Orchids

My wife has found the perfect spot in our house for orchids. She has three plants thriving there, and they always seem to be in bloom...

It has been quite a while since I posted any of my photos, and that is the whole point of having a camera, right? As I said above, my wife’s orchids are very happy, so I took a few photos the other day. Shooting things like this is fun because you can really experiment with the composition and see the little changes that can make a big difference. One tip from Kelby’s books I remember constantly is the concept of looking for compositions beyond what you walk up to – sometimes “the shot” is just a step or two away…

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A bad habit…

I was sitting around watching March Madness and playing with my D90.  During a commercial break, I was goofing around shooting my DirecTV receiver that was ten feet or so away.  Since it was a black box with blue lights, it was obvious that I wasn’t cleanly pressing the shutter.  In fact, I realized I was “punching” it.  Maybe I’m guilty of skimming the books I’ve recommended here a number of times, or maybe the lesson on good shutter technique was too subtle for me.  So I shot at a deliberately absurd hand-held shutter speed of 1/2, played around with a couple lenses and experimented a bit.  Before get to what I came up with, let’s look at what I was doing until today:

Tokina Punch Big Crop

Tokina 11-16 @ 16mm, f/2.8 - heavily cropped (approx 300%).

80-200 Punch

Nikon 80-200 @ 200mm, f/2.8 - Re-sized only

So…now I know why some of my hand-held shots aren’t as sharp as I’d like – my technique is terrible. I have always tried to be smooth as I pressed the shutter, rolling my finger across the button (I do recall this from my first read of Scott Kelby’s Digital Photography series, but this made it pretty clear I was bouncing the camera.  It was clear after a few minutes that the biggest culprit was not pressing the button, but actually releasing it!  After a few minutes of trial and error, I found a style that made a big difference.

Net: I roll smoothly across the button and don’t move my finger at all until the shutter cycle is complete.  The improvement was pretty significant:

New technique with Tokina 11-16 @ 16mm, same crop, etc.

Better, right? The heavy crop and very low light don’t make this very sharp, but it certainly illustrates how much less movement is in the release. What about the big, heavy 80-200?

New technique with Nikon 80-200 @ 200mm, just re-sized.

I’ve still got room for improvement here, but I was still in my Al Bundy couch pose and the 80-200 really is a big piece of glass.  Net: the shake is reduced by at least 2/3, and I’d say good posture and a little more focus on my hand-holding technique would give better results – it ain’t bad for a hand-held shutter speed of 1/2 with a station wagon strapped to the front of my D90!  Realistic shutter speeds would help, too.

I’m sure there are photographers reading this and saying “Well duh!” and I’m hoping that when I re-read my Scott Kelby there isn’t a completely obvious tip on this.

In the meantime, I hope it is helpful to other Enthusiast Photographers.  For me, I’ll be doing a little more research and reading on the basics of shutter and hand-holding techniques!

Draftee Enthusiast Photographer Shoot Results

North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue

My favorite shot of the day...

As I posted a few days ago, I was asked to shoot some photos for a company event.  Since I’m much more of a kids-and-landscape shooter, usually using available light with maybe a little of fill from the on-board flash of my D90, I was a little intimidated.  Arming myself with a borrowed a SB-900 flash, I re-read a lot of Scott Kelby’s words of wisdom, surveyed Flash 101 from Dave Hobby at Strobist and even reached out to some pals in the BMW community in the photography subsection of the Off-Topic forum for some very useful practical advice and experience.

The good news was I had a chance to go see the venue the day before and test some things out.  The bad news was it was a tough environment: a vaulted area of a high school library with a mix of fluorescent, incandescent and muddy, cloudy light from a window.  I shot a number of test shots, trying to dial in the best combination I could come up with of exposure, reasonable shadows and an editable file to work with.  I had a large, white vertical wall about 12 feet to the right of the podium I could use to bounce, which was useful.  I entered the day stressed – I’d dreamed about flashes and focal length during a restless night.

So how did it go?  Overall, I’d call it a success.  The team got the photos they were asking for and I came away with a few shots I liked.  One of my least-favorite (a group shot with a throng of other cameras around me a and a wilting SB-900), got picked up in the business wire story about the event.  My favorite shot of the day was the one at the top of the page.  I was shooting Manual, mainly at ISO 400, with a shutter speed of 100 (to get a reasonable freeze with the flash) and aperture of f/8 so the background was clear.

A few lessons learned:

  • (with a nod to Scott Kelby) Charge everything the night before.
  • Pack the night before with the idea of accessibility for whatever you’re likely to use or might need quickly (like spare batteries).
  • Before you leave the house, check that everything successfully charged, and take one practice shot with your camera (another Kelby nod :)).  Look at the settings information and make sure it agrees with what you intended.  If you don’t have your camera set to lock unless there is a memory card in it, double-check that you have a card and an extra.
  • Get there early.  There is no substitute for having a chance to look around a bit beforehand, not to mention the value of staking out your spot 😉 – things got awfully crowded when the real press guys showed up with video cameras…
  • Bring three sets of batteries, or maybe better said one set more set than you think you’ll need.  This is especially true of the batteries for the flash.  I brought only one extra set.  It was enough, but I was sweating it…
  • Shoot JPEG or JPEG+RAW if you need to give something to someone else quickly.  Since there were multiple press offices involved, I was asked to hand over photos before I left.  A real pro would probably be shooting JPEG only in this situation and be done with it, but I also shot RAW since a fair number of the photos I shot will become internal stock photos, and I wanted the change to make them look as good as possible.  Plus, as an amateur, I wanted the defensive depth of a RAW file in case I missed something and had a quick chance to edit on the fly.
  • Watch the flash carefully.  I’d heard about the SB-900 thermal shutdown, and wondered if it was as bad as described.  I’d have to say yes.  I could have made things easier on the flash by shooting at higher ISO, but I was only shooting at 80-100 focal length – I didn’t think I was taxing it very hard.  I was wrong.  About halfway through, I’d shot enough pops to wear out the batteries (which I’d done some test-shots with the day before), and soon after swapping in the new ones, the thermal switch popped in.  I moved to a slightly higher ISO, and shot with the on-board flash while the SB-900 cooled off – I removed it, turned it off and set it aside.  I’m sure more than a little of this was due to the photographer – I don’t know flash well, I probably could have shot with different settings to ease the load on the flash and I was probably over-eager to get a lot of shots.  Getting good facial expressions is a trick, so I compensated with more snaps.  There is a reason pros shoot with a D3s in machine-gun mode :).  The SB-900 cooled down fairly quickly, and I shot with a little more discretion once it was back in action.

Overall, I’m happy with the results and everyone else seems to be, too.  I edited the photos I had and felt like the results were very reasonable, though even the shot at the top of the page could use a little white-balance adjustment.  I wish I’d had a little more positioning flexibility so the logo of National Academy Foundation wasn’t partially blocked.  I debated moving and decided to stay put.  I have to say I’d avoid the SB-900.  I’d opt for the Enthusiast-Photographer-level-and-price SB-700 or maybe the pro-quality and apparently more graceful SB-910 used or when the price comes down a bit.  For now, the SB-900 goes back to my buddy Kevin with my sincere gratitude and I’ll go back to more more normal photography pursuits.  For the future, I’ll add a flash to my “want-in-the-bag” list, and continue to learn about off-camera photography.  Of course, if I can wangle a D3s from work to be an on-call photographer…

Any C&C, suggestions or tips on the photo above or the shoot in general are welcome!

Apple opens a door with iBooks

A sample of one of Apple's templates from their website

In my post-CES haze (my feet have almost forgiven me), I missed an interesting announcement from Apple about iBooks.  Luckily, Scott Bourne (who was also at CES, but is veteran-savvy… :)) is awake and aware, and posted an article about it on his site: A New Way For Photographers To Self-Publish.

This is a really interesting play from Apple, and there are significant implications for schools, publishers and small authors.  Google, Amazon and others are paying attention, to be sure.  Scanning through the materials, there will likely be a whole ecosystem of content providers (stuff to put in books like movies, photos and more), companies who publish books, affiliates (people who will promote the books, even down to blogs like this one) and, of course, the people who write the content itself.

This ecosystem is only likely to expand, too.  In the next ten years, the meaning of the word “book” is going to change as much as the words “album” or “phone” have in the last ten.  It isn’t unexpected – it is the obvious evolution of what Kindle started and the capabilities a tablet offers.  Apple, Amazon and Google are going to fight it out in this space.

For photographers, publishing collections, “How To” books and more will get easier than ever before.  I’m not sure how Amazon and Google are playing in this game, but they surely will.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see Microsoft in the mix, either.  It is one thing to publish the book, but finding it is the trick.  It will be interesting to see if the Search guys (Google and Microsoft) and stronger than the Point of Sale guys (Apple via iTunes book store) and Amazon (via…well…Amazon).  Guys with very established content like Scott Kelby, Trey Ratcliff, Bryan Peterson, Thom Hogan and even our buddy Scott Bourne will have some very interesting opportunities and decisions.

For me, I own Scott Kelby’s books in Kindle form.  Honestly, I wish I had it in book form, too.  There are some things I like just fine in electronic form, but for really engaged reading, I like a physical book.  For something like Scott’s book, I;d love to have both – I’ll be scanning through it today on my ThinkPad tablet during my daughter’s ice-skating lesson for tips on indoor flash techniques… 😉

What are your thoughts on where this is all going?  Do you like a “real” book or are you going e-book?

The Threat of Being an Enthusiast Photographer

Have you ever seen the term “GWC” on photography forums?  Usually, you’ll see it if you hang around the places where they talk about wedding photography.  It stands for “Guy With Camera”, and generally it isn’t a positive term.  It is what the pros call a guest (and apparently usually a guy-guest) who brings his DSLR to a wedding and/or reception and shoots photos.  Some photographers don’t like GWC’s, while others seem not to worry about it.

I have to admit that I have been a GWC at a number of weddings.  I’m proud of it – my friends have some photographs they treasure, and generally my photos are more candid-type shots that I hope wouldn’t compete in any way with the official photographer’s ability to make his/her money.  My shots are personal, and they clearly aren’t professional, especially since in those days I wasn’t at the level of knowledge I am now about my equipment and especially exposure and composition.

I’ve also always made a point to stay out of the official photographer’s way, and I’ll usually try to find a quick moment to let them know that and that they are free to let me know if I need to move, stop shooting, whatever.

Then there is the other side.  For example, when your workplace knows you like photography and have some decent equipment.  I got asked to shoot a company event that will be attended by a senior executive and the Governor of our state, and I said “yes” before I even thought about it.

Now I’m thinking about it, and I’m worried.

Firstly, I don’t own an off-camera flash.  The good news there is my buddy is loaning me his SB-900, which was Nikon’s flagship pro-grade flash until a recent update to the SB-910.  The bad news is I haven’t used anything other than my pop-up flash for…ten years? YouTube has some help, but sorting through YouTube isn’t much fun.

Secondly, I won’t have much of a chance to see the venue before the event.

Thirdly – well, even if their expectations are low (they’d hire a pro if they weren’t), mine aren’t.  I want to do well.

So what is a nervous Enthusiast Photographer to do?  I go back to Scott Kelby and his Digital Photography series.  I’m guessing the sections on weddings will be the most helpful, but I’ll be scanning for flash techniques, too.  I’m also going to re-read Lighting 101 on Strobist.com, which is a great resource.

I’m probably worrying too much about it, and I’ve got great equipment, but photography is about getting it right, and I want to do that!  Suggestions welcome!

Legs or or no legs?

Maybe it is the specter of Scott Kelby telling me the first step to sharp photography is a tripod, the kind of photography I do (lots of landscape/cityscape shots) or just the plain great results I’m getting when I use one, but I’m a pretty big fan of my tripod.  I look for excuses to use it, especially since I got the RRS head and L-bracket (which is still a post for another day).

But what about you?  Do you use one?  I’d love to hear comments on why you do or don’t, if you love it or hate it!

Scott Kelby getting some props

In one of my very first posts on this blog, I recognized Scott Kelby as they guy who helped me get off AUTO-everything and take control of my photography.  His Digital Photography series opened the door to what I’m doing today, and I’ve been very grateful to him for those books.

Lucky for him, I’m not the only one who appreciates him.  He was just recognized as the Photo Focus Photographic Educator of the Year.  Congrats to Scott!