April 23, 2011 Ride: Photographic Delights

So, as many of my 12 loyal readers know, I did not like my current digital camera. Two years ago, I ruined my pretty good Nikon CoolPix by taking it camping for a week in the Utah desert. I distinctly remember crouching in my tent, trying to get dressed, when the wind rose. I closed my eyes and held my breath and when I opened them a few moments later, the entire interior of my tent was red with dust. This happened dozens of times. The Nikon did not survive.

Though the Nikon was not a super expensive model, it took beautiful photographs. Here is The Boy at his ballet class, back when we could talk him into that sort of thing.

Out of the kindness of his heart (which is really exceptionally kind and sweet), The Beloved bought me a replacement camera for my birthday a few months later. The only problem is that he spent what he would spend on a digital camera for himself… which is substantially lower than what I would have spent on a digital camera for myself. About half as much, actually. This meant a significant drop in quality.

The Beloved bought me a Samsung SL102, which while having more megapixels than the Nikon, was no where near as nice a camera (proving, once again, that it’s not about the number of one’s megapixels, but the quality of one’s parts). The Samsung’s interface was cluttered and difficult to navigate. It took me days, and a visit to the Samsung website, to locate the “sports” mode, where the camera takes several pictures one after another. This was easy to do on the Nikon, but I never found it to work on the Samsung. The picture quality on the Nikon was warm and bright. The pictures taken by the Samsung were gray and washed-out.

Worst of all, about half of my pictures were out of focus. Nevermind that the autofocus and I were best of buddies. Nevermind that I always focused twice, snapped once (to paraphrase Norm Abram).

Witness the badness:

The fact that this shot, which will never frame itself in quite that same way again (I’m certainly not riding out in that kind of rainstorm again, if I can avoid it), was lost to crappy autofocus, makes me furious.

I’ve never been much of a photographer. In college, I was a painting major, along with my English degree. While I could draw beautiful portraits, I stank at one aspect important to all artists: composition. I couldn’t figure out how to compose a picture to save my life. In the subsequent 20 years, I have slowly lost interest in drawing and painting, picking up other artistic endeavors along the way. Photography wasn’t one of them. I took pictures to document my life, not to create art.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the blogosphere: I learned to take more interesting photographs. Bikes are a fantastic object around which to learn about composition. After all, though the background changes constantly, the subject never does. Bikes do not have bad hair days, or decide they look fat. There are really only about a dozen angles from which to artfully photograph a bicycle, maybe less. Because I was riding frequently, I was taking more pictures. As I practiced taking photos of my bikes, I learned which photos “worked,” and which ones really didn’t.

For example, despite the fact that the first photograph isn’t the angle or composition I intended, I like it better than the second one, which seems busy in comparison. The first photograph conveys motion, which was what I was hoping for, but the second is static. The first one has lights and shadows and scale. The second does not.

All this is leading to an obvious place, isn’t it? On the way out to yesterday’s ride, I realized I had left my camera at home. Since I was headed back into the wilds of Ballard to drop off The Raleigh at The Dutch Bicycle Co., this was not an easy turn-around-and-go-get-it situation. The day was glorious, and I hated to ride without a camera. How would I rideblog? What to do?

Well, the IRS has to return a bit of my money this year, and there’s a nice little camera shop down in Ballard called Camera Techs, right on Market. It would seem, as I preferred to think of it, that God wanted me to buy a new camera (I find it most convenient to believe in God at moments like this, when one needs a justification for something. The rest of the time, I’m firmly agnostic). I had done a bit of research on Consumer Reports earlier this month to try to figure out what I wanted. This had allowed me to narrow my camera search down to within four variables:

1. The camera must fit my budget, which was around $250.

2. The camera must take amazing photographs, especially in the focus department.

3. The camera must have the settings to allow me to learn more about photography and control everything manually, should I so desire.

4. The camera must use regular batteries.

Now, would I have turned down a great camera because it didn’t meet the fourth criteria? No. But it was on my short list. I hate, hate, hate having to deal with those proprietary rechargeables while out and about.

Camera Techs is an old-fashioned small camera store. I was helped immediately by a fellow named Joe, who had a killer Irish accent and who was one of the more profane human beings I’ve run across in this very polite area. I loved him right away. Every other word involved “fecking” this and “fecking” that. I won’t tell you what he said about the other customers, though I loved a rant that began with “I fecking hate that guy!” Anyway, Joe showed me one slightly more expensive, proprietarily batteried Canon, but when I mentioned my need for regular old NiMh, he produced a Canon PowerShot SX130 IS. This was one of the cameras I had researched, so I knew it was a good bet for the money.

This is Joe:

You can see that Camera Techs likes them some Canons. Okay, I have no problem with that. Joe recommended the SX130 for several reasons: it takes great pictures in its own programs, or you can do everything manually, its dial-based interface is easy to use (“Put it on Program and ignore all the other fecking options”), it takes digital video, it uses regular batteries, and it was a mere $230. It is heavier than my other camera, but both Joe and I agreed that it felt better in one’s hand than the bland, square, cheaper cameras. It feels like a real camera.

Joe was highly amusing. He promised to read my blog. He also mentioned a friend of his in Ireland who runs a blog and who started tagging his posts with words like “titties,” just to up his traffic. “And a few of the feckers hung on after he stopped doing it!” I have decided to avoid this tactic, tempting as it may be. But I will say I would rather buy a camera from Joe, than from any of the pimply teenage feckers at the Big Box stores.

I took the camera out and made use of it immediately (try doing that with proprietary rechargeable batteries!). Now, keeping in mind that it was a glorious spring day without a cloud in the sky. Keep in mind that The Raleigh is exceptionally photogenic under any circumstances. But I think you will see a clear difference.

Here The Raleigh starts us off beside a brick building on Ballard Ave, riding toward our destination:

We started off at the Burke Gilman Trail, the great bicycle thoroughfare of the city, which reminds me of Rudyard Kipling’s Grand Trunk Road in Kim: “And truly the Grand Trunk Road is a wonderful spectacle. It runs straight, bearing without crowding India’s traffic for fifteen hundred miles—such a river of life as nowhere else exists in the world.”

The Burke Gilman is infamous here for being perpetually crowded, which is why I’ve always avoided it in the past, and today was especially busy, even on this end (Ballard is not known for its section of the Burke, though perhaps it should be).

Certainly, those white-painted crossing lines manage to be both painted, and significantly raised, thus unexpectedly shaking the bejeezus out of me.

We rounded a corner and emerged next to the ship canal. Here, the traffic is divided between the hard pavement, which is meant for bikes and roller bladers, and the packed gravel, which is meant for walkers. Of course, many people were ignoring this division, further adding to the crowding. I was none-too-thrilled with those who were racing their expensive road bikes, either. I very much doubt the rather granola-looking riders would have been weaving in and out of heavy freeway traffic at twice the pace of everyone else. What makes it okay on a bike trail?

Anyway, it’s days like this that make one glad to live in Seattle. There really are few places on earth as beautiful, I think, as this city on a sunny day.

Here The Raleigh poses beneath the Ship Canal Bridge.

I’m not sure who the monk statue represents. Next time, I should look, but I was in serious danger of being hit and killed by a rogue road cyclist at this point.

Unfortunately, my little camera-buying excursion set me back in terms of free time, so I had to cut my ride short as I entered Fremont, which is known here as the Center of the Universe. Guess I’ll find out more about that another time. The Raleigh and I liked this mural enormously, though we weren’t sure what some of those things riding bikes actually were.

Finally, The Raleigh and I headed back to The Dutch Bicycle Co. to drop off The Raleigh for a much-needed refurbishment. When I pick the bike up in two weeks (sob!), it will have brand new aluminum Sun CR-18 rims laced to its existing hubs, and lowered gearing. Then The Raleigh really will be The Perfect Bicycle ™.

In the meantime, I’ve been playing with the Canon. Here are some fun shots of The Boy, illustrating various settings:

Color Select (for red, obviously).

Fisheye lens.

“Miniaturize” effect, which when used with a movie, makes everything look a bit like the set of Thomas the Tank Engine.

And finally, using a setting that saturates the colors like old film used to. I like that one a lot, and can’t wait to try it out somewhere without flesh tones (which it turns bright red).

Edit: here are three more photos, taken tonight, that demonstrate the awesomeness of this camera!

Sunset from our porch, with rain hiding the Olympic mountains. Seriously zoomed, as well.

The Boy, taken by the light produced from a single 200-watt bulb, in an otherwise totally-darkened room. NO FLASH.

The boy again, using the color select and recognizing yellow. No flash used here, either. This has to be one of my favorite photos… ever. I’m such a convert!

So, do you folks see a difference already? I do.

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16 Responses to April 23, 2011 Ride: Photographic Delights

  1. Amesja says:

    Wow, that new camera is really getting results! Those photographs are very impressive.

    I recently took a class on how to use a digital camera taught by retired professional photographer from the Chicago Tribune. I learned a lot of stuff about F-stop, focus, aperture, ISO and all that jazz. She was of the opinion that a real photographer shouldn’t use any of the automatic features and do all the settings herself in order to produce consistent reliability because while some of the newer cameras are very good they are not infallible and will let you down when you most need them.

    That said, if I were to do this I’d have reliably poor photos all the time as photography is not my thing. All the controls in the manual mode are inter-dependent so that when you move one you need to move the others and keep them all in balance. It’s like balancing a spinning plate on a pool cue in high winds. Too many variables for my user level. I’ll let the camera do it! camera does it for me.

    I used to dislike the special batteries until I realized that you can buy them on Amazon for under $5. I bought 2 extra for both my camera and my wife’s. The spare batteries live in the small camera bags along with the spare SD cards and the mini-charger unit. Even when we were in Peru backpacking in the mountains I never ran down all 3 before I could find an outlet to start charging them back up.

    One feature I wish my camera had was the ability to shoot in RAW mode. That is one thing I learned in my class. The robo camera makes color balance decisions for you and converts the raw data the sensor picks up and throws away the extra. If you shoot in RAW mode you have the raw data and can play around in photoshop to do more than you can with a converted JPEG file. Oh, well -my next camera…

    My camera is a cheapo Casio EX-S5, and is fine for me right now. I took thousands of pictures in Peru with it and have been happy with it. Not the best photos but they turned out well enough for my purposes.

  2. rideblog says:

    Jealous of Peru!!! Oh my, yes I am!

    I’m not sure if I can shoot in Raw mode. Hmmm…

    I did take another photo after all these, from my balcony. I was looking out at the lights twinkling in the distance. Never, in a million years, could I have done that shot normally. But I set the ISO to 1600 and propped the camera on the railing and voila, one photo of the city skyline. Amazing!

  3. Your Bestest Friend says:

    Oh my god. The Boy. He is enormous! He’s totally not allowed to grow up.

  4. Amesja says:

    Peru was amazing. If you ever get a chance to go there the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is simply amazing and well worth the 26 mile trek through the mountains to get there (or you can take the train.) We also spent a week in the Amazon at a research lodge right on one of the tributaries. That was fun too. We even went over-night camping right on the riverbank in the middle of nowhere and ate freshly caught man-eating piranha and pitched a tent right on the ground amongst the tarantulas and the caiman.

    We probably blew our vacation budget for the next 5 years on the month-long honeymoon trip but it was worth it.

  5. rideblog says:

    Now that is my idea of a honeymoon trip, Amesja! It sounds fantastic.

    This summer I’m taking 8 kids for a week of cycling in western Ireland, which will be really cool, but will not involve piranhas. I sort of wish it did.

  6. rideblog says:

    He must grow, unfortunately. Were you to visit more, this would not be so shocking…

  7. Amesja says:

    I find piranha and children to be not all that dissimilar.

  8. rideblog says:

    Amesja, that’s true is soooo many ways…

  9. Erin B says:

    I strongly suspect you have rather more than 12 regular readers. We just don’t all comment all the time.

  10. Bob E says:

    That statue below the Ship Canal Bridge looks very much like the chap whose statue I came across in Oslo, Norway (see the below link); could it be Sri Chinmoy? Oh, and nice Raleigh Sports, by the way!

    Eternal Peace Flame

  11. rideblog says:

    Erin, , you’re right. I have, according to my “dashboard,” almost 500 views in the last seven days. Of course, 300 of those have been from me, checking my “dashboard.”

  12. rideblog says:

    Bob, it IS Sri Chinmoy! That only took about six minutes to find on Google, especially since Googling “monk on Burke Gilman trail” brings up rideblog :). Thanks for the compliment, and the info!

  13. Corey K says:

    Great pics with the new camera. I look forward to the shots of your new Creme Cafe Racer when it arrives.

    And you’re making me pine for Ballard.

    Corey K

  14. rideblog says:

    Corey, it’s hard to believe one can pine for Ballard, but I hear ya. It has a certain appeal, even prettified. I will say I see more bikes being used there than in any other neighborhood in Seattle.

  15. Corey K says:

    We lived in Ballard -actually Loyal Heights-for 6 years, and Greenlake before that. What can I say? All the Scandahoovians look like my in-laws, and I made some life-long good friends there. Enjoy it!

    Looking forward to the Creme review.

    Corey K

  16. Pingback: August 26 and 27 Rides: Betrayal and Redemption | rideblog

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