News and Views from Dave Wilson

Archive for September, 2009

Differing Opinions

by on Sep.26, 2009, under Photography

I posted this picture to Flickr a couple of days ago. It was taken in our church a week or so earlier after I had been shooting some documentary images for an upcoming slideshow. I like the image (obviously, or I would not have posted it) but it’s not something I would add to my portfolio or print for an exhibition. Several people have, however, commented very enthusiastically and it’s started a bit of a discussion over there including at least one person asking what the fuss is about. This is actually really refreshing since too many comments on Flickr are of the ego-boosting-but-ultimately-unhelpful “great image” type – I wish people would be more critical and honest and comment on images they are not too keen on as well as the ones they love.

I continue to be amazed at how different people see the same image and react so differently to it. For example, my mother-in-law, Rae Dollard, and I attended an exhibition not too long ago and agreed that it was a superb collection of photographs. On comparing notes, however, we discovered that her favourite 3 images were my least favourite and vice versa. Similarly, the Austin Center for Photography had a competition recently to pick images for their homepage. It was judged by a very well-respected photo editor yet I found absolutely none of the 5 winners appealing at all (full disclosure – I entered and didn’t win but, honestly, that has nothing to do with my impression of the result).

This huge difference in taste can be helpful to those of us entering exhibitions or having work critiqued – if you don’t get into the show or if you receive negative feedback you can just put it down to differences in taste and move on, hoping that the next judge’s thinking is more in line with your own and realising that your image isn’t “bad” it’s just not to the judge’s taste. On the other hand, if your image really is “bad” maybe this would tend to prevent you from progressing and get you stuck in your little “I’m a great photographer” fantasy. Now if only there was someone who could tell us which of these categories we fall into? 🙂

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Guatemala – Can you help?

by on Sep.25, 2009, under Miscellaneous, News Commentary

Kids on a rock

Kids on a rock, originally uploaded by DaveWilsonPhotography.

Guatemala has been much on my mind this week after reading about the terrible drought and resulting failure of the corn crop. Texas has just experienced one of its worst droughts on record but we can be extremely thankful that, even in the midst of such a natural calamity, we don’t generally end up going without dinner.

In the rural areas of Guatemala, where many of the people are subsistence farmers, things are very different. The failure of a corn crop results in no food for the winter months and, given agricultural workers pay, there is no extra money to buy corn from elsewhere.

In an attempt to help at least a little bit, Kathi Thomas, neighbour, friend and fellow Guatemala fundraiser, is organising a benefit concert at Central Presbyterian Church in Austin on November 22nd. It will feature child performers for the first hour and the wonderful Joe McDermott for the second hour. If you have kids and live anywhere in central Texas, you likely know Joe already but, if you don’t, I can tell you that he is definitely worth hearing – he is a children’s entertainer who has the unusual gift of being enjoyed by adults too.

If you’re not in or around Austin, there are other ways to help. Look out for local charities working in Central America and see what you can do to help. A donation of time or money would no doubt be greatly appreciated. If you are at your computer, the organisation I work with is delighted to receive donations and, from personal experience, I know that the money given goes directly to projects that help the neediest people in western Guatemala.

If you would like to see a bit more of what we do, the video below was produced for Sunday Schools to explain one of the programs that our partnership promotes.

Guatemala – Life Change from Dave Wilson on Vimeo.

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Some Days Are Better Than Others

by on Sep.21, 2009, under Photography

Grass Seed Heads

Grass Seed Heads, originally uploaded by DaveWilsonPhotography.

Don’t you just hate it when you go out and think you’ve nailed a huge number of great shots only to discover some fundamental flaw that leaves most of them unusable? I’m happy to say that this is not something I’ve had much experience with. My biggest photographic disaster to date is still the occasion when I dropped my DSLR on the way to the Taj Mahal. Sunday, however, came a close, if somewhat more local, second.

I had met Bernard “BoldPuppy” Ortiz at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center for an afternoon of macro photography. The recent rain had really helped things out and there was plenty to shoot including lots of interesting insects and spiders. I had had good success with flash on my last couple of trips so I slapped an SB-600 onto my hotshoe and shot happily for a couple of hours in aperture priority mode stopped down to f22. The pictures looked fine on the LCD but it was rather bright and difficult to see so I only noticed the problem when I got home.

Despite the D90 having a flash sync speed of 1/200, I had been shooting at 1/60 all day, which meant that my f22 exposure was only 2 stops below the ambient light exposure without the flash. As a result, most of my images showed serious ghosting and blur. In the past I had been using off camera flash and had been careful to set things up to use high speed sync so this wasn’t a problem. On camera, however, I had been too busy shooting to spend the time to check what settings the camera was using and, more importantly, what the ambient exposure would be to give me an idea of how much the flash would isolate the foreground.

As a result of all this, I got 5 images I am happy with out of the 100 or so that I took. I would normally expect a macro hit ratio of around 10% to 20%. Of these 5, most were taken with off camera flash (using CLS and triggering using the on-camera pop-up). This is my favourite of the bunch. It was shot with the Tamron 90mm Macro lens. I had an SB-600 on a Gorillapod underneath the plant firing upwards to provide the backlight and used the camera pop-up to provide a little fill. This was also shot at 1/60 but I expect the wind was kind to me as I pressed the shutter release since there isn’t any appreciable ghosting here.

Lessons for the day – pay attention to what the camera is doing and take a few minutes to do a sanity check before diving in.

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Camp at Space Center Houston

by on Sep.15, 2009, under Family, Photography

0909-Space_Center_Houston-32

0909-Space_Center_Houston-32, originally uploaded by pack101.

I just realised that I had failed to mention that Cameron and I spent last weekend camping at Space Center Houston with the Cub Scouts of Pack 101. This is an annual event which we missed last year due to the fact that Hurricane Ike blew through the weekend before we were supposed to go but it was worth waiting for since we had a fabulous time.

The boys and their parents (totalling about 160 people, about half of whom came from our pack) were locked into the visitor center after it closed to the public and enjoyed an evening of spaceflight-related science activities before crashing on sleeping backs among the exhibits. The next morning, we all watched an IMAX movie then got an early tour of Johnson Space Center where we got to see Mission Control, the Astronaut Training Facility and the Rocket Park, complete with a Saturn V in its own building.

We had a super time and will definitely go back again next September. In the meantime, here are a few pictures from the weekend. Click on any for a larger version.


Saturn V, Second Stage 0909-Space_Center_Houston-94

0909-Space_Center_Houston-9 0909-Space_Center_Houston-67

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We’re Number 37 (US Healthcare Debate)

by on Sep.14, 2009, under News Commentary

Anyone following the brouhaha that passes as public debate over proposed healthcare reform may find this little music video rather amusing (in a scary kind of day).

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Macro Photography Notes

by on Sep.09, 2009, under Photography

Butterfly Face On

Butterfly Face On, originally uploaded by DaveWilsonPhotography.

I’ve just finished a long-overdue entry on the tutorials page of my photoblog offering hints and tips on macro photography. If you are interested in taking close-ups of very small things, head over and have a read. I originally called this a tutorial but it’s more of an essay containing basic information and some of the tricks I use when shooting pictures like this one.

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The Sky’s (not) The Limit

by on Sep.08, 2009, under Computer

I’m trying something new this morning. This post is being typed and posted from somewhere around 30,000 feet above south eastern Oklahoma thanks to the wonders of American Airlines new inflight WiFi. For $10, I get a broadband connection from my airliner seat – how amazing is that? I had expected a dial-up type experience but the bandwidth is actually rather impressive – streaming video, at least of the standard definition variety, plays smoothly and I’ve noticed no delays significantly longer than I would nornally see at home or in the office. Obviously, I have no idea how many people are using the service but I have to imagine that a full flight such as this containing mostly business people would be using the service pretty heavily.

The downside of this, of course, is that flights are no longer an opportunity to read, play games or generally do non-work things (like post to blogs?) during work time. I guess I had better get back to the email….

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Cameron’s First College Football Game

by on Sep.06, 2009, under Family, Photography

Cameron and I had an exciting outing to the Darrell K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium last night to see the UT Longhorns destroy the Warhawks from University of Louisiana at Monroe in front of a crowd of over 101,000 people (most of whom are shown in this not-too-great panorama of the event).

Unfortunately, UT football games impose restrictions on photographers and they won’t allow you in if you are carrying a telephoto lens. People do get past the checks, though, since the guy behind me at one game had a gadget bag and a 300mm lens on his camera but I’m too chicken to try so the longest glass I had yesterday was 105mm and, as a result. I got no pictures worth talking about. This year too, there is a new rule prohibiting the distribution of any image taken during the game. I figure I’m OK with this panorama since it was taken before the game started 🙂

Despite not being able to get close to the action with the camera, I enjoyed the half of the game we watched and, of course, it was great to see the UT band at half time. Cameron faded in the middle of the second quarter so we headed off after the band had finished its show, leaving the Longhorns to score another 20 or so points in the second half of the game.

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Sanctuary, Central Presbyterian Church, Austin

by on Sep.03, 2009, under Photography

I had a chance to take a few more pictures in the church last Sunday morning and am very happy indeed with how this one turned out. Often inside buildings, it can be a challenge to find good foreground interest when composing your shot. In this case, however, the pulpit bible offered a wonderful lead into the image and, to my mind, really makes the photograph.

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