Macy*s Thanksgiving Day Parade – Going Again

Two years ago, celebrating our twentieth wedding anniversary, Helaine and I took Steffie to New York City for the annual Macy*s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It was an unreal experience (click the link, it’s worth reading if you’re considering going)!

We got there early enough to sit at the curb… and early enough for me to nap before the parade began.

I brought my Fuji S620 along and took hundreds of shots. It’s tough to get a bad one when you’re right on the line of march and the sunlight is strong.

Over the past few days my website has taken a growth spurt and it’s totally because of those photos.

I am going back this year, though under somewhat different circumstances.

My boss called Friday. He had spoken to a producer at ABC’s affiliate news service. Somehow, they had given everyone Thursday off! That left them short a reporter to stand on a rooftop, overlooking the parade, providing live shots to all the affiliates (though most will happen before the parade actually starts).

He thought of me, and the rest is encompassed in my anticipation of sleep deprivation.

I’ll know more Monday, but it looks like my days starts on Central Park West sometime around 4:00 AM. Since there are affiliates coast-to-coast, I’ll be feeding until the West Coast starts Good Morning America at 10:00 AM EST.

I’m really looking forward to it, in spite of an awful weather forecast. It’s a fun event and will lend itself to having a good time on-the-air. And, it will be interesting to test myself over dozens of similar, yet different live shots.

If you read this blog for no apparent reason and have no real idea who I am or what I do, check your local ABC TV affiliate Thanksgiving morning. I’ll be looking for you.

The Difference Between Snapshots and Photos

As a teen, my father gave me a Konica Autoreflex T camera. I loved that 35 mm camera and thought, because it was a 35 mm single lens reflex, I would be a good photographer. Of course, it wasn’t so.

I never improved my shooting with that camera because I didn’t pay attention to what I was doing, and feedback came (in the form of pictures) a long time after I had taken them. By then, I had forgotten exactly what I did to get what I got!

With digital, it’s different. the camera can make a difference, but the biggest edge is being able to see you photos instantly – first on the camera’s display and later on the PC screen.

By the way, though I love my Canon, I think the lcd screen on the back is awful and pictures always look like they’re in soft focus.

When you’ve taken 10,000 photos (and I think I am approaching that number), you begin to understand how what you do translates into what the camera puts out. Unfortunately, the Canon is very different from my Fuji and I am having to relearn many techniques.

What has surprised me the most is how much can be improved after the fact. In my case, I use Photoshop and a variety of plugins and tools. I think, more than anything, Photoshop (or other tools which work just as well) can take a snapshot and make it into a photograph.

I am not above altering reality to get a better shot. Lighting levels get changed. Focus can be sharpened. Often parts of the photo that don’t belong can be retouched and removed.

Here’s an example. The first is a shot as it came from the camera. The second has been sharpened a bit, had some noise removed and had the levels of the darkest object (and only the darkest objects) brightened a tiny bit to add a little detail.

These are tiny images. The originals contain a whole lot more pixels, producing a lot more detail. Still, I think what I did makes a world of difference – but you can judge for yourself.

From New York City – Almost Forgot

One of the most unusual sights while in New York City was the Fuji Blimp, circling north of us while we were on the Lower East Side. I’ve included this shot so you can take a look and see whose logo has been added below Fuji’s.

It certainly is an interesting platform for police work, if nothing else.

They’re Back

Helaine and Steffie returned early from Massachusetts. I was surprised, even midday Saturday, they suffered through 20 miles of stop and go traffic for no apparent reason. Once they EZ-Pass’ed into Connecticut things opened up and they were soon home.

The first thing Steffie wanted to do was look at the photos. I think this camera has a slower USB port than the Fuji. It took a really long time for the 150, or so, photos to move to my hard drive.

There is a noticeable difference between this and the Fuji. The photos seems clearer and sharper. They’re also shot at a different ratio of vertical to horizontal.

Unfortunately, what I didn’t want to see was there – noise. It’s really not all that noticeable until you zoom in to 100%, looking at each pixel individually. It won’t show unless the picture is really enlarged before it’s printed.

My friend Lou had recommended a tool, a plug-in to Photoshop, which would make the noise more manageable. He was right. The difference is amazing. But there are trade offs. Some of the sharpness in objects is missing. Even so, the tool is worthwhile. The after is better than the before.

While Helaine sat and watched, I took one of the pictures at random, ran it through the noise filter, adjusted the levels, removed lens distortion and re-sharpened it. I don’t think anyone would have looked at the finished version and gasped at its artistry. But next to each other, the improvement that just a few seconds in Photoshop provided was easily seen and made quite a difference.

The New Camera’s First Assignment

Over the past few years one of the major uses of my digital camera was to accompany Helaine and Steffie (aka – the cult members) when they went to Rick Springfield concerts. The Fuji S602Z has taken hundreds… maybe thousands of photos at his concerts.

Some of Steffie’s best were published in his calendar and tour program. She has developed a very good photographic eye.

Before they leave for the show I set the camera manually so its shutter is fast enough to reduce any motion (of picture taker or subject). Then I set the film speed equivalent. The camera looks at the light as the pictures are taken and decides how wide to open the lens.

Now they are going with my new Canon Digital Rebel and a Sigma 18-125mm f3.5-5.6 lens. The camera and lens are much better than those on the Fuji, but the lens is ‘slower.’ That means I need more light with this camera than with the Fuji.

I can make up some of the difference by increasing the equivalent film speed from 400, where it was with the Fuji, to 800 or even 1,600. I’m afraid if I up it too much there will be too much noise (though the Canon is known as a very quiet camera).

It is a quandary.

I went to the Canon Rebel forum on, a great photo site and was told to buy a different lens. Others there said there wouldn’t be enough light. I’m worried, but I think it will be OK.

The concert is Friday night. Sometime Saturday afternoon I’ll know.

New Camera

Over the past few years I have become a little nuts over digital cameras.

Early on I had an Olympus point and shoot with 640×480 resolution, extremely slow shutter and very wide lens. I always stood closer than people expected, or asked someone taking a photo of me and my family to move in because the camera captured such as a broad area. I became so predictable that the wide angle lens advisory I’d give to strangers became a family joke.

Next was a Casio QV2000-UX. Compared to the Olympus’ 307,200 pixels this one had over 2 million. The pictures were better, the lens longer and narrower. Casio, unfortunately, really isn’t a camera company and the cameras reflected that. It was somewhat difficult to operate and ungainly.

Next up was the Fuji Finepix S602Z. This was my favorite camera of all time. I had graduated to 3 megapixels (though Fuji through some sort of mumbo jumbo math claimed 6 megapixels) and a camera designed like a camera. The S602Z resembles a film SLR camera – except the eyepiece viewfinder is actually a tiny video screen. That is a real disadvantage because you can’t see when it’s dark (even when the camera could be pushed to shoot a picture) and focusing in low light is nearly non-existent.

I took about 9,000 photos from March 2003 to August 2004. Imagine if I had paid for photo processing!

Steffie and Helaine had a love, hate relationship with it. If I became too much of a pain in the butt (like while on vacation or traveling to New York City) it was my motivation. On the other hand, if they took it to a Rick Springfield, or other, concert it was the perfect way to take photos and bring back something that was often spectacular. Steffie’s concert photos with the S602Z have been published twice.

This summer I began to feel I was ready to take the next step and began reading the photo magazines and computer bulletin boards. My two choices were a Nikon D100 or Canon Digital Rebel. For a variety of reasons, though price was most important, I chose the Canon.

The more sophisticated the camera, the more difficult the purchase. I’m not just talking about cost, though the price varies among mail order and brick and mortar dealers. The camera body is stock. Everything else is custom configured.

The Digital Rebel is 6 megapixels with a very sensitive and precise sensor for capturing the images. Nearly every parameter that controls the shot can be customized. It can be used as a point and shoot camera, but that would be sacrilege.

I decided to buy the body without the Canon lens and instead ordered two Sigma lenses. Though mine were not, lenses can be more expensive than the camera itself! One, 28-125mm, zooms from a wide angle to medium range telephoto. The other, 70-300mm, zooms from mid range to very long.

The zoom can be so long, magnifying the image so much, that it can’t be used under less than bright light! It’s not that it won’t take the picture. When the light’s dim you have to hold the shutter open longer. Unless the shutter time is very fast you will move the lens and blur the shot.

I’ve had the camera a few days and am very impressed. This shot of the moon (something every photographer with a new long lens seems to do) came out just the way I wanted. I haven’t had a chance to be artistic, but have looked at some technical aspects of the shots. Are they sharp enough with the correct color? What’s the depth of field? How slow a shutter can I get away with?

On the other hand, it is heavier and bulkier that what I’m used to. Reading the postings I see some users consider a single lens their ‘walk around’ and leave the rest home unless they know they’ll be using them.

The more I read, the more I realize I don’t know and will have to learn.

A versatile camera doesn’t take better pictures on its own. Yes, there will be an improvement if only because the glass and sensor are better. My job is to work on optimizing my skills and understanding how the camera should be set under any situation.

Tonight I’ll be doing the weather at the Orange Volunteer Fireman’s Carnival and I’ll bring the camera with me. After the news there’ll be a chance to take a few (dozen) shots. It should be like letting a sports car out on a stretch of open road. I’m looking forward to it.

My Camera Is Back

Not bad! One week and one day after driving to Precision Camera Repair in Enfield, my Fuji S602Z is back. A very quick check doesn’t show the single red pixel that brought the camera to the hospital in the first place.

Reading the repair ticket, it looks like the camera was realigned for autofocus, recalibrated for data and had a thorough cleaning and testing. Under parts used are “LCD, ELECTRONICS AND ASSOCIATED PARTS.” So, I’m assuming there’s a new sensor inside, though it makes no difference as long as it’s working.

This has been mentioned loads of times, but I love this camera. By far, it is the finest camera I’ve ever used. Though I’m tempted by the new digital SLR’s, I will wait. This camera is doing everything for me right now.

The Cult Moves South

Early this morning… well, early for me usually, but I got up… Helaine and Steffie piled into the car and set out for Toms Rivers, NJ to see Rick Springfield. The house is very quiet. I’m seeing how long I’ll stay in pajamas. It could be all day (though the siren song of Dunkin’ Donuts is calling my name).

I told Helaine I’m inviting college girls over. Her thought is, they’ll ask me if I went to school with their dads!

At times like this, I really miss Ivy the dog. Ivy was never a ‘licky’ dog – overly affectionate. Ivy’s charm was her self assured, quiet manner, as she stayed by your side (as long as you didn’t move around too much). Petting a dog is therapeutic.

A just heard from Helaine and Steffie on the phone. Though the concert is later tonight, they’re at the hotel, meeting and greeting the other rabid fans (aka the cult members). Some of them are committed beyond any level I can imagine; taking in dozens of shows, across the country, every year.

It’s all mind boggling, and I’m started to come to the realization that Rick Springfield isn’t the only act that gets this kind of adulation. I remember, 25 years ago, a friend working for Barry Manilow who told me similar stories (though at a much smaller numbers). The Grateful Dead was famous for their legion of traveling fans.

As Steffie and Helaine walked toward the lobby, walking in the other direction was Rick and his road manager Ronnie. Helaine and Steffie said hello. Rick complemented Steffie on her necklace. For them the day is off to a good start.

I have given them my Fuji digital camera. Some critical functions of this normally manual camera have been preset. Tonight they will use it to snap photos and document the trip. Steffie has taken great ‘in concert’ pictures before (here and here). I hope she’ll do that again tonight and get a little more confidence as an artistic photographer.

At the same time Helaine will be holding a cell phone up, catching the music for another fan who couldn’t make the trip this time. That is dedication in action.

Wakodahatchee Wetlands

This is probably going to be my last entry concerning the Florida trip, and the one I least anticipated before I went to visit my folks.

I had played golf Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. By Friday, my dad was a little sore (I was too) and he begged off. It was a lazy day – very quiet around the house. By early afternoon my mom had asked if I wanted to go to Wakodahatchee.

Sure… except, what is it?

Wakodahatchee Wetlands&#185 is a man made nature preserve in suburban Palm Beach County. If I understand correctly, it is the product of heavily treated waste water (I’m sure heavily treated and clean are two very different words) which is released into a number of manufactured environments.

The actual wetlands were built to allow for a number of different wet habitats. With no human encroachment, the wildlife is varied and flourishes.

For humans, the treat is the 3/4 mile long boardwalk which winds its way through the preserve. The afternoon we went, it was moderately busy. I would guess there were at least 100 people on the boards.

My luck was stumbling upon a ‘prosumer’ photographer. He had a substantial Nikon film camera with a long lens. He stood and shot, watching two blue herons building a nest high in a tree. I’m not sure I would have notified them had he not been so intense.

I took his cue and pulled out my Fuji S602Z. This is a great camera – the best I’ve ever owned. It can be used as a point and shoot camera, but what a waste. Its manual controls allowed me to preset for the shots I wanted, especially with the herons, where I made sure the shutter speed was fast and that I could burst 5 shots in rapid succession with the lens zoomed in fully.

That afternoon, I took some of the best shots I’ve ever taken. I’ve put together an album in my online gallery.

My recommendation (if you have high speed access); use the slideshow mode for the first 6 or 7 images (at least). The sequence with the heron arriving at his nest is really captured well.

&#185 – The official Wakodahatchee Wetlands website hasn’t been updated in over 2 years. A real shame.

The Average Blog Isn’t There Anymore

I’ve been meaning to write about this for a few days, but it wasn’t until my friend Jeff sent me an AP wire story that I felt the need.

Despite the Internet’s ability to deliver information quickly and

frequently, the World Wide Web is littered with deadwood _ sites

abandoned and woefully out of date.

One study of 3,634 blogs found that two-thirds had not been updated

for at least two months and a quarter not since Day One.

“Some would say, `I’m going to be too busy but I’ll get back to it,’

but never did,” said Jeffrey Henning, chief technology officer with

Perseus Development Corp., the research company that did the study.

“Most just kind of stopped.”

Even with all those MIA blogs, there are still plenty. A high mortality rate isn’t necessarily a bad thing here.

Since this blog began on July 4, 2003, I have been trying to write something at least once a day. Often, that’s tough. The day is beautiful, everything goes well – what’s to write? Or, I am bothered, but it’s a family matter or something at work I’d rather not make public. Because I work in a newsroom, I try not to take political sides or favor one group in a controversial issue.

Here’s what I’ve learned. I’m enjoying writing. There’s a certain elegance to written text that isn’t there with spoken English. I edit everything I write… and then reedit.

If an entry is important or pithy, it upsets me when it scrolls off my home page after a week.

Often, photos are the catalyst for writing something. I have taken over 4,000 photos with my Fuji S602Z. I am a better shooter than when I began, but still have a lot to learn. It amazes me that I make simple foolish errors while shooting and don’t notice them until it’s too late. Good photography is a lot more complex than it would seem.

It would be fun for this blog to continue forever. I hope I stay focused.