Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Climbing Gear Seem Like Penny Candy Compared to Photo Equipment!

I'm not a very good photographer, but I really enjoy shooting. My grandfather was an hobbyist, with many artistic shots in his albums. Because of his work, I grew up having an idea of what it was like for my mother as a child. The books were full of camping scenes in the Adirondacks and they may very well have been the thing that inspired me to adventure into the outdoors.

My father, too, enjoyed photography, although he didn't develop his own work, as his father-in-law had done(When we were clearing away grandpa's possessions I found an old darkroom beaker in his gear - Eastman Kodak, Co., Rochester, NY. It has been my q-Tip jar in the bathroom vanity ever since.) My father had tons of photos, all loose in a gigantic box, but his thing was slides. Slides and slides and slides. Our vacations and family events were detailed heavily and on winter evenings, we'd occasionally set up the projector, pop a big bowl of corn, snap the tops off ice cold Pepsi's and enjoy hours(or minutes, when you're a kid....) of entertainment as we added words to the stories told by the pictures.

I remember playing with my dad's old Pentax, intrigued by the way my eyesight seemed to blur with the turn of a dial.... But that was about it, as to my early experience with the camera. By the time i was an adult and wanted to document events, a cheap point and shoot was all the camera I could handle.

Not that I could actually handle even that! More than once I got my photos back from the drugstore only to see a camera strap dangling in the frame, or a blurry....thumb-like....stain on a corner photo. Yes, I took at least one shot without even noticing one of my fingers was blocking the view.

So you can understand... my talent was not advanced.

I'd simply accepted that, even though I am a very creative person, I simply had not inherited the photographer's gene that ran down both lines on my ancestry. Then came digital imaging, and everything changed. I could see - within seconds! - that I'd shot the top of the head off my subject. Or any number of glaring beginner's mistakes.

It helped. A lot. But as I've come to realize, a lot only goes a little way, when it comes to good photography.

Still, I began to enjoy shooting and taking my time viewing things through the viewfinder, and I began to get lucky once in a while. Occasionally someone would compliment a picture I'd taken and that but of encouragement was enough for me to begin rethinking my ability. Perhaps I DID have some inherent talent, or at least maybe I could learn some skills and techniques, and improve my work.

It's been a long, slow ride, my friends.... But I keep truckin'.

My first digital camera was purchased right around the time I began climbing. The freedom from the cost of film development allowed me to shoot literally hundreds of frames on my first outdoors climbing adventure, which was a weekend workshop with the AMC in the spring of 2004. I had been very careful to make sure I included everyone as they climbed, checking the shots in playback to insure I hadn't been "all thumbs" when catching them. Happy with my results, I gathered email addresses of the participants and sent them each an online album. I remember having enjoyed myself as much capturing the moments as I did climbing that weekend. And I LOVED climbing!

That camera was not long for this world, unfortunately. I used it for the next few outings and wanted it with me always. I hitched that poor camera to my harness and took him along with me for the ride. Until the day I forgot to holster him and left him my faithful partner unprotected..... It wasn't a traverse that did him in. was my first chimney attempt. Poor P&S was lashed to my hip, and as you can imagine, it wasn't pretty.

When my ropegun saw the damage, he guffawed and asked "What happened to your camera? The FACE is scraped off!"

It was. Scraped off. Well, the lens was....Apparently my groveling had switched the camera on and the little guy poked his head out from his protective shell. I had been so grunty attempting a climbing technique I didn't understand that I hadn't even noticed....

It was pretty embarrassing.

But! The good news was, when I went to replace it, that I learned about the optical zoom, and purchased a FujiFilm FinePix S3000 that went up 6X. Compared to most of my friends with only 3X zoom, I was able to get better, or at least bigger, butt shots....

That camera has been with my for the duration, and all the photos in this blog, except for the earliest ones mentioned above, are taken with it. He's been a very good camera, considering....

Considering the poor care I gave him.

I tried; I did the best I could. But that wasn't really good enough, and I hope - oh dear, I DO hope, I have learned my lesson.

Poor Fuji, I did buy him a nice, comfy, padded bag. But that's about it. I strapped that bag to my pack and tossed the thing around as if I were one of those gorilla baggage handlers at the airport in the old Samsonite commercials. I left him, uncased, atop my pack at the base of the crag more often than I can recall and I can tell you - a camera does not enjoy living a dirtbag lifestyle.

As I began taking more photos, and photos other people wanted copies of, I began paying more attention to technique, and eventually bought a "how to" book on photography. My camera had some manual settings, and I began to explore them. It was exciting to see the difference between f.8 and f.2, even if what I was seeing was that most of my shots needed to be taken at the f.8 setting to avoid camera shake.

That camera was a workhorse, and I beat him hard. It was a good thing I had begun exploring the manual settings, because eventually the auto mode settings failed. The only ones remaining were manual, macro and the movie ones; landscape, sports, nightime, and as I've said, the fully automatic ones no longer worked. Most likely I'd jarred poor Fuji once too often.

It was a little upsetting, and the fact that the camera had very bad image stabilization meant that many of my shots were terrible. I had begun wanting a camera with more ability to perform but I simply couldn't afford it. This was in 2005-2006, and at the time, an opening price point for a dslr was about $1200, if I remember correctly. The Canon Rebel hadn't come to market yet So, I spent my energy working on improving my efforts in composition.

Finally, my income situation began to improve and I was at a point where I could begin thinking about a new camera. I began researching the market, learning the differences between Canon and Nikon. It was at this time that Nikon introduced the D40, bringing the price of single reflex digital to within an affordable range for me. I was SO excited! But then, reading the reviews, I came to understand the camera would not be able to do what I was looking for. Certainly, the d40 WOULD have been good enough for me, but the limitations were....limiting, and that was disappointing. The good news was that, in one review, the author suggested going with a used d50 instead, for a similar proce.

Though I knew there was a market in used camera equipment, it hadn't occurred to me to buy used. I hadn't educated myself enough to understand the options between used gear and new, but this concept opened the door to a better camera for me a bit further. I researched further, and decided that when I next had a chunk of cash, I'd go with that d50.

And that was my intention. Finally, this last holiday season, the opportunity arose. Adding up the various holiday bonuses paid by my clients, I could afford to drop just over $500. I got to work - eying Keh and B&H online, thinking that was the way to go. I also posted on Supertopo, which has several professional and serious hobbyists who shoot, and asked for their advice.

I'd found a d50 listed locally on craigslist for $550 and had decided to buy, but the Supertopians were telling me the price was too high; that I should be able to get a d70 or even a d80 for that range.

Not in New York, I felt. After all - I'[d been looking! It seemed that people all went online to the big camera stores and checked prices on used goods, and then marked theirs for sale accordingly. I really didn't see how I could do better.

Then, to my luck, a listing came up for a d70 in excellent condition, with a 50mm lens and all the cables and such included, for $550. I met the seller and bought my new baby home that night. A few days later, with a little more money burning a hole in my pocket, I bought a used 18-70 F3.5-4.5 as well.

That was a few weeks ago, and I've still not made any shots I am proud of. That's okay! I had read about the various settings adjustments back with Mr. Fuji Finepix, but because the camera was really very simple, I hadn't actually needed to [em]understand[/em] how shutter speed, aperture and all the other settings worked as a system.

I was, and still am, fairly clueless. But I'm beginning to understand the concepts and experiment while I'm out shooting. Hopefully each time I go out, I will understand a little more and by my next trip out to JTree(in late March) I hope to be at a place where I can actually make setting decisions and come up with a shot that is of my own design, rather than relying on the camera settings to decide. That was something that frustrated me before, and does even now with the Nikon. I don't WANT to simply accept the settings. I want to be able to create moods and even though I don't yet know HOW to do that, I do know that I am beginning to look at scenes and analyze what I'd like to bring out in them. That's a start.

So far, the only pictures I've taken that are even worth keeping have been taken on the auto settings, and I have to admit that when I am out and see something I want to shoot, I am still very overwhelmed with the manual process and unsure of what I am doing. I've been pretty successful at making mistakes! Still, it's almost as if the concept of what is involved in the camera settings is coming into sharper focus for me whereas it was all a big blur only a week ago. I'll let you know when I have something worth posting!

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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

"Spend a Day or Many in the eGalleries" List of Photographers

Here's my "Spend a Day or Many in the eGalleries" List of Photographers.

Most are professionals who include climbing shots in their portfolios, but some focus their eye on other adventure lifestyles, and some are hobbyists who deserve their day in the sun. Who knows, they may well be the next "paid gun" out there, making a few coins of their shots, in an effort to keep living the life.

I will be adding to the list, so keep checking in, and if you know of someone whose work you think should be included, please include a link to their site in the comments. All comments do get read, and though I can't guarantee inclusion, I'll do my best to add all those possible. And if you find a link not working, please do let me know so I can repair it.


Ansel Adams
Stephen Alvarez
Dan Armstrong
Karl Baba
Pascal Beauvais
David Black *Added 1/13/08
Kaj Bune
Andrew Burr
Jakub Cejpek
John Okner *Added 2/19/09
Jimmy Chin
Jonny Copp
Monica Dalmasso
Alain Denis
Glen Denny *Added 1/4/08
Jerry Dodrill
Greg Epperson
Tom Evans *Added 2/20/09
Robbie George
Matt Hage
Bill Hatcher
Chase Jarvis
keith Ladzinski *Added 1/5/08
Tim Kemple
Randall Levensaler *Added 1/4/08
Craig Lueben
Lucas Marshall *Added 1/4/08
Stephen Matera
Andrew McGarry
Jared McMillen
Ben Moon
Shawn Reeder
Galen Rowell
Cory Richards
Whit Richardson
Gabe Rogel
Caleb Simpson *Added 1/1/08
Nathan Smith *Added 2/20/09
David Toth
Tyler Stableford
Hardie Truesdale
Beth Wald *Added 1/4/08
Randy Wenzel

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