Something Fishy

Years ago I got something called a “fisheye converter” for one if my lenses. It fit right onto the end of my kit lens and I really enjoyed using it. I would shoot lots of architecture and landscapes with horizon lines. It was limited by the mediocre speed of my kit lens – and as I acquired faster lenses it fell out of the rotation for me. I was just a cool novelty. A couple of years ago I passed it on to someone starting out with the same system. I forgot all about that lens and moved on to primes and lenses that had a wider use.

 

I hadn’t even considered wanting a fisheye again until I saw that Olympus had a sale on their 8mm f1.8 Pro late last year. I have been experimenting with night sky photography and thought that a fisheye might be a good addition to my kit.

 

What I hadn’t counted on where the many interesting things I could do with this lens. It has become a regular part of my kit. I take it everywhere. I shoot all kinds of things with it. It lets me change the way I see things.

 

Shutterbug Notes: You can control the amount of curve in your images by shooting close for more curve and further for less curve. You also can exaggerate the direction of a curve by shooting above or below it, to the left or the right if it. Using a fisheye lets you tell the viewer what you want them to see by curving around it or curving the subject itself – like shooting shallow DOF it lets you choose what stops the viewers’ eye. 

A Photographic Work Out

There is no better place to flex your photographic muscles than a visit to a National Park.   You get a chance to shoot amazing wildlife, grand vistas, tiny details, and history. Really capturing the essence of these remarkable places requires more than a single set up. I carry primes, zooms, fisheyes and more. You never want to miss a shot so make sure to pack a kit that’s ready for action!

For me the Parks are a treasure – never short on adventure or inspiration. Let me share some of my favorite spots with you.

Wildlife – Shoot long.

You see it everywhere – even in the city park sites. Make sure you have a lens with lots of reach so that you can make sure you get the shot. Years ago I was frustrated trying to get a sharp image of a robin outside a visitors center and it pushed me to focus on shooting birds every single day for a year – this experience not only helped me to learn the behaviors of birds and the best techniques for capturing them – it taught be to think fast, to learn to adjust my camera without taking my eye away from the viewfinder, to capture action. It changed my photography. It made me a wildlife photographer.

 

 

Vistas – Shoot wide.

Nothing is more American than getting out into the wide open spaces of nature. You need to make sure to carry a lens that will let you take in those big wonderful views – wide zooms or primes can capture it all. I recall thinking that landscapes were just not my thing, but each time I visited a spectacular place I longed to take something home with me to capture that moment of wonder. Landscape photography taught me to slow down, to use a tripod, to be a part of the vista even as an observer. Today I shoot some locations several times a year so that I can see all the opportunities that differing lighting conditions have to offer me creatively. It has opened my mind and my vision for my work.

 

 

Details – Shoot close.

I love seeing beautiful details in a park. This is where I take out the macro lens or something that lets me focus close. There is always opportunity to discover pattern and color that you just don’t notice when you pass by what you might think of as just “ordinary”. There is alway more to see when you get close. Shooting macro and details has taught me to investigate things and to be present in the moment.

 

 

History – Shoot the angles.

Everyone has seen a shot of the Lincoln Memorial – right? When you see something so grand and recognizable it is a challenge to make the shot your own. Sometimes it’s the lighting, sometimes it’s the angle, sometimes it’s taking another tool from the kit like a fisheye to bend history to your own vision. Shooting monuments and historical displays makes me feel wonder at being so close to things we all share. It makes me want to show what they mean to me. They are common images of places that have touched me in uncommon ways.

 

 

This summer – go out and see America! Be sure to take your camera with you!

 

Shutterbug Notes: I shoot mirrorless. I got into this format in about 2009 when the Olympus Pen first came out. I liked that it was compact and that I could easily use my old OM lenses with an adaptor. Mirrorless camera lenses are much smaller than standard cameras. I can get two cameras and 6-8 lenses in a backpack although I typically carry only 4-5 at a time. This kit has made it possible for me to have all the flexibility I like when I travel. It has allowed me the most possible creative freedoms when I shoot. No matter what you shoot, try to cover the bases. You need something long for wildlife, something wide for landscapes, something close focussing for details and something unique for shooting common scenes – this can be four lenses or maybe just one or two depending on what you have in your kit. Get to know your lenses capabilities and stretch yourself. 

 

 

 

The Third Rule of Photography

There are plenty of blogs to give you the exposure triangle and cheat sheets about setting aperture and shutter speeds – that’s not me. I love to talk tech, but I find that most people get the most out of the basics. You know I am just making up these rules as I go, and they are in the order I choose. This is my blog so I guess I get to make the rules.

Here are the rules so far:

Rule #1 – You need to take that camera everywhere – you will always miss the shot when you are on an adventure and your camera is not.

Rule #2 – Understand light – light is the language of photography, you need to understand it in order to translate it into art.

Rule #3 – Keep it Steady

Today almost all systems offer Image Stabilization (IS) either in the body or in the lens. For most photography there is no reason not to utilize IS, it can make a huge difference in the sharpness of most shots. IS is not a magic bullet though – it won’t hold your camera still while you take a long exposure, or shoot a super tight macro shot. For sharpness in these situations, nothing beats a tripod.

I know – tripods are not convenient, compact, or cool – but they are indispensable. Some shots are not even possible without one. One of my favorite things to shoot is the moon. You don’t get enough stability trying to shoot the moon by leaning on a fence or car. If you want craters you need three things – a long zoom, a tripod, and a remote shutter release.

Shutterbug Notes:

A full moon is often too bright to get the best detail. Shoot the night before or the night after the full moon to get maximum detail. For even more detail shoot the phases of the moon, a half-moon on a clear night will give you tons of craters and surface detail. Go for the lowest ISO and shoot above f11. I use live view and dial in my shutter speed for maximum detail and contrast. Make sure not to over expose, because you can bring out the detail you captured in editing as long as you don’t blow out the light areas. For special moons like the Honey Moon or a Blood Moon I will shoot with the aperture wider so that I capture the color, but this costs me detail.

Scroll through each gallery to see camera settings – every shot in this post was taken in Manual Mode for better control of the exposure.

Shooting the moon is pretty straightforward and a tripod makes sense, but what about capturing movement? I know you have seen those night cityscapes with lights in motion. I like these best when some detail – architecture or foliage, for example – are perfectly sharp.

Shutterbug Notes:

On a recent trip to Atlanta I was fortunate to stay in a hotel overlooking Centennial Park. I set up my tripod on a balcony and took aim at the ferris wheel. The faster the shutter speed the more color and detail in the surrounding light was retained in the final image. As I slowed down the shutter speed the motion became more apparent. I shot with a medium aperture – between f5 and f8 and experimented with shutter speeds varying from 1/3 second to 6 seconds. My favorite image is the last with all the fine detail of the park and a complete blur of the ferris wheel. The next time you go to a carnival or fair, take your tripod along and give this a try. 

I know there are breathing and gripping techniques that let you get the most out of a handheld shot, but reasonably this is not effective beyond a about a 30th of a second. So many wonderful things are out there for you to try with longer exposures.  Over the 4th of July I decided to try to capture one of those amazing fireworks shots you see in magazines. I couldn’t get a view of the big show, so I shot these down on the lakeshore.

Shutterbug Notes:

I just found a spot where I could shoot both the sky and the fireworks on the beach. I shot all three of these shots at f11. The sunset shots are 1/2 second, the sky shot is the classic 4 second fireworks shot – that long exposure lets your frame fill with explosions – but the trick is you have no idea what will enter your frame when you click the shutter. You just watch the show and make your best guess. 

Have you ever considered shooting people with a long exposure? Well, people move a lot and that doesn’t sound like it makes sense – but what if that didn’t matter? Still thinking about the fireworks I decided to try to shoot people shooting off fireworks. This is an area where you can get really creative. I took these shots in a driveway in the dark.

Shutterbug Notes:

I decided to just try to focus on the sparklers and let the people move in and out of focus. Some of the kids were very young and their enthusiasm was palpable. It was hard for them to understand that we wanted them to hold their faces still – but I’m glad they worked out this way. The joy and movement in their faces punctuates their experience. I sat in a chair so that I saw them at eye level. I shot all of these images wide open at f2.8 for 2 seconds

One of my favorite subjects is a sunset – and I have been shooting them regularly for years. Recently I started getting out the tripod to shoot them. It slows me down and opens me up to more experimentation.

Shutterbug Notes:

Sunsets are a great subject to experiment with bracketed exposures or HDR. This is only possible on a tripod. Your camera takes multiple exposures at different shutter speeds and you later stack them and retain the both highlights, mid tones, and shadows. This is easy to overdo so it’s important to not push it so far that the image looks fake. A tripod will also let you shoot after most of the light is gone – a longer exposure can enhance the color that is there even after the sun has set. 

The bottom line is that none of the shots in this post could have been successfully taken without supporting the camera. It may feel clunky at first to lug that tripod around, but the results are worth it. One thing to note, you really do get what you pay for in a tripod. The cheap one at Stuffmart will hold your camera, but it will be stiff and heavy and you won’t enjoy using as much as one with a ball head and more adjustment options. If you are watching your budget, look for an entry-level of a good brand like Manfrotto. It will be worth the extra $20-30 for the feel and stability. I recently moved to an economic carbon fiber model, the reduced weight has made me more likely to carry it.

Now – I will confess, there is one shot that was taken leaning on a fence post and not on a tripod – can you guess which one?

My Photographic Roots

My interest in photography came from watching my mother take photos. She had an old Rolleiflex that only she understood. It was square and boxy with two lenses on the front and some knobs on the sides. The magical thing about this camera is that you had to look down into a prism to take the photo – before an LCD screen even existed, many photographers had grown to love the experience of framing their shots in that lovely square box – it was like watching a TV screen.

This camera is substantial in your hands. That texture on the sides is actually leather.

This camera is substantial in your hands. That texture on the sides is actually leather.

Mom’s camera was just a bit newer than this one – it was probably from the 1950s. One day in my early teens we were on a trip with some other girls and their moms when she decided to show me how it worked. It wasn’t something she trusted me to take off with it, but that day I saw photography differently – somehow in my mind it shifted from capturing snapshots to making something look great on that screen. With the Rollei you had to move – there was no zoom or macro settings – you moved until the object you wanted to highlight was in focus. I think that early experience is why I love to shoot primes today. When I studied photography in college, mom entrusted me with not only her Rollei, but her new Pentax to use in my classes. I think it was at this time that I really understood photography as art – not just in the shooting of images, but in the processing and developing of film – the making of images.

Now my mom was a super-talented woman who never saw herself as an exceptional. She was a master pattern cutter, seamstress, and tailor. I would show her two dresses I liked – I would like the bodice on one and the skirt on the other – we would go home and she would make me a dress that was the perfect combination of the two. Her doodles on the phone book looked like the sketches you see designers make when developing fashion concepts. She was an amazing cook. She would try something new and then go home and figure out how to make it. She was exceptional in so many creative ways. If I were to call her a photographer she would probably cringe – but I look at her shots and I know that she had some skills. These aren’t etherial landscapes or anything like that – just shots of family and friends.

This Mother’s Day, like all days I miss her. She left us far too soon, but her mark on our lives was indelible.

She’s always with you. She’s the sound of bacon crackling in a skillet on Saturday morning. She’s the aroma of the lilacs and magnolias in the spring. She’s your breath in the air on a cold winter’s day. She’s the sound of the rain on the roof that lulls you to sleep, the colors of the rainbow; she is Christmas morning. She is the place where you came from, your first home, and she’s the map you follow with every step you take. She’s your first love, your first friend, even your first enemy, but nothing on earth can separate you – not time, not space, not even death. 

Shutterbug Notes:

You can learn a lot from looking at old photos. As your skill grows you can appreciate the skill it took to make them work. You can also learn a lot about shooting from the heart – to not so much try to capture what something looks like, but what it feels like. It’s more that skill that makes a great image – it needs heart.

The First Rule of Photography

Always take your camera!

I know I say this a lot. I take my camera everywhere. It is in my car when I go to the store. I carry it to work everyday. It is always by my side.

The case has been made that the best camera is the one that you have with you. In this day when there is an iPhone or Galaxy in almost every pocket, most of us always have a camera for those spontaneous shots. But if you have a good camera, a real camera, why settle for serviceable when you can have amazing. Your iPhone can’t stop a hummingbird in mid-flight or reveal the inverted image in a water drop. It can’t show you the structure of a snowflake. There are a few rare shutterbugs (like Allan) that squeeze every once of performance out of that phone, but the truth is that what most of us capture with our iPhones could best be classified as “snapshots”. You spent good money on that camera – why let it gather dust waiting for that next excursion. If you don’t shoot it often you are likely to miss the big shot because you are trying to remember how to use it.

Sometimes it’s not the rare creature or amazing sunset, sometimes the beauty in the mundane calls out to me. When you see something that clicks, you need to be ready to click.

I was ready to click earlier this week at the car wash…

As I sat in the carwash, I was frustrated that I had lost the connection to my satellite radio. I started to check my Facebook feed and looked up to see a sea of foam rubber orange and yellow sponges with soap engulfing me. I took a shot with my iPhone – it was in my hand after all, but the shot was noisy and couldn’t capture what I was seeing. I grabbed my fast 50 and started shooting. I did no color correction on these shots – you are seeing what I saw. The color of a sunset out my driver’s side window.

Shutterbug Notes:

For a split second I considered getting out the flash, but decided that the window would just bounce the light back at me. I shot in aperture mode and opened the shutter all the way. I had to turn off the focus assist to keep from getting a red reflection on the glass. I focused on the bubbles and hoped for the best. I only took 7 shots. All but one were keepers. Because I was very familiar with my camera I could make quick changes to capture something spontaneous without having to pay for a second run through the car wash.  

Paper or Ice? Maybe We Got it Right in Kindergarten.

I grew up in the desert. I saw snow in a measurable amount about once a decade. Even so, making paper snowflakes was one of my favorite projects in school. Over the years I made them out of various types of paper – tissue paper, construction paper, my report card…you get the idea. I still love to make them – here’s one I made with my power bill that just arrived…

Seems pretty appropriate, given the winter we have had so far. I think I will only pay the parts I can read...

Seems pretty appropriate, given the winter we have had so far. I think I will only pay the portions I can read.

I still love to make snowflakes and have taught dozens of children how to get the open and airy feel over the years. What never occurred to me was the idea that my desert-born imaginings of snowflakes might not be so far off the mark.

A couple of weeks ago we were pummeled with about a foot of show on a Sunday afternoon. People were stranded getting home from church, the grocery store was out of milk and bread, and I had been busy shooting cardinals and other birds as they flocked to the feeders.

I stepped outside and noticed that the snow was really fluffy and wondered what it would look like shot through my macro lens. I knew I needed contrast so I looked for the smoothest flat black objects I could find to capture the flakes. I tried a microfiber cloth, a crock pot, a frying pan – ultimately I ended up turning a black t-shirt inside out. In the weather at the angles I was trying to focus at, a tripod was out of the question, so all of these images are handheld shots. Click through for your very own micro snowstorm:

So, I guess my power bill really doesn’t compare to the complexity and beauty of something so delicate and perfect, but I think that my classmates and I got closer than we could have imagined.

Shutterbug Notes:

Shooting macro handheld is easier if you use some breathing techniques. It’s kind of like firing a rifle – take aim, exhale, fire the shutter. Exhaling eliminates some movement. It also helps to pull your elbows into your body to make yourself into a tripod.  I prefer to shoot macro from a tripod because it’s easier to focus and play with aperture and shutter settings. the challenge is always to get the depth of field right. When snow is falling you have to move fairly quickly because the flakes you are shooting are covered pretty quickly. 

2013 – Ten shots that I love

Editing is crucial for me and I often put myself through the process of narrowing my shots to find the ones that really work – my blog helps with that. I take about 10,000 photos every year. I shared about a thousand with you in 2013.  As the old year closes, I thought I would take a minute to post the shots that stood out for me.

10. Orange Stairs Orange Stairs

I shot this in an architectural salvage store in Chicago. The color captivated me. It was a great day of shooting and shopping, but this is my favorite shot of my time in the Windy City.

9. One Way20130513-163959.jpgI actually shot this on my last evening in Chicago. I used my fast 50 and it let me get lots of detail even late at night. This year I challenged myself to try things to find the limits of my equipment.

8. The Friendly Yearling20130324-103214.jpgThis is probably not one of my better photos, but it was an amazing moment for me. As I looked at this young buck looking back at me I realized he was the friendly fawn I had met the year before. I was Freshly Pressed for that post, and while that was great, the moment I recognized him was something I will never forget.

7. The Fly In20130119-111408.jpgThis was one of those shots I didn’t know I captured until I reviewed the shots. I thought there was no shot with the chickadee flying in – but it is one that I just love. This shot is one that encouraged me to keep shooting even when the scene looks pretty boring. After all, if I had decided to put my camera away because all I saw was a couple of finches eating, I would have missed this shot.

6. A Frosty Windshield

The payoff, sunrise out my driver's side window.

I took this shot waiting for my jeep to warm up one morning. I was so glad to have my macro lens with me. Macro shooting makes you look deeper into an unexplored world.

5. The Dancing Elk

Blitzen

I love shooting the elk during the rut, but this day was magical. The ground was frosty and there was a full on bull-fight. This bull was the victor and danced his way across the valley letting everyone know.

4. Stop Action Hummer

20130917-122612.jpg

After trying every shutter speed and lighting combination to try to capture a shot of a hummer in flight I decided to try a flash. This was taken right before sunset and I was running out of light – the flash was a gamble, but it worked so well that I began to use it in the daylight to stop action.

3. Tilt Shift Ben

This is my friend Ben. He lives across the road from me and sometimes visits with me while I get my mail. I never noticed how close in color he is to the road before. I shot him as he moved towards me and lucked out on the focus.

This is an experimental shot I took with a tilt shift set up. It was manually focused right after sunset. I was pleased with how it turned out, but this really feels like Ben to me – he is a neighbor dog that drops by to make sure I make it home OK.

2. The Swimming Dog

Speed

This shot of my brother’s dog in the swimming pool took a grand champion ribbon at the county fair – but even if no one appreciated the technical process of stopping the action, I love how that spit second of bliss shows in her expression. The color of the pool in the sunlight made for a great setting.

1. The Blue Jay

Eat and glare

This is my favorite photo I took this year – the attitude of the blue jay, the color of the bokeh, the late afternoon lighting. The funny thing is that I was trying to stop action and this guy just stopped to pose for me.

I’ll admit it, as soon as I got to 10, I wished I had made a top 20 list. Are there any you think should have made the cut? What did you post in 2013 that you are especially happy with? Happy New Year!

Shutterbug Notes:

If I could offer any advice, it would be to try new things. Your camera is capable of so much more than you imagine. Shoot the shots you want in Auto and then try the other modes. Push the ISO. Try that lens that is sitting around gathering dust. You’ll be a better photographer. 8 of these 10 shots would not have happened if I had stayed in my comfort zone.