Don't miss this exhibition

If you live in eastern Massachusetts I highly recommend seeing the exhibition "Treasured Land: The Fifty-Eight U.S. National Parks in Focus".  It features about 100 photographic prints taken by photographer Quang-Tuan Luong over a fifteen year period during which he photographed all 58 national parks with a large-format camera.  The exhibition is at the National Heritage Museum in Lexington, Massachusetts, and it will be there until October 17, 2010.  These images were taken with my Canon S90 compact camera without flash.  That's Quang-Tuan in the second picture.

You can also access his images through his Web site, http://www.terragalleria.com/.  The national parks gallery on his Web site features over 7000 images. But nothing can compare with the exhibition of his prints.  I think I will be happy just to view his prints at the museum, because though they are available for purchase through his Web site, at $600 for a 36-inch print, for example, they are expensive.  On the other hand, even these large prints are very sharp and detailed due to his large-format camera that uses 5"x7" film, which is 25 times the surface of 35mm film (and, in turn, 35mm film has more surface than most dSLR sensors). 

In one of the pictures in his presentation I think I read the label Technika or Tachihara on the camera and the lens was a Schneider lens. The camera he is using in the picture above is a Nikon dSLR, and it had the size of a full-frame model. He has a wealth of information on another Web site, http://www.largeformatphotography.info/

My wife and I heard him speak at the Museum earlier this month.  Unfortunately due to his heavy French accent, and a soft and monotone voice we were unable to understand him.  This was disappointing because he had many stories to tell about how he captured a selection of his images. And I couldn't understand the stories!

Quang-Tuan is working on a book which he expects to include several hundred of his image.  His Web site also indicates that Ken Burns featured him in his PBS series on National Parks.


Learning to photograph butterflies

I'm lucky to live near two butterfly houses. My first experience with captive butterflies was last spring when our photoclub went to The Butterfly Place in Westford, MA. We rented the facility for an hour for a small fee, which provided us with access on a Saturday before the normal 10 a.m. opening. We could stay as long as we wanted; but the advantage of that first hour was the greenhouse (for lack of a better word) was still cool from the lower nighttime temperature. This meant the butterflies were sluggish and easier to photograph, until the heat and fans were turned on at 10 a.m.

I used a Panasonic FZ8, a camera known as an "ultrazoom" because it provides an optical zoom lens with an equivalent field of view of 35mm (moderately wide angle) to 420mm (nice telephoto). One feature of the Panasonic ultrazooms is something called a "telemacro". What this does is provide a partial macro feature at the full zoom of 420mm. The result is that a 4" wide object (for example, a butterfly with a bit of background) can fill the viewfinder, all at a convenient focusing distance of about 33". 

Below are a several of my favorites from that outing. Each was taken without a flash, and the camera was hand-held. The problem with the Panasonic is that because of its small sensor, the noise level at even ISO 200 is a bit on the unacceptable side. I used software to reduce the noise.  Also, due to the smaller sensor the depth of field is greater than a dSLR, which can be good but also means backgrounds are more in focus and therefore often distracting.

The second butterfly house is in Deerfield, MA and is called Magic Wings. This winter I went there during normal hours and had a difficult time because the butterflies seemed to be in constant flight. Below are a few of the images I was able to get.

This time I had an Olympus E-520 dSLR with a 70-300mm zoom lens. This lens provides an excellent macro at full zoom. A 1.5" subject will fill the viewfinder. And at 150mm, where this lens is known to be sharper, a 3" subject will fill he viewfinder. All this at a focusing distance of about 40".

My camera was set at Shutter-priority, with Auto ISO. I used 1/500th second shutter setting but will want to try 1/250th next time so as to use a lower ISO.  My exposure meter is set to center-weighted. I use EV compensation depending on the darkness/lightness of the subject butterfly. Again, no flash was used, and the camera was hand-held. 

Note that the backgrounds on this second set of images are blurrier and softer.  This is because the depth of field is so much less on a dSLR at equal aperature openings.

Finally, I'd like to mention a good online resource, http://www.learnaboutbutterflies.com/, which also has a section on butterfly photography.


Fred LeBlanc shows his nautical images

A few weeks ago my photo club asked Fred LeBlanc to come to Westford to present his "Field Guide to Maritime Photography". Fred loves the old wooden sailing vessels and has spent years documenting them under sail.  He follows the Windjammer fleet of Camden and Rockport, Maine, and gives two workshops each summer aboard the 145 foot schooner Heritage, which sails out of Rockland.

Besides showing us his wonderful images, he shared his thoughts on composition, and described some of his photoshop enhancements.  Since many of his images are taken while onboard one ship, with a second ship being his intended subject, one of his styles is to shoot while using the rigging, life boats, winches, etc. of the onboard ship to frame the subject.  Though I wondered in some cases whether this complicated the image, I nevertheless found the style very appealing.

Many of us who had seen his Web site before the night of the presentation wondered how he captured such dramatic skies.  Well, thanks to photoshop he very often adds a new sky to a schooner image for added impact.  He said he takes every opportunity he can to photograph a dramatic sky, with the thought that it might be added to a schooner image via photoshop.

Be sure to check out his galleries and Web site:  http://www.frederickleblanc.com/