Tuesday, March 25, 2008

I Took My Own Advice!

In Lesson #7 I said, "Get out there and shoot!" So I did.

On Saturday, March 22nd, Spring Break was winding down for Aaron and Sara. Aaron agreed to go with me for a little evening shoot in Downtown Fort Worth and we had SOME KIND OF FUN! We parked at the base of the bridge on North Main Street just north of downtown and walked up to a vantage point where we could see the Tarrant County Courthouse. Aaron enjoyed this part because he's a big "Walker, Texas Ranger" fan and they often use footage of the courthouse on the show.

There are some spots along the side of the bridge deck that are perfect for photographers: away from the traffic and with a great view. We setup the tripod and camera and dialed in a very small aperture with a very long shutterspeed. We were generally shooting about f/22 with 15 to 30 seconds of exposure time. Check out the results below. The red and white streaks are from the traffic going by on the bridge. Very Cool!!!

It was a little harrowing walking up and down the bridge with traffic whizzing by..... but, you know.... anything for the shot!

We left downtown and headed west for home but along the way we got another surprise: there was a carnival in the parking lot at Ridgmar Mall! I've wanted to do some ferris wheel shots ever since I saw the ones my brother posted on his website at www.MyMochaLady.com.

Here are a couple of my favorites. Two to four seconds at f/22 made for some really cool shots.

I hope you liked them. Now get out there and do some of your own shooting!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Lesson #7 - Get out there and Shoot!

We've covered a lot on how the camera works and what all the different aperture, shutterspeed, and ISO choices are about.

But the TRUTH is that if you don't PRACTICE what you learn then you won't get any better.

In this lesson I'm going to try to motivate you to get out and shoot some photos. I'm going to give you some quick tips and show you some examples. Along the way perhaps I'll hit on a topic that interests you and then you will run out and use all your new technical knowledge to feed your creativity.

So come along with me and let's shoot some photographs!

Children: We love them and we CAN SHOOT THEM!

Get down on their level. Become a part of their world. Capture them being.....themselves. Big goofy smiles are great but having a photo of a little kid engaged in his world can be priceless.

Annoying Teenagers: They NEED to be SHOT!

I often shoot candid shots of teens just hanging out. Their laughter and expressions can be great but when they start mugging for the camera.... well, it's still okay! Here are three to help motivate you:

When I shoot teenagers, I like to use the longest lens I've got. That helps me peek into their world without getting into their space.

Scenic Landscapes: My all-time favorite subject!

My best tip here is to convince you that the best time of day to shoot is at sunrise and sunset. The quality of the light during those times is so much better than during the harsh direct overhead sunshiny part of the day.

Check these out...

More Landscapes:

Use the rule-of-thirds. That means don't place the dominant elements of the photograph in the center. Move them over or up to the one-third points in the frame. Look for diagonal lines that help draw the eye into the frame.

Flowers and Veggies: Spring is coming and the Botanic Garden could become your favorite place!

Don't just shoot down. Get down on their level. Use what you know about aperture to blur the backgrounds and selective focus on one flower. Remember the rule-of-thirds.

Animals: Shoot the family dog - especially if he barks all night. Capture shots of your kids interacting with their pets. Focus on the animal's eyes - that's where we are drawn when we look at the photo. If you like wild animals, do your homework. Learn what times they are most active. Get into their world.... but be careful. Travel to a National Park or State Park; wild animals are a little less wild there.

I hope you've enjoyed these photos as much as I have. Start a collection of personal favorites. It's great to show them off and it's great to look back and see how your creativity and talent have progressed.

Happy Shooting!

- James

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Lesson #6 ..... The Last Tradeoff Lesson!

Lesson #4 was about the tradeoffs involved with choosing an ISO.

Lesson #5 was about the tradeoffs involving aperture choices.

This one is about shutterspeed.

If your shutterspeed is too slow, then your photos might be blurry because your camera was shaking or because your subject moved.

Sometimes blurry is very cool. That's why we need to understand how shutterspeed works!

Shutterspeeds on digital SLR cameras may range from 1/8000th of a second up to 30 seconds. Which speed you choose out of that range depends on what you are trying to accomplish. If you are trying to photograph a 98 mile-per-hour fastball right as it leaves the pitcher's hand, you better use that 1/8000th of a second shutterspeed and you better hope that no one notices that the ball is still a little blurry. That's because in 1/8000th of a second, the ball traveled 0.21 inches. Bummer!

The good news, though is that you don't have to worry about camera shake when you are shooting 1/8000th of a second shutterspeeds because it is unlikely that you are shaking at 98 mph!

Maybe you want to shoot a nice dreamy waterfall and you want to blur the water. How fast is the water going? Maybe 5mph?

If it's going 5 mph, then it travels 7.33 feet in one second. If your shutter speed is set to one-half second, then the water will travel 3.67 feet while your shutter is open. It will definitely be blurry. And, if you don't use a tripod to hold the camera still, the rocks and trees and everything else around the waterfall will be blurry too!

Here are some good guidelines to remember: If you are shooting sports, 1/500th of a second is good but 1/1000th is much better. If you want a milky-looking waterfall, 1/4th of a second is good but 2 seconds is even better. If you want to avoid camera shake, use a shutterspeed that is roughly equal to the focal length of your lens. For example, if you are shooting with a 200 mm lens, try to keep your shutterspeeds faster than 1/200th of a second to avoid blurriness due to camera shake.

Let's look at some examples:

That's a mountain stream in Teton Canyon in Wyoming in May of 2007. I shot with ISO at 100, f/stop at 8, and shutterspeed at 1/4 of a second. As you can see, the water is nicely blurred all around the log and the rock. And to keep the log and the rock sharp, I rested the camera on the window of my truck after turning off the engine. You don't always have to have a tripod, just something really steady on which to brace your camera.

This shot is from Bennington, Vermont, and was taken during the summer of 2006. I used ISO 200, f/stop 7.1, and a shutterspeed of 1/400th of a second. The fast shutterspeed stopped most of the motion of the waterfall and it made it easy to handhold the camera.

Now a couple of sports examples:

My young friend, Greg, catches the ball and heads straight toward my position on the sideline. What a catch and what a photo! I had the ISO at 3200 (max), the f/stop at 2.8 (max) and my shutterspeed was 1/500th of a second. Any slower than that and the shot would have been blurred.

My daughter, Sara, plays a little soccer at 1/400th of a second. Again, f/2.8 and ISO 3200 - both maxed out - and the best I could get under the lousy stadium lighting was 1/400th of a second. Notice how her foot is slightly blurred as it heads for the soccer ball. Maybe the shutterspeed was too slow or maybe it was her awesome power.... hmmm.

And we'll wrap it up with an appearance of the marching band!

This is a very cool shot that I actually did on purpose. This shot was at ISO 1600, f/20, and 1/15th of a second. I had been shooting with the high ISO and the camera set in Aperture Priority Mode when I saw this cool opportunity develop. With a flick of my index finger, I switched from f/2.8 to f/20 which caused the shutterspeed to drop down to 1/15th of a second. I took a couple of shots and immediately rolled the selector back to f/2.8 to continue. When I got home that night and reviewed my shots, I had a keeper! The blurred motion of the drumline with elements going in all directions really looks cool.... at least to me.

Know how your camera works. Know how to control the shutterspeed and you can get the effects you want.

Keep watching.... there's more to come!


Lesson #5 More Tradeoffs

In Lesson #4 I described the tradeoffs involved in your choice of ISO. Increase the ISO and you can shoot at higher shutterspeeds or in low-light conditions. Higher ISO will also get you more digital noise or graininess - that's the tradeoff.

This lesson covers the tradeoffs involved with aperture. You know..... f/stops....... f/numbers!

Remember that the aperture is the hole in the lens through which light travels on its way to the film or sensor. The aperture is adjustable from large f-numbers which correspond to small apertures to small f-numbers which correspond to large apertures.

Confusing? Maybe a definition will help; -- MATH ALERT! -- The f-number (or f/stop) is the ratio of the focal length of the lens to the diameter of the opening in the aperture. An f/stop of 8 means the diameter of the aperture is 1/8th of the focal length of the lens. If you wanted to double the area of the aperture to let in twice as much light, the f/stop would go from 8 to 5.6.

Remember that the area of a circle varies with the SQUARE of the diameter. Go through the math and you'll find that the area of the aperture doubles when you divide the f/stop by 1.414, which of course is the square root of two.


Don't worry about it. That last part was for geeks like me that just MUST UNDERSTAND THE MATH!

Here's the important part: Big aperture = small f-number AND small aperture = big f-number.

So when I say "OPEN up the lens," I mean go to a small f/stop or f-number. When I say "stop down the lens" I mean go to a large f/stop or large f-number.

Now for the tradeoffs (finally!)

Stop down the lens to a small aperture (like f/22) and you will increase your depth of field. Open up the lens to a large aperture (like f/2.8) and the depth of field will become shallow.

Depth of field is all about how much of the subject matter in your photograph is in focus. Focus on an object out in front of you and there will be a zone in front of and behind the object that is also in focus. With a small aperture (like f/22) the zone will be large and may extend from a few inches in front of you all the way to infinity. With a wide open aperture (like f/2.8) the zone will be small - perhaps only a few inches in front of and behind your subject. How wide the zone is for a particular lens depends on the size of the aperture you choose.

When is this important?

How about a couple of examples:

In landscape photography it is sometimes interesting to have the foreground and the background in focus. Stop down the lens to a small aperture and compose the shot. Now remember, the small aperture lets in less light than a large aperture so it naturally follows that a good exposure will require a longer shutterspeed. The aperture is small so it will need to be open longer. That could be a problem if you are handholding the camera or if your subject is moving.

The photo above was taken in October of 2007 in Grand Teton National Park. The clouds were obscuring the beautiful mountains in the background so I decided to focus on the leaves in the near foreground and the barn in the background. I shot with my f/stop at f/13 - a fairly small aperture setting. This dictated a shutterspeed of 1/80th of a second. For the lens length I was using, 1/80th was fast enough to handhold so I didn't need my tripod. The shot was done at ISO 400. If I had been concerned about digital noise, I could have shot at ISO 200 or ISO 100 which would have forced the shutterspeed to decrease to 1/40th or 1/20th, respectively. Both of those speeds would have required me to use a tripod to make sure the shot was steady. (See how I slipped in that review of ISO!)

In portrait photography it is sometimes nice to blur the background so that the subject really stands out. Open up the lens to a wide aperture and compose the shot. Again, the wide aperture means the shutter doesn't have to be open very long. The fast shutterspeed could be great if you need to handhold the camera.

In this shot of the young lady, the ISO was 400, the shutterspeed was 1/200th of a second, and the aperture was at f/2.8. I handheld this shot because the shutterspeed was fast enough to compensate for any camera shake that might have occurred and because I didn't want to set up a tripod on the railroad tracks!

The most important thing to understand is that your choice of aperture affects how much of the photo will be in focus - or how much "depth of field" you have.

Small aperture = large f/stop = lots in focus. Large aperture = small f/stop = very small plane of focus.

If you remember back in Lesson #2 I talked about shooting in Aperture Priority. This is how I shoot about 90 percent of the time. I control the aperture and the ISO and I let the camera pick the shutterspeed. I do this because I want creative control over what is in focus and what is blurry. Even though I'm not controlling the shutterspeed directly, I ALWAYS watch the shutterspeed to make sure it is fast enough for my conditions. If it isn't, then I bump my ISO upward to speed up the shutter. It's all about knowing how the camera works!

Go out and try to shoot with different f/stops and see what effect it has on your photographs.

If you have questions you can leave them here as comments or you can e-mail me at james.albritton@att.net

Thanks for reading!