News and Views from Dave Wilson

Archive for May, 2010

New Exhibition Opens Tomorrow

by on May.31, 2010, under Photography

I’ve been extremely busy over the last 3 weeks or so getting ready for my new exhibition which opens tomorrow at the Dragonfly Gallery at Rosedale here in Austin. The show is titled “Shining up the Lone Star: A Brighter Take on Texas” and includes 21 images. mostly HDR, taken in and around central Texas. You can read more about the show here and can get a sneak preview of the images here.

The show will be hanging until July 8th. It has the gallery to itself for the first 3 weeks then is joined by the best student images from Raul Touzon’s recent workshop here in Austin. Due to vacation plans, the artist’s reception will be on the evening of Thursday, June 17th.

If you are going to be in Austin, please drop by and take a look. If you know any rich, photography-loving benefactors, please also encourage them to take a look 🙂

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Moving to a D700

by on May.30, 2010, under Photography

I recently purchased a Nikon D700 and am delighted with the new camera. I was aware of several features that I knew I would enjoy but have been pleasantly surprised by several other differences compared to my D90 that I had not been expecting. Here are a few observations on moving from a nice consumer DSLR to an even nicer professional model.

High ISO Operation

One of the main reasons I was interested in the D700 was it’s ability to shoot at high ISO settings with minimal noise. My initial testing has shown that the performance is every bit as good as I had hoped and I reckon I get about a 2EV improvement over the D90. Images at 1600 ISO are amazingly clean and I can shoot at 6400 ISO and get images that I am sure would look great at 12″x8″ and still be usable at larger sizes. The D700 tops out at 25600 ISO but I have yet to try this.

Exposure and Dynamic Range

The camera offers the option to shoot in either 12-bit or 14-bit mode and, since I’m shooting RAW, I have it set to 14-bit to save as much information as possible. I’ve not yet done any side-by-side testing to see if I can see any difference in the two modes, though. One thing I do notice, however, is that I can push and pull the exposure a lot further in Lightroom without seeing nasty artifacts than I could with the D90. A 2EV increase or decrease from the basic exposure still leaves me with an image that looks great.

This rather surprises me since, according to DXOMark, the D90 sensor actually has slightly higher dynamic range than the D700. Regardless, I definitely see a difference in the amount I can muck with the D700 files before noise or artifacts become annoying.


One feature that I was looking forward to was an increase in the number of autofocus points offered. My D90 had only 11 points that I could choose to focus on. When handholding, this was fine since I could set a focus point where I wanted then move the camera to reframe but for tripod-based situations and, specifically macro-photography I would very often find that I couldn’t get a focus point where I needed it to be and had to compromise my composition merely to move one of the limited number of points over the subject (or switch to manual focus). With the D700, however, I now have 51 focus points to choose from and this problem is a lot less likely to occur. The new camera also allows me to zoom the Live View display so that I can perform fine focus adjustment without having to rely upon the viewfinder. It is possible that the D90 would also allow this, though – I need to go back and re-read the manual to check.

While I had expected the increase in number of focus points, one huge difference that I had not expected is a very significant improvement in focus speed. On the D90, using high-end Nikon lenses, I was pretty impressed at how fast the focus would track but on the D700 it’s even faster still. Shooting soccer last week and using continuous autofocus with the 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, the camera appeared to be refocusing about as fast as my own eyes could.

Build Quality

After a couple of years use, my D90 is beginning to show some wear (as you would expect). Some of the rubber grip moldings are sliding away from their original positions, for example. While I have no way of knowing if this kind of thing will happen to the D700 after similar use, I can say that this is a far more solid beast. It feels a great deal denser and gives the impression of being a very much more serious piece of equipment. The downside here, of course, is that it also feels a great deal heavier. The additional weatherisation offered by the D700 should be helpful whether I’m shooting in rain or, more likely, being accidentally hosed down by a kid in our local swimming pool (as happened today).

Also related to build quality, the sound the shutter makes when it releases is totally different from the D90 and altogether more “solid.” The shutter mechanism is speced for 150,000 releases on the D700 vs. 100,000 or so for the D90 as far as I can remember.

Additional Features Helpful for HDR

The D90 could shoot bracketed sequences of no more than 3 frames with spacings up to 2EVs. The D700 on ther other hand can shoot up to 9 frames with up to 1EV spacing. This gives me a broader autobracket range of +-4EVs but forces me to use closer spacing. I had recently come to the conclusion that 1EV bracketing resulted in cleaner HDRs so this is not a big problem and, as we all know, hard disk space is free theses days anyway.

Another couple of features are rather nice for HDR, especially when doing interior shots and long exposures. The D700 has the same “Exposure Delay” feature as the D90 (this causes the mirror to lift approximately a second before the shutter opens to give the mirror vibration a chance to damp a bit and, hence, to provide a sharper image) but it also offers a true mirror-lock-up mode to further reduce the chance of mirror vibration reducing sharpness.

Although not helping with sharpness, another feature I enjoy and which should help improve the quality of tripod-based images is the viewfinder cover. Rather than being a slip-on piece of plastic (which I never used because it required me to take the rubber eyepiece surround off before it could be installed), this is integrated into the D700 viewfinder and operated by a lever to the left of the eyepiece. Shutting it prevents light entering the camera via the eyepiece during shots where your head isn’t doing this job instead.

Shooting Speed

The D90 would give me 4fps in continuous shooting mode and the D700 increases this to about 5fps. I use this when shooting the kids’ sporting events but it’s also useful for handheld HDR to ensure minimal time between brackets. One feature the D700 offers, however, is a shooting speed improvement when a battery grip is installed and equipped with either AA batteries or a special Nikon battery (with a standard EN-EL3e battery you don’t see an improvement). In these configurations, 8fps is possible.

Overall, then, the D700 is definitely exceeding my pre-purchase expectations. It just feels so much more solid than the D90 and gives the distinct impression of being a far more serious piece of equipment. I’m delighted with the results I’ve seen so far and am looking forward to some shooting during the summer to see how it performs for me.

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Snake Hunting

by on May.15, 2010, under Family, Miscellaneous

Snakehead Boot

Snakehead Boot, originally uploaded by DaveWilsonPhotography.

I’ve been in Texas 16 years now but, despite seeing about 3 or 4 snakes a year, have never actually come face-to-face with a rattler. Unfortunately, in the last 4 months, both of our dogs have so, when our Fox Terrier, Sugar, got bitten last night, it was time to track the critter down and try to persuade it (terminally) that hunting in our dogs’ yard was a poor decision.

Our quest began with us cutting down all the brush in the yard then looking for anything resembling a hole. A rancher acquaintance told me that the best way to flush out a den of rattlesnakes is to pour a small amount of gasoline in or near their suspected hideout. The smell, apparently, really pisses them off and they bolt out of there as fast as they can. The thought of confronting a band of pissed off, venomous snakes (especially ones that I used to have on a large poster entitled “The Worlds 7 Deadliest Creatures” on my childhood bedroom wall) didn’t appeal but it was less bad than the thought of one of the kids getting bitten so Nikki and I armed ourselves with various garden tools and the remainder of a can of 2-stroke and spent quite some time sprinkling holes and preparing to hit whatever emerged.

In the end, nothing did emerge so we’re left knowing that there is a snake out there somewhere but not knowing where. If there are any rattlesnake hunting experts out there, do leave a comment to let us know how we should go about catching (or, better, dispatching) this critter.

Oh, the photo – I didn’t have any pictures of living, venomous snakes so this is the best I could do. It’s a custom Lucchese cowboy boot made from a cobra skin. Someone obviously had better luck than we did on their snake hunt.

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PhotoNetCast #45 – On Assignment with Raul Touzon

by on May.12, 2010, under Photography

Raul Touzon in Sudan

Raul Touzon in Sudan

PhotoNetCast episode #45 is now available. The special guest this week is photographer Raul Touzon who talks to Antonio Marques, Brian Auer and myself about his experiences shooting on assignment with the United Nations in Sudan. You can listen to the show directly from the PhotoNetCast web site or download it from iTunes.

Sudanese Girls with Dove

Sudanese Girls with Dove

Schoolroom in Sudan

Schoolroom in Sudan

Photos © 2010 Raul Touzon. Used with permission.

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Baseball Blues

by on May.11, 2010, under Photography

Dugout Gloom 1

Dugout Gloom 1, originally uploaded by DaveWilsonPhotography.

I remember as a kid of about 12 having a meltdown crisis one night when I discovered I was triple-booked for activities (Scouts, Aeromodeling Club, swimming, etc, etc,). At the time, however, I didn’t really appreciate that my plethora of after-school activities were causing at least as much of a headache to my parents who had to spend pretty much every evening running kids (myself and my 2 brothers) around the town to all these events. That has, however, now thoroughly changed.

Both the boys are in sports this season – Drew in baseball (the picture shows one of his friends undergoing his own little dugout crisis during last week’s game) and Cameron in soccer. They both have games and practice sessions each week and these are often at the same time but at different sport fields. As a result, Nikki and I spend a great deal of time driving back and forward between our home and Dripping Springs then sitting on the sidelines gabbing with the other parents while the boys play.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not complaining. I actually rather enjoy attending the games and have got to know some of the parents pretty well through our season-long sideline chats. I do, however, have a very much better sense of how my folks must have felt when I had the audacity to complain about being overbooked as a kid!

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Downtown Austin Skyline at Dusk

by on May.01, 2010, under Photography

Here’s the first image I’ve posted from the photowalk last night. This was one of the ones I was looking for when I organised the trek and I’m very happy with the result. I’m putting together a collection of local images for a show at the beginning of June and wanted a large canvas as the centrepiece so set out to capture something local and impressive.

This image uses a mixture of two techniques I’ve been using a lot lately. It is constructed from 4 separate HDR images each built from 3 exposures (12 frames in all). After processing each HDR into one section of the final image, I stitched them together into a wide panorama using Photoshop CS4.

I hope to be able to print this 4’x2′ on canvas for the show but I guess that will depend upon the price of said canvas print!

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Impromptu Austin Photo Walk

by on May.01, 2010, under Photography

Austin photowalk gets underway.#photo on TwitpicAfter a last minute call on the Austin Photography Group message board a couple of days ago, a group of about a dozen photographers gathered at the Stevie Ray Vaughan statue on Lady Bird Lake for a photowalk in downtown Austin yesterday evening. We spent a very enjoyable 3 hours wandering up Congress Avenue to the Capitol then back down to the lake in time to shoot some dusk skylines.

I spent more time chatting than shooting though I did manage to take both the shots I was looking for – panoramas of the Capitol rotunda interior and the downtown skyline with reflections in the lake.

One of the best aspect of the evening for me was a chance to meet three photographers I’ve known from various online groups but never actually met in person. Evan Gearing is an Austin photographer whose HDR images are among the best around. Brian Matiash is another well known HDR photographer based in Boston but, coincidentally, was in Austin for the weekend. Brian was shooting with Jack Hollingsworth, known to most photographers who use Twitter as @photojack. It was great to meet these guys and I’m very interested to see what they post as a result of the evening.

Given the success of the jaunt, I suspect there will be more of these gatherings in future. Would anyone like to suggest possible routes?

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