And sometimes I manage to get it right…

My last post described a moment that left me wondering if I really should bother at all with this little endeavor known as photography. After all, I’m celebrating the end of my third year with my first dSLR this very month and yet I still manage to screw things up royally all the time.

(sigh)

Regardless, there are moments, few but they exist, where I feel like I have gotten things right. Maybe even a bit more than right: really great. This for example strikes me as one of those really great moments:

My lovely little niece Clarissa (aka Claire Bear), one of a set of triplets belonging to my sister, playing at some playground at some park not too far from my sister’s house outside St. Augustine, Florida. It’s a picture with which I was quite happy. I felt it framed-up well and the amount of fill-flash I threw at it really helped make her pop a bit, without being too-flashy.

And while I typically eschew fooling around with my pictures and ‘doing things’ to them I got a bit creative with this one and made it even better. Or so I think.

Not too shabby, or so I think.

Actually, the pictures I took on this trip in late October were, on the whole, very good. I will concede there were enough to hit the cutting room floor, so to speak, but in general I had far more keepers than I had expected. And to be frank this was no small feat considering I was mostly shooting small, constantly moving targets, consisting of two boys and girl, all 20-months old.

In addition, lighting conditions often dictated the need for flash, but I refused to just through the camera into Program mode and let it do all the work. Instead I elected to shoot as I most usually do, in Aperture priority, and use my flash for fill purposes. This usually entailed taking a picture or two so that I could dial-in the correct amount of flash (or should I say “the amount of flash I found appropriate”), but once that was accomplished I was off and running.

I endeavored to remember all the basics about shooting little kids: get on their level, try and capture candid moments as well as posed ones, move quickly to keep up with them, etc. No doubt I must have looked the fool some days, running around trying to keep up with these three knee-biters. Of course one morning when visiting the very park in which the above picture was taken, I would very much have liked to spend an awful lot of time photographing one of other mothers. Wow.

Anyway….

When I returned home and had the pictures up on the computer I was surprised at how many keepers I had and how much I really had enjoyed taking all these pictures.

But something did bother me a bit during this trip. I regularly felt the adults would rather I not be sticking my camera into everything and snapping photos here and there as it were. Usually I think the objection was more to having their own picture taken than anything else, but I really don’t understand why it’s such a problem for folks.

If I take a bad picture of you I’m not going to keep it. It doesn’t matter if it’s bad because they look bad (bad hair, eyes closed, whatever, etc.) or because the image is technically bad. It’s a tosser regardless. Perhaps it’s just the sentimentalist in me, but I’ve always enjoyed recording moments in life.

During my 20’s, when I led a rather wild life, I was the only one in my group who had a camera and while I wasn’t snapping pictures every weekend I could be counted on to have one around often enough. As such I have a nice collection of photographs capturing some truly wonderful times in my life, while many of those very same friends have nothing, but the vague memories. If that because there certainly was a lot of alcohol involved and we all know what that does to memories.

This aversion to having ones picture taken is best exemplified by my very own family. Neither my wife nor daughter want their picture taken. Ever. Under any circumstances. My wife didn’t used to shy away from such, but as we grew older together she became less and less willing to have her picture taken. And the daughter? Short of those pictures taken at school she damn near pitches what might best be described as a hissy fit if I try to take her picture.

However, and in fairness to the daughter, she has deigned on occasion to allow me to photograph her and cooperated as my model one afternoon from which I got some awesome pictures of her. But that was the first and LAST time that would happen.

The end result: there are no family type pictures of myself, my wife and my daughter from the past five or six years. Maybe even longer. This saddens me to no end, but I suppose I shouldn’t be completely surprised considering the type of people they have grown into over the past few years. But that’s a story for my counselor.

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If I Were Any Dumber…

If I were any dumber I’d be a box of rocks.

I’m not saying I’ve completely solved my various and irritating problems with printing through Lightroom, but I may have just experienced a major epiphany. A huge breakthrough. And the fact it is so incredibly obvious only goes to prove that I should not be allowed to use photo editing software. Or maybe even a camera.

Today I elected to print one of my images as I wanted to frame and hang it on a wall in my office, where sits my photo-editing computer. It’s a nice picture. See!

So here’s the issue.

I was looking to print this image as an 8×10 in this scenario. I opened the image in Lightroom. Fiddled with page setup. Fiddled with the Print Setup. And printed the image.

Funny….. my 8×10 didn’t come out as an 8×10. When I trimmed away the remaining white border (using 8.5×11 stock) my remaining print was more like 7.5×11.

Huh?

Irritated I went back and re-traced my steps. Check this. Select that. Bingo, bango, bongo. Same results.

I returned to the original file in Lightroom and sat there looking at it and asking myself, “Mark: what’s wrong here?” And as I absent-mindedly looked around the screen hoping for inspiration I found exactly that. Inspiration

Cropping.

Not only was this image cropped from the original, but it was cropped at the same aspect ratio as the original file, which is closest to the 6×4 aspect ratio, which is not the 8×10 (or 4×5) ratio.

I quickly created a virtual copy of the image, re-cropped it, but at the 8×10 aspect ratio, exported it as a file through the Print portion of Lightroom and finally printed it via Mac’s Preview app.

Now you may wonder why I elected to use the Preview app for printing instead of simply doing such straight out of Lightroom and that would be both a fair and reasonable question. It also happens to be one for which I have an answer!

When I use Preview I find the option to turn off the printer’s colour management system and allow the Mac to control such. This means I can use the colour profile in which I create the JPEG from the original RAW file instead of using my HP printer’s colour management, which doesn’t get things quite right (especially greens).

I imagine there is something I’m missing about colour management in Lightroom in accordance with my HP printer, but I’ll be damned if I’ve found it yet. In addition, hours spent online looking for help yielded no results. As such, using Preview adds only a minor extra step, but it’s well worth the trip if only to get better control over colour management.

Mischief managed….

Light, camera, model…. action!

A couple of posts back I introduced the world of WordPress to my new & portable, single-light kit. Nothing fancy, of course. Just my Canon flash, a stand, an umbrella, the do-hickey that connects the flash and umbrella to the stand and a wireless firing bit of hardware (not PocketWizard or Radio Poppers – perish the expensive thought!).

I did spend the extra few bucks to acquire the 9-foot light stand as opposed to the 6-foot variety. It seemed a reasonable investment and actually turned out to be the right choice when put to use the very first time. Can’t get much better than that, eh?

Anywho….

Back in September I finally corralled my model, Jenna, into an afternoon shoot on what turned out to be a too-warm Sunday afternoon. The weather, being unseasonably warm, made the excursion less than ideal, but I was anxious to give this new bit of kit a try and I was really excited about my location. Well… some parts of the location that is.

Jenna had never modelled before and other than the shots I took of the daughter a few years earlier I had zip for experience as well. So we were both in good hands undoubtedly. We started off with some shots by a neat tree on the premises of the Dayton Art Institute. I actually worked these with my flash affixed to my camera and set to manual, thus leaving me the chance to work with some fill light. Fun, but not the real crux of my we were there. Still… the results weren’t bad. Not great, but not bad.

We moved away from the tree and over towards the spot I was most excited about. The front of the Dayton Art Institute includes a long set of winding stairs leading from the street to the actual museum, which sits up fairly high from the street. About half way up the staircase is a landing where once must have been a small fountain and some statues set into three curved alcoves.

At some point the fountain was turned into a planter and the statues removed, thus leaving their lovely spaces quite open. “Perfect for a model,” I thought when I first came upon them during a recce of the grounds around the Institute. The beautiful yellow, brown and gold tones of the sandstone combined with the intimiate location seemed perfect for my plans.

We set up the light stand such that it faced her rather directly. Perhaps not the best thing, but choices were limited. There was little space in front of the alcove in which to work so straight-on was about the best we could do. In addition, the choice to go with the 9-foot tall light stand paid off handsomely as the alcoves were all about three or so feet off the ground. Add to those three feet a five-foot-plus model and you can quickly deduce the extra height was a wise choice. Well…. see for yourself.

Not too shabby a spot, eh? And not to shabby a picture if I do say so myself.

This whole endeavor was really one giant experiment. Because this area was in shadow I knew some lighting would really help lift things nicely and help me avoid having to use apertures that were too big or shutter speeds too slow. Letting the camera meter the scene I would then dial down the flash in manual mode to some setting… say 1/4 power…. and shoot. Checking my results on the camera’s LCD screen I would, if needed (and I always needed) adjust the flash’s output up or down and try again.

This went on for maybe 45-minutes or so when I felt I had exhausted my model’s good natured willingness to pose and suggested we call it a day. It didn’t help that this mid-September day was touching upon 80F (26.7C) and I was getting tired of sweating (I don’t like photographing in the heat). But ultimately this was all a big test and I had felt things went about as well as one could expect and I’m not displeased with the overall results.

There was one minor incident which occurred very near the end of our shoot. I was standing closer to Jenna discussing what I wanted her to try next when this pained look quickly spread across her face. She raised her hand to point behind me and seemed to be trying to get words out, but they simply weren’t coming quickly enough. It wasn’t necessary though. My brain, being a bit more on-the-ball than usual, quickly surmised what was happening: the light stand was falling over!

And indeed it was. A small gust of wind had struck, and between the umbrella and the teetering height of the stand, it was just enough to topple my inexpensive, but priceless-to-me, light stand. I lept to grab the whole contraption and with no small amount of luck managed to capture it before it all crashed to the hard and merciless cement.

Crisis averted.

Unfortunately, Jenna and I were not able to get back out again for another try at this thing before our cold weather kicked in. She is a senior in high school and has an awful lot on her plate between courses, work and just being a teenager. However, my neighbor across the street, who offers violin lessons, has a student named Emily who I met the other day. She has this whole teen-hipster look and vibe going on and while it’s not quite my thing it does have a strong visual component. I offered her one of my quasi-business cards and asked if she’d like to model and she replied in the affirmative. I have yet to hear from her, but I remain hopeful I will once the holidays are put behind us.

I lied…

I admit it.

I lied.

I promised myself (and others) I would buckle down and get serious about writing on this here blog in a more regular fashion. I notice it’s been three-months to the day since my last entry.

(sigh)

Ok. I suck.

But the fact I suck isn’t really anything new, now is it? Nope. Not at all. It is, if I may borrow a bit of French, de rigueur for the likes of me. So this time I make no promises, but will instead attempt to rectify this problem by hopefully being more diligent. Oh well…. let’s get on to something photography-oriented, eh?

I learned something the other day. No. Let me clarify. I noticed something the other day and with any luck I will have learned something from it. Observe…

Downy Woodpecker

Not too bad a picture really. But it looks a bit soft. A bit grainy. And there-in lies the problem. There’s simply more noise/grain than I would prefer. But you have to imagine the shooting situation to better understand how I came to be shooting at ISO 800.

I ventured out the other morning as it was the first in which sunlight broke through the clouds in probably a week. With still fresh snow upon the ground I hit Aullwood Audubon Center and Farm (a convenient and short drive) early in morning in hopes of capturing some nice shots of the birds hanging out in the trees as they swooped to and from the various feeders.

Birds? Check. Sunlight? Check. What more does a photographer need?

Apparently a lot more.

To not spook the birds I elected to remain at a discreet distance and shoot with my 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 lens. I had tried my 70-200mm previously and it simply didn’t have the reach I needed. After all, these particular birds I was after are all pretty small. Chickadees, titmouse, nuthatch and downy woodpeckers are pretty small birds if you didn’t already know this. Naturally this meant I would be using almost exclusively the 400mm end of the lens and I anticipated plenty of crop & zoom back in front of the computer.

Now, being Winter the sun never gets particularly high in the sky and so it was there wasn’t a whole lot of great light. Add in the fact that when shooting at 400mm the rule of thumb is to work to keep your shutter speed at or above 1/400 of a second to mitigate camera shake or motion blur. Granted, I was using my monopod and had the lens image stabilization active, but to be on the safe side I adjusted my aperture to around f/9 or f/11 (I wanted to hit the sweet spot of the lens), which required me to bump up my ISO to 800 to make it all work.

ISO 800 compounded by the need to fairly heavily crop & zoom is not a winning combination in my opinion.

See?

White-breasted Nuthatch

Still… it was a nice way to spend a cold morning and with any luck I may actually remember this particular problem and work harder to get around it in the future.

But I wouldn’t bet on it.