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.