Friday, April 29, 2016

Video: Raw or JPEG?

I've made another YouTube photography video. This one answers the question of whether you should shoot using RAW or JPEG. It's a topic I've covered on the Roesch Photography Blog before. The video is only a few minutes long, so I invite you to watch it.

My goal is to create one or two photography related videos each month. I'm trying to build a bigger presence on YouTube. It's all a learning experience for me. I'm using Windows Movie Maker, which isn't great but (for now) does the trick. I'll likely invest in a better video editing program at some point in the future.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Is An LCD Screen Necessary On A Digital Camera? (Leica M-D Typ 262)

Leica announced yesterday the M-D (Typ 262) digital rangefinder. What's unusual about this camera is that it doesn't include an LCD. Really, the camera is about as simple as a digital camera can be designed, with absolute minimal controls and features (but with all of all of the essential controls and features). You compose using a built-in electronic viewfinder,

I got really excited about this camera. It seems as though someone (finally) designed a digital camera with me in mind. That is, until I saw the price (nearly $7,000, and that's just for the camera body). Leica cameras are always way overpriced.

What would be the point in removing this major feature? Why wouldn't I want to review my photographs on the camera? One reason is that you can easily get caught up in what's called "chimping" which is spending time reviewing the images instead of capturing images. You capture an image, then you review it to make sure that everything is good, but in the meantime you miss something unexpected that happened--the decisive moment. This happens frequently, and you might be completely unaware because, while chimping, you lack situational awareness.

Besides that, simplifying the camera makes the photography process more enjoyable. Simplicity is better in photography (and much of life, as well). Having just the controls and features necessary, and removing the tons of extra (often unused) stuff, allows the camera to be less distracting, and it makes it all feel more organic and less, well, digital.

If I had the Leica M-D camera, I would capture a bunch of images--fill up an SD card--then file that card away for three-to-six months. Procrastination is good when post-processing because time helps remove your own bias towards the exposures, allowing you to better recognize which ones are actually good and which ones are not. I wouldn't even see what I had captured for several months.
The back of a FED 5c 35mm Russian rangefinder that I own.
Of course, I could do this the old fashioned way and just shoot film. I own a couple of 35mm rangefinders that don't look all that much different than this upcoming Leica. But film has become expensive (to buy, develop and scan) and digital is more convenient. I would like to be able to do this digitally if I could.

Another thing that I could do is put my digital camera in manual mode and just have self control to not review the images that I've captured. This would essentially accomplish the same thing, but in a less-well-designed package. I might give this a try and see how it goes.

What would be great if some other camera manufacturer made something similar (but much less expensive). Fuji seems like the one most likely to do it, but it could be any of them--Ricoh could modify the GR pretty easily to accomplish this. If the camera could be purchased for under $1,000 I'd consider buying it.

I said something similar to this when Leica announced the M Monochrom. So far nobody else has released a black-and-white only digital camera. I doubt anyone else will make an LCD-less digital camera similar to the Leica M-D.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Is It Your Camera That's Not Good Enough, Or You?

Moonstone Beach - Cambria, California
I came across a quote by street photographer Eric Kim, who asked, "Is it your camera that isn't good enough, or you that isn't good enough?"

So many times before I've told myself, "If only I had a better camera!" This goes back decades, well before digital. I had a great 35mm SLR, but I wanted a medium-format camera. And if only I had a medium-format camera, I'd be a better photographer.

It took me a long time to learn that it's not the camera, it's the photographer. A great photographer can capture a great image with any camera, no matter how cheap. A poor photographer won't be able to capture a great image even with the most expensive gear.
Pacific Shore - Cambria, California
It's never about the gear. You camera doesn't matter. It's what you do with what you have that matters.

People often have camera envy, especially in the digital age. A new piece of gear comes out, it's praised on all of the big blogs and magazines (never mind that they are paid to praise it), and it just seems so cool and so much better than what you have. You feel like your are inferior or inadequate if you don't go out and purchase it. That's what the camera manufacturers and retailers want. But at the end of the day that new gear won't make you a better photographer.

Do you know what has made me a better photographer? Photographing. Capturing lots and lots of pictures. The more I do, the better I become. It's that simple.
Leffingwell Cove - Cambria, California
For me, the gear that best allows me to go out and capture lots of images is small gear. It's because I always have a camera with me, and when I have a camera with me I'm thinking and looking photographically. But some people scoff at this. Some people would tell me to my face that the camera in my hand is not good enough to capture good images (and that their pictures are better because their camera is "better").

The people who look at your photographs don't care what camera you used. They don't care about any of the technical data. They only care about the photograph in front of them, and whether or not it speaks to them in some way. It's all about the photograph and what it nonverbally says.

So if your pictures aren't good enough, is it because of your gear? Or is it because of the one using the gear? And if it's not the gear, what are you going to do to get better? Only you can make your photographs better.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

If A Camera Was A Person...

You've got to check out this video:

It imagines what cameras would be like if they were people. It pokes fun at DSLRs and then advertises the Sony RX100 IV (which is almost the same camera as the Sony RX100 II that I use). I don't believe this is a real Sony ad, but perhaps a student project.

Having used DSLRs and small cameras, my preference is definitely small cameras. For most people and most purposes, small cameras do everything that you need a camera to do and they produce image quality that is at a minimum acceptable (and sometimes well beyond that).

The problem with DSLRs is that they are too big and bulky. They're uncomfortable, and sometimes awkward in their chunkiness. They take up a lot of space. And they can be a pain to have on you. The video illustrates that quite well.

If you have a few minutes you should watch the video, it's definitely entertaining!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Use Out-of-Focus Foreground Objects To Give Your Photos Depth

Fire Wok - Barstow, California
Note the out-of-focus object at the bottom-right corner of the frame.
Want to know a quick way to give your photographs depth? It's easy, really. Use out-of-focus foreground objects!

This simple technique adds not only depth, but perspective and sometimes even interest, atmosphere and feeling. It brings the viewer right in while also maintaining a distance, as if the viewer is peeking in on the scene.

To do this you have to place a foreground object in the frame close to the lens. The closer it is to the lens the more blurry it will be. Also, the larger the aperture the smaller the depth-of-field and the more blurry the object will be.

Because the foreground object is blurry it stands less of a chance of being a distraction to the main point of the image. The viewer will look past it to what's in sharp focus.

If the foreground object is the highest point of contrast in the frame, the viewer will take notice. There are times when it could create a distraction. You have to be careful and thoughtful with how you do this.

I wouldn't use this technique all of the time. It's not meant for every exposure. But sometimes it can help set an image apart, giving it depth and sometimes some other benefits. It's a simple compositional technique that can provide big results.
Tipped Wheel Chair - Lancaster, California
The foreground object, a Toyota car, helps to timestamp this vintage-looking image, so I didn't want it to be too blurry--only blurry enough that you'd look past it at first, and return to it later.
Orange Engines - Tehachapi, California
The blurred foreground bushes block a less interesting part of the image, but also help to prevent the eyes from leaving the frame from the curved rail lines. 
Summer Country Feeling - Stallion Springs, California
The foreground grass adds much needed interest to an image that's about clouds; however, if the grass were in sharp focus, the image would no longer be about clouds.
Two Brothers - Perris, California
The out-of-focus brother gives this image depth, but also tells the viewer which one they need to look at to understand the meaning of the photograph.
Morning Coffee - Tehachapi, California
This is a reflection captured in a picture frame on the wall, and the blurry foreground is the picture.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

My Son's Train Video For Choo Choo Bob

My six-year-old son, Jon, really likes trains, and so it's no surprise that his favorite television show is The Choo Choo Bob Show on Qubo. Any young train fanatic would love this program.

Jon wanted to make a video for Choo Choo Bob. I thought it was a good idea so I decided to help him out with this project.

On the show sometimes they show submitted videos from kids across the country. I didn't necessarily want to submit a video directly to the show (because I didn't see where to send the video and because I'm not completely sure that they're even filming new episodes). I thought, instead, we'd post it on YouTube, and hopefully Choo Choo Bob will find it (I shared it to their Facebook page, to increase the odds of Choo Choo Bob finding it).

We set out to film trains at the Tehachapi Loop, a well known railroad landmark not far from our house. People travel from across the world to see this engineering marvel. However, we didn't find a train there so we set out to find one.

It was near Caliente that we stumbled across two different freight trains. We watched them both go through a tunnel. One of the two trains was headed towards The Loop, so we decided to get back there to watch it.

We arrived at The Loop just in time to see a different train traverse the circle. We walked down to find a good vantage point. It wasn't long before the train we were waiting for appeared. We watched it go through all of the turns. Then it was time to leave.

I filmed the trains using two different cameras: a Sony RX100 II and a Panasonic Lumix ZS40. The Sony camera has noticeably better video quality (and better audio). The Panasonic camera, however, has a significantly longer zoom and also the ability to apply the Creative Control settings to video (this was my first time using the ZS40 for video). Using both cameras worked out well for this project.

Jon was the film's host. Because of poor audio quality (lots of background noise plus a quite voice), it's not always easy to understand Jon when he speaks in the video. You've got to listen carefully!

Anyway, the video is about six minutes long. If you've got some spare time, take a look!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Take Responsibility For What's In The Frame

Sun Rays Over Comings Mountain - Tehachapi, California
There's nothing in this image to distract you from what it's about.
You're the photographer. It's your job to ensure everything in the frame is as you want it. If it's not, it's nobody's fault but yours. Be responsible for it! That may sound harsh, but it's completely true.

You can always tell if a photograph was captured by an experienced photographer or an inexperienced photographer based on how many distractions are found in the frame. An experienced photographer will scan the edges, the foreground and background prior to opening the shutter to check for things that shouldn't be there (no matter how small!). An inexperienced photographer won't think to do this.

"I'm always scanning the edges of the frame automatically because we're responsible for everything in that frame," said Robert Holmes. "As a photographer, it's your fault if there's something in there that shouldn't be."

I wasn't taught this in any of the photography classes I took in college. I had to learn it the hard way. For many years I failed to check the entire frame. But then I noticed that other photographers--one's that I admired--had cleaner images. What was the difference? They made sure that the distractions were removed from the frame.
Wet Pier - Goodyear, Arizona
This is an older image where I paid less attention to distractions. Note the cutoff leaf at the bottom-left corner. I also would have had one of the lines come out of the bottom-right corner to lead the viewer into the imagine instead of out. A couple of inches are all I needed to make a stronger photo.
Even after realizing this, it still took years of practice for it to become second nature. I had to force myself to check. And I would forget sometimes. But over time it become an automatic part of my process.

What do I look for in the frame? Anything that would be a distraction. This might be a pole out of someone's head, branches from the edges, something high-contrast that would distract the viewer's eyes, lines that lead out of the image (from the edges) instead of into the image (from the corners)--there are so many potential distractions that it would be difficult to list them all. It's the photographer's job to identify the distractions and remove them. You can't always remove all of the distractions, but you should get rid of as many as you can.

How does one remove distractions from the frame? Move up or down, left or right, forward or back--usually only a few inches are needed. Small changes can make big differences! Also, if the distraction is something that moves, sometimes all you need to do is wait.

Take responsibility for what is in the frame. Look for distractions--sweep the edges--and remove everything that doesn't belong.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Which PASM Mode Is Best: Program, Aperture, Shutter or Manual?

I get asked frequently which shooting mode one should use. Almost every camera nowadays has a dial with "PASM" on it, which stands for Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual. Besides that, you can expect to find at least one option for fully automatic. Which one is best? Which should you use?

Let me give you a brief history of myself. My first SLR, a Canon AE-1, was a fully manual camera. Yes, it had a shutter priority mode, but I never used it (not even once). From my first photography class in college through the next decade I only used fully manual cameras.

What does "fully manual" mean? It means that I set the aperture, the shutter, the ISO (depending on what film I loaded) and the focus. I didn't let the camera (if it was even capable, which, most often, it wasn't) choose anything itself. I was in complete control.

Most cameras now have a number of fully auto and semi-auto features. In fact, a few don't even allow for fully manual operations. For someone starting out it can be tough to know which mode to use, and so I think the default that these people often choose is fully auto. But is that best idea?
Rangefinder & Film
I believe that every photographer should be comfortable using their cameras manually. Why? Because if you understand photography and how a camera works, it's not all that hard to go fully manual. And if you are a photographer you should understand these things (and if you want to be a photographer you should want to understand).

It goes well beyond just knowing for the sake of knowing. You will find yourself one day needing to operate your camera in full manual mode in order to get the shot. If you don't know how you will not get the exposure--you'll completely miss the opportunity! There are indeed practical uses for the "M" on your camera's dial, so you need to know how to use it.

The best way to learn how to manually use your camera is to simply use it in manual mode. Set the dial to "M" and play around with it. Change the aperture. Change the shutter. Change the ISO. Turn the focus wheel. See what happens. Change it some more. See what happens. Change it again. And again. And again. Take note of what worked and what didn't and try to understand why it did or didn't work. This is not a quick process. You'll get a bunch of crummy results at first. Give yourself a month or two of only using the camera manually and see what you learn.

Once you've got a handle on using manual mode I would then suggest trying the semi-auto modes. This would be the "P" (Program), "A" (Aperture Priority) and "S" (Shutter Priority). Let's take a look at each.
Peaks - Lehi, Utah
I chose a small aperture for a large depth-of-field.
Let's start with Aperture Priority mode. This let's you choose the aperture while the camera chooses the shutter speed and ISO (if you are using auto-ISO). This is what I normally use in bright-light situations. It allows me to get the depth-of-field that I want (either shallow or large, depending on the situation and which aperture I chose), and I don't have to think about the shutter speed and ISO because the camera will set that for me (and, because it's a bright-light situation, I know that the camera will choose a quick shutter and a low ISO).
BNSF Intermodal - Tehachapi, California
I chose a fast shutter speed to freeze the quickly moving train.
Next up is Shutter Priority mode. This let's you choose the shutter speed while the camera chooses the aperture and the ISO (if you are using auto-ISO). This is a good option if you need either a quick shutter (to freeze motion) or a slow shutter (to show motion), but don't really care about the depth-of-field (whether shallow or large). I use this occasionally, but, more often than not, if I want a slow shutter speed, I have the camera on a tripod and am using manual mode.
Ethical Drugs - Hollywood, California
I chose a high-ISO because this was captured handheld after the sun had set.
Then there is Program mode. This let's you choose the ISO (if you are not using auto-ISO) while the camera chooses the aperture and shutter speed. You also have the ability to adjust the aperture (like Aperture Priority mode) if you want, and the camera will adjust the shutter speed accordingly. In a way this mode isn't any different than Aperture Priority mode (if you adjust the aperture from whatever the camera chose), and in a way it's a fully auto mode (if you use auto-ISO and don't adjust the aperture). Some people like Program mode because it gives you control (of the aperture and ISO) when you want it and when you don't want control the camera decides everything for you.
Jonathan's Shadow - Tehachapi, California
I chose to let the camera decide the settings because it didn't matter.
Finally, your camera likely has at least one fully auto mode, and maybe even two or three different options. I'll often use these for snapshots, but otherwise I avoid them. I will say that cameras have gotten much better at figuring out what settings are most appropriate in auto mode, and what the camera chooses might be pretty close to what you would choose yourself. However, I know already what settings I want, so I don't want to leave it to chance that the camera will get it right.

So which one should you use? Which one is best? Which should you not use?

It all depends on what's important to you. Do you care about depth-of-field but not the shutter speed? Do you care about the shutter speed but not the depth-of-field? It's all about what you want to control and what you don't really want to control. If you want to control everything, use manual mode. If you want to allow the camera to choose some things for you, pick which semi-auto mode works best for whatever it is that you want to control. If you feel comfortable letting the camera choose everything, there is nothing wrong with that (just so long as you know how to get what you want when you want it).

It's more about understanding photography and how a camera works than choosing the "right" mode. If you know how it all works, then you know how to control the outcome of your photographs. If you're leaving it all up to chance because you don't understand how it works, that'll only get you so far, and you should consider learning what controls what on your camera and what it all means.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Railroad Photography

Orange Engines - Tehachapi, California
I live in Tehachapi, California (at least for a couple more weeks) and if there is one thing this place is known for it is railroading. Many trains pass through this area. It's a great place to see railroads in action. And photographers have been capturing trains here for over a century.

It's no surprise that one subject I come to over and over again is railroad photography. I see trains all of the time (probably daily) and so I photograph them frequently. I don't usually set out to photograph trains, but if I encounter one and have a camera handy, I might capture a few exposures.

In this post are photos that I've recently captured of the local railroad action. I used a Sony RX100 II for some images and a Panasonic Limix ZS40 for some others. The gear that I used doesn't really matter, other than I likely wouldn't have created any of these if not for having a pocketable camera.

Interestingly enough, where I'm moving to in Utah is also an area know for trains. So even after I move you can expect to see railroads regularly as a photographic subject.
Invisible Waves Above - Rosamond, California
BNSF 5773 - Tehachapi, California
Freight Train In The Desert - Mojave, California
Riding A Tank Car - Mojave, California
Cars In The Desert - Mojave, California
Spinning Wheel - Tehachapi, California
Union Pacific 2615 - Tehachapi, California
Following U.P. 8915
Union Pacific 8020 - Mojave, California
Curving Containers - Tehachapi, California
Fast Wheel - Palmdale, California
The Last Car - Tehachapi, California

Monday, April 18, 2016

Perfection Isn't The Goal

Finding Hope When All Seems Hopeless - Lancaster, California
This street photography image is significantly flawed. Does that make it a bad photograph?
The goal of your photography should never be perfection. This may seem odd to say. Society says that you should strive for perfection. Camera manufacturers tell you that with their new product perfection is possible. But the truth is that there is no such thing as the perfect photograph.

Even if the perfect photograph existed, wouldn't it be perfectly boring? I guess it's in the eye of the beholder.

Imperfections have their place. Some people strive for imperfections. There are photographers that wreck their negatives to purposefully give their photographs flaws. People (myself included) digitally add imperfections into their images.
When New Times Aren't Any Better - Pismo Beach, California
There are plenty of flaws found in this photograph if you look close enough.
It's like those who purposefully damage their furniture to give it a rustic or antique look. The piece might appear to be 50 years old, but in reality it's brand new. It's the olden look that the interior designer is after. It's the flaws that make it interesting.

You can buy brand new jeans that have holes in them. It's the style. Sometimes the look that one is after is rugged or broken.

Things with character are intriguing--things that aren't perfect. Things that have nicks or rips or rust. There is a fascination with brokenness, perhaps because it's something that we can all relate to. Everyone has personal flaws.
Courageous Together - Tejon Ranch, California
This photograph has dark shadows and inaccurate skin tones. Does it matter?
My point is that in photography perfection isn't the goal. It's no big deal if your images have flaws (in fact, flaws might be desirable). What matters is whether or not your images nonverbally speak something. Do they convey a message to the viewer? Do they carry an emotion? The goal is for the viewer to feel or understand something that they didn't before looking at your photograph.

If your photographs say something, all of the imperfections and flaws will be accepted. No one will worry about how perfect or imperfect it is. The viewer will like the image because it moved them in some way.

Forget perfection. It's an empty and impossible pursuit. Instead, worry about the things that you can control. Speak something profound to the viewers in spite of all the flaws.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

A House Hunters Story - Buying A Home In An Unfamiliar City - Salt Lake City, Utah

I like watching those television shows where home buyers visit three different houses and pick the one that they're going to purchase. Depending on exactly which show you're watching, there might be some remodeling involved. Even though these are "reality" shows, they are often heavily choreographed and edited for time and entertainment purposes, so only so much is really reality.

Let me tell you my own "house hunters" story, about buying a home in an unfamiliar city. This is a reality that many people face each day, so I thought it might be helpful to those in this same situation. Or, at the least, it might be entertaining, like those house hunting tv shows.

Exit - Los Angeles, California
18 months ago my wife and I decided that it was time for us to leave California. We love this state, but for many reasons we felt like we needed to move on. We wanted a new adventure! And an opportunity opened up for us in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Neither of us had ever been to Salt Lake City before. I'd visited southern Utah when I was a kid, but that was the closest that I ever got. This place was a complete mystery to us. We had no idea if we'd love it or hate it.

So last year we made a quick trip to Salt Lake City to find out if we'd even like it. We found the city to be nice with amazing views everywhere. The people we encountered were very friendly. We decided to go for it and make the move!

Obviously we also spent a lot of time on the internet searching for anything that we could find to give us an idea about Salt Lake City and Utah. You can practically visit a place without actually visiting a place. There is so much information out there, but not all of it is accurate. It's difficult to know exactly what's true and what's not. A lot of what you find is opinion, and that's something that you may or may not find yourself agreeing with. That's why it was important for us to see the city for ourselves.

Endless Summer Wish - Stallion Springs, California
The view from what was our front yard.
Once we knew that we would be moving, the first step was to sell our home in Stallion Springs, California. We previously had a situation where we didn't correctly time the sale of our home with a move, so we ended up paying a mortgage payment on an empty house while also paying for a rental. We didn't want to be in that situation again, so we placed our home on the market right away, knowing that we'd have to live in an apartment for awhile before moving out of state.

With the house sold and the five of us stuffed into a two-bedroom unit, we set our sites on purchasing a home in Utah. I know someone from Salt Lake City, so I asked if he could recommend a realtor. He handed me a business card and said that he highly recommended Marty McKay.

Marty McKay - South Jordan, Utah
I sent Marty an email, telling him what we were interested in, and he set us up with a secure page on his website where we could search for and save homes. He provided us a daily sheet of new listings that matched our search criteria. He suggested some neighborhoods for us to look at. It was all very helpful to us because, since we weren't familiar with the city, we didn't really know where we should be looking, but we could better narrow things down with his web tools.

We also needed to get pre-approved for a mortgage. We had previously used Veterans United Home Loans and had a really good experience, so we decided to go with them again. They know VA loans inside and out (which is what we were going to be using). Marty had a working relationship already with Veterans United, so everything seemed seamless. We set the maximum budget at $350,000, but we really didn't want to go that high.

With all of that settled we purchased round-trip airline tickets for our family so that we could see some houses. We planned to fly out on a Wednesday afternoon and return on a Friday afternoon. That meant we would have one day to look at houses. And we were bringing the kids.

Several days before our flight's departure a new listing appeared that seemed to be the perfect house. We really loved everything about it, so much so that we had considered placing an offer sight unseen. However, two days later it was off the market, sold to someone. The housing market was moving pretty quick in Salt Lake City, and we had missed the opportunity. We were bummed.

Marty had told us that the most houses that we could visit in a single day would be 12 (and that many homes would make it a long day). So a couple of days before our trip we provided him with a list of 12 houses that we wanted to see, plus a backup list of four houses (just in case some of the 12 that we really wanted to see went under contract before we got there).

Delta At Gate 56 - Los Angeles, California
The day of our flight came. Our kids had never flown before (expect for our oldest when she was an infant)--flying with kids was a new experience for us. We had purchased wheeled-luggage that would fit into the overhead carry-on compartments. We put our two-year-old's carseat on a folding cart. We tried to make things as easy for us as possible, but getting through TSA security was still a circus.

The flight itself was fine. Our two-year-old son had a hard time at times, but that was to be expected. The airplane had screens built into the headrests, so the kids had something to keep them entertained. Upon arrival we realized that our rental car was offsite and that we had to wait for a bus to take us to the lot. In retrospect it would have been better to have the rental car at the terminal.

We got to our hotel well after dark. After settling in we received an email from Marty with the finalized list of homes and our scheduled visits. I told you already that the housing market was moving fast. Of our list of 12 houses plus the backup list of four, only 11 were still available. We made plans to meet up at the first house at 9 am. It was time for bed for an early morning start.

House #1 - Wasatch Views - South Weber

We arrived at the first house on time, still brushing the sleep out of our eyes. It was the furthest north home that we would visit, sitting in the small suburb of South Weber. We had debated if this house should be on our list, but after some back-and-forth we decided to include it. We met Marty for the first time. It was a windy morning and some snow still lingered in shaded areas.

I nicknamed this the "Wasatch Views" house because the Wasatch Range looms over the large backyard. The two-story house, with five bedrooms and four bathrooms, was much nicer in person than in the online pictures--they really didn't do it any justice! The home was well kept and had many built-ins and upgrades, and it was well laid out.

We liked this house a lot, but we were excited to see the other places. So soon we were off to the next house.

House #2 - Paint It Black - Clinton

The next home, which I named the "Paint It Black" house, was the only other house that we'd visit north of downtown--it was in the suburb of Clinton. It was a large six-bedroom single-story on a corner lot near parks and trails. This house was on our backup list because we were uncertain of the the area.

Marty took us inside and showed us around. The kids immediately headed down to the basement, while I looked at the main floor. My six-year-old son came running up to me. "Dad," he said, "there's a room downstairs that's creepy!" As quick as he came he left.

As it turns out there was a room in the basement that was entirely black. Black paint, black carpet, black curtains, black decor. Perhaps it was necessary for medical reasons (migraines) or for work (sleep during the day), or maybe they just really liked the color. But it didn't leave a good impression.

For several reasons we didn't like this place and knew it wasn't for us. But we still had other houses to visit, so we got in our cars and were soon back on the road.

House #3 - The Drive Thru - South Jordan

The next house was in the city of South Jordan in the Daybreak masterplanned community. It was the first of many that were in this neighborhood. We were really excited about this area because of the many community amenities. It seemed like a place that we would really enjoy.

I called this "The Drive Thru" house because there was an alley literally right next to the home. A car driving by could reach out and touch the side of the structure (we could cut a hole in the wall and open up a drive thru service, if we wanted). That was a little unsettling. We found the layout to be a tad awkward. The four bedroom two-story house was otherwise very nice and was in like-new condition.

After leaving this house Marty took us to lunch at Chick-fil-A. He introduced us to the frosted lemonade and we introduced him to the honey-roasted barbecue sauce. While eating lunch I noticed a house that had just come on the market that day, so I asked if we could see it. Marty made a phone call and added it to our tour.

House #4 - Unfinished Business - South Jordan

After lunch we visited the next house in Daybreak, which I nicknamed the "Unfinished Business" house. It was a large four bedroom home that had a good layout and nice upgrades, but the basement was unfinished and it was at the high end of our budget. It also didn't really show pride of ownership.

Many of the houses in this neighborhood don't have private yards. The next-door-neighbor was not keeping up with yard work and it negatively reflected onto this place. Even so, we still liked the house.

Off to the next place, which wasn't far around the corner.

House #5 - Love It - South Jordan

Next up was what I called the "Love It" house because, well, we loved it! The four bedroom two-story house was very nice, very well laid out, and the location was great. It looked like it was straight out of a magazine!

The online pictures didn't make the house look nearly as nice as it was in person. We had considered not including the house on our list, but we were glad that we took a look at it!

One of the best aspects of this house was it's close proximity to a great park and a community pool. After we were finished touring the house we took the kids to the park to let them get their wiggles out.

We still had plenty of houses to go--we weren't even half done--so it was off to the next place.

House #6 - Ugly View - South Jordan

Up next was a three bedroom two-story that I nicknamed the "Ugly View" house. In Salt Lake City it seems that every house has at least a decent view, but not this place! The house was otherwise nice with plenty of upgrades. The layout was a bit awkward. It was also the smallest house that we looked at.

With this house you hoped that some construction across the street would eventually block the sight of the high-tension power lines and the tumbleweed field. The online photos failed to show this.

The next house wasn't far away, so we climbed back into the cars and quickly headed over.

House #7 - Dark Horse - South Jordan

This large four bedroom two-story house, which I called the "Dark Horse" house, was in like-new condition. It was very nice, but everything was dark. The carpets, the cabinets, the countertops were all dark--and not really a "good" dark, either. It just wasn't inviting.

Despite that, it was one of the better houses that we saw. I think that we could have settled for this home and been happy with that choice.

It was around this time that Marty enlisted our two older kids--our eight-year-old daughter and six-year-old son--as "secret agents" and gave them real estate agent assignments at each home. This not only entertained them, but made them feel like an important part of the process. They still talk about this.

We had one more home to visit in Daybreak, so off we went!

House #8 - Elm Street - South Jordan

The next house, a three bedroom two-story, was the least expensive of all the houses that we visited. We soon discovered why: it was a nightmare! And that's why I called it the "Elm Street" house.

Gourmet - South Jordan, Utah
The home had renters and they trashed the house. It was dirty. It smelled. It was just a big mess. It looked like this is where the party was every Friday night, and that it hadn't been cleaned since the last party.

We didn't stay long. This was the worst house that we saw, which is really too bad because it was in a good location and in a pretty neighborhood.

After this house we were in desperate need of a break. We were ahead of schedule, so Marty took us to a local bakery that he knew about, and it turned out to be a good stop. The kids had some ice cream while my wife and I shared a pastry. We sipped on some cold refreshments. We just relaxed for a little while. 

This stop allowed us to gather some of our thoughts. We were able to consider more clearly the houses that we had seen. We were able to talk some things over. We were in agreement on what houses we liked so far and which ones we didn't.

Soon enough, though, it was time to hit the road and drive to the next house.

House #9 - Picturesque - Herriman

From the online pictures this house was our favorite, the one that we thought we'd buy. It was at the very top of our list. We were really excited to see it!

Photographs are dishonest. They don't tell the truth. The photographer includes and excludes whatever he or she wants. It's a highly biased endeavor. We learned that first hand with this place.

It was a large five bedroom two-story house with only one neighbor and very close to a large park and walking trails, situated in the upcoming suburb of Herriman. But the home had a lot of aspects that we didn't care for--things we didn't see in the pictures. It even had a cave in the backyard (the kids loved it, but it didn't seem safe to me). It was a big disappointment.

I found an old Canon 35mm film camera on a shelf in one of the rooms. It seemed to represent this house well, so I captured an image of it. It's also why I called it the "Picturesque" house.

House #10 - Cat House - Draper

Next up was a large five bedroom two-story house in the Suncrest masterplanned community in the city of Draper. This was a neighborhood that we were initially very attracted to, but finding a house there within our budget was difficult. This place is significantly higher in elevation than Salt Lake City, and the views are spectacular!

Upon arrival we found all of the houses had about three feet of snow still in the yards. We had seen some snow here-and-there, but nothing like this! It was March, so we wondered how much snow this home would get in January or February. And we thought that we might not be ready to handle that much snow, being from California (and Arizona before that).

While touring the house I opened the master bedroom closet. Seemingly out of nowhere appeared this orange cat that didn't appreciate me being there. My six-year-old son was excited about this because he loves cats (despite being allergic to them). That's why I named it the "Cat House."

The home was very nice. It had a couple of quirky things about it, but nothing too bad. If we had visited in the summer we might have rated this one a little higher.

With 10 houses down we just had two more to go, and they were near each other.

House #11 - Fresh Beat - Lehi

This house was the one that we added at lunch. From the online pictures it seemed like it could be a nice place. It was a four bedroom two-story in the Traverse Mountain masterplanned community in the suburb of Lehi. By this time our two-year-old son had fallen asleep and Marty offered to watch him in the car while we toured the property.

The house had some good views from the second story. It had a sharply sloped backyard that wasn't very big. It had a music studio in the basement, complete with an expensive-looking soundboard set up for a DJ. I was glad that our little one was asleep because otherwise he might have found a way to damage something.

There were some nice things about the house, but plenty that we didn't care for. We knew pretty quickly that we didn't want to buy this place. So we made our way to the final house.

House #12 - Poolside - Lehi

We almost didn't include this last home on our list. We actually removed it once, then added it back when we discovered that a community pool and park were being constructed right behind it. There was a gate in the back fence, and we thought that if it allowed access to the pool it might be worth considering. That's why I nicknamed it the "Poolside" house.

The home, a four bedroom two-story, was nice, but the steeply sloped backyard was small. We soon discovered that the back gate didn't provide any access to the under-construction pool. We did see plenty of tractors moving dirt around on the hill above the house.

We knew that we didn't want to buy this home, so we didn't stay long. The day was already long and exhausting. Now it was time to make some decisions.

And The Winner Is...

The "Love It" House
My wife and I were in complete agreement of which home to put an offer on, and that was the "Love It" house. It seemed like the perfect place--as perfect as we could hope for, anyway.

Marty suggested, since the market was moving quickly and we wouldn't be able to do another house hunting trip, that we should put an offer on our second favorite house, as well. By submitting two different offers we were doubling our chances of getting a home. Our second favorite home was the "Wasatch Views" house.

We said thank-you and goodbye to Marty. Now it was just a bunch of waiting.

The next morning before heading to the airport we drove by both the "Love It" house and the "Wasatch Views" house to make sure that we were satisfied with our decisions. The two places had significantly different styles and offered much different lifestyles, but they both looked like they would work well for our family.

We got a call from Marty while at the airport waiting for our flight. The owners of the "Wasatch Views" house countered our offer. Meanwhile, the "Love It" house had multiple offers, and we needed to submit our best and final offer. So we did.

The "Wasatch Views" House
The next day Marty suggested that we should respond to the "Wasatch Views" counter offer (since there is a time limit, and also since someone could come in with a better offer and we could potentially lose that house). So we accepted the counter offer. We were under contract with our second favorite home.

Two days after returning from Salt Lake City we got a call from Marty regarding the "Love It" house. They didn't accept our offer. We didn't get that home.

We were a little bummed, but we were also excited to move forward with the "Wasatch Views" house. Marty's advice was spot on and worked out for us. We got a very nice home in a good location with great views.

We recently closed on the house in South Weber. We're homeowners of a lovely house in Utah! Soon we'll be leaving California and making the journey to the state that proclaims "Life Elevated" on their license plates. It should be interesting!


Green Hill, White Mountain - Fruit Heights, Utah
What did we learn from all this? What advice do we have for others who may be in a similar situation?
  • A good realtor is a must. Marty McKay helped us in so many different ways throughout the entire process. If you're buying in the Salt Lake City area I would absolutely recommend him.
  • Don't completely trust the online house pictures. The two homes that we liked best were understated by the photographs, while some other houses were overstated. There is also a lesson here if you are selling your home (hire a professional photographer).
  • Don't buy sight unseen. Remember that house I mentioned earlier that we thought was perfect and we considered putting an offer on without first seeing it? We drove by the home, and it wasn't nearly as perfect as we thought it was.
  • 12 houses in one day really was the limit, especially since we had young children. In retrospect, maybe we should have only toured eight houses or so.
  • If you do bring your kids on a house hunting trip, get them involved as best you can. Give them something to do. Make them feel needed.