Monthly Archives: January 2011

First Outing

I took marky Mark on his first proper outing yesterday. And what a beautiful day it was for a photo excursion – a sunny winter day with clear, bright sunshine. I wandered more or less aimlessly around town, dropping into Trinity college on the way, then through Temple Bar where the annual Trad Fest was on and finally ended up in Dublin Castle together with my Friend in Photography, A___. Lots of photo-worthy vistas along the way, so what to show you today???

No doubt about it, there is a voyeur in any photographer. I admit to it – I love hiding behind my camera while of course looking at other people or things through the lens. Just as much as I like the fleeting peek through illuminated windows when walking home in the evening.

Strolling home after my afternoon’s shooting excursion, I walked straight onto the above scene. The painter was so perfectly silhouetted against the window, I simply had to pull out the camera – by then safely stored and wrapped in bag – and capture this. The window frames against the brickwork gives a nice contrast, as does the warm light of the inside against the bare branches of the Virginia Creeper outside.

Thanks to 21 million Pixels, I can now crop to my heart’s content – and have done that in this image. I could possibly also have played around with the ISO a bit more, now that I know how to extend the ISO range (thanks, S___).

Anyway, from my point of view a promising start with marky Mark.

Easy Lover

Forgive me my reference to bad 80s pop, but the title of the post is more than apt. He is an easy lover, my new gallant aka “marky Mark” aka 5D Mark 2. Yes, he stepped into my life on Monday and I am already won over by his smooth ways. Nonetheless he needs a little bit of getting used to – as everything new does.

*eeeek* How come there is already dust gathering on marky Mark???

There are enough reviews of this great camera out there, so I won’t go into the tech details here. (As if…) These are just a couple of personal observations upon making myself acquainted with my 5D2. First impression: Quite a heavy lover. Well, I knew that from handling the 5D2 before buying it. Nonetheless, I can see that slow-hand Sonja won’t be quite so slow with this baby anymore. I used to push shutter speed to 1/30 of a second on a regular basis. (Rule of thumb is not too attempt hand-held shots at anything slower than 1/60!) No chance with marky Mark, he makes me tremble! I guess some biceps training is in order.

I am generally a “learning by doing”-gal, but when it comes to cameras I learnt a lesson once taught to me by a tutor in a photography course in The Gallery of Photography in Dublin. He said about learning to shoot with your camera, “Sit down with a glass of wine and read the manual!” Bottle of wine more like, when it comes to a 5D2. (250 pages in small print *hmph*) So I sat down and studied with camera in hand – and nearly failed at the first hurdle. I am less than enamoured with the way you set the aperture in the 5D2. I had been looking for that little button to press when making the settings – as in my old 350D. No such button. I had to search in the manual to finally figure out that you have to move that little on and off switch to the third setting and then turn the wheel on the back with your thumb. *hm* Not that easy to do that blind while you have one eye on the viewfinder. Plus, a heavy camera like that is not that easy to hold when you are fiddling with switches with one thumb…

I have the sneaking suspicion that the camera was designed with men in mind. It is quite a bulky affair – bulkier than my slender sweet 350D. The buttons are not too far apart for the various fingers. But far enough to make it slightly more difficult for women. And the switch is the wrong way round for easy manipulation while looking through the viewfinder. (Or are you meant to use the left thumb? *thinks*) I don’t like that but I sure will (have to) get used to that.

I haven’t tried the video settings at all yet. To tell you the truth, I am not really interested in that, anyway. But hey, once I progress to that chapter in the manual, I shall plough on and give it a go.

Off to some dumbbell training now…

Music was my first love

Ok, I admit. Photography was not my first love. Music was. It still plays a huge part in my life – I listen to music all the time, I sing, I dance, I love finding out what my friends recommend. I never leave the house without my current favourite music on the iPodPhone. (But neither do I leave the house without a camera, so there…). And there is nothing better than shooting a musician or doing a rock photography shoot, where my two loves combine…

Not so long ago I had the pleasure of taking pictures of a young musician. Marcin is a total Guitar God. Well, you guessed that from the image above – at least the guitar bit. Shooting with him was great fun, because it meant I could experiment with some nice strong light and different backgrounds. He was very clear about what he wanted – no phoney shots pretending he was playing the guitar when it is clear from the picture that it is shot in a studio situation. Photographic studio, that is. While the shot above is not necessarily usable for him – I chopped his head off *hehe* – this is still one of my favourite images of that shoot.

It took me a while to warm up to my role as the “director” of the shoot. Ordering around other people does not come easily to me. (Who is that giggling in the background??? Seriously, I do find it hard to tell others what to do!!) But when shooting portraits that is exactly what the photographer has to do. “Turn this way!” “Look at me!” “Put your chin up a bit!” “Look a bit more aggressive!” It certainly helps when you are not shooting your friends!!! By the end of this particular session I had finally gotten into the groove and was able to tell my sitter what to do, which way to turn and what kind of look to put on his face.

The best way of learning this, however, is being the subject of a portrait shoot yourself. And observing how your photographer is handling the situation. I put myself into that position the other day – and it was a horrific uncomfortable experience. And one that has taught me more than what I have read in books or been taught in college. But that’s a story for another day…

Byebye 350D…

So this might very well be my last post while shooting with my trusted, resourceful, reliable 350D. Time to say goodbye to my first digital love with a little eulogy and a look back. (Imagine some soppy violins sickly weeping in the background, or possibly the trademark music of Henry Maske’s last fight in the ring against Virgil Hill…) And the opportunity to show my favourite image I ever took with her.

Ok, before you slag me I’ll own up to all the image faults – this was taken a year into my relationship with her. (She was a “she” by the way, because beginners really feel so much more comfortable with forgiving and considerate women *haha*.) The horizon isn’t straight and the image could’ve done with some colour enhancing via PS. Yet I wasn’t quite there yet. I was pretty chuffed I had managed to work out the manual settings. And even more so on this particular occasion while we were shooting…oooops photographing wildlife on holiday in Namibia.

Prior to the trip I had invested big time in a proper zoom lens. After careful deliberation I had settled on a Canon 75-300mm f4 – 5.6. I remember thinking at the time “My oh my, that is a quarter of my monthly wage I am investing here…” But it was so worth it. Taking pictures of the animals was a joy with the lens – also thanks to image stabilising. I even used it as a replacement binoculars when our other two binoculars were in use by the rest of the gang.

The image of the Oryx above was taken in Etosha National Park. We were driving around in our car, and passed by this beauty. I spotted him through the trees, he was not far away from the gravel road. I had my partner slowly inch the car into the perfect position from where the Oryx appeared framed by the trees. And then I had to quickly set my camera to catch him. Shot at a focal length of 100mm (not that far away, as I said) and at f 4.5 and 1/1000 of a second. ISO 100. I love how the shallow dof blurs out the grass in the foreground and only brings the animal in focus. Yes, I am a total sucker for blurry backgrounds and shallow depth of field.

The Namibian adventure was my proper honeymoon with 350D. I had bought her about 9 months earlier before we went on a short trip to Shanghai. But while there, I only ever used AV settings, never got my head around the manual settings. Thankfully I had worked that out by the time we were in Namibia! And even though you’ve got to be very quick when photographing wildlife, I persevered with my manual mission and “manipulated” the camera instead of going the easy automatic route. Thanks to my investment in good glass lenses, taking pictures was really easy and satisfying there. And I increasingly started to see the world around me through the viewfinder. It got to the point where my gang was getting impatient, almost annoyed, with me for continually slowing everyone down because I needed to shoot this or that before we could move on. (A phenomenon, surely, that you, readers, are all familiar with… They just don’t understand us, those photophobes…)

My sweet little 350D can certainly be credited with infecting me with a proper passion for and deep interest in photography. Even before I went back to college to study for a Diploma in Photography (now a BA), I had begun to take her with me wherever I went. I used to lug her to my work in the big purple searchmarketing giant every day, because I didn’t want to be parted from her. Just in case I needed her. The familiar walk back from Clontarf into town (45 minutes every day) was ever changing, ever new – because of her. I even became the inofficial company photographer thanks to her and got deeply involved in the in-house magazine, shooting portraits and illustrations for that. She accompanied me on all holidays far and wide, to hiking excursions in the Wicklow hills, family events. She covered all the big occasions in my family life, recording the big days of my children as they started school, played in concerts and matches, celebrated birthdays and enjoyed their life. And she took me into college where I learnt to use the camera as my tool.

It’s time to retire her. She has done all she can do for me – which was a huge amount. She’ll stay around as back-up (you never know how my soon-to-arrive young lover Mark will do… he could be temperamental? I might not be able to handle him the way I was able to handle her?)

So, byebye, 350D, first love, never forgotten!

Endorphines rock!

Yesterday was a day of serious endorphine trips. The best legal mood enhancer there is. In my opinion. I am becoming quite the endorphine addict, I must say. Well, going for a run in the winter sun was one trip. But then I sent myself on an even better trip and one that will last much longer… I have finally upgraded my hardware and bought the Canon 5D Mark II!!!

And how did it happen, this major event? After all, buying a professional camera is so pricy, one doesn’t do it every day. Now, of course I had been thinking of buying a new camera for a while – and certainly since my lecturer in college nearly laughed out loud at me when he saw what I was shooting with up til now. It was clear from the beginning that I would stay with Canon, cos both (d)SLRs which I have owned so far were Canon. I am too old loyal to change to a different make (not mentioning names here now… dsssssssssssss). I am deludedly hoping to do more with my photography than just amateur snapping, so it had to be a (semi-)professional camera. Two cameras really caught my fancy – the 5D Mark II and the 7D. A big price difference between the two, we are talking € 1000!! Of course the 5D had higher specs – better image quality, 21 versus 18 MP, double the ISO of the 7D, and even a bit lighter than the 7D. What might have been handy was the inbuilt wide angle flash of the 7D.

What clinched the deal, however, was a photo shoot on Saturday. I was shooting with two friends who both have a 5D. I didn’t even bother take out my modest little 350D *haha* in the presence of the pro equipment. One of them let me handle and shoot with his camera. And I was immediately won over (apart from the weight of the camera – considerably more than the 350D, almost double!) – great big display (handy for short-sighted people like me), more or less intuitive menu (no comments!!!, A___ and S___ if you are reading this :-)). I don’t know, it just felt right. (Is that a really girly way of deciding on a camera?? Ach, who cares if it is.)

So essentially I couldn’t get the baby out of my head after that. And, heck, I need it anyway. The price, yes, the price. It didn’t come down however much I searched online for the best deal. Saw some tempting offers on eBay but was equally un-tempted by buying something from an unknown source. Eventually I got as far as putting the 5D Mark II into my “shopping cart” on one reputable website. I lingered, and lingered, and lingered. The money!!! But then I quickly sold my children into slave labour and just clicked “buy”.

The endorphines have been cruising through my bloodstream ever since. And I can’t wait until I finally hold him (I’ve decided it is a “he”) in my hands. Buzzzzzzzzzzz…

Bits ‘n’ Pieces

Blogging is such fun! Even if you don’t get any feedback *hint hint*. My whole previous blog post looks pretty dumb so far, just like I feared. *Meh*. Noone wants to exchange photos with me. How extremely embarrassing. Undisturbed, Sonja plows on. And has a cunning plan up her sleeve – the major blog offensive starts NOW – with geeky gadgets and intriguing improvements.

In case you hadn’t noticed, I have included a new slideshow box at the bottom of my sidebar. Just a tiny little glimpse into my gallery “Namibia” on where I just opened a free account. It is a photography website where you can show your profile and your images – and sell them (if you sign up for a pro account) with all profits going to yourself.

I am much more proud of the gimmicky other change I have updated the 2picsaweek with – my brandnew favicon that now graces marks my URL in your browser and on the tab. See it here >>

How computer-savvy are you as a photographer? Chances are that you are much more computer-literate than I am says Photoshop-hating Sonja and you don’t want or need a full-blown explanation on how to include a custom favicon on your blog. I’ll spare you the fool-proof instructions. Drop me a line if you need the code for including a favicon on your own blog/website.

Oh, and a word about the above image. That was taken two and a half years ago on my trip to Namibia. Yellow grass and azur blue sky – I was amazed by the colours of Namibia, had imagined it much more browny-beige. Shot with aperture of f5.6 at 1/1000. 55mm focal length. I love the blue/yellow contrast.

Pay it Forward, Guys!

You all know I am a sucker for Facebook. And it was in my beloved social network, also subject of my on-going photo-project “Anti?social Media“, that I saw this great idea posted last week. Essentially it was a call to commit to giving a hand-crafted item to five friends. I cried “here” immediately. And then I thought – why don’t I suggest this as a specific photography challenge?

Admittedly – the motivation for this wonderfully altruistic scheme (what a good human being I am…) is not altogether unselfish! Thing is: I love collecting other people’s photos. Not that I have much of a collection, yet. I have bought photos occasionally when I was able to afford it – at amateur exhibitions and auctions. But I often thought during the last year in college, that it was such a shame I did not have any of my fellow students’ work. There were so many photos there which I admired – original ideas, fantastic vistas, brilliant bokehs. Plus they would make such nice mementos of my time in college – and of the talented people who produced them. Of course I never plucked up the courage to suggest a picture swap. (I do not like to assume that anybody would want my stuff in exchange for their great work… aw, Modesty is my middle name!)

So here is the deal:  Pay it forward 2011: 

I promise to send a 8×10 print of one of my pictures to the first 5 people who leave a comment here. They must in turn post this and send one of their own to the first 5 people who comment. Where you post it – whether it is on your private Facebook wall, on your Facebook Page or in your blog – doesn’t matter. The rules are only that you promise to send on an image that you have the rights to and it must be sent to your 5 people sometime in 2011.

I mean it, guys. Drop me a comment here in the blog – and you are in. Let’s grow our photo collections! But don’t forget, you must also post this and pay it forward.

PS: Gee, I hope I will get replies to this at all. Otherwise this will look pretty dumb *um*…

Epic Fail

A solar eclipse happens once in a blue moon, if you pardon the sun pun. Tuesday was one such occasion. A partial solar eclipse was forecast between sunrise at 8:40 am and 9:30 am. The last solar eclipse I was present at was a complete one in summer 1999, unfortunately hidden behind a blanket of mist in smoggy Würzburg, Germany. I was hoping for a better view the day before yesterday, especially considering that morning skies in Ireland tend to be clear (rain clouds usually only appear from 10.30 am…) Well, I was not in luck. There was a clear sky over Dublin Bay (which is where the sun rises to the East of my house) but this being the winter, the sun was too low in the sky to look over the rooftops of the surrounding houses. I caught the watercolour sky, though, and it was a worth-while photo-op.

And now to the nitty-gritty. One of my photography friends quickly pointed out to me, that I need to clean my sensor as the same spots keep showing up in my photos. *umph* Yes, too true. And I do know that, had actually noticed it big time in my submission for the post “Greetings from the Plains“. Two really dark spots, more slightly lighter ones. Dirty girl, I am. 
Well, to tell you the truth, I have always had a rather relaxed attitude towards my hardware. Photographic hardware, that is. You’ll be disgusted when you hear how I treat my camera. (And don’t tell my lecturers in college – they will strip me off my Diploma, immediately, for “disrespectful conduct towards the tools of the trade”.) I regularly forget to put the lens cap back onto the lens after taking a picture. I used to carry the camera around in my handbag together with usual female paraphernalia like sharp keys, pen knife, cookie crumbs, cap-less lipsticks. For a long time, I had unprotected lenses, i.e. did not put on a UV filter which would also protect the glass of the lens from scratches. (Jeeez, I really am a terribly careless bitch person.) The camera is at this stage three and a half years old and has never once had its sensor cleaned. (My God, poor thing, I have tears in my eyes. How bad have I treated you, my sweet little Canon?) Epic fail!!!
And I can tell you exactly where the spots on the sensor come from. I actually remember the day perfectly well. And I even knew at the time, that sitting on a sanddune in the middle of the Namib desert with strong Atlantic winds blowing the sand all over the place was not the right time to change lenses… Alas, it had to be done. The circumstances demanded it. And myself and the little plastic bag in which I blindly changed the lenses for sand protection did our very best…
Well, I maintain to this day that the photographic outcome was well worth a few negligible spots on the sensor. (I’ll show you another time.)  But I recognise that it may be time to get a bit more serious about camera care. Let’s blame it on the fact that I have still not been able to purchase the equipment of my dreams. Everything will change once I have my 5d mark ii. Promise!

Here’s to 2011

Nothing quiet on New Year’s Eve. No, not if you are celebrating in Germany – like I have done this year. I am usually no particular patriot. In fact I am quite happy NOT to be living in my country of birth anymore. But when it comes to New Year’s Eve, I must say there is no better way of throwing out the old year and welcoming the new than how the Germans do it.
What you see above is only a tiny glimpse of what goes on in your average German small town between midnight and 1 am on New Year’s Day. Fireworks are a big tradition – and one that makes the year-end celebrations an exciting and beautiful occasion. We watched this year’s big display from the roof of the house. It was a mild night with temperatures around the freezing point. Unfortunately it was not a quite clear sky but there was a bit of mist. As our neighbours were sending off their fireworks, the mist turned into a full blown smog and for a few minutes it was impossible to see anything at all – rocket smoke drifted in a big cloud along our road.

Catching fireworks on film lightsensor is notoriously difficult. Various reasons. “Slowhand Luke” certainly has no chance, catching the bursting fireworks. Between spotting the rockets going up in the sky and the starbursts exploding, there is hardly any time for focussing or manually setting aperture and speed. I kind of went the easy route by setting my ISO on the highest possible speed and then keeping the aperture as small as possible to catch everything in focus. Calmhand Sonja *ggg* however was able to shoot at 1/30 sec and catch a little bit of movement while not completely blurring out everything. And I just continuously shot and shot and shot without ever once lifting my finger off the shutter release – to make sure I did catch anything shiny exploding at all… (I wish I could include a soundfile from the little video clip my son took of the fireworks display – it’s completely marred by my *clickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclick* across the audio track…)

Anyhow – HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL OF YOU! I hope to keep this blog going in 2011 and continue to hear from you, too.

Lots of love and all the best,