Sunday, March 28, 2010

Birthday post! (& storytelling)

I turned 25 on Friday. It was a fun weekend with friends and food and lots of cake and outside time!

Here is an attempt at a birthday photo series, in practicing for future photojournalism projects that I hope to have time to try this summer.

The end!

I don't think I chose a good focus point on the letter candles in the first one. I believe I focused on the "Y" in "Happy," which doesn't make a lot of sense now that I think about it.

Anyway, I have several photo projects in mind that I'd like to try soon. Unfortunately, they all require travel. They're not all travel projects, but two would have to be done in different cities (my grandmother's house, my father-in-law's).

I want to start developing a style and a focus in my photography. I like stories, which is why I'm interested in photojournalism and photo series. I'm sure there a lot of stories hovering around me all of the time -- it's drawing them out that I need to work on.

I do find it a bit intimidating asking people if I can tell their story through photos -- even friends and family members. I feel like I'd be intruding. I wonder how "professional" photojournalists approach their projects. I always assumed it was easier for them because they received assignments from magazines or places that they worked for, and they usually traveled to get their stories, and for some reason that seemed easier to me. But I guess everybody has to start somewhere, and whether you travel or not, part of "getting the story" is becoming engaged in it.

I'm sure PJs don't get the whole story in one day. I would love to hear more about that process. I have found one or two PJ blogs, but I think I should look for some more.

As they say, though, learning is doing. I should give one of my own ideas a shot.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Experiment: Lens flare

This is my first real attempt at a photo with some artistic, hopefully appealing, lens flare. Here we go. With my 85mm, f/2.5, and a shutter speed of 1/400. ISO 100:

I found that if I pointed the camera down at his legs (a darker area), and found a general shutter speed to start at that way (in M), I could fine-tune it once I pointed the camera up and took a few frames. That way the front of him wouldn't be underexposed or in shadow.

I'm sure there is a better way to do this (something with metering?), but I haven't really learned about it yet.

Something that I did have a little trouble with -- and am not sure I got quite right -- was the post processing of this kind of image. To this one, I added a decent amount of contrast, I desaturated it a tad (like, -5) because I thought it fit the mood, and I may have upped the saturation of the orange colors a tiny bit. I just wasn't quite sure how "clear" I should try to make it.

I also realize that this photo is not a super-awesome example of artistic lens flare, but I think that has a little bit to do with my scowling subject! I am grateful that he lets me take so many photos of him in the first place without complaining; I don't dare try to pose him too often :) I am picturing a much better scene on the beach or in an open field, with a laughing girl or woman, something a little more carefree and happy to go along with this lighthearted look. Guess I'll have to look elsewhere for an appropriate model, haha.

A couple more in 16:9 aspect ratio for fun (I'm still giving 16:9 a chance) (and desaturation! A two-for-one deal!):

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Family Photojournalist

In my endless web wanderings, I came across another photo site that I added to my list of favorites. It's called The Family Photojournalist, and it's pretty great. It's written by two guys, Chuck Anerino and Daniel Shaw, and on the blog, they post photos of their families and talk about how they took them. They write about wanting to tell a story with their family photos, not just take technically good, but out-of-context snapshots at birthdays and graduations.

Their style is simple, and lots of images are converted to black and white (which I actually think works well for this genre). The guys also talk about using mostly wide angles, which forces them to get close and remain a part of the scene, even as they're documenting it. We don't have kids yet, but I'm sure we will some day, and these are the types of photos I'd like to take of them.

It was also interesting to read this blog as a female photographer. One of their first few posts was a birth documentary by Daniel. How would I document that if I'm the one giving birth?! My husband knows his way around my cameras, and I have no doubt that he would be able to take some amazing photos of an experience like that. However, I will be our children's mother. There's no denying that I'll have a hand in most of what they'll do, growing up. I'm not saying this to be sexist, or to comment at all on the roles of mothers and fathers in raising children, but how many moments will I miss capturing on camera because my son or daughter "wants mommy" to put him or her to bed? I think it's worth thinking about. Our family's journey will no doubt be a unique one, and the different roles that my husband and I play will shape it.

The blog is young -- they started in January -- and I'll be interested to see how it evolves and read more about what these guys have to say.

Here's a shot by Chuck:

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Manual focus with the 5D

The sun was shining today, and temperatures were in the 60s. It was glorious! I'd like to say that spring is officially here, but I'm terrified I'll jinx it all!

Anyway, when I got home from work [thanks to daylight savings time, there was a lot of sunlight left], I ran outside with the 5D and snapped a few frames. I tried manual focusing with the 85mm, and here are the results (I freaking love this shot).

This is at ISO100, f/2, manual focus:

...and here is a 100%(-ish) crop of where I focused (manually. haha. I'm so proud):

So! Putting aside the bit of CA that you can see in this close crop, I think it's not bad! I was quite proud of the results.

But the regular-size image... I think it's just lovely. I think the bokeh is great; the colors are nice. I might use it as my desktop image -- I need to update it anyway. Currently it's a snow photo! We're obviously way past that :)

Here's one more of some flowers right in front of our building. At ISO100, f/2:

The weather has put me in a fabulous mood. My birthday is coming up... it's next weekend. I hope these temperatures stick around :)

Monday, March 15, 2010

5D's maiden voyage

It rained all weekend. In fact, it's still raining. So to satisfy my urge to try out the beautiful new 5D, We had a mini-photo shoot in the house and in the stairwell of our condo building. I'll edit to post the settings when I get home -- forgot to get them out of Lightroom.

These were all taken with natural light (perhaps that's obvious), and I'll admit that the first one isn't oriented as well as it could be. But it was really the only option in our small living area (& with all our furniture!). That's why we decided to move to the hallway, with its big window. The second photo here is my favorite.

The camera works great. It is amazing how much it dwarfs my 350D, though. It's bigger and heavier, but not too big, or too heavy. It will take a little getting used to, though. I could practically stuff the 350D + 50mm in my purse and go, but the 5D will take a little more planning.

But I think it will be worth it. I'm enjoying how wide my 50mm is with the full-frame sensor. I'd still like a wider angle prime, though. Now I'm wondering if 35mm would be wide enough; before, I was convinced I wanted the 24mm. I think the 35L is cheaper than the 24LII ($1400 vs. $1700), so I guess it's something to consider... several months from now when I'm prepared to make another purchase :)

I'm very satisfied now. Can't wait for more chances to use the 5D.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The new kid in town

Well, I guess the third time's a charm after all. Or maybe I was just being indecisive, but at any rate, I bought a used 5D this morning. It was the third used one I'd found on craigslist and gone to check out. It was also in the best condition out of the three I've seen. And if the shutter count is as low as the seller says it is, I think it was an excellent deal.

Here she is, in all her glory (photos courtesy of her little sister, the 350D):

So there you have it. The newest member of my camera family.

And though I obviously haven't shot much with it yet, I don't regret not waiting until I had the money for the Mark II -- life's too short to sit around waiting for what you really want. Plus, if I never aspire to make money from photography, I would have a really (really!) difficult time justifying the price of that camera. As badly as I would love to have it, I think it just costs too much for me. So I'm incredibly pleased that second-hand 5Ds are going for such a reasonable price -- I've finally gone full frame, and it didn't break the bank!

It's funny though, like they say, when you buy better and better gear, you can no longer blame your photos' shortcomings on it -- if I take crappy photos, it's likely my fault. :) (Not that that wasn't true before.)

I'm also hoping to shake the upgrade bug now. I have an excellent cam and two excellent prime lenses. If I can't make some magic with all of that, then I guess I'm not a magician :)

In fact, I'm running outside now to take some photos of my husband.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Experiment: Desaturation, Part II

So, I have had a dry spell for the past week, but I'm hoping to get out and shoot a bunch this weekend -- our weather is finally getting awesome.

But, I've been browsing forums and websites lately, lusting after the 24LII and drooling over images people have taken with it. So I turned to my 85mm, hands-down the best portrait lens in my [teeny tiny] kit, at the mo to satisfy my desire for delicious, fast prime goodness.

Here's a shot I took of the mister as he was watching Lost on the PC with headphones, too eager to wait til I was ready to join him (we started from the beginning and just finished the first season).

It was at ISO 800 with my 85mm, f/2. In Lightroom, I desaturated it by about -50, upped the contrast a bit, and applied noise reduction and some vignetting:

I'm not sure if it works at all. Desaturation is my love of the moment, so I think I like it, but I'm not sure if it's universally appealing.

Also, as a side note, it looks noisier here on the web than it does in LR. Probably has something to do with the JPEG conversion. I read recently that you should save your files as .tiff after your edit them (and are converting from RAW) because that will introduce the least amount of artifacts? Or it will save as much image quality as possible? Something like that. But from my understanding, you can't post .tiff files on the web -- only .jpg will do for that. So there's no way to avoid JPEGs if I want to continue sharing on this site (which I do!).

Unfortunately, I've been dying to experiment with wide angles and low shots (no idea where I got the idea for that), but I don't have any lenses for that! Daaamn! The lust after full frame and the 24L continues.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Experiment: 16:9 aspect ratio

In my regular (okay, obsessive) internet frolicking on photo sites around the net, I ran across this guy's Flickr and came to understand the appeal of 19:6 aspect ratio.

So, I experimented with a few photos I snapped today at a parade (mid-day, bright sun, bad shadows... beware!)...

Now, if only I could figure out how to get the black borders top and bottom...

It's a format that works well for crowds and makes my 85mm look wider:

A a few cute (if hesitant) parade participants:

Not the best subject matter for this format, but I think these three work okay. I have another photo in mind that (I think) would scream for 16:9. It needs to warm up before I can make it happen, though, since it involves standing on a windy overpass at night.

Lenses I've inherited

I tested my sister-in-law's lenses a while ago, when I was deciding if I wanted to keep either of them. One is a 100-300mm and the other is a 35-80mm. I think I've decided to hang on to the 35-80 and let my husband sell the 100-300 with the Canon film camera.

Here are crops from larger photos taken with the 35-80mm:

At 50mm, ISO 1600(!) on my 350D:

This next one is also at 50mm, ISO 1600:

Remember, these are crops.

Here's one more, at 80mm, ISO 1600:

Not bad.

I think the problem with the 100-300mm is that it doesn't have IS. Also, I just don't feel the need for those focal lengths often. I was out using my 85mm today at a parade, and if anything, I wanted a wider angle, not a longer one! At some point, you start to feel like a sniper with longer focal lengths. 85mm might be the longest I go on crop. When I finally go full frame, I might be able to convince myself that the legendary 135mm is necessary, and that'd probably be the longest I'd go on FF.

What I need to do is go out with the zoom(s) at 35mm, and then at 24mm, and see how those focal lengths feel on a crop cam. I often need to see wider than my 50', and I'll likely decide between the 35L and the 24L, keeping in mind my hope/plan to go FF at some point (24mm on FF = 15mm on crop, and 35mm on FF = 22mm on crop). I would just get the 24L, since it would be much wider on my crop for now, but I don't know if it would be too wide on FF. Can't test 15mm on my crop since my widest focal length is 18. And apparently, when you get wide, a few mm make a big difference. I have some time to make this decision since I can't see myself making another lens purchase for several months at least.

And all this, after my post about how gear doesn't matter! In my defense though, since I've decided to go for essentially an all-primes kit, focal lengths are big decisions, and if you need a different one, that means a new lens. I'm thinking 24' - 50' - 85'. Two down, only one to go :) Then when I go FF, I'll maybe sell the 50' and get the 135'.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Seeing (do I have a vision?)

Came across photographer Nick Onken and his awesome website the other day. Not only are his photos amazing, but he also tells a couple of really good stories, like this one.

I was reading through a few of his blog posts and came across this one about seeing -- I liked what he had to say about photography being a top-down art. You can have the best gear, the best studio, and the best website, but if you aren't aware of your own vision, or if you're not able to communicate your vision in the photos you take, you won't make it very far. You should begin with your vision. As you refine it, better gear, equipment, and outlets are just ways for you to improve what you're already doing. I'll admit that sometimes I have to remind myself of this. As a beginner, I think it's easy to become wrapped up in gear and "stuff" --- when really, these things are just tools that allow you to create what you "see," both literally and figuratively.

This also got me thinking about my own vision, or what kind of style I want to embody as a photographer. I definitely don't think I have a recognizable style yet, but as I read more, study work that I admire, and do my own experiments, I am learning what excites me. It is a fun process.

Here's an image from Nick's Smokey Mountain project:

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Experiment: Desaturation

Barry Hannah died on Monday. I was home alone last night and decided to try a few experiments with desaturation -- something I've been wanting to try for a while after being inspired by a few things here and there, and most recently, by Chris Hunt.

For these, in Lightroom, I took the saturation down to -48 or so, upped the color temperature a bit (warmer), and played with the saturation of the oranges, yellows and reds to find the right mix of desaturation and warmth.

In this one, I heavily re-saturated the blue and yellow tones to emphasize Barry Hannah's tome -- Airships. I thought that that, paired with the shallow DOF on his name, might make it stand out, maybe as a kind of ode.

Here's the image:

I rather liked the way it turned out. The only thing I'm not sure about is if it looks too dark.

I tried another one with my husband's amp. It sits in our incredibly 70s-ish hallway (thanks to the wallpaper, among other things), so I also gave it some fairly heavy vignetting in post-processing to try to convey that vintage feel. Again, I'm not sure if it looks too dark:

I could probably have stood to brighten it a bit. Maybe I'll try that and repost later.

Otherwise, I like the results.

I am also curious to try out this treatment with photos that were taken outside on bright, sunny days. If our weather keeps on as it's been going, though, I might have to wait a while for a chance at that!