John Santic's Photography Page 

I love taking pictures! It's one of my favorite and most long-lasting hobbies. I enjoy the artistic and technical challenge of capturing an enticing scene on film. I think I have a pretty good "eye", and I'm observant enough and patient enough to produce some good images. When I come upon a good scene, I can feel my interest heighten and my shutter finger starts to itch. I rove around, checking out viewing angles and lighting, while my hands and fingers automatically manipulate the familiar controls on my camera. Once everything looks just right, click, and I add another picture to my collection.

My Favorite Subjects and Locations

I very much like taking pictures of nature: trees, flowers, marshes, swamps, rivers, forests, seashores, mountains, etc. I also like taking pictures of old houses and buildings, old airplanes, old boats, etc. My least favorite subjects are PEOPLE! To tell the truth, very few of my pictures have people in them. If there are people around, I'll wait for them to leave or I'll come back later.

One of my favorite places to take nature pictures is Calvert County, Maryland. There are several parks in the county that provide good opportunities for nature photography. One such park is Calvert Cliffs State Park, near Lusby, Maryland, on the western shore of Chesapeake Bay. This is a park that has nearly everything: flowers, woods, creeks, swamps, marshes, beaches, cliffs. You can experience all of this by walking the Red Trail from the parking lot to the beach (two miles each direction). I have visited the park many times, at least once in each season (winter, spring, summer, fall). I have multiple pictures of some of my favorite scenes, taken in different seasons.

I'll just briefly mention a few other parks in Calvert County: King's Landing Park near Huntingtown (woods, creeks, and marshes on the Patuxent River), Flag Ponds Park south of Saint Leonard (woods and beach on Chesapeake Bay), Battle Creek Cypress Swamp south of Prince Frederick (creek and cypress swamp), American Chestnut Land Trust properties near Port Republic (woods, creeks, marshes, swamp, wildflowers). In addition, there are several creeks off the Patuxent River and a couple off of Chesapeake Bay that have great scenery if you have a small boat.

My favorite place to take pictures of old houses is Charleston, South Carolina. I have visited Charleston several times, including spending six months there on my boat. And it's STILL not enough time! The Charleston peninsula is packed with beautiful old houses, many of which have beautiful gardens.

My Photo Gear

At present, I use two cameras: a film camera, and a digital camera. My film camera is a Pentax ME-super 35mm SLR camera, which I have had for many years. The lens I use all the time is a Tamron SP 28-80mm zoom lens. Most of the time I don't use a flash, but I have a hot-shoe flash unit if I need it. For deep-woods pictures where the light is dim, I usually set up the camera on a tripod with a cable release and just carry it on my shoulder all set up. I also have a little pocket tripod designed for backpackers that I sometimes use. At one time I used a polarizer filter, but I decided it was too easy to crank in too much polarization, plus I frequently could use the one or two f-stops that the filter used up. Now I enjoy the resulting pictures without using a polarizer (I just have a UV filter now).

My favorite film is Fuji Sensia 100 slide film. For many years, I used Kodak Ektachrome-64, but I switched to Fuji Sensia a couple of years ago and am very pleased. It's a slightly faster film, the colors are slightly more saturated (without looking hyper), and I think I get a wider exposure latitude. Sometimes, though, I think the reds are a little too bright. For print film, I use Fuji Superia 100.

I store all my slides in metal slide storage boxes, 750 slides each (made by Logan). For viewing slides, I have a simple Bogen Reflecta B100 AC-powered slide viewer. I also have an old Simon Slide Viewing System rear projection viewer. Although it never worked quite as well as promised, it still is usable. I have a pretty nice (but old) Sawyer slide projector, but I don't use that too often. I recently bought an Epson 2450 Perfection scanner so I can digitize my slides and prints. It does a good job, but it's somewhat slow.

After reading up on digital cameras, I decided to go digital, too. I'm still not convinced that digital is so great, though. The cameras look very fragile and complicated, and are still fairly expensive. It's not so easy storing the huge amounts of image data in the field (something that film does very well!), and I worry about the long-term reliability of image storage media. And if you wind up printing out numerous images on photo-quality paper, the costs quickly add up. Also, some models use up batteries pretty quickly. But it seems inevitable that digital technology will take over still photography, just like it's taking over everything else.

In January 2003, I succumbed and bought a digital camera, a Sony DSC-F717. This is a sophisticated, full-featured camera, with 5-megapixel resolution and a 5x zoom lens. It's a big culture shift from film to digital, and it has taken me quite a while to get used to it. With a sophisticated digital camera, you're no longer using a camera; instead you're using a powerful computer that happens to take pictures. It doesn't get any simpler after you snap the shutter, either. The rest of digital photography seems complex, too, involving computers, image-processing programs, CD-burners, etc. On the plus side, once you learn the tools, you can take pictures, download them to a computer, modify them, and view them, all within minutes. Compare this to the hours or days of time and effort for film, and digital has a HUGE advantage. Having said that, I miss the crisp bright colors from a projected slide—a 14-inch laptop screen just can't compare.

The camera itself works quite well. I'm impressed by the excellent close-up (macro) mode and the autofocus capability. It took me a while to trust the autofocus; you can't easily see very fine detail on the LCD screen to achieve super-sharp focus manually. The zoom lens goes from 38-mm to 190-mm (35-mm equivalent); I wish it went a little further at the wide-angle end. I was surprised that the lens only stops down to f/8, compared to f/32 on my Pentax lens. The camera uses a rechargeable Lithium battery that lasts for hours of shooting. There's a built-in flash. One "gotcha" is that the camera can't use a conventional cable release; you have to buy a special wired remote control gizmo from Sony.

I usually save pictures in JPEG format, using the highest resolution and least compression. This gives me 2560x1920-pixel resolution with very good image quality. Pictures average a little over 2-MB each; I can usually fit more than 50 pictures in the memory. There's also a cute "movie" mode that captures low-resolution MPEG movies with sound. It's all stored on memory sticks, Sony's proprietary version of digital film (instead of the much more widely-available compact flash cards). Due to reasonable price and availability, I use 128-MB memory sticks. I have three memory sticks, which is usually more than enough for a full day's shooting (150+ pictures, comparable to four rolls of 36-exposure film). When I go out picture-taking, I have one memory stick in the camera and put the other two memory sticks in my wallet. At the end of the day, if I'm near my computer, I download the memory sticks to the computer then erase them. If I'm not near my computer (like if I'm traveling on vacation), I download them to a "digital wallet" called a "Tripper". This device is about the size of a paperback book, and is basically just a disk drive and power supply, with a very simple user interface including a slot where you insert the memory stick adapter. The Tripper's disk drive is 40-GB, so it can store the equivalent of more than 400-rolls of 36-exposure film (using high-resolution JPEG's as I mentioned before).

Despite the culture shift and the complexity, the bottom line is that there's no doubt digital photography has made me a better photographer. There are powerful advantages: the immediacy of feedback at the camera and computer encourages quality, the negligible cost of shooting extra pictures encourages creative experimentation and development, and the powerful computer-based image-processing tools encourage fine-tuning for best results. On top of that, it's a lot easier to show off your work—burn a CD-ROM and display it on a ubiquitous PC, rather than dragging around a slide projector and screen.

Latest Update: In mid-2008, I started having a problem with my trusty Sony F717. After having taken more than 37,000 exposures, the shutter was starting to cause trouble, and I started looking for a new digital camera. After much research and contemplation, I upgraded to a Canon EOS 40D Digital SLR with a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM zoom lens. As a "pocket" camera, I also purchased a Canon PowerShot G9. The 40D is a superb camera, and I now feel challenged to improve my picture-taking skills to make best use of its performance and features. Alas, my Pentax ME-super sits abandoned and forlorn—I haven't touched it in years.

How I Got Into The Hobby

[120-format and 35-mm format slides]  
Compare the difference between a 120-format slide at left and a 35-mm slide at right. The 120-format slide is huge and gorgeous, but the 35-mm format is so convenient.  

When I was growing up, both my parents were interested in photography. My father built a black-and-white darkroom in the basement, and I learned how to use it early on. I remember always having difficulty winding the exposed film on to the spool that went in the developing tank. You had to do that completely by feel, and I usually wound up crinkling the film while transferring it to the spool. If you crease or crinkle the film, that can cause a small white mark on the developed negative. If the mark appeared in the part of a scene that contained sky, it looked like a little UFO flying through the sky. When you made prints, you could keep the red safety light on, so you could watch the print develop while you swished it in the developer tray. It was like magic watching an image slowly come into view on what was a blank piece of paper.

My first camera was a little gray plastic box camera that used rolls of 120 black-and-white film. I don't even remember the brand of the camera. Later, when my father bought a nice Yashica SLR, he gave me his old camera, which was a Hanimex twin-lens reflex camera. This camera had two lenses, one above the other, on the front of the camera. One lens exposed the film inside the camera. This lens had an adjustable f-stop and shutter. The other lens had no f-stop adjustments or shutter, and provided light to the viewfinder. The viewfinder was on top of the camera, with a metal shade on all four sides that would pop open when you wanted to take a picture. The image would appear on a ground-glass focusing screen, so you didn't have to put the camera up to your eye. The focusing knob was on the side of the camera, and it moved both lenses at the same time. The camera used 120 film, and I used black-and-white and color. I remember the color slides being big and beautiful, much bigger than 35mm. My next camera was a Praktica 35mm SLR that my father bought me. That lasted for quite a while, and when it stopped working, I got the Pentax ME-super that I currently use.

My Tips For Taking Better Pictures

Links To Pages In My Web Site

Want to see some of my best pictures? Each of the following links starts a slide show with a particular theme. Each slide show has several pages of pictures, with navigational buttons on the bottom of the pages.

Behind The Redwood Curtain - Travel to Northern California and revel in its natural splendors—redwood groves, rivers and creeks, ocean beaches, rugged hills and mountains. In August 2003, I traveled to Northern California with friends for two weeks of work and play, and got to enjoy some of the natural splendors. Even after two weeks, though, I had only a tantalizing taste of what the region has to offer.

Antelope Canyon - See pictures of a beautiful (and oft-photographed) slot canyon in the desert southwest near Page, Arizona.

Galápagos and Easter Island - In the spring of 2004, I sailed as crew aboard the sailing vessel Nine of Cups on a voyage from mainland Ecuador to the Galápagos Archipelago and onward to Easter Island. It was an adventure that lasted more than three months, and included extended explorations of the islands and more than 4,000 miles of ocean sailing. I took more than 5,400 pictures, and of the 1,400 pictures available online, I have selected 96 of my favorites and placed them here, in eight sequential pages of thumbnails. Each thumbnail has a caption, but to simplify things, there's no other text. You can click on any thumbnail to enlarge it. The enlarged versions are from 70 kb to 180 kb.

Page 1     Page 2     Page 3     Page 4     Page 5     Page 6     Page 7     Page 8

Monitor Test Images - Check the performance of your monitor by displaying test images located on this page.

Internet Links

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- John Santic

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