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.