Monday, February 28, 2011

Boys and their toys

One of the most important accessories for a photographer to have (other than a camera, tripod and a flash or two) is friends who let you take their picture! 

Hint: if you have the ISO to spare, and the room isn't too dark, try not to use your flash in casual settings - it makes everyone more comfortable.

Nikon D90
25mm - ISO 1600
1/20s- f/4

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sunday Drivers

Went for a Sunday drive today around Auburn and Eskridge.  We blew past this sign (going about 60 - Cory's idea of a Sunday drive) and then backed up for a quick snap. 

Canon 5D Mark II
105mm - ISO 1250
1/1600s- f/4

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Shooting a high-contrast cat

Still home sick, so another picture in my living room was in store for me today.  Cats really hate being surprised by bright lights, so I recommend shooting them without flash when possible.  A high ISO tends to be necessary, unless your ambient lights are strong.  Shooting with a shallow depth of field is also good, because it provides definition to whiskers and the edges of their fur.  With a wide DOF, these details can easily blend into the rest of the background.

It also helps if the cat is a bit sleepy and slightly, but not very, curious.  You want them to be looking at the camera with some interest, but if they are too curious they will come straight for the camera.  Which, if you happen to be looking at them through the end of a long lens, can be pretty freaky. 

Objects on the other side of the lens may be further away than they appear, but you still might drop your camera in surprise when they spring right at your face.  A high-contrast cat like Ansel here, is also a plus.

Canon 5D Mark II
105mm - ISO 3200
1/15s- f/4

Friday, February 25, 2011

That Lifetime movie look

Sick again today, and I wanted to see if I could get the camera to see the world as I do right now.  You know, all kind of blurry and bleary?  I think there is a scene that looks like this in almost every Lifetime movie, when the only daughter of the single mom goes off to college and immediately becomes an alcoholic.  Not to make light of underage drinking.  Kids, don't drink.  Get a hobby instead.  Try photography!

This shot just required a couple of layers of Saran Wrap over my camera filter.  I hear that in movies they used to smear Vaseline all over the lens to get a similar effect.  Sounds a bit messy to me.

Canon 5D Mark II
105mm - ISO 640
1/8s- f/4

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Winter again

I love the stage of a snowstorm when the snow is still sticking to everything.  Snow pictures almost always benefit from a high-contrast object somewhere in the frame.  Our eyes can look out across a stark, white landscape and discern shapes under the snow, but the camera often can't.  You need something to give the snow shape and dimension, like the iron railing here.

Canon 5D Mark II
105mm - ISO 2000
1/25s- f/4

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Just bring it

Tip for today:  Bring your camera.  Anywhere.  Everywhere.  And don't just leave it in the car.  Bring it in!  You never know when the youth minister is going to pull out the world's cutest visual aid. 

Canon 5D Mark II
80mm - ISO 2000
1/60s- f/4

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Calico blue

Just a silly shot today of the cat on the windshield.  No special techniques or equipment needed (other than one hungry cat).

Canon 5D Mark II
24mm - ISO 2000
1/1320s- f/4

Pay Heed

Had a great time at the KU-OSU game tonight in glorious Allen Fieldhouse.  Even the view from the cheap seats is awesome.  One of my favorite moments is always the announcement of the starting lineups, when the air is electric, the noise is almost unbearable, and shreds of newspaper rain down in the student section.

You really have to click to enlarge this one.  I wanted as much detail as possible on everything, so I shot at a high ISO and small aperture.  You can always tell a small aperture when lights become starry.  I also wanted to be able to stop the action on the newspaper confetti, so I still needed some shutter speed.  Fortunately, at 2000 ISO, I could still get 1/30.  The 5D is so good it feels almost criminal, sometimes.  Not to mention disloyal to my trusty D90.  But capturing memories like this can soothe the conscience in a hurry...

Canon 5D Mark II
24mm - ISO 2000
1/30s- f/11

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A wild, wild west wind

The wind worked pretty hard to get rid of our nice spring weather today.  Here it whips the United States and Kansas flags all around.  I wanted to get some motion blur on the flags, so I closed down the aperture as tightly as possible, and also reduced my ISO as low as it could go, to reduce my shutter speed and get some nice blur.  A neutral density filter is another way to block light in these situations.

Nikon D90
80mm - ISO 100
1/13s- f/36

Saturday, February 19, 2011

'Shrooms, baby!

Took a break from napping today for a quick trip through the Topeka Lawn & Garden Show.  This colorful display of mushroom art caught my eye.  I love the way the depth of field makes the moss they are stuck in look all feathery.  The mushrooms are painted with a super glossy glaze, which I think accounts for the glow that each one seems to have. 

Or maybe my NyQuil just hasn't worn off yet.  Do you see it too?  Just me?  Okay.  Back to bed.

Nikon D90
50mm - ISO 1000
1/250s- f/2

Friday, February 18, 2011

A light in the darkness

On sick days like today, all I want is some NyQuil-induced oblivion rest.  For today's photo, I wanted to light the NyQuil like a nightlight, so I put together a quick white background composed of pieces of white cardboard leaning against each other.  Then I attached a long narrow snoot to my flash, opened the bottle, and stuck the end inside.  Okay, off to bed.

Canon 5D Mark II
55mm - ISO 800
1/160s- f/4.5

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A bridge to spring?

It was a beautiful day today, and I went to the lake. I found a great old bridge with chain link sides and took a shot down the middle.

Like yesterday's shoot, a larger aperture would have given me a longer depth of field, but I wanted the distortion that comes from a shallow DOF.  The camera is focused at the end of the bridge, so the part closest to the camera is out of focus.

Canon 5D Mark II
24mm - ISO 800
1/1600s- f/4

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

More than meets the eye

You kind of have to know Transformers to appreciate this one.  I wanted to do the typical heroic pose of this Optimus Prime doll action figure, which is really only about 4" high.  I liked it, but then remembered this other, larger Optimus that is currently in Big Rig form, and thought it would be cool barely seen in the background. 

To get the shot, I used my camera's light meter to set my shutter speed and aperture for the ambient light in the normally-lit room.  Then I dialed up the shutter speed until the scene was mostly black.  I could have modified my aperture for the same effect light-wise, but a large aperture gives you a shallow depth of field, which I wanted.  The two figures are only about 6" away from each other, but the DOF makes it look like they are much further apart.  The big rig is also twice as tall as the action figure, and I wanted to bring them into a closer height relationship.  The low camera angle and shallow DOF helped with that.

The action figure was lit by a flash at very low power, zoomed in as far as I could go.  I placed a black paper tube on the end of the flash to create a narrow beam of light and pointed it nearly straight down over the figure.  I could have narrowed it even more for less lateral light spill at his feet.

Canon 5D Mark II
70mm - ISO 800
1/50s- f/4

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Testing one two...check...check

I was testing some flashes in preparation for a shoot tomorrow, and decided that I might as well direct them towards something interesting.  The headphones below are actually lit with three flashes.  If you picture the headphones as the center of a clock, one flash is sitting about 6" away in the six-o'clock position, with two more about 8" away in the four-o'clock and eight-o'clock positions. 

The six-o'clock flash is pointed straight at the headphones.  The other two are angled up and over to light the background and kill the shadows on the wall, and are set at twice the power of the six-o'clock light.  I think when this frame was taken, the flash on the right was getting low on batteries and wasn't firing at full power each time, which is why you see the shadow on the wall to the right.  Lighting the wall also creates separation between the headphones and the wall, bringing a three-dimensionality to the scene.

I wanted to get some really sharp detail, so I closed down my aperture a lot.  This also darkened the room considerably, and allowed me to control the light hitting my subject almost completely with the flashes.  This was not shot in a dark room - the overhead lights were on.  However, with the small aperture, only the flash-light mattered.

Again, if you have any questions about off-camera flash, the definitive resource for newbies is Strobist.  Work through his Lighting 101 and 102 archives and you will be well on your way.

Canon 5D Mark II
105mm - ISO 400
1/250s- f/11

Monday, February 14, 2011

And the crème brûlée saves the day

Tonight was one of those nights.  I was going to cook a wonderful, romantic dinner for my husband and enjoy a quiet evening in together.  When the top came off my salt grinder and dumped about a quarter cup of salt into my second batch of roasted potatoes, I realized that this was not to be. 

We made it through dinner (drinking a lot of fluids) and were on to the eagerly-anticipated crème brûlée.  While he ran to the hardware store to get fuel for the torch, I realized that when I halved the recipe, I forgot to halve the sugar.  It was a very sweet ending to a pretty salty meal, so I guess that was fitting.

For this shot I bounced a 580EXII off the ceiling, gelled with a pink gel in honor of Valentine's Day.  Not really - I just wanted to soften the scene a bit, and it worked beautifully.

Canon 5D Mark II
105mm - ISO 6400
1/200s- f/5.6

Sunday, February 13, 2011


Crawling under a bridge in the mud to take a picture of the snowmelt rushing through a creek can be a messy business, but when you see a view like this, it is worth the ruined shoes.

See more of today's pictures in my Flickr photostream.

Nikon D90
18mm - ISO 1000
1/1250s- f/14

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Into the blue (agave)

Hmm, there seem to be a lot of alcohol or alcohol-related pictures this week.  I think my stress receptors might have been on overload.  Hopefully next week's pictures will be more family-friendly.

I'm afraid I am getting spoiled by the magical powers of the image sensor on the 5D Mark II that I use some of the time, because I took today's shot with my D90, and had to bring up some of the color in post.  The 90 did its best, but in some pictures, especially those in low light situations, the 33% smaller image sensor really shows.

This is an example of how a clean background can help focus the eye on the subject at hand.  I didn't notice at the time how much reflection I was getting on the margarita shaker.  In hindsight I would remove the colorful objects from that part of the table and eliminate that distraction.

Nikon D90
66mm - ISO 1000
1/15s- f/5.3

Friday, February 11, 2011

Play me some mountain music

I gave the flashes the day off today - they have been working hard lately.  Today's picture is strictly about composition.  The hammer dulcimer player (Happy Birthday, Daddy!) is framed nicely by the instrument and the door frame. 

In a later shot that I took with his phone, I turned off the light on the other side of the doorway, which helped remove the focus from the walls behind.  This is an example of a photo in need of "cleaning up the background," which is so essential to composition.  Sometimes we forget, after our primary subject is  framed to our liking, to check the background and surrounding area for distractions.

Canon 5D Mark II
105mm - ISO 5000
1/30s- f/4

Thursday, February 10, 2011

...Luuuuke, it's really foggy in here...

Today I decided to experiment with the following equation: 

2f + 3g + 1v when f = flash, g = gel and v = vaporizer

The result was a pretty cool blue fog surrounding my Star Wars DVD.

The flashes were snooted down to about a 2" opening with about 10" of tinfoil (I should probably buy some real ones someday), with the gels at the very ends of the snoots - not the common practice, but it worked in a pinch.  The flashes were about 6-8" away from the fog and set at 1/2 and full power.  One flash had two green gels, and the other had one blue gel.  You can see which color was the strongest, even when the green-gelled flash had a higher power output.

I have never tried a shot like this, and it was kinda tricky to get my shutter speed and aperture to the point where both the fog and the DVD were visible.  Hint:  you need a pretty fast shutter and small aperture.  It was pretty fun, so you might see more fog down the road. 

Canon 5D Mark II
105mm - ISO 5000
1/80s- f/13

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

It's a pretty good crowd for a Wednesday...

Channeling some Billy Joel tonight while listening to my husband play the keyboard with a "drinking alone" shot.

I used the dim ambient light in the room (a lamp with ordinary tungsten bulbs about 6 feet away and close to the ceiling) to light the scene, and held a 580EXII gelled with two 1/4 CTO gels on the end of a 10" snoot directly overhead on 1/64th power.

The glass is actually full, boringly enough with water.  Maybe it will get filled with something else now that the shot is finished.

Canon 5D Mark II
105mm - ISO 400
1/50s- f/4

Maybe if we had two suns

Today's shot never quite worked out for me.  My husband collects (or I collect for him) small airplanes of every type.  I was trying out a new flash tonight, and wanted to simulate an airplane flying away from a sunrise.  I put a blue gel on the flash to get the cool blue sky tones and bounced it off the wall to the camera right, and had a lamp in the bottom left corner of the frame serve as the rising sun.

The main problem is that I couldn't adequately light the part of the plane closest to the camera, so ended up adding an overhead light, which was pretty unrealistic.  Hence, the need for a second sun.  Although they say that may actually happen later this year...  I also didn't like the spillover from the flash onto the plane, as seen in the blue highlights. 

This will be a good shot to do over one of these days.  A better way to light the front would probably be with a second flash on very low power shot through a diffuser of some kind. 

The plane is hanging from a ceiling fan by some monofilament, which is easily removed in post.

Canon 5D Mark II
105mm - ISO 800
1/40s- f/4

Monday, February 7, 2011

The frozen tundra

I can't remember what tundra is, but this probably isn't it.  It is a simple lake under a winter snow sky.  Long shutter speed, large-ish aperture, and there you go.

Nikon D90
30mm - ISO 1000 
3s- f/4.5

Some fun for your Monday - a really great 365 photo blog by a guy who knows what he is doing.  Prepare to be amazed and entertained.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Now that's a mouthful!

I loved candy machines like this one when I was a kid.  It didn't take much to make me happy - just a quarter's worth of sugar.

Nikon D90
50mm - ISO 800 
1/50s- f/3.5

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Guitarist 3-D

Tonight I had some fun with what I am calling zoom blur.  There is probably a technical term for it, but I don't know it.  There are some really artistic people at my church, and they put together a cool stage set-up for the series that our pastor is going to be speaking on for the next few months.  Check out my Flickr photostream to see the whole stage.

This kind of effect is simple to achieve.  You just set your camera to a slow shutter speed and accompanying aperture, and zoom in on your subject.  Press the shutter button down, and before it opens back up again, zoom out in a smooth, controlled movement.  It is much easier with a tripod, I have to say.  The lights in the photo below were strong enough that I could get away without mine tonight, fortunately. 

It can take some experimentation to get this right, so you might not get quite the look you want on the first try.   
The biggest key is to not jerk the camera down as you turn your zoom ring.  Again, a tripod will help with that, but you can do without if you are careful.

Update:  check out our worship pastor's blog for more pictures & info.

Nikon D90
105mm - ISO 1000 
1/3s- f/5.6

Snow & mirrors

Just got back from a late-night run to the airport.  While I was driving around waiting for my husband's plane to come in, I found this awesome building.  I pulled up alongside and took some shots of my car reflected back into it.

This picture is an perfect example of what happens when colors of light mix - and why you need to color-balance your lights.  See how awful the foreground snow looks?  It is dirty, true, but it is also picking up the yellow of the parking lot lights.  The snow in front of the flagpoles is illuminated by my headlights, which are much whiter.  This is why many flash-lit photos look bad - the flash is such a different color of light than the ambient lighting.  Slap a (huge) gel on my headlights, and the whole scene looks a lot more normal.  Gelling your lights also helps with color correcting in post, because then you only have one shade of light to correct for.  Here, if I take out some of the yellow to improve the look of the snow, the lights in front of the car look even more blue-white.

Nikon D90
26mm - ISO 2000 
1/5s- f/5

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Camera envy

Even cameras get camera envy. A friend gave me this tiny little vintage camera, and I liked the idea of it looking at itself in my "big camera" lens.  I always have trouble getting my blacks to be black in these types of shots.  And keeping the reflections of the rest of the room out of the lens was a challenge.  I ended up hiding myself and the rest of the room behind the camera behind a black cloth and just letting the lens peek through. 

Nikon D90
50mm - ISO 500 
6s- f/9

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Don't believe everything you read

You know, I had some obligatory "snow" pictures for today, after yesterday's storm brought 10 inches of the white stuff our way.  But as I was walking around the backyard with the dog, I just couldn't resist the irony of this shot.

The shallow depth of field from the large aperture really allowed me to keep the focus on the barbeque grill thermometer.
Canon 5D Mark II
135mm - ISO 400
1/30s- f/5.6

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The road ahead

The drive home from work was a bit tricky today.  Since I was the only one on the road, I snapped a quick picture of this bridge that I drive under every day.  A shout out to my KIA Sportage which got me up the hill on the other side without incident.  This bridge is always freaky to drive under when a train is rolling through.  My mind always conjures up these epic Michael Bay scenarios that have cars derailing and flipping over and over down the road straight at me.

Sorry, I forgot we aren't supposed to use the word "epic" in 2011.  Well, I've always been a bit behind the times.

Nothing fancy here, just a small aperture to get as much detail as possible on the blowing snow.

Canon 5D Mark II
135mm - ISO 1250
1/125s- f/5.6