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.