Before I send you off for the holidays and abandon you for Jamaica, I wanted to tell you about the New Zealand trip while it’s fresh in my mind.
I went to New Zealand with a hodge podge of impressions garnered from various sources: photographs, stories, and the tourism videos to end all tourism videos – The Lord of the Rings Movies. I went because I’d always wanted to go, and because I only had three weeks for my first trip to Australasia or Oceania or whatever they’re calling it now, and because of its size, Oz seems worth more time than that.
We booked a VW camper van, and like anything when The Legendary H is involved it spiraled out of control in a really fun way and when we got to the rental lot what I thought would be a small camper van was a massive RV. Our rolling home on wheels came with a learning curve, and after we’d emptied the fridge a couple times on sharp corners, we learned it could be locked. We ended in the ditch only once and in classic NZ fashion were pulled out moments later by beekeepers in full beekeeper gear and a flatbed loaded with buzzing hives. We spent most nights camped free in little places close to where I wanted to shoot that night and in the 5am early light.
Our first 5 days was spent on the North Island, the last 2 weeks spent on the South Island. If I were to do it again I’d do just the South Island; it seems to be more my kind of place – the scenery more dramatic, though none of it free of rolling pasture land and sheep. Man, the sheep! I’ve never seen such a sheep-dotted, fenced-in, green-hilled pastoral country in all my life. Favourite spots, hands-down, were Cape Foulwind (I could spend a couple days playing here), Milford Sound (touristy but in the rain it’s a magical place) and all of Fiordland National Park (bring bug repellent and the resolve not to let the Sandflies drive you insane.) Our two days kayaking in Doubtful Sound was awesome. Curio Bay was amazing too.
Nikon D3s, Sigma 24-70/2.8EX, 1/8 @ f/16, ISO 200, Singh Ray ND filters.
This trip was interesting for me because it was the first time shooting on Nikon gear, so there was alot of play involved, and the learning curve wasn’t so much steep as fun. I suspect you know me well enough by now to know I’m not about to go deep into the differences between Canon and Nikon. Beautiful photographs are beautiful photographs and only you know how you made them. But for me the switch to Nikon has been fun. The ergonomics suit me better, the focusing is great, and things like the accessibility of bracketing, a wider EV compensation, and a virtual horizon are a real benefit. But an interesting thing happened. I’ve now shot with the best that both Nikon and Canon offer. And you know what? The end result is still just a photograph.
I’m in the middle of writing a fourth book, and as promised, will tell you more when I can. But it’s less about photography and more about actual photographs. What photographs say and how they are read, what composition communicates, how to balance things, lots of visual language stuff. And between the focus on photographic expression and this new gear, I’ve dug my heals in deeper on my brand neutrality. Photographs matter, brands don’t.
Part of that journey, and while we’re talking about brands, is my new relationship with Sigma. I shot on Sigma lenses for this trip, so now is a good time to talk about that. I took a 70-200/2.8, 85/1.4, 24-70/2.8, 20/2.8, and 15mm diagonal fisheye and shot with all of them. So many of you have asked why I’d chose to go with Sigma instead of the top-shelf pro lenses from Nikon, and the answer’s not really complicated. First, Sigma lent me a stable of lenses so it was a no-brainer. But more than that. I am not a pixel-peeper. I never have been. What matters to me is the photograph, not the pixel-by-pixel analysis. So I thought it would be interesting to shoot with lenses I could comfortably recommend to people who don’t have the budget for top-shelf OEM lenses.
And you know what? I didn’t notice a difference in my images. Will these lenses last as long as some of the weather-proof sealed Canon L lenses? I don’t know. I’d guess pretty close, though the way i beat my gear around, you never know, and part of that is my fault. Some of the lenses stack up beautifully against their top-shelf pro-grade counterparts – the 85/1.4 is gorgeous. The 15mm fisheye rocks. The 20/2.8 is a new favourite. I never once felt I was missing something by not shooting on legendary Nikon glass. Will I get Nikon glass? Of course. At some point. Sigma has no tilt/shift lenses, and the Nikon ultra-wide looks pretty nice. I also need a 300/2.8 and could go either way – Sigma or Nikon. But bang for the buck, especially if you’re not a working photographer who beats the crap out of his gear, my experience with Sigma’s been solid (both now and in the past) and I’m looking forward to playing with them more. Might even get a low-end Nikon and shoot that just to prove again that while a high-end camera might make life easier and create images closer to client specs, it doesn’t mean the low-end stuff can’t create gorgeous, compelling, photographs. It’s time we chilled about all this brand stuff and got back to our first love – making and enjoying photographs.
Nikon D700, Sigma 70-200/2.8EX, 1/640 @ f/10, ISO 400
Anyways. 2010 is drawing to a close. My birthday is tomorrow and I’m joining family in Jamaica so you’re not likely to hear from me. I’ll check in if I can but feel free to just close the browser and enjoy your family and some time off. Thanks so much to all of you for the birthday and holiday wishes you’ve sent, and again my sincerest thanks for being part of my journey. It’s been an amazing year and your support of this blog, my books, and Craft & Vision has been humbling. Thank you so much. A very happy Christmas to those of you who celebrate it, and blessings for a full and peaceful 2011.