There’s a new way to see the images I post.

Dam at Herron Pond (Smug Mug)

I have not been happy with the look of my images on this site.

Frustrated with the lack of detail and crispness to the images seen on Henrysmiths cottage, I have purchased a Smug Mug account, and will, from here forward use that as my photo repository.  It can be accessed here. Eventually I plan to set thing up so that the images can be purchased there, and printed at number of online photo finishers. Feel free to visit, particularly when a new article appears.

Hopefully, this will help the images here. You can compare this image(click on it) to the image in the previous article.

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Barbecue for Photographers

 

A Delicious Irony (Samsung Galaxy S4)

Southern barbecue is the closest thing we have in the U.S. to Europe’s wines or cheeses; drive a hundred miles and the barbecue changes”.

John Shelton Reed

I have always loved outdoor cooking. My interest in this started as a boy. I spent most of my youth in the outdoors, hunting, fishing and camping. Cooking over fire was a joyful segment of these activities.

At first I was just thrilled with the novelty of preparing my own food over an open flame. Soon my buddies and I were stocking our backpacks with more than just fishing gear, but with salt, pepper, a little flour, and even perhaps a lemon, to add a little taste to the trout or catfish we would catch.

Later as a middle-aged male, the backyard grill became a focal point for me. Unfortunately I suspect that, like most people, I have been grilling badly for many years.

I didn’t even know what I didn’t know.

In my 40s I became interested in Southern barbecue. Proceeding in exactly the wrong way , I went down to my local Home Depot, and for the princely sum of about $140 purchased my first barbecue pit.

New Braunfels Offset

This was a serious looking contraption known to barbecue aficionados as an “offset smoker.” This inexpensive cooker was meant to mimic much more extensive barbecue pits which are much better engineered. Unfortunately, $140 doesn’t buy very much value. At that price range, the pits are ill-designed. This results in uneven temperature distribution and poor temperature control. I had occasional good results, but I really didn’t know and I was doing. My ribs, chicken, and pulled pork were very inconsistent. Meat is expensive, and I hate to waste anything.

About 2 years ago, I landed upon a website that has changed everything I knew about barbecue, transforming my outdoor cooking, from a random act, at best, to a more disciplined, deliberate, and consistent pursuit. I can’t say for sure whether in the big picture I have become a competent pitmaster, but the food now comes off the barbecue, looking, feeling, and tasting as it is supposed to. People seem to like my output now. Rarely do we have any leftovers.

Ribs (Samsung Galaxy S4)

Armed with some knowledge, I’ve also made the investment in a piece of the equipment that has made a whole process a lot easier. I want in this piece, to introduce you to the resources that I think it is fair to say, transformed my outdoor cooking.

The first resource is a website called Amazing Ribs. Although there are many barbecue resources on the web, I think it is acknowledged that Amazing Ribs is the most encyclopedic of them all. It is run by a team of pitmasters led by Craig aka “Meathead” Goldwyn. This former food and wine writer, some years ago turned his attention to the manly art of barbecue and smoke. As the principal author of the site, Mr. Goldywn has been apparently very busy.

There is a vast amount of information here. There are equipment reviews, barbecue techniques; recipes for both smoked/barbecued meat, and the wonderful side dishes that accompany them. There is a huge amount of information on the various cuts of meats in “Zen”articles he titles for instance: “The Zen of Beef”. There are graduate level dissertations on wood, charcoal, wood pellets, and other barbecue fuels, as well as guides to the various cooking accessories. The site is written with attention to the science of cooking, as well as food safety, reminiscent of “Cooks Illustrated” magazine. “Meathead” debunks a lot of  myths, such as the superiority of so-called” beer can” chicken and misconceptions about “resting” meat. But he does so with actual science and measurements to prove his point of view.

Pork Butt and Kielbasa (Samsung Galaxy S4)

An important theme throughout the site, is the importance of cooking to appropriate temperatures using accurate digital thermometers to assure that: #1 that the food is safely sterilized, and #2 that is cooked to the appropriate degree of “doneness” for optimal flavor and texture. To top it all off, Meathead writes prose that is eminently readable and generally irreverent. There is even a collection of barbecue-themed music available within the pages.

Using what I have learned, I am able. I think, to turn out a more flavorful, consistent product, whether it is pork ribs, poultry, pork shoulder, or the Holy Grail of barbecue: Texas-style beef brisket. I have learned that pretty much if you follow Meathead’s instructions, things tend to come out pretty well. I also discovered through the website that my beloved Weber kettle grill is actually a much better smoker than the cheap offset pit I was using.

Weber Performer (Samsung Galaxy S4)

An interesting story: Grateful as I was to the site for the info I had received, I recently joined Amazing ribs premium “Pitmasters” club, which offers information and online seminars. I had trouble logging in for the first time, and emailed the site several times for assistance. When I received no reply, I emailed a somewhat stronger request.

I was at work at the hospital when I received a call from one of the assistants in my clinic. She told me she had recieved an unusual call from someone called “Meathead” who left the message that” everything would be taken care of”. The assistant thought this sounded sinister and worried for my safety. There was a phone number which I called and had a very pleasant conversation with the guy I had come to know from his writing. Turns out he tracked me down through Google. That’s impressive.

Using information from the Amazing Ribs site, I purchased last summer, an inexpensive” box store” vertical gas smoker. I used it quite successfully for 7 or 8 months, but longed for a more sophisticated barbecue pit. One of the problems with cooking “low and slow”, is that most barbecue pits require almost constant attention to maintain the appropriate cooking temperatures needed. Many of Meathead’s recipes include in their ingredients a case of beer and a lawn chair, preparing you for the need to be nearby for what may be up to a 14 hour cook.

Vertical Smoker (Blackberry Playbook)

Now I’m not really good at being inactive for that period of time (though the beer sounds good). So, I began to research one of the newest developments in the industry, the “pellet smoker”. These barbecue “pits” use hardwood pellets as fuel, but most importantly, come with electronics which allow you to set a temperature, and then walk away, much like your kitchen range.

After considering a number of devices, I settled on a company in Georgia called Rec Tec. They make a unique pellet grill that offers very advanced temperature controller, a huge pellet hopper, very high-grade stainless steel parts, and a very strong warranty, all at a very competitive price.

The Weber and The Rec Tec (Samsung Galaxy S4)

The Rec Tec as it turns out works very well. Load the 40 pound hopper with pellets, set a temperature, fill it with food, and go do something else. For most meats, I use a remote type thermometer that allows me to monitor temperatures from afar, even from my smart phone (with an IP camera set up).

Hopper (Samsung Galaxy S4)

This is incredibly liberating. It allows you to do the big cooks a lot more often. For instance, I can now start a pork shoulder in the early evening, and allow it to cook overnight while I sleep, at the prescribed temperature of 225°. It won’t be until the next day until it reaches an internal temperature of roughly 200° when it essentially turns into pig jelly and is ready to be shredded into” pulled” pork. Though the Rec Tec can allso do grilling (as opposed to barbecue which is actually roasting), I find my Weber is superior for steaks and hamburgers

What is unique about Rec Tec is their commitment to customer service. When you purchase your grill either factory direct or through Amazon, you receive a pack of materials that includes the business cards of a variety company personnel including the owner, Ray Carnes, who may be seen on the company’s, YouTube videos. The business cards include cell phone numbers, which you are free to utilize any time, weekdays, weekends, etc. I have done this on occasion, and they are only too happy to talk to you.

Rec Tec Brisket (Samsung Galaxy S4)

As they are essentially wood fired convection ovens, pellet grills are useful for foods other than meat. I particularly like pizza which requires a smoky flavor much like that obtained from a wood fired pizza oven. There are ample examples of surprising dishes that can be prepared on pellet smokers to be found both on Rec Tec website, and at Amazing Ribs.

This is a fun hobby. At some point I may steel up the nerve to enter a local or regional competition, but for now I’m still honing my techniques. And I do love good barbecue.

Amazing Ribs has a name for it: Porknography

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Smartphone Imaging: a Year with the Samsung S4

 

From the Shore of Herron Pond (Samsung Galaxy G4)

 

My opinions may have changed, but not the fact that I’m right.”

― Ashleigh Brilliant

It has been roughly a year since I published my experiences with my Galaxy S4, both as a smartphone, and as a camera. At the time, I concluded that the phone was an extraordinarily powerful tool, but that the camera was well… OK.

Deep inside I considered smartphone photography to be of limited value, useful for documentation of accident scenes, scanning those bar codes for price checking, and the occasional snapshot, but certainly not for serious landscape photography. I would scoff at all those silly people snapping away with their I Phones when I, the esteemed photographer, carried a camera bag chock full of prime lenses to use on my X Pro 1.

For the last article on this topic, I printed several 11 x 14” prints from images that were carefully shot, only to find the results uninspiring, with mushy details and elevated noise levels. So the S4 camera was relegated to shooting pictures of newly purchased “toys” that I could show to interested co enthusiasts, devices for which I needed replacement parts, and upholstery fabrics that I need to match in the furniture store.

Specials (Samsung Galaxy G4)

But every 6 weeks or so, as the seasons evolved, I needed a new home screen image. As I am an E.P. (see above), it wouldn’t do to have just any old image on the screen; it had to be something as artful as possible. So I would take the opportunity when it arose and carefully shoot a scene evocative of the current season. After all, the phone’s images do look gorgeous on the Samsung’s small but high resolution display.

Cell phones make lousy camera bodies. They’re hard to hold steady, harder still when your trying to hit the little icon on the screen that trips the shutter, or moves the focus. I have had to resort to using structures, trees, and cars, as props to reduce camera shake.

Too Much Snow (Samsung Galaxy S4)

About 6 months ago I dropped the Galaxy on my driveway. Even though it was enclosed in a protective case, it hit on the one vulnerable spot and cracked the screen. I had insurance, so I sent it back after I received a replacement phone.

The new phone was different. The battery life for instance, with the exact same set up, was much improved. And maybe it was my imagination, but the images seemed crisper with better detail. I continued to use the camera as I had before but perhaps with a little more enthusiasm.

Dinner on Mirror Lake (Samsung Galaxy G4)

 

Frost on my Window (Samsung Galaxy G4)

Here I must confess to you that in unboxing and assembling the new phone, I noticed a subtle clear plastic coating on the lens, which I removed. I don’t remember that detail with the old phone. Perhaps I missed it.

 

Given this, I drew some of the better images into Photoshop to assess their quality as well as other factors such as dynamic range, and highlight and shadow recovery.

An April Walk on Rails to Trails (Samsung Galaxy S4)

The Galaxy jpgs are slightly cumbersome to work with. After connecting the phone to the computer with a USB cable, I can navigate to the Micro SD card in Adobe Bridge, and find the files. For some reason, Adobe doesn’t recognize them as image files until I cut and paste them into a file on the C drive. Then they display with previews. Weird.

Current images compared to images from my first Galaxy, seem more detailed. Opened in Adobe Camera Raw, they are modestly malleable in terms of highlight and shadow, perhaps comparable to contact cameras but certainly not up to the level of a competent larger sensor such as the one in my Sony RX 100. Still in all, they are not the worst files that I have ever worked with; perhaps comparable to enthusiast compacts such as the Panasonic LX cameras of the late 2000’s which is to say, not too bad.

Water Lilly at Ice Ponds (Samsung Galaxy S4)

Prints look a bit better now. If carefully shot, they are usable to 11 x 14” with careful post production, sharpening, and noise reduction.

It’s nice to know that in a pinch, as long as you take your time, the Galaxy S4 (and probably the newer S5) can create a useful image file with some potential for serious use.

I’m not planning to give up my cameras just yet. But my enthusiasm for capturing home screen images has increased significantly.

 

Images from this article can be better viewed at my Smug Mug site.

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The Adirondacks in June

 

 

Adirondack Steak and Seafood (Sony RX 100)

I have a home in the Adirondack region of New York State, which I typically visit 3 times a year, generally in late summer, January, and in early March. As it is a roughly 6 hour drive from my Pennsylvania home, I do not visit as often as I would like, the distance in my mind, requiring more than a few days stay to make the drive worthwhile.

I have visited at other times of the year, most notably, October, and once in early April (mud season in the Adirondacks). I had never visited in June, but this year with some free time, my wife and I decided to make the trip.

Visiting during a new season is refreshing photographically. The scenery is different than in late summer, the foliage light green and fresh looking, and there are flowers that one does not see later in the year. There are also events occurring in late June and early July, that I have not witnessed before.

Wildflowers at John Browns Farm (Fuji X Pro 1, XF 57mm f1.2)

Most notably in the latter category, is the Lake Placid Horse Show, an event that draws a decidedly upscale crowd to the Olympic Region.

June is a wetter month than later in the year, and threatened to rain much of the time we were there. On Wednesday of the week it pretty much rained all day, to a total of around 3 inches, which severely limited any outdoor activity.

Because of the time of year, I was concerned about black flies, but by the time we arrived, the season was almost finished, and I experienced very few of the annoying little critters.

We had a wonderful gustatory experience during the trip. Being without our children (who are involved with internships this summer), we ate out every night. There is a lot of good food in the Adirondacks, particularly in the Lake Placid region. The owner of one of our favorite restaurants, the Paradox Lodge, informed as he was retiring from the restaurant business (but will still run the bed and breakfast). This was a superb restaurant, and it will be missed. I can only imagine what the breakfasts must be like.

Red in his Kitchen (Fuji X Pro 1, XF 57mm f1,2)

 

For those who would visit Lake Placid, we had meals at a variety of other venues, including the Moose Lodge, at the Whiteface club, a spectacular setting right on the Lake Placid shoreline with a spectacular view of the lake and Whiteface Mountain . As always, the meal there was first class.

Steve at the Moose Lodge (Fuji X 100s)

Other restaurants we visited and enjoyed included Adirondack Steak and Seafood, Lisa G’s, The Cowboy, and in Saranac, Lake the Downhill Grille. I also spent a funny interlude, in one of my favorite pubs in the region, the Belvedere, where the regular patrons are very friendly, and can be incredibly amusing.

The Belvedere (Fuji X 100s)

 

But we didn’t just eat and drink. Outdoor sports are the reason one visits the region. We did a variety of hikes, on some old favorite trail systems in the Lake Placid and Paul Smith’s area. I have a wonderful memory of passing Connery Pond, at the foot of Whiteface Mountain, on a cool crisp Thursday morning, with mournful loons calling in the distance.

Connery Pond, June Morning (Fuji X Pro 1, XF 57mm f1.2)

Kayaking in the Adirondacks is also a favorite pastime, and quite unique, given the regions, abundant waterways, and the historic reliance on boats for transport in the remote regions during the 19th century, when a road system was decidedly lacking. Settlers in the region made provisions to travel from lake to lake, and many of those accommodations still exist. Throughout the region, there is a system of short portages, rivers, canals and locks which are still navigable.

Towards Jones Pond ( Sony RX 100)

We paddled on Osgood Pond, Near Paul Smith’s College. Here, there were beautiful “great camps”, many built in the late 19th and early 20th Century including the White Pine Camp, where Calvin Coolidge, once summered. Also, unique were the canals, dug at the turn of the 19th Century, which link Osgood to 2 smaller ponds. This facilitated boat travel to a nearby chapel (which is still there) so that vacationers could attend Sunday services.

Through the Canal (Sony RX 100)

Though in disrepair, the canals are still navigable. On the east end of the lake there is also a river channel which is quite beautiful, that leads to a more distant body of water (Jones Pond). We paddled upstream until a beaver dam blocked our progress.

Turtle ( Sony RX 100)

We did attend the horse show. We watched the jumping events, and marveled at the incredible outlay of money apparently required to participate in this sport. Many owners had extravagant tractor-trailers painted in a unique livery housing multiple expensive horses. The young riders travel to and from the makeshift stables on golf carts, while the staff warms the horses up. A modest selection of equestrian related venders catered to very expensive tastes. There was one venue with food and beer, but the tables were “pre-sold” and we were apparently not one of the buyers.

Walking the Course ( Fujifilm X Pro 1, XF 50 200mm f3.5)

 

It was fun to photograph the jumping action, but, otherwise, this was not my favorite Lake Placid event.

Up and Over ( Fuji X Pro 1, XF 50 200 f3.5)

Speaking of cameras; I took a variety of cameras on the trip including my Nikon D600, my Sony RX 100, and my Fuji bodies. I shot mainly with 2 cameras at my side, the X100s, and the X Pro 1 with the XF 57mm f1.2. This proved a wonderful combination for landscape shooting, the longer focal length lens allowing me to focus on and separate small details of the lush June landscape.

Three Birches and a Pine (Fuji X Pro 1, XF 57mm f 1,.2)

I did shoot the X Pro 1 with the XF 50- 200mm f3.5 during at the horse show grounds, and found it fairly easy to obtain good action shots. I used the Sony in the kayak, and around town, but on a bright sunny day, definitely missed having a view finder to compose with. I still find its image quality quite compelling for such a small camera. Once the new RX 100 Mark III (which has a viewfinder) drops in price, I may buy one.

One unfortunate event: the hotshoe popped off my X Pro 1. A Google search suggests that this is not an isolated event, but may be a weak spot in the Fuji body’s construction. I have not had a flash on the camera, but did have a thumb grip loosely inserted into the hotshoe. I have now taken the thumb grips off my other Fuji cameras. Be warned.

Bridge at Herron Pond (Fuji X 100s)

So June turns out to be a pretty good time to visit the North Country. As always we had a wonderful outdoor experience, and had a great time with our friends. Though I love my home in Pennsylvania, I look forward to returning to the ‘Dacks.

 

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Weather Sites for Photographers

 

Early November Snow (Fuji S5 Pro, Tamron 17-50mm f2.8)

As a landscape photographer, it is important to have a fairly intimate sense of the environment in which we work. Knowledge of seasonal events, topography, and the native flora and fauna, are important when planning a day in the “out of doors”. Knowledge of the weather is paramout among these.

Thus, a vital service to outdoor photographers is an accurate source of weather information. It is important for a variety of reasons, affecting both the aesthetics culture work, and your personal comfort and safety.

Understanding the character of light one will be shooting in, is extremely helpful in planning your day. An example of this is the difference between shooting on cloudy versus sunny days. On shooting days I tend to awaken early if I know that the weather will be clear. It will be worth it to drag my butt out of bed, anticipating that there will be interesting lighting at, and around sunrise. If I know it will be cloudy, I will sleep in, secure in the knowledge that the light at the  more leisurely hour of say, 10:00 AM will be essentially the same as the light at 5. Understanding the weather well enough to predict a heavy fall hoar frost, or or morning fog, can open up new shooting opportunities for the intrepid photographer .

Sunbeams (Olympus E-20n)

On a sunny day, I will have a selection of polarizing filters packed for various lenses I may use, on cloudy days (unless I’m shooting flowing water). I will tend to leave them at home. Again on a brightly sunny day, I will likely forgo a tripod for a more convenient monopod, as the light will be abundant, and the shutter speeds higher.

Having accurate weather information helps one to understand, how to dress, and what protective gear you will need if any, for your equipment. Different elevations will have different weather conditions on the same day, and having an information source that takes this into account can be very helpful, if not life-saving.

Asters and Storm Clouds (Fujifilm S2 Pro, Tokina 28-80 ATX f2.8)

Having accurate and specific weather information is extremely helpful to avoid hazardous situations. If I am shooting for instance from a kayak, it is important to know whether thunderstorms may be lurking in the distance. Being caught in the middle of a large body of water during a storm featuring high winds and/or lightning can be extremely dangerous. Accurate real-time weather information is extremely helpful to avoid this.

 

So, needless to say, I have had a great interest in various weather services and websites (particularly the latter) over the years. It is particularly helpful, that increasingly sophisticated “smart phones” can allow us to bring that information with us when we’re in the field

The various for-profit weather services have been in him a sort of “arms race” with their websites. Unfortunately, much of the evolution of the sites I think has been to facilitate the advertising that they feature, rather than to make him more functional for users.

For the last several years, I have made use of Accuweather’s website and mobile app. This is in part because it was founded by a group of Penn State meteorologists, whom I have memories of watching as boy, when they appeared on the university’s own weather show. It is also because I have grown to dislike its main competitor, The Weather Channel and it’s constant moralizing on “global warming”, “climate change” or, whatever we’re calling it now.

Whiteface Fall Morning (Fujifilm S2 Pro, Nikkor 70-200mm VR f2.8)

The problem with both of these weather services however, is the lack of specificity of their weather reporting. Forecast and real -time temperatures for instance, will be reported as the same for both my  home township, versus Wilkes-Barre, which located in the “Wyoming Valley” is between 800 and 1500 feet lower. Turns out that the major weather services  recognize only the temperatures measured at our local Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Airport, which is situated  at an intermediate altitude.

I live at a location that is fairly high for Pennsylvania. Temperatures at my home can be as much as 12 degrees cooler than those in the city, depending on weather conditions. Especially in the early spring and late fall, this can be the difference between a valley rain event, and significant snow in the mountains.

There are other problems. Recently Accuweather has adopted a strategy of making the “free” website extraordinarily irritating by allowing you to open advertisements by merely scrolling over them (rather than clicking on them). This makes the website very difficult to use. Featured prominently on the site however, is a “premium offering” with no advertising and a more convenient format. It is definitely more usable, and I was willing to sign up for this, but at $8 a month, it seems somewhat pricey. So I began to look for other options.

I should mention another useful weather site run by NOAA, which is www.weather.gov. This features tons of useful information on both the atmospheric and hydrologic conditions  throughout the US. I particularly like the “graphical forecast “page, which has multiple weather variables which can be overlaid over a map of you region which progress as you scroll through the upcoming days and nights, giving you a good sense of when and where for instance, the rain forecast for tomorrow will start and stop.

Looking Back (Nikon Coolpix 4300)

In my search, however, for a “bread and butter” weather source, I revisited Weather Underground. In past experiences, this free site was intriguing in concept, but quirky and not very useful. It was apparently founded at the University of Michigan’s meteorology department, but the current entity is a commercial organization, that in 2012 was purchased by The Weather Channel. The infusion of cash may be the reason that it seems to have evolved.

It is based on an interesting premise, linking web-linked private weather stations, some with associated webcams into a network, allowing access to very specific weather data. Coverage is spotty, particularly in wilderness areas, but it is still more useful than the very nonspecific data offered by its parent organization and their competitors.

The website and smartphone app are now particularly useful. Once configured with your location, virtually all of the data you might need, from a radar map, current conditions, forecast trends, sunrise and sunset times, and hour-by-hour forecasting are all available at your fingertips on the main page. There is no need to scroll page- to-page like the other popular weather sites.

The site allows, you to choose a weather station that is most germane to your desired location, or will find one automatically. It also appears to base its forecast in some way, to the conditions relative to the station chosen. A weather reporting site located for instance, in Wilkes-Barre will have a different forecast high temperature, than a nearby one at higher elevation. You can store a variety of favorite weather stations for future reference.

You can choose a map showing wind speed, direction and temperature data, for all of the stations in your vicinity. Some will have webcam icons associated with them. Clicking on the icon will bring up the image in your browser. Also, the Android application that I use can locate you on a map using cell tower information, or better yet GPS. This can be very helpful, when you’re out in the wilderness, away from landmarks, and there is foul weather approaching.

October Snow at Glen Summit ( Olympus E 510, Zuiko 11-22mm f2.8)

The advertisements featured on the site, are not intrusive. It has a clean, uncluttered layout with large fonts, perfect for aging eyes. Much of the site can be customized to suit the user.

Weather Underground has thus become my default weather source. Its convenience is no small thing to me, and I suspect other outdoorsman, and particularly photographers, who utilize it.

 

I just hope The Weather Channel doesn’t screw it up.

 

 

 

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