Friday, October 14, 2011

Apples and Toddlers and Presets, oh my!

A recent apple-pickin' excursion left me full of photos to play with...and so many delicious, delicious apples...mmmmmmmm. Gorgeous day, tons apples, good company - photogenic and memorable.

Back home on the computer I initially tried my normal approach - fix the exposure and white balance, dodge and burn a little, get a little more life in the colors...export! However the results just weren't quite what I was looking for, a bit too daylight-y, perhaps. High time to try some presents I downloaded free from the internet (full credit to Lightroom Killer Tips).

The particular preset I uses was called Wedding Day, which seems incongruent, but after applying it I just felt it was right. The rough list of changes it makes are a magenta shift of the tint, some vignetting, a reduction in saturation and vibrance, a slight under-exposure, and an increase in the blacks. This seems the opposite of what I normally do, especially the desaturation of color, and it's no surprise that these images look little like the rest of the ones I've made lately.

Of course they weren't done and I did some additional futzing to get just what I wanted. The edit trail is 30-50 change long for some of these as I kept tweaking, but I didn't change the essence of the preset's style.

Here are a couple of my favorites with the camera jpeg on the left and the one I made with the preset on the right (all at ISO 200 with +0.3 exposure compensation and a 45-200mm lens).

And one more of me with the little apple chomper. I don't often take a turn on this side of the lens :)

Peace out.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Happy Accidents with the Sprinkler

Last Saturday we were going to go on a bike ride, but yours truly busted a tube trying to top it off to full pressure (accident 1). So we hung out at home, played at the park, and eventually set up the sprinkler in the driveway.

What self-respecting papa/photographer would miss an opportunity like this? While Leah was happily running around the sprinkler I grabbed the camera with the 45-200mm lens and started taking shots from different angles, near and far, focusing on the water or her face, all with essentially no planning.

Happy accidents:
--I put the sprinkler in the sun, but because it was much darker everywhere else I got excellent isolation of the subject and the water. In the yard I wouldn't have been able to do this because the background would have been well illuminated.
--Leah was essentially back lit the whole time, which meant that her face was in shadow. Somehow (and some help from Lightroom) this didn't pose a big problem, and it created a neat effect with her face more implied than clear and thus the focus was more on the water.
--The colors in the water! The differences between the blur on 1/320 sec and the freezing at 1/1600 sec! Talk about excellent luck, as I had this on aperture priority mode the whole time so the camera was picking the shutter speed to maintain exposure.

Maybe I'm lucky. Maybe I'm getting some photographic instincts (the whole "Blink"idea"). Maybe I'm the blind squirrel finding the acorn over and over again. Anyway, here are some of the best images.

Hands in the sprinkler - what fun!
ISO 200  45mm  f/4.0  1/320 sec

Trying to catch the water
ISO 200  45mm  f/4.0  1/800 sec

Thirsty work
ISO 200  115mm  f/4.9  1/1600 sec

Go play in the sprinkler, fools!

Friday, August 05, 2011

Bikes on the square

Leah and I head up to the Farmer's Market each Saturday AM, but one morning we took a stroll down MLK boulevard to do a little sight seeing. While Leah gazed with awe at a firetruck, I took a few shots of a line of red, rental bikes.

First off, here's the full-color jpeg that I started with:

ISO 200  20mm  f/3.2  1/320sec

Cropping. A bit of lighting adjustment. Switch to monochrome - I think this is a much more interesting image. At first it was the color that caught my eye, but it's the pattern that's most interesting. I wish I could have take 10 more like this, really isolating the wheel.

Bikes off the Capital Square


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Summer Is Online

Meg had hung up up laundry in the back yard and when I saw Leah's orange dress hanging up I had to take some photos. At first it was in the shade and facing the other way, but those are things I can control. 

Leah's dress that she wore on the first sunny day after the solstice, drying on the line
ISO 200  45mm  f/4.0  1/250 sec

I'm actually sitting on the ground with the camera almost set in the grass, as it's a 90mm-equivalent and the clothesline doesn't hang that high. It was worth the wet bum, and it was a fun break from cleaning the grout in the kitchen floor.

What's fun about this is that it was exactly what I wanted to get. I saw the dress and thought that it was so summery, so all I needed to do was get it in the sun with a blurred green and blue background. I put the lens on the camera, went outside, made a couple adjustments, and voila. It took about 5 min total.

Still Life...on a Challenge!

Okay, by "challenge" I mean one of the photo challenges on dpreview, but I'm a very competitive person and I do my best with an audience. So, I decided to enter a photo on the topic of scotch whiskey. In addition I've been inspired lately by some of the work of John Hedgecoe. I highly recommend his book How to Take Great Photographs. I found it used at a store, but it's not expensive new.

First off, I love scotch with all of my body. I've had the fortune to drink some excellent scotch, and my liquor cabinet is well stocked, so the easy part was getting the props. I looked at the other entries and saw a few that were excellent, but there wasn't much breadth to them. I don't have the flashes or studio to make a great product shot, but I thought that if I grabbed a bottle and glass and set them up somewhere in the house where I could control lighting that I might find a little creativity.

I really should have used my old compact camera to record the "studio" I created. I moved an oak end table into the bathroom, tilted the metal shade of a lamp (compact fluorescent bulb) as a sort of snoot, put that on top of a roll of TP (needed a little height) and started arranging things.

Note: TP rolls are not an effective light stand. I'll come back to that later.

I'll start with my best image, then talk about how I got there:
Tobermory 10-yr from the Isle of Mull
ISO 200  20mm  f/6.3  1.6 sec

I was using my 20mm 1.7, so light didn't need to be a big deal, but I wanted depth of field and was only using one light in the whole room, so all of my exposures were from 1.5-8 seconds. The tripod did the trick, but setting a 2-sec delay on the camera was good enough to eliminate the shake from my touching the shutter button. Who needs to pay for a remote release, huh? Other than that this was pretty darn vanilla. Aim the camera, focus, take a shot, adjust things, take another shot....

Technical stuff. Whatever. The fun part was using the light and the elements at hand. At first I was just arranging things to get good balance, but I saw that I could shine the light either through the bottle or the glass and create a neat effect, so I tried a number of arrangements that way, even not showing the bottle or glass at all. In the end this looked best to me and it is my challenge entry. Wish me luck.

The session ended when the lamp fell of the TP roll, made a huge crash, and I sat stunned waiting for Leah to wake up in her crib and start crying (she was only about 20-ft away, but there were two doors). Thankfully she didn't wake up, so I called it a night and enjoyed a very well earned scotch :)

Next time I do still life photography:
--I will take more photos! I wish I'd just hit the shutter more often
--I will pay more attention to the orientation of the objects, such as the label on the bottle
--I will pay more attention to the background, either adding more of keeping it totally neutral
--I will not put a lamp on something precarious

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Madison in a Photo

Madison is the capital of Wisconsin, the only major city in America built on a isthmus, birthplace of the progressive movement, home of an elite university, a flashpoint in the 60's revolution, a mid-sized city in the midst of rolling hills and farmland, and a bunch of other stuff. 'Nuff said. The people who live here make the city, but also mime this idea of their city - we feel the need to reaffirm our membership by being the things a Madisonian should be, and I don't think I'm an exception.

I'm really making a silly preamble to a photo, but bear with me.

Yesterday I headed to the Capitol Square to the Farmer's Market (the Midwest's largest!) to pick up my CSA share...and I brought my camera just in case I had an opportunity to use it. At the head of King St is the prime spot for all things Madison, and it's also where Driftless Organics sets up their stall, so I like to take at least a couple minutes to take things in, do a little shopping, meet friends, and observe those fascinating Madison people before I grab my veggies.

Here's what I saw:

Grannies for Peace performing at the Saturday Farmers Market
ISO 200  20mm  f/6.3  1/320 sec

--The Capitol dome, with statue (which has a badger on its head)
--"Grannies for Peace" performing songs, mostly protesting our craptastic Gov. Walker
--Flags of the State and Union
--Some dude dressed in officially licensed UW Badgers apparel
--A reminder that we have a sister city in Germany...for some reason
--The statue of Hans Christian Hess, who did something important in a war, I think

Admittedly this was more-or-less a snapshot. I lined it up so that the Capitol, Hans and the singers were balanced, and I think that worked. It's actually very close to the rule of thirds with only a minor crop, but that's at least 25% luck. Maybe I'm just getting some intuition :)

But what this photo means to me is that there's a quintessential Madison-ness that I revel in when I'm downtown. I love how the city has come alive now that we have something we all want to protest together. I love that we do this wearing Badger red, eating cheese curds and buying excellent produce from local producers. I'm proud of our heritage and the monuments we've built and I love looking at that dome.

I wish that the sky had been more interesting, as it really kills this picture. Oh, well. I'll be there again in 5.5 days and I'm sure that someone will be putting on a show.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Gratuitous Cat Photo

Been quite busy lately and had little time to post, but I've been snapping photos whenever possible. Just to keep things going, here's a cat photo.

But not just any cat photo! This is little Penny, the loaf cat of Woodridge, IL, from a fun perspective. I reiterate my previous statement - there's no better subject than a static one, and few animals are so photogenic and static.

Penny in Perspective
ISO 200  20mm  f/2.0  1/25 sec

Where's Waldo quiz - can you find find the second subject in this image? Hint - he's holding a camera. Unfortunately this jpeg makes this less impressive, but I'll email you the raw file if you really care that much.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

The Steel Man

Not the Man of Steel, mind you. Quite the opposite as this is the face of a veterans memorial statue from a very small park, which is basically the parking lot of a municipal storage building. You wouldn't even know it's there, but I drive by in on my way to work and I found it once when picking up some free mulch.

Without further ado, here's an photo I took this morning:

The Steel Man
ISO 200  20mm  f/2.2  1/500 sec
It was very overcast which helped some, as a bright day would have been all wrong and possibly forced me to use a smaller aperture. Still the bottom left required me to really burn back the overexposure. Next I cropped, changed to black and white and voila!

More interesting than the technical aspects are the emotive ones. The sculptor did fine work and all I can do is represent him or her well. The eyes especially. No point saying more - I hope you find it pleasing and just a little moving.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Once more into the breach!

That's about as absurd a title as I could come up with for "once again I got before 7:00 AM on a weekend and took some photos of flowers in my back yard." If I didn't amuse myself I'd probably cease to exist.

I really liked what I had the other day taking photos of back-lit daffodils, but I didn't take nearly as many as I wished. Here are a couple more takes on that idea. Exploring the theme, if you will.

ISO 200   20mm   f/5.6   1/1000 sec

ISO 200   20mm   f/2.5   1/2000 sec
 Both of these are the same flower and the sun is directly behind, which adds to the translucency. I particularly liked the triangles that are made when two petals overlap - it's not something you see unless there's a strong back light and it changes how you perceive the flower's shape.

Neither of these really did what I wanted, not that I could have clearly articulated what I was trying to do until I got back to the computer. Perhaps it was because I couldn't quite isolate the flower from the surroundings - other flowers, trees in the back, leaves. I have about 10 shots at different apertures and tried a bunch of crops, but I couldn't quite get this the way I wanted. Perhaps I should have found a way to block out everything else so that I could physically isolate the flower, but that seems like cheating. Surmountable problems? Sure - that's why I practice!

ISO 200   20mm   f/2.5   1/2000 sec
For those of you following along at home this is the same spot (maybe same flower) that I took the halo shot of a couple weeks ago. This time I made sure to obscure the sun completely behind the flower and I think it creates a neat image.

I did a fair amount of processing this photo, especially by desaturating the background colors and pumping up the yellow and orange. I tried this as black and white, and it's neat, but the color is just so nice that I like keeping it in this time. It's a give and take for aperture as I want enough to have detail on all of the flower, but I really want that bokeh in the background. Not perfect, but I like it.

I will officially put a few more items into my bag of tricks:
--Be mindful of aperture so that you get enough detail in a flower, but still have good isolation
--Pay attention to the background, especially things you can't crop out
--Sun behind a flower is really cool

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sunny day on the grass with Leah

This last weekend we spent Easter with Meg's parents, and wee Leah got to soak in the Minnesota rays on a sunny Sunday morning. Here are a few that turned out especially well (out of the 220 photos I took).

ISO 200   103mm   F/4.8   1/1250 sec

ISO 200   103mm   F/4.8   1/1600 sec

What I like about these two are how the green grass bokeh looks like a matte background in a portrait studio. There were a few others that had better smiles, but there was always a house or something that was distracting. With these two Leah's face is really nicely isolated and I think it draws you in.

Just for fun, here's an action shot of plastic Easter eggs mysteriously hovering. I'll let you guess how this came to pass, but here's a hint - look at the shutter speed :)

ISO 200   45mm   F/4.0   1/2000 sec

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

I found your trilling quite thrilling, my dear blackbird

The park by our house has a little marsh in it and it's already full of frogs and red-winged blackbirds - especially their chatter. Last week we went for a walk and I kicked myself for not bringing the camera, but I often don't make the same mistake twice. Fairly often.

Here's a shot of a trilling red-winged blackbird. Of course, you know what he's saying, "Baby, you know I'm the man for you! I'll be sweet and bring you breakfast in nest!"

Trilling red-winged blackbird. ISO 200, 200mm, f/5.6, 1/200 sec
Sillyness aside, he gave me a great pose and I'm really happy I caught him in his moment. I worked pretty hard to get a good background, as there are houses in several directions and mostly leafless trees. It's nothing remarkable beyond the subject, but at least it isn't distracting. I could be in the Horicon Marsh for all you could tell :)

As to the shot, this was fully zoomed at 400mm equivalent, which I needed as he flew away when I got closer. This is cropped to about 1/3 of the original size, but it would have been preferable to be closer and not have to max out the focal length as this lens has a bit of chromatic aberration at this limit (zoom way in and you can see it by his feet at tail where the white and black contrast). With that said, who cares! I love that I caught the moment and for the brilliance of his plumage on this spring evening.

Update - added a new crop based on some good advice by Sam

Crop #2

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Exploring a subject - daffodils on a sunny morning

I've been trying to spend more time working with a single subject and to explore more of the possibilities; I have also been waiting for a sunny weekend morning to try taking some photos of the spring flowers in my yard. The result?  I jumped out of bed this morning, skipped the coffee for the trusty camera, and started snapping some shots.

A few of the early flowers are on the wane, but the daffodils are just hitting their stride. I'll begin here with a few of the shots I took just getting a feel for what I could produce, though I didn't have any real plan and just picked the flowers that seemed promising. None of these stand out as much, but it helped me see what I was going to get for light, depth of field, and whatnot.

I stumbled upon that last shot, as I had no intention to get the sun coming through between the tree and the deck, aside from that I was looking for flowers that were actually in the sun. Anyway, it seemed promising to get some macro shots with a really short DOF with the sun doing its magic. Here's the next round:

Cash money! That last one had something going for it. Now come inside, make coffee for me/wife and cereal for the kiddo...and during her nap I imported these into Lightroom. All I knew was that I wanted something more abstract - it doesn't need to look like light coming from behind a tree in my yard on  a spring morning - I just wanted something visually striking.

I cropped a little to start out, isolating the flower more, and then I took back a few highlights and dodged a bit in the center of the flower. Non-flower detail was mostly gone, and more so after desaturating everything but the yellow/orange. I like how the flower is floating, but still I just see "yellow," and not something more compelling...

...until I converted to black and white. It never ceases to amaze me how much more you see when you remove the distraction of color. In this case I see the texture in the translucent petal, and I pick up more of a sense of a halo. I'm biased, but I think this is a stunning image.

Final image, daffodil with a halo
 I'm pleased, but there's got to be a lot more I can do with this subject and I won't get better by blogging. Stay tuned for the next installment.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Cows on a Foggy WI Morning

I really have the best commute - 15 minutes and every day I pass by corn fields, apple orchards, a huge pumpkin patch, two kinds of cows (including a bunch of calf houses), horses, and probably the laziest pair of ponies in the world. In the morning the light is especially nice, and often there is quite a bit of fog.

Needless to say I've stopped many times to take pictures. A few days ago was a cool, slightly foggy morning and the shaggy cows on the west side of the road were grazing fairly close to the fence, so I pulled over and pulled out the trusty 45-200mm zoom. Antics ensued (see image 2).

Cow facing a foggy wood
This was probably the best shot I took. Not because of any technical coup, but there's something foreboding about the woods and how the cow is facing them alone. Interestingly, it's quite far to the woods, but the zoom lens (at a full 400mm equivalent) really smashes the subject and the background together and changes the scene a great deal.

That was one tasty hobbit!
(credit: P. S. Mueller)
This one is much sillier, and there's something about her tongue that says it all. A video would be good, too, as she was really using that horn to full effect.

You lookin' at me?
One last image, and there's not much to say that you can't see. I wasn't very interesting to the cows, being as I'm not made of grass, but I didn't go completely unnoticed.