Thursday, April 20, 2017

Big Prints

Some of you may not know this but I sell prints of my photos. I have a pretty wide selection online but have a huge selection available offline. Recently a customer in Chattanooga Tennessee was looking for prints to decorate his new home. I was able to work with him to find the images he wanted.   He wanted all the prints to be in black and white, which I was able to do for him. He chose five canvas prints and four prints on paper.

Reelfoot Lake - Six Foot Wide Gallery Wrap Canvas
 Gallery wrap canvas prints are very popular because they look great and don't have to be framed, saving considerable cost. As you can see, I can sell some very large canvas prints.

Iceland Beach - 45" x 30" Gallery Wrap Canvas
Because of the way the photos are printed on canvas, I can print the same image two or three times larger than traditional prints on paper.
Two 20"x30" Gallery Wrap Canvas Prints
 The canvas wraps around a wooden frame making the print stand out from the wall.
Mt. St. Helens -Five Foot Wide Gallery Wrap Canvas
I can also print on paper or metal, which is another popular option.  With metal prints, the image is printed directly on an aluminum sheet, which is then mounted to float about an inch off the wall. These are great for vibrant color prints.

If you're interested in ordering prints of any of my photos, just drop me a note to rcsiggins@gmail.com.  List prices are available on my website at - http://www.thesiggins.com/Ordering-Prints.  Contact me about discounted prices.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Middle Prong Trail - History, Wildflowers, Water, and Waterfalls!

We explored a new trail Saturday and I want to share it with you.  It's the Middle Prong Trail in the Smoky Mountains National Park.  Now it's not new and we have been on this trail before, but only less than a mile.  Saturday we hiked the four miles to Indian Flats Falls. This trail follows the beautiful Middle Prong River with flowing cascades all along the way.  It also has history and an abundance of spring wildflowers.  And the best part is it is an easy trail.
View From Tremont Road Bridge

The trail begins at the end of Tremont Road, which is a beautiful destination itself.  The trail follows an old railroad grade built by Little River Lumber Company in the early 1900’s and operated until 1939 when they were forced out by the Park Service.  At one time there was an entire logging town, with houses that could be moved by rail, a store, a school, a movie theater, a hotel, and post office. The company removed enough timber to build 10,000 homes, stripping the hillsides of trees. Very little remains of the logging company except for some old steel cables and a single rail along the side of the trail. There are no old growth trees here but the young 80-year-old trees have created a nice wilderness area.

During the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) built bridges and trails in this area and had a camp for 172 men along the trail.  Just off the trail rests an old rusted out car.  The legend is it was a fancy Cadilac that belonged to the CCC Supervisor. When it broke down, the men just pushed it off into the woods and left it.   Not much remains after 80 years in the woods.
Was this a Cadilac?

The trail was lined with miles of wildflowers, including Trillium, Wild Geraniums, Fringed Phacelia, Bluettes, Wild Ginger and more Showy Orchis than we have ever seen before.

A Field of Fringed Phacelia

We also found the remains of a chimney.  The story is the cabin belonged to William "Big Bill" Walker. William noted that God had blessed and granted prosperity to David and other men of olden times who chose to have more than one wife. Bill decided that applied to him as well and he took three different women as his wife, fathering as many as 27 children!

Walker Cabin Chimney

The trail follows the Middle Prong for almost the entire four miles.   There are hundreds of photo opportunities along the river, each one different and beautiful.





Our destination was Indian Flats Falls, which is a series of four modest waterfalls, each approximately 10 to 15 feet high. We stopped in an easily accessible area at the bottom of one waterfall and the top of the next.

Indian Flat Falls

Indian Flat Falls

I have dozens of other photos from this hike but you get the picture.  If you haven't been on this trail I suggest you make plans.  The third week of April was a great time for water and wildflowers.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Know Someone Interested In Nature Photography?

Are you interested in nature photography?  Do you know someone who might be interested in taking photos like these?  Read on...
All photos from 2016 walk
Each year I do a one hour program on nature photography followed by a casual walk/stroll through the woods at Warriors Path photographing nature.  These free programs are part of the 38th Annual Spring Nature Festival at Warriors Path State Park in Kingsport April 21 - 23, 2017.  My talk is Saturday, April 22 from 9 - 10 AM in the Recreation Building on Duck Island.  The walk is 10 - 11:30 in the park.  

The program is suitable for beginner photographers with any kind of camera, including a cell phone. The walk is along a stream where we will find wildflowers and other things to photograph.

No need to register.  Just show up.

Be sure to check out the other programs Friday - Sunday.

Pass this along.  Spread the word.

Friday, April 7, 2017

What Tripod Should I Get?

I have taught some photography classes over the past several months.  One question that keeps coming up in class is "what tripod should I buy?"  This question is not limited to students in the classes.  Friends have sent me notes or come up to me and asked the same question.  It seems like a good reason to put some tripod suggestions down on this virtual paper.

I have had a tripod ever since I got my first SLR film camera.  I probably use them more than many photographers, carrying one for miles on hikes.  For landscape, waterfalls, macro, still life and many other kinds of photography, I find they make the difference in a blurry photo and one that is tack sharp.  Other people find tripods frustrating and get in the way.  It really depends on your style of photography.  If you are in the market for a tripod, read on.

The Tripod Itself

According to The Urban Dictionary, a Tripod is:
  • Three close friends that have known each other for a long time and have such a unique bond that they form a group. These friends are elite to all other people to the point where people bow to them. This friendship is considered to be the highest honor.
  • A Scottish myth of three wild girls so finely in tune with one another that they evolved into one fierce being. The legend goes that they walk the streets of Glasgow under cover of darkness, hunting for parties and unsuspecting victims on whom they bestow their unbelievable chat.

The definition for this blog is "a three-legged stand that supports a camera, telescope or other object that needs to be kept steady."

There are hundreds of tripods for sale at hundreds of online and offline stores.  It's not practical for me to recommend "the best tripod".  There are several websites that rate various models of tripods and tripod heads.   Rather than do my own rating, I'll give you some key criteria to consider when selecting one for your next photographic journey.


Tripod Criteria

Strength/Stability/Load Capacity - The definition of a tripod is that it needs to hold the camera steady. Don't get one that cannot hold your camera and lens without shaking, vibrating, sagging or collapsing.   A tripod has a weight rating or load capacity.  Look for one with a rating higher than the combined weight of your camera and heaviest lens.

Weight - not to be confused with the weight rating.  Think about how you are going to use the tripod and how much you are willing to carry.  What the tripod is made of has a big impact on its weight. Aluminum is light but not very strong.  A strong aluminum tripod is probably going to be heavy. Carbon fiber is both strong and lightweight, but more expensive than aluminum.  In the end, you want a tripod you are willing to carry around.

Maximum Height - you want a tripod that extends to your eye level or higher.  Wait, what?  Why would you want a tripod that puts the camera above your head?   It is because you may be using the tripod on a hill, on the edge of a stream or other situation where one leg extends below your feet.  In those conditions, your tripod will be effectively shorter.  

Many tripods use a center post to make them taller.  The more you extend these center posts, the less stable your camera will be.  My tripod works this way and is fine in most situations.  

Minimum Height - A tripod is a necessity for photographing flowers and other close-up subjects near the ground.  You want a tripod that can place the camera as close to the ground as possible. Most do this by spreading the legs out until they are almost flat. If the tripod has a center post it should be removable.  

Another way to get the camera as low as possible is to mount it upside down on the bottom of the center post.

My tripod will do this and I have used it once.  That should tell you how impractical it is.

Material - the material used in the tripod is the single biggest factor impacting the stability and weight. Most low-cost tripods are made of aluminum. If cost is more important than strength and stability, then you might want an aluminum model.  If stability and strength are more important you may want to buy one made of carbon fiber.  Of course, with great strength comes great cost (sorry Spiderman).  If you use a tripod under cold conditions, you will find the carbon fiber does not feel nearly as cold as aluminum.

Collapsed Size - this is how long the tripod is when completely collapsed.  This is important when traveling by plane.  You will probably want to put your tripod in your checked luggage.  Look for a model that is small enough to fit in your bags. Adorama has a list of five tripods that they consider to be good for travelers.  Remember, Adorama is a camera store and their objective is to sell you one of these tripods.

Independent Legs - if your tripod will always be used on a flat floor in a studio, having legs that move independently may not be important.  If you're like me, you will be using your tripod in places where the ground is nothing like a flat floor.   You may find yourself on the side of a hill or on the edge of a stream.  The least expensive tripods will have bars that tie the legs to a center column and will be difficult to use under these conditions.  
Legs Tied Together
Legs Move Independently
Look for a tripod with independent legs like in the second photo.


Tripod Head 

The tripod head is the part of the tripod where the camera is attached. Some less expensive tripods will come with an integrated head.  Others let you pick the head to go on your tripod.  Some criteria for picking the tripod head include:

Weight Rating - As with the tripod, the tripod head has its own weight rating or load capacity.  Look for one with a rating higher than the combined weight of your camera and heaviest lens.

Weight - The head may be as heavy as the tripod itself.  

Type of Head - tripod heads come in a few basic designs - ball heads, pan/tilt heads, pistol grips and gimbal heads.  

Ball Head
I have always used ball heads because I find they are easy to position the camera in most any position. You maneuver the camera to where you want it and tighten the head by turning one or more knobs. If your head is not strong enough for your camera then you will find the camera moves or sags after you tighten the ball.  This can be very frustrating.

Pan/tilt heads are often the least expensive model and are sometimes built in to inexpensive tripods. They have one or more levers to move the camera. 

Pistol Grips are similar to ball heads except instead of tightening a knob to lock the head in position, you squeeze the pistol grip to move the ball head and release the grip to lock the head in place.  This can be easier to use than the ball head, but I find the grip sticks out and gets in the way.  Plus, it adds weight.

Geared Heads are perfect for those situations where you need exact adjustments in the camera position.  They have three knobs to adjust the three axis.  There is no need to lock them down because once in position, they don't move.  They have a lever that releases the gears for large/quick adjustments.   These are useful for landscapes and artictural photography.

Gimbal Heads are great for large heavy camera and lens combinations. They themselves are large and heavy and often expensive.  
If you are going to use the tripod for video, you may want a head that delivers smooth pans and tilts. A fluid head will allow you to move your camera while videoing without jerky motions.

Those are what I consider key criteria for picking out a tripod.  If you want to shop online, I suggest my three favorite online camera stores

Some common tripod and head brands to look for include Manfroto (what I use), Giottos, Induro, Vanguard, Slik, Benro, and Really Right Stuff (if you have lots of money).  

Monday, March 27, 2017

A Personal Creativity Challenge

I tend to get in a photographic rut.  I take my camera out to some really cool places and come back with photos that are similar to what I have taken many times before at other places.   I shoot from a comfortable place where I compose similar shots using the same lens.  Not good and definitely not very creative.  Every once in a while I need something to bump me out of that rut.

Today I took my camera and one lens on a little hike at Bays Mountain Park in Kingsport.  The lens is a Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 manual lens on a Fuji X-T2 mirrorless camera.  This lens is completely manual.  No automatic aperture and no automatic focusing.  It is also a wide angle prime lens (18mm full frame equivalent), meaning the only way I can zoom is with my feet.  My creativity challenge to myself was to see what photos I could come up with using only that lens.


I found this lens is very sharp when focused properly.  At 12mm I can get a nice deep depth of field, making everything from the sign post to the far trees in sharp focus.

I was lucky enough to have some cool clouds building up while I was there.  These looked good reflected on the surface of the lake.



Spring has not really gotten started yet at Bays Mountain. When there is not a lot of colors, I like to remove all color and convert to black and white.


Despite the clouds, there was enough light to make it difficult to get an exposure long enough to blur the water.  One-half second was the slowest exposure I could get.
1/2 second exposure, f/22
Ruts are not fun.  Challenges like this are what I need to make myself tackle from time to time to get bumped out of the rut.  I am also participating in the Petapixed 52-week photography challenge where I have a new challenge each week for an entire year. I find I have to stretch my creativity muscles to come up with new photos to meet the weekly challenge.  

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Walk By Faith and Grow in Grace

I am participating in a 52-week photo challenge this year.  Now that I am retired I have more time to spend working on my photography skills and a weekly photo challenge is a great way to force me out of my comfort zone to learn new things.

This week's challenge was "Still Life".  According to Wikipedia, "a still life is a work of art depicting mostly inanimate subject matter, typically commonplace objects which may be either natural (food, flowers, dead animals, plants, rocks, or shells) or man-made (drinking glasses, books, vases, jewelry, coins, pipes, and so on)."  This is an area in which I have made very few photos and none that I have been really happy with.  But I have to complete the weekly challenge.

I wasn't sure what to use as my subject.  I was pretty sure I didn't want to use dead animals, so I went to 500px.com and looked for other still life photos. I saw one with books so I decided I could use some of the old antique books we have.   I wanted to make the scene to be appealing and make the viewer want to sit down and read.   What better than a steaming cup of hot coffee.  The antique books needed a candle to complete the scene.    Add some coasters and I had the ingredients I needed.


I shot this in my den, which has plenty of distracting things in the background.  I tried several different angles, moved furniture and took things off the walls to get rid of the distractions.  I used an off camera flash with a shoot through umbrella to light the scene but not the background.  Using the flash also highlighted the steam coming from the cup.

The coaster says Walk by Faith.  If you look closely inside the cup "Grow in grace."  II Peter 3:18 is printed on the inside.  What better way to begin your reading.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

I'm switching to Fuji X-T2 mirrorless camera and selling my Canon gear

Most everything has gone to a new home.   Last chance for some gently used gear.


Back in November of 2015, I purchased a Fuji X-T1 and four lenses from a local photographer buddy. I have been using both the Fuji and my older Canon 5D Mark II DSLR since then.  Over time I have found I was using the Fuji and leaving the Canon at home more and more.   The primary reason is the Fuji camera and lenses are much smaller and lighter.  As I get older I appreciate a light load when hiking or traveling.  I've found each camera has plusses and minuses but overall the quality of the images is similar.

A few months ago I decided I was approaching a fork in the camera equipment road and I was going to have to upgrade either the Canon or the Fuji.  The one that does not get the upgrade will be sold off along with all the related lenses and accessories.   Two days ago I ordered a new Fuji X-T2 camera and a Fuji 100-400mm zoom lens to add to the collection of Fuji gear.

The time has come to put the Canon gear up for sale.  I went to KEH, Adorama, and Fred Miranda to check prices for used gear in similar shape to mine.  I believe the prices below are fair and the average of what you would pay at these sites.  I prefer to sell locally but will ship within the US for an additional fee.

I have alway taken good care of my camera gear and you will find these are in good to excellent shape.  You can click on any image below to zoom in.  Once you have zoomed in to one you can use the right and left arrow keys to flip between images.


Canon EF300mm f/4.0L IS Prime lens (review). This is my newest lens and the one that got the least use.  It looks and works like brand new.  It has an integrated lens hood.  Comes with the tripod mount ring, end caps, and a soft case. $800.





Sigma 80-400 f/4.5-5.6 EX OS Zoom lens (review). This is one I've had for a while and haven't used much since I got the 300mm prime lens. This is a solidly built lens but it is heavy (3.6 pounds). This comes with the lens hood, tripod mount ring, end caps, and a soft case.   The finish on the outside is peeling off in places. Doesn't hurt the operation of the lens but doesn't look very nice. There are very few of this lens available for sale.$250.





Contact me if you are interested in any of these items.

Richard Siggins
rcsiggins@gmail.com
(423)416-1258 (cell)