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.