APC Bass


Originally uploaded by mjm1138.

Recently I decided that I missed playing music. I was never terribly good at it, but I enjoy it nonetheless. I hadn’t played the bass since maybe 1990 or so, but a few of my coworkers wanted to put on a show for a company party in December, and I was coaxed out of retirement (actually I leapt at the opportunity). I used a borrowed bass. Had a great time.

My good friend Chris happens to be honing his skills as a luthier, building basses. He’s an extended range player himself (which I define as basses with six strings or more), so a lot of his basses are seven or eight string beasts, with tree trunks for necks. For me, however he’s building a four-string “jazz style” bass. I’ve always loved Fender Jazz basses. They’re a joy to play with their tiny necks and fast action. He’s reproducing the experience with a large alder body and a tiny maple neck, adding some niceties like the highly adjustable bridge you see there, a flame maple fingerboard, and a striking body design that blends the best of Fender and Rickenbacker design without being a copy of either.

Chris humored me by allowing me to help stain the body, and aside from that I’ve been taking some pictures of the process, and also experimenting with product-type photography (he’s giving me a good deal on the bass, Sarah and I are helping him with his promotional materials). It’s similar to me to still-life work, which I’ve always enjoyed, with the additional challenge that I’m aiming to convey something specific about the object I’m photographing.

Here, I’m trying to feature the figuring in the alder body. I get the impression that a stain finish is somewhat unusual for alder, since it usually doesn’t have a lot of grain. This body has some lovely grain however, and the stain and wax really brings it out. I also wanted to feature the body shape, but found that my most successful shots were ones where I didn’t try to get the whole body in the frame. Even though the body is in an unfinished state, I think this shot succeeds because it’s conveying something about the instrument. With modern instruments becoming technological marvels, it’s nice to see the simple controls and electronics, such as you might see on a 50 year old instrument.

There’s more shots in my Flickr stream (link to the right), including a very stylized eight-string body that Chris is building out of a solid piece of mahogany. For these I used a studio strobe cable-synced with my Nikon D70s. The light was off to the left and high overhead, with a silver reflector to the right and a bit lower. I wanted soft highlights and a little bit of fill for the shadows. I had the light turned down almost as low as it would go so I could use a wide-open aperture and control depth of field. In Aperture I bumped up the black point to get the black cloth background to drop out and made fine adjustments to exposure. I don’t have a flash meter, and the Nikon can’t do ttl flash metering for a studio strobe, so at the shoot I’m left taking test shots until I’m reasonably happy with the results in the lcd and “fixing it in post”. Shooting in RAW gives me the exposure headroom to be able to do that without having to throw a lot of information away.


How’s the Powershot G9 Doing?

Well, it’s been several months since I got a Canon Powershot G9 to be a point-n-shoot compliment to my Nikon D70s.  Since I got it I’ve done a fair bit of shooting with it and have some notes:

It’s slower shooting than the D70s.  This isn’t a bit surprising.  It takes a bit longer to pull focus, there’s a bit more lag between pressing the shutter release and the picture getting taken, and it takes considerably longer to write images to the memory card.  All expected.

I take it along with me a lot more than I ever did the D70s.  It’s still a far cry from a pocketable ultra-compact, but it goes in a jacket pocket with no problem, and is much more low-key for public and event shooting than a DSLR.  Doy.

The image quality is sometimes better.  Given an easy to shoot scene without a lot of dynamic range and where the subject and I are both holding relatively still, it can produce stunning images.  I think it defaults to a bit more saturation and sharpening than the D70s, and it does a much better job processing jpegs in-camera.

The pictures aren’t as good.  This is a combination of factors.  With the D70s I have a wilderness of high quality optics available, and I have some very good glass at my disposal which the little lens on the G9 simply cannot match.  The G9 shows almost comical levels of barrel distortion at the wide end, making it barely acceptable for landscape shooting.  Also, the viewfinder on the G9 is more or less worthless.  I mean, you can see what’ll be in the middle of the frame, sure, but forget trying to compose in the viewfinder (it’s simply not an accurate reflection of the crop you’ll get in the frame).  This means you really have to compose using the screen on the back of the camera, which means the camera is held away from your body (not as stable) and since your eye isn’t right in the frame it’s harder to spot problem areas in the frame before you take the shot (I shoot a lot more frames with my shadow visible, or with an obstruction jutting into the middle of the picture, or other amateur hour-type errors in composition).

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a great camera and I’m still very happy with the purchase, but I’m going to be carrying the D70s a lot more for my nature shooting going forward.

Rollins west


Originally uploaded by mjm1138.

Sarah and I camped a couple weekends ago on Rollins Pass west, or the Winter Park side of Rollins pass. It was a spot we’ve visited before. Easy to get to, absolutely beautiful and a great way to beat the heat in a particularly scorching Colorado July. This shot is taken from our campsite, which I reckon was about 500 feet below treeline or so.

We hadn’t been up there in a couple years, and despite being aware of the widespread pine beetle problem throughout Colorado, I was shocked at the extent of the damage in Winter Park. I’m no expert, but from the look of it there will be no pine trees left in the whole park within a few years (I’m using the word “park” here in the Colorado mountain sense, as in “South Park”. Look it up). Just about all of the trees at Winter Park ski resort are dead, for example. This means that there were several areas of Rollins west that were being clear cut to get the dead trees out (no doubt to avoid a wildfire). There are photos on my flickr site which illustrate this.

Again, I’m no expert, but my understanding is that the pine beetles are native to Colorado but have historically been kept in check by the winter cold. Since the winters aren’t getting as cold, the toll on the pines has been extraordinarily heavy. Aspens will probably come in to take the place of the pines, but that process will take decades. In the shorter term, Winter Park (and vast swaths of the mountainous part of the state) are going to look as though a wildfire hit. This means that we probably only have a few more years to enjoy this campsite in its current state.

Empire State From Rockefeller

Empire State From Rockefeller

Originally uploaded by mjm1138.

The Canon G9 giving it all it’s got, albeit with a bit of help from Aperture 2.1. It was raining in New York for a great deal of the time we were there, including when we were out on the observation deck of Rockefeller Center (or “Top of the Rock”, as the literature calls it). Anyway, it’s a great view from up there, and we spent a fair bit of time taking it in and snapping pictures. Just barely visible in this photo, off in the distance to the right is the statue of liberty, which of course looks tiny from here, but we’re a few miles away at least.

More pictures from this trip are on my Flickr page.

This is a good example of a photo that would be extremely hard to capture in a JPG format. I ended up doing quite a bit of dynamic range compression to bring in detail in the blown out highlights and the shadows, and if you’re not working with a raw format file that highlight and shadow detail data will have been discarded in the camera when it was making image processing decisions.

With RAW, you don’t get to use a lot of the “scene” modes on the camera, which can be a serious drawback for tricky shooting situations. Of course, if your camera supports RAW, chances are it included software which can take those files and process them as though they had been processed in-camera in a “scene” mode. One nice thing about the Canon G9 is that it has a couple custom modes, where I can save handy presets for settings that aren’t affected by the RAW format (e.g. flash settings), so I don’t have to manually check settings every time I power up the camera.

By the way, Aperture 2.1 is a great upgrade from 1.5, and if you’ve been a longtime Aperture user and have old photos that were processed using Apple RAW 1.1, take the time to go back and reprocess them with RAW 2.0; the difference is striking in some cases.

Olafur Eliason – 1m3 Light (1999)

Sarah and I went to New York for a long weekend. Many highlights to the trip, and one of them was definitely the “Take Your Time” exhibit currently on display at MoMA and P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center. Go if you’re able! This piece was one of the ones at MoMA, halogen lights describing a 1 cubic meter area in a fog-filled room.

The whole exhibit is must-see (oh, and while you’re at it MoMA has perhaps the most important collection of modern and contemporary Art in the world).

More pictures from NY soon. It rained the whole time, but it was a fun trip!

Link: Turn Your Point-and-Shoot into a Super-Camera

Check out this link from Lifehacker:

Turn Your Point-and-Shoot into a Super-Camera

Instructions and links for a firmware hack for many common Canon p-n-s cameras to give them advanced capabilities.  Looks non-destructive to boot (i.e. little chance of “bricking” your camera).  Usual caveats apply, of course, but I’d be interested to hear what the impact on image quality is from this hack.

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More Bassam Park


Originally uploaded by mjm1138.

Another shot that does a somewhat better job of capturing the type of scenery in the Bassam area. I shot with both the Nikon D70s and the Canon G9 on this trip, so I’m looking forward to getting the Canon shots off the camera and doing some comparing. After several weeks of shooting with the G9, it was nice to handle the Nikon again and feel in control. It’s a much bulkier camera obviously, but a much quicker and more natural shooter for me.