Monthly Archives: February 2012

Through the “Macro”-scope

Every once in a while a photo comes along that just generates attention. I’ve been lucky enough to have had a couple of those since I started shooting. But I’ve never had an experience like I’ve had with the shot shown here.

I received my Canon EF-S 60mm Macro lens last week on a day when I had a lot going on. I thought about waiting until I got home later, going through the whole unboxing thing, documenting the whole process and writing about it here over a period of time…but unfortunately, as Jimmy Buffett once said, “the temptation got the best of me.” So I decided to take a few test shots before I took off for an appointment.

I’ve concluded that there are several distinct categories of macro photography, including plants (mostly flowers) and insects. But the category that has always fascinated me the most is water droplet photography. Because of that, in addition to the household shortage of insects (fortunate) and flowers (unfortunate, at least in the eyes of The Cake Lady), I turned the faucet on and let it drip. And this is what I got…Image

As you can see, there’s a few drops here. The main drop at the bottom of the frame is my favorite, because you can see evidence there (to those who’ve been in my house) that it was really taken here. But the drops coming off the faucet, just out of frame at the top, give it some depth that the bottom drop by itself wouldn’t have presented.

Technically, there’s no real surprises here. All of the typical rules apply–if you want to stop motion, you need to have a relatively fast shutter speed (in this case, 1/250 second). To ensure this fast shutter I took this picture in Shutter Priority mode, or Tv, as Canon designates it. I used the on-camera flash to illuminate the scene because I didn’t really have time to get out my speedlite–I suspect this would have been an even more interesting shot with off-camera flash. The camera picked an aperture of F/2.8, giving the wonderful “bokeh” or blurred background. (For the rest of the technical, I had an ISO of 400, that I think I set manually, and the exposure was centered.) I set a high-speed burst mode, turned on a trickle of water, and shot a hundred frames. Literally. Just about ten at a time, without really even looking.

One of the more inspiring photographers I’ve followed over the past couple of years, Martin Bailey (find him at, occasionally opines that luck plays a great role in certain types of photography. There’s no question that I got really lucky with this shot. Good gear, good setup, a bit of patience, and the right technique put me in position to get the image, that’s for sure; but if the water hadn’t dropped the way it did, this shot would have been as ordinary as the other ninety-nine. Instead, I have six separate requests for prints of this image. It’s a real thrill for someone like me–who never was an artist–when someone asks if they can have a print of one of my shots. If that’s what luck does–I’ll take it!

I know I still owe the report on the 60D. Fact is, I’m still learning, and I don’t yet feel qualified to report on it. All I can say is, it’s coming–I promise.

Set your camera on…something!

Well, I feel compelled to say at the outset that if you choose to take pictures while your car is in motion, you should make sure that someone else is driving it.

 As someone who spends a lot of time in the car, I often find myself wishing I had more time to shoot.  Of course, it’s clear that one can’t hold the viewfinder to one’s eye while driving—that would be stupid. But there are certainly ways to use this time on the road creatively without putting yourself or others in danger. And that brings me around to what I am thinking about today.

I often have to remind myself to put the camera down.  That doesn’t mean stop shooting—it means literally to set the camera down on something.  You can’t get the good shot every time by holding the camera in your hand, and you can’t always use a tripod for the purpose of getting “that shot.” So I will many times just pick a surface, put the camera on it, and shoot some long exposures.  In this case, that surface was the center of my car’s dashboard, but your surface might be any firm foundation you choose.Image

To fire the shutter, I had the remote plugged in to the camera, and I’ll tell you, that continues to be the best ten bucks I ever spent. Get yourself a wired remote, and you’ll be surprised how often you’ll use it. Anyway, I shot a couple of dozen frames at around a one-second exposure, and this is the one that I thought was the most interesting.  The suggestions here: set a smaller aperture (higher f-number) to get a greater distance in “focus” (I use this term loosely because good focus doesn’t mean much with this level of motion blur!), and raise or lower the ISO to get the right shutter speed. An alternative is to set the shutter speed AND aperture in manual mode and let the auto-ISO do the rest…or in the case of this shot—set the shutter speed, and then change the ISO to get the right aperture! See?  There’s three ways to do everything!

Funny part of this shot: see the dip in the lines at the far left of the frame?  That’s where I hit a bump right after I pushed the button.  Adds a neat effect that this shot wouldn’t have had.  And I’d LOVE to know what the green line is from.  Red and orange (amber) are common to truck clearance lights, and white is obviously headlights, but what the heck is the green?

This shot came in at F/11, as I had set a shutter speed of 1 second and ISO 800.

And of course, I pulled over to the side of the road to make those adjustments.

COMING SOON: a full discussion of my new Canon EOS 60D…

Shooting the Moon!

Betcha I’m the first person to title a blog post on moon photography this way. After all, no decent person would use a phrase with such unpleasant connections just to get people’s attention, would they?Image

Lately I’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback about my moon shots, so I feel like I should include some thoughts on this topic.  For this one, I have to thank Trilogy bandmate Jeff for his tips–I’ve invited Jeff to post a photo or two as a guest blogger on this site at some time in the future.

  Anyway, Jeff and I were talking about moon photography one day and I asked him for his insight.  At that time, I had pretty much “gotten out of the box” (for you Canon shooters, that’s the term I use for escaping the Canon Full-Auto mode denoted by a green box), but was still really getting used to why the camera did some of the things it did. Jeff told me that the trick to moon photography was a SMALLER aperture (larger f number), not a LARGER one.  That, of course, went against everything I had learned about low-light photography, and since I was shooting at night, that was the ultimate in low light photography, right?

Wrong, of course, or I wouldn’t be writing it up this way!

Jeff pointed out to me what should have been obvious, and would have been if I was as smart as he.  Taking a picture of the moon is like taking a picture of a “big ol’ light in the sky,” because, after all, that’s what it is. So I figured it this way–to take a picture of a “big ol’ light in the sky,” you close your aperture to a point where the light is not blinding your sensor, and bingo–you get sharpness!  The next trick is to experiment with the shutter speed until you get the right brightness, and yes, that means shooting in manual mode… I hear a bunch of you tuning out right now, but it really isn’t that difficult because you’re not in a hurry. Just shoot and shoot until you get the one you want, and note the settings for next time!

This shot was at f/20, for no really good reason, and 1/125 sec at ISO 400. Going to f/16 and 1/250 would probably have worked too. Three more tricks: Sturdy tripod… hard to handhold this shot, although it’s been done (more on that in a later post); Mirror lockup, if your camera has it–the shake when you take the picture can affect sharpness unless you have a really expensive tripod, which I don’t; and remote control–ten bucks at Amazon and worth every penny!

Motion…stop, use, or both?


Most of the time, I find that taking pictures of a moving object involves setting the camera in such a way as to stop the motion.  Taking a photo of an amusement ride after dark, for example, would require a very fast shutter speed and a powerful flash to accomplish this.  But occasionally, you want to do just the opposite–you want to USE the motion in the image.  And sometimes, you want to stop certain things, and depict motion of other things, in the same image.  This is where it gets complicated. 

In this shot, I had some issues.  I wanted a lot of depth of field (small aperture, then, so there wasn’t a lot of light getting in).  I wanted the whole swing of the lighted ride (long shutter). And I wanted visible detail of the people in the photo (flash). After about six tries at this I arrived at these settings: Second curtain sync on the flash (more on that in a later post, there are better shots to demonstrate that technique), f/16 (probably smaller than I needed) and a shutter speed of two seconds. Why? Well, I knew (by watching) that the swing took about two seconds, so I set the shutter.  I took a couple of test shots–the camera, in auto-ISO and shutter priority, picked too small an aperture and went for ISO 100.  So I forced it to ISO 400 to get some more depth of field. Yes, I know–I could have used exposure compensation to accomplish the same thing, but unfortunately I didn’t know that at the time–which is what this blog is all about!

The second curtain flash (the built-in flash on my XSi) stopped the people in the image at the end of the two seconds, but the camera was far enough away that the image doesn’t look flash-lit.  

My lesson here? A couple of things: I should have adjusted the white balance a little bit (the colors in this version are straight out of the camera–it should have been set on Tungsten to take out some of the yellow); AND use exposure compensation instead of higher ISO. 

Later, more on exposure compensation, since you called me out on it above.  OK, maybe you didn’t, but I’ll do something on exposure compensation anyway. 

Sometimes, it’s just easy.


And this time, it was.  I was driving along the edge of the lake and noting with amusement the usual flocks of Canada geese and seagulls hanging out there.  This individual was really out of place, not one of the usual residents. Wouldn’t typically expect to see this in February. Anyway, I happened to have my 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS zoom lens already on the camera, and I grabbed it and started shooting away.  I didn’t need the zoom, though–this character was quite ready to walk right up to the car.  Since my subject wasn’t going anywhere, I had a chance to shoot at a bunch of settings to see what worked best.

Honestly, I didn’t have to think to get good shots in this case.  The light was good, the subject was cooperative, and my camera did what I told it to do.  And unlike many wildlife shots, I didn’t have to sit and wait for the moment to happen.

This is not the best shot in the bunch technically, but it’s my favorite so it’s on the board.  Settings were auto ISO, aperture priority at f/8 (I find this a sweet spot for this lens), leading the camera to pick 1/200 shutter and iso 640. I added about 1 2/3 stops of exposure compensation to keep the camera from dulling the bright white bird (learned that from Martin Bailey’s podcast–find him at

Made a couple of mistakes.  If I had this to do over again I would have set F/6.3 or something and shot it again, just to see what would happen to the background.  But, again, I’m just learning.

Look for one of the shots from this little event in the Mill Creek Metroparks Nature Photography exhibit.

First pic


Had to freeze my butt off to get this, and almost went in the river. But what did I really learn here? The value of AI Servo focusing mode, and a good bit about shooting in manual. More on this later. For now, this is just an experiment with the WordPress iPhone app.

Added later, as promised, since it’s hard to type this much detail on the iphone keyboard: I heard someone on This Week in Photo suggest that shooting gulls was an easy way to gain experience in bird photography.  This was a good suggestion for us Northeast Ohio types since there is a gull every six feet, all year ’round.  So I went to the bend in the river and figured I’d stand there and wait until the birds showed up. No waiting… there were dozens of them, and they were feeding.  Not sure what most of them were eating but I know what this one caught!

I started by switching to AI-Servo mode, for what was probably the first time. This was something I heard Martin Bailey talking about (see the links page), and he described it as kind of a continuous re-focus.  It works.  The other lessons here? I shot this in aperture priority at F/6.3 and 1/320 sec. and that turned out to be right for this shot, but not many others!  Later I switched to manual to see what I could learn and figured out that the camera did a better job of picking settings than I did.

Looking back on this shoot, I probably would have shot at a smaller aperture to reduce the risk of the subject going out of the focused area.

Details: T1i with 70-300mm IS USM lens at 300mm, F/6.3, 1/320, ISO 320 (by coincidence), +0.3 exposure compensation.


Let the games begin…

Hi, my name is Brian and I am an amateur photographer.

(from the ether: “Hi, Brian…”)

I have a secret. That is that I don’t really know what I’m doing behind a camera. But I love taking pictures. Really, REALLY love taking pictures. I have 39,000 image files to prove it. But only recently have I married my geek side with my photographer side, and started to learn about why my photos do what they do–and what I can do to make them better.

Difference between me and a lot of other budding photographers? I don’t want to do this for a living–or even for a significant paycheck. If someone wants to buy an image for commercial use I’ll struggle with that decision, and ultimately I will most likely decline…since that’s the domain of so many pros out there trying to make it in a tough business (and who likely work a lot harder than I ever will at it). But if you want a print to hang on your wall, we can probably barter!

So here’s to the beginning of a long run of sharing and writing about pictures. Come back often and check it out!