Monday, December 31, 2012

2012’s unblogged favorites – #1: Fisheye tree

Nikon D3000, 10.5mm, 1/125, f/5.6, ISO 200

For some time I’d had the notion that the horse chestnut tree in my front yard would make a great photo if shot with a wide-angle lens. The branches curve downward at an almost architectural angle, somehow suggesting a cathedral to me. This shot distorts the lines and brings out the effect quite well. The sun glimmering through the leaves doesn’t exactly hurt the effect, either.

This was the first shot I ever took with my new Nikon 10.5mm lens. Actually this is the second; the first caught my thumb in the corner. As I’ve been doing a lot of experimenting with fisheye photography this year, this seems like an apt shot to close out 2012.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012’s unblogged favorites – #2: Roman candle

Nikon D3000, 18mm (18-55), 1/15, f/4.5, ISO 3200

During our annual fireworks extravaganza I shot 377 photos, 376 of which were eclipsed by the shot of the one that went bad. As much as I love that picture, I have to admit that it isn’t the best teaching tool. How useful is it to learn how to capture something that isn’t likely to ever happen exactly that way ever again?

So here’s a more standard shot that any Fourth of July celebrant should be able to capture. The light and the smoke bring me mindful of the sights, smells and feeling of a hot summer evening (most welcome in these cold days).

Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012’s unblogged favorites – #3: Low rider

Nikon D3000, 10.5mm, 1/320, f/9, ISO 100

Overall the Maker Faire didn’t turn out to be as photogenic as I’d hoped. The crowd was huge, making it hard to get shots without a gaggle of gawkers standing between camera and subject. Most of the exhibits tended to be slow-moving robots, electronic doodads, tables covered in tschotchkes and other non-photogenic fare. However, the experience yielded a handful of good shots, such as this colorful photo of a car. The picture has proved useful in my Photoshop class, where I’ve used it to help teach color adjustment using channels.

Unfortunately, it also demonstrates how tricky it can be to keep yourself out of a fisheye photo. You can see the shadow of my head in the lower right-hand side of the shot.

Friday, December 28, 2012

2012’s unblogged favorites – #4: U-505

Nikon D7000, 18mm (18-55), 1/50, f/5.6, ISO 6400.

One of the main goals of my trip to Chicago in July was a visit to a favorite spot from my childhood: the German U-boat on display at the Museum of Science and Industry. I took dozens of pictures (though none inside the boat thanks to museum rules ... grrrrr!), many of which captured either the sub as a whole or specific details. But of all of them, this one is my favorite. The centered placement of the main subject is offset by the slightly off balance background. The curve of the deck also gives a nice sense of leading line.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

2012’s unblogged best – #5: Stadium ramp

Nikon D3000, 10.5mm, 1/250, f/8, ISO 100

This summer I shot a lot of photos at Kauffman Stadium, especially during All Star Game weekend. But some of them – such as this example – aren’t as obviously baseball pictures. I took this shot looking into the middle of the ramps to the upper levels. The ramps are somewhat unusual bits of architecture to begin with, and distorting them with a 10.5mm lens made them look still more interesting. One of my goals for 2013 is to do more night photography at the stadium, so with luck I’ll get the chance to catch this angle with more dramatic lighting.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

2012’s unblogged best – #6: Dyche Hall gargoyle

Nikon D3000, 350mm (150-500), 1/500, f/6.0, ISO 360

Speaking of just down the street from Watson Library, KU’s Natural History Museum building sports a gaggle of gargoyles. As gargoyles were one of the photo themes for 2012, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. As with the fire station and church statues, I used a 500mm lens to get close to details up near the roof.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

2012’s unblogged best – #7: Watson windows

Nikon D3000, Lensbaby Scout with fisheye optics, 1/500, no f-stop, ISO 200

On the same day I shot the carrel photos from last week, I used the same fisheye lens to shoot some pictures from the front windows. Normally architecture invites calm, centered, balanced shot composition and a lens that won’t distort horizontal and vertical lines. But by bending a rule or two, I caught the Campanile, the green outside the library, a building or two down the street and even a bit of interior detail.

Monday, December 24, 2012

2012’s unblogged best – #8: The first signs of spring

Android phone

This was quite a year for photography. In January I set a vague goal to shoot more than 10,000 photos before year’s end. In truth I hadn’t any particular idea just how much photography that would be. As it turned out, quite a bit. I made it with more than 1000 to spare only by shooting a ton of photos at every given opportunity.

I’ve already blogged many of my favorite pictures. In particular, the fireworks shot from the Fourth of July was truly a once-in-a-lifetime catch. But in the six months since I started The Photographer’s Sketchbook (and in the six months prior), I took a few photos that were worth a share even though I didn’t share them. Until now.

I took this first example way back last March. For a change of pace and a little fresh air, I took my photography class on a “field trip” to the college’s nature trail. One of the students forgot his camera, so I let him borrow mine. Thus I spent most of the trip coaching rather than shooting.

At the end of the expedition, just as we were gathering to go back to the classroom, I happened to look down and see an abandoned baseball nestled under some leaves, next to some newly-sprouted greenery. The baseball season was only two or three weeks away, so the discarded ball struck me as sad and hopeful at the same time. I took a quick shot of it with my phone.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Happy holidays

Nikon D7000, 10.5mm, 3 sec., f/8, ISO 100

Starting next Monday The Photographer’s Sketchbook will feature our eight favorite previously-unblogged photos of 2012. I actually finished the entries a couple of days ago, scheduled them to run and then put the blog to bed for the rest of the year.

Then the snow hit. Though it was really exceptionally cold outside, I did venture out to the deck to set the tree aright and shoot a few pictures. This one was the best. A low ISO and a three second exposure (thank you, tripod!) allowed me to bring out the dramatic oranges in the sky, a good contrast to the bright blue lights.

And because I can’t seem to shut the teaching thing off (even when I’m on break), here are a couple of other approaches to the same subject.

Nikon D7000, 18mm (18-55), 2 sec., f/8, ISO 100

The exposure here gives me a similar sense of light and color. Indeed, I love the strong blues (which is why I got blue lights for the tree to begin with). On the other hand, the shot composition isn’t quite as good. I also miss the dramatic sky.

Nikon D7000, 10.5mm, 1/4, f/8, ISO 100, Vivitar flash at 1/16 strength

The only differences between this flash-heavy shot and the available light picture at the top are the shutter speed and obviously the flash. At only 1/16 of full strength, the flash creates a nice effect; any stronger and the tree probably would have turned into a blob of bright white haze. I also like the snowflakes frozen in midair. Still, if this was The Shot from this set, I’d be strongly tempted to edit out the bird feeder.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Nikon D3000, Lensbaby Scout with fisheye optic, 1/250, no f-stop, ISO 200

Earlier this year I started playing around with fisheye photography for the first time. In the past I avoided this specialized realm because it requires a low focal length lens, and such lenses tend to be pricey. Further, I’m typically not a big fan of highly distorted images, and they don’t call this stuff “fisheye” for nothing.

But when I bought a Lensbaby Scout (a system with interchangeable optics), it came with a fisheye lens. So I gave it a try, and I was surprised by how much I liked the results.

One of my first experiments with the new lens tested it in a familiar haunt: KU’s Watson Library. As an undergrad I loved spending time in the carrels reading, writing or just watching the seasons change out the window. So I started with a “standard” lens pushed to the lower end of its focal length range:

Nikon D3000, 18mm (18-55), 1/125, f/5.6, ISO 100

Then I swapped in the Scout and got a shot that included a lot more information. I'm still not a super big fan of the distortion, but I love being able to capture more of the scene. This is especially good for tight spaces such as the library’s stacks where stepping farther back to get a wider shot isn’t an option.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Bee on marigolds

iPhone, cropped

Last week’s trick-intensive work left me longing for a simple, straightforward, contemplative photo.

I took this shot with my iPhone, a good reminder that you don’t need a thousand-dollar camera, a fancy lens or studio lighting to produce good photography.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


Nikon D7000, 55mm (18-55), 1/2, f/13, ISO 100, cropped

Once a semester I like to devote a class period to useless photo techniques. To be sure, these tricks have their uses. But in Intro to Photography I put a premium on pictures that capture perceptions. For me, saving a moment in time is the ultimate photographic experience. Elaborate set-ups and “fake” photos don’t do as much for me. Thus I don’t generally use techniques that require a lot of prep work.

Still, some of them are fun to play with. This semester I decided to try one I’d never done before: rear curtain flash. This technique combines a long exposure with a flash to create a double exposure without actually exposing the frame twice.

To get this effect, start by slowing the shutter way down (I’m using a half second exposure here), which of course requires a tripod. A rapidly-moving object such as this small robot – dubbed RoboRoach by one of my students – will move a lot in half a second, resulting in a photo that looks like this:

Nikon D7000, 55mm (18-55), 1/2, f/13, ISO 100, cropped

In order to get the subject itself to actually show up, I need a shorter exposure as well. Normally that means a short shutter speed, but here that isn’t an option. However, I can fake it by firing the flash right at the end of the exposure. In the photo at the top of this entry, you see the extreme motion blur of the half second shutter combined with a flash that lasts for a fraction of a second at the end of the shot. The flash freezes RoboRoach, combining the clear, frozen shot with the blurry “vapor trail” of light reflected from the shiny spots.

The trick is to fire the flash at the very end of the shot, which is called “rear curtain flash.” Normally cameras fire the flash at the front end of the exposure, based on the assumption that what you want is what you’re looking at exactly when you press the shutter button, not at the end of the exposure. In truth, most flash photography is done at higher shutter speeds (use 125 as a default), so the “curtain” doesn’t matter much.

But to create this effect, I want the streaky blur to trail out behind RoboRoach. If the flash fires at the start of the shot, the vapor trail will extend out in front of the subject. Thus I need a camera with a Rear Curtain Flash setting, which my D7000 just happens to have.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Practicing with statues

Nikon D3000, 30mm (18-55), 1/60, f/5.6, ISO 3200, filtered

I encourage my students to take plenty of pictures of statues. I consider these photos “sketches,” practicing for real photography. The problem with shooting statues is that the sculptor already did most of the work for you. Statues hold perfectly still, giving you all the time you need to line your shot up perfectly. In short, they aren’t much of a challenge.

However, they patiently wait while you practice focusing, composing shots, fiddling with zoom and so on. So use them when you get the chance, and remember the lessons you learn while shooting “real” pictures.

The example above suffers from several technical defects. The worst is the ISO problem. The light at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art is designed to avoid damage to the art from over-exposure to harsh light. For viewing, the light is fine. For photography, it’s far too dark. And of course flashes aren’t permitted (again, that harsh light problem). Cranking up the camera’s light sensitivity allows me to get the shot, but the resulting grainy texture does the smooth marble a disservice. Even filtered in Photoshop to remove some of the grain, it’s still obviously there.

Quick note: if you’re going to use statues to practice shot composition and the like, you can find a lot of them in outdoor locations where you don’t have to worry so much about the light.

Defects aside, this shot allowed me to practice composing a shot with three or more people in it, shooting at an angle that allows me to get everyone in. I put this technique to work in an actual photo a few months later at Topeka’s Day of the Dead celebration.

Nikon D7000, 55 mm (18-55), 1/250, f/8, ISO 100

Note that the composition doesn’t exactly mirror what I did with the statues. I might have cropped this down to increase emphasis on the foreground figure (as I did with the statue shot), but then I would have lost the slightly blurry background thus costing myself the nice, three-dimensional look.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Day of the Dead

Nikon D7000, 55mm (18-55), 1/30, f/13, ISO 100

These dancers at the Topeka Day of the Dead celebration moved a lot. Thus getting the right shot required either frozen motion or – as in this shot – motion blur. A good motion blur shot requires a slow shutter, a steady hand and just the right mix of motion and stillness. Of all the shots I took that afternoon at slower speeds, this one came closest to the perfect combination of elements.

Notice that the background and the figure lying in the street are all still. A blurry background screams “I can’t hold my camera still,” but here I don’t have that problem. The dancers are blurred in ways that communicate their motion. The guy in blue is obviously either standing up or squatting down. The woman to the right is frozen except for her rapidly-moving arm.

But the best motion is on the skull-faced woman in the center of the shot. Her head is in circular motion, freezing her face (thus giving good facial detail) and getting a strong sense of rotating motion from her feathers.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The K

Nikon D3000, 10.5mm, 1/250, f/8, ISO 100, adjusted.

In honor of the waning days of the baseball season, here’s a shot I took in May of Kauffman Stadium. The panoramic view comes courtesy of the 10.5mm lens.

The shot was slightly tilted, which looks really bad in a symmetrical, wide-angle shot with a clearly visible horizon. Fortunately it was an easy fix in Photoshop.

So farewell to baseball for another year. Next year we’re going to fewer games, but I’ll still try to get some more shots.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Car fire

Nikon D7000, 18-55mm (55mm), 1/250, f/8, ISO 200, cropped and adjusted

Having a bad day? At least this isn’t happening to your car.

I associate square aspect ratios with Polaroids, but here it makes for an interesting composition. Cropping down from 4:3 focuses attention on the important part of the scene, capturing an image that matches my perception.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Friday night football

Nikon D3000, Sigma 150-500mm (150mm), f/5, 1/100, ISO 3200, cropped and filtered

This is the first time I’ve ever shot a football game. It’s also the first time I’ve used my Sigma 150-500mm lens for action shots. So it was a good learning experience for me.

The photos in this blog entry are a sequence of shots of the same play. The first one (above) has been filtered to compensate for the 3200 ISO setting. I needed the camera to be highly sensitive to light so I could afford to speed the shutter up, but the higher ISO produces a grainy look. None of the rest of the shots in this set have been filtered, so you can see the grain in them.

Nikon D3000, Sigma 150-500mm (150mm), f/5, 1/100, ISO 3200, cropped

This shot demonstrates a couple of ways to capture motion in a still shot. The players’ postures clearly indicate that they’re moving. The dust they’re kicking up also helps the effect.

Nikon D3000, Sigma 150-500mm (150mm), f/5, 1/100, ISO 3200, cropped

One of the disadvantages to football is that the helmets tend to obscure facial expression. But every once in awhile a little emotion peeks through. I’m particularly fond of the “I’ve got you now” look in the eyes of the guy on the right.

Nikon D3000, Sigma 150-500mm (150mm), f/5, 1/100, ISO 3200, cropped

Of the shots of this set, this last one is my favorite. Despite the grain and the slight excess of blur, the action is hard to beat.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Playing with fire

Nikon D7000, 18-55mm lens at 30mm, shutter 250, f/8, ISO 100, cropped

Awhile back I was at a Chamber of Commerce presentation (don’t ask) waiting for a speech to begin when I happened to overhear a conversation between two photographers. One was boasting about how he knew photographers who shot hundreds of pictures and only got a handful of good ones, while he carefully picked his shots and got great pictures more than half the time.

In general I could take the boasting, at least in part because later I noticed that he had his flash at a 45-degree angle on a 20 foot high, irregular ceiling. In a future entry I’ll explain why that doesn’t work. The part of the boast that bugged me was the notion that great photographers get great photos every time they hit their shutter buttons.

Not so. For starters, even an experienced photographer can mess things up (see last week’s entry for proof). But more than that, one of the great beauties of digital photography is that it frees us from the obligation to be stingy with our shots.

A recent “photo safari” to the Renaissance Festival is a case in point. In all I shot more than 1600 pictures, including more than 340 of the troupe in this photo. Back in the film days, that would have been between 45 and 67 rolls of film, including the expense of buying it and the hassle of developing it. Just carrying that much stuff around the RenFest would have been a prohibitive proposition.

If I’d been forced to carefully pick and choose every shot I took, I could still have expected to get a few good pictures. But my chances of catching the exact moment when a fire trick looked like mushroom clouds? Odds would have been against it.

That’s why I encourage my students to shoot everything that moves and most of what doesn’t. This introduces the spontaneous into your work. You get the chance to catch anything you can see, all the moments that will escape if you feel obliged to dither about whether or not the shot is worth shooting.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Oops! Overexposure

Nikon D3000, Sigma 150-500mm (500mm), shutter 60, f/11, ISO 800

Normally I like to lead off with a good shot. But today’s entry is about making a mistake, so what you see above is not exactly the best shot I ever took.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on 18th Street has some interesting gargoyles, and it’s just a block or two from my house. So one lazy summer day I dragged my 500mm over to shoot some pictures. Along the way I noticed a rabbit and took a shot or two of her.

Nikon D3000, Sigma 150-500mm (500mm), shutter 125, f/11, ISO 800, cropped

When I got to the church I clicked merrily away. Satisfied that I’d gotten several good shots, I headed home to upload my photos.

Sadly, I’d forgotten two things. The first was that I’d put the camera on manual control so I could get a proper exposure on the rabbit munching grass in the shade. But you can see in the background of the bunny shot how overexposed subjects in bright sunlight would be. So I should have remembered to reset the camera to automatic exposure adjustment or at least corrected the manual settings for the brightly-lit gargoyles.

The second mistake actually would have fixed the first: I should have remembered to check my photos to make sure they were coming out okay. Back in the film days you never knew exactly what you were getting until you got it developed and printed. In the digital age you can get an instant preview of your pictures. If I’d simply stopped to glance at the preview I would have instantly detected the problem.

Lucky for me the location was just a short walk from my front door. If I’d come back from Chicago or the Black Hills with this mess, I would have been upset indeed. But the gargoyles were still there when I returned to reshoot, and on the second try I ended up with the result I was after.

Nikon D3000, Sigma 150-500mm (500mm), shutter 800, f/6.3, ISO 200

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


Canon EOS 10D, 17mm, 1/10, f/4.0, ISO 400, retouched
Here we have the taxidermied remains of Comanche, the horse ridden by Myles Keogh at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Part of the myth is that Comanche was the only U.S. military survivor of the battle, or at least the Custer-led portion of it. That wasn’t exactly true, but it’s still a fun story.

Less fun were the shooting conditions in the Dyche Hall Natural History Museum. The University of Kansas used to have the horse prominently displayed on the second floor, but its former place of honor has been usurped by an exhibit about evolution (no doubt a dig at the religious fanatics on the state school board).

Comanche now resides in a poorly-lit hallway with some disastrous back-lighting from a nearby window. The dim conditions made shutter speed a tricky business. Slowing down enough to get a proper exposure introduced too much motion blur from the hand-held camera.

Canon EOS 10D, 17mm, .7 sec., f/4.0, ISO 400
With the shutter sped up, the photos came out way too dark.

Canon EOS 10D, 17mm, 1/10, f/4.0, ISO 400
Still, dark is easier to fix than blurry. In Photoshop I lightened the image considerably, toned down the yellows and reds to make Comanche look a little less glow-in-the-dark, and came up with the image at the top of this post.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Bad was oil

Nikon D7000, 26mm, 1/250, f/8, ISO 200, retouched

In this shot from the Chicago lakefront, I’m having a little fun with a sign painted on the side of a barrel. By shooting it from an angle that hides part of the text, I’ve altered the meaning a bit.

This picture has also been slightly retouched to improve the vibrance. I made the change partially to start teaching myself to use Adobe Lightbox (a relative of Photoshop) and partially to give Lake Michigan a nice, Mediterranean azure hue.

This is what the unretouched photo looked like:

Nikon D7000, 26mm, 1/250, f/8, ISO 200

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Cave bear part two

Nikon D7000, 30mm (18-55mm), f7.1, 1/40, ISO 6400

We aren’t quite done with the bear skeleton yet. The last post was getting a little long, but the subject has a little more to teach us.

I took the photo above with the same camera but from a different angle and a slightly different focal length. This shot doesn’t provide as good a sense of the bear’s surroundings. But the Aaaaaagh! factor is much higher. Those teeth! Those claws! If this thing hadn’t been dead for millennia, I’d be in serious trouble right about now.

You can use this shot to apply what you learned last week. How could you edit this picture to make the bear stand out more? If you have a copy of Photoshop (or other image editing software), feel free to download the image and play around with it.

Now here’s the same subject shot with a different camera and lens:

Nikon D7000, 10.5mm, f3.2, 1/30, ISO 1600

The fisheye allows me to get the whole skeleton in while at the same time preserving the sense of menace. This would have been a tougher edit, however.

Before we leave the Field Museum, let’s look at one more subject: ISO. Museums tend to be good places to practice your exposure control. Subjects tend not to move around a lot, so you don’t have to fret about losing your shot. Still objects also eliminate a lot of shutter speed worries (if it isn’t moving, you don’t have to care much about subject motion blur). You will probably also encounter many different lighting conditions, which should keep you mindful of your shutter and aperture settings.

The big challenge is typically that museums tend to use lighting that’s pleasing to the eye but too dim for photography. The easiest way to compensate for the lower light (other than using a tripod, which most museums don’t allow) is to bump up your ISO, making your camera’s imaging chip more sensitive to available light. However, there’s a trade-off involved.

Nikon D7000, 22mm (18-55mm), f7.1, 1/40, ISO 6400, cropped
See how grainy the picture looks? That’s the result of turning up the ISO to 6400. The problem doesn’t show up in the larger picture. But when we “blow up” to the actual pixels, you can see where the camera’s chip is starting to make mistakes. That’s the ISO trade-off. Higher settings allow you to capture images in much lower light, but the quality of the picture can suffer as a result.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Cave bear

Nikon D7000, 22mm (18-55mm), f7.1, 1/40, ISO 6400, cropped & retouched

This is the skeleton of a Short Faced Bear from the Field Museum in Chicago. These guys were serious business. For scale, imagine a person coming up to somewhere around the bottom of the bear’s rib cage.

Paleontologists believe these bears prevented human migration into the Americas for thousands of years. I suspect they did this by simply eating anyone stupid enough to try it. Still, it conjures images of the bears patrolling a checkpoint on the Bering land bridge.

“Oh no,” the bear says, making a twisting gesture with one giant claw. “Turn it around and march it right back where you came from. One look at y’all and we just know what you’ll get up to if we let you in here.”

Okay, down to photo business. As usual, I shot several pictures of this subject. This one turned out to be my favorite because by coincidence I happened to catch one of the ceiling lights right in the bear’s eye socket, giving it a devil skeleton bear look. And this was the 1666th picture I took with my D7000. Spooky.

On the other hand, the original shot required some editing. Here’s what it looked like straight out of the camera:

Nikon D7000, 22mm (18-55mm), f7.1, 1/40, ISO 6400

For starters, it needed a little cropping to emphasize the subject and improve the shot composition. But the real problem here is the distracting background stuff. For starters, the white dots of the ceiling lights floating in the black field are distracting. And worse, the bones behind the bear are creating a lot of visual “noise” that makes it harder to see the foreground subject, especially around waist level.

So off we go to Photoshop for some retouching. First I cropped the picture. Then I used the clone stamp tool to eliminate the floating lights. The tricky part was fixing the background. I didn’t want it to disappear entirely, but I didn’t want it messing with my bear. So I carefully masked the image, which looks like this on the screen:

With just the background selected, I darkened it up quite a bit. In the final version you can still get a sense of the space, but the rest of the skeletons are too dim to steal attention from the foreground subject.

Oh, and for what it’s worth: editing like this is fine if all you’re after is a better picture. But for a photojournalist, making these kinds of adjustments can create serious ethical problems. Folks who work for newspapers and news magazines are supposed to be capturing what they see and not eliminating elements just to make the picture look better. Some photojournalists have even been fired for removing elements or moving things around in their photos.


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Exile Tattoo

Nikon D7000, 10.5mm, f/4, shutter 1/60, ISO 450

This shot shows you some of the advantages of shooting with a short focal length lens, in this case a Nikon 10.5mm lens. Lenses with extremely short focal lengths are sometimes called “fisheye” lenses for reasons that should be obvious when you look at the pictures they produce. Though there’s no official definition of the term, the fisheye bending effect is usually visible at lengths shorter than 15mm or so.

The biggest disadvantage to fisheye lenses is of course the distortion. Subjects toward the center of the shot usually come out okay, but the closer you get to the edge the more bending you get. Look at the doorway in the lefthand side of the shot, The frame is more or less okay on the right-hand side, but the left looks like something out of an old carnival funhouse.

Because fisheye lenses pack so much more information into your picture, it can be tough to get absolutely everything in the shot completely perfect. This exposure is good for the room on the left, but the exterior window way down the hall to the right is overexposed. Here it doesn’t ruin the shot, because the people are important and whatever might be going on outside the window isn’t.

Still, such lenses can be challenges. Try taking one outside on a cloudless day and you’ll soon find just how hard it is to keep the sun out of your shot.

On the other hand, fisheye lenses are great for capturing scenes. The wide angle allowed me to get not just the tattooist at work but also the rest of the shop, which of course would have been impossible with a longer lens.

For what it’s worth, this photo was actually inspired by another one I took a couple of months earlier:

Nikon D3000, Lensbaby wide angle, no f-stop, shutter 1/100, ISO 800

I shot this one with a Lensbaby Scout with wide angle optics installed. The focus problems are partially my fault; I’d been shooting closer to the subjects and forgot to readjust, and Lensbaby lenses don’t work with the camera’s autofocus feature. I might also have been able to reduce the vignetting (the darkness in the corners of the picture) by using an f-stop, which I would have needed to manually install prior to shooting.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Ethnic Fest

Nikon D3000, 26mm (18-55mm), f/6.3, shutter 1/8, ISO 200

The Wyandotte County Ethnic Festival is an event full of energy and motion. Video cameras have no trouble capturing motion, but still photographers have to be a bit more clever about it.

One of our two options is motion blur. Allowing the subject to move during the exposure creates a blurry, streaky image the viewer will read as motion. The key is shutter speed. The shutter must remain open long enough for the subject to move.

In this example, a group of dancers are making their way to the stage. I’ve got the ISO set at 200, which is a little low for most indoor lighting situations. As a result, the shutter needs to stay open for a long time (1/8 of a second) in order to get enough light for a good exposure. The dancers moved a fair amount while the shutter was open, resulting in a nice motion blur effect.

But motion blur can be tricky. You only want blur on moving subjects, not the picture as a whole. The subjects can move, but the camera can’t. If your hands move at all (even as much as the pressure of your finger on the trigger) while shutter is open, it will blur your entire image and make it look terrible.

In this example (shot just a second or two before the good one above), the camera moved just a teeny bit, wrecking the image quality.

Nikon D3000, 26mm (18-55mm), f/6.3, shutter 1/8, ISO 200

Thus to pull off motion blur you will generally want a tripod, monopod or something else to brace your camera.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Fire station gargoyles

Nikon D3000, 270mm (150-500mm), f/18, shutter 1/125, ISO 100, cropped

I grew up in a house just down the street from a fire station with gargoyles. Or to be more precise, the building is now a neighborhood center. But it was originally a fire station, and its gargoyles looked like firemen.

For years I’ve wanted good pictures of them. But relatively small objects high off the ground can be difficult to photograph. Here’s a view of the location from farther back with a shorter lens, so you can get an idea of the shooting conditions:

Nikon D3000, 20mm (18-55mm), f/8, shutter 1/250, ISO 100

For starters, I need to use a lens that will let me zoom in as much as possible, so I can stand on the ground yet get a photo that looks like I’m right next to the subject. In technical terms, what I need is a lens with a longer focal length.

So I switched from my usual 18-55mm Nikon lens to my 150-500mm Sigma. Because it’s fairly heavy, I mounted it on a monopod.

Standing on the sidewalk outside the building and aiming up, I got this photo with the lens zoomed in roughly halfway:

Nikon D3000, 270mm (150-500mm), f/18, shutter 1/125, ISO 100

Because I was shooting higher resolution images (the “large/fine” setting on the camera), I had plenty of data to work with when I loaded it onto my computer. I used Photoshop to crop the picture down, eliminating some unnecessary information around the edges and bringing out the details on the gargoyle. Now it looks so close we can count his teeth.

This cropping process is essentially what happens when a point-and-shoot camera uses “digital zoom” to make a picture look more close-up.

Personally, I prefer optical zoom (zooming done with the lens itself rather than by digitally “blowing up” the picture). I shot this image of one of the other gargoyles at the full 500mm limit of the lens:

Nikon D3000, 500mm (150-500mm), f/18, shutter 1/125, ISO 100, retouched

If I want to edit down to details, I can go this far without making it look “pixellated” (like a low-resolution computer image blown up too big):

Nikon D3000, 500mm (150-500mm), f/18, shutter 1/125, ISO 100, cropped, retouched

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Maker Faire 2012

Nikon D7000, 28mm (18-55mm lens), f/4.5, shutter 1/60, ISO 400, cropped and retouched

I’m surprised at myself. We’re three entries into this new blog, and this is the first entry about the most important photographic subject: people. Photographers who hope to make a living at their craft must become practiced at getting good shots of people, as most paying jobs (photojournalism, fashion, portraits, weddings and so on) require the skill. Even the casual snapshot will generally be of a friend, relative or other person.

This example comes from the 2012 Maker Faire in Kansas City. Events like this are great places to practice your people-photographing skills. Whatever bit of theatre this happened to be supplied good facial expressions from the actor and her young volunteer.

Here’s the original shot:

Nikon D7000, 28mm (18-55mm lens), f/4.5, shutter 1/60, ISO 400

After I loaded it onto my computer, I cropped it down to increase emphasis on the people and improve the shot composition. The figures now roughly follow the visual principle known as “Rule of Thirds.” The main action occupies the center of the shot, while the “mad scientist’s” body takes up the left third. The right third is relatively empty.

I also ran Photoshop’s auto-tone on it, improving the color quality. We’ll get into color tone in greater depth in a later entry. For now just note that the “after” version looks warmer, less grey.