Pacific Sun Railroad

The Pacific Sun Railroad is a WATCO shortline that was established to take over local freight traffic from the BNSF on their former ATSF Escondido Subdivision and Miramar Branch.  Seems like it’s the stuff that the BNSF didn’t want to be bothered with.

As near as I can figure, the pictures in the Pacific Sun Railroad Gallery on Laughing Frog Images represent half of the railroad’s locomotives.

From what I’ve been able to find on the web, these are said to be former Western Pacific GP40s that have been upgraded to -3 standards. These workhorses are somewhere between 43 and 49 years old.  They’re working for at least their third owner – the Western Pacific was merged into the Union Pacific over 30 years ago.  It’s almost hard to believe that the 40-series Geeps have been around that long!  That means I’m…. never mind.

They’ve reportedly got two other units – said to be former Seaboard Air Line GP35s working for at least their fifth owner.  I’ve only seen these units in the yard at Stuart Mesa.

I’ve seen the GP40s working at night several times, and most often parked behind a fence at a transloading facility along Miramar Road.  This was the first time I’ve seen them in daylight and not behind the fence, so naturally that called for their portrait!  It was late in the day in nice light – the deep blues were starting to set into the sky.

Once again, these were taken with my Microsoft/Nokia Icon.  This is a .jpg image made from the original .dng file.

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Here are two sites to check out if you want to learn a little more about the Pacific Sun Railroad:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pacific_Sun_Railroad

http://www.watcocompanies.com/our-services/rail-services/psrr/

Now, to get the GP35s…!

Thanks for looking.

Everyone likes a cracker

At least this little guy (or gal) did!

Mrs. Frog and I were at a great museum that exceeded expectations – the Roanoke Island Festival Park in Manteo, NC.  There’s a recreation of a 16th century sailing ship, exhibits of the Native American inhabitants of the area, and interactive exhibits of the early settlements, among other things.  You know how sometimes you go to a museum with reservations (about going – not a scheduled time)?  I went in with a little bit of that attitude, and left with a different view.  This was well worth it, at least to us.

Anyway, besides all of the history stuff, there are friendly little critters running around the grounds.  Like squirrels.

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This guy/gal wasn’t the least bit bothered by the big two-legged things that invaded its’ home.  Indeed, it was quite content to have what appeared to be a mini-Ritz cracker or two.  As you can see, I was right there with my Icon as the cracker was carefully rotated and consumed.  As I’m sitting here typing this, I’m thinking to myself that this would have made an entertaining short video.  Maybe next time.

A couple of different images from this impromptu wildlife shoot will end up in the “peaceful (for the most part) critters” gallery on Laughing Frog Images.

Wander on in and check it out.  And maybe create a coffee mug or something else for yourself while you’re in there.

Happy browsing.  Enjoy!

It’s the filter, stupid!

So, when I packed the camera bag for vacation, I grabbed an old polarizing filter.  By old, I mean “linear”.  But it’s also 30+ years old. (Does that make it old old?

(Hint: if you’re buying a filter, buy the best filter you can afford.  They don’t go bad.  Indeed, they usually meet their maker by being dropped.  Or being sat on and bent.  Not that I know anything about that – I’ve just heard…  Seriously though, if a filter’s price seems too good to be true, it probably is.)

Anyway, what’s the big deal about a linear polarizing filter?  Well, linear filters were just fine back in the days when autofocus cameras were a fantasy and Kodachrome ruled.  You rotated the filter to get your desired effect, pressed the shutter release, and went on about your business.

These days, with autofocus cameras, one needs to think and buy a circular polarizing filters  Why?  Your contemporary autofocus – autoexposure camera’s meter likes circular polarizers.  It’s all about physics, and I’m not a physicist, so I’m not even going to try to explain it here.  However, Bob Atkins does a pretty good job of explaining things, so if my word isn’t good enough, you can click here and read his article about linear and circular polarizing filters.

So why am I talking about this and why are you reading this?  Well, there’s one other problem that you can have besides the meter producing bad exposures, and I encountered it.

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If this image looks fuzzy, it’s not you.

On the other hand, if this image looks in focus, it’s you!  Please visit your eye care professional immediately.

So… what’s going on here?

A linear polarizer can confuse a multi-point autofocus system, and this is proof positive of that.

I was shooting using the linear polarizing filter to remove glare on the water without a problem, perhaps because the sun was behind me.  However, I found my camera not focusing on two subjects the next day in situations where the sun was at a 60-90 degree angle to me.  Being totally relaxed on vacation, I didn’t think about the filter being the problem.  Instead, I was annoyed / mad / worried thinking my lens had decided to break. I tuned the camera off, removed the lens, put the lens back on, turned the camera on, and same problem….!  After repeating that twice (which usually resets everything), I’d given up on the lens for the rest of the trip.

The Frog was not laughing.

And then, later in the day, I looked at the lens.  And saw the filter.  And realized that I’d had that filter since the early 1980’s…

I took the filter off.  I turned the camera on.  It focused.

And, I said to myself, “it’s the filter, stupid…!”

If you’re interested in learning more about what a polarizing filter can do for you, click here and here to visit two prior posts on the subject.

Don’t forget to visit your local camera store when you go to get your polarizing filter!

Photographing Fireworks

Last year, the Frog published four posts on photographing fireworks.

Rather than reinventing the wheel, we’re going to give you the links to the 2014 posts here so you can prepare yourself now, and then head out in a couple of weeks and make your own great images of fireworks.

Photographing fireworks is hard, but it’s not, and it’s actually been made easier by digital photography – you don’t have to wait a week to get your slides back to see how well you did, or didn’t do.  It’s also practically free these days.

Yes, I know, it’s counterproductive to teach people how to take their own fireworks pictures when you’re trying to sell your images, but, hey, I’m not that kind of Frog…

So, here the posts in order, from what you need to how to make your images to free processing software to processing your images and impressing yourself, your friends and your family.

All we ask is that you share Laughing Frog Images as the source of your guidance and inspiration!

If someone else is the photographer in your circle, and you want some images of this year’s fireworks – please share this with them and help us with a little publicity in the process.

DSC_7871 adjusted in Picasa fbLaughing Frog Images wishes you and yours have a safe and happy Independence Day holiday.

“Sunset” added to the Galleries

Based on comments and feedback, I took the .dng (RAW) file of “Sunset from an Airplane” and created a high-quality .jpg file.  Interestingly enough, the .jpg is almost identical to the .dng file – so what you see is what the camera’s sensor saw.

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You can find the image here in the “sundowns, sun ups and things in the sky” gallery on Laughing Frog Images.

Enjoy!

The Gray Whales of Long Beach

People have a lot of different perceptions of California, some are nice, some aren’t – and we’re not going to discuss or debate them here.

Among the many perceptions, one thing that usually isn’t in the mix is that it is a place where you can watch whales, and do so pretty easily at that.

Mr. and Mrs. Frog and some friends took an afternoon whale watch cruise from Long Beach Harbor on Harbor Breeze Cruises, and had a great time.

We followed (from a safe distance) a pair of Gray Whales on their journey back north, and came away with some images that can be shared on Laughing Frog Images.

I shot well over 150 images, and between the rolling of the boat, the waves, and the whales (who apparently aren’t worried about telepathic directions and request from photographers), probably a third of them were deemed worth showing.  Of that group, 19 are posted in the Whales Gallery.

Gray Whales, Long Beach CA

The images were taken with a Tamron 18-270mm VR lens on my Nikon D-90 at ISO 400, shutter speeds were generally 1/1000 second or higher.

So, you want to go photograph whales?

Here’s my two cents:

  • be patient, and remember that the whales are moving along at their own pace and on their own schedule – you might have a great day, and you might not…
  • make sure you have a lot of room on your memory card,
  • take the longest lens you have,
  • shoot with a medium ISO (200-400 or so), and,
  • if you can, set your shutter speed manually so that it is ideally 1/1000 or higher to compensate for all of the movement and things that you can’t control
  • if your schedule permits, avoid mid-day cruises – that’s when the lighting is direct and harsh, and much of the water detail will merely be shades of gray.  Go for early morning or late afternoon.
  • shoot a lot – because you’re not going to have a 100% success rate
  • don’t rely on the monitor on your camera to determine what’s a good shot and what’s a bad shot – wait until you can see the images on your computer before you make those decisions.

 

Dinner!

Some of our flowers are hosting unwelcome visitors – aphids.

Mrs. Frog purchased some ladybugs to help in getting rid of the unwelcome guests naturally.

It’s really kind of interesting…

The container on the counter that I thought might have been a pint of ice cream for me was actually full of 1500 ladybugs.

So much for the ice cream munchies.

It’s best to release them at dusk when things are cooling off – you set the container near where you want them to go, take the lid off, and the theory/hope is that they climb the plants you want them to climb and either move in or leave their larvae.  In the process, you hope that enough of them stick around for dinner – that being the aphids.

 

In the process, I thought I’d have some fun photographing the dinner rush.

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So, it was off to get the D5100, the 60mm f2.8 micro lens, the flash and the Gary Fong Lightsphere diffuser (so I would have even lighting and I wouldn’t get any hot spots).

To provide for even lighting, I shot with the flash aimed straight up and let the diffuser do its’ thing.   I know that sounds counter-intuitive – but see for yourself.  It works!  I could and should do a post about this diffuser – it’s a phenomenal addition to the camera bag for anyone who regularly uses any shoe-mounted flash.

From there, I figured out that it’s not as easy as it sounds…

First off, ladybugs have the attention span of a cat.  They don’t stay in one place very long.

Second, I was trying to shoot them with a short micro lens with a flash and with diffuser as it was dusk.  Not the greatest combination.  All of this meant a wide aperture – which also meant my depth of field wasn’t going to be very much.

Let’s just say that I had a less than 5% success rate that night.  I’ll chalk it up to a learning experience, as I’d never tried this before.  This image was made at ISO 100, 1/160 second and f3.5.

I didn’t get any images that will end up in the Galleries on Laughing Frog Images.  But that shouldn’t stop you from paying a visit anyway…!

More importantly, I learned that night.  (I’m not much for reading photography books – right or wrong, I like to learn new photographic techniques by trial and error.  I’ve never taken a class or lesson, so why start now!?

I’ll try this again – but it will be before dusk when there’s enough natural light that I don’t need a flash and can get my aperture above f8 – then I’ll at least have a fighting chance of success.

Polarizing Filters, Part 2

A long time ago in the blog, and far, far away… we talked a bit about polarizing filters and the technical details of how they work.

Well, it might have only been a few months, but that sounded like a good opening!

Anyway, we talked about polarizing filters and how they can help with glare, but we didn’t show you anything about them in the blog.

The least we could have done was to have shown you how they work right here in the blog!  We’re going to fix that transgression compliments of back lighting and a koi pond.

First up, here’s what happens if you try to take the picture in these conditions without a polarizing filter:

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[Nikon D5100, 60mm f2.8 lens, ISO 400, 1/200 sec., f4.5, no filter.]

Not so hot, eh?

So, let’s see what happens when you use your polarizing filter – this is the next image I shot:

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[Nikon D5100, 60mm f2.8 lens, ISO 400, 1/200 sec., f2.8, polarizing filter – notice that I lost a stop on the exposure due to the polarizing filter.]

Impressive, isn’t it?  If you’ve never seen this demonstration before, you might say it’s amazing.  The technical details are found here.

I don’t claim to fully understand everything about the physics behind a polarizing filter – I just know that they work, and can help you get an image you couldn’t otherwise get.

If you can get your hands on one, they’re a great addition to your camera bag.

 

What does the Frog process with?

Another recent question was “what software do you use to process your images?”

My current image processing software is ACDSee Pro 8 available from ACD Systems.

I also have Corel Paint Shop Pro (came with the computer), Microsoft Photo Gallery (free for Windows 7 & 8 users), Picasa (free, from Google), an older version of Adobe Photoshop Elements, and Nikon’s View NX2 that came with my cameras.  Each of these is good – I’m not slighting any of them.  But I’m currently using ACDSee Pro 8.

Why?

I’m simply not that good at post-processing.  I can’t process an image file and take a cloudy sky and make it blue, or swap out a foreground, or anything like that.  I process very simply (for the most part) and stick to the basics, and they do the basics very well.

Disclosure: occasionally, I do find that I can pull off a mini-miracle with this software and salvage a slide or botched exposure.  These are adventures in trial and error, and always involve working with a copy of the image file and not the original file.  Sometimes, it can take hours to save an old slide – but it’s the only way.  It’s much simpler on most digital images.

Three key things that I really, really like about this software:

The Light EQ tool is absolutely fantastic when working with an image – you can set up to nine (9) individual tone bands when adjusting the lighting on an image.  When you’re working with old Kodachromes, that means you can bring out shadow detail very discretely, as well as tone down clouds and the sky.

I find the Hybrid tool for noise removal to be (1) fantastic and (2) equally effective with scans and RAW files.

And, the Sharpening tool is intuitive and easy to use.

Overall, the software is very easy to use as an image organizer and as an editing software.  And, it’s intuitive.  Very intuitive.  I find myself looking at the manual every so often, but you can be up and running in a short time without reading the manual.  One of the hardest things for me is establishing a consistent workflow, as I only seem to work on images on the weekends, and then, not every weekend.  I tend to forget workflows and processes once in a while.  I guess I could take notes…

So, if I sound like a commercial for ACD Systems, I guess I am.  If anyone knows anyone there who can hook me up with a sponsorship deal…  If anyone has any questions about how I got to ACDSee among all the other programs, please ask!  If you’re considering (new) processing software, it’s definitely worth a look.

Oh, before I wrap this post up, there’s one very, very, very important thing – you need a good mouse.

There’s a companion post to follow on what I call finishing software (a program that does not cease to amaze me).

Happy shooting / scanning and processing!

 

 

 

 

RAW. Just shoot it!

Not too long ago, I had a conversation with someone who had some nice new mirrorless camera gear.

I asked them if they were shooting RAW format and jpeg format, just RAW format, or just jpegs.  They answer was “just jpegs.”

To which I replied: “RAW.  Just shoot it!”

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Many of us have digital cameras that will capture images in RAW format in addition to jpeg.  RAW is somewhat of a generic term for a “raw” image file that stores everything that the camera sensor captured when you clicked the shutter.  Some cameras only capture the jpeg, which is compressed and processed for optimal results according to the camera manufacturer’s software.  The jpeg images are also smaller than RAW files – sometimes by as much as 75%.

So, why shoot RAW (which in reality has many different filename extensions – .nef, .raf, etc. – it’s whatever the manufacturer wants to call it) if you have to process it and it’s a bigger file?

In simple terms, it presents a wider range of editing and processing options, particularly if the jpeg is overexposed or underexposed.  You might be really unhappy with your jpeg – but you can probably make a winner out of the RAW file in your editing software.  RAW images can have an exposure latitude of +/- 2 stops or more – that’s really a wide margin for error.  You can also work to bring out the shadow detail in a RAW file, or tone down the highlights to even out an image.

I have to admit that when I first got a camera that was capable of shooting RAW images (a Fuji S-9000 9MP all-in-one) – I didn’t shoot RAW.

Confession time: I was intimidated by the notion of digital processing more so than anything else, and was under the (mistaken) impression that the jpegs my camera put out were the best that could be done with the image.  One word: WRONG!

I started to play around with RAW, and as I got comfortable with processing images, actually reached the point where now I only shoot RAW.  It started to get to be too much to organize and keep straight. Most of my processed images are saved as jpegs (although some are saved as lossless .tif files if I really had to do some work on them – and then saved as jpegs) for posting.  You can always convert the RAW image to whatever file format you’d like, but you can never work backwards to the original information and quality of the RAW file.

You can use the software that came with your camera, or download free software such as Picasa by Google or Gimp, or buy software (Acdsee, Adobe, Corel, onOne, etc.) to process your RAW files.  It might take some time to learn the software, and you might actually have to read the instructions, but it’s well worth it!

So, in case you missed my point…  RAW.  Just shoot it!