One Photo: Wabi Sabi

Wabi Sabi? Up until a month ago I had no clue as to what that means. I hadn’t even heard the term, and I don’t think I’m alone in this regard. In fact, I see that my iPad happily accepts my spelling of “Wabi” but it wants to replace “Sabi” with”Sami” or “Saab”. 

I first heard the term when my local photo club decided to make “Wabi Sabi” the assigned topic for December.  I am sure, like me, that many of my fellow club members went right to Google. (And I found out later that December’s judge did as well!)

Even now, I’m not sure I've got a very good handle on this phrase. From what I understand, it is based on a traditional Japanese acceptance of beauty as being imperfect.  Terms like “flawed beauty”, “beauty that comes with age”, “patina or wear” came up as I read about this traditional Japanese aesthetic. 

I think there is a lot more to this phrase than I’ve indicated above. I believe it gets into the realm of religion, philosophy and religion.

That being said, below is the image I submitted for consideration. The judge liked it too; though he and I might both be entirely clueless. 

"Ferns" for the Assignment: Wabi Sabi
Panasonic GX80/85 with Olympus 12-100mm F4 zoom @100mm (200mm equiv)
1/320sec, F4, ISO200
Touched up in Lightroom


One Photo: An Abstract Christmas Tree

Here’s a fun photo idea for my friends who have Christmas trees. I thought I’d share this simple idea before it’s time to take down the tree. 

It will require finding the manual focus on your camera. We get so used to auto focus that sometimes we forget that our cameras can be focused manually. 

Here’s what I did. I sat on the couch in our living room, about 12 feet from the Christmas tree, which was lit with several strings of large bulbs. I held the camera in the vertical orientation. The lens was set at the largest aperture, F2.8. The lens used here was a 24-80mm (equivalent) zoom, and I zoomed to frame the image. 

Panasonic GX85 and Olympus 12-40mm @ 17mm (34mm equiv.)
1/30, F2.8, AutoISO800

At this point I switched to manual focus and focused the lens at its closest distance, somewhere around 12”.  Unfortunately this resulted in huge glowing light bulbs in the frame, and there was no hint of a tree. So, I re-focused repeatedly at gradually longer distances until I got the image I wanted. I’m guessing I might have been focusing at about the half-way point for this image. 

I posted this image on Instagram and Facebook last week, and it was well-liked. Some, including my wife, thought it might make a nice Christmas card. I think they might be right. 


A few Christmas Macros

A few Christmas Macros

During the winter months here in New England my cameras tend to sit on a shelf anxiously awaiting the colors of spring.  The exception might be a snapshot or two of snow covered mountains and valleys, captured while skiing. Indoors, I take pictures where I can.  That may mean food photography or family photos during Thanksgiving and Christmas. In addition, a few years ago while setting up the Christmas tree and getting the ornaments out, I found another fun way to use my camera. I noticed how beautiful some of the handmade Christmas ornaments were.  By setting them up one by one on a wooden table 5-10 feet from the tree I have been able to get some nice “macro” shots like these.  

E-M1 and Olympus 12-100 at 100mm at F4

This is actually a pop-up Christmas card.
Open up the card and this little paper village pops up!

Panasonic GX85 and Olympus 12-40 at 40mm at F2.8

I see that I used two different cameras and four different lenses for my growing collection of Christmas macros; the lenses being the Olympus 60mm, Olympus 12-40mm, Olympus 12-100mm and Panasonic 14-140mm.  But just about any lens will work. The idea is to fill the frame with the ornament, and the amount of blurriness in the background will depend on the F-stop used and on the distance between the ornament and the background.  I see that in all cases I used the widest aperture on each lens.

Olympus E-M1 and 60mm macro  at F2.8

Olympus E-M1 and Panasonic 14-140 at 46mm (92mm equiv) at F5.0
I also used an on-camera flash. I’m not talking about the flash that is built into the camera, but a separate flash that sits in the hot shoe and can rotate and articulate.  For these images I tilted the flash upward at an angle half way between horizontal and vertical, and then rotated the flash head sideways (90 degrees) to the left.  I could have chosen 90 degrees to the right, but most of the ambient light was already coming from the kitchen which was on the right.  

Olympus E-M1 and 60mm macro  at F2.8

Olympus E-M1 and Panasonic 14-140 at 40m (92mm equiv) at F4.7

To get the overall exposure correct, my standard (perhaps default is a better word) procedure is to adjust the exposure of the camera so that it is one-stop underexposed. For example if the correct exposure without a flash had been, say, 1/30sec, F4 and ISO1600, then I would set the camera to 1/30, F4, ISO800.  This is the equivalent of cutting the exposure (i.e. the light) in half.  After mounting and angling the flash, I’d adjust the flash power manually to provide the “missing” half of the light needed for a reasonable exposure. You’ll need to experiment to find the appropriate flash power level, as this depends on a number of variables, such as camera aperture, the height and color of the ceiling and the color of the walls from which light is being bounced.  Usually flashes can be adjusted to power levels of 1/128, 1/64, 1/32, 1/16, 1/8, 1/4, 1/2 and 1/1 (full). Your subject isn’t going anywhere, so experimenting with flash settings is easy.

Olympus E-M1 and Panasonic 14-140 at 65m (130mm equiv) at F5.3

Olympus E-M1 and 60mm macro  at F2.8

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A Memorable Two Day Stay at the Brunswick (Maine) Inn

Last week we thought it might be a nice break in the holiday madness to head to Maine to a bed and breakfast for a couple of mid-week days.  We chose Brunswick because it is an area where we may relocate one day.  We’re already somewhat familiar with the area because we drive through it on old Maine Route 1 several times a year, though never has that drive been in winter.  

The Brunswick Inn was wonderful.  With light Pandora-powered Christmas music in the background and ample decorations in the rooms, we felt like we were on the set of a Hallmark Christmas movie.  The home was built in 1849 by the president of Brunswick Savings Bank.  As an “esteemed” citizen of Brunswick, we read that Robert Bowker shared a pew at the First Parish Church with Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  That’s a nice little piece of Brunswick history.

The large addition in the back of the house, which can be seen in the photos below, was built in 1922 by a Bowdoin professor of International Law who wanted to hold student office hours and conduct seminars at home.  This area is now the dining room.  As you might guess, it was once lined with bookshelves, though as you can see only a few of the shelves remain today.

The house became a bed and breakfast in 1984.  In the early years it was a four room inn.  It has now been expanded to 15 rooms, each with a private bathroom.  The current owners are Eileen and Jim Hornor, who have owned the property since May, 2009.

Comments about my photos:

All of these “Inn” images were taken with the diminutive Panasonic GM5 and Panasonic/Leica 15mm F1.7 prime lens, both thanks to an eBay purchase this fall.  I enjoyed using the combo without a strap.  I just slipped it into the pocket of my fleece vest.  The camera has some limitations of course, in particular if you are looking for 4K video.  I also don’t like the fact that there is no minimum shutter speed setting.  When using aperture priority and auto ISO, it wants to maintain 1/60 second.  Generally that is a good minimum speed, but with a 15mm (30mm equivalent) focal length, a slower speed like 1/30 could be useful. In Shutter Priority mode, 1/30 can be selected but of course you lose control of your aperture setting (the aperture ring on the 15mm becomes non-functional in Shutter Priority mode). 

A partial workaround when shooting in light that requires an ISO higher than the base 200 (as in all of the indoor images here), is to use Manual Mode, setting aperture on the aperture ring at the desired setting and the shutter speed to 1/30.  Auto ISO will then provide a reasonable exposure, the downside being that there is no way to select EV compensation with this configuration.

In Lightroom Classic CC, I only applied the new "Auto" tone feature.  Just a 1-click adjustment!  I did not touch the default Lightroom sharpening and I applied no noise reduction.  I was quite pleased with the shots taken at high ISO.

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 640

ISO 800

ISO 1250

ISO 1600

ISO 2000

ISO 4000


One Photo: Eddie Evan's Fishing Shack, Bailey's Island, Maine

Laurie and I thought we’d do some driving along the Maine coast near Brunswick and Bath, with a mid-week two-day stay at the Brunswick Inn.  It is always nice to see the coast in winter.  Although is was cold (low of 1F and high of 21F) and windy, the touch of snow on the ground and ice in many of the inland trees made us smile.

The photo below was taken on Bailey’s Island.  In counting the number of driveways that were unplowed, it is clear that the winter population is far less than the summer population.  Lobster boats can be seen in this harbor, so we know the fisherman living there are busy.

Eddie Evan's Fishing Shack
Olympus E-M1 with 12-100mm F4 zoom @ 100mm (200mm equivalent)
1/200sec, F5.6, ISO200

This photo is a difficult one to capture.  It must be taken from a two lane road and the road is on a slight hill.  There is no place to park and no shoulders.  There are steep banks on both sides of the road.  In the summer months, I just have to drive along with a frown on my face for not getting the shot. It’s either that or get run over. However, during December (at least on this day, a Friday) there is no traffic.  I stopped in the middle of the road, got out of the car, and took a few shots. Still perhaps risky, but nevertheless no vehicles appeared in either direction.

This was definitely a situation when a zoom is handy.  This was taken with the Olympus 12-100 (24-200mm equivalent) fully zoomed in.  I did crop it in Lightroom to remove some of the “bald” sky. You can see a bit of snow near the homes in the background, to let you know this is a winter image.

I posted this image on Facebook and Instagram yesterday, and received a couple of comments from Allen, a college friend.  (I went to college at nearby Bowdoin College so there are quite a few alumni living in the “mid coast Maine” area.)  

Allen is the one who identified the structure as Eddie Evan’s fishing shack. I don’t think I need to corroborate this as he has a cottage on Bailey’s Island across the street from this fishing shack. In a second comment, Allen goes on to tell that about three years ago due to age and weather, the shack collapsed.  The following Spring it reappeared “by popular demand”.  

I am sure everyone who passes by wants to take a picture of this scene.  I wish there were a one- or two-car “pull out” so I could re-do this shot next summer.


One Photo: Dried Teasel Flower Head Has Benefits

I posted this image of a dried teasel flower head on my IG and Facebook feed and was quite surprised by a couple of informative comments from two "old" high school friends, and I was pleased that they enjoyed the photo.  Personally, I posted it because I like the exposure and the two-tone blurry background.

Dried Teasel Flower Head
Panasonic GX80/85 with Olympus 12-100 mm zoom @ 100mm (200 equiv)
1/250sec, F6.3, +1.3EV, ISO1600

The first comment was from a friend who processes wool for looming (is that such a word?)  She informed me that these flower heads were once used for carding wool.  I did some research (using google, of course) and found some images of one or more rows of dried teasel flower heads being held together in a frame of wood, with a handle for holding.  One arrangement, called a Teasel Cross looks like this, which my friend posted on my Facebook feed:

Teasel Cross

[Well, I guess this "one photo" post technically becomes a "two photo" post because of this second image.  However, the photo is here for documentary reasons, I did not take the photo, and I don't know who did.]
The other comment was from a friend suffering from chronic lyme disease.  She mentioned that teasel was used in the treatment of this disease.  From what I have read, it is the teasel root that holds the secret sauce. Though not an antibiotic, I read that the root is capable of changing the body's environment and that it can stimulate cells to dump lyme bacteria into the blood stream where the body can then detox it.  It appears that it may be an option for those whose condition has not been resolved with antibiotics.  [This sounds good in theory, but I did not find any information on how successful the treatment is, nor did I find any information about possible side effects.]


Olympus E-M1 Is Back From the Repair Shop

I’m pleased with the turn-around time on the repair of my EM-1, and the repair cost was reasonable.  Unfortunately, the warranty had long expired, as I’ve owned and used the camera since December of 2013, the first month it became available.

Received! (Note that it arrived wrapped in bubble wrap for safe transport)

Here’s the problem I was having (for several months), as I described it on the repair order. 

“Camera is kept with mode dial in Aperture (A) Priority. However, most of the time when the camera is powered up, it is actually then in Program Mode as this is indicated in the lower left corner of the LCD. And the dials operate indeed as in the "P" mode. To change to "A" mode I need to click the physical mode dial either clockwise or counterclockwise to any other mode, then click it back to "A" mode. Very annoying.”

Once Olympus received my camera at the repair center in New Jersey, I was notified of the price for repair ($190) by logging into their website. I quickly approved the repair, as that price seemed fair and reasonable for a four year old camera. I received the camera via UPS ten days later. That, too, seemed reasonable. Your mileage may vary, but I’m happy.

I'm looking forward to "re-assembling" with my default lens, the 12-100, and RRS grip.

However, I’m not sure what was actually wrong with the camera. The receipt says “normal repair” and mentions that they “replaced the rear dial, rear cover and grip”. That appears to be the case, assuming “grip” means rear grip (the rubberized area under the right thumb). I notice the replaced rear dial because the “OK” is visible, whereas the lettering on the old OK button had been almost completely scratched off from pressing the button with my thumb nail.

My guess is that a technician removed the back of the camera, gained access to the insides of the camera, repaired something electrical, and sealed it all up with new parts. I’ll assume the new rear dial, new back grip, and new back were necessary for a quality repair. 


Panasonic GM5 With An Olympus FL-LM3 Flash

The last two posts have been about the Panasonic GM5 camera with the tiny 12-32mm kit zoom and the little Olympus FL-LM3 flash.  They worked well for me indoors at Thanksgiving.  Because both items were new to me it was my first experiment with this gear.  

An early discovery was that there is a flash limitation with the GM5.   I discovered that no matter how I set the camera (P, A, S or M mode), shutter speed could not be set faster than 1/50th.  It could be set lower, but not faster.  I later verified that indeed the flash sync speed is a paltry 1/50th.  I thought perhaps the electronic flash might give me a higher sync speed; but the flash is inoperable with the electronic flash and/or silent shutter.

That being said, what worked well for me was Auto ISO and Aperture priority with the aperture set wide open.  At full zoom of 64mm (equivalent) this meant F5.6 and 1/50th.  Setting the camera’s flash setting to TTL (not manual), the camera would choose an ISO that was typically one stop lower (sometimes two) than I would need without the flash.  For example if without the flash I would need ISO 2000, with the flash the camera would choose ISO 1000.  This means ambient light was cut in half and the flash provided the other half of the light requirement.  To me, using the flash meant a higher quality light (half ambient and half flash which I could bounce in any direction), better color (the flash is close to daylight temperature), and a cleaner file due to the lower ISO.

[The same results can be achieved by using M mode and setting the camera manually to F5.6 and 1/50th. Again, I found Auto ISO worked nicely.]

The flash operates in thousands of a second (1/2,000 ?) and froze most of the subject movement, but since some of the light was ambient light being gathered at 1/50th second, there were one or two occasions where I got a blurry subject and a frozen subject, all rolled into one. One of the examples is below.

In this photo our granddaughter was jumping from the chair (which is why the top of her head is out of the scene, unfortunately).  Notice that the flash froze her left hand during the first 1/2,000 (?) second of the 1/50 second exposure, but the remainder of the 1/50 exposure allowed too much movement to prevent blurring. There are essentially two exposures at work, the flash exposure (very fast) and the ambient light exposure (somewhat slow).

Personally I would not want to change any of the camera settings for this particular shooting situation.  The 1/50th limitation was fine… for snapshots of even active grandchildren at family indoor events.  I am a fan of small flashes.  Even though they require high ISO adjustments, this gives a nice balance between ambient and flash.  It looks more natural this way.  Had I used a more powerful flash, set ISO at base 200 and blasted a bounce flash, ambient light would have been eliminated and the result would look like a flash was used, with a bright foreground and a dark background.  Importantly I also couldn’t put a camera and big flash in my pocket like I did with the GM5 plus FL-LM3.


My "New" Panasonic GM5

My “New” Panasonic GM5 

I am in love with this little camera. This really surprises me, as it and it’s predecessor, the GM1, did not appeal to me when released (October 2013 for the GM1 and September 2015 for the GM5). The GM1 did not appeal to me because it lacks a viewfinder. And I think I was turned away from the GM5 originally because the reviews suggested it was simply too small for the user to be able to ergonomically manage the physical buttons.  

The purchase of a used GM5 on eBay for $360 last month was a rather spontaneous purchase. I’m happy I pressed the “buy now” button. The copy I received is in mint condition. Separately I bought the Panasonic additional grip for $50 which I find to be an essential accessory for a secure hold. 

So far, the small size has not bothered me.  If it were my primary camera perhaps I’d be frustrated with the single small control dial, and the weight imbalance if I use my bigger Olympus and Panasonic glass.

GM5 with available grip (attached to a base plate)

So far, what feels good and decently balanced on the camera is the Panasonic 12-32, 45-175, and 15, and the Olympus 25 and 60.  The 45-175 and 60 seem rather long (3.5” and 3.2” respectively), but they are light. The heaviest lens of the group is the 45-175 at 7.4 ounces. This weight seems to handle nicely on the GM5 with the grip attached. But perhaps that is partly because it zooms internally.  This means that it does not extend when zooming, thereby keeping the center of gravity closer to the camera body. The Olympus 60 weighs 6.5 ounces and does not extend either, as you’d expect for a prime lens. All the other lenses are short and featherweight at less than 5 ounces each. The zooms mentioned above are stabilized.  The primes are not.  The GM5 does not have in-body image stabilization.

What I like is the high quality images I am getting from what is not much bigger than a point and shoot camera, and which fits easily in my jacket, ski parka, or even the hand warming pockets of the LL Bean fleece pull-over I wore during Thanksgiving when I took the photos below.

I made my life easier for the images below by bouncing straight up to the white ceiling.
Arguably, better lighting is obtained by bouncing up 45% from horizontal and
off to one side or the other... or even angling rearward.

All but the first image below were taken with the little Olympus FL LM-3 flash, which I had modified to work on the Panasonic body (see prior blog post). My family is used to me using a flash indoors, so it didn’t seem to interfere with the activities and the antics of the children.  Yes, it would have been nice to have not used a flash at all, as that would have also allowed me to shoot in silent mode. On the other hand, the flash kept the ISO lower (about half) than what would have been needed with ambient light alone. As it was, except for ISO 500 for the first image (and only non-flash photo in the group), these shots are at ISO 800-3200. Without a flash, these ISO numbers would have been 1600-6400.