Update / Stuff / Still Alive

It’s now full-on hot-as-hell season (mid-August) and my head is spinning at the quick passage of time. Where did it go?

I’ve been busy with a number of different things, one of those just happens to be photography. Although I can’t seem to find much time to update my blog or my website.

The honest truth is that I spend 9 – 10 hours every work day staring at a computer monitor doing engineering-type stuff (gotta pay the bills, you know), and the last thing I feel like doing when I’m at home is to stare at a computer monitor.

My phone has become my main communicator simply because it’s easily accessible and fast. I did have things set up where I could make blog posts from my phone, but it’s continually crapped out on me. It doesn’t seem to like it when there are a lot of apps installed and I actually try to use it like a computer.

So much for buying a top of the line phone. All that memory and processor speed works great at first, but over time and a few dozen apps later, it makes me want to dump it in a wood chipper. I wonder if my ancient Nokia, aka “the brick”, would still work?

If you really want to keep up with my current work, please check me out on Instagram. I’m also on Facebook, but that’s a personal account. I’ve thought about starting a photography page on Facebook, but then I really don’t want to have one more thing to update and keep track of.



I just bought a cheap 14mm lens for my Canon DSLR. It’s a Rokinon branded lens, which apparently is the same, or nearly the same, as many other brands (eg Rokinon/Samyang/Bower).

I debated long and hard, and then debated a lot more, and then debated until I was just sick and tired of thinking about it, but I finally decided to ditch my 16-35mm zoom and sold it.

At the end of it all, I hardly ever shoot wider than 24mm. When I want to lighten my camera kit (which is often because most of my outings involve hiking and I just don’t want to haul a lens that I may use for only one shot), the 16-35mm was always the first to be eliminated from the bag.

I almost got a Voightlander 20mm. It’s a nifty pancake-style lens. Very light and very small. I could easily stuff it away in my bag for the few times when I want to shoot wider than 24mm. But after all my debating and thinking, I’d much rather prefer a 18 or 19mm prime lens, and right now, there aren’t any out there that are relatively small. (and I’m looking at YOU, Samyang… please make a good 18 or 19mm!! :-) )

So, as sort of an “in the meantime” fix, I bought the 14mm. It’s not all that small. And it’s definitely heavy. But it’s fun to play with, and for $300 for a 14mm…. why not? But I still won’t be taking it on long hikes in the desert.

I took a series of test shots last night with the 14mm.



crops from test shots – click to see larger

The crops are 100% from different parts of the frame. I’m fairly impressed with the performance. At f/2.8 it’s noticeably soft and there is heavy vignetting. But stopping down to f/4 makes a huge difference. And by f/5.6 and f/8, I honestly can say that it’s just as sharp as the 16-35mm f/2.8L II Canon lens that I used to own.

Eat THAT Canon!

Shooting the Moon

Earlier this week we were treated to very clear weather and a full lunar eclipse. Even from Houston, aka light pollution central, the moon was highly visible and quite beautiful.

I shot the moon with a borrowed 400mm lens (f/5.6 max. aperture) and a cheap Tamron 1.4x converter. The combination made for a slow f/8, and I also stopped down one (f/11 effective) in attempts to sharpen things up a bit.



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I used to own a 400mm lens many years ago, and I’d forgotten how difficult it can be to shoot long. Every bit of disturbance around the camera caused a visible vibration in the viewfinder. Using live view at 10x made the issue very apparent. A cold front had blown through, and the winds were making it impossible to get the camera and lens completely stable.

The other issue with eclipses, and I’d experienced this before when shooting one many years ago, is that the moon gets very dark towards totality. A normal full moon in clear skies is nearly as bright as full daylight. But a moon mostly covered in the Earth’s shadow is 5 – 6 stops of light less. That’s really challenging when shooting at f/11 :-)

Random Pics, Random Thoughts

I’ve been posting quite a bit to my Instagram account lately. Below is a sample of the recent photos along with a few random thoughts and info.


Shadows in the Grass, Mar-11

The collection of apps and the workflow I had on my mobile phone that enabled me to post to my blog is out of commission. I’ve had so many issues with my phone over the months and have had to reset it a few times. I’m not sure if all the apps are the reason that the phone keeps bogging down and having a glitch-fest that renders it practially useless, but I’m hesitant to set everything back up as it was before.


Mule Ears, Big Bend N.P., Mar-15

I’m still using the Olympus OM-D E-M5 more than any other camera. I feel that I’m starting to learn what it can do well vs. the areas where it absolutly sucks. The small size and light weight of the Oly kit trumps everything else, so it’s been the right tool for the job lately.


Ladybug on Prairie Buttercup, Mar-21

Of course the other tools that I carry (Sony RX100 and also the camera on my phone) come in handy when needed!


Sandpile Silhouette, Mar-25

One impressive thing about the Micro Four-Thirds (M43 or M4/3 or whatever you want to call it) is the reach you can get with relatively small telephoto lenses. Combined with the EXCELLENT in-body image stabilization of the E-M5, it’s a great tool for wildlife shooting.


Cormorants, Lake Fork, Mar-28

My current longest focal length is 150mm, which translates to about 300mm (35mm “full-frame” equivalent field of view).

I’m looking into getting a longer lens for my kit, perhaps the Oly 75-300mm or the Panasonic 100-300mm. The long end of those lenses works out to about 600mm equivalent.


Sunrise, Lake Fork, Mar-30

The flowers are NOT as good as anticipated. I had high hopes over a month ago when I noticed flowers blooming in mass very early in the season. I think the ice storm we had in early March really hurt things.


Golden Groundsel, George Bush Park, Apr-1

I’ve been exploring through the local parks: Bear Creek Park (Addicks Reservoir) and George Bush Park (Barker Reservoir), visiting my usual spots for wildflowers. They are thin in coverage as compared to previous years. Also, many of the easy-access areas have been mowed by the park services. That doesn’t help at all!

Please consider following my Instagram account! And if you don’t have Instagram, then consider getting an account. It’s free and easy. It’s a fun app to have on your phone and really helps you to engage in and play with photography.

A Recent Backpacking Trip

Overnight backpacking and quality photography, or rather, strapping your necessities to your back and heading off into the wilds while carrying all your favorite image making gear: a quick story of my recent journey into the open desert of the Big Bend.

The plan was to take my 9-year old son on a series of one-night, overnight backpacking trips, and we completed this quest recently. Below are some notes for the main purpose of reminding myself of what I did so that hopefully I learn something when I decide to do this type of trek again :-)


We practiced at a local park just to make sure we were up for the challenge. We stuffed water and weights in our packs and spent a few hours on the trail.

Part 1 was packing and preparing for the actual trip. It was a frustrating affair. Even removing the grip from my Canon 5D3 and taking only two lenses, my camera bag, a large waistpack, weighed in at 10 pounds.

Combined with a 48 pound pack full of the necessities (including, most importantly, A LOT of water and a tripod), this became an issue. I had reduced, trimmed, and omitted as much as possible, but with the safety and well-being of my son paramount in my mind, I had to take what I had to take. 48 pounds was the default load and any further lightening had to be in the camera department.

At the last minute, I decided to leave the Canon gear behind and bring into service my mirrorless kit (which I own for this very reason). The Olympus E-M5 and two lenses packed in a small waistpack came to a package that was 4.5 pounds and about half the size.

This was a hard decision. But 5.5 pounds less load on my back was significant and welcome and, in my mind, worth the compromise.

Part 2 was hauling this stuff in the field. The Oly is frustrating sometimes, and the image quality doesn’t make me happy. But I don’t want to get into that now.

The camera gear, except the tripod, was put into a lightweight Lowepro waistpack. This pack was strapped around the top of my backpack. It was easy to access and provided a nice method of carrying when I wanted to go light and venture away from basecamp. (Plus I was insistent on carrying some form of padded enclosure to keep the body and lenses due to the inevitable hard knocks and rough handling that happen in this type of venture.)


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The tricky bit was attaching the tripod securely while allowing easy access. The method used was easy and convenient provided that my pack was off my back.


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The tripod (just below the head) was attached to the backpack by a clip. The clip was tied to the tripod with a bit of nylon rope. Then one of the legs, slightly extended, was slipped through a loop at the bottom of the backpack.


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The next time I do this sort of thing I probably will insist on taking my Canon gear. This past trip was during a full moon, so I didn’t engage in my typical high-ISO shooting of static star shots. But the next time I will need use of the 5D3′s clean high ISO as well as my fast 24mm prime, i.e. the camera gear will be heavier and the other necessities must be lighter! I will spend more time optimizing the gear as well as swapping out some items for lighter versions.

Stay tuned for scenic photos from the recent trip!

Ice Storm

The strange winter weather just gave us an interesting event. In the early AM hours of last Tuesday, the temps dropped to freezing and it rained all night.

The ground stayed warm enough not to freeze, but everything knee-high and up was coated in ice.

We don’t often have ice like this. The last time we had a similar ice event was nearly 20 years ago.

If only the sun had come out in the morning. Warm light catching on the ice-covered trees would have been pretty amazing. Regardless, the sights were still interesting and memorable.

I hope this does not ruin our wildflower season. The flowers have just started blooming, and now we’ve had freezing weather for two nights in a row as well as quite a bit of rain.

Big Bend Workshop News (Oct. ’14)

It’s on! This event is officially scheduled and accepting students. I have a room block and a conference room booked.

I’ve sent an announcement out to my email list and now have several folks signed up. Please see the workshop details page (click here!) for more information.

I’ve lowered my price a bit and made some slight changes in how the event will operate. The workshop details page has all the information and fine details.



Please contact me if you are interested or have questions. I hope to see you in Big Bend!

Getting Ready for Spring

Can someone please tell me what happened to February? It was January last time I looked. Now it appears to be…. March? Really?



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I’ve been busy at work. Things are happening in the field, and I’ve had to make several trips out of town.



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My Olympus OM-D E-M5 has been the tool of choice for these outings. It’s small and light and is just right for traveling and grabbing snapshots of the action.



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My mind has been re-engaging the old, familiar process and creative act of photography. I’ve been so bogged down with other efforts (mainly work and also my home life) that my head has been everywhere but into photography over the last couple of months.



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Despite the crazy weather being a lot colder than normal, our spring wildflower season is starting early. On a recent trek through George Bush Park, I found several stretches of prairie buttercups along the trail.



The trees are still mostly bare and the long grasses are brown. But the short grasses and small undergrowth are rich, vibrant green. Things are happening fast, and I’m going to be exploring the local parks quite a bit over the next month. Hopefully I won’t have to make any more out of town trips for work!

Being Prepared

A big part of taking successful photos is the combination of the right opportunity and being prepared with the right equipment. I found myself witnessing a spectacular sunrise this morning from my office at work, but I’d left my trusty Sony RX100 in my truck. (I thought about using the camera on my phone, but it is pretty bad at capturing scenes that have a wide dynamic range and intense color.)

I sprinted down four flights of stairs, jogged out to the parking garage, ran up five flights of stairs, retrieved the camera, and then it was just a bit too late.

Just prior to the sun popping over the horizon, the low cloud blanket was glowing intensely with hues of yellow, orange, and pink. The sky was on fire, as they say, but the show did not last long. It all happened in the time it took for me to make my way from my office building out to the multi-story garage.

I then looked for reflections off our glass-clad building (which can be pretty interesting combining geometric patterns and light) but didn’t find a scene I liked. Looking west, away from the sunrise caught reflections in distant buildings.

The lesson learned is simple. Being prepared makes a difference. Interesting scenes tend to not last long and don’t repeat themselves.

The scenes that unfolded before me this morning were not really that spectactular, however it was fun and healthy to engage in a photographic process for just a bit.