How to turn a mediocre scene into a great shot.

Photography always comes down to; did you capture it right?

Blogs, websites, and Twitter are full of helpful hints and guidance on proper use of a DLSR. ISO, Aperture, Shutter Speed, White Balance, Histogram, Program Controls, Manual Controls are all significant aspects of making an image.

But a good photograph still depends on the underlying foundation of Composition and Perspective.

Last weekend I was walking the dog down by the tracks in town and came upon this scene.

tracks, panorama, abandoned, winter

Panorama of Tracks next to Selinsgrove Inn. Shot on an iPod.

The rail line is a spur connecting the regional line to a few businesses and the local university (Susquehanna University). Trains are uncommon, at perhaps few times a week, and the rail bed is in rough shape. One line is out of commission. The panorama above captures pretty well the location and environment. It is not particularly photogenic as a landscape or an architectural shot. Other than the dog, the only good aspect is the sky.

grass, railroad, rail bed, abandoned

Wide Angle shot of Abandoned track.

But the tuft of grass growing in the rail bed was interesting. However the background, at best, detracts from the shot and had to be removed. The angle from the shot above plows the grass into the tracks and bed. This necessitates it being tighter and lower to the ground.

Cropped and worked up image of abandoned track. f2.0, 1/1500, ISO 250, Nikkor f1.8 35mm DX

Cropped and worked up image of abandoned track. f2.0, 1/1500, ISO 250, Nikkor f1.8 35mm DX

I used a f1.8 35mm DX lens. That’s the rough equivalent of a 50mm lens on a full frame sensor. Fortunately these inexpensive primes are clear from side to side. Additionally, it let me open way up to render a nice soft bokah. Note that the for ground  and background are blurred. At f2, only the grass is really in focus, which adds emphasis. My other walk about lens is a 18-105 mm 3.5-5.6. With that lens, I’d be able to shoot at maybe f4.8, which would have brought the ugly houses in the background into significantly sharper focus.

What did I do in Post? Not a whole lot. I’m a journeyman at best in LR and PS. At 35mm, I had to crop out the telephone pole and building on the left. I did have to warm the white balance, which was much to cool for the actual image and brought out the yellows/oranges a bit to make it pop. Finally, because it was a cloudy day, I shot at a half stop over and used the gradient tool to mute the clouds which were too bright. A higher resolution version is found here.

Hope you liked my process on this shot. I’ll be posting as regularly as life and employment allow.

I’ll be happy to field questions if you have any.

Cheers,

CameraChemist

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It’s full of stars

Night photography is challenging to do well and there are thousands of fantastic shots.
My half hearted attempt was really just an excuse to try out my new shutter release cable.

Shot at f3.5, 18mm, and 35 second. A little post production to liven it up.
I’ll update with a properly worked up photo later.

Feel free to comment.
Cheers
CameraChemist

Puddle Art

Frozen puddle

Frozen puddle

As a boy, puddles were one of my favorite things. My parents thought otherwise. When winter came, puddles were not as much of an issue. Until we jumped on the frozen puddle, broke through and soaked our boots.

As an adult, the frozen contours fascinated me. And as abstract art, the puddles are quite photogenic.

Street Photography Portraits I

NOLA, Street photography,

It took a lot of work getting over my hesitation toward street photography and shooting strangers in particular. Getting past that aversion has been yielded some of my most satisfying images.

This blog has several posts on my spring 2013 trip to New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA) for a conference. While the conference was good, the photography was much better. NOLA is a great place for street photography. The area is still recovering from hurricane Katrina and there is a construction boom going on. With tourism and Bourbon St in particular being such a draw, its a safe place to walk alone day or night. Lots of police, who in general, are pretty chill. Having said that, I’m a fairly imposing male, kept a close eye on my surrounding and never put myself into anything sketchy. Its easy to walk the wrong direction and end up in a really bad part of town.

I’m always hesitant shooting people on the street. I  completely understand that some people don’t like to be photographed. Which is why I carry the camera, ahem. But after a while, I distilled my own techniques and philosophy. In general, if I’m not going to intrude on someone, I’ll take the shot. If interaction with them is inevitable, I’ll go with my gut. That’s translates to understanding what the environment is like (e.g. a party, argument, festive, relaxed, intimate) and gauge what I hope their response will be.  But some of the most meaningful shots are of people you’ve talked to and then asked for a portrait.

Below is a shot taken a block or so off of Bourbon St. These guys were on break from their kitchen jobs and smoking on the street. Another nice thing about New Orleans is that everyone I met was honestly nice. Its partially the southern thing, but also a tourist thing. They knew I was from out of town by my clothes and camera and yet were genial and open. This would not have been the case in a lot of other cities. I talked to them for a while about my time there and inquired after them also. After feeling more comfortable, I asked if I could take their picture. They agreed.

NOLA, Street photography,

NOLA March 2013, Kitchen staff on break. ISO 3200, 1/750, f1.8, Nikon D5000, Aperture Mode              Click on photo for larger image

It was shot with a Nikon D5000 and 35mm f1.8 DX lens. I’d only had the lens a couple of months and this was the first opportunity for street photography. This is a great little prime lens, especially given the low cost. The ISO was pushed out to 3200, which for the lit streets, typically worked well. A better sensor in the newer Nikons would have been great for lower noise, but this was acceptable. That night the camera was set to aperture mode and used wide open. A 35mm lens at f1.8-2.4 with subjects at 10-35 feet usually had an acceptable depth of field. That is assuming the subject was in focus. The downside of the lens is that it does hunt a bit at low light. But I suppose most lenses would.

Notice the nice bokeh in the background kept the emphasis on the guys. In post, I had to increase exposure and make it black and white. There were a mix of lights that cast strange tones in red and green.

I did make several mistakes on this shot. One is that I shot Aperture mode. I should have shot in Manual. That would have blown out the background, but properly exposed the subjects. A 1/750th of a second is way too fast. If it was at, say 1/125,  I’d have them better exposed. That was a bit of an issue on those streets. The light levels change a good bit, but given the potential for backlighting or improper exposure, its better to preset the camera. Having said that, you need to periodically check the exposure and not depend on the dynamic range of the sensor.

Alternatively, I think the sensor was set to Matrix instead of spot focus. That would have properly exposed the subject but potentially blown out everything else. A lot of people were wearing black so too tight a exposure meter could have over exposed the whole image. Also, on aperture mode the shutter speed would have been so slow everything would have been blurry.

After more practice and experimenting, I now typically push the ISO way up and use manual mode. The shutter speed is fast enough to prevent subject motion blurring (1/90sec and faster) and still follow the 1/x rule for lens length. Aperture is usually close to wide open. At this point I depend on the dynamic range of the sensor and shooting in RAW to help me fix anything in post. I’m finally getting enough of a feel for the camera to make on the fly adjustments (shutter speed usually) without chimping the histogram after every shot.

Hope this helps.

Feel free to comment. I’ll be happy to respond.

Cheers,

CameraChemist

A friendly helpful blog, DIY, Repair, Ideas and Tips

Started a new blog. It covers tricks, DIY, and tips on how to raise kids, maintain a household, and in general deal with life.

The blog is linked by clicking on the following:  Please go here.

Topics I’ve got in mind:

How to unclog a toilet with hot water (published)

How to repair kids shoes with 3M automotive Gasket sealer (coming soon).

Movie reviews that mean something and take about 30 seconds to read.

How to completely take over the world in three easy steps. Oh wait that’s a different blog.

The Mystery of Shooting in Fog

Fog has always provided a sense of mystery and unknown. In photography, it can be used to enhance or hide details. I love shooting in fog just for this reason. In central Pennsylvania there are plenty of vistas and sites that would make a high quality composition. But I rarely have the time to plan out capture that requires me to sit for hours in preperation. Between a job and family, I’m lucky to make it three blocks from the house without my dog on leash. So foggy mornings are highly valued as a way to convert a boring scene into something interesting.

Below are three shots taken on my iPod. All three shots are of a local high school soccer field framed by tree branches and another row of maple trees in the distance. And all  were taken from roughly the same perspective, at least viewing through the same trees.

The top photo was shot in a frozen fog. The world is black, white and a color drained green. The foreground tree branches provide a nice contrast to the white fog. In the distance a row of maples line a road that is currently obscured. A couple of cars are visible as is the infield of the baseball diamond. Without knowing the landscape, this is a romantic field lined with trees that fades into the distance. A little more post work could remove the cars and even up the imperfections. But in general, I really like this shot. An instagram version is found here.

Mysteries of Shooting in Fog

Mysteries of Shooting in Fog

The next day was a typical December morning. All of the components from the fog shot are there, the framing branches, the trees and field. Even the sky is similar, a dull white cloud cover but dominates the image. But without the fog, the field looks  worn, the baseball field is a smear, the roads slicing through the right side, and the school is injected on the left. Its a dreary, somewhat depressing, and eminently forgettable image.

A lack of fog reveals too much reality. Clouds add to the gloom

A lack of fog reveals too much reality. Clouds add to the gloom

So what about a bright sunny day and blue sky? Sure, its better than the gloomy day above, but its still rather stark. The blue sky is a great improvement over the clouds. While there are virtues of shooting on cloudy day, those images tend not to capture the clouds as a prominent component, but use the soft diffuse light to evenly light an object or face. This bright blue sky puts the field, road, trees, and school in a more positive winter mood.

While a lack of fog reveals details, its softened by a clear blue sky

While a lack of fog reveals details, its softened by a clear blue sky

In short, fog adds mystery and romance to an image. Its ability to mask details as a gradient means that by moving to compose the shot, undesirable components can be hidden.

Ugliest Uniforms Ever

Watching the Christmas parade a high school band and flag squad went by. This was by far the ugliest uniform I’ve ever seen. I just wish I’d brought a proper camera to document it. And given that it was in the 20’s, it was darned cold outside to be wearing Lycra and spandex.

Local High School band Flag Corp and the ugliest uniforms I've ever seen.

Local High School band Flag Corp and the ugliest uniforms I’ve ever seen.

Frankly, I’m stunned the Flag Corp didn’t revolt at the proposed color scheme.