Sunday, 29 July 2007

My 'Bappa-tism'

With much pomp and ceremony, and a whole lotta love, I was Baptised today by Rev. Tim Mora at the Anglican Parish of Cobden-Runanga. I've called it my 'Bappa-tism' because that is what my 6yr old son Joshua called it all day. Very cute. That's the kind of stuff I hope I don't forget about my children, although sadly I know that I will.

Anyway, I digress.

I had been preparing myself for this for a couple of weeks - ever since Tim and I talked about it happening. But still, I wasn't prepared for how emotional it would be, and how it would effect me on the day. From the moment Tim asked me up with my family and sponsors (yeah Stewart and Eric, thanks guys), I felt overwhelmed, and a little light headed.

The feeling of fellowship, love and belonging I felt today was something very special. Jesus has blessed me since I asked him into my life, and today was the perfect affirmation of that blessing. All, I suppose, that a Baptism should be.

I'm not naive enough to think that my life as a 'born again' Christian will be all wine and roses (or should that be fishes?). My wife and I have already experienced some 'spiritual' attacks since my coming to Christ (as have Tim and Nikki - sorry guys, keep up the great work), so I know that the journey has only just begun. But what I do know is that during the tough times, not only will I have God beside me, but also the love, generosity and affection shown to me today.

My 'Bappa-tism" was all that I hoped it would be. There was cake, gifts, food, laughter and song - all centered around my public declaration - but all pointed towards the one who matters most, our heavenly father.

God is Good.

My wife - Joanna, my daughter Emily, my son Joshua, and Me at my "Bappa-tism" today.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Getting Closer to God

Life is full of many journeys - that's what makes it so exciting.

If you had told me a few years ago that I would become a Christian at 39 and give my life to Christ, I would have said you were crazy. For most of my life I wasn't even sure I believed in God, living my life through my head, and not my heart.

That's not to say I lived a debauched life and have a lot to make up for. In fact the opposite is true, and even though I would never have professed to being a 'Christian', I believe I lived most of my life guided by Christian values and principles. I just never took that next step - that leap of faith.

Well, that's finally changed. On Sunday (29th) I am being baptised at my local church and will give my life to God. I'll write more about this after the weekend, and post a few pics, but to get back on track (this is a 'photography' blog after all) I would like to talk about a sense in which I always was close to God - through my landscape photography.

About a year ago, I decided to give up landscape photography. I was trying too hard to get 'the perfect' shot, even though we know there is no such thing. I decided instead, to concentrate on weddings - and this is largely still true.

But I also found that as soon as I stopped trying so hard, I started taking some of the best landscape photos of my life. This has also coincided with my journey to Jesus Christ. As soon as I stopped trying so hard to figure out what it was all about, and just gave myself willingly, God has offered up his wonders to me in a way that I have never experienced before. And no, I don't think this is coincidental.

Now, more often than not, I find myself at the right place at the right time - as God offers me his amazing creations to be photographed. It's times like these, out at Te Kinga last weekend where the above shots were taken, that I truly feel at one with God.

Since becoming a Christian I have often asked God to fill me with his spirit, only to then feel a little let down when I didn't feel anything. But it was out with my family last weekend, while taking these photos (and a whole lot more like them) that I suddenly realised I was being filled with God's spirit - right before my very eyes.

So what am I trying to say? Do you have to be a Christian to take great landscape photos? Of course not. Great photography comes from practice, patience and perseverance - with a strong element of luck thrown in. Being at the right place, with the right light, at the right time. I've got the 3 'P's sorted - have had for a while. It was always the 'luck' I seemed to be lacking. This all changed when I gave my life to God.

When I take photographs now, God's spirit is everywhere. I know it won't be perfect weather every time I go out, but I no longer stress about it. I have put my faith in God, and so far I have been richly rewarded. Try putting that in your camera bag!

Sunday, 15 July 2007

First Macro Shots

I wrote recently that I had managed to purchase a 'new' (used just a couple of times by the previous owner) EF-S 60mm f2.8 macro. I've got it mainly for weddings to do detail shots, but of course when you get a macro lens your thoughts immediately turn to bugs 'n stuff.

So to give my 'new' macro a test drive, I went out today into the winter's sun in search of insects to shoot. It took me ages to find any, but once I did I was amazed at how many I must have missed as I went back over sections of the garden. I settled on two particularly large stick insects that were in the right light, and in very close proximity to each other.

It was very windy, although I tried to set up so that the wind was kept to a minimum. Still, I found myself waiting regularly for the wind to die down before taking the shot. Once I was set up, the next consideration was focusing - and depth of field. For focusing I switched to manual, and for depth of field I sat on around f8 to get decent sharpness and fast enough shutter speeds considering the wind. Of course, all of this was set up with a tripod, again to minimise any chance of blur or shake being introduced to the final image.

I'm not a macro specialist, and I don't profess to be, but I was very pleased with the results I managed to get from this set up. I did have to get up very close and personal to the insects, but they seemed to tolerate my presence (for about half an hour at least), long enough for me to get off twenty or so shots.

They aren't the most technically brilliant macro's ever taken, but I was very happy with my first outing with the EF-S 60mm f2.8. It was a whole heap of fun, so it won't be the last time I go out looking for small creatures to photograph.

One last thing about the whole experience as far as using the 30D is concerned. Because I was outside in fairly bright light, I struggled to get a decent 'feel' for the image off of the LCD screen. In fact, until I got back inside and viewed them on the computer, I thought the images looked horrible! In this respect I think the Nikon LCD screens have got it all over Canon (and no, I'm not trying to turn this into a Canon vs Nikon thing - I just think it's a legitimate observation). I did check the histogram on the 30D often, and all looked good, so I just hoped that this would translate into good images on the computer - and it did. Whew!

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

'Must Have' Books on PhotoShop/Lightroom

Further to my recent post extolling the virtues of Adobe's Lightroom - here are a couple of 'must have' books from the King of all things PhotoShop - Scott Kelby.

The first is Scott's book on Lightroom, and is a brilliant introduction to this new software and what it can do for your images. He covers pretty much everything, in a step-by-step way so that first time users will feel confident almost straight away.
This is what Adobe's manual 'should' have been, although I guess if it was then Mr Kelby would be out of a job.

If you've seen any other Scott Kelby PhotoShop books than you'll kinda know what to expect. Heaps of examples, step-by-step screen shots, and lots of quick tips make this a 'must have' if you are new to Lightroom - or even if you've been tinkering around with it since the beta release.

The one major difference between this and his other books is that the Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Book for Digital Photographers (yep, that's its full title) is meant to be read from start to finish. Scott takes you through a 'workflow', from import and sort, through to manipulation, print and show. It's all covered.

If you've had Lightroom for a while but feel a little intimidated by it, just got it and want to get to grips with it quickly, or even maybe contemplating getting it in the future - then this is 'the' book for you. Highly recommended.

Another 'highly recommended' book is Scott Kelby's 'Photoshop Channels Book.'

Now this one isn't for the faint hearted. It's more for the intermediate to confident Photoshop user and unlike most of his other step-by-step guides, it assumes a certain level of understanding from the get go.

Understanding channels is incredibly useful when masking, using certain sharpening techniques, and to really come to grips with colour manipulation in Photoshop. It's written with digital photographers in mind, but graphic designers will also benefit from getting hold of this book and really coming to grips with the myriad uses for channels in their work.

When I first heard Scott was doing a whole book on channels I thought 'jeez, how boring'. But boring it aint. It's amazing what can be achieved through the use of channels, and you'll be inspired in no time to start using them to make the most out of your own images.

One particularly cool effect Scott outlines that I can't wait to use for my own work is 'adding a beam of light' to create drama to an otherwise flat portrait. The applications for wedding images will almost be endless. Roll on next wedding season!

The Channels Book is also one that Scott recommends you follow pretty much chapter by chapter, although once you have it would be a book that you could dip into whenever you wanted for a quick refresher.

Kelby's a genius at teaching difficult techniques as simply as possible. If you come across any of his books, check them out. Oh, and while your at it, do yourself a favour and BUY IT!

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Adobe Lightroom

If you haven't already tried it, do yourself a favor and download a trial version of Adobe Lightroom - especially if you shoot RAW files on your digital camera. Hey, you know what... don't even bother with the trial version, just go out and get the full thing. Buy it, use it, love it!

Adobe, the guys who make PhotoShop. Nuff said. In fact Lightroom started life as another programe - Raw Shooter - the best damn RAW conversion software on the planet! It was even better because when RAW Shooter first came out it was FREE. Yep, nadda. The guys at Adobe know a good thing when they see it, so they bought Raw Shooter and turned it into Lightroom... the best damn RAW conversion software on the planet!

What?: RAW conversion software takes RAW files from all makes of cameras, and allows you to process them in the same way a lab would process 35mm film negatives. You can easily change the white balance, exposure latitude (plus or minus up to 2 stops), curves, tone, b&w conversions, highlights and shadows - all in a 'non destructive' manner. That means that your original RAW file is never changed. Instead, a small file is 'attached' to it that tells Lightroom how to 'process' the file when it is converted to a jpeg or tiff for printing etc. Very cool.

Lightroom works on a module-based system. The Library module lets you import and sort your files (not just RAW, but jpegs and tiffs as well). The Develop Module is where you tweak invidual images to get them right - and then apply this in batches to other images if applicable. In Slideshow you can create exactly what it says, a Slideshow with music, fades and titles, which you can then save so that others can see it as well. Then there is the Print Module, and finally the Web Module where you get to make web galleries for uploading onto your own site. I haven't really played around with the last three yet, but I certainly plan to.

Why?: Shooting RAW used to be a pain, because it adds another (slow) step in the whole file process. But that was then, and this is now. Lightroom is very fast, highly intuitive , and with batch processing conversion is a breeze. Yes, it does add another stage in the workflow, but the extra detail, control and subtle tweaking that you can achieve with RAw vs Jpeg is well worth the effort IMHO.

When?: Weren't you listening before? Get it NOW!

You can download the trial from the Adobe website, or order a copy from your local software distributor. It's 'reasonably' expensive (about $500NZ), but when you start processing files with this software I think it's worth every penny I paid for it (and more - but don't tell Adobe that).

I don't really have a 'How' - but I would say this: I have tried to use Apple's 'Aperture' software (which is supposed to do the same thing) for the past year, and I'm still struggling with it. I'm a huge Apple fan, and really wanted to like using 'Aperture'. But in all honesty I have to say that it's a bit of a dog. It does have a pretty cool loupe function, but that's about it (really). Lightroom is just sooooo much better in all respects. Shame.

Finally, I would also say that Lightroom, and most other high end digital software products for that matter, demands a pretty up-to-date system to run smoothly. They recommend 756MB of RAM to run it, and ideally you want 1Gig. As mentioned earlier, I think Lightroom flies through its work, but I'm running a high spec'd Core Duo iMac with 1.5Gigs of RAM, so it had better!

Unless you need to work with layers, text and thousands of filter effects (that you will probably never use), you can forget about PhotoShop and just get Lightroom. If you 'do' need to work with layers, then just get Adode Elements which, when combined with Lightroom, would set you up for almost any photo-editing job you would care to imagine.

As I said right at the beginning... Buy it, use it, Love it!

First landscapes with 30D

Went out this weekend as the rain has finally passed. In fact, it was a beautifully clear, still, crisp (read 'cold') winters day.

Took the family to one of my favorite spots to photograph - Lake Mahinapua, in South Westland (West Coast of New Zealand). It's a beautiful place to photograph early morning or late evening - and we managed to get there late afternoon.

Used the D30 with the 17-55mm f2.8, on f8 (mostly), and it performed faultlessly. Met up with another photographer shooting there - David Wall from Dunedin (hi David) and his family, and we swapped Canon stories. He was using the 1D Mark II with a 24-105mm f4'L', the lens I was considering had I not opted for the 17-55mm f2.8.

Anyway, took lots of photos, but the above image of the lake in the late afternoon light was one of my favorites. I like the richness in the water, bleeding out to the lightness in the sky. I'm finding the 30D's exposures to be pretty reliable first up, and I'm not having to compensate too often (using overall metering).

Later we drove back through Hokitika as the sun was setting. The colours were glorious down by the beach and I saw this shot of a series of Cabbage Trees silhouetted against the setting sun. Just had to stop and shoot this as well (as the family stayed warm in the car with the heater turned up to full).

Even in almost pitch dark, the 30D locked on focus almost every time, which was pretty impressive. It was a lot darker than the above photo gives credit for - the exposure was around 8 seconds! And the resulting file at ISO 100 is pretty clean and noise free.

All-in-all I arrived home very happy with the images I had taken. I'm enjoying using the 30D every time I take it out of the bag and look forward to my next photographic expedition.

I've also had a macro lens arrive that I haven't really tried out yet (there's some hoar frost around that may help with that), and I've recently installed Adobe's Lightroom for all my RAW processing. More on that later as well.

And one last thing! Yervant & Joe Buissink are giving a one day seminar on Wedding Photography here in New Zealand in September! Yahooo!!! I'm there! Can't wait, and will definitely report back on that.

Life is good.