Wednesday, December 30, 2009

RAW, higher ISOs, landscapes

We'll be traveling again this weekend, and I plan to use the time off to experiment with a few more things on my XT.

1. Shooting in RAW. I keep forgetting to try this! It may actually take a quick look in my manual to learn how to change over to RAW format.
2. Higher ISOs. I tried ISO 800 over Christmas, which I think could have given pretty excellent results had I some good noise-reducing software (need to look into prices for that). But I'd like to also try 1600... "just to see." I'm curious!
3. Landscapes at large apertures. It's been several months now since I've really given thought to shooting with my old kit lens. Since it has the widest angle of the two, it's my only option. One reason for experimenting with this is to see if I would really get some use out of an ultra-wide-angle lens (like the EF-S 10-22). Another reason is to see if there's any way I could justify a full-frame purchase (a used 5d is the only one I'd be able to get my hands on).
4. Shallow DOF. Another experiment that could partly justify a full-frame purchase. Also, it's cool!

Results to follow.

(It's nice having this free time to use for photo experiments -- otherwise it'd be for schoolwork, likely!)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Photographing family

So, my prime did well over the holidays. However, shooting with an SLR gives you a handicap right out of the gate. People notice you & your camera. You wear it around your neck, and everybody says something to you about it. It's hard to get a candid. A longer zoom would help with that, but most long zooms don't have as low an f-stop as my prime, which means they wouldn't be as useful to me. Plus, even with IS, a longer focal length means more shake is likely. At least the prime is a shorter lens... slightly less obtrusive.

I gave my cousin Dave my Polaroid for Christmas. He took it out of the box and promptly shot off almost an entire casing of film, ha. I'm just glad he likes it. I'll miss it, but I honestly never use it anymore. It's kind of a hassle to bring along most places. But it's a neat little machine, and it makes pictures with character.

This was shot at ISO 800, f/1.8, and a shutter speed of 1/40. I was shooting quickly -- I could have taken a little more time to make sure the focus was right on, but I didn't, and it shows. Ah, well.

My prime lens did so much better in Gran's living room than the silly kit lens. Even with low, uneven lighting. This was also shot at ISO 800, f/1.8, shutter speed 1/40:

I changed the white balance significantly on those first two. The "auto"-white balance on my XT actually kind of sucks -- pretty much every single indoor photo is way off (too golden). Although, shooting with my new lens was fun because another cousin of mine just got a Nikon D3000, and he has no idea what his camera is capable of. He was wondering how I was shooting without a flash and actually getting good photos. So I got to explain a little bit about f-stops and what a "fast lens" is. Not sure he'll retain any of it, but it was fun.

This last one was taken in the bowling alley. I did very little post-processing for it other than cropping. Specs are ISO 800, f/2.5, and a shutter speed of 1/80:

I'm glad I remembered to try out some higher ISO shots. As you can see, this one came out really well. Just a little bit of noise when viewed full-size. I probably could fix it completely if I got some noise-reducing software like dFine. I should have tried a few at 1600, but maybe next time. All in all, I'm really proud of my little XT! Should have some more opportunities this coming weekend to experiment further with ISO.

Friday, December 18, 2009, flash

This shot of Mer from the last post ...

... could have been much better if I had utilized some flash equipment.

I am learning so much. And I have found my place on the web. The forums at have already helped me immensely with decisions about gear and post-processing techniques, and of course all of the reviews are really nice. I've made a wish list, which is probably a bad thing. In order (I think):

1. EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5 (goes for about $720 on Amazon now)
2. an upgraded crop body (details below)
3. EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 (going for about $990 on Amazon now)
4. a longer zoom (this is so far in the future that I'm not spending time thinking about it now, ha)

I've pretty much decided that I'll stick with crop bodies for a while. Full-frame bodies are expensive, heavy, and offer advantages that I'll probably not even use (at least for many years, if ever!). Though the one thing that appeals to me about them is the fact that the larger sensors mean that those bodies perform better in low light. However, I think I can get more than adequate performance with crop bodies, good lenses, and the right exposure settings, so saving money by staying with crops is definitely the plan.

I'm interested in the 50d and 7d now, but if they come out with a "60d" (thanks, in the next 6-8 months, that could be a definite possibility. My must-haves are:

1. excellent ISO performance at higher ISOs
2. at least 10-12mp (which pretty much all cameras have now)
3. an improved AF system (read about some problems with the 7d here, which is no good)

Also, to go back to my first point about the photo of Mer ... I obviously need to invest some time and money into learning about flash. Most will say that the on-board flash is useless in almost all situations, which I tend to agree with, unless of course you're shooting on Auto and just want a quick snapshot to record something specific. So, that means I'll need an external. Speedlite? Much more research to do in that dept., and some equip. there should definitely be on my Wish List.

I should have named this The Blog About How I Spend All My Money.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

50mm prime at night

We went to see the National Christmas tree over the weekend. I took the 50mm to see how it did at night. The results were mixed, but I have a feeling that's partly because of the operator ;) I think some of them were lucky shots, but I learned a lot.

I didn't use flash on any of the shots. I put the specs above each. I realized when taking note of all the specs that I should have tried to up the ISO on some of them. Why not? Test the Rebel XT and see what it can really do. If I'm trying to figure out which body to upgrade to, I need to know where my current equipment is lacking.

First, Ye old tree. It was a little... lumpy-looking. And it had a growth on its side at the bottom, ha. Let's just say, a little less than impressive. But it was fun to see the tree for each state/territory, and lots of the buildings in the district were decorated as well, so that was cool. And there was a yule log! Specs: 1/160, F1.8, ISO 400:

M&J were great sports and put up with my many attempts at photos of them. I'm also pleased with this one, though there's a bit of blur when blown up (camera shake, I'm sure). If I could re-do this shot, I would up the ISO to 800 and see if I could have stopped down a little while still allowing a faster shutter speed, which hopefully would have resulted in less blur. Ah. This was taken right beside the big tree. The smaller tree behind them is the one for Virginia. Specs: 1/5, f2.2, ISO 400:

You can't really see them, but there were two Christmas trees on the "back porch" of the White House, on either side of the door. Specs: 1/60, f1.8, ISO 400:

This was back at M&J's place, with their lovely Christmas tree in the background! Specs: 1/40, f2.5, ISO 800:

Had to give this shot a try. I love M's reflection on the shiny part of the ornament. Specs: 1/50, f2.5, ISO 800:

Then M got super-excited about my camera and we ran around her house pulling interesting-looking things off the shelves to shoot. The chess set did well -- some of hers are even better than this one :) Specs: 1/10, f3.5, ISO 800:

Their black dining table made for some nice reflections.

Overall, I'm fairly pleased with how the lens did outdoors at night -- as long as there was enough light to light my subject even just a little bit, I could usually get the shot. I realize I could definitely have done much better with it if I had some flash equipment (& the knowledge to use it), but I'm not into night photography enough to make the purchase(s) worth it. Besides, I already know what lens I want next, which is bad, because it'll be a little while before I can afford another one :)

Fun weekend!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


So, the white balance is off in the images from the last post. But I'm too lazy to post the color-corrected versions.

Also, here's a shot at f/4.0, ISO 200, with a much faster shutter speed. The sun was shining in through the windows Sunday morning after all of the snow we got on Saturday. The cat in the background is just an added bonus -- she walked into my frame! Guess she has a little bit of "diva" in her after all ;)

Talk about tack-sharp! I'm pleased.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

More images from the 50mm

So, I have some new images from the 50mm. These were all taken with manual focus, at the suggestion of a friend.

Specs for this one:
f/2.8, ISO 400, exposure time 1/6

Specs for the one below:
f/2.8, ISO 400, exposure time 1/5

Specs for the one below:
f/3.5, ISO 200, exposure time 0.6 secs
This one was also lit by a lamp from above and slightly behind the scene.

Specs for this last one:
f/3.5, ISO 200, exposure time 1/3
In addition to the lamp from above, I also added another lamp (relatively low light) that I placed behind me and to my left, shining directly on the blue book.

I think the first blue book photo looks better than the second one, with the additional light. I probably could have messed with the settings more on the last one, but my camera battery died pretty much right after I took this picture. Bah!

In general, I find them all sharper than the two images in the previous post. I think the manual focus helped, but also, the f-stop on them all is at least more than twice. The ISO is also up. Win, win :)

More images to come, I'm sure! This lens is awesome!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

New lens: Canon EF 50mm f/1.4

The lens has arrived. I got a chance to take a few shots of one of our foster cats tonight. One disappointment in these photos is the lack of sharpness I thought I'd see. However, I think that's because the focus is off in both of these, and I think that's because I had the lens wide open. I did read in reviews that it's a little soft wide open. I think it was also having trouble focusing because of all the fur, the whiskers, etc. I was pretty close to her, too.

Neither of these shots really highlight it, either, but the bokeh with this lens is, as advertised, amazing. I can't wait to get it in some different conditions and see what it can do. I hope to have a much better handle on these indoor, low-lit shots by the time Christmas is here so I can take some good photos of my family.

On another note, kitty is cute! More from this lens soon...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

New lens

Well folks, I've found the next lens I want to invest in.

This is the Canon EF 50mm 1.4 USM. And it's perfect. I would "ask" for it for Christmas, but I want to be able to actually use it over the holidays (after having some time to get used to it), so I'm hoping to find a sweet Black Friday deal this weekend. The sample images I've seen from it online are just heavenly.

For example, this one, taken from the customer images page on the Amazon page for the lens:

I think that's all that really needs to be said.

I am always complaining that I can't take good photos at Christmas when we're all in Gran's living room opening presents. And that's because the living room is lit with warmest light from six different not-very-bright lamps all joining forces. My photos from past years are almost always blurry and not well-lit. Almost every single person who's reviewed this lens says that it's great in indoor, low-lit situations. That's exactly what I need, which is why [I guess] I'm willing to shell out the $300-something it'll cost for it.

Crossing my fingers for a sweet Black Friday deal...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Ch- ch- ch- changes

So, we're married, and everything went awesome. I'm not posting any wedding photos, because I didn't take any! ;)

But here are some from Napa Valley.

There were many, many chances to take the obligatory vine-heavy-with-grapes shot, and this is one of my favorites. I will admit, though, that after a while, all of the perfectly straight rows of grape vines definitely begin to look alike!

I love this shot, but I realized when I got them on my computer that the coloring is really off here. Huge bummer. It's confusing, too, because I'm pretty sure I had the white balance on "daylight," but we had just come from inside the winery, so I could be wrong. I especially love that the bottle is empty, and glass is just a little bit full. Really captures a moment, I think.

We took a hike in the mountains on the west side of the valley halfway through the week, and this shot was sheer luck. It's cropped out of a much larger shot, but I think it retained quality pretty well. I love his shadow on the ground, and the tips of his wings blend in perfectly with the forest floor! It's actually hard to tell at first what the photo is of, I think.

When I got this shot onto my computer, I started wondering how I could have made the building and trees darker, more silhouette-ish. I wonder if most photographers do that in post-processing? Or what setting should I have changed to get that effect... The F-stop? Bah. I'll have to try something like this again soon.

I took of bunch of shots in this mustard garden out in front of a restaurant where we had lunch. I loved the sticks they posted that said what was planted where.

The holidays are coming up, which means lots of family photos (probably won't post those here), but hopefully I'll still get some creative opportunities. Maybe snow will be involved...

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Lake, focus

So, this will probably be a long post. I've missed about a month, I guess, so consider it make-up time.

Here are some pictures from my recent trip to the lake house. Jack's waving hand is my favorite in this one, but I wish the rest of the photo had come out clearer:

I experimented with Kirsten's sunglasses that she left on the edge of the dock:

Again. And I think the reason this one isn't as pleasing to the eye as the first and the last ones is because there are too many layers of unfocused background behind the in-focus dock in the foreground. I think if the glasses were sitting against a plain background, focusing on the foreground would look better.

I think this one (below), or the first one, is my favorite. If I knew how, I would play around with black & white and the yellow of the glasses -- b&w everything except for yellow, probably. I need to invest in Photoshop, I guess!

Behold! Kirsten and the Golden Fork:

The wedding is five weeks away, so I doubt you'll see much more of me til then. But I expect some great photo opportunities from the Napa Valley honeymoon!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Still no images

I've been busy the last few weeks with my summer class and everything else, so I haven't been able to get my camera out lately. But I did write a fun little poem in class last night while I was zoning out, so I'll share that. No title.

In silent nights with ill-lit ceilings
and heavy air,
we move through neighborhoods
smiling at night cats and children at windows
or under blankets with flashlights,

sharing walls with their mothers 
whose pearls are in boxes 
on dressers and bureaus.

The heat moves down streets
and through windows and door frames,
sliding blankets off mothers
and fathers and children,

but those at the windows are
watching us plunder
their streets for our penance,

we children at windows
with mothers and lovers.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Nothing new

I didn't have time to take any photos last weekend, but hopefully I'll be able to catch up this weekend.

This photo was taken at the farmhouse last year; it's Gus the black cat. I love the boots behind him.

If I could re-take this photo, I would zoom in a bit (keeping most of the boots in the frame), maybe shoot from a little lower angle, and blur the background more. But I do like the photo okay as it is.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Blackberries, white balance

So, I figured out why my photos from last weekend were blue-tinted. I had the white balance set for fluorescent lights! I'm such an idiot. We went for a little walk yesterday, and after I figured that out (with the help of cheating off the Auto settings), I finally switched to "daylight" and was good to go.

The Auto setting is actually really helpful for that. While I'm learning, it's nice to be able to see what settings are chosen for the Auto setting, then that gives me an idea of what numbers I should play around with on Manual. I learned that when there is more sunlight, the F-stop should be somewhere around 12, 13, or 14, with an ISO of 250, 320 (I think -- trying to remember!), and when you're in the shade, or if the sun goes behind clouds, the F-stop is better set somewhere between 7 or 8 or so.

I don't have an excellent example of the difference because I only uploaded the better pictures. My EOS Utility function seems to have developed a glitch -- it freezes up after a certain amount of time, so I have to upload 28-30 photos at a time, shut it down, then start it up again and upload another batch.

But anyway, here's a photo of a blackberry tree branch at F-stop 16, ISO 400, shutter speed 1/500:

Here's a similar shot at F-stop 13, ISO 400, shutter speed 1/320:

We found this blackberry tree(?) behind the elementary school -- I'd only ever seen blackberry bushes before, so that was interesting. That dark mass on the right side of the puddle in the photo below is blackberries. Most of the ripe ones had already fallen, but we still picked a few.

Tried a few shots on the macro setting, but I haven't worked with that a lot yet, so they don't look too exciting.

I'm eager to get these basics down so I can spend more time using the settings in interesting ways to create effects. But this weekend was a breakthrough, haha. When we went into Maggie Moos to get ice cream, I took some photos of the ice cream cones and tubs, but I forgot to change the white balance to an indoor setting. None of those photos turned out very well. Sigh. But I guess my lesson has been learned: Always check your white balance ;)

Thursday, June 4, 2009


Here's a question: How was I able to take photos like this -- a scene with fast movement, shot in the rain from the bank of the river -- with my 3.2 megapixel Canon point-and-shoot?

Granted it's not perfect, but it's pretty damn good considering the circumstances. And actually, now that I'm looking at it again, I think it's the composition that makes me like this photo so much. I love the four people in black sitting on the bench, and I managed to get them with their oars skimming over the water, which is neat (even though you can see that they're not completely in sync -- a-hem, on the left).

I think composition is actually what I like most about photography. I can appreciate lots of different types of photos, but a macro of a flower with vivid colors and an interesting focal point --

-- will just never appeal to me as much as a photo like this:

Granted that last one is a NatGeo image, and I stalk their website for gorgeous photos all the time, but the giraffes are just more interesting, which is how I want people to describe my own photos.

I also want to note that I found the flower macro via Microsoft's new search, Bing. Does anyone else feel like it's pretty much Google incarnate, with a more interesting landing page? I must say, though, there are a couple of things about the image search that I like -- when you click on an image, it shows you the website that the image is from along with the bar across the top, like Google does, linking you back to the search page, but it also shows a bar across the left side, showing you the image results vertically. Pretty nifty.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

May play day

Taken on Saturday, when we ran outside mid-day to enjoy the beautiful weather! I'm still struggling with some of the manual setting with my Rebel XT; I like to learn this stuff by trial and error, but it's nice to go into it at least knowing what you're going to try.

After we can in and I uploaded the photos, I figured out that I was changing the ISO and the shutter speed, but I wasn't changing the F-stop.

It was a very sunny day, and we were outside between noon and two p.m., so the sun really was at its brightest. All of my photos turned out with a blue tint -- the temperature was off on all of them, not warm enough. I adjusted the photo above by maxing out the temp. to the warmest setting because I liked the effect. But it's not very natural-looking, of course. I'm still not sure what I should have changed to fix that while shooting, though, and of course I don't want all my photos to turn out that way, so I clearly have some research to do!

Friday, May 29, 2009

The edges


"I think the best pictures are often on the edges of any situation, I don't find photographing the situation nearly as interesting as photographing the edges."

--William Albert Allard, "The Photographic Essay"

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Four months

I'm getting married in four months at this lovely location.

I was wondering tonight why we feel the need to talk about ourselves as often as we do. This cannot be (it isn't) as interesting to other people as we think it will be.

However, almost everyone can appreciate an interesting photograph, so there's a compromise.

I came across this anonymous quote -- "You don't take a photograph. You ask, quietly, to borrow it." -- that I thought was nicely put.

All the photographs here are taken by me, unless I cite otherwise. They likely won't be anything to be too proud of, but there you go. :)