Archives for General Photography category

Green Apple in Blue Cup

Once consequence, both good and bad, of putting your work out on the internet is that it is open to critique, ridicule, praise, interpretation, and so forth.  I am well aware of this and welcome all of the above.  I share my work on Flickr, Facebook, and this blog fully understanding some people are going to love my work, some will hate it and most will fall in between.  Comments come in about particular photos all the time and I try to respond back to all.  But some require a bit more in depth analysis and response.

Such is the case with this photograph.  I put it on this blog in 2009 to little fanfare.  Then last night I got the email below in response to it.

Can you pls tell me why you have taken a photo of an apple in a mug. It is on your website and I am sitting here very confused at what the photo means. It hurts me to be so confused. Reply quickly with a response of what gave you the inspiration for this horrendously weird photo.

My first thoughts was “someone is thinking too hard about this” and “why not?”.  But then I got to thinking hard about their question (another benefit of people commenting).  Why did I take this photo?  Do I need a reason to take any particular photo?  Does every photo need to have a story, a background, a purpose, a meaning?

In the case of this photo, there actually was a very specific reason that I took it.  A reason I explained in the original blog post.  It was about color as the subject and analogous colors.  But nevertheless, did I need a reason?  I saw beauty in it’s simplicity.  I liked the color combinations.  I was trying to convey a concept graphically.  Because it was there.

I think most, if not all, art is (or should be) a representation of the individual artist’s vision.  It is a way for me to convey my view of the world to others.  Do I need to justify it further?  Maybe yes simply because I put it out there. Maybe no because it is my vision and my art and that is where it ends.   Maybe, like the art itself, the answer to that question can have 1000 interpretations.  But in the end the art is my expression and it is open to interpretation.  Not everyone will understand it (sometimes I don’t myself).  But I think if they thought about it, they questioned it, they formed an opinion, then my work is done.  No art is universal.  Not everyone will like it or understand it or appreciate it.  But that’s OK.  I’m just glad they saw it.

Thanks for the comments, good, bad and in between.  It’s good to know my art caused some emotion, even if it is classified as “hurt.”  Please keep them coming!

(Side Note:  I had to do a bit of interpretation myself about the email this person sent.  I don’t know for sure that he/she really did not like the photo.  The phrase “horrendously weird” doesn’t imply too much love, but the comment sender was not from the US so the meaning to them could be totally lost on me.  Interpretation all the way around!)


Instagram is DownInstagram, Facebook, Flickr and Twitter are filled with photographs of peoples’ lunch.  From Big Macs to foie gras, if they’re eating it, it’s being posted somewhere.  But who knew it was now an issue that warrants attention from the New York Times.  But apparently in some establishments it has become more than just a bad photography issue as some  Restaurants Turn Camera Shy.  This article may blow the “problem” out of proportion just a tad.  Maybe this is a New York City issue, but as often as I eat out in Phoenix I have never been terribly inconvenienced by someone snapping a picture of their plate before they dig in.  I do think the practice is way overdone and am not certain why every meal needs to be documented.  But I would think the diner pulling out a tripod or standing on their chair to get an aerial shot of their dinner are the exceptions that don’t necessitate outright photography bans.

Regardless, this is an interesting take on where photography has come with cameras being in every pocket and purse.

If you’re not familiar with an extension tube or haven’t used one it is worth the relatively small investment to get some and see what you can come up with.  There are several brands and mounts available for all the major brands (Canon, Nikon, Sony).  Check out extension tubes on Amazon for some of the better deals.

The basics: An extension tube is a lens accessory that is attached to the lens mount of the camera at one end and to the lens itself at the other.  The tube has no optical element in it and it may or may not have and electrical contact.  Those with a contact can retain the auto focus of an AF lens (but at a bit more cost) while those without the contact convert an AF lens to manual focus.  By adding an extension tube between the camera and lens it allows you to move the lens further away from the camera.  By doing so it allows the lens to focus much closer on an object resulting in objects smaller than the sensor still filling the frame.  So they are ideal for macro photography and could eliminate the need for a specialized macro lens.

These photos are of my dog Rylee, a very good model.

Dogs and Extension Tubes One

Dogs and Extension Tubes Two

Dogs and Extension Tubes Three

First a disclaimer, the subject matter of these photos is not really relevant to this post.  The important thing is the light and the  shadow that it casts for the purposes of this post.

I am not an expert on flash photography and generally avoid it when I can.  But when done right, flash can play a very important role in your photographs.  So I have been studying up on flash and lighting in general in an attempt to incorporate it more into my photography when appropriate.

I did a little experiment with a speed light (flash) to try out a few different techniques.

The first photo is using a direct flash.  It is off camera (triggered with a transmitter and receiver) and pointed directly at the subject.  This method lights the subject, but it is a harsh light and the shadows created on the wall almost distract from the subject.

Example of using a direct flash on a subject.

Direct Flash

Next I used a 40″ shoot through umbrella (which can be had for a relatively small investment).  By placing the umbrella in front of the flash you are changing the light from the more harsh direct light seen in the photo above to a less direct light that wraps around the subject.  In my case I changed the flash from the 2 to 3 inch direct light to a 40 inch light with the use of the umbrella.  (Umbrellas come in a range of sizes from 30″ to 60″ and sometimes larger.) The resulting photograph still has a shadow, but notice how different it is from the first photo.  The shadow is softer and less prominent.

Example of a subject photographed using a shoot trhough umbrella.

Flash using a shoot through umbrella

Finally I pointed the flash at a wall that was perpendicular to the wall behind the subject.  This allows the flash to bounce off the wall and wrap around the subject.  You can change the size of the flash by moving it closer to or further from the wall you are bouncing it off of.  Int he case of the photo below it was about 3 feet from the wall.  This resulted in basically no shadow at all.  (Note, the flash should have been moved to a different angle to get better light directly on the subject itself).

Example of a photo taken by bouncing the flash off a nearby wall.

Bounced Flash

The conclusion, you need to light your subject with whichever technique works best for you and the look and feel you are trying to present.  But to eliminate harsh shadows bouncing the flash or using a shoot through umbrella can be beneficial.

I have been meaning to set up a store on Etsy to sell prints of my photography for some time now.  But just never got (or made) the time to do it.  But no more excuses or delays it is finally up and running.  I have started with my Lego and candy series of photographs (or here and here) and plan to add more in time.  Check out the Mike Small Photography store on Etsy.

Two years ago I participated in a 365 photo project and fell short of exactly 365 photographs being submitted to the project.  But life does tend to “get in the way” sometimes and I came close with about 331.  I attempted it again last year but found myself not having the will early on in the project.  Let’s just say it was not my best performance.  So that brings us to 2012 and a new 365 project with a twist.  Normally a 365 photo project is one where you take one photo a day for an entire year and shore them either in a Flickr group or on a blog.  This year’s project is called 7 Day Photography.  This project has assigned 7 themes, one for each day of the week and you shoot those 7 themes each week interpreting them as you like.  The themes are pretty broad and open for interpretation, Far, Near, Color, Place, Shape, Face and Open (meaning your pick).

I have done the first week and so far so good.  Only 51 more weeks or about 359 more photos to go.  Please follow along with my images on Flickr in my 7 Day Photography set.

Photograph of a Manfrotto tripodI have quite a bit of travel coming up for my photography and a tripod is essential for my shoots.  Since some of my trips will be quick one day turn-arounds I did not want to hassle with (and pay for) checked baggage.  But I thought a tripod might be categorized as a “deadly weapon” in the eyes of the TSA and not be permitted as carry-on baggage.  So I started doing some research.  Surprisingly there is nothing mentioned about tripods on the prohibited items section of the TSA website.  Nor was there any mention of it on the baggage policy section of the website of the airline I was flying, Southwest.  I did find some anecdotal information on various blogs.  Some saying yes, some saying no, some saying it is up to the mood of the TSA screener that you happen to get.  So it would seem specific policies on tripods as carry on baggage have not (yet) been written.

So here is what I did.  First I called the airline I was flying and asked.  This might be specific to each airline, so be sure to call your airline for their policies.  Southwest Airlines said without a doubt I could bring a tripod in a  bag on board as a carry on.  The also confirmed that it would not be a problem going through security.  Great.  But just in case someone was extra cranky at the security screening and made me check it I took a few further precautions.  I removed the head and put it in my carry-on bag so I would not have to check the more expensive head.  Then I wrapped the tripod up in a blanket and put it in its bag, put a business card inside the bag and a luggage tag outside.  If I did have to check the tripod I would be able to do it quickly without any reconfiguring.

I was able to carry it on for both legs of my trip with no problems, no questions.  But I suspect this is going to vary by airport, screening agent and even day of the week.  Where there are no set rules it is best to prepare for anything.  You should be able to carry a tripod onto a plane without any issues.  But just in case, have it ready to be checked and make the trip safely down below.

Still searching for a gift for the photographer in your life?  If none of the ideas in Tuesday’s post, Photography Gadgets that Make Great Holiday Gifts for Photographers, sparked your interest or you want something more specific for the photographer that loves the outdoors here are some more photography gadgets that make great gifts.

For the photography enthusiast who loves to shoot nature, landscapes and wildlife there are countless gadgets to make them a happy photographer.  Here are just a few.

1) The Green Pod – Think of this like a go anywhere tripod.  It attaches to the bottom of the camera in the tripod mount but instead of three extending legs it has a bean bag sack.  This allows the outdoor photographer to steady their camera on any surface (think rocks and logs) in order to get the stability of a tripod without having to lug one around the great outdoors.  It is also great for steadying those long telephoto lenses often used for wildlife and nature photography.  Not bad for only $22.

2) Camera Sling System – A camera sling system is so much more than a camera strap.  It’s like a super strap.  A typical camera strap has the bulky DSLR hanging around your neck.  On a hike or trek through the jungle the camera is bouncing in every direction.  So you may put it diagonally across your chest.  But then when a surprise shot jumps in front of you there is a lot of fumbling to get the camera into shooting position.  Here is where a Camera Sling System saves the day.  The camera slides along the strap to your eye when needed and then back down to your hip so you can continue on your hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon or the top of Mt. Everest.

3) Binoculars – Wait? Binocualrs? They may have a telephoto lens on their camera but that is not good for scouting ahead for the next great subject to shoot.  A small pair of binoculars like the BARSKA 12×26 WP Naturescape Binocular is light weight and compact which makes throwing them in the camera bag a breeze.  Plus these are water and fog proof which makes them ideal for the outdoor photographer.

4) Rain Protection – One thing that can put a damper on an outdoor photo safari is rain. The Op/Tech Rainsleeve is the perfect solution.  Its like one of those plastic disposable ponchos, but for your camera.  It takes up no room in the camera bag and fits most DSLR camera set ups even with a flash unit on.  There is even an opening for the eye piece so you are not looking through plastic when you compose your shot.  A pack of 2 is under $7.

5) Not sure about going the equipment route for a gift for your outdoor photographer?  No problem.  A subscription to Outdoor Photographermagazine  is a gift that reminds them once a year of how thoughtful you are.  What could be better? Well it does get better. Outdoor Photographer is also packed full of tips, gear reviews and of course photographs aimed specifically at the outdoor photography enthusiast.


So you have a photographer on this year’s holiday shopping list and you are at a loss?  fear not, buying a great Christmas gift for a photographer is a lot simpler than you may think.  Most photographers love the gear and gadgets of photography.  And there are a lot of photography gadgets out there.  Some are just gimmicks but many are very useful.  So here are a few gift ideas for the photographer’s on your holiday shopping list.

Photo of a camera hot shoe level1) Hot Shoe Level – The “hot shoe” is the part on the top of the camera where you attach a flash.  But you can also attach other accessories.  And a level is one such gadget that attaches to the hot shoe.  I have one of these and love it.  For any photographer that shoots architecture or landscapes this little gadget that sells for $10 or less in most cases can be a valuable asset to insure your photos are nice and straight.

Photo of a white balance lens cap2)White Balance Lens Cap – This is no ordinary lens cap.  The serious photographers on your Christmas shopping list are probably not shooting with their camera on automatic.  That includes their white balance settings.  For advanced DSLR cameras today the photographer can set a custom white balance for the specific subject they are shooting. In simple terms that means they can make sure they are setting the camera up for the lighting situation they are in.  This special lens cap allows them to get the white balance customized to whatever lighting conditions they may be shooting under.  These run about $25.

3) Gloves for photographers – Even in mildly cold climates the fingers can be the first to go numb.  That makes it hard to operate a camera.  Mittens are definitely out, they are worse than numb fingers for clicking the shutter.  Regular gloves are often too bulky to manage the small dials and buttons of a camera.  There are of course fingerless gloves available, but that still means cold finger.  But fear not, there is a solution, the Freehands Ragg Wool Knit/Thinsulate Glove.  This glove has “grip dots” on the palm and finger tips that allow you to hold your camera securely as well as manage the controls.  It also has the option of only exposing the thumb and index finger to the cold for better camera control and more protection from the cold.  For only about $22 this can be a great photography gadget for the amateur or professional photographer on your Christmas list.

Photo of a lens pen for clening camera lenses4) Cleaning supplies – Cleanliness is next to Godliness, especially when it comes to expensive (and even not so expensive) camera equipment.  One of the best gadgets I have ever spend $10 on is the Lens Pen.  This is a dual sided “pen” with a retractable brush on one side and a fancy patented cleaning tip on the other end.  Use the brush end for removing surface dirt and dust that if it were to get to the sensor could ruin your photographs and be much more costly to have professionally cleaned.  Use the other end for removing the oils and finger prints from the lens glass.  This little gadget does a much better job than microfiber clothes that often get dirty themselves being carried around in a camera bag and then don’t do much to remove dirt.  Every photographer should have one in their bag and at only about $10 you can be the great friend or family member that puts it in their stocking this year. (Have a cleaning theme going on with this year’s Christmas gifts?  Here is another good small gift idea in that category: Rocket Air Blaster

5)  Lego Camera – Does the photographer on your list already have every gadget known to photography?  How about something just for fun then?  Lego has a camera that looks like a toy but is a real working digital camera.  Granted it is only 3 MP, but the real appeal is the novelty.  And it was not that long ago that 3 MP was top of the line.  So for only $39.99 you can give the photographer who has everything a little camera fun in their stocking.

What is a reverse image search engine?

We are all very familiar with Google image search where you put in your word or phrase, hit search and find page after page of images on the internet that match what you are looking for.  But what do you do when you have the image and need to see where it may be located on the web?  A reverse image search engine of course.  Reverse image search engines allow you to upload or drag-and-drop an image and it scans the web looking for matches.  The results returned are web sites where that particular image is displayed.

But if you already have the image what value is this?  There are a few reasons you might want to search backwards from the image:

  • You have an image and need to know its original source.
  • You need a higher resolution version of an image.
  • Curiosity about how an image is being used on the internet.
  • You own the image and want to see if it is being used against copyrights elsewhere on the web.

Before Google got in the reverse image search game there was one big player on the field, TinEye.

Screen shot of the TinEye reverse image search engine

TinEye is very simple to use.  Upload an image from your computer and the search begins.  If a match is found the sites where that image is located are displayed.

Screen shot of the TinEye image search results

A few drawbacks of TinEye:

  • It is a bit slow for a search engine.
  • It comes back with zero matches more often than I would expect.  TinEye is searching images that have been added to its database.  Granted that is 2 billion + images, but still if the image you are searching is not in their database, you’re out of luck.  I had to do about 6 searched before I found one of my images that was indexed in TinEye (and I used widely published images).
  • If you want more robust search results other than the location(s) of the image on the web they do not offer much.

I love the concept of TinEye and think it can be a good tool for photographers keeping track of how their work is being used (and stolen) on the web.  Unfortunately when Google got into the reverse image search game I think TinEye started to look a little weak.  And as much as I hate to put all my eggs in the Google basket they know how to do search and do it well.  They have transferred that to reverse image search very well making their tool almost all you really need.

Screen shot of Google's reverse image search

With Google’s tool you go to their standard image search page and drag-and-drop an image from your computer into the search box.  The Google algorithms do their magic and the search results page brings back the pages on the web where that image is found in various sizes as well as something called “Visually Similar Images” which are close to your image in coloring.

Screen shot of Google's reverse image search results page

The image I searched is on at least 5 sites per Google’s results, but since it is not in TinEye’s database yet their results brought back zero results.  However, being very familiar with this particular image, I also know that the Google results are not capturing everything.  Other than that when you compare the two, Google just offers a better tool.

Whether you want keep track of your work on the internet or have an image that you need to know the original source of reverse image search engines can be a great (although not perfect yet) tool to track down the location of specific images on the web.  With time I have no doubt both Google and TinEye will expand their search engines and get them caught up with the billions and billions of images that are floating around the web now.