Category Archives: Photography

Back to Basics – Using the Konstructor

The Konstructor Camera
Konstructor

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.

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.

Dances With Lions

Lion Dancer
Lion Dancer

No, this is not an introduction to a Kevin Kostner film about the Native American Indian experience. This is a photograph of the Asian American experience – Dances With Lions.

Last week Sunday, when I visited the egg cream/egg roll festival in Chinatown. I got exposed to cultural practices from both the Jewish and Chinese American communities. It was an exposure of music, food and religious practices. On Eldridge Street, the stalls were lined with pickles on one end and dumplings on the other. There were outdoor musical scores being played, first by the Chinese community and then later by the Jewish community accompanied by traditional dance.  However, the music that caught my attention was further away at a nearby park just of Canal Street.

I could not ignore the beating of the drum nor the beating of the cymbals. So with much curiousity, I made my way to the park where I observed a traditional Chinese Lion Dance being performed. It was just the sort of outdoor experience I was hoping for. I had always seen puppet shows performed on a small scale; This was the first I had seen it on a grand scale. Everything was well choreographed, the movement of the mouth, the winking of the eye, the synchronized movement of the legs. It was all well done. It was all accompanied by traditional Chinese music.

To some degree, I felt sorry for the performers.  It was 81 degree weather and it was sweltering. Consequently, the performers  could only do two performances with the costume on and it was later followed by uncovered performances. But, it was the covered performance which resulted in the photograph taken here.

As stated before, this was not a review of the movie Dances with Wolves. It is a post which was inspired by the merger of the Jewish and Chinese communities’  egg cream/egg roll festival. Although it was the egg cream/egg roll festival that attracted me to the city, it was the Dances with Lions which stole the show.

 

A Tale of Two Horses

A Tale of Two Horses
A Tale of Two Horses

The Sunday following my birthday I took a road trip into Upstate New York’s wine country, the Finger Lakes Region. The sun was out; There was a cool breeze; Everything was blooming. The experience was even much more entertaining as my friends in this adventure, Lynne and Joe, decided to go off road and take the more scenic routes. This placed us square into a lot of America’s farmland.  It was here that I saw the two horses which became the title of this post – A Tale of Two Horses.

The landscape was littered with barns, fields of corn, fields of cows, and stables. It was on passing one of many roadside stables that we paused to observe a solid black stallion. He was very active and was causing a commotion among the other horses. He became even more frantic when I ventured close to the enclosure. Consequently, as much as I wanted to capture him and his unique beauty, I couldn’t.

Instead, I saw two mares which were huddled to one side of the pen. I found them to be more cooperative than the stallion but it was clear they were agitated by his movements. I liked the fact that they were huddled together and I think that presented a unique composition that I probably would not have gotten at any other time. But shooting theses horses meant I had to work fast as I had another male to compete with. I took several shots but none captured the beauty or the spirit of the moment as the one I captured here. Yes, it was a frantic scene but for a few small seconds, things were calm and I was able to capture the two horses in a moment which I thought flattered them both. In my mind, I  captured them in what I believe is a very charismatic and yet a simple, elegant portrait

Sometimes, you don’t get what you set out for. Instead, life surprises you and you get something better, more intriguing, more distinct than you had experienced before. That is pretty much what happened in this trip to the finger lakes. Although I started out trying to capture a story about a single horse, a stallion. I ended up with a lovely, classical shot depicting a Tale of Two horses.

Bleeding Hearts

Bleeding Hearts
Bleeding Hearts

Memorial Day was established as a day of reflection for those who died in the U.S. Civil War. However, it has expanded to recognize the soldiers who have lost their lives in other confrontations that the U.S. has engaged in.  Of course, for every soldier lost there is a grieving family. And, I could thing of nothing else which quickly and symbolically communicates their loss than the Bleeding Hearts flower.

As depicted in this post, the Bleeding Hearts is a flower which has an uncanny shape like a heart. And, as it matures, the pointed end of the flower peels back to expose a white, pointy, bud-like shaped part of the flower which resembles a tear drop. Thus, we have the bleeding heart.

Normally, these flowers can range from red to pink in colour and may have variations in between. Contradicting its otherwise upbeat mood, I selectively chose to remove the colour to communicate otherwise. Instead, I chose to emphasize the sadness of Memorial Day in recognition of the fallen.

So, in a less festive and more spiritual recognition of Memorial Day, I have made two variations of the Bleeding Hearts available free for download as desktop wallpapers – Bleeding Hearts Black & White and Bleeding Hearts Colour.  If you wish to receive a signed and dated print feel free to contact me for details. I only plan to produce 25 prints of either variant – colour or black and white.

Naked Cowgirl

Naked Cowgirl
Naked Cowgirl

One of the most interesting franchises I have ever heard of is that of the Naked Cowboy. The term Naked Cowboy is trademarked by Robert Burck. However, he licenses the name to persons who wish to make  use of the brand.  A search on the internet  for a Naked Cowboy in Times Square will only reveal one, Mr. Burk, as he has defended his trademark fervently.  But, a similar search for a Naked Cowgirl on the other hand results in numerous results. This post is about the other half of the Naked Cowboy franchise, the Naked Cowgirl.

By no means is the Naked Cowgirl depicted in my photo the original.  The title of original Naked Cowgirl goes to Cindy Fox, who is a professional fitness trainer. But ever since the advent of the Naked Cowgirl, there have been several licensed  and unlicensed Naked Cowgirls. The one depicted in this post is one of the licensed ones, Alex.

I took this photograph on a previous visit to Times Square  and caught her while she was entertaining on the corner of 43rd St and 7th Avenue.  For those who are unfamiliar with this area of Manhattan, it is more commonly referred to as Midtown. It is one of the busiest sections in New York City frequented by tourists, street performers and native New Yorkers alike.

Along with her counterpart, the Naked Cowboy, she often welcomes visitors and takes group shots with those wishing to get a memento of their encounter with her. In my experience, the nature of the shots can range from  a basic friendly encounter to being a bit provocative. Of course, for every group shot taken there is also the expectation of a tip but It is all in good fun and worth the time. Further, unlike other entertainers and guides who work the Times Square area there is never the feel of being hustled into taking a group photograph – taking a photography of any one of the naked representatives is free.

Although there has only ever been one Naked Cowboy, the Naked Cowgirl, the counterpart to the Naked Cowboy franchise, has had numerous representatives.  And,  it is hard to visit New York City and not bounce into either one of the naked representatives. Given that Naked Cowgirl is just as much a staple of the  New York City experience, I would recommend paying her a visit on your next trip and taking a group shot if you are up for it. But, if you do, remember, do tip generously.