Sunday, December 20, 2009

shooting in the rain

Sometimes, the environment needs a little help. I have always advocated pushing rules, understanding how photography works, and how that affects your photography. I know that sounds a little self-referential, but the idea is to understand the individual parts, and how that effects the whole photograph.

Take for instance the flash. The photograph above was taken in light rain at the North Lake in San Francisco's Golden Gate park. The rain was very light, more of a heavy mist. The light was flat and not very interesting. The exposure was running around 1/60 th of a second at f 5.6.

Turning on the little flash on top of the camera was not going to do much for the overall light. However, the flash will reflect in the eye, refract off the water drops on the coot, and generally making the image more interesting.

Follow the rules, and know when to break (or at least distort) them.

On a slightly side note, I am glad I don't do this for a living in some ways. I can take a break from photography without having it impacting my income.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Black bird in a black shadow?


Getting a good background for the subject is something that all beginning photographers struggle with. A combination of letting the camera take too much control, and not noticing what else is in the frame usually leads to something sticking out of the head of the subject. (You can see a tutorial I made on how to get rid of the problem.)

And yet, not all of the issue is getting a blurred background like the one in this photo. I went and saw a show of Georgia O'keefe paintings along side Ansel Adams photographs. They spent some time in the United States Southwest, and created some fantastic images. I highly recommend this exhibit if it comes around. Its run at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is over.

He co-founded the f/64 group, with Edward Weston and others. The goal was maximum depth of field. Some of the photos he made were amazing to see. (If you get a chance, go to the Weston Gallery in Carmel California, then go up Highway 1 a bit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.) But, not always what the photographer wants either.

I went through this issue and came out the other side with a basic set of rules:

Look at what is in the view finder.
Pre-visualize what you are shooting, and set the camera beforehand.
Whenever possible, take your time, and look at what you are photographing.

I still have to remind myself to follow these rules.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Getting close


And focusing on a cat that is a bit naturally wired. This was using the 31 mm extension tube, 130 mm on the 18-250 zoom, f.19 and 1/60 second with flash. Because of the extension tube, I had to hand focus, which was really hard. It's difficult to focus on black fur, so I kept trying to find the eye. She was not amused.

In addition, with the extension tube, I find it easier to do most of the focusing with the zoom, and then fine-focus with the actual focus. If I weren't hand-holding this, I could adjust position but that's sort of difficult when you're shooting a cat who wants dinner.

I'm not sure how other people use extension tubes in this situation, whether you use with a fixed focal length, and how you do the focusing?

This photo is not cropped in any way.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The internal fight.


I have been looking at cameras to replace my Canon Digital Rebel XT, which has provided me with many 10s of thousands of photos over the years, most not very good. I was considering the Canon T1i that was released earlier this year because of the video capabilities. However, the Canon 50D also caught my eye because of the higher frame rate (6.3 frames vs. 3.4 frames). It was a difficult choice.

Then Canon announced the 7d. At 8 fps, it should be good for the aerobatic planes I photograph, the birds, and more (which hopefully explains the photo). In addition, it handles 1080p30 video.

Part of how it does this is to parallelize two Digic-4 processors to handle the computation tasks. Coming from the computer programming background that I do, it makes a lot of sense.

Now all I have to do is to save up my pennies. Unless Canon would like to loan me one. If so, please contact me via email on this blog. :-)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

ISO 100 f.14


And a big tripod with a big ball-head (in particular a Bogen setup). I decided to challenge myself, sort of along the lines of the old film days, shoot a low ISO setting and work with a tripod to get the detail. The photograph was taken with a Canon Digital Rebel Xt, 100-400 mm IS lens, and a 1.4 teleconverter. That is equivilent to an 896 mm lens on a standard 35 mm camera. Needless to say, the tripod was necessary. I had to hand-focus the lens because the auto-focus is not able to work at f.8 or lower.

However, by doing this, I had to take the time to actually focus the camera, check on the exposure, and basically slow down, all for the good I think.

Odd thing, with this Heron and the Snowy Egret that was near by, there were fish jumping all around them. This was taken at Crissy Field, San Francisco
which has a very nice visitors center.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Where is the focus?


My father was telling me about some people who test their cameras to see if the focus is off, which makes some sense. I had always assumed that the camera would focus where I focused it, and not somewhere else. However, things could be off, the sensor might not be aligned, the focal point of the lens might be on the back side of the sensor.

However, it still seems off if the camera focuses on a different plane than I expect. So, I did an experiment.

I am a pilot, and I have a lot of the aeronautical charts around. the distance between the lines on the aeronautical charts is a little over 1/8 of an inch (Los Angeles Sectional Chart if anyone is interested). I put the camera on a very sturdy tripod, put my 28 - 105 mm zoom on it, set it to take a photo at f 4.5 and snapped a photo. Not too much detail, so I put 65 mm of extension tubes on it. That reduced the focus point to around a couple of inches. At 105 mm, I focused on the longest line, and snapped a photo (above).

The results are that the camera did focus where I expected it to. the depth of field on the photo is a little under 1/8 inch, with the two lines crossing in focus.

Glad to know my camera is working as I expected...

Addendum, this topic is actually about whether a camera will auto-focus properly. Since I was manually focusing, this entry is irrelevant to the discussion at hand, but it is a good test to make sure that your camera view-finder is properly aligned with the film sensor. For more information on the auto-focus issue, See here

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Push yourself.

While there are certain areas that I don't push myself (for example, I don't bungee jump) I've always thought it a good idea to push the limits of hobbies, especially the slow-speed stuff.

I purchased a used tripod head (Bogen 3055) and decided to take it out to Golden Gate park to do some slow shooting. The combination on the camera for the above shot was the 100-400 IS Canon lens, a 1.4 teleconverter, and a 21mm extension tube at the camera body. With this setup, I was manually focusing at something around f.10, working with a very small depth of field because of the extension tube, and dealing with a bird that liked to move a lot. Thankfully this was not a hummingbird, that would have been impossible.

The nice thing about using the extension tube on top of the 100-400 and 1.4x teleconverter is that it does change the depth of field. It pulls in the focusing points so that you can focus closer, but you can't focus to infinity. If I wasn't shooting with the extension tube, I believe the depth of field in this shot would have been deeper, and therefore more distracting.

End result is, I personally need to get out and play with my gear to see what it does, and what combinations of things work under what circumstances.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Dell Mini-10 continued



The Dell Mini-10 worked out well. It handled putting a variety of sized photographs (1790 total photos), ranging from 5 Megapixels to 15 Megapixels in size. Lightroom 2 worked just fine, though I noticed it slowed down somewhat when it was driving the internal LCD and a 1920x1080 monitor. Dropping the resolution down to 16 bit did not seem to help much. Removing the external monitor helped immensly.

Overall, I'm impressed with the laptop. It seems to have enough power, and with the longer battery it lasts a fairly long time.

Overall, for a small computer it works well. I need to get a better mouse (I don't like the touch pads). The keyboard is a little small but usable.

About the photo, A Pitts S2B coming out of a tail-slide with the smoke on...

Thursday, May 28, 2009

How slow can you go?








There's a basic rule in taking photographs of flying airplanes, if they have a prop, make sure that prop is blurred. Obviously, the slower you can get the shutter, the more blurred it is. I did a quick calculation a couple of years ago and came up with around 1/250th of a second should keep the prop blurred through an arc.

This year, while I was shooting the Watsonville Airshow, I tried to see how slowly I could go. I started at 1/320, which had a reasonable amount of blur, then went to 1/250th (the image on the top.) I then went to 1/125th of a second (the image on the bottom.)

As you can see, the prop is more blurred. However, the hit rate for good photos was not nearly as high. I had more of a problem with camera shake, etc... I was also trying to shoot without the image stabilization, and on a monopod. All of this will make a difference.

I might be able to do more with IS and without the monopod. But practicing these panning shots improved my images. Even the difference between the first shots I made with 1/125 and the last ones I made is substantial.

I really have to respect the people who do this for a living.

Details: Canon Digital Rebel Xt. Canon 100-400 mm IS, manfroto 676B monopod with 3229 head

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Field laptops


The time off year is here again, I'll be working the Watsonville Airshow as judging photographer. in order to do this, I needed a small laptop or computer to sort over 2000 photographs that I and my helpers will be taking. I bought a "netbook", a Dell Mini-10. It arrived this last week, and I was able to play around with it after taking some photographs at Lake Merced in San Francisco. Some initial thoughts:
  • Only 1 Gig of memory, not too bad but some people might want more
  • Buy the larger resolution screen. I bought the normal screen (1024x576 or so) Lightroom will pop up menus that are 768 high. I can adjust the screen to show 1024x768 but more resolution would help.
  • It handles Lightroom 2.3 fairly well, including adjustments to the photo, rotating, etc.
  • Dual-core processor, even with only a 1.6 Ghz CPU, it performs very well.
  • Get the 6-cell battery, lots of time to find a plug
  • HDMI out, I think for me this will be more useful than vga out.
  • 160 Gig hard drive. More than my desktop.
It's small, and very portable. it doesn't have a CD/DVD on it, but I already had a USB DVD burner so I was able to easily install what I needed.

It's an amazing little machine. Since it was so new, I did spring for the 2 year maintenance agreement.

And just because this is a photo blog, one of the many Herons I ran across at Lake Merced...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

It's been released.

Canon T1i

Now the question is how long before they fix any bugs. It will do 720p at 30 fps, and 1080 at 20 fps. Unfortunately, it takes a different memory card than my Digital Rebel XT, but I guess that means I'll just have to sell them with the Xt.

Oh yes, Canon, if you would like me to use one of these while shooting the Watsonville Airshow, please send me a note. I promise to take care of it...

Sunday, March 22, 2009

California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco


I spent a Saturday there with my wife, we wandered around the Bio dome and I was very impressed. Not only from the photographic standpoint, but how it was all put together. On a Saturday, the wait was fairly long, 30 minutes. But once inside it presented plenty of opportunity to photograph free-flying birds and butterflies.

There are also exhibitions of the smaller animals you can find in the various rain forest area. Warning, the cockroaches are huge, but they don't fly free.

The Moss Room is a great place to relax and have a wonderful lunch while waiting for your entry time into the Planetarium. The Morrison Planetarium is a must see item. While I have fond memories of the old projector, the new system is fantastic. The screen covers almost the full visual field, and in doing so induces an amazing level of false motion when the image moves. The show I saw didn't seem to cause any ill effects on anyone, but if you're especially sensitive, take care.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Cinematography and Photography


One thing that I believe is necessary to a good film, is good imagery. While it does not make a complete film, it helps incredibly. I have been watching Discovery's Planet Earth Series and have been very impressed by the cinematography in it. The shots are amazing, and show an amazing amount of skill and thought. Given some of the issues that they had to go through (the diaries on Disk 2 about the Polar Bears is frightening), they managed to get some fantastic shots.

One other film I saw within the last year is One-Six Right by Brian Terwilliger. It was shot in High-definition video, and has some amazing shots, air-to-air and more. These two DVDs should be required watching for anyone who wants to be a photographer. Turn the sound off, and start dissecting how the shots are put together, what makes them work. When I was working as a staff member in the Film Department at U.C. Santa Cruz, I petitioned the department to have Brian Terwilliger give a talk on the work in One-Six Right. Unfortunately, I was not successful. I think it would have been an interesting seminar for the film production students on what makes a good shot.

Then turn the sound back on an grab a bowl of popcorn...

P.S. No, I don't think the enclosed photo does justice to the work in "One-Six Right."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Extension tubes


When I was shooting with film, I was using an old Chinon CS-2 completely manual camera. It used the Pentax screw-mount lenses, and I had a set of screw-mount extension tubes for it. Playing around with macro-photography has been fun but frustrating at the time. Waiting for the film to come back was always an issue with me. Now, digital cameras to the rescue.
I received Pro-Optic extension tubes for Christmas for my Canon Digital Rebel Xt. I recently had a chance to play with it.
The photo on the right (or above depending on your browser) was taken with the the 31 mm extension tube on my 18-250 mm Tamron zoom lens. There was no cropping on this photo.
Because of the low light, I had to manually focus. I had a Canon 420 Speedlight for the flash, and because I was focusing about 6 inches from my cat's eye, there was no red-eye. I'm personally amazed she allowed me to do this, though catching it was luck. Cat's get distracted quite frequently...
More information at Outdoor Photographer.

Sunday, February 1, 2009


Image Link

HDR files are fun to play with. I don't personally own any neutral density filters, so I usually take bracketed photos of the scene I want to use and combine them into a HDR file. This works fine with a static image, but one like on the right becomes a little strange to work with.

Because the waves moved during the three exposures (take at f 5.0, 1/4000, 1/2000, and 1/640 of a second) Photoshop had some problems registering the image. The overall results were good. However, the people in the foreground were mis-registered. But, Photoshop to the rescue.

I was able to take the people out of one of the images, and paste them in as another layer so that they looked correct. I had a layer mask so that I could adjust them separately from the rest of the image. I'm not sure I am finished with this image, while I like the way the image turned out, I think the various exposure layers can be better adjusted.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

extension tubes


Sometimes it's fun to play with different things, extension tubes for example. Extension tubes are placed between the camera body and the lens, and cause the focal plane to be pushed further away from the lens. This has the effect of making things larger, or macro.
I had a set of extensions tubes for my film camera, but it was never really easy to play with. I had to wait for the film to come back to see what happened (other than the view finder.) With digital, all of that changes.
I purchased a set of proOptic extension tubes for my Canon Digital Rebel XT. With the normal zoom I use, and the 13 mm extension tube I was able to get almost too close to this banana slug. It should be fun to see the world in a whole new way, and almost immediately. I'll have to get used to taking photos lying on my stomach.
By the way, the circular shadow in front of the slug is the lens itself, blocking the flip-up flash on the camera.