camera contest

PentaxForums.com, the main photography website that I visit, is putting on a contest that ends tomorrow. The grand prize is a Pentax K-30, which would be a worthwhile upgrade to my current Pentax K-20. The competition requires blog posts about photography, which is right up my alley. There are actually two submissions. The first one is a blog post about the one piece of equipment that has the biggest positive impact on my photography. The second is a blog post describing the “making of” of one of my favorite shots.

I’ve known about this competition for a while, but true to my form as a born procrastinator I’m finally getting around to writing my blog entries the day before they are due. So anyways, without further ado, here are my two posts.

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Post one: The Catalyst

The one piece of photographic equipment that has had the greatest effect on me is a lens that never actually existed.

Let me explain.

A few years ago I was looking to buy my first digital SLR. I figured I should get some practice manually setting exposure before spending money on an expensive camera, so I asked my dad if he could dig up his old film SLR for me. He found his old Pentax-ME camera, with a 35mm f/3.5 lens attached to it. Then he told me that he had a really spectacular lens for it, a 50mm f/1.2 lens that he spent a small fortune on, I just needed to wait for him to find it.

At the time I had a Canon point and shoot camera that I was pretty happy with, so I was considering buying a Canon SLR. Plus a few of my friends had Canon SLRs and lenses, so I could swap lenses with them. But when my dad told me about that 50mm f/1.2, I began to research Pentax cameras. I found that the lens was worth a good bit of money, and that it would actually work with current Pentax digital SLRs. So because of that lens my first digital SLR ended up being a Pentax K100D.

The thing is– that lens never really existed. My dad later found the lens he was talking about. It turned out to be a 50mm f/1.4– still a great lens, but probably not even a quarter of the cost of that 50mm f/1.2. I was a bit annoyed, but by then I had already bought my Pentax and a few lenses, so it was a bit late for me to turn back.

Since then I’ve come to love Pentax. I currently use a Pentax K20D. I love being outdoors, and I often get caught in the rain or snow. My Pentax K20D along with the DA* 16-50mm has been my constant companion through all the stormy weather. I especially like taking pictures of waterfalls, and with my weather sealed Pentax kit I have no problems walking right into a waterfall with my camera slung over my shoulder.

So in short, because of this lens that never really existed, I have found a camera system that is perfect for me. My Pentax SLR has been my constant companion on all my outdoor adventures. This lens that never actually existed has been a catalyst in my becoming a Pentaxian for life.

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Post two: Starry cycle

Of the thousands of pictures that I’ve taken over the years, this one is probably my favorite. There are many reasons why I like this picture– I like motorcycles, and I like star trail images. But I suppose part of the reason why I like this image so much is the process that went into shooting it.

 

It began on a clear dark night. Like usual for a weekend night, I was bored and had nothing better to do. Unlike most weekend nights though, I had my friend’s motorcycle. I was “babysitting” it while he was out of town, which basically meant that I would ride it every once in a while, to keep the carburetor from gunking up. (Or at least that was my excuse…)

So anyways, I had recently started experimenting with long exposure star trail shots, so I figured, what better way to spend a night than to ride around on the bike, then use it as the foreground for a star trail shot?

So I rode the bike to the northern edge of town. I wanted to take the picture facing north, so that I could get the north star in the frame. This way I could have the stars in the frame rotating around the north star. I figured the northern edge of town would give me the least amount of light pollution, since the town would be behind me.

I found a dirt road next to a farm and parked my bike. I had my wide angle lens attached to the camera, which I set on my tripod facing north with the bike in the frame. Since it was so dark out I manually focused the lens, and set it to the widest possible aperture, f/4 in this case. I set the camera for 30 second exposure at ISO 100. I then hooked up my intervalometer to the camera and set it to repeat indefinitely at 1 second. Then there was nothing for me to do but wait. I ended up lying in the dirt road staring up at the stars while my camera took 38 exposures.

The ride home was less than fifteen minutes, but it felt a lot longer than that. It felt long partly because it was very cold by then and I didn’t have enough clothes on to be riding a motorcycle on a cold night, and partly because I was dying to see how my picture would come out.

At home I used a program called StarTrails (available at http://startrails.de/html/software.html) to combine the 38 exposures into one image. I took the final result and tweaked it in Lightroom, brightening up the exposure and increasing the contrast a bit.

I sent the picture to my friend, who had it printed on canvas. He no longer owns that bike, and neither of us rides motorcycles anymore, but he still has that picture of the bike on his wall to remind him of all the good times we had with our motorcycles.

Equipment/Software:
Pentax K20D
Sigma 10-20mm
Induro tripod
Startrails app (http://startrails.de)
Lightroom 4

Camera Settings
ISO: 100
F-stop: f/4
Shutter speed: 30 seconds
Focal Length: 10mm
White balance: Auto
(38 separate exposures with these settings)

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