Sunday, January 31, 2010

Second big snow

We had our second big snow of the season yesterday. Snowed all day, from about 9 a.m. until 5 or 6 p.m. Only accumulated maybe four or five inches, though. I went out this morning to take a few shots -- the sun is really shining bright.

I have re-decided (ha!) to get the 85 f/1.8. So I did a little DOF experiment with the tree branch below. I wonder which f-stop the 1.8 of the 85mm will be comparable to on the 50mm. I'm sure there's an equation that would let me figure it out, but adding 35 mms will probably mean that the 85's 1.8 will look something like the 50's 1.6, or maybe 1.4?

So the four shots below were taken in sequence, the first at f/1.6, the second at f/2, the third at f/2.5, and the last one at f/3.2:

Obviously I like the bokeh in the first photo the best -- I think it's pretty gorgeous, actually. However, I think the tree limb looks best in the third and fourth photos. If I were to try this again, I'd stand so that the limb was a little more parallel to me and take it at f/1.6 (or even 1.4) again -- that should keep more of the limb in focus, but still produce the lovely bokeh in the first shot.

The 85mm 1.8 is $379.95 (with free shipping) at B&H, which is probably where I'll buy it from. I ordered the 50mm from them, and it arrived really quickly. Seems that only L lenses come with hoods, which is kind of annoying. I know I should probably start investing in accessories like that.

I am also starting to slowly learn about filters and polarizers; we'll be at the beach this June, and I want to (1) keep my glass protected from the sand/salt, and (2) learn to take better coastal photos!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Come onnn, Feb. 9

Canon is supposed to make some announcements on February 9 about new DSLRs coming out this year and new lenses/upgrades.

I cannot wait.

First I thought I definitely wanted a 135L. Then I thought I wanted the 16-35L. Then I thought I wanted the 35L. Then yesterday, I was sure that I had decided on the 85 f/1.8. I decided to write this post because tonight, I seem to be wandering back over to the 135L camp.

I have a growing prime lens addiction, and I really want to see what a Canon "L" can do. I think my dilemma might be between quality and useful focal length. I was pretty sure about the 85 1.8 because it seems like the right next prime focal length for my kit; I think the 85 would be a nice prime for street portraits. However, I have read more good things about the 135L image quality than I can remember. And that little "L" is taunting me. I wonder what it can do for me?

My goal in the future might be to have the 35 / 85 / 135 combination. (Putting aside for a moment the fact that I've already "messed" that up with the 50 ;) ha!) Another consideration: If I stay with crop bodies, is that the best trio for me, or would it be better on full frame? If I stay with crop, could I do the 35 / 50 / 85?

Oh my.

Well, here's a shot I took on the street with the trusty 50:

I like this shot. However, it's about a 2/3 crop from the original photo, maybe 3/5. An 85mm focal length would have gotten me closer right out of the camera, right? Should I care that I can't afford the 85L? Should I go ahead and invest in primes that I can afford, figure out what focal lengths are most useful to me, then upgrade them to Ls as I get the money?

I'm too tired from that to even talk about camera bodies. 60D? Fast-forward thirteen days, please.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Photojournalism, B&W

So, I ran across this website today about social documentary. I was looking at this photo series that a man in Illinois did on homeless people, all in black and white, and I was thinking that I needed to experiment more with B&W.

Usually I love the look. I think I read once that B&W is a good treatment to use if the color in the color version doesn't add anything to the story (or maybe is not particularly exciting). I also think B&W treatment adds a certain drama to a photo, but that's not to say that color photos can't be dramatic, because they absolutely can, of course. I would also hazard to guess that good B&W landscapes are fewer and further between than good B&W portraits, still life, etc. I'm sure most photographers would say that they consider applying B&W on a case-by-case basis.

I happened to take a few photos of my friends the other night at their house (they may soon resent being friends with me if I keep posting photos of them!) that I thought looked better with a black and white treatment. But I'll also post the color version for comparison.


And the color version:

I liked B&W better for this photo for several reasons:

1. The color doesn't add anything.
2. In fact, I think the color detracts from the photo, partly because of that purple-ish TV glow resting on them.
3. I think M stands out more in the foreground in the B&W version.

I also want to experiment with treating some street photography in B&W. I'm thinking I might find it more appealing that way. There's something about a random street scene in color that looks like, well, a random street scene. For some reason (and I feel like this might be the mark of an amateur...?), a B&W street photograph looks more intentioned. Like it was meant to be.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


I wanted to talk about color for a minute, and also do a small test to see how colors are rendered on this blog versus the Lightroom software and my Smugmug page. So here's a picture of the flag, from last weekend, that has absolutely no post-processing (it doesn't need any! & at ISO 100 on a bright, sunny day with clear skies, it shouldn't!). Taken with the 75-300 IS:

It seems that colors are the most vibrant in Lightroom, not bad on the Smugmug site, but dulled a bit when posted here.

Here's one more from the waterfront last weekend, also with the 75-300 IS:

This photo was altered a little bit. I think the water looks good, but the four chairs are a little washed out, as is the railing I guess, just because it's white. The red deck doesn't look too bad.

Took some more indoor low-light photos last night at our friends' for dinner. Excited to see how those turned out. I'm trying to perfect photo-taking in that environment, since it's where I am so often. I meant to play around with fill flash a little more, but by the time I got around to it, Conan was coming on, and we all wanted to watch: what a great show.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tried the 75-300 IS

Over the long weekend I went out picture-taking with my friend Katie, and we switched lenses for a while to see what the grass was like on the other side. She tried my 50 prime, and I tried her 75-300mm f/4-5.6 IS.

It was my first time shooting with a lens with IS. I rather enjoyed the reach -- it was so strange and wonderful to be able to get up close and personal with people really far away. We called it the "paparazzi lens." We just went down to Old Town on a sunny day, and here's what I found.

All of the photos are at ISO 100. This was zoomed all the way to 300mm, at f/7.1. I like the bokeh in this shot (thanks to 300mm!):

So we walked down to the waterfront, which was really busy since it was such a nice day. This little family was so cute. I love the mom looking at her guidebook magazine. Also zoomed to 300mm, f/7.1:

Okay, last one. I like the idea of this photo. I do think it's bordering on the edge of creepy, though. And no, she's not in her house -- she's in a restaurant! The big seafood place down at the waterfront. So, it's kind of stalker-ish, but I like the idea that she's framed, literally, in a window frame.

Overall, I enjoyed using the lens. There were definitely lots of moments where I wanted a wider angle, but I did like the reach. It was amazing how close I could get. But that long reach really makes composition difficult. I'd see a nice scene on the other side of the street, and by the time I got the camera to my face, a car had pulled up and blocked my view. Or a bus. I found cars to be really annoying on this particular "shoot." I guess that's a potential problem with all street photography, but if I'd been using my 50mm, for example, I would have probably been shooting on my side of the street much more often. And actually, there were several instances when I was using my 50 but I still wanted a wider angle.

I'm still waiting for the Feb. 9 Canon announcements to decide what lens I'm getting next.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

More street scenes

I tried my hand at "street" photography for a second time yesterday on my lunch break. Although, these photos should probably be categorized as "architecture" since they have few to no people actually in them :) I'm still scared to get in strangers' faces with my camera. The first photo below is one of the only ones with people in it. Settings are ISO 100, f/5:

I liked the symmetry of the two figures on the L and the R. I would have taken the frame down to the sidewalk if I could have, but I was shooting with my 50mm, and when I backed up enough to get the sides and the top of the building in the frame, there were two parking meters right in the bottom center of the picture -- where the door is. So I cropped those out because they were ugly.

I also had no idea how the white of this building would look. I think I've done okay, but I don't really have much to go off of other than my own eye. As I said, I took these on my lunch break, so it was about noon, and the sun was high, clear sky. That light isn't excellent for most photography.

Here's another store front. There are some really interesting-looking (& colorful) buildings in Old Town.
Settings are ISO 100, f/5:

I think I may have gotten a little out of control when adjusting the red tones on this one. It's so hard to tell what a photo actually looks like when you're moving it from program to program, where colors are rendered differently. I had no idea what this would look like on the web.

Ah, well -- excuses, excuses, right? I processed all of these in Lightroom (the beta). I'm trying to remember to use Lightroom instead of DPP from now on because I want to decide if I'm going to buy the full version when the beta is yanked. I do like LR... I like the amount of control it gives you, even if that sometimes makes it difficult to know when to stop adjusting! And it has the "straighten" tool, which DPP doesn't offer for some reason. I use it a lot :)

Also, a Wish List update: I may have changed my mind about what lens I want next. I really want to replace that kit lens, no matter when I get a new camera body, so I might go for the EF 24-70 f2.8L next. It's currently $1,277 on I'm hoping to get it before March if I do end up going to NYC.

Monday, January 11, 2010

First try at street photography

I took the metro in to see my cousin on Sunday. I took my camera and went with the intention of forcing myself to try some real street photography -- candids of people in the street, store fronts, etc. But it was so freezing outside that I could barely walk from one building to the next without my fingers falling off (had on the fingerless gloves to leave them free to manipulate camera settings).

So anyway, I compromised by taking some photos in the metro. Here's one of the only shots I took of actual people -- there's something intimidating about photographing people that you don't know at such a close distance. It'll take some getting used to. It's at ISO 800, f2:

It's a reflection in the window. I then saw an even better composition, from directly behind them, and moved back a row of seats to get the entire scene in the frame, then someone promptly sat down right behind them -- in the way. Guess that's another peril of street photography. Bummer.

I enjoy looking at street photography, so I'm going to try my hand at it again when it's not so cold outside. I'll probably take my camera with me to work occasionally and try some shooting down in Old Town on my lunch break or something. I anticipate Old Town being quite a lucrative location. We'll see. First I need to see some temperatures above freezing!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

DOF, AF systems

I have somehow just gotten the ability to change the size of the images I post in here. I won't ask questions; I like it.

Went out for Italian with some friends from one of my study abroad groups back in undergrad. This is a photo of our appetizer, before it was completely devoured, taken at f/1.6, ISO 800:

I really like this shot (if I do say so myself, ha). I think the colors are good, and the addition of the hand & fork in the background is awesome. The lighting provided some nice highlights, but still fairly detailed "low lights." I'm pretty pleased. The f/1.6 didn't add a bad effect either ;)

This next photo is one of a series of three paintings we have above our couch. I was hoping that the DOF would look a little shallower, but I think I was coming at it from too straight of an angle, if I had shot at an upward angle from even lower, I think I would have seen more blur. But it's still cool. I do think the colors turned out particularly well. Does it have a greenish tint, I wonder? I try to be careful about that. This is at f/1.4, ISO 800:

The DOF looks a lot better on this photo. Also f/1.4, ISO 800:

I know lots of people take this boring "keyboard DOF" shot, but I had to try it.

My main interest when shooting these few shots was to see how the different AF focus points reacted -- I've been reading up on Canon's AF systems (not specifically the one in my camera, since it's a discontinued model). The center point is supposed to be cross-type, while the others aren't. I can't really exhibit these differences in the shots, but I can say that it was usually much harder to lock focus when I was using a point other than the center one.

I don't mind (technique-wise) using the center point every time and simply recomposing, but I wonder if recomposing can actually throw off the focus in some instances.

I'm particularly interested in this because I've become interested in the 5D Mark II as my body upgrade, and it seems that the only big complaint about that body is the "adolescent" focusing system --- still only the center focus point is cross-type (and high-precision).

Supposedly the cross-type focus points are most particularly helpful when tracking moving subjects (birds in flight, sports), which is why people are so excited about the 7D's focus system. But I really, really, really want a full-frame body. I wish the 5D2's AF was just a tad better. Ah well. We'll see what Canon announces in February. Maybe one of the new bodies will fit me better (at what cost?!).

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

RAW, ISO, landscapes, Part 2

So, I tried everything on my list from the last post except for experimenting with DOF.

1. Shooting in RAW: This was an adventure. I realized that when I opened the images after they had downloaded to my computer, that automatically triggered the opening of DPP (Digital Photo Professional), where I could edit the RAW images and convert them to JPEGs. DPP lacks some of the editing tools that I commonly use, especially the "straighten" tool, so I had to also open the photos in my beta version of Lightroom that I got a couple of weeks ago to finish up the editing. Had a heck of a time figuring out how to convert the edited RAW images from DPP to Lightroom to JPEGs in a folder on my desktop, but I think I get it now.

In shooting RAW, I noticed that my images were rougher around the edges (literally and figuratively) than I'm used to. I am still figuring out which setting to tweak (& how much) to get a smoother, less noisy image. However, I think I'll continue to shoot in RAW and learn how to manipulate the images to get a good final product.

2. Higher ISOs: I shot a few landscapes in ISO 1600 without meaning to, but it ended up being a good experiment (photos posted below). I also shot a series of J inside the house on ISO 100 through 1600. You won't really be able to tell a difference at the size they post to on this site, but zoomed to 100% you can definitely see a difference in the smoothness of the bokeh. I shot them with my 50mm. Unfortunately, with my XT, the images get fairly noisy at ISO 400, and pretty noisy at 800. So that's definitely on the top of my list for my next body upgrade.

3. Landscapes, large apertures: So, I slapped on my old kit lens and tried out a few landscapes. All of them were taken at my widest angle, 18mm, which is actually 28 on my crop body. For this one, I set the f-stop at 7.1 and ISO 800:

I think I maybe should have tried an even higher f-stop number. Here's another that I converted to black and white. Also f/7.1, but at ISO 400:

There was an intense fog that passed through the area in the late morning. I was technically working remotely via my laptop that day, but I had to take a break for a few minutes and try to get some shots. The fog was so unreal.

Another interesting fact about the above photo was the straightening I applied to it. As I took it, the photo was actually pretty straight (vertical) when looking at the tree on the left side of the frame. However, the horizon was really off, tilted up on the right side. So, I tried to straighten the horizon, but then the tree looked like it was leaning to the right, in toward the middle of the frame. So I tried to strike a balance, but I'm wondering what landscape photographers usually do in that situation. What should be straight, if only one element can be?

Here's one last one. F/7.1, ISO 400:

It was a challenge messing with the colors in post-processing. The fog really threw me off, and I wasn't sure how saturated to make them -- how "colorful" to make them -- considering the intensity of the fog. I don't want the photos to look unnatural.

It was pretty fun shooting landscape, and I think I have a fairly good eye for its composition. I think finding interesting locales where I live (big city) would be more challenging than anything!

Look for an updated "Wish List" to come (it's getting more expensive).