Monthly Archives: March 2012

Artistic Freeze? Just look around…

Writer’s block.  Creative drought, you might say, particularly if you’re a fan of the music of a certain Canadian band. Artistic freeze, I’ve heard it called. Whatever the name, it’s not uncommon for arts or creative types to struggle with getting “output” once in a while.  If you are, as I am, new to the art of photography, you might find that this comes more often—it’s a condition where you just can’t think of anything to shoot.  Either you can’t decide among the many objects around you, or you find that many of those objects are already in your library!

Looking around my collection—here and on Facebook, as well as other locations—I find that I’ve getting an increasing number of animal shots, especially birds.  So when I am struggling to decide what to shoot, I often go to one of my favorite bird spots and let them do their thing for me.  Recently, though, what they’ve been doing is a lot of stuff I have seen—and shot—before. Since I am regularly in the same spots, I do tend to see a lot of the same things, and this doesn’t exactly drive the creative urge. So yesterday I took off for the wildlife refuge, as I do fairly regularly, and poked around a bit to see if there was anything interesting going on.  Apart from a large quantity of boring little birds I didn’t recognize, I saw almost nothing. It was a nice visit, and serene enough, but I came back without anything interesting to show.


This has been happening to me a good bit lately and it troubled me as I was on my way home.  What to shoot, and what to experiment on, what to write about—this series of questions was bothering me later as I sat doing some editing at my dining room table. But then it hit me—I’m frequently in the same spots (home, work, wildlife refuge, etc.), but those spots aren’t always the same; I asked myself, what has changed here in the past day, or in the past week?  I looked around an spotted almost immediately the flower that is attached to this post. And dove right in!


I shot about 30 frames with this flower, at varying settings; this is not the best composition of the bunch, but I really liked the color.  Learned a lot in this shoot—adjusting colors in Elements, playing with the settings on the camera to get the best color reproduction…heck, I even learned that my Canon 60mm EF-S Macro lens reports subject distance! (For those keeping track, I shot this at f/10 in Aperture Priority mode, with my Speedlite 430EX bounced off a near-white ceiling some four feet above the flower; the camera picked 1/60 second and that drove ISO 400.)

I suppose the lesson here is this…finding something to shoot doesn’t always require loading up a bunch of gear, slogging through the mud, or even leaving your home—if you run out of ideas, look around you and think about what’s different. I’ll bet you can find something interesting that’s right in front of your eyes! 

Don’t even breathe!

One of the problems I’ve found in the short time I’ve been shooting with my 60mm EF-S Macro lens is the incredibly shallow depth of field that you get at macro distances.  Put simply, depth of field is the amount of the objects in the photo that are in focus, usually measured as a range of distance from the lens (or more correctly, the sensor).  In the case of macro lenses, when focusing up close, this distance might be measured in millimeters—for those who are metrically challenged, a millimeter is around 0.04 inches. That means if you are trying to hand-hold your camera and you even take a breath while you’re shooting, you might move enough to get the important part of your subject out of focus.

Recently had a chance to shoot a very nice little orchid plant belonging to a friend at work. Nice flowers, great color, and since it’s quite likely that he’s going to find a way to kill it eventually, I thought we’d keep a record of how the plant used to be! So I chose my macro lens, and set about to work on shots of this orchid.

In the last post I alluded to “bokeh,” that soft, out of focus background that makes many professional (and even amateur) shots so appealing.  Let me explain a little bit about the relationship of bokeh to camera settings.  Primarily, bokeh is a function of aperture size, and I’ve been told it also relates to the distance from the background to the sensor (or film). Not sure how to use the latter element, but I do know that when I use smaller f-numbers—larger apertures—I get more background blur.  Since I wanted the background to be out of focus for this shot, I picked the largest aperture I could…and since I was shooting inside, this would give me the most light coming in, too.  Camera shake wouldn’t be an issue, because I’d get a reasonably fast shutter speed. Everything pointed to the smallest number for this lens…the largest aperture…f/2.8.  In Av or Aperture Priority mode, this means that the camera picked 1/80 second and ISO 500. Perfect. Right? Yeah, sure.Image

What I DIDN’T consider is that I was going to be breathing during this shoot.  And that I didn’t have a tripod.

I steadied my camera by putting my elbows on the table—in a shocking breach of etiquette—and moved the camera as close as I could get it and still focus; then I blasted through about twenty shots, at varying exposure compensation settings. And when I looked at the images on the PC later, I saw immediately where I had failed. There’s not enough depth of field on the subject, and unfortunately, I decided to breathe!

This shot is the best of the bunch and still not all that good.  What I was going for was the sharpest point in the image to be inside the “guts” of the flower.  Kind of got it, but I would have been much better off with another half an inch in focus.  The focus point is just barely off of where I wanted it to be, and that seems to be because I moved during the act of shooting. The lesson here is that when shooting macro, close your aperture into the range of f/8 or so, and compensate for the loss of light in other ways (slower shutter speed, higher ISO) and use a tripod to make sure you keep the focus you’re aiming for.  This would have been a much crisper shot if I’d followed these simple premises.

Incidentally, I know that this shot is overexposed (too bright, with the corresponding loss of detail)—that’s the look I was going for.  Call it artistic license. The camera metered for the shadows inside the center of the flower, so the computer inside the camera tried to get that part of the scene bright enough.  In doing so, it overexposed the petals.  I like it, and I think once I’ve had a chance to mess with it in post-processing, I’ll like it even more.

As usual, questions/comments are welcome.  Shoot me a note!