Greetings folks and happy August! I’m having a great time taking photographs with all the neat Nikon gear that Nikon is producing. New cameras, new flashes, new software; as I said in a previous column, it is a great time to be a Nikon shooter.

Last month was busy with a number of self-assignments, portrait sessions, group workshops, private workshops, and writing new books. The Portrait Photography workshop in early July was an amazing amount of fun and I was greatly inspired by the photos that the participants created during the class. Our two-day Photoshop workshop in Seattle was small but excellent! I also met with a number of individuals to do some private instruction on photography, software and other topics. It was a busy month.

I’m headed out next week for a mission trip to Alaska to the giant metropolis of Unalakleet, Alaska. We will be building a new church facility for the CYAK camp facilities. We are expanding the kitchen, expanding the meeting area, improving the camp trails, and drilling at least one new water well. We have a group of about 25 people flying up from Gig Harbor, WA to participate in this great adventure that serves Alaska’s youth.

July GOAL Assignment Answers: Vanishing Point

Your Get Out And Learn (GOAL) assignment last month was to incorporate vanishing points into your photography. How’d you do? I hope you took at least one photo trying to see how vanishing points play a role in our photography!

A vanishing point is defined as a point to which parallel lines appear to converge. We often see vanishing points as rows of trees converge at the horizon or the street disappears into the distance. As photographers, you should pay close attention to the vanishing point because it can be used as a powerful tool in your composition. Over the last couple of months, I’ve been paying closer attention to vanishing points and have consciously used them to help draw the viewer’s eyes into the scene.

Here are a few examples of using vanishing points in my photography (photos to the left). The first image is of a building at the University of Washington in Seattle, WA. The vanishing point helps draw your eye into the scene starting with the lady in the front walking down the center aisle. Everything in the photograph, from the desks to the open hallways to the rafters, helps draw you into the photograph. The vanishing point perspective is the visual tool that makes the scene interesting.

The photo of the surveyor worker was taken in my home town of Gig Harbor a couple hundred feet from my office. After about five hours sitting at my computer working on images, I got tired of staring at the computer screen. So, I picked up my Canon G9 point and shoot and went jogging to clear my mind. This guy was walking up the sidewalk and I saw a perfect opportunity to capture an image with a vanishing point. I knelt down to stabilize the camera and then fired off a few frames. I spoke with the surveyor for a few minutes and then we both went on our merry way.

The yellow road stripe shot was also taken on one of my photo/running adventures. I noticed the converging yellow lines and tried to think through a variety of ways to compose it. I decided on getting low to the ground so that the lines were emphasized and their convergence would automatically draw the viewer’s eyes down the road. I cropped out most of the sky to keep the emphasis on the road. The glowing look was accomplished by increasing the contrast and adding a little bit of Gaussian blur in Photoshop.

Finally, the eyeball photograph was a serendipitous moment where I saw a vanishing point in the eyeballs of my son. We were eating lunch together last week and I saw him gazing out towards the yard while he was munching on his turkey sandwich. The leading lines reflected in his eyes are from sunlight streaming through the hand rail on our porch. I ran inside and grabbed my camera to seize the moment and participate in my own GOAL assignment!

August GOAL Assignment: Sticking Your Neck Out
As photographers, we can sometimes get stuck in a creative rut. We get comfortable shooting the same thing or always going to the same location day after day and week after week. Your GOAL assignment this month is to photograph something that is completely out of your normal comfort range. Do something that you don’t normally do. Go somewhere that you normally don’t go. Photograph a rock concert at night. Jump into the right seat of a small airplane and do some aerial photography. Get out a microscope and hook your camera to snap some shots of the tiny world around you. Go photograph a political rally. Shoot underwater at your local swimming pool.

Next month, I’ll write about a recent Tall Ships Festival that I photographed from a press boat. I’ll explain why it was a new and exciting adventure and how it improved my shooting skills. If you force yourself to take different photos, then you will learn valuable new skills. I guarantee it!

Digital Tidbits: New Nikon D700 Camera
Nikon continues to impress me with their new cameras and the Nikon D700 is no exception. I’ve had the camera for a week now and am extremely impressed with its sensor, autofocus and ergonomics.

At $3000, the D700 camera fits nicely between the $1,600 D300 and the $4,500 D3. The big advantage of the D700 is that it has the same FX (full frame) sensor as the D3. A couple days ago I was testing out the new camera and taking hand-held portraits of my children at ISO 6400 in a dark room. The results of the photos were absolutely amazing! I zoomed into the photos on my computer and honestly couldn’t tell that they were shot at such a high ISO. They honestly looked like they were photographed at ISO 200 or 320 on a previous generation camera. Unbelievable.

Something that you’ll need to consider before buying the camera is whether or not your lenses will work on the body. The D700 has an FX sensor which means that it is the same size as 35mm film. If you have lenses from earlier Nikon digital SLRs like the D200 or D80, then those lenses were probably DX lenses. The DX format is slightly smaller, so the lenses only “cover” the smaller DX surface area. If you put your DX lens on the D700, then there is a high probability that you will get some vignetting at the corners.

Some DX lenses will work on the D700 as long as you zoom to a more telephoto angle. For example, my 12-24mm DX lens will work on the D700 as long as I shoot it between 17-24mm. Other lenses like the Nikon 18-200mm DX won’t work at any focal length. Many people have been writing to ask if they should upgrade to the D700 from their existing camera. Once they hear that they will have to buy a whole new kit of lenses, they realize that it isn’t as simple as just buying a new camera body.

Of course, all the other Nikon lenses that are full-frame will work very well with the D700 camera. My 70-200 f2.8, 24-120mm, 50mm primes, etc. all are great matches for the camera.

There are many other things that make using the D700 a true joy. One of those is the very large viewfinder! Now that we are back to full frame sensors, the viewfinder is absolutely massive. You really have to scan from the left side to the right side in order to see all the real estate. However, unlike the D3, the D700 doesn’t have a 100% viewfinder. This isn’t too big of a problem since it is 95% coverage and that is the way most of our older film cameras were designed anyways. Just know that you might be including an extra tree branch or twig on the edge of your scene that you didn’t originally see when you captured your image.

I’ll be taking this camera to Alaska next week and am looking forward to some amazing landscapes. I’ll also be out doing some fishing in the North River, so I’ll be able to test out how weather-proof it is from the splashes and bumps of usage in Alaska’s tundra. There’s lots more to come from this great new camera body.

Digital Tidbits: New Nikon SB-900 Flash
Nikon’s flash system is second to none and they keep improving on it with every generation of flash. The Nikon SB-900 flash is the newest unit to come down the pike and it is an awesome product.

The new SB-900 isn’t any more powerful than the SB-800 flash, but the best feature is the improved user interface. As those of you who used the older SB-800s know, converting the it from a dedicated flash to a remote flash required you to dive down into a hidden menu and then activate the remote functions. The SB-900 on the other hand keeps all these same menu selections on the outside of the flash so you can change between modes by flipping a switch. The simplicity of the switch alone has sold me on the new flash! It is so much easier and faster than the previous versions. Unfortunately, the switch is a tad bit small, but I’m sure that will be a minor issue in the long run.

Another neat thing about the flash is that it has an internal temperature meter that warns you when you’ve been taking too many flash photos and haven’t allowed the flash to cool down again. Over the last few years, I have worked with hundreds and hundreds of photographers who shoot flash. A few of the people I’ve worked with have actually melted their flash’s electronics by shooting fast bursts of images. Now that the flash will give you feedback on overheating, there’s no excuse for burning them out anymore.

There are lots of other nice features that will make the flash easy to use. For example, when you are selecting the channels and groups for remote flash, you can very quickly just keep pressing the channel button rather than having to move your finger to another button or dial. This greatly speeds things up and makes one-handed operation simple. Another feature is that the SB-900 now has a blinking ready light to let you know when it is in wireless remote mode. This is a great cue that helps you visually tell what mode the flash is in. Finally, the head of the flash will rotate 180 degrees to the right or 180 degrees to the left. The SB-800 and SB-600 flashes will only rotate 270 degrees making it hard to get just the right positioning sometimes.

The SB-900 is fully compatible with all the flashes in the Nikon Creative Lighting System. It works seamlessly with the R1C1 macro kit, the SB-600 and the SB-800. The SB-900 can operate as a dedicated flash (mounted to camera), a remote flash, or a master flash. It can still operate in SU-4 mode which means that the flash will work in a system where everything is manually triggered.

As with anything new, there are always some gripes. The first is that the flash is just too big. It is quite a bit larger than the SB-800 and that means that I’ll need to change my packing arrangement in my camera bag. It also means that it is harder to stuff it in my pocket as a run-around flash. Second, the new foot on the flash doesn’t fit in many of the existing lighting mounting hardware such as some umbrella stands and the Bogen Justin clamp. For someone who has a few hundred dollars tied up in lighting (umbrellas, light stands, soft boxes), this could be a deal killer for the SB-900. Hopefully Nikon or a third party vendor will come up with a mounting solution soon. The last gripe I have about the flash is the price: it is very expensive at $500. I’m not quite sure the flash provides much more value than an SB-800 that you can buy for $315. Time will tell if the improved user interface makes up for the extra $185 in cost.

These things aside, the SB-900 is a great flash and I know it will give me many years of excellent service. I’m very excited to put the flash into real world shooting scenarios to see how it performs. Initial results are fantastic, so I don’t anticipate any unexpected surprises.

Workshop Updates
We are more than half-way through the year already and we are looking forward to the second half of the workshop calendar. We just finished up our Portrait Photography workshop and our Photoshop Workshop and have a great travel workshop planned in Washington’s North Cascades for this October.

Our workshops are run through Out There Images, Inc. as well as the Nikonians Academy ( Check out the information below for specific topics and dates.

The Art of Travel Photography Workshops
Join us for a photographic adventure in 2008! Learn how to turn your next vacation into an artistic event with our Art of Travel Photography Workshops. The next adventure will be in the North Cascades NP/Mazama 10/2/08 ~ 10/5/08. If you are thinking of signing up, contact us immediately in order to be placed on our signup list. Go here for more details:

Nikonians Academy Workshops
We’ll be teaching great photographic subjects in Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Cincinnati, Portland, Atlanta, Dallas, Washington DC, Tanzania, and more!

Our topics include:
– Two African Safaris
– Photo trips to Moab, Yosemite, Big Sur and more
– Nikon D300
– Nikon D200
– Nikon D80/D70
– iTTL Flash
– Hands-on Digital Printing

Find out about all of our workshops here:

Private Tutoring
Private instruction is a very popular and affordable way to learn specifically what you want to learn in a one-on-one environment. During these sessions, we are able to work specifically on your own photographic needs and at your own pace. Available topics are studio lighting, nature photography, wedding photography, Photoshop, color management, digital workflow, flash photography, portraiture, exposure theory, and more. Many of our customers have requested specific topics and we have tailored our private tutoring to their needs. Call (253) 851-9054 or email ([email protected]) if you have questions about this option.

August is a great month for vacations and photography. Get out and take some photographs!

Best regards,

Mike Hagen
Out There Images, Inc. – “Get Out And Learn!”
PO Box 1966
Gig Harbor, WA 98335
[email protected]
office: 253-851-9054
mobile: 360-750-1103
fax: 206-984-1817

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