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Summer Faces

31st May 2016



Just Faces

Here’s a small album of pictures that show you that Summer is here.





















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What a View

27th August 2014

Wide Angle to the Extreme

It’s eye-catching when I see a photo that “bends” the horizon.

This bend comes from the camera’s lens. Use a very wide angle lens and you’ll see the curved “barrel” distortion on the images. One well-known type of wide angle lenses is the fisheye. These lenses typically have a field of view approaching 180 degrees – allowing you to capture the entire scene in front of the camera.

Until recently, fisheye lenses were expensive. I have one that cost well over $1500. But when I was looking for an ultra-wide angle for my Sony equipment, I found an inexpensive lens made by Rokinon. With its $300 price tag, I was a little skeptical of the quality of images from such a low cost lens but decided to try it regardless.

Here’s a short gallery of some of the scenes that I captured during my first outing with the lens a few weeks ago.

This is an 8mm f/2.8 fisheye. I wanted an ultra-wide angle for an extra Sony Nex7 mirrorless camera.

The Nex7 is very compact and lightweight. The Rokinon 8mm fisheye is also surprisingly compact.

The Sony Nex7/Rokinon 8mm setup is only about 1/3 the size of my Canon 6D with a Canon 8-15mm fisheye – a true space and weight saver.

One of the first images that I recorded with the new lens was in the Tetons. I especially like the curved horizon.

Here in Yellowstone you can see that the bridge rail curves upwards. The lens does not support the camera’s autofocus feature.

However an 8mm lens has a very wide depth of field which makes focusing less critical as you can see in this image taken at Mono Lake.

At Grand Canyon, the bend in the horizon is amazingly scenic. The lens does not support autoexposure so I set the camera shooting mode to manual, set the lens aperture to f/8 and adjusted to the proper shutter speed.

In both of these photos, you can see that the exposure for both a shaded and sunny scene were correct. Neither the manual focus nor the manual exposure requirements of this lens is a concern.

At Monument Valley I took advantage of the lens’ extreme wide view. Here I was able to take in a 180-degree view to photograph this huge monument within a single image.

The fisheye excels for those of you who like shooting portraits that include the vast surroundings.

At Mesa Verde, we encountered another “tight squeeze”. However, we were able to capture this with the lens’ wide view.

In Rocky Mountain National Park, the lens took in not only the winter’s left over snow but the billowing overhead July clouds.

What about the sharpness?

Here I’ve enlarged a small section of one of the above images. You can clearly see the detail in the face, the lettering of the cap and the tufa formations in the background.

I found the sharpness of this inexpensive lens to be very acceptable.

After my short time with this lens, I am no longer skeptical of it’s quality. The images are tack sharp with very good color reproduction. If you’re on the lookout for an ultra-wide, include this lens in your search.

The Rokinon 8mm f/2.8 fisheye is also available for other camera models as well: Fuji, Samsung and Canon M mount. Other similar versions with a maximum f/3.5 aperture are available for Canon, Nikon, Sony A mount, Pentax and Olympus 4/3.
Written by: Arnie Lee


Vacation Time

24th July 2014

Documenting the Memories

I have to admit that I like vacations.

I especially like the ones where we drive and see many different scenic parts of our vast country. Having just returned from another such jaunt, I’ve already recovered from being away from home these past few weeks. Here’s a look back to some of the photos that I took on the trip.

On this vacation we drove some 6300 miles and took in some wonderfully gorgeous areas including the Tetons, Yellowstone, Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, San Diego, Phoenix, Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Mesa Verde and finally Rocky Mountain National Park.

My wife Kris and I left Grand Rapids and at this time in our lives, instead of traveling with our children we had four grandkids in tow. One of our goals was to drop off two of the grandkids in Reno. But these two also had a wish to see Yellowstone, so we set the GPS to guide us to Old Faithful. Afterwards we would meet up with several of our adult children and additional grandchildren as we made our way to additional destinations.

Naturally I had several cameras with me to record our travels. And while I thoroughly enjoy photographing the amazing mountains, canyons, monuments, waterways, forests, sites and scenery, more importantly are the photos that let me recall the precious time that we spent with our family.

Here’s some of the pictures that illustrate those moments.

Admiring Oxbow Bend in Grand Teton Nat’l Park
Waiting for Old Faithful in Yellowstone

In awe of Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone
cooling off in the Firehole River in Yellowstone

at the swimming pool in Reno
aggressive paddleboarding at Lake Tahoe

inspecting the tufa at Mono Lake
colorful wildflowers of Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite

surfing the Pacific in San Diego
catching a mermaid in San Diego

picking grapefruit in Phoenix
sitting on the edge of Grand Canyon

among the wonders of Monument Valley
straddling NM, AZ, UT and CO at Four Corners

As you can see, we visited some very gorgeous landscapes: incredible mountains, pristine wildernesses, jaw-dropping gorges, crystal clear lakes, raging rivers, enormous farmlands, five sensational national parks – just a vast array of features that make up our amazing country.

And while I have many more images that record these places that we visited, I’m just as content to see the faces of the grandkids, many of which we get to see but once a year.

house warming at Mesa Verde

How lucky we are to be able to capture the smiles on their faces like this.

above the snow and clouds at Rocky Mountain Nat’l Park


Photographs are certainly a powerful way to record memorable events.

Whether I’m on vacation or not, I try to keep the most meaningful memories as part of my photos.



Written by: Arnie Lee





“Easy” Scenery

Sometimes it seems like you have to really work hard to capture the photograph that’s been bouncing around your head for a long, long time.

Then, there are other times when you hardly have to work at all.

For my two selected scenes below, I think that anyone with a camera couldn’t miss capturing great photographs of these two gorgeous places.

Both were taken in the Grand Teton National Park area this past October. The first was taken at the Jackson Lake Overlook and the second at Oxbow Bend.


This panorama shows you an overview of the area at the Jackson Lake Overlook. You’re looking at a pretty dry Jackson Lake in the foreground. Ordinarily, it’s covered with water but at this time of the year it’s quite depleted in this part of the lake as water has been released during the Spring and Summer months into the Snake River for irrigation of farms in adjoining Idaho.

Most of the scenic areas in the Tetons are well known to all of the visitors. So when I arrived at the overlook there were already a group of photographers in various stages of picturetaking.

This day was quite overcast which added a dramatic feel to the Tetons.

I didn’t have to do any hiking, climbing or setting up here. I walked ahead about 100 feet towards the edge of the lake (dried at this point) and calmly admired the majestic view, waited a few minutes for the clouds to position themselves in front of the distant peaks and clicked.

No muss, no fuss to get this photo. I’m sure that these other visitors had as easy a time as I did capturing this scene.

The Teton Range Looking South



This panorama shows you the view at Oxbow Bend. Here the Snake River makes an abrupt turn creating a pretty water foreground view with the Tetons in the distant background.

Yes, this too is a popular place. It’s one of the busiest places in the park and on this day there were dozens of visitors with loads of photographic equipment just itching to get their keepers.

These photographers are standing along the shoulder of the highway that runs though the park.

For this photograph, I walked about 25 yards down from the highway to a place closer to the level of the river. But that was about all the work that I had to do here.

On this Fall day, the sun was shining over the river and brilliant trees making everything sparkle. The thick, billowy clouds were perfectly positioned behind the Tetons. All I had to do was click-click. The scene was “picture perfect” – perfect for anyone to record the beauty.

Mt Moran from Oxbow Bend, Fall 2013


It’s not always necessary to hike five miles uphill in 100-degree heat to capture that iconic gallery wrap. There are plenty of places that lend themselves to “easy” scenery. And easy doesn’t have to mean a “me too” photograph, a little patience and variation can help you set your photos apart.



Written by: Arnie Lee







The Rest of The Story

I’ve been wanting to visit the iconic Horseshoe Bend for many years and I finally had my chance a few weeks ago.

As its name suggests, the Colorado River makes an abrupt 270 turn in the shape of a horseshoe. It’s located downstream from the Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell near the city of Page, AZ. Drive 5 miles south on US89 from Page and you’ll see a gravel parking lot. From there a half mile hike on a moderately sloped dirt trail brings you to the overlook.

I arrived late in the day and found quite a few onlookers and photographers awaiting the sunset.


The overlook is about 50 yards across and provides a wonderfully wide view of the river – both upstream and downstream. The Colorado sits below the jagged cliffs about 1000 feet down.

These spectators are standing pretty close to the edge of the cliff. And while I love the scenic surroundings, I am not a big fan of steep cliffs so I made it a point to stay behind this couple.

There’s plenty of room to accommodate dozens of visitors without feeling crowded.

As you can see these photographers had lots of space in which to set up their equipment while waiting for the sun to go down.

From this vantage point, the cliff on which they are standing looks safe…….

However, in this next photograph I’ve stepped away from the edge so that you can see the rock platform on which they were positioned.

These people are a lot more brave than me. I couldn’t bring myself to stand next to them. I wasn’t about to stand just inches from the cliff’s edge that drops down by a thousand feet. No, not this photographer.

So how did I get this unobstructed view of Horseshoe Bend?

As Paul Harvey would say here’s “the Rest of the Story”.

My shooting position was immediately to the left of the four photographers with tripods. To take this photograph, I laid on my stomach and carefully crawled to the edge of the cliff. My camera was safely hanging from my neck by its strap.

Since I had a very wide angle lens (15mm), I first took a deep breath to get some courage, leaned over the edge, calmly composed the scene in the viewfinder and finally snapped about three shots.

So there you have it. By itself, this Horseshoe Bend photograph certainly doesn’t tell the story behind it. To inject a slight bit of humor here, let me say that I’m not afraid of heights, only of falling from them. I wasn’t going to leave the overlook until I had my shot. A little dirt on my clothes is the price that I had to pay to get it.

Written by: Arnie Lee







A case against Stop Action

The usual “rule” for photography is to choose a shutter speed fast enough to eliminate the jitter or bluriness when the subject moves.

But sometimes ignoring the rule leads to more interesting photographs.

Here’s a few examples.

This little girl is practicing to become a major league baseball player. She’s winding up, ready to let ‘er rip.

By using a slower shutter speed, can’t you feel the breeze as she whips the ball towards the batter? Here the shutter speed was 1/50th second. Had I used a faster shutter speed, her left arm would have been frozen.

Here she’s enjoying the outdoor swingset. By itself, the photo shows no movement. But seeing her at the apogee (highest point) of the swing, doesn’t it conjure the feeling of motion? Recall that at the top of her swing, the velocity is zero – enabling you to use a relatively slow shutter speed to “capture” the motion.

Again we see a subject on a swingset but this time upside down. The relatively slow shutter speed of 1/100th second stops the action at the top of her swing.

In this case, the pose with her legs flailing about helps to introduce movement. And see how her hair is flying thereby adding to the feeling of action in the image.

A final example is this photo that lets me see the speed of the hoop and just about hear the air whirling around.

For this photo, I patiently waited for a moment when the young girl’s face was in a relatively fixed position while at the same time her arms were wildly gyrating within the hoop.


Use your camera’s shutter speed priority mode. Try setting the shutter speed to 1/100th of a second or slower – e.g. 1/25 or 1/50. If you use an even slower shutter speed, you may end up with blurry photos since you may not be able to hold the camera steady enough without introducing camera shake.

With just a little practice you can make your photos move.

Written by Arnie Lee


Wild Misdirection

16th March 2013

Making Wildlife Appear Even More Wild

I consider myself pretty honest and straight-forward – both in business life and in personal life.

So you may wonder why I am writing an article about deception. Maybe this is too harsh a word – let’s just call it misdirection.

Let me explain. Often photographs tell only part of the story. If I am clever, I can photograph a tiger in a zoo by carefully orchestrating the background, lighting, angle and surroundings to make it feel that it was taken in the heart of the Bengal jungle. I might lead you to believe that I shoot for National Geographic.

Following are a few examples of how you might creatively use point of view (POV) to enhance your wildlife photography skills and put you in line for work at the nature magazines.

The blue heron on the left was standing across a shallow ravine about 50 feet from me. At that distance it was easy to capture him among his surrounding.

By kneeling down and zooming the lens, I was able to isolate his head and avoid the cluttered background in the above photo.

The lovely anhinga on the left was drying his wings on a nearby branch. Again the presence of the branches detract from the fine detail of the bird.

A few minutes of patience paid off. I was perfectly positioned to capture this bird as he became airborne. The trees in the background are blurred by the shallow depth of field. Overall, this photo gives me a better sense of wildness.

These wood storks in the left photo were very fond of the tree. But somehow photographing a flock of birds in the tree wasn’t the feeling I was seeking. By isolating a single bird using a longer focal length, I was able to maintain more of a sense of wildness.

Here’s a series of photos that show that these vicious looking alligators were actually in a tame part of the Everglades. The wood deck protects the visitors from all of these alligators.

Above, without the onlookers, the group of alligators appear in a more “wild” environment except for the inclusion of the wood railing in the foreground.

Left, I’ve again isolated the creature from the human elements. I think this method enhances the wildness factor.

Those of you who have already used photographic misdirection, please raise your hands!

Of course, creative point of view can be used for any kind of photography, not just wildlife. So get out there and change your point of view around.

Written by Arnie Lee


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Everyone has a point of view

But hold on!

For this discussion, I’m not talking about your opinion. Rather, I’m referring to your visual point of view.

Your view of the real world is determined by the physical specs of your eyes. When standing, the average person’s eyes sit between 5 and 6 feet off of the ground. Looking straight ahead, the eyes can take in about 45-degrees of a scene. Historically, the “normal” lens on a camera was designed to duplicate this angle – thus a 50mm lens on a 35mm camera has this same view.

In today’s photo-frenzied world, we’re taking hundreds of million of photos daily. And aren’t most of these photos taken from the average person’s viewpoint? Probably.

My contention is that changing your point of view slightly results in more interesting (and less boring, me-too) pictures.

How do you do this?

If your camera has a zoom lens – change the zoom factor. Zoom in to get a closer (and more shallow) view of your subject. Zoom out to include a smaller view of your subject. If you’re having a hard time picking out a face that’s far too tiny to see, zooming in can help it magically reappear in your photo. The plate of appetizers below has better appeal up close than at a distance. Unfortunately, some of our commonly used picture-taking devices lack a zoom feature. For example, the popular iPhone 4S has a fixed lens of about 35mm (equivalent on a 35mm camera) so you’ll have to resort to one of the other methods.

Dance a Little
Another way to zoom in is to move closer to your subject. Conversely, zoom out by moving farther away from your subject. This sounds almost silly until you realize that not very many picture-takers use this method. It’s almost as if their feet are cemented to the earth. Dancing with your camera can actually produce interesting views when compared to the immovable object school of photograph. You’ll notice that I danced a little to get closer to the green soles on the young boy’s feet.

Do the Slide
If you see a light post coming out of Betty’s head, move yourself to the right. If you want to see the gentleman’s cellphone instead of the back of his shirt, slide to the left. It’s perfectly reasonable to change the direction from which you snap your photograph. You’ll most likely end up choosing a direction which others don’t often see such as moving closer to the fence to capture the blackbird.

Get a Pair of Stilts
Another way to achieve photos with impact is to shoot down on your subjects. Standing on a stable chair can add two feet to your eye level. Or a set of nearby stairs can also give you a needed boost such as the overhead shot of the table and chairs. Whatever method you use to get up there will make your pictures stand out from the norm.

Things are Looking Up
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s … You get the idea. Thankfully, our heads are hinged and move upward and downward. Taking a photo of a kid climbing on the monkey bars and seeing his face up close from beneath is very different from the usual playground photo taken from 20 feet away.

Do Deep Knee Bends
If most of your pictures look like they’ve been taken from 5 to 6 feet off of the ground, you may need to do more calisthenics. Lowering your body slightly by bending or kneeling can produce a dramatic effect in your photos. Instead of capturing the top of the young girl’s hair, I was in the right position to photograph her face.

Down and Dirty
If you have the strength and fortitude, you can shoot by laying flat on your stomach and crawling around. I often use this technique to photograph flowers and the like. This changes my normal perspective to that of a bug and usually results in some interesting shots. However, it usually takes me a bit longer to get myself upright afterwards.

Enough talk. The following are a few photographs that I’ve taken using one one of more of these suggestions.

My last suggestion, is one that you’ve already seen in some of the above photos and that is to:
Mix It Up
Use the above suggestions in combination with one another. For example, zooming out and bending at the knees gives you a wider angle and lower view of your subject. Hopefully, the physical requirements to do this won’t impair your health.

In photography, it’s fine to take a different point of view and go against the masses. Sometimes, it’s like that in life too.

Written by: Arnie Lee

In 1978, we founded our parent company Abacus as a publisher of books and software. So for 35 years I’ve been involved with everything that accompanies the task of books – acquisition, contracts, manuscripts, editing, rewriting, printing, marketing, reviews, etc. The books that we publish are technical books: computing, electronics, aviation. While this gives me some expertise evaluating and reviewing books of this genre, I admittedly lack experience evaluating and reviewing history books.

Consequently, the mini-review that I’m about to give here is not based on my in depth knowledge of the subject matter. Rather it’s based only on my personal interest in this topic. Professionally speaking I’m not qualified to comment on history – but can you cut me some slack when I describe the book’s attractive layout and appearance, riveting content, easy reading, and many fine photographs and illustrations?

Discovering Black America is an in depth look at the forced settlement, migration, education, struggle, emergence and contribution of the Americans of African descent.

I was surprised to learn that as early as 1500’s many of the early explorers to America were accompanied by black sailors. I read how the slave trade was fueled by the demand of southern farmers to establish and maintain a plantation economy. I learned how our archrival, the British, schemed to free tens of thousands of slaves during the Revolutionary War.


Panoramas the easy way

27th August 2012

Photographically speaking, a panorama is a photograph that encompasses a very wide view. I like panoramas because they reproduce a scene as if I were viewing it live by turning my head from the far left to the far right. I can view the photograph in small ‘chunks’ as I scan the entire image from the left to the right.

In the past, making a panorama was a complicated, multiple step process involving capturing the images and then stitching them together whether it be done chemically in a darkroom or digitally with a computer. I won’t go into details of making panoramas using either of these two “conventional” ways. Instead, I’ll point out the ease with which a feature on certain cameras enables me to easily make panoramas in one step.

For the past two years I’ve been using several Sony Alpha series and NEX series cameras to shoot panoramas. These cameras enjoy a feature called Sweep Panorama. When this feature is chosen, you simultaneously depress the shutter and move the camera in a sweeping fashion to the right. As you do this, the camera captures multiple images of the scene. The camera signals the completion of the sweep by halting the shutter. A few seconds afterward, the panoramic capture appears on the camera’s LCD for your review. Press the PLAY button and the image is displayed from left to right – in video fashion – but is actually a single, still panoramic image.

Above, I explained that the sweeping motion is from left to right. But in fact these Sony cameras let you sweep left to right; right to left; up to down; and down to up. These cameras also capture three dimensional appearing images using 3D Sweep Panorama that can be displayed on certain compatible 3D television sets.

Here’s a few of the panoramas that I’ve taken with various Sony cameras. You can click on each of the images to see a wide view of the panorama.

Red Rock Canyon, Nevada

Red Rock Canyon, Nevada


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