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.

 

 

There's life in "old" cameras yet!

August 26, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Ok, I'll admit it. I want the new Nikon D850 so much I can taste it. This goes beyond gear lust - I'm in love. If the D850 delivers (and no-one outside Nikon knows that for sure) then this is close to the perfect camera.

I want one.

Have I placed my deposit? Well no, and for some good reasons. Firstly, I'm travelling overseas the day the camera is released. It would be an act of blind faith to take a literally brand new camera on a trip. Secondly, I want someone (or preferably several people) I respect to tell me this is a camera which does what it says on the tin. Thirdly, there's the price - in Australia at least.

From what I can see, Nikon USA is asking about 17% more for the D850 than the D810. Frankly, I consider that a bargain, and if I lived in the US of A, I'd probably have my deposit on the shop counter by now. But in Australia, we have this thing many of us call the Australia Tax. What is this, I hear you ask? Well, we Aussies are asked to pay more than many other consumers for the same thing. In this case, it seems we're being asked for a 40% premium for the D850 over the D810.

So, until prices in Australia get more reasonable, I'll limp along with my 2012 vintage Nikon D800.

But what does my "limping along" mean in practice? Well, I went out yesterday to try some bird photography, and came up with something I like - this image of a male Splendid fairy-wren in full plumage. 

Splendid fairy-wrenSplendid fairy-wrenMale Splendid fairy-wren un full adult plumage at Caversham, Western Australia But before the birds got used to me and came out of the bushes, I made this test shot. It's an Acacia (wattle):

Acacia in flowerAcacia in flowerAcacia in flower, Caversham, Western Australia As I say, it's a test shot made with my "poor old" D800 and my new 200 - 500 zoom. (Not your classic flower photography lens!)

I opened the image in Capture One and zoomed in to 100% to check my focus, and saw this:

Crop of Acacia in flower photoCrop of Acacia in flower photoCrop of Acacia in flower photo

The cropped image is about 10 - 15% of the full image taken from the centre, and as you can see, there is a clear, well-defined ant and a bug hanging onto a leaf.

I reiterate: this was simply a test shot, using my "crappy old" Nikon D800 and a birding lens - and it's crisp and clear. Back in the film days, we would have been in seventh heaven making such a shot.

So my take away from all this? The D850 will almost certainly blow most other cameras out of the water. It's arguably the best SLR Nikon has ever made (which is saying something) and I still want one. But I will wait until tests prove it delivers, and until pricing in Australia gets to a realistic level.

In the meanwhile, in my five year-old Nikon D800, I have a great camera!

Happy shooting

Shane Baker

 

 


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