. The Sony was $100 more than the Lumix after
Panasonic lowered most of their camera prices around Thanksgiving.
That made my choice between the two fairly easy! A couple of weeks ago I made
Amazon aware of my choice.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS50. (I'm going to skip all that nomenclature from now on and just refer to it as "the Lumix".)
camera arrived this week, and I'm eager to see if it's everything I'm hoping it will be. Early results are very encouraging. Can a camera
with a sensor the size of my pinky fingernail give me the print
quality I'm looking for? The old 4mp Canon did, so I'm confident that
a camera with 12mp and 13 years of advancement in technology will do
as good. A zoom that extends to 720mm will exactly double the
my DSLR zoom. And all that in a package not much bigger than a deck
of cards! No longer will I be hindered by the bulk of that big camera
and big zoom lens on hikes or other excursions.
new camera never makes anyone a better photographer, but sometimes it
can re-light the creative fires. I'm ready to get back out there and
start making photos again. Stay
tuned for the
River Cane, Canton, NC - 2015
(Click on photo to enlarge. From first test shots with the Lumix. )
Some photographers like going out to shoot in the rain. You can get some interesting shots on rainy days, but I'd rather be inside with a hot cup of coffee. For the past two weekends, that's all we've had - rain. Since I'm trapped inside, I've used the time to catch up on some post production work on photos I made earlier this summer.
While watching Forlorn Strangers perform Sunday afternoon, I became fascinated by watching the musicians' hands and fingers on their instruments. Having never learned to play any musical instrument, I have always admired the speed, dexterity, and grace of musicians' hands, particularly on stringed instruments. I made several close up photos of just hands on the strings like the one above, which was my favorite of the bunch.
During my wanderings around downtown Asheville Sunday afternoon I came across a small peace fair in front of a store on Biltmore Avenue. The "International Day of Peace" had several booths set up by local organizations promoting world peace. I spied this man wearing Hindu garb standing watching a trio of singers. As he had his arm folded against his back, the red on his hand and fingers caught my eye as the color red is apt to do. I don't know what the significance of the red on his hand is, but I thought it was an interesting splash of color.
It's still a little early for leaf lookin', so I spent yesterday afternoon in downtown Asheville searching for street muscians to photograph. The choices were somewhat slim, which was surprising given the nice weather. I did find one group, "The Forlorn Strangers" playing in front of a tiny wooded area on the corner of Patton and S. Lexington. I spent most of my time watching and listening to them.
I made a few photos of the entire five member group, and several individual photos. Each member of the group played several instruments, so I waited until this young woman grabbed her fiddle to get this shot.
Having grown up in the New Orleans area, I've seen plenty of street musicians and dancers. It wasn't until I moved to North Carolina, however, that I heard them referred to as "buskers". A busker, I learned after finding a dictionary, is simply someone who performs in public places for donations. Whatever you want to call them, I like listening to them and photographing them.
I found this young woman "busking" in front of the Mast General Store one Sunday afternoon last June. I remember it was hot downtown that day, and I didn't wander around too long because of the heat. Now that the temps have moderated somewhat, I want to go back looking for more buskers to photograph. Of course that will only be on Sundays when my Saints aren't on local TV!
My brother was passing near our area while riding the "Moonshiners 28" (Hwy. 28 from Walhalla, SC to Deals Gap, NC) over the Labor Day weekend. We decided to meet for a visit over lunch in Bryson City on Monday. I had been wanting to get some pictures of Matt with his motorcycle, so after lunch we found a suitable place on the side of the highway to make some photos.
Out of the all shots I made, I thought only one was really any good. That's why I always shoot several of each pose! With a digital camera it cost nothing but a little time to shoot ten instead of one. (Just don't show everyone all the versions of the same shot! I've never understood why some photographers do that. There's nothing more boring than looking at a dozen shots of the same pose or scene. Pick the best one, and show the best one!) I posted the color version on my Facebook page, but the more I thought about it, I decided a B&W version might be better. After tinkering with a few different approaches, I ended up with the version above. After finishing and comparing the two, I definitely preferred the B&W.
Although I still would rather be wandering through the forests and mountains with my camera, when it's really hot and humid, or my time is limited, I find myself attracted to the wilds of downtown Asheville. I like that there are plenty of places to duck into for some air conditioning or a cold drink if the heat starts to get to me. Also, I can be home in less than 30 minutes if I'm pressed for time.
I just wander around, street to street, looking for interesting people or situations. I saw this young man with a sign, "Travelin on Poetry" with a plastic bowl displayed for cash contributions. Perhaps he would compose a poem for you on the spot for a little traveling money. The man on the left gave him some money, but from what I could see, he did most of the talking. The poetry man seemed content to just listen. I guess there's a market for that too.
I once read that the difference between painting and photography is that painting is about addition, and photography is about subtraction. With painting, you start with a blank canvas and add whatever content you want included in your composition. When using a camera, you start with everything that is present, and by various means subtract what you do not want included in your photo.
In the photo above I knew I had to subtract the content that I didn't want included in my photo: mainly, other cars and the other people viewing the cars. I chose to focus attention on the exposed components of this car's front end instead of trying to capture the entire car. I thought this was one of the more interesting aspects of this vehicle, and by squatting down for a low viewing angle and framing tight, I could exclude unwanted and distracting elements. By simply learning to subtract, anyone can make better and more interesting photos.
I wrote about my trip to Crabtree Falls in last Friday's post, but I left out an important detail. As beautiful as that fall was, I found I was even more fascinated by a tree.
At the base of the fall, about 10-12 yards down stream, a tree about 40' tall was growing on top of a boulder. Somehow over the years it had not only survived, but flourished on its seemingly precarious perch. Decades ago, a seed had found a bit of soil in a crack in this boulder, and it sprouted and began to grow. It was able to hang on during countless rain-swelled torrents, while its roots were somehow able to find support and nutrients clinging to its rocky home atop the boulder. It's a survival story to match any in the forest.
As I scrambled among the rocks at the base of the fall, looking for different angles for my photos, I found myself becoming more interested in this tree than the fall. Soon I was relegating the fall to the role of being merely a backdrop for the tree. Because of how the tree was positioned in front of the fall, many photographers have probably thought of it as being in the way. Some may have wished it was gone. To me, however, it became the star of the show.
Two weeks ago, my oldest daughter dragged me a little further into the 21st century by convincing me to finally trade in my nine year old flip phone for a new smartphone. After a few stumbles (I lost one call by trying to answer the phone with it held upside down), I'm finally getting used to the thing. Of course, one of the first things I had to check out after learning to make calls and to text was the built in camera.
Smartphone photos are made by the billions each day. Most are just typical, boring snapshots, but I have seen some very beautiful and interesting photos made with these cameras. There are websites dedicated to smartphone photography displaying work that is as much "art" as anything made with more sophisticated cameras. So I was anxious to see what my newest camera was capable of.
My initial attempts with the smartphone were in a word, disappointing. Having used DSLRs for several years, I'm used to their level of versatility and quality. The smartphone camera had very little of either when compared to a modern DSLR. Tack sharp photos? Broad dynamic range? Forget about it. I quickly became disenchanted with the thing.
As I went back and looked at some of the better smartphone photography online, I began to notice a common denominator. The smartphone photographers worked within the limitations of their camera, and in many cases enhanced their photos by degrading the technical quality even more with apps like Snapseed. Then it clicked for me - don't ask the camera to do more than it is capable of doing. Work within its limitations, and take advantage of it's strengths. (Its main strength is that it's always handy.) Then use apps, or software on my computer to build on the basic image.
The photo above was a little on the soft side, at least compared to what I'm sued to with my DSLR. So instead of trying to sharpen a soft image (a fools errand, usually), I softened it a little more with software, creating a more pictorialist feel.
One of the things that has kept me interested in photography since I bought my first real camera in 1982 is the never ending challenge of it. There is always something new to try, something new to learn. Now with a smartphone camera, and its inherent limitations, I have a whole new set of challenges to explore and enjoy. And I've learned how to text too!
I made my 7th "Move A Daughter To Boone" trip yesterday as Courtney begins her junior year at Appalachian State. Besides the beginning and end of the year moving trips, I've made countless other trips to Boone over the years for various reasons. To break up the monotony I've tried different routes, including traveling part of the way on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was on one of those trips that I first became aware of Crabtree Falls.
I learned that getting to this fall required a hike of a little less than a mile from the BRP. However, because of time restraints, or not wanting to leave a pick-up truck full of my daughter's belongings sitting in the parking lot, I never got to make the hike. I kept saying to myself, "One day!", but one day hadn't happened since my first journey to Boone in 2008.
Finally, on this trip I decided to spend the night, and leave myself enough time to photograph this fall on the way home the next day. So this morning I left my hotel in Blowing Rock at around 5:30 a.m. to get to the Crabtree Falls trail head around sunrise. Why so early? To avoid the tourists, and to get my photos before direct sunlight hits the falls and blows out the highlights. It took years to finally get my photo, but I thoroughly enjoyed my hike and my time at this beautiful NC mountain location.
It was one of those too rare weekends when we had both girls home for a visit. Theresa wanted an updated photo of them, so yesterday after church we stopped at the Canton Rec Park for a quick portrait by the Pigeon River.
Usually, Calla Lilies are through blooming in mid June around here. Of course, if, like my wife, you wait until July to plant the bulbs, you get Callas in August. I don't thing Callas can read a calendar anyway.
I received a few questions about the location of the photo I posted Sunday as my new Facebook profile picture. That photo was a crop from the one above which shows more of the location and background.
This photo of me was made by my daughter Courtney on the peak of Waterrock Knob (Elev. 6293'). It is one of the places she wanted to go while she was home from college for a couple of weeks. The peak is reached by a short (1.2 miles round trip) hike from a parking area on the Blue Ridge Parkway at Mile Post 451. If you look closely near my elbow you can see a tiny portion of the Parkway far below. The first half of the trail is paved, but fairly steep. It even had my daughter's heart pounding, and she's an everyday runner. The second half is not quite as steep, but very rocky all the way to the top. The hike is well worth it as the views of the surrounding Pisgah National Forest from the top are magnificent!
Because trees are such relatively long lived organisms, sometimes living hundreds, or even thousands of years, we sometimes think they should live forever. Not so. Like us, they have a prime of life, then they get old, become weaker and more susceptible to disease and injury, and then they die. It's the natural order of things.
The tree pictured above lived a full life on top of Waterrock Knob near the Blue Ridge Parkway. I don't know how old it was or how it died. I'm sure it observed the construction of the Parkway, and then countless visitors to its home on top of the mountain. Eventually, insects, disease, or maybe lightning ended its life. Now hikers see this tree and think it's such a shame that it's dead. Not really.There is a new generation of younger trees growing up around it to crown this mountain peak. To really enjoy nature, one has to observe and appreciate all its phases - life and death. Even in it's current state, it still has a certain kind of stark beauty, don't you think?
I made this photo on a Sunday afternoon in June when I was bored and decided just to take a walk around downtown Asheville by myself. I realize that not everybody gets this kind of photo, but I just liked the combination of colors, shapes and textures. Since I shoot mainly for my own enjoyment, I took the shot. And a month later I still like it.
I try to swing through the area on Riverside Drive where artists use the walls of the old warehouses as their canvas at least once a month. There is usually a few new wall paintings every time I visit. In many cases, these are not the works of mere vandals with a can of spray paint, but real artists. The sad thing is, works like the one above will eventually be painted over with a newer work. I try to preserve the ones I think are really good with my camera before they disappear forever.
Courthouse During Folkmoot, Waynesville, NC - 2015
(Click on photo to enlarge.)
Our county courthouse used to have huge, beautiful oaks and maples in front of it. A few years back they all had to be cut down because of a disease or insect infestation. I forget which. New trees were planted, but it will be decades before they provide the summer shade and fall color of the old ones. I miss the old trees.
I've been attending Folkmoot Festival Day since 2005, and I usually come home with some decent shots of the dancers in their costumes. Until yesterday. In previous years, the dancers from the various groups would walk around, mingle with the crowd, and pose for pictures. Yesterday, however, only a few dancers were out mingling, making it harder to find a good subject to photograph. I can't say that I blame them. I wouldn't want to spend any more time out in that heat with those heavy, elaborate costumes than necessary.
The combination of fewer dancers and more people than ever with cameras (mostly smart phones) made the competition for pictures fierce. With the meager opportunities, and the oppressive July heat, I tapped out early and went home with a hardly used memory card in my camera. I miss the days when I used to go to Folkmoot wondering if I had brought enough extra memory cards.
I'm discovering that some of my most enjoyable work has come from photographing musicians. I generally prefer impromptu, casual portraits, and musicians often provide the ideal subject. Because they are usually so tuned in to their instrument and their music, it's easier to get relaxed and natural expressions. They don't become self conscious or uncomfortable because their mind is focused on their playing, and not on my camera. Also, since I'm seldom the only one pointing a camera at them, they're less aware of me individually. I'm just one of the crowd. Look at the concentration on the face of this man I found playing at a recent street festival - you can't pose or script that.