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Drive By Cross Country

22nd August 2016

From the Midwest to the West at 75 mph

It’s a long way from Grand Rapids, Michigan to the western USA and when you’re driving there’s an awful lot of space between here and there. For those of us who enjoy traveling, there are many familiar sites along the amazing interstate highway system that connects the great expanses of our country.

My journeys are accompanied by a camera or two. These cameras usually stay packed until we reach our final destination. However, I have a nice little point-and-shoot which sits on the dashboard – waiting for me to grab it to capture “stuff” as we pass by at highway speeds. Below is an abbreviated scrapbook that shows you some of that stuff that we saw along the highway as we made our way from Michigan to California. Excuse me if some of the photos are 75mph blurry.

 



the rolling farmlands of Illinois

the paths between rows in Iowa are irrigation ditches


colorful clouds as the day nears sunset

huge irrigators watering corn


rolls of hay in Nebraska fields

gigantic stockyard in Ogalalla, Nebraska


Lincoln statue near Laramie, Wyoming

oil refinery in Sinclair, Wyoming


solitary monuments near Green River, Wyoming

steep upgrade ahead in western Wyoming


skyline of downtown Salt Lake City

salt processing factory near Grant, Utah


Tree of Utah sculpture

production company filming at Bonneville Salt Flats


mountains leaving western Utah

mighty diesels pulling freight at Battle Mountain, Nevada


hillside letter at Carlin, Nevada

work train near Lovelock, Nevada


weather approaching Reno at sunset

Lake Tenaya in Yosemite Nat’l Park – driving much slower!

 

 


the compact Canon SX710

it’s small but capable of recording excellent images

 

 

I hope you enjoyed our most recent cross-country adventure in these few photographs courtesy of my handy Canon SX710 camera.

 
Written by: Arnie Lee

 

 


SuperBloom

11th March 2016

The Desert Explodes with Color

Nature never ceases to amaze me.

Death Valley National Park is the driest, hottest place in North America. Although its climate isn’t very hospitable, wildflowers do appear each Spring. However this past October, a series of rainstorms set in motion the favorable conditions for a literal explosion of colorful wildflowers that blanketed the normally harsh landscape of the park.

This phenomenon happens seldom, perhaps once in every 10 or so years and arrived in mid-February. When I visited Death Valley in early March, I was fortunate enough to see many fields still shimmering in the SuperBloom.
 





 


I’ve visited Death Valley more than a dozen times previously, but I’ve never seen as many visitors taking in the colorful wildflowers as I saw in March.

Click here to see one of the DV Park Rangers describe a “once-in-a-lifetime” visit to Death Valley.

How lucky I was to be able to see this unexpected event.

Written by: Arnie Lee
 
 


 
 

WPPI Conference & Expo

22nd February 2016

The Wedding & Portrait Photography International Conference and Expo

As I sit at my computer in crusty Michigan with the clouds building for another forecasted snow storm, I’m looking forward to escaping for a few days.

My destination is the WPPI Conference & Expo which begins March 3rd and runs through March 10th. For professional photographers and hobbyists alike, it’s a chance to learn from experts.

Additionally, you’ll travel to the warm climes of Las Vegas at the MGM Conference Center for extracurricular activities that are sure to add up to a practical education and fun packed week.

WPPI is comprised of hundreds of classes and seminars taught by noted photographers such as Joe McNally, Tamara Lackey, Lindsay Adler, Roberto Valenzuela, Bambi Cantrell, Hanson Fong, Kevin Kabota, Jerry Ghionis and Gary Fong to name a few.

Alongside the conference is the expo portion in which 80,000 square feet of space occupied by 300 exhibitors who will showcase the newest cameras, lenses, equipment, lighting, accessories, supplies, marketing material and services. All of the major camera manufacturers will set up booths to demonstrate their latest wares.

To look at the wide range of classes and seminars please visit WPPI Conference & Expo.

Written by: Arnie Lee
 
 


 
 

Accidental Reporter

28th December 2015

Have Camera, Will Travel

One of my former careers was developing, publishing and marketing software for the tiny flight simulator industry. This fact alone entitled me to become a very big fan of aviation, even though I’ve loved all things that fly since I was a kid.

I’ve also had a lifelong affair with photography. Whether on the road for business or pleasure I always have a camera as a traveling companion. This was the case several years ago when I was on a long haul from Grand Rapids to Sydney.

My flight by way of Los Angeles arrived at Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport early in the morning. While reading the local Sydney newspaper I learned that the first commercial flight of the Airbus A380 would be arriving from Singapore that afternoon. This was exciting news to me – for years I had been following the creation of this monster aircraft. Right then I decided that I would return to airport following a scheduled meeting in nearby Silverwater.

 
 
When I later returned to the airport, the lobby overlooking the tarmac was jammed with loads of very anxious onlookers. After considerable wrangling I was able to find a small standing space next to a window from which I could view the arrival gate.

The wait was about 30 minutes. Due to the inclement weather, you could see only the faint lights of the A380. They grew larger and somewhat brighter as the aircraft approached the runway. As the aircraft touched down, the crowd broke out into cheers and applause. Flight SQ380 then hurried past us, exited the runway and made a U-turn to taxi to the awaiting gate. Down below on the tarmac, scores of workers and dozens of vehicles were on hand to greet the arrival.
 
 

 
 
I was lucky to be at the right place at the right time. Being able to report on the arrival of this Singapore to Sydney flight back in 2007 is another reminder to me to continue to carry a camera while traveling.

And of course I was able to use the camera to take a few sightseeing pictures as well.

 
 
Written by Arnie Lee


 
 

Taking Flight

08th February 2015

Things With Wings

 

Like many others, I’ve been fascinated with flight and things that fly.

On a recent trip to the parts of the USA where the sun is bright and warm, I had another chance to look skyward.

Here’s a short gallery of some of the sitings that caught my eye.










 
 

For those who are interested these photos are from Death Valley National Park, Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, McCarran International Airport, Creech AFB, Nellis AFB and Everglades National Park.
 
 
Written by: Arnie Lee
 
 


 
 

Am I Equipped Right?

30th September 2014

Like many other dedicated photographers, I’ve somehow accumulated a sizable stash of photo equipment over the years. I’ve also gained a lot of experience knowing what equipment I’ll need for a particular type of shooting.

My last two assignments were a combination of travel and outdoor shoots. My aging back and wobbly knees beg me to travel as lightly as possible for two reasons: a) to minimize the size and weight of the load that I carry and b) to reduce the amount of time I need to get ready for any given shot.

Since I don’t like carrying camera bags or backpacks, I rarely carry extra lenses. On hikes, it’s a chore for me to search for the right lens and change it on the fly, especially if wildlife is the subject matter. It’s far faster for me to slide the desired camera/lens setup on its shoulder strap up to my eye and be ready to shoot in a few seconds.

After these two recent assignments, I’ve zeroed in on a reasonable set of cameras and lenses to use when traveling long and far. I based my choice on the range of the lenses that I typically use: a very wide angle, a medium range telephoto zoom and a long range telephoto zoom.

For several years, I’ve come to rely on Sony’s NEX series of mirrorless cameras. Not only are they compact and lightweight, but they have several features that I appreciate such as the electronic viewfinder which instantly previews your exposure adjustments and a mode that captures in-camera panoramas. One drawback of these mirrorless cameras is that there isn’t a long telephoto lens available. For this I have to stick with a full-frame Nikon DSLR.



Here’s the short list that I’ve found works well for me:

For very wideangle, I use a Sony NEX7 with a manual focus Rokinon 8mm fisheye.

For the medium telephoto, I use a Sony A6000 with a Sony 18-200mm lens.

For the long telelphoto, I use a Nikon D600 with a Nikon 80-400mm lens.

As you can see, the Nikon DLSR setup is monstrous next to other two cameras. But lugging this heavyweight around is the price I have to pay for the lens’ long reach.



The NEX7 is a very a very capable camera. I like its large 24mp APC-C sensor, excellent electronic viewfinder and brightly lit tilting LCD.

The 8mm Rokinon lens is about 1/4th as large as my expensive fisheye lens for Canon DLSRs. Using the Rokinon lens I have to manually focus and set the exposure so it’s less convenient than the Canon setup. But the savings in bulk is a major plus for me.

Below are a few photos using this setup. The extra wide angle lets me record everything in front of me. I especially like how the fisheye exaggeratingly bends the horizon.



The A6000, Sony’s successor to the NEX7 is also mirrorless. Feature wise it is very similar to the NEX7 except that it has a superior autofocusing mechanism. This enables high speed captures at frames rates up to 11fps.

When not traveling, the A6000/18-200mm setup is my everyday camera. With a large zoom range I have a wide angle to medium telephoto in a single lens.

When traveling, it becomes my primary camera with the other two cameras reserved for special points of view. Below are a few examples that illustrate the versatility of the 18-200mm lenss.



The Nikon D600 is a full-frame DLSR with a 24mp sensor. It weighs in at two pounds which is twice as much as the A6000.

The Nikon 80-400mm zoom lens weighs just under three pounds making this setup a combined five pounds. Although this is hefty to carry, the lens lock (prevents the zoom from unintentionally sliding) keeps it secure while carrying it with a shoulder strap.

This long telephoto comes off of my shoulder mostly for the long distance shots such as these below.



So there you have it, my equipment of choice for outdoor photography. Of course, not everyone has the same preferences or requirements in the field as myself so this set up may not work universally. But for me being properly equipped has proved to be an ideal way for me to work comfortably, quickly and efficiently.
 
 
Written by: Arnie Lee
 
 
 
 


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
 
 


 
 
 
 

The Sony A6000 Mirrorless

14th August 2014

My 6300-Mile Field Test

On our recent vacation, my camera of choice was Sony’s newest mirrorless camera. While I also brought a much larger Nikon D700 conventional DSLR, I relied mostly on the the Sony A6000. As a comparison, I captured about 150 images with the Nikon D700 and more than a thousand images with the Sony A6000.

My setup was the A6000 coupled with Sony’s 18-200mm lens. This combination is lightweight and compact, produces quality images and just happens to fit beneath the driver’s seat for fast, convenient access.

Hopefully, the following photographic sampler illustrates the A6000’s versatility. I’ll add a few techie details afterwards.



The A6000 is smaller than a conventional DSLR so it’s both lighter and more compact.

You can compare the sizes of the A6000 next to the conventional Nikon D700 DSLR.


The A6000’s high resolution 24MP sensor renders scenics with very high detail.

Additionally, the camera can capture subjects that have a wide range of exposure levels.


The A6000’s articulated LCD makes it easy to capture stills and closeups.

The much improved focusing system works well for wildlife shots.


With the 18-200mm lens, I can keep dry while still in on the action.

Here’s some quick, responsive focusing


The A6000’s bright viewfinder makes it easy to compose and frame in bright sunlight.

The electronic viewfinder previews the scene with the camera adjustments applied.


It handles action shots well and can capture up to 11 frames per second.

The exposure system works quite well with a wide variety of subjects.


I used the camera’s sweep panorama feature often to automatically produce some very pleasing large images.

I suppose it doesn’t matter than I traveled 6300 miles with the camera other than I used it under a variety of conditions.

My “film” was a 32GB SD card, but I never filled it with the 200 pictures a day (the camera was set to record simultaneous RAW and JPG images). All in all, I’m very happy with the images that the camera produced. The one small gotcha is that the A6000 has a short battery life – probably due to the electronic viewfinder. Thankfully, I had an extra battery that I carried along.

Since this is my third Sony mirrorless camera, you can safely assume that I’d recommend this camera to others. In fact my daughter must have agreed with my assessment and purchased one.


For those interested, here’s a few of the technical specs for the A6000:

Sony A6000 os a mirrorless with a 24MP sensor. One of the reasons for choosing this camera is its fast and accurate hybrid focusing system that allows up to 11 frames per second capture. Other proven features are its “sweep panorama”, automated HDR capture, easy exposure bracketing, and Sony’s proven video recording.

List price for the A6000 body without lens is $650. The 18-200mm lens cost $850, more than the body but this single lens allowed me to enjoy the scenery without clutter of additional lenses.


 

 
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

 

 


 

 

The Backorder Has Arrived

This past October, I was in NYC to cover PhotoExpo 2013. It’s a large trade show for the photographic industry where new equipment, accessories, services and the like are on display.

One of the nicest things about trade shows is that you can have some hands-on time using the new hardware and ask in- depth questions that the reps are able to field.


I was interested in a few new pieces of equipment including Nikon’s newly announced AW1. It’s based on the one year-old Nikon 1 series. These are compact, mirrorless models that have interchangeable lenses. They are small and lightweight but deliver high quality images.

But the kicker here is that the AW1 is also waterproof to 49 feet, temperature resistant to 14F degrees and shockproof to about 6 feet. I was attracted to this camera because of its ruggedness.


I spent about 30 minutes of touchie-feelie time with the AW1 at the Nikon booth. I also peppered Brian – the Nikon rep – with dozens of questions about the camera.

In the end, I came away satisfied that this new piece of equipment needed to become part of my arsenal.

When I returned home from New York, I placed an order for the AW1 with two waterproof lenses. Although the AW1 has been available for sale for about six weeks, the two lens kit was just made available.


However, due to the usual holiday confusion, I have yet to open the carton. In the next few days, I hope to try it out. Since it’s 10 degrees outdoors here in Grand Rapids, I think the underwater testing will have to wait unless I decide to try it out in the bathtub.

But with the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) right around the corner (next week), I just might take it with me to Las Vegas and jump into one of the pools. I’ll fill you in when I have more to report.

 

 

Written by: Arnie Lee

 

 


 

 

 

 

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