Home from Italy

We just returned last night from a great two-week trip to Italy with several members of my family, so it’s time to start sharing some of my results with the new D800. For this trip I was using a Nikon 24-85 f/3.5-4.5 VR lens, which I purchased specifically as a “travel” lens, to give me a lighter-weight option compared to other lenses I expect to use on this camera for a lot of my landscape work, and I was anxious to see how it would perform and to begin learning the unique quirks of both the lens and the camera.

I expect I’ll post more images from the trip later, but for today, I’ll just share three. First, from Milan, where we got to explore the terraces of the ornate Duomo:

Technical data: f/4.5, ISO 100, 1/400 sec., and 24mm.

From Rome, inside the Basilica of St. Peter:

Technical data: f/4.5, ISO 1600, 1/30 sec., and 24 mm.

And from Riomaggiore, in the Cinque Terre region:

Technical data: f/7.1, ISO 320, 1/25 sec., and 31mm.

All of the images above were initially developed in Adobe Lightroom 4, and further processed in Photoshop CS5.1.

Just to give a quick comment on the new 24-85 VR lens, which is definitely the weaker link in this camera/ lens combination: I’ve been very impressed with what it can do. The most obvious weaknesses so far are distortion, especially at the extreme wide and telephoto ends of the zoom range, and softness in the edges and corners in some situations. But the lens is quite sharp at most focal lengths, focus distances, and apertures, and the vibration reduction (VR) works very effectively. The distortion is mostly correctable in post-processing, and I’ll eventually be able to do that automatically once I get an appropriate “profile” in place in Lightroom.

As for the camera, I am finding that the files are a joy to work with, in that they can be pushed a lot in post-processing, and I’m loving the results I get. The overall weakest link in my photography gear is me; but hopefully, I’ll improve as I get to know the equipment better. I’m looking forward to doing more shooting from a tripod (I didn’t have one with me in Italy), where I’ll be forced to work a little slower and more carefully than I’ve done with most of my D800 images so far, which have been done 90% with hand-held shooting.

A larger set of images from Italy can be found here .

Sunflower Serendipity

Late August to early October or so is usually sunflower season in New Jersey, and there are often large fields of these huge flowers in the more rural areas of our county. This year, though, I noted with pleasure that one of the local farmers had planted sunflowers in a field normally used for raising sod grass, right on the road into Freehold, just in front of a former glass factory which is now used as a document storage and destruction facility. The owners of the field have planted a mix of sunflowers and various wildflowers, and the overall effect is spectacular.

Since I finally broke down two weeks ago and bought the Nikon D800 that I’ve been lusting after since February, I decided the sunflower field would make a great test subject. So I got myself out of bed before sunrise, and headed over to the field with the new camera with a couple of my lenses, just to see how each would perform on the D800. I was very pleased with the results, given that I don’t yet have enough experience to understand what lens to use when on this new tool, or whether I may yet need to purchase one or more additional new lenses to take full advantage of the 36 megapixel resolution (that’s three times the number of pixels of my D300, or about 80% higher resolution). I’m pretty sure the answer to that last question is “yes.” But since there have been so many Internet posts talking about how the D800 demands absolutely top-rated (i. e., expensive) glass, I was pleasantly surprised to see how well my 7-year old Tamron 17-35mm lens (probably worth about $250 on the used market) performs. Here’s an example from the morning shoot:

For those who care about such things, the image above was shot at f/7.1, 17mm, ISO 100, and 1/6 second, in Nikon’s raw NEF format, developed in Adobe Lightroom 4, and given some final touches in Photoshop 5.1.

I’ve been giving the D800, the Tamron, and a new lightweight “travel” lens (the Nikon 24-85 f/3.5-4.5 VR) a shakedown in Italy for about a week now, and will start posting photos from that series after I return home. But so far, I really love the new camera, and I’m really happy I went ahead and got it in time for this trip. And I’m delighted that I had these sunflowers available as my first subject.

On getting in over your head

Since transitioning most of my web presence to a WordPress blog two years ago, I’ve greatly increased my frequency of posting my photography and calligraphy work, and have found I’ve been enjoying the process more. The blog is much friendlier in terms of being able to add new material quickly than my old website software (I’ve been needing to re-build the main website for years now). But like most things computer-related, when it works it’s great, and when it stops working, you can quickly find that you’re in way over your head.

I suppose I should have known that the easier way to do all this would have been to simply create a blog on a commercial blogging site like wordpress.com, blogspot.com, or blogger.com. But I’m a basically techno-geek kind of person, and I was already paying a hosting service for web space, so I decided I’d install my own copy of WordPress on my web server. That turned out to be a little bit of a stretch for me, but with the aid of information from wordpress.org, I had my blog running within a couple of days.

All was basically fine for almost two years, and without knowing much of anything about WordPress, or php and MySQL (the underlying software technology of WordPress), I was blithely making posts, customizing my blog, adding feature plugins, and updating my software regularly as new versions became available. Then, sometime around last June (I suspect my update to WordPress 3.4.1), I found I was no longer able to create new posts containing any sort of a graphic. For a blog devoted to graphic design, calligraphy, and photography, that’s somewhat of a drawback.

I spent an unbelievable amount of time trying to fix this problem, probably equivalent to several weeks of full-time work by now. I found lots of references on the web to similar problems to what I was seeing, and thousands of sometimes helpful (and mostly not) suggestions of things to try, but nothing seemed to work. Eventually, I discovered a workaround that allowed me to alter the way I created my posts, and continue to post new material, albeit less conveniently.

Then, this past week, I discovered I had also lost the ability to upload new custom-designed headers to the blog pages. This was a major setback from my viewpoint, because the custom headers are the main tool I use to make my blog look different from everyone else’s WordPress blog. Another round of searching the web and trying every suggested solution began.

Finally, about 2 AM today, I reluctantly opened the hood of the MySQL database supporting my blog, and discovered the helpful message “Table ‘wp_postmeta’ is marked as Crashed, and needs to be repaired.” Great. How do I do that? It turns out that the magic solution, strangely enough, was an SQL command called “REPAIR.” How cool is that?

Everything is not completely well yet, and I’ll stop boring you with the details of my ongoing repair work, but I have at least been able to upload my new header graphic, which I’ll also show below, so that it will still be in my post archives once the main header changes:

The sunflower photo above, by the way, was taken with my new Nikon D800. Yes, I finally broke down and bought it – I’ll post a full image from the sunflower shoot later. Now, back to calligraphy, graphics, and photography!

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, I guess…I hope…

Doing the Word

Pastor Ramon returned from summer vacation, and this was the scripture text for the sermon, as seen in this week’s callidoodle:

I’m not sure whether the intended interpretation comes through in the drawing above, or even whether it comes across as “Word.” I would appreciate some feedback on that. I do sometimes like illegible calligraphy, but in these little callidoodles, I usually intend for them to be quickly readable. I’m thinking of doing the hands photographically ¬†for a more polished graphic.

I’ll have some more callidoodles to post in the next couple of weeks.