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Archive for September, 2011

HOW TO: Five-In-One Reflectors

September 30, 2011 16 comments

Not long ago I ordered a 5-in-1 collapsable disk reflector, which was recommended to me by another outdoor photographer. Basically, to replace the mangled piece of poster board I was using to add fill-light on subjects. The poster board worked pretty well, although not the most convenient way of doing things. The 5-in-1 reflector is easier to use and fits inside my camera bag.

Featuring a removable cover, the reflector has five different surfaces that are used to reflect light, diffuse light, or block light from your subject. The white side is for normal fill-light, a translucent side to diffuse light, silver for strong fill, a gold side for warm light and black side to block or absorb light. It unfolds to 22 inches in diameter, folds down to eight inches and even comes with a carrying pouch. The whole thing weighs about a half pound so it is quite portable. There are larger sizes available, but for around 20 bucks I figured I would give the smaller size a try.

Earlier this week, I decided to experiment by shooting the abundance of snapdragons in one of our front garden beds. We had missed these snaps while doing last year’s fall clean-up and they had re-seeded themselves throughout the bed. Just what I was looking for to play with my new gadget, especially since most of the snaps were in dappled morning sunlight.

I have to admit, it was a little challenging to look through the viewfinder, hold the cable release in one hand and the reflector in the other hand. Only because it was so breezy. My usual assistant (aka, my wife), was not available at the time, so I had to make do on my own. I composed the shot and adjusted the camera settings where I wanted them. Then leaned away from the tripod and held the reflector where it needed to be for that shot. With the cable release, I fired off a few shots, but you could do the same with a self-timer. Not only did the reflector fill in the shadows nicely, but it also helped block the wind. At the end of the session, I had quite a few keepers.

I will say, my biggest coordination test was folding the darn thing back up the first time. And if I am honest…several times after. No instructions came with the reflector on how to fold it up. So, I looked around on YouTube and believe it or not, I found a dozen instructional folding videos showing how to get the pesky thing back into its carrying bag. Obviously, I was not the only person failing this test.

So, if you are using a piece of poster board or some other method to add fill-light, you may just want to give one of these reflectors a try. I think you will like the convenience and the results. I know I do. Now that I can fold it back up in five seconds flat.

IN THE FIELD: Autumn Colors

September 28, 2011 18 comments

In the part of the world where I live, Autumn is just starting to show itself, providing many opportunities for capturing this dynamic season. I even bring my camera with me when out running errands. It may take longer to get my errands finished, but I often come home with some terrific images. Proves the point you don’t always have to travel to some far away place.

I like to shoot at different times of the day. Sometimes I will shoot scenes that are backlit by the morning sun, or I may turn around to put the sun at my back and photograph the scene bathed in the cool morning light. Often times I will shoot later in the day to capture the warmer light of a scene.

When a brilliant blue sky is not present, I will isolate a portion of a scene to eliminate a dull gray sky in a large portion of my image. Of course you could use a computer program to add blue sky if you wanted to, but I tend not to do that. Recomposing the shot in the field is a lot easier and less time-consuming.

If fog or a light misty rain is present, I find the colors may be more subdued and delicate suggesting a painterly effect. Colors can also be more saturated at times like this.

I know I’ve said this before, but a tripod, cable release (or self-timer) and polarizing filter are essential items to have with you. The tripod will give the camera stability and force you to take more time with your composition. The cable release (or self timer) will help to eliminate camera movement during longer exposures, especially when using lower ISO settings and small f-stops. And the polarizing filter will help remove unwanted reflections and intensify colors.

Sometimes I will use a wide angle or normal lens to encompass the whole scene. Without changing the position of the tripod, I switch to a zoom or telephoto lens to isolate parts of the scene. Foreground and background areas of the scene become compressed for another dramatic image.

I also tend to change my position after taking a few photos because there is always more than one way of seeing things. A different vantage point could make an image truly remarkable.

Oh yeah…I always make sure to have plenty of room on my data cards… I need it.

INSPIRATION: Inanimate Objects

September 26, 2011 16 comments

I am primarily an outdoor photographer. I find inspiration in nature every single day of my life. This is not to say that I never shoot indoors or find inspiration from inanimate objects that are not part of an outdoor landscape. Because I often do.

Case in point: last year I was shopping for my wife’s birthday. She has an affinity for hand-made glass. Any kind of glass: art glass, vases, bowls, and pitchers. And every year on her birthday I like to give her a new piece to add to her collection.

While on my quest for that special piece of glass, I walked past a storefront a small shop. Displayed in their window was a shallow Italian glass bowl, with colors so vibrant they refused to be ignored. I had to have it. And I knew right where my wife would want to display it.

And I couldn’t help thinking what a unusual object it would be to photograph. The patterns in the glass are abstract. By photographing just part of the bowl, it could make for an interesting study in color and shapes.

So, almost a year later, I decided to finally take the photograph. I set up the bowl on a table with the camera and 35mm lens mounted on a tripod. The close-focusing feature of the 35mm 1.8 lens was the right choice to get all areas of the bowl in sharp focus. Indoor photos were taken using a remote flash mounted on a small stand. A reflector was used to balance out the highlights, and to lighten up the shadows, in the outdoor photos.

I played around with various flash and camera settings. The results were varied and in some cases, surprising. Overall, I was very pleased with the results.

Here is the only kicker: my wife keeps teasing me that the only reason I gave her the bowl was because I wanted to photograph it. Stashed in some hidden part of my brain, I would have to admit…she is probably right.

IN THE FIELD: Cold Winter Ahead?

September 23, 2011 21 comments

In the part of the northeastern United States where I live, the change in season is beginning to show. Earlier this week I was photographing a grouping of holly bushes and was surprised to see the incredible amount of berries they are bearing this year.

With the cooler nights and unseasonably high rainfall, the leaves on the trees have just started to turn towards their autumn colors. Is that a sign of an early and cold winter? Or is it simply because it’s late September? Either way, it promises a glorious autumn show which makes for outstanding photo opportunities.

The apple trees at our local orchard are heavily laden with fruit maturing into their varied colors. A good indication of a large harvest. We have an abundance of beech-nuts and acorns all over the yard this year. Does that mean extra food for the squirrels and deer? The squirrel activity has been on the increase lately.

I’ve already seen some big woolly caterpillars crawling around. An old wives tale says when they make appearances this early, it means a cold winter. Geese flying north at this time of year also suggest a cold winter. I’ve seen a few flocks heading in that direction the past few weeks. Even the coats on our two canine companions are getting thicker. Or maybe they just need a trim?

Local folklore predicts that for every fog in August, there will be a snowfall in winter. We’ve had a lot of fog this past summer…uh oh. Last year we got almost five feet of snow in one week.

I guess it boils down to this. Rain or snow…not much we can do about that. I just hope we don’t have to shovel too much snow again this year. I’d rather be out with my camera then schlepping snow.

What’s the weather going to be like this winter? We can look to folklore, old wives tales, meteorologists, farmers almanacs, television weather folk and Mother Nature’s hints.

I’ll stick with Mother Nature’s hints.

BACK TO BASICS: Composition

September 21, 2011 14 comments

Composition and Trusting Your Instincts

The windows are centered horizontally and the grasses in the lower left add interest.

Good photos have good composition. There are several guidelines for achieving a good composition, but these are not hard and fast rules. Oftentimes what looks right to you is the best composition. In other words, trust your instincts too.

Try keeping it simple. Reduce the scene to only what is needed to tell your story. This eliminates visual confusion and draws attention to your subject. Your eye won’t have to wander around the entire image trying to find what to focus on.

There is a basic formula for composition called the Rule of Thirds. Divide your frame into three equal sections, either vertically or horizontally. Place objects of interest off center, either closer to the top third or to the bottom third of the frame. Or on the left or right side. Using this rule can make for a more interesting composition, rather than placing your horizon line smack dab in the middle.

Changing the orientation of the camera from horizontal to vertical can completely change the look of an image. Trees and tall buildings can often look better in a vertical format.

Lines that lead your eye into the scene such as a winding road fading off into the horizon, or the ripples made by swimming ducks in a pond, add interest to your image. Looking up at tall buildings could lead your eyes to dramatic skies. Change your position if you need to, and find that leading line for your scene.

You can also use foreground objects such as doorways, buildings or trees to frame your subject, so it becomes the center of interest.

The combination of a few simple rules and trusting your instincts are solid guidelines to follow. Basically, it looks good to you and feels right…take the shot.

HOW TO: Ball Heads

September 18, 2011 10 comments

Well, I did it. I finally broke down and bought myself a new gadget. After realizing the loose change in the kitchen junk drawer had gotten totally out of control, I tallied up my pile of treasure and realized there was almost enough to pay for a ball head for my tripod. This was the one piece of camera gear that had been on my wish list for a few months. I had installed one on my monopod not long ago, and after experiencing the ease of use, I just had to get one for the tripod.

My old tripod head had three knobs, each controlling one of the three axis. One for vertical, one for horizontal and one for rotation left or right. The new ball head has one knob that allows you to adjust all three at the same time. You loosen the knob, adjust the camera to your desired position, then tighten the knob. One knob on the new setup versus three on the old. How cool is that.

The ball head also has friction control knob, allowing micro adjustments to be made without completely loosening the ball head. In addition, a separate control allows you to rotate the camera left or right, without even having to loosen the ball head at all. This control is especially handy for panoramics.

My new tripod/ball head combo passed the test with flying colors earlier this week. I was on location at a local orchard and market doing both an indoor and outdoor shoot. And even though it was early in the morning, the shop was already busy with customers. Setting up and composing shots of fruit, vegetables, flowers and other market items, while staying out of everyone’s way, was made much easier and quicker with the ball head.

In a very short time, working the camera and ball head has become second nature. I find myself not even looking for the knobs from my old setup any more.

If you are looking to upgrade your tripod with a ball head and are not sure if you will like it, head on over to your local camera store and check them out. They come in many sizes and price ranges, and I think you will be happy with the convenience they offer. I know I am.

IN THE FIELD: Signs

September 14, 2011 5 comments

I came across this image the other day, taken at our local country home and garden shop a few years ago and shared it with my wife. We started reminiscing about some of the quirky signs we have seen during our travels and it wasn’t long before we were taking a trip down memory lane.

We recalled the time we were traveling in north woods country, heading towards Canada. We went through small towns and quaint villages. And some areas that could be considered more of a settlement than an actual town, complete with hand-made directional signs. As we drove along one smoothly paved road, the pavement abruptly ended and became a rough gravel road. We continued to drive a few more miles and approached a wide concrete bridge spanning a dry creek bed. An official department of transportation sign was mounted on both sides of the bridge, allowing traffic coming from either direction to see it. It read “Trucks Must Not Meet On Bridge.”

Both my wife and I started laughing. We wondered why two trucks could not stop on a bridge, outside of a weight restriction, this far out in the countryside. But the bridge appeared to be more than sturdy enough, so we could not understand it. We began joking about a little elderly lady who must live in the house nearest the bridge, and for some reason known only to her, did not like trucks stopping on the bridge. We pictured our little lady running out of her house, broom in hand and white hair a-flying, racing towards two trucks stopped on the bridge screaming “You boys get off my bridge. You boys aren’t allowed to meet on my bridge.” We decided the department of transportation must have gotten tired of all her complaints, so in desperation, they put up the sign.

On another trip out west, we were driving through the mountains and came through a pass where the road began to follow the banks of a wide river. As we started to make our descent into the valley below, we saw a sign that read “Winding Road Next 77 Miles.” We had only one thought: Yikes!

My wife was driving at the time and for the next two hours, she turned the steering wheel a little to the left, then immediately turned the wheel a little to the right, then back to the left…for 77 miles. It was a roller coaster ride as we rocked back and forth while trying to take in the magnificent scenery. After all that weaving and bobbing, we felt a little dizzy when we finally made it to a straight flat road down below.

It was worth the trip, though. And not only for the experience, but for the mileage we have gotten out of our sign stories at family dinners. Our only challenge now is topping them…