On Saturday, I and my family went to the Miramar Air Show. On Sunday, we went to a two-year-old's birthday party. I took pictures at both. What did I learn from the comparison? Here's what: things that aren't moving are easy to take pictures of, things that are moving (like kids) are somewhat difficult to take pictures of, and things that are moving very fast (like jet fighters) are very difficult to take pictures of. Especially when you don't know which direction they're coming from and which direction they're going.
Thus, here's a picture of a WWII-era plane that was on display at the air show. One that wasn't moving at all.
Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 18-55mm DX lens, in aperture priority exposure mode. Focal length 28mm, aperture f/8, shutter 1/800 sec, ISO 200. Post-processing in Aperture 3: Used a curve to set black and white points and add contrast, bumped vibrancy, added edge sharpening.
Thoughts for improvement: It's not bad for what it is, but it would be much better if there were another element to add some kind of tension or contrast to the image.
Fire in the Sky
Tuesday morning--like most weekday mornings--I was getting Jason's breakfast ready as Juliette was on her way out the door to go to work. The door had scarcely closed behind her when she came back in and said "Come out here and look." Through the open garage door I was greeted by this explosion of color as the sun came up over the hills. I just stood there and gaped at it for a few seconds before rushing to grab my camera out of the trunk of my car. In the space of the few minutes it took me to get my camera, switch lenses, and snap a few frames, the light had already changed and the brilliant orange color faded to gold and then to yellow. I missed the best colors, but fortunately I was able to catch a few shots that were almost as good.
Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 55-200mm VR DX lens, in manual exposure mode. Focal length 65mm, aperture f/16, shutter 1/60 sec, ISO 200. Post-processing in Aperture 3: Daylight WB preset, cropped out some on the left and bottom, curves to recover highlights, deepen shadows, and intensify the color a bit.
Thoughts for improvement: What I would have loved is to be able to get this shot from up on my roof with a much wider angle. Either that or to have been in the back yard of my neighbor across the street, whose yard opens up onto a canyon. As it was, from ground level in my own driveway I had to settle for a much narrower angle of view, which unfortunately doesn't portray the same feeling of majesty that the entire scene had.
Edged With Gold
Sunday morning, I was walking back to the campsite after finishing up at the lakeshore when I was struck by how the rising sun was shining through the trees. I had already been taking pictures longer than I had intended--I'd told Juliette I'd be "just a few minutes" but ended up crouching by the waterside for probably 20 minutes--but even so I had to stop and look at the light. I probably stood there shooting for a good five minutes or so, but eventually I overheard my friend James say "No, he's right over there" and realized it was time to finish up.
Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 18-55mm DX lens, in manual exposure mode. Focal length 55mm, aperture f/22, shutter 1/30 sec, ISO 200. Post-processing in Aperture 3: Daylight WB preset, crop to 4x5, curves to recover highlights and increase midtones.
Thoughts for improvement: I'm actually pretty happy with this one. I'm still not sure how to coax a nice, defined sunstar out of the lenses I use, but I still like the way the sunbeams look in this image, even though there is also a bit of ghosting. I particularly like how the sunlight adds some separation to the leaves in the foreground, so they still stand out distinctly even against the dark and somewhat busy background. If I'm being really nitpicky, there's a little strand of what looks like spiderweb hanging between two of the leaves at the top right, which I probably should have brushed away before taking the shot. And then I guess I might also prefer if the sun were just a tiny bit more to the right, but keeping the same crop and placement of the subject.
This weekend, Juliette and I took Jason on his very first camping trip. Along with our friends James and Melanie (who brought their daughter along for her first camping trip, as well) we headed over to Lake Morena, in east San Diego county, for a little overnight excursion. We went on some walks, had a nice campfire, and Jason got to rub dirt all over his face. (At one point he looked like a little chimneysweep.)
It turns out that going on a camping trip with a two-year-old doesn't provide a lot of opportunities for taking pictures--most of my time was spent making sure Jason wasn't eating rocks or throwing dirt at his friend. I did finally get a chance just after sunrise on Sunday morning, while Juliette took Jason to give him his breakfast. As you can see, the lake is quite picturesque at that time of the morning.
Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 18-55mm DX lens, in manual exposure mode. Focal length 18mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 1/30 sec, ISO 200. Post-processing in Aperture 3: Straightened horizon, cropped to 4x5, daylight WB preset, slight s-curve for contrast, brought the black point way up to darken the bottom of the frame, burned over the sky and the bright parts of the hills, dodged over the shadowy parts of the hills and reflection.
Thoughts for improvement: You know, I was really happy with this photo when I finished with it last night, but the more I look at it, the less happy I'm becoming. I think that this would look better in a narrower crop, probably 2x3 instead of 4x5. That would give more of a feeling of length and also cut out some of the hills on the right side, which now look unbalanced to me. Also, I shouldn't have brought up the black point quite so much. I do like the feeling of darkness at the bottom to balance the brightly-lit hills, but there's too much of it. The bottom third of the frame is entirely without detail, and it feels like wasted space. Actually, both problems could be solved with a shorter, more narrow crop, but with the camera I use, I don't have the resolution to spare.
This one comes from the group shoot last month with the San Diego DSLR club. Right next to the famous Belmont Park amusement park in Mission Beach is the Wave House--an outdoor bar that includes two huge wave pools for boogey boarding and surfing. My friends, Shawn and Andy, pointed it out to me, and I immediately busted out my telephoto lens and took a position near the edge of one of the pools. Many of the people that went in were obviously beginners, which made for some amusing wipeouts, but one or two knew what they were doing. This guy was one of the latter.
Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 55-200mm VR DX lens, in aperture priority mode. Focal length 150mm, aperture f/5.6, shutter 1/125 sec, ISO 900. Post-processing in Aperture 3: pushed exposure to the max and added a strong curve to drop the shadows and midtones while maintaining the highlights. (It looks like there is some vignetting, but the darkness you see around the edges has more to do with the way the artificial lights were actually striking the wave area.)
Thoughts for improvement: I actually like this shot quite a bit. The only reason I didn't pick it the first time around is because although it's a pretty good action shot, it doesn't really speak to me much in terms of atmosphere or storytelling. Technically speaking, this would probably have been much better if I had a fast telephoto lens and a camera with better high-ISO performance, that way I could have operated with a much faster shutter speed and captured the water with less blur and grain. Working within the limitations of my gear as it is, though, I think this is pretty good. Possibly a different crop would be better.
Can I Have Some?
I didn't manage to get out for a shoot this past weekend, so for the next few days I'll be posting a few "B-sides" from previous weeks--photos that I liked but that didn't make the first cut.
This is another from the weekend before last, when Juliette and I took a walk down the Mission Beach boardwalk. About halfway into our walk, we passed by a funny pair having a conversation from adjacent patios. One was a middled-aged woman who was chatty, happy, and completely blitzed. The other was this guy. What caught my eye was the way the dog here was so completely intent on the rib his master was eating--anybody who's ever eaten around a dog is familiar with that body language.
Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 55-200mm VR DX lens, in manual exposure mode. Focal length 116mm, aperture f/5.6, shutter 1/1000 sec, ISO 200. Post-processing in Aperture 3: Red Filter BW preset, cropped to a closer composition, curves for highlight recovery and contrast, dodged over the dog, burned the background and the man's hat. Also applied some burning on the man's shirt to try to make the dog stand out a bit more.
Thoughts for improvement: I liked the moment here a lot, but the reason it didn't make the cut the first time around is because the angle is pretty poor. Because I have the dog and man lined up on the same axis as the camera, the edges of the dog's head get lost against the background of his shirt. That, in turn, loses much of the expressiveness of the tilt of the dog's head. What would have been much better would be to either get much closer and lower--so as to both decrease the depth of field and to put the dog's head against a more contrasted background--or to bring them off-axis from one another. The latter is probably the better choice, as it would also allow you to see the dog's facial expression, plus there wouldn't be an umbrella right behind the man's head.
Headed back to the car, I noticed this kid climbing up to look over the little wall separating the boardwalk from the beach. He must have gotten stuck, though, because by the time we walked past him he was calling for his dad.
Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 55-200mm VR DX lens, in manual exposure mode. Focal length 175mm, aperture f/5.6, shutter 1/1000 sec, ISO 200. Post processing in Aperture 3: applied Daylight WB preset, a bump to vibrancy and a bit of edge sharpening, strong curve to increase tone and contrast, and dodged over the boy's face and arms.
Thoughts for improvement: There are a bunch of distracting elements right behind the boy's head, including what appears to be the top of his dad's hat. This would definitely be better without those. The sky is also kind of boring, and I've put the horizon right at the middle of the frame, which isn't terribly interesting. I should probably have cropped this lower.
This guy was one of the volunteers at the Celebrate Dance festival last weekend. When we first got to the stage area, I noticed him walking around with a donations box. Later, he sat down to watch the performances near where Juliette, Jason, and I were sitting, and the reflections in his sunglasses caught my eye.
Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 55-200mm VR DX lens, in aperture priority exposure mode. Focal length 200mm, aperture f/5.6, shutter 1/320 sec, ISO 200. Post-processing in Aperture 3. My goal with the processing was to isolate the subject from the background, add a little more texture and pop, and make the reflection stand out. First, I used the Daylight white balance preset, then I reduced the saturation (0.81) and vibrancy (-0.1). I then used a curve to darken the shadows just a touch and bump up the midtones and highlights, also bringing in the white point a little. I then applied a reasonably heavy burn (0.6) to the background, then a medium dodge (0.4) to the highlights on the subject, and a light burn (0.1) to the shadows on the subject. To make the sunglasses pop a little more, I used the Intensify Contrast brush just on the lenses, with a relatively light setting (0.3). Finally, I added a little bit of edge sharpening.
Thoughts for improvement: I wish his elbow weren't cut off, but other than that I'm pretty happy with this one.
This was one of the last shots I took during our trip to Balboa Park this weekend. This woman crossed the walkway right in front of us, and the combination of her umbrella, clothes, hair, and makeup turned both my head and Juliette's. I snapped several shots in a hurry as she walked by; I like this one the best because of the moment of recognition evident on her face.
Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 55-200mm VR DX lens, in aperture priority exposure mode. Focal length 200mm, aperture f/5.6, shutter 1/160 sec, ISO 200. Here again I did a fair amount of post-processing in Aperture 3. The original had a much brighter background and darker subject, so I bumped the exposure and recovery (each +1). I then reduced the overall brightness (-0.5). Then I added a strong bump to midtones using a curves adjustment and brushed that in over the woman and umbrella. To help isolate her from the background, I pulled back the saturation (0.8) and vibrancy (-.2) and applied that to the background and the man in the foreground. Then I burned the background and the man and dodged over the woman and umbrella. I wanted the background even darker, so I used the vignette tool (intensity 0.7, radius 0.92) and brushed it into just the top and right side. Finally, I used the Intensify Contrast brush on the umbrella to bring out the tones a bit more.
Thoughts for improvement: I still need to work on getting the exposure right the first time so I don't need to do as much work afterwards. I think I may have actually overdone the post-processing here--it looks a little too played-with.
I Love You, Too
I mentioned before that we went out to Balboa Park on Sunday afternoon in order to let me shoot. Despite the fact that the light wasn't great and I couldn't get a good angle on any of the actual dance performances, and even despite the fact that I didn't really get any particularly great shots, it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable and interesting shoots I've done recently.
They say that photography is the art of seeing. For me, what that has meant is really being aware of what's going on around me. As I've developed my eye, I've found that I'm nearly always composing a shot in my mind, and I've started noticing interesting people and things everywhere.
What was really great about this shoot was that for the first time, I felt like Juliette and I were on the same wavelength. Oftentimes, I'm paying attention to the photographic possibilities while she's paying attention to what we're actually doing, which can lead to us clashing a bit. (I don't blame her, either. A few weeks ago someone at a party said to me "It must be nice to have a photographer in the family," to which I replied, "Well, it's nice to have the photos, but it's also nice to have a husband who's actually involved in what's happening instead of just taking pictures of it.") This time, though, she seemed to be seeing the scene the same way I was, even surprising me by pointing something out at the exact moment I had noticed it.
That's what happened with this photo. We were headed back to the car and noticed this mom and her son walking just ahead of us, and we both recognized the moment simultaneously. Juliette had just started to turn to tell me to snap the photo, only to find me already sinking to one knee to get the angle.
There are a lot of ways to feel close to your spouse, but I particularly love times like that where our thoughts and awareness seem to be completely in tune. I'm smiling now just thinking about it.
Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 55-200mm VR DX lens, in aperture priority mode. Focal length 86mm, aperture f/4.5, shutter 1/4000 sec, ISO 200. I did a fair amount of post-processing in Aperture 3: first I applied the Daylight WB preset, then bumped the exposure (+1) and recovery (+1). The sky was way overexposed, so I brushed in a curves adjustment over the sky, pulled way down. I then used the Orange Filter B&W conversion preset. I dodged the mom and son, then burned the entire ground. Finally, I added some vignetting (intensity .51, radius 1.01), mainly to change the focus of the lighting.
Thoughts for improvement: The main thing here is that there was way too much contrast in the scene for a good exposure--I was shooting almost directly into the sun, so the sky is very bright and the subjects were in shadow. I ended up splitting the difference, mainly trying to avoid blowing out the sky and figuring I could brighten up the subjects in post, but it might have been better to shift brighter in camera, instead, as the subjects are still pretty dark. There are also some halos around the treetops and the tower that resulted from brushing in the curves adjustment, which I couldn't get rid of. Finally, I wish I had gotten just a slightly better angle so that the top of the tower weren't cut off.