Archive for January, 2011

In exploring photography I have come to realize that its history is equally as important as the ability to produce an aesthetically appealing photo and so I will continue to add historical information about photography on this blog.

Back when I first became interested in photography I believed that astrophotography would be my passion.  When I purchased my first film camera, part of the reason I choose the Nikon FM2 was because it was supposed to be good for astrophotography.  Unfortunately I never took many astrophotos. I was disappointed that my results were not equal to what I could find in books, and so I never pursued that avenue of photography.

Once I started exploring photography’s history, it only made sense for me to look into the history of astrophotography. In looking into it I found the first photo of earth ever taken from space, Earthrise. Thankfully NASA generally does not copyright their images and grants permission to use their photos so long as they are credited, as noted here. When I look at Earthrise I am amazed by many things: the historical importance of this photo, the amazingly sharp image considering it would have been taken through the window of Apollo 8, and the ironic serenity that it instils.  I say ironic serenity, because I can only imagine the calm of being one of only 3 people seeing this view for the first time ever. Yet the image is of a world that in the previous 12 months suffered many tragedies. These included suffering from an earthquake that either injured or killed almost 500 people, a war that killed thousands of people, and the assasination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

What do you think of when you look at this photo?

Earthrise - Apollo 8 courtesy of NASA (December 29, 1968)

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Giving Ball a Bath.

Ball is a bearded dragon that initially my husband and I bought for our 3 year old son. It was truly amazing how much our son and bearded dragons were drawn to each other.  Everytime we went to the pet store (which is often as we also have 3 cats, 2 rabbits, a spider, and fish) our son was drawn to the bearded dragon like a magnet.  They were drawn to him in the same way, their eyes would always follow his every move.  So we decided that due to the passing of our 5 year old hermit crab we would replace him with a bearded dragon.  I have never had an interest in lizards of any kind.  But the care of this animal fell to me, and I quickly fell in love with her.

Here are a few of my favorite photos from Ball’s bath tonight:

[Click on photos to enlarge]

Nikon D300 24-70mm @55mm f/4.5 1/160 sec, ISO 200 - used a shoot through umbrella

NIkon D300 24-70mm @ 66mm f/8, 1/80sec, ISO 200 - used a shoot through umbrella

NIkon D300 24-70mm @70mm f/5.6, 1/60sec, ISO 200 - used shoot through umbrella

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The first photograph

View from the Window at Le Gras, by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce 1826

The above photo is credited as being the first photograph ever made.  According to The Amateur Photographer’s Handbook 8th Edition by Aaron Sussman, it took eight hours to expose.

When I look at the above photo, the image itself does nothing for me as it is simple, and lacking in detail.  But when I stop and think about the photo’s history, my experience is very different.  With this perspective I wonder about Joseph and why he choose this particular spot for the first photograph. The photograph suddenly has impact.  I’m sure at the time he didn’t realize the importance it would hold in history.  Instead he was probably simply trying to help out his son, who was a painter, by providing a way to hold an image permanently.

I also wonder how many photographers know of this image.  You don’t need to know of this image, or it’s historical importance in order to produce stunning photographs.  However this photograph is historically important, and I believe should be known to all who choose to call themselves photographers, or photo enthusiests.

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My Nikon D300 goes from ISO 200 to 3200 not including what it calls “Hi-1” which is equivalent to 6400.  However I have been too afraid to shoot at anything above 800 as I don’t like digital noise. Anytime I have have taken photos over ISO 800, I haven’t liked the results.  This has always confused because I have often looked at other people’s photos taken at 1600 or even 3200 and loved the results.  I fell into making excuses for my lack of results: ” My camera isn’t good enough”, “if only I had the D700 I would get better results”, “I need a better noise reduction program”.  You know the game, we’ve all done it, and we’ve all tricked ourselves into believing these excuses to be legitimate. Recently a friend of mine posted this picture, and asked my opinion of it.  I was hit with a huge case envy.  How could he get such a great photo at ISO 1600 when I couldn’t?

Shallow depth of field has also caused me grief when taking portraits. My favorite lens is my Nikon AF 24-70 F2.8.  I have always been glad that I bought the fast lens, but when it came to shooting people I rarely used anything lower than the recommened 5.6. When I did, I wasn’t happy with what I got. Recently I read on mostlylisa that for portraits you should use between F2.0 and F5.0.  Why could she take such awesome portraits at such a wide aperture, and I was having a difficult time at the guideline of F5.6?

Last year I took the following photo.  It’s not a bad shot, but I was not happy with the focus.  I thought for the longest time it was that F1.8 was too wide.  However I now realize that my focus point was off by just the tiniest bit.  The focus is on the crease of his eye, and not his pupil.  The problem itself was not the shallow depth of field but the focus point, and as such could have been easily solved.

[Click on photos to enlarge]

Nikon D300 50mm f1.8 1/100sec, ISO 400

This year I took the following photos, and I’m much happier with the results.

Nikon D300 85mm F2.5 1/100sec, ISO 1600

This time the focus is right on her pupil, and clearly makes a much better photo.

Nikon D300 24-70mm @48mm 1/50sec, ISO 1600

Again the focus is right on her pupil. You’ll also notice that this photo is taken at 1/50sec @48mm and the sensor has a crop of 1.5. The guideline to avoid camera shake would be at least 1/72sec.  But by using steadying techniques I managed to take a good photo at High ISO and with shallow depth of field, despite pushing the rules of camera shake.

Nikon D300 24-70mm @24mm f3.5 1/50sec, ISO 1600

As you can see, the photos I took this January are much better despite using ISO 1600. I am no longer afraid of ISO 1600 or shallow depth of field.  I have realized that in order to get better photos at ISO 1600, you simply need to take a better photo, and one key way to do that is to avoid underexposure. That means slower shutter speeds, so you have to control camera shake.  Following is a list of  things to help avoid the lack of focus camera shake causes:

  • Always make sure that the shutter speed is equal to or greater than the focal length. (or 1.5 times the focal length on a crop sensor)
  • Hold the camera to your eye for a second after taking the photo, especially at slower shutter speeds.
  • If using a shutter speed lower than the focal length (accounting for crop factor), use steadying techniques.

I notice that these photos are lacking in digital noise.  I think the reason I may have been getting digital noise before was underexposing the photo.  I will have to look into that some more, perhaps in another post.

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I love old run down houses.  Many photographers do. You see photos all of the time with a beautiful woman standing in the doorway of a weathered old barn or farmhouse.  For many the draw seems to be the beauty and texture of weathered wood.  My husband loves old houses because he can visualize the history of the house in his mind.  He tells me he can see a young couple moving into the house when they first got married, and then eventually a baby or two.  He sees the whole story in his head all the way to the point where the couple is old, and still living in the house.  None of these are the main reason that I love old run down houses. I love old run down houses because their guts are exposed.  I get a thrill at the parts that have started to fall apart but are still standing.

This past summer, as we were driving home from a family vacation, I spotted this beautiful old house at the side of a secondary highway in southern Alberta.

Nikon D300 24-70mm F2.8 @36mm 1/320sec f/8, ISO 200

Nikon D300 24-70mm @24mm 1/60 sec @f/5.6, ISO 200

This is the part that gives me a thrill, the raw guts of the house. I’m also really impressed with the lack of graffiti in this house.

Nikon D300 24-70mm F2.8 @62mm 1/250sec f/9, ISO 200

Nikon D300 24-70mm F2.8 @35mm 1/200sec f/9, ISO 200

Nikon D300 24-70mm F2.8 @34mm 1/250sec f/10, ISO 200

I really wanted to climb the stairs and take a look around.  However the mother in me was concerned that if the stairs or floor did cave in my husband would either have to bring our 3 year old son inside the house to rescue me, or leave him locked in the car.  I also learned that I need to take the lens hood off if I use the pop-up flash, as you can see its shadow at the bottom of the photo.

Nikon D300 24-70mm F2.8 @34mm 1/250sec f/9, ISO 200

Here I used the pop up flash to bring out the detail on the wall.  I think this particular view gives a good sense of the entire surrounding.

Nikon D300 24-70mm F2.8 @48mm 1/250sec f/9, ISO 200

I did the same thing here, but closed in more to simply frame the photo.

Nikon D300 24-70mm F2.8 @48mm 1/250sec f/9, ISO 200

For this photo I didn’t use the pop up flash, in order to get more of a silhouette.

When I look at the last 3 photos I can’t decide which I prefer: the last one where the door frame is silhouetted, or the one where I pulled back and used to flash to convey the surroundings.  I know the one in the middle is my least favourite. What do you think?

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The worst photo I ever took

Today I took the worst photo ever.  I was driving on the Anthony Henday (a divided freeway in Edmonton), when a huge pipe of some sort flew out from under a car  in front of me, one lane over.  I actually don’t know what it was or where it came from. It was about the lengh of a tailpipe and muffler, but it was something of a thicker, denser metal. Fortunately the flying debris didn’t hit me, and the car managed to safely pull over to the left shoulder. I decided to pull over on the right hand shoulder just in case he needed help. I know that people these days don’t stop, and if you don’t have a cell phone it can be a problem when car trouble hits.  That’s when I realized I had left my cell on the charger at home. Seconds after that I looked in front of me and saw four workers in orange jackets waving a fire extinguisher around.  That’s when I realized the excessive steam coming out of the garbage truck in front of me wasn’t exhaust fumes, but smoke. I should have realized that it was only -5 degrees celsius outside, but it had been so cold for so long, that I was used to the excessive fumes that cold weather causes.  As it turns out, the truck was on fire and all four workers were desperately trying to figure out what to do.

I had taken this same route at 8:00 this morning, and the ditches were full of vehicles that had skidded out due to the freezing rain we had last night.  I was annoyed then that I hadn’t taken my camera with me, as I would have loved to take some photos of the cars in the ditch.  Not that it really mattered as I was running late and needed to get my rabbit to the vet for his neuter, and didn’t really have time to stop anyway.  When I made the trip for a second time you would think I would take my camera just in case there were still any cars in the ditch, but the sun had come out and the roads where no longer slippery.

I didn’t sit behind that garbage truck for very long before the smoke died down, and the fire was out.  The fates, gods, powers that be, what ever you want to call it, had allowed for me to be in the right spot at the right time to get the photo. The only thing missing was a camera, even a camera phone.  Hence, the worst photo I ever took was the photo I couldn’t take.

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