Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Happy Holidays

It being Christmas and all, today I’m taking a break from teaching mode (thus no camera and lens data or laborious discussions about how I got the shots). I put together this video using Garage Band, iMovie and a handful of holiday-themed photos. Not bad for a couple of free apps and a few minutes in the cold.

Because image quality isn’t the best in Youtube videos (or at least Youtube videos that don’t take forever to upload), here are the stills I used for the production:

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Little Bighorn

Canon EOS 10D, 17mm (17-40), 1/180, f/10, ISO 100, edited and altered

As I was working on the Photo Safari board on Pinterest last week, I noticed a serious omission: I never blogged any of the photos I took at the Little Bighorn battlefield in July 2011. The rest of that journey was reasonably well represented with entries on the Black Hills and Badlands, but the main point of going up north to begin with somehow managed to slip into a crack between the floorboards.

Problem rectified. I took this photo looking down from Reno-Benteen Hill into the Little Bighorn valley. From this spot the units of the Seventh Cavalry who weren’t killed with Custer held off the Sioux (who bought time for their families to escape by keeping the troops besieged). The cenotaphs mark the spots where some of the cavalry’s Indian scouts died.

This photo went through standard edits to bring the colors out a bit more, which I kinda hated to do. We were there on a scorching hot summer afternoon very much like the day the battle was fought more than a century ago. So the colors here are more vivid than I remembered them.

I also removed a “keep off the grass” sign. The original photo looked like this:

Canon EOS 10D, 17mm (17-40), 1/180, f/10, ISO 100

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Place Pins

For some time now I’ve been using Pinterest to create a catalog of photography-related web resources. As of this writing, the main board has more than 700 pins, most of which are links to other people’s lessons. But a handful of the pins are to entries in this blog, most of which are my own work.

Pinterest recently introduced Place Pins, a new system that allows markers to show up on a map indicating a connection between a pin and a place. As many of my blog entries feature photos tied to particular locations, I thought it might be fun to create a Place Pin board for The Photographer’s Sketchbook.

Thus far the experience has been somewhat mixed. Place Pins are somewhat hard to create. I’m not sure if it’s possible to create a pin for a place that isn’t already part of the Foursquare location database (which is to say that if it’s possible at all it’s not immediately obvious how to do it). Further, clicking on a pin and seeing where it is on the map works great, but clicking on a map point and seeing all the pins associated with it, not so much. For now all it shows is the most recent. So if you click on the Sedalia map point, it’ll show you the last pin of photos from the Missouri State Fair but not the other four.

That seems like the exact opposite of what I’d want. If I’m interested in a pin from the Field Museum, showing me where Chicago is on a map isn’t all that helpful. I’d much rather click on the Chicago map point and have it show me all my Chicago pins. Or better yet, have it work both ways.

As with many new web gizmos (especially on Pinterest), I’m intrigued by the idea but I think it needs a little more work.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Semester wrap-up

As the semester draws to a close, I’ve been making some adjustments to The Photographer’s Sketchbook. This entry gives you a sneak peek at the revised version of the home page. I’m not going to make the changes to the site itself until the semester is officially over. Working with computers for three decades or so has given me a healthy appreciation for the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” principle, so I don’t want to risk messing anything up while students may still need access to it.

This fall was the first time I’d ever taught photography as a blended learning class, combining on-ground sessions with online work. Overall I’ve been extremely pleased with the results. But I did note a change or two that needed to be made in course organization.

I also replaced four of the splash page photos with new pictures and replaced the old banner (which was created using a script font) with actual hand lettering.

Over the Christmas break I’ll be making some design changes to the slide shows on the web site. We’ve added quite a few this semester:

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Exile in the rain

D3000, 10.5mm, 0.3 sec, f/8, ISO 200, adjusted

Around a month ago I got a rare confluence of events: a rainy night and the free time to go out in it and shoot some pictures. I promised Amy I’d photograph the neon at Exile Tattoos some damp evening, so this seemed like the perfect time.

Naturally I brought a tripod along so I could work in the dim light. I started with the 10.5mm lens, taking a few shots in the lobby (below) before moving outside for the pictures I came to get (above).

D3000, 10.5mm, 0.5 sec, f/8, ISO 200

The outdoor photos I took with the 18-55mm zoom didn’t turn out as well. While I remembered to bring the camera’s raincoat, I neglected to bring one for myself. Thus I ended up drenched before I got anything I was happy with.

On the other hand, it wasn’t raining indoors. So while I had the camera on the tripod, I decided to play around with a special effects trick: zooming with the shutter open. The technique produces a strange, streaky effect that draws attention to the center of the shot. I’d tried the trick a few times in the past, but this is the first time I got genuinely interesting results:

D7000, 18-55mm, 2.5 sec, f/13, ISO 100

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Wells Overlook again

Nikon D3000, 10.5mm, 1/400, f/10, ISO 800

Though we were a little early for good fall colors (especially with the lingering summer heat and dry weather), a Saturday in late October proved to be our best opportunity to return to Wells Overlook to shoot some more pictures. This time I brought more equipment, including a tripod and a range of lenses.

My favorite of the set was a 10.5mm shot taken from the KU side of the tower (see above). I’m especially fond of what happens to the horizon when it’s positioned at the curving edge of the fisheye frame.

At the opposite end of the focal length spectrum, here’s a 500mm shot of the south side of KU’s main campus more than four miles away.

Nikon D7000, 500mm (150-500mm), 1/80, f/16, ISO 100, adjusted

Even with level adjustment in Photoshop, the colors end up somewhat washed out by the dust in the air (courtesy a stiff breeze and of course the distance from the subject).

Also note how flattened the perspective becomes at this focal length. It’s hard to judge the vertical distance between objects. Are the buildings in the foreground right next door to the dorms, or are they blocks away? That smokestack that looks like it’s part of the left edge of McCollum Hall is actually more than a mile behind it.

And to round things out at the end, here’s a view of the overlook tower taken from the bend in the road visible in the first shot:

Nikon D3000, 10.5mm, 1/800, f/14, ISO 800, cropped

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

State Fair - Midway miscellany

Nikon D7000, 48mm (28-200), 1/125, f/4.5, ISO 800

The best part of the fair – for kids and photographers alike – has to be the midway. As the sun goes down, the rides and booths become a festival of fascinating images. They also become a festival of tricky technical challenges.

This close-up of a trash can lid gets in tight to reduce the face to abstract form and color. It also brings out the surface texture and the glittery paint.

Nikon D7000, 135mm (28-200), 1/1250, f/7.1, ISO 800

The colors everywhere were wonderful. Booths full of stuffed animal prizes provided no end of bright patterns.

Nikon D7000, 200mm (28-200), 1/125, f/5.6, ISO 800, cropped

As usual, I had two cameras with me. I put a fisheye lens on my D3000, but I didn’t use it anywhere near as often as I expected to. Here’s one spot where it produced a good result:

Nikon D3000, 10.5mm, 1/80, f/2.8, ISO 400

I took two photos of this basketball booth, one from the front and one from the back. This one proved to be the more visually interesting of the two, the strong backlight giving the scene an almost ghostly feeling.

Nikon D3000, 10.5mm, 1/80, f/2.8, ISO 800

As usual, I found that when I carefully planned shots that I ended up with something completely unexpected. My plan was to shoot this large ride with a slow shutter speed, letting it paint long streaks of light in my image (as I did with the Scrambler). Though I got a few shots that captured what I was aiming for, I ended up liking this relatively still image the best. I loved the strange combination of table lamp and War of the Worlds Martian death machine. I also liked the blue color the lights spread over the whole image.

Nikon D3000, 10.5mm, 1/20, f/4.0, ISO 800

When I first started editing the State Fair photos, I didn’t care much for this one. But Amy liked it, so I gave it a chance. And she was right.

Nikon D7000, 28mm (28-200), 1/60, f/5.6, ISO 800, cropped

My initial objection was that the lights in the background were blurry. But that lends the scene a quality in which the prosaic foreground full of vendors is set apart from the dreamlike realm of the midway.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

State Fair - Portraits 3

Nikon D7000, 56mm (28-200), 1/60, f/4.5, ISO 800, adjusted

As I mentioned somewhere in the distant past – back at the start of the Missouri State Fair adventure – the experience is hard to beat for people watching. Thus it’s also hard to beat for candid photo ops. I think I’m going to let these pictures speak for themselves.

Nikon D7000, 92mm (28-200), 1/60, f/5, ISO 800, adjusted

Nikon D7000, 78mm (28-200), 1/1000, f/6.3, ISO 800, adjusted

Nikon D7000, 86mm (28-200), 1/160, f/5, ISO 800, adjusted

Nikon D7000, 62mm (28-200), 1/400, f/5, ISO 800, adjusted

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


I’m once again interrupting the flow of usual stuff on the blog to share something in the spirit of the season. This time it’s a set of Halloween photos shot by my grandmother back in the 1950s. Actually, the weird one in the basement may not be a Halloween picture, but it still fits well with the rest of the group.

Grandma was a wonderful photographer. I’m greatly in her debt not only for the equipment she passed on to me that helped me get back into photography several years ago but also for the inherited visual sense to occasionally take pictures half as good as hers.

I’m also grateful to my sister, who has been scanning in Grandma’s albums and shared these eerie images from Halloweens past.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

State Fair – Portraits 2

Nikon D7000, 28mm (28-200), 1/60, f/11, ISO 800, adjusted

Part of the trick with street photography is to capture candid, un-posed moments. But sometimes one must sacrifice spontaneity in order to get the shot.

Here’s an example: I spotted a man sporting an interesting tattoo: Elvis Presley’s famous “Taking Care of Business in a Flash” emblem. I couldn’t get a good angle on him, so I gave up on him and moved on. But then I mentioned the tattoo to my wife, and without a moment’s hesitation she caught up with the guy and asked if we could take his picture.

He was really nice about it. Turns out he used to be an Elvis impersonator, and he was happy to pose for a couple of shots.

Of course the result looks posed. But it’s a pose that conveys the tattoo and the personality of the man with the ink. Sometimes ya gotta bend the rules.

Technical note: the slow shutter speed caught a little motion on the subject’s left hand, which gave a good sense of energy to an otherwise static shot.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

State Fair – Portraits 1

Nikon D7000, 100mm (28-200), 1/500, f/5.6, ISO 800, cropped

The Missouri State Fair is an excellent place to practice “street photography,” part of which is the fine art of capturing ordinary people in their natural environment (so sort of like wildlife photography only with people).

The photo above is an example of what I was after. It captures the larger-than-life hype of the carnival midway and contrasts it with the ticket taker.

Here’s a similar shot:

Nikon D7000, 68mm (28-200), 1/640, f/4.8, ISO 800

This photo doesn’t pack the major distraction of the Snake Woman, so it’s easier to focus on the subject. Further, he stands as a singular subject amid a field of repeating patterns, which also helps him stand out.

Of course one way to draw the viewer’s attention to a particular subject is to eliminate everything around him.

Nikon D7000, 66mm (28-200), 1/100, f/4.8, ISO 400, cropped

This shot is close in enough that there isn’t much besides the guy to look at. Contrast that approach with a wider angle:

Nikon D7000, 28mm (28-200), 1/100, f/5.6, ISO 400, cropped

Now the man is lost in his surroundings. I love the chaos of over-sized prizes, the twilight lighting, the overall context of the shot. But I find myself less interested in who the man is, what he might be thinking at the moment the shutter clicked, where he got the tattoo on his arm. So it’s a trade-off.

Also note that both these shots were taken from approximately the same spot. A good zoom lens can come in handy when catching people in spontaneous moments.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

State Fair – The Scrambler

Nikon D3000, 10.5mm, 0.4 sec, f/18, ISO 100
I didn’t catch this ride’s actual name. But I’ve seen this sort of thing called a Scrambler elsewhere, so we’ll go with that.

I shot this set under some unusual lighting conditions. The day was getting on toward dusk and the sky was overcast. The result was outdoor light that looked normal but wasn’t intensely bright. And that allowed me some leeway with my settings. I was also able to brace the camera on a rail, which meant I could slow the shutter down farther than I could have with a strictly hand-held shot.

Thus I was able to capture some interesting light trails while freezing the objects and people around the ride. On the first shot (above), the orange trails and blurred car looked sorta like a tornado.

Nikon D3000, 10.5mm, 1/8, f/22, ISO 400

The ride moved around in patterns that were difficult to predict. So some of the shots were mostly blur while others featured clearer images of the riders.

Though I framed most of the set horizontally, I also managed to capture a few good ones with the camera turned 90 degrees.

Nikon D3000, 10.5mm, 0.4 sec, f/20, ISO 100

Wednesday, October 2, 2013


Nikon D7000, 150mm (150-500), 1/800, f/9, ISO 400, cropped

As long as I have the State Fair series disrupted for sports, I might as well post some soccer shots. The afternoon was baking hot when I shot these from the sidelines of KCKCC’s home opener, so if I get too far into October before posting them I fear they’ll be badly out of season.

The picture at the top of this post is sports photography with all the elements in place. Details are clear. Framing is good. Motion is frozen. Body posture and facial expression tell a dramatic story.

Of course it’s easy to set up a shot like this when you know pretty much precisely what’s going to happen, where it’s going to happen and when it’s going to happen. Because sports such as soccer are generally more free flowing, you have to stay loose (frequently adjusting zoom and focus), look for good moments and shoot lots of pictures.

Here’s an example of a good moment captured without a lot of careful set-up:

Nikon D7000, 150mm (150-500), 1/800, f/7.1, ISO 400, cropped

For all their fun, sports tend to be serious business. However, every once in awhile you can catch some humor:

Nikon D7000, 400mm (150-500), 1/125, f/9, ISO 100, cropped

The main subject in this shot was doing some warm-up jumps, but his body posture and the apparent “reactions” to it come across as funny.

And of course a warning: when photographing sports, shutter speed is absolutely crucial. Compare the kick and head shots above with this picture taken earlier in the afternoon:

Nikon D7000, 150mm (150-500), 1/125, f/10, ISO 100, cropped
The difference in shutter speed is a small fraction of a second, but what a difference it makes in motion blur and the story you tell with your picture.

I should also mention that this week we added the very first actual instructional slide show to The Photographer’s Sketchbook web site. It’s an introduction to sketching color.