2017 PHOTOCHALLENGE, WEEK 3: SELF PORTRAIT WITHOUT SELF

 

FujiFilm XT-1, 35mm, processed with Lightroom, Aurora HDR, Noiseless, and Snapheel.

 

This week’s theme called for a self-portrait, without myself.So, the goal was to represent me in a way that did not include me. Right away I knew what I wanted to photograph. These pair of objects represent me well. I hope you enjoy them!

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Take your camera!

Attention Photographer friends, your smartphone is good, but not great! I love taking photographs with my iPhone and processing them for fun. It’s a great exercise, and I generally love the outcome. With the skills I’ve acquired through the years, post processing my photos with decent software, I’ve grown to learn how to use not just fun filters and presets with apps on my phone, but even use a few apps that give me really great control over the final image.

I’ll write another post about some of those tools soon enough. But this article is to encourage you to actually take your camera with you everywhere!

I know it can be tedious. You don’t need all your lenses and gadgets all the time. Toss a good prime lens onto your camera and just keep it with you. You don’t need your bag and all the other gear. Just get used to having the camera ready. Leave the settings on your most common settings, and all you need t to do is grab and go.

My only dSLR, aka decent camera that matters, is a FujiFilm XT-1. I keep my 35mm f/1.4 lens on it, without a flash or speed light. I keep it on Aperture priority mode, set to the widest aperture, slowest shutter speed and smallest ISO, 200.

Now that you’re convinced, you should think about keeping it safe. For me, there was a time that I had a dSLR and a CCW with me at all times. (See my job history to better understand that.) So, I wrestled with having two high dollar items, one of which HAD to be concealed at all times. Through this highly practical few years of double “carrying”, I learned a few things I can pass along.

First off, I often carried my weapon “off body”. It’s an option that many women face when concerned with carrying a concealed firearm. I made this decision, and it didn’t take me too long to decide, I hated not having my gun on me. So, the method I had chosen, albeit at very good one, ended up not being my best solution.

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I basically carried a man purse. A Maxpedition Versipack. In a sweet deal, I contacted LowePro, and they sold me the guts to a camera bag, with interchangeable hook and loop (aka Velcro) slots inside. It fit perfectly into the non-padded Versipack. I had a quasi-secret camera bag that was truly designed for carrying a concealed firearm. It was my man purse.

The biggest thing we can take away from that experience is that you can get creative in how you transport and store your camera, in light of my challenge to you to always have your real camera with you.

I found a few articles that address what we’re talking about, and I think you’ll enjoy them. The first one is clearly geared towards women, but I think we all can benefit from the discussion.

The next two articles will contribute a little more.

I think the biggest ideas to take away from all three articles is the notion that you’re hiding your gear in plain sight. Now, I NEVER hide my gun in plain sight. If it’s not secured in a holster on my person, it’s secured in a locked safe, loaded or unloaded.

But obviously, with a camera we’re able and willing to take a greater risk. No one is going to steal our camera¬†permanently harm someone else or themselves. After all, a camera is just a thing we could easily live without.

I have a couple of single camera LowePro cases, that are clearly camera cases. They are great. One is standard black, and the other is a nice blue. But, they don’t really encourage, DON’T STEAL MY CAMERA, from the front seat of my truck. And let’s be honest, what I’m saying is keep your camera with you at all teams, I’m saying have it ready all the time. Does that mean take it into work? Probably not. Many cannot even do that. During my career, we weren’t even allowed to have our personal cell phones, let alone a smartphone at work. (That’s a separate issue we chat about another time. Yes, I have policies that are basically named after me.)

So let’s look at what my over all point. Having your camera available all the time really does mean having it as ready as possible during the normal throws of life. When I’m on a road trip, the camera is within reach at all times. If I see something, having the camera packed away is just another excuse to NOT stop and use it. Once thing I’ve always appreciated about my loved ones is that they’ve never made me feel bad for wanting to stop and create a photograph. And I’ve tried to remain just as available for my teenage daughter, who also loves to create beautiful photographs.

So now I’m considering alternate methods of storage and transportation. Just like I might consider a center console lockbox for my firearm to be readily accessible to me as I drive, I might consider some sort of hide in plain sight for my camera.

I think I’m going to start with something low target, like a simple reinforced cardboard box, with your typical camera bag foam padding inside. Clearly LowePro offers these inserts. And as you’ll see in one of the other articles I linked to, so does a company called MountainSmith. There are others, but I’ve used MountainSmith backpacks from my earliest days of backpacking, and I will not attest to any higher quality product that takes a massive beating, and the company that backs it.

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This setup will allow me to have my camera hiding in plain site, and make it less attractive for those wanting to smash and grab stuff from my unattended truck. I’m used to having a high situational awareness as it is, just carrying the valuable items I already carry on a regular basis, so this will not increase my nervousness at all. I’m already there. But now I’ll also have my favorite tool for creating great photographs with me more often.

Now you see me, now you don’t

In light of my recent post about being prepared, I want to take the idea of being prepared for unlikely situations and run with it.

Nearly every person focused on being prepared for emergency situations, has acquired gear that can almost always be described as military-like. We get our camo pants and shirts. We get vests as ammo carriers, or more, armor/plate carriers, in military camo patterns. We Cerakote our firearms in the latest and greatest camo patterns. We set up our Bug-Out-Bags (BOBs) in military equipped, camo patterned backpacks. Others get their standard issue 5.11 pants and khaki shirts. We even sometimes drift our wardrobe to emulate this as well.

Guess what peeps, you’re the target the dirtbags are gonna single out. Why? Because you’ve spent the last few months or years telling your community that you’re the dude who’s prepared and ready. And the dirtbags are gonna want your stuff.

This was introduced to me with one simple concept I cannot remember where I first heard. The Gray Man.

What is the Gray Man? Well, he or she is the kind of person NOT bringing attention to themselves. Not making themselves a target. Blending in. The first article I link to below is probably my favorite explanation. If you read nothing else, read that article! Coming to some of these conclusions were actually a little hard for me. A coworker espouses some of these principles quite well, trying to keep a lower profile than I tend to. I’m not sure if he’s embraced this actual concept, or he’s just wise enough to get it. Either way, I still have much to learn.

Now don’t get me wrong, some of this gear is necessary and should be slowly acquired, preferably from Mil-Surplus stores. They can be some of the most affordable places, if you shop, and don’t just grab a huge supply of stuff you’re not looking for today. Self control folks!

However, much of this gear can be picked up to meet the same need, but not make you as much of a target. I’ve found several very well written articles that cover these ideas much better than I can, and there’s no need for me to since they’ve done such a nice job.

There’s plenty of diverse opinions out there on this issue. Honestly, the best learning can and does come from looking at the various opinions. I’ve learned more picking out the little golden nuggets of consistency and allowing myself to understand the differences of opinion. At the end of this post, I’ll embed a pretty good video that I’d vouch for from much of what I’ve learned.

Featured Image Credit: “Crowds”, by Jeremy Brooks.

Are you prepared?

As y’all know, I’m a firearms enthusiast. What you might not know is that I’m also a fan of being prepared. Something about my time in the Boy Scouts did this to me. I’m no crazy prepper, by any means. However, I am open to the notions of being prepared for disasters, power outages, earthquakes, etc. Katrina happened. Tsunamis have wiped out portions of normal society¬†for periods of time. These are real life examples.

Will society completely dissolve and throw us back to homesteading and trading at the local farmer’s market. No, I do not think so. Do borders and governments change, yes. I’m rambling a bit, probably the lasting effects of the chemo brain, or whatever.

However, consider that some of the principles of homesteading, urban farming, etc. are of great value, whether or not society falls apart. What happens if you learn a little about taking care of your family better with homegrown food, but nothing goes wrong? You eat better! And you learn a new skill in the process. Trust me, if we’re out of touch with the greater society for more than a few months, you are not going to just learn over night to plant sustaining crops to live on. Start learning now.

Preparation isn’t just about food either. There are actual principles to be learned. Self-defense can’t be acquired over night either. You should already be acquiring the basic survival firearms. A pistol, a shotgun, a modern sporting rifle, and a “deer” rifle. These are all very personal and private decisions. No matter the path of buying these guns you choose, do it legally. I live in Kalifornia, what I consider behind enemy lines. Yet, I can and do possess all of these weapons. We have crazy waiting periods, and limits on how many rounds our magazines can have, but you have to work with what you got. I have do have some recommendations, however. Let go of your past ideas, to be best prepared. I’ve chosen calibers that I believe are more common and even likely to be “battlefield pickups”.

  • Handgun (9mm)
    • I recommend a striker-fired modern polymer-based handgun…
      • Glock, Smith&Wesson M&P, etc.
  • Shotgun (12 gauge)
    • A pump gun will be most affordable.
      • Remington 870 or Mossberg 500
  • MSR (.223/5.56)
    • This is often referred to as an AR-15.
      • Some of the most affordable rifles are made by Smith&Wesson, labeled M&P-15. Just get one assembled, in case your state has limits.
  • Deer Rifle (.308 or .30-06)
    • Hit a store like Big-5, Wal-Mart, etc, and get a basic all-in-one set up.
      • I picked up a Savage .30-06, with an included entry level scope. It shoots well, and I’m confident with it out to 300 yards. It was an affordable rifle from Big-5.

This is a large topic to cover. I really just want to get you interested in the notion of being prepared. When you hit the grocery store, grab an extra can of soup or something else that you normally get, even if it has a shelf life. Get in the habit of having more than just what you need this week, and start rotating the older to the front, etc. This can be done slowly and only gently effect your budget. As you build your basic collection of firearms, GET TRAINING! Your local gun store is the best place to start asking about local classes.

I really am not qualified to instruct on these subjects. But I can point you to a couple resources that have fed my mind quite well.

I have a follow up article I’m preparing, that I believe will pair well.

Camping project

I love camping. When my medical team cleared me for camping, I immediately set out to plan a trip. The family is gonna hit Montana de Oro, a state park on the coast with cool weather, and nice campsites.

For now we’re in a tent with my camper shell covered GMC Sierra. But the point of this post isn’t about our upcoming trip, but a few DIY projects I have planned, to enhance our camping experience.

Canopy/Awning

First up is an awning off the truck. Yes an Easy-Up would “work”. But, I want it connected and able to combat moisture and rain. So I’m looking for a used, or new if need be, awning like you’d find on a tent trailer. You install an uninterrupted track the length of the side for install. Then the awning has a beaded end that slides into the track, providing a somewhat sealed line. A gasket will help seal it, and maybe some caulking. I want it first installed along the back of the shell, so that access to the bed, lined up with our existing tent, is good. I want tracks along the sides of the shell too, eventually.

Next up is an upgraded tent. What we have a a decent Wal-Mart tent. It’s lasted a while, and would be good enough for now. But I’d really prefer to upgrade to a canvas tent. A little more solid, etc. Plus those tend to have their own built in canopies, which when overlapped strategically they can repel any moisture/rain quite well.

Eventually I’d like for the wife and I to be able to mattress it in the bed of the truck, and the kids share the large tent. With the addition of a screened in room addition to the awning off the truck, we should be free to be in the truck have an open room between us and the kids in the tent. One large space!

All this can be done slowly, without breaking the budget. If I sought one of the made for the truck rear tents, I’d spend a fortune right now, and break the disability budget. I have a meme-like set of photos that I made to explain all this, and figure it’s perfect for this post.

DIY-Adventure-Canopy-Tent-Truck

Cameras for sale!!! – updated…

***Updated***

I have sold one camera and all the lenses. All that’s left is below.

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My handful of regular readers already know that I’m looking to condense my existing camera gear, from two bodies and numerous lenses, into a single Fuji X-T1. I’ll start with their kit, and slowly acquire the lenses I need/want. Below you’ll find all the gear I’m offering for sale, and a few details about each. The photos I’ve included are stock photos of each item. I can send you actual photos of any of these items, just ask. ūüôā

Nikon J1 – $350 $300

Nikon J1

So, first up is my Nikon J1 and two lenses; a 10-30mm and a 30-110mm. This camera is the perfect choice for someone ready to upgrade from a point-n-shoot/pocket camera. This will take fantastic photos, automatically. Then when you’re ready to start learning about taking more control, you’ll have access to nearly every option you’d want.

The focus is rapid, and automatic. They call it live focus. It can take quite rapid shots, which is one of the most desired features that most point-n-shoots don’t have.

Here’s the¬†highlights:

  • 10MP CMOS sensor
  • Hybrid AF system with both phase and contrast detection
  • 60fps at full resolution (with electronic shutter only)
  • 1080/60i video
  • ISO 100-3200
  • Built-in flash

There’s plenty more, you can read all about it at the link above, or more here. I’m including a filter set, that fit on both lenses, and a silver/white camera bag for the whole kit.

Nikon SB-700 speedlight – $300

Nikon SB-700

Once I started enjoying off-camera lighting, a speedlight like this became a necessary tool. I don’t know how I ever functioned without one.

This comes with a base for off-camera use, a built-in diffuser, and a clamp on diffuser. There’s also a green and orange plastic clip on, for tinting the color of the light.

If you’re interested in any of these items, please contact me. Feel free to email me, or message me on any of the social media platforms, if you’re already connected with me there.

dSLR too big? Go mirrorless!

I think I’m ready to make a serious effort to reduce the size of my dSLR and accompanying lenses and gear.

Here’s the picture, pun intended. I sport a Nikon D7000, with a handful of lenses. I can cover from 12mm to 300mm, with a few small gaps between prime lenses. I also have a nice SB-600 speedlight.

My set up is great is many ways. I can shoot almost anything I want, other than decent zoom. That 70-300mm zoom is a macro lens, so it’s crap for things far away. I have several wants, but only one real complaint. My gear is bulky.

Toting around the body and a few lenses commits me to a large bag, that really can’t be blended with another bag, especially a backpack. So, if we go on a hike, I’m stuck with picking one lens, and maybe one in a pocket; because I need the backpack for water, snacks, etc.

I see the solution as either…

  1. Getting another lens, that is a much better all-around-lens.
  2. Rethinking my whole setup.

The first solution is easy. Get a 24-70mm f/2.8. That bad boy is over $1800 though. Yikes!

The second solution is taking a step back, and looking at my whole system. I see no point in converting to a traditional dSLR setup, with another manufacturer. Doing that is just swapping one set of gear for another, without changing my strategy. The whole idea is to address my largest complaint, the size and weight of all the gear together.

Ultimately I don’t care about having a cropped frame camera. If I ended up with a full frame sensor, that would be great, but I do not really believe that it’s necessary…for me.

When Nikon launched the 1 Series, their first¬†mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera (MILC), we got one, and really like it. However, it’s not the path I want to go. I’m more excited about Sony’s a7 or Fuji’s X series. Those seem to keep the pro features of dSLRs, with serious lens options. I had hoped for Nikon’s DF to fix the 1 series’ error, but that missed my mark.

Side note: I’d consider Nikon’s DF, if it didn’t shed video! The only way I’ll be able to convert my setup would be to sell my existing gear. No way I could justify spending all the money, without generating some capital with the gear I don’t want to use anymore. So, selling my D7000, would dump my great video camera.

I’m glad to follow all the pro photographers with the extra income to not toss their gear, as they all acquire their favorite MILCs. Reading their reviews, following their short posts on social media, and seeing the fruits of their labor, I’m able to get a decent look at what’s available, and what’s worth my money.

So, as I’m considering all my options, I figured I’d do it out loud. It can be quite helpful to get input from others, whom I hadn’t considered already.

Those platforms I’m considering, in no particular order…

The requirements:

  • interchangeable lenses + a diverse selection of available lenses
  • minimum 16 megapixel sensor
  • HD video recording
  • hot shoe
  • 5-6 fps shutter
  • bracketing

Preferences:

  • optical viewfinder (not common with mirrorless cameras)
  • flash sync¬†port
  • audio in/mic port (for video)

As you step back and understand what I’m talking about, maybe you have some thoughts you’d like to share? Please do! I tend to think out loud, especially with expensive items like this. Over the years I’d like to think I’ve been helpful to friends just getting started with a serious camera. I’m hoping now that others will see their ability to lend me some of their own experience and wisdom.

At the end of the day, I really cannot justify spending more of our limited income on yet more camera gear. This conversion will really only work if I can sell my existing gear, then use that capital to start building the new system. And that DOES mean that I’m inadvertently suggesting that I no longer¬†be a Nikon guy.

Chrome OS, is it ready?

I honestly think it’s close.

Last night, we arrived at home after a 2 day road trip, to find an unexpected package on the front doorstep. What was it? A fancy new Google ChromeOS netbook, called the CR-48. Deanna and I were quite excited to open an inconspicuous box, to find a notebook inside. (I was more excited.)

I quickly busted out my camera, and went about the documentation of the unboxing. Those photos are here for your perusal.

Cool thing, once I pulled it out of the box and plugged it in I opened the lid to take a photo of it. I figured it would be off for this photo. Before I even had the camera to my eye, it was on. The thing turned on faster than I could have imagined! Presto! On!

Sweet.

Over the next few hours I signed in, played around, and set up my standard tabbed environment. Oh, I guess I should mention that if you’re already using any Google products, especially Google Chrome, you’re already half way to using a ChromeOS netbook. Yeah, I was¬†prompted¬†to sign in, and it loaded up all my stuff. Even my browser theme from Chrome on my iMac.

What’s the verdict? How’s it gonna work out?

Other than this machine’s inability to process my photos, I may use this for everything else. We have a Dell Mini, running Ubuntu, and it’s been a decent machine. The smaller screen, and a couple of keyboard issues, are the only problems with it. It is reliable, and just works. It needs nothing special to join our Apple Airport powered WiFi or to print to our Canon WiFi printer. It just works. Dropbox installs, and everything just works.

This Google ChromeOS just works, too.

I foresee a few issues though, however they’re mostly hardware issues at this point. One thing about Apple hardware, they never have ugly monitors/video. That’s one area they just do well. This CR-48 is a test unit. It is a beta product. I get that. That’s why I’m not disappointed or let down. (Also I didn’t pay for it, so I have nothing to complain about.) But the screen is kinda weak. The viewing angle is quite limited. Not to worry, I just bend the screen to fit my angle.

I’ve read that others are complaining about the touchpad. I understand why, but haven’t really had any of the same problems. It works fine for me. I’m not drawing any artwork here, nor am I going to be doing much file browsing/moving (since there’s no real file browser).

In case you didn’t know, the CR-48 ChromeOS is a cloud-based, browser only experience. What does this mean? It has nothing else in the operating system other than a¬†browser, Google’s own Chrome. There’s no icon to launch the browser, it IS the OS.

You can read all about it in other places. That’s not my goal. You can also read about how to install “apps” elsewhere.

The first few “apps” I installed are:

I also installed a few plugins right away.

I’ll post some more of my reaction in the coming weeks and months, I hope. If you’re interested in begging Google to give you a shot at breaking their new OS, then you can still fill out the application. Go to the CR-48 Pilot Program website.

Go see the slideshow!

Make those toy guns camo’d!

A few weeks ago I purchased my very first shotgun, it’s a Remington 887. It’s the perfect shotgun for waterfowl and upland bird hunting. My father-in-law is an avid upland bird hunter, and I’m hoping to join him next year.

One thing about this shotgun is it was much cheaper for the all black model. Camo is cool, so I decided that I’d investigate doing the job myself.

There’s quite a lot of websites teaching you how to do a custom camo job, on your own firearm. I found two that really seemed best suited for me. Following their general advice, I picked up some Rust-Oleum in the perfect flat colors; tan, army green, and earth brown.

The first thing I considered was that there’s no way I’m gonna just start, without some sort of test. Well, wouldn’t you know, my boys all got themselves some sweet Nerf N-Strike Maverick’s for Christmas. Odd thing, I already had one, from a couple of years ago. In fact, mine was already black. Don’t ask.

What follows are a few shots of the process. Basically, I started out with my black one, keeping the black as the base color. On the Sniper’s and the Wookiee’s, I gave them a nice base color of tan. And on the Hobbit’s I started with a base of brown.¬†This not only helps make each gun a bit different, so we can tell them apart, but it will also help me see which combo I like the best.

DSC_1101 DSC_1102 DSC_1103 DSC_1104 DSC_1105 DSC_1106 DSC_1107 DSC_1112 DSC_1113 2 of the final products

Now, most people will initially think that I’d need some sort of masking off, to get the standard camo orb-shapes. But, the first thing I discovered online was that many people use organic material to get some really natural-looking shapes. Guess what! We have this massive pine tree, right in our living room! So I cut off a few 6-8 inch sprigs, and I was ready!

With some leftover cardboard, also Christmas trash, I was able to set up a nice workstation in the backyard. I spent the greater part of the afternoon getting all the work done.

Once the base coats were set, I set out the use the alternating colors. I would hold a piece or two of the pine needles up close to an open space on the gun, and then spray it with a contrasting color. I made sure not to cover it too much at first. Keeping the spots spaced out kept room for another color the next time over. I kept this up until I had covered all sides of the gun, with a decent balance of the colors.

When I started out on my black gun, I did one extra thing. I added two stripes of green, to give it even more good alternating color. When all was said and done, they all turned out quite satisfying. What do you think?

Nerf N-Force Mavericks in Camo

Attention! Anyone need or want an M-Audio Firewire Solo?

Well, I gots one! This unit is used, and still works like it did the first day I got it.

  • FireWire audio interface for recording guitar, vocals, and more on Mac or PC music software
  • Front-panel XLR microphone input with gain control and clip LED
  • Front-panel 1/4-inch guitar input and 2 rear-panel 1/4-inch line inputs
  • Dual FireWire ports for easy device chaining; front-panel switch toggles between front and rear inputs

That’s the gist of it.

I used this device, with my old 12″ Powerbook for quite a while, back when I was podcasting. I used it for about a year, before I decided I wanted to get a larger mixing board. This device continued to go with me, when I took my podcasting rig “on the road”. It’s obviously great for podcasting, but it could be great for recording tracks for your band, or just plain having fun! This is the perfect, inexpensive way, to get your guitar and vocals into Apple’s Garageband as well.

The MSRP for the M-Audio Firewire Solo is $250. Amazon offers it for $199.

You can have mine for $100!

Email me (trevor |at| trevorcarpenter |dot| com), use the Contact Me page above, DM me on Twitter, or message me on Facebook.

Here's what it looks like.