Mar 122013

Last Sunday was an exceptionally warm day here in Southern Ontario (10 c) and even though I was not feeling so great, I wanted to get out there and enjoy the pleasant weather and take a few photos. My destination was the Lynde Shores Conservation area, just 10 minutes away from home.

Normally, I would take a kit bag consisting of a camera, a bunch of lenses,  filters, etc.  After a while it’s all overkill and it can just get in the way.  This time around I decided to go the KISS route and take only the camera and two small prime lenses.  This is a very simple kit that harkens back to the days of 35mm film photography with a fixed prime lens.  No fancy zooms, if you want to change perspective, just use your legs and walk.  Reminds me of my first SLR camera that I got when I was a teenager, all I had was the camera and two simple prime lenses.

I grabbed my Pentax K-5 and the two small lenses: a 35mm prime and a 21mm pancake prime.  One lens was left on the camera and the other in my pocket.  It made the whole venture fun and I was better able to enjoy my walk as I was not toting around a big shoulder bag.  One of the reasons I got into Pentax is because they are one of the few DSLR manufacturers who offer small, high quality primes.  As an added bonus, I was able to smoke a tasty Cuban Cigar because both hands were free thanks to KISS.

My KISS walk around kit.  Pentax K-5, 35mm Limited Macro Prime and 21mm Limited Pancake Prime.

My KISS walk-around kit: Pentax K-5, 35mm Limited Macro Prime Lens and 21mm Limited Pancake Prime Lens.

I took the photos near sunset in the hopes of getting some nice light.  However, the lighting was so dull and flat I opted to auto-bracket most of my exposures and merge them using HDR software.  One of the nice things about the Pentax K-5 is I can do this at the touch of a button.  The camera quickly fires off five shots ready for processing.  I guess the post processing did not quite follow the KISS principle, but I had fun talking the shots, enjoyed a brisk walk.  Besides, playing with HDR software is fun too!

All that snow is finally melting.  Soon enough the trees will no longer be barren.

All that snow is finally melting. Soon enough the trees will no longer be barren.

Ah, the Serenity.

Ah, the Serenity.


Mar 082013

This is second part of my stomps into a graveyard to try out some lo-fi photography.   In my previous post I spoke of the low-budget gear used and why I was tempted to try this out as a creative experiment.

Last weekend was particularly bitter damp cold and on Sunday I ventured out to a relatively obscure graveyard in Pickering, Ontario, just 15 minutes away from my home.  It has the very apropos name of Salem Church and Cemetery.  The site was originally built in the 1850’s and has, I suspect, some of the oldest graves in Durham County.  Given the lack of recent tombstones, I do not know if this graveyard is in use anymore.

True to mystique surrounding the legendary Salem name, the church and cemetery are allegedly haunted.  Personally, I do not buy into ghost stories, but I like the fact that this site has such a reputation.

According to the Paranormal Seeker’s website, “There is said to be a caretaker who haunts the grounds, and our Mediums have picked up on a gentleman inside the small church, as well as  something that doesn’t seem so nice that lurks in the dark areas.”


Get Drunk and Stare and this Photo to Locate Ghosts

Other websites make mention of apparitions at the Salem Church and Cemetery.  Again, I’m not a believer, but it’s cool to know there is such folklore so close to my home.  If anything, the accounts from people make an interesting read.

The only thing haunting me was limited time.   I had about 45 minutes of shooting before the sun started setting and my fingers went numb from the cold.

During the summer, I will try to do some full moon photography at this site and also some walk around videos.  If any ghosts or shadowy human figures appear on my images, I’ll eat crow.

Mar 052013

I am one of those fastidious perfectionists who looks for top quality and sharpness in all my lenses.  To that end, I have already spent a lot of money on optics and have quite been pleased with the performance of my acquisitions.   Today’s optics are generally excellent and deliver image quality that can exploit the stringent demands of digital sensors.  It is now possible for me to enjoy image quality that I could have only dreamed about when I first got into photography, back in the days when I was a skinny teenager with a full head of hair.

It’s all good, right?  People should be happy and just shoot, right?  Well, no….just troll any well known photography website and there endless debates, discussions and flame wars about which lenses and camera systems are the best.   Somehow, many of us with a passion for photography have become a bunch of neurotic, naval gazing, self-aggrandizing measurebators.

I’m guilty of it too, but if only to best spend my hard earned money on gear that I will be happy with.  Ultimately, you get what you pay for, so I try to get the best I can afford.  Once you get past budget or low-end offerings from Nikon, Canon, Pentax, Olympus, Panasonic, etc., it’s all very good stuff.  None of it is really that bad.  Yet despite all the good gear out there, people are arguing over minor and petty differences.  Time to shut up and just take pictures.

So, for a change, it’s good to go back to something simpler, something flawed, something unique and something really cheap.  In other words, low-fidelity photography.  I figured if I am going to go cheap or lo-fi, I’ll go the distance.  Once again, the hobby becomes fun and spontaneous instead of a platform for technical showboating.

Good gear is meaningless to making good art.  Give me a $150,000 Steinway and I could not make any music.  Give me the best paints, brushes and a canvas, I could only render a vomitous mass of poorly drawn shapes.  Remember that scene in the Blues Brother’s when Ray Charles plays a shitty used electric piano?  He’s got the whole town hopping and dancing, because he’s that good.  Stevie Ray Vaughn played a beat up old guitar, yet he made it sound better than anyone on the planet.   Spending $10,000 on new gear won’t make you take better pictures.

Time to get back to some basics and spend $66 bucks!

Effect created by the Lensbaby

Effect created by a Lensbaby or what $50 bucks got me

To start my foray into lo-fi, I bought a Lensbaby 3G for $50 at Henry’s Outlet Centre.  It is a unique, simple and brilliantly designed optic that allows for selective focus  and blurring.  The Lensbaby 3G is a manual device, there is  no autofocus, no auto-aperture and it features a quirky operation that is like using a combination of an accordion and vise-grips to focus.  It is the antithesis of automation, edge to edge sharpness and image purity.  It’s just plain fun to use and never produces the same effect twice.  This strange lens will take a while to master and that’s part of the enjoyment.   I’ve seen some very creative art done by others with Lensbabies and they inspired me to get one.

Lensbaby 3G on my Olympus OMD EM-5

Lensbaby 3G on my Olympus OMD EM-5

Perhaps the ultimate lo-fi photo tools are Holga cameras and lenses.   They are dirt cheap and just plain awful.  It does not get anymore ghetto than Holga.  However, there is a characteristic lo-fi look to all Holga lenses and cameras.  Holga has something of a cult following among analogue photographers, since the emphasis is on inspired creativity instead of technological perfection.  True lo-fi or analogue photography should be done with film.   However, one can still get a “Holga look” with digital.  I decided to purchase a very cheap Holga lens from Ebay.   This plastic wonder cost me only $16 shipped from China.  It has a fixed f8 aperture and a gnarly focusing mechanism.

The $16 Ebay Holga Lens

The $16 Ebay Holga Lens

The Holga lens does everything a regular lens does, but very badly.  It has horrible vignetting, poor sharpness, significant chromatic aberration, low contrast and a stiff focusing ring that barely turns when it gets cold.  I could not wait to try it out!

The Deathly House of Holga

The Deathly House of Holga

Both of these lo-fi lenses were mounted to my Olympus OMD EM-5, which is masterpiece of modern technology.  However, because of the camera’s retro design, these lenses did not seem out of place on it.

El-Cheapo Holga Lens on my Olympus OMD EM-5

El-Cheapo Holga Lens on my Olympus OMD EM-5

My first day out with the lo-fi lenses was at the Riverside Cemetery in Lindsay, Ontario.  It was a suitably cold, ugly and dank winter day.  If the weather sucks, it only makes sense to use dodgy, blurry and quirky lenses for a macabre theme.  To hell with cute pet shots, flattering portraits, or majestic landscapes, I wanted dark and ugly.   My inner Edgar Allan Poe was being channeled through these lenses.  I would have killed for raven on headstone, that would have been the money shot.