Monday, December 17, 2007

Santa Express on the CTA

Every year, the Chicago Transit Authority (the el) dresses up one of their trains for the holidays, making for a fun photo opportunity if you're in town. Matthew Zdano (aka BrokenBat on Flickr) has captured two great photos: SantaExpress and XmasTrainTrail_1. I wished I had thought of it earlier. There is only one day left to see this train in action: Saturday, December 23 from 2 to 8:45 pm on the Orange and Brown lines. See details here.

Well, maybe other folks have also captured some fun images. Anyone else care to share? And thank you, Matthew Zdano!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Nikon D300 - I Still Want One!

Well, I was in my local camera store, Central Camera, picking up my black and white prints (yes, Kodak still makes Tri-X!), and had to ask about the new Nikon D300. The fellow behind the counter told me that they get maybe 10 in with each shipment, but they have folks waiting for them. They list them for around $1,794.95. He told me that the D200 has come down to around $1,399.95 now. That's pretty good for a camera that started out at $1,700!

So that got me to thinking: is the D300 worth $400 more than the D200? Some of the improvements seemed like they might be 'nice to haves' and not 'need to haves.' I searched for a D200 vs D300 review, and Scott Kelby did a nice hands-on job here. I bought his book on Adobe Photoshop Lightroom (
I've got a link below for if you'd like to check it out) and found the guy seems to know what he's talking about! I like his comparison of the two cameras, because he actually bought the D300, and was able to compare it to the D200 he also owns (not just compare the specifications that anyone can dig up).

Well, to cut to the chase, he says on his blog "the D300 is a much better, more fully featured update to the D200 than I had ever imagined it would be. How much so? Well, needless to say, I’m selling my D200." And later he says "
To me, the D300 doesn’t feel like an upgrade; it feels like a whole new camera from the ground up. The improvements are that significant."

Read the whole article, it's very informative. I've decided it is worth the extra money for the D300. Now I just have to find out where to get this money! I know it seems trivial, but that huge screen (at least compared to my D70) really has me hooked. Scott was also impressed with the utility of the Live View (like adjusting White Balance and seeing the effect in real time). Anyone else out there have any hands-on comparisons for us? If you're fortunate enough to have the money, you can get the camera here from B&H. I've bought camera (and other electronics) both off of their website, and at their retail store in Manhattan, and have always had a good experience.

Update 3/14/08

Phil Askey has just posted his thorough review of the Nikon D300, and said the hardest part of the review was trying to come up with the 'cons' for the camera. See his review here.

Update 3/17/08

Ben Long at Macworld has also posted a glowing review of this camera here. His biggest complaint was that "Nikon’s menuing system is cumbersome and not easy to navigate." But in the end he says "the D300 is a great DSLR" with "excellent image quality, high ISO performance, robust feature set, and sturdy build."

Update 4/5/08

Ken Rockwell has a nice review of the D300 here. He calls it the "world's best amateur camera!"

Friday, December 7, 2007

Is Photography Dead?

Do you think photography is dead? Read the Peter Plagens article in Newsweek, then take the poll above and/or leave comments. I'd like to hear what you think. Here is the comment I posted to the Newsweek article:

Comment: Is photography dead? I don't think so. It is a bit strange to link digital photography and Photoshop to the beginning of the end for photography. For some fields, such as photojournalism, I do agree that photographers must be careful not to modify the image to the point that they are making history rather than reporting it. And I don't care for some works of art that started with a photograph, but with software end up looking more like a cartoon or a Dali painting.
But for any work of art, be it literature, a painting, the cinema, or a photograph: the truth lies both in the eye of the creator and the viewer. We all have our own frame of reference and set of experiences that affect how we interpret the work of art.
With the advances in digital cameras and film, I think the art of photography is accessible to more than it has ever been today. As someone that still loves to load up a roll of Tri-X black and white film in my camera, or on another day take out my digital camera, I feel photography is very much alive. So grab that old film camera out of the closet, or that brand new 12 Megapixel DSLR, and lets go out and takes some photos for all too enjoy! Who's with me?
Michael Watry

Sunday, December 2, 2007

10 Photography Tips

1. For digital cameras, turn the Red Eye off, even if you are using the flash. Instead, remove the red eye later in your photo editing software. I've found that most Red Eye reduction modes on cameras use a pre-flash to help constrict the subjects pupils to minimize red eye (reflection off of the retina (back of the eye)). The problem I've found is that people see the pre-flash, and think you've taken the photo. Then they get caught moving when the flash finally fires and the shutter opens. Even if they know to wait for the final flash, each shot takes much longer than without the pre-flash, and can lead to impatient subjects! Even the most inexpensive software these days has very easy to use tools for removing red eye. It is a little extra work at home (or at the drug store, if using the digital photo kiosks), but I've found I get better pictures this way.

2. Have a back-up camera available (or at the very least treat your camera with care!). I was at DisneyWorld with the family, and had my Nikon D70 (in a camera bag) perched on top of the stroller canopy. Trying to maneuver through the turnstiles, I lifted both the stroller and camera up, and of course the camera fell to the ground. My friends at the Nikon Service in Mount Prospect, IL tell me it will be $269 to fix! I really wish I had brought a backup camera. Actually, I wish I had put the camera bag strap on my shoulder and not lifted the stroller with the camera bag precariously positioned over my head! File that one under 'Common Sense.'

3. Think about your lighting. If you are outdoors, think about using a fill flash for portraits. It can help eliminate shadows under the eyes. If you are indoors, try experimenting bouncing the flash off of a white ceiling or wall. If you are using a digital camera, you will be able to tell immediately what works and what doesn't. If the ceiling or wall are colored, or the ceiling is too high, invest in a cheap diffusor for your flash unit. On my old Vivitar 3700 flash, I used to flip down the wide angle diffusor so that the head-on flash wasn't so harsh. For the Nikon SB-600 flash, I've been either bouncing it off the ceiling or using the STO-FEN Omni-Bounce diffusor with pretty good results. Another popular option is the LumiQuest Pocket Bouncer. Both the Omni-Bounce and the Pocket Bouncer can be had for around $20. Anything you can do to diffuse the light source of your flash so it's not so harsh!

When using a flash, think about the exposure you get from both the ambient light and the flash. If you can, set the camera manually to allow both ambient light and the flash to expose the picture. Or if you aren't using the manual settings, try one of the program modes. The Nikon D70 has a Night Portrait setting that attempts to balance the ambient light with the flash, so you don't have that harsh light on your subject with a totally black background.

4. Invest in filters for your lens(es). If you will be taking color pictures outdoors, a polarizing filter can give you a nice, deep blue sky. It works best if you are at a 90 degree angle from the sun. This type of filter can also remove the reflection from a glass window, allowing the photograph to reveal what's on the other side.

Another useful filter is the graduated neutral density filter. Say you find a beautiful scene with a brightly lit background, but a darker foreground. Often you either have a blown out background, or a foreground that's too dark. Try using a graduated neutral density filter (dark at the top, clear at the bottom), and you can balance the range of brightness so your photograph is properly exposed, both in the foreground and in the background.

Sometimes folks like to have a UV filter on their lens for protection against scratches.

5. Try different angles, viewpoints, portrait versus landscape. You're bound to like one better than the rest, and you'll be glad you tried different ideas. When looking through the viewfinder, try and frame your subject. Look to see where the eye will go when the picture is finished. If there is motion, leave some of the frame open to allow the eye to see where the subject is moving towards.

6. For composition, think about the Rule of Thirds. Think of the picture frame divided with three vertical and three horizontal lines. If you can, try and place the subject at one of the four points where these lines intersect.

7. This is my own personal view, I've talked to many who disagree: use black and white film if you know you are looking for black and white prints. I've talked to friends that would rather take the picture with a digital camera and then remove the color with software. Myself, I like being able to load Tri-X film in my camera and not have to worry about spending time at the computer getting the black and white image I'm looking for. I don't have a darkroom, so I bring my film to the camera store and let them develop and print it for me. What could be easier?!

8. Look beyond the subject. Is there a post that looks like it's coming out of the top of your subject's head? Sometimes by moving just a little to the left or right you can easily avoid this. To further isolate your subject, use a wide aperture (smaller number) and/or a telephoto lens. This will create a narrow depth of field, blurring the background and concentrating attention to your subject.

9. Second guess your camera's meter. Sometimes your camera isn't as smart as you would hope it should be. A lot of meters try to expose for a 18% grey scene. When your scene happens to be about 18% grey, this works out well. But if you are taking photos with a very bright background (bright white sky or snow), your camera may try to expose the shot as 18% grey. Try setting your exposure manually. If it's bright daylight, start out with the 'Sunny 16' rule. Set your aperture to f16 and your shutter speed to 1/Film ASA (or ISO setting on digital camera). If you have 200 speed film, set your shutter speed to 1/250. If you are using a digital camera, check what you have set the ISO setting to and adjust your shutter speed accordingly. If you really want the perfect exposure, try bracketing. Take the photograph using a couple of settings above and below what the meter thinks you should be using. That way one of them should be perfect!

10. Invest in a tripod. This can be beneficial for many different reasons. If you are interested in night photography, this is almost a necessity. But even for scenic landscape photos, or macro photography of flowers, having the camera on a tripod frees you up to adjust the composition, focus and exposure without worrying about holding onto the camera. If your camera doesn't have a cable release, use the self timer to make sure the camera doesn't move for exposures that require the shutter to be open for a while.

Links to other sites (I'll add more as I find them)
Brian Auer has "16 Inspirational Portrait Photography Techniques" here. Browse his site, he has other posts with useful photography tips!
Click here to see 10 Beach Photography tips.
dPS 10 tips for dSLR Users from photographer Thomas Hawk here.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

New Camera Bag from Lowepro: Fastpack 350

Looks like Lowepro has come out with a new backpack style carrying case for digital photographers. It is available in red, black and blue, and is a comfortable pack made to carry a digital SLR camera, lenses, flash, accessories and a laptop computer with a screen up to 17".

It is made from a tough water-resistant 420 denier nylon outer fabric that protects your equipment from moisture and abrasion. There are side-entry compartments that provide fast access to your equipment. You can customize the easy-to-access main compartment with adjustable dividers. There is an ergonomic backpack harness and a carry strap on the top, which enables you to use it however you want.
PhotoReview Magazine has a brief right up about the Fastpack Backpacks here. I've read that you can access your equipment while wearing the Fastpack. I've got two other Lowepro bags that I've been very happy with: the Toploader Zoom 2 for my Nikon D70 with the kit 18-70mm lens, and the Toploader Zoom AW that I use when I've got my 80-200mm lens attached. They make an excellent product. This Fastpack 350 looks like it would work great if you need to bring your laptop along on the trip and don't want to carry multiple bags. If someone has this bag, post a comment! I would love to hear how it works. I may have to put it on my gift list! :-)
B&H Photo and Video has it available here. I've purchased cameras and accessories from them, and have always been happy with both the price, and the service.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Berwyn, IL - The Spindle by Dustin Shuler

If you are into unique public artwork, and are in the Chicagoland area, take a trip to Berwyn, Illinois. But make it soon! Dustin Shuler's Spindle is a fun piece of work set in the middle of the Cermak Plaza Shopping Center parking lot (Cermak Road and Harlem Ave in Berwyn). However, there are plans to remove this odd piece of work to make way for a Walgreen's drug store. Of course, there is also a grass roots movement to try to prevent this: Save The Spindle.
The sculpture has been known by other nicknames: Car Kebob, Eight Car Pileup, etc. It was created in 1989 for then shopping center owner David Bermant, who's BMW was donated for the sake of art and ended up second from the top (see wikipedia). It was featured in the film Wayne's World, and of course has ended up on postcards and brochures and maps, showing the uniqueness of this Chicago suburb. I designed a postcard available here if you want to have your own piece of Americana to keep or to send!
Me and my six year old daughter went one night for fun to photograph the 'cars on a stick.' She seemed to enjoy it, and I thought if it is going to be torn down, I had better get her there before it's gone! If you're hungry afterwards, we found a great pizza place on yelp called Salerno's (3250 Grove Ave). Then again, if you can't find good pizza in Chicagoland, you are not looking too hard! Salerno's is a casual, kid friendly restaurant, with excellent double-dough pizza (not quite deep dish, but certainly not thin crust!). It was a nice night, so the two of us sat outside and enjoyed our pizza (and took most of it home for leftovers, it was so much).

Update: May 12, 2010
Paging through the Chicago Tribune today, I was saddened to come across Dustin Shuler's obituary. He died May 4 at his home in Inglewood, California of pancreatic cancer. I talked to him a few times regarding the Spindle. From what I could tell in talking with him, he wasn't too impressed with the various groups trying to save his sculpture in the Cermak Plaza Shopping Center parking lot. Turns out they weren't very successful; the sculpture came down May 2, 2008. It was placed on eBay, but the auction was unsuccessful. The few times I talked to him, he impressed me as a wonderful man, passionate about his sculptures. He sounded like the stereotypical starving artist! He said if it weren't for his wife supporting him, he'd be living on the street. He told me that at one time, Pizza Hut offered him money to use his Spindle in their ads. Even though it was a substantial amount, he refused. He told me "there's better pizza in Chicago than Pizza Hut!" He was truly all about the art. Maureen O'Donnell had an obituary in the Sun Times here.

Dusty, you and your art will be missed!

Friday, November 16, 2007


The family took a cruise to Alaska on Norwegian Cruise Lines that provided tons of photographic opportunities. The ship started in Seattle, cruised up to Glacier Bay, and slowly made its way down the coast to end in Victoria, BC before returning to Seattle. I would highly recommend it! It was something else to see the glaciers coming down the mountain and 'calving' into the sea.

Don't make the mistake I made: I left my 80-200mm f2.8 lens at home, thinking it was too much to bring. I would have gotten much sharper pictures of the eagles with this longer, faster lens. Even my wife couldn't believe I left it at home! Oh well, live and learn. How was I to know that the tour guide on a side excursion would take us out on a boat, stop at the bottom of some pine trees, and drop fish in the water so we could take pictures of eagles coming in for a snack? The photo below was taken with the Nikon 18-70mm f3.5-4.5 kit lens that came with the D70 camera.

Come on folks, doesn't anyone have some photos from home or vacation they want to share? Tell us where you took them, what equipment you used, technique, etc.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Tell me about your favorite place to take pictures!

Ok, I had this idea after reading about Sasha Cagen's To-Do List blog. She asked people to send her their lists, and she couldn't believe the amount of mail that came in. Well, that gave me a similar idea: ask people for their favorite places to photograph around the world, and examples of photos if you have them. For example, my photo at the top of the skyline of Chicago is easy: find a parking spot along Solidarity Drive just west of the Adler Planetarium!

So, tell me about the secret (or not so secret) places you would recommend for taking photos during your travels.

(Also, does anyone know how to allow comments to show in the blog? I mean have the text show on the page, not a link to the comments like mine has. I've seen it on other blogs, but not sure how to do it!)

Friday, November 9, 2007

Ron Gordon's Photography

I first stumbled across Ron Gordon's photography at the Printer's Row Book fair not long ago. He has taken some photographs of downtown Chicago back when Printer's Row was more of a skid row than the trendy neighborhood it is now. One of his books, Selected Photographs, has scenes of buildings now long gone. Some are time series shots, showing the buildings on the block being torn down, one at a time. If you are into photography and the history of Chicago, his work will be very interesting to you. I see that there is a limited supply of this book that can be obtained directly from the artist: Selected Photographs

He has two other books that are available in bookstores in Chicago, Forgotten Chicago and Printers Row Chicago. I've got links to them at if you are looking for them. Great history and photography! If you're going to be in Chicago, however, I can't think of a better place to find these books than Sandmeyer's Books. They are located in the Rowe Building, one of the historic landmark Printer's Row buildings. Afterwords, have a pint across the street at Kasey's Tavern, or walk around the corner and grab breakfast or a burger at Blackie's. Kasey's has been around for over 100 years. "Be nice or be gone" is their motto. Blackie's started in 1939, and has been in the same family for four generations.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Lincoln Park Zoo

The Lincoln Park Zoo is another great place to take the family. It's one of the nation's oldest zoos. And it's free! I took this photo of a squirrel with a Canon G3 camera. This sort of camera is nice because you can adjust the screen many different ways so that you're not laying on the ground trying to peer through the viewfinder. It also helped that this little fellow must have become quite used to having humans around.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Navy Pier

Navy Pier is a great place to bring the family. There are restaurants, some fancy, some casual (McDonald's). There are all sorts of little shops for you to check out. One of the hidden treasures is the Smith Museum of Stained Glass. You have to walk quite a way to find it, but it's worth the trip!

If you bring your camera up for a ride on the Ferris Wheel, you can get some interesting photos of the city. You can also find some great views from the ground!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Nikon D300 - I want one!

Anyone else out there lusting after the upcoming Nikon D300? I'm saving my pennies! (I also put a Donate button on the site if you're feeling generous!) :-) Right now I have the Nikon D70, which does a great job for digital photography. But have you seen how big the screen is on the D300? Compared to my D70, my screen looks like a postage stamp!

The scary thing with digital cameras (and computers, for that matter) is that you feel like they are obsolete months after you buy them. They aren't really obsolete, they just aren't as advanced as the new model that has come out two weeks after you finally saved up enough pennies to buy the 'almost newest' model. If you look at Phil Askey's review of the D300, I noticed something unique to digital cameras: the new models are coming out faster and faster! I guess it's something similar to Moore's law.

  • D100 - announced Feb 2002
  • D200 - announced Nov 2005
  • D300 - announced Aug 2007
I think back to when I bought the Nikon F3 camera in 1986. It seems like that camera was state of the art from it's introduction in 1980 until the F4 came along in 1988. I loved that camera... tough as nails! The difference now with digital cameras is that the technology advances in the camera, unlike with film cameras, where the film got better with time.

Well, the camera is supposed to be out this month, so hopefully we start to see some hands on reviews for it soon! Bob Atkins has a nice preview of the camera on I also see that PopPhoto has a 'Buying Guide' synopsis of the D300. And here is the Nikon USA link: Nikon D300. Has anyone pre-ordered?

Where to buy a Nikon D300:

Friday, November 2, 2007

Or this site (Millennium Park), where you can catch a reflection of the city in Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate. Many have nicknamed this sculpture The Bean. Be careful, though; some folks with tripods have been asked not to photograph the sculpture.

Chicago has many great places to take pictures. For the skyline, an easy location is near the Adler Planetarium. That's where I took the photo at the top and the one on the left. Watch for current events when buildings downtown will spell out words at night using lights in the windows, like when the White Sox won the World Series in 2005! Can't wait till we see the guys on the South Side do that again!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

First post on blogger

Wow, that was easy! I was thinking of buying a book and learning HTML and CSS to do this, but this only took 5 minutes to set up. Yikes! Sometimes being lazy can be such a good thing in life. I had this idea of telling the world about my favorite things in Chicago on a blog. We'll have to see what the 'world' thinks of it! Where to start... how about one of my hobbies?

Photography has been a passion of mine since I was in high school. Mom had just come home with a new Canon AE-1 Program 35mm film camera, handed me the manual and said "tell me how to work this thing!" A couple of hot air balloons were flying overhead, and she wanted to take her first picture with this fancy, new camera. Later, I got my own camera and fell in love with photography. I loved it all; taking pictures of my friends and family, taking pictures downtown Minneapolis, the anticipation of waiting for your pictures to come back from the photofinisher.

In these days of instant gratification with the modern digital cameras, not many people still hand in their film, knowing that it won't come back for at least 24 hours! Can you imagine? Today, I like to shoot both film and digital. I still think it's fun to hand in my Tri-X film to the folks at Central Camera in Chicago and wait a couple of weeks to see what develops. After asking the fellow behind the counter if they've stopped making film yet, I hand him my film and pray that they still have someone that will develop and print it for me. They really do a nice job: custom 3 1/2 x 5 glossy prints, with a white border is what I ask for. Check them out if you're ever in the loop. They've been around since 1899! If you don't have a camera, go inside and get yourself one. Then head back outside under the 'el' and find that timeless photo of Chicago you've always wanted to take!