January Airlift

Sunshine with a cold wind; that’s the drill in January. I’m standing outside carrying a camera, casting an eye to the heavens. Then:

“Sky Manor Unicom Mooney Two Zero One Alpha Kilo short final runway 25.”

Aircraft in flight
Final approach

..and a moment later, Daisy and her eleven puppies arrived in Pittstown New Jersey, on their way to new homes.

Plane at touchdown

How does a computer geek get involved in this?

For over a year now, I’ve been a part of HarnessLife.Org – a spay/neuter educational nonprofit. We’re combating roverpopulation and working tirelessly to educate the public to help stop unnecessary littering. Today we’re along to take photos and deliver a spay grant to S & L Animal Rescue for Daisy.

This journey started with a dog,Daisy; in Kentucky. STAR (Saving The Animals of Rowan [county in Kentucky]) is a last-resort rescue – without STAR, Daisy and her brood were doomed. Even so, there aren’t enough people willing to foster or adopt a dog in the area – necessitating transport to other parts of the country. S & L was willing to host Daisy – the problem was getting her here. Complicating matters, Daisy was pregnant… and then, she was a mother… to eleven delightful puppies.

Dog and puppies
Daisy and her brood – safe and ready for their new home!

Enter Pilots ‘n’ Paws: a volunteer network of private pilots willing to devote time, fuel and aircraft to transporting animals cross-country. Through a flurry of emails and texts and even a phone call or three, a plan began to take shape. Daisy and her brood would travel by private airplane to New Jersey.

Pilot helps dog out of plane

After Daisy left with her new fosters, Lola – official spokesdog for HarnessLife.Org, presented Dianne Wiley with a grant to cover Daisy’s spaying.

Woman and Dog
Dianne Wiley accepts a Spay/Neuter grant from Lola (official spokesdog of HarnessLife.Org)

Full photo gallery is here.


This past week saw the end game play out for two different threads; one short, one long.

The short thread which ended was my PHP/MySQL class – you know you did something right when the students are still there, talking away, working on further learning… an hour after the end of the final exam!

I was apprehensive at the start of this class… condensing the learning of two technologies (and continued mastery of two others) into just 9 weeks of intensive activity. There will be much rethink and rework of the instructional support activity before next offering of this course. In short, I need to rethink the opening session with regards to VM-based development environments.

But all in all, it was a good run, with a great bunch of students!

This past week my trusty ride of 15 years was replaced. The ’97 RAV4 has been my companion through a lot of adventures: Finding hardware in Weeping Water. Chasing churches in seventeen states. Bouncing down the beach… sliding down the hills. Slipping on the sand roads. Towing jeeps and cadillacs and 4runners. Photographing graveyards; attracting cats.

No more. At 231,000 miles, the repair estimate was more than I could justify. So the RAV4.1 will pass on to a new owner shortly… RAV4.2 is ready to go!

Out of curiosity I went back to see what has been replaced on the old car… five sets of tires, five batteries, two timing belts, one set of shocks, four brake pad replacements, two set of front rotors, two sets of spark plugs, four distributor cable sets, front right quarter panel (Bambi baptism), one alternator, one starter. Lots of synthetic oil and filters, and a number of headlight bulbs until I figured out how to change the aim.


Photography at Night

Photography is the recording of photons for posterity. At night, they’re much harder to come by, having mostly gone into illuminating another part of the world (or so I’m told).

Here, then, some tips on night-time photography.


1) Support structures… You’re going to need a tripod. Even better, have two or three, and a monopod (tripod which is missing two legs!). If you’re just going to have one tripod, get the sturdiest thing you can afford (and which you can carry around). On the top of the tripod will be a “head” or mounting point. Most low-end tripods come with a ‘pan-tilt’ head intended for video; maybe that works for you. I use ‘ball heads’ which can be rapidly moved to any position and then locked with a quick twist of a knob.

Another essential as you do more shooting is a quick-release system for mounting your camera(s) on and off supports. I use the Manfrotto RC-2 system although eventually I’ll switch to Arca-Swiss… but for now the RC-2 fits my needs.

2) Cable-release. Also known as a remote-release, this is necessary to keep your platform stable – pressing the shutter release can impart shake to the camera.

3) Lenses – faster is easier (shorter exposure times) but not necessarily better. Most of my memorable night shots are from relatively slow lenses and long exposures. If you’re photographing people you want the widest angle and fastest lens in your collection.


1) Patience. It takes time to get this right, and you’ll blow most shots. For most subjects you’ll need to take a series of shots to get the lighting right.

2) Raw mode, and a good converter. Shoot RAW mode with dSLR, and learn to use Lightroom, or Adobe Camera Raw if you prefer. A good outboard noise reducer is helpful.

3) Did I mention patience?

4) A way to take notes. A lot of shots may be done manual-mode in the Bulb setting; while the file may record f-stop and effective focal length most cameras cannot record shutter time when in Bulb mode. Bulb is necessary if you need a longer exposure than your automatic exposure modes allow. Make notes about what settings you used.

Uh oh. Here comes the horde to tell me what’s wrong. This is really a matter of personal taste.

Adobe Lightroom: cataloging, sorting, export prep to websites, most printing, RAW conversion, etc. For 90% of my photography, Lightroom is the only post-production software used.

Adobe Photoshop (CS2 and CS3): When I need it, which isn’t very often. Of the more than 2,000 photos online in my main photo site, only 14 have been manipulated in Photoshop.

Imagenomic Noiseware Professional: When you need to reduce noise, this  is it. I have both the standalone processor and the Photoshop plugin.

Photomatix Pro: For High Dynamic Range (HDR) production. There really is nothing anywhere which comes close to this.

Printing and Profiling will be covered in another post.

The amazing light-ness of seeing

I’m on a photography kick. So shoot me.


Photography is all about the light – recording photons for posterity.


When you take a photo is sometimes even more important than where you are. Same place, close to the same angle… which is more pleasing?

or ?

I know which one I’d pick.

All that changed was what time of day… one is in the “golden hour” – so-called because it’s when the light is truly golden in color – near sunset. There is a thinner golden segment early in the morning, especially in the spring and fall when the sun is angled – but I hesitate to call it a golden hour… more like twenty minutes or so.
Here are a couple of first-light images…

A matter of focus

Which of these photos is in proper focus:

1. front focus




In this case, focus becomes a matter of preference.

What we’re really dealing with is another issue, Depth of Field (DoF) – that portion of a photograph which is perceived to be acceptably sharp.

Depth of Field is one of those “advanced” topics in photography… until you grasp how it works, and how to control it. (Note to the purists – this discussion is henceforth simplified)

Controlling DoF is all about controlling the three variables which directly affect it –  lens focal length,  lens aperture and camera-to-subject-distance. All three interact to produce differences in DoF. And while your camera may be largely automatic and you may have no control at all over one variable, you’ll almost always have control over one or both of the others.

Lens focal length is usually expressed in millimeters (mm).  Longer is the same as “zoomed in” – short is “wide angle.” Most point-and-shoot cameras have modest zoom lenses of the 3x variety; some cameras have “ultra-zooms” in the 10x to 15x range. Cellphone cameras often have no control at all over this variable. Note it is not necessary to use a zoom lens at least with cameras supporting interchangeable lenses; you can also use “prime” or non-variable lenses… and a prime lens will usually have a bit better control over aperture values. Wide-angle and telephoto are relative values – the size of the sensor (or film frame) determines the useful ranges. Within 35mm photography (and most dSLR systems) 18mm is wide, 200 mm is telephoto, 500 mm is serious telephoto, and 1250mm is wicked close (and the DoF is paper-thin!).

For our purposes, longer focal length (telephoto) produces shallower depth of field and shorter focal length (wide-angle) produces deeper DoF.

Lens aperture is the size of opening of the iris in the lens; i.e. how big a hole the light comes through. This is expressed as a logarithmic ratio in the form of f-stops. F-stops for camera lenses run from f/1.4 at the wide-open (think really huge) end to tiny pinpricks of light up around f/64. As you go up the scale, the amount of light is halved; thus if we take f/1.4 as “full” open, then f/2 (next increment up) allows 1/2 the light, f/2.8 is 1/4, f/4 is 1/8 and so on. Photographers usually reference low f-stop values as “open” (or “fast” – as it gathers the light in faster), and high f-stop numbers as “closed” (or “slow”).  Zoom lenses are limited as to how open they get; f/2.8 is a very fast zoom (wide open) and f/8 is rather slow (closed down).

For our limited interest in Depth of Field, the rule is this: for a given focal length, depth of field is reduced as you open the lens, increased as you close the lens.

Camera-to-subject-distance is self-explanatory… isn’t it? In the photos above, camera-to-subject-distance is the variable which has changed – I shifted the subject from the up-close gun barrel to the more distant aircraft. Focal length stayed constant at 50mm and aperture at f/10. If I’d backed off a bit (probably about 10 feet would have done it) both subjects would have been in focus… but that wasn’t the effect I wanted!

Let’s look at these two photos, shot back-to-back. The closeup is at f/5.8 and 300mm focal length; the wide-angle view at f/4.5 and 75mm.



The increased focal length more than makes up for the slight closing of the lens; note how blurred the background is compared to the second photo. They were taken back-to-back, about ten seconds apart.