Friday, December 28, 2012

Most popular posts of 2012

Well, it's that time of year again--the time when most of the media outlets on the planet recap what they've done over the last twelve months.  Not wanting to be left behind, I present to you now the ten most popular posts from the Prairie Rim Images blog, based on page views accrued during 2012.  As expected, "Old Glass" and DIY fix-it articles make up the entire list.  If you're a recent reader, this is your chance to see what all the hype is about.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

DIY variable size light tent

Because I've got bad GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome), I've got a number of items that I really need to sell so as to free up more room on the shelf (and pocketbook) for new gear.  The only thing really holding me up from selling things is that I haven't taken the time to get some decent photos of the items to accompany the ads.  While driving home one night past a craft store, it occurred to me how I could make a simple light box that could break down for easy storage and still not cost a ton of money.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Oh, he's not dead. Not yet.

Has it really been almost five weeks since my last Prairie Rim Images blog post?  Yes, I suppose so.  Life has gotten a wee bit interesting of late, and these blog posts have been forced to the back seat.  That's only temporary, though.  I've got a couple new posts in the works, and the first of them will hopefully show up in a few days' time.  Please stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

1941 Chevy portraits BTS

In my previous post, I presented a number of photos that I've taken over the years of my uncle's first car, a 1941 Chevy Master Deluxe Business Coupe.  The last of those images were taken on my final day with this rusty, old antique.  While most of the earlier photos were taken in natural light, these were artificially lit and composed against a black background, giving a decidedly "portrait" feel to the images.  Today, I want to go into some detail on how these photos were created.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

1941 Chevy Master Deluxe Business Coupe, RIP

Bill and his first wheels, one last time
I still live in the same town where my family has been for 100 years.  My grandparents lived on a dairy farm (now merely an acreage) south of town for 73 years.  I grew up on that farm myself.  The farm has been full of memories and beautiful photography subjects to which I turn my camera every chance I get.  I've said many times on this blog that I love old things, so it should come as no surprise that one of my favorite photo subjects has been my uncle's 1941 Chevy Master Deluxe Business Coupe, which has sat immobile in Grandma's shed for nearly 50 years.  The Chevy was sold recently as part of Grandma's estate auction, and will most likely be parted out & then scrapped.  I therefore wanted to pay it tribute with a little photo montage.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

This shoot was for the birds

I've always enjoyed Joel Sartore's "Photo Ark" project, wherein he photographs simple portraits on black or white of endangered animals.  When I as asked to shoot images of some birds for the web site of a local parrot rescue organization, the Photo Ark was the first concept that popped into my head.  I had never made serious portraits of animals before, so I did a test run with a friend and her cockatiels.  The goal was to photograph her birds on black and white backdrops, sometimes posing with her family.  Kids?  Animals?  Flaky equipment?  What could possibly go wrong with that trio?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Updating the Canon 7D firmware

In late August 2012, Canon released a new major version of the firmware for its 7D body, upgrading it from 1.2.5 to 2.0.0.  This was followed a few weeks later with version 2.0.3, which fixed a few minor bugs.  The v2 firmware added a number of relatively major features to the 7D, and provided an uncommonly significant upgrade to a body that is over two years old.  After waiting a month for other people to beta test the new firmware (a good idea, as evidenced by the release of v2.0.3), I finally upgraded my own 7D from version 1.2.5.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

New full-frame DSLR's: are they right for you?

Coinciding with this month's biannual Photokina trade show, Canon, Nikon, and Sony have all released new DSLR bodies which offer full frame (35mm-sized) sensors at a really low price point (US$2000-3000).  I don't typically review brand new gear in the Prairie Rim Images blog, but I've been asked by a few people what I think of these, so I wanted to share my opinions publicly.  The specific models in question are the Canon 6D, the Nikon D600, and the Sony SLT-A99.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Canon product service life expectancy

My Canon Speedlite 430EX died on me recently.  Much to my dismay, I found that Canon factory service no longer repaired that model.  Nor, in fact, would several other third party repair facilities.  This stuck me as odd, because the flash had only been out of production for four years, and although the 430EX wasn't their flagship model, it was closer to the top than the bottom of their product line.  This caused me to do a little digging into the amount of time for which you can expect to have a particular piece of camera equipment repaired, should it fail on you.  This info is especially useful for people like me, who like to save a buck by buying used gear.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Railroad photography and Operation Lifesaver

Fall is nearly upon us here in the northern hemisphere, and the season is in full swing for family portraits and senior photos.  As photographers and their subjects seek to portray ever more interesting environments, they are increasingly shooting on and near railroad tracks.  Unfortunately, railroads are private property, so this activity constitutes trespassing, and more importantly, can be very dangerous.  I've recently learned of a big push that's being made here in the US by Operation Lifesaver and the rail carriers to curtail this behavior.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Fashionable camera bags

Nobody ever accused me of having great fashion sense.  I once dressed my son for church in plaid shorts & a striped shirt, and saw nothing wrong with it.  I also carry all my camera gear in old bags that I pick up at thrift stores and garage sales.  You, however, may be blessed with a little more style in your wardrobe (and I hope this includes most of you women out there).  If you'd like that style to carry over into your camera bags, your options today are much broader than they were even a few years ago.  Gone are the days when you were stuck carrying your gear in a rectangular, black, nylon bag like those that line the shelves at Best Buy.  Since I've been asked to recommend storage options to several friends lately, I figured I'd post what I've found publicly for your shopping enjoyment.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Skating at sunset

I had the privilege recently of hanging out with my family, our neighbor kids, and a bunch of strangers at a local public skateboard park.  My oldest son was the impetus for the outing.  He's no Tony Hawk, but he enjoys playing with his skateboard, his BMX bike, and especially his brand new Rip Stick.  As I do with most family park outings, I took my camera bag just in case.  There was a large crowd at the skate park that evening, and we were blessed with a gorgeous sunset that provided some excellent photo ops.  All of the kids were happy to perform for my camera after they saw the type of shots I was getting, and I handed out several business cards so I could share the images with them.  I figured I'd share with you a few of the techniques that I used that day to capture the action.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Brenden Stai Golf Classic, round 3

Every year, Husker football celebrity Brenden Stai sponsors a golf tournament in Lincoln to raise money for Tiny Hands International.  A handful of other Husker celebs partner up with each foursome on the course, and a dinner & silent auction take place the preceding evening.  This summer marked the fourth year of the tournament, and the third year that I've been its official photographer.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Shooting youth soccer

Odds are, at least one of your kids has played organized soccer (or "football," as it's more appropriately called in most of the world) at some point.  It's an easy game to pick up and requires very little equipment other than a round ball & some open real estate.  Being an outdoor sport, it's also one of the easier pastimes to photograph.  I'm no Sports Illustrated photographer, but I have shot my share of kids sports.  There's also a lot of carry-over here from other types of event photography, which is my bread and butter.  Keep reading to find out what I know about shooting soccer.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Err 30 on my Canon 7D

A month or so ago, my primary camera body (a Canon 7D) started locking up on me and throwing an "Err 30" message.  I was instructed to pull the battery and try again, which worked only for a couple shots before the error reappeared.  The battery being used would then show up as being dead.  After going through a couple batteries in just a few minutes, I removed my aftermarket vertical battery grip (a Flashpoint / MeiKe).  With a battery inserted directly into the camera body, the problem went away.  The problem was solved... for a few weeks.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Rained out... almost

This summer, I was scheduled to photograph the third annual Cross Pointe Innovations charity golf tournament.  It's been a dry summer, and we hadn't seen any significant precipitation for six weeks prior to the event.  Of course, that meant that we experienced torrential thunderstorms for a solid twelve hours prior to tee time.  It made for an interesting day.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

New Powerex Imedion batteries

These days, almost everybody who does a reasonable amount of work with off-camera flashes has switched from traditional alkaline batteries to NiMH rechargeables.  Despite the significant up-front investment, rechargeables definitely save you money in the long run.  The first sets of AA batteries that I bought have been wearing out lately & won't hold a charge very long.  When choosing their replacements, I decided to try a new brand:  Imedion by PowerEx (Maha).  I've only used them briefly so far, but I'm definitely pleased with them.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Canon Professional Services

I've had to make use of Canon Factory Service several times in the five years since I got my first DSLR.  I discussed those experiences in a previous post.  I recently learned that (not surprisingly) Canon has a special program called Canon Professional Services that caters to professional shooters who use Canon gear.  It's a cool program, and anybody who makes money with their Canon camera equipment should seriously look into it.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Remembering war photographers

Rosenthal's Iwo Jima flag raising
It's Memorial Day in the USA--a day when we celebrate those who have sacrificed in the armed forces so that the rest of us may live free.  I wanted to take this time on the Prairie Rim Images blog to highlight some of the better known war photographers from generations past.  Photographers have been recording conflicts since the US Civil War, but it wasn't until after WWI that equipment allowed photographers to really become intimately involved with active conflict.  Many of these photographers have been honored for their work, and many have died while pursuing their passion.

Friday, May 25, 2012

They said it best

Today marks the first anniversary of the first post on the Prairie Rim Images blog.  That was actually just a "welcome" post; the first real meat was posted two days later.  I decided to celebrate by sharing with you all a number of insightful quotes about photography that I've saved over the years.  Some of these quotes did not originally refer to photography, but are nonetheless applicable to creative endeavors.  Hopefully some of these will inspire you to pursue a new direction in your craft as they have me.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Postprocessing software for Linux

As a long time computer nerd, I fell in love with Unix variants early on.  I've run Linux as my primary desktop OS since the late 1990's.  While that decision saves lots of money and allows endless opportunities to tinker, it does present problems when you get into serious photography.  Primarily, it restricts your options for photo organization and postprocessing software.  I've played with a few options over the years, and I wanted to share my opinions with you all.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Old glass: Nikon Nikkor-S.C Auto 55mm f/1.2

Recently, a co-worker brought me an old Nikon F3 body with a Nikkor-S.C Auto 1:1.2 f=55mm lens attached that once belonged to his father.  He knew of my weakness for old cameras and offered to sell it to me.  I declined, but I still couldn't resist putting this ultra-fast f/1.2 lens through its paces for a little while.  After a little experimentation and a little research, here's what I know about this lens.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

I'm not dead (yet)

Those of you that have been following along regularly with my weekly (or so) posts here on the Prairie Rim Images blog are probably wondering what's happened.  Rest assured that I'm not dead... not yet, anyway.  I've been busy working on some big stuff behind the scenes that will hopefully be visible here before long.  I've also got a few new posts in the works that should show up shortly.  Thanks for your patience, and I apologize for the gap in fresh info here.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Portrait postprocessing

I had the opportunity recently to shoot some portraits of couples for a local charity.  While it's always preferred to get the best shot possible in camera, sometimes that just isn't possible for a variety of reasons.  Even when it is, portraits often require some additional postprocessing to clean up various stray hairs and skin blemishes.  I'm fairly new to portrait work, and don't intend to do a great deal of it, but I wanted to share some of the steps that I took to process the photos from this gig.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Shooting hoops with the kids

My oldest son loves to play basketball.  Warm afternoons will often find him out on the driveway with the neighbors and a ball.  He just finished his sixth season of YMCA youth basketball with a second place tournament finish.  These games always pit the photographer against the father, as it's very difficult to follow the game while looking through the viewfinder.  Hence, I only shoot a few games each year for posterity, and simply enjoy the others along with the rest of the parents.  I therefore don't get a whole lot of practice photographing these games.  I did, however, shoot their final tournament weekend (three games).  I got stopped by several parents asking how to make their own shots better, so I wanted to share what I've learned.  It's no coincidence that March Madness is in full swing as I write this.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


I've wanted a LumiQuest SBIII soft box for a while now.  The SBIII is a great size for close-in work.  It's about as large as you can get and still use it with the speedlight flash mounted on your camera's hot shoe.  It's big enough to soften the light for tight portraits or product shots.  It collapses down small enough to fit into large camera bags or laptop bags.  It also only costs about $40 online.  Alas, it costs considerably more at our only local camera shop.  When I found myself needing a softbox just like that on short notice, I decided to make my own for a few pennies.  Here's how I did it.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Why format your camera's memory card?

One topic that I've seen come up periodically is how to clear out all the photos from your camera's memory card.  Some say that it's better to simply erase the photos, while others say it's better to completely reformat the card.  I'm a firm believer that unnecessarily reformatting a flash card is a bad idea.  Here's why...

Monday, March 5, 2012

Installing a split image focusing screen

If you play much with manual focus lenses -- or even if you like to manually focus your AF lenses (for macro photography, for instance), you'll realize that the factory focusing screen in new DSLR's really wasn't designed to make this easy.  They're small, dim, and have no focusing aids.  By contrast, older, mechanical cameras have glorious picture window viewfinders, usually with a split image focusing circle surrounded by a microprism ring to help you know when your subject is in focus.  I've installed aftermarket focusing screens in all three of my Canon DSLR bodies, and I've illustrated below how to do so in an 50D.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Old glass: Nikkor non-AI, AI, and AI-S lens differences

As regular readers know, I've come to enjoy using quite a variety of older, manual-focus lenses on my Canon EOS bodies.  This may seem like blasphemy, but among my favorites are some of Nikon's Nikkor lenses.  Of course, Nikon's own DSLR bodies are also able to use older Nikkor lenses... with some caveats.  Before I go into too much detail on specific Nikkor lenses for my "Old Glass" series, I wanted to lay the groundwork on the differences between these Nikon lens mounts and how those differences affect modern DSLR users.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Image resolution for digital photography

Creating the sharpest images possible is a holy grail for many photographers.  It's easy to get the idea that image sharpness comes only -- and always -- from bigger, more expensive gear.  This isn't necessarily true, but even if it were, you may not need better equipment at all depending on your application and processing workflow.  Read on for info on how good is good enough when it comes to image resolution.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Experiences with Canon Factory Service

Having just received another damaged lens back from Canon Factory Service in fine shape, I wanted to give a thumbs up to the folks who work there.  This is the fifth time I've had to deal with them, and the experience has always been as pleasant as you could hope for, given the circumstances of having a broken camera.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

How to use a histogram

Proper exposure typically means that you maintain detail in both the bright and dark areas of the image.  A good way to see the distribution of shades from dark to light is by using a histogram.  Many people have seen a histogram either on their camera LCD or in their photo editing software, but if that little mountain-shaped graph is to be more than just a curiosity, you have to learn what it means and how to use it to your advantage.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Adding a miniphone sync port to a Sunpak 544

I love my flashes, thanks in large part to David Hobby. One of the things that David is constantly promoting is his preference for using 1/8" (3.5mm) miniphone audio cords instead of the older, standard PC-sync cords for syncing flashes. PC jacks are notoriously unreliable as well as ludicrously expensive. Miniphone jacks are both more reliable and dirt cheap. Even better, the Cactus V4 radio triggers that I use come with 1/8" sync ports built in. Unfortunately, none of my flashes came with them. My old Sunpak Auto 544 "potato masher" flash came with a proprietary jack, but when that jack started to flake out on me, I figured it was time to add a miniphone plug to it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

99 cent flash diffuser

On-camera speedlights are great.  You can angle them numerous directions to bounce your light to your subject while still having the ease of use of TTL lighting.  Alas, if you don't have a bright, neutral surface against which to bounce your light, the shadows resulting from direct flash can be pretty harsh.  I got around this problem recently by using a dollar's worth of materials to make a great, portable diffuser for my on-camera flash.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Christmas party corporate head shots

I was recently asked to make some business portraits for an entire company of 13 people.  Since most of them were salespeople and rarely in the office at one time, and since that office was 60 miles from my base, it was decided that I would shoot these head shots during their annual Christmas party, because they would all be in once place and dressed up anyway.  I've worked with this company before and will again, so I wanted to make this session happen despite sub-optimal conditions.  Given the unusual situation surrounding this session, I figured I'd share it with you all.