Where Does this Path Go?
6th century Clonmacnoise Monastery in Ireland
When I look at this picture I have three different thoughts about where this path goes. The first is about life in general, the second is about the economy, and the third is about my photography. Since I have readers interested in all three areas and I couldn’t make up my mind about which to write about, I have decided to make this a three-part article.
Life in General
The first thing that this picture reminds me is that all life follows a very short path and the end is always the same. All life dies in its due time and the only unknown is how soon; but, others will remember us. It is our responsibility to make sure that we are remembered for making the best contributions that we can to the long-term evolution of humanity in the short time that we are here.
This path reminds me that eventually we will probably have to take a step backwards in time to achieve a sustainable, stable system. If the correct decisions are made in time, we will essentially hold steady in a very low, to no-growth economy and we won’t need to change much; but, I don’t see that happening. As I noted in previous articles, I don’t think that the necessary minor changes will be made in time and that we will put off making any major corrections to our economic system and way of life until big changes are needed. The world has no choice but to step back and recover from its’ debts and make the adjustments to continue in a sustainable way. The only uncertainty is how soon and thus how big of a change.
My Camera Path
Those of you who have followed this website have seen me go from small sensor P&S pocket cameras to small sensor travel zooms, to the Pentax K-7 DSLR, to the micro 4/3 Olympus Pen cameras, the E-P1, E-PL2, and the E-P3 and the Pentax K-5 DSLR, along with a side excursion to the Canon S95. In this last year or two I have oscillated back and forth between the K-5, the Pen cameras, and the S95 while seeking a one camera solution. I have been on a path towards finding & choosing a single light-weight, smaller all-purpose camera with adequate image quality that I can carry with me wherever I go. At the moment, I have paused along the path and settled upon my Olympus E-P3 along with the Panasonic 14 mm and 20 mm lenses, the Olympus 14 – 42 mm zoom, and the Olympus 14 – 150 mm zoom, but I have kept the Canon S95 for use as a small shirt pocket camera and the Pentax K-5 with the 18 – 55 mm zoom for inclement weather and with the 50 – 300 mm zoom for wildlife shooting.
I’m still on a path towards having one camera along with a simplified choice of lenses. I’m still trying to decide on whether I wish to use zoom lenses on my E-P3 or to just use faster prime lenses such as the 14 mm, the 20 mm, and a 45 mm. At the moment I’m leaning toward using the 14 – 150 mm, f/4 – 5.6 zoom most of the time along with the 20 mm, f/1.7 prime for when I need low light capability or to keep the camera under my jacket or in a vest pocket and/or for when I wish to be a little more discreet. Ultimately, the choice will probably be driven by how fast a lens I need.
I have paused on my path to find my one-camera solution until I learn whether I can get along with just the E-P3 and until I see if there is another new camera coming out that will be worth the cost for my single camera; but I’m thinking at the moment that I will settle for a while with just the micro 4/3 system as it seems to be an excellent compromise on flexibility, quality, size, weight, and cost as the best camera for recording my views along my path through life.
Replaced my Pentax K-7 with an Olympus E-PL2 Micro Four-thirds Camera
I finally mailed off my Pentax K-7 and all of my lenses for it. While I loved the camera for its capabilities, I decided that I wasn’t going to carry it with me enough to justify keeping it. Even though it is one of the smallest weather resistant DSLR systems (including lenses), it is still a very sturdy and heavy camera system. It feels like a miniature tank, so if you are off to do serious battle, it’s a great camera.
After deciding to sell the K-7, I was down to having only one camera and no long focal length lenses. I only had my micro four-thirds Olympus E-P1 which I love, and since I never travel without a backup camera, I needed to find a replacement for the K-7.
If you have read my earlier postings, you know that I have always carried the weather resistant K-7 or a small waterproof P&S camera for backup and to use in the rain or during extreme dust conditions. Since I don’t like the weight of the K-7 and I don’t like the image quality of the waterproof P&S cameras, I was faced with a dilemma. After much thought, I decided that in all reality I wasn’t going to be traveling as much in the rain forests or deserts in the future, and that if I bought a small camera I could suitably protect it inside a zip-lock plastic bag, and just not take pictures in hard rain or dust storms. I decided that the merits of having an interchangeable system out-weighed the weather protection qualities. I decided to stick with the micro four-thirds system and expand around my E-P1. I bought the latest Olympus, the E-PL2. I decided to get it rather than the E-P2 since it was lighter and had some other features I liked, and since I already had the E-P1.
Rather than for me describing the virtues of the E-PL2, it would be better if you read the review in dpreview.com so that you can decide if the camera will work for you. I have included their picture of the camera along with a few of their final words below and you can click here to read their review.
“Life is full of compromises and buying a new camera almost always inevitably ends up in one. Before the arrival of the mirrorless camera you could either get a DSLR with lenses that would give you great image quality across the ISO range and a comprehensive control interface, but would require you to carry a camera bag and possibly result in severe back pain after a long day of photography. At the other end of the spectrum you’d find compact cameras that would easily slip into a shirt pocket but offer, compared to a DSLR, mediocre image quality at best.
Mirrorless system cameras have given consumers a third option, providing DSLR-like image quality in a more compact package. None of them have been able to totally solve the dilemma described above and buying into a mirrorless system might for many still be a compromise. However, in the case of the Olympus E-PL2 it’s not a bad one at all.
Its image quality in good light is excellent and at higher sensitivities is pretty much on the same level as many entry-level DSLRs. The focus speed has noticeably improved over previous models and is now amongst the best in class. The camera is more customizable than many entry-level DSLRs and you get all of this in a camera/lens package that is currently as small as it gets if you want a large sensor in your camera.”
In addition to getting the E-PL2, I got the new 14 – 42mm collapsible kit zoom lens, and the 14 – 150mm longer zoom lens. These lenses give me an 35mm effective focal range between 28mm and 300mm. Since all of my lenses and cameras are now interchangeable, I can switch lenses around on either camera depending upon the travel situation and always have a backup system to use if anything happens to a lens or camera. I can also keep a zoom lens on one camera as a walk-about system and the 20mm lens on the other camera for use inside museums and at night and not need to be changing lenses out in the field.
To summarize, I now have a totally interchangeable light-weight, small, micro four-thirds system which includes:
- Olympus E-P1 and the E-PL2 cameras,
- Olympus 17mm, 14 – 42mm, & 14 – 150mm lenses
- Panasonic 20mm lens
Photos … the Record of Places, Times, Cultures, & Events
I wrote an earlier article about why we take pictures and how they influence the views of the past as well as potentially affect the future. But, to a major degree the influence or effect strongly depends on what we take pictures of.
The above is a picture that I took of a small snowman that my youngest granddaughter made for me a few days ago. I don’t suppose that this picture will be one of those that get preserved for posterity but I suppose that someday it will remind me of a day and a time in my past. It’s odd, but often times it’s the snapshots that we take that have the greatest influence. Today’s snapshots record a place, time, landscape, culture, calamities, etc.
Marcia bought me a picture book of Historic Photos of West Virginia. One only has to glance through it to see that they are “just snapshots”. I don’t say that in a derogatory way, I just want to make the point that they were someone’s photos that recorded the events of the past. I’m sure that the photographers probably never knew how, or if, they would be used in the future. We should keep that fact in mind as we take pictures.
While I’m not as active, and the time of year is not the best for taking the kinds of pictures that I have mostly taken in the past, I have been spending some time thinking about what I will be taking pictures of in the future. In the past I have been mostly a travel photographer. I have enjoyed recording places and cultures that are different from my home experiences, but what will I be shooting in the future? Will I be taking pictures in a sandy desert, in a rain forest, on market streets, of wildlife, or of what?
Since I like taking pictures and would like to take a lot more, I have thought quite a bit about my future subjects. This isn’t just an academic process for me since I have also been thinking about what, if any, additional lenses I should acquire and if I should make any changes in the cameras that I own. As you should realize, what photographic gear will work best for you depends on what you will be shooting in the future. The past is past and what worked best for you in the past is past. If only we knew what the future was going to look like, we could make changes to better prepare ourselves.
I suppose I’ll have more to say about changes in my photographic gear as I continue this long process of evaluation relative to what I’ll most likely be taking pictures of in the future. But for now, all indications are that I will continue taking pictures of whatever I see around me … in their natural environment. I don’t think I will be taking studio pictures, or staged shots, or artsy shots just for the sake of making an artistic impression. I plan on “just taking snapshots.”
Travel Photography While Touring with a Group
If you do a little research about how to take great pictures, you will find many references which make great claims on the values of using a tripod, of taking the picture during the optimum time, like during the golden hours, or when the sun angle is just right, of having a pro camera, etc. These are all very good recommendations if you are a professional and/or have all of the time and money necessary, but I usually don’t; so I am going to share some of what I have learned while traveling with groups.
I like to travel, or tour, with small groups where someone else arranges all of the transportation, stops, meals, lodging, etc. so that I can concentrate on seeing the country and taking pictures. I find that the travel companies who conduct adventure travels to foreign lands with small groups of 16 or less to be ideal. There are several companies doing that but I have only utilized Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) so while my experiences might be a little biased, I have found OAT does a great job and I have never been disappointed traveling with them in over 8 countries. The advantages, relative to photography while traveling with small groups, are:
- The tour companies know the most interesting places.
- You can concentrate on taking pictures rather than trip logistics.
- Small groups usually manage to get to heavily visited sites either early or late when there are no crowds.
- They can take you to places that the larger groups can’t due to vehicle sizes, etc.
- They are more flexible in making stops … for example, if I’m interested in getting particular types of pictures, the tour leaders usually will make special stops so I can get them.
The disadvantages are:
- Location and timing are as arranged by the tour company.
- You have to move along with the group and your fellow travelers can get in the way.
- There is no time, or space, for using tripods.
While traveling with a small group is better than with a large group, there are still things that you want to do if you wish to make the most of the pictorial opportunities.
First, and foremost, go with the flow, take an interest in all around you, and take pictures. Having your eyes open and having a good eye for pictures are more important than having the ideal equipment. Having the right frame of mind while being flexible and enjoying everything around you, even if it is pouring rain or others are griping, is far more conducive to enjoying your trip and will result in far better pictures than if you spend all of your time complaining about the need to change schedules, etc.
There are generally two types of travel photographers … those who take pictures of everything and hope that at least some of the pictures are great … and those who continually look for the perfect shot and only take a few shots. I contend that the ideal falls in between these two styles. I generally tend to take lots of pictures but I always try and visualize the end result before taking most pictures. There have been many cases where I took multiple photos and didn’t know whether or not any of them would work until I got back home and reviewed and tweaked them on my computer. I recommend taking the picture when you have the chance, but when you get home review them all and try to learn from your mistakes. I never delete a picture while traveling … I do it from my computer after I get home and have analyzed what went wrong. If you do this, the quality of your pictures will improve with each trip.
Another recommendation is to always look behind you as you walk through the villages, markets, etc. You will get many excellent pictures that others in your group will probably miss since they weren’t looking.
Also learn to hold the camera as still as you can. Modern cameras with image stabilization are a big help for “walk-abouts” without tripods, but they are not perfect … you still need to hold the camera still and squeeze the shutter softly. If there is something available that you can rest the camera against, like a door frame, etc., take advantage of it.
Another good idea is to take spares of everything. Take extra memory cards, extra batteries, extra charger for the batteries, and an extra camera and/or lenses. See my earlier posting for additional thoughts: How to Safely and Easily Carry a Camera You might quibble about having an extra charger but I have been on two trips where someone’s charger quit working.
Also travel light. Don’t burden yourself down with heavy, large camera bags with all of the possible gear that you might need. I generally choose my cameras and lenses depending upon the kind of trip I’m taking. See: How to Safely and Easily Carry a Camera for more. The best camera is the one you have with you so I try to always have a camera on my body, even if just going to a restaurant in the hotel.
Another good idea is to be considerate of your fellow photographers in your group. It’s often good to include shots of your fellow travelers in your pictures, but you don’t want to always be the one rushing out front so that you are always in everyone else’s pictures or are always blocking their view.
Finally, share your pictures with others. There are many ways to do that. One way that has worked well for me in the past was to make a video show after I got home and then either mail out DVDs or place the show on the web. I use ProShow Gold or Producer to make my shows, but there are dozens of different software packages available. Some of my earlier shows are on my share site that photodex maintains. Go to the photodex.com, select “Share”, go to “Browse Member”, and type “jholmes7405” for Member Galleries. Lately I utilized ProShow Producer to prepare my show and then saved it as a YouTube video and inserted it in my blog article. You can see all of my shows from my trip to Tunisia that way. I also occasionally show individual photos in different blog articles. You can go to Categories at the top right section of my home page and select travel articles under the category “travel” or by country.
In my shows you will note that I usually organize them by day. There are many different ways to organize a show but I have found that those who were on the trip, or were interested in taking the trip, found that this format works well. I refer to my shows as “memory joggers” since when I look back at them they bring up many additional memories that weren’t recorded in a picture.
While my older shows were shot with simple point & shoot or travel zoom cameras, lately I have been using an Olympus E-P1 micro 4/3 camera (on the trip to Tunisia) and a Pentax K-7 DSLR with multiple lenses (trips to WV). I have other articles in my blog relative to cameras and lenses (and will be having more relative to this style of photography). You will be able to find these articles under the category “photography”.
Why Take Pictures?
While I’m partially confined, I have given a lot of thought to photography. My friend Charlie has helped me with my deliberations. If you haven’t see the words that Charlie wrote to go along with the above picture, stop and take a look and listen to his poetry on his blog Read Between the Minds.
Since my sleeping has not been very pleasant lately, I have been getting up before dawn, but as I discovered the other day it has its opportunities. I took the above picture from my back door as the sun was rising.
I have asked myself, “Why do I take pictures?” with the ultimate goal to improve my photography. In the past, most of my pictures were taken while traveling but since I would like to take more pictures even when not able to travel as much as I would like, I have been looking for other subjects … and that led me to explore the reasons for taking pictures.
Before I attempted to answer my question, I decided to look at many different photographic web sites and read several books about the art, or vision, of photography. And, as you probably already expect … I haven’t completed that journey, nor will I probably ever complete it. Like traveling, it’s a case of the joy is in the journey … not the destination.
I’m currently exploring the perspective (my everchanging perspective) that pictures are views of the present that influence views of the past as well as influence the future. Taking them is a way of living in the present and presenting views to others who might not have seen things the way I did. I read somewhere that one photographer said that he took pictures to see what he saw. I also do that, but in addition I like to show others what I saw. A picture represents a moment that will never again exist and in the aggregate they will represent the past to future generations.
In addition, the future is created through the aggregate of present actions. That opens up the opportunity to influence the future through pictures of the present since they can help open the eyes of others to the current state of things in such a way that it will change how they think and act and thus alter the future.
So, at the moment, my answer is that I take pictures of the present to share opportunities with others since they couldn’t see what I saw and to hopefully help describe the past to future generations and/or influence the future. I urge all of you to do the same … take more pictures of life around you, whenever and where ever you might be, and share them with others! Help create both the past and the future through your present views of the environment.
How to Safely and Easily Carry a Camera?
I have been on a quest for some time now looking for the best way to carry my camera(s) while traveling; but before I get into the details, I need to first define my situation.
Like all of us, I’m getting older and I’m developing impediments for safely holding and carrying my cameras. I have arthritis in both hands and at times have been known to drop whatever I was carrying in my hand due to occasional sharp shooting pains at the base of my thumbs. In addition I have a torn meniscus and I’m in the early stages of arthritis in my right knee. I did have pain and weakness in my legs due to arthritis, obliterated disk, and pinched nerves in my back but I think that my recent lumbar fusion eliminated those.
Another aspect of my situation involves the kind of travel I like. I like adventure travel in a small group in which I am frequently getting in and out of, and riding, various animals or conveyances like horses, camels, canoes, rafts, kayaks, small vans, trains, buses, small boats, and airplanes. In these cases I need to have both hands free to grab and hold onto objects and/or my walking stick or cane as needed.
And finally, there is the issue of which cameras I’m using. My preferred camera is my Pentax K7 DSLR. I prefer it due to its faster focusing – shooting rate, image quality, size, weather resistant qualities, and ability to use different lenses depending on the shooting environment. But, I never travel with just one camera since I want a backup if something happens to my primary camera. This is important since it seems that on most of my trips someone always has a camera fail through rough treatment, dust, or rain. My second choice for camera is an Olympus E-P1. I like it since it is a lot smaller and lighter than the K7 system. My third choice has been one of the waterproof point & shoot cameras since I can easily stick it in a pocket and not worry about getting it wet in rapids, etc. At the moment I’m in the market for replacing my old one but waiting until I get closer to my next trip. I take only two of the cameras and the appropriate lenses depending upon the particular trip. If mainly I’m shooting landscapes in a bright environment and I need to travel light, I will leave the K7 at home and if I’m shooting wildlife in a wetter environment or I can take a heavier camera I will take the K7.
There are many options relative to how to carry a camera. There are the classic neck strap, the shoulder strap, the wrist or hand strap, and other newer options like the Cotton Carrier hangers, and others like the BlackRapid Sling Strap (or their new SnapR system for smaller cameras) If you are not familiar with these I urge you to click on the links and check them out. They are both excellent systems for carrying a larger DSLR. In addition to the above, you can carry a camera in a vest or jacket pocket or a camera bag. If it’s in a padded, weather resistant bag it will be better protected from the elements as well as from being knocked around. With camera bags you have the option of carrying them over a shoulder, as a chest, back, or sling pack, or as a belt pack. As you have already realized, there is probably no perfect strap or bag … and I have many different ones which I use depending upon the camera, the environment, the number of extras I carry, etc. … and I’m still on the hunt for the best system(s).
My primary problem with all of the above is that I don’t want my camera swinging from any of the straps while getting out of a canoe and scrambling up a muddy bank or mounting, or un-mounting a camel for example. In addition I am often on crowded streets in some far away town and also need to safely and securely lay my camera down, often on the floor, while eating in a restaurant for example. This seems to drive me to finding an optimum solution which involves both some form of strap and bag; but, I like to keep the bag to a minimum size, and I don’t like having to fold the strap and put it in the bag with the camera and then put the strap around my neck or shoulder each time I take the camera out.
My solutions in the past have been to put a long nylon cord on the small cameras with the cord around my neck at all times and then put the camera in a shirt or vest pocket; but this doesn’t work with the K7 system due to its larger size. With it, I have left a long camera strap around my neck, or across my chest, while putting the K7 in a bag which is also hanging across my chest. I’m sure that you can visualize that this makes a cumbersome arrangement and requires room in the bag for the long camera strap when I’m not using it.
At the moment, I’m still looking for a better arrangement but have something in mind. Seeing the Cotton Carrier Lite system and the SnapR system gave me an idea. Why not use a tether and belt arrangement but use a medium-sized bag rather than a Velcro holster attachment like on the Cotton Carrier?
Another possibility would be to put a D ring on a shoulder bag strap and make a tether to attach the camera to the D-ring on the shoulder strap or a sliding arrangement similar to the SnapR system. I might be able to use a bag like the Domke 5XB or any holster bag which has provisions for using the strap and/or putting the bag on any belt. I could make a tether from nylon webbing or cord with quick fasteners on each end. The tether is only for safety reasons … not to be used to hang the camera.
By the way, I don’t use the dividers as shown for the Domke bags when I’m using longer lenses. I lay the camera on its side resting on both its side and the lens, with the hand grip of the camera pointing up so that I can easily grab it when taking it out of the bag. If the camera-lens combination isn’t too long I use their divider at one end of the bag to hold an extra lens. Also, since some of their bags use too much Velcro, I cover a portion of it with a mating piece of Velcro when I don’t need the extra security or when I want to silently lift the cover to retrieve the camera.
Either of these approaches should securely solve my problems … eliminate a strap around the neck, not have a camera strap inside the bag, not need to put a strap around my neck each time I take the camera out of the bag, etc. And, it would also get the weight off of my back and transfer it to my hips if I used a belt.
Another approach that I might try if I need to carry more gear is to get a sling bag and use it with a tether. I’m from the school that says you can never have too many camera bags. I just use different bags depending upon the need at that time. At this point I definitely am going to try the tether approach to eliminate the neck or shoulder strap when using the K7. If I find it helpful, I might also use a wrist or hand wrap to ease the load on my fingers while hand holding the camera.
I hope to try the above approaches by early spring. I should be out and about a lot by then with my camera(s). In the meanwhile I’ll keep looking and thinking. I’m also interested in what others think about the approach. As an example, read what Mike (my favorite photography blog) has had to say about the subject in a few older blog articles of his Beast of Burden & Carrying Style (make sure you read the extensive comments). I wonder how he’s going to carry his new Pentax K5? When I decide on my preferred solution I’ll let you know in a future article and include pictures.
My Next Adventure …. Lumbar Fusion
Some of you have noted that I haven’t been traveling as much, nor have I been adding many new pictures to my blog in the last few years. There is a reason for that, but first take a look at the following picture. I took this in my back yard a few days ago. It was early and I noticed that the sun was back-lighting the fog in my neighbor’s yard behind our house. This is the scene while looking out of my yard and down his driveway. This is probably the last picture I will take for a few months.
Now, back to my next adventure and one of the primary reasons for fewer trips and pictures. Some of you probably noticed that my recent pictures taken in October in West Virginia were mostly from the road or only a short walk away from it. For some 20 to 30 years I have had problems with my back and it has now gotten serious enough that I need to have a lumbar fusion. One of my disks has been collapsed and I have had bone-on-bone contact between two vertebrae. This along with arthritis has created a situation where pressure is being applied to the nerves to my legs. As a result of that, my legs get quite weak, along with significant pain, and I can’t walk far or stand very long; thus, I haven’t been traveling or taking many pictures.
I will be having two vertebra fused along with the addition of two rods and four screws in my back. My surgery is scheduled for 9 Nov and will be over shortly; but, unfortunately, the recovery period is rather long. I will be restricted to no lifting, twisting, or bending for around 12 weeks, with total healing taking up to a year. As a result, I have no future trips scheduled but hope to get back to taking pictures soon and returning to international traveling by next fall.
I haven’t decided yet about additional writing in my blog. It will depend on how I feel, how bored I get this winter, and what opportunities I see for future articles. Please check back … we all might be surprised.
Canaan Valley, West Virginia
For those of you who have enjoyed my pictures taken in Oct. 2010 in West Virginia, I want to give you a word, or picture, of caution if you choose to visit West Virginia in the fall.
In the following, the first three shots were taken from within the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge and the rest were shot within the Canaan Valley State Park. Click on one of them to see it larger, and then keep clicking on each picture to advance to the next.