Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The death of a camera February 24, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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MY CANON EOS 20D died on Sunday.

My trusty fifth eye, my Canon EOS 20D.

My old Canon 20D camera, with a battery grip.

I should have seen this coming, should have been shopping for a different camera. But when you’re in denial, it’s easy to cross your fingers, utter a prayer, hope against hope that everything will be alright and the error message won’t flash again or the camera won’t lock. Again.

But all the hope in the world could not save my Canon DSLR from the graveyard.

My new camera.

My new camera, minus a battery grip, which would have cost me an additional $200. Batteries are $80. I did not get a new lens, although I really wanted one.

I’ve replaced it with a used Canon EOS 7D. I’m not convinced yet that I will keep the replacement as it requires more camera knowledge than I possess. It’s rather like returning to my film 35 mm SLR camera, relearning the basics of shutter speed and f-stops and ISOs. Then toss in white balance and a whole lot of other settings and I’m overwhelmed.

Yes, I got lazy with my 20D and relied on the cheat icons for landscapes, portraits, action and such. I never bothered to learn the manual operations.

But it worked. I was shooting award-winning photos, images that sold to various sources, photos that I liked. The camera was a dependable workhorse during my many years working for a magazine.

Now I’m back at square one. And I don’t like it. I feel unsettled. I don’t like change. Plus, as my husband will tell you, I find it difficult to spend this much money on a camera, even if I need it for work. I am not good at spending money on myself.

Adding to the challenge is the lack of an English language manual. Yes, I can go online and find a manual. But gosh, darn it, when I pay this much for a camera, even if it is used, it should come with a manual printed in a language I can read.

I can take free classes at the place where I purchased my camera. That is a plus. And the saleswoman who sold me the EOS 7D was extremely patient and helpful in instructing me in the basics. Extremely patient.

That’s why, when I returned an hour after I left, she probably wanted to hide in the back room. But, while shooting in the community of Elko on the way home, I noticed a diagonal line across every single frame. Back to the camera store my husband and I zoomed.

Turns out a strand of hair was caught inside the camera.

Is this a sign?

Should I keep my new used camera? Do I just need to give it time and practice? I have 29 days to change my mind.

I have another option. A friend has a Canon 20D, just like my old one. He’s offered to let me try it out. Plus he’s got a cool lens that may interest me. He promises to sell the camera at a better price than anywhere else. Hmmmm.

Your opinions are welcome.

© 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Tips for on-the-road photography April 2, 2011

HOW OFTEN HAVE YOU been traveling along a roadway, saw a subject worth photographing but were in too much of a hurry to stop?

That’s happened to me more often than I wish. However, I’ve found a solution that’s worked well with some incredible photo results.

I’m issuing a disclaimer here, though. I’m not advocating photographing and driving. This photographic option should be used only when you are a passenger because you’ll be operating your camera while your vehicle is moving.

First, set your camera at a sports action shutter speed, place it on your lap, grip the camera body and be prepared to snap away at a moment’s notice.

Click. Click. Click. With a fast shutter speed, you can quickly fire off three frames before you’ve bypassed the intended subject.

OK, it’s not quite that easy. You must anticipate just the right moment to take your photos. That means paying attention to what lies ahead of you along the roadway. Click too soon and you miss the shot. Click too late and you miss the shot.

It’s partially luck, partially skill that will nail a great photo.

I’m always watching too for telephone and electric poles and roadside signs that can obstruct an otherwise good image.

I’m also always trying to balance my photos so they are well-composed.

All of this moving of the camera and adjusting the lens and framing the image must happen in a split-second. I can’t even begin to tell you how many shots I’ve missed because I’ve moved too slowly or failed to notice a photo op until it passed me by.

That’s the other part of successful on-the-road photography. You need a watchful eye for subjects that will make interesting and great photos. Too many people look, but don’t really see, what’s around them. Perhaps because I’ve grown so accustomed to viewing my world through a camera lens and because I’m a writer, I notice more than the average person.

Yet all of this effort will be wasted if you’re shooting through dirty vehicle windows. Clean your windows. If you live in a state like Minnesota, where road spray from sand and salt and melting snow is a problem, you may just have to abandon this traveling photo option in the winter.

Unless you’re traveling through a town, at low speeds, I don’t recommend opening your window. You risk getting dust or dirt into your camera sensor.

That said, here’s a trio of photos I shot in early March along U.S. Highway 14 between Essig and Sleepy Eye in southwestern Minnesota while traveling at 55 mph.

Other than downsizing these images, I’ve not edited them.

Here’s why these images are so good. The exposure is perfect. The photos are well-composed. The horizontal line of the railroad track in the first two frames sits at an eye-pleasing one-third position. The color contrasts of red against gray and blue make these photos pop. The subject is beautiful in its simplicity.

If you’re never tried traveling photography, give it a shot. You may be as pleasantly surprised as me with the results.

FYI: I shoot with a EOS 20D DSLR Canon camera. Yes, it’s a “fancy” digital camera, not a point-and-shoot. If you ever see a photo on Minnesota Prairie Roots that you are interested in purchasing, please contact me via a comment (won’t be published) or an e-mail.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Drive-by barn photo shoot February 28, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 11:14 AM
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EVERY TIME I TRAVEL Interstate 35 north to the Twin Cities, I think, I need to photograph “that barn.”

That would be the red barn near the Elko/New Market exit with the “Sugardale” lettering painted on the end.

So Sunday afternoon, en route back to Faribault from Burnsville, where I had picked up my camera at National Camera Exchange, I was ready. My fingers were itching to snap more than a few photos since I’d been without my Canon for a week. I had the sensor cleaned.

Anyway, I set a fast shutter speed and hoped for the best as I shot two images through the passenger side window at an interstate speed of 70 mph. That’s all I got before the barn moved out of lens range. My husband asked if I wanted to detour and get a closer shot, but I declined. I was tired and not really dressed for a winter-time photo shoot, meaning I wasn’t wearing boots.

I was pleasantly surprised by the results given I was shooting through a grimy window, at a distance further than I preferred and on a gloomy afternoon.

Here are the results.

Photo one of the "Sugardale" barn.

Photo number two of the "Sugardale" barn. I like how both photos define the starkness of the land on an overcast winter afternoon in Minnesota.

I fully intend to return and shoot the barn close-up. Yeah, I’ve been saying that for years.

In the meantime, does anyone know anything about the history of this barn or Sugardale?

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling