Wednesday, November 14, 2018

What If You Lost All Your Digital Photos?

Hey photographers, this question is for you.  Where are your photos stored?  Are they all on a single computer?  Are they backed up?  Where are the backups stored?  What if you lost them all?

Our neighbor's house burned a couple weeks ago.  Thanks to a heroic neighbor, they all got out safely.  However, their house and contents didn't fare as well.  A demolition crew is currently tearing down the house and piling everything in large construction dumpsters to be hauled off.  By this time next year, they will be back in a brand new home, with new furniture, clothes, dishes, TVs, computers, etc.  All the material things can be replaced.  What about the digital things that were in the house?  Computers and hard drives don't hold up very well to fire and water.

If you had a disaster in your home or office, how would your digital images fare?  Would they be gone forever?  Unless you have backup copies somewhere else then fires, floods, broken pipes, etc. can wipe out your images and local backup copies.

I have all my digital image files on a Network Storage System (NAS) with RAID drives where they are protected from failure of the hard drives.  Other disks are backed up every night.  Sounds pretty safe, but all those copies are in one location.  Recent events have gotten me thinking of off-site backups. My plan is to buy some external hard drives, copy all my important files to them and store them somewhere outside our home.   This solution is only as good as my diligence in keeping the off-site copies up to date.

I've looked into backing up my files to the cloud.  The problem is my internet connection is limited to  3 Mbps upload speed. It would take about a month to upload my images to the cloud.  Then, every time I come home from a trip I would have to upload a thousand or more images.  This doesn't sound sustainable.

What are your solutions for protecting your digital image files from disaster?

Thursday, October 11, 2018

And The Winners Are...

The people have spoken and the votes have been tallied. 

The winning photos for the 2019 calendar are

First Place - Port Clinton Lighthouse at Dusk

  1. Port Clinton Lighthouse (#24)
    Second Place - Tip Toes
  2. Tip Toes (#8)
  3. Storms On The Horizon (#34)
  4. Monet at Bays Mountain (#3)
  5. Tahquamenon Falls SP (#2)
  6.  Mount Shasta (#23)
  7.  Lady Bird Johnson Grove (#19)
  8. Oconaluftee River (#4)
  9. Morton Overlook Sunset (27)
  10. Cades Cove Methodist Church (#7)
  11. Foggy Morning at WPSP (#12)

All the photos are still available for viewing here.

Why only 11 photos?  Well, I said I would pick two from my recent trip to The Grand Tetons National Park to round out the 13.  I took over 3,000 photos in six days on that trip.  I ran through those that were landscape (wide) orientation to fit on the calendar pages and quickly picked 24.  With the help of June and Holly, I narrowed those down to these two.

T.A. Moulton Barn

Mount Moran From Oxbow Bend

It wasn't easy picking two out of 3,000.  Since I took these on the cusp of my past 12-month range, I may use some Teton photos in the 2020 calendar.

Thanks to everyone who helped select the photos by voting.  You really make my life easier and make the calendar better.  I'll be finishing up the calendar layout and sending it off to the printer soon.  It's not too early to pre-order your calendars. Just send an email to and let me know how many you want.  They are still only $15.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Registration Open For Next Basic Photography Class

I will be teaching my Basic Photography Class starting November 8.  This is a popular class and always fills up.  The class will start out with learning the basics of photography - light, shutter speed, aperture and how to use them on your camera.  From there we will get into color, composition, lighting, techniques and photographic gear selection.  We'll talk about some common photography challenges and how to overcome them. We will go over different photo editing packages, organizing photos, printing, and sharing online.   The class will be a combination of classroom teaching, practicing our new photography skills, and reviews of photography assignments.

The class is designed for a photographer who has a DSLR, mirrorless camera, or advanced compact camera.

Classroom sessions are November 8, 13, 15 and 20 from 6:00 PM– 8:00 PM in the Eastman Employee Center.   There will be one field trip on Saturday, November 17 to practice what we have learned.  The Saturday time will depend on what works best for the majority of the students.

In every Class we will have time for:
  • Review of Homework – yes, we are in school again.
  • Problem Solving - Bring your camera and problem photos to class
  • Questions and Answers

The class is open to Eastman Camera Club members.  The good news is anyone can join the club by going to and clicking on About near the upper left of the page.

Cost - $45/person.   Maximum of 14 people per class.  Call Eastman Recreation Office at 423-229-3771 to sign up.   Contact me if you have any questions.

Richard Siggins

Friday, September 21, 2018

It's Time To Vote (on calendar photos)

No dirty politics or ugly campaign ads here.  Just me asking for your help picking the photos to go on my 2019 calendar.

I have done the hard part and gone through 8,546 photos from the past 12 months and narrowed them down to 38. Now I need your help with the really hard part - picking the finalists to go on the calendar for next year.

There are a few changes for 2019:
#3 Monet at Bays Mountain

  • I'm trying out a new company to print the calendars.  I used the same company for years but they have made some major mistakes in the last couple of years.  I haven't used this new company before and am praying that their quality will be outstanding.  
  • I will also be switching from the spiral bound to a stapled format, which saves on printing costs.  This means more money goes to charity.
  • Two spots will be reserved on the calendar for photos I haven't taken yet.  I'm heading to Grand Tetons National Park and hope to come home with a couple calendar-worthy photos.  No pressure, right? I'll pick those last two, add them to the calendar and announce the election results in mid-October.
Here's how you can vote.
  1. Go to the 2019 Calendar Candidates gallery on my website -
  2. Pick your favorite 12 photos that you would like to see on the calendar.  The order doesn't matter so no need to rank them as 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.  Each photo has a title and number from 1 - 38.  I need the number.  
  3. Email the list of 12 to by Tuesday, October 9th.

The calendars will be $15 again this year and all the profit is donated to a local charity.  If all goes well I will have them available in early November.   You can pre-order calendars by sending an email to  I deliver locally.  In the past, I have mailed calendars to customers across the US, Japan, and Europe and I will do that again this year for $3 per calendar.  International rates will be a little higher.

Feel free to forward this on to friends that may be interested in a calendar.  As long as they plan to buy one they can vote.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

California Natural Areas Are Burning

Carr Fire - not my photo
Back in May, we visited the area around Redding California.   That area is now in the national news because of the terrible forest fires that are burning more of California than ever.  This has prompted me to go back and take a look at some of the photos we took of that area before the fires.

By now you have seen photos like the one on the right.  Take a look at some of my photos from before the fire to appreciate the beauty of the area.

Mount Shasta and Shasta Lake

When we were there it was the end of spring.  There was still plenty of new growth on the trees and shrubs but the grasses were just starting to turn golden.  The temperatures were getting up there and things were starting to dry out.  A day after we visited the Redding area we were in Sonoma County where we saw the aftermath of fires that ravaged the hills the year before.  Little did we know it was a preview of things to come.

We took an interesting tour of Shasta Dam.  It was built in 1938 - 1945 and created Shasta Lake which is the largest reservoir in the state. 
Shasta Dam

Bridge Bay, Shasta Lake
You can see from these photos that we were there on a clear sky day, which is the worst conditions to take landscape photos in general and especially waterfalls.  The waterfalls were beautiful to look at and enjoy, but next to impossible to photograph to create a pleasing photo.  I struggled with high contrast, intense whites, and dark shadows.  Normally I wouldn't even try to photograph the waterfalls under these conditions but this was the only time we will be there so I made the best of it.

We spent several hours at the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area surrounding the crystal clear Whiskeytown Lake.  The area is now closed until further notice because the Carr fire is actively burning throughout the Recreation Area.  The fire continues to grow and as of two days ago was 160,000 acres, with 1,604 buildings destroyed, including 1,080 homes.  Tragically, seven people have lost their lives in this fire.
Lower Crystal Creek Falls
When we were there the biggest issue was the heat and bright sun, neither of which slowed us down.

Lower Crystal Creek Falls
When dealing with intense high contrast light the best photograph can often be found in the details where the light is more manageable.  I found this shot off to the side in the shade. It's probably my favorite of the day.
Isolated Cascade
It's ironic that the trail we hiked on to Whiskeytown Falls is named after James K. Carr, Undersecretary of the Interior in 1963.  The fire that is ravaging this area is also named Carr, but was named after his father Francis Carr who was a prominent figure in the creation of the federal Central Valley Project to manage water in the area.

Top of Whiskeytown Falls
For over 40 years the Whiskeytown 220-foot waterfall was a secret to the few that knew it existed. For a variety of reasons, some people decided not to share the falls' existence with others. After two years of work, the NPS opened the Carr trail to the falls so the rest of us can enjoy it.

This area will be devastated but nature will eventually return it to a natural condition. It won't ever be the same, but new life will spring up.  God continues to renew the Earth.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Focus Stacking With Fuji X-T2 Camera

One of the things I like about my Fuji camera is the company provides free software updates after you buy the camera.  So far I've gotten several updates, which included some very nice new features as well as performance improvements and bug fixes.   I never got that with my Canon cameras.

The latest v4.10 release of the X-T2 software includes a new feature to do focus stacking. Focus stacking is an advanced photography technique where images are captured with different focus points and later combined in software to create a sharp image with more depth of field (DOF) than would be possible with a single exposure.

First a bit of review:

  • Depth of Field or DOF is the distance between the closest and farthest objects in a photo that appears acceptably sharp.  
  • The size of the DOF is determined by the lens focal length, the distance to the subject, and the aperture.  The closer to the subject and the wider the aperture, the smaller the DOF.
  • The DOF can be almost infinite when photographing a landscape using a wide angle lens with a small aperture.  It can be small fractions of an inch when doing close up photography with a macro lens. 
  • It's not always possible to get all the subject within the DOF in a single shot.

Here's an example of a shallow DOF.
60mm macro lens, f/2.4 about 20 inches  from the subject
In the above example, I was focused on the right edge of the glass face of the watch.  
Zoomed in single image

You can see that the scratches on the right edge of the glass are in focus but the blue dial face is not.

I really wanted to learn how to use this new feature on my camera but it's so new there is little information available on how to do focus stacking on the X-T2 camera.  I decided to do some experiments on my own to see if I could figure this out.

There are four settings you must make to use focus stacking on the X-T2 with version 4.10:
  1. Turn on focus bracketing using the menu
    Shooting Setting > Drive Setting > Bkt Setting > Bkt Select > Focus Bkt
  2. Set the focus bracketing settings
    Shooting Setting > Drive Setting > Bkt Setting > Focus Bkt
    This is where the guesswork comes in.  You have to set the number of frames to shoot, how much to move the focus point between frames, and the time between frames.  More on that below.
  3. Turn the shooting dial on the top left of the camera to Bkt
Doing focus stacking requires the camera and subject to not move while shooting.  A sturdy tripod and conditions where the subject does not move are essential.

I picked my old beat up wrist watch as my test subject. It's picked up a lot of additional texture over the years.  I used the Fuji 60mm macro lens set at f/2.4 for my tests.  I could have gotten better results with an aperture around f/5.6 that can produce sharper images, but I wanted to work with a small DOF for my experiments.

With the camera about 20 inches from the subject I tried different variations of starting focus point, number of frames and step size.  I chose a 1-second interval.  This can be set between 0 and 10 seconds.  A 2 - 3-second interval would minimize any camera movement caused by the shutter.

It took several attempts before I found the right combination for this shot.  
  • Starting focus point - the right edge of the glass face.  Plenty of scratches to focus on here.
  • 30 frames
  • A step size of 4.
If I used fewer frames or a smaller step size the DOF wasn't big enough to cover the watch.  It took 30 frames at a step size of 4 to generate a DOF that covered the part of the watch that was visible.  The DOF didn't extend past the back edge of the watch.

30 images stacked into one
It's not easy to see the sharpness in the above image.

Zoomed in focus stacked image
Here's the right edge of the stacked image.  Compare it to the cropped image above and you can see the difference in focus sharpness.

You can see from the second crop that the stacked image is sharp across the entire subject.

Part of watch farthest from the camera
I used Photoshop to combine the 30 images into a stacked image. Others have written about how to do this so I won't get into that here.  Here's the tutorial I used.   In the past, I've used Helicon Focus software for stacking.  It's a much more powerful tool, but it costs $30/year or $115 for life.  If I do more focus stacking I'll probably get a copy again.

This was just an experiment to get a handle on the process and settings.  I'm going to do some more experiments with different subjects, conditions, lenses, etc.  I've added a few other examples below.

30 steps, step size 6, f/4.0, 60mm macro
30 steps, step size 9, f/5.6

Sunday, June 24, 2018

What Were They Thinking?

Glass Beach is the well-known southern beach of MacKerricher State Park in Fort Bragg California. Glass Beach gets its name from the smooth colorful glass pieces that you can find in the pebbly beach. Sounds pretty cool, huh?
Glass and Pebbles
From 1906 to 1967, everything from cars to batteries to bottles, cans, and appliances were unceremoniously pushed over the cliffs into the ocean — a common practice of seaside cities for centuries. Locals referred to it as "The Dumps." Fires were often lit to reduce the size of the trash pile. What were they thinking? When the original dump site filled in 1943, they created another dump down the beach, followed by a third, which remained an active dump site until 1967 when it was closed by the State Water Resources Control Board.  Over several decades the metal was removed and the biodegradable stuff simply degraded and washed into the sea.  Not all items were removed and in this case, were embedded in the rock on the beach.

Spark Plug and Insulator

What was left was mostly pottery and glass from bottles and autos.  The constant waves of the Pacific broke and ground down this trash into small colored pebbles.  Today the most popular thing to do in Fort Bragg is to go to Glass Beach and collect colored glass.  Officially the glass is not to be removed, but when we were there we saw dozens of people collecting it.  Some have made it a cottage industry with glass jewelry shops in town.

In the first half of the 20th century, people dumped their garbage into the ocean.  Why not?  After all, the ocean is huge and will wash all that unwanted stuff away.  The same thought process meant factories dumped toxic waste into waterways and lakes.   We have made great progress in cleaning up our fresh water in developed nations around the world.

We are now filling the oceans with waste plastic that lasts from 450 years to forever. Over 18 billion pounds of plastic ends up in the oceans every year.  Over 1 million plastic bottles are sold around the world every day.  Much of the plastic is used for packaging and single-use purposes.  Water bottles, straws, plastic trays for your salad at a fast food restaurant are used once and discarded. 

Recycling helps.  June and I try to recycle all our household plastic, glass, cardboard, and aluminum.  Globally, the US lags behind Europe in recycling in general and we are doing a terrible job recycling plastics.

What else can we do?   One simple thing is to limit the use of single-use plastics, such as water bottles, straws, and food packaged in plastic.  Instead, we can take our own insulated tumbler, use paper straws or no straws, and not buy food packaged in plastic.

Fifty years from now our children and grandchildren will look at the oceans and ask "What were they thinking?" Let's start thinking about reducing the plastics in our landfills and oceans.