Tuesday, October 13, 2020

A Day In The Fog

Back on July 4, 2012, June and I hiked up to the Mount Cammerer Fire Tower in the Smoky Mountains.  It was a beautiful day and I got one of my favorite photos from the Fire Tower that day.

You can click on any photo to get a larger view.

View from Mt. Cammerer Fire Tower in 2012

Our daughter Holly joined us yesterday to hike back up to the fire tower, hoping for another epic view.  The weather forecast was for partly cloudy and only a 20% chance of rain.  What we got was 8 hours hiking in fog and rain with no epic views.

The view on October 12, 2020

While fog is not great if you are looking for that mountain top view, it is great for photos in the forest. The cloud cover and fog make the light very even and soft with no really bright spots. I took advantage of several "photography breaks" on the 5 1/2 miles up. Here are some of my favorites.

At the beginning it was misting rain and overcast, but no fog.  The trail was often covered with leaves.  Sometimes is was solid yellow and other times solid red, depending on the type of trees.

Cosby Creek

The fog got thicker as we continued the climb into the clouds.  These are the conditions I really enjoy.  The fog makes everything mysterious and beautiful.

This is not far from the top.  The fog was not as thick and we could see further down the trail.

Proof we made it!

The fire tower is at an elevation of 5,054 feet, about 3,000 feet above where we started.  It was built by the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) in the 1930s. The men who built the lookout drilled and blocked the stone by hand from a quarry about a hundred yards downhill from the tower. Some of these stones weighed as much as 600 pounds!  The architectural style used for the lookout was called "western" because it didn't require a raised structure to see above the trees.

After a short lunch inside the lookout we headed back down the trail.  About half way down we saw something we hadn't seen all day.  The sun broke through the clouds and we could see other mountain ridges in the distance.  The rain had stopped and things were warming back up. Not long after, the clouds closed in again.

It was a long day.  We are already talking about doing it again when the forecast is for no clouds.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Creative Use of Shutter Speed and Long-Exposures

There are a couple camera settings that can be creatively manipulated to make your photos more interesting.  The lens aperture (the opening that lets light in) controls how much of the scene is in focus or the Depth of Field (DOF). The shutter speed (how long the lens is open letting light in) controls how moving subjects are captured.  Playing around with the shutter speed when photographing lakes, ocean shores, etc. can be fun and produce some very different looks.

To illustrate I have taken the same photo and different shutter speeds.  Take a look at these two.
f/7.1, ISO 3200, 1/17 second
f/22, ISO 160, 14 seconds

The first photo had a shutter speed of 1/17 of a second, which captured the light chop on the surface.  The second photo had a long shutter speed of 14 seconds and turned that light chop into a milky surface.  Everything else in the photo was not moving and looks pretty much the same.

Here's another example.
f/8, ISO 1250, 1/55 second
f/22, ISO 160, 1 second

You may have noticed that the ISO and aperture are also different in each photo.  I changed these settings to get the shutter speed I wanted.  The lower the ISO number, the longer the shutter speed to get the same exposure.  The higher the f-stop number, the longer the shutter speed.  If I want t long shutter speed I will start by setting the ISO as low as it can go (160 on my camera).  I will then change the aperture until I have a shutter speed I think will give the effect I'm wanting.  Because the aperture controls the DOF, I will make sure it is such that I have the DOF I want.

It's hard to see in the example above but the clouds in the 1-second exposure are slightly blurred because they are moving. When the shutter speed is very long and the clouds are moving across the sky you can blur them as well in your photo.

f/20, ISO 200, 120 seconds

f/22, ISO 200, 120 seconds

In both photos, you can see the clouds were moving from left to right.  You can make a very dramatic photo if you can position yourself so that the clouds are moving toward your camera.

Anything that is not moving in these long exposure photos will be captured sharp with no motion blur.  Sometimes even water is still enough that the reflections are crystal clear.
/22, ISO 250, 7 seconds

Long exposure photography can be a lot of fun.  Grab your camera, put it on the tripod, and give it a try.  Then let me know how it comes out.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Breaking Out The Creative Juices

June and I have been in a dry spell where we didn't get out to photograph much at all beyond what can be found in our yard.  Last night we tossed the cameras and tripods in the car and headed to the mountains to see what we could find to photograph around sunset.  It was a great evening where the juices started to flow again.

When we drove through Johnson City and the way to Unicoi the temperature was 88 degrees.  By the time we reached Beauty Spot on Unaka Mountain, the temps had dropped to 73!  Much nicer!!  When we arrived we discovered more cars than I had ever seen up there.  There were many people enjoying the cool mountain air and spectacular mountain views.  Most appeared to be college-age and I think we were the oldest by about 30+ years.  No worries.  We picked our spot and waited for the show to begin.

June's Sunset Photo
When we think about sunsets we hope for a beautiful scene like June's photo above.  I'm proud of her photo.  It was the first one I posted after getting home around 10:30.  But there are many ways to photograph a sunset.

One way to change it up is to shoot wider.
Wide-angle 14mm (21mm full-frame equivalent)

Maybe use that same wide-angle lens to emphasize the foreground while including the sunset in the background.

Maybe swapping out the lens for a telephoto zoom to include just part of the sunset.

46mm (69mm)

66mm (100mm)

104mm (156mm)

By swapping to a longer telephoto zoom lens I can zoom in on just parts of the sunset.
177mm (266mm)

400mm (600mm)

400mm (600mm)

Too often we shoot from the same spot using the same lens and the same focal length.  Don't let this habit squash your creativity. These photos are just an example of how changing the lens and focal length can result in vastly different photos of the same subject. 

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Why I Use Exposure Compensation

Most of the time modern digital cameras will do a pretty good job adjusting the shutter speed, aperture, and/or ISO to get a well-exposed photograph.  Other times the photo comes out too dark or too bright and can't be saved.  Why does this happen and what can be done to get a better exposure?

Digital camera light meters work by evaluating light reflected off objects in the frame.  Depending on if you are in aperture priority, shutter priority, or manual, the camera will attempt to adjust one or more settings to make the overall exposure close to a standard middle gray (also known as 18% gray).

If most of the things in the frame are very dark, the camera will attempt to brighten up the exposure. If the subjects are mostly bright it will darken the exposure so the overall scene is close to 18% gray.  As smart as modern cameras are, they can't tell what parts of the scene are important.  While the overall scene may be properly exposed, the important subject may be too dark or too bright.

Default exposure - 1/1000 sec., f/6.4, ISO 160

In the photo above, the bright sky behind the Bluebird caused the Bluebird to come out dark.   There are a few things that can be done to fix this problem.  I could (1) set my camera to spot metering so I only measured the brightness of the bird, (2) move so the background is not so bright, or (3) use Exposure Compensation to adjust the exposure.

In most cases, I don't change the metering mode when photographing wildlife. Switching metering modes on most cameras is cumbersome.  The bird would be gone by the time I made the changes.  

Exposure Compensation allows me to override the exposure settings that were determined by the camera, in order to darken or brighten images before they are captured. On my Fuji X-T1, X-T2, and X-T3 cameras there is a dial on the top of the camera that I can turn to quickly and easily adjust the exposure compensation. Unfortunately, exposure compensation is not as easy to change on all cameras.  You will need to learn how to change it on your camera.

Using the Bluebird as an example, I adjusted the exposure compensation to make the photo 1 2/3 stops (EV) brighter and took the photo again.

+1 2/3 EV exposure - 1/1000 sec., f/6.4, ISO 320

When photographing birds I have my shutter speed and aperture fixed and let the camera adjust the ISO.  When I told the camera to make the photo 1 2/3 stops brighter it did so by doubling the ISO. You can see the second photo is noticeably brighter than the first.

How the camera makes the adjustments depends on what mode you are using
  • Aperture Priority - the camera will leave the aperture where you set it and adjust the shutter speed.
  • Shutter Priority - the camera will leave the shutter speed where you set it and adjust the aperture.
  • Manual with Auto ISO - the camera will only adjust the ISO.  This is the mode I was using.
  • Exposure compensation may not be available if you are using Auto mode.
Being mirrorless cameras, my Fuji's show me the adjusted exposure and live histogram in the viewfinder as I am composing the shot.  With DSLR cameras you may have to make a shot, check out the exposure, adjust and shoot again. An alternative is to use exposure bracketing to automatically take 3 or more shots at different exposure compensation settings.

There is another alternative that can help get the right exposure.  The problem in this example is that sky is too bright compared to the bird.  Sometimes we can maneuver ourselves to change the background to something closer to the brightness of the subject.
1/1000 sec., f/6.4, ISO 1250

In this third shot, I moved so that there were trees behind the bird instead of the sky.  I didn't have to make any adjustments to the exposure.  Most of the time it's not practical to move but it does a great job when I can.

I hope these three examples and explanation gives you a feel for how Exposure Compensation works.  I suggest you figure out how to use it on your camera and give it a try.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Breaking the Macro Habit

When I think about making photos of flowers a Macro lens usually is what I have in mind.  A Macro
Trillium photo taken with an 80mm Macro lens
is designed to make very sharp photos while focusing up close.  When using a Macro lens and the camera on a tripod, a photographer can make some awesome photos of flowers.

Using a Macro lens for flowers might just be a habit to break.  Today I started with my 80mm Fuji Macro and added an extension tube that allowed me to be able to focus even closer.  After wandering around the yard for a while I decided to put the Macro up and get my favorite fun little lens - the Fuji 35mm f/2. 

The 35mm focal length is equivalent to a 53mm on a full-frame camera.  That means, the 35mm is my "normal lens". A scene viewed through a normal lens appears to have the same perspective as the way your eye sees it.  This is a very small lens, making it fun to carry around.  It also has a minimal focal distance of less than 14 inches.  It has a bigger depth of field, making it easier to get sharp photos without a tripod. It's a fun way to break the mold and try something new.

Here are some photos I took today using that normal lens.  They are all hand-held.  Some are cropped.  All were using the Fuji Velvia film simulation which gives them vibrant colors.

 The dogwood photo includes some of the background, making the pink flowers stand out.


Crop of the previous photo

The point of this illustration is to say we shouldn't let our photographic gear constrain our creativity.  Use a wild angle for a close-up, use a big zoom for a landscape, try using a Macro lens for portraits.  Let's use our "safer at home" time to be creative.

Monday, March 30, 2020

"How do you know that?" Characteristics of light in photography

The depth of field (what's in focus) in this photo is pretty small.  About all you can read is the one line - "How do you know that?" 

I don't consider myself an expert photographer but I do enjoy sharing what I have learned, often the hard way, over the years.  Most things I've learned from experience and that's how I "know that." One of the best ways to share what I've learned is by example, which I try to do when blogging.

Being at home more has led me to experiment photographing things around the house.  In this case, an old non-fiction book and a pair of antique eyeglasses my dad gave to me.  They belonged to a relative but no one remembers who.  I'm not great at still life photography.  I do better at making photos of things that have been arranged for me, like wildflowers and mountains than things that I have to arrange.  However, we grow by working on things we are not good at.

The very first topic in my photography class is what I consider the most important.  It is not camera settings, the latest gear, or posing beautiful subjects.  I consider light the most important element in photography.  The right light can make a photo but even the most beautiful subjects can be poor photos in the wrong light.  Photographers love to talk about good light and bad light.  Light is not good or bad, but different kinds of light work better in different situations.

Light has three characteristics

  1. Direction
  2. Color
  3. Hard (direct) or soft (diffused)
Color Under LED Lights
I want to show you a little example of hard vs. soft light using a couple examples of photos I made with the book sitting on our kitchen table.  Above the table is a hanging lamp with 5 LED bulbs.  To the right is a set of French Doors that lead out to a covered deck area.  Those two light sources have different characteristics.

The lens aperture and focal length in these two photos are the same. The LED lights made the paper very yellow when using the auto white balance setting.  I corrected the white balance (light color) in each photo to be as realistic as possible. 

Direct Overhead Light

Indirect Side Light

Notice the shadows in the first photo.  They come from the overhead lights.  In the second photo what shadows can be seen are faint and soft.  The overhead lights also made the tabletop brighter.  The indirect light from the right made the book in the background brighter.

Indirect Light
Direct Overhead Light

In the second example, you can see how the direction of the light creates different shadows.  The photo with the indirect light coming from the right created a shadow in the crease of the book.  The direct light also overpowered the indirect light and minimized the reflections from the door in the lens.  The indirect light highlighted the brass hinge and the color of the eyeglass arms.

“There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.”
–Ansel Adams

Neither photo is right or wrong, just different.  As the photographer, it is up to us to use the light in our composition to emphasize what we want and de-emphasize what we don't want.  

Before making your next photo think about the light.  Where is it coming from?  Is it creating hard shadows?  Is it warm and pleasing or blue and cold?  How can you use that light to make a better photo?

Monday, March 23, 2020

Using The Depth of Field When Photographing Small Subjects

The world outside our homes seems to be getting worse and worse.  As I write this at 3:30 PM on March 23, the US now has the third-highest total cases, adding over 8,000 today.  A couple more days and we may pass Italy.  By the time you read this, the world will have changed again one way or another.  

The dichotomy of worrying breaking virus news and the world of nature is extreme.  Walk outside
Aperture = f/5.6
and check out what's blooming.  We have a flower garden where we have been planting native wildflowers for several years.  Yesterday June and I took a hike and saw wildflowers bursting forth everywhere.  The world of nature marches on just as it has since the beginning of the world.  

Photographing flowers is a perfect thing to do now.  We can do it while keeping socially distant and being surrounded by nature will improve our outlook and health.  June and I took our cameras on our hike yesterday.  We didn't have tripods, which would have made a big difference in the quality of our photos but we were there first to get exercise.

This is all leading up to my photographic tip for today -- the importance of the aperture setting when making macro (close-up) photos of small objects, such as flowers.  Those of you who have taken my class should remember I refer to the lens aperture as the depth-of-field (DOF) control.  By adjusting the aperture (opening in the lens that lets light in) we control how much light is captured by the camera and how much of the scene is in focus.  The depth of fields is the distance between the camera and the nearest and the furthest objects that render the image to be in sharp focus.  By adjusting the aperture we control the size of the DOF - more or less in focus.  Understanding this is critical to making good macro photos, where the DOF is tiny.

I am including some examples in this blog to illustrate my point.  With one exception, these were all taken on our hike yesterday with my Fuji X-T3 mirrorless camera, an 80mm macro lens, and without a tripod.  It was an overcast day with little breeze to move the flowers.  

You can click on any of the images to get a larger view and then use the left and right arrow keys to flip through all the images.

The first example was actually taken in our flower bed before our hike.  This Lungwort plant is a volunteer that just showed up a year or so ago.  It looks a little like Virginia Bluebells but the leaves are mottled.
Aperture = f/5.6

Aperture = f/13
The first thing you notice is the background in each photo.  At f/5.6 it is blurry and at f/13 it is more in-focus, but still not sharp.  I think the background in the first is less distracting, however, some of the flowers are clearly out of focus in the first one.  Which is better is a matter of personal taste.  There are many different aperture settings that I could have used.

Moss Brush, uncropped, aperture = f/2.8

Cropped, aperture = f/2.8
This next example is the same photo.  I cropped it down so you can see how small the depth of field is at f/2.8 using a macro lens.  The depth of field is maybe 1/8 inch in this example.  The important thing to understand here is focusing on the right spot is critical in macro photography.  Not only do you need to think about how much to keep in focus, but you also need to think about what is in focus.  The "in focus" range is 1/3 in front of the focus point and 2/3 behind it.    With DSLR cameras, the aperture is wide open before you make the shot.  Most cameras have a DOF preview button, which will allow you to see what the photo will look like at the set aperture.  

I shot this pair of Spring Beauties at three different settings

Aperture = f/8

Aperture = f/5

Aperture = f/3.6
Notice how the depth of field changes at different settings. The most noticeable difference is how blurry the background is.  Even at f/8, both flowers were not completely in focus, which brings up my final tip for macro photography.  Because the DOF is so shallow, the position of the subject(s) in the composition can make a big difference.  The Spring Beauties were at slightly different distances from the camera.  If I had moved the camera so the two flowers were the same distance away I could have gotten more of them in focus.  In the final example below, I positioned the camera so I was shooting perpendicular to the spiral of this Christmas Fern.
Aperture = f/5.6
Although I had a relatively wide aperture (f/5.6) and a shallow DOF, most of the curl is in focus.   If you look closely the front of the curl is in focus, but the back edge is not.

With these examples, I hoped to illustrate the importance of controlling the DOF in order to create a more pleasing photograph.   The best way to really understand this is to go out and try it for yourself.  Set your camera in Aperture Priority mode and make the same shot at different aperture settings.  The camera will adjust the shutter speed accordingly.  If you have the ISO set on automatic it will adjust that as well. Then take a look at each shot and see how things change.  You'll find you like some better than others.  Then remember to try multiple settings on all your macro photos.

Now, grab your camera and go out in nature.  Just be sure to stay 6 feet away from those other photographers and hikers.

Friday, March 20, 2020

More Time On My Hands = More Photo Tips

We are all living under conditions that are extremely different from just a few weeks ago. Half the sessions in my Photography Class were canceled, and places I frequent on a regular basis, such as the gym, are closed.  I'm spending more time walking but today it's raining so I'm spending my day indoors.  That means I have time to invest in things I've been neglecting, such as blogging, updating my website, and editing photos in my archive.

I feel bad that I wasn't able to finish my last photography class.  I promised to finish it when things return to normal, but I'm not sure when that will be.  So instead, I'm going to share much of what is in my class here in my blog.  Here's the first installment...
Bluebird on a yard decoration
Yesterday was the first day of spring.  Flowers are coming up and the birds are busy.  Lately, we have noticed a pair of Bluebirds in our front yard each morning.  Today I opened the window and got my camera and long zoom lens out to see if I could get a shot or two.  They didn't cooperate as much as I hoped, but they did give me material for today's photo tip.

When composing a photo it is important to pay attention to the background.  Watch out for things that will take away some of the beauty of the photo.  In this case, our neighbor's camper was in the background behind the male Bluebird.

Bluebird With Camper

I was shooting at a wider aperture (f/5.6) and zoomed in to 400mm, which blurred the background a little.  You can still see the white of the camper.  It looks unnatural and not exactly what I wanted. 

By getting a little lower I was able to shoot over the camper and include the green yard instead.  All I had to do was do a few deep knee bends.

No Camper!
This is a simple little example to illustrate the tip:

  1. Check the background when composing your shot
  2. If there is something that will distract from your photo try to remove it by moving to a different spot, either side to side or up and down. 
  3. This tip applies to all styles of photography.
  4. Now, make this a habit by shooting as much as possible.
Outdoor nature and wildlife photography can be fun and is a great way to destress.  Look for opportunities to make some photos, while staying "socially distant".