All posts by Mervin McDougall

Back to Basics – Using the Konstructor

The Konstructor Camera

Thanks to a high volume of workload recently and an interest in experimenting with something different, I decided to pick up a camera – a very simple camera. I had gotten  my hands on a Konstructor.  That’s right a  lomography camera. That simply means it is a back to basics 35 mm film camera. So what is the Konstructor like?

The Konstructor does not provide much in modern conveniences. It has no auto focus. Focus is done by hand and although it allows for some close-up work, it is not as easy to work with using the top-down viewing window. What it is however is discreet compared to the a contemporary DSLR.  Drawing the camera to the eye always draws attention to the photographer but a waist high viewing camera on the other hand doesn’t draw as much attention.

Another area were convenience is lacking is metering. Metering has to do be done by an external light meter. Thankfully, I have been able to make use of a light meter app on my phone. I don’t expect it to be absolutely perfect, it doesn’t need to be.  But, it needs to help me determine whether there is sufficient light to make the shot.

A fixed shutter speed of 1/80 s is another thing to look out for. It is not an inconvenience. After all, a faster shutter speed means less shake. But, it also means I either need  significant amounts of light if I am making use of film with a low ISO or simply opt for a higher ISO film. The one setback I have experienced with this is that I am limited to taking shots around noon.  This is especially so during winter because the skies are usually overcast. Sunny days are far and few between and even then the sun only shows in spurts.

The last issue which is a little inconvenient is the fixed aperture of F/10.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my images tack sharp and with a plastic lens like the one fitted to this camera it needs to be dialed down to give the best results. But, like the fixed shutter speed, it requires either large amounts of light or higher ISO film to be effective.

The limitations the camera imposes require some skill and patience to work around but it is doable so long as you are willing to commit to learning it. It also means that you have to rely on some external instruments to help  determine when to take your pictures. But, the experience simplifies the  photography process and encourages the user to get back to basics. And, overall, makes for a very rewarding experience.

P.S.: I am keeping my fingers crossed once I have the film developed.

Pink Carnations

Pink Carnations
Pink Carnations

Feeling some anxiety to experiment with light, I decided to take it upon myself to see what else can be produced with shadows. I was reminiscing on the work I had done on Memorial Day and wanted to see if I could create something equally intriguing by enveloping my subject with light. I decided to conduct a series of light experiments on some pink carnations which I found in the office at work.

The premise of the light experiment was simple. I simply worked on eliminating the background completely, leaving the focus on the subject matter. This is exactly what I did by utilizing my external flash to overpower the existing ambient light. What resulted is a simple, but beautiful landscape of pink and brown hues which slowly fade to black. The effect is effective to the point that it creates a perceived three dimensional depth to the image.

In all it was a good experiment, but I think that it only touches on what I wanted to accomplish with the image. Something still felt absent and I believe only more experimentation is going to reveal what is truly possible with the lighting set-up I am putting together.

Nevertheless, it came close to what I was trying to create since I was shooting for some mystery with the display of the pink carnations.  But, it helped me see what is possible through strategic lighting of a scene and aptly fast shutter speed.

Playing with Shadows

Memorial Day
Memorial Day

This Memorial Day, I decided to get out on the road and visit a village which I have been anticipating visiting for quite some time – Northport. It was no surprise to come across a parade or similar celebration today. What was surprising to me was that I parked in close proximity of the route of where the parade was expected to pass through – talk about serendipity.  Without any time to waste, I set about taking photos of the moving parade of veterans, soldiers, scouts and others. It was during these shots I started to experiment with something that was ever present because of the sunny day and which I thought would make an equally interesting subject. I started playing with shadows.

It was while playing with shadows I noticed the silhouette of the American flag being hoisted by one of the uniformed soldiers. It was at that point the image in this post really coalesced for me . However, I wanted very much to anchor those shadows and tie them to something physical, or rather what created them. It was that thought which lead me to include the legs of the uniformed soldiers in the shot, thus completing the experience.  Of course, I took many other shots besides this one as I am never satisfied with a singular shot. But it was this photograph which I would say capped the event for me.  In a way, it symbolizes the current soldiers who are standing in the shadows of those who came before them.

In retrospect, I think the shadows communicate more in a photo than do the actual subjects. And, this is reflected in this photo where I was playing with shadows during the Memorial Day activities of Northport, NY. It is the one shot which stands out most for me because it is suggestive that the current soldiers are standing in the shadows of the ones who came before them.

Chinese New Year: Little Sheep

Little Sheep
Little Sheep

Unlike the Western Zodiac which depicts different celestial groups as representation of periods within a year, the Chinese Zodiac, instead, represents a different animal every year.   There are twelve animals which make up the Chinese Zodiac. And, this year, in February,  the Chinese community of Chinatown, NY came together to celebrate the year of the sheep. True to my nomadic personality, I was present to participate. I worked to capture the thrill and excitement of the crowds  and the performers. However, there was one shot I took which I thought was less about the excitement and more about enjoying the simpler things of the moment — little sheep.

During a brief pause of the parade, one of the celebratory helium balloons escaped into the air and floated upwards into the stratosphere. One of the young girls who was parading the streets, dressed as a little sheep, glanced upwards. At that very moment, I snapped the shot forever capturing that small slice of time which may seem trivial to most given that it was just a balloon; But it meant a lot to this little girl since it captured her attention completely.

For me, what the image represents is not the festival but the little things that we tend to ignore or forget because we get wrapped up in the bigger things. Everyone else was entertaining themselves by shooting confetti, or taking snap shots of the dragon dancers further down the line. But, this little girl was mesmerized by the flight of the balloon and for the three minutes the balloon was in view,  her attention was completely devoted to it.

I think that as adults we get too wrapped up in the bigger things, the explosions, the colour, the light, etc. We fail sometimes to take pleasure in the smaller things. However, thanks to that little sheep, I was reminded of the little, yet simple pleasures that I miss and how much more entertaining they can be.

Why you should get a fast zoom lens.

Most manufacturers would have you believe that the reason why you want to get the top of the line fast zoom lens is to shoot in absolute darkness or to get gorgeous bokeh balls. Although there is some inkling of truth in there, the idea is absolutely absurd. The name photography suggests painting with light. Why then would you want to shoot in absolute darkness if the concept is contrary to what photography stands for? Further, are we going to shoot every image so that it has a milky smooth background and gorgeous bokeh balls. Granted, if the idea was to impress your friends and persons who are not knowledgeable enough in photography, you will certainly win some points. But, why by gear often times costing thousands of dollars just to shoot in low light or show how great you can blur the background ? Having set that premise, I will try to describe a practical reason why you should get a fast zoom lens.

To explain, lets have a look at a consumer grade and a professional  lens with similar zoom lengths – the 55-200mm f4-5.6 Nikkor and the 70-200mm f2.8 Nikkor. For the sake of this explanation we will also assume that these lenses are placed on a crop body as the the former is a DX sensor lens and the latter is an FX sensor lens. Certainly, the DX lens is lighter it can certainly allow for zooming within the same range as the 70-200mm. The 70-200mm however allows the user to maintain an aperture of f2.8 throughout the length. The 55-200mm changes its aperture through the process of zooming in and out. This can lead to some difficulty when it comes to maintaining the exposure of your image across different zoom lengths.

If you recall the exposure triangle which is made up of the ISO, aperture and shutter speed, as you adjust one area of the triangle, you are certainly going to have to adjust one or two of the other areas to compensate. So, lets have a look at the specifications of two images

  1. ISO 200, aperture 4, shutter speed 1/200s
  2. ISO 200, aperture 5.6, shutter speed 1/100s

Both images will have the same exposure, or have the same amount of light applied to them. As the aperture changed, the shutter speed was adjusted to compensate for the quantity of light coming through the lens.

Getting back to the comparison of our two lenses. As you zoom the length of the 55-200mm lens the aperture will change resulting in a change in exposure whereas the 70-200mm would not change the aperture at all throughout the length. Thus for a fast moving event like a sports game or animals in a zoo, this is ideal as you never have to adjust any of your other settings. You simply shoot and forget about it.

Now, I know what you are thinking. Why not set the camera in aperture priority and let the camera figure out the shutter speed as you zoom through the lengths. That will certainly allow the lens to behave as if it has a fixed aperture through the changes in its distance from the sensor. Please note that the 55-200mm will still adjust the aperture at its widest position regardless of being placed in aperture priority. But, for the sake of this example we will assume that it does not. If we took our two photograph examples above. This means that the shutter speed will be adjusted accordingly from 1/200 – 1/100 seconds and vice versa. This is great if you don’t zoom past 100mm. But beyond that, you have the possibility of introducing camera shake unless you are on a tripod. As a rule of thumb, it is expected that your shutter speed be the reciprocal of the lenses distance from the sensor. At the extreme of 200mm, the 55-200mm succumbs to the limitations of its design. A limitation which can only be compensated by a fast zoom lens or boosting the ISO of the camera.  Boosting the ISO however leads to other issues in the quality of the resulting photograph.

So, just to recap, you should not be fooled by the marketing gimmick of shooting in low light and bokeh balls. That is not a significant enough reason why you should get a fast zoom lens. A fast zoom lens should be purchased because it helps you overcome the limitations of consumer lenses where the aperture varies and and as a result, the exposure of the photograph. Thus, this allows you to have consistent well exposed photographs throughout your zoom range.

Ducks in a Row

Ducks in a Row
Ducks in a Row

It has been quite some time since I have had an opportunity to visit the Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse, NY.  And, at the first opportunity to do so, I leapt at the chance. I had always enjoyed the zoo visits I made when I lived in Syracuse, as it allowed me the opportunity to explore a bit of the exotic.  Further, it allowed me to bring a slightly different flavour of content to my images. So, at the suggestion to visit the zoo with some friends, I quite literally got my ducks in a row, jumped into my car and hit the highway.

Without fail, the trip to zoo filled me with excitement and wonder and I couldn’t keep my camera from my eye. It was a joy to be among the various aquariums, and underwater life, among the birds of the aviary, the primates, and other species of animals. I am certainly no Tarzan, but I am pretty sure as I made my way through the twists and turns of the zoo, the animals were all whispering to themselves — boys, and so as to not sound politically incorrect,  girls, he is back,  strike a pose! At least, that is the thought which consumed my mind when I shot the photograph in this post — Ducks in a Row. Though it may appear so, the composition was not posed. I literally walked upon two ducks roosting in and on a log, one atop the other. Thankfully, they were not bothered by the sound of my shutter release going off nor my indulgence in trying to to organize the elements in the frame both vertically or horizontally. Thus, I was able to accomplish the photograph shown here.  Although, I took numerous other photographs while meandering through the zoo, that stands out as one of the more outstanding images i shot that day simply because of its idiomatic undertones.

In all it was a good day at the zoo, and I can’t recommend the Rosamond Gifford Zoo enough as it never fails to delight. But, as most start to get their New Year’s resolutions together and to focus on what needs to be accomplished, I am probably the only one who can argue figuratively as well as literally, I got all my Ducks in a Row.


Wine and Amaryllis

Wine and Amaryllis
Wine and Amaryllis

What better way to spend a wet Christmas Eve evening but with wine and amaryllis. A rather uncommon weather condition resulted in a soggy, rather than a snowy, Christmas.  And while visiting some friends during the holiday season, I sat in the living room area where they were amaryllis on display.  The blossoms were way to inviting to ignore and thus I decided to work on some compositions.

Although I had first started by taking frontal shots, I found the composition to be a little too common and limiting. I also found the lighting to be less than flattering. So, I first started by introducing some flash into the image. The idea was to open up the dark areas with a little flash.  However, once I got comfortable with the images and the level of light I was introducing into the scene,   I couldn’t help moving around the scene to get a different perspective.  I first started in the front, and then on the side. I tried isolating the amaryllis alone  as well as isolating the wine glass alone.  I tried introducing hands into the shot to help draw some interest as well.

The one perspective which caught my attention however was the aerial position which I utilized in the image  present in this image. It allowed a different way of visualizing the amaryllis and the glass of wine in a manner which I had never explored before. Further, it allowed me to present the items in a pleasing and interesting manner.

It was not really the intention of the evening but what started with an evening  visiting a friend for the Christmas evolved in a simple photo shoot which involved wine an amaryllis. And, after numerous experiments with lighting, perspective and composition resulted in the aerial scene shown in this post which to me was the most pleasing of the bunch.



Syracuse, NY – Snowy Thanksgiving Morning

Little Wagon
Little Wagon

Whereas most around the US enjoyed a beautiful autumn morning to welcome Thanksgiving, Syracuse, true to form had snow more akin to Christmas. Yes, that’s right! Syracuse had a snowy Thanksgiving morning. And, although it only amounted to three to four inches. It was indeed a welcomed and beautiful sight.

Without hesitation, I grabbed my camera and took a quick trip around the block. I could not contain myself as I had not seen that much snow in a while having spent so much time in Long Island. Well, Syracuse did not fail to surprise with the bit of beauty hidden in the snow. There were snow covered wagons, snow covered trees, snow covered paths and snow covered windmills.

All had been crystallized and frozen in their own little way.

The branches of the trees had become covered with snow as if a layer of soap suds had been laid out atop them. No matter how many times I see this phenomenon of snow accumulation on tree branches it never grows old.

The pathways which guide walkers safely between homes in the neighbourhood had a layer too. However, with the paths, they looked more like snow bridges. The sides of the paths formed intricate patterns which criss-cross hinting to the fencing which lay beneath. The paths appear to stretch to infinity in their blanket of white and create this impression of a bridge to nowhere.

The ornaments which sit out on lawns were also lined with their own cake-layer of snow. I captured two here – the little wagon and the windmill. Their caked-on layers of snow each helped them stand out and enhance their appearance but limited their functionality as the moving parts became gummed up with snow and ice.

But,  that is what the Thanksgiving experience is like in Syracuse. It is wet, it is cold, it is a blanket of white. It is a snowy Thanksgiving morning.

Greenport, NY – Moments in Time

Greenport Bicycle
Greenport Bicycle

Here is a little tip; If you ever get the opportunity to take a trip out to the East end of long island and  to visit the village of Greenport, NY, don’t hesitate; Take It!  The experience itself is  well worth it as it has a very relaxing atmosphere.  But what also makes it intriguing, is that Greenport attempts to preserve the little qualities that a lot of the surrounding areas have lost due to over development and heavy commercialization.  And, through the next few paragraphs and through the illustrations I will attempt to explain how it is I ended up with the title of this post – Greenport, NY – Moments in Time.

Due to its narrowly paved streets and closely connected buildings it is not recommended to drive through the main shopping area of Greenport. Now, I don’t say that to put of any would be visitors. But, the offerings of this quaint little town are best explored on foot or bicycle. It is more of a pedestrian town and to truly enjoy it, you have to be prepared to slow down. Once you can accomplish that, you will quickly realize there is lots to experience.

From its antique carousel which dates back to the 1920s, its one room town jail, its 1950s displays in some of its shops, to its modern day marina  which sits out on the bay from Greenport,  the town offers little hints into the influences of its past and present. Through my visits, I was only able to capture a small portion of the Greenport life through my lens.  Some of the best attractions were not easily captured through a visual medium because they stimulate other senses – the smell of the different cuisines and the salty air, the sound of the breaking of the waves on the shore line, the cool breezes from the bay…

The true highlight for me which is not captured in any of the pictures was the camera obscura which looks out onto the bay. Unfortunately, the nature of the room made it difficult, if not impossible to capture the experience in the photographic room of the device. But, it was like watching high definition TV being created by sunlight.

Unfortunately, with the shift of Summer into Fall, a lot of these  outdoor attractions and activities will disappear for a while. The carousel will be stopped, the marina will slow down and the streets will be less frequented. But that will be only be temporary as the town goes into hibernation. However, in the Spring its doors will again swing open to allow other visitors to the village of Greenport, NY. And through their experiences, they too will understand why I recommend visiting the village of Greenport, NY.

A bit of a shift to visual narratives

I have been considering making a bit of a  change that would put more of my photographs out there and at the same time tell a story. Consequently, I have been thinking of adding a new category of posts which I call Visual Narratives. Consider them as photo essays; A series of image which should be viewed collectively, in a sequence, to tell a story. I think this should be a nice addition to my singular  short story images that I already post. Hopefully, this should provide a new avenue for producing my images and to give an idea to the depth of the story I am telling with my camera.