Sunday, April 19, 2009

Meeting Another Photographer

On Saturday, I got to talk with another photographer at a small party. He's my friend's sister's husband, and I knew that he was a fellow software engineer, so I'd have something in common to talk with him about. I ended up finding out, though, that he's an avid photographer and has taken some great pictures.

It's rather sad that this is the case, but this was the first time that I have actually had the opportunity to talk with an experienced photographer. He seemed willing to share, so I had fun picking his brain for a good hour. My wife was with me and joined in on the fun.

I thought I'd briefly share some of his pearls of wisdom.

On studying composition and the work of other photographers, he had some interesting insight. He actually advised against spending too much time on Flickr, saying that Flickr will "rot your brain". Why? Because the photographers you like may not really be that good, and you'll end up emulating their mistakes. Instead, he recommended studying the works of master photographers. Maybe that's a little harsh on Flickr, but I imagine you can't go wrong studying the work of really great photographers. By the way, I don't know who any of these legends are. I recognize Ansel Adams and Michael Kenna, and that's really it. Anyway, I'm planning a trip to the library sometime this week to pick up some books--I figure I'll just browse a bit and find someone who's work I like.

He had some interesting things to say about maximizing the dynamic range of your camera. I don't fully understand what he told me yet, but he gave me enough to do my own research. He explained that digital cameras store much more detail in the highlights of the image than the shadows, and that RAW images have more detail in them (they distinguish between more shades), which is lost when converting to JPEG. So he always shoots in RAW, and when he really needs as much dynamic range as he can get (his example was photographing bright, snow-capped mountains in Alaska with dark forests at their feet) he plays a trick where he over-exposes the image by a stop and brings it back down when he processes it. Once I've understood this better, I'll post about it again with some links to articles and what not.

It was great talking to him, and I think it's motivated me more to get out and meet some other photographers. Maybe I'll try joining a photography club eventually here.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Spring Time

With my finger broken, and work and life feeling really busy, I haven't been going on any serious photo outings. I've mostly just been doing some photography reading, and looking forward to the day when I have the time and energy to plan out a fun shoot.

I have managed to snap a few pictures here and there, though.

A couple weeks ago, I went out at lunch for a walk along the bluffs in Isla Vista near UCSB. I brought my camera knowing that the conditions probably wouldn't be too great--I was out in the harsh midday sun, and it was a pretty hazy day--but it had been so long since I had photographed anything that I decided to go out anyway.

A couple thoughts on this shot. First, I worked way too hard for this composition. What you don't see in this photo is that in between that fence and the path is actually a four-foot-thick wall of bushes and shrubs. I was literally standing in a bush, holding branches out of the way to get this.

Something I'm learning, and this isn't a very profound insight, is that if you're uncomfortable when you're framing the shot, it's a lot harder to compose it well. One part of your brain is saying "I dunno... I'm not sure this composition is really doing it for me. I should keep looking," while the other part's saying "Just press the shutter release, dammit! I can't take anymore of this bent knee, twisted torso position, with one hand holding back a branch and the other trying to keep the camera steady." The second voice usually gets louder and eventually wins out.

I was thinking a tripod might be a partial solution to this, since it would allow me to take a break without losing the framing I was considering. It would slow things down, though, to be adjusting the tripod all the time.

I'm hoping the other solution is to simply get better at composition with practice, and be able to find a good one before my patience wears out.

The other point to make is that this photo really demonstrates why sunrise and sunset are much better times for these kinds of photos. The harsh light on the flowers and leaves really doesn't do the scene justice.


I'm proud to say that the front of our little house is surrounded by a white picket fence, with rose bushes planted all around. My wife puts a ton of effort into pruning the bushes back throughout the year, but when spring finally comes, the bushes explode.

It's fun to watch people walk down the street and stop to smell them, then keep walking only to turn back and smell them some more.

A little technical tip I used on this second photo--on the front of your SLR near the base of the lens is a "Depth-of-field Preview" button. On our Canon 20D it's unlabeled, it's just a button near the lens base. Check your manual if you can't find it. This button stops down your aperture to the actual aperture you've set in your exposure settings. You'll notice when you do this the image gets darker, but more of the photo will be in focus.

Normally when you look through your viewfinder the lens is at maximum aperture in order to let in as much light as possible for you to see the image. This means that the image you see through the view finder is not exactly what you'll get, and depending on your aperture setting the viewfinder will usually have less in focus than the actual image you capture.

I don't hear this camera feature mentioned much, so it may be that professional photographers don't consider it that valuable. You're probably just expected to have a feel for the depth of field you're going to get at each aperture.

In this case, however, I took advantage of it to get the right level of blur on those palm trees in the background. At maximum aperture, they were so blurry they were indiscernible. At too small of an aperture, though, the background would have become more in-focus than I wanted and it would have distracted from the flower.


My finger's pretty much healed now, and life seems to finally be slowing down a bit, so hopefully I'll be getting out for some more serious photography soon!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Other Blogs For Learning Photography

It occurred to me recently that I would really enjoy reading some other blogs similar to my own. Specifically, blogs that go into detail about the process of creating the images.

So, I did a quick Google search for "learning photography blog", and after perusing the results and subsequently following some more links, I've found a few that I think I really like.

It only took a handful of posts for me to fall in love with this blog. According to his site, Art Wolfe is an experienced professional photographer with over 30 years of experience photographing "wildlife, landscapes, and native cultures". Take a look at the photos on his homepage. Wow.

It looks like he's hosted a number of photography television shows, and is currently doing a high-def one called "Travels to the Edge" that sounds like it'd be fun to watch.

A lot of his posts include nice videos. In this one, he provides a video explaining how he took one of his favorite photographs, and what he was thinking as he took it. He even shows you the "failed" exposures that lead up to his favorite one.

This post provides a quick but very cool Photoshop tip. I'd love to see more of these!

Digital Photography School

This site is a little overwhelming when you first visit it, but it becomes much more manageable if you simply view it by subscribing to it with an RSS reader (I use Google Reader).

It looks like a lot of the posts are actually articles submitted by different photographers. I found this one about taking outdoor portraits pretty informative.

I added a few more to my reader and I'll share them with you later if they turn out to be good reads.

The above two blogs are great because they provide great insight and advice from experienced photographers, but it would also be fun to read about someone's experiences more at my skill level. I imagine I'd feel a stronger sense of community with a photographer as equally amateur as myself. I'll have to keep looking!