Saturday, September 13, 2014

DOF-- DSLR versus Midrange Camera

I have a friend who takes absolutely beautiful pictures of her jewelry. I asked her how I could get such great pictures and she said get a better camera. In general, and as far as I know, you really can't get much "depth of field" (DOF) effect with a digital camera without a DSLR.

A shallow depth of field creates the blurry background effect. What some people might call the vignette effect. Continuing, where I say "DOF", I am referring to SHALLOW DOF, which is the more correct term for the vignette effect.

To begin, let's just get this out of the way. I'm a Nikon fan. I know Canon fans and Nikon fans are extremely devoted, some even rabid. I won't go into which camera is better. But, I do like Nikons much better. I am going to talk about some pictures that I shot with a Canon midrange G12 and a Nikon DSLR 5200. When I bought the Canon, it was the quality that I could afford at the time. It never was really up to par. But, I am comparing apples and oranges here, so let's forget about the brands. The point is my Canon is a step up from a point and shoot and my DSLR is an entry level DSLR. 

My friend's pictures are really great because her jewelry is always the center of attention- or, some point of it. Whatever she wants you to see is in sharp focus and the rest isn't. If you are really, really good, you can do this with photoshop, but it will never look quite as good as if you had done it in camera and it will take a long time.

In the simplest terms, shallow DOF is achieved with low f numbers. If I get more complicated, it just gets confusing- so, just remember- You want the lower f numbers for good shallow DOF. The lower the number, the more blur in the area outside the point of focus. But, the lower the number- the more light you will need, too. Keep reading for more on that.

(For those of you who really understand cameras- just go with me here, I'm trying to keep it simple.)

Shameless plug- All of these pieces are available in my shop. 

Here are some pictures I threw together using a light tent and color correct bulbs. I manually set the white balance on each camera. (That is another subject.)
This picture of an agate piece was taken by the Canon. You can click to enlarge. It is cropped from the RAW image.

Below is the image adjusted in PS (Photoshop). Notice the background rocks are mostly in focus. They are also darker than in actuality.

Here is the RAW cropped Nikon DSLR image:

Below is the adjusted image. All I had to do was bump up the light and contrast 5 points- not much, at all. The DSLR is very good at gathering light.

You see how the rocks are now fuzzy and seem to actually slip into the background, creating a 3-d look. The agate is the most in focus. Which is what I want.

I chose to show you a few of the most difficult rocks for me to photograph. With the Canon midrange, it took forever to get the best shots, which still required lots of post processing. I don't like to do much post processing because I run the risk of the picture not looking like the piece. I always used Aperture Priority on the canon because that is the setting that allowed me to adjust the f number. I used the smallest number available, but it wasn't small enough for really great effect.

With the DSLR, it is super easy to dial in a lower f number and use manual to gather the light I need in a light tent. On manual, there is a nifty little sliding scale that tells you if your image is under or over exposed. All you have to do is adjust the f number and/or the exposure time to get the right exposure. A longer exposure time allows more light to enter the lens. It couldn't be any easier and I get consistently good results.

Here's another set of Canon pictures. This bloodstone was extremely hard to get a good picture of. Getting the exposure right turned out to be impossible with this mid range camera in a light tent.

First is the cropped RAW image, second is post processing. I like to have white backgrounds because they look best online- at least, I think so anyway.

Here are the DSLR images cropped and processed.

Notice again the DOF and how it makes the stone pop. Notice, too that the "blood" shows up much better and is much closer to the real thing.

Here are two Montana agates that were really hard to photograph.

Canon: (I even had to use a handheld light to shine on it!)

Nikon: (No handheld light.)

Both are in front of white backgrounds for a backdrop to the pattern in the stone. The DSLR gathers more light and does a better job of revealing the stone's true character. The DOF also helps the stone pop.

And for the last one, another Montana agate. (Never mind the dust.) :

.... and DSLR

I think this comparison was the most dramatic. I always found Montana agates hard to get, but with the DSLR, it is really easy.

So, if you are still reading and you have a camera that will allow you to select "AV" or Aperture Priority shooting mode, dial in a low f number and start shooting. You will need to bring the camera back a little to allow it to gather more light. If you have enough pixels, you can easily crop in your image.

If you can afford it and you are ready to step it up a notch, get a DSLR and don't be afraid to go full manual. It, honestly, is very easy to use. It'll take a little while to learn the buttons, but it will so be worth it.

If you are in the market for a camera, go to Ken Rockwell's site. He has, what I have found to be, the best review site online. Do yourself a favor and look for a tilt monitor. I, initially, bought the D3200 and promptly returned it for the D5200 which has the articulated monitor. You can usually find really good deals on cameras which are a few years old and are still perfectly good cameras. Remember that you need higher mega pixels to crop in without loosing definition. And, for a mid range camera, you'll want macro capabilities, though most all have it. (It is usually the setting with a flower.) With a DSLR, it is the lens which will need to be macro. However, true macro, when talking about lenses, is different from the macro function on a camera. You will likely NOT need a true, expensive macro lens. I don't have one and I have no troubles. The 18-55mm Nikkor lens bundled with my camera worked fine, but is bulky, so I got the all purpose 35mm Nikkor lens. Ken Rockwell recommends it, so I got it and it is working fine.

Hope this was helpful. I found most of my research on DOF to be daunting, so I really wanted to write something simple and easy to understand. :)

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Rock in my Pocket

I could have called this shades to come.

Have you ever looked back on why you do what you do to express yourself, whether it be painting, sculpting or lapidary, and wonder, "Where did it start?" Did it occur to you that you were oddly and magnetically attracted to the oil paintings of the Masters. Did you have to hold your free hand at your side with other to keep from running it down a finely sculpted curve? Do you sometimes think that that was where it all began? Unbeknownst to you, at the time, you had chosen your muse, or, rather, your muse had chosen you. It probably took many decades for you to pick up a brush and you probably never gave a thought to the little butterflies in your belly when you viewed a beautiful painting. You just knew that you wanted to paint. After the initial struggles to become proficient enough to let your guard down, maybe you stood back, took a breath and were transported to the memory of you standing in awe of the Masters.

I used to take nature walks with the kids when they were little. Granted I live in suburbia, but there was a little slip of woods nearby with a stream, berries and trees- lots of trees. I use to point out the trees and name them for kids just as my mother did. I got pretty good at identification and so did they.

One day, on our little walk, I happened to look down instead of up and saw a mish mash of rocks at my feet. Now, understand, there really aren't rocks around these parts. The ground is more sand and clay. Where the rocks came from, I don't know. Maybe some boys were playing and left them. Perhaps they were from a recent drainage project and they were fill. Dunno. But, one really piqued my interest, so I bent down to pick it up. It wasn't much to look at, but it had a great waterworn side which fit my thumb. I stuck it in my pocket.

Once home, I remembered it again and studied it a bit. It contained mysteries. Quiet mysteries. It was something that I just liked to look at and wonder. What kind of rock was it? Where did it come from? Could I polish it? What was inside of it? I even named it, but sadly, I have forgotten the name. It was so long ago. 25 years probably.

I put the rock in my purse. I don't even know why. I just wanted to keep it. I wanted it near me. I didn't want to lose it. I took it out now and again to rub the smooth spot and contemplate whatever it was that made me want to rub it. Who knows what those things are? Who knows what thoughts kept me mindlessly rubbing my thumb over it? I don't.

I was still carrying it around with me when I was in college. I made it a point to ask someone in the rock club what kind of rock it was. Someone said, "Feldspar." Ok, feldspar, though I know better now.

I don't remember when it left my purse. But, at some point, it sat on a shelf with some other treasures and then I slowly realized that it wasn't there anymore. 

Years passed. Vocations came and went. I took up wire wrapping, but my heart was always in the rocks. I dreamed of one day cabbing and then dismissed those dreams as just that.

As it happened, my dream came true and I found myself the owner of a cabbing machine. And, what do you think was my first thought? I wanted to cab that little rock I had found years ago and had forgotten about! I lamented that I had lost it. I sincerely regretted it. For all those years it had intrigued me. It could well have planted the little seed in the back of my mind to pursue lapidary! But, now it was gone.

I've been cabbing for a few years now and I have held out hope that my rock would reappear.

While cleaning out some trinket boxes the other day, I found my rock! I was surprised by how happy finding it had made me. My husband came home and I told him to hold out his hand. I placed the rock in his hand and as he opened his palm, his eyes lit up. He remembered it, too. It was an odd, heart warming moment. Silly, I know.

Now that I have it again, I wonder, should I cab it? At one point, early in our relationship, I tried to use a dremel to find out it's secrets. I thought I could get the rough exterior off. No, that was not happening. It's a tough rock to crack. I'm thinking that it is an agate, but I still have no idea where it came from.

It had obviously been in the water a long time. Recently, I have heard there are butterscotch colored stones on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Maybe, it came from there.

I think if I cab it, I can get an ID. But, I have decided that I love it just the way it is, mysteries and all.


Friday, August 1, 2014

You Ever Wonder?

I recently bought a stone which is so awesome in every way. When I saw it, my heart skipped a beat. I was in love! The mastery in framing up the cab just can't be overstated! Naturally, I contacted the artist to inquire about it. He offered to put it on reserve while I paid on layaway for it. In the end, though, I decided that I just could not risk someone else buying it while it was on reserve. So, I gladly forked out the money, which was a lot, yet, a pittance to pay for something so rare and captivating. You all know by now that I am a sucker for a pretty rock. It's not even in my hands yet and I'm all gaga over it. LOL!

Cobalto Calcite and Malachite Druzy (image rights:  Devali)

I digress. Back to the point of this post... I wondered, did Devali wonder, when he was creating this, how it might effect this one random human on the planet? After he sold it, did he wonder what the new owner intended to do with it? Of course, I can't read minds, so I thought about my own work.

When I am creating something, I just want to make something that I would wear and that hopefully someone else would want to wear. I want the jewelry to showcase the stone and for it to be durable and attractive, too. When I am cabbing, I want to bring out the sweet spot in the slab. Maybe I lack the imagination to try to envision who would wear the piece being created.I don't know.

All of the above is true during the act of creation. But, after a piece or a cab leaves me, then I wonder about where it has gone and for what purpose. I wonder if the new owner of one of my pieces will design a necklace for it, or wear it on a cord. I wonder if it will be a gift. Is it for a special occasion?  Did it make their heart skip a beat when they saw it because it was just so perfect for them? Is it for their collection? Did they put it on and wear it for a week straight because they loved it so much? I like to think of how they feel when they get a compliment. I like to imagine the story they tell about it. Maybe, they were just browsing Etsy, stumbled across it and had to have it. Maybe someone bought it who practices healing therapy. Maybe the stone gives them relief for an ailment.

As for my cabochons, I think I wonder even more. I assume that a majority of people are buying to make their own jewelry. I wonder what they will make. Will they wire wrap a pendant? Will they set it in silver or gold? What style will it be? Will it be for them, to give or to sell? Will it go in their collection? Will they just resell it? What attracted them to the stone? Was it the material, the cut or the metaphysical properties? Did it speak to them the way stones speak to me?

Seraphinite Angel Wings and Spinel

I rarely get a glimpse into the reasons why people acquire my things. However, I was blessed with hearing at least one story. It was touching enough that it gave me a new appreciation for what I do. Shortly after the school massacre in Sandy Hook, CT, I got an order for a lovely seraphinite (aka angel wings) and green spinel pendant. I contacted the buyer to thank her and she shared with me that the pendant was to go to her daughter in law. She lived in the next town over from Sandy Hook and knew some of the people directly involved. The pendant was an offering from the caring mother in law to help her daughter in law to heal her psychic wounds. I was so touched by her story and humbled, too. The world got smaller and I was only happy to be part of the healing process. In some tiny way, I felt what a doctor must feel sometimes.

Hearing the story of the angel wings was very moving. I wonder how many other stories were just as powerful? I know that there are many people attracted to handmade jewelry for the emotional power that the creator imbues into the piece. I must assume that there are lots of very inspiring stories out there. I hope that something I have done has inspired someone the way the cobalto calcite inspired me.

So, getting back to my cobalto calcite... What will I do with it? Believe it or not, I am going to get a shadow box frame and hang it on the wall so I can look at it every day and be reminded of the beauty in nature and to be inspired in my own cabbing. :)


An update on my nephew:

He had his stem cell transplant (bone marrow transplant) and faced radiation and chemo like a champ. He got through everything with flying colors and is now in a hospitality house near the hospital for the daily check ups. He was transferred in record time and continues to thrive and do well. I'm so happy for him and his family. :) Thank you everyone for the prayers and well wishes.

Sunday, June 29, 2014


I've done three of the "no bail" pieces so far. The last one came out so beautifully that I couldn't wait to share it with the world. I listed it on Etsy last night.

Each of the three pieces have been a little different, in terms of technique. By the third one, I had worked out the best way to make a very functional and visually pleasing bail. It is also a little smaller. My first two were larger than they needed to be. As a result, the pendant hangs even more beautifully. I'm really pleased with the last revision. But, I will make a few more to see if I need or want to make any further refinements before I start thinking about a tutorial.

Is this style called a "slide" pendant? I can't quite figure this out for myself, despite looking online for an answer. Maybe I was looking in the wrong place.

Beautiful Willow Creek Jasper
(I don't know why blogger darkens my images!)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Inspiration or Theft? Intellectual Property Rights

According to Merriam Webster online-- Inspiration : something that makes someone want to do something or that gives someone an idea about what to do or create : a force or influence that inspires someone

I was inspired by a post on facebook by Perri Jackson, of ShaktipajDesigns, wire wrapper extraordinaire and super hero for Intellectual Property Rights. (You know you are, Perri! :) ) Though, I am not as eloquent as she, I'd like to finally make a post on the subject myself.

When I began wire wrapping, there weren't the resources there are now. (There also weren't as many styles of wire working!) As I have said before, I started with Preston Reuther and some of his videotapes on wire sculpting. However, the true worth of those old videos were to inspire me to do my own thing.

Early in my career and still to this day, to a lesser extent, I collected online images of work that I liked. I never had a conscious notion of copying any of them. I just liked them. They were eye candy. They were inspiring. I'm sure most of you have a folder or two on your hard drive with images that just struck you for one reason or another.

The problem with my images, is that over time, I have forgotten who did what and where I got what image. Now, I save webpages instead. They give me more information about the artist. Why is that important? Because I want to give credit to an artist, if an artist has inspired something that I do.

But, that was not always the case. Early on, I had no real clear ideas about what Intellectual Property Rights were. It, honestly, never occurred to me that there was a human being behind that creative thought along with many hours of brainstorming, frustration and work. They were just images. No more, no less. I mean, I did stop and think, "Man, I really like this girl's work." But, I didn't put two and two together that she OWNED that idea.

It's not because I am a bad person that I ignored the effort and time that someone else invested in their work. Rather, I was ignorant. I was in my own little corner of the planet, harmlessly collecting eye candy and hopefully being inspired by some to create something of my own.

I never deliberately copied anyone. Just as a child knows not to steal, I knew not to outright copy someone else's work. To me it is the same as cheating in a game. If you win, it's not really much fun, is it? I mean, did you really win? No. You didn't. The same is true if you copy someone's work. It's cheating and you can't claim any credit for winning. That much probably seems clear to a lot of people- at least the honest ones.

What happens when some of that eye candy influences what you do? Maybe, the image was in the back of your mind while your hands were busy working and you aren't even really aware of it. Maybe, when you were finished with your piece, bells started going off and you realized that you have seen something like that before? It happens. It happens more often than most people will admit.

What do you do? Well, if you have the name of the artist, you only share your work with the caveat that it was inspired by so and so. Hopefully, the only thing you did was unconsciously duplicate a technique to use in your own work. That is, actually and legally, acceptable because you can not claim a technique as your own. You can claim your design as your own, though.

The tricky part comes in when you look objectively at your work. If someone didn't know it was yours, would they recognize it as the other artist's work? If so, you have copied their work. Yup, you did. Maybe you didn't realize it, but you did. If not, then congratulations! You have taken eye candy from another artist and used it to create something truly your own. You should still give the artist credit for inspiring you. Yes. Because it is the right thing to do and, believe you me, you would want the same thing done for you.

With the explosion of handmade jewelry and the availability of the internet to virtually everyone, sharing your work online can be frustrating and sometimes down right heart breaking. I have a unique style. One that is immediately recognizable. Lots of people are inspired by it. I get very nice emails on a daily basis from fellow wire artists.

Some messages are not so nice. Consider one email that I got that threatened that if I didn't want to sell my book or tutorials anymore then she would just have to steal them online somewhere. Or, how about the people that want more pictures because they ADMITTEDLY want to duplicate your work? I have had people who, at first, loved my work until I declined a custom job at their price, only to be personally and professionally berated and belittled for it. Or, how about the people who ask specific questions about a technique, get a time involved, detailed, generous explanation-- without so much as a thank you?? Yes, some people are nasty.

I want people to understand- there are human beings behind the work you see. We feel. We work hard. We think, plan and practice. We do not have to share anything, but we do. And it hurts our feelings to know that we get so little respect for our humanity and creations that people would blatantly steal from us and, in some cases, gloat about it, right to our face. I use the plural because I know, for a fact, that I am not the only artist that this happens to.

Yes, we have heard that we need a tougher skin. (As if we are guilty of something and need to be fixed.) No. We don't need to suck it up. People should just NOT steal from us or be mean spirited for no good reason. My mother didn't spend all that time in labor just so someone can abuse me, my work and my intellectual property rights.

You should not put up with abuse, either. Put your name on your images. If you see someone whose work is just a little too close to your own, send them a simple, polite note stating that you are happy to have inspired them and that you would appreciate credit for it. Yes, I have done it. I have also contacted other artists whose work was being copied and let them know about it. Many really big artists are copied all the time. It is easy to spot. It is much easier than the guilty party imagines. 

You know what? Just remember the Golden Rule- Treat others as you would have them treat you. Be honest and expect honesty from others.


My admission:

Years ago, I ran across a style on eBay that really intrigued me. I downloaded an image and forgot about it. Then one day, I was perusing my eye candy and decided to give the technique a try. At first, I didn't think to give credit because I didn't know any better. After I realized that I should, I was confronted with the fact that I didn't know the artist's name. It wasn't on the image. I had no idea how to find the name, so I gave credit to an unnamed artist from eBay.

Please! Put some kind of information on your images.

The original eye candy
My inspired piece

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Wire Wrapped Bails and Not

Bet y'all thought I was gone for good, huh? LOL! Well, I'm baaaaaack....

I'm sure you can relate. I was in a slump. I wasn't making anything new. I was boring myself to death. Cabbing was taking up a lot of my time and energy and then I got bored with that and felt a renewed interest in wire work. I decided that I would try to take a new approach to break from my shell. As y'all know, my work doesn't incorporate a lot of coiling, weaving and curls. So, my options were pretty limited. Time to think outside the box. What can I do that is even more minimal?

Enter- the "bailess pendant". Yes, of course, it has a bail, but it is behind the piece. It hangs very well, too. Then I thought- OK, what about a different kind of bail?

Enter- the double bail. This was murder to do! But, the next one will be easier and I have a few things I want to try differently, too. 

For the first time in a very, very long time, I am considering doing another tutorial. But, since they are so time consuming for me, I can't predict when it will happen. I was thinking of doing one for the bailess pendant. I think it has a lot of possibilities, which I intend to explore. And that's just what I am off to do.

Thanks for reading along. :)

Friday, April 18, 2014

When Will It End?????

Some of you reading this may think that I, being barely in the South, have no good reason to complain about this past Winter (or is it?). But, I assure you, though we didn't get snow in high double digits, it has been brutal, nonetheless. Winters are tough on me with this one being downright unbearable. I need to move out to the sunny West where I can cab when ever I want to.

We did have a small break in the cold temps. I thought the cold days were behind us. Yay! I was cabbing every second I could get. I was happy to cut into all the slabs I have been collecting during the past few months. I have some really special ones calling my name. But, just when I get into the swing of it... it turns cold again! Wouldn't you know it- it turned just after I packed the cold weather clothes and coats. (I shoulda known better!)

I cabbed a lot of nice cabs and realized that I needed a shop just for my rocks, so I opened a new rock shop on etsy. It's been doing really well, which encourages me to cab even more.

I have many categories of cabs. I have my personal collection, which I can't bear to part with; my stack to turn into jewelry; my stack to sell and my stack to give as gifts to purchasers. I try to send a free cab with every order. These aren't throw aways, but ones I know I'll never use and don't want to list. The habit is not unique to me, many rocks hounds follow this tradition of lagniappe. I've been the lucky recipient of quite a few nice rocks myself. :) It makes me happy to do this and I like to think the recipient is happy, too.

I don't have any pictures today. But, you can see some of my recent cabs in my shop. If you have a look, check my sold ones, too. A few top shelf ones already sold.

I had no real direction to go with this post. I thought I would only complain about the lingering season of yuck, but now I see that I really wanted to talk about cabs.

I have taken a break on my silversmithing because I ran into a problem with getting firestain/firescale and I want to make sure that I don't continue with any bad habits before I return to the torch. More on that later.

Some of you may remember that my nephew has leukemia.I have good news on that front. He found 3 matches who were perfect 8 out of 8 matches for him. So, he will be leaving soon for a bone marrow transplant. It will be a very long, rough, painful road for him. We feel confident for the outcome, though. I am eternally grateful to those perfect strangers who volunteer their bone marrow. And, to the hospitality house which he will be able to stay in.

Well, I just wanted to update y'all. I hope you, too, are shaking off the last of the Winter and getting ready for the sunny days ahead. Have a wonderful Holiday weekend. :)