Sunday, March 9, 2014
Saturday, March 8, 2014
I guess I’m on a footwear kick?
This morning while I was still in bed, the Spousal Unit came in to tell me that a red fox had been walking on our frozen lake, but the dogs scared it away. If I’d had a chance to photograph it, I probably would have had to break my Lenten resolution.
I walked around outside for a bit, but didn’t find any appealing subjects. We’re in a spring thaw, and everything’s brown and soggy and muddy. But when I was in the garage, I saw the Spousal Unit’s new boots, which she’d treated with waterproofing spray and left to dry on top of the tractor. Something about the clean boots and brightly colored newspaper advertisements caught my attention.
I wanted to shoot them with the Pentax FA 100mm f/2.8 Macro, to better isolate them from the background, but there wasn’t enough room to set up the camera far enough away. So the FA 50mm f/1.4 got some more work. I set up on a tripod and focused manually on the boot labels using Live View. Because I was working so close, I shot at f/5.6 to make sure I had enough depth-of-field for the newspaper. I probably could have backed off to f/4 or f/3.5 and been fine, though. (I have trouble judging absolute sharpness in Live View. The boot labels are blisteringly sharp in the photo, as they should be with this lens at f/5.6, but they didn’t look that sharp in Live View. That contributed to my conservative choice of aperture.)
Processing was pretty straightforward in Lightroom, though I did brush on some local adjustments to tame the brightest parts of the newspaper and boots.
Friday, March 7, 2014
I noticed these shoes yesterday, at the end of a highway off-ramp. I couldn’t shoot them, since I’d taken a picture at dawn, but I figured I’d hit it today. There was some grungy snow around them yesterday, which might have been nice, but today’s sunshine melted the last of it.
My first thought was to shoot a single shoe with the E-PL5 and 20mm f/1.7 wide open. But I worried that if it was sunny, I wouldn’t be able to shoot wide open. The Pentax K-5 II has a faster shutter and lower minimum ISO, so I figured that camera with the Pentax FA 50mm f/1.4 might be a good choice.
Once I got to the shoes, I saw something I hadn’t noticed from the car: The two shoes were tied together. Instead of shooting a single shoe, I decided to shoot the pair, and take advantage of the leading line formed by the laces. I think this was the right idea, but my execution fell short.
Thursday, March 6, 2014
Yeah, another sunrise-and-fields picture. But we change the clocks this weekend, so from now on it will be dark when I drive to work, so I may as well take advantage while I can.
I saw this scene yesterday morning, and the juxtaposition of the curved tracks and the straight shadows caught my eye. But the light wasn’t quite right yesterday.
I had the Olympus E-PL5 with the outstanding Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 mounted. I also had the kit zoom, but the normal field of view worked will for this scene. With only one shot, I was a little worried about the exposure. I dialed in −2 stops of exposure compensation, to avoid blowing out the rising sun, and that turned out to be just about right. I’m quite happy with how it turned out. I composed with the shadows extending further off the bottom of the frame you see here, but there were some unsightly puddles and potholes in the lower-right corner, so I went with the square crop.
I’m not above adjusting the color balance to reflect the mood I’m trying convey, but in this case there was no need: This is straight-up daylight-balanced, +15 vibrance. It’s the kind of light that’s worth getting out of bed for.
One observation about the project so far: I’m trying to slow down and be more deliberate, but so far my two photos have been taken along the road on my morning commute. Since I’m trying to get to work, and not get hit by any cars in the half-darkness, I haven’t been as attentive as I mean to be. At least I got all my settings right today. (That reminds me: I should probably zero the EV now, before I wreck tomorrow’s shot…)
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
I used to race in autocross, a form of motorsport where you race against the clock on a short, but challenging, temporary course marked by traffic cones in a parking lot. You get to walk the course on foot, then you get three full-speed driving runs, and the fastest of those determines your place in the standings.
Over the course of a few years, against strong competition, I gradually improved from abysmal to mediocre. On a good day, I might finish mid-pack. But I noticed one thing: I usually improved a lot from my first run to my third. And on practice days, where we might get 10 or 15 runs on the same course, I would keep improving all day, and end up fairly close to the top drivers.
The best drivers were better than my by any measure, but I think the biggest component to their success was that on their first run, seeing the course at speed for the first time, they could drive at nearly their best. It took me a lot longer; I had to work up to it.
In photography, I feel like I shoot the same way that I drove. When I review my shots in Lightroom, I usually find that my best shot of a subject is at the end, after a bunch of awkward approaches. For most of what I shoot, that’s not a problem, per se, but it gave me inspiration for this year’s Lenten project. Like my first project two years ago, I think it can be helpful to impose constraints on yourself, to develop your skills. So from now until Easter, my plan is each day to take one shot—and only one shot. One exposure per day.
I’m not saying that’s a good way to work—for me it will almost certainly yield worse results than normal. But I think it could be a useful effort, forcing me to slow down and think about whether everything is just right.
This summer, I’ll be going on vacation to Banff, and the photographic opportunities excite me. With limited time in good light each day, I want to make sure I’m thinking clearly and not wasting my chances. And so, for better or worse, here we go.
Tuesday, January 7, 2014
I recently had the luck to find a small assortment of old Pentax M42 screwmount cameras and lenses at Value- it, and bought the lot at a good price. I don’t have a need for more film cameras, so I plan to sell those, but I’m not sure which of the lenses I’ll keep. The Super-Takumar 50mm f/1.4 is likely to go, because I already own the Pentax FA 50mm f/1.4, so I don’t see the Super-Tak getting much use. I shot the Super-Takumar 35mm f/2 briefly, wide open, and haven’t fallen in love yet. So far my favorite is the underdog, the little-known Super-Takumar 150mm f/4.
These photos come from its first trip outside, mounted on the Pentax K-5 II, an APS-C DSLR. On this camera, the lens has the same field of view as 225 mm on 35 mm film. (I also have an adapter on the way for Micro Four-Thirds, where it will be the equivalent of 300 mm.) All of these photos were taken wide open (at f/4), to make it easy for me to remember without the benefit of EXIF data.
I don’t think a lot of people have shot with this lens; it’s an unusual focal length, and I would imagine that most buyers opted for the much more common 135mm f/2.8, 135mm f/3.5, or 200mm f/4 lenses. But I find it appealingly compact, barely 4 inches long, with a 49 mm filter thread.
However, my experience so far is just the opposite, at least when shot wide open at close distances. I find the bokeh to be smooth and pleasing.
Sharpness is adequate at f/4; I’ll have to see how it improves at smaller apertures. I didn’t see much chromatic aberration or purple fringing, which is a nice surprise with an older lens. My biggest complaint so far about the lens is its poor close-focus distance, over 6 feet. That means that I can’t shoot an object on the ground at my feet, which has already been an annoying limitation.
Monday, December 23, 2013
In 2007, I purchased a Vinotemp wine cooler. It is a large, costly, two-door appliance capable of maintaining hundreds of bottles of wine at an appropriate temperature for long-term cellaring. I have generally been pleased with the product since I bought it. This morning, I became concerned that it was no longer holding the correct temperature. Fortunately, it turned out to be working just fine—my thermometer just took longer than I expected to show the correct temperature inside the unit.
In the meantime, however, I went to Vinotemp’s web site to research warranty and service information. I was surprised to read this:
In an effort to ensure fair and honest public feedback, and to prevent the publishing of libelous content in any form, your acceptance of this sales contract prohibits you from taking any action that negatively impacts Vinotemp, its reputation, products, services, management or employees.
Should you violate this clause, as determined by Vinotemp in its sole discretion, you will be provided a seventy-two (72) hour opportunity to retract the content in question. If the content remains, in whole or in part, you will immediately be billed $3,500.00 USD for legal fees and court costs until such complete costs are determined in litigation. Should these charges remain unpaid for 30 calendar days from the billing date, your unpaid invoice will be forwarded to our third party collection firm and will be reported to consumer credit reporting agencies until paid.
The above terms and conditions are the only ones governing this transaction and Seller makes no oral representations of any kind. These Terms and Conditions can only be modified in writing, signed by both Purchaser and Seller. 12/13
This block of doublespeak was familiar to me; it’s the same non-disparagement clause that KlearGear used to suppress unfavorable reviews of their products. Basically, the clause says that if a customer makes unfavorable statements about the product, the company will bill the customer for legal fees to seek removal of the unfavorable statements, and will submit those fees to a collection agency if they’re not paid. KlearGear did just that. The KlearGear situation was ably covered by Ken White at Popehat and the Consumerist. Subsequently, Public Citizen filed a lawsuit on behalf of the couple affected by the clause.
Legal issues aside, the use of such clauses is incredibly hostile to customers. Vinotemp’s products are expensive (often thousands of dollars), and are used to protect valuable wine (often tens of thousands of dollars’ worth). Would you want to make such a purchase knowing that if something went wrong, Vinotemp might try to prevent you from telling others about your problems? Would you want to make such a purchase knowing that other people with problems might have been prevented from discussing them publicly?
The way to maintain a positive image in the marketplace is to provide good products and services to your customers, not to threaten them with legal and financial harm. I call on Vinotemp to remove this offensive clause from their terms and conditions, and to waive it for past customers who “agreed” to it. Until they do so, despite my good experience with their product, I am forced to discourage other wine lovers from purchasing Vinotemp wine coolers.
Note: According to the Internet Archive, Vinotemp’s non-disparagement clause was not present as of December 9, 2013, nor any earlier date, suggesting that it is a recent addition. Since I purchased my unit in 2007, I will consider any attempt by Vinotemp to collect damages based on my statements to be knowingly fraudulent, and proceed accordingly.
Update (12/23/2013): I received the following prompt reply from Diane [Redacted], Director of Sales and Customer Care at Vinotemp:
On behalf of Vinotemp, I would like to say how thrilled we are that you are happy with your purchase and have enjoyed years of wine storage with your Vinotemp unit.
While we appreciate your comments and concerns, I have asked our Marketing Coordinator to please address your concerns regarding same.
Further updates as they become available.
Update (12/26/2013): Reddit too!
Update (1/28/2013): I received an email today from Diane at Vinotemp, asking me to remove her full name. As a courtesy, I have done so. I also expressed to her my disappointment that a non-disparagement clause (now called “HONEST FEEDBACK”) remains in Vinotemp's Terms and Conditions, and that the Marketing Coordinator has not responded to my inquiry.
Update (2/1/2013): Despite Diane assuring me again on 1/28 that the Marketing Coordinator would respond, I have yet to hear from her. In the meantime, the Cato Institute's Overlawyered blog is on the case!