Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Is Lexar gone for good? A very sad day for me and so many others!

Two weeks from now will mark the one year anniversary of my exit from Lexar and being a completely independent photographer.  It was a tough decision for me to make, since I loved my job, the company and the people too. But my photography business grew too big for me to do both things well. And so I made the big jump into the world of full time photography and am loving this more than ever. But that is not to say that I don't miss my other family at Lexar, and I have made it a point to visit quite often and even have a standing lunch there every couple of weeks.

But yesterday was a really sad day. I was doing some contract photography at the Micron campus (the parent company of Lexar) and found out that Micron announced that they will discontinue all Lexar business. This means that if no other company purchases all or part of Lexar, the brand will be gone forever!
After spending 12 years at Lexar as Director of Marketing, it saddens me to even think about this possibility. I guess you can say that I am shocked. Yeah - I know - I am no longer at the company. But after being there for so long and investing so much of my life to the brand, Lexar is in my blood. Here are some of my favorite product memories:

* I remember when 16x speed was fast! (At this point the fastest SD cards are 2000x and CFast at 3600x)

* I remember when we announced the super high capacity 1GB compact flash card, and it sold for almost $1000.

* I remember having an SD card on my desk that had a 4GB label on it. Someone came in and excitedly asked if it was really a 4GB SD card. My response was "Goodness no - this is just a fake label. We can't cram 4GB into a card this size!" Now I am using 256GB SD cards.

* I remember when we came out with an 8GB card and all the photographers at PhotoPlus were telling me they would NEVER use such a large card. "It is too many eggs in one basket" they would say.

* I remember launching the 512GB compact flash card and wondering what people would do with such massive storage (and I still wonder just a little).

Last night, Micron posted a message on their blog announcing this decision. As I read the short piece, it just made me realize how lucky I was to be part of such a great company / division. And I should mention that Micron was an amazing parent company through the years, letting us drive the business the way that we wanted to.

For those of you wondering, it was not that Lexar was doing badly, it just was not a highly profitable focus for Micron.  And Micron is better known for producing the memory chips than the actual memory cards and USB drives. It may have been the right business decision, but it still hurts all of us who spent so much time building, marketing, distributing selling and supporting the products.

I am sitting here writing this blog, looking at the stacks of Lexar memory cards and the best card reader solution which are on my desk. Most people look at those as camera accessories, but I look at them and remember all the endless meetings, product designs, product naming surveys, marketing pieces, product shots, trade show booths and so much more.

To me Lexar was and will always be:

* Great products
* Great people
* Great support
* A great brand

It makes me sad to think that this brand could follow Kodak as the next camera accessory brand to fade away.

I guess, like all good things, sometimes they have to come to an end.

If you work for a company in the San Francisco Bay Area and are looking for some amazingly talented employees who have passion for what they do, let me know. I know some outstanding people with the following skills:

* Marketing Managers
* Graphics Designers
* Copy Editors
* Logistics
* Sales (different territories)
* Product Managers
* Administrative

You can reach me at jeff at jeffcable.com.

For all of you out there who are using Lexar products, I am sure that they will continue to work well for you for many years. I hope that the products continue to assist you in creating memories for yourself.

Remember that you and your friends can enter your email address at the top right of this blog to get an email any time I write a new blog post.
If you are interested in purchasing ANY equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. It does not change the cost to you in any way, but it helps me keep this blog up and running.
Check out my upcoming photo tours to amazing places around the world.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Dust spots on the sensor of your digital camera - How to find them and best get rid of them!

Do you regularly check your DSLR cameras to make sure there is no dust on the sensors? Most likely you would answer this question with one of the following:

* Dust on my sensor? How do I check for that?
* I don't need to since my camera has a dust cleaning feature.
* I had my camera's sensor cleaned a long time ago.
* I do this regularly

If you answered anything other than the last option, you need to read this blog post.

Let's start with the basics...

How does dust get in your camera?

Any time you remove a lens from your camera you are taking the risk that some dust particles (or worse) will get into the inside of your camera. These particles will likely land on a thin piece of glass which protects the sensor of your camera. This is why I ALWAYS change my lenses with the camera facing upside down and I switch lenses as fast as I can, to limit the amount of time that anything can travel into the camera. And...I try to never change lenses in a really dusty environment. I remember being on safari in Tanzania two years ago and one of our workshop attendees was changing lenses right after the vehicle stopped. We were in a cloud of dust and she had the open camera laying on it's back with the lens opening acting as a dust collector. Don't do this!

Why do these dust particles matter?

Since the sensor of your camera is the piece that receives the light and effectively makes your photo, the dust particles will show up on your photos. The smaller the aperture you use (the larger aperture number like f/11, f/16 or f/22) will make these dust particles much more prominent on your photos.

I can not tell you how many times people have sent me photos to critique and the image is full of big ole dust spots.

Heck - even I have them. But I remove them during the retouching process. Here are some extreme cases:

Here is a photo from the 2014 Indy Grand Prix. I was shooting at f/29 to get a slow shutter speed and boy did I bring out all the dust spots!!! It would take me a while to clean all these spots. I would have been smart to clean my sensor before shooting these photos! (You can click on the photo to enlarge it and see all the spots.)

This is another of my images to show you just how much dust was in my camera on my last African safari. Because I was changing lenses in the open air vehicle during the trip, it was hard to keep the camera clean. Click on the image to see it larger, and you will see what I had to clone out from this image to get the final photo I could print and display.

Isn't the camera dust cleaning feature good enough?

Nope! When the camera companies first started adding the dust cleaning feature (which effectively shakes the sensor element to try and shake the dust off the glass) I thought that this would be 100% effective. I even remember having a constructive argument with my friend Moose Peterson, asking why he was still cleaning his sensor when it was not needed anymore. Boy, was I wrong. The camera may shake some of the dust off, but the majority of it can not be removed in this manner.

How do I determine if my camera has dust on the sensor?

Here is my step-by-step process for checking my camera's sensor:

* Set the camera to a low aperture (usually f/22)
* Increase the ISO to 3200 to give me a decent shutter speed
* Load MS work on my computer and go to a full big white screen of nothing. Or you can point your camera at a big clean sheet of white paper.
* Point the camera at the blank white area and take a photo
* Hit the "playback" button on the camera to see the image.
* Zoom in on the camera's LCD and move around the image to see if there are any visible dust spots.

You want to be most conscious of the cleanliness of the center of your sensor. This is where you will likely have your subject and important information. Having a small piece of dust way off to the side of your sensor is bad, but not as bad as having it right in the middle. It is easier to clone out a dust spot from the sky than in the middle of your subject's eye.

Once I see all that dust on my sensor, how do I clean it?

Most camera stores will have a sensor cleaning service. If you feel more comfortable having a professional do the cleaning for you, then this is always a good option. And many of the camera manufacturers will clean your equipment as well. I know that Canon's Professional Services group does this as part of the membership.

But in most cases, I prefer to clean the sensor myself. The reason for this is that I want to be able to clean the sensor anywhere in the world and immediately. Remember, I travel to places in the world where there is no camera store nearby, and don't want to take all my photos with a massive dust spot. This actually happened to me in Tanzania on safari, but more on that in a minute.

If you want to clean the camera yourself, there are a ton of different sensor cleaning kits on the market and I have used many of them.

The most common types are:

* Air blowers
* Sensor brushes
* Liquid swabs
* Gel sticks

For the first 5 years I used an air blower and the Arctic Butterfly brush from VisibleDust and they worked pretty well. I combined that with the VisibleDust sensor loupe, which I put up to the camera and it lights and magnifies the sensor area so that I can physically see the dust. I also liked that the brush was soft and not going to scratch the sensitive glass covering the sensor. This all worked well until my last trip to Africa.

My first MAJOR dust issue

You can see the dust spot almost dead center in this photo.

At some point early in the Tanzania safari trip, I got a big piece of dust RIGHT in the middle of the sensor of my Canon 1Dx Mark II.  If this spot was in a far corner, I would not have been so frustrated. But having the dust spot right in the middle meant that it would be right in front of many of my subject's faces. Since I shoot a lot of my photos at a low aperture (especially when doing motion panning), I knew that this was a major deal. I tried using my sensor brush, but it would not brush away the dust. One of the other workshop attendees had a sensor swab and liquid. I need to stop here for a second and say that I am not a fan of putting any liquid inside my camera! But I was desperate and decided to give his sensor cleaner a try. Once again, the cleaner failed and the dust spot won the battle. Argh!

A crop of the same image, showing you the one dust spot in the sky. Easy to clone this out of the sky, but not if it was in the middle of a cheetah's face.

At this point, I had no other choice but to shoot all my photos with just the one Canon 5D Mark IV. I ended up using the Canon 1Dx Mark II mainly for video (even though the dust spot was still there).

(If you want to see the dust spot in video, check out this short video clip I uploaded a long time ago. The dust spot really bugged me, but I figured that very few people would notice it. Look at the video now, especially at the 30 second mark and you will see the dust spot right in the middle of the video)

Upon arriving home to California, I grabbed my German made Sensor Gel Stick that had been sent to me about a year ago. This is a device that has a gummy end to it. It almost looks like a square gummy bear attached to a plastic stick.  I pushed this down on the surface of the glass and worked my way around the entire surface. I then cleaned the gummy end on a piece of sticky paper (which are included and an integral part of the solution) and repeated the cleaning process. I did this and it worked on the first try!!! Suffice it to say that the Gel Stick is my cleaner or choice and now will be going with me on all my trips.

I called the company that distributes the Gel Stick before writing this blog post and asked some questions. I should mention that no sensor cleaning companies are paying me to write anything here or giving me a cut of their sales.

It turns out that the gummy end is just sticky enough to pick up the dust without being too sticky and damaging the mechanism of your camera. They also make a red tipped version for Sony and Leica cameras which have a different type of glass covering their sensors. It honestly surprised me how intricate this seemingly simple device was. But then again, I don't really care how advanced the device is, I just know that it is only $50, it is easy to use and really works!

In my discussions with the distributor, they did tell me that there are a lot of knock-off products out there, even using similar product names. If I were you I would purchase the real product (which is essentially the same price anyways) from this site.

I encourage all of you out there to check your cameras for dust and then either get them cleaned or do it yourself. You will be happy you did.

Oh - and make sure to pass this on to all your friends with DSLR cameras. They will want to know about this too.

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Check out my upcoming photo tours to amazing places around the world.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Flying over Sydney: A video compilation from my recent trip (using the Phantom 4 drone and Canon 5D Mark IV)

I have posted many of the photos from the recent trip to Sydney, Australia, but I have not posted any of the videos. I spent many hours of the 14 hour flight home going through each video clip to put all of them together in one compilation.

I probably had a couple hours of video, but knew that I needed to pare it down to around 5 minutes to keep it all interesting for you.

All of the aerial video was captured on the DJI Phantom 4 aerial camera (drone) while everything on the ground was captured with the Canon 5D Mark IV.

This video will take you in the city, the outskirts of town, over Bondi Beach, a touch of the Blue Mountains, along the water and end up during the Vivid light show.

I recommend watching the video directly in 1080p mode YouTube at 1080p. You can go directly to the video from HERE or by clicking on the image above.

Oh, and many people ask me what software I use to edit the video. I am more of a still photographer than a video guy, as you all know that I like to keep it simple...so...I did all the editing using Apple's iMovie.

I hope you like it.


And also, remember that you and your friends can enter your email address at the top right of this blog to get an email any time I write a new blog post.
If you are interested in purchasing ANY equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. It does not change the cost to you in any way, but it helps me keep this blog up and running.
Check out my upcoming photo tours to amazing places around the world.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

11 days and nights in Australia - Our photo tour of Sydney and the Vivid Light Show

Anyone following along on social media knows that I have spent the better part of the last two weeks in Sydney, Australia. This blog post is to share all the images from this amazing trip. We went at this time of year because I have always wanted to photograph the Vivid Sydney light show. Vivid happens every year at this time, with portions of the city being lit up in colors from 6pm to 11pm each night for 3 weeks.

I am starting to write this on the last hour of the 14 hour flight home. Feeling OK at this point, but sure that I will be living in a cloud of jet lag for the next 3 days or so. Since it will take a while to write this blog post, it will be interesting to see if I stay coherent.

I arrived in Sydney early on Tuesday morning, and spent the day with Dean who runs UDesign Photo Tours. We spent some time going over the agenda for the workshop attendees and even visited some of the places we would be shooting.

I stayed up until 9pm and then crashed in my hotel room.

The next day was more planning for Dean and I, and it was my first chance to get the Canon 5D Mark IV out and take some photos.

I have been to Sydney many times before and I am not sure why, but I always feel like I am home when I am in this city. The city is clean, safe, and beautiful. The food is excellent and most importantly, the people are all so friendly. It doesn't hurt that I have some good friends in this city as well. More on that a little later... 

Two nights before our workshop started, I went out to do some night shooting on my own. This was partly because I love it so much, and partly to find good shooting locations and camera settings for the group. For the first time ever, I walked on the Sydney Harbor Bridge and found this great shooting location. I explained how I took this shot on a previous blog post.

The next night I went out at 4:45pm to get some sunset shots. Dean and I had a dinner meeting at 6:30pm and I assured him that I would be back at the hotel at 6:15. Well... I took a lot of photos from one of my favorite locations but was bummed that the bridge was not lit. I packed up my gear to head back to the hotel, and had just started walking away when they started testing the colored lights for Vivid Sydney, the light show that was set to commence the next day. I couldn't help myself, and got everything back out for more shots. And yes, I was a little late meeting Dean, but it was worth it. :)
The photo above was taken with a 30 second long shutter speed (which smooths out the water).

This shot was taken with a shutter speed less than one second. You can see a big difference in the water. Unlike the photo above, I had to take this photo with a fast shutter speed since the lights on the bridge were moving and changing colors at this point. A long shutter speed would have averaged all the colors and shown only white.

And then on the following evening, it was time to start teaching!

We started off by The Rocks and shot directly towards the Sydney Opera House. I knew that this would be a straight-on shot, and an easy one to capture. I was using the Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 24-70mm lens on my Gitzo travel tripod with the Acratech ball head.

As the patterns changed, we kept shooting, trying different apertures and shutter speeds. How cool is this?

Once we had the other shots in the bag, I had the group move to other locations. I picked this location to show how we could use another foreground element to change the image composition and add more interest.

Pointing back at the Harbor Bridge, I also showed the attendees how I roll the zoom during the exposure to get a different look.

Going back to the discussion of foreground and background, I showed the group how I could include the people in the foreground and add motion to them with a slower shutter speed.

Then we hiked up to the roadway above the harbor (not remembering at the time that there was an elevator nearby) and shot from there. This was a great wide vantage point!

The next day, went to North Sydney and shot back across the harbor. I saw this archway and taught the group about framing a shot. Here is our group inside the archway...

...and the shot I was going for.

We walked around Luna Park and worked on slow shutter photography a little more. I saw this little girl watching the ride, backed up and held the camera steady at 1/5 second exposure to get the motion of the ride.

We had a little fun with the funky mirrors too.

While the others took the ferry back to the city, one participant and I decided to walk back to the city, taking our time to walk across the harbor bridge. It was both of our first times walking the span.

Later that night, Sue and I decided to walk across the bridge one more time, this time to get night shots of Vivid from really high up. It was a challenge to shoot from the center of the bridge with the motion of cars, buses and trains going by, but we managed it.

Then, I took Sue to the same location I shot before. It was on the first pylon and totally solid. This allowed us to shoot with much longer exposures without the risk of camera shake. Notice how much smoother the water looks.

The next day we made a trip out to the Blue Mountains. You can see some that when I post my drone video (coming soon).

After a long day in the mountains, the group retired early. But I could not help myself and went back out for more shooting. I went back up to the raised roadway (this time using the elevator!) and tried some different exposure times.

Since my hotel was right in Circular Quay and right by the Opera House I walked over to get some closer shots of the projected lights. Trying to find a more unique shot, I positioned myself in front of a fountain in front of the opera house and used the tail lights of incoming cars to create an interesting foreground.

I stopped right in front of the opera house and really liked this location and perspective. I made sure to take the others to this spot a couple of nights later.

I walked up the stairs to the opera house and took more photos from this perspective.

I was looking for different angles to shoot images when I spotted this guy inside the opera house bar. I quickly moved my tripod as close to the glass as I could, framed this shot and took the photo. I thought that it was interesting that he had so much to look at, but was engrossed in his mobile phone. But I also like the way that we see two completely different scenes in one photo.

After shooting the other photos at the highest point of the stairs, I closed the tripod and started to walk back down. But as I was doing so, I saw that the downtown buildings were being reflected in the windows. I set up the tripod on the stairs to get this photo. I like this because, like the other photo above, it shows something different from what most people were photographing.

From my first walk, earlier in the week, I knew that a great vantage point of the opera house would be from the stairs opposite the iconic building. But sadly, security had blocked that vantage point, and even with my relentless pleading and big smile, I could not get access. I was really disappointed.


I took the group over to this vantage point on the following night, about 30 minutes before the Vivid lights were turned on, and there was no security in place. We climbed the stairs and nobody bothered us. I was VERY excited to get this sunset shot. I set the aperture of the camera to f/16 (with an ISO of 160 - giving me a 30 second exposure) to get the starburst from the white light on the opera house.

And then the Vivid lights came on and we started shooting. I kept waiting for someone to come tell us that we could not shoot from this location, but nobody ever did.

So we took photo after photo, with different patterns on the opera house.

The next night we took the group through the Vivid light display in the Botanical Garden.

The city did a great job with all kinds of robotic objects. We stopped to shoot photos of these two birds, which were really cool. While shooting these colorful objects, I turned around and saw an even better shot. I had the others follow me back over to the wall for an even better shot.

The wall around this area of the harbor had been covered in lights, and I set up the tripod right up against the wall. I framed the photo so that the wall of lights would lead your eye right to the perfectly lit opera house. Notice how the colorful lights were coming through the windows. That combined with the Harbour Bridge in the background, made this one of my favorite photos from the trip.

Then we continued our walk through the gardens to see the other Vivid displays. And once again, everyone was fixated on photographing the light show and missing the "real show". We started shooting images of the lit trees (which were really cool) when I turned and saw the moon setting over trees in the background.

What made this really unique is that the moon was setting amongst the spotlights coming from the other side of the harbor. I quickly experimented with the camera settings (in manual mode) to properly expose the moon, and gave my recommendations to the others). So cool!

(For those of you who are wondering - the settings ended being ISO 1000, f/4, 1 sec exposure)

The funny thing is...as soon as we all turned our cameras and started shooting in the opposite direction of the Vivid displays, everyone else saw what we were shooting, and did the same. Of course, most of those people had their mobile phones and would only get a white dot in their image. :)

The next night we visited Darling Harbour to photograph the lights and water show.

My goal was for us to shoot the water display from different locations around the harbor. We started with this perspective, with the water show in front of downtown Sydney. With the constantly changing water patterns and lighting, we took a lot of photos to get the compositions we liked the best. This image was taken with a shutter speed of 1.6 seconds, to freeze the projected pattern in the middle of the water.

As I mentioned, we moved all around the harbor to get shots from each side of the show. I found this location which would allow us to capture the water show and the ferris wheel in one frame. I took this shot using a 2.5 second exposure to show the motion in the moving ferris wheel.

The next day we had rain in the forecast, so we decided to visit the aquarium for instruction on photographing in those tough conditions.

We had fun photographing this Lion Fish, and this happened to be my favorite shot from that visit.

The next day, the weather was better and we all got up early to catch sunrise at the beach.

The sunrise was nothing spectacular, but we made the most of it, photographing over one of the local pools which are built up against the ocean.

We also had a great time photographing the surfers.

We took a break in the afternoon and then made our way over to the Taronga Zoo, where they had a bunch of Vivid light displays.

When we arrived at the zoo, we were captivated by the entry building. They were projecting really cool video on the structure. Here a herd of elephants are coming towards us.

...and a bear climbing up a tree in the forest.

The colors were captivating, and this was before we even entered the zoo!

Inside the zoo, they had all kinds of illuminated animals.

The next day we slept in and took it easy. We met in the afternoon for a sunset portrait session. Remember that family I told you about earlier? Well, they have been friends of mine for more than 20 years and I suggested that we do a family portrait session for them. I figured that they would want some nice family photos, but it also gave me a chance to teach the others about taking portraits.

Kerrie, Phillip and the kids arrived about 45 minutes before sunset. I took some family photos for them in the late afternoon sun.

I looked over and saw their son looking out in the late afternoon sun. The light was perfect so I took portraits of their sons.

The boys were natural subjects, and it was great that they posed like this without any help from me.

And then...we waited for the sun to set.

I wanted to get a shot of them in front of the sunset and city. I showed the group how to meter for the background and then add fill flash to light the family. The background looks so good that it almost does not look real, but I assure you it is.

Later that night, I went out shooting to get more night photos. I saw that the water was really calm and highly reflective, so I went to reshoot the head-on shot of the opera house.

This photo was taken with a 13 second exposure to neutralize the water and show the most reflection (while maintaining the ever changing pattern on the opera house).

I also took this shot with a one second exposure, just to once again show you all how different the water looks with a fast exposure. The fast exposure freezes the water but does not show you the reflections as much as the long exposure.

I also walked up the street from the hotel and shot photos (and video) of the projection on this structure. The video shows it better and will be posted soon (as I am still editing it).

Before turning in for the night, I went back up to the raised roadway for a couple of last shots, from a slightly different vantage point.

I was shooting with long exposures when I saw this boat pulling out of the harbor. As it started to back up, going parallel to me, I quickly changed ISO (to 400) and aperture (to 2.8) to get a faster shutter speed (1/4 sec) and freeze this shot. I liked the red Vivid logo against the blueish background.

Then it was bed time.

The next day we did a tour of the Rocks (an area in Sydney) and went shopping to get gifts for our friends and family. Then it was our last night in Sydney and the last night of the tour. We treated the group to a dinner cruise on the harbor.

We had a nice meal and then headed up to the top of the boat to get shots of the city from the water view.

We saw the spot lights coming from behind the opera house and did our best to capture them. Since the boat was moving (although gently), it made for a tough shot.

And then I decided to try something completely different. I wanted to get a really wide shot of the city, but knew that the dark sky was going to create a really slow shutter speed. I changed the ISO of the 5D Mark IV to 4000, kept the aperture at f/2.8 and went to -1 exposure compensation. This gave me a shutter speed of 1/8 second. I raised the camera to a high angle and took a bunch of shots hoping to hold steady on at least one of them. And I got it. It was the perfect ending shot for me. We had desert and a couple more drinks and celebrated a great 11 days in Sydney.

I hope you enjoyed the virtual tour of Sydney. We are going to do this trip again in 2019 (but change it to 4 nights in the outback and 6 nights in Sydney for Vivid). If you are interested in joining us for that trip and getting great images for yourself, please click here and scroll down for more information.

And also, remember that you and your friends can enter your email address at the top right of this blog to get an email any time I write a new blog post.
If you are interested in purchasing ANY equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. It does not change the cost to you in any way, but it helps me keep this blog up and running.
Check out my upcoming photo tours to amazing places around the world.