Lava Light Lessons #5…How A Camera Captures Light…and How You Control That Capture…part one: Time

Sounds complex and is if I were to try to give you a technical explanation…but this will be the simple explanation.

The fancy camera makes an image based on how much light it gathers, for how long it gathers that light and based on how sensitive the film or sensor is to that light (That is called ISO).

So…most cameras have a setting on the little top dial that says T or S…for Time or Speed. Same thing. You can tell your camera to let light into the camera for as long as you want…from just 1/8000th of a second (if perhaps you are shooting in absolute bright sunlight) all the way down to hours of exposure using the B for Bulb setting on the camera which allows you to keep the lens and camera gathering light until you manually stop it from gathering light (for perhaps an ultra long exposure of the deep sky to gather enough light to reveal something like the rings of Saturn). If you shoot anything slower than 1/80th of a second, you must use a tripod or you will get a shaky image. Many people will tell you that you can shoot at 1/60th of second hand held, but 1/80th is safer. In fact, CJ, Linda and I use tripods for the majority of our shots no matter the speed…steadier platform for shooting and more comfortable for the photographer.

If you want to get a stop action shot of a flying bird…you need to be shooting at 1/1000th of a second or faster…which means you probably need a lot of sunlight. If you are shooting any kind of action…like sports action or a moving car or running animal…, try for 1/1000th or faster.

A landscape or portrait during daytime…1/500th might be a good setting, but you can go all the way down to 1/80th of a second without a tripod.

A sunset or sunrise photo of water moving…to capture enough light for the sky and foreground and to make the water look like it has some movement…about one third of a second with your camera on a tripod.

The Milky Way at night…ten to 30 seconds on a tripod. Anything more than 30 seconds and the stars will start to have trails and not be pin points. Shoot for ten minutes in the that B or Bulb setting and you will start to have some interesting looking star trails.

So…the first lesson of controlling something is to control it with speed or time. Set your ISO at 100 or no higher than 400. Turn the little dial on the top of your camera to T or S and then follow those basic guidelines above to get your shot. You will have controlled the speed of the shot and the ISO the camera will use…and the camera will choose the right aperture or opening of the lens to make all that work. That is taking control…and almost as good as shooting in M or Manual…but we will get to that eventually. Aloha.

Lava Light Lessons #4…Here is Why You Bought the Camera…so you can NEVER shoot in Auto…and use the camera to its’ full potential

High end professional cameras are all about options and control. The camera gives you options and you take control. Over time, the choices you learn to make translate into your award winning photos.

CJ teaches everyone this one basic lesson…Always Control Something. That means never ever ever ever shooting your expensive camera in Auto. Here is how I learned that lesson…

CJ and Nick took me out on the active lava field in the middle of the night for a photo shoot. I was new to high end photography…brand new. I had no idea what I was doing. They had given me the basics but the pressure of the situation was such that I waited until they turned their backs and I turned the camera on to the Auto setting…because I really could not figure it all out on my own. Guess what…I got a really nice shot…nice enough that they got very excited about it when I showed it to them in the back of the camera. To hell with learning the camera…this Auto setting rocks. Hey…it was a double cheat, because they insisted that I use a tripod and I fooled them on that as well…shot it hand held…because I have such a steady hand.

Fast forward to later that same day. CJ called me and asked me to send him that shot…he wanted to print it for the gallery even though I really was not part of the gallery at that point…a major break through for me. By then I had edited it on my computer. I could not understand why it did not look like the image did on that one inch screen on the back of my camera. It was so grainy that it almost looked like an abstract painting…and not a very good abstract painting. What the heck happened? I checked the speed that Auto chose…looked pretty good at 1/40th of a second (actually way too slow for exploding lava while shooting hand held, but I did not know that then), the lens was wide open at f/2.8 and that made sense to me (but I did not realize that would put only a small part of the image in clear focus)…so what could be wrong? I eventually found the ISO setting that Auto had chosen. I asked CJ if ISO 25,600 was a good choice on my old Canon 20D camera. Yeah…turns out that is not a good setting for ISO…not even remotely a good setting. It left the already blurry image filled with sensor noise and grainy as heck. Lesson learned. When CJ learned the facts he told me that he could not print that image any bigger than 3 inches by 2 inches and that there was very little call for that size in their gallery…so much for my false start as a professional photographer.

In the next article I will give you some basics on what you can control with your terrific new camera and why you want to want to take control of something…or everything. Aloha.

And…ps…when I get a chance I will try to find that image I took way back when at 25,600 ISO to show you what a hot mess looks like…may get to that later today and will update this blog if I find it.

Lava Light Lessons #3…Taking the Camera Out of the Box and Preparing it

Fully charge the battery and put it in the camera.

Put the memory card you bought into the camera and we will format it (get it ready for use in that camera) in a bit.

Look at the instruction manual and go through the set up process as they suggest…setting the date and the like.

Over the course of these articles, I will take you through some more sophisticated choices that might interest you, but for now, just focus on the following…

Make a few simple choices that will serve you well…the right choice to make out of several options available:

Press the Menu button and bring up the Menu

Find the area where Quality/Image Size can be found and scroll to the Quality setting. Choose RAW. Just RAW…not RAW and jpeg…just RAW. It gives you the most flexibility later on when you edit the image. Don’t fight me on this one…RAW is the one and only answer.

If you then scroll further down the menu and find a choice of Compressed or Uncompressed…choose Uncompressed. It will give you the best image data to work with when you edit.

I shoot in an Aspect ratio of 3:2. That means my images (which I can later crop to any aspect I want) are shot in a way that would allow me to print that image in any configuration of 3:2…like three feet wide by two feet tall or 18 inches wide by 12 inches.

If you scroll some more you will find Color Space…choose AdobeRGB. All you need to know is that gives you more color options when you edit.

Probably on another page called Color/WB find White Balance and set it to Auto. I will do a whole article on this sometime, but for now Auto is the answer no matter what anyone else tells you. Go with Auto. One of my best friends, Dan, insisted on setting his own White Balance on his new camera when I took him to Augusta National. We have always enjoyed the photos he took that day because the green color of our skin matched nicely to the green sky and green greens of Augusta. Choose Auto.

Another choice in that area might say Creative Style and choose Landscape if that is what you will mostly shoot…or Portrait if you are going to be doing a lot of people shots. You can experiment with all the choices but Landscape is a pretty good choice for now.

The last thing to find is the Format area usually under a Menu choice in Setup. Go to Format…put your brand new memory card in the correct slot in the camera and push the button to Format that card. It will basically totally erase the card (SO DO NOT FORMAT IT IF THERE ARE PHOTOS ON IT YOU WANT TO DOWNLOAD TO YOUR COMPUTER…ONCE THE CARD IS FORMATTED, THOSE IMAGES MAY BE GONE FOR GOOD…OR YOU WILL AT LEAST HAVE TO LEARN A NEW SKILL CALLED RECOVERING DELETED IMAGES…NEVER ANY FUN). Your camera will erase the data on the card and organize that card so it is ready for the new images you are about to shoot. I will do a whole article on Formatting…but the above is the very basic info you need to know.

Enough for now. Don’t let all the choices confuse you. Set the basics and you will learn the others down the road…they are not mission critical right now. Aloha.

Lava Light Lessons #2…Know Before You Go…there is more to high end photography than just the camera

Photography on a phone is simple…and quite good these days. You take the photo. It may not need editing at all. You hit a button or two to either “edit” it in an app or to just post it on Instagram or wherever…and you are done. The photo stays in your phone or goes up to your cloud storage…and, if you are really organized, maybe you catalog it somehow so you can find it again and show it to people when you want to do so. What we often see is that those photos stay unorganized and it takes people quite a long time to find them so they can show us the photo. The downside of all this, other than the organization issue, is that phone photography is limited as to the quality of the image and the lenses available to use. All of that is changing rapidly and increasingly, phone photography is a great option for most photographers.

But phone photography sometimes leads people down the path of “I really want to become a more professional photographer” and so they buy a fancy camera and a lens or two. I love that…but it is a slippery path and I want to warn you a bit about the journey you might be starting.

I can make a case that all you really need is a good digital camera body, a 16-35 mm lens for landscape, a 24-70mm zoom for portraits and a small zoom lens like a 70-200 mm lens to get a bit of a telephoto capability, as well as a tripod…and you are good to go. Those are the basic items you need to get started..almost…and I will come to the “almost” in just a moment. I would highly suggest that you also get at least two memory cards for the camera of at least 64GB each (I like the 128GB cards…and I do not buy the cheap ones) and a second backup fully-charged-at-all-times battery (and not a cheap knockoff battery…get the factory one). Nothing worse than hiking ten miles with your camera gear to find out your memory card is full with images you do not want to delete or your battery is dead. Be prepared…extra card and extra battery.

Brand…lots of good choices. If it were me, I would stick with Canon, Sony and Nikon and throw in Sigma lenses as an option. And don’t be afraid to buy them as Refurbished from the factory…they will probably be brand new and you buy them at a discount WITH a warranty.

Scary story…we were recently in Africa…best trip of our life, but remote as heck and very expensive to get to and for the safari. One of the other guests wanted to make absolute sure she would have great equipment, so she bought (actually rented) two cheap digital cameras…not Canon, not Sony, not Nikon. They started off bad and got worse. They took bad images and then they both broke. All the rest of us shoot high end gear and we all had a hard time helping her with her substandard equipment. She ended up shooting the trip on her phone. Buy good equipment or stick with he phone…things are cheap for a reason.

The “Almost” is the thing people either forget or do not know about…you must EDIT your digital images that you take with your new fancy camera. If you do not plan to edit those photos because you don’t know how and are unwilling to learn….or you feel “I am a purist and will only show the image as it comes out of the camera”…you have made a horrible mistake in buying the camera. Take it back and get your money back and work on your phone photography skills…and you will still get some really nice shots.

I will get into RAW vs JPG in another blog…but professionals ALL shoot in RAW. Jpg or Jpeg (they are the same) is another type of image your camera can take and it will “edit” the photo a bit based on how the camera feels it should look…and leave you with what I call an average looking image that is also left much less robust for further editing. The point here is you MUST edit your digital photos from these fancy cameras or you are completely wasting your time.

Which brings me to the warning I mentioned earlier…not only must you learn to use the camera (I am going to talk you out of ever-ever-ever shooting in Auto in a later post) but you MUST learn to use Lightroom and Photoshop. That means a monthly subscription to those programs. That means a good computer and an outside hard drive to both edit and store your images. It also means you have to learn how to use them. They are super simple to use…with a little bit of instruction…but so amazingly complex that few (certainly including me) will ever fully master them.

Conclusion…there is more to high end photography than just a good camera. You have to learn how to use the cameras’ fantastic capabilities. You must also edit the images you take. Both of those take time and repetition to bring to a high level. This is also why I did not become a professional photographer until I had retired from my real job…I did not have the time for it. And…it is addictive…you will end up loving the process and the time spent…but it will eventually turn you into a pack horse carrying all the equipment all around the world and a bit of a computer nerd. There…you are fully warned. Now…if you want to proceed, I will begin to work on the next article.

Lava Light Lessons #1…The Beginning of a Series of Photo Tips and Our First Tip…The Diopter

Our gallery is in a busy upscale retail area where we get a lot of visitors from all over the world. As you can imagine, they are thrilled to be in Hawaii and come see us to purchase a memory of their visit…a beautiful shot of a waterfall, dolphin, turtle, wave, mountain, Milky Way or any of the volcanic activity that takes place here. Occasionally, they are intent on getting a high quality shot of their own to take home, so they do a Costco run and buy a fairly high end digital professional type camera. Next stop, back at our gallery with the unopened box in hand asking us for some help in getting started with the new equipment.

If CJ or Don happen to be in the gallery, we are happy to help…IF we have the time to do so. We get a lot of traffic in the gallery and try to greet and engage everyone who is so kind as to stop in. If the new photographer is patient and we do get the time, we can at least get them started. However, I have often thought that it might be good to get them started and then point them to our blogs for some further tips…tips that might be good for anyone wanting to improve their photographic game.

So…I am going to give this a try. CJ is our master photographer and has taught Linda and I and many others a great deal about photography. Linda’s secondary talent, after her photography, is that of an artist and interior designer. My secondary talent is that I am a writer and story teller. So, I will engage CJ and Linda and then distill their thoughts into some ONE SUBJECT…SHORT…lessons for those fairly new to digital photography using fancy cameras and lenses rather than just phones for their photos. I will do a bunch of them over the next month or so and see if you like them. If you do, I will continue on a regular basis and build up a “library” of simple tips that may be of help to those who could use that assist. So here goes with an example of what you will see in this series….

Did you know your new camera has a diopter built in? Heck, I didn’t even know what a diopter is. It is a little dial, usually found close to the part of the camera you stick your eye up to…the view finder. You can move that small dial one way or the other AND CORRECT THE VISION OF THE IMAGE YOU ARE SEEING. It acts like glasses…and makes it possible for you to shoot your camera without wearing your glasses…in fact, that is the way you should be shooting your camera. It does NOT change the image you are shooting…it changes the image you are seeing.

I’m an old guy and my vision is not what it use to be. However, when I dial in the diopter…it is perfect. If I then hand that camera to my grand kid with his or her perfect vision, it will appear out of focus to them…so they can twist that dial and get it perfect for their needs. It is simple to use and adjust. It will help you make sure that the photos you are taking are in perfect focus.

Find the diopter on your camera right now and twist the dial a bit to see what it can do for you. When the view finder turns to perfect vision…give it a smile and you are ready to get the perfect images you have always wanted. Aloha.

My One and Only Wedding Photo

We are landscape photographers. CJ has the skills and ability to do a wedding photo shoot…but very rarely does so, and then, only for a close friend. Linda and Don…we are not responsible enough to pull it off…so we do not even try. HOWEVER…I…Don…did get one great wedding shot recently…and I am pretty proud of it.\

Linda and I went on a photo mission to Europe in July 2019. We drove thousands of miles exploring France, Spain, Portugal and Andorra. Got some wonderful shots. We were also impressed at how rural Spain and Portugal are, once you get out of the big cities. Loved the trip from the start in Paris to the finish in Paris.

Along the way we drove to the wedding of our dear friends, Pim and Renaud. The wedding was in a 14th century walled city in Guerande, France in the beautiful Church Saint Aubin. The whole area is beautiful…we stayed in La Baule and attended a party there on the beach and at a chateau in La Turbaille…all near the Bay of Biscay.

I snuck my good camera into the wedding…my Sony a7R4 with a 16 to 35 lens…compact enough to hide in my suit coat (second time I have had on a suit in the last dozen years). I sat on the aisle. I had to crank up the ISO to 800 to get enough light so I could shot hand held…and at the right moment I fired off just one mirrorless quiet shot. Below you will see the result…and I am stoked.

So…I am quitting wedding photography while I am ahead…one and done. Thank you Pim and Renaud.

And the rest of our European photo safari…pure magic. Linda and I loved Bilbao…Andorra…the sunflower fields of Spain and Portugal and Paris…we always love Paris. Oh…and Biarittz, France was as beautiful as ever. We love Europe.

Here is a sampling of our shots…starting with my one and done wedding shot and ending with a pretty impressive storm at the airport in Paris. Aloha.

CJ, Linda and Don On a Photo Mission to Kauai

Got a call from CJ…surfs up in Kauai and we need to go shoot that spot out at the end of the road past Hanalei. I quickly agreed and we headed off to Kauai. Along for the trip, our good friend, Bill McDowell..and excellent photographer and great travel partner.

The weather on Kauai…on and off rain. Pretty cloudy toward sunset, but that can be good or bad. So…off we went to hike out to the iconic spot where the surf hits the backwash along the Na PaliCoast.

I had forgotten that the hike out involved a major league rock scramble along a wet cliffside. Easy for CJ. Not so easy for Linda and I and our friend, Bill. But, we made it out and we were just blown away by the size of the surf that afternoon. It was epic. We all got good shots and some unreal color toward sunset. I am only posted a few of my shots with this blog but we will be adding more in the days ahead from CJ and Linda.

Next day, major league glare and tough shooting. We also shot a couple of sunrise locations and a rain storm crossing Hanalei Bay. Fun in Kauai.

I managed to get my leg cut up on the rocks. Linda managed to get her arm cut up from her luggage falling. CJ managed to get food poisoning. Bill managed to stay out of harms way…and got some great shots. Heck, we all got some great shots…and a few good enough for the gallery…which was the point of the whole mission.

We were blessed with good friends on Kauai who helped us find great locations and got us around relatively safely. Big thanks to Paul Grace and Jon Cornforth and all the other terrific photographers we saw along the way.

We will be back. Aloha.

The Hurzeler’s Head To China…ride a bullet, dodge a bullet

In November of 2019, Don and Linda headed to China for a photo shoot. We had never been to China and we left there just plain amazed by just about everything we saw.

Our trip started from Oahu, traveling with a great local Oahu radio host, Rick Hamada, and a group of about 50 people principally from Oahu under the great assist of YMT Vacations. The trip took us through Korea to Beijing. After several days exploring Beijing and the Great Wall, we flew to where we would see the Terra Cotta Warriors, then on to a city of some 33 million people…where we would board a ship for a cruise up the Yangtze River to the worlds biggest dam, after checking out the pandas at a great reserve for them…and then through areas so beautiful that they are featured on Chinese currency. When the cruise was over, we flew to astonishing Shanghai for a few days of photography and sight seeing. We then flew back to Oahu, once again through the most beautiful airport I have ever seen in South Korea.

The bullet we rode was a bullet train from downtown Shanghai to the airport. It is a mag lift train that travels at speeds up to nearly 300 miles per hour. It was completely smooth, except for that one moment when the bullet train going the other way passes you just feet away…both trains going about 275 miles per hour…and the shock wave did cause me to kind of grip the seat for a second. Clean, fast and cheap…a great way to get to the airport.

The bullet we dodged was the Corona Virus. It showed up in December. We had left China just about a month earlier. Glad we missed that bullet.

My thoughts on China were these….it is on a scale that is just not imaginable. The cities we saw were gigantic and getting larger by the day. In one case, the city was growing by a million people a year. There was construction everywhere. We were there in the mild part of winter, so saw no air pollution. We did see what had been done to reduce air pollution and it was a big surprise. They have moved manufacturing out to places we did not visit…probably for a good reason. Net result, places like Beijing seemed extremely clean. There were well tended parks everywhere…and lots of new trees planted. Saw no graffiti…none. Saw no vandalism…zero. I felt safe even as I wandered streets alone taking photos at 3am. Shanghai is about the most modern looking city I have ever seen. Skyscrapers everywhere. Housing everywhere.

This is not a political blog, so I am not going to get into things like the lack of freedom, the lack of diversity, the strong handed control of the government nor the general lack of joy we noted in the people of China. However, I tried to put myself in their shoes and wondered how I would govern 1.5 BILLION people…keep them healthy, clothed, fed, employed and calm. I can assure you it would be difficult using the kind of government we have here in the USA. It is a tough situation. I am proud of all they have accomplished. Amazed at their progress. Intimidated by their capabilities. And would love to see more of beautiful China…but thankful I live where I live.

By the way…we kind of laughed at the fact we noticed a doctor and nurse next to a big machine that read the temperature of every human who walked underneath it at the airport…as they screened travelers for any kind of illness. We are laughing no longer…seems like a really good idea now.

I am attaching a few of our photos from the trip…more to come. Aloha.

The Hurzeler’s Head to Australia…just before the big fires of 2019-2020

Don and Linda returned to Australia for a photo trip in August of 2019. The trip was unique for them as they took along their 12 year old grandson, Nathan, and the trip ended back in Hawaii on their 50th wedding anniversary.

The trip started in Sydney, where a day trip up to the Blue Mountains caused us to both wonder why the dry mountain woods had not burned to the ground. It looked like a disaster waiting to happen. Everything was tinder dry and the winds were howling. Fortunately, it was late winter and there was a bit of moisture in the air, but it looked like trouble was right ahead. It was, the fires that happened in late 2019 were devastating. Glad we got to see the area before the fires.

The surf was huge at Bondi Beach, near Sydney…about 20 feet on the two days we shot there. I will post a shot or two from those days. Loved our time in Sydney and got some great shots.

Off next to Uluru…the Red Rock in the center of Australia. We also visited Mt Connor and the Kata Tejuta. Beautiful and remote.

Our favorite spot was Port Douglas and the Great Barrier Reef. I am posting one of Nate’s photos from one of our many snorkel trips on the reef. He swam over to me and asked if he could borrow my underwater camera. I gave it to him and he headed off with his feet looking like egg beaters…he was chasing something. A few minutes later he returned with a big smile on his face. He said he got a great shot of a turtle “You will probably want to sell it in the gallery” is how he described it. I told him we would see. Once we got back to the hotel room, I put the shot in the computer and edited it. Sure enough, it was a professional quality turtle shot…well done, Nate. I showed it to him and asked him what that was….pointing to something on the right side of the shot. I then blew it up a bit for him to see. His eyes got wide as he saw that it was a large black tip shark…he had not spotted it in front of the turtle. I mentioned that shark had swam right past me headed for him…the shark being about 50 percent larger than Nathan. However, that type shark is not known to be aggressive and there were plenty of them around…so I did not feel in danger nor did I think he was in danger. But, a great lesson for anyone in the ocean…have your head on a swivel and always look around to see what else might be in the water with you.

When we arrived back to Hawaii, we were me by CJ, his family, my family and assorted friends…and we all went out to dinner to celebrate Linda and my 50th wedding anniversary. A great end to a great trip.

We will be posting additional shots from this trip on the website. The one of the guy looking into the camera is a shot Nate took by mistake as he reached in the bag for the camera just after sunup on a day we had hiked around the entire base of the Uluru red rock…starting at about 3:30am on a cold day…the shot puts a smile on my face. I am also including one of his croc shots and his turtle shot…along with a Bondi Beach wave, a giant clam, an clown fish and a black tip shark photo…and the beautiful small water/mineral stream on Uluru. Nate did a great job with the camera for a beginner…heck, it just plain did a great job. And, he would want me to mention, he got to surf Banzi Pipeline and Backdoor on the return to Oahu…about head high surf, but pretty exciting to watch. Aloha.

A Big Day For Lava Light Galleries

Do you recall these two young guys? They had just graduated from a street kiosk, where they sold prints in the evening hours near Bubba Gumps, to this place…the old Sloan Gallery on Alii Drive. CJ Kale and Nick Selway turned that small space into a terrific gallery…their first real gallery. That was over a decade ago. Nick has now moved to Breckenridge, Colorado to run his own gallery. CJ teamed up with Don and Linda Hurzeler to continue the Lava Light Galleries brand. Our beautiful (sorry for the lack of modesty…but we love the place) gallery in the Queens Market Place at Waikoloa continues to thrive. We have plans to do lots of interesting things in the future. But, the time to close our small gallery on Alii Drive arrived today. We will be putting our efforts toward making the Waikoloa gallery better each year…and we plan to be there for years to come. Thank you for your support that helped us be successful for oh so long on Alii Drive…and for the past six years and counting in Waikoloa…and online. Mahalo.