Afternoon Delights in Murrieta, CA

Stephen F. Dennstedt

The temperature this afternoon in Murrieta was a sunny and warm 28°C/82°F with low 11% humidity and a gentle breeze of 5 mph. Typical San Diego weather for this time of year (early spring). In other words: just about PERFECT. A golden opportunity to pursue a plethora of decadent Afternoon Delights.

I sat myself down, on the patio, for an hour’s reflection with: three fingers of 12-year Glenfiddich Highland Single-malt Scotch Whisky, a C.A.O. Brazilia Gol cigar and a good piece of classic literature—in this case Robert Louis Stevenson’s (1850-1894) New Arabian Nights first published in 1882.

A good old dog (preferably a German Shepherd or Labrador Retriever) would have rounded out the experience nicely—but, alas, the dog probably would have wanted some of my Scotch (or a puff of my cigar). The book would have been safe (because everyone knows a dog can’t read) unless he wanted a chew-toy to occupy his time. I can’t think of a better way to pass an hour or two. Retirement is pretty GREAT.


Photography 101: When to Use Manual Mode With Auto ISO

Stephen F. Dennsted

Some so-called photography Purists insist that you should NEVER use any of your camera’s automatic features. I for one don’t find the self-ascribed label Purist particularly helpful—in fact the label is ostentatious and reeks of snobbism. Many Purists hold Ansel Adams up as their poster child for purism—but he was, in point of fact, anything but a Purist.

I find two automatic settings very useful: Auto White Balance and Auto ISO. Canon cameras do a very good job of determining the proper White Balance (or Kelvin temperature setting) of an image and both of my cameras are in Auto White Balance mode 100% of the time. I shoot CameraRAW files so any minor tweaks to White Balance can easily be done in post-processing.

Female Cinereous Harrier

ISO (International Standards Office) is basically the same thing as the old film speed designation ASA (American Standards Association). ISO refers to a camera’s sensor sensitivity to light and ASA referred to a particular film’s sensitivity to light. I know all of you Old Hands with film know that but some of the Noobs coming of age with digital technology might not. My new Canon cameras (EOS 5D Mark IV & EOS 7D Mark II) both allow me to shoot in Manual Mode with the full range of ISOs within the Auto ISO setting (my 5D Mark II would only allow up to ISO 400 in auto).

Long-tailed Meadowlark

They also allow me to program definite ISO limits within the Auto ISO setting. For instance I have set a maximum Auto ISO limit of 12,800 when using my 5D Mark IV and a limit of 6400 when using my 7D Mark II. I am primarily a wildlife, landscape and travel photographer. When shooting landscapes and travel subjects I often have time  for deliberation but with wildlife I usually don’t. Whenever possible, when shooting wildlife, I like to set up my camera before I go out (I can refine those settings in the field if I need to).

Male Cinereous Harrier

My dedicated C1 & C2 user-defined modes are programmed for static and dynamic wildlife photography (C3 is not programmed at this time). C1 & C2 were both programmed using M-Mode (Manual Mode) and then registered to the C1 & C2 modes (making them appear in my viewfinder as C1m and C2m). You can also program C1, C2 and C3 using AV-Mode (Aperture Priority Mode) or TV-Mode (Shutter Priority Mode). Why did I choose Manual Mode with Auto ISO? Simple really.

Female Cinereous Harrier

After shooting for many (many) years (63 years to be exact) I have a pretty good idea of what I want my shutter speed and aperture (f/stop) settings to be: in the case of static wildlife it’s 1/800s @ f/5.6 and for dynamic wildlife it’s 1/2000s @ f/5.6 (again these basic settings can be further refined in the field if time and circumstances permit). I use Auto White Balance and Auto ISO in my C1m and C2m shooting modes—just two fewer things to worry about. With these programmed settings I can confidently concentrate on the subject before me and let my camera do its thing.

Brown-faced Capuchin Monkey

Photographer’s Field Note: When I use Auto ISO I usually have quick access to my Exposure Compensation setting. When I’m “Chimping”  (looking at my LCD screen) I can quickly see if I have to increase or decrease my exposure—using Exposure Compensation is MUCH faster than resetting my ISO. I couldn’t do this on my 5D Mark II but I can with both the 5D Mark IV and 7D Mark II. Improved technology continues to make my life as a photographer easier. SFD

Orange-winged Amazon Parrot

This is just one time when I use the Auto ISO feature on my camera. I will often use it with my camera’s AV and TV programmable modes too. When shooting landscapes, however, I normally try to shoot at ISO 100 and lower my shutter speed as needed. IS-Image Stabilization or a sturdy tripod really comes in handy here. As a general rule the lower your ISO the better your image resolution but with new digital technology the boundaries are being pushed everyday. I can get really good images up to ISO 3200 (and even ISO 6400 and ISO 12,800 in a pinch).

Northern-crested Caracara

I must confess that it amazes me when I hear (some) photographers say: I would never do this or I would never do that—I am a Purist. To each his own I guess but it makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever. To have a modern feature-rich digital camera at your disposal and then to not use its features seems ridiculous to me. I think Ansel Adams would have laughed those guys off the stage and punched them in the nose for calling him a Purist. He was, in fact, kind of a cranky old bastard (kind of like me I guess). Hope I didn’t offend anyone out there in my reading audience.


This New Camera + Lens Combination is Epic

Stephen F. Dennstedt – Photo Courtesy of Shawn A. Dennstedt

I recently got the opportunity to take some of my new photo gear out for a test spin. Here I am using my new wildlife rig: the Canon EOS 7D Mark II camera body (with battery grip) coupled with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM super-telephoto zoom lens. The APS-C crop-sensor body gives me 60% more EFOV (Effective Field of View) when applying its 1.6x crop factor and its autofocus plus 10 fps continuous shooting are stellar. I really enjoyed using this setup. I’m also anxious to get my new Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and its lenses out on the road.

Harbor Seal – La Jolla, CA, USA

Canon EOS 7D Mark II + Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM

1/800s @ f/5.6 ISO 160 @ 340mm (EFOV 544mm)

My son, Shawn, and I spent the late afternoon/early evening hours in La Jolla photographing the wild Seals and Sea Lions. If you’re a photographer (and even if you’re not) it’s a great way to spend an afternoon. If you’re interested in learning more about this location, our photo shoot and seeing more images from the day you can link to my blog post: La Jolla Cove in San Diego, CA. If you’re a local you certainly know where La Jolla is, if you’re visiting San Diego La Jolla is one of San Diego’s most iconic tourist attractions: great scenery, shops and eateries.

Shawn A. Dennstedt – Photo by Stephen F. Dennstedt

La Jolla Cove in San Diego, CA

Harbor Seal

1/800s @ f/5.6 ISO 160 @ 340mm (EFOV 544mm)

Canon EOS 7D Mark II with Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM

Stephen F. Dennstedt

If you ever get a chance to visit my hometown of San Diego be sure to visit La Jolla, one of San Diego’s truly iconic locations. It’s beautiful all year round but especially now in early spring. To see the ubiquitous California Sea Lions and Harbor Seals be sure to checkout La Jolla Cove and the Children’s Pool (which has morphed into Seal Beach). Pupping season began in February so the beach is roped off to give the mothers and pups some privacy but you can still get really close without disturbing them. Here is a great link if you would like more information about seeing the critters: How to See the La Jolla Seals and Sea Lions.

You can see the critters throughout the day but if you’re a photographer late afternoon/early evening is the time to go. This time of year the sun sets at about 7:30 p.m. so anytime between the hours of 5:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. is perfect for the golden light (depending on the time of year you visit these hours will vary). You want the late afternoon/early evening light because it’s coming from the west and illuminates the shoreline beautifully. In the morning the sun is rising from the east and the shoreline cliffs throw everything into deep shadow making it very difficult to photograph the Seals and Sea Lions without a flash.

I recommended shooting the critters with longer lenses: 70-200mm or 100-400mm zoom lenses work well especially with APS-C crop-sensor cameras like the Canon EOS 7D Mark II or the Nikon D500. Don’t forget your wide-angle lenses, however, because the coastline presents some gorgeous opportunities for scenic photography (remember that your APS-C crop-sensor camera can work against you in this scenario). Warning: If you’re like me and get totally in the zone when you’re taking photos beware of the surf. I was kneeling in the sand taking the photo above when three waves came in back-to-back and soaked me to the crotch: shoes, socks, underwear and pants (no camera or lens damage).

Feel free to browse the gallery below (clicking on the images will enlarge them for better viewing). There is only one Sea Lion in this grouping (top row, third photo from the left). How do you know if you’re looking at a Seal or a Sea Lion? Sea Lions have very small external ears whereas Seals just have two holes in their head. The guy with the camera is my son Shawn with my old Canon EOS 5D Mark II and Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM super-telephoto “Prime” lens (I’ve replaced that setup with a new Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM super-telephoto zoom lens combination. Enjoy the photos and visit La Jolla in San Diego if you ever get the chance.

The World Doesn’t Care

Stephen F. Dennstedt

A great quote from Tony Northrup (Northrup Photo): The world does’t care whether you think it’s going to change or not—it’s going to change anyway. Life is about change, it’s always evolving and morphing in new directions, and it has always been like that (from the beginning). How a species adapts to change often determines the difference between life and death—survival or extinction.

As we pursue our passions in life we need to accept that things change. In photography things change all the time—digital technology threatens to leave me in the dust if I don’t adapt and evolve. That’s the way it should be, curiosity and continued learning promotes good mental health and helps to keep an oldster like me young (in mind and heart if not body). We should embrace change not resist it—it keeps things fresh and exciting.


Notoriety and Two Job Offers: Now What?

This is an update to the original blog post . . .

Expat Journal: Postcards from the Edge

Stephen F. Dennstedt

UPDATE (04/25/17): I have officially declined both offers although they were flattering to my ego and tempting. My inner Still Small Voice kept whispering no. I’ve come to rely on that voice more and more as I get older. My remaining time is precious to me and my priorities lay elsewhere right now. Both offers have kindly left the door open if I choose to reconsider my decision. SFD

Since retiring from corporate life in 2011 I’ve really come to appreciate my freedom. My mantra is: Live Simple, Live Cheap, Live Free. I pursue my photography, writing and travel full-time and enjoy myself immensely. It is a very satisfying way to live life (at least for me). It’s hard for people (especially Creatives) to understand my hesitation when it comes to accepting job offers that involve my creative talents—I get that. And though I…

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Roadtrip to Photograph Seals and Sea Lions

Stephen F. Dennstedt

Tomorrow my son Shawn and I are planning to photograph the Seals and Sea Lions in La Jolla (San Diego), CA. How to See the Seals and Sea Lions in La Jolla is a great blog tutorial on how to see and photograph the Seals and Sea Lions at that location. Sunset will occur at 7:27 P.M. so we will probably arrive on site about 4:30 to 5:00 P.M. to catch the Golden Light as the sun slips closer to the horizon (but we can’t let it slip too low).

I’ve photographed the Seals and Sea Lions there before in the early morning hours (just after sunrise) but the sun is in the east and the Cove and Children’s Pool is in deep shade (usually necessitating a Speedlite). I hate shooting flash (especially with wildlife) so we will try the late afternoon/early evening hours instead. The sun will be coming in from the west at that time and if we shoot early enough the Cove and Children’s Pool should be well-lit.

I’m taking my new Canon EOS 7D Mark II and Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM camera & lens combination. I would prefer to shoot with my new Canon EOS 5D Mark IV but I expect pups on the beach which means that it will probably be roped off. Using the 7D Mark II with its APS-C 1.6x crop factor will give me 60% more EFOV (Effective Field of View). That means my 100-400mm lens will behave more like a 160-640mm lens (more reach is always good). Pre-planning the shoot I have programmed my user-defined C1 Mode with the following settings:

Shutter Speed – 1/800s

Aperture – f/5.6

ISO – Auto ISO (with a preset limit of 6,400)

Picture Style – Neutral

White Balance – Auto White Balance

File – CameraRAW

Focus – Autofocus One Shot

Metering – Evaluative

Shooting – Single Shot

These settings can be changed and further refined once I start shooting but they’re a good baseline to start with. If a more dynamic (fast-moving) subject presents itself I can quickly spin my mode dial to C2 Mode which is programmed with: a 1/2000s shutter speed, Autofocus AI Servo (for fast tracking) and Continuous Shooting at 10 fps. All other settings are the same as my C1 settings. When photographing wildlife you don’t want to be fussing with camera settings at the last-minute—you want to stay focused on the subject. I’m hoping that the beach will be accessible and that we’ll be blessed with the beautiful golden light that the early evening hours often provides.

I photographed the two Sea Lions above in the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador (November 2015). The one on the left is just a pup (about one or two weeks old) and the one on the right is more mature. How can you tell the difference between Sea Lions and Seals? It’s really pretty easy: Sea Lions (like the ones pictured above) have little ears whereas Seals just have holes in their head (like someone shot an arrow through their skull). Sea Lions are also very agile on land where Seals kind of flounder—I will refer you back to the blog tutorial I linked to earlier in the post for more information. Seals and Sea Lions have been very controversial in La Jolla for quite a few years—and they still are.