Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Workhorse: The 70-200 f/2.8

The 70-200 f/2.8 is a photographer's workhorse lens, the telephoto end of the "holy trinity" of fast zooms*. It is an incredibly versatile lens because it lets you get pictures of things that are far away, or to take portraits where the background just melts away into a silky blur. I had a lot of photographers tell me that this is the single most important lens in a pro's bag, and I didn't really understand it until I shot with one.

And they're right, of course, which is why they're pros. Nothing I can say will really explain it, you just have to try one to really understand.


Now, in spite of that, I don't own one yet. I've been renting them when necessary because, from a purely business standpoint, buying one outright hasn't made financial sense yet. I've also been renting different versions so that I can get a feel for which one I'd like to eventually buy. To date I've tried out the following:

Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 VRII

Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 FL
Tamron 70-200 f/2.8 G2
Nikon 70-200 f/4 (I know it's not an f/2.8, but I'm a sucker for lightweight lenses)

I'm not going to spend a lot of time doing detailed comparisons of optical performance other than to say that they are all very good because other, far more qualified folks have done that to death (plus, I never had all of them at the same time to do a real side-by-side). But I do want to share a few things that I learned about them.

Build Quality

The Nikon VRII and the noticeably lighter Nikon f/4.
The first thing you notice when handling a 70-200 f/2.8 is the size and weight of them. They are generally built like tanks and would likely serve just as well as a blunt weapon as a photographic tool**. This is part of why pros love these lenses: they're reliable. The f/4 isn't nearly as ruggedly built and is much lighter. This is great if space and weight is at a premium for you and I could see using one if I were hiking, climbing, etc., but out on a bouncing chaseboat, I always had a mild fear of breaking it in the back of my mind. I never had this fear with any of the f/2.8s. For this reason alone, the f/4 is generally not suited for my needs, even though it is a great performer optically and in other regards.


Smooth Zooming

The zoom rings on all of the Nikon lenses have a very consistent feel to them: light enough to zoom easily, but not so light as to shift focal length should you take your hand off of the ring. The zoom ring on the Tamron lens, on the other hand, is stiffer and takes a bit more effort to turn. None of them feel bad to me and I suspect that liking one or the other will boil down to personal preference. For me, shooting the Tamron on land feels better because it feels more precise, but the Nikons feel better on the water because I'm already expending that much more energy just to steady myself that every little bit of reduced effort helps. I suspect that the zoom ring on the Tamron will loosen up over time as zoom rings are prone to do, but ideally I'd like it to be a bit looser now.


The Ring of Power

Speaking of zoom rings, not all of them are located in the same place. On Nikon's VRII and f/4, the zoom ring is located closer to the camera, and on Nikon's FL and Tamron's G2, the zoom ring is closer to the front element. Two of these arrangements feel quite natural and balanced nicely, the other two not so much.


The f/4 is just about perfectly balanced for a smaller body like the D7200 I used it with. It doesn't have a lot of weight out front, so keeping your grip closer to the body keeps the whole camera well balanced. Likewise, the Tamron G2 is also very well balanced for a smaller body; with more weight from the heavier lens out front, moving your hand further forward on the lens keeps the weight distribution right. Also, and very importantly, the focus ring on the Tamron is placed such that your hand doesn't tend to rest on it (at least not my hands), so having my hand that far forward doesn't interfere with the focus.

Nikon FL, as deployed.
The VRII feels very front-heavy with a smaller body. I suspect that it's definitely designed with a heavier body in mind. This poor balance seemed to wear my arms out faster while shooting, which was an issue being on a boat all day. Nikon changed this with the newer FL model, possibly in anticipation of lighter mirrorless bodies in the future. But in doing so they placed the focus ring right where the palm of my hand seems to naturally rest, meaning that I had to come up with a creative solution (which I describe below) to avoid throwing my focus off. This awkward placement of the focus ring really hits the FL in the ergonomics department despite the better overall balance with a smaller body.

Feet of Strength

With the VRII, my preferred method of deployment is simply to remove the tripod foot from its collar and attach my cross-body sling to the tripod mount that remains in the collar. This makes for a very slim setup and balances well while by my side, and it doesn't get in my way while shooting. Nikon really got the tripod collar right on the VRII and FL; I wish someone would come up with a similar version for the Tamron or other lenses.

Nikon FL, foot rotated. See how it rested on my palm***?
I deployed differently on the FL because of the focus ring issue. I settled on leaving the foot attached, but rotating the foot to the left so that it covered the switches and attaching my sling to it. This had the benefit of protecting the switches from being accidentally flipped (which isn't a big deal for Nikon lenses, those switches are pretty stiff), but more importantly it allowed me to rest the palm of my hand on the tripod foot instead of the focus ring. Viola! No more focus ring issues. The downsides to this are a slightly clunkier rig and a bit more fatigue for my left hand from arching my palm slightly. Mind you, this works with my hands, if you have smaller hands it may not. (Then again, if you have smaller hands, the focus ring placement may not be an issue for you in the first place, so....)

Nikon FL @ 75mm, f/2.8, ISO 400, 1/200sec.
A similar setup (tripod foot left attached and rotated over the switches) works wonderfully for the Tamron G2 as well, but for a different reason. The switches on the Tamron lens are a bit looser and more susceptible to accidental switching, so having that tripod foot guard them works quite well. Also, the geometry of this setup feels much more natural on the G2, so it didn't tire out my hand like it did on the FL. (Again, your hands may vary.)

Although the Tamron lacks the cool removable tripod foot of the Nikons, it does have an Arca Swiss mount built into it's tripod foot, so it's easier to actually attach to a tripod. (The whole collar is also removable, but the lens seems rather awkward without it on.) I feel like an ideal tripod mount for a 70-200 would combine the easily detachable foot and permanent collar with a secondary mount of the Nikons with the built-in Arca Swiss mount of the Tamron.

The f/4 has an optional tripod collar, but I suspect that using it would be largely a waste. The lens is so light that the camera body's tripod attachment point should works just fine for a cross-body sling and should work equally well for tripods.

Hippy Hippy Shake

Tamron G2, as deployed, just like the FL.
Image stabilization is important for telephoto lenses if you're not shooting with a tripod. I didn't do detailed measurements of the performance of the different lenses, but I will say that they all allowed me to make sharp, hand-held shots that would have been impossible otherwise. One distinct observation that I do have though is the general feel of the various image stabilization systems and how they look through the viewfinder.

The Nikon systems tend to jump around more as I'm composing a shot. This has no impact on the final image as it still freezes the frame when the shutter is released, but it does sometimes make composition trickier. Also, if I were to shoot video (which I rarely do, at least through lenses like these), I imagine the video would likewise be jumpy. Nikon seemed to design their system with minimizing power use and instantaneous, instead of continuous, performance in mind, which makes perfect sense for a still camera.

On the other hand, the Tamron system held the image much more smoothly over time. When looking through the viewfinder I had an easier time composing shots, and I imagine that video shot through the Tamron lens would be smoother as well. In terms of overall usability, I definitely prefer the image stabilization of the Tamron lens.

Tamron G2 @70mm, f/2.8, ISO 200, 1/400sec.
One potentially related observation here is that my camera's battery seemed to drain a bit faster with the Tamron G2. Maybe that extra smoothness in the image stabilization came at the expense of increased power draw? This would make sense because it seemed like the Tamron's image stabilization system was running running harder/longer than on the Nikons. Or maybe my batteries are just getting old. Again, I haven't gotten to do a side-by-side test, but I wanted to mention it anyways.

The Almighty Dollar

The difference in price between these lenses is wholly non-trivial. The Nikon f/4 and the Tamron G2 are both about $1,400 when bought new. The Nikon VRII was last available at $2,100 new but isn't in production anymore, and sells used for about $1,400.

The Nikon FL sells new for a whopping $2,800. I could buy two of the other lenses and have one as a backup for the price of a single NIkon FL!

Price-wise, the VRII felt about right to me when you could still get it new. Paying a premium for the factory warranty and Nikon reliability would have been worth the extra money. I'm not opposed to buying refurbished or used (in fact, most of my gear is refurbished), but for a major investment like this I'd rather buy new for the factory warranty. This means I probably won't be buying a VRII.

Business end of the Nikon FL
I cannot see myself being able to justify a $2,800 pricetag for any piece of equipment anytime soon, even to get that warranty and legendary Nikon durability. I simply don't make enough money with my photography yet to justify such an expense. Sorry Nikon, you priced yourself right out of my market with that one. I'm sure that full-time pros will still buy it, but for side-gig photographers like me, it just doesn't make financial sense.

As I mentioned above, the Nikon f/4 isn't rugged enough for my needs, so that's a no-go as well in spite of it's comparatively low pricetag and great optical performance.

That leaves me with the Tamron G2. It's rugged, it's ergonomics are right, it's image stabilization is top notch, it's price is reasonable, it's still available with a full warranty, and it produces great images. I think this puts the Tamron G2 into a sweet spot in terms of value and performance for me as a part-timer. I have some reservations about its long-term reliability since it is coming from a third party manufacturer, but the lower cost and 6 year warranty help balance those reservations out. Once I get my income stream a bit more solid, I'll almost certainly be buying one.


*The other two being the normal zoom and the wide zoom in f/2.8. Most current normal fast zooms are 24-70, and the wides vary by manufacturer, but Nikon's is 14-24.

**I do not, under any circumstances, recommend or condone the use of expensive photographic equipment as a blunt weapon. Or, for that matter, beating people with blunt weapons in general.

 ***I cannot quite emphasize how tricky it is to take a picture of yourself holding a camera with a heavy lens, one handed, with a second camera, also one-handed. Heh.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Lens Sharpness or: How I learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Lens

There are a lot of ways to quantify the performance of a lens.

One standard method is the Modulation Transfer Function, or MTF.  Without getting into the technical details, MTF charts can be used to represent a lens's optical performance: a horizontal plot means that a lens will produce an image equally sharp at all points across an image plane, whereas one that drops off will be less sharp away from the image center*.

Another handy resource to use are websites that do standardized testing of lens performance, one of which is DXOMark. Here you can get plots of lens performance at various apertures, including sharpness, transmission, vignetting, etc. You can even get everything rolled up into a single score for the lens. Handy, right?

Yes...to a point. Something I've run across is photographers judging lenses as inferior simply because their MTF plots aren't good enough or their DXOMark scores aren't high enough. While I'm all for using these resources to learn about my gear and its limitations, they are just that: resources. They aren't meant to be end-all-be-all judgements on the superiority of a lens because there is so much more to consider when choosing a lens than pure optical performance in a technical sense. I'd like to take a moment and call out a few factors that aren't included in these measures.

Bokeh

Bokeh! Shot wide open at f/1.4.
If you're trying to isolate your subject using a narrow depth of field, you likely want those areas to be as out of focus as possible. The pleasing quality of these out of focus areas is called "bokeh". If you're using a more advanced lens that is tack-sharp, corner-to-corner you can achieve pleasing bokeh, but it's also possible that any out of focus highlights will render so sharply as to be distracting. However, if you're using  a simpler lens design that is a bit softer away from the image center, you may have a better chance of getting pleasing bokeh because those highlights will be softer. This is why some portrait photographers still love simpler lens designs. Conversely, this simpler lens may not be an obvious choice for shooting landscapes or architecture, where your subject is likely to be taking up the entire frame and you want it all to be in focus. And the thing is, this is all subjective, and it isn't necessarily constant either. A lens can render amazing bokeh in certain circumstances and be decidedly "meh" in others. And what one photographer sees as great bokeh could be not what another one is looking for. Like all art, it's largely subjective.

Aperture

Polygonal bokeh can be distracting. Shot at f/2.
Part of what determines the "feel" of bokeh is the configuration of a lens's aperture. The rounder the aperture is at a given setting, the "softer" the bokeh will generally be. As a result of this, many lens manufacturers have lately been shifting more and more towards using rounded aperture blades. This is great for bokeh, but the price you pay is often the inability to produce sunstars**. Sunstars are those brilliant, pointy stars that get produced by bright points of light on longer exposures when shooting through a small, polygonal aperture. One of the reason I love older Nikon lenses is for their odd number of straight aperture blades that produce amazing sunstars when stopped down. The tradeoff is that the bokeh on these lenses can be somewhat harsher when shooting at faster apertures because highlights render as polygons instead of circles.
Sunstars! Shot at f/8 on a tripod.


I am a total sucker for sunstars, the donut-shaped bokeh of catadioptric lenses, or any other kinds of optical oddities that lenses produce that you can't just "add in post".  They can be distracting in certain circumstances obviously, but when used right, they add a touch of magic.


Bulk

Lens design has come a long way since the first SLRs revolutionized photography. Computers have allowed for more complicated and precise optical designs, more advanced optical coatings help ensure superior transmission and reduce aberrations, and autofocus systems have gotten faster and more accurate. Well, guess what? All of this engineering means that lenses have generally gotten bigger and heavier too. As someone who enjoys shooting small, fast primes, the idea of toting around some of the newer, heavier offerings for most work isn't really appealing to me in spite of their superior optical performance. Why? Because a photo that you missed because you were too tired or sore from lugging around a heavy kit is always less sharp than one you actually took. On the other hand, if I can limit my kit to just one or two large, heavy lenses and still get the job done without limiting my creativity, that works too. It's a balance, and striking the right balance depends on what you, the artist, needs.

A Lens Is A Tool


My favorite lens. Not in spite of its "flaws", but because of them.
What does this all mean? It means that a lens, just like a camera, is a tool, that different tools have different strengths and weaknesses, and that judging a lens by measuring it along only one axis of performance will likely limit your creativity. My Nikon 50mm f/1.4 AF-D is my favorite lens. It is tiny, is fantastically sharp when stopped down, and produces amazing sunstars, but faster than f/2.8, it gets...quirky. Bokeh is super-soft wide open at f/1.4, but has a weird harshness from f/1.6 down that goes away by f/2.8 due to the straight aperture blades. And faster than f/2, getting your subject sharp is hard because your depth of field is paper-thin, and chromatic aberration tends to soften even things that are in-focus. It's MTF charts reflect this quirky behavior, and at first glance it seems decidedly "meh".

Does that make it a lesser lens than more modern 50mm lenses with "better" MTF plots at faster apertures and higher DXOMark scores? No. It only makes it a different lens. I would consider a newer lens with rounded aperture blades for a studio portrait shoot, or a more rugged lens with better weather-sealing for use on the water, but for candid or street photography, where small size is a virtue, or landscape shots, where stopped-down performance reigns and sunstars can add a nice creative flare, it is absolutely perfect.

Photography isn't just about producing the sharpest possible image. It's about translating your artistic vision into an image using the proper tools.

Know your tools, and choose them wisely.

Epilogue

I have become a huge fan of "try before you buy". I've been renting 70-200 f/2.8s for racing shoots for about a year now, and I realized that I was wasting a huge opportunity by always getting the same lens. If I really wanted to know my tools, I should be trying different ones. So, as much as I love the Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 VR2, I branched out and started trying other offerings, and I've learned a lot. I also have a few other rentals coming up for other occasions. Stay tuned for my write-up of these experiences!

*Assuming your MTF plot is vs frame position. Other fields outside of photography will often plot them vs frequency.

** Some manufacturers have managed to produce apertures that are round when wide open for good bokeh but polygonal when stopped down for good sunstars. I try to find these whenever I can....

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Reflex: Tamron 55BB Lens Review

I'm a physicist by training, and an astronomy nerd at heart. The first digital camera I used (before they were even called digital cameras) back in the '90s was attached to a reflector telescope pointed at the night sky. Because of this, I've always had a soft spot for catadioptric, or reflex lenses. Most traditional camera lenses use nothing but glass to bend light in order to produce an image, but reflex lenses use a combination of lenses (dioptrics) and mirrors (catoptrics) to do so.

The main benefit of such a design is that you can produce lenses with large focal lengths that have relatively short and light bodies. My Tamron 500mm is shorter and lighter than a pro 70-200 tele zoom, albeit slightly larger in diameter. It is considerably shorter and lighter than a traditional dioptric 500mm prime lens would be. They are also excellent at managing various aberrations because considerably less of the optical path is influenced by changes in index of refraction.

There are, of course, downsides to reflex lenses, otherwise we'd see a lot more of them. They have fixed apertures that are slow compared to traditional dioptric lenses, and out-of-focus areas will take on a very characteristic, and often distracting, donut shape due to the central obstruction. Given their long focal length and slow aperture, they're not good for handheld photography in anything other than bright light, and, somewhat ironically, they can be hard to use on a tripod as well since they don't have much mass to damp any vibrations present; wind is a particular issue. Also, being something of a niche lens that has long since fallen out of favor, they haven't seen much of the way of improvements in the past 30-ish years (lesser optical performance*, no autofocus, etc.). Some companies still make them, but they tend to be geared more towards astronomers than photographers.


My first reflex lens was a new model by Bower/Opteka/Samyang, a 500mm f/6.3. Although I liked a few of the pictures I took with it, I wasn't a fan of it overall. It was very girthy (it took 95mm caps!), that extra girth didn't actually buy you any better light gathering ability (the central obstruction was so large that it performed much like an f/8), and the focus ring was too heavily damped for my taste. But what killed it for me was this: I had a really hard time getting good pictures with it. It was often so bad that I could get better results by shooting at 200mm on a kit lens and cropping to a 500mm field of view. I got a few neatly artistic pictures with it that I love, but that bulk combined with limited utility meant it had to go; I sold it to finance its replacement. Fortunately, I hadn't paid too much for it: you can find them for a little over $100 brand new.

 
My second, and current, reflex lens is the Tamron 55BB 500mm f/8. Although it is smaller in diameter (82mm instead of 95mm) and one stop slower on paper than my previous lens, in some experiments I conducted for the short time I had both, they both had roughly the same light-gathering power, which was a pleasant surprise. It turns out that the central obstruction in the Tamron is proportionally smaller relative to the barrel size so less light gets blocked. Unlike my previous Bower, the focus ring feels much better, and it's easy to turn throughout the entire focus range without feeling sloppy. The Tamon also feels much more solidly built, which is a huge plus for me, and focuses more closely, going so far as to bill itself as a "Tele-Macro" lens. But the biggest difference is by far in the overall optical performance. While it still suffers from the same general limitations of being an older catadioptric lens, I can actually get reasonably sharp images out of it relatively easily. I did add a short generic lens hood to help control some lens flare, but it's hardly a necessity unless you're shooting close to the sun or backlit subjects.


I say "relatively" easily because shooting with a light, fat, manual focus 500mm lens takes a good deal of practice and, ideally, a camera with good in-viewfinder focus indicators (like my Nikon D7200 has). You have a tiny depth of field unless your subject is a quarter a mile away or more, and anything out of focus turns "loopy" very quickly so getting your focus right is both tricky and important. You'll also want to try to focus on subjects that are largely parallel to your field of view for the same reason. Fortunately, most subjects that I tend to shoot (i.e. landscapes, boats on the water, etc.) are far enough away that I can just set the focus to infinity (which is clearly marked) and tweak it slightly around there as need be. Shooting surfers was hard...but I managed.

A post shared by Ben Cushwa (@nautography) on


I love this lens. While it is definitely a niche lens and will never substitute for, say, a 70-200 f/2.8 for general purpose telephoto shooting, I like being able to toss what is essentially a small telescope into my camera bag and not sacrifice much space to do so. While they haven't been made new for several decades, there are still a fair number available on the used market. My less-than-perfect example (plus the necessary Nikon adapter**) cost me about $100 at KEH.com, which is just a fraction of a modern tele zoom. At that price, this lens is a steal.

A post shared by Ben Cushwa (@nautography) on


The Reflex: maybe it's not just a song by Duran Duran anymore.... 

*One important thing to note is that at the kinds of ranges you tend to use a 500mm lens at, especially over water like I do, atmospheric interference is likely going to be the limiting factor on your image quality, not your equipment.

** This lens is part of the old Tamron Adaptall-2 series of lenses. All of the lenses came with a common mount designed to accept adapters for different camera bodies. Unlike the cheap, screw-on adapter used by the Opteka and other astronomy-based lenses, these adapters are well-machined bayonet mounts and feel very solid.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Back To The BVI!

Two years ago, Sara and I went sailing in the BVI and the Balearic Islands. Both times it was with one other person, both times it was on 39-ish monohulls with a similar layout, and both trips were amazing. Each trip also offered something new: our BVI trip was my first trip as a skipper, and our Balearic trip was our first time in the Mediterranean.

Shortly after we booked our second trip that year, my older daughter Abby, now 13, told me in no uncertain terms that if we took another trip like this without her that she would kill me.*


A post shared by Ben Cushwa (@nautography) on

Not being one to tempt fate, or the temper of a 13-year-old-girl, I am happy to report that we will be cruising in the BVI for a week this summer and that we will be doing so without pain of death hanging over me. And like our past two trips, this one also has new things to offer. Although this will be our third time in the BVI, this will be my first time skippering a catamaran, my first time skippering with an appreciable crew (we're bringing some family along), an my first time skippering overnight with kids aboard.


But despite our excitement, this trip will be doubly bittersweet. Last September, Hurricane Irma devastated the Caribbean, with the BVI being particularly hard hit. Although rebuilding is already well underway, I expect that we will still see much of the remaining devastation and reconstruction. I'm hoping that our tourism dollars will help with the recovery. It will also be our first time back since the loss of Sara's mother to cancer a month after our last trip there. I'm hoping to hit a few of the same spots with other members of her family so that they can share our memories of her.


A post shared by Ben Cushwa (@nautography) on

So, watch this space. Adventure awaits this summer!

*And I kinda believed her.... 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

On Cameras

As I've taken and shared more and more pictures, I've been asked two questions with increasing regularity:

1. What kind of camera did you use to take that picture?
2. What kind of camera should I buy?


I'd like to take a moment to address both of those questions here.


A post shared by Ben Cushwa (@nautography) on


What kind of camera did you use to take that picture?

When I was getting a print of the above picture framed, the lady behind the counter asked me if I used some kind of special camera to take it. Although I politely told her what I used, the correct answer would have been to tell her that this is the wrong question to be asking. It's like asking a chef what kind of pan they used to prepare a delicious meal, or what kind of brush an artist used to paint a masterpiece.

There are a lot of things that go into making a good photograph. Things like lighting, timing, and positioning are all far more important than what camera the photographer is using. In the image above, the sun is setting behind me and casting a golden glow across the harbor. There is also a harbor wall behind me shading me from that golden glow, making the foreground look darker and bluer. In essence, the sun has set further on me than it has on the other side of the harbor. It's this combination of lighting, timing, and positioning that created the contrast of light and color that make this image so interesting, not the camera I used. And it took knowing all of those things (or, in this case, being with someone who knew all of those things*) to capture that image, not a specific camera.

The camera is just a tool. It can't take good pictures, only the person using it can do that. Taking good pictures requires experience, patience, and a little bit of luck, not a good camera.

What a good camera does do is make it easier to take good pictures. This is why pros buy top-end cameras, not because they take better pictures. The easier it is to use, the less distracted the person using it will be and the more focused they'll be on taking pictures. Which leads me to my second question:

What kind of camera should I buy?

This is also the wrong question. What you should be asking yourself is what you need a camera to do. If you're interested in shooting portraits or weddings, using the kit I use to shoot racing sailboats would likely leave you woefully unprepared. And even if you are shooting racing sailboats, using my kit without knowing what I've learned about it could leave you almost as unprepared.

I don't like to tell people which camera to buy, but I will tell people who are starting out what I think they should look for in a camera. Don't look at your camera purchase in terms of specific features, but to look at what you can learn from it. Think of it as the first car that parents buy a teenager who just got their license; they wouldn't likely buy that kid a Ferrari, right?

Your first camera is a tool, as all cameras are, but it will also likely be your first teacher. Pick a camera that gives you options to learn and gives you room to grow. To me, this means three things:

It should be cheap.

It should have interchangable lenses.

It absolutely has to allow for full manual control.

This is exactly what I did, although I didn't realize it at the time. My first "real" camera was a refurbished, out-of-production Nikon D3100. (I wrote a 'blog post about my first camera and what I liked and disliked about it at the time here**.) I had no clue what I was doing, but after using that D3100 for about a year, I felt like I had learned enough to know what would be a good choice for my next camera. I bought another Nikon, a D7200, because it was (and still is) the best mix of features for what I need on my budget. How did I know that? Experience. I knew what I needed by not having it (in my case, better weather-proofing, better autofocus, and easier ways to change settings among other things), not because someone else told me.


A post shared by Ben Cushwa (@nautography) on

This picture is single most popular image on my Instagram feed by a substantial margin at the time of this post. It was taken with that cheap, refurbished, out-of-production, entry-level D3100, not the more expensive camera.



It's not about the camera. It's about the photographer.



A camera is just a box that collects light. Learn to work with the light.



* Big 'ole shout-out to Kat Hanafin at The Nautical Collection for putting me in the right place at the right time to take that pic. After almost a year, I did manage to recreate the effect on my own in this pic. Thanks Kat.

**At some point I may need to go back and update that post with more things I've learned. Given my recent posting rate, that'll be sometime in 2020. Heh.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Professional Photographer?

I started Nautography two and a half years ago with little more than an iPhone, a background in sailing, and a dream.

A post shared by Ben Cushwa (@nautography) on
About a year later, I bought my first "real" camera*, a bottom-of-the-line refurbished Nikon DSL.

A post shared by Ben Cushwa (@nautography) on

A few months ago, I started getting instruction from pro photographers and using Lightroom/Photoshop to post-process my images.

A post shared by Ben Cushwa (@nautography) on

And now I'm an on-the-water contributing photographer for Spinsheet Magazine, having provided their August cover and now with my first regatta shoot under my belt.

It seems that while my 'blog posting has been somewhat anemic and my sailing adventures have been somewhat lacking (at least this past year), my photography has really been taking off.

A post shared by Ben Cushwa (@nautography) on
It's been a lot of work, I still have a lot to learn, and I haven't gotten here on my own. I want to thank everyone who has helped me along the way, with a few special shoutouts: Kat for her experience and patience, Jen for the opportunities and encouragement, Molly and Mary at Spinsheet for having complete faith in a rookie photographer, my folks for providing me more creative genes than I had realized, and most of all my lovely wife Sara for being fully supportive of me running headlong into a second career even though we just had a baby.

A post shared by Ben Cushwa (@nautography) on

Somebody pinch me....

*I did buy a GoPro in there somewhere too, but it hasn't seen much use. Maybe I need to rectify that. Hmmmm.....

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Bon Voyage

The tail end of 2016 was quite eventful for us in that we found out that we bought a sailboat and found out that we were having a baby. Earlier this spring, Sara & I decided that it would likely be best for us if we sold the boat; we wanted to be able to focus our attention on our new arrival and it didn't seem prudent, or good for the boat, to leave it sitting unused for a few years.

Yesterday, the sale was finalized, and Sara & I are no longer boat owners*.  It was a hard decision, and I'll miss Bird, but it was absolutely the right thing to do. I wish her and her new owner many wonderful voyages!

I know it's been a while since I posted (big shock, right?) but I should have a few new posts up soon. I've been quiet, but I haven't been idle. ;^)

* Well, we do still own the dinghy. I mean, come on. We couldn't give up the dinghy! B^)