Living On The Edge

On Thursday August 13th, 2020 at approximately 01:48 PM, the Cameron Peak Wildfire began burning near Chambers Lake in Northern Colorado.

I was at that very lake with a friend looking for moose on the morning of the day the fire began but we left the area around 10:30 am. We were lucky to have not been caught up in it.

The area of the fire is a major habitat for moose and other wildlife. An area not far from my cabin in Red Feather Lakes, I’ve been doing photography up there for the past 15 years. I had to cut my last moose outing short due to the fire and I’ve spent a lot of time watching this disaster continue to develop over the past few weeks, as it’s threatening my home in the area.

The photo was taken the evening of September 5th by my wife Trudy, who is at our place in Red Feathers as I type this. The view is to the Southwest from the shore of Lake Ramona. The fire is about 12 miles from Red Feathers at the moment and the general burn direction seems to be pushing the fire to the east towards Rocky Mountain National Park in the Mummy Range.

It’s heart wrenching to see this happening. We have several large fires burning across the state and the loss of property, the threat to life and livelihood for everyone in these areas is extensive and a lot of people will be affected by these disasters.

Nobody knows how much damage this particular fire will cause, but so far nobody has died and no property has been destroyed. I doubt that it will remain that way though.

I’ll be exploring the destruction in the fire area next summer to see if I can figure out how the moose population has been effected by the loss of habitat. It also means that I probably won’t be doing moose tours next year as well. I’ll post periodic updates to this situation as we move forward. For now, we are all hoping that the fire won’t force the evacuation of our village and even worse, burn the village and/or the surrounding communities.

Life in the mountains is dangerous. I’ve seen a lot of people move to the mountains to get away from life in the city or suburbs, only to get chased out by the harsh and unforgiving realities of living off the grid. This year, may be our turn. You never know.

If you’d like to know more about the fire, you can visit this link. Incident Information Management System by the US Forest Service.


Covid-19 Hunker-down Log – Stardate 44079.28

Combating Boredom

The past week has provided an interesting combination of boredom busting activity.

I’ve been steadily working on the redesign of my websites and progress has been made. Website visitor traffic has also picked up now that the search engines are beginning to index my site. So far, so good.

We continue to monitor the status of the Cameron Peak wildfire in the Rawah Wilderness of Northern Colorado. The fire hasn’t approached Red Feather Lakes much but the smoke has made its presence known and air quality in the village his a hit and miss prospect. We are keeping our fingers crossed that the change in weather will improve the ability of the firefighters to get this fire under control.

This past Thursday, our Xfinity cable and internet service went out. I went through the normal service call routine and after chasing our tails for several hours on the phone with someone in India, we began exploring our backup options. Both Trudy and I have iPhones that will act as an internet hot-spot, so we attached a Roku to the television and streamed television to the living room through the iPhone hot spots. It worked out quite well actually. On Friday afternoon, a Comcast service tech showed up at our door and began troubleshooting the problem in our back yard, where the neighborhood cable distribution box resides. Internet, TV and phone service is now back up and running but the outage concerned us to the point that we’re considering switching to a new service when our contract expires. It’s obvious that we can do everything we need to do without having to rely on the inept customer service at Comcast/Xfinity. It was our turn in the barrel. We do our best until we find something better.

Happy Thought Inventory

The internet is up. Mom can watch her television shows and make her phone calls. Trudy is heading to Red Feathers for a few days. Life is back on track and the hunkering down continues.

I’m still plotting what I’m doing for Autumn photography. I need to come up with a solid plan sooner rather than later as the last week of September and first week of October are prime-time for Autumn color. I’ll come up with a plan.

Slacker Status

Still improving out there in Zombie Land. Seems that many of the covidiots who refused to wear a mask in public have had a change of heart or been hit with the reality that their errant mindset isn’t going to really help them get through the pandemic.

No first responder activity to report.

Still alive and well here in Denver.

And, Happy Scenic Saturday. Today’s photo is a previously unpublished image from Kebler Pass, Colorado. A memorable week in 2014 that feels like it was yesterday. It is also the first time I’ve ever displayed this photograph to the public.

A Primer for Achieving Sharp Focus on Super-Telephoto Lenses

By: Gary Gray

The article photo of the deer was taken with a Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD A011 super-telephoto lens, hand held, using a Canon EOS 6D full frame DSLR. Settings: 1/1000 sec, f/6.3, ISO 1250, 552 mm.

A few tips for beginners and folks learning how to use a super-telephoto lens like the Tamron 150-600mm.

In my workshops, the biggest problem I see students have with long super-telephoto shots is getting sharp images. It’s normally a question of technique and knowledge of how to use the lens.

The first task is to learn the reciprocal rule. The minimum shutter speed should be the reciprocal of the focal length. If you’re shooting it at 600mm on a full frame body, you don’t want to use a shutter speed slower than 1/600th second. If you have a crop sensor camera, multiply your focal length by the crop factor and apply the reciprocal rule.

I seldom shoot wildlife or any telephoto subject at less than 1/1000th a second, and faster is better if you have the light for it.

If you are attempting panning shots at with a shutter speed slower than 1/1000th a second as your hit rate will be low. Lower shutter speeds may be possible for an artsy look, but in general, the faster your shutter speed, the less the subject or your movement will affect the image sharpness

I try to at least use a mono-pod when possible even though you may have a fairly usable lens hand held. A tripod is best though if you can use one.

Turn off Image Stabilization when using a tripod, it will not help you and may ruin images by correcting while stable.

On a tripod shooting a fixed subject, use your mirror lockup function. It can take 10 seconds for the lens to steady up after barely touching the camera.

Use a tripod rated for the weight of the entire setup and use a high quality head for stability.

If you know how to do it, adjust the lens micro-focus. My super telephoto lens is the Tamron 150-600 and is very close to perfect but did have a tweak of 2-3 clicks on both my main bodies. I’ve seen Canon L lenses be as far off as 16 clicks, so don’t let major adjustments freak you out. Every lens is different. Micro-focus calibration does help a great deal sometimes.

I usually fire shots in 3-4 frame bursts, not for spray and pray, but for sharpness. When you push the shutter button, you’ll flinch and move the camera. A burst will allow the flinch movement to dampen out and one of the shots will almost always be sharper than the others in the burst.

When working from a vehicle, here are a few tips to keep your images looking good.

When you stop the car, turn the engine off and allow the vehicle exhaust to dissipate. This is especially important in cold weather. Automobile exhaust can waft into the field of view creating distortions and even visible exhaust vapor in the image. In addition to the vapor issue, a running automobile is vibrating. Motor vibrations will transfer to the lens and will result in a loss of sharpness. If others are in the vehicle, ask them to remain still. There’s nothing worse than trying to hold a subject steady in the viewfinder at 600mm with someone doing the wiggle dance elsewhere in the vehicle.

Another consideration is the temperature differential between the inside of the vehicle and the outside environment. When searching for wildlife that I’ll be photographing through a window, I try to keep the inside vehicle temperature as close to the outside temperature. Rolling down a window in very cold weather with the inside of the vehicle being toasty warm can result in additional vapor distortions from the warm air hitting the cold air, at the point of interface, your window. A stable temperature will prevent the lens from clouding and will lower distortions.

There are beanbags made specifically to drape over a partially raised window for resting your camera on. With the engine off, using a beanbag will help you steady the shot in a manner similar to using a mono-pod. It doesn’t have to be expensive to be effective. Even a small amount of cushioning between the lens and window will help.

Camera body settings.

Most brands of cameras have similar functionality; however, the names the mfg uses for these functions may be different. Some of the settings I use are as follows.

Auto-focus is always set to AI Servo mode. I want the camera auto-focus to continuously track the subject. Why? Everything is always moving. You move, the subject moves. A single focus lock is insufficient to insure good focus on any moving subject, at any speed, at any distance. You see an animal, you push the focus button, the camera focuses, by the time you fire the shutter the subject and you have moved. Continuous focus tracking will give you a much higher likelihood of getting an in focus image.

Back button focus. If your camera allows you to use your thumb to press a button on the back of the camera to turn start the camera focusing, use it. I always use back button focusing and shutter button for exposure and shutter firing. Thumb and index finger coordination is pretty simple unless you have a deformed hand. This technique also allows you to focus and recompose.

Use the center focus point. The more focus points you use to auto-focus, the more likely the camera will get it wrong. The camera doesn’t know where a deer’s eye is. Spot focus on the eye, recompose and fire the shot. The internal processor will also have less work to do calculating a correct focus and it will speed up the focusing action.

Correct diopter setting is a must for monitoring focus accuracy. The diopter adjustment is found along side the view finder. Your first line of defense against an out of focus image is your eye. If the diopter is not correctly set, you’ll never know if the image is in focus until you look at the image on your computer. Change your lens, change the diopter. Change your eye glasses, change the diopter. When you are firing off shots, be aware of the focus quality you see in the viewfinder.

Some DSLR’s will allow you to configure the shutter to not fire if the lens isn’t reporting a focus. You’ll have a choice of setting the shutter fire priority to either focus tracking or shutter priority, meaning if you set your camera to fire shots even if the lens isn’t reporting a focus, you’ll probably end up with a lot of out of focus shots. This may work for spray and pray, but an astute photograph doesn’t waste time and chip on getting bad results. The drawback to using focus priority is that the camera may not fire when you think it should because it’s not in focus. You’ll have to make the call on how to configure it, but at least be aware of the techniques and configuration possibilities.

Depending on the brand of lens you are using, the manual focus ring may be able to cause problems if you have your hand cupped around the lens over the focus ring. Some lenses allow manual focus while auto-focus is enabled. If you have a grip on the focus ring, simple hand movement can defocus the camera. Watch where you place your hand when shooting. I try to keep my hand as far out towards the end of the lens as possible, away from the focus ring and only touching the zoom ring. Same thing when resting the lens on something. Don’t rest the lens on the focus ring.

Lastly, get out and practice often, review your results and correct your mistakes.

Practice makes perfect. Perfect is an acceptable result.

Covid-19 Hunker-down Log – Stardate 44072.35

Combating Boredom

If you haven’t noticed, I’ve reduced the frequency of these updates to once a week. Hunkering down during a pandemic seems to produce a “same shit, different day” syndrome, which I’ll spare you from.

Not much going on with actual photography lately. Moose photography has been halted due to the Cameron Peak Wildfire in Northern Colorado. This fire is burning about 13 miles from my home in Red Feather Lakes and has burned close to 23,000 acres and counting at zero percent containment at the moment. I don’t believe it’s going to threaten the village with burning, but the smoke from the fire makes for some very nasty air quality up there, and even here in Denver, from time to time. No property reported destroyed and no lives lost, but a few of the firefighters have contracted the virus. The other bummer is this fire destroying a large portion of what I call “Mooseville”, as it’s basically burning in a major moose habitat. Based on my knowledge of the area, this fire is going to grow much larger than it currently is.

As a result of halting photography, I’ve decided to rebuild my websites, Gray Photography and Image Colorado. A fresh slate, with better integration between the sites. Time to clean things up and come up with a new approach. Still working on that, but it’s going well and I have lots of new ideas you’ll see appearing on both websites in the future.

My brain cells are sorting out what I may be doing for Autumn photography this year. I do want to get back out there but I haven’t decided where I’m going yet.

Happy Thought Inventory

I have my Ford Explorer back from the shop with a brand new transmission. It’s all clean and spiffy, sitting in the garage, just waiting for me to take it back out on the road.

Picked up a fresh batch of weed yesterday, so the mellow hunkering with an aura of laidbackness can continue.

We can now return to our regularly scheduled programming on Television. The political conventions have came and gone. I spent exactly ZERO time watching them or even reading about them. One can’t avoid the headlines, but I don’t really give a hoot about any of the political posturing, lies and bullshit buzz phrases that seem to ooze from these things. I know how I’m voting and have since election day 2016. Nothing said between now and election day 2020 is going to change how I feel about a cockroach being in charge of our government.

Slacker Status

I’m not seeing as many dim-wits running around without their face masks lately. I know they are still out there, but my avoidance techniques have tuned me in to steering clear of the dumber people roaming the streets. I consider wearing a mask to be a simple IQ test. Stupid people don’t wear them, smart people do. Avoid the stupid people at all costs.

No first responder activity to report.

Still alive and well here in Denver.

The Depth of Field Myth

By Gary Gray

Originally published in 2007 on Have Camera -Will Travel, I’ve since made a few edits to this article and am republishing now as one of my most popular articles from the past. It is still relevant.

There seems to be a common belief that the camera with a full frame sensor will provide the photographer with more or less, (depending on which techno-wiz camera geek you talk to) depth of field than a cropped sensor camera such as the EOS 30D, which can be viewed either as an advantage or a drawback (depending on which techno-wiz camera geek you talk to.) On some internet forums you’ll find never ending debates over this camera vs. that camera and the difference in depth of field one format sensor will provide you over another.

Forget about all that. If you’re like me, I don’t need nor do I want to take a ruler and a calculator with me when I’m strolling around with my camera, so I can calculate a minuscule depth of field change between camera bodies. What ever your need as a photographer may be, I am here to show you that the different camera bodies will provide virtually identical depth of field when using identical focal lengths and the same exposure. The more depth of field that the Full Frame sensor supposedly gives you is a myth. Functionally, from a photographic standpoint there is no difference.

Below are two photographs, taken one right after the other, using the EOS 30D and EOS 5D with a Sigma 105mm Macro lens, pointing at a yardstick from the same exact distance using a tripod. I’m manually focusing on the 20 inch mark of the yardstick. The only obvious difference between the shots is the field of view (not to be confused with the depth of field.) The EOS 5D will give a wider field of view than the 30D using the same focal length lens. If you examine the depth of field provided in both shots by tracing the yardstick from the 20 inch mark, you’ll see that the focus field is identical.

Image on left EOS 30D, APS-C / Sigma 105mm Macro f2.8/ISO 100
Image on right EOS 5D, Full Frame / Sigma 105mm Macro f2.8/ISO 100

I can’t think of any better way to explain this than by using actual photographs. The depth of field is the same, the field of view is different.

The crop body does not modify the depth of field.

Put the calculator away and take pictures.

Nuff said…