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.

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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 that goes 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.

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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.

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About a year later, I bought my first "real" camera*, a bottom-of-the-line refurbished Nikon DSL.

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

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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.

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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.

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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^)

Friday, March 17, 2017

Thumbs Up: A Severn River Shipwreck

Around the middle of last December, I caught word through an Instagram post that a sailboat had run aground at Jonas Green Park in Annapolis. Being the curious sort, I stopped by after work the next day with my camera to catch a glimpse of the shipwreck.

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By the looks of it, she was a Cal 22 in otherwise good condition aside from being aground. She was reasonably upright and her hatches were closed and her hull and rigging looked solid, but her engine and sails had been removed. I'm guessing she had been in storage on a mooring ball or at anchor somewhere and broken free.

I came back the following morning before work when the tide was considerably lower, and she was clearly heeling, almost to the point of her cabin windows being submerged.

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I did what any concerned sailor should do and notified the proper authorities of her whereabouts and gave them her registration information from the hull. Under Maryland law, I couldn't legally attempt any kind of salvage operation until after a certain amount of time had passed without the owner claiming her, so for now I would have to be content to watch from shore.

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That morning, in the light of day, I could see that she had been in the water for some time. Barnacles were growing over much of her hull, although oddly were absent from the lower portions. I can only guess that she was at leas partially buried in the sand, roughly upright, prior to arriving at Jonas Green. The tides in mid-December had been quite high, so it's entirely possible that she drifted there from a previous grounding.

As the weeks passed, I stopped by every so often to check on her. She was working her way further up the shore, so far that by early January you could touch her bow at low tide and not get your feet wet, and was no longer standing even close to upright at high tide. Shortly after her initial grounding, she had rolled over onto her port side instead of her starboard side.

By late January, she had settled enough onto her port side that she started taking on water. First in the cockpit, then eventually in the cabin. At this point, I realized that she was more than likely a total loss.

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Around the time that Sara & I moved to Annapolis, we had purchased a dinghy. One Saturday, I got the bright idea to take that Dinghy to the park and see if I could read the boat's name off of her transom. It was cold, damp, and I was fighting the sniffles, but it was an opportunity I couldn't miss.

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Although I never got a single clear picture that showed her name in its entirety (largely because of the placement of the outboard mount), I learned that her name was Thumbs Up. An oddly optimistic name for a boat stuck in such a pessimistic position.

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After the flooding came the winter storms. By the first weekend in March, her mast had broken in two, and her rudder had broken off. The following weekend, her mast had fallen entirely off into the water. The elements were taking their toll on the poor boat.

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After her mast had fallen off into the water, I took it upon myself to drag up what I could onto the shore. It wasn't much as the lower half of the mast and the boom were still connected to the hull by various lines and shrouds, but I wanted to make sure that the upper portion, which was free, didn't get buried or wash away.

I asked a passing DNR officer about the status of the boat, and he informed me that her owner was coming to salvage her the following week. I thanked him and went on my way, not quite believing that, after all this time, her owner had finally come for her.

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On March 16th, I stopped by Jonas Green Park and Thumbs Up was nowhere to be seen. Her owner had finally come and gotten her. I was sad that I would no longer be able to photograph my favorite shipwreck, but also hopeful that she would get a proper salvage and sail the waters of the Severn River again.


Sunday, January 1, 2017

2016 Recap in Pictures

2016 was a hell of a year for us, packed with new adventures and some painful losses. And, just like last year, I was too busy going and doing (and photographing!) to actually get as much 'blogging in as I would like to. So, I'd like to send 2016 off with a little tribute.

In January, we moved in with Sara's mom.

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In March, I bought my first "real" camera.

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In April, we took Sara's mom sailing in the Caribbean.

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In May, we lost Sara's mom to cancer.

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In June, I started volunteering with CRAB.

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In August, we took our friend Jen sailing in Spain.

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Later that month, we lost Sara's grandfather.

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In September, we moved to Annapolis.

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In October, we bought our first boat.

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And, finally, in December, we were happy to announce that we'll be having a baby in June!

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Happy New Year! May your 2017 be joyous and eventful!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Badass Swede

Every time I charter a boat, it seems like I see some incredible maneuver happen. This Spring in the BVI, it was The Gods of Docking, and this summer in the Balearics is was the Badass Swede.

We had entered the anchorage of Cala Pi on Sunday afternoon and gradually worked our way up towards the beach as boats closer in left. As we settled into our final spot, the skipper of a departing boat suggested that we set a stern anchor in order to keep our boat from swaying beam-on to swell throughout the night.We did this and ended up having a very peaceful night.

At this point in the afternoon, the anchorage is pretty full and I thought there was no way that another boat would fit in as close as we were: we were only a boat-and-a-half away from the cliff on the west side of the cove, and we were close enough to the marked-off swim area that squeezing in would have been exceedingly difficult.

Enter the Badass Swede. I have no idea of the his actual nationality, but his boat was flying a flag that looked decidedly like the Swedish flag, so the name stuck.

The Badass Swede drives his 45-ish foot sailboat into the cove looking for a spot. He comes to a stop near us and begins to execute a perfectly stationary 180 degree turn while asking me where our anchor is set. I point it out to him, he nods, and then when his bow is facing out of the cove, he goes reverse slow towards the swim area.

I sincerely regret not grabbing a video camera at this point because what followed was nothing short of maritime ballet.

Shortly after going into reverse, the Badass Swede shouts up to his man on the bow and he nonchalantly kicks the anchor overboard. No slow, measured lowering of the rode, he just lets it all go at once, which means that he had let out a set amount of chain in advance. The Badass Swede keeps going in slow reverse for a moment until the anchor sets, and it sets solidly because the boat stops almost immediately.

At this point, their stern is maybe 20 feet from the edge of the marked swim area.*

Within a heartbeat of stopping, the Badass Swede had another man in their dinghy motoring out with a stern anchor to keep the boat from swinging. Rather like the rode for the main anchor had been measured out in advance, so too had the stern anchor and the dinghy been set before they even entered the cove.

The entire operation took under five minutes. It was seamless, took only a small handful of commands to execute, and I didn't see their boat move a damned inch the whole time we were there.

 Badass Swede (on the right-most boat in the picture above), I don't know who you are or what nation you hail from, but thank you for giving me something to aspire to. Bravo sir, bravo.

*My one beef with the Badass Swede is that his stern anchor was set into a marked swim area, which meant taking the dinghy somewhere it shouldn't have gone. I'm not sure that I would have done that, but given the overall level of badassery involved, I'm willing to let it slide.

Landlocked Part Deux

Just like the last half of 2015, the last half of 2016 has kept me away from 'blogging. Shortly after getting back from Spain we started making preparations to move to Annapolis, and the whole "moving/settling" process obviously took a lot of time. Fortunately, I've managed to spend a lot of time in Annapolis taking pictures, so my Instagram feed has been pretty full until recently when it started getting cold. Brrrr!

We also managed to, rather unexpectedly, buy our first sailboat. I say "rather unexpectedly" not because we were surprised that we bought a boat (what sailor moves to Annapolis and doesn't buy a boat, right?) but because we weren't really planning on buying a boat that quickly, or one quite that old. S/V Bird's Nest (Bird for short), a 1967 Bristol 29, has already provided us with some...interesting times and I've already started on some repairs necessary to get her back into operating condition and we should be able to have fun sailing her this summer.

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I plan to spend some time this winter writing up the story of how we acquired and moved Bird to her new home closer to Annapolis, and the work I've had to do on her engine so far.

Stay tuned!