Saturday, April 30, 2011

Downtown Lemont - A Better Day

So I know I'm in the middle of recounting my frustrations with the city of Chicago, which I'll get back to. But I actually had a really good day yesterday, so I'm going to take a break to focus on the positive.

Yesterday the weather was gorgeous and sunny, so I spent an hour shooting in downtown Lemont, IL. Amazing light. Not in a hurry. Pictures actually look really nice. Here are some of the keepers:

First stop was a gorgeous magnolia tree. It was actually the reason for my stop. I had to try for a couple shots before all those petals fall.

View on Flikr
View on Flikr
Next up, a gorgeous old building across the street that is currently unoccupied.

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View on Flikr

Finally, a few random shots of downtown Lemont.

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View on Flikr
View on Flikr
Overall. Good day. Wahoo.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Chicago - Part 1

I totally suck. Yes. I do. I totally suck. I spent about 30 minutes in the city of Chicago yesterday taking pictures. The city of Chicago. It's a photographer's wonderland. My photos. Yuck. Let's take a look.

But first, let me take a moment to find a photo from the past that I've taken that doesn't suck.

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OK. That's a cute picture. In focus. Decent composition. Darn cute kid. So it is possible for me to take a decent picture. With that in mind, I'll now look at some of the output from my half hour in the city.

* deep breath *

So I got out of my car and saw some pigeons. Really, what I was trying to do, was play with the tilt. People seem to be able to put this tilt in their composition and it looks so great. I can't do it. I was trying to see how much to tilt.

Next up. Cool fire escape. The first shot was an actual attempt at decent composition, then more tilt practice.

Don't like any of them. Too angled. Angled the wrong way. All yuck. First one's not bad though, which is not bad since that's the one I really tried to make look good.

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Next up, greenery...

There was a minuscule patch of greenery on the roof. Tried to use it.  They're nothing fabulous. 

Up next, buildings. The first two shots came out pretty decent.

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View on Flikr
They're simple building shots, but not bad. Then I tried playing with that whole tilt thing again. Ugh. Nothing good.

The bottom two on the right I was actually trying to do something with that little square of windows. Couldn't find a way to make them work.

OK. That's enough to ruminate on for the moment. In Chicago - Part 2, I'll review my obsession with lines, some shots of the Sears/Willis Tower, and a fence. Exciting stuff. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Keeping Track of Settings

I'm going to need a system for keeping track of what the heck I do when I'm shooting. I'll try lots of different things when I'm just "playing," but when I get all the pictures onto my computer, as I look through them I can't remember what I did for a particular shot. So if one shot looks better than another, I don't know how to recreate it. I can look at the Exif info, but there's got to be an easier way. Hmm. Something to think about...

So here's a review:

f/3.2 - Exp 1/50 - ISO 160 - Speedlite
There's nothing really in focus. This isn't really horrible, but it wasn't by design. Probably due to the really slow shutter speed. Should have upped the ISO, but was having trouble balancing the Speedlite and the exposure.

f/5.6 - Exp 1/15 - ISO 160 - Speedlite
Better focus. Less exciting.

f/3.5 - exp 1/25 - ISO 640 - Speedlite
100% luck.

f/3.5 - exp 1/13 - ISO 640 - Speedlite
Dog walked into the background. :(

f/3.5 - exp 1/13 - ISO 640 - Speedlite
Speedlite on, F-stop of 3.5, and an ISO of 640. Why is my exposure still 1/13? All that fuzziness is the kid moving around instead of the f/3.5. Why so fuzzy! Eyes are pretty sharp though.

f/3.5 - exp 1/10 - ISO 640 - Speedlite
Again, why the slow shutter speed???

f/3.5 - exp 1/8 - ISO 640 - Speedlite
Exposure is getting slower. Still no idea why. Eyes are still in focus, though. Small wins where I can take them.

f/3.5 - exp 1/13 - ISO 640 - Speedlite
Another fuzzy shot. Cute kid, though. I have no idea why, in aperture priority, the shutter speed is so slow with a Speedlite on and a ton of natural light. I must have changed some other setting. Guess I'll go inspect that Exif data a little more thoroughly.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Switching to RAW

I've been trying to decide on my next exercise. I think I've got it figured out. In the meantime, I've decided to switch my camera from large format JPG to RAW.

Yesterday I picked up my camera to grab some quick shots of my son and completely forgot about the RAW setting. When I went to download the pictures, I was reminded of my new adventure into "real" photography. So far, this seems like a lot more work. So before I get to my next photography exercise, I'm going to have to talk to some photographers who shoot in RAW. How do you handle it? Do you shoot RAW & JPG? Does it slow your camera down? It's costing lots of space on the card, isn't it? Do you convert your RAW's to JPG's as soon as you open them in Photoshop?

Oh so many questions. I really don't even know where to begin. And I thought this was going to be an easy step.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Exercise 1: Introduction to Focal Length

Before today, I think my understanding of my zoom lens was not uncommon. I thought that my zoom lens was pretty much equivalent to getting closer to my subject; that zooming and getting closer would produce roughly the exact same photo. However, I had read many times about how photographers shouldn't "rely on their zoom." Well, if that's the case, there must be a reason. Then I read about an exercise to learn about focal lengths, which seemed like a perfect first exercise for me.

Exercise 1: Identify a stationary object to photograph. Take multiple pictures of this object using different focal lengths, but keeping the object roughly the same size in the viewfinder.

I brought a brick into the backyard, placed it at eye-level, and proceeded to take pictures. Before I even came inside to review the results, I learned two valuable lessons.

1. I SUCK at not moving the camera. My lens is pretty hefty, but I'm really going to need to research some solutions to this problem. I have typically compensated by trying to get better lighting and upping the shutter speed. A tripod will also help with some situations, but in general, I'm really going to have to figure out how to hold the camera so that my husband can't see it moving from 100 yards away.

2. I am very dependent on my camera correcting my exposure. I typically shoot in either aperture priority or shutter priority, so I normally don't even think about keeping an eye on my exposure. Today I decided that if I'm going to start learning, I'd better switch to manual. (I left auto-focus on. Baby steps.) I found that I would take 8 or 9 pictures and then notice that I hadn't been paying attention to the exposure at all. And today was a great day to discover that, since the sun kept darting behind clouds and the lighting was changing drastically from moment to moment. Great learning experience. Really going to need to practice that.

So I zoomed in on my brick. I zoomed out and got closer. I zoomed all the way out and got even closer. I started at an F-stop of 3.5. I did it again at F/8 and again at F/22..6. I came inside to have a look.  Here's what I found. Photos below are at different focal lengths, all with F/8.

focal lengths: 70, 50, 35, 28, 24 mm

At first when I was looking at them, I was just annoyed at myself that I couldn't line up the shot the same every time. And then I noticed it! Eureka! When I used my zoom (the photo on the far left above), the background was just the stuff immediately behind the brick

When I zoomed out and actually walked up to the brick, the background behind it was in the shot. 

Who knew? OK, everybody. And there's probably a website that explains all this, but nothing beats learning it first hand. This is very useful information. You want to exclude the background of your shot, use the zoom. You want to include it, move your feet. Got it. Now I'll need to go practice that some more.

Reason for Being

I love to take pictures. I take them with a pretty nice camera (Canon 40D) and an even nicer lens (I only have one). I have had my DSLR since July 2008. In the nearly three years since, I have taken some pretty nice pictures. But these pictures have been the result of the following ingredients:

  • nice camera
  • liberal use of the shutter button
  • luck
I am done with luck. It is time to stop relying on the fact that if I take 400 pictures at an event, I end up with 100 that are decent, and only a handful that are really great. And even the great ones are captured because I got lucky. No more.

I am going to take pictures for the sake of learning, knowing that none of the pictures I take will be great photographs, but will help me learn to take great photographs.