30 November 2011

"I'm not Black Like Barry White, no I am White Like Frank Black is." - Bloodhound Gang

If the title was confusing (blame the Bloodhound Gang), today's theme is black and white (B&W).  This seemed easy enough in theory to tackle, but as I found out, the lack of color really requires you to think a bit more about your shot.  Because of this, I relied on a bit of advice recently given to me saying "a good photo captures a moment, a great photo makes you see what the photographer saw, and the best do both simultaneously" - J.  Contrast seemed to be a key element in realizing a good B&W and I struggled to find it initially, but as time drew on I was able to snap some photos that turned out alright.  As I read about best practices for B&W, I interestingly found that shooting in RAW and color was ideal and then convert to B&W during post processing.  Since I am new to the game I stuck to JPEG, but still shot in color and used Aperture for B&W post processing.

ISO 100, 50mm, 0EV, f/2, 1/1600
ISO 100, 50mm, f/1.4, 1/1600
ISO 100, 50mm. 0EV, f/1.4, 1/4000

Lessons Learned:
  • Contrast baby!
  • Shoot in color and RAW and convert to B&W later.

    04 November 2011

    You're Shallow...You Have No Depth.

    Since I got my Canon T3i I have been obsessed with getting shots that have the subject in focus and everything else blurry.  I find the effect to be quite pleasing to the eye and it shows you what I wanted you to see.  This is known as DoF or Depth of Field and although relatively easy to achieve, it's quite hard to master the finer points.  Most of my photos where I want shallow DoF I use my Canon EF prime 50mm f/1.4 USM as it has a very low aperture value (f/1.4).  Essentially, the lower the f-stop, the more blurry everything but your subject will be, and higher f-stop means more in focus from foreground to background. I tend to run my camera in Av mode (Aperture Value) for most shots and have the propensity to stop it down to f/1.4 (wide open & fast) simply to achieve my desired shallow DoF result...bad move.  During sunny shots, WAY WAY WAY too much light is sucked in and the resulting image is overexposed and blown out.  Darker colors seem to fare well, but the lighter colors of sand or anything white look miserable.  To compensate for this (somewhat) I stopped the aperture up, made sure ISO was at 100, shutter speed was as fast as possible, and lowered my exposure compensation.  The results were hit and miss, but I did learn some valuable lessons and got some decent shots.

    ISO 100, 50mm, 0EV, f/1.4, 1/2500
    ISO 100, 50mm, 0EV, f/1.4, 1/800
    ISO 100, 50mm, -1.7EV, f/1.4, 1/4000
    ISO 100, 50mm, 0EV, f/1.4, 1/2500
    ISO 100, 50mm, 0EV, f/1.4, 1/1000

    Lessons Learned about Depth of Field:

    • The closer you are to the subject, the easier it is to achieve a shallow DoF.
    • The further your background is from your subject the easier it is to achieve blurry backgrounds.
    • Bright light is the enemy of a low f-stop, but can be managed.

    13 October 2011

    Sun, set the Table for Dinner...Now!!!

    After having my arse handed to me trying to photograph the moon the other night (more on that in a later post) the following day I decided to chase the sunsets over Afghanistan.  I didn't find this terribly hard as far as the camera settings were concerned, but really struggled to find composition at first.  We have a distant mountain range that I thought would be a perfect setting, but my Canon EF 50mm prime f/1.4 USM  didn't quite have the reach I wanted and the pics really had to be cropped down to be any good.  So, the following day my tactics changed and I went with my Canon EF-S 18-135 f/3.5-5.6.  In addition to a zoom lens, I added a Tiffen circular polarizer (for what, I'm not sure, but I figured UV rays + filter...what the hell?).  As I discovered, it made next to no difference in my shots of the Blackhawk helicopter.  On both days I shot in Av (Aperture Value) or Aperture Priority Mode and snapped away each time adjusting the aperture from its widest to smallest in hopes that something would come out.  I'm sure this is not the most professional or expedient of methods, but hey, I'm learning, and the best way to learn is to try...and fail.   I will admit though that the best pics turned out somewhere in the middle apertures (f/7-18), depending on the lens, and at what point the sun was at in its setting.

    50mm, ISO 250, f/18, 1/80. AWB
    36mm, ISO 100, f/7.1, 1/125

    Lessons Learned:

    • Polarizers don't seem to do much for this type of scene.
    • Mess with settings (mostly aperture) A LOT to see what works best, including white balance.
    • Look around to find the best composition and find cool silhouettes.
    • Sunsets have a very VERY short window of opportunity(~5 minutes) - be ready and in place.
    • Clouds are a great way to add character to the shot as they allow the light to reflect quite beautifully.

    11 October 2011

    Lightning Not Lighting

    Over the weekend I made an impromptu trip 90 miles north of my normal location in Afghanistan and lucky for me I had my DSLR and the rainy season decided to show up early.  I was headed back to get some rest at around 2200 (10PM for you civilian types) from the other side of camp and noticed some pretty gnarly lightning off in the distance and figured it to be a perfect chance to try my lightning photography skills (or lack thereof).  My first instinct as it was very dark was to try bulb with the aperture set as low as possible to suck in as much light as was available.  In this case I was shooting my Canon 50mm f/1.4 USM so I left it wide open at f/1.4 with a 5 second shutter speed...what a train wreck that was!!!  With all the ambient lighting from vehicles, buildings, flood lights, etc, the pictures were washed out with no semblance of a nighttime environment.  In addition, my depth of field was very shallow and not much was in focus.  I stopped down to f/13 tried a few shots and eventually settled on f/22 and snapped away.  An hour later, 250-300 shots, and right before the rain came pouring down, I was able to capture about 10 decent shots.  Below are a some of the shots:

    Lessons Learned:

    • Even dark can be light...watch the ambient lights and adjust your stops accordingly.
    • Learn how Aperture Priority (Av) Shutter Priority (Tv) and Manual Mode (M) work for your camera.  I could only adjust shutter AND aperture in Manual Mode on my Canon T3i.
    • Use your surroundings for tripods.  I forgot mine, so set my camera on top of a concrete IDF bunker and used my head scarf to aim the lens.
    • When doing bulb shots, either use a shutter remote (which I did not have with me), or set a 2 second delay self-timer so you don't shake the camera while pressing the button (believe me, it looks horrible).
    • Always be ready!!! I took my camera even with no idea what I was going to shoot and I got lucky with this unbelievable lightning storm.

    06 October 2011

    Step 2: Unpack Contents & Read Instructions...You Want Me to Put What Where?!?!

    50mm, ISO 100, F/1.4, 1/4000
    My package arrived a few days ago from B&H Photo and I can already tell I am in way over my head with this endeavor.  The camera manual is a cool 323 pages long and there are more menus, buttons, and knobs than you can shake a stick at.  Over the next week or two I am going to get more intimate with the settings on the camera, all the while refusing to use the "Automatic" setting.  My focus will be on understanding what happens in different conditions when adjusting the aperture, ISO, shutter speed, exposure compensation, etc.  I already have a list of the types of shots I will focus on for each blog post: Depth of Field (Bokeh), Bulb/Night, Sunset/Sunrise, Light Painting, Movement, Macro, Low Light, Portal.  I'm sure more will come up, but I think the list will be quite an undertaking considering my complete lack of knowledge.  Keep in mind that these photos will not be processed through Photoshop and will basically be fresh from the camera.

    23 September 2011

    Step 1: Buy Camera

    Done, done, and done.  So after much deliberation, research, and advice, I recently purchased a Canon T3i DSLR camera.  Along with the body, I also got a couple lenses: Canon EF-S 18-135 f/3.5-5.6 & a Canon EF 50mm prime f/1.4 USM.  I will be honest, I have ZERO photography experience, so this process will have a rather large learning curve while I learn the ins and outs of more "manual" style photography.  I am  used to the point and shoot style cameras where I let the camera do the thinking; now I will have to learn how to adjust aperture (f/stop), ISO, shutter speed, white balance, etc. on my own.  I look forward to this experience and will bring you along on my journey into the world of DSLR photography by posting my latest attempts into bokeh,  bulb, and any of the other techniques I stumble across.


    Now if only I could speed up the mail process over here in Afghanistan and get the camera in my hands more quickly...oh yeah, I guess I forgot to mention that I am here.  Sometimes I forget, just kidding, I never do, this place has a way of constantly reminding you that you are not in friendly territory.