News and Views from Dave Wilson

Archive for June, 2009

Good News for Nikki

by on Jun.28, 2009, under Family

I used to think that art photography was an occupation which required the participant to be highly immune to frequent rejection but I had no idea how much worse the publishing industry was until Nikki gave up her last job last August to concentrate on writing full-time. To be a writer, regardless of how good your work is, you must have an enormously thick skin and the ability to continue working despite a barrage of rejection from agents and publishers. J.K. Rowling received rejections from a dozen publishers before finding someone willing to take on the first Harry Potter book and Theodor Geisel had to try more than 20 publishers before getting his first book published (you probably know him better as Dr. Seuss).

With one finished middle grade novel, an almost complete sequel and half a dozen picture books under her belt (not to mention another middle grade fantasy which has been shelved pending rework and a fantasy market which is not saturated post-Potter), Nikki is in the throes of crafting and sending query letters to agents and publishers. Hopefully this weekend’s news will help things along a bit – she has just won the 2009 Writers’ League of Texas Manuscript Competition in the middle grade fiction category! Just back from their annual Agents’ Conference, she has already had several agents from prestigious agencies request her manuscript (yes, the agents asked her for the manuscript rather than responding to a query letter). All fingers are crossed that one of these folks will like the book as much as all the non-agents/non-publishers who have read it so far!

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Blog update to WordPress 2.8

by on Jun.27, 2009, under Photography

I’ve just updated to the latest version of WordPress. Please let me know if you see any weirdness. If I’m lucky this will fix the problem I’ve been having with HTML in comments being escaped incorrectly.

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End of a great trip

by on Jun.25, 2009, under Family

Toronto by Night

Toronto by Night, originally uploaded by David A G Wilson.

The blog has suffered while we’ve been off on holiday. I tried to post ot Flickr and the photoblog on a fairly regular basis (when I had access to the internet) but didn’t post anything significant here at all while we were away. Sorry about that.

To make amends, here’s a photo I took on Tuesday night while in Toronto. We were staying in the rather fabulous (and incredibly reasonably priced) Grand Hotel – definitely consider it if you are traveling to the city – which has a great patio 19 storeys up on the roof. It’s open to guests until midnight so I spent about an hour there waiting for the light to be just right for a dusk skyline shot.

Toronto was a superb place to end our trip. We spent two days there doing tourist things. On Monday, we visited the CN Tower and Royal Ontario Museum (photos here and here). The weather was wonderful and the view from the tower superb. The last time I visited Toronto about 20 years ago, the humidity was sky-high and the visibility horrible so this was a pleasant surprise.

The ROM had changed a great deal since my last visit. It was still a superb museum but it now sports a fabulous modern addition on the Bloor Street side which contrasts rather strikingly with the classical architecture of the old building. The kids loved the dinosaurs and the gems and mineral collection. I loved the fact that, unlike so many other museums I’ve visited, there were no photography restrictions at all.

On Tuesday, we spent the day at Ontario Place, a fairly gently, kid-oriented theme park on the shores of Lake Ontario. We had a great time, especially in the water park section where Drew got to experience a long, raft-ride flume for the first time and really loved it.

The flight back from Toronto yesterday was uneventful except for Cameron managing to lose his Nintendo DS case containing all his games somewhere in Toronto airport. If you happen to be there and see a blue Pokemon case, do let us know.

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Lanark Lanimer Photographs

by on Jun.20, 2009, under Photography

I’ve just realised that I failed to add a a link on the blog to the photos I took during the Lanark Lanimer Day parade back on June 11th. I took just over 500 shots (more impressive given that these were not brackets for HDR, for a change) and whittled these down to my favourite 200 or so which you can find here. These are straight out of the camera and completely unedited. I’ll work on some of my favourites when I get back and post them to Flickr and my photoblog as they are finished.

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Holiday is almost over

by on Jun.20, 2009, under Family, Photography

We just got back to Lanark (and an internet connection) after a week in the English Lake District where my dad had rented a large house for the whole family. We stayed in the somewhat remote Ennerdale valley in a house that was about 6 miles from a main road down single track roads with rather questionable passing places. It was absolutely glorious.

We did a bit of walking with the kids including a lovely trek through the “dark and very expensive forest” (seen in the middle of this shot) to a super waterfall. The best walk, however, was on the trail around Ennerdale Water which Nikki and I did one afternoon after leaving the boys in the care of their aunts and uncles. This was an 8 mile route which started very easily on the near side of the lake but got a lot more challenging on the opposite bank where climbing was involved at various points. The scenery was stunning, though, and it made for a fabulous 3 hours on a lovely sunny day.

Photographically, this has been a great trip. I’ve filled 20GB of memory cards, run out of hard disk space on the laptop and have 1000 or so images of Glasgow, Lanark, the Lanimer Day celebrations and the Lake District to edit when I get back to Austin.

Onward now for 3 days in Toronto before heading home…

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Crown Tavern and St. Kentigern’s Church

by on Jun.05, 2009, under Family

The packing is finally done and we are ready to head off to sunny Lanark tomorrow. 4 flights and, given how much luggage we have, I suspect at least 1 train journey and I should be within range of a decent pint at the Crown Tavern followed by a week of festivities at the annual Lanimer celebrations.

Lanimers stretches back hundreds of years and was originally an annual event to check that unscrupulous landowners bordering the town boundary had not moved any of the marker stones and stolen land from the town. While there are still two major events that involve checking the boundary stones (“The Walking of the Marches” on Monday evening when the townsfolk walk around half the boundary and check those stones, and “The Riding of the Marches” on Wednesday when a large number of riders cover the other half of the boundary), the main event is now the parade on Thursday morning followed by the crowning of the Lanimer Queen at the town cross.

The town will be absolutely mobbed on Thursday (don’t even think about trying to drive through it any time between about 7:30am and 1:00pm) but we have been kindly given passes to an area near the cross that should afford a great view of the procession and crowning ceremony. I’ll be using a lens that’s probably unfashionably large that day, I expect 🙂

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Real Photographers Shoot in Manual Mode (or not)

by on Jun.02, 2009, under Photography

Edit 2/15/10: This post was written about 8 months ago before I had a chance to discuss my theory with a professional photographer who shoots in manual exclusively. After spending some time discussion shooting modes with Raul Touzon and being introduced to a very simple and very quick way to work in manual, I have rather changed my opinion. You can find my confession and details of Raul’s method here but I’m leaving this post in place since I don’t want to offend Joe McNally by suggesting I no longer follow all his wonderful teachings 🙂

Several photographers I know and greatly respect, and several more seasoned professionals whose musings I have read preach a gospel of photography that goes something along the lines of ‘real photographers keep their cameras in manual mode and would never think of using anything else.” The other variation of this is, of course, “if you ever use Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority or, heaven forbid, Program mode, you cannot consider yourself a real photographer.” I take issue with this philosophy and have argued the point with various fellow shooters (those of the manual mode persuasion) on many occasions. I just don’t see why, when cameras now have the ability to do such a good job at metering and offering exposure choices to us based on some sensible input, we shouldn’t make use of the technology when it is appropriate to do so.

Note that I specifically say that the camera is offering us exposure choices and that we make use of the automatic or semi-automatic modes when it is appropriate to do so. I think these are critical points and areas on which I agree with the 100% manual folks. Automatic modes are a great labour saving device as long as you understand how they work, their limitations and how to work around those limitations. I suspect most people promoting the 100% manual path are really advocating a full understanding of the relationship between shutter speed, aperture and sensitivity, and an understanding of the mechanisms involved in metering. In this case, manual mode offers an excellent way to show their level of knowledge. I would argue, however, that using most automatic modes correctly also requires an equivalent level of knowledge but just leaves you with one less button to fiddle with before taking each shot (in most cases).

Don’t get me wrong here – I’m not saying that you shouldn’t use manual exposure mode. Back in the early 1980s, I used nothing else. My Praktica MTL3 offered me no other choice and taking each picture involved:

  1. chose an aperture or shutter speed
  2. point the camera at the subject, frame and focus
  3. press the shutter half way
  4. twiddle the setting that I had not already set until the needle was centered
  5. assess the overall brightness of the scene and twiddle the dial a bit more to introduce some exposure compensation if it is predominantly dark or light.
  6. press the shutter the rest of the way.
  7. click.

As technology moved on, however, and I moved up to a Minolta X700, I now had the choice of manual, aperture priority and (wow!) program modes. I tended to leave my cameras set to “P” in the bag or when walking around just in case I needed to grab something fast:

  1. flip the power switch (if it was off),
  2. point the camera at the subject, frame and focus
  3. press the shutter.
  4. click.

I still leave my cameras set to program mode when I’m not using them for this same reason – minimal delay between seeing something unexpected and getting a decently exposed shot of it – but I hardly ever actually shoot anything in program. Most of my time, I use aperture priority and my typical picture taking “workflow” looks something like this with the D90 when using active matrix metering:

  1. flip the power switch (if it was off)
  2. chose the aperture I want to use to achieve the desired depth-of-field.
  3. assess the overall brightness of the scene and dial in some exposure compensation if it is predominantly dark or light.
  4. point the camera at the subject
  5. press the shutter (and marvel at the wonders of autofocus).
  6. beep-click.

This sounds just as complex as the manual case since I am often dialing in exposure compensation but typically, I will only change this when the lighting changes during a shoot. Often I set some compensation at the start and leave it that way throughout the shoot. The point here, though, is that I am making basically the same decisions as I would in manual mode. I still need to know that the meter will typically cause my picture to be underexposed if I’m shooting snow or overexposed if I am in a coal cellar and I need to have a feel for how to handle these cases and compensate accordingly. The fact that I am using aperture priority rather than manual says nothing about my level of knowledge or skill, but merely indicates that I am happier fiddling with the +-EV compensation dial than setting both aperture and shutter based on the meter needle position.

After all this is said, I do use manual mode when I find it most appropriate. I also switch to spot metering in many of these tricky lighting cases. For the mostpart, though, I’m shooting in aperture priority.

So why this rant now, you may ask? Well I just picked up the latest book by Joe McNally, “The Hot Shoe Diaries” (which, incidentally, looks like it will be at least as excellent a read as his last book, “The Moment it Clicks“) and I was extremely chuffed to read this on page 8:

“I am in aperture priority mode 90-plus percent of the time…. I am occasionally in manual exposure mode, say, when in a dark room… But, I tell ya, if you only use these cameras in manual mode because, as I have heard on occasion, you ‘don’t trust the camera’ or you ‘don’t trust the meter,’ then you are taking a souped-up Ferrari and driving it like the little old lady going to church on Sunday. Why do that? Use the technology!”

Joe – you are my hero. Vindication at last!

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