Category Archives: photography

Lazy or Persistent? Still not sure…..

[I published ths post with the intent of finishing it the same day. Two weeks later, I finally got to it. P]

One thing that should be obvious from a quick tour through my Flickr page is that I hammer on similar compositional elements from familiar/repeat locations. One reason is habit. I habitually walk in the same locations and often have a camera with me. Those locations provide a similar arrangement of terrain/water/sky and I am tweaking my use of them as positive and negative space (or tellimg myself that I am). But another side of the process is the challenge of revisiting the same compositional elements and finding new subtleties in lighting, atmospherics, optical effects from lens/camera choices, and encountering other users of the same space. Ragged Mountain in Southington has been a regular haunt for something like 36 years, and I keep finding new ways to view the same terrain.

Ragged is the slice of cliff seen northeast of Hart Pond, and east of Wasel Reservoir.

The most prominent feature seen from the summit of the Ragged Mountain main cliff is Meriden Mountain. The view is directly south, down the spine of the “Hanging Hills” of Connecticut’s traprock ridge complex. As I developed a better organized digital photo collection I was able to assemble a calendar-sequenced series of photos of that view. Click on it and you can see it as a slideshow and watch the seasons progress. While a true photo-nerdlinger would have taken all the shots with the same equipment from the same spot, I am not that nerdlinger. I probably have enough photographs in my collection to create similar sets for a few other locations. They would be similarly “similar” but not forming an exact time-lapse. But it does raise the question of “process”. I am not sure if I revisit the same spots for any specific reason other than enjoyment and convenience. That would make the collected photos more of an artifact than a conscious work. But I don’t carry a camera around for my health either. What started as a way to combine  photography time with a hike with my dog or walks with my wife and friends has definitely evolved into a search for interesting clouds/skyscapes and flattering lighting of the landscape. A midday hike may be invigorating, but sunrise or sunset (more likely sunset) provides something closer to “golden hour” lighting and more vivid dimensionality.

If the upside of revisiting the same locations on a regular basis is allowing deeper compositional analysis and targeting better lighting and weather, the downside might be working on the fly to make the most of a visit to a new locale. Recently I was on a drive with my wife and we stopped at a pier across from Galilee/Point Judith, RI. It provided a very different view to the north than you get from the east side of the inlet (Salty Brine/George’s), where buildings obscure a lot of the horizon:

Jerusalem, RI

That is a location that might very well be worth revisiting, though it isn’t all that convenient. It might not be the most photogenic, but it does have a good view of a rare South County perspective, the northern horizon. This is one of the shorts where I am tempted to use Photoshop to knock out the clutter on the left side. There is great detail in the clouds but the wide shot and the fiberglass boat are not helping show it off.

The skill that I hone while working with DSLR gear is getting a good digital negative, and improving my skills at manipulating exposure and focus on the fly. That can include looking for an improvised camera support to allow a better HDR series (since I rarely carry a tripod/monopod) or using spot metering to evaluate the range in a scene before choosing a metering method. I have also become less dependent on auto focus and auto exposure. Aside from occasionally forgetting to set the AF/MF switch on the lens back to AF , I feel like I am better able to hit the intended values on the digital file.

In the upcoming weeks I’ll post a few more example images with detail about the conditions and challenges of the shot. Thanks for reading.

Gravel Grinder

A quick post with a pic of my latest bike mod.  I have been in a quandary about my Specialized Tricross. It is a very nice bike with components I like, but it never fit me correctly. Not horribly small (56cm, vs a 59-61 which I really fit on), but a little undersized and the bars sat a little too low for an old fart like me. After an attempt to sell it, admittedly half-hearted, I decided to make some small but functional mods and see if it changed my mind.

Specialized Tricross "Gravel Grinder"

Specialized Tricross “Gravel Grinder”

I actually saw my first “gravel grinder” reference after I finished the bike, but that matters not. It accurately describes the bike, though I would also accept “Suburban Assault Vehicle”. The only mods were swapping out the Crabon Composite fork for a Surly Cross-Check all-steel and beautiful unit, and swapping the stock wheels for a “niner” wheelset and 700×35 Conti CyclocrossPlus knobbies. All parts courtesy of eBay, and I had Berlin Bicycle perform the fork swap so I could rest easy about that phase. As it turned out I still needed to set up the headset tension, but not much else.

Ride Report: Yep, these tires are kinda draggy, and I have made a few tweaks to the fender setup to get the spacing right. Under hard acceleration there is the occasional rub of rubber on fender/brake, and I am not sure why. The good news is that it is a blast to ride, feels like it is on rails, and swallows up bad road surface like yours truly swallows up rum punches. That means, with alacrity. The Surly fork let me keep an uncut steerer, and that got me about an inch of stem height. My back and neck are very happy about that.

Final Analysis: Great mod, easy to execute, achieved desired result, and didn’t cost much. My Rivendell is still a better bike for my style of riding, and I could run these wheels as a second option with not much more than a brake adjustment. Which is pretty much where I am ending up. It is still a great bike, but I think I have to make a full-hearted attempt to find it a good home, and in stock trim with the original wheelset.

Anybody want a good deal on a clean Tricross?

Quick DSLR Screed

A friend recently asked me for some input on buying a new DSLR. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. Good because I’ve been there (and still am) and bad because there is no correct answer. So much of it depends on the photographer, and their tolerance for the learning curve. The curve can be very steep, and despite its capabilities nobody calls a Nikon D800 “user friendly”. The menus are dense and challenging. Likewise, the digital sensor is getting better, but it is not film, so if you have any, your film experience is only slightly useful. Luckily you won’t be thinking “I wish I was shooting film again” any time soon.

I know what I would do if I was starting fresh, and why I would do it.

  • Get the current brand/body you want
  • Get one good lens (kit, or prosumer equivalent)
  • Get a good bag, and a spare battery.
  • Get to work!

In my case I would probably end up with something like the Nikon D7000 or the new D5200 and something like my 10-24mm DX Nikkor. When I first got my setup dialed in I did a lot of good work with the 18-70DX kit lens (that was OEM with the D70 kit!) but I have also owned the new 16-85DX and hated it. I also owned the excellent 17-55 Nikkor and it was great, buty weighs a freakin’ ton, and costs about as much… So YMMV/MMMV.

This decision has become muddied a bit by the variety in sensors and systems. Full Frame 35mm? APS-C? Micro Four Thirds? Advance P&S? Will you buy a Canon? Nikon? Oly? Panasonic? Sony? Leica? While you are at it, how important is video capability? Even the bottom of the DSLR lines shoot full HD video.

[Note: I like Ken Rockwell‘s reviews and writing. I have not found much to argue with except he might overrate the occasional lens. At least he does actual testing to back up his reviews]

When I got into it there was very little clutter in DSLR land. You went Nikon or Canon. Everything was APS-C. Nothing shot video. Advanced P&S gear was not competitive in comparison. Now you can grab a Canon G12 or G1x and you can get great results. A Panasonic G3 is freakishly capable. As before, the better gear really shows its value in extreme situations: Low light; Fast action; Very wide angle; Very long lens work; Architecture; Magazine covers… And even there you are probably blown away by at least one or two photos made with a good compact fixed-lens camera in any given issue of National Geographic. In terms of resolution, image quality, and dynamic range, compact sensor cameras are where mid-range DSLR sensors were five years ago, and DSLR sensors are off the charts good from where they were.

Example: On my last trip to Europe I shot almost everything with a 10-24mm zoom on my D300, plus my Canon G10, plus my iPhone. The G10 holds up to the D300 very well, but it will blow out highlights faster than you can say “255” if you aren’t fixated on the histogram and the exposure comp wheel. It also has subpar low-light performance. The iPhone takes great photos for what it is, but it has even less dynamic range than the other two, and worse low light performance than almost anything this side of the Holga. Still, the iPhone’s convenience and good daylight imaging capabilities make it invaluable. You can also text your mum! Take that, Rolleiflex!

So the advice thing got a little muddled in the details (ok, very muddled), but I still think that the cameras available today perform so well, and the “kit lens” quality is so good, that you could grab a standard Canon or Nikon kit and do pro work, or at least above average work, in almost any scenario. You will end up learning to manage the tsunami of files that you will generate, then post process and archive your images, out of sheer necessity, and that will extend the capabilities of your camera as you progress. As well, the skills you develop on the camera will translate into capturing images in a way that targets your post processing workflow. You will take images knowing that they won”t look good out of the camera, but will shine once you get them “up on the lift”. The two phases mesh very well once you get off the steep part of the curve.

I’m considering a short run of blog posts detailing some digital photography challenges. I hope I can follow through on it.

To Be Continued……….

A tip of the hat to Olivier Longuet

I have been taking photographs about as long as I have been playing music, which is a long time… about back to age 8 or 9.  My father and grandfather were amateur photographers with a darkroom in the basement for black and white processing and printing.  For my grandfather it goes back to the early days of photography, and the economic realities of the day.  The day was, more specifically, the Great Depression. Photography was not inexpensive, but if you developed your own film and printed your own photos, you could do it on a budget.  Later on, in the days after WWII, my father had more of a tolerance for the cost of commercial processing, but was still a rabid economizer.  I learned film processing, use of a changing bag for loading tanks without a darkroom, and basic processing.  That is not unrelated to my interest in both chemistry and cooking!  It is all a matter of recipes and knowing what is actually going on in the process.

Music was a little different, but my dad had a few el-cheapo stringed instruments like a ukelele and a tenor guitar (Zim-Gar!!!).  The tenor was my favorite.  I was not tuning it in fifths (it was meant to be tuned like a tenor-banjo), but EADG, like a bass.  When I got my first guitar, a nylon string folk guitar, I played that the same way… picking out bass lines on the low strings, chunking through some basic open chords, and baffled by the asymmetrical B string!  One day a friend of my dad’s saw me playing and basically told him: “Paul, I hate to tell you this, but your son is a bass player.”  That was that.  By the time I was 13 I had a really awful Fender P copy (a Memphis… ugh), with a bad neck and worse electronics.   I ripped the frets out of within a year and that was all she wrote.  I have been playing bass since… over 34 years now, which is mind boggling.

Which is a long way of saying that music and photography are two constants in the way I approach the world.

As a result I always bring a camera to gigs, and if I am lucky I find a balance in time to perform music and time to capture images.  At an event like the NHIC Verge-Fest back in April of 2011 I was in charge of running sound, and had plenty of time to concentrate on photography.  At an event like Rochefort en Accords I had no balance.  It was 95% music music music… and then the time for an occasional snapshot opportunity.  The goal was purely that of capturing a few snaps as “souvenir”, in the true French meaning of “memory” or “memento”.  I am glad I did, because I would not have the great image of Charly Doll stoking the charcoal grill with a hairdryer!  …or the murky images from Charly’s bonfire, or the beer-tent party after the Friday rain-out at Rochefort, or the iPhone panorama of the school kids, or Nini Dogskin practicing the Saxhorn… and so many more.  See the Flickr set HERE.

A Rochefort I was surrounded by a bevy of fantastic musicians, and it was all I could do to keep up.  World class singers, songwriters, instrumentalists, and solo performers, all opening themselves up to what other musicians had to share.  I also met a few people who were putting all their energies into making images.  Christian Duchesnay and Olivier Longuet were the two I saw the most often.  Chris was the official photographer of the festival, and Olivier was working for himself.  Photography is different from music in many ways, but one difference that is central to this observation is that you have no idea what the photographer’s images will look like until you see them.  I can tell a few things about musicians by their gear, their mode of dress, and maybe their “entourage”, before hearing them play.  With a photographer you only see the person with a camera and think “nice camera” or “nice lenses” or something like that.

After I returned from Rochefort I saw some of the work of these photographers.  I believe that I have yet to see ChrisD’s complete work from the festival, but I have seen a good selection of what Olivier was up to.  Wow… the guy is very very good.  He has a few images featuring yours-truly, but to be honest they are not the best of his images.  I am flattered and also honored to be in the frame.  The extra added bonus from Rochefort, as if I needed one, is that in addition to the influence of the great musicians I worked with, I have this influence on the photographic side.  I will keep adding links as I find more stuff on the interwebs.  Right now there are a lot of small collections on Facebook, but I am not linking to those here.


Solong’s Photographies

Chris-D Website

Chris-D outtakes at Poudriere Blog

The Poudriere is a facility across the road from the Clos in Rochefort, and is the site of a really great selection of music events.

SEBAC Power!


The throngs of SEBAC 2011 “NO” Voters amassing on the lawn of the CT State Capitol! Rawr!

But seriously, if SEBAC pulls some kind of hokey bylaw change they will have lost my support entirely. I know “dirty pool” when I see it. The “outdated bylaws” whining was disgraceful when it was trotted out at Chapter 24 of CSEA P4, and again when the same union busting thugs ran that sorry game on P4, but to hear that crap from “the good guys” is beyond belief.

Dear SEBAC: Move on, cool off, and get your ass in gear for SEBAC 2012. Bargaining under one set of bylaws and voting under another sounds like fertile ground for a successful legal challenge, probably of the class-action variety. Don’t make a bad situation worse.

Good v. Gooder

I have been using both my big brick of a Nikon D300 for a few years now, and I love it.  Fantastic image quality, great handling, and great glass (even my old beater of a 18-70DX). The problem is, as I said, the brick-like nature of most DSLR’s.  The price for semi-pro performance.  I refuse to hang the thing off my neck, so it lives in a ThnkTank Speed Freak bag, and is great if you don’t mind the weight toll.

But due to my low-budget upbringing I grew up using rangefinders, usually cheap rangefinders, and developed an appreciation for the smaller, lighter, faster handling gear.  After waiting for point and shoot cameras to adopt a decent sensor, I picked up a Canon G10.  I love that camera, but truth be told, the images just aren’t up to the D300.  What they are is very good by most standards.  If you shoot in RAW mode, they are really quite good, and almost DSLR quality.  The 12MP sensor was a bit too far, which Canon corrected with the G11.  That is where the G10 falls down.  The crap low light performance rears its ugly head in all kinds of situations like shadow detail, overall dynamic range, and a kind of fresnel distortion.

So while it sounds like I’m bitching about the G10, I am not.  It is a great little camera, travels easy, has a great control layout, good+ optics, and gets the job done.  Having the time to use it alongside and alternating with a big, nasty, Nikon has been very educational.

Misquamicut Beach


Misquamicut HDR, originally uploaded by petebrunelli.

A High Dynamic Range (HDR) image taken at Misquamicut Beach this winter. HDR is a process where a range of exposures are combined to create an image with broader dynamic range than any one of the source images. Using Aperture Priority and exposure bracketing (changing apertures to alter the exposure will create perspective changes, so you fix the aperture and use varying shutter speeds). Many cameras have a bracketing feature. I’ve used the Canon G10 and Nikon D300 with success. Faster shot-to-shot speeds can make for better HDR because there will be less movement between shots, like the waves in this image. I might have avoided blowing out the sun area if I had gone with a 5-shot bracket, which might be -2, -1, 0 +1 and +2 stops. This was a 3-shot, -1, 0 and +1, and i often use exposure compensation to keep the 0 frame where I want it (no blowouts on either end of the histogram). This was handheld, and the HDR software (Photomatix) handled the alignment.