Redundant equipment for photographers

Posted on December 23rd, 2004 in , , by jud || Add A Comment

One of the things that I stress to people who want to invest their time (and perhaps money) on photography trips is the importance of redundant equipment. Two years ago, I discovered first hand how devasting this can be. I had 5 days off, and had planned a trip to Mono Lake. Getting there during the winter took almost 2 days, since I drove up through Reno and then down 395 (I’ll be trying a new route this Christmas, along HW 88). I arrived just as night was falling, jumped out of my car, ran through the deep snow and snapped a few test pictures. The next morning, I got up nearly 3 hours before daybreak. It was nearly an hour hike through thigh-deep snow in the dark to get to the edge of the lake, where I settled in to await the sunrise. About 15 minutes later, my camera died. I should say, my ONLY camera died. Completely. Banging and cursing didn’t help. Power cycling. New batteries. Fervent prayers. Incantations. Sacrifices of small snow creatures. All to no avail.

At least I got to enjoy a spectacularsunrise.

And since I had no camera, the rest of the “photography trip” was shot, and I left for home that afternoon. Fortunately, one of my test shots turned out ok, and so the trip wasn’t a complete photographic disaster.

Now, with the purchase of the 20D, I finally have 2 cameras that I am happy using. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend buying two new cameras to get started (unless of course you have the budget). That’s why I got the Canon G6 last month, as a smaller, cheaper backup camera. (However, as I noted, I am upgrading already!)

Because my cameras are DSLRs, I have a variety of lenses that I can use. In fact, becuase I have a mix of prime lenses and zooms, plus a teleconverter, in a pinch I could get very close to the same focal coverage losing any one lens.

I have 3 memory cards (2 x 1GB, and 1 256). Again, I can lose 1 without any problem.

I keep my images on a laptop, and on a portable hardrive (mindstor by minds@work, now out of business). One dropped/crashed piece of equipment, and I’m still ok.

I have 4 batteries and 2 chargers (car and wall)

There is no single point of failure (except the photographer!), and so if I’m going to spend a fair amount of money on a 4-7 day photography trip, I can be sure that
it isn’t my equipment that stops me.

Add A Comment

Canon 20D on its way

Posted on December 23rd, 2004 in , , by jud || Add A Comment

I ordered a canon 20d from []( yesterday. Actually, I puchased one from San Jose camera too, got back to the office, and then Andrei found it for $275 cheaper online. Even with 2 day shipping it was still almost $250 in savings. I couldn’t pass that up. I’m selling the Canon G6 that I got last month as a backup– although it’s a nice camera, using the Canon D60 DSLR for the last two years has spoiled me. My trusty D60 will become a backup, and I will take advantage of the slightly higher resolution, and better low-light functionality for the 20D. Also, I’m really looking forward to having a camera the can autorotate vertical images!

Add A Comment

The Apprentice: NEWSFLASH: male executives prefer male executives!

Posted on December 17th, 2004 in by jud || Add A Comment

I got hooked on *The Apprentice* this season. That’s pretty surprising because I don’t normally watch TV (I bought an antenna 4 years ago to see the Olypics, and this is the first show I’ve regularly watched in years). I was drawn in by the boardroom byplay that went on. The tasks weren’t terribly exciting, but seeing how each of the contestants spun reality was very interesting and even applicable to real life. It was very interesting to see how each person represented themselves, when they waited and watched, and when they attacked. So I was looking forward to the finale. However, one thing stood out even more clearly than the winner. Kelly’s good, no doubt about that. But I was astounded that Donald Trump couldn’t even drum up even one female exec outside of his sidekick Caroline to comment on the candidates. It was astonishing to see, actually. Jen completely dominated Kelly in their discussions, attacked him on issues where he had no credible response, and left him looking flat and unimpressive. Trump even warned him that he was getting schooled, before firing Jennifer.

I couldn’t help feeling that the glass ceiling had smacked down pretty hard on her. Yes, Kelly was great, a natural leader with impeckable credentials. But come on! Jen was outstanding too, and seemed to posess the skills and aggressiveness that Trump values. Does Trump really not know any high-powered females that he’d invite onto the show to share their perspective? Although the numbers might truly be representitive national averages, I’m left with the dissapointing feeling that the status quo was just reinforced: The old boy club just picked one of their own. Trump seemed to feel that Jen had a lot of opportunities ahead: perhaps he meant that he’s saving a spot for her in his Miss Universe pageant. Boo!

Add A Comment

The origin of PHP’s “global” keyword

Posted on December 17th, 2004 in by jud || Add A Comment

At lunch earlier this week, [Rasmus]( was telling a few of us a story that led to PHP’s *global* keyword.
As a college student, he got a work-study program assignment at a telco. When he showed up for work, they suggested that he spend his time reorganizing a massive rat’s nest of cables into a patch panel. He balked at this, and instead countered that they should give him some real code to work with. Evidently, this caused consternation and confusion on the part of management, leading to a flurry of activity and meetings as they tried to decide what to do with this cheeky “intern”: send him back , or give him something real to work on. Finally, he was given a real problem: discover why the switching system running on their proprietary OS was mysteriously and intermittently crashing. Rasmus went to work, taking over a hallway and walkpapering the walls and floor with highlighted printouts as he spent the next several weeks searching for the answer (think *A Beautiful Mind* :) ). Eventually, he found the source of the problem: a local variable that was overriding a global one. Later, when he was designing PHP, he wanted to be sure to eliminate this particular headache, hence PHP’s *global* keyword!

Add A Comment

Two amazing photographers: Mona Kuhn and Fan Ho

Posted on December 16th, 2004 in , by jud || Add A Comment

This evening I discovered the [modernbook gallery]( in Palo Alto. They are currently featuring two excellent exhibits, one of portaits by [Mona Kuhn](, and another, older set of prints from Hong Kong by [Fan Ho]( Both are well worth seeing in person, as the web images do not do them justice. It was shocking to see how good art can be. I am particularly struck with how, in lesser hands, Mona’s photographs could end up trite and common, but instead they leave me with a sense of awe and appreciation for her vision.

Add A Comment

WordPress – yet another blogging package

Posted on December 15th, 2004 in by jud || Add A Comment

I’ve very quickly given up on Movable Type. I was unable to install it on my ISP due to problems with the perl modules it requires. That, coupled with the fact that it is not open source, sent me searching for yet another solution.

[wordpress]( is what I’m trying now. Lets hope this works better than the previous three attempts. On the plus side, installation is straight forward, and once I solved my mysql compatability problems (I was trying to use mysql 4.1, but my PHP installation only supported 4.0x) it worked like a charm, I got up and running very quickly. The downside is that MySQL is now required, and I have to either use the mysql on my home system, or get my ISP [ultimanet]( to give me MySQL access.

First impressions are that wordpess is a slick package. The UI isn’t perfect, but it is very usable and has a nice blend of flexibility and simplicity. It has the feature set that I’m interested in (templates, trackbacks, pings, archives and an API, and PHP is an improvement over perl since the rest of my site is in PHP)

Add A Comment

autohotkey – open source macros for windows

Posted on December 14th, 2004 in by jud || Add A Comment

I just discovered a cool new macro/hotkey packages for Windows called [autohotkey]( I’m a big fan of keyboard shortcuts, and in fact this was one of the primary factors for my shift to the text-only email client mutt (under linux/unix). However, I’m happy to find
a nice open source package that will work for my other operating system. autohotkeys includes a scripting language, and can use both keyboard and mouse buttons. Best of all, it can handle simple hotkeys, and/or bind any two-key combination (like right-alt + a) or (F1 + F2).

Add A Comment

selecting ranges from a file with the perl .. operator

Posted on December 9th, 2004 in by jud || Add A Comment

Mike Schilli showed me a cool perl operator today that I haven’t ever used. Often I want to get lines from a file that are between to specific lines. For example, given a file like:


I would like to easily extract everything between (and including) START and END. Using a perl one liner and the .. operator, this is very easy.

$ perl -ne'print $_ if /START/ .. /END/'


The .. operator (and it’s cousin the … operator) is a flip-flop operator. In scalar context, it is false until the first expression becomes true and then is true until the second expression becomes false. In this case, we want nothing to be printed until the current line matches /START/, and then continue printing until the current line matches /END/. I’m using the implicit variable $_ (the current line) to make this more succinct.

See perldoc perlop for more information

Here’s a more complex example that excludes the boundary lines by making use of a hackish perlism:
When true, the .. operator returns a sequence number (starting with 1). However, on the last item (when the second expression becomes false), perl will return not simply a number like 24, but instead, a number like 24E0. This is actually 24 in scientific notation (24 * 10 ^ 0 = 24). This evaulates to the correct value when treated as a number, but can be identified via a regular expression in string context. So in this case, we print lines EXCEPT the last line by adding the condition our pattern matching expression ($i !~ /E0^/), and we print all the lines in except the first one by including the condition ($i > 1).

$ perl -ne'print $_ if ($i = /START/ .. /END/) and ($i > 1) and ($i !~ /E0$/)'


Just to confuse matters, the .. operator builds a range when called in a list context, e.g.

@alphabet = ( 'A' .. 'Z');

Finally, remember to use a regular expression that is as specific as is ncessary, like /^START$/ instead of START so you don’t match string like RESTART.

Add A Comment


Posted on December 9th, 2004 in by jud || Add A Comment

Today I am officially one year away from being halfway on my journey from 30 to 40 :)

Add A Comment

Switching to MovableType: Atom and RSS available

Posted on December 8th, 2004 in by jud || Add A Comment

I’ve decided to use Movable Type to power my weblog. Although pyblosxom was nice, it wasn’t as fully-featured as other blogging software, adding those features took up too much time. I’d much rather just set it up and let it run. Also, I’m interested in TrackBacks and other blog featuers which I barely even understand, but which seem very useful. So hopefully MT will allow me to focus more on the content, and less on the software. This also means that the
atom and rss feeds should work now.

Add A Comment

Gift Ideas For Photographers

Posted on December 8th, 2004 in , by jud || Add A Comment

I just got an email from a friend who wanted some gift suggestions for a photographer friend. The friend is getting a new digital camera, and so here’s my list of recommended accessories (really doesn’t matter which brand of camera. The books are tailored more towards my [specific interests](/photo), but the other accessories should apply to almost anyone who is a serious digital camera enthusiast.)

### Gadgets

* Extra battery (extended life – check out the
IMO this is the single most important accessory, because when your battery runs out, you have an expensive brick slung around your neck for the rest of the day

* high-capacity memory cards (1GB is fine. Get more than one if you want more
capacity. 2 or 3). Otherwise, there’s too much risk of losing ALL your pictures
on a trip if the card goes bad/gets lost. It takes only seconds to change a

* additional flash. I have the canon speedlight 550, which is a high-end
model (and only for canon!) but any external flash can make a huge difference
when taking indoor (or outdoor) pictures.

* Camera bag (lowprowe or tamarac) These can be somewhat difficult to
select, since there’s a huge variety and it depends greatly on what you will be
doing. I have the lowprowe photo trekker, which I got because I wanted space
for camera gear + space for lunch and other stuff. It works well when I need to
be hiking, but I wish I’d gotten the all-weather model. It does not work as well for in-city use or anywhere where the distance between stops is short and I need to repeatedly get access to various lenses and/or equipment.

* battery charger that will work in car/home. Sometimes these come with the
camera. I have the lenmar mach 1, which is a rapid charger and I just keep it
in the car.

* USB2/firewire card reader (+ usb/firewire card if your computer doesn’t
have it already)

* Photographer’s vest. I’ve used a number of these and am not super excited about any of them, but they are VERY helpful for outdoor photography.

* Tripod (these are somewhat difficult to buy, so let me know if you get
down this far and I’ll tell you more :) I now use the Slik 400X pro

### Photography Books

* National Geographic Photography Field Guides (various topics)

* John Shaw’s books (landscape and nature)

* Kodak Guide to Shooting Great Travel Pictures

* [Seeing Landscapes: The Creative Process Behind Great Photographs](

* Learning to See Creatively by Bryan Peterson

### Photoshop Books

* The Photoshop bible – BIG but good

* Photoshop CS Artistry (advanced techniques, very dense and dry)

I really can’t recommend any short photoshop books. The Adobe classroom in a book series, and studio techniques series are both very good,
but they are pretty dry.

UPDATE 2004-12-23

After some consideration, an extra memory card is probably the most important
extra item, since cameras typically come with a tiny memory card (or none at all).
The amount of space on your cards directly limits how many pictures you can take without
access to a computer to offload your images. This is especially critical on longer trips where
you might not have access to power (or your laptop). Most modern cameras have file sizes
between 0.75 and 3 MB for highest quality jpeg, and larger if your camera has a RAW

If you’re using anything but the maximum settings, you should be taking pictures that
you really don’t care about or potentially want to blow up to large sizes.
So if you get a 32 MB card with your camera, that’s a max of about 50 pictures.
Not so great for your 3 day trip to that *amazing
place*. That’s why I recommend a 512MB – 1GB card.

I purchased a portable
hard drive (10GB model) from a company (minds@work) that is now out of business.
That is very useful in the field since I can copy the images from my CF card to the
mindstor. The mindstore is small enough to keep in my camera bag, unlike a laptop,
and very simple to use. For anyone who wants to go on long trips, and doesn’t want to
carry a laptop, I’d recommend something similar. (In my case, I use both the mindstor
AND a laptop so I have two copies of my images, just in case) Belkin and a number of
other companies make these portable storage devices, some of which are quite advanced
with color displays for previewing your images, etc… However, with the price of memory
cards dropping, it might make more sense (particularly if you already have a laptop) to
just get 3 or 4 GB of memory cards instead. Although you don’t get as much storage for
your money, it’s a lot easier to switch cards than to download your card into the device, plus
you have a backup if one of your cards dies.

Add A Comment