Tag Archive | 2013

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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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

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.

Long exposure forest stream

Silky dreamy water is very popular, especially with reasonably priced neutral density filters and good glass for DLSRs. One of my favorites blog posts shows how this technique can be used to powerful effect. (30-breathtaking-long-exposure-photos-with-water). These shots are simply outstanding and obviously done by someone with a great eye, quality equipment, and enough free time to capture the composition properly.

Can an enthusiast with a midrange DSLR, a mediocre lens, a 2-stop ND filter, and only an afternoon make a similar photo? Well, yes. Is it up to the standard above? Perhaps debatable.

The photo posted below was taken at R.B. Winter State Park in central Pennsylvania. Its a great little park with hiking trails, a sandy beach, places to camp, and a fantastic stream that cuts through it all. There is enough of a slope that there are several small falls and areas of rolling water. A higher resolution version can be found here.

A long exposure of a Stream at RB Winter state park, PA. ND4 filter used to increase exposure time.

A long exposure of a Stream at RB Winter state park, PA. ND4 filter used to increase exposure time. f16, ISO 200, 1.5s at 75mm

This spot was actually quite cramped. There was a slightly better location in the middle of the stream, but I could not get the tripod in there. The most difficult aspect was the long exposure. A 2 stop ND filter and 200 ISO is really not enough light dampening. Fortunately it was a misty and dreary day, which was all the difference.  A 4 stop filter, especially stacked, will have to be in the future.

Post work was relatively minor.  Bumped up the vibrance, contrast and saturation. The most significant modification was the top of the image. It was far too bright and drew the eye to the far bank instead of the soft water in the forground. The exposure was dropped about half a stop for opposite side of the stream.

Another Quick Photobomb in NOLA

camerachemist, johnsonw,

So I’m looking through my photos and I notice another photobomb. I try not to interrupt other peoples photography. In addition to being rude, I try to treat others as I hope they would treat me. The Golden Rule I suppose. If I knew them then I’d go for the platinum rule (treat them how they want to be treated), but with street photography, I don’t hang out that long.

On Bourbon St. New Orleans, people are shooting pics everywhere. I was surprised there were not more random pick pockets with the nice high end camera phone being tossed around. But then again there were cops everywhere. But they were cool, unlike in other cities, so I’ll give them a pass.

I’m walking behind another group a tourists. They had given their phone to a local guy for a shot. The group was taking up most of the street and forcing people to walk around them like a rock in a stream. I walked behind the group raised my camera and fired a few shots of the photographer. I thought it was funny because I think I’m in the shot photobombing with my own camera.

But I kept going.  Because shortly after I run into these guys.

http://500px.com/photo/34148312

Photobombing a Gnome in NOLA

camerachemist, johnsonw

Well, I’m going to start this story out of order. But, honestly, order for these discussions are not all that important. So I was in New Orleans in April for a conference. New Orleans, particularly at night, is a very photogenic city. I made my way down to the French District and Bourbon St. While wandering around wondering how all these old people think its ok to drink like they are back in college, another post to be had later, I saw these guys crouched down in the middle of the street.

Now its pretty obvious by their gear and care in which they were setting up the shot that this was more than a couple of jokers hauling a Gnome around on their travels. So I stop and watch them set up for a while before snapping this shot and moving on.

Photobombing a Gnome