Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Today on the radio I heard a news report about somebody being pulled from alligator infested water. It seems that whenever there is a water rescue or a plane goes down in water, it's alligator infested. Well, not always - sometimes it's snake and alligator infested. Unless, of course, it's in the ocean, in which case it's shark infested waters. 

Reporters love to add drama, to use hyperbole. They don't really know much, especially about nature. A reporter's knowledge is a mile wide and an inch deep, a radio reporter once told me.  If a body of water is a mile wide and an inch deep, it's snake infested. When something happens in a place with any semblance of being natural, it's always reported as being infested with whatever wildlife it may happen to be the natural habitat of.

When the county condemned our hoarder neighbor's house, the first thing they did was have it fumigated to kill all the rats. Now, that's infested! When reporters tell us about something happening in alligator and snake infested waters, that's their shorthand for shallow freshwater in the southeastern United States. When they say shark infested water, they mean seawater.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Gitzo Scotch Tape Fix

Or, how to keep your old classic purring

Gitzo is the gold standard for tripods. It is the tripod against which all others are compared. I've had my Gitzo 1325 for about 10 years. It's sturdy, rigid, and lightweight. I couldn't live without it, photographically speaking. It's also the most maintenance intensive piece of gear I own. It's like a Jaguar XK-E: an amazingly beautiful, high performance machine that leaves an oil stain on the garage floor.

It's the leg joints – collet-style twist lock leg joints. They've been redesigned and newer Gitzo tripods don't have the same kind of leg joints as my old 1325. That's a good thing. The leg joints are the reason I selected the model 1325 in the first place. It has fewer of them. The 3 in the model number means each leg has three sections, two joints per leg as opposed to four sections with three joints per leg. The four section models will collapse into a smaller package, which is nice if you're a frequent flier. But I've got no use for that extra trio of joints.  The new leg joints (from what I've read – not from personal experience) solve the leg joint issues. This article is about the old-style leg joints. So, if you've had your Gitzo for a while, this may be of interest to you.

After long use, the leg joints have to be tightened down harder to lock. If you don't give them that extra bit of snugness they slip, which is really annoying. So you cinch the lower leg locks a little tighter to make sure they're snug and then you have to tighten the upper ones more, to loosen the lower ones. Then they get so tight, they're hard to loosen. And eventually, they just won't tighten enough to keep the legs from slipping. The standard way of dealing with this is to replace the fiber bushings in the leg joints. It's not a big job – routine maintenance. Easier than changing the plugs in the old Jag. When you order the replacement bushings, they come in a bag of three of each and every size that Gitzo makes. And they cost about fifty bucks – Ouch. And then you have a bag full of extra bushings that fit Gitzo legs of different diameters than the legs on your tripod.

I replaced the bushings for the first time when my 1325 was a few years old. I replaced them the second time a couple of years later. Then not too long after that, one of the legs started to slip again. For some reason, I hadn't thrown out the old bushings, so I selected a used one that seemed to be in pretty good condition, and replaced the bushing in the offending leg. That did the trick – for a while at least. A few months later when the symptoms recurred, I read about a fellow who suggested wrapping the bushings with Teflon tape, the kind made for pipe threads. I tried it and it worked - temporarily. After a few uses the leg began to slip again. The Teflon tape had disintegrated.

When I disassembled the tripod, I discovered that swapping the lower legs around didn't matter. Regardless of which lower leg section, it was the one in a particular middle section that slipped. This told me that it must be the inside of the leg into which the bushing fits that was worn, not the bushing itself. I tried putting a strip of scotch tape around the inside the leg section. Man, that is practically an impossible feat – much harder to accomplish than one might think. So I gave up on that idea and I tried putting a strip of scotch tape on the outside of the fiber bushing. That seemed to help. So I put two strips of tape, one on top of the other, around the outside of the bushing. It worked!

Yes – but surely it's a make-shift band-aid repair. It wont last any longer than the Teflon tape did. Surprisingly, that's not the case. After three months, the scotch tape fix is holding up just fine. I began getting the symptoms in another leg, so I added the scotch tape to the bushings in the lower leg joints of both remaining legs. When I did that, I inspected the scotch tape on the first bushing. It looked just as good as the day I first put it on.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Mt. Sanibel

Redux from the past, by popular demand

Mt. Sanibel towers above the clouds as its slopes are lit by the rising sun, captured by my trusty Graflex Speed Graphic press camera from the copilot's seat as Amelia put the Electra 10E into a tight bank. Little Ellie was helping me review the morning's shoot in the darkroom. "Volcano!" she exclaimed as this image materialized in the tray.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Sturgeon Moon - Fail

Or – sometimes you don't get what you want, but you get something else

My ephemeris told me that the moon, the Sturgeon Moon, the full moon of August, would set behind Point Ybel just minutes before sunrise this morning. I headed for Bowditch Point, once again to try to catch the Sanibel Lighthouse silhouetted in front of the orb of the setting moon. I try year after year, but the moon always gradually, imperceptibly, fades into nothingness before it reaches the horizon, or else it is completely obscured by clouds. As I drove I could see the creamy orange moon peeking at me through wispy haze in the west. Crossing the bridge, Fleetwood Mac's Rhiannon played on the radio.

When I get to the beach I see that the moon is completely hidden behind clouds - large, growing, billowy cumulus clouds. A change of plan. There would be no moonset. But I love big clouds. Maybe these would deign to give me a picture. Stevie Nicks' voice echoes through my head as I swap the telephoto lens for a wide-angle zoom. I whistle the tune.

Rhiannon rings like a bell through the night
And wouldn't you love to love her?

The bluish clouds grow against the dark sky as it gradually lightens. I hope the sun will give them some color and definition as it nears the underside of the horizon behind me. And I wish I had a foreground, but the on-going beach re-nourishment project has completely denuded the beach of its driftwood and snags.

The sun kisses the tops of the clouds and turns them pink. The color slowly creeps down the billows, becoming golden. I occasionally make an exposure. As the sky grows brighter, I add a graduated neutral density filter to lighten the dark water in front of me, still in shadow. I wish I had a foreground.

I hear a motor. A shrimper rounds the point a couple of hundred yards north of me, and heads out, following the channel. I wait for her to enhance my composition. She recedes into the distance more quickly than she nears my cumulus backdrop. Finally - but she is small in the frame. I pop off a few frames as the shrimper heads for the clouds on the horizon. I close in for one shot at the long end of the zoom range - forty millimeters. That's the one.

The clouds grow and smear, losing their definition, becoming overcast. Looks like I might get caught in the rain, so I head back for the car as Stevie sings in my brain.

She is like a cat in the dark
And then she is the darkness

Thursday, August 11, 2011

High Point Joe's - Iterations

Or - Sometimes, if you keep at it, you can get what you want.

Early Saturday morning I found myself in the Fort Myers River District. I was hoping for some nice thunderheads for the rising sun to light up so I could make a nice picture. Nope – not a cloud in the sky. After moseying along the riverfront, I wound up near Joe's Crab Shack. I had always had a notion of making a picture of Joe's at night, all lit up with it's colored lights. No such color at sunrise.  But with the contrast and texture of the High Point residential highrise as a backdrop, my mind's eye saw a possibility for a black and white picture.  I set up, composed my picture, and waited for the sun to clear the downtown buildings and light up the scene before me.

By a quarter past seven the clear sky was becoming a deep royal blue. I knew that would give me the rich dark tones I wanted in a black and white image. Clouds? We don't need no stinkin' clouds. A breeze was rippling the water, scrambling the reflection, so for the first exposures, I chose to use a neutral density filter to lengthen the exposure time and, I hoped, give me a nice satiny reflection.

Then I made some more exposures with the ND filter removed for a crisper reflection and shifted my position to adjust the composition.

Later, when I reviewed the pictures at home, they were okay, but I wasn't satisfied with them. The next morning, Sunday, I went back downtown. I was roaming the district looking for a scene lit by street lamps while it was still dark and I noticed that I was sweating. Hey, there's no wind. It's absolutely calm. I could get a good reflection at Joe's. So, once again I found myself at the same location I had tried the previous morning.

From having reviewed the pictures from the day before, I knew the composition I favored, one with the corner of Joe's roof extending beyond the edge of the High Point building. Even though there wasn't any wind, there were boats moving in the marina that disturbed the otherwise smooth surface of the water and distorted the reflection. I figured I had what I needed and was about to head out, when, at the last minute, I decided to see what I see if I got down in the water. I had been shooting mostly from the landing of a pier in the marina. 
As I set up the camera at the water's edge with the tripod as low as I could get it, I noticed that the water was almost perfectly still. “Now!” I thought. And I hurried to get it level and to compose. As I was about to trip the shutter, a fish jumped just under the building. Click - I got my exposure! Then, a few more as the fish's ripples spread out towards me and squiggled the mirror surface of the water. But I knew I had my picture.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Why a Blog?

Everything has to start at the beginning. This beginning is little rough. I hope I'll be able to polish the look and feel of this blog but so far I'm not getting the hang of it very well – the back room nuts and bolts.

I read on a photographer's blog, whose blog made him famous (among face shooters), that every blog post should start with a photograph.  That's what the blog is all about.  So here's some predawn  lightning, compliments of Tropical Storm Emily this morning.

Umm.....here goes.

I photograph in and around Fort Myers, Florida, often on our barrier islands, hence the title on the banner.  [The original title of this blog was Island Photography, taken from my website.] I do other things here too, but photographing is what this blog is mainly supposed to be about. 

I've been pointing a lens at things around here for a pretty long time, but for a painfully large portion of that time I really only sort of knew what I was doing. I thought I knew, but mostly I just didn't know what I didn't know. (Shades of Don Rumsfeld) Then the World Wide Web happened and that's when I found out how little I knew about how to make a good picture. I learned stuff from people on the web who knew more than I did. Maybe they only knew a little bit more than I did or maybe they only knew one thing that I didn't know, but I learned from them a little bit about how to make better pictures. After a more than a decade on the Web, I've picked up a few things, and discarded a few things, too, and there's plenty I still don't know. But I do know more about making a photograph than I used to.

The first photographic website I participated in was ShutterCity. It was an image critique site for general photography by photographers of all skill levels. Most of the photographers who posted there, me included, were rank amateurs, but a few knew what they were doing, more or less. They knew more than I did, at least. And I learned from their criticisms of my photographs and those of others. I had been fading in and out of photography as a hobby for years. ShutterCity re-kindled my enthusiasm and I resolved to be a real photographer. ShutterCity went defunct about five years ago

Shortly after signing on to ShutterCity, I discovered NPN, Nature Photographer's Network Online Magazine. http://www.naturephotographers.net/index.html  NPN is an absolutely first rate nature photography forum and image critique site. Skill level ranges from beginner to world-class with plenty of friendly helpful advice and sharing. I've learned a great deal about technique, gear, digital image processing, and photography in general at NPN over the years. It is a great source of knowledge and a repository of nature photographs that will knock your socks off.

My photographic journey has spread out from nature photography into architectural, urban landscapes, and portraiture. So I've been exploring photography websites outside of the nature genre. I've found some that aren't so good, with trolls, flamers, and infighting – bleh. I've also found some that are pretty good, but some have a fair amount of so-so photographs posted for critique that get fawned over. It makes it hard to learn about what makes a good photograph when critiquers label mediocre images with superlatives. And I don't find the camaraderie I enjoyed so much at my old sites, but that may just be me.

So... Here we are. 
I thought maybe if I started a blog I could get the kind interaction with other photographers that I haven't been able to find on websites.  So I hope that you, dear reader, will encouage me to keep it up.   I may not be the greatest photographer in the world but an expert is anyone who knows things about something that you don't know. Surely I can share some knowledge about photography that you didn't already know.  I hope you can share some things I don't know.   Also - I was told, "You should start a newsletter yourself.  You certainly have a way with words... and pictures"  (You know who you are.)