News and Views from Dave Wilson

Archive for December, 2010

Some Useless Photo Stats for 2010

by on Dec.31, 2010, under Photography

Jacob Lucas published a year end (or, really, year start) post recently which included some statistics on his photo catalog from 2010 so I thought it would be interesting to take a look at mine and see what’s happened this year.

During 2010, my Lightroom catalog grew to a total of 36,945 images, up 10,666 from the final tally in 2009. Of this year’s additions, I took 10,335 myself, the remainder being photos from other family members or friends (images for HDR Tennis, for example).

Of these photos, the camera breakdown is as follows:


Cameras used in 2010

I bought the D700 in spring and used it almost exclusively when I was shooting with a single camera. The D90 numbers represent images shot early in the year and on the small number of occasions that I was shooting with two bodies – covering a barrel racing competition and during one of my Longhorn Band shoots.

Looking at my lens use with the DSLRs, here’s the breakdown:


Lenses used in 2010

I included the Nikon 200-400mm just to make people think I had bought a really expensive new toy but, in actual fact, I shot 3 frames with it at a Precision Camera get together when Robert, one of their sales guys, had one and let me play with it. Super-expensive loaners aside, it looks as if I’m using my 3 Nikon professional zooms pretty evenly. The 24-70mm is my workhorse and the lens that pretty much lives on the D700 so it doesn’t surprise me that I took about twice as many pictures with it as with any other lens. I am somewhat surprised at the number I shot with the 14-24mm though and it’s pretty evident that I fell down on my macro photography this year since the Tamron 90mm saw very little action. Since buying the 24-70mm, I’ve hardly had the 35mm f/2.0 on the camera though I’ll likely hang on to it as a good standard lens for the crop sensor D90. The only lens in the collection that I’ve not used at all since February is the D90’s kit 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6. It’s a VR lens and covers a great range but I’m now horribly spoiled by the sharpness and speed of the other zooms. If anyone is interested in this lens, drop me a line and I bet we could do a deal.

This will be my last post on the blog for 2010 so I hop everyone had a great year and I wish you all health, happiness and loads of nice sharp pictures in 2011!

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Fisheye Fun

by on Dec.29, 2010, under Photography

I love wide angle lenses – the shorter the focal length, the better as far as I am concerned. I love the weird perspective and the even weirder distortion that most of these pieces of glass produce.

Earlier this year, I sold the trusty Sigma 10-20mm that I had been using for 5 years or so and bought a shiny new Nikon 14-24mm to go with the shinier newer D700. It’s definitely wide – wider than the 10mm end of the Sigma when you take the crop factor of the D90 into consideration – but it’s also ridiculously rectilinear. I have no idea how the optical designers at Nikon do it but that baby keeps verticals and horizontals straight across the whole image. In many circumstances, this is fabulous but in others, I really missed the weird edge effects that the Sigma used to give me.

To try to rectify this loss and, on the urging of master photographer Bob Lussier whose shots inside Trinity Church in Boston turned out so much more interestingly than mine, I pooled all my birthday and Christmas presents this year and asked Santa for a Sigma 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye. This duly arrived (thanks to the nice people at Precision Camera) and I had my first chance to play with it for a couple of hours this past Monday morning.

As is now my tradition, all new lenses must be tested out inside the wonderful rotunda of the Texas State Capitol in downtown Austin. I have a gazillion images of this already but one had evaded me. Until now, no lens I had was wide enough to give me a shot containing both the floor and the top of the dome without clipping a couple of the circular galleries on the way up. Although the 15mm is longer focal length than the Nikon 14-24mm at its widest, the wonderful distortion really helped out and here’s the result. I’m very impressed indeed with the image quality. The colour is great and the lens, shooting at f/8 is wonderfully sharp (I have yet to try it wide open but I’m unlikely to use super-wide apertures with this one anyway, I suspect).

This particular image is not quite straight so I’ll need another trip but it’s definitely proven to me that the days of creative distortion are back and that you can expect more weird lines resulting from future photo outings!

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Like a Good Boy

by on Dec.20, 2010, under Miscellaneous

Both my kids are great fans of KISS-FM so we spend a fair bit of time in the car listening to current pop. For the first time in about 20 years, I’m actually in a position to know what’s in the charts! 🙂 Cameron is also a lover of parodies (Weird Al’s “White and Nerdy” has become the anthem for the men in our house) so when he showed me this one, I just had to share it. I suspect this will have to be shown to the Cub Scouts next time we have a meeting.



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Rollercoaster Month

by on Dec.18, 2010, under Photography

A bit like salaries in the technology industry, no-one ever seems to talk about traffic on their web sites. I can understand this, I suppose, if you are trying to attract advertisers and are unhappy at the number of visits you are receiving but, since I’m not trying to pay for my blogs via click-through advertising, I reckon it can’t do any harm to talk about it a bit. I would love to know how much traffic other folks get – I’ll show you mine if you show me yours?

This blog gets, frankly, very little traffic. A good day sees about 50 visitors and I have somewhere around 120 people subscribed via RSS according to FeedBurner. My busiest day ever was in January 2010 when a link from DPS resulted in 1500 visits and caused the site to go down since my self-imposed monthly bandwidth limit was exceeded (I’ve since changed the limit!). The blog has been around for about 7 years and I don’t do a lot to publicise it. Most incoming traffic comes from cross-postings on Facebook and Twitter. This is fine with me since I consider my photoblog to be my main site and it’s the one I use as my homepage URL in all publicity and when posting on other blogs.

The photoblog has been up and running now for 22 months and I’ve been tracking its traffic with interest. The past month has proven to be rather interesting:

November/December - Views per day

November/December - Views per day

The highest traffic I’ve ever seen occurred on a day when I suspect someone emailed a link to some of my Longhorn Band pictures to the whole band (and all their relatives?). From my typical 200 or so visits, the traffic jumped to just under 2000 on one day before falling back quickly. A week later, one of my images appeared in a post on DPS again and this translated into another large spike in traffic. This is unusual and daily visit rates tend to bounce around a fair bit but looking at the average, things are looking encouraging regardless of these unusual spikes. Viewership has increased reasonably linearly since I opened the blog and this trend appears to be continuing.

Photoblog views per month

Photoblog views per month

These charts show page views so don’t indicate if this does, indeed translate into more individual viewers or whether the fact that there are more images on the site means people have more to look at if they decide to wander back through the archives. A look at the raw statistics from the server does, however, indicate an increase in unique visitors per month of somewhere between 60 and 100% since the start of this year.

All this, of course, begs the question of whether the number of visitors is actually important or not? I post to both of these blogs mostly since I enjoy it. It’s encouraging when other people look at my work and the fact that more people appear to be looking now than a year ago feels good but, when it comes down to it, I don’t change what I do based on the readership numbers and I almost certainly wouldn’t change anything if they started to drop again. This is somewhat different from the case with my previous “cash cow” web site, www.fourcc.org which averaged 3000 to 5000 visits a day and ran click-through advertising. In this case the income generated could be correlated pretty well with the number of visitors each month (ignoring Google’s many and confusing advertiser rate changes). I sold that site earlier this year since I was outside the PC video loop and not updating it as much as it needed and now only manage my “fun” sites and a few for clients I’ve had for years. Traffic now is merely an ego modifier, I suppose 🙂

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Flickr in a Flicker of the Eye

by on Dec.17, 2010, under Photography

I love snappy audio-visuals. Why would anyone linger for 10 seconds on a given picture when you can easily show 5 in the same period? A new web-based service takes this to the extreme, however. Pummelvision will generate a slideshow of your entire Flickr stream at somewhere around 7 frames per second. You have absolutely no way of taking in any individual picture but as a way to get a quick idea of how someone’s photography has evolved during their time on the site, it’s a lot of fun.

Here’s my entire Flickr photostream since 2006, all 977 images, presented in a mind-pummeling 2 minutes and 22 seconds.


My Pummelvision from Dave Wilson on Vimeo.

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Best of 2010

by on Dec.17, 2010, under Photography

It’s become somewhat of a tradition over the last few years to produce a “Best of” post at the end of each year and submit it to Jim Goldstein who faithfully compiles a list of all these posts from photographers around the world so here are my top 10 images from 2010.

I deliberately decided to stick with 10 images this year but that did leave me with a bit of an editing headache. Getting the picks down to 20 was no problem but when I got to 13 I had real issues and ended up having to throw out a few pictures that I really like (this one, this one and this one, for example). In the end, however, here are the images that made the cut.

It may be surprising to some, but only half of these images are HDR this year. Part of the reason is that I’ve been making a concerted effort to broaden the types of photography that I do and part is that some of the most inspiring places I visited this year didn’t require HDR techniques to produce stiking images. The fact that I spent a week with Raul Touzon in Utah in February probably also influenced things somewhat since a great deal of that week was spent discussing the virtues of getting it right in the camera and not relying on post-processing.

Anyway, without further ado, here are my picks in no particular order. Click on each image for a larger version.

Frozen Fir Trees, Utah


Frozen Fir Trees,Utah

OK, I lied. The images below this one are in no particular order but this is my favourite image of the year. It was taken high in the mountains of Utah on a foggy morning in February when we made the decision to take the windy road through the hills rather than the main road in our travels from Zion to Bryce Canyon. It turned out to be an excellent decision and yielded at least a dozen images that were high on my list of candidates for this post. This particular one, however, stands out to me for the gorgeous subtlety of the colours and the amazing sharpness, detail and clarity (look at the original resolution to see what I mean). I took this with the D90 and Nikon’s amazing 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, a sharper zoom than I have ever come across anywhere else.

City Center Reflection, Las Vegas


City Center Reflection, Las Vegas

The Zion/Bryce/Death Canyon trip started for me with a day in Las Vegas during which I wandered the strip and had about as much fun as someone who gets kicks out of architecture could have. On my return, I liked this series of reflection shots taken in the City Center complex but started fiddling in Photoshop and, by mirroring the original image a couple of times and stacking the results, I came up with a geometric abstract that really appealed to me. This is an image I would love to print large on canvas!

Saturn V Engine Fairing Abstract


Saturn V Engine Fairing Abstract

Another highlight of the year was our now-annual Cub Scout campout at Space Center Houston. The boys and their minders spend a night in the complex doing cool science projects with the staff then get to sleep on the floor under all the exhibits. The highlight for me, though, was having access to the place in the middle of the night when no-one was crowding round the exhibits (allowing me to get shots like this one which was also in my top 20) and getting to spend some quality time in the company of the Saturn V they have down there. The trip yielded enough images of that one vehicle to have me thinking of using them as an exhibition in their own right. Of those pictures, though, this one really stands out to me. I love the contrast between the hard lines and the soft play of light. The monochrome HDR processing really brings out the texture and gives me an image that is probably my second favourite of the year.

Downtown Austin Skyline at Dusk


Downtown Austin Skyline at Dusk

This image formed the centerpiece of my exhibition at Dragonfly Gallery at Rosedale in Austin during June. I had it printed 48″ wide on canvas and you wouldn’t believe the detail. I love the colour and overall feel of the shot but it’s probably here as much as a representative of my new interest in shooting large panoramas as for any other reason. This image is enormous and would easily print 15 feet wide with superb defintion if I could find someone with a wall large enough to hang it and a wallet full enough to afford it. The image is stitched together from 7 vertical shots, each one a 3 exposure HDR. I am proud to say that the Mayor of Austin ripped it off and used it on his official web site before I sent a nice email pointing out that he had not licensed it.

Fort Davis National Historic Site


Fort Davis National Historic Site (HDR)

Our summer road trip was a huge success and 3 of the images in this set resulted from it. The first was taken at the Fort Davis National Historic Site in far west Texas. We were fortunate to be there after a particularly wet early summer so the landscape was green and the temperatures were, as expected, a lot lower than back in the Hill Country. This image was taken just after the fort opened at about 8:30am or thereabouts. I used a longish lens to compress the perspective of the row of nicely renovated houses and pull in the dramatic rockface behind them.

Drum Major, David Forinash


Drum Major, David Forinash

Another highlight of the year for me, both photographically and musically, was to be asked to stand in as photographer for the UT Longhorn Band during two home games at Texas Memorial Stadium. What a thrill it was to march onto the field with 100,000 people cheering in the stands and to be right in amongst the band as they played both before the game and during it.

I spent a fair bit of the game shooting with an ultra-wide lens, up-close and personal, and this is my favourite of those images. This was taken during the third quarter of an afternoon game when the sky offered a dramatic backdrop to the scene (aided by the fact that I set the white balance for the floodlights). The band is conducted by several people during a game and here we see Drum Major David Forinash leading from the top of the ladder. I have a couple of dozen versions of this shot but the mix of sharpness and movement in this particular frame moved it to the top of the list for me.

Rippled Ridge, White Sands, New Mexico


Rippled Ridge, White Sands, New Mexico

Our summer road trip this year took is to West Texas and New Mexico and included visits to two places which are high on my list of favourites – White Sands National Monument and Santa Fe. This is my favourite image from the White Sands visit. I loved the contrast between the brightness of the gypsum sand and the sky. Incidentally, shooting here is interesting since the overall brightness is so high. To pull texture out of the sand requires some deft handling of black point and curves in Photoshop.

Shadows on Adobe, Santa Fe, New Mexico


Shadows on Adobe, Santa Fe, New Mexico

The adobe architecture in Santa Fe is fascinating to me, being so different from what I typically see in Central Texas. The textures of the adobe coupled with the smooth, organic lines of the buildings make for great contrasts. This image was shot on a morning when I was able to spend a couple of hours wandering around the city center on my own. The light angle was perfect to cast great shadows down the front of the building and the HDR processing (done to look pretty subtle in this case) really helped pull out the adobe texture.

Dugout Gloom


Dugout Gloom 1

One of my goals over the last couple of years has been to take more pictures of people and this is my favourite non-family “people shot” of 2010. My younger son, Drew, plays in a baseball team and I often hang around with a camera capturing images of the games. The light at midday is usually pretty horrible on the field but the dugout offers a chance to take some candid portraits in a nice soft light. In this one, Jeffrey was obviously having a bad day! Incidentally, they went on to win this game so I expect his mood improved later.

Lone Star, Texas State History Museum


Lone Star, Texas State History Museum (HDR)

This image is one of a set of 3 that I included in my exhibition in June. All three were taken within 10 minutes and show different aspects of the huge Lone Star sculpture outside the Texas State History Museum in downtown Austin. The air was crystal clear that morning and the high cirrus clouds offered a wonderfully dramatic background.

Stata Center Abstract, Boston


Stata Center Abstract

OK, OK! I know this is number 11 and I said I was only going to include 10 images. I didn’t say what base I was counting in, though, so I reckon this gets me off the hook 🙂

This image was taken during a trip to Boston in October and shows a reflection in some very shiny stainless steel panels forming part of the fascinating Frank Gehry designed Stata Center building at MIT. I have several “normal” images of this building and I’m happy with them but this abstract appeals to me even more. The warping of the brickwork in the reflection makes this a very interesting image to me.

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Decorated Fireplace at the Caswell House

by on Dec.15, 2010, under Photography

The front page of the blog is looking rather plain these days since I seem to have posted very few photos recently in favour of a lot more text. To help brighten things up a bit, here’s another of the photos I took at Austin Junior Forum’s “Christmas at the Caswell House”event last month.

I hope your Christmas preparations are going well and wish you a low-blood-pressure festive season!

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Lens Review Web Sites

by on Dec.11, 2010, under Photography

If you are in the market for a new lens, the web is a fabulous place to do your research. I’ve long been a fan of the lens reviews at DPReview. They are detailed, technical and extremely helpful for the analytical types out there who really want all the data on sharpness at all possible apertures and zoom settings. Their graphical displays are superb but figuring them out initially can be rather daunting and, unless you are a real techie, the information they provide may not mean a whole lot to you. Aside from the technical nature of the data (which I consider a major plus), the one real downside to the DPReview lens review site is that they only cover a fairly small number of the available lenses out there (currently 66 by my count) and I frequently find that they have no data on lenses I am trying to compare.

This week, however, a new site offering a similar service appeared. LensHero offers a simpler-to-use alternative and already boasts data on 639 lenses covering all the major camera and third party lens manufacturers. The user interface is very clean and easy to use and the data provided, although a lot less detailed than the DPReview results, is easy to understand and allows straightforward side-by-side comparison of the different lenses.

The site allows you to query lenses based on your answers to a series of questions – Which camera do you use? What is your budget? What kind of lens are you looking for – wide angle, telephoto? What kind of photography do you want to do – sport, portraiture, landscape, etc?

Overall, the experience of using LensHero is a lot less daunting than many other review sites which assume you understand (and are even interested in) the technicalities. For the beginner photographer, the site offers a great way to compare lenses they may be interested in adding to their gear collection and for the seasoned professional or serious amateur, the breadth of reviews makes this a great place to start when shopping for new glass. Take a look and see what you think.

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Ferrellgas – You’ve Lost A Customer

by on Dec.08, 2010, under Miscellaneous

I don’t often use this blog to rant but I hope you’ll forgive me this post. I’ll get back to the usual fare tomorrow but, today, I wanted to highlight an unpleasant consumer experience that came to a head this evening.

Our home is in a pretty remote area and we use liquid propane for many of our appliances. This is fed from a 500 gallon tank in our back yard that gets filled every so often as required. For the last 6 years, we’ve been using national supplier Ferrellgas with whom I had a “keep full” contract which meant they were supposed to monitor our usage and deliver at appropriate intervals to ensure that we never ran empty.

My relationship with Ferrellgas has not always been rosy. When we initially set up our account, they offered good prices and the salesman made various promises to me including the fact that they would file paperwork for our $800 state propane rebate and that all billing would be handled automatically via a credit card. As it turns out, neither of these proved to be true (or, at least, the rebate that I filled in paperwork for and passed to Ferrellgas never appeared and, by the time I complained, the salesman had left the company and no-one had any record of the forms).

Although this and a couple of late deliveries were annoying, they could be put down to mistakes or a single dishonest employee. The latest debacle, however, has left me with severe doubts about the ethics of the company as a whole and has caused me to cancel my account.

A couple of weeks ago, we woke up on the coldest day of the year so far to discover that we had no propane – no hot water, no ability to cook, a dryer full of wet laundry. I phoned the emergency line and Ferrellgas promised to send a delivery that day. The tanker arrived and pumped 400 gallons then left a delivery slip indicating a price of $3.439 per gallon which was very much higher than any price I had seen in the last 6 years.

I tweeted my discontent running out of fuel despite the fact that our usage was essentially flat over the whole time we had been in the house and shortly thereafter I was contacted by Jim Saladin, the Director of Corporate Communications who offered to look into the problem and see what he could do. I also emailed him a list of my experiences with the company which he passed on to the local Austin office. During this exchange I asked about the price charged. I had checked the Department of Energy’s Residential Propane price table and found that the national average for the week I received my delivery was $2.55 a gallon and another local supplier, AmeriGas, was charging $2.37 on that day. Surely, therefore, $3.439 was a transcription error and the price should have been $2.439? Jim was unable to answer this question but indicated that someone would call to discuss the issue.

The following morning, I received a call from Casey (I think) in the Austin office. He apologised for my experience but, when asked what price was supposed to be charged that day, he couldn’t or wouldn’t answer. He promised to call back with clarification. Although this call never materialised, I received my bill today and have been charged the $3.439 rate – 35% above the national average and 45% above the rate offered by a local competitor. I have no idea how Ferrellgas can justify such a huge difference between their price and that charged elsewhere.

On their site, Ferrellgas promise “guaranteed lowest price for tank owners” and that “Ferrellgas takes responsibility for estimating your propane usage based on our advanced computer modeling and schedules a delivery when our system indicates you need a fill. You’ll never have to call us to schedule your service” which leaves me with the distinct impression that I’ve been the victim of some kind of bait-and-switch scheme.

Customers are a valuable asset, all the more so in this economic climate, but it appears Ferrellgas is content to abuse long term relationships and is happy to give customers to their competitors. My account is now cancelled and I will be on the phone to AmeriGas tomorrow to set up a new account with a company who, I hope, shows greater interest in keeping their promises and less inclination to charge exorbitant prices for a commodity product.

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2010 Christmas Newsletter

by on Dec.06, 2010, under Family

It’s that time of year again – the time for Christmas cards containing little slips of paper with an obscure URL printed on them! In case your card was lost in the post or you failed to notice the little (though slightly larger than usual) slip of paper, you can find our 2010 Christmas newsletter online here. Apologies for the rather basic design this time round – things have been somewhat busy recently.

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