Sunday, December 28, 2008

Every picture tells a story:

Finding unexpected value

Backlighted photos you don't have the time to set up properly might end up in the discard pile a lot. But with some work and care in post-processing, sometimes you can come up with wonderful silhouettes or beautiful portraits with such images. This is a story about one such photo; the image might not be very spectacular, but it is one I'm glad I didn't toss.

I strive to shoot available light when possible, even for indoor family gatherings. I did so on Thanksgiving, and although the end result from those pictures was satisfying, I didn't arrive at the "end result" until after a lot of post-processing work with editing software. Even using an ISO of 1600 and a lens with a wide aperture (f/1.8), I still had difficulty getting enough light for optimum exposure in the living room, dining room and the grandchildren's playroom on Thanksgiving. With 150+ pictures, it entailed considerable work.

I wanted to avoid so much post-processing editing for the Christmas get-together. So on Thursday, I decided to use Gary Fong's "Puffer" light diffuser on the pop-up flash on my Canon 30D. I knew I'd miss that natural look in ambient-light photos, but the Puffer delivered decent exposures, didn't white-out people's faces from using a straight-on pop-up flash, and left me far less work afterward. Oh, it also helped that I shot about 50 fewer pictures than on Thanksgiving!

One image I did spend a lot of time on afterward was a shot of my 3-year-old grandson Jakob, who I had noticed positioned in front of bright sunshine, streaming in from a dining room window, as he examined one of his Christmas presents. I knew I wouldn't have the time to set up a candid the way I really wanted, or to shoot many frames before Jakob would move on to other things. So I simply pushed down the pop-up and fired off an available-light frame in hopes I'd have something usable.

The color picture above is the original, unedited shot. I didn't feel strongly about it, but I did notice interesting spot illumination on Jakob's cheek, nose and forehead that I thought would be worth emphasizing in a grayscale (black-and-white) conversion. So in post-processing, I made a copy of the jpeg, converted it to grayscale, cropped it to eliminate the tiny stray light on the bottom left, fiddled with the facial shadows and highlights to play up the spot facial illumination, and tweaked the contrast. I left in the two tiny lights in the right background of the image to retain some balance and a representation of the holiday. The lights were on a garland decorating a living room wall. The result of the edit is the black-and-white version you see above left.

Then I made a copy of that b/w image and recropped it as a tight horizontal in pursuit of a dramatic, moody feel (below). On the crop, only the bottom of the two background garland lights showed up, and at this tight of a crop, that tiny light became more prominent and, hence, a distraction. So I cloned (erased) it out. The tradeoff going from the vertical to horizontal crop was a considerable loss of size -- my guess is that this version will lose quality printed at anything larger than 5x7 -- but I do like the effect, and all in all, the two-grayscale copies gave me value out of an image I might otherwise have discarded.

Gary Fong, by the why, markets a variety of flash diffusers; most are for electronic flash units; the Puffer I mentioned above is for pop-ups and is among the least expensive. You can check out his full line at ... and no, I don't know Gary! I'm simply providing this in case anyone would like to explore it further.

Friday, December 26, 2008

NYIP: The ups and downs

In my last post, I discussed how I researched various correspondence programs four years ago when I went to look for something that could help me refresh and hone my photography skills. I explained the rationale for selecting the New York Institute of Photography's Professional Photography course.

In general, I felt the course was very good; I'd grade it a B to a B+. If it weren't for the fact that I felt some of the learning materials -- the audiocassette tapes, in particular -- were slightly behind current technology, and if not for what I perceived to be an inordinate emphasis on film in the instruction and inadequate attention to digital technology in the core course, I would even give it an A-.

To be fair, NYIP did send me -- several months into the start of my coursework -- a DVD devoted entirely to digital photography, and NYIP does now offer a full course on digital photography, a course it promoted periodically through mailings during the remainder of my coursework. I can't remember if current students were offered a tuition discount if they wanted to take that course as well (other than the pay-it-all-up-front discount); I don't think so. Perhaps my disappointment could be explained as a matter of mere bad timing.

Here, now, is my detailed assessment of the NYIP course ups and downs.

The ups

1) Don Sheff and Chuck DeLaney -- the voices on the audiocassette tapes that accompanied the texts in each of the six units -- were wonderful learning companions. Sheff and DeLaney also appeared on some of the DVDs students were directed to view at the completion of each unit. It was clear they had a good professional rapport. They were encouraging and nurturing in all aspects of the lessons, and clarity reigned; I never felt there was any gap or lack of detail, and they communicated in a way that could reach all levels of learners. They occasionally skipped through some material, but that happened only in areas that really weren't critical to understanding basic or fundamental material.

2) The photo illustrations in the booklets were helpful in understanding key points of instruction, and there are some great photographs in them. It was encouraging to know, too, that a good number of those images were taken by NYIP graduates; no doubt it was helpful to NYIP as a promotional tool, too!.

3) I most appreciated the later units, which delved into lighting (natural and artificial), portraiture, macro, children, weddings, news and sports, and architecture. I wasn't too interested in the fashion, glamor, pet/animal and advertising lessons, but I trod through them dutifully and I understood the need to do so. (Note to anyone who might actually look into taking the course: There is an optional lesson on nudes. Students are free to read the text, but they are not required to answer the test questions or take or submit any photos related to the subject matter.)

4) The unit photo assignments were challenging. I did find myself taking time to think about what I wanted to capture and how I wanted to capture it to satisfy lesson objectives. Some frustrations I experienced along the way were reminiscent of those I experienced in high school and college, so I figured something must be right!

5) Having a photo mentor who is a professional photographer is a great idea. My mentor was Walter Karling, a freelance photographer whose work has appeared in such publications as The New York Times. I felt that Walter was encouraging and helpful in all critiques except one of the early ones. I'm not sure what it was about that one -- maybe he'd had a bad day -- but the critique seemed rushed and perfunctory. But in all other ones, I truly felt he was zeroed in on my work and the task of sharing a professional's insight into the nuances required to pull off the best picture possible. When extending congratulations in his final critique, Walter revealed that he, too, is an NYIP alum.

6) While the "tests" weren't classic exams, in that you had the "open-book" option of consulting the lesson if you had any doubt, each test presented challenges. Most questions required careful reading and re-reading; a misread nuance could change the meaning and/or answer.

7) The texts, audio critiques and post-lesson DVDs (which often showed a professional photographer trying to tackle some of the same challenges the students have been asked to do in their projects) are not the only materials NYIP sends you. Each student also receives handbooks and guides (one that comes to mind immediately helps students find ways to get their work published); a photographer's gray card (a device photographers use to ensure optimum exposure; if you flip it over, you can use it as a white card to customize a digital camera's white balance); a white umbrella reflector to use in portraiture work; a small camera case; and a NYIP "press" card to help students get access to take photographs for news and sports coverage assignments.

The downs

1) The first couple units of instruction (discussing the parts of a camera, exposure, camera settings and various film types) were largely a review for me; this was stuff I learned (and for the most part retained) from my photo classes in college.

2) The audiocassette tapes medium (for the Sheff-DeLaney lessons and the mentor feedback) were archaic. I didn't own a portable tape player when I started, and to get one I needed to visit several stores because they aren't easy to find anymore. It wasn't until my sixth and final unit -- in fall 2008 -- that NYIP upgraded this aspect of its course program by converting mentor feedback to compact disc.

3) Some test questions were worded such that they could be interpreted one of two ways, or ... could actually be answered both true or false depending on conditions or stipulations not provided -- but needed -- in the question. I knew NYIP did this in most questions to see if students paid close attention. I understand that. But they need a proofreader! I once sent along a protest stating as much when I returned my test in one of the early units, and I received no reply ... other than to see my "guess" answer (hey, I had a 50-50 chance!) checked wrong.

4) The school claims to be readily accessible for questions by phone and encourages such communication. But the one time I took NYIP up on that offer and called for help to clear confusion that I had with a unit assignment -- confusion that was largely responsible for delaying my progress for more than a year -- I didn't feel I got a very thorough, attentive or satisfying reply. It's very possible that my experience was an anomaly, and I'll give NYIP the benefit of the doubt. And oh, telephone calls to NYIP are on your dime; there is no toll-free number.

In summary, if NYIP's Digital Photography course had been available at the time I started my instruction (the one that materialized several months after I started), I think I would have spent my tuition money on that. But that's not to discredit the Professional Photography course, which I did find to be beneficial and helpful, and I'm grateful to the school for its instruction and materials.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Correspondence courses: Worth It?

I remember when the phrase "correspondence course" or "online course" would elicit sneers or snickers. The pejorative phrase "degree mill" often wasn't far away.

I don't think that's the case nearly as much anymore. There are a lot of quality correspondence and Internet education options out there for people strapped for time, don't have the necessary mobility or transportation, or cannot otherwise fit desired or needed classwork into a traditional on-campus regimen. To their credit, learning institutions in the past decade or so recognized they were missing out on a sizable student market and developed ways to structure programs to satisfy that need.

Nevertheless, I had envisioned that trying to hone a skill such as photography would require a lot of one-on-one teacher/student interaction when I started hunting around for a course. While researching options online, I almost always would come back to the New York Institute of Photography and its six-unit Professional Photography course. The reviews were impressive, the program syllabus made the instruction seem valuable and worthwhile, and the description of the logistics of pulling it off without ever stepping into a classroom seemed like it could work for me. So that's the program I chose in late spring of 2005.

NYIP provided lessons in text (large magazine-size booklets, actually) and audiocassette tapes to accompany, complement and amplify the text readings. The voices on the tapes belong to NYIP's very personable Chuck DeLaney, then the school's dean and now its current director, and Don Sheff, who was then its director and now is director emeritus. Each lesson in the first four units also includes a pop quiz at the end. At the end of each unit (which could entail anywhere from three to six lessons), students are required to send two things back to the school -- a 10-question per lesson true-false test and photographic prints representing accomplishment of four to six photo assignments or projects.

Each student is assigned an adjunct faculty mentor, each of whom is a professional photographer with strong credentials. The mentor reviews the photo assignment submissions and returns them to the student accompanied by an an audio critique. I doubt that the mentor handles the tests; I think a school staff member rips through those, grades them and sends them back.

To me, the big appeal of the NYIP course, and the reason I picked it, was that I could work at my own pace; my preference was to get through it as quickly as possible, but if for some reason a student could not work at a fast or steady pace, NYIP allowed students up to three years to finish. If I would have had no distractions or unforeseen obstacles, I probably could have completed it in nine months to a year. But distractions and obstacles did happen, and I ended up pushing the three-year maximum beyond the limit -- I needed 3 years and 5 months, to be exact. Luckily, NYIP gave me no grief about that. Perhaps that's because I took advantage of a $200 tuition discount at the start by paying the full price up front (if you can't afford to cough up $790 at the beginning, you can pay in installments, but then the final cost adds up to almost $1,000).

What did I think of the course? And would I recommend it?

I thought it was very helpful, and for the most part, I did like it, even though, I felt, that at the time I enrolled in mid-2005, the course was still too entrenched in the waning film genre. Sheff and DeLaney acknowledged in a letter to students early in my course work that NYIP was resolved to keeping up with the growing interest in and popularity of digital photography (indeed, the school sent me a special DVD on digital instruction several months after my course work started), but the school didn't launch its full Digital Photography course, also for $1,000, until a few months afterward.

In my next post, I'll talk about what I perceived to be the ups and downs of the course.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Woe-be-gone the bad days

For every success story a photographer has, he or she probably has just as many failures or embarrassments.

Like the time I took pictures at a property assessment protest rally in downtown Indianapolis and brought along two cameras -- one equipped with a standard walk-around lens and the other, a telephoto lens to handle close-ups. I viewed this as an ideal chance to satisfy two class assignments -- a news coverage photo assignment in my correspondence course through the New York Institute of Photography, and a need for a multiframe photo essay for my Advanced Photography class in the Continuing Education Program at IUPUI.

I woke up late that morning, so I had to rush to pull together my gear, head out the door and drive downtown. The fact that I rushed should have sent out Hitchcockian warning signals of what was to come, but it didn't.

It wasn't until I got there that I realized I'd brought only one battery (I have four, one for each camera and two backups). Three of the batteries must have gotten separated from my camera bags (probably from needing a recharge) and not returned, and I hadn't noticed or thought to take inventory before heading out the door. Luckily, I did have the one battery, and it appeared to be fully charged, so I spent the whole shoot swapping out the battery from camera body to camera body to take my pictures, but still feeling a bit uneasy about my sloppiness while pulling together my gear.

I was relatively satisfied with my images, and I dutifully turned in my assignments. The NYIP needed prints, and I submitted them; the IUPUI class teacher wanted the images in jpeg files that he could compile for a slide show in front of the class, so I emailed those to him. So on the day my Advanced Photography class met to look at everyone's essays, the teacher pulled up my photos on the projector and asked me why I had shot some of my frames -- on a day of bright sunshine -- using an ISO of 1600 (a setting used rarely, and then only in extremely low-light conditions).

I cringed and felt that familiar tinge of red-faced embarrassment. In a very quick flash, four things became readily apparent.

1) The teacher was one of those who pulled up the "Properties" data of each jpeg image to check out such things as the image's date, the identity of the camera and lens used, the f/stop and shutter speed settings, whether flash was used, and, of course, the ISO.

2) I hadn't checked that ISO setting on the camera before taking my rally pictures. I really did know better, and if had checked, I would never have used 1600 because that setting would compromise the image quality by introducing a lot of grain, or noise as it's called in the digital realm.

3) The 1600, I then recalled, was what I'd last used with that camera. It was for an indoor low-light family outing.

4) Finally, it also explained a nagging question I encountered, but hadn't bothered to explore, on the day of the shoot: Why was the Program mode on my camera allowing me to shoot at such fast shutter speeds? I'd recalled seeing the numbers "1/2000" and "1/5000" flash on the LCD, which was astounding for my telephoto lens, and I just didn't take the time to investigate it then because I was already freaking about the missing battery and wanted everything else to go smoothly.

My brain had crunched all of that information in the nanoseconds after the teacher had posed his question. I decided to respond as succinctly and face-savingly as possible. "That was an error," I mumbled ... or maybe it was, "That was an oversight." I was prepared to spill the gory details if he chose to lob me some follow-up questions, but I was sincerely hoping he wouldn't. To me, in my humiliated state, I was already viewing this as unwanted drama, akin to the Arlo Guthrie Alice's Restaurant/Thanksgiving Day Mass-a-cree.

Mercifully, the teacher moved on, making no further issue of it; I think he was satisfied that he had made his point -- and had let us all know he checked that kind of stuff.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Every picture tells a story:

Don't let the moment get away

Many photographers preach the importance of grabbing a potentially great photograph -- a beautiful landscape, a rare juxtaposition of subjects, whatever it may be -- when the situation presents itself. Sometimes, however, we're indisposed, or don't have quick access to gear, so we pass, rationalizing that "there'll always be another time." Only to realize, shortly after it's too late, that there really won't be another chance.

I've had experiences on both sides of the situation. One of the ones that got away still eats at me. I suppose there is a chance I could get it again, but it'll be a blue moon (or two or three) before the situation presents itself again.

It was just before dawn on a weekday about two years ago, and I was outside jogging, nearing the end of my route. As I climbed a slight hill, I noticed the moon hovering near a building that made for a beautiful photographic juxtaposition (I'm avoiding saying much more because I still cling to the hope of getting it!). It wasn't one of those cliched type shots, either. I even came up with a title for it as I maintained my steady running paces. When I got home, I could have lugged my camera and tripod back to the right spot to capture the frame; it was only about five blocks away. But, I had to get to work, I didn't want to be late, and I figured that the moon will come that way again some time. That was before I understood lunar orbital patterns, which don't repeat precisely very often.

I've been looking for the moon to align just the right way again ever since, but it hasn't happened; or, if it has, I wasn't in the vicinity to notice it. I suppose lunar orbits eventually will repeat at some point, but I'm not sure I'll ever know the wheres and whens, or get that second chance.

One opportunity I didn't let get away occurred on the morning of Saturday, Jan. 8, 2005. I opened the front door of my house to get the morning paper from the porch and noticed that one of those picture-perfect snowfalls had moved through overnight. The temperature was warm enough to enable flakes to stick to tree limbs, but cold enough not to melt them. The skies were a solid gray; dense, uni-color cloud cover through and through. I hadn't seen such an alignment of gray sky, beautiful snow and perfect temperature in a long time.

I moved quickly. Got dressed, grabbed my camera and gear, and once out the door, I snapped a few shots of the neighborhood. One of a snow-shoveling man across the street (right), his burgundy sweatpants and short-sleeve shirt and the brick on his house the only color in an image dominated by luscious snowscape, made for a nice wintry juxtaposition. Then I headed to the nearby park, where I had a field day finding beautiful, elegant, artsy images.

Most of the snow on the park's ground, including that on the walks, was still pristine, untrodden. When I reached the landscaped seating area where, in warmer months, parents often rested while children frolicked on the nearby playground equipment, I was taken by how the elements had transformed the area into a surreal, and maybe a bit haunting, work of art: the benches, tree branches and path serving as painter subjects, and the solid gray sky a muslin-like backdrop.

For the longest time after that, a long-range shot of that scene (left), taken from a path entry point, was one of my two favorites from that day's shoot. The other favorite (below) was of a row of tall, stately evergreens perfectly highlighted with white stuff -- not too much, not too little. Then a month ago, I started exploring some artsy features in my editing software, gimmicks that could transform the look of a simple photograph into a virtual painting of various styles and textures.

I tested a few "looks" on an image I hadn't considered a "favorite" previously: It depicted a snow-covered bench in the aforementioned playground seating area, flanked by flakes-covered bush branches and sidewalks. One of those "looks," which used a textured applique that made the snow pop out of the virtual canvas, I loved immediately.

That photograph is now my favorite from the shoot, and it can be seen at the top of Photo Potpourri's s homepage.

And, oh, I've not seen a snowfall exactly like that ever since.

To see a gallery of photos from the Jan. 8, 2005, photo shoot and other winter scenes, check out the "Winterscapes" folder at my site at SmugMug. 

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Ugh! Photography's a numbers game, too

Despite digital's ease, flexibility and accessibility, I had a lot to learn after I made the conversion from film. To my dismay, much of the learning entailed even more math than what I had to learn when I cut my chops on film photography in college. This was disappointing because of my aversion to math ever since high school algebra and geometry; I made it through college -- with a degree -- without taking a single math class. Now that sidestepping was coming back to haunt me.

Digital still required a knowledge and familiarity of numerical things such as aperture settings (f/2.8, f/4, f/8, etc.), shutter speeds (1/30, 1/60, 1/125, etc.) and focal lengths (10 millimeters, 50mm, 100mm, 300mm, etc.). It just introduced a new layer of numerical labyrinths.

One of those was important for those who could afford only the less expensive small-sensor DSLR camera bodies: something called "crop factor" and its corresponding impact on a lens' focal length, a/k/a, multiplier. Film images captured with the widely popular 35mm bodies are in 36x24 proportions, whereas frames captured by the image sensors used in manufacturing the first wave of lower-cost DSLRs -- for Canon shooters, that involves the 20D and Digital Rebel -- were in varying dimensions, but none the same as film's 36x24. My 300D, for example, shot frames at 24x18. What does that mean? I found out the hard way when ordering my first 5x7 and 8x10 prints from jpegs taken with the 300D -- and making no allowances for the crop factor. The 4x6 prints were fine; but on the 5x7 and 8x10 prints, it looked like someone had taken an ax to my precious art and whacked the tops or the sides indiscriminately. I couldn't figure out the rhyme or reason. I complained to the retailer, and to the store's credit, the salesperson patiently explained the crop factor ramifications to me.

Here's what they said: 5x7 and 8x10 prints don't translate precisely in digital because those dimensions are not multiples of 18x24, the dimensions of my 300D's images. And besides, digital print retailers base their machine settings on the old 36x24 dimensions of film. Remember, nowadays, retailers simply push film and digital image files through machines -- no man/woman at an enlarger ensuring logical cropping anymore. So if I really wanted my digital prints in those traditional 5x7 or 8x10 sizes, the responsibility was on me to convert my digital jpeg files to those dimensions first before bringing them in for prints. How? Image software on your home computer.

I rarely order 5x7s anymore, so I wasn't worried about those. It was the 8x10 prints that concerned me the most. So when I wanted them, I'd first make a copy of the original jpeg and convert that copy (or crop it) from 24x18 to 5x7 or 8x10 with editing software. When I learned my photo print retailer also offered 8x12 prints (because 8x12 is a multiple of 24x36, it required no preliminary cropping on my end), I started ordering my larger prints in that size; then, if I wanted to use it in an 8x10 picture frame, I'd just grab a scissors and make the 2 inches of trim myself, rather than have a machine do it. Lately, I've noticed a greater number of 8x12 picture frames for sale in stores, and I've been purchasing those instead of messing with scissors to make them fit in an 8x10 frame.

After going to digital, I also learned that the same 36x24 vs. 24x18 discrepancy figures into how a lens' focal length (the number etched onto the lens) really didn't accurately represent the distance I was getting when using my 300D anymore. Lens focal lengths on digital camera bodies with small sensors like my 300D actually were 1.6 times the listed distances, hence the reference to 1.6 being the crop "multiplier." This meant that my 50mm prime lens actually reflected shots taken at about 80mm. It also meant that, at its farthest "listed" distance of 300mm, my 75-300mm telephoto lens actually was giving me about 420mm worth of distance.

This turned out to be a good and bad thing. The good: For shooters who never think a lens gives them enough distance, you now got more distance for your glass.

The bad: Well, sometimes, you really want the shorter distance stated on the lens. You need that wider angle to get more subject matter into a frame at a closer distance. Even more critical is that in the case of the aforementioned telephoto lens (the 75-300mm f/4.5-6) , the maximum length now was actually about 420mm, which means it required an even faster minimum shutter speed to ensure hand-held images without blur from camera shake.

How fast? The prevailing rule is that to ensure no blur from camera shake with hand-held shots, your shutter speed should never be slower than the number equal to the lens' effective focal length. Computing that isn't hard when using a 35mm film camera (or if you can afford them, the very expensive high-end full-sensor digital bodies like the Canon Mark or 5D series). Because with those, the numbers are as plain as what you read on the lens: with a 50mm lens, the slowest shutter you should use is 1/50, or 1/60, which is the closest equivalent on most cameras). For a 100mm lens, the slowest shutter would be 1/100, or 1/125, the closest equivalent on most cameras).

However, these small-sensor cameras like the 300D are a different matter. In the example of the aforementioned telephoto lens, to figure the maximum effective focal length, you start with the listed 300mm and multiply it by the 1.6 crop factor, or about 420mm. This means to avoid camera shake blur while hand-holding the camera, you'd need to be using a shutter speed of 1/420, or 1/500, the closest equivalent on most cameras. And because you don't often have bright enough lighting conditions (certainly not indoors) to allow for shutter speeds that fast, it means that at its maximum focal length, for any light conditions other than sunshine, you'd need a tripod or monopod to use that lens successfully. A tripod is worthless for shoots where anything is moving (sports, birds in the air, kids at play, etc.), which is why many professionals, when they go to invest in lenses, won't look at anything that doesn't give them at least f/2.8 at its maximum aperture, whether it's a prime lens (one set length, e.g., 50mm f/1.8) or telephoto (variable-distance) lens, but one in which f/2.8 is available at ALL of focal lengths. This gives them more opportunity to ensure adequate exposure on the aperture end, which in turn permits them to use faster shutter speeds, thereby avoiding the blur from camera shake. In the case of Canon and Nikon, having image stability (IS/Canon) or vibration reduction (VR/Nikon) in lenses also is a big deal for professionals.

Alas, there is a trade-off for having lenses equipped with wider apertures (as low as f/2.8) and IS/VR: They are significantly more costly, bulky and heavy.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Every picture tells a story:

Devastation, drama ... and the decision

In early 2003, I bought my first single-lens reflex (SLR) camera, a Canon Rebel 35mm. I chose Canon because I had remembered the beautiful, quality images a friend of mine would get, time after time, with his Canon AE-1 back in the 1980s.

I used the Rebel extensively at family events and would get prints made from the local CVS drugstore. But the back-and-forth soon got tedious, and it wasn't long before I was thinking seriously about taking the technological leap to digital. The big obstacle was expense: My film Rebel had cost me a modest $200, but you couldn't buy even an entry-level digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) for under $1,000. Quite the disparity. But the more I kept going back and forth to CVS, the greater digital appealed to me -- its ability to load jepgs onto my computer and work with them at home at my leisure.

I capped my days as a film user in a blaze of professional satisfaction. On Sunday, May 30, 2004, tornadoes swept through Central Indiana, and one of them touched down in my neighborhood, its path sweeping a mere four blocks from my house. Fortunately, there were no human casualties in our neighborhood, but there was plenty of destruction. The next day, I grabbed my film Rebel and shot two rolls, documenting the devastation that had come so close to home. I immediately got prints made, using the one-hour service, scanned them into high-resolution jpegs and sent them via e-mail to The Indianapolis Star, offering them for publication.

The Star published one of the images, five columns wide, on the jump page of the lead storm story in the A section of its main editions. Five columns wide. The published image (below) showed the length of a desolate-looking Troy Avenue, one telephone pole snapped in half and another tilting from the wind savagery, utility cables supporting debris snagged from the indiscriminate gusts, and helter-skelter rubble. Seeing that photo in print gave me a career rush I hadn't had in ages. And it wasn't just because they decided to use one of my frames, or only because they chose to play it that prominently. What jump-started my adrenaline the most, I think, was that out of 48 images I'd submitted to experts in the field of documentary photography, The Star editors and I concurred -- without having had any discussion -- on which frame was the best. A few days later, the newspaper selected several other photos from my shoot and published them in tandem with follow-up stories in a smaller-circulated zoned edition that covered my area of the city.

All this clinched my inkling to go digital. I wanted to rekindle that artistic joy I experienced back in college and on the weekly newspaper I worked on shortly out of college. And to learn more.

At the time, Canon's first-generation, entry-level Digital Rebel, the 300D, had been on the market for about six months. I looked at Canon because I was familiar with the Rebel film body and owned the EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 telephoto lens, which I knew I also could use with any EOS digital body I might acquire. So I researched the Canon digital line, compared the specs and read as many reviews that I could find. The 20D, which was in the next level up of Canon bodies, also was on the market (or would soon be), as were the professional-level, full-frame Marks, which many of the newspaper photographers used.

I decided to put my trust in Canon, and on June 12, 2004, I took the plunge ... and went the entry-level route. I became the owner of a Canon Digital Rebel 300D.

To see a full gallery of photos from the tornado damage shoot, visit

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Not just another photo blog ... or, is it?

Cameras, lights ... I could say "action" here to complete this cliche, but instead I'll say ... lenses.

Welcome to the debut post of Photo Potpourri, a blog, both serious and light (although perhaps not simultaneously), about all things photography by someone who doesn't profess to be an expert.

I know, I know. You're thinking, "Oh, wow. Just what I didn't need!"

I won't quibble about the fact there are blogs aplenty out there on this subject, and that many of those are very good blogs. Keep going back to those; you surely will benefit. What I hope will make this one different from the others is that Photo Potpourri is, well, it's by me. And none of the others can say that!

Ah, but seriously ... what I hope to write about and show you in the blogs and weeks ahead are simply good opportunities to brainstorm, address common concerns we face in taking and processing photographs, where to find the best deals for equipment on the Internet (an early tip: Double and even triple check unfamiliar sites promoting deep discounts on gear you've seen priced for much more at reputable sites), funny stories about a photo shooter's experiences, stories behind our favorite pictures ... and maybe even a laugh or two from you, if you're eager and willing to join the conversation.

My father was big about recording family events in still photographs (slides) and movie film. For most kids, being photographed is a drag; something you probably don't appreciate as much as you do -- or will -- when you get older and have kids yourself. I'm at the place -- and perhaps many of you are there now, too -- where my father was some 50 years ago. The dawn of the industry's digital age, and its swift advancement in just a few short years this decade, has made me a hobbyist and enthusiast.

For my first funny story (not necessarily "ha ha" funny, though) ... I'll mention how, even though this appears as my first official post, it's actually my second. My inaugural draft actually made it as far as getting published, but somewhere in the attempt to edit something, I apparently inadvertenly clicked on the DELETE button instead of EDIT. Ouch. But I think it ends up being your gain, because I wasn't entirely happy with the way it read. I'll try to keep these short and sweet ... or, as we used to say in college, a "token" (when we didn't want to stay long at a party at which we didn't expect to have much fun, we'd always say "let's make this a token" (as in "a token appearance"). All right ... so maybe that's not so funny. Ha, ha or not.

Feel free to comment, launch a debate or simply embellish anything you might see lacking. I just ask that you do so with respect and dignity for everyone who contributes.

Beginning with me! *wink*