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.