Camera Shopping

So, you want to start taking photos. Or, you want to start actively improving your photography skills. I’m no expert, but fellow blogger and friend The Dame in Spain wondered aloud about cameras, and I decided that since I’ve read into it perhaps a bit more than the average bear, and have some hands-on practice with different cameras and lenses, I’d weigh in with my opinions.

Beograd

Street scene in Beograd, Serbia. Shot using a Canon 6D and 50mm 1.8 lens.

First off, I’m going to discuss cameras and lenses for every day use type things, like food shots, lifestyle captures, and my favorite, travel. Most important thing probably is to know that the lens is more important than the camera body if we’re talking DSLRs here. I just had to look that up, it’s “digital single-lens reflex” camera. These are the bodacious ones you see nearly everyone carrying around these days. True story: I saw these listed as great hipster accessories. “Accessories?” Sure, if you have hundreds of Benjamins to drop on an accessory. Whatever, buzzfeed. When I travel, I must say I quite blend in with the other Asian tourists (thas raycess) since I swear, everyone and their mother (well, not my mom), has a DSLR these days.

As a tangent, I wouldn’t overlook the convenience of using a smaller point-and-shoot for travel. That might be blasphemous to say in the photography realm, but the first camera I traveled around with was a Nikon COOLPIX point and shoot, and it really was foundational for me as I learned how to manipulate light. Because really, in my unprofessional opinion, that’s what separates a DSLR from a point-and-shoot: greater power to manipulate what light you have. If you go this route, make sure you have some manual capability on the camera, like I did with the Nikon COOLPIX, so you start to learn about aperture and shutter speed. The reason my mom does not have a DSLR is because I got her a point-and-shoot camera for Christmas, and it was a beefed up version of my first camera. I got her the Nikon COOLPIX L830. She will be able to do everything she wants to do with it, without sacrificing quality for her purposes. There is also a semi-new product out there called the mirrorless interchangeable lens camera (MILC) that is also compact, but more on that later. Oh, and one last thing, don’t worry too much about how many megapixels the camera has. Most cameras these days have plenty.

There are a lot of resources on the internet about photography. At the end of this post, I’ll list some of the blogs and resources I’ve turned to repeatedly. One caution that is nearly obligatory is, as they say: the best camera is the one you have with you. That’s only to say, you can have the greatest equipment in the world but if you are caught in a moment without it, and all you have is, say, your iPhone, then guess what? Your iPhone just became your best camera. If you’re never going to lug around a heavy DSLR, then you shouldn’t get one. Easy as that. In fact, I bought a lens off a guy I found on Craigslist. The reason he was selling all his equipment was that he had decided he really only needed his iPhone. It was the best camera for him.

Santorini dinner

Santorini, Greece. Shot using my Canon 6D and 24-105mm lens.

But back to equipment. After fiddling with my Nikon point-and-shoot pretty intensely for about a year or so,* I decided to go the DSLR route because I wanted to have more control over manipulating light. I wanted to be able to dial down the aperture (i.e. open the “eye” of the lens more) in low light situations or to capture fast-moving objects with a quicker shutter speed. Since I was shooting handheld, vice using a tripod, and since I was using natural light instead of a flash, aperture and shutter speed were big deals to me. So, I took the plunge and bought what is often considered the ideal entry-level DSLR: the Canon T3i. I got it on Craigslist. It came with a kit lens of 18-55mm; pretty standard. I never shot with that lens. If you can, just buy the body. I also found a 50mm 1.8 canon lens on Craigslist. Dame in Spain, I recommend this setup for you if you’re truly committed to learning how to use a DSLR. I still use the 50mm 1.8 lens, even though I’ve since upgraded changed which Canon body I use. That’s because the lens is the best bang for your buck in the photography world. Yep, the whole world. I’ve entertained the thought of getting the 50mm 1.4, which is a “faster” lens (wider aperture) to yield even better bokeh (the nice blurred background effect), but am not convinced it’s worth the extra money. Notice the bokeh in the below images. On the left, I use the shallow depth of field to focus attention on the ice cold diesel coffee sitting in front of me (Canon 6D, 24-105mm lens). On the right, to make a photo of the rose garland more interesting (Canon T3i, 50mm lens).

Austin coffee Turkish garland

So, to get a little more specific, the T3i is what they call a “crop sensor” camera, which is different than a “full frame” camera. “Full frame” indicates that the sensor is 24mm x 36mm, which harkens back to film days when people shot on 35mm film. “Crop sensor” is anything smaller than that. Here, here, and here are some more articles on this. The reason I went with the T3i was because of price and ubiquity. I could easily find one on Craigslist for the price I was willing to pay. I decided also to go with Canon instead of Nikon because I think at the time, I decided the lens family was one I wanted to be loyal to. This becomes important once you start acquiring more lenses.

After a while, I wanted to be able to shoot wider angle shots. Instead of buying a new full frame body, I bought the 10-22mm lens (also on Craigslist) to “imitate” the full frame. I put imitate in quotes because people are always trying to “upgrade” to a full frame because they think it’s better. I think you can make a case for either. With a crop sensor, your lenses will magnify things more, so you arguably save on that side of the equation, but sacrifice on the wide angle perspective a bit. Here are some shots using the wide angle:

San Blas fisherman San Blas boat San Blas wide angleIn the case of the local fisherman and the boat, I was standing only a few feet away, but because of the wide angle lens, was able to capture a large swath of scenery. Had I been using, say, a 85mm lens (common portrait lens), I could have focused the viewer’s attention more on the fisherman’s face, had I wanted to tell that story.

At this time, I also had salvaged some lenses from when I was much younger, when my dad gave me a Pentax camera and some lenses to go along with that. And here’s where the * comes into play from above. The Nikon wasn’t my first foray into photography. When I was younger, I played around with an old Pentax film camera, took some classes, and still keep some of the lenses to this day. I discovered that for about $3-5, I could get an adapter that I could affix to the old lenses so that they’d be compatible with my T3i body. So, with the T3i, I was shooting with the 50mm, 10-22mm, which were both Canon, and also the 135mm and 28mm, both Pentax. I excitedly researched the old lenses one day, hoping I’d have miraculously saved, in my infinite wisdom and foresight as a child, some really valuable pieces of glass, but alas, they are just mediocre. But, they allowed me to practice with some different lenses. The reason I bring this up is to illustrate that I have tried a few more lenses than just the 50mm, but still recommend that one for lifestyle and travel photography. It’s the common photojournalist lens, along with probably the 35mm, because it lends a perspective that is similar to what the human eye sees.

So, to end this long ramble, after another year or so traveling around a bunch with the T3i and really enjoying myself, I decided I wanted to change yet again to another body and lens set, so I used a bunch of acquired credit card reward points one day on a killer deal at Amazon. I got the Canon 6D (full frame) with a “kit” lens of the 24-105mm, a lens that on its own costs over $1,000. The credit card points, Amazon deal, and money from selling the T3i body made it so that I paid around $300 for the new body and lens. Sí, es increíble. I noticed that Amazon would once in a blue moon drop its prices on certain camera and lens combinations; I lucked out and spotted this one at a convenient time. I did agonize over the Canon 5D Mark ii/i for a while, but eventually determined that, while being the popularly used camera by a lot of the bloggers I follow, the price tag wasn’t for me. Here is a set of really informative and interesting metrics on popular cameras and settings for Reuter’s 2012 photos of the year.

Sarajevo mosque Sarajevo mosque

There are lots of other things I could go on and on about, but I think the best advice is to just get what you can put your hands on, and start taking shots and learning. The great thing that I think made me stick with photography this second time around and that alleviated some of the frustrations and patience-requirements of the learning curve when I was younger is the arrival of digital photography. You can take however many photos you want and there’s no extra cost of film development. This means you can take 10 millions shots of the same subject and switch the shutter speed or make minor adjustments to the composition or the angle you’re standing at without worrying about the cost of it all. And, on top of all that, you get instant gratification. You can immediately see how the image will look and adjust accordingly.

Hope this post helped! As promised, here are some of the blogs I’ve found helpful. I also sometimes stalk my favorite bloggers or photographers and try to dig up their tips and tricks, sometimes found in their FAQ pages, or through interviews.

http://www.KenRockwell.com
http://www.lightstalking.com
Plate to Pixel by Helene Dujardin

Speaking of food photography, I really like the photographs by Molly Yeh at http://mynameisyeh.com/ who I’m pretty sure uses VSCO in post-processing, as well as Katie Quinn Davies’ work at http://www.whatkatieate.com/, and the dark and dramatic images at http://ladyandpups.com/. As far as coffee table books go, I found a copy of Annie Lebovitz’s At Work at a used bookstore, got a signed copy of Women of Vision at a NatGeo event, and also have Steve McCurry’s book Untold, all of which I really like.

This is kind of sparse, and does not contain everything I’ve read (obviously). In general, if I’m curious about something, I’ll look it up, and I haven’t yet been let down by crowd-sourcing the answers. “What is HDR?” for example. But Ken Rockwell’s page is great. I’ve also talked to journalists about what they use, attended events at NatGeo, and struck up conversations with photographers on airplanes. Seems like a friendly community, so I wouldn’t hesitate asking people you meet.

Tope Costa Rica Aya Sofya chandelierAbove: LEFT – Tope festival, Costa Rica; Nikon COOLPIX, RIGHT – Hagia Sofia, Istanbul; Nikon COOLPIX.

Loin

A while back, I came home to a TD&H created dish for dinner: pork tenderloin. I’d never really had pork tenderloin before, though my friend had assured me it was quite easy and delicious to make. Still, I am dubious around meat when it involves me cooking it, and was even more suspicious of this dish TD&H had whipped up, sans recipe. Boy, was I in for a surprise. This dish was so succulent, so savory and sweet at the same time, so flavorful and full of personality, I knew I had to witness its cooking again, if only to understand its depths.

Fast-forward a few weeks, TD&H and I were inspired to host a dinner party with some friends we had not seen in some time. What a perfect opportunity! Chef took to the kitchen, and worked his magic, which I outline for you here.

Pork Tenderloin ingredientsOur cast of characters:

1 whole onion, cut into big pieces
a few cloves of garlic, diced
extra virgin olive oil
about 1 C chicken stock
2 C soy sauce
1/3 C + 2 T maple syrup
1 can tomato paste
2 T rice vinegar
1/2 T each paprika and cayenne
3/4 T chili powder
2 t cinnamon
1 C jumbo raisins
1 apple, diced (we used honey crisp, my favorite!)
1 T sesame seeds
pork tenderloin

oniongarlicchicken stock

hint: store leftover stock in an ice tray for future use when you only need 1/2 – 1 cups

Step 1:

1. Soften onions in a pot drizzled with olive oil (2-4 minutes) over medium heat, add diced garlic (1 minute)

2. Add liquidey things (i.e. chicken stock, soy sauce, maple syrup, tomato paste, vinegar) and bring to a simmer

3. Add spices: paprika, cayenne, chili powder and mix into the bubbling concoction

4. Add raisins (we prefer the jumbo raisins from Trader Joe’s. I think they add a nice, unique quality and texture to the final dish as they hydrate to become plump and juicy) and apple pieces

5. Continue to simmer until the mixture thickens, so that the bubbles shrink instead of pop, as TD&H puts it

6. Once the sauce begins to thicken, start on the loin. Heat a cast iron (or other oven-safe) skillet in a 400 degree F oven for 10 minutes or so. Remove the skillet from the oven and place on stove (be careful! very hot!).

7. Place the loin in the skillet with a little bit (about 1/2 C or so) of the sauce. Sear on all sides for just a few minutes.

8. Reduce oven heat to 350 F and cook for 20 minutes, or until internal temperature is 145 F.

9. When done cooking, remove from heat. Pour rest of sauce over the meat, and let rest 3-5 minutes so all the juices flow back into the meat.

pork loin sauceOur friends arrived, bearing gifts of wines, cheeses, and desserts. As people trickled in, our humble apartment started to feel more like a home.

cheese with character gotta love this guy: the cheese with all the character, like the cool kid in a leather jacket, reclined against a wall, cigarette hanging nonchalantly out of his mouthtattoo dining bw dinner

We chatted, caught up, shared stories. We attacked the cheese with vigor, refilled our wine glasses, finished up cooking while the last few guests arrived. And then… it was time.

The unveiling of the loin.

Silence came over the room as the last and final star of the main course, The Loin, made its way to the table. As we took our first bites, I was anxious to see how this second version of what was initially an ad hoc creation would compare, how it would be received. Sometimes, silence is the greatest compliment.

unveiling of the loin the boys

And silent it was.

Well, needless to say, The Loin showcased fabulously. We followed up with a delicious dessert, courtesy of Katherine, who used a recipe from Smitten Kitchen (gotta love smitten kitchen).

pork loinpear cakeel finempty plateA great feast with great friends. To be repeated, with frequency and more delicious creations.

El fin.

Hippies

Growing up, I thought the hippies I encountered or knew about were a relic of 1960s America; people who had it right, were trying to live alternative lifestyles, who were not slaves to prevailing trends or the beat of someone else’s drum. As I got older, I began to see the hippie subgroup as people either trying to hold on to the golden vestiges of their youth, or new hippies, trying to be throwback, and through shunning mainline pop cultural trends, where subscribing to another one in its place. Not that I perceived this as an entire negative: I was happy to consider myself as a recipe with a dash of hippie, or as I thought at the time, words that were synonymous such as “free” or, for the more committed, “eccentric.” In California, the perception was nearly a sliding scale along a geospatial line: the further north you went, the more “Walden Pond” the scenario got, and the further south, the more the term was used to describe a fashion more than a state of mind.

Obviously, these are generalizations, and I’m sure many would argue not what “it’s all about” anyway. My point is, I thought it was a culture unique to California; after all, I had grown up learning about the Haight and Ashbury, the Summer of Love, the political turmoil and the anti-Vietnam War protests. But, my sample size was small, my worldview undeveloped, my experiences limited.

~~~

20141025-IMG_7712We arrived to the distillery in Western Virginia after a day spent out at the Maryland vineyards, picking grapes we would later make into wine. The sun radiated that low, more mature light so characteristic of falls and winters out east. Rather than illuminating the world in bright, ever-optimistic sunlight, the sun cast shadows on leaves, threw bright halos on things, did not warm your core as easily. After a day spent out in the sun, drinking wine, clipping grape clusters and lugging heavy bins of grapes here and there, our group was relaxed and exhausted.20141024-IMG_759120141024-IMG_7603 20141025-IMG_771520141025-IMG_7713As we gathered around the campfire, waiting for our designated tasting room time to sample the distilleries cordials, we sat in chairs carved out of massive, aged tree trunks anchored to a carpet of deciduous leaves. I was captivated by the voice of an artist performing her newest songs; the tunes seemed fit for just this occasion as she beat on a hollow drum she held in her hand. She told us her music had evolved to reflect the influences she had encountered during her travels in Southeast Asia. She wore a flower garland in her hair, a Native American blanket as a shawl…

Wait a second… this seemed all too familiar. But what was this? Were we not in Western Virginia? I began to look more closely around at the people. A man nearby wore a tweed vest, a cap with a feather standing proudly at attention, ironic glasses. The younger people sported beards, facial hair, eccentric hats. I realized we were in the land of living off the grid, where “different” is once again on-trend. It began to make sense: we were at a distillery in the Appalachians, where historically clandestine operations of making moonshine were as much a part of American history as the hippie movement of the Sixties. It dawned on me: the alternative lifestyle is not so unique to California hippies. It exists in many different forms, immediately recognizable once you see it face to face, despite the very different environments. Walden Pond was, after all, in Massachusetts, not a California suburb.

20141025-IMG_772120141025-IMG_7722 20141025-IMG_7731And so, once again, I was reminded of the wonderful varieties of America. I spend so much time dreaming of and traveling to far off places in the world, when really there are arguably just as many interesting sub-cultures and regional differences here at home. I really enjoy these moments, when I can appreciate the “fabric of America,” as cheesy as that sounds, and where I can start to daydream about other trips I want to take: to the South, to New England, to the Southwest, to the Rockies, Alaska and the Pacific Northwest… the list goes on and on.

20141025-IMG_772820141025-IMG_7725 20141025-IMG_7732  20141025-IMG_7726

Switch Up

Switching it up on ya here. I’ve been posting a lot from Greece recently. While there are still a number of photos I want to share from that region, I figure it may be more exciting to break with chronology and share random photos from the past few years that I’ve really enjoyed. I’ve also been reviewing other photography blogs, and have really liked thematic posts, such as Steve McCurry’s “Language of Hands” post. Maybe one day I’ll be able to string together images like that…

Also, for those of you who follow along with email updates on my blog, I just sold my soul and created a facebook page for A Heightened Sense of Things. I’m trying it out to see if it motivates me a bit more to post, knowing that some more folks are looking at what I’m sharing. You can find me at: https://www.facebook.com/heightenedsense. I may be doing a photo giveaway or something to celebrate the blog’s first birthday in a couple months. Like my page to stay posted!

And as always, thanks for the support!

19800101-IMG_0408 19800101-IMG_0175 19800101-IMG_0182 19800101-IMG_0213

Swim in the Sea

Live in the sunshine
Swim in the sea
Drink the wild air.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Paros | GreeceOn this particular day in Paros, we rented bikes from a shop along the waterfront in Parikia, and adventurously set off, sans map, to explore the island. We knew we had to get up and over a small set of hills in the center of the island that served as a geographic divider between the towns of Parikia and Naoussa.

20140714-IMG_6342-2

We stopped near the top of the first killer set of hills to take in the view.

Pedaling on, we finally crested and cruised, exhausted by our rickety rental bikes, onto the windswept roads along the beaches on the other side of the island. Our efforts were rewarded by beautiful beaches tucked away into coves of wrinkled rock.

20140714-IMG_6360-2 20140714-IMG_636820140714-IMG_636420140714-IMG_6362 20140714-IMG_6372 20140714-IMG_633420140714-IMG_6343 20140714-IMG_6349We concluded the day with an afternoon in Naoussa. That evening hosted a slow-creeping sunset that we watched develop, like a fog rolling in, from the beach before returning to our campsite.