What's Your Next Move?

Learning the rules of chess, November, 2001

Here's my grandson learning how to play chess from his Uncle. It looks, to me, like he's really paying attention. 

This is just a snapshot, certainly not anything that would be mistaken for art. Casual snapshots can benefit from a little Lightroom help, too.

The background of this photo was pretty distracting.  There were a couple of books with very busy cover patterns. They were magnets for your eyes, drawing your attention away from the great expression on the budding chess master's face. After a few strokes of Lightroom's adjustment brush it's a lot easier to concentrate on the actual subject of the photo.  

gs 

Football in the Front Yard

Front Yard Football - October, 2001

College Football started this weekend and the Pros will transition from preseason games to the real thing any day now.  Kids have been getting into the swing of things in neighborhoods all over the country. The Front Yard Football rules aren't very specific, but little girls don't need a lot of rules.  They are born with the knowledge that they need to steal their big brother's football.   

August, 2013

In the lead photo the leaves on the ground and the warm colors give the feel of Autumn.  This photo was scanned from a negative that was shot back in 2001.  

The Kids are a little older now. I got them together again, last weekend, for a group photo with their little brother.  He wasn't born until a few years after that Front Yard football game.

I love the expressions on the kids faces in both of the photos.

 -gs-

 

Signs of Fall

Lee g. Simmons Conservation Park and Wildlife Safari, 2001

Baseball is wrapping up the last couple of dozen games before the playoffs. The first college football game is Saturday. Temperatures are in the 90's, but after this little heat wave I think Summer is on the way out.

Here are a few of the residents of the nearby drive-through safari park.  They look pretty spectacular toward the end of the season.  The park closes to the public in October and they won't have to put up with traffic until Spring. 

gs

 

 

The Stars of the Pond

The Duck Pond - Late October 2001

Late in October of 2001 I took a small, point-and-shoot film camera to the duck pond for a few test shots. Back then, there were a lot of ducks and geese that were always willing to hang around and pose for just a few slices of bread. The picturesque little pond has been expanded and surrounded with a wide concrete sidewalk. It's a much more functional place for people to walk and jog, but nowhere near as photogenic. Most of the waterfowl have moved away to more natural habitat.

This photo has become one of my favorites. It's actually an accident. I can take credit for the composition, but the stars and dark contrast of the white feathers against the water are accidental side effect of the camera design.

Until now, I haven't done much with the photo because the original negative is rather noisy. Lightroom 5 cleaned it up fairly well. It will never be good enough for extreme enlargement, but it will make a nice medium size print. 

gs

I'm Tired of This Game...

Taking a break during a soccer game.

Sports with little kids are fun to watch for all kinds of reasons.  This little girl decided to take a break in the middle of the game.  I guess she figured if she couldn't see everyone else they couldn't see her.  Too bad that doesn't work.  I can think of a lot of meetings where it would have come in handy. 

Scanned from an old Kodak Portra negative shot in 2001. 

gs

 

Halloween Candy and School Supplies

Halloween Candy, waiting on the shelf

I was at the grocery store yesterday and was surprised to find one  aisle full of Halloween candy.  Isn't it a little early?  School doesn't start for a week, and labor day is almost a month away. 

gs

Waterfight!

Payback can be cold and wet.

After being being the target of my grandson's super-soaker all afternoon, my son decided to retaliate. They were both having a lot of fun. This photo was taken over 10 years ago and my grandson (my son's nephew) is now over six feet tall. These days, it's hard to imagine anyone chasing him with a bucket of water.

This has always been one of my favorite photos because it captures the spirit of the moment so well. Technically, it's far from perfect. There was no planning.  It was a lucky snapshot. I missed the focus and the original is underexposed. This version was resurrected from a significantly faded old transparency with the help of Lightroom 5. I'll finally be able to make a print. With all of it's technical deficiencies, I've added this photo to the set of examples I use in workshops. It holds a critical lesson for photographers.

As important as all of the technical details of photography may be, content rules. If the image doesn't convey the emotion, the gesture, the memory, the feeling of the day, then the sharpness of the focus or the accuracy of the color won't mean a thing.

gs

 

High Risk - It's all in the Approach

Grand Canyon - 1975

One more from the Grand Canyon.   That's a much younger version of me hanging out on the ledge. The drop from the narrow path goes all the way to the bottom of the canyon.  The walk along the ledge is risky.  One wrong step and it's a quick trip to the bottom.

This is a popular spot for tourist photos.  It's actually a short, easy walk from the main trail and, for all the look of danger, it's relatively safe if you approach it from behind the scene.  It's a very short walk through that cave.  On the other side is a short trail that is wide enough for a truck.  So, what looks risky is really no worse than an afternoon stroll in the park.

I suppose I could get all philosophical and talk about how many things are like that in life, risky when approached from the wrong direction.  But, it's Monday morning and that would require way to much thinking.

gs

Grand Canyon - 1975

Grand Canyon - 1975.  Image restored from an old transparency.

This photo was taken almost 40 years ago.  Way over half of my life ago. Hardly noticed in the lifetime of the canyon.  In those decades thousands of tourists have probably stood in the same place and taken the same photo.  The weather and time of day may be different, but the photo will be fundamentally the same. 

The Grand Canyon is one of the few things in the world that I think you actually need to experience in person.  It is hard to grasp the size until you're standing on the edge.

A photographer, Gus Petro, has an interesting and very different approach to convey the size of the canyon.  Look here to see how he has merged the vast empty space with the dense cityscape of New York City.

gs  

Eclipse?

Lunar eclipse? Maybe.

The moon (upper left) looks like it might be in the midst of an eclipse.  Then again, it might just be a big blob of dust. I took this photo from the balcony of my apartment in 1974. That was a long time ago and I just don't remember.  The year was the only thing written on the frame of the original slide.  Too bad I didn't write down the date.

 -gs-

 

How Sharp Is It?

The test target.

This is for the more technically inclined.

If you use your camera equipment long enough you will eventually have a problem.

One of my lenses was producing slightly soft images.  This was a lens that had been used for quite a long time with good results on a different camera body. I decided to do some testing before sending the lens in for repair. 

Today's digital cameras have much higher resolution than film. Small mismatches between camera body and lenses that were undetectable in the old film days can now be quite evident. To correct these problems the auto-focus system on most recent camera bodies can be fine tuned to match the characteristics of each lens. This is a great feature, but I had never taken advantage of it. My eyes aren't that great and I have a hard time seeing the very small differences between test shots at various fine tuning settings. I must not be the only person with poor eyesight, recently a couple of companies have released software to help with the analysis.  

I borrowed a test target and bought a copy of FocusTune from Michael Tapes Design.  It's $40. (Free try-before-you-buy demo available.) That may sound like a lot, but sending a lens to the repair shop to be tested would be several times that cost and could take weeks. What's worse, the problem often doesn't surface on the first trip to the shop. If the Focustune software worked well it could be used any number of times. I figured it was low risk and worth the effort to give it a try.  

A portion of the report.  -19 has the highest average sharpness with the least variance.

I won't go into the details here, there are several reviews on the Internet (Go ahead, Google Focustune.) To make an already long story short, you take a number of photos of the target at different fine tuning settings, the software analyzes the photos and tells you which setting is best. The software is not difficult to use, but setting up the camera and target requires care. You'll want to use a tripod and make sure that nothing varies among the photos other than the camera's fine tuning setting.  

My results were very good. The report is easy to decipher. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the software to anyone that is comfortable with the custom settings on their camera. If you're curious about the software, there is a lot of information available at FocusTune.com.

 

 

How Big Is My Yard?

The wide angle view (15mm) a couple of feet from the tree.

That's my new tree.  It's been two years since it replaced a much older tree lost to a storm.  While I was taking a photo to record its growth I shot a few extras to demonstrate how focal length can effect perspective.

How big is the yard?  I can make it look spacious or cramped by choosing where I stand and how I set my zoom lens.

Most cameras come with zoom lenses.  For the most part, I think people zoom in or out to help with composition, or just to avoid moving.  The zoom lens doesn't just get you closer or farther from the subject, it also has an effect on perspective.

If you look carefully at the three photos in this post, you'll notice the tree is (almost) the same size in each.  But look at the difference in the photo backgrounds.  

The photo featured at the top of the article was taken with the lens zoomed out to it's widest setting. (15mm)  That's a very wide setting.  I was standing very close to the tree.  Close enough to reach out and touch it.  The wide angle lens exaggerates distances between objects making the yard look very large and including quite a bit of the neighborhood and sky in the background.

The mid-zoom view (about 50mm) from the middle of the street. 

In the second photo the lens was adjusted to the middle of the zoom range. (about 50mm)  I had to back up to keep the tree the same size in the frame.  I was standing in the middle of the street.  Luckily there isn't much traffic in the neighborhood.  You can see how the background moves forward, making the yard look smaller. 

The last photo was taken with the lens zoomed in to its telephoto setting. (About 100mm)  I had to stand on the sidewalk across the street for this photo.  Now we don't even see the whole house, and the yard looks even smaller.

The telephoto view (100mm) from across the street.

But the tree is the same size in each photo.  The camera doesn't lie, but the photos tell three very different stories.  Controlling the perspective in your photos lets you tell the story your way. 

Here's a link to an entertaining demonstration that shows how choosing your lens setting can dramatically effect the look of people in your photos. 

I encourage you to experiment with your zoom lens the next time you take photos.  You'll be surprised at how different your photos look when you pay attention to perspective.

gs

Fireworks

Fireworks at the Stormchaser's Game - 2012

It's the time of year when there are a lot of fireworks displays but the really big ones will be coming up on the Fourth of July.  Photographing fireworks isn't hard, but you need to pay attention to a few details.

Here is a collection of articles that have great advice.

Every year about this time Joe McNally posts an excerpt from the Life
Guide to Photography
.

Scott Kelby also reposts his  fireworks article every year.

And this is from the archives of the New York Institute of Photography. 

Even though they all say basically the same thing, they all say it in different and entertaining ways.  If you're hunting for a place to practice, check out the schedule for the Stormchaser's games at Werner park.  They have fireworks at every Friday home game for the remainder of the season.

GS

The Dance Recital

The Dance - in very poor light...

I could use this space to brag about my granddaughter, but the theme of this blog is photography so here are a few tips to increase your chances of getting a relatively good snapshot of the kids on the stage.  This photo isn't a work of art, but it's a nice reminder of the day.  It was taken with a 3-year-old, compact, point-and-shoot camera that fits in my shirt pocket.

Equipment Matters

I know, if you read the photography blogs and discussion groups you constantly read that "equipment doesn't matter, it's the photographer that counts."  Well, in general that's true.  In this case, due to the lighting, we are pushing the boundaries.  A camera with a bigger image sensor will gather more of that dim light.  This is a tough job for the most expensive cameras.  Leave the cell phone in your pocket and, at least, use a compact "point-and-shoot" camera.   

Get Out of the Auto Mode

Today's cameras are amazing.  They do most of the thinking for you.  Even the simple point-and-shoot does a great job under average conditions.  Unfortunately, the conditions at a dance recital are much lower than average. Get out of Auto. On many cameras, the settings you will need to change are hidden from you when your camera is in Auto.  If your camera has a P (Program) setting, use it.

Get Close and Zoom-in

The dancers are in a pool of light surrounded by a sea of darkness.  This is guaranteed to fool your camera's exposure computer.  You want to eliminate as much of the sea of darkness as possible by getting physically closer and zooming-in.  I was sitting in the middle row of seats when I took this photo.  The camera lens was zoomed in as far as it would go.

Turn off the Flash

A built-in flash has a range of about 12 feet under the best of circumstances.  These are far from the best of circumstances. The flash won't help.  It will actually make it harder to get a usable photo.  Most important, it will annoy the audience and distract the dancers.  Turn it off.  If you don't know how, read your instruction manual.

Turn Up the ISO

Your camera is not very sensitive to light.  You can make it more sensitive by increasing the ISO (or sensitivity) setting.  The camera becomes more sensitive to light as the sensitivity number increases.  Unfortunately, the image quality also goes down as the ISO setting goes up.  

This is where a better camera helps.  Bigger cameras have bigger, more light sensitive, image sensors and the image quality doesn't suffer as much at higher ISOs. Like most things in photography, it's a trade off.  And yes, you can find out how to change this setting in the instruction manual.

I set my camera to 3200 ISO for this photo.  That's as high as the camera goes and a setting that looks so bad that I only use it when there is no other choice.

Experiment with Exposure Compensation

All that black in the picture will fool your camera's exposure computer.  It may make actually over-expose the dancers.  If the dark parts of the photo are gray (instead of a deep black) and the dancers are too bright, try setting the Exposure Compensation to -1 or so.  Yes, this is in the instruction manual. 

When you get home, Crop

The original. Crooked and too far away.

You're probably not sitting in the most ideal spot to take a photo.  

Use your editing software to crop the photo so it looks more pleasing.  

I've included the original version of the photo in the inset.  It looks like I  didn't even hold the camera straight.

Is that a lot?

Well, that's why they say "It's not the camera, it's the photographer that counts."  If you want average photos, leave the camera in Auto and take your pictures in the sunshine.

Getting out of the Automatic mode and learning how to use just a few of the features on your camera, even compact point-n-shoot cameras, can result in much better photos.

GS 

 

The Dramatic Teddy Bear

A Sad Bear

This bear is sad.  He may be losing his home.  The kids have grown, moved away and left the bear and his friends behind. I'm cleaning closets, looking for storage space.  The bear and his friends are about to go.  

This guy got a temporary reprieve while I was testing a new flash. Maybe he and all of his friends will turn into another photo project, each one posing for one last photo before they take a ride to the dumpster.

UPDATE:  The bear and his friends have found a new home.  Goodwill will accept old stuffed animals. 

gs

Nebraska Spring

The Lilacs up close.

I can tell it's spring.  The tornado sirens have wailed and the lilacs have bloomed.

The lens was about eight inches from the flowers when I took this photo.  At that distance it's difficult to keep things in focus.  The depth of field is pretty thin, even stopped down to f/10.  I had to break out a monopod to steady the camera and get a sharp image.

gs

Temptation?

Cinnamon Rolls

No one will confuse me with a food photographer.  This photo started out as a snapshot taken during a fundraiser.  The original was a pretty noisy photo taken under dim fluorescent lights and wasn't very appealing.  After an application of Lightroom's noise reduction and a pass through a couple of filters from Nik's Color Effects, it doesn't look too bad. 

gs

Working at Home - 1974

High Tech Home Office - 1974

We like to think the Internet made working from home possible, but people have always worked AT home. I ran across these old photos as I was scanning a tray of old slides from 1974. Today, of course, most of the things you see here have been replaced.

The typewriter has been replaced by the word processor. The desk calendar has moved to my phone. The gray container is a humidor that held a set of technical drafting pens.  Drafting moved to Computer Aided Design. Even the pencils play a much smaller role today. None of the classrooms where I teach have pencil sharpeners.  I seldom use pencils outside of my workshop.

There is an HP-45 calculator setting atop the book.  It's just out of the frame to the right.  It was the closest thing to a computer at the time. The first computer kit (The Altair) would be introduced the following year and "Personal Computers" wouldn't really become useful for for another decade.  The Internet wouldn't be generally available until several years after that.

Bathroom Conversion to Darkroom

Lightroom and Photoshop have replaced the darkroom you see in photo to the left. (The enlarger is covered to protect it from dust.)  

My only phone was wired to the wall in the kitchen. I hadn't yet had an extension phone installed in the office. Cell phones wouldn't be around for several years.

Things have certainly changed. The Technical pens, calculator, typewriter and darkroom equipment cost about $10,000 in today's dollars. Now, I could do the work of all of these tools on a relatively inexpensive laptop computer. If I tried hard enough I could do most of the work on my phone.

GS

Sunday in Fontenelle Forest - 1970

Bob, his wife and the borrowed Nikon

The guy laying on the ground is Bob.  He had just slipped on a small patch of ice.  His wife is looking down, asking if he is hurt.

This picture would be a lot better if I had taken one step to the left.  You would have a clear view of the happy look on Bob's face.  

He's holding up the camera to show that it never hit the ground.  The camera is a brand new, Nikon F with the Photomic meter attachment.  In February of 1970 that was a very expensive camera and it wasn't Bob's.

We worked in a camera store.  Bob was my Manager.  The pay was pretty typical for a retail store but there were a couple of valuable benefits for a photographer.  There were significant discounts on film processing and equipment purchases.  Borrowing equipment from the store was the best benefit.  It didn't cost anything to borrow equipment.  You just signed for it.  Of course, you were responsible for bringing it back in the same condition that it had left the store.

That camera was worth more than a couple of months of Bob's pay.  That's why, when he fell, he didn't let the camera touch the ground.  In case your wondering, Bob wasn't hurt.  On Monday Bob, the camera and I all returned to work in the condition we had left the store.

gs

September Rain - 1969

Highland Park, 1969

It was a rainy day in September of 1969.  The large picture window in my parent's living room provided a great view of the park across the street. When I noticed this woman in red walking into the park, I thought it might make a decent photo.

I ran upstairs, (yes, in those days I ran up stairs) attached a 135mm telephoto lens to my Pentax Spotmatic and made it to the front porch in time to take two photos.  Then, the woman and her red umbrella disappeared behind the low hanging branches of the trees as she walked deeper into the park.

When I picked up the processed and mounted Ektachrome slides few days later, the results were disappointing.  In the first slide the woman was looking directly into the camera.  In the second slide, the focus was a bit soft and the composition was not what I had envisioned.  So, the slides went into a box and were forgotten for several decades.

The digitized version of the slide has been on my disk drive for a few years.  The red coat and umbrella always grab my attention as I scroll past the older photos in my library.  Saturday I decided to play a bit.

A few adjustments in Lightroom restored the color that had faded over the years.  Changing the aspect ratio to fit an 8x10 frame altered the composition enough to please me, but the focus was soft and a lot of dust had embedded itself into the emulsion of the original slide.  Photoshop has no magic (yet) to fix a poorly focused image and I had no intention of removing all of those dust spots. 

It finally occurred to me that the feeling of that rainy day doesn't rely on sharp detail.  I decided to channel the spirit of Bob Ross and obscure the remaining problems with the broad brush strokes of Photoshop's Oil Painting filter.  I'm sure most people won't mind.  After all, look at the popularity of Instagram.  Millions of bad photos obscured by strange filters are submitted  every day.

The finished photo is certainly not what I had in mind when I pressed the shutter in 1969 and nobody will ever describe it as a great work of art, but it is a nice reminder of that rainy September day.