Wind-blown grassesWind-blown grassesDry grass blowing in the wind near Canberra.

Welcome to Miscellaneous thoughts of a photographer.

As the name implies, it's a series of posts on various thoughts, ideas and discoveries I've made as a photographer. I hope you find it useful - and more importantly - interesting.

Please feel free to leave comments!

Shane Baker
Perth, WA.

 

 

The zoom ring does more than you think

July 18, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

In my previous blog, I described my recent excursion to photograph the sunrise over the Swan River in Perth. After I'd finished that shoot, I set out to photograph what seems to have become a bit of an icon among the selfie fraternity in Perth: the Crawley boat shed.

When I was a kid, the shore along Mounts Bay Road had a number of such sheds, not to mention the "Crawley Baths", where you could swim safe from bull sharks – if not jelly fish. Now, the baths are long gone, and the boat shed is the only survivor from that era.

Anyway, pretty much from dawn till dusk, you'll see people on the walkway to the shed with or without selfie sticks, photographing themselves or their friends. I had hoped that by being there at 07:30 on a Saturday morning, I'd avoid that demographic. I was wrong, but I didn't have to wait too long before I had my chance.

I arrived with my 24-120mm f/4 lens fitted to my D800, but decided as soon as I arrived to go wider: my Nikon 14-24 f/2.8. This is a beautiful lens, although you have to be careful at 14mm to keep your toes out of the shot. (No, that's not hyperbole.)

There was plenty of light, so there was no need for a tripod and I got right into it. One of my first shots, made at 14mm was this image, which I consider the pick of the morning.

Boatshed on the Swan River at Crawley, Western Australia.Boatshed on the Swan River at Crawley, Western Australia.Boatshed on the Swan River at Crawley, near the University of Western Australia.

 

I then decided to go "long" (everything's relative) and zoomed to 24mm and made this image:

The Crawley boat shed on the Swan River, photographed at 24mm focal length.Crawley boat shed - at 24mmThe Crawley boat shed on the Swan River, photographed at 24mm focal length.

 

Not bad, but not as good as the first image, in my opinion.

Hopefully, you're now thinking what a talented photographer I am (that's a joke, by the way) – but that's not why I'm showing you these images. Compare the two images. They were made within a few seconds of each other from the same spot, with the same lens and settings. What's different is the focal length – and now I'm getting to my point.

When I've been teaching photography to people new to the craft, I've always stressed that zooming does more than make the object seem closer or further away – it changes the perspective. Most people with cameras with zoom lenses (and some zooms have huge zoom ratios) stay glued to the spot and just zoom. I've done it myself. Sometimes, you have no choice. Getting close to that tiger at the zoo is best done with focal length, rather than jumping the rail. Similarly, if you're trying to photograph a bird, it's easier on the bird and you if you twist that zoom ring.

Inquisitive rainbow lorikeet, South Durras, NSW.Inquisitive rainbow lorikeet, South Durras, NSW.Inquisitive rainbow lorikeet, South Durras, NSW.

 

A long lens can be used to "compress" the image and change the whole look of the shot. This image of mine brings the waves and the headland much closer together for a more dramatic shot than would be achieved with say, a 50mm lens.

Sunrise at South DurrasSunrise at South Durras

 

While this shot made with a wide angle emphasises the sky.

Cloudscape, near Canberra.Cloudscape, near Canberra.

 

My point is that zooming does a lot more than just changing the apparent distance to your subject – it changes the perspective. You may not always have a choice, but if you do, consider "zooming with your feet", rather than twisting the zoom ring.

Good shooting.

Shane Baker
shanebakerphotos@iinet.net.au


With sunrises, it ain't over until the sun's completely up

July 09, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Yesterday, I did something I hadn't done for a while: I got out of bed in the dark, and headed out to photograph a sunrise. It was worth it.

If you haven't done this, it has its challenges. Firstly, by definition, it's dark. I doubt if as the saying goes, "it's darkest just before the dawn", but it is dark. It's also cold - in winter, at least.

The other thing is that sunrise (and sunset) photography requires lots of adjustments and quick thinking. I've heard it described as being like photographing sports. While I'm not sure I would go that far, things happen fast - and are unpredictable. So you need to keep your wits about you, and it helps to do whatever setting up you can in advance.

So … I went to Point Walter on Perth's Swan River as I'd heard it was a good place to shoot the sunrise. I arrived in good time, set up my tripod, and decided to use my Nikon 24-120 f/4 lens on my D800. It's not my fastest lens, but I knew I'd be shooting be shooting at a high f-number to achieve the maximum depth of field, so that wasn't an issue. It's a good lens, and gave me the option to move from wide to medium telephoto as required. (I also remembered to turn off the lens's stabilisation as it would be on the tripod due to low light.)

Because the light changes rapidly, I chose my preferred aperture priority mode (where the camera sets the shutter speed according to my choice of aperture) and I selected ISO 100 with auto ISO off. Shutter speed seemed unlikely to be an issue as I was using the tripod, and I wanted the lowest possible noise in my images.

I was ready for the sunrise. I waited, and soon, there was enough pre-dawn light to make some exposures. The problem is, of course that you can only see lights at that time of day, so there was some guessing about the river bank and such.

The cloud was good, and after about 30 shots, which included changing the focal length and lowering the tripod to try for better reflection, I came up with this.

Sunrise over the Swan River from Point Walter, Perth Western Australia.Sunrise over the Swan River.Sunrise over the Swan River from Point Walter, Perth Western Australia.

Quite nice, but as the light increased, I knew that was it. I was disappointed. I'd wanted more colour in the sky, but it clearly wasn't coming, so I packed up. In the next 10 minutes, I folded the tripod, put my camera back in its bag and put the gear in the car. I had a brief chat with a local dog and his people, and started the car – then I saw the sky. That colour that wasn't going to happen was happening!

Damn!!

Hoping I'd have time, I grabbed my stuff and double-timed back to the beach, stuck the camera on the tripod and started shooting.

The light kept changing, so I had to keep agile.

Then I noticed that the slowish shutter speed I was using was blurring the waves, so I decided to trade a little noise for speed and upped the ISO to 400 – and was able to get this.

Sunrise over the Swan River from Point WalterSunrise over the Swan River from Point WalterSunrise over the Swan River made at Point Walter, in the Perth suburb of Bicton.

I wasn't disappointed any more. Surely this time I had what I'd climbed out of bed to get?

Back home, I loaded the files into Capture One and held my breath. Sunrises and sunsets very tough on cameras. They have very high contrast ratios ranging from really, really bright bits where the sun is, and pure black areas. I was glad I'd shot in raw format, rather than JPEG because that gave me a few more options in "post". I was also hoping I'd got my focus right. A blurry landscape is not a good thing!

The files didn't need much processing actually. The D800 may be an old camera in terms of digital, but it's still a great camera. I made tiny adjustments to levels, and almost imperceptible adjustments in clarity, curves and vignetting and I was done.

As I said: it was worth getting out of my nice warm bed. I'll do it again soon-ish.

Lessons? Really only one: don't stop shooting a sunrise or sunset until it's full daylight/dark. As I proved, your opinion of what's going to happen isn't worth much – you have to wait until it's well and truly over.

Or maybe I'm just a bit impatient – which sounds about right.

If you're considering trying sunrise photography, this check list may help. You will need:

  • your camera with a freshly charged battery.
  • a good tripod – meaning it's stable and with a quick and reliable method of attaching your camera.
  • a suitable lens or lenses. A medium zoom is a good choice as while you'll probably need a wide lens, sometimes you may need a medium telephoto (believe it or not).
  • warm clothing - in winter at least, including fingerless gloves.
  • a light. I suggest a headlight torch as these point where you're looking and keep your hands free.
  • be awake – and be patient!

Good shooting.

Shane Baker
shanebakerphotos@iinet.net.au


Nailing those informal portraits

June 11, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

I was recently contacted by a friend with a common problem. She needed to get some good photos of her son, who was all dressed up for a senior high school ball. She has a good Nikon SLR and a good eye, but needed some tips on how to get the best from the camera.

Light

It's approaching winter here, so the shots would be inside, so my first point was: don't use the built-in flash. The flash on cameras should be used as a last resort (your child being born as there's a power failure or aliens landing at night come to mind). If you have a flash unit (one you slip into the hot shoe on the top of the camera), it could be used with a suitable reflector or by being bounced off a white wall or ceiling, but the built-in flash is too small, and more importantly, too close to the axis of the lens. Built-in flash results in red eye and that "deer in the headlights" look. Don't use it.

The good news is that modern digital cameras can produce good results at quite low light levels. Perhaps as important, they can cope with the mixed light temperatures (meaning the colour of the light) coming from the variety of light sources we see in most houses. So, set your ISO on "auto", turn on all the lights in the room, and you'll probably get away with it.

Next, keep away from walls. Standing too close will probably mean your subject will cast a shadow and you'll end out with that weird "outline" around your subject. (That goes double if you use flash.) Get them to take a generous step away and all will be well.

Next, chose a good lens focal length. If you're using a full frame camera (e.g.: Canon 6D or the Nikon D750), then you will want a lens in the focal range 50 to 80mm (or thereabouts). Any shorter, and people will have those big noses and door frames will be curved. Longer than around 80mm and you probably just won't have the space needed - inside at least. If you don't have a full frame, you'll have an "crop frame" camera, which means your sensor is smaller than full frame and this will change your effective focal length. In practice, this means:

Focal length equivalents
Sensor Size Indicated focal length  Effective focal length
Full size 50mm 50mm
  85mm 85mm
Preferred portrait focal length.
APS-C 35mm 50mm
  50mm 75mm
Great choice for portraits
Micro Four-thirds 25mm 50mm
  40mm 80mm
A great portrait focal length

By the way: a "prime" lens (that is, a lens which doesn't focus) will almost always be better than a zoom, and particularly on the APS-C cameras, the "nifty fifty" 50mm lenses are ridiculously good for their price. As you can see, a 50mm on a crop frame is really a 75mm, which makes it a great portrait lens. If you're interested in portraiture, the nifty fifty is definitely worth consideration.

Getting exposure correct

The next point is about exposure. I've already mentioned keeping ISO on auto. Switch your camera to aperture priority and then select a big aperture, like f/4 LesLes and you will have a nice shallow depth of field or focus. Your foreground and background will be nice and blurry, and if you've focussed on your subject's face, they will be nice and sharp. In this image, I didn't want any detail in the background, so I chose a big aperture.

If you want the background in focus, go the other way and choose f/8 or f/11. Your camera will do the maths and work out the optimum shutter speed and ISO. In this environmental portrait, I wanted to emphasise Claude's deep interest in wood working and wood working tools, so I kept the depth of field as deep as a I could.

ClaudeClaude

 

If all that's a bit much, use Program mode - but please don't select the green setting. Under that setting, you're turning your expensive camera into a basic point and shoot, and among other things, the camera will probably trigger flash.

 

Posing your subject

I guess that just leaves how to pose your subject. That depends on the style of the portrait, the personality of the subject and the circumstances, but you can get some hints on the web. You might like to check out these suggestions from the Digital Photography School for women and these for men. There's quite a difference between posing men and women - best poses are diametrically opposed for the most part.

So that's it. Not rocket science, and as you become more familiar with photography and your camera, you will come up with your own ways of doing informal portraits. But this is a good start.

Shane Baker

 

 

 


The sun isn't always the photographer's friend

January 30, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Back in the dark ages when I was young, people with cameras would love bright, sunny days. It's not surprising; lenses were slow and so was the film emulsion. You had to take what you could get, especially in the higher latitudes. Family snaps from that period usually show people squinting into the sun, but with reasonably well-exposed faces.

I think many people have carried this behaviour into today's world - despite the faster sensors and better lenses. They shoot in bright conditions - but don't always get the results they're hoping for. The reason is the nature of the light on bright, sunny days.

Check out these two images from the Perth Zoo.

Elephants at Perth Zoo.Elephants at Perth Zoo.Elephants at Perth Zoo - photographed in harsh light.    Tricia the elephant at Perth Zoo in soft light.Tricia the elephant at Perth Zoo.Tricia the elephant at Perth Zoo in soft light. Ok, neither will win the Wildlife Photographer of the Year; they're just snaps, but they show the effects of shooting in bright light. The first image has completely blown-out highlights and deep shadows; and it was shot with my Nikon D800 using raw. (Had a been shooting JPEGs and/or a less capable camera, it would have been worse.) The second shot is quite nice. It has a good tonal range because everything is within the capacity of the Nikon to record the light.

What's the difference? The first was shot on a typically hot, clear, bright day in Perth. The second was made on an overcast day. In one, the sun is creating contrast ratios beyond the capacity of the camera's sensor (which has a very good capacity in that regard). In the second, the cloud is producing softer light and lower contrast ratios which are well-within the camera's ability. What do I mean by "contrast  ratio"? It's the range of light levels from the brightest to the dullest part of an image. Modern sensors are good, but they still can't match our eyes in this regard.

If this is an issue when photographing an elephant, it's much more so when photographing family and friends?

So, what do we do? We can't dial-up cloud on demand. 

We have a few options. Time of day can help. Early or late in the day provides a softer (and warmer) light which is kinder on the skin and won't throw deep shadows under eyes and noses. Getting technical, the lower light levels also make it easier to produce a show depth of field and a nice soft, creamy bokeh in the background.

Orangutan at Perth Zoo.Orangutan at Perth Zoo.Orangutan at Perth Zoo.

This image of one of the Orangutans at Perth Zoo was made under very heavy cloud. Note the nice even light on his face, and the bokeh produced by a combination of the wide aperture and long lens needed to get this close-up.

Even if you have no choice but to make a portrait or group shot around midday, you can still do a few things.

Stand people in shade. They will feel better (especially if it's hot), will be less likely to squint into the light, and you will get a softer (if somewhat "cooler") light with better skin and few if any deep shadows.

If you're really keen and are prepared, you can use a diffuser. These can be anything from a purpose made unit [link] to a white bed sheet or curtain and are held between the sun and your subject to give a softer, diffused light.

Take a lead from the animals at the Perth Zoo. They move around when the sun's soft. But when the sun's blazing and throwing hot and hard light, they get in the shade and take it easy. Do the same with your subjects, whether they be family, friends or animals or plants. They (and your images) will do better on overcast days, or in some gentle shade.

Keep shooting.

Shane
shanebakerphotos@iinet.net.au