Monday, January 31, 2011

It was a dark and not-yet-stormy night

Today we enjoyed a day of freezing mist in advance of the coming Snowpocalypse.  Here the Capitol dome is barely visible through the mist and a break in the bare winter trees. 

I wanted to catch the red "don't fly into me" light at the very top of the crane, but didn't have my tripod with me and couldn't hold the camera steady long enough.

I like all of my pictures to be beautiful, but sometimes you just have to tell it like it is - and today was a pretty ugly day.

Canon 5D Mark II
300mm - ISO 2500
1/250s- f/5.6

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Signs, signs, everywhere there's signs

During these long, gray winter months, I naturally gravitate towards color anywhere I can find it.  This collection of old tin signs caught my eye at lunch today.  Nothing fancy on this shot, just dodging the heads of my dining companions and angling to avoid most of the glare from the random overhead lights.

Canon 5D Mark II
50mm - ISO 2500
1/15s- f/5.6

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Come hungry

IHOP is always a great place to end a Saturday.  The lighting in the restaurant was really nice - frosted glass drop lights, which cast a warm glow around us. 

I was playing with angles in this shot, which I think made for an interesting composition. 

The photographer I shoot weddings with taught me that - get the traditional straight shot first, then rotate the camera for a different viewpoint. 

When reviewing my shots later, I almost always seem to like the strange angles better.  But then again, I always was a little strange...

Canon 5D Mark II
28mm - ISO 2500
1/13s- f/7.1

Friday, January 28, 2011

Holes in the universe

I had a very "Doctor Who" moment today at some empty tennis courts, which were covered in puddles and leftover snow. 

The sun was setting, and there was barely a cloud in the sky, creating a very large, very diffuse light source.  This gave me crystal clear reflections in the puddles of snow melt on the court. 

I felt like I was peeking into some kind of parallel universe.  A wide aperture created the diffuse glow of the edges of the puddles, which heightened the unreality of the scene.

Canon 5D Mark II
135mm - ISO 500
1/160s- f/5.6

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Suspended animation

You never know what you are going to run into in the course of a day. Part of the fun of doing this blog so far  has been treating every day as a little adventure, always looking for the day's picture.  Sometimes my life can get into a rut, and it is always good when something new comes along that helps me see things a little bit differently.

Today I got to spend just about 10 minutes in a room with a bunch of cool toys that are just waiting to be played with (and will be soon, if my sources are correct).  My sister spent so much money when we were little on horrible Claw machines like this one.  I don't think she ever grabbed any prizes with that silly thing.  One of her favorite games is Monopoly, so I liked that you can see that one in the background.

I need to grab a polarizing filter for this lens, which would cut down on some of the reflections on the glass in the foreground around the Claw.  The filter blocks the light that causes the majority of reflections in glass. 

Our eyes have a innate ability to ignore these types of reflections, but the camera has no such capability.  Sometimes when you are shooting the picture, you might not even know the reflections are there until you look at your LCD. 

Polarizing filters also have some other cool effects, such as deepening a blue sky on a sunny day, which can improve your landscape shots.

Nikon D90
42mm - ISO 500 
1/13s- f/4.8

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Up to 11

I had a good time behind the sound board at youth group tonight.  As a very visual person, I love the lighting rig and the ambiance it creates.  It is hard to capture its true beauty in a photograph, though, because if you close down the aperture to keep from blowing out the forward-facing array, you lose the beautiful color wash across the backdrop.  I'm sure there is a happy medium - I just didn't find it tonight.  

Concert lighting is always dynamic and challenging.  I highly recommend that you practice as much as possible in any venue that allows cameras, so you will be prepared for the shot you REALLY want to get at the next Justin Bieber concert.  Kidding!

Canon 5D Mark II
56mm - ISO 3200
1/60s- f/4.5

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Hope springs eternal

Joined the local Y today like, just another January-joining cliche. Oh well, if nothing else, my membership fees will go to a good cause!

Used my 50 prime for this shot, but if I had used a zoom lens from further back, it would have helped shorten the depth of field and not revealed my ugly living room carpet to the world!

Nikon D90
50mm - ISO 1600 
1/60s- f/3.5

Monday, January 24, 2011

It's the little things

You know, looking into the eyes of a baby can be a wondrous thing.  It makes you think about all of the sights that those eyes are going to see, and experiences the child will have in their lifetime which will long outlast your own. 

I tip my hat to all of the photographers out there who somehow manage to capture the wonder and awe that is only found in the eyes of a child.  I don't have that skill, personally, and have to settle for catching the beautifully ordinary moments along the way.

Okay, now go call your mom and tell her that you love her! Or maybe wait until tomorrow - it is getting late!

Canon 5D Mark II
135mm - ISO 3200
1/30s- f/5.6

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Goin' Somewhere

I headed down to the local train station today and loved this shot with all of the converging and diverging lines.

This one needed some help with the contrast and color, so it spent a bit more time in post than normal.  Today was a pretty gray day.  

All I can say, is always shoot in RAW - it can really save your caboose.

Nikon D90
28mm - ISO 400 
1/640s- f/4

Saturday, January 22, 2011

(Not) America's Next Top Dog Model

Today I learned that dinnertime is not the best time to try to teach your dog to model.  I was trying to replicate a cool shot I saw in a dog food commercial that showed the dog bowl and dog muzzle from a direct overhead vantage point.  Alas, my dog did not want to lay his head down next to his bowl - he wanted to stick it in the bowl and have his dinner!  All I managed to get in the frame was an extremely reluctant paw.

I was happy with how beautiful and clear the food (and paw) showed up.  I used my SB-900 on camera bounced straight up.

Then I got an extremely sad face and gave up.

 Nikon D90
45mm - ISO 800 
1/60s- f/4.8

Friday, January 21, 2011


Driving home tonight, I saw this scene and had to stop for it.  It reminded me in some small way of this famous painting.  I also loved how all of the different lights came together.  If I had closed down the aperture more, I could have gotten the neon sign glowing in the Subway window, which would have been even better.

 Canon 5D Mark II
50mm - ISO 100 
1/40s- f/4.5

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Snow day

Today was a perfect day for sledding on our town's biggest hill.  A snow day off from school gave hundreds of local kids a great excuse to drag Mom and Dad out into the cold to do some sledding, boarding, tubing, and snowplowing.  I stopped by to watch some of the fun.

This was my favorite shot of the day because of the way the sunset outlined the sledder's face.  Sometimes you just get lucky, and today was one of those days for me. 

One of my favorite tips from this list of great advice about photography is #17 "Making your photos b/w doesn’t automatically make them 'artsy.'"   I cringed a bit when I read it, and then started practicing more restraint in this area.  But, I thought this picture lent itself well to a sepia effect, which really allowed the facial highlight to stand out.

This photo is another testament to the great possibilities of side lighting.  The setting sun gives great detail to the sled tracks in the snow, making it much more interesting than if it was lit more overhead. 

Canon 5D Mark II
135mm - ISO 100 
1/160s- f/6.3

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Chili @ Chili's on a snowy day

My husband and I have a tradition of having chili at Chili's during the first snowfall of the year.  We missed the first snowfall, but made it today for the second.  Our excellent waitress, Sarah, didn't even mind the crazy lady with the camera.

The snow falling made the light outside the window super bright, so it took all my aperture to overcome the backlighting and get the chili to show up as well as it did.  I would have liked the chili to be a bit brighter, but I was traveling light and didn't have a flash along. 

What I really need was a bounce card, or a white piece of cardboard, to intercept the light coming in from the window and bounce it back into the bowl.  I would have placed it at camera left, just out of the frame to send some light into the deepest shadows under the bowl.  The other benefit to this is that I might have been able to close down the aperture a bit and blow out the window less.  Alas, I didn't have one with me.  It occurred to me as my husband was taking the last spoonful that I could have used my white paper napkin; because while the paper is a non-reflective surface, it could have helped a little bit. 

That's the thing about photography; you can learn something from every picture, and especially the ones that don't turn out as good as you would have liked. 

Ah well, it was a great lunch with good food and good company.  Cheers!

Canon 5D Mark II
75mm - ISO 200 
1/20s- f/5

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Pardon my pop-up

Today's post is the inevitable cat portrait.  Not what I had planned on today, but when the shot came, I couldn't resist using it to make a minor point.  I have spent the past two years or so learning off-camera flash from the master.  At this point I have a lot of knowledge stored up, but not as much experience implementing it, so please don't think any less of him for what you see in my work. 

Back to my point.  I try my hardest to avoid using the pop-up flash on my camera, because it has all the subtlety of a Will Ferrell movie.  But, when my cat crawled up into my lap in my dim living room, I couldn't resist a shot, and relied on the pop-up to get it.  I wanted to keep her from being blinded by the flash at such close range (and attacking me - cats are mean, people...), so I put my hand in front of it at a 45-degree angle relative to the lens.  This caused the light to be redirected up to fall softly down around her - and might cause me some skin cancer down the road.  Hopefully that is a myth.

The side benefit to this was that her pupils are still beautifully wide open, rather than contracted by the flash.  Note that I did have to bring the exposure up a bit in RAW - my settings weren't quite prepared for the occasion.

The weird object on the left side of the picture behind her ear is my foot - at least the cat knows how to pose appropriately!

Nikon D90
105mm - ISO 800 
1/60s- f/5.6

Monday, January 17, 2011

A bright (colored) idea

Boy, I must have light bulbs on the brain this week or something.  I have always liked the way this little bulb has a stained glass effect on its surroundings.  The tricky part was to expose the image through a small enough aperture to show off the colored panels, but still let in enough light to show the color cast created on the walls behind the bulb.  It took a bit of experimentation to get it right. 

Nikon D90
50mm - ISO 200 
1/2s- f/22

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A little light on the side, please

I have been under the weather this weekend and haven't been able to do much in the way of shooting.  So, I thought I would keep it simple today and illustrate the concept of side lighting to add texture and drama.

In the photo below, the setting sun is low in the sky, creating long shadows across the snow.  The shadows of the tree branches trace the contour of the slope by the old stump, bringing out the detail of the terrain which wouldn't be as obvious with flat or overhead lighting. 

Canon 5D Mark II 
135mm - ISO 200
1/125s- f/16

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Drip, drip, drip.

Well, unless you live north of the Arctic Circle, what freezes must eventually unfreeze, and the icicles were melting swiftly this afternoon.  I wanted to focus solely on the icicles and not the background, so I opened my aperture all the way up, set the shutter speed correspondingly fast, and started shooting.  I quickly realized that my reaction time wasn't quick enough to keep up with the drips, so I switched over to continuous shooting mode and held the shutter down.  This takes all the work out of it, really. 


Canon 5D Mark II
135mm - ISO 200
1/1000s- f/5.6

Friday, January 14, 2011

Friday Night Light Painting

Light painting can be a little trippy and a lot of fun.  Al you need is a dark place, a tripod, and a narrow-beam flashlight or two.  Set up a long exposure and a tiny aperture, and start waving those lights around.  You will notice right away how tricky it can be to make a composed drawing, where various elements need to be lined up to others.  I won't even show you my attempts to play tic-tac-toe...

I chose to completely black out the background so that I wasn't visible at all behind the lights.  If you want to see some of the person behind the lights, you can open up the aperture a bit, or try some side lighting on the person, shielded so that the light doesn't reach the camera directly.  The light will need to hit the person only - otherwise you lose the impact of your "paint". 

There are tons of resources out there to inspire and educate you on light painting.  One of the coolest is this murder-and-mayhem video.  They have a great BTS clip posted as well. 

Canon 5D Mark II
65mm - ISO 200
30s - f/32

Thursday, January 13, 2011

C'mon baby, let's do the Twist[er]!

Tonight I was on hand to take some pictures at a local elementary school's Reading Night.  Several hundred kids and parents braved the cold for some food, fun, games and free books.  The girls below are playing a special version of Twister using vocabulary words.

I liked this picture because it captured some of the spirit of the evening, which was enjoyably chaotic.  The motion blur in some of the background elements caused by my slow shutter speed allows the eye to slide by and focus on the girls. 

This photo could definitely be improved in post production by darkening the background elements, desaturating the floor a bit, etc.  But, I'm trying to limit my post work on the pictures here to basic color correction only.  This is for the sake of transparency and to challenge myself to figure out ways to solve problems before I close the shutter, and not after the fact in the digital darkroom.  I certainly don't begrudge anyone their time in post production - I consider it just part of the art and science of photography.  Although I have been gratified to find myself relying less and less upon it as I grow in my abilities.

Back to today's shot.  Unless I am taking a conventional, posed portrait, I try to never shoot from a normal standing position.  You get much more interesting results from getting above or below the normal line of sight of your subject.  The Twister action above would not have been nearly as interesting looking down on it from my eye level of five feet off the ground.  If I had gotten down even lower, the shot probably would have been even better.  More on this topic in a future post.

Canon 5D Mark II
75mm - ISO 1250
1/6s - f/5.0

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Lights & Ice

Snow and ice have an amazing ability to transform even the most mundane object, such as the light below, into something beautiful.  Some of the best scenic winter pictures can be taken as the sun is slipping down over the horizon.  When the natural light fades at dusk and the man-made lights come up, true magic can happen.

My advice for some fun twilight winter shots is to be at your location in warm clothes and extra socks about an hour before sunset (not sundown).  There are lots of apps out there for your smartphone that calculate these times precisely.  Locations with lots of landscape lights, waterfalls, fountains, Christmas lights, and other lighted formations are great.  Spend a little bit of time scouting the area for some fun angles. Then, when you have a few shots picked out, just start shooting.  

I am not a fan of flash in these situations.  Unless set up very carefully, it can blow out the detail on the snow and lessen the impact of the lights.  I prefer a longer exposure assisted by a tripod to catch the beauty that is normally seen by the human eye at such moments.  The light disappears quickly this time of year, so be prepared to work fast.  
I haven't been able to get out early enough for winter pictures yet this year, but had some good luck last year.  Check out my Flickr photostream for some examples.
Canon 5D Mark II
135mm - ISO 800
1/500s - f/5.6

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Pipe dreams

I have to be honest - I'm not completely happy with today's picture - a beauty shot of my husband's pipe.  The high gloss finish on the bowl made it very difficult to minimize the reflections which detract from the beauty of the wood.  I shot it in near-darkness, but the flash reflected off of many surfaces to create the blue-white reflections visible on the bowl and stem.  At the very least, I should have gelled the flash with an orange gel to warm up the flash a bit.  The reflections would have still be there, but less distracting. 

I will probably have to give this one another try down the road.

Nikon D90
50mm - ISO 200
1/60s - f/1.8

Monday, January 10, 2011

These are a few of my favorite things

One of my traditions upon the first snowfall is to make a snowball slushie with my favorite (non-adult) beverage.  When you want to preserve the detail of the snow crystals, get in close and don't hit it with the flash straight on or shoot in direct sunlight.  Both options will blow out all of the texture.  Either use a bounce flash or natural light in the shade or on an overcast day.  Use a darker object in the scene to show off the texture and contrast.

Nikon D90
70mm - ISO 200
1/60s - f/5.3

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Baking in the afternoon

I spent some time in the kitchen today making lunch and apple crisp for dessert.  I would give you the recipe, but it is locked behind Better Homes & Gardens' pay wall.

Food photography can be tricky.  A pleasing angle is slightly lower than the perspective you would have if the dish was sitting in front of you at the table.  Straight overhead photos tend to look bad, unless it is of a flat dish such as a tomato soup.  Otherwise, the food loses all texture and looks flat. 

A straight side view also looks a bit artificial, as you wouldn't normally have that perspective on food that you are about to eat.  The goal of most food photography is to make the dish look "good enough to eat," and part of that is photographing it at a realistic angle.


Nikon D90
105mm - ISO 200
1/60s - f/5.6

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Playing catch-up

I spent some time today reading through the stacks of magazines that have piled up so far this year.  A nice seamless gray background helped eliminate distractions and keep the focus on the magazines.

 Nikon D90
58mm - ISO 200
1/60s - f/5

Friday, January 7, 2011

Chasing a winter's sunset

On these short winter days, sometimes it is all you can do to catch a glimpse of sunlight on your way to and from work.  If you want a chance at the sunset, you may have to (hypothetically) break a few speed limits on your way to a great view. 

With today's 42 mph wind, the clouds were racing across the sky, so I had to use a pretty small aperture to keep them from blurring.

Canon 5D Mark II 
135mm - ISO 320
1/3s - f/18

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Shot through and through

Christmas is over, and January is the month of the snowman around my house.  Another way to add interest to an object is to shoot it through another object.  In this instance, I focused on the snowman's face, locked my focus into place, held a CD up in front of the lens and shot through it.  The CD provides a nice vignetting frame around my subject. 

Nikon D90
50mm - ISO 200
1.6s - f/5

As an extra today, here is a good read from a wonderful street photographer, who has more guts than I ever will and some beautiful insight on photographing people, which as you can tell from this blog so far, is not one of my strong suits.

Holy Smoked Glass, Batman!

Today’s picture is similar in concept to yesterday’s, except for a few key points.  First of all, I wanted to show you what a great backdrop a piece of smoked glass can be.  It simultaneously provides a dark, nondescript background and a great reflective surface for your object. 

I wanted to get as many of the beads in focus as possible, so my aperture is closed way down at f/25.   Jewelry looks great photographed this way, as do other objects with some shine to them.

Nikon D90
105mm - ISO 200
30s - f/25

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

One Man's Trash...

Today's picture of a cool bug made from old computer parts is an example of a quick and easy method of photographing an object.  Set it on and in front of a dark background, add some bounce flash off the ceiling, and away you go.  In this case the flash is angled to kiss the background directly behind the object to add separation and preserve the focus of the picture on the bug.  

You could also choose to do this on a white background instead of black, but I liked the way the black worked with the various metals and bits of machinery.

In some cases, you will want to exaggerate the size of your subject, as I did here.  Low camera angles are a great way to accomplish this.  Just be careful not to use such an extreme angle that the object gets out of proportion.

If you look closely in the foreground "eye," you can clearly see the reflection of the room behind the camera as well as the pop of the flash. There are many ways to avoid these reflections.  In this case, I don't think it detracts from the overall look of the object. A great resource if you want to learn more about lighting and reflections is the wonderful book Light:  Science and Magic:  An Introduction to Photographic Lighting

Nikon D90
58mm - ISO 400
1/60s - f/5

Monday, January 3, 2011

Reflections from the road

I am spending the first part of my week on the road in Ohio.  Below is an example of using a reflective surface to tell a story about what is going on behind the camera. 

I would normally try for a lower ISO than 4000, but my tripod wasn't available for the evening (it had other plans), and I am still building up my hand-held strength with the 5D. 

Canon 5D Mark II 
50mm - ISO 4000
1/50s - f/4.5

Sunday, January 2, 2011

In depth (of field) with paperwhites

Paperwhites are some of the first flowers of the new year, and can be grown indoors from the bare bulbs if you have a sunny window.  Here I experimented with my 50mm prime to focus exclusively on the first small, fragrant blooms. 


See more from today's shoot on my Flickr photostream.

Nikon D90
50mm - ISO 800
1/10000s - f/5

Saturday, January 1, 2011

First sunrise

In Japan, the new year doesn't start at midnight on January 1, but rather when the sun first rises on the horizon wherever you may be.

2011 began for me at a beautiful (albeit freezing) lake in Osage County, Kansas with some good friends.

Welcome 2011!

Here's to a great 2011 with lots of fun along the way!

Canon 5D Mark II 
28mm - ISO 3200
1/20s - f/3.5