angkor within the frame

When taking pictures at a place like Angkor Wat it’s very easy for all your pictures to start looking pretty similar. So to try and make things a little different from usual I took a lot of pictures that were framed by doorways or columns. Here are some of them.

towers in columns

Two towers of Angkor Wat framed by columns.

the view from the top

The view from the top of Angkor Wat.

steep steps up (i think it was bakong)

Steep steps to the top of the temple.


Many of the temples had a Buddha shrine in the center.

face in a frame

One of the many faces of Ta Prohm.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are many parts of the temple where the roots of a tree grow over the stone wall. Ta Prohm is especially famous for this.

tree framed by doorway.

Sometimes an entire tree will grow into the stone roof.

monkey guardian in a an intricately carved door frame

One of many monkey guard statues at Banteay Srei. The door frames are very intricately carved at Banteay Srei, they’re actually more detailed than the statues.

frame within a frameFrames within frames.

fallen blocks

Many sections of the temples within the Angkor Wat complex had caved in. What’s amazing is that they’re still open to the public. In America something like this would probably be closed to the public.

When I opened up my pictures from Cambodia in Lightroom, I found that I had almost 500 images. Many of them look pretty similar to each other. Framing my shots with a frame in the image helped to alleviate the monotony a bit. I found that shooting like that made it hard to get an acceptable exposure, because typically one side of the frame would be indoors and the other would be outdoors. It shows in these pictures that my camera’s dynamic range was stretched. My little Olympus OM-D camera gives up almost two stops of dynamic range to my previous Pentax K-5 camera. In most instances I don’t miss those two stops (and don’t miss lugging around an SLR), but in situations like this I sometimes miss having a camera with a larger sensor.

My dream camera at this point would be the recently announced Sony A7 II (I know my dream camera seems to change on a daily basis…) That Sony mirrorless camera seems to be the best of both worlds, a large sensor with great image quality, but still fairly compact, the only downside is the price. The lens and camera combination I’d want would be almost $2500. That’s more than I spent on my entire month of traveling, so yeah, I’ll probably stick with my OM-D for now.

candid cambodia

One thing that’s great about travel is that it takes you out of you comfort zone. Physically you’re out of your comfort zone, but also photographically travel takes me out of my comfort zone. I would say I’m more of a landscape/outdoor photographer, but traveling lets me take photos that I wouldn’t normally take. I’m not usually much of a people photographer, but something about travelling makes me more of a people watcher, so I decided to try my hand at people photography.

watercolor artist at work

One thing that impressed me about Cambodia was all the artists. Every market in Cambodia had artwork for sale, and a lot of it was very impressive.

leather work

There’s also a lot of artisans, and they seem to start at a very young age, like this boy working with leather.


Sadly there are many people who were injured from land mines. At several places around the Angkor temple complex you can hear bands formed from people handicapped by mines.

resting in the shadeSometimes you take a picture that you think tells one story, but find later that the story is completely different. I took this picture of what I thought was a guy relaxing alone with his guide book at the top of the temple steps. It wasn’t until I got home and saw the picture on my computer monitor that I saw the crutches.


I’m not sure what the story is behind these kids. At several of the temples I saw kids playing alone. I didn’t see any parents, and they weren’t begging for money, they were oblivious to all the tourists around them.


There were also many kids selling souvenirs. They were obviously not oblivious to tourists. They would literally follow you all the way back to your tuk tuk. I felt bad for this one (partly cuz I took her picture while she was following me) so I bought some post cards from her. Later on at our hotel I saw a flyer that explained why we shouldn’t buy from these kids.

buddhist ascetism aint what it used to be

Possibly because many of the Angkor temples are Buddhist there seemed to be a lot of monks around. To me it’s a bit strange to see a monk with a tablet and a cellphone is in his hand. Buddhist asceticism isn’t what it used to be.

freshly blended fruit shakes

At the night markets there are a lot of fruit shake stalls that will blend you a shake for a $1. They have Jamba Juice beat on price and taste, and it was especially refreshing in the warm and humid climate in Cambodia.

whole family on a motorcycle

We saw a lot of interesting sights from the back seat of our tuk tuk. The families on motorcycles especially amazed me. Back home a 250cc motorcycle would be considered under-powered, but here we could see entire families no one 125cc motorcycle.

These candid photos are a bit different from my usual photos. Something I realized is that I missed focus on a lot of these pictures, I should’ve taken my time and focused on the subjects’ eyes. But then in taking my time I’d probably lose the candid feel of the photos. So I think I just need to continue to practice at getting faster at focusing but at the same time staying less noticeable.

om-d, om-g?!

It’s been a while since I’ve done a photography post. Apparently it’s been a year, since the last photography post on my blog appears to have been from November of last year. Man it’s crazy how fast time flies. It’s not that I haven’t been taking any pictures. I’ve just been too lazy to write lately. Last year I made a point out of trying to post at least once a week, but most months this year I barely even managed to crank out one post. So yeah, I’ve been lazy, but I will try to be more consistent in writing for the rest of the year.


Anyways, a lot has changed since my last photography post. I ended up selling all my Pentax camera gear. It was a pretty tough decision. I’ve used Pentax SLR’s for over a half dozen years. I started with a Pentax K100d, then moved to a K20d, then finally a K-5. And I had a fairly decent collection of Pentax lenses too, covering from ultra wide to fairly long telephoto. I sold the entire collection on eBay.

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I had thought about selling my Pentax collection a couple of years back, when I bought a full frame Nikon D600 during a holiday sale. On paper that Nikon was superior to my Pentax in just about every way that a camera could be superior, but I ended up sticking with Pentax that time. Strangely enough, the camera that got me to sell all my Pentax gear, the Olympus OM-D is actually quite worse on paper than the Pentax camera that I had.

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Although the specs are worse, the Olympus OM-D is a much smaller camera. Since most of my pictures are taken when I’m traveling or hiking I felt that having a smaller camera was worth the small tradeoff in performance.

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The size difference is especially noticeable when you’re looking at the camera from above with a lens attached. Because the OM-D is a mirrorless camera, the lens can sit very close to the sensor since there’s no need for space to clear a hinged mirror. And since the camera has a smaller sensor, the lenses can be designed smaller since they don’t need to cover as large an area. All this basically means is that there’s less weight on my shoulders when I hike and less space taken up in my bags when I travel.

I’ve been using the camera for my last few trips and have found that I really don’t notice a difference in image quality, especially in good light. I was mostly worried about losing the ability to shoot in darker situations, but have found that it’s really not that much worse than my previous camera at the high ISO’s needed for those dark situations. ISO 1600 and even 3200 is still pretty usable, which is more or less where I was at with my old camera. The Nikon that I briefly owned was better of course, shooting at 6400 fairly cleanly, but for my purposes 3200 is plenty.


These are a couple of shots I’ve taken in dark situations in the last few months. There’s some noise visible in the images, but for my purposes the noise is not too bad. Part of the reason why the camera’s so usable in low light is the amazing image stabilization system in the OM-D. The shot on the right was taken with a shutter speed of an entire second. That definitely would’ve been a blurry mess with my shaky hands on my old camera. With my old camera at a similar focal length of around 24mm equivalent the best I could do is maybe 1/6 of a second, and even then most of my shots at that shutter speed were too blurry to use. Now 1/6 of a second seems like no problem. This ability to use slow shutter speeds is good for dark situations, but it’ll also come in handy for stuff like waterfalls where I’d deliberately use slow shutter speeds to make the water look smoother. I might be able to get away without a tripod in more situations, which again means less weight on my shoulder and less space taken up by camera gear in my bag.


When hiking I often find myself in situations where I have a light foreground and dark background or vice versa, so it’s nice to have a camera with very good dynamic range. I was pretty spoiled with my old camera, it had amazing dynamic range, according to DxoMark it was among the best in this regard. The new camera is not quite as good, according to DxoMark it gives up almost two stops of range, and this is one of those areas where I actually notice a difference in the pictures. On my trusty old Pentax I bet I could’ve gotten more detail in both the bright areas and the shadows of both of these photos. But I’m happy enough with the pictures I got, and these sorts of photo situations seem to happen when the hiking is the hardest, in deep canyons or in forests, so I guess having a smaller and lighter camera is a fair trade.

Downloads-001One unexpected bonus is the touchscreen. I honestly didn’t expect to use it much, but it actually comes in handy in a couple of situations. First, when I’m hiking I often hand off my camera to a stranger to have them take a picture for me. It’s much easier to explain to them to just touch on my face to take a picture than to explain that they should try and get the focus point in the viewfinder onto my face. So far since I’ve started using the OM-D I haven’t gotten an out of focus shot when handing off the camera to someone else. The second unexpected bonus is that the camera is still usable when your right hand is busted. With the cast I was wearing when I broke my hand I couldn’t wrap my finger around the shutter button of a traditional camera but I could tap the screen with my thumb to take pictures on my OM-D.

Downloads12The touchscreen was a great bonus, but I’m not yet fully sold on all the tech on this camera. The OM-D has an electronic viewfinder rather than an optical one, which is nice when shooting directly into the sun. I can take my time to expose and frame carefully without worrying about burning my retina. And it’s nice to see exposure and depth of field in the viewfinder. But the electronic viewfinder is completely worthless in darkness. The first time I took my camera out backpacking the stars were pretty bright, so I wanted to get a picture of the big dipper over my sleeping bag. I found that I couldn’t see anything in the viewfinder, so I couldn’t focus and I couldn’t frame the shot. To make matters worse, you can’t focus when you can’t see since the couple of lenses that I have, since they’re all focus by wire lenses. It was only after an hour of guessing and testing, moving my camera slightly and moving the focus slightly that I was able to get a picture of the dipper.

So yeah, there are times when I really miss having an optical viewfinder and mechanical manual focus lenses. I think with the OM-D I can get halfway there, I can buy a manual focus lens with distance markers, so I would at least be able to focus, but I still wouldn’t be able to see what I’m shooting at. I guess if I bought a really wide manual focus lens, I can just set the focus and point the camera in the general direction of what I’m shooting at and then crop to get the shot I want. But it’d be nice to not have to jump through all those hoops to get star shots.

Aside from the star photography issues, I’m pretty happy with my OM-D and I don’t really have much regret in selling all my Pentax gear. Most of my Pentax gear was weather sealed, and I often shot in the rain or underneath waterfalls without worry. Supposedly the OM-D and the kit lens I’m using is sealed, so I guess time will tell if it holds up as well as my Pentax gear did in inclement weather.

Over the years I became kind of a Pentax fanboy, I would always read up on all the latest Pentax news (it was actually easy cuz there really wasn’t much news, haha) and I was at times an avid contributor to Pentax forums. I can’t say that I’m a fanboy of Olympus or the OM-D series, I’m not OMG in love with the camera or the brand but it’s been good so far and I’m looking forward to a lot of travel and adventures with the camera. Who knows maybe I will someday be OMG in love with it.

telephoto compression

A while back I decided to do a series of posts called 7shots. The plan was to do a blog post with at least 7 images at least once per week, and each post would have some sort of common theme. The goal of this series was to get out and use my photography equipment, especially the stuff that I don’t use very often, such as prime/macro lenses or my flash. With the year almost over I only have around 20 of these posts, so I’ve obviously been lazy.


So anyways, I recently bought a new lens, the Pentax 18-135mm. I bought the lens because I wanted something smaller and lighter (and cheaper) to use while traveling. It’s the small lens on the left side of this image, and while it’s smaller than the other two lenses in the picture, it covers almost the entire range of both the bigger lenses combined. Plus it’s still weather sealed, which makes it great for all the dusty and wet environments that I often find myself hiking in.

IMGP4941So a 7shot post would be a good way to get to know this lens. It’s a lens with a fairly long zoom range, with exactly 7 focal lengths printed on the lens. That makes the theme of this post easy enough. I’ll just take an image at each of these focal lengths to see the effects of telephoto compression on a landscape shot.

This series was shot at the Mexican Hat in Utah. The car didn’t move between shots. The Mexican Hat didn’t either. The only things that are changing between shots are the focal length and my distance from the car.

IMGP4637The lens at it’s widest, 18mm. I shot this from a few yards away from the car.

IMGP4638Here is the same scene at 24mm. I had to step back a few more yards to get both the car and the Mexican Hat in the frame.

IMGP463935mm. Again farther back, but zoomed in more.

IMGP464050mm. I’m a few dozen yards away already. I’m gingerly picking my way through the cactus to get farther away.


70mm. I’m really in the weeds (and cacti) at this point. Here you can really start to see the effects of telephoto compression. Even though the car and the rock haven’t moved, the distance between them appears a lot smaller. The rock in the background appears a lot bigger now.

IMGP4642At 100mm I’m starting to run out of room. I’m probably at least a football field length away. I can’t fit the Mexican Hat into the frame anymore, I can just get the base of the rock into the frame.

IMGP4643One last shot at 135mm, fully zoomed in on this lens. It’s hard to tell from the image, but I’m really far from the car at this point. I had a long walk back to the car through the weeds and cacti, and stupidly enough I was wearing flip flops. And my friend Tim was wondering what the heck I was doing so far away…

This was a nice little exercise to get to know my lens better. I’ve heard it often said that you should buy a prime lens and zoom with your feet. That’s true to a certain extent. But if you use a zoom lens and move around you have a lot more options for framing your images. You can use the wide end to make the foreground more prominent, or you can use the long end to make the background appear closer. That sort of flexibility is lacking with a prime lens.

So anyways I’m glad to have this lens for when I’m outdoors. Granted there are some big trade-offs. The lens isn’t as sharp (especially at the long end of the zoom) as its two bigger brothers. There’s a fair amount of chromatic aberration. It’s especially visible on the upper left of the 100mm shot , the purple fringing where the rock meets the sky. But on the plus side it’s nice to have this much flexibility in one lens. Hopefully I won’t be too lazy to move around and make the most of it.

arches after dark

Mesa Verde was more or less the last scheduled stop on our whirlwind road trip through the American southwest. We had flown into Vegas, from there it was about 2.5 hours to Zion. From Zion to Page, the city in Arizona where Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend are located, was also about 2.5 hours. And then from Page to Mesa Verde was about 3.5 hours. So backtracking back to Vegas we were looking at a good eight hour drive at least.

Screenshot_2013-11-17-21-11-02Google maps gave us three different routes. The center route more or less backtracks the way we came. There was also a southern route, which would take us through Flagstaff. Then there was a northern route, the longest route back by almost 100 miles, yet only about half an hour longer. That was the route we decided to take, since it took us through Arches National Park. Leaving Mesa Verde early in the afternoon, we would make it to Arches in time for the sunset, and then we would be able to take some star shots through one of the famous arches in the park.

IMGP4748We arrived at the ‘Windows’ section of Arches National Park a little bit before the scheduled sunset. I saw the North Window, and thought that it would be a great frame for the sunset, so I ran up these steps to try and get to a spot where I could shoot through the arch toward the horizon. Well at least I tried to run– I got about halfway before I started wheezing and gasping for air. I blame the high altitude and the cold air (but in truth I’m just in crappy shape).

IMGP4751When I got to the North Window I found that the ground on the other side of the window was steeply sloped downward, so if I were to use the window as a frame, I would not be able to see the horizon. Unless I had a fish-eye lens, the best I could do is get a small portion of the window with the sunset. But then as I took this test shot, I saw that the turret arch was in my frame. Since the sun was rapidly dropping toward the horizon, I didn’t have enough time to find a spot where I could frame the sunset in the arch, but at least the arch made for an interesting foreground.

IMGP4781This is the sunset shot that I ended up with. Not too bad. I had bracketed a couple of exposures, so maybe I’ll eventually end up print an HDR version of this shot (which would make the arch less dark) but for now I’m too lazy to put that much effort into post processing.

IMGP4792Afterwards we headed to the nearby Double Arch. This is a pretty famous spot for star photography. Here we played around with different exposure lengths and different amounts of light painting of the arch while figuring out how to frame our shot. This is more or less the framing that we decided on.

IMGP4798This is the shot that I ended up with. A twenty minute exposure, and several passes of the arch with my headlamp. You can see that an airplane passed by, and another photographer in the lower right was shining his headlamp upwards, creating a bright spot on the right side of the rock. Plus the foreground could use more brightening. But overall I’m happy with the picture I got.

IMGP4807Near the double arch was a rock that looked sort of like a giant’s head. So we tried to take a picture of the giant looking at the Milky Way. The Milky Way isn’t as pronounced as it is in summer, but I’m still more or less happy with the image.

So in the end I ended up with three pictures that I’m more or less happy with. Probably if I had more time, I would’ve come away with even better images, but for the time we spent there I’m happy with the pictures I got.

And this trip made me realize that for the first time in my life I’m happy with the photography gear that I have. It’s almost a year ago now that I had bought a D600 and then returned it. Most people said I was crazy– the Nikon D600 is a far superior camera. It’s true, the D600 is a better camera, especially for these sorts of very low light or very high dynamic range shots. But my Pentax K-5 handles those situations well enough for me, so I’m happy with the decision I made to stick with Pentax. And it saved me a lot of money on lenses, money that will hopefully be used to see even more of these amazing landscapes.

stadiums of glory

The small group I go to has been having everyone take turns leading worship lately. When I was asked to lead worship this week I was sitting at the airport in Denver, waiting to get on my flight back home. I agreed to lead, even though I had no idea what I would be doing for worship. I have absolutely no musical talent whatsoever, so I didn’t really want to do the traditional ‘sing three songs and pray’ worship set.

I thought about what I’d do for the entire plane ride back to California. It wasn’t until I got home and read the email again that I decided on what I’d do. “Make it as you as possible,” the email said. I had just come back from a road trip in which the scenery had inspired me, so I decided to share some of those pictures, along with some pictures from previous trips. Along with those pictures we read some verses (mostly from Psalms) that reveal the glory that exists in nature.

I found that Walmart did same day panoramic prints, and they were actually pretty cheap. So I printed out a few to share for the worship set. To be honest, I wasn’t all that happy with the prints, they came out relatively flat. Maybe in the future I’ll try again, boosting vibrance, saturation and contrast before sending the files out again.

So anyways, here are some of the pictures I shared, along with a few new ones. Most have been posted on this blog before, but I’ve re-cropped the majority of them for Walmart’s 8×20 panoramic format.

My photographic journey begins a few years ago. I had gone on a roadtrip to Arizona and Utah with a few friends of mine. One of our stops was at the Grand Canyon. At the eastern side of the Grand Canyon is a placed called Desert Viewpoint, where there is a watchtower. It’s a pretty well known location for photography, if you search on Google for ‘desert view watchtower’ you’ll find thousands of beautiful photographs.

IMGP4122At the watchtower there is a sign posted into the wall. It has a verse from Psalm 66:4, which reads, “All the earth worships Thee; they sing praises to Thee, sing praises to They name.

the view from the watchtower @ desert viewYou can make out the sign towards the bottom center of the frame. To me, the Grand Canyon is like a stadium that speaks to the glory that exists in creation.

IMGP9337Another place that’s like a stadium of glory to me is the “Going to the Sun Road” through Glacier National Park in Montana. I went out there as part of a road trip with Gid last year. The road was closed for a while because of construction, so we just sat here and stared out at the amazing glacier carved canyon.

IMGP1556One of my favorite passages in the bible is from Psalm 19. It begins with, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” It explains why I spend a lot of time lying around waiting for sunsets when I go backpacking.

IMGP2713This past weekend too, I spent a good amount of time waiting around for the sunset at Arches.

IMGP0218It also explains why I can brave freezing weather to watch the stars. And I’m thankful for friends who are willing to do the same.

IMGP2741Seeing the stars, especially the Milky Way, reminds me of Psalm 8:3-4. It says, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” The skies over Utah were unbelievably big this past weekend, with the Milky Way stretching pretty much horizon to horizon. It reminds me of how small I am in comparison.

IMGP0674Yosemite is another place that makes me realize how small I am. The waterfalls there are massive (and beautiful, especially in Winter).

the narrows make you feel small. like a mouse caught in a maze.I’ve been to a good number of places and have been on a good number of hikes. In all those travels the place that has made me feel the smallest is the Zion Narrows in Utah. I felt literally like a mouse in a maze at some points of the hike.

The ‘worship set’ on Wednesday ended with this verse from Ecclesiastes 4. “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.

I’m really thankful for the community that I have in my small group, and for all the friends who’ve gone on me on these crazy trips over the years, and have put up with waiting around for me to take these pictures.

arches national park

Moab, UT is famous for mountain biking. It’s also famous for being sort of a base camp for people who are visiting Arches and Canyonland National Parks, which are among the most photographed parks in the United States.

IMGP2636You can tell just from the parking area at the Arches visitor center that the scenery is going to be quite awesome.

IMGP2640There are some famous rock formations that are visible from the road. This one is called ‘Balanced Rock.’ It reminds me of the Roadrunner and Wily Coyote for some reason.

IMGP2650Most of the rock formations, however, require some hiking to get to. So after spending the entire morning biking up slickrock, we spent part of the afternoon hiking up slickrock.

IMGP2655Looking out towards where we came from, the scenery is pretty epic.

IMGP2664The last portion of the trail is on sort of a narrow ledge. The view in this direction is pretty impressive too.

IMGP2679Our destination was the Delicate Arch, which is most likely the most famous rock formation in the park. People came from all over the world to take a picture under the arch.

photoI setup my ultra-wide lens on my camera and setup my tripod here to wait for the sunset. While I was waiting here, I guess because I had a prime spot, people started handing me their cameras and asked me to take pictures for them underneath the arch. There were people from all over the world, several Chinese couples, a few Koreans, Japanese, a Frenchman, and a group of German guys.

(Cellphone cameras have been getting better every year, and I think the camera on my Nexus4 is pretty decent, but the images are still crap compared to the ones that any decent SLR or mirrorless camera puts out…)

IMGP2713My sunset shot. There were just enough clouds on the horizon to add some color to the sunset.

IMGP2731There were no clouds over the arch, so I was able to get a clear shot of the stars over the arch. I originally wanted to get a shot of the arch with the Milky Way in view, but the Milky Way was off in another direction. I had seen that shot in postcards and online, so I was wondering how people got those people had gotten that shot. It didn’t dawn on me until I was on my way home that I just needed to wait for the stars to rotate into place. Ah well– C’est la vie…

IMGP2736We had to hike back through that narrow cliff area in the darkness. Thank God for headlamps.

IMGP2739The slickrock area was harder to navigate at night, because there are wide open expanses. You have to really look for the cairn stones that mark the trail, which is sometimes hard with such limited light.

IMGP2741During our hike back, we stopped several times to gaze up at the stars. When we got back near the car we decided to take a shot of the Milky Way over Ray’s Subaru. Ray light painted the foreground with a headlamp while my camera took a 30 second exposure. This ended up being my favorite picture from the trip.

outdoor textures

I am much better at capturing photographs than catching fish. (It’s not that I’m a good photographer, it’s just that I’m a terrible fisherman.) So while this past weekend was a fishing trip, I actually spent more time using my camera than my fishing pole. And it’s been a while since I’ve done a 7shots post. (It was supposed to be a weekly thing, but I’ve obviously been lazy.) So I spent a good amount of time taking random photographs.

Lassen National Forest has an amazing variety of scenery, from wide open forests to claustrophobic caves, to wide expanses of lava rocks. They all make for interesting pictures. But I have a ton of those kind of pictures already. This time around I spent a lot of time crouching down low to capture that scenery up close. All that variety of scenery makes for an interesting set of textures.

IMGP2585Lassen National Forest is obviously a forest. A forest is filled with trees. (duh.) Trees have bark. (also duh.) I always though the rough texture of a pine tree’s bark was pretty interesting.

IMGP2581Underneath the bark of a fallen tree is the smooth wood, and often the fallen trees are crawling with bugs like as ants and beetles. It’s interesting that they always seem to be traveling in the direction of the wood grain.

IMGP2502Speaking of bugs, here’s a writhing mass of them on a cocoon. I would characterize this texture as fuzzy. I would characterize the whole writhing mass of bugs as nasty.

IMGP2616Large areas of the forest near Hat Creek were decimated by fire. There’s a lot of charred dead wood on the ground, but also a lot of new life rising out of the ground around it. The fire seems to accentuate the natural textures of the wood grain.

IMGP2589There are huge fields filled with lava rock. Rough, sharp rocks that scrape your knees when you fall on them because you’re looking through your camera instead of watching where you walk.


Pine cones look interesting up close. Kind of sharp and foreboding.

IMGP2535The roof of a cave appears pretty rough. It has bright specks in it which look like gold.

IMGP2608Bonus shot: I suppose water doesn’t have a texture, per se, but I always like the smooth, creamy look of running water that is captured with a slow shutter speed.

learning from the worst

Henri Cartier-Bresson was a French photographer who is considered by many to be the father of modern photojournalism. His famous quote, “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst,” is one that I only recently heard of, but I think it’s definitely true in my case.

Recently my computer’s main hard drive crashed, so I lost all my Lightroom catalog files. Thankfully all my pictures were on a different hard drive (that’s backed up pretty regularly), so I didn’t lose any of them. But in losing all the catalog files I lost all the edits that I had done to my pictures. (Lightroom is a non destructive image editor, so when you make edits to your pictures it doesn’t actually touch the picture files, it just stores the edits in a catalog file.)

So anyways, I installed a new drive (finally had a reason to upgrade to an SSD), reinstalled Windows and Lightroom, and re-imported all my pictures. Because there’s no catalog file, all the pictures were as they looked straight out of the camera. I started looking through those pictures and I realized it’s definitely true that my first 10,000 pictures are my worst. And while I may be slightly better than I was before (and part of the reason for that is I rely on Lightroom so much nowadays), I still make a lot of the same mistakes. So in the interest of learning from my mistakes, for this week’s 7shots I’ve posted some of my worst shots and what I’ve learned from them.

IMGP2913Missed focus. I was probably using continuous auto focus on this shot without selecting an autofocus point. So the camera picked a nice piece of wood on the background to focus on, rather than the koala. Lesson learned: Select your autofocus points.


Blown highlights. I seem to hike a lot in deep valleys, which tend to be areas that are challenging for photography, because there are often huge contrasts between the light and dark areas of the frame. And often if you meter for your subject in these situations you’ll blow out the highlights in large portions of the picture. The way I avoid this nowadays is to turn on the ‘blinkies’ (on my camera I can set overexposed areas to blink yellow and underexposed areas to blink red), and then dial in my exposure to minimize the blinkies. It usually means that I underexpose anywhere from 1/3 of a stop to 1 2/3 stop. Then in Lightroom I can usually bring up the shadows to compensate (you have to shoot in raw for this.) Lesson learned: Adjust exposure for the situation and shoot in raw.

IMGP1344Sufficient shutter speed. I looked at the EXIF data on this picture, and it showed that this was exposed at ISO 800 and f/4 for the aperture with a shutter speed of 1/8 of a second. That’s too slow a shutter speed for my shaky hands, and way too slow for an overly active dog like Annie. I should have raised ISO to get a faster shutter speed, even if it would’ve introduced more noise into the shoot. You can sort of correct for digital noise, but as far as I know Lightroom doesn’t fix camera shake motion blur. There’s actually a ton of things wrong with this photo– the white balance is off and it’s a bit underexposed, but those issues can sort of be fixed in Lightroom. It’s a throwaway picture because of the camera shake. Lesson learned: Make sure your shutter speed is high enough.

IMGP0315Skewed horizons and framing. I’m not sure how I ended up being so far off level for this shot. I should have taken the time to make sure the horizon was level, and I should have stood in the middle of the dock and pointed the camera straight down the dock. But I didn’t, so instead of a cool picture I have this off balance looking one. Slanted horizons are easily fixed in Lightroom, but crappy framing cannot always be fixed. Sometimes I can crop a picture that’s framed weirdly to get some improvement, but if it’s off balance like this I’d probably toss it. Lesson learned: Take your time and frame correctly.

IMGP2231Check the ISO. If you look at the EXIF on this picture you’ll see that it was shot at ISO 800. What a total n00b mistake, shooting at 800 in bright sun. (And there goes the slanted horizon again…) I think what happened in this shot was that I was hiking all day in a dark and shady forest, and when I emerged onto the beach all of a sudden I got so excited that I forgot to bring the ISO back down. Lesson learned: Adjust your ISO for changing light.

IMGP1974Crappy shots. Literally, metaphorically, photographically, this shot is crap. And it’s not even properly exposed crap. Actually there’s a lot of crappy photographs in my Lightroom catalog (not literal crap, but photographically crappy). Why is there so much crap? Perhaps I had an idea for a shot in my mind, but it just didn’t come out like I thought it would. Or maybe I took the shot to tell a story, but later forgot the story behind the shot. Or in the case of wildlife or birds I’ll often spray and pray and shoot a whole bunch of shots in the hope of getting one good one.

I once read that for every article published in National Geographic, there are 29,000 frames that are shot. Out of that 29,000 only a handful are published. So even the best photographers in the world have a lot of crap. Of course their crap is probably better than my pictures that I consider good. But I guess the lesson from this is: Keep shooting. Most of it will be crap. That’s okay. (And who knows, maybe that crap can be useful, say for example to write a crappy blog post about crappy pictures…)

the sign @ desert view-Diffraction, DOF, and hyperfocal distance. This was shot with the aperture set at f/22 on my ultra-wide 10mm lens. At the time I knew a little bit about DOF (depth of field), but didn’t know anything about diffraction or hyperfocal distances. All I knew is that I wanted enough depth of field to get both the sign and all of the Grand Canyon in focus and as sharp as possible, so I naively set my camera for f/22 to maximize depth of field.

What I didn’t know is that if you stop down past about f/8 you start to lose sharpness due to diffraction. And at the time I didn’t know about hyperfocal distances. I know now that the hyperfocal distance for my 10mm lens at f/8 is just over 2 feet away. I’m pretty sure my lens was more than 2 feet away from that sign, so at f/8 I could have had everything in focus without losing sharpness due to diffraction.Screenshot_2013-03-21-10-56-58

Nowadays, in the smartphone era, there are apps that you can use to calculate the hyperfocal distances. On old manual lenses there are DOF scales, so these calculators weren’t needed, but most new autofocus lenses don’t seem to have them anymore. But anyways for landscape photography I find it useful to memorize at least the hyperfocal distance at f/8 of my lenses at their widest focal length. So for my ultrawide 10mm I know it’s a bit over two feet, and on my 16-50mm (which is with me 90% of the time) it’s a little over five feet at 16mm & f/8. I guess the lesson from this is: Get to know your lenses.

worst2Leaving the camera at home. They say the best camera is the one that you have with you. In a lot of cases that’s the camera on my phone. But there’s been a lot of times when I’ve taken pictures with my phone and wished that I had a better camera with me. Sometimes I’ve left my camera at home because I didn’t want to carry it on a long grueling hike or a crazy long bike ride. Other times it’s been because of harsh conditions, such as snow backpacking. Over the years I’ve found that it’s often the crazy long hikes or bike rides or crazy conditions that make for the best photographs. So nowadays I try to bring the SLR (or at least my mirrorless or even my waterproof action cam) every time I’m outdoors for an extended amoount of time. The one main exception is on road bike rides because there’s usually no where to carry a camera. Lesson learned: Bring the big guns when possible.

One of the things I love about photography is that I’m constantly learning. Photographs 10,001 to 20,000 were hopefully a little better than 1-10,000. I still make a lot of the mistakes that I made during those first 10,000 shots, though nowadays I’m usually more conscious about how to adjust my camera to fix the mistakes for the next shot. So I guess I’ve learned a few things from my worst shots.

newly nikonian?

My new Nikon D600 arrived today. Coincidentally, it was actually sunny today. So I took it for a hike. I figured the best way to see how much better it is than my old camera is to go somewhere that I’ve photographed often. So I went to Cold Canyon, a place I’ve hiked to probably a dozen times by now.

DSC_0011I was surprised that there were other people on the trail today, this being Christmas Eve and all…

DSC_0016I’m happy enough with the kit lens. It covers more or less the same focal lengths as my favorite Pentax lens. It’s wide enough to take pictures of the switchbacks on the trail. For some reason I’ve always like taking pictures of hiking buddies on switchbacks, as you can see here, here, and here

DSC_0078The dynamic range is pretty awesome on this camera, as expected. I metered this shot at a spot in the sky, so parts of it are pretty badly underexposed…

Lightroom 4 Catalog - Adobe Photoshop Lightroom - Develop 12252012 95439 PMI imported the shot in Lightroom and pulled the highlights all the way down and the shadow all the way up to get this crazy sunset shot. It’s pretty amazing how much shadow detail is retained, and it’s even crazier how much it can be boosted without any apparent noise. On my old camera, even at low ISOs, boosting the shadows would introduce a ton of noise.

DSC_0127I stayed a bit after sunset until a few stars came out. When I took this picture, I could only see maybe a dozen or so of the brightest stars in the sky. The camera, however, captured way more than I could see. What’s even more amazing is that I took this at ISO 6400, and there’s not too much noise. It looks cleaner to me than my old camera at ISO 1600. So I’m looking forward to taking some crazy night shots in the future.

Fullscreen capture 12252012 100646 PM-001


So yea, the D600 is definitely a nice camera. Its sensor is one of the highest rated by DxoMark, and it’s among the best for ISO and dynamic range. But part of me thinks I should return it, and just get the Pentax K-5, which would still be a pretty significant upgrade in DR and ISO to my current K20D. The advantage of the K-5 is that it costs less than half as much as the D600, and I would be able to use all the lenses that I currently have. The D600 would require me to sell all my Pentax lenses, and Nikon’s pro glass is pretty expensive. I’m looking at more than $4,000 to buy the f/2.8 zooms that cover the same focal lengths as my Pentax zooms…

The other thing is that Pentax doesn’t currently have a full frame camera, but they are rumored to be working on one. It would most likely be on par with the D600 for image quality, since both Pentax and Nikon buy their sensors from Sony. But If I bought a hypothetical future Pentax full frame camera, I’d need to sell my lenses anyways, since most of my lenses don’t cover a full frame circle. So maybe it does make sense to switch to Nikon, at least with Nikon I can borrow lenses because I have a good number of friends with very nice Nikon lenses…

I still have a couple of weeks before I have to decide whether to return the D600. It’s funny, when I got into photography, I thought it would be a cheap hobby. Now I’m trying to decide whether to return $2,400 worth of photography gear. It’s definitely NOT a cheap hobby, but it has brought me a lot of joy over the years. So whether or not I become a full fledged Nikonian, or stay as a Pentaxian, I still will enjoy this hobby even if it costs me a lot more in the future.