What to Look For In A Camera For Any Skill Level

Digital SLR

I’m often asked, “What kind of camera do you recommend?” I’m not so sure that those who ask that one simple question actually understand just how many questions that it can generate in reply.

Cell Phone Camera
Cell Phone Camera

There’s the old adage that, the best camera is the one that you have with you, and a lot can be said for that. Capturing a moment in time is easily served well by modern cell phones. Most of the time the photos that are made are perfectly acceptable. With a little experience and an application or two and an Instagram account one can call it good and their photographic needs are taken care of. Not long ago if someone wanted a simple camera they would get a Point and Shoot but today cell phones have taken that role.

Because cell phones have their limitations, if a person wants to be able to take a little better quality photo, especially in challenging light or fast action, they can choose some excellent cameras today that make the pro models from years past look primitive. Even at entry and bridge camera levels. A bridge camera, or prosumer camera, is one that gives the user the ability to either shoot in automatic, programmed modes or manual mode. Generally speaking they don’t have interchangeable lenses but have a large zoom range. Some offer from 24-1000mm equivalent focal length zoom capabilities. These cameras usually run from around $300 – $1000, with the average around $500-600 dollars and cover the majority of the needs of the average consumer or hobbyist.

The next step up the the progression of abilities are the Single Lens Reflex cameras. The majority of serious hobbyists or professional photographers will want to own a DSLR camera because of their increased capabilities such as more control, larger file sizes for larger printing, lower light capabilities, better lenses etc. I tell anyone who is considering buying a DSLR camera that if they don’t plan on learning how to use it on any other setting than Auto to not bother with the expense as the Bridge cameras will give you the equivalent image. An entry level DSLR can cost as little as $500 for the camera body with lenses additional, up to $6000 – $8000 for a pro model with a myriad of costs and models between. I will discuss the differences in the different types of DSLR cameras in a future article.

Digital SLR
Digital SLR

It is important to note that technology marches on and in the next few years we can see a shift in the camera paradigm since the Japanese 35mm film SLR’s came to the consumer market in the 1950’s. The next big thing in cameras is the elimination of the mirror mechanism that’s the main part of the single lens reflex camera. The mirrorless cameras have no moving parts and the sensor controls the exposure. Another benefit is that they are smaller and lighter. Manufactures such as Sony, Fuji and Panasonic are leading the way while, oddly, the big guys Canon and Nikon seem to be dragging their feet at this time, but it’s logical that all of the other will follow suit soon.

To get back to my original statement about the best camera is the one that you have with you. I always tell anyone who wants to use a camera as a hobby to create artistic images that it matters little the type of camera. I have made beautiful photos with a wooden pinhole camera and 120 film. A pinhole camera is, essentially, a box with a little hole in the front. The photographer uncovers the hole for a moment to expose the film and then covers it again. I have made some photos with an old Brownie Hawkeye that would rival a Hasselblad. Don’t use the excuse that you don’t have a good camera to start taking photos. Use what you have. Learn how to use it. Learn what good and bad light is. Learn a few composition rules and practice. Learning photography is like any skill. It takes a lot of practice. And the true art of photography doesn’t depend on cost or complexity of the paintbrush. There’s a lot to be said about using gear that is more suited to your skill level and growing to the point where the camera’s limitations are limiting your own. I always say that a pair of fancy golf shoes or an expensive titanium driver is not going to help my golf game. If I were a pro or a very good hobbyist, maybe. ¬†

I have not addressed or endorsed a recommended brand. There’s no reason to choose one over the other. Arguing about Canon or Nikon is like arguing about Ford or Chevy. It’s all about personal preference. The brands do what brands do. They leap frog each other to try to have the best. We all win because of it. The main reason that a person chooses one brand over the other is the user interface or lens selection. And once you choose a brand and invest in a few lenses, one has little incentive to change brands just to buy a whole new set of lenses, which is indeed something to consider when choosing a brand.

I should also mention that if you are an old film fan you can still purchase film and have it developed, but, sadly they have taken our Kodachrome away!

I hope that this gives you a little bit of information to allow you to decide on which camera might be right for you. I am always available to answer questions either here at my blog or on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Eastern Oregon Dirt Road

Eastern Oregon Dirt Road

Wake me when we come to a curve in the road.

This is an Eastern Oregon dirt road near Jordan Valley, Rome and Leslie Gulch, just north of the Alvord Desert. Somewhere that has no name. A place that needs no name, but if I were to name it I would name it freedom.

I love that whole southeastern Oregon area. I wouldn’t mind at all living out there in a shack surrounded by sagebrush, invisible canyons and a sky as big as the whole wide world. In a place where everything is in the open and nothing is hidden by trees and mountains. A place where the coyotes sing all night long. A place where the wind runs free with the critters that dwell there.

I must admit that population density is a huge appeal for me. In the Owyhee country of southeastern Oregon it’s from 1/2 a person to 6 people per square mile, where in Multnomah County it’s from 81 – 203 people per square mile. :O Now don’t get me wrong. I love people, but I like people like I like beer, in metered amounts and in a relaxed situation. Too much of a good thing is just still too much. ūüėÄ

Eastern Oregon isn’t the only place that I get that feeling of freedom. Southern Utah is a place where I could hole up in a shack somewhere hard to find, and for the same reasons. Alaska is another place that I get the feeling of freedom in my soul. It’s the “Last Frontier”.

My soul is usually troubled when I’m in a city. My stress level increases to an uncomfortable level. It all feels so totally unnatural to me. I feel controlled, monitored and judged. The total opposite of a feeling of freedom.

I suppose cities have their place, but they aren’t my place. My place is where I can walk surrounded by natural beauty. A place where I have to stop breathing to hear the sounds that surround me. A place where I can close my eyes and feel surrounded by a peaceful presence. A place where the roads have no corners.

#oregon #easternoregon #randallpics

Opal Creek Workshop 2015

Battle Ax Creek Bridge
Battle Ax Creek Bridge at Opal Creek Ancient Forest.

Opal Creek Workshop 2015 was another amazing time at the Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center near Mill City, Oregon.

Everyone had a great time with perfect weather throughout the event. We were even fortunate enough to have a nice drizzle early Saturday morning, the day in which we had the most time to explore and photograph the area. Enough to dampen the moss and leaves and to make the forest extra fresh as the sun appeared as the day progressed.

Dinner at Jawbone Flats
Dinner at Jawbone Flats

All of the staff at Jawbone Flats were simply amazing in their want and ability to help make everyone comfortable and that their needs were met to the best of their ability. The food was excellent as it was prepared by the beautiful, talented, caring, humorous and completely inimitable Rebekah. For me Rebekah is an integral component of one of the most important parts of the experience of the workshop and any stay at Jawbone Flats, eating with the rest of the visitors and residents family style in the community hall.

The cabins were comfortable and provided us with opportunities to sit around a large kitchen table to review our photos, explore processing techniques and to discuss the day.

The time always goes by so fast. I’m hoping to make this workshop a tradition.

 

Mount Hood Super Moon Eclipse 2015

The Super Moon Eclipse of 2015 was an historic event which will not be seen again until the year 2033. I had to go see if I could get a photo for myself.

I decided to drive up Lolo Pass Road near Zigzag Oregon and boy was I surprised to see all the cars. I found a quiet place of my own and set up to shoot the moon.

Here are a few of the shots that I was able to pull off.

 

Silver City Idaho

Silver City Idaho Saloon Girl

Silver City Idaho –¬†Where time stands still.

I had the opportunity to visit Silver City Idaho this last June for a day. I’m still in a bit of disbelief that this kind of place still exists in today’s modern world.

My friend Bruce and I packed our gear and headed to southeastern Oregon where we explored several places that we’ve been curious about, so on this trip we drove past the familiar scene of the amazing Alvord desert, after a burger and a shake at Fields Station, and headed north in to the Jordan Valley area including The Pillars of Rome and Leslie Gulch. After a side trip in toe Nampa Idaho to get a tire repaired, we made the side trip through the beautiful southern Idaho area to Silver City.

Once we arrived in the little town hidden back in the hills we knew we were some place special. After traveling over an hour on back country, single lane dirt roads of varying condition, we arrived to a large sign stating, “Welcome to Silver City Idaho. All property is privately owned. Please do not destroy or trespass. Violators will be prosecuted. Signed the Owyhee County Sheriff”. Fair warning I thought. ūüôā

We traversed the dirt streets past old well kept 19th century buildings, daring not to exceed the 5 MPH posted speed limit, and pulled up to the Idaho Hotel as if we were riding up to the hitching post on our horses after a long ride on the dusty trail. We walked inside and found the proprietor busying himself inside. We were glad to see that he was open for business and sold cold beer. Bruce and I each ordered a cold one and proceeded to engage the keeper in interesting conversation concerning the history of Silver City. ¬†Established in 1863 the hotel has changed little in character through the years. The old building showed obvious wear from an untold number of foot falls and activity through it’s 150 year history.

Once we finished our refreshment and a series of interior photos, we left the building to roam the streets, guided for a time by our new found friend. As we explored the town I photographed a few of the details in the quaint little city. There are so many different views and details to be noticed and creatively photographed.

If you are ever in the vicinity of Silver City and feel adventurous enough to travel the old back road to the little town, take a day and go take a visit. Remember that this is a real town and not an amusement park. People live there. They enjoy showing a stranger around but appreciate their privacy.

Below are a few of the variety of black and white photos that I made while exploring the beautiful little “ghost town” of Silver City Idaho.

Photographing Oregon – The Book

Photographing Oregon

A guide to the natural landmarks of Oregon by Greg Vaughn

I’m often asked of locations around Oregon where my photos are taken. After reading through Greg Vaughn’s excellent book Photographing Oregon –¬†A guide to the natural landmarks of Oregon I am glad to know that I have a single answer for them. “Buy the book”. And this is The Book when it comes to Oregon’s landscape photo opportunities.

Not only is Greg an excellent writer he’s also an wonderful photographer. his book is filled with easy to understand descriptions of how to get to “the beautiful locations found in coffee table books, posters, calendars, and travel magazines”.

“Photographing Oregon is a comprehensive guide to photographing the natural wonders throughout the state of Oregon. With more than 300 pages of information and over 240 color photographs, the book tells not just where to go, but also when to be there for the best conditions, and includes suggestions on how to capture¬†the best¬†photos in locations all over this beautiful state.”¬†Each location has a description of the location, a photo that represents nicely the area as well as directions and estimated time of travel.

It’s my opinion that every landscape photographer should have a copy of this book in their backpacks. Even if you’re not a photographer and just enjoy exploring all that Oregon has to offer in the form of scenery, you should have this book.

Ask for Photographing Oregon at your favorite local bookseller either by title or ISBN # 978-0916189181. You can also order the book, in either print or Kindle version, from Amazon.com.

Photographing Oregon
Photographing Oregon

Oregon Aurora

Oregon Aurora over Mount Hood 10/24/2011

Oregon Aurora – The Northern Lights in the Pacific Northwest – There once was a day when I was asked, “What would be your dream shot?” I replied that my dream shot or the impossible shot would be the aurora over Mount Hood, Oregon.

Since then Earth has passed into¬†the peak of the solar cycle¬†known as solar maximum and camera sensors have become much more sensitive to light allowing myself and many other photographers to be able to photograph the event when it happens, and it has happened quite a bit the last three years. ¬†The first time that I photographed the aurora I had no idea that I had captured it in the shots that I had made the night when¬†I went to photograph Trillium Lake, but when I looked at the photos when I had returned home I noticed a green glow on the horizon. Granted, it wasn’t columns and ribbons of light, but a soft green glow. That was October 24th, 2011. Four years ago.

Since then I have been able to catch the Northern Lights in the area and snap a few photos. It’s not as easy as just taking a chance and going and to get a photo. They only come after a solar storm and typically happen from a day or three afterward. I use an application for my phone called Aurora Notifier that signals me when the Kp level, the strength, of the aurora rises above 4Kp. Once that happens, if it’s a dark night, I grab my gear and go.

Once out in the dark one must realize that at this latitude the light is dim and difficult to see with your eyes, but if it’s a strong enough display you can see the light pillars dance on the horizon once your eyes are adjusted. You must get away from any sky whose darkness is¬†diluted by any affect from town or city light. Even the light from the moon can wash out the northern lights. Choose a dark sky with a view toward the northern horizon. Set your camera on a tripod and set your aperture wide open to allow as much light in as possible. Then set your ISO high, it will vary depending on how dark the sky is or how bright the aurora is. Then set your shutter speed for at least 20 seconds. This long exposure is only for the aurora at this latitude. When photographing the aurora in the northern latitudes where the aurora is much brighter a much shorter exposure is called for.

Once you have your camera set take a shot and see how it looks on your preview screen. If it’s too dark raise your ISO or extend your shutter time, from 20 sec to 25 sec for instance. If it’s too bright lower your ISO. That should get you started. There are challenges that you will run into but in time you will get some northern light shots for your own.

Below is a collection of some of my Oregon Aurora photos. I hope that you enjoy them.

No color was added to any of these photos.

Enjoy!

Gary =0)

 

The Fortress of the Night Sky

McKenzie Pass Oregon

The Fortress of the Night Sky – The Dee Wright Observatory at Night

The car doors closes with a thud and the interior light’s soft glow that’s been allowing us to prepare our gear turns off in an instant leaving our senses to rely on sound as all sight goes away in the black of the night. I put my arm out to reach for Darlene‚Äč as we both let our eyes adjust to the night sky. The summer breeze wisps softly around us as the stars appear as our eyes adjust. Darlene was the first to break the silence when she lets out a sigh as the Milky Way appears in front and above us. “Wow” is all she says.McKenzie Pass Oregon

We lock arms and shoulder our gear, turn on our headlamps and walk into the night and up the path jagged volcanic rock bordered path to the rocky structure that is the Dee Wright Observatory on the McKenzie Pass through the Cascade Mountains in Oregon.

The structure was built in 1937 and is made from the lava rock chunks that make up the surrounding area. The observatory sits amid a barren rocky ancient lava flow very much like the black basaltic a’a lava flows in Hawaii. Because it’s made from the area on which it sits it looks as if it is rising from chaos to be assembled in a wholly organic yet orderly fortress like structure. it was made as a place where people can come to view the beauty of the area from a majestic prominence, and yet we couldn’t see past the light of our lamps.

The arched openings showed the warm flickering light from a candle that was placed inside by another visitor for the purpose of making photographs. How fortunate we think as we walk up to get a view of the Milky way in the south sky shooting up and over the observatory.

I’m fortunate that Darlene likes the night time outdoors as much as I do. We decided to pose her inside of one of the arched openings. We get a few shots until the other photographer takes her candle and leaves at which point we start using a flashlight. We light paint the outside for a while. We go inside and we light paint inside for a while. We’re taking shots, checking them out on the backs of our cameras, adjust and try to perfect it before moving on the the next shot. We’re like kids in a playground.

We finished the shoot on the observation deck at the top of the structure, in the center of which stood a raised pedestal with a 36″ diameter bronze azimuth-like “peak finder” compass. On its face are lines that help the observer find prominent landmarks, such as the incredible volcanic peaks of the Central Cascade Mountain Range. Belknap Crater from which the lava which flowed over the area is where the rock that made the lava flow came from. Then there is North, Middle and South Sister Mountains to the south, the amazing jagged peak of Mount Washington, the scenic Mount Jefferson, Mount Hood, to the north and Black Butte to the east. Several more are marked on the circular bronze disc with an arrow pointing in their direction.

I light paint the disc as a foreground for a Milky way photo and then we decide to just turn off the lights and look at the stars for a few minutes before heading back down the rock path and back into the glow of the light of the car.

I love the night.

Details, Details.

 

Lost Lake Ripples

 

It’s a beautiful warm sunny day as you drive up into the mountains seeking cooler air and a needed break even if only for the afternoon. The kind of break that requires a seat next to a lake you think to yourself.

As you arrive you leave your car and stretch your legs you look at the trees surrounding you. You breath in the forest’s essence and walk toward an opening in the trees that leads to the path that you seek. The one that gives you a view to your goal.

As you walk forward the opening slowly reveals a still lake whose surface is broken only by the texture of the effect of a soft breeze. Beyond the lake toward the opposite end lies in the distance the snow capped peak of a glacier laden mountain reflected softly in the lake. You instantly feel a relief of stress in your body.

In the moment that you take to admire and absorb the beauty revealed to you an adult male bald eagle flies past the break in the trees, light shining off of it’s feathers, floating in the breeze only to disappear for a moment behind the trees then to reappear high up in the sky floating off into the distance to a tree branch of a tall Douglas fir tree.

The scene is huge and majestic. There’s so much to see and observe. It’s larger than life itself.

As you stand there you realize that you came to also snap a few photos. You think how cool it would have been to be able to get a shot of that eagle as it flew past… so you best be ready in case it happens again! You bring out the wide angle lens to get some photos of the scene beyond. Everything must be included you think. The trees surrounding the opening and framing the amazing scene, the bushes in the foreground, the surface of the lake, the occasional boat floating by, the mountain in the background and that darn eagle if he’d cooperate.

You snap a few shots before you walk to the edge of the lake. Excellent, you think to yourself. Another great comp for the wide angle lens but closer to the water. Snap, snap, snap.

In time you set your camera down and you start to relax while casually looking at the details surrounding you. The fresh growth on the tips of the trees, the heat of the sun, the chill of the breeze. The water at your feet is lapping against the shore and the rocks along it. The daydreaming starts and then you realize that you’re staring at the surface of the water and the patterns of the undulating reflection caused by the soft waves along the shallows of the lake. They move around causing an abstract and fascinating hypnotic show.

All of a sudden it occurs to you that you should try get a photo of it just how it appeared to you. A literal graphic interpretation. You get the camera and point it at the water. The first few shots show a very fine and noisy texture from what seems like a long distance away, nothing like your eyes saw as you were staring at it contemplatively. You change lenses and zoom in to about 300mm and shoot a little closer. You snap one and look at the sensor and you see it. It seems to capture the fluid, pulsating movement that hypnotized you. You then spend another 20 minutes taking the shot over and over trying to get it just right, when really one was just as good as the next yet you enjoy every minute.

How many times do you go out to a scene as I described above and then didn’t take the time to look at the details?

Look at nature as a source of patterns, rhythms and a source for your creative abstractions. Take off the long lens and shoot some details. Not just close up macros of flowers, for instance, but also of things like the surface of a lake. It will stretch your creativity and will feed that creative need in you as an artist.

The scene that I described above actually happened this last Saturday at Lost lake while I conducted a private tour with a client. He was stoked, to say the least.

We shot for four days. We shot wide angle scenes to macros. Creeks and waterfalls to mountain vistas. Wildflowers to cherry trees. I was also able to give him some pointers along the way that will certainly help him elevate his work a few notches… this is his word not mine.

Remember Gary Randall Photography for workshops, classes and photo tours. I would appreciate it. ūüôā