Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Penguins and lights

Nikon D7000, 10.5mm, 8 sec., f/8, ISO 100, adjusted

Last Sunday the family did the annual lights tour, driving around the city after dark and looking at some of the more elaborate displays. One of our traditional stops is Pauly’s Penguin Playground, a wonderful riot of inflatable, mostly penguin-related decorations. For some time now I’ve wanted good pictures of this spot, but in the past I haven’t brought the right equipment.

I’ve been reluctant to drag a tripod into the middle of everyone’s holiday fun, but without some kind of brace it wasn’t really possible to leave the shutter open long enough to get a proper exposure. The compromise: the monopod with its three-pronged base extended. It was still a bit more jiggly than I wanted, but it helped a little to use a remote rather than the on-camera switch.

They didn’t all come out perfect, but I was pleased with some of the results.

After that we mostly stayed in the car and drove around, which of course made it hard to shoot the long exposures required by low light conditions. However, I thought I’d have a little fun at one spot. The result can’t accurately be called a realistic depiction of the scene, but it’s kinda pretty.

D7000, 10.5mm, 8 sec., f/8, ISO 100, adjusted

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

O Christmas Tree

Nikon D7000, 18mm (18-55), 20 sec., f/6.3, ISO 100, adjusted

Faithful fans of the blog may recall that a couple of years ago I posted a fancy time exposure of our Christmas tree. This year we changed the decorating scheme a bit. But as before, a low ISO kept the colors true and long shutter speeds brought the lights out (harder this time because the new bulbs are smaller).

I shot the lead-off picture shortly after I put the tree up and got the lights on it. And then overnight it snowed, giving me another good photo op in the wee hours of the morning.

Nikon D7000, 24mm (18-55), 25 sec., f/11, ISO 100

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Light and fog

Nikon D7000, 200mm (28-200), 3 sec., f/8, ISO 400
Photographers are supposed to have a “thing,” a particular kind of subject or style to specialize in. I’m having too much fun with the art to settle down in any one area, but if I did have a “thing” it would probably be mist. I love how it feels to be out in it, and I love how it plays with light when it’s photographed.

Here’s a playful little piece I took last week. The neighbors’ Christmas lights looked so nice in the fog, I had to get a picture. Naturally this called for a slow exposure to get the light right.

Unfortunately, my good tripod was at work. So I used my travel tripod to brace the camera. Portable though it may be, it doesn’t hold the camera firm enough to avoid the small camera shake caused by pressing the shutter button. You can see the small dip the camera took, which shows up as little hooks at the bottom of the bright lights. Once the button pressure was off, the rest of the time the camera stayed still. Thus the dimmer parts of the picture (which took longer to expose) show no blur at all.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Happy holidays

Nikon D7000, Lensbaby Scout with single glass optic, 3 sec., sunburst aperture, cropped

Here’s something fun to help kick off the holiday season. This photo was done entirely with the camera. Other than a small crop, I didn’t do a thing to it in Photoshop.

What you’re looking at here is a six-inch-tall creche (propped up on a support) with our Christmas tree in the background.

I achieved the effect by using a Lensbaby Scout with a single glass lens and a sunburst aperture. Rather than a standard, circular aperture, the disk for this shot was a shape. You can see the edges reproduced in some of the less fuzzy sunbursts in the background. The in-focus foreground is unaffected; the creative aperture works like a plain old circular hole. But bright light sources in the out-of-focus background take on the shape of the aperture. It’s tricky to get it to work just right, but when it does, it creates some interesting images.

The single glass and narrow depth of field gave the foreground a bit of blur that added to the appeal.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Patriot

Nikon D7000, 72mm (28-200), 1/640, f/6.3, ISO 200, cropped

First rule of late season visits to Worlds of Fun: leave well before Haunt gets underway. None of the photos I tried to take after dark worked out. However, I did have some fun earlier in the day.

The first ride my group went on was The Patriot, one of the park’s many roller coasters. I managed to find a spot that gave me a couple of good angles. The shot above proved to be a good example of how to imply movement in a “frozen motion” shot via body angles. You can tell that the coaster is moving with some speed because otherwise the seats couldn’t be at that angle.

The other way to convey motion is through blur. I propped the camera on a fence so I could slow the shutter down enough to blur the moving coaster here:

Nikon D3000, 10.5mm, 1/10, f/22, ISO 100, adjusted

Then I decided to have a little fun with it. I shot a series of pictures with the coaster at several spots along the track. Then I used layers in Photoshop to combine them all into one picture that shows the whole sequence.

Nikon D3000, 10.5mm, 1/125, f/10, ISO 100, edited

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


Nikon D7000, 80mm (35-80), 1/50, f/5.6, ISO 1600, adjusted

Here’s a treat: a creepy photo of a shrunken head. This objet d’art can be found at the Sternberg Museum in Hays, Kansas. The Blogger software distorts the colors a bit, but you can still see nice detail.

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Light painting

Nikon D7000, 48mm (18-55), 5 sec., f/5.3, ISO 100

Last week we took a look at photos of moving light sources shot at slow shutter speeds. Today’s example is traditional “light painting,” using a light and a long exposure to draw something in the darkness.

This is impromptu stuff, shot with the flashlight feature on my iPhone. If this had been anything besides an experiment, I probably would have at least changed the backdrop to a black muslin to reduce the chances that it would show up in the shot (as it does a little here). I should also have removed the UV filter from the lens, as it’s likely to be the source of the faint phantom lines in the shot.

And if I was really getting fancy, I could have thrown in some rear curtain flash so that I would be visible in the shot. Or at least practiced a bit so I could legibly write the word “hello” (and do it backward so it would read correctly in the photo).

Picasso was much better at this.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


Nikon D7000, 45mm (18-55), 3 sec., f/5.3, ISO 800, cropped

For our fun class session last week, we killed the lights, slowed down the shutter and photographed some moving light sources.

Our first subject was Awika, relative of Cosmojetz. I neglected to shoot video with the lights on, but the folks who created it have a good, quick clip. With the lights off, the only visible part of the scene were the sparks shooting out the back.

The first attempt (above) was a little over-exposed. To be sure, it was still a cool effect. The winding key and Awika’s feet are faintly visible. But I was curious to see what we’d get if we played with the exposure a little. First I dropped the ISO:

Nikon D7000, 45mm (18-55), 3 sec., f/5.3, ISO 100, cropped
And then I closed the aperture down a bit:

Nikon D7000, 45mm (18-55), 3 sec., f/11, ISO 100, cropped
Unfortunately, for that test I put the subject on the table upside down, so its body hid most of the sparks. One more try:

Nikon D7000, 45mm (18-55), 3 sec., f/11, ISO 100, cropped
Now the only visible parts of the subject are the narrow light trails made by the sparks. They look like fine hairs or dandelion fluff. Sometimes it’s nice to just play around and see what you get.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


Nikon D7000, 44mm (18-55), 3 sec., f/29, ISO 100, on-camera filter, adjusted and cropped
Yesterday was the final in-class session of my fall Photography course. As usual, the last non-online meet was optional, and as nobody who showed up needed to get caught up on anything, we spent the time having some fun.

The main activity was a set of light painting experiments I’ll post next week. But after class I was still in a picture-taking mood so I decided to try a new filter I bought awhile back.

The main idea behind neutral density filters (other than protection for expensive lenses) is to reduce the amount of light getting into the camera without affecting the color or image quality. The new toy in this case was a Hoya 52mm 3-400 variable density filter.

Variable density filters can be adjusted to let in more or less light. The minimum setting for this one lets in 1/3 of the light that would otherwise get through the lens, the approximate equivalent of 1.5 stops. At the opposite end of the scale the filter screens down to 1/400 of the light, around nine stops.

The photo at the top of this post shows the filter near maximum strength. The ISO is down as far as it would go and the aperture closed up as tight as it would go. The result is not much light getting through and not much sensitivity to record what does get through. That’s how I got away with a three second exposure, which otherwise in bright sunlight would have over-exposed the shot so badly that I would have gotten nothing but an empty white frame.

At this speed the water (the only moving subject in the shot) turns into a hazy blur. Compare the long exposure to something closer to normal speeds:

Nikon D7000, 44mm (18-55), 1/125, f/5.6, ISO 100, on-camera filter, adjusted
Turning the filter down to its minimum allowed me to speed up the shutter and freeze the flowing water. Though the result is a great deal more “realistic” (i.e. more like what you’d perceive if you were actually looking at the scene), it’s arguably not as interesting to look at. The composition is  more chaotic, not as smooth as the longer exposure that records the general flow rather than individual drops.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


Nikon D7000, 80mm (35-80), 1/125, f/5.6, ISO 800

This semester I’m going to blog a few of the exercises we do in my photography class. I want students who miss class to be able to see what we did. And for those of you who aren’t in the class, these are good examples of some photography basics (even if they aren’t the most spectacularly fascinating photos ever taken).

The topic for this lesson is shutter speed. Our model is a small wind-up device called Cosmojetz, the creation of artist Chico Bicalho.

I took the shot above holding the camera in my hands and using a middle-of-the-road shutter speed.

Nikon D7000, 80mm (35-80), 1/4, f/32, ISO 800

Next I slowed the shutter down a bit to demonstrate camera shake. This is the shot you almost never want, with everything a big blurry mess. As a photographer, you need to figure out how steady your hands are. I can’t shoot anything much below 1/30 (depending on the circumstances) before the blur starts to ruin my pictures. However, if you don’t have four decades of caffeine behind you, your hands may be more stable than mine.

Note that the one thing that doesn’t move in this shot is the dust on the lens, because when the camera shakes the dust moves right along with it, staying stationary in relation to the image recording chip. You won’t see the dust in any of the rest of the shots because when I noticed it I remembered to do my job as a photographer and wipe the lens with a lens cloth.

Next we locked the camera down on a tripod to completely eliminate camera shake. And we set the subject in motion. Here’s a video of what Cosmojetz looks like when it bounces around:

We started with another middle-of-the-road shutter speed:

Nikon D7000, 42mm (35-80), 1/125, f/4.5, ISO 800

As anyone who has ever tried to take a picture of a three year old can attest, rapidly moving objects can be tricky to photograph. Though 1/125th of a second seems like no time at all to us, a moving object can travel quite a bit even in such a small fraction of an instant. Thus the blurring that clearly indicates the subject is on the go.

Nikon D7000, 42mm (35-80), 1/250, f/4.2, ISO 800

Increasing the shutter speed still further reduces the blur to manageable levels, though you can still see a bit here and there. In shutter priority mode, the camera has been automatically adjusting the aperture for us to make sure we get a good exposure. But now we’ve reached the limits of the lens; the aperture won’t open any wider, and we’re starting to sacrifice image quality.

Of course at this point we can fix the slight under-exposure in Photoshop, like this:

Nikon D7000, 42mm (35-80), 1/250, f/4.2, ISO 800, adjusted

But if we want to freeze the motion entirely, we’ll need to speed the shutter up still farther. And that will mean increasing the ISO (making the camera’s image sensing chip more sensitive to light) to get a good exposure.

In the shot below, motion blur has been completely eliminated. The only way you can tell that the subject is moving is that otherwise it would have to be hovering in mid-air.

Nikon D7000, 42mm (35-80), 1/1600, f/4.2, ISO 6400

The lesson ends at the opposite end of the scale. Slowing back down to a quarter second (the speed that gave me such terrible camera shake earlier), transforms the rapidly-moving subject into a ghost, barely visible in the upper part of the photo.

Nikon D7000, 42mm (35-80), 1/4, f/25, ISO 800

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Wyandotte County Courthouse

Nikon D3000, 18mm (18-55), 1/250, f/8, ISO 100, cropped
Earlier this week I shot some pictures of the Wyandotte County Courthouse. This is part of a project I’m working on for the Kansas Association for Justice.

I started out with some standard angles such as the one above. But I swiftly found myself captivated by the small details. For example, I liked the oil derricks in this bit of ornamentation:

Nikon D7000, 200mm (28-200), 1/2000, f/5.6, ISO 280, edited
 As you can see from the wide shot, the sky was completely cloudless, and as a result the shadows were fairly harsh. Photoshop helped even out the highs and lows. It also removed some of the perspective distortion that came from shooting from a low angle.

Nikon D7000, 200mm (28-200), 1/1000, f/5.6, ISO 400

I was also quite fond of the details and colors on the fixtures on the front stairs (also visible in the wider shot).

Wednesday, August 6, 2014


Nikon D7000, 10.5mm, 30 sec., f/2.8, ISO 800

The whole time we were in New Mexico, I kept hoping for the chance to photograph the night sky. We were staying in Dixon, a small town far enough from city lights to allow me to get a good shot of some stars.

So naturally it was monsoon season. Every single day the sky clouded up late in the afternoon and stayed overcast until well after I’d gone to bed.

But on our second-to-last night there, I finally got some luck. The skies cleared almost entirely (you can still see some clouds toward the bottom of the shot) and I finally got the shot I was after.

I set up a tripod in the courtyard of the mission where we were staying and took the picture with a wide angle lens. So you can see roofs, trees, a pole and some power lines. The light in the window in the lower left-hand side is from my wife’s phone. A 30 second exposure will pick up just about any available light.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Mesa Verde

Nikon D3000, 10.5mm, 1/250, f/6.3, ISO 100
While in New Mexico I took a side trip up to Colorado. I have fond memories of a childhood visit to Mesa Verde, so I thought I’d drive up for the day. If nothing else, I figured I’d find some good photo opportunities.

Which I did. The best part of the trip was the hike to Petroglyph Point. Just a little way up the trail the crowd thinned out considerably, and by the time I reached the carvings I was virtually alone. What fun it was to use one of the world’s newest communication methods to record one of the oldest.

The trail started and ended at the Spruce Tree House cliff dwellings. The crowd was much thicker there, but from the right angles it was possible to get shots without too many tourists in them.

Nikon D3000, 10.5mm, 1/100, f/5.0, ISO 100

I even managed to shoot a short panorama.

Nikon D7000, 35mm (18-55), 1/160, f/6.3, ISO 100, panorama

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


Nikon D3000, 10.5mm, 1/400, f/10, ISO 100, cropped and adjusted

Earlier this month my wife and I took a trip to New Mexico. Amy was there to work, which left me with some time on my hands. Figuring I might not make it back to this part of the country again anytime soon, I picked a couple of destinations I’d been meaning to visit.

The first was the Very Large Array radio observatory, 50 miles west of Soccoro, New Mexico. I’ve loved astronomy ever since I was a kid, and though I don’t have the math skills to pursue it seriously, I still like to visit museums, observatories and the like. If you’re into this sort of thing, the VLA is definitely worth a trip. It’s refreshing to see a government operation that’s actually open and accessible to the public. The tour was excellent; the guide even sounded like Carl Sagan. Just don’t trust Apple Maps to tell you where the turn is.

I lucked out in the timing department. The dishes were in their A configuration, which meant that they were as close together as they got. If they had been in the D configuration, they would have been more than 20 miles apart and not such an awesome photo op.

Even so, photographing them was a challenge. To convey a sense of the scene, the photo had to do two things: show all the dishes (or at least as many of them as possible) and convey just how big they were. Accomplishing one of the two tasks was easy. I used a wide angle lens to take the picture at the top of this post. It caught the whole array. But the scale is hard to read. Without something familiar for a scale reference, these could be no bigger than the dish currently serving as a weed arbor in my neighbor’s yard.

Getting in closer and adding some people to the composition helps establish the scale. But now you can’t see the array.

Nikon D7000, 32mm (18-55), 1/1000, f/16, ISO 800

Of course I could always piece a pan shot together. This does the job if you can view it at full resolution. But shrunk down to a web-friendly size, it isn’t much better than the first picture.

Nikon D7000, 50mm (18-55), 1/800, f/14, ISO 800, pan

Here’s about as close as I could come to a good compromise:

Nikon D7000, 36mm (18-55), 1/1000, f/16, ISO 800

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Lens – Nikon 18-55mm

This is my original kit lens, and not just because I got it in a bundle with my D3000. It’s a great example of a lens with a middle-of-the-road focal length range and reliable quality. Thus it’s perfect for many different tasks. Though I don’t use it as much as I used to, it still works well when a shoot is likely to require adapting to a variety of conditions and I plan to concentrate more on my subjects than on my equipment. Note: the photo shows the lens with a third party lens hood attached.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Lenses – Nikon 10.5mm

For the next few weeks I’m going to blog about the lenses in my collection.

When I first got serious about photography, I entered the pursuit with three lenses: one that came with the camera and two I inherited from my grandma.

Since then my collection has expanded a bit. However, I try not to over-buy on lenses. Whenever I’m tempted to buy a new toy, I ask myself if it will really add anything to my ability to take pictures. Because I already have a solid range of focal length options, I rarely need to add anything new.

Though I keep a more “standard” lens on my workhorse camera, this lens is frequently on my second. I didn’t set out to like fisheye photography. Indeed, just the opposite. Normally I like my photos to look undistorted, as close as possible to what my eye actually saw. But I took a chance on an inexpensive fisheye glass for my Lensbaby, got hooked on wide angle and later splurged for this considerably more expensive lens. The distortion still kinda bothers me, but I love the wider views (especially for landscapes).

One day recently I took all my lenses down to Liberty Memorial. With my camera mounted on a tripod (to keep the results consistent), I shot pictures with each lens to demonstrate the effects of their focal lengths. Prime lenses like this one have only one photo, while zoom lenses have two or more photos to illustrate their full ranges.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Canon EOS 10D

When I first waded into the digital photography waters for real, this is the camera that helped me learn to swim. The college where I work purchased it for the students on the newspaper staff, and I practiced with it when the students weren’t using it.

Though it’s a fine camera, I don’t do much with it anymore. It’s a bit outdated, and some newspaper staffers didn’t take good care of it. Quick aside to my current students: this is why you don’t get “loaner” cameras from the college while you’re in photography classes.

You may find this camera in captions here and there, but most of the pictures in this blog were taken with one of the Nikons.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Nikon D7000

Until I bought the D810, this was my “workhorse” camera. Because of its ease of use, it’s currently doing duty as my classroom exercise camera at work.

Though it’s a crop sensor, it produces good quality images and includes several features I really love. One of the biggest draws is that it has control wheels in front and back, which allow a user in manual mode to easily change shutter speed and aperture. I also work a little easier knowing that it has slots for two memory cards, making it highly unlikely that I’ll run out of storage space (even shooting in RAW format).

The only two reasons I might not recommend this camera to a beginner are the wealth of options (the settings menus can get downright confusing even to someone with experience) and the price (right around $1000 when I bought it new, camera only, from Wolfe Camera in Topeka).

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Nikon D3000

This is the first digital camera I ever bought for myself (I’d done the purchase process for two digital SLRs for work before I decided to start spending my own money). It’s currently not seeing a lot of action. I rarely take it out by itself. However, I sometimes take it along with the D810. I find it helps me to have one camera with a standard, middle-of-the-road lens and one with something more specialized (such as a telephoto or fisheye lens).

It came bundled with a lens for around $450 (refurbished, purchased directly from Nikon). Though it’s a little harder to use than its more expensive cousins, it may be a more practical plan for a beginning photographer on a budget.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

100th entry

Canon EOS 10D, 17mm (17-40), 1/2, f/4.0, ISO 100, adjusted

To celebrate the 100th entry in The Photographer’s Sketchbook blog, here’s another shot that I took at around the same time I shot the photo in the first entry.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Atomic Annie

Nikon D7000, 35mm (35-80), 1/250, f/8, ISO 100, adjusted

Here’s another closer look at one of the stops on last month’s trip to Hays. Atop a hill across the interstate from Ft. Riley sits Atomic Annie, a large artillery piece designed to fire nuclear shells.

A mid-distance shot such as the one above provide a good sense of the subject and its surroundings. But it also doesn’t hurt to get in closer and capture peeling paint, scratched-on graffiti, and an interesting combination of diagonal lines.

Nikon D3000, 22mm (18-55), 1/160, f/6.3, ISO 100, adjusted

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


Nikon D3000, 24mm (18-55), 1/200, f/7.1, ISO 100, edited

One of the pans I posted three weeks ago was shot in a cemetery not far from the Cathedral of the Plains. It was a tricky place to shoot from a storytelling standpoint, because different angles told much different stories.

Some of the grave markers were a little different from the stones that are common in this part of the world. They’re made from metal pipes, some fairly plain and some ornately decorated. A line of these older markers toward the back edge of the ground made it easy to compose a shot simplified down to the subjects, the prairie and the sky.

The photo below is a lot more inclusive representation, more like what you’d actually see if you were there. On the other hand, the composition is cluttered. The different kinds of headstones look chaotic, and the power lines in the background don’t exactly help. Overall this is arguably more accurate, but it’s much less peaceful.

Nikon D3000, 20mm (18-55), 1/250, f/8, ISO 100, adjusted

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Plaza bunnies

Nikon D7000, 18mm (18-55), 1/200, f/7.1, ISO 200

For years we’ve been meaning to get down to the Plaza during the Easter season and photograph the giant rabbits. This year we finally did it.

This shot was extremely popular on Facebook. It got more likes than anything else I’ve ever posted.

Nikon D7000, 18mm (18-55), 1/200, f/7.1, ISO 200, adjusted and cropped

Largely because of the shade, the photo needed some adjusting in Camera Raw. I switched the white balance to “auto,” changed the levels on the shadows and whites, and moved the clarity up a bit. I also took advantage of the lens distortion correction feature, which had built-in settings for the Nikon lens I used and fixed some of the bloating caused by the low focal length. This is what the original looked like:

Nikon D7000, 18mm (18-55), 1/200, f/7.1, ISO 200

My only big disappointment was the bunnies’ eyes. They used to be red light bulbs that created a glowing devil bunny effect at night.

Photoshop to the rescue!

Nikon D7000, 22mm (18-55), 1/125, f/8, ISO 100, cropped and altered