2020 Ten Favorites

I never get around to sharing my top ten favorite photos for the year. This time I got on it early. I don’t think anybody is going to look back on 2020 fondly but pandemic, disasters, and conspiracy theory whackadoodles aside, this may have been one of my most creative years. Here are my favorite photographs of the year in somewhat chronological order.

Santa Cruz Surfing Museum Sunset – Landscape

The sun sets framing the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum

This photograph of the sun setting behind the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum is a favorite for a couple of reasons. I love the iconic Big Sun Setting Behind Something look because it reminds me of Endless Summer. The other reason is that I shot this a couple weeks before COVID-19 showed up in California. This was my last COVID-free image of the year.

Isabella’s Graduation – Portrait

Graduation

I was hired for a special portrait session for Isabella, a recent college graduate. It was early August and the pandemic meant that our shoot was going to be at her parents’ home rather than at Syracuse, New York. I did a considerable amount of planning to create a special session just for her. To capture the height of the trees I lay down on the ground and used a wide angle lens. I had been working with some new radio triggers that allowed me to adjust my strobes from remote so we could keep a safe distance.

Amber – Portrait

Amber

Funny thing, this year most of my favorite photographs are portraits. Amber is an entrepreneur, dating coach, portrait and event photographer from New York. She had recently moved to the Santa Cruz Mountains and we got to be friends.

Wildfire – Landscape / Photojournalism

Burned Tree – CZU Lightning Complex Fire

Things got bad in the middle of August. A dry lightning storm rolled through the Santa Cruz Mountains and ignited a series of fires in Bonny Doon. Those fires merged into a monster. Hundreds of homes were destroyed and thousands of us had to evacuate for weeks. I photographed the area around Big Basin Redwoods State Park with a guide and a local reporter shortly after the evacuation orders were lifted.

Air Attack – Photojournalism

A CalFire helicopter drops water on a spot fire.

Fires were still popping up for weeks after the main fires of the CZU Lightning Complex wildfires were under control. Just before evacuation orders were lifted I captured a series of CalFire helicopters dropping water on a spot fire across the valley. I wrote about the fire experience on PhotoFocus.

Alexis – Portrait

My favorite portrait of Alexis in 2020

Life settled down a little and things were almost routine again by October. Alexis and I coordinated a fun shoot at a spot I had been scouting much earlier. I used a combination of ambient light and strobes to get this portrait how I had in mind.

Capitola By The Sea – Landscape

Capitola Village and Soquel Creek Long Exposure

I’ve photographed this scene before. This time I had some new ideas for composing and processing the image. I saw this set of clouds rolling in and knew what I wanted to capture and how to do it.

Rohanna – Portrait

Rohanna in Red

Rohanna is a dear friend and a favorite local model. This area was untouched by the wildfires so I scouted for portrait settings. Rohanna brought this stunning outfit and some of my earlier ideas sprung to life.

Davenport – Landscape

Davenport Beach Long Exposure

The sun had set to my right, the tide was rising, and a mist was forming. I waited for the waves to rush up against me for this image. Yeah, I wrecked a perfectly good pair of shoes for this but I’m delighted with the results.

Danielle – Portrait

Danielle and Fall Colors Bokeh

I can’t pass up an opportunity to photograph Danielle Crook. Actor, musician, singer and glorious personality.

Exploring the Canon RP Part Two, or parts shouldn’t be made of cracker

Recently I tried using the Canon RP in a studio setting with off-camera flash. This isn’t that story. During the setup for that session a critical part of the Viltrox lens adapter snapped off. This is that part of the story.

I pulled the camera out of the bag. It nudged the edges of the bag. The lever that allows attachment/detachment of the lens snapped off. It snapped off like it was made from a rice cracker.

Oh that’s cool.

Getting this sucker off of the camera wasn’t hard. It took a little screwdriver to push that pin out of the way. I don’t think I’m asking a lot for it not to break after maybe 4 days of light use.

I found the plastic lever piece in my camera bag.

The problem was easily resolved with a call to Amazon. They offered to replace it free of charge, however I’m still going to contact Viltrox to voice my annoyance.

Exploring the Canon RP Part One, or “That’s not an eye”

Recently I bought a Canon RP.

I put a lot of thought into buying new camera gear. This is especially true of camera bodies. I ask myself a series of questions.

Will this make me a better photographer?

The answer is always no, but I ask as kind of a mental reset. If somehow I’m leaning towards “yes” then the answer is really to seek training. Better yet realize that it’s a temporary emotional thing and not a real need.

What problem am I trying to solve?

There has to be a very good reason for this purchase. My 7d did its job, but just barely. My 7d Mk II did its job very well, but had some limitations. My 5d Mk III is outstanding and it’s still my preferred workhorse. What would the new camera do that these others can’t? Is there a workaround?

Are there higher priorities?

This is the really big question. What else is going on in life right now? This should seem obvious but man, 2020 has been a whopper of a year. Is now really the time to part with precious resources to acquire more stuff? Really?

The problem to solve

I’ve been doing a lot of portraiture over the past year.

The 7d Mk II does a good job, my only real complaint is the crop sensor; and that’s not a very big complaint. The dual pixel autofocus system is outstanding and achieves focus even in poor light. The crop sensor however does introduce some limitations since now I need a lot more space. This becomes a real problem in a small studio. The number of focus points is pretty good, but also creates some limitations in composition. This camera is still great for most things although the dynamic range of the sensor is, to be generous, poor. It’s still my choice for most outdoor sports. Aside from the high quality construction the original 7d isn’t worth discussing.

My 5d Mk III is an old camera now, but it’s still outstanding and my go-to for almost everything. Great for landscapes, great for indoor and outdoor portraits, good dynamic range, plenty of pixels to work with. Outstanding build quality. It’s got the same number of autofocus points which I find a bit limiting. The downside: It’s a contrast-based autofocus system which results in poor autofocus in low light. In most low-light portrait situations it’s almost unusable. Ouch.

The problems to solve:

  1. Autofocus in low light
  2. More focus points
  3. Compatibility with my current EF lenses

Other attractive features

  1. Eye Detection AF
  2. Articulating rear display
  3. I got one hell of a good deal. If it wasn’t for the exceptional price on a refurbished Canon RP I might have waited until I wore out my 5d Mk III.

Taking the RP out for a test drive with Rohanna

I outfitted the RP with a Viltrox lens adapter and Rohanna and I wandered downtown Santa Cruz to try out the eye detection autofocus feature. There were problems almost immediately. We work together great and I love her style. Today she arrived with a broad hat, boots, and a long checkered coat.

That’s not an eye!

I know the feature works. I’ve seen the feature work. It would not work in this situation. The feature failed immediately and spectacularly. It would focus on the brim of her hat, her ear rings, and most frustrating of all; Rohanna’s coat. It would misidentify the intersecting pattern of her coat as an eye pupil. The only workaround was to disable the feature and go back to spot autofocus. Lesson learned, some subjects work, a few don’t. At least now I know.

My grumbling “That’s not an eye!” became the running joke for the shoot.

Details worth noting

  1. The camera body is small. I have big hands but I don’t mind the smaller body.
  2. One card slot. This is not ideal for events and is probably a deal breaker for some people.
  3. The body isn’t the same build quality. It’s OK but nothing like the 5d series. I was worried about damaging the lens mount while slinging it around with a heavier lens.
  4. The button layout is minimal and takes a little getting used to.
    1. The touch screen more than makes up for this
  5. What the hell is “FV” mode, how is that different from Program Mode, and why in the world would I care?
  6. There is no built-in image stabilization. This is no secret and not a deal breaker for me. It does mean that the battery wears down faster to power image stabilization built into a lens.
  7. I haven’t found a way to rename the files. My other cameras allow me to rename file sequences like “SCM5D3_” which I find very helpful. With this model I seem to be stuck with “IMG_”. This is a minor annoyance. At least the camera model is in the metadata.
  8. Back button focus. My favorite Canon feature is available on this model.
  9. Frames per second. I shot some surf and I was pleasantly surprised. It’s advertised as getting around 5 shots per second but my experience was better than that. I felt like it had potential to replace my 7d Mk II for sports. That’s probably not entirely true, but it was a really nice surprise.
  10. Video. I’ve read a lot of grumbly reports about the crop needed for decent video. I don’t plan to shoot video with this camera so that’s not a consideration for me.
  11. It looks ridiculous mounted to my longer lenses. I did this just for fun but wound up trying it out later. I was pleasantly surprised how well it worked on a monopod. I wouldn’t want to swing it around carelessly though.
I swear I’m not compensating for something here.