Wednesday, January 30, 2013


Nikon D3000, Lensbaby Scout single glass optic with bellows, 1/100, no f-stop, ISO 100.

I first worked with a macro lens many years ago, shooting pictures of a friend getting a tattoo. I fell instantly in love with the ability to shoot extremely close-up shots. Sadly, I haven’t had many occasions to do much macro work since then.

One of the toys I got for Christmas was a bellows attachment. It looks like this:

The bellows works with any lens (though some work better than others). It increases the focal length (the distance between the lens and the image-recording chip in the camera), which permits close-up work.

I took the shot at the top of this post with the bellows and a Lensbaby Scout with a single-glass optic in place. The lens produces the soft focus effect and allows in enough light to get a good exposure even with the bellows in use.

For size reference, the subject – a small seal made of yellow glass – is around the size of a thumbnail.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Contact sheet

No lesson this week, just a quick recognition of a mini milestone. Last week the 8sails staff finally finished the splash page for The Photographer’s Sketchbook. The graphics are patterned off the contact sheets we used to use to “preview” negatives back in the film days, with each frame linked to a topic on the site.

Or to be more precise, each frame is linked to a spot on “the bookshelf,” the site’s index of lessons organized by topic. At this point we don’t have a lot of lessons loaded, but as we add content to the site in the coming months, at least it will be easy to access.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Capitol dome

Nikon D7000, 28mm (28-200), 1/250, f/8, ISO 110

Last week we were inside the capitol in Topeka, so this week let’s step outside and play around with zooming for a minute.

These are among the first shots I took with a new toy: a Tamron 28-200mm zoom lens. For some time now I’d been working with a Nikkor 18-55mm zoom as my standard lens, the one I left attached to the Nikon D7000 (the more powerful of the two digital cameras I use regularly) for everyday use. However, I found myself somewhat dissatisfied with the limits of being able to zoom in only to 55mm. So at the recommendation of the good folks at Overland Photo Supply, I opted to take a chance on a brand I’d never tried before.

Thus far I’ve been quite pleased with the results. I took the shot at the top of this post at the lens’s widest focal length: 28mm. This allows me to capture the overall “lay of the land” but doesn’t give me a ton of detail on any one particular spot.

So my next shot is zoomed in to the other end of the lens’s limits: 200mm.

Nikon D7000, 200mm (28-200), 1/1250, f/5.6, ISO 400

Mind, I didn’t move my feet at all. The camera is no closer to the subject. All this took was a twist of the lens.

That’s the limit of optical zoom, the zooming that can be done with the lens itself. However, the file size allows for a considerable amount of digital zoom. Here’s how it works:

At its highest image quality levels, the D7000’s photos are 4928 pixels by 3264 pixels. That’s way bigger than anything we need for computer screen display, so as a rule of thumb I reduce image size to 1000 pixels along the longest edge before uploading to the blog. That cuts D7000 photos down to 1000 x 662 (or 662 x 1000 if it happens to be a vertical composition).

But what if I crop the image rather than reducing it? In Photoshop I can use the crop tool to cut out a tiny 1000 x 662 chunk out of the huge 4928 x 3264 picture. Thus I can make it look like I zoomed in with the lens even though what I’m actually doing is cropping down to a small chunk of a larger picture:

Nikon D7000, 200mm (28-200), 1/1250, f/5.6, ISO 400, cropped
Extra for intermediate and advanced photographers: though I’m pleased with the result (this is way more detail than I could ever have dreamed of if I’d been stuck at 28mm), I am a little annoyed at the camera’s exposure decisions. I put the D7000 on automatic exposure mode so I could concentrate exclusively on what I was doing with the lens. Usually auto mode works reasonably well, but here it made some odd decisions.

The 1/1250 shutter speed is way too fast for a subject that isn’t moving (indeed, that’s too fast even for most objects that are moving). I don’t want to dip below 1/200 in order to avoid camera shake problems at this focal length. Still ...

The shutter speed itself isn’t a problem, but to compensate for the speed the camera does some things I don’t want. It compensates for the tiny amount of light that gets through in 1/1250th of a second by opening the aperture all the way up to 5.6, narrowing the depth of field and making it harder to focus. It also cranked the ISO up to 400, which starts to add some graininess into the image.

In fairness to the camera, you do need to worry about the shutter speed with telephoto shots, because even tiny vibrations can cause camera motion blur. But on a bright, sunny day like this, if I’d had the camera in manual exposure mode I would have set the ISO at 100 and sacrificed at least some shutter speed in order to keep the f-stop narrower.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


Nikon D3000, 10.5mm, 1/30, f/2.8, ISO 360

In pursuit of a photo for the “Law” section of The Photographer’s Sketchbook splash page, Ken and I made a safari to the capitol building in Topeka. The image I had in mind was something close to the shot above.

My original vision was a shot from squarely under the exact center of the dome. But as you can see if you look closely, this shot is slightly off center. I shot this from the second floor, leaning over the balcony rail, rather than from the ground floor.

Upon arriving at the capitol, I discovered two problems with my original scheme.

Nikon D3000, 10.5mm, 1/30, f/2.8, ISO 560

First, on Jan. 2 the building’s Christmas decorations were still up, including a huge tree right where I’d planned to stand to get the shot. No huge catastrophe. Topeka isn’t 1000 miles away. Go back and try again later, right?

Sadly, the second obstacle was a bigger challenge. From the first floor, the second floor balcony makes a hole far narrower than I’d anticipated. So even if I’d gotten to the exact spot I had in mind, the resulting picture would have been more featureless ceiling than beautiful dome.

Thus I got the best results not standing under it looking up but from the side, standing on one of the fourth floor balconies.

Nikon D3000, 10.5mm, 1/30, f/2.8, ISO 320

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


Nikon D7000, 18mm (18-55mm), 1/50, F/7.1, ISO 100

To start the new year, here’s a seasonably-appropriate shot. I took it with the camera mounted on a tripod, which gave me free reign to turn the ISO down to 100 (giving me a crisp, non-grainy image) and set my shutter speed to whatever I wanted.

This shot was taken at 1/50 of a second, which I could probably have taken without a tripod. Note that the snow appears in dark areas of the photo as subtle white streaks (and of course it doesn’t show up against white backgrounds at all). You may need to click on the photo to enlarge it so you can see the detail.

Or better yet, check out the larger version and five more shots I just added to the first slide show in the Photographer’s Sketchbook web site. Fair warning, though: this project is still in its early stages of development. The slide show works just fine (be patient while it loads), but if you come back to it on down the road it may look different and have a few more bells and whistles.