Challenge Yourself!

Written by Hockomock Joe on . Posted in Rick's Remarks


by Joe Kennedy   (Thank you, Rick for allowing me to post this in your space) 


How often have you heard a club member, or maybe even yourself, say, “I’m in a photo funk, haven’t taken my camera out in quite a while!”

 Okay, maybe it wasn’t those exact words but you get the message. All of us experience a “funk” with our photography every once in a while. So what are you to do? Do what I did, challenge yourself to shoot! It could be as simple as one photo a week or one-a-day for a month. The important thing is to set a realistic goal involving how often you will shoot. I also found having a photo-theme made me more likely to turn on my camera.

 Currently in the middle of my personal New Year’s challenge of shooting and posting an image every day, I ramped up my efforts to focus (literally and figuratively) on a monthly theme. Who knew when I posted my first image that several friends, relatives, and photo-enthusiasts were still logged into my blog from the past so they played along. In January, it was patterns and my blog-followers sent in guesses as to what it could be. With the colder weather of January and February I set something up inside; practiced macro and shot objects within a specific room. You don’t want to give yourself excuses not to shoot!


February’s daily challenge got more involved as I decided to capture objects alphabetically. So for the February 1st posting, I posted letters from an old typewriter to depict the Alphabet! To make it more interesting, each image would be an antique (turns out that I had most of the objects already in the house). But then, I decided to go one step further as my followers might get bored looking at antique Gas masks, Marbles, and a Zenith radio, so I added a daily trivia question to each posting. I had them hooked!

 N for Needles

N is Needles for a Victrola


March’s Challenge was all about numbers! I was amazed at the impact numbers have on everyday objects. Everywhere I looked there was a number, such as bar codes, calendars, speed limit signs, etc. 

At the end of each month, I have compiled all of the challenges for that month into one image!



31 January Challenges C

Joe Kennedy’s Composite of all the February Challenge Images



My inspiration to continue has been my daughter who paints a small still life EVERY day and posts it on her blog. She reached her Four Year Anniversary in May of 2013 with over 1,450 paintings! Now, that’s dedication!

 I’m not saying to get as involved as I did but there are a variety of subjects to break that “photo funk.” Having a monthly theme forced to look more intently at what is out there. The subjects were there for me to shoot, I just had to be more focused on them.

Here is a list of some potential subjects to consider:

Patterns, shadows, numbers, the alphabet, antiques, buildings, emotions, macro, flowers, car parts, etc. The list of potential challenges is limited only by your imagination.


So what are you waiting for, the weather is getting warmer, get out and click away! You can also join me as I escape my photo funk @

Rick’s Remarks. . .

Written by Rick on . Posted in Rick's Remarks

“The Myth and Magic of the “Super Telephoto Lens”


Most photographers (especially those with an affinity for nature photography) “long” for a longer lens! Those looking on as we use our telephoto “cannons” imagine that the big glass is an immediate fix for glorious, in-your-face shots of wild animals, sports close-ups, or even intrusive images of unsuspecting celebrities! So many times I have heard people remark that “you must get great shots with a lens that big…”


It is easy to assume that once you own a telephoto lens, the great shots just jump onto your memory card, and that no subject is too far away for a great image. Unfortunately, like many other endeavors, quality super-telephoto photography is not as simple as it appears, and the award-winning images do not come easy! The “big guns” do, however, help the shooter make images possible that cannot be obtained any other way. The “special effects” made possible with a Super Telephoto Lens (STL) makes using them addictive!


I hope to share some insights on the use of super-telephoto lenses: the advantages, pitfalls, and tips on maximizing the images you can get using these tools. Hopefully, what I have to say will shorten the “learning curve” of those just getting into this type of fascinating photography, and encourage others to give it a try!


First, we should define what exactly a super telephoto lens (STL) is. Most would agree that lenses of 400 millimeters or greater would qualify as a STL. Zoom lens incorporating this focal length in their range would also be considered such. The major camera manufacturers offer lenses up to 600 or 800 mm, and 1200 mm lenses are even available on special order (and of course, exorbitant prices!). “Angle of view” is the best way to describe a STL’s effect on the subject. The more millimeters you have, the narrower the angle of view captured by the image sensor.


Canon 500mm







Nikon 400mm









One of the biggest myths about using an STL is that the photographer can easily fill the frame with a subject, no matter how small, or how distant. One of the quickest lessons one learns when beginning to use an STL, is that the subject size is never as large as one would expect.  Most bird photographers, for example, ALWAYS want a longer lens, especially for shooting small birds! For example, imaging a sparrow-sized bird with a 500 mm lens requires a distance of 20 feet or less for a frame filling shot, and that‘s with a sub-35 mm format digital camera body! An experienced bird or wildlife photographer learns how to get as close to the subject as possible (without stressing or disrupting the subject’s behavior) in order to get the best image possible.


This leads to another myth: that images posted online or in print are framed as they were in the camera.  Most frame-filling images of birds and wildlife have been cropped, and some HEAVILY, before being shown to others. It is a rare occasion when an image does not need cropping to some degree. The high-resolution sensors of the latest digital SLRs allow lots of cropping in while retaining excellent quality. Of course, the original image must be exceedingly sharp and well exposed to stand up to heavy cropping.


 This is helpful when the shooter wants to isolate a subject, either from its background, and/or from other competing objects.  This effect communicates the subject to the viewer more clearly, and often with great impact!  The STL is a great tool for removing distracting elements from the image, useful also in portraiture in many cases.  The STL either excludes distractions outside of the small angle of view, or blurs them out with its characteristically shallow depth of field, which is the range of sharpness front to back in an image.


"Sparrow" Used a 400mm lens with a 1.4 teleconverter.

 Sparrow was  shot from my truck window with a beanbag support. Bird was about 20ft. away The f/3.5 aperture allowed for the background to be less of a distraction. Image was cropped.


An explanation of the digital magnification factor is in order at this point.  Most digital SLR image sensors are smaller than the 35 mm image size of the past.  This means that less of the image projected by the lens appears in the image produced by a digital SLR.  This has the effect of cropping the image in the camera, and resulting in a larger subject size in the frame than would be produced on 35 mm film with the same lens.  Most digital sensors cause the subject to be magnified by 1.5 times that on film.  A 400 mm lens becomes equivalent to a 600 mm lens when attached to a typical digital SLR!  This is a great advantage for wildlife or sports shooters who always yearn for a closer view.


The extreme subject magnification comes at a cost, however.  One of the largest obstacles to overcome when a quality image is the goal with an STL is image blur due to lens movement or vibration. Subject movement during the exposure is also more of an issue when using an STL. The higher the magnification of the subject, the more image blur can be a factor.  One of the most frustrating aspects I have found when reviewing my STL images, are the number of “deletes” due to subject blur.  Image stabilization technology in many of the newer STLs does combat image blur significantly, but only that caused by lens movement.  A fast shutter speed is still necessary to freeze subject movement.  Raising the ISO setting of the camera or using a larger lens opening (aperture) is often needed to allow for these faster shutter speeds, especially when shooting in low light. 


The ability to use a large aperture (or lens opening) has another wonderful advantage in using a quality STL.  The most sought after (and expensive) STLs are those which, have a relatively large maximum aperture.  Typical consumer grade telephoto lenses have moderately small maximum apertures of f/5.6 or smaller.  Higher-end models have maximum openings of f/2.8 to f/4.   In fact one of the reasons a seasoned photographer uses an STL (beyond subject magnification) is to isolate the subject from a busy, messy, or distracting background.  “Opening up” the lens to a large aperture is a crucial advantage when, for example, a beautiful bird is surrounded by jagged twigs and branches which would distract the viewer from enjoying the details of the bird.  Large aperture STLs can create a creamy background blur, which softens the background and accentuates the subject.



"Fox and Kit" My 400mm lens with a f/3.5 aperture

Fox and Kit were about fifty feet away! I was able to capture them with my 400mm lens – no tele-converter here. Cropped in post processing.


Several accessories are useful, if not essential, in the use of an STL.  First and foremost, a very sturdy tripod is a must when using a telephoto lens for any length of time.  Sure, “grab shots” can be made hand holding an STL with image stabilization making this more possible than ever.  Still, for the best results and most comfort, a quality tripod with the right “head” is indispensable. 


I would guess that one of the most common errors leading to poor photo quality with an STL is using an insufficient tripod.  It is not advisable to try “getting away” with an STL on your “everyday” tripod.  Most tripods used with standard-range lenses will not provide enough rigidity or stability for an STL, due to its weight and high subject magnification.  Several characteristics make my list for an appropriate tripod for your STL:

1. Do not plan on raising the center post, as this compromises the steadiness of the tripod.  The legs should be long enough so that, fully extended, the lens sits at least at eye-level without raising the center post.

2. The width of the legs where they touch the ground should be at least the same as the length of your rig, if not wider.

3. Be sure to use a head that matches the oversized tripod.   A large ball head is very popular.

4. Aluminum legs work fine, though carbon fiber is noticeably lighter and somewhat more rigid.

5) Generally, the fewer telescoping sections a tripod has, the more stable it will be.


Also, for the best stability of the lens, the proper setup, stance and grip on your rig will be important to avoid subject blur due to lens movement.


First, take the time to set your tripod legs to the most comfortable height. You should be able to look through the viewfinder with out either stooping or tiptoeing. You will need to adjust the length of the legs periodically depending on where your subject is located, as well as the often-tilted landscape you are shooting from.


The positioning of your arms and hands will make a noticeable difference in the steadiness of the lens. Your right hand will of course be gripping the camera body. Your left hand should support the lens. I find that, by first balancing the rig on the tripod, then placing my left hand on top of the lens directly above the tripod head, gives me good lens stability.  Your face should also be pressed firmly against the back of the camera.  Avoid “punching” the shutter button.  Instead, apply light constant pressure, gently releasing the shutter to avoid movement of your rig.


Using a STL can generate exciting images not possible with shorter lenses, if used properly.  I hope that these tips will help those just trying out super-telephoto photography, and perhaps even a seasoned long lens shooter may have learned something from what I have shared.  Be forewarned, however:  STL shooting is definitely addictive.  Give it a try!



It Got Me to Thinking…

Written by Rick on . Posted in Rick's Remarks


Rick Alvarnaz the "Birdman of HDP"


During a recent image study night at my favorite (and only!) camera club, I was explaining how I had cleaned up one of my favorite red-tailed hawk photos, removing many distracting branches and “reconstructing” the raptor’s tail where twigs had previously run across it (see the attached images).  A remark from another club member got me to thinking.  His comment (paraphrased for lack of remembering the exact words) was: “Wow! You never know what’s real in photography anymore!”  He sounded somewhat disappointed.

This was actually an expression which underlined an inner conflict I have had since learning how to digitally edit my own photographs:  Are my pictures “real”?  Photo editing is something I enjoy second only to taking the pictures in the first place.  We have all seen over and over again how running an image through our favorite editing program or programs causes the shot to “come alive”.  There is so much potential in a well-made image that cannot be realized without applying Photoshop, Elements, Lightroom, (or any number of other applications) to the image!

However, photography has always been perceived as a medium that most represents reality, compared to other art forms.  The most famous of images became so because they captured a moment in time that was extraordinary, due to the action, emotion, and/or quality of light shown in the photograph.  It implies the perceptive and discerning eye of the photographer, and his or her impeccable timing of the shutter release.

Of course, photography does vary from reality.  It is a two dimensional medium relying on a particular perspective, choice of lens and filters, and the use of color or monochromatic presentation.  So why do we feel betrayed when we learn that what we see in a photograph is not actually the way the scene appeared to the naked eye at the time it was taken?  The use of digital post-processing has pushed the variation of the final image from the original to the extreme!  So many changes to an image sometimes result in more of an expression of art than a traditional photograph.

In this “digital age”, those of us who were originally involved in conventional (film) photography have a different world in front of us.

In the competitive environment of a of camera club, post processing is encouraged, and basically necessary!  We are expected to optimize the color, sharpness, exposure and framing of each photo presented.  When not done, an image straight from a digital camera falls flat in comparison to an optimized image.

Beyond these basic editing steps, club members are often advised that stray branches, errant bright spots, and other distracting elements should be removed or darkened.  These more advanced techniques like cloning, burning, or dodging can have a dramatic impact on an image, particularly of a nature subject or portrait!  Thus is my struggle as a nature photographer as to how much to change, and how much of the original scene should remain.

Which brings me back to the thought-provoking comment I mentioned at the outset; it seems unsettling when one learns that much has been done to an image that was perceived at first as a serendipitous capture!  This is photography in the digital age – there is no going back!

What can we conclude from all this?  I can offer you my ideas, and would encourage other HDP’ers to share their thoughts.

First, I think it is important for each of us to have the personal integrity to adhere to the guidelines and restrictions for image modification prescribed for particular competitions, both within and outside of HDP (for example, the prohibition of cloning for a nature competition image).  Second, and perhaps more important, it is crucial for each of us to be frank about the conditions under which a photo was made when the question is raised, and/or the work that was done in post-processing to bring the image to its presented state: was the beautiful bird or animal in the photo captive, or free and wild?  Third, we should ask ourselves: what is the goal of my photography: highlighting fascinating aspects of the world for others to see, or using the medium to create art?  Most of us fall somewhere in between.

After all, hasn’t an exemplary photograph always been part what was before the lens, and part the creative energy of the image-maker?



Redtail Hawk Before



Redtail Hawk After