Whenever I am in the field, I like to bracket my exposures, if time and the situation permits. One reason is to see how adjusting the amount of light the camera records affects the subject or scene. And as good as camera meters are at predicting what settings to use for a “proper” exposure, sometimes an adjustment from the recommended setting may be needed to get a preferred exposure.
To illustrate what a slight adjustment to the shutter speed can make, here are two photos of the same scene taken at the Hopewell Furnace. The photos were taken within seconds of each other, yet they are different. Neither is an incorrect or an improper exposure. As the photographer, or the viewer, it’s just a matter of personal preference.
In this series about revisiting familiar places, all of the photos were taken with ambient light. I wanted to capture the mood as it was occurring naturally, rather than adding an artificial light source.
These two shots were taken with identical settings except for the shutter speed. It was slowed by half (one full stop) which doubled the amount of light between the two shots.
This photo was taken the same morning as the photo in the previous post. I was facing in an easterly direction when I took this shot, as compared to facing in a more westerly direction when I took the former photo. The two shots were taken within a minute of each other. Shortly after I took this shot, the subtle colors of the sunrise and distant forest were obscured by the fog moving up the valley.
The exposure settings for both photos were actually identical. I wanted to show the difference in color tones from two different view points and to illustrate the difference in the light, even though the scenes were very close to each other.
I used a cloudy White Balance setting for both photos primarily because I rarely use any other setting. I feel the color tones in photos have a warmer feel when using the cloudy setting. Sometimes I will need to make a custom white balance setting for really difficult, mixed, or artificial lighting situations, or if the camera is just not duplicating the color I am seeing.
I also like to experiment, if time permits, by taking several shots of the same scene using different WB settings. Not only just to see the difference, but also to determine what works best for me. There is no right or wrong, just a personal preference.
Cloudy White Balance
A few weekends ago, mother nature created a winter wonderland during the wee hours before dawn. And I took the opportunity to step out on the deck to view the sights before breakfast.
The world around me was completely covered in white from a light snowfall. A dense fog had formed due to the warmth of the ground in the lower parts of the valley and it was heading my way. No sounds were to be heard…no traffic, no voices, no wind. Several minutes passed before I decided to get out the camera and try to capture what I was seeing.
I knew this would be an interesting exercise in exposure, due to all the reflected light and changing conditions. The sky behind me and to my right was bright, but the sun was still obscured by clouds. The scene before me and to my left was all white, foggy, and mostly monotone in color.
Because there was so much reflected light, and in order to expose for the snow and keep it reasonably white, I overexposed most of the shots from what the camera meter recommended by 1-1/3 stops. Any adjustment of more than 1-1/3 stops and the scene was overexposed. Any less than 2/3 stops overexposure, and the snow was rendering too grey and the overall scene was a bit too dark. Those darker shots are still usable but it was not the look I was going for.
Every snow scene is different. Some scenes have more contrast (dark objects vs. light objects) and some have less, as in this case. Either way, I usually start by overexposing the shot by 2/3 stops. This is because camera meters are designed to render a scene as middle grey…or about 18% reflectance. And since snow scenes can be so bright, camera meters suggest closing the aperture to reduce the amount of light that would reach the sensor.
Experimentation with various aperture settings is the key to see if the camera is rendering the snow as white, and to see if there is still detail in the snow and the darker areas. Sometimes you have to sacrifice a little of both to get a satisfactory result.
I took about a dozen photos of my surroundings, turned off the camera, and went back to enjoying the ever-changing view. Then had breakfast and took the dogs for a walk so they could also enjoy the splendor of a fresh snowfall.
All in all…a nice way to start the day.
Cloudy White Balance
After I finished some yard work on Saturday, I got out the camera to capture some of the autumn color that remains in our woods.
The sun was dipping below the horizon, but there was still enough ambient light to get some shots without using the built-in flash or a speedlight. And I knew this was a situation which would call for longer exposure times and the use of a tripod.
One of the advantages of long exposures is colors can become more saturated than what you may find with shorter exposure times. I was also fortunate there wasn’t even a wisp of a breeze, so everything in the photos was sharp.
To start this exercise, I bumped the ISO to 400, set the aperture at f11 for good depth of field, and adjusted the shutter speed to 2.5 seconds for a proper exposure. I could have used a faster shutter speed, but that would have dictated the use of a wider aperture. Which in turn leads to less depth of field. I also used an electronic cable release to further minimize camera movement.
Some folks might say it was too dark to get a decent photo. I say phooey. The light sensitivity built into cameras these days is remarkable to say the least. My camera, which is at least four years old, had no problem making a proper exposure or auto-focusing. The newer models are even more capable.
Low light photography can be a challenge for your equipment or for yourself, but the rewards are worth it. Least in my humble opinion.
Weather forecasters have been tracking Hurricane Sandy in the Atlantic ocean. She is scheduled to blow through our region this weekend. High winds and huge amounts of rain are predicted, even as far inland where I live.
In this part of Pennsylvania, we still have a good amount of colorful autumn leaves on the trees. But more than likely, the trees will be stripped bare from Sandy’s wrath.
A few days ago, I attempted to illustrate what it will look like around here with the wind and rain blowing through the trees. I figured by driving along our back-country roads, holding the camera out the window and capturing motion shots of the autumn leaves, just may give me a pretty good idea.
Since I was driving, I wasn’t be able to check exposure settings, so I set the camera to aperture priority. I chose an aperture setting of 2.8 and let the camera do the rest. I also set the shooting mode to continuous.
When I came upon an area I felt had potential, I held the camera out the window and pressed the shutter. And this is what I got.
Earlier this week we had heavy rain storms come through the area. It was raining so hard and for so long, even I didn’t venture outside with the camera. No sense risking damage to expensive equipment when photography can be done inside under more favorable conditions.
It was so gloomy outside from the heavy cloud cover, darkening a room in the house for my photography experiment was pretty easy. After setting everything up, I closed the curtains and the door to the studio and got started.
Here’s how I produced this photo. I mounted the camera on the tripod and pre-focused on an area about five to seven feet away from the lens by taking a picture of myself. I then turned off the auto focus and set camera to manual focus. Then I set the shutter at 15 seconds, and the aperture was set at f8. I figured this was as good a place to start as any. I then set the self timer for a five second delay to give me time to get in position.
I turned off the lights, turned on the light source, tripped the shutter, moved in front of the camera, and started twirling my the light before the shutter opened. I continued to swing the lights around until I heard the shutter close, because the camera’s sensor will pick up any movement of the light.
What did I use for a light source you ask? It’s simple and inexpensive. Under six dollars, actually. I bought some battery operated LED finger rings resembling oversized jewels at a party supply store for two dollars each. I found a piece of string about six feet long and tied on some washers for added weight to one end of the string, and slid two rings down the string to rest on the washers.
Creating patterns is the fun part. Swing the light horizontally in a tight pattern in the beginning and gradually let the string slip through your fingers to allow the circles to get bigger to make a cone shape. Or swing the string vertically or any which way to create wild patterns of light. Experiment with different shutter times to see how the light changes.
I found through my many attempts at this, just how sensitive the camera is. Keeping the light pattern as consistent as possible is the hard part. It took many tries before I was able to keep from bumping the light into my legs or the desk or….some other obstacle. After a while, the light patterns stayed in a relatively circular pattern. But it took some practice.
Now that the weather has changed for the better, I’ll be heading back outside to do some more experiments using really long exposures and try to capture some ambient night light along with my artificial light. Woo-hoo!
Looking up at trees and the sky
I was outside with my camera all day yesterday and came up with some really cool images just by playing around with shutter speeds, a zoom lens, and body movements. The technique for these shots is really easy to do. All you need is a zoom lens and the ability to shoot with slow shutter speeds of around a half-second or slower.
The subject matter can be anything colorful you may come across. Groupings of flowers is a great place to start. Looking up at trees and the sky also works well. I have even used a pile of multi colored bags of garden soil as a subject.
Bags of garden soil
Here’s how you accomplish this effect. Set you camera to the lowest ISO setting available. This will help in getting slow shutter speeds. Then, in manual mode, adjust your shutter speed to around a half-second or so. Meter the scene, and close down the aperture to get a proper exposure.
If it’s really bright where your subject is, you may need to use a neutral density filter or even a polarizer to cut down on some of the light to get a decent exposure. If you are shooting in the shade, you will probably be fine without a filter. Focus on your subject at the widest setting on your zoom. As you click the shutter, zoom to the longest setting, and rotate the camera in the opposite direction you rotated the lens. Or you can zoom in and just rotate your body.
Play around with different shutter and aperture settings, and / or camera and body rotation to see what works best for you. This can become rather addictive, so be sure you have plenty of room on your data cards! And try not to spin around too much as you are looking at the sky…you may get dizzy. I speak from experience. Ahem.
When using tripod in the field, I have often found myself facing the challenge of making the transition from a horizontal to a vertical orientation. I am forced to loosen the adjustment knobs so I can flop the camera into the vertical orientation, then move the tripod to the side a little bit in order to re-compose the shot. And it is a rather annoying experience to attempt to capture a vertical image with a camera that is not centered over the tripod.
Several manufacturers have risen to the occasion over the years to solve this dilemma and developed an “L” Bracket configuration. These devices mount to the bottom of your camera in the tripod socket, then the camera and bracket are inserted into a quick release device mounted to your tripod head. These brackets allow you to shoot in the horizontal format then easily convert to a vertical. Simply release the camera from the quick release, rotate the camera 90 degrees to the vertical format and re-mount it in the quick release. Now everything is centered on the tripod.
Kirk Enterprises and Really Right Stuff are just two of the manufacturers of “L” Brackets and quick release plates. They build great quality products, but depending on your budget, they can be on the expensive side.
I have been using a quick release system from Manfrotto for years, but unfortunately their camera plates are not compatible with other manufacturers. And a new system was more than I wanted to spend. Besides, I like my Manfrotto. My problem was, I still wanted that “L” Bracket for the added convenience in the field.
So I reached for my pirate’s hat and came up with my own version of an “L” Bracket which would be compatible with my Manfrotto parts. After making some preliminary calculations, I headed down to the hardware store and bought a strip of aluminum, some machine screws and nuts. I bent the aluminum to shape, cut the piece to length, then measured and drilled the appropriate holes for mounting purposes and for my cable release. Next, I mounted the quick release plates to the aluminum strip. Then I placed a strip of thin rubber between the bracket and the bottom of the camera for protection, and tightened the whole assembly.
Presto…a homemade “L” Bracket and quick release system and it only cost me $13.53 including tax. Now when I want to shoot a vertical composition, I simply mount the camera in that position. And if I want my next shot to be a horizontal, I open the quick release and mount the camera in that format.
Now, I never have to re-position the tripod, and it’s way faster to set up. Yabba-dabba-dooo!!!
Capturing light trails at night from different light sources is relatively simple and can produce really interesting effects. I have used sparklers, flashlights and even set up my camera and tripod near a busy road to record vehicle headlights and taillights.
It’s very easy to do, and only your imagination is the limit to what you can produce. Due to the long exposures needed for this technique, you will need to set your camera up on a tripod, or you could use a sturdy object that won’t move such as a rock, a chair or even a fence post.
Since we had monsoon like rains yesterday afternoon and last night, shooting outside in the dark was out of the question. So I moved inside and chose the darkest room in the house. Our bedroom closet.
For this exercise, I used a small flashlight to create the light trails. I keep it in my camera bag for viewing things like camera controls and settings in the dark. It has a blue light rather than red, and is actually easier on the eyes at night or in dark situations,
After setting the shutter speed and aperture, I placed the camera on a dresser that is inside our closet. I then turned off the closet light, pressed the shutter and got into position, or what I thought was a good position. I then began to wave the flashlight around in front of the camera. It took several tries to position myself in a good spot to capture the light from the flashlight.
I experimented with different arm and hand movements to create various patterns of light. After trying several combinations of camera settings, I realized waving a small flashlight three feet from the front of a lens was too close. Too many hot spots. So I tried moving the flashlight in a way without pointing it straight at the lens.
If I was outside, and it wasn’t pouring rain, I could have been much farther away from the camera and been more creative twirling and moving the flashlight. Even though I was in a closet, the concept still worked.
Using manual mode, aperture in the range of f8 – f16 produced the best results. Shutter speeds varied between five and ten seconds This image was taken with an exposure of six seconds and an aperture of f11. And I used the self timer set for a two second delay to trip the shutter.
Playing around with long exposure times, different apertures, and sources of light is a lot of fun and can yield really neat looking images.
Recently I was watching videos by photographer Bryan Peterson on various photographic hints and techniques. Primarily, I was interested in honing my skills using a flash. I learned a lot of useful and creative methods for using flashes in outdoor photography. Then I watched whatever was next in line.
One exercise he demonstrated caught my attention, and it had nothing to do with flashes at all. He used common household items as props to create fun and interesting abstracts.
Here is my take on it. You will need a few things to get started and there is no need to buy anything or even leave your house. First thing you will need is a tripod although if you do this outside and it is bright enough, you may be able to go with hand-held.
Next you will need a clear casserole dish, some water, cooking oil, and a brightly colored shirt or fabric of sorts. I used both patterned shirts and solid colored shirts to see the different effects.
Place the fabric of choice, which will be the background of the photo, on a table or even the patio or deck. Prop up the casserole dish slightly above the shirt with whatever you have around. Wooden blocks, books or even several drinking glasses. The idea is to elevate the dish so you can change out the fabric easily.
Set up your camera on the tripod so the lens is parallel with the bottom of the dish. Add some water. I filled my dish about 1/3rd of the way. Then add some cooking oil. Since oil and water don’t mix, the oil forms all these neat circles floating on the water. With the fabric underneath the dish, the patterns and colors take on a whole new look.
Play around with different exposures to obtain the look you want. Drawing a spoon or your finger slowly through the mix will make different size circles. Or even stir it a little to make millions of small circles. All three shirts I used were of different colors and each produced totally different effects.
Give it a try…it’s a lot of fun!