Thursday, July 28, 2011

High Park Purple Martins

 The Purple Martins were back again in High Park this year. They were actively feeding their young in at least 3 of the 12 available nesting holes. All but a couple of the young had fledged by the weekend of the 23rd and most were soaring around the house and over the pond. Adults were still returning with food to the north side of the house, I suspect there were a few late bloomers on that side still waiting to earn their wings.
 They were feeding on dragon and damsel flies and what appeared to be a cicadas too... Where exactly they were getting those I'm not sure as I thought they only gathered insects in flight, I know cicadas have wings not sure how active they are? Also noticed that some returning birds were soaking wet, guess they either took a bath or got too low chasing a meal out over the pond. I've read that they abandon the nest soon after all of their young have fledged, so I suspect that they'll be gone until next year within a week or two.

Friday, July 22, 2011

BlackRapid Camera Straps

  To take pictures you must have your camera handy which usually means hanging it around your neck. With the weight of most DLSR these days that soon becomes tiresome and sometimes painful. The OEM camera straps are functional in that they will hold the camera's weight however they are cheap and are not built for comfort, often cutting into the back of your neck. There are plenty of aftermarket replacement straps and now holsters all claiming to provide a comfortable and secure support for your camera... I've tried a few different options of traditional straps and was never pleased with them,  the camera still felt heavy and it bounced around on your chest as you walked.

  The BlackRapid line of straps use an over the shoulder / across the chest method of supporting the weight of the camera. Your camera connects to the strap using a small eyelet which screws into the tripod mount of either your camera or lens collar. The strap then is attached to the eyelet using a screw locking carabiner which will slide up & down the length of the strap so your camera hangs at your hip much like a revolver waiting for you to draw and pull the trigger. With the camera hanging at your side the weight is off your neck and the camera isn't bouncing around on your chest which drove me nuts. The strap length can be adjusted and two quick release stoppers are also included so you can also adjust the range of camera movement along the length of the strap. All of the BlackRapid models are similar in design with main difference between them being on strap storage capabilities. Some models have additional accessories that can add storage or allow you to connect two straps together to comfortably carry two cameras at once.

 The RS Sport model (which I purchased) is a little different than their other models, it provides a secondary under the arm strap which stops the main strap from possibly working it's way down your back when you're sliding the camera up to your eye. The secondary strap resembles the old gun holsters from the detective movies of the 50's and provides even more stability for your camera while you move around. No on strap storage is provided with this model, but it can be added with accessories.

 One additional accessory that I bought was the "FastenR - T1" conversion screw that allows you to convert a standard Manfrotto RC2 quick release plate so it's compatible with the strap's carabiner. You can quickly switch between the strap and your tripod / monopod without having to remove/attach the BlackRapid eyelet and quick release plate every time. It was expensive and after buying it I wondered if it was really necessary. The only difference between it and the Manfrotto mounting screw was the Manfrotto tightening tag which could be used to connect the strap didn't swivel like the T1. This stiffness could stop the camera from hanging freely against your side, but beyond that the two screws were almost identical.

 I used this strap on a recent trip to Montreal and found it worked perfectly. I hardly knew I was carrying a camera, no more neck and back pain. One thing I noticed however was that you must be aware that the camera is hanging at your side and you must watch that it doesn't slam into narrow door openings etc.. This however was no worse than hanging the camera off one shoulder using a traditional strap which I often did, and always had to fight to keep the strap on my shoulder ( no longer a problem with the BlackRapid).  Great product highly recommend. They're starting to appear at local camera shops or can be purchased online from Naturescapes.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Concert Photography: Kim Churchill

I tried my hand at concert photography during the Montreal International Jazz Festival last week. Wow a whole different environment from what I'm use to. Even though the venue was outside in early evening (7pm) the concert was located in a beer tent which was both dark and crowded. I didn't want to use flash as it would have disturbed the artist and the audience. I tried a variety of lenses and camera settings to account for the lack of light and audience member's in front of me. Even though I was seated early and had a pretty good spot so I thought, seating arrangements became rather informal as we approached show time and I had a fair number of people between me and the stage once it started.

 The artist was a 20 year old Aussie named Kim Churchill who is talented beyond his years. This guy was magical with a guitar and after breaking a string mid song he continues to finish sounding better with five strings than most do with six. Oh and he also plays a drum kit and harmonica while also controlling electronics with bare feet to introduce reverb/echo to give some songs an ethereal sound. Everyone was blown away by this VERY talented song writer / one man band... Simply one of the best concerts I've seen in a very long time... 

Friday, July 15, 2011

Kelby Training: Light It. Shoot It. Retouch It. LIVE!

I attend this Kelby training seminar last week here in Toronto and it was worth every penny. Mr Kelby himself was both entertaining and informative as he walked us through six shooting sessions. Each session demonstrated a different lighting setup and the editing process Scott uses after the shoot using Lightroom and Photoshop. I'd recommend this to anyone who is interested in portrait type photography.