2013 was a fantastic year for me. Despite my slightly reduced travel itinerary (compared with 2012), I still managed to do quite a bit of exploring - particularly around California and the West Cost. I was able to visit Portugal again with my wife, and we made it out to Hawaii for a long weekend. I'm not sure what 2014 has in store for me, but if it's anything like last year, it should be very exciting indeed.
A cityscape is landscape-like photo of a city, typically taken from an elevated perspective, depicting an urban area in near completeness. There's something incredibly inspirational about viewing a city or neighborhood in such a way. Instead of a collection of streets and buildings, it becomes something that triggers the imagination and fills the mind with possibilities. It becomes a whole thing - something with a personality, and the photo in turn becomes a portrait of the city.
One of my favorite ways of getting to know an unfamiliar city is to take its portrait. I do some research, seek out an elevated location, and attempt to make a cityscape. The act of scouting a location helps familiarize me with a new area. The resulting photo becomes my initial connection to the city, and a wellspring for the rest of my visit. Granted, it's a somewhat superficial connection, but it's a great introduction to an unknown place.
SCUBA diving is something that I've wanted to get into for nearly as long as I remember. Now that I live in California, so close to one of the best recreational dive sites in the world (Monterey), I figured I should't wait any longer before getting my open water certification. After getting my open water certification a couple of months ago, I suspect that I asked myself the same question that many aspiring underwater photographers ask themselves: how am I going to make amazing photos under all that water?
I desperately wanted an underwater camera setup that would provide me with fantastic, publishable image quality, without breaking the bank. This is an extremely tall order, since underwater camera equipment tends to be outrageously expensive. For example, a housing, lens port, and dual-strobe setup for something like a Nikon D800 can easily run $6000+. Not to mention the risks associated with putting a $3000 camera, plus a presumably expensive lens inside a setup like that.
What's an enthusiastic underwater photographer on a budget to do? Let me introduce you to the best budget-friendly underwater setup available today: the Olympus E-PM1, 14-42mm lens, and PT-EP06 underwater housing... just $500! This setup is a steal for the money, and includes everything you need to get started: camera, lens, and housing. The PT-EP06 housing supports three different lenses: the included 14-42mm, the wider 9-18mm, and the 60mm macro. It also supports the standard fiber-optic strobe connections, it's easy to add on underwater strobes once you're ready.
Image quality and handling are a bit of a compromise. As with all of the cheaper Micro Four Thirds cameras, the lack of manual controls can be frustrating. These control annoyances are magnified when the camera sits in the bulky housing, and when you operate it underwater while wearing gloves. Image quality is good at ISO 200, but I don't venture past ISO 800 unless I really must. It's certainly no Nikon D800, but it's a surprisingly capable little camera.
I've augmented my setup with a Zen Dome Port, which is made of curved glass, unlike the standard flat port. This gives a slightly wider field-of-view underwater, and also improves image quality (sharpness) when shooting with wider angle lenses, like the 9-18mm. I've also added a Sea & Sea YS-01 underwater strobe for better color and light at depth.
Despite its few shortcomings and limitations, I feel very strongly about this kit. It offers significantly better image quality than an underwater point & shoot, while costing significantly less than a complete underwater DSLR kit.
The images that you see above and below are from my first few dives with this setup. Stay tuned for more underwater imagery as I gain more dive experience!
A few more sample images from some recent dives at Point Lobos in Carmel, CA. These were taken with the Olympus 60mm f/2.8 macro lens, in the same setup (same camera: E-PM1, same housing: PT-EP06, same lens port: Zen Dome).
Two more with the standard 14-42mm lens, which performs quite well: