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Wildflowers in the Santa Ynez Valley

Santa Ynez Valley, May 2014

Wildflowers in the Santa Ynez Valley
All images on Fuji Velvia 50 film
Click Any Image to Expand

Woah, boy, am I behind on image editing! The photos I'm sharing with you today are from way back in May of this year. We're coming up on Christmas already! I'd like to list out my excuses, but hey, better late than never, right? It actually worked out for the best anyway because I needed some time for these photos to grow on me. There's nothing wrong with them, but they just didn't light my fire when I first saw them.

I took these photos in Los Olivos, California nestled in the beautiful hills of the Santa Ynez Valley. This is wine country, and although I'm no wine connoisseur, I am a connoisseur of rolling hillsides and picturesque landscapes. Luckily for me, the Santa Ynez Valley has both. It's just classic central California out there - lots of open ranch land, big oak trees, that beautiful light. It's easy to see why folks travel here from all over the world (although let's be honest, it's mostly for the wine tasting).

With the recent drought here in California, the hills have been looking less like the Windows XP desktop wallpaper and more like the Mojave Desert. But back in May, the mustard was in full bloom in Santa Ynez, painting the landscape in vibrant swaths of yellow flowers. So on this trip, I loaded up my camera with my high-saturation film (Fuji Velvia 50) and set out to capture the display.

As I mentioned, I initially wasn't pleased with the results. The moral to that story is that I'll always be my own worst critic. Not only that, but I think I'm getting pickier about my photos the more I shoot. I used to be thrilled anytime I got a bit of color and a halfway decent composition. Now I'm a jaded old art critic who demands nothing less than groundbreaking photos. I should relax a bit and ease up on my high standards. I tell my students all the time to stop being so hard on themselves. I suppose there's a lesson to be learned there. Ah, yes, that's right: do as I say, not as I do.

The photos have since grown on me quite a bit and I'm pleased with them now. I think initially I was just so thrown off by the midday lighting. See, I normally take my landscape photos at sunset or sunrise. The light is more dramatic then and it's just become my modus operandi over the years. I specifically wanted to try breaking out of that habit on this trip and trying some photos in the harsher midday light. It took some getting used to, apparently, but now I'm glad I took the photos when I did. I think the color contrast between the blue sky and the yellow flowers is the whole point of these shots, and I certainly couldn't get that at sunset.

I have many more trips to the Santa Ynez Valley in my future. I'm still discovering how I want to capture this place on film, but I think this is a decent start.

Santa Ynez Valley, May 2014

Santa Ynez Valley, May 2014

Santa Ynez Valley, May 2014

Santa Ynez Valley, May 2014

Santa Ynez Valley, May 2014

Santa Ynez Valley, May 2014

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Guest Blog Post: How Does the iPhone 6 Camera Stack Up?

Hi, folks! Nick Carver here. I have another guest blog post for you, this time by Charles Bell all about the new iPhone 6 Camera. Enjoy!

iPhone 6 Camera Review by Charles Bell

At this point, you have surely heard about Apple's latest smartphone, the iPhone 6. After spending some time with the device over the past few weeks, I wanted to share some thoughts on how the phone's camera stacks up and whether or not it's a useful tool for photographers on the go.

Personally, I try to make sure that my camera is with me at all times—you never know when you can get that perfect shot—but it can be cumbersome lugging it around. That's why I sometimes look to my phone to get the photos I may otherwise miss, and that's also why I was curious to see how the new iPhone's camera performed. Sometimes, your smartphone is really all you have.

As for the phone itself, there were three features that instantly impressed me when I began shooting: The clarity, the lens, and the autofocus. Starting with the clarity, I have been able to achieve such pristine images with the phone that sometimes I forget I'm actually taking photos with a phone. It's worth noting, though, that I made the jump from the iPhone 4, so the increase in clarity may not necessarily be there if you own a 5 or 5s. As for the lens, it provides the ability to achieve an almost-wide lens view. It's not going to match the power or capabilities of your SLR, but it does capture a whole lot more than previous iPhones. It's a little jarring that the lens sticks out of the back, but you'll get used to it.

And then there's the autofocus, which is incredibly fast and a huge jump over its predecessors. I've been able to get some great shots that would otherwise be blurry or out-of-focus on my older phone (and I'd love to share them but my screen is being fixed because I dropped it. Sigh.) It makes sense, then, that  Verizon Wireless touts the autofocus as the biggest improvement to the camera in their listing of the phone. It's true—what you're mostly here for is the improved autofocus, which often targets your subject so quickly that it's surprising. However, if you want a truly improved experience, apparently you'd be better off going with the iPhone 6 Plus.

Although I only have the 6, which means I can't personally attest to this, reviewer  Jim Harmer notes that the Plus has some significantly better features than its not-quite-as-pricy counterpart. He, too, pointed to the improved focus, but he also mentioned the optical image stabilization (the regular 6 only has a digital feature). Additionally, it seems like the Plus does better shooting images at night and in other low-light settings, especially when compared to the previous incarnations of the iPhone.

Another reviewer, Amadou Diallo of Forbes, brings up the fact that Apple may be holding out on an iPhone 6s. And if you own a 5s, he recommends that you sit tight before throwing down some cash for the 6 or 6 Plus. He, too, makes mention of the noteworthy autofocus, though many of the other improvements are found simply by upgrading to iOS 8. You can do that if you own a 4s or better, so, again, he suggests holding out for the 6s. However—and here's where we definitely agree—he recommends that "it’s time to consider moving up to the larger screen, higher resolution low light images, and the convenience of Touch ID" if your phone is a 5 or older.

I also concur with Diallo on this point: "But if you want an Apple device, the iPhone 6 is the best camera the company’s made yet." That's really the most important part here, isn't it? So many folks are loyal to their smartphone brand that they probably already have the latest device or are working toward acquiring it. They're aware that there are differences that can make certain phones better than others, but what it really comes down to is what you like. If you prefer Apple devices and need a damn-good camera attached to it, don't sleep on the iPhone 6 for too long.

Charles Bell is a freelance writer who contributes content to several online publications.