Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary

April 29, 2011

A couple days ago my friend and I went to the Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary which is located in the middle of nowhere in Orange County. I know what you are probably saying, Orange County doesn’t have a middle of nowhere. Oh yes it does, it’s called Modjeska Canyon. The sanctuary is located at the end of Modjeska Canyon Road and takes up a very small area of land. It is free to enter but they gladly accept donations. The reason we went there in the first place was to photograph hummingbirds. Photographing these finicky little creatures is difficult; it mostly consists of waiting around quietly until they show up at their sugar water feeders. The other issue we found challenging about photographing these little guys is the location the sanctuary decided to place the feeders. Most of them were positioned under an overhang which meant all the birds were shaded most of the time. Convenient for the birds, inconvenient for the photographers. After exhausting ourselves with bird photos we walked into the Nature Center which held lots of kids activities, an array of taxidermy animals and some small reptiles in cages. Tucker’s is a nice place to visit if you are looking for something free to do, just make sure you don’t get lost trying to find it.

Click on the image to see the larger version.











Round Canyon Wildflower Hike

April 28, 2011

Recently I have had some free time during the week and on Tuesday I took full advantage by signing up for a wildflower hike in Round Canyon with the the Irvine Ranch Conservancy. I have been on hikes with them before such as the fourth of July hike at Bommer Canyon, a photo hike at Black Star Canyon and a terrifying beginners mountain bike ride (it was terrifying only because I don’t know how to ride a bike that well, plus I saw a tarantula). Anyway, I hadn’t been on a hike with the IRC in almost two years, mostly due to my job interfering with many the activities they have. This hike began at the Portola Staging Area just at the end of Portola Parkway in Irvine. Our group was very large, about 30 people, many volunteers for the IRC and our docent Kelly. After meeting at 9am we piled in our cars ( we could only take about 6-7 cars so we literally piled in) and drove up to the trail head for Round Canyon. This canyon is closed to the public and is only accessible by signing up for one of these hikes. The trail was overgrown with many native and non-native plants and there wasn’t an abundance of wildflowers, apparently they have had a slow wildflower season. So this was more of a plant and wildflower hike, Kelly pointed out all the various flora and fauna which she was very knowledgeable about. Although the IRC does offer cardio and fitness hikes this was not one of them. We only walked about a mile, at a slow pace and stopped every few feet to talk about a plant, flower or random animal scat. The pace was perfect for picture taking especially since I didn’t bring a very versatile lens. I chose to bring the Rebel T2i with the 50mm attached to it, this meant I really had to think about my shots and constantly move closer or further away to get a good composition. Even though the 50mm is not a macro lens it still has the ability to open up to an aperture of 1.8 which means really awesome bokeh. We got back to our cars around 11:30am just in time for lunch. I highly recommend signing up for one of these hikes with the IRC, especially since most of them are free and you can learn something along the way.

To see more of my photos from Round Canyon check out the GALLERY.





Flower Fields

April 26, 2011

Last Saturday Bryan and I visited the Flower Fields in Carlsbad for the first time. This is a surprisingly popular place, we got there about 2 hours after it opened and the main parking lot was full and the extra lot was filling up fast. When you go through the entrance the sheer amount of flowers is amazing. We luckily planned our trip when everything was in full bloom. All the flowers are beautiful but what this place is known for is the abundance of Ranunculus that are at the forefront of the field. This is the perfect place to do Macro Photography, in fact they even have a class in April dedicated to just that. Unfortunately I don’t own a macro lens yet but the lenses we used did pretty well. I brought my Gorilla Pod along so I could take a self portrait of the two of us but that didn’t really work out to well. I generally hate asking people to take our picture for us but I noticed another young couple walking ahead of us with a DSLR similar to ours. After stalking them for awhile, noticing the guy was taking photos of his lady in front of the flowers, I made my move. I offered to take their photo if they would take mine. It is very important to find someone who owns a high end DSLR since they probably know how to take a proper photo. Besides lots of photo opportunities the Flower Fields have a lot to offer; wagon rides, food, a sweet pea maze and lots of plants for sale. After we left the fields we went around the corner to the Karl Strauss Brewery which was worth the trip in of itself, especially if you get their bread pudding. If you plan on visiting this year make sure you go before May 15th which is when they close, you won’t regret it.

To see more photos from our trip to the Flower Fields check out the GALLERY.







Top Ten Reasons To Avoid the Nikon Coolpix P500 – Bryan’s Review

April 25, 2011

To see more test shots from the Nikon P500 check out the GALLERY.

Occasionally a company known for quality of build as well as design will unveil a product that is so ill conceived and even more poorly implemented that it casts a shadow on the entire reputation of the company. For Nikon, that product is the Coolpix P500. What follows is born from my time owning this contraption and experiencing first hand just how wrong a product can get.

1)The Nikon Coolpix P500 tries to do everything but does not do anything well. This camera is packed with more features then I care to list. The manual is electronic only, most likely because if they printed it, it wouldn’t fit in the box. The features all sound nice but in reality are almost universally so poorly implemented to be useless.

Photo is unedited. F6.3 at 1/30 of a second. ISO 200

2) The camera is based around a sensor usually found on much cheaper cameras. This is major because without a solid sensor, everything else falls apart. At an MSRP of $399, the fact that this camera has a 12 megapixel sensor is puzzling. However megapixels are not what this sensors lacks the most. My old Canon SD550 has only 7.1 megapixels and takes better photos. The problem is the sensor only really works at ISO 100. Anything above that introduces strong noise reduction and above 400 the noise reduction is so strong that people will look at your photo and ask why you did not try to focus it.

Photo is unedited. F5 at 1/80 of a second. ISO 200

3) Manual focus feature is welcome but so poorly implemented that it is useless. Remember, this camera is a superzoom with an electronic viewfinder and an LCD screen as your only two options for focusing with. The EV is so small and low resolution that it might as well not exist. When using the LCD, manual focus brings up a zoom of the center of the frame so you can more easily focus. The problem is even with this zoom, pulling focus is an exercise in frustration. I was glad the feature was there but wish it was implemented in a useful way.

Photo is unedited. F6.3 at 1/100 of a second. ISO 200

4) Aperture Priority mode ignores your aperture settings if you zoom out. This is major once again and became a deal breaker. I am sure Nikon can fix this with a firmware update but I have a feeling they have no intention to based on the response from their customer service saying there is nothing wrong. Basically it works like this. The lens is not a fixed aperture lens. This means that when zoomed in, it cannot retain the most wide open F-stop. That’s fine. However if you zoom in and set the f-stop to 8.0 and then zoom back out, the camera opens up the aperture to f-stop 3.5. It does not need to do this and it is counter-intuitive when shooting in aperture priority.

Photo is unedited. F4 at 1/640 of a second. ISO 200

5) The superzoom lens has too much distortion and distorts in a non-common way. I’m used to barrel and pincushion distortion on superzoom lenses. The distortion from this lens defies classification. Its not that it just has barrel distortion at full wide; it also has stretching and pulling and other oddly shaped distortion that I’ve never seen before. In addition, the lens is just not very sharp. An unsharp lens combined with a poor sensor is a recipe for disaster.

Photo is unedited. F3.7 at 1/1500 of a second. ISO 200

6) The auto-focus is slow and dumb. If you set the auto-focus to center point, it is slightly faster. However your only two options are the whole frame or center point. Neither works all that well but the whole frame auto-focus is a disaster. It will routinely choose 5-6 points to focus on; none of which are what is actually the subject of the photo.

Photo is unedited. F3.4 at 1/200 of a second. ISO 200

7) Battery life is poor and the camera does not come with a charger in the box. Enough said.

Photo is unedited. F4.2 at 1/1250 of a second. ISO 200

8 ) When you turn on the camera with the lens cap on, it tries to move the lens into the ready position even though it is obstructed. This is a very annoying design feature. The lens should not even need to protrude to work at full wide. Nikon could have extended the shroud or designed the cap differently. Instead they left this design flaw fully intact. It is the little things like this that make me wonder if Nikon even cares if this camera is good or not.

Photo is unedited. F5 at 1/100 of a second. ISO 200

9) Auto White Balance varies wildly between shots of the same scene. This combined with the fact that this camera only takes jpeg files makes for a very annoying time doing post production.

Photo is unedited. F4.2 at 1/320 of a second. ISO 200

10) The images this camera takes just look weird. I cannot place my finger on it but even in a bright sunny day photograph, the images just look flat and lacking. By flat, I don’t mean low contrast. I instead mean that they lack dimensionality. I have a feeling that this camera has a lower dynamic range than most and so captures images accordingly and then compensates with in camera processing to make the image look “normal”. This is just a theory but it is the only thing I can think of to explain the weirdness of the images.

Photo is unedited. F3.4 at 1/1250 of a second. ISO 200

In conclusion, stay away from the Nikon Coolpix P500 like a medieval peasant would avoid the plague. I know for a fact that Nikon is more than capable of making fine cameras that produce wonderful photos. This is not one of those cameras. I would go so far as to say that this camera is single-handedly destroying Nikon’s reputation around the world and they would be best served by taking it off the market.

Jamie and I dumped this contraption and picked up the Canon T2i instead. This is mostly because we already have a collection of fine Canon lenses. We both love the camera and coincidentally the camera fits in the same case we picked up for the P500. If you can afford the price difference, get that camera instead because you will not regret it.

Shooting During the Golden Hour

April 21, 2011

Last weekend Bryan and I had the pleasure of photographing the Painted Rocks Half Marathon in San Diego. The race started at Rancho Bernardo Community Park and wound halfway around Lake Hodges. The race started at 7am but because we live in Orange County we left our house at 3:30am to make sure we had enough time to pick out our photo spots. We got there around 5am when it was still dark and cold. I consider myself a morning person, but not a pre-dawn person. I haven’t seen the sunrise in a long time but as a photographer I know that this is one of the best times to take photos. I felt grateful to the event that I had to drag myself out of bed so early as I would never do this on my own just to take photos. The time known as the Golden Hour is the first and last hour of sunlight each day. It is known for it’s long shadows and warm beautiful hues of light. The spot I chose to shoot from was at a suspension bridge that runs across the lake and leads to the rest of the trail. As I waited in the cold for the sun to rise I took a few shots from the bridge looking out to the 15 freeway. I generally don’t carry a tripod with me so in order to get a nice slow shutter speed shot I placed my camera on the bridge’s railing (while still wearing the neck strap), set my shutter speed to a couple of seconds and enabled the mirror lockup. This prevented camera movement from when I pressed the shutter button which is a good trick when you find yourself without a tripod. Once the sun started to rise I forgot how much I hated early mornings because the resulting shots came out so well. You can see more of my Golden Hour shots in the GALLERY.



Painted Rocks Half Marathon 4/17/11

April 16, 2011




For race results and course info check out Dirt Devil’s website:



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